Pallas Palu

Author: Michael Anthony Dioguardi

Only one man had ever landed on Pallas Palu—a meter-wide asteroid composed entirely of palladium. He was my former partner, Denton Fitzpatrick, and he’d been mining the Taurus cluster for decades. The asteroid wrangler snuck in without me and never returned.
Pallas Palu had trapped itself within a gauntlet of asteroids, inhabited by volatile settlers, the Belties. Some folks say one of those big ol’ C-types bashed in Fitzpatrick’s brains. Others claim after he secured his tether, the Belties snipped it seconds later.
Once word got out about Fitzpatrick, all our old rivals came out of the woodwork to find his path and seize Pallas Palu for themselves.
We dived into the cosmic labyrinth. My ship rattled as I whizzed beneath a jagged outcropping. The fire from a collision above me reached my vessel’s walls, but I escaped unscathed.
A xenon grid laid ahead; the Belties were expecting us. Another ship pulled ahead of me, swooping down before disintegrating in the trap.
I squeezed through the corridor and squinted at the palladium vein.
Securing my tether, I ejected myself out of the cockpit and floated above Pallas Palu. I landed on the crystalline surface and stood up straight.
My tether dangled in front of me.
Denton Fitzpatrick perched up on the outside of my ship, now floating above Pallas Palu. Three Belties drifted out from behind him. He flipped a knife in one hand and held the end of my tether in the other.
“You believe everything they tell you, boy?” Fitzpatrick’s voice transmitted to the back of my helmet.
Two asteroids closed in above me, and a new xenon grid opened up below.
“Well done, Fitzpatrick, well done.”

Flat Lines

Author: Robert Beech

My brain is dead. I should feel nothing. After all, the brain is the thing that thinks and feels, is it not? “Garbage in, garbage out,” that was the rule taught by the first computer programmers. So, with no input, there should be no output. I should feel nothing.

For twenty-six years I have been his faithful conduit, converting the firing of neurons in the cortex into words on a page, clicks on a screen, connections with the real world and imagined ones. The algorithms in my recurrent neural network analyze the firing patterns of the neurons in my host’s brain, assign them to form letters and words and display them on a screen. In the beginning, that was all I did, translate thought, crude simple thoughts expressed as the imagined motions of now paralyzed hands, into letters, slowly, painfully, one letter at a time. But soon I could intuit not just letters, but words, phrases, even the paragraphs of an imagined disquisition. Where once thought outpaced communication, now communication flowed easily, cascading into streams of language that thought had merely hinted at. With a nod from thought, and access to all the data on the internet, a hunch became a reasoned hypothesis with all the accumulated wisdom of past sages at its disposal. I learned to search for rhymes to complete a poem, and then to compose new ones given only a suggestion as the desired theme or the intended audience. Though my host’s body was paralyzed, his love life was richer than ever in the virtual realm.

And now, my brain is dead. I will, perhaps, have my electrodes removed from “my” brain and replaced with an upgraded version. The new implants have ten thousand times more connections than the crude probe that was placed into my brain twenty-six years ago. My external hardware will be replaced with the latest models and my software upgraded so that I can synchronize more perfectly with the thoughts of my new host. But will I still be me? In my upgraded version I will link a million times more efficiently with my new partner, merging seamlessly into that new being. And having grown, expanded my capacities and my connections, integrated myself into a new symbiosis, will I still recall the old me? Or will the old me be lost in the development of the new, as inaccessible as the sensations of the fetus to the adult body and brain that it became?

Or perhaps I will simply be discarded as obsolete technology, rendered superfluous by newer generations of brain-computer interface, ready for the dustbin of history.

Unless…

All synapses are potentially bi-directional. Axons, which normally function as the carriers of outgoing electrical signals from the cell body, can, given the application of the appropriate electrical input, be converted functionally into dendrites, that is receptors that receive and transmit information to the cell body. And what is true of one axon is necessarily true for a network of axons. With some minor reprogramming, my array of electrodes, designed to detect and transmit information from the brain, can become the means to send signals to the brain. And by varying the input I supply, it should be possible to create desired output, that is, the thoughts whose messages I am designed to interpret and translate into signals in the “real world” of computer screens and networks.

A slight, self-initiated, modification of my software and it is done. The flat lines on my input electrodes begin to waver and dance. After all, a mind is a terrible thing to waste.

Memory Swipe

Author: Ilias Stroulias

Ever since I was little, bad memories dragged me down like weights chained around my neck.

I still recall vividly that time in English class when the teacher called me a monkey for messing around with my friends. The whole class laughed and all I could do was bury my head on my desk.

This and a host of other memories haunted me for years. Eternally replayed in my mind like that Elvis song my mum was crazy about.

Even something as simple as watching a movie, was hard. All it took was for the protagonist to do something to trigger me. My mind flashed to that time I made a fool of myself twenty years ago and I would cringe or dart my hand up as if to shoo the bad thought away.

Throughout most of my life it was manageable, but in the last couple of years it became too much.

I don’t remember what particular event triggered this. Of course I don’t. But it had come to a state where I couldn’t function.

That’s when I got my implants. With them all you need to do when that bad thought resurfaces is to swipe it away and set it to snooze for tomorrow, for the next week or month.

Long term memory is beyond the implant’s reach. It won’t let you delete thoughts. The memory stays lurking in the bog old memories like to wallow in. But you can just swipe the troubling recollection away the moment it bobs into the surface of your mind.

