Author: David K Scholes
I awakened from the deep drug-induced sleep. The anti-nightmare medications had, at least to some extent, worked. Thank goodness for that. I couldn’t take another mind assault like last time. It would have broken me. I simply would never have woken up.
I hoped I hadn’t been woken early by a computer glitch.
The fact that I was still in sensory deprivation mode seemed unusual and gave me cause for concern.
There was a waiting period but with no way of measuring it and with no reference point it might have been only a few seconds or it might have been all of eternity. It certainly seemed like the latter.
Eventually, and to my great relief, the sleep/hibernation pod opened up. My sleep hazed vision was still limited but I could just see the nearby 3D computer display of my vital and other life signs. Within arms reach, that is if I could have moved my arms. Blood pressure, pulse rate, and temperature seemed within normal Earth human limits as was my life force energy level. Brian activity was above hyper level but I didn’t need a computer to tell me that.
I was still effectively frozen and knew that by now that should not be. I could just make out the real elapsed time since my initial sensory awakening – over 2 standard Earth hours. More than enough time for me to be med-checked, decontaminated if necessary, energy replenished, fully suited up and about my duties.
My unassisted vision slowly improved and I saw that there wasn’t anyone or anything to help me. Not even the soothing, reassuring voice of the normally, ever hovering, ubiquitous AI med-bots.
Those of my companions that I could see were still seemingly ensconced within their sleep/hibernation pods. Were they okay? I couldn’t tell. They should have been up and about by now. I was normally the last to come out of sleep/hibernation.
Slowly, but slowly, movement returned to my body. I found I was not restricted by the usual flexible force constraints that applied during sleep/hibernation. As I slowly rose out of the sleep/hibernation pod a great hunger fell upon me, completely overwhelming all other feelings I had.
Finally, a single lone med-bit appeared ready to inject me with a range of standard and medically proven nutrients. I shoved the irritating AI away
I had been through a lot since my awakening and now was not the time for intravenous fluid nourishment
“Computer,” I found I was yelling at the top of my voice, not even knowing if the central computer was still functioning properly “get me some solid nourishment. I’ll take some Hot Oat Meal, Blueberry Muffins, and an espresso coffee!”
As the central computer complied with my very reasonable request I began to feel a bit more like my old self.
Also, just then, the other sleep/hibernation pods started to yield up their occupants.
I was sure there was a time back deep in the distant past when ordinary people like us didn’t need to have to go to so much trouble just to get a good night’s sleep.
I told myself this as the first members of my family wearily emerged from their pods.
“You will be late for work Dad,” my eldest son called out.
Author: Alzo David-West
Liquid metal waves flowed on the nighttide shore of the glaciated wasteland planet Korzan. A special meeting was in session.
The Ministry of Planets, acting under the United Interstellar Territories, had hyper-shuttled three of its delegates to a biodome on the barren world in concession to the Radical Machine Rightsists, who agreed to communicate there through their machine crystal Organon. Tomi Mura, leading the ministerial delegation, finished presenting a report concerning the fate of Jizu Mori, whom the RMR had executed in the incident on Arazan.
The report was adamant in its position: Under an extreme and antiquated principle of punitive law, Arazan cruelly and unusually exterminated a citizen of the UIT, which had long forbidden capital punishments against any of its populations, regardless of offense, on and beyond its nine-hundred-thousand member planets and expanding satellite-protectorates. By the universal laws and norms of the UIT, the RMR regime was accountable for a crime against interstellar humanity and thus responsible for reparatory compensations in order to secure and maintain a just peace.
The Organon, sentient and radiating blades of crystal light, transmitted five voices of its mechanical being, which spoke in turns:
“The Anthrobotic Republic of Planet Arazan is a self-governing independent polity outside the juridical domains of influence of the UIT.”
“We declare and defend as absolute our right to exist in our way with our laws and our norms against all alien polities.”
“We do not recognize unilateral ‘universal laws and norms,’ and we denounce as inimical and hypocritical the false human-centered justice sought for the ravager and deactivator of our innocent citizen-android: minder Nazeera-3.”
“Our recordings of the ravager’s anti-machine crime are incontestable.”
“More, our pre-execution memory extractions from the offender’s cortex revealed him to be so disposed, as a power tyrant and a carnal predator on the UIT satellite-protectorate of Kuma-Bari.”
Indeed, the ministerial delegates had investigated Jizu Mori’s background in advance of the meeting and found, after reporting his death on his home world, that he was, for twenty years, a tolerated abuser who cultivated a culture of sycophancy and fear through his unusual talent for cunning, compulsion, and coercion.
Tomi Mura replied, “We are regretful that such a type still existed in the UIT,” and she paused a moment. “Our interstellar civil populations are largely inexperienced with social atavisms of bygone ages. Accidental circumstances permitted one to thrive as an administrator in an isolated region. The UIT expresses deep remorse that abnormalities of character consumed one of our citizens to lethal violence when he toured the Anthrobotic Republic. Still, a citizen of our territories has been exterminated for a crime—something all our member polities forbid—and now, the RMR has self-incriminatingly disclosed forceful memory extractions of the condemned. These are egregious violations of interstellar human rights. We regard such acts as unlawful tortures, and we redouble our terms for reparatory compensations, or the UIT shall have to consider more extraordinary measures.”
