Busy

Author : Callum Wallace

The heavy perfume of roses assaults my nostrils; the smell of youthful summers spent in glittering woodlands, diamond rivers, fields of grass blowing in the wind. I barely remember now.

I stink of my work; darkness, shit and fear. The rank taste sits heavily, squatting in my mouth.

I think I remember enjoying the sun.
Now the harsh rays smash down, flits spasmodically between steepled rooves and grotesque towers. Baked grass singes, crickets scratch. Dusty. Still.

Someone shouts. It isn’t friendly, but my mind flashes back anyway; barely remembered dreams of kids playing, carefree, all the time in the world.

No games now. No time.

Summers of childhood fly by; thanks for coming, good to meet you.

Summers crawl now; hang about, slow it down.

I read somewhere that time only passes if you have something to do. The more to do, the quicker it goes.

But I’m busy. Busier than ever.

Something about this tickles me, but I don’t laugh. Something about this injustice makes me want to cry out, but I make no noise.

Because I’m busy.

They take them young, once a year, when the sun returns in earnest, when the academy opens its doors. Education starts. Break them down, build them back up. It works. Just look at me.

Innocence is led in; happy, ready to learn, time flooding past. What comes out again is older, slower, busier.

The training is hard. Long days of physical exercise, martial practice. Longer nights of reading, schoolwork.

And if I’m struggling, imagine what they’re feeling. I try not to. Hell, I can’t. The Order won’t let me.

Like I said, busier than ever.

Those that fail are sent on their way; sad little plastic-wrap sacks thrown in the back of a truck. But that’s none of my business.

Mother says it’s necessary. I absolve myself of judgement; it doesn’t matter to me. I’m here for one thing and one thing only.

The newest intake comes. The smarter of the group are sullen, even tearful, but some of the kids wave, smiling up at me. They don’t know what’s coming. I do not smile back, wave them up the steps.

The smiles will be gone soon. The memories of summers will be just that: memories. They’ll be too busy to remember what we don’t teach them. Anything unnecessary is culled, cut away, left to die along with those children who fail the Order’s rigorous practices.

The stink of roses weighs heavily on my conscious.

I think I remember enjoying the sun. But not today.

That time went too fast. I can’t remember. None of us can.

And neither will they.

Too busy.

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Dry

Author : Beck Dacus

The organic machine hobbled unsteadily on the shoreline, leaving wet tracks in the sand. The gelatinous-lensed camera gazed up and the blue sky, and noticed a strange crescent, apparently far above, lit by the Sun. This was a surprise to the remote operators deep in the ocean behind the robot.

“What could it possibly be?” asked a shiny-scaled, broad-finned technician, turning his armored head to the mission commander. “Is there yet another world, above this new one we’re exploring?”

“Irrelevant,” the commander replied. “Our machine cannot swim up in the thin gas of the Highworld, so we should focus on what we can reach. Move forward.”

On badly jointed, uncertainly constructed legs, the spidery robot responded to its command, limping uphill, away from home, into the arid Highworld.

For a long time, there was nothing to be seen but a rocky, unworn landscape. Away from shore, the rocks enlarged and sharpened, gradually giving the rover a harder and harder time. It took around an hour for the clumsy assemblage to clear the rise that had been visible ever since it scrambled from the waves, which was farther than any other of the explorers had ever gone. Its high vantage point gave it a wide, clear view of the much wider Highworld, apparently stretching on for leagues.

The machine saw movement.

“What could that have been?” one of the scientists asked, more to herself than anyone else. Nobody could answer her question.

“Is it possible that there’s life up there?” a journalist asked.

“I don’t see how,” the commander said. “How could they move? It’s unlikely that they could float up there. And how could anything survive without water?”

“Isn’t that what our machine is doing?” an engineer refuted.

“Right, yes” he said sarcastically. “Some fish decided to take a trip onto land and turn into robots.”

The crowd gathered at the event released bubbles of amusement. They were silenced when an armored, six-legged monster landed in front of the robot.

“By the Shimmer!” someone said. “What the hell is that!?”

