Aphelion Issue 205, Volume 20
April 2016
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The Elevator


S. A. Grove

Allan sipped at coffee in the common room with the others. He’d risen early that morning so that he could hear the newest of Cassandra’s conspiracy theories before he jacked into work. He’d already gotten the gist of it, though, and now he simply relaxed with his cup of coffee. Saye had unleashed their Data Hound into the Net—with the power to quickly switch between a physical manifestation and a digital manifestation, which also allowed these virulent A.I. to slip into the Net undetected.

Sure, Cassandra, sure. And we all live in monoliths in the sky, with execs and shareholders being the only ones who can live on Candar itself.

Sure, Cassandra, sure. And the Dread Pirate has colonized a planet he calls Amazonia so he can rebuild the Amazon race.

Sure, Cassandra, sure. And— Allan broke off his internal mockery.

Lonnie drew himself a cup of coffee and took a seat next to Cassandra. She glanced to Lonnie with a shy blush. Something about Lonnie irritated Allan, he couldn’t quite identify what it was, and as an analyst for one of the sub-sub-sub-sub-sub corps to the Candarian MegaCorp, he thrived on knowledge and hated the unknown. Suppose that could have been said differently: he hated the unknown just as every other being in the cosmos.

Allan finished his cup and interrupted Cassandra’s horror stories about black dogs on the Net. “Well everybody, it’s time. I’ll see you all after work.” He abandoned his mug to the cleaning spiders that crept out from the sink and went into his apartment, where Sonya was only just waking up.

“Up early?” she asked.

“Only a little. Cassandra’s going on about that Saye virus again.”

“That’s a good one. I’m surprised you didn’t stay through to the end.”

“Lonnie’s out there.”

Sonya’s eyes dilated as a chill washed over her skin, but Allan didn’t see. “Why?”

“Beats me. I’ve got to get in to work though.” A door like the side of a tube rolled open, and Allan stepped inside, beginning to key in commands and strap himself in. Sonya leapt out of bed and kissed him before the tube cut him off until lunch. She pulled back before the tube-door sealed her in. That had happened before. It was miserable.

The chill was Allan’s this time. Sonya hadn’t closed her robe. Forget Cassandra’s ghost stories, Allan had no hope of keeping his focus now. But he’d been jacked in, and those tubes had timers. He may well have been lost to the physical world.

Sonya leaned against the window and stared out at the beach. For all the scum she’d heard about and read in the news: war, murder, natural disasters, drug lords and gang lords...Candar remained a beautiful planet, and more: she had the great pleasure of living in the only free place in the world. She, like so many others, refused to ascribe to the theory that a Candarian MegaCorp existed at all, running a near-endless hierarchy of sub-corps like some distant god. The nearby planet of Dausmin was like that, dominated by the Union of Subsidiaries Subject to the Remlin, but not Candar.

Allan had told her once that the USSR was a fabrication of the Candarian MegaCorp. “Foster enmity and unite a people,” he said. The PR exec that devised the USSR lacked a certain creativity but had a certain dry humor and earth-history education, and by the time someone realized that the Union of Subsidiaries Subject to the Remlin was a wafer-thin joke on the Union of Soviet Socialist Republics, it was far too late. She grinned at her critics and sang, “You don’t know how lucky you are, boys.”

Sonya drew away from the window and put on something more common-room appropriate, but when she turned toward the door, her window flickered. Briefly, she saw mountains. She screwed up her face staring at the now-rectified beach beyond the window.

For a moment, doubt reared, but she reminded herself that she lived in the physical world. She could take the elevator down from the common room to the lobby, and then walk two blocks to Lonnie’s apartment building. On the way she would pass shops and cars and lights and meters, just like any, ordinary, real person. She’d done it a thousand times before.

The window flickered again, and an image imprinted itself in Sonya’s mind in that fraction of a second: a massive black wolf, edged and red-orange light, eyes burning. Sonya shrieked and dropped her mug. She’d seen the like before.

Lonnie had been showing her the stars in two dimensions simultaneously, and in the dull memories of that ecstasy, she’d seen Lonnie’s cat in both worlds: physically, it was an adorable orange tabby; digitally, it was dark gray with warm orange light—equally adorable. The Hound had been different. Its red-orange light had hungered.

Sonya eyed the window again, trembling fingers slipping along the wall toward the door. The window burst, and Sonya shrieked again. She spun, tore open the door, and slammed it behind her.

Everyone in the small common room looked up in surprise, and Lonnie appeared at Sonya’s side. “What is it?”

“D-D—M—” Sonya stuttered and Lonnie drew her into his arms, then heard the sound of metal and plastic been shorn apart in the room beyond. Sonya stilled for a moment, long enough to hear the tear of flesh just before her husband’s scream ripped the air.

“Elevator!” Lonnie said to one of the other men in the common room, quiet enough to fall below the din of the Hound’s feast. The group crowded into the Elevator. As the great silver doors eased shut, the Data Hound burst through Sonya’s door, its black fur bloodied. Hungry red eyes met with Sonya’s and snarled—grinned.


Scott and his wife live in an eerie old town on the frontier, where he works in data and she’s getting her Master’s degree. His first writings were fan-fiction pieces on the Legend of Zelda, which he wrote in composition note books during long road trips up and down the coast of California.

E-mail: S. A. Grove


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