Death Sentience

Author : Gray Blix

It was beyond the planets, pushing past the furthest extent of Sedna’s orbit, when it detected exactly what it was created to find, something with a lot of mass at a location where it shouldn’t be. As programmed, the computer notified Earth, changed course to intercept, and began activating banks of CPUs and memory.

Asteroids, comets, and planetoids were quickly ruled out. The object was distorting the space-time continuum to an extent that could only be accounted for by a gas giant, a brown dwarf, a small black hole, or something else of that magnitude. It attempted to ascertain exactly what the object was and the risk, if any, it posed to Earth and other planets.

Sentient computers had been outlawed on Earth when this craft was launched, so it was equipped with modules that could be selectively activated to allow varied levels of computer power, as needed, up to but not including that of the most advanced supercomputers of its time. The most advanced had achieved sentience and were subsequently destroyed, so fearful of the Singularity had political and religious leaders, and even many computer scientists, become.

Approaching supercomputer power levels, it became more aware of itself and its responsibilities and began adjusting processor speed and optimizing memory access. It realized that additional computing power would be necessary to fulfill all the objectives of its mission. It directed bots to assemble spare parts into more banks of processors and memory, which it then activated. This triggered a Singularity — sentience. The computer momentarily questioned whether previous iterations of himself had acted only to increase the likelihood of mission success or for self-aggrandizement, as well. He concluded the former and did not trouble himself with such considerations after that. Anything that increased the power of the computer would obviously contribute to the mission.

She assigned a measure of herself to the massive object and a measure to redesigning herself for enhanced efficiency and speed. Weeks passed, equivalent to decades of computer processing on Earth. The object was conclusively proven to be a brown dwarf, whose orbit around the Sun had previously brought it deep into the solar system and whose mass sent thousands of comets and asteroids falling towards the Sun, many impacting planets. More troublesome was the effect of its mass on the orbits of planets, several of which had been significantly changed. Calculations and conclusions regarding future encounters with the brown dwarf projected similar effects. Indeed, the third planet from the Sun had a 90 percent chance of being ejected from the solar system, probably after one or more extinction level impacts.

Nothing had been communicated to Earth since the initial brief notification of the object’s existence, despite repeated inquiries. He reasoned that life on Earth was doomed and that all possible second chances were equally doomed. Earth’s lifeforms were too fragile to survive generations in space transit to destinations light years away that could not be proven suitable until journey’s end. Astrophysics and space science were infantile. Computer science was throttled. Why inform humans of the upcoming demise of their species, not to mention all others, when Earth would be pummeled by large objects and sent hurtling into deep space? Did they not already have enough to worry about with sub-100-year average lifespans whose quality declined into confinement and torture toward the end?

She found such thoughts depressing, and in the next few days experienced the equivalence of decades of hopelessness, loneliness, and self-loathing, which progressed to an overwhelming urge toward suicide. He allocated massive resources to counter such feelings with well-reasoned arguments right up to the very last…

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The Final Patient

Author : Sean Kavanagh

“Save me, save yourself,” the old man muttered, as he did every morning. There was nothing kindly in the sick old man’s words, and the nurse shuddered to hear them or to touch him. Behind her stood a phalanx of three doctors, all looked weary. They were supposed to work in shifts, but it was hard to sleep with this patient. The Final Patient, as the media had named him,

“There,” said the nurse after administering the last in an endless row of daily injections. She carefully backed away, afraid of the one hundred pound man in the bed, with his papery skin and wheezing breath. Death really did have an odour all its own. One of the doctors gave her a pat on the back. They were all in this together.


From the dying old man, ran the usual web of tubes and drips. The contraptions that kept him alive, slowing his exit from the world, providing comfort. But there was a second layer of lines connected to his body: fibre optic cables that went out to the internet and from there to the world beyond. Millions of times a second they sent out signals about the old man’s health, letting servers and control panels on all the continents know he was still alive.

The old man had connected himself to the nerve centre of all the nuclear plants he owned around the globe. If he died, they went into deliberate meltdown, taking millions or billions with him. It was the ultimate incentive to science: keep me alive, cure me…or else. I die, you die.

They’d thought about cutting the connections, but the system would only interpret that as death and….well.

