Jobsworth

Author : Rob Sharp

‘I can’t believe you’re doing this. This is the greatest moment in human history and I’m missing it. I need to be let through!’

‘I’m sorry sir, but you can’t come in,’ the Security Guard said. He stood firmly in front of a pair of heavy oak doors into the conference room.

‘But I’m the Prime Minister of the United Kingdom of Great Britain and Northern Ireland, I brokered this deal! The Filiansal wouldn’t even be here if it weren’t for my intervention on Mars.’

The Prime Minister’s eyes softened and his voice shifted into the same jolly tone that won him a landslide victory and ever decreasing majorities in parliament over the last ten years.

‘I know why you won’t let me in. The protocol is clear: it’s designed to stop us spooking our guests. But I’ve already spoken with them, they know me,’ The Prime Minister closed his hands into fists and made a series of movements that, if one were generous, could be described as sparring at the man in front of him. ‘So what do you say?’

The Security Officer flexed his fingers on the butt of his steel, spring coil extendable baton.

‘My superiors have made it quite clear that I’m to let no-one in to the meeting once the formal introductions have been made,’ he said.

‘Perhaps I could speak to your superior,’ the Prime Minster moved in closer to whisper. ‘I happen to know Sir Marcus personally.’

‘My boss is a man called Barry, sir. I could call him on my walkie-talkie, but I believe he’s on the other side of the door and it may cause our guests some distress.’

‘Good point,’ The Prime Minister replied. He took a step back and hopped from toe to toe as he strained to look through the frosted glass above the doors into the conference room. His bulky frame wobbled slightly when he stopped and a bead of sweat had formed on his brow. ‘I’m sure he’s busy.’

‘Yes, sir.’

A low pitched, musical stop-start hum, the first sound from an alien tongue spoken on Earth, was barely audible through the door. Several voices joined together to form a chorus. There was a gasp.

‘Look it’s all just a misunderstanding…’

A young, feminine voice pierced through the door like a javelin. After a moment of absolute silence, the room erupted in terrified cries and shouts, quickly followed by heavy thumps against the door. The Security Officer didn’t flinch.

‘Let them out man!’ The Prime Minister moved to the conference room, but the Security Officer stood in his way and pushed him to the ground. The door creaked as the screaming and dying desperately pushed against it, but the ancient wood held firm. A splash of red liquid struck the frosted transom, turning the light in the antechamber a shade of sanguine pink. Blood began to trickle through the gaps of the door and a rapidly spreading pool flowed around, and then enveloped, the Security Officer’s heavy boots. The Prime Minister tried to scramble to his feet, tripping and falling in the wet mess, before finally resting on all fours.

‘My God, what have I done?’

‘Don’t worry, sir. You won’t have to think about it for much longer.’

The screams became quieter and the Prime Minister could hear the singing again, except there was no harmony in the voices now, it was a discordant dirge of hate and violence.

‘They’ll be coming out soon. You’ll see for yourself.’

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Illicit Consumption

Author : Bob Newbell

The policeman and his young partner crouched down by the doors of the warehouse. Their night-vision contact lenses allowed them to see perfectly in the darkness.

“You ready?” asked the older cop.

“Ready,” said the rookie.

The veteran officer considered his partner. The young fellow has the courage of ignorance, he thought. He recalled having had similar self-confidence just before his first raid. It’s easy to be brave when you’re up against an abstraction. It doesn’t look that bad in the pictures and videos. Encountering what’s on the other side of that door in real life is a substantially different experience. A few people can face it head-on and do just fine. Most need some measure of acclimation. And then there are those who just can’t take it. For the latter, their first raid is also their last. They have to find another line of work.

The older cop motioned for a robot to approach. The machine quietly padded over and began spraying a thin stream of solvent on the lock between the two doors. The metal started dissolving. The two flesh and blood policemen took up positions on either side of the robot. The senior cop nodded at the automaton. It pulled the doors open, the corroded bolt between them crumbling to the ground, and rushed in, its headlamps shining brightly, twin guns attached to either arm at the ready. The two officers followed it in.

“Get down on the floor, face down, put your hands behind your heads, and interlace your fingers!” the older cop barked at the six rough looking men in the warehouse. One of the men tried to go for a gun that was sitting on a counter. The robot’s left gun arm locked on to him and fired. A taser bullet struck the criminal in the left shoulder, the barbed, electrified slug dropped him to the floor.

“ON THE FLOOR!” screamed the officer. The remaining suspects complied. Lights shone in through the windows around the warehouse: additional police robots.

The rookie looked in stunned silence at the enormous room. The carcasses of cows hung upside down suspended by their hind legs in one part of the warehouse, blood from severed carotid arteries and jugular veins draining into large basins. In another section, pigs were in various stages of dismemberment. Over to the right, a door to a walk-in freezer was open, the raid having taken place just as one of the men was stepping out of it. Frozen chickens could be seen inside.

