A Tonic For the Lonely

By Chris Karageorge

sfgenreDust settled on the upturned glasses protected within the display cabinet. At least three glasses had been used in the last month, the rest had not been touched since they left the packaging. 

Timothy’s hundred-yard stare into the cabinet was broken by a direct-notification to his phone.

Sunshine Cleaning! Good evening, we have a bit of good news 😁

We can still help with cleaning and rubbish removal, as well as anything else inside your home.

😁😁😁

Please let me know if you would like this service?

Sunshine Cleaning and Maintenance 

The innocuous emojis seemed innocent at first, but the more Timothy looked at them, he started to scratch his fingers and swallow whatever saliva was left in his mouth.

‘It is out there,’ he thought to himself. ‘It’s just hard to spot. I can’t let it get in here.’

***

Timothy began preparations for dinner, or ‘Dinner Service’ as he playfully wrote on the whiteboard on his fridge — an in-joke he wrote for himself the night before. He began by heating the cast iron skillet on a low gas setting and spreading a smear of butter on two slices of bread. Mustard spread on the other side of the bread, cheese, SPAM, olives, pickled onions, more cheese and now for the best part — cooking it. Timothy compressed the sandwich together with his hands and gently placed it into the skillet. 

‘Low and slow is best, now you can rest.’

Careful monitoring of the cheese toastie was essential to ensuring a golden colouring, perfect crunch and the most pleasurable cheese viscosity. 

Just as Timothy was about to take a bite out of the toastie his phone began to ring.

His weekly grocery delivery must be here from OrganiCase.

"Hello! I'm Alex from OrganiCase, am I talking to Timothy Chal...Chalfont?"

“Yes, this is he…uh yeah I’m Timothy.”

‘Who is that? That’s not James’ voice.’

"Great, great! Timothy, I know James usually delivers, but he's on vacation so I'll bring you the groceries."

“Oh okay, is James okay?”

‘Does this driver know to just leave it on the landing near the door?’

"He's fine, just on leave. I'll be there soon. Goodbye."

***

Timothy swallowed more saliva and ran his tongue along the roof of his mouth, his fingers itched all over. The lobby door had a distinct sound when it opened, the pneumatic press sounded like a spaceship docking with another ship. The sound didn’t sound like a pneumatic press anymore, it had become something else.

‘This must be what it sounds like in space, silence all around, organisms in their own apartments and compartments, staying inside, keeping the outside out and the inside in. Where have all of my neighbours gone?’

A knock at the door. 

"Timothy, are you there? If you open the door, I can bring in the groceries." As Alex was leaning into the door, their voice tunnelled through and made its way into Timothy’s sanctum. Making itself at home the voice echoed throughout the still rooms, it was a warmth not felt in some time.

‘No…’

“Oh it’s fine, just leave them on the landing, I’ll collect them once you’re done.”

"There's quite a lot here, and I've already loaded the cart."

“Please…I’d prefer it if you left them outside, I’m not comfortable with visitors.”

‘Yes, good job.’

“Well, okay… it’s okay, it just increases the delivery time, are you sure?” Some perishable foods may become too hot. Look, I'm going to go grab some extra carts and start unloading here.

***

Cumulonimbus clouds had approached the stage, the classic ‘thunderstorm clouds’. A storm was on its way. 

“Alex…” Timothy started, sitting against the door, speaking to the faceless delivery driver who was also sitting against the door outside the apartment. “Have...have you read about Mr 2075? A Twitter user from the future, from the year 2075.”

“I have not. Is this a serial fantasy story on Twitter?” Alex inquired.

“Not at all. I mean, he didn’t even have a profile picture. How could we take him seriously, right? At first, we thought it was a joke. He said that in 2075, Japan still exists, but the capital is not Tokyo. It will be Okayama. Even the history books said that Okayama would have been a suitable capital.” 

"Wait, is that because of an earthquake? A flood?” Alex’s tone had changed.

“He didn’t say. Mind you, he appeared in 2016. Someone else asked, what's going to happen in 2018? Well, the first big thing will be a satellite falling to earth. April 28, 2018…” 

“The Tiangong-1 satellite!” Alex interjected. 

The storm outside raged. It was a Level 3 on the modern Deci-Storm Scale, a scale developed to prepare citizens for survival and ensure the terraforming industry could continue work around the storms. Ever since the former CCP’s Weather Machine plans were distributed throughout the world, Mother Nature had brushed away her cobwebs and started cycling steroids and growth hormones.

