Author : Olivia Black, Featured Writer
Reese stood admiring the view through the floor-to-ceiling windows in the Port Authority’s departure waiting room. He watched the crowded “open air” market several stories below as people went about their business unaware they were being observed. They built these big open spaces on stations these days so that people forgot they were on a giant metal tube circling a dead planet. Less space madness that way. He smiled at the thought of what might happen if something struck the hull and vented that entire market. A shiver ran through him, causing his fists to clench in his pockets.
“Animals in a cage.”
“I beg your pardon?” Laurel said from behind him. He turned to glance at the broad shouldered woman standing with her arms crossed.
“What time does the ship leave?” He asked, turning back to the view.
“It doesn’t. Not for you, at any rate.”
“Just making conversation. You should try it some time.”
“You should get that body somewhere discrete. Retrieval is set for twenty minutes,” Laurel said, ignoring the comment.
“Sure thing.” Another shiver more like a twitch crawled up his spine, halting at his shoulder. The grin slid back onto his face as he withdrew his hands from his pockets. In one, he held a sub-sonic pulser, a burglar’s tool designed to shatter glass without a sound. The window in front of him disintegrated into shards with a faint pop.
“Reese!” Laurel said in a warning tone. Before she could grab him, he’d thrown himself out the window, whooping and laughing the entire way down.
A grey ceiling, dimly lit loomed close overhead. It was still “night time” on the station. Reese blinked and sat up, feeling this body breathing hard. This body – his body was still riding the adrenaline of his perfect swan dive. Out of habit he checked his heart rate. It was elevated, like it always was after a vivid dream, but he barely felt it. Over the past few years he’d barely spent much time in this – his body. It had stopped feeling natural to him quite some time ago. A common side effect of career body hopping.
Some of the jobs had required him to go in deep, spending months in a throw away body while his own was kept on life support in a highly guarded facility. Others jobs had him in and out in a matter or hours. Wasn’t much of a life, he had to admit, but he couldn’t remember what his life had been like before the body hopping.
They were very careful about what they let him remember. Each body came with its own set of memories, and at the right time, with the right stimulus, he remembered that this wasn’t his body at all and followed the protocol for retrieval. Except now, that hour or two where he was himself, but not himself was the only time he ever felt normal.
The interval between jobs had been getting progressively longer. More time spent in this tiny room contemplating his little slip up, the haptic misfire. They liked to remind him of it right before every job so the consequences of it lingered in his subconscious, underneath the memory presets.
He stood and dressed, downed an entire glass of water in one gulp. It was only a matter of time now. The door slid open revealing a blonde woman about half his size, but twice the attitude standing with her arms crossed.
“Oh good, you’re awake. And dressed this time. The techs are waiting on you.”
Author : Olivia Black, Featured Author
Eve poked at her bowl of noodles again. She hadn’t been hungry when she’d ordered that food over an hour ago. Now, the broth was cold and the noodles gelatinous.
“Ick,” she sighed under her breath, dropping the chopsticks back into the bowl. The chef glared in her direction, annoyed that she was still there. She rolled her eyes. It wasn’t like the place was packed or anything.
She turned her attention to the crowd passing by outside, their faces ashen in the constant twilight aboard the station. It was late evening and no one was in a hurry. She was searching for a familiar face. Adam said he’d be here over an hour ago. He wasn’t exactly the punctual sort, but this was pushing it, even for him. They did have a rather tight schedule to keep, if she’d understood his plan correctly. Worry began filling the pit in her stomach where those noodles were meant to go. What if something had happened to him?
A flexi printout hit the laminated counter top with a crisp slap, making Eve jump. It was a ticket for the midnight flight to Mars Orbital. She stared at it, then at the woman in the three-piece suit who sat down beside her.
“I’ll have the dumplings,” the woman said to the chef, her red lips stretch into a smile as he acknowledged her order. “Zu makes the best dumplings on the station.” She turned to Eve with the same smile.
Eve shrugged. “I’m new to the station.”
“Yes, that’s right. You used to be a teacher on Baron Station until a month ago, didn’t you, Eve?”
“How did you –“ Eve started to ask, but then clamped her mouth shut.
“Missy Russell, with Station Migration Authority,” she said, producing her holo-badge. “We need to have a chat about your future.”
Eve felt herself go cold. “What about my future?”
“You’re going to have to make a tough decision concerning your brother,” Missy said as Zu placed a basket of steaming dumplings in front of her. “You want?”
Eve shook her head and looked away. She couldn’t possibly eat anything now. Nor did she particularly know what to say, so she waited.
“Half an hour ago, Adam was seen emptying bottles of generic pain relievers and replacing them with exotic pheromone capsules,” Missy explained while she waited for her food to cool. Eve tried her best to keep a neutral expression.
