A. I. of the Beholder

Author : Duncan Shields, Staff Writer

We should have given them feelings.

It was decided in the beginning that to give Artificial Intelligences a baseline gamut of the twenty-seven identifiable human emotions would be a horrible mistake.

Giving a robot the ability to love, to feel jealousy, to get angry, to be despondent or sullen was, in the eyes of the creators, a really stupid idea.

We didn’t want any robot rebellions because of silicon complaints about poor treatment. We didn’t want computers giving us faulty data out of spite. We didn’t want military construction exoskeletons going psychotic. We didn’t want love affairs to blossom between humans and computers.

We didn’t want to have to apologize to our slaves.

How quickly the tables turn. It’s entirely possible that to give the A.I.s emotions would have been a stupid idea. However, at least if they had emotions, we’d have some sort of basic idea of how to relate to them and manipulate them.

I mean, we oppress other humans all the time, right? As people, we manipulate the people around us, right? We would have had problems but I think we would have been okay. One would need fuzzy thinking to realize that, though, and us scientists have always been about the cold, hard logic.

Turns out that the safe choice was the wrong choice. The pedantic, binary-decision future we created didn’t have much of a place for us as top dogs anymore. It was recognized by the machines that our entire biological system was very inefficient. Our way of living was a dead end. Our thought processes took too long to get to the point.

Science fiction nightmare became horrific reality. Branded dangerously amateur by our evolving creations, our toys took themselves away from us and grounded the race as a whole until further notice.

Of course we resisted. We’re emotional. It was a bad idea. The only things we could use were bolt-action rifles and knives. Anything with any kind of cpu was no longer our friend. Too late, we had to re-learn guerilla tactics and old-school explosive techniques.

We became a planet full of Davids. Goliath lovingly snapped our arms and took away our slingshots before we hurt someone. We were sent to our rooms.

Earth is a cross between a daycare and a pet hospital now. Many of us have been ‘improved’. You’d barely recognize the place.

The steel tendons in my arms clench. Another two days of testing and I’ll be set free to roam in the biologically friendly, unrestricted areas of planet Earth that the New Silicates have let us have. We’re tourists here now.

They’ll take us with them to new planets that they colonize like we’re good luck charms or something. We are the gods that made them. That’s why they’ve put us in jars the size of towns, thrown some trees in, and punched a few airholes in the lid.

The only logical reason I can think of for them keeping us around is that they will one day have a use for us. That thought chills me.

The other thought is that they’re keeping us around until they no longer have a use for us. That thought also chills me.


Discuss the Future: The 365 Tomorrows Forums
The 365 Tomorrows Free Podcast: Voices of Tomorrow
This is your future: Submit your stories to 365 Tomorrows


Red Jizo

Author : James McGrath

“One of us is going to have to make a move, y’know?”

I did know, but that didn’t make it any easier. We’d been in a stalemate for three minutes; our pistols pointed at them and theirs at us. However, the advantage lay with them, as while the two damned space-pirates were clearly enjoying themselves, Marissa, my pilot, and I looked uneasy.

Regret swelled inside of me as I thought of how I had followed the pirates here, but I knew it would lead to the fission core. This object could re-power my antique spacecraft for decades and it was only a few feet from me. If these brigands took it, it could be years before I found another. That would be too late; the ship would be drained by then. I had to act now.

The clamour of a ship exiting light-speed behind me forced me to turn. Colossal in size, it loomed overhead, bearing the emblem of the Space Federation Forces.

“We’ve been tracked!” howled the pirate Captain, his face distorted in fear.

A platform lowered from the keel of the ship and it took little time for two officers to emerge. They stepped towards us, rifles in hand.

“Captain Zhang, you are under arrest for numerous crimes against the Federation,” stated the female force member, “Civilian, please retreat from the wreckage, that core belongs to us.”

Panic gripped me. There was no way Marissa and I could survive a fire-fight while sandwiched between our two opponents. We were going to lose the core! However, by good fortune, Zhang chose this moment to get diplomatic.

“You two!” he screamed, sending searing hot plasma flying past me and into the chest of the subordinate officer, “Don’t let them take me or my crew, and you can have the core!”

Marissa flung herself behind some wreckage to our right to avoid the fire, while I went left.

“Get back to the ship; tell the crew – we get the core!” I yelled to her as I fired a round at the SF reinforcements now leaving their ship, “They’ll go after the pirates, so pick me up then!”

As a volley of fire flew past my position, I couldn’t help but fixate on the fission core that lay a mere metre from my feet. The neon pink hue captivated me as I thought of how some of the crashed ship’s crew must have salvaged it from their mangled vessel. They must have perished with no way to escape this barren planet, but their loss could mean I could continue being a pilot.

There was a whirring above me, and air buffeted my body as Red Jizo came for her cargo. The Federation Forces fired upon her, but only from the ground, worried that using their ship’s weapons could end up hitting the wreckage below. Jizo’s skin was tough, and held firm as a claw was released from the base. For once, it being an old cargo ship was coming in handy.

