The Kingdom Coffee Missionary Handbook tells Paulo that he should always put his guns away during a door approach. He’s heard this hundreds of times before, but the Handbook speaks with a voice of authority, deep like a luchador’s, strong like a drill sergeant’s, calm like his abuelito’s. It slides in just under his ARgog’s selectively amplified environmental audio. 450 bonus points if the contact is completed without violence, calculates the Handbook, 900 if there are no deaths. Each death harms the public image of the Kingdom, the Handbook tells him. Paulo nods agreement. Way better to spread the faith on the no-kill difficulty setting.
Still, Paulo is not stupid, so he pauses to load Rambo, his ancient and lovingly modded M4A1 Carbine, before slinging it across his back. Looking bad-ass is his favorite violence prevention technique. The Handbook says nothing about tear gas, and he decides not to mention the CS smoke grenade in his left pocket. His last couple of leads had ended with tense stand-offs. Goddess, yo creo, he prays silently. Help my unbelief. He fingers his mala of Robusto beans, sniffing hard to catch its fading aroma. (Continue Reading…)
Bojan Ratković is a writer from Serbia, now living in Ontario, Canada. His work has appeared in Every Day Fiction, Liquid Imagination, Great Lakes Review, Fiction Vortex, and on the World SF Blog. He is pursuing a PhD in political philosophy from the University of Western Ontario.
about the narrator…
Steve Anderson has been acting on stage for more years than he cares to admit, and has worked for 10 seasons at the Pennsylvania Renaissance Faire–most memorably, selling pickles. These days, his main acting job consists of performing one-man shows and storytelling programs with his touring series, Great Tales Live.
He’s fascinated by Civil War history, and has led almost a thousand walking tours in Gettysburg. He performs as a living history interpreter along the Civil War Trails. He lives in central Pennsylvania with his beloved wife Rhonda and a varying number of cats.
Ride the Dragon
by Bojan Ratković
We were a band back then, in the bat-shit Wild West days of the game. We held our court at the Gentleman Boozer, the loudest pub on the big map. It was Haru, Flygirl, Black Boris, and me. And we had floaters, part-time comrades. Mostly kids who wanted to be like us, who did us favors. But Tony Rem was there too, the one that rode the dragon.
It’s hard to believe now just how big it was, when they launched True-Fantasy. It was the first MMORPG with MaTRiX immersion headgear―it jacked you in, made you really live it. Most of the players were funboys―kids who played for fun―and they paid the bills. But you could make RL coin if you were good enough―real life currency―and the rest of us wanted a cut.
Punchers punched the clock, putting in RL hours to work as barkeeps and innkeepers and helpdesk clerks. Gougers sold rare items for RL cash; there was a big black market and bigger gray area, and you could make a killing. We were glitchers―beta testers, top players. Exposing glitches in the game was our business, and admins paid top dollar to help them fix whatever bugs we could find. But it wasn’t about the money. All the top glitchers, the real cowboys, were after big scores. We proved ourselves by exposing the wildest glitches, the ones that got the map talking.
There was a group of mercenaries in the Boozer the day Tony came to us about the dragon. They sat across from us, up by the stain glass windows. They were the wrong kind of mercs, cutthroats. They helped the funboys on their quests, for a fee, but then they’d turn on them, cut their throats and take their items. And poof, back to beginner’s village. It wasn’t exactly legal, but they used proxies, rented avatars. Admins kicked them, they came back.
Tony strolled in like a breeze, letting the doors clap shut behind him. He walked over to the back and took the chair Haru wasn’t using, on account of his horse’s ass. Haru’s avatar was a centaur with a black leather jacket and shades, and his game was speed. He made his name by galloping vertically along the walls of the White Palace as the whole map watched. It took less than an hour for the admins to fix the glitch that allowed Haru to defy virtual gravity, but the stunt made him famous.
“I got the ticket, boys,” Tony spat out like he’d been holding it in for days. “The big one.” (Continue Reading…)
Sam Ferree grew up in what Neal Stephenson called a Midwestern American College Town (MACT) and has never really left. That, and being surrounded by lawyers for most of his life, has made him somewhat obsessive-compulsive about supporting his comments with citations and factual evidence.
