while (bDarwin) {

Author : Q. B. Fox

“Are you suggesting it’s alive?” Calvin was incredulous.

“Of course it’s not alive,” Mary was withering. “It’s a computer program.”

“Strictly speaking,” Glen interrupted, “It’s a suite of software.”

They both glared at him and he fell silent again with a mumbled apology.

“Then explain it to me,” Calvin snapped.

“Ok,” Mary’s patience was obviously stretched; she wondered to herself when she’d last had a proper night’s sleep. “Obviously this software is deployed on thousands of computers, many of them large servers; lots of memory, lots of storage, lots of processing power.”

Calvin nodded, a spark of realisation coming into his expression.

“You’re thinking of ants,” said Mary, responding to his growing eagerness, “each one a simple machine, but together able to act with, at least the appearance of, greater consciousness; a hive mind.”

Calvin smiled, head bobbing like an excitable bird.

“Well, it’s nothing like that,” Mary slapped him down. “You’re such a moron.”

Glen waved his pudgy, little hands in a gesture of pacification.

“So what are you saying?” Calvin rubbed his fingers into his aching temples.

“Evolution,” Glen said helpfully. “All software evolves, just like any organism; new features are added, old ones deprecated, vestigial remnants remain of how it used to work.”

“But this software is getting out of hand.” Mary barged in. “It’s starting to dominate too many sectors of the market.”

“Selling our software is not usually considered a problem.” Calvin rolled his eyes.

“What happens every time we try to create the next generation of this software?” Glen asked quietly.

“Look, I’m very sorry when that work gets thrown away, but sometimes we have to respond to the market.” Calvin put on his managers voice. “It just happens that the only way to do this in timely fashion has been to add new features to the old code.”

No one contradicted him, but Calvin continued, “I don’t think I should have to justify my decisions again. Some of the new ideas you came up with have been integrated back into the existing product and I think we can both agree that it’s benefited.”

A moment’s awkward silence.

“It’s out competed its replacements.” Glen looked over his glasses, “before they had a chance to get established.”

“It does the same in the market place.” Mary continued with exaggerated serenity. “It’s got a good foothold in any number of niche areas. It’s on all those powerful machines now; people have time, effort, money, reputation, all invested in it.

“And now it’s taken the next step, it’s driving the agenda. The new European legislation on Energy Auditing was entirely framed around the sort of monitoring and analysis that our software does well; they did that because they knew that our software could do it.”

“Are you suggesting that our software is trying to take over the world?” Calvin mocked.

“Are you not listening to me?” Mary almost shouted, “It’s not trying to do anything. It has no more control over this than a flu virus does over a pandemic.”

She calmed herself. “And that’s what the numbers show; this software is about to become a pandemic. And if you won’t listen, do you think the board, or the salesmen, or the consultants will pay any more attention, especially as the money floods in. Glen, show him the numbers.”

“Glen?”

But Glen just pointed at the monitor. It was blank apart from a simple message box; it read: ‘This workstation has been suspended while an Energy Audit takes place. Sorry for any inconvenience.’

“I don’t think we need to see the numbers,” Glen said at last.

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Resourceful

Author : Steven Odhner

Come closer to the monument, child. Do not be afraid. You have done well to make it all the way here – I know the journey from your village is hard. Your brother had to turn back the first time, and your mother arrived with an injured ankle and had to wait here for nearly a week before undertaking the final trial and becoming an adult – so do not be ashamed to lean up against the monument and rest a while.

No, it is not haunted, who told you such a thing? This is why we wait to tell you where our people came from – children are too superstitious. Come, feel the monument. Like no stone you have ever touched, is it? You can see it is shaped with a purpose, but it was not carved or chiseled. This is a special stone that our ancestors could shape as a single piece. Yes, child, that is a good comparison – but it is not quite like clay. Think of the candles your parents make, how the fire causes them to flow like water rather than hardening as the clay does. This stone gets soft like clay when you heat it, and then becomes hard again when it cools down. It is unlike anything else in the world – as strong as stone, but it does not shatter under any force.

