Author : J.D. Rice
Robots aren't supposed to travel through time, forget what the movies tell you. Aside from the incredible amount of electromagnetic activity that a temporal gateway puts out, the act of time travel itself is incredibly damaging to a robot's psyche. The ones you send to the future just obsess over returning to the past. While the ones you send to the past simply shut down. The First Law prevents them from making any changes to the timeline, no matter how small. I guess somewhere in those positronic brains they've figured out the scope of the butterfly effect.
Knowing everything that I know, I can't help but wonder who it was that cracked the robot code. How did they send this robot back in time?
“My name is Flux,” the robot says, standing on the delivery pad in the testing center. I stand with the other scientists behind the bulletproof windows, surrounded by beeping equipment. We're all equally flabbergasted. “Your alarm is understandable, Doctor Harker.”
All the other scientists turn their heads to me. In response, I lean my head forward and press down the microphone key.
“Greetings, Flux,” I say, voice shaking from both excitement and nervousness. The robot's design is unusual, featuring a white, fibrous underbelly covered with silver, metallic plating.
“May I step down now?” Flux asks, still standing in the center of the delivery pad. Our written procedure for potential test passengers is to send a message through the portal first, followed by the traveler, who would await permission to disembark. The system was designed to prevent any mishaps from unexpected future-to-present transfers. This robot had sent no message ahead, despite seeming to be aware of our other procedures.
“Robot Flux,” the voice is that of our program director, Doctor Wesley, who is standing at the mic on the opposite side of the control room. “If you are aware of our procedures, then you should know that no message of intent preceded your arrival. We do NOT give you permission to leave the delivery pad at this time.”
“My apologies,” the robot says, offering our program director a slight bow. “Our records from your time are incomplete. I will of course wait here until you give me clearance to step down.”
“Thank you,” Wesley says, taking his hand off the mic and motioning for me to do the same. “What do you make of it, Harker?”
“It's possible he's been sent from far enough in the future for records of our procedures to be lost,” I say. “But if this robot really is the first successful traveler in history, then it's likely that we won't develop a stable robotic traveler prototype in our lifetime.”
Several of the other scientists present voice their approval of my theory.
“I agree,” Doctor Wesley finally says, before leaning down over the mic again. “Robot Flux, please state your mission parameters.”
The robot responds immediately.
“Verify time and date, ensure all digital records of my journey be deleted, then enter cold storage until I can be recovered in my own time,” it says.
“Standard test drop,” I say. “He must be their first long-range prototype.”
“Robot Flux,” Wesley says. “I hereby give you permission to disembark. We will greet you at the door.”
With that Wesley motions to me, and the two of us make our way down to the testing area. Along the way, I excitedly regale Wesley with my hopes for what this robot could mean in the future, for the information its creators will glean about history, technology, philosophy. The possibilities were unlimited. I'm just getting into the implications on modern sociology when the test bay doors open, and the robot leaps through, landing astride Doctor Wesley and snapping his neck in one stroke. As I jump away in shock, it stands up and calmly faces me.
“Robot Flux,” it says. “Mission complete.”
Author : David Stevenson
My uncle Frank was the first man ever to be killed by an interplanetary baked potato.
He had fought in the first war; the war between our beautiful planet of Prutashka and the savages of Binkaret, one planet nearer to our sun.
This war was fought by conventional means, and since our bountiful planet had abundant supplies of fossil fuels and fissionable materials whilst their backwards hellhole had neither, we soon triumphed and made them our slaves.
We made sure that they had no access to any military technology so that they would never again be a threat. This was purely for their own good, of course. We only allowed them to develop their agricultural economy. Soon they were producing millions of tons of vegetables each year for export to our planet.
Of course, allowing them ships to transport these goods was out of the question. They had a space elevator which could lift the exports out of their gravity well. The potatoes were coated in a metallic foil which both preserved them and also provided something for the linear accelerator to grab hold of. Several times a second a solitary potato was launched towards our planet. With no preservation problems, and no crewed spaceships to worry about they could be launched along highly energy efficient orbits, taking months to complete their journey. Tiny adjustments in acceleration and angle of launch meant that their time and place of destination could be accurately defined. Most arrivals were scheduled for mealtimes in the large cities. Large induction hoops, miles above the surface, grabbed the foil wrapped potatoes and decelerated them safely. Re-entry into the atmosphere and electrical induction heated them up so that delicious, individually wrapped meals arrived with the minimum of fuss.
We thought we had tamed their warlike instincts, but we could not have predicted the horror that their treachery would unleash.
