The Last Question

The Sears catalogue offers dozens of models of BlogBots, but it claims that its most popular is the X451, used to conduct remote interviews. During an average three years of service, the X451 BlogBot will recite hundreds of questions posted to its forum and transcribe the answers of over 50 interviewees. Some interviewees are celebrities, and some are politicians. Many are general surveys, where the BlogBot is positioned in a public space and repeats the same question to a given number of pedestrians.

Once, the legend goes, a kid asked his favorite site’s BlogBot to interview another BlogBot, this one belonging to a fiction site, and provided it with a single question: “Why do you do it?” A BlogBot’s programming is rudimentary by conventional standards, and it’s considered slightly less intelligent than the average car. When the question was posed to the fiction BlogBot, it nearly crashed, but its adaptive software saved it by processing the question as an incomplete answer rather than an inquiry.

People say science fiction is prophetic, but that isn’t entirely true. Science fiction isn’t about the future. It’s about the world we live in now, which is constant and constantly changing. The specifics change, from hovercars and ray guns to genetic engineering and cyberspace, but at the center of every science fiction story there’s something alive, something human. And that never changes.

The first answer was not an answer. The second BlogBot coolly repeated the words it had been given, and the BlogBot conducting the interview lapsed into a similar state. For several minutes, the room was filled with two voices as the BlogBots recited the question over and over. Each repetition was classified as a follow-up question, and in accordance with its programming, nothing could be converted to text until a final answer had been given.

Of course, it’s difficult to come up with ideas sometimes. You get discouraged, or feel like everything’s been done before. Often, it has. Sometimes the ideas are wonderful, and sometimes they’re less than wonderful. But you do it anyways, because that’s what writing is about.

It took the webmaster over an hour to realize that something was wrong, and it took three days to find the missing BlogBots. When they were recovered they were still locked in battle, though their words were now slurred by dying batteries. Not a single word had been converted to text. The question was never answered.

When readers try to thank me for writing, I never understand it. On their own, words are nothing but lead and ink and pixels. Telling a story is a circle: the writer writes, the reader reads, and worlds are created. I’m constantly thanking my readers. Sometimes, it’s just more obvious than others.

Information about the upcoming year of 365

All in a Day's Work

When I found her she was seated at the entrance to the 8th street NR station, looking like Huckleberry Finn in faded overalls with a wooden fishing pole resting over her shoulder. She’d been waiting for me, of course, because I was the one with the BB gun, and she damn well wasn’t going hunting on her own. Dawn was cocky, sure, but she wasn’t stupid. You never know what can happen down there.

“Ready?” she asked, grinning like a cartoon pumpkin. I nodded and she swung the fishing pole out to grab hold of the line, which was tied around the usual candle. Dawn lit both ends then bounced down the stairs, disappearing into the black subway entrance as if it were the mouth of a cave. I followed, the BB gun brushing against my hip.

As usual, the swarm of small fries dashed away from Dawn’s candle with a clatter of hundreds of claws against cement. These were three, maybe four inches…not the type we wasted ammo on. The quickest gutterbrats could catch them by tossing nets, but Dawn and I, we hunted serious game. She thrust the fishing pole into my hands as she hopped the turnstile, and my eyes followed the watery light over the familiar space. Hulking figures of old, dark ticket machines, and the plexiglass windows of the chamber that, for some reason, had never been looted. All trains cancelled, the whiteboard read in marker unaffected by the last decade.

“Downtown this time?” Dawn asked. She took the pole back so that I could swing myself over the barrier, and when I landed, I nodded. We passed the pole again to jump down into the tracks, and the flame flickered, almost going out from the movement. The candle was vital to tunnelhunting. Aside from providing light, it warned us when we were coming up on a patch of dead air. When we stood still we could hear them in the distance, crawling through the tunnels. The big fish, trackrabbits the size of cats.

Dawn stopped, and the candle bobbed. This was the place. I hurled the Styrofoam containers onto the next track over and heard the snap and wet crash of half-rotten bait, then I backed beside her to wait. They heard it. They always did.

The first ones were small, a little smaller than a cat. In the flickering light of the candle they were emaciated grey shapes trailing bent tails, sometimes bulging with tumors. The water’s poison, down here. We wait patiently, Dawn dangling the candle a few feet ahead as I level the gun at the swarm of rats. The big ones come later, ambling on crooked legs. Those are the ones we want.

The shots are clean, like my shots always are, and the rest of the trackrabbits scatter like pigeons. When Dawn and I get over, three of them are laying on the tracks, and one of them’s still twitching. “Nice,” she says, and I nod in agreement. One’s almost the size of a dog…it’ll fetch good money topside.

Dawn grabs the smallest one by the fattest part of the tail and starts dragging, steadying the fishing pole by tucking it under her arm and holding it straight with her free hand. I grab the other two and we head back to the sunlight, pulling our spoils behind us.

Forty Days

“She likes the rain,” Ms. Jones explained to her neighbor when the woman called in a panic, yelling that Xue had spent the last six hours sprawled across the top of the house ‘looking like a half-drowned corpse.’ She scowled at the shrill, busybody voice, but saved her choice words for the sound of the dial tone after Mrs. Hatter had been disconnected. The social workers had warned her that the transition would be difficult for Xue, but no one could have cautioned her about the Hatters.

The entire country had seen the news reports of the commune raid, but it had been reduced to late night talk show jokes in a matter of days, and within two weeks, it was forgotten. The commune leaders were sent to jail, which Ms. Jones’ pastor described as a light punishment for the crime of playing God.

