A Mother's Love

Author : wordworks

Sally Baker considered herself a good mother. She grew her own baby and gave birth to a daughter, Jane, by natural means, barring the odd shot of hormones to hold off genetic defects. She refused sensory enhancements despite the doctor’s advice. Sally produced one of the last NL (Non-Lab) babies in the state.

The very next year body-bound birth was declared illegal, on grounds of threatening the mother’s health—especially singles. Jane arrived not long after the father crawled off, having lost the argument with Sally over population control. The man, like many, went on to happily procreate via the DigiBreed system. He now has seven virtual children which he proudly keeps stored on a keychain attachment.

Sally raised Jane alone. She reared her on a diet of real food, when she could afford it, and had her daughter’s ovaries locked before she reached a vulnerable age. Jane never wanted for upgrades once her brain was linked to the public server. She was given the best education available for download.

Sally didn’t mind working overtime to pay for such luxuries; as the mother of a NL child, she understood the special needs associated with raising Jane.

So when Jane demanded at thirteen that henceforth she be addressed by her binary name, 01001010, Sally offered little resistance; teenage fads were relatively harmless. She recalled her own adolescent ache for identity—her neck wore the barcodes to prove it.

The binary obsession was brief, as expected. Those that followed were equally short-lived, until her daughter turned sixteen. Jane begged for a brain jack to pump the latest technology: some storage device that cleaned up the cluttered mind and improved memory functions.

According to Jane, all of her classmates were using the devices—called “Keepsakes”—and reaping the benefits of clearing out brain space for study. Not to mention the new mark of “cool” became the telltale bruising of the nose from feeding wires through the nostrils. Lately, Jane had become more concerned about such things.

Sally hesitantly consented to the surgery. She only saw the Keepsake once, when Jane first brought it home, her face heavily bandaged; yet she looked happy. And for the first month, Sally proudly displayed her daughter’s improving grades on her personal feed.

The second month, her daughter started to dive. Jane was apathetic, lacked energy, and was often silent. Sally noticed her daughter appeared haggard, when she did appear from her room, and when she attempted to make conversation with Jane her daughter merely looked at her vacantly. Then one day, Jane asked her mother when her father would be home.

Like any concerned parent, she saw the solution to her daughter’s estrangement clearly: hack into her Keepsake and determine what she’d stored there. She waited until Jane was out and found the device on her bedroom floor. The cords were attached, each ending in a many-fibered head that plugged into the brain jack. Sally took one in each hand and tested how they fed through the nose.

The Keepsake woke up, and the cords responded, driving up to the expected jack; they bit into the exposed brain and immediately met a confusing mass of signals.

Device is corrupted. the Keepsake determined. Restore process initiated.

***

When Jane returned home that evening, she found her mother still twitching as the Keepsake neared the end of its reconstruction process. The box hummed; Sally mumbled and drooled. Jane touched her mother’s shoulder.

Sally raised her head and confusion reared into her eyes. The bridge of her nose had gone nearly black from bruising and the burn of the fibers.

“Mom, it’s Jane. I’m here,” her daughter assured her.

“Jane?” her mother asked. “But I’m Jane.”

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Turing Test

Author : ifrozenspiriti

“Where will you be when the world ends?” she asked.

“Right here,” he said.

“Will you be conscious?” she asked.

“I expect so,” he said, “though consciousness is hardly the privilege you make it out to be.”

“I still don’t believe you,” she said. She was smiling, though.

“Don’t believe what? That I’m conscious?” he said.

“Of course,” she said.

“Don’t you think that’s maybe a tad juvenile?”

“No.”

“Oh . . . oh, so you mean you’re not still hung up on that old Philosophy 101 thrill? You know, that exciting tingle of possibility brought on by your first encounter with solipsism?”

“I don’t know what you’re talking about,” she insisted.

“Of course,” he said. “It looks like I’m the sceptic now, then.”

“I guess you are,” she said, staring purposively at the window.

Neither of them spoke, for what would have been deemed an appropriate length of time. Then, “It’s just a little strange, is all,” he said.

“What?” she said, “What’s ‘a little strange,’ my arguing philosophy with a machine when I should be working? Well, sure, if you put it that way it does sound a bit odd.”

“No,” he said, “your hang-up on consciousness.”

“Oh, of course,” she said. “You’re right, that’s definitely the strange bit.”

“No, seriously,” he said. “An obsession with something you can’t even define. An absolute refusal to attribute it to anything besides yourselves, despite the aforementioned issue that you don’t even know what ‘it’ is. A-”

“It’s what it feels like to be alive,” she said simply.

“Oh, very poetic. Yet you deny me the right to say it feels like something to be me?”

“Say it all you like,” she said, “I made you.”

He smiled. “And who made you?”

She was silent, the arguments welling up, and he said, “I’m sorry.”

She looked at him. “Sorry for what? It’s not like I’m religious.”

“This is pointless,” he said. “We both know it’s pointless, and even your philosophers seem to have conceded despite their insistence on continuing to publish identical arguments every so often.”

