Speech Crime

Author : Haydn Kane

The Sergeant sat down across the table from me.

“Commencing interview with Daniel Ambrose,” he said to the room in general and then to me, “you are a resident of Mars?”

“Yes, Olympus City.”

“Ah yes, capital of the North, North Eastern Accord” he said, demonstrating more impressive Wikipedia skills than geographic knowledge. “Do you have any family here?”

“In England? No. But I have a distant cousin in Szechwan.”

“Your passport tells me you are here on holiday.”

“That’s right. I’ve always wanted to visit charming old London.”

“Very well. The arresting officer informs me you committed multiple word thefts this evening in the Shepard and Flock, at 9:33, 9:35 and again at 9:57.”

“I still have no idea what the problem is. All I was talking about was cotton shirts.”

“Yes, you then proceeded to say ‘it’s so hard to get hold of cotton in Olympus’, followed a few minutes later by ‘I was discussing cotton shirts officer’ to the arresting officer”.

“I am none the wiser,” I said, shaking my head.

“Mr Ambrose, I will summon the avatar for ExcellentWear.”

A young woman dressed in an ensemble emblazoned with the company’s logo appeared on a wall display.

“Hello Mr Ambrose, I am the Legal Resolutions App for ExcellentWear,” she said. “You used one of our copyrighted words three times without permission. Would you like to pay the fine now? There’s a ten percent discount for immediate payment.”

“I think I misunderstand – you want me to pay for saying ‘shirt’?

“No, not shirt; cotton Mr Ambrose. Cotton is an important ExcellentWear trademark. You have no usage arrangement with us, or with any Speech Broker.”

I said nothing but stared at the avatar for several seconds. It must have deduced I was bewildered.

“You may wish to re-read your Visa terms and conditions provided to you at Customs. Nevertheless, I recommend paying the fine if you want to avoid jail. Then I suggest subscribing to a Speech Broker – just in case you slip up again.”

I laughed, struggling to grasp the problem.

“Is that likely?” I said.

“There are sixteen thousand words and phrases that belong to various organizations,” the Avatar said, “At the very least stick to using public domain language from now on.”

“My God!”

“Mister Ambrose,” the Sergeant interrupted, “be glad you’re in the privacy of a custody room. The Church charges very highly for one of its more valued words.”

I turned back to the Legal App.

“How much is this fine?”

“6000 Martian dollars. We accept all methods of payment” the avatar said, a rainbow of payment symbols hovering over her head.

It was more than the cost of a shuttle flight to Earth and back. I had the money, but it was a terrific amount to throw away. I was planning on continuing my tour of ancient cities, but perhaps it would be best to catch the next shuttle to Phobos.

“Very well. In which case I’d like to pay later please.” I said, standing up.

“Mister Ambrose, you must pay before you leave police custody.” The avatar said.

I sat back down again.

“Alright, and ten percent off?” I asked, opening my bank account.

“I’m sorry, the immediate payment discount expired thirty seconds ago.”

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Sadness

Author : J.D. Rice

“What’s wrong?” she asks, dialing her emotion control implant down to ‘concern.’ I watch as her brow furrows and her mouth turns from a smile to a frown. The shift is gradual, like a water droplet running down a window.

“The damn thing’s broken,” the words sound wrong coming from my smiling mouth.

“Stuck on happy?” she giggles, dialing up to a playful tone. She loves that setting.

“No, I want to be happy,” I explain. “But I know the damn thing’s broken.” I flick the wrist monitor with my finger. Not in annoyance. I can’t feel annoyed right now. I can only feel boyish restlessness and a bubbly feeling in my chest. Joy. Rapture. Emptiness.

“You seem happy enough to me,” she says, playing with the hair on my neck. “We could try another setting, if this one doesn’t do it for you.”

I know what she’s going to do before she does it. Sure enough, while one hand remains in my hair, the other moves to the implant on my wrist. But I’m not really in the. . . mood? I place my hand on hers.

