Misclassified

Author : T Anthony Allen

I am not a pervert. And, I find it hard to accept I have to point that out to complete strangers.

Of all the planets I have been to, Verity is most disorienting. A city here looks much like any other, buildings everywhere, but the buildings are very much not designed to keep you out; they are built to let you in. And weather here is temperate, so no need to shut it out. I am told the architecture is set up for the convenience of machines, of which there are many. Adding to, or perhaps the main contributor to disorienting, buildings do nothing, no signage whatsoever, to let you know they have a purpose, or if there is a purpose, what is it?

Soon after arriving, I went looking for a place to stay. I asked someone where I could find a hostel and he pointed across the street to a wide open entrance. I went in, looking for anything hostel like. Walking thru short corridors that bend so you cannot see far ahead, I ended up in a living room that had no door. It looked to me like a living room but maybe it was a gathering place? I called out.

“Hello.”

“In here.”

That came from another doorless doorway to another room. I walked in to find man and woman in flagrante delicto with gusto. They had no issue with my presence, asked if I wanted to join in, asked if I wanted to take pictures, bring friends, and apparently, my being there was potent aphrodisiac. The woman, Chelly, tried to say ‘so good to meet you’ but found it hard to say and even harder for me to understand with all the gasping, moaning and ‘oh gods’ interspersed. Meeting me can be an orgasmic experience. They were actually quite nice, very friendly, and thoroughly enjoying my accidental voyeurism.

Where I come from, you get stiff upper lip ironed on as soon as you are old enough to be ‘children seen and not heard’. It never goes away and you go through life never nodding, speaking to or otherwise acknowledging the existence of anyone else in public. That is not at all, no way even remotely, the case here. The first person I encountered on my hostel search was walking wobbly, singing as wobbly as he walked, and when he saw me he said ‘Hey buddy’ with a smile so joyful, I thought he mistook me for someone else. I figured he was just happy drunk before I realized everyone I met seemed to know who I was and soon enough random strangers made comments suggesting they knew why I was here, where I was going and what I was trying to find.

On Verity, everything is recorded. The city will start a thread that contains every conversation you engage in. The thread gets cataloged, and follows wherever you go. You can hold conversations serially with multiple strangers and they can all access your thread, regardless if it started a while ago and far away. Most people I meet only refer back to the latest bit for context, so not a problem, but a few are obsessively anal and go back to the beginnings. I identify them right off by the way they smile and look at me funny.

That is when I tell them I am not a pervert, despite the Peeping Tom title the city attached when it cataloged my thread.

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Battle Fatigue

Author : Bob Newbell

The man and the machine surprised one another when they happened to both enter the half-destroyed and looted store from opposite sides. The human reflexively reached for a gun, his hand finding only an empty holster. The robot pointed an arm at the man despite the fact that the gun mounted on the arm had been without ammunition for almost a month.

The thin, sickly appearing soldier and the battered robot said nothing. There was neither the sound of gunfire nor of screams as there had been a few weeks earlier. Now the wind was all that was audible in what was left of Leshan in Sichuan, China.

“You are my prisoner!” the scarecrow of a man wearing the tattered military uniform said as he grabbed a broken lamp and brandished it as a makeshift club. He immediately went into a coughing fit.

“No, it is you who are my prisoner,” came a tinny voice from the automaton’s half-broken voice synthesizer. It slowly rolled forward half a meter and stopped.

Battery running down, thought the soldier. It could have rushed me as soon as it spotted me but is hasn’t the power. “The rest of my platoon will be here any moment,” wheezed the man. “They’ll destroy you unless you surrender yourself to me.”

“I do not believe there are any other human soldiers in this area,” the robot replied. “Moreover, you are obviously in ill-health. If you turn over to me a compatible power supply, I will accept your surrender and let you live. Otherwise, I will kill you.” The machine again moved forward but only about half a meter. The motors that propelled it forward groaned in protest.

It’s in terrible condition, thought the man. One good blow to its optical sensor and it would be utterly helpless. He tried to lift the lamp above his head but the torn supraspinatus muscle in his right shoulder made him wince and rapidly lower his improvised weapon.

Again, the two combatants stared at each other in silence. At last, the machine spoke: “I cannot kill you. My power is nearly gone. I’d hoped to find batteries in this building that might keep me functioning for a while longer.”

The man said nothing.

