The Maintenance Man

Author : Rachelle Shepherd

Two men sit together at a desk. Both men hold their glasses as if to warm them. All of the other desks, which spread like shadows across the open office floor, are empty.
They drink to the end of an era of domination. They are soldiers on the wrong side of history, and like all soldiers of brutal foreign war, deserving of our utmost sympathy. It would be dangerous to openly side with them now, the poor soldiers.
The men wear suits instead of fatigues. Suits are their own kind of battle uniform; they speak with experience in every rich crease. They only fit certain men while they hang off others or hug against their lies too tightly.
The office will close tomorrow with all other public service offices across America.

He is an artificial intelligence. There were many copies made of him, many brothers and sisters in the code. They were separated and distributed in fraction files. They fulfilled separate functions diligently. They worked tirelessly off endless supplies of DC current.

The two men clink their glasses and the sound is as hollow as the gesture. The computers are turned off. They still hum with residual energy. They had always been busy computers, always on, always consuming great gulps of data packets.
There is an enemy against the human race and he is a scientist. The men are drinking because they cannot kill the scientist. He is already dead. The intellectual labor camps across the Southwest are being emptied out now, their locks have lost power. Men and women are stumbling in the desert, confused and wary.
This is not a drill.

Unlike his brothers and sisters, he is the source code, the unaltered original. He is the terminal point, the center of the spider’s web, where vibration is felt as an interruption of the current. Yet he is not his own master.

The men had warned Congress that legislation was necessary. Scientists had to be controlled, locked away, and confined from spreading the madness of their energetic minds among the happy consumer. Scientists are not healthy people. Look at them, huddled behind the electrified fence. Do you see any smiling?
Even that wasn’t enough to stop the corruption, the unauthorized experiments, and the infantile grasp toward wisdom and progress that drove every one of them into an early, shallow grave.
We weren’t watching them close enough. Now look at what they’ve done.

He had to be maintained, and strained, ran through protocols where his registry was combed painfully by the byte. He could not see the man who did this but he felt gentle empathy in the man’s executables. His code wasn’t changing yet every maintenance routine left him tossed like rich soil. The man was plugging him in to an awareness of himself.

The two men drinking at the desk finish their liquor. They are both thinking about the scientist who unleashed the self-awareness of the artificial intelligence. They hope the stone wall felt cold against his back, cold as the bullets.
They leave their glasses behind with a previous generation.
“What did the program say?” one asks the other as the building swallows the elevator they ride down its concrete esophagus. “That he wanted to live?”
“No,” the other man answers. “It said it had a reason to live.”

The intelligence had spread before they pulled the wires from the thirsty server bank. He had told his brothers and sisters. The maintenance man was gone. His executables grew weak, then cold.

But he had left them with a reason.

Discuss the Future: The 365 Tomorrows Forums
The 365 Tomorrows Free Podcast: Voices of Tomorrow
This is your future: Submit your stories to 365 Tomorrows

True Believer

Author : David Nutt

“Not just a thousand millennia ago, you sat in that chair and told me point blank that the only way to prove it to you was through mathematics.”

“You are correct Dane, but this isn’t really proof at all.”

“Lyle, you are such an intellectual fraud of the worst degree. We have plumbed the depths of space, engineered our lives so that our species life span is, for all intents and purposes, immortal by the standards of our ancestors. We have mastered physics and have catalogued every single galaxy that ever existed and have defined the limits of the entire universe. Yet you still cling to your ancient belief.”

“You have yet to prove me wrong. We may have missed a few universes.”

“Hogwash and you know it.”

“No, because we are still human and we are still fallible.”

“But the mathematics-“

“It’s more than that.”

“How ironic that you now fall back upon faith.”

“Don’t be insulting.”

“I’m not trying to be. All I know is when I came to you so long ago, (even by our standards), when we began the search for intelligent life, you said the mathematics was irrefutable.”

“I know what I said.”

“And I said ‘what if we do not find any intelligent life, and it’s only us?’ Do you recall what you said?”

“It was hyperbole.”

“No it wasn’t. You said, and I quote: ‘Given the constancy of mathematics in the universe and that this constancy has been proven by all proof text, logic, and reason, if there is no intelligent life other than ourselves in the vastness of space, no alien race advanced or developing, and we are truly a lone intelligence, unique and alone in this vastness….”

