Author: David K Scholes
The three of us pored over the various 3D mind image, life force energy, and bio patterns.
The “B” team, consisting of robotic investigators stood ready to assist us.
There were, of course, other “A” teams and many, many other robot led “B’ teams, the world over, doing the same work. Fighting the same fight.
“They are getting almost impossible to detect now,” said the Prime investigator. “Their ability to replicate even a mind image or life force energy pattern is approaching perfection.”
I sighed remembering back when I was a boy – when fingerprints, retina scans, and voiceprints were enough for differentiation.
“That particular mind image,” I laser connected to it. “If you condense 10 minutes worth into 30 seconds, there’s something about it. Something not human.”
“Only problem now,” grumbled the Third “is determining what alien race we are dealing with.”
“If it even belongs to a race,” I countered.
Of the many extra-terrestrial and extra-dimensional visitors and occasional alternate reality visitors we received some were proven friendly and would never seek to take advantage of us. Just curious visitors.
The number of alien assumptions of existing human identities was far, far more than any Earth authority would ever admit to. If it were known it would lead to panic. The only plus was that almost all of them only ever appeared to be temporary. The Aliens, extra-terrestrial, extra-dimensional or whatever all had somewhere to go back to. They’d leave and we would do our best to clean up afterward.
Prime had made the joy ride in a car analogy but I didn’t like that comparison. Joy ride cars often got burned out.
I persisted with the mind image currently occupying our attention. “We’ll need to go back on this one – re-check everything; interview records, current surveillance, even the basics like retina scans and such, everything. There’s something not right about it.
“I think it’s one of them,” I added quietly “one of the non-recognisables.”
Both the Prime and the Third’s faces went white.
The non-recognisables were the hardest of all to deal with. Something in their natural form, even if we could expose it, that we would never normally recognise as any form of intelligent life. Some considered that these visitors were not temporary.
We meticulously worked through everything we had on this one and another A team with another Prime joined us.
The evidence, each just little things, started to accumulate. Even among the non-recognisables – there were different types; non-recognisable corporeals, non-recognisable non-corporeals, extreme transients that didn’t fit either of these categories and finally – them.
“I think it’s one of them,” I exclaimed.
“An abstract concept!” – the supercomputer beat both Primes to it.
“The assigned special forces surveillance team has lost track of the abstract’s assumed human form,” the Prime from my team suddenly exclaimed nervously “two of them were killed just before losing contact.”
Nobody had ever caught an abstract – not in assumed human form and most certainly not in its abstract form.
“Any sense from all of our analysis as to what abstract concept we are dealing with here?” I asked.
“Enmity, enmity is the primary concept registering here,” the supercomputer with its super emotion chip was best placed to answer this. “Perpetual enmity,” the supercomputer modified its initial statement.
“Hatred, perpetual hatred,” I exclaimed.
“This is too much for Special Forces,” exclaimed my Prime “even the SAS; get the Queller teams on it. Find it, dump it, before it returns to its abstract form.
If it returns I thought.
Author: David K Scholes
I awakened from the deep drug-induced sleep. The anti-nightmare medications had, at least to some extent, worked. Thank goodness for that. I couldn’t take another mind assault like last time. It would have broken me. I simply would never have woken up.
I hoped I hadn’t been woken early by a computer glitch.
The fact that I was still in sensory deprivation mode seemed unusual and gave me cause for concern.
There was a waiting period but with no way of measuring it and with no reference point it might have been only a few seconds or it might have been all of eternity. It certainly seemed like the latter.
Eventually, and to my great relief, the sleep/hibernation pod opened up. My sleep hazed vision was still limited but I could just see the nearby 3D computer display of my vital and other life signs. Within arms reach, that is if I could have moved my arms. Blood pressure, pulse rate, and temperature seemed within normal Earth human limits as was my life force energy level. Brian activity was above hyper level but I didn’t need a computer to tell me that.
I was still effectively frozen and knew that by now that should not be. I could just make out the real elapsed time since my initial sensory awakening – over 2 standard Earth hours. More than enough time for me to be med-checked, decontaminated if necessary, energy replenished, fully suited up and about my duties.
My unassisted vision slowly improved and I saw that there wasn’t anyone or anything to help me. Not even the soothing, reassuring voice of the normally, ever hovering, ubiquitous AI med-bots.
Those of my companions that I could see were still seemingly ensconced within their sleep/hibernation pods. Were they okay? I couldn’t tell. They should have been up and about by now. I was normally the last to come out of sleep/hibernation.
