Birdu Vanilla

Author: Desmond White

We were all playing Birdu Vanilla, rumored to be the latest lightbug of Hayashi. The game was a free download on his blog but was posted after his arrest and extradition from the Philippines. The file was up for two hours before someone, probably Interpol, took it down. By then 10 million people were playing the game.

The game menu sported a man in a gray coat and beer yellow glasses, clearly a rendering of Hayashi. He was holding a phone and above him, a gun drone was firing the words Birdu Vanilla through the air. Below the title were the words: Play to Steal! Whatever that meant.

We pressed play.

The game was what the nu-media calls a lifelogger. The object of the game was to use Hayashi’s day tools — rootkits, router implants, zero-day search engines, metahacks, kill clicks — hidden behind cute names like Angel Hips and Mew Mew — to sabotage the infrastructure of the United States. Not a digital United States but the physical nation itself. Players quickly noticed how a meltdown in Oklahoma corresponded with an embedded Hello Doggy. Level six point two involved manufacturing flybots in Area 29. Suddenly drones were swarming from the Rockies.

By the time intelli-tanks were blowing up New Jersey, We the Players — fed-and-fried on bonus yields, insta-highs, level lumps, and omni coins — couldn’t care less about how many cyber-clusters made how many real-life craters. If destroying Fort Bragg meant I could choose a new color scheme, well, this flybot wouldn’t spray-paint itself.

It was only with reluctance that we finished the game, sending infinity drones to defeat the final bosses. There were short posts on forums complaining about this feature. Very short posts. Bosses would typically be sitting in suburban homes, eyes fixed on laptops. Only a few rounds were necessary to obliterate them to meat and bone. Then we’d be forced to watch the credits through blood-wet eyes, lifeless by the time the screen flashed game over.


Author: Glenn Leung

We decided to go on foot, so we left ‘Yes Sir’ Dave guarding the Rover with orders to keep the engines warm. The regiment of monoliths stood at attention as we walked towards them, piercing the alien sky like blunt yet deadly spears. Streaks of blue, purple and green flora draped their pensive bodies. The planet’s star peeked over one of these colossal tombstones, as if trying to wake this dead city. It was hard to believe all these were natural. I sometimes think about what Earth would look like if everyone just got up and left, and this view always comes up.

As we moved farther from the low hum of the Rover’s engines, the strange foliage seemed to sink us into an uneasy quiet. It was much like the way snow absorbed sound to give a sense of foreboding. I had returned home after watching my classmates partake in the largest snowball fight ever. My mother was on the ground, the tall chair on its side and pieces of broken lightbulb strewn amongst the red ooze. We moved to the city after that, and I discarded my memories to make room for new ones. The sound of nature gave way to the sound of traffic.

We came across a near-rectangular protrusion, and I was asked to examine it and take some samples. I brushed the red vines aside, half expecting to see my grandfather’s name. My father had felt that the only thing he needed to do was spend a month’s salary on a sarcophagus. The visiting was then left to me. After a while, it had probably become something like this. I cannot say I was surprised when what I found was hard soil instead of marble. This was good, I didn’t have to work too hard to chip it away.

Suddenly, Hysteria Ben let out a scream and pointed at the sky behind us.

The team turned around to see the red glow of the setting star, and the peaceful drift of the odd-looking clouds.

“It was a huge shadow, like a tentacle. It swung across the sky then vanished.”

As if on cue, other members of the team started reporting their own sightings. None were as grand as Ben’s, falling mostly on the creepy side. Our commander’s reprimand got swallowed abruptly, so we knew it was time to head back. We returned to a confused Dave who checked his watch as he saw us emerge from the shadows. It was my turn to drive, so I started the engines and turned the Rover back to base.

That night, we were examined, and no evidence of hallucinogens were found. Dave, however, came down with nausea and had to be monitored. We were told to watch ourselves and each other for symptoms. I didn’t want my teammates making their assumptions, so I took my place in the viewing room. I watched the brightness of a billion stars light up the distant monoliths. They were calling. They were calming.

