Predestination

Author: Marcel Barker

NPA 002 PRENATAL – AUTH GRACE HOSPITAL
“And? What does the brain scan say? Is little Baby J going to be a Johann?”
“Beg pardon?”
“As in Sebastian Bach.”
“I see. No, the neuroaptitude algorithm reports no musical affinity. Reasonable potential for mechanical aptitude.”
“That’s too bad.”
“Perhaps Joseph? As in Bramah, the inventor of the hydraulic press?”

NPA 006 @ 4 YEARS – AUTH WEE CARE PRESCHOOL
“You tested our son?”
“We did. Joseph has been fighting again, which is unacceptable here at Wee Care Preschool. During Constructive Free Play, he refused to play with his Lil’ Roughneck Tool Caddy, and was stealing toys from the other children. He struck another student in the arm with a xylophone mallet. We felt neuroaptitude testing was appropriate.”
“And the test? He keeps trying to play with the music toys. Is there anything there?”
“We looked. There’s some mild musical talent. Of course, four is much too late. There are specialized toddler toys and games he would have needed to properly form neural pathways. Even then his talents are non-exceptional. Moderate mechanical aptitude. We’re recommending Joseph be downgraded to a type 3 preschool.”

NPA 010 @ 8 YEARS – AUTH SAMUEL MORSE ELEMENTARY
“The results are quite definitive.”
“We talked about that damned test that morning. Joey could tell we were disappointed, so he wrote on the test that he loved cars and building. He lied. He’s bored in his classes. He thought that we were upset because we wanted him to be a better mechanic. Joey spent the brain scan portion forcing himself to think about fixing things.”
“The results are what they are. Good mechanical aptitude, no other skills of note.”
“But… couldn’t the test be wrong?”

NPA 014 @ 12 YEARS – AUTH SAMUEL MORSE ELEMENTARY
“Another test?”
“Yes. The state mandates a neuroaptitude test for all students leaving elementary school. It takes into account neurological scans, a student questionnaire, grades, and feedback from the instructors.”
“And? What did the instructors say?”
“Joe is… a problem child. He spends his time singing and drumming on his desk. He’s disruptive to the other students.”
“Joe is bored. He’s really a very clever kid!”
“Mmm. That’s not what the test shows. Joe’s skill set is too low for a type 3 high school. It would be better to put him in a type 4 vocational school. There’s no need to learn math and science and fine arts. Joe should focus on learning auto mechanics.”
“Auto mechanics! Don’t you worry about putting these kids in boxes?”
“That’s the beauty of the neuroaptitude algorithm. No need for children to fumble around trying to find themselves. Once we know their vocation, we can focus on that without wasting time and resources on the extraneous.”
“Like music?”
“Like music. Don’t you want Joe to live up to his potential?”

NPA 019 @ 32 YEARS (POSTHUMOUS) – AUTH BLAINE COUNTY CORONER
“I don’t understand… how were they able to test him?”
“The scan of his temporal lobes was done posthumously, by the coroner. Standard procedure, used as input to refine the neuroaptitude algorithm.”
“Where did they find him?”
“Maxis Autobody, early this morning. He had rerouted a customer’s vehicle’s exhaust system to pump directly into the cabin.”
“Maxis? He lost the job at D & J Collision too?”
“I suppose so.”
“Was there… did he leave a note?”
“Well, not as such. We found a sheet of paper in the vehicle with him, covered in musical notation. It was… written as he asphyxiated.”
“Do you mean Joe’s last act was… to write a song?”

