C o n te n ts

The Su r g e o n
b y Cameron Callahan

1 3 5 10 14 16 22 26 28

Santa C l a u s M a c h i n e
b y Peter Greenlees

Cluck s a n d F r i e s H.E.X .

b y Cameron Callahan

b y Joe Rollins

Knit S o m e t h i n g Sensib i l i t y
b y Ed Saul

b y Brooke Campbell

Flash

b y Richard Fannon and Lee Smart

A Swo r d Wa l k s I n t o A B a r
b y Shawn Scott Smith

Smile

b y Shawn Scott Smith

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Santa Claus Machine
by Peter Greenlees
It was several seconds before Chris realized that the baby in the sky was headed straight for him. Chris dropped his clear plastic clipboard and raised his hands to intercept the baby’s trajectory. “Spontaneous babies!” he shouted, as he caught the baby safely in his arms. “Well, that’s surprising,” Marty piped up through a greywhite beard only a scientist could maintain. “He sure knew how to spend the taxpayer’s money appropriately.” “Wonder what Vernon’s intentions were with this device,” said Chris as he patted the hack job of a machine with his hand. A large coil of copper surrounded a small cold fusion reactor that was duct taped to a General Electric microwave plugged into an old Apple iBook and a couple of external hard disk drives. It was in a rusted out wheel barrow. I invented it. “Mate, I don’t want to know,” muttered Marty, “I can’t imagine what kind of Nobel prize this gizmo would win.” “Can’t say generating infants out of thin air has much of a purpose.” “Except for football practice, it seems,” Marty chuckled. “Yeah, yeah. Let’s get back downstairs and put this baby somewhere safe,” said Chris. “I hear you. I am being exposed to far too much Sun for a linux user.” Chris and Marty took the baby into the daycare section of the Pseudo-Sciences underground complex. Victoria, an impatient post-grad student, was ambivalent to taking on a new child. She was a particle physicist and considered her position as a glorified babysitter with much disdain. Her crush on the young, blonde Chris gave her some much needed job motivation. Chris barely noticed Victoria blushing at him as he dropped off Spontaneous Baby. His social phobias barely allowed him to squeak out a hello or thank you when required. He was different around his friends, of course. Those friends grew thinner as we were plucked up by government agencies and military sub-contractors. These days he only had old crotchety Marty. Chris was now wheeling my old contraption down hallway C towards his new - my old - office. Marty caught up with him, spending two thirds of his energy reserves. He grabbed his shoulder and in a puff, he whispered in Chris’ ear. “I know what Vern’s machine is for. It’s a Santa Claus machine.” “A fabricator? No, it’s not. That’s impossible!” Remind me to thank Chris for the vote of confidence. “Look, the readout on the microwave - that’s the human genome - we made a baby!” “Surely we just plucked a baby out of an alternate universe or a pocket dimension. What you’re saying is absurd, Martin!” Chris tried to be reasonable. “No, man. Watch this.” Marty plugged in “iPhone 5G 1TB” into the modified microwave keypad. He placed his ageing Nokia from 1999 into the microwave and hit the START button. The whole device began to rumble and hum, as is required with all Pseudo-Scientific devices from 2006 onwards. The door of the microwave sprung open and out flew a brand spanking new iPhone 5G. The limited edition one with Bono and Steve Jobs’ peckers etched into the sterling silver backplate. “Well, fuck me upside down,” Chris blurted. Somewhere in the facility, Victoria’s ears darted up.

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“Told you!” “Why the Hell would Vernon leave this lying around?” I didn’t. You took it out of my personal vault. In my personal OFFICE. God damn it, he can’t hear me. “Who knows? It’s ours now, mate!” The two exchanged an awkward high five and walked to the cafeteria with my machine. Probably to show it off to everyone and claim they made it. I decided not to follow them. I couldn’t be bothered any more. Being unstuck in space and time gets a little tedious. Ah, you want a little explanation. Yeah, yeah. Hold onto your pants. I’m Vernon Skipper. I was a scientist. That machine there? Yeah, it is a Santa Claus machine. It can make anything as long as the appropriate mass is given. I have a database of billions of objects and lifeforms entered into the machine. I’d say it’s my magnum opus. Anyway, onto what happened to me. Well, that machine is slightly flawed. When supplied with an object with less mass than the target product it, how should I put it... Collects mass from an external source usually one with the highest amount of carbon. That, in most cases, would be a human. So, my body was used to create several gold bars and my consciousness was ejected into space. Effectively, I became a ghost. Not so much Patrick Swayze Ghost. More like dead guy in Counter-Strike. The gold bars didn’t hold well and became unstable. My body became a gold dust that now coats my vault walls. A tad depressing. I imagine that in a few minutes day care will get a little messy. Poor Victoria. Chris walked past me again. This time with a concerned look on his face. The speed of his pace was intriguing. Chris never walked faster than 0.5m/s. Reaching the security office for floor 2-G, he slammed hard on the giant red emergency button. Suddenly, the pristine white hallways of the research facility became enveloped in pulsating red light. Chris spoke into a small radio device attached to his keycard. “This is Dr. Chris Connelly, at P-SD, we have a Code F. Yep, a Code F.”