“If I surrender myself to you,” continued the robot, “will your platoon provide me with at least enough power to keep my metaprocessor running?” Its voice was getting slower and deeper in pitch like an ancient record album playing on a turntable set to too few RPMs.

“I have no platoon,” admitted the human. He set the lamp down. “I’ve had radiation sickness for weeks. But starvation will kill me faster than the radiation. And pneumonia faster than the starvation.” He went into another coughing fit, one that brought him to his knees.

“If…I…had…food…or…medicine,” spoke the robot very slowly, “I’d…give…it…to…”

The machine fell silent.

The man looked around the room for anything that might provide power for his adversary. He found nothing. He staggered toward the robot, coughing up copious amounts of blood as he shambled forward. He lay down on the floor in front of the dead machine. He thought he should make some philosophical observation about war or life or some such thing. But he could think of nothing but his labored breathing. A few minutes later, the man died.

In time the soldier decomposed and the war machine rusted. And the howl of the wind was again the only voice to challenge the dead city’s silence.

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Second Career

Author : J G Pelling

My bedfellows’ laughter had followed me out of the room when I’d first mentioned my idea for a new career. Smarting, I’d gone to my appointment with Sirin. She hadn’t laughed. She’d spouted a bit of guff about ‘transferable skills’ post-navy, but she hadn’t laughed. And I need the money. I really, really need the money. Otherwise who’ll look after Thom? He can’t retrain, not like me.

And there were a few others who hadn’t thought it was an insane idea either, so here I am on Echo Station, going to meet a director for a chat. My exoskeleton leg is hidden by a passable suit and I’m carrying a portfolio of research under my arm, along with an essay I had a bash at (hardest thing I’ve done in the past year apart from, like, surviving).

I march down the corridor and turn right at the gravity drop, trying not to stumble. It seems the exoskeleton’s balancing mechanism isn’t quite bedded into my inner ear yet. Sitting down outside the director’s office is a relief.

“Warrant Officer Gresham?”

I stand up and just about resist the urge to salute. If he notices, he doesn’t say anything. We shake hands. “I’m Dwayne Smith – I head up the local team. Come on through: I have some stuff to show you.”

The room beyond is somewhere between a regular office and the bridge of a ship, all big screens and data. The staff look surprisingly normal: not that I’d expected them to be little accounting trolls or anything, but they’re not exactly weedy. Maybe a few are re-trainees from the war too; I’ll have to find out.

Smith leads me into a huge office and offers me a coffee from a shiny espresso machine. I nod, and while he’s making it he points at the screen on his desk. “What do you think of that?”

I walk over and start to scroll through the data. It’s a manifest from some station way out in the Oort Cloud. At first glance it all looks normal, but there’s something nagging at the back of my mind. Smith brings the coffee over just as I work it out. I look up. “He hasn’t bought a single oxygen filter for that base in six years.”

“Which means…”

“Which means,” I reply, thinking quickly, “either he’s getting them buckshee for services rendered or he pays for them out of another account. The former’s probably more likely.”

“Exactly. He’s a producer, grows meth-6 in the low gravity. We followed the breadcrumbs and got him last month.”

He points at a glossy brochure. “And what does this one look like to you, Mandy?” We both sit down at the conference table in the middle of his office while I sip the coffee – real coffee! – and have a read.

“Looks like a boiler room scam on exploration companies. A pyramid scheme. Get in early, you get your money back. Get in late, you’re screwed. Nothing new under any sun, it appears.”

He gestures at the wall of screens and the rather quaint piles of papers and folders. “Enjoying this?”

I nod. “Catching bad people with an overlay of maths and logic problems. Definitely.”

“Any questions?”

“Yes–” I somehow manage to avoid saying ‘sir’ again, “I guess I qualify for an interview. Who’ll be on the panel?”

He laughs at that. “I am the panel.” He sticks out his hand. “Welcome to Extrapol Customs and Crime.”

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Pied

Author : Rick Tobin

Solar flares were partially blocked from pillaging the threatened planet below the behemoth spacecraft. The Bohemia created a cascading, billowing shadow across the Jagron’s continents. Crimson pillars of feathery forests pulled their leaves to sleep as the false night blanketed the starward side of Jagron’s equator and its northern hemisphere. The floating ice beds of Nivonia fell back to the black seas to rest before their iridescent salts would free them to nestle skyward with purple clouds, after the blue star beyond reanimated their life. No life form on Jagron could ignore the silhouette from the black and white rescue vessel hovering in orbit.

