Unintended Peril

Author: Dick Narvett

It sat on the shelf behind a T-Rex action figure and a feminist coffee mug with the saying “If they can put a man on the moon, why not all of them?”

Finding a laptop in Mr. Chapa’s secondhand shop was like discovering an Apple watch on an Egyptian mummy. Vern latched on to it immediately. It was the size of an IBM Thinkpad, yet felt incredibly light. It carried no manufacturer’s markings.

He had come to this place of discarded treasures to find a gift for his girlfriend. The occasion was the first anniversary of their life together. The laptop, however, had brought out the geek in him. He felt guilty about buying it, but eased his conscience by picking up the mug for Elena.

Vern carried his finds to the shop-owner’s desk. “Ah… Excuse me, Mr. Chapa. I’m wondering if this laptop works, and how much you want for it. It isn’t marked.”

Mr. Chapa looked up from his jigsaw puzzle. “If it works? Who knows? You found it where?… Never mind. Twenty dollars.”

Smiling, Vern handed Mr. Chapa a twenty, plus another dollar for the mug, and headed out the door into the brisk, morning air.

***

The next time Mr. Chapa looked up it was to the sound of heavy breathing, as if someone were rushing to catch a departing flight. A most unusual customer stood before him. The man’s features seemed exaggerated, yet were indistinctive. He could just as easily been in his twenties as in his fifties. His black hair, perfectly parted to one side, lay flat against his head as though painted on. He was smartly dressed in beltless, black slacks and a long-sleeved, blue shirt with no buttons.

“The computer… where is it? I must have it!” The man’s lips moved as he spoke, but he exposed no teeth.

“Computers! I have no computers,” Mr. Chapa said. “My only one I sold this morning.”

“You sold it? To whom? I must know!”

Mr. Chapa pointed out the window. “It is surely none of your business, but to the young man who rents that house across the street.”

The strange man turned and raced awkwardly to the door.
Mr. Chapa shook his head. “You would think it a matter of life or death this computer,” he muttered.

***

Elena poured the fresh-brewed coffee into her mug. “I hope you didn’t spend all of next month’s rent money on this fine present,” she yelled.

Vern called to her from the next room. “Lena, come here. Looks like this baby works. It’s firing up.”

Elena carried her coffee to the living room where Vern’s newfound laptop was just coming to life on his desk. The screen lit a soft red. The dark outline of a circle formed with an arrow protruding from the two o’clock position.

“What kind of operating system is that? Looks like the symbol for a male,” she said.

“Or Mars.”

“Mars?”

“Yeah, it’s also the alchemical symbol for the planet Mars.”

The symbol slowly faded, leaving a lone folder marked ‘Avatars’ on the computer’s desktop.

“Looks like the machine’s pretty clean except for this,” Vern said. He clicked open the folder. A list of individual files appeared, each labeled with first and last names.

Just then they heard a pounding. Elena looked toward the front door. “What the…”

The pounding grew louder and more frantic. Vern right-clicked on the folder and hit delete, then quickly rose from his chair to investigate the clamor.

By the time he reached the door, the pounding had stopped. He looked out. The street was empty.

Father’s Day

Author : D.J. Rozell

Agent Jackson sat down across the table from the bio-hacker and started in before the guy had a chance to size him up, “We’re not here to collect evidence – we’ve got plenty of that – but to discuss motives. Clearly you are a genius.” The agent was priming the pump. “So, why use your considerable talents for this?”

“Well, as the media correctly surmised, my little experiment had a social agenda. I decided to give the world a nudge in the right direction.”

“That was some nudge,” Agent Jackson remained polite despite the annoying false modesty.

“True, my expectations have been exceeded.”

“How so?”

“Well, as you know, the virus copies the genetic material of an infected male to a subsequent infected male’s sperm, but only those with Y chromosomes. The result is male offspring with random paternal genetic origin, but female offspring that still bear the original parents’ genes. This manages to preserve both the traditional mate selection process and the basis for families while at the same time elevating the status of females in society. I’m pleased to see that nobody prefers male children anymore.”

