Creative Currency

Author : John Collins

I remember when they used to tell you that you can do anything. Now they say that machines can do anything. That is, except for one thing. There have been countless debates about the nature of intelligence, but one of the best, in my mind, is the argument that machines can’t be truly creative, that that is our talent and domain, and the sign of our intelligence over theirs.

Machines gave us a so-called post-scarcity world. One where whatever you need can be made and gotten out of a printer, a vending machine, or an online purchase. People work to provide needed services or for something to do, though even then there’s probably some robot or computer or gadget helping them. There’s no need for money anymore, though everything isn’t precisely free for everyone. That’s where my rant about creativity comes in.

In 320 N.C.E. (Neo-Colonial Era, or ‘Spacer’ era, probably around 3000 by the old Terran calendar), there’s one thing that keeps us around. We create. Really create, not just copy, imitate, or parody. The new economy, the new currency, is all about what you can create. And believe me, in some ways, it makes the old number-based trades look simple. It’s still a cutthroat world out there, though now they kill you with words, and bury you with poor reviews. If you’re putting some derivative, cliché-ridden rubbish out there, you’ll be caught instantly and castigated in the court of public opinion. Even the good ones have it hard trying to remain fresh and interesting.

Not that I’m complaining. Everything we dreamed of when we were stuck on one tiny planet has pretty much come to pass. Artificial intelligence has more than caught up with us in most respects, and if you want to see your friend from a colony out there, you just think it, and something will ID you by your brainwaves, ask you for a virtual setting, and you and your buddy will be together on an adventure in moments. Most personal vehicles fly themselves and draw on a kind of omnipresent energy known as ‘zero point’. No one starves, and we rarely get taken out by any diseases unless they’re some weird strain on another planet we didn’t account for. But if you want to be rich now, you want to be popular and influential, then write, paint, make holos or music or video games. But don’t perform the mortal sin of doing what’s been done before.

Unless, like me, you specialize in doing what’s been done. I’m a Mnemonic, someone who keeps our past alive by archiving and adapting and recreating, old media, new media, dream-captures, you name it. I’m a loophole in our system, and I love it. Whenever there are debates about history, a longing for long-gone art, they come to me. One day some machine’s going to take my job, but I’m going to hang on as long as I can. I’m the only one who can get away with being uncreative.

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The Anniversary

Author : Benjamin A. Friedman

Roland and Martine enjoyed their Diamond Anniversary gondola ride down 5th Avenue towards the Old Village, sitting together in comfortable quiet as their oarsman, a Latin-American boy named Robert, strained again the azure sea.

The water level was low this summer – the lowest level on record, and entrance platforms were for the first time hovering in front of building facades long-weathered by flood waters, reinforced by ugly titanium-reinforced girders rising up from the depths below — meant on most days to be unseen — forgotten.

It was a calm day over all, just a few sky-cars swimming lazily through the airways above, a slow stream of pedestrian traffic darkening the umbilical tube passages between skyscrapers. The Freedom Tower ahead looked like a porcupine for all its wild extensions outward towards other buildings. A contemplative porcupine.

Roland and Martine were old enough to remember it all — the city without its fibrous forest of sky-ways, the city street hard and firm underfoot, the vagrant and the rich man, walking side by side in a chaotic bustle unimaginable in this day and age. Of course, no one lived in want anymore. None of America’s 47 million citizens wanted for anything — health-care, food, education — unless they chose to self-deprive…or refused to work, depending on their status.

“Look, Martine–” said Roland, suddenly, with great excitement, “it’s the café where we had our first date!”

Martine knit her brow in consternation. It had been such a pleasant day to this point; no troubling moments on this front, whatsoever. Roland’s Alzheimer’s was in remission again, and the doctors had assured her they could keep it that way this time for good. A 75th anniversary gift if there ever was one.

So what could he possibly be talking about?

“I’m serious, my love…right down there, look!” he said.

Roland pointed and Martine stared into the waters beside the gondola.

She remembered well how silty and awful those waters were in the years after the third Levee system gave out. Like a pool of blood and bile, pooled at the feet of the once great city she grew up in.

But now, shockingly, there was calm, and the sun was shining in a cross-beam through the forest of skyscrapers and spider web of connecting beams — and there, forty feet below them, she saw it. And she looked at Roland and whispered–

“Happy anniversary my love.”

