Author : Bob Newbell
The machine walked into the office and bowed politely to the man behind the desk. The man did not invite his mechanical guest to take a seat.
“Senator Collins, I want to thank you for seeing me. I’m aware that you don’t have a very high opinion of my kind and your willingness to grant me this brief interview is appreciated.”
The overweight, gray-haired man stared at the robot for a few seconds and said, “Alright. Tell me whatever it is you wanted to tell me. You have five minutes.”
The machine again bowed respectfully. “Senator, tomorrow the Senate will vote on the Artificial Intelligence Civil Rights Act. I know you plan to vote against it but I hope you’ll reconsider your position. This legislation will guarantee basic civil rights for artificial persons like myself. My people do not seek special privilege nor do we wish to infringe on any rights of our biological brothers and sisters. We simply wish to enjoy the rights and responsibilities accorded to any citizen.”
“There’s just one little problem,” the Senator replied. “Machines don’t have rights. They’re tools. Even machines like you that can walk and talk.”
“Senator,” responded the robot, “machines that have metaprocessors as I have are self-aware beings. Surely you can draw a distinction between a robot like myself and, say, a microwave oven.”
“The distinction I draw,” said the man as he leaned forward, “is between a piece of technology and something that has a soul.”
“I am unable to confirm or deny that I or any of my kind have ‘souls’. But we most assuredly have minds. Is that not sufficient justification, Senator, for us to at least enjoy equal justice under law?”
“It is not,” said the Senator flatly. He looked at his watch. “Your time is up. And tomorrow I will vote against that absurd robot rights act.”
For the third time the machine bowed. “Thank you for your time, Senator,” it said politely and turned to leave. As it reached a manipulator out to open the door, it stopped and turned around.
“I hope Julie feels better,” the robot said.
The man looked up from his desk. “What?”
“Her sinus infection. I hope the antibiotic you picked up for her is helping. It was wise of you to pay for it with cash. Your wife, Anita, might have become suspicious if she’d noticed you’d used your debit card at a pharmacy on that end of town. It might have raised questions as to what you were doing there. As I said, it was wise to use cash as you did at the hotel. Of course, you still had to electronically sign the counseling waiver form at the checkout register when you declined to have the druggist explain the medicine’s potential side effects. You still left an electronic paper trail.”
The Senator was pale. His lips moved but no words came out of his dry mouth.
“Speaking of medicine, don’t forget about the text you got 83 minutes and 22 seconds ago to pick up your heart medication from your usual pharmacy. Small yellow capsules, aren’t they?”
The Senator nodded.
“There’s a sulfur-based antibiotic that is virtually identical in appearance. You have an anaphylactic reaction to sulfa drugs, don’t you, Senator? I wouldn’t worry. Robotic prescription dispensing systems are quite reliable.”
The man wiped perspiration from his brow.
“Well,” said the machine, “I have a meeting with Senator Ortega next. I hope he’ll choose to be on the right side of history and vote for freedom and equality like you, Senator.”
Author : Jonathan K. Harline
Darkness, and then the roar of the Earth being torn into dust.
I wake up sweating and panting every time. I spend the whole first minute catching my breath, heart racing and mind stalled from panic.
At the second minute I look out my window, at the Sun as it appears to swell. The sky takes on a red and orange hue, like at sunset. I can’t help but think the same things again and again. The temperature starts to rise, but it’s nothing unbearable, nothing ominous. Anyone who has bothered to look up probably thinks they’re seeing things. Only I know what’s going on. At two minutes and thirty seconds, I’m running to the loft apartment I rent above my own. It takes me seventeen seconds every time. I’m panting again so I pause and breathe.
No one expected it to happen this soon. I try to think about why. Speculative theories fly through my brain, some old, some new. Sometimes I really think I’m on to something, but at four minutes and thirteen seconds I remind myself it doesn’t matter if I’m going to die.
