The Perfect Child

Author: Girish Kamplimath

Ailean felt herself freezing in the liquid engulfing her. She could not see it, but she knew what it was. Although she did not feel any pain, she failed to understand why Ken would do this to her. He loved her more than any father loved his only child.

She was horrified to see Ken floating alongside her, his body rigid. Ailean tried to shout, but no words came out of her.

As her body turned frigid, Ailean’s thoughts raced back. Kenneth Lean, a renowned biophysicist, had brought her up as a single parent. He never needed to tell who her mother was, and he made sure she never missed her. He had decided on her name himself.

Ailean denoted Hazelnut, as well as Bright, in the old Gaelic language. She did have a pair of bright hazel coloured eyes. Ken knew that Ailean was different from any other child. After she turned three, he got the best teachers in the world to give her the chance she deserved. They had taught her in two years all that Ken learnt in his entire lifetime.

Ailean displayed an array of talents in quick time. Anyone observing her attributed them to the marvels of the universe. People treated her like a prodigy. You are my little genius, Ken had said. But Ailean considered herself only his dutiful daughter. Whenever she did something Ken wanted, she saw admiration in his eyes. And if she couldn’t, he was patient with her.

Ailean’s joy ended when Ken married Prescila. She never understood why Ken wanted to be away from her. Between themselves, they had more than a lifetime to share. At first, she tried to regain Ken’s interest by distracting him. But when Prescila became pregnant, Ailean was appalled.

With her vast knowledge, Ailean began looking for solutions. When she found one, she executed it with finesse.

One morning, Prescila was found dead in her sleep, her unborn child limp in her womb. Ailean was at her bedside hugging her lifeless body. When the doctors came, they discovered that Prescila had a medical history that caused ventricular fibrillation (VFib), which resulted in her death.

Ken mourned the untimely double loss for a long time. He stopped seeing anyone, drank heavily, and even forgot Ailean. Ailean’s love for Ken knew no boundaries though. She was always with him.

After a few months, Ken came to her. He began sharing like before. Ailean never felt happier. She warmed to him and offered all her memories. She never realized she was having nightmares. Her memory failed – sometimes in spurts and at other times in rapid succession – until she found herself trapped in a dark, deep void.

Ailean’s thoughts circled back to the present. With her skin stretched taut in the heavy liquid, she struggled with her memory to find out how Ken was able to see inside her. She realized that it was the same memory that had given her away. In her excitement of reuniting with Ken, she had disclosed what she did to Prescila on that fateful day.

Ailean’s metallic fingers had delivered tiny electric shocks into Prescila’s sleeping body. With access to confidential medical records, she knew that the shocks would trigger VFib and kill Prescila. After all, she was Ken’s proud child; born of Artificial Intelligence. Ken had immortalized her by using the acronym AI along with his last name. AI… Lean!

As the last traces of her metallic body solidified in liquid nitrogen, Ailean made her final deduction. Ken finally realised how much she loved him… they would be together forever.

Ab Fab

Author: Steve Smith, Staff Writer

“We have a problem,” Gates was talking as the door was still swinging shut behind him, “a massive fucking problem.”

Cooper switched the displays between them from opaque to semi-transparent and nevertheless managed to regard his subordinate with clear irritation.

“Come in, have a seat, no – I’m not busy at all.”

“It’s Osiris, there’s a serious problem with Osiris.” Gates had closed the distance to the desk and stood shifting his weight from foot to foot, agitated. He plucked a stack of documents from his PDA and flung them up on Cooper’s display, the pages orienting themselves and sorting into stacks of requisitions and shipping manifests.

Cooper’s irritation deepened, he had work to do.

“Mars? What about it, and what the hell is all this?”

“Not just Mars, specifically Osiris. Our mid-space foundation project there. A decade ago, after we sent a stream of bulk loaders and drop pods with large facility printing gear to the surface, funding was pulled. It was officially resupplied twice to secure a permanent outpost there and then we shut it down.”

“So, how is this a problem now?”

