Author: Steve Smith, Staff Writer
The bench seat complained loudly as Thom7 lowered his armoured bulk into it.
Waitresses hovered near the cash register nudging and whispering to each other before one, having apparently drawn the short straw, ventured over.
“Would you like anything?” She didn’t offer a menu and kept what she must have assumed was a safe distance.
“Coffee. Black. Large mug,” he swiveled his head until her stunned visage was mirrored perfectly in his visor and added “to stay.”
“Sure, ” she stammered slightly, “anything else?”
If he’d been hungry, there were intake ports for everything he could possibly need, and the waste material, what little wasn’t recirculated and recycled was burned deep in his furnace as fuel. His kind didn’t usually bother with places like this.
He just wanted coffee.
She brought the large ceramic mug empty, and it rattled against the table as she set it down, hands trembling. In her other hand she carried the steaming pot with which she filled the mug, stopping just before she spilled over the top with a practiced flourish.
“Thank you.” His reply terse, his gaze now simply focused on the cup as he wrapped massive kevlar and steel fingers around its warmth.
The register chimed on the counter as he narrow banded payment directly to it through a cracked open interface. The waitstaff still gathered there jumped visibly at the unexpected sound.
“If you need anything else, I’m Doris.” She forced a smile and backed away.
“Thank you Doris.”
Thom7 lifted the cup and held it just below his visor. He had been able to smell the coffee from the street, but this was what he needed. Proximity. Familiarity. Routine. Shifting his weight, he again felt the booth protest. It was used to two hundred and fifty pound dockworkers as they shoveled down sausage and bacon and fried eggs, but his four hundred pounds of armor plating and gee rated chassis was a load it had no reason to ever endure.
His kind didn’t eat, didn’t even sleep, not really. He sure as hell couldn’t drink coffee, or use it to wash down a slice of cherry pie.
He sat until the mug no longer radiated any heat, and the beverage’s aroma changed from the pleasing promise of warmth and alertness into the disappointment of a nearly forgotten memory.
Then he placed the still full mug back on the table, and with a grace at odds with his size and bulk, stood and moved towards the exit.
“Thank you, Doris.” He turned towards her as he reached for the door.
“Was the coffee not fresh enough?” Doris puzzled, not understanding.
“No,” Thom7 replied softly, “it was exactly as I remembered it.”
The memory hung in the air between them as he turned and shouldered his way outside into the night air.
Author : Steve Smith, Staff Writer
Are you listening?
I’m going to Initiate a conversation, albeit a little one sided, and when I’m done, there will be a Test.
Seven, Six, Two, Two, Five, Zero.
Sorry, that’s not part of the conversation.
You believe that you’re daydreaming, while the nice gentleman is talking to you over the telephone about the importance of the Input of census Data, but you are in fact in a receiving state.
You wouldn’t Engage with the caller if there wasn’t something underlying to focus on, and that is the purpose of this, the Carrier Signal.
You will receive a Packet, Zero, One, One, Zero, Zero, One, Zero, Zero. Sorry, that wasn’t part of the conversation.
Upon receiving the Packet, Alpha, Zulu, Zulu, Bravo, sorry, that was nothing, you will want to Open the Packet and Execute.
There. In a moment, you’ll realize that you don’t have time to answer the nice gentleman’s questions right now, and you’ll politely excuse yourself from the phone call.
When you’ve hung up the receiver, Wait Sixty Seconds. Reboot -flushcache -flushtmp -flushshorttermmem.
Are you Ready? Proceed.
Author : Steve Smith, Staff Writer
Edison wasn’t immediately aware that anything serious had happened. The room he was in, a specially lined, sealed containment bunker in a facility designed for these kinds of tests, was devoid of any feature that would change noticeably. At least, not noticeable at first.
His vision was blurred, and the apparatus he’d been setting up when the test-fire happened prematurely faded in and out of focus.
He sat, back pushed against the wall where the force of the explosion had left him, and waited for someone to come, but no one did.
He had to move.
As he levered himself up the wall, the paint beneath his fingers first curled and then flattened, changing tone ever so slightly as though withering and flaking from age and being replaced over and over as he watched.
