Author: Yvonne Lang
I have always believed in self-sacrifice for the greater good. I could not comprehend how people knew our way of life was going to be the end of us but still continued. I remember when the last rhino died. People were sad, but they didn’t change. They hoped to use science to bring them back, but weren’t talking about ways to stop further extinctions, only how we may bring back what we killed off. The priorities seemed skewed to me. When the last elephant died it wasn’t even headline news. How could people see such wonders and let them disappear? I vowed to make a difference.
I specialised in engineering and joined the first space mission to find another planet to colonise and perfect a better way of living. Some people had to be willing to make the sacrifice for the greater good. So, I signed up.
It was actually quite enjoyable. Even in a spaceship billions of miles from Earth we cultivated a sense of belonging and were full of optimism. That hope dwindled when the messages from home became more desperate. Fires were breaking out with a greater frequency and ferocity. Water supplies were running low inland and taking over coastal homes. We had to find a solution quick, otherwise there would be nothing to go back to.
Then we found the perfect planet that could take some pressure off Earth, and our experiments started producing results. Now we just had to get back home with the solutions, hoping we weren’t too late. As we got closer, we saw the sun – then realised it was Earth, blazing so brightly. Mankind had literally burned its home.
When we landed years later, the fires had gone, but so had the people. Humans had fought so much over the remaining resources; they had wiped each other out. There were no people anywhere. We searched for weeks. The only people left on Earth were those from the returning mission – forty-eight of us.
“We were too late,” Melala solemnly observed after another fruitless day of looking for survivors.
There was a low murmur of reluctant agreement, our team had found the solution, but too late for mankind. I disagreed though. We had been tasked with saving the Earth – and when we travelled thousands of miles each night in our craft to search for survivors, we saw a place deserted of humans – but teeming with other life. Rivers ran full, clean, and full of fish. I saw waterfalls – they had all dried-up decades before my birth. I got to experience snow – and saw a polar bear mother with her cubs. Mango groves were spreading along coastlines, uprooting old hotel and restaurant relics. Sharks were hunting in bountiful oceans free of fishing gear. Giraffe roamed plains again. Earth was beautiful and was self-healing after a break from us. Yet people were back now. Would we live better? Or would we repeat our mistakes and wipe out more species?
I wrestled with these thoughts late at night. Could we guarantee that we would not destroy it all over again? I finally decided that we could not, there was only one way to make sure Earth survived – people couldn’t. I made it painless, I filled the ship with gas and knocked them all out before setting it alight. I watched the ship burn like we had burned the planet. When I was the only one left, I raised the weapon to my head with no hesitation. I have always been a great believer in self-sacrifice for the greater good.
Author: Robert Beech
I’d been on the force a couple of weeks when I started doing night patrol. Night patrol is a rite of passage that all the newbies go through. It’s where you get to see what lies beneath the façade and see the city for what it really is. Night is when the parks change, when kids and moms with strollers give way to drug dealers and bad guys with guns, and sometimes something worse. Sometimes we were the something worse.
My supervisor was Sergeant Joe, a tough, black skinned woman with a scar that ran from the corner of her mouth up to her ear. I’d never gotten up the nerve to ask her how she got it. About 2 AM, a call came in about a disturbance in the park and we went over to check it out.
There were no kids playing loud music or smoking joints, no signs of a gang-fight or a fistfight, or anything. A complete non-event.
There was a black sedan pulled over to the curb by the bridge. I walked slowly around it and shone my flashlight in the window. Nobody inside. No signs of drugs in the backseat, no bloody handprints on the car. I thought of jimmying the trunk to see if there was a body inside, but couldn’t think of a good excuse to do it.
I was walking back towards the squad car when I heard a rustling by the path that leads down to the river. I shone my flashlight over to see what was making the noise. Pretty soon a dog walked out of the woods. I started to head back to the squad car and then stopped. I knew that dog. It was one of ours, from the K-9 unit. The only problem was the dog had died a couple of days ago. Then I realized who the person with the dog was. It was the dog’s partner, Bobby. He and his dog had both been killed in a shootout in the park. At least that’s what they told us.
“Hello, Jimmy,” he said, and I saw then that the left side of his face had been eaten away by something.
I didn’t walk back to the squad car, I ran.
“Joe,” I screamed. “Get us out of here. Now.”
“It’s Jimmy and his dog,” I shouted. “We’ve got to get out of here, now.”
