Author : B. Zedan

Periodically, the pilot wished he had company. There were some things that were just more enjoyable with another being around. Besides the obvious, there was chess. The ship’s helpful AI, such a benefit when it came to the obvious, just didn’t cut it at chess. Not that it was stupid, of course. It was quite exactly the opposite.

“You’re a thrice-damned son of a bitch.” The pilot chucked one of his pawns at the holo he’d picked for the ship to wear when they played chess. Only certain parts of the form were dense enough to interact with objects. The pawn shot harmlessly through the faintly shimmering torso and clattered unfulfillingly on the deck. The pilot began to sulk. “Damn sonofabitch bastard.”

“Would you have preferred the pawn to hit me? If this is your preference, I can generate solidity at whichever part you wish to next target.” The ship, through the holo’s face, displayed the practised concern of a head waiter dealing with a difficult customer. The face then lit with a degree of helpfulness. “I also could display pain or discomfort when struck, if you’d like.” The pilot wondered if there was an algorithm to degrees of helpfulness.

“What I would like you to do is stop letting me win.” He paused, as though a computer needed a moment of contemplation. “I left my king wide open, just there for you to take. But you didn’t. You messed around with the same dumb, obvious moves you’ve been making since the first time we played and you won.”

The ship didn’t say anything. It seemed to think he wasn’t quite done. The pilot found that he wasn’t.

“I mean, if you’re doing this because you think I’d prefer it then you’re off your deck. Letting me win like that only reminds me how easy it’d be for you to kick my ass at this game.”

The ship remained quiet.

For the briefest moment, the pilot worried he’d hurt the ship’s feelings.

“Listen—” he began. The holo shook its head.

“No, it is all right. You have a very valid point. I thought you would prefer to win, but I did not factor that you might also like to work for the win.” The pilot was a little startled.

“Yeah, that’s—that’s pretty much it.”

“I had not taken into consideration that your kind reveres the concept of hardship and looks down on success unless there is at least a token struggle in achieving it.”

“I just didn’t want you to make it so easy.”

“I understand.”

The pilot shifted in his chair uncomfortably. He wondered about the connections being made in that giant, unfathomable brain. He wished he had company.


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A Solution

Author : Bill Gale

Showing every one of his seventy-two years, the speaker rose to podium of the vast granite chamber. He uttered a single word – “Order”. The irony of this formality did nothing for the moods of the three dozen delegates, for whom standing in hushed rooms had been the order of the day for weeks now.

With eyes wracked by fatigue, Speaker Frederick Van Hast read his brief for the last time. How had events advanced this way? The Age of Excess seemed generations ago now, though only years had passed. So much had changed. So much had been lost under the brazen march of progress. How many of these men were children of that time? Van Hast surveyed them, eyes straining in the pallid light. So many were young, the old and infirm having been the first to have been lost. Only fortuity and strength had saved the few like Van Hast. The worst affected zones had lost all elders. As the leaders began to die, the young rose up and tore their lands to shreds. Might made right in a world of famine, plague and war.

Van Hast had tried to convince himself that the situation had been so different in Europe, but there were stories everybody had heard. The story of the village in England, where men butchered their own families for hoarding. In France, as well, where a young woman was arrested by a mob for keeping a cat, and was buried alive in a meadow outside Lyon. Nobody had recognised how close the insanity had been to the surface, how much of the world was constrained by bread and circuses. They were asked to concede a modicum of their luxury, and they refused. When it was taken from them, they went mad. Societies crumbled. The world stopped.

How many of these men had never known a time of hunger before? He could see them, blinking as though to wake from a terrible dream. Mouths agape in confusion, their faces asked, “Why me?”; “What did I do?”; “We didn’t realise”; “Nobody told us”; “It isn’t our fault.”; “We thought there would be enough” Perhaps there would have been enough. If the farmers had kept farming, or the miners mining. Perhaps, if consumption had slowed. The governments had forced rationing because nobody would give up their excess voluntarily. The violence began. Production slowed, the famines begun. Electricity stopped overnight. Nobody had been informed of the scale, of the scarcity of food and fuel. On the precipice, the leaders of the world had closed their eyes and hoped somebody else, anybody else would find a solution before they fell. Without fuel, there were no communications. No medicines. It took strong men to keep their sanity in a world where any animal is edible, any illness fatal. The young men here, they knew who was to blame.

