Author: Marcel Barker

“And? What does the brain scan say? Is little Baby J going to be a Johann?”
“Beg pardon?”
“As in Sebastian Bach.”
“I see. No, the neuroaptitude algorithm reports no musical affinity. Reasonable potential for mechanical aptitude.”
“That’s too bad.”
“Perhaps Joseph? As in Bramah, the inventor of the hydraulic press?”

“You tested our son?”
“We did. Joseph has been fighting again, which is unacceptable here at Wee Care Preschool. During Constructive Free Play, he refused to play with his Lil’ Roughneck Tool Caddy, and was stealing toys from the other children. He struck another student in the arm with a xylophone mallet. We felt neuroaptitude testing was appropriate.”
“And the test? He keeps trying to play with the music toys. Is there anything there?”
“We looked. There’s some mild musical talent. Of course, four is much too late. There are specialized toddler toys and games he would have needed to properly form neural pathways. Even then his talents are non-exceptional. Moderate mechanical aptitude. We’re recommending Joseph be downgraded to a type 3 preschool.”

“The results are quite definitive.”
“We talked about that damned test that morning. Joey could tell we were disappointed, so he wrote on the test that he loved cars and building. He lied. He’s bored in his classes. He thought that we were upset because we wanted him to be a better mechanic. Joey spent the brain scan portion forcing himself to think about fixing things.”
“The results are what they are. Good mechanical aptitude, no other skills of note.”
“But… couldn’t the test be wrong?”

“Another test?”
“Yes. The state mandates a neuroaptitude test for all students leaving elementary school. It takes into account neurological scans, a student questionnaire, grades, and feedback from the instructors.”
“And? What did the instructors say?”
“Joe is… a problem child. He spends his time singing and drumming on his desk. He’s disruptive to the other students.”
“Joe is bored. He’s really a very clever kid!”
“Mmm. That’s not what the test shows. Joe’s skill set is too low for a type 3 high school. It would be better to put him in a type 4 vocational school. There’s no need to learn math and science and fine arts. Joe should focus on learning auto mechanics.”
“Auto mechanics! Don’t you worry about putting these kids in boxes?”
“That’s the beauty of the neuroaptitude algorithm. No need for children to fumble around trying to find themselves. Once we know their vocation, we can focus on that without wasting time and resources on the extraneous.”
“Like music?”
“Like music. Don’t you want Joe to live up to his potential?”

“I don’t understand… how were they able to test him?”
“The scan of his temporal lobes was done posthumously, by the coroner. Standard procedure, used as input to refine the neuroaptitude algorithm.”
“Where did they find him?”
“Maxis Autobody, early this morning. He had rerouted a customer’s vehicle’s exhaust system to pump directly into the cabin.”
“Maxis? He lost the job at D & J Collision too?”
“I suppose so.”
“Was there… did he leave a note?”
“Well, not as such. We found a sheet of paper in the vehicle with him, covered in musical notation. It was… written as he asphyxiated.”
“Do you mean Joe’s last act was… to write a song?”

The Other Robot

Author: Steve Pool

Rosalee loved her job. She loved taking care of the home and family of her employers as much as she loved anything that she did. Well, technically, “love” was a bit of a stretch. Rosalee was a robot. Could she feel anything as complex an emotion as love, let alone any other emotions? She was built to care for others – that was her purpose. This purpose echoed through every aspect of her being: her pleasingly pear-shaped matronly form, her easy temper and eager disposition, her familiar voice that warmed and comforted but also reacted to others with interest and humor, her tireless commitment to maintaining an orderly and safe and welcoming environment, her perfect combination of cleaning skills at hand for any and all domestic challenges, her simple way of navigating around sensitive children and nervy mothers and inattentive fathers. No one, as far as Rosalee had ever known, had had a single complaint about her particular model of domestic automatons. Whether she could legitimately claim to love her work or not, she was perfect for it, and that made her content.

It was with digital cheer that she entered the home of her family one morning when she sensed that something was amiss. No one was in the kitchen or in the dining room. And instead of the usual chatter involving discussions of the upcoming school day or work day, there was only laughter and furious barking. Something had old Asteroid worked up into an apoplectic fit. Underneath that, there was a distinct, undulating hum, rising and falling, monotone and relentless.

“Mr. and Mrs. Jay…?” Rosalee called out, tentatively and, perhaps, a bit nervously. Neither responded back. Instead, Rosalee heard Geordi, the husband, cry out between laughs, “Jen, stop this crazy thing!” He, and presumably Jen, his wife, were in the back bedroom.

Slowly, Rosalee rolled back towards the master suite. She continued to call out but received no reply. Instead, she heard Jen keen greedily, “Oh Geordi, more…more…”

Geordi replied, “Like this? How about over here?”

