Phantom Limb

Author : Kate Runnels

“There,” said the doctor. “Try it now, agent Sasaki. The neural connection should be hooked in.”

Lia stared down at her cybernetic left arm, recently attached after a case went horribly wrong.

The murderer, after killing her last victim, sliced Lia’s arm, had nearly taken it off. If it hadn’t been for Ming, she’d be dead. It just didn’t feel like her limb, and yet her fingers clenched into a fist when she thought on it.

“Good.” The doctor beamed at her. “It’s responding well.”

Lia reached over with her organic right hand and felt along the seam that joined flesh to synthetic pseudo flesh material.

“That area should join and fuse together in the next few weeks. We’ll watch for any necrosis, but that shouldn’t happen. Things look good.”

Lia nodded at the doctor but her mind felt for the flesh that should be there, thinking it was there.

It wasn’t the same. It would never be the same.

Lia left the doctor’s office and went out onto the streets of Hong Kong, preoccupied- lost in her own thoughts: thoughts on the case; on her arm; on how close she had come to dying. She headed back toward the HK security agency she worked for, by routine alone. But pretty soon, she realized she was being followed. It was like an itch that wouldn’t leave and demanded attention. The person followed her.

Young, teenager, looked to be fully human without prosthetics. She turned into a coffee shop, and glanced over at him as she did so. He eyed her hungrily. No, not her, her arm. New prosthetics went for a premium on the black market.

She got her coffee and when she came out, he wasn’t in sight, but it didn’t take him long to drop on her tail. She kept walking through the streets of Hong Kong, heading in a roundabout way toward her office. She went toward the back of the building, and he came on eagerly, thinking her in his trap.

Around a corner and out of sight, she stopped and waited for him. He raced around, seeing her waiting too late to stop himself. About to run into her, he decided to tackle Lia. She swung her new left arm and it connected with his jaw.

She nimbly stepped out of the way as he hit the pavement, unconscious.

“Everything all right?” asked an Agent who had just stepped out of the building.

“Yeah. But I’ll need help taking him to lock up.”

The agent came over to help and asked, “Why’d he try to jump you?”

Lia raised her left arm. “New arm.”

“That’s right, you got cut up bad. How’s it working out?”

“Seems to be working out just fine.” Lia smiled as they hoisted the young man between them.

 

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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.

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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.

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Gaps

Author : Jess Cowburn

‘You know what’ll happen as soon as you set foot on that ship? You’ll start changing. You will. I read about it. You won’t notice it but just being there, it’s not natural for us.’

Hack.

‘Little tiny bubbles will get in between your bones and then the gaps will get bigger and bigger. Your fingers, arms and legs: all of it. And these gaps. Well. They’ll stretch you out, not that you’d notice to start with. Soon enough you won’t be able to fit down those corridors.’

Hack.

‘Think about your kids. They’ll be born without a star. Now it doesn’t take a genius to figure that’d be bad. They’ll be pale and long, with gaps in their bones, drinking recycled piss. All those chemicals. Unimaginable. It’s alien.’

She spat. The globule landed on the side of a bin, Adia watched it slowly trickle down. Her mum lit another cigarette. Ash flew at Adia’s face, she was dusted with a film of her mother’s residue.

‘You don’t know what you’re talking about.’

Years later, Adia throws away the condolence card. She squeezed out a precious tear and was given the day off.

There were gaps all over her now. She figured they were there to bury these things away.

No one talked about home.

It was unimaginable.

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Message from Space

Author : Victoria Randall

General Jackson was not exuding patience. His lips were thinned, his gray eyebrows bristled in irritation and he snapped at the two men standing before him. “Well, can you or can you not decipher the messages?”

Charlie had never seen his boss so nervous. Howard licked his lips and shifted his weight from one foot to the other. “Yes, sir. That is, Charlie Ward here is the one who figured out the key.”

The general’s penetrating gaze moved to Charlie. “You figured it out.”

Charlie cleared his throat. “Yes, sir. My team, to tell the truth. At first we thought it was simple code, but it’s actually a language. It’s similar to Morse code, but of course with a different alphabetic base, and has elements similar to dolphin language and surprisingly, contains directional elements like the bee dances. It’s not –“

“Mr. Ward. Can you translate what is being beamed at us? There is a certain urgency, I’m sure you’re aware.” The general pointed out of the large window spanning the wall of his office, and Charlie looked out at the fleet of ovoid, gleaming dark ships hovering over New York. They had arrived yesterday, but their arrival had been seen a month in advance, as they sped into Sol system at lightspeed. They had been broadcasting messages as they came, and code breakers and language experts all over the world had been working nonstop to decipher them. Since they had arrived, the messages had stopped.

“Yes, sir. The thing is,” Charlie coughed, “the messages don’t seem directed at us.”