A new government had arisen. A provisions network was set up to cities, while the rural areas were left alone out of necessity. This government had been charged with a single task – Solve the crisis. Cure the stricken Earth.

Van Hast trembled as he addressed the chamber. Maybe this was the solution. An end to the famine and strife. He and addressed the assembly.

“One in six.”

One by one, the men nodded and filed out of the room to convene with their generals and subordinates. There were three dozen men, he pondered. Six of them would not see tomorrow.


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Author : Ben ‘Inorian’ Le Chevalier

I’ve been a cypro for a few years now. That’s a short way of saying I have a cybernetic prosthesis. Technically, I’m a cyborg as is any human with mechanical parts, but people don’t like the word. It’s been given too many bad connotations from old scifi movies in the late twenty-first century.

Anyway, what was I saying? Oh yeah. Cypro.

I got my first cypro part for a job. There was a new manufacturing firm in town who were offering enhanced pay and accelerated promotion to cypros because we can lift heavier weights and are generally stronger than pure bios. I had my arm cypro’d. Suddenly I could move heavy machinery by myself.

I worked with that for a while, until me and Sara, that was my wife, until we had saved enough to afford a nice big house in the centre of town. We were living a better life than most of our neighbours, and it was thanks to the cypro.

After a few years the firm offered me another promotion, this time to foundry foreman. Eventually I got a second cypro, just another arm, you know. Sara didn’t like it, but I got a pay raise with it, and it meant I could keep Sara in the lap of luxury.

A revelation came after I suffered an industrial accident. When I was in hospital I realised that my cypro arms had been fine, but my outmoded bio back had failed. I ended up selling off the house and getting my whole skeleton replaced, with my legs soon to follow. I was getting closer and closer to the peak of what I could be, but Sara complained. I think she just didn’t like cypro really.

Soon enough I was approached by a world leader in cypro development. I was somewhat surprised when they told me I had the largest percentage of cybernetic parts of anyone alive. They invited me to be in their cypro testing programs, and then advertise the tested products. The money was fantastic, but working on the cutting edge of cypro is what made me sign on.

Now all that’s left of my bio past is my brain, flawlessly cased inside my cypro body. I’m the first man to receive any cypro part, so I stay on the cutting edge of perfection.

They’re calling me the world’s first true cyborg. Perhaps I am. It doesn’t worry me. I’m perfection.

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Deadly Fishconomist Assassins

Author : Andy Bolt

Carlton Marx felt only mildly guilty for opening up slice portals in peoples’ thoracic cavities. He was doing it in the hopes of developing a method of deployment for his growing army of genetically engineered combat fishconomists – economist/sea creature hybrids pumped full of high test adrenaline and testosterone boosters.

When Piranha Maynard Keynes burst out of Queen of England’s chest on live neuro-vision, it took a squad of amphibious battle yetis to catch and subdue him. Back in his lair, deep beneath an Albuquerque bagel shop, Carlton pondered his actions.

“I feel bad about my deadly aquatic assassin eating the Queen,” he said to no one in particular. “But people must learn about the heterodox theories regarding variable interest rates in a capital gains economy. And I can’t think of a better teacher than a psychotic half-man, half-fish, all financial wizard. Also, I need a bagel.”

Carlton pressed another button.

When Milton “Electric Eel” Friedman came crashing through the sternum of DJ Hemoglobin in Hoboken’s techno-vampire disco, most of the patrons thought it was part of the show. A sparking Friedman played along, doing a set of “The Electric Slide,” “Electric Boogaloo,” and “Oh, Dear God, It’s a Shocking Fish Monster! (Summertime Love mix).” Then he inadvertently electrocuted all the pseudo-vampires with a combination of The Running Man and an excited pop-and-lock maneuver.

