The Prototype Sanctuary

Author : Ryan Somma

An orangutan and a brain in a vat were playing chess across the room from me.

It was a joke I hadn’t figured out the punch line to in five years of working here. The disembodied brain was Philo, and, lacking eyes, I had no idea how it understood the game. One of the psychologists who stopped in once a week to check on Philo was also stumped on this, explaining to me that Philo also lacked spatial reasoning. Philo’s understanding of chess, therefore, was purely as an abstract mathematical concept.

The orangutan was Odo. He rubbed his chin thoughtfully as he leaned over the board. When I first started working here, Odo would spend hours signing to me. He gave up long ago, and Philo told me the orangutan had decided I was incapable of learning. He was probably right.

Wee-Beep! Wee-Beep! Wee-Beep! A petri dish set atop a remote-control car thudded into my foot and my cell phone began chirping in response to it, which set the petri dish off chirping back.

This was Meep, a network of mouse neurons that had learned to drive around without bumping into things, except when it wanted attention. Meep just barely qualified to reside here, but I couldn’t explain how it met the intelligence requirements.

“Hello Meepster,” I said to the living toy, and stooped to pluck the rubber ball from its pincers. “Go play with Lug,” I tossed the ball so that it bounced off our resident Neanderthal’s forehead.

“Lug,” wasn’t his real name, Lazarus was, but the botched attempt at genetically engineering our distant relative just drooled and pooed himself all day. Meep was more sentient, and until Lazarus can wipe his own butt, my name for him is Lug.

“Pardon me…” Philo’s artificial voice drew my attention.

“I’m sorry Philo,” I had the injection ready in a few moments and quickly administered enough serotonin to get the brain through the afternoon. Without a steady cocktail of anti-depressants, being a brain in a vat pretty much sucks.

Think about that… When your house greets you at the door, when your refrigerator makes dinner suggestions, or when your car swerves to keep you out of an accident because you were preoccupied with your PDAI, remember that the road to all those conveniences was paved with the residents of this asylum, experiments that made AI possible and inventions that crossed the line into sentience, preventing them from making it to the market.

We have a responsibility to them. After all, they didn’t ask to exist.


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Under Warranty

Author : L.Hall

The mousy haired woman sat with tears rolling down her face in front of a cold steel table. Broken plastic, silicone pieces, processors, ball and socket joints, gears, pieces of leftover motherboards, all lay shattered, broken before her. The Omnicarp Corporation public relations representative sat on the other side of the table, watching her dispassionately.

Her eyes refused to look up from the remains as his mouth, monotoned, listed off the damages.

“Major structure damaged. Personal vehicle, demolished. One person deceased.”

As he finished each sentence, he punctuated his words like an evangelical preacher; The last consonant becoming two as he tried to give it emphasis.

“Ms. Holyfield.”


Her high quavering voice the first indication that she was paying any attention to the gray gentleman behind the table. He paused and took a deep breath.

“Miss… Holyfield. We created our line of personal assistants to help with the mundane chores of the working person. To cook, to clean, to run errands and well, assist you. The mild Emotional Processing Unit was to help the unit be empathic and anticipatory to your needs.”

Her hair fell over her face as another sob wracked her slight frame.

“He was just trying to protect me.” she blurted out, her breath coming in gasps. The Representative walked around the table, and as per protocol, gently patted her shoulder in a show of sympathetic support.

“Miss Holyfield, Omnicarp recommends that you replace your units every year. How long had you had your assistant? Over time and…”

He paused, looking down at the broken pieces.

“wear, your unit became defective and it simply overloaded the EPU. When the deceased touched you, it caused a malfunction. We are citing that your unit was defective and per your default contract with this company when you purchased said unit, you will be held liable if you impart any other information to any media sources.”

The mousy haired woman shakily reached out to touch a small broken bit on the table, choking on her sob.

The Representative reached into his jacket and pulled out a small white envelope. He took her hand from the table and pressed the envelope into it.


“The Omnicarp Corporation would like to offer you a small compensation to help with replacing your Personal Assistant.”

