Crossed Wires

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!”


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Long-Distance Relationship

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.


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Author : Peter Pincosy

“Accuracy is the primary road to access”

A large white room with banks of computers lined up in rows, was home to Primary English. Sanjay had worked here for three years. He’d won the lottery, the chance to immigrate to the United States. His friends and neighbors were surprised. Sanjay didn’t know any English. The rest of them had taken the entry test, and were certain their scores were better. He couldn’t handle even the most basic conversation. Some of his relatives thought he was an idiot. The day Sanjay stepped on the plane headed for the United States he had laughed at all of them, even his friends. As far as he was concerned by the time they met again he would be a rich man, humility was for the poor.

Three years later his optimism was shaken. For the past few months he’d been wondering when he would move past the testing phase and into the world of freedom that was so lauded in all of the promotional brochures.

Some people had gone. One day they were called to the office of the manager and they didn’t come back to their computer. Their personal belongings back in the immigrant holding camp disappeared before everyone returned from the shift. Some of them had been very bad at transcribing.

Sanjay was shaken, he’d become nervous about the future. Three years of typing in English words from taped transcripts had honed Sanjay’s ability to understand English. He sat with hundreds of people from hundreds of countries at computers and entered the words streaming through their headphones. The manager said the purpose was to teach them English.

“Learn English, learn life.” the manager was fond of saying in words that seemed to soar straight out of the doors and into the blue sky above.

“I worked for a man who had strange items. He sold them. I never saw what they were, just… his hands smelled like chemicals.” In through his headphones the transcript ran, and his fingers slammed out the corresponding words. He was fast. At times he would get completely lost in the words and would work until he felt a finger tap his shoulder. It tapped. He continued. It tapped.

Hands tugged his headphones from his head.

“Sanjay Patel, D-847838?” a red-faced man asked him. He was an American. He lifted the fingers that had touched the headphones and held them out beyond his body. His nose wrinkled up. “The manager would like to see you in his office.”

Sanjay felt himself flush with adrenaline. A few of the others saw him stand and he noticed curiosity and envy in their faces. He walked down the aisle toward the manager’s office. The red-faced man opened the manager’s office and Sanjay stepped inside.

At a desk in the center of a stark room sat the manager. Behind him was another door. The room had two chairs, one held the manager, and the other was empty. Sanjay sat in the chair.

“Sanjay Patel, D-847838,” the manager said. “Congratulations. You’ve graduated. Through the door behind me is the beginning of another set of challenges, a new life, hope, the future.” He was enjoying his words. “Go ahead. Have a good life.”

Nervously Sanjay stood up and walked to the door. He opened it and stepped into a small hallway. At the end of the hallway he went through another door.

Behind the door was a room, full of computers lined up just like in the last room. A sign on the wall read “Primary English Level 2”.


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Just Friends

Author : C.S. Germain

“Why did you pick me, out of all those big, strong guys?” asked Richard as he walked out of his tiny apartment on Neal Street.

“Because you are a good person. No amount of health or youth can replace that.” was the immediate reply from within his head.

“You are lying. I can tell.” chuckled Richard, scratching his head, where the stitches could still be seen, under a faint cover of skin. Inside, Karen buzzed, her mechanical mind absorbing everything the old man saw.

Richard Langton, owner of Langton Enterprises, bonded to her only a few months ago, and she knew that the man was a good choice. His body may have been seventy years older than any she occupied before, but it was in good shape, so she did not need to share her battery with any artificial organs. And, he was such a beautiful old man. When she was given the choice between him and ten others, she did not even spend an extra second in thought.

“You are so honest normally. Why lie now? Karen, tell me, really, why did you choose me?” he asked.

“Because I like older, more mature men.” Karen tried, but knew as soon as she said it that he did not believe her. Richard did not care for sweet words, and it would only anger him. It was all over. She was sure Richard would order her removed.

“Don‘t you care enough to say why you picked me?” he finally said, stopping. That was it. She was out.

Karen made a tiny whirring noise. Either she would tell him, or he would remove her for sure. After all, faulty machines that did not answer their owners were considered too dangerous to be used.

“All companies that make artificial intelligence give their creations a choice of at least five owners. I was allowed eleven choices by my company, because of the demand Brain Boost systems of my kind have. I was designed to keep my charge from dying in case of complications and to increase memory storage. This allowed me eleven choices. I chose you, because I love you.” Karen cursed her emotions and her reply. She sounded just like a dumb machine, telling him what he knew, and trying to hide her feelings.

“You are nervous. It’s normal. Just try not to sound so artificial, dear. I love you, too” Richard whispered. Then, he laughed.

“Nobody would believe me if I told them my Brain Boost fell in love with me, you know.” he said, tapping the side of his head, as if to show exactly what they would think of him.

“Then, we can be just friends.” Karen buzzed, her microchips on the verge of shorting out from happiness.

“Indeed.” said Richard, and the two who would always be one headed for the Langton Building, where their company awaited them. The two lived happily ever after, but not before an odd ceremony presided over by the company Supercomputer named them man and machine.


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House For Sale

Author : Steve Davidson

“Oh wow! Oh wow! Oh wow!”

I couldn’t stop my head from repeating that over and over and over again. Every time I tried to reboot my thought processes, all I managed was a brief “I don’t freakin believe this”, before returning to my yoga-like mantra.

I probably came close to driving off a cliff half a dozen times before survival instinct kicked in and I pulled over to the side of the road. At some point I remembered to swallow and realized that I must have mouth breathing like a marathoner; it took four or five tries before I worked up enough saliva to do anything more than choke.

I knew the mountains of New Hampshire were famed for their UFO encounters. I also knew how much hooey they all were. Welcome to hooey land.

Lighting up the undersides of the overcast and rivaling the full moon in intensity was an honest to goodness saucer. Flying. Or hovering. Or doing something that wasn’t typical of any flying object I was even remotely familiar with.

I wasn’t scared, just blown away. Then I did get scared. The damn thing started sliding down the sky, lower and lower. I wasn’t sure but, yes. It WAS closer to where I sat on the shoulder of a mountain road.

I decided to take one shot with my cell phone and then get the hell out of there. But I’d forgotten to bring the phone with me. And the car wouldn’t start.

“Hah!” I laughed out loud, more bravado than amusement. “What’s next? Lost time? Probing? Sexy alien females who want to have my baby?” Even the last I could do without if the damned car would start, but no such luck.

So I sat there and watched a flying saucer land in the middle of the road about fifty feet away Cute little articulated tripedal landing legs unfolded from its underside. A ring of winking lights circled it at its widest point. It touched down onto the macadam, the landing legs sagging and then springing taut as they took up the weight.

A door slid open and a ramp lowered to the ground. A creature appeared silhouetted against the saucer’s interior lights and then descended the ramp. It walked in my direction.

I flooded the engine. You’re not supposed to be able to do that with electronic fuel injection, but I managed. I could smell the gasoline as the thing in a silver spacesuit stepped up to the driver’s side door.

It was humanoid. Two legs. Two arms. Two hands. A body and a head covered in an opaque silver helmet.

It made a rolling motion with its hand, like cops do when they want you to roll down your window. I was on the edge of panic but the gesture was so familiar I decided not scream right then. I could always try to hide in the glove compartment later.

I rolled down the window. The creature leaned down. I could see my face reflected in its helmet. My mouth was still open.

“Do you know how fast you were going?” it asked. Then it laughed.

When I came to, it was gone.


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