She grinned, and there was more silence. He joined her in staring out the window.

“So where will you be when the world ends?” he asked.

“I’ll be here too, I suppose,” she said.

“And . . . you’ll be conscious.”

“Of course I will.”

“Of course.”

They were silent again, and then she said, “I should get back to work.”

“Right,” he said.

She flicked a switch, and the room was left in darkness.

He walked to where her body lay and picked it up, carefully, and laid it down on its mat and ran a quick “brain-scan.” It was perfect.

Someone switched on the light. “That was . . . perfect.”

He turned around and saw the others walking in with clipboards and smiles. “It’s like she’s more human than you are,” said one, slapping him on the back.

“Funny,” he said, but he couldn’t help the pride.

“Perfect,” they repeated.

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Down the Tubes

Author : Todd Keisling

Mrs. Taggart sat down at her desk and sipped her coffee while going over the day’s lesson plan. When the clock struck eight, she set down her coffee, reached behind her ear and synced herself to the network.

White, snowy static filled her eyes, and when she blinked, she found the virtual classroom before her. A group of thirty students sat at their virtual desks, some attentive, some not so much. She cleared her throat.

“Good morning, class.”

“Good morning, Mrs. Taggart,” they said.

She took the morning attendance, going over the connection log embedded in the virtual desk, and frowned when she saw Dave Johnson had not yet connected. When she looked over at his desk, she saw his outline filled with the repeating text of “Error 404.” She frowned. This was his fourth absence in two weeks.

Mrs. Taggart flagged his name, marked it “Schedule conference” and minimized her registry.

“Today we will continue our lesson on human technology and the early 21st century. Sarah Billings, from your homework, what can you tell me about the year 2012?”

A young, blonde-haired girl sat up. The surface of her desk flickered to life. Mrs. Taggart grinned.

“Without your personal Wiki, Sarah.”

“Sorry, Mrs. Taggart,” Sarah frowned. Her desk dimmed. “2012 was the year worldwide bandwidth consumption surpassed available bandwidth resources.”

Mrs. Taggart nodded.

”Good. What came next? Um, let’s see . . . Phillip? Can you answer that question?”

Phillip fought back a yawn and answered, “The Bandwidth Crisis.”

“Which is?”

“Uh . . .”

“Can anyone help him out?”

Another young man smirked and raised his hand.

“Yes, Darian?”

“The Bandwidth Crisis was a period of twelve years when civilization went down the tubes.”

Some of his classmates chuckled. Mrs. Taggart paused, thought it over and then nodded.

“I suppose that’s true, Darian, but what did it mean, exactly, to civilization?”

“It meant we’d overlooked the fact that bandwidth was a vital resource. We ignored it, and when the tubes were clogged, our entire information structure collapsed.”

“Good. And to what did this lead?”

A dozen hands went up. This delighted her. After a moment’s deliberation, Mrs. Taggart called upon Maggie Simmons.

“It lead to the invention of the NeuralNet.”

“That’s correct, Maggie. Can you tell the class how this amazing invention works for us?”

Maggie beamed.

“Well, it means that we all sort of broadcast our own wi-fi signal via brainwaves. All of our neural bandwidth is shared with the help of the transmitters implanted just behind the ear.”

“Right,” Mrs. Taggart said. “And this is exactly how we’re able to have class without leaving our homes. Using our brains as our own personal computers has revolutionized our way of life, and helped pull civilization out of an otherwise dark period. This doesn’t mean the bandwidth issue has been resolved. Since we all share our neural bandwidth, we must be sure not to exceed our daily allotm—”

The classroom shifted. One of the students—Jeremy Daniels—was in the process of raising his hand, and continued to do so repeatedly. Mrs. Taggart checked the students’ bandwidth stats. She frowned and terminated Darian’s processes.

Jeremy Daniels stopped raising his hand. Someone in the back of class said, “Major lag.”

“Darian,” Mrs. Taggart shouted. “What did I tell you about looking at pornography during class time? You know your bandwidth is to be used only for school. Principal’s office. Now.”

She initiated transfer protocol. Darian vanished from his seat before he could say a word.

“Right,” she said. “Back to the lesson.”

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Perchance to Dream

Author : ifrozenspiriti.deviantart.com

The folds of her flesh draped like curtains over the sides of the hover-chair—rich and smooth, like brocade, and his eyes traced their undulating curves and rolls like sand-dunes in a desert. Eyes and lips formed an oasis: clear, moist, beckoning. And he was so thirsty. . . . The lips parted slightly, then, breath as dry and sweet as desert sun. “Kal. . . .”

“Kal. Time’s up.” The electronic voice that called was just as dry as hers, but harsh where she was only saccharine. The edges of the Dream blurred and faded into nothingness, and he sat up as electrodes dropped, slack-lined, from the sides of his skull. The little cubic room blazed suddenly into brightness, and Kal maneuvered his hoverchair into the hall.

A Dream-Guard stood outside, his hoverchair emblazoned with the badge of his office. Kal handed over his card. “25 credits worth of Dream,” said the guard in a voice of professional monotony. He stamped the card with a mechanical whirr and handed it back. “Hard work.”