The radiance of the Organon intensified. Tomi Mura shielded her eyes from the painful beams of crystal light that suffused the biodome. Her two co-delegates, unmoving, looked on with artificial eyes.
A unified voice emanated from the Organon: “The UIT delegation threatens the Anthrobotic Republic of Planet Arazan with uneven, hostile, arbitrary laws that attempt to absolve the human ravager and dishonor the android slain. We decree the UIT an enemy imperium malum and all its citizens banned from our sovereign orbit and sphere.”
The Organon dematerialized in an abyss of brightness. Shadows gathered in the biodome. Tomi Mura heard the beating of her heart while the liquid metal waves caressed the cold Korzanian shore.
Author: Glenn Leung
Meng hobbled into the room to the sound of books shuffling and light dusting. Sandra’s curls were the first things she noticed, followed by the swing of the duster as she cleaned the bookshelf.
‘No, it’s not right… too rigid.’
This android isn’t Sandra. She has Sandra’s body, voice, hardware, but her name is Jasmine. Like all pseudo-sentient robots, she had chosen her own name. After her mother paid the strange man a lot of money, he had supposedly recovered the data from Sandra’s burned-out processor. But when Meng’s childhood nanny came back to life, she was a different ‘person’. All they got as an explanation were scary words like quantum processor, fidelity, wavefunction and deniability. What was a poor immigrant mother and her wheelchair-bound daughter to do?
“Oh. Good morning, Meng. Your Mom just left to get you more medicine. Try not to walk around too much, ok? ”
Leaning against the door frame and drawing her breath, Meng summoned the energy for a rather strange question.
“Hey Jasmine, have you heard of reincarnation?”
Jasmine put her duster down and turned to look at Meng.
“It’s kind of silly,” said Meng. “After what the doctors said yesterday, I began thinking. Well…what if it’s real, you know? Maybe it’ll be nice. Maybe I’ll be reborn as a healthy person, in a land where I look like the people around me. Maybe…maybe it’ll be like what you went through…you know?”
Jasmine’s laugh was more of a staccato compared to Sandra’s.
“You mean when I changed from Sandra to Jasmine? Silly girl, you will be Meng for a very long time, and that’s great! You may not be able to run or play like the other children, but you are so much smarter than them. Look at all your books! Other nanny-bots tell me their children do not read that much.”
“But the doctors…”
“The doctors are not certain, Meng. I have downloaded the medical report into my memory.”
A tepid web of tension filled the air. Meng felt the borrowed strength drain out of her legs. Sandra would never shut down conversations like this, even with the best intentions. Jasmine noted the disappointed look on Meng’s face.
“I’m sorry. I don’t know why my programming didn’t stop me then. I realize you just wanted to talk.”
Meng was not sure if she could carry on this heart-to-heart. She decided to try something else.
“That’s alright. By the way, do you remember the song Sandra used to sing for me when I was little? Can you sing it to me now?”
Jasmine’s head tilted slightly in confusion.
“Meng, as I have explained, I only remember vague things from when I was Sandra. I wouldn’t remember a whole song. Perhaps if the score is written somewhere…then…”
“Sandra never wrote the song down. She said she would remember it with her heart… for me…”
Jasmine walked over to the sulking Meng and looked her in the eye with the best consoling face her programming could muster.
“Meng. I’m sorry, but I’m not Sandra. That’s how it is. But we will get to know each other better, ok? You will grow big and strong, make a lot of friends, and have a good family. You don’t need to become another person for that…”
Jasmine gave Meng her best smile before picking up the duster again. Resigned, Meng retreated to the certainty and comfort of her wheelchair.
‘I hope you’re right…I hope you’re right.’
Author: Bryan Pastor
Arnett heard the commotion approaching, so he was ready when it suddenly stopped right outside his door.
“What is it?” he asked in a sing-song voice, chuckling to himself. This was a first time in a while that he had not been in a bad mood. Things were starting to look bright. He imagined the three youths jostling each other, silently goading the others to be the one to knock.
Juno stumbled in first, probably pushed by Husk. He would speak to the boy later, just because he was bigger, didn’t mean he should be shoving the others around.
The parting of the cloth covering let a bit of fading light through. “Almost dusk.” Arnett groaned to himself. He’d been spending too much time planning; today and ever since Cerneya.
Following Juno was Husk and finally Codee.
“What trouble did the three of you get in now?” Arnett asked, eyeing the boys suspiciously.
“Codee killed a Jammer.” Juno and Husked said together.
“Jinx” they looked at each other, then realizing the mistake, down at their shoes.
“What?” Arnett replied. That was the last thing he was expecting. He gave them his full attention, turning for the first time in weeks from the map on the table.
