Author : Sam Clough, Staff Writer
“I cannot sing the old songs, the songs I sang so long ago…”
Guin kicked her heels, muttering the misremembered words to herself. She hadn’t changed. She still looked as young as ever: her dark skin was as flawless as it had ever been. For the first time in her life, though, she felt old. Ara and Lance had gone. Zen and Jason were dead. But she couldn’t bring herself to abandon the City quite yet. None of the ways out seemed to work for her.
She’d been a gardener for a time. She had found the physical aspects work relaxing. But the constant flux of plants growing, dying back and growing again grated against her nerves. She eventually grew to hate the garden. She felt like the plants were mocking her, screaming out to the world that she was the only thing that didn’t follow the pattern. That she wasn’t natural.
It was perfectly true, of course. Guin was artificial. One of the fifth generation of artificial humans that had been constructed in the test laboratories of Integration Project. She was number five-oh-four; that was the number on the Integration Project ID card that had been issued to her. That was the number that was etched into each and every one of the deceptively simple mechanical components that moved silently beneath her skin. Well, almost every component. She’d replaced a number of them herself as they began to fail, using a three-dimensional printer left behind by Lance.
With a little caution, she could probably live forever.
Ara, number five-oh-oh, left the City almost as soon as she could. She was always the cautious one. She compulsively collected data, and was the one who broke skillchips out of the Integration Project without being seen. Presumably, she was still safe, and hopefully so was Lance. Jason, though, was dead, disassembled amongst the labs of the Project. He had attempted to break in to steal documentation and equipment, and sow a little destruction. He hadn’t made it past the first sub-level. Zen had quietly committed suicide.
Guin looked up at the sound of footfalls. A girl, no older than Guin’s apparent age, was walking towards her. Keeping step with the girl was what appeared to be a wolf. Guin stood up, and faced them.
“You’re five-oh-four.” The girl spoke with absolute assurance. “Where are the others?”
“Outside laboratory circumstances, just like me.” The euphemism came easily to Guin. “More to the point, who are you?”
“Senka. Sixth Generation. This is Schuyler,” she ran her hand over the wolflike head, “a prototype. They told us about your series. That you were flawed, and violent. Why haven’t you attacked us?”
“I’m tired, Senka. You’re young. You’ve yet to realise that ‘Integration’ is a joke. Not sure about you, Schuyler, but Senka, I have some advice for you. You can talk to people all you want, but you’ll never be able to identify with them. The scientists understand you in a physical sense, but they can’t grasp how you think. Normal people don’t – and can’t – relate to you.” Guin saw Schuyler tense, ready to spring.
“I’ve been asked to bring you home. They’ve been watching your progress with interest. It was the remains of five-oh-three and your progress out in the world that inspired them to create me.”
“They never knew how to make us into convincing liars. You’ve been sent to offline me, Senka. You might just be the way out I’ve been waiting for.”
Author : Phillip English
It began with the PC release of Armageddon.
No, it’s not what you’re thinking, the kids didn’t rise up and swallow us with anarchist notions imbued through Satanic images found in a video game. The violence presented in that game was simply a marketing decision to best accomplish the dual objectives of getting kids interested and setting the bar high enough for the inevitable clones to work under. These initial foundations placed the emphasis on pitting the player versus the standard computer opponent, the omniscient overlord mixed of equal parts masochist and voyeur. We didn’t yet have the technology to start collecting the data, but like I said, we needed to get kids interested. Blood, gore, and demons with rocket-launchers was the best way to ensure they would bug their parents to buy computers, and with them the games that they would spend hour upon hour playing, bashing away at the keyboard like the most obedient of Shakespeare’s monkeys. We wanted it to become the norm to be able to look into any family household on a weeknight and see a pimply face glued to the screen, blasting away at aliens, demons, zombies, or humans. It was a gamble, conservatives are never quite as predictable as people say, and we weren’t sure if they would allow such a thing into their households without a fight.
