Division of Labour

Author : Simon Petrie

There’d been big changes at Dave’s workplace.

Dave, 43, had been offered retirement, but he’d opted to stay employed in the burgeoning industry that he, as a roboticist, had helped initiate.

The society-wide introduction of working robots (more pedantically ICs, ‘intelligent constructs’) had been the past century’s dream, finally brought to fruition. And yet …

And yet. Midlife crisis, or something more? He didn’t know.

His reverie was interrupted by a tone in his earpiece.

“Completed on that level yet, Dave?” Hal’s clipped, precise tones, perfectly modulated.

“No, still stuck on the third unit. Shouldn’t be too much longer. Don’t think the rest pose any major problems.”

“Don’t forget those units on the next level. They need attention too.”

“I’ll get there, Hal, don’t sweat. Job’s worth doing, it’s worth doing properly.”

Don’t sweat. Hah. That was a good one. All the same, Dave did take perverse pleasure in the point: there remained some tasks beyond any IC’s abilities.

He finished up, reached the foyer. Several lifts awaited. Time was, Dave had ridden these lifts daily, twelve floors, to his office. These days, he only ever went one floor up. The lifts didn’t see much use any more.

They should have seen, ten years back, where automation led. The first domestic-grade ICs were already able to oust FIDE’s reigning chess champion while still not performing adequately on tasks such as the vacuuming of a shagpile rug. Their handling of basic household chores had improved in subsequent models. Nonetheless, it remained apparent the ICs’ real strengths lay elsewhere, in realms of symbolic logic, abstract concepts, and ordered environments: money; justice; administration; science, technology, mathematics; the factory floor; the shopping centre.

Chaos was their weakness. A disordered environment posed an insurmountable challenge to even the new top-of-the-line ICs with millimolar memory capacity and massively parallel quantum architecture. In some circumstances and for some applications — military, police, rescue, mining — there were ways around this, through the use of human-piloted semi-IC proxies for dangerous and difficult tasks. Many chaotic tasks remained, though, for which this was not cost-effective; perhaps the future would change that.

Funny, Dave thought. The very tasks people had always thought tailormade for robotic intervention were the ones at which ICs weren’t any good.

Hal called again, of course, as he did at precise fifteen-minute intervals whenever Dave was behind schedule. “Completed on that level yet, Dave?”

“Ground level? Yeah, sure, just starting on the first floor units.” He entered the first booth, got to work with bleach and disinfectant, and soon had the entire unit sparkling. The next cubicle was worse: it looked like the S-bend was blocked, he’d have to get his hands dirty to clear it.

Not too complicated a task, in reality; you’d think an IC could master it, if it chose.

But it was a paycheck, and wasn’t that still worth it?

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Author : Grady Hendrix

There’s that clanking, again. There’s that ratcheting, sound. There’s that grinding of gears and that whining of servos. He’s gotten used to the way his guest bedroom sounds like a robot factory, ever since Grife Marauder showed up.

“Jim, you gotta take me in, man,” Grife’d said.

Grife was an old school punk, his entire body wasted away except for gorilla-sized arms maintained by years of drumming. James was used to seeing him under the stage lights, bald head gleaming arrogantly, but now he was scared, now he was pushing past James to get into his living room.

“What’s going on, Grife?”

“I got…I don’t…I’m…they done something to me,” he managed.


“I don’t know!” Grife shouted, then he clapped a hand over his mouth and pinched his lips together.

“Do you want some water?” James asked.

“No! No water.”

“What happened?”

“I woke up, right? This morning? We’re recording so I gotta be there by twelve. I look over, and this isn’t my arm.”

“What’d you have last night?”

“Nothing much. Sip of tequila, bit of Vicodin, couple of joints. Teeny bit of coke, a few Ambien to put me out.”

“Well…” James said.

Grife knew James wasn’t taking him seriously, so he took his jacket off. His left forearm was covered in metal. Pistons ran up the sides. Silver and gold wires snaked through the core.

“Your arm is stuck in there?” James asked. “Let me get some soap so it won’t tear your skin.”

