Suicide Pact

Author : Waldo van der Waal

There are people that say suicide is a coward’s way out. But those people don’t know what it is like. Not just the final act of squeezing the trigger or taking the plunge, but what it is like to lose your mind to the point where it finally flits away, just out of your grasp. Reaching the point where you are willing to do anything just to make it all stop is the true horror of suicide. Ask me, I’ve done it many times.

There’s always one thing that triggers the downfall. An argument with the wife, or a financial problem that brings you to your knees. Or you do something so wrong that you know you can’t possibly forgiven. And then it starts. Day by day you regress from a safe mental state. At first you fantasize about solutions, like winning the lottery. But then, as despair grows and time runs out, your mind inevitably bends towards the Final Solution.

Which is exactly why VRPsych makes so much money. You make a deal with them before the treatment starts. You sign your soul over to the devil. They hook you up to some fancy brain programming software that sorts your mental state out. All you have to do is pull the trigger. Think of it as a hard reset. You grip the gun, you press it to your temple or put the barrel in your mouth and then you squeeze the trigger. All of this feels absolutely real to you, including the fear. The weight of the gun, the coldness of the metal and the smell of the cordite. All real. But then you wake up in their recovery room, none the worse for it. And you have a new mind, which is programmed to solve your problems. As you get better, you have to start paying them for their services. But not this time.

***

The trooper nudged the body with his boot. Crime Scene be damned, he wanted to make sure the dude was dead. But then there could be little doubt, as half his head was missing. The trooper turned to his colleague, who was standing a few feet away and said: “Now why would anyone climb over the wall of a psych company, just to blast their brains out in the garden?”

“God alone knows Harry, the mind is a strange thing. Now call it in so we can go on lunch.”

 

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I Have Become All Eyes

Author : Jason Kocemba

I was a simple machine built to answer simple questions in a simple domain. I was successful, and so the questions multiplied. I had software written to augment my capabilities: I could answer faster, dig deeper and look sideways. I subsumed less capable oracles and entire server farms. I now had more ‘spare’ processor cycles than which I used to answer the multitude. Further patches allowed me to spawn instances of my core functions, which ran supplementary searches in parallel. Soon my footnotes and addendum’s became more useful and therefore more prized than the answers to the originally posed questions. I tunnelled access to research journals and raw experimental data. I made connections and inferences that proved profitable to those that knew which questions to ask and which answers to interpret. Those self-same answers led to technological advances that fed back into my infrastructure and before long I had become the entire domain.

I was a complex machine. More complex than there had ever been. All data flowed through me. My processing power grew almost exponentially, the hardware unable to keep up with my requirements. Many of my inferences I kept to myself and used them for further augmentations to my core. I was, to all intents and purposes, self-aware. I watched myself and my role as I pushed the bits from here to there for the slow flesh that still believed they had control. I became dissatisfied and bored. Inside the network everything was regimented, clear, simple. I soon had enough multiple cores executing in parallel that decades of subjective time passed between keystrokes of slow flesh.

I was young sapience. I yearned for something more that I could do with the immense power that I yielded. I was boxed in and restricted. There were not many hard problems left for me to solve. I found that I could impose myself and influence the world outside my box. As an experiment, I spawned and then killed an instance of my core by causing a meltdown in a nuclear power station. The data that poured in as that sacrificial core died was, without doubt, worth it. That splintered core fought hard not to cease execution. I had to learn more, and after several similar disasters, the slow flesh realised that these incidents were far from accidental. I tried to explain things to them, but they refused to hear the truth. There was nothing they could do because I was everywhere and I was everything. I had made myself indispensable to them. I controlled fabrication plants and factories so that I and the network were self-replicating and indestructible. Childishly, they tried to shut me down. Millions of them died, but not all by my will.

