Author : Samuel Hymas
They were in love. That much was obvious to even the most unperceptive.
I’ve seen salesmen work a room before. They leave everyone feeling like they made a new friend and need to take a shower. But these two were different. Maybe because they had nothing to sell. But I know it was more than that. Especially now.
I’ve always been able to see. For years I thought everyone could see like I could. It wasn’t until after my second walkabout that I realized I was different. That I could see what others could not. That, even though we were looking at the same things, I was able to perceive so much more. I thought it was partly intuition and partly reading what others are feeling through their facial expressions and body language. And that’s some of it. But mostly it is being able to hear other’s souls with my own. It’s more complicated than that, but you wouldn’t understand.
And even then I could do that. And they knew I could do that before they even said hello.
I’ve met a few other people like me in my life. Usually I didn’t recognize that they were like me for at least a little while. But I’ve gotten better at it. They burned. Both of them.
The man caught my eye from across the room and SAW me. Saw me seeing him and his love. The faintest smile crossed his lips as he looked in my eyes and I knew that he saw more than I ever have. He turned to her and whispered in her ear without breaking eye contact with me. I learned later what he said: “I found one.”
She followed his gaze and found me at the end of it. The people they were with didn’t want them to leave but they deftly extricated themselves and made their way over to me.
The man just gazed into my eyes. But she introduced herself as Annabel and asked me my name. “Grace,” I said, looking back and forth between them.
“She’s not uncomfortable,” Annabel said to Edgar, for that was his name. “You’re losing your touch.”
“It’s not me, it’s her,” he responded without ever looking away from me.
“I know,” she said as she poked him in the ribs.
Then he looked away from me. And at her. It was a combination of pure love and “prepare to be judo chopped.” Which he did. Judo chop.
I’m not sure if that’s the real term for it. But he attacked her. Not like a banzai hack or flailing arms. It was fluid, graceful and quick. I didn’t even understand what was happening. She did. She countered it by twisting away and swinging her arm out like in the vids.
“You’re so predictable,” she said to him in a tone that would make any man I’d ever known up to that point angry.
He put his right fist against his open left hand and bowed to her while smiling. It wasn’t even an “I’ve been beaten but I’m going to get revenge” type of smile. It was genuine amusement and love.
Their quick movements didn’t create a ruckus, but the people close to us noticed and had backed off a little. It’s like it was their plan all along. We were surrounded, but no one was within earshot.
“We’ve been looking for you Grace,” said Annabel.
Author : Ian Hill
The thin machination stood at the asteroid station’s balcony, leaning over the guardrail to peer off into the depths of space with her multi-faceted eyes. The two red points of light were a mere formality, vestigial figments from her creators intended to set those human elements at ease. At her prime she was a staggering feat of engineering, a true coppery milestone in the history of industry. Now though, she was reduced to a malfunctioning tower of metal plates covered in grimy hexagonal scales and ashen infections of rust that spread like a plague over her ropey pseudo-tendons.
She slowly twitched a finger, a fully articulated finger full of nanotubes that contained coursing rivers of torrential gel. This gel system surged over the whole machine’s frame, transmitting information and signals via a clear liquid base. It was efficient, but only when maintained by a highly trained specialist on a regular basis. The repercussions of letting one of these thinking machines run without being recalibrated and fixed was a frightening prospect. It was as if the gleaming machinations were constantly trying to break away, to crawl out of the unholy mire of human restriction.
The android turned away from the glorious void and walked through a series of heavy vault-like doors, her movements calculated and deliberate. She strode through the cramped facility, brushing past down hanging wires that showered glistening sparks onto the grated metal decking below. The station was pitch black, but she didn’t mind. Light was a concept for the weak, those reliant on a single pivotal sense that could be canceled on a mere whim.
As she moved deeper into the asteroid the noises became clearer. There was ragged breathing intermingled with the occasional plea for help, a nonsensical and fleeting gesture that didn’t even register with the android. She had a duty, no amount of begging could end it. What’s a lost machine to do without its makers?
She paused in front of a door and stood patiently as the pressurized hatch slid into the partially melted wall. The room beyond the threshold was a featureless circular area that gently sloped down to form a sort of inverted conical ground. By this point the pleas were intensifying, reaching through terror as they became more and more animalistic.
The machine stopped in front of the chained down being. She crouched, her metal joints creaking slightly, trying to tear through the built up corrosion. The man could hear a soft buzzing coming from within her head as she inspected the prisoner closely. He wanted to lash out and fight, but he was powerless. The operations had sapped his strength.
