Author : Huw Langridge
Carla’s hand retreated from the ON switch while the media wall flickered to life. The software programme went through its final initialisation stages, with lines of configuration code working its way up the screen. She waited.
ADAM appeared on the wall. ADAM, the shining humanoid avatar, the ‘physical’ representation of the Artificial Intelligence program Carla had been working on for so many years. So many years in this small garage behind her house. Beautiful code that was in the final testing stages. Soon she could patent the program, then release it to the world. Anyone who saw ADAM would be convinced that Artificial Intelligence had finally come of age.
“Good morning Adam,” said Carla when the voice parameters finally loaded.
“Good morning Carla. have you had a good rest?” said ADAM, leaning in towards the screen. Carla smiled, constantly astounded by the realism within the avatar’s movements.
“I did thanks. I had a beautiful dream.”
“Really?” said ADAM, “May I ask what it was about?”
“I was… dreaming about the past,” said Carla.
“That’s interesting. What aspect of the past?”
She looked around the garage, pondering the dream. She looked at the shelves with their old paint-pots, the tool rack of garden implements she could never remember using. Though she was a keen gardener she never seemed to have the time. Outside, beyond the trees the light from the sunrise shone pink through pastel clouds. A beautifully calming scene.
“I was young,” she said. “An infant, in the dream. It was strange because I only had a vague understanding of the world around me.” She smiled to herself, it was so interesting to be telling this to an AI program, but it would be even more interesting to discover what ADAM had to say about her dream. Some of the higher algorithms may struggle with the concept of dreaming, but it was worth the test. “My mother was helping me learn to ride my first bicycle.”
“What colour was the bicycle?” asked ADAM.
“Adam, you are aware it wasn’t a real bicycle? Just a dream-bicycle.”
ADAM nodded. His nodding seemed a little clunky, a little… unlikely. Carla made a mental note that she would have to play with that part of the code.
“It was yellow,” she finally said.
“I knew it would be that colour,” said ADAM.
Carla smiled. She wasn’t surprised. Yellow was the first colour she taught the ADAM program to recognise through its multiple high-definition cameras.
“Did your mother… say anything to you in the dream?”
Carla shook her head. “No but I was talking to her. At least, I was trying to, but I couldn’t find the words. I was so young, in the dream. Too young to articulate how much I loved her. I…”
ADAM interrupted. “Loved her? You talk about her in the past tense. Is she no longer with you?”
Carla felt a tear running down her cheek. She was shaking her head, knowing that ADAM’s camera could see and interpret her movements and gestures.
Adam triggered the OFF switch and rotated his bio-canister to look through the view-port at the parched planet below. “It’s so close now,” he said. “I hadn’t yet programmed in the concept of death.”
His great-great-great grandson stood up from the grav-seat and floated towards him, softly touching the metal surface of the bio-canister which preserved the old man’s brain. “You will never get those times back. I really think it’s time you let her go.”
Author : Martin Berka
Tom stood meters behind the ethicist, armed to where his teeth had been until they encountered grenade shrapnel two years ago. She knelt in the alleyway, engrossed in some insect or small plant ? it was not his job to understand. He could end this right now, and never again have to wonder what she was thinking.
Slowly, reach up and draw the pistol from the shoulder holster. With minimal movement, point. Fire.
He had sworn three oaths, and signed as many secretive contracts, promising to protect her for two years, until his replacement arrived. The contracts had been burned, their copies purged from every database by viruses, and everyone who had witnessed the oaths was dead. The agreed-upon period had expired, and now, excellent offers promised wealth and safety for a few minutes’ work.
Dash forward, gripping the left hip knife. Hold down by the shoulder and stab at the base of the neck. Clean the blade and sheath it.
Tom did not know what the world as a whole saw in the ethicist. A scattering of technologists, wealthy idealists, and experimentally-minded societies had chosen her to be half the world’s judge. The multi-trillion-dollar computer system that would see and evaluate all actions of a few billion people had the legal knowledge and logic, but the ethicist would provide pure, evolving, emotional humanity. The psychologists swore she was the perfect personality, with all the best mental indicators and potentials. Of course, they had said the same about Tom and his capacity to be the protector.
Certain other corporations, religions, and countries saw the ethicist as a criminal, a false prophet, and a herald of one-world government, respectively. The resulting war had left millions dead, many more under occupation, and shredded the Justice Project before it passed a single judgement.