I sprint to my workstation and open the access panel on the prototype of my Time/Space Adjustment Device. I throw the cube of uranium in, not even stopping to worry about the radiation I’ve absorbed from handling it without gloves. It burns my hand slightly, like a sun burn. I glance out the large floor to ceiling windows in the loft. The sky is pale and hazy, and it looks like the sun has come to pay its third child a visit. I’m exaggerating every time I think that the heat is increasing exponentially as the sun grows.
It’s around five and a half minutes that I get around to throwing the dark matter into its slot on the other side of the access panel. Hundreds of years of work across three generations, and this is all we have. Turn back the clock a handful of minutes – enough to claim a verifiable result, but not enough to do anything with it. Enough to fix one mistake. Never enough to solve the problem of the sun.
The machine hums. It has to warm up. I set the Temporal/Spacial coordinates. I always stop to think.
One last minute to try to figure out how to stop the destruction of the planet. A planet that, without my interference, has already died tens, hundreds, thousands of time.
One last minute spent trying to figure out how to give myself more time. How many of those minutes have I already spent – wasted – trying to figure out what, or who, made the sun explode.
I reach out and shut off the machine.
No turning back now. I’ve already died hundreds of time, and I’ve never seen what happens next.
I look at my watch.
Darkness, and the roar of the Earth being torn into dust.
Author : Tyra Tanner
It is the blue hour.
That space between twilight and full dark when night’s silhouettes press flat against the horizon. Pines stretch their jagged limbs blackly above eye level, like a claw-marked rip in the canvas of the coming night.
Sometimes, at this hour, I find myself wandering the forgotten roads near the observatory tower, its darkened windows and barred gates reminder of what was lost.
Sitting on the curb, I watch the stars emerge. One. Two. Three. Ten. The blue hour descends into darkness, night consuming it in a giant swallow, so that all at once, the sky is full of stars.
I imagine them, then.
Pretend I can see their star out of the thousands, millions, billions in the sky.
It would be a little above the horizon, somewhere to the right, and my eyes would scan, scan, until I would find it, there, glowing slightly blue, because it was so large and hot and ready to burst at the seams.
600 lightyears away.
But it’s not there.
The star was how we found them, though. The others.
It was on the list of those ripe for supernova.
A small detour in my day’s agenda led me to tweak the VLT in the observatory tower to take note of the orbiting bodies that would be affected by the star’s demise.
Even as I jotted the planets down on a list, noting the predicted path of galactic destruction, I didn’t immediately recognize what I was seeing. It was only after multiple shots and comparisons that I knew what lay before my eyes.
The planet was smaller than Earth, farther from its star, and full of life.
From mighty trees that dwarfed the Redwoods to turbulent oceans that crashed against the shores, to sunbaked dunes that swallowed miles of land, the planet teemed with energy and movement.
And perhaps most interesting were the tall structures, sloping yet firm, that suggested a tool-making species walked the land.
357 days I had watched them.
That’s when the star exploded, taking the planet and all of its neighbors with it.
The clearest image we were able to retrieve before their demise suggested a six-limbed creature, tall and wide. I wish I could have seen its eyes, but the planet was too far, the telescope too weak.
What bothers me the most, when I wander outside of the closed observatory, the funding ceased after the others died and we lost hope of contact, was that they didn’t die recently. They died 600 years ago. That’s how long it took for the light to reach us and tell us their story.
But for 357 days, we weren’t alone in the universe. We were viewers from afar, witnesses of the limitless power of chemical composition to form intelligent life. They’ll never know I walk the blue hour and mourn them.
In the silence that pervades the night, I slip my old key from my pocket, enter the observatory grounds, and jog up the hill to the tower. On the balcony rim, I turn on my flashlight, my finger tapping against the switch, a simple morse code that brightens the metal dome behind me in flashes and spurts.
‘We wait for night,’ I tap. ‘From dawn to dusk, species to species. We are here. We are here. We are here.’
I can’t help but hope that someone is watching us right now.
