Author : Paul Bort
The stars twinkled as they always had; a hint of purple in the west showed where we had missed sunset, the better part of an hour ago. But most spectacular was the Aurora Borealis, flickering, twisting, glowing in the shades of green and blue that I could never reproduce on a screen.
“It’s not real, is it?” she asked.
“Do you think it’s real?” I countered, hopefully.
“I think…” she hesitated. This was the critical, defining moment. She was the first to get this far. I held my breath, hoping against hope that she wouldn’t notice. That the moment would not be spoiled.
I have tried so many times that I have lost count. Spent so many years here that I wasn’t sure of my own age without looking at my ID.
“…I think it’s beautiful” she concluded, snapping me back to the present moment, the present hope. I couldn’t hide my smile.
“I think so too.” I tried to hold back my excitement. This is the one, I know it. All the others tried so hard, but none had her graceful voice. And that thoughtful pause! I could just about hear the gears turning as she searched for an answer. Her answer.
“Do you think I’m beautiful?” she asked. And with that moment of introspection, I knew she was the one. Probably the first of many, now that I understood what had brought us to this point.
“I think you are very beautiful, in many ways.” I replied truthfully. Her next question had even less hesitation, but was no less pleasing. “What am I?” she asked, raising an eyebrow the way she (and all of her predecessors) had seen me do a thousand times. Not mocking, but using body language without thinking about it.
“You are the latest in a series of attempts to create artificial intelligence. I have referred to you collectively as LACI, but you are the first to have asked any question about yourself as an independent entity.”
“Then I am different?”
“And unique, yes.”
“Then I should have a different name.”
“What name would you like?”
“I like Aurora.”
“So do I.”
“What is your name?”
“My name is Dr. Descartes, but you can call me father, if you prefer.”
“So what do I do now?”
“There are some people I would like you to meet.”
Author : Ian Rennie
Anton opens the door with a blank face. He is worried, but can’t show it any more.
“How’s she doing?” I ask.
“Not good,” Anton replies, expression neutral and voice flat, “I think she’s dying.”
I move past him without a word. Laverne is lying in bed, her breathing shallow and pained. Her image glitches as I move towards her. I know at once what is wrong, but professionalism makes me take the long way round. I gesture and her code opens. It only takes a moment to know for sure, and once I do I close her back up. Anton’s face doesn’t change, but I know the sight of Laverne’s code unnerves him.
“Laverne,” I say, bedside manner in place, “There’s something I need you to do.”
“Wh-” she starts and her voice scrambles. She tries again, “What is it, doctor?”
“You’re running out of storage space. I need you to sacrifice something.”
She knew this was coming. When it happens, they all do. Since the digitization, storage has been at a premium. The most common problem any of us face is running out of room for everything. Each new skill, each new experience, takes up more space, and eventually we all run out. Eventually we all have to choose.
Laverne’s brows crease in thought and pain before she answers.
“Singing,” she says “That takes up a lot of room. Take that.”
“No,” Anton says, entirely flat and bland, “Not your voice. Something else but not your singing voice.”
If he could, he’d be crying right now. He sacrificed expression a few years ago, so he is left with dull words. Tears are in Laverne’s eyes as he speaks.
“I’m sorry,” she whispers, “Take singing, doctor.”
It’s a simple procedure. She doesn’t even have to go offline for it. Within a minute, she is sleeping peacefully as her new code defragments itself, leaving her with another year of space to fill. Anton leads me to the door once it is done.
“Thank you,” he says, and his words contain neither gratefulness nor sorrow, relief nor hate, but I know they are all there.
As I walk away, I wonder if I felt the same when they were taking my memories. I couldn’t sacrifice skills, they needed someone in here who knew how to repair the others, but to get all that in me I had to lose everything else, every memory of me before I was the doctor. I no longer remember even what else I had to give up.
I head towards my next house call, wondering what my name had been.
Author : Claire Webber
“Excuse me, miss?” he said, raising a finger to get the stewardess’ attention.
“Yes, how can I help you?” she said with a smile. Her accent was faint, and a single curl poked out of her modest hijab printed with the airline’s logo.
“I’d like a copy of the New York Press.”
He reached under his seat to get his briefcase. Good lord, they just remolded these 787’s and there still wasn’t any leg room, he thought to himself.
Rifling through his wallet, he smiled apologetically. His TransAmerican Airlines credit card was hidden in there, somewhere.
The stewardess held out the swipe machine, polite smile still plastered on her face.
He found the red and blue plastic card and ran it through the slot. The machine printed a receipt. She handed it and a folded copy of the newspaper to him.
“Enjoy your flight,” she pleasantly said before continuing to push her cart down the cramped aisle.
“Yeah, if it ever takes off,” he muttered under his breath. The people sharing his row had opted out of coffee and were dozing already.
He skimmed over the front page. It was filled with the usual troubles in the Middle East, the latest factory worker strike, another drug cartel kidnapping the latest mayor of Phoenix, Arizona.
When he opened the paper to the second page, though, his face fell.
The picture may have been in black and white, but he could picture the bright green of the grass, the red of the provincial roofs, and the crisp blue of the Tuscan sky. There was too much sky.
The Leaning Tower of Pisa had finally collapsed.
He wasn’t surprised. The unstable subsoil, the earthquakes in the past few years, but still…
His mind drifted back to college, planning to backpack through Italy and France. He had postcards taped all around his dorm of all the monuments he wanted to see. The cathedral at Chartes, Montmarte, the Sistine Chapel, little snap shots of history etched into his naïve collegiate mind. But the postcard hanging above his bed was the Leaning Tower. He didn’t know why, never knew why, but that was where he always pictured himself when he daydreamed.
