Real Time Solution

Author: David C. Nutt

The robot fabricators went haywire and had to be powered down and the minutes not working were counted in billions of dollars. To make matters worse, when they powered up again, all the software patches did was cause the once haywire fabricators to up their craziness and they started throwing tons of raw materials around like so many match sticks. Already, four workers were hospitalized, and the robot fabricators showed no sign of slowdown. The factory, trillions of dollars’ worth of high tech lazily spinning at the LaGrange point- robotics, data systems, and more lines of code than stars in the three visible galaxies combined, shuddered into a state of catatonia and powered down again. What little human oversight was left, shrugged their shoulders, and stood idle.
Sylvia Jensen, Bridie Hmong, Dax Jefferies and the rest of the upper management wunderkinds gathered in the mission room. Already the chaos, incriminations, and hissy fits were flying.
Sylvia tapped her stainless steel water bottle. “People, people quiet it down!” A hush came over the room. Immediately, a rep from accounting seized the floor. “Unless we get up and running soon, we’ll be one hundred thousand units behind!
Alf Sweet, shop steward spun to face the accounting rep. “At what cost to my crews? None of my boys and girls are going set one foot on that floor unless you upstairs geniuses prove to my satisfaction the fabricators aren’t going to hurt anymore of my people.”
Bridie whipped her head around “Why do think we’re here Alf, hmm?”
Dax rolled out a code sheet and tapped it once, then again to stop the scroll at his highlights. “I’m pretty sure I fixed the problem for now. However, it may cause a cascade failure in the long run once the overrun buffer is full.”
Bridie sighed “Great solution Dax… if you want to make the whole Gaia damned system crash.” Immediately the room exploded into shouts and profanities. Sylvia shouted them all back to their place and an unearthly calm filled the room. As if on cue, Big Mike, the oldest and most experienced worker on the floor came into the room. In a day and age where the median age on any kind of La Grange factory was twenty something, Big Mike ruined the average by being well into his 60s.
Out of desperation, Sylvia spun her chair around. “Got a solution for us by any chance Mike?” Big Mike walked further into the room and over to the table. He craned his neck and tilted his head to look at the code sheet. Dax and Bridie turned it so Mike could read it. His eyes moved over the sheet. He looked up. “What time is it?” he said to no one in particular.
“1655” came the answer from the nameless accounting rep.
Mike walked over to the emergency panel and opened the glass door. Without ceremony he hit the imposing RESET ONLY panic button and walked out of the room.
“Genius!” Bridie exclaimed.
“Agreed.” Said Dax. “It’ll reboot and if it’s a program glitch the auto-coders will catch it.”
With sighs and smiles they all exited the room.
Sylvia ran to catch up to Big Mike. She grabbed his sleeve. “Mike, how did you know to do a power re-set? How do you know it will work when the line comes up?”
Big Mike stopped and turned to Sylvia. “I didn’t and I don’t.” Big Mike pointed to the clock. “1700. Shift change. Not our problem anymore.”
And the wisdom of the universe opened itself up to Sylvia, and she smiled.

The Day the English Department Died

Author: Paul Colby

In the end, no one really missed it. Some of the older faculty members in chemistry and economics had routinely enjoyed mid-morning coffee with Dr. Milstein, the cranky Americanist, who read them depictions of anal sex and urine showers from Henry Miller and John Updike. Out of habit they went looking for him one day and found the entire English wing empty, the bookshelves rifled, loose wires hanging from the ceilings of the classrooms, water dripping from rusted drinking fountains. They shrugged, looked at their watches, and decided to head to the library to see if they could find some tasty prose on their own: they’d heard good things about Nicholson Baker.

At one time, every student in the University was required to take First-Year Writing, but the head of the English Department argued that requiring English when Arabic, Swahili, and Hindi weren’t required was just another example of white European privilege, so the Faculty Senate scotched the requirement. If students wanted writing instruction, they could take the course voluntarily. But they didn’t take it voluntarily. Most students knew that good writing skills could help them write brisk, lucid application letters when they had to go out and look for jobs. But composition teachers weren’t interested in helping them write better. They used up class time having the students watch movie trailers and clips from The Office, and the students decided they could do those things on their own.

