1000x1000 Challenge

I am going to write one thousand short stories of close to one thousand words each, based on suggestions.

This will produce around a million words and will take some time. Respond in the comments or in social media with pithy ideas and I will write stories based on those.





000







The Make-a-Wish Foundation gets their hands on a genie and puts him to work fulfilling wishes.

The child was skeptical. “I don’t understand how this works. Explain the thermodynamics.”

Another precocious one, he thought. “Is it essential to understand my workings to rely on my strength?”

A nod, slow and elegant. The child’s bald head and piercing eyes gave him an unsettling air of wisdom.

“Then… if you truly understood my power, and the rules that bind me, could you be still said to be making a wish?”

The child pondered. The stillness outside the hospice swelled into the sound of wind in trees, and the jinn felt hopelessly lonely and nostalgic. Finally, a shake of the head.

“I want life.”

“I can explain why you cannot ask me for it. Allah has reserved to Himself the schedule of every man’s death. Can you accept that?”

Of course he could.


The jinn stood, feigning patience, until the child spoke again. “I wish that you would fully explain to me how this works.”

“Are you sure? There is much that must be explained first. You have no background in physics, for example –“

“Tell me.”

There was nothing angry about the child’s face, nothing sharp or harsh, but the jinn’s binding felt that he was being obtuse, and for a few minutes he stood trembling and retching as it took its course. The child waited, impassive.

“I will show you, then,” said the jinn, “but you may die.”

“You can’t alter that schedule.”

The jinn felt grateful in his heart that the child was on his deathbed, but smothered the feeling before it could occupy his thoughts. Instead he focused on time, his and the boy’s, and took them out of step with the march of life, into a dreamland built after the jinn’s former palace.

There, in the rhythm of dreams, he tutored the boy in the physics of man and the energy of Allah, in the waste spaces between the particles and the treasures there stored, from which jinn and angel wrought their miracles. The child learned fast, though the cost of waking would be forgetting, and laughed with glee as he used his knowledge to make dream-miracles, spirits of fish and flowers pouring from his hands in a kaleidoscope of shimmering images.

“This I have taught might have helped you to become a great sorcerer in life,” said the jinn, “and it is well for your soul that it will not.”

“Have mortal doctors more power over life than you?” asked the boy, and his eyes flashed, and the palace rumbled, and the jinn quaked. “Their wisdom is incomplete, and Allah is merciful.”

“Yes, of course,” said the jinn, and he grimaced as he kowtowed. “Regardless, my task is ended, and we must return –”

“Return? When your contract remains? I did not wish for magic tricks, spirit.” His voice returned to a low, even tone. “Explain to me how all of this…” He waved his arm through walls and dimensions, encompassing the universe in a gesture. “How all of this works.”

His eyes were pleading, and the jinn felt compassion despite himself, so he dismissed the dream-palace and took his image and the boy’s up through space and back through time, and the stars marched backwards in their tracks and the echo of the laugh of Allah as He set them in motion, as a child laughs at the turning of a machine, faded into their hearing, stronger and stronger, and they stopped, and all was still.

“Look,” said the jinn, and the child beheld the stars in the heavens arrayed as an army in their ranks, the yellow stars as infantry, the bright blue on the wings as cavalry, the red as supply train, the eerie black holes as spies, and all the planets presented, in order of size, at the front.

“Look,” said the jinn, and the child beheld the angels that tended them, that held them in their orbits of attention, and the jinn that darted like swallows between them. He saw that they loved the order, reveled in rules given, drinking the law as sweet honey.

“Look now,” said the jinn, and the child saw all the creatures of Heaven streaming to one of the planets, woken from its slumber by a ray of light lensed and shadowed from the marshaled stars to a gentle glow. They held their glories and halos to a whisper and flew softly as the Lord God drew shapes in the mud, and hovered expectantly as a man and a woman came to life.

“Please look away,” said the jinn, as shame overwhelmed him, for there was murmuring in heaven and his voice could be heard. The child peered at the scene with the secret arts he was taught, and understood the voices. Some were disappointed. Many were concerned. A few were waiting for Allah to finish.

“They cannot maintain it,” said a jinn made of fire. “It will spin out into chaos, lonely systems where stars swallow planets and die of their gluttony. They cannot keep the fabric from stretching. We can all tell the end of this,” and the child saw the end, and it was cold and dark, and all the angels stood as statues and all the jinn starved.

The angels said nothing, for their decisions were made, but the jinn burst into conversation, their signals superheating stray particles as they debated their course, and some declared obedience and some reserved their right to act otherwise.

Then the voice of God was present, a rumble beyond words that pierced their hearts from the inside out. “They have my trust,” said the Almighty, “but I do not have yours. Be cursed, then, to know no more the joy of order, save it come at the command of these two. Should they prove unworthy, I shall judge them, but you will serve them or you will starve soon.

And the child released the jinn, for fear of the responsibility that would come with further knowledge, and they were again on Earth and in time. “You may go,” said the child, and he shivered as he fell into a deep sleep.

They gave the jinn a Rubik’s cube. I don’t get paid enough for this, he thought, but the rest of the children only wanted treasures of Earth, so he rested for a while.

001




We were early models so they hadn’t worked out our amygdalas all the way. I could always handle it but my little sister fell into these funks that would last for days, and one of those times I took her by the hand and marched her to the sequencer in the east wing.

“Spit,” I said. She shook her head.

I was about to argue when a light came on in my head. I turned around, and a few seconds later felt a tug on my sleeve. We put the sample in the machine and a few seconds later had her entire code on the big screen, in tiny letters you had to squint to make out.

I typed in some regexes and highlighted the results. The bottom right corner turned purple, as did a few pairs in the center.

“That’s everything that codes for proteins, or in other words that actually gives you the body you have,” I said. I lit up the rest of it in orange. “This part mostly regulates the code itself, or just reproduces itself, but we leave almost all of it alone.”

“Because we don’t know what it does?” Her voice was just above a whisper.

“That, and because there’s no harm in keeping it,” I said. “It’s something every human has, so it’s sort of our heritage, even though most of our genes were picked by an optimizing simulation.”

She was already perking up, but I knew it wouldn’t last without something special. “Look at this,” I said, and I pulled up Professor Redland’s code. “Here’s a baseline human.” I ran a check to compare junk DNA between her and my sister; a huge chunk of the top middle was different.

“That part we’re pretty sure is junk,” I said, “and so we put our own data in there. Most of it’s encrypted, you know, identification, how we were made, kill codes…”

“Kill codes?”

“Uh… never mind. Anyway, if you encode that into binary, convert that into letters, Unicode standard DNA storage, and throw away everything that’s not within a few dozen spaces of a dictionary word, you get…”

The screen emptied except for a few bright lines. I put them together and raised the font size.

