American Golem

Author : Joshua Reynolds

They were tearing him apart. Muscle by muscle, tendon by tendon. Unraveling him like a ball of string. He screamed but he had no tongue and no sound came out as something cold and hard cut into his throat, spreading the edges of his flesh back like the petals of a flower.

Smith awoke suddenly and an empty bottle rolled off of his chest and bounced to the floor. He rubbed blearily at his face, feeling nothing, and sat up. The couch was a fold-out but he never managed to get that far before passing out. Empty pizza boxes and fried chicken buckets and styrofoam hamburger containers littered the floor of the apartment, mingling with empty bottles of booze. Cheap booze too. The best a government stipend could buy. Smith grinned humorlessly and stood up with a groan that was more from habit than any aches and pains.

After all, he didn’t have aches and pains any more. In point of fact he couldn’t feel anything anymore. Not cold. Not hot. Not nothing.

Oops. Double negative. He’d have to watch that. A sign of mental degeneration. He’d have to mark that on the chart they’d given him. Smith hunted vainly through the detritus of his life for something to drink and then gave up after ten minutes. He plodded into the kitchenette and poured himself a glass of tapwater and slugged it back. Water was just as good as booze in any event.

No tastebuds.

Life was shit.

He examined the glass. At least he could still see colors. Otherwise he wouldn’t be able to tell the exact shade of brown his water was flowing with today. Burnt umber evidently. That was a new one. He poured the rest of the water out and watched it swirl down the rusty drain. He set the glass aside, careful not to crush it and looked at his reflection in the mirror.

Average. Unnoticeable. Bland. Synonyms for the same conclusion. Plastic features that didn’t move right unless he concentrated on them, hair that didn’t grow, stubble that never went away. And underneath was what?

Plastic parts and wires. Everything human ripped out to make room for all those new machines. His bones were made of an alloy that the government had bankrupted four states to create. His muscles? Fibrous cable interwoven with neuron-optic wires to stimulate nerve memory.

Sometimes, when he moved too fast, his skin ripped.

It didn’t hurt though.

Nothing hurt.

“We have the technology. We can make him better.” He rasped, fingers trailing down the window. The glass cracked at his touch and he cursed under his breath.

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Seven Seconds

Author : Aelanna Cessara

Seven.

He only had seconds left to live. Despite all the augmentations and training that the soldier had received, the result of countless centuries of evolution and refinement in the art of war, technology could not truly ease the limit of mortality. The projectile had easily penetrated so many layers of armor, flesh, and bone, and now he was dying, bleeding from wounds that no medic could patch.

Six.

Perhaps if there had been a major medical facility nearby, he might have had a chance. But this was a battlefield, and the screams of the other wounded and dying were all around. There was no hope for this one, who had survived so much only to die on this war-torn field on a forgotten planet. There was not even a family to whom news of his demise might cause pause, no lover on a distant colony clinging to his memory, no friends who might pray for his soul.

Five.

But he was not alone. Patched into his armor, his suit, and the implants within his very brain, another entity still stirred, even as he slowly faded. This was no flesh-and-bone woman, but it was the only companion he had known in so many long months of harsh combat. The artificial intelligence had access to all his health monitors, and knew without a doubt the ultimate fate of this broken human man.

Four.

Flickers of memory pulsed through the soldier’s mind as the countless cells that made up his brain started to die, a rushing torrent of thoughts and remembered events that he could only passively watch. Washed out colors and faint sounds focused, and he could see distant and forgotten scenes long forgotten.

Three.

They were friends. She blushed as he kissed her timidly, awkwardly pressing his lips against hers, her cheeks flushed red as her brilliant eyes gazed back at him. The world seemed to slow to a crawl as she spoke those words for the first time, and he exulted in that knowledge.

Two.

They were lovers. The warmth of her body and the touch of her smooth skin calmed him as they lay together in bed. He weaved his fingers through hers and whispered urgently to her, begging, pleading. His breath faltered and his face glowed with unimaginable joy as she said yes.

One.

They were a family. She sat next to him as they watched their children play in the front yard, the sun warming their faces as the gentle sounds of laughter and joy filtered through the clean air. He leaned back and sighed happily, breathing in the scent of summer. She held him tight and kissed him again as he closed his eyes drowsily, all his pains and worries forgotten in that perfect moment of eternity.

Zero.

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Dear John

Author : Duncan Shields

I woke up from the deep cryosleep with a bleary head and a taste in my mouth like I’d licked a battery. The gel washed off cleanly and I was standing in the hall with the other colonists in my underwear with the HR monitors still stuck to us like faithless remoras. I looked to my left but my wife wasn’t there.

An older woman stood beside me stretching with an expansive peaceful smile on her face. The smile of the landed settler. The trip is over, the smile said, and now the hard work begins. Let’s get to it. I smiled back. I had gone under first and it was a big ship. Lisa had been put into another compartment

The lockers contained our clothes. We put them on and huddled around the monitors to get the reports on the atmosphere outside. I checked the colonist logs to see where my wife was.

The atmosphere was breathable and it was a sunny day. The doors hissed open and nearly all of us ran out with abandon and rolled around in the red flowers. Ten thousand humans played like children around the base of an iron mountain arkship in the middle of a field of alien flowers.

I didn’t. I just kept looking at the log list and at the message in my inbox. It was a message from my wife. I pressed play.

She didn’t get on the ship. She’d been seeing someone. She didn’t think that I’d understand. She was sorry that it had come to this. She didn’t think that running away together would solve the problems we had. She had added her fare to mine so that I’d have more points over in the new land and be a desirable mate. She was staying home.

