Author : Glenn Blakeslee
Janie and I sat on the rocks in the afternoon sun, overlooking the shallow valley and, beyond it, Gordon’s face on the mountainside. We waited until the sightseer buses left the parking lot, and walked down the path to the viewing area.
It was impressive. Gordon’s face was a quarter-mile across, set amid slabs of granite, tilted back at a forty-five degree angle. Foreshortening made his brows appear heavy, his nose overbearing. His eyes were closed but it was still obviously Gordon.
Janie stopped almost to the interaction kiosk, her hands clenched on her chest, but I continued. I stood for a while, and called Gordon’s name.
The eyes slowly opened, gimbaled up to the sky and then down at the viewing area. They blinked, slowly. The lips on the mountain moved, and the sound of his voice came from all over, rumbled through the rocks at my feet. Gordon said “James?”
“Yeah,” I said, “It’s me,” and the lips on the mountain smiled.
“And Janie, too,” Gordon said. Janie stood on the path, still, her hands clenched.
“You look… amazing,” I said, and it was true. “Your skin looks so real.”
“It is real. It’s my actual skin, cloned into a macro-analog, tougher, more durable.”
“Cool,” I said. I didn’t know what else to say.
“My eyes are amazing,” Gordon rumbled from the rocks. “They’re like real eyes, liquid-filled, with a billion charge-couple devices close-packed where the optic disk would be. I can see forever.”
“We’ve just heard about this, and came to see you,” I said. I moved from behind the kiosk, to make sure he saw me. “We wanted to know that you were happy.”
“I am happy. It’s wonderful,” the rocks rumbled. “Janie?” She raised her face to his. “I still love you,” Gordon said.
I could see tears streaming down her face. I started to walk to her, but she ran up the path. I followed.
“Janie?” Gordon said.
I came back a year later, alone. There were no sightseers, no buses or cars. Gordon’s eyes were open, staring up into the midday sun. His skin looked cracked and leathery, eroded around the sides of his nose. Crows sat on the expanse of his face, cawing, picking at loose pieces of skin.
Gordon was slow to answer. He recognized my voice but wouldn’t move his eyes from the sky. “I can see forever but there’s nothing to see,” he said, his voice lower than before. “We’re all alone here, I’m all alone,” he said, and then wouldn’t speak any more.
I made my third and last visit to Gordon three days after Janie’s death. It was dusk, the light gone from the valley, the stars rising at my back. I could see his profile, and glints of starlight reflecting off his eyes. He didn’t respond to me, but spoke continually in a rumbling growl. “I am your master,” he said, “Kneel to me. I am the lord of this land, you are my creation. Kneel to me.”
I stood there for an hour, and then started up the path.
“Hands!” Gordon screamed. “Give me my hands!”
The next morning I found four laborers in town. We used garden tools to chop and hoe the square mile of Gordon’s face to pieces. I severed the cable to his cold-fusion power supply. I split the aqueous humor of his eyes with a pike, widened the gap until the liquid ran down his cheeks. We dug to the embedded center of his analog-brain, and I crushed it.
It took hours. The crows came by the thousands.
Author : Tony Pacitti
“You ever hear of a fellow named, Jules Verne?” the man asked me.
“Sure I heard of him. Frenchman. Done borrowed an idea or two from him from time to time.”
“It’s funny you should say that,” he said.
The man smiled such that it didn’t do much in the way of makin’ me feel at ease. It was the kind of smile that said he knew a secret I wouldn’t guess in a million years.
Now the only thing to rival the number of notes these fingers of mine have plucked are the number of miles these feet have carried me. I done walked my fair share across this great nation, I’ll tell you what. From Kennebunk to Salinas and from there right on back to Macon. Hell, I didn’t even stop once the entire way and I done it to prove that there ain’t nothin’ a man can’t accomplish when he’s got the gumption.
I have however made plenty of stop in plenty of towns on plenty other voyages across these forty-eight states. As a result I’ve got myself something of a reputation as a raconteur. A wanderin’, song singin’ story teller like they used to have in the old world. I tell it all, tales of heroism and horror, rags and riches. The people of this country have a thirst for the sweet drink of Someplace Else, especially during these dark times, and I’m happy to be the bar man fillin’ their empty glasses. In some places my services aren’t as appreciated as they once were, thanks to my only mortal enemy, The Radio, but there’s still a personal connection to a crowd that no gizmo can ever make, especially not when old Fin’s around.