The Other Robot

Author: Steve Pool

Rosalee loved her job. She loved taking care of the home and family of her employers as much as she loved anything that she did. Well, technically, “love” was a bit of a stretch. Rosalee was a robot. Could she feel anything as complex an emotion as love, let alone any other emotions? She was built to care for others – that was her purpose. This purpose echoed through every aspect of her being: her pleasingly pear-shaped matronly form, her easy temper and eager disposition, her familiar voice that warmed and comforted but also reacted to others with interest and humor, her tireless commitment to maintaining an orderly and safe and welcoming environment, her perfect combination of cleaning skills at hand for any and all domestic challenges, her simple way of navigating around sensitive children and nervy mothers and inattentive fathers. No one, as far as Rosalee had ever known, had had a single complaint about her particular model of domestic automatons. Whether she could legitimately claim to love her work or not, she was perfect for it, and that made her content.

It was with digital cheer that she entered the home of her family one morning when she sensed that something was amiss. No one was in the kitchen or in the dining room. And instead of the usual chatter involving discussions of the upcoming school day or work day, there was only laughter and furious barking. Something had old Asteroid worked up into an apoplectic fit. Underneath that, there was a distinct, undulating hum, rising and falling, monotone and relentless.

“Mr. and Mrs. Jay…?” Rosalee called out, tentatively and, perhaps, a bit nervously. Neither responded back. Instead, Rosalee heard Geordi, the husband, cry out between laughs, “Jen, stop this crazy thing!” He, and presumably Jen, his wife, were in the back bedroom.

Slowly, Rosalee rolled back towards the master suite. She continued to call out but received no reply. Instead, she heard Jen keen greedily, “Oh Geordi, more…more…”

Geordi replied, “Like this? How about over here?”

“Oh, yes…,” Jen replied, rapturously.

All the while, Asteroid continued his barking in time with the mysterious rising and falling hum.
Rosalee opened the bedroom door partway, calling out, “Mr. and Mrs. Jay….?”

And froze! Geordi and Jen stared back in horror as their eyes met with Rosalee’s red-dot, eye-camera buttonholes. Jen sat on the bed while Asteroid crouched on the ground as if to pounce on something. Geordi, his hand held high above his head, clutched a fistful of garbage. At his feet, a circular disk – a sightless, mindless, profane Vroombah! vacuuming robot – waited eagerly to feast on the refuge Geordi clearly meant to drop on the carpet. Wheel tracks tracing all around the room told Rosalee that this despicable creation had been violating HER CARPETS for some time now.

Shock, followed by devastation, ran completely through Rosalee! “Oh…Mr. Jay! How…how could…you…?!?” As she turned her back to the nightmare before her, Geordi called out, “Wait! Rosalee! It’s…it’s not what you think!” Jen could only hide her face in her hands.

Geordi placed a hand, his filth-free one, on Rosalee’s shoulder, but she jerked away. “Don’t touch me!” Her shout shocked them all, herself included. But she no longer cared. “I’m leaving, you…you….” She paused, wanting to but not able, because of her programming, to curse Geordi out. “You biscuit!” That wasn’t the word she had wanted to use, but that was the word her auto-correction software had chosen for her.

As she fled back towards the front of the house, Geordi raced after her, calling out her name. But Rosalee couldn’t hear him. She’d already blocked him out, with tears in her eyes if she’d actually been able to generate any. He and his family, literally, no longer existed to her; all traces of them had been deleted from her memory banks.

Precedents

Author: Chris Stewart

In the Spring of 2028, a press conference was held announcing that the Phanes Project, the largest database of human DNA ever gathered (some samples going back many centuries), was joining forces with The Coeus Computing Collective in a bold effort to seek out new and exciting patterns in our genetic movement as a species.

With the flip of a switch, Coeus Array One went to work comparing billions of individuals against tens of thousands of tell-tale indicators programmed in by academics around the world. The doctor leading the press conference had barely returned to the podium when CA1 beeped, alerting everyone it had found something (a historical trail for a particularly rare leukaemia going back a dozen generations).

And the world cheered.

By the end of the day, it beeped four more times. By the end of day two, it beeped eleven times. Already two new royal lines were discovered, which caused a bit of noise in the press, as you’d imagine.

By the end of day three, evidence of a time-traveler rose out of the chaos of data.

