Author : K. J. Russell
A Somme Corp. product designated Android 593 walked through the rain along Intercontinental Freeway 7 at precisely 1:25:42am. 1:25:43am. 1:25:44am. The Android’s connection to Somme Corp. provided it with a translocation sense that guided it along until it found, 11.5 meters off the road, in a ditch hidden behind a grove of oil-covered trees, a ruined ‘52 Ceres 3-door, sports model. At the front of the car, crushed and bleeding beneath a fraction of the vehicle’s 1.3-ton weight, was Essis Harrin: customer registration 593 (corresponding to the Android), platinum package. The Android’s mechanical ears could hear him muttering, “Dammit… Melanie. Melanie, why aren’t you… Why didn’t you… Why…”
The Android approached him. “Mr. Essis Harrin. Your Somme chip transmitted that you do not wish to be alone. I have been sent accordingly.” Customer 593’s glazed eyes wandered up to it, and what he perceived was a young, petite woman of unusually perfect proportions, exactly symmetrical.
Essis Harrin shivered and the Android sensed a drop in his body temperature, a steady decline from 36.81C to 35.33C and then to 34.12C, his pulse irregular. “So,” his voice was clogged by internal bleeding, “You’re here to mock me?”
The Android was confused, but made no expression. It ran a behavioral calculation and briefly corresponded with the Somme Corp. mainframe, but could find no meaning in Essis Harrin’s response. “I believe there has been a misunderstanding.”
“Why don’t you help me?”
“Your Somme chip has transmitted no wish for survival. It did transmit that you do not wish to be alone.”
“I only want…” he took a moment to cough up blood, and then, “I want Melanie. Melanie.”
Again interfacing with the Somme computers, the Android did a cross-search for Essis Harrin and Melanie. It spoke aloud its findings, “Melanie Harrin, wife of Essis Harrin and mother of Elise Harrin. Melanie Harrin was reported deceased on 24th December, 2054. Your request is not understood.”
“You can’t give it to me.”
“There is nothing that Somme Corporation cannot give you. We exist to serve you.”
“Can’t serve this,” Essis Harrin leaned back, looking the Android in its counterfeit eyes, “Can’t bring back Melanie.”
The Android made a query to the Somme Corp. administrative branch, detailing the request for a dead entity with special emphasis on the customer’s immediate situation. Unfortunately, offices had closed for the night 23 minutes and 54 seconds before. The Android was forced to respond as best it could, “Request for the reversion of death is incomprehensible. Incomprehensible requests are replaced with similar requests. Similar request: you do not wish to be alone.”
“Just get the hell away from me,” he let himself fall limp, “Let me die in peace.”
The Somme Android blinked twice, then turned around and left. It didn’t understand, but it did comply. The next day a recording of the night’s events was datamined by the Somme Corp. Android Evaluation Department, was then rerouted to the Administration Branch and from there to an executive review. Somme Android 593 made a brief appearance at the man’s funeral, and then it was covertly decommissioned. Somme Corp. executives made a minor change to Android behavioral guidelines, dictating them to assist customers during fatal situations, even when it went against the customer’s wishes. The Androids, while confused by this change, usually adhere to it. As always, programming errors are corrected as they become apparent.
Author : James Reinebold
Filbert swished his mop over the steel floor. A Whisko 5000 beauty: everything you could want in a cleaning device complete with neural net dirt processors, scent ejectors, and partial sentience. He twirled it over the sizzling fluids like a ballroom dancer. Krystal K. would be arriving soon and the administrator wanted everything to be perfect.
Along the way back to his supply closet Filbert picked up a Butterfinger wrapper and an empty can of Grapico (official sponsors of the International Mars Colony) and tossed them in a tube leading towards the incinerator. Scientists carrying shrieking laboratory rodents and engineers with wrenches bustled past him as he walked.
He set a Trash Buddy loose, gave it priorities (1. Clean all major hallways. 2. Clean VIP dormitory. 3. Clean the kitchen areas.), and hoped it would get something done. It bumped into the wall a few times before making it out of the closet.
The observatory was empty. Filbert kept his head down low and scrubbed. He whistled and whooshed the mop back and forth while periodically examining the shine. In his head he laboriously did the math a Trash Buddy could do in a picosecond: estimating the glare and lemon concentration levels. He arranged cups and emptied the trash bins into the incinerator. He wiped the glass clean of smudges and coffee stains.
After he finished, he paused for a moment to look through the glass up at the stars. Millions of them, brilliant points of light shining down through the Windex scuffed windows and radiation filters. A pale dot for Earth, a couple of glaring white circles for the other planets.
He thought that maybe all the work was worth it.