“Except for families in isolationist compounds and the wealthy who can afford sorted in vitro fertilization.”

“One virus can’t fix every problem…”

“Yeah, back to the main point. Did you actually think you could end sexism with a viral infection?”

“End, no. Greatly diminish, yes.” The bio-hacker was getting more animated. “The current generation of children already accepts the new paradigm. Unless a vaccine is developed soon, motivation to return to the old ways will quickly fade.”

“What about men with genetic diseases who were ostracized or worse?”

The bio-hacker inspected the table, “Every technology has unintended consequences.”

“Unintended consequences?” said the speaker in the wall. Agent Williams was standing on the other side of the mirrored glass. His marriage had been part of the early collateral damage of the virus before scientists realized what was happening.

Agent Jackson segued, “Yes, one unintended consequence has been for our profession. Violence has emptied some countries of bioengineers, while others are stockpiling them like weapons. So, the real reason we have you here is to offer you a job.”

“Why?” The bio-hacker was faking surprise.

“Reformed bio-hackers are the best security specialists.”

“What if I say no?” Now he was trying to bargain.

“We go public with your identity. Long trial. Life in prison.” There was a long pause.

“OK, I’m in.”

“Good. The official story will be that the virus was created by a scientist that died three years ago. Case closed. Meanwhile, you create a treatment and vaccine.” The bio-hacker’s eyes narrowed. “Consider it the appropriate conclusion of your ‘experiment.’ A good scientist always cleans up when done. Right?”

The bio-hacker brightened and leaned in, “Actually, now that we’re colleagues, I think you’ll be more interested in what I’ve been working on since the first release. It’s a benign bacterium that will end religious conflict.”

“Very interesting. Excuse me for a moment.”

Agent Jackson and Williams had a brief discussion and then sent the bio-hacker home with a handshake and some paperwork to complete. Agent Williams made a phone call. Later that evening, the bio-hacker would be abducted by an isolationists group in black ninja-like biohazard suits. Agent Williams said it was apropos – vigilante justice for vigilante science. Meanwhile, Agent Jackson erased all records of the day. Then, both agents went home to enjoy their Father’s Day weekend.

Empire

Author : Bob Newbell

“Your hot coffee, sir,” says the Inteeri waiter as he places the beverage on the table in front of me.

“Thanks. Here’s–” The short alien that looks vaguely like an anthropomorphic armadillo shuffles away before I can offer him a tip. At no time while serving me does he make eye contact. That was out of respect. And fear. I’m nobody important. Just a struggling writer. My waiter probably has more money in the bank than I have. But in his eyes — all six of them — it doesn’t matter. I’m a member of the galaxy’s most terrifying species. I’m human.

My old man was part of the delegation that made first contact with the Inteeri. The aliens weren’t sure if mankind posed a threat to them so their top military officials were tasked with the initial assessment of the human race. On a space station orbiting Inteer Secundum, my dad and the other human ambassadors met with the alien generals and admirals. One of the human delegates had a slight cold. He sneezed once during the meeting. An hour later the entire Inteeri High Command were dead. The earthly rhinovirus proved instantly lethal. With their military command gutted, the Inteeri political leaders unconditionally surrendered to Earth despite the reassurances of a distraught and horrified humanity that the Inteeri deaths were an unintended tragedy.

Someone or something jostles me as it moves past. Some of my coffee spills onto the table. I turn in my chair to come face to face with a rather surly looking Kordann. The creature’s eyestalks quickly withdraw from a beligerent extension to a submissive retraction as its leathery skin turns blue with fear.

“Ten thousand pardons, master,” the Kordann says through its translation device as it glides away on six tentacles, bowing in apology.

Humans made contact with the Kordann ten years after the disastrous Inteeri encounter. Again, the Biomedical Assessment Team determined there was little danger of contagion between the species. Nonetheless, the Earth delegates wore environment suits as a precaution. As the human ambassador walked up with his hand extended to the Kordann prime minister, he tripped. The Earthman’s hand struck the Kordann leader’s trachea, killing the latter. The details of this event bore a more than passing resemblance to a passage in the Kordann Book of Scripture prophesying a visitor from the heavens who would kill a Kordann ruler and establish a monarchy on their world. The religious-minded Kordann quickly submitted.