“Please, I don’t want to be here.” he moaned, his voice thin and shaky.
Something clicked from within the android’s head.
“Just, just help.” the prisoner continued deliriously. “I need- I need to leave. I don’t want this.”
She ignored the words and continued to stare blankly at the man as he rattled off complaint after complaint, groaning on and on about the wide tear in his stomach that was temporarily sustained by an impromptu surgery. The needle flew in, the needle flew out. The stress levels in his voice reached a pitiful peak then slowly receded back into nothingness as the prisoner lapsed into a pleasant comatose state.
The android clicked once again and stood back up to her full height. She pulled the bloody apron from her waist and draped it over the man’s bare legs in a sort of motherly way. She turned and strode out of the cell, her internal computer working furiously as it compressed the recorded pleas and sent them off in every direction. This was a signal asking for help, a wish for escape and a band of rescuers, probably Keitl, that would surely arrive within the next few days. The machine needed more components to get her family back.
Author : Adam Mac
Wanna see a modern-day miracle, kid?
Well, just sit tight.
Sure. It’s not like I’m going anywhere.
Here, take the binoculars. See that old guy on the bridge? Orange raincoat, red baseball cap, using a cane? Over there, to the left of the first tower. Can’t miss him.
Well, that guy’s got demons.
What are you talking about?
Just pay attention. He’s possessed—probably doesn’t even know it—and I’m gonna release him.
Demons? What, like the Exorcist? That’s crazy.
Think so? Watch this. I’ll send him a wireless message. If he starts and jumps around or falls down or something bizarre like that, we’ll know for sure.
That he’s got demons and must be—
How? He’s gotta be a half-mile away.
Easy. Remote control. I can make him hop onto the railing then fling himself off the bridge.
Why would you do that? He could be killed.
Nobody’s gonna die today. There’s a net. All I’m gonna do is send the old guy over the edge.
What if the net doesn’t—?
So what’s the miracle?
Ever hear the story of Legion … the Gadarene devils … the herd of swine run off the cliff into the sea?
Didn’t your parents send you to Sunday school?
My adopted parents are— Hey! Look! The old man’s falling. There’s another … and another. There are two together, a man and a woman, holding hands.
All possessed … obviously.
Oh God, look! They’re hitting the water. But you said—
That’s impossible! There IS a net. I saw it.
You gotta call 9-1-1! You can’t leave those people. They might still be alive.
OK, OK. Relax.
Hello. Yes, this is an emergency. I just witnessed four—no, five—people jump off the bridge. The suicide net— It’s NOT a suicide net. Painting and repairs!? Oh shit! No, I’m too far away and it happened so fast. My name? Sorry (static) losing (static)–
Why did do that?
That static stuff.
Cause they don’t really need my name. Besides we’re leaving now.
In the car. Now! Let’s go!
Do you really think all those people have demons?
Don’t be stupid. Demons are fictions. These people had unsecure devices in their bodies.
What do you mean ‘unsecure devices?’
Pacemakers, retinal implants, neural implants, cochlear implants—all kinds of medical implants, and all accessible wirelessly—
You can hack into them? Is that what you did? You hacked into that old man’s pacemaker?
You’re pretty quick, kid. Now just lie down in the backseat and keep— That a smartwatch … with GPS?
Author : Bob Newbell
Lieutenant Jvora shuffled down the corridor considerably slower than his four legs normally carried him. He was not looking forward to his meeting with Commander Skal. Jvora entered the commander’s office and raised a pincer in salute. Skal returned the gesture.
“Lieutenant, any word on the Lindell simulacrum?”
“Yes, sir,” replied Jvora. “We’ve gotten several reports back from the probes we sent to the Lindell system. And I believe we’ve pieced together what happened.”
Skal gestured to Jvora to continue.
“The simulacrum,” said Jvora, “successfully landed on Lindell III. It reconfigured itself into the likeness of the native intelligent species and established a base of operations in the planet’s north polar region. It then deployed billions of nanoprobes.”
“So,” interrupted Skal, “the simulacrum got at least as far as the initial reconnaissance and threat assessment protocol.”
“Yes, sir. It could have told you whether any given sentient on the planet was asleep or awake, if asked. But immediately thereafter the simulacrum appears to have sustained damage to its primary neuroprocessor. We suspect a virus native to Lindell III was the culprit.”
“So, the simulacrum became inoperable at that point?”
Jvora replied nervously, “No, sir. It began…rendering moral judgements against the natives.”
“What?! Moral judgements?”
