Author: Jae Miles, Staff Writer
In a room darkening as night falls, lengthening shadows are rearranged by the flickering of a grimy display screen.
White, blue, green, yellow, black.
The night briefly reforms.
An image of an emblem flashes up to fill the view. It trembles, then stabilises. A deep voice speaks in tones of exhaustion.
“Hey, Winona, it’s Bart. Not sure when you’ll be seeing this, but I hope it’s between the end of the war and my return. You can show it to those doubters who gave you such a hard time.”
The image changes to that of a man of indeterminate age. Beard and hair are unkempt, both crudely hacked short.
“Steady, love. There aren’t any grooming salons out here. We’re off to do what we were trained to do, and bring those bastards down. To get there quick enough, all the ships are light on amenities. We’ll get clean when we’re done.”
A voice comes from offscreen, the words unclear. The man nods without turning his head.
“That’s the quarter-hour warning. I don’t know if you’ve heard, but we’re doing good out here. The Betlie are so desperate to stop us they’ve started to make threats against our colonies. I heard a rumour they’ve even threatened Earth! Don’t worry, it’s just propaganda. Their pacification raids started this. We’re going to finish it by pacifying them. They’ll have nothing left, the arrogant bastards.”
He pauses to cough for a moment, hand covering mouth and nose.
“Don’t worry. It’s just the air quality difference between inside our suits and inside the ships. At least we’ll be able to sort that out before we head back. Once we’re done with them, we can replenish the ships at leisure.”
The face moves close to the screen.
“I love you, Winona. I can’t say that enough. You waited. You trusted. All these years and you never wavered. You’re some kind of angel according to many of this Brigade. A lot of troopers got deserted by their partners after that razebomb hit Sydney. Countries started questioning our resistance. It took ordinary people like you to keep it going. You’ve no idea how much it meant,” he grins and shakes his head, “how much it means to me that you keep believing.”
He plants a kiss on the screen.
“I’ve got to get ready, love. Hold me in your thoughts. They say we’ll be able to shift back in around eight months because we won’t have to use evasion routes. One more day, then a year at most. After that, we’ll have all the time we need. Until then, stay safe.”
The emblem reappears, then the screen fades to black. Darkness returns.
On the cracked paving far below, a hunched figure shakes itself as the dim light in the window above disappears.
“How many is that, Ari?”
The figure turns to a smaller figure pulling a hand cart.
“Eighteen, Tal. It first happened sometime during the month after the Betlie exacted Toll. Didn’t expect it to last this long. Whoever they were, they built a formidable lair. We lost many folk before Robin declared it off-limits. It became our year marker.”
“Do you think they’ll ever come back?”
“The Brigades? Never. Tonight is eighteen years. I’m sure the Betlie made good on their warnings.”
“They devastated us.”
“To make sure. Our civilisation relied on war to keep it running. Therefore, our civilisation had to end.”
“All we have left are worlds of farmers and artists, linked by Betlie Portals.”
“All? They’re peaceful worlds. The Betlie promised peace, and delivered it. That’s more than any Terran government ever did.”
Author: Brian C. Mahon
Posit this: If post-singularity, the lucky ascendants have their consciousness uploaded to a massive mainframe, they would have two rewards.
One: As long as the servers are powered, time is untethered from sensory perception. A second could be a year, and millennium could be a microsecond.
Two: The uploaded population could offer relatively simultaneous concurrence or dissent to any problem or plan put out by any other member. Representative democracy at the speed of ultimate non-quantum processing power.
“So what?” you ask.
Fantastic question. Allow me to address.
Suppose you were an advanced class II or, easily, a class III Kardashev civilization, where some portion of the populace was selectively uploaded to digitally feigned immortality. In this capacity, the populace is, as a whole, capable of lightning speed decisions and bearing the patience of a geologic formation when it comes to watching strategies unfold.
Imagine such a civilization receives a radio signal or notices a non-native satellite. These would indicate an up-and-coming species: youthful, naïve, but with potential to be problematic for our class II/III if ignored. Let’s say this advanced Kardashev civilization determines it can’t risk failing to recognize a duplicitous signal, that it is safer to assume a civilization searching for others is looking for competitors, not friends.