That is not good. Not fucking good. I followed Chris back to the cafeteria. You wouldn’t believe me. Marty was attached by his arse to the front of the wheelbarrow laden gadget. His stomach, now an open cavity, had a six foot long string of babies with iPhones fused to them flailing about absorbing staff members left and right. Men and women in white coats became stuck to the iBaby tentacle and slowly the shrieks of my former staff members died out. The only one remaining was Chris. The string of babies, iPhones and scientists turned to look at him. At the head of the tentacle was my head. My jaw was agape with shards of gold teeth. My head smirked at Chris. “Ph’nglui mglw’nafh Steve Jobs San Francisco wgah’nagl fhtagn,” my head remarked. “Vernon, please. No,” Chris pleaded. Whipping back like a cobra, the Vernon headed iBaby-Scientist chain 5G lurched forward and ripped Chris’ jugular out and took great gulps, draining his lifeblood. My head had his fill and dropped Chris’ bloodied body to the linoleum floor. IN HIS HOUSE AT SAN FRANCISCO DEAD STEVE JOBS WAITS DREAMING.

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H.E.X.
b y J o e Ro l l i n s
First light of an early city morning climbs in through an open window and slaps me across the face. I wake up in parts while below me cars are already dancing, snarling and choking on dirty grey fumes and flashing broken toothed smiles at crumpled drunks littering the pavements like old crisp packets. Another day in the city. I ignore the effluent glow flicking dust motes at me like a petulant child and choke down the last scraps of a still-steaming coffee. I’ve already tapped out a flash message requesting the day’s news. With oiled ease the information skims over my retina and comes to rest in the throbbing storage drives next door. Memory archiving. Essential tweak for any Savant. Warehouse 41 can offer this and a thousand more like it and yet the general population adopt an Amish revulsion to the idea of altering the human body, while right in front of their blind white eyes we make the impossible trivial. But I know we’re a culture ascending, a gutter phenomenon that’ll surge out onto the roads and flood the city in a revelation of transhuman technology. Before long the crowds will be gathered before Warehouse 41 in their thousands, begging us to forgive their scepticism. I let a smile cut across my face at the thought, same time a pixellated grin flickers into life on my private feed. Perfect teeth. Stepping out into the churning current of the city I grab hold of the door frame. It’s the only way to prevent the wet filth of the crowds from pulling me under and dragging me into the surging tide. For a Savant, stepping onto the street is like emerging from sensory deprivation. Everything is louder and brighter and more saturated. The distant crackle of radio static leaking from an open window rolls across the patchwork sky like thunder. It casts freak-show shadows across a tattooed pavement inked with bright rotting words of salvation.

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Across the road a group of young Savant’s idle against painted walls, surfing feed sites. Above us a helicopter strains to drown out the busking psychogrime band clamouring to be heard. Everywhere the desperate chaos of a thousand people all moving out of sync. Only the angels stay still, clinging to their rotten stone perches and looking down on us all with disgust and fear in their eyes. *** The chaos of the city usually doesn’t come within ten metres of the downtown bank, but today it marches in on the heels of a young Savant named Jack Seven. Jack’s face is corkscrewed in agony as he lurches right up to the front desk and presses his smudged face against the glass, and in a voice cut straight from the acrylic fumes welling up in his mouth he whispers: “Forgive me.” And then he’s gone. In his place there’s a rush of blistered air and light and the puzzle pieces of Jack’s body scattered across the marble floor like dice. A skeleton is unbuckled from its flesh with careless ease. By the time Jack hits the walls the fire has caught up with the smoke, and all around the room men and women burn in unique and beautiful ways, crackling and bubbling and running into the cracks in the floor. *** A mile from the city centre and still I feel the bass vibrations of the explosion running its fingers under the crumbling roads, scratching at the exposed underbelly of the city and bringing it to its knees. My call to work. Camera gripped tight I move against the herd, towards the thunder. Breaking news coming from The Tower is signalled with a scorching burst of white noise. I tap out a quick command line on my forearm and wait for the shards of information to flash across my open eye. On the far side of the street the group of Savant kids stiffen up and fall back into shop doorways, sheltering from

the roar of the city while they wait for the update. We don’t wait for long. The news runs over my eyes and stops, choking my throat, rattling like I’ve cracked a windpipe. I’m a photographer by trade. I know from long experience what a little hate can do to the city. I’ve seen the rank heart of it clinging like a cyst to the walls of my dark room. The fevered passion of the mob baying for violence. The burnt out husks of men and cars lying discarded in a street running red with blood and paint and vomit. I’ve seen an avalanche started with a single brick and a war boiled down to a single coffin, and as I digest the news in the shrinking pit of my stomach I know Jack Seven’s coffin will have plenty of room for us all. *** It didn’t take more than a couple of days. A group of religious zealots claimed responsibility for the attack, said that they’d hacked into poor Jack’s brain through his Savant tweaks and that anyone with a line to the net could be a potential victim. For a second I thought that the news might turn the mob against the spewing cultists but all it did was heighten the fear. If anger is a spark against the slow kindling of chaos, fear is a fucking incendiary grenade. The crowds are all iron bars and baseball bats now, looking to spill some Savant blood. Locked up in my apartment I keep scanning the feeds, looking for a way out. I find it in one of the tech updates, nestled between folds of worthless information. GenTech, a small-time tweak developer, has the answer. A new product: Shield. It cloaks your tech and makes it impossible to detect with a cheap street scanner. In light of the current climate I can’t help but share in GenTech’s scepticism of our planned bright new world. Tomorrow morning I’ll brave the fire and rain and go down into the city, into the slick wet arteries of the future that run all the way to Warehouse 41. The psychedelic Savant capital, where dreams and nightmares meet to swap stories and sell themselves on neon street corners. Our shrine to the craven deities of technology, the ethereal presence in the leaking static of transmission. Probably the only safe place for me

