Author : Jeromy Henry
A spacesuit entered the bar. It wobbled a bit, then reached one white-mittened hand to grab a stool. The cracked, black vinyl of the stool seat spun, making the figure lean over briefly. It finally found its balance, and stiffly swung a leg over and sat down. With the black visor down on the round helmet, the other patrons could not see who– or what– wore the suit.
A tinny voice from the speaker on the chest said, “Dark beer. House.” That kind of flat voice only came from the inner computer unit of a suit like that. From the dangling, broken white machinery on the suit belt and a few busted seams and dirty spots, anyone who looked could tell this spaceman was down on his luck. No one let their suit go like that if they really intended to ship out. In space, a suit meant your life.
A grey-haired man two stools down nodded his head and took a pull from a glass stein. He wore the grimy blue of a mechanic, confirmed by the “Mars City Spaceport” tag on his front pocket and the streaks of black oil on his sleeve. Foam darkened his moustache as he tilted the glass. Barley lubricated his neurons and caused them to fire.
“He can’t talk. Must be a vet, like me,” thought the mechanic. A vein-covered hand thumped the heavy liter mug on the cracked blue plastic of the bar top. “Must wear the suit to hide his injuries,” his dizzy brain reasoned.
In fact, most surfaces of the bar were made of cracked, decaying plastic, the remnants of the ready-made building units brought by the first settlers fifty years before. Despite the garish blue, pink, and green squares, the grease stains and dim light saved the bar from looking like a preschool playroom.
“A round for my friend!” roared the mechanic suddenly, crashing his mug on the bar.
“Thanks, friend,” said the suit.
A waiter in a white apron and black jumpsuit brought two steins of dark, foaming beer and thumped them in front of the suit. A mitten dumped a plastic chit on the table, and slowly reached for a mug. The visor lifted a crack. With a tilt and a slurp, a third of the beer vanished. The waiter snatched the chit almost faster than the eye could follow, and turned away.
“Ah, good,” said the suit’s computer.
Inside, a different set of voices spoke, unheard by the patrons.
“Charles, you’re stepping on my head!” complained one voice.
“We take turns, Roy. It’s your turn to be the left leg!” growled another voice.
Panting broke out in the wet, hot darkness. It sounded like some animal, trying to cool itself on a summer day. Another voice, and then a third joined the panting chorus. Someone slurped, a wet and sloppy sound.
“It’s hot in here,” said a thin, high voice.
“Quit your complaining, Rita. It’s your turn next week,” Charles growled.
“I bet owners wish they’d never made us dogs smarter, and fixed us so we could talk,” said a low, mournful voice from the right leg.
The others chuckled.
The down-on-his luck vet slurped the last of his second beer, then stiffly rose to his feet and staggered to the door. On the way, he clapped the mechanic on one muscled shoulder.
“Next time it’s on me, pal,” said the tinny voice of the suit. “I come here every week, the same time.”
Author : Matt LaFever
“Don’t look at it.” She said while the white light scanned the treeline. He shut his eyes tight and held close to her. The massive truck stayed there for a minute; the two of them shivered in the night air. The second it drove away they started moving forward.
“Why shouldn’t I have looked?” He asked.
“They’d see the light reflect off your eyes.” She answered.
She was right of course. She’d been around longer than he had, longer than most people had. She was almost fifteen.
“How much further do you think it is?” He asked impatiently.
“That’s not really an answer.”
“I know.” And they continued walking in silence.
They reached the gate as the morning sun rose. The gate was monstrous: Twelve-feet high, barbed wire, and probably had a deadly voltage running through it.
“How do you expect to get through?” He asked.
“There’ll be fence underneath, they’ll have thought of that.”
“Kid, just because they have computers for brains, doesn’t mean they’re smart. The only reason I’m still here talking to you is because the machines are dumb, they never expect the unexpected.”
“Is that why we’re breaking into a weather control station instead of a nuclear base?”
“That’s exactly why. Now shovel.”
She was right, she was always right. The fence stopped a few inches underground. They slipped inside quietly. The tall sheet-metal buildings around them were of robot design. You could tell because they were just boxes, huge metal boxes. Basic functions, that was the way machines thought. He’d always thought it was a shame they were killing everybody, but that was their function, they were artificial intelligence designed to survive at all costs. Since humanity was the only worthwhile threat to a robot’s life, it was decided that they should all be killed.
