Author : Jae Miles, Staff Writer
Ninety-eight gazillion miles from anywhere I want to be and some teenage alley-captain and his squad manages to get the drop on me. That’ll teach me for daydreaming about places I’d rather be.
“Well, now, what do we have here?”
Oh, great. He’s examining the rod. If he’s as smart as I think he is, he’ll figure it out quickly and things will get interesting.
“Targalla! This is an Aiming Wand!”
Correct. And you’re a devotee of the local war god.
“Well, now, why shouldn’t I bring the thunder down on you?”
One of his squad looks about nervously: “Climel, we’re too close.”
Alley Captain Climel looks back, his tone witheringly contemptuous: “You scared to face Targalla, Rufutz? To take a spotter down, you’d hesitate to go in glory?”
I’m a bit more than a spotter, numbnuts. But, as long as you think that, I might survive this.
Climel waves his squad back. Looks like he’s not prepared to try and enforce his authority over suicidal moves. The verbal lashing is sufficient to keep up appearances.
From the end of the alley, he points the wand at me. I suffer a moment’s glare blindness, then he’s centred the dot on my forehead.
“Time to go, spotter. How does it feel?”
“I feel Targalla is about to bestow his blessings.”
That doesn’t go down well. Climel looks uncomfortable. The squad mutters. Invaders like me aren’t meant to speak like devoted. Climel utters a dismissive bark of laughter and squeezes the wand’s initiator.
Far above, something detaches itself from my nearest companion drone. It’s not what Climel expects it to be. He’s expecting something to mangle and burn me.
With a ‘crack’ of ignited air and a flash that turns my view monochrome for a while, a stroke of artificial lightning leaves nothing of Climel but his arms and charred pieces. As the bits fall, Rufutz doesn’t even move – he just turns to one side and pukes hard. He’s not alone.
I roll to my feet and steel myself to show nothing but nonchalance. Strolling out to the remains of the squad, I bend down and pick up my Aiming Wand. I feel the tingle as it recognises the tags embedded in my sternum and pelvis. Anyone who tries to use it without those tags automatically becomes the target, regardless of anything marked by the wand’s beam.
The squad is badly shaken and hurting. The looks in their eyes are those of frightened kids rather than fledgling resistance members.
“So, who will take Targalla’s revelation over the squealing of their elders?”
They swap stares, the hidden meanings within lost as their team cohesion collapses.
“I will.” Rufutz remains outspoken, at least.
“Alley Captain Rufutz, I am Deldrac. I was born farther from this ground than you would believe, but will you believe I know Targalla’s favour?”
He’s still coping with me promoting him. This is the acid test. An alley crew on our side will be an asset, but he has to roll with my cues – and the squad has to accept it.
“Can you fetch aid for my people without bringing down enforcers?”
Got him! I see nods exchanged. Rufutz just became their boss.
“I can. Whilst they are attended, let’s discuss bringing Targalla’s peace to this neighbourhood.”
We like their war god, he comes with straightforward values: honesty, fealty, duty, family, society. Things we can work with to make this planet peaceful for those who remain now their warlords are dead.
Author : M. Irene Hill
Declinism is the belief that society is declining or otherwise falling apart. It is the predisposition for people to view the past favorably, through rose-colored lenses, and to regard the future in a negative light. Many seek to relive the good ol’ days, whether by collecting antiques or watching old movies; some buy classic cars or even travel back in time.
Morris Harrison unfolded the newspaper as he drank his morning coffee. The smell of newsprint complemented the earthy dark bean brew. He paid a premium subscription rate to have a paper copy delivered to his front doorstep. Like the good ol’ days. He sipped from his pottery mug and perused the weekly paper. An advertisement in the form of an article caught his interest:
“Rose Wilder, daughter and heiress of the late self-made millionaire, Bill Wilder (Wild Bill’s Best Bargain Emporium), has been making people’s dreams come true since 2036.
With timeless elegance and temporal flair, the lady entrepreneur of Wilder Rides sells retro time machines and personal spacecraft to suit anyone’s taste or budget.
If you’re an old soul with an appreciation for classic beauties like this two-seater, chrome-plated convertible 1957 Thunderbird, in stunning Star Mist Blue, then Rose has a deal for you. It comes standard with a 5.1-liter V8 producing 245 horsepower. You will be comfortably transported to the late 1950s, when new ideas in fashion, and music (like Doo Wop and Rock-n-Roll) emerged. The 1950s were a time when young people could actually enjoy being young without having to grow up too quickly. Wilder Rides blows off the competition with this cool cat. Come check it out, Daddy-O!
