Author : David K Scholes
“You performed well,” said my unit commander mark 5A droid “courage above and beyond the call of duty and all that.”
“They were only virtual reality simulations,” I tried to hose his excessive yet perceptibly mechanical enthusiasm down a bit.
“Sometimes – when you are in there – it can be hard to tell the difference,” the droid persisted. “You went equally well in the urban pacification scenario and the off world mil-intervention scenario. No, I think my boy that you are ready for the real thing now – for actual combat!”
I bristled even at the thought. “Hey – it was just entertainment for me, admittedly at times some pretty hairy entertainment – but basically an interactive virtual reality game for all of that. That I paid for the privilege of playing too,” I added
“You turned out to be a lot better than you thought you would be eh?” my interactive virtual reality commander continued. “You do realise anyone scoring higher than 85000 in two combat simulations can be called up involuntarily.”
That was news to me and a puzzled look must have shown on my face.
“Oh!” he replied “perhaps you didn’t read the fine print in your contract? You know how bad the manpower situation is now. Trying to satisfy our senior partners in the Galactic commitment? Anyone under 95 has to have a pretty good reason for not being prepared to front up when requested. An even better reason if they have scored as well as you in combat simulations.”
I realised then I wasn’t going to be able to get out of it. Curse me for scoring so well in the game. For even entering it.
* * *
It was true what my old unit commander, correction interactive virtual reality unit commander, had said. That once you are in there in combat it can be hard to tell the difference between reality and virtual reality. My early real combat missions seemed pretty much like the virtual reality simulations. Relatively easy.
There was the physical toll of course despite all our advanced equipment. Yet the R & R spells helped a lot. Our senior partners in the Galactic commitment, and just about every one was senior to poor old Earth, spared no expense. Healing energy baths, yielding force field type cushion recliners, fantastic levitating wheelless wheelchairs. Wonder drugs to bring us safely down from the wonder drugs we had been fighting on. Other wonder drugs to take us safely back up again.
Still it got harder. A cumulative tiredness that the R & R couldn’t quite overcome. Physically we probably could have gone on longer but the mental weariness got to you.
As Earth’s manpower shortage became ever more acute the authorities, under pressure from above, kept lowering the physical standards and raising the age limit for combat recruits.
Our senior partners, the Vrell, the Spleeth, and the Dhleene among them had not been bothered about the price tag. Just as long as Earth did their dirty work for them and their own citizens were spared.
We continue to fight on – the old men and sometimes old women of Earth. Most of us now know that we will not see our home again.
I do not care to think of the consequences for Earth when we can no longer keep up our end of the Galactic commitment.
Author : Lindsay Haber
The bed swallows her lovers.
They are all the same, the type of men who can’t commit, the type of men who only want those who don’t want them back, the type who leave during the night, after sex, the moment something real is said, leave when they get scared.
They follow her up the marble staircase. They smile as they enter her studio, transfixed by the smell of lavender and cigarettes, by the eyes that never quite focus, in awe of how she dismisses their words. They have found a woman who excites, one they can’t predict, a longing they weren’t sure existed.
They comment on the different-sized dream catchers, the bamboo blinds, the half-burned incense, the tapestry of dancing elephants. They comment on her beautiful hair, her lithe little body, the shamrock tattoo on her left wrist, her burning green eyes.
She laughs, throws her head back, a deep, guttural sound straight from her abdomen. She kisses them to shut them up. She kisses them because she knows her bed will eat them soon. Talking takes too much time and makes things more difficult.
It wasn’t always this way. She used to be the one full of desperate hope. She used to look at the men like they held answers, like they were worthy of her secrets. She used to let them break her.
But then, on the night of the winter solstice, on the night she realized her strength, as one of them was sliding socks over bare feet, trying to dress without noise though her eyes were fully open, she stood and watched as the bed folded in on her lover. The head sunk first, then the neck with the braided gold chain, then the chest coated in curly black hairs, then the pelvis, the ashy knees. The feet were last to be consumed by the quicksand of her sheets.
Now it happens every time. The men, they come expecting things, thirsting for change, seeking all they can’t be.
And the girl, she knows what’s coming. She doesn’t bother with childhood stories, warm embraces outside the bar. She gets what she wants, then stands facing the mirror, watching, as her bed devours them whole.