More amazing, it channels lightning like water down a riverbed. Our ancestors knew this, and found ways to harness the lightning with stones like this. They used fire not only to shape it, but to pull it into threads and weave it like fabric. When they coaxed lightning through these tiny threads of the stone they were able to create all manner of wonderful things. They made light, wind, even life.

No, child, we cannot. They used this stone to create the monument and make it fly – do not look at your elders that way – fly away from the lands they had called home and to here. But the lightning died out, and the fine stone threads snapped, and they found none of this material here to replace it. They could not return home, could not make more of the amazing tools that controlled the lightning and wind. Our ancestors did not despair, and they did not curse the land for not providing what they needed – this land had everything that they could ever ask for apart from the special stone, and for that we are grateful. We do not mourn the loss of their wondrous tools; we wait, and we watch the stars, because we know that some day cousins from the land of our ancestors will find us and take us home.

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Alex

Author : Daniel Bensen

Alex

This has been a humbling experience.

I can admit now that I was a little arrogant. I suppose I had reason to be. I was—I suppose I still am—the best mathematician on Earth. Funny.

I know I should have expected this. But then, most of us believed then that mathematics was a universal language. I can’t say I ever held much stock in the notion, but the politicians thought so, and that is why they sent me. If you are listening to this, then I know you have read the reports, so I won’t bore you by going over the details.

Suffice to say, the work was difficult. Almost impossible, actually. Math, pure math, may be the universal language, but our understanding of it is so warped by our biology that our systems of notation are completely incompatible. I couldn’t make heads or tails of anything the aliens were sending at first.

Again I won’t bore you with details. Basically, I eventually realized that there was a pattern in their communications. A broad pattern in all of their messages taken as a whole. Soon after we began to exchange information, I realized, they had been trying to teach me.

There were—this is difficult to express to a layman—there were equations that suggested several possible solutions. When I picked the correct one, I would be rewarded by another message. If not, the next message would be blank. Like a multiple-choice test. The pattern of my early work suggests that the correct answers I made were accidental. It was only by constant effort and thought that I could determine what the right answer might be. I wracked my brains. I stayed up for nights on end, running the numbers one way, then another. I nearly drove myself mad. Perhaps I did, since I finally started to get answers from dreams. I can’t say the dream answers were correct much more often than my normal ones, though.

Eventually I broke through a wall.

I can’t exactly describe it. I’m better now, more coherent, but the balance is that I can no longer remember clearly what it was that I said. But I know the answer felt or tasted or smelled right to me. It was a glorious feeling.

The next morning I had another message from the aliens and for the very first time, I understood almost all of it. Unfortunately, I cannot give you very clear reasoning behind my translation, but I know it is true. I know they told me that I had done a very good job, and that I was a very good boy.

Like I said, humbling.

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Sky

Author : Michael Varian Daly

Junior Lieutenant Menat Borsa, Space Force Marines, had the Third Watch on Barracks Platform 2/26 [2nd Regt/26th Batt] because, bluntly put, she was a ‘noob’, barely four months out of the Academy. And she was fine with that Tradition from ‘beyond the mists of time’. The Sisterhood was ever conscious of not throwing out the practical baby with the Patriarchal bathwater.

Besides, the view was gorgeous, a five by ten transparent plasteen window in High Earth Orbit. Menat spent a significant portion of the watch simply staring out that window. The rest of the time she read books, Mimsdottor’s “History of The Horse Clans, Vol 1” at the moment. Electronic media were forbidden on Watch.

Oh, and she checked the systems, a swirl of intermeshing holograms. Systems that never failed. Ever. And every time she thought that, she heard her Tech Instructor, Captain Haduri, saying emphatically, “Something. Always. Fails.” Which was why her warm body was here on Third Watch.

A proximal danger alarm activated.

“Shit,” she muttered, letting “Horse Clans” float away.

An impact alarm flared/squealed.

