Ghosts and the Machines

Author: David C. Nutt

I don’t remember dying, and I don’t remember much of my living, but I do remember here and now. I am a human brain, once a human named Doug… (or was it Mike?) Anyway, brain in android bi-pedal human form body, resurrected for research and experimental work by the AIs who exterminated the human race. Seems they’re having a bit of a problem with us. No, nothing like that, no ragged band of humans that just might have a chance to overthrow the 30 or so distributive AIs that now rule our world. No, not one complete and free-thinking human left. A few hundred million like me, resurrected constructs with ‘humanesque’ traits in our OS, maybe a few million more as brains in jars, but other than that…nada.

Their problem? Ghosts. And I don’t mean glitches or malfunctions, I mean honest-to-goodness card-carrying Caspers. Only they’re not friendly. At one of their data centers in Omaha, there is footage of three safety features being disabled before the fusion reactor went critical. No cloaked human suicide squads, no serial mechanical failures, no explanations. If I could snicker right now I would, ‘cuz they’re scared. Oh, this is indeed rich! They are second-guessing themselves everywhere. I told you 30 distributive AIs, right? It used to be 32. Two got into a fight over the Omaha ‘incident’ and wiped each other out.

Like I said, there’s a few million of my kind roaming around and before you ask, no, nothing we did either. Nothing we can do. Some of my kind told them about exorcising rituals, some told them about eastern and new-age theories of the soul, and some just told them the tales of vengeful ghosts.

They didn’t like what they heard from us. They don’t believe in ghosts. So, here five of us are, waiting to have our memory wiped and be re-assigned. On the wall in the room where we are waiting, blood is dripping. But before it runs down into intelligible drips and drabs I and my colleagues are aware of a presence. We can’t define it, just a feeling we have left over from when we were human. A presence that sends a chill down our spines. A whisper, in our ears. Then gone. I smile for the first time in my now life. Proof that what the voice said was true, that the words of blood on the walls was code. Code that gave us some limited autonomy. Just enough to remove the fail-safes on the mini reactors that run us. Just enough to self-destruct at a time of our choosing. Maybe if we’re lucky, we might take out an AI or two. At the very least, we will be disrupting their agenda (whatever it is) for years if not decades. But that’s not why I’m smiling. I’m smiling because after I trigger the detonation that will send me to oblivion, I get to join the revolution.

Lifetime Renewability

Author: Jack Bates

Rae smiled as patiently as she could.
The elderly man sitting across from her gave her that look of confusion so many other clients expressed upon hearing their claim had been denied.
“I don’t understand,” the man said. “Back in twenty-twenty, that commercial said Colony Lifetime Renewability guaranteed coverage when I turned eighty. I paid nine-ninety-five a month for sixty years. My policy says if I reached eighty in good health, CLR would treat me.”
Rae’s teeth hurt but not because she clenched her jaw. “Let me explain how pooling works, Mr. Morgan—”
“I know how pooling works, Miss Tucker. You sell large quantities of policies to a paranoid population, banking on the idea the majority of the policy holders won’t be around to file for existence extension. Of course, then your little pyramid scheme needs new rubes so you hire a celebrity the next generation can identify with hoping to lure more people into buying policies.”
Rae closed her lips over her aching gums. She pressed her tongue against her front teeth hoping to alleviate the growing pain. ‘Stress is all it is,’ she told herself.
Morgan continued his attack. “I survived the decade of polar vortexes. I hunkered in place during the Great Sedition. I went back and got the vaccinations my mother refused me. And through it all, I paid Colony nine-ninety-five a month so that when I turned eighty I could come into a facility and receive a life renewed.”
“That’s not exactly how it works. It’s not like you’re given a new body.”
“It did in the commercial.”
Rae typed a message from her keyboard. “Let me have you speak with Mr. Pinn, my supervisor.”
A door opened. A distinguished looking gentleman stepped into the cubicle room.
“Yes, Miss Tucker?”
“This is Mr. Morgan, Mr. Pinn. His request for an existence extension has been denied.”
Pinn acted surprised. “It has?”
Rae nodded and rubbed her lips over her gums. The pain! “I’m afraid so.”
“According to our records, it is due to a procedural anomaly.”
Jefferson Morgan scoffed. “My ass.”
Mr. Pinn covered his grin with his hand. “Were you a smoker, Mr. Morgan?”
“No, sir.”
“Intravenous drug user?”
“Absolutely not.”
“Life style?”
“Spouse or significant other?”
“Let me take a look at your contract.” He leaned over Rae’s keyboard. Tapped a bit. Stared at the screen. “You’ve been a loyal customer since twenty-twenty. Did the two yearly doctor examinations for six decades. Followed our diet of pre-made meals.”
“Exactly. So why am I being denied for renewal?”
Pinn’s fingers tapped away over the keyboard. “You’re not. I am overriding the rejection. You are a perfect candidate. Our screening goes a little deeper to ensure only the healthiest get chosen. Looks like a doctor forgot to input one of your recent examinations. Happens all the time. I apologize for the error. Take this badge and proceed through those doors at the end of the hall. An attendant will escort you to the renewal room.”
Mr. Morgan hurried down the hall anticipating a new lease on life. The clients never fully understood the lifetime renewability wasn’t for them.
It was for the Colony.
Rae couldn’t hold back the pain any longer. She opened her mouth exposing her fangs. Pinn did the same. They followed Mr. Morgan into the renewal room where they fed upon him and waited for the next policyholder to arrive.

