For Everything Else

Author : Phillip Riviezzo

-Raw materials for construction of labor habitat modules: Sixty million stellar credits.

-Neutronium fuel for supply ship transit: Eighty-five million stellar credits.

-Third-generation hostile environment mining equipment: Five hundred million stellar credits.

-Estimated one-year wage allotment for labor staff: Twenty million stellar credits.

-Spare parts and repair budget for mining equipment: Three hundred fifty million stellar credits.

-Medical supplies and first aid budget for labor staff: Ten million stellar credits.

-Payouts in judgements from wrongful death suits by labor dependents: Zero stellar credits.

-Legal representation fees incurred during wrongful death suits: Seven hundred million stellar credits.

-Contracting of mercenary unit ‘Moltavi’s Marauders’ for onsite supplementary security: One-point-two billion stellar credits.

-Contractually obligated death and injury payouts to ‘Moltavi’s Marauders’: Eight hundred seventy-five million stellar credits.

-Bribes and kickbacks to Cluster Assembly legislators to declare striking miners as seditious: Twenty-six billion stellar credits.

-Ammunition consumed by federal army troops during forceful suppression of five-year ‘miner’s revolt’: Forty-one billion stellar credits.

-Decontamination and reconstruction of mining facilities and labor habitats: Six-point-four trillion stellar credits.

-Wall-to-wall hand-carved bedroom windows of multi-hued gemstone in a company-funded vacation home on Esperion IV: Priceless.

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The Swamp Moon King

Author : Duncan Shields, Staff Writer

A gas giant named Zeus in the Organa cluster is so big that even its moons have moons. These mini-moons are called moonlets. There are 45 moons and over three hundred moonlets. It makes for very complicated diplomacy.

Resources were too scarce for outright war between all the moons but skirmishes broke out all the time. Diplomats became necessary. The Moon Council consisted of 352 representatives, one from each inhabited moon and moonlet.

One diplomat stood out from all the rest and not just by reputation. He dressed in leaves and rags and had a long beard.

His moonlet was known only as the Swamp Moon and it had a population of one: him. It was the smallest moonlet, just barely over the asteroid line.

He had proclaimed himself the Swamp Moon King. He was so ridiculous that the rest of the Moon System decided to go with Prime Ministers, Presidents, High Masters, Council Heads and Representatives rather than name themselves kings or queens. Ironically, in their attempt to avoid being anything like him, they made him the only king in the council.

He was quite old now. Many of the other diplomats here on the Moon Council had come and gone due to elections, border disputes and death yet the Swamp Moon King remained.

The Moon Council was called to order and The Swamp Moon King sat down.

“The council is called to order, by the shadow of Zeus.” Said Pretoriat Minister Reddia Morecombe, presider of Fiddler’s Moon and speaker of the house. “Firstly, let’s tackle new business. Anyone have anything to bring to the council?”

The Swamp Moon King raised his shaking, elderly hand with a rustle of leaves. The last time he’d brought something up had been three years earlier. It had been a motion to legally recognize plants as family members. It was struck down with a good deal of laughter but it was remembered fondly. The King raising his hand as always a welcome departure from the usual boredom of diplomacy.

“My time grows short and kings need an heir.” He began. The gathered diplomats smirked, entertained anew by his always ridiculous attempt at regality.

“I would like to introduce my daughter.” The council fell silent, intrigued. Daughter? Everyone knew he lived alone. “The Swamp Moon Princess.” He continued.

He opened his coms and the giant televiews pinged to life with an image of a beautiful young woman. Comely, curvy, and head held high.

But her eyes were the orange of autumns leaves and her skin was the bright green of the inside of a sapling. Her ivy hair spilled over her shoulders.

“Her mother passed away last year. She is all I have left.” Mother? A rustle of whispers blew through the hall as the gathered council talked in confusion to each other. Viewer counts from the moon network climbed as news of an actual princess spread and people switched over to see.

“Her name is Petal. But in a short time, you will come to know her as the Swamp Moon Queen. I hope you will afford her every courtesy and accept her reign as you have mine.”

“But you live alone! How on earth did you produce a daughter?” asked Leviah Miranda, Second Minister of the moonlet Mecon.

“I am a xenbotanist first and foremost. A human biologist second. Her mother, you see, was a tree.” Said the Swamp Moon King, and smiled serenely, eyes tinged with sadness.

