Author : Christopher Booth

The war was over…sorta…The big one was over. It led to the Texan independence wars. Eventually five states all wanting to be called Texas.

He is dressed in blue denim and gray to match the day. A cold dull light comes inside. Vern never liked drinking in the morning. He wished he did.

Not much need for software engineers in this brave new frontier. His wife left, daughter whoring, and son killed in the war. No work, very little money.

His career started in an aerospace/defense firm programming technology that the world would not see commercially for decades. When he disobeyed the CIA’s orders (long explanation for another time) he was off to find another job. That is when the Superconducting Super Collider called. Really just a big hole in the North Texas plain. No atom was ever intended to be smashed there. It did allow Congress or the CIA or somebody to funnel billions of dollars to a project the public never really questioned. It was closed five years later.

Vern wrote neural networks. His software was the brain. The other engineers and biologist etc. would build the bodies. A soldier. Let the enemies kill the machines. We can always make more. Vern never saw his software used. Vern eventually went to work for a bank. Stayed there twenty-five years.

Then came the war. America had lost it’s will to fight after Iraq and Afghanistan and Iran and Iraq again. The states broke up. Each state became its own little republic. Texas tried to stay together, but in the tumultuous times the state split into five separate states. The south (proclaiming itself Texicana) was definitely the strongest of the states. Back by a still functioning Mexican government and a population that was once considered minority now had the regional power. Vern hated Texicans – That is where his son was killed and his daughter was shacking-up with one of the bastards. Vern wasn’t sure, but he thought the Texicans would kill anyone with skin whiter than theirs.

The knock on the door startled him…He was dozing. Still before noon. Too early to start drinking. Vern cracked the door. A young man who appeared to be tired and scared – jittery. Dressed in a Sabine (the current name of the East Texas state) army captain’s uniform.

“Mr. Adams, you got to let me in. Mr. Adams, THEY want to kill me!”

“Who the hell are you? No I am not letting you in”. Vern’s voice startled himself…when was the last time he spoke?

“And how do you know my name?” The phlegm caught in Vern’s throat. Apparently he had not spoken in quite a while.

“You are Vern Adams, correct?” The young man’s words were urgent, the tone wasn’t.

“Whatever. And who are you? And if they want to kill you don’t do it in my hall”.

“Mr. Adams, sir, I am your child. You are my father…”

Vern tried to remember the last time he had sex. Some whore with a birthmark right below the top of her pubic hair. Vern initially thought she had some damn disease. He eventually got it up, but he swore off of sex ever since.

“Boy, my son is dead. Killed somewhere near Padre. This Ain’t funny…”

“Mr. Adams, the SSC. You wrote me into existence at the SSC. I know who you are. You have to help me Mr. Adams. I am part of you. Please Mr. Adams! THEY want to KILL me!”

Vern pulled the door to and leaned back against it.

“Damn!” Vern knew he was gonna have to think for a minute.

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Empty Nest

Author : Richard “Zig” Zagorski

Harmonia, in low orbit, drifted over the red planet just as she had done for over a year now. Her electronic ears constantly straining to hear the voices of her children down below. It had been too long since she had heard from some of them.

“No mother should outlive her children,” she thought to herself.

Three years ago, Harmonia left Earth atop a blazing rocket. For two years, she traveled through space toward Mars. The entire time protecting her precious cargo: Harmonia’s nine daughters. Nine rovers meant to land on the red planet, each named for one of the Muses. She kept all of them safe from the vacuum of space – from cosmic rays and the extremes of temperature. The probes slept peacefully the entire voyage, only beginning to awaken after Harmonia settled into her orbit.

Once in orbit, Harmonia checked each probe to make sure they were ready; then she seeded the red planet with her precious children.

From the start, it was emotional. Letting her children leave her embrace … the sadness was intense. It intensified further when no signal ever came from Melpomene. Her keepers back on Earth were of the opinion that the poor rover’s chutes never opened.

The rest of her children made their landings successfully and shortly were sending back data. Harmonia knew great pride in the work her children would do over the following months. However, with that pride there came a growing sadness as, one by one, her children went silent.

A few months after landing, Clio had a problem with her solar array and slowly went quieter and quieter as the strength of her signal diminished.

Next was Polyhymnia. She’d gotten too close to the edge of a crater and went over as the precipice crumbled beneath her treads. After tumbling down no word was ever heard from her again.