In the first few weeks, Ms. Jones had become aware of the whispers that stopped when she drew near to the groups of ladies assembled to collect their biological children from the church’s after-school care program. She’d learned to ignore them, eyes forward as she swept through the handful of women to the corner where Xue played by herself. After she gathered the abnormally small child into her arms she always made it a point to walk past the other mothers with her posture straight, her jaw clenched, and her eyes narrow. It had taken Ms. Jones less than a month to become fiercely proud of her foster daughter. The condescending glances only strengthened her conviction.

Such a pity, the ladies gossiped. The girl’s barely human. Can you imagine? And with no husband to help. She should have just gotten a pet.

After Ms. Jones replaced the phone on its cradle, she left through the front door and walked to the sidewalk, shielding her eyes from the downpour and scanning the roof for Xue. Sure enough, the girl was stretched across the mottled shingles. Ms. Jones didn’t bother calling her name. She strode to the ladder and climbed eleven feet before stepping over the edge of the ranch house roof.

“Xue?” Ms. Jones said softly. The girl shuddered, sending droplets of rain in every direction. “Don’t you think it’s time to come inside, honey?”

Xue turned, her dark, unblinking eyes meeting Ms. Jones’ blue ones. Her nose twitched, but she offered no response to the question.

“It’s cold out here,” she said. “You must be freezing.”

“I’m not cold.”

Ms. Jones shrugged as she took a seat beside her foster daughter. “I am,” she said.

“That’s because you don’t have fur.”

Ms. Jones had no argument. She crossed her arms over her chest and watched the clouds scrolling over the horizon.

“No one’s making you stay out here,” Xue said. Her voice was cool, sullen, and seemed old for her eleven years.

Again. Ms. Jones shrugged. “It’ll stop raining eventually,” she said.


“And the colder I get, the better the hot chocolate will taste when I go back inside.”

Xue’s whiskers trembled. “You have hot chocolate?” she asked.

“And marshmallows,” Ms. Jones said.

The girl considered this for a long minute. “Maybe in a little bit.”

“No hurry.” Ms. Jones brushed away the lines that rain had traced through the thin fur of her daughter’s forehead. “It’ll be there whenever you’re ready.”

She is an iLand

The bud blossomed into her ear, its hairlike tendrils snaking towards her eardrum where they fanned out into electric petals, sensors cool against her hot skin. The soft thud reminded Meredith of being submerged, and in a way, she was: holding her breath against the summer rush hour stench of body odor and urine as the subway undertow pulled her beneath the island. The bud measured her heart rate, body temperature, slight changes in her pH. It understood her mood, and it provided a soundtrack to match. Slow, quiet. A Monday evening mix.

Meredith was well into the third track when her hardware buzzed against her thigh. She shifted her weight to detach it, and pressed the backlight button to better make out the words. Josh.

u ok?

im fine, she messaged back. y?

Three thousand miles away, on the west coast, the boy Meredith had met on her favorite band’s forum frowned at the letters on his own messenger. She couldn’t lie to him any more than she could lie to her bud. Josh syndicated all of his friends’ iTracks, and the downtempo music broadcast her mood better than any facial expression could.

im reading ur itrack, he typed. sounds sad.

just a mellow monday, Meredith replied.

want company?

Meredith answered with an indifferent emoticon, but Josh understood. He positioned his analogue headset over his ears and smiled at its weight, at the cold feeling of leather-covered foam beside his cheekbones. He clicked the link on her iTrack feed and jumped in mid-song, then settled back into his armchair, closing his eyes and concentrating on the gentle, melancholy notes.

Separated by an ocean of land, Meredith leaned into the hard cradle of an orange subway chair as her world, too, faded to music. Around her, dozens of bodies shifted to their own rhythms, composing their iTracks over the steady, low hum of the train.


“You just need to get your priorities in order,” Pern said as he plunked the ripe wikifruit onto the table. Courtney watched with dismay, her eyes wide as she watched the young man end drive a long knife through the product of her months of gardening. “Food is all fine and good, but we already have food. We’ve got over a hundred rations to get through before the supply ship comes. This,” he said, indicating the smooth, pink outer shell of the fruit, “is for something better than eating.”

“The only thing better than eating is breathing,” Courtney said, reciting one of the three principles that had been drilled into her during pioneer orientation. Pern laughed.

“You haven’t been here for long, have you?” he asked. He moved the blade around the thick stem of the wikifruit until a circle the side of his palm could be lifted from the foot-long purple shape. Pern reached for the next instrument, a long-necked spoon, which he stabbed deep into the fruit’s body.

“I…” Courtney began, but her shock quickly overcame her dedication to the pioneer ideals. Pern looked up to her with a warm smile, then twisted the spoon and lifted a clump of soggy pink from the inside of the wikifruit before dumping it into a bowl. He repeated the motion several times, and the rose-colored heap grew larger and larger until it seemed that so much mass could not have been contained within the now-hollowed fruit. Pern ripped the corner from a bag of sugar with his teeth, then poured it into the bowl in an avalanche of white.

“Get me the riser,” he told her. Courtney stared at the fruit, her horrified expression similar to the one she’d worn when she heard about the great wagon incident. She had no choice but to obey, though, and he knew it. When she returned with one of the small packets she used to bake bread, he tore the top away and emptied the paper envelope over the white and pink heap. Pern stirred the pile with his spoon until the wikifruit meat was a squishy, sugar-embedded glob. He lifted a spoonful, offering it to Courtney. “Wanna taste?” he asked.

“You monster!” she whimpered. He shrugged, and shoveled the bowl’s contents back into the purple rind.

“You’ll thank me in a month or two,” he told her with a knowing smile as he sealed the wikifruit with the circle he’d first carved away. “Everyone always does.”