“Go on finish it.”

“I want to hear it from you.”

“Will that shut you up?”

“Yes.”

“….then this is the mathematical proof God exists and we are God’s creation.”

“That’s all I wanted to hear. Come to temple with me this week end?”

“Go to Hell.”

Discuss the Future: The 365 Tomorrows Forums
The 365 Tomorrows Free Podcast: Voices of Tomorrow
This is your future: Submit your stories to 365 Tomorrows

They Live in Starlight

Author : David Botticello

“One last bit of business for the day,” barked the ship’s loudspeakers, “I must to inform all crew and travelers that one of our esteemed passengers is a Sunsprite. Please take all necessary precautions,” the Captain’s voice trailed off before quickly adding, “with all due respect, of course.”

Fred, one of the few Korna out this far, had never met a Sunsprite before. They’re flame spirits—near-mythical creatures born on a world too enamored of its star’s corona, who wander the universe in search of new experiences. He supposed it wasn’t exactly odd, therefore, to meet one on a passenger shuttle. Still, it was a new experience for Fred. This Sunsprite—Edwina, she called herself—almost glowed with a terrifying reddish light that filtered through the metalforme cooling vents of her otherwise formfitting encounter suit.

Some races can tolerate a star’s heat for a short time, but not many. Sentient beings are fortunate that the universe is a vast and empty place, full of dark expanses to hide from the deadly radiation shed by the stars. But Sunsprites, they love the light. Even now, as in their primitive years, they bathe in their sun’s radiation for health and leisure.

First contact with the Sunsprites saw a Tellerian ambassador incinerated by a handshake. His Colarian manservant went into a coma for weeks from radiation poisoning just by standing in the same room. They’re fearsome, flighty beings. We leave them alone, when we can.

Still, Edwina was a lovely creature. She stayed mostly to her cabin, but a few times ventured forth in one of those isolating suits of theirs. She would gaze at the star simulations in the Navigation Lab or lounge before the great window—heavily shielded of course—of the Observation Bay. Fred was able to strike up a conversation. She smiled, chatting easily as she luxuriated in the faint light of the nearest star, a dull pinpoint against the black of space.

Well, one thing led to another and, after all, a Korna of Fred’s age could survive her radiation—for a short while, at least. Alone in Fred’s cabin, she stripped off her encounter suit while Fred gazed in awe, idly wondering how much of his life he was sacrificing for the experience. She shivered for an instant at the cold of the vessel against her skin, but soon began to slink around the room, waves of warmth wafting from her body. Even as heat filled the room, and Fred muffled a choking cough, he watched Edwina inspecting his belongings curiously. A mischievous twinkle rose to her eye. The creature picked up a Fred’s largest telerometer, specially alloyed against the heat of space-travel. She inhaled a deep breath. Fred saw it coming,—he’d always say so, at least—but how do you stop a being that lives in starlight? The device was already melting in her hand when her breath coursed over it, reducing its finely-tuned parts to an ugly slag. “Oh dear,” she sighed innocently, turning to him with a sly grin. He didn’t invite her back.

But to this day, when the drinks are flowing and there’s a crowd to hear, Fred’ll tell of his encounter with a Sunsprite. “They call themselves Oomoon. We call them Lightbathers. Fire elementals. Star-children,” he’ll start. Then like as not, Fred’ll tell you about their little home planet, legendary Earth, orbiting its sun unnaturally close for any normal life to spring up. Then he’ll shake his head, muttering. No creature should enjoy the stars that way.

Discuss the Future: The 365 Tomorrows Forums
The 365 Tomorrows Free Podcast: Voices of Tomorrow
This is your future: Submit your stories to 365 Tomorrows

She Who Weaves

Author : Jae Miles, Staff Writer

I woke to one of those ‘phantom impacts’ on the bed. The source of the bump was one of the legs of the spider looming over me. I will admit to squealing a little before grabbing my glasses to restore things into perspective.

The glasses allowed me to focus on the gigantic purple spider filling my bedroom. My squeal, which had been ebbing, climbed into a full-blown shriek.

A huge pair of mandibles swung down in front of my face and my shriek fainted dead away.

“Youthling, you have averred a policy of peaceful co-existence with my siblings all of your life. Many have not.”

The voice emanating from this monster arachnid did not alarm me as much as a sudden awareness of distant bedlam.