Students who had always enjoyed reading and wanted to explore the teeming universe of books were disappointed to learn, from their English teachers, that literature was merely a polite evasion of the real forces at work in the world. English majors gradually began switching to fields with the kind of subject matter that their English teachers had told them was much more important than the mere telling of stories—criminology, public policy, genetics, disability studies. Meanwhile, budding poets and novelists learned that the notion of the “author” was merely an abstract construct, that books were actually the products of impersonal social forces, while the so-called individual writer was the passive instrument of these commercial and political interests. Eventually, the University’s aspiring writers gave up writing altogether and took up cross-stitch or video game design, or just spent most of their time stoned.

Once the School of Cybernetic Neurology took over what used to be the English wing, all three floors were brimming with activity. Each office was equipped with its own server; the classroom walls were converted into whiteboards, filled from top to bottom with programming code; students moved through the halls excitedly discussing the latest theories in neural signaling; the rusted drinking fountains were replaced with state-of-the-art water coolers.

However, some of the books that once filled the offices in the English wing had been left behind. One of them, a dog-eared paperback copy of Paradise Lost, was being used as a paperweight by a specialist in synaptic networks. Idly skimming the book one afternoon, she noticed that there was a distinct alternation between reinforced and unreinforced syllables, a binary pattern with subtle variations; she wondered what purpose this served. After some computer modeling, followed by experimentation on human subjects, she learned that this type of syllabic rhythm stimulated pleasure centers in the brain, releasing endorphins useful in the treatment of depression, bipolar disorder, and OCD.

Her work reached a wide audience in the scientific community, and she ended up winning a Nobel Prize in medicine. That same year, the Nobel Prize in literature was discontinued.

First

Author: Alfred C. Airone

“How many times do you think this sort of thing has happened?” Using gloved hands, Lady Maerlin, the current Director-Chief, turned the startling piece of discolored, shaped metal over and over in her hands.

“Who can say? Civilization has existed on Earth for several hundred thousand years, half a million years – some say a million. Perhaps a hundred advanced civilizations have risen and fallen. There are many periods which were chaotic, and there are almost no records from those times.” The Scientific Officer paused. “I think it’s likely this is not the first time such…an unanticipated discovery has been made.”

Lady Maerlin said nothing for a moment. I should know, she thought. I once studied history. Or tried to. Can anyone meaningfully interpret over five hundred thousand years of human endeavors, writings, casual scrawls, reports, records, legal documents, badly preserved images, art fragments, purchase receipts, the few audio records that remain… and knowing so much had been stored electronically and lost forever?

She set the metal object down, walked to the window that looked out over the acres of land of her official residence. With Earth’s population approaching the billion mark, she was reminded that such expanses might not always be made available for the use of a single person.
She turned back to the Science Officer and smiled for the first time since their meeting had begun. “How are you taking all this, Raj? It must have been a great shock to you. And, if I may presume, perhaps a great disappointment.”

Raj raised his eyebrows and looked to one side, then turned back to face Lady Maerlin. “It was a shock. We were convinced – I think everyone was convinced – that this was the first expedition of this type in all of human history. Surely a record of a previous such venture would have been remembered! The Expedition Leader reacted, I think, as anyone would when he made the discovery: long moments of profound silence, while our comm people kept asking him what he had found.” He grimaced. “If it weren’t for the telemetry we were receiving on his heart rate, blood-gases and brain activity, we would have been more frantic, wondering if he had met with an accident.“ He paused for just a second. “I’m not disappointed. We accomplished what we set out to do. The flight was flawless. The spacecraft functioned perfectly, the crew performed remarkably, just as predicted by all the training and testing we had done. I feel vindicated in the success of the project. It is still a tremendous, tremendous achievement.”

He stepped forward and carefully picked up the object he had brought. He looked at it again, for perhaps the twentieth time: a machined fragment, crossed by a bolted seam, showing clear signs of extreme aging that spoke of eons resting in the cold, sterile, and lifeless place in which it had been found. He remembered what the Expedition Leader had finally reported: harsh sunlight covering a vast field of gray dust, spotted here and there with debris that proved to be abandoned landing capsules, discarded components, launch platforms marking a successful return flight. Preserved from all but hundreds of millennia of relentless cosmic rays. Still recognizable markings in long-dead alphabets made their origin unmistakable.

Lady Maerlin smiled again, a smile she meant to be taken as supportive. “Yes, you’re right – landing humans on the Moon and bringing them back safely was, and is, a tremendous achievement. Something you have every right to be proud of. We just weren’t the first. That’s all.”