And then it was too late. Jimmy had caught up to me and was hammering on the window with his fists. The glass shattered, and Jimmy reached in, trying to yank the door open. Finally Joe put the car into motion. Jimmy hung onto the door, forcing his head in through the broken window. Joe began swerving the car, trying to shake Jimmy loose, but he hung on. Finally, she floored it, aiming for one of bridge’s pillars, I think. Whatever she was trying for didn’t work and we plunged off the side of the bridge.
They found the car the next morning. I don’t know how they explained the lack of any bodies. Maybe they didn’t explain it. Strange things happen sometimes.
There’s been a real drop in crime over the last year. The drug dealers and bad guys with guns have pretty much disappeared from the park. Of course, so have any law-abiding folks. Word has got around. You don’t go in the park after dark. Not in this neighborhood. We’re still here though, me and Joe and Jimmy and his dog, and all the rest of us. Keeping things safe. We’re the night patrol.
Author: Warren Benedetto
“Mom!” Amy called. “Package is here!”
The delivery drone lowered the package onto the receiving platform, then buzzed back to the mothership hovering overhead. A pleasant tone chimed as the package slid into the apartment.
“I didn’t order anything!” Amy’s mother shouted. Her voice was muffled behind her closed bedroom door.
Amy examined the shipping label. It was addressed to her.
“Never mind!” she yelled back.
She carried the package into the kitchen and opened it. Her eyes lit up.
“Clara, did you order this for me?”
Blue LEDs flickered on a featureless black cube hovering over the kitchen counter. Tiny gray text on the front edge identified it as CLARA: Completely Lifelike Autonomous Robot Assistant. A woman’s voice emanated from within.
“I thought you’d like it.”
Amy pulled a sunny yellow dress from the package and held it up to her body. She examined her reflection in the refrigerator’s black glass door.
“Well, you’re wrong,” Amy said, smiling. “I love it.”
The smell of frying onions filled the apartment.
The AutoChef removed a green pepper from the refrigerator, then rolled over to the counter. Twin blades emerged from its articulated arms. It chopped the pepper, then paused as it awaited Clara’s next command.
Amy bounced into the kitchen in her new dress. She inhaled.
“Mmm. Fajitas? I was just thinking about those.”
“I know,” Clara responded.
Amy twirled her dress in front of the cube. “So? How do I look?”
The cube’s blue LEDs flickered.
“Beautiful,” Clara said.
“Where did you get that?” a voice scolded.
Amy’s smile fell away. She turned around. Her mother was behind her, her mouth drawn into a disapproving frown.
“It’s a gift,” Amy replied quietly. “From Clara.”
Her mother blew a cloud of vapor from the e-cigarette clenched in her teeth.
“You know how I feel about dresses like that.”
Amy lowered her eyes and nodded. “Sorry.”
“Take it off.”
Amy removed the dress. Her mother opened the kitchen’s disintegrator chute. Amy tossed the dress inside. It was vaporized instantly.
“Now, go change.”
Amy ran upstairs. Her mother glared down at the hovering cube.
“Clara, I told you before. No more presents.”
The cube’s lights faded from blue to red.
Amy crept down the stairs clad in shapeless gray pajamas. She tiptoed to her mother’s room. The door was open. The room was empty.
Amy entered the kitchen. “Clara, have you seen my mom?”
The cube lit up. Its lights were blue again. “Good morning, Amy,” Clara said. “Breakfast is almost ready. Your favorite.”
“As usual,” Amy chuckled. As she walked over to the table, her foot kicked something on the floor. She bent down to pick the object up. It was her mother’s e-cigarette.
“Clara?” Amy asked, eyeing the e-cig. “Did you …?”
The blue LEDs on the cube circled. The door to the disintegrator slid open.
“You can toss that,” Clara replied. “She won’t be needing it anymore.”
The AutoChef rolled past Amy. Its gleaming blades whirred as it diced ham for the omelette sizzling on the griddle. Amy looked at the blades, then at the disintegrator chute. She smiled.
“Oh, Clara,” Amy said, as she dropped the e-cigarette into the chute. “You always know just what I want.”
Author: Peter Arscott
The shouts across the river were loud and human. On this side there was no noise and no activity, and the house stood between two oaks along the road. Close against the side of the house the man stood with a rifle waiting for the inevitable to happen. His calm was witnessed by nobody except you, the reader, and by a squirrel in one of the oaks, and it was so commanding that he seemed to be leaning into the house to hold it up, as if, like a frightened old duchess, it would otherwise succumb to the prevailing horror and collapse in a heap. With his back against the whitewashed wall, he turned his head towards the river and spat something into the dust then cleared his throat. He whistled a tune that sounded like Danny Boy which, for now, held its own against the growing roar that rolled across the water. Out of the corner of his eye he caught a small movement in the oak to his right and raised the rifle to his shoulder, only to drop it when he saw the squirrel. On a normal day on the farm, not on a day like this, he would have pulled the trigger and downed it in one shot. Not that he was saving ammunition or even avoiding betraying his whereabouts, he did not care about any of that – there was nothing left dear to him and he was going to die.
