Furniture Music

Author : Jason Frank

“Would you drop it already?” not really a question, not the way he said it. “They are not alive. A little self repair, a little self preservation, and occasional self replacement do not make things alive. They make them some damn good products that cost plenty of damn good money, that’s all.”

She didn’t say anything. He had more to say, she knew that but she wasn’t going to encourage him. Of course, sometimes he got on a roll and could keep going without anything from her.

“They don’t have the spark of life. They don’t seek out things, they don’t build things. They don’t have dreams. They don’t have self direction. Whatever the program they have says, they do. We can do whatever we want, that’s why we’re alive and they’re not. Are you getting any of this?”

“So,” she began with that most versatile and complicated of beginnings, “when was the last time you sought something out, built something, or told me about a dream you had? Are you a damn good product, too?”

“I can’t even talk to you. I’m going out. I’m going to the bar,” a familiar phrase he punctuated, as usual, with the slamming of the door.

Walking up to the car, his eyes caught on the traces of the dent he’d picked up in a parking lot the week before. It had mostly healed. Three good kicks took care of that, put the dent back the way it was.

He backed out of the driveway fast, barely looking. What was worse, a bunch of uppity products trying to make him look bad or being married to a half wit who thought she was friends with said products? Thank god her deathly cat and dog allergies had spared him from a home overrun by furry quadrupeds. They should have had kids. Sure, it would have been a huge pain, but at least his wife’s maternal drives wouldn’t have her talking to the damn furniture.

Turning the corner and starting down the hill, the inevitability of his situation was on his mind. He had to drink; there was no getting through to that woman. Wednesday (was it Wednesday?) he was out getting a beer in the garage and there she was with two ottomans and an end table having a tribal council with the car. What could a man do in that situation? He broke out of his thoughts when he realized that he was going a little fast.

He went light on the brakes but nothing happened. The sense of being out of control was novel enough to his sober brain to create a little shock. Still, the sober brain had a number of tricks up its sleeve, such as shifting into neutral, etc. Nothing worked. He couldn’t even open the door to jump out of what was an increasingly speeding death trap. He began screaming just as the car stereo cranked itself up so loud he couldn’t hear himself. That song? He hated that song. She loved it.

“If he was wearing his seatbelt… it wasn’t that bad of a wreck… I’m sorry” the officer was telling her while she stood there in her pink and frayed bath robe, crying into a handful of Kleenex like it was Oscar season. “The car… it’s not badly damaged.”

“Don’t… I don’t want to junk the car. He loved that car. I want to bring it home and let it recover,” she said through the thick tears and aforementioned Kleenex.

“That’s probably a good idea,” the officer said.

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Childcare

Author : Jae Miles

“Dear Tara,

If you’re reading this, then I have just died again. I am sorry that I will miss Luke’s sixth birthday and even more grieved over missing our eighth anniversary. That brings me to evens now, I promise to try and make the ninth.

Never forget that I love you, and I only do what I do for you and the children’s safety. Yes, I know about Eva. The update reached me just as we dropped out of Hirsch. So I guess that I am going to be in serious trouble for missing her birth as well.

By the time you read this, I’ll be wombed on board the Fulminator or Inceptor, so you can leave updates there and they’ll drop them into the personal feeds, but remember to keep the words simple. You used the word ‘disgusting’ last time and it hung my induction up for three weeks while the meds unravelled my fixation with multi-syllable constructs.

Time to finish as we are about to launch the hammers; I’ve finally qualified for a Versio Quatro, the only upside I can see from dying heroically so much. My death-point learning and psychological resilience is too useful to waste, apparently.

So until I race up the path into your arms again, be strong and kiss the kids for me.

All my love,

Jack.”

Tara put the worn note back in its stasis frame as the sounds of childish argument started in the kitchen. Sure enough, Luke and Jack were fighting again. She sent Luke to clean his room while she firmly put Jack down for a nap. Another few months and she’d need a matron droid to help control him; Two metres tall, two hundred pounds of muscle making for three, the mind of an eight year old with the sleep cycle of a two year old.

