Author: Chris Hobson
On the day of Bard Maglin’s retirement, his scribe made a stunning request. “Your secret manuscript,” he uttered as his master approached the punch bowl. “Where is it?”
Maglin flashed a vacant smile. Pouring himself a drink, he returned to his guests. Did I let it slip? he wondered, throat constricting. It was possible. But even if he hadn’t, Arlox was smart enough to intuit the truth. He should’ve seen this coming.
Bard Maglin hadn’t wanted a party, least of all in his own flat. Celebrating the launch of his final book felt like a death sentence, like Nero driving a chariot while his empire crumbled.
Making small talk with androids dressed in tuxedos and silk dresses, his frock coat felt tight at the collar. The welter of noise — bursts of laughter mixed with clinking cutlery — nearly drove him mad.
Hours later, the final guest left. Arlox plugged himself into the wall recharging port.
“It took you 62.48 days to complete your final work,” he said. “That can only mean one thing.”
“Writer’s block,” lied Maglin. He looked out a window at the double circumference of walls surrounding his home. Around him, dustbots collected wine glasses that guests had left behind. “Admittedly, a problem you virtuo-writers don’t face.”
“No matter,” Arlox sighed, his oculars dulling. “I will monitor your dreamless sleep waves. If you’re telling the truth, you have nothing to fear.”
Fear. Maglin felt the word’s jagged contours shape into being. If caught, he’d hoped to petition the high mayor for a reprieve. But he hadn’t counted on Arlox turning him in. “Do you really think I’d keep a whole manuscript hidden away in my mind?”
“A secret manuscript,” pressed the droid, his voice sawing on his master’s nerves, “would only mar your legacy.”
Maglin stepped into his den. Hung with watercolor paintings of the Palio di Siena, for fifty years the space had served as his office. Bookshelves occupied three walls, the books wrapped in aerogel dust jackets. He breathed in their ozone smell. Where would he spend the next thirty years, now that he’d outlived his usefulness?
Shrugging off the thought, Maglin said, “Not to mention how it would hurt your credibility. Just think,” he added, “if everyone thought there were two Bard Maglins — one in the public eye and one still writing in the shadows. Like two popes residing in Rome.”
Above his writing desk was mounted a sword. A gift from his publisher, its blade bore the inscription Labor omnia vincit: Hard work conquers all. It caught a ray of late-day sunshine, gilding it in gold.
Fifty years, thought Maglin. Only to be replaced by a pile of silicon.
Without warning his hands flew to the hilt.
“What are you doing?” questioned the scribe, his voice edged with anger.
“What I should’ve done long ago.”
Maglin yanked down the weapon and rushed forward. Arlox dodged sideways.
“You will be tried and executed.” Pitched to pierce Maglin’s heart, his companion howled, “Think of your illustrious name!”
When the sword swung again, it gashed Arlox’s arm. Lithium grease spurted against the bookshelves.
“I’m bleeding!” he shrieked.
Another jab punctured his interleaved respirator. With a desperate move, Arlox wrapped his steel fingers around Maglin’s neck and squeezed.
“You will die so that your name may endure,” he promised, tightening his grip.
Fighting for breath, Bard Maglin kicked his companion’s torso. Arlox stumbled backward. In one motion his master sprang up, brought the blade around, and buried it in the android’s chest. With a final spasm, Arlox fell cold at his master’s feet.
Author: Chris Hobson
George was the company’s fired man. Every chain had one, and George was Talljeef’s. It worked like this: a customer would grow irate about a mixup with their groceries, eyes even with their shoulders. Unappeased by the offer of store credit or vouchers, they’d demand satisfaction from a fired man.
Dialing up Central Stocking, Bloomfield or Nelscott would teleport the fired man in. “It’s unacceptable!” the manager would scream, spittle flying. “How in skies could you let this happen, George?”
Firing flesh-and-blood people meant severance payments and lawsuits — much better to axe an android. It was an irony lost on no one that fired men never lacked for work.
Programmed for humiliation, George awoke at the same time each day. One morning, his precog sensors soupy from sleep, he envisaged a heavyset man. One plump finger upraised, the human’s mouth hung wide open, giving vent to a scream. As George ran through diagnostics and washed his sprocket housings, he wondered longingly about the heavyset man.
This, thought the fired man, will be a good day.
Presently, “Store 459” blinked across his oculars. It was one of the newer stores he’d never visited before. With cheerful readiness, George headed for a bank of capsules, treads clanking against the metal floor. With a grunt, he hauled himself into a teleporter, punched in the coordinates for Talljeef’s Grocers 459, and listened for the jets to ignite.
On the way, George morphed into a balding septuagenarian with stooped shoulders. A rumpled sweater and slacks materialized. Arriving ten minutes later, he stepped out of the capsule with feet instead of treads. The stockroom of store 459 was dark and high-ceilinged, with rows of pallet shelves climbing to the rafters.
“There you are!” jolted a voice, high and strained.
