Author : Willis Weatherford
“Mr. Lengua.” The man Nathan knew only as ‘the Agent’ paused a long moment in his crisp black suit before continuing. “Do you know why you’re here?”
“No. I don’t know where ‘here’ is, either. Nor who you are, where I am am, nor why,” Nathan Lengua said, and thought to himself “but I know you are feeling scared, old man”. The knowledge gave him a feeling of power and security.
The Agent’s carefully combed, purely white hair created a simple arc over the rim of his black glasses as his eyes scanned the file scrolling down the bifocal lens. As the Agent re-read the final page, Nathan felt the old man’s fear grow, and expand to include uncertainty. The Agent’s eyes flicked up to meet his own.
“Your location and my identity are classified from everyone without security clearance. That includes you. So, let’s focus. Tell me about Lexington.” The glasses pointed forward, the white hair glowed in the incandescent light, and the black suit remained perfect, but all Nathan needed to know, he could feel: the Agent’s hesitance and growing fear were as obvious to the detainee’s senses as the clothes were visible to his eyes.
Nathan thought back to Lexington, his most recent gig as a professional “Feeler”. Mr. Berg, a venture capitalist, hired him to be in the room “taking notes” as entrepreneurs pitched their ideas. Little did those budding businessmen know that the dark skinned, quiet clerk in the corner was taking notes on their every feeling, and would later reveal his findings to Berg in a private office.
“Well, Mr. Berg, I wouldn’t go for this one. When you asked him about his market research, he sounded confident but felt nervous. Judging by his resentment when you asked about his family, I’d say he has either a bad breakup or an illegitimate child in the recent past – of course that may be a flaw you are willing to overlook.”. Usually, Berg took his advice. And, judging by the growing profits, it was usually paying off. Nathan brought his thoughts back to the question at hand, and decided to keep up the facade. After all, the Agent couldn’t feel his nervousness.
“Lexington was my home for the past four months, my most recent job. I was working as a clerk for a venture capitalist. Your thugs nabbed me and brought me to wherever ‘here’ is. Presumably, you know why. I do not.”
The Agent’s irritation mixed with his own as the old man firmly planted a hand on the cool black desk in between them.
“The Security of Mentally Stored Information Act declares accessing the thoughts and emotions of compliant citizens to be illegal. You are suspected of violating that law at a level requiring, at the least, long term incarceration.” The Agent punctuated his official statement with a stern glance at the small man seated on the other side of the table. “Your compliance here, in this very room Mr. Lengua, will determine whether your offences require more severe penalties. You won’t be able to feel your way out of that one.”
Nathan considered his options. He recalled the foundational truth of his trade: ‘Uncommon knowledge is power; Common knowledge is weakness.’
“I’d like a lawyer”, he said.
“Feelers like you, Mr. Lengua, are non-compliant citizens, and as such have no right to a lawyer. I assure you, you’re on your own here.” As the Agent’s feeling of power and control grew, Mr. Lengua’s shrank until a rising tide of fear and helplessness swallowed it completely.
“I’ll take my chances in jail”
Author : Clint Wilson, Staff Writer
At first many were skeptical about teleportation but nowadays more and more were doing it all the time. I still took the bus. Riding along I had my choice of seats. So few utilized old mode transportation now. Some called us superstitious, while I preferred the term scientist.
The diesel hydrogen transport bounced along through endless rows of gray factories and billowing smokestacks. Suddenly the massive building that housed the human bio-matter store for southern Alberta loomed into view. I had once worked in that place. Those of us employed there had called it, “The Aquarium”.
I sat in an uncomfortable chair at my niece’s birthday party, balancing a piece of cake on my knee. She was now seven and was telling me about her visit to China’s great wall. “It was lovely Uncle Pete. We stepped into the booth, Mum, Dad and me, and then poof! We were in China!”
I sent her along to play with her friends and turned to glare at my sister. She stared coldly back at me. “We’re still the same people and you know it Peter.”
Of course exact copies would say that. Still I had no real proof. But I had my somewhat educated theories. Sure my sister and her daughter still seemed like the people I knew and loved, but how could they be really?
All the propaganda said it was safe. Sure you were disintegrated and vacuumed up in a fraction of a nanosecond, and sent at the speed of light, a chain of photons arranged in exact replicas of your molecules, to a receiving station where bio-matter was sucked from the nearest pipe and reassembled into your exact form before your brain could register what had happened. But how could it still be you?
