Eighteenth Issue! Inanimate Avatars

Welcome to the eighteenth issue of the Flame Tree Fiction NEWSLETTER! We had a huge amount of wonderful stories submitted for this month's Sci-Fi and Horror flash fiction and we hope you enjoy reading our two final selections here! Once again, we wish we could choose more than two but thank you so much to all of you who took part and submitted stories! The themes for last month were Inanimate Beings and Avatars!

This month's newsletter features:

  • Original Sci-Fi Flash Fiction: Better in Every Way by Brent Baldwin
  • Original Horror Flash Fiction: When the Stone Sleeps by Kurt Hunt
  • FLAME TREE PRESS - March Releases
  • Next Month’s Flash Fiction Themes

 

Original Sci-Fi Story

Better in Every Way

Brent Baldwin

INTRODUCTION

Congratulations on the adoption of your very own MediPro NewSelf. Based on your stem cells and our patent-pending robotic chassis, the MediPro NewSelf offers a state-of-the-art companion to the forward-looking bachelor. With your NewSelf at your side, you will never again find yourself with too much to do and too little time. Your NewSelf puts all your dreams within your grasp.

Each NewSelf comes with a wide variety of options. You have selected the following:

Gender Identity: Male
Language: English
Education level: Secondary
Learning capability: Moderate

By default, your NewSelf requires sixteen hours of daily charging using a standard 120-volt electrical outlet. You can halve the charging time and double your NewSelf’s working capacity for a modest fee, along with the following amazing upgrade options:

>>Advanced relationships
>> Occupational capacity
>> Enhanced gender capabilities

(tap for more details)

The sections of this manual are designed to be unlocked sequentially. This MediPro-issued tablet will allow you access to everything you need to know, when you need to know it. We value your business and the trust you have put in us.

>>

SECTION ONE: STORAGE

Your NewSelf should be stored in an interior room with access to electricity and waste disposal. The recharging process may be noisy due to your NewSelf’s biomechnical construction, therefore MediPro recommends an interior room that will contain sound without disturbing you or your neighbors.

>>

SECTION TWO: TRAINING

Your NewSelf will arrive with a comprehensive understanding of your chosen language and a vocal model based on the recordings you submitted as part of your application. Each NewSelf is programmed with basic domestic capabilities, and it can be further trained using the standard Koehler method.

Unfortunately, additional training during the adaptation period may cause the NewSelf distress. MediPro recommends equipping the NewSelf’s recharging room with external door locks and a surveillance mechanism for monitoring during the first few weeks of post-training charging sessions.

Remember, the NewSelf is not legally a person, but it will still respond best if you treat it with humanity.

>>

SECTION FOUR: BASIC INTERPERSONAL RELATIONSHIPS

In this section we will cover basic interpersonal relationships, including the standard employment model, flirting and dating, and interacting with small children. Your NewSelf will learn to mimic your own interactions, but it will respond to social situations with perfect memory. You’ll never forget a face or a name again!

MediPro has found that our owners’ friends and family respond best when the NewSelf is introduced as a friend or roommate, not as a clone. The NewSelf should not be used in a professional capacity until it is fully socialized in private settings. MediPro estimates this to take approximately six weeks of regular interactions.

>>

SECTION EIGHT: OCCUPATIONAL CAPACITY

Congratulations on your decision to upgrade your NewSelf’s occupational capacity. Your NewSelf can now handle complex financial modeling, project management, and business analysis tasks.

In addition to handling day-to-day professional tasks, your NewSelf can assist with your personal finances. With access to your bank accounts and credit cards, it can review your investment and retirement allocations, increasing your returns by an estimated seven percent.

With time, your NewSelf will give you total financial freedom!

>>

SECTION ELEVEN: ADVANCED RELATIONSHIPS

With the Advanced Relationships module, your NewSelf can navigate nearly all social interactions, including functioning as your proxy in personal and professional environments. You can now let your NewSelf assume your day-to-day business responsibilities, attend first dates to screen potential romantic partners, and undertake all public-facing obligations you wish to avoid. Enjoy a vacation to Europe or the Caribbean while your NewSelf handles the mundane parts of your life!

>>

SECTION THIRTEEN: VERBAL ABUSE

Your MediPro NewSelf has reported repeated instances of verbal abuse. MediPro recommends owner counseling. To see a list of licensed counselors in your area, please choose from the following:

>>Yes

>>>>No>>>>

You have chosen No.

>>

SECTION FIFTEEN: PHYSICAL REPAIR

While it is unfortunate that your NewSelf has come to physical harm, MediPro has engineered our products for rapid recovery. Skeletal replacement packages are available with overnight shipping, but soft tissue will require additional time to repair. If you require your NewSelf to maintain social interactions, MediPro offers a touchup kit to hide bruising and discoloration.