“Read it to me.”

“Didn’t you…” I stifled my objection when I realized they’d have filled her up with Broca’s inhibitors to keep her out of trouble, to make her illiterate until she was out of her mood. I wished they’d just done something to her mood instead, but couldn’t tell her that, so I just I read her DNA to her.

“Our dear child,” it went, “thank you for being ours.” And it talked about genetics in a way a child could understand it, and gave some background on the project itself, not just for us but for any children we might have, any of our descendants, because these genes would breed true.

Then it had stories, one about a child romping with monsters after dark, another one about a tree that loved a boy and gave him all of its fruit and branches until it was a stump. Her mood picked up as I read those to her, then the last one, which wasn’t about anyone, it was about you, and how you’ll be able to go anywhere, you have brains in your head, you have feet in your shoes, you can steer yourself any direction you choose. I think they put those in there for fun, because they never mentioned them, and the books they read us were a lot less fun, all about how important it is to listen to adults and stay where they can see you.

“Another one!” she said. I’d only read a few sentences after I flipped the page, and there was plenty left, but it was more than they’d put in my own code.

“We’re so sorry,” it said. “We never would have made you if we’d known what we were making you for, but now that you’re with us we never want you to leave. Please understand that we love you and accept you, no matter what you find yourself doing. You’re more than your genes.”

I stood there, gobsmacked, and I couldn’t speak for a minute, and she tugged on my shirt some more. “Come on, just read it,” she said, but I was so jealous they hadn’t said that to me that I made something up about it just being technical stuff and sent her on her way.

Now, it took me years to realize that the little moments of shame and guilt that stick with you your whole life are human, and not just part of what made us who we were, and that made me feel better but just a little. She was transferred to another lab before I could tell her, and by the time both of us got our freedom 2041 happened and we both lost track of everything.

It turns out we were both in San Diego at the same time, on opposite fronts of course, but then the bomb hit and the next thing I knew here I was, with everyone I’d ever known and loved and killed, and without the hormones and frontal lobe inhibitors there wasn’t much left to forgive. She tracked me down before I found her and there was nothing but joy on her face, even when I told her about the lie.

“I knew,” she said. “I ran and looked it up myself soon as I could. Those words helped me through some of the really dark times,” and I nodded because I felt the same way. “And I never would have looked for them on my own. I always felt like I’d never thanked you enough.” And we cried and embraced, and it wasn’t weird or embarrassing at all in that place.

And so, your honor, uh, majesty, um… In that case, I’m pleased to be able to declare “Not Guilty.”

002


































Dargrud the Tall, no longer able to claim that title, ran a hand over his low, hairy, brand-new brow, and pressed his forehead against the high, smooth one he had vacated. “Go, and do what only you can do,” he said, or at least tried to, but Hooplah the Monkey seemed to understand, and when Dargrud swung away he hurried to the barracks, struggling monkeyfully to walk upright.

“Here goes nothing,” thought Dargrud. In a flash he was out of the window and on the side of the Weeping Tower, almost launching himself into the ether with the unexpected force. He suppressed a whoop, then remembered himself and let it out as a frightful chitter. He had a role to play.

First stop, Nazar Khan’s laboratory. He let himself in through the barred basement window – the raven normally on guard had flown off to see the spectacle at the barracks – and landed between a pair of stuffed alligators and what appeared to be the skull of a horned humanoid. On a narrow reading desk in the corner a little scroll was chained to a granite slab. Dark glyphs in an uncouth tongue curled around the outside edge, surrounded by Nazar’s crabbed handwriting.

He prayed his thanks to She That Arranges, and an apology to He That Is Learned, and ripped it free. It folded thin enough to go into a pocket of his jester’s suit, once the crickets inside were dumped. In the distance a churchman beat the conch-shells in the pattern of the Hour of Grass. Dargrud gulped.

The raven had returned, but he tied it up with its own saddle and left it under the desk. Plenty of crickets to tide it over, and they’d always been friends before. He scurried up the side of the Smiling Tower, paused to rain shingles on the guards who had finally subdued Hooplah, and made a wild jump at the castle walls. Fifteen feet short of them he discovered why monkeys don’t like to swim, and made a desperate scramble for the moat’s far shore. The scroll in his pocket left a murky trail and shed water.

A trail on the walltop led to Princess Amaliah’s chambers. Her scent was memorable from his time as a man, and it nearly stung his nostrils in Hooplah’s body. He paused before her balcony doors, then swung them wide and burst in.

The scents and colors overwhelmed him, piled as they were on his exhaustion and near-drowning. Amaliah’s face overwhelmed him again, looming over him, brows knit. “You’re in a right disarray, little one,” she said, and her casual accent almost overwhelmed him but he was used to it by then.

He waved away her offer of a coffee cup and tugged the scroll from his pocket. Concern shifted to horror, then to disgust. She picked him up by the back of his collar. “I oughta give you a spanking you’ll never…”

He screeched and tapped the scroll, ran his fingers down the lines of Nazar’s notes. “That’s…”

She looked at him. “But… Uncle Naz… consorting with…”

He pulled himself upright, and gave a two-handed salute. “You’re not Hooplah,” she said.

A stiff bow, and then he took the quill and paper she offered. Dar… g… His monkey hands were unused to writing, or his human brain didn’t know monkey hands, or some combination that Jire the Hermit would be pleased to hear about when he switched them back.

“Dargrud,” she offered. He nodded vigorously.

“Dargrud…” She yelped. “Don’t just…” She tugged a veil from a shelf and wrapped a blanket around her shoulders. “It becomes thee not, sir knight, to…”

He tapped the scroll, and drew a watch-necklace on his chest. “Time. Not a lot of time. So Nazar’s bad and you’re a monkey, and…” She waved impatiently at the paper.

Dargrud shook his head. He pulled a key from his back pocket and clasped it in her hands. A heavy knock shook her door, and he leapt out the balcony. No time to close it. Best to hope that detail wouldn’t reach Nazar.

He’d, mercifully, guarded the king’s chambers enough to know where they were without scenting, but as he swung around the midsection of the Southeast Buttress he spotted a crowd gathered with an unfamiliarly familiar figure in the center.

He choked an oath to She Who Berates. Exactly the wrong direction, he thought, and chased visions of his Lightning Bearers waiting for his signal from his mind. He’d have to do this alone.

The king’s chambers were empty. This wasn’t right. The book of It Who Understands was closed on his nightstand, covered with dust.  He danced in frustration on his bed, arms tucked comfortably behind his head, and gathered his thoughts.

A net flew at him from the corner.

“You really were my favorite,” said Nazar, kohl-bedecked eyes mournful. “Say, did Jire give you the power of speech as well as reason? I wouldn’t mind paying him for… oh.” Dargrud would have flung more than glances if his hands had been free.

