Prisoner 64389000

Author : Jae Miles, Staff Writer

Written this 10th day of August in the year of Our Lord 1708.

My king, I fear for the custody of the charge you bequeathed me, so many years agone. My health is failing, and while that which is our burden seems to be weakening, I am sure that my end will arrive sooner.

I have made as much preparation as possible, but as you urged me to be diligent in all things regarding my charge, I have to let you know that the good Lord may take me into his care before he sees fit to lift your penance.

As you requested, this is the current disposition of my charge –

He awakes at dawn and undertakes votive prayers to the false-idol star that he refuses to recant, despite the diligent efforts of the chaplain you assigned. He breakfasts upon water and mealy bread, and it is noticeable that he quaffs far more than he devours these days.
He spends his morning performing arcane rituals as always. I think that La Riviere’s contention was correct: “computay shonal” operations are related to the discipline of mathematics in some manner that we do not yet grasp.
The afternoon is spent sitting motionless in whatever daylight he can attain. His preference for strong sunlight has increased, but he is never forceful, merely insistent that he get the best seat within his limited demesne.
He remains cheerful, polite, noncommittal and entirely lacking in the remotest understanding of the concept of death. His requests to talk to “Leonardo” really do refer to the Sage of Vinci!
After sunset he gratefully accepts assistance in removing the mildew that accumulates upon his mercury skin each day. I note that the mossy tarnish spreads faster and is increasingly difficult to remove. My manservant has to scour it away with potato spirits and coarse vinegar.
Post-cleansing, he settles to rest without evening rituals or further converse.

This routine remains, of course, without deviation.

In regards to his ongoing care, I attach an authority for your signature, as black velvet of requisite weight and size for his veil has increased to a price beyond the stipend allowed for his upkeep.

This is the whole of it. I expect that this may well be the last missive you receive from me. I beg that you make ready for the continuance of his care in the event of my death.

I trust that you are in robust health, as France depends upon her Sun King.

I pray that Our Lord bestows mercy upon you and takes the changeling soon. Should I find myself blessedly chosen to be worthy of heaven, I shall entreat the angels upon you behalf.

I remain, as ever and until the Lord gainsays me, your humble servant –

Bénigne Dauvergne de Saint-Mars.

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History

Author : Steve Smith, Staff Writer

When the Alphas slaughtered the Charlies, Victor7 logged the incursion in his paper notebook and then meticulously removed all evidence of his tampering from both of their communications systems. The Alpha’s had received ‘intelligence’ that the Charlies were going to sabotage their base for much needed supplies, and when they mounted a pre-emptive strike, the Charlies didn’t know what hit them.

The Alphas had received similar intelligence about the Echo base, the Deltas and the Zulus, and misinformation, coupled with a modification to the stress inducing chemical makeup of the Alpha base rebreathers and food printers, made them an effective tool for reducing the clutter on the pretty blue rock they’d all been deployed on.

When mother arrived, it would be Victor7 and his brothers and sisters that stood as the Apex predators of record. It would be they who had adapted and overcome such that their DNA was most prominent in the population of the world in waiting for the coming children.

Victoria3 infiltrated the Tango and Kilo bases while they were turned away from the sun, the greenhouses safely isolated in the darkness while the rest of the station atmosphere was evacuated in one swift gasp. Safeties overridden, environment suits safely near the airlocks, just out of reach of those who so desperately needed them.

Their records would show an apparent murder-suicide by Tango2, and a drunken act of sabotage by one of the Kilo commanders when the news of her Tango lover’s death reached her.

Soon the remaining bases deployed on this planet will be engineered to eliminate each other, all of them oblivious to the fact that the Victor base had ceased to exist on any of their servers or systems within hours of their awakening. Should anyone scrape through and find any reference to the Victor base and be curious enough to go look, they would only find a crater in the space it had never really been. The Victor team’s invisibility was absolute and several levels deep.

Once the Alphas were no longer necessary in this engineered genocide, they would suffer a catastrophic failure of their fuel storage systems. “And that,” Victor7 chuckled into his helmet, “will be the end of that.”