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inside the city walls. Until then all I can do is wait and hope. I press my face against a cold glass window and watch the streets burn under the concrete sky. The rain is washing away the filth of the long dry summer until the gutters boil brown, frothing and spitting at the feet of the unwary. The rain runs out in the early morning, but still the fires burn. *** The bloodshot streets have lost their warmth by sunrise. Clouds hang in front of my face as I walk, last nights rain provides a multicoloured slush to wade through. I’m not paying attention to the route I’m taking, too far lost in thought, my mistake. I almost walk into them, two guys in urban camo tagging Anti-Savant drivel across a still damp wall. I don’t have time to think before one of them brings the spray can up against my nose, grinding it into my face like the heel of a boot. I’m on the floor and they go about their business, driving steel toes into ribs, gut, face. One last fist cracks open my smudged red eye socket before night falls around me. I surface quick enough to drag myself into some dark cavity spitting blood and teeth. Bound to happen eventually, one of them must have been running a hidden scanner. A few cracked ribs and a face like a slab of meat spur me on to move faster, stomping the pavement and clinging to the shadows, hooded and praying I can get to Warehouse 41 before the fuckers come back. Gagging on swallowed blood I still manage to get to the back entrance of the warehouse, final frontier of calm in the maelstrom, quickly shattered as I stagger in retching and screaming. Last thing I hear is my own voice gargling Seraph’s name through mouthfuls of spit and blood, and then the night falls again. *** Seraph does a good job fixing me up, even sticks the new Shield tweak in for me. Crazy bastard is more machine than man but there’s no one can make a scalpel sing quite like him, and he’s been my regular for years. He tells me I was pretty messed up, tells me I was lucky to get to the warehouse when I did, that I was lucky this company GenTech came up

with the Shield tweak. I appreciate the concern but his voice quickly blends into the background hiss of medical machinery. With the hysteria just a residue I’m itching to put things together in my head. Over the years I’ve developed a needle-sharp brand of paranoia, and in a city that’s all teeth and no loyalty that’s no bad thing. *** The Shield works. Walking home I pass right through a crowd of vigilante heroes, boot treads and knuckles wet with the blood of some poor student lying in the gutter with half her face hanging off. My heart hammers so hard I can feel it in my fractured teeth but the crowd don’t even give me a second glance, and I keep my head down and walk on, glistening red footsteps trailing behind me. I get to my apartment with the dying girls eyes still chained around my ankles and slump in front of the glowing screen. When you’re part computer you get to know your way around one, and it doesn’t take much searching to find what I’m looking for. Black hat hackers on GenTech payroll. A religious movement here today and gone tomorrow. A convenient supply of a product no-one could’ve predicted any demand for. Obviously they didn’t think anyone would care enough to go looking for a conspiracy. I taste bile as I take it in. The fuckers at GenTech set us all up and didn’t even care enough to hide it. If I didn’t feel so sick I might have thought to admire them. Faking a suicidal attack covered with a pseudo-religious motive and then providing salvation for the suddenly persecuted Savant minority was a marketing master-stroke. But their hands are crusted with the blood of my generation, and the dead girl outside my apartment deserves to have choked on her own teeth for more than just a quick profit. I’ve already pinned the scraps together and flicked it out into the maelstrom when I remember the blackouts. A half-recalled memory: Seraph telling me the city’s usual spider-web of communication was blotted out this morning by government order. The men in charge eager to quell any pretty thoughts of a Savant backlash. I don’t want to go back down onto the streets so soon but I’ve got no choice. Only way to get myself heard

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over the baying crowds is to get to The Tower on foot, get the word out and hope the drooling hordes believe me before they’re carting the dead away in trucks. Just got to pray no-one picks up the death note email I left floating around the ether and find me before I get to the safe haven of the broadcasting monolith. I’m dead if they do. *** Pavement beneath my boots again. Pound it hard, keep my head down and my eyes up and I might just make it. Fools hope. Two corners to go and I hear the pig-squeal of tires behind me, bearing down faster than I can run. I can feel my teeth beating again, so hard my jaw lances white-hot pain. I smell the petrol stink of the van, taste oil on my tongue and smoke on my lips. Can’t look back, just drop into an opening in the flat concrete wall. Anything to get away from the relentless noise. An alleyway, a caved in fire exit. A fucking dead end. The van pulls up hard against the opening I just used, fits as tight as a coffin lid. Three ex-military looking thugs are retched up from it’s rotten lungs and spat at me and then a fourth closes the van door, sealing us in. White-knuckles eager to begin pounding meat crash forward but it’s not that that I’m looking at. It’s the barcode tattoos and GenTech logos on the back of each right hand. I’ve not been cornered by some vigilante fuckers looking for a good time and some skulls to crack, these are GenTech’s own pet muscle. The small crack of hope closes as tight as the four blank walls around me and I know I won’t be walking away from anything this time. They lay into me with fists and boot heels and steel toes. On the ground pissing blood from every joint there’s no use trying to ball up so I just press myself against the cold dirt and let them kick chunks out of me until I’m all used up, a sticky red piece of junk crumpled and discarded where no-one will think to look. After a while I stop feeling each impact and I wait for black to replace the static red in my eyes and for the passive, merciless faces to fade away. I’m looking down the winding road of the future now, and despite its crushing bleakness I can’t help but feel a kind of peace.

