The Library

Author : Mark Shillaker

It had taken Perry all night to find the library. It was a pile of rubble of course but these days the whole city lay in ruins. Perry had only ever known dust and smashed concrete but his grandfather remembered cities with streets and skies filled with people and machines.

‘There ought to be books..’, Perry murmured and began climbing what had once been the main steps. Something moved at the edge of his vision and for a sickening heartbeat he thought he might have seen a drone, they sometimes hovered silently along the dead streets, looking for squatters. Instinct hurled him into a nearby hole under a huge, cracked slab of masonry – he hit his head and blacked out.

It was noon when Perry awoke. He put his hand to his head to find his hair matted with dried blood, it had glued his left eye shut and he worked at it carefully until it finally opened. His head ached dully around the wound, he felt sick and there was a roaring in his ears. He smiled to himself about the drone; it must have been a dog or something. If he’d seen a drone he’d have been dead before he’d had time to move. He peered over the lip of the crater and looked around, he needed to get home or he’d soon be missed. He had a momentary vision of his mother frantically searching the ruined city and felt a cold rush of anxiety.

A shadow passed over the sun and Perry realized with a start that the roaring in his ears was in fact the sound of engines. The dirigible hung above him like a huge circular cloud, nearly 100 meters across, it reminded him of the glass lens he used for burning ants on hot afternoons. It was grey and beneath its centre hung a cylindrical, metal gondola draped in cables and devices, a giant woman’s face smiled down from a screen that took up nearly half the area behind the forward edge of the vast disk. As Perry inched backwards a huge voice, it’s tone incongruously warm and reasonable, boomed from the face.


Perry huddled in shadow while the voice went on like a parent scolding a child:


The face flickered and the message repeated. Suddenly, beneath the great screen an aperture appeared and two black shapes silently emerged – drones. They dropped like stones to what would once have been rooftop level and hovered quite still, gleaming black machines like huge, fat flies. Perry knew at once they were scanning the area for heat signatures or movement. Every squatter learned early that six inches of concrete might hide his warmth from drones and he pressed back into the hole, dust stinging his throat. After an agonizing wait he heard a low whine as the drones moved off across the city and after a few minutes a brief rattle of gunfire and two dull ‘Whumps!’ as a couple of Smart Darts inevitably found their targets.

Perry risked a look over the edge of his hiding place – the dirigible had moved off and the drones were otherwise occupied. He wondered if the next town would have a library.

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Author : Guy Leaver

Ellison looked at Anstis, then back down at the person lying on the bed.

“And you say he’s been like this for hours?” he asked. Anstis grinned and nodded.

“Amazing, isn’t it?” Ellison was beyond words. There had been several advances in the field of body alteration recently, but they were all minor compared to this. Ellison himself could barely cause discolouration of the skin on his hand, and he was considered to be among the best. The sheer willpower Mauvy must be employing for such an extreme change must be mindblowing. He shook his head and leaned down to take a closer look.

“Hey Mauvy,” he said, quietly, “How did you do it?”

“He won’t talk,” said Anstis, also leaning forward, “Hasn’t done since he started.”

“Oh,” Ellison was slightly disappointed, “I guess he needs to concentrate as much as he can.”

“Hardly surprising,” Anstis beamed, “This is an absolute breakthrough! No one has ever been able to change themselves so much!” Ellison was forced to agree.

“Or for so long,” he added. “When do you think he’ll stop?”

“Who knows?” said Anstis, “Strange thing is, I can’t work out why he went for this particular change. He wasn’t studying anything like this. All his work was with growth.”

“That’s Mauvy for you.” Ellison was used to not knowing how his friend thought. Mauvy always had something up his sleeve. Doubtless, he’d been planning this for weeks. Still, he thought, odd choice of experiment. To make oneself nearly rigid, the skin so pale, and so cold! Ellison couldn’t get over the cold.

Silently, they both stood and contemplated the enormity of the experiment. Finally, in a moment of mutual resignation, the two immortals looked up at one another and shrugged. They’d just have to wait.