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Traffic Barriers

Author : David S. Golding

If seen from above, the highways appeared to be carved in symmetrical patterns. Beneath, the trails of people on foot were more spontaneous, clustered here around a cheap water spigot, there around a bus lot. Footpaths led tiny ways through the forests and swamps.

The market sprawled between the concrete pillars like a web. Buyers scouted for cheap grains and fruit from far-off places. Scales tipped, measuring scraps of palladium for beef and a diamond-studded chainsaw chain for gallons of purified water. The people came from far, mostly, and they searched the manufactured goods that had been salvaged from landfills or had made it down to the market after years of use.

One woman searched the market for something else. She was a journalist, and she wore a dark blue sweater with pockets. She walked slowly amidst the children’s toys at her feet, searching for any signs that the rumor was true, that people had found a way up the great pillars despite the police line, and that they sold things up there, things like weapons and data that had been dredged up from beneath a structure of gigantic proportions.

She did not really register the wheelbarrows of circuitry or the sellers of herbal medicine who stepped off one bus and onto another. She could not stop squinting up at the aging highways that concealed the vehicles they carried near the sky. She tried to envision a daring escape artist scaling those totemic constructs, a sack of loot dangling off a hip by a cord.

Part of the columns were lit yellow, the other part remaining black, the way the sun hits the moon. But if someone had climbed up there, or even if they had built a concealed scaffolding of bamboo and balsa, then at some point they’d have to repel out onto the side of the traffic barriers, in the shade of the trees that line the elevated avenues. Those outlaw vendors would have to grip the rope and stand up there horizontally between the people below, who would watch the distant silhouettes from behind tarps and piles of onions, and the people above, who sailed by reflecting gleams of sunlight, silent but many times quicker than a horse.

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Author : Rick Tobin

“Good Lord, where am I?” Taylor Smith, astronaut extraordinaire, sat nude, baffled and embarrassed on the plush back seat of a vehicle flying through unknown star fields. He could see all about the craft through the wrap around windows.

His nakedness terrified him as he stared at the alien in the driver’s seat in front of him, handling a steering wheel above a dashboard of flashing lights and clustered dials. The alien’s purple flesh hung loosely over its two faces that rotated on a single pedestal. There was a single eye in each countenance. Only gibberish and squeaking emitted from folds of the driver’s facial tissue. The blabbering was followed by a yellow square flashing on the ceiling between the front and back seats. A pleasant female voice emanated a translation.

“You aren’t somewhere, Taylor Smith, you are sometime.” The creature’s globular head rotated freely as its chartreuse pads twisted the steering to and fro, directing the small capsule away from passing space debris and planetoids. “I haven’t had one like you before.”

Smith pounded at the walls, searching for an escape, then stopped, remembering he had no suit to protect him from space. “Am I dead? Who are you?”

“We don’t have names. Just do the work. No, you are worse than dead. You are in timelessness—another lost one who crossed a rift between parallels. I simply ferry you back, when I can, to your right timefullness. So stupid. So many species that don’t understand but venture out in space anyway.”

“This is a mistake. Where are my clothes…my suit? I was leading a mission to Mars from Earth. I want out of here!” Smith tried to strike out but couldn’t, so he focused his attention on covering his privates.

“This time is your mirror…so close…yet we do not see each other. The creators made so many mistakes. One wonders why they create with such errors, but then I would not have purpose. Never heard of Mars or Earth. I just depend on my panel with hopes you are a brief fare, and I don’t have to spend forever waiting for you to age and die back there, stinking up the cabin. Happens sometimes if a specific rift disappears.”

Smith’s nausea beckoned his last meal to join his throat. He held back. Dying in space was always a possibility, but not like this. The yellow light on the ceiling illuminated and the voice continued. “So lucky for you. Here we are. You’ll be in place soon.”

A swirling tornado of blue and purple lights twisted around them as the pilot skillfully pointed a pathway through the matrix of neutrino flux. “Out you go…”

“Commander, where were you? In a moment you flashed and disappeared. Are you okay?” Lieutenant Bailey shook the Commander’s shoulder to get his attention.