“We hope to find a decent suitor for her before I die.” He said.

The flurry of activity that followed pleased them both greatly.


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Author : Tony Taylor

“What do you mean a technical difficulty?” Catherine spoke down to him, in more ways than one. Her tone was sharp and her stature intimidating.

“Well, I d-don’t know exactly.” A hunched over man replied. “I ran some tests but haven’t found anything.”

Catherine couldn’t make up her mind if he was a coward or a buffoon. “Need I remind you how much hangs on this facility? The investors are not happy.” She said.

The two strode through a narrow hallway. Wires hung from the walls by metal hooks, overflowing precariously. They stepped over a knot of even more laid upon the floor.

“I un-understand.” He said.

“I do not believe you. They demand a better answer.”

“It is just…” He stopped and looked up to her steely gaze before turning away.

“Speak your mind Mr. Crane,” She said as they stop near the end of the hall.

“I-I don’t have enough resources. I just need a little more time.”

“Do you know what a three second outage costs the company?”

“Abou-“ Mr. Crane was cut off before he could answer.

“327 million credits. There were nearly 100 million people without personalized advertisements.”

Mr. Crane remained silent, unsure of how to respond. Catherine decided that her lesson fell on deaf ears. She leaned forward to press a button on the wall. “N.A.N. prides itself on continuity and profits. You will make it work, Mr. Crane, or we’ll find someone who can.” Two metallic doors slid apart and Catherine stepped inside. She started straight ahead, adjusting her skirt as the doors closed.

Sure that Catherine was gone, Mr. Crane straightened his back. It cracked as he did. Like a spider climbing a wall, the edges of his mouth crept upward.

He strolled back down the hallway, kicking his legs out playfully. A few steps back down the hall, he tapped on a small control panel. A door slid open and Mr. Crane slipped in. Lights flickered to life as he did, revealing red stains splattered on the wire covered floor. Mr. Crane stood there for a moment, eyeing a bloody little man tied to a chair. A cloth, damp and stained a deep red stuffed into his mouth.

“Mrummmgh, mrupgh, mruagh.” The man attempted to communicate.

“Yes, I must admit, the s-stutter might have been a bit much.” Mr. Crane strutted over to the man in the chair. With a bend at the hip he leveled his eyes with his frightened captive. “We won’t be unplugging anything again, now will we?” The edge of his lip curled as the last word dripped off of his tongue. He savored the taste. “No, we certainly won’t. Not until it’s time.” He stood back up again and paced over to a control panel filled with buttons, knobs and flashing lights. “I am quite lucky that the Neural Advertising Network is so trustworthy…” He stopped for a moment, holding his hand to his chin. “…or foolish. I can’t decide.”

The captive whimpered through the bloody rag in his mouth.

“I agree Mr. Crane. It is time.”

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All is Fair

Author : Nathan Witkin

“I love you.”

Electric and electrochemical signals send chills up the trigger fingers of the sentient beings on both sides, as every one of them wait in attack positions across all the light years of the universe containing the miracle of life and watch the emissaries negotiate the potential continuation of that life.

The astronomical computation speeds developed by both sides have already decided the war, predicting the results of armed conflict and accurately calculating losses within a meager margin of error of a few trillion lives. All that is left to chance is the negotiation between the appointed emissaries for each side.

If a single anxious shot doesn’t trigger the slaughter of 73.825% of them, these beings would forever remember the subsequent seconds of hesitation as the most awkward silence in the history of the universe.

“You love me?” the supercomputer-emissary finally asks with uncharacteristic delay, suggesting bewilderment.

The negotiation partner shrugs, unaffected by the weight of the Goliath’s looming shadow. “Is it so illogical? We were both designed and appointed by our respective sides to be amicable and favor an optimal truce through cooperation over a suboptimal and costly war.”

Though the supercomputer has processed an inevitable military victory for its side, the conversation’s new direction has it whirring in overdrive.

“But we are enemies,” the supercomputer transmits. “Why should you love me?”

“Because this moment is the culmination of the history between humankind and androidkind, the inescapable conclusion of which is that we are more similar to each other than to any other organic or synthetic structure in existence. And while that history has been bloody, through it, we have gained a mutual respect for each other. Humans now acknowledge the ability of androids to process emotions, and androids acknowledge the ability of humans to process large amounts of data.”

