Author : C. S. McClendon
I stepped out of the lobby just in time to watch the last metro transport of the day speed past and turn the corner without so much as slowing down. Great, that meant I had to walk home, and these heels were already killing me, wonderful. Still, no use complaining about it, and at least the trans-walks were clean, not like the way the streets had been ten years or so ago. I slipped the heels off and stepped onto the trans-walk. Technically you can just stand there and let the walk do all the work, as long as you keep an eye out for the intersections, but I didn’t get a butt you could bounce a federal credit off of by standing around, and besides, according to the flash message that had come in before I left work, there was a package waiting outside the apartment, and I didn’t want to risk one of my neighbors snatching it on their way up the shaft before I got home. So I ran.
By the time I made the last intersection and stepped through the entrance of my high-rise, the curfew chimes were sounding through the public address system. Guess it was a good thing I chose to run today. I was going to have to send my supervisor a flash about keeping me late though. If I get caught after curfew just coming home from work we’ll both be in for it.
Stepping into the air shaft I felt the heated gasses ease the tension from aching muscles as they surrounded me and sent me rocketing through the pressure tube toward my apartment. Stepping through the aperture, I snatched up the small, plain brown carton. It might have been anything. All mail comes in these plain unmarked cartons these days after all, since the privacy act of 2112, but I knew what it was, thanks to the flash from FedCom.
I stepped through the door to my place and kicked it shut behind me before slitting the carton open with the lacquered nail of my index finger. No invoice, that was all handled by flash. It was just a small, unmarked silver disc. Again, it could have been anything. I tore the RFID off the spine of the carton, that couldn’t go into the recycler, and tossed the carton itself down the chute. The small plasma readout above the recycler registered a two credit deposit into my account, not that I needed the reminder.
I slid the disc out of its packaging, and tossed it to my desk. Let the sensors start reading while I finished unwinding from work. I dialed up some soft Latin strings on the sound system and moved to the bar to pour a shot of rum, gods it would be good not to come home to an empty house every day. I tossed my heels into the closet in time to hear the beep from my terminal. The desk had finished reading the disc.
“Compile, and execute,” I called out to the empty room, while feeling the first tremble of nerves.
The holographic pickups around the room hummed, and an image coalesced just in front of my chair. The well toned man in front of me cleared his throat, and looked around for just a moment before saying softly, “Good evening, I’m Andrew, your purchase from EmalE: A new kind of companion for a new Generation of women.”
Yes indeed, it was definitely going to be nice not to come home to an empty house every day.
Author : Glenn Song
Jeanette hated Dr. Kogen’s waiting room. It screamed blue at her – the cushions, the walls, and even the magazine covers were coordinated in a fan of azure. Nestled in a wicker basket, on a round table in the center of the room, sat a red delicious apple, a banana, and an orange like a zen puzzle to be pondered. It was too structured, too perfect, but Jeanette dismissed the decor with a mental shake. “Whatever floats your boat,” she thought, tossing a softball almost to the ceiling and catching it first in her right hand, then her left.
Doctor Kogen appeared from behind his door and stood before the blue wall. He flashed a smile at Jeanette, and she half expected him to present her with the five-day forecast. He approached her and shook hands. “Well, are we ready?”
“Hell yeah,” Jeanette said. “I’m ready to walk out of here.”
Kogen frowned. “Did you consider–”
“I’m sick of the chair.”
He plucked the orange from the wicker basket and tossed it to the left of her. She snatched it from the air and looked for traces of disappointment in Kogen’s face. Yeah, she wanted to tell him, I caught it. He simply smiled and said, “Jeanette, before we begin, how does that orange feel to you?”
She tossed the orange in her hands and ran her finger over the lumpy skin.
“What about it?”
“Take a sniff.”
She humored him. “Smells like an orange.” She tossed it back. “The new season starts in two months. I want to play again.”
He nodded. “Very well, this way.” Kogen opened the door a crack. Jeanette placed her hands on the back of her wheels and once the door was half open she revved herself down the hallway. “Third door on your right,” he called after her. She entered the room rolling over a speed bump bundle of wires. LCD panels filled out an entire wall displaying various statistics that would soon be drawn from her body. A stoic figure lay on a bed behind a curtain, but before she could see who it was, two nurses helped her onto her bed, began an IV drip, and placed plugs on her.
“Brainwaves normal. Heart rate, blood pressure, vitals all stable. We’re ready to download,” a nurse said.
“Jeanette, last chance,” Kogen said.
“Yes. Always, yes.”