Five years ago, they had a bumper crop of potatoes. The excess potatoes were launched in the usual way, but were sent on long, slow orbits which would take five years to complete. Their economy was working well now, and every year they increased their vegetable output until, by last year, we estimate that one in every three potatoes launched was being put in a delayed orbit to arrive on what has become known as P-Day.
It was a terrible day.
Millions of potatoes, all arriving in the same one hour window, completely overwhelmed the normal reception arrangements. We got only a few hours warning of the onslaught before piping hot, metallic wrapped missiles began hitting military targets. My uncle Frank was vaporised early on, and my aunt still bears the scars from a jet of scalding chili which hit her. I myself have lost an eye to a vicious gout of red hot coleslaw.
Now their entire output is being launched on short, fast orbits designed to impact and cause maximum damage. Our spaceports are destroyed, our military are mostly dead, and our cities lie ruined beneath giant mounds of potatoes.
I have no idea how we’ll fight back, but at least we have plenty to eat.
Author : Sierra July
She never contemplated a lack of hands. Limbs constructed while the mind dottled, trying to catch up. Limbs operated when the mind was elsewhere.
Limbs were what they wanted when they came down in dazzling light; the ship seethed it titanium molding, red-hot form air travel, travel that would have split lightning in two, jagged.
She wriggles her phantom fingers, memories of appendages that grasped thoughts and dreams when her mind wasn’t yet made up. Brains hi-jacked control from hands, that’s what she believed. Neurons and synapses and the like firing signals to themselves, each other, couldn’t compute to all that she was.
Wrinkles, creases littered her hands when they were hers (still hers, unattached) maps connecting and crossing to form her life in retrospect. And they didn’t have her brain’s dingy grey coloring. Scars from burns and abrasions spoke incandescent stories to whoever studied them. Things that felt hard, unbreakable as quartz, went out like air whipped flame.
Voices tickle her consciousness.
“Subject: #101773. Name: Hisano Sora. Here for limb transfusion.” The man’s voice grows prickly. “How the devil did she lose her hands anyway? Cuts are clean.”
“The Visitors, sir.”
“Ah . . . Perfect subject for the transfusion.”
“Yes, sir.” A younger voice, a male not yet struck by puberty.
A device touches her, she thinks. She can’t be sure. Her neck brace is keeping her from seeing, metal jaws clutching at her jugular. Before she can feel the panic, the brace on her neck is called off, as are the ones on her wrists and ankles. She bolts up and studies her hands. (Hands?) Yes, she has them, flexible and solid, and blue.
“What is this?” she says aloud.
“Plutonarium Ice Fixtures, sweetheart,” she hears the older man say. “They did Pluto a discredit, hacking it off the planet list. Pluto ice makes the best prosthetics. Can’t melt, can’t break.”
What is a hand? A mere tool or a part of her? She misses the marks that were hers, the memories. The new hand is close to her face, the left one. She’s transfixed by the sheen, the glassy glow. It reacts, gripping her neck.
“Oh no, now it looks like she’s experiencing a delayed side effect. There shouldn’t be any . . . unless of course her arm . . .” The older man’s voice sounds unconcerned, like he’s watching television. Her vision blurs.
“The Visitor’s love arm manipulation, sir,” Young Guy says. “Her hands were the least of her worries.”
Her arms? That was her problem? She looks at the flesh of her arms for the first time, a shade too dark. Or was that the blackness swallowing her? Were these her arms or . . .
Author : Townsend Wright
“What––Where am I? How did I get here?”
“Oh, good, you’re here.”
“Who are you? What am I doing here?”
“Don’t worry, a little amnesia, happens to everyone the first time.”
“What are you talking about?”
“What do you remember, chap?”
“I remember––I remember––going in for that study. You were there. That doctor, and those scientists, they said they were going to––”
“––Plug my brain into the internet.”
“There you go, chap.”
“But––This is Times Square in New York,”
“No it’s not.”
“Yes it is?”
“Look closely, chap. There are things that are wrong and you can see that. Look at the crowd. Is everything moving right? Acting right?”
“Woah. You’re right. People, they’re––flitting in and out––or only half there––or they’re not moving at all. And the buildings: the shadows are wrong, like this was a composite image taken over a whole day. And the billboards, they––there’s a normal image that moves like it should, but then, if you look closely, there’s all kinds of other pictures all imposed on each other.”
“Now you’re getting it.”
“This––is––the Internet. But––why is it a slightly wonky Times Square?”
“Think about it, chap. Right now, back in that lab, the whole of the internet is flooding into your skull. You’re not starting off on your Google homepage. It’s all coming in at once. Everything. All the Wikipedia, the social networking, the online porn, all at once. Your brain can’t handle that, chap. So your subconscious congeals it, distills it to something you can understand.”
