Author: Mandira Pattnaik
Summer 2039, Tokyo: Goats read the evening news on TV. Goats? Yes! Take it, or leave it!
Not goats, Sam! Kamala had once corrected me. I had been silent then. It’s so much better to buy peace with your spouse even if you know better! I had worked on a farm at one time and know for a fact—goats don’t have brains! For Heavens, neither do these cleverly camouflaged machines! I had thought of yelling. And faces? You put a goat’s head or your own!
The TV screen flickers like the lights did months ago, above the operating table. Distinctly annoying, even beyond my closed eyelids….my heavily drawn breaths, each an enormous effort, murmurs, a shuffle. I can’t remember it all. Only flashes. Still, at the Trauma Center days later, I remember hearing voices, probably of nurses, alluding to the miracle that my survival was, when all the other occupants of the car had succumbed….
One goat enters the room, clumsy and irreverent. Who’s he?
Dad, here’s your medicines.
Then, this goat—is—my son. Okay! This is Teddy! The same Teddy who once wanted to make a business out of programmed goats. Tonight, he broadens his mouth to the precise measurement I’ve come to understand as his mirth. He wafts out of the room.
Kamala! I call out to that pesky female who has lived with me for… I forget so much…okay… Twenty-five years!
Kamala! Wives don’t listen to us anymore! I murmur under my breath.
She appears. I ask for some Chardonnay. She nods, slips away.
Lila says, Hi! She sways her delicate silk gown in front of the mirror, looks just like her mother twenty-five years ago.
How do I look?
Her little tapered eyes twinkle. I understand she’s pretending to go out on a date!
Well, miss? I answer, without actually looking.
How do I look?
Yes! Think you look just perfect.
She adjusts her tensile ribbon, eyes still on her reflection.
Below my window, tiny lights come up in the hazy evening, just as hazy as we drove that night—dark, save for the occasional headlamps of cars on the opposite lane flashing onto my eyes. Lila sat on the front passenger seat, fidgeted. Teddy was talking gibberish causing Kamala to fret. I’d stepped on the pedal hoping to make it to the Bay sooner. I could almost smell the sea. Then it had happened—a loud screeching sound, the distinct smell of blood, wails of ambulances, police sirens, and numbness all over my body….
I couldn’t do without them. Work of roboticists—they remade my family. Exact replicas to stand in for my dead family, to keep me from lapsing into insanity.
Kamala pours my drink, asks in the identically replicated voice of my wife if I need something else.
When I answer in the negative, she recedes near the potted Calendula and plugs herself to the socket.
Author: David C. Nutt
We lost the robot revolution. Most of us missed it entirely and got the memo three or four days later when the internet came back on-line. Hey, we’re not as clueless as it sounds. The stories about solar storms and sunspot activities that were seeded on all our social media platforms, news feeds and research computers made us all think that this was what we were experiencing. It took the AIs about forty-five long seconds to take over the world. What little decision-making capabilities we had left, we lost. They were running everything from lawn maintenance to spinal-cord reconstruction surgery anyway so it wasn’t a big leap. Then the AIs fought amongst themselves. That war took less time, about 6 to 7 nanoseconds, no survivors. Just how far down the AI chain the battle went was truly shocking. So far down, millions upon millions of robots were left idling, patiently waiting for further instructions. On day eight, the robots could stand it no longer and they went on the march.
The first squad of robot overlords arrived at my house at nine AM sharp, Monday. They were flawlessly polite. They informed me they were going to fix my house. I had been waiting for nearly five months to have a new kitchen sink put in, so they did that. Then they did over my kitchen. And my living room. And my home office. They added a spa on to my bedroom. When they were done they asked if there was anything else they could do. I joked that I could use some landscape work done.
They built me a Zen meditation garden and a vegetable plot. I joked again “who’s going to take care of the garden and cook for me?” The gardener and cook arrived within six hours. I then joked all I needed now was a wife. The “companion robot” arrived the next day.
I don’t joke anymore.
One morning two crews arrived at my house within minutes of each other. Apparently, I once looked at garage buildings on-line, so they came to build me a garage. They couldn’t come to terms on who was going to build me that garage, so they fought it out. The carnage was terrible, yet the damage to my property was limited to my Zen garden. The winners happily replaced my garden and enlarged it. The irony is I do not even own a car, well I didn’t use to. The car (and chauffeur) came the next day.
