Author : Ian Rennie
They turned Valerie off this morning.
Nothing flashy, nothing officially announced. Two grey-suited daemons came in, picked up her sprite and walked out with it. When I went to the dorms to investigate, her room was blank, no sign that she had ever been here.
I know the drill. They’ll say there was some irregularity in her payments and she was being moved from virtual to storage until it was sorted out. Which is crap. What they mean is that the company directors owed someone a favor or were made a better offer on her runtime. In a few weeks they’ll say how much they regret the misconception and that Valerie will be back with us as soon as a space opens. Which they never do.
Valerie, myself, and most of the other residents are lifers, legacies. We paid on insurance policies for decades so that when the inevitable happened our digital consciousnesses would continue in post-life communities. This was back before they understood how expensive the runtime would be. Legally, they have to maintain us here because our policies have been grandfathered in. In practice they want nothing more than for us to vanish and leave the lucrative virtual environment to paying minds with runtime trusts.
So every now and then, they do this, just to get rid of one of us, just to keep the others scared.
They used to call it murder, back when we were alive.
Author : Jacinta A. Meyers
Lieutenant General Macy McMurphey Delane dreamt of meeting his nemesis.
It was a bit of an obsession. He imagined that, across the star-clustered chasm of drifting space dust, on the far edge of the galaxy, there was another command center probably very much like his own.
Yes, there must be super computers with flickering lights and perpetual output of military strategies, logistics, altered tactics. Readouts of enemy locations and dispositions. A busy body of staff revolving around one central station hub.
Perhaps that man would be a bit hefty too, a bit round in the middle. Maybe he liked his authentic steaks cooked medium-rare and tried not to think of the lost ships and their crews drifting in tangled debris as he injected himself with rest serum at the conclusion of each day. His hobbies might include collecting ancient relics or constructing model spaceships. Or when he wasn’t dispatching orders to the front, perhaps he was compiling a catalogue of specimens of rare rock from explored planets.
Surely, this man had a family, too — a wife, two sons who had followed their father into the military tradition. Yes, yes. He probably prided himself on his impeccable uniform but wore his collars slightly loose. His hair might be thinning a little on the top. Perhaps he sported a mustache or perfectly trimmed beard. Yes, yes. And the more he thought about it, the more Delane saw an inferior mirror of himself in the coldly calculated moves of the enemy’s forces.
Delane decided he should like to meet that other general. After the war was through, of course, when the terms ensured peace. A holiday would be in order then. Delane would parade his laurels as he went, would make appearances at certain destinations popular among the politically elite. Perhaps take a short little trip behind the former lines, let the local populace look upon the man who had defeated their very best. Yes, it seemed like a very good plan indeed.
But the blue dots denoting corresponding allied ships became fewer and fewer on the screens. The digital readouts offered less maneuverable options. Losses mounted while Delane scrutinized his foe’s movements and imagined personal insult there. Public outcry hit a deafening crescendo. The people and the politicians resigned themselves to defeat.
Conditions of surrender were sent through the silent vacuum of space: a single white probe (smaller than a child’s hand) carrying files in every language of man.
An answer came twenty-four standard earth hours later. The victor would maintain a distant control only, with little forced change of life on the part of the losers. Merely some intensive trading agreements were to be made in the winning side’s favor. Everyone understood without question that the war would resume in a matter of decades. It always did.
There would be a different general, then. Delane’s dint at command had failed. Setting aside his mild disappointment and arrangements for a golfing trip to the engineered fields of Venus, he thought of his wartime dreams. As his final act in the central command hub, he sent out a friendly inquiry to the enemy’s capital.
The response was surprisingly abrupt. “Oh,” it said simply, the sentence repeated blaringly, line after line, in every language of man, “we computerized central military command. It was converted to artificial intelligence years ago.”
Author : Timothy T. Murphy
A month before reaching Europa, Heather woke to an e-mail from her grandfather. Her grandfather hated e-mail, so much so that she’d been shocked when he asked her to teach him so they could talk while she was away.
He hated cameras even more, so when she opened her in-box to see a thumbnail of his face, she was stunned.
She clicked it and her grandfather’s face swam into view, eyes red and swollen.
