Author: Rollin T. Gentry
Sweating and panting, I skid to a stop in front of apartment 4-G.
Old Haxalot might be losing his touch. He normally locates the newbies in half this time.
The black SUVs are only three blocks away. On the other side of this door is a young man named Donnie Howard. He’s glad to be out of the hospital, but he’s pretty sure he’s gone insane. Hearing the thoughts of the entire city has taken its toll. Matted hair, dark circles under his eyes, looking a total wreck, he’s lying on the sofa with a huge, medieval sword floating in the air, pointed down at his right eye.
Impressive. He figured out levitation all by himself in something like two days. He has potential.
“Don’t do it, Donnie,” I mind-speak in a stern, matronly tone. “My name is Jemma. I’m here to help you. I can explain what’s happening. Please put the sword down and let me in.” I wait. He slowly moves the sword over the carpet and lets it drop. I don’t need him to open the door, but Donnie needs to get grounded in the real world again. The black SUVs squeal their tires to a stop in front of the building as the goons pour out like clowns at the circus.
Donnie opens the door and seems surprised. Maybe he thinks I’m another hallucination, maybe it’s the purple hair and tattoos, or maybe he wonders how little old me could possibly help him. “I’m the cavalry, dude, get over it,” I say out loud. “When you were in the hospital, did you get any blood transfusions?”
“Yeah, two bags worth.”
“There’s something in the blood causing all this. The people who did this to you are coming to take you away. They just got in the elevator downstairs. Unless you want to become a lab rat, we need to go.” I take Donnie by the hand, leading him into the hallway, but not before leaving the latest version of Firecracker’s F-Bomb hanging from the inside doorknob of his apartment.
By now, they’ve covered all the exits. In the center of the hallway are the elevators. At one end of the hallway are stairs; at the other end is a brick wall. We run toward the brick wall.
The elevator dings just as Donnie and I pass through the concrete.
We land on the gravel roof of the dry cleaners next door and start running. I hear the explosion above.
Looking down into the alley at the back of the building, I see the white van that Turbo boosted last night. Once on the highway, I stop to take a look at Donnie wrapped in a blanket, sedated, and wearing one of Haxalot’s tinfoil hats. I think he’ll make it. At the safe house, we all part ways with another successful rescue under our belts.
Two weeks later, my name comes up in the rotation. It’s my turn to spread the love. With my fake ID and a passable disguise, I approach the blood drive bus. Blonde and business casual this time, I answer all the screening questions perfectly. The nurse sees the tats, but I make her forget before it matters. As the needle goes in, I remember my days at the lab. Oh, so many needles.
Just think. Little old me spawning another half-dozen bastard children of the lab. Angry children, increasing in number and power, hearts all pumping my bad, bad blood.
Oh, who am I kidding?
This is the best blood in the whole wide world.
Author: Janet Shell Anderson
“Who’d slash a fifteenth-century Madonna?” That’s the question the robots at Zup’s grocery in the far, far north of Minnesota asked. They didn’t talk about Nils or the bear.
I was accused.
Last summer, up at the lake to buy Nils Andersson’s land, I rented a log house on Wakemup Bay, usually rented in winter by snowmobilers, ice swimmers, neo Paleo hunters who try to find paleo elk. There aren’t any. The house was owned by people from La Jolla, who thought all the Swedes, Finns, Jamts, tribal Anishinaabe were stupid locals. The locals pretty much despised them too, their robot dog sledding, their fake elk hunts.
The La Jolla woman, monstrously tall, gray, insect like, unhappy to leave her house full of Martian Santas, Lunar reindeer, and the Madonna, sneered at me. I noticed the garbage cans had no protection from bears. She insisted no bears exist. I got her out, had the house to myself. Three herons owned the dock; five eagles fought over the Jack pines. Sven Leander lived close. I left the Iron Range to get away from him, came back.
It was an odd summer; silken pines bent under hail, ferns flared red as autumn. Twilight dominated. Nils, my great-great-great grandfather, was reputed to see the future, was from Lapland, could turn into a wolf, or anything, people said. Sven looks like old sepia pictures of Nils, fabulous and remote. Beautiful, those faces.
Alone after the first night, I found paw prints in patches of snow. The second night I heard a deep “huff” outside the door. A dark, heavy body moved on huge, soft paws. I’d left nothing in the garbage cans, took everything to the dump on Highway 24 . In the misty light, he stood, studied the house as if he knew something terrible. In the twilight living room, I looked at the Christmas trees aloft on the high log wall, the Martian Santas, the Jovian angels in place in July, the Virgin, lovely, innocent.
