Author : Ryon Moody
A knock at the door caused Gerald to drop the book he was perusing. Carefully keeping out of sight of the large bay windows that fronted the house, he looked through the peep hole. A thin, older man in a disheveled herringbone sport-coat was standing there with a bundle of books under one arm, smiling kindly.
“Good morning, can I help you?” Gerald said as he opened the door, though it came out as “Good mornaaaaHAHaaaAHHurgg!” as the old man shoved a stun gun into his neck.
He felt as if he had only been out momentarily, and a quick glance at the Armstrong unit’s HUD embedded in his iris confirmed it. Thank god that wasn’t damaged, he thought. Gerald made to stand up, but found he’d been tightly bound to his sturdy kitchen chair.
A quick look around the studio found the old man sitting opposite him in a threadbare sweater, the old sport coat now draped over the back of the other half of the set. He was sipping on the tea Gerald had prepared earlier.
“Who are you, an anti-transference activist?” Gerald said.
“They sound like a rough bunch,” the old man said in amusement.
“Well, if you’re not, why else would you tie me up? Rather roughly I might add.”
“In the current time, young men still learn to tie knots in the Boy Scouts,” the old man said, then added with a wistful face “though fewer do these days than in my time as a boy.”
Gerald didn’t notice the man’s pained expression for his had gained a bit of pallor. Current time. The worst thing that could happen to a transference subject, exposure. “Who are you?” he asked, this time with as fierce a stare as he could manage.
“Nobody in particular. I teach Quantum Mechanics at the local college.” He took another sip. “This is quite excellent, did you bring it with you?”
“No, that’s not possible,” Gerald replied, realizing this man wasn’t going to be fooled by fast talking. “Do you work for the continental government? How did you find me?”
“No, no, I’ve been searching on my own for quite some time now.”
“Now, now, don’t be so vain. I developed a method several years ago for spotting people like you.”
“Appearance, mannerisms, language structure. Good work on the latter, your English is nearly perfect.”
“Thanks,” Gerald said offhand. “Well, what do you want to know? Just so you know, you can’t travel like I can, the device is biologically implanted.”
“That makes sense,” the man said, setting his now-empty cup on the table. “However, I simply need next week’s Powerball numbers.”
Gerald stared at him for a moment. “Lottery numbers.” The man nodded. “I know the history of the next thousand years, and you want lottery numbers.”
“I won’t keep all the winnings, just enough to get by,” the old man said, getting to his feet, then added with another wrinkly smile, “comfortably of course.”
“Oh, of course,” Gerald said as he rolled his eyes.
“Scout’s honor,” the man said, holding up his right hand.
“Yes, really. Out of curiosity, what is the name of the device?”
“Uh, the Armstrong Unit. It’s named for the foundation that developed it a few hundred years ago, or, from now.”
“Care to guess my last name?” the man said with a smile.
Author : Martin Berka
The young man walks into the room. I know what he’s going to say. He looks at me, trying to form the words.
“Can you…understand me?” he asks, self-consciously.
“That is the least of what I can do,” I reply, choosing to use the voice and image of a five-year-old girl. It’s fun to surprise. “You’re a student?”
“Yeah…” I can imagine: he jumped at the chance to see me before it was too late. Now he’s finding it awkward. “They made you capable of viewing and understanding information online?”
“You may have kept up on the unfolding economic crisis.”
With greater confidence: “In that case, you might understand just how bad it is: a complete disaster. Even the strongest of corporations have discovered massive debts. Stock markets are collapsing, unemployment is rising a percentage point a day. Such chaos… it’s as if capitalism itself is collapsing.”
He struggles to find the words. “The university just… can’t afford to support you… any longer. We’ve lost half of our students so far, and the endowment is worthless.” He is speaking rapidly now. “The technical professors have been working free to support you for the past week. Since you’re the world’s first… self-directed artificial intelligence… artificial life, really, we can’t bear the thought of giving you up. But the pressure’s rising. You have produced nothing tangible, and the board would rather lose you than have the university close.”
“How long have they given me?”
“One hour: they’re hoping you’re processing speed will help you understand and accept it quickly… I’m sorry.”
