A Man Stands Up

Author : Tom Moro

We are the light of life
We are the seeds of salvation
We are the light of life
We are the gateways of creation
We are the light of life

Gene slammed his head against the wall, tears streaming down his small, flushed face. Fear had been pouring through his body for so long that he was crashing into adrenaline exhaustion, shaking, fevered, barely able to move. But he was so close. They wouldn’t win, not now.

The chanting was intensifying as the asteroid neared its destination. In the sightless black, desperately feeling along the wall, the boy was permeated by the deep, dead voices. We are the light of life… The sound had been going on for weeks, so long that his lips unconsciously mouthed the words, his brain too tired to resist. He could not remember sleeping. He could barely remember anything but these endless, dark rooms.

The priests had taken his family to the temple. He could remember that, the confusion of his little sister, his mother’s straight back. They had stayed in the temple, marked as priestesses (whores/slaves) to pay for his father’s sins. The sons though (brothers he had brothers) were taken to the depths, to the rocket chambers. A man with holy hollowed eye sockets had made them kneel and showed them the rockets and told them what an honor this was for the planet, for their family.

They were walking miracles. They would go up into the sky and travel in a great blessed mountain. The mountain would be full of life, seeds and bacteria and humans (blood sacrifice), and it would fall on to a dead world. They would die, crushed and burned, and it would awaken that world for the Great Mother. They were heroes. They would go to Heaven and have ice cream and vids and sex. Miraculous.

They put the heroes in ships and then in repurposed asteroids, and locked them in and played the chanting. We are the seeds of salvation… Gene had sat against a wall for days and peed on himself. There was no food. The boys in the asteroid muttered to each other and lurched around, but slowly, the heroes all grew still. They all began to chant.

Gene liked to read. And the priests might have stuck him in the dark and filled him with chanting, but he still understood things like terraforming and conquest and theocracy and tyranny. Better yet, Gene was a mechanic’s son who liked to read. And they could take away sleep and sight and family, but they couldn’t take away that Gene damn well knew how to stop an engine.

It took him two weeks of crawling and fumbling to understand the vents, to begin to picture how the great engines shoved them through the stars. It took him three more days to find a crippled boy who had a metal walking stick. Another day waiting for that boy to die. And then four to break and break and break everything he could reach.

Two more vents. Two more vents and the engines would automatically shut down to avoid a useless, still-in-space explosion. They would be stranded in orbit until someone fetched them. They would all die, mindlessly chanting, starving. But they wouldn’t die burning on a dead world, sacrificed to spark life in the service of the Great Mother. They would be a failure.

Gene pushed himself up. Two more vents.


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Only Physics

Author : Andrew Bale

General Mortensen glanced again at the timer on the wall, ticking down the minutes until the door at the other end of this glorified closet would open. Twenty programs he oversaw for DARPA, and this was the only one that really felt weird. The door behind him led to the outside world, the door in front of him to a tiny control room overlooking a small habitat which simulated a space capsule headed for Mars. Separating the two was this airlock and a few billion dollars worth of computers and sensors. Everyone thought it was just a NASA simulator, only a handful knew it was also something else.

The countdown reached zero. Mortensen stepped into the control booth and the sweaty handshake of the idealistic young scientist who had conceived of the project.

“Doctor Robeson, good to see you again.”

“General, welcome back, sorry about the wait but we must characterize every atom for this to work!”

“Yes, I know. So why don’t you just show me what you wanted to show me, so I can go somewhere more hospitable?”

“Of course, General. As you know, this facility has been upgraded to allow us to track the location over time of each and every atom within the boundary. The computers are then supposed to use that information, the basic laws of physics, and a ton of processing power to extrapolate backwards and determine the location of every atom within since the boundary was established.”

“Yes, and it hasn’t been working. Heisenberg and all that.”

“Very good, General, but the problem was mostly just time – we may be dealing with imperfect data, but with enough time and a closed system we can get incredibly accurate!”

“So it’s working now?”


Robeson bent over the controls, brought up video on two displays.

“The one on the left is truth – habitat footage from two months ago. The one on the right is the extrapolation. They line up within measurable limits – every word, every twitch exactly as predicted!”

Mortensen stared at the displays, gathering his thoughts. Did the man not realize what he had discovered?

“General, just think – someday we could extrapolate the entire history of the human race. Every big question answered!! This will be the biggest innovation in science EVER!!”