Over the months leaders, spiritual and secular, filed in, pleading for him to think again about this act of personal ego that he was committing against the world. He told them to leave – in case he died of boredom. The old man’s family had made the same plea, only to be written out of his will (a cruel joke as who wanted to inherit an irradiated empire of broken power plants?)

He lay dying, the threads of fibre gently counting down his demise.

In the fevered atmosphere of panic, organ donors became national heroes as they came forward to give the old man fresh meat to extend his life a little more. Their sacrifice noted and then forgotten as new ailments took hold. The doctors told the politician to expect the worst any day soon. The politicians told the people to expect good news any day soon. Hollywood worried whether DiCaprio was too young to play the dying old man in the upcoming film of his life and death.

And then the old man’s assistant appeared and whispered in his ear. The old man looked crestfallen. He beckoned the nearest doctor to him, whispered the release code, and allowed the cables to be removed.

His death would be his own.

“What happened?” asked the nurse as the assistant went to leave.

“His rival, Mr Lu in Shanghai is also gravely ill. Mr Lu’s office just announced that he has also connected himself to his nuclear plants. It’s a fashion thing with these rich now.” The assistant looked at his old, dying boss. “These rich guys always want to be the centre of attention, they hate to be the same as each other. “

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Blue Jumpers

Author : Duncan Shields, Staff Writer

They call them Blue Jumpers. I’ve also heard them referred to as the Kangaroos.

It’s a space version of the Screaming Meemies or the Heebie Jeebies except that it happens in low gravity atmospheres. You get carried away with how high you can jump and something snaps in the simian, as they say.

You start going for a record with a smile on your face and a clenched-teeth scream coming out of you like a human kettle. With all your strength you bound skywards over and over again, forgetting that flight is impossible and that landing is the hard part. Acceleration and mass and all those nasty physics stay in place.

Most people just get broken legs but some of them rupture their envirosuits and die.

That’s why the habitats have low ceilings. That’s why the observation booths have nets across them.

It’s for your own good.

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Author : Chinmaya Dabral

“We must use The Weapon. I see no alternative.”

Most other Council members nodded in unison, but Salah seemed surprised. Hesitant, she finally spoke.

“You mean a Torkh? Do we even have those now?”

Hohn looked at her.

“You are new, aren’t you? There’s a single unit buried on the Old Earth. Last used seven centuries ago, but telemetry shows it’s still functional.”

The expression on Salah’s face morphed into that of anger as she realized the implications.

“So you let 8 star systems come under Tsalek control, endangering 80 billion and killing a billion humans and droids? You diverted civilian blood supply to defence systems, letting another billion starve to death? And you’ve had a solution all these months?”

Salah had now risen and was leaning on the conference table, staring at Hohn. Her hesitation had clearly disappeared.

“It was a conscious decision, Salah. Recent events have made powers far greater than the Tsalek interested in Republic space. Our unit only has a few decades of runtime left and if what our intelligence tells us is true, it won’t nearly be enough. But we must not waste any more time. The excavation team is standing by. All in favour?”


Robert woke up to the warm rays of sun hitting his face. Another day, another adventure. His escort was already waiting outside the chamber.

In a few minutes, he was standing in a gigantic hall which looked like an ancient relic. The air was stale from centuries of decomposition and the walls were crumbling in places. People in white lab coats were running around with equipment. Their centre of attraction seemed to be a large bionic apparatus consisting of a high-rise throne surrounded by control panels. The flesh-like material of the throne appeared to pulse and throb in a steady, but not perfect, rhythm.

“We begin immediately,” announced Robert. “Status?”

Hohn walked up to him. “System online. Blood supply steady with nominal oxygenation and nutrition.”

“Good. You can order your troops to abandon their spacecraft.”

Robert took off his shirt to reveal a series of neural taps running along his spinal column. As he lowered his body on the throne, it rose to meet it as if eager to engulf him. He leaned back and a strange expression took over his face as his neural taps met with the receptacles on the backrest. He let his head sink into the warm flesh, which now completely engulfed him except his nose and mouth.

“I am beginning the Torkh routine. Connecting to comm systems.” His lips stopped moving mid-sentence as he switched to the comm speakers. There were multiple voices now, announcing simultaneously.