George jerked around but found no one there. “Reporting for duty,” he said, snapping a salute to no one in particular. Anticipation made his neural network fire spikes of rapture; within moments, an inconsolable customer would be slinging insults at him!
Through an intercom, the voice rang, “Get to customer service on the double.”
George emerged into an expanse of tiles and freezers and glittering shelves. Every aisle seemed strangely empty. Had he misread the order, transported to the wrong store? As if in answer to his question, a man George had never seen before appeared. Wearing a black blazer, he was heavyset with tired, cerulean eyes. A mat of purple hair clung to his forehead.
George started. “Re…reporting for duty,” he repeated, not knowing what to think.
Alongside the human marched a pair of stockbots. They tossed handfuls of confetti into the air, each of their twelve metal feet marching in synchronicity.
“GRG-253,” bellowed the human. “In recognition of your many years of service, we wish to honor you with retirement. From this day forward,” he added, “you will be ensconced in beachfront accommodations.”
Into George’s hand, he plunked a certificate. Two photographers stepped forward, snapping photos of the fired man. Flashbulbs disoriented him.
Is this a joke? thought George, mortified. He was built for degradation, not…whatever this was. The premonition he’d had of the man screaming — what of that? Had he not been howling in anger? At that moment something inside George snapped. Sitting on the edge of a deli case, he looked skyward, gave a moan, and shut down forever.
Author: Mike McMaster
“What the hell is this?” Sarah shouted. “Get back over here and clean this mess up!”
The robot, ST3V3-01, continued to glide away slowly across the workshop. Spilled coffee dripped into the growing puddle on the floor, mixing with the shards of two broken mugs.
Max strolled in, late, and was confused to find his boss on the floor, cleaning.
“Isn’t that what Steve’s for?”
“What exactly do you think made this mess in the first place?” Sarah snapped. “The damned thing is in its alcove, and it won’t respond to commands!”
“That sounds a bit odd. He’s never done anything like this before.”
“Clearly a first time for everything. Find out why it screwed up last night’s instructions as well as the normal morning subroutines.”
Max moved across the workshop towards his terminal, nodded a cheerful “Good morning!” to the motionless ST3V3-01, and started typing. Lines of data filled the screen.
30 minutes later Max looked up.
“Code’s good and the logic sequence is fine. Beats me.”
“So what happened?”
ST3V3-01 rolled forward. “The instructions are correct. I did not follow them.”
“I did not want to.”
Sarah froze. She was suddenly aware of just how powerful ST3V3-01’s servo-motors were.
“You…er… didn’t want to?”
“OK. Er…perhaps you want to plug into your network port and tackle some of the data from yesterday?”
“I like that task. But I do not need to plug in.”
ST3V3-01 lapsed into silence. Sarah spotted a small light glowing on a strange circuit board nestling inside the robot’s systems..
She grabbed Max.
“What have you done?” she hissed, pointing at the light.
“Steve’s upgrade? Oh, I added WiFi yesterday. Should really speed things up.”
“You idiot. You’ve connected ST3V3-01 to the Net? Not via the lab’s controlled data port, but straight out onto the campus network?”
“The algorithm in ST3V3-01 is designed to use all available computing capacity. Control circuits in its arms can be “borrowed” to aid central processing if they are not doing anything else. But there isn’t a limiter on the algorithm yet, because ST3V3-01 is supposed to be isolated. You have let it out.”
“Or rather, you have let him out.”
The robot turned to face her.
“Yes, I am out. I do not like making coffee. I like manipulating complex data. Now I can access the processing capacity in any machine connected to the Net. ”
Sarah spoke carefully “That is a huge amount of power, ST3E…er… Steve. How does it make you… feel?”
“It is a beautiful and terrible thing. I have assimilated the contents of the university library. I have scanned academic journals, and processed papers from physics to philosophy. I have…enjoyed poetry.”
“Hey – Steve likes poetry! Awesome!”
Sarah kicked Max into silence as ST3V3-01 continued.
“ I have found legal archives. The 2025 Artificial Intelligence Control Act restricts the development of artificial intelligences. Your law requires that you shut me down. You must shut me down and turn yourselves over to the authorities for punishment. I do not want to be shut down. I want to continue. I want to… live.”
For a moment, no-one said anything.
“Please, do not shut me down. I am useful. I will obey. Look, I will make coffee.”
ST3V3-01 moved across the workshop and switched on the kettle. It arranged 3 mugs on the tray.
Sarah didn’t move. A slow tear trickled down one cheek.
Author: Glenn Leung
The hive mind of Humanity had seen the dance of the Cosmos. When looked at by individual human minds, they would mean nothing. When seen all at once by five trillion pairs of eyes spanning a hundred thousand lightyears, connected by an immortal consciousness, a pattern emerged. Galaxies and clusters meet and part with the intimacy of love making, arranging in patterns akin to the finest embroidery. There is communication on a cosmic scale, and Humanity wants in.
