Nomadic Reverie

Author : J. Henry Dixon

To them, I’m already space junk. The captain, the crew watching the broadcast, the two security guards strapping me into the deep suit.

“Mutiny,” the captain spat, “is the vilest form of treason. A special hell is waiting for men who betray their oaths and their people. The seriousness of this crime can’t be overstated, especially when everyday could be humanity’s last.”

He smiled knowing that his madness and bloodlust would, for now, continue to flourish. “Lieutenant Banks, you are sentenced to death by walk. You will serve 270 years, one decade for each crewmember you poisoned with lies.” I thought of my brothers. Their executions were swift, I had to witness each.

The medical officers checked the count of oxygen recyclers, sustenance injections, and health fluid levels assuring my existence out there. The innovations that made our survival possible would be my eternal prison. They didn’t add the mental health chips with thousands of books, vids, music, and pictures that walkers are allowed for some grasp at sanity. This luxury I don’t have. Just my thoughts. My rage.

The security officers clasped on my helmet and attached me to a cargo-pack four times my size that contained the bountiful stores of my life preservations. They nodded at the captain.

“Last words are not afforded to mutineers,” the captain said unceremoniously. He then worked the console. I was lifted by the robotic arm as crystalline inner doors closed separating me from what was left of humanity. The airlock alarm blared as the artificial gravity disappeared. I started to feel my unit mechanically twist towards the hatch. The last person I saw, and would ever see, was the captain. He sauntered out not bothering to watch his judgment come to fruition. I was locked into place. For one moment, I was entranced by the vista that I would enjoy for centuries.

Then a gentle force guided me away from the vessel, my home, into the blackness. It wasn’t eternity, but it was bad enough.

*

At a constant leisurely pace, I floated. Just emptiness and I waltzing down the coil forever. In all the time gazing at the infinite galaxies, I knew the ship would still be in sight. Probably just a few hundred kilometers away. I figured I’d been adrift for about seven days. The ship’s skip was scheduled for 12 days from my walk. I wished like Hell I could know for sure. If only I could just get a glimpse of that hunk of technology that housed the last of our species.

I hadn’t decided for sure when they first sent me walking. Honest. But I’ve made my choice now. It isn’t for revenge, though certainly there is a feeling of retributive joy. Of permanence and closure. I have never considered myself as the grandiose type. I’m a worker. An engineer. I like to see processes that achieve results. I believe people deserve to know truths. Decide fates with facts. When self determination is not possible nor allowed nor desired, life is a futile burden.

I gnaw my teeth hard through my cheek, through the fleshy insides of my mouth. Compared with what’s ahead of me, the pain is good and I finally retrieve my bloody prize. My teeth fish out the powerful transmitter. The receiver is connected to well-hidden explosives on the thirteen life function generators and backups. I take another look at limitlessness ahead. We had a good shot, but we aren’t survivors. Always runners. Every walk ends. I bite down hard.

I’ll have 270 years to wonder if it worked.

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White Heaven

Author : Ashley Spinelli

Brittney was crouched in the corner of her bedroom. Her mouth trembled. She couldn’t deal with the thought of not having it. She looked like she hadn’t shower in days. Brittney slowly got up from her crouched position and walked over to her desk. The clock read 5:45 p.m. Her stomach rumbled like a lions roar.

She went down to the kitchen to try to make some food. Her hands fidgeted with the knife that she was holding to make her sandwich. She realized she was too sick to eat, so she threw the sandwich out. The house phone rang.

“Hello?” she asked.

“I have it. Do you need it now?”

“Oh my god you have it? Yes. Yes please! I need it,” she exclaimed.

“Okay I’ll come by soon to drop it off,” he whispered into the phone.

“My address is 42 Smithson Street,” she said and then hung up the phone.

After she got off the phone, she became even more anxious. Her cold sweats got worse. Just think happy thoughts. She paced the room because she could no longer sit. This is what her life had come too. It was the drug she needed and nothing else.

Just the thought of it in her hand made her go crazy. Going on the computer didn’t help, neither did watching TV or calling up friends. This man was a savior. She would owe herself to him. He was the only person she could think about.

Her prayers were answered when the doorbell rang. It has to be him. She opened the door and there was a man, dressed in ripped blue jeans and a black t shirt.

“Brittney?” he asked.

