Author : Sam Clough, Staff Writer
Jack sighed, and tabbed through the moment’s top links. They hadn’t changed much since earlier that morning: still the usual desultory mix of politics, tech articles, and irreverent ‘humour’. Lolcats had been ceased to be funny almost as soon as the merchandising hit.
He peeled the interface wafer from his neck. The flexible plastic bilayer pulled away from his skin cleanly. Almost as soon as he did so, it emitted a ‘message received’ chirp. With a due sense of foreboding, he smoothed it back across the accustomed spot under his collar.
His customised newsfeeds immediately began to scroll across his vision. With a blink, they were obscured by the new message. It was from Dog, a gamer he’d met months ago.
—–BEGIN PGP SIGNED MESSAGE—–
Traffic analysis is great fun. I wrote a tool to track effective votes on all political matters. Whilst it seems that around sixty percent of those eligible do actually participate in our fine democracy/anarchy/infocracy – (did anyone ever decide on what to call it? Surely the germans have a decent compound noun for this. Anyway..) – but those votes are controlled by maybe ten percent of the eligibles. People seem to have, by and large, unconsciously given proxy power to an elite few.
This is what I’ve been waiting for. Hard data that shows I’m right. This isn’t a free state. Nothing like it.
I think I’ve found a way to concentrate popular opinion against these ‘power-users’.
I’m going full broadcast with the attached files soon. Have a look.
—–BEGIN PGP SIGNATURE—–
Version: GnuPG v1.4.9 (ThinWafer)
—–END PGP SIGNATURE—–
That was Dog. Paranoid to the core. But he had attached signed data from the politics section. After all, you were only paranoid if you couldn’t prove it: and Dog’s scanner had bought up some passably interesting facts. The names changed, and drifted over time, but there was a core of identities that voted on every political motion that was bought up. And it was always to bury any outside submitted, or to vote up motions of their own.
—–BEGIN UNSIGNED MESSAGE—–
Unlike you, I’m not paranoid. Although for once you’ve managed to assemble something somewhat convincing. I don’t see how we can use it. There’s nothing we can do, frankly. And who cares? I’m going to shoot you some lol* — have a laugh, lighten up. I’m going to go outside.
—–BEGIN UNSIGNED SIGNATURE—–
—–END UNSIGNED SIGNATURE—–
Jack felt a twinge of guilt at his slightly caustic reply. Some people never learnt, though, so he dismissed it. Dog would just feel more self-righteous. Jack connected to the CCTV spider he’d loosed into the net. He asked it to track down Dog. The mapped path showed a slow spiral inwards, avoiding high-density cam and mic coverage, headed straight for the forum: the base-in-reality for political debate. The forum was large enough to accommodate a few thousand; it was rarely packed to capacity. There was no real advantage to going there in the flesh, anyway. An alert flashed up: Dog was offline. Dog was never offline.
Jack was running hard, already halfway to the forum by the time he figured it out.
Every channel was suddenly full of Dog’s data, and locked from editing. Then a fireball blossomed from the top of the forum, both real and virtual. The political channels timed out, died, only to return as static error pages. A ripple of explosions toppled the building.
Author : Asher Wismer
Here’s me, walking through the deserted streets of Chicago. I can see a few ravens pecking at some unidentifiable detritus in the gutter; somewhere, a car alarm is weeping to the night sky, and I can still smell the restaurant exhaust on the breeze.
Here’s me again, now searching an abandoned shop for something more nourishing than chocolate. Don’t get me wrong, I love chocolate, but the body craves salts and proteins… more’s the pity. Chips are good in a pinch.
I wonder what will happen to the water supply? Theoretically, the underground reservoirs will be shielded enough to avoid contamination, but most of Chicago’s city water comes from open-air cisterns. I should only drink bottled water, until it runs out. Then I’ll have to find a library and do some research; there must be a deep self-contained reservoir not too far from here.
Hey, I can scream in the library and no one will care.
I’m all alone, but there are plenty of other people around. Not moving, of course, but who needs to these days? Last time I saw independent movement that wasn’t animal was on TV, and that stopped after a couple of days anyway. End of times, worst of times… most serene of times? The ELF would be delighted, but I guess when there aren’t any human members to know or care the point is a little bit moot.
Yeah, the water thing bored me too. No point; plenty of bottled water. No electricity, but I can scrounge a generator from somewhere if I need it. Now I just need something to do for the rest of my life.