A segmented tail curved above the beast, before lashing at the camera, blurring the image in the lower-left corner. Then the front claws took care of all four of the explorer’s legs, while the tail repeatedly sunk into the stone-and-seaweed exoskeleton of the rover until the camera went dark.

“The Project’s been completely destroyed,” said the head engineer, mourning the loss of his brainchild. “Hundreds of days of work, destroyed in instants. Torn completely apart.”

“By life,” a biologist chimed in. “Life in the Highworld. Life on land.”

“Did you see that thing’s legs!?” another technician said excitedly. “They absorbed all that impact force on the jump, and it walked circles around the rover like it was nothing! Imagine making a machine with those legs!”

“How could it live without water?” someone else wondered. “Wait… could it be holding it inside itself? That armor looked pretty sturdy.”

“All we know,” the commander said, “Is that we have a lot to learn. Now make preparations for another rover. We’re going again. And this time it’ll be really fun.”

The Decider

Author : Gray Blix

It had been nearly a year since he’d brought a girl home, and his heart raced as he fumbled in his pocket for keys.

“Need help?” she asked, groping in the general area of his pocket.

Her face so close, he couldn’t help but say, “You’re beautiful.”

“You don’t have to say that, hon, I’m already here.”

“No, really,” leaning in for a kiss.

Backing away, “Not yet, mister, not until I see some green.”

“Right, of course.”

Inside the door, pulling off each other’s clothes, they stumbled onto the couch.

“Mine or yours?” he asked.

“I only trust mine.”

Opening her bag, she removed a device about the size and shape of a hair dryer.

“Better do me first, while you can,” he said.

She pressed the icon for Male on the touch screen, and a concave-sided probe emerged from the business-end of the device. Placing it on his…

“Ouch,” he said, as it pricked and captured a sample of blood along with flora and fauna on his skin.
“Poor baby.”

At the tone, she lifted the probe, which retracted, and seconds later Decider Headquarters transmitted a 24-hour clearance for his DNA, signified by a green light.

He was relieved, too relieved, it turned out.

She pressed the Female icon, and a smooth-sided probe emerged.

Reaching for the device, he offered, “Do you want me to…”

“NO! I’ll do it,” she said, carefully inserting it.

She gasped as the samples were obtained. At the tone, she withdrew the probe, which retracted, and this time a flashing green light conveyed both her clearance and DHQ approval for the couple to have coitus.

“We’re good to go, hon,” returning the device to her bag.

Looking down, “Uh, how ’bout we just snuggle awhile?” he said.

At DHQ headquarters across town, a prisoner peered out of a window to a chamber within which he was strapped to a chair.

A technician made final adjustments. “It’s calibrated. We’re good to go.”

An interrogator looked in, “For the last time, did you murder your mother-in-law?”

Desperately, via a tinny speaker, “Like I told you a million times, no, NO!”

They all looked toward a panel on the opposite wall. Seconds later, a red light shone brightly.

“Sorry, pal, it’s out of our hands,” the interrogator said, covering his eyes as a white flash rendered the prisoner’s body lifeless and smoldering.

Elsewhere in the capital, deep below the White House in the Presidential Emergency Operations Center, two dozen people sat in silence, staring at a green light flashing on a device at the center of a conference table.

“We cannot… I cannot allow a computer to make this decision, to send us into all-out nuclear war.”

“But, Mr. President,” reminded the Secretary of Defense, “Congress has explicitly ceded to this computer the responsibility to analyze data, to declare an existential threat to our country, and to decide when and how our military should respond. It is your responsibility as Commander in Chief to carry out that response.”

“Not when it means the mutual destruction and death of…”

“We’ve gone over this for hours,” interrupted the Vice President, “and all of your points have been thoughtfully considered by us and by the The Decider. I regret to inform you that it has declared you mentally impaired and that I am assuming your powers and duties as Acting President.”

He motioned Secret Service agents to remove the President from the PEOC.

The Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, green flashes reflecting in his eyes, rose to his feet.
“Mr. President, are we…?”

“Yes, we’re good to go.”

ADSE

Author : Jae Miles, Staff Writer

The metallic grey blob shot across the cavern and landed with a wet ‘splat’ in the circular tub of turquoise gel. The conical lid had an aperture the exact size to admit the blob, and a length of cone precisely calculated to prevent any gel splashing out.