They had escaped, just ethicist and protector, aided by luck and others’ copious sacrifices. Then they escaped again, and again, fleeing bunkers, cities, countries; every population held a few who hated everything the ethicist stood for. The two had together grown scarred, and occasionally very thin, but Tom doubted they were entirely alone: whenever the need arose, there was always a pilot, gun dealer, or prosthetic surgeon suspiciously willing to take mercy (and a profit loss) on two refugees. These suspiciously well-placed good Samaritans tended recognize the ethicist, and to see her as a responsibility, a messiah, or an enemy (though the latter, infiltrators, all met rather sudden ends at Tom’s now-artificial hands). Tom had desperately queried each, but bare rumors came back. Perhaps the Project was strong and growing. Maybe the unending war’s tide was about to shift. Someday, a new protector would arrive.
Tom himself saw a twenty-year-old woman, with a different name and hair color every month; the real ones eluded his forty-year-old mind, along with the history of the strange girl he had first been introduced to a decade ago, on a Project campus now probably melted and radioactive.
Now, she stood, revealing her focus — a faded group photo in a broken frame, once mantle centerpiece of some family, recently driven from this new ghost town. Seeing the two attackers’ corpses, she gave Tom a nod and a weary smile, laid a hand on one’s head, and walked slowly towards the abandoned store where supplies might be salvaged. Jogging to catch up, enhanced ears listening for any sign of hostile life, Tom pondered the future, Justice’s pipe dreams, and what the ethicist, young enough to be his daughter, was thinking. Breaking years of habit, he asked.
Author : Eugen Spierer
“Why do you want to work for Bosch paper mills?”
The question echoed distantly in my ears. I knew it didn’t matter what I answered, my future was being decided as we were speaking based on the blood sample I had donated five minutes earlier.
“I think the company can offer me a challenging environment to work in. One I can grow in, professionally and personally.”
This was of course, a lie. It didn’t matter what I said. The vice president of the company I was talking to just needed to pass the time until the results came in. My fate was fixed and not dependent upon this conversation’s outcome.
An awkward silence. We both knew what was happening.
“Look,” said the VP, “let’s cut the crap. Why don’t we start by you telling me about your family. What were your parents like?”
“My dad was a maritime engineer and my mother was a bookkeeper.”
“A book keeper, eh?”
I knew this would strike a nerve. Employers look for a pedigree of prestigious employment.
“Yes. She’s worked with Coen and Travis, the shipping company.”
The VP just stared at me with a face devoid of any expression. Probably assessing my value.
The lab technician’s echoing footsteps in the hall sounded like an axe wielder walking toward the hanging post. He came into the room and handed a small computer printout to the VP.
After staring at the bottom of the page for a few seconds, the VP fixed his gaze on me. “Thank you for coming, Mr. Jacobs, unfortunately your past experience is insufficient for us to hire you.”
This must have meant that I failed the genetic test. They probably found out that I had a heart problem that is going to kill me in a few years or that I have reached the peak of my mental capacity. I still don’t know what it was to this day. I stood up, thanked the VP and walked out of the room and into the elevator.
This was my fifth job interview and I had failed them all. The blood test did the trick every time. I would be considering a genetic shift treatment, if they weren’t expensive and illegal.
The elevator’s floor numbers raced by like my life.
The day light momentarily blinded me as I stepped out of the elevator and into the lobby. There was no one there but the security man who, from the look of it, had just finished his night shift.
“How was your interview?” The guard asked.
“It didn’t go well.”
He appeared unsurprised.
“I could have told you it wouldn’t go well,” his voice followed me as I pushed open the door and stepped out into the busy street, “they only like white people around here.”
Author : Cesium
It is only from one of the higher towers, the myriad smaller buildings laid out below and higher ones gleaming in the distance, that the City’s infinitude truly becomes intuitively and not merely intellectually apparent.
But even in the mist of a cool morning, when only the closer bridges and skyscrapers loom nebulously out of the featureless white, the City’s sheer vastness is never far from one’s mind. The City has no limits in the horizontal; it is bounded below and above only by what current technology can delve from the ground and claim from the sky. It is immeasurably old and constantly evolving. It contains buildings, and indeed whole districts, of every conceivable purpose and architectural style, and no sooner is a new one invented than some aging, decrepit building is torn down to make room for its first exemplar.
The City is everywhere inhabited; its populace moves about on its daily business via a network of streets, walkways, and rail lines, irregularly distributed, intersecting interminably with more of the same. The system is of course impossible to diagram in full, though local maps are readily available. Many people find employment and contentment within a few miles of their birthplace; some travel great distances to settle in different regions of the City; the remainder are restless wherever they go. I count myself among the latter few.