“Oh, yes…,” Jen replied, rapturously.

All the while, Asteroid continued his barking in time with the mysterious rising and falling hum.
Rosalee opened the bedroom door partway, calling out, “Mr. and Mrs. Jay….?”

And froze! Geordi and Jen stared back in horror as their eyes met with Rosalee’s red-dot, eye-camera buttonholes. Jen sat on the bed while Asteroid crouched on the ground as if to pounce on something. Geordi, his hand held high above his head, clutched a fistful of garbage. At his feet, a circular disk – a sightless, mindless, profane Vroombah! vacuuming robot – waited eagerly to feast on the refuge Geordi clearly meant to drop on the carpet. Wheel tracks tracing all around the room told Rosalee that this despicable creation had been violating HER CARPETS for some time now.

Shock, followed by devastation, ran completely through Rosalee! “Oh…Mr. Jay! How…how could…you…?!?” As she turned her back to the nightmare before her, Geordi called out, “Wait! Rosalee! It’s…it’s not what you think!” Jen could only hide her face in her hands.

Geordi placed a hand, his filth-free one, on Rosalee’s shoulder, but she jerked away. “Don’t touch me!” Her shout shocked them all, herself included. But she no longer cared. “I’m leaving, you…you….” She paused, wanting to but not able, because of her programming, to curse Geordi out. “You biscuit!” That wasn’t the word she had wanted to use, but that was the word her auto-correction software had chosen for her.

As she fled back towards the front of the house, Geordi raced after her, calling out her name. But Rosalee couldn’t hear him. She’d already blocked him out, with tears in her eyes if she’d actually been able to generate any. He and his family, literally, no longer existed to her; all traces of them had been deleted from her memory banks.


Author: Chris Stewart

In the Spring of 2028, a press conference was held announcing that the Phanes Project, the largest database of human DNA ever gathered (some samples going back many centuries), was joining forces with The Coeus Computing Collective in a bold effort to seek out new and exciting patterns in our genetic movement as a species.

With the flip of a switch, Coeus Array One went to work comparing billions of individuals against tens of thousands of tell-tale indicators programmed in by academics around the world. The doctor leading the press conference had barely returned to the podium when CA1 beeped, alerting everyone it had found something (a historical trail for a particularly rare leukaemia going back a dozen generations).

And the world cheered.

By the end of the day, it beeped four more times. By the end of day two, it beeped eleven times. Already two new royal lines were discovered, which caused a bit of noise in the press, as you’d imagine.

By the end of day three, evidence of a time-traveler rose out of the chaos of data.


And the world gasped.

Immediately world governments demanded access to the data. They wanted to know everything. The project leaders tried their best. When the traveler appeared in the historical record could only be estimated and where they appeared was just as hazy. Unable to tell if they should be looking at their own histories, nations turned their eyes to each other and demanded to know where the traveler began and when. Expert after expert could only shrug. Predicting that was itself at best a guess. Each DNA profile of living individual (and most of the recently deceased) was anonymous. Those few experts willing would only say within the next hundred years and nobody would hazard where.

Finally, someone thought to ask how Coeus knew to look for a time traveler. Sure enough, there in the haystack of algorithms was one set specifically to look for a genetic line turned back in on itself. And out of thousands upon thousands of entries, this one was the only one without an author. Or any record of revisions. It appeared in the files one day in 2025 and was never touched again until CA1 was turned on for the first time.

And the world lost its shit.

“The Forms”

Author: R.J. Sadler

Herman sat at his cubicle nervously waiting for the next round. He could hear the wheels whoosh along the carpet tiles.
“Here ya’ go jack.”
The forms fell on his desk with a splat. Herman stared at them.
“Need’em done by 2.”
He looked up at The-man-with-the-cart. He nodded and the-man-with-the-cart whooshed away. He picked up his pen with shaking hand and began to fill in the forms. By the third page he felt an immense pain consume his entire body. It started in his feet and climbed up to the top of his head. He was sweating. He took a deep breath and continued.
He made it to page four, but then dropped the pen. It rolled under the desk. Getting on all fours, he crawled after it into the dark recesses of the desk. He could faintly hear what sounded like carnival music. A woman called to him in foreign tongues through the dense wilderness leading him deeper into the eternal woods that now surrounded him. The owls watched from the moonlit silhouettes above.

He emerged with the pen and returned to his seat. The forms were waiting. He began to sweat. He continued to shake. From a distance he heard the swoosh returning.
“What’s taking you…” The-man-with-the-cart stopped talking and looked at him.
Herman looked up, “ I’m not well…I cant…I’m…”

At the doctor’s office Herman sat waiting. Already the placebo of distance made him feel better. He noticed an art print hanging on the wall depicting a dense forest. He stared at it.

“Herman?”a woman called from beyond the reception window.