In 2010, Sam graduated from the University of Iowa with a BA in English after spending a year abroad in Freiburg, Germany. He spent most of his college career haunting the Mill and Java House, producing short plays with Free Association Student Theatre, agonizing through writing workshops, and pestering the college and English department into making a undergraduate creative writing program.
After graduating, he did that cliche post-English-BA-thing and worked in a coffee shop and bookstore before signing up for AmeriCorps. He moved to New Orleans and wrote grants and copy for a housing rehabilitation nonprofit. In June, he moved to St. Paul and now works as a communications associate at another small nonprofit.
In the summer of 2011, Sam published his first short story with the great Sybil’s Garage, and his work has since appeared in Andromeda Spaceways Inflight Magainze, Deimos eZine, and Daily Science Fiction. His play, “The News is Next,” won the Nicholas Meyer Scholarship for Dramatic Writing and he is a alumnus from Young Playwrights’ Incorporated from 2006. Mostly he writes speculative fiction, personal essays, and plays and takes a perverse pleasure in copy and grant writing.
Also, Sam reads a lot, and drinks too much coffee. He wears sports coats for the pockets and has a habit of ending his sentences with “so…” He is estranged from reality and divorced from practicality. Driving instructors have said he is a master at parallel parking.
about the narrator…
As an undergraduate at Georgia Tech, I was very involved with the campus radio station, WREK 91.1 FM. I’m back doing some things for them now, including an airshift (that I no longer do but I’m leaving the page up.) That page has some of my play lists from when I was doing the shift – jazz, baby! WREK is a very good and very different station, so follow the links and learn more about it. I rebuilt their automation system, revamped their database and did the CGI scripts that show you (limited) playlists, recent additions to programming and the music database search.
I now have online a project that I did in some AI courses in grad school. It is a digit recognition neural network and if I say so myself, I think it is pretty cool. It was one of the first things I did in Java, so it isn’t as elegant in design and execution as it could have been, but it does the trick.
The Law of Gravity
by Sam Ferree
That sunrise was the best they had made yet. The air was cool, not cold, and the Termination was just the right shade of pomegranate red around the sun. The light breeze smelled like oranges. It reminded me of candy, not real fruit, just that imitation flavor that somehow tastes better than the real thing.
“I think Lauren’s dead,” Lukas repeated, his avatar’s young face contorted in disgust. Lukas had chosen a runner’s physique, because, out there, he’d been a track star in college; why that mattered to him was beyond me.
“What do you mean you think she’s dead?” I asked. We were sitting at Reel Café — a not-so clever pun, I thought — at the edge of the patio. We had met there every Monday morning for years.
My coffee was cold and my cigarette spent. Lukas had ordered his usual Earl Grey and a grapefruit, but he hadn’t touched either one.
Lukas shook his head. “Her avatar is in Smith Field. Just standing there, staring off at nothing. It’s been doing that for weeks. I spoke with a friend of mine, an administrator. They’re shutting down her account because her fees are overdue. She hasn’t been away from the Flat for more than two days in decades. She’s dead, Noah.”
“So she’s been away for a few weeks. That doesn’t mean anything.”
“But it’s a pretty good sign she isn’t coming back.”
The orange scent was fading and Lukas was silent. I said, “Well, what do we do?”
“What?” Lukas looked up. Eventually, he shrugged. “I suppose we arrange a funeral.”
I nodded, but said, “I don’t actually think she’s dead.”
“She is,” Lukas muttered. His twenty-something avatar wore an old man’s bitterness.
I picked up my coffee. The mug looked like it had been made by a five year old. Everything about the Reel Café had that hokey-imperfection. When you sat in the chairs, you half-expected a distinguished looking gentleman to walk up and ask you to please not sit on the dadist art.
I dropped the mug. It shattered with a disappointing crack. A nearby waiter started toward me, glowering and brandishing a towel like a gladiatorial weapon.
“Why did you do that?” Lukas asked.
“Just testing,” I said, knowing that Lauren would have been less than amused. (Continue Reading…)