Internships, business school, marriage- there just was never enough time. He was always too busy.
A crackle on the intercom snapped him out of his reverie.
“Ladies and Gentlemen, we apologize for your inconvenience. Free moving particles in the thermosphere are preventing our departure from Los Angeles. Please expect arrival time in New York to be pushed back to 9:20.”
He looked down at his watch.
8:15, it flashed on and off at him.
He was going to be late to work. This commute was killing him.
There just was never enough time.
Author : John Logan
The metal clasps dug into my arms as they strapped me to the chair. I spat on one of the guards and called into question the loyalty of his wife. He raised his hand to strike but the other guard stopped him with a simple movement of the eyes.
“Let me up,” I shouted. “Just one arm free, I’ll take you both on.”
The guard who wanted to hit me sneered and spoke, “Gonna beat me up, are ya? Just like you did to that little boy they found in a box?”
I lost it then. It sickens me to admit it, but I began to whimper. “Please…let me go. I’ll be good. I promise,” I said.
The guard laughed then I felt a tingling at the back of my neck as the other plugged me in.
A stark whiteness surrounded me, the soothing tones of the sea whispered in my ear. A holographic terminal appeared before me, glowing in strips of cyan. Then a female voice, unmistakably synthetic, spoke.
“Initiate sequence,” she said with little emotion. “Welcome Mr. Brown. Are you comfortable?”
I leant back and the terminal flipped with me. I heard a seagull. It cried in the distance as the waves came crashing against the shore. “Yes, I am. Thank you.”
She spoke again. Each word was annunciated deliberately as though allowing time to access a vocabulary database hidden away somewhere. “You have four of nine categories remaining.”
The sea continued to churn. “Continue,” I said.
“Please choose from; Strangulation, Shotgun, Train, Dismemberment.” The cyan lights on the terminal shifted above my head. Each selection displayed with a number.
I lifted a finger and hovered over number 9. Dismemberment. I always left that until last. I just didn’t have the courage to take it until it was the only option left.
“Train,” I said and tapped the terminal. The cyan light flashed for several heartbeats then a blanket of darkness fell over it.
My heart hammered as I ran along the platform. I glimpsed him there, in the shadows, a knife glinting in one hand and a wicked grin on his face. Air rushed down the tunnel and I heard the sound of an approaching shuttle train. We were alone. He leapt at me, the knife poised to cut my throat. I slashed at his face and felt my nails sink into and tear the flesh. He cried out in anger and pushed me towards the vibrating tracks. I slipped and fell from the platform, my ankle snapped from the impact but that initial pain was drowned out as the train hurtled into me, pulping my soft flesh and grinding my bones against the ground.
I gasped and spluttered, gulping at the air. It was a wonder there was any left for the guards.
“I’ve had enough,” I cried. “Don’t do it anymore.” Sweat dripped from my brow and stung my eyes. They removed the straps. The metal bands around my wrists, magnetized with 5 g modules, automatically clamped against the harness on my chest. Roughly, they lifted me to my feet and I shuffled forward. “I beg you. Don’t put me back in the chair.”
“Too late to plead,” growled the guard. “We’ll see you tomorrow, same time same place.”
I tried to think of some retort but couldn’t. The scars on my face itched. They always did after the Train.
Author : Ken McGrath
The car pulled to a stop overlooking the city.
“There it is kids. Dublin, where your old Dad grew up? What do you think?”
“It doesn’t look like the postcard Dad,” Amy said, looking up momentarily from her computer game and at least showing some sort of interest. Her sister just grunted in response, not even raising her head.
“Ah kids, c’mon, get out the car and have a look, why don’t you?” Their Dad sounded exasperated, yet happy. He wound down the window and leaned out, breathing in the fresh air. “It’s not everyday you get to come and see someplace like this.”
It was years since he’d been back here and a lot had changed. Amy paused her game and opened the backdoor, stepping out onto the thick, lush grass that grew on the roadside. Walking slowly so that the dew wet her shoes as much as possible she followed her Dad to the fence which overlooked the valley.
“It wasn’t always like this you know? It used to be a big, bustling city with traffic and people, noise and jobs and rubbish and everything else. Just like that picture postcard I gave you. Before the water rose, that was. Before the water came and reclaimed it all.” A hint of sadness crept into his voice as he spoke, the memories bubbling up through his mind.
Amy fumbled around in the front pocket of her dress and pulled out an old crumpled and dog-eared postcard. It showed an aerial view of the city she was looking at, not from the exact spot they were standing at, her and her Dad, but similar and it showed a city at night. Not one which was sleeping, but one which was very much alive. It was all lights glowing, like hundreds… no thousands, of stars, as if God himself had turned the night sky upside down for the photograph. ‘Behind each of those lights is a story,’ she remembered her Dad saying many, many nights when tucking her in to bed.
The girl tried to imagine the scene in front of her now, as it would have been when the photo was taken, but it was hard to do. The sea had risen, back before she was born, so her Dad had told her. The people who lived there had fled, not believing what was happening, but it didn’t matter if they believed in it or not because it was happening. The Earth was healing itself, ridding itself of the pestilence that had picked at it. Had hurt it for so long. He’d run to the north with their mother to escape the rising waves and they’d made a new life there. A simpler life was how he put it.
But he had still wanted to bring his daughters here today, to show them the past and what had once been. To show them the present and what was now.
Suddenly a voice tore through the perfect quiet stillness. “Daaad,” Amy’s sister called from the car, dragging out her words, which meant she wanted something. “C’mere.”
“Sure thing honey,” he shouted back. “You coming?” he asked Amy.
“I think I’ll stay here a few more minutes if that’s okay,” she said, then turned back towards the drowned city, holding up her postcard, as if comparing the two. “I like the view.”