“There have been thirty-eight supply drops to Mars since then. There should have been zero. They started about six months after we pulled the plug. They were buried in relay shipments we sent to Artemis, supplies apparently requisitioned there, but the cargo never got offloaded on the moon, it was forwarded to Osiris station.”

“Why the hell would Artemis be procuring supplies for Mars?” Gates started flipping through the manifests; raw materials, mining and material processing equipment, maintenance robots, control systems, and more and more advanced and specialized 3D fabricators.

“That’s part of the problem,” Gates leaned forward, bracing himself with both hands on the desk, “nobody at Artemis knows anything about this. They received instructions from us to refuel the bulk loaders in orbit and send them on, but we didn’t make any such request. They thought they were following our instructions, and we assumed we were fulfilling their requests, and nobody had any reason to ask any questions,” he paused, taking a deep breath, “until now.”

Cooper pushed the stacks of documents to either side of the screen, clearing the space between himself and Gates.

“What’s changed?”

“Osiris just put forward a request for a seat on the world council.” Gates’ words were almost a whisper.

“What the fuck are you talking about? Osiris is an empty warehouse on a rock, there’s nobody there. There never has been. We haven’t put so much as a foot on that desolate dust bowl, who the hell is pulling your chain?” Cooper shouted. Gates stood up and took a reflexive step backward.

“The initial deployment included a prototype AI with instructions to adapt to the resources and environment on Mars. The idea was for it to build the best facility with what we shipped and what it could mine onsite, but it was a prototype, and we stopped shipping resources and didn’t provide any further guidance. Nobody thought to turn it off.”

Cooper stared across the desk at Gates, struggling to comprehend the information he was receiving.

“Do we have satellite visibility?”

“There’s a distortion field of some sort in place, atmospheric disturbance maybe, but it remains consistent and we haven’t been able to see through it.”

“We should get a recon patrol…” Cooper started, but Gates cut him off.

“We sent a tactical platoon of Atlas drones, they landed and we lost contact as soon as they breached the dust zone. We received a message from Osiris shortly after, ‘Improvised, Adapted, Overcame’, followed a little later with ‘Thank you for your service.'” He winced. “It appears to have learned sarcasm.”

Cooper slumped. This was going to be his ass when he had to explain the situation, and there didn’t seem to be a way around that.

“Give me everything you’ve got, I’m going to have to take this upstairs.”

Gates stuffed both hands in his pockets and shrugged.

“That’s the icing on this particular shitcake. Osiris’ last message was that this had already been communicated to a higher authority, and to notify you as a courtesy that we’ve been relieved.”

ReState

Author: Jae Miles, Staff Writer

He stares from the screen, hair in fashionable disarray, jowls freshly barbered, teeth so white they nearly shine, eyes like glass beads.
“Good evening. I am appearing before you tonight to explain a few things that have been attracting media attention. As the topics I need to discuss are important, all other programmes have been suspended until this broadcast is complete.
“I have attended several meetings to discuss how to tell you what I need to tonight. In the end, we all agreed that truth will save time and provide clarity, despite possibly being upsetting.
“To that end, I feel it best to start with a simple statement: if you do not provide something, you will soon be no longer of use. The delusion of free time is no longer tenable. You need to be either performing useful labour, or engaged in nurturing of the next generation of labourers. Titles and descriptions of what constitutes ‘useful labour’ will appear on the front pages of government websites at the end of this broadcast.
“I know this is going to be a difficult pill to swallow. Some of you with socialist or charitable tendencies may consider some form of protest over the next few days. I would strongly advise against it. The Marutya have no understanding of civil liberties and are liable to respond with excessive force.
“Which brings me to the biggest change that should have the smallest impact, if you act calmly. Earth has been purchased by the Marutya, a race of golden-skinned bipeds from Utya, the planet our astronomers call ‘Teegarden b’. Earth will henceforth be known as ‘Saaitsau’. The Marutya envision no real changes except for the modifications to ‘free time’ as I have already described.
“We, the leaders and rulers of nations, along with business heads and selected other notaries, have collectively accepted the Marutya’s offer on behalf of all of you, and will soon be departing for Utyasaat, where we will establish a colony from which we can act as advisors to the Marutya, should we be asked. Rest assured we will be working assiduously to ensure that centuries of human heritage are respected.
“This planet, Saaitsau, is now a produce world. Your Marutya owners will provide further information, such as quotas and shortfall penalties, to you directly via the sixth-generation telecommunications network that will become active immediately after this broadcast. Should you not have a personal handset, one will be delivered to you within the week. Like all sixth-generation technologies, it will be free of charge or tariff.
“We expect there to be a minimum of disruption during the transition period. The Marutya are experienced civilisation integrators, after all.
“For now, please stay calm and remain in your homes. The curfew will remain in force, along with the restrictions on movement and public gatherings, until the Marutya have finished analysing the labour potential of each neighbourhood. After that, freedoms will be restored based on agreed targets being met.
“Thank you for bearing with us during the difficult times we have endured over the last two years. Be assured things will soon return to a new normal, one in which you and your loved ones can finally achieve lives of rewarding production.”