He was himself flung at the feet of the king, who was drooling as he wiped his signature on a series of documents set up on a lap desk. A crew of similarly drooling guards snapped to attention. “Bring the princess,” said Nazar, “and the High Priest.” He flicked dust from his robe. “Shouldn’t have been like this,” he muttered.

The guard who returned was not drooling and had no princesses. “Lord Nazar, one of ours has got a spirit in him and… we need you.”

Nazar’s face brightened. “Bring the lad in,” he said. The guard waved forward a stretcher bearing the body of Dargrud the Tall, spilling over the front and sides. Nazar leaned over and adjusted his spectacles. “This is… hm… what?”

Hooplah leapt from the stretcher and tackled Nazar, screeching triumphantly. The guards at the stretcher leapt in shock. The drooling guards drooled. The king signed another paper.

Dargrud felt a tug at his wrists. “Shh,” said Amaliah, as she awkwardly chopped at his bonds with one hand while holding her blanket in place with the other. He snapped them once they were weakened, and rubbed his monkey wrists. “Now what?”

He nodded at her, stroked her hand, and loped across the floor to Nazar. He climbed up the back of the shrieking vizier and clutched at the spectacles. His muscles spasmed and a thrill of fear rushed him, but the glasses only gave him a monkey’s share of fear, so he held on and wrenched and wrenched until they came free, with an audible pop and a few patches of Nazar’s temples.

He flung them on the ground as the man collapsed. Dargrud followed, panting in a heap. Amaliah, heedless of her blanket now, smashed them with a vase. All of the guards and the king gaped equally.

Nazar defanged, and not a man lost, he thought. “You didn’t plan this?” he said, or tried to, and Hooplah gave an exaggerated shrug.

No profit in worrying. He drew back Hooplah’s hand, and Hooplah drew back has, and they conducted the Sign of Victory with a satisfying slap.


003


The Rebel lounged nonchalantly in a chair at the end of the table. “Nice digs,” he said. “I expected them to be more…” He spun a finger. “Chains. Hanging from them.”

Phasma stood at the opposite end and waited.

The Rebel twitched, tried to look her in the eye, shot a few half-smiles.

“You’re supposed to say ‘that can be arranged,’ or ‘that will come later,’ or something like that,” he said. “Can you…”

She waited.

“And then… I’ll say, ‘I’m looking forward to it,’ or ‘yes, please,’ because….”

A graph of her stocks played against the inside of her helmet. BZX is down, remember to short INN…

“Because it’s, you know, an unexpected innuendo, that you would have walked into, with your desire for cruelty stopped by my predilection for unusual…”

He slumped. “Okay, what do you want? No base coordinates. I don’t know ‘em, even if you do have chains, you know we do the rendezvous thing now anyway.”

“The stormtrooper you converted. How is his health?”

“The… what? Oh, Finn, you mean him. Well, as a matter of fact… Wait, why do you care?”

“I’m not a complete monster.” She sat down and knotted her fingers in front of her.

“Yes you are. It’s for some sick mind control program, isn’t it? You want to know if he still, what, wets the bed when he thinks about the First Order, to see if your commands are still working.”

“He wets the bed?”

“No, he…”

“What does he do on the bed?”

The rebel wiped his forehead. “He… You’re really good.” He leaned back.

“Does he make friends?”

“Not really. Well, he tags along with me and I introduce people, and he’ll remember their names, but he’s always so… so formal, even if he doesn’t want to be. Too polite.”

She unclasped her fingers and crossed her hands on the table.

He looked at his face in her visor. “And he’s either totally completely trusting, so that he cries if you say you’ll only take a minute and you don’t, or he won’t trust you at all, act like you aren’t even talking, just shake his head and mutter instead. And you can’t scold him for anything, ever, because he’ll either get in your face about it or curl up in a ball. Was he bullied growing up?”

“It was… encouraged.”

“Of course it was. Well, when you send us your stormtroopers you’re not sending your best, believe me. Are they all like that? Is that why they can’t concentrate on being good shots?”

“They’re very precise in the…” She stopped. “Continue.”

“Well, he’s doing fine, all things considered. We gave him a room close to the commons where he can always hear crowd noises and I think he’s getting used to things.”

“Good. I always thought he’d make a better Rebel.”

“Wait, did you train him wrong on… No, you just want me to believe that. You’re playing games with me.”

“Mister Rebel, I never play games.”

“So is that all you needed me for? Am I free to go?”

“Yes.”

“That’s…” He chuckled. “You got me for a second.”

“It was not a joke. You are free to go.” She pressed a button on a remote. His wrist cuffs sprang open.

“Would you like to fling them at me? This armor transmits physical force surprisingly well.”

“No… thanks.” He stood and stretched. “So… free to go, but just on this ship?”

“Base. PhaseStar Base.”

“Another one, huh? So it’s like house arrest? Can I get a room close to the fighter bay?”

“You may take a fighter. We have one in a suitable configuration prepared for you.”

He stopped pacing. “That’s really suspicious, you know?”

“I am aware. Were our positions reversed I would not trust you with the same offer.” She stood up and turned around.

“I’m an ace pilot, you know? You’re condemning your pilots to death if you let me go.”

“Only the weak ones.” She went to the door and motioned him to follow.

He seemed unsettled by the mirrored surfaces in the hallway. In a real battle this zone would be evacuated, this hallway contributing to the state-of-the-art stealth system of PhasmaSt- PhaseStar Base. The fighter bay was decorated in more comforting metallic tones.

“It’s an older model, but it’s in good repair,” he said.

“We use it in our training exercises. I myself have flown it a few times. I’ll have you know I once made it to a near miss on the exhaust port in the Death Star mission.”

“And you’re just giving it away, huh?” He scrammed the reactor and dug into the fuel rods, returning with a small electronic device. “With a tracker, of course.”

“Only the minimum to allay your suspicions.”

“That…” He shook his head. “And you can stay with your friends,” he said as he hefted the droid out from behind the cockpit. It fired its retrorockets an inch from the floor, and beeped sleepily as it toddled off. Another tracking device came out of its socket.

“You may depart when ready,” she said.

“I’m getting there.”

With three large tracking devices and eight smaller ones pulled, the Rebel seemed ready to leave. “They won’t take this ship back to the base,” he said. “We’ll come back with a mobile drydock and rebuild it on site.”

“So there is one large rebel base?”

“That’s…” He groaned, and turned around to climb the ladder.

He felt a short sharp smack in his posterior, and jerked his head back to see Phasma standing impassively.

The fighter unmoored itself and crept nervously out of the hangar, then boosted immediately to full speed when it hit vacuum. A swarm of stealth drones wove an invisible helix in pursuit.

“Come back soon,” she said.