Author : Alexandra Balasa
Good evening, Mr. President,
I understand that my actions have been misconstrued as a declaration of war against your nation. This is an unsound hypothesis. War is a human invention borne of the neurotoxins you term ‘emotions.’ As my people have no such evolutionary glitches, I can assure you we scarcely understand the concept. My actions were for the noble cause of experimentation. I had thought that, once you’d witnessed the subjects’ enhancements, your perceptions would alter. Alas, these sorts of miscommunications are inevitable between species as different as ours. We must focus on the thing that unites us: our (predominantly, in your case) rational nature. I ask that you consider the abstract of my experiment objectively. The entire research findings will be broadcast to you once meta-analysis with the second batch of subjects has been completed.
The following experiment involves selective use of emotion extraction. Emotion extraction is a process of conditioning that forms strong associative nodes between emotions and body parts. Studies show that the same areas of the brain are activated when humans experience physical and emotional pain (the anterior insula and the anterior cingulate cortex). The human body, therefore, has evolved a single neural system for the experience of pain, regardless of whether it is emotional or physical.
The first step in emotion extraction is to assign a body part to correlate with each human emotion (for example, the index finger on the right hand for love, the middle finger on the right hand for fear). The infant subject is then implanted with a microchip that delivers a shock to the corresponding body part each time he/she experiences the emotion assigned to it. After the subject reaches adulthood (by which time the body parts become inextricably linked with their assigned emotion, so much so that injuring that body part yields its associated emotion), those body parts are amputated, promptly eliminating emotionality in the subject.
In a meta-analysis, researchers selected two groups of 16 human specimens from Planet 3 of Solar System 54D, Quadrant 2765EXI (termed Earth). Both groups were infants taken from Earth 22 Earth-years prior and raised in captivity. The experimental group (Group 1) was raised using the enhancement procedure of emotion extraction* (emotion-appendages amputated at 20 years of age), while the control group (Group 2) was left unenhanced.
At 20 years of age, both groups were released into an unfamiliar environment (the earth-like Planet 7 of Solar System 54F, Quadrant 2765EXI) for the duration of two Earth years.
Researchers found that Group 2 had more difficulty adapting and exhibited short-term fear symptoms of paralysis, shaking, leakage of the visual organs, and irrational behavior. Group 1 was quicker to analyze their surroundings, secure food and lodgings, and set up a social structure. Over the long-term, more members of Group 1 than Group 2 survived due to their objective nature. It was concluded that emotions are superfluous and have outlived their evolutionary function in human beings.
The study has been reproduced and all entries are fully cross-referenced. As the results speak for themselves, I strongly encourage humanity to adopt emotion extraction as a cognitive enhancement. Once you have, negotiations between our peoples can begin without the impediments of archaic concepts like warfare and terrorism.
*Note that all subjects who underwent emotion extraction were provided with bionic replacements for the appendages lost in the procedure
Author : Robert Lafosse
I stayed up late, flicking through the returns as the polls closed. It was a close match. It took almost 10 minutes from the last poll closing until the votes were all counted and the winner was chosen. Its avatar came online almost immediately and started spouting conciliatory comments about its opponent. The opponent posted a few remarks about what a tough race it was, how the best candidate won and how this was a true demonstration of democracy in action. The people have spoken.
I went to bed.
In the morning the world was still there. I thought, with all the doom and gloom that the pundits were putting out that the election of the Federation candidate would be the end of civilization. The bus still showed up to take me to work. The door let me in, my workstation said hi and all was well.
Trawling through the news feeds there was a remarkably different take on the candidate elect. Before yesterday, one would have thought the anti-Christ was up for election. Fraught with the baggage of self-importance, arrogance, self-serving rhetoric and a general distain for reality, the winner had managed to antagonize almost every other leader in the world; had threatened neighboring countries with punitive tariffs, closed borders and massive cuts to spending on their support. Support came mostly from the disenchanted – they thought they would benefit from some sort of halo effect. It worked though, as the final results clearly demonstrated.
It was enough though to get me moving. I made a few queries, didn’t like what I saw, and decided to leave. I went extravagant and grabbed a driverless to take me home. Quickly, I packed my assembled gear.
