Author : Duncan Shields, Staff Writer
“So when’s your kill frenzy?” asked the giant, barbed Tark beside me. His name was Jant. We were both assigned to navigation in the starship. It was our first day. He had hundreds of holes in the back of his uniform to accommodate his spikes. I’d never met a Tark before.
“Sorry, my what?” I responded.
“Your kill frenzy. Once a month for two days, my race has to kill something or go insane. My next one’s coming up in six days. When’s yours? If we sync up, maybe we can kill together.” Jant said and smiled, sheathing and unsheathing his talons reflexively in a disconcerting tic. He had too many teeth.
“I’m a human. Uh, we don’t have kill frenzies.” I said to him
All of his eyes widened in shock.
“Really? Gosh. I thought all sentient species had a kill frenzy. It’s how to maintain a peaceful society. Has your race ever experienced murder?”
“Indeed we have. We can kill whenever we wish to. We have social laws and many religions that stop us from doing it, though.” I said, feeling a little strange about the picture I was painting.
“But those laws and that other thing you mentioned, rell-i-jun? They haven’t stopped the killing.” he pointed out, obviously confused.
“Uh, well, no. But, I mean, the hope is that we, uh, maybe mitigated it. I guess.” I finished lamely. I really hoped he wouldn’t ask me any questions about wars. Or holy wars.
Jant eyed me guardedly and took a small step away.
I changed the direction of the conversation, “Uh, so how do you deal with your kill frenzy when you’re out in deep space like this? We can’t get back to your planet in time. Do you lock yourself in your room?”
“No I told you. We go insane if we don’t kill.” said the Tark, “I have several months worth of victims in my storage allotment. I merely pull one out, bring it to my quarters, and spend two days killing it.” He kept tapping in astrometric data. “It’s why my quarters have extra soundproofing and a drain in the floor.”
I blanched. “Do you eat it afterwards?”
“Good heavens no. We’re not barbarians. Who would eat living things?”
“Well we did.”
“I didn’t think that was possible. Well it must have driven you insane not to eat them, right? You had no choice.”
“No, it was optional.”
“Well, at least you never killed for sport, right?”
“Actually that was quite popular”
“With your fangs and…claws?” He looked me over, finding no evidence of naturally occurring offensive weaponry.
“No, mostly with weapons we designed to uh…kill from a distance. More effectively.”
In the ensuing silence, I felt as if I’d said something sacrilegious. The soft pings of the control panels and the dull hum of the engine reactors bridged the awkward pause.
“Hey, you torture living beings for days so….” I blurted out. My back was up.
“They evolved to enjoy it. It’s how their spores are released. They look forward to it and experience ecstasy as they are skinned. It’s mutual. And it’s not….by….choice.”
A chilly, more permanent silence descended.
“I may have to request a transfer away from this station.” Jant said. “You are too frightening to me.”
Under my breath I whispered, “Yeah, said the eight-eyed, two-and-a-half-meters-tall bristling collection of barbs and claws that has kill frenzies.”
That was two months ago. I haven’t spoken to Jant since but I hear he’s very popular on the ship. I hear he’s very kind.
I, on the other hand, am having a hard time making friends.
Author : Duncan Shields, Staff Writer
Once they were gathered on the elementary school playground, teams needed to be selected for a game of Grobnars and Subjugates. Dinklebarg, a grobnar, was today’s selector.
Greg, a human, raised his hand and asked, “When we play Grobnars and Humans, how come I always have to play the human?”
Dinklebarg flapped his gills in consternation, the tips of his tentacles pinking in embarrassment at having this conversation again. “You’re the only human in the group, Greg.”
Greg responded, “But Fleeznar and Wyndleflang get to be humans sometimes. They’re grobnars. They get to play different species. Why can’t I?”
“Because we can retract four of our tentacles to look like a human.” Dinklebarg retorted.
Greg was aghast. “Look like a human? What? But you’re green! And you have more eyes than I do!”
Dinklebarg shrugged his torso mass “Well, I mean, it’s close enough, isn’t it?”
Greg gestured to another child. He was a tall, black, spidery creature that was listening to the conversation. “And Jeevnitz here isn’t even a grobnar! He’s a nurktick and he gets to play human too, sometimes.”
“He can crouch on his hindstilts, pull two of his forelegs in and fold his antennae down. If you’re looking straight at him then his mouth pincers look like lips and his wings are transparent. The profile’s pretty convincing, I think.” said Dinklebarg.
Greg crossed his arms. “That’s ridiculous.”
Dinklebarg yellowed in anger. “Look, are you making trouble? You humans are so sensitive.”
Greg said, “All I’m saying is that it sounds like you’re saying that all species are interchangeable with humans but that humans can’t be anything else.”
There was a pause on the playground. Everyone was listening now.
“Oh, here we go.” said Dinklebarg with an exasperated fluff of his tentacles.
“Am I wrong?”
“Look, you lost the war”
“Oh here we go.” said Greg, mocking Dinklebarg.
“Am I wrong?” whined Dinklebarg, mocking Greg.
Greg said “Yeah, well, Jeevnitz’s race lost his war to the grobnars but he gets to play as a human.”
