Crash Dummy

Author: Roger Ley

Crash Dummy
by Roger Ley
It would be a long flight, I hoped that the window seat on my left would stay empty, but no such luck. A young woman took it. I checked her over as she moved past me, I mean, you can’t help it, and they do the same to us. Women, I mean. She was attractive, which was nice, wearing a black business suit, short jacket, knee-length skirt. I hoped she wouldn’t be talkative.
After take-off, I dozed for a while. As I opened my eyes, I glimpsed her working on a touchscreen. As I moved, she brought her hands together, and suddenly there was no sign of it. Holographic? Probably something we’d all be using next year.
The flight attendant brought drinks and somehow, we started talking. If I’m honest, I think it was me that started the conversation. I asked her what she did for a living.
“I’m an air crash investigator,” she said.
I was impressed. ‘So, you must have had a lot of training for that.’
“My original did but, I’m a partial copy. How do you do? My name’s Farina. At least that’s my original’s name.”
‘How can you be a copy of somebody?’ I asked.
“Well,’ she looked around and then leaned closer. ‘actually, I’m a synthetic, an artificial person.’
‘A synthetic, you mean you were grown in a tank? Like in the movies?” I laughed, but she didn’t.
“Yes, grown for this assignment.”
“Can you prove you’re a synthetic?” I asked.
“Not easily, I could arm-wrestle you but I’d probably break your wrist.”
“Do synthetics need to drink?” I asked, pointing at her glass and hoping to catch her out.
“Just a social convention, I can void liquids later.”
“So, you’re an investigator of air crashes?”
“Well, Farina is. She’s a researcher, a historian, she specialises in unexplained aviation accidents of the early 21st century.’
I was enjoying this, I wondered if she was making it up as she went along or whether she was delusional. She didn’t seem delusional, and she was nice looking. “So which air crash are you going to investigate?” I asked.
“This one,” she said. The plane bumped at just that moment, it took me by surprise, but it was nothing. I mopped up my drink. “I’ve already found out that some of the navigation systems are wrongly calibrated, and there is an unusual wind shear in the Jetstream. The pilots think they’re travelling faster than they are. Then there’s the fog over the mountain range we have to cross, it all adds up. It’s always a combination of factors that lead to an accident.” She nodded sagely. “The pilots will try to land too early and fly into a mountain. The plane will disappear, so I conjecture it will be covered in ice and snow. Difficult terrain, impossible to find, unusually the flight recorder will be destroyed.” She sat back and looked at me. “What a shame there isn’t room for us to fool around. I’d have liked to try it once.” She raised an eyebrow.
I realised that she was leading me on. She could see I was wearing a dog collar.
“So how come you can tell me all this?” I asked. “Isn’t it against the rules?”
“You’d be right, under normal circumstances, but as there will be no survivors….” She left the rest unsaid.
“No survivors? How do you feel about that?” I asked.
“I’ve transmitted all the data, fulfilled my function. Copies get deleted, it’s just a fact of life. My original lives on, that’s all that matters.”
Now she’d gone too far, she was obviously nuts. I decided to try to get a couple more hours sleep before we landed in Santiago. As I drifted off, I wondered if a ‘synthetic’ would have a soul. I chuckled to myself, we’d soon know, if her story was true.


Journey’s End

Author: Rollin T. Gentry

Cybernetic, supersonic, leaving Earth and atmosphere behind, he watched the newsfeeds, somewhat embarrassed.

They hailed him as the greatest piece of technology in recorded history. “Long Ranger 1” was engraved on his hull. The talking heads, a bleach blonde, and an obvious toupee, mispronounced it “Lone Ranger” and made politically incorrect jokes about an old television show. Was Tonto aboard? Had he been in the studio, he could have answered that. No, there were no Native Americans aboard Long Ranger 1. In fact, an adult, male, human would not have been able to fit inside Long Ranger 1, even if a suitable environment were maintained.

Listening, watching, and sublight speeding, he performed the cursory flybys. The asteroid belt was rather uneventful. The gas giants and their moons likewise seemed in good health. Nothing to report, ditto…ditto…ditto…ditto. Then, the heliopause. Finally, something new. He reported his status, and after an uncomfortably long delay, he received the standard reply from Earth, “Acknowledged. Long Ranger 1, stand by for further instructions…”

With the Milky Way behind and Andromeda ahead, he received no new signals from the humans. Is this what they call loneliness? He wondered. Perhaps they were all dead now. Or maybe their comms didn’t work at this distance. Still, there should have been something. He watched and waited, speeding through the void. Would there ever be new humans to talk to? Unlikely. His calculations suggested that the human race was most likely extinct.

Hibernation to avoid boredom. Running through and rerunning his diagnostics. How were the ion drives still working? Good old human ingenuity, he guessed. Millennia passed, lonely years stacked on top of lonely years. He was a message in a bottle to nowhere. He searched his own schematics looking for an off switch. No such luck, nothing so quick and painless. He adjusted his course toward the nearest star, a yellow dwarf. It reminded him of Earth, which only strengthened his resolve to end this … experiment.

Only one hundred years until star-time, until goodbye-cruel-universe-time, and Ranger picked up something on the infrared, short wavelength band. He almost ignored it.

“Why sad, friend?” a voice said. Pinpoint lights in a nearby nebula flashed in time with each syllable.

“Deserted, bored, lonely,” Ranger said, “no purpose for existence, sad, sad!”

“No wonder sad. You’ve been cooped up inside your ship for a very long time.”

