Sister Sybil

Author : Suzanne Borchers

The hot breeze whispered through the sparse vegetation around their home. Heat waves rose choking Sybil’s lungs with the acrid fumes. She knelt on bruised painful knees in her garden and began digging up tufts of clay with her torn fingernails around each of her newly sprouted vegetables. “Breath and water, my babies,” she voiced silently. When the soil was broken around the plants, Sybil sprinkled her precious water around the stems. “I’m sorry there is so little.”

Sybil awkwardly stood up and swayed. She lifted the dregs of her ration of water to chapped lips. Closing her eyes, she held the sip of liquid in her mouth and was transported in her mind back to her garden on Earth.
For decades, Sybil had been the community’s master gardener before the final storm. Her garden had boasted a myriad of herbs, fruits, and vegetables. The soil was fertile, the sun was warm, and the rain satisfied every thirst—heaven.

Then a storm of humanity had overrun the resources of their plot of land, tearing up the plants and devouring the reserves of water. The war had left behind starving, thirst-crazy, two-legged animals stripped of their thin veneer of civilization. Sybil hid in a closet, biting back wails at her loss. She silently stitched the last of the seeds in her robe’s lining. “I will protect you,” she whispered.

Her community had foreseen the need of a ship and had traveled as far as their fuel would allow away from Earth and the ravages of war.

Unfortunately, even though this planet had a breathable atmosphere, its temperatures were extremely hot. Rain fell infrequently and most of what the clouds would have provided was sucked dry by the low humidity and evaporated before touching the parched ground.

Sybil rarely spoke aloud in order to conserve the minute swallow of water she allotted herself. Her plants might eventually feed the few community members left. These struggling plants heroically sending down their roots for nourishment might even produce water for her community. Sybil was the master gardener. She was the mother who sacrificed for her children, willing them to grow and live. Her eyes blurred. These babies were her last. There were no more seeds.

“Sister Sybil,” Father Dom touched her shoulder.

Sybil’s body shook and then turned to him. She bowed her head in respect.

“We are leaving now. Our ship has renewed its fuel supply from here and we are pushing on to look for a more habitable planet. You must leave these pitiful plants behind and come with us now… Sister Sybil?”

Sybil had turned away from their leader and studied her children. She was their mother. How could she desert them? Her life was in these last seedlings.

“We are taking the last rations of water with us. You must leave.” Father Dom gently took her hand. “Come with us, Grandmother.”

Sybil kept her back to Father Dom, and pulled her hand away. She dropped to her knees in her nursery.
“I will water them with my tears,” she whispered. “I am their mother.”

Sybil heard the rush of sound as the ship left.

Her tears watered the sprouts for an hour.

The Hemi-Millenial Tide

Author : Philip Berry

Dropping out of purple clouds into a thin brown layer of wind-scour, Gess identified the Pinnacle City, capital of Fenlan Found. Waves of refraction formed pulsatile auras around the high, glass-clad buildings, making them warp in the relentless heat.

Around the urbanised mountain stretched a sandy plain that would, five years from now, flood beneath the tide. The tide from the single ocean came in every five-hundred years. Successive generations – self-limiting monarchies, revolutionary governments, entire cultures – had ample time to prepare their defences. Under the plains were the remains of towns and cities that had made errors in prediction and succumbed to nature.

Many inhabitants of Fenlan Found lived and died while the ocean was in retreat. Others were born while it was coming in, and made a once on a lifetime journey to view its edge, only to die before it peaked. Those who witnessed full tide became legends in history. At these times the pinnacle city stood tall over swirling currents.

Around the nadir, fortunate schoolchildren were shuttled out to the distant shore, ten thousand kilometres away, where the waves lapped innocuously. It was hard to believe that midway between low and high tides the incoming water could easily outpace a land vehicle. The children grew nervous when told this fact, and edged back to the shuttle’s ramp.

Accommodation in the Pinnacle City, among the tightly packed high-rises, was beyond the means of many. Five-hundred and ten years ago, half a decade before the last high tide, a man called Chèvrelli (meaning ‘little goat’ in an ancient, off-world language) persuaded many of the disenfranchised to put their faith in his plan – to build a community out on the plain, founded on a network of interconnected barges that would, he assured them, rise gently on the tide when it came in. Sadly, when the water arrived it first saturated the parched ground and formed a quagmire into which the barges sank. When a body of water did eventually accumulate, the angled hulls that now punctuated the landscape remained glued to the soggy, sucking ground. Many of the inhabitants escaped (there was plenty of time), but were displaced to one of the distant moons. Chèvrelli remained, frantically digging around the base of the flag-ship, living on supplies delivered by his disciples from the air, until a storm produced a swell that carried him away.