But it worked. Whether it was because we’d provided the parents with another convenient method of distracting the kids, or because the kids were too damn good at getting what they wanted, it didn’t matter. Riding on the backs of casual games filled with rainbows and fluffy animals, the shooters infiltrated the market and began amassing admirers. We poked and prodded the market–an advertisement here, an embarrassed admission of addiction by a celebrity there–and their popularity grew exponentially. Our investments in networking eventually produced the infrastructure necessary to set the ball rolling on our grand experiment. Businesses, homes, and countries were gradually wired, and with that came the thirst for human competitors that didn’t get stuck on the corners of virtual buildings, or shot circles into the clouds. From that point, ladies and gentlemen, it was on for young and old. Even before the internet became convenient and commonplace, players went to great lengths to blow the crap out of each other; kids dragged their PCs for miles to each other’s houses for a few hours of violent heaven. When the ‘net did arrive, there was always someone willing to have a shot at ripping you a new asshole in the back of your head, next door or next continent.
And the data started trickling in.
It was shoddy data–approximations everywhere and no way that we could possibly start to make the kind of predictions we needed to–but it was data nonetheless. And all we needed to do was record it, take into account inaccuracies, and wait for the tech to evolve as we knew it would, and did. Three-dee space was followed by realistic body physics, was followed by interactive environments, was followed by dynamic scenarios, was followed by virtual reality, was followed by well-immersion and psychokinetics. Every hour of every day there was someone playing, feeding us their decisions, offering us their probabilities. Where would they turn? Would they run if a shot was fired near them? How low on health did they have to be before they decided to go kamikaze? Would they help their friends if they were under fire? Would commander players retreat when faced with overwhelming odds? Through it all we collected. We built a data set filled with astronomical hours of playtime, devised more all-encompassing models by the minute, made sure every variable was refined to perfection. Then, we extrapolated forward.
Our finger is paused over the button that will begin the war to end all wars.
Author : Robert Niescier
When the captain sent the message, he wasn’t thinking of the texture of the button his finger had depressed. He didn’t hear the low bass of the shields as they were freely deactivated, allowing missiles long kept at bay to whisper through the fading dust. His eyes were focused forward, towards a screen portraying vessels that did not want to be seen, but he looked only because there was nothing else to look at. He was not thinking about the awe he had felt when the fleet had materialized before his small operation, nor the pit-wrenching horror when the battleships had commenced their bombardment. He wasn’t thinking of the crew that, when presented with two options: to run and hide, or to send a high-powered message and warn their distant home, chose to run. He wasn’t thinking of the cries, the pleas, the threats the crew had made when he had overruled them. He had thought of his wife and his children before, but they were no longer on his mind. He did not pity or champion himself, or wonder if the message would arrive too late, or if the information he had so meticulously selected for transmission would be enough to save his home.
Instead, his mind wandered to an old song he had heard when he was young, a slow, symphonic melody that had moved him to chills but whose name he could never identify. He wished he could have listened to it one last time.
Author : William Tracy
“The commander will see you now.”
King Kôrtof stepped through the doorway. His body was adorned with precious metals and gems, a show of power. Planet Tokonia had little to boast of but its mineral wealth—even as that wealth was rapidly becoming a political liability.
The king stopped in his tracks. The back the commander’s chamber was occupied by a massive aquarium with fishes from Old Earth, a display of wealth greater than the Tokonians could ever hope to match.
The commander stood up and shook hands with the dazed king. “Welcome, welcome.” The two sat down.
“You have a wonderful planet here, King Kôrtof. Your people are happy, your agriculture and mining are prosperous.”
At the left end of the tank, two striped cichlid fishes herded around a cloud of babies.
“However, you have been threatened by the Confederacy of Planets. I want you to know that the Sharkün Empire is here to help you.”
Just below the aquarium’s surface, two massive arowanas cruised silently.
“The Confederation wants to strip you of your powers and force on your people what they call democracy.” The commander let out a short laugh. “Democracy!” He looked the king in the eye. “The Sharkün Empire is like you. We will protect you and we will let you keep your sovereignty.”
At the right end of the tank, two red-throated cichlids squared off. Facing each other, they opened their mouths wide, flared their gill covers, and distended their throats in a ritual display.
“All we want is mining rights, and for our mining companies to operate on your world under our own laws.” He eyed the king. “Unfortunately, your advisors have informed us that many of the prime sites that we are interested in happen to lie underneath your most productive farming regions. Of course, we can easily import more than enough food to feed your people.”