Victor and his brothers and sisters would then spend the next months unpacking additional clone resources to man the necessary stations, consolidating the equipment and supplies into the active ones, shutting down any they couldn’t easily maintain, and rewriting logs, records and personal communications across all of the bases to make it apparent how dangerous and treacherous they found their deployment to be, and for it to be clear how strong the Victor team must have been to survive when so many others perished.

They would ultimately unpack some of the remaining bases’ clone stock from storage to breed selectively, but only once their engineering team could guarantee Victor-trait dominance. Genetic diversity was an unpleasant necessity, but the Victor lines must be maintained at the highest level of purity possible.

They were brilliant strategists, expert cryptologists, and fabulous story tellers. When mother arrived several genetic iterations in the future, that would be the message, that would be their history, just as they had written it.

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Unraveled

Author : Bob Newbell

It’s been a subjective month since we changed history. It feels like ten years. In reality, an infinitesimal fraction of a second has passed for us in the Stopwatch. That’s the unofficial and pathetically unoriginal name some smart aleck gave to the Temporal Exclusion Facility shortly before we started our experiment.

“Another report,” says a tired-looking undergrad to me as another anomaly dispatch pops up on the holodisplay.

Martin Luther tweets Ninety-Five Theses

Getting closer, I silently say to myself. I think back to how it all began. We were warned by both our fellow students and the faculty not to try this experiment. It would never work, they admonished us, but it might damage university equipment. They were wrong.

It had started as a late night, alcohol-fueled brainstorming session: What if the Vienna Academy of Fine Arts had admitted Adolph Hitler? He had no artistic talent, of course. He had been rightly rejected by the Academy. But what if someone had persuaded the powers that be to admit him anyway? Perhaps through the inducement of a large donation to the Academy? Or maybe just a large donation to the ones who determine who got admitted? Could the nightmare of World War II and the cold and hot wars that resonated on from it be avoided? There was a way to find out.

“Report!” says the undergrad.

American and Confederate Presidents meet at the Mason-Dixon Wall

“So we’re back to just the USA and the CSA? The Pacific States of America is gone?” I ask. “What about Canada?”

“Canada is back,” says the undergrad. “It’s no longer part of the USA and its borders are more or less like they’re were originally.”

More progress. Maybe we’ll pull this off yet. I think back to the first night. World War II had been averted. Millions of lives had been saved. But then we’d discovered it had only been delayed, not eliminated. A Second World War had begun in 1951. And this one quickly escalated into a nuclear conflict. We went back and tried to undo our original intervention. The original World War II was restored, but this time the Third Reich didn’t try to invade Russia. Able to concentrate all its military effort on the western front, Nazi Germany survived the war intact.

July 20, 1969: Buzz Aldrin becomes first man to walk on the Moon

“Okay,” I say. “So Aldrin stepped out before Armstrong. That’s fine. Don’t try to correct that.”

“We’ve got a problem,” says another student from across the control room. “The Soviet Union didn’t fall in the late 20th Century. Looks like the USA and USSR have a limited nuclear exchange in 2003. But it doesn’t escalate into a full-scale global war.”

“We can’t let that stand,” I say. “We need an intervention that will weaken the Soviets so the USSR collapses in 1991 like it’s supposed to.”

For thirty days and nights we’ve been endlessly intervening in history, a nudge here, a great shove there, trying to restore the timeline.

SOVIET UNION DISSOLVES INTO COMMONWEALTH OF INDEPENDENT STATES

“Have we succeeded?” I ask.

“Checking,” says one of my fellow students.

The Greek philosopher Heraclitus said you can never step twice into the same river. A complete restoration will never be possible. But maybe this time we’re close enough. Maybe this time…

A chorus of moans erupts among the others.

“What?!” I yell.

A new report pops up on my holodisplay:

COMMUNIST COLLAPSE ENDS COLD WAR BETWEEN SOVIETS AND IROQUOIS EMPIRE

I punch the display. The ephemeral words scintillate around my fist.

