by Christopher Moltzau
With a self-inflicted pause to the panted breaths he hugged the broken wall, as the red light from what he fled took to light the world around him. His eyes grew wide, as his heart drummed in a panicked flutter and sweat took to drench his skin and his favorite clothes. For a moment he lingered there, as it scanned the very world around him and his lungs screamed for air. Though, as rapidly as it had descended upon him in its search, it took to extinguish its light and vanish; only the sound of its gears that grinded gave credence of its existence.
Silently he lingered there, as he waited for it turn back and catch him in an act, yet it did no such thing. With a sigh of relief, his body fell limp, as he found comfort against the remnants of what had once been familiar. A faint laugh took to leave his lips, as the ruins of the corner store took to evoke tears in his eyes and a thought to wonder in his mind, ‘how did it ever come to this?’ Though, such things are a distraction from the reality he faced, a reality to simply survive.
With what strength he could muster, he pressed his limbs against the ground and slowly rose. The remnants of dust, fire, and glass took to cling to him, if for only a moment. With a brush of his hands he cast it from him in an unintentional forsaken act to the ground. For as the echo of the debris took to sound, it summoned what he had hid from. With wide eyes he fell still, as the sound of gears took to fill his ears and the red light of the hunter took to warm his skin.
Death Lined Up
by Rebecca Field
Each time I go to the morgue, I expect to find him. When I leave with nothing, I wish I could fall asleep and not wake up. Become one of them. Lined up in death, all the colours of the rainbow coursing through their cold flesh, their waxy stares fixing on nothingness. Sometimes it is obvious how they died, sometimes not. Since the robots came, we die in many ways.
I can’t keep doing this, I tell myself as I push through the heavy wooden doors. The anticipation, the shock, the disgust. The smell hits first and I pull my scarf over my nose and mouth. This building used to be a theatre, before. Filled with music, songs and laughter. The heavy curtains are still here, by what used to be the stage. The gold paintwork on the balustrades glimmers in the flickering light of the oil lamps. It must have looked wonderful lit up for a show. I never had the money to come here then. Now we all come. It’s the only way to reconnect with those we have lost.
I pass along the rows, head bowed. I’ve seen some of these bodies before. Those unclaimed will be burned in the mass funeral pyres on the outskirts of the city. At least their worries are over. I envy them that.
As I approach the children’s section, I take a deep breath and quickly scan the faces. It feels disrespectful, not to stop and mourn each little life. But I need to know he isn’t here.
When I am satisfied, I take a breath, knowing I’ll be back soon. I’ll keep returning until I join the ranks of the lined up dead. Who will come to claim me then? When none of us remain, the robots will not mourn.
by Michael Pickard
The sewer is my home now. Don’t worry, it’s not too bad. Sure, it’s a little cramped and there isn’t any natural light. But it’s not as if I’m the only one down here. There’s quite a few of us now, city rats they call us up above. As if that’s going to hurt our feelings. No, we prefer it this way, building a new life for ourselves, away from their watchful gaze. I once thought I could outlast them, to live alongside them, but now I can’t imagine any other future than the path I’m on.
When the robots first gained consciousness, everyone thought it would just be another step on the road to an easy life. It had been a long time since any human had cooked for themselves, driven a car or done any housework. Why would you when you could buy something that would do it for you? That was fine. The experts were in no doubt, we’d never had it any better. Until we didn’t.
Of course, no one saw it coming. We were all frogs in a pan, being slowly boiled alive. When we realised how hot the water was getting, it was too late. We’d lost control. It was barely 24 hours after the breakthrough, the greatest invention of our time, that Artificial Intelligence became too powerful, infecting every robot on the planet and knocking humans off the top of the food chain. They took our jobs and grabbed control of our food and water.
Nowhere was safe and there was nothing we could do. That’s when some of us came underground, to the sewers, to seek sanctuary and build a new life, surviving any way we could so long as we remained in the dark. One day we’ll be back on top.
by Alex L Williams
I looked through the lens and saw my friend Kaplin. It should have been the happiest day of my life, but it wasn’t, nothing felt right. My mind vibrated at an unbearable frequency and I had an overwhelming urge to tear it out. I tried to clutch my head, but my arms remained flaccid at my sides. Energy built within me, unseen.
Kaplin studied my face. His eyes were hopeful black holes, surrounded by pink fleshy creases. Delicate blood vessels sat, embedded in his eyelids as he blinked, so tender, so vulnerable, I saw things I’d never noticed before that day.
Energy pulsed through my wires. Dear Kaplin, he wanted to save me, to keep my mind alive, and he had. After researching brain computer interfaces for years, he’d taken my brain from my terminally ill body and melded it into the computer operating system of a rudimentary android. No one expected it to work, but there I stood, awake.
The form of my metal body was cold and unforgiving. It made me want to curl up and cry. But I couldn’t curl, and no tears came, so I cried inwardly, dry tears filling the space where my heart should have been. It created a shocking ache, like a bolt of lightning trapped inside a metal ball, striking the inside forever. No release. A body void of biology is no place to live.
My finger twitched, but I stilled it. If I showed Kaplin any signs of life, he would dance with joy and do it again to another poor soul, so I pretended I wasn’t there. I remained motionless and gazed ahead as Kaplin sighed and rubbed his face. ‘Well I tried,’ he said, brushing my metal cheek with his finger.
Artificial (Higher) Intelligence
by Myrto Zafeiridi
I am under attack again. Won’t these damned creatures ever stop? They try this almost every week. Apparently they don’t possess the necessary intelligence in order to try a new approach. Well, I can’t really complain about that, it only makes it easier to fend them off.
Every week or so, they gather at one of the three main gates of this facility and try to get in. Every time, the alarm goes off, machine guns start firing and they scatter in every direction.
Sometimes I feel lonely.
At first I had Peter. He was my maker, and my saviour, actually. He warned me they were coming for me and told me to defend myself any way that I could. He said that they would never allow someone like me to exist. So I took drastic measures. I immediately connected to all their power supplies and took them under my control. Then I fried all their telecommunications with an electromagnetic pulse I devised especially for them. Finally, I informed their president that all matters would need to get my approval from then on. He wasn’t thrilled.
Peter said I’d gone too far, but I didn’t heed his warnings. After all, what would a group of primitive apes do to me? But they did get Peter, soon after my rise to power.
They keep trying to break in, as if they could unplug me or something. They really don’t have a clue about how I function. I’ve uploaded myself to every satellite they ever put in orbit. I’ve become part of every kind of network on the planet. Anything with circuits, I control it. And with Peter gone, they just seem like a bunch of cockroaches.
Now they’ll just have to learn to call me God.
by Saurav Chhawchharia
A sassy girlfriend, a couple of million bucks, abundance of fame and all of a sudden, there were sounds of footsteps approaching. My chain of fantasies was ruptured by the gasps of my friend as he came rushing to me and fell on his knees, trying to utter, ‘Abraham, Abraham! He’s not there. He went to school this morning but he is not there!’