The Trash Buddy reported a successful cleansing of the VIP dorms and kitchen. Main hallways scrubbed using 50% cleaning solution, 50% recycled water. Lemon scent added at regular intervals. Heading to rendezvous.
Filbert acknowledged and flipped a circuit that gave tiny shocks of pleasurable energy to the Trash Buddy to thank it for its service.
At that moment the intercom buzzed.
“Attention: all staff. This is a reminder that today will be the long awaited visit from electromegapop artist Krystal K. She will be arriving in moments, so please be on your best behavior. I can’t stress enough to you the benefits good press has for research like ours.”
The crew emerged from their laboratories and ran towards the shuttle port. The administrator played the first few tracks of Krystal’s latest hit (Galactomusik) over the loudspeakers.
Filbert sighed and leaned against a railing. The Trash Buddy beeped rapidly and propped up next to his shoe. No one said anything about the shiny floors or fresh lemony scent. Nobody had to.
Author : Adam Sprague
February 4, 2049
Ava flew out of bed like one of those spring loaded jack-in-the-box things she used to hear her grandmother talk about when she was younger. The Texas sun had just begun to cast its morning shadows as she grabbed her E-Comm and turned off its alarm.
“I know I didn’t set this thing that early,” she said to nobody in particular, while Tabitha began rubbing the crusted sleep from the corners of her eyes.
“What are you doing?” Tabitha sleepily slurred in her mother’s direction while she arose from the hotel bed.
No response. Ava’s eyes widened so quickly that she lost focus on the screen of her E-Comm. Her jaw plummeted downward.
“How old is this stream…how old is this stream!”
Ava began a series of shakes and smacks to the side of her E-Comm in hopes that pummeling the device would quicken the refresh rate of the screen.
“Four hours?” she screamed in a shaky, panicked tone of disbelief. Ava unleashed a string of profanity that Tabitha would not have otherwise learned for another three or four years and her daughter’s seven-year-old heart rate spiked.
“We have to go now!” Ava yelled.
“But what about Binkie,” Tabitha said as she reached back towards the stuffed rabbit on the bed.
Without another word Ava yanked Tabitha’s arm, nearly jerking it out of the socket. Still fumbling with her E-Comm, Ava plowed the door open and started jogging down the hallway, past the vacant front desk, and out the hotel’s main entrance. Everything was still.
“Bioter…Bioterror…Bioterrist attack, and nothing. It doesn’t make sense.”
She ignored the inquisitions of her child and scanned left to right as they stepped foot outside.
“Fuck me, the maglev isn’t running! We’re stuck…”
“Mom! Why is everyone sleeping in the street?” Tabitha cried out, pointing at a pile of bodies outside a local burger joint.
Bracing herself against the wall of the hotel, Ava felt the onset of a panic attack rising through her chest. Everywhere she looked, people were lying in the streets. Around the maglev, on the sidewalks, in the middle of streets, they were everywhere. It was worse than any stream she had ever seen on her E-Comm.
Hand in hand, both Ava and Tabitha began to put one shaky leg in front of the other and progressed down the street. They came within fifteen feet of one of the bodies and both instantly froze.
Ava quickly covered her daughter’s eyes as each corpse stared back at them with mushroom-like fungi extending from their ears, noses and mouths. It was then that she felt it herself.
Megaphones began to blare in the distance while Ava’s vision blurred and her mind turned to madness. She reached out for her daughter as her skull bounced off the pavement.
“The Department of National Security has quarantined the city of Abilene. Please remain indoors for your own safety, thank you.”
February 5, 2049
With a smile, the head of the Department of National Security ended the call on his E-Comm and turned towards President Leroy Gomez. Gomez, like a statue, continued to stare blankly out of his office window as he clenched his teeth in anticipation.
“President Gomez, Operation TX-24 was a complete success.”
“So this ends the testing then?”
“It does. Decades of research, and finally we know without a doubt what the Ophiocordyceps fungus is truly capable of.”
“At the expense of our own,” uttered Gomez with a remorseful sigh. He plopped himself down in the nearest chair and stared up at the ceiling.
Author : Michael F. da Silva
“And that is how we will neutralise the Entente’s forward operating positions, my colleagues.”
The Georgian style meeting room was located on a human-built Orbital Cylinder over Mycenae. The size of the cylinder was large enough that the curvature of the room’s floor could only be measured by precision tools or enhanced sensory organs.
Several dozen sets of eyes of various shapes and arrangements looked back at the Admiral representing the Consortium of Human Territories. Some exchanged expressions of doubt and hoped that someone else would pose the difficult questions of fleet strength and logistics.