The mousy haired woman looked up at the Representative, her mouth trembling. The Representative gently put his hands on her shoulders and began to guide her from the room. As he led her down the sterile hallways, quiet except for the momentary hitching of her breath, he began to speculate on the various ways their units had been used against warranty specifications. As they reached the main lobby, he pointed her in the direction of the showroom.

“Miss Holyfield, the Corporation is sorry that this event happened. Please bear in mind that many of the newer models are equipped to handle your sorts of needs. The smaller units just cannot handle the strain on their EPU’s.”

The mousy haired woman nodded slowly, tears still rolling down her face. Looking down at the white envelope in her hand, she wiped her face with her other sleeve and began to slowly walk toward the showroom. The Representative watched her for a moment, then started back down the hallway. As he walked, he pulled a folder out of his jacket and began to skim through it, sighing as he flipped through images of a Personal Assistant Unit that had been mangled, the stomach ripped apart and patched together with duct tape. The gentleman waiting for him in the third office had violated the warranty.


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An Afternoon in Autumn

Author : Ivy Tyson

Sunlight sifts through fluttering reds and yellows, bounces off of well-worn bark and old crinkled stems to gently fall, scattered and warm, on the soft brown ground. A light breeze rustles the branches of the huge old oak tree, providing nature’s most impressive symphony as an accompaniment to the great, huge games of a five-year-old girl and her doll.

The little girl sits cross-legged, content in the company of the tree and her own imagination. She sings quietly to the cloth-and-paint doll in her arms, admiring its beauty and gladly ignoring its many scrapes and fading lines in favor of the warmth of its steady companionship. There is a single bright red leaf tucked prettily into her brown hair, placed there in her grand imaginings by a handsome prince, a token of his favor.

The girl’s mother stands in the kitchen of the house, watching her daughter play in the increasingly cool fall afternoon. Not for the first time, she is struck by the child’s utter loveliness, and wonders if every parent feels this way. She does not know. She knows no other parents that she can ask. The girl has her father’s large brown eyes (they must be her father’s, for her mother’s are a tired blue) and an inquisitive, gracious disposition that marks her as exceptional, even at this early age.

Her daughter has everything a child could wish for, except for what is perhaps the most important thing of all: companionship. The one thing the mother cannot give her child is a friend of skin and blood and emotion, not just of paint and cloth. She sometimes wonders when the little girl will ask, when she will discover that she is uniquely small and childish in this world of cold, jaded big people who think in equally cold and jaded ways.

The little girl is unaware of any differences between herself and her parent, whether in size or in perspective, and the mother mourns this.

She mourns many things, but perhaps this unknown loneliness of her child most of all. A crushing weight settles on her shoulders whenever she allows herself to think of the enormity of this one little girl, and of the cruelty and the kindness of the world.

So she does not think of it. Instead, she turns on the stove to begin their evening meal and allows her daughter a few more precious minutes to rule her play world with grace and power. When next she looks outside, though, and sees the girl framed by the sun and the rioting colors of a dying autumn, she does not see her daughter.

Instead she sees the only child on the planet, the last daughter of the human race. She sees the heiress of all man’s greatest achievements, as well as his most crippling defeats. This girl alone, because the other scheduled pregnancy, the boy meant to be this little one’s mate in all ways, has not survived. Her imagined handsome prince will never come.

In that moment, she realizes that she and her daughter are utterly unique amidst a sterile dying planet: the only child of the human race, and the only mother.

And for the first time since giving birth, she wishes that this overwhelming fate had been given to some other potential mother on the list, instead of her.


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Author : Lillian Cohen-Moore

Friends are the people you call when you’re sick. Old lovers are the ones you call when you’re afraid you’re dying.

Times have changed.

We print a self-isolation guide in the front of phonebooks now. The Infected Hotline operates 24/7, 365 days a year. He called the hotline asking for someone to check him out. I asked to take his call as soon as it came in.

Leo has been infected once, with the UK strain. I listen and watch as he talks, sweat beading on his face. He’s scared this is not just a rickets-like resurgence. This is the real deal. The American mutation is more deadly than the Beijing. The American mutation carries a doubled risk of permanent brain damage in comparison to the Parisian virus. We’re both hand cuffed too far away to touch. Regulations and all that.

All I can do for him is smile.

