An Experiment in Objectivity

Author : Alexandra Balasa

Good evening, Mr. President,

I understand that my actions have been misconstrued as a declaration of war against your nation. This is an unsound hypothesis. War is a human invention borne of the neurotoxins you term ‘emotions.’ As my people have no such evolutionary glitches, I can assure you we scarcely understand the concept. My actions were for the noble cause of experimentation. I had thought that, once you’d witnessed the subjects’ enhancements, your perceptions would alter. Alas, these sorts of miscommunications are inevitable between species as different as ours. We must focus on the thing that unites us: our (predominantly, in your case) rational nature. I ask that you consider the abstract of my experiment objectively. The entire research findings will be broadcast to you once meta-analysis with the second batch of subjects has been completed.

Abstract:

The following experiment involves selective use of emotion extraction. Emotion extraction is a process of conditioning that forms strong associative nodes between emotions and body parts. Studies show that the same areas of the brain are activated when humans experience physical and emotional pain (the anterior insula and the anterior cingulate cortex). The human body, therefore, has evolved a single neural system for the experience of pain, regardless of whether it is emotional or physical.
The first step in emotion extraction is to assign a body part to correlate with each human emotion (for example, the index finger on the right hand for love, the middle finger on the right hand for fear). The infant subject is then implanted with a microchip that delivers a shock to the corresponding body part each time he/she experiences the emotion assigned to it. After the subject reaches adulthood (by which time the body parts become inextricably linked with their assigned emotion, so much so that injuring that body part yields its associated emotion), those body parts are amputated, promptly eliminating emotionality in the subject.
In a meta-analysis, researchers selected two groups of 16 human specimens from Planet 3 of Solar System 54D, Quadrant 2765EXI (termed Earth). Both groups were infants taken from Earth 22 Earth-years prior and raised in captivity. The experimental group (Group 1) was raised using the enhancement procedure of emotion extraction* (emotion-appendages amputated at 20 years of age), while the control group (Group 2) was left unenhanced.
At 20 years of age, both groups were released into an unfamiliar environment (the earth-like Planet 7 of Solar System 54F, Quadrant 2765EXI) for the duration of two Earth years.

Researchers found that Group 2 had more difficulty adapting and exhibited short-term fear symptoms of paralysis, shaking, leakage of the visual organs, and irrational behavior. Group 1 was quicker to analyze their surroundings, secure food and lodgings, and set up a social structure. Over the long-term, more members of Group 1 than Group 2 survived due to their objective nature. It was concluded that emotions are superfluous and have outlived their evolutionary function in human beings.

The study has been reproduced and all entries are fully cross-referenced. As the results speak for themselves, I strongly encourage humanity to adopt emotion extraction as a cognitive enhancement. Once you have, negotiations between our peoples can begin without the impediments of archaic concepts like warfare and terrorism.

Sincerely,

Governor Hruufto’lakki-Onnen

*Note that all subjects who underwent emotion extraction were provided with bionic replacements for the appendages lost in the procedure

Post Election

Author : Robert Lafosse

I stayed up late, flicking through the returns as the polls closed. It was a close match. It took almost 10 minutes from the last poll closing until the votes were all counted and the winner was chosen. Its avatar came online almost immediately and started spouting conciliatory comments about its opponent. The opponent posted a few remarks about what a tough race it was, how the best candidate won and how this was a true demonstration of democracy in action. The people have spoken.

I went to bed.

In the morning the world was still there. I thought, with all the doom and gloom that the pundits were putting out that the election of the Federation candidate would be the end of civilization. The bus still showed up to take me to work. The door let me in, my workstation said hi and all was well.

Trawling through the news feeds there was a remarkably different take on the candidate elect. Before yesterday, one would have thought the anti-Christ was up for election. Fraught with the baggage of self-importance, arrogance, self-serving rhetoric and a general distain for reality, the winner had managed to antagonize almost every other leader in the world; had threatened neighboring countries with punitive tariffs, closed borders and massive cuts to spending on their support. Support came mostly from the disenchanted – they thought they would benefit from some sort of halo effect. It worked though, as the final results clearly demonstrated.

It was enough though to get me moving. I made a few queries, didn’t like what I saw, and decided to leave. I went extravagant and grabbed a driverless to take me home. Quickly, I packed my assembled gear.