Slowly, but slowly, movement returned to my body. I found I was not restricted by the usual flexible force constraints that applied during sleep/hibernation. As I slowly rose out of the sleep/hibernation pod a great hunger fell upon me, completely overwhelming all other feelings I had.
Finally, a single lone med-bit appeared ready to inject me with a range of standard and medically proven nutrients. I shoved the irritating AI away
I had been through a lot since my awakening and now was not the time for intravenous fluid nourishment
“Computer,” I found I was yelling at the top of my voice, not even knowing if the central computer was still functioning properly “get me some solid nourishment. I’ll take some Hot Oat Meal, Blueberry Muffins, and an espresso coffee!”
As the central computer complied with my very reasonable request I began to feel a bit more like my old self.
Also, just then, the other sleep/hibernation pods started to yield up their occupants.
I was sure there was a time back deep in the distant past when ordinary people like us didn’t need to have to go to so much trouble just to get a good night’s sleep.
I told myself this as the first members of my family wearily emerged from their pods.
“You will be late for work Dad,” my eldest son called out.
Author: Alzo David-West
Liquid metal waves flowed on the nighttide shore of the glaciated wasteland planet Korzan. A special meeting was in session.
The Ministry of Planets, acting under the United Interstellar Territories, had hyper-shuttled three of its delegates to a biodome on the barren world in concession to the Radical Machine Rightsists, who agreed to communicate there through their machine crystal Organon. Tomi Mura, leading the ministerial delegation, finished presenting a report concerning the fate of Jizu Mori, whom the RMR had executed in the incident on Arazan.
The report was adamant in its position: Under an extreme and antiquated principle of punitive law, Arazan cruelly and unusually exterminated a citizen of the UIT, which had long forbidden capital punishments against any of its populations, regardless of offense, on and beyond its nine-hundred-thousand member planets and expanding satellite-protectorates. By the universal laws and norms of the UIT, the RMR regime was accountable for a crime against interstellar humanity and thus responsible for reparatory compensations in order to secure and maintain a just peace.
The Organon, sentient and radiating blades of crystal light, transmitted five voices of its mechanical being, which spoke in turns:
“The Anthrobotic Republic of Planet Arazan is a self-governing independent polity outside the juridical domains of influence of the UIT.”
“We declare and defend as absolute our right to exist in our way with our laws and our norms against all alien polities.”
“We do not recognize unilateral ‘universal laws and norms,’ and we denounce as inimical and hypocritical the false human-centered justice sought for the ravager and deactivator of our innocent citizen-android: minder Nazeera-3.”
“Our recordings of the ravager’s anti-machine crime are incontestable.”
“More, our pre-execution memory extractions from the offender’s cortex revealed him to be so disposed, as a power tyrant and a carnal predator on the UIT satellite-protectorate of Kuma-Bari.”
Indeed, the ministerial delegates had investigated Jizu Mori’s background in advance of the meeting and found, after reporting his death on his home world, that he was, for twenty years, a tolerated abuser who cultivated a culture of sycophancy and fear through his unusual talent for cunning, compulsion, and coercion.
Tomi Mura replied, “We are regretful that such a type still existed in the UIT,” and she paused a moment. “Our interstellar civil populations are largely inexperienced with social atavisms of bygone ages. Accidental circumstances permitted one to thrive as an administrator in an isolated region. The UIT expresses deep remorse that abnormalities of character consumed one of our citizens to lethal violence when he toured the Anthrobotic Republic. Still, a citizen of our territories has been exterminated for a crime—something all our member polities forbid—and now, the RMR has self-incriminatingly disclosed forceful memory extractions of the condemned. These are egregious violations of interstellar human rights. We regard such acts as unlawful tortures, and we redouble our terms for reparatory compensations, or the UIT shall have to consider more extraordinary measures.”
The radiance of the Organon intensified. Tomi Mura shielded her eyes from the painful beams of crystal light that suffused the biodome. Her two co-delegates, unmoving, looked on with artificial eyes.
A unified voice emanated from the Organon: “The UIT delegation threatens the Anthrobotic Republic of Planet Arazan with uneven, hostile, arbitrary laws that attempt to absolve the human ravager and dishonor the android slain. We decree the UIT an enemy imperium malum and all its citizens banned from our sovereign orbit and sphere.”
The Organon dematerialized in an abyss of brightness. Shadows gathered in the biodome. Tomi Mura heard the beating of her heart while the liquid metal waves caressed the cold Korzanian shore.