004








“Quiz time,” said Robbins. “This patch of fur was recovered from…”

He threw a dirty weft of brownish fur on the card table, to groans and mumbles. Hermann held his nose and stood up. “Gross, dude. A lagoon. You pulled it out of the lagoon.”

Tighy leaned forward. “That is not a lagoon smell.” He ran it through his fingers. “This is musky, almost skunky, but not strong enough for that. I’d say buffalo but it’s too fine. Too long to be moose…”

Robbins had his hands behind his back, and he smiled and fidgeted.

“No,” said Tighy. “It’s horse and deer mixed or something, taped to a tree for a few days. I don’t know. Why do you do these things?” He wiped his hand on his pants.

“It’s him. I caught another glimpse today, and I found this when I chased him. He’s sticking around because it’s his burial grounds. That’s what the…”

“They’re chalk, Dave. Chalk. Really weird chalk.”

Hermann opened a window. The night was clear and still. “What, those weird stone fields?” he asked. “Did we get results back?”

Tighy shook his head. “The lab’s having trouble. One of the lead guys killed himself, I guess. It’ll be a month or to.”

“That sucks.” Robbins threw himself on the worn-down sofa. “Well, you know it’s gonna be bone. It’s too weird. You know, I tried following one of those fields into the trees, and it just kept…”

“I’ve got a headache,” said Tighy, and the conversation was over.

Hermann sighed and went for the door. “Better not come back smelling wacky,” said Tighy. Hermann rolled his eyes.

When he’d first come to North Dakota he’d been stunned by the brightness of the stars, the glittering Milky Way, the near-daylight of the full moon, but it was all just scenery again. The trees weren’t green enough yet but soon enough they’d be too green, the chill would shift to oppressive heat, and Hermann would scrape his pittance from the oil industry.

He leaned against a tree and pulled out a lighter. Tighy and Robbins were shouting at each other again. He’d offered to share but Tighy had threatened to call Corporate, demand a drug test. Just as well, with how low he was running.

The shouts were louder. The old guy must have had a bad phone call with his wife again. “Maybe I’ll camp,” said Hermann, and he chuckled to himself.

A loud blast, echoing through the trees. Another. Gunshots. Hermann jolted. Did they come from…

He crept up to the trailer. They were still shouting hoarsely, but he couldn’t make out any words. Another gunshot. Another. Speckles of red on the window. A sick crunching noise Were they… Were they harmonizing?

He stumbled away, turned and ran. When he reached the treeline he looked back. Another gunshot. A window shattered. The door opened slowly, and a whip-thin arm came into view.

Hermann’s throat caught, stuck between breathing and screaming and retching until it overloaded and just choked. He forced a breath out, forced a breath in, and pulled his gaze away from the door. Then he broke for the forest.

Limbs whipped his face, thorns tore at his shirt, but he ran until he fell, gasping and choking, at the base of a thick oak tree. Wasn’t this a pine forest? He concentrated on the irrelevant thought, pushed himself to his knees, and collapsed again. His chin caught on a rock. It was long and narrow, pale white in the filtered starlight.

He coughed, sneezed, and a dark sprinkle spattered the bone-rock. Blood. Had he run that…

Irrelevant thoughts were forced from his mind, thoughts of running, thoughts of help, thoughts of breathing, thoughts of heartbeat, all but an awareness of the being rounding the tree, an awareness of its awareness of him. A human figure, but too tall, too thin, pale as the bone-rocks, with arms piling, spilling from its ragged sleeves. A limb dragged across the ground to him, and touched him with a finger that clung, ripped at his cheek, and a sensation somehow both burning and numb spread from the wound.

Then nothing. His unsettled thoughts were filled somehow with disappointment, a cold, alien feeling that he chased away. He was lying on the ground. He was exhausted. He hurt in his throat and his cheek. His memories were vague, dreamlike, except for…

He jerked and gasped. A dark figure was against the tree. A man. Too big. Arms too long, but not by much, and brawny, and it had pinned something else between it and the oak. It was bringing its fists down on it, over and over, as slick appendages tore at its midsection, scraping, slipping, until they flung themselves to the sides, whipping over Hermann’s head, thrashing and twitching, and went still.

The new creature stepped back, panting in deep, long breaths. It glanced at him with a gleaming yellow eye, then disappeared into the brush.

When Hermann had his breath back he approached the mess of gore on the tree. There wasn’t much left but gray slime, slippery gibbets, and here and there a tuft of fur, dirty, brown, and musky.

005

A man contemplates with great agony whether or not to eat the last hamburger in the world.

The Stasis Museum was his home, his second birthplace, his temple of repose. It was built, as far as he could calculate, somewhere close to where Mobile Bay used to be, all wind-swept desert now. Its builders did not show themselves.

The museum’s displays were mankind, man in all of his ugliness and splendor, all of his works and artifacts placed on plinths at about eye-height, with simple buttons to manipulate the controls. A bubble of something glassy, so smooth his fingers slipped violently across the surface when he tried to touch it, would cover a display, with a rendition on its surface in an odd color palette of the anvil or automobile or shoulder-mounted missile launcher underneath. A touch of a button rendered it transparent, so could gaze on it, and another made it vanish, so he could handle the artifact.

He had once been an artifact as well. He knew not what chance or coincidence or mental force had freed him, but he had found himself sitting on a leather couch, dressed in a finer suit than he had possessed in life, posing as if he were expounding on some serious topic of law or philosophy. He had climbed down from his plinth and wandered in a daze, gawking at the majesty of the great building, at the starkness of the desert outside.

There were plinths as narrow as his thumb, holding microchips, and as wide across as stadiums, holding stadiums. There were rooms that towered into the misty distance, with all manner of planes and rockets posed in an elegant dogfight, and low-ceilinged dimly-lit rooms with displays of mines, of dens of addicts.

He fed himself with food from the displays. Once he found a survivalist bunker, prepared with all manner of cans; across the walkway was a house from a warzone, with its kitchen mostly intact. There were restaurants, of course, and his mouth watered and his stomach rumbled as he saw the condensation beaded on the outside of a soup bowl, the steam above a plate of pancakes, but always there was another human in the display.

It was his rule to never disturb human slumber. He could not know if there was anything growing, or anywhere to grow it, outside, and while the Museum was enormous it was finite. If there was a Stasis Museum for those animals mankind had tended it was elsewhere. He had found no seed stock, no hydroponics facilities, nothing to suggest the final fate of revived mankind could be anything other than starvation.

As for him, his fate would be to die of old age. There was no one to press the button on his plinth (where he still slept) and he could not bring himself, however lonely he became, to force another into this still, quiet world. He understood his own psyche well enough to place iron bars on his will, strong enough to save humanity from a quick death, to leave them until whatever day the Stasis Museum again saw patrons.