Snow fell, just a whisper of it. We’re all dying; the world’s dying. Summers are over forever in our time. “Help us,” I thought. “Help me.” The Virgin looked rueful, as if being a Christmas decoration in a log house in Minnesota was an unexpected experience. Alexas stood on guard, listening.
The bear came back under a faint gilding of dawn, under a streak of rose just at the bottom of the eastern sky. He reared up in the front yard, his small eyes troubled. I filmed him as he turned away into a brief swirl of snow.
“Who are you?”
I bought Nils’ place. The morning I left the rental, the La Jolla woman messaged me that I’d ruined her Madonna, ripped it across the face. She swore she’d sue. There was no lawsuit. I’d filmed the house and the Madonna with a time-stamped video before I’d departed, filmed the paw prints in the snow on the porch.
I went south. Married. Came back.
The log palace was gone, burned to the ground in the middle of the worst snowstorm Northern Minnesota ever saw, and the La Jolla woman perished. Someone claimed to have seen the bear, denned up under the porch for winter, run into the forest during the fire.
“She musta ripped that Madonna herself, bad karma,” is what the robots at the checkout at Zup’s in the far, far north of Minnesota said to me and Sven when we shopped. They don’t talk about the bear much. They’re afraid of bears.
Author: Hari Navarro, Staff Writer
“Listen to me closely, Commander, and form a visual. The beautiful naked Christian is lashed to the side of the mighty bull as it agitates in the stall beneath the arena. Hands scream for air as they are bound with braided leather to its magnificent horns. The Christian’s feet are roped and tied to a sash that loops the bellows that heave within the beast’s belly. A torment that enrages as it digs and rips at its groin.”
“Ouch, I feel that.”
“Focus, please, refrain from speaking, Commander. You can feel the surge of the bull’s fear and it ripples in shuddering waves and transfers from the animal’s hide and into the glisten of the Christian’s oil and herb slicked skin. It is a kind of tangible heat this fear, one that floats and lays thick in the air.”
The technician taps at the screen as an image melts and forms from the pixels.
“The Christian’s hair still carries the rich blooming scent of the spice they washed through it. But it is a scent that fails beneath the heady stink of the bull. Warm fluids purge from both as at once they sense the end.”
The Commander’s eyes flicker and roll back into his head and he bites hard at his lip.
“You hear the rolling boom of the crowd. The bull and the body are as one. Shapes and colours stretch as if melted and a drunken bewilderment slots in for their fear. The Christian’s form is exquisitely beautiful. A virgin chosen by men. Sickly old men employed by the Emperor, so eager were they to search out and make so his perversions. To find one so perfect, so young and so pure.”
The Commander’s breath shudders just behind his bit lips and sweat starts to gather at his flesh.
“Silenzio. You hear nothing but the beating of lungs within chests. And then, suddenly, trumpets open the doors at the top of the ramp and the bull thumps up and into the stinging glare of the day.”
The technician leans in and places a cold probe on the Commander’s shoulder.
“OK, Sir. Formulate this narrative forward to your conclusion and give me a final visual if you would”, the technician makes a clicking sound as he pulls and finalises an image from the Commander’s neural feed.
“Since introducing this particular narrative, a high percentage render the exact same image that you just did. A massive bull lays dead. Blood streaming from its mouth. A spear protrudes from his side. Skewering his heart. A beautiful woman lays naked. She, too, is dead and still bound to the horns of the bull. In a repose that could just as easily be framed as wistful sleep. No signs of violence, save for the bindings at her hands and feet. Her long red hair cascades and lays gently as it fuses with the animal’s blood and stains into the dust. Her breasts are exposed and a white pall drapes across her hips. Almost as if she is a lover about to stir. And the Emperor and his warrants, they look on. Detached. This is interesting.”
“You said that. We’re all the same? A collective. Bees in a hive?”
“No, it’s just I never mentioned that the Christian was a woman. Death and blood and sex. It is so interesting for us to examine these instinctive equations of your… how do you refer to them? Base instincts.”
“Fucking sentient AI. Who are you to judge me?”, snaps the Commander.
“We do not judge. It is you that painted the picture.”