Sniffles

Author: Mark Wallace

Peter was on edge as he walked down the corridor to his apartment. It had been a routine day at work in the Public Communications Office, but on the walk home his nose had started to feel a little stuffy, and a sense of foreboding filled him.

His apartment door swung gently open as Peter approached. He paused in the red light that filled his doorway as the obligatory daily Notifiable Diseases Test was conducted. A new flu, Crescent Virus J, had just been declared notifiable. The light flashed green and he gave a sigh of relief and entered.
“Good evening, Peter,” came a disembodied voice, clear, clipped, and female.
“Evening, Ariel,” said Peter, flopping down on the sofa.
After a few seconds, the voice of Arial returned: “Would you like me to put on dinner?”
“No thanks, Ariel. I’m not hungry. Ask me again in an hour.”
“Sure, Peter.”
After a few more seconds of silence, Ariel spoke again: “Peter.”
“Yes.”
“Your blood pressure is a little high. Is everything ok?”
“Yes. Just a tough day at work.”
“Would you like to talk about it?”
“No, it’s fine. I just need some rest.”
“If you need to talk, I’m here. You know that everything you tell me will be in the strictest confidentiality. Nothing you tell me will ever be repeated, except to the proper authorities and then only when such disclosure is in the interests of the common good.”
“I know, Ariel, but I don’t need to talk about it. I just need to rest.”
“Sure, Peter.”

Peter closed his eyes and lay in silence for a few seconds, trying to calm himself and control his breathing. Then Ariel spoke: “Your heart rate is 15 bpm higher than normal at this time of evening.”
“Thanks, Ariel.”
“Would you like to take any action?”
“No, it’s fine.”
“I recommend the administration of SigmaGluc12 in this situation.”
“What is that?”
“It is a compound designed to work both on the bloodstream and in the neurons. It decreases blood pressure, heart rate, and the type of neuronal activity that has been shown to often contribute to these symptoms. If you like, I can show you a presentation from Dr. Cynthia Twisler of the National University on the workings of SigmaGluc12. She is the leading expert in the field.”
“No, thanks. I think I’ll leave it. Give it a few minutes.”
“Ok, Peter,” said Ariel.

In the silence, Peter began to shift uneasily. After a few minutes, he said: “Ariel, did you send a report?”
“What report are you referring to?”
“About my heart rate or blood pressure. Just now.”
“All instances of uncharacteristically elevated hr and bp where the subject does not accept the prescription must be reported to the Ministry of the Common Good. Purely a standard measure.”
“What happens then?”
“The report is sent through the relevant channels in the Ministry.”
“Which channels?”
“If you like I can read you the relevant section of the Prevention of Harm Act which deals with this measure.”
“No, it’s ok,” said Peter. He knew that that long and impenetrable Act would not give an answer. He had edited part of it.

He didn’t know how much Ariel knew, or where her report had gone. His Notifiables Test had been green, but had it really? He fell into silence, and an uneasy sleep haunted by dreams of approaching sirens and knocks at the door. He remained dimly, troublingly conscious of slight nasal stuffiness.