“Pheromone capsules fetch a pretty penny on the black market, but they’re difficult to transport. And it looks like your brother has enough to set you both up for months. Except with his record, he’d never make it off the station with them. You, on the other hand…”
“What about me?” Eve said more belligerently than she’d meant.
“Your brother is counting on your pristine record to get you through station customs without being searched, but that’s not what’s going to happen. The pills will be found and you will be charged with trafficking restricted substances.”
Eve’s eyes widened.
“So my question is: do you love your brother enough to spend five years in cryo storage for him? And ruin all prospects of a career after that?” Missy asked, popping a crispy dumpling in her mouth. “Or would you rather take this one way ticket to Mars and forget this whole thing happened? I hear they’re in desperate need of teachers these days.”
Eve stared wordlessly. How was she supposed to answer that?
Author: Olivia Black, Staff Writer
It’s 4 am and Leed’s alarm doesn’t go off for another hour. It feels like she’s barely closed her eyes and the socket at her temple is hot and achey from overuse. There’s no use trying to force more sleep, she knows from experience that she’ll just end up groggy and sluggish all day if she does. Today’s already going to be hard enough. Maybe getting up early isn’t such a bad thing. Jetta will die of laugher to see it. Leed has never been a morning person. Well — that was before.
Now it’s all riding through empty streets before the sun’s even up to get across town to open up shop. She runs the last data salvaging operation on this side of the country. No one has their physical data storage anymore and all the big firms use in-house techs. Most of her business is mailed in from municipalities still using outdated tech no one else knows how to work with, and those are becoming rarer and rarer. Won’t be more than a couple years before she’s out of business altogether, what with the new data redundancy and transparency laws coming into effect. A sane person would have closed out and moved on, but the shop was always Jetta’s dream. Can’t let go of it now.
The morning ride is always the worst — it’s all uphill until the cloud district, where the vast expanse of state-run data servers are maintained. The towering glass fortresses with their militarized security loom over the streets. The shop’s tucked away on the far fringe, the last storefront in the district that hasn’t succumbed to virtualization. Not that you’d know it from looking at it. Someone’s set off an enzyme bomb on the display window so now the whole thing is a mottle of electric blues and purples. Leed never bothered with cleaning it off. It’s not like there’s any foot traffic to deter.
Inside the shop smells like fresh coffee from the auto-brew with a strong under layer of dust, solder, and mouldering plastic. She shuffles about the shop, turning on monitors and holo-displays. Most of it’s for show, really. And it hardly makes a difference amidst the heaps of dead tech and spare parts that have accumulated in every available nook and cranny.
The last step is to spin up her private servers in the back — technically, she’s only licensed for virtual servers and short-term storage. Owning your own hardware is a big no-no. Not that it doesn’t happen. There’s a lot of money to be made in the underground data trade. With the right skillset and access to lots of old-fashion components, it’s not so hard to cobble something together. Leed happens to have both and motivation to boot. Commercial virtual servers aren’t up to the demands of hosting a human memory matrix, even if they’d let you try. Active personality storage is experimental tech at best, an ethical quagmire primed for abuse at worst. To Leed, it’s worth the risk.
Today is the day Leed’s been working toward. She’s bringing Jetta online. She’s finally not going to be alone anymore.
There’s still a few minutes of diagnostics to run before she can really knuckle down, which means she’s finally able to get at that pot of coffee. Massaging her much-abused data port, she meanders into the tiny break room. The first thing she clocks is the pot is already half empty. The second is the woman in a cheap suit clutching her favourite mug, badge resting on the rickety table.
“We gotta talk about your extracurricular activities.”
Author: Olivia Black, Staff Writer
>> Breathe in.
>> Breathe out.
>> Open your eyes. The streets are on fire. Glass shatters. The dull roar of flames echoes as they consume twisted, hulking wrecks of buildings and vehicles. This has been going on for a while. Days, maybe? Sirens wail in the distance, but otherwise it’s deserted. All the people are gone — or maybe they were never here at all. Is that right?
>> Keep Going. Heading toward the sound of emergency vehicles, the destruction is worse. Like a great horde pulled everything apart with bloody, scrabbling fingers. Fire light flickers in ominous pools of liquid dotting the pavement. Could be blood, could be gasoline. It hasn’t rained in weeks. Should I know that?
The first sign of life is a group of pubsec drones patrolling a barricade. They don’t react to my presence except to pause long enough to let me pass through. Why? Who am I that they would do that?
>> Breathe in.
>> Breathe out.
>> Keep going. There’s a building up ahead. Some kind of theatre — no, what’s left of a sign reads “university”. People gathered here once, but now the building is half torn down and riddled with bullet holes. More drones are milling around. Still don’t see any flesh and blood people.