Praemonitus Praemunitus (Forewarned is Forearmed)

Author: David C. Nutt

The Chair of the Classics Department made her way through the corridor of the ship to the command section. Along the way the bodies confirmed the Captain had been correct in his assessment: mutiny. She knew what would come next. Execution of the loyal crew, then there would be the mutineer’s celebration, then the mutineers would get rid of all the ‘superfluous’ colonists. Especially persons like herself, a classics professor, with command grade rank to match her academic seniority.
The Professor arrived at the command suit. The Captain’s severed head was on display. Armed guards flanked either side of the door. She looked neither left not right but stood at attention, eyes forward.
“Announce me.”
Despite their sneers, the guards snapped to her command presence, opened the door and announced her to the “new” captain.
It was the Chief Engineer. He smiled like a reptile. “Professor, I think you know your days are numbered. I have control of the ship. I just need your authorizations. I could torture the information out of you, or kill you here and now until my tech people figure a way around it. Make it easier on both of us. For the life of me I don’t know why you have a ‘mutiny protocols’ authorization.” The engineer giggled.
The Professor shrugged. She saw by the former Captain’s computer displays he had time to trigger the lock out. She sighed. “Can I convince you that this is wrong?”
The Chief Engineer laughed “We planned this from the early days of the project. None of you should be out here with us. The old ways are dead we will bring about-
“A new world order? Spare me Chief. I’ve heard it before. Ever thus with tyrants.”
The Chief Engineer scowled. “Give up, you lost. Give me access to your protocols.”
The Professor Drew a deep breath. “No. Computer, mutiny protocols- Accipeiussis tantum vocalis. Latinae tantum.”
“Intellexerunt, Dominae meae.” The computer said
The Chief stood up, reaching for his holster.
“Protegit” the Professor barked out. The crackle of shields surrounded her. The Chief whipped his chair over to the command console and tried several different strings on the keyboard. Nothing worked. He slumped into his chair.
“Immobiles a coniuratis.” The Professor said.
“Intellexerunt.” The computer replied
From all over the ship they both heard the tell-tale hum of stunners, immobilizing the conspirators according to lists so recently entered into the computer by the overconfident conspirators themselves.
The Chief Engineer handed over his blast pistol. The Professor laid it on a bookshelf. She picked up a book belonging to her former Captain. The Meditations of Marcus Aurelius. The Professor teared up. “He would have been a great man on the new world. I think I understand his wisdom now. He saw this coming. He arranged all this.”
The Chief Engineer sneered “Now what?”
“Detention and trial for all but the main conspirators.”
“And for them?” the Chief.
The Professor sighed, “The Captain made it quite clear: summary execution.”
The Chief Engineer laughed. “You don’t have the will or the means.”
The Professor shook her head. “I never used to have the will, but I do now. As for means the, Captain provided those for me.” She pointed to the chief Engineer “Pugione in cor meum.”
From the security node in the command cell, a thin beam neatly bored a hole in the Chief Engineer’s chest. As he died he looked to the Professor in confusion. She smiled sympathetically “Latin. It means ‘a dagger to the heart.’”

Blind Date

Author: Malcolm Carvalho

Bhumi’s idly slurping her milkshake. She has a playful air about her. Okay, I’ve only met her an hour ago, but this feels great.

I have a simple rule when it comes to dating. Get her to acknowledge three common things between us and it’s a good start thereon. Bhumi and I have already found more than that.

Wait, did I say good start? I miss the old times. Having a conversation here has been a struggle. Damn you, Ginzo.

“So, you go rock climbing to Equilibrium?” she asks.

“About once a month,” I say, trying to sound modest. “If you wish, you can join me on the weekend.”

Ouch, should not have said that. What if Ginzo’s cameras catch on the words? Even if I had spoken softly enough to avoid getting picked. I’ve heard they don’t even need to record the sounds these days. Algorithms can read lips better than humans.

Bhumi smiles. She does not talk much. Just how Ginzo wants it, and perhaps she knows that well. People meet, the system sensors measure the pheromone activity, track pupil dilation, our voice pitch. Add in the app users’ votes and we get a compatibility score.

Come on, this silence is killing.

As if on cue, she says. “I’d like you to come see my play when we perform here.”

“I’d love to.” Isn’t she a godsend? Loves climbing, theater. A touch competitive as that bowling game suggested. But man, don’t I love a challenge?

Silence again. I can understand. Neither of us wants to play the game too boldly. And for what? A better date? Who knows if we will be matched up again?

