Author : Q. B. Fox
17th April 2002, a concrete room, off an unmarked tunnel on the Northern Line.
“How long were they down?”
Simon looked up from what he was doing, and even in the dim light of the rack mounted servers I recognise the pinched expression.
“12 days. A power supply shorted some circuits in Prophet a week last Friday. Without the proper predictive model Lösch became CPU bound by Saturday morning, so we shut it down before something else broke.”
Lösch, both the software and the specialist machine it ran on, was named after the 20th century economist Sir Richard Lösch, whose work on monetary systems was the underlying principle of the program.
But it became apparent when they started trying to run Lösch that this theoretical model wasn’t designed to incorporate real feedback efficiently. So the coders built predictive software to take real information from the markets, combine it with the theoretical model and feed its predictions back into Lösch. The pun was just too delicious for them not to call it Prophet.
“12 days?” I frowned. “The economy’s pretty stable now; surely leaving it to run itself for 12 days won’t have caused any problems.”
“Ask Dr. Rob,” Simon indicated the other corner of the room. Visible only by the light of green text reflected in his tiny spectacles, and from his pallid, sweaty skin, Dr. Rob chewed his tongue like cow and silently scanned his monitor. Who themed green text on a black background? Dr. Rob was old school.
“Imagine,” Simon explained, presumably as it had been explained to him, “walking on a tightrope. Lösch keeps its balance by a gentle nudge here, a small purchase there. I’d assumed that because Lösch was making more frequent smaller trades that the whole system was stabilising. Turns out I was wrong.”
I turned towards a grunt expelled from Dr. Rob; he was rolling his eyes in an exaggerated manner that would have been comical if he’d known he was doing it.
“It turns out,” Simon continued, “that we’ve been tightrope walking in high winds, and that Lösch was correcting and counter correcting the whole time. Now imagine our tightrope walker blacks out for a second.”
I imagined and gulped back a sudden rush of financial vertigo.
“The first forecast from Prophet this morning was showing hyper inflation in the near future, could be as bad as 65%. We set Lösch to work on it. The data came out about an hour ago. You can tell the prime minister that, as of today, Lösch can hold the inevitable off for about 5 years but eventually it will happen.”
“And we can’t stop it?” I was alarmed.
“Not without something beyond the scope of Lösch,” Simon explained, “not without a major human intervention. Dr. Rob’s working on it, but don’t expect an answer any time soon.”
Contrary as ever, Dr Rob’s deep bass filled the room for the first time. “We need a recession, a genuine, but planned, collapse of confidence.” He chewed. “And I think I have an idea. Have you ever heard of sub-prime mortgages?”
Author : Roi R. Czechvala, Staff Writer
“Okay, this is some of the best footage of the conflict we have seen. We spent a lot of money to have Johnson’s eyes and optic nerves replaced with the latest equipment including superconducting neural jacks, which can operate at higher temperatures. The liqO2 containment and the rest of the apparatus housing, except for the interface of course, is totally contained within Johnson’s body.
“Brilliant, that should bring our costs down. What did Johnson think about this?”
“Well Sir, it wasn’t a hard choice. He had signed a fifty year contract of indenture with the company as a labourer in the helium mines on Pluto. He soon saw that a minor cosmetic change and a ten year assignment as a war correspondent in the Belt was far better than languishing for fifty years in a mine to retire to a pleasure colony to live out his remaining, what, maybe ten years, twenty if he’s lucky?”
“So we’re in the clear?”
“Asses covered, Sir.”
“Do any of the other news services have this technology?”
“No, it is only available within the Imperium, even then, only to certain levels, Sir.”
“Fine,” Avery Winston, Vice Minister of News and Information, breathed a sigh of relief, “Let’s see this wonderful footage of yours.”
“Patrick Johnson was trained for three months with the Royal Marines before being dispatched as a correspondent to Europa. We thought this would be a routine assignment to test equipment, but, well, see for yourself Sir.”