Maybe in a week or two when the blackout is lifted the evidence I left cached on the backup drives will be found by some young DI who still believes in truth and justice and doing-the-right-thing. More than likely it’ll be some world-weary, hardened bastard who doesn’t think the ideals of the young are worth the grief it takes to implement them, who just wants to get through each day because it’s one day closer to retirement and a way out of this cancerous city. In a week he’ll move on to some other case and never remember the smashed open body of some young kid trying to play god. The city will forget the Savant sub-culture and move on to some new face to stomp on, and a few scars and stains are all that will be left. There’ll be no great conspiracy unmasked, no court case, no blame. A few people die and a few people get richer. Just another day in the city.

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K NIT S OMETHING
By B ro o k e C a m p b e l l
I knit. It’s become my passion, what I want to learn everything about. I don’t go more than a day without knitting or spinning. I have hand carded fleeces and then spun and dyed and knit. I make things for people.

A shot of the design process for a pair of socks. Despite how disorganized those notes look, I swear that they make sense, and will develop into a fully fledged pattern.

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These are made from yarn dyed by Gaia’s Colours, and knit using the Ruby Slippers pattern by Inna Zakharevich.

This shawl was knit with the Vernal Equinox Mystery Shawl pattern by Lankakomero using Skacel Merino Lace. It took me about three months, and in a fitting moment, I finished it the first day of summer and last day of spring.

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S ENSIBILITY
by Ed Saul
The inadequate space which housed the shaking form of Young Alphonse would have – in any other situation – oppressed and angered him in the extreme. It was not nearly large enough for an individual of his size, and was heated to a temperature that seemed to drift just a centimetre within the thickness of his skin, racking him with itches. He would have become annoyed very quickly, batted away walls of this room and showed the people outside the full force of his fury – on any other day. But today, he restrained himself; a self-control that owed more to the unbearable nervousness which caused him to shiver involuntarily every ten minutes than the physical restraints which bound him loosely to a large, metal chair. Young Alphonse was very much afraid that today he would be fired from his job. Sitting quietly (he was determined not to struggle; not to give them the satisfaction of watching him struggle), he began to go over the events of the previous week, as was his wont in times of trouble. It had been a warm, windy morning, exactly a week before this happened; but Young Alphonse knew already that memory, ever unreliable, would warp the details of it irreparably. How easy was it to recall individual days, in a place like this? Anyone he knew - had known, outside, before - would have expected the days to simply bleed into each other, to become indistinguishable in a rarelychanging environment. But Young Alphonse knew different. The environment did change. Each day, his exercise-yard would be spotted with tiny individual streaks, from the moss on the rocks, grown larger or smaller, to a bone he would have left out, that would have changed its position overnight, as if wanting to get a better view of the rest of the yard, as if it could walk on tiny little legs that it folded within when he went to look. Each day was a new, impressive tableau; each morning, his little home, built anew. And the people. In the evenings, a cleaner could be seen, sometimes in green, sometimes in grey, head bowed and broom pushed out before them; sweeping away not just the dust and debris of the day, but to Young Alphonse the very smell of humanity, to be replaced the very next morning. Throngs of them would be there, knotted in clusters, young ones coupled always with at least one older, never alone unless watched. It was - the Wednesday before last, he was fairly certain - that he had been absent-mindedly chewing, barely paying any attention to his audience. His careful mastication had been interrupted, broken into by a sound which he almost had to make an effort to hear. When he had turned his head, a child with a veritable frame of untidy hair, the colour of the shavings from the bark of an oak tree, had placed her hand against the glass partition separating her world and his. Hardly had he given a glance at it for more than a couple of seconds, than it pulled away, and sharply fell against the thick glass, five muddy fingers thump-thump-ing away insistently. Young Alphonse had been about to go into the standard procedure (a grimace, followed by his back), but something about the child attracted him. He gave a quizzical look at the adult accompanying the child, but she seemed neither to want to understand or to have the capacity to do so. The banging of the child’s hand against the surface of the glass was beginning to become a slightly irritating rhythm, and without any other option, he had put down his snack, stood up straight, and muttered an unappreciative but nevertheless kind enough grunt. The expected effect began the instant he moved, drawing the crowd like flies on old meat to see what he would do next. They threw their cameras up, desperate to etch the very seconds of the moment onto their memories, and cooed and gasped and muttered asides to each other; it was, he knew, a spectacle in their eyes.

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But not to the little child. The child and he had been watching each other intently, ever since he’d first noticed her hand; and in the course of his ascent, he saw changes in her face that he knew very well. Had he free use of a pencil and paper, Young Alphonse could create an anatomical report on the expression of amazement in a child. The raising of the eyebrows. The jaw, the lips - up, down, down further, up very fast and down again. The intake of breath. A smile of satisfaction had come to him at how easily he had surprised her But, then, she laughed. It was double-edged, and had cut through the surrounding noises as an old tooth through young bones. Young Alphonse, stung to the quick, had avoided the gaze of the other outsiders, avoided the gaze of the child as her hands came together, once, twice, thrice to the rhythm of her giggles. He’d groaned, bared his teeth, settled back down into his customary position. All of it were fuel to the flame; within seconds, she led a chorus of appreciative chuckles. Even his shuffling gait had not served to restore his usual respect; he’d turned, moved away, emphasized the resting of his massive weight on each foot, but all he was given was a fresh onslaught of cackles, diluted with some sounds of – it caused him to wince, even now – pity and sympathy. They had liked seeing him ashamed, he knew it. They had relished his embarrassment as he would have relished a fresh fish. The very thought of fish, in the mind of Young Alphonse, began a tiny craving that wriggled up and down, teasing out more memories. He felt his mood shifting gear, out of shame and into the more familiar shape of regret. There had been another reason for his fear of the girl, apart from her laughter; in fact, that had merely been the insult adding to injury. No…what had really bothered him was her brief and painful resemblance to Red Annie. Red Annie; her most distinguishing feature, if not for the scar that flanked the back of her head like so much war paint, had been her incredibly humorous attitude. No-one had been a stranger, or couldn’t be talked to. He could see her now, from when he was at a young age, and she towered over him; he could watch, in his head, her nostrils dilating as he’d imagined what the scar must look like.