And there’s the risk of Ginzo barring you from the app if you come across as being too You. That’s what the terms and conditions said. Reign it in, ladies and gentlemen. No loud laughter, no advances, not even a peck on the cheek when you say goodnight. First dates must follow protocol. So must the second and third, if you get that far. Let Ginzo decide.

I look at her, maintaining eye contact. Her pupils dilate; it must be a good sign.

Shush, don’t ruin it. Can’t come across as too enthusiastic. Damn it, I must make my intentions clear, whether Ginzo permits it or not.

“You have lovely eyes,” I mumble. Cheesy.

She smiles. “I thought you’d come up with a better line.”

“Like what?”

She leans forward. “Like how they make you feel?”

My feet kick the table. Not hard enough, fortunately.

“Come on, Rohan. You think you can hide it?”

I fumble with my glass. I cover my lips and mouth the words. ‘Do you think I can say it here?’

She reaches out her hand and squeezes mine. At that moment, she looks so pretty I’m convinced she’s out of my league. How on earth did the app pair us up?

That’s when it sinks in. What have I got to lose? I go for broke. I mock-roll my eyes when she slurps her milkshake again. ‘Strawberry? You didn’t outgrow your teens yet?’

‘Big talk from a guy who’s worn Superman socks.’

Touché. We go back and forth with the banter, none holding back. In between, we talk about our childhood, hers in Mysore, mine in Mumbai.

We’ve only begun let our real versions crack out of our online avatars when the app timer buzzes.

We get off the table, hug each other and click a selfie. Ginzo users will vote soon. Now, how do I hack the app to turn the nays into ayes?

New Mission

Author: Josie Gowler

My exoskeleton is in an uncooperative mood again. It doesn’t stop my daily march out of the camp and round the city, it just makes it more difficult. I’ve already lurched to two appointments today: first psych (boring) and then meditation (pointless).

Sa-Sa walks along behind me. “Wait, Per-Kine!” she exclaims, laughing. She fiddles on her cuff to adjust the adaptive feedback on her invention; I hadn’t even noticed the catch in my step amongst its other idiosyncrasies. She adjusts the fit around my leg with the nimblest hands I have ever known while I struggle to pull my hair back into its ponytail. “Better?” she asks.

I nod – I don’t tell her I haven’t noticed a difference – and carry on along the curved streets. Originally the city planners did it to provide a shady breeze in peacetime, but ever since I can remember the design’s been more use protecting against gauss fire in wartime, like the latest Vant attack last month. I’ll give it to those green-scaled bastards: they never give up. Pardon us for evolving right here where they want to expand their already massive territories. And we won’t give up, either. It’s our home.

Sometimes I stumble in these winding lanes. I can’t bear the sympathetic looks when I fall over: it’s like I’ve died and become someone else. But Sa-Sa’s hover chairs are worse – not that I’d tell her that, either – then the other soldiers, no matter how hard they try, see the floating contraption and not the soldier.

“I still prefer going out at night,” I mutter to Sa-Sa. The streets are safe; everyone is looking out for each other and preparing for the next siege or battle, petty jealousies forgotten. “I miss dawn patrol, too.” Almost as much as I miss my husband, I don’t add. And it was a sunny day when the war mech loped out of the fog and over the defences, digging poison-laden needles into my arm as it landed.

“Off to help Dha-Vu at the hospital again today?” Sa-Sa asks.

I nod again, focussing on navigating this steep bit of street, potholed from the last explosion. “Might as well.”

“’S’ good. Keeps you busy.” She is too polite to add “because you’re too broken even for the city militia.” Those misfits and weirdos wouldn’t take me, not with a withered arm, leg and – as far as they’re concerned – brain after the waking nightmares ate me. Because not content with its needles, the war mech also spat psychotropic venom into my mind while its army of micro-drones munched on my leg.

I say goodbye to Sa-Sa at the hospital gates. An hour of hard work hour later I limp over to the window to give myself a break, head pounding. Sa-Sa is back, the sneak, leaning against one of the pockmarked courtyard pillars, a mug of tea in her hand. She smiles and waves. I laugh and wave back, realising what she knew all along: in the hospital I’m alive, and all the new arrivals are helping me just as much as I’m helping them.