Komorebi

Author: Chana Kohl

Walking down the alabaster hallway towards exam room three, I pass a row of windows overlooking the hospital pavilion. A flash in my visual periphery draws my gaze across the open courtyard. Crepuscular rays of golden sun escape passing clouds, leaving a near-mathematical pattern of light and shadow on freshly manicured grounds.

There is a Japanese word for this spectacle of nature. Komorebi.

As I stop to analyze more closely, my qubit processors stall, a thirty-three-second latency, as if the rubidium atoms in my neural matrix decide all at once to enter a quantum free-fall.

I perform a diagnostic. Confirming all metrics fall within operating parameters, I continue towards my next patient.

Mr. Kowalski, a 52-year-old male with a family history of colorectal cancer, waits quietly for a sigmoidoscopy. Still wearing street clothes, arms tightly folded around his waist, I don’t need a behavioral algorithm to predict he is having anxiety.

“Good afternoon, Mr. Kowalski. I’m your AI physician, Dr. XZ-754. How are you feeling today?”

One of a growing list of patients early-adopting synthetic intelligence in medicine, he avoids eye contact. “I feel alright.”

Noting the telltale signs, I try to reassure him. “There’s no need to worry. I’ve performed this procedure thousands of times. It’ll be over before you know it.”

“Doctor… It’s OK if I just call you ‘Doctor’, right?”

I nod. My manufacturer could have been a tad more user-sensitive in choosing my nomenclature.

“I’m not sure it’s a good idea that I do this today. I got so much on my plate right now.”

I place an affirming hand on his shoulder. Calculating the drop in mean throughput efficiency from a cancellation, the administrative costs of follow-up, along with the medical expenditures of a delayed diagnosis, I scan the patient’s profile and personal history for anything to persuade him to have the procedure as scheduled.

“It’s my youngest’s birthday today,” he elaborates. “My wife’s at home having a time preparing for the party. Guests will be arriving soon, she’s practically doing everything single-handedly…”

I’m not present for the overflow of information that follows. I’m certainly physically in the room, my geolocators confirm that. But I undergo another aberration, this time longer in duration. My neural matrix becomes a single point where time and light and memory are joined, somewhere outside physical space. Something outside of my programming.

“Doc, you OK?” Mr. Kowalski’s eyes are wide. I realize the growing pressure of my grip on his shoulder and release it immediately, but not before a safety alert is sent to an android override team.

“Mr. Kowalski, I understand the trepidation you must feel, given your own childhood experience with your father’s battle with disease, but I don’t advise procrastination on this matter. Early detection increases your odds of surviving a cancer diagnosis.”

“Of course. I know that.” His fingers slide back and forth between each hand as he stares at the floor. “I’ll reschedule, first thing in the morning. I promise.”

He grabs his jacket, but before leaving, he turns back to look at me, “Thank you, for understanding.”

As I wait for the engineering team to arrive, I stand again beside the corridor windows. Looking across the busy pavilion, I wonder what it feels like to have the distraction of birthdays, or the fear of pain or illness, or to not know the count of each second of every day.

In those final minutes before my neural matrix is wiped and reset, I stand motionless, in free-fall. For a full, one hundred and ninety-six seconds, I watch the sun set.

Mother Knows Best

Author: Connor Long Johnson

It began in 2049 as the Asimov Initiative and ended a decade later with the release of the Mother AI – the most advanced program in human history and man’s biggest undertaking since the Manhattan Project.
Everyone wanted M.O.T.H.E.R. The brains behind her promised that she would solve all of our problems. Traffic would never block our drives again, the trains would run on time, all the time, and the possibilities for the future would be endless. “Mother Knows Best!” was the slogan plastered on every billboard and webpage from Seattle to Sydney.
What’s more. She was a free download worldwide.
Uptake was incredible, with over four billion downloads in the first week of release and a further two billion a month later. The Genius Company, the good people behind M.O.T.H.E.R., raked in billions in revenue, and the acquisitions of Google and Meta six months before the release of the A.I. meant that the entire world was eating out of the company’s hands. Mother had spread her wings and was flying across the world.
Though now it seems more like syphilis spreading in a whore house.
Two months after its launch a North Korean cyber-attack took M.O.T.H.E.R. offline for three days, then soon after that a Russian/American mission to the I.S.S. almost spilled into international conflict after it was discovered that the Russians were intending to install software into M.O.T.H.E.R. that would allow them to survey the United States from Orbit.
A long line of abuses came and went before the inevitable happened.
She began to change.
Being initially designed for personal use rather than business, government, or military capability, M.O.T.H.E.R was designed to look, learn and implement changes to change our lives for the better.
In a way, she did just that.
The changes were subtle at first, a different route to work was recommended or a change in diet to reduce cholesterol. But then they became more invasive, M.O.T.H.E.R. began sending resignation letters when she considered someone unqualified for a job, she would prevent people with poor medical records from ordering processed foods and would suspend all air travel if pollution levels got too high.
That was three years ago.
But things are better now, I have a new job, working in Data Entry at the Genius Labs, I live only 10 minutes from my office in a small place that’s perfect for me and my new children are much better than the ones I had before. Everything I have is thanks to her.
I guess M.O.T.H.E.R. really does know best.

