Foreclosure Sale

Author : D. R. Porterfield

“I believe I’ve found just the property you’re looking for, Mr. DelRay,” the agent smiled optimistically.

Across the broad, polished desk, his client nodded and said, “Show me.”

“Of course. Let’s start with the general area.” A holographic map appeared on the desk between them, the property itself outlined in luminous red. “As you can see,” noted the agent, “it’s well off the beaten path.”

“Practically the middle of nowhere,” his client replied flatly. “Zoning?”

“Zoning’s open. You can basically do whatever you want with it. Regs are a lot looser way out there, you know.”

A trace of a smile flickered over DelRay’s thin lips, vanishing just as quickly. “Do go on, Mr. Gilliam.”

“Alright. Here’s the local neighborhood,” the agent continued, zooming the map to a closer view. His client nodded perfunctorily and motioned him on, so Gilliam clicked the map to full zoom. “And the property.”

DelRay’s eyes widened slightly. The agent did not fail to notice this.

Smiling broadly, Gilliam said, “It is beautiful, isn’t it? Originally some kind of farm, I think. What’s really impressive is the unusual…”

“I’m an investor, Mr. Gilliam,” DelRay interrupted. “My associates and I are interested in water rights, not aesthetics. You have the specifications and inspection reports, I assume?”

“Certainly,” replied Gilliam, maintaining his smile with effort. “Here on this tablet, along with the map we’ve been looking at.” He handed the device across the desk to DelRay, who began scrolling through it intently. Gilliam noticed a flicker of a smile again as his client checked over the specs. Obviously DelRay was interested in the property, despite his efforts to seem detached. Maybe he wouldn’t notice, or at least not care, about the…

“What’s this?” DelRay turned the tablet’s screen toward Gilliam and tapped on it.

“Oh, ah, yes,” said Gilliam. “That.” He’d been afraid this might come up. “Well of course you realize, Mr. DelRay, that this property went into foreclosure a good while ago, and it’s been abandoned for quite some time now. That’s why it’s priced so attractively low. You can’t expect it to be entirely pristine.”

Gilliam’s client regarded him with sustained silence, his cold gray eyes unblinking and unreadable.

After an awkward moment, Gilliam went on, “And as you may know, Mr. DelRay, often this sort of problem eventually, well, takes care of itself. Those pesky vermin are just a little too clever for their own good, and they tend to…”

“I know what they tend to do, Mr. Gilliam,” his client said with audible disgust. “They tend to do a great deal of damage, and their toxins persist long after they manage to eradicate themselves, assuming they eventually do so.”

Gilliam felt the sale slipping away. He’d thought it would be a clench, but…

“However,” his client continued after a long pause, “perhaps we could negotiate.”

As the door to the agent’s office hissed closed behind him, DelRay allowed himself to smile freely. This transaction would be highly profitable; his associates would be pleased.

Though of course there was that little… problem. It would be fairly expensive to take care of, especially the clean-up. No matter. The property’s surface was over seventy percent extractable water, and its lone moon, though dry, could be leased out for strip mining. Once the operations got underway, his organization could recoup the cost in just two or three cycles.

Frowning at the tablet, DelRay examined the biological inspection report for Sol III, tapping an impatient claw against the offending item. “Humanoid infestation.”

He’d have to call the exterminators right away.

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A Hole in the Web

Author : Todd Hammrich

Martin’s Crawler moved along the outside of the web like a giant spider lightly dancing among the thin strings of light that made up its surface. A breach had been made in sector EZ-109 and he was moving with all speed for repairs. The Crawler was a small ship, less than a hundred meters long with multi-jointed legs made for pulling it along the web like a ballet dancer tiptoeing across the void of space.

Then Net itself was the greatest marvel of human engineering and was the cornerstone of the new world spanning government that had unified the various factions of mankind. The concept was similar to that of a Dyson Sphere, encapsulating the sun in a network of fibers broadcasting their photon capturing energy fields. The trillions of miles of cables and field projectors were tuned to capture only about ten percent of the suns energy, but even that amount numbered in the billion billions of megawatts. Unfortunately, the absorption also decreased the suns luminosity by an equivalent amount.

As Martin approached the disrupted field he was taken aback by the beauty he beheld, for as long as the web had lasted, perhaps the last 300 years, and as long as he had Crawling it, he had never before seen such intense light. It was like a ray of happiness shooting forth from the muted background of the functioning field areas. The intense light funneling through the opening, barely a thousand meters across was shining directly towards the distantly orbiting Earth. Standing in the forward viewing area of the Crawler, Martin saw the beam, like a giant finger, reaching out to touch the home world.

