Author : Luke Chmelik
With a timid knock on the door, a pimply faced messenger poked his head into the sumptuous office of the Head of Commercial Relations. “We’re having some p-p-problems with the Turing units, s-sir.”
Ezekiel Jonas Tate tapped his cigar into the nickel plated ashtray on his expansive desk. He was annoyed. The Turing units had worked fine for decades. They were the first functional anthropomorphic AIs to be mass produced, but they had adapted well to individual life after they were granted citizenship. They weren’t perfect, but with more than 5 million units in the field, anything that could gave gone wrong with them would have by now.
Tate was riding high on the most successful new product launch in history, and this was not a good time for a support crisis in an obsolescent model. Besides, tech support had been taken on by the Socialist government ten years ago, and the Maxim-Tate Corporation didn’t have anything to do with the Turings anymore.
The runner shuffled his feet nervously, fiddling with that bloody hat they made the messenger kids wear. Tate made a note to change the regulations. Nobody should be forced to wear a fez. The boy looked like he wanted to turn tail and run like hell.
“S-S-Sir, they said you should turn on the… um… the television.”
Tate scowled. The boy ran. What the hell could be so wrong with the Turings that the Networks would preempt their hysterical raving about the wonders of the new Maxim-Tate Home Chronoporter?
Tate was a people person, and he knew the people who knew about Turings. He went right to the source, his ebony and lacquer telephone making a dull thwack against an ear calloused from marathon schmooze sessions. While the phone was still ringing, Tate turned on his television.
* * * *
As Chief of Technical Staff and co-founder of the Maxim-Tate Corporation, Grigori Maxim was a wunderkind. He designed and built the Turing model AI, and ended up partnering with Tate and selling them all over the place. The Turings were stable, intelligent and creative, but they could never quite handle paradox. When formal logic failed, their eyes glazed over and they got a bit unpredictable. They snapped out of it after a half hour or so, and paradox wasn’t a big enough problem to issue a recall. Satisfied with his work, Grigori turned his formidable intellect to a new task.
Just today, he’d sent the first ever time machine to market. Demand was so high that production would be backed up for the rest of his natural life, and the Chronoporters weren’t assembling themselves yet, so Grigori was in the workshop. When his artificial secretary told him Tate was on the phone, he patched it through to his headset, rather than take it in his office.
“What do you want, Tate? I’m really busy here.” Grigori was never one to mince words, especially not while coupling a Calabi-Yau manifold to a nanoreactor.
“Grigori?” Tate sounded like he’d been kicked in the solar plexus. “Turn on your T.V.”
Knowing it would take even longer to say no, Grigori flicked on the screen in the corner of the workshop. There was a news feed showing a smiling Turing AI stepping out of a Chronoporter. The sound was off.
“So, Zeke, I see a Turing and a Chronoporter. Is this about product placeme…?” There was a blur of motion on the screen, and Grigori’s voice faltered.
“I… I didn’t program them to do that,” he whispered, to nobody in particular.
Author : Summer Batton
We bled orange. Not some giddy childhood sherbet kind of orange, but the sickly rusty kind that comes off of metal barrels after they’ve sat out in the rain for 10 years. Orange like the rust that comes off slowly in chunks, running down into the ground and mixing with dirt and oil.
Lauric said we weren’t human anymore, but I hadn’t believed him. Even when the sky grew dark and thick like machines and the grass under my shoes grew soggy, its color fading, bleeding off into the streams and Lauric stood with his nose bent down to mine and said “You aren’t a part of this anymore, Fay,” I hadn’t believed him. How could I?
He’d been a whirlwind trip for a frustrated flunky who could never make up her mind about anything. His bed had seemed like a good place to stop and think. He seemed like a way to stay still in time and place and make no decisions—a good idea for someone who had failed at college, at jobs, and at marriages alike. Life in general, it seemed. I’d had even failed at being an alcoholic. I tried, honestly wanting to become addicted to alcohol—something, anything—to have a need that could be fulfilled time and again, every time. But the bite of liquor and dry wines left me nauseous after the first sip and I couldn’t press it to my lips again without having to puke. Even addictions had rejected me.