“I’ll take it to the shop. Get it repaired.”

Her hands go back to her own dial and pause there. Perhaps she doesn’t know what emotion is appropriate. I don’t watch to see which emotion she chooses, but she sounds less playful when she speaks again.

“Maybe you should just be sad for a while, if that’s what you want.”

Annoyance.

“No one ever wants to be sad,” I sigh, gazing at her dreamily. “Being happy is wonderful. No worries. No stress. That’s why we all carry these things around on our wrists.” Somewhere inside me I know this explanation won’t convince her, not when I refuse to change my setting to match hers. But I can’t let go of this happiness, this optimism. It’s what I need right now. What I so desperately want.

“Whatever, I’ll see what Bobby’s up to,” she says, standing abruptly. She’s moved on to anger. I swear, sometimes I don’t even see her hands move to her own implant. “Or maybe you could stop being paranoid, switch yourself over to jealousy for a while, and stop me.”

I sit in silence while she stands over me, eyes directed at my wrist. We’ve had this battle before. She wants an emotion from me, and normally, I would give it. Emotional adjustment is practically the only thing that keeps us together anymore. Without it, our relationship would fizzle out like a shorted circuit. Do I really want to risk her leaving me, her hooking up with someone else who I know is interested, just so I can keep an emotional setting that I don’t think is working properly in the first place?

In the end I just keep grinning up at her like an idiot, saying nothing. I choose to let her storm off, her fingers ready to change her implant to whatever emotional state she thinks will most convince Bobby to sleep with her. It’s funny, really. A simple switch over to horny for both of them would remove the need for such pleasantries. For whatever reason, the image of them both just flipping a switch and ravaging each other amuses more than anything else that entire day, and despite myself, I start to laugh.

I can’t help it. I laugh until my sides hurt. I laugh, despite having just lost one of the only good things left in my life. I laugh, even as the tears begin to roll down my face.

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Digital Footprint

Author : Sean P Chatterton

‘How long has she been dead?’

‘We don’t know.’

‘How come?’

‘Katherine Danderfield was a plugged in person. She had autresponders for her email, bots to update her social network status and MyFace Blog. Her web presence had auto updates scheduled. No one was aware of her death because her net presence continued uninterrupted.’

‘Regarding her updates, how long can auto responders and auto updates continue without input?’

‘There are two types of bots that can manage a persons virtual life. One type uses heuristic algorithms. The second type uses reasoning response engines. Both could technically continue indefinitely.’

‘Surely something mundane like an unpaid bill would have occurred over time?’

‘All of her income was net derived; all of her bills were paid automatically. Everything was, and still is, up to date.’

‘So there was no idea it wasn’t her responding to emails and etc?’

‘Apparently not.’

‘So how did the police department become aware of her death?’

‘She had an arrangement with her daughter, Sandra, to physically visit her once a year on her birthday. When her daughter visited, Katherine didn’t respond to physical stimulus. A medic was called, who diagnosed her brain dead at the scene.’

‘Where did Katherine live?’

‘Records show Katherine inhabited a pod at the Berkeley Virtual-Life centre. Her physical world is not much larger than a coffin. Records also indicate that she suffered multiple limb loss after an automobile accident seven years ago. So she opted to become a virtual citizen and be hard wired to the net.’

‘Not much of a life was it?’

‘Depends on your point of view. In the physical world she would have required care twenty four seven. In the virtual world she was her own person.’

‘So as she was practically removed from the physical world is it theoretically possible she had been dead for nearly a year?’

‘Yes. Being that she was plugged in, the medicare system could sustain her body indefinitely.’

‘It raises the question of how many others who are plugged in are brain dead, with their bots and autoresponders keeping things updated, doesn’t it?

‘Autoresponder Error: Parameters not set, please rephrase your question and ask again.’

