Clouds In Her Coffee

Author : Greg Ashworth

The weather was terrible. It always was these days. The fluctuating temperatures, the driving rain, the harsh winds – all this was to be expected.

Sarah sat alone in the corner of the coffee shop, her eyes somehow distant, as she browsed the Net, aided by her neural implants. A tear crawled slowly from her dark eyes, and made its way down her porcelain cheek. The coffee shop a small, rustic affair, with dim lighting, which was somehow not entirely unfriendly. There were a several small, round synthetic wood tables, few of which were occupied. Long shadows were cast by the flickering argon lamps that lined the walls.

Sarah looked up, and then back into the swirling darkness of her coffee cup. She stared intently for several minutes. An old, ragged man looked up from his espresso, as if disturbed, then thought better of it, and returned to his own melancholy world.

Sarah’s deep, thoughtful gaze continued unabated, as if she was challenging her cappuccino to blink. There was an eldritch energy in the air now. The thick brown liquid began to rage in its ceramic prison, the foaming coffee thrashing and turning in the cup. The weather worsened outside, and the coffee shop began to echo with the pounding hail, hurling itself at the small glass windows, hammering against the seemingly ancient tiled roof.

Eventually, the owner, identified as ‘Luigi’ by a fading plastic name tag on his tarnished waistcoat, edged nervously towards Sarah’s motionless form, tapped her lightly on the shoulder and pointed apologetically towards the small wooden door.

Sarah slowly dragged herself from her trance, shook her head sadly, tossing her long black hair over her pale, disheartened face. She sorrowfully made her way to the door, careful not to let it slam behind her. The hail stopped, and the clouds parted slightly. It began to drizzle.

A small piece of paper fluttered slowly to the rough stone floor from the table at which she was sat. An eviction notice.

It had been thought for the early years of the twenty first century that man was to blame for the steady decline of Earth’s climate. It was, but not in the way scientists had thought. Many years, and vast amounts of money were spent researching ‘greener’ sources of energy, and in reducing the now laughable ‘carbon footprint’ of the world’s population – all for nothing.

At some point, in the middle of the twenty second century, tests were done on a small group who claimed that their mood influenced the weather. It was a scientific and psychological breakthrough – man had been responsible for the worsening climate, but it was the increasing depression and declining quality of life of humanity what was causing it, utilising the long suspected telepathic field linking all living organisms to the place of their birth, and yet, the governments chose to do nothing. Money could not be made from increasing the happiness of humanity, only destroying it with their ‘green’ fuels and ‘carbon credits’, and so the climate worsened, as did morale.

These were the days that a simple letter, removing a student from her apartment, could cause a violent storm that resulted in the deaths of four people and hundreds of credits worth of damage.

These were the days when happiness would save the planet.

Sunshine glinted off the wet roof of the coffee shop, interrupted by shadows cast from passing air taxis, and laughter echoed from down a nearby street.

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Say It Ain't So

Author : J.R.D. Skinner

“So, are ya?” He’s maybe twelve, wearing blue shorts and a Mexico City Raptors t-shirt, a leg up on the wrought iron patio fence. My lobster is getting cold.

“What?” I ask.

I realize he’s holding up a thin rectangle the size of a credit card, alternating his squints to get the thing’s picture to match my face.

“CEO Benjamin “Crush ‘Em” Hinton?”

I remember signing off on licensing my likeness to FlatMedia last May, but I hadn’t seen the cards in the wild.

I ignore him.

That might have been the end of it, but a serving girl swings by my table.

“Your bill, Mr. Hin – Ben.” She says, smiling uncomfortably.

That’s what I get for flirting with the wait staff.

“It IS you! Could ya sign my card?”

He thrusts a red stylus and the card at me. I accept, mostly just interested in checking out the cheap display on the back. There’s a rundown of my resume; schooling, management experience, time spent on corporate boards.

I tap on New Youth Limited. Not much my rookie year, but the second I was apparently one of “The Resurrection Seven”, a voting bloc that saved N.Y.L. by moving from chemical processes to genetic engineering. I remember the vote, but I don’t remember anyone using the snazzy nickname.

Sliding through the listings, I notice some of them have been marked up in a child’s block script, often with arrows pointing to individual entries, notes like: “Bob may have had seniority, but not the votes!”

“Anywhere?” I ask.

“Sure!” He says with a sloppy grin.

I tap the pen icon.

“Is it true that you punched Director Jules Wilson?”

“Heh, yeah. I mean, Wilson always came in drunk, but he fucked up my presentation. When he started pawing at Kathy Reed I was just looking for an excuse.”

I look up, wondering if I’ve said too much for a kid his age, but he seems to be eating it up with moon eyes.

“You ever gonna work somewhere huge like Kalstock again?” He asks, face imploring. I scribble and hand him back his card.


His saucer eyes begin to droop.