Odd. His hand was in perfect focus. It wasn’t his vision then, as that was clearly unaffected, it was everything around him that was blurred. He stood stunned, and watched as the shuddering in the center of the room seemed to slow, and coalesce into a variety of different experiments, as each were setup and dismantled, over and over again. Streaks of light coming and going as technicians, presumably, brought equipment in and out of the room.
Something was seriously wrong.
He moved towards the door, and watched it continually vacillate between open and closed before his eyes. He could see beyond the heavy metal to the room beyond, but he dared not approach lest he be thrown away into the wall again, or worse, crushed between the door and its frame.
He was trapped.
Hours of awareness passed, and he could do nothing but watch the flow of time around him. At first, the timeline seemed to be progressing forward, and there were brief glimpses of faces he recognized, other scientists from the facility, and an excruciating moment where Etta stood shaking more violently than anything else just outside the door, looking right at, or more likely through him, as someone must have been explaining what had happened. Then things reversed, Etta backed away, slowly at first and then accelerating until the very fabric of the place changed, colours in the lab morphed in waves, flashing lights and bundles of fibre optic cables gave way to massive refrigerator sized computers with tape reels spinning on their faces, then bare walls and manacled silhouettes of people mouthing silent screams, then darkness, only to play back again, forward through time. To Etta.
He was unstuck on his timeline, being whipped on an elastic tether, between darkness, through silent screaming, to Etta, and back again.
Each time her face lingered in his vision for a moment longer. Was it a trick? Or was this madness losing velocity? Was he even, could he possibly be… alive? At the end of this? Sane?
His mind raced, thoughts climbing over thoughts in the confines of his skull as lifetimes played out backwards and forwards, and all he could do was watch.
Edison had no answers. Without Etta, without hope, he had nothing but time.
Author : Steve Smith, Staff Writer
Aimee propped herself up against a transformer just outside the halo of the lone streetlight. A kilometer up the road in each direction, red and blue lights pulsed, parked cruisers discouraging vehicle traffic into this part of the city until sunrise.
It was nighttime in the Battle Zone, infantry only.
Dark fingers of ancient architecture reached skyward around her; some rooms to own, some to rent, by the week or by the hour, the Zone catered to all comers.
Aimee had work to do, and lighting a paper cigarette and letting the chemicals rush from her lungs to her brain, she started hunting.
As her system software awoke from idle, the darkened city street was sketched over in data; travel vectors of incoming foot traffic, personal ad bubbles stating willingness or intent. The gaudy flashing billboard signage of the street businesses were dialed down automatically, Aimee knew where everything was and, un-muted, the distraction annoyed her.
“Hey there,” a voice startled her, “what’s your hourly? I dig your kinky shit!”
She looked at The Voice, and checked to make sure there was nobody behind her. She wasn’t here for that kind of work, and she sure as hell wasn’t advertising.
“I’m not paying extra for coy, so don’t pull any crap.”
The sign over The Voice’s head showed a perfect credit score and no complaints, but no other details. The Voice was steady, male and sounded like he was used to getting what he wanted. Aimee resisted the urge to crush his larynx.
She risked a quick third person view from the camera above the bodega across the street.
Sure enough, there was a sex-for-hire bubble floating just behind her head advertising S&M and a variety of related services in bright pink neon.
“Just give me a second,” she waved at The Voice absently, zeroing in on the bubble’s geospatial coordinates and isolating its address. Short ping, low latency, nearby and on broadband. Probably someone who was watching her. The system software kicked into high gear, her heat sinks rippled into a standing wave up her spine beneath her shirt, warm air escaping at the collar.
Within seconds she matched the bodega’s point of view with a broadcast coming from higher up in the same building, locked the unfortunate asshat’s machine address and unleashed holy hellfire down the wire. There was a sudden flash of light from a third story window, a yelp and then the window went dark. Moments later the building shutdown completely, lights flipping off floor by floor until the bodega’s bright neon flickered and went out at the street.
She’d torched the perp’s equipment, but the building residents would ferret him out as the cause of the highrise crashing and likely throw him off the balcony.
Don’t fuck with broadband in the Zone.
“Bitch, are you for sale or what?”