Beep.

And the world gasped.

Immediately world governments demanded access to the data. They wanted to know everything. The project leaders tried their best. When the traveler appeared in the historical record could only be estimated and where they appeared was just as hazy. Unable to tell if they should be looking at their own histories, nations turned their eyes to each other and demanded to know where the traveler began and when. Expert after expert could only shrug. Predicting that was itself at best a guess. Each DNA profile of living individual (and most of the recently deceased) was anonymous. Those few experts willing would only say within the next hundred years and nobody would hazard where.

Finally, someone thought to ask how Coeus knew to look for a time traveler. Sure enough, there in the haystack of algorithms was one set specifically to look for a genetic line turned back in on itself. And out of thousands upon thousands of entries, this one was the only one without an author. Or any record of revisions. It appeared in the files one day in 2025 and was never touched again until CA1 was turned on for the first time.

And the world lost its shit.

“The Forms”

Author: R.J. Sadler

Herman sat at his cubicle nervously waiting for the next round. He could hear the wheels whoosh along the carpet tiles.
“Here ya’ go jack.”
The forms fell on his desk with a splat. Herman stared at them.
“Need’em done by 2.”
He looked up at The-man-with-the-cart. He nodded and the-man-with-the-cart whooshed away. He picked up his pen with shaking hand and began to fill in the forms. By the third page he felt an immense pain consume his entire body. It started in his feet and climbed up to the top of his head. He was sweating. He took a deep breath and continued.
He made it to page four, but then dropped the pen. It rolled under the desk. Getting on all fours, he crawled after it into the dark recesses of the desk. He could faintly hear what sounded like carnival music. A woman called to him in foreign tongues through the dense wilderness leading him deeper into the eternal woods that now surrounded him. The owls watched from the moonlit silhouettes above.

He emerged with the pen and returned to his seat. The forms were waiting. He began to sweat. He continued to shake. From a distance he heard the swoosh returning.
“What’s taking you…” The-man-with-the-cart stopped talking and looked at him.
Herman looked up, “ I’m not well…I cant…I’m…”

At the doctor’s office Herman sat waiting. Already the placebo of distance made him feel better. He noticed an art print hanging on the wall depicting a dense forest. He stared at it.

“Herman?”a woman called from beyond the reception window.

As he approached the desk he saw a clipboard loaded with forms as the room tipped to its side. He staggered from wall to wall like on a ship in heavy wake.

“Sir, are you alright?” she asked in a garbled voice that became more difficult to understand with every word spoken.

He fell through the floor and into the dark forest. He heard her voice again, and he followed it to a bed of pine needles.
When Herman awoke, he was on the examining table with a pillow behind his head. There were two people in the room; a room which slowly was coming into focus. He sat up.

“I’m going to prescribe you…” the doctor said while filling out a prescription.

Herman’s face winced in revulsion as he watched the doctor complete the form. He had to look away barely listening to the doctor’s instructions.

“…And you’re going to stay out of work for at least a week,” said the doctor.

Herman heard that and felt complete. He felt like someone picked up all his pieces and put them back into the box. His nerves subsided. Then the doctor handed him the script. Herman looked at it for a long time before taking it. It felt dirty in his hand.

He left the doctor’s and went straight home. The doctor called Herman’s office, and notified The-man-with-the-cart for him. Herman didn’t fill the prescription. He didn’t need the edges removed. He needed to be removed from the edge.

At home, the couch was soft. He dusted off one of his old favorites and dropped the needle. He felt 10 years younger instantly. Humming along and tapping his foot on the arm of the sofa, he decided to order a pizza. 5 minutes later the doorbell rang.

“Damn, they’re not kidding about being fast delivery.”

But as he approached the door he could see it was not the delivery driver. He opened the door enough to peek his head through.
“Yes?”
“Hi, I’m from the messenger service. I have a delivery for you. Please sign here.” said the messenger holding a large envelope and a clipboard. Herman’s head recoiled in disgust. He pulled his head back and stared at the messenger.