Charles Lufkin dimmed the lights in the expansive office and a kaleidoscope of colour appeared on the TriD screen before them. Slowly the prismatic maelstrom coalesced into an image of Marines in various stages of undress. It was a scene from an infantry barracks. Suddenly the world spun and came to focus on a door. Green plasma blasts burst through it followed by thick belches of white smoke.
“Hold it there, we’ll have to cut that, it will disorient the viewers. We’ll have people puking from motion sickness. The sponsors will ream us.”
“Yes Sir, this is the raw unedited footage.” Lufkin resumed the shot.
No sooner had the green bursts punched holes in the hatch, when something obscured the bottom half of the scene.
“The targeting sights of Johnson’s weapon. We wanted him to be totally one with the Marine unit he was embedded in. Now look there Sir, let me back it up for you,” Lufkin waved a hand at the screen and the image reversed. “See there? You can actually see, if I slow the feed, a bolt of plasma bore a nifty little hole through the gooks head as he peeks in past the broken hatch. If you look closer, you can actually see the plasma discharge of the rifle itself as Johnson fires the fatal shot.”
“Now watch this, your gonna love this.” Lufkin waved his hand at the screen again and the scenes of intense close combat blurred into a single image. “There.” He slowed the image until a green dot appeared on the screen. It grew slowly until it engulfed the entire screen. With a jerk the scene tilted crazily coming to a rest with the floor at a 45 degree angle. Slowly the scene irised to a narrow tunnel. Just before the screen went black an elderly woman appeared, arms outstretched.”
“As near as we can tell, that’s Johnson’s grandmother.”
“What’s she doing there? How did she get onto a Marine base?”
“That’s the thing Sir; she’s been dead fifteen years.”
“You don’t mean…?”
“Yes Sir.” Lufkin smiled.
Author : Liz Lafferty
Seven years I’d waited for my DNA match.
Seven years of anxiety about what she would be like. Seven years of stress about whether she’d find me attractive and a suitable provider.
Nineteen billion people inhabited the planet. I never understood why it was so difficult to find the right person. The wheels of Sovereign Earth ran slower than any single nation’s government had before. Always paperwork.
The idea behind DNA review seemed palatable: to prevent physical defects and mental illness. I’d just never thought I’d have to wait so long or that I wouldn’t love my match.
Whoever she was, we were the fortunate ones. We’d get life partners. We’d get to breed, have a plot of our own in one of the eight hundred outliers of our city. It would be better than the concrete and steel, four hundred and ten square feet we were entitled to as singles. I’d recently lost my only window, too, when some bureaucrat’s son trumped me on the ‘need’ scale.
The match meant freedom.
I’d picked up my papers yesterday morning from the databank in Pelnan. I’d slept with them under my pillow.
I only knew her by her serial number. It would be imprinted on her spinal column if I wanted to check once she arrived. I didn’t. I just wanted to see her, say a few words, find out if her match had been as difficult in finding as mine had been.
And then…the rest of our lives.
I was expecting the knock but it startled me anyhow. When I opened the door, my sister Livy stood there.
“Liv, my gosh, how are you?” I pulled her into my arms and hugged her. I hadn’t seen her since my work orders came in. When I gripped her shoulders, she stared at me like she didn’t know who I was. “What’s wrong? Is it mom?”
“No. I…” Tears rolled down her face.
“Tell me!” I nearly shook her to find out why she was so upset.
She held up her papers. They had the Sovereign Earth databank seal. Like mine.
“I came here to meet my DNA match.”
I might have gone as pale as she did. My legs gave out and I collapsed into the only chair I had. “You mean…”
She nodded her.
“Oh, Liv. I’m sorry. How long have you waited?”
“Nine years. I thought this was it. What about you?”
Seven years I’d waited for my DNA match.
Seven years to find out the clowns running Sovereign Earth matched me with my own sister. The next election cycle seemed years away. And it would probably take that long to convince the czars running the databank they’d made a mistake.
“Could be worse,” I finally said.
“I don’t see how.”
“At least we’ll have our own plot of ground.”
Author : Mark Robinson
“But, how is any of this possible?”