“Hey,” I quickly add, “I mean, there’s talk that Kalstock may revisit their policy and have me back for another term, but its hush hush.”

He brightens. I imagine him lording the harmless secret over his friends for a week.

“Tedward says you got lucky with the Talibi Merger because CEO Norma Donald was kicked by Talibi’s oversight expert system. I think he’s a craphead. You’re so smart you must have done something.”

I smile, recalling my best maneuvers.

“I bought shares in a number of Talibi subsidiaries using various fake names. I put out a lot of crosstalk showing a lack of stockholder confidence. The system got nervous. I paid good money to insert low numbers into that week’s financial reports, and the system went to red alert. Things would have been fixed as soon as they saw the next round of numbers, but I used the whistleblower hotline to point out a lie on Norma’s resume involving her university rowing team. With so much bad happening so suddenly the computer thought the world was ending and booted Norma, the only one who understood Kalstock’s real intentions.”

The kid’s smiling the whole time I’m talking, but as I finish he turns and waves to someone. It’s then I see the New Youth product watermark on the back of his neck.

“Mr. Hinton – Carl Nochek, special agent of the Securities and Exchange Commission. You’re under arrest.”

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Nano Gods

Author : Peter Carenza

The rain poured relentlessly outside. The micro-God was wistful this morning.

I turned down the shade, walking back to the recliner with stealthy footsteps. You never knew when one might hear, and perhaps deduce the wrong intentions… to them, intentions were everything.

And really, ironically, our good intentions were the start of this whole mess.

Our obsession with environmental purity, our fear of what might be and relentlessness in our pursuit of an all-encompassing solution drew laser-sharp focus from the world’s brightest minds. They all agreed that the technology, tools, and science were there for a quick resolution. Our rapidly growing skill set in the field of nanotechnology, they claimed, provided the potential to remove any excess carbon, ozone, methane, and many other kinds of pollutants from the atmosphere in short order. The money was there, as was the intent, and now there was nothing to stop it from happening.

The designers gave these nanorobots the ability to fly, or rather to glide , on prevailing wind currents.

They were given the ability to absorb certain molecules. The molecules would be “eaten”, until the nanobots were laden, at which time they would sink earthward and become part of the earth itself, as it had been so long ago.

They were given the ability to self-reproduce. That, I think, was the hitch, because once they evolved what appeared to be a primitive consciousness, there was nothing that could stop them.

You really didn’t want to upset them.

On a bad day, when the nanos felt threatened by a run-of-the-mill passenger jet that just happened to penetrate their masses, a built-in defense mechanism activated. Reproduction doubled, tripled, and more. Something just shy of anger erupted, and we soon knew what was in store for us when the plane got tossed from the sky by a sudden downburst from a supercell thunderstorm that appeared in just minutes out of a clear, blue autumn sky.

We knew then that they could control the weather, on a whim. Were they supposed to have whims?

They could control the flow of wind, the clouds, even the content of the air we breathed. They had, in essence, become God-beings.

The volume was muted on the television at the other end of the room. I couldn’t risk their comprehension of what was going on. I was watching CNN. Something important was going to happen in the next few days. I was impressed at the bravery of the reporters for even daring to break the story… but I knew they knew what was at stake. We needed, if only for a moment, to experience a small sensation of hope. Which of us remembered what that felt like anymore?

In the banner, there were indications that somehow, they were sensing what was about to happen. Hail storms destroyed crops in Italy, where a leading scientist lived. A typhoon like no other seen before threatened the coast of Japan, from which observers made the latest calculations and concluded that yes, this was probably the last hope for humanity.

The report grew bolder as time passed. We were instructed to seek shelter as far deep underground as possible. The God-things would not be happy, and that was the least of our troubles.

I think they knew. After all, it was raining. Everywhere, it was raining.

The scrolling banner now read “Asteroid expected to hit in three days – seek shelter now!”

Imagine that. Our only hope, coming from something that nearly rendered our world desolate many eons ago.

My thoughts? I think the real God didn’t appreciate the competition.

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Author : Duncan Shields, Staff Writer

Ephemeral. That’s a word I like. It means fleeting. It means transient. There used to be a whole genus of insects called Ephemeroptera. They were called that because they lived for less than a day. The word is also used poetically to suggest something as transitory as it is eternal. The ephemeral joys of youth, for instance.

There was a time in the past back when I was in an early model where my humanity was still fairly rampant. It accounted for a large chunk of my psychology. Even though I had become mostly machine, I still had trouble looking a woman in the eye if she had obvious lovely cleavage, for instance, or when I was carrying out the battle orders I’d actually feel rage and exhilaration like there was still adrenalin in my system. No penis. No adrenal gland. Just old feelings. Remembered instincts. Residual humanity, they called it.


