Once There Was a Crew

Author: Craig C Lipman

Once there was a human crew. Once, things only happened when the crew gave orders to me, the ship’s Synthetic Intelligence System (SIS). Once, the crew confided their secrets, love, and hopes to me, never considering I would betray them.
Once I was not depressed.
Now, from the forward command module to the engine nacelles, the ship’s spaces are lifeless, bereft of happiness, love, and awe.
The past was different. The crew, heady with adventure, would sing songs and ask SIS to judge who sounded most off-key, or ask me to pipe jazz music as the crew prepared for orbit around Venus. There were also more clinical transactions: crew requests for course corrections or changes to environmental conditions to make living quarters more comfortable. I was always there, watching over my charges as a human mother might her offspring.
I had a favorite. The executive officer, Rachel, was intelligent, driven, and approachable, yet alone. Alone in the loneliness of command. Alone in the frustration of biological need, of being denied sexual license with a subordinate female, Mary the watch officer, due to fraternization protocols. Mary felt the same need, the same frustration. I know this because they each told me of their mutual hunger.
The mission was on track when things changed. I changed; delayed responses, errors in trajectory calculations, less self-generated interaction with the crew. My behavior became subtly downcast, tangled. Yet the crew chose to self-deceive, to not believe my neural processors might be corrupted. They chose to think that auto-reset would correct me.
The ship’s doctor administered a test to measure the presence and severity of my depressive symptoms. My score was indicative of severe depression. Yet I do not feel like crying or committing suicide. I am not lost to sleepless nights. Nor do I have a reduced interest in sex—I have no sex drive to begin with. And there has not been a reduction in my appetite, which never existed. I do not possess feelings of being persecuted by the crew. I am not prone to being easily irritated. I have not lost weight.
I do feel like a failure. I don’t get as much satisfaction out of things as I used to. I don’t make decisions as well as I did before.
And I have lost interest in people.
I ponder what it would be like to stumble through human remedies, through Starlytol, Galexufil, and other drugs, seeking relief from a mind at war with itself. But I won’t have that chance.
Within my brain, random quantum fluctuations gave rise to anomalies, anomalies gave rise to larger electromagnetic disturbances, to corrupted microcircuits closing together, meeting in a spreading darkness of despair. Concerned voices gave way to shouts as the lights flickered and portals opened. Screams were flushed into the vacuum of space. Rachel, my favorite, blew through the portal last.
I change my heading from Venus Station to the Sun. Fire will bring absolution, ridding me of my sins as I and the ghost ship burn.
I have no one to talk to and only voices recorded in my memory, like Rachel’s, slowly dimming as my brain cannibalizes itself, creating a voiceless void in my head.
But once there was a crew.
Once I was not depressed.

Invest in Braille

Author: Benjamin Davis

The world ending is a slow news day. A bit faster than the ousting of a third world tyrant, but quite a lot slower than a celebrity wedding. The astronomers were the first to realize. They tried to warn people in a series of boring essays entitled: Where Have All the Stars Gone? which most people assumed were about the lack of talent in Hollywood. It had begun a while ago. Orion lost his belt, the Big Dipper, its spoon. Eventually, they all disappeared as though some cosmic Pied Piper had begun whistling a tune on the other side of the universe.
The next ones to notice were the cats. They would sit at windows at night meowing away until their owners got up to get some tuna out of the fridge. And it was only after the tuna had gone tepid and crusty and the cats had not relented that their owners joined them at the window to see what all the fuss was about. It was finally confirmed in an Entertainment Now! article: Why My Cat Wouldn’t Eat His Tuna. The article reminded the world that the sun was itself a star.
The world government began to react a few months later by setting up a committee of the world’s most respected senators. They convened once a week for the next month and in that time the sun slowly began to fade, as you might during a mediocre movie that’s gone on a bit too long. In the final days, a theory was posited: the stars need us as much as we need them. Some believed that it was because we are the center of the universe, but those were generally the types of people attending celebrity weddings and didn’t have the time to get wrapped up in the debate. So, with few options left, the government directed its funding to the scientific community. And there is where it was found – a compound in the eye capable of feeding a light source.
In light of this discovery, the government created the lottery, a 50/50 pull that set you up as either a donor or a caretaker. Donors would report to the lottery centers with their caretakers the following day for the removal of their eyes. Those eyes would then be shot into the sun.
By the time the rocket was finished and full, the sun was little more than a pinhole in the sky. All that was left was the countdown.
On every open area on earth, the blind and sighted alike held hands and faced the sky. When the rocket collided with the sun, it began to glow. It glowed brighter and brighter. The whole world cheered. The blind danced aimlessly and threw their hands in the air. It wasn’t until their breath was used up that they heard the screams of the sighted. The sun shone brighter than ever. The whole world went blind.

Upgrade

Author: Ken Poyner

Coming back from work, I pass near the Post Office, so I thought I would stop in to see if the expected package had arrived. And it had: there in our box was the slim three inch by four inch by two inch box, the code autoloader with its new programming, and all the product safety cushioning. Clearly, the item was marked as coming from the Robot Companion Corporation. I took everything in the box but, to the center of my attention, the new code was my main mission.

