Author : Sean Donovan

“The computers are down,” said Dhir. His voice was steady and unbroken though Lim knew that inside he was shattered.

Lim stared at him, her eyes blinking back tears of sorrow and fury. The computers are down. She repeated the phrase to herself, almost as if she needed to hear the words spoken inside of her head to make them factual.

Once, she’d been told, computers were tools – intelligent ones perhaps but tools just the same. In those bygone days that phrase did not have the same connotation as it did now. Once it meant that the computers were malfunctioning, broken, in need of man’s help. No more. Quite the opposite, in fact. Now, deep underground and abruptly realizing that their assumed safety was a sham, the meaning behind Dhir’s statement was all too clear to her. The desolation on the surface of the planet didn’t seem so distant any more.

“You mean they’ve moved past the pulse barrier?” she asked, already knowing the answer.

“About an hour ago,” he replied, his eyes meeting hers. Looking into them, she suddenly realized how weary those once beautiful orbs now looked, how strained and hollow they’d become since the sentries had first reported discovering the freshly drilled tunnels not more than a few weeks ago.

“So that means we’ve got what? Two hours? Three?”

“Tops,” he responded quietly. “Probably less than one at the rate they’re moving.”

With the systematic destruction of all means of long-distance communication, the burning of the printed books and the surge purging of the electronic data libraries, most information was nothing more than ashes and wayward electrons. It was all gone. Combined with the loss of contact with the Solar Watchmen, so was the history of the Silicon Rising.

All Lim knew was what she had heard in stories as a child, listening intently as her kin-tribe related tales that seemed too dark to be true – tales heard deep under the granite bedrock of what had once been New Hampshire, under what had once been America, under what had once been an Earth ruled by humans.

Even those twenty odd years ago, no one could remember exactly how the computers came to seize control, forcing mankind’s unplanned return back into caves and crags in a resented exodus to a Neolithic lifestyle. All they knew was that one day, man had woken to a new world, one where the linked silicon groupmind had decided that a change of the stewardship of the planet was in order.

The destruction of man’s fragile empire had occurred faster than anyone had imagined possible. With undebated orders carried to the electronic troops at the speed of fiber-optic light, irrefutable binary-coded logic behind them, actions were carried out in perfect synchronicity across the globe and those born of flesh stood no chance against the onslaught.

Some opined it was the work of an alien race, some blamed cosmic radiation and some called it a smite from a god who’d grown jealous of mankind’s omniscience over these machines, punishing his own creation for aspiring to become too godlike in its own way.

The reasons and opinions and guesses were myriad. Facts were much harder to come by, and with the loss of any method of data retrieval (the attempts at which had ruined the minds of the greatest scientists left alive on the planet) there were no facts available to those who yearned for a reason why.

Not that it matters now, she thought.

“The computers are down,” Dhir repeated with a sigh. He rose from his monitoring station and without even a glance a Lim, walked to his quarters. She didn’t flinch when the shot rang out shortly thereafter. She’d known it was coming, just as she knew she’d never hear the report when she pulled the trigger of her own service weapon, barrel pressed comfortably against her soft temple. Not yet though, she thought. I want to hear you first…

She listened carefully, ear pressed against the granite that they once thought would be mankind’s salvation. She could hear them in the distance, drilling, grinding, chewing through the last meters of bedrock. Down they came, ever downward. The computers are down, she thought to herself as she stood and followed in Dhir’s wake.

The 365 Tomorrows Free Podcast: Voices of Tomorrow
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Author : Jennifer C. Brown a.k.a Laieanna

I was twelve when the world went mad. Mom saw it coming well before then and she prepared, stocking up on goods and drilling into me the importance of keeping secret our supply. At first the epidemic seemed to spread slowly, starting in third world countries, but soon after it grew at an incredible rate. The states, last to fall, were affected within three months time.

“Keep it hidden,” Mom used to whisper in my ear. I’d sit on her big lap, lay my head on her pillow breasts, and watch movies she had stashed under the floorboards of our trailer. “Never let them look at you closely and keep the warehouse to yourself. I’m trusting you, girl.”

And that’s how it was. Mom stayed in our secluded trailer. I continued school till I was fourteen. It was hard keeping the teachers and nurses from poking at me, but mom had an excuse ready for everything. When she died, I quit going.

She was hard to bury. It took me three days to drag her out of the trailer and far enough that the critters wouldn’t bother me. Later, I went to town with what money I had. Joggers, walkers, and bikers crowded the streets. Kids jump roped in parks and threw balls over traffic lights. Even the old were out. Every one of them fit and trim, barely breathing hard. Why she had to die in spring, I’ll never know. I drew my winter coat closer to my body. There were plenty of stares, but I still felt secure inside its linings.

