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He had not read his slip of paper. It was folded in an envelope in his left pocket. In his right pocket were several books of matches, and he was wearing a backpack. He pushed his way through the scrubby pine trees on the west border of the barrens. "This isn't how it works, you know. The machine is playing word games. You can't just say what's goi…
 
I saw the first ads in March. A week or two later it was all over the news, and then for the next few months you could not get away from it. Still, none of us expected it to have the impact it did. It was a killer. By November I had only had eight or nine dreams when I used to have three or four a week. This is how I make my living.…
 
The machine printed out the certificates on special paper, the same pinkish color as those new five-dollar bills. He put them face-down on a tray and handed them to us. Maggie and I sat down on the examination table, butcher paper crinkling and creasing under us, bunching between us as Maggie scooted closer. The doctor left us alone.…
 
"You gotta be fucking kidding me!" says one of Jill's friends, leaning forward to get a better look at my shirt. On Toe Tag Night no one wears tags on their toes. What we do is use a template on our PCs and print a graphic of a toe tag, which we then wear attached to our clothing somewhere, like on a t-shirt. Printed on the tag is your Name, and Ho…
 
"The bloke's a whack job." Billy, the Director of Marketing, tells me this while he's picking his nose with a paperclip. In the background a phone has been ringing for five minutes without kicking into voicemail, and in the next cube, somebody's screaming at a subordinate employee on another line. I want to kill them all and dance to the sounds of …
 
"Missus Murphy, I will have you know that I am to be torn apart and devoured by lions." Simon Pfennig was fully aware of how strange he must sound. He had no choice. It was too exciting not to share. "I'm sorry," said Mrs. Murphy. "Weren't you just talking to me about insurance a moment ago?" "I was," said Simon. "Now I'm talking about lions."…
 
"You don't see it? What if we could ship this box further away? What if Dr. Merry lived thousands of light-years away, and we could somehow get the box to him? If we set a time for him to do the killing, and for us to run the blood through the machine shortly afterward, then as soon as we read the machine's prediction, we've sent information faster…
 
When I looked up from my plate, three young men were sitting on the other side of the rough table, staring at me intensely. None of them were very tall, but they had the tough look of mountain people. Their faces were purple from burst blood vessels -- or maybe it was makeup, I'm not going to pass myself off as some expert here. They wore heavy can…
 
Pepper coughs and her eyes snap open. Then she yelps and recoils from me, my white uniform and blue gloves, my belt blinking with electronics. "No, I'm fine," she says. "Just fainted, is all." She scrambles backward across the floor. Everyone tries to do this, soon as they recognize who we are and what we're there for. It never does any good. We al…
 
Johnny straggled behind Dalton as they came out of the jungle into the clearing. Streaks of fuel burned in the grass, the flames pale and languid in the bright midday sun. But they were still hot and smoky as hell. The smashed chopper was only about twenty yards away, a crumpled aluminum can surrounded by four smoldering lumps of black. The rest of…
 
In the months afterward, in suburban dining rooms, the bohemian bourgeoisie debated the ethics of the machine. The first had been installed unobtrusively in leading doctors' surgeries, and as they spread across the country, schoolteachers and bank managers and creative consultants and publishers met for cocktail parties, suppers, restaurant lunches…
 
The door opened when she was still a few yards from the house. An old man made his way out, standing on the three steps leading down to the yard, straightening his back. He looked exactly the same as last time -- five years ago, or maybe seven? She couldn't quite remember -- thin, tall, with a wisp of nearly white hair that blew whichever way the w…
 
I'm so freaking excited I can hardly stand it. Tomorrow is my birthday, THE birthday. The birthday everybody waits and waits for and until you get there you just hate that all your old friends already got theirs and you're the only one without it yet, and sometimes you think holy-freaking-eff, I'm never going to turn sixteen, but then you do. Tomor…
 
The second time the stick turned blue, it was intentional -- they had good jobs, a car, a house, and a strong desire to take the next step. They'd surprised their parents with it on Mother's Day, and were immediately enveloped in a whirlwind of blue and pink, both grandmothers good-naturedly attempting to outdo each other with baby preparation. Rya…
 
I remember everything about that day. It was right there at the mall, between the ice cream stand and Hot Topic, a big hunk of metal with a hole and a slit. There we were, my girlfriend the voyeur and I. We went for ice cream, she wiped a spot of vanilla from my forehead with one of those little napkins they give you, and then I did it.…
 
The cart was draped with a white bed sheet, keeping the cart's burden hidden. The guests all turned to watch as the little mystery wheeled into the room, squeaking slightly, leaving a visible groove in the carpet. Norma stopped and stood; she made no move to uncover her secret, only smiled at the seven faces around her. Every guest had a fresh drin…
 
When some small-minded prick with a bag of pipe bombs decided commuters were responsible for all the world's problems this morning, it became the most vicious hoax in history. Nobody knows yet, but I promise you that at some point in the next eighteen hours, someone Googling the victim names is going to find our prediction list and our lives as the…
 
This is the procedure now: A vehicle comes into the bay, paramedics pull a body out on an unfolding trolley, and a nurse meets them and asks them for the card. Sometimes she smiles, and you know that this one might well walk out of the hospital. Sometimes she gets a stony look on her face and you know that her eyes have flicked across to the patien…
 
Very expensive nanny. Very expensive tutor. Montessori nursery school priced competitively with Yale. Phonics, piano lessons from age four, one edifying vacation in a major European city per year, a diet of both organic and local produce cooked to order from a menu drawn up by a personal nutrition coach, and a white-noise machine. A portfolio of co…
 
The clerk set the gun on the counter. "There's a seven-day waiting period." Tommy peeled off an extra couple hundreds and slid them across the counter. The clerk hesitated, then pocketed the bills and loaded the weapon into a brown paper bag. "Some weeks are shorter than others." He added a box of bullets to the bag, then rang up the total. "You ne…
 
I'm tired of looking at the machine, but there's nothing else to look at. Maybe it's supposed to wear down my defenses and get me to take the test, but I've made my decision. So I sit and stare at it. My planner is black with the blood of my tormented doodles. There is a brick wall outside my window. What's on the other side? My guess is that it's …
 
"The job of Prime Minister is no job for a weakling," said Derek Fortham MP, eyes shining in the TV spotlight. "Centuries of British politics have shown us that. It's a job that calls upon all of a man's strength. It's a job for men who know their limitations. Men with perspective. With drive." The audience was utterly silent, staring with goggle-e…
 
To any of the countless shoppers passing by, the kiss wouldn't have seemed like much. Longer than a peck, sure, but nothing overlong or excessive. It didn't appear to be anything special. But for Rick it was something else entirely. Any time he touched Shannon he managed to get lost in the moment, swept up like the hapless lead in some cheeseball H…
 
Everyone knows that on the fourth day of ninth grade is when you get your results. I mean, that's the way it happens in our town; other towns do it differently. Amy, who moved here from Atlanta, said that in the big cities they do it when you're born, since they have to take blood from babies, anyhow, to test for HIV and that disease that means you…
 
The machine had been invented a few years ago: a machine that could tell, from just a sample of your blood, how you were going to die. It didn't give you the date and it didn't give you specifics. It just spat out a sliver of paper upon which were printed, in careful block letters, the words DROWNED or CANCER or OLD AGE or CHOKED ON A HANDFUL OF PO…
 
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