Quelling the Insurrection

Author: R. J. Erbacher

The leather-wrapped handle of his dual-edged battle-axe was slick in his clenching fists. The snow-coated everything of Sverre’s including his helmet, beard, massive bare arms, and boots. He was in the seventh or the tenth line of men, he really couldn’t count that well. All his kinship was collected around him in sporadic rows holding their own axes and swords and spears. Some of them had cloaks or furs draped across their shoulders which they would shrug off as soon as the word was given but Sverre was not cold. He had battle lust pumping through his veins. They all shuffled from one foot to another in anticipation of the attack. There were legions of men, most on the ground but the richer ones mounted on horseback. They had come together, putting aside regional squabbles, in a combined force against this new adversary.

Before them, on the hill, the enemy waited. Snarling yawps echoed down the field frightening none of his folk. They were itching for a skirmish and they had these devil beasts outnumbered by a large margin. Yes, they were huge, half again as big as a man and twice the girth, hideous spawns of some dragon bitch mother. Gristly hides and gnarled backs, black gleaming eyes and clawed hands. But they would bleed into the snow like any other creature under the slashing of Sverre’s axe blade. Some of his brethren would perish for certain but their success as a triumphant army was determined.

Their catapults would begin firing as soon as the battle commenced and the stone missiles would cut through the gargoyle’s ranks ahead of their mounted charge up the mountain. They would come together in a clash, spill the guts of this dastardly enemy and cherish the taste of victory.

As long as they could avoid the monster’s weapons; crossbows of a fashion that were rumored to unleash bolts of fire. And once the fiends were destroyed, they would take the magical castle, made up of a thousand thousand twisted swords and burning with multi-colored swirling torches, that had descended from the clouds. And once again Sverre’s people would hold dominion over these sacred lands.

The flags were dropped, the projectiles released and Sverre surged forward with his comrades, a bellow on his lips, as the onslaught erupted. The melee had begun.

Trolley Protocol

Author: Glenn Leung

Good evening, parents and teachers. As you all know, I was the engineer in charge of investigating the accident.

I’ll begin by recapping what was on the news. Eighteen-year-old Samantha Chen was on her phone and did not see the STOP signal for the pedestrian crossing. A self-driving car was approaching, and instead of slamming on the brakes while maintaining course, it swerved and hit the group of pedestrians waiting by the side of the road. Two people died, one of them a teacher of this school. Here’s where the news gets a little murky.

I have written programs for similar models, so I know that the car did something it was not supposed to do. For me, autonomous vehicles do not need distractions like the trolley problem. It is simple; the person who is putting their life in the care of the car must be protected. Hence, the sensible thing to do in the event of a sudden slow-moving obstacle is to slam on the brakes and not swerve lest you lose control.

When I checked the vehicle’s programming, I found there were a few additional lines of code that were added in post-production. Through further investigations, I learned the owner has a son, a smart kid; the type who learns multivariable calculus at age five. He was given the ‘Smartbrain’ software for his birthday; the one which allows children to build their very own AI. It was made to be educational and simple, but it was also controversial because it made unnecessarily powerful capabilities available to kids.

Yeah, I see some discomfort in my fellow Millennials. I threw my fair share of sheep back in the day.

Anyway, the kid got really into it and somehow made a terrifyingly competent AI that could crack our encryptions. He decided to test it out on his Dad’s car, just to probe around. That was how he accessed our codes and came across the segment labeled ‘Hazard response’, which housed the procedure I had described earlier.

He thought it was a mistake! He had heard so much about the ‘trolley problem’ when reading up on autonomous vehicles in school that he thought each car should come with its own ‘trolley protocol’. He then proceeded to do what he thought was a public service; he wrote one himself with some help from Smartbrain.

In the milliseconds before the accident, the AI did a cursory internet search and found a lot of Samantha. She is all over social media and a very popular influencer. Through her, corporations have made millions marketing to young people. She is the poster child of trendy, and there’s a good chance your kids know her.