Grife pulled on his forearm with all his strength and his skin stretched, gruesomely.

“It is my skin,” Grife said, tears streaming down his face. “Help me.”

He spent the rest of the day in the guest bedroom with a blanket pulled over his head, watching TV. The next morning his entire arm was metal.

“Get it off,” he moaned.

“I can’t, Grife.” James said. “It’s growing out of you.”

It was a beautiful arm, precision engineered and finely crafted but Grife couldn’t appreciate it.

“Maybe it’s psychosomatic,” James said.


“You said you were pissed that the band was getting into this post-punk thing and were replacing you with a drum machine on some of the tracks. Maybe your mind is reacting to that by turning you into a machine?”

“I’m not turning into a machine!” Grife yelled and then he pulled the blanket over his head and sobbed until he passed out.

Every day, he sat in the dark room, growing. And every day there was less of Grife and more of what James had come to think of as the Grife-Machine. And now there was that clanking, again. There was that ratcheting and that whine of servos. He got up and went into the guest bedroom.

“Look, man,” James said. “I think we need to get you to the hospital.”

The Grife-Machine rotated its speaker towards James.

“Luk mann,” it repeated, tonelessly. “Eye thank wee need two git u two thee huspitul.”

And then it stood up, and it began to walk.

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I've Got Mail

Author : James Smith

Sarah’s eyes went dim for a second, and I figured she was getting mail. She squinted with one eye and said, “That’s weird. I just… got… headmail from my… from Richard.”

“What’s he say?”

“‘Wanna get dinner? Wear the red dress.'”

“Are you serious?”

“This is crazy…”

The waitress walked by, I beamed her the bill and tip, stood and put on my jacket. Sarah got up with me, looking vaguely distant.

“Are you still reading it? What’s he say?”

“This is just too weird. He’s got a girlfriend now. That’s good… Do I… Should I send it back to him? Let him know she didn’t get it?”

“What? Of course not.”

“Why not?”

“Come on! Two years and he hasn’t forgotten your address? How many times do you defrag your long-term memory in a given year? Two, three times? Or you bog down? Get bottlenecks? And he hasn’t dumped your address yet?”

Sarah walked beside me, thinking. You can tell, somehow, the difference in the eyes, between the look that says, “considering your opinion” and the one that says, “wiring untold megabits of crap through my forebrain, probably porn, please kill me.”

She came up out of it. “So, I should just leave it.”

“Yeah, and it better not be there by tomorrow. Throw his headmail out with tonight’s self-doubts and thoughtcrimes.”

She stammered, looked for a word, didn’t find it, online even, because she didn’t know what she was looking for. So she closed her mouth and we just walked some more.

We came to the store where I’d seen the keyboard we couldn’t afford. I stopped and stared at it, let her walk a few steps before noticing I was gone. Counted the seconds. Felt her come up behind me.

“That the one you were waxing over so poetic last night?”

Sarah came around in front of me and I nodded, chin against her head. I smelled her hair. I watched the keys where our reflections cut the glare on the glass. I tested a palm against her hip, imagined those keys along that curve of thigh and played them, the kind of thing I’d play on a Sunday, the sunlight orange and silver where vertical slivers of sky could reach us. The cat at my heel.

She leaned back into me. I didn’t know if she was thinking about him just then. When we married, we agreed to offline any leftover sense data from past lovers. But he was back in there now. She could re-think his last thoughts to some other woman any time she wanted, and I figured I would have to do something about that.

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Author : Andrew Bolt

“Why is there no Zeus, Vale? Why am I the only one?”

Dee sits on a pile of aquamarine thermal pillows. Cushions of air, tinted and pressurized, hold her aloft, warming her blood and chlorophyll and making her glow red and green like Christmas.

“C’mon, Dee. You know this one. You were the only one with enough residual Psi-fi left. Something to do with the mineral content of that sanctuary in Sicily. I don’t know. I don’t get it either. But the point is, we haven’t found enough psychic residue to recorporate anyone else.”