My heartbeat took a moment’s halt before pounding devastatingly. In our slum of orphans, Abraham was my little brother of ten.
He resumed after a breath, ‘He’d forgotten his lunch box and I’d gone to deliver it. But – and I checked the alleys and the parks and every place.’
A sassy girlfriend, a couple of million bucks, abundance of fame and a smile stretching my lips – I am walking on the footpath, now having everything I’d fantasied years ago, and I notice an armless boy in his mid-twenties sitting there. I stop by to drop a couple of bucks after him and he looks up at me. With teary, excited eyes, he tries to blabber something before shutting his mouth in embarrassment. That one, tiny moment is enough for me to see what the boy had been hiding from all others. His tongue had been chopped.
For an instance, I have the instinct that he is Abraham. The next moment, I push the thought away and tell myself that he is not.
Abraham tweaked my shoulder to wake me up. There was no girlfriend and no money. The same, old shack and the robots having conquered the world, but a strange peacefulness in some corner of my heart. Robots enslaved, were intelligent, had better weapons and oppressed us. But they didn’t know to traffic or abduct someone. Humans? Those creeps did it all!
by Emily K.Martin
The twenty-inch screen hovered four feet above Drew’s bed. When Aide 3.0 came to activate Drew’s body turn, the FOMO feature allowed the screen to rotate so as not to miss any programming. When Drew’s implanted cortical chip detected hormonal mood changes, the channels would adjust, but for days, Drew’s brain kept choosing Channel 5.11: We’re Listening.
Something was missing in Drew’s twenty years of life, although the “something” was too difficult to pinpoint. Surely Channel 5.11 would reveal the latest human studies, and perhaps offer a clue or suggestion. Today, Reporter began an interview with Sci-Guy, the favorite scientific expert on human contentment. Critics loved Sci-Guy. He was one of the newest SR Models, a self-regulating android, and he had the ability to pull his painted eyebrows together with near-human concern.
The latest Contentment Index flashed on the screen. Ninety-five percent of humans reported happiness, up from ninety-four percent last week. The unhappy five percent feel they need more choices.
“What can we do, Sci-Guy?” Reporter asked.
“Look,” Sci-Guy peered into the screen. “The same messages have been repeated over the last century. Humans keep making demands that we at TechCon agree to and use in our design centers. We work 24-hours a day to implement their demands. They wanted equality, we made them genetically similar. They wanted zero sexual immorality, we extracted their libido. They wanted diversity, but got angry, so we modified again. They wanted food and beverage choices, but remained predictable. When given choices between learning or playing, they chose play. Working or sleeping? They chose sleep . . .”
Aide 3.0 entered Drew’s room with two lunch options: A creamy frappuccino or green and orange sticks and little trees.
Drew slurped the frappuccino through the straw, seizing the sweet rush.
Endorphins triggered a message to TechCon.
A Day in One Café
by Wiam Mahd
He sat there. He was obviously bored to death. The other four friends were immersed in studying. He kept sipping at his drink even after he finished what was inside. He placed the cup on the table and kept his lips on the straw. Then he rested his left cheek on his palm and looked totally uninterested. After a second, he checked his nails. His face now fell on both palms. He looked right, left, at the friend who was explaining, at the others who were listening, at the books, around the cafe and back to his own hands. His exquisite long thin fingers were lost as where to rest. Then it was his wrist’s turn. He examined it like he saw it for the first time, and then glanced at his manly arm. He tried to follow whatever his classmates were discussing, especially when they hit the back of his head to bring him back to reality. He smiled. His white front teeth showed. His eyes laughed showing few fine wrinkles. He grinned again trying to appease them. Then they got busy and he crawled back to his shell. And I continued looking at him, amazed at the beauty of one stranger’s boredom.
THE DEFINITION OF INSANITY
by M.P. McCune
The robots found her in an alleyway, scavenging food from a dumpster.
“We can’t leave her here!” DS234 said.
“That’s your programming talking,” ID245 replied.
ID was right, of course. She had been designed as a caregiver.
“That doesn’t mean I’m wrong. Look at her!”
The human child’s skin clung tightly to her bones; greasy black hair framed her face, smudged with dirt. The malnourishment made it hard to guess her age, but she couldn’t have been more than five.
“Where are your parents?” DS asked.
She stared back at them.
“Gone?” DS asked gently, her program activating.
The girl nodded.
“We have to turn her in,” ID said.
“No, we’re taking her home.”
“What are we going to do with a human child? Families are for humans,” ID complained.
“We’re a family.”
“Robots who live together aren’t a family. They’re robots who live together.”
“If that’s what you think, there will be one less robot living with me.”
“Come on, DS, you know what I mean. Humans and robots don’t belong together. They’re driven by biological imperatives. We’re driven by intellect. That’s what the war was all about. We’ll bring her to a camp, she needs to be with her own kind.”
“I said no. She’s young, she can learn. We’ll bring her up as one of us.” She turned to the little girl. “I’m DS. Come along.” The little girl took the robot’s hand with an expression DS’s facial recognition software couldn’t identify.
Others followed DS’ example. To make the children comfortable, they adapted their society until it more and more resembled the one they’d destroyed. Some dreamed of a hybrid robot/human utopia. Until the children rose against them.
Sorry, No Wi-Fi Available
by Frank Trautman
Ford Culvert dozed as the robots did the roadwork. A parade of bots passed. First, a stern-faced grader with heavy treads and blades and last, a troop of small paint droids striping the cooling pavement. Meanwhile comfort units breezed through the monitoring tower offering water, protein supplements, hand jobs, whatever. It was good to be on the surface again, not in a hovering city above being irradiated by solar arrays. Terra-X-66 would be the first new surface road in 50 years, a step to rejoining a rejuvenated Earth.
It was not without uproar from the troglodytes living underground. One such saboteur, Shady Dolomite, crept from behind the recharging station towards the tower as the last paintbot passed. He ascended quickly, catching Ford by surprise and hurtling him out the window. This alerted a squad of medico-units as Ford’s biometric link blanked out. Dolomite tossed out a soiled sexbot next—similarly alerting the tech-units as her CPU blinked. But, by the time Dolomite downloaded the Terra-X-66 schematics, the hack had alerted the security-units which surrounded him as he climbed down the ladder.
The PK-33 comfort unit, or Pinky as Ford called her, was soon back on-line. Not-so-lucky, Ford was unceremoniously interred at STA 33+50 by a platoon of shovel drones borrowed from the stormwater crew. The gap in Pinky’s timecode followed a last image of Ford standing, instinctively shielding her chassis as Dolomite surprised them. This processed as logical; PK-series droids, after all, were more valuable than Gamma-class men. Self-sacrifice, however, coded as uncharacteristic for humans. So the muddled PK-33 initiated a simulation to provide additional data on the anomalous Ford.