“Then, take a last look with your human eyes.” Kogen left the room. Jeanette’s world blurred and darkened. The last thing she heard was the sound of her heart flatlining.
* * * * *
“Jeanette.” She identified Kogen’s voice and opened her eyes. Her visual cortex established a pixelated image and then adjusted the resolution. Behind Kogen, a fly fluttered its wings. She saw every wing stroke.
Kogen handed her a mirror. She looked like herself, maybe better. She ran her fingers through her hair. It felt like her hair, maybe softer.
“Diagnostics complete,” said the nurse. “She’s fully functional.”
“Jeanette, we’ll have a battery of tests to conduct before you leave the hospital, but as you are well aware, you’ve died and moved into a mechanized body. How does it feel being a cyborg?” Kogen tossed her an orange.
Her grip surprised her. She crushed the soft fruit, spraying pulp and juice on herself, Kogen, and his nurses. She faced her old body lying next to her and fingered through the mush in her hand, wondering for the first time what she’d done.
Author : Glenn Blakeslee
Forty-five feet over Ninevah, Phillip is enclosed in a spherically symmetric potential. He’s feeling somewhat philosophical.
Below, on the steps leading to the courtyard of the Library, Ashurbanipal, the last of the great Assyrian kings, faces his death. He’s surrounded, literally, by advisors, priests and acolytes, and a platoon of soldiers clad in full battle dress of conical iron helmets and rounded wickerwork shields, with short swords at their waists and pikes in hand. They’re waiting for Ashurbanipal’s traitorous sons.
Overhead Phillip is thinking, have I been the best man that I can be?
Outside the potential’s bubble, where crazy math occludes normal time and the obviated spin-state of subatomic particles creates a slight, sparkling shield, Ashurbanipal’s Library rises high above Phillip’s vantage. In two decades time the great Library will be gone, torn down and sacked by the invading Babylonians and Medes. The thirty thousand tablets and texts stored there will be discovered millennia later by the hapless Sir A. H. Layard and his sloppy successors. Inside the bubble the virtual recording gear is rolling, the minimal life support sighing. All systems are nominal.
Ashurbanipal is very old. He stands supported by his Queen, Ashur-sharrat, and two palace women from the bit-reduti, where he was born from the flanks of his father’s consort. A scribe is reading, from a papyrus scroll, a list of complaints against him, a diatribe of supposed crimes against his own empire. His sons, too jaded, too fresh with the power they will pull from his death, await the end of this reading in the comfort of the palace. Ashurbanipal, as the only Assyrian king capable of reading script, knows well what the scroll holds.
Phillip scratches his nose, bites into an apple. He thinks, have I been a good father?
The scribes conclude reading the scroll. The sons stroll in with their retinue, and the youngest son approaches Ashurbanipal. He has a foot-long, embellished ceremonial knife in his hand. Ashurbanipal slumps into his wife, and raises his head. His eyes seem to lock onto Phillip’s eyes, and he smiles slightly as his youngest son penetrates his abdomen with the knife
Phillip takes another bite of the apple and thinks, while watching Ashurbanipal slump further into his wife and consorts, I need to fix things.
Until they close for good, the dying king’s eyes never waver.
Author : Steve Smith, Staff Writer
Andy knew he was a relic. He used to violently object when it was suggested that he was past his prime, but after a while the reality was too apparent to ignore.
It had been years, maybe decades since he’d been able to find factory fresh parts. Most of his equipment now was made up from bits scavenged and scrounged, then adapted as best he could.
Sometimes there would be an accident in the construction projects, and if he was lucky, and quick, he could tear off whole limbs or liberate power cells before the maintenance crews arrived to chase him away.
Most of these parts were too new, but some could be modified to fit, the rest traded away.
Andy found himself wandering through a section of the city that he remembered as it had been, vibrant and alive, but as he trudged down the streets and through the alleys, he found the roads in disrepair and littered with rubble and refuse. The once tall and gleaming buildings that reached skyward were now bent and broken, some leaning across the street on a neighbor, as if seeking comfort from the overwhelming decay.
This part of the city too, it seemed, had outlived its usefulness, now just awaiting its turn to be torn down and born again.
His head turned skyward, marveling at the battered structures holding each other aloft, Andy didn’t notice the road had given away before him until his weight had shifted too far over the empty space to recover.
Safety systems gone out of alignment and a battered gyroscopic guidance system struggled to orient him for a favorable landing, but Andy hit hard, scrambling circuits already oxidized to the point of being barely functional.