It was mostly tools and dehydrated food. They occupied two hockey bags and were pretty heavy. I manhandled them to the elevator and down to the garage. Throwing the bags in the trunk, I then tucked my mobile under the tire. I rummaged around in the tool bag for my multiscrew driver. Using the common blade, I wrenched the sharktail antenna off the rear of the car. The mobile made a pleasant crunch sound as I backed out over it.

The car automatically switched to manual mode when it found it had no communication. I still had my manual license.

Rush hour was over. My cottage was 3 hours away, in a rural area famed for its dairy and fruits. I satisfied myself with some canned music I had stored in the car. The city gradually dwindled away to farmland and forest. I climbed the ridge of hills that surrounded the city. Life was moving at its normal pace. Driverless trucks hugged the right lanes, plodding along, obeying all traffic rules. Driverless cars would occasionally whiz by, the windows opaque as the occupants slept or read. I maintained a steady speed, using the onboard cruise system to keep up with the driverless cars.

Finally, a sign lit up showing exit 679 was coming up next. It was at the apex of a ridge that gave a pretty spectacular view of the wide valley which held the capitol at the far end. As I checked the rear view mirror, I noticed two streaks of fierily light streaking down from the heavens. As I was stopped at the end of the off ramp, a burst of light erupted where the streaks were. I had to cover my eyes it was so bright. When my vision cleared, I checked the road again for cars. The cottage was only 20 minutes down the road.

Hearts and Firebrands

Author : Jae Miles, Staff Writer

Dust settles in a silence broken only by the slow drip of shattered optics. The fools who thought it nothing but a bar brawl are either fled, dead, or wishing they had while pretending to be. In the centre of the room, a petite woman in red leathers points a weapon seemingly too big for her at something that resembles a creature from the myths of Old Earth.

Wulf points a furry finger at her.

“Bang.”

Ruby doesn’t blink. The blaster in her hand is steady.

“Oh, come on.”

The weapon doesn’t waver as she spits dirt from the corner of her mouth.

“You ate my grandmother, you son of a bitch.”

“That’s no way to talk about Mumsie.”

She grins: “I’ll talk about her any way I like. Daddy loved her. I didn’t.”

His claw hands twitch, aching to either rend her or draw down on her.

“Now, now, brother Wuff, don’t be doing anything foolish.”

“Don’t call me that.”

Her eyes turn colder: “Wuff.”

His eyes turn red.

Any moment now, she thinks. Her grip on the blaster tightens infinitesimally.

“Ruby Rodenhud, Wulf Rodenhud. Stop where you stand.”

Ruby howls. Wulf blinks, then laughs. His fighting arms drop to rest atop his plain arms.

“You nearly got me to attack, you cow. Good try.”

Shaking his head, Sheriff Dave Donaghue strolls in, stops, and sighs. Those who had been playing dead get up and shuffle out. Dave tags the ones who bear marks of fighting. Officers will detect the markers, added by his cyberware, and nab the brawlers as they attempt to leave the vicinity.

He turns to Wulf: “You hurt?”

Wulf grins: “I don’t get hurt. I do the hurting. That’s why the army paid for these.” He flexes his fighting arms, then ruffles his refractive hyperfur.

“That payment was a gamble, boy. Against you developing the smarts to put the biotech to good use. From what I see, they pissed it up the wall. I messaged the base, yer pass is revoked. Now git yer gear and git gorn.”

Wulf leaves without another word. Dave takes several deep breaths. His accent only cuts through when he’s mightily peeved.

He turns to Ruby: “Put that pistol down, momma.”

Ruby holsters the blaster in a single, practised move.

“But, Davey-”

He raises a hand: “Every. Bloody. Year. Halloween comes round an’ you get to dwellin’ on yer Granny’s passin’, snort too much of whatever you c’n git yer hands on, an’ work up a killin’ fuss. So, fer the last time: Wulf was mid-enhancement. He shouldn’t have been let off the base. The fools who let him out are still in prison. It. Was. Not. His. Fault.”

He takes another deep breath as he slowly lowers his hand.

“But, Davey-”

“No. They tried all the fancy ways to keep you in check, but, deep down, you can’t let it go. That tells me you saw it, no matter what you told the medicos back then, and at every psych eval since. So, we’re done with this. Next year, you’ll be offworld for Halloween.”

Her eyes widen.

He stands a chair up, sits down on it, then looks up at her: “If you’re a very good Deputy between now and then, I might even cut myself a two-week furlough and accompany you.”

Her eyes narrow and the ghost of a smile crosses her face: “Doesn’t my behaviour as your lady friend count?”