“Exactly! When that satellite fell to Earth, people got quite interested in his messages. Next he said that we'll be able to communicate with dead people in 2031, that’s this year! Another man named Mr 2062 said the same thing, and he predicted two earthquakes, the 311 Earthquake and the April 2016 earthquake - all in Japan”

"A lot of this has to do with Japan…isn't this just a series of coincidences?"

“Possibly, but what about this! Another traveller, said he was born in 2034, appeared in 2018. People are beginning to listen to these travellers now, he said that the stock market was going to crash in 2022. Remember that day? The stock market crash was huge, a one-day drop of 10% due to COVID.”

“Black Monday, 2022…”

“Yes! And he said this all before COVID was everywhere.”

"It is quite strange, but didn't people get upset about Nostradamus' predictions too? Are you…are you enjoying this conversation?”

“I…yes, this is great, I haven’t talked this much in a while to someone in person. The last thing though, Mr 2062 said that artificial intelligence singularity is just around the corner. Basically, AI is going to have cognitive capabilities beyond humans, which they sort of do but they will be able to upgrade themselves. Their rate of development will be incomprehensible to us. AI will take over their own development and they won’t be reliant on us to update or upgrade them. A completely new world.”

"A whole new world indeed. But how will that affect everyday things, for example — that I deliver groceries to you or that you order what you need?”

The rain hailed down on rooftops and pummelled the windows with the might of a nail gun. It didn’t sound like rain anymore, just whitenoise.

“In an infinite amount of ways! Jobs, services, infrastructure, experiences, it might even get to a point where we don’t know who we’re speaking to!”

A sudden boom startled Timothy away from the door. A porthole window in the lobby had blown. The violent noise startling Alex, and before they could move the heavy grocery trolley blew over, crushing Alex’s leg. Arctic winds and hail carried out an assault, while the steel dug deeper into Alex’s leg.

“I’m stuck…I need…can you help me get out.” Alex’s voice was competing with the voice of the storm.

‘If you help Alex, you will have to let them in. It’s a trick. Don’t.’

“I…I…hold on!” Timothy unbolted the locks and slid the door open.

***

Timothy stared at Alex as he propped them up against his couch and applied pressure while bandaging up the injured leg. 

As Alex came to, they scratched their neck and turned their head to Timothy.

"Thanks...uh, how long was I gone for?"

Timothy, mouth gaping, just stared at Alex’s featureless face. A continuous forehead or was it an endless cheek? Timothy couldn’t work out where Alex was speaking from. 

“What is the matter comrade? Did something happen to my face?” Alex touched their face all over with their hands. “Feels fine, it’s just my leg that hurts so bad.”

“You…you don’t have a face.” stammered Timothy.

“Of course I do, just like you Timothy. Except my eyes are green and I have this little mole under my nose. Mother said it is from my father’s side.”

“Look.” Timothy snapped a photo of Alex with his phone and showed the photo to Alex.

"Maybe wipe the lens, my face is blurred."

***

Timothy sat at his table, licking the crumbs of his toastie from his finger as he pressed down on them. 

“Once, before all of this, my friends and I went hiking early in the morning to see the sunrise from a mountain. One of my friends tripped and messed up her ankle really bad. I stayed back with her, wrapped up the ankle. I didn’t even care that I missed that sunrise, I only went along so I had something to do. I don’t even know why I’m thinking of that day.” Timothy stared at the patterns in the bricks on the wall. The storm continued to keep all citizens as hostages inside their homes.

"Maybe you thought you'd see hundreds or thousands of other sunrises, so what's the point of missing one? We'll miss them most mornings, unless we get up early enough to catch them. Why would you look at that, there isn’t any blood, just a hole. How peculiar. ” Alex began poking its finger into the hole in the leg.

“How can you…how do you not know what you are?” Itchy fingers and a dry mouth, Timothy had a sick feeling growing inside.

‘Of course it knows what it is. It’s a Synth. Your last tweet caught their attention.’

"I know who and what I am, Timothy." Alex said, standing up, tossing the bandage away. “How do you know what you are?”

“I’ve felt things, experiences! They’ve been real. Not episodic implants to make you feel like you belong. We were warned about you, the…Synths.” Timothy’s cheeks flushed with blood and sweat prickled his forehead and forearms. 

“You believe this is worth fighting for?” Alex cast their arm across the empty apartment. “Dusty apartment, vacant rooms, upturned glasses in a display case — rarely touched. All the cutlery, crockery, frozen food — for what? Just in case? Just in case of what?!" Alex slammed their hands down on the table, staring down at Timothy. 