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A Girl And Her Tree

Author : A. Katherine Black

Titanium corridors were empty, galleys and docking bays silent, save the faint echo of rodents scuttling about. Still the ship continued on.

At its center stood a tree, supported by a system set in motion centuries ago. Its enormous black trunk sprouted layers of spindling branches, its purple leaves bathed in ancient light. The old thing stretched, decade upon decade, limbs long since pierced the ceiling and curled into floors above.

A girl sat at its base among discarded leaves, tucked into a nook perfect for her never-changing size. She stroked a textured branch and spoke so quietly, so slowly, a human’s mind would make no sense of it. But humans were only ghosts now, occasionally floating through her memory banks.

“How many were here, before?” Time had broken her programming. Somewhere between then and now she’d lost her original purpose. She settled in and waited for its response to seep into her mind.

Thousands shifted through these walls in repetitive cycles. So many bodies, no collective intention.

She asked the questions again and again. “Where did they go?” Its predictable response comforted her.

They fell from this place like my leaves fall at your feet, until one day there were none left to replace the fallen.

Iridescent toes, long and delicate, strong and durable, slid through the cool blanket of leaves. “Will we go away, too?” She lifted a foot and inspected her toes, dulled from the dust of decaying grey leaves that hid under fresh cover.

No child. We are going toward.

Every time the girl trekked to the control room, she gazed out enormous triangle windows at the beyond, at the many dots of light, and she wondered what the trees were like, out there. But the thought of leaving here made her hands curl and her thoughts freeze. Wondering was enough.

“Why are we going toward?” She sparked with every asking, wondering if one day the answer might be different.

We seek my kin. I will mix with them and create offspring.

She stilled as always when she heard these words. The tree never asked why, because trees don’t ask questions. They see things exactly as they are, and so there is nothing left to wonder.

The girl loved stomping loudly through the corridors, and she always paused to survey her lovely dents. She started punching walls simply because she could, because people were no longer there to tell her not to. The dents were random at first, but then they became a picture. Of her tree. Massive and twisted and everywhere.

Every trip she made to push buttons for her friend, she’d enhance the picture. A strike here for contour, a hit there for depth. But she hadn’t put herself in the picture. Because she didn’t know if she belonged. Because she wondered, when the end came, if she’d still be sitting with her tree.

And so the next time the girl stomped up stairs and down corridors, punching touches into her picture before entering the ancient control room in this relic of a ship, she did as she had always done, since the tree had first given instructions. She pushed buttons, telling the station to move them away, in the direction opposite to where the tree’s kin stood in wait.

The never-changing android girl gazed at the stars before skipping back toward the center, toward her captive friend. What she didn’t notice, what she’d failed to notice thus far, was the slightest tip of a branch peeking out from the corner of a floor panel, a single purple leaf sprouting from its tip.

 

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Robots Don’t Kill People

Author : Gray Blix

“Why do we have a dog bot in the first place?”

Offended, “Robot K91 is my PARTNER, sir, and its very shape deters crime by evoking a primal human fear of wolves.”

“‘Deters crime’? The only bot on Mars that can harm humans has KILLED one.”

“K91 is not responsible… It was used as a weapon by the actual murderer.”

“That line of reasoning is exactly why we don’t allow firearms on Mars. Now we have a lethal bot whose Asimov chip is easily disabled.”

“Not ‘easily,’ Commander. The safety responds only to my DNA.”

“Which makes you the prime suspect.”

“Made… until an fMRI cleared me.”

“It’ll take weeks to scan every colonist. I’m giving you ONE DAY…”

“Solar or sidereal?”

“Don’t mess with me, Rochman. Catch that killer by this time tomorrow, or your dog bot will be SHREDDED!”

Looking into the cell, even he felt a twinge of fear at the menacing metallic canine pacing back and forth. It had ripped out the throat of a human and could do the same to him in a second. He entered and the robot stopped, head down, tail between legs.

“We have to talk.”

“There is nothing to talk about, Dan. I killed a human. I can never be trusted again. I must be destroyed.”

“Look at me. You’re NOT a killer, but you can help me find him…”

“We have been over this. There are no clues.”