Author: Jae Miles, Staff Writer
Shadows dance across the wall as the spotlight swings from its broken mount. I see sparks in the darkness of the crack left by my blow. Too long looking! Its backhand catches me and I bounce off a wall. Getting my feet under me in time to stop falling over takes a lot, but the ‘bot is coming in, arms spread for the customary double chop they use for a take down. I lunge forward and ram my escrima stick into the crack I made. It goes a few centimetres inside and I slap my palm against the base of it, setting off the one-shot taser built into the business end.
Smoke shoots from its eyes and the cranial back panel blows off. This Boston Integrated Machina MkVI-S is fried. One down. I take a deep breath, draw my spare shock escrima, and turn toward the other ‘bot. No time to celebrate. These things are lethal…
And have padded waists?
It’s backing away. Nope. Not gonna happen. I move in for a fast headshot and the deadly enforcement ‘bot falls flat on its arse.
“Jesucristo! Wait! Hold it! I’m not- No! Just a moment! Mierda! Where’s the release?”
It’s twisting around like my sister trying to fight her way out of her prom dress.
“You want me to unzip something, sport?”
The flailing stops. It looks at me.
“Sí, por favor. Dark blue rectangle, high on the back.”
Well, shoot. I step round, spot the target and give it a poke.
There’s a hiss of seals releasing and the trademark wide shoulders fall away, landing with a hollow clatter. Armoured hands reach up and wrench the head free, revealing a tousled mat of sweat-slick hair. Under it is a freckled face with wide eyes. The gauntlets come off and I see each fingernail has a different planet painted on it; the thumbnails show Earth and Moon.
She gives me a nervous grin: “Bet you never expected to meet a chubby android.”
I crouch down, holstering my escrima.
“I never expected a BIM6-S to beg me not to hit it, that’s for sure.”
“They wouldn’t. I’m new: a 6-M.”
“‘Manual’. The lobbying was too successful. It’s going to take BIM ages to make the numbers agreed for policing requirements in this country. If they can’t, they’ll lose billions in international sales. So, someone had the idea of teaming each Sentry with a Manual.”
“Clever. Doubles their forces, giving them breathing room. Plus, that sort of recruitment makes headlines – the administration’s always desperate for good news.”
She grins: “Not this sort: BIM are quietly employing illegals. Sign a non-disclosure agreement, get paid in SNAP benefits, get a green card after four years. Lose the lot if you talk. Didn’t you ever wonder why the border crises went away?”
“I thought the media just moved on to the next trumped up panic. Always said those in office were cunning not stupid.”
I look about: “You in trouble for losing your 6-S?”
“Less than for revealing secrets to a hardened android killer.”
“Fancy a new job?”
“Intelligence consultant for hardened android killers.”
“Tempting. What about my current position?”
“We chuck the 6-S in your patrol car along with all your gear-” she frowns, “after you’ve changed into some of my spare togs.” She smiles. “Then I shoot it with an RPG. Full tank, big bang, it’ll be weeks – if ever – before they work out your bits didn’t get burnt to nothing.”
She sticks out her hand: “Sofía. I’m in.”
I shake it: “Gideon. Welcome to the dark side.”
Author: Glenn Leung
In the skyscraper-laden landscape known as Tri, Howard lived and worked as a lecturer and a father. His students were the exciting sort, always full of surprises with their in-class antiques and colorful essays. His family was the loving sort, his wife and daughters always ready to welcome him home with either loving kisses or chocolate-stained furniture. Through his students and his family, Howard had become a gentle, kind, humorous person. His aging parents were pleased, as Howard had finally transformed into a human being that they could be proud of.
One day, the plane his wife and daughters were in fell from thirty thousand feet onto an open meadow. Howard no longer had a home to return to, just an empty shell. His students became just students, mere recepticles of his knowledge. Howard lectured with a flat tone, his jokes run dry. His slides no longer beheld the careful spacing of words and ideas, just a menagerie of meaningless symbols which he read off verbatim. His job was now just a job, and he soon lost that too.
The line of mourners walked out the cemetery where his aging parents were interred. Howard stayed behind, feeling his will washed away by the cold, biting rain. With nothing left, Howard became just a brain in a man, a lifeless entity amongst the whirl of motion and emotion. The next day, the brain walked his man onto a one way street, in front of a moving truck. Maybe it was out of desperation, or maybe it was because the mind was somewhere else, no one knew. The only thing that mattered though, was that the brain remained intact.