Despite the scene she’s making all I can focus on is the pink tip of the pregnancy test strip – which we stock on aisle five – that she’s waving around in the air; watching the droplets of pink-tinted urine fleck across the counter where I’m standing, completely at a loss as to what I should do.
A steady line of customers, hands still holding onto the item they were looking to buy before the woman burst into the store ranting, peek out from between the shelves I’ve yet to finish stocking.
Any answer I give will be the wrong one; even though the thought occurs to me that we currently have a special on synthetic breast milk.
“How’m I meant to tell my husband? He’s in deep space and won’t be back for another twelve months and what d’you think he’ll say when he lands and sees me holding another one of these?”
I never noticed the woman was holding onto a kid with her urine-free hand.
When she doesn’t get a response, she turns to the counter display of condoms; “And, these things don’t work,” picking up a couple of boxes and slamming them down in front of me on the counter. “I’m gonna sue the pants of your manager when he gets back from lunch.”
So that explains why we’re short on stock and he ducked out early.
A brief silence hits the woman while she looks at the clock above my head.
“Which one did you use?” A small, thin teenager standing behind the woman and her toddler.
The quiet woman looks at the stick in her hand and shoves it in the girls face.
“Yeah,” She nods, “I had a false positive with one of them.”
The woman’s eyebrows hover slightly before narrowing her eyes back at me then dragging her kid around to aisle five.
The teenager looks at me waiting for my thank you; I pick up the boxes of contraception and place them back into their racks. When the counter’s clear, the woman drops three boxed test strips down for me to swipe.
“Tell Joe if they come out positive again, he owes me nine-ninety-five.”
I scan the barcodes and hold out my hand for her payment which she ignores, snatching up the boxes and dragging her kid back out the door.
An elderly woman hobbles up to the counter, close enough to have heard every word of our exchange; “You’d think she’d be more careful in this day and age?” Dropping before me two packs of cancer cream and a USB vibrator. “They should bring back sterilisation,” routing in her purse for her money, “never did me any harm.”
When I look up the headset goes black and I hear my history teacher clear his throat. Back in the classroom, I remove the headset; afraid to look him in the eyes.
“Did you spot the deliberate mistakes?” He asks, greying fussy eyebrows bouncing above his head.
After a moment I think I grasp it, “It would take longer than twelve months to get back to earth from deep space in 2009.”
His mouth opens to comment. I hear a few titters from my classmates. Then I realise what I just said. “The cancer cream?”
Professor Grey smiles; “And?”
All I can do is shrug. Behind me, Stacie raises her hand to answer.
“Stacie?” He says, taking the headset from me.
She smiles at me, “When women used to give birth, it only took nine months to gestate.” She holds her smile in place. “And, the test turns blue when it’s positive, not pink.”
Author : Daniel Fuhr
Red rocks crumbled under my heavy boots. I looked around the desolate Martian landscape and destruction thereupon. I could taste the acrid smoke around me as I walked through the wreckage of the downed ship, even through the environmental suit and protective gear, something for psychologists to quack at me about.
Carefully I picked through the remains of the transport craft and charred remains of what used to be precious lives. Protocol requires carefully documenting everything and keeping the crash site spotless. I cared about protocol fifteen years ago; today I’m just looking for the goods.
The small group of people stood at the edge of the crater the crash site created. I knew they were watching my every move apprehensively. Dead eyes of a hundred people staring at me from beyond the grave bothered me less than the brigands carefully watching me work.
After minutes of examination, I struck the treasure worth more than gold. I flipped open my netbook and sent a report back to my office “Crash due to natural causes, no further action required”. I would fill in more details at my leisure back at the office.
I pulled the slug from the hole in the hull of the ship and carried it out of the crater. The crash was open to salvage the minute I transmitted my report. I handed the pirates their metal slug as they handed me a small case. I knew they would have the entire craft ravaged for salvageable parts and take the rest for scrap metal. In less than two hours only the crater would remain.
If my report had any mention of foreign sources of a crash, I would look forward to months of investigations, inquiries and paperwork. Carrying the case back to my craft I looked forward to a month of fresh steak and eggs, a treasure worth more than gold.