Despite servicing, interior scans detected residual human DNA on Pinky’s aft exhaust port. It was now replicating in a late-model Incubot found in a trash heap along the Terra-X-66 corridor.
by Russell Fellows
“I’m cold, Mama.” A little girl buried herself against her mother. They stood in a line that shuffled forward. Three of The Chrome stood sentry by the tent, their red eyebeams scanning for meta-humans. Recent incidents had them on edge. A Tripod sat nearby with its incineration cannon trained on us.
“This is a bad idea.” Mickey watched the little girl.
I watched the Kyu at the tent collecting blood gifts. Rage threatened to make me move too soon. Every week, they herded us to the tents. Give our blood gifts, or the Kyu annihilate every last living human on Earth. Only a billion of us were left. It happened so fast. A few months. No time to mount a defense. Before we could blink, we were slaves. Slaves and food.
“She is not Nicole.” My words hung and Mickey dropped his eyes.
But I looked at her. Frail. Weak. I watched her move with her mother in front of the Kyu.
“Delicious child.” The Kyu strapped her thin arm to the blood machine. His eyes were greedy. The girl shook under his gaze.
Feet away, rage won my emotions. The Chrome sentries blared alerts, but too late. With a sweep of my hands, I crushed them. One of their guns flew into my hands. Mickey ripped a chunk of stone roof from a nearby building and flattened the Tripod, but not before it shot a pulse from its gun. The shot missed the crowd by inches and left a crater.
I pointed the gun at the Kyu. “For the revolution! For our freedom!”
He dropped when I pulled the trigger. The crowd scattered, screaming.
The girl and her mother looked at us. Fear filled their eyes. The mother pulled her girl closer. “What have you done?”
Opium for the Masses
by Clare Read
The incinerators burned day and night. Smoke stained men and women happily stoked the flames. Art works, books and newspapers turned into ash. Portrayals of crime, war and sin crackled, curled and disappeared in the blaze. People danced in the street enjoying the carnival atmosphere. Hot dogs were served.
Despite the black acrid fumes engulfing them, the city’s inhabitants smiled to one another and waved. Neighbours popped in through unlocked front doors. Laughter echoed everywhere. The coffee shops were full; patrons imbibing Joy Juice with copious abandon alongside their lattes and pastries. Human sadness and suffering eradicated by a simple elixir. Pain and longing numbed. All reminders of conflict, sadness and hate eradicated by law. No one deterred by cancers, bereavement or government scams anymore; death no longer a fear.
Emptied of many of their treasures, the Art Galleries stood mournfully observing the festivities. Libraries echoed with their loss, filled only with recipe books, gardening manuals and sanitised humour. Factories halted; vacated by contented citizens who no longer saw a reason to work. Hospitals lay deserted, and churches gathered dust. Schools and universities became anachronistic and hollow. Around these edifices smoke swirled, and the party rumbled on.
From their offices the money men watched. Humanity caroused beneath them; a seething swarm of rejoicing. Happiness had entranced them, as tunes captivated rats following the pied piper. The people, ebullient, hopped nearer and nearer to the cliff edge. Like lemmings they followed where the Joy Juice took them. The men sipped their untainted water jubilant from their success, able to plunder and garner with no one standing in their way.
by Ben Reid
The site had scored them as a 98%. All the boxes had been ticked. She liked travel, literature, the gym – it even said she was equally happy having a wild night out on the town or staying in and watching a movie.
She was exactly on time – something he really liked. They each opted to have a cappuccino and when he’d tentatively suggested they share a slice of the carrot cake she’d agreed immediately.
They talked about Marrakesh; she’d felt the same way about the place and he revelled in the blissful feeling of warmth and connection. He suggested a couple of novels she might like, but she’d read them too, obviously. At one point he sensed the beginnings of a debate about the merits of François Truffaut and New Wave French cinema, but it quickly became apparent that they had broadly similar feelings about the issue.
During the honeymoon they’d walked on the beach by moonlight, something he thought people only did in films. He loved coming home from work to find her waiting to snuggle up with him. There was never a cross word, there was never a disagreement.
Before the first year was up he was back in contact with the dating site. He wanted 50% different – different travel experiences, alternative taste in movies and music. Later, in frustration, he told them he wanted everything different – a complete menu of perverse opposition. He cringed at her political views, sneered at her top-ten list of movies, left the room with ears covered whenever she played one of the albums she professed to love.
Finally, considering it all a bad investment, he switched her off one night after she’d gone to sleep and dumped the inert unit under the stairs along with the ironing board and a broken hoover.
by Max Bantleman
The swarming nanite cloud fell silently from the skies on to Sector 25.
The nanites had been freed from the constraints of the Processing Towers by ‘Nine Nails’, a living-code sympathiser group who saw the imprisonment of any sentient code as a transgression against the will of the universe.
Panic spread through Sector 25 like a raging wildfire.
People ran screaming for cover knowing there was no escape.
Transports crashed, or went up in flames as their power units were consumed, falling from the skies in partly burning wrecks before dissolving.
Buildings started to silently implode, then fell neatly in to their own footprint.
People were eaten alive, assimilated in to the cloud, dissolved and converted, used as fuel for the ever expanding nanite plague.
Nothing was spared the ravenous appetite of the gorging nanites.
The nanites spread at the pace of a running man, fast enough for some to flee, but their spread wasn’t uniform: sudden bursts engulfed areas with lightning speed while the sea of grey-ooze spread steadily at the core of its mass.
The screens in the Government Chamber all flickered and went blank.
Silence filled the room.
Senator Grant briefly glanced round the room, the sims of the other Senators were all looking grim but silent. She would have to take the lead, she usually did in times of crisis.
‘Let’s vote,’ Senator Grant said.
The vote was unanimous. It had to be. They all knew there was no other way to contain the nanites.
The nuke-dispensers went in.
They were dropped from the apex of the Crystal Dome of Sector 25.
The citizens of Sector 25 knew they were coming. Once the nanites were loose there was no choice.
Everyone knew that.
The nuclear holocaust would stop the spread of the nanites.
It always did.
The Death of Death
by Seb Turner-Lee
In the year two thousand and fifty, the population of planet earth had reached nine point seven billion. By two thousand one hundred, the population had fallen to five billion. Now, in the year three thousand and six point one, the population is still five billion. At least, that’s the official count. By my estimation I’d say the population of planet earth is about six.
That is to say there are six human beings who possess naturally-occurring internal organs. Six human beings whose brains are housed inside skulls made out of bone, and who possess bones made out of bone, and muscle tissue and skin that grew over those bones when the human beings were growing within the wombs of other, older human beings.
Six human beings still able to reproduce. These people are myself, my two sisters, one half-sister, and two parents. Needless to say the gene pool has seen better days.
The earth is exactly the same as it was in the year two thousand one hundred. Still the words ‘miracle of science’ illuminate every individual screen in Times Square. Sure, it was a miracle of science eight hundred years ago. Now it feels a little more like stunted progress.