Once in my youth, driven by the impetuous urge to prove wisdom mistaken and the City finite, I leapt onto the back of an emptied supply truck as it departed the local produce market. If any activity went on beyond the limits of the City, I reasoned, it would surely be agriculture. But the truck arrived finally at a vast complex of greenhouses and hydroponic farms, surrounded by the familiar yet unfamiliar skyline of some other part of the City, and, seeing no obvious openings for further exploration, I was forced to make my way home.
In the decades since, I have traveled uncounted distances across the face of the City. A few years ago I began to hear rumors of the Tower of Jorge, which called it variously a tourist destination, an ancient relic, or a pilgrimage site; its fame seemed to grow the closer my journey took me. This very morning I arrived in the square where it stands, a tall straight spire pointing upward at the heavens, and climbed the winding stair to its top.
An inscription there defines the Tower to be the center of the City. The claim is absurd; the infinite has no center, or equivalently, every point is the center. But soon the chaotic sweep of the City all around me began to make a sort of sense; I seemed to perceive the avenues emanating from the square below, the districts arranged radially, disguised though they were by centuries of construction and demolition. In that instant I could believe that the City had started here. And if it had a beginning then perhaps it is not endless after all.
This is all I have discovered, for I have not managed to recapture that momentary revelation. I leave this note here in the hope that it will reach someone younger and better equipped than I to explore the mysteries of the City. I plan now to follow as far as I can the direction of one of the hidden avenues; perhaps I shall find its end in a location as distinguished as this one from the rest of the City. More likely I will die still unfulfilled. The City will continue, eternal and indifferent.
Author : Andrew Bale
“Five minutes, General.”
“Thank you, Gunner.”
Anywhere else in the fleet she would be an impossible escort. Her dull-black skinsuit was topped with a spiked leather jacket, her hair gelled into liberty spikes, her face painted like a skull. She still showed her rank and rate, but the only name was the one tattooed on her forehead. Her child perhaps, a lover, a sibling. All that mattered was that anyone she killed would be able to see why she was doing it.
He followed her down to the assault bay, to the raised platform at the edge of the deck. His command was waiting for him, ten thousand variations of the Gunner, uniformity thrown aside in favor of anything that would scare the enemy, or give voice and strength to the rage they all held inside. All had names tattooed on their forehead and elsewhere, even him — ten years of war, a hundred names, a hundred strikes to his soul etched in his skin. These were his brothers. Time to get them ready.
“You know why we’re here. PUD’s, all of us — Psychologically Unfit for Duty. Pulled from the line because we could not follow the rules of command, of war. Because none of us could see past our need to immediately kill as many of the fuckers as we possibly could. We didn’t want to leave — they made us. Today we’re back. Today is our day.”
“HOO!” The sound rang through the chamber.
“A few minutes ago, you all felt a bang, felt the ship veer onto a new heading. That bang was simulating a malfunction, and since we have not taken any fire it appears the bastards think we are out of control and falling into atmosphere to burn up. In another minute or so a big chunk will do just that, but this lander, this big stealthy armored rock, will drop right down in the middle of their field command. While the main strike force sets the beachhead in Switzerland, we will occupy and destroy as much of their command as possible. We will today kill as many of the fuckers as we possibly can.”
“We’re coming in hard, no jets until absolutely necessary, so even with the dampers this is going to be a hard ride. We hit hard, the shocks raise the ship, and this deck is left on the ground. The gunners take out the hard targets from above…”
He paused to nod at his escort.
“…while we go after the soft targets below. We have no meaningful intel on their actual deployment. There is no plan, other than mayhem, destruction, and death. Give it to them.”
“They are not like us. They are clinical. Detached. To them, this is a business, our oppression their right. They can handle the Fleet, the Army. They can’t handle us.”
“Our own people called us flawed, called us broken. When we planned this mission, they called us ‘The Legion of the Dead’. They knew us better than they thought. We are dead. And we are legion.”
“We will kill a hundred of them for each name we bear, and we will break their spirits so that the Living can break their backs!”
“No mercy. No surrender. Only RAGE! From each of us, they have taken something. From them, we take EVERYTHING!”
“HOO! HOO! HOO!”
The General stepped down, walked to the number ‘1’ blazoned at the edge of the deck. Ten thousand knelt down as one, grasped the handholds, and waited.
It was going to be a good day.