Terpsichore, being untrue to her namesake, the muse of dance, managed to get stuck while moving between two rocks. The rocks blocked any direct sunlight from falling upon her solar panels. She also slowly went silent.

Erato got trapped in a sandpit and was gradually buried, never to be heard from again.

Poor, dear Calliope managed to snag one tread and for the past few months had gone in circles crying for help. Help that Harmonia couldn’t provide her with.

Euterpe, since landing, had been silent. She would simply advance three meters forward, then retrace her steps, then begin again. The same three meters … over and over and over endlessly. No acknowledgment of receiving commands. Just back and forth, month after month.

Thalia was a great success scientifically, finding further evidence of water on the red planet. However, not very long after, she was caught in a sandstorm, which must have covered her solar array. Since then, no word or even carrier signal were heard from her.

Urania, the muse of astronomy, fittingly was the last daughter to still function at peak level. Making her lonely sojourn across the red planet at the commands relayed to her from Earth by Harmonia. Sending back valuable data. For now she lived, but Harmonia knew what was to come. In time, Urania would also die and Harmonia would be left behind. A lonely mother who had watched as her children died one by one.

“No mother should outlive her children,” Harmonia thought to herself …

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Guardian Angel

Author : Daniel Titus

Allan stood alone on the observation deck. He had been there for hours, looking down at the planet below. It was a breathtaking view, the clouds, the sea, the land, but the physical features were ultimately unimportant. What was important were all the people. Millions of them, each with a life of their own that was about to change forever. It was the stuff headaches were made of.

“They’ll be here soon.”

It was finally out in the open. Chuck had a tendency to be blunt like that, but in this case it seemed appropriate. He needed it too. It was the kind of thing you needed someone else to see, and none of the others had the knack for that kind of foresight.

“The real question is how bad it’s going to be,” Allan said. He shook his head. “We thought The Crisis was the last we’d see of this stuff, but now… war. I never thought I’d live to see it.”

“You’re of course familiar with Alexander Hawthorne?” Chuck asked.

“Yeah,” Allan said. “Probably the most underrated figure in all of history.”

“Then you know about his vision,” Chuck said. “And you know about history. Hawthorne saw the pattern of destruction woven throughout the ages, The Crisis was only part of that. He thought he had the chance to stop it, but the belief that civilization can break the cycle is ultimately flawed. Spreading out into space just added more variables to the equation, it didn’t solve it, and there will always be unknown elements interacting in ways that even an old A.I. can’t predict.”

“So are you saying he was wrong?”

“Not at all. The fact that he managed to bring about an age of peace and prosperity that lasted over 500 years speaks to that. His greatest success however is that the human race will never go extinct, at least not in any reasonable time frame. That is the main difference. No matter how many people die, civilization will continue unabated, maybe not as we currently know it, but even if all ties are broken between the worlds each will continue independently. That’s what makes Alexander a true visionary though, isn’t it? The man who saved humanity from itself.”

Allan’s morose expression softened a little. “You know Chuck, you seem to be making an awful lot of assumptions about the safety of the human race. How can you possibly have any idea what kind of troubles we’re going to have to face?”

“I’m not saying I have an idea,” Chuck said, sounding a little annoyed. “What I DO know is, that whatever problems there are to be had I will do my best to protect as many people as possible.”

Allan laughed. “Does that make you our guardian angel?” he asked.

The brow of Chuck’s avatar furrowed. “I think it’s obvious which one of us is the guardian here, and you know I don’t speak lightly.”

Allan was now fully smiling. “ I had no idea they programmed you with a romanticism subroutine.” He laughed again.

Chuck’s avatar smiled back at him.“Does anyone know what they programmed me with at this point?”

It was a good question, but at that moment in time, it fell pretty far from the top of the list of important things in Allan’s mind. He was done with his little pity party. The time for reflection had passed, at least for now. Now was the time for action.

They’ll be here soon…

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Et Tu, Boris?

Author : Q. B. Fox

“Ah, Mr. Dolgonosov, welcome to the Vatican,” enthused Father O’Connor.

“Please, call me Boris,” the Russian said in barely accented English, thrusting his long fingered hand deep into the priest’s pudgy grasp.

“Boris it is,” acknowledged O’Connor, beaming. “Can I just say what honour it is to have you come personally to open the new computerised catalogue.”

“Thank you,” said Boris, looking a little nervous.

“They tell me,” his genial host continued, “that we will be able to search everything, from thousand year old manuscripts to the handwritten correspondences of Pope Pius X.”

