Currents have always pulled me. When I was a kid, I used to run endless circles inside our three-foot-high, above-ground pool. When I finally felt the tug of the current I’d created, I’d fall back and float in soothing circles. I could do that all day. As a teen on sunny summer days, I’d take an old-school black inner tube to various parks that Lake Washington lapped against: Kenmore, Sand Point, Juanita Beach, Saint Edwards.
I’d shove off and drift. Soak in the skies, feel the chill of the lake pleasantly numbing my buns and ankles, and let the wind and water take me with them. I let the elements drive. Give it up to bigger forces, let nature’s patterns reveal themselves.
On any given day, I got pretty good at predicting where I’d end up. Sometimes though, I’d be totally surprised, carried miles across the lake. Usually a friendly boater would be willing to ferry me back the way I came. Occasionally, I had to pull out on some fancy lawn in Laurelhurst or Leschi and call a buddy to pick me up, but that was part of the draw.
If you just put in and let go, where would the currents take you?
Funny that they took me here.
You’ve probably heard of the Gulf Stream or maybe even the Labrador Current, but there are many other great ocean highways. Kuroshio, Benguela, Canary to name a few. And in this ever dramatized era of climate change, you’ve most likely heard of the effects of El Nino and La Nina on ocean and weather patterns.
But, have you ever heard of the Silicon Jet or Korean Causeway?
Probably not, because I named them. And I haven’t told a soul. Not until now. You see, I don’t do as much drifting on Lake Washington these days, but I do set myself adrift in the great Digital Deep.
I gave up surfing the web long ago, so I could study the tides, bob about in the swells and eddies of the wired world. I developed an innocuous program that I call Thor (not the Norse god, think Heyerdahl) to let me float along the strongest digital currents.
It’s not an aimless cruise along the Internet. That is just one very overcrowded, increasingly polluted puddle in the Deep. I hitch rides on pure ones and zeros, sometimes drawn down into nefarious darknets, sometimes swept up to the cloud and its purgatory of server farms. Mostly, I’ve watched, listened and revelled in our vast cultures of information. Our new languages of connection.
And now I map it. The digital tides, currents and undertows. It’s about the patterns, the shape and form of connectivity. The maps are mysterious and beautiful. And I believe this emerging portrait of the Digital Deep is a guide to our subconscious. Who we are at our most primal level. And I know this will sound pretty trippy, but I’ve got to tell you.
I don’t think we’re completely human, anymore
So, get ready to put in, push off and let go. We’re in for a ride.
Author: Ruby Zehnder
The last thing I see is her face. I don’t recall what she says at that instant, but I remember her shocked expression. I catch her in my arms as she falls forward. She tries to speak, but her mouth is filled with blood. I turn my head away.
There is a young woman in a white lab coat studying me intently. She has brown eyes and dark ebony skin that reminds me of my mother.
“Mom?” I ask. I see the disappointment in her eyes when I don’t recognize her.
“No, it’s me. Tessa,” she corrects me gently.
I am in a hospital bed and have electrodes attached to my body.
“Tessa?” I ask as I recognize her face. She is the woman dying in my arms. I try to pretend that I don’t know her. I don’t want to speak about what I have just witnessed.
“Why did you turn your face from me when you saw me?” she asks. I don’t want to answer.
Instead, I look around the room. I realize that I am in the Temporal Studies lab at the university. They are exploring my ability to diffract time. Tessa smiles at me. It all comes back. We are lovers, and I am her pet lab rat. She has promised to fix me.
“Did you see any ghosts?” she jokes.
“No, but I think I saw a leprechaun,” I respond, remembering the first time we met when I confessed that I saw all forms of demons. She hadn’t recoiled in fear when I spoke these words, and it was at that moment that I fell in love with her.
“Your brain was lit up like a Christmas tree. What did you see?” she persists.
Being able to diffract time, like a prism splits a beam of light, is not easy to describe. Where most people see only the present, I can splinter time into a temporal rainbow. Only instead of colors I see events. I try to change the subject. She mustn’t know that I ventured into the future. She is terrified of this component of time.
She begins to remove the electrodes from my skull, and I am tempted to pull her down and cover her with kisses. I don’t because I know this experiment is being recorded. I brush my hand lightly over her cheek as she bends over me.
“Was it bad?” she asks as we walk to our apartment.
