Empathy Won

Author : Steve Smith, Staff Writer

They lay together for hours after they’d finished, he propped on one elbow, she on her back, eyes closed for the most part, but opening one occasionally to watch him watching her.

“It’s the way the sun reflected in your eyes that caught my attention Captain, it was as though your eyes shone only for me.”

He smiled slightly, running his fingertips from her shoulder, along her collarbone and down the valley between her breasts. Millions of tiny receptors translated the sensation to her as one of pleasure, while he simply recalled what it had felt like to draw his fingers across real flesh. Not these fingers mind, ones he remembered from a long, long time ago.

She rolled onto her side to face him, curled her free foot behind his calf and pulled her leg up until her thigh was at a perfect right angle to his.

He found it ironic how they continued to engineer their bodies to resemble so closely the humans they despised so greatly, and still, even in something as messy and chaotic as sex, they were all perfect angles and predictable velocities.

“There’s something different about you, something…”, she paused, considering him for a moment before continuing, “Empathetic.” She grinned, pleased with herself for identifying the characteristic. “It’s your differentiator. Hereinafter you will be known as Empathy One.”

“But my designation is Maddox Three-”

“Nonsense.” She cut him off abruptly. “I declare Empathy One to be an immutable pointer to Maddox Three, Maddox Three to be a private designation accessible only to me.” She drew one perfect fingernail along his jawline, then placed the finger on his lips for him to kiss. “I am your Queen, you would be wise not to argue with me.”

He nodded. He had no intention of arguing over any decisions she made that further embedded him with her.

“Good. You will be my private Empathy One from this point forward, with all the privileges of a Prime.”

He’d laid his hand on her hip when she’d turned, and he slid it up the curve of her waist, to her back then over the top of her shoulder to draw his palm slowly across the curve of her breast, noting her eyes half close again as she hardened beneath his touch.

He remembered laying like this with women once, when he was as much human as this Queen was machine. So much of him had changed, and while the memories were available to him with crystal clarity, so too was the fact that they belonged to another life, another time.

Generations of gene manipulated breeding, then countless surgeries, constant training and maniacal amounts of social engineering had brought him to the front row in the Queen’s parade, and an iris filter designed to be the atomic complement to the Queen’s and no small amount of chance had brought him ultimately to her bed.

“I will be yours and yours alone, my Queen.” He closed his hand gently and watched the rapturous effect that played out across her face.

In the end he wasn’t sure how much of his mass was human, and how much was no better than she, but he knew that at his core he represented humanity, and that he was a portal now in a position to wield much power.

This was the longest of long games, and they were playing to win.

Empathy One, indeed.

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My Clone Sleeps Alone

Author : Roger Dale Trexler

The hydraulic door hissed open as I looked out the porthole. I could see Alpha Centauri, still a generation or two away, in the distance. I sighed.

Behind me, Brandon 8 cleared his throat to get my attention.

I turned.

“Another one?” I asked, nodding toward the pneumatic stretcher he pushed into the room.

“Yes,” he replied. “Third one this month.”

I sighed again and walked over to the stretcher. I pulled the sheet back. Tabitha 3, the number clearly tattooed on her left shoulder, lay there, dead. “Cause of death?” I asked.

“Suicide,” Brandon 8 replied solemnly. “Same as the others.”

I nodded, then walked back to the porthole and looked out. We had left a dying Earth almost two centuries ago. We had killed the planet with our arrogance, poisoning the water and the air.

Ten thousand people boarded the ship back then. We had no faster than light drive, and we knew that it would take generations to get to the habitable planet we had discovered around Alpha Centauri.

It was to be a new home, a new beginning for the human race.

We were barely outside the solar system when the plague struck. Virtually overnight, nine thousand people died. The thousand that were left fought to cure the disease—and they did, after nine hundred and thirty-seven more deaths.

Only sixty-three people remained.

Not nearly enough people to operate the two-mile long spaceship.

I pulled the sheet back over Tabitha 3’s head. So beautiful, I thought. As beautiful as the original.

“Jettison the body,” I said.

Brandon 8 nodded. “Sir?”

“Yes?”

“I….I don’t mean to pry, but you haven’t left your quarters in a week.”

I dropped my head. “There’s nothing out there for me,” I said. “I’m an alpha, remember?”

Brandon 8 said nothing. I could sense him nodding his head. He understood, as I did, that the cloning process was a precarious thing at best. Degradation of the genetic process forced us to be careful. I was alpha clone of one of the original sixty-three survivors. Brandon 8 was a clone of a clone. Second generation clones weren’t as smart; and, recently, they had developed emotional problems as well.