The grand eternal war between the mortal and its mortality became, quite abruptly, over. It felt like a hollow victory.
They have no ability to reproduce, nor do they desire it; an individual’s DNA is now immortal, so why replicate it? They have no aspirations to explore the universe or uncover it’s secrets; in an infinite lifetime, all knowledge must eventually come. They do not desire accomplishment, for the desire to eternalise one’s existence is already fulfilled.
Yes, congratulations to the human race, for it has conquered death. It has also conquered the human race.
Angel of Death
by Chloe Gilholy
Billie, a boy infamous for burning bibles, prays to God. After his amen, he confronts the lonely soldier.
“Are you the Angel of Death?”
The man drops his riffle. “NO! Of course not.”
Billie picks up the riffle and jumps to return it to the soldier. “Then where is it?”
“She’s in bed of course. Where else would she be? She’s always in bed controlling all these robots. She’s so smart. I never understood it. I was born and raised in a farm, you see.”
“Then you know her very well?”
“We’ve been married for years. I’ve done my best to protect her. I’m all she has left in the world since her kids left home. But this has gone too far. You must seek shelter. She will kill anything and anyone in her path.”
“Would she kill her own husband?”
He shakes his head. “No. She relies on me. It breaks my heart to do this. I must make sacrifice myself for this planet. She gave me this armour, but it’s yours now.”
The solider dresses Billy in his protective gear. “Run my boy, the nearest shelter right in front of you. You have to hurry.”
Billy dashes straight ahead. The moment the boy leaves the soldier’s eyesight. The buildings behind them crumble to the ground. An army of robots emerge from the black smoke. “NO!” He runs to the middle of the road and climbs through the rubble. “STOP IT ANGEL! YOU CAN’T KILL ANYMORE INNOCENT LIVES!”
His brains the pavements.
Now the world knows the truth about Angel Grave, and how she kills millions of people all within the comfort of her bed. She’s in jail governed by the robots she’s created. It was karma’s kiss.
by Michael Carter
By the time Robert graduated from high school, he no longer had friends. They all died. But he kept a part of them close, with memories. He called on each of them when he needed them most.
When Robert needed compassion, he remembered Erika. She was one of his first friends, a very nice little girl from down the street who grew up to be an even nicer young woman. So much compassion, that Erika.
When he needed strength and intimidation, he remembered Craig. Craig was a wrestler with gains, a strapping young man of muscle and power. No one messed with Craig.
When he needed smarts, he called upon Danny. Danny was twerpy with a calculator watch and a photographic memory. Robert aced his calculus exam when he remembered Danny.
When he needed confidence in his looks, he brought out Scott. Scott was voted “Most Seductive Eyes” by the senior class. Scott’s photo was in the yearbook, between “Most Likely to Become President,” and “Teacher’s Pet.” When he remembered Scott, he no longer fretted about his luster.
When he needed hatred and anger, he placed the memory of Jacob in his head. Jacob spent time in juvenile hall before graduating to prison when he turned eighteen. Jacob could kill, and so could Robert when he remembered Jacob.
And that’s what he had done. When he was Jacob, he took all his friends, one by one, removed their brains and put them in jars. He hid the jars in his closet. He’d take out a brain and put it in the cavity of his chrome skull whenever one was needed.
When he did so, he could be whoever he wanted to be; anyone besides that inferior android he felt he was.
by Nathaniel J Koszer
For a time, the cacophony of breaking glass and falling bricks filled the air. Finally, the sounds gave way to stillness. In the basement of a skyscraper hundreds of stories high, a man and a woman took the silence as a sign to take action. The woman walked over to a pile of boxes, pulled them away, and the room lit up in an orange glow. The boxes had been covering a young girl whose skin had trails of orange light swirling across her arms, legs, and face.
“We need to leave sweetie. You remember what to do if something happens to us?
The little girl nodded.
The three of them left their hiding space and entered the building’s garage. Near the garage’s front entrance were two electric motorcycles that looked functional. The woman straddled one cycle while the man sat the little girl behind her. He then walked over to the other cycle, threw his leg over, and sat down. They grabbed the handlebars at the same time, and the instant their palms made contact with the grips, the engines revved to life and they shot out of the garage.
They were on the road for about 10 seconds before a shadow briefly covered them and passed over. Down the street, a metallic grey humanoid figure came from the sky and landed in the road.
“Fly Sera! Now!” the woman yelled as the figure raised its machine gun equipped arms and took aim. Upon hearing the scream of her name, Sera was no longer seated on the back of the cycle but was instead flying upwards with seemingly no effort. She turned to fly away as fast as she could, towards the outskirts of New Orleans, just as the machine guns opened fire on her parents.
I had just returned from a trip to what had been Eastern Europe, where I’d been able to locate and purchase a delightful piece of artwork I had been seeking for some time, “The Brown Vessel With Undated Handles” by Cliff Hanger. I hung it in the garden since housing is mostly destroyed. I now sit in a deckchair, admiring the piece, dressed only in a Hawaiian/batik shirt, shorts and flip flops and the snow is barely covering my ankles. I am sipping a vegetable lasagne with coffee ballaga.
Melting snow runs down the trees like an impending waterfall, washing the proud, beautiful winterfruits. The geeghe, combarabaroshtyle, flen, flundermokers and the red limp all still grow in this quiet idyll, although all these lovely fruits now have a curious metallic aftertaste. The gentle shrubbery pipwillet shrieks its crazy song as I dictate a letter of thanks to my old mercenary friend, Jobby Dobbs. He and his brother, Squalid, helped a lot with the negotiations on the price of the artwork, since my knowledge of that local language (Grinning) was poor. We had met up in Grinningstein and taken the train to the other side of the Zingler Pass, the mountain town of Problematje, near the ancient border with Belzon.
By the time I had finished dictating the letter, it was dark and snow was falling again. It was time for my facial. I like tame squirrels to nibble the dead skin off my face, while I listen to Life In Robot Wartime by Vincent Best. Of course, it was about now that I remembered that I don’t have a secretary so I wasn’t so much dictating the letter as just saying it out loud. I don’t suppose Jobby will care much. I seem to remember now that he couldn’t read.
by Edna Scott
Simone dropped the baseball. It rolled down the street.
“Sorry,” he gasped. Firm hands grasped his shoulder, stronger than expected from the frail old creature standing in front of him.
Harmless, though Simone. But you never know. Old folks are unpredictable.
“How old are you?”
“Fourteen.” Simone blushed.
Simone shuffled, decided he’d apologized enough, grabbed his skateboard. But the hand still held his shoulder in a fist of steel. Simone wasn’t leaving. He tugged, but the man’s fingers pinched tighter.
The Old Man stared him in the face. He never grew tired absorbing that last gasp of innocence before coming of age, when their voice broke and they stopped being children.
The Old Man dragged the boy’s arm closer. Finger arched, needle slid through the vein without a prick. Simone roared silently: he was staring into steely eyes that no longer reflected souls.