And so it would go for Mankind’s emmisaries to the stars. The Scottish brogue of Earth’s ambassador to the Relvet would result in “We come in peace and brotherhood” being mistranslated as “Surrender and serve, or die.” In the wake of the fall of both Inteer Secundum and Kordanna, the Relvet surrendered.

On Basura VII, the representative from Earth accidentally knocked over his water glass short-circuiting the computer that managed the Basuran Stock Exchange. A crippling recession and humble request that Basura VII be admitted to the growing Terran Empire followed. The Supreme Monarch of Juppnoi, finding himself trapped on a conference table by the barking Maltese dog of the Earth diplomat, abdicated the throne and turned the Juppnoi Kingdom over to Terran control.

Humanity now dominates much of the Orion Arm of the Milky Way galaxy. But we’ve turned over all further first contact and diplomatic missions to our extraterrestrial vassal states. A population of 50 billion subjects, none of whom we wanted, is more than enough.

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Based On A True Story That Hasn't Happened Yet

Author : Clint Wilson, Staff Writer

“Calm down earthling, we already have most of your recorded history. We believe we know what has happened. You are now an extremely endangered species, so we will not punish you for your crimes.”

“So you acknowledge that what I did was a crime?”

“Well the eradication of one’s own entire people could hardly be categorized as anything else. Although we have suspicions as to why you did it.”

“They were beyond repair, beyond reproach!”

“Agreed. You grew too quickly. It happens, but rarely at such an exponential rate. Who could blame your kind for evolving into the writhing mass of insanity that it became? After all, you went from carbon combustion discovery, then industrialization, to space exploration and complete cyber-integration in almost no time at all. Your people had but a proverbial nanosecond to assimilate their minds to the growth that was happening around them.”

PeterJet11056 paused, then… “So what happens now? Will you take me with you, or leave me here alone?”

“That all depends on the story you tell us. Please recount how you wiped out the dominant intelligent species of your planet.”

PeterJet11056 knew he had no other choice so he began, “Isaac Newton, one of our civilization’s early great thinkers said, “If I have seen further it is by standing on the shoulders of giants,” so I am hardly to blame for the technology that allowed me to commit my crime. I watched the net grow until we were nearly one solid mass, yet I kept at my free thinking exercises, avoiding The Bulls wherever I could, always keeping a low profile, until that day I finally developed the proper instruction code.”

“Please define, “instruction code”.”

“The net contained all of humanity, every person on the planet living in cyberspace, and they could all be manipulated by code. That was how the world government controlled us. A tweak here and we changed our entertainment programs. A nudge there and suddenly we were thinking differently about our political choices.”

“But why this need for control? You had achieved all that may be achieved by a physically tangent race. You wanted for nothing.”

“Except power that is.”

For once the alien presence was speechless.

PeterJet11056 ventured, “You know of power hunger? Of greed?”

“We know of this. This is the ugliest trait for any species to possess in all the known galaxies.”

“Then you understand! Our world had become a gray faceless empty entity. There was not one micron of goodness left among us. It was time to eradicate this planet of its parasite.”

“Yet you remain.”

“Believe it or not it was unintended.”

“We believe you.”

“So you know then, it wasn’t that I couldn’t commit suicide, it was just that I was unable. Whoever enters the instruction code is immune to its commands, impervious to its demands. A seriously flawed and dangerous safeguard if you want my humble opinion.”

PeterJet11056’s final words echoed down through the corridors of the cyber-connection that the aliens had provided upon their arrival.

For a moment, nearly two full nanoseconds, there was nothing, then… “We are satisfied with your answer. We shall take you with us.”

“Really?” The age-old program that had once been human became excited. What will become of me?”

“Not to worry, we believe there his hope for you yet. We will connect you with the best minds of our species. Eventually you may once again achieve physical existence. Then our cloning crews can begin with creating you a mate. Yes I do believe that you PeterJet11056 will be the father of the new human race.”

 

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