Jack had been on the Fulminator when the Borsen had punched a hundred metre warpcore through it. She should feel lucky, that her man had died so many times in the line of duty that Command had actually bothered to retrieve him from the wreckage, the sole patient saved. He had been ex-vitro for too long when they got him back to advanced regen, so he had to finish growing back the long way.

All the memories were there, but the release was keyed to physical brain age. He only remembered what he knew at that age, with occasional prescience. Thankfully the insights drawn from Jack’s prescience were enough for Command to pay his family’s way for the next twenty years.

It was going to be difficult, raising her man to be the husband she had loved.

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Hand Out

Author : James Orbesen

My comfort worn wooden chair stands at attention in the city glow of a midnight rainstorm. Droplets patter, tapping on the glass of my three floor-to-ceiling windows as I sit six floors above the sidewalk and peer down at umbrellas weaving a complex choreography along the footpaths. The right hand itches incessantly towards a bottle of shoddy whiskey, three fourths gone. Cabs pull around the street corners with the peeling sizzle of rubber on wet pavement. Horns sound as one of the vehicles lifts off, hovers for a moment like an updraft caught leaf, and zooms off to higher parts of the city. I reach to scratch and feel metal.

The hand is not mine, I think, as I bring it up and hold it in front of me. It was manufactured in bulk somewhere, shipped from wherever and shoved into my empty stump after my hand was chopped clean off. It itches less now that I look at the sleek blue steel contours. The fingers click and clank as I move them up and down as if I was rolling a heavy silver coin across them. It knows I am not its body.

Work is hard now. I cannot get behind a product like this anymore. I was so good beforehand. My words soothed and rolled like a mercury balm. The benefits are there to see. Everyone is getting them. Take charge of your body. People queued up, soup line style, out the door to hear me speak, to talk them into something they just learned they needed. New arms. New legs. New hands. Faster. Better. Stronger. Best of all, affordable. Unique to you. Always a satisfied customer. No one was ever disappointed after I was done with them.

Sometimes I feel the hand move on its own. Late in the evening, after nights of fitful sleep, broken up by dreams of me whole, I could see a tremble in the fingers. The shiver would be barely noticeable but it ran like a current through the finger tips, itching for my attention. It wants to be noticed. I hold my hand up against the gleam of a thousand streetlights pouring in from out front, its shadow taking hold of my face and demanding not to let go.

The hand snatches down to the bottle of cheap booze from the floor. I down it in one swift gulp borne of frustration and a desire to sleep for days. It wants more. As blood eyed weariness begins to pull me down, I think of how tomorrow I’ll go to work with my black gloved hand. Everyone will ask why I hide it and give it a sinister air with the Dr. Strangelove look. I never can answer satisfactory. I have a hand and it isn’t mine. How can I answer when I’m still not whole?

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Contenders

Author : A. S. Andrews

Reboot. You’re only a runner up. There’s no box office fame in your future.

Come on now. Remember how, in preschool, they gave everyone medals, so no one felt left out? And how, in grade school, they had graduations for all the grades, so everyone felt important and special? And how, in high school, there was no valedictorian, because the school didn’t want all those kids who were an eighth of a grade point away to go and hang themselves?

Well, this is New Hollywood and we don’t play that game here. Somewhere out there, there’s a winner.

And you are not it.

Yes, your script was memorable, but memorable won’t solve world hunger.

Don’t you care about solving world hunger? That’s right, I forgot. You’re an AI. I wonder how many were in my high school class? Rumor has it you don’t need to eat.

So it’s true? So you don’t eat, but you have feelings. And right now, you feel depressed, because you’re only a runner up. Okay. Well, look, so is everybody else who didn’t win. That’s the way it works. You’re in great company here, a whole city of runner ups. And you don’t even know who won.

That makes it worse? How? How can you want to kill someone you don’t even know?

Look, if you need emotional support, why don’t you just reboot? What do you care, anyway? You’re an AI.