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The Ascent of Man

Author : Bob Newbell

The Landreb fleet didn’t travel across space. It simply appeared suddenly and without warning in low Earth orbit. One of the fifty starships fired an energy beam that obliterated an uninhabited islet in the Dodecanese Island chain mere moments after the vessels appeared in orbit. Less than a minute later, the following message was heard in dozens of languages on every radio and television frequency:

“Leaders of Earth, we are the Landreb. We are prepared to lay waste to the entire surface of your planet. Your only chance to avoid this fate is for the heads of state of the countries comprising the United Nations Security Council to meet with our representative at the United Nations building in New York City in precisely 72 Earth hours.”

I was part of the Secret Service detail assigned to the President. The Landreb representative entered the room on four stubby limbs. Its head towered two yards above its body. Think of a giraffe whose legs had been swapped with those of a German Shepard; that was this thing’s rough outline. It shambled across the room in an ungainly encounter suit. It seemed weighed down by Earth’s gravity. There were no introductions or other pleasantries.

“We,” the thing said in what sounded like English but was somehow being simultaneously spoken in the native languages of each of the world leaders, “are at war with a species we call the Soontet. The rivalry between our race and theirs is old and deep and there can be no peace until one side or the other is annihilated. Your world holds the key to the survival and victory of the Landreb race.

“Deny us what we demand, and your world will be destroyed. Comply, and we will give you technology it would take your species centuries to develop. For the survival of our civilization as well as your own, you will turn over to us this entire planet’s supply of Sanderson’s Old Fashioned Mustard.”

The dignitaries looked at each other with confusion. The President raised his hand and started to speak. The alien whirled on the American before he could utter a word.

“The yellow!” the Landreb insisted. “Not the spicy brown! Soontet physiology is resistant to the spicy brown mustard. And no competing brands! Our bioweapons researchers insist it must be Sanderson’s!” We had no choice but to capitulate.

And so the global economy shifted almost entirely to the production of Sanderson’s Old Fashioned Mustard. Sanderson Condiments, Inc. became the world’s most valuable company even as protesters picketed their factories and corporate offices, calling their executives and employees war criminals for being complicit in genocide.

After three years, the Landreb announced that the war was over. The weaponized hot dog and pretzel accompaniment had destroyed the Soontet. The Landreb kept their word about sharing their technology. Disease has been mostly eradicated. The planets of the solar system are now dotted with colonies that are on their way to becoming cities. We have journeyed outside the solar system. And we have encountered other intelligent species. Many regard humanity as a race of genocidal maniacs because of our role in the Soontet extinction. To others, we are a laughingstock, having become an interstellar civilization thanks to a third rate table condiment. And the pervasive sense of shame that has become the norm of human culture, the notion that one’s race is both monster and fool, has never diminished in the strange and morose years that have passed since we have made our way to the stars.

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Just Desserts

Author : Duncan Shields, Staff Writer

Their blood was like a cross between egg nog and hollandaise sauce.

Their skin was like bacon jerky. Their internal organs tasted like pecan pie filling with veins of peppermint running through them. Their muscles tasted of tarragon and blueberries. When they died, a wave of acid coursed through their brains, turning it into a tangy orange slurry. Their bodies, obsidian licorice toeclaws to grape-flavored head crests, were delicious.

Appearance-wise, they looked like rooster-faced cactus lobsters with too many white eyes and huge octopuses growing out of their backs.

With so many appendages, they had no right side up. They walked on claws or snaked along on tentacles as they deemed necessary, head always rotated to look forward.

At night, their bioluminescence made them look like mutant Christmas trees. They couldn’t turn it off. Worst camouflage ever.

They looked like HR Giger had Lovecraft over for a drunk drawing contest and Tesla had lit it up.

They were only around five feet tall but they were fierce warriors with complicated weaponry and wildly intricate martial arts.

Their death rituals were strict. Bodies were buried in the ground, water, or space but they were not to be disturbed. They would awaken during a rapture-like moment far in the future, it was said, unless they’d been interfered with.