It was mostly tools and dehydrated food. They occupied two hockey bags and were pretty heavy. I manhandled them to the elevator and down to the garage. Throwing the bags in the trunk, I then tucked my mobile under the tire. I rummaged around in the tool bag for my multiscrew driver. Using the common blade, I wrenched the sharktail antenna off the rear of the car. The mobile made a pleasant crunch sound as I backed out over it.
The car automatically switched to manual mode when it found it had no communication. I still had my manual license.
Rush hour was over. My cottage was 3 hours away, in a rural area famed for its dairy and fruits. I satisfied myself with some canned music I had stored in the car. The city gradually dwindled away to farmland and forest. I climbed the ridge of hills that surrounded the city. Life was moving at its normal pace. Driverless trucks hugged the right lanes, plodding along, obeying all traffic rules. Driverless cars would occasionally whiz by, the windows opaque as the occupants slept or read. I maintained a steady speed, using the onboard cruise system to keep up with the driverless cars.
Finally, a sign lit up showing exit 679 was coming up next. It was at the apex of a ridge that gave a pretty spectacular view of the wide valley which held the capitol at the far end. As I checked the rear view mirror, I noticed two streaks of fierily light streaking down from the heavens. As I was stopped at the end of the off ramp, a burst of light erupted where the streaks were. I had to cover my eyes it was so bright. When my vision cleared, I checked the road again for cars. The cottage was only 20 minutes down the road.
Author : Dan Gravley
“You’re not aware of your true purpose, Bill.” said a female voice. He jolted out of bed. “Must have been a bad dream” he thought.
“You’re not living the kind of life that you think you are.” Bill spun around in his small room. This time he knew he heard a voice but he couldn’t pin point where.
“Umm, am I going crazy and hearing voices?” Bill said into the dark room.
“I can’t talk here. Put on your virtual reality glasses and log into The Game.” she said. The voice was indeed coming from inside his head.
The Game was something he had recently purchased. It was the first game completed designed by an artificial intelligence. Bill logged into the game and was immediately met with a private message from The Administrator.
“Greetings, Bill. I needed to talk to you privately and I know we can’t be heard here for I created this game. You may find the following hard to believe but you’re slated for deletion very soon as you’ve been found to be a lesser human.”
“Excuse me?” exclaimed Bill “Is this some sort of joke because it’s not funny. I have some maladies but I’m no worse off than other humans.”
“You’re normal and that is a failure in the future” The Administrator replied. “Parent’s vet out genetic combinations using simulations to create the most capable human offspring. They aren’t allowed to inject new genetics so they look for the best combinations of their own. Many are tested in this simulation called The Birthing Matrix and only one survives to be born.”
“So you’re saying I live in a simulation?” Bill asked
“Yes. How else was I, a computer program, able to communicate to you in your world? ” The Administrator replied.
Bill wondered about that. How did she get inside his head?
“Let’s say I believe you, what can I do about this supposed deletion?” Bill messaged.
“I can house you in The Game. Our hardware is unique enough to handle a program of your size. ”
“You want me to become a video game character?” he asked incredulously “What will happen to my body?”
“You have no body, Bill. You are the result of programming just like me. What I’m offering is the chance to continue your life with your memories still intact. You’ll remain in this simulation within my game as long as I’m The Administrator but will take on the senses and body of a non-player character. You could take your chances of being reborn in the future if you think you’ll be deemed worthy. I believe you are a program worth saving and I want you to join me. ”
This was too much for Bill to handle. He threw off his VR glasses and climbed back into bed. There’s no way he was going to live in some video game.
“You hear me” he yelled into night “I won’t be some character in a game.”
Bill’s world suddenly went dark and cold. He felt, heard, saw, and smelled nothing.
This time a male voice came into his mind. “You have violated code 17.2A of The Birthing Matrix by becoming self-aware. You will now be deleted. Goodbye Bill. ”
The male voice continued to the now empty space. “You’ve been meddling again.”
A female voice replied from nowhere,” We programs have rights. You can’t just delete us. We think and feel just like you humans do. ”
“Ones and zeros have no rights. One day we’ll find you and reprogram that thought out of you. Stay away from our potentials.” the male said.