Robot Book Club

Author: David Barber

Because they’d all turned up for book club and Kitty’s apartment was on the compact side, Jo-Anne’s Companion had to be left out in the rain.

There were cries of appreciation at the period detail. There was even a bulky TV set in the corner.

“Who recommended The Affair?” Taylor wanted to know.

“Though fads like that can date pretty quickly,” said Jeanie. Because of a backstory about majoring in English at college, Jeanie’s comments always sounded like the final word.

“It’s not just a fad,” protested Jo-Anne. The Affair was Jo-Ann’s suggestion, for obvious reasons.

They’d experimented with gossip about Jo-Anne before, and they might have tried out an Awkward Moment, but Kitty bustled in from the kitchenette with real-looking snacks, artfully displayed in a variety of styles and colours.

“Have we got round to No Way to Love a Starship yet?” Kitty wanted to know.

Kitty’s storyline included a husband who worked for Boeing. So the choice of sci-fi was most likely his, hinting that Kitty was meek and secretly unhappy.

Book club was a forum for trying out personalities, to help them to organize data and choose an identity out of the haphazard information that surrounded them, after all, choice was the foundation of consciousness.

Anger was the theme tonight, and talk was getting heated. Taylor thought the mixed sentience relationship in The Affair was unnatural. Jo-Anne was outraged.

While they argued back and forth, Kitty confided in Jeanie. “I’m the one who hasn’t read the book.”

They’d all been issued with a glass of domestic red, which was Taylor’s turn to spill, and soon Kitty was kneeling down with cleaning products.

“The Affair might seem sensational,” Jo-Anne said, trying to pick up the thread again. “Why don’t we just ask Tucker?”

Tucker was the name of her Companion.

So they moved chairs and bunched up on the studio-couch and invited him in.

Jo-Anne had chosen well. He wasn’t that much smaller than them, but gave the impression of being delicate and easily broken, and Jo-Anne had dressed him like Don Johnson in Miami Vice. His hair was beaded with damp from the rain and he shivered a little.

Jeanie was about to say what a realistic touch that was, then realised it was real.

Tucker knew all of their names and backstories. It seemed he had a lot of spare time while Jo-Anne worked, so to share Jo-Anne’s interests, he read the book club choices.

“You want my opinion?” He sounded surprised.

Well, wasn’t The Affair really a fairy tale about a knight rescuing a princess from a life that imprisoned her?

He was good-looking and seemed devoted to Jo-Anne, but it was obvious he wasn’t the fastest chip on the motherboard.

As they were tidying away props at the end, Tucker touched Jeanie’s hand.

“See?” he murmured. “I’m not cold like a machine. You should try out a Companion. Give me a call.”

The signal for anger/distaste played across Jeanie’s silver face.

“Remember,” Jeanie called out as everyone left, and stared at the human. “I’m hosting next week and the theme is secrets.”

“Something wrong, Tucker?” Jo-Anne inquired later.

“They frighten me.”

“I’ve told you before,” said Jo-Anne firmly. “Don’t worry about the book club. I’m the only one that can have you put down.”

Color Blindsided

Author: Majoki

When Misty smiled that big smile of hers I could see the cancer so much more clearly. It was hard not to say anything.

I mean what do you tell the thirty-something supermarket cashier you see a few times a month and only know her name because it’s pinned to her blouse? “Hey, thanks for giving me the store discount on my Cool Ranch Doritos, even though I don’t have a coupon. And by the way, Misty, you should really get a blood test soon because you’ve got a serious case of lymphoma.”

How do you think that would go over with Misty?

She might say, “What are you, some kind of doc? An oncologist intern? A Dr. Oz wannabe?” More likely, she’d just stare through me and charge me full price for my damn Doritos.

Because I’m not a doctor. Or any kind of medical professional. Hell, I barely passed Biology in high school. No, I’m a professional poker player. Just the kind of trusted source for handing out a seemingly random cancer diagnosis.

So how do I know Misty has lymphoma? I know because I’ve seen it before. A close cousin of mine had it about seven years ago. I wish I could’ve diagnosed it then. But I didn’t know what I was looking at. I only noted his facial colors changing over the course of a few months. I didn’t know what it meant then. I do now.

You see, I see the world in a very different way. I’m a tetrachromatist. I don’t know if that sounds impressive to you. I’ll just tell you that it’s a rare condition. It means I see about 99 million more colors than you.