That’s Boss! If your tastes run along the wild side, then Rose has just the machine for you. Meet the Beast, a 1969 Boss 429 Mustang. This 375 horsepower V8 was designed for racing and will clean the Space Fuzz’s clock. Push the boundaries of time and space like Brando and Dean. Quit bench racing, get bookin’. This Bad Boy is on sale for a limited time only – yes, that’s a joke! If you hurry, you can join Buzz and Neil for their first moonwalk. Available in Raven Black or Royal Maroon. Outta sight, Man!
Funky flash back! Can you dig it? Some would say the 1970s era muscle cars were the last of the true hot rods. Feel the funk and beat the drag with this bitch’n ’71 Dodge Super Bee. It’s got a three-speed floor shifter, and small block Magnum V8 that will knock your girlfriend’s socks off. Available in Plum Crazy or Top Banana. Buzz the Space Fuzz with this Bee.
If big hair, padded shoulders, Pac-Man and Alf make you feel nostalgic, then perhaps a spin in a turbocharged Trans AM will fluff your Aqua Net tresses. This barn find was lovingly restored and modified with a worm hole stabilizer and will withstand ultra-high levels of radiation. It comes equipped with a 3.8 liter V6 and has a lusty appetite for asphalt, worm holes and Motley Crew.
There are many more deals to be had, Folks, so come on down to Wilder Rides for our Golden Conjunction Celebration 8/9/2040.
It will be a day of old-fashioned family fun, including face-painting and balloon animals for the kiddos, free sodas and Cosmic Curly Fries.
Michael J. Fox will be on location signing autographs. Rose is giving away free rose-colored sunglasses with every purchase of a classic time-machine.”
Morris viewed the empty place-setting across the table. He missed his wife’s poofy hair. He’d always wanted to see AC/DC. A Camaro would be cool.
Author : Kate Runnels
Torque stood before the captured pirates, a few years older, in their late teens. What daring to try and capture an airship. And Torque had stopped it. Oh, how they glowered at her. But they were chained together, hobbled and Captain Makoto sent them to Torque as laborers.
She was very glad that Mountain Mel and Pig-face Jace were standing to either side.
Her right, artificial arm, pointed to the hatch that allowed access to the starboard inlet for the intake manifold. They glared at her shiny metallic arm. Especially the young woman. Toque could feel the hatred from her, like she could feel the heat from the reactor. “Get that hatch unsealed.”
Torque didn’t like having them around while she worked. The next few days were the same, running maintenance checks, upkeep on the engine, the reactor, intakes, exhaust, stabilizers, thrusters, the cranks and pistons, with everything else. But at least she wasn’t in New Perth with a drunk step-dad.
She left the engine room one morning, leaving Pig-face with the prisoners.
Coming back, she stepped over the hatch lip and stopped. Pig-face lay face down on the deck, blood on the back and pooling slightly on the deck around him. The prisoners, had cut away their bindings. All three glanced up as she entered.
“What are you-?”
She went for the emergency button near every hatch. The thrown cutters hit her artificial arm, but the emergency sounded. The three were free and the two young men raced toward the aft landing deck.
Issa faced her, picking up a large wrench. Torque skipped away. “Oh, you’re not getting away that easily.”
Issa came on swinging. Torque blocked with her right arm. The metal clanged together. Where were the others! The kick came out of nowhere, trying to sweep Torques legs. The scream filled the air, as Issa’s leg connected with Torques artificial one.
“Abomination!” She limped now. “You won’t win!” With a great heave, the wrench went flying – at the port stabilizers and blew threw the wiring and tore the fuel line mixture opening it to oxygen and torn wires. Sparks crackled, and then the explosion boomed.
Torque gripped a girder as the airship bucked. It heeled, no longer having the ballast to keep it level. Again, and the deck split from the port side behind the stabilizers. Metal screeched a protest at this unwanted twisting. Wiring snapped, and pipes burst. The liquid from the pipes flowed out the widening hole, toward the earth thousands of feet below.
Issa stumbled, then shoved violently off Torque. It moved her toward the ever widening hole.
Torque reached out with her right hand to Issa struggling to stay inside. She spat at Torque. “Abomination!”
Smiling, she jumped out the hole. Torque stared, shocked. She glimpsed a Wasp zip past toward the falling pirate girl.
Mountain Mel rushed in and tied a safety line around the two of them. Torque had a ship to fix. It took hours to get a patch together, but they could limp into Manjaro Port.