Author: Hari Navarro, Staff Writer
Once on my way to school, I happened across the body of a newborn baby bird. I thought it badly made. Its cold flesh hanging too loose as it slid atop a fragile frame of barely formed bones.
I felt it again. The kiss of bloodless skin as it writhed in near freezing embrace against mine.
“Can you hear that? Clink, clank, that scraping tap…”
Mother collected dolls. She called me her little Dresden Doll and I guess my pale face and sullen pout did echo these most treasured porcelain creeps.
“… it is a metal plate attached to a pole with a single word… Dresden…”
We are toxic in death. Long dormant instincts revived and we grope for the ladder…
“… I hear the slip of the chain as you pump your beautiful legs into the pedals…”
… the twisted helix that animates our corpses so as to drag us back to the exact place of our births.
“… You pant and you bite the thick roll puff of your lip and the pollen catches like gentle lost stars in your hair…”
We are abominable weapons. The perfect spore dispersion system… we will rot the Reich from the outside to the in and it’ll fall away into dust.
“… I watch as you stand high astride the saddle and your dress pulls tight at your back…”
Plate Rack, Plate Rack…
A lot of search light and fighter flares; OK, boys, come in and bomb glow of red target indicators… Dresden is hot …
Bomb doors open!
Dresden. The word such truly wicked torment. I remember correcting her. Parian Dolls… no such creature as a Dresden Doll. That day she ruined my voice.
The doors opened. We fell. There was a kind of peace as the air pummelled in throbbing waves and ripped the stink up and away from the poor scabbed pores of our flesh.
“… you sing through the humid stick of your lips…”
Fire. Blanket of seething orange. Roaring ordnance and I sink down into the furnace mist and smell my hair as it melts.
People trample and fall and ignite and flare. A man with his face burnt away clutches a photo in a frame. Falling ruins and a gale of flames that runs as liquid. I saw the dead. We who fell from the sky. I saw them move and the contamination split and spat from our skin.
We create a swath of our plague clean through the belly of the enemy as we drag our bones back to dear England. We’ll never get there… but the Nazi’s will fester and fail.
Fire does terrible things to the body… it contracts… it compacts and the doomed fuse together and children contort to the size of… dolls…
A wicker basket with a baby inside… hurriedly staved beneath wet sheets… and my body fills with the greasy steam scent of its death.
“… I love you…”
I grappled like a clicking slug across the earth until the meat rolled from my fingers. I ripped the bones from the waste of my legs and used them as stakes until I tumbled into this peace – a girl and her bicycle.
“… Blood beads at the graze on your knee. What shame as I look upon you unasked, hidden wedged down in this drain. Hooked tight beneath the bramble and sucked into the mud at my waist. But know this. I am everything as I deny the choke of my instinct and I forget about home and all I can think of is you.”
Author: Julian Miles, Staff Writer
The fist aimed at my head connects. I hear his knuckles break. Before he can scream, I chop him across the throat and toss him off the walkway. His landing will raise some alarms, but it’s twenty floors down and I’m about to get everyone’s attention anyway.
Completing my approach without any more guardsmen pouncing on me, I find the reinforced door is secured with multiple access controls. If I had the time, I could open it without leaving a mark. As I don’t, I slap a five-kilo pack of explosive against the centre of it, then leap backwards. My line swings me high and clear. The explosion tears the door and wall apart. I watch the walkway slowly twist as it falls.
I swing back in. With no time to hang about, I release the line, draw weapons, and charge. The first salvo from the guardsmen ricochets off my breastplate. The second staggers me a little because it hits point blank. They don’t get a third. I’m going to have a lot of bruises tomorrow, but I’d rather pay for painkillers than a coffin.
Kicking through the offices, I can hear panicked screams as the personnel flee. A guardsman with rank markers aims a portable missile launcher at me. I shoot him in the shoulder. As he falls, he fires. The missile goes away from me. The screams get louder, the missile explodes; silence. Another cluster of dead good reasons why you shouldn’t play with missiles indoors.
I leap over and grab the ranker before he can stagger away.
“Where’s the battery vault?”
He looks at me like I’m speaking Nictarban. I shove my gun barrel into his groin.
“Battery vault or I’ll shoot your favourite hobby off.”
“Go left. Corridor. Second right. Blue door.”