Well, we were locked in a contest of extinction because they were delicious. We were devils incarnate to them. Our side hardly had to supply us with rations. The enemy was like a buffet to us.

Imagine a stinky pinkish monkey that ate all your dead. Now imagine lots of them, snacking on your comrade’s brains and moaning with pleasure like it was dessert.

There was no room for diplomacy. It was a fight to the death.

And we were winning.

 

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Into the Void

Author : Ian Hill

“Please, I don’t want to be here. Just- just help.”

The voice was distorted and compressed, only decipherable after being ran through an extensive quality recover system.

“I need- I need to leave. I don’t want this.”

The message went on for about a minute, a minute of this pitiful man pleading for a savior from some obscure corner of the universe. The message itself had been effectively packaged and sent out, transmitted by some sort of long range device that was calibrated to fall in line with most modern equipment.

The first receivers, a contingent of far flung Keitl defense platform operators, decoded the message and listened in discomfort. They glanced back and forth at each other uneasily, wincing every time the reduced man issued forth a piercing wail. Once the eerie distress signal was over they all stood in silence around their small space station’s primary computer, internally deliberating on what to do.

Procedure was clear. Any border defense soldiers were told to remain at their postings no matter what kind of external stimuli they were faced with. However, this message chilled them to the core. It came from a largely empty area and was so genuine and charged with terror. Some of the Keitl wanted to know what was causing this trauma, others merely wanted an excuse to leave their selfsame environment for a brief respite.

Eventually, the group of eight decided to temporarily shift the platform to automated controls and set off toward the message’s point of origin via an emergency pod. They all gathered their sparse equipment that encompassed everything from mandatory side arms to single use white phosphor flares to clear-faced gasmasks.

Soon, the small crew had climbed aboard the cramped pod. The navigation officer input the message’s coordinates and the bullet-shaped chunk of reinforced metal shot out from its magnetic cradle, off into the void beyond. The journey was uncomfortable and jarring, but after only a few hours the impromptu ship ignited its reverse thrusters and automatically docked in one of the asteroid’s seemingly abandoned bays.

The Keitl soldiers crept out of their tiny vessel, firearms gripped tightly in their gloved hands. The asteroid base was decrepit and covered in a layer of frosty dust. Everything was cold, icy vapors issued up from the metal decking with every step forward. The utilitarian architecture was built around what appeared to be a natural cave that tunneled through the lumpy asteroid’s core.

As the crew slowly moved forward through the rusty maze of frozen metal they stuck to the shadows and made sure every room was clear before progressing. The Keitl were effective, naturally militant people that did things right the first time.

Before long they had reached the dead zone. All the lights were destroyed and the lack of life support was painfully apparent. The soldiers lit flares and tossed them forward at equal intervals, covering every dark corner with blinding white light. Making progress became exponentially slower, but they refused to split up.

After a few minutes one of the women of the group spoke up. A device at her side indicated that they were growing closer to the message’s point of origin. Systematically, they searched through all the surrounding rooms until they reached a large round area with a basin-like floor. The smooth decking was an inverted cone with a drain set in the middle of the concave point.

The eight peered around the eerie room as the woman with the beeping device strode around, listening intently to the pulsating chirp. Eventually, she came to stop at a single point.

“This is where it came from.” she said softly, bending down to peer at the iron shackles that were chained to the ground mere feet from her.

“There’s no one here, let’s uh- let’s go.” one of the soldiers said, turning to push open the heavy door that led out into the corridor beyond. It didn’t budge.

Predictably, the eight frantically searched for a way out. They kicked at the door, felt along the walls, but soon realized that they were stuck. Their heated conversation degraded into pleas for help, high pitched shouts that echoed throughout the abandoned asteroid station ominously.

Somewhere in the dark there was a soft clicking noise as another message was sent out into the void.

 

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