Within the hour, a team will arrive. Leo Wyzotsky will either test positive or negative. If he’s negative, he’ll get counseling for the scare before he goes back home to England. If he’s positive, they’ll try to ID the strain.

They’ll do their best.

As for me?

I was bit by a twelve year old girl last night, who bled out on her way to the hospital. I had a choice when I came in here, but I ignored it. I didn’t tell my boss. I just asked for the next call. I was gentle when I got here. We talked. I walked him through what would come next. I hand-cuffed myself to the shower stall, after I cuffed Leo to the toilet. Its regulations, but it’s necessary.

It prevents us from trying to eat each other.

I’ve been talking him down for awhile, now.

They’ll test him first. Then they’ll me. If I test positive, they’ll take away my license. I’ll never be allowed in a Hot Room again. I’ll be confined to a desk for the rest of my life.

If you test three times in a row for American, it’s over. You don’t, you won’t—there is no coming back.

So I wait. 25 minutes. In 25 minutes, Leo will either test positive or negative.

I lick my lips and smile weakly.

“I’ve been up for about a day. It’s ok, Leo. Keep talking. I’m not going to fall asleep.”

I lost my husband during the first flush of the pandemic. I’ve never slept well since those days. They say part of it’s residual brain damage from the first infection.

In 20 minutes, they will evac Leo from this hotel room before they shoot me in the head. In the old days, we had friends to call when we were sick. Old lovers to call when you thought you might be dying.

Things don’t happen like they used to.

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The Surrogate

Author : Charles Spohrer

”EAT SAND NOW!”. The humans hit the hot sand as the mortar shell screamed towards them. The surrogates did not move. They stood still as the flowering debris sandblasted their metallic shells.

Hector made sure he landed on the ground behind the surrogates. They might not be too quick in the brain, but they sure could backtrack return fire. You just did not want to be in front of them when they did.

Hector was squad leader, which only meant he had survived the longest. The surrogates did not have rank, but there were only two other humans in his squad. Dwight was another draftee like himself. His parents couldn’t afford a replacement, so here he was in the middle of the desert.

Bennie, well. His parents ran out of money after his third surrogate got wasted. He owed three tours of duty now, and this was his first. That was the bargain. Those that could, paid for a metallic replacement. If your surrogate did not survive the tour of duty, you had to finish it out. The surrogates with the most trained neural nets were in the most demand and so fetched the highest prices. The cheapest ones, of course, had the least trained brains. They did not last long.

“Charlie squad. Move out”. The command came over Hector’s ear piece. He looked to Dwight, and said. “Ready?” Dwight nodded his head, and took a drag on the water tube. He moved to crouch behind one of the metal men.

Hector rolled over to Bennie. “Ok, here is what I want you to do. Let the tin cans lead. You stick close behind A-17. Keep him between you and the building. Ok? “ Bennie mumbled something. “Hey, don’t worry. A-17 knows what he is doing,“ said Hector. He patted Bennie on the shoulder, and then moved over behind another metal man.

“Ready. Standard frontal assault. Execute.” With that the surrogates moved towards the building. Hector saw two surrogates close up together in front of Dwight. Hector knew that overall control of tactics belonged to himself, but the others could make minor adjustments with individual surrogates. Hector did not demand perfect adherence to command and control. Surviving the fire fight came first. Some squad leaders micromanaged their missions, not always successfully.

“Bennie, stay close to A-17. He’s been around a long time, so use him.” Bennie closed ranks on the surrogate. Hector followed close behind his own tin can man.

Rocket propelled grenades took out the two surrogates on point. Machine gun fire erupted around them as they ran across the road. A few rounds pinged off the metal man in front of Hector.

The lead surrogate lobbed in a grenade through the doorway, and immediately went through. The explosion blew out the windows, the door, and some parts from the surrogate.

More surrogates leaped into the building. As the smoke cleared, metallic calls of all clear began to fill the haze.

He paused at the door, and looked down at the remains of the surrogate that had stormed the building. He thought to himself, they learn quick, or they don’t learn at all.

Dwight came out of the building, and said. “All secure.” He looked down at the mangled parts at Hector’s feet. “Hell of a way to pay for a war.”

Hector looked about. He couldn’t leave the surrogates milling about aimlessly. “Secure building. Execute,” he called.


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