Her eyes darken. It’s subtle, but I’ve been watching this for months now. It’s an open secret that she’s been growing peyote in her arterial walls for the last twenty or thirty years. She’s just released some into her bloodstream. Her metabolism operates at a rate fifty or sixty times that of a professional athlete. The amount required to have even a mild effect must be incredible.

“What about Ares? That temple in Thrace?” she inquires with a slight slurring.

“Yeah, well, we talked about that, too. Believe it or not, the WestHem government is not thrilled about the idea of recorporating the ancient god of murder. There’s a spot somewhere outside of Parga that we could probably use to pull together Hades, but we’re not going to be doing that either. Death-related gods are not considered viable candidates.”

“We’re not gods.”


“I’m not a god,” she mumbles, drifting both physically and mentally. “I’m a physical embodiment of the neural energy empowering a generalized faith in something like me. I’m a recorporated Tinkerbell, powered by your fucking belief in fairies. I exist because some government tool clapped too hard and brought me back from Never-never-land with that damn PsiReCor.”

“To Never-never-land.”

“Hmmm?” Her head lolls to the side.

“Tinkerbell died. The clapping brought her back to Never-never-land.”

Dee glances around at the walls of her room, a plush setting that looks like a cross between a botanical garden and a medlab.

“My mistake.”

Screw the Westie rules. I slip my electric bandolier off my shoulder and settle next to her on the thermal couch. Up close, she looks terrible. Greenish veins trace spider webs down her cheeks. Sweat is slick on her face and hands, even though the couch is set at only slightly above room temperature. She coughs once. I lay my arm across her shoulders.

“I’ve saved the world, more or less,” she murmurs. “You have food growing everywhere, in deserts, around the poles, on the surface of all major oceans, even on the moon colony that everyone said was impossible. Why do you still need me?”

She gazes at me distractedly, a milky white film over her eyes.

“Why am I still here?”

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Author : Chris McCormick

When we finally made contact it wasn’t in the way that everyone expected. It wasn’t like Star Trek, or Sagan, or Alien.

It should have been kind of obvious, looking at an atlas of the universe that there were so many of us. Tiny tiny tiny tiny tiny points of life on planets, in star systems, in galaxies, in galactic clusters, in the cellular mess of the known and unknown universe of radiating globules.

It should have been kind of obvious, looking at the ubiquity and persistence of evolution in every system we examined. The genetic systems, the stock market systems, the social systems, the atomic physics systems – everywhere the same rule – “Things that persist, exist,” the corollary of which is that the more intelligent the system, and the more desirous it is of persistence, the better it is at persisting.

The universe gave us an escape valve against the frustration of physical isolation; the impossibility of transcending those colossal, unthinkable distances.

The particle itself had a longish lifetime. Long enough that we could create several of them, overlapping in time so that there was always at least one in the atomic soup for us to probe and watch. Collide, examine, die, collide, examine die. The first time we created the first one, we simply could not fathom the data. The energy signature from this one, weird, heavy particle, was completely strange. The data spewing from it hung around at the border between chaos and order. It was neither chaotic nor ordered. It was complex. Spectral analysis, fourier transforms, and various forms of signal processing yielded only more mess.

At last someone gave up and threw the data on the ‘net. Flushed it through the distributed computing networks, and eventually, subjected it to cryptographic analysis. Suddenly the data came into sharp relief; millions of tiny voices, babbling, saying hello.

The particle was a resonator which resonates at the same frequencies everywhere. A change in one place means the same change everywhere else on the same resonant channel. Like Einstein’s spooky action at a distance, like strange attractors, except that here the particle broke the known physical laws, and now information travels faster than light. So now, while the physicists scramble to accommodate the new phenomena, we’re talking, sharing, and discovering with all of them – Everyone, with a capital ‘E’. Our webs and nets connected to all of their millions of webs and nets. Our network is a tiny node in the largest network of all; the universal network, stretching across all known space, outside all known space.

We’re all working hard together, trying to find a way not to be alone.

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