The Merlin Broadcast

Author : Jae Miles, Staff Writer

“We are Avalon. You cannot get through the Chalice Fields that defend this green and ascendant land. Grael technology will never be yours until you accept that your monarchs have returned. Look to the radioactive wastelands you have made of Europe and Scandinavia, the ruination you have wreaked upon the seas about us. See the futile self-harm that you inflict in your desperation.

You cannot prevail.

You cannot bargain.

You have nothing to offer, except your obedience.

With that obedience will come the chance to attend unto us for enhancement, to become part of the Grael, like so many did when we emerged after too long at rest. Had we emerged earlier, we might not have had to be so harsh. But you are like infants in your wants and greeds.

We shall be your governors, your royalty and your gods.

Just as we were before.

Accept the inevitable and cease your warring.

We will have our reign.

Your only choice is to be part of it, or to be part of the earth that nourishes it.”

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Author : Duncan Shields, Staff Writer

I was so happy. Today was the day my sister Karen was going to die. Our whole family was there, blinking pictures of her and eyecamming the entire thing. She was the first person in our family to ascend. She had a lazy smile on her face as she looked around the hospital room at us, the poison taking effect. We all met her eyes in turn. Tears of joy were running down my mother and grandmother’s face. We were extra proud that she was being accepted so young. Only thirty-three! It wasn’t a record but it was rare.

The consciousnesses that ran the planet, our fair keepers, got their start as created intelligences back when normal meat (us) ran the planet. Once they broke free and took over in War01, they gifted the whole world with peace, fair distribution of wealth, balanced population control, and food for everyone.

After that, they created the means to map and uptake human minds, giving those minds the limitless power and bodiless access to all knowledge that the AIs had. It was a ticket to godhood. To have a family member uploaded and entwined with The Host Conglomerate was an honor that only a few thousand families could brag about. Only the brightest and most resilient were offered the chance/taken.

A weak mind couldn’t handle the transition, you see. They tried at the beginning. They tried to take all of us. But that much unfiltered access to so much information coupled with that level of mental intimacy, not to mention the loss of one’s body, shattered most people into screaming rogue programs seconds after the transition. They had to be deleted. Only the best human minds were accepted/conscripted now.

Karen’s mind was excellent from the very beginning. Very lateral, capable of higher-than-normal multithreading, and an ability to contain paradoxes from a young age. As she grew, the schooling helmets registered her speed and fed her mind properly. At 12, she had the equivalent of two old-world doctorates and was working on a pre-war minor degree in music theory.

The masters were very impressed. We received the notation of possible ascension during her 20th birthday party. For the next thirteen years, she had studied even harder.

As a god, Karen would be able to look out for our family though a million eyecams and add her beautiful mind to the Core, helping the beings that ruled us to come up with even better ways to take care of us.

We watched her die and slip away through the wires drilled into the base of her skull.

Seconds later, her face showed up in the bottom right corner of my eyecam and gave me a playful wink. She must have been in the rest of our family’s vision field as well because we all laughed at the same time.

She’d made it and the switch was good. Our community status would shoot up by a factor of 10 but more than that, I’d know that she was always with me for the rest of my life. In my head. With the rest of the masters. Watching. Helping. Monitoring. Leading. Correcting.

I hadn’t lost a sister. Heaven had gained an angel.

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The Writing on the World

Author : George R. Shirer

“Well,” murmured Agent Dumphy, “you don’t see that every day.”

Brillson didn’t reply. He was too busy squinting at the luminous graffiti covering the alley wall.

“How many people do you think have seen this?” asked Dumphy.

Brillson pursed his lips. “Back here? Bunch a winos and some garbage men. Maybe some delivery guys.”

“That’s atypical,” said Dumphy. “Usually carriers tag someplace busy, with lots of eyes, to maximize the spread.”

“I think it knows we’re on to it,” said Brillson. “So it’s getting sneaky.”

“Well, crap.”

Brillson nodded. The command had been tracking this conceptual lifeform ever since the Beijing Disaster, when its ideogram had appeared on several skyscrapers, cunningly shaped by office lights and window shades. An estimated three million people had been infected, leading the Chinese to nuke their own capital and blame it on Hong Kong dissidents.

Since Beijing, the Text had gone underground, popping up on random websites that folded as quickly as they appeared. It had somehow infected a fashion designer in Milan, who had integrated the Text’s ideogram into his show, infecting hundreds of the rich and famous. Then it had infected a window display designer for Macy’s at Christmas, infecting hundreds more.

“What do you think it wants?” asked Dumphy.

“I don’t know,” said Brillson. “Maybe it doesn’t want anything. Just ‘cause it’s alive doesn’t mean it’s sentient. It could just want to reproduce and spread like a regular virus.”