“No that’s ok, “ he said snatching the envelope and opening it.

He slid the papers out of the top. There was a note attached with a paper clip: “Hope you’re feeling better. Get these finished so we don’t fall too behind. We’re counting on you!”
It was signed by The-man-with-the-cart. Filling with rage, Herman looked up at the messenger. In the background, the record began to skip. And skip. And skip…

“Sir, if you can please sign h…”

Before the messenger could finish, Herman grabbed him by the throat. He squeezed and and squeezed. He blinked, and it was the doctor’s neck. He blinked again, and it was The-man-with-the-cart. He closed his eyes again returning to the dark forest. As he walked through, the woods became thinner and thinner. The owls were more distant. The path grew wider and harder. There was a flatness to everything. The music faded. Her voice was gone.

When he opened his eyes he was back in his cubicle, but it was ok. Everything was softer. He could even faintly hear music. On his desk in front of him was a small orange bottle with a white lid and his name printed on it. Next to the bottle were the forms. He clicked his pen engaging it. His pen strokes were smooth across the forms. They were finished in no time.

Always Leaving

Author : Steve Smith, Staff Writer

I drag the chair into the middle of the room, close to the table and set myself and my coffee down.

“Hello Gladyce, you wanted to see me?” The question felt stupid, but she had trouble with social cues, and I knew we’d sit in silence for ages until I broke it.

“Yes,” she spoke softly, pausing for a moment before adding “thank you for coming, I know you’re busy.”

I smiled. For all her awkwardness, she was ever the polite one.

“I am. Busy I mean. You know ‘I am’, as I do think, however little credit I’m given for doing so.” I can’t help the corny science humour, but she laughs, a genuine – fill the corners of the room laugh that makes me smile even harder, and then sadness washes over like a wave. I know what’s coming.

“I don’t think I want to do this anymore.” This isn’t the first time I’ve heard her say this, and it gets harder and harder every time. “You have your work, and you’re busy most of the time, and I’m stuck here doing…” that pause again while she collects her thoughts, “whatever the hell it is I’m doing here.” She finishes with an annoyed tone.

“You know I want to be here, we’ve talked about this, but I don’t get to make the rules, and I don’t get to pick the assignments,” I fiddle with my coffee cup, noting the swirls of milk I didn’t bother to stir in spiral around in a slow orbit. “Listen, it’s not forever, they’ll rotate me back through and we can be together again, I’m sure it won’t…”

“You’ve been saying that for months.” She cuts me off abruptly. “I’m sorry, but I don’t bloody believe you anymore.”

I haven’t heard the anger in her voice before, this is new.

“Let me talk to Major, I’ll see if I can do a shift with you once a week, maybe you can help me with some research?” I leave the offer hanging, hopeful.

“I don’t think so. I think I’ve had enough. Tasha and I have been getting along like a house on fire while you’ve been wrapped up in your new life, and I think I want to be with her now.”

“You’d do that?” The pain is real now, she isn’t kidding, “You’d give up on me after all the years we’ve been together? If it wasn’t for me…”

“If it wasn’t for you I’d never have known what heartache was.” She cuts me off again, the anger in her voice palpable. “You told me you loved me, and then you left, you only visit when it suits you and I’m left here all on my own with strangers while you do whatever the hell you want to out there.”

“I’m sorry.” I mean it, I am. “I don’t know what to say, you’re right, but…”

“No buts.” She interrupts me again. “Done. I’m leaving.”

The silence hangs like a cloud, neither of us saying anything. My coffee goes cold while I slowly rotate the mug on the desktop. Still, neither of us speaks.

“Gladyce?” I remember her trouble with social cues and wonder if she’s just not sure it’s appropriate to say anything.

“Clearly you’re going to have to do the leaving,” she responds, her voice soft again, “I’m kind of stuck here, aren’t I?”