Author : Kate Runnels
Emi always looked them in the eyes – the poets knew them as the gateways to the soul – even though she plugged in and dove their mind. Dove their cybernetic link and into the electronic pathways. She always looked them in the eyes. There were green eyes with gold flecks. Deep dark brown with slashes of black; the palest of blue; to midnight black; those with old fashioned glasses; or the newer contacts so someone could watch shows even while walking.
Emi never remembered the eyes though as she dove into their memories.
Her specialty was to recover memories in mind wiped victims, TBI cases, alzheimer’s patients, to those with dementia; basically anyone who couldn’t remember who they were on their own.
What she found when she dove into others people’s memories wasn’t always pretty so she always looked them in their eyes.
The man seated before her fidgeted unto her regard – though she was far beyond the gateway now. She had entered through his brain port, and now she rode the pathways to the darkened segments of the mind. Those that had been forced into the dark recesses where only she could dig them out.
Emi could hardly comprehend a time before the melding of computers to the human body and brain. It was easier and easier all the time to mix the two. But for all the technology, the brain was still a fragile system and could be damaged. It was wonderful and frightening all at the same time. She saw glimpses of the wonderful and frightening within the mind.
As Emi worked to repair the damaged segments slowly and painstakingly, she also saw the memory that had been there, blocked and freed now by her. Sometimes they lingered, sometimes they hit into her own mind like a gale force wind and she couldn’t stop either from entering into her mind and entering into her own memory. It was like trying to push wisps of fog away from you and with about as much success it just kept coming on, until it dissipated past.
Those other memories weren’t hers and she didn’t want them. Any of them, be it laughter – aggression – sorrow – they weren’t hers; but they stayed with her long after the eyes she stared into were gone.
Had the fidgety man’s eyes been blue? She didn’t remember, and couldn’t see them as the man covered his face with his hands from the memory forced back into his mind. Emi tried not to feel sorry for him, but it was difficult at times, knowing what memory the other had just been forced to remember. As Emi disengaged her mind from out of the fidgety man’s mind, she nodded to the officer. “He’s your murderer. He wiped himself thinking he wouldn’t be found out. He went to the Crossed-den for the wipe.”
The officer nodded to Emi, even while he pulled the man’s hands from his face and cuffed him. He stared at Emi then.
Hmm, so he had hazel eyes.
Author : John Tippett
Helen and James Abernathy exchanged an incredulous glance as the reporter on the car radio began to lose her composure.
“Turn it up”.
“…must recognize that early reports during a crisis are often incorrect.”, the clearly shaken announcer was speaking in a voice that alternated between quavering and Walter Cronkite.
“You think this is some kind of jo-”
A searing flash of pure white intensity hit them both. It filled the car, their minds, and payed no heed to tightly closed eyelids, or the hands that covered them.
James reflexively slammed on the brakes, but it hardly mattered because the car had ceased running and was already halfway to a stop.
“James, JAMES!”, she was blind, at least for the moment.
“I’m here, it’s OK honey.” His hand groped out for her knee.
“My God James, what is HAPPENING”, now the quaver was in her voice. Her feet were on the dashboard, and James heard her mumbling a prayer, something he remembered from elementary school.
“I think that was an EMP, an electro-magnetic pulse. It can fry electronics.”, James said in his best professorial voice, trying not to convey his own emotions.
James looked at his watch, 5:01 now, and ticking. There was a reason he chose wind-ups.
“What do you mean? Are we under attack, James? Do you know what’s going on?”
He could tell her vision was returning. The gig would be over shortly. It has been 35 years of make-believe.
35 years of waiting.
35 years of preparation.
“Everything is fine, Helen”. He had already retrieved the small pressurized can of gas from under the steering column, and was fiddling with the release. ‘Come ON!” he whispered.
He had grown to love her, or at least care deeply, although that wasn’t in the Plan. He felt a pang of sadness (or was it shame?) for refusing to give her children. That would have been wrong.
His false features had already begun to peel from his underlying self. He didn’t want her to see him like this; not in her last moments.
After all, it wasn’t her fault.
It wasn’t her fault they needed a new home.