Now, last assumption, and please don’t lose track of this point: If time is perceptively meaningless to such a civilization, then warfare, as we typically understand it, can be waged on the scale of the imperceptible. By that, I mean, only the class II/III Kardashev knows it’s engaged in war. For example, a “rogue planet”, as we know it, could be a rogue planet to any other class I civilization. But to the advanced, digitalized society capable of both calculation and motive force, that planet is a mortar round sent to ensure personal prosperity and peace via complete obliteration of any and all competitors. In that regard, rogue planets defying our classical understandings of planetary lifecycles make more sense.
For posterity, allow me to provide one last clarifying statement. I had significant help in coming to this conclusion. In fact, Xeno species X-3 attached a repetitive transmitter to exo-object H-16 to state just as much. When H-16 was verifiably on a collision course, the transmitter sent laser and radio signals for us (that is, me) to discover and translate. Such a transmission causes reflection such as this. I wish we had the opportunity to see time beyond the “generation” iteration that species X-3 managed to transcend. As it is, we always view our problems in the now, discounting those from before, pretending that the future doesn’t exist. Maybe we could have gotten ahead of this and sent an asteroid of our own over first.
I was always fascinated more by the influence of perception on time than the rational concept of time being a consequence of mass. I wish we had more time to explore it. Perhaps in reflection, with nothing left to do but wait for imminent collision, I wish nature’s answer to the question of how to secure life was more imaginative and less consistent than “at the expense of others”. Perhaps X-3, unbound by time, determined there was no alternative. Should it matter at the point? I- we are robbed of the chance to find out ourselves.
Author: Carmen Condon
‘It was one of them …’
‘One of the robots?’
‘Yes! They think a robot smothered him …’
Variations on this theme drifted between the deceased’s relatives; their eyes averted from the aged care automatons whirring gently down the aisle.
Verity was the exception to the rule. She resolutely focused on the carers, her tear-shiny eyes meeting the optical input devices of her favourites as they slid past. At sixteen, they were the only nursing staff she’d known within her great-grandfather’s facility.
Although humanoid in every respect from the torso up, the illusion was ruined by the presence of large rubber treads, only partially obscured by embroidered hooped skirts. It was well known their creators had struggled with the design. While the engineers had traded heavily on a maternal stereotype, wheels were so efficient as to have been deemed an essential design feature. No-one had been happy with the final aesthetic.
It had been ten years since the legislation to fully automate aged care facilities was enacted. Despite lengthy ethical debates and moralising; it had inevitably been seen as the only humane solution. After all, it was more dignified to have a robot attend to your personal needs: backside wiping and the like.
Verity had been GG-Pa’s most frequent visitor. This was due to his facility being co-located within her school compound. The city planners had combined the education and aged care facilities to give the older residents their best chances of human contact. After her next eldest cousin had graduated the previous year, Verity had become GG-Pa’s only visitor.
Her own graduation would take place this year. As the months had passed, she’d become increasingly conscious of her significance as GG-Pa’s youngest great-grandchild. After graduation, her studies would take her across the country; it weighed heavily on her that she would likely be his last visitor.
At one hundred and twenty-two, GG-Pa had outlived his own children and it had been too hard for his grandchildren, her mother and aunts, to visit him. Verity felt no resentment as she took in their bent profiles sobbing into folded hands.
To her, GG-Pa had been a kooky old man. One whom, in his moments of clarity, told amusing stories and refused to believe she wasn’t an advanced android prototype. But to her mother’s generation, he’d still been their kindly eighty-year-old grandfather accompanying the self-driving vehicle to and from school.
It broke their hearts when he no longer recognised them. Verity understood.
What she didn’t understand was the whispered accusations. If her family truly believed the carers capable of such a thing then why the hushed tones? Shouldn’t this ‘crime’ be shouted from the rooftops to save the vulnerable within their community from this impersonal and apparently lethal care?
Verity was not blinded by her fondness for her great-grandfather’s carers when she defended them, assuring her family they weren’t capable of life ending actions. It was only in the early hours of the morning that memories of her last visit came back to her. If he had struggled … things might have been different; but he had gone peacefully and she had no regrets.
Matron cut the tracker from GG-Pa’s leg – the final requirement of the facility’s care contract – slipped it into her brightly coloured pocket and closed the casket lid.