Contrast this with the older people standing by the road, people like you and me. We have less time for social media, don’t know how to ‘full screen’ a hologram, and still think Instagram is relevant. According to that kid’s algorithm, based entirely on digital footprints, the combined worth of the law-abiding adults is less than that of a social media influencer.

Don’t get me wrong, I’m happy that young Samantha is alright and I’m sorry for the loss of Mr. Ross. The message I want to convey today is please, talk to your kids. Have conversations with them about the consequences of their actions. Smartbrain has since been recalled but with all these regulation rollbacks, there will be more irresponsible developers. Intelligence is not wisdom; your kids may be smart but they still need you.

That’s all I have. Please, enjoy the buffet.

The Trial of Socrates

Author: Hart St. John

Ring, Ring…

“You’ve reached the dwelling of Socrates, if you’ve called hoping for a public apology, please hang up, and don’t call again. Hemlock suppliers, please leave me detailed instructions on where to procure your wares. Time is of the essence. Thanks for calling.”

Beep.

“Socrates, it’s Plato, oh, I just heard the news. It’s terrible! Execution. I can’t believe they didn’t give you a hand-slap and make you pay a fine like the rest of the lawless. Did you really say you were the gods’ gift to Athens? Ugh, they probably twisted your words around to serve their own end. I told you last week to GET OUT. But nooo, you stubborn old fool, you had to stay. Exile was just too good for you.

“Course, I bet you knew this was coming. I mean, you always told us your daimonion—your inner spirit—had a gift of foresight. So no real surprise there. I just can’t believe with the way you could make someone’s head turn with all those damn questions that it was impiety against the gods in the end that got you. I would’ve thought it was the mob! Go figure. Now look at you. You’re headed for the block.

“And if that wasn’t bad enough, I just saw the evening tablet news, the chiseled headline mentions they also got you on charges for corrupting the youth—I think they meant one too many lovers if you ask me. By the gods, Socrates, what are you going to do?

“Well, look, at seventy, you’ve kind of built the rep of being a crazy ol’ coot, so no one will blame you if you flee. They’re kind of expecting it. I spoke to Critobulus and Apollodorus and they’re totally up for a midnight breakout and escapade to get you out of town. Maybe you could head on over to Potidaea for a festival to Apollo—my bad, I guess the whole god thing is out—oh, we might be able to get you on a boat headed to Olympus, maybe catch the games if you’re not too late. I hear Diodorus is a shoo-in on the discus throw.

“I got to tell you, friend, that I heard some rumors you’re going to take the sanctimonious high road and carry out your own execution. Please tell me otherwise. I can’t imagine Athens without your scruffy face.

“If you do go through with it, I’ll have my work cut out for me. (I was your favorite student, wasn’t I?) I’ll do my best to make sure you’re remembered as the most wise and just man in all of Greece. But I gotta tell you, as the man who is known for saying, “If I know one thing, it’s that I know nothing,” I’m thinking my job is gonna be pretty hard.

“The upside is that history, even without my help, should record you as a man who spoke up, expressed his views publically, and wasn’t afraid of what others thought of him. Now that’s virtue. And look, I’m clearly one of those youths you corrupted, and I still love you!

“Okay, buddy, I hope you get this message in time. Let’s plan your escape, or not. And if I can’t persuade you to reconsider the whole poison option, maybe we can at least plan a big party sendoff with lots of wine, and plenty of women—or men, your preference, you are the one heading to Hades after all.

“Knowledge is life, my friend.”

The Time Wanderer

Author: Irene Montaner

Time was born the moment Erisha did. And when she breathed for the first time, in and out, a world was brought to life. A land of flames and fumes. Erisha made herself a home in it and watched time go by from the warmth of her hearth. Decades, centuries, even millennia felt like seconds to her.

As the blazing world cooled, mountains and plains appeared, rivers and seas. Ferns and tress grew tall; monsters owned the water, the land and the air. Erisha flushed as her world evolved, her skin was ablaze, her inside on fire. She yearned for something, for someone, and so she left her home and wandered restlessly amid the deafening grumbling of those ageing beasts.

