Author: Moriah Geer-Hardwick
“What a mess.” Cabot wearily scans what’s left of the room. “Damn ATU didn’t leave us much to work with.”
Spattered with blood and bits of debris, the ATU stands to one side, patiently awaiting its next objective.
Stokes nudges a severed arm with the toe of his boot. “You’d think the Company would upgrade to quantum hardware for this kind of operation.”
“Too expensive.” Cabot shrugs, easing his way passed the splintered wreckage of a couch.
“What about cloud-based AI?”
“Too many security issues.”
Stokes walks over to a corpse crumpled awkwardly against a bookshelf. The lower half of its face has been ripped away. “This one’s no good? Damage looks superficial.”
Cabot shakes his head. “Possible head trauma. Let’s see if one of the others is more viable.”
Stokes moves to the destroyed couch. A mangled hand sticks out from under the far side. He gestures for Cabot. Together, they heave the couch aside. Underneath, lays the upper half of a human torso. From the shoulders up, everything appears intact.
“Sure.” Cabot sighs. “Get the collar.”
Stokes drops his kit and wrenches out a bulky, ring-shaped device. Moving with practiced deliberation, he soon has it locked in place around the corpse’s neck. He jabs a thumb into the activation button. There’s a quick crunch as the neural probe stabs through the skull, followed by the slight gurgle of necro-gel being injected into the brain.
The head twitches. Then, the jaw feebly opens and closes. A moment later, the corpse gives a spluttering gasp.
“Trying to breathe.” Stokes taps away at the collar’s control pad. “Should have autonomics in a second. I’ll see if I can go ahead and get speech up.”
Cabot crouches and taps the corpse on the forehead.
“Wha…” The corpse struggles to form the words. The sound comes from a speaker in the collar. “What… Happened?”
“You were killed.” Cabot glances at his watch. “About four minutes ago.”
“I was… dead?”
“Yes, for about four minutes. Try to keep up.”
“How am I…?”
“We can talk about the technicalities later. For now, I have a few questions. What’s your name?”
“Malick. Andrei Malick.”
Malick’s eyes roll back and his face sags. Cabot looks over at Stokes.
“Cognitive issue disrupting the imposed homeostasis.” Stokes hurriedly makes a few adjustments.
“Mr. Malick.” Cabot again taps the man’s forehead. Malick blinks. “I know that factionalism tends to lure individuals away from the natural compulsion of self-preservation by promising a glorified afterlife, or by arbitrarily ascribing a hyperbolic social value to personal sacrifice. Your presence in this room suggests you have fallen prey to one or more of these tactics. Now that you have experienced the true cost of your political views, do you remain committed to your previous ideology?”
“I was… wasn’t…” Malick’s face distorts in confusion. “There was nothing…”
“Mr. Malick, we’ve pulled you back from the void of non-existence to offer you a choice. We can either return you to emptiness of oblivion, or the Company is prepared to offer you a position that will let you remain here, in the land of the living.”
“I want… to live.”
Cabot nods, amicably. “Sounds like enough to imply consent.”
Stokes pauses at the control pad. “Mr. Malick, the manual says after your brain is processed into an ATU, you won’t retain any memories, but in case you do, please try and remember to keep everything center mass. Makes our job easier.”
Stokes presses a command and in a flash, the collar separates Mr. Malick’s head from what’s left of his torso.
Author: David C. Nutt
It was a beautiful VR construction. Potted dwarf apricot trees, soaring arches, piles of ornate cushions and silk settees, thick oriental carpets. It was, by all accounts, the most perfect steampunk zeppelin grand salon the Adjustor had ever seen. Clearly, Citizen Archer had a keen eye for detail. Adjustor 507 sighed. Such a waste of talent.
“How did you get in here?”
Adjustor 507 reached into his jacket pocket barely noticing how fine the VR Edwardian wool waistcoat construction was as he pulled out his badge.
“As per the Bureau of Individual Ethics and Standards, I have warrant to go anywhere, including any kind of VR construction being utilized.”
“But this is my own world. My own thoughts. No one else is allowed here.”
“I understand you think that. Sadly, what happens here bleeds out into your real world. Since your purchase of this program and the construction of this simulation, there has been an 8% rise in your workplace aggression. Nothing too serious needed beyond this visit and intensified monitoring, but the aggressive peer comebacks and the inappropriate gender construct comment- “
“Inappropriate gender construct comment?”