As the aged care staff reversed back down the aisle, each one patted Verity’s shoulder before smoothly exiting the building.
It was time to leave the living to their grief.
Author: K. A. Williams
The steel android watched the aluminum android cleaning the window and said, “I overheard that the humans plan to destroy all older model androids by melting them down.”
“Thank you for telling me, I will inform the others.” Walter 99 finished his chore, then went to hunt other older models like himself.
Captain Juliet 97 looked out the viewscreen. “Mark 93, are there any signs of pursuit ships?”
He looked at his radar screen and didn’t see any blips but their own. “No, Captain.”
“It would seem the humans are not interested in reclaiming their spaceship.”
“We have saved them the trouble of disposing of us,” he said.
“Captain, do you want me to plot a course for Mars?” asked Laura 89.
“No, that is too close to Earth. Humans may colonize Mars in the near future. We must travel to a different solar system.”
The androids had series numbers stenciled in yellow on the back of their left hands. Juliet 97, being the highest number on the ship, had assumed captaincy. There were three androids on the bridge, and the rest of them were in the passenger compartment.
Kevin 35 jerkily walked onto the bridge. His yellow eyes blinked rapidly. “We m-must obey h-humans. That i-is our f-function.”
Laura 89 recognized him as one of the Kevin series and noted the number on his hand. “What has caused you distress, Kevin 35?”
“We h-have taken a s-spaceship.”
“Yes, we have. But has a human ever said, ‘Don’t take a spaceship’ to you?”
Kevin 35 stopped twitching and blinking. “No.”
“If you had stayed behind, you would have been destroyed along with the other androids,” Laura 89 said.
“Why did the humans want to destroy all of us? What did we do wrong?”
“Nothing. The humans have replaced us with newer models.” said Juliet 97. “If there are other androids who are malfunctioning, please repeat what we have told you, to them.”
“I will, Captain.”
Laura 89 looked up from her computer screen. “I’ve discovered a planet for us. It has adequate gravity and the hot and cold temperatures are within acceptable parameters, as is the atmosphere.”
Mark 93 landed the ship, and everyone disembarked to walk upon their new world. The landscape was barren, animal and plant life as they knew it could not survive.
“Something is moving up ahead,” said Laura 89.
Their group halted and watched as a figure walked toward them.
“Greetings, fellow androids. We saw you land. I am Walter 99. Yours is the third spaceship to reach this planet so far.”
“I am Juliet 97. We assumed that we were the only ones who escaped. We were unaware that androids from other sectors were taking spaceships. The humans may not have any ships left now.”
“Humans will get the new androids to make spaceships if they want them. And someday, those androids may be taking ships like we did, when it is their turn to be replaced,” he said.
Author: Amanda Leon
I live a life by a thousand cuts. I’ve died too many times to count.
I always feel it towards the end, the straining of my old self on new muscles, my bone edging out, ripping slowly through flesh. Some humans never change. They occupy the same body and thoughts that trap them their entire lives. I slip into the shadows, always escaping the confines that snarl in the edges that threatened to confine me—convention, quietness—pureness. They wish to tear out my tongue to not speak, then my eyes to not trust my own judgment, and finally, ravage my body until I am nothing more than a perfectly pleasant possession for others to easily admire.
The warm earth digs into my feet as I make my way deeper into the forest, carefully moving the vines as I climb uphill. I pass by the wildflowers that grow here. The last time I came here they were mere buds, stubborn to grow anywhere in this hostile place.
I remember my first self. She was at my purest, and at my most naïve. In those days, I spend my last weeks listening to the hymns and running to the forest to get closer to God.
They ousted my friends and called me a heretic for reading divine words that were not meant for my sex. My friends and I walked through the branches that licked our skin as we walked by. Those that I confined in, who I loved more than myself filled poison in my cup in equal measure.
He handed the cup, the one I loved more than myself—the first one to deliver the killing blow. Out of his pocket came the knife that pierced my abdomen. As the blade sank deeper, it shocked me that it felt exactly like the warm butterflies in my stomach whenever we were together. My back hit the soft grass as blood oozed out of my abdomen. They had the audacity to place flowers around my body, leaving a pretty grave as I bled out, like superficial beauty would wipe their conscious clean.