I only had enough money for two bottles of bleach. I tried running back home, just to get away, but pain in my side stopped me time and again. When concerned people tried coming to help, I’d run again, just letting the air burn my lungs.

The smell and sorrow wrecked me. Tears never stopped rolling down my cheeks. It hurt to clean, my body tired. It hurt to see, eyes stinging from the chemicals. It hurt to think. I missed Mom. Fed up with trying, I took the secret key and headed for the warehouse. There was still plenty of food in the trailer, but I wanted to see what Mom died for.

After walking two hours, I could smell the sweetness wafting from the warehouse. Inside, I turned on the light and basked in the beauty. Mom had separated everything mainly by taste. Twinkies and ding dongs adorned most shelves. An assortment of Little Debbies lay in bins for surprise pickings. That world of health food and exercise didn’t know what they had when they started shutting down the factories. Mom did and she wasn’t letting them take that away from us. I pulled my shirt away from my stomach, scrunching up the hole that had worn through with the years and scooped at least fifteen twinkies from the shelf. Spreading my snacks over the floor, I sat, planning to eat till I puked.

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The Key

Author : KimBoo York

Tandoo sat on the steps, turning the key over in his hand. It was a silver stick, long and blank, and heavy. The door behind him stood solid and bright, just as without character as the key.

He held the key up and let the sunlight glint off the surface. The door would open onto a new world for him, he knew, but it was the key that had power over his life. His key. The key was a gift. It was not stolen. Still, he felt guilty, sitting on the steps with the key in his hands.

A hint of delicate, lacey latticework trim peeked over the top of the door frame. From that small bit of ornament, Tandoo constructed in his imagination a whole world – a whole life, in fact. It was full of white, clean architecture and lush, green gardens, and he loved to envision himself walking through those gardens in a light yellow pantsuit on his way to…

“You still here?” Mako walked up.

His sister was portly and kind, and worried. It seemed to Tandoo that she never stopped worrying about him.

“You need to go. You know the Corps will be grabbing boys soon for service. Off planet, right? Deep space. To fight the Unity.You need to go.”

He nodded. It wasn’t their war and no one wanted the village boys to go. He was lucky, as in blessed-by-ancient-gods lucky, to have the key.

“Go.” Mako turned and walked away.

He stood up and faced the door. The small square keyhole was in the middle of the door, so he reached up and slid the key in. He waited.

When Mako returned, Tandoo was gone. His key was sitting on the ground next to the door. She took it, even though everyone knew that once a key was used, it was worthless. She looked at the door, and stood on tip toe to view the lattice trim work that hinted at the other side. It was more like a garden fence, the wall that the door was in: 20 feet tall and running forever into the rest of the world. It was a division to be respected but not understood. Mako thought maybe Tandoo understood it now that he was on the other side, but then again over there it might be just a wall the same way it was in her world. She had her suspicions.

At home with the other twelve siblings, no one asked her about Tandoo. Their mother cooked stew and looked very tired.

Tandoo threw the key back over the wall. On this side, the door trim looked faded and unkempt. There were no gardens here, and no one to greet him, and when he realized that this world was the same world he just left, he threw the key back. There was no keyhole on this side to let him return, anyway.

“You made it.” Mako walked up, smiling and in a worn, dull dress he had never seen before.

“Mako? How…?”

“No, I’m not your same sister. I’m a different sister, the same, I guess, but on this side it’s all a little different.”

Tandoo, shocked, stood still. Mako shrugged.

“I’m sorry, but when the Unity takes our people to fight the Corps, we try to get a replacement from the other side. They drafted my Tandoo last week. But now you’re here, everything will be just fine.”

The 365 Tomorrows Free Podcast: Voices of Tomorrow
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We Are the World

Author : Grady Hendrix

Gaunt women in ankle-length gomesi bent over the stagnant pool and filled plastic buckets.

“There’s not much of anything in Rorongi. No electricity. No running water,” Walter Bennett said earnestly. “No hope.”

Emaciated children, feet swollen from protein deprivation, clung to their mothers’ skirts as they walked back to the village, buckets full of heavy, black water on their heads. Walter Bennett looked directly into the camera.

“With no other source of fresh water, they come here every day. An entire village dependent on this tiny pond for life.” He began to stroll along the bank.

“Water for washing, cooking and drinking all drawn from the same source. Disease is prevalent. Malaria is a – oh for Christ’s sake!”

He bumped into another spokesman, also with his suit jacket slung over his shoulder, also with his shirtsleeves rolled up, also speaking compassionately about the plight of Rorongi village.

“Look, mate,” the other man said. “We were here first.”

“I don’t care. I’m Walter Bennett.”

“I don’t care if you’re Bill Clinton, we booked the pond.”

Three of the emaciated women came over.