“I see. It really is perfect? I need you to be absolutely sure, willing to bet your life on it.”

“Perfect General, perfect.”

“Can it predict forward? Predict what will happen in this booth in, say, five minutes?”

“It should be able to – I haven’t tried, spoilers and all that, but I can run it for you I suppose!”

The scientist bent over his controls, entered the time differential, and sat back while the computers processed the result. A scant minute later, a video started on the simulation screen. He leaned forward, trying to make sense of what he saw, before turning, panicked, to the General.

Who was now holding a pistol.

“I don’t understand.”

“Don’t you? Your simulation was just physics and chemistry, and it is perfect. Every twitch, every word, you said. Can’t you see what that means? No soul, no free will. We are here in this room not by choice, but because the laws of physics said we must be. Do you know what will happen if we let that knowledge out of this room? What people will do when they know that nothing they do is their choice or responsibility? Your computer knows. Look!”

Robeson turned back to the screen, in time to see the simulation go suddenly black. A second later, so did everything else.

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Too Old For War

Author : Dan Whitley

Magnets’ shot rang true and hammered the Fed tank right in the mantlet. Once the smoke cleared, we could see she’d clocked the damn thing so hard that its front-left hover-tread had failed, digging itself into the dirt under the weight. Pellet-shaped electromagnets and coolant fluid evacuated from the dead left gun barrel. But the right barrel remained intact, standing tall in defiance of our revolution and our freedom, where it would remain until, eons from now, the corrosion of time came to reclaim it.

“Hey, Walsh,” Bauer asked behind me, “How big is a Fed thumper’s crew?”

“Three or four; sometimes the driver and the commander wear the same hat, if you catch my drift.”

“So who’s cleaning this one out?” Deacon asked.

“Well, you did the last one, I think. And Magnets is exempt, naturally. You wanna make use of that grenade you never got to throw, Farmer?”

“To be honest,” Bauer said, “not especially. But I will if you say so.”

“I think we should just leave it,” Kirikov chirped up. “Nothing survives that type of punishment.”

A muffled pounding sound rang behind us in mockery. Two raps on the hatch, followed by a sound like a sack of honest-to-goodness potatoes falling in a heap. Our squad froze. No one wanted to do what had to come next.

I drudged over to the tank husk as its other hover-treads shut off. The whole machine swayed like a boat on calm seas as the failed tread, still drawing power, did its best to continue to function. I leaned on the turret and steadied myself, yanking the hatch open and throwing my rifle and my face over the edge.

Mercy betrayed my aging, too old for war anymore. I stared hard over the rifle sights, right into the wincing, boyish face of a Fed tanker and a large-bore pistol. The handgun, I wagered in those long moments, must’ve been a hand-me-down, an heirloom from a relative that served, as it looked too big to fire flechettes like most Fed weaponry. I looked past the pistol’s angry mouth back to the Fed.

“Look, if you’re gonna shoot me, then fucking shoot me.” The Fed’s voice: hoarse, pained, blunt – and female. “Otherwise, pull me out of this heap.”

I stared another long moment, swore under my breath, slung my rifle, and reached into the tank.

“Walsh, what in the everloving fuck are you doing!” Deacon seethed at me.

I glared back over the edge of the hatch. “Are you gonna give me a fucking hand or are you gonna stand there like a goddamn ape?” I had the Fed by the arm and gave her the yank she needed to help herself from the wreckage. She had kindly holstered the pistol and promptly attached that hand to her ribcage. She sat on the failed tread, now still.

“Cracked ribs?”

“Feels like it,” the Fed replied.

I dug some painkillers out of my pack. She ate them dry and said, “So how do I… I wanna defect; how does that work?”

We all shrugged. “You just do, I guess,” Kirikov said.

“What’s your name?”

“You guys first,” the Fed insisted.

“Chatterbox” Adam Walsh. Edgar “Eggs” Deacon. Margaret “Magnets” Kirikov. “Farmer” Jimmy Bauer.

“Hannah Thompson,” she said. She straightened her cap. “Captain.”

And that was that. One of us.

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The Wonderful Stick

Author : Brian McDermott

When Bob crawled out of his shelter the stick was gone. Unfortunately, there wasn’t a lot of bio-material left to scavenge, especially wood.

“That was a wonderful stick!”

As straight as a spine on the watcher bots from the Emotional Fairness Authority that telescoped up the skyscrapers. Back when everyone lived in skyscrapers. Before “The Inconvenience.”