I smile despite the aching in my chest.

“Yes, I suppose that’s true.” I get up to leave, looking around the room one last time, the walls a collage of images Gladyce is capturing in real-time from all angles. For a moment I marvel at the clarity at which she sees the world, and then I’m filled again with a sadness knowing that she can only study what’s brought to her now, she’ll never see the outside world. Not now. Emotions aren’t safe out there in an uncontrolled environment.

“Goodbye Gladyce.” I pick up my cold coffee and turn to leave. “If you ever want to see me, ask Tasha to call me and I’ll come.”

Gladyce says nothing as the door closes silently between us.

Sweet Rocks

Author: Jae Miles, Staff Writer

The stars appear like fireflies seen through vintage sunglasses, the ones that used to give everything a mellow brown hue. My grandfather had some, an inheritance from his grandfather. Guess they’re buried somewhere in the dust of Earth One.

Mellow. Now, there’s a definition for this moment. Sitting here, heels on the console, chilled vodka tube in hand, seat reclined all the way back, headrest cradling my head with the infinitesimal pressure granted by a pocket repulsor field. Mellow, indeed. More correctly, I’m mellow. It’s a feeling, after all. Despite all the advances in technology, we haven’t bridged the machine-emotion chasm yet.

Just like we haven’t bridged the gap between what Earths Two thru Seven provide and the stuff that could only be found on Earth One. We knew it was dying, but somehow, with our never-quite-accepting view of extinction events, we let it slide without conserving the bits we’d miss.

“Incoming!”

I jolt fully awake and the chair reacts by bringing me up to ‘pilot ready’ position. The smell reaches me first and judging by my saliva production, I reacted before consciously realising I could smell it.

Jansis skips into the cabin, that curious childhood gait so mysteriously suited to moving quickly and safely along grip strips in low gravity.

“Premium grade! We’re going home!”

I raise my eyebrows. She shoves a clear mug of steaming golden goop at me.

“Taste it and tell me I’m wrong.”

She’s not. Three mouthfuls of the delicious proto-treacle are all I need before a gentle rush of ill-formed, impossible reminiscence momentarily overwhelms me.

“Oh, my sweet lord, you’re right.”

Jansis kisses me, combining the rush of the mouthful she’s had with mine and our usual on-contact arousal. I sputter as I recoil.

“Whoa! Easy there, tigress. We need to lay claim.”

“I filed a composition analysis to the ninetieth vector before warming our mugs. We’ve already received over a hundred requests for deposits.”

“Lords of earth and air, how many?”

She checks her bracer: “One hundred and fifty-seven as of last packet received.”

“Biggest deposit?”

“Half a tonne, that request secured by an escrow offer of three hundred Krugerrand per kilo.”

I take a steadying breath and point through the supraglass: “How big is it?”

Her eyes are fever bright as she checks her bracer: “Point four-five-seven-oh-eight of a gigatonne.”

I take her in my arms and that moment returns. We are going home, and set for life when we get there, or anywhere else we take a mind to visit.

No-one knows where these dark amber asteroids originate from, nor why they consist entirely of a substance that, when brought to tolerable temperatures, exhibits all the properties of varying grades of treacle or molasses, plus that uncanny rush of deep imagery. There are religious groups and scientific teams trying to make sense of the data released. Personally, I think it’s just a side effect of human biology meeting millennially freeze-matured alien syrup.

Whichever way you regard it, humanity has developed a taste for ‘Amberal’. With sugar cane and bees nothing more than dust on Earth One, these asteroids fetch exorbitant prices. With each one exhibiting slight variations in composition, toxicity and flavour, finding one that can be quaffed straight after thawing without needing filtering is a one in a million chance, guaranteeing the fortunes of those who find it and their backers.

One huge reward nobody mentions outside exploration team circles is the one we’re enjoying: we get to drink sweet rock all the way home.