“Thanks.” I shoot him in the head. Since leaving the military, I’ve worked hard to override my ‘kill everything’ combat settings – finding that knocking people out using excessive force is an acceptable alternative – but today I can’t leave witnesses.
It’s a very big blue door. Inside, there are rows and rows of slots filled with vintage batteries of every conceivable shape and size. Must have been a nightmare to keep your kit going before global standardisation.
“Good afternoon. Do you know the designation of the power source you seek?”
I stare at the glowing panel. Actually, it makes sense there’d be a curator program.
“Recognised. Searching. One moment.”
Gives me time to reload.
“We have three. One is eighty percent effective, the other two sixty.”
“I’ll take all three. Sponsor certificate CSL75005.”
Whoever that is, I’m sure they can afford it.
“Recognised. They will arrive in a moment. Thank you for your patronage.”
After uploading persona scrubbers to eliminate any digital traces of me, I listen to armed response teams storming the building as I exit via the bulk waste chute, passive stealth mode keeping me undetected while being undetectable itself.
It takes me a while to get home, but I’m sure I wasn’t followed. After shedding my gear, I make tea, repair the synthetic part of my face, then carefully place two of the batteries in my improvised equivalent of a battery vault.
Slotting the third battery home, I press the activation button and wait. There’s always this trepidation. Maybe this is when my hundred-year-old companion fails to boot.
Green bars flash. It plays a cheerful tune and rises smoothly on legs carefully rebuilt from scavenged parts.
I wipe a tear away. My best-ever present is back. Hey, mum. Your cyborg son’s got his robot cat running again.
Author: Glenn Leung
Meng hobbled into the room to the sound of books shuffling and light dusting. Sandra’s curls were the first things she noticed, followed by the swing of the duster as she cleaned the bookshelf.
‘No, it’s not right… too rigid.’
This android isn’t Sandra. She has Sandra’s body, voice, hardware, but her name is Jasmine. Like all pseudo-sentient robots, she had chosen her own name. After her mother paid the strange man a lot of money, he had supposedly recovered the data from Sandra’s burned-out processor. But when Meng’s childhood nanny came back to life, she was a different ‘person’. All they got as an explanation were scary words like quantum processor, fidelity, wavefunction and deniability. What was a poor immigrant mother and her wheelchair-bound daughter to do?
“Oh. Good morning, Meng. Your Mom just left to get you more medicine. Try not to walk around too much, ok? ”
Leaning against the door frame and drawing her breath, Meng summoned the energy for a rather strange question.
“Hey Jasmine, have you heard of reincarnation?”
Jasmine put her duster down and turned to look at Meng.
“It’s kind of silly,” said Meng. “After what the doctors said yesterday, I began thinking. Well…what if it’s real, you know? Maybe it’ll be nice. Maybe I’ll be reborn as a healthy person, in a land where I look like the people around me. Maybe…maybe it’ll be like what you went through…you know?”
Jasmine’s laugh was more of a staccato compared to Sandra’s.
“You mean when I changed from Sandra to Jasmine? Silly girl, you will be Meng for a very long time, and that’s great! You may not be able to run or play like the other children, but you are so much smarter than them. Look at all your books! Other nanny-bots tell me their children do not read that much.”
“But the doctors…”
“The doctors are not certain, Meng. I have downloaded the medical report into my memory.”
A tepid web of tension filled the air. Meng felt the borrowed strength drain out of her legs. Sandra would never shut down conversations like this, even with the best intentions. Jasmine noted the disappointed look on Meng’s face.
“I’m sorry. I don’t know why my programming didn’t stop me then. I realize you just wanted to talk.”
Meng was not sure if she could carry on this heart-to-heart. She decided to try something else.
“That’s alright. By the way, do you remember the song Sandra used to sing for me when I was little? Can you sing it to me now?”
Jasmine’s head tilted slightly in confusion.
“Meng, as I have explained, I only remember vague things from when I was Sandra. I wouldn’t remember a whole song. Perhaps if the score is written somewhere…then…”
“Sandra never wrote the song down. She said she would remember it with her heart… for me…”
Jasmine walked over to the sulking Meng and looked her in the eye with the best consoling face her programming could muster.
“Meng. I’m sorry, but I’m not Sandra. That’s how it is. But we will get to know each other better, ok? You will grow big and strong, make a lot of friends, and have a good family. You don’t need to become another person for that…”
Jasmine gave Meng her best smile before picking up the duster again. Resigned, Meng retreated to the certainty and comfort of her wheelchair.
‘I hope you’re right…I hope you’re right.’