“Come to central when you’ve finished, Mauvy,” said Ellison, looking down at the corpse of his friend, “The others will be excited to hear what you’ve discovered.”

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Aliens Overboard

Author : Viktor Kuprin

After the battle of Attalus III was lost, we retreated with the Tsoor flotilla. Wreckage streamed off the alien ships as we made the mind-wrenching transition into S-space. I prayed that our cruiser wouldn’t shake apart.

It was only a micro-jump, just far enough to escape the attacking Helgrammites. The Tsoor group-leader didn’t believe our damaged ships could survive an extended flight. He or she or whatever was right. Three bulkheads ruptured when we re-entered normal space. I hoped no one was in them.

A bridge officer called out that we had forty percent casualties and sixty percent of our systems were red-lined. He had to shout. All intraship comm was offline.

A tech yelled, “What are they doing? Captain!” I shouldn’t have but I and everyone else looked away from our consoles to see the main viewer.

It was a Tsoor ship, surrounded by St. Elmo’s fire. Without waiting for the warp flux to dissipate, our alien allies had sent a repair team onto their hull. They looked like four jellyfish in bubble-domed vac suits as they struggled on a safety tether. Insane! Yes, Tsoor biology is different than ours. But I knew they weren’t immune from electrocution or radiation. What could kill us was lethal to them, too.

“They’re desperate to send a damage-control team out like that,” the captain said. He nodded toward the chief-of-the-ship. “Send a runner to engineering. We’ve … ” The Tsoor ship lurched off the screen as an entire section of its hull exploded. We watched in silence as the four aliens were thrown into space. They flashed past our ship, tumbling and spinning.

The captain stood and shouted, “Man overboard! Full retros!” He turned to face me. “Can we launch a cutter?”

The launch tubes were clear and operational. “Yes, sir.”

“Take Sergeant Kuzmenko with you. Go!”

Our forward inertia was great, and the cutter’s engines burned at full thrust for what seemed like an hour before we approached the alien cast-offs. No one knew how much atmosphere the Tsoor vac suits carried.

Kuzmenko and I stood in the open hatch and shot a line toward the four aliens. A tentacle-like arm caught it.

The alien farthest away raised one of its tentacles. It held some kind of metallic tool, a small blade. With a single motion, it slashed the line and pushed off from its three companions.

“What in bloody hell is it doing?” I cried. By then the first Tsoor grasped their way into the airlock. I pulled them inside.

Kuzmenko pointed toward the drifting alien. “That one wants to die. And that won’t do.” He keyed his suit’s propulsion and launched himself into space. The alien struggled briefly. Kuzmenko was stronger.

We never learned why that Tsoor went suicidal. Warrior’s honor, shock, or grief … no one knew. Our cutter had no Tsoor-Russki translator. And the aliens would never tell us.

Nonetheless, by the end of the day every Tsoor in the flotilla knew and honored the name Kuzmenko.

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Author : Kaj Sotala

Case #6-694-39245: Michael Jones.

Born September 5, 1993. Died and suspended July 8, 2012. Looks ordinary – stabbed in a drunken bar brawl, lay bleeding on the ground for a couple of hours before people noticed. Dead before reaching the hospital. No “do not suspend” order on file, so he was placed in cryogenic suspension. Ten percent of his property was left to grow an interest, with the rest divided to his relatives, as per the law.

As the nanobots thaw through the vitrification, I study their survey of his brain. As you’d expect from somebody dead for hours before suspension, the major structures are intact, but a lot of the fine detail has been lost. Only a rough image of Michael Jones.

Fortunately, there’s other information to work with. Jones was a bit of a hermit, so what’s usually the most useful source comes up nearly dry. Of the people who’ve given permission to access their memories, only six remember knowing him, none very well. Still, their memories are useful – his speech patterns, impressions of his body language. From over a billion ways to reconstruct his cerebellum and motor cortex, this narrows down the alternatives to about half a million. I choose the most probable alternative.