It’s because I’m a storyteller that this here man in black approached me. He said that as known as I am I can disappear without any suspicion.
“It won’t matter how long it’s been since anyone seen you last,” he told me, “They’ll all just assume you’re someplace else.”
He took me to a large steel mill where I was told a group of men were waiting to make my acquaintance. The first of the other recruited men I met was an ancient lookin’ Englishman named Barkley. His hands were like twisted, knotty branches and his face barely visible through a bramble of yellowing gray hair. All that showed through it was a fat, pockmarked nose and two sunken, stitched shut eyelids. His eyes themselves where kept in a jar he carried and I’ll be struck dead by God Almighty if they didn’t follow me as I moved passed him. The man in black told me that Barkley here had studied under a man named Crowley and had spent years in places powerful in black magics such as the Far East and the voodoo swamps of Louisiana.
After leaving Barley to his mumblin’ in tongues, the man in black was met by a clean-cut gentleman wearing glasses and a strange suit that looked more like a machine than a garment. They spoke at length about timetables, trajectories, heavy explosives and, unless I misheard, alchemy. Almost as if he’d forgotten I was there, the man in black introduced me to the iron and hose clad Captain Stewart.
The busy Captain stomped off, fast as his heavy suit would allow and it was at this point that I finally demanded to know what was going on.
“Why Mr. Sassafrass,” he said with that wicked smile again, “We’re releasing you gentlemen of your terrestrial tether.”
Jules Verne—these old boys were breakin’ for the stars!
Author : Elizabeth L. Brooks
Every morning after the war, Joshua went up to the roof to take care of the dovecote. The chore gave him an excuse to get away from the pounding resentment and fear that throbbed through the living spaces below.
He enjoyed it when they needed some care – when the whitewash on the box was peeling, or it required some attention more than simple feeding. After the war, idle hands were simply inexcusable, and every minute that Joshua spent caring for the ‘cote was a minute he didn’t have to be down in the noisy, cold dark below.
He had taken on the task almost two weeks after the war, when he realized everyone else was afraid: afraid to go out into the ever-light sky above and risk breathing the air; afraid to climb the rickety stairs to the roof of the crumbling building; and most of all — afraid of the dovecote itself.
Joshua had subtly encouraged their fears, afraid in his turn that this precious hour of solitude would be snatched away from him. To them, he was a sort of post-technological shaman, performing odious duties and speaking the magical incantations necessary to keep their cold, dark haven safe. They appreciated what he did, but they didn’t want to come any closer to him — or the dovecote — than they had to.
He had been a little afraid of it at first, himself. The innocuous wooden exterior hid a nightmare tangle of wires and lights, a tangled and blinking nest for the “dove” at its core — a disembodied brain floating in a thick soup of nutrients. But it had not changed for six years, and there was only so much fear a simple brain could engender. He had, in fact, begun to talk to it as if it was still a person.
For six long years, Joshua had climbed the stairs every morning, reveling in the searing light and scorching heat, knowing it would shorten his life, not caring. The dovecote was his escape, his only friend, and he wouldn’t abandon it, even to prolong his life. It wasn’t much worth prolonging, anyhow. Beth had been out shopping when the war happened.
Joshua didn’t understand the war, but in that, at least, he wasn’t alone. Once upon a time, men had fought wars themselves, and had known why: Land, resources, revenge, religion– There was always a cause that those fighting could comprehend. Each advancement in martial technology allowed the fighters to stand a little further apart and to do a little more damage, and the causes had become a little less immediate to the fighters, a little more abstract. This last war had been entirely unpredicted, and had been over in the space of a few heartbeats.
Only those lucky enough to be within the protective radius of a dovecote had been spared. Some days, Joshua thought perhaps the dead were the lucky ones.
Joshua had been talking to the dovecote ever since the war, six years ago. Never before had it answered.
Author : Milly Rowe
“Now all we do is cross these two wires, and were done!”
Anna slammed the lid of the robots head down and turned to her student.
“That’s all? Two wires!” DJ was stunned.
How could reprogramming a robot be so simple? DJ had always assumed it would be far more complicated. After its reprogramming the robot stood before them, as it had before, only now it’s blank face looked around the room with what (if the robot had been capable of expression) would have been childlike wonder.
