by submission | Jun 5, 2016 | Story |
Author : K.L. Kelso
I first noticed the owl while I was out chopping wood. Slowly, it circled overhead. It’s movements seemed odd. Not quite natural. I continued working and watched the strange creature from the corner of my eye. I could not let on what I suspected.
Eventually, the owl landed on a nearby limb. I hefted my axe onto my shoulder and walked past it, doing my best to appear that I was headed into the woods to look for another tree to down. When I was close enough, I struck.
One hard hit was enough to reduce the owl to a pile of smoking junk. Truthfully, the android bird was junk before I hit it. The Project must be pretty desperate.
With its primitive servos humming like an old refrigerator and barely functioning artificial intelligence, the owl was a crude machine at best. It was nowhere near the beautiful android prototype I had built, and later stolen, from the Project.
Crude or not, They had found us once again. I felt more sorrow than fear. I had hoped, this time, we were finally free. I’d learned over the years of running to be ready. Everything I needed to leave behind one life and start another was already packed in the trunk of my car.
I hurried back to the small farm house that I had called home for the past year. While getting into the car I gave three quick honks of the horn, our prearranged signal. My beautiful little girl burst from the house, as usual, carrying her favorite doll.
“I’m sorry Eve. We gotta run again”, I said.
“That’s OK Daddy”, She replied.
She gave me a quick kiss on the cheek and buckled herself in. I couldn’t help but smile with pride. Her servos never made any noise.
by submission | Jun 3, 2016 | Story |
Author : Suzanne Borchers
Jem stood at attention along with the other retiring service veterans. Within her crisp uniform, she was already contemplating a civilian future. First, she would strip off the war and its memories to wear the newest natural fabric covered with huge colorful flowers of the past on loose, hanging clothes that didn’t bind. Ah.
Second, she would plant a garden in organic-plastic pots. She’d place them beside grow lamps to soak up warmth and UV rays. Was it possible to still grow vegetables from the past like tomatoes? How about…
“At ease.” General Furness slapped a smile on each soldier. “Because you served your State correctly and well, we have decided to reward each of you with a helper in your retirement. You may choose either a compatible bot or a rebuilt-member of the opposing force complete with brain-refitting. Some of you, I’m sure, would appreciate having the enemy help you after your difficult battles against them. Others may choose the electro-positive bot to serve them.
You will all be awarded with a chair to seat you on your way to civilian life. Congratulations!”
As the general had each soldier approach to be given the awards, Jem considered her options. War was best forgotten. She shivered at the thought of the enemy’s mutilated bodies. A compatible bot was better.
Third, she would continue her present activities of exercise with real weights instead of isometric thoughts. She would run and enjoy the endorphins that she had read about in the histories of the past. Perhaps she would even be given a home near a pool. She knew of others who had swum back and forth keeping themselves in top shape. Perhaps…
“Captain Jem, step forward.”
She conveyed her choice of helper and was awarded a simple black chair on rollers.
“Be seated, Captain.” General Furness saluted Jem. “Enjoy your retirement.” Then he turned to the next soldier.
Jem’s bot slid behind her to push the chair off the stage and up the aisle.
“Thank you, Bot, but I can walk.” Jem began to rise from the chair.
“Jem, sit down,” the bot pushed her back into the chair with its upstage hand that was hidden from the audience. “I must push you from the auditorium.”
“All right, I suppose,” she acquiesced, and she continued to sit as they left through the applause.
Outside the building, Jem found herself conveyed to the waiting vehicle and placed in its seat. The chair was folded and placed between the bot and her. The bot insisted she once again be seated in the chair when they arrived at her new home, a tiny apartment on the 87th floor of the new retirement barracks. Jen saw others being pushed by bots and silent stone-faced aliens.
The bot pushed her into a room divided into living sections. It turned, locked the door, and placed the key inside a compartment in its chest.
Jem rushed to it. “Wait!”
“My orders are to help you into retirement,” the bot said in unemotional tones.
“But I want to leave and run outside and go to the gym and go shopping and meet with friends and walk in the park and go to museums and start a garden…”
While she was still talking, it placed her in the chair, this time securing her with belted straps.
“My orders are to help you into retirement,” the bot said in unemotional tones. “May I make you a feeding supplement?”
“No!” She twisted and fought the straps.
“My orders are to help you into retirement,” the bot said in unemotional tones. “You will comply.”
by submission | Jun 1, 2016 | Story |
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.”
by submission | May 31, 2016 | Story |
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.
by submission | May 30, 2016 | Story |
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.