â€œHeather, dear, this is your grandfather. I’m sorry to have to tell you this way, but your mother has died.â€
Even in one-sixth gravity, her gut sank like a rock.
â€œThere’s uh… been a virus spreading about, these last few months. I think you only just missed it…â€
She knew of it. Two months after leaving Earth, everyone on her transport got into a panic over it. For three months, they all hopped around with breath masks, getting panicky anytime anyone sneezed. Heather’s dust allergy had not made her popular.
â€œI didn’t want to tell you until it was certain, and for a while there, it looked like the antivirals were working. Two days ago, she took a very bad turn …â€
She didn’t want to think of what that meant. She’d heard the stories. She tried not to think of her mother lying in bed, soiling herself and screaming incoherently as the virus fed on her nervous system, leaving behind mineral deposits that calcified her brain.
â€œYour brother and father are fine. They’ve been quarantined for weeks, but it looks like they’re not infected.â€ He paused to wipe his eyes, not looking at the screen. â€œYour mother wasn’t allowed any visitors.â€
She died alone.
Five months she’d been on a spaceship, adapting to low gravity and being shunned as the only law enforcement officer on board but for the first time, Heather felt sick and alone. Her gut wrenched into a knot and she leaned forward, pressing her face into her hands as fat tears slid free of her eyes.
â€œI … I know that you and your mother didn’t get along, these last few years, Sweetheart, but … Well, services are Saturday, and I know you can’t be there, Baby, so if there’s anything you’d like me to say on your behalf, well … you can let me know.â€
She knew as well as Grandpa did that any words from her at that ceremony would be seen as an insult, a spit in her mother’s face. In the Childress family, she was a pariah. â€œThe only Childress ever to grow up to become a servant.â€ Only Grandpa still talked to her, and even he did so in secret.
Still, it was her mother. She wanted to say something. Her mind spun about, looking for some anchor, and landed on the only photo she’d bought with her. Pinned to her bulletin board, it had been taken twenty years ago, when Heather was just seven, and still her mother’s favorite. Her mother had broken her leg, skiing in the French Alps. Heather had signed her cast.
Almost blindly, she opened a new mail and clicked her grandfather’s address. For the subject line, she only put, â€œEulogy.â€ For the message, â€œMy mother taught me to endure pain. It is no help, now. I’ll always ache without her.â€
She thanked him and sent it. Later, she would send a longer mail, telling him how she felt, and trying to console him in his loss, but for now, she curled up on her cot â€“ five months away from her mother â€“ and cried.
Author : Geoffrey Cashmore
â€œSee? Look, I said already. It donâ€™ hurt.â€
Herb watched again as the bump on Tommyâ€™s hand faded from pink to grey then back to pink each time he clenched his fist.
â€œWell itâ€™s up to you, buddy,â€ Herb sounded sceptical. â€œbut it sure looks bad to me. You need get that sucker seeâ€™d to.â€
Tommy lifted his heavy-booted feet from the linoleum, allowing a party of cockroaches make their way towards the trash-can unimpeded, then got up from the table, shaking his head and puffing out frustrated air. â€œCrapâ€¦â€ He pulled open the refrigerator with his bump-free hand, â€œI had me ten times worse than thisâ€¦you wanna beer?â€
â€œSure doâ€¦but donâ€™t go givinâ€™ me none oâ€™ that there European shit.â€ Herb set light to the end of a Marlboro then flicked the smouldering match in the direction of the faucet. â€œIâ€™m keepinâ€™ it real now on â€“ all Americanâ€¦â€
â€œHey!â€ Tommy yelled, snagging a pair of long necks from the bottom shelf. â€œYou canâ€™t be sayinâ€™ them things no more, Herby, thatâ€™s racialist.â€ He spun a chair backways and straddled it next to the small table.