“Shit!” she barked. That was too quick for space junk. Data flows informed her that a micrometeorite had pierced the platform, damaging Drop Troopers in their Sleep Pods. One set of life signs flat lined and others were ‘unhappy’.

A hologram coalesced, Senior Chief Warrant Officer Mwera. “El Tee, I’m on my way to Hold Seven.”

“Roger that, Chief.” Technically, she was a ‘superior officer’, but Mwera, born a True Male, had, at the age of fifty three, become a Space Force Mandriod. That was over three decades ago, so Menat fully deferred to him.

“Chief, be advised that Corporal El Em One Two Seven is up and about.” Mwera blanched. “But he has exited Hold Seven,”

“Roger that, El Tee,” he said flatly.

Sensors showed the Corporal heading for the mess bay.

“Can’t be hungry,” she thought. He’d been hooked up to bleeder/feeder tubes in his Sleep Pod.

“Maybe he wants one of those nasty Drop Trooper candy bars,” the ones that tasted like vulcanized cowshit laced with cinnamon and fruit compote.

“Junior Lieutenant Menat Borsa exiting the Command Center,” she said.

Menat found him floating in front of the mess bay’s window, naked, eight feet tall, seven hundred pounds, pink as a baby pig, a dozen gray caps covering his battle armor plug-in points.

She turned off her neural implanted combat programs. At six two, three hundred pounds, and heavily augmented, she might be able to take him. As an Initiated Sister, she was a weapon herself.

But he was a fellow Marine.

“Corporal?” she said softly.

He turned to look at her somberly. She wondered if he ever looked anything but somber.

“One of my Troopers died.” He looked out the window again. “I wanted to see the sky.”

She had no trouble whatsoever radiating Empathy at him.

“I’ll have Chief Mwera program sky dreams for you.”

He looked at her with what seemed a smile.

She held out her hand. He took it gently in his massive fingers and allowed her to lead him back to Hold Seven.

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Litmus Test

Author : Phill English

Bob leaned back in his chair and sighed. The first day had been a long time coming. Every time they thought they had the whole project licked, a new feature came to light that had to be incorporated into the preliminary model. And there were a whole lot of features. How long had he even been at this? It seemed like decades ago that he had begun the project as a hobby in between building planetoids for superstars. It wasn’t long before it consumed more hours than the weekend could provide. He started asking around at work for people interested in joining his little experiment and found a few kindred spirits willing to get involved for a laugh. It was just a bit of fun; a problem to get a kick out of wrapping your brain around. After a year or so of hacking together what they could, the now dozen-strong group realised they needed some outside expertise and advertised for volunteer positions on the Galaxyweb. A modest following sprung up, which then exploded when the project was mentioned on one of the more popular news feeds (Jump Squared; a self-proclaimed “directory of awesome”). Soon the job of overseeing thousands of eager minds overtook Bob’s weekday efforts and he resigned to more effectively manage the project. Its popularity only seemed to grow over time, forcing Bob to start screening volunteers. This lead to the whole deal becoming a yardstick for the hacker culture. Every tinkerer, repurposer, and eccentric engineer wanted in on the prestige that came with being selected to help with Bob’s grand experiment. It was tough, but eventually he had a steady core of brilliant minds helping him to achieve the nigh-impossible detail required by the original plans.

And now it was time. He felt like the unwitting participant in the ultimate Rube Goldberg machine. He wondered what it would do, this replica, this cynical doppelganger. Hopefully provide a bit of harmless entertainment for the news feeds to report on from time to time. It would probably get the zealots up in arms. Whether they’d do something drastic was still to be determined, but he figured they’d probably be curious enough to let it be. He didn’t really care, for him it had been all about the build; now that it was done, he had no interest past letting it go. Bob spoke calmly into his microphone. “Is Adam in place? Good to hear. Illumination technicians on standby? Great. Alright guys, get ready to set the timer on my mark. Three-thousand years, that’s correct.”

Everything was in place. Alright, thought Bob. Time to see if it really went down the way He said it did. The panel in front of him flashed green. The station went quiet. Millions held their breath.

And Bob said, “Let there be light.”

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