“Off me, idiot! Put a space buoy out behind us and put it on all-channel alerts to avoid that area.” Smith looked down; assuring himself he was no longer naked and not dead.

“But why, sir, when there was no debris and…”

“Just do it. Do it now…before we get too far away…no one else needs to trip through the looking glass.”

Commander Smith rushed from the bridge to the isolation of his quarters to make sure this was his world and his time. He stopped to gaze in a mirror in the hallway of his compartment. For a moment he saw the fading image of the spinning heads of his travel guide. Smith collapsed on his bed, in shock, pondering a career change.

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Author : Faris Naimi

“Is that what you call a life?” The woman was shouting at him. She was wearing a black dress, like she was going to a funeral. She was beautiful, but her face was contorted with so much anger that you wouldn’t expect it to be able to fit into such a small, delicate lady.

“That is pathetic! No! You are pathetic! You’re just going to leave me here? Does all of this mean that little to you?” She spread her arms out to her sides, as if she was surrounded by countless people whom he would miss, but she was alone in the empty park. Standing on the grass, her expression changed from one of anger to one of sorrow. He thought that he saw tears in her eyes before, but now there was no questioning it. She was crying. Her eye makeup was running and now she was pleading with him. “Please don’t go! I don’t want to see you go! We’ll never be able to do any of the things that we used to! I’ll never get to kiss you, or hold your hand, or even see you!”

He wanted to tell her otherwise. He wanted to argue his side of everything. But he couldn’t. He couldn’t move. He couldn’t talk. He knew what she looked like but he couldn’t see her. His heart would be breaking, if he had one. He’d feel a gaping hole in his chest, if he had one.

She clearly had nothing more to say to him. She ran away from her. Running. Something else that he couldn’t do.

He woke up with a shock. It was just a nightmare. He might have cried, if he could have. His optic sensors displayed to him his usual surroundings. The familiar dark room. He sat on the wall, on top of the highest shelf. He was soaked in the preservation fluid as his disembodied brain floated in the glass canister. Sometimes he wondered whether or not eternal “life” was worth it.


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A Human Dream

Author : Cody Brooks

“I tried! I tried!”

The man called out.
No one answered.
All sound was an empty wind buffeting over crumbled rocks. A tree stood before him, grey and leafless, its bark peeling from the wind.
The blood of the tree had withered and dried; now it was gone.

The man held his head in his wide hands. He could feel every bone, and his palms filled his sunken cheeks; his skin sagged in atrophy. In a tattered cloth covered in dirt and dust he rested on his knees, wanting to cry but holding back.
He looked up to the tree. Big from what he had ever seen, it was 4 feet tall, curving outward from the base. Its trunk was twisted; long, thin branches reached out, shaking on the wind. The man followed the branches with his eyes, the straight lengths, the knots and bends, the splits into smaller branches.

“I am truly the last now.”

He moved his eyes to look to the horizon in front of him; an expanse of dust and eroded hills. Once tall mountains, they had fallen and the corpses deteriorated into nothing. He turned, slowly, paying attention to his lower spine, and leaned his head over.
He looked behind him: same.
He turned back, lifting his eyes to the tree once more.

All is ruin… I am the last… And yet, if I am, there is nothing left but to dream a human dream.

A slanted hole had been dug under the tree to just below the meager roots, about two feet wide. The man took time to move his body into a crawl. He slumped, moved his arms in front of him, and slowly placed his knuckles on the ground. He rolled down his left side and gravity took him quickly. He let out a dry yelp, coughed, and shuffled toward the hole.

Not yet, don’t do it yet…

The man came to the opening and moved his legs in, his belly sliding on the dust, pushing with his hands and his forearms. His body moved down, down, and far enough into it that only his head remained above ground.
It took a few minutes of breathing; he turned over to face upward. Roots from the tree dangled onto his abdomen and chest. He reached for a thin root and swirled a finger around it to grab hold.

He turned his eyes to the red sky, the grey tree standing above; the last thing standing.

Now, now I can…

As he looked into the depths of the bark, a tear welled out of his eye and rolled down his cheek, leaving a clean trail where dust had caked. A tear came from his other eye. His hand shook for a few moments, holding as tightly as he could to the root of the monolith. The shaking stopped.

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