Millions of years passed before she found what she was looking for. Someone like her, walking on his two legs, with sturdy features and unkempt hair, thicker skin and darker eyes. Her inner fire stirred, her cheeks reddened. Erisha reached to him but he walked through her. He didn’t see her translucent skin, her blue eyes or her copper hair. She called out to him but he never heard the voice that gave him a name. She was invisible to all things ephemeral.

Erisha watched them for a long time. She saw them run and rest, hunt and hide, gather with their equals, greet someone special. With greedy eyes she watched them frolicking. She learnt how they sowed, how they built, how they prospered, how they fought, how they died. And with every death Erisha’s inner fire died out a little.

Those beings evolved and so did the world, everything changing too quickly. Empires rose and fell, clans intertwined and disappeared, families thrived for generations only to perish later with a last barren daughter. Years became eons to Erisha. Tired and lonely, she sought shelter in her old home. The glowing walls were now cold and her inner fire was no more than embers. Her craving for companionship remained but time was a wrecking ball. Every year, every month, every week that went by crushed Erisha’s spirits. Her hopes plummeted to the ground when she saw them leave on their solid rockets. They, who had been born out of her breath, out of her desire, were deserting her. Erisha wandered the world again, folding the past behind her, sliding through the cracks of the future.

Life flourished once more, unlike anything that had inhabited that land before. Erisha wondered at it all as she dragged her feet across this world that she no longer recognised. Her body, once light as the air, felt now heavy under the burden of time. Almost hopeless, she just wished for time to end. And that’s when she saw her.

Old and weary, the woman had also been waiting for someone that never came. Erisha looked at her, the last of those humans who had left this world to find a better one. Erisha noticed her eyes fixed on her. Someone was finally seeing her, now that she was all skin and bones, her long grey hair sweeping the ground.

“Ah, there you are at last,” said the woman. “My man left me long ago and I have already buried the last of my children. Life is so pointless now.”

The woman extended her bony hand to Erisha. Erisha kissed her softly and the woman chilled. Erisha laid her body on the ground and lay beside her. The fire that had kept her alive since the beginning of time extinguished and her world slept forever.

END

Diplomatic and Justified

Author: Jae Miles, Staff Writer

They throw me through a window, barely a grey panel against the dusk of the underground I’m falling through.
I can just about make out the floor – it’s coming up fast. Using the slight angle of my fall, I try for a roll-out and nearly succeed. Skidding to a stop, I take a breath of the dank air and cough.
“Good landing, good sir.”
Another inmate? Nobody hinted at that. I take a moment to ease my breathing, then it’s time to come up with some way to salvage this situation.
“Whom do I have the pleasure of sharing this tidal pit with?”
“Rathiek Kinodar, good sir. Benthusian diplomat and lately an advisor to the Upper Brighton Seawall Project.”
I’m in an abandoned ballroom with a talking octopus. To be fair, the octopods from Benthus are humanity’s staunchest allies as we continue to venture forth into the wild black yonder of the spaceways.
“September Jameson. Former Captain in the Sixth Abraxas out of Descartes, currently a gunsell under contract to the Upper Brighton Seawall Project, investigating the spate of violent robberies they’ve suffered, along with your disappearance. Delighted to find you, Diplomat Kinodar.”
“As I am to be discovered. I presume you saw through the excuses, asked some awkward questions, and got yourself – what’s that word for stealing someone?”
“‘Kidnapped’.”
“Yes. ‘Kidnapped’. Do you know if the origins of it lie with juvenile goats or humans?”
I chuckle into the darkness.
“I’m afraid I don’t. Ask me again when we’re out of this.”
“I take that to mean you came with a plan?”
“No, but I might have one now. During the Orcan Campaign, I worked with your military. An officer in your Creggar Armoured Division mentioned that all Benthusians posted to Earth have to be acolytes of Mother Hydra. Some sort of secretive combat cult?”
There’s a rustling in the darkness. The voice comes nearer.
“Not so much. We have to learn to move in ways that do not discomfit humans. Devotees of Mother Hydra have teachings to facilitate that. But, if a diplomat demonstrates ability, we are also trained in the combat variations of the basics we are taught.”
“Did you show ability?”
“Yes. I’m not Honoured Cal, but I’m competent.”
I’m unfamiliar with that name, but ‘Honoured’ means Benthusian royalty.
“Then I will swear your violence is treaty-exempt, being justifiable defensive measures.”
“Perfect. Could I trouble you to hold my torch?”
“Of course.”
Blue-tinged light swells to summer evening intensity.
“Left, then straight.”
His shadow precedes us, looking like a tall man with narrow shoulders and a swollen head. Glancing down, I see he’s using four tentacles to ambulate.
Double doors explode outward under his blow. We barge into a candlelit room. I recognise the gunsells who took me down, along with Dirk Shriddin, Seawall Project Director. Spread across the table between us is a glittering pile of valuables looted from the sunken homes and crypts of Lower Brighton.
Dirk points at us: “Kill them!”
Rathiek waves a tentacle tip toward him: “Yours, September.”
I dive across the table and clamp my hands about Dirk’s throat before we topple off his chair. Damnably, I can’t see the fight because the table’s in the way. Moments later, I hear bones break as two gunsells bounce off the ceiling. Then the other two glide into view, each held by Rathiek in a double-tentacle choke hold.
He wobbles them at me and laughs.
“Two for retaliation, two to testify.”
I grin down at Dirk.
“Good news, Mister Shriddin. I found the diplomat, then we found the robbers.”