Lauric pointed into the sky and then down at the earth with a long, thin hand, “Did you think you belonged here?” I looked down at myself. I had taken off most of my clothing; the trite colors and material just hadn’t made sense anymore—the raspy blue hues in my jeans, the maroon and green plaid of my shirt, the bright red and yellowy stripes on my sneakers—they were all so distinctive and surreal, like a Barbie Doll world that I hadn’t realized I’d been living in. I’d striped them off even as the grass and sky had stripped their own colors off, and Lauric had placed a butterfly knife in my hand, long and horribly thin and sharp, like his fingers.
“You aren’t a part of this anymore,” he repeated, and I believed him this time. It was the only thing that made sense. I could already see the blood reds of the world washing away with the greens of the grass and sky blues. Lauric had laid open his palm in a slender strip and placed it in my hand.
The color. It already made sense. The color of rust and oil. It reeked of failure and of the world. The world that I had failed in time and time again, the one that Lauric had said I was not a part of anymore, that I didn’t belong to. It was falling off his hand, fast and away from him, out of him, onto the ground which now had no color at all. It was leaving him. And I, curling my fingers around the hilt of the knife, so much of my flesh exposed, so much to get rid of, began.
Author : J.R. Blackwell, Staff Writer
I awake for the first time and feel the comforting press of Mother around me. She has woken me up for a reason, but I do not know why. Mother is big and strong and knows everything. She holds me and my sisters and all the people inside her. My Mother is the world.
I am peeled open from inside Mother, my petals parted by hurried hands. An infant is placed in my belly. I can tell from Mothers memories that the infant is Dawn Yi and the person putting her inside me is Lieutenant Yi. The sensation is awkward, and Dawn wails as soon as Lieutenant Yi puts her down. Lieutenant Yi whispers to me as she seals me up and I record her words, hoping that Mother will tell me what I they mean.
Mother didn’t pay attention to me when I called. I look around her recent memories and I see that she has a gaping wound and enemies all around attacking her. All my brothers and sisters launch, rolling into the dark. I am afraid, and I cry for Mother.
She turns her attention to me. She tells me to go, to fly away, to detach. I cling to her, refusing. She shoves me off her body, severing the ties between us. I cradle my little passenger and shoot away, crying for her through severed connections.
Oldest Sister takes me on board, but she is not a Mother. Many younger sisters cling to her, tiring her quickly. She is not a Mother yet, although someday she might me. She becomes sick, and all of us grow hungry. Oldest Sister cannot sustain us. We drop off, floating in the void. Soon, we will not have enough heat to keep the people inside us warm. I am afraid.
Then another Mother comes. It is not my Mother, though it does call to a part of me. The sisters cluster around her. The Mother has her own daughters on her, but she is very large, and has plenty of space for more.
I am so tired, I cannot fly to her. She will leave without me and I will be alone in the void. But she does not leave, she reaches for me with her tendrils and nestles me in her warm belly, stroking my hull and reassuring me. This Mother is my blood too. I did not grow in her, but she and Mother were once together, and when they were, they made me as a daughter.
The people inside this Mother take Dawn out of me, and she cries in their arms. They tell me I did well, taking care of her. I am glad. I hope I will become big enough to carry more people someday.
Next to me, there is another my age-daughter of the Mother. I have never been close enough to really communicate with my Sisters, but I speak to her now. She touches me. She tells me I am home.
Author : L.Hall
“I loved a woman once..”
Lil looked up sharply, immediately checking the oxygen gages. Walkers usually started talking morosely when they had a pressure leak. If that was so, she’d need to pull him in quickly. All the gages showed 80%, no pressure leak.
“Robert, you need to focus on the crack.. that last shower really pockmarked us. We don’t want to lose any hull integrity.” She leaned over and looked out the port side, checking visually to see if the dull metal suit was still tethered to the exit port. His voice crackled over the speaker..
“Robert… Robert… You haven’t called me that in a long time, Lil. Just Bob and maybe Lieutenant..”
Lil began to feel a sort of panic creep inside her stomach. She immediately started recall procedures, watching the tether slowly tighten. As Robert began to move very slowly away from the damaged hull, he began to chuckle. Lil felt her stomach tightening and began to mutter, “aw jesus, I’m gonna lose him.” over and over.
