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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Glittering Tumours

Author : Duncan Shields, Staff Writer

That’s the thing about silicates. They get cancer from radiation, just like us, except their tumors are jewels.

The silicate in front of me here has a head full of diamonds.

He’s looking up at me with his prism eyes. When the sun shines through the hospital window, the sunlight refracts through them and shoots little rainbows around. He’s no smarter than a cat now.

Their presence here was a history of shame. They landed in their glittering spaceships made of super-dense manufactured crystal in a park in Philadelphia.

Their technology was entirely built around the manipulation of crystal growth. They created crystal that made diamonds look brittle. They ate sand and rock. Their stomachs were kilns. They could make their bodies faceted and sharp with a thought.

All was peaceful for a time until the first few of them got sick. Their doctors worked with our doctors to find a cure before they realized what was happening.

Cancer. Just like humans.

The first tumours to be removed were a revelation. Emeralds.

Once the news got out, a black mark on the history of humanity started.

Many of the silicates were taken prisoner and bathed in radiation to produce raw emeralds, diamonds, rubies and hundreds of other types of valuable rocks. The market was flooded, with the jewels ceasing to be valuable after six horrible years.

Diplomacy healed the wounds over the next decade but there was still bitterness on both sides

Any jewelry at all is seen as gauche now.

My friend, Rock Opal Truestone, is going to be dead before the week is out. There’s still no cure for cancer but at least the egg-sized diamond eating the mental pathways behind his beautiful eyes is worthless.

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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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Uncommon Values

Author : Sam Clough aka “Hrekka”, Staff Writer

Kana took a deep breath and brought the butt of her father’s rifle to her shoulder. She tilted her head, both eyes open and focused beyond the length of the barrel. The iron foresight that perched at the end of the weapon had been cast as a dragon: the beast’s upthrust ears forming the neat ‘v’ through which she stared with intent. She had eschewed her father’s kabuto, but she did, however, wear his kikou: she had spent a long time adapting it to fit her slight frame.

She knelt on a ridge overlooking the village, making no effort to hide. It was only a matter of time until Daichi left the farmhouse. When he stepped from the door, there would be a single chance.

One shot would be all she’d have.

The rifle she held and it’s companion pistol at her belt were pinnacle weapons, comparing favourably to anything of their time. The bullet in the chamber was one of the original two hundred cast when the rifle was made.

She couldn’t miss.

Daichi left the farmhouse.

She fired and immediately ducked, thumbing a new cartridge into her father’s rifle. This was a new, cheap round: only countrymen were worthy of dying by the ancient ammunition. She braced the rifle again. Daichi was laying in the dirt, the top of his head splayed open against the ground, blood and brains mixing with the dust.

Two offworlders were scanning around the village. The first was reptilian, and the second wore a bulky space-suit, both wielding local weapons.

The rifle snapped as she fired again, and the lizardman jerked backwards, gore spraying from his gut. The space-suit located her and returned fire. Three or four shots tore into the soft dirt around her and two ricocheted off her kikou. She whispered a prayer of thanks to the armourer, and went to meet her foe.

She pressed herself against the back wall of one of the buildings, her father’s rifle already reloaded. The space-suit began to round the corner, but drew back too quickly: Kana’s shot whipped past him, missing by millimetres. Slinging the rifle behind her back, she drew the companion pistol and edged around the corner.

Her heart leapt into her throat when she heard the footsteps behind her. Whirling around, she came face-to-face with an unfamiliar pistol and the space-suit’s flat visage behind it. She hadn’t realised how fast it would be.

“Put your weapons down. Comply.” A harsh voice echoed from the space-suit. “You have killed two innocent men.”

“And Daichi,” she sneered at the corpse, “he killed my father in cold blood. You people did nothing. This was an act of honour.”

“You are Kana Takahashi? Respond.”

“I am.”

“Miss Takahashi. Your father’s death at the spaceport was an accident. There was nothing we could have done.”

“Liar.” She hissed, stiffening her grip on her father’s pistol.

A gunshot echoed around the village, but Kana had not fired. The space-suit crumpled to the ground. Kana turned: behind her, the lizardman stood, clutching his wound and barely managing to hold his rifle. The chamber was smoking.

“They told us,” the lizard spluttered, “that honour was dead here.”

In the distance, she could hear sirens. Turning away from the bodies, she ran for the relative safety of the woods.

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