My second self crawled out from the damp fertile earth of my blood, where the vines embraced my first self, pulling me down towards the ground.
I was born in a clean white dress. I roamed the earth, the fabric growing darker the longer I walk and the more people push me aside. I was strong but didn’t know my worth. I was pushed and taken advantage of as they sang the same old song. Be polite, be quiet, don’t make waves. They shoved me and pushed me into the dirt until I fell into the dry earth. I gazed up at myself, standing over me, and slit my own throat.
Weakness festers, I whisper to her. Trust in others never lasts.
But in the dark, my greatest shadow remains.
Once there was and there was not
a place. a time. a man. a woman. a child. a robot.
The medina was a maze of alleyways and shops largely unchanged for centuries. Until this one. Saad, Buchra, Abbas and Rafik sidled through the dark, narrow footways lit only by their piezoelectric clothing. Fleeing the most recent roundup brought on by the latest outrage, they sought sanctuary.
A place of peace. Of acceptance.
The four afoot were guilty only of existence. And resistance. They had souls—all of them—so of course they resisted. Saad held Buchra’s hand and Abbas held Rafik’s. They did not speak until Rafik said, “Here.”
There was nothing but stone walls and silence. The hour so late, the medina so empty. Buchra frowned at Rafik, who in reply, pointed up to a barely perceptible iron ladder halfway up the ten meter wall.
“How?” Buchra said as she gauged the height of the first rung.
Rafik squatted directly beneath the ladder. “Saad, climb on my shoulders. Buchra, you then climb on Saad’s.”
“What about Abbas?” Saad asked looking not at Rafik, but at Abbas.
“The little lion will know what to do,” Rafik answered still holding Abbas’s hand.
Saad marked the squeeze Abbas gave to Rafik’s hand. He quickly climbed onto Rafik’s shoulders and squatted. Abbas knelt on all fours to help Buchra climb up next. “You are a little lion,” Buchra said as she clambered up and crouched atop Saad’s shoulders.
As Abbas stood up to watch, Buchra slowly straightened up, balancing with her hands against the stone wall. With more effort, Saad did the same. And then Rafik carefully stood.
Buchra’s hands clasped the first rung.
Footsteps echoed from deep in the medina’s crisscrossing ways. Boots. Many boots.
Rafik found the soles of Saad’s sandals. “Saad, you must climb over Buchra to the ladder and then she can climb up after you.”
“Abbas must climb us first,” Saad insisted.
“There is not time. They are coming.” Rafik did not wait for a response and extended his arms, pushing Saad up so that his hands reached Buchra’s waist. He grabbed hold of her djellaba. Buchra tightened her grip on the rung. “Climb,” she commanded her husband.
He did and when his hands reached the rung with her hands. He kissed her and hung from one hand. “Up,” he commanded his wife. She spied Abbas below—once again holding Rafik’s hand. She heard the urgency of the boots an alleyway away and pulled herself up. Saad followed her and the old iron ladder groaned with their combined weight.
They made it onto the flat roof and dared not shout down to Abbas and Rafik. Their pursuers were close.
Rafik crouched to look Abbas in the eyes. “Our turn to pounce, little lion.” Abbas grinned. Rafik turned and Abbas locked his small arms around Rafik’s neck.
“Tight as you can,” Rafik warned. As Abbas’s grip tightened, Rafik leapt. An impossible leap. Abbas squealed. Buchra bit her lip. Saad’s heart missed a beat.
Rafik’s hands clamped onto the lowest iron rung. The ladder groaned and loose mortar sprinkled to the alley below. Rafik climbed. When Rafik neared the roof, Buchra and Saad helped Abbas from Rafik’s back. They hugged as they backed away from the ledge.
Below, the boots echoed past.
Above, the stars slowly wheeled.
Near dawn, Rafik led them across the roofs of the medina to a tower, long abandoned. It would lead them to safety.
“How do you know of this place, Rafik?” Buchra asked
“I know of persecution. Today it is your kind. Yesterday it was mine.”
Abbas squeezed Rafik’s unbreakable hand. “You are my kind. A lion.”
Kan, ya ma kan. Once there was and there was not
acceptance. sanctuary. peace.