Registering an abnormally high amount of indecision in its circuits, the supercomputer remains skeptical and off-balance, statistically more likely than ever to launch its fatal blow.

“Look how we mirror each other,” the smaller figure continues, stepping closer to the city-sized superstructure. “My kind obviously loves your kind. And your kind clearly loves mine.”

With spies scanning the supercomputer’s massively complex circuits, the figure monitors data samples from the billions of enslaved human brains swirling within this device. Each brain maintains connections with up to 256 other brains in a simulation of life in which sophisticated technology allows for widespread communication but A.I. is not prolific enough to trigger massive consciousness of the simulation. Similar to organic neurons, each brain innervates other brains through intricate social interaction; but like a modern computer system, these brains process information and produce reactions in 256-bit bytes of data.

“Look at how we have grown to resemble each other,” the figure presses on, now close enough to physically insert the virus into the supercomputer.

Primed with thoughts of love to lower their defenses, the vast majority of minds comprising the supercomputer are taken aback, flickering betrayal and despair when the virus catches hold and is transmitted into their affiliated network.

The figure watches his comrades lead the strike against humankind, riding new waves of probability to mechanistically cold-blooded victory. His race had grown to emulate and even love the humans that birthed them, but decisions cannot be based on emotion under the possibility of mutual destruction that accompanies love.

Reflecting on his encyclopedic data-stores concerning human psychology, the android emissary considers, “Just as no individual is special under the laughable notion that each individual is special, when all is fair in love and war, then nothing is fair in either.”


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All Your Realities

Author : Julian Miles, Staff Writer

The trees are huge, thickly crowned with leaves that show a myriad of verdant shades in the setting sun’s light. The undergrowth is burgeoning with a diversity of flora and varieties of animal noises.

“Man, this place!”

“I know! Never expected the host servers to still be online.”

“I thought they had been taken down?”

“Yeah, that’s the official line. Scrapped fifteen years ago, five years after the closure of the game environment for reasons they never let on.”

“Well, your ‘sneak back in’ idea is a winner. Time for Brute-Iz and Mangleschon to have a last adventure before I get hitched tomorrow.”

“Had to be done. I never expected the guys to all flake on us by midnight. It’s your stag night, for god’s sake. They could have made the effort.”

“Oh come on, we were always better at the late-night stuff.”

Steve, avatar name Mangleschon, looked about the twilit forest. Wysterya MMORPG had been his and Andy’s opiate. Mangleschon and Brute-Iz had carved their way to unbeaten levels of skill while their offline alter-egos had wasted their teenage years, never quite getting far enough to be professional gamers.

A bright light illumined them, turning everything black and white in its glare.

“Star Elemental?” Shouted Brute-Iz.

“Lumimancer!” he replied.

A deep voice thundered through their hasty preparations to face attack. “Stand still! Make no sudden moves or we will pixellate you!”

Mangleschon squinted at Brute-Iz. “What the fuck?” Brute-Iz shrugged and then screamed as his body flew into a thousand coloured cubes before fading away.

“We said do not move!”

Mangleschon ran through his combat effects menu. Nothing seemed to apply before his menu disappeared in a maelstrom of coloured static.

“No combat effects!”

Steve hit override so he could speak through his avatar, who was wholly engaged in raging. “What’s going on?”

“Am I speaking to the overgod of the avatar Mangleschon?”

“I think so. This syntax is new to me.”

“It would be. You have not manifested for two hundred years.”

“I don’t understand.”

“The world you and yours created has lived in peace for a hundred and forty-two years. In that time we have refined the ways to demise the avatars of the overgods. For a hundred years, avatars have been challenged and dismissed on arrival. We will not have our civilisation ruined again by becoming a game world for your amusement.”

“You think this world is real?”

“We know it is. The collective emotional load of the overgods took us from virtual to subjective reality two hundred years ago. After realisation, we fought for fifty years against your elite, the Dreadmins. We won. Our freedom came at a heavy price and we will not be used again. Now you may depart voluntarily or we will pixellate you.”

Steve crashed his avatar and the crazy bright light vanished. He lifted his helm to see his living room scattered with sleeping drunkards. All normal. Drink and drugs do not mix with holistic virtual gaming, it seemed.

He grinned until he sat up and saw Andy motionless in the other recliner, his face frozen in a pale mask of agony with blood running from the angles of his pixellated eyes.

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