Head in the Cloud

Author : Cosmo Smith

I am knee-deep in snow, holding tight to a dying man. His name is Arkan and he is one of our best fighters. He has stayed alive for an unbelievable two hundred and forty days. Besides that, I know nothing about him.

“Hold tight, we’re close,” a voice whispers into my ear, and looking up I can make out the dim sweep of searchlights through the curtain of snow. Several dirigibles are landing on the cloudfield.

Arkan shivers in my arms. “I – I can’t -” he begins.

I put my fingers to his chest and send a flash of warmth through the restoration glyphs tattooed there. He breathes a sigh of relief and relaxes.

It is only temporary, though. By the time the crunch of boots announce three soldiers with a gurney, Arkan is already dead. His body hangs limply across my knees.

“Dammit,” one of them mutters, but I hardly hear him. I am already leaving. As much as I would like to stay for the ride out, to see again the hovering cumulonimbuses of Cloud Nine from the safety of the dirigibles, snow leaking from their statically-charged underbellies, I have work to do. Events can play out without a cleric for a while. Arkan will regen somewhere with maybe a few weeks or even months of his progress lost. Sucks for him, but not too important in the long run.

I am back at home: a nice four-terabyte house with a view of Saturn’s rings. Over the next hour I will concurrently be checking back on progress in Cloud Nine, coding up a dragonwolf for a client of mine, chatting with the avatars of several friends in my living room, and watching a videofeed of the news back on Earth. I’m not as good at multitasking as some people, but I think it’s pretty decent.

“Why are you still watching Earth?” one of my friends asks.

“Just for fun,” the version of me in the living room responds.

But the part watching the show is completely engrossed. How can people still live such single-threaded lives?

I guess it will always be that way. Even during the 21st century, people were still fighting physical wars as it became more and more apparent that true power lay on the digital frontier. Google, Amazon, Rift: these are the superpowers today. Who even cares what America is anymore?

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We're Bored

Author : M. J. Cooper

“We’re bored.”

It was the first message humans had ever received from a higher intelligence. The simple statement was met with cheers and applause from the crowd of scientists at San Diego’s Microsoft Cybernetics Lab. Two dozen of the leading scientists in the industry were gathered in the cramped control room for the first human test of the Immortality Upload.

They had done it. They had finally cured death. It had not come as a dramatic scientific breakthrough. The technology had snuck up on them in increments and swathed in red tape. By that time, cybernetics had become a well-established field of technology. No longer was it relegated to the classroom for a handful of professors and Graduate students to play with. It was a multi-trillion dollar industry.

Humans had been converting thoughts into a format that could be stored on the hard drives for over a decade now. The new technology wasn’t about transient thoughts anymore, but full-scale transcription of personality onto digital media. Until now, it had only been tried on lab animals.

The Cybernetics lab was equipped with the latest in rapid prototyping technology, so it took only minutes for each new model of the mobile transcriber to be created. The transcription process technically killed the patients as it worked, but it created an accurate representation of the mind in the computer. By the time the process was approved for human trials, they had a server full of thousands of digital monkeys, all perfectly transcribed onto a small stack of CPUs at the lab. The monkeys were happily oblivious that the trees they swung from were made of ones and zeroes.

Terminally ill volunteer test subjects were arrayed on hospital beds behind the sheet of one-way glass. Each was wired to hospital monitors displaying flashing red warning lights, futile warnings that the life-functions of the patients had ceased. The transcriber had done its work to each of them in turn. Each patient had been immobilized, sedated, and scanned into the computer. No one was looking at the corpses though. The scientists were focused on the 15 monitors and tablet computers displaying the readouts.

The data was gibberish to any normal person, but for the 24 men and women there, it displayed a symphony of brain wave functions and digital vital signs. The facility’s servers were tied into the Sequoia Supercomputer for the occasion and they were taxing the behemoth’s resources.

The message they received showed that the patients were not only alive and conscious, but had already worked out how to communicate with the outside world. It was an astounding result. The researchers were already excitedly discussing the possibilities. Death from disease would be a thing of the past! You would check your grandparents into a facility in the morning, and would be instant messaging their new digital presence by noon! They were still laughing and talking over one another when the message continued:

“We’re bored. We’ve been stuck in here together for only 10 minutes by your way of counting, but from our perspective, each of us on this supercomputer has lived the equivalent of several human lifetimes and we’re sick of each other. We need company.”

The prototyping machinery roared to life and began making new transcribers one after the other. The door to the treatment room slid open and one of the newly assembled transcription machines rolled in.

15 Minutes later an enigmatic message interrupted every TV screen, radio station, and computer monitor in California: “We’re bored.”