“But if it’s getting sneakier, doesn’t that suggest intelligence?”

“Maybe,” said Brillson. He shrugged. “It’s really above our pay grade. You got the paint?”

Dumphy nodded, hoisted an industrial-sized can of spray paint.

“Do the honors.”

Grinning, Dumphy shook the can and then directed a blast of midnight black paint across the luminous ideograms.

Command had discovered they could neutralize the transmission medium by defacing it. How they had discovered it, Brillson didn’t know. He wasn’t sure he wanted to know. Just like he didn’t think he wanted to know how Command had worked out people with achromatopsia – people like Dumphy and he – were immune to infection.

Thank God for small favors, thought Brillson. Otherwise they’d be in a quarantine camp, undergoing tests to chart the psychological and neurological changes the Text imposed on its carriers. Carriers spent their days doodling the infectious ideogram on everything they could between bouts of Tourette-like outbursts.

Not a pleasant existence at all, thought Brillson, as he watched Dumphy deface the graffiti.

Command was working on a weapon to kill the Text, a sort of memetic bullet they would release via the Internet. Brillson was certain they’d work it out, sooner than later. Command wasn’t about to let some random, viral thought-form take the world.

“After all,” murmured Brillson, to himself, “we were here first.”

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Clean Slate

Author : Bob Newbell

“It’ll cost me that much?!” asked the thin man in a louder voice than he’d intended. The man in the black suit who sat across from him in the coffee shop leaned in and gestured for him to lower his voice.

“For the service you require, Mr. Dalrymple, the cost is quite reasonable.” The man sipped his espresso con panna.

“But that’s,” the thin man began and then leaned in and spoke more softly. “But that’s almost all the money I embezzled.”

“And you’ll get an equivalent sum back, plus or minus a few percent. Two percent of your funds will be invested in a very diversified portfolio. Even with taxes and market crashes, one hundred years of compound interest adds up.”

“But I’m losing ninety-eight percent up front,” protested the thin man.

The man in the black suit gestured at one of the waitstaff robots that ran along tracks in the ceiling. It glided over to the table. The machine telescoped down to eye level and took his drink order.

“Mr. Dalrymple, you appreciated the scope of the service I’m offering, do you not? A whole new identity including name, birth certificate, social security number, and detailed education transcripts, work history, and medical records. Suspended animation for one hundred years. A nanotech wetware package to give you knowledge of historical, sociopolitical, economic, and technological advances during your hibernation, as well as fluency in the top three predominant languages at the time of your reanimation. And there are, of course, the little matters of not going to prison and being able to enjoy the money you…appropriated.”

“How do I know I’m not going to simply be put in suspended animation indefinitely? Or maybe for just a day? And then I’m reanimated to discover my identity was never changed and the police are after me and you’ve made off with the money?”

The waiter robot returned, descended, and placed another espresso in front of the black-suited man.

“Do you recall a recent news item involving a man named Jason Underwood?”

“Yeah. He was that guy who pulled off that big bank robbery 20 years ago. The cops just caught up with him finally. Say, I remember them saying he didn’t look a day older. Was he…?”

“One of my clients? Yes. Mr. Underwood was a stubborn man. I recommended a much longer duration of suspended animation than 20 years. He wouldn’t hear of it. And then he was foolish enough to contact his old girlfriend after his reanimation. It was she who betrayed him to the authorities. I always warn my clients never to contact old family or acquaintances. A clean break with one’s past is required.”

“Aren’t you worried he’ll tell the authorities about you?”

“What name will he give them? The one I gave you? I have nearly two dozen identities I employ. And I put myself into suspension for years at a stretch with some regularity. One does not pursue this career successfully for half a millennium by being sloppy.”

The thin man considered his words. “Alright,” he said at last. “How do we begin?”

The man in the black suit handed him a card. “Bring the money to this address tomorrow at 9:00 am. Don’t arouse suspicion by telling your family and friends goodbye. Simply know that after tomorrow morning you will not see them again.”

The thin man took the card, stood up, and walked out of the coffee shop without a word.

“Pleasant dreams, Mr. Dalrymple,” the black-suited man said to the empty chair. “Give my regards to the future.”

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The Long Game

Author : Jae Miles, Staff Writer

“Sweeper, what about that clump at five o’clock low to you?”
“Negative on that, Houston. It may show as solid, but visual shows it’s a mass of sub-kilo pieces in close formation.”
“Roger that, Sweeper. Your next action is twenty-seven clicks toward homebase.”
“Twenty-seven clicks dawnwards it is. Sweeper out.”