On a hot plate on a counter, bacon sizzled in a skillet. Testing the product. The scent filled the air. The rookie turned pale and promptly threw up. Two police robots walked in through the front doors and proceeded to restrain the suspects with plastic cable ties.

“You okay?” the elder cop asked his young partner.

“Yeah,” the young man said, his voice thick. “Sorry. I didn’t think I’d…” He let the sentence trail off.

“It happens. You get used to this. Sort of.” The senior officer shook his head. “Texturized vegetable protein, 3D printed synthetic meat, tofu and tempeh. We like to think we’re so civilized and that mass murder like this is a thing of the past. There are even some sickos who’d like to turn back the clock and decriminalize eating meat.”

“And to think for most of history up until a hundred or so years ago most people actually ate this stuff,” said the rookie.

The old cop looked at the restrained detainees seated on the warehouse floor.

“Damned omnivores.”

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Three Blind Mice

Author : Bob Newbell

The crew of the starship looked at the strange yellow star on the viewscreen. The interstellar vessel's enormous magsail was slowly decelerating the vehicle against the star's solar wind. Soon there would be a series of aerobraking maneuvers carried out around some of the system's outer planets to further slow the vessel so it could ultimately insert itself into a stable orbit around the third planet, a world called by the indigenous population “Earth”.

The captain turned away from the viewscreen and looked back at a squat transparent cylinder at the back of the deck. Inside the cylinder, suspended in clear fluid, was a crab-like creature with a translucent red exoskeleton. The captain looked down at his hands. Five digits, one of which was opposable. Ossified endoskeleton. Skin. “I'll never get used to this,” he said.

His first officer, who appeared every bit as human as the captain, walked up and stood in front of the adjacent cylinder that contained a similar crustacean, his own original body. “It can be reversed,” he said. “Won't take as long to get our brains back into our original bodies as it took to grow these alien ones.”

A sound of disgust came from the other side of the deck. The pair turned to see the third member of the crew holding a receptacle of water. His chin was wet.

“Still haven't mastered drinking fluids?” asked the captain.

“I can do it, but…”

“But?”

“It's quite disgusting,” said the navigator. “Pouring liquids into an orifice. And I won't mention the further exigencies of this body's metabolism. I really question if the First Contact Committee made a mistake in not simply allowing us to contact the humans in our native form.”

“Don't forget that our primary mission isn't so much contact as reconnaissance. We've learned quite a bit about the humans from their audiovisual transmissions. But the Committee wants much more detailed information before we are authorized to formerly contact the Earth people's leaders. In our original bodies we wouldn't survive long on the surface of their world, let alone be able to surreptitiously assess whether formal diplomatic relations would be advisable.”

The navigator nodded, itself an odd gesture, he thought. “What about the personas we will be adopting? One would think if we walked among the humans as leaders of commerce or high practitioners of science or of religion we would be able to more efficiently complete our mission.”

“Hundreds of thousands of hours of the audiovisual signals from Earth were analyzed,” said the captain. “It was only after much discussion and debate that the First Contact Committee made its decision. We must have confidence in both the Committee and ourselves if we are to be successful. Our species and humanity may well be the only two intelligent races in the galaxy. We cannot afford for an instant to forget the importance and seriousness of our mission.”

Bolstered by the captain's speech, the navigator immediately placed himself in the mindset of the human character the Committee had chosen for him, a role he had studied and practiced so he could pass unnoticed among the people of Earth.

“I was a victim of soicumstance!” the obese navigator, his head shaved down to stubble, said pleadingly to captain who immediately slapped him across the face.

“Hey, let 'im alone!” interjected the first officer whose hairline receded back to a shock of hair.

“Oh, a wise guy, eh?” said the captain, his brow furrowing under his dark bangs as he poked the first officer in the eyes with his fingers.

“Nyuk nyuk nyuk!” said the navigator.

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Of Quints and Quads

Author : Joshua Ginsberg

Jeff sat at a circular table in the cafeteria, going through some of his data captures and interviews. It was an annual assignment – covering the oldest high school tactical combat drone rivalry in the country. Both schools had fallen to a Tier II ranking over the past decades, which meant carving some activities and programs out of the curriculum, but the drone teams were a major alumni draw and kept the corporate sponsorships coming in, which meant that Jeff could count on at least one story each year for a long time to come.

He saw the drone Capitan, Kit and his second come out of the lipid line with the left sleeves of their white shirts rolled up to expose the holotats on their biceps – streaming alphanumeric text alternating between forming the shape of a missile and the shape of the school’s initials.

Kit and his second stopped beside another, much smaller student and looked down at his open-toed shoes. Kit suddenly recoiled in disgust, pushed the smaller student’s tray down with a clatter, spat at his feet and then glared down into his gray eyes.