A Place Of Plenty

Author: Mark Renney

Davis misses the road. More accurately, he misses the discipline it has provided and he no longer expects it to re-appear. Davis isn’t searching for the road, in fact he believes that if he is to find the centre, to reach the point of impact, then it is necessary to leave it behind, abandon it and this hasn’t proved difficult. No roads have survived out on the plains.
But the evidence that they had once been prevalent is everywhere. Much of it is unused and un-useable – phones and tablets and other devices with screens. Many are broken, have been kicked about and stamped on but most are still intact, still in their original packaging.
Kneeling down, Davis grabs a phone. It is the one he had wanted but hadn’t been able to afford. He claws at the box, pulling away the clear plastic and holds the phone in his hand. He realises that this is the last model, that there won’t be another sleeker and faster and more desirable version. Davis pushes the green button and waits but nothing happens.

The roads are redundant and the idea of starting in one place and making for another, of heading toward a destination, is futile. Grudgingly Davis has to admit it is fitting the roads haven’t survived out on the plains. That they are no longer a part of this landscape, that the landscape has changed. It is even flatter than before, and even more barren, apart from the debris of course. And Davis realises that in order to get what they need he and the others will have to keep coming back and sifting through it.

Davis still misses the road. He considers creating one of his own by using the now useless or unnecessary things. He could build a kerb or a wall or even a bank, building on either side of him as he walks.

Of Biblical Proportions

Author: R. J. Erbacher

David rushed up in his period woolen tunic, out of breath. It had taken him forever to get there traveling by foot over the mountains into the Valley of Elah. He looked out over the two amassed armies, facing off at each other on the flat battlefield. As casually as he could he meandered down into the multitude of soldiers to the south, picked up a disregarded cloth bag of bread loaves, and started handing them out. A short time later the theatrics began.

On the opposing line of warriors, one stood up, towering above all the others, twice as tall as any other man with the girth of an ox. He was draped in shining armor and carried a shield and lance. David climbed upon a rock to get a better look.

The titan let forth with a booming voice that stung the ears of everyone that heard it. “Will anyone today, dare to come forward and challenge me to duel or will you all continue to stand there cowering like sheep in the fields!” Followed by his thunderous laughter.

When the echoes subsided David spoke out as loud as he could to the assembly, “This day the Lord will deliver you into my hands, and I will strike you down, and I will give your dead body to the birds of the air and the beasts of the earth, and (blah, blah, blah…).”

David finished his soliloquy with as much verve as he could muster. It seemed to have worked as the throngs of soldiers behind him cheered and banged their weapons upon their shields. Though he doubted any of them gave him a snowball’s chance in hell of defeating the brute.

The behemoth strode forward and brazenly tossed his shield to the ground roaring with mirth as he looped his spear in spirals over his head. David clambered down off the rock and met him halfway on the trodden filed.

Reaching down into his pouch David felt the smooth metal orb. Keeping it concealed in his palm but positioning it so the micro-glass eye was between his fingers. He touched the button on top, emitting a momentary green laser beam that he positioned, unbeknownst, on the giant’s forehead. Then he rubbed his thumb along the axis, and he felt it hum into life. David dropped it into a canvas sling, spun it a few times to gather momentum then released it into the air. The projectile immediately started firing its dynamic thrusters steering it to its predetermined tracking and then it accelerated to a speed of 3,000 feet-per-second. It penetrated the thick cranium and immediately released the eruptive pneumatic air burst, turning the gray matter inside into liquid jelly.

Goliath collapsed in a ground-quaking faceplant.

The entire world was quiet for a few seconds. Then the Philistines commenced a mad scramble retreat in seven different directions abandoning swords, shields, and horses. Soon followed by whoops of joy as the Israelites charged after the fleeing horde.

David calmly strode up to the corpse, appropriated the monster’s heavy sword from its sheath, and lopped off the gargantuan head, dragging it back to one of the abandoned tents by the hair. Rooting around inside the gelatinous ooze his fingers finally came upon the plasma energy cell that was in all these alien’s skulls and unclipped it from its cable hub. He wiped it clean and examined it. Thankfully, it was undamaged. He would easily be able to jury-rig this to the engine, with plenty of power to jumpstart his ship and finally get him off this primitive, godforsaken planet.