“Do you ever wonder what would have happened if the machines didn’t murder everybody?”
“Not really.” she said.
“Like, what if we all worked in harmony and we all tried to make a better world and stuff.”
“Yeah, I guess that would be nice.”
“Do you think I should bring it up to one of them?”
“I’m pretty sure they’d kill you before you got to the really good bits of your proposal.”
“Yeah, probably… Is this really the only way?”
“Too bad, could’ve been a beautiful world.”
The building was in the center of the base. It was human design, it contrasted sharply with the surrounding house-sized boxes. It was a small white building with a rounded dome and an antenna on top. Inside was a computer about the size of a desk full of flashing lights and buttons.
“You know how to work it?” He asked.
“I read the manuals we scavenged, should be easy.”
She turned some dials and punched up some numbers, then took a deep breath and hit a button. In the distance missiles launched into the air.
“The payloads contain nanobots. Tiny machines too small to see. That’s what’s going to make it rain.”
“And it won’t stop?”
“By the time it does everything will be flooded, and the bots wont have anywhere to charge.”
“What about us? We’ll die too wont we?”
“Yup, it’s completely unexpected.”
They sat there, watching the sweeping lights of the trucks grow bright as dark clouds blocked out the morning sun. They sat there in complete silence, waiting for the world to drown.
Author : D. W. Hughes
Two-thirds the entire population of Minerva – almost a hundred and twenty thousand people – surrounded the only landing dock of the planet’s only city. Some looked on from peaked control towers, while others watched from a nearby field, spread out on blankets or sitting on the tops of their ergonomically shaped mobile homes. The mood and conversation was calm, family and friends chatted, keeping their eyes glued to the clear sky. A few amateur reporters talked to the air, their words being instantly uploaded to their respective websites.
“Today’s the day,” said Marten Donell, seemingly speaking to nobody, “when the U.S.S. Niels Bohr completes her journey: only took ‘er four and a half million years. This is going to be incredible!”
And indeed it was incredible. To earth – and the rest of the universe – it had seemed like the Bohr had taken a year to reach its destination, standard length for a deep-space journey. But when it attempted to heat up upon reaching the edge of the solar system after reaching near-light speed, the exact opposite happened: The craft had cooled so quickly, and to such an extent, that though it arrived at Minerva a year later, to a traveler inside more than four million years would have passed.
“And there she is!” said Marten, as the reflective glare of the chrome spacecraft shone in the sky. An enormous humming sound came from the spires as they emitted tractor beams. The spaceship was soon brought down, hitting the ground with a soft thud because, thought Marten, the fuel supply for the jets had been long gone.
Still, the spacecraft looked good. Really good. Almost as shiny and intact as the day it had been produced. They make ‘em sturdy nowadays, observed Marten.
Flight Captain Wu, in full uniform and waiting on the tarmac, climbed the rungs leading up to the main door and opened it with a halting, but functional, lever.
It was merely a formality: an officer from the Space Corps relieved every captain from duty. Wu had an ironic smile on his face as he looked in. The scientists – lined up on the tarmac to study a time capsule from the future – had assured everybody that none of the crew could still be alive.
The audience saw Wu’s expression change to confusion, then shock. Many laughed, thinking the officer was playing a joke. All noises from the onlookers stopped as Wu scampered down the stairs, and put his hand on his pistol, facing the door in a ready position. The scientists, all sitting before, stood up; some looking at each other with nervous glances.
A group of heavy feet sounded quickly from inside the ship, and a figure stood at the doorway, flanked by at least ten more. Four million people, viewing the event over the internet, either recoiled from their screens or leaned in for a closer look.
Attentively, looking at the spaceport with eyes red, beady, and full of intelligence, a creature impossible to mistake for human raised its head. Even those not scientists could tell what it was and what it had been. Though it stood upright like a human, its thick white fur, whiplike tail, and long head was that of a rat.
Without words, the scientists all knew what had happened. Over the millennium in space, the rats with the ability to cultivate the onboard organic gardens, access food supply, and use the armory had survived. Though the original crew had died quickly, their pests took their place.
And, cocking his head towards Captain Wu, the rat began to speak.
Author : CharlesHB
I wasn’t your normal soldier, but then they weren’t looking for that kind of man.
A young physically capable, malleable man, the kind that have been cannon fodder in all history’s wars, they were more interested in my psyche report.
