Author : Sam Clough aka “Hrekka”, Featured Writer

We pieced together what happened later, taking what we knew about the way we’d been infected, and from what we saw happening to the rest of the world. We don’t know if we should count ourselves lucky that we were the first to be attacked. A few people tried to blame us for the phages, but one look at our country proved their claims absolutely baseless.

It began with a single phage. Small enough to slip past our defensive screens, and seemingly innocuous, it descended from space and latched onto a remote point on the national communication backbone.

The body of the phage turned out to be a bare-bones carrier for a crystalline substrate upon which was stored the ‘true’ phage. The mind, or program, or whatever you want to call the being of the phage listened to our networks. Hideously adaptive and completely alien, it learnt our machine code, and injected itself into the datastream.

The first changes were subtle. Traffic through ports was slowly choked off until it was no more than a trickle – of course, the port quotas were set remotely. Then the government quietly started to buy up heavy industry – factories, mining operations.

It barely made the news. The phage program was responsible, of course, hiding in the backbone, playing all the terminals off against each other.

Most of the factories were completely automated. That didn’t help us, either.

To the rest of the world, it just looked like our nation had gone quiet.

The same scientists who came up with the name for this attacker – sosiophage – society-eater, had the honour of putting a name to what happened next.

The country lysed.

The borders shut. Every communication link went down. The military’s robotic assets started systematically killing the nation from the top down. Some human soldiers followed their orders, and assisted the machines. Thankfully, a huge majority of our armed forces rebelled, and took to the defence of the cities. Technicians, realising that their machines were no longer under control took measures to break them. Three nukes were launched. Two of them hit the capital.

Our country had been eaten away from within. Without us noticing, we’d been stripped bare. When the factories had run out of resources, they disassembled themselves to provide the parts.

Like an exploding corpse, hundreds of thousands of phage machines erupted from our burnt and broken country. They flooded out, pervading every nation. Even after the phages left, our country was still burning. The capital was a radioactive ruin. Our armed forces were tearing the country apart – the humanists hunting down the robotic forces and those still obeying ‘orders’.

The rest of the world fell. Humanist soldiers and pilots fought back UAVs and robot tanks. We lost, we won, we lost again. People died. People came together. We were cowering, trying to consolidate. We were fearing another nuclear attack.

All of a sudden, all across the Russian Federation, China, India, and America, thousands of launches occurred. ICBMs had been co-opted, their payloads replaced by phages. We haven’t a clue as to just how many phages made escape velocity from our little rock.

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Author : Jeff Deignan

Stop me if you’ve heard this one- No, that’s not it. Let’s just say I’ve been busy.

Ok, talking hand, got that part.

Burly men giving chase, got that too. Not liking that; would enjoy it more if they were women and less burly.

Save the girl, working on that part.

It’s an abandoned warehouse. Typical. Stereotypical. Someone must’ve worked to set this one up, with boxes and piles of paper left as no self-respecting company would have. My leg sings a song of stitches, which I’ll likely be needing quite a few of after this job. The hand’s told me that the necks are the key: slice the jugular or decapitate and I will be minus one pursuer. Rock on.

The refuse littering the ground yields a sturdy pipe with a twisted end. Improvised weapon, thy name be Excalibur, and I shalt wield thee with all my earthly might. One of the burly ones catches up to me, and swinging this Excalibur is not as easy as I thought. I skewer the bastard right between his collarbone and where the throat. The blood loss, interesting if only for the green color, mesmerized me for a moment. I’d never seen blood spout like that.

Oh! He had friends right behind. Running now.

More stereotypes- the girl trips, the bad guy picks her up, and I’m in a vantage point to see and not be seen. I raise Excalibur and strike, again and again.

Put a check in that damn box, man- girl saved.

The pursuers are gone, for the most part, bleeding to death or transported back to their own time through the loss of their necklaces. The talking hand tells me that I need to influence the shape of human history over the next few centuries, and of course the grand revelation-

“You won’t mind much; you are only a robot, after all.”

I jack out of the game in a right fit. Stupid ending, you ask me- but I have to admit that I liked the fighting. The scars, which last only because I have certain settings on, certain illegal settings, look great. Got a real heroic one, straight through the eyebrow and down onto the chin. That scar came from Dracula himself, but Lord knows scars don’t matter these days- who but sees them but yourself?

It’s a strange form of self-destruction I’m in, but I like it. The games are better, especially since there are so few of us left anyway. No one has time to interact these days; we’re all too busy organizing our personal fantasies and downfalls. Humanity has solved all the problems now, even boredom. Man writes his own life- new kind of autobiography, you get me?