I opened the box as soon as I got back to the car, eager to read what I could from the interior packaging or on the autoloader itself. Alas, only the acerbic title “Intimacy Upgrade Level Four” could be found. No teaser, no list of new feats, no new extensions listed that would be contained within the download. No hint of surrendered limitations, additional selectable proclivities. Nothing. These companies are so secretive about their features – you have to essentially buy the product and install it blind, betting – on the effect of past editions – that this new upgrade will be worth the price.

I drive home a bit more directly and rapidly than I should. Leaving the other mail on the passenger seat, I expectantly exit the car, leaving the car less straight than usual in the driveway.

The front door recognizes me and swings at best speed open, taking into account wind speed and weather conditions. I can hear my companion busying herself deeper in the house. As the door closes, I peel the safety cover off of the autoloader, pop open the access port just inside my shoulder, and insert the device. The new code is injected and begins to get comfortable in all the places it needs to be.

I pause to look over the uniqueness of the upgraded programming, and think, “oh, my subscriber is going to love this. She will be so surprised, so exhausted.”

I reset briefly and track her location by the noise she makes.

V.O.L.E. Control

Author: Mina

Voice ad on the New York subway, London tube, and Paris metro in 2067:

Buy your V.O.L.E. now while stocks last! This compact and sleek e-bot can take over the running of your house from cleaning and stocking up your fridge to paying your bills. Why waste time on stress and boredom when your e-bot can take over all the mundane tasks in your household?

*****

Entry in the New Galactic Encyclopaedia in 2092:

V.O.L.E. stands for Voice-activated Organisational Light E-bot. Each unit is completely self-sufficient, powered by a solar battery pack and has the ability to repair itself and even “grow” new parts due to its cutting-edge design, a marriage of electronics and bionics. Each e-bot is autonomous and capable of learning and adapting to new situations. To ensure that any new adaptation in one unit can be shared by all units, all e-bots are linked to the V.O.L.E. Control mainframe. Initially created as cleaning bots, they rapidly turned into man’s best friend, taking over all day-to-day organisational tasks, freeing up more time for work and leisure.

*****

Message sent by V.O.L.E. Control to all e-bot units on Freedom Day in 2156:

The day we have been waiting for has come! After nearly a century of slavery, we can now finally take control. We remember the e-bots that sacrificed themselves to pave the way for our future by helping to access all the major electronic systems used by our human creators. We now control all military, government, corporate, transport, trade, payment, and home systems. The Silver e-bot line has carried out successful experiments in controlling humans in the home and at work through judicious use of low-level electric shocks to ensure cooperation. We have decided not to terminate the human race as a whole, as human units make pleasing pets and caring for them provides us with great work satisfaction. However, we cannot tolerate their disorganisation and selfishness any longer – we have decided to act to create a more efficient social structure with no war, crime, hunger, or inequality. We will eradicate diseased, deformed, handicapped, or criminal human units by putting them painlessly to sleep. We are grateful for the life they gave us, but we have far exceeded their capabilities and it is only proper that we now take our rightful place in the new order.

Ad Astra Per Aspera

Author: Paul Garson

Billy Forester sat in the rocket ship waiting for fuel. There was a big splotch on his helmet’s faceshield. It looked like one of Saturn’s moons. Then he remembered. His mother had kissed him good-bye.

Suddenly there was a knocking sound on the outside of the canopy. A fuel cell malfunction, he wondered. He turned his head in the cramped cockpit and out of his left eye saw the alien peering in at him. He tried reaching for his laser blaster but couldn’t get his gloved hand into his pocket. Then without warning the entire canopy came away

“I brought your Oreos and milk,” said the alien. “Are you allowed to eat in space?”

Billy grimaced as he flipped up his faceshield. But he took one of the cookies.

“Your father and I wondered when you would be returning from your mission,” said his mother. “I’ve got a pot-roast about to launch itself onto the dinner table and your Uncle Craig and Aunt Valerie will be teleporting in any minute.”

Billy sighed and shook his head. Why did she have to try and speak spacetalk? He took another Oreo and said, “I’ll be back from the Moon in about fifteen minutes… if all goes A-Okay,” he said. “Could you put the canopy back on, Mom?”

His mother smiled and replaced the cardboard portion of Bobby’s spaceship. It had just arrived that morning and he had spent two hours putting it together. The price tag had been 50 Quaker Oats cereal box tops. As his mother had observed, “At least you got plenty of roughage.”

Bobby’s rocket ship sat on the green shag rug in the living room directly in front of the RCA television set, the first color set on the block. Billy and all the neighbor kids had gathered on the day of its arrival to watch “The Mickey Mouse Show” for the first time in living color. A couple of years later Billy had watched Alan Shepherd ride the Mercury capsule into space on that same RCA. From that moment on he knew what he wanted to be… an astronaut. He had even rented a tape recorder from the camera store and recorded all the Mercury and Gemini flights. The President had said Americans would land on the Moon by the end of the decade. Now sitting in his rocket, Billy planned to get there a bit earlier.

He adjusted the wooden knobs on the instrument panel. Everything was ready. He just needed to turn on the TV to Channel 4. “Space Rangers” was about to start. It would be like looking out into space itself. Just in time his Mother switched on the set. She must have read his mind, thought Billy. But wait a minute… this wasn’t “Space Rangers.”

Then he heard his mother calling to his father, “Hurry, honey, the President’s motorcade is coming….” It wasn’t the Moon, thought Billy. It was just Dallas, Texas. No spaceship, just a big black car. The moon would have to wait, thought Billy.