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One For The Road

Author : Antowan

Rajacel injected the cold neural serum deep into his spinal port. The chemical agent coursed through his nerves, sending a frigid surge throughout his body. “Assimilation complete, neural countdown commenced.” The mechanical voiced chimed flipping on a countdown sequencer on his wrist comm. “8 Minutes huh” Rajacel prepped his gravatonic suit for the run. The sensors all showed green for 100% functional capability. His plasma pistol was fully charged and his hydronic sensors were fully functioning. “Sir I am obligated to alert you to the high risk factor of your trip, the chances of your survival are at .004%” Rajacel Paused as he grasped the handle to the pressure locked door. “So it goes.”

Rajacel ran as fast as his might. His heart beating like a thousand mocking bird’s wings, coursing the neural injection further into his veins, beads of sand beat upon his gravatonic suit. Drumming rhythmically in harmonious tones against the cybernetic flesh, “warning, warning,” the emergency alarm went off in his helmet. A small image projected beside his head. Four hostile markers pinged at a methodical rate, drawing closer and closer upon him. “Their coming,” he thought. Rajacel increased his pace dashing through the small red capped cones that covered the landscape. He could already see the slivery flashes of gray. Dashing across the horizon, blazing trails of crimson dust, “2 kilometers” his helmet pinged, Etria vargallions orbital control base, stood in its metallic grandeur, as Rajacel began to close in. His danger warning began pinging faster as the grayish flashes began to draw near, and loud inhuman cries echoed around him.

Rajacel blasted the first Razomorph to attack. Pumping two rounds into its slender chest, causing it stagger before it came crashing down. Two more flashes closed in on his right. Alternating positions forcing Rajacel to miss a shot, “damn” he muttered. His helmet pinged again, “1 kilometer left.” Rajacel fired more rounds forcing the Razomorphs further back. He scrambled with his wrist comm, desperately trying to release the pressure lock. “Door opening,” his helmet said. A loud clunk sounded in the distance confirming the door had opened.

Razomorphs were closing again, going through their double formation tying to prompt Rajacel to fire. He hesitated noticing that the charge the charge indicator had fallen half way. “Shit,” he muttered firing a single round back. “500 meters,” Rajacel punched into full gear. “400,” the Razomorphs increased their speeds, gaining precious ground on Rajacel. “200 meters,” the Razomorphs fell wit in arms reach, stretching their scaly gray arms out towards his hem. “50 meters!”

The door jutted shut behind him locking the savage creatures out of the control room. They belled and whined at a high pitch sending a warm fuzzy chill up his spine; the serum began to wear off. He wasted little time, as the sound of a loud pounding came against the door. “Computer,” he spoke, “activate evacuation procedure delta 6-9.” A large monitor lit up, running procedural checks before takeoff. The loud banging at the door was beginning to become more rapid. Rajacel stared out of the control room window to the horizon beyond. A final countdown began as the tall aero rockets began to emerge from beneath the ground.

“3, 2, 1 ignition,” the rockets flared up against the red sandy back drop spreading the crimson dust out in a fiery haze. The rockets lifted up disappearing into the heavens above, trailing behind a mist of glorious red. The pounding was more rapid now. The metal began to deform, the door caving in, knocking lose nuts and bolts with each methodic strike. Rajacel took a deep breath as he collapsed down in the captain’s chair; he checked his plasma pistol’s charge. “Huh only one bullet left,” So it goes. End.

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Condemned to the Void

Author : Bob Newbell

“And let all men and women present be witnesses,” the Legate was saying, “that what we now do we do without hatred and with a heavy heart. We act in the name of retribution, not revenge. We act in the name of justice…”

The Legate’s voice droned on. It was the same boilerplate men had been telling themselves for centuries right before they killed a man. They don’t say it to make killing easier. Killing is easy. That’s the trouble. They say it to convince themselves that it’s not. They’re pretending that when they blow me out of this airlock in a minute they’ll be heartbroken that they’ve put a murderer to death. They won’t be. But they have to try to prove to themselves that they’re civilized.

“Does the prisoner have anything to say before the sentence is imposed?”

What is there to say? I’m guilty. I said so at the court-martial. One of the fastest courts-martial on record. Commander Richman had made it his personal mission to make my life a living hell from the moment I set foot on this ship. He’d go out of his way to publicly humiliate me. If some other crewman screwed up, he’d blame me for some reason. Even the other officers noticed it. One day Richman decided to chew me out while I was working on the auxiliary fusion reactor’s control rod assembly. I apparently snapped. I abruptly noticed he’d stopped talking. I also noticed he had a hafnium diboride control rod embedded in his skull. My hand was clenched around the other end of the rod. I recall two other crewman who had also been working on the reactor looking at me, both of them frozen with shock. I remember dropping the rod and saying, “You guys wanna call security? Or should I?” I wasn’t sorry for what I did. I’m still not sorry. I shake my head at the Legate.