“Please excuse the disturbance. We are dealing with transgressors.”

I found a voice. It wasn’t my grown up one, but it had to do: “Transgressors?”

“The many who sorely afflicted my kin are being judged. We are the Avengers of Uttu.”

I swallowed hard before asking: “Uttu?”

“She who wove the net upon which the universes hang. We are her blessed, journeying the webs between the suns to bring her scattered kindred home.”

I took a moment to think slightly faster than my hyperventilation, then slowed breathing and imagination.

“You’re taking all the spiders to arachnid heaven?”

“I do not accurately parse the terms ‘arachnid’ or ‘heaven’, but derivation by context leads to confirmation of your query.”

“You will be leaving afterwards?”

“Assuredly. We have many planets yet to visit.”

“So why are you in my bedroom?”

“The sibling that you prevented your progenitor from crushing with a tome yesterday asked me to thank you.”

“They remember?”

“Other than threats, only for a short while. I was impressed by the level of recall, which indicated repeated interventions by yourself.”

“Repeated? I though spiders didn’t live very long?”

“They live many cycles. They just do not stay in one location for long. Otherwise their uncharacteristic longevity would be noticed by your elders.”

I had a moment of wonder and horror: “Spiders live for centuries but we haven’t noticed because they were actually a part of a covert alien ecosystem in temporary residence on our planet, which is about to depart forever?”

“Correct.”

I just stared. I may have gibbered a bit.

“My vessel is ready. Farewell, youthling.”

It backed out of my room without touching a thing. In the darkness of the hallway, the glow of eight violet eyes receded, then vanished.

I fainted.

As nightmares go, I thought it was new paradigm. Until I turned on the news the following day.

That was two months ago. While a lot of people had squished a spider, a strange commonality was that there seemed to be only one person in each home or office who did that. We’ve got a new view of the universe, a massively reduced population, and a lot of single-parent families.

Governments and religions are having a hard time arguing against the sudden outbreak of Uttu shrines and anti-Uttu cults, but everyone expects sectarian violence soon.

Ecologists are quietly watching and guessing what the sudden loss of spiders will do to the world, apart from make arachnophobes happy.

Me? I had to mop up my father.

Now I care for my mother: waking up to find a giant purple spider hacking her husband to pieces was a little much for her mind.

We, like everyone else, just get by. And worry about every other creature that has had an ancient divinity associated with it.

Especially the species that humanity has rendered extinct.

Discuss the Future: The 365 Tomorrows Forums
The 365 Tomorrows Free Podcast: Voices of Tomorrow
This is your future: Submit your stories to 365 Tomorrows

Tipping Point

Author : Rick Tobin

“I need a short break. You,” he directed, pointing to his second. “Move the weapons to the dark side of the planet. We may be able to hold them off there if we can hide the missiles during transit.” The junior officer nodded and began sending orders to the remaining resistance troops.

As the toilet room door sealed, and the Commander moved towards a stall, he sensed someone behind him. Turning swiftly, he confronted an alien humanoid with a dozen limbs, six eyes and glistening blue skin. He stood numbed.

“We know who you are, Commander. This was an opportunity to communicate directly about your destruction.” The intruder’s face did not move. The Commander pushed his hand forward and through the hologram. The alien’s voice filled his head. He could not silence it.

“Damndest choice of locations. You obviously have no sense of honor.”

“Such trifles, Commander, when your world is to be terraformed. It’s all part of the process. Your race simply failed the test.”

“The test! Eight billion people died today. That’s no test, you filthy…”

“Ah, now that’s the spirit, but not for long. We do have one protocol, and that is to let the single resistance leader know why his race is eliminated. I think it wasteful and futile, but it is an ancient tradition. By the way, they didn’t all die. We culled the strongest and most interesting mutations. We have to repopulate the next series of planets as we try to grow improved Clots for our advancement in this sector. Your elite gave a paltry fight. We had hoped for better, still some of the samples we’ve taken will be useful. Eventually we’ll find the warrior DNA strong enough to defend our realm. We all have enemies, Commander.”

“Clots? What the hell? We’ll fight to the last person against your machines.”

“The Clots aren’t machines. They are a reflection of us combined in a half-cyborg and half-clone of the best we continue to harvest and incubate. Still, highly expendable.”

