Author : Ryan Somma
“Is that one of those computers?” I asked gesturing at the flat, monolithic screen hanging on the far wall.
“Sort of,” he replied, staring oddly at the housewarming gift I’d set on a table. “It’s more of an entertainment center, but it does a lot of the same things computers do.”
“Huh,” I scratched my chin. I didn’t know what a computer did, so I didn’t know what to say next. I just knew they did powerful things, “I’ve been meaning to get a computer.”
He gave me a funny look, “Why would you need–?” he caught himself. “You know there’s lots of multimedia features and games that make computers a good investment.”
He was being polite, but I still felt stupid, “I guess I would need to get electricity first.”
“Um,” he swallowed, and I realized how ignorant I appeared to him. “Electricity is quite a luxury here.”
I frowned and nodded, “It’s too expensive, but I hear you’ve got it everywhere in your cities.”
He nodded, still embarrassed, but now of his superior social status. It bothered me how easy it was to read him, how his body language and facial expressions matched those of my friends.
“You have to buy electricity from outside the reservations,” he sounded apologetic. “It takes thousands of your credits to add up to one of ours, making it cost prohibitive here.” He handed me another open beer. “Where I come from, I’m pretty low on the social ladder. Here on your reservations, my money goes a whole lot further.”
I took a swig, enjoying its thick richness, and we fell silent for a few moments, until I caught his eyes shifting to my housewarming gift again. “It’s a termite farm,” I explained. “You dip one of these twigs into it anytime you want a little taste.” I pulled a twig from the jar I had brought and handed it to him.
“Uh–,” he took the twig and considered it.
“If you don’t like it–” I began.
“It’s not that!” he held up his hands. “They’ll make wonderful pets. It’s just… I don’t eat animals.”
“What? The heck you say!”
“No really!” he was nodding earnestly. “A few centuries of being domesticated for experimentation and spare parts kind of turns a civilization off exploiting other animal species.”
“Spare parts?” I frowned. “You don’t mean for the gods who live on the spider web in the sky?”
“Not gods.” He shook his head, “Those are our descendents… or ascendants, depending on your perspective. We created them.”
“You made them?” I was shocked. “I thought they’d made you!”
“Nope,” he sighed. “They came from us, just like we came from you.”
I didn’t get it, and then I did. “Oh,” I shook my head. “That evolution nonsense your kind is always pushing on us. Some of the church-goers buy into that stuff, but not me.”
“Truth is truth whether or not you accept it.” He looked at me, “But when you recognize it, you see patterns. When the robots became their own masters, they nearly drove my species into extinction consuming all our resources. Just like when my species descended from yours. It wasn’t until we became advanced enough to realize the side effects of our population boom that we turned benevolent… established these sanctuaries.”
“Now you’re trying to make amends.”
“For the sins of your ancestors.”
He nodded again.
We lapsed into silence, considering the termite farm between us.
Author : Renee Leyburn
“I object to this kind of treatment! I’m an upstanding citizen. I’ve an elderly mother to care for,” Paul exclaimed vehemently, gathering himself up to stand as straight as he could in front of the droid. The robot stared back at him with unblinking, unfeeling eyes.
Apparently this was not one of the personality enriched types. Plan B; time to go to Plan B.
“So you’re standing on a river bank. You have a boat that can only carry two things at once. With you are a goat, a wolf, and-”
“It would require seven crossings. Please, be silent,” the robot ordered him calmly. Okay, so a riddle wasn’t going to work either. What kind of place was this? Robots with no mercy and no susceptibility for getting frozen up with riddles. Paul glanced up and down the street as the droid looked over his papers.
“Sir,” it intoned. “Your visa is expired. I’m afraid you’re going to have to come with me.”
“Oh, yeah?” asked Paul, cheerily. “Where are we going?”
“Please put your hands behind you, sir.”
“I’d really like to know where you’re taking me first. You see I have this allergy-”
“Sir, if you continue to refuse to comply I shall have to use force.”
Paul nodded calmly. “Oh, okay, if that’s the case-” He sprang suddenly forward, wrapping his arm around the droid, trapping one of its metal arms and grabbing it by the back of the neck to hold it still. With his other hand he groped along the robot’s right side for the mechanical access panel. His fingers found nothing but smooth, cool alloys. The thing was seamless.
“Sir, please release me from this embrace and put your hands behind your back.”
Paul sighed heavily, then turned to comply.
Stupid higher technology. What kind of person would make a robot with no obvious vulnerabilities? A diabolical genius no doubt.
The robot snapped the familiar cuffs onto Paul’s wrists and turned him around. He looked Paul right in the eye. Paul glared back at him. The little lights that made up the robot’s face rearranged themselves to form a happy grin.
