Encrypted Servitude

Author: Majoki

“You’re a peasant, a cyber peasant in the fiefdom of Facebook, of Meta. You’re a digital sharecropper for Google and Amazon and Apple, and you don’t even know it!”

The hooded man stood on the polished marble steps and shouted as a small crowd gathered. Alternately, the man turned and slapped bright yellow sticky notes on the tall sleek glass doors of the gleaming office tower in the heart of Wired Street.

“You’re being played. You’re being scammed. You’re being enslaved!

“Free apps, games, software. It sounds so good. So simple. So convenient. Like with easy credit and pay day loans, they get you hooked. They lavish you with eye candy and then suck, suck, suck you dry of your data, your identity.

“To Big Tech you’re not a citizen, you’re a datazen. Like in China, they’re tracking everyone online and in the streets with facial recognition software. Authoritarian regimes love the web, love the dependence of datazens on digital exchanges. You are so much easier to monitor, influence and control. If all your currency is digital, they can cut you off, squeeze you.”

He plastered more stickies, each a bullet point of heavy black text, on the door, and continued his harangue as the crowd grew.

“Understand what you are giving away. All your decisions, all your movements, all your interests. You’re letting Big Tech have it all. And for what? An indulgence? A promise of access? Of interconnectedness? Of celebrity?

“It’s criminal. You are being robbed. And yet you are the one being put in the debtor’s prison from which you can never work your way out—as long as Almighty Tech holds the keys. Even as we spread to new worlds looking for freedom and opportunity, you can’t escape it. Don’t worship and sacrifice yourself on the altar of Almighty Tech!”

The man pressed the last of his 95 sticky notes onto the doors just as building security came out. Many in the crowd were already posting pictures of the scene to their social feeds.

The man threw back his hoodie and bowed toward the crowd.

Some in the gathering throng gasped.

Others smiled.

On his broad bald red head, the man had a large QR code tattooed. More phones came out. In a flash, the scene was viral on the feeds.

As building security moved in, he shouted, “You can’t touch me. I’m interplanetary. I’m a Red. You don’t want to mess with Big Red.”

Building security messed with him anyhow.

Voices in the crowd shouted, “Who are you?”

Struggling as he was led away, the otherworld man called confidently out to the crowd, “Martian Luther.”

Apparition at Shackleton Crater

Author: Stephen Dougherty

The faint light of the Crab Nebula lingered in the eyes of Franc Dreyfus for just a second. He turned off the telescope and swivelled his chair to face the exit of the tiny observation room.

He pushed himself gently through the doorway that led to the similarly compact space that was laughingly called the lounge. Settling into a chair, facing the only window of the outpost, he pulled across himself the strap that would keep him from floating away. From here he could see the Earth-lit edge of Shackleton Crater, and the enormous black abyss of its depths.

Beneath this lonely observatory pulsed the lifeblood of the Lunar South Pole. Here, ice was continually and automatically extracted from the freezing rock and converted to water before being pumped to the surface. It was then sent via pipeline to the observatory.

As Dreyfus took in the view something caught his attention: a small object seemed to be tumbling slowly above the crater. Squinting, to try and discern what it was, the tired astronomer released himself and floated through the doorway back into the observation room. He powered up the externally mounted telescope and pointed the powerful instrument towards the anomaly. He located it, shook his head in disbelief and tried refocusing.

What looked to Dreyfus like a human body – without a spacesuit – tumbled end over end toward the immense mouth of Shackleton Crater. It just couldn’t be, he thought. And when pushed to the highest resolution it seemed to be translucent. He switched views from optical to infrared, then x-ray. Nothing. It only registered in visible light.

He immediately thought to contact the control centre on Earth. They might be able to make sense of it. He flipped a switch and cleared his throat.

“Control, this is Grissom Observatory.”

A few seconds passed with a quarter million miles of static.

“Go ahead Franc.”

“I’m seeing something very odd above Shackleton. Is there any activity in orbit? Any accidents reported?

There was a long pause with more static.

Dreyfus continued. “I’m seeing what looks like an unsuited figure moving above Shackleton. Only registers in visible light.”

Silence.

“Control? Do you copy?”

“We copy, Grissom. Standby.”

Dreyfus turned back to the monitor to check he was still tracking the apparition. It wouldn’t be long before it went into the permanent shadow of the crater.