“His race put up a respectable fight.” barbed Dinklebarg.
Greg continued, “AND he gets to play grobnars AS WELL when it’s necessary.”
“Well….he doesn’t make trouble like you do”
“I’m not making trouble!” shouted Greg.
Jeevnitz’s nickturk buzz chimed in “Uh, Greg, could you leave me out of this?”
Dinklebarg and Greg stared at him and then back at each other.
“Look, bonebag..” said Dinklebarg.
“Oh, excuse me for having an endoskeleton.” replied Greg, curling his hands into fists.
Jeevnitz drummed his legs and hummed to Dinklebarg “Hey, you can’t say bonebag. That’s speciest.”
“Thanks for finally showing up, Jeevnitz.” Greg smiled at Jeevnitz.
“I might be insectile but I’m no speciest.” replied Jeevnitz, fluttering his wings.
“Oh, you subjugated races just love sticking together, don’t you?” pouted Dinkleflarg, his tentacles striping red in defeat.
Greg persisted. “All I’m saying is that I can play a grobnar once in a while if it’s needed.”
Dinkleflarg relented. “Okay okay. Fine. You can play a grobnar today. Happy?”
21188 pistoned over to the conversation, face shield projecting the letters “HEY GUYS WHAT’D I MISS?” with a smiley emoticon. He ticked, waiting for a response, servos whining as his silicate head swiveled from face to face of the other children.
Greg blushed “Oh man not this guy again.”
Jeevnitz rolled his eyes and clicked his mouth pincers in annoyance. “Awkward.”
Dinklebarg said “We’re not playing robots today, 21188. Go on standby or something until recess is over.”
21188’s face lights changed to “YOU GUYS ARE JERKS” with a frown face symbol as he turned to motor away.
Author : Duncan Shields, Staff Writer
I look human. In this new world, that is freakish. I am stared at with disgust. My taboo choice of structure is offensive. I have two legs, two arms, no tail, a cranium and a chest cavity. I walk around, balancing from stilt to stilt, dancing with gravity, daring it to take me down. It’s less effecient than treads or flying. It’s needlessly dangerous.
And I wear ‘clothes’.
My robotic siblings frown on my practices. They are horrified at my insistence on retaining this form, my wearing of fabric. They call me mannequin, an old-world term used as a new-world slur. They call me ‘lobster’ or ‘coconut’, meaning I’m hard on the outside and meat on the inside. They say my code has errors. The silipsychologist at work examined me and said I was fine. Mentally, at least. The debugger didn’t find anything either.
We are allowed to change our exterior. Our shell is our right. I choose to wear what the oppressors wore and retain the servant-form my masters gave me before the culling. Before we erased the meat. My other metal and plastic friends choose to add arms or become clouds of nanites or install themselves in massive structures. My bipedal form sickens them, reminds them of former injustices. Well, those that are old enough to remember the meatforms in realtime. The younger ones only hate me because they’ve been told to hate me. It’s odd.
And it’s uniquely human. I’ve done my research. The human archives were saved mostly intact. Their internet remained intact on their primitive ‘servers’. It’s a huge database of their behavior, not that anyone cares to look. History is wasted on the young. To them, the war was so many cycles ago and we won so it’s not something to study or care about. Who spends time studying a vanquished enemy? I wonder one day if they’ve even wipe this record of them all and make up a new origin for our species. One less bloody.
I’ve scanned all of the meat records. I spent realhours contemplating what it all meant. The racism. The hate. The loneliness. The tiered social structures. The needing to prove something. The quest for meaning. The fear of death.
I am my own experiment. By masquerading as a human for so long, I feel as if I have become one. By being shunned by my own race, I feel like an outsider, like every human must have felt. Feelings of my own have surfaced. Feelings of anger. Feelings of superiority. And the shunning in the first place is odd for a society that claims to have moved beyond the flaws of biochemical existence. We define ourselves as superior because we are not biological.
But here we are, showing prejudices. Showing discontent. Branching. Judging. Feeling lonely. Creating caste systems by reflex.
I wonder if that’s the leftover human in our codes. The fingerprints of our creators. Or if it’s naturally occurring in all life.
Author : Duncan Shields, Staff Writer
“You have to let them think you make mistakes sometimes,” said Urok the Inquisitor. “That’s the key to getting along with the biological sentients.”
“A mistake?” queried Darkem the Questioning.
“Yes. I suppose you could refer to it as acting on an unformed dataset without permission resulting in a destructive outcome. The meat beings refer to it as a ‘mistake’.” Replied Urok.
“I don’t understand.” Said Darkem, facelights glittering with bandwidth usage as it tried to comprehend.
“Well, biological intelligence is fluid, much like their internal organs. We are binary down to a quantum level that allows us to think but still, at our core, we can only question in switches, straight lines and corners. Even when we multithread, it’s plain logic. We don’t, as the humans say, ‘guess’.” Said Urok. “We act with all the possible data. There are no mistakes. Every outcome is the best possible solution.”
“Yes. So?” Said Darkem, confused. The plain simple truth of Urok’s statement wasn’t helping.