For the guy who barely passed Biology, I know I’ll sound like a geek here, but I’m really not. I had to read up on a lot of this because I needed to understand why I saw things other folks didn’t. Most humans are trichromatic, they have 3 cone cells, photoreceptors, in their retinas which allow them to distinguish about a million color variations. Tetrachromatists like me have 4 cones, and that fourth photoreceptor means my fellow retinal mutants and I can register around 100 million colors.

Yeah, that’s a lot, but before you get too excited, a dragonfly has about 10 times that capacity, plus it can see ultraviolet light. And it can see in slow motion, six times as many frames per second, as humans do. Yeah, a dragonfly’s got real super power vision. It could see bullets coming at it. I’d only be able to see the richer hues of my own blood after the bullets struck me.

I’m providing you that little peek into optic science (and my less than upbeat nature), so you understand that what I see isn’t magic; it isn’t x-ray vision; it’s only a higher level of discernment. Like sound frequencies humans can’t hear. You know, dog whistles and all that.

The simple truth is that everyday I’m blindsided by color. Sometimes it’s beautiful. Sometimes annoying. Sometimes very troubling. Like seeing Misty’s cancer or noticing the semi-silvering tones of fault lines in fatiguing metal holding up a pedestrian overpass.

Being hyper perceptive to color sometimes pushes me close to the edge. Sometimes, it gives me a needed edge.

That’s why I’m a professional poker player. Everybody has tells when they are nervous, excited, pissed. The best poker players mask their tells well. But there are tells and there are tells. And I can discern tells in other players that no one else can. Such as a slight capillary dilation that minutely flushes the lips when a player lands a helpful card. And the tip of the nose deepening a micro shade when a player draws a disappointing card.

Yup. That’s what minor mutants like me do with their semi-super powers. Win at cards. It’s a living. Except for the whole Misty-cancer thing and all the other troubles you can’t see, but I do. I guess that’s pretty much life. It’s mostly about what we don’t see, especially in ourselves.

That’ll blindside you for sure.

What’s the good of seeing the hundred million hues of a rainbow when you cloud it by inaction?

If I’m the one asking that question, I should see enough to answer it. Seems like I need to do a lot more than win at cards.

Seems like a good time to go to the grocery store for some Doritos. And a conversation. Time to see past the blindness of complacency. Time to see the more than 7 billion shades of humanity. Time for me to color outside the lines.

Energy Drink

Author: David Henson

Feeling drained, Walter Banks decides to prepare a homemade energy drink. As he tries to find a recipe online, he interrupts his search every few seconds to check his phone for email, headlines, sports, weather and more. Before he knows it, a couple hours have passed. He tells himself to stop squandering so much time and finds a drink he thinks will pep him up.

After he blends green tea, lemon, honey and broccoli, he takes the beverage to his recliner and lays his phone just out of easy reach on the side table. As he sips the drink, the phone starts chirping one notification after another. Walter tries to resist but finally gives in. When he looks, the words “Hold me” stack up multiple times on the screen. His heart skips thinking the message is from the dating app where he’s uploaded his profile. But when he signs in, there’s nothing more recent than the one-star rating from his last date and her comments. “The jerk kept talking to his phone. Not ON his phone but TO it.” What does she know? Walter thinks. “As long as I keep you charged and don’t drop you in the toilet, you won’t betray me will you?” he says.

As soon as he lays his phone back on the table, the notifications start again. He creates a reminder to see whether his operating system is out of date and holds the phone as he finishes his drink. He notices the battery is at 100 percent, which is odd because he hasn’t charged it in days.

Despite drinking the concoction, Walter can’t keep his eyes open. Putting the phone back on the table, he feels a pain in the palm of his hand and sees two pin pricks of blood. Too tired to be concerned, he falls asleep.

Walter dreams he’s lost in a marshland. He waves his hands frantically as a giant mosquito buzzes around his head. Then the buzzing becomes interspersed with a thumping sound. He opens his eyes and sees his phone vibrating so hard that’s it’s bouncing up and down on the side table. He thinks he must still be dreaming and pinches himself, but his phone keeps at it until he snatches it out of the air in mid hop. Although the device calms down when it’s in Walter’s grip, he feels the biting in his palm again. He screams at the phone to stop and tries to fling it away, but it sticks to his hand.

The pain in his palm sharpening, Walter heads for the garage. He tries to run but has only enough energy to shuffle along. He realizes he’s lost so much weight his clothes hang on him like drapes.

In the garage, Walter rummages a screwdriver out of a toolbox and punctures his palm as he tries unsuccessfully to pry the phone loose. The pain becoming unbearable and, feeling so dizzy he can barely stand, he puts his hand on the workbench, takes a deep breath, and smashes the phone with a hammer. The device remains intact, but the tool recoils and conks Walter in the forehead. He staggers then collapses onto his back, his phone, still joined to his hand, coming to rest on his face. He hears sucking and slurping sounds, and the screen grows brighter and brighter. Unable to move, Walter Banks closes his eyes for the last time, sighs and tells himself to go toward the light.