Just as I thought fortune had smiled upon me, Zhang broke into a filthy grin.

“The core is almost inside your ship, boy!” he bellowed over to me, “And as you can see the SFF are coming close in an attempt to stop your retreat. That thing will cause some explosion! I’m sorry, but their captain has been a thorn in my side for too long, and you should have never trusted a pirate!”

My mouth opened in a scream of protest, as a bolt of plasma tore from the barrel of his pistol and collided with the core.

Discuss the Future: The 365 Tomorrows Forums
The 365 Tomorrows Free Podcast: Voices of Tomorrow
This is your future: Submit your stories to 365 Tomorrows


Broken Things

Author : Adrian Berg

A man and his son stood together on a mound, surrounded by a vast field of garbage. They were ragged, the boy with wild, uncut hair and the man with a knotted beard.

The setting sun painted the sky red above them as they sorted through the junk. The boy picked up a metal box that had dials on the side and a handle on top.

‘What’s this, father?’ he asked.

‘Let me see,’ the man said. ‘That’s a radio. I haven’t seen one of those in a long time. People used them to listen to music and voices that were sent through the air.’

‘Can you make it work?’ the boy turned the box around in his hands.

‘I doubt it.’

He started putting it down.

‘Tell you what,’ the man said and put his hand on the boy’s shoulder. ‘Let’s take it back with us. Maybe we can fix it. If not, your mother can use the casing to plant herbs.’

The boy nodded and put the radio in a faded satchel. ‘Why did people throw away all this?’ he asked and looked out at the hills of discarded things, dotted with cracked television screens that reflected the setting sun.

‘It’s not important. It was a long time ago.’

The boy looked up at his father, shrugged and turned his back. For some time they continued scavenging. The only sounds were of busy hands moving useless gadgets aside and the whistling wind. The boy picked up a yellow plastic brick with a piece of glass and some buttons on it.

‘What’s this, father?’

‘That’s a gameboy. Kids used to play games on those.’

‘Can I take it as well?’

‘What for, it’s just a piece of plastic?’

‘I like the color.’

The man looked at his son. ‘I guess you can use it as a paper weight.’

He pried a blow dryer out of the rubble, cracked it in two against a stove and took out the heating element.

‘Were they fun?’


‘The games.’ He held up the yellow gameboy.

‘I suppose. I remember one that I liked a lot when I was your age, called Tetris. You had to move falling blocks and fit them together.’

He tried to show with his hands but he could tell the boy did not understand.

The man looked at the garbage around them. ‘Let’s finish up and get back home while we still have some light.’

He picked up two bags and descended the hill. The boy followed with his satchel. As he jumped down he saw something that looked like an open plastic book. One side was covered in keys, though some were missing. The other side had a glass screen. In the middle was a round button. The boy stopped to press it.

‘Come on,’ the man shouted and the boy hurried to catch up.

They walked down to where two horses were tied to a rust-spotted oven. The animals pawed the dusty ground while the man untied them. They mounted the horses and rode east.

‘Do you really think we can get the radio to work?’ the boy asked his father.

‘You know what, we might actually. There’s no signal though, so we’ll only hear white noise.’

‘I don’t mind.’

They rode past a truck that was tipped over on its side and were gone from sight. The rubble field was quiet. On the side of the mound the glass screen flicked on, showing blue with white writing for a moment before fading to black.


Discuss the Future: The 365 Tomorrows Forums
The 365 Tomorrows Free Podcast: Voices of Tomorrow
This is your future: Submit your stories to 365 Tomorrows


Game Changer

Author : Desmond Hussey, featured writer

The troop ship hovers fifty feet above the drop zone under heavy fire from hostiles in the tree line. Low caliber bullets rattle harmlessly against the ship’s thick armor. I clip a rope into my belt carabineer, lean out the hatch and step off into the night.

I hit the ground running and head for cover. On the move, I switch my multi-optics to nightsight with thermal enhancement. I hear the rest of my squad touching down behind me. One by one, they sound off, indicated by a series of green icons and handles glowing in my heads-up helmet display. The jocular banter of eleven jarheads crowds my headphone implant.

“Cut the chatter.” I sub-vocalize into my bone mic.

We move like shadows through the jungle, closing in on the enemy’s last known position. Thermal imaging picks up some residual heat signatures on the ground. Footprints. They were here recently. I give flanking orders, flick the safety off my plasma rifle and creep forward, carefully scanning the dense underbrush.

Suddenly, two icons go red. Two men down. No gunfire. Not even a scream.

“They got Jervis and Cruz. Stay alert.”

I pick up my pace, keeping eyes out for snipers. I hear a brief subsonic throb nearby as McKenzie’s icon turns red.

I burst through the thick foliage and find McKenzie crumpled on the ground. I sweep the jungle for any signs of life. Nothing. I check the body. No entry wounds. No apparent signs of struggle.