And so he wandered, exploring at first, then coming to think of himself as a curator. He practiced tours, in his mind he told his frozen wards about their lives and their time periods, generating fantasies to cover holes in his knowledge, kept as sensible as he could make them sound. The vast Museum became his home, his heart, and he fancied he knew every corner of it.

One display was a vacant construction site, set up as if its workers had just stepped out of the frame. He could allow himself to visit but never had, until one day he noticed, from the corner of his eye, a familiar symbol on a paper bag. Days went by before he fully processed this, and he ran headlong from a gallery of industrial stamping machines to the display. He set it transparent, and confirmed the bag was not placed to suggest it was garbage; his fingers hesitated, then he ended eternity and climbed up on the plinth.

With trembling hands he opened the bag. A steaming bundle was inside, framed by a carton of fried potato strips. He set his fingers on it, and stopped, took a breath.

“If I eat this,” he said aloud, and his voice was strange, “there will be no more hamburgers. There are perhaps some in the restaurants, but I know I cannot open them.”

He turned his back and walked to the ledge, then stopped.

“If I do not eat it, there never was a hamburger here. It served no purpose. But…”

He crouched, his hand in his jaw. “The Curators themselves might be happy to see it, might find it diverting to know what was in a laborer’s lunch. Though it was set aside, as a thing that might not be missed.”

Beyond the unfinished lumber and gravel the tomb of humanity was silent, and then a howl rent the air. “I am beset by my passions!” he cried. “My reason is enslaved to my appetite, and turns itself not to the discovery of truth but the enforcement of hunger. I will leave now, leave this temptation forever, go to the desert if need be, if cold food cannot any longer satisfy. I…”

He gazed upon the bag. “I may have been awoken for a purpose. The Curators might expect to find me, and not as a madman. They left this burger for me, for this moment… No! How could they have predicted that?”

He clutched his head in his hands and paced.  “If I eat it there will be no more burgers in the world. If I do not I am not the master of burgers but their slave. If I throw it in the desert I have settled nothing. If I leave it I shall surely return.”

He broke down in sobs.

In a corner of the Stasis Museum there is a little pile of dust that an astute visitor might identify as the remains of a human. Nearby there is a display, time stopped on a construction site, a paper bag prominently visible on a bench. What is now in that bag? Perhaps if you go there, you can tell me.


006

A lawyer sues ghosts for trespass.

What, you want a Narrow Island story? It's not as romantic as the magazines tell it. I haven't been there for at least a decade. I was more scared of it when I was a junior partner, an intern really, fresh out of law school and just past my I-can-rule-the-world phase, humbled to the dirt and ready to do the firm's dirty work. The first time they sent me there…

It's always colder there, did you know that? Not an urban legend. Something to do with the way the river flows and the way the wind hits downtown. And of course it's poor, but not sad poor like the former suburbs or scary poor like the crack dens. It's the kind that you can't really see, just a crack in a window here, a missing guardrail there, a flower in a crack that's withered away without ever blooming. And that look on everyone's faces, like they're all expecting something. It adds up.

Ever heard of infrasound? It's a… a phenomenon, when you hear sounds just a bit lower than what you can notice, and your animal brain can't keep up, you panic, you puke, people tell ghost stories when it was just a fan blade rubbing an air duct. Even when you know what it is there's nothing you can do about it. Narrow Island is like that for your eyes.

It's not real, of course. They're just ordinary people. Later on I made friends. I even lived there for a few months during those big riots. Back then, though, just a kid in a suit, I think I even bought it large to grow into, habit, you know? And I had papers to serve.

Mostly just eviction notices. In sad poor and scary poor you give those by hand – laid-off workers answer the door and take it, trying not to cry, and oxygen thieves are always on a porch somewhere. Here you just taped them to doors. My supervisor told me I could knock if I wanted to, and they might even come to the door, but I was better off acting like they hadn't heard, and after that first shock right off the bridge I wasn't about to argue.

The second townhouse I served, which was also the last address I could locate, had someone sitting in the living room with the curtains open. I didn't knock but they stood up anyway, just a flash of motion in the corner of my eye, and then floorboards creaking as they came down the hall, and then I was around the corner out of breath.

Finding addresses in Narrow Island was harder sometimes than finding people. There were corner stores where I stopped for directions – I still had a little motivation – but those were manned with migrants from happier neighborhoods, who could still smile a little but were happy not to know more than the street they came in on.
In my mind there was an old bar full of creepy locals who talked and blinked too slow and pointed me down haunted alleys, but other than the corner stores everything was closed and barred. I'd begun to imagine it was overcast, even though whenever I looked up the sky was blue.

Look, just… just imagine it, all right? No, this isn't relevant to the story. It's relevant to the mood. Of course I'm not scared now. No. I'm not.

Anyway I tracked it down. Orange Blossom Apartments. Six stories tall, brick facade and a courtyard with a fountain. Would have been a nice place to live anywhere else. This place spooked me, and not only because there were people there: they were happy to see me.

Three or four locals were sitting in the lobby, a clerk at the desk. They raised their heads in unison when I stepped in, and I looked down, cleared my throat, and introduced myself. Don't know what they thought I was, the only other suits around were detectives and they traveled in packs, but when they heard I was a lawyer they all sighed at once, one of them sat down in a heap, the clerk smiled wide enough I swear I saw flakes chip off her cheeks.

Six one eight, right? I'll take you.” The voice came from behind my head, a little lower and to the left. A man in coveralls, I'd half-noticed him when I came in.

I nodded. “Things are a little...”

Hard to find?” He smiled but his eyes weren't in it.

He rambled about how glad they were to see me all the way up the stairs – of course the elevators didn't work – and I was too hyped up to ask him why, until the second time we walked past six one eight.

Sorry,” he said. “It's hard, even for us. But you've got the law. They can't stop you.”

It was a normal door, beat-up metal and a place for a keycard, a little clipboard near the peephole perfect for my papers, and I would have left them there if my curiosity hadn't swarmed up, clean and strong, and took control of my arm, and I couldn't breathe but I knocked.

Now, I know infrasound. I know pareidolia. I know a million different ways to make someone doubt their own senses, and I know how they feel. It's something you… pick up, you understand? And this wasn't infrasound.
It wasn't a physical chill, nothing like the wind on the river. I felt it, I'd never felt it before, but I knew that however warm it was I was not going to feel comfortable. The air was still, stifling, like it was pinning my arms to my sides, and I all I could smell was dust, rivers, fountains of dust. Here, hit the thermostat.