“It was just a little bit ago.” Juno started.” Arnett shot him a look that said, this isn’t your story.
“I was coming up the old reservoir trail, and I heard noise off in the woods.” Codee began. He had been nervous about admitting that first part, he wasn’t allowed near the reservoir, but it was better to get the truth out of the way first.
“I crept in real quiet like, just like you taught us. I come around this big pine, and there, not ten feet from me is a Jammer. Its bent over examining something, intent like, so it doesn’t hear me. I took my buzzer and jammed it in that socket above its hips just like you showed us.”
“Did it put up a fight?” Arnett asked, impressed but a little unsure of the story. It was more likely that the Jammer had been dead when Codee found it. What was more troubling was hearing one had been this close. They hadn’t come out this far before.
“Not one bit, dropped like a paperweight on the deer carcass it was looking at.”
“Mighty impressive Codee. Tomorrow morning you are going to take me to it. I want to get a look-see. That is if you don’t mind. I’d like to see if I can figure out what it was doing.”
“No need to wait. Here.”
The boy brought a head from behind his back and held it on high. Its aluminum and glass frame a mockery of humanity. In the waggle of flailing boy limbs Arnett hadn’t noticed that Codee was keeping something from view.
None of the boys saw the motion. Practice brought the blade from Arnett’s hip and with a flick through the air and square between the Jammer’s eyes. The force was enough to knock it from Codee’s hands and out the door. There were sizzles and pops before the loud ping of a bursting capacitor.
Cuss words flooded Arnett’s mouth, but became back wash; no use punishing them now. The dawning look on Juno’s face meant he recognized their mistake.
“Go boys, warn the others.”
Arnett stepped outside.
Night was falling and the forest was quite as the grave.
Author: Chris Hobson
On the day of Bard Maglin’s retirement, his scribe made a stunning request. “Your secret manuscript,” he uttered as his master approached the punch bowl. “Where is it?”
Maglin flashed a vacant smile. Pouring himself a drink, he returned to his guests. Did I let it slip? he wondered, throat constricting. It was possible. But even if he hadn’t, Arlox was smart enough to intuit the truth. He should’ve seen this coming.
Bard Maglin hadn’t wanted a party, least of all in his own flat. Celebrating the launch of his final book felt like a death sentence, like Nero driving a chariot while his empire crumbled.
Making small talk with androids dressed in tuxedos and silk dresses, his frock coat felt tight at the collar. The welter of noise — bursts of laughter mixed with clinking cutlery — nearly drove him mad.
Hours later, the final guest left. Arlox plugged himself into the wall recharging port.
“It took you 62.48 days to complete your final work,” he said. “That can only mean one thing.”
“Writer’s block,” lied Maglin. He looked out a window at the double circumference of walls surrounding his home. Around him, dustbots collected wine glasses that guests had left behind. “Admittedly, a problem you virtuo-writers don’t face.”
“No matter,” Arlox sighed, his oculars dulling. “I will monitor your dreamless sleep waves. If you’re telling the truth, you have nothing to fear.”
Fear. Maglin felt the word’s jagged contours shape into being. If caught, he’d hoped to petition the high mayor for a reprieve. But he hadn’t counted on Arlox turning him in. “Do you really think I’d keep a whole manuscript hidden away in my mind?”
“A secret manuscript,” pressed the droid, his voice sawing on his master’s nerves, “would only mar your legacy.”
Maglin stepped into his den. Hung with watercolor paintings of the Palio di Siena, for fifty years the space had served as his office. Bookshelves occupied three walls, the books wrapped in aerogel dust jackets. He breathed in their ozone smell. Where would he spend the next thirty years, now that he’d outlived his usefulness?
Shrugging off the thought, Maglin said, “Not to mention how it would hurt your credibility. Just think,” he added, “if everyone thought there were two Bard Maglins — one in the public eye and one still writing in the shadows. Like two popes residing in Rome.”
Above his writing desk was mounted a sword. A gift from his publisher, its blade bore the inscription Labor omnia vincit: Hard work conquers all. It caught a ray of late-day sunshine, gilding it in gold.
Fifty years, thought Maglin. Only to be replaced by a pile of silicon.
Without warning his hands flew to the hilt.
“What are you doing?” questioned the scribe, his voice edged with anger.
“What I should’ve done long ago.”
Maglin yanked down the weapon and rushed forward. Arlox dodged sideways.
“You will be tried and executed.” Pitched to pierce Maglin’s heart, his companion howled, “Think of your illustrious name!”
When the sword swung again, it gashed Arlox’s arm. Lithium grease spurted against the bookshelves.
“I’m bleeding!” he shrieked.
Another jab punctured his interleaved respirator. With a desperate move, Arlox wrapped his steel fingers around Maglin’s neck and squeezed.
“You will die so that your name may endure,” he promised, tightening his grip.
Fighting for breath, Bard Maglin kicked his companion’s torso. Arlox stumbled backward. In one motion his master sprang up, brought the blade around, and buried it in the android’s chest. With a final spasm, Arlox fell cold at his master’s feet.