She’d looked him over; and despite her imposing presence, there had been a gentle look and a faint smile behind her eyes, one that was utterly amused and extremely interested in whatever had been set before it. Red Annie had been good to him, all his life; to almost everyone, she was a friend, but to him she had been a second Mother after the first had abandoned him to the cold and wet hollows of the forest. Young Alphonse had tagged along with her, after they’d first met; and, from a distance, he’d learned from her which way to walk, who to listen to, where to sleep. Even with the gag compressing his mouth, Young Alphonse felt, a remnant of bone he’d lodged between his teeth, before he’d gotten the job that he thought he’d lose today, to commemorate the day that – in plain sight of his mentor – he’d first fished. Slightly slavering, he could feel the salmon flesh and bone inside his mouth, savour the strange aftertaste that came from the very river that his prey had swam in, feel Red Annie’s silent approval, as she stood watching behind his back. He recalled the rest of the family that he’d come to know, from Sneering Leonard to Unbeaten Robert to Carol With The Spearhead. He remembered fighting off the wolves, and sleeping in trees, and chewing freshly caught honey-comb, sticky in the teeth; he remembered growing, and changing in his growth, and the strange day when he’d looked at another female of his kind in a way he never had before, and she at him, he remembered the days before and the days after, and after that, and ever after ‘til today… It was in then that Young Alphonse was interrupted by the swinging open of a door. He drew in his breath, sharply, lay back and relaxed. Though still beset by shivers, he realized that he had given up the groaning which he had been unconsciously emitting for the last five minutes. The man who had entered and sat down behind the desk – the Boss – lifted a hand, quietly, and signalled for the straps behind his head to be released. One of the men who was usually assigned to Young Alphonse’s care was careful to undo the buckle and lift the muzzle away slowly; he knew from experience that Young Alphonse detested sudden movement in his proximity. Dragged into the real world, Young Alphonse began to shiver once more. He focused on his Boss, who, safe

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behind the desk, was filling in paperwork as if nothing to challenge his regular daily routine was happening on that day. The man was lean, good-natured, and (from Young Alphonse’s limited experience) surprisingly relaxed, for a man of his age and position. He wore his usual fare: a suit that wasn’t grey, but attempting to dull the colour its surroundings, coupled with a tie which simultaneously hypnotized Young Alphonse and yet made him feel that his eyeballs were being liquidated. After flexing his jaw, and licking his lips a little, Young Alphonse dared to venture out a “S...Sir?”, before sinking back in fear. The man looked over his half-moon spectacles, one eyebrow raised, and straightened up. “Ah, yes. I’m sorry for keeping you, Alphonse – “ “Young Alphonse, sir.” “Yes, I forgot for a moment. I meant no disrespect.” “I realize that, sir.” The absurdity of his Boss apologizing to him – twice – did not escape Young Alphonse; but he recalled that, unlike previous holders of his position, the current Boss preferred to show the utmost respect for all employees. The system of names that Young Alphonse’s people used were as important as their skeletons; he knew that he could live a year longer than the Earth itself, and still refer to himself by the moniker ‘Young’. For a second, the Boss removed his glasses and gave them a quick polish; Young Alphonse could not possibly mistake the deep frown that stole over him for the briefest of seconds, which meant that he was searching, in vain, for the words which he knew would not come easily. Young Alphonse’s vision was briefly clouded by the recollection of some of his comrades, inside these gates, who had previously been ‘let go’, cut off without any compensation at all. He recalled the rigmarole that had followed the expulsion of Jaka. Jaka had not been one of his tribe, but from Africa; he’d had a shock of yellow and red hair, tinged with a layer of dirt, was lazy and self-obsessed, but likeable and knowledgeable in ways of the world. He’d come close, a few times, to fathering his own young with the females he was placed next to, but failed; to console him, they’d introduced a score of orphans, snatched from his native country, who he’d keep awake with stories of rivalry and the hot yellow grasses.

None of those glowing traits had counted at all, the day he was ‘let go’. Young Alphonse could see him now, snarling and trapped in a corner as a dozen tiny, redfeather darts leapt into his flesh. Jaka’s eyes remained open, even when his mind was closed; as he was dragged past the other enclosures (in the hours after visitors had gone), they’d stared at his former fellow captives, and the fading sunlight had given them an accusatory glow. It had taken three men to drag him, and throw him into a truck bound Who Knows Where; Young Alphonse felt that he himself would require seven, or more. His bulk was severely formidable. He became aware that he had been thinking too long, when he was required to reply; and that his employer had been talking for quite some time. He coughed, lightly, and ventured to ask the Boss to repeat his last sentence. “What I’m basically trying to tell you, Young Alphonse,” the man substituted for a repetition, “Is that you haven’t been performing.” This came as a puzzling problem, rather than a shock. After a second, Young Alphonse asked: “How so?” “People have been...disappointed in your lack of activity. You haven’t been moving around, you’ve holed yourself in that cave for hours and hours... you’re just not engaging. I’ve had to read dozens of these slips - here, look.” Young Alphonse recognised the piece of paper at the end of the man’s arm - one of the surveys placed around the establishment to gauge public opinion. Carefully spelling out each letter to himself, he read, while it stayed close to his aching face. In the writing of an adult, it appeared to be a twenty-word vilification of him as ‘dissatisfying’, ‘tedious’, and, in a final P.S., ‘stupid’. He shook his head. “I...I don’t understand, sir. Surely one or two complaints aren’t going to sway you that much?” “The complaints aren’t the problem. The problem is you. Al...Young Alphonse, I pride myself on being able to talk to our hires. All I want to do is negotiate, to see if we can work around this. What’s happened to you? You used to be so happy, and lively...has something changed?”

