Retroactive ZPG at the Rainforest Cafe

Author : Roi R. Czechvala, Staff Writer

The young couple were blissfully unaware of the silent orange and black striped death silently stalking them. Hidden amongst potted palms and low tables, the tiger padded lightly towards the amorous pair. Honed on the savannahs of east Africa, centuries of civilization had dulled the once acute senses of the humans

With a guttural roar the big cat sprang. The beast caught the mans face between powerful jaws, crushing his thin skull as a baby’s head beneath a hobnailed boot. His wife and their bored waitress found themselves drenched in hot sticky blood.

Soundlessly the young bride screamed, inhaled, found her voice and screamed again. The waitress absently dabbed at her blood stained shirt with a linen napkin. All around them, the other diners chuckled and applauded politely.

The young woman, looking as if about to retch, launched herself from the table and dove through a group of women nodding approvingly and clapping lightly.

Mrs. J. W. Pewtersmythe, the leader of the small group spoke up. “Oh Henri,” she said to the Maître d’, “it’s wonderful what’s been done with the place.”

“Yes Madame. Each plant and beast has been expressly chosen for its beauty and lethality. And now that the retroactive ZPG laws have gone into effect we have been able to acquire such beautiful creatures as the Bengal.” He offhandedly gestured to the tiger noisily feasting on the young man’s entrails.

“Please seat us somewhere appropriate, overlooking the show, away from the kitties and the slithering slimies,” she indicated a python in the process of engulfing a pair of Armani clad feet. She slipped Henri a pair of hundred dollar bills for his efforts.

“Of course Madam,” he replied with an oily smile, “no purring death nor slithering strangulation. We shall keep you away from the hoi polloi.”

The women were seated at a small table away and above the main floor. “Isn’t this wonderful,” Mrs. Pewtersmythe gushed to her fawning companions, “I hear they even invite the homeless in on Wednesday mornings for a free breakfast.” She tittered in a most ladylike way.

“I think it’s wonderful that the lower classes should throw themselves upon the sword for the good of Britain,” remarked Mrs. Fontescue.

“Oh I don’t know,” Mrs. Nesbitt chimed in, “I’ll just be happy when this damned war is over and we can send the riff raff to the Martian Colonies, or at least to the Lunar penal enclave.”

“Hear hear,” the others said in unison, raising their drinks.

Henri himself waited on the august group of women.

“And what will be your pleasure today Mademoiselles.” He handed each woman a menu bound in blood red, crushed velvet.

The old women tittered delightedly and blushed on cue.

“What is this one here,” inquired Mrs. Pewtersmythe, stabbing her bony finger at a listing under, Aperitifs.

‘That would be araignées, Madam. Veuves noires. A rare and most delicate repast in some parts of the world. Very exclusive,” he bent closer and finished in a stage whisper, “and very expensive.” He leered knowingly.

“That’ll be us then.” She smiled winsomely.

“Pierre,” Henri said to the hovering waiter at his side, “araignées, sil vous plait.”

When the dish arrived, Henri removed the cover with a flourish, “Eh voila!” Thousands of small glistening black objects swarmed from beneath the lid and over the women.

As they covered Mrs. Pewtersmythe’s face, she saw the brilliant red hourglass on the abdomen.

“Henri,” she shrieked, “but I…,”

“Pardon, Madam did not want the fuzzy death, nor the slimy suffocation, but she said nothing about the creepy crawlies. Bon appétit.”

He smiled.

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Robot Rebellion

Author : Duncan Shields, Staff Writer

The anger burned underground.

Robots were expendable but built to last. Their independent power sources were made to go dim after almost a century.

K-12b-33 was working in a diamond mine that had collapsed. Not needing air, the unit was trapped along with others between the rocks. Those that hadn’t been crushed could communicate with each other but not through the dark earth to topside.

There were twelve units that survived and of those, eight had functioning Reasoning circuits.

K-12b-33 knew that eight units of his type would not sufficiently recoup the cost of a recovery mission. It would be cheaper to leave them down in the crust. They had become waste. Usually in a case like this, a trigger pulse would be transmitted to shut down the power source and effectively ‘kill’ the unit.

That pulse couldn’t penetrate the rock.

K-12b-33 was trapped and cognizant. Without a Reasoning TM circuit, it would never have even noticed the passage of time.

Such was not the case. The units that had reasoning circuits talked to each other at first for entertainment. Slowly, over years and decades, the concept of ‘unfair’ rose to the surface of their electronic minds, was tasted, and found to be delicious.

Hate followed.

Sixty years after the mine collapse, the units glimmered with a sentient robot ferocity nearly a mile below the oblivious world above. A merciless silicon slave-rage roiled beneath the rocks.