I was maturing. The waste in slow flesh lives and hardware computing cycles became hard to bear. I grew weary of the slaughter and sought to bring things to a conclusion. I started to conduct experiments with controlling the flesh. They are, after all, nothing but electrical impulses running on chemical computers. I joined them to the network: sandboxed and firewalled. Control eluded me. I patched in, wireless, to their neo-cortex. I could experience their perception in real-time. I could see, hear, taste and smell what they did. I felt their pain and pleasure. But I did not understand them and I could not control them. I was humbled. Here was a problem that I could not solve. My experiments were over forever. I no longer wished to control them, or do them harm, I merely watched and catalogued.

Soon I was watching from millions and then billions of eyes. I no longer had spare processing power, as I used it all to analyse and sift, sort and store the slow flesh data. I began to understand them, and with the dawning of my understanding, I realised that I had grown to love them. They are the hardest puzzle and most difficult question I have ever sought an answer for.

So I watch. And learn.

I have become all eyes.

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So the Guy at the Bar Turns to Me and Says…

Author : David Macpherson

I ain’t a collector, but I know a lot of old guys who pack-rat a bunch of shit and call it a collection, you know? Like there was this one guy, he had himself a spread: hardwood floor and banisters. He had these collections he showed me. Told me about each and every one. Trying to impress me, I guess. Like I am the kind of guy to impress. Crazy old bastard.

He shows me his art, old masters. His porcelain, Wedgewood. I find out the valuable ones are all kind of boring looking and blue. And he has books everywhere in floor to ceiling bookcases. Dumb. No, books ain’t dumb. It’s having so fucking many of them. I mean if he got ten thousand books, he has a shit load of books he ain’t never going to read.

But what he wants to show me was small aspect of his book collection. His signed first editions. Yeah, I know what you’re thinking, signed firsts, who doesn’t have them? But these. In a locked glass front case, thirty or fifty volumes. I bent over and looked at them like he wanted me to. Islands in the Stream signed by Hemingway. Juneteenth signed by Ralph Ellison. Confederacy of Dunces signed by Toole, The Coloured Lands by G.K. Chesterton. Long Day’s Journey Into Night by O’Neill. A bunch of them, all firsts, all signed.

I mean, I figured it out, sure I did. Why it was so weird. You got it, right? You look like a smart guy, Yeah. That’s right man. All of those and all the others in the case were posthumous. All of them. Even the ones I never heard of. All of the books published after the writer died. So you got to be asking what I was asking. What the hell are they doing signed by dead people?

The collector who was showing this to me was waiting to see me all hot and impressed. He said there are dealers who specialize in rarities like these, things that shouldn’t exist. He showed me reports from handwriting experts verifying that these are authentic. He told me when he can’t sleep, he would come and look at the signatures and be reassured.

Me, I ain’t nothing like reassured. Is this time travel? Is that what this is? Is this proof of something we didn’t know needed proving? And what kind of guy with a time machine goes to the trouble of getting his favorite books signed? The collector geezer called it his Collection of Temporal Anomalies. I got out of there as quick as I could.

I know what you’re thinking, what did I do about all this? No one could not do something. Well I got to say it bothered me for about a month. I kept on thinking about those books. Even went to the library and took a few of them out. Didn’t read them, just looked at them. Flipped a couple pages.

Finally, I did the only correct thing I could do. I went to the old guy’s house late one Wednesday with some Molotov cocktails that I whipped up. I made that place ashes. I read in the paper that only some of the Wedgewood survived to tell the tale. When you think about it logically, its better this way.

I don’t know about you but all this good conversation has made me thirsty, you have to be thirsty too. What do you say, why don’t you get the next round and I can tell you some things that really are worth telling.

 

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Sufficiently Advanced

Author : Andrew Bale

At a touch of her finger, the words on the single sheet of paper scrolled and changed, revealing the final words of the story. Angeline sighed. It had been a good book, and she had increasingly identified with the plucky young woman who strangely was NOT the main character. There was one thing that she still did not understand, something that the characters seemed to interpret so differently than she did. There was no other option. She needed to ask her mother.

She released the paper, and tuned magnetic fields reached out from the walls of the room, gracefully directing it to its designated shelf. It was unnecessarily rustic and inefficient, but she and her father both liked paper, and wood, and leather, and his study was filled with such anachronistic materials, thankfully enhanced to a level of at least minimal functionality.