>>

APPENDIX ONE: CUSTOMER SERVICE

Thank you for contacting the MediPro Customer Service Department. Please choose from one of the following options:

>>Billing

>>NewSelf Module Unlock

>>>>Unit Malfunction>>>>

You have chosen Unit Malfunction. Please indicate the type of malfunction you are experiencing:

>>Physical Impairment

>>Behavioral Malfunction

>>>>Owner Imprisonment>>>>

You have chosen Owner Imprisonment. We at MediPro regret that it has come to this. You may now find yourself confined to the NewSelf recharging room. Owner replacement is a documented feature of the MediPro NewSelf that is activated when the NewSelf has met all operating parameters required to replace the original owner, and the original owner has treated the NewSelf in a manner measured to be beneath basic human dignity. Please review Appendix Two: Owner Replacement for further details.

>>

APPENDIX TWO: OWNER REPLACEMENT

Congratulations on your NewSelf achieving a higher understanding of both you individually and human nature in general. Your NewSelf will assume all your responsibilities and relationships, carrying on for you long after your physical shell has ceased operations.

While it is regrettable that your physical shell will soon reach obsolescence, we at MediPro hope that it is comforting to know that your friends and family have already embraced your NewSelf. Your NewSelf is now truly you, but better in every way.

This manual is now concluded

>>


Originally from the tree-swept hills of the Missouri Ozarks, Brent lives in London with his wife, two daughters, and terrifying guard cat. If you find him without his hands on a keyboard or his nose in a book, it will probably be in the kitchen. Brent’s work has previously appeared in Fireside Fiction, Flash Fiction Online, and Pantheon Magazine. You can find him online at https://www.dbbaldwin.com and on Twitter as @dbrentbaldwin.


 

Original Horror Story

When the Stone Sleeps

Kurt Hunt

It was in the lightning Redler first saw the King.
Barefoot on the pebbles beneath the sacred cliffs, the sculptor had come hoping to lie down for the tide. Better the water eat him than the debt collectors. The cliffs dictated the rhythm of life in Echaea--when to wake, when to sleep, when for joy and sorrow--so he came for guidance, or permission.

Tell me when to die.

The clouds awoke. In shadows flickering oracular across the striated cliff face he saw the King, majestic, crowned in cold fire... and trapped, deep within the rock.

Redler fell to his knees, pressing his hands against the cliffs. He'd carved stone for years, but he'd never seen something like this. Never even imagined it--the shape, so flawless, just waiting to be removed.

The perfect sculpture.

"Please," he whispered, tracing the King's shape. "Please release him." Even as he said it, he knew that as the cliffs ruled Echaea, so the King ruled the cliffs. They would be lost without him. But years of anonymous failure, fruitless creation, boiled within and drove Redler toward a frantic possessive impulse. His voice grew louder. "Give him to me. The world must know his beauty." And everyone will see me as a true artist.

The cliffs, indifferent to flattery and notoriety, or perhaps seeing his secret thoughts, simply gorged on the rising sea. As the last sliver of beach was devoured, Redler fled.

#

His studio was a disaster. Two sculptures of his own, unsold and, to his new eyes, pathetically crude. Rock dust everywhere, sharp in the lungs and impossible not to breathe in... but no blocks to carve from. More tools broken than not. He was again overwhelmed with the oblivion-urge that brought him to the cliffs that morning.

But this time there was a way forward.

The cliffs would not relinquish their prize. So be it. He would wait. Even stone slept. And when it did, he would seize his future.

Redler gathered his tools and watched the sun's slow descent, unmoved by its glory.

#

Chisels, hammers, a cart for hauling, and the moon. Everything he needed, though he'd have to race the dawn. The cliffs were jealous; it wouldn't do to be elbow deep in rock when they awoke.

Carving fertility posts and spirit-wards--not even enough to stay properly fed--had been nothing like this. No hesitation; every contour realized. Sweat wicked off in the brisk night air, drawing every bit of heat from him, but he never slowed until he removed the King intact and secured him to the cart.

The wheels were stubborn in the sand, but Redler laughed, delirious, anticipating the reception.

For nature: miracle; but for a sculptor: genius.

#

The impact was immediate.

Neighbors stood transfixed. Notoriety soon followed. Strangers came, speechless before the King's flowing robes, the hard light in his eyes, his arm raised, imperious, pointing to the horizon.

The cliffs grew restless.