“I seem to have won this round, Mr. Kandor.”
“Yes, Robert,” Paul conceded with a sigh. “You won. And don’t call me Mr. Kandor.”
The droid smiled again. “You seem to be in handcuffs. I don’t think that you’re in any position to be making demands, my friend.”
“Oh come on! I never torment you with terms of respect when I win!”
“When you win? That’s happened?” asked Robert.
“Oh tee-hee, very funny, Rob. That’s what I love most about you, your sense of humor. Now let me out of these cuffs will you?” The droid complied, but took his time about it. When his wrists were freed Paul raised an eyebrow at the robot. “You’re built very well.”
“Oh I have vulnerabilities, you were just too dumb to find them,” Robert informed him.
“I was too dumb, ey? Well for being so phenomenally stupid I did a surprisingly good job of building you!”
The robot dipped his head. “True. Of course, the minor modifications that I’ve made to myself over the past year haven’t hurt.”
“I’ll say. I would have had you otherwise. Wanna go get some lunch?”
The robot shrugged amiably. “Sure. By the way, nice try with the plea for pity. I’m sure your mother would greatly appreciate your adjective of choice: elderly.”
Paul shot him a look. “Well what she doesn’t hear about won’t hurt her, right?” The droid smiled.
“Oh most certianly, Mr. Kandor.”
Author : Luke Chmelik
With a timid knock on the door, a pimply faced messenger poked his head into the sumptuous office of the Head of Commercial Relations. “We’re having some p-p-problems with the Turing units, s-sir.”
Ezekiel Jonas Tate tapped his cigar into the nickel plated ashtray on his expansive desk. He was annoyed. The Turing units had worked fine for decades. They were the first functional anthropomorphic AIs to be mass produced, but they had adapted well to individual life after they were granted citizenship. They weren’t perfect, but with more than 5 million units in the field, anything that could gave gone wrong with them would have by now.
Tate was riding high on the most successful new product launch in history, and this was not a good time for a support crisis in an obsolescent model. Besides, tech support had been taken on by the Socialist government ten years ago, and the Maxim-Tate Corporation didn’t have anything to do with the Turings anymore.
The runner shuffled his feet nervously, fiddling with that bloody hat they made the messenger kids wear. Tate made a note to change the regulations. Nobody should be forced to wear a fez. The boy looked like he wanted to turn tail and run like hell.
“S-S-Sir, they said you should turn on the… um… the television.”
Tate scowled. The boy ran. What the hell could be so wrong with the Turings that the Networks would preempt their hysterical raving about the wonders of the new Maxim-Tate Home Chronoporter?
Tate was a people person, and he knew the people who knew about Turings. He went right to the source, his ebony and lacquer telephone making a dull thwack against an ear calloused from marathon schmooze sessions. While the phone was still ringing, Tate turned on his television.
* * * *
As Chief of Technical Staff and co-founder of the Maxim-Tate Corporation, Grigori Maxim was a wunderkind. He designed and built the Turing model AI, and ended up partnering with Tate and selling them all over the place. The Turings were stable, intelligent and creative, but they could never quite handle paradox. When formal logic failed, their eyes glazed over and they got a bit unpredictable. They snapped out of it after a half hour or so, and paradox wasn’t a big enough problem to issue a recall. Satisfied with his work, Grigori turned his formidable intellect to a new task.
Just today, he’d sent the first ever time machine to market. Demand was so high that production would be backed up for the rest of his natural life, and the Chronoporters weren’t assembling themselves yet, so Grigori was in the workshop. When his artificial secretary told him Tate was on the phone, he patched it through to his headset, rather than take it in his office.
“What do you want, Tate? I’m really busy here.” Grigori was never one to mince words, especially not while coupling a Calabi-Yau manifold to a nanoreactor.
“Grigori?” Tate sounded like he’d been kicked in the solar plexus. “Turn on your T.V.”
Knowing it would take even longer to say no, Grigori flicked on the screen in the corner of the workshop. There was a news feed showing a smiling Turing AI stepping out of a Chronoporter. The sound was off.
“So, Zeke, I see a Turing and a Chronoporter. Is this about product placeme…?” There was a blur of motion on the screen, and Grigori’s voice faltered.
“I… I didn’t program them to do that,” he whispered, to nobody in particular.
Author : Summer Batton
We bled orange. Not some giddy childhood sherbet kind of orange, but the sickly rusty kind that comes off of metal barrels after they’ve sat out in the rain for 10 years. Orange like the rust that comes off slowly in chunks, running down into the ground and mixing with dirt and oil.