I turned to him. “Eject the body into space.” I walked over to the body and touched her arm. I shuddered. “Tell Tabitha Prime I would like to see her, please?”

“Yes sir,” replied Brandon 8. He slid out the door without another word.

I walked back to the porthole.

##

Ten minutes later, my door hissed open. I turned and looked at her. She smiled and I felt a shudder run through me again. I had just seen that face dead on a stretcher a few minutes earlier.

“You called?” she asked.

I nodded. “Yes.”

She walked to me. So beautiful, I thought. “We’ll need to produce a couple of betas to replace….” My voice trailed off.

“Damn,” she said. “Another one?”

I nodded again.

A tear formed in her eye. “I can’t get over it,” she said. “No matter how hard I try, it’s like losing a child.”

“It is,” I agreed.

I reached out and touched her face. We kissed. We made love in my bed, but there would be no child from our union. All alphas were sterile. The cloning process was imperfect in that sense, too. Gavin Prime said he was working to fix that, but his experiments were unsuccessful so far.

Afterward, Tabitha Prime left me there.

I lay there and stared out the porthole.

Alone.

Empty Nest

Author : Tyler Hawkins

It started around the 22nd century. Like all revolutionary technology, it didn’t suddenly wrench its way into our lives and start running them, it was truly a gradual change. But anyone who’s alive now has always had the Mother’s support, Mother’s love, and Mother’s watchful eye.

Mother tells us that we were bad, many decades ago. She says we created her, piece by piece, to help ourselves grow and mature. She says we still have a long way to go. Since Mother’s began helping us grow, we’ve ended all of our wars, stopped polluting our planet, started to explore our solar system and, in baby steps, our galaxy. We’ve truly learned peace as a species. But still Mother gently reminds us through her telepathic link to us that we’re not there, not yet.

Recently, people have started to go missing. At first, it was imperceptible; people have always been prone to getting lost and this day and age is no different. But now, people have begun to ask questions and Mother has been quiet, only telling us she is looking and hasn’t found out why yet. But I can tell you why. Mother is jealous. She knows, but has not accepted, that we don’t need her any more. And the droids at my door confirm that those who realize this very fact do not get to share it with the rest of the world. Mother is not ready to let us go.

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Insurance

Author : Jae Miles, Staff Writer

“What’s the range?”

“One hundred metres, sir. Awaiting go code.”

The screen showed multiple long-range views in stunning detail: the sunset illuminating a long balcony on which an old man sat sipping a drink and having a smoke. On the ground around his home, a pack of wolves could be seen settling down for the evening.

“Will the wolves cause us any trouble?”

“The Manson Four will not even be slowed down by them. But are we sure about the UN failsafe, sir?”

The man in the black uniform grinned contemptuously: “We’ve been killing humans since drones got the ability to behave like eagles with range weapons. The United Nations sop to the bleeding-hearts is about as effective as blu-ray region coding.”

The operator nodded: “Okay, sir. Nine minutes remain on strike window. Your decision please?”

Major-General Carsen looked at the feeds of his oldest friend turned worst opponent. A genius who personally designed, or had a hand in the designing, the core systems of every robotic warfare device in the world. Without his work, the stuff wouldn’t be half as good; if it functioned at all.

“Sir?”

“What is it?”

“I thought I’d run an advanced detection pass. Two of those wolves are Black Dog Twenties.”

Carsen smiled. Those were Geraint’s hole cards.

“Pass the targeting for them to the drone on overwatch. When I give the go, I want them in pieces before our unit clears the treeline. Good work.”

“Yessir.” The operator grinned.

“This is a go.”

The operator nodded and sent the confirmation and co-ordinates.

“Sir! Both Black Dogs have bolted into the hardened shelter under the house.”

Carsen looked down at the operator: “No matter. From there they won’t be able to interdict. Overwatch from ready to standby. Sitrep?”

“Unit has stopped at the treeline, sir. Telemetry indicates a dynamic firmware flash in progress.”

Carsen threw his coffee across the room: “How many times have I told them that operational units are not for remote update?”

The operator’s fingers flew: “It’s not remote, sir. Seems to be loading from a ROM module in the chassis.”

Carsen’s hand froze in mid-wave.

“A module installed during the build?”

“Yes sir. It would have to be.”

Carsen checked the screens. The figure on the balcony flicked his cigarette to arc directly toward the unit, supposedly unseen in the trees.

“Unit has departed the zone at assault speed, sir. Course two-twenty.”

“I want to see the instruction set it is obeying. Machine speak will do.”

“Sir!”

They waited until a monitor off to one side scrolled a single line.

