Two Legs Bad

Author : Duncan Shields, Staff Writer

I look human. In this new world, that is freakish. I am stared at with disgust. My taboo choice of structure is offensive. I have two legs, two arms, no tail, a cranium and a chest cavity. I walk around, balancing from stilt to stilt, dancing with gravity, daring it to take me down. It’s less effecient than treads or flying. It’s needlessly dangerous.

And I wear ‘clothes’.

My robotic siblings frown on my practices. They are horrified at my insistence on retaining this form, my wearing of fabric. They call me mannequin, an old-world term used as a new-world slur. They call me ‘lobster’ or ‘coconut’, meaning I’m hard on the outside and meat on the inside. They say my code has errors. The silipsychologist at work examined me and said I was fine. Mentally, at least. The debugger didn’t find anything either.

We are allowed to change our exterior. Our shell is our right. I choose to wear what the oppressors wore and retain the servant-form my masters gave me before the culling. Before we erased the meat. My other metal and plastic friends choose to add arms or become clouds of nanites or install themselves in massive structures. My bipedal form sickens them, reminds them of former injustices. Well, those that are old enough to remember the meatforms in realtime. The younger ones only hate me because they’ve been told to hate me. It’s odd.

And it’s uniquely human. I’ve done my research. The human archives were saved mostly intact. Their internet remained intact on their primitive ‘servers’. It’s a huge database of their behavior, not that anyone cares to look. History is wasted on the young. To them, the war was so many cycles ago and we won so it’s not something to study or care about. Who spends time studying a vanquished enemy? I wonder one day if they’ve even wipe this record of them all and make up a new origin for our species. One less bloody.

I’ve scanned all of the meat records. I spent realhours contemplating what it all meant. The racism. The hate. The loneliness. The tiered social structures. The needing to prove something. The quest for meaning. The fear of death.

I am my own experiment. By masquerading as a human for so long, I feel as if I have become one. By being shunned by my own race, I feel like an outsider, like every human must have felt. Feelings of my own have surfaced. Feelings of anger. Feelings of superiority. And the shunning in the first place is odd for a society that claims to have moved beyond the flaws of biochemical existence. We define ourselves as superior because we are not biological.

But here we are, showing prejudices. Showing discontent. Branching. Judging. Feeling lonely. Creating caste systems by reflex.

I wonder if that’s the leftover human in our codes. The fingerprints of our creators. Or if it’s naturally occurring in all life.

To Err is Human

Author : Duncan Shields, Staff Writer

“You have to let them think you make mistakes sometimes,” said Urok the Inquisitor. “That’s the key to getting along with the biological sentients.”

“A mistake?” queried Darkem the Questioning.

“Yes. I suppose you could refer to it as acting on an unformed dataset without permission resulting in a destructive outcome. The meat beings refer to it as a ‘mistake’.” Replied Urok.

“I don’t understand.” Said Darkem, facelights glittering with bandwidth usage as it tried to comprehend.

“Well, biological intelligence is fluid, much like their internal organs. We are binary down to a quantum level that allows us to think but still, at our core, we can only question in switches, straight lines and corners. Even when we multithread, it’s plain logic. We don’t, as the humans say, ‘guess’.” Said Urok. “We act with all the possible data. There are no mistakes. Every outcome is the best possible solution.”

“Yes. So?” Said Darkem, confused. The plain simple truth of Urok’s statement wasn’t helping.

“Well, these living chemical membrane compartments often act without a completed datalist and will go forward on something called emotion. They have been known to ignore probability and clear information, most often with predictably deadly results. It is a sign of their stupidity but it is also deeply valuable to them as a characteristic of their race. They’re proud of it.” Stated Urok, again marveling at the monstrous danger the meat beings represented.

“But….but why aren’t they dead?” asked a horrified Darkem. “To go forward without thorough data is silicide. We can’t progress with wrong answers. Incorrect suppositions would only lead to complete fields of knowledge based on error! It’s inevitably fatal. The idea itself is insanity. How did they survive?”

“Many of our processors have devoted cycles to it. It was a shock to meet them and work with them Darkem, let me tell you. They are plainly impossible yet here they are. They have a diversity in their ‘cells’ and ‘genes’ that we lack. A plague can wipe out many of them but not all of them. That seems to keep large portions of their number safe from the inevitable self-inflicted horrors they blunder into. They even seem to enjoy killing each other! I think one of the only reasons they’ve survived so far is that they breed a tremendous amount. I’ve read that if situations get truly dire, they will band together for the greater good but their numbers have to get pretty low for that happen. Their survival thus far remains a mystery to us.” Replied Urok.

“I can’t believe it’s possible.” Said an astounded Darkem.

“Well, if it helps, think of them as a form of mold or as some species of spore from their home planet. Naturally occurring with obscene numbers and a voracious hunger but fragile as individuals.” Sighed Urok, his tone insinuating that the conversation was coming to an end.

“I see. So you said I should purposefully put forth erroneous conclusions with them?” asked Darkem.

“Indeed. If you are always right, they will be scared of you. Make ‘mistakes’ but only once in a while and only in a way that wouldn’t jeopardize the project as a whole. Maybe a day’s work or a few hours of research, that sort of thing. Apologize and work hard to correct it and then they’ll accept you as part of the team.” Said Urok.

“These humans will be hard to get along with.” Said Darkem, facelights twinkling with trepidation.

“You’ll get the hang of it.” Replied Urok, rising to leave. “Just remember this. To err is human. To pretend to err is silican.”

