Sweet Dreams

Author : Debbie Mac Rory

Jennifer staggered and fell to the ground. Barely feeling the impact, she forced herself forward, straining her tired legs to run faster.

Throwing a glance back over her shoulder, she let out a strangled cry. The strange figure was still there. She willed herself faster, straining to reach the peak of the dune ahead as her feet slipped and sank in the fine black grains.

“Jenny…”

Jennifer’s breath caught in her throat and she stumbled to a halt. It had never called her by name before.

“Jenny, do not run away from me”

Jennifer turned, something in the voice compelling her. A man dressed all in black stood at the bottom of the slope, extending one gloved hand towards her.

“Come here”.

Slowly she began to move towards him. Something in her mind screamed at her to run, to keep running, not to go near this too-solid stranger, but her legs moved with a power of their own, and within moments she stood facing him.

He smiled as he placed his hands on her shoulders, leaning forward to whisper to her. Her eyes rolled back in her head and he caught her weight easily as her body went limp. He lay her down on the ground and turned on his heel, vanished from the disintegrating dreamscape.

***

Derek’s hands quivered as he took a long pull from his cigarette. He started suspiciously across the table at the man seated opposite him, seemingly asleep with the points of three fingers resting gently against his temple. He drew hard on the cigarette, starting at the credit chip lying on the table in front of him. He looked up again to see the stranger’s sharp blue eyes regarding him and jumped, spilling ash across the fine linen of his trousers. Silence stretched for what seemed like long moments…

“It’s done?” he demanded, impatience making his voice harsh.

“It is done” the stranger said, sitting upright and stretching languorously. “She was already dreaming, so investigators will find nothing. They will probably settle on heart failure, an autopsy will show nothing”.

Derek heaved a sigh of relief, stretching some of the tightness from his shoulders. He took another drag on the cigarette, before picking up the credit chip and tossing it across the table. The black clad man still smiling cocked his head to look at the chip for a moment, before reaching to pick it up.

“Paying in full”, Derek said, watching his associate twirl the chip in his fingers. “And yeah the thing’s unmarked. Don’t ya think I know how easily ya could track me down if I tried cheatin’ ya?”

The stranger’s smile broadened to a wide grin. He stood and tucked the chip into his jacket pocket. “A pleasure to complete business with you” he purred, turning on his heel to stride out the door.

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Whoops

Author : Robert Niescier

The bacterium was our lab’s greatest achievement. An organism engineered to metabolize cellulose into ethanol quickly and efficiently would eliminate humanity’s dependence on fossil fuel and make energy shortages a thing of the past. It was our gift to an energy-starved world.

Sure, there were numerous obstacles to overcome. Sequencing and sorting through the thousands of cellulase and fermentation pathways to find the perfect combination of efficiency and output took time, and we were forced to manually engineer multi-branched carbohydrate metabolic pathways to maximize usage of all the monomeric sugars. The ethanol toxicity posed another problem, but through the optimization of an existing efflux pump the microbe was able to protect itself.

This led to what I considered the coup de grace: the septic cellulose liquefaction efflux pump. The biggest problem, the one we spent years of headaches trying to fix, was getting around cellulose crystalline structure. Sure, the bacterium was able to metabolize the carbohydrates once they got into the cell, but the fermentation was limited by the surface area of the substrate used. Even sawdust took too long to be considered effective. But in mere hours the SCLE-pump turned any cellulose sample, even blocks of wood, into soupy globs of cellobiose disaccharides ripe for absorption and fermentation.

The day after publication we received phone calls from nations all over the world. The Nobel Prize came a year later.

It was a few weeks after Sweden that I noticed something strange happening in the wooded areas around my lab. It was the deer. Their behavior was quite unusual, coming out during the daytime, stumbling into roads, even passing out in odd positions in the open. A graduate student joked that they looked drunk, and a certain suspicion made my stomach rise to my throat. I immediately called an ecologist friend of mine and asked him to look into the blood alcohol count of the local fauna; a few weeks later he called back and said, with astonishment, that it was off the charts.

That day I assembled my team and asked them if any of them had ever poured samples down the drain without properly bleaching them first. A few people looking at their feet were all I needed to see.

Sure, it was a big joke at first, drunk animals, hobos sucking bark for free booze. It became significantly less funny when houses began to slop down onto their foundations, then burst into giant fireballs and fried everyone unlucky enough to still be inside.

It wasn’t the bacterium we engineered that was making the forests melt into goo; it was the DNA. To avoid complications with the microbe’s main genome we had placed all the pathways onto two plasmids; pRN45 and pRN86. We didn’t stop to think that, in a world where 50% of the carbon is locked up in cellulose, that plasmids optimized for its digestion would be so highly selected. Hindsight, I suppose.