“This string of semi-accidental deaths is greatly perturbing me,” Carlton mused, licking strawberry cream cheese off his lips. “Perhaps I’d feel better if I knew that people understood how the Walrasian model presents the possibility of perfect competition leading to Pareto efficiency. Wait, did I say Walrasian? I meant Walrusian!” Carlton cackled with self-satisfied glee. “Bagels sure are delicious,” he added, tapping another button.

Marie-Esprit-Léon Walrus exploded into Independence Hall through the torso of a tour guide dressed like Thomas Jefferson.

“Vour score and zeven years ago,” he began, gasping through his tusks with a French accent. Several people looked confused as he flopped heavily onto his flippers, emerging from the trunk of the dead guide.

“I thought Lincoln gave the Gettysburg Address,” said a puzzled little boy with braces.

“Walruses are very bad at history,” said Carlton sorrowfully, munching with grief on his ninth jalapeño and blueberry bagel.

“Perhaps that is the greatest tragedy of all.”

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Author : Glenn Blakeslee

He led me past a tractor rusting in the rain, pushed aside chickens with his foot and opened the door to his little house. Inside, bleak light fell through dirty windows.

“How much you gonna charge?” he asked.

The house was cluttered with dirty cooking tools and heaps of unwashed laundry. A new chaotic rice-cooker and a clunky media player sat on a wood countertop. He wore a blue phototropic shirt. Typical burgeoning bourgeois.

“How much you gonna charge?” he repeated.

“Where is she?” I asked.

He led me into a back room. His wife lay on a simple bed. She smiled wanly, her eyes only for her husband. “Zensheu,” she said.

Zensheu nodded toward his wife. “You need to fix her,” he said. “She needs to make sons and clean.”

I pulled a chair to her bedside, set down my bag. Zensheu stood watching. His wife had dark circles under her eyes, but her pale skin was unblemished. She was lovely. “I’m Wenwen,” she said.

“I’m here to heal you,” I said, and she smiled a brilliant smile through sad eyes. “I need you to take off your blouse.” Zensheu didn’t move so I helped Wenwen sit up. She slowly removed her blouse.

“I’m paying someone to feel my wife’s titties?” Zensheu asked, his arms folded across his chest. Wenwen’s right breast was swollen along the radial midline. The skin there was dark. “May I?” I asked her, and when she nodded I used my fingertips to probe along the distention. I could feel a mass.

“You one of those livelong guys?” Zensheu asked. “You gonna live forever on my money?” I raised Wenwen’s arm and felt along her chest, up to her armpit. The lymph nodes were swollen.

“You fucking corporados,” Zensheu said. “You squeeze poor farmers, you fix our breaks and bruises and live forever.” I pulled the assay unit from my bag and ran it along the distention. Wenwen winced as the probe extended and snapped back. I set it aside.

“That’s it?” Zensheu said. “I owe a bag of gold?”

Nothing he said was true. I learned my craft online, bought my gear second-hand in Beijing. I saved for months for my first kilo of nano, and rode my bike through the district. I made just enough to support my wife and I.

The livelong nano was for the rich, and would never, ever, be mine.

I poured ten grams from the nanosite canister onto the palette. I turned on the transceiver and plugged it into the assay unit. While the unit turned diagnostic data into machine code and passed it to the transceiver, I pushed aside a small portion of nano, shielded it with my knife, and then passed the transceiver over the rest.

This nano would eat Wenwen’s tumor, and follow the metastasized cells along the highway of her lymph system.

I punched a different code into the assay unit, fed it to the transceiver, and passed it over the portion I had shielded. That nano would live in her womb forever, killing male zygotes.

I pushed the nano together into a single pile, scraped it up with a wooden spoon, and fed it to Wenwen. She grimaced at the taste of carbon, and swallowed.

Outside, the rain still fell. Zensheu approached from the side of the house, and held out a chicken. The chicken was scrawny, its legs deformed. “Here’s your pay,” he said.

I took the chicken from him, and slammed its head into the side of the tractor. I threw it in the mud and walked off, into the rain.


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