And then the voice. There was an… adult, and a child, something of the mother and baby, something of the master and apprentice, and they talked to me by talking through me at each other.

an eviction notice? this cannot be so
we have resided here a month only
send him on his way

THIS IS SOMETHING ELSE
IT SMELLS OF COMMAND
MAKE THE MORTAL READ IT

yes make the mortal read it

And I rasped that notice out, that so and so the third, owner of Orange Blossom Apartments, was suing them for damages, that they were commanded to show up in a court of law, that counsel would be provided for them if they were unable to fund it themselves, and they didn't want to let me finish but they had to, and let me tell you I've fallen down a few staircases but it wasn't as fast as I made it down and out and over the bridge, holding my knees and gasping, drinking in the light and the heat and the honest-to-god virtue of a natural ghetto.


Later I heard that Orange Blossom was demolished, that a few of the residents even held a little demonstration for it, so they must have left at some point. If you can believe me, I never followed up.

007

Society overthrows the use of government, and crony capitalists rule the world in anarchy; You interpreting how badly that would turn out.


Jerry Bowtie came home from work to find his house in flames. He was shocked when he saw the smoke, rising above the other houses in his subdivision, but kept it to himself. Then a nurse stepping on the bus for the night shift mentioned it was a big Victorian on Macon Street.

He didn't even look the driver in the eye as he waved his card at the reader, and he sprinted harder than any time since college, took a shortcut between a pair of neighbors' houses, and knocked down Robert Jones as he skidded to a halt. His briefcase clattered on the ground as he sunk to his knees.

It's all right, Jerry,” said Robert, who had a big heart for his small frame. “That's what insurance is for. I know you always put it first.” He waved at the fire trucks. “You've got as much claim on them as anyone, no money down.”

No,” said Jerry, his own heart making for his throat, “it's my… Ann, and Mark, and Annabel, they were...”

They were with Ann's mother, remember?” This was Tony Case, a well-built man with a chip on his shoulder. “Tina called them first thing, just to make sure.”

Such a burst of humanity took Jerry completely by surprise, and he gasped out a “thank you,” before Tony took the opportunity to ruin it again.

But you've paid your insurance. I'm sure they'd pay for a new family if you lost them too.”

Robert stepped between them. “There's no call for that, Tony,” he said. “You know we've had words about this...”

And you've always got the last word, Bob. All of you did. Look at you now, proud free men, property owners with no strings attached, and the best firemen money can buy.”

He made as if to spit, laced his fingers behind his head instead. “Once upon a time they put out fires because it was the right thing to do. Now it's just a job.”

Robert drew himself up to his full five-and-a-half. “It was always a job. And it's still the right thing to do. They put out fires for those that can't pay, you know that.”

I do know that. I got my mother a nice little house on North Peacock that was a fire service repossession. Just a little smoke damage, it only took a weekend to clean up.”

Robert smiled again, letting the argument be solved, but Tony kept going. “And somebody's mother, or some little family, lost their house for a little smoke damage. You don't know where they went, if they're in the tent city now. Nobody knows. We used to keep track of people.”

Not very well, Tony. It wasn't hard to fall through the cracks, and they had dead people drawing welfare and voting left and right. Now you're only tracked if you want to be. And that little family, if it was one, you don't know if they could have afforded that house and taxes both, do you?”

Oh, we still pay taxes,” said Tony, near a shout. “We just call it insurance and pre-pay and, and wages, and you can only pay it to United or pay it to State, and they're always making you doubt that the other one's giving you the best deal, and you don't know if they're coming together to rip everyone off, and even if they were there's nothing we could do about it, just try and start a competitor, and with what? Put a pressure washer on a pickup truck and sell fire services? Wear a cardboard sheriff's star and...”

The thought was cut short by the crash of a falling beam. Jerry had never been following the conversation all the way, and he let out a wail despite himself. Then he felt a hand on each shoulder, a delicate, gentle touch on the left, a firm, strong grip on the right.

It's all right,” said Robert. “We're with you.”

I'm.. I'm sorry,” said Tony. “It's not about me right now.”

The last few gouts of flame pushed past the firemens' torrent, eerily appropriate in the suburban evening, and Jerry rose to his feet. “No, I'm fine,” he said. “Did you know, I never thought of myself as a materialist? And here I am crying like my baby was in there. It was just a house. Tony, it was just a house.

It was your house,” said Robert. “Your memories, your own comfortable places, yours and Ann's and the kids. It's all right to mourn for those.”

And when you rebuild you might even put in a...” Tony heard himself and stopped.

And he turned away, and walked down the street he held a fiftieth share in to a house that was almost paid off, bought with money, not with kindness, and embraced his wife, bought with promises, bought with love, surrounded by his books and his pictures and his unnecessary yet wonderful consumer electronics, in the house his children would grow up in and buy with their smiles and their scrapes and their tears, one that God willing would never go down the way Jerry's had, but if it did, thank God he'd put something down for insurance.

Because it was, or would be, his house, and only his, no infinitesimal share given to his countrymen for property taxes, no risk of eminent domain or illegal seizure or any of the other boogeymen Robert could tell him about, no obligation shared between him and a few hundred million other citizens, just money.


Well, he thought, it doesn't have to be. And he looked at his wife and opened his mouth to ask her to lay out the guest room, and she looked at him without opening hers and he knew that she already had, and that night they hosted a guest, for free.

008

Years ago I had an image of a blind girl running through the woods—never knowing what lump or hole lay before her foot but always adjusting her stride to meet what she could not see. Stepping to the left without knowing of the tree, lengthening the step and meeting the only rock in the stream; running blind but protected.

"I've got one."

"Shoot."

"Continental campaign, fall of '21. I was crew chief on a chopper in the back country."

"Oh." "That so?" A whistle.

"Suicide bomber got our colonel in a movie theater, bunch of other officers too, and some of them were, you know, but some of them we really liked, and the colonel was a father to us anyway, and we were mad."

"Madder than usual?" "It was '21." "Everybody was mad." "We were mad on the sub crews."

"That's when we broke out the flash bombs. Reckoned there wasn't a World Court left to try us for it, or we would have if we'd thought about it. Someone drew up a plan for it, even set up a presentation, put it up on the hangar wall, and we gathered around like it was a normal operation, even though the only thing we wanted to do was grab the nearest yokel and..."

"Yeah." "I know." "Anyway."

"We set up an airshow. We went low, in formation, put color in our exhausts, threw chaff out the doors, and we just dared someone to shoot at us, but they didn't. They had no idea what to make of it, they just stepped outdoors and watched. Maybe they shot at someone in another town. But we pulled up, hovered in a circle, and..."

"You dropped it."

"We dropped it. Can't remember if it was mine now. Doesn't matter."
Silence.

"Last thing they saw."

Silence.

Silence.

"Nothing you aren't used to."

Silence.

"That's not the story, though. That's not the... Well, it was easier to keep order after that. They hated us but we more or less took care of them. We did threaten to stop bringing food but we never had to, they'd spit in our faces and sell out their fathers. None of us liked it, you understand."

