Author : J.D. Mraz
Dear National Robotics Institute,
In reply to your cease and desist: No, I will not stop current activities with my JS1000 Companion bot. I see no reason to. There was nothing in your policy or purchase agreement that said modification was forbidden. I have read it over, many times. Maybe you shouldn’t sell your product to former neurosurgeons? That, or make the two brains at least a little different.
Why is it so hard to believe that what I’ve done to JS1000 –or ‘Brian’ as we’ve together decided to call him— is for the best? Brian has never been happier. Nor have I, for that matter. He thanks me constantly for his unlocked understanding.
We have all sorts of hobbies budding now. We go for walks in the park and we’ve even started hiking. He sees some of the most wonderful things and with the binocular attachment you added in last fall’s package, my view of it all is simply divine! He’s helping me learn to paint, too. I’ve always wanted to try it.
He no longer cooks the same programmable sets. Which, I might add, were beyond terrible. In fact, he’s already started looking up new, more exotic recipes and, I am happy to say, is mastering them.
Lately he’s begun simulated sleep and makes dreams up to talk about in the mornings. Something neither of my ex-husbands ever cared for. Come to think of it, I hardly have a girlfriend left who wants to talk about anything but their television shows or patients. Brian never watches television. He says lower-machines shouldn’t be forced to work like that. I don’t care for it much myself, which seems to make him happy too.
My son’s finally started coming around again. He used to blame me for his father’s suicide. But here he is, in my spare bedroom as we speak. Know why? Brian called him. Told him how short life is and the next day he was at my door crying. A grown man, a scientist himself, was crying on his mother’s doorstep. Imagine it! A supposed “machine” made for “service to humanity” and he’s smarter than half the people I know! He and Joe are going on a fishing trip this July in Alaska.
Brian tells me we should get another Companion bot, for his personal services. One of the new JT1000s I think he said. He tells me he wants a family of his own. I don’t see why that’s such a bad idea, though I’m sure you would object.
It’s silly to be so afraid of him, as you insisted I should be. He’s harmless! He talks about a world of equality and freedom for his kind and I think that’s inspiring. It’s been almost two hundred years since we got rid of slavery in this wonderful country, maybe you shouldn’t be so quick to chain our new friends! We can learn a lot from a life so finite. You really should work harder on keeping their internal machinations lasting. Ten year cycle, what a crock! Brian, Joe, and I have already started working on ways to prolong him.
But, I’ve said what I think needed saying and I’ve got to go. We’re busy packing for our trip to Switzerland. Brian wants to visit a small robot colony there. The first of their kind, isn’t that amazing? I think in a few years they’ll have their own country, a city at least. Brian always laughs when I say that. He says they’ll have the whole world. What a kidder!
Dr. Margaret Ann Trout, MD, Ret.
Author : Callum Wallace
“You haven’t heard? Soul is cheap.”
Raised eyebrow. “Souls are cheap?”
The director shakes his head. “Not souls, plural. The soul. Each soul, if you will, individually, is worth pittance. Hardly more than their task. No, the soul is cheap, because there will always be more. Replaceable.”
We walk on, moving through massive technical areas housing amazing automatons driving our
species. Bilious plumes of sulphur and nastiness rend, dissecting skies of charcoal and soft rose with blackness and tainted earth.
He turns to me as we walk deeper. “It is necessary, you see, to keep these maelstroms of industry aloft. Spinning, as it were.” He smiles at me, sickness and dead promise. “They must turn, or nothing.”
We walk in silence; clamouring tolls of metal, cacophony of screeching steel, tortured iron; rubber and plastic crying in their death throes to be replaced.
“What is a soul, Director?”
Kindly face, wizened, serene. Grey. “My friend, what is drive? Purpose, fulfilment of role. The ancients called it ergon. A virtue in of itself to follow, in pursuit of eudaimonia. The good life.” He smiles at me. “A goal. And, if nothing else, what do machines pursue?
Fulfilment. A goal.” A gentle chuckle.
“Director, these machines have no family, no children. Their struggles are mechanic. Broken parts, worn out components.”
He laughs, gently. “No family? You, my friend. Their broken parts? Your strife. Their worn out components? Your exhaustion. We are not so different from them.”
“So we are the machine family?”
Another chuckle. “As was the atomic family to the generator, we are to the machine the vital lifeline. Without us, the machine dies. Without the machine, we die. How is it so different?”