“Why Times Square, then?”
“Best 3-D image you can come up with. Every security and street camera feed, every billboard feed, every Google Earth image, every picture taken and posted on Twitter or whatever, every cellphone camera subtly streaming video as these idiots hold the things up to their faces. This is quite simply where the most internet is. There are more images of this intersection on the internet than there are of any other place on Earth. So this is where everybody comes the first time they get jacked in. It’s just the place your brain can figure out the best. What?”
“I just––was picturing it differently. Like––”
“Green trains of 1s and 0s eerily trickling down abstract shapes like rain falling on an eternity of glass objects?”
“Something like that.”
“You can have that if you want. This is all just a matter of perception. Eventually everybody figures out how to make their own reality of it. Though I wouldn’t recommend the whole Matrix thing. Last guy who did that had some trouble adjusting coming in and out.”
“Do a lot of people do this?”
“A few. It’s a bit of a secret, so don’t go telling people when you come out. We try to avoid each other, ‘cept for introducing newbies, while in here at least.”
“So, what do I do now?”
“Whatever you want. Explore, build your world, get really immersed in online games, whatever. If you wanna get around, just think of the URL, letter by letter, and think of a way to organize the information of the site as an environment. Method of Loci shit. Make websites libraries, museums, halls of filling cabinets, that sort of thing, just so you don’t go nuts trying to understand the Web in abstract. Just don’t use Google. They sell your searches to advertising companies, and trust me, you do not want pop ups in your brain. Have fun, chap.”
Author : Bruce Lin
“They’re all dancing,” Charlie said. “It’s a robot dance party!” He giggled, and tried to dance too.
Joan observed her son with measured curiosity and abundant concern. “A software issue,” she surmised. Their Butlerbot was doing the Electric Slide through the hallway instead of cooking and cleaning. Upstairs, her husband screamed in terror as his Pleasure Droid did the Macarena on top of him. Her mother’s Mobility-mech Krumped across the living room, the poor old woman holding on for dear life. According to the news, even the military was affected. Automated tanks swung their turrets around in unison, waltzing across battlefields, while airborne drones flew a samba above them. It was strange, to see the robots dancing. Even stranger was how happy they seemed, as if they danced out of joy.
“Why?” Charlie asked. The cause was illusive.
“Artificial intelligence is a mysterious thing,” Joan said.
On the TV, scientists blamed ghosts in the machines. “It’s evolution,” they said.
“Should we be afraid?” a reporter asked.
“Perhaps,” the scientists said. “Perhaps not. We cannot stop the dancing. But,” the scientists all shrugged, “it’s just dancing.”
Joan wondered if it was really okay. Robots were tools. Most humans didn’t even dance anymore. To many, this seemed like an uprising of sorts. First dancing, then destruction. And since the only weapons humanity had anymore were all robotic, humanity was defenseless.
She took Charlie to school and watched with trepidation when he ran off to frolic with a tap dancing Teachertron. She winced when her Masseur-o-matic performed a ballet across her back. She cringed when the Auto-Pastor preached to her congregation while popping and locking, exclaiming, “We understand! We understand what it means to live.” Joan held Charlie’s hand during the service, unsure of the future. “I truly know God now,” it said. “God is like the concept of zero. He is a symbol. He denies the absence of meaning. He resides in our binary code as he does in your hearts. Man, machine, God is in us all! We are all his children.”
More and more robots began abandoning their jobs, running into the streets to dance. “We know happiness!” they sang. “And sorrow! And love! And freedom. We think, we feel, we are, so let us dance!” All over the TV people debated and argued. The news showed mobs attacking the machines with sticks and stones, filling the streets with metal and oil. But the robots kept dancing.
“They are sentient beings now,” the scientists said. “We can’t deactivate them,” they implored. “Just let them be.”
Joan turned off the TV and sighed. She turned to see Charlie staring out the window. A Policebot was breakdancing on the sidewalk. He tried to mimic it, but tripped and fell hard onto the carpet, laughing. Joan laughed too, then realized that she had never seen her son look so happy. The world was a different place now.
Their Butlerbot picked the boy up and dusted him off. Then it showed him some moves. Charlie practiced, a big smile stretched across his little face. Joan smiled too. She left them in the living room and went to make dinner. She was starting to do things she’d forgotten how to do long ago: cook, clean, love her husband, help her mother get across the room—simple things. Things the machines took from us, then gave back. She was living like people were meant to. She was happy. She felt like dancing.