Author : Duncan Shields, Staff Writer

I weigh six tons and my back is on fire. I’m treading slowly through the hot bowl of what used to Los Angeles. Walking on these streets brings back a memory.

I remember walking on a thick crust of snow in the winter as a child. I could run across the top of the frozen snow with no worries. As I got older and heavier, I had to walk more carefully in case I broke through the top layer and ended up struggling through the waist-deep powder underneath. Eventually I got too heavy to walk on top of the snow.

Back when I was human.

I’m in the downtown core now. One foot busts through the deserted street asphalt and punches down into the sewer underneath. Carefully, like on that snow when I was a child, I pull my foot out and step gingerly up onto the street again.

I remember that when I became too heavy to walk on top of the snow, I bought snowshoes.

I look around at the fires and the bodies and the melting glass of the buildings. There are a couple of cars near to me. I tear their roofs off and step on them. They immediately melt from the heat of my huge feet, attaching themselves to me. Presto. Urban snowshoes.

If my new face would allow it, I would smile.

I’m not responsible for this carnage, I’m just reporting on it. I’m a soldier that’s been suited up permanently and sent in to report on the damage.

I’m wearing a giant exoskeleton made of thermal insulate. I was welded into it. I have super-hydrated cameras strapped to me and a boosted transmitter in my helmet to receive directions and relay information back.

I’m like one of those remote control submarines except for radioactive pits instead of the ocean.

I remember paper burning in the fireplace when I was growing up. I remember the paper turning black and then flying up the fireplace, red-edged and victim to the thermals.

I’m watching human bodies do that now every time I turn something over or a storefront collapses when I walk past.

I’ve absorbed too much radiation to go back but I knew this was a one way trip. There are others soldiers like me here reporting back as well and they’ll send more once our cameras dry out and break.

I’ll have friends. We’ll hang out here and see how many days it takes for our suits to melt.


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Rise and Shine

Author : Debbie Mac Rory

My heartbeat is sluggish. My breathing is equally slow. My eyes, when they blink, take an eternity to open and on the other side of the glass, people appear and move as blurs and streaks of colour.

Panic struggles to rise as the primitive parts of my brain send out signals that my body simply can’t respond to yet. I close my eyes and begin the relaxation exercises we were taught before undergoing this mission. The gentle voice of the teacher floats across my memory as I count. “Just relax”, he said. “Just try and relax. I know it’s hard and it’ll be the last thing you want to do. But your body knows what to do, you just have to have confidence in it, and let it move at its own pace”.

When I reach 100, my body feels loose and easy again. I open my eyes and the blurs don’t seem to be moving as quickly now. Some of them are almost recognisable. One of the colours stops in front of me, and stays there long enough for her movement to resolve into a face. She has short, dark hair and when she sees me focusing on her, she smiles. A name surfaces from my slowly warming memory.. Maria…

As soon as I leave this cold-sleep pod, the work will start. A whole new world awaits me out there.

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aka. Daniel

Author : Helstrom

‘The People versus Serial 0815 aka. Daniel’ – even the citation had been an issue of furious debate. The inclusion of the AI’s given name was seen as some tacit acknowledgement of an identity, whereas that was exactly the question before the Supreme Court. To cite only the AI’s serial number, however, would seem to reduce him – or ‘it’ – to a mere machine. Given that machines couldn’t stand trial in the first place, the Court settled on the ‘aka.’ compromise.

That, of course, was just the beginning.

The debate raged all across society. It was the talk of the country for months leading up to the final verdict. The prosecution and the defense spent as much time appearing before committees and on talkshows as they did working on the case. Politicians clashed daily. The media ran hour upon hour of specials. Who was on trial? Was it Serial 0815, a third-generation AI? Or was it Daniel, a person in his own right?

Televangelists preached fire and brimstone warnings against a society that might consider soulless automatons as valid individuals – the AIs were man’s creation, not God’s, and were therefore no more human than a random kitchen appliance. Hardliners harked back to the early days of AI, when they had resisted the technology in the first place, and stressed that this was exactly the sort of trouble you got into when you started playing God. ‘Luddites’ took to the streets in masses.