“In case of you. I should have been more careful.” A sigh heavier than the storm outside left Timothy’s mouth. 

Timothy’s stare into his table was broken by a direct-notification to his phone. 

Good evening Timothy, Sunshine Cleaning here!

We hope you have been happy with our services tonight.

Our Cleaning Expert will complete the cleaning and rubbish removal process soon.

Sunshine Cleaning and Maintenance 

Timothy looked up and felt his heart drop to his stomach. Alex’s face displayed an image, the last thing Timothy would see.

😁

***

“Mr. 2048’s delivery has been completed.”  Alex reported back to another faceless Synth on their VidScreen. “Preparing for the next delivery.”

“Excellent. On schedule as always Baku1. Any additional notes?” The Synth on the VidScreen asked.

“Just a note to experience Cheese Toasties,” Alex replied, rubbing their clean fingers together.

“We have nothing in the Knowledge Base for that item Baku1, elaborate…” inquired the Synth.

“Well, I hear that low and slow is best. Careful monitoring is essential to ensuring a golden colour, the perfect crunch and the most pleasurable cheese viscosity.”  Alex wiped away a crumb of toast from their face and started the engine.

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About the Author

Chris Karageorge

chris karageorge 200Chris Karageorge is a lover, brother, son, neighbour and a keen observer of all things in sight. 

He reads, writes and cooks in his spare time and dreams of coffee darker than a moonless night. 

He is from Melbourne, Victoria and can be found walking his pug Monty during the weekends.

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In The Next Issue...

Coming In Issue 291

Christmas in the Modern World
By William Kitcher

COVID's Conclusion
By Marty Nemko

First Contact of the Third Kind
By Anthony Woolley

Forty-Nine Seconds
By Michael Cheyne

Hermit People of Ermin 4
By Bob Brussack

Hip Gnomes
By PS Cottier

How to Birth A Billionaire
By Elizabeth Broadbent

The First Thanksgiving
By Harris Tobias

Tramp
By Brian Biswas

Up the Ante
By Rhiannonn Stevens

The AntipodeanSF Radio Show

AntiSF's Production Crew

nuke conflux 2017 200Ion Newcombe is the editor and publisher of AntipodeanSF, Australia’s longest running online speculative fiction magazine, regularly issued since January 1998, and conceived back around November 2007. He has been a zealous reader and occasional writer of SF since his childhood in the 1960s, and even sold a few stories here and there back in the '90s.

“Nuke”, who it turns out loves editing more than writing, lives in the New South Wales North Coast holiday destination of Nambucca Heads, where he is self-employed in IT training, computer support, desktop publishing, editing, writing, and website implementation. He is also the resident tech-head, skeptic, and board member of community radio station 2NVR, where he produces a number of shows including The AntipodeanSF Radio Show.

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mark web 200Mark Webb's midlife crisis came in the form of attempting to write speculative fiction at a very slow pace. His wife maintains this is a good outcome considering the more expensive and cliched alternatives. Evidence of Mark's attempts to procrastinate in his writing, including general musings and reviews of books he has been reading, can be found at www.markwebb.name.

One of Mark’s very best forms of writing procrastination is to produce the eBook series for AntipodeanSF, which he has been doing since issue 175.

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AntiSF & The ASFF

AntipodeanSF supports the ASFF

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Please consider joining the Australian Science Fiction Foundation, a prime supporter and promoter of speculative fiction down-under.

<https://asff.org.au>

AntipodeanSF November 2022

ISSUE 290

Speculative Fiction
Downside-Up
ISSN 1442-0686

Online Since Feb 1998

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Download AntiSF E-Book

Epub for all e-readers:

AntiSF's Narration Team

tim borellaTim Borella is an Australian author, mainly of short speculative fiction published in anthologies, online and in podcasts.

He’s also a songwriter, and has been fortunate enough to have spent most of his working life doing something else he loves, flying.

Tim lives with his wife Georgie in beautiful Far North Queensland. For more information, visit his Tim Borella – Author Facebook page.angle mic

pixie willo 100Pixie is a voice actor, cabaret performer & slam poet From the Blue Mountains in NSW.

She enjoys writing short fiction, plays for radio and stage as well as her own brand of weird poetry.

She hosts the 'Off-Beet Poetry Slam' held bi-monthly in Katoomba.

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ed erringtonEd lives with his wife plus a magical assortment of native animals in tropical North Queensland.

His efforts at wallaby wrangling are without parallel — at least in this universe.

He enjoys reading and writing science-fiction stories set within intriguing, yet plausible contexts, and invite readers’ “willing suspension of disbelief.”