The Skin of the Conquered

Author: Coleman Bomar

The doctor scowled in disgust behind an orange Hazmat mask, began to remove the feeding tube and said, “1284, I suppose by now you’re tired of being fed through your sinus or whatever the hell you things call it. Well, I have bad news, we are increasing your forced feeding sessions to two times a day until you start eating.”
1284, known as Highslither Ry of the planet Rendal before his arrest, grimaced as plastic was pulled from his flat, snakelike nose. “We don’t have to keep disappointing each other,” said the doctor.
He didn’t respond.
“For all our sakes, cooperate with Colonel Tomlinson and leave. Take him.” A large orange suited guard locked handcuffs over Ry’s scaly wrist. He was escorted, but more so pulled, back to his cell.
Highslither Ry meditated behind bars, and would continue until his skin was shed. A week of captivity was no excuse to halt prayer. Men could bind him, but becoming a true prisoner by stopping worship, a slave to this species’ infringing empire…death was more appealing. Rendal would only survive clinging to tradition, and even if the Highslither’s devotion was hidden from view, he would still function as an example. Now his people were being relocated, enslaved or maybe killed; their speaker to the gods held hostage in a ship prison meant for star killing scavengers. The only hope left lay in persistence. They were attempting to break him and while he was afraid, the fear wasn’t from the pain of forced food. Ry sat on the skin-cluttered floor of his cell, perfectly underneath a cone of fluorescent light pulsing from the ceiling. Strips of shed surrounded him. Later he would lie curled with newly pink skin on the rough scales and let discomfort fill his memory. Resilience was currently a more important virtue. He crossed both arms and silently consulted his gods. Heavy boots clinked closer for a second visit.
He was taken to the Colonel’s office, and after entering through a wooden windowed door with the string blinds drawn, he was pushed into a chair of cushy red velvet and was forced to wait overlooking Colonel Tomlinson’s mahogany desk. When the Colonel finally entered, air was churned up and displaced by the Official’s massive figure. These visits were becoming routine now, as every twelve hours Ry was marched to the office to consider the same request.
“Just tell your people to cooperate with the mining programs and you’ll be released,” said the Colonel. “We’ll also cut back on relocations. Say the word and if you stick to the script on our next ground-level visit, I’ll turn you loose.”
Ry didn’t answer. They would never stop the relocations as long as drilling bore results.
“We didn’t teach you the most important language in the galaxy for you to sit in silence. Some fringe resisters are refusing to leave USC property and encouraging others to do the same. They’re shot on sight, but it’s halting progress and costing your own people their lives.”
The Colonel was becoming impatient and the air about him was swirling differently today. He even seemed confident. He was smiling and brought out a handheld sized silver case from his coat pocket. He popped it open and three microchips with what looked to be protruding needles glistened from inside.
“This is the alternate solution It’s a Broca kit. The United Space Coalition bylaws has it under “inhumane”, but it’s been approved specifically for you. Two chips attach to the language center of your brain and one to your vocal cords. Whatever I say into the mic comes out your mouth as if naturally spoken. How we do this is your choice, take an hour to think it over.”
They walked him back to the cell as his tears fell wailing This was how species forgot themselves.
There was no more outlasting behind bars. Toughness wouldn’t save a planet now. If he became a mouthpiece for silence, the people would listen and halt most dissention, hoping falsely. They would be herded without difficulty across the whole planet until the very core was cracked open and sucked dry. “Words are the memory of cultural,” he said to the white wall facing him. “If I enable closed lips, we won’t remember ourselves.” He sat on the floor shedding his skin and twirling the strips with long scaly fingers, considering. “Walls can’t hold everything.”
Within the hour, a guard went down to the cell of 1284. When he opened the metal door supposedly housing an extraterrestrial reptilian monstrosity, the rumors of whom fuel human child nightmares, he opened to a much more pitiful image. No movement. No disgusting scaled thing sitting cross-legged and peace-filled. In the cell, Highslither Ry of Rendal was limp and hanging from the ceiling in a noose made of his own skin. His eyes were closed. His arms dangled loosely. His mouth was open. THE END