For a while, Andy was still, his world dark.
When he regained motor control, Andy pulled himself roughly and unsteadily upright. He was aware that he’d fallen, but could not recall the events preceding it. Around him he could make out the rough structure of a transit tunnel. Metal rails reached off in either direction in triplicate, no longer shiny from use but rather tarnished and pitted with age. Andy knew how they felt.
Andy picked a direction at random, and had trudged for some time before the tunnel opened up into a larger cavern on one side. In the middle, a pile of refuse burned surrounded by a cluster of shadowy figures who scattered into the darkness as he approached.
“Derelict maintenance droids, ” Andy muttered to himself, then loudly at the retreating figures, “if you were working for me I’d have your parts.”
Andy pulled himself up on the platform, then trundled to the fire, carefully stamping it out.
As he stood surveying the scene, he noticed one of the droids had not left, but rather was lying in a heap on the ground. Andy nudged its head with the toe of one large foot.
Excited, Andy pulled the droid into the middle of the platform where he had room to work. The droid was relatively small, but no doubt useful. As carefully as his tools would allow, Andy set to work disassembling the wiry unit.
Hydraulic fluid spilled everywhere, it’s plumbing obviously ruptured internally having no doubt resulted in overheating or loss of motor control.
Andy marveled at the delicacy of the inner workings of the unit, but was frustrated and confused that there didn’t seem to be a single part compatible with his own chassis.
Arriving back at the head, he examined the dent his foot had left in the casing. It was at this point that his headlights fell full on the droids eyes.
Andy paused, awestruck by the workmanship of these white and colored orbs staring back at him. They truly would be beautiful, Andy thought, if they weren’t so vacant.
Author : Ruth Imeson
Edward Smithfield knew better than to hide.
The heavy oak door to his lodgings rattled in its frame. The handle spun. Exquisite brass gears, cogs and counterweights shifted. The door swung open. Vapour entered the room, but the man it shielded dallied at the threshold. London’s fog had found an entry point on the eve of the hanging; for at dawn a hapless fool would swing in Edward’s rightful place.
Edward did not flinch – something always came to protect the gateway and, sometimes, him.
The stranger was silver and black with crimson motion. His suit was bespoke Savile Row. His frock coat bore a red sheen and a top hat was tucked under one arm. His nails were tapered iron and his knuckles hissed. Steam escaped from every joint.
“You will help me,” the man rasped.
“You will open the time door.”
Edward’s eyes widened. “Sir, I cannot.”
“I am glad.”
“That I refuse?”
“That you do not insult me with pretence,” the stranger smiled with the sound of shearing metal. “You must do as I say. You must open the door.”
The man stepped into the room. Steam leaked through his joints. Edward called on his keepers. For this was no man. Its hair was full of monsters bound in chains and bent with iron; a medusa for the 1890s.
Where were the guardians? They were supposed to protect the conduit; that was the deal.
“The door is not mine to open,” Edward said, his voice faltering. But if no one was coming to help him, of whom should he be the more scared?
“I come from those who gave you this honour.”
The stranger moved closer. Redness crashed over lips and eyes of obsidian so polished as to be perfect for scrying. The nose was beaten steel riveted to bone; the eyebrows rusted filings; the mouth encrusted with oxidisation.
“You will open the door,” the creature said, “please.”
Edward smiled. No man nor woman nor incorporeal creature had ever said please before. Where was the harm in doing one good deed? It would be his first. He pulled on his goggles and his clockwork wings and followed the stranger down flights of narrow stairs and into the cellar. Edward’s furnaces quieted as the rusted man approached.
The creature laboured to the time threshold. It halted and turned to look at Edward, pointing metallic fingers at the hissing machines.
“Stoke the fires,” it rasped.
Edward hesitated. He doubted.
“This is your last service,” it said. “Then you will be free.”
So, Edward coaxed his machines from their slumber. His wings bore him from one to another, cajoling, stroking and feeding. The gateway slid open.
“Free, you say?” Edward asked.
“Yes,” the machine stepped through the doorway, “free to pay for your crimes. Free from our protection.”
“Sir, what is your meaning?”
The stranger smiled. Rust flaked where his face cracked. “Before the gaol flooded and the rust came I was a fair substitute for your flesh. I was to take your appointment with the rope, but my appearance has deteriorated somewhat. Seeing as you have been so kind as to aid my escape… Well, no doubt the authorities will come for you.”
The gate began to close. Frantically, Edward pulled levers, but the closure could not be aborted. He was on his own.