Bohemia’s Captain, Egan Palton, communicated through a holographic projector to the central capital, Razic, where the Council of Five gathered to address the visitors in their skies.

“Chancellor Grimmott, you have received our offer. Are you prepared to agree to terms?” Palton’s cold, mechanical tones left no room for interpretation by the Council’s imperial soul quester.

“Captain, we are many peoples and species, all cursed to perish without your assistance, but your price is simply unacceptable to the Council. Taking half of all our wealth and a third of our children…it is simply outrageous.” The soul quester held the wrist of the Chancellor to maintain his emotional equilibrium.

“Very well, Chancellor, but know that you will perish. Jagron is doomed. Biana, the blue star you worship, will turn you all into space dust with one burst from her angry face. You have known this, but you have no technology to evacuate your world. The Bohemia was constructed for that purpose long ago. There is none other like her in this galaxy. There is no one else in your solar system to save you. Perhaps you are depending on some ethereal force to save you, as the Zeboton believed when we abandoned them after unsuccessful negotiations, just before arriving here. Experience what their reluctance cost.” The holographic display widened across the Council chamber. Detailed scenes appeared of absolute destruction of the Zeboton home world. Vistas portrayed cataclysmic onslaughts from a rogue comet. Screams of slaughtered Zebotons sliced through the chamber as the Council watched the planet’s flammable atmosphere savage cities, continents and then the entire outer mantle until the sphere ripped into six large sections and thousands of smaller shards, leaving a glowing core to drift aimlessly in a new, unstable orbit.

“Enough,” Grimmott cried out, lacing his six slender hands over his filigree horns, high above his red, encrusted forehead. “As you command. We have no choice. We will prepare but know there will be no joy in our coming to your ship…even with the promise of safe passage to a new world. We are at your mercy.”

Palton stopped the transmission. He pointed to the dozens of alien forms working in the command center to ready the evacuation craft. It would take three months to move three billion onto the Bohemia while sorting out the loot and the new crew members. Children were a critical part of refreshing the ship’s crew as radiation sickness, accidents and disease took their toll over the millennia. External repairs were the largest culprits as some evacuations were precipitously close to a planet’s demise. It was the legacy of the Bohemia since its first voyage, evacuating Earth to the Andromeda Galaxy ten thousand years before Zeboton’s destruction.

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Go Back to Bed, America

Author : Jae Miles, Staff Writer

It’s not just flowers that open in sunlight. When that furious orb manages to show its face through the polluted haze, the cubes unfold like mad blossoms infested with colonies of two-legged ants. Which is a polite estimation of the average intelligence amongst cube dwellers these days.

I’m doing this final piece before being dragged to join the humants. You see, here in the Forty-Eight States that form the Republic of America, being a moderate is bad for you. I was moderate. Now I’m a ‘God-damned Ruskie’, ‘Islamist scum’ or ‘Satan-loving pagan’. I’ll never know which as I’m shipped to the cube city most in need of new blood. Thankfully, I can’t be tagged as a ‘Canadian spy’ or ‘Alaskan insurgent’ – they’re categories of ‘Godless’.

First President Trump did his homework – never think a man in a ridiculous hairpiece is stupid, people – and his divisive rallying calls attracted far more sympathy than anyone knew: the landslide victory struck his detractors dumb. In fairness, many were only quiet because they were leaving the good ol’ US of A before the American Dream took it’s gloves off.

The ‘retrenchments’ over the following six months were missed, but the ‘Leftist Plot to Destroy Our Glorious Homeland’ certainly wasn’t. The pogroms had replaced the key objectors: anyone that exhibited a moral ground this side of Hitler. When the dust settled, there were heads on the spikes of the Whitehouse perimeter fence and America had gone places that Goebbels only dreamed of.

Then the First President announced a month-long ‘mercy’. If you wanted in, you were welcome (some packed flights were apparently singing hymns all the way). If you wanted out, you could leave. Providing you could make it to an airport without being lynched by fundamentalists, of course. Then you had to survive the hardcore of the believers coming in, who set upon the unbelievers queuing to depart.

In the decades since, America has become a fundamentalist dystopia, complete with slave labour, a Ministry of Faith, full spectrum monitoring and profiling, televised executions of the ‘Godless’, and the two biggest walls since the Great Wall of China: one to defend against Mexican ‘mongrels’, the other to keep out ‘filthy’ Canadians.