“What the hell is that?” Walt pointed at the assembly through the glass.

“That is the first 9-Cronin Adsee in the Kuiper Belt, Mister Thrumyn.”

Walt turned to face the willow-thin, native born woman who had spoken: “In plain terms, Miss-” he paused to pointedly read her name tag, “Hayvers. Preferably non-technical English.”

She smiled: “It is the most advanced Autonomous Digital Synthesis Engine – ADSE – ‘Adsee’ – outside of the laboratories of Mars. A ‘Cronin’ is an abstract unit of capability and performance, allowing the many different styles and types of chemputer – chemical synthesis computers – to be compared easily.”

“Thank you. Now why is it occupying an entire Class-One processing cavern in my headquarters asteroid?”

“That is better demonstrated that explained, Mister Thrumyn.”

Walt turned his attention to the tub. Inside, the blob seemed to spinning, or maybe see-sawing incredibly fast, he couldn’t be sure. But it wasn’t a blob. He saw shining flakes spurt into the gel from one side, a glittering stream that disappeared into the blob that now seemed to have a blurry shape visible within its frenetic movement.

Three more streams of material were shot into the mass, then the sides of the tub turned opaque and a hatch snapped shut over the top of the cone. From within the tub, flashes of intense light showed up every fine gap in the closures. Then the hatch over the cone aperture opened and bright beam of energy shot into the tub.

“Intense heat. That and a near-weightless environment allows the Adsee to do, in minutes, a growth assembly that would take a week on a planet.” She nodded toward the cone, which was lifting.

Walt gasped as a silver-grey drone lifted from the tub, oriented itself to the local ‘up’, then exited through the slot opposite.

“Belt mining has always been fraught with danger. Drones have lowered the fatalities, but replacing lost drones was difficult to keep pace with. Switching to modular assemblies with common Power and Control units allows us to keep up with that. In the event of an incident, the P&C unit will, if possible, rotate the drone so it takes the impact. Usually, the function module survives and we can just mate another P&C unit with it. As you can see, P&C units are something we can make in under half an hour. The cavern size is necessary because those drones are eight metres across.”

Walt drifted slowly across the viewing chamber, face pale, eyes wide: “Oh.”

Miss Hayvers tilted her head: “Anything else?”

Eyes fixed upon the device in the chamber, as another blob landed in it, his reply was barely louder than a whisper: “No, that’s fine, Miss. I’ll just wait and watch, if that’s okay.”

She shook her head and exited the room, while Walt watched the machine that ‘grew’ spaceships do its thing, experiencing a wonder he hadn’t felt since childhood.

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Ten Gs

Author : Olivia Black, Featured Writer

“Some things are too good to be true.” That’s what my mom would say if she were here. Of course, if she were here she’d also be telling me to tuck in my shirt and watch my language, so thank god she’s not. No, it’s just me here, trying to figure out how I got myself into this situation…

Yesterday, I was an esteemed runner for Handy Delivery Services (nationally syndicated). You need something delivered fast and relatively undamaged? I was your guy. But today, I’m – well, I don’t actually know. Been hiding out in a burnt out mega-structure site. Supposed to be condos, I think. Tall building at any rate. Without the microfab wind shielding walls, it’s real cold up here. I miss feeling my toes.

Anyway, what was I saying? Right, so yesterday, Armpit Joe sends me out on a simple dead drop. Take the package to an apartment build on West Elmhurst, leave it in the trash can in the lobby. You know, the usual SOP.

Deliveries like this always have a deadline, so out the door I scoot. Don’t make it two blocks before my phone starts blowing up. Joe’s probably got a pick up for me on the way back.
“What up?” I answer, breathing hard as I peddle up hill. (Crank assist is for the weak.)
“Am I speaking with Radical Sam?” Instead of Armpit Joe’s coffee grinder growl, it’s a woman with a voice like silk. I’m so caught off guard that I nearly swerve into a parked vanguard.
“Who is this?”
“There isn’t time. You’re in possession of a package that must not reach its destination,” she purrs into my ear.
“No can do, Lady. Destination’s locked in. It’s out of my hands.” As much as I want to do whatever she says. Messing with a packing is a one-way ticket to being un-existed. The Mail Authorities take package violations way too seriously, if you ask me.
“I’ll give you ten grand if that package makes its way to me instead.” Her voice becomes hard as steel.
“This is a joke. Did Lexy put you up to this?”
“Bring it to Carla’s Cantina,” and she hangs up.