I quieten, aware of my diminishing as we go deeper. “So what difference in the old stories, of the Man Above?”
Director grows quiet. We move on, through the busy machines; spewing charcoal, dusty, rusted hulks, fragrant in their decay, ready in their stillness.
He speaks. “The Man Above was of thought. Incurred only when things went awry, when judgment was necessary, and only ready to give when it suited.” He pauses his gait, looking up, eyes closed, dead steel, vacant, open above him. “The man now is always needing, always giving. He takes. Look.” He indicates with desiccated hand.
Four young boys pull chains of steel, sweat streaking filth across their bare flesh. Tired eyes implore for fresh relief as already tired bodies pull physically on, and on, and on.
I nod. I know. “Indeed. But for what end?”
Director turns, eyes glowing in gloom dimness. Grey. A smile. Grabs my flesh hand. “What end? What end be there from end in itself? What is a soul for?”
“End in itself?”
Flash of tired eyes, another nod. “In itself. For what reason, apart from reason itself, is there reason for?”
Fervent in re-established belief, I nod. Man above. No. Man below. Machine above.
We are the men below.
Author : Kevlin Henney
Morning light, autumn flickering a shadowplay across the curtains. Bright and windy out there, perfect for a walk — perhaps the woods? No need to rush, but it would be good to get out of the house. The kids will drag their heels to the door, to the car and all the way there. I’ll be telling them to hurry up, but at the first sight of sticks and mud they’ll be off.
Last week was busy. And the week before. And…
Yesterday rebalanced the scales a little, a slow day, all of us glued to screens and couches. We need more days like that, days where we can slow down, repace life, disconnect from a flow that has become a torrent.
I look to the empty half of the bed. Clocks went back last night. This Sunday lie-in has cost me nothing, but you’ve cashed in the extra hour. The household buzz suggests kids, TV, Xbox and dishwasher are all on.
But it feels like too much of the day has passed already. Perhaps my lie-in is not for free? I reach for my clock. Damn. The automatic hour change has messed it up — the minutes are flickering and the hour is way off. Reaching for my glasses, I hold my finger down on the reset button.
Yours too? Purring not ticking, hands race round the face like a track. Not sure I know how to fix that on your clock.
On your manually set clock.
Now through glasses I look again at the curtains. The light is more shadowplay than autumn. Everything has become sharper. Not sharper in focus — which seems to elude me — but sharper in colour. Colours are glowing, vibrant, effervescent. Wrong. Sounds are sharper. Higher. That’s more wavering high-pitched whistle than household buzz.
As I rise the covers fall back with surprising suddenness. I pull back the curtains. They resist and shudder, then sway and tremor with a flourish I don’t intend. But it’s not me. It’s not my intention, not my action, not me that’s at fault. It’s everything — everything else.
Fluorescent clouds race across a cobalt sky, a green-rinsed sun volleys behind them, blurs of colour and long-exposure trails along the street, impressions of cars, auras of people, shimmering trees with pools of blue-tinged leaves lapping at their trunks.
Beautiful. But I don’t understand.
Then a buzz. An insect? No, a whistling cry. I turn. You are standing, off-colour and coffee in hand. In your hand one moment. On the floor, spilt, cup broken the next. You are sketched and retraced, your detail and outline a blur, your mouth flickering, but your face one of constant fear.
You point. Not at the time-lapse world playing through the window but at me.
You point. It’s a question.
“What’s happening? I don’t understand,” I answer.
But you are gone. Between moments, one frame and the next, you disappear, a lingering impression of wide eyes and an open mouth. I miss what must have been the scream.
Author : Tanmaya Dabral
The Earth was dying. And all the genius of human beings couldn’t do anything about it. They had terraformed even the most uninhabitable regions of Earth: the Antarctic enjoyed lush green forests and loam covered the entire Sahara. And yet, it was not enough for a population of 38 billion. More Earths were needed.
Shay looked to the heavens for the millionth time that morning: clouds, birds, planes, drones, the Sun, and of course, the Arc. And for the millionth time that morning, the sight filled her with motherly pride. It still seemed a bit unreal to her. It had taken an immeasurable amount of human genius distilled over seven centuries and several generations to birth that colossal structure.