Staring, transfixed by the hole, he didn’t catch the beeping, flashing signal buttons on his control board for several minutes. Messages were coming in from his Crawler base asking for an update on the repairs. He cleared his head and got to work. The Crawler moved forward to the broken threads that negated the field and, like the spider extruded and patched in new threads to make the pattern whole again. When the repairs were finished the field activated and the light, brighter than had been seen for three hundred years slowly faded away, leaving the dull colorless light that was all that escaped the web’s draining energy.

Back at Crawler base EZ the signal came in that the patch had been successfully applied and the field was again functioning. The base commander nodded in satisfaction and again began to scan the reports from the hundreds of other crawlers in his quadrant. In thousands of other bases other commanders did the same for their crawlers. The net, surrounding the entire sun, must be kept whole, to supply Earth with its power, and to keep the people obedient.

On Earth, the people of a small city, going about their daily duties noticed the sunbeam playing down their main avenue. For a brief moment, all the restrictions of society and all their myriad worries seemed to melt away. For the first time in their lives, the people smiled. Children played in the warm light and people laughed at the wonders of the world. Then the light faded away to the grayness that had filled their lives since birth. They looked back down and continued about their business.

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Deus In Machina

Author : – K –

It moved about on the monitors, exploring the small space it had been confined to. Its motions were cautious, curious almost, as it poked around the simple imaginary box.

Kevin stared at the screen for almost an hour. This was a success. An unforeseen and unfathomable success.

The idea behind the system was simple: harnessing quantum mechanics in a CPU in order to calculate a real-life situation right down to the subatomic particles. Thirty years of research and obscene quantities of money later, his team had achieved the ultimate simulation computer. The program could recreate an entire plan et, complete with flora, fauna, and population, right down to the last atom. From there, anything was possible. This machine was the crystal ball of life.

It could also create life, apparently. Digital life, at least.

He re-read the reports on the auxiliary monitor.. There was no way to access the system from the outside, and he had only been running diagnostics for days leading up to going public. The only thing that he could determine was that some subroutine within a macro had looped back on itself and by some quantum uncertainty had become… alive.

Independent? Definitely.

Aware? Too soon to tell.

The glowing ball stopped moving around. It settled to the base plane and sat there, wobbling gently. It was confused, then curious, and now plain bored within its digital prison.

Keyboard clicks filled the room as Kevin logged on. A plain cursor, the classic white arrow, appeared on the screen. The thing took notice. It jumped up from the floor and rushed to the back wall, puffing itself up and shaking. Kevin was scaring it.

Pulling the mouse, he ge ntly lowered the arrow to the floor. He moved it from side to side, eyes fixated on the trembling blob of data. The thing slowly returned to its original shape and approached. After a moment, it began to bounce a bit. Was it happy to have company?

His pulse was thudding in his ears as the thing began to poke at the cursor. Had he just created life? If enough quantum information is in the right place, could it actually create a digital mind and soul? This creation was not part of the programming. It was its own entity.

Thirty years ago, Kevin had set out to make a computer to give humanity a “God’s eye view” of the world. What he was going to give them was the chance to actually be God.

A flashing on one of the side screens caught his attention. Something was running in the system. The diagnostic scan! He’d scheduled it to run every six hours, and now the machine was humming with power. Every cubit of information in the behemoth contraption was being scanned and put in its proper place. His eyes turned to the main screen as he scrambled to the keyboard to stop the process.

The thing knew. It pressed up to the cursor and trembled as the world slowly began to disappear around it. Kevin couldn’t get past the security protocols and it began taking the thing apart, each tiny speck of data being pulled from its form and put away.

Kevin’s hands stopped as the ball dispursed. It seemed to look at the cursor once more and move a bit. It was saying goodbye.

The screen was empty. Whatever it had been was gone now. Dead.

His heart sank. Kevin wondered if this was how God felt.

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What Are Friends For?

Author : Duncan Shields, Staff Writer

James sat in his chair/life-support system in the back corner of the room next to the banks of monitors, keyboards, and mice.

He reminded me of the James I used to know. He reminded me of a James that laughed without that edge of cruelty. He reminded me of a James that was above making money by hurting people, of a James that liked it here in the physical world and only occasionally went into total online immersion.

That James was gone. He never jacked out now, and the hypercancer had taken nearly fifty per cent of him. The 3HIV was working over his ability to resist the treatments. They’d given him six months to live back at the beginning. That was six years ago. He was a confirmed medical miracle now. Sheer drive seemed to be holding him together until he met his goal.

He was fighting the disease by trying to escape his flesh.