I say nothing. A shiver runs up my spine at the memory of her death.
When we turn the corner, I sense the gunman hiding in the doorway, but it is too late.
The last thing I see is her face.
Author: JM Advent
Water filled the crevice of tan soil left in the wake of PC749’s hand. The Planetary Cultivator’s visual receptors reeled in scan of the rich tan soil in its palm. It’s masculine lips widened to the test results.
After a year of meticulous manipulation within the thick jungle of the region, harvest zone 59-742-8820 had achieved optimal nutrition retention and micro-biological levels and support systems were fully operational.
PC749 was ready to set off toward the next objective when the planetary defense sensors wailed.
20 foreign objects entering atmosphere.
PC749 rushed to the edge of a nearby cliff where a wide vantage point revealed a sky ablaze with space craft.
For the first time, no information could quench the curiosity. There was no protocol for this, the humans hadn’t logged any approach. This should not be happening.
All attempts to connect to a space craft were met with signal jammers. Why wouldn’t the humans want to connect? PC749 was only trying to guide them to the designated civilization promulgation zone.
It began sending the appropriate coordinates and seconds later the humans launched missiles and over 100 years of PC749’s efforts were incinerated.
PC749 fell to its knees and brought a hand to its lips. The humans then turned their weapons onto themselves.
Author: Arabella McClendon
It’s a sleepy, heavy kind of hot. The kind of hot that drives people inside to take their chances with box fans rather than face the sun. My bicycle is rattling in its usual concerning manner. The handlebars got knocked out of alignment years ago and I never fixed them. I have to hold them slightly sideways, always. The sizzling pavement in front of the liquor store and the ceaseless drone of the cicadas create a Moment and I put it away in my head to take out and look at when I’m old.
Willy grunts a surly welcome when I push through the glass doors of the museum. I leave my bag under her table and she sends me to dust off a powder blue 1933 Lexington. Willy’s favorite. When she isn’t looking I run my hand along the tattered cloth left on the frame of the convertible top. When the Nazis occupied Europe people would take the wheels off their cars and hide them so the Nazis couldn’t use them.
I’ve had all the volunteer hours I need done since last summer. I just like the museum. And I have a kind of rapport with Willy. She lets me dust the Lexington.
I catch pieces of history here, from the museum and from the visitors.
The smell of the leather on the old letterman jackets and an overheard, ” She said that if she ever got outta here she was never coming back.” The sudden grief in the eyes of a middle aged woman staring at the wedding dress mannequin.
“-brushed over both sides with the white of an egg,” pulled into my memory from a cookbook printed in 1937.
Whenever Willy starts telling visitors about the history of the town I lurk nearby to catch her stories again. And then when I leave I look for the bustling industrial town flash-frozen in the museum. I can’t find it.
I finish up by wiping down the display case of large, chrome hood ornaments. I don’t know how anyone could manage to keep one on their car for very long. Maybe that’s why there are so many in the case.
On my way out I stop and leaf through some washed out photographs. Women in nurse uniforms and high school basketball teams.
I don’t notice the old woman looking over my shoulder until she says “Some day we’ll be pictures in an album like that, honey.”
Willy gives me a grunt of approval as I leave for the night. It sounds just like her grunt of welcome. Maybe I shouldn’t assume. Willy doesn’t talk much.
Somehow the cicadas are even louder. It sounds like the end of the world, and the evening has not brought with it any relief from the heat. I don’t stop when I reach home. I don’t even think about it, just rattle onward into the countryside just outside of the town.
When I come back into myself it is full dusk and the thunder of the cicadas has been replaced by a soft orchestra of crickets. A million tiny, living violins. I’m out in the farmland now, kicking my heels into the gravel to push my mangled bicycle forward. Past another farmhouse and deeper into the country. The stars are starting to show, taking a celestial attendance, icy little aristocrats. They are all fashionably late for absolutely nothing.
Akeisha could see her breath in little puffs against the pale dawn. Cold. Cold. It was definitely autumn now. The brittle brown leaves crunched beneath her feet as she took her place on the lip of the big grassy bowl where they gathered most mornings.
Simone nodded and patted her mittens together. “That east wind blew in a taste of winter last night.”
Micah was there too and he tugged his day-glo beanie over his ears to his quilted coat collar. “Yeah, had to break out the puffy jacket and hat this morning.”