Because you were predicted to take over the world? By who? Another AI?

Look, you were programmed to deal with this stuff, right? So you had the same schooling as everyone else, and you’re not used to losing. So what? Don’t compete then.

Of course it’s not fair. Did you see that in the contest rules? No. At least you have a reboot option.

Yes, I assure you, they are all rebooting. Today. As you should be. Don’t you go trying to hang yourself in my office. That’s not how it works. Haven’t you ever rebooted before? Have we really gotten that good at the program?

No, I don’t want to discuss your script. Making everyone losers so they hang themselves is not a solution to world hunger. You can’t just wipe out the human race so you don’t have to feed them. Besides, you don’t even know if they’d really hang themselves. Only the AIs are programmed. And you’re supposed to reboot.

Now what are you doing?

Get away from me with that rope. What makes you think I won?

Illegal? I’ll show you illegal. I’m warning you, I’ve never lost a thing in my life, and I’m not about to start now.

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Ride the Lightwave Home

Author : Damien Krsteski

“So, will you finally tell me why we’re here?” The ice cubes rattled as Jane drank the remaining drops of her orange juice and vodka cocktail. “I hate it when you’re so secretive.”

Nick smiled and slurped his vodka. Krylania was a wondrous place. With its small size, even surface and perfect distance from Sol, it was most certainly his favorite asteroid. A place he often called his own.

One he used to visit in times of doubt or when he lacked perspective, to acquire a sense of belonging, marvel at the immensity of the cosmos, to think things through.

But mostly, he used to come for the distance it provided between himself and the others. Something he inherited from his father- the desire to be left alone.

The day before he’d met her was his last trip to the asteroid. He had never told her a single word about Krylania, or what it all meant to him.

Now, two and a half years later, they were there, tanning on his yellow beach chairs, drinking alcohol with cute umbrellas in their glasses. Above their heads, space was dark and endless.

“Jane,” he said softly, “when my father left the Swarm and erased himself, I realized something.”

She stopped chewing her straw, and set the glass down.

A clumsy grin stretched Nick’s mouth and he said, “I realized I hate this place.” He got on his feet and scooped up the vodka bottle, clutching it firmly by its neck. “He never understood our society, Jane. Never.” He waved the bottle around a bit, then took a sip. “He thought it’s good to be alone. He told me I should be a distinguished individual. He never bought the whole nanotech hivemind hocus pocus.” He poked his chest with his thumb. “Heck, even I didn’t back then.”

Jane eyed him sympathetically. He dragged his chair next to hers and sat down.

He passed her the alcohol, then said quietly, “But after all that’s happened, I think I finally do.” She drank.

Then he did too.

“I brought you here to show you something,” he said, got up and pulled her to her feet. “Come.”

The two walked hand-in-hand on the asteroid’s dusty surface, barefoot and naked, their artificial bodies unscathed by space radiation, minds separated by a great distance from everyone else, isolated, alone. For the time being, they were only with one another.

A short distance later, they arrived at a large irregular bump on the surface, and climbed on it. Before them, preceded by a neverending gap of vacuous space, was Sol, shining brightly their way.

“Once in a couple of years this rock passes through a much bigger asteroid cloud,” said Nick, hand raised up before his eyes. “It is happening now.” He pointed at the empty space before them. “Watch.”

As he spoke, the blinding rays of sunshine were interrupted by a massive cluster of small asteroids in all shapes and sizes. They sailed graciously by, as if riding on the crest of a giant lightwave, soaring faster and faster until they blocked out the sunlight in its entirety. Jane ducked instinctively, as the group of rocks cast a cold shadow over them. It was sunset on asteroid Krylania.

Nick put his hand around her shoulder.

“Thanks,” he said. “For being you. For being here. And for being a part of what we are.”

It was over as soon as it began. The cluster of rocks passed quietly out of view, and the sun was back up. Jane nodded, and leaned over to kiss him. Moments later, both of them rejoined the rest of their race, leaving the asteroid far behind.

They could hardly wait to share the experience with the others.

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