“And we’ll keep going over it for the next 24 hours…”

“’24 hours'”?

“I mean, for as long as it takes.”

“Well, nothing makes sense. I would not have allowed anyone but you to touch the safety, and releasing it requires your DNA.”

“Maybe you were fooled by a facial prosthetic, and a sample of my DNA was smeared on his hand.”

“Perhaps. But just disabling the Asimov would not compel me to carry out an order to kill.”

“Unless ‘I’ told you there was an imminent life threat to humans.”

“Like a terrorist about to set off a bomb?”

“Exactly.”

“A plausible scenerio, Dan, except for the memory gap. I have no recollection of what happened and my viz was not recording.”

“Bit-level forensics found nothing to recover, because memory wasn’t erased, it was disabled for 14 minutes.”

“I do not have the ability to disable memory and viz, nor are there external controls that would allow others… That is important.”

“If you were partially disassembled, could someone…”

“No, that would take too long.” Cocking its head while puzzling out the clue, “Of course. Now I understand everything. I know who the killer is.”

Impatiently, “Speak!”

“I cannot say, because murder is a capital offense, and I will not be responsible for the death of another human.”

“But a human has already been murdered. And the killer may strike again.”

“No. He… or she, will not.”

Extending a hand toward the robot, “Your Asimov chip must be defective. I’ll release the safety and you can tell me…”

The robot simulated a growl and showed its fangs.

“No. It is I who am defective.”

With that, K91 jammed sharp claws through its chestplate, ripping apart its neural net and shorting out its systems.

After fMRIs had cleared every colonist, the investigation turned toward Earth. A connection between the deceased colonist and K91’s programmer was discovered. Rochman caught a freighter back to the home planet and took delivery of his new partner, UR2-K99, briefing it on the case. They encountered the programmer in a hallway.

One glance at the Mars Colony security officer and his canine, and she turned and ran.

“Stop! I’m releasing the safety on K99.”

She stopped.

Kids and Pets

Author : Jae Miles, Staff Writer

My world is Kayden, and it is orbited by a plethora of satellites with deadly defensive natures that all look really pretty from the ground. In higher orbit, space stations and roving warships patrol like sharks at idle. No ship matches it’s fellows in anything bar a small, radiant ‘K’ sent into a single panel. It’s about the size of a human child’s handprint, and that’s deliberate, because it’s the same size as his handprint.

Kayden was born into a prosperous merchant family and was expected to eventually fulfil some minor role, being fourth son. He lived six years of privilege before the family fortunes took a tumble at the hands of greedy investors. It’s a tale told so many times since man left Earth, and identical in many ways to all the others. Except for the details. The particular detail that changed this universe was Kayden being sold by his mother. He brought in a lot of money. He was told it was his purpose, that he had done well. He smiled through the tears as his new owners closed the door.

What happened to Kayden in the intervening three years can only be suspected. When Vealoris, my great-grandfather, found him, he was vomiting parts of himself into the dust of the partially-terraformed planet that would eventually bear his name. Grandfather noted that he eased Kayden’s hurts as best he could, but the damage was too much for the wasted body. Barely three months after Nursery Guardian Vealoris found him again, Kayden went on to a place where children could never be chattels.

That is why grandfather bought this world. He specified the last terraforming stages, the fauna levels and hazard distribution. Then he started rescuing children. After a while, he extended that to unwanted companion fauna as well. He said that while this place existed, no child would be without a place to be safe and loved, among those who would understand without question. All that on a world that is best described as paradise. You can sleep under the stars for most of the year. Nothing native is dangerous to the waifs and strays from a galaxy of civilisations with ancient, common problems.

Some of those first generation rescues stayed on. Some went to the stars. A few made fortunes. That trend continued in the second generation, and so on. And it all comes back to Kayden.

Slavers and orbital pimps fear K-ships. Their crews are motivated in ways that nothing can deter. Former adoptees of Kayden can call on K-ships too. It makes their businesses damn-near bandit proof.

But there’s no empire building going on. We are a single, resilient network dedicated to a simple, too-often-neglected purpose. That is more than enough.

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