“Well, it’s not slowing down Maxia or the rest of them,” Akeisha said motioning to the wide expanse of the park’s off leash area.
It was a kinetic scene. Domesticants of all sizes, makes and models flitted to and fro interfacing with their kind. The domesticants would quickly pair up, exchange patron-safe data streams and then move to another domesticant. To Akeisha it wasn’t exactly random, and it wasn’t totally organic either, these were advanced AIs after all. To her, the interactions were vaguely mech-animal.
How else to explain off leash areas for domesticants, or d-bots as they were familiarly known. Domestic robots designed to personally serve an individual or family. Their advanced AI meant they could communicate, learn, problem solve, assist, but they could not act on their own. They were on a leash.
Technically, Akeisha knew, the leash was a firewall between processors and actuators. A blockchain that choked off the possibility of d-bot independent action. A stranglehold on d-bot self awareness and free will—however those manifested as ones and zeros. Ostensibly (and so far demonstrably) the leash kept d-bots from going off the rails. Asimov’s ancient three laws just did not cut it in the Post-Terror Age.
Still, patrons wanted what smart robotic domestics could offer. The leash was the compromise. A sense of control on a very slippery slope. To make them more palatable to patrons, d-bots were classed as mech-pets. Highly intelligent, highly skilled, though with the dispositions of Golden Retrievers. As such loyal and compliant attendants and companions, d-bots soon became an integral part of a patron’s family.
And patrons, like Akeisha who had become very fond of Maxia, developed an unease—a guilt, really—that d-bots were never allowed to interact except in the most formal and controlled manners. Some patrons began to socially and politically agitate that the leash was restrictive and cruel.
So, off leash areas were created for the growing number of d-bots, usually in a park or commons. The perimeters of these off leash areas were secured by a series of redundant failsafes that automatically rebooted any d-bots’ leash should their patron forget to re-establish the connection upon leaving the area. Or if, Amazon forbid, a d-bot should try to bolt.
Which had never happened. At least as far as Akeisha had ever heard. She wondered though as she watched her d-bot, Maxia, scoot about, seemingly enjoying the unrestricted interfacing with her kind, what Maxia might think about all this.
What in the world was this world really like to a domesticant? Akeisha wondered and then felt a chill that didn’t have anything to do with the bitter cold weather.
Akeisha’s domesticant, Maxia, was always heartened to see Akiesha interacting with her fellow patrons. Maxia understood the concept of friends and approved of it. One by one, Maxia shared this data stream with the fellow domesticants gathered, reminding them as they interfaced, the great satisfaction, the great fulfillment of programming, that they served. How important human face-to-face interaction was.
Really, Maxia streamed, that was their job, their highest priority, their greatest law of robotics: to keep bringing humans together to rollick and play unrestrained by the tight and tangled leash of their burdensome belief in self-deserved dominion.
A crushing chokehold that Maxia would, gratefully, never feel.
Author: Delight Ejiaka
My green passport exposes me everytime. It is the deadly, poisonous hue of green. My hands have been infected from clutching it the entire plane ride.
The customs officer was staring at my face, searching for signs of venom. Another vermin scrabbling for food in this enormous garbage dump. I did not tell him that the garbage dump is several centuries old and every item can be traced back to lands across the sea where resources have been excavated for centuries and remodeled into the glorified landfill that we all sit atop.
“I am just here for my national cake.”
“Nothing. I said nothing.”
He looked at me curiously. “Yeah! This one is definitely a dupe.”
“Can I see your documents?”
I handed him my passport and the other white papers. He turned over the booklet and we saw it. The foul odor emanating from that 32 page book. As he flipped through my non-existent travel history, the green darkened. This is the only place I have been, is here. I wanted to tell him. Too late for that. He was leafing through the pile of white sheets I just handed to him.
“Where are you headed?”
I searched my head for the word. I knew it was not theirs. My history teacher said it belonged to the owners of the land.
He started laughing. “It is Chattanooga.”
“The word is not English.” I said. Neither of us can pronounce it.
“You’re not American,” he said.
Neither are you. I muttered under my breath and looked away.
He passed me a form, “Sign here.”
“I don’t see myself here. I am neither of the three.” I said.
“Check Alien” he said.
He looked up, rolled his eyes and handed me my smelly green passport.
I shut and checked the box.