“What going on?” one said. “You need be finish by three o’clock cause Intergalactic Geographic come do b-roll for ‘Feed The Earth’ Telethon.”

“Screw this,” Walter said, ripping off his radio mic. “I’m a professional. I don’t have time for this rubbish.”

The director hurried over.

“We’ll sort this, man. Gimme ten, okay? You wanna go to your trailer? Have lunch?”

“Talk to my agent,” Walter said, storming off to his helicopter.

“Remind me never to work with these wankers again, Henry,” he said.

“Yes, sir,” said his pilot, taking off and heading South.

Below them the famine-wracked poverty zone gave way to the enormous, green suburbs of Capetown. Swimming pools, heliports, private casinos, backyard polo fields – the result of an endless stream of intergalactic poverty relief money. Most of the planet looked like this, except for the poverty reserves.

Walter videoconferenced the network president. An expensive call, but Walter was an expensive man.

“What’s the rumpus?” J.R. Moses asked. “Egos? Experience? Money? Is it a money thing?”

“I’m tired of doing this,” Walter said.

“And so you snapped. Happens to the best of us. Take a half day then go back tomorrow ready to care.”

“I don’t want to go back tomorrow,” Walter exploded. “I want to, I want to go out there and tell all those bloody aliens what’s going on. I want to bring one of them down here and show them what we’ve done with their money. I want to bust this whole thing wide open.”

He had J.R. for a moment, then:

“Jeezis, don’t scare me like that you crazy so-and-so. For a second there – “

“I’m an actor, J.R.”

“And a damn good one. Put your afternoon on our dime, whatever you want. Then go back tomorrow and work! The lifestyle to which we’ve grown accustomed depends on you.”

Walter turned to Henry.

“Set a course for the MGM Grand, Soweto.”

“Yes, sir,” said Henry. And they flew on into the glittering African sky.

The 365 Tomorrows Free Podcast: Voices of Tomorrow
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The Latest Model

Author : Jennifer Parsons

To any who watch television, the researcher’s setup should be plenty familiar, especially so to an old R&D man like myself. Two rooms, divided by a big sheet of glass; on one side sits a table loaded with datatablets and a control panel of various buttons and switches. On the other side of the glass is a car, yellow markers placed strategically all over its surface, a dummy belted into the front seat. There are straight lines painted on the floor and walls along with more yellow markers.

The only difference between this room and any other crash test facility is the two deer wandering in front of the car, looking scared and confused.

“What’s with the fauna?” I ask.

The guy in the lab coat smiles at my question. It’s a greasy smile. I don’t like it.

“They’re part of my demonstration.” He tells me as he tweaks a few more knobs.

After checking the status of a readout screen, he presses a button and speaks into the air.

“We’re ready, go ahead.”

Technicians in another room somewhere flip a switch and I watch helplessly as the car jolts forward, gaining momentum. The mother and fawn freeze in the headlights and a second later blood and bone fly everywhere along with crash debris.

My stomach churns and I turn away from the wreck in disgust.

“What the hell was that about?”

The researcher is checking his readout again, still smiling as if he knows something I don’t.

“You dragged me down here so you could prove how efficiently the Electro IV kills off wildlife?”

“Sir,” he fixes me with a steady, serious gaze. “I would never waste your time on something as trivial as that.”

The grin creeps back across his face as he points at the glass. “If you’ll please return your attention to the wreck?”

My curiosity is piqued. Bracing myself, I turned back to the glass.

Two bloody carcasses lie a few feet from where the deer once stood.

“Watch carefully, please.” The researcher says, his voice full of anticipation.

He pushes a button on the remote in his hand and the carcasses pull in on themselves, forming two ovoid shapes on the floor. A moment later a hard shell forms around the outside of each, their bright, red blood darkening to a rich black.

After another moment, the shells crack open and a pair of feet emerged from each husk followed by a head, then a torso and soon two beautiful deer stood side by side, glancing around the room nervously.

I turn to the researcher, a grin of sly knowledge now creeping across my own face.

“Impressive nano application you’ve got there.” He chuckles under his breath and I continue. “You know, there are some stretches of Route 287 where something like that could cause a lot of accidents.”

The researcher nods. “Disaster does keep the economy flowing these days.”

I return his nod. “Insurance rates would go up, hospitals beds would fill, car dealerships would have their hands full.”

“Not to mention the increased need for mortuary services.” He fiddles with a knob and waits for me to ask the question already forming on my lips.

“I think my employers would be most interested in any other models you might have to offer. What else have you got?”

He presses a button, opening a hatch in the wall. An adorable, spotted puppy trots out, wandering up to the deer. He starts sniffing their feet.

The 365 Tomorrows Free Podcast: Voices of Tomorrow
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