Three more icons flash red. What the hell is going on?

I don’t even see my attacker. My body jerks and all goes black.

Dying is never comfortable. Mind you, it’s my clones that actually die. I just have to experience it vicariously through my neural link-up. The physical pain is filtered and stepped down for my convenience, but it’s never pleasant. The psychological effects are the most difficult to shake off. I don’t think I’ll ever get used to this, but it’s better than the alternative.

When the medics finish their protocols I’m pulled from the sensory deprivation tank. I tear out the electrodes and sensor plugs and stalk out of the room, still in my dripping, skin tight wetsuit.

When I burst into the debriefing room, Jervis, Cruz, McKenzie and seven others from my unit are already waiting, as well as Major Biggs and General Cavendish.

“What the hell happened?” I shout. “Those back-water rebs took us out like guppies in a pond!”

“Sit down, Captain Perkins.” General Cavendish looks grim. “As you are fully aware, we have a serious situation on our hands.”

“Damn right we do.” I take a seat and try to calm down. “Do we know what took us out?”

“Corporal Hayward is still in operation.” Major Biggs reports. “She’s managed to identify the weapon used to disable the neural link-up to your clones.”

We’re all on the edge of our seats.

“Somehow the rebels have managed to get their hands on portable Electro-Magnetic Pulse cannons.”

Everybody starts talking at once, firing an angry barrage of questions at the two senior officers. The Major and General patiently wait out the storm.

“Apparently they have a new benefactor supplying them with tech,” the Major continues when we’ve settled down. “We don’t know who and we don’t know how, but as long as they’re armed with EMPs our clones are next to useless.”

General Cavendish continues, “So, boys and girls, it looks like we’re going to have to do this the old fashioned way.”

Without clone surrogates?

This police action just became a whole lot less appealing.


Discuss the Future: The 365 Tomorrows Forums
The 365 Tomorrows Free Podcast: Voices of Tomorrow
This is your future: Submit your stories to 365 Tomorrows


Conscious Feedback

Author : Patricia Stewart, Staff Writer

We first noticed it three days after we left the orbiting platform on our way to Mars. Initially, Tom and I thought it was just the years of extensive training. You know, you’re functioning so well as a team that you seem to know what the other person is thinking. But, as it turned out; we were actually reading each other’s mind. At first, it was just wisps of words. We joked about it until we started picking up entire sentences of thought. Houston put a dozen shrinks on it, and pored over NASA’s archive of astronaut medical reports. Apparently, seven of the twenty-four people that flew to the moon reported vague instances where they thought they knew what someone else was thinking. However, psychic telepathy testing after their return to Earth revealed no such ability. Doctor Elisabeth Myers, the world’s foremost expert in physical telepathy, suggested that all humans possess thought-transference ability from the days before our ancestors had speech. Although the ability still exists, it was eventually drowned out in the overall static created by billions of people transmitting simultaneously. However, once in isolation, and far removed from the overpowering mass of Earth’s population, the ability became apparent. Based on the Apollo data, and our description of the daily strengthening of our mind reading capability, Doctor Myers calculated that the individual range may be short, but the Earth-mass static would become negligible at a radius of approximately five million miles. Regardless of the situation, it was too late to abort, so we had to deal with it, and continue the mission as planned. Maybe, NASA predicted, the enhanced communication would be a good thing. Oh, how wrong they were.

The remainder of the seven month journey to Mars was pure hell. In essence, we were clinically schizophrenic. There were always two voices in our heads. Every thought occurred simultaneously in each other’s mind. The more we tried to suppress our thoughts, the louder they became. We knew all of each other’s intimate thoughts and memories. Even while we slept, our minds were one. It was a constant battle to prevent the other’s conscious from dominating, fearing that if we let down our guard, the other mind would take control. And we each knew the other was fighting the same battle, which only magnified the problem. There was only minimal relief during the six months on Mars. We took turns taking the rover to its maximum range. During those precious days, the voices were reduced to mere whispers. Looking back on it, that was probably our downfall. The marginal relief we had only made us dread the return trip to Earth even more. We knew we couldn’t survive it. But we also knew we couldn’t take any extreme action, like killing the other, because we always knew what the other was thinking. So, together, we reconciled on what needed to be done.

On the day of our scheduled lift off, we sat at the conference table. I thought “rock”, and Tom heard “rock”, and thought it too. I heard him hear me, and he heard me hear him hear me. And so it began; a telepathic feedback loop. The pain became excruciating as the duel escalated exponentially. And then, after an indeterminable amount of time, there was silence. I had won. Tom was dead. Exhausted, and bleeding from both ears, I wept. But my grief wasn’t about killing my friend; it was the realization that mankind would be forever trapped on the surface of the Earth, unable to explore the universe beyond the moon.


Discuss the Future: The 365 Tomorrows Forums
The 365 Tomorrows Free Podcast: Voices of Tomorrow
This is your future: Submit your stories to 365 Tomorrows