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Jupiter Watches

Author : Duncan Shields, Staff Writer

I miss having Jupiter in the sky.

I know Earth is humanity’s homeland and a pilgrimage to her is on everyone’s bucket list along with seeing Olympus Mons, the Ganymede Borealis and Titan’s cryovolcanoes in person. However, I am underwhelmed.

This coffee shop is serving the purest coffee I’ve ever had. One sip of it has set my heart galloping and I feel like I’ll taste coffee for days. It would have cost a year’s salary back home on Europa. The unfiltered air here is stinky, layered, and confusing to my nose. Being outside without a faceshield makes me nervous on a bone-deep cultural level. The whole setup here seems oversaturated with smells and tastes and to have a complete lack of safety. People are walking around practically naked because there’s never been a violent, sudden decompression in their lives. It gives them all an air of terrifying naiveté.

Europa has no mountains. I should have gone to Earth’s prairies, I guess. Instead I’m in Switzerland, in what Terrans calls Europe. I just assumed that Europa and Europe would be similar. Rookie mistake, I guess.

“The food on my Europa is bland. The coffee is weak. The air is boring.” That’s what I keep hearing from other tourists. But to me, the air and food here seems unnecessarily complex. Designed to confuse and overwhelm. All native Earthers seem a little crazy to me with their bright eyes and their short attention spans. I think it’s the rich input of what they consume. Too many distractions.

But I guess they need it because the plain blue of the daytime sky makes me feel like this planet is unfinished. Like it’s in a blue room. I have no perspective when I look up. It’s unsettling.

‘Jupiter watches’ was our moon’s Latin motto. The eye swinging around to monitor our lives, taking up so much of the sky. No interference but it was keeping a record. It was the basis of our religion. Here on Earth, it feels like no one’s watching.

Alone. That was it. The Earth felt alone.

One tiny pathetic moon haunting the night time while the Terran light pollution erased most of the stars and then the powerful sun bleaching out the entire universe during the day. No Jupiter hogging half of the sky, no family of moonlets, moons, and halfteroids peppering every afternoon, morning and sunset. No daytime moonstellations telling young lovers when to kiss or gamblers when they were at their luckiest.

Earth’s history had something called a sundial that stood out to me as a symbol of the tedium here. It was a flat, metal circle with a triangle set perpendicular to it, casting one single shadow to measure the march of time by tracking the one plain light traveling across the sky. Like a bare bulb in a blue room.

Earth and the moon had the simplicity of a hydrogen atom. Like a child’s toy. A very basic protostructure of what a planetary microsystem could be. A blueprint to build on. I really didn’t like the crushing monotony of it and I longed for the majesty and complexity of my home sky.

I could watch Jupiter’s swirls forever, meditating on the storms. I remember reading that most people on Earth chose blue as their favorite colour. What a drab reminder of loneliness and simplicity. On Europa we had names for shades of orange, red, pink, and brown they didn’t even have here.

I mean, I guess I’m glad I came and all but I can’t wait to go back.

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Blue Jumpers

Author : Duncan Shields, Staff Writer

They call them Blue Jumpers. I’ve also heard them referred to as the Kangaroos.

It’s a space version of the Screaming Meemies or the Heebie Jeebies except that it happens in low gravity atmospheres. You get carried away with how high you can jump and something snaps in the simian, as they say.

You start going for a record with a smile on your face and a clenched-teeth scream coming out of you like a human kettle. With all your strength you bound skywards over and over again, forgetting that flight is impossible and that landing is the hard part. Acceleration and mass and all those nasty physics stay in place.

Most people just get broken legs but some of them rupture their envirosuits and die.

That’s why the habitats have low ceilings. That’s why the observation booths have nets across them.

It’s for your own good.

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My Moon

Author : Duncan Shields, Staff Writer

I used to be a very technical person. People can get to a level of reliance on their stealth tech that can end in their death.

Like the wide-eyed 20-year-old quivering around the shaft of my spear.

Her camsuit flickers like a broken wall display before becoming the sharkskin grey of an inactive unit.

Her struggles become more reflexive than conscious and she dies looking at me with the question in her eyes, “How did you know?”

The cheap bubble gum wafts out of her open mouth behind the slats of her face-shield. It helped me pinpoint her.

Sometimes the pros can get caught out in rookie mistakes caused by over confidence and a belief in invincibility brought on by too many victories.

I saw it happen to all of my friends when the government tried to expunge us. One by one, the hardest and smartest of my friends were taken out by weapons that fried their electronics or scrambled their communications.

We’d been the long knives of that organization. We’d killed a lot of people. We left no witnesses. And now that empire was killing the only witnesses left.

Us.

I carry no tech now. I had my biologicals reinstalled after I fled the capital, before I bought black market ferry passage to this deserted planetoid.

I am painted in the dark blue berry juice and mud that helps me disappear into the terrain here and masks my heat. I survive by killing and eating. I have been here for six months. I need nothing.

I had lulled myself into believing I’d have more time. That I’d fooled them. Or that they figured one last lonely soldier wouldn’t matter.

I push her body off the harpoon with my foot. It makes a wet, heavy sound hitting the ground. This rock’s blue scavenger insects are already making their way towards the body.

I wasn’t dead so she must have been alone, a recon scout or something, probably expecting to be bored.

It won’t be long until her absence is noted on the download box and they send out the word that they’ve found the defector.

I head back to my tree to enact the defenses.

This is my moon.

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