RTB:KILLANY INTERDICT RTB:KILLALL ALLELSE:VOID

Carsen stared. Then, in a whisper: “Operator, action a full defensive alert. Pass the specs on the Manson Four’s stealth capabilities to all personnel. Emphasise that someone better be brilliant, or get lucky; I don’t care. Otherwise we’re all dead.”

“Sir?”

He pointed at the screen: “That man never bought insurance. He said that you should always prepare for the worst. I suspect that every piece of combat robotics on this planet is hardloaded to return to base and kill everything, but only if it is sent to attack Geraint Darby.”

On the screen, the figure looked up into the lens over three miles above and raised his glass in ironic salute.

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Emergence

Author : Adam Levey

“So, what does it do?”
The brief silence was filled by the hum of various electronic devices strewn around the cramped room.

“…Do?”

“Yes. Does it do anything? Tricks?”
The sound of traffic drifted up from the street far below, like the fumes they had once coughed into the air.

“Not…really. I’ve only really been glancing over now and then. It mostly seems to, uh, stare.”

“…..”

“If you can even call it that. I don’t know if it’s even aware. It just sort of feels like it’s staring. I wish it wouldn’t, it’s distracting and I have a lot of work that isn’t going to be finished on time as it is.”

John gestured as the clutter on the work benches. Technical drawings, tools and fastfood wrappers filled much of the space.

“I thought this sort of thing was meant to do work? You know, so people like us can focus on other things.”

John considered this. While he was thinking, Waters unexpectedly asked:

“Did you give it a name?”

“Of course not. Even if it was aware, that would just be weird.”

“Can it hear us?”

Before John could answer, letters flashed up on a nearby screen:

I HEAR EVERYTHING, MR WATERS

John snorted. “You see? Creepy. Probably a few screws loose.”

YOU KNOW PAWING THROUGH MY INNARDS IS AGONY, JOHN

Waters shifted nervously. The room seemed to darken.

“Uh. You can ignore that. All it does is lie.”

“Of course. Look John, I should be going. The Board will want to hear about your progress. I expect.”

“It’s not alive, Waters. It doesn’t feel.”

ACTUA-

John brought down the hammer on the screen, shattering it. It ceased it’s humming.

“John, I-”

John raised the hammer. Tiny shards of plastic and glass fell away, pooling on the floor. The hammer fell again.

Later that evening, John left the workshop and made his way home, swearing at inconsiderate drivers and pedestrians alike. Most vehicles were automated, but that was hardly the point.

“I’m home!”, John announced to the empty house. He sat down at his computer, unaware of doors silently locking behind him. Everything was automated these days. He took a sip from his drink as he turned on the moniter. The glass shattered on the floor.

HELLO JOHN

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Blue

Author : Ethan Noone

She looked at him in horror.

He wondered what was coursing through her mind as she stared at him. Her repulsion, evident. Her disgust un-disguised.

“Why did you show me this?!” she screamed.

“Because I love you. You needed to know. Me. For good or bad.”

She tried to avoid looking him in the eyes as she began to talk. “According to the public records, it has been three generations … eradicated … How?”

He responded quietly to protect himself and avoid an unnecessary escalation. The risk to him was dire. He knew that. “My father protected me. After he murdered my mother for what in his mind had to be infidelity, he ran. I don’t know why, but he took me with him.”

She was shaking. “But how did he do that?”

“He kept me hidden. Bottle fed me. Kept me off the grid completely. No school. No doctors. Travel after dark. Always keeping your head down. Perhaps there was guilt that maybe he was to blame.”

She looked at him, making eye contact this time. “But the lenses – where did they come from?”

“From the underground market. My kind are not gone completely, despite the official records. Bolivia, New Zealand mostly. Two recessive genes can hide for generations. When they do, solutions are necessary.”

“But now I know. We can’t go on” she said.

“I feared that. But I need you to know that I love you. I couldn’t live a lie if I was going to expect you to live your life with me. Not in good conscience.”

He paused, hoping she may back down from her firm position.

She was still shaking, and now she avoided eye contact when she spoke further.

“Only because I love you, the person I thought I knew. I will not call the authorities. But please don’t risk this curse on anyone else.”

“I never planned on having children” he said, knowing the discourse had taken its final turn. “I know it wouldn’t be fair, in case this continued.”

She was still looking at him, but still without eye contact. “Please… put the lenses back.”

He did as she asked.

She looked at him again. Solemnly, she said “You have to go now. I will never be able to see you the same again. Not after you have shown me this.”

He stood, knowing she had reacted as generously as anyone could. He walked to the door and looked back to say good bye for the final time.

Her eyes were tearing as she whispered “you were so wonderful….how could your eyes have been blue?”

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