We That Are Left

Author : Alex Smith

Six of them stood around the grave, silent. It was the first time they had lost a soldier.

For a long while, nobody moved. The air was still, disturbed only by the whirs and clicks of their implants, and the gentle humming of respirators. Eventually, the Captain spoke up.

“Reyes was a good fighter,” he said hoarsely. His electrolarynx crackled with static, distorting the pain in his voice. “One of the best in the battalion. And he was a good man, at that.”

The others said nothing.

“Reyes would have wanted us to honour him,” the Captain continued. “He would have wanted us to respect his death. He would have wanted us to forget.”

Still, the gathered soldiers were silent.

“There is no room for sorrow on the battlefield.” His voice was hard, now. “You freeze up, you hesitate even for a second, you die. Reyes knew that. So do all of you.”

The Captain reached up to his temple, to the tangle of wires and lights stitched into his skin, just below the hairline. There was a brief pause; a moment of indecision. Then, one by one, the others did the same.

“Until all of this is over,” he told them, “we cannot afford the luxury of grief.”

Delicately, he brushed his fingertips against the interface. Something metallic stirred inside his skull.

Sergeant Giorgio Reyes, he thought. Full wipe.

*

Five of them stood around the grave, silent. It was the first time they had lost a soldier.

Tether

Author : Russell Bert Waters

She slept as he observed her for the final time.

The moonlight brushed the canvas of her skin with a paint that revealed her natural beauty.

He yearned to wake her, to spill his regrets out in one long glut.

He would not do this, of course.

In doing so, he would be inviting her to talk him out of what he felt he must do.

They had never married.

He was married, then divorced, once before.

Because of how things went on his first go ‘round, he vehemently insisted that marrying her may ruin the wonderful relationship they had.

This was his biggest regret, of course.

There she lay; his, yet not his.

Her seven-hundred-and-some-odd-year-old body didn’t look a day past seventy.

Her skin was pale, freckled, lovely.

The capsules lay on the nightstand, and he mentally tried to talk himself out of the next step.

But he wouldn’t do so successfully; he knew what he was doing was right, and even patriotic.

Once the ground level of Earth had overpopulated to a scary degree, tethers had been built which shot up into the sky with domed capsules attached.

These capsules were cities in and of themselves.

They littered the sky.

Medical advances had made humans virtually immortal, but once they did finally die they were shot into space, in biodegradable capsules, toward Europa.

Their bodies were injected full of bacteria and algae, which would consume them during the trip, and would aid the terraforming process after the capsules crash-landed onto the surface of the most promising of Jupiter’s moons.

A person who was bored with living could volunteer as a tribute, to help save the human race by leaving Earth well in advance of their natural death.

There was a substantial cash benefit awarded to their survivors, courtesy of Uncle Sam.

He looked at her one last time, then stood by the window and swallowed the first capsule.

Although he had never made things official with her, he felt she was tethered to him, much as their building was tethered to the Earth thousands of feet below.

He whispered “farewell, my love” as the drone which would take him to prepare for his final journey lit up their window with a blue glow.

He swallowed the second capsule, which would remove any anxiety and eventually put him into a deep sleep.

She stirred slightly as he unlatched the window.

“Goodbye, my love, one day you’ll understand I’m doing this for you” he said softly, and then he stepped out into the brisk, night air.

A Piece Of Cake

Author : David Henson

Ellen watches as the machine, bigger than Harold, starts vibrating, its red and blue lights blinking slowly. Gradually the vibration becomes a loud grinding sound and the lights a purple blur. When everything stops, Harold swings open the large door, reaches down and picks up two eggs from the floor of the device. “OK Honey, what’s next?”

Ellen looks back at the recipe book that she’s borrowed from the Library of Artifacts. “Two cups of sugar.”

Harold taps the keypad on the side of the replicator. After a few moments, he hands the sugar to Ellen. “I’m sure it’s not nearly as sweet as you.”

“Harold, you do say the nicest things. Next we need flour. Three cups.”

“Flour, you say?”

“That’s right.”

Harold grins at Ellen, then goes through the routine with the replicator. “Here you go.” He turns and hands her a long-stemmed rose.

Ellen feels her cheeks flush. “Harold, what’d I ever do to deserve you?” She chuckles to herself.

“I love how you’ve got your hair today. That swoop.”

“It’s the latest fashion on the Venus colonies.”

“Well, that’s perfect ’cause you’re my Aphrodite.”

“You’re going to turn my head, Harold. Now let’s have that flour, the powdered kind.”

Harold starts to turns back toward the replicator, then faces Ellen again. “Sweetie, I have a question. Why don’t we just replicate the whole cake at once?”

“I thought I’d try my hand at making it from scratch.”

“You’ll start going to the old-time markets next. Give up replicating altogether like the purists.”

Ellen shakes her head. “No, no, not me. I’d never want to give up my replicator.”

Ellen and Harold put the machine through its paces for the next half-hour or so. “That’s it?” Harold starts to hug Ellen.

“No. We’re missing the most important thing.”

“What’s that?”

“An oven to bake the cake in, silly goose.”

“Oven?” Harold turns to the keypad and scratches his head.

“O-v-e-n. The cake needs to bake for 30 minutes. Set the oven to expire. In an hour.”

***

“Absolutely delicious,” Harold says, patting his lips with a napkin. “Ellen my dear, you can add master chef to your long list of accomplishments.”

The oven begins to beep. As it does, it fades from view, then disappears.

After Harold cleans up, Ellen and he spend the rest of the evening listening to the Rings of Saturn Concerto and sharing a bottle of replicated merlot. Harold hangs on Ellen’s every word as she explains the finer points of how to appreciate classical music and a wine’s bouquet.