Me- I go through old movies, letting mankind’s past efforts blow past me. When I do, it feels like I’m really there, really living in a world with six billion people, living with disease and injury.

Next- Trojan war sounds good, and D-Day right after.

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Author : N. Landau

The morning paper on the table declared that the crime rate had tripled since the news that the city had run out of vaccine, and the virus was spreading rapidly. The headline lay between two stale cups of coffee over which the two scientists had made their decision that morning. Today was the day, one of them had said, the day they would bring back Eden to the world. They would cease hunger and poverty, rape and homicide; it was a ‘tabula rasa,’ they called it, a ‘blank slate,’ and its experimental effectiveness was flawless. Today was the day.

The two scientists passionately embraced for a moment before moving to their individual locations, she to the observation window, he to the control panel, and waited. Glancing lovingly over his shoulder, he blew her a kiss before he pressed a small button. The city was silent before she turned to catch the kiss.

Men and women fell like ragdolls onto the pavement. Bodies tumbled card-like down stairwells. Escalators in malls piled prone forms at the tops and bottoms of each flight. Somewhere, an elevator door opened and closed, opened and closed, on the arm of a businessman trying to catch his elevator. The pair of scientists stepped outside, hand-in-hand, to the sound of car alarms and crunching metal as traffic jostled to a halt all around the city. Through the filter on their gasmasks, their words twisted inhumanly.

“Happy birthday” he said to her.

“I love you” she replied.

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Bureau of Life

Author : Michael Shreeves

The judge stared down severely from her podium. “Mr. DiPolo, you are hereby sentenced to two months of court-mandated therapy and a one year probationary period, during which your prescriptions will be monitored and adjusted. You are also required to subscribe to at least one court-approved MMO of your choice, with a .15 allowance for GPA slippage in your Federal Edu-Stipend. You WILL finish college, and you WILL repay your stipend. This is your first offense, Mr. DiPolo, so I will be lenient, but be warned, if you ever make a claim in my court again based solely on ‘the hollowness of modern society,’ ‘the lack of prospects for a Liberal Arts major,’ and trivial postpartum relationship echoes, I will shoot you with the anti-gerasome treatment myself. Do I make myself clear? Case dismissed.”

Francis DiPolo shuffled onto the footbridge outside of the court, lit a Health-Stik, and stared through the Plexi-Safe barrier at the oncoming traffic, yearning for the good old days.

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Author : Steve Smith, Staff Writer

The building’s glass stretched skyward from the sidewalk, turning back looks, and draining the features from their reflections. Stone stepped into the turnstile, and with a quick twist, the glass cylinder dutifully deposited him inside.

At the far end of a wide corridor sat a single guard behind a desk. Crossing the distance, Stone could feel the space breathing him in, swallowing up the evidence of his passage. The walls shone, lustrous and grey. The floor, black as night and polished to a marble sheen was devoid of any mark. A breeze from the vaulted ceiling above seemed to be inhaled by the stone beneath his feet.

At the desk, the guard seemed outwardly oblivious to his presence, however his intra-retinal’s were scrolling reams of data onto panels projected around his field of vision, and he systematically checked and rechecked them as Stone approached. The air pulled past Stone’s body was analyzed, and the chemical signatures of everything from the coffee he’d recently finished to the perfume of the last passerby on the street was neatly itemized. Stone was a veritable soup of chemicoscentia, but for the purpose of entry, was clean.

“Mr. Stone, your weapon has been tagged and locked, do not attempt to use it while you’re here.” The guards voice was dull, unreadable, monotone. “There’s a lift waiting.”

A single door stood open beyond the guard station, and Stone strode purposefully to it, noting the lack of visible controls as it closed. Beneath his clothing, miles of tattooed network fabric bristled on his skin, the delicate and barely visible mesh of hairlines picking up the sudden onslaught of scanners surrounding him, electronic and otherwise. A hundred meters from the door he had broken the hard link between his internal and external net devices, and now his sub-dermals chattered back with random ad programs and auto-responders. Several whitehole and honeypot programs would lure the more sophisticated scanners and let them chase each other around beneath his skin, while his core remained untouchable.

The chrome door disappeared silently to one side and Stone found himself in another long rectangular room, featureless but for a pair of chairs opposite a large flat desk, cantilevered from one wall. On the far side, a grey haired gentlemen in a dark pinstriped suit stared coldly at him, his eyes strangely magnified by rectangular lenses suspended from either side his nose.