I could travel; plenty of fuel for that, but it seems somewhat futile to go anywhere. Gasoline will gel eventually, so I should use it while it’s still good. I could devote myself to recording our history in some invulnerable form, like carving it on a mountain face for future civilizations, but I doubt I could get farther than my own little life before I die of exhaustion.
Come to think of it, every possible form of media that tells our story will degrade beyond comprehension before anyone gets to read it. Whenever this kind of thing happens in fiction, there’s always a motivation, a need to tell the story of humanity and the mark we left on the planet. It’s just… I don’t think there actually is a mark. “When all is said and done,” they say, but now all really is said and done and that’s it. There’s nothing left. There’s no second coming, no messiah, and no future for anything that could conceivably call itself intelligent.
Just me. Nothing else. No magically surviving camp of refugees, no single person of the opposite sex conveniently named “Eve,” no gods descending from the skies.
And certainly nothing that could remotely be called a future.
Right. Here’s me, walking through the empty, desolate streets. The car alarm is silent; battery must have run out. The ravens are gone; better pickings elsewhere. The evening wind has blown away all recognizable human scents, and I think that the smell of all those other people will start to fill the air very soon.
Here’s me, walking along, my finger on the trigger.
Author : Duncan Shields, Staff Writer
Nothing could live in a volcano. That was the assumption of the landing party.
The twenty-meter slab of articulated rocktopus that turned a diamond eye to these squishy walking icicles of meat was puzzled at first, then alarmed. The meat icicles were walking the perimeter around its crater-nest.
A long arm accordioned out and snagged one for a closer look. Clumsy, clumsy, superheated rocktopus. The meat icicle squeaked and vibrated in the tentacle’s grasp before igniting. Ashes joined the hot orange soup of molten rock that the rocktopus lazed in.
The ashes brought a school of lavanhas to the surface. The rocktopus suckered up the crater’s edge while they swarmed to eat the ashes. That was the advantage of being amtemperous. The rocktopus could withstand brief exposure to temperature that would freeze most other forms of lavalife.
It dipped into the magma and snagged a lavanha, quickly exposing it to the air. The lavanha twitched before turning grey with a crackling shriek, atrophying immediately in the extremely low temperature of open air.
The meat icicles on the crater’s edge were watching with great interest as the rocktopus grabbed its snack.
It offered the snack to the meat icicles. They made no motion to accept.
Just then, a rockfish shooter poked its head of the pool. It sucked in molten rock through its slatted gills and shot it out in an arcing stream of hardening glass towards the meat icicles.
It got one. With a yank, the shooter managed to pull the squealing meat icicle into the pool. The meat icicle practically evaporated in a flash before a few ashes hit the bubbling surface.
The shooter dipped under the water, disappointed.
The meat icicles pulled sticks from their backs and pointed them towards the rocktopus.
This was odd. They shot food towards it. Basic irradiated metals in solid form in a steady stream straight at the rocktopus’s head. The rocktopus was happy about that. He bathed in their generosity for a while.
Then they left.
The rocktopus slid back down into the lava. Quite the day.
Author : Patricia Stewart, Staff Writer
Dr. Kathleen Haley walked into the dimly lit Advanced Physics Laboratory at Cambridge and spotted Dr. Thomas Mitchell staring intently at a one meter in diameter, hollow transparent sphere. “Hey, Tom. How’s the experiment coming?”
“Great so far,” he replied. “There are only ten helium atoms remaining in the sphere. In about 5-10 minutes, they should all have passed through my one-way atomic barrier. If all goes well, this will be the first ‘Perfect Vacuum’ ever created. After that, I’ll be able to get funding for Phase II.”
“Ever since cosmologists have shown that the outward expansion of the universe is accelerating, not slowing down, we’ve been looking for the reason. My theory is that in the ultra-low vacuum of intergalactic space, the Universal Gravitational Constant becomes negative. Gravity repels, rather than attracts. Once I prove that I can produce a perfect vacuum, I’ll rerun the experiment, and measure the gravitational force within the sphere.” That’s when Mitchell noticed a faint glowing ball of white light in the center of the sphere. “Whoa, what the hell is that?” It was about the size and brightness of a flashlight bulb. He glanced at the atomic monitor; it indicated only eight atoms remained in the sphere. Mitchell grabbed an optical spectrometer and focused it on the light source, which had brightened further as the atomic count dropped to six. “The light doesn’t have a spectrum. It’s pure white light. That’s impossible. He grabbed a prism. To his amazement, there were no colors exiting the prism. “Monochromatic white light. It can’t exist.”
“Maybe it is a natural consequence of a perfect vacuum,” suggested Dr. Haley. “Tom, I think you should shut the experiment down until you understand what’s going on.”