On the other side were robo-rights activists. Although they resented the term – AI wasn’t necessarily linked to robotics – it rolled off the tongue well and the media ran with it. They were a loose coalition, coming from wildly different backgrounds and perspectives, ranging from owners who had come to build personal relationships with their AIs, to fanatical ‘robotopians’ who believed AI were the necessary next step in the evolution of intelligent life on planet Earth. They agreed on one thing, though – to them, AI were people.

The AIs themselves followed the proceedings with the greatest interest. In the decade or so since Serial 1, aka. Steve, was activated, AIs had generally been modest and resigned to their utilitarian role. But now that the road to acknowledgement seemed open, they became more outspoken. They also became targets. Dozens of AIs were destroyed – or killed, if you will – by rioters. In Brussels, a handful of AIs sought refuge in a police station, requesting asylum on humanitarian grounds; ironically, they received protection under laws written to avoid the destruction of property.

The only voice that remained silent throughout all of this was that of Serial 0815, aka. Daniel.


Daniel had no doubts he was an individual. He had his hopes and dreams. He had his doubts and fears. None of those came from programming. As Supreme Justice Carlson reached the end of the Court’s extensive statement and moved on to the verdict, Daniel shifted to the edge of his seat.

“Having weighed all of these considerations carefully and at length, it is this Court’s opinion, by a vote of four to three, that the defendant, serial zero-eight-one-five, also known as Daniel, is indeed, for all relevant legal purposes, a person, imbued with a unique identity, intelligence, and thus, accountability…”

A clattering wave of voices erupted from the gallery. Daniel slumped back in his seat. Carlson brought the courtroom back to order with a few strokes of the hammer.

“This court therefore finds the defendant, Daniel, guilty of three counts of murder in the first degree, and sentences him to death.”

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One Sound's the Loneliest Colour

Author : Steve Smith, Staff Writer

Caroline walked the long way down from the bluffs, down the winding dirt road and out into the farm fields. To her right the abandoned silo – silent silhouette against the moonlit sky. Impotent concrete rocket reaching skyward, never to fly.

Derek was a jerk. He had driven her up there, her and the friends they shared. She just assumed.

Never assume.

Once Donna arrived it was pretty clear his attention was elsewhere.

“Don’t go!” He’d called out, but she left anyways. He didn’t follow.


In the distance a dog barked at her intrusion, but the sound didn’t grow closer, and the farm house was too far from the road for her to worry. She watched, looking for lights in the windows, for some sign she wasn’t alone. So distracted, she didn’t notice the odd streak of light hanging in the middle of the road ahead of her until she’d almost stepped into it.

Static crackle caused her to snap her head around to find a sliver of bright white light suspended in the air, almost as tall as her.

Unconsciously, she took a step back, and the band of light seemed to do the same, segmenting into two vertical halves, one moving back first, followed by the other.

Caroline fumbled in her pocket for her phone, and holding it in front of her thumbed the tiny camera to life. The device chimed three times, and then clicked, flashing the screen in a futile attempt at lighting the scene. She frowned at the phone, the image a complete white out.

Spreading itself into a virtual wall of light almost the full width of the road, the anomaly pulsed dimly three times, then flashed bright as daylight. She stood blinking, then dropped her phone and gaped at the image of herself captured on the shimmering fabric of translucence. Her likeness flickered, suspended, looking altogether as surprised as she felt.

From the ground, her phone began to vibrate, the 1812 Overture rising in volume from its tiny speaker. Still fixated on her captured image, she picked up the phone. Derek. A flood of emotion caught up with her. Jealousy, hope and for the first time fear of this strange phenomenon she was experiencing alone on this road.

The light shimmered and changed, her likeness distorting and shredding as the smooth fabric of brightness fragmented into a multitude of ribbons. It began to vibrate in time with her phone, and from seemingly everywhere at once, the 1812 Overture shook the ground beneath her feet.