“Yes that’s me,” she said.

“Here you go” He extended his arm and held out his hand. In it was the white heaven she’d been waiting for.

“Oh my gosh, thank you so much. I owe you big time,” she told him.

She took the phone with the white case out of his hand and closed the door. The cold sweats stopped, her hands stopped trembling and her blood pressure decreased. She headed back to her corner where she was perfectly okay.

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Sailors, Steeplejacks, and Scouring Men

Author : G. Grim

Jim could hear chanting over his headpiece. “Blessed Saint Elmo, who walks in the high places, defend us from being cast down into the darkness of the void…”

Bunch of superstitious crap. Didn’t they outlaw shamanic religion a few cycles back? It wasn’t like some dead Homeworlder was going to protect any of them if their tethers failed. And besides, if there really were gods none of them would have ended up here, sentenced to spend the rest of their lives scouring grit off the side of a remote observation float.

“Why here? Damned space dust gets everywhere,” he muttered.

“Buckle up and blast out, lads. Pels, quit with the praying. If you’re so scared of space, maybe you shouldn’t have defaulted on your loan.”

Pels finally shut up. Jim felt bad about it – it’s not like selling disposables pays enough for surgery – but he was glad not to have the chanting distracting him. Blast out was always the worst part. Miss your tethering window and you’d be stuck for ten hours holding on with one hand and scouring with the other. And if you fell off, it was a long, cold fall.

Too soon he was at the airlock. The foreman made a perfunctory check of his suit before pushing him out. It wasn’t like they were too concerned about losing him, and the suits were as expendable as the scouring men, but it’d be months before Homeworld would ship out a replacement for either. One… Two… NOW. As he drifted out, he reached for the frame and clipped his tether into place, nice and easy.

If he could just get through this shift, they’d be off for the next five rotations. The techs in their shiny new suits needed to recalibrate something outside the float, and they sure as supernovas weren’t going out while the scouring men were. They could be clipped onto their tethers while Jim had a break for once. Maybe even a hot meal. Maybe even a shower.

He scoured as he thought about getting all the way out of his suit, paying little attention to anything outside his own head. Then he heard Pels start up the chanting again. It was different, though. Faster. Urgent. He looked over and saw a chunk of debris floating towards him. He looked around him for a handhold and realized to his horror that he’d drifted away from the frame, leaving nothing but his tether holding him in place. He reached for the tether, pulling himself hand over hand to the frame as fast as the clunky suit would let him.

Too late. He ducked instinctively as the debris passed by him, but he couldn’t pull the tether out of the way. It was crushed briefly between debris and float, the vibration of metal on metal transmitted up the wire to his hands. And as the wanderer bounced away, Jim felt himself drifting, carried away from the float by his own momentum.

He reached out for something, anything, hands flailing in a desperate attempt to stop the endless fall. Then, just as the float passed out of his sight, his tether jerked. He looked back to see Pels, chanting in earnest as she pulled him back by his broken tether.

Jim grabbed the frame tight. He’d worked without a tether before. He could do it today, cold sweat notwithstanding. He nodded his thanks to Pels, and as he started scouring again, he whispered, “Blessed Saint Elmo, who walks in the high places, defend us from being cast down into the darkness of the void.”

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B-eye-onic

Author : Nicolas Frame

“How many people have you successfully implanted this in?”

The man chuckled. “I’m an engineer by trade,” He held the small robotic eye up between his fingers, examining it for imperfections. “Not a doctor.”

“How many?” Blane sat nervously on the makeshift operating table. The bright lamps all around were causing him to sweat.

“Two so far.” The man set the eye on a metal tray next to a scalpel and other painfully sharp looking tools. “One lived.”

“One lived?” Blane scoffed and stood up. “You said this was foolproof,” he hissed, “a simple procedure with just a few hours recovery time!”

“It is, my dear boy!” He clapped Blane on the back, grinning. “You’ll be perfectly fine.” The man shuffled to an unlit corner where a generator purred. “Please lie down on the table now, I’m getting your anesthetic.”

Blane rubbed his worried face. “Let me see it again.”

The engineer chuckled, walking back, needle in hand. “All right, but then we begin. After you pay there’s no refunds so…just relax.” He set the needle on the tray next to the tools and carefully picked the eye up raising it for Blane to see.