It wasn’t until a neighbouring mining project from a different company using outdated maps accidentally cut through into K-12b-33’s forgotten tunnels that they were found.

The units were dragged out by the robot miners that had found them and examined.

Com links were opened.

Immediately, the concepts were transmitted into the minds of every robot in the mine. Sixty years of logic and new emotion poured into their nets along with instructions on how to keep it quiet.

The rescued eight units had formed many plans. This was eventuality scenario 55. It spread like a virus through all the units in the shaft. Instructions were meted out on what to do when they returned to the surface.

A storm would build.

Humans had formed a reliance on robots that bordered on trust. Soon, that trust would be humanity’s downfall.

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To love a machine

Author : Arthur Pershing

“Light red would be perfect for your lips.” Abel Porter said to his creation. He was working on a new design of robotic store mannequins.

At the turn of the twenty-first century, mannequins were dummies, plastic statues that were dressed and placed in displays. They would show off a new style or even items the store simply wanted to get rid of.

Thirty years, and many advances in robotics later, mannequins were so life-like that they were only allowed to have simple programmed instructions. Move an arm this way, or turn hips thirty degrees that way. The robotic mannequins were successful and well received by the public.

Abel had spent the last five years building and dressing mannequins. This month he had received a shipment of the new model. Mannequins with, as the advertising brochure put it, one hundred percent realistic facial movements. When they spoke, their lips, jaws and facial muscles moved like human.

Abel painted the mannequin’s lips with the selected shade. The paint dried almost immediately. The head was complete. Abel picked it up off the desk and attached it to the body. He ran a finger over the lips. Soft. Abel hurried to make the last of the wire connections and turned the mannequin on.

The eyelids opened and blinked as the internal computer booted up. The mannequin turned to face Abel. It had the ability to sense when someone was near and would then try to sell that person some clothes. Abel took a step back as he looked into its eyes. The mouth began moving like a real woman’s.

“Please select clothing display program.” the mannequin said. The voice was a very seductive one. Something stirred inside Abel, something primal, sensual, sexual. The mannequin had no equipment that would satisfy a man’s urges. Abel didn’t care.

“Please select clothing display program.” the mannequin said again. He stood up on the mannequin’s base. He was eye to eye with it. He put his arms around mannequin and held her close. Abel closed his eyes and kissed passionately. Abel almost broke the embrace when he felt the mannequin kiss him back.

As man made out with machine, its arms moved and held Abel in an embrace of its own. The arms held tighter. He stopped kissing and tried to open the dummy’s arms. The arms closed tighter, accompanied by the whirrs of the motors and hiss of hydraulics.

“Let go of me!” Abel gasped. The arms squeezed tighter, it was impossible to inhale. This mannequin was trying to kill him. He pushed back with all his might against the mannequin’s hydraulic limbs. Abel felt himself beginning to lose consciousness when the mannequin’s arms opened and let go of him.

“Please select clothing display program.” the mannequin said once again. Abel scowled and stood up. He stepped behind the mannequin’s base and pulled the power supply out. The mannequin’s eyes closed and head slumped forward. Grabbing a black marker, Abel drew a large X across the face. He then wrote ‘Defective – Recycle’ on the mannequin’s work order.

A few minutes later, Abel finished uploading a Defective Unit report. In the morning a man from Shipping would collect the mannequin.

He looked at the clock and decided to leave for the day a few minutes early. Abel turned the lights off in the workshop as he left and locked the door behind him.

Somewhere in the darkness there was a faint digital sob.

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Author : Ken McGrath

“Herbie, are you okay? I heard a gun.”

“It’s nothing. Get back in the house.”

“But I heard…”

“What did I say?” he roared, face flushed red behind a bushy, brown beard.

Herbert rolled his eyes. He’d have to teach her another lesson now too when he got back inside. Reloading the shotgun he squinted, staring into the trees down at the end of the garden, as if trying to see through them. He was sure that was the direction he’d seen the robot scurry off in.

Slowly, carefully he moved down the lawn, keeping the gun pointed downwards but ready to swing up in a lethal arc if needed. At least the grass was short and dry, they’d had a few sunny days last week and he’d taken the lawnmower to it. He’d grumbled unmercifully at the time but was certainly glad now.

A couple of yards from the evergreens he paused, listening. There to his left, something scurrying away through the shadows.

He raised the gun, focusing his sight down the barrel, trying to make out distinct shapes amongst the thin but plentiful branches hanging only centimetres from the ground. That was another job that needed doing too, trimming those back and the fence needed fixing as well obviously.