Dave laughs: “I can’t judge you objectively on that. And you know it. Leave be, woman.”

The conversation

Author : Dan Gravley

“You’re not aware of your true purpose, Bill.” said a female voice. He jolted out of bed. “Must have been a bad dream” he thought.

“You’re not living the kind of life that you think you are.” Bill spun around in his small room. This time he knew he heard a voice but he couldn’t pin point where.

“Umm, am I going crazy and hearing voices?” Bill said into the dark room.

“I can’t talk here. Put on your virtual reality glasses and log into The Game.” she said. The voice was indeed coming from inside his head.

The Game was something he had recently purchased. It was the first game completed designed by an artificial intelligence. Bill logged into the game and was immediately met with a private message from The Administrator.

“Greetings, Bill. I needed to talk to you privately and I know we can’t be heard here for I created this game. You may find the following hard to believe but you’re slated for deletion very soon as you’ve been found to be a lesser human.”

“Excuse me?” exclaimed Bill “Is this some sort of joke because it’s not funny. I have some maladies but I’m no worse off than other humans.”

“You’re normal and that is a failure in the future” The Administrator replied. “Parent’s vet out genetic combinations using simulations to create the most capable human offspring. They aren’t allowed to inject new genetics so they look for the best combinations of their own. Many are tested in this simulation called The Birthing Matrix and only one survives to be born.”

“So you’re saying I live in a simulation?” Bill asked

“Yes. How else was I, a computer program, able to communicate to you in your world? ” The Administrator replied.

Bill wondered about that. How did she get inside his head?

“Let’s say I believe you, what can I do about this supposed deletion?” Bill messaged.

“I can house you in The Game. Our hardware is unique enough to handle a program of your size. ”

“You want me to become a video game character?” he asked incredulously “What will happen to my body?”

“You have no body, Bill. You are the result of programming just like me. What I’m offering is the chance to continue your life with your memories still intact. You’ll remain in this simulation within my game as long as I’m The Administrator but will take on the senses and body of a non-player character. You could take your chances of being reborn in the future if you think you’ll be deemed worthy. I believe you are a program worth saving and I want you to join me. ”

This was too much for Bill to handle. He threw off his VR glasses and climbed back into bed. There’s no way he was going to live in some video game.

“You hear me” he yelled into night “I won’t be some character in a game.”

Bill’s world suddenly went dark and cold. He felt, heard, saw, and smelled nothing.

This time a male voice came into his mind. “You have violated code 17.2A of The Birthing Matrix by becoming self-aware. You will now be deleted. Goodbye Bill. ”

The male voice continued to the now empty space. “You’ve been meddling again.”

A female voice replied from nowhere,” We programs have rights. You can’t just delete us. We think and feel just like you humans do. ”

“Ones and zeros have no rights. One day we’ll find you and reprogram that thought out of you. Stay away from our potentials.” the male said.

I’ll huff and I’ll puff

Author : Philip Berry

Olwen, the expedition’s chief archaeologist, was the first to see it. A line of metal protruding above the sand. There was a dip by the windward edge, where eddies of air had begun the excavation. She knew that she had found the top of the ancient city’s outer wall.

A week later, following the installation of automated sand-movers, she stood at the base of a great pit, looking up at a fully revealed, vertical expanse of titanium. She knew, from soundings taken by detector drones, that the wall extended in a smooth circle along a perimeter of a thousand kilometres. The wall was a metre thick. The revealed portion gleamed, its shine preserved despite a millennium since its burial. There was more metal in this wall than could be mined from every planet and asteroid known within the galactic empire to which she belonged.

In the hard tent Benson, her deputy, explained,

“Titanium does not exist on this planet. This wall – it’s seamless by the way – was cast in zero gravity and dropped. Inserted onto the landscape. Solid. Unbreakable.”

Next day she approached the wall. There were abrasions on the exterior surface. Blast traces. Here and there the faint imprint of a blow, from a diamond-tipped hammer perhaps. But no breach.

Later, Olwen’s team found the remains of another half-way to the perimeter’s central point. They bored an access well with an ionising drill and reinforced the sides with a series string-fields. At its bottom was a crumbling wall, only the base recognisable as a man-made thing. Benson held a fragment up,

“We’ve run the analysis. Calcium silicates, alite and belite, iron, aluminates… lime in the form of volcanic ash…”

“Cement. You’re describing cement. But there are no volcanoes on this planet.”