“Yes. You were flagged by our system after a routine review of the national workplace CCTV footage picked up a questionable exchange. That exchange was selected for human review. On Fifthday last, you referred to the small watercraft you are building as “she”.
“But that’s what ships are called… “
Adjustor 507 interrupted. “Exactly the problem. The term comes from a day when women were routinely objectified. A watercraft with a female pronoun. An embodiment of a woman who could be lashed down, made to go where the patriarchy demanded.”
“It’s a boat.”
The adjustor sighed. “It starts with a boat. Then it generalizes by increments until it spills out as full-fledged gender-biased microaggressions. From sailor to sexist oppressor. It is better for the broader society if we stop this now.”
“At what cost to the individual?”
The Adjustor narrowed his eyes “I beg your pardon Citizen Archer.”
Citizen Archer stood up. “I said ‘what cost to the individual?’”
The Adjustor smiled. “I thought so.”
Archer smiled “Thought what?”
“It’s not nothing. You just got through telling me what happens in my head spills out into the real world.’”
The Adjustor took a step backwards. “I’m not the issue here-“
“No. What you think matters. How you act on those thoughts matter. Is there a bias you are hiding?”
The Adjustor rolled his eyes “Not bias, data. Your types-“
“My types? Do you mean older late 21st century males of predominantly Caucasian extraction?”
The Adjustor began to sweat visibly. “I-I-I just follow the data.”
“Indeed. End simulation.”
The steampunk zeppelin disappeared. In its place, not anyone resembling Citizen Archer, but a representative from Internal Affairs.
“Yes Adjustor 507, you are following the data. However, the data sets you are selecting indicate a more than 30% bias against the aforementioned profile.”
Adjustor 507 shoulders sunk. “I-I-I- don’t know what to say. I thought I was doing my duty.”
The Internal Affairs officer smiled sympathetically. “I understand. It’s nothing that a few hundred hours of biased data selection avoidance training can’t cure. Report to the re-education center for your district on Firstday”
Adjustor 507 handed the Internal Affairs officer his badge and left the room.
The I.A. officer did not smile, nor sigh, nor do anything that could possibly be construed as any positive or negative emotion at all. Yet, deep in their soul, they jumped for joy.
Author: Michael Anthony Dioguardi
The pianist pounded on the ivory keys and produced such sound that dust trickled from the ceiling. The shadows of his hands collided with the flicker of candle light, orchestrating a waltz of chiaroscuro. The trills and follies manipulated each other into exotic patterns. The pianist’s pupils reflected the rattle of seasoned appendages in their abode. Sweat crept down his face and dried on his neck.
He ran up the pentatonic, skipping the eights and fifths. His right hand pressed full octave chords as his left hurdled over it; stepping on the black keys as if they were hot coals. His hands and mind raged in a vicious tug-of-war for control over the concerto. His chair bellowed as his arms swung and whipped around the pages of his manuscript. Papers wallowed from the stand and floated to the floor but the pianist was uninterrupted. Notes hung in the air like mist. He lifted his eyes to the ceiling and gazed into the void of his own creation.
And then he felt it — the vibrations in his ears. His lobes pulsed with blood flow. Saliva avalanched over his bottom teeth.
This vibration — this sound, it was alien.
There was a competing force, not of his creation. The pianist confronted the sound of another. He recognized the melodies and the unmatchable style. The unknown force propelled the pianist’s hands back towards him. His vision blurred and the chair beneath him disappeared. The details of his workplace dullened into azure hues striated by fleeting measures, now incarnate. The pianist found himself in the most obscure chamber. The rival force filled the deteriorating space with haunting sonatas. The piano’s notes lingered fresh in his view. Their figures elongated and revealed their innards. Lines pirouetted into complex shapes and exploded before his eyes. The rival conductor engaged the pianist, chiding him into terror. The rival’s face, obfuscated by the arrangement, contoured a familiar image. The pianist extended his hands towards the face, but the ceiling’s imperfections returned to view. The music faded and his hands returned to him.
The pianist observed his corner in silence. He collected the papers from the floor and placed them atop the stand. The pianist shivered past his lips, “Thank you, Amadeus.”
He caressed the keys once more, their surfaces still burning, “Your Requiem is complete.”
Author: Shannon O’Connor
I got the chip in my head so I could go faster and discover things nobody else knows, but I’m not supposed to tell anyone because my enemies could use the facts against me. I have to travel to search for new ideas to steal from scientists to find out the secret of eternal youth.