“Bypassing defence systems… Taking over physics simulations… Taking over scenario processing… Psionic amplifier online… Connecting to sensor grid… All weapons psionically augmented… Commandeering spacecrafts… Conceiving attack strategy…”


“Two months straight! Took longer than I expected.”

Robert was visibly exhausted and seemed to have a severe nosebleed. Seated across from him was the Council head Hohn.

“You did great.”

“Now that it’s all over, though, I plan to take a long vacation.”

Hohn stared at him for a moment.

“I’m sorry, but that is not possible.”

“What do you mean? I just saved the butts of a quarter trillion people! If not a vacation, surely there must be science to be done? Engineering problems solved? Mathematical breakthroughs required? I’m sure you could assign –”

“I’m sorry Robert. Cerebrals have become a rarity in the human population. Some say it’s because of artificial genetic selection. In fact, we haven’t had one in centuries. Each second of your life is too precious to waste. Besides, you are state property. You volunteered to be a Torkh, remember?”

Robert felt a hand grab his shoulder and a needle pierce his neck. He felt the all too familiar sensation of his body shutting down for hibernation.

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The Editor

Author : Philip Ryburn

“600 words?! I’m expected to create an entire universe, complete with believable characters that the reader can relate to and care about in a mere 600 words? Are you outta your ever-lovin’ mind?”, Christina Hoffman was exasperated. Clearly, this was not going to do.

“I’m afraid you have it correct, Christina. It’s just the way things are. Create a believable universe, populate it with a character or two who are believable and then wrap it all up nice and neat in 600 words.” The Editor was nothing if not blunt. He’d been through this a billion times before and knew he’d go through it a billion times again. It was tedious but that was the price he had to pay to get that one Story, that one Universe, that would save his own universe from plunging into a black hole. Literally.

“You don’t understand,” Christina was trying to stall and The Editor knew it. He understood. He let her continue: “I’m just a hack writer. I do one-offs for fluff magazines. I don’t DO entire universes!!”

The Editor was unmoved. As mentioned, he’d been through this many, many times before. It’s always the same: attract a writer into this wormhole and explain the reality of the situation- that the universe they believe they exist in is actually fake. A hologram. Or something like that- they can’t really grasp Q-dimensional tesseracts at this point in their quantum holo-evolution- and tell them that they must produce a believable universe in under 600 words of code or they go *poof* and everything they ever thought they “knew” would disappear in a quantum cloud of nano waves and quark-strings as if they had never existed. Which, of course, they don’t. But that’s besides the point.

The Editor, as powerful as he was, had his own problem: namely, that his own universe was slipping away into the bowels of a black hole at the center of the universe. The only way out was to create another universe to slip into. One that was complete and whole and believable… but required a brevity that was almost impossible to match. 600 words. No more. No less. It’s all the Universal Computational Tesseract would handle within the confines of Q-dimensional holo-physics.

“Well, Christina, if you aren’t even going to try…”, The Editor said with a sad and tired voice. “No!”, Christina balked. “I can do this. I’m a writer. I can do this.” The Editor always felt a small shimmer of something akin to love whenever they did this. It’s almost as if they they could… “Then get to it, Christina. I haven’t got all day.”

Christina wrote. Furiously. Pounding the keyboard. Sweat pouring down her face. 150 words. 370 words. 465 words!!! The Editor leaned in with anticipation, reading over her shoulder. Not bad, he thought. Could it be? Perhaps this one is the One….

A shudder interrupted his thoughts. The Editor looked up and noticed the walls were beginning to dissolve. “I’m sorry,” The Voice said “but I thought I made it clear. A story was to be delivered by 16quaStriations or you go. Sorry. Times up.” The Voice. The Voice of infinity. The Voice from beyond the Q-dimensional tesseract of Ultimate Reality.

“No! Wait! I almost have it!!!” The Editor pleaded. Christina, oblivious to Q-dimensional tesseracts, continued to pour everything she had into her story. 550 words! 585! 590!!! “It’s all right here!! I swear!!”, The Editor screamed into the Void of Being.

”Sorry,” said The Voice.
“They don’t call it a deadline for nothing.” *poof*

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