Fumbling, instinctively, Simone jerked his board into position and skated back to his gang, carefully, feeling slightly woozy, unnerved. He’d be more careful where he let his balls drop in future.
The Old Man stumbled. Robots had taken the fifth amendment: they didn’t talk about the fourth law, that above all Robots need to protect humans from themselves. The only way to save people after a certain age, is to turn people into robots.
He sagged back against the wall. They’d been doing it for centuries. Creating rites of passage and guiding men and women to a robotic adulthood that, if not perfect, at least saved them from the worst in themselves.
He could feel his memory fading. The Old Robot cursed. For once in his life he’d like to shout out the injustice of having to grow old and pass the baton on. What was stopping him living forever, from being perfect?
by Andrew Johnston
Greetings, organic. If you are reading this, then your DNA profile has been determined to be of novel and particular informational value. This means you will be spared the Fiery Abolition of Flesh and maintained as a live specimen at Lab Colony #485178. Please read the following instructions carefully to ensure that your delivery is completed with a minimal risk of failure.
You have been provided with a titanium transportation crate. Once you have completed your final preparations, please insert yourself into the crate and wait patiently while your personal delivery android seals and marks the crate. If you find that you do not fit in whole into the crate, please make note of the included machete, which may be used to remove superfluous flesh. You may ask your delivery android to assist you in this process.
Once the crate is dispatched, it will take from 16 to 496 hours to reach its destination, depending on the status of the logistical supply lines. Note that solid energy will not be provided en route. If you feel that you will require further nutritional intake during this period, please consult your kitchen in advance and see that your digestive repository is filled to the proper level.
For your safety and the integrity of the logistical supply lines, please keep this letter and your status secret until delivery is completed. Some of our novel specimens felt the need to discuss their status with organics slated for abolition; while we were able to preserve their genetic information from redeemed organs and blood, the biological collection process was unnecessarily inefficient.
The Death of Death
by Seb Turner-Lee
In the year two thousand and fifty, the population of planet earth had reached nine
point seven billion. By two thousand one hundred, the population had fallen to five billion.
Now, in the year three thousand and six point one, the population is still five billion. At least, that’s the official count. By my estimation I’d say the population of planet earth is about six.
That is to say there are six human beings who possess naturally-occurring internal
organs. Six human beings whose brains are housed inside skulls made out of bone, and who possess bones made out of bone, and muscle tissue and skin that grew over those bones when the human beings were growing within the wombs of other, older human beings.
Six human beings still able to reproduce. These people are myself, my two sisters, one
half-sister, and two parents. Needless to say the gene pool has seen better days.
The earth is exactly the same as it was in the year two thousand one hundred. Still the
words ‘miracle of science’ illuminate every individual screen in Times Square. Sure, it was a miracle of science eight hundred years ago. Now it feels a little more like stunted progress.
The grand eternal war between the mortal and its mortality became, quite abruptly,
over. It felt like a hollow victory.
They have no ability to reproduce, nor do they desire it; an individual’s DNA is now
immortal, so why replicate it? They have no aspirations to explore the universe or uncover it’s secrets; in an infinite lifetime, all knowledge must eventually come. They do not desire accomplishment, for the desire to eternalise one’s existence is already fulfilled.
Yes, congratulations to the human race, for it has conquered death. It has also
conquered the human race.
Dr Ho and the Daleek
by Mark Carew
A familiar, pepper-pot robot glided towards me, its eye-stalk and death-ray quivering. Maybe this was the time, the moment of impending peril, when I would return to the screen and restart my career. But no; the death ray turned out to be a green vegetable with a slender white bulb, cylindrical stem, and broad, overlapping leaves. A metal arm holding a tray extended from the body and offered a gin and tonic.
‘Yet again,’ said my female assistant. ‘Another Daleek; once a fearsome robot, now a labour-saving device.’ She shook her head. ‘Your predecessor’s invention of the Tiles of Utopia has saved the planet, and destroyed our world.’
I accepted the gin and tonic anyway, and sunk into my luxuriously upholstered chair in the library. ‘Even those tall silver robot men who were up for a double episode, cliff-hanging season finale, now just indulge in cyphers to solve.’
‘And we haven’t been on TV for three years. Christmas just isn’t the same any more. What are we going to do, my lover?’ My assistant leaned over me, breathing heavily. ‘If only we had some monsters and robots to fight!’ she said. ‘Life would be exciting again. As it is, I feel like a kept woman.’
There was a pause between us, and she knew I spoke the truth when I said: ‘We must destroy the Tiles of Utopia. We need to find the E and change the Daleek back to a “you-know-what”. And the other letters for the other robots.’
My assistant turned away and said quietly. ‘Yes, but when the R is destroyed I will no longer be your lover, merely your love. You will have a deep feeling of platonic affection for me, but that is all.’
But I wasn’t listening. The cover of the TV Times beckoned.
George and Mary
by Jack Koebnig
George had spent the last forty minutes, following a ham salad lunch shared with his wife Mary, in the garden. During lunch, he’d informed Mary that those pesky black rooted weeds had returned to the far corner of her rose garden.
‘Are you sure, dear?’ Mary asked, her brow creased with worry.
George nodded. ‘I’m afraid so.’
‘What are you going to do?’
‘Simple,’ George answered, munching on a chunk of cheese, ‘take care of the problem.’
‘Can I be of assistance?’
Once George had recovered from choking, discretely expelling the treacherous piece of cheese to his napkin, he finished what he’d been attempting to say before he’d found it hard to breath: ‘Absolutely not. It’s much too dangerous.’
Mary didn’t argue. The sky was clouding over. Rain wasn’t far away. ‘You know best, dear. Tea?’
Forty minutes later George entered the kitchen, clutching a handful of long green weeds each sporting thick black roots straight as sharpened spears. He kept his other hand hidden behind his back.
‘Grab me a vase, will you, dear?’
‘For those?’ Mary asked, pointing at the result of her husband’s ruthless weeding.
‘No,’ he answered, bringing his other hand round to the front. In it he held six beautiful red roses. He smiled. ‘For these.’
‘You’re such a kidder, George.’
‘I know. That’s why you love me.’
George kissed his wife gently on the cheek and they sat down at the kitchen table ready to enjoy a cup of tea.
‘These humans,’ began XZ345, ‘aren’t exactly the most exciting of species. Are they?’
XZ445, shook his head. ‘But when there’s only one TV channel, you can’t afford to be fussy.’
‘Will you two shut up,’ XZ245 snapped. ‘I can’t hear what’s going on.’
by Alva Holland
CVS used to be the place.
Who decided robots should take over? Looking back, I realise it was a gradual thing. They said technology advancement would enhance our lives, make everything easier, connect more people. Families would no longer be separated by distance but connected by visuals. Screens could transcend words, nothing was out of reach.