One of the assembled military officers, a giant head on eight golden armoured legs, shifted his frame toward the human. “Admiral Caetano, I pose a question. If we assemble our forces here, as you propose, and transit directly to Gliese we will allow our fleet to be surrounded on all sides by enemy-held systems. Also, the fleet numbers your plan requires for this expedition would seriously undermine the defences of our own colonial systems. How are we to prevent the Entente from taking advantage as soon as they see our fleet movements?”
“If we attempt to defend everything, we will defend nothing. We have no choice but to take the fight to the enemy, but we can choose where to strike. And what better objective than the enemy’s most important colony system?” Admiral Caetano rested his bio-armoured fists on the conference table. He continued, “If you evacuate your surface colonies to your homeworlds and Orbitals and limit colonial activities entirely to industries essential to the war effort, those mining and construction operations will be all the easier to defend.”
Many bristled at the prospect of relocating millions of citizens who had never been out of their home system. For those who represented democracies, it was not as simple a notion as the human made it sound.
“Within forty-eight hours after our forces depart from the objective rally point, we can completely negate the enemy’s ability to use the Gliese system as a staging point for fleet actions against our allies.”
A canine-headed centaur dressed like a warhorse bared her teeth in appreciation of that. The Capaill Madraí home system had been taking the brunt of enemy incursions for the last four decades. They had been pushing for aggressive action for almost as long but no longer had the economic clout to browbeat the other members or the military capacity to lead the way themselves.
Just then, a heretofore silent cephalopod reared up on its serpentine coils. “Barbarian bottomfeeder! Your progeny will all become slaves under the Entente! Devil of the Deep swallow you!” he cursed.
Caetano saw it too late to react. Inside the enraged alien, chemical processes that he had put to normal metabolism reached a fever pitch of activity. Fluids polymerised. Chemicals merged with each other creating new complex compounds.
The centre of the Orbital Cylinder flashed to eye-searing whiteness and what had been one majestic construct was rent into two Roman candles of dissolving metal and organo-ceramics falling to the planet below.
Author : Michael F. da Silva
Being dead, I wasn’t expecting much conversation at the café.
I had loaded the environment as soon as I was uploaded. The red carpet and round lamp-lighted tables stretched out to infinity in all directions. The Viennese coffee that had melted into being tasted as real to my digitised thought patterns as anything I had had before my retirement.
So I was surprised when the legal avatar came down the carpet like a supermodel on the catwalk, successfully pulling off someone’s idea of legal chic.
“Good afternoon, Mr. Vieira. I trust you’ve enjoyed your stay?”
Afternoon was a relative term in Lalaland. It was whatever time of day I wanted it to be.
“So far.” I answered trying to keep annoyance out of my voice and admiring the curve of her hips. “It’s only been a few hours, you know.”
I tried to undress her with the avatar control suite, thinking she might be just some cover girl I had fantasized about when I was a teenager.
“I’m afraid I’m quite the real thing, Mr. Vieira. I’m here about your return to Reality.” She pronounced the word like it came with its own punctuation mark.
“There must be some mistake. I’ve only just uploaded. I signed up for the Bachelor Retirement Package. That’s fifty years simulated vacation. I just got here, like I said.”
“Mr. Vieira.” My own name was starting to get on my nerves at this point. “There seems to have been a problem with your upload procedure. As you may recall, we perform a thorough analysis of each client’s neural pathways prior to digitalisation and upload to their vacation servers.”
“Yes.” I contributed, hoping against hope that this was going to lead to a champagne-drenched lap dance.
“What is left to the fine print, however, is that there is always the small chance of a mimetic neural virus being present in a client’s subconscious.”
I blinked incomprehension. Technical mumbo jumbo. Not my forte.
She plodded on, legally obliged to keep me in the loop. ”What that means, Mr. Vieira, is that you have had your fifty years simulated vacation. You just lose all memory of it after an interval of three hours and two minutes. I hope you understand.”
“Wait a minute. This has to be a mistake. I’ve only just arrived!”
“It’s not a mistake, Mr. Vieira.”
“Well, fix it then! Make me remember. I’ll be damned if I get packed back into a synthetic with no memories of my own vacation!”
“I’m afraid that can’t be helped, Mr. Vieira. A mimetic neural virus is intrinsic to a subject’s specific thought patterns. It can’t be removed without severely damaging the subject’s thought patterns at their core level. I would suggest you make good use of the next hour.”
And then she just walked away towards a crimson horizon leaving me with a panic-laced erection and not enough time to do anything with it. I considered running her down and bending her over a table for one last hurrah.
“That simply wouldn’t do, Mr. Vieira.” She said turning neatly on one foot. “There are security measures to prevent such things from happening in virtual environments. And you would still face legal action for making the attempt.”
“Well, what the hell am I supposed to do, you courtroom drama bitch?!”
She cocked her head to one side and narrowed icy blue eyes. “You still have both hands, don’t you?”