Ellen checks the time. “Well,” she says coyly. “I think I’ll go into the bedroom now.”

A big smile takes over Harold’s face. “Wonderful. Those are the words I’ve been … BEEP…BEEP…BEEP…BEEP.” Harold fades from view and disappears.

Ellen goes to the replicator and taps the keypad. After the machine stops groaning and flashing, she opens the door. A tall, rippling man with dark, wavy hair steps out and scoops her up in his arms. “Baby, you still got that Indian Kami Sooter book from the library of old stuff?”

Ellen puts her arms around Pete’s neck. “Oh yeah, Baby. We’re on page 41 tonight.” She closes her eyes and smiles. “Page 41.”

Analyze

Author : Jules Jensen

The world is dangerous.

“Yes, I know this.”

No, you don’t. People will kill you for water, for food, for anything you have that is even slightly better than what they have. They don’t care about your past, your present, your future. They don’t care about the things you’ve learned, the knowledge you’ve amassed, or the people and things counting on you.

“People are no more dangerous than the wild animals. You showed me how to survive against them.”

Animals kill to eat or protect themselves, nothing more. Humans can kill just for the sake of killing, or out of mere boredom. I did not spend twelve-point-five years taking care of you and teaching you just to have you meet your end the first time you encounter another person.

“So you’re saying you won’t let me go out and find another human? You know I can’t have only you as my companion for the rest of my life. I’m nearly an adult now. I want to start a family-”

This talk is nonsense. You want to go through the rigors of training an infant human how to survive? You know things are getting worse, right?

“I know, I know, you told me all about the lack of rainfall. Big deal. We live by the ocean.”

Which you can’t drink.

“What are you doing? Why are you looking at me like that?”

I am a robot. I have no ability to look at you in any way other than to observe.

“You’re doing that analyzing thing. Like when that dingo came too close to camp and it looked like it was sick.”

Correct. You’re recent attitude change has altered our survival rate.

“How?”

I am, as you say, a ‘robot’, and that means I can’t die of old age. I can’t forget the knowledge I’ve gained, or the skills I’ve learned. I am perfect. You are not. And yet, you talk about finding a potentially untrustworthy human here, one that might kill you and destroy me.

“No, no, don’t look at me like that. I’m not going to do anything to endanger you. Or myself! Come on, you’re the one that goes on about logic, why would I do anything to hurt us?”

My software has decided that I am worth more than you are.

“So I’ll just leave. J-just stay back. Don’t pick up the gun! I’ll go, and I’ll never come back!”

Doubtful. Humans, when in dire need of assistance, tend to go back to the places and beings they think may help them. I can’t risk you coming back here and bringing unwanted attention.

“No! L-leave me-”

Screaming is pointless. It will only draw attention.

Inside

Author : Leanne A. Styles

The Guardian:

I watch with sadness as Anna tugs her brush through her damp hair, yanking unsympathetically when she hits a tangle.

She never used to be so angry and uncaring. She was fun and full of joy ‒ infectiously so. For twenty-five years I’ve had the pleasure of watching over and guiding her on her journey.

My first subject. My pride and joy.

I had so much planned for her. She was going to be somebody.

But as much as you nurture them and make contingencies to ensure their life goes as you designed it, it doesn’t always work out. Free will is essential for the game to be fair. And then there are the rogue guardians who thrive on causing mayhem ‒ or the plain careless. Anna’s spouse’s guardian had made many mistakes. Warning signs had been missed, lines crossed, and illness had set in.

When Daniel died, so did Anna’s faith in me. In her quietest moments, her dreams, I try to reach her, but she won’t hear me.

I suppose it was only a matter of time before the Architects marked her for deletion; paths cannot be deviated from this much without repercussions.

I follow her as she dresses, struggles through her breakfast and gathers her things for work, hoping that somehow, if I persevere, she’ll hear my pleas to wake up to the danger that awaits her.

I savour her every move as she walks out into the rain, down the path and through the gate, feeling her life rapidly slipping from me. By the time she reaches the end of her street, she’s just another number.

And I am just another guardian who failed their subject.

The Subject:

I barely feel the bristles of my brush as I rip it through my hair.

I used to care so much: about my appearance, my job at that pretentious ad agency ‒ about every stupid thing. I had such big plans. I was going to be somebody.

I am somebody. Somebody’s widow.

I feel that voice inside ‒ the one that was always there when I needed it, that spurred me on to becoming the woman I thought I wanted to be ‒ attempting to get through again, straining to be heard from the depths of my subconscious. But I drown it out with a tirade of abuse. It’s a liar. A fucking liar. Nothing is alright. And it never will be.

I dress, force down a piece of toast, and collect my things before heading out the door into the morning drizzle.

I walk down the path and through the rusty gate. As I reach the end of my street, an unimaginable sense of loneliness and fear hits me, and it takes all the strength I have to stay upright. I can feel the dread swelling in my chest, its toxic tendrils winding through my ribs and wrapping, constricting, around my ruined heart. The buildings on either side of me seem to rear up from their foundations. The rooftops stretch to meet in the middle; they’re closing out the sky, trapping me. The wind fires a round of icy rain that burns my face.

Terrified and blinded, I run, somewhere, anywhere.

I hear screeching of tires and the honking of a car horn. Daniel’s face appears, so clearly, in my mind, and I cry out for that little voice, begging it for help. But it doesn’t answer. And in the brief moments before the car hits me, I realise I’m just another person who failed at life.

Another person who failed that voice inside.