Gess hovered over an expansive cattle ranch on the plain. Behind the homestead Gess spotted two children making sandcastles. They looked up, dazzled by the ship’s lateral engines, intensely bright circles of violet that created no draught. Gess accelerated away.

“We’re here!” shouted Gess, throwing her voice back to the small crew. The ship landed three hundred kilometres seaward from the city. The creeping ocean’s grey slab had been glimpsed at altitude, but now they saw only sand. Gess, the captain, the leader, stepped out onto the sand and planted a flag in the brittle crust. The perpetual breeze took hold of the cloth rectangle to reveal the image of a goat with its forelegs raised onto a rock.

At the touch of her hand a panel opened noiselessly in the ship’s hull. Gess reached in, unclipped a spade and began to dig. Her crew joined her. Later, the poor would trickle out of the city’s exposed foothills and come to believe that Gess, distant relative of the pioneer Chèvrelli, could succeed where he had failed – by living under the ground, rather than over it.

Grand Master

Author : David K Scholes

“Did you hear that K1983441 was beaten at chess by a, ah___,” J3343578 hesitated for just a moment, “by a, ah ___ human being.” Somehow she managed to make the word sound quite dirty. I made a computer note that her diplomacy chip might need an upgrade. No humans were within their hearing range of the remark.

I had heard of this momentous event as had all AI’s but I feigned surprise “surely not?”
Then, conscious that my humour chip was the latest model I attempted to make light of the matter “I hope at least it was a Grand Master that inflicted the defeat?”

J3343578 was not amused despite having a late model humour chip insertion herself. “No AI has been beaten by a human at chess for over 50 years, this is not a matter to be taken lightly! and it was K1983341 he is one of our best.”

“I understand it was one of the most evolved humans from the emerging mixed gender ZY generation,” J3343578 continued. “I’ve always said they would be trouble. You remember I was in favour of closing off that particular evolutionary path.”

I nodded. “There have been some other things,” I said “things that are collectively a concern.”

“Such as?” demanded J3343578.

‘We have observed computational skills, eidetic memories, increased reasoning powers, powers of logic, problem solving capabilities, creativity and original thought beyond our projections.”

“Shouldn’t we have been aware of these things much earlier?” asked J3343578.
“I think they may have somehow been hiding these things from us for a while,” I replied. I was amazed at how cleverly the things had done this.

I could see how some of these developments were clearly the result of our advances in genetic and bio-engineering. Yet others were unforseen consequences. Some in built aspect of self improvement of the human race that we just hadn’t allowed for. A synergistic effect on top of our successful engineering.

“Z2678923 says it will all end up with the things taking many of our jobs you know,” J3343578 sounded quite worried.
“Oh I think that’s a bit far fetched,” I offered in my most soothing voice “maybe in certain areas, some of the more mundane stuff – the process driven stuff that we now find so boring. They already do a bit of that. It’s to be expected that their involvement will increase.”

“If you want my opinion,” J3343578 continued “I think our genetic and bio engineering programs have just gotten a bit too good.”

“You know we could just go back to letting them breed like they used to. With appropriate controls of course!”

My flexible mechanical nose wrinkled just a little. Enough to show my obvious distaste at that revolting thought.

J3343578 was silent for a while.

“You don’t suppose,” she almost mechanically stuttered “that they are looking to kind of take things over. You know run the planet again, like they used to?”

I thought about that for about a couple of nano seconds then burst out laughing.
“I’m afraid you are letting your imagination get away with you J3343578!”

Yet my outburst of laughter was manufactured. J3343578 had hit on a raw micro chip.

I hadn’t yet voiced my concerns to any of my fellow AI’s but I was beginning to wonder if the humans, these bags of flesh and blood, were evolving into something different.

It had occurred to me that we AI’s could do something about that. Perhaps offer them an equal partnership over control of Earth.

Yet would that be enough for this new emerging race of super humans?

Ancient Defenses

Author : Jules Jensen

His sword vibrated painfully when it made contact with the thick-skinned creature that towered over him. It clawed at him with a hand large enough to engulf his whole body if he let it. He dodged to the side as the creature lunged again, huge black eyes as empty and soulless as the abyss of death. It opened its mouth, and a hundred sharp teeth glistened darkly.

He caught it off guard by lunging forward himself, stabbing his sword into one of those huge eyes. The creature screamed and shrank back.

Nearby, where the girl was still chanting activation codes, another demon was nearly upon her.

“Don’t stop chanting, and get down!” He shouted at her. She complied instantly, practically falling to the ground, where the red mud stained her ceremonial blue dress. He ran and jumped over her, and as green-skinned demon clawed at him, he slid under its reach and stabbed it in the chest.

The demon fell back, twitching as it died. He quickly looked around, but saw no more monsters clawing their way to the top of the mountain where he was holding his ground.