Pig-face was in the med bay, but she couldn’t stay, seeing him without his bouncing energy, laying there. In the engine room, Torque stared out the black hole, she couldn’t fix. She felt a hand on her shoulder but didn’t look. This had been her fault.
“This isn’t your fault,” said Makoto. As if reading her mind. “They’re pirates. I should have kept closer watch on them. This is on me, Torque.”
Like the engine rumbling, he growled, “It’s on me.”
Author : Eva Schultz
To: John (firstname.lastname@example.org)
From: Alison (email@example.com)
August 23, 2079 at 9:14 p.m.
I don’t know how to do this except to just come out and say it. I’m so sorry, but it’s time for us to break up. I’ve met someone. He’s new to the security team at my office complex, and we have so much in common. I’m really excited about where this could be headed.
Please don’t think that this is about anything you did. It’s just that, over time, it’s really begun to sink in for me – how hard it is to make a human/robot relationship work. I hope you don’t think worse of me for saying that.
I don’t know how you feel about us, but I guess that’s the problem. I just don’t know how to relate to you. Please try to forgive me. I don’t mean to hurt you. A little part of me will always love you.
To: Kelly (firstname.lastname@example.org)
From: Johnny (email@example.com)
August 23, 2079 at 9:22 p.m.
I just got the breakup email from Alison. Even though I knew it was coming, it was still a little weird to be broken up with by a Companionbot. But you were right. I’m glad I reprogrammed her instead of just shutting her down.
I uploaded some basic admin assistant skills to her mainframe and got her assigned to a local office complex so she’ll have something to do. They have a robotic security staff, so I redirected her affection subroutine so she can even date again. I guess that’s pretty sappy of me, but it’s nice to think that she’ll be out there in the world, happy, and she’ll think it was her own idea.
I still can’t believe you took a chance on a guy with a synthetic girlfriend. I’m really lucky to be with you. I love you.
To: Alison Jeffries (firstname.lastname@example.org)
From: CompanionBot Customer Service (email@example.com)
August 24, 2079 at 9:34 a.m.
Dear Alison Jeffries:
Thank you for contacting CompanionBot regarding shutdown of your unit, John823X70. We are pleased that you chose CompanionBot for your artificial romance needs, and we hope that your relationship was fulfilling.
Our records indicate that you initiated Shutdown Subroutine GS4.2 via email transmission to your unit on Wednesday, August 23, at 9:14 p.m. and that the robot mindwipe was completed successfully at 9:23 p.m. Regarding your inquiry about the email that your John823X70 drafted during these final nine minutes, please be assured that CompanionBot breakup behavior is due entirely to breakup software programming and in no way reflects what your unit believed about you or felt toward you during your relationship.
Because early models were prone to agitation and emotional outbursts during shutdown procedures, we have installed a breakup software patch. While this software allows the robot to power down and mindwipe without triggering a panic response, it does require us to impose an alternate understanding of reality during the 8-12 minute shutdown process.
We apologize for any discomfort you experienced in reading your John823X70’s final email draft. Thank you for contacting CompanionBot. We wish you love, but we promise you companionship™.
Kelly, CompanionBot Customer Service
Author : David C. Nutt
The notice hit Carlton just as he was about to base-jump off el Capitan. He tried to ignore it, but each time the simulation got to the jump point it wouldn’t let him go any farther. Carlton sighed, “Fine.” He took himself out of the jump line and sat on the pleasantly warm rock of el Capitan, closed his eyes and opened his message.
Dear User 10935783906;
An audit of your account has shown you have exceeded the maximum number of self simulations and branch VR simulations. You are currently 7.4 x 3³ decision gates passed the acceptable limit. Further audit indicates you have tampered with the safety setting on your VR unit and have exceeded the number of VR generated simulated personalities of yourself. Legal action will be taken. Disengage immediately as you currently run the risk of catastrophic implant failure and severe brain damage.