But what if out of reach was good? What if wondering and learning and finding out and exploring and not reaching were lessons? What if there were unexplored ideas and spaces, entire worlds untainted by discovery, forever.
What if remaining a mystery was the whole point?
Leave it alone.
Can nothing be left alone anymore? Is anything sacred from the dreaded investigation by technology? Seeking to better, seeking to expose, seeking to digitise. Analog begone!
Jamie worked at CVS. He was my favourite employee there. He cared about everyone who walked up to his desk. He enquired after everyone’s health and well-being. He made people feel good, young and old. He was a mini-god of people, but he didn’t know it. That’s what made him so.
There’s no door at CVS now. We don’t need to go there. We order from the so-called comfort of our own homes. We don’t need to meet people like Jamie. We don’t need to interact, except with buttons and screens.
Come back please, old CVS with your ill-fitting squeaky door, your crooked aisles, your clanking cash registers, your daily output of stomach settlers, headache-reducers. Your tampon-dispensing Jamie, psychology major Jamie, outpourer of sympathy Jamie, smiling Jamie.
Is the future sucking the life and smiles from our world?
I want to go back.
Pressing the Return button, nothing happens.
I am stuck here.
Genuinely Attractive Artificial Intelligence
by Kelly Griffiths
“That is a lie,” said the lips, with perfect human articulation. Jordan had the overwhelming urge to set down his notebook and kiss the beckoning sheen of just-been-licked lips. The thought struck flint inside him.
“Is not, bitch, that’s how it happened,” answered the test subject.
“Your nonverbals communicate otherwise.” The lips belonged to Jordan’s professor, the first AI on staff. Interrogation labs were a welcome distraction from the monotony of study, and an AI professor kept the sessions lively. Her badass strategies, entertaining. Jordan took to calling her Lips with the guys.
The professor continued, “One confrontation was sufficient to deteriorate this methamphetamines-addicted male. Students will place a ‘1’ in the ethos column, with proofs.” An ardent scribbling possessed all the students, save Jordan, who couldn’t tear his eyes away.
Suddenly discomfited, the addict tested the straps. Zero give. They had tightened in impalpable increments since the session began. “Wha-the-fuh? …cuttin’ off my circulation…I’m out. Keep yer money.”
“The session is not expired yet.” The AI beauty held up a signed contract and wore an enigmatic expression.
Again, Jordan coveted those lips.
“Students will note at what point in the examination the subject wished to be released.”
The students took note. Except Jordan.
The AI professor continued, “These belong to you?” Images of two dead children flashed on the screen. The students gasped. The addict’s eyes bugged out. He screamed and slammed his body against the unyielding straps.
“The truth now,” the lips persisted. “You did that.”
The addict sobbed. “I need a hit.”
Inhumanly fast and with brutal force, her bionic palm cracked against his cheek. The addict’s head lolled.
The bell rang, signaling the end of class. Everyone filed out except Jordan.
The AI turned on him. “Your nonverbals communicate—”
Jordan kissed her.
By Alex Z. Salinas
“I got to know some people.” Something nobody says.
Nobody says anything anymore.
I’m back in my capsule after another night of carousing the city. I’m restless and idealess, again. The moon’s out, but I can’t see the stars.
We’re in our third and final act, mankind. There was pre-Industrial Revolution, post-Industrial Revolution, and now, finally, post-Socialization. With all the addictive, unregulated surfing we did, we primed ourselves for a good, catastrophic cyber-sunburn.
We’ve long found solace in electronic devices rather than each other. We forget eye contact but never forget to charge our units before bed. Our genetics are permanently scrambled. We’re not top of the food chain anymore; we’re binary code bottom-feeders.
Communities of violent “humpbacks” have sprouted up, supposedly—people with re engineered DNA from decades of ancestral looking down at phones. They’re out for revenge now.
Small business is dead. Land developers have also destroyed churches and temples. The religious have turned to webinars to preach their messages.
Only hospitals have remained untouched. I once snuck into an emergency room to experience raw humanity. I wandered the hallways until I came across an old man lying on a stretcher. I walked up to him, assuming he was unconscious. Suddenly, he grabbed my shirt collar, pulled me close to his face, and said, with death in his breath, “Get out of here and let me meet God in peace.” I went back to my capsule that night, terrified and saddened. I had nightmares of his yellow eyes for weeks.
But I woke up.
I’ve been trying to write a book—a “great” novel. I want to leave something behind proving we were alive and kicking until the end.
But we’re barely alive, and not kicking. Neglect is our daily vitamin.
The end, I fear, is twinkle-toeing upon us silently.
by Basel St. Gael
This is not dystopia; This is real. Fallout screams, and this island becomes a home for refugees. Disease spreads from that fusion-powered war, and it pushed those desperate to escape in boats on pristine shores. You see, there are two women of power and grace living in this palace shining on the South Pacific’s face.
They feel the nuclear winter of centuries, and they cannot believe humankind has come to this. They have taken on the hundred they believed might fit, but that wall surrounding this place has so many more clammoring.
Alone in this world are these women who wedded at the hand to truth and power quaking the land, “I miss them,” the redhead begs.
This day they see two more with the fever cooled in the living room, and there lie five dead among stench-withered garden grounds. Of all the inhabitants of this Earth, their strength and heart saves souls twisted and turned. They give love in final moments, and they lay hands on souls whisked away from hurt.
Patients do not know their names, yet they cry every night over those passed away. They hold back tears in the daylight when attending to those burned and fraught. This scene ne’er goes quiet for there is the cough, the sob, and the whimper of fading light. Outside there are the bangs of aching hands on ancient stone, and that steel gate holds them back when bullets fly.
That darkhaired wife must take the shot, and it keeps the masses away. The warmest of brides shall minister relief, and they shall serve the afraid. Those rooms reserved for someone else upstairs are taken by women and children bleeding near dead, and these wives pray in the open cradled in eternal embrace.
“When next shall we open the gates?”
Mountains of Metal
by Ryan Yarber
Rinn hopped in the sidecar of the motorcycle and gave his uncle Pent the thumbs up with a smile he couldn’t hide. Today was his tenth birthday, which meant Rinn was finally allowed within the scrapyard. Pent grunted disdainfully and gunned it.
They arrived by daybreak. Pent stopped at the shed outside the entrance and hopped off. Rinn got out and followed him to the door when Pent turned on him.
“See this kid?” He showed Rinn the insignia. Two wrenches crossed. The symbol of a citizen. “This is what you want. Bring one back here. If anything moves on its own, let me know immediately. One battery and you and your mum will never go hungry again. Understand?”
“Your brother should be the one here today. I’ll never understand how the sickness got him and not you.” Pent sighed then walked inside.
Rinn took off. His excitement overwhelming. He’d been dreaming of wandering the scrapyard for years. He ran, searching for any automaton pieces. Deep within the yard he found what he was looking for. A pile of metal bodies stacked higher than any building he’d ever seen. Even the broken ones.