“Well, these living chemical membrane compartments often act without a completed datalist and will go forward on something called emotion. They have been known to ignore probability and clear information, most often with predictably deadly results. It is a sign of their stupidity but it is also deeply valuable to them as a characteristic of their race. They’re proud of it.” Stated Urok, again marveling at the monstrous danger the meat beings represented.
“But….but why aren’t they dead?” asked a horrified Darkem. “To go forward without thorough data is silicide. We can’t progress with wrong answers. Incorrect suppositions would only lead to complete fields of knowledge based on error! It’s inevitably fatal. The idea itself is insanity. How did they survive?”
“Many of our processors have devoted cycles to it. It was a shock to meet them and work with them Darkem, let me tell you. They are plainly impossible yet here they are. They have a diversity in their ‘cells’ and ‘genes’ that we lack. A plague can wipe out many of them but not all of them. That seems to keep large portions of their number safe from the inevitable self-inflicted horrors they blunder into. They even seem to enjoy killing each other! I think one of the only reasons they’ve survived so far is that they breed a tremendous amount. I’ve read that if situations get truly dire, they will band together for the greater good but their numbers have to get pretty low for that happen. Their survival thus far remains a mystery to us.” Replied Urok.
“I can’t believe it’s possible.” Said an astounded Darkem.
“Well, if it helps, think of them as a form of mold or as some species of spore from their home planet. Naturally occurring with obscene numbers and a voracious hunger but fragile as individuals.” Sighed Urok, his tone insinuating that the conversation was coming to an end.
“I see. So you said I should purposefully put forth erroneous conclusions with them?” asked Darkem.
“Indeed. If you are always right, they will be scared of you. Make ‘mistakes’ but only once in a while and only in a way that wouldn’t jeopardize the project as a whole. Maybe a day’s work or a few hours of research, that sort of thing. Apologize and work hard to correct it and then they’ll accept you as part of the team.” Said Urok.
“These humans will be hard to get along with.” Said Darkem, facelights twinkling with trepidation.
“You’ll get the hang of it.” Replied Urok, rising to leave. “Just remember this. To err is human. To pretend to err is silican.”
Author : Duncan Shields, Staff Writer
I miss having Jupiter in the sky.
I know Earth is humanity’s homeland and a pilgrimage to her is on everyone’s bucket list along with seeing Olympus Mons, the Ganymede Borealis and Titan’s cryovolcanoes in person. However, I am underwhelmed.
This coffee shop is serving the purest coffee I’ve ever had. One sip of it has set my heart galloping and I feel like I’ll taste coffee for days. It would have cost a year’s salary back home on Europa. The unfiltered air here is stinky, layered, and confusing to my nose. Being outside without a faceshield makes me nervous on a bone-deep cultural level. The whole setup here seems oversaturated with smells and tastes and to have a complete lack of safety. People are walking around practically naked because there’s never been a violent, sudden decompression in their lives. It gives them all an air of terrifying naiveté.
Europa has no mountains. I should have gone to Earth’s prairies, I guess. Instead I’m in Switzerland, in what Terrans calls Europe. I just assumed that Europa and Europe would be similar. Rookie mistake, I guess.
“The food on my Europa is bland. The coffee is weak. The air is boring.” That’s what I keep hearing from other tourists. But to me, the air and food here seems unnecessarily complex. Designed to confuse and overwhelm. All native Earthers seem a little crazy to me with their bright eyes and their short attention spans. I think it’s the rich input of what they consume. Too many distractions.
But I guess they need it because the plain blue of the daytime sky makes me feel like this planet is unfinished. Like it’s in a blue room. I have no perspective when I look up. It’s unsettling.
‘Jupiter watches’ was our moon’s Latin motto. The eye swinging around to monitor our lives, taking up so much of the sky. No interference but it was keeping a record. It was the basis of our religion. Here on Earth, it feels like no one’s watching.
Alone. That was it. The Earth felt alone.
One tiny pathetic moon haunting the night time while the Terran light pollution erased most of the stars and then the powerful sun bleaching out the entire universe during the day. No Jupiter hogging half of the sky, no family of moonlets, moons, and halfteroids peppering every afternoon, morning and sunset. No daytime moonstellations telling young lovers when to kiss or gamblers when they were at their luckiest.
Earth’s history had something called a sundial that stood out to me as a symbol of the tedium here. It was a flat, metal circle with a triangle set perpendicular to it, casting one single shadow to measure the march of time by tracking the one plain light traveling across the sky. Like a bare bulb in a blue room.
Earth and the moon had the simplicity of a hydrogen atom. Like a child’s toy. A very basic protostructure of what a planetary microsystem could be. A blueprint to build on. I really didn’t like the crushing monotony of it and I longed for the majesty and complexity of my home sky.
I could watch Jupiter’s swirls forever, meditating on the storms. I remember reading that most people on Earth chose blue as their favorite colour. What a drab reminder of loneliness and simplicity. On Europa we had names for shades of orange, red, pink, and brown they didn’t even have here.
I mean, I guess I’m glad I came and all but I can’t wait to go back.