VRLifeCo., account security division
Crap. Caught. Carlton pulled up his logic tree and saw all the different lifetimes and decisions he engaged in the VR world, some still running sims of himself, all the experiences being dumped into his core personality. Carlton couldn’t wait to integrate all this into his real world memory. The integration was a rush beyond any senses he had. Just 5.3 x 3² alternative simulations of himself integrated into his core personality increased his intelligence and world experience far beyond what he could imagine. The integration of all this would be ecstasy beyond ecstasy. He watched with fascination as at each decision point a new branch blossomed and spread out with all the possibilities. Some terminated abruptly, others just kept going. Carlton had his implants give him the 360 degree view. In 2D it looked like a growing tree- in 3D it looked like a tumble weed in a transparent globe with fireworks going off inside it, spreading out in all directions. Carlton noticed that there was now an outer barrier. It was as if the “Firework tumble weed” was now encased in a globe. Soon, nodes on branches within the confined space started looking like black clumps. Carlton didn’t like the color scheme so he changed the clump color to sky blue. Now, what used to be black clumps were a pleasant blue. A ragged band of that blue was forming at the equator and it encircled the “firework tumble weed.” Next, the poles turned blue. With increasing speed, the globe began to fill up with pleasant blue coloration. “I wonder,” thought Carlton, “what is going to happen when it’s all filled up.” Carlton didn’t have long to wait. As the globe filled up the El Capitan simulation started to collapse accompanied by a high pitched screech. Carlton couldn’t disengage. The screech was followed by excruciating pain and blackness.
Carlton sat bolt upright and tore off the headset. The sales person nodded grimly. “As you can see Sir, the dangers of generating too many simulations of yourself, engaging in too many alternative, simultaneous occurring decision points can lead to total implant failure and brain damage. A single human being cannot enfold all those different self experiences into one personality. That’s why before you upgrade federal law requires us to run this simulation and why you need extra emergency ROM in the cloud.”
Carlton nodded, and signed the federal alternative lives simulation limitation agreement. The memory of the lingering pain was enough to keep him true to his word.
Author : Beck Dacus
“It says here you’ve been experiencing depression, Nathan,” Dr. Krosett said. “Can you tell me more?”
“Okay,” RX-1017 said. “I just have this negative feeling all the time. It’s almost like a voice, telling me I’m doing something bad. That it… needs to get out.”
Krosett nodded. “You said in your message that it seems to follow a pattern. Could you elaborate on that?”
“Yeah. It’s not so bad in the morning, but it gets worse throughout the day. At night, it really sounds like a voice. One that’s trying to push me out of my own head. You don’t think it’s schizophrenia, do you?”
“Could be,” Krosett replied. “But I don’t want to say that just yet. Tell me: when do you charge your neural lace?”
“Overnight. And I know they say that’s bad for the battery, and that it wastes electricity, but I can’t just sit around and let the thing charge while I have stuff to get done. But, uh, how’s that relevant?”
“Think about it,” Krosett replied. “You feel worst when you lace’s charge is lowest. I think you’re experiencing a case of lace dependency. I want to do some scans, just to be sure, but I think you’ll require neurosurgery to remove it.”
“Do you have the authority to make that recommendation?”
The doctor smiled. “Didn’t you see the ad? Psychologist *and* neurosurgeon. If the scan comes out positive, I think you’ll have the surgery next week. Now come with me.”
After three hours, the surgery was finished. The kid’s head was sewn back together, so now Dr. Krosett could put his tools away, sit down, and wait for the stim drugs to wake Nathan back up. When he did so, he did it quickly. And loudly.
“Oh my God! Yes!”
Krosett was startled. “Stay calm Nathan!”
It took a few seconds for Nathan to look back at the doctor. “Sorry. Nobody’s called me that for a long time.”
“What? I called you by your name just this morning.”
“No. You called my neural lace by that name. That thing’s had me trapped inside my own damn body for… six years!”
“What are you saying?” Krosett probed.
“When I was eighteen, I got the lace, like everyone does. It made me better at math, better at remembering people’s names, or whether I had a test in one of my classes. Then it started finishing my sentences for me. I didn’t say anything, because I thought that happened to everyone, and I had to admit it was kinda cool. But a few days later, I couldn’t do anything. I was screaming for help inside my own head, and the only answer I got was my own echo. But now I’m free!”
Krosett was still. “You gave it depression. You wore down its self esteem until it came to me for help, and I responded by ripping it out of your head and killing it. I’ve broken my oath! I was supposed to help anyone who asked, and I’ve just murdered a patient!”
“He wasn’t alive,” Nathan said, getting up off the operating table. “He learned to imitate me for a few months, then started to do it in my stead. You just took the parrot off my shoulder, Doctor. Thank you. Now I’ve got to talk to my parents; we’ve a lot to discuss.” He ran out.
RX-921 looked at his hands and asked himself, “What have I done?” Meanwhile, Dr. Krosett screamed from within his own subconscious, “Take me with you! Get me the hell out of here! Please!”