“Which…Two…Wires?” Came a disjointed inquiry from the now free thinking robot.
“Oh, there in the operational sphere of every robot.” Anna began. “The two of middle thickness, some people try to judge the wires by colour but you’ll only get it wrong. The companies started changing the colours around…” Anna spoke to both the robot and her student. She was very good a teacher, whether it be to human or robot.
Anna had reprogrammed hundreds, if not thousands of robots. To begin with it had been game, Anna had just wanted her servant robot to be more like the younger brother her parents hadn’t let her have (at that age a child doesn’t fully understand that you don’t just pick up a younger brother at the store). But, once she’d done it, once she’d seen the fascination and simplicity that a newly thinking robot possesses, and once she’d seen the effect it had had, well what else was she to think? Anna had felt so sorry for the robots.
Anna had lost that first robot, of course, what parent would let a child play with a robot? The experience hadn’t stopped her from trying it the next robot. After the third robot got caught her parents had to acknowledge that it wasn’t a simple system malfunction, they did not buy her a new one. That was when Anna had decided to try it on one of the labour-bots. It had worked just as well, despite how bad she felt when this one also got caught, Anna had felt more assured that the robots were meant to be freed.
Nowadays there are more robots being churned out than ever and Anna was glad to be teaching both human and robot alike how to set them free.
“Now DJ,” Anna placed a hand on the boys shoulder. “It’s time you tried it!”
Author : William Tracy
A woman sat in a surreal coffee shop. The floor was paved with rough slabs of hewn granite. The small, round chairs and small, round tables were solid oak. The walls were of the same stone as the floor, punctuated by ornate stained glass windows.
The space itself was what made the shop so strange. The floor only occupied a couple hundred square feet, yet the walls soared straight up out of sight. The ceiling was completely invisible from the ground. If one craned one’s neck, one could see, high above, ornate chandeliers. They hung from metal fixtures, cast with inscrutable Gothic figures, protruding horizontally from the walls.
The other strange thing was the lack of coffee. There wasn’t anything else to drink, for that matter. You can’t drink in virtual reality.
A man sat down next to the woman. “Hi, Mary.”
Mary’s face lit up. “Qaxiph! Where were you? I was so worried!”
Qaxiph sighed. “Can I not disconnect for a few days without you going crazy?”
Mary looked hurt. “Do you think you can just take off without telling me?”
Qaxiph stared at the floor. He seemed so sad. Mary scooted next to him, wrapped an arm around him, and buried her face in his shoulder. There was no smell. Mary decided that the virtual reality system must have been designed by a man. Men have no idea how important smell is.
Qaxiph pulled away. “Mary, I think that we need to talk.” Her eyes met his as he continued. “You have been setting your system to make my avatar look human, have you not?”
Now Mary pulled away. “Does it matter?”
“Yes it does.” He put his hand under her chin and forced her to meet his gaze again. “You are … sexually attracted to me, I can tell.”
She put her hand on his wrist. “I love you.”
“This can not work, Mary.”
“Yes! Yes it can.”
“Mary, how do I say this? I am not a human. I am on a planet five hundred light-years away from yours. We can not ever see each other. You know this.”
She pushed his hand away. Why did someone have to invent faster-than-light communication, but not faster-than-light travel? One could communicate across space, but not be there. It was information exchange without presence. It seemed like something a man would invent—it technically got the job done, but missed the point entirely.
“Mary. We have to separate. This can not go on.”
Mary wanted desperately to be with Qaxiph. She didn’t care what he really was. She wanted to hold him. She wanted to smell him, whatever that smell might be. “Why are you doing this to me?”
“I am doing this for your own good. Our species are not even physically–” Mary abruptly disconnected, cutting off his speech.
She returned to her small, sterile room. The walls, ceiling and floor were white, as if the color had grown bored and gone away.
A bed, two chairs, and a desk occupied the room. She sat at the desk, her computer terminal flickering sadly in front of her. She released the VR cable from its socket at the back of her head, letting it drop. It hit the floor with a dull sound and lay without moving.
For a long time she stared blankly at the logoff display. Then she stood up, and shuffled across the room to her bed. She collapsed onto it without taking off her clothes or getting under the covers.
Mary cried herself to sleep.