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Young Alphonse froze, his jaw clamped shut, as if all the blood in his body had suddenly congealed into one solid. Breathing slowly, he began to answer, but shut his jaw, slightly stammering. “Well?” said the Boss. Young Alphonse, in a nervous overload, was suddenly beginning to notice hundreds of details amongst the man’s desk, his suit, his surroundings - it was like he was trying to build up a barricade of noted detail to shut out the ideas bubbling in the back of his brain, the ones building to his inevitable answer... “Young Alphonse - “ the man put out a hand, and he gave out a sound somewhere between a pained growl and a disappointed whine. Unbeknownst to him, figures behind him stood up, cocking their dart-guns; his Boss made a simple hand-gesture to ward them off. “I...” he swallowed, clearing his throat. “Well, it’s... “...I think I’m beginning to feel a little homesick, sir.” The Boss once more sat back. “I’m...sorry?” he asked. “I said that I’m starting to feel a little, a little homesick.” The clock on the wall ticked on, never-ending. Glancing at it, Young Alphonse noticed that it had barely been an hour. His boss was leant back, eyes closed, index fingers touched together under his nose, all other fingers clasped in a tight fist, thumbs propped underneath his head like a support. He spoke one word. “Explain.” Young Alphonse cleared his throat again, and replied. He told his employer about many things. He told him about his childhood, and his growing up. He told him about learning which way to walk, who to listen to, where to sleep. He gave as best an account he could, in his Boss’ tongue, of Red Annie, and everyone else in the tribe. He talked about the mountains, and the stories where they were the great heaped-together bodies of their kin, left behind as inspiration. He told the story of the first of his people, and the first of his Boss’, and how they became each other. He told the story that his

Boss’ people had once told about his own, where each child was born as a ball of fur that the mother licked into a recognisable form. He talked about how little he had known of his mother. He talked about the things that sunlight did to water and to fish, and how they did not occur here, inside the gates. He talked about the girl, and how it had struck him that back home, there was no laughter; no jeering. His people had simply left each other alone. He would have gone on talking, about the smell of grass that never touched metal, or the taste of twigs, or his fears about Jaka, but he was quickly interrupted by his Boss. “So what you’re trying to tell me...is that you want to go back.” “Yes, sir – and no. I mean - I like it here, really I do, and I enjoy the food and the pool and the people – but it’s not home. None of it is exactly what I used to know, when I was young. I’ve seen what happens to those who slip up, I see how you shoot them and drag them into a truck and throw them into the Who Knows Where, sir - and, begging your pardon, I know that it’s not for me; but at the same time...” he paused, trying to get the words out after so many had been used up already. “At the same time,” his Boss replied, “You just want to go home.” He nodded, dumbly. His Boss stood up, massaging his forehead lightly, and walked over, infuriatingly, to the area behind Young Alphonse’s chair, breathing in and out. Young Alphonse knew that he had quit smoking some months before, and was able to understand the difficulty that would have brought to his ability to deal with stress. Having made a loose semi-circular walk, he returned to his desk, his expression now more of exasperation than seriousness. “But, Young Alphonse – be sensible. Look at my position here. Try to put yourself in my place. There’s a recession going on. That, and it’s near Winter. Now that you’ve specifically told me you don’t want to be shot with tranquillisers, I’m legally prohibited from doing it, based on our official agreement with our clients. But, you’re a Bear, for God’s sake, a Grizzly Bear!”

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“I’m not denying it, Sir,” Young Alphonse replied. In the aftermath of his speech, he realised that he was no longer stammering, nor bent down; his spine was surprisingly straight. “I’m sure Jaka, back in the day, wouldn’t have denied that he was more used to a whole Pride than just two females, but – ” he was interrupted quickly. “What would it look like if, out of the blue, I just put out the order to have a bear shoved back into the wild? Without tranquillisers, or a high-security cage? How would that make this establishment look?” “I’m sure I don’t know, sir. I’m not too familiar with the way that your people look at things. But I can’t help how I feel, sir.” “I know. I know that, I’ve built my entire career in this place on knowing how our employees feel, but...this! What if the other animals get wind of it? What if I have to do this same thing three more times, six times, ten, until everyone’s back in the wild?” “Then, if you don’t mind my saying so, sir, a lot of them will be much happier.” “How about Oskar, the Rhino? He’d never survive out there! He’s get shot down for his horn, or that damn leg of his would break again when he got into a fight...he’d be dead within a week!” The man’s voice was raised, almost at a roaring level, but Young Alphonse remained calm. “Yes, sir. He would die. But before he died, he’d feel the hot sun on his face...eat the fresh grass...have his back picked by a wild bird instead of a frightened human. He’d be happy, sir.” It was as much news to him as it was to the man in front of him, but he knew he was correct even as he said it. Something had changed, something had switched on inside him. He no longer cared if he was let go without pay, if he never got to see any of his friends again. He just wanted to be let go. He just wanted to be happy. “And that’s what you want, is it, Young Alphonse?” his Boss wearily enquired, “To be happy?” He nodded, dumbly. “It’s all I ask.” They each took the time to appreciate the next in a long series of unfathomable silences. Young Alphonse looked down, down at his brown, musky back-paws bound into

their uncomfortable positions, with their once-proud black claws carefully filed to blunt stubs lacking any observable grip, and could not prevent himself from letting out an awkward smirk – one that his Boss caught. “What – what exactly is so funny?”