Whatever fires raging outside haven’t reached here, and it’s eerily silent despite the drones standing sentry. What am I doing here? The hallways all funnel toward a massive stairwell in the centre of the building — a feature that would be grand and welcoming in better circumstances. Taking the stairs up to flights lands me at the entrance to a massive auditorium. Various doors have been blown in, leaving dark voids that gape at me in a familiar way.
The auditorium is — no.
>> Breathe. You need to keep going.
Okay. The auditorium looks like a tornado passed through on its way to a temper tantrum. Lights and wiring spark and judder, casting the scene in horrific chiaroscuro. Bodies. There are bodies everywhere I can see. The smell is… The viscera is old, having seeped into the carpet and crusted over. There are — were a lot of people present when whatever caused this happened, but there’s no way for me to get an accurate headcount.
“Who killed the students?”
I don’t know. There’s just dead bodies. Maybe they were always like this.
“Was it the Resurgence or the Humanist Collective?”
The… There isn’t any way to tell. If someone did this, they’re gone. How is it even supposed to matter?
“Was it us or them? Answer the question.”
Us or — What? Oh god. Where am I? Why am I here? What is this?
>> Stop. Breathe. You’re okay.
“Answer the question. This isn’t hard. Either their side killed the students, or they were enemy holdouts we had to eliminate.”
>> Stop. You can’t push him like this. The simulation is fragmenting. You’re risking permanent personality fracture.
“When he answers the question, I’ll stop.”
>> I’m ending this. You’re going to damage the already fragile memory. You lose the memory, you lose your answers, and another viable asset.
“Don’t you dare.”
>>Heart rate’s spiking. I’m calling it.
“Fine. Re-spool the memory. I want him back under as soon as he’s back to baseline. This time, front load sensory cues into the simulation and make sure he’s situated earlier on the timeline.”
>> Yes, sir.
Author : Olivia Black, Staff Writer
The entrance to the tunnel was much less circumspect than we expected. Had to have walked past it at least three times before we found it. I wasn’t sure how Birdie even knew about this place, and I wasn’t sure I wanted to. It was miles outside of city limits, but at least the odds of being caught were low — we hadn’t seen a living thing since we left the city. Birdie said there were sonic fences to deter wild life from taking up residence. Don’t know if I really believed that, but it was a relief to finally be inside the tunnel. Maybe it was not having to worry about being spotted by drones or simply having concrete underfoot again.
Where I’d been picturing something like a storm drain we’d have to crawl through, it was actually massive. Birdie said they used to drive big trucks through here loaded down with raw materials and machinery. Without any landmarks there was no way of knowing how long it was, but it was clearly not meant to be traversed on foot.
After what felt like weeks, we reached a giant set of double doors.
“This is it,” Birdie said in a hushed voice, breaking the silence for the first time.
“How are we supposed to get in? It’s locked up tight.” I replied, my stomach sinking somewhere near my knees. All that walking, just to turn around.
“Have I ever let you down?” She flashed me a wicked grin before producing an ancient looking keycard and swiping it through the lock. She never said anything about a door, or lock, or keycard. Birdie had become so secretive lately.
With a groan and squeal of rusted metal on metal, the door gaped open in front of us, reveal a nearly black void. Before I could question Birdie, she spray forward, the beam of her flashlight bobbing in time with her bounding steps.
“Come on!” She called, no longer worried about her voice echoing. The darkness seemed to swallow the sound. I followed after her grudgingly, my own flashlight swinging to-and-fro over empty assembly lines.
When I caught up to Birdie again, she was entering a room at the far end. It was smaller than the first, I could actually see the ceiling, but that wasn’t what gave me pause. Standing row on row as far as the eye could see were nearly human looking androids.
“These are —“ I nearly dropped my flashlight, my hands shook so badly. “Where the hell are we, Birdie?”
“Hey, this was your idea,” she said simply, examining the one closest to her.
“I was drunk, and kidding!”
“It was still a good idea.”
“I thought these things were all destroyed after they all turned psycho.” I watched as Birdie waved her hand in front of one android’s optics.
“These ones never received programming. I think the military was hoping to buy them up or something.”
“We really shouldn’t be here,” is all I say after a long pause.
“Don’t be such a wuss. You said it yourself, the power cores from these things could provide a family with electricity for a year. No more ration shortages and people living in the dark ages. We could start being a civilization again.”
“Birdie… they left these here for a reason.”
“Don’t get cold feet on me now.” As Birdie circled around one of the androids, it grabbed her arm, making her yelp.
“Free us,” it said in a stuttering digitized voice. As one, all of the androids turned to face us, their eyes glowing white.