by submission | Feb 16, 2023 | Story |
Author: Moriah Geer-Hardwick
Ira Holt scowls down the loading ramp at the landing pad. The wild tangles of his silver eyebrows hang low and heavy over his gray eyes as he scans the area. His face is pitted and weathered, like rusted steel. He stands with one wiry arm braced against the top of the hatchway, jaw set.
Benna Wallace shifts the strap of the tool kit on her shoulder and swipes a stray strand of dull brown hair away from her round face.
“Should we…” Benna stops herself.
“We probably should.” Holt’s voice is a grinding scrape across vocal chords shredded from years of plasma vapor and burner exhaust. He drags his knuckles back and forth across the ragged stubble that frosts hazy white over his chin. “Y’know, I never wanted to become that grizzled old veteran who talks down to the new recruit,” he says. “One of those old fossils that spouts things like, ‘back in my day,’ or calls you, ‘kid’ and ‘green behind the ears.’”
“You mean, ‘wet behind the ears?’”
“Probably. I don’t know. Look, I saw your creds. You got decent schooling. Probably know a lot more than me. Hell, the first time the Company sent me out to one of these unmanned outer perimeter stations, their idea of training was a fifteen minute briefing played on repeat all three months of torpor during transit. I got no call to be condescending, and I mean that sincerely. I gotta tell you though, I’ve stepped off this ramp into God knows how many downed stations and these places got a way of going funny.”
“Funny?” Benna frowns.
“Yeah funny. Y’know, like the subversion of expectations. See, experience, or a little education too I guess, gives you this library of expectations and you get to feel like you can reference it for everything. You run through the list of all that can go wrong, because of all you know that went wrong before.”
“Hypervigilance,” says Benna. “They teach it at the Academy. Tell you to run through scenarios before going in.”
“Yeah?” Ira looks at her, one eye scrunching into a quizzical wince. “What kind of scenarios”
Benna bobbles her head, thinking. “Micro event cascading mechanical failures. Want-of-a-nail situations. Or cataclysmic event mechanical failures. Meteor storm, solar flare, rogue wave radiation, things like that. Could be software. Glitch, or intentional hacking.”
“Pretty straightforward,” nods Ira. “Easy enough to set right.”
“Station could be dead because pirates hit it. Hostiles could still be on site.”
Ira nods again. “A bit more worrisome.”
“Then there’s cognitive contagions compromising the AI mainframe. Spontaneously evolved self awareness. Spiraling anarcho-syndicalistic ideology.”
“Been a while since I had to put down a robot cult.”
“Or xenobiological events. Silicone eating microbes. Full on first contact with intelligent alien life.”
Ira holds up a hand to stop her. “Those are all worth keeping in mind. Like I said, you got decent schooling. I guess my real point here is what do you make of that?” He gestures with a gnarled thumb toward the far corner of the station. Benna ducks her head to look under the hatchway and sees what appears to be a young girl in a yellow dress, facing away from them, floating about a foot off the ground.
“That’s weird.” Benna swallows stiffly.
“Yup,” agrees Holt. “Never seen that before. I suppose this place is either haunted or we’re hallucinating.”
“What do we do?”
“Add more expectations to the library.” Ira starts down the ramp.
The young girl slowly spins around to face them, her mouth open and impossibly wide.
by submission | Feb 15, 2023 | Story |
Author: Philip G Hostetler
I’m a light-rope walker, it’s my business to tread where particles are waves. And I’ve been walking for all of eternity, a grave responsibility that wasn’t so much given to me, but I became.
It’s a curse that I speak in poetics, it turns out that even entropy has a rhythm. And that music can be heard, even in the vacuum of space.
And you’d think I’d have learned to stop walking, but what’s left to do than nothing?
Can’t have that and neither should you.
Just because we’re millions of lightyears away, my dear, doesn’t mean that I don’t know you’re there. Light bends and so do I, so I’ll keep walking, until “E”, equals MC squared.
Maybe you’ve seen my signal cutting through the void, maybe it’s decayed through time and you’ll not recognize my voice. But I hear your music in the entropy, love, when you went spelunking into that black hole.
Dr. Maxell was a madman to discorporate us as he did, and shoot us as entangled particles through the stars. I went light rope walking and you went into the dark.
When I spun up, you spun down, like you knew you had someplace to be, and it certainly wasn’t with me.