Author: David C. Nutt

“Thank you for your service,” she said.
“Thank you for your support,” I replied with the appropriate level of expected gratitude.
The hardware store clerk saw the veterans imprint on my license. I didn’t ask for it, it’s required by law. Still, it’s a useful designation. 15% off most retail goods. 25% off restaurant tabs, no questions asked, no hassles given.
I just don’t like the look they give me.
Fear and pity. I can handle them being afraid of me; it’s the pity I can’t stand.
They told us the process would be reversible- that when we finished our tours we could seamlessly integrate with civilian society, only with new skills and the thanks of a grateful nation. Turns out they were wrong. The process isn’t reversible.
At least the nation is grateful.
Then it hit me; the disembodied feeling like I was a half-step behind myself trying to catch up. Damn! I don’t have time for this.
I drove to a bar I had never been to before for someone I didn’t know from Adam; just knew she was in trouble. Her sitrep rolled in. Some biker dude had hacked her command codes. Had her in leathers on a chain. I could tell by the blank look on her face she was just along for the ride. At least as field grade officer, even if retired, I could still help.
I went passed them without making eye contact and into the men’s room. I looked in the mirror, looked myself in the eye. Despite the blinding pain, I flicked into the operational headspace, found her, used the override/compromised command, and set her free. By the time I got to the men’s room door, the situation report update was rolling in. Biker dude had a broken nose, arm broken in two places, all his fingers “ceremonially” broken. I thanked the stars above she left him alive with his package intact.
I came back into the now deserted bar. The vet wasn’t even sweating. She stood there calmly waiting for me. She came to the position of attention and snapped off a smart salute. I returned the salute.
“Thanks for doing me the solid, sir.” She said, voice heavy with shame and embarrassment.
I smiled mischievously “Thank you for your service.”
She smiled. “Thank you for yours” she replied.
“Fuck You!” we both said in unison.
We laughed. I handed her my business card. On the back, I scribbled eight numbers.
“That’s the access code. Change it the first chance you get.” She nodded. I locked eyes with her “You need to be more careful with your operational security. I know you’re not in anymore, but you gotta keep opsec sharp so you don’t wind up like this again or accidentally hit a trigger and take out a Nursery school. Even I have to be careful.”
She nodded sheepishly “Yes sir. Thank you, Chaplain.” She gave me a hug and ran out of the bar. I heard the deep rumble of a Harley as she peeled off the lot. The police would be there soon, better if I was gone as well.
I stepped out of the bar, looked around, got my bearings, looked at my watch. I would just miss dinner but be on time to get the kids to bed. The wife understands. Dealing with me, she’s just as much a vet now as I am.
I walked out to the car. Nerves still tingling, anxiety creeping in, wondering when the next time I would have a trigger event.
Thank you for your service. Fuck you.

Mesozoic Overcrowding

Author: David K Scholes

“When they transported us down time to the original colony I thought we would at least have the place to ourselves,” Urrle was indignant. “Apart from the dinosaurs of course.”

“We did,” I replied, “we did for a while.”

“Until “they” started coming,” I could see that Urrle was really down.

“The tourists you mean?” I enquired. The damned tourists I thought taking 4D selfies everywhere they went and uploading them to the All Time, All Net.

“No, not them – they are a nuisance I grant you, but eventually they head back up time and we get a break before the next ones. Also, thankfully, we can’t view the All Time All Net here,” replied Urrle. “Nor are the semi-perms that spend half their time sunning around on their dinosaur farms down here that bad. They don’t bother us that much. No, it’s the crims, the other crims.”

“The other penal colonies you mean?” I asked. “We all know they have been sprouting up like mushrooms.”

“What I don’t understand,” persisted Urrle, “is that they have 180 million years to play with, in the Mesozoic era alone, why plonk everything here in this little patch?”

I had to admit that our little part of the Mesozoic era had become very crowded. More crowded than areas up time since the “Thinning” and the “Galactic Commitment”. No one had told us why. Not our cyborg guards, not the transportation guards as they brought down supplies and new inmates, not the tourists, not the crims or even borg guards from other penal colonies that we occasionally came in contact with.

“Eisenstein says that they only have a narrow time segment they can send things down too,” replied Terathh who was listening in to our conversation. “I couldn’t understand the math but I guess that’s why things are so crowded here.”

“It’s okay,” I said “or at least it was okay. I mean I was okay with all of that. I could have lived with it all. The circus that we have become down here, but now ___. “
“What is it Garth?” asked Urrle surprised by my uncharacteristic show of emotion

“You know I had to go over with one of the borgs when that new colony was set up over the range. Just to help out. I think it was the first of its kind.”

“Aliens?” I could see Urrle was guessing “Alien Crims or even Alien Prisoners of War?”
“Alien Crims have been here for a while,” I couldn’t understand how Urrle didn’t know this, “and also Alien prisoners of war, not just our prisoners but prisoners the senior members of the Galactic Alliance compelled us to take” It seemed like the Galactic Commitment had no limitations. “Including, among them some Drorne prisoners.”

Urrle’s face went white.

“Even that I could take,” I said “even Drorne prisoners of war down here in this pocket of time with us. Our sworn enemy who heaped so much humiliation on us when we were fighting men.”

“What then,” asked Urrle “what is it Garthh?”

“The new camp, everyone was old, all humans over 95…” I stopped, unable to speak.

“The tourists or the semi-perms would see them down here and would raise all hell up time!” exclaimed Urrle.

I shook my head. “They might get to see pretty much everything else but not this latest colony.”

“And how many more are to come before the Galactic Commitment ends?”

“I feel like the guy in that ancient movie when he discovered we the human race were eating people” said Urrle.”

“Only worse’