Ideograms

Author: Tim Boiteau

The language of the tablet fought him every step of the way, full of shifting sands and pitfalls. It was a brief text, the only example of its kind. Three hundred characters, only three of which repeated themselves. The orthography seemed to be composed of ideograms, some tantalizingly close to pictographs. For example, one of the repeating symbols appeared to be a winking face, while another one might have been a tree or power lines or an arrow with its fletched end up.

“A missile?” read one of the lines of his notes.

He dreamed in the symbols, played with them, rearranged them, classified and reclassified them according to various methods—stroke count, sharpness or angle or curvature of the strokes.

After a year he had nothing to show the higher ups, and he was forced to admit defeat. Guards escorted him into a starkly furnished room to debrief the next linguist, a woman in her forties, who seemed to be winking at him at times. A twitch, perhaps.

And he gave his speech about shifting sands and pitfalls and dreams. “If only,” he concluded, “they hadn’t killed the messenger.” That is, the creature that had been carrying the tablet.

Then he was escorted to the memory-wipe chamber.

I Am Legion

Author: David Barber

1
Officer Chen woke just as they fell from the sky.

The woman sitting opposite cried out and braced herself for the crash. The engines screamed as the ground leapt upwards, then the dropship bounced and was still. They’d landed inside square kilometres of smart wire and autoguns.

“Was that really necessary?” The air was humid, with more oxygen. She swayed in the heat.

“Legion assumes all landings are hostile and trains for it,” shrugged Chen.

She was wearing Legion camo and a white helmet. And she, or some joker in orbit, had fastened her thorax armour on backwards.

There was a whirr of wings above them.

“Where’s Platt?” Chen called out.

The Legionary was already tracking the metre-long dragonfly with the barrel of a pump-action. The shot shredded its wings and it fluttered to the ground to be stomped on.

“Some like to lay eggs in you,” explained Platt.

2
Chen showed the reporter round Command. She loitered beneath the icy aircon, but there was no story in Legion techs hunched over screens.

“There were six rival Queendoms when we landed,” Chen explained. “Bugs had got as far as industrialised conflict. You should see their steamer tanks.”

She panned her camera round. “So we backed one Queen in return for exploiting… pardon, exporting uranium?”

Chen shrugged. “I was told you wanted to go a mission. Something more visual.”

She stared at him intently. It meant nothing, her camera was linked to her gaze.

3
They hurtled over feathertrees at Mach 1 with utter faith in terrain-hugging radar.

“Not really necessary,” Chen shouted over the engine noise. “Bugs have no air defences, but it’s what the pilots do.”

“What’s with all these devils painted on your men’s gear?”

“What the bugs call us. I turn a blind eye.”

He explained a local nest was to be seeded with a cocktail of pheromones. A covert attempt to weaken the grip of the Red Queen.

“Wait. I thought the Red Queen was our ally.”

“She seems to have forgotten that.”

Nests were underground. There wasn’t much to see, just tall smoking chimneys and roads that radiated away through jungle. The dropships settled after the same stomach-wrenching plummet.

Legionaries were outside before she could unbuckle herself.

“Stay with me, yes?”

She followed him into a dark mouth in the earth, legionaries fanning out ahead. Suddenly there was gunfire, deafening in the tunnels. She shone her camera light on bugs chewed up by bullets. They were more like centipedes the size of large dogs.

“What’s happening? Aren’t these on our side?”

Chen shaded his eyes as she pointed her camera at him. “My report will show this was an unprovoked attack.”

Legionaries came running back, pausing to fire long growling bursts.

“Here they come, sir.”

She turned to look and Chen shoved her. She stumbled, arms outstretched, into the frenzied bugs and they tore into her.

After a while Chen ordered his men to fire.

“Collect the body, sergeant. And the camera.”

4
Officer Chen reported to his superiors on a secure channel.

It went to plan?

“Yes sir. As a bonus her camera caught the bugs attacking her.”

An unarmed reporter. It would justify nuking the Red Queen alright.

Any problems to report?

“No sir.”

You obeyed orders, which is what you demand of your men. But you murdered a civilian and turned on allies, without any qualms. There is a place for men like you, but not in the Legion.

“Wait, what?”

This sim is ending now.