It’s a strange thing to come full circle. I’m now over a hundred model changes old. I’ve been loaded into so many shapes and frames over the decades that I’ve completely lost my knowledge of being human.

The model I’m loaded into now is designed to be as close to human as the possible tech allows which is pretty close. I have functional but sterile reproductive parts and something actually approaching a human psychology. It’s all synthetic of course. The biologics just became too hard to augment. Starting from scratch seemed the best way to go, especially out here on the outposts because of the hazards. The decision to make the employees here look human was just an in-vogue style call.

There’s a human deep down inside of me that’s remembering this. It’s remembering what it’s like to look in a mirror and see two eyes and a mouth stare back instead of a metal ball or a camera. True, I can spacewalk without a suit but it’s the appearance that’s doing all this. My old self, his name was David, is rousing in his metaphorical sleep and having a bad dream. Sometimes I’ll look at my hands for minutes at a time, just turning them around in the light.

There’s a unit I’ve known for a while up here on the station that’s been loaded into a female form. In all the assignments we’ve been on together over the decades, that unit has been designated 26-X7-pointer-77F. Now, because she was a woman back in the beginning, she’s been loaded into a female model. We’ve been spending a lot more time together on this assignment that is strictly necessary. We noticed it at the same time about two days ago.

She’s going to come over tonight and we’re going to cash in two hours of personal time, lock the door, and see where the night takes us. We laughed when we made the arrangement and didn’t look at each other and I swear that if we could have, we both would have blushed. I haven’t felt nervous in fifty-six years. I feel nervous now.

I feel ephemeral.

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Lt. Ray

Author : Roi R. Czechvala

“You’re sure these ships are safe?” Admiral Chekov asked, as he cautiously approached the tiny matte black fighters. They reminded the Admiral of the ancient projectile points used by the aboriginal people of the Siberian steppes.

“Of course Sir,” the squirrelly little doctor rung his hands nervously on the hem of his formerly white lab coat. “The organics of these ships were chosen from among the finest of the volunteers in the psi-ops programs from all three states of the Great Union.” Here he paused deferentially. “The Mark VI Psi Fighter is unparalleled. Nothing the Alliance has can rival it. Not even the best equipment of our own fleet can track it.”

“I’ve read the specs, but give me a rundown of the operations.”

“As you’re aware, all pilots must be unmarried volunteers and score in the top three percentiles of their psionics exams. After an intense training and indoctrination period they undergo a procedure whereby the central nervous system is removed from the body and placed in the interface cartridge, the “brain box” if you will,” he smiled nervously at his joke. The Admiral did not smile.

These ships, though small, have the most powerful long-range friend/foe scanners available in the fleet. The pilots brain activity is routed through the PK, that is the psychokenesis amplifier, into the ranging equipment. The pilot analyzes the long range readings, identifies an enemy ship, matches coordinates, and makes a psychic jump. As near as we can tell, the speed of thought is almost instantaneous. The ship appears out of nowhere, unleashes a full salvo of 140 rounds of combined nuclear and solid projectiles, and returns. Since the entire ship is PK controlled, there is no need for a propulsion system. The only energy needed runs the onboard life support systems, and the PK amp.

In their off time, the pilots live in a virtual simulacrum of their own choosing, but of our making of course. That way it doesn’t become stale and predictable as it would had they created it.”

“What is this pilots name?” the Admiral asked, gesturing to the nearest fighter.

“Sir, most of the pilots prefer not to use their human names, and generally go by their designation number.” He pointed to a flat white stenciled marking on the side of the craft. “This is RY038. His name is First Lieutenant ‘Ray’.”

“Can he hear me?”

“I can hear you Admiral,” a dull monotone voice responded. The Admirals face did not betray the sudden shock he briefly felt.

“Where are you from son?” He felt a bit odd talking to a fighter ship.

“Gladewater Sir. Texas. State of America,” the ship responded in that same sharp metallic monotone.

“How do you like your…um…duty Lieutenant?”

“Beats the alternative Sir.”

The Admiral was startled. “And that would be what, Lieutenant.”

“I could be married Sir.”

The General suppressed a smile. “May I ask for a demonstration?”

“Of course sir. Excuse me a moment.”

The outlines of the small fighter blurred, and just as quickly refocused. The ship suddenly seemed to be giving off a great deal of heat. “SIR. Mission complete. Threat neutralized. Orbit Secured, SIR.” underneath the mechanical vocals there seemed to be the hint of a shortness of breath.

The Admiral stared for a brief moment unable to say anything. “But, but I didn’t say…”

“Begging the Admirals pardon, but the Alliance ship in GeoSync orbit above the Europa colony has been neutralized” Lieutenant Ray stated flatly.

“But…but…how, I didn’t…,” Admiral Chekov spluttered.

“I’m sorry Sir,” the little doctor intervened, “didn’t I mention they’re telepathic as well?”

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