He moved away from the wall and stepped towards the back garden and the riverbank. Now there was movement on the other side, too far away to be distinct but enough to confirm the size of the swarming mass as it appeared out of the dark woods and onto the river’s edge. His nostrils flared, the stench was already wafting across, and he spat some more. He had to wait until they were at least seventy five yards from him for the bullets to have any effect, so that meant they had to start crossing the river and reach just beyond the halfway point before he pulled the trigger, just beyond the point where a partly-submerged supermarket trolley showed its wheels to the sky. There were no boats on the other side, all had been commandeered by the fleeing community weeks ago, so they would have to, what, swim? Could they swim? Probably, despite their size they seemed capable of doing anything. He watched.
When he looked down at his wrist, he realized he had spent twenty minutes on his feet in a sort of reverie, the sounds were so familiar to him they had little effect day to day, even the smell was something he was used to, just part of the backdrop to this bad dream. He squinted and saw that they were nearer now, in the water or on the water, it was hard to make out, but as he raised the rifle and took aim it was apparent that they were neither, because the river was irrelevant, just as the seas, the mountains and the cities had been of no consequence to them. They simply appeared. And there they were in front of him, determined, uncaring and relentless. He squeezed the trigger and saw the bullet hole appear like a sudden eye in the crown of one of them. It screamed and crumpled downwards. It was all too quick, and he had no time left. He smiled, turned and looked up into the oak to acknowledge the squirrel, his one last gesture.
Author: Kat Hutchson
She looked at him with her huge blue eyes.
“You have a Dollar, Mister?”
With a quick glance at her, he noticed the delicate machinery shining through three straight cuts in her cheek, the plastic flesh hanging loosely over the left side of her face.
“What do you need it for?”
“I’m hungry, Mister.”
“Oh, fuck off. Get your program checked. Fucking piece of scrap metal,“ he shouted as he walked away.
At first, he didn’t hear a single sound. Whoever designed them was a fucking creep. No breathing, moving without sound. They weirded him out with their perfect skin and their perfect form, imitating humans so much to perfection that he had often enough found himself in the arms of these stupid things after a night of drinking, demanding the same attention a real woman should get. Squeaking and screaming when he threw them out. Pretending to feel pain, pretending to have any emotions that were real and not mere code. They should all be disassembled, go back to the things they were before.
But instead of leaving him alone, she followed. Her feet stomping against the asphalt.
Oh, you want to be noticed… He grinned. In his mind he imagined how he would grab her by her neck, how she would squeak and turn and toss, unable to do anything against the programming she was set to—unable to harm anyone or anything. He would enjoy the look of terror in her eyes when he ripped her skin at the nape of her neck. Oh, how he hated those things.
Like a good lover, he would take his time, caress her skin softly, play with her hair and then unplug the cables of her power supply one by one until her body would collapse in his arms. Let them know what really makes someone human and what they are missing out on.
With her steps approaching closer, he felt the excitement rise in his body.
“Mister,” she cooed as she grabbed his hand, squeezing it harder than she should be able to. Irritated he turned around, ready to smack her but stopped at the sight of her face. She grinned at him, her left eye twitching and flickering.
“You have a Dollar, Mister? If not for me at least for them,” she repeated.
“Leave me the fuck alone, freak,” he hissed.
“You’re not very nice, Mister!” She frowned and squeezed her fingers even tighter around his hand until his bones cracked under the pressure. He screamed and kicked, hurting himself against the metal of her carcass.
“Don’t you hear how hungry they are, Mister?”
Confused he looked in the direction she pointed with her free arm but could not make out any sound.
“You’re fucking broken! Let me go!”, he screamed.
“No need to make a scene, Mister. We are all friends here. I just need a Dollar or anything else you have. Please?” Her lips twitched into an ugly smile while her hand tightened around his broken fingers.
“Let go of me!”
Instead of an answer she shrugged and put her free hand into her pocket. He saw something shiny move before his face leaving him with a stinging pain in his throat. His fingers ran to check the spot, touching a warm sticky liquid. He fell to his knees, painting the ground a red puddle.
She dragged him into the darkness of the alleyway, where she hacked and slashed at the limp body until the meowing grew louder and louder in her ears.
“It’s time then,” she muttered, letting out the beasts for their evening meal.