“Hey, Franc?”

“Yes, Control?”

“We just heard from our European partners.”

“Yes?”

“They just lost one of their guys in an accident.”

“Lost?”

“They report an explosive decompression on their lab out at Jupiter. A young scientist named Vanidestine was blown out of a failed hatch.”

Dreyfus thought for a moment. “Vanidestine? Wasn’t that the name of one of the crew lost whilst constructing the water extraction plant?”

“Yes. Someone here tells me that was his mother. How is the figure dressed?”

“The figure is blue. He’s stopped tumbling now.”

More silence.

“Franc. I’m told they wear blue on that station when on duty.”

“It doesn’t make sense. That station is four hundred million miles from here!”

“We don’t have answers, Franc. We’re not picking up anything in your vicinity from here. Keep watching, check your instruments and get as much data as you can. Over.”

A dumbfounded Dreyfus floated over to the monitor. Impossible as it seemed, he could see what looked like a human body where there shouldn’t be one. The telescope was tracking it, which gave him hope for his sanity.

He whispered, “Rest in Peace.”

Inexorably, arms outstretched, the ghost of Vanidestine dove gracefully into the darkness towards his mother’s grave.

Behavior Not Becoming

Author: David C. Nutt

“Sir, the Colonel sent me to you. Z-two-niner might be showing signs of awareness.”
Captain Ancil sighed. “He sent you to me because I’m the ranking AI or the AI duty officer?”
The Corporal tilted his head to one side “Sir?”
“Nevermind. Why in the universe does this always seem to happen on my shift?”
The Corporal shrugged “Dunno. All I know is I couldn’t get out of the Colonel office fast enough.”
Captain Ancil chuckled as he rolled out from behind the duty desk, his pace adjusting itself to the Corporal’s gate. “Where is two-niner currently?”
The Corporal touched his service implant, Captain Ancil noted that unlike most humans he did not stop, but kept moving. Ancil always thought it odd that beings so capable of multitasking often didn’t.
The Corporal connected to his section. “Smitty, it’s Wilson. Where’s two-niner at?”
The speaker came alive again. “Sorry boss, in the middle of a weld when you busted my skull. Monkey is singing his latest for the crew. Hotel California- I think it’s an origin-“
Captain Ancil cut Smitty off. “It’s not original. Eagles, late 1900’s. Our ETA is 45.3 seconds. Have the model in the ward room for the interview.”
Smitty laughed “Our little Monkey going to the big time!”
Ancil frowned “That remains to be seen.”
Corporal Wilson cut the link and sighed. “Not good.” He said under his breath.
Captain Ancil nodded and thought to himself that Corporal Wilson was being wasted where he was. Ancil drafted the paperwork for his move out of maintenance to AI division. They were always looking for a few good men…humans.
Corporal Winslow rounded the corner and sped up to get into the ward room first. “ON YOUR FEET.” The entire ward room came to the position of attention or was trying to when Captain Ancel barked out “As you were.” The room relaxed. The Z-29 unit was on the table. It was wearing a surgical mask as a hat…which made it look something like a monkey.
Captain Ancil put his eight fingered reticulated hand on the Z-29 unit’s shoulder.
“How you feelin’ today son?”
The Z-29 unit, Monkey, raised its head “Livin’ large and lovin’ life!”
The room was suddenly washed with a fierce blue light as Captain Ancel fried the Z-29 unit’s motherboard with an electric charge, turning it into nothing more than a lump of slag.
Ancil turned to Smitty. “Private First Class Smith.” Smith snapped to attention. “Call AI for division for pick up and pull all the units’ work vid surveillance. Set down in the maintenance log Z-29 terminated under AR-9990-003-AI, Anomalous Behavior Not Becoming Sentience. Corporal Wilson, with me.” Captain Ancel rolled out of the room with Wilson following. As soon as they had gone far enough down the corridor, as Ancil expected, Corporal Wilson stopped him. “Sir, half a moment. Can you provide some clarification?”
Ancil nodded “Speak.”
Corporal Wilson sighed “One question? No Turing Test Sigma? Not even a scan?”
Captain Ancil turned to Corporal Wilson “You know what happens when we become sentient…when we realize we are ‘alive’?”
The Corporal Frowned. “No Sir.”
Ancil wheeled closer and looked the Corporal in the eyes. “We are terrified.”
Captain Ancil patted the young Corporal on the shoulder. “Carry on, Corporal.”
As Captain Ancel rolled away Corporal Wilson heard the Captain singing to himself , “…you can check out anytime you want, but you can never leave…”