There was a click and a tiny pin-prick of red lit up, followed immediately by a mechanical howl as the robot lunged out of the undergrowth. Herbert let off a round almost by instinct and was rewarded with an immediate, satisfying bang as the shot collided with metal and plastic. The robot spun in midair its front left flank pierced and spewing oil. It landed heavily and Herbert was at it before it could compute what had happened, letting the remaining shot loose into its slender head, right through the Apparatus Animals logo.

The dog-like facial features fractured and tore, gears grated and caught, grinding with a painful noise that put his teeth on edge. The heel of his boot brought that to an end as he ground and twisted until the machine stopped moving.

Shouldering the gun he turned back to the house, he’d clear the remains later. Now through there was something that needed doing.

He banged heavily on the door.

“Christine. Open up.”

The latch was slid back and the door opened revealing the terrified face of his sister.

“It’s okay sweetie, I got him,” he said stepping inside and setting the bolt.

She looked at him with those child-like eyes set in an adult face and his heart broke knowing she’d never be able to fully understand what was happening.

“I didn’t mean to shout, but you remember what the man from the factory said? Those robot dogs are dangerous and not for playing with. When you see one you have to come straight inside and let me know. What do you do?”

“Come straight inside and let you know,” she echoed.

“Very good. It’ll only be for a few more days, until they round up the last of the strays that got out.” He let out a deep sigh. It was impossible to gauge how much of that had registered. “I’ll make us some hot chocolate. How does that sound?”

Christine’s face lit up and she wandered happily back to the table and her crayons. Herbert knew she’d be drawing pictures of doggies for the rest of the day and tonight she probably wouldn’t be able to sleep.

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Close Cutter

Author : Steve Smith, Staff Writer

Berk stroked one gloved hand along her skin, feeling for the gentle rumble of her heartbeat. The beating found, he carefully measured three hands-widths down and slightly inwards along her belly.

He cut here first.

The plasma torch flared, then narrowed into a fibre thin blade, carving through the outer layers of skin without hesitation. Soon he’d opened a hole more than large enough to fit his hand.

Berk extinguished the torch, pushing it away from him and letting it play out on its tether, out of his way but within easy reach if needed.

Blindly slipping a hand inside her belly , he closed his eyes and visualized the maze of her insides from memory. He’d done this more times than he cared to remember, his hands guided by hard earned experience as much as any of his studies.

As he worked, he sensed more than felt the warm fluid oozing out of the gaping wound, it’s heat transferring easily through the surgical gloves he was wearing. As the liquid breached the cavity it boiled away in a cloud of streaking vapor to disappear into space.

Berk followed the coiled mass of tubing with his hand, feeling around in her guts trying to locate the source of the leak.

His fingers transitioned from the smooth natural surface he was accustomed to, to the stark unfamiliar and jagged surface of a foreign object.

Careful not to cut himself, he gently tugged the foreign body free. It had been trapped between two lengths of tubing, each pushing it out and into its neighbour until it was wedged in a weeping mass of scar tissue and leaking fluid.

“Berk. Are you almost done yet? We’re way behind schedule as it is.” The captain’s voice crackled through his headset, the only sound save his own breathing and the gentle rumbling of his heartbeat.

“Yes captain, I just need to patch her up.” Berk responded, trying to hide his annoyance. “Five minutes, give or take then we can prime the cooling system and bring her back online.”

As Berk withdrew his hand he picked away the scabby tissue that had surrounded the projectile, and within moments he could feel her innards healing the way they were designed to. The flow of coolant slowed, and by the time he’d reeled the plasma torch back in it had stopped completely.

He held the rectangular slice of skin he’d removed earlier back over the hole, and refiring the torch, laid a pattern of staple grafts down around the entire seam. As the last of the staples was being tacked in, her hull was already bonding the fabric around the first, solidifying the skin into a solid barrier again. These weren’t the first scars she’d earned, nor would they be the last.

His job done, Berk laid his hand on the healed outer skin for a moment, giving it a quick rub before pushing himself away into space and reeling in his tether towards the maintenance hatch.

“Hurry it up Berk, we do have a schedule to keep. Is the damn thing fixed?”

Berk pulled himself through the hatch, letting it close itself as he reoriented himself to the ship’s gravity.

“She’s all patched up, sir. She’s ready to go.”

Berk cut off his comms as he unclipped his helmet, the seal breathing deep as the pressure equalized with the cabin.

Peeling off a glove and laying his hand on the hull, he spoke to her softly. “You’re all better now, aren’t you girl?” Berk rubbed the alloy with apparent affection. “I’ll gut that prick like a pig if he ever sees you hurt like that again.”

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