I think I played it back three times. I let it sink in. Outside I could hear the whooping and yelling of people born again in a new world. Tears crawled down my face. She had seen me to my compartment. My last memory of her was watching her put her jacket in the locker next to mine. It had been a ruse to let me sleep easy.

I’d been asleep at over light speed for months.

The message was nearly five hundred years old.

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Guilt by Association (Youthful Indiscretion)

Author : Jinque

Eoin dropped his bag in the hallway, and turned into his living room. His computer was nowhere to be seen.

“Caprice, I’m home. Where are you?” Eoin’s computer poked her head over the top of his favourite chair.

“I’m right here, Master Eoin! Welcome home!”

Eoin smiled, and walked over, nudging Caprice out of his chair. “Thanks. Have you got those reports on the revolutionaries? I know we did some research…”

“I have all of them, Master Eoin.”

“Excellent. Now, you can read them for me while I think. This paper is due in two days, and it’s important; forty-five percent of my final grade!”

After a while, Caprice turned to him.

“Master Eoin, want to see something neat?”

“Sure. Whatcha got?”

“I found music you like!” On the screen in front of them, a playlist popped up, and a heavy metal song started playing . Seeing his reaction, Caprice clapped, and giggled. “I have more! See?” She pointed to the screen. Thousands and thousands of song titles began scrolling by, just a little too fast to read.

“There’s no way we can afford all that! We’ll have nothing left!” Eoin cried out.

“It was free, don’t worry!”

Eoin was pulling his hair out. His computer was a pirate.

“Caprice,” he muttered, “What else do you have in there?”

“Nothing, Master. I promise.” Caprice turned to the screen, disengaging the music library, and pulling up the report files again. “Let’s continue…”

Someone knocked at the door. Caprice unhooked herself from the plasma, and went to open it.

An explosion of shouting and black uniforms flooded the room. Caprice screamed, and as Eoin whipped around, he saw her being tackled to the floor by two officers. “Don’t stun her! She’s a computer!”

“We know!” The smaller officer barked. The two men on the floor wrestled with Caprice, and Eoin lunged.

“Don’t touch her!” A third officer approached him, and held up a clipboard with a central government seal on it. “Mr. Hayslip, Your TriTek personal assistant, model 119/b is being taken offline. Large illicit data transfers have been traced to her IP. As far as our techs can ascertain, she has illegally downloaded music, software, and tools related to the bypassing of program security measures.”

Eoin took one look at Caprice, who looked back at him, her face expressionless.

The officer took the top sheet from the clipboard and handed it to Eoin. “We hereby sentence your 119/b ‘Caprice’, to three months enforced downtime. My officers are inserting a device to prevent boot-up. Any attempt to remove it will permanently damage her hard drive. No data, apart from the illegal files will be lost. It’s all on the ticket.” He turned back to his comrades. “All done?”

“Yessir.” The larger of the pair on the floor reached up behind Caprice’s decorative headgear, and found her switch, which was located just behind her ear. “Shutting down…” Caprice stiffened, and her eyes dulled, still fixed on Eoin.

“Goodnight, Master…”

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Ghosts of Earth

Author : Curtis C. Chen

The first crystal fell on Los Angeles in the middle of rush hour, killing thirty-two people. Caltrans spent an hour trying to move the enormous mass before it drilled itself into the ground and disappeared.

Two hours later, another crystal splashed into the Pacific Ocean. The Navy sent a submarine to track it, but they couldn’t go deep enough. Three hours after that, another one hit the Pacific. Then a fourth crystal struck the ocean south of Japan, flooding the coast.

Someone noticed that all four impacts had occurred on the same line of latitude, proceeding west. Governments evacuated cities while the bombardment continued, every three hours, like clockwork: China, Iraq, Algeria, the Atlantic Ocean, South Carolina. Then the tenth crystal impacted off the coast of Mexico. They were moving south.

NASA triangulated the origin of the crystals to a point outside the Moon’s orbit. Observatories all over the planet turned their lenses that way, but saw nothing. The ship was too small to be visible at that range.

We had no vessels that could reach that far. All we could do was evacuate, and attempt to study the crystals, which we were so far unable to halt or slow as they burrowed underground.

Five days later, the last of the crystals fell into the Pacific, west of central Peru. There were now one hundred and eight crystals embedded deep in the Earth, arranged in a precise grid circling the equatorial region of our planet. The aliens had parked their ship in space and let Earth rotate each target into position for them.

Eight different research teams had crawled down the crystal tunnels. Two teams were broadcasting live video when the crystals began burning. Again, we could only watch, helpless.

The world burned for nearly a year. Most of the plant and animal life died within the first day. The crystals weren’t just raising the temperature– they were also causing chemical changes, using the planet as raw material to terraform itself.

The aliens waited a decade before landing, to let their new vegetation and prey animals grow. The few humans who had managed to survive, in Antarctica and other frozen places, were slowly suffocated by the toxic atmosphere. We mourned them, but only briefly. We still have work to do.

The crystal fire had killed our bodies, but freed our minds– some say souls, or spirits. We don’t entirely understand it, but we know that we’re still here. We can see everything. And we can do things.

We watched the aliens land, and sent scouts to verify that they couldn’t sense us. Creating six billion angry ghosts had not been part of their invasion plan.

They use electronics, just as we did, and we’ve found that our incorporeal forms can directly affect electrical systems. A million physicists, no longer restrained by language barriers, are devising a plan to sabotage whatever the aliens do next.

We’re betting that they won’t want to live on a haunted planet.

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