Nathalie lives in the same apartment building and works at the same office as Odette and Michèle. All she knows of them is their names.
Odette wears riskyspex most of the day. She tightrope walks across intersections, dodges computer-generated avalanches, battles pirates down city sidewalks. She arrives at work exhilarated.
Michèle prefers busylenses. They deliver emails and rss feeds. The sides of buildings become spreadsheets and letterhead for her invoices. The journey is just an extension of her job.
Nathalie puts on happyglasses first thing. An overlay of singing bluebirds and bobbing balloons is just what she needs. If she is about to walk into a tree or building they will direct her around the danger.
(It’s just as well cars drive themselves. All the drivers are wearing glasses of one kind or another.)
Nathalie goes to a new café for lunch. Animated vegetables blur around the edges, pixelate, then blink out altogether. An announcement whispers over her earpieces.
“This café is a no-augment zone. Please enjoy the company of your fellow patrons.”
Her happyglasses are transparent for the first time in, well, ever. Nathalie looks around, discombobulated. She bumps into a chair, and pauses. This would not have happened if her glasses were working.
She turns, about to leave, when she sees the two other diners. Odette sits in a corner, keeping a wary eye on Michèle, on Nathalie, on the waiter, out the window, then back to Michèle, who is drawing something complicated on a napkin. When Nathalie walks to an empty table she sees it appears to be a production schedule.
Salad. Sandwich. Nathalie is eating a last sliver of carrot when the other two rise to leave. None of them have said a word beyond ordering. “Wait,” she calls.
Odette spins. Michèle turns more slowly, looking up from the napkin she still carries.
“Let’s walk back together,” says Nathalie. “It could be fun to talk.”
“Why?” says Odette, backing toward the exit. Her glasses opaque as she stands in the doorway. She spins, dodging imaginary projectiles, and darts down the sidewalk.
Michèle just glances at Nathalie, then shakes her head slowly and leaves. Once outside, she moves numbers here and there with practiced fingers.
Nathalie looks around at the empty café. She has never felt lonely before. She pays, and leaves.
When the waiter cleans her table, he finds the glasses she has left behind.
Alex Dally MacFarlane
Jason Erik Lundberg
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- Foiled Again
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- An Account of the Last Lucid Moment in the Long, Illustrious, and Most Surprising Life of Albert Hill, Boxer, Composer, Paleontologist, Notorious Flirt, and Respected Statesman, formerly of Cornwall, Staten Island, and the Now Vanished Village of Kalna Yama in the Mountains of Bulgaria, the Title of Which Is Much Longer Than the Actual Text
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Once there was a man who realized the days of his life were finite. Unlike others, he decided to do something about it and so paid a visit to Father Time. Back then you could speak to Father Time if you moved in the right circles.
“Father Time,” he said to the greyness, “will you add more days to my life?”
“No,” said Father Time in a faded voice. “But I can lengthen the days.”
“That will do,” said the man. So with his lengthened days the man went on to build giant robots, huge armadas, a vast empire. But soon the man realized he had very few days left, so he went again to Father Time. Back then you could speak to Father Time a second time if you paid the right bribes.
“Father Time,” he said to the crumbling mountains. “Will you again lengthen the days of my life?”
“No,” said Father Time in the voice of the tide. “But I can lengthen the hours.”
“That will do,” said the man. With those lengthened hours he accomplished more: he carved monuments, composed anthems, designed cities. But soon the man realized he had very few hours left, so he went again to Father Time. Back then you could speak to Father Time a third time if you sacrificed the right people.
“Father Time,” he said to the hourglass. “Will you again lengthen the hours of my life?”
“No,” said Father Time in a fleeting voice. “But I can lengthen the minutes.”
“Very well,” said the man. So with those lengthened minutes he did even more: rewrote DNA, split the quark, warped space. But now he had almost no time left at all. “Oh, Father Time,” he cried out, for once you have seen Father Time three times you are old friends with each other’s name in your rolodex, “my time is almost up. Will you again lengthen the minutes remaining to me?”
“No,” said Father Time in a distant voice. “But I can help you know what you should do with the time remaining.”
“That will do,” said the man. So Father Time showed him Death, for the power of Death is to concentrate the mind on what you most fervently needed to accomplish. The man looked into the end and then he knew what he must do.
But now he had no time left at all.
Everything happened exactly as the night porter had described. A whirlwind erupted out of the marble floor, clawed hands ripping out of it. They caught the light of this world awfully clearly.
We behaved like sensible, fearless exorcists and ran full tilt for the door. Outside, the heat of Istanbul brought us up short.
“At least the tourist season is almost over,” sighed the director.
I answered, “No exorcist worth their bell stays to be killed. Now I think we have the measure of it. If you will excuse us.”
I too began to have doubts after the second day, though. Octavia plowed through manuscript after Byzantine manuscript, searching out references to whirlwind demons haunting Hagia Sophia. But I didn’t want a reference, I wanted a solution, and I didn’t think medieval people had found one, though they had had much more experience with demons than modern ones have.
Iskender, Octavia’s husband, just shrugged and made us more Turkish coffee. He does ghosts, not demons.
Me? I did my meditations, sought out the spirit messengers, read everything I could find in English, Italian, and my newly learnt Greek and Arabic, scribbled frantic notes to the sound of my pirated tapes. The neighborhood bootlegger specialized in funk and disco, stuff I’d never wanted to listen to back home. Here, I was getting an education.
The third day, high on caffeine, P Funk, and medieval Greek, I had a brainstorm.
“Let’s just try it,” I said to Octavia in the cab back to Hagia Sophia.
“You’re mad,” she said.
“Yes, yes—I know! But let’s just try it,” I repeated.
“I’m standing behind you. And let’s keep the director out of this.”
So we stood there, or rather I stood there, in the center of that grand and ancient marble paving, with a beat-up boombox. I waited for the whirlwind to begin. It swirled out of the stone right on time. I saw the claws flick and flash.
I knelt and pressed “play.”
George Clinton did what I couldn’t do. The whirling claws couldn’t take the rhythm. They spun faster, flung out further.
“You’re feeding it!” Cried Octavia.
“I don’t think so,” I said.
Suddenly the demons gave it up to the funk. There was a gorgeous explosion of dust. Then silence.
I still haven’t figured out why it worked. Perhaps they didn’t have anything like that way back when.