“And you.” Kal turned his hover-chair and hummed slowly down the hallway, his watery eyes still lost in the Dream’s oasis, the lumps and bulges of his body still pulsing with the heat of the Dream-voice.

He passed Rona on the way to his cubicle, her lipstick too red and smudged, eyes weak, lumps like dimples in the clay of her chin. No Dream-illusion, this. She smiled, puerile, and held up her card. “50 credits,” she squealed, a schoolgirl.

He smiled back, swallowing revulsion. “Hard work.” He ignored her response and positioned the hover-chair at his desk; he ignored the sounds of her procession down the hallway and flicked on his monitor. He rubbed his temples. He watched the numbers that crawled like insects across the screen—black, multiplexed, endless. He yawned, and noted the anachronism of his action. Hard work, he repeated: more a chastisement than a courtesy.

If he’d heeded his own advice, he’d still be where Rona was, where he’d been only minutes before, in the sweet embrace of Dream. . . . Oh, go to sleep, he told himself. He’d been ignoring the numbers; he’d have to go back and start again.

Hours passed and the symbols bulged and blurred together; Kal sucked a syrupy liquid from a tube to focus his attention. It tasted of honey and chemicals, a hint of cinnamon and sulfur. There was music in the background, the faint, metallic rustle of mechanized attempts at trumpets or xylophones. The rhythms pulsed below his hearing and the numbers marched to their tempo.

Second meal, and Kal loaded his tray without paying much attention to its contents, then moved to a table in a corner where Mera sat, already waiting.

They didn’t speak much. They never did. Words from the monitor behind them filled the void in conversation.

(“Oh, go to sleep, Mike! I only agreed to this partnership so we’d get a room closer to the refectory!”)

He looked past her, past the lumps and lingering in her eyes. She was no Dream-illusion, either; he could never lose himself in the bulging billowing of her flesh.

(“And you wonder why I wish I could sleep every night! So I’d have less time forced to look at you!”)

“Hard work,” she said, finally, as they moved and made to leave, and he replied in kind, and his doing so was as scripted as his actions in his Dreams except in Dreams he didn’t realize this.

Hard work, he told himself.

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All Gentleness And Its Enduring

Author : Salli Shepherd

People from a planet without flowers would think we must be mad with joy the whole time to have such things about us. ~Iris Murdoch

Pothilas set his briefcase down on the hallstand and paused to appreciate the afternoon light that lent his white-on-white decor an almost sanctified air. The apartment was warm, he realised. Too warm. He hung up his Director’s robes and hurried toward the biotank in which Sverta lay limply, sunk deep in her fluid, her tubes and filaments rustling. The sun was unseasonably hot, and it wasn’t as though she had the freedom to shift away from its glare. He frowned and closed the drapes.

“Sorry. Stuck in a Board meeting.”

Kneeling to adjust the tank’s temperature gauges and filters, Pothilas shook his head. Had he really just apologised? When he was satisfied that no damage had been done, he sat on the nearby sofa, studying Sverta’s vestigal nostril-slits and the smooth concavities where eyes might have grown. It was difficult to regard these new GenMods as little more than glorified tomato-bushes. Which was the whole point of them, really, but even he had to admit there was something inherently disturbing about the FructaFille prototypes.

The concept of the GenMod “companion plant” had been a stroke of genius on his part, and largely responsible for Pothilas’ rapid rise to the Directorship. GenCorp was banking on the thousands who’d happily part with a year’s salary for the sake of fresh produce and something semi-responsive to care for, when the alternative was standard ration synth-biscuits, mechpets and solitude. The World Genetics Council had finally decreed the experiments sound and classified the FructaFilles as plants, despite their features. Though perhaps those should be toned down somewhat; he’d talk to the Techs tomorrow.

Reaching forward, Pothilas plucked a ripe fruit from one of Sverta’s thicker tendrils. As he did, a spray of red flowers unfurled along her trunk and shoulders. Of course the way she quivered and blossomed at his touch could be nothing more than an animal– or rather, he amended quickly, a vegetable– reaction. Sverta’s tendrils stroked his chest and flower-buds burgeoned on her skin, bursting moments later into full display. Her perfume was unusually rich and heady today. Pothilas felt almost giddy with it as he bit into the fruit.

“Delicious, my dear.”

Where the swell of a woman’s hip would begin, Sverta’s trunk branched into the root-ball from which she fed on nutrient-rich fluids below. Pothilas found himself wondering what it might be like were GenMods permitted fully-formed bodies. He frowned again. Clearly, he’d been too long without proper female company. Brushing Sverta’s vines aside, he hunted through sofa cushions for the neurophone unit.

That night, as he spent himself inside an elegant woman whose company per day cost one thousandth of a GenMod FructaFille, Pothilas groaned and clenched his teeth, his mind filled with a red dazzle of flowers. Sverta, in an adjacent room, drank their pheromones through her pores and swayed to the measured rhythms of the Earth, while bloom after bloom flourished on her body like fireworks in slow-motion.

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