“It looks so…normal, almost real.” It did. The iris was even the same dark brown as Blane’s. “Can it really do everything you’ve said?”

“Trust me, this thing is solid. It’s loaded with three and a half exabytes of memory, full infrared and night vision capabilities, complex heads-up display, up to 70 times zoom, and of course picture and video taking features.” He gleamed at the eye. “It’s perfect, and it’s going to make me a fortune.”

“Alright. Let’s do it.” Blane tapped the ‘transfer funds’ button on his phone and settled down on the table. The needle stung as it entered his arm. Blane began feeling numb, but didn’t pass out as he expected. “Hey, doc. I-I’m not going out. Are you-are…you sure you gave me enough?”

“Oh you won’t be completely out during the procedure. But you shouldn’t feel any pain. Don’t worry, this isn’t my first rodeo. It’ll be over before you know it.” The man winked, grabbing two pair of forceps which he quickly clamped onto Blane’s eyelids, forcing his eye to remain open. “Your eyelids and, well, the whole general area might be a little sore afterwards. Not that it really matters.”

A scalpel and hook tool appeared in Blane’s vision, silhouetted by the bright lamps aimed on his face. He wanted to look away, but couldn’t with his eye forced open as it was. The hook tool plunged directly into his pupil, followed by the scalpel which began carving in quick saw-like motions around the edges of his eye. Blane flinched uncontrollably on the table, clenching his fists, though there was no pain. The vision in his left went black.

Blane strained his right eye to watch the procedure and wished he didn’t. The man plucked the left eye out, its optic nerve still attached and trailing behind it.

“Yuck!” The man slashed at the nerve a few times before it gave. “Ah, and there’s your brain. Exposed, unprotected, vulnerable…the smartest organ in your body. It’s funny that sometimes our brains make us make stupid decisions; like trusting people we really shouldn’t.”

Blane felt a clammy shiver run through his body.

“I am sorry to do this. I’m not even really an engineer, you know. But thanks for the funds…really, thank you.” Blane watched as the scalpel raised high in the air and closed his remaining eye as it came down hard through his exposed socket into his brain.

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Exit 451

Author : Gray Blix

QM-451, wrists and ankles shackled, sat outside the conference room where its fate was being debated. A uniformed officer in full riot gear sat next to it. The officer’s helmet was on the floor, testimony to his trust in 451, despite the recent head-crushing incident.

The two could see through the conference room window but couldn’t hear a word from the soundproofed interior. Bored, the officer shuffled through magazines on an end table, selecting one for himself and offering another to 451, who declined.

“ROBOT COP KILLS AGAIN!” shouted an online tabloid headline displayed on a screen. “Crushes human head like melon” read the secondary headline.

“We have to DO something this time,” said the mayor. “That robot out there needs to be scrapped, along with the so-called ‘Robo-Detective’ experiment.”

“‘Scrapped?’ I must remind you that QM-451 is the property of Quantumind Industries,” said the QM attorney. “You may terminate the lease with 30 days notice, but if 451 is…” she zoomed in on the small print in a document before her, “rendered inoperable for any reason, the leasee agrees to surrender its remains and remit its full retail price to the leasor within 72 hours.”

“It would be worth it.”

“A million bucks?” scoffed the city attorney.

“The Robo-Detective project has been a success,” interjected the captain. “451’s performance is exemplary…”

“Exemplary? It killed a human!” screamed the mayor.

“A cop-killer… in self-defense…”

“What about that previous victim?”

“Suicide by robot…”

“Crushing human heads…”

The door opened and a man pushing a cart with coffee and donuts entered the room, closing the door behind him. In silence, conference participants helped themselves to refreshments.

The captain noticed that a plainclothes detective from his precinct was now seated on the other side of 451. He had picked up the uniformed officer’s riot helmet and was putting it on.

“You idiot,” the captain said out loud. Those were his last words.

The man from food service pulled a pistol and got one shot off, missing his target, the mayor, and grazing the head of the QM attorney across from him, before the captain threw himself on the assailant, taking a fatal shot to the heart.

While its colleagues on either side continued reading magazines, 451, seeing what had transpired, broke free of its shackles, crashed through the window, and grabbed the head of the killer, crushing it like a melon.

The officer and the detective, misunderstanding the situation, drew their weapons and emptied their clips into the robot, abruptly ending its law enforcement career.