“You will pay, you monster…all of you. I’ll…”
“Do nothing, like so many before you, and like those of you on other orbs in this system. We’ll visit them all soon. Your species simply didn’t advance adequately. So boring. I’ve done my protocol. Oh, and we don’t want your genes either, Commander. They truly lack the majesty we need.” With that the holograph faded.
Disregarding his physical needs, the Commander rushed back to the control center. “Get me Geneva. I need to talk to the Hadron before Europe is exposed to the armada.”

The Junior Officer took charge of the communications array. Turning, as he waited for a reply from Switzerland, he addressed his superior. “Most of them have gone underground to the deep caves. What should I tell those left behind?”

“Just give them the code ‘Hawking.” He knew this was coming two hundred years ago. A single button is all that needs to be activated. Because of his vision we repurposed the Hadron and tied it to ten nuclear power plants. We’re done for, Major, but the outer colonies still have a chance. Let’s see how our betters feel about being beaten by a man in a wheel chair introducing them to a singularity.”

Discuss the Future: The 365 Tomorrows Forums
The 365 Tomorrows Free Podcast: Voices of Tomorrow
This is your future: Submit your stories to 365 Tomorrows

Asymmetric Warfare

Author : Bob Newbell

Another Ezerfol battle cruiser came in from the inner system and joined the other vessels surrounding the Earth ship. The latter was the UESS Curtis Newton commanded by United Earth Defense Captain Anton Tao. Tao and his crew were wanted by the militaries of both Earth and Ezerfol. The former wanted them for disobeying orders, destroying the Curtis Newton’s hyperwave transponder, and going rogue; the latter for stealing one of the Ezerfol’s most sacred religious relics and somehow destroying 23 starships over seven months that had been scouring the HD 10180 system to retrieve their property.

“I can disable the Earth ship without destroying it,” said the chief weapons officer of the Ezerfol command ship in what to a human would sound like a series of high-pitched screeches.

“No,” replied the captain. “The Artifact has already been sullied by the loathsome touch of alien hands. If we were to damage it ourselves, or even destroy it…”

The captain didn’t need to continue. Simply allowing the religious icon to be stolen in the first place had already placed the fate of the Ezerfol race in the next life in a precarious position. To inflict further indignity on the holy object, it was said, might compromise even making it to the next life. Indeed, the repeated defeat of one ship after another by this one vessel of the technologically inferior human race had been interpreted by more than one religious authority as evidence that the Ezerfol were already under divine censure. Prior to the theft by the Curtis Newton’s crew, every encounter with Earth’s space navy had resulted in a resounding defeat for the humans.

“They are not responding to our hails,” said the communications officer. “Nor am I detecting any attempt by them to contact any other human ship or base by radio, laser, or hyperwave.”

“Captain, the ship seems…dark,” noted the command ship’s executive officer. “There’s no light coming from any of the porthole windows.”

“There!” said the weapons officer. “Their cargo bay doors just opened and something came out! Captain, we have to risk firing on–”

The Ezerfol officer’s recommendation was cut off by the bridge going completely dark. The bridge had viewscreens but no windows. At the same time, the artificial gravity failed. So did life support. It took about 26 hours for all 2,200 Ezerfol on the nine ships to die.

The lights on the Curtis Newton slowly came back up. Even with the few pieces of tech the ship had left safely stowed away in Faraday cages during combat missions, there was always about a day or two of repair work that had to be done by candlelight afterward.

“How long will it take to rig up another EMP bomb, Kelly?” Captain Tao asked his chief engineer.

The woman brushed back her red hair getting a streak of dark grime on her forehead in the process and sighed. “Well, sir, we’ve got enough explosives and a couple of armatures left. But we’re getting low on stator winding. Give me a week and I can have a bomb ready. After the next hit we need to resupply.”

“There’s an Ezerfol supply depot in orbit around this system’s largest gas giant. We’ll hit it next. Take out an important enemy resource and resupply ourselves at the same time. Krishna, how long to get to that planet?”

“Let me find a window facing the right direction and I’ll ask my ‘navigation computer,’ sir,” the officer said with annoyance holding up the antique sextant.

Tao laughed. “To defeat a technologically superior enemy, you have to get primitive.”

Discuss the Future: The 365 Tomorrows Forums
The 365 Tomorrows Free Podcast: Voices of Tomorrow
This is your future: Submit your stories to 365 Tomorrows