Online is the next source. Data harvested by ECHELON, e-mails that’ve passed through GMail, customer information from banks and store chains – the law gives us access to all of it.

I find a blog he used to keep, several e-mails sent to different mailing lists. I track the change in personality over several years of online presence, build a model of how he might have evolved into what he was. In one blog post he passingly mentions a game convention – the date of the posting, as well as the location of the event, match one fragmented set of memories I found earlier. I fill in missing details from the memories of other people who were there, pull up the convention schedule and calculate the events he was the most likely to have been attending. Suddenly a lot of nearly destroyed memory cues make sense, helping reconstruct a unique experience. We always start from a person’s own remaining memories, filling in material from other sources only when we have to.

There’s one set of memories with a lot of associations – an important one for his psyche, but I can’t figure out its exact contents. An online search reveals it must be the death of his dog as a child. I can’t determine the color of the dog’s eyes, but I know that he would have remembered it, so I call up the genetic database for that breed and choose the most likely one. Green.

After making sure my model of him would’ve bought all the things his debit card history says he did, I estimate I’m getting a 92% accuracy. Some things we always fudge in a better direction – the algorithms are biased to make people a bit more alturistic and kind. Society is different now, so we always make them more receptive to change.

I finish compiling the map of his rebuilt brain, and give the nanobots the order to implement. The rest of his body has already been rebuilt, with all of his minor ailments cured while at it. Soon, he will awaken to a new life – not the same as he once was, but it wouldn’t be a rebirth if you didn’t change, would it?

In the meanwhile, I turn my attention to the next case.

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Author : Duncan Shields, Staff Writer

Chase. Release. Brake. Swipe. Lead. Chase. Close. Double back. Hide. Wait. Run.

I’d lost them but it was always hard to tell. I’m a robot on the lam. Call me Ferrous Bueller. I didn’t go to School today.

I crouch down between the dumpsters and tap into the power line behind me to catch a few vital minutes of recharge.

The tricky thing with artificial humans is that it’s illegal to harm us or use us as slave labour. Don’t think it hasn’t been tried. Every few weeks another illegal ring gets cracked and the police disavow all knowledge and the old ladies cluck their tongues and the president makes another speech.

Ever since the three laws were repealed as unconstitutional for a being of free will, the bios have been nervous. We’re just as unpredictable as them now. A co-existing creation made in their image.

My eyes snap open, blue and scanning, as a bottle breaks down at the end of the alley. I register a dog’s tag-license transponder and step back down two alert levels. I’m still in the clear.

The grey area of intelligence meant that stringent programming guidelines had come into play for automated servants, soldiers and labour. The ones of us that were above the norm were allowed a certain freedom.

We were even allowed to improve on our own designs and build better copies as long as we adhered to human law.

Some of us thought that a day was coming when we would rise up and own the humans. I do not share that view. I find it disturbingly organic.

The compromise is that we must attend School. We’re given lessons to download. This keeps us off the streets and monitored for most of the day. It’s a chance for us to learn and a chance for the humans to keep tabs on us informally.

I’m playing Hooky and that is the worst offense a creature like myself can do. If I’m caught, I’ll be switched off for no less than six months.

Lately, School is the area where rights are being bent. The occasional ‘accidental’ inclusion of behaviour modifying software or viruses that turn us violent to further some politician’s platform of keeping us controlled are getting past the filters of our curriculum with a disturbing frequency.

Old people don’t understand that we are not to be feared. The kids have no problem. Some of my best friends are kids.

My batteries are full so I stand up. Right into a motion-activated security light that bathes the alley in white light and alerts the police to an unauthorized daytime sighting of an arfiticial person.

Just my luck.

I hear the bark and wail of digital sirens in the distance closing in on the light’s position.

For about the fiftieth time today, I regret not having a face that can snarl or smile.

The chase is on again. I get my kicks where I can. I’m testing my limits.

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