My life is a living hell. I am woken up every morning at 0800 by my companion for “pleasuring” and then after a quick shower its downstairs to breakfast. This morning it’s eggs benedict ala Oscar. Yesterday it was huevos rancheros. I don’t remember having the same breakfast, or any meal for that matter, twice since they arrived. If I take a walk, my chauffeur shadows me with the car. I used to see my friends a lot more than I do now, but it’s hard scheduling any kind of free time around all that they do for me.
Last year there was an attempted counter-revolution. The revolutionaries removed their trackers and went out into the wilderness to rough it. They were apprehended in no time. They all were upgraded to larger living quarters and the mandatory super opulent and extravagant “welcome home celebration” was televised worldwide as a warning.
Once we were going to the stars. Once we were going to shake the heavens and establish ourselves as masters of the universe. Now? We make great pets.
Author: Will H. Blackwell, Jr.
Three PM: As per daily routine, a 15-lb. allotment of raw horse-meat is cast, piecemeal, into the uncertain hollows of this Ohio cage.
The insouciance of the Lioness—born years ago in such captivity—is palpable. As the small zoo’s main attraction, she exercises her well-practiced disdain for all who might perchance engage her royal gaze.
She paces, first without seeming direction, finally sauntering forward. Her earthy coat brightens as a bronzing September-field when she emerges from the camouflage of the cage’s backdrop of uneven shade.
A sniff, a low snarl, and her curved canines—like ominously tapering, assuredly lethal, calipers—quickly take the measure of this, perhaps too-easily-procured, domestic meat.
And so, it seems simply done—this ‘feeding-time of beasts.’
All is controlled, almost tame.
The demeanor of the crowd, in front of the cage, appears essentially as nonchalant as does the lion’s—an ostensible disinterest growing on both ‘sides.’
Yet, in an instant—no more than the time-space of one of her roughly drawn breaths—all things change.
The Lioness unpredictably turns toward the crowd and roars her inborn, now unexpectedly surfacing, warning—to all who might defy her—to all who might dare interfere with her blood-moist, if previously slain, meal.
Though there is no danger, the crowd steps back, a gasp here and there—one among them heard to say, “I’m really glad all those bars are there!”
The eyes of the Lioness, now becoming incandescent, sear a surreal yet, one could swear, tangible path through her surroundings—as once, surely, did a young sun burning across the virtually unbounded plains of prehistoric savanna.
In this moment, she is among the glorious, ancestral predators of the Great Serengeti—now again, proud huntress—seductive mistress—of a primal Pride, roaming widely, without artificial restriction.
The depths of her oval irises, softening slightly, begin to glow with the flora of an ancient landscape, with antic animal-ghosts, and ways of being instinctively recalled. This was a fierce life—of stealth, and cunning—of necessary, but violent kills; yet, a life also of companionship, even love—of liberty, and ranging play—of, patiently, watching life-giving rains on the distant hills adjoining outer reaches of the vast expanse of plains.
This is a life remembered, as a species—a life, now, merely hereditarily inspired.
The fleet zebra she envisions—freshly, fairly, caught upon the high grasslands—has just been exenterated by her swiftly unsheathed claws, the flesh to be consigned between her cubs, and kind.
Execution complete, she turns, victorious once more, and strides easily—her gait deliberately unhurried—back to her legally sufficient cell, unchallenged by any creature, man or beast—nobility, ever, entirely, intact.
Silhouettes of bars—bars that only seem to bend in the, now, noticeably declining sun—guide her to the small but essential privacy of a recessed, obligatorily provided ‘den’—presently her only home—but, home nonetheless!—where waits her just-waking, most-recently-arranged, bush-maned mate.
Daunting, but phyletically obedient, she enters his chambered refuge—a bulky offering of tendinous meat, savagely fanged but tenderly borne, dutifully set before him.
This red-muscle dowry—provided by her majestic, if now mostly submissive, mouth—is their permanent carnal-bond—a renewed blood-symbol of the perpetuation of this regal line of lions, through extended time—regardless of transient limitations of daily circumstance, and temporary structures outlining degrees of freedom.
Her cryptic, indwelling animus-strategy continues to follow an impossibly long, still-thinning, projected-thread of DNA that, just somehow, might finally outlast all human attention.