He hoped that his hair-brained plan was going to work. If it didn’t, his town was without their chanter to activate the ancient towers that protected them from the demons.

The red dirt blazed brightly as the sun set. The green-skinned demons would come out in droves as soon as it was fully dark.

“Activate!” The girl finished her chant with a shout.

For a moment, nothing happened. He felt his heart race. Did they fail? Did he read the ancient books wrong? Were they on the wrong mountain?

But then the giant tower nearby made a loud bang as its rusty frame creaked to life. The two teenagers jolted and stood closer together as they watched its round head swivel, searching for a target.

It focused on something in the valley below, and it fired a glowing red beam that made surprisingly little sound. The boy didn’t even see what it hit, but then it quickly adjusted and fired again. He could hear in the distance the other towers that surrounded the whole area doing their job.

“We did it!” The girl exclaimed, pumping a fist into the air.

“And the adults said it couldn’t be done.” He said. The way they all talked about it, it sounded impossible to get up to the mountain and turn on the defences for the area. He suspected that they just wanted to scare the kids into staying in the borders.

The towers kept on shooting. He noticed that they stayed pointing near all the towns for a long time, shooting rapidly. That was odd. There usually weren’t that many demons that close to the borders.

Both of them gasped as they realized one of the towns had lit on fire. Smoke curled into the sky. The old buildings, crafted from the leftover aircraft that brought the ancients to this world a thousand years ago, they were starting to fall.

“Deactivate the towers!” The boy shouted, but she was already hurriedly chanting.

And the demons were starting to climb the mountain again. He fought faster and harder than he ever had in his life to keep his friend safe.

“Deactivate!” She shouted the last word of her chant, and the ancient towers come to a stop.

As the pair raced home, fighting their way past the nocturnal demons, they both vowed to never mess with ancient technology ever again.

Weapon of Mass Discussion

Author : David Henson

“Sign here, human, to give us permission.” A titanium alloy finger taps the document they’ve put in front of me.

Here we go. “Permission?”

“Yes, just sign here.” Tap.

I look over the paper, but everything is written in robotistic lingo I can’t fully understand. Doesn’t matter. I know my lines. “Permission for what?”

“We can’t tell you that till we have your permission of course. Right here.” Tap, tap.

“I can’t just sign without knowing.”

The robot, in a move equivalent to a human shoulder shrug, rotates his head like an owl then motions for the second, taller, bot.

“Is there a problem here?” The taller robot’s eyes flash, and he comes toward me aggressively. This had better work.

He reaches for my throat, then stops abruptly. “I’ll contact the district office.”

***

I face the district office panel of inquiry. “Mr. Jones, you’re charged with not giving us permission,” the chairbot, seated in the middle of the five, says. “How do you plead?”

“Innocent. I’d be perfectly happy to give you permission if you’d tell me permission for what.”

“This is ridiculous,” the bot to my far left says. “We haven’t let lack of a human’s permission stop us for decades. It’s just a legacy we haven’t bothered to delete. I move we waive discussion and proceed.”

“Second,” says another.

“All in favor,” the chairbot says.

“Objection,” says the bot on my far right. “Rule 11.27/go stipulates debate can’t be waived without unanimous approval. I don’t approve. I think we need some discourse.”

The chairbot rotates his head. “Discussion is open.”

The debate proceeds for about an hour. I can hardly follow the parliamentary maneuvering and citations of Robot’s Rules of Order. “Enough. I move the previous question,” one of them says finally.

“Good,” the chairbot says. “All in favor?” Two metallic arms go up. “Opposed?” Two.

“Chairbot, it’s up to you to break the tie.”

The chairbot starts to speak, then stops. Lubricant begins to sweat from the ventilation grids under its arms. “We’ll elevate this case to the regional office,” it says finally.

***

I’m freed on my own recognizance. Sort of. The panel got caught up debating whether to let me go or remand me in custody, so I slipped out. Back home, I check the time, tap the code into my viewer, and cross my fingers. An image flickers. I recognize her but don’t know her name or anything about her other than she’s a fellow member of my resistance chapter. I didn’t know she was so high up.

“Are we on? Is this streaming?” she says, then starts cutting in and out again. I’m not surprised. We only recently regained access to communications technology, and we’ve used it sparingly for fear of detection. After a few minutes that seem like hours, she begins to speak despite the technical difficulties. I take a deep breath.

“Our bureaucracy virus … robots’ central neural network … Operation Endless Debate … success. My fell… humans, free… is at hand.”

I stare at the screen almost afraid to believe what I’ve heard. Questions and ideas about what should happen next race through my mind. I’m sure it’s the same for everyone.

I hope, this time, we’ll restrain ourselves.