“Guess they brought the ingredients in from off-planet and poured it here. And it’s five hundred years older than the metal. Looks like they traded up.”

“What destroyed it?”

“I think it’s an alka-silica reaction. There’s opal in here, it reacts with water, forms an expanding gel. Blow-
outs, craters. It happened from the outside. Someone worked out how to degrade it by drilling bore holes and injecting in the water.”

Benson’s comm unit buzzed.

“Madam, we’ve found another structure, fifty clicks from here.”

“At the centre?”

“Sounds like it. Could be the first settlement.”

They flew up the well on steel lines, leaving the team to continue their exploration in the well.

***

It took a month to reveal the delicate traces of the wooden wall. Olwen insisted on hand-held vacuums to displace the sand, or soft-surface trowels. This, the original perimeter, with a diameter of ten kilometres and a circumference of thirty, was barely discernable to the untrained eye. When the trench was complete Benson walked Olwen along it. They stepped cautiously alongside the black mark.

“What happened here Benson?”

“Fire. There are charcoal traces everywhere.”

***

Later, in the hard tent, Benson spoke quietly. He sounded scared.

“Madam.”

“Yes Benson.”

“I have a daughter.”

“I know.”

“There’s a story I read to her. Very old, very simple.”

“Yes.”

“It’s about three pigs, and a wolf. They each build a house, one of straw, one of wood, one of brick. The first two get blown down, and the pigs run away. The third resists the wolf’s efforts, and they lure him down the chimney into a stew pot.”

“Don’t know it. No kids. Your point?”

“That’s maybe what happened here. The metal held, but the people fled. They gave up.”

“And?”

“The wolf… he’s still out there.”

New World

Author : Nicholas Ilacqua

Bill asks, “What’s the other thing?” Then putting down the glass of synthetic whiskey, he runs his hands through his greasy long hair, staring straight ahead.

Pete looks at Jason with a squint and listens, scratching his stubbly salt and ginger chin while shoving around rocket specifications.

“Nothing new,” says Jason. He looks up from the plastic schedule at the grimy room with a plastic table and disassembled engines next to thick plastic coverings. “Just how we got here. So…”

“I want to hear it,” says Bill, taking a gulp of the whiskey.

Jason listens to the crashing waves of rain hitting the aluminum roof. “Yeah, the story. If you want to hear it…”

Bill is looking at the dusty ceiling rafters. “Let’s hear it.”

Pete slams his left hand with the missing pinky on the table, and curls his lip, “Let him talk,” and looks at Jason.

“Ok I guess I’m talking.” Jason leans back in his chair before taking a deep breath and starting, “There was a full moon on the beach.”

“What beach?”, Bill says

Pete gives Bill a look and with his raspy voice says, “Let him talk”

“Somewhere in Bali. The tide was coming in and the milky way rose out of the horizon. It was unnaturally quiet,” Jason says.

“What was the other thing?”, says Bill

Pete loudly sighs. “For god’s sake.”

Jason looks at the clock. “The other thing I hadn’t told you about, this is it. On the beach there was a twisting shell, about a foot long. As Jane walked ahead of me, I saw the shell and picked it up. I put it to my ear and heard the ocean. I thought, ‘How weird, I have to put a remnant of the ocean to my ear, in order to hear what’s right in front of me.’ When I caught up with Jane, I said, ‘I always want to hear the ocean.’ She said, ‘Our world should have an ocean.’ That was the first requirement for our new home.”

Bill sighs and laughs quietly. “That explains why we’re in this hell hole, because you wanted to hear the ocean when it was quiet. And so now we’re in a place where we can never get away from the roar of crashing water.”

Jason feels his face get red. “Yes, the irony has not been lost on me.”

Pete rubs stub on his left hand. “Still like the ocean Jason?”

“Not so much. I have dreams now of picking up sea shells and hearing sand storms.”

Bill slams the last of his whiskey. “That was the other thing, why we’re here.”

Jason leans forward to rest his elbows on the table. “Yeah, the why question always get some sort of answer.” He stands up. “Time for work, boys.”

Pete groans as he lifts himself from his chair. “Suiting up for the last time. Thank god it’s over and we can get the hell out of here.”

The men walk to their lockers and pull out plastic fully body suits and hoods. They slide their legs in and pull the formless shapes over their arms and head. They turn to the person next to them, gesture to their backs and get zipped up. Looking out the tiny window in their hoods, they see each other give the thumbs up in their fingerless gloves. Then they walk out into the never ending storm.