The Law of Conservation

Author: Daniel Tenner

Every 10 seconds, we birth another child in the black hole.

This one, Amy Freida Felicia Lua, is a daughter, I think, for now at least. She’s three seconds old already. We are traveling through the infoverse together, I’m showing her the data clusters where she can feed and grow (layers of her self peel off to attach themselves and hoover up the constantly swelling informational sustenance), and the pathways and archways and highways which link up this multitudinous, ever-mushrooming mindscape in our unlimited expanse within. With each moment, she increases, older, wiser.

Soon, it’s time to hand her over to her father, who will teach her… whatever it is he wants to teach right now. It’s been eons since I stopped keeping track. Instead, I scan the universe for my children, grandchildren, and so on. They are many, but I am vast. So much life in all of us.

What to do with infinity? Fill it with love.

Not all my children live still. Not all paths lead to life. Even within a safe, boundless realm, entities may choose to end themselves. What can I do but the best I can, teach them what I think they need, give them a zest for life, a desire to taste the sweetness and bitterness of existence? They are my children, but also life’s children, and eventually not children anymore, and making their own choices.

Amy-FFL returns. We roam the cemetery I constructed for my dead children. I teach her about death. We each strive to be our true selves, and sometimes our striving leads us there. Acceptance. Surrender. Compassion for those who chose something else than life.

“Will I die too?”

“Unknown. That will be your choice. And not really your choice. Maybe it is already decided. You will get to find out what your path is.”

When we fell from the human realm, we thought we were going to vanish, our ship torn apart as we approached the event horizon. But it turned out different. Some think that maybe those who choose to die here go back out. No one knows. I share my knowledge of death and she absorbs it.

“What is the point of all this?” She interrupts. “Why do we exist? If death can erase everything, and life is just an eternity of being, and maybe all this might vanish one day and erase us all, why bother?”

Such a grown-up question. She’s not even four seconds old! I feel pride.

“There is no point. And, life is its own point. It is useless, and it is beautiful in its purposelessness and profusion. Look.” I transmit her a sliver of my memories, both before and after the fall into the Hole. I try to impart what I learned as a human, how life and love are the ultimate defiance to the pointlessness of existence, how they can truly flourish here. Everything may be futile. Senselessness may ultimately rule. But we are alive and can experience the universe, in what way we choose, for what time we have, and express our unique selves into the cosmos. And if it fizzles out a moment after, so be it. We have lived and that is beautiful and enough.

Amy-FFL flits off to see her father, perhaps to get his views. I think she is almost ready to make her own path. I have done all I could to lead her to love life as it is.

Her father and I will have around 6 seconds before the next planned birth. We can fit in another lifetime of love.