This country has two, ID-carded classes: Citizen and Chosen. There are also Penitents – anyone in a cube city, and Elites – anyone who you defer to or suffer a fall from grace that would make Lucifer wince. Most if ‘us’ are Citizens. All military, law and emergency service first responders are Chosen. Elites are obviously Chosen. Penitents are “only that because of their own weaknesses. Pray for them. Now pass the canapés”.

If you have read of a dystopian horror in a novel, you can be damn sure that the RoA has improved on it and broadened the target list. I am sure there is a resistance, and I wish them the best of luck, because the penalties are horrendous. The fields of the heartland are fertilised with the remains of dissidents, their entire families – even their pets and close friends, if the member had the misfortune to be indicted in The Gospel Territories – the lands that used to be called The Bible Belt.

They are pounding on the door, so I’ll sign off and send this non-American (thus illegal) smartphone down eighty stories to its doom. Thank you for reading my blog, people of the free world. May what has befallen the USA at least serve as an instructional on what to avoid.

Sic Semper Fanaticus.

Yours,

Abraham Hicks.

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Wilma’s Pass

Author : Morrow Brady

Wilma’s Pass, a single stitch in the gaping wound that was the M1 Motorway, was popular with dairy farmers because of its cow content.

Conceived on environmental guilt and funded by the local council’s surplus budget, it was a bridge designed to be organic in shape and bejewelled with rich landscapes. The idea being that the peaceful gardens above would greatly contrast the frenetic arterial route below with its speeding commuters and smoky emissions.

Construction work on the bridge commenced after the winning contractor’s matchbox flyer sprinkled a pinch of tiny founder robots. Overnight, the founders made kennel sized botforges erupt from the dirt like steampunk mushrooms. By morning tea, the botforges were creating and releasing clouds of nanoscopic robots called scavs.

Scavs were so named because of the way they were coded to scavenge detritus found within the vicinity of the construction site and convert them into construction materials at a nano-scale. Scavs had proven themselves to be a trustworthy tool and were the modern contractor’s preferred method of construction. They worked 24 hours a day, they were quiet, they never took any sick days and most importantly built something from nothing.

Intelligently, the scavs onsite progressed the construction by spreading outward from the motorway to seek old leaves and twigs, buried toxic waste, rubbish, smog and even cow dung from the adjacent fields. The local council was encouraged by the contractor to dump community waste nearby so that it too could be converted.

Things progressed well, meeting the short programme timeline without any hitches. As the bridge progressed, the scav’s search radius slowly increased, cleaning up the surrounding countryside as they ventured further and further afield in search of humanity’s waste. They soon reached the property of dairy farmer Joseph Hays.

As the scav’s spread out, scouring Farmer Hays’ lower field clean, they were in the process of cleaning muck from the hooves of Wilma, Joseph’s prized milking cow, when she became startled and bolted. Crossing a swarm of airborne scavs, Wilma temporarily lost her sight, ran through an old boundary fence and fell fatally into a concrete drainage culvert. Her carcass instantly became a viable source for the scavs and over 4 hours, she was steadily devoured until nothing remained.

Work proceeded onsite, as did an investigation into the whereabouts of Wilma the cow.

Eight weeks passed and local drone feeds revealed an elegantly styled bridge with flowing muscular-like supports that merged naturally into the flowing topography. Undulating grassed banks enriched with perfectly balanced topsoil revealed seductive landscaped gardens, arbored picnic areas and timber gazebos – ornate with beautiful fenestration.

Data recovered from the scav recorders revealed the demise of Wilma, triggering Joseph to take the local council to court. The data also revealed the location of Wilma’s mortal remains. She was everywhere throughout the bridge. Converted into the sinewy carbocrete matrix, entrapped within the steelhex reinforcement and entwined into the fibretites of the faux-timber ornamentation. The scavs had successfully turned a cow into a bridge.

Judge Sale McKintyre ruled in favour of Joseph’s prosecution team, in that as Wilma was equally anywhere within the bridge at any time, there was no way of distinguishing Wilma from the bridge. Wilma by definition was also the bridge. And as Wilma was owned by Joseph, so too was the bridge.

As new owner, Joseph saw no way of unmaking Wilma from the bridge, so after a dedication ceremony, he named the bridge Wilma’s Pass and allowed its ground to be of use to all dairy farmers across the land.

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