Here’s the funny thing; I can’t tell you what make me do it. Ten grand might be a lot of money, but it’s not enough to commit career suicide over. And yet, I turn around fast as can be and peddle my spandex clad butt off all the way up town with the deadline counter still ticking down on the precious parcel. I drop the package with the smokingest babe in exchange for an envelope. The mother load of all paydays.

A few blocks away, I open the envelope expecting to find a preloaded bitcoin chip nestled into protective casing. Well, it’s ten Gs, all right, in crisp outmoded paper bills. In other words, completely useless. Can’t spend it on the street, can’t take it to the bank without getting boned by income oversight. Only low brains use dead currency.

There goes my dream payday down the tube with the rest of my life. And now I’m here, wondering if I’ll manage to make it out of the city before someone comes looking for me.

Hey, did you hear that noi–

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Collision Course

Author : Rick Tobin

“You, Mister…” The pause came as the micro servers moved quietly in the administrator, shiny and stoic, with a mere chest and head. Minute flashes drifted over hardened aluminum oxide in ever flitting artificial eyes. Arms were unnecessary. Improved perforated urethane from the ancient artists of Kao Corporation provided just enough false humanity on its face to reduce interface stress—still a common condition for those remaining on Earth.

“That’s Kelso, with a K, not a C.” His overbite impeded his diction, but there was no distinct accent. Speech patterns were awash with sand from world travels.

“Yes, well, you are what we call in this bureau an accidental.” Mouth elements moved the straight, strict lips under a static set of nostrils.

“A what?” Grizzled, worn and filthy from the abandoned streets, John Kelso leaned forward toward his caseworker. His right hand wore the scars of loose ropes let wild on the last tuna boat to sail from Tuvalu in the Pacific. The left hand was short a pinky finger from his act of attrition for sleeping with a Yakuza’s wife.

“An unregistered birth that was probably unplanned and therefore unreported.”

“Meaning?”

“Meaning you are privy to no rights for support from the Society.”

“That makes no sense. My parents were both full citizens. You have their registration in front of you, on screen.” He leaned back, fuming, against his long coat made from a water buffalo hide prepared after a hunt in Thailand.

“I have the records of a couple from Indiana who had three registered children who are now meaningful and productive full citizens. Their records show no familiarity or acknowledgement of your existence.”

“Why should they? I was the oldest when my parents died. None of them were older than three. At twelve I was abandoned by my blood relatives and left to wander and survive in Indianapolis on my own.”

“Unlikely. No child could survive that.” The worker remained motionless.

“False, again. I found many like myself. I’ve since traveled much of this planet and made, I believe, a better place of it, which is more than I can say for many of your registered patrons.”

“Rumor, innuendo and slander—all useless attempts at your concept of validation. They have no effect on me.” Its face turned away from the applicant, fulfilling an algorithm to reduce conflict.

“I tell you I have a right to basic life support until I can get financially stable. My parents left a large estate behind. I’ve checked.” Kelso rubbed his arm where splintered bone ached during the changing weather. A fall in the Andes left a reminder of soroche and failed climbing ropes.

“Only for registered citizens. The Society only sets aside support for those registered. It has been that way since 2130. You are an accidental. There is no further action to take, but you have an alternative.”

“Such as?”

“Off world transport from Earth to one of the newer colonies on the created moons in the Kuiper Belt. There you would be assigned appropriate labor, food and housing.”

“You mean a prison sentence for simply existing. No thanks to that. I like sunlight and air that doesn’t come out of a recycle cartridge. I’d starve first.”

“There are hospice beds available down the street.”

“Does this mean nothing to you? Do you even care?”

“I am not programmed to care. I simply state facts based on evidence.”

“Oh, and how did you get your cushy assignment, sitting here all day, throwing those with real skin out the door?”

“Well, Mr. Kelso, it was not by accident.”

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