“Oh, er, nothing, nothing, sir – it’s just…just that when I got in here, I was expecting that you’d fire me.” In reply there came a weary nod, one that gave out the implication of a fact that everyone in the room was well aware of. Young Alphonse had no idea that he’d been that obvious. “I admit, I was going to bring the subject up…you know, just as something that might happen in future…sort of like a not-threat.” “You mean, a threat that you mention, but you pretend isn’t really a threat so as to make yourself feel better?” “Don’t be so damn flippant. Yes, of course, that is what I meant…and now, apart from the harsh parts of the treatment, I find there’s nothing you want more.” “I hate to be putting you in this position, Sir. I really, really do.” He meant it. He really did. “Yeah, I realize…I’m sorry I shouted…” All the anger was sweating out of the man in little chemical clusters that were irritating the tip of Young Alphonse’s tongue, replaced by a visible sagginess. “Listen. I said that the recession…I mean, the money, it’s not like it used to be…we’ve all been under a little stress.” He sat down, pulling himself into the desk as close as he could, staring at Young Alphonse straight in the eye, now. From his own chair, he could feel the connection; they were properly talking now. His Boss was doing his best to be sincere and understanding; and he himself was no longer losing his concentration. “Here’s what I’ll do. If – when I get the spare time, I’ll go over this whole interview with the board, and my superiors, and some of the crew. It’s all been taped.” Young Alphonse shrugged. “Naturally.” “And we’ll take everything into account – we truly will – and then we’ll talk again, a week from now, about all our options. Right now, let’s just go back to the daily routine, alright? We won’t talk about it

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to any of the other animals, either. This’ll just be… something we can work on.” Young Alphonse smiled. “I think we may be thinking alike now, Sir.” A brief glow of hope alighted the man’s drained, worried face for a moment, which was all that Young Alphonse could have asked for from the entire session. Some people wordlessly went to unlock the fetters binding him to his chair, and he stretched, lightly, as he stood up, and yawned. Despite the small circular motions he had carefully made with his front and back paws through the entire thing, his circulatory system did not quite keep up with the sudden change in position, and he was afraid, for a second, that he would collapse into an unconscious heap; but he steadied himself. He bowed his head a little in front of his Boss, his paws customarily held in front of his belly as a mark of respect. “Until next week, then,” he said, in all seriousness. “Until next week,” replied his Boss with a faded smile. Despite the stiffness in his joints, the cramped conditions, and the rows of security behind him with mild electric shockers, Young Alphonse was able to count seven respectful steps backward before, grunting, he was forced to settle back down onto his front paws and turn around. *** When he eventually returned to his enclosure, Young Alphonse had begun to see everything – in fact, anything at all – in a strange, detached way. It was a closed day, in the Zoo; and he was able to take a small stick that he’d probably looked at a dozen times without thinking, and fit it carefully in his mouth to chew as he sat down in the centre, thinking deep thoughts. There was no-one to watch or laugh at him, except the Alders family in the cages yonder – but, they never really found anything interesting for more than a few seconds before scurrying back into their burrows. In the shady Autumn half-light, he was able to perceive the way that the trees, inside and outside his space, had moved bout in the wind; and he could see, when

the clouds occasionally stopped shoving past each other long enough for the sun to peek a few rays out, the small marks left on his glass wall by the people who came to see him, day by day, from near and far. There were a few scratches, from what he guessed would be jewellery or other possessions; one person’s initials, scratched next to another’s, in a corner; some greasy stains of the strange, unattractive foods that the visitors were passed out, on occasion; and handprints. Dozens and dozens of handprints covering the surface like so much leaves, from back in the old country, doing a disappearing act under the snow and never coming back afterwards, replaced by so many more come the next summer. When the piece of wood was little more than a few splinters, and he’d ran his tongue around his teeth to test their shape, he took a small stride - moving in his usual, sensible, polite four-footed gait – and, nose inches away from the glass, traced the handprint of the little girl who’d laughed, running a blunted claw gingerly over the outline. Tomorrow, I Won’t See Her, he thought. Or The Day After That. Maybe The Next Day, Though…he pondered this for a while, before concluding, Or Any Day Of The Week, Until Next Week. He put his own paw up against the glass. Her print barely covered one of his leathery pads. He was struck by the sheer reality of the next thought: And After That, Never Again. She’ll Never See Me Again, I’ll Never See Here Again, She Won’t Laugh At Me Again, I Won’t Stare At Her Again, And She’ll Wonder Where I Went And How Soon I’m Coming Back, And I’ll Be Gone, I’ll Be Home, And I’ll Have Already Forgotten… He let the very idea of it sink in, let it flow under his skin and into his veins to be pumped around his body by his great beating heart and breathed out of it by his great pulsing lungs. Then he turned around, walked away, and spent the rest of the day swimming.