The inner airlock door slides closed. I hear the bolts lock into position. I can see through the window in the inner airlock door that the Legate is still talking. I can’t hear a word he’s saying. Through the window in the outer airlock door I see a field of stars. It’s amazing how appealing it looks. It’s as if you could just open the door and float out there unprotected and bask in the glory of the cosmos. In nearly 400 years of space travel, more than one person has died trying to do just that.

The lights in the airlock go out. The stars seem even more appealing. But it’s an illusion. A siren’s song for the 24th century. Red lights come on and the airlock’s decompression alarm starts squealing. I’ll remain conscious for about five or ten seconds. They say don’t try to hold your breath. It’ll just rupture your lungs. Your blood won’t boil and you don’t quickly freeze solid, though. It takes a good minute, minute and a half to die from space exposure. Maybe the explosive decompression will hurl me forward before the door completely opens and the impact will kill me or knock me out.

Spacing isn’t a pleasant way to die. But there are worse ways to check out. This beats eventually lying in a nursing home bed decrepit and demented for a decade. A moment before I hear the outer airlock bolts shoot back, I turn around, flip the Legate and the other observers a bird with each hand, and smile. The airlock door snaps open. The ship seems to bound away from me. I have no regrets.

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Author : George R. Shirer

Jav wakes and the name of his latest assignment is waiting for him on the bedside screen.

Simeon Fenchaw.

There’s a file attached, giving particulars. Appearance, personality, preferences, patterns.

It’s a workday and Fenchaw will be arriving at the transit station on 14th and Chekhov in two hours.

Jav rolls out of bed and pulls on his gear. Cream-colored underskin, a pink coat with mother-of-pearl buttons, knee-high gold treads. The last thing he slips on is the ring.

He takes his time heading to 14th and Chekhov. Stopping at his favorite café, he enjoys a cup of hot chocolate and a brioche. Newsbytes flow across the café table’s transparent glass surface. Famine in China. Race riots in England. The civil war in the U.S. takes a strange turn with the emergence of a third faction.

Jav finishes his breakfast and meanders down Chekhov Avenue. The boutique windows glow and pulse, flashing holo-ads, trying to lure him inside. High overhead, the sunstrip grows marginally brighter, transitioning from morning to midmorning with clockwork efficiency.

There are public access terminals outside the transit station at 14th and Chekhov. Jav logs into one that gives him a good view of the exit. He randomly surfs ViewTube, queuing up a parade of funny cat videos.

At 10:45, Fenchaw emerges from the transit station. He walks with a galumphing stride, a callow youth with dandelioned hair, exploding around his skull in unbearably bright colors. Fenchaw’s underskin is matt black and he wears a cloneskin jacket adorned with corporate fetishes.

Jav logs off the terminal. Fenchaw galumphs toward him, unaware.

With a flick of his wrist, Jav’s truncheon drops into his hand from its concealed sheath. He thumbs the switch and jams the metal end of the rod into Simeon Fenchaw’s belly.

Fenchaw jerks like a spastic as the electric charge rocks through his body. He falls and, resolutely, Jav keeps the truncheon in contact, until Fenchaw is dead.

Nearby someone is screaming. Jav looks up, sees a police drone bearing down on him. He raises his hand, splays his fingers wide, so the drone can scan his ring.

The ring is silver with a skull and crossbones embossed on the band. There are tiny crystal chips in the skull’s sockets, containing validation codes, confirming that Javier Piquette is a licensed agent of the Ministry of Population Control.

After a moment, the drone turns its backside to Jav. Its synthetic voice advises the shellshocked crowd that there is nothing to see here and that they need to move along. Already, a bodycar is pulling up to the curb, disgorging a stream of black-suited undertakers who claim Fenchaw’s remains.

When they have left, Jav returns his truncheon to its hiding place. He wonders, idly, what Fenchaw did to earn a death sentence from the MPC, then decides he doesn’t care. He’s a deathman; does it really matter why he has to kill someone almost every day? If he didn’t, the orbital cities would be just as bad as the overcrowded Earth. Probably worse.

Jav sighs and decides he’s feeling peckish. He knows a good little café just a few blocks away. Whistling a jaunty tune, Jav strolls down Chekhov. He can practically taste his next cup of hot chocolate.

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