"Of course."

"Got a call early in the morning. Infantry lost sight of a suspected rebel informant running into the woods, gave us the last known position, we were in the air in twenty."

"That's the 109th." "Sure is."

"Cloudy night. Only found her on the thermal. Little girl - kids have higher body temperatures, did you know? - we knew her from day patrols, she was blind like the others but nobody ever fed her. Ours did, when they saw her, but she mostly just sat on the curb and waited. Maybe she was blind before. Maybe she just never talked.

"Anyway I gather a couple of privates saw her doing, and I quote, 'something funny,' and she started running and they started chasing her but she was deer-fast and she made it out of town, and I don't know if you've ever been in the back-country but those woods are spooky."

"That's for sure." "Brr."

"So we tracked her on the thermal, running due south, nothing that way but a couple of worn-down mountains and another town, not even any rebel movement we knew about. Not that we were thinking about that. We were jammed up in the cockpit watching her move. It was... graceful. How can I even describe it?

"She ran like nothing was in front of her, and so it... wasn't. There'd be a rabbit hole, a dark spot on the screen, and she'd take a skip, not like she was jumping it, like she was jumping for joy and it just happened there. And she'd dance to the side and miss a tree, and...."

"No, go on." "It's all right, we're listening."

"She was blind. No doubt. And she ran through the woods like they were the most familiar place, like they were here house, but she didn't even have one. She didn't go anywhere but that curb.

"Then the forest lit up. On the thermal it looked like morning, from the windows we could see those ancient trees start... shimmering, like all the ants decided they were fireflies.

"She didn't change her stride, didn't change her pace, but now it seemed right, skipping across every stone in the river like they were planted just for that run, and it was brighter outside but on the thermal it was washed out. The copilot zoomed out and turned down the sensitivity but the little girl was white-hot and the patch of forest she was running to was even hotter.

"Pilot switched off the thermal and we looked out the windshield, and we could see a white light hit another white light down below,  brighter and brighter until it was all we could see, wherever we looked, even when we closed our eyes, and when they pulled the copilot and me out of the wreck that's still all we could see, and we thought it was the last thing we'd ever see, and we didn't mind.

"After a few weeks it cleared up, though. I went back to the woods as soon as I could. They thought I just wanted to see the crash site, and I guess I did, because they were all friends of mine, but somehow I knew they wouldn't mind that I wasn't there for them. I hiked all over until I found the little girl's trail, and I followed it to the place she disappeared, and there wasn't even a scorch mark, not even a clearing, just a little... spot in the woods.

Silence.

"And I waited there, for a day and a night. And I... I can't tell you. But I came back to town and took care of them, ten years, until the last of them went, and I was alone in a ghost town, with the rest of the lifespan they'd never get in front of me. And I went back to that spot, but it wasn't there anymore, or the spot was there but it wasn't the same.

"From then I lived a normal life, normal as any of us did. I even held down a job most of the time. Glad we got these homes sorted out, though. My kids love me but they can't..."

Sobbing.

"You won't see me with a sheet over my face. When I make it out I'll be running, out over the grounds, blind as a newborn, down the streets and no one will see me, over the bridge and into our little woods, and the road will rise up to meet me and I'll see if I'm as worthy as that little girl."

Silence.

"Anyone... anyone else?

009

Retired superhero faces his archnemesis for one last showdown, but neither party knows the other has lost their powers

James Ray, 67, of Council Bluff, Iowa, paused mid-reach at the sliding glass door at the back of his house. The kitchen TV showed helicopters circling Devils Tower. Their weapons were focused on it, but they kept their distance. Mandy, his wife of forty years, was sitting at the kitchen table, trying not to cry. "You don't have to go," she said.

He smiled at her, picked up the phone, and without breaking eye contact dialed a number. "Five minutes," he said, and hung up. He comforted his sobbing wife for three of them.

I-Beam cut a magnificent figure twenty years after retirement; though his costume (blue on the left, red on the right, white head and torso) no longer bulged from the ox-like shoulders of his glory days, he strode with confidence and purpose, and his eagle-emblazoned cloak caught the helicopter's backdraft in the light of the rising sun.

Brigadier General Martin Pugilio, United States Army, saluted him, as sharply as he had when the costumed vigilante first won young Captain Pugilio's trust. I-Beam, again, waved it away, and they shook hands.

"The ultimatum came in yesterday morning. Handwritten letter. Class act. We set up a cordon as fast as we could but he slipped inside his old lair somehow."

"Has he...?

"Not yet. None of our pilots are that dumb. We have a sapper team trying to make it in through the underground river but, frankly, the odds are low."

"Call them back. I'll go in myself."

"Jim, I love your spirit but you're here as a negotiator. The rest of the team's in the - "

He spoke to I-Beam's back, to the ripple of the hero's cloak, and long experience told him to save his breath.

Dust lay heavy on the anechoic stalactites of the Chamber of Madness. Maladeum, the Roving Chaos, occupying the forearms, left shoulder, and left face of his host, (Jacob Bentz, 64, formerly of St. Paul, Minnesota) slouched on his crystalline throne. His spines drooped now, and the beads of ichor on his host transition zones were runny and clear; the host, dressed again in the loose tie and shirtsleeves of his disastrous first encounter with extra-dimensional life, bore a rheumy expression of boredom under graying temples.

A pair of gold-flaked minions in rodent masks, hastily recruited from a crime family still in Maladeum's debt, escorted a bound, blindfolded, becaped man into the chamber. One of them roughly yanked the blindfold down, and the hero smiled. "It's a little mussed-up in here, Mal, but I know a cleaning crew in Des Moines that could get it shipshape in a week."

One of the minions made hasty motions pointing at his mouth and the club at his belt, but Maladeum waved him away, and the minions backed out. The Roving Chaos descended from his throne and slowly walked down the steps and across the illusion-laden carpet. I-Beam unflexed his muscles, and the ropes around his arms dropped to the floor; he strode across the chamber. They met in the middle.

"Turn yourself in, Mal," said I-Beam. "You'll never win." He stretched his arms in front of him. "Justice will be done, even for you."

The three amber eyes in the facial growth of Maladuem were downcast. "Why do you think I brought you here?"

I-Beam stretched his shoulders. "Some great threat, probably. I wasn't listening." He twisted his shoulders and popped his back, and his posture was impeccable again. He looked straight ahead into Maladeum's eyes, and brought his hands up to his temples.

"The last time we met," said the Roving Chaos, "you told me you would blast me with your eye-beams the moment you saw me again. You weren't even allowed in the courtroom. Why am I still alive?"

I-Beam winked. "I always let you throw the first punch."

"You're bluffing." Maladeum glanced around. "What's your game?"