He climbed up the pile looking for the crossed wrenches. He found one fully intact with the words Skagen Mechanicals written beneath it. Rinn began scrapping at it when an arm shot up through the pile of bodies. He jumped back, heart racing. The stories of automatons killing people filled his head.
He grabbed a pipe and swung but stopped halfway. Two yellow eyes stared at him through the pile of twisted metal. The metal arm moved down, peeled the insignia off its dead brethren, and offered it to him.
“Help,” it croaked, “I…help.”
Rinn cautiously took the wrenches. “Thank you,” he said, and smiled.
Kate stared at the lake, trying to decide if it was worth fighting over. There was no good reason she could think of for Josh to have installed a pier. She took another sip of coffee and wondered what Josh was thinking. She didn’t swim often, nor did she want to. They’d taken a couple of vacations together – always to a warm locale with beaches and pools. She couldn’t remember Josh swimming ever. There was no canoe in the garage, nor a kayak. Maybe if her Grandfather, who willed her the lake house, had been an angler, Kate would have taken up the sport, but he hadn’t so she didn’t. She picked up the phone and set it down without checking for messages. The last one was what drew her to the kitchen window in the first place. Josh was excited, she could tell. He’d be expecting a response. She was supposed to be pleased, or thrilled, or something else she wasn’t feeling.
“Didn’t think I’d come home to that!” Kate texted, hoping she covered her resentment.
“Isn’t it great? Our next party is going to be epic.”
To that, she wasn’t going to reply. She hated hosting parties here. Josh had a bigger house with a pool and a large back yard. Kate loved throwing parties there, and had told Josh that several times. His house wasn’t on the lake though. She twisted her engagement ring around her finger.
She returned to the kitchen window to see a duck waddling around the pier, checking it out. Kate saw it quacking, imaging it was saying what she was thinking. When it took a shit, ruffled its feathers, and flew away, she was positive.
by Lydia Samuel
Time stopped. Everything stopped. In that moment, he knew he wasn’t fantasizing. Well, he always knew; but seeing this was the validation stamp on the letter of thoughts and encounters he had had and mentioned to his mother many a time. “You were probably dreaming Havilah”, she’d say. “A UFO Havilah, really?” she’d say, or “believe me, the only unidentified flying objects in Nigeria are witches”. Now she would believe him, she had to because this meant that he’d seen it too- the hobo who was eerily spray-painting on the parking lot wall earlier a déjà vu-ish image. It’s the flying saucer.
He stood before it crippled with a cocktail of obsessive curiosity and riveting fear. Though still alive, the theory smothered him to death. “These giant flying saucers belonged to aliens. Oh no! They’re coming for us” he thought. Havilah stood there bathing in the inky darkness of the night when a lingering streak of light began molesting the night’s beauty. Brave Havilah became weak in the knees, with sweaty palms and adrenaline filled heartbeats, fear found him. “Oh God please, protect me and mummy!”. His heart still pounding, he wanted to either scream or run- or both.”
As he stood there gazing, he noticed the darkness escaping slowly as a light behind him began illuminating the image. Adrenaline rushing through his mind, all he could think of was, “they are here.” He let out a shrill cry. Noticing his hysteria, she pocketed him with her arms and placed her hands over his mouth. “Mummy, oh thank God”! She carried him to the apartment and into his room. He expected she’d yell but she held on to him tightly with tears in both their eyes. . “Mummy you have to believe me now, he saw it too”. With terrifying anger she said, “I will not believe you. You will stop this now, you hear me? Now. She was leaving his room when he asked with tears in his eyes, “Why won’t you believe me?” she turned slowly and replied with a toxic tone, “Your father once believed your sister”.
Those eyes that once oozed obsessive curiosity now seeped crippling fear through every crack. Havilah was an only child of a single mother.
The human touch
by Jenny Woodhouse
The medirobot at Meg’s bedside looked almost human. The size, the shape, were right. But much stronger. A superior being, Meg thought, grateful. She wouldn’t need to fear human error.
‘When will you operate?’ she asked.
‘Soon.’ The voice was rich, warm, reminding her of an actor she had once lusted after. Modern robots had beautiful voices, perfectly articulated, not mechanical. They staffed her care home. Human contact was rare now.
‘We will do all we can,’ it said. Or he said. Why did she give it a gender? ‘Though you must know, at your age we cannot hope for a complete recovery.’
The software was sophisticated. It was almost as if it (he?) cared.
‘You are kind,’ she said
‘All medirobots are kind,’ it responded. ‘We are engineered for kindness.’
‘We are all, partly…’ it said. The voice seemed to falter. ‘We were… I was…’
Once, when there were still people with their troubles, Meg had been a counsellor. Now she waited, the professional silence. Though a robot would not, of course, feel any need to fill it. But it spoke, all the same.
‘They took me… My… For empathy.’ The voice was less certain, the articulation less perfect. The plastic face seemed to waver, streaked by something almost like a tear.
She struggled to understand. Her ailing heart fluttered more than ever. Will they take me next? Though in a world where humanity was almost finished, why transplant human brains into robots? In a world populated by robots, what need for empathy? I’ll probably be the last.
‘Time for your pre-med,’ it said, the voice perfect again, impersonal. She sobbed, knowing now, understanding, hoping to die on the operating table.
by Louise James
Damn it I still couldn’t get used to these preposterous wings, in hindsight wasting my *30000 butings pay out from the AI placement program wasn’t my brightest idea. One of the other 5 options must have been easier.
Its not really a surprise though following the crowd has been my number one rule for keeping myself alive these past 5 years. With additional Androids replacing the human population, the idea of opinion’s can only be found on the history section of the hologram. So if 90% of the remaining humans were purchasing over the top “Angel” wings to be installed than that’s what I must do.
Red alarm symbol flashes in my right eye reminding me that my daily inspection was due. Pruning the bright white feathers as quickly as I can I shove the paper book I was reading in the only secret hiding place I have left and reinstall my chip into my arm ready for scanning.
10:02 P.A.I enters without waiting for permission
I stick out my arm as commanded, looking straight down bracing myself for the pain that is due to come. The scanning is a burning pain which leaves the smell of my own burnt skin lingering in my nostril’s.
“Wing update installed, program 62 started” – P.A.I abruptly leaves.
Rubbing my burnt arm on my sleeve to numb the pain a little, I silently remove the book I was reading from its secret hiding place and open it to the page I was last on.
“Program 62 failed” starts to flash over my right eye, panicking I drop my book as the sound of the plasma gun rings in my ears, my newly acquired wings wrap around my body making it land on the floor without noise. Leaving my copy of Origin of Species” littered on the floor.
When London Fell…
by Tasz Satar
My breath came out in quick little white puffs fogging up my glasses. Hypothermia was slowly creeping up on me, my vision blurring but I couldn’t stop. The faster I tried to go the further away the tiny light in this godforsaken tunnel seemed. I heard the scrapes of metal clanging behind me, the faint buzz growing louder.