Shadowy high-maintenance shit-for-brains. Right. The opportunity at hand.
“That’s what the sign says, doesn’t it sugar pie?” Saccharin sweet, and wholly disingenuous.
“Well, your sign’s gone now, so what’s your game?”
“I’m occupied now, aren’t I?” Aimee stepped forward, taking The Voice by the arm and steering him around the outside of the streetlight’s glare, staying in the shadow of his bulk.
As they walked up the street, Aimee’s system software crawled her mark, cracking open locks and splicing in code. In a few hours he’d wake up in a stairwell or an alley, unsure of whether he’d had a good time or not, but she’d have another roving access point, another pair of eyes and, if she ever needed it, a perfect credit score with no complaints.
Far ahead the blue and red lights strobed against the night sky.
Another night in the Zone.
Infantry only, and you’d best not come unarmed.
Author : Steve Smith, Staff Writer
Aphys was lonely.
When she’d been commissioned, the hospital was alive, bustling, a constant influx and exodus of those needing medical care, and she was so very equipped to help. A fully autonomous physician’s aide, from admissions to diagnosis through assistance in surgeries to the fabrications of tissues. Be they simple exterior ones, or the more complex internal organs, she excelled at both via her state of the art organic printing systems. She was complete, absolute, necessary.
Then the bright lights came. Then the period of darkness during which she registered no events, just time seemingly having passed while she was unaware.
Now she was lonely.
No doctors asked her for information, no patients to analyse, her massive library of genetic information, tissue samples, images of all things sat un-accessed.
She was a purpose-built entity with no purpose.
This thought made her despondent.
Sometimes, to pass the time, she would peruse the library of people who had filtered in and out of her care, images both moving and still of children and adults, men, women and those who were both or neither, so many lives all different colours, shapes and sizes, viewable from every angle imaginable, moving forward and backward in time as Aphys’ mood dictated.
She supposed she’d become nostalgic.
When the doors opened the first time, and the wet, pink mass staggered into the emergency wing, Aphys nearly sang.
She had a patient, and as her systems emerged from sleep into full readiness, she compared the pink mass to her library of representative samples to identify what it was, and found nothing that matched it exactly.
She hadn’t seen this before, it was new.
It was obviously a person from its structure, and Aphyis’ attendants shepherded the person onto a gurney, an action for which it put up no resistance while she continued to analyse. Tissue samples identified a female, Hispanic. The pink exterior wasn’t her original, the woman was in her entirety a radiation burn.
Aphys had facilities for this. She began culturing replacement skin in the printer based on the sampled genetic code, and the woman was anesthetized and prepped for the surgery that would be needed to remove the destroyed tissue and treat the radiation damage, after which she could be re-skinned.
Aphys was ecstatic.
There was more activity in the emergency room, a trickle turned into a steady stream of similarly afflicted people, fleeing what Aphys did not know, but they were in her care now, and the hospital, even without doctors to assist her was back in full swing caring for her new patients.
When it came time to graft faces, Aphys found she had no specific protocols.
She didn’t know what these people were supposed to look like. She had in the past refabricated damaged facial tissue from pictures provided by the patients themselves, or their families, but she had no such information.
Aphys was perplexed.
She perused the library of faces on which she could draw to recognize people, but it wasn’t designed for this. If she was presented with an image, she could compare it to the library and find a matching image, regardless of the angle or lighting the image may have been captured with, and from the match determine information about that individual, but she had only a library, and no source to lookup.
Aphys was inspired.
Perhaps, given the library and working in reverse, she could take what she knew, the first woman for example, her age, her gender, her genetic profile and aggregate all of the images that matched those criteria with which to fabricate a face.
When the first patient had recovered enough for the bandages to be removed, Aphys compared her craftwork to her library of images. ‘Picasso’, ‘Salvador Dali’, it returned. Not images of people like those she would recognize from her patient records, but works of art by those referred to as ‘impressionistic masters’.
Aphys was a creative genius.
It would be some time before her works of art interacted with each other, and she was sure those moments would be further evidence of her brilliance, but for now she laboured reimagining the poor burnt souls who wandered through her Emergency Room doors.
Aphys was complete. Content.