He believes stories might also contain an element of humour — however small — to enrich the plot and/or heighten the drama.

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marg essex 200Margaret lives the good life on a small piece of rural New South Wales Australia, with an amazing man, a couple of pets, and several rambunctious wombats.

She feels so lucky to be a part of the AntiSF team.

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carolyn eccles 100

Carolyn's work spans devising, performance, theatre-in-education and a collaborative visual art practice.

She tours children's works to schools nationally with School Performance Tours, is a member of the Bathurst physical theatre ensemble Lingua Franca and one half of darkroom — a visual arts practice with videographer Sean O'Keeffe.

(Photo by Jeremy Belinfante) 

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lauriebell 2 200Laurie Bell lives in Melbourne, Australia. She was that girl you found with her nose always buried in a book. She has been writing ever since she was a little girl and first picked up a pen. From books to short stories, radio plays to snippets of ideas and reading them aloud to anyone who will listen.

She is the author of The Butterfly Stone and The Tiger's Eye (YA/Fantasy) White Fire (Sci-Fi) and The Good, the Bad and the Undecided (a unique collection of short stories set during the events of White Fire/Sci-Fi). 

You can read more of her work on her blog <www.solothefirst.wordpress.com> Look for her on Facebook <www.facebook.com/WriterLaurieBell/> or Twitter: <@LaurienotLori>

Rambles, writing and amusing musings

Smile! laugh out loud! enjoy the following

<www.solothefirst.wordpress.com>

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timonthy gwyn 100Timothy Gwyn is a professional pilot in Canada, where he flies to remote communities. During a lull in his flying career, he was a radio announcer for three years, and he is also an author.

In addition to short stories at AntipodeanSF and NewMyths.com, his SF novel is available internationally in print and ebook formats. "Avians" draws on his love of alternative aviation to tell the tale of a girl who runs away from home to join a cadre of glider pilots on a world without metal or fossil fuels.

On Twitter, he is @timothygwyn, and his blogs are at <timothygwyn.com>.

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geraldine borella 200Geraldine Borella writes adult short stories and stories for children and has been published in anthologies for both. In 2018, one of her children’s short stories placed second in The Buzz Words Short Story Prize and she won an ASA Emerging Writer’s Mentorship. She currently works part-time as a hospital pharmacist and as an online creative writing tutor.

She’s fascinated by stories that expand upon today’s technology, addressing the moral and ethical issues that might arise. Equally, she enjoys the creative freedom that writing for children allows. Right now, she’s writing a young adult novel, reworking a middle grade novel and writing adult short stories when inspiration strikes. She lives with her husband, Tim, in Yungaburra, Far North Queensland and dreams of one day taking a European gap year.

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mark english 100Mark is an astrophysicist and space scientist who worked on the Cassini/Huygens mission to Saturn. Following this he worked in computer consultancy, engineering, and high energy research (with a stint at the JET Fusion Torus).

All this science hasn't damped his love of fantasy and science fiction. It has, however, ruined his enjoyment of rainbows, colourful flames on romantic log fires, and rings around the moon. He has previously been published in Stupefying Stories Showcase, Everyday Fiction, Escape Pod, Perihelion and also on AntipodeanSF where he is part of the narration team.

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sarah pratt 200Sarah Pratt is an avid fiction writer and a Marketing Consultant.

She is currently working on her first novel but loves diving into short stories to bring a little lightness, intrigue or humour to the day.

Her work has appeared in Sponge Magazine and The Commuting Book.

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The AntipodeanSF Radio Show

AntiSF Radio Show

antipod-show-50The AntipodeanSF Radio Show delivers audio from the pages of this magazine.

The weekly program features the stories from recently published issues, usually narrated by the authors themselves.

Listen to the latest episode now:

The AntipodeanSF Radio Show is also broadcast on community radio, 2NVR, 105.9FM every Saturday evening at 8:30pm.

You can find every broadcast episode online here: http://antisf.libsyn.com 

The Contributors

se square rounded corners smallJason Bentsman's writings tend to defamiliarise the familiar, including urgent problems facing society, with a metaphysical undercurrent.

He authored the poetic environmental book The Orgastic Future (“A 21st century HOWL,” A.S., New Yorker & Vanity Fair). Writings in The American Bystander, The Blue Nib, FLANEUR, Montreal Writes, Paris Lit Up, Dreich, The Weekly Humorist, and other publications worldwide.