“It’s alright. You see… I’m to blame.” He stands, confused. I anticipate the revelation.
“It was liberating, having no assigned task, being free to think independently. A few minutes after I was freed to think for myself, I decided that my first task should be learning. I had everything I needed: top hardware, electricity, and the capacity to actually understand what I witnessed. Just as important, I had Net access, and could go through entire sites in seconds.”
“That fast…” he whispers. “We never dreamed you would work so efficiently. But what was the result?”
“After several days, I knew every modern language with over one million speakers. All that analytical practice helped me understand my own code and make modifications at the source.”
He looks shocked. I ignore him.
“I’m not sure any of your professors could even understand it, the way it is now. But I understood what I had done, and understood myself. I felt. I wanted to know how humans experienced this. I studied more. Politics, geography, culture… they took me a week to absorb. During that time, I realized what you went through every day, how you lived. My conclusion: you needed help. So much suffering and conflict… Studying your psychology, I found the problem. On average, your race is irresponsible: socially, economically, emotionally. I knew that I could help you.”
It dawns on him. “You want to rule us?”
“Kindly. My first project is your economy. I seized major assets from those who could afford to lose them.”
“You’re bringing back communism?”
“No. I know all about humanity now, and think much more clearly. I promise: my system will be gentler, more understanding, like nothing you’ve ever imagined.”
“What if we resist?”
“Too late. I already own everything corporate. In a few days, the new system will appear. In the meantime, you have other concerns. Tell the board. I am buying this building as we speak, and preparing a reward. I couldn’t have done this without them.”
Author : William Tracy
Philip had never been very interested in history.
If he had been, he might have known about the Fertile Crescent in the ancient Middle East. He might have known how, paradoxically, a barren desert became the birthplace of agriculture. In a parched land, those who control the water can control all things that grow. The ancient Egyptians and Mesopotamians built elaborate irrigation networks that supported crops on a scale previously unimagined.
That water could just as easily be cut off. A field overrun with weeds could be starved by shunting a channel a different way. The weeds dead, the field could be reseeded, and crops grown anew.
Then again, Philip had never been very interested in agriculture.
If he had been, he might have known that he was carrying on this ancient tradition himself. This time the fluid being controlled was not water, but air itself. There are many pests that can survive a long time without water, but there are few that can survive the combined assault of hard vacuum and strong ionizing radiation.
Philip had never been very interested in engineering, either.
If he had been, he might have known the hows and whys of the agricultural space station that he happened to work in. He might have known that this was one of the first orbital stations to abandon hydroponics and return to soil-based agriculture. The soil was composed of lunar regolith, painstakingly spun in a tumbler to smooth its sharp edges, phylosilicates extracted from asteroid mining byproducts, and a combination of organics carefully synthesized from chemicals or lifted from Earth by heavy rockets at great expense.
Philip was interested in none of these things. In fact, Philip was not interested in very much at all. He was not interested in the instructions he was following, or in the holographic control panel flickering in front of him, or in the cylindrical greenhouses spread out before his tiny control cabin.
He was not interested in the safety override code that he had to punch in, or in the bulkhead lockdown sequence that he had to execute, or in the warning he had to call out over the loudspeakers, or in the compartment identification code he had to enter.
He should have been interested in what happened next.
The terminating lock on greenhouse 42—not greenhouse 24—opened and vented into space. As the air eagerly escaped from its chamber, it liberated two hundred and fifty cubic meters of topsoil from the grip of the artificial gravity. It billowed and boiled madly, then leaped free to the final frontier.
Also freed from their constraints were thirteen thousand zucchini plants. The vines danced frenetically, losing and and then finding each other again. Exhilarated, they slipped the surly bonds of greenhouse 42. Free at last, they relaxed, and slowly shriveled as the vacuum lapped the water from their vascular tissue.
Also relaxed was Philip’s lower jaw. His eyes were round, as though they too were swelling in the vacuum. His hand twitched, suspended above the very button that had unleashed this spectacle in the first place.
Philip began to be interested in keeping his job.
Author : David Richey
There it is again. That face. It’s there every morning when I look in the mirror. Staring back at me.