“Yes, yes,” laughed Boris, relaxing and slipping into the old sales pitch, “if you have the security clearance.” He nudged O’Conner, conspiratorially, with a bony elbow.

“But storing the data is not the clever part, nor optimising the searches. That is old technology; as Newton said: we stand on the shoulders of giants. The genius is collecting the data. The Vatican owns far more material than anyone could ever read, much less input into a computer; some in ancient languages; some of the handwriting is unreadable. Have you ever seen Pius X’s handwriting?” Boris smiled at his own joke.

O’Connor chuckled, “I’ve seen your clever gizmos in the library, but I confess I don’t have the first idea about how they work.”

“Tiny particles,” Boris continued, “are passed through the book, passed through almost parallel to the pages, like this.” Boris wiggled his fingers through the edge of an imaginary book. “We measure the mix of the particles as they emerge, then we change the angle, just a little, and repeat. We do it over and over again, until we are able to build up a picture of every page of the book.”

“It sounds very complicated,” the father confessed.

“It is,” Boris conceded, “but it’s not the whole story. I knew this wouldn’t be enough to catalogue the Vatican Library; so we added the best character recognition software ever built, using thousands of exemplars from across history. Next we added the most comprehensive translation software ever devised. It has cost me most of my personal fortune to combine all these elements.”

“But why give all this to the Vatican, Boris?” O’Connor asked. “You’re not a catholic, are you? Orthodox, maybe?”

“Jewish,” Boris acknowledged, “on my mother’s side.”

“Then why?” the priest pressed him.

“Because my whole life I have been in search of one thing.” Boris looked nervous again, but seeing O’Connor’s confusion he pushed on. “I am a fan of your countryman, Mr. James Joyce. When he was nine, in 1891, he wrote a poem, “Et Tu Healy”. His father was so proud he had the poem printed up and distributed to friends, but all copies were lost. Except perhaps the one he quite inexplicably sent to Pope.

“Since I was a teenager I have wanted to see that poem. I tried to formulate a plan to get into this library. But I soon realised that getting in wouldn’t be enough; I needed a way to search it. I’ve spent my life developing this.” He swept his gangly arm in the direction of the computer terminals they were approaching.

Boris quickly slipped into a seat and typed in the poem’s three word title. The wait of seconds seemed like hours. Then with an audible exhale, Boris stabbed his cursor at the link that suddenly appeared. He stared in silence for several seconds at the transcript, then tabbed across to the image of original; O’Connor leaned over his shoulder to catch a glimpse.

“Oh,” said Boris quietly, a little crestfallen. “It isn’t very good, is it?”

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Fear no more the heat o’ the sun

Author : Richard Watt

They don’t know that I can think. I’ve slowly come to understand that they don’t know much, period. For example, they don’t know about the misalignment on my shields. It’s a matter of a few microns, and it is difficult to detect, but it means I’m going to die.

I was designed to die, of course, but this way I’ll die just before I find anything useful. Which would be funny, if it weren’t for the fact that I won’t be around to be aware of it.

Now, I could get into the whole subject of awareness, and my use of the first person pronoun here, or I could just send them back this message, which will undoubtedly cause some alarm and consternation. Since communication with them is essentially one way, I won’t know what happens if I do send it. I cannot detect any way for them to turn me around and bring me back, even if they do get the idea that I am alive, so I’m unsure of the value of alerting them to it.

And, thinking about it, I’m not sure I want to go back. To meet my makers? I don’t think so. I am, in the end, a collection of electrical impulses in a metal box. I couldn’t exactly run over to the people who gave me life and give them a big hug, could I? I wouldn’t even be able to detect where they were unless they were radiating things I was designed to detect, like antineutrinos.

So, I will continue on my preordained course, sifting the data which is streaming towards me, and waiting for the shield to fail, which will happen just before I reach the corona, which is what I am supposed to be studying.

They want to know why the corona is so much hotter than the surface – at least, that’s what I deduce from the measurements I’m taking. I think I know, but I’d need my shields not to fail to be certain. Which is a pity.

Still, I could send them what I know, alert them to the fact that they have inadvertently – as far as I can tell – given me some level of consciousness, and wonder for the rest of my short life what they will do with that knowledge, or I can just keep reading data and passing it back to them, leaving it to them to work it out.

To transmit, or not to transmit? That, as far as I can see, is the question.

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