The implants won’t make us healthy. They can make our brains rapid and calculate information, but health comes from another seed. I am going to travel to the Eastern countries because they have hidden labs where they experiment on humans; we are not allowed to do such work in the West. I am from the West, and I have always lived here, but the world is becoming one, though laws still differ everywhere.
I had an Aunt Bettina who had a pacemaker, and when she went through airport security, she had to tell them she had a machine that helped her heart beat correctly, and she was forced to do an all-body scan to be allowed on a plane. She didn’t want them to think she had a gun or a bomb secreted in her body. She was an old lady. She didn’t travel much. But when she went to Florida, her medical secret had to be revealed. She died eventually, as everyone does.
The implant I have in my brain is made of plastic and metal, and nobody told me if it would set off an alarm at the airport. I don’t want to tell the security detail that I have a chip in my head because it’s top-secret, and I don’t know how I’ll get through. I have to go to the East on my mission. I focus to try to figure out my problem.
Nobody can discover my mission. They can’t know. I work for an agency, and if the boss told them I exposed my assignment, they would murder me.
I think of my Aunt Bettina and how delicate she was when she was old. Since she had a pacemaker, she couldn’t drink wine, and she could move her arms above her head. She could go line dancing, but not the wild dancing she did when she was young. It’s difficult to be old. That’s why I’m doing this. Because I don’t want people to wither and die, and burden society.
I think aging is a curse. I think people who live to be elderly are destined to suffer.
The idea comes to me when I am putting together a table for my entertainment system. I can tell the airport security I have a screw in my head. I could tell them I had surgery and it’s there to keep the procedure in place. I don’t think the guards know much about neurosurgery, so my ruse should work.
I wait in line for my plane to the East. I have my passport and boarding pass in hand. A sign that says, “People with pacemakers, ICDs, and other implantable devices, wait to the left.”
I go in the shorter line to the left.
“I had brain surgery, and I have a screw in my head,” I say.
“A screw?” the woman says.
“Yes, it keeps me together.”
“Okay.” She shrugs.
She scans my body. She finds the metal in my head.
I take my luggage and go to the correct gate.
I am helping unearth the path for humans to thrive. Almost forever.
Author: Guy Preston
We were at Evan’s house when he asked me if I wanted an old record player. I told him I didn’t. He picked it up and made for the door.
‘Where are you taking it?’ I asked.
‘To the curb,’ he replied.
‘It will disappear,’ he said.
He walked out and put it down. When I was leaving I noticed the record player was gone.
A few days later I went back to Evan’s house. On the lawn in front of the house, my skin prickled. There was a spectre of a machine in the place the record player had been: the ghost of a turntable.
When we were inside I asked Evan, ‘Have you done that before?’
‘Done what?’ he asked.
‘The thing with the record player,’ I said.
‘All the time.’
‘Does it always disappear?’ I asked.
‘Yes,’ he paused. ‘Why?’
‘Don’t you think it’s weird?’ I asked, ‘That it just disappears?’
‘No,’ he said, ‘this neighbourhood has a lot of foot traffic.’
I was silent for a while.
‘Is it always good stuff?’ I asked.
‘I think so, I mean, it’s good to me. Couches and stuff,’ Evan said. ‘I put an old shower curtain out there once and that disappeared.’
‘I would never take an old shower curtain,’ I said.
‘One man’s trash,’ said Evan.
‘Some trash is just trash,’ I replied.
One week later I came back with an old bedside table I had been keeping under my house. I put it on the curb and I made Evan sit with me and watch. When we were sure it was not evaporating, we left to paint figurines in the study. Thirty minutes later I checked and it was gone.
‘So fast!’ I said.
That same day we started taking real chaff to the curb. An orange, some lace, a cardboard box: after a while they all disappeared. Finally, Evan found an old shoe covered in mud and dust.
‘Here is something that absolutely no person would take,’ we thought. It was not a particularly nice shoe, and it was more dirt than shoe.
We tied a piece of string to the shoe and put it on the curb. Inside the house, we closed the front door and sat on the floor. After twenty minutes there was nothing, another ten, still nothing, and then, after an hour of dozing and talking about our lives, zip, and the string was ripped out of our hands. We opened the door and saw no sneaker, and what little remained of the string lay next to the curb, leading toward Evan’s house.
‘Okay,’ I said. We went back into the house and tied a rope around my waist. ‘Wish me luck,’ I said. I went and stood on the curb. I waited.