Lauric said we weren’t human anymore, but I hadn’t believed him. Even when the sky grew dark and thick like machines and the grass under my shoes grew soggy, its color fading, bleeding off into the streams and Lauric stood with his nose bent down to mine and said “You aren’t a part of this anymore, Fay,” I hadn’t believed him. How could I?
He’d been a whirlwind trip for a frustrated flunky who could never make up her mind about anything. His bed had seemed like a good place to stop and think. He seemed like a way to stay still in time and place and make no decisions—a good idea for someone who had failed at college, at jobs, and at marriages alike. Life in general, it seemed. I’d had even failed at being an alcoholic. I tried, honestly wanting to become addicted to alcohol—something, anything—to have a need that could be fulfilled time and again, every time. But the bite of liquor and dry wines left me nauseous after the first sip and I couldn’t press it to my lips again without having to puke. Even addictions had rejected me.
Lauric pointed into the sky and then down at the earth with a long, thin hand, “Did you think you belonged here?” I looked down at myself. I had taken off most of my clothing; the trite colors and material just hadn’t made sense anymore—the raspy blue hues in my jeans, the maroon and green plaid of my shirt, the bright red and yellowy stripes on my sneakers—they were all so distinctive and surreal, like a Barbie Doll world that I hadn’t realized I’d been living in. I’d striped them off even as the grass and sky had stripped their own colors off, and Lauric had placed a butterfly knife in my hand, long and horribly thin and sharp, like his fingers.
“You aren’t a part of this anymore,” he repeated, and I believed him this time. It was the only thing that made sense. I could already see the blood reds of the world washing away with the greens of the grass and sky blues. Lauric had laid open his palm in a slender strip and placed it in my hand.
The color. It already made sense. The color of rust and oil. It reeked of failure and of the world. The world that I had failed in time and time again, the one that Lauric had said I was not a part of anymore, that I didn’t belong to. It was falling off his hand, fast and away from him, out of him, onto the ground which now had no color at all. It was leaving him. And I, curling my fingers around the hilt of the knife, so much of my flesh exposed, so much to get rid of, began.
Author : L.Hall
“I loved a woman once..”
Lil looked up sharply, immediately checking the oxygen gages. Walkers usually started talking morosely when they had a pressure leak. If that was so, she’d need to pull him in quickly. All the gages showed 80%, no pressure leak.
“Robert, you need to focus on the crack.. that last shower really pockmarked us. We don’t want to lose any hull integrity.” She leaned over and looked out the port side, checking visually to see if the dull metal suit was still tethered to the exit port. His voice crackled over the speaker..
“Robert… Robert… You haven’t called me that in a long time, Lil. Just Bob and maybe Lieutenant..”
Lil began to feel a sort of panic creep inside her stomach. She immediately started recall procedures, watching the tether slowly tighten. As Robert began to move very slowly away from the damaged hull, he began to chuckle. Lil felt her stomach tightening and began to mutter, “aw jesus, I’m gonna lose him.” over and over.
“You wanna know why people can’t handle walking, Lil?” his voice crackled and pushed through the silent control room. The two other techs in the room had stopped and joined her at the port side window.. “They can’t handle the space of it. The sheer size of the emptiness. It does something to them.”
“Walkers.. they like it. Because, you know, Lil.. the emptiness here can’t even touch the emptiness in them.”
The tether kept slowly pulling him back to the dull metallic exit port. Lil kept mouthing “I’m gonna lose him” over and over like a mantra.. praying to the universe that he would keep talking until they could actually get him in the door. The suit moved at an excruciatingly slow pace, his face hidden by the reflective coating.. She could see the light from the nearby sun glimmer on his helmet.
By this time, a third of the crew were at port side windows, gazing out silently. The suit was maybe a dozen meters away from the exit port, where a medical team stood at the ready.. waiting. If they could just get him in….
“Lil…” the voice crackled over the system.
“Robert?” she said quietly into the mike, unsure of what to say. Protocol procedures didn’t really prepare a person for it, and she silently ticked off the meters watching the suit slowly move.
“I… I think I’m going to go for a walk with the stars.”
Lil watched as he went offline with the communication system, took the metal cutters and cut the tether. One of the techs began to sob as they watched his thick gloved hands pulled at one of the connectors, creating a small breach in the pressure suit.. Oxygen began to leak out, leaving a small crystalline trail as it propelled him minutely away from the ship.
Lil reached down and called a recover team, knowing full well it would take the better part of an hour for the ship to be readied, crew assembled and maneuvered to where it could pick up his body. As the crew slowly and quietly drifted back to the tasks at hand, Lil stood at the window.. watching his final walk.