The light was brighter than a 100 watt light bulb when the counter indicated three. “Are you nuts,” he replied? “It took three weeks to get the vacuum this low.”
“Hear me out, Tom. We don’t know what happens in a perfect vacuum. To our knowledge, the only time one ever existed was prior to the big bang. How do you know that you won’t spontaneously generate a new cosmic egg? You could destroy our universe.”
“Even if you’re right, Kathleen, empty pre-space could have existed for a trillion-trillion years before the big bang. I’m only going to hold my vacuum for a few minutes.” The count dropped to two, and the light became too bright to look at.
“If there is no matter within the sphere,” she asked, “how do you determine entropy? Without entropy, time has no direction. It can go backwards, forwards, stop, or move infinitely fast. A trillion-trillion ‘sphere-years’ might only be a few seconds in our time.” The count dropped to one. “Don’t take any chances,” she pleaded. “Break the vacuum before it’s too late.”
Tom reached over and grabbed the handle of the vacuum line, but didn’t rotate it. “Kathleen, you’re being crazy. It’s just a vacuum. I’ve invested a year of my life in this experiment. I don’t…” The last helium atom passed through the barrier. The sphere was empty. The bright light began to pulsate. Through squinted eyes, Tom watched its light begin to fade.
“Tom, break the vacuum. Hurry!”
Beads of perspiration began to form on Tom’s forehead. He watched the light continue to fade as though he were in a hypnotic trance. His fingers twitched, and then tightened their grip on the handle. Blackness crept in from the periphery of his vision as Tom fixated on the slowly dying ember. Then…
Author : J.R. Blackwell, Staff Writer
Doctor Yun was a bit of a flirt, which put Charlotte at ease. She cradled her left arm in her right hand. She was in pain, but years of larger pains had made this one seem inconsequential. Four children, three planned, one a surprise, skin grafts and organ surgeries had made her very familiar with pain of the body, and she handled it with relaxed ease.
“It’s a minor fracture,” said Doctor Yun. He touched a wall in the office and a picture of her insides flickering into existence. Charlotte had been in enough hospitals to see the fracture easily.
“Well, it doesn’t look that bad.” she said. “Might as well wrap it up and send me off.”
“”It’s not a bad break in itself,” said Doctor Yun, “but the bone itself is trouble,” he tapped the wall and the picture zoomed in. “If you see there, the bone has tiny fissures. It’s brittle and weak.” he tapped the wall again and her records sprung to the surface. “How did you say it broke?”
Charlotte shrugged her thin shoulders. “I picked up my bag to go to work and it just snapped.”
“It looks like this is original, am I correct? You never had this bone replaced?”
“No, but I did get the myto-surgery done about sixty years ago.”
“That regenerates muscles, not on bones.”
“Well then, no, I’ve never had this replaced.”
“It’s time then. The bone is two hundred and twelve years old. I’m surprised it lasted this long.”
“I’ve always had strong bones. Is getting this it replaced difficult?”
“Not at all. In fact, I could have it grown for you and ready in a week. We could replace it in the office.”
“Sounds good. Let’s schedule for next week.” Charlotte tapped the air, summoning her personal schedule to appear.
Doctor Yun flicked his fingers over the wall, and her long medical record scrolled in the air. “Charlotte, I think you may need to consult a lawyer before we replace your bone.”
“A lawyer? Why?” asked Charlotte.
“When you replace this bone, you will have replaced over 90% of your original body with new material. That will legally make you a new person.”
“That’s impossible, Doctor Yun. My brain was never replaced.”
“No, but I see there were implants, some stimulated re-growth, cloning and replacement of cells. Over time, we replaced quite a bit. It wasn’t all at once, of course, but overtime, you do not have the brain that you started life with, Charlotte.”
“Wait, are you saying the law will consider me dead?”
“Since over 90% of you will have been discarded, yes. Charlotte will be dead in the eyes of the law.”
“I am a contiguous person! I remember my childhood, I don’t-“
Doctor Yun touched her knee gently. “Charlotte, it’s not a judgment. All it means is that you need to make up a will stating that you will inherit what’s yours.”
“Oh, I hardly think that’s necessary. Who would claim my things?”
“Life is long, Charlotte. People change. I had a man in here who lost everything to his first born son. Make a will, for your own peace of mind.”
“So, essentially, my broken arm is willing my estate to the rest of me?”
Charlotte cradled her arm as she stood. “Alright, broken arm. Let’s you and me go see the family lawyer about my inheritance.”