“Come, sit.” His voice crackled with impatience. Stone stepped from the lift, and crossed the room to the chair, noting the lack of retort as his boots impacted the floor.

The desk was bare save for an alloy ingot, the word ‘Director’ etched into it’s long face. Stone slipped into the vacant seat, feeling rich animal hide stretch beneath him, and sensed the chromed alloy tube frame re-tension itself to accommodate his considerable bulk.

“Director.” Stone eyed the man suspiciously across the dull surface of the desk “I guess you’d be the C.O. then?”

“I’ll not waste your time or mine, Mr. Stone. I am the only man you need to concern yourself with.” The Director leaned forward, steepled his fingers and propped his elbows up on the desk. He spoke with obvious purpose, enunciating each word carefully.

“You’re a man with skills Mr. Stone, your military and public service exploits have not gone without notice, which is what has brought us together today.” The tone was factual, not conversational. “Your talents are being wasted, and we have a want for men with your potential within our group. We prefer to recruit post-military service personnel, as you are as a group far easier to augment with training, and upgrading wetware is much more expedient than installing it and waiting for the development of adequate proficiency. We can offer you significant expansion of your capabilities, and in return you will be indentured to us for a period, reporting solely and directly to me.”

Something about this man wasn’t right, and on a whim, Stone leaned forward and abruptly severed the hardlink to his retinal-implant. The usual overlay of information disappeared, environmental data no longer littered his vision, and the room softened and the shadows deepened, no longer digitally enhanced. For a fraction of a second, he could have sworn he was alone in the room, until he blinked, and found the figure still before him, no longer haloed in a heat signature, and now clearly amused.

“Mr. Stone, you’ll find that your sense of reality and ours differs on many levels.” The Director sat back in his chair, smiling. “You’ll also find that I don’t need your archaic hard links to get inside your head.”

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Search and Recovery

Author : J. S. Kachelries

Captain Semaj sat at the head of the conference table. Also at the table were the remainder of the Bridge Crew and several senior department heads. At the far end of the table sat Lo Yaluo, the director of Search, Rescue, and Recovery who had just returned from the surface of the planet. “Give us a report, Mr. Yaluo,” said Captain Semaj.

“Unfortunately, Sir, I have to report that there will be no rescue operation. The survey ship was completely destroyed, including the loss of the entire crew. Our engineers have determined that the entropy generators underwent a catastrophic cascade failure shortly after takeoff. The crew didn’t have a chance. The explosion was close enough to the ground to devastate a substantial portion of the original survey site. The good news is that the mishap occurred in a remote area of the planet. I have drones scouring the surface for any fragments of the ship and crew. My team will have the area completely “sanitize” within a few cycles, well before the indigenous life forms on the planet reach the site. Since entropy generators don’t leave radioactive traces, they will never know we were here. They will probably conclude that a comet exploded prior to impact.”

“Thank you, Mr. Yaluo,” said the Captain. “Okay everyone, our primary mission was to rescue survivors, but since there are none; we need to focus on our secondary objective. We cannot allow the inhabitants of this planet to become aware of our existence. After reviewing the interim reports from the survey mission, the homeworld has concluded that this planet is worth exploiting. They have an abundance of water, heavy metals, and rare minerals. But if the inhabitants learn of our existence, and our plans, they may be able to build up defenses and impede the invasion. They have a primitive industrial civilization now, but as we all know, life can become very resourceful when their destruction is imminent. The Secretary of Extraterrestrial Development has informed me that this planet is not scheduled to be “reallocated” for about 100 of its years. I don’t want the indigenous life forms using that time preparing for us. Okay, we all have our jobs to do. Let’s collect everything we can, and get out before their investigators arrive, dismissed.”

As the attendees collected their belongings and headed toward the exit, the Captain motioned for Mr. Yaluo to stay behind. “Mr. Yaluo, are you sure you can recover all the debris before anyone arrives?”

“Absolutely, sir. The crash site is in the middle of a densely forested area that is thousands of lacitals away from the nearest population center. Their flying machines can barely travel a single lacital. This location is so remote, that it’s possible that they are totally unaware that there was an event worth investigating.”

“Let’s hope so. Ah, before you leave Mr. Yaluo; I’m preparing to give a sub-space verbal report to the Supreme Council. Am I pronouncing this right? The planet calls itself Earth (‘&rth), and the location of the survey sight is Tunguska (Tu[ng]-gu-ska)?”

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