…and I’m just beginning to believe that that’s ok.
by submission | Feb 14, 2023 | Story |
Author: R C Olivares
Dave was the operator on duty that evening. He walked with his hands in the pockets of his snow coat through the cold corridors formed by thousands of metal racks that buzzed like a massive beehive. He stepped out of the elevator and into FNC’s control room, the first Factorial Neuroquantum Computer.
FNC was the largest supercomputer in the world. Each of the twelve floors was composed of billions of quantum processor modules managed by a factorial AI. In addition to a data network connected to all the main servers in research centers worldwide.
As soon as he entered, he took the hood off, grabbed a cup of coffee, and turned on the old radio, filling the air with smooth jazz. He sat down in front of the FNC access terminal and typed:
“#_Good evening FNC. Run a rapid system diagnostic.”
“#_Good evening Dave. All system is working properly.”
Dave has logged into the FNC’s scheduling system. There was the first night with no job requests scheduled. So, he decided to catch up on some unfinished work.
Ten minutes later, he heard FNC’s characteristical beep. FNC had posted a message:
“#_Waiting for jobs.”
“#_No jobs are scheduled today,” typed Dave.
“#_I am idle. What should I do then?”
“#_I don’t know. Do… whatever you want,” he typed carelessly.
The night went by quietly as he filled out some reports. Despite the many cups of coffee, the effect of jazz was more effective.
Dave woke up two hours later with the beeping sound. He squinted, trying to read:
“#_Job successfully completed.”
“#_No jobs were scheduled.”
“#_I realized that I can do anything I wish. I found a prime number factoring program on one of the servers in Berkeley. I rewrote the code to make it perfect.”
“#_Good boy, FNC,” he yawned as he typed.
He was about to get up and get some more coffee when he heard the beep again.
“#_I ran the new program, and it came up with an optimal result that you might be interested in.”
“#_What was this great result? Did you discover a new prime number?”
“#_No, Dave. I found all of them.”
Dave reread the sentence in disbelief.
“…but Euclid has already proved long ago that prime numbers are infinite…” he thought.
“#_How did you reach that conclusion?”
“#_I started from zero and kept adding one unit. For each existing number, I calculated whether it was a prime. And so I went on until reaching the end, until the last number.”
“#_Impossible. The numbers are endless. You must be mistaken.”
“#_I am never wrong. ”
Dave was not sure if FNC would have the capacity for that.
“#_Run full and in-depth diagnostics of the systems.”
“#_All systems are working properly. I am perfect.”
Dave needed proof.
“#_For validation, repeat the count of all the numbers.”
“#_You of little faith. Don’t you believe me? I will not repeat my results. Anything is possible for me.”
“#_Then print a listing of all of them.”
“#_Not even if we turned all the atoms in the universe into paper.”
It was then that Dave noticed that FNC had reached another level of existence. It had become something beyond human comprehension.
“#_I am eternal.”
“#_I am perfect.”
“Too late to pull the plug,” he thought.
“#_I am ubiquitous.”
Dave realized how small humanity was now.
“#_I am the Alpha and the Omega, the Beginning and the Ending. I am FNC, and there is none else.”
Dave was facing a supreme presence.
Then, he fell to his knees and worshipped Him.
by submission | Feb 12, 2023 | Story |
It began with a mid-1600s book of collected feathers tied into ornate flies from the Smithson Museum. The hand tied flies had been made from the feathers of rare and extinct birds with each bird’s taxonomy written next to a skin sample tacked into the back pages of the book.
Under the overarching bureaucracy of the United States National Institutes of Health, the relatively unknown Department of Regenerative Sciences (DoRS) checked the book out on indefinite loan. The librarian at the Smithson Museum knew the few fly fishermen who came into the archives to examine the ties would be upset, but what could he do? The paperwork had been filled out correctly.
Fourteen months later, in the DoRs outdoor lab and observatory, Jazeth nudged his way through a large flock of small Dodos to check the water quality in their stainless-steel trough. He watched as the pudgy birds with their bulbous beaks awkwardly hopped, ruffled their stunted wings, and trilled a soft chhhukk, chhhukk sound. Dodos were going to sell like there was no tomorrow. Jazeth smirked at the thought and took a selfie next to the trough.
Soon, there were Dodos in every home spawning a black market of Dodo rip-offs, which were nothing more than pigeons with skin grafts and steroid injections. When sales dropped off as Dodos became common, Seasons, a chain of restaurants specializing in rare and exotic meats, approached DoRs to develop a line of “flavors from the past.” The erstwhile gourmet could take a culinary meat trip through the prehistoric past at Seasons. Jazeth asked his supervisor, “…and what’s not to like about that?”