“Get outta here, you quad freak.” He hissed.

The other student stopped, contemplated collecting his lunch before decided better of it and headed towards the bathroom to wash his light grey shirt which had become stained with some sort of juice plasma.

Jeff tried to keep writing but he suddenly became aware of a burning itch on the toes of both feet that he couldn’t ignore. He put away his notes and followed the student into the rest room. Through the sliding doors, he heard muffled sobs coming from one of the stalls and gave it a quick rap. The sniffles subsided.”

“Hey, you ok in there?”

Jeff, pushed the door open a crack.

“It’s not my fault,” a pathetically small voice said.

“I know. And I’m going to tell you something. I do a lot of research and it turns out that for the past ten years more than 50% of new births are quadriphilanges.”

“So…?”

“So you’re not the freak. The quints are. They’re the evolutionary knuckle-dragging anomalies and you’re the future, kid.”

“Great, so maybe in another generation the odds will even out…” He stopped to blow his nose.

“It won’t take that long… But in the meantime…” Jeff took off his shoes and bent down, clasping each of his pinkie toes for a five count until the adaptive cybernetics detached from his feet leaving just the small lump where a fifth toe never grew. “…you’ve got these.” He put the false toes in his palm and extended it through the slight opening in the stall. The detached digits continued to flex and writhe in his hand like fleshy caterpillars.

The kid opened the door all the way, his green eyes wide in disbelief. “No way! But, wait. I thought they were banned?”

“Yeah, well sometimes we even the odds ahead of evolution. Here, I’ll show you how to put them on.”

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Cops

Author : Bob Newbell

Officers Castillo and Thrin'Lar heard the terrorist screaming epithets at them both as he was escorted out of the courtroom. With court adjourned, the two LAPD officers who had testified against the man who was accused of bombing four different buildings resulting in 18 Flureshtay and five human deaths went out to their patrol vehicle. The car's ducted fans pushed the vehicle 100 feet in the air and then pitched to provide forward momentum.

“Tom?” said Thrin'Lar after they'd been on patrol for a while.

“Yeah?” responded Castillo.

“Mind if I ask a somewhat awkward question?”

“Go right ahead.”

“Is what you did back there difficult? Testifying against another human, I mean?”

Castillo looked at Thrin'Lar and then back at the expanse of Los Angeles through the vehicle's windshield. “No. Just reported what I saw and what I did.” He looked at Thrin'Lar again. “Some reason it would be?”

“Well,” said Thrin'Lar, “there are some humans who consider that man and people like him heroes. You heard him call you a 'race traitor'. He was tried as a terrorist but there are those who would call him a freedom fighter.”

“I kinda doubt the families of the people he murdered would call him that. Kinda surprised you'd even entertain that nutjob's point of view.”

“My ancestors invaded your planet. If humans had invaded Flureshtegar, I can imagine my people reacting similarly.”

“A hundred years after the fact?” asked Castillo.

“I don't know. Possibly. My people committed atrocities back during the invasion. There are many humans who would like to see every Flureshtay dead. And, yes, I can understand why they feel that way. We're a lot more enlightened now and humans and Flureshtay live and work side by side. Most of my people are ashamed of the behavior of our ancestors. But nothing can change what was done.”

Castillo shrugged. “Human beings had a history of violence long before you guys showed up. Human sacrifice, wars, gulags, concentration camps.”

“True, but those were crimes committed by humans against humans. Isn't it different when an outsider is the enemy?”

“There are several examples I could give of humans keeping feuds and grudges alive for generations, even centuries, the people who started the conflicts turned to dust. The last Flureshtay who was directly guilty of invading Earth and killing innocent people has been dead for something like 40 years. How many generations out from the one that was responsible for war crimes do we get before we stop saying to the bombers and assassins in the here and now 'I understand how you feel' and start saying 'Enough! You're not a patriot or an avenger, you're a murderer'?”

“Tom, you realize there are some Flureshtay living on Earth right now who think we should have totally exterminated humanity 100 years ago? They say we should be running this planet, not working alongside Mankind, not giving humans advanced technology to assuage our collective guilt. They're outraged that Flureshtay put their own kind on trial for war crimes.”

“They want to live in the past just like some humans do. Stupidity isn't confined to one planet. Or to one species. You know, we've got a much bigger problem to deal with than ancient wars and small-minded people.”

“What's that?”

“It's almost lunchtime and I'm starved,” said Castillo with a smile. “What about that Kitt'Ril restaurant we went to last week?”

“Being hatched and brought up in California, I never really developed a taste for Flureshtay food,” Thrin'Lar said, his maxillary palps bristling, a Flureshtay “smile”. “How about some nice egg foo young?”

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