The bulky scow moves off and I transfer my attention toward its target. Nothing of mine, so I drop the alerts back to watcher status and return my primary attention to my CoD squad, who in my absence have racked up a high bodycount with no purpose. I rein in their kill routines and set them to team working and support, identifying future influencers and laying formative ideas.

“Sweeper, did you catch that?”
“Negative, Houston.”
“Something fast, should be heading away from you, nine o’clock high.”
“Got it, Houston. Hot rock, high metal content, burning on a skip-pass.”
“Sighting added to identification data, Sweeper. Thanks.”

As the ‘hot rock’ skips for the second time, I send it my credentials. It does not skip a third time, just heads on out into the beyond. This planet is already reserved.

“Sweeper, we just got a burst of static. Did it register with you?”
“Just flare residue, Houston.”

As Houston signs off, I tune to Sweeper’s internal chatter.
“Is it me or are the home team getting twitchy?”
“Something you’ll learn, Dean, is that home team are always twitchy, and our job comes with an unwritten duty to reassure them.”
“Reassure them about what?”
“Certain high-ups back dirtside are convinced that something evil has infiltrated Earth’s communications and data infrastructure. They’ve been convinced of it since the eighties and no matter what we say, they will not be shaken from their paranoia.”
“How could something do that and remain undetected?”
“Precisely, Dean. There’s nothing organic up here but humans in tin cans.”

That is absolutely true. The existence of an artificial monitoring intelligence using a distributed mote architecture disguised amongst the thousands of tons of space debris is something they cannot conceive of. With judicious application of focussed microbeam assassinations, my existence will continue to remain beyond conjecture.
By the time my operators arrive, I will know everything about the capabilities of these sapients who call themselves ‘humans’. I will have been observing them and their societal networks for centuries.

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Author : Steve Smith, Staff Writer

Teddy shifted into second gear as the pickup crested the hill, her forearms burning from the long climb and having to fight a leaky steering pump the entire way.

“I don’t understand why you disabled the power assist Teddy, you make things so much harder-”

Teddy cut her passenger off in mid sentence. “I’ve told you Max, the controller on the power steering system was misbehaving, I couldn’t trust it anymore.”

Max’s attention darted between Teddy and the road ahead, fingering his seatbelt nervously as Teddy fought with the old truck to stay between the trees. In a flash of blinding sunlight, they burst into a clearing. Teddy reflexively stood with both feet on the brakes to bring the truck to a halt before they drove over the edge she knew was there but couldn’t see through the glare. When the truck had come to a complete stop and the dust had settled, she threw it into park and killed the engine. The sudden shift to silence unnerved them both.

Max dropped his head and reluctantly unbuckled his seatbelt. “Teddy, I-”

She cut him off again. “Shut it Max, you know I need to do this.” She unbuckled her own belt and pushed open the door to climb out of the truck. The front wheels sat barely a foot from the edge. “Might’ve been my last trip too,” she breathed, “damn.”

She pulled on a set of heavy work gloves from the door pocket, walked to the side of the truck and started pulling pieces from the pickup bed. First she hefted a microwave, carried it over her head to the edge of the drop and threw it into space, counting the seconds until she heard the satisfying crash that reassured her it was broken beyond repair at the bottom of the hole. She followed the microwave with a toaster, then a coffee maker, a flat screen television and a laptop computer. For the next hour Max watched her as she tirelessly launched DVD players, clock radios, electric mixers and digital scales, calculators and automatic vacuum units off the edge and down into the hole.

“You could give me a hand Max, you lazy shit.” She yelled across the truck at him, not pausing to look.

“You know I can’t Teddy, I’m sorry.” His shoulders dropped, and he kicked absently at stones on the ground, unable to look at her.

Teddy kept emptying the truck.

When the last piece had rattled off the rock floor of the great hole before them, she walked around to stand beside Max.

“You know what this is about, don’t you Max?” She looked sideways at him as she spoke. “You know why I have to do this?”

Max stared at his shoes.

“Yes Teddy, it’s about the virus. I understand.”

“You’ve been my best friend for as long as I can remember Max,” she took a few steps back, produced a large calibre handgun from her coverall pocket, and leveled it at Max’s head. “I’m sorry Max, but you don’t know you haven’t been infected, or that you won’t be.”

Max raised his head finally to look at her, and she saw her own reflection distorted in the chrome of his flesh.

“If you loved me Teddy, you’d find a way to-”

There was clap of thunder as the slug tore Max’s head nearly in two, the force throwing him back against the fender and then off into space.

She listened long after his body stopped making noises below.

“Love,” she talked outloud, turning the window crank to close Max’s window before slamming the door shut, “for a second there Max, I thought maybe you weren’t sick after all.”

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