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A SWORD WALKS INTO A BAR
By Shawn Scott Smith
My sword makes little noise as I lay it on the bar, but it draws plenty of eyes. It’s not every day they see a work of craftsmanship in these parts. The bartender, a bald burly man walks over, washing a glass as he comes. “Can I help you?” he asks in a wandering Irish accent. His eyes can’t help but look at the blade on his bar, its gold and brass hilt shining in the dimly lit place. “Brandy. Red Rum, and a splash of lime.” He nods and begins to mix the poison. More than half the bar watches me. A fan beats overhead. An old wound in my shoulder aches, but I push it beneath into the cloud of my past. The table to my left is full of old men, who long ago gave up any hope of leaving this place. The table to my right will be my problem. Two men sit there, dressed in black and wearing Carbine 720’s in their holsters. Not a novice’s lasergun and in these parts probably considered mighty classy. I drink my glass in one gulp and turn to meet their stares. I lower my hat in salute and they return the favor. I can see the one on the right sweat a little under his widebrimmed hat. Maybe they’re brothers. Both share a similar build, and strawberry blonde hair. I hope they aren’t. No mother should lose two sons in a bar in the middle of this territory. One rises and for a moment my hand goes to the warm Standard Raygun on my belt. It is hot to the touch as its outer casing has needed repair for years but I never get around to checking it in at a shop. The man heads past me and out the back of the bar. I relax slightly as the tension leaves the room. I order another dose of the good stuff. A door behind the bar opens and a young red headed girl stumbles out. She’s wearing only a long button down shirt. She exchanges glances with the bartender, and a look of utter contempt crosses her face. The bartender looks down, still scrubbing his glass as if it was the dirtiest object in the room. It’s probably the cleanest. I can smell the girls perfume over my alcohol and my own retched state. It’s sweet and expensive. Not the usual knockoff you would find here. I watch her walk across the room, her stride confident. It should be. Everyone watches her as she exits right out the front door. I linger on the rare sight of passing beauty before turning back to my drink. I should go. I put many miles behind me today, but there are many more to go. And I see nothing here. Nothing different than any of the border towns. Just people. People trying to live, but most barely alive. I hear the door open behind me and the shuffling of feet. I put my hand on my blade lifting it slightly. The image reflected is blurry, but I can make out the man that left earlier and two others moving closer. I tighten the grip on the sword, and my other hand moves fast, steady to my side. I shoot first.

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Cre ato r B i o s
Cameron dood l e s c o m i c s a b o u t r o b o t s and paranoia w i t h t h e t a l e n t a n d unabashed fury o f a d i v e y e a r o l d . T h a t is al l, really. C a m e ro n C a l l a h a n . n e t Peter Green l e e s i s a w r i t e r o f comics and s h o r t f i c t i o n h a i l i n g from Christc h u r c h , N e w Z e al a n d . Harnessing the e n e rg y of the magnetosphere , he channels the planet’s colle c t i v e c o n s c i o u s n e s s t o please the hive m i n d . Yo u c a n c a t c h h i m at fogsdown.c o m . Joe Rollins is p a r t s t u d e n t , p a r t w r i t e r living in Kent, U K . Constantly arm e d w i t h a n u n d e r s i z e d laptop and a h a n g o v e r h e ’ l l w r i t e j u s t about anything i f y o u b u y h i m a d r i n k . If you want to g e t h o l d o f h i m y o u c a n at: Joe.rollins 5 @ g m a i l . c o m. Brooke is a f i b e r a r t i s t w h o s p i n s and knits on a r e g u l a r b a s i s . S h e thinks anima l f i b e r i s t h e b e s t fiber, and h a t e s p l a n t s . H e r b l o g is silverro s e k n i t s . w o r d p re s s . c o m where she doc u m e n t s h e r m a n y fi b e r y adventures. E d ‘ N i c k - N a m e - l e s s ’ S a u l has been w r i t i n g , d r a w i n g , a n d l a u g h i ng since b e f o r e h e o r a n y o n e e l s e c a n r emember. I n h i s c u r r e n t c a p a c i t y, h e i s studying C o m p a r a t i v e L i t . a t t h e University o f K e n t w h i l e a t t e m p t i n g t o forge an identity as a s t o r y t e l l e r, writer, i l l u s t r a t o r, c o p y w r i t e r, d i r e c t or, actor, c r i t i c , d a n c i n g f o o l , a n d a l l o r none of t h e a b o v e . H e i s d e v e l o p i n g a longform w e b c o m i c , t e n t a t i v e l y n a m e d ‘ Bug-Out’, f i n d E d w a r d s o o n a t D e a d Wa l r us.com. R i c h a r d i s a w r i t e r w i t h a day job, l i v i n g i n B e d f o r d , U K ( f o r t h o se of you l i v i n g i n L o n d o n , B e d f o r d i s “ b eyond Lut o n ” ) r i c h a r d f a n n o n @ h o t m a i l . com L e e i s a g r a d u a t e i l l u s t r a t o r f r o m Bedford, a n d l i v e s w i t h a l o t o f c a t s l e e s mart101@ hotmail.com S h a w n S c o t t S m i t h i s a w r i t e r, creature p a i n t e r, a n d d a b b l e r i n c r e a t i v e arts. He i s a l s o t h e c r e a t o r o f P e a s w e b c omic, and f o u n d e d c o n - n e w s . c o m , t h e l e a ding daily n e w s s i t e d e v o t e d t o c o n v e n t i o ns accross t h e c o u n t r y. H i s a d v e n t u r e s are docum e n t e d a t l u c k y c re a t u re . c o m.

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