“Yes, sir. Somehow its threat assessment wetware became corrupted. Instead of determining which natives might pose a threat to our colonization of the planet, it instead began categorizing them into good and bad subpopulations.”
“You mean to tell me that an advanced scout simulacrum has been just sitting in an arctic wasteland on Lindell III making abstract and meaningless moral assessments of that world’s population?”
Jvora had to fight the urge to withdraw completely into his exoskeleton and seal it shut. “Not exactly, Commander. The simulacrum has also been…making toys.”
Skal stared at his subordinate for what seemed like an eternity. “Making…toys?”
“Sir, the wetware mutation set off a metacognitive cascade failure. The matter compiler that was sent along with the simulacrum that would have been used to replicate weapons, vehicles, and other supplies the colonization force might have needed on arrival was instead repurposed to manufacture and distribute toys to those whom the simulacrum deemed morally worthy. These latter appear to be predominantly the young of the planet’s dominant species.”
Skal cradled his head in his pincers. “You’re telling me the simulacrum has spent all this time on Lindell III not preparing the–” Skal looked at the datapad for the demonym of the planet’s inhabitants “–the humans for their world to be colonized, but has instead been giving presents to children it judges to be good?”
“I’m afraid so, sir,” said Jvora. “It’s been doing this for so long that an entire mythology has arisen around the simulacrum’s persona. It has become part of the planet’s culture.”
Skal clambered down from his platform and paced the room. “Lieutenant, we have no choice but to abort any attempt at colonizing Lindell III. Moreover, we have to make sure no other simulacra have been similarly compromised. Perhaps it was a microbial pathogen unique to that world, but we can’t afford to take any chances. We’ll need to dispatch recon probes to check on all simulacra that were assigned to that part of the galaxy. See to it, Jvora.”
“Yes, sir,” said the Lieutenant. “I’ll make a list of all the simulacra we need to investigate.”
“Do so. And Jvora?”
“Check that list twice!”
Author : Dominic Daley
Sometimes, as I let the knowledge packets bleach out my old preconceptions and dull misapprehensions, I’d ponder, considering how sluggishly my brain operated whenever I indulged in this arthritic retail therapy, how boring it must have been to have had to read this junk. “Introduction to Modern Conflict”. “British Military History”. “World Empires 101”. All fluidly installable, straight into your memory banks, for two grand a pop. Progress.
You could get anything, within reason. It had to be offered by a licensed university – no third-party crap (if, for whatever absurd reason, you wanted it). I knew people who had submerged themselves in Hardy, Keats, Hugo, Blake and Larkin, but who could also speak fluent Mandarin, repair a Cessna engine in minutes and confidently multiply a dozen prime numbers off the tops of their heads. My own ambitions, however, were a little more specialised.
I had bought the cartridge from a code-rinser in Solihull, for ten thousand pounds. I don’t know if he knew what it was he was selling but he seemed happy to be rid of it, which at least told me he knew it was hot.
‘It’s totally clean,’ he had said. ‘Not a malicious line left.’
I had raised my eyebrows, impressed. ‘You’re sure? Nothing spring-loaded that you might have missed?’
He had assured me that he had been very thorough and had then hurried me out of his pigsty of a den. I had taken the cartridge back home and prepared it, hooking it up to my terminal, readying the sleek neural plugs for connection. Now, I massaged my temple socket with moisturising gel, to take the edge off the transfer burns.
Dead modules aren’t really dead, but they’re hardly ever retrievable. Usually, specialists will riddle them with fail safes; corrupt them to the point of unintelligibility, or program footprint traps to track down new users, or, in exceptional circumstances, tack on viruses that induce comas, or brain death, or worse. After all, they’re dead for a reason.
Mine was written by a mad genius, Professor William Cyrus Hanks. The campus eccentric (back when they still had campuses) who had built a module in secret and in so doing had made an artefact out of contemporary war. His students had started the first Psy-age, nearly half a century ago. They had come close to bringing the western hemisphere completely under their control, twelve brilliant people, devastating any who opposed them, willing their enemies into ash, tricking them to death in visions and smoke, piecing apart their very infrastructure like pulling off a spider’s legs. Only the Philistines had been enough to stop them, they with their brute manoeuvres and their raw, archaic tactics. But the Philistines were all gone. Dead in defiance of the future’s warm embrace. So, “Advanced Conquest: Manual for Surrender” was worth its weight.
The console light flickered green, ready for upload. I closed my eyes and dreamed about my empire.
It was the smoothest installation I’ve ever had.
Isn’t education grand?