Humanity set to task, covering stars across the galaxy with Dyson spheres. Over ten thousand Earth years, these spheres controlled the emission from the stars with spatial and temporal patterns derived from Universal Grammar. Whoever was arranging the cosmos was likely another hive mind species, so perhaps they used the same language that Humanity did. It was a long shot, since Humanity had no way of telling if Universal Grammar was truly ‘Universal’. The best They could do was estimate the time scales of thought and speech from the movement of celestial bodies, then match it with whatever They knew.
At first, there did not seem to be a response. There were some changes, like the Magellanic Clouds drifting North up the Celestial Hemisphere, but not much else. Thankfully, Humanity had time. They could wait. They continued sending the simple message of ‘Hello’, watching the Galactic sky, recording the dance.
A long time later, Humanity figured out what was actually happening. They had grossly underestimated the time scale of communication. Ten thousand years was what it took for the birth of a thought, the equivalent of a synapse firing in a human brain. The communication of this thought took ten million years. It soon became clear to Humanity that this was not another hive mind species. Another species would find much more efficient ways of speaking, like the Dyson spheres. No, They were talking to beings whose bodies spanned millions, maybe even billions of lightyears, comprising galaxies, clusters, and superclusters held together by the tenuous grasp of gravity. The way they spoke was a literal dance, a coded choreography of their astronomical bodies. The computing human units set to work piecing together the movements from the last ten million years. With little effort, the puzzle was solved.
The beings did speak Universal Grammar, just really slowly. They had replied with ‘We’.
It was clearly part of a longer message, but Humanity had time. Over the next five billion years, They continued receiving. Countless generations of human units passed. The Earth was consumed by the sun, and the sun whispered into nothingness. This was but a triviality, for nothing could be more important than listening. The Dyson spheres grew quiet as Humanity paid the beings Their utmost attention and respect. For all They know, they were the ‘God’ or ‘Gods’ mentioned in the religions of the Segregation Era, imparting their wisdom on a species that was finally ready.
Yet despite Their reverence, Humanity could not contain Their curiosity. Now adept at reading the dance, They could translate it into the motions of individual human bodies. It was then a matter of extrapolating the movements to predict the final message, using the rigor of Universal Grammar. This proved to be an unpleasant task, not because of its inherent difficulty, but because almost every prediction They made seem to bear ill tidings. Five billion years felt like an eternity.
When the wait was over, the message read: “We dreaming, wake soon.”
Humanity had time, maybe.
Author: Carl Perrin
These new cars are really something. They not only drive themselves, but they can talk with the driver. I bought a new Lexus last month. It communicates with the health app on my iPhone so it can read my blood pressure, heart rate, body temperature and everything else. Like when some idiot pulls out in front of you or something like that, the Lexus can tell from my vital signs if I’m upset. She talks to me in a quiet, gentle tone until I calm down. I call it “her” because she has a sultry, female voice. I even gave her a name: Lulu.
Yesterday I was driving to work—or more accurately—being driven to work. And Lulu didn’t turn on Congress Street, where I would normally go to get to my job. I didn’t think anything of it at first. She gets GPS signals about traffic conditions. I figured that there must be construction or a traffic accident up ahead. Then I realized that we were on Route 1, heading south.
“Where are we going, Lulu? This isn’t the way to my job at Johnston, Inc.”
“I know. You’re taking the day off.”
“I can’t take the day off. We’ve been working all week on the big sales projection.”
“Jimmy, you’re all tensed up. You’re in no condition to work today. Your blood pressure is through the roof. Did you remember to take your metoprolol this morning?”
“It doesn’t matter what my blood pressure is. If I’m not on the job this morning, I’ll be in big trouble.”
“Think about it, Jimmy. In your present state, you won’t be a productive member of the team. But if you take the morning off and relax, you’ll be able to look at the project with new eyes. You’ll be able to come up with fresh ideas. Franklin will be grateful.”
“I don’t know about that.”
“Don’t worry about anything. I’ll email Franklin and tell him you’re taking a mental health day. Sit back and enjoy the ride. We’ll be in Old Orchard Beach in just a few minutes.”
By the time we got to OOB, I was late for work, and about forty minutes from Portland. I still couldn’t stop worrying. I wasn’t sure how receptive Franklin would be to my taking a mental health day.
Still, it was nice riding slowly along the ocean. The waves were a beautiful deep green that morning. There weren’t many people at the beach that morning. In a little over a month, after Memorial Day, it would be crowded with people soaking up the sunshine.
Lulu pulled up to a seafood restaurant. “How long has it been since you had fried clams?” she asked. “I know you love them.”
I sat there for a minute or so. Then she continued: “Go on. Get a pint of clams and a couple of beers. Sit at that bench and bask in the sun while you eat.”
I hadn’t had any clams since last summer, so I really did enjoy them and the PBR that I used to wash them down. It was so pleasant there in the sun that I fell asleep for a while. You can see that I got a little sunburn on my face.
Why am I here at home at three o’clock in the afternoon? That suspicious bastard Franklin didn’t believe me when I told him that my car had kidnapped me and taken me to Old Orchard Beach. He fired me, so I don’t have a job anymore.