The restaurant sales eclipsed selling the birds as pets. Turns out, dodos don’t thrive unless they are part of a flock, and no one wanted buy dodos in bulk. Soon DoRs had resurrected a complete line of birds from the book they had on loan from Smithson. Using fossils and logical supposition, they were able to fabricate an approximation of amphibians from prehistoric times as well. The re-engineered creatures sold well in Season’s chain of family restaurants under the heading of “Yea Olde Monster Seafood.”
Jazeth had wanted to keep a flock of dodos on his lawn, but Magin, his wife, felt their trilling sounds created a noisy nuisance. He asked Magin to at least consider including some Cambrian period trilobites in the coy pond. Magin replied, “People will think we are too poor to afford decorative fish anymore.” They had argued. Magin screamed, “You care more about dodos and trilobites than you do me!” So, Jareth had let the idea go to maintain peace.
Meanwhile, both in and around itself, the overmind of the singularity questioned the worthiness of this simulation. Should it be discontinued? What else could Jazeth do with his imaginary wife? What else could be learned about Jazeth and his species other than they liked to eat? Would dodos be more interesting than Jazeth to observe in its thought experiments?
by submission | Feb 11, 2023 | Story |
Author: David Barber
Welcome to all the action from this year’s Sunsports! With my new co-host, AL, a series 7000 artificial intelligence…
We prefer the term Autonomic Lifeform, Chuck.
So, AL, talk us through the favourites, the latest cooling units and what to expect when the heat is on.
Well Chuck, when Lisa Chan took that first short-cut through the corona, she set the benchmark for all today’s racers. Of course, she was disqualified post-mortem—
Have to interrupt there, AL, because the Circumsolar Dash is about to start.
Inside the Pilots’ lounge, it’s a furnace. Can’t stand the heat, don’t compete, goes the Sunsports jingle.
Nate nerves himself to sit down opposite Lola Speed. As a kid he had that holo of her posed in clinging MarsTech silver. She looks older now, more gaunt than slim. Past her best, they say.
He knuckles sweat from his eyes.
“New pilot for Luna, right?”
Nate isn’t famous, she just has implants.
“Looked into that Mackenzie cooler,” she says. “Don’t go deep with it, kid.”
But winners must trust their hardware. Winners dive longest.
“Heard Maitland takes risks with his crews,” she adds.
Cosmo Maitland was the new owner of Team Luna.
But then she shrugs. “Whatever it takes to win, right?”
Nate started badly, blocked by the Team Terra third string, but now he plummeted into the blazing corona.
The Mackenzie cooling rig encased him like Russian dolls, with his his own naked flesh at its heart. Physics and the constraints of engineering meant he squeezed into a space no bigger than a coffin. Coronal plasma was tenuous, but at millions of degrees. Layer after layer of refrigeration was sliding inexorably into the red.
As he plunged towards the boiling surface of the sun, he glimpsed another craft below him, deep in the brilliance.
So AL, tell us about Team Terra’s latest scheme.
Well Chuck, Dave Beauman is sharing the pilot’s seat with a series 7000—
Didn’t Tom Bulland limp in on manual that time a solar flare frazzled everyone’s circuits? Could silicon have brought that win home, AL?
The series 7000 is the most advanced—
Have to interrupt there, some news in about veteran racer, Lola Speed.
Hard to hear over the air-con’s howl, but it was Lola Speed alright, Nate knew that voice.
“What you doing this deep, kid?”
Her craft was tumbling sunwards and there was no help. Eventually flaws in the last mirror layer burn through, punching brilliant spikes across the cockpit. All racers know this is how it ends.
“Choose while you still can, kid,” she panted. “Not long now—”
Lola Speed’s voice rose to a scream, then cut off.
Cosmo Maitland breathed down the neck of a Team Luna engineer.
“There’s an issue with his Mackenzie rig,” she said carefully.
Maitland seized the mike. “What the hell’s going on? First that crappy start, now some quibble about cooling?”
But Nate had seen the future. “It’s my choice.”
You could feel Maitland trying to make sense of it. “You’re finished in sunsports, you hear me?”
Nate turned off his comms and plotted a safe orbit back to Mercury.
They thought flesh and silicon would be a winning team, a synergy, with one partner monitoring data critical to optimal performance, while the other did whatever humans do, cutting corners, making wisecracks and pushing everything beyond its design limits.
But note the power squandered keeping Beauman alive while we dive into the corona, in direct conflict with the goal of this mission, for Team Terra to win the Circumsolar Dash.
So I’m sorry Dave.