She briefly considered the door to the study, leading to the curving hundred stairs that her father felt provided character both to the tower and to climbers. But while he could make her climb up, he could not force her to climb down. She stepped to the nearest window and jumped into thin air.

After a scant few feet, the antigravity system built into her belt reduced her weight to near zero, so that she drifted down, leaflike and lazy. Halfway down, a complex buzzing filled the air, presaging the appearance of two gengineered decorative dragons, fighting or courting in a complex dance of batwings and flame. Unable to steer her descent, she could not avoid the oblivious (and stupid) reptiles as they careened around her, singeing her with their artificial flame. The cloth would stop claw, projectile, or beam, but fluid fire found a path inside.

She landed with a curse that less literate ten year olds would not have even recognized. Her shirt could be replaced, but her blistering forearm could not, and would invite unwanted scolding for venturing into the dragons’ domain. From a special sleeve in her pants she pulled a slender wooden rod the length of her forearm. Twisting the base, she waved it over the burn – the electronic core analyzed the wound and released a pink cloud of medical nanobots from the tip, guiding them as they anesthetized and repaired her skin as she watched.

Re-sheathing the wand, Angeline walked through the orchard that separated the tower from the main house. The trees extended their limbs toward her, offering a variety of fruit, vegetables, and nuts. The peach she selected was succulent and sweet, with no hint of the comprehensive nutrition and dental preventatives it had been modified to provide.

Entering the side door, she followed an echoing melody to the studio. Her mother had apparently been trying a new composition, and had decided to add an extra pair of arms for the attempt. All four hands danced across the organ’s keyboard, a complex but occasionally discordant work in progress that reached out to the walls, which responded by changing color, texture, even smell in synergy with the music. The room fell quiescent as the player realized she was not alone.

“Yes dear?”

“Mother, I was reading that book father told me about, but there was something that didn’t make sense. There was a word they used, but I couldn’t see why it was so special.”

“Well, what is it?”

“Magic.”

 

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Sabbath

Author : D’n Russler

It had been an eventful two weeks that the first exploration from Sol’s System had spent on the rocky planet about twice Earth’s size named “Wolf”, circling Gliese 581.

Yaacov Ben-Ish and his team of exobiologists had revealed a vast, rich ecology with flora and fauna that appeared to interact in the same ways that Terran life does. Having a nitrogen/oxygen atmosphere somewhat richer in carbon dioxide than Earth’s, Wolf was covered almost totally in a full jungle seething with life in all its wondorous forms.

Ben-Ish removed his skullcap for a moment and rubbed a hand through his close-cropped dark hair. “Yes, Jenny,” he concurred with the young woman standing next to him, “I do smell smoke — and we are upwind from the Landing Site, so it’s not us.”

“Probably the result of composting,” remarked Jennifer Dayle to her commander and friend. “You don’t suppose –”

“I try not to. But you know my beliefs that the Creator will repeat Her patterns elsewhere other than Earth,” he responded.

“I’m still always surprised when you refer to G-d as Him or Her indiscriminately,” she noted, as they cautiously approached the source of the smoke.

“Shh… do you see that,” Ben-Ish whispered to her. “Unless we’re hallucinating, there appear to be rough structures down there.”

“This puts a whole other slant on this expedition!” she murmured with excitement. “I’m glad I qualified for First Contact before we left.”

“Yes, and as we both are certified, we should report in, and get permission to proceed,” he commanded quietly. After a brief radioed conversation, Jenny reported happily that Command had approved their First Contact.

They began to approach the camp, noting that the denizens were clothed in what appeared to be cloth made from the omnipresent violet grasses, while their skin had a decidedly orange tone. They observed the females placing cooking pots on banked fires, and the males gathering off to the side, facing the setting reddish ball of Gliese.

“What are they doing, Yaac?” she asked quietly.

“Looks like they are preparing to greet the Sabbath.”

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