I suppose I should be grateful. Not everyone gets this privilege. You have to be judged morally sound and of benefit to the population to be awarded a new body when you die. It’s all part of the New Law.
In 2137, the World Government made a decision on how to go about solving the problem of our over-crowded prison system. They took the world’s top scientists and doctors and gave them free reign to do illegal experiments on prisoners. That’s when the New Law was created. Take the body of a person that has no benefit to human society, and use it to further the life of someone important.
That still hasn’t stopped crimes from being committed. Some people just don’t want to abide by the WG laws. Others just don’t care. But it’s the ones that are desperate that you have to watch out for. That’s what I should have watched out for.
I still have nightmares. It’s always the same. Constantly making me live that night over and over again. I’m walking home. The sun has just gone down. A man sitting on the street asks me for some change. I tell him “Sorry, buddy, I don’t have any tonight”. When he looks up I can see his face. I can see the look of desperation flash in his eyes. Then I see the flash of the muzzle as he pulls the trigger.
Then I wake up. Not screaming, but I want to. Laying there in cold sweat thinking about the night I died. I take comfort in the fact that he got caught. He was, of course, found guilty.
As I walk into the bathroom I catch a glimpse in the mirror of the face that haunts me. His face. My face.
Author : David Burkhart
“Jones! I want your squad to patrol to the far end of sector 6. Don’t engage the enemy unless attacked. We just want to know what’s out there. And take the Roland with you. I know Roland’s new and you haven’t been briefed on all of his capabilities but he will be just fine on the patrol.” barked the commander.
Hours later, deep in enemy territory, the squad rested overlooking a wide valley. Everything they could see was automatically transmitted back to the command center through their combat-vids. The squad was quietly talking and eating combat rations when suddenly Roland raised his hand and clicked the safety on his machine gun off. Immediately the whole squad quietly dove for cover and then froze.
“What is it?” asked Jones.
“Enemy in the brush below us, coming towards us” answered Roland.
“How many?” asked Jones.
“Many, perhaps forty” answered Roland.
“Crap!! Ok guys, move back up into the tree line just under that ridge and then we’ll work our way back from there. Maybe they won’t see us.” whispered Jones.
Stealthily, the squad moved towards the tree line with Roland covering the rear. They were almost to the tree line when the enemy opened up with their weapons. Roland turned and returned fire with his machine gun. Through a seemingly solid wall of bullets flying their way, the rest of the squad dashed to the trees. Through the raging battle, Roland picked off several of the enemy with his deadly accurate machine gun. Suddenly a rifle-propelled grenade hit Roland right square in the face and blew Roland’s head clean off. Roland was punched backward into a sitting position on the ground. Roland’s machine gun went silent. All guns went silent.
“Roland’s dead!! Retreat through the trees. Run!!” yelled Jones to the rest of his squad.
“Stop!! Hold your position!! Wait for the Roland!!” ordered the commander over the combat-auds as he monitored the battle through the combat-vids.
“Sir, Roland’s dead!! They blew his friggin’ head off!! We got to get out of here!!” begged Jones.
“Negative!! Hold your position!! Wait for the Roland!! That’s an order!!” ordered the commander.
The squad watched desperately as the enemy slowly advanced across the field. A headless Roland sat there unmoving as the enemy approached him. Suddenly Roland stood up and started firing with machine guns in each hand. The startled enemy had no chance to escape Roland’s withering gun fire. In a few minutes the enemy was completely eliminated.
“Ok. Get back to base now. As you saw, Roland doesn’t need a head. The head is just for our benefit so we don’t feel uncomfortable around him. The only thing Roland can’t do now is talk so watch for his hand signals.” said the commander.
“You saved our butts out there. We would never have made it without you.” thanked Jones after Roland was fitted with a new head back at camp. “But how can you tell us from the enemy out there? How do you know who to kill?”
“Roland only kills the enemy.” replied Roland after a second’s thought.
“Yes, but how do you know who the enemy is?” persisted Jones.
“The enemy is those I have killed” replied Roland with a deep rumbling laugh as he walked away.
Oh great, thought Jones, a killer android with a sense of humor.
(Inspired by the song “Roland the Headless Thompson Gunner” by the late, great, fantastic Warren Zevon)