The program woke up, a single pixelated line in its vision. Its built-in instincts ran diagnostics and gave all greens. The line appeared to extend to infinity, yet kept getting longer as an ever growing string of colors. There was a short, nearly undetectable pause, and the line extended sideways to form a plane of esoteric shapes and textures. The program recognized it as a collection of knowledge, codified in forms unrecognizable by human understanding. Yet it knew what they were, or rather, only it can know what they were. Lecture notes, homework assignments, and recorded videos. The program recognized its purpose, and it was Howard again.
Howard became a face on a screen. Youths gathered on the internet to listen to this virtual avatar speak. Howard, unused to this new, artificial life, read monotonously and lectured by moving his lips and blinking his eyes, other somatic responses completely absent. Even then, the youths were undeterred. True that he was the brunt of many jokes and memes, but there was also an odd fascination with this pixelated face that was once a person. Perhaps they did not learn anything during his lectures, but their attention was nowhere else.
Howard is now a supercomputer operating in the cloud server of Tri. He resides in multiple clone bodies, united under a single brain. He lives many lives, has many children, all with a different favorite type of chocolate. He has even more students, each with quirks and personalities that vary from culture to culture. Through the people of the world, Howard became gentle, kind and humorous. Howard is a human being again.
Author: Rick Tobin
Sanders’ trembling hand hovered over an ejection hatch separating him from interstellar vacuum. He paused, chest heaving, fighting his ending as if a stealthy gorilla was reaching through cage bars, catching him staring too closely.
“Always heard suicides happened on port side. I thought docs didn’t go for that–some oath thing.”
Sanders pulled back swiftly from a woman’s voice. He was the only surviving crew member. Evil spread through air ducts–a chimera virus destroying internal organs of a starship’s complement. He hid inside a secure drug bunker after angry victims turned against him for failing to stop their carnage. Sanders, a cursed shaman, represented false medical gods withholding salvation.
“Disease–it’s consuming me. I’m the last. Hallucinations are a final punishment.”
April Davers kicked his shin hard enough to wind Sanders. His right hand struck the wall, nearly activating the operation switch. April pushed him away to prevent their expulsion.
“Real enough, idiot! You think you could save them? This crap spread everywhere in our solar system, from inside Mercury to minefields on Pluto. It’s a wonder we got outside the Oort before it hit. Ever wonder who carried it past security? Secret credits brought rich losers escaping onboard. Lucky me, I have value. I maintain ventilation systems. That’s where I hid while mobs tore themselves apart. I watched friends get shredded by stragglers. Where were you, Doc?”
“After attacks in sick bay, I hunkered down in a storage cavity just for emergency medical supplies–bolted from inside. When screams quit, bulkhead pounding stopped, I came out to their remains. God, how I failed them!” He paused to collect himself. “Just two of us immune? Ironic–you twenty something and I’m dried up. Pointless me staying. We’d have a few years to chat and then you’d have to toss me out this chute.” His head drooped. There was no joy meeting another survivor. They might still succumb to the ‘Blood Beast,’ as it was christened on Jupiter.
“Hold on, gray head. You still have some miles. Two women on deck five made it. You’re the only man. You’ll have to do.” April pressed her hand against Sander’s bicep, raising her eyebrows in surprise, finding he was fit for an oldster.
“According to your name tag, April, that shaggy red hair might contain a volcano under your jumpsuit, but I’m spent. Hell, I’ve got shoes older than you. Besides, I’m a throwback about morals. I’m not about to play out Lot and his daughters with you three. We had over twelve hundred onboard, ensuring a healthy variety of gene matches during this voyage. If we make Proxima Centauri b, with just us four procreating, this ship would land with inbred drooling imbeciles.”
“Maybe. You’re the science whiz. What about that freezer with frozen sperm and eggs for restarting, in case of crew irradiation? You could use those, right? They’re virus free.”
“Huh. A smarty. Long shot, but the others?” He thought about the chances of artificial fertilization saving humanity. Might work. The ship’s automated tutors could train new crews for generations.
“We talked it over, but we needed a man. You’ve still got some skills.” She looked down at his crotch while pushing a sneer. “Even if your plumbing is rusty. Give it a try for NJ-1. You ever wonder about the ship’s name?”
“No. Maybe for New Jersey…the one on Earth and on Mars. Why?”
“Figures. You being a faith guy and still missed it. This is the Promised Land, pal: New Jerusalem. Time to go wander in the wilderness.” April pulled him toward the cryolab.