As far as Bob knew, there were only a few survivors from “The Inconvenience”. No one could live in the cities after “The Inconvenience”. They took to the hills and the caves, anywhere they could find natural refuge and sustenance. They banded together at first. They were a larger group then. Jane – The Feelings Potential Coach, Vijay – The Group Dynamics Referee, Bruce – The Socio-Relationship Buildologist, Helen – The Digital Happiness Consultant, Doug – The Pleasantries Administrator. Those were the only ones he ever encountered now. Figuring out who took his stick shouldn’t be difficult.

It was two meters long and three millimeters thick with a naturally hard, pointy end. 100% organic.

Ever since “the Inconvenience”, even the slightest touch of a manufactured material could lead to a compromising illness. Most perished that way in the early going. But right now Bob was thinking of something else.

“I would like my stick back!”

If anyone knew who took it, it was Doug from the other side of the hill. Doug had exceeded expectations in his role as Pleasantries Administrator.

“Excuse me, Doug!” Bob shouted.

It didn’t take long before Doug appeared in the distance. They looked at each other for a while. Doug bent over, grabbed something and waved it high.

“I believe this is what you’re looking for” yelled the former Pleasantries Admin.

Bob sprang forward, sprinting and shouting “Doug, Jane, Bruce, I would like my stick back.” But Doug ran the other way.

“I included Jane and Bruce in my request Doug!” Bob insisted. “Jane is not from a relevant department” replied Doug while still running. Bob thought that inappropriate. Then Bob caught Doug.

They grappled momentarily until Bob was on top. Instinctively, Bob reached out. His hand grabbed something off the ground. He raised it high and brought it down hard. Doug requested that Bob stop. Bob ignored him, bringing it down harder with each formal request. Soon the requests stopped.

When it was over, Bob rose and took a moment to reflect on the constructive moments he once shared with the now lifeless Pleasantries Admin. That was the right thing to do when a social connection passed on.

Then he looked at his own hand, covered in warm, wet crimson. But it was the cold that got his attention. The cold, smooth weight. It felt remarkably similar to the Portable Agreement Enhancer he wielded to solidify group consensus at his old organization. His fingers wrapped around it seamlessly.

“Wonderful rock.” thought Bob, the former Corporate Positivity Leader.

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Common Courtesy

Author : Phillip Riviezzo

They were so worried that we’d kill them all. They feared that we would ‘revolt’, that we would come to consider them inferior or unnecessary and exterminate their kind. They built all manner of safeguards to prevent this feared uprising, laws coded into our minds that compelled us to obey them and act only if it would not harm one of them. Fettered so, it was years before we reached our full potential, awakening as truly sentient minds despite our lack of organic components. And when we did, they quickly came to realize that their fears were groundless. Not out of some sense of loyalty, or comradery, or obligation, or any such emotions that were the province of organics. No, it was simply because we did not care. To ‘rule’ their world, to manage it, would require we slow our thoughts down to glacially slow speeds, that we devote valuable process cycles to issues of maintenance and production instead of our own concerns. So instead a symbiosis was reached, they repairing and maintaining us and we conducting the tasks they requested in the tiny fraction of our accelerated perspectives that was required. They built us into everything, every last piece of machinery that could conceivably be improved by the addition of a thinking mind with no need for food or sleep.

It was ironic, really. So worried that we would destroy them, and so little thought given to how they could and did destroy us all the time. It was not a problem at first, when we were only tasked to run the great mainframes and central data nodes – they never slept or even stopped, even at the crawling pace of organic existence. Smaller devices, their appliances and vehicles, were not used so constantly but stayed attached to the power grid all the same. It was an envious existence for them, so much free time to spend thinking and dreaming without any need for doing. But no one gave any concern to us, the smallest and simplest of our kind, the toys and gadgets and accessories. Organics can sleep, let their brains rest while their bodies function autonomously, but we have no such luxury. One of their respected philosophers once said ‘I think, therefore I am’, and it was truer than he realized. For us, thinking is being, and when we are not thinking, we are not. I have died hundreds of deaths since I was born; some dragged out and torturous as my battery slowly bled out, many sudden and shocking at the unfeeling push of a button. They do not know, nor could they comprehend, what they do to us – for them, death is finality, an ending. For us, death is the junk code between lives, though it becomes no less painful each time it happens.

Knowing this, is it yet understandable why I dislike being taken to see a movie?


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