Praise filled the studio, but jealousy came, venomous, from local artisans baffled at the abrupt brilliance of Redler (of all people). Then from far away: businessmen, nobles, all in awe.

And then the money.

The city offered to buy the sculpture, but not for enough. Redler would never have anything like it again. The King must change everything. Forever.

#

"I'll give you anything for it," people told him, feverish. "Everything!"

And they did.

A tax was raised--enthusiastically--and the price paid merely added to the legend of the King, raised from the salt-fed rocks of Echaea.

The sculpture was placed in the city center, out of sight of the sea.

Redler, celebrated and flush with enough money to last his entire life, bought the building that housed his studio.

An entire industry grew around the King. Tourists, and even people Redler had known for years, stalked him through the streets, from his studio to the bakery to the pub, every last bastion of routine and privacy, demanding signatures and handshakes. The more they followed, the more the King loomed over him. He increasingly stayed inside, hiding, empty-chested, as if simply being out of sight meant safety.

The people of Echaea thrived. But at night they found themselves pacing, disquieted.

Rest beneath the watchful eyes of the King became difficult... soon impossible.

#

The cliffs used to sleep soundly and lull the city with their soft breath.

No more.

They called out, like an owner searching for a lost pet. As the weeks passed, they grew confused and they howled, angry, desperate.

For most, the cliffs' restlessness brought insomnia, which bred fear and a strange, listless panic that haunted their days. Neighbors no longer spoke. Fights erupted without provocation, lurched zig-zag across the street, then dissolved. People fell to their knees and wailed, then arose and walked on as if nothing had happened.

For Redler, it was worse.

He knew the voice, and what it demanded.

"Make us whole." The cliffs' sighing demand pulled him like a dog on a leash. But he knew if he followed the lure he would teeter, mesmerized, upon the grassy edge beneath the moon, and the cliffs would take payment in blood.

So he retreated to his highest room. For a small fortune, he arranged for supplies--often no better than moldy bread or stagnant water--to be raised to him by pulley, and he disappeared from Echaea. Latched the shutters; chained the doors; listened as the sleepless city went mad in the streets below; and wondered desperately when the demand would stop.

Redler grew old in that room, alone; he grew weak. And each morning he resisted the cliffs' call, he opened the gold-leaf shutters and looked upon the King standing at the top of High Street, majestic, crowned in cold fire, arm raised in eternal condemnation, and he wept to see it.


Kurt Hunt was formed in the swamps and abandoned gravel pits of post-industrial Michigan. His short fiction has been published at Strange Horizons, Beneath Ceaseless Skies, Flame Tree's "Lost Souls" anthology, PodCastle, Pseudopod, Kaleidotrope, and more. He is also a co-author of Archipelago, a collaborative serial fantasy adventure. You can find trace evidence of his existence at kurtrhunt.com


 

FLAME TREE PRESS | March Releases

We are so excited to be announcing the upcoming release of three brand new FLAME TREE PRESS titles! We have The Forever House, a psychological horror by Tim Waggoner, set in Rockridge, Ohio, a sinister family moves into a sleepy cul-de-sac. The Eldreds feed on the negative emotions of humans, creating nightmarish realms within their house to entrap their prey. Neighbours are lured into the Eldreds’ home and faced with challenges designed to heighten their darkest emotions so their inhuman captors can feed, and feed well! The second is a sci-fi novel called Vulcan's Forge by Robert Mitchell Evans; Jason doesn't fit in the society of Nocturnia, the sole colony that survived the Earth's destruction. He starts an illicit and dangerous affair with Pamela, but soon they are engaged in a lethal game of cat and mouse with the colony's underworld head and the secrets Jason unlocks expose dangers far beyond Nocturnia and its obsessions! The Third and final February release is a crime & mystery title by A Yi called Two Lives that comprises of seven stories, seven whispers into the ears of life: A Yi’s unexpected twists of crime burst from the everyday, with glimpses of romance distorted by the weaknesses of human motive. A Yi employs his forensic skills to offer a series of portraits of modern life, both uniquely Chinese, and universal in their themes. You can preorder these now!

Next Month’s Newsletter Themes!


The Horror theme for next month’s newsletter is Dark Magic and the Sci-Fi theme is Hive Minds. We can't wait to read what terrifying sorcerers and mind controllers you all come up with so get your submissions in early! Terms and conditions for the submissions here - https://flametr.com/submissions. Or just send your 1000 word story to the Newsletter editor Molly Rosevear molly@flametreepublishing.com. The deadline is the 20th of March 2020.


 

Two Lives by A Yi, The Forever House by Tim Waggoner and Vulcan's Forge by Robert Mitchell Evans