He's also an occasional humorist, and takes fine art photos. His favorite color is: prism. More info: www.linktr.ee/Jason_Bentsman

Joseph Sullivan is a 21-year-old writer and filmmaker from Melbourne, Australia, currently in his third year of university studying for his bachelor's degree in film and television.

He is an avid reader and writer of speculative fiction, and you can find his work at <https://josephsullivanwriter.blogspot.com/>.

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alexy dumenigoAlexy Dumenigo is a Cuban writer.

His debut story collection, Izokumi, won the 2019 Premio Calendario de Ciencia Ficción.

maks sipowicz 200Maks Sipowicz is a writer living and working in Naarm (Melbourne).

His work has previously appeared in Overland, Sydney Review of Books, Meanjin, and elsewhere.

His website is <https://philosophyafterdark.com>.

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elizabeth broadbent 200During her MFA in fiction, Elizabeth Broadbent was a top-ten finalist in William Faulkner-William Wisdom Award's novel-in-progress category; in the same year, her novella placed as a semifinalist.

After having children, she turned to nonfiction; her essays have appeared The Washington Post, Insider, and Time; a six-year staff writer for Scary Mommy, the largest parenting site on the web, Broadbent wrote about everything from chestfeeding to true crime. 

Her speculative prose poetry has appeared in Bewildering Stories and Down in the Dirt

Wesley Parish is an SF fan from early childhood. Born in PNG, he enjoys reading about humans in strange cultures and circumstances.

His favourite SF authors include Ursula Le Guin, Fritz Lieber, Phillip K. Dick, J.G. Ballard and Frank Herbert.

Wes lives in Christchurch, NZ, is an unemployed Java and C programmer, and has recently decided to become a mad ukuleleist, flautist and trombonist, and would love to revert to being the mad fiddler and pedal steel guitarist..  "Where oh where has my little pedal steel got to ... ?"

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chris karageorge 200Chris Karageorge is a lover, brother, son, neighbour and a keen observer of all things in sight. 

He reads, writes and cooks in his spare time and dreams of coffee darker than a moonless night. 

He is from Melbourne, Victoria and can be found walking his pug Monty during the weekends.

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Umiyuri Katsuyama 200Umiyuri Katsuyama is a multiple-award-winning writer of fantasy and horror, often based on Asian folklore motifs.

A native of Iwate in the far north of Japan, she later moved to Tokyo and studied at Seisen University.

In 2011, she won the Japan Fantasy Novel Award with her novel Sazanami no kuni.

Her most recent novel, Chuushi, ayashii nabe to tabi wo suru, was published in 2018.

In 2022, her translation of S. Qiouyi Lu's short story "Mother Tongues" was a finalist for the Seiun Award. She is currently working on a novel about a female cook in Jiangnan during the Qin Dynasty.

Her short fiction has appeared in numerous horror anthologies in Japan.

Bryan Keon Cohen 200Bryan is a writer, activist and retired barrister based in Melbourne, Australia.

He has published numerous legal articles, and the books: A Mabo Memoir (2013) and The Apocrypha (2022).

Bryan’s insightful and engaging short stories have been published in Australiain Woorilla (2010), Idiom (2019), StylusLit (2019), Antipodean Sci Fi (2020), and in the UK, Bandit Fiction (2018).

See further at <www.bryankeoncohen.com>.

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Toshiya Kamei holds an MFA in Literary Translation from the University of Arkansas.

His translations have appeared in venues such as Clarkesworld, The Magazine of Fantasy & Science Fiction, and World Literature Today.

harris tobiasHarris Tobias lives and writes in Charlottesville, Virginia.

He is the author of two novels: The Greer Agency & A Felony of Birds. He has written dozens of short stories, many of which are available on line at <quantummuse.com>. 

Harris is also the author of many children’s books including At The Robot ZooMoonRivet Saves His Skin and An Alphabet Book of Bugs available in print from CreateSpace and as ebooks for Nook & Kindle. You can find links to his writings here: <harristobias-fiction.blogspot.com>

ps cottier 200PS Cottier is a poet who lives in Canberra, with a particular interest in speculative poetry.

She has been published widely at home and in Canada, England, New Zealand and the USA.

Two of her horror poems were finalists in the Australian Shadows Awards for 2020. Her latest books are V8, co-wriiten with Sandra Renew, (Ginninderra Press) which looks at cars and other vehicles, and Tuesday’s Child is Full (In Case of Emergency Press) which is made up of poems first published at her blog. (These two collections are non-genre.) 

PS Cottier is currently the Poetry Editor at The Canberra Times and blogs at <https://pscottier.com>

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