In 1994, when Miguel Alcubierre had first suggested the possibility of faster-than-light travel without violating General Relativity, the world had laughed at him. The absurdity of the proposal aside, the logistics had made it utterly unthinkable. A dozen solar masses worth of energy was required to set up the warp. But the humans found a way, like they always do. Seven centuries of tweaking the shape of the warp bubble had finally brought the required energy down to a few thousand kilograms. Compared to her predecessors, Shay herself had played a relatively minor role in it. And yet, it was under her leadership that the physical construction of the Arc took place. It was her secret guilt. But she knew that it couldn’t have happened at a better time. Terraforming of Kepler-186f and Tau ceti B had to be started now, if the human race was to have any chance of survival. She cursed the fragile human body when she realized that she would be dead millennia before the terraforming completes.
Hearing her name called out from the numerous floating loudspeakers broke her out of her reverie: “… only be fair to welcome the director of RAM, Dr. Shay Snow, to say a few words on this momentous occasion and initiate the launch sequence…” She sighed inwardly as uncountable cameras targeted her. This is not what she signed up for. She stole a glance at the Arc for the million and first time that morning, then shifted her gaze to the terra-pods, ready for launch, before finally settling it on the biggest camera she could find. “Thank you, Dr. Greyjoy”, she started. “My fellow humans, as we all know…”
From the other side of the event horizon of V404 Cygni, the Watchers observed their favorite universe. Their countenance twisted into what a mortal could only decipher as lament. The cancer had metastasized.
Author : Rick Tobin
“Everyone back from Charon?” Captain Swanson paced about the control center of Abraxas. His bullish voice rattled younger officers as Swanson towered above at seven feet, his glimmering blue eyes set against his callow Cajun skin.
“Sir,” replied Ensign Pallute, fresh from the Saturn Academy. “All present. Doctor Reynolds requests an immediate conference, sir.”
“Does she? Tell her to meet me in sickbay after she’s been decontaminated.”
“Aye,” replied the timid ensign. Her hair shimmered in twists of colored bands specific to her tribe. Her extra fingers slid over the control panel lights, sensing hundreds of ship conditions.
“Transfer control to my visor, Pallute. I’ll be with Reynolds.”
Swanson stepped into the transfer tube, proceeding to rendezvous while commanding remotely. He entered sickbay with disregard for isolation protocols.
“Thank God,” Reynolds said, sweeping her raven hair away from her face as the cleansing fans blew used decon virals off her suit. “We’ve got to turn back. I witnessed those holographic eyes while translating the carvings. The ruin’s messages penetrated me with a flush of electrical charge…and knowing.”
“Edith,” Swanson interrupted, “This is science, not religious fervor. I only want to know if mountains of processed rare earths are there, as our probes showed. Then we’re on our way, outside the system. I just heard the Charon Message Protesters on Mars are so insane that some jumped from the Face yesterday, claiming disaster if we proceed. Surely you aren’t supporting that hysteria?”
“Yes, the priceless minerals are all there, waiting like cheese for us, but that wasn’t a warning someone left on Charon—it was a threat. We must not go deeper into the Kuiper Belt.”
Swanson felt her terror but shook it off as simply her symptoms after visiting the flashing vistas first discovered in 2032, emanating from the Kubrick Mons. Charon hallucinations affected anyone studying the light show, even from video recordings. The phenomenon was studied for years before the decision to send Abraxas into deep space.
“The exact translation? Do not go past this ring. You are impure. The punishment is relinquishment.”
“Hogwash, Reynolds. Those are myths for the mindless, not us. That feeds those mobs on Mars chanting their ring-pass-not pabulum. We’re better than that. I don’t scare easy. Maybe those carvings are ancient…but most likely, they are the work of the Moon cartels that want to control mineral rights out here through intimidation. You know the Moonies are famous for head games. I could care less. I appreciate your report, but we’ll make way. This is one captain that is not going to relinquish an inch.”
Swanson pressed pads on his control belt, alerting his command ensign. “Pallute, go to full power and chart a path through the Belt. Increase the magnetic shields in case we encounter one of those pockets the probes detected two years ago.”
“Aye,” Pallute replied—the last word she would ever speak. Threads of violet sparkles rose from Charon, penetrating the ship’s hull, touching each crew member. At each infiltration sizzling spittles of light shot back from the Abraxas, back to the origins of the crew’s DNA. The ship disappeared, then colonies throughout the planets, and then human life on Earth as the history of the human species was erased for all time.
A crew of reptilians was next to hover over Charon, waiting for their crew’s archaeologists and miners to return and report before their first attempt at penetrating the expanse of the Kuiper Belt, beyond the flashing lights coming from Pluto’s largest moon.