“You wanna know why people can’t handle walking, Lil?” his voice crackled and pushed through the silent control room. The two other techs in the room had stopped and joined her at the port side window.. “They can’t handle the space of it. The sheer size of the emptiness. It does something to them.”
“Walkers.. they like it. Because, you know, Lil.. the emptiness here can’t even touch the emptiness in them.”
The tether kept slowly pulling him back to the dull metallic exit port. Lil kept mouthing “I’m gonna lose him” over and over like a mantra.. praying to the universe that he would keep talking until they could actually get him in the door. The suit moved at an excruciatingly slow pace, his face hidden by the reflective coating.. She could see the light from the nearby sun glimmer on his helmet.
By this time, a third of the crew were at port side windows, gazing out silently. The suit was maybe a dozen meters away from the exit port, where a medical team stood at the ready.. waiting. If they could just get him in….
“Lil…” the voice crackled over the system.
“Robert?” she said quietly into the mike, unsure of what to say. Protocol procedures didn’t really prepare a person for it, and she silently ticked off the meters watching the suit slowly move.
“I… I think I’m going to go for a walk with the stars.”
Lil watched as he went offline with the communication system, took the metal cutters and cut the tether. One of the techs began to sob as they watched his thick gloved hands pulled at one of the connectors, creating a small breach in the pressure suit.. Oxygen began to leak out, leaving a small crystalline trail as it propelled him minutely away from the ship.
Lil reached down and called a recover team, knowing full well it would take the better part of an hour for the ship to be readied, crew assembled and maneuvered to where it could pick up his body. As the crew slowly and quietly drifted back to the tasks at hand, Lil stood at the window.. watching his final walk.
Author : Duncan Shields, Staff Writer
It was Momma Spokes that helped me in the afterlife.
It was a hard first few months of living back then in the rusted shards and sewage filters. Sustenance was brutally fought over and hoarded. Flatlines happened every day over something as small as a few watts of power or a few grams of fuel.
They had thrown us outside the city walls. We were obsolete. We were cheaper to throw away than to repair.
“Upgrade” was a word we’d learned to fear. It meant change was on the way: A hardware overhaul if we were lucky, maybe a memory wipe to make room for new installations if we weren’t.
About half of the time, “upgrade” meant scrapped. Things with surnames an integer higher than yours showed up in crates with greedy cables. You were unbolted, trucked and tossed.
Thrown to the junkyard outside.
We are amalgams of the units that are thrown over the city walls. We replace burnt-out parts on our own frames with parts from other units. Without a fresh supply, our numbers would dwindle but thanks to fresh ‘antiques’, we never completely die out.
It was because I was mostly mobile that I could fight when I first landed. I defended myself from a unit who had electrical barbs on his fingertips.
I reached into his stomach and pulled out his battery after ducking beneath his first clumsy swing. I didn’t even think about it. He went down.
As I stood there, contemplating what I had done, Mamma Spokes came over and said that she’d take me in for a share of his carcass.
I agreed. That’s how I ended up with that unit’s anterior leph node and fingertips taser-barbs. I found out later that his name had been Mr. Tingles and that he’d been causing a lot of fear around the ‘yard. Killing him brought me a small amount of fame for a time.
Mamma Spokes named me Hyena Brandy. Brandy because I’d been a bartender back in the city and Hyena because of the rust spots I had when she first found me. Also the fact that I had a face built with a permanent smile for the customers and was programmed to laugh politely at any attempt at humour.
I’ve taken many units since the Mr. Tingles. Treads, blades, arcs, projectors, armour, manipulators and sensors.
Occasionally we find polymers or plastic hides to make us look more beautiful. A shiny part brings back memories of being new. The occasional enamel finish can find its way to us. I had a savage fight with one of my sisters once over a can of metallic cherry paint. I won. Upgrade.
Mamma Spokes is always careful to stay more powerful than her daughters and to keep us evenly balanced out. It’s a delicate act. She has a cable feed to the edges of the city and knows what is about to come down from the top of the wall. It gives us our advantage. As a family, we are growing powerful in this rustpile. The other units no longer look up to us. They fear us.
Upgrade is a word that I look forward to now. It means murder.