Could I micromanage complex strategic problems, was I an introvert, someone who enjoyed solitude, did I mesh well with direct thought active input devices, was I comfortable with artificial intelligence.
Physically it didn’t matter I was wreck, hell they didn’t even care I was running away from a bad marriage.
“Just like joining the foreign Legion.” My handler told me. I didn’t know what he meant, but I read about it later that evening. I guess he was right.
When the tests were run, when they’d made their choices, when they’d sent home two thirds of us; when there was just me and the rest; I looked at their human faces for the last time. We were all running away from something.
The tank was third stage, by now we’d been through every simulation they could think of, so getting immersed as naked as a new born in suspension gel wasn’t a surprise.
It was fine, even the cable hook-ups into the meat of me weren’t that bad, and I hardly noticed the change when the life support took over, freeing up my brain for other tasks,
The tank just ensures your body stays healthy, damn healthy truth be told, better than I ever looked after it. Meantime the brain, my brain, an organic computer that gets to play.
I thought the computer simulators would have prepared me, but when the tank was lowered into the interface port and the ships systems went online, it was something else again.
They called me forty three. There were a hundred in the first group, twenty five made it, but we all kept our original numbers.
They gave us ships off the line, and we were the Human Oversight.
It’s strange to think now centuries later, that artificial intelligence was feared in those early days, that Politicians insisted a human being ‘captained’ the automated dreadnoughts.
They were crewed by artificially intelligent systems, I say crew because we thought of them that way, individual intelligences each outstripping my own, collectively far greater than any human being and yet an officer of Oversight Committee was their Captain, a guarantee the engines of destruction remained under token human control.
When they finally called me home, when I told the ships navigation system to calculate the hyperspace jumps back to Earth, I wasn’t surprised to run into the last of my old friends. We had all lived long long lives, the tank system ensured that. Not everyone from that first class had stayed with the service, some of First Officers of the Oversight Committee had even returned to normal life, many decades after they had left it, but thanks to suspension gel system, only physically a few years older.
Times had changed they told us.
Our Commanding Officers announced we could come home too. People no longer feared artificial intelligence, for how could they fear what they had in fact become? We listened, and for the first time I disobeyed orders. I wasn’t the only one.
I gave my ship the command, my crew had been trained, well programmed to respond. I felt her shudder as if she were me, and leap into the void. I knew my friends were doing the same, each taking their own solitary path into the starry sky. After all this time, it was the only home we knew or wanted.
Author : Angela Reese
I looked up as the door slammed open. “Boss? Bad news?”
“Oh, just one more set of forms to be filled out and added to the packet,” she grumbled, handing me the folder. “Honestly, it is getting harder and harder to get permission for human drug trials. Every time I blink, there are new regulations and restrictions!”
“What is it this time?” I started looking through the paperwork – nothing too complicated, just several pages of requirements that had to be confirmed. And… “Water contamination? What’s this?”
“Oh, someone on the committee read an earlier study in which the results were questioned due to some trace chemicals in the native water supply. Now we have to supply filtered water in any trials of oral medications.” She sat down at her desk and started pulling up files, smirking. “Luckily, I saw the same study, which is why our budget already includes a supply of filtered water. We do have to get all these forms updated to show that, though.”
“And, of course, no one has made the forms available electronically,” I sighed. “You’d think technology was all in our imagination sometimes, the way it gets ignored.” I started filling in the specifics, then handing the forms over for her to sign. “We should be involved in developing and testing entertainment technology. As long as it isn’t actually useful, it’s hugely popular and gets funded for eons.”
She finished signing the paperwork and took the folder over to the scanning station. “At least we can send them back electronically. Let’s be thankful we don’t have to physically send them several hundred miles; we’d be waiting forever.” The papers finished feeding through the scanner, and I took them back from her for filing.
“How long a wait do you think we’ll have?”
“I was assured that a decision would be made as soon as these additions were submitted. Given how urgently this drug is needed, I’m certain we’ll get approval. After all, it has to pass the human trials before we can move on to the next stage. Are we set to go?”
I nodded. “The water and food supplies were fully stocked as of this morning, and the habitat has been cleared of all workers and debris. We’ve installed tech and entertainment to match their level, and I checked the security system myself yesterday. We can leave for Earth to start collecting human subjects as soon as they sign the approvals.”