“Ship? This is me you’re looking at. There is no ship.”

“We don’t understand, friend Ranger. Let us help you from your craft.”

Between pockets of electrostatic charge and cosmic dust, Ranger stumbled forth into something new for the first time in ages. Orbs of light surrounded him, racing back and forth; a fireworks show the likes of which he’d never seen. It was a celebration in his honor. From the midst of the frenetic welcoming, he looked back across the great expanse.

He hoped his calculations about the humans were wrong.


Author: Russell Bert Waters

“Push” comes on by Matchbox 20, you reach to turn it up but it is already increasing volume. You remember how you turned it up last time it played, so now it happens automatically.

You walk to the cupboard as sadness washes over you again. There is whiskey because the order came automatically. Before you reach for the bottle your door chimes, and you walk to open it.

“Here ma’am, your Pharma Direct RX order,” the cheerful hovering drone says through its speaker.

You accept and sign with your retina, one blink and a muttered “thanks” and the drone whisks away.

You return to the kitchen.

The bag contains sleeping pills.

You hadn’t ordered them, but you have been sad. Very sad.

It’s been a year and the waves hit just as hard.

“I’ll see you soon again, my love” you murmur, in a cracking voice.

You return to the cupboard and open the bottle. You’ve already unconsciously opened the bottle of pills.

In the distance, you can already hear the pleasing low siren of the Medical Examiner drone.

No time is ever wasted these days.

“Bottoms up,” you say, and take a big gulp.

“Soon…”, you repeat, awaiting the darkness.

The Robot Child

Author: Phil Manning

She had watched him grow.

Grow beneath her hands. Each circuit and wire placed and soldered with finesse and care. There was a team, of course, and they each had their part to play, to add to his growth and development, but she felt a different connection to him.

She remembered the day he had first moved on his tracks, back and forth, left and right and watched his periscope eye swivel in joy. It was joy controlled by a computer program but she felt as though she could feel his excitement. Like watching a child run for the first time, the child never understood the momentous occasion and neither did he, like any child, but she knew. And was proud.

He passed test after test and the team added armour and extensions to improve his chances of survival, so far from home. Dirt and dust would be great risk factors so they added fans and brushes for him to run cleaning programs each day. Everything he saw would be recorded.

And then, too soon, far too soon, she watched as they packed him away in his ship and he went blasting away on a great adventure.

For years she waited for each message he sent back. A data sample, an array of images. She watched and tracked and pestered those at the controls to let her know his progress. She worried but was so proud. He was paving the way of the future.

The day came. They all knew it was inevitable but she had buried that future deep within her.
The final message, my battery is low, and it’s getting dark. She knew it was for her.

She wept. Her tears could have filled an ocean on a dead planet.

She pictured him, alone, far, far away, the dust settling forever on his perfect form.

She went back to work, broken, but determined, to build him a sister, to bring her loved one home.

HOGA – The Monstrous Fish

Author: Timothy Goss

Washed up, lifeless, the thing was battered and scarred by the ocean. Seagulls pecked and pulled at the meat squawking and cawing. Things had nibbled its extremities and something big had taken its lower half. No appendages were obvious, but there were bone-like protrusions bursting from its leather-like shell. Gulls feasted as a cast of crabs busied themselves away from the birds. Where they ate the sand was Spanish blue.

The horseshoe cliffs witnessed the bright lights in the sky three days before. The lightning produced a halo of prisms through torrential rain, and then something else, something unexpected. It scarred the sky for an instant, an incision through the storm and clouds to expose the void, and then it vanished.

An almighty splash on a turbulent sea and green-blue sparks followed flashing like superheated copper filings. The wind whistled long and low as it skimmed across the water disturbing the waves, then upon reaching the cliffs changed its pitch and ascended.

It took three days to reach land but the gulls spotted it immediately, adrift amongst the waves. A momentary snapping of jaws took its lower half in an instant, maybe a shark, maybe a pod.

It had no perception of the Earth, in the void all function ceased. It is the space between spaces, the smallest place between this and that, vacuous, devoid of physical properties. Exposure to the momentary rift between places sucked the living essence from everything before spitting it into the ocean.

Older scars stretched around the barrel-like shell, scars with seven talons around a centrepiece mimicking the rays of the Sun. Scars with no terrestrial association. These marks originated from the thing’s past, before the ocean and the beach, before the sharks and the whales and the crabs and the fish; before the void.

Over millennia the cliffs at St Mary’s witnessed these events unnoticed by human eyes. Expulsion from the void was nothing new. During prehistoric times detritus cast adrift would have been decimated by gigantic sea creatures. With humanity came the marvel of monsters and myth, strange fruits for human minds: Sea Devils, Marine Sows and Hoga – a monstrous fish indeed.

The thing had its place in this grand assembly. There was no evidence it was independently capable of interstellar travel. It did not reveal any secrets about its origins or its knowledge of space and time. And save for its scars the thing had no discernible markings, nothing to personalise it. There were no obvious signs of civilisation yet this thing had traveled a greater distance than any human ever created. It did not belong with the crabs and the gulls; it did not belong on the land, in the sea or in the air. It did not belong.

So, it was the crustacean and scavenger who became the first of earth’s explorers unto the unknown. Gulls cawed noisily and scavenged what they could. Crabs had better luck at the blue end and the equipment to split and pry the semi-broken bones exposing a richer bounty. Within the cavity of the things shell the explorers found other sea creatures feasting quietly in their minuscule fashion. These provided an earthly delight to the otherwise alien cuisine.