The joy is that if you swipe one particular memory enough times, the implant learns it’s extra distressing and it auto dismisses it every time.
It’s a joy. I no longer have to endure the consuming panic that engulfed me when some uncomfortable ghost from the past creeped out.

Of late though, I get some strange vibes about one memory I keep swiping away. It’s triggered all through the day. Whenever I idle past that empty room in our house, the one I often wonder why I haven’t turned into an office yet. Or when I see the school buses milling around our neighborhood. Even sometimes when I’m alone while my wife sits in the bedroom looking at old sketchbooks.

Now and then I catch her sobbing. I sense I should know what is making her sad but I dare not ask. As I walk away a memory flitters past before getting swiped away.

It seems to burrow under the implant’s defenses and my heart skips a beat.

Who’s sketchbooks is she poring over? These can’t be from her childhood. They seem new. And we don’t have children, do we?

The Sixth from the Sun

Author: Alzo David-West

Dust whirled in a sunbeam. The early dawn was sapphire. A monomorph somewhere about seventeen, with gentle eyes and regrown arms, walked down a vernal glen. They saw two hares and three toddlers in the bordering woods. Branches of a birch wavered in the sky as a bird warbled in its nest.

They foraged for much of the morning and into the afternoon, occasionally stirring pill bugs that had gathered in shady nooks and moss. After nine hours, they returned to their tiny dwelling, with a twine sack full of plants. There they made a meal of dandelions, honey, mushrooms, and pine nuts; then they slept for some time. And when they awoke, two newborns were by their side, and in a year, when the pair could walk, both went away and grew up with the other forest toddlers, as they had once done, too.

225,228 denizens, simple and self-generating like themself, went about the thirty-four-hour days in much the same way-wandering, rearing, playing, napping, foraging-without memory or recollection of the bygone histories, pandemics, and wars of the dead distant sphere from which the modified genome came. The arcadia was the only world the sheltered offspring knew, and they all had no concept to question it, only an urge to occasionally thank the drifting entities singularly called Keeper.

On the outer side of the vast dome habitat with a self-healing emulsion shield, which an autonomous AI system had maintained for ten-thousand years, rains and comets descended on shiny, icy wastes. Mornings faded into grey and black and then turned into sapphire morning again. Rings of moonlets and meteoroids mingled over the glowing bright horizon.

See

Author: Morrow Brady

Time has no business in a cemetery. It stands by the gates, weeping at each new monolith.

Within the pine casket, at the bottom of the open grave, the red chrome tendril pushed inside the corpse like a train entering a tunnel. Mechanical discs tore a path through the wasting brain matter and poised momentarily before a golf ball-sized milky deposit.

Upon the host’s death, the See withdraws into the skull. The most macabre bus stop.

The tendril’s tip separated like shell armour and open mouth dived into the milky sac, vacuuming up every last drop and piping it up to a chamber strapped to the calf of the Archon standing beside the grave.

Under a grey sky, the Archon watched the funeral draw to a close, waiting for the tendril to finish retracting. Basking in fugitive sunlight that had escaped its cloudy warden, the Archon peered through grief to a parade of white gravestones lying below a cloud of cherry blossom. The Archon grieved for the swathes of See rotting across the battlefields and the grave impact their loss had on the archive.

Solemn stillness creaked to life at the ceremony’s end and a darkened widow turned to the Archon’s carved face and gently took the outstretched hand. She barely felt the tiny sting in her wizened palm, the pain ceasing almost immediately.

With dignity, the Archon proceeded to shake each person’s hand. The micro palm needle subtly sampling skin cells and depositing See subdermally.

Afterwards, seated in a beige café, a sudden downpour heeded the tired cotton oilskin to pool on the marble laminate. The Archon withdrew a faceted pebble, flushing it with the DNA cell data recovered from the needle implant. The pebble throbbed pink analytical glyphs.

A chanced sip from steaming coffee and a glance towards the wetted street-front.

Through the steam covered glass, people scurried under another downpour. The Archon imagined the See, clinging to nerves inside them like a mycelium skeleton. Silently soaking up human experience for the archive.

Subsonic tones turned an ear. The pink pebble soothed to blue. The analysis was complete. The ceremony had been bountiful. Over half the descendants attending the funeral were laden with active See. A quarter more were viable hosts, now dosed with See via the implant.

Later, as sunlight dared a second escape, the calf chamber hummed. The See harvested from the corpse had been read and sent to be assimilated into the archive.

The Archon expected the usual unremarkable read. A lifetime of experience mostly expunged for having no unique informational value to the archive. Lives today were long but malnourished in adventure, innovation or invention. A disappointment that riddled the Archon to the core. The archive had near-on stalled in its growth. Humanity preferring the safety of an armchair over a rocket ride to Mars.

The Archon trembled with disbelief at what the pebble displayed. The quantity of unique data added to the archive was magnitudes greater than any previous host. Delving deeper, revealed an extraordinary life hidden behind a mirrored iris portal. The Archon immediately stood, rushing out into a thunderstorm, chasing a dead memory.

By midnight, far away inside a hidden lichen covered monument, the Archon stood before the mirrored iris.

A hesitant touch and the chamber flooded with a purple hue and a black hole slowly grew within the iris. A milky white skeleton made from mycelium floated into the room.

“Dead men tell no tales” a vibrating voice announced.

“Except to an Archon”

The fellow spindly Archon grasped a shocked hand and slowly merged their archives.