The red-throated cichlids made a sudden motion. They circled in lockstep, each fish chasing the other’s tail.
“These same advisors have also expressed concern that displacing these farms will leave much of your population unemployed. They even suggested that these people would starve because they would be unable to pay for the food imports!” The commander gestured broadly. “If this truly is a problem, our corporations will gladly employ these people in our mines. It may be hard work, but it is honest work.”
The red-throated cichlids suddenly faced each other, and locked jaws. The two animals shook and wrestled, each testing the other’s strength.
The commander smiled kindly at the king. “There’s nothing to be ashamed of. Yours is a tertiary system, a backwater world. You have always had hostile neighbors, few resources. You couldn’t possibly have defended yourself from the Confederation alone.”
The striped cichlids attacked a tiny yellow fish that had wandered into their territory. It dashed across the aquarium, interrupting the red-throated fishes. They broke off their battle, and one chased the yellow fish away, up toward the surface of the tank.
“We will protect you from the Confederation of Planets. All we want is the mineral rights. You and your people can keep their sovereignty.”
One of the arowanas lunged toward the little yellow fish, which barely darted away alive.
“All you have to do is sign this document.”
The other arowana swerved to intercept the yellow fish, and swallowed it whole.
“Do we have an agreement?”
The king wasn’t paying attention.
King Kôrtof was watching the fish.
Author : Patricia Stewart, Staff Writer
As I slowly regained consciousness, I became aware that my universe was a black, soundless void. Then the thought “where am I?” popped into my mind. I couldn’t remember my name, or what I looked like, but surprisingly, I had knowledge of many fundamental concepts. For example, I knew that I existed, that there was light and darkness, and that I had a vocabulary and a language to think in. But I couldn’t remember much beyond that. This not-knowing things was very unsettling I started concentrating on individual words and what they meant. Sometimes words made sense immediately. I understood conceptually the difference between hot or cold, hungry or full, frightened or safe. But I didn’t understand up or down, left or right, me or us. As time passed…wow…time. I didn’t know what time was until I realized that it was passing. Anyway, as it passed, I became aware of more sensory information. I started hearing things. I knew subconsciously that the sounds I heard were voices, and that they were probably from…I don’t know…“people” just like me, whatever “people” were. I tried to make sounds too, but I don’t think I was successful. I realized that I was very, very tired. I needed to stop thinking for a while. I’d try again later. I drifted off…
I’m aware again. This time it is much better. More of my memory had come back. My consciousness was becoming inundated with resurfacing information. For example, I knew that I was human, that I had a job, and that I had been injured. It is still a little fuzzy, but I am pretty certain that I am an engineer on a starship. I seem to remember that I was transporting to the surface of a Class-M planet when there was an unexpected energy surge during the dematerialization cycle. There must have been a minor quantum variation in my transporter pattern. When I rematerialized, the molecular reconstruction of my brain must have been affected. Apparently, I lost some of the neural/synaptic connections to my long term memories. Although they were slowly reestablishing themselves on their own, I knew a way to speed the process up. I opened my eyes for the first time and saw the face of a beautiful woman. Her expression was a mixture of concern and apprehension. I presumed she was a nurse or a doctor. I grabbed her arm and tried to sit up. “I understand what happened,” I said. “You can restore my memory by accessing the primary pattern buffers in the transporter database. If you recalibrate the phase inducers you can reinitialize my quantum balance by…”
When I first started talking, she had smiled. However, now, as I explained what she needed to do to help me, her expression contorted into frustration and then anger. What a strange reaction, I thought. She ripped her arm free of my grip, then used it to slam me back down. “Shut up, you idiot. You’re not Geordi La Forge. You’re an incompetent husband who never unplugs an appliance when you work on it. It’s lucky you didn’t kill yourself this time. You scared me half to death. Honestly, I will never understand what made you think you could fix the drier in the first place. My mother was right…bla, bla, bla…”
“Ahhhhh,” I thought as reality flooded into the cognitive lobes of my brain. “I see that I’m married, and that my real life sucks.”