Subjects had been studied exhaustively, answering endless questions and submitting to batteries of tests. Every memory seemed to remain intact. Every emotion was still present. Loved ones recognized and still cared for one another as much as ever. Yet I remained as suspicious as ever.
I managed to hold off for most of my life. I was ninety-four now and still my original self. Everyone I knew had teleported. None of them were their original selves. They were all copies. I had lasted this long but now it would end. They said I was too frail to be moved by ambulance. The distant hospice of course had a receiving booth large enough to accommodate a hospital bed.
Well at least now I would finally know for sure. Would I still be me? The attendant hit the button and, as I looked around with my own eyes for the last time, there was a bright flash.
It was like watching another me suddenly jump out and away from myself, as my entire makeup was copied in an instant and flung forward at the speed of light.
There was a sound like all of the air being sucked out of a room at once, and the next thing I knew I was swirling around in the beige soup of the southern Alberta aquarium, or at least my consciousness was, while an exact copy of me was now being rolled out of the teleportation booth and into the Spokane hospice. That copy would be dead in less than a week. I integrated with the bio-matter and knew once and for all that I had been right all along.
As the concoction continued to swirl I mixed thoroughly with the flowing elements and began to hear the voices of others, wondering what was in store for me next.
Author : Stefan Aeschbacher
The ancient city had been buried for over five thousand years. The digbots were digging at this spot for two hours, fifteen minutes and thirty-five seconds. They were making good progress. So far they had found three plates and a container of unknown purpose. Due to the ideal conditions at this location, most of the artefacts were exceptionally well preserved.
Suddenly the alarm sounded. Digbot #953 had found something unexpected. They had been cataloguing this era for quite some time; something new only popped up once every few months. The eagerness to see the new object was correspondingly high.
The probability of the new object being a weapon was estimated at 87%. It was therefore immediately put into an armoured storage container. Even though the bestial concept of warfare was something only known from history, they were well equipped to handle such dangerous goods.
The object shown on the holo-screen was cylindrical with a diameter of 6.7cm and a length of 11.5cm. It had been clearly marked as dangerous with red colour. One of the more experienced historians came to the conclusion that the object at hand was an item called “grenade”.
Immediately after securing the object, the historians started the in-depth analysis. Apparently the grenade was filled with a liquid. Not much was known about the race that had lived on earth in this epoch. They called themselves “humans”. It was not known how a “human” would react to the liquid in the grenade. Probably it was some kind of contact poison. Analysis showed it to be extremely sticky. A small lever on the top probably served as the trigger mechanism.
A so far unknown font had been used to mark the weapon. Probably to inform the reader of the extreme danger of the object. The historians were quite good at deciphering human scripture, but this one posed a riddle to them.
Due to the extremely dangerous nature of the object, they decided to store it away. It was put in a high security bunker on an uninhabited moon in the system. It had long ago been ruled, that the mere idea of a weapon had to be hidden from the general public.
Some years later a research team applied a new radiological technique which revealed two more text fragments on the grenade. They suggested that the object was really very dangerous and poisonous. They read: “Do not shake” and “contains caffeine”.
Author : Andrew D. Murrell
I could still feel the remnants of foreign thoughts gently receding from my consciousness. Then I felt today’s check deposit into my account, twenty one thousand dollars. Minimum wage jobs just don’t pay like they used to do they? I waited to feel the disconnect signal and then opened my eyes. I breathed in deeply and coughed.
Life, I am getting old.
My bed stood me up and disappeared into the floor. A neural link transponder drifted towards me, eagerly offering its services.
“No, I’ve had enough of other people’s opinions for one day.” Ever since the distributed thoughtnet replaced the static web and our minds themselves became commodities for sale, I have yearned for three things in life above all else: stillness, simplicity, and silence.
But what can one do? Life is no longer simple, still, or quiet, it is complex, ever-changing, and constantly berating us with options, opinions, and each other. Even now, only seconds after leaving the thoughtnet I could feel the incoming interaction requests and updates from SocialLink and the AutoBillPay alerting me to the fact I would soon have no money, once again. If only I could just take a break, a real break.
I walked to an Autoportal wall and felt the breeze gently waft through it as the microfibers aligned themselves to direct wind from outside through the thin coating of electric generators. I gestured to the wall and it became transparent. The day was beautiful and sunny, but the infinite suburb of haphazardly colored and eclectic houses was the last thing I needed to be reminded of seeing. I turned away and the wall once again shifted to a shallow opaque green.