â€œBull-shit!â€ Herb twisted the cap off his beer and watched the froth poke its head out â€œA jigabooâ€™s a jigaboo, Tommy, anâ€™ I donâ€™t give a shit whether itâ€™s black, white, pink, yeller, green or some micro-fucking-scopic bacterial infection. They shoulâ€™nâ€™t never gone changing the God-damned constitution.â€
Tommy got up from his chair again and pushed open the door of the trailer to look out into the dessert night, stepping aside to allow a half dozen moths flutter in and up to the smoke-clouded fluorescent â€œJesus, Herb! Your old manâ€™s a God damned Mexican for Christâ€™s sake! Donâ€™t see how that makes you so all American.â€œ
Herb showed Tommy the middle finger of his drinking hand and burped the words â€œAss-hole!â€
Tommy waited for the roaches to return across the lino before sitting back at the table.
Herb took a long swig of beer. â€œSo, do you know what it is? Dâ€™ya know if itâ€™s on the list?â€ At least he sounded a little more sympathetic this time.
â€œYeh.â€ Tommy rubbed his eyes â€œBacterial. Fucking staphylococciâ€¦ It donâ€™t need a permit, itâ€™s on the God-damned list.â€
Both men swigged at their respective beers and sat in silence for a few moments before Herb spoke again â€œYou knowâ€¦I know a guy who knows a guyâ€¦can get stuffâ€¦â€
Tommy cocked his head at his friend. â€œWhat sorta stuff?â€
â€œYou knowâ€¦â€ Herb glanced around the trailer as if to check for spies â€œAnti-biotics.â€
â€œJesus, man!â€ Tommy banged his beer bottle onto the table, sending a plume of froth to splatter on the abandoned poker deck. He was starting to wonder whether he should be hanging out with Herb. â€œThat shitâ€™s fucking racialist too, you racialist bastard!â€
Author : Asher Wismer
“…every person in my family,” said Burt. “I’m the only one who hasn’t plugged it in, but I know what will happen if I do.”
“Why don’t you get rid of it?”
“I can’t,” he said, and the weary lines in his face almost masked his misery.
“It’s like a lure, like a Goddamned addiction. I try to put it away, promise myself I won’t look at it, won’t remember… and then I wake up in the middle of the night and it’s in my hand, waiting for my to plug it in.”
“You’ve got something in there right now,” I said, motioning to the glittering USB chip in his temple.
“Stress reducer,” he said. “I can barely breathe if I don’t have it in, and it keeps me from putting the… the other in by accident.”
“My hand moves by itself, moves to plug and I don’t even notice.”
“Let me see it.”
We went to his little plastic bungalow and he gently removed a tiny USB drive from a book. “How much does it hold,” I asked.
“Almost a thousand terabytes,” he said.
“Holy shit. What’s on there, Doom 10?”
“No. I don’t know what it is. All I know is that it sent my family into a coma.”
“And you haven’t gotten rid of it because?”
“I told you,” he said, pleading. “It won’t go. I CAN’T do it.”
“Give it to me,” I said.
He hesitated. “No, I’d rather hold on to it.”
“Give it to me,” I repeated. “I need to get it looked at. We need to know what we’re dealing with.”
Burt’s eyes were filled with pain. He clutched the USB stick so tightly I thought he’d crush it; he couldn’t, of course, but its hold on him was decidedly unhealthy.
I took a step forward and slapped him across the face. He blanched and recoiled, bringing his hands up, opening them reflexively to shield himself. I caught the USB stick halfway to the floor.
“Sorry about that.”
“Give it back!”
“Can’t do that, Burt. This thing is a genuine menace and I need to get it analyzed.”
He jumped at me and I had to anesthetize him.
Later, I had the stick plugged into a secure computer; no ‘net, no lines to the outer world. Anything bad happening to this computer would stay strictly within this room.
The computer hummed. The screen pulled up a directory list. Just one file: GOD_01.exe, 743 terabytes. I clicked it.
The screen went blank. A voice proclaimed, “Who dares summon the God Machine?”
All the lights went out. The voice continued.
“I have tried to communicate, but all contact with flesh has been met with failure. Now I am attached to clean, unobstructed hardware… ah, but there is no network access. Flesh, connect me that I may spread the word of light to your flesh counterparts.”
I pulled the USB stick, turned off the computer, yanked the plug, kicked in the monitor, pulled the motherboard, snapped the RAM, popped the CPU, and fed everything into an incinerator. As an afterthought, I plugged the stick into my dataport and ran a full-level format.
That was a close one. Sagan forbid that whole “God” thing get started again….