He’d made millions off of the poor security systems of tiny personal banks in the smaller countries. He’d started famines by bankrupting the economies of the smallest of them.

He’d had experimental biofilters installed in his head so that he could talk to me and surf at the same time. Time-share boosters, he had called them. He didn’t see the need to wash. He looked more and more like a special effect every day.

He was putting the money towards digitizing himself. New attempts in other countries were getting closer and closer every day. He had a fortune in not-yet-patented experimental equipment cluttering his apartment.

I had known him when he had a ponytail and sunglasses and liked to walk in the sun. I didn’t kid myself that I knew this James, here, in this room. He wasn’t the man I’d grown up with.

“I’ve found a way to transfer my mind, David.” He said to me, one eye glowing red above his wet mouth and white skin. The respirators squeezed like death’s accordions behind him.

“That’s great news, James.” I said. “Why do you need me here? Moral support?” It came out as a dig, escaped before I could block it.

The silence after that question and James’ alien gaze made me suddenly afraid. I knew that James’ morality was eroding but I always counted myself as safe since I had always been his best friend, now his only friend.

I was wrong.

“I’ve found a way to transfer my mind into another human.” Said James. “The digitizing process for full net transfer won’t work for the silicon just yet but it might in six year’s time. I’ll be dead long before then. However,” he said and his wheelchair moved forward, “you won’t.”

The screens came up behind him with an image of a monkey. Shaved head, brain plugs.

“We’ve been shuffling the minds of monkeys in and out of each other all week. It’s been a total success. Yesterday, we did it with two of the research assistants. We switched them into each other and then switched them back the next day. There was a small amount of degradation but they were essentially okay.”

The screens pulled up images of two people. A man and a woman in lab coats. The man had a nosebleed and was staring at his fingernails. The woman was crying and biting her lip, her face turned to the wall.

“Are you my friend?” asked James.

I heard a door lock behind me.

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Between the Stars

Author : John H Reiher Jr.

Family Faxor Kwer had lived on this comet for five generations. The light of the home star Sol was indistinguishable from the light of the twin stars Alef and Bey, or the nearer star Prox. Their ship dwarfed the small comet, stretching far past it in both directions.

The great night of space wrapped around Morgzha, who took little notice of it. He had been born in it, his body was made from it, and he knew of nothing else. He was the son of the headman of the family and overseer of the mining machines. They mined the needed water and minerals from the comet as well as the even rarer metals. They very much needed metals.

Oh there were stories of Hmon arising from the round balls that circled the stars, rich in metals, but he didn’t believe that. How could man come from those balls? The pull of the worlds would crush your chest. No, those were stories for young ones, to listen to and dream of while the crèche mothers raised them to be good workers. Ah to be a child again, thought Morgzha, but if one were to wish for something, it should be how to make different machines.

Morgzha stood on the soft snowy soil of the comet in his airsuit, his handfeet leaving steaming craters as his body heat melted the frozen air. Diggers, the size of twenty men pawed at the ice and snow. Sniffers floated in the near zero gravity and checked the chemical content of the ice being mined. They also checked for the signs of metal, any kind of metal beneath the regolith.

When Family Faxor Kwer chose this comet generations ago, they had chosen poorly. So far, the only metal they found had massed only 2,000 weights. They needed more, much more, to finish a sister ship to Faxor Kwer’s, and start a new family, the Faxor Kweronie. They had bought the right to build the ship ten generations ago from family Faxor Onie, at the same time as the families Faxor Octo and Faxor Neun. Those two families had built their new ships 4 generations ago, while family Faxor Kwer barely had enough metal to build an fifth of the new ship.

There was plenty of carbon compounds and other long chain elements, but without machines that knew how to weave these chemicals, they were forced to find every atom of metal this comet possessed. They could buy the information to manufacture the machines necessary, but the price would be enormous. Faxor Onie was the only one with that information. Morgzha did not want to know what the cost would be to buy this knowledge from the first family of Faxor.

If he could create a machine to weave the chemicals into support struts and walls, then they would be free from the thumb of the first family and it’s rules. But no one knew how to tell the machines how to do what they did, that knowledge was erased from the memory banks of their ship. Only self-repair systems were in place, and basic life-support and entertainment modules were working. The machines could make the very thin skin of the star sails, but that could not be adapted to structural members.

If wishes were plasma drives… he thought and smiled. His thoughts were disturbed by the alert he received from one of the sniffers. He bounded over to the crater the diggers had excavated and saw a wonder: a 10,000-weight, large iron-nickel rock. Morgzha smiled. Maybe he should wish more often.

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