No, I don’t need a rest. Just the opposite, I need something to do. I turned inward and navigated through several thought-changing stations to the System Control Menu in my Neural OS. After reflecting on the oddity that one must authenticate to access one’s own brain, I found the most heavily guarded portion of my mind.
“System, go Offline,” a willful auditory confirmation and the system slowed to a halt. I felt blurry. Enhanced senses shut down and the hum of the dim house faded into the background. I stumbled around until I found the manual access panels and switched the house to full power. I knew that I couldn’t afford it, full lighting for even a few hours was prohibitively expensive as the house itself could not generate that much electricity and would have to buy some from our neighbors, but I had to do it. I could not live out my life from inside my head any longer. I needed reality.
Had I been younger I would have punched a hole in the wall. I would have broken some screens. I would have torn off all of my clothes and run down the streets of ugly houses until the community police managed to take me into custody kicking and screaming about the wrongness of it all. But no, it is much too late for that.
I remember the sound of birds, but there are no birds outside anymore. I thought about that for a while. I thought about birds until the mood had passed. I don’t know if I’d even be capable of those things any more anyway, so no, I will stay inside. I will sit in my chair and wait for the government to say that I’m old enough to die. One day they will tell me that I have lived long enough, met the life expectancy and am permitted to leave. Until then, I will turn off the lights, reconnect to the thoughtnet and sell my mindspace to the rich young folks with new ideas. I don’t need to think anymore they said, our lives are perfect.
I awoke, but only for a moment.
Author : Julian Miles, Staff Writer
One world. Seven hundred and ninety-two people. Less than a hundred berths on the ship out. It’s a recipe for bloody mayhem and that’s how they want it. Only the most committed make it to upship. We did basic training for five weeks before being shipped out here in long-sleep with burst-feed data tutoring. A thousand left Earth, two hundred and eight either died in transit or emerged hopelessly impaired. We used the latter for warm-up. Even the damaged will fight like banshees to survive.
I look past Alyn. Sure enough, another group is crawling on their bellies through the long grass toward the position we occupy. It’s the only piece of high ground for three kilometres. It allows us to see approaching people by the trenches they make as they flatten the grass on their way in.
That’s welcome news: another group incoming. I slide back down into the foxhole we dug when we arrived.
“I need two volunteers to set them on each other.”
Martin raises his hand, as does Rico.
They crawl off down the back of the hill and make their way round to where the groups approach. Nothing disturbs the silence except the constant rustle of wind-blown grass across this savannah. I wriggle back up to the vantage point.
She warbles like a skylark with a cadence that tells Rico what he needs to get back on track.
“No reaction.” Lanna shakes her head in despair.
Incredible. We’re light-years from Earth on a planet devoid of animal life. Yet the cry of a bird produces no alarm. These people don’t deserve to make it. When Martin and Rico reach position, Alyn warbles again. Both men take a fifteen count before making our play.
“There’s another bunch heading for the hill!” Martin injects just the right amount of righteous anger into his voice.
“They’ve spotted us! Take them before they make the high ground!” Rico rolls with Martin’s opening.
Two groups of green and tan clad people rise up, look about and then charge at each other, screaming defiance and less obvious things. Within moments a thirty-man melee swirls below us, crushing the grass as blades and blood catch the light.
I shift position and look down at a position just out of sight of the fighting. It’s a trench but a narrow one. As I watch, a white rag on a stick rises into view. I gesture to Alyn. She warbles for Rico to take a look.
A few minutes later, Rico and a tough-looking girl covered in mud scoot over the edge of our foxhole.
“I’m Neria. Nice set up you have here.”
Rico nods toward the extra gear she carries. Looks like she’s supplied-up from at least six other candidates.
I grin: “Any of the donors going to ask for their kit back?”
Neria looks about as Martin rejoins us. She grins fiercely: “Don’t be so bloody silly.”
I nod and Alyn does the same. Lanna reaches out her hand: “Welcome to the team.”
Our newest recruit raises her chin towards the sounds of ongoing battle: “We going to clear up?”
Martin shakes his head: “The survivors will drag themselves all the way up here. Battered, knackered and sweated out by the time they reach us.”
Neria nods: “Solid plan.”
That does us. Six-man fire teams are the operational standard. From now on, all we have to do is hold our position until the all-clear sounds and we get to ship out as soldiers.