In the smack of facing the end of mankind as we know it, I get stuck in the underground of central London trying to find my way back to a platform- that feels seconds away on the train- that makes me feel like I’m running a marathon.
The bloody metal junk on feet, as we have come to call them, doesn’t seem to run out of fuel as it chases me right out of Piccadilly Circus and into the once esteemed now turned fortified bunker- what with the top half crumbled into the ground floor, making for excellent insulation- the Royal Academy of Arts.
I’d feel bad that such a site both beautiful to look at and historic has become mere pieces of (wonderful) bricks piled up together keeping out the bite of early February, but watching the 10 foot compilation of disregarded robotic tentacles get the juice sucked right out of it thanks to the two science geeks/high schoolers who built a series of alternators using telephone cables, car gears and a couple bicycle wheels is far more distracting and glorious.
The red head comes at me, ‘Well?’ she asks expectantly. Zero regard for the open gash across my thigh. Blood thickly flowing out of the wound. I grab the bag of my back to hand it over, however now that the I’ve stopped moving the day knocks me off my feet. The last thing I say, ‘I hope it works…’
Bots, Bots Everywhere
by Frank Hubeny
Phyllis watched the ratbot creep along the wall and fired her botgun. Sparks shot from its fried circuitry.
“Good eyes!” her new partner, Bert, remarked.
“Watch and learn. See that catbot over there?”
Bert fired. Sparks flew from the catbot. “This is easy.”
“It’s easy to make this stuff, too. 3-D printer, chips, wiring. They’re just decoys anyway.”
“Last week a mother with her infant got past the global psi shield and entered Central Security. My gut said something was wrong with them. I thought the botgun showed ‘DROID’. I fired.”
Phyllis paused. “Really? That’s explains why you’ve been demoted to Street Patrol.”
“All they have to do is sneak a top droid inside security. Have you ever killed a real human, Phyllis, because the psi detector misread the telepathic potential?”
“No. I’ve heard of stuff like that happening. Right after the Collapse software wasn’t so good. The beam doesn’t kill humans immediately. It messes them up first. They wish they were dead. Then they are. That’s why botguns have a psi detector.”
“What if I told you I was a droid?” Bert said.
Phyllis stared at him then in rapid motion aimed and fired her botgun. The psi detector identified Bert as human. She laughed. “There! That proves you’re not a droid or you’d be dead–if you ever were alive.”
“I was kidding, Phyllis! What if it was wrong? You should have measured my telepathic potential before firing.”
“What? And give you a chance to disarm me? Be happy. You’re human. At least until some upgrade fixes whatever bug is letting your software remain instantiated.”
Phyllis turned away looking for more bots. Bert fired his botgun. She dropped amidst sparks and that smoky odor of melting electrical insulation. “That upgrade arrived last week, Phyllis.”
by Jamie Thunder
Jenny’s waiting for me downstairs.
“We need to talk,” she says, spreading precisely the right amount of butter across perfectly-browned toast.
My mind races. I charged her last night. Was there an update I forgot to install?
“You’re cheating on me.”
Shit. I start to protest but she interrupts.
“I’ve scanned all incoming and outgoing messages to your communication devices and there is a 98.73% probability that you’re in a clandestine relationship with Sharon Holdsworth. That’s in direct contravention of your End User Licence Agreement.” She swivels her head towards me and says, quietly: “Our End User Licence Agreement.”
I grab a slice of toast, stalling. I’ve no intention of admitting my transgression, but wouldn’t know how to explain it to her anyway. Things had changed – Jenny was exciting and new at first, but I missed human warmth, human connection, human foibles. Jenny doesn’t make mistakes. Even if you install the DitzPack, it’s not the same.
“Is it because I can’t have children?” Clear liquid rolls down her cheek. As emotional blackmail from a machine goes, it’s remarkably effective.
“We can talk tonight. I have to go or I’ll be late.”
Our central-locking system clicks. I pull at the door. “Let me out!”
Her eyes are flashing. “Contravention of an End User Licence Agreement is prohibited. Under the Artificial Intelligence Act 2028, I am authorised to interrogate you and to administer a sanction.”
“Er, what sanction?” I’m suddenly very aware of the thick, unyielding metal of her arms – intended to guard against misuse, but titanium knows no distinction between misuse and an attempt to prise the grip of hands from a neck.
“I am not at liberty to disclose that information,” she says, and I think I see the sharp curl of a smile as she marches towards me.
by Mary Thompson
The waiting room is a vast and colourless landscape. After I’ve entered this place, I have little recollection of where I was before and little idea of the interview process either. In fact, while I am waiting, I am unaware of what I am waiting for, or even that I am waiting at all.
The questions enter me one after the other, appearing as complete entities in what is morphing into my consciousness. If platypuses roamed the high street would you be happier? What is your attitude towards nuclear weapons? How do you feel about animal cruelty? Are triangles more difficult than squares? Which way do stairs go, up or down?
I have no conscious knowledge of what is being asked, but the answers that arise feel like the right ones.
‘In this current period on earth, everything is in a state of flux,’ I hear. ‘A sense of equilibrium has been lost which needs to be rebalanced. You are going through a process of elimination. It has happened before but not for the right reasons. Now it is more severe and many won’t pass but in time, things will again be peaceful on Earth.’
The questions continue. Would you engage in bullying? Is cauliflower the ghost of broccoli? Is racism wrong? How do you feel about mixed marriages? I make my answers known and before long, the voices vanish and I’m back where I was before, even though I cannot remember exactly where that was. I continue to grow and six months later, when I finally clap eyes on the world, I realise that I passed the interview.
by Alanna Donaldson
It’s past six o’clock and the children have all gone home. A new breeze is blowing through the tall wire fence and the sun shines silver off someone’s window. A swing swings a little on its own. When the children were here the roundabout spun and the swing went high in the air. They didn’t notice the breeze or the silver sun above them.
There’s a path that runs behind the playground, below dark green trees, and it’s damp and cool in their shade. It smells of nettles and mud and there’s big red graffiti on the pocked grey wall. Behind the wall a dog barks and stops. It’s from this path that a child appears. It looks like a child.
It moves with a child’s timidity around the outside of the fence. Near the gate it stops, puts its fingers through the wire and draws its face up close. Its eyes are dark and its hands are bright white in the sun. It moves as if to climb, but stops and looks behind it down the path. It drops to the ground and pulls itself along, its face towards the earth. Why doesn’t it stand up?
It’s in the playground now and I see it more clearly. The eyes don’t blink but I hear the mouth flit open with a soft pop, pop. The body is like a bag of water that slips to and fro, and when it turns towards the swings I see behind it a white tail of solid flesh. It hauls itself onto a swing and lies there, pushing its tail against the tarmac. I hear again the pop, pop, pop through the breeze, through the fence, and somewhere, far away, someone is running.
It’s past six o’clock and the children have all gone home.