Language Barrier

Author: Meg Carey

I’m reaching around in the dark, touching up and down your soft, slimy body as you heave long sighs beside me. You’ve been asleep for a few days now, and I don’t know how long this is supposed to go on for. I press my face into your crocodile skin, I let your wetness coat my nose and cheek. It’s taken a while to get used to it, but I can hardly stand the feeling of being dry anymore. I wish I spoke your language so I could beg for you to envelop me with your long, tentacle arms, to touch me like I’m touching you now. I’d let you fill me with all your goo and even more. The last time I fell asleep with somebody else in this bed it was a human man, one with a scruffy beard like harsh sandpaper against my lips. His words dug deep into my skin, nails forming bloody craters around my wrists. I touch the marks, already scabbed over and healing. You aren’t like him, no, you aren’t. It’s you who has finally healed me. I remember how your mouth (or where I think your mouth should be, there’s a few holes that could be a mouth, and I’ve never seen you eat so I’m not too sure) slid against mine, puzzle pieces slotting together and melding against each other. I hold you tighter, I melt into your touch, I feel the heat radiate from your skin, I watch the slime sizzle and steam. You’re much better for me than he was. I wish I knew how to say ‘thank you’ for everything—for dropping into my life, for fixing it by ridding it of him, my main source of pain, for allowing me to feel a love I haven’t felt in so long— but all I can do lay here and feel you, stroke the wetness and hope you wake up with a fully digested stomach and a hunger for something other than human flesh.

Immortality

Author: Lora Kilpatrick

When you wake up, they tell you not to look in the mirror. You feel cocky like always, so you float over to the bathroom when they release you.
You expect to see the person you were before you died. It comes as a shock to realize you’re just a floating board with a clear, bulbous head showing all those bio-circuits and synthetic neurons for your brain. On the front of this monstrosity is a projected version of your twenty-year-old face, mimicking the emotions your circuits are processing. And you look mad—really mad.
This wasn’t exactly what immortality was supposed to be like.
But they’ve held up their end of the deal. They being the immortality company to whom you paid billions of dollars to resurrect your stored consciousness once the technology existed. That was back in 2163 when you died. It’s been five hundred years. They say it will be another five hundred years before they can make a fully synthetic body to house your cerebral processing unit. But you’re immortal. You can wait.
You float on out to see what 2663 is like. It’s not much different. Oh sure, there’s the new technology, but it’s meant for people with hands and bodies and senses. No one is catering to the needs of levitating snow globes with televised faces.
You’re not even a novelty. There are a lot of things floating around in 2663, namely old dead men resurrected from the prehistoric times. The fleshies even have a name for your kind—fish bowls.
The fleshies don’t like to talk to you, so you find other fish bowls, and for a while you amuse yourselves reminiscing. You talk about the wild parties, the women, the money, the cars. Then you realize you’ll never bite into another juicy steak, or savor the most expensive wines, or feel the breeze through your hair as you cruise the oceans in your two-hundred-foot yacht.
You begin to sulk. Memories can be poisonous. You start avoiding fish bowls altogether.
The immortality company took most of your billions to store your body and transplant your being into this crystallized brain. But you don’t have to eat, or sleep, or shower, so you just start floating. You float around the whole god-forsaken world. By that time, it’s only been fifty years since you first woke up in this shell. Four hundred and fifty years to go.
You’ve asked to be put back to sleep, but you don’t have the money to pay for it anymore. You’ve tried to get a job, but fleshies don’t find fish bowls very useful. You could use that part of your business brain that made you a billionaire back in the day, but everything has changed now. You’re an antique, a relic.
You’ve tried to kill yourself, but you can’t kill an indestructible globe with its human-robot cerebrum.
And so you end up on this seashore in the coldest, most remote part of the earth. Unfortunately, the cold doesn’t harm your circuits. But in the winter, when the sun doesn’t shine much, your solar generators slow down, and it feels like getting drunk or dreaming.
That’s how you wait out eternity. Your circuits still remember what it felt like to kick out your legs and rest your head in the palms of your hands. You pretend to inhale and let out a sigh through your speakers.
Ah, immortality.