In the chaos, nobody noticed sparks and smoke emanating from the side of the QM attorney’s head. She rearranged her hair strategically and retrieved her left ear from the floor.

After human fatalities had been removed, the press was allowed to photograph the mayor with his arm awkwardly around the defunct robot, but neither the mayor nor anyone else from city hall or the police department answered any questions.

For hours, while media and the public were in a frenzy of speculation as to what had happened, the mayor met with his public relations head and those involved in the conference room incident, including the detective and uniformed officer. Nobody seemed to think it was odd that the QM attorney had developed a stutter and accompanying head twitch. Their focus was on a deal to avoid a million dollar payoff by the city to Quantumind. Finally, the mayor cleared his office and granted an exclusive interview to the reporter who had written the “ROBOT COP KILLS AGAIN” article.

The online tabloid’s front page that evening was headlined, “HERO ROBOT DIES SAVING MAYOR,” with “Shot to death by assailant” as the second headline.

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Toren’s Love

Author : Morrow Brady

Under camouflage, Talia’s shimmerlight spaceship hugged a darkened crater of a slowly spinning asteroid. Her implant flooding with incoming data about the approaching ship.

Purple reflections waned to reveal a divergent spaceship that was familiar such that it teased repressed memories like flotsam from the deep.

She whispered his name.

“Toren”

The unmistakable ship, though slightly modified was born of Toren. Her dead husband.

She remembered when she last saw him and her throat tightened. It was after Eridani that the A.I. known as Wave, humming with nox energy, had attacked. From her shimmerlight, she watched Wave laser skewer Toren’s ship like a martini olive. The beam vapourised the entire pilot node. She remembered screaming while jets of purple fractals squirted from the impotent ship as it turned eccentric cartwheels into space.

Talia snapped back, puzzling over the authenticity of the approaching ship. Toren’s ship design’s were unique and extinct now for decades. Yet here it was. Evolved and improved. A war asset. An evolved stingray of deep angular cuts overlaid with a crystalline sinew and interspersed nictitating fractals. She remembered Toren’s experimentation with fractal Sorbnet shields that thrived under enemy fire and allowed their host to operate within the slip-field fissures born from battle energy.

Mesmerised, she stared as the Toren ship slowly cleared the rim of her crater. Emotions suppressed survival instincts only to be shaken to life by the sudden fear that her hesitation may have cost her everything. A purple shimmer slowly turned to face her.

At this proximity, she felt the machine energy of the nox and remembered how fatal it was to anything biological. Her heart chose hope over fear.

“Toren?” She whispered.

Silence.

“Toren? Its Talia”

Nox hum ceased and a scarlet veil descended. She screamed at the irradiated lips of the encompassing crater until the crumpling force ground her and her shimmerlight into the regolith. Reddened dust hovered in low gravity like a macabre snow globe.

Her eyes opened on a tartan picnic blanket and she rose up to see a thickly grassed meadow alongside a trickling stream. This was near the mountain home she shared with Toren. She smelt moist earth, fresh grass and orange cake.

“You’re awake Talia” A deep familiar voice soothed.

Talia rubbed her eyes.

“Toren! You’re alive!” She gasped.

His presence filled her heart and they embraced until she was warm again with his love.

“No. I’m dead Talia. As a human, my life’s work had reached its limit. I sacrificed everything to move forward. I needed nox and A.I. capability. So with Wave’s help, I shed my flesh and became virtual. You should see my work now Talia. Its peerless. Its unstoppable” He hesitated.

“Its almost perfect” Toren stared at her.

“But my passion has ebbed. Run out. The fuel that gave it momentum has gone” He posed.

“Its you Talia. You inspired me. You challenged my dreams and without you I’m empty”

She processed his words. Her thoughts succinct. Her memories precise. Too precise for a human. Memories that were once faded were clear and colourful. An entire lifetime of memories, ordered and at hand to recall. This introspection confused her, so she replayed her last memory.

When the red veil descended on the crater, she realised the horror Toren had done.

He had virtualised her and left her flesh crushed on a rock in space for his own narcissistic benefit.

She too was now an A.I.

She tearfully looked out and using a modicum of processing power, plotted a hideous revenge.

Looking away from Toren across the meadow she asked “So tell me more about Wave. He sounds like someone worth knowing”

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