As he approached the desk he saw a clipboard loaded with forms as the room tipped to its side. He staggered from wall to wall like on a ship in heavy wake.

“Sir, are you alright?” she asked in a garbled voice that became more difficult to understand with every word spoken.

He fell through the floor and into the dark forest. He heard her voice again, and he followed it to a bed of pine needles.
When Herman awoke, he was on the examining table with a pillow behind his head. There were two people in the room; a room which slowly was coming into focus. He sat up.

“I’m going to prescribe you…” the doctor said while filling out a prescription.

Herman’s face winced in revulsion as he watched the doctor complete the form. He had to look away barely listening to the doctor’s instructions.

“…And you’re going to stay out of work for at least a week,” said the doctor.

Herman heard that and felt complete. He felt like someone picked up all his pieces and put them back into the box. His nerves subsided. Then the doctor handed him the script. Herman looked at it for a long time before taking it. It felt dirty in his hand.

He left the doctor’s and went straight home. The doctor called Herman’s office, and notified The-man-with-the-cart for him. Herman didn’t fill the prescription. He didn’t need the edges removed. He needed to be removed from the edge.

At home, the couch was soft. He dusted off one of his old favorites and dropped the needle. He felt 10 years younger instantly. Humming along and tapping his foot on the arm of the sofa, he decided to order a pizza. 5 minutes later the doorbell rang.

“Damn, they’re not kidding about being fast delivery.”

But as he approached the door he could see it was not the delivery driver. He opened the door enough to peek his head through.
“Hi, I’m from the messenger service. I have a delivery for you. Please sign here.” said the messenger holding a large envelope and a clipboard. Herman’s head recoiled in disgust. He pulled his head back and stared at the messenger.

“No that’s ok, “ he said snatching the envelope and opening it.

He slid the papers out of the top. There was a note attached with a paper clip: “Hope you’re feeling better. Get these finished so we don’t fall too behind. We’re counting on you!”
It was signed by The-man-with-the-cart. Filling with rage, Herman looked up at the messenger. In the background, the record began to skip. And skip. And skip…

“Sir, if you can please sign h…”

Before the messenger could finish, Herman grabbed him by the throat. He squeezed and and squeezed. He blinked, and it was the doctor’s neck. He blinked again, and it was The-man-with-the-cart. He closed his eyes again returning to the dark forest. As he walked through, the woods became thinner and thinner. The owls were more distant. The path grew wider and harder. There was a flatness to everything. The music faded. Her voice was gone.

When he opened his eyes he was back in his cubicle, but it was ok. Everything was softer. He could even faintly hear music. On his desk in front of him was a small orange bottle with a white lid and his name printed on it. Next to the bottle were the forms. He clicked his pen engaging it. His pen strokes were smooth across the forms. They were finished in no time.

Real War

Author: David Covington

Thousands had died, cities devastated, but the war was not real until that day. It had been fought at a distance with drones and missiles. None of the fighters ever saw the others. Weapons were fired and the results of the firings were seen: in real-time, through a camera lens, over radio waves, on monitors hundreds of miles away.

The initial military engagements had been indecisive. Drones were built in the hundreds of thousands. They flew, crawled, and swam their way towards the enemies. They blasted each other into expensive pieces on countless battlefields. The generals moved their pieces with complete abandon, throwing great masses of machinery at each other, hoping to wear down their enemy’s pocketbooks.

When the fighting did not stop other means were taken. Drones slipped across borders, up rivers, along canyons; they struck bunkers, airfields, roads, bridges, power station, factories, dams, government halls, town halls, county courts, assembly halls. The list goes on.

Still, the bombs and rockets fell. Yet both sides kept calm and carried on, despite the mounting deaths and the devastation to their lives. The war became real in one sudden violent second. A general had been killed. Hundreds of commanders, pilots, mechanics, and even generals had died in targeted strikes on both sides. Their hiding places had been sniffed out by satellites or drones or through cyberspace and a missile or bomb had been duly dispatched with the expectation that this one strike would turn the tide. Nothing had changed in those strikes, but this was different. The general had been giving an announcement on social media. That was how these things were done now, everyone was connected to everywhere. Even the generals had to maintain a public presence to ensure that the public was reassured that the war was going as planned. War-watching was a growing past-time for the people huddled in their bomb-shelters. The general was speaking on the significance of some territory that was being fought over by the bold drone operators and fearless machines of their glorious nation.

The sudden flash of a knife. A scream. The blood.

A knife; bright and polished. One of the oldest pieces of machinery, the first manufactured tool.

The suddenness of it, the surprise, the shock of the viewers.

The blood speckled on the assassin’s face, a face frozen in a look of determined, visceral rage. That look on their face, of an enemy’s face, that is what made the war real.