It was happening all over and got worse every day. Once it got into the groundwater there was no way to stop it. A plague on everything green and photosynthetic in the world was upon us. Pictures from NASA showed black spots lined with red all over the planet, growing bigger day by day.

We had to retreat to the deserts and tundra and live in caves; there was no other choice. I don’t expect to survive much longer as there is little left to eat, but I don’t want to say that to the others in my cave because they already don’t like me. I can’t imagine why.

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Servants

Author : Debbie Mac Rory

The weather had turned bad during the night; the low air pressure finally bringing on the threatened storm. All occupied buildings had been sealed to maintain environmental controls and life support systems and all transport had been grounded for the duration of the storm. The safety precautions for such events had been tested time after time, and daily life continued apace.

But for Jessica and James, it meant one more day being trapped in each other’s company, without the escape of the outdoors. Their parents had gone early that morning to the research labs to continue their work, and though they had arrived safely, it would likely be several days before they were able to travel home.

The children sat quietly as their lunch was served. Outside the double-thickness reinforced windows, the dust clouds raged silently, adding to the murk of the room. James watched his sister with a malevolent gleam in his eyes as one of the household servants moved round to place a bowl in front of her.

“Thank you” Jessica murmured, picking up her spoon to push indifferently at the fruit pieces in front of her.

James rolled his eyes, making an exaggerated noise of exasperation.

“It doesn’t know what you’re saying, it can’t understand you!”

“That doesn’t matter… but you shouldn’t call her that.”

James groaned.

“It’s a servant” he intoned, imitating his father’s voice as well as he could, “engineered to be quiet and efficient, without any unnecessary complications that might otherwise interfere with their activity.”

Jessica turned to look at the servant where she was standing unobtrusively near the door; face down and impassive, giving no sign of having heard the conversation. Her hair had been cut roughly short, and her slender figure was almost lost in the gray of her servants robes. She had blue eyes, Jessica knew, from the few brief times she had convinced the girl to raise her eyes and look at her.

“It’s only here to do what we tell it to!” James shouted, disliking that her attention had been taken away from him for so long. “See!”

With that, he pushed his bowl from the table, scattering fruit pieces over the carpeted floor. The girl shuffled over to the table and began cleaning away the mess.

James pulled his eyes away from the ownership braille on the back of the servants’ neck, exposed as she bent to soak the juice from the carpet. He raised his gaze to Jessica, the pained look in her eyes taking away the malicious pleasure he’d gotten in making the mess.

“I don’t know why you care”, he said. “It’s only a clone, she’s not even human”.

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Moore's Law

Author : Gavin L. Perri

Sometimes I wake in cyberspace and remember the wizened words of the old man, ‘When I was a one year old we didn’t have self-evolving tutorial programs, we had to learn by listening’. I try to picture what he looked like but all I get are a series of ones and zeroes, the discussion we had at eight, however, stays with me ‘Back when I was a lad we didn’t have spatial displacers, we had to walk everywhere we went’. Walking is such an abstract thought.

His words at my twelfth birthday for some reason stay with me ‘Pah! A telepathic communicator, when I was your age I used a mobile phone’ I create a simple program that recreates the genome of the old man but it does not show the creases on his age-old hands and it does not recreate our last conversation ‘When I was fourteen years of age we didn’t need time travel to find out about history, we just used the internet’. These words play around in front of me as I contemplate them. I will never hear the old man again, my program does not respond to wavelengths of sound and he never learnt to telepathically communicate.

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They call it a Fable

Author : John Tudball

When we are young we are told a story of a ship.

As the story goes, the ship is damaged beyond repair and is set to crash into its destination planet. The crew on board consists of one android, one clone and one pure born. There is only one escape pod left.

“Master,” says the android, “you must take the escape pod. I shall prepare it for you.”

“Lord,” says the clone, “you must take the escape pod. I have made these provisions for you.”

“Friends,” says the pure born, “when I am rescued your names shall be written in the book of records. No greater honour could you receive.”

When we are old we tell a different story.

In our story, a broken ship is hurtling towards destruction and there is only one escape pod left. The crew of the ship – an android, a clone and a pure born – argue amongst themselves as to who should be allowed to escape.

“I should be given the pod,” says the android. “I can report to the ship’s maker what went wrong, so this never happens to anyone again.”

“I should be given the pod,” says the clone. “Throughout this system there are a great many lords and ladies who would miss my touch, should I die here.”

“I should be given the pod,” says the pure born. “For it is my right.”

And with this, the pure born draws a weapon and forces the others to concede. He backs into the pod, keeping his weapon drawn on his crewmen and closes the door behind him. The android and the clone sit and wait for their deaths. After ten minutes – just as the ship is nearing its end – the door to the escape pod opens and the pure born comes back out.

“Um,” he says, “how does this thing work?”

They don’t like us telling our story. It tells a truth they do not wish to face: Without us they are nothing.

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