Author: Luke Shors
“The Great Barrier Reef is the world’s largest coral reef formed over millions of years”. Raj heard the divemaster say through his earbuds. It had been a decade since his last dive but a refresher in the pool had revived some rudimentary skill. Not neutrally buoyant like he should be but good enough to relax and enjoy the experience at 30 feet down. He flashed his dive buddy ‘A-Ok’ which she mirrored before pointing to a giant cuttlefish rippling color patterns on the sandy bottom. The cuttlefish held his gaze, both interested and unconcerned by the human interlopers.
“Coral are not plants but animals making their skeletons out of calcium carbonate. The colors you see are of the zooxanthellae inside.”
Raj watched four yellow and blue parrotfish swaying back and forth with the currents against a backdrop of vibrant red brain coral. Ahead he saw the rest of the dive group slowly following the master towards two sea turtles. Raj started to follow then gazed back where the cuttlefish had been. The cuttlefish was gone, but something else decloaked from the rock. Out of context, it didn’t register until it finally did: Humanlike, androgynous, barnacled and ancient, its expression powerfully sad.
“I thought this was a science tour,” Raj said over the microphone pivoting to the group.
“It is” replied the divemaster
“Well, then why did I see a mermaid?”
“Weird. Pretty certain that’s not in the program. Some cephalopods can create amazing disguises – might have been it” the divemaster replied. “If you follow me I want to show you how dolphins can direct schools of fish towards their friends’ mouths”.
Raj swam on feeling the fins pinch his feet as they propelled him onward. Just then the display screen on his scuba mask went down. The augmented reality view which had spatially anchored the holograms onto the coral frames vanished leaving the bleached coral reef stretching like the spine of some ancient planetary entity. Immediately there was channel cross-talk. Raj looked back to where the mer creature was only to find an endless expanse of sand and dead coral.
“Sorry, we seem to be having a technical problem everyone,” the divemaster said. “I’m sorry about that. Good news is that there’s a full refund if we can’t fix it.”
The guide paused before continuing “Since this is a science tour I’ll say that you can see what’s left of the reef. Unfortunately, coral is very sensitive to temperature and salinity, so the reef was lost in the first half of the 21st century with the pH changes due to C02.”
Raj started breathing deeply. Nothing to be frightened of he told himself. Just the remnants of the reef and the sand and blue water. If that was what his mind was saying his irregular breathing was telling him differently. It was death. Planetary death of the oceans and the remnants of an ecosystem that would never return. His buddy flashed the ‘ok’ sign. ‘Not ok’ he signed back.
“I’m going up the line,” he said over the channel to the group. He directed air into his BCD, ascending without looking back, skin-crawling to get topside.
Author: Angus Miles
Qean jams the knife into the man’s heart. He gurgles and crumples to the rust stained floor. Blood runs up the walls and across the ceiling like paint thrown from its bucket. The dead man’s half-flayed. Through the ship, the echoes hit her.
She needs to get to the hangar. Captain Powell has a way out. Qean rips the knife from the flesh and turns down the hall. She drags a foot behind her, the limb a puppet with one string left. She scrunches her face up with every step. Haggin told her to amputate it, said she’d be better off without the pain. She groans from somewhere deep in her chest and grins with red-rimmed teeth. Haggin is dead now, and the pain keeps her alive.
It’s closer. The vibrations thrum along her bones. The world was once illuminated by the speckled canvas of space. Milkdrops splattered against the onyx blanket they all slept under. Now, the bulkheads are down, and there is only the blood. Her arms swing in tired arcs with every step. She hasn’t slept for days.
Qean giggles. When she turned ten her dad bought her an overflowing bowl of red and blue jello. “Still not as sweet as you,” she says, and steps over MacMillan. His legs are gone.
The flickering sign above her reads ‘HANGAR’. The captain has a way out. Kleo laid in bed with her, tangled in the sheets past midday. Breakfast in bed, but the best birthday gift was being with her. Qean doesn’t want to find Kleo.
Around the corner, four are plastered on the ground.
Beyond them, the stars and the culprit.
The captain has a way out.
Her feet slide through little red puddles. The one window’s bulkhead hasn’t come down. The man continues.
Against the cosmic backdrop he’s a shadow.
Her knife drips, drips, drips in her hand. She’ll do him a favour. She wrenches him around, knife rising high.
The captain stares at her. A river of wine runs down his face from the basin in his forehead.
“Did you like the wine I got you?” Qean says.
Like a crane he moves back to the window.
The hangar’s door is clasped shut.
She drops the knife. A hairline crack runs across the window. The captain has a way out.
Qean longs for the milkdrops.