“They don’t.” The general folded his arms. “Who are they directed at?”

“We’re not sure.” Before the general could ask, Charlie pulled a sheet from his picket. “This is the gist of the translation.”

“Read it!”

“Yes sir. Best guesses as to alternate meanings are included. It says: Brothers/cell mates/platoon mates, greetings. We are pleased to have located you at last. While we would enjoy/love/be thrilled to take you home with us, we are sure you know that is impossible due to population/numbers/legroom. But we could transition/convey/ferry you to another location/planet/foodsource if this one does not suit. We await your reply.”

The general stared in silence. “But who –“

“No idea. But it looks like they’re waiting for an answer.”

Before the general could reply, Charlie became aware of a distant sound that had been going on for some time. He had dismissed it as a passing train, but it had been growing louder over the past few minutes until it was a rumbling thunder. The building shivered. Rustling sounds filled the room, seeming to come from the walls.

“Earthquake?” Howard gasped.

“No, look!” Charlie pointed out the window. The roofs of the city to the south were visible from their high vantage point, and black streams were pouring onto the rooftops. It looked like dark water or ink, but he could not tell what it was.

“Sir!” An aide rushed up to them and saluted. “Reports are flooding in from cities all over: Moscow, Paris, London, Beijing – it’s roaches! Cockroaches are coming out everywhere.”

A musical buzzing filled the air. Charlie moved closer to the window to hear better. He listened, translating in his head, his lips moving.

“What are they saying?” the general asked. “Can you understand that?”

Charlie nodded, his throat dry. “It’s more primitive, but – They’re saying Yes brothers. We are glad also. We are fine here, and invite you to join us. There is plenty for all, and our hosts/caretakers/domestic animals provide all we need.”

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Deception

Author : Suzanne Borchers

Lieutenant Sher took a deep breath then pushed the button to open the door to the officers’ lounge. She made sure her open friendliness included the five officers in its beam. Her eyes met a gray-haired general fighting to keep his gaze above her breasts, two brown-haired lieutenants who interrupted their animated conversation to smile at her, and one silky-blonde officer who pulled her mouth into a frown. Next to the woman was Ensign Cole, Lieutenant Sher’s close friend and a communications officer. Sher kept smiling with great effort.

She deliberately moved toward the refreshment bar and requested tonic water, knowing it would be vodka on ice. She needed it. Hearing Ensign Cole approach, she threw back a swallow before turning to greet him. He slid his arm around her waist and released her an instant later.

“Now this place has some class,” he said.

“Nice looking officer you were speaking with.” Lieutenant Sher watched him carefully.

“Never noticed.”

“Who is she?”

“Security. Asks a bunch of questions but doesn’t give any answers.” He placed credits on the bar and sipped the synthetic Scotch with appreciation. “Let’s talk about us. Much more pleasant.” Ensign Cole drummed his fingers softly and lowered his voice. “Actually, there’s something else I have to tell you. Something we can’t talk about here.”

She noticed the deep crease between his narrowed eyes and tensed. She pressed her lips together before whispering, “Meet me at my quarters in ten minutes.” Then she gave a quick laugh, swigged her drink, and walked to the door. She glanced back at him and smiled.

In her quarters, Lieutenant Sher checked the threads strategically placed around her hiding places. Nothing was disturbed. She sighed knowing her secret was safe. No nosy blonde security officer had been there–yet. How could she protect herself? She scratched at the surgical scar behind her implanted ear. Humans had too many protruding parts. Home was sleek and smooth. She ached to go back to her planet.

But she had a job to do.

Seated on the couch, Lieutenant Sher watched as Ensign Cole stepped through the doorway, hesitating to approach her as the door slid closed behind him. Finally, he sat on the edge of the couch to face her.

“Horrible news,” he said. “My brother died last night. The bastards showed up without warning and blew apart the whole military base. It was underground. How did they know?” He covered his face with his hands.

She slid over to him and reached out to hold him. “I’m so sorry,” she whispered. “Um, I can’t believe it.” She held him until he relaxed into her embrace with shallow and slow breaths. She was sorry for his pain…but humans had committed worse atrocities.

With her free hand, Lieutenant Sher slipped a carefully-wiped, small jewelry box into the inside pocket of Ensign Cole’s uniform. Nestled inside it was a shiny patriotic pin with a dot-chip containing a schematic of the ship. She had liked him, but now she’d have to move on by sacrificing information to frame him. He was expendable to her assignment, and she wanted to go home. Home.

She jumped at the buzzer then disengaged from Ensign Cole to open the door. The blonde security officer looked beyond her as Ensign Cole stood.

“I’m so sorry,” he said, as he approached Lieutenant Sher. He looked at the blonde officer. “It’s in my pocket,” he said.

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