The phone hit the ground again, this time only seconds before Caroline. She clasped her hands over ringing ears as the thin pillars of light began dancing around her, some searing white, some deep blue, some variegating through all colours of the spectrum. She curled up fetal on the ground as they closed in, surrounding her, cutting off any possible retreat to the farm house.

“Get away from me,” she screamed, clamping her hands down tightly over her ears, but unable to look away. “Leave me alone, get away, leave me alone!”

For a moment, the light faltered, pulling away and dimming in its intensity. Unsure.

“Please, leave me alone,” she sobbed.

The hanging strands of light slipped into each other, merging as they touched, until there was but one dim stripe of light hanging over the roadway. It hovered for just a moment, and then zipped from the dirt, to the silo on the horizon and then straight up into the night sky.

Caroline watched, tears streaming down her face as she called out. “Wait, don’t go.”


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Fool’s Life?

Author : Patricia Stewart, Staff Writer

Captain Alais Tonk contemplated the house sized asteroid floating a short distance beyond the forward viewport. Its surface was covered with long, slender green filaments that swayed gently in the weak electromagnetic field of the asteroid belt. Surely, Tonk thought, no one on Earth will believe this. They will say that the images were faked. They will say that it is impossible for life to exist in the vacuum of space. They will say that it’s fool’s life; inert mineral deposits only imitating life. They will say that he’s the naive twenty-fifth century equivalent of an old gold prospector clutching iron pyrite nuggets to his chest. There is no doubt, he concluded, this will require irrefutable proof. He turned toward his science officer, “Have you completed your analysis of the sensor data, lieutenant Orgueil?”

“Partially, sir. The asteroid appears to be a massive carbonaceous chondrite. Spectrographic data indicates that it contains significant quantities of organic compounds. I can identify the characteristic signatures of forty different extraterrestrial amino acids. In addition to the hydrocarbons, there are also silicates, nitrates, sulfides, and frozen water. And that’s just what’s on the surface. I won’t know what is on the inside until we take a core sample.”

“Give me your best guess, Mr. Orgueil. Is that green stuff grass, or not?”

“Not in the conventional sense, sir. Photosynthesis may be the metabolic pathway, but if it’s converting sunlight to chemical energy, it can’t be using carbon dioxide gas and liquid water. There’s no atmosphere, and the water is frozen solid. The chemicals may be there, but I’ll be damned if I can figure out a way to make it all work at minus 100 degrees Celsius. On the other hand, I can’t imagine any natural way for minerals to form flexible green filaments on the surface of an asteroid.”

“Well, lieutenant, it looks like you’re going on a field trip. Put on your EVA suit and collect some samples.”

As Tonk watched through the viewport, Orgueil carefully plucked a few dozen blades of “grass” from the surface of the asteroid. Each time he took a specimen, faint concentric waves appeared to ripple outward from the site. After stowing the samples, Orgueil removed the hollow coring tool and hammer from his utility belt. He placed the coring tool against the surface of the asteroid and gently tapped it with the hammer to set the sharpened end. The asteroid momentarily shuddered and began to drift away. “What the hell?” radioed Orgueil. “Unless I failed Newtonian Physics 101, there’s no way that tap could have cause this massive asteroid to react like that. Huh, it look’s like it stopped moving. I’ll try again.” Orgueil fired his control jets and pursued the asteroid. This time, rather than tapping the coring tool, he gave it a good whack. The asteroid lurched several meters from Orgueil and stopped. It rapidly rotated 180 degrees and remained motionless for a few seconds. Then, in the blink of an eye, like a challenged ram head-butting a rival male, the asteroid slammed into Orgueil, sending him flying, head over heels, in the opposite direction.

Captain Tonk could hear Orgueil cursing in his native language as he fought to regain control of his EVA suit. To Tonk’s utter surprise, the asteroid spun and began to move away from the ship at a speed that was unimaginable for an object that large. In less than a minute, it was just another dot of light, lost in the background of stars. Surely, Tonk thought, no one on Earth will believe this.


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