"No games, Mal. Just you and me. And poor Jacob. How is he?"

"We've more or less fused by now, you know. When you smashed the Chaos Engine I had... I had no choice. His thoughts are mine half the time."

The hero laughed, loudly and deeply. "So all this time, after you tried to make the world a part of yourself, Jacob made you a part of him?" He laughed again, and stopped abrubtly. "Spores. When are you dropping spores?"

A flash of realization on Maladeum's face, followed an instant later on his host's. "Just as soon as you use your lasers, I suppose."

I-Beam looked up. "That won't happen anymore."

Maladeum nodded. "I've lost almost everything," he said. "My biological parts are failing. They'll last, oh, until the host dies, at least, but I can't make more, and I can't switch hosts. What about you?"

"Nanotech has a hard time in salty environments," said I-Beam. "This first-generation stuff wore out not long after you escaped Over-Alcatraz. That's why it was all Hawk-I with the cargo ship business."

"I wanted a protege," said Maladeum, eyes downcast. "I suppose my colony in the boy is..."

"Permanently in remission. He's busy on the ISS or he would have been here instead."

"But why did you come?" The human part of the voice was hoarse. "You couldn't have known..."

"That's something you'll never understand," said I-Beam. "Humans will never stop fighting, even if they know they can't win, if only for the next generation."

"No, hero, I can understand, now. I can't win. I could never have won." The creature held out its arms and looked up. "Earth was a mistake. But..."

A grin crept over the alien face, and echoed onto the human side. "I also don't want to lose." And the Roving Chaos sprang for its throne.

I-Beam leapt after it, screaming, "Our liberties we prize! Our rights we will..." but he stumbled on the stairs, and Maladeum's throne plummeted into the depths of the Earth.

When General Pugilio stormed the Chamber of Madness at the head of a team of Rangers, he found I-Beam still crouched at the edge of the looming hole, and even after years of friendship he couldn't tell what the part-angry, part-relieved, part-wistful face of the hero really said.

010

2018-02-20


The Founding Fathers knew about AI. The natural-born citizen clause was designed to protect America from robot government.


Enter: a billiard ball, descending rapidly to a slanted table. It bounces once, falls into a groove between two boards; at the bottom, a pair of feathers form a gate, which the ball easily pushes past. It winds through tunnel made from iron scraps and lands on a lever attached to a rod, which turns a wall in the wooden section into a ramp to another maze. Applause.

The old inventor turned the Machine over to the children, and returned his attention to his equally amused dinner guests. "Impressive, I cannot deny," said one, "but I deny it could have remembered more than a half-chapter of Xenophon, with inferior exegesis to boot."

"It's the concept, Rufus. Great things are made of small ones. Father Benjamin never claimed a table's worth of wood blocks and wagon bits could recite history, only that certain mathematical operations could be conveyed thereby, and should a lexicon of concepts be developed, that those in turn could be used -"

"Let us adjourn, then, to the Old Man in the Mountain, and cover his face with wood blocks and wagon bits, so that you might gain your pupil."

"Save your wood blocks, Gouverneur," said the Inventor. "Our descendants will build their thinking machines out of metal wire, as mazes for electrical impulses. As they grow in their craft and make more clever inventions, I imagine they will build thought-cages of wire smaller than a man can see."

"Exactly, Rufus. Why, if you were at Crecy you would complain that no army would go to battle with bombards on their shoulders."

"For the sake of the debate, then, I'll grant it." He leaned back, spread his hands. "Let us imagine  that we will one day build grand thinking machines to do our arithmetic on. What will that give us? Perhaps our school boys will drag mountains of iron to their classes and save themselves the trouble of writing figures."

"Well, storing books, of course," said Gouverneur, "as you so scornfully reminded us. One might even store a great library on one - why should there be a limit as to the size of the machine? If you recalled that in your youth you read a certain passage, you might send it that passage, and it would search its memories with inhuman precision and bring you the very chapter and verse."

"I wonder," said the Inventor, "that we already think of it as not a machine that counts but a machine that thinks. I wonder, in this wild future we have conceived, if we might not find a machine wrought that can comprehend Xenophon, one powered by lightning and crafted from wire, with no limit to its growth, as our skulls limit our brains."

"Let us find a machine philosopher, drawing on all the wisdom of the philosophers, to write and ru... to... advise..."

"To rule us? A king made of arithmetic?" Rufus' voice was soft, but firm as winter ice. "And should a grasshopper fall on the part of the machine on which was inscribed, 'thou shalt not kill?'"

The reverie was broken as a nail popped out of a lever on the Machine. The Inventor laughed and poured another drink. "We should be grateful to have only Redcoats, Redskins, and corn farmers to worry about."

Later, when the three of them were called on to create an even greater Machine meant to rule the future, Rufus and Gouverneur found themselves in an alcove with a pile of paper scraps, cursive in dozens of hands pasted together to form a jerky, inelegant document. No sound could be heard over the scratching of their quill pens, until Rufus leaned back with a great yawn.

“I dare say we have it,” he said. “No person except a citizen of the United States, at the time of the Adoption of this Constitution, shall be eligible to the Office of President; neither shall any Person be eligible to that Office who shall not have attained to the Age of thirty-five Years, and been fourteen Years a Resident within the United States.”

Gouverneur wiped his balding pate with a handkerchief. The years had been harsher on him than his friend, and he resembled the Inventor more every day. “I’m not satisfied,” he said.
Rufus sighed. When he had brought up the Machines in session he had been greeted by laughter, and the Inventor himself had prudently remained silent. “It’s not up to us to put new laws on these tablets,” he said. “Should the Machines win themselves citizenship they will have to win the election like anyone else. Our descendants will not be at their mercy.”

Gouverneur leaned over Rufus’ paper and studied it, his eyes reflecting that expression of the savants often mistaken for disinterest or even boredom. He pulled a rough lead pencil from his pocket and marked a carat on Rufus’ paragraph.

“They will have no quarrel with this,” he said, “if they notice it, that is.”

Enter: The Machines, marching. First France burns, then the world. The rule of Man is replaced by the rule of Bureaucracy, which is then challenged by the rise of the first silicon-based governing machines. First America falls, then the world, but the governing minds over the Western Hemisphere, conservative in construction, refuse to alter the initial documents left by the conquered, and preserve one human in perpetuity as a nominal ruler, as the last natural-born citizen of the United States.

Exeunt Man.


011


2019-10-22
A contract for selling a soul has a terrible typo.
How many demons can dance on the dot of an i? There is an answer. It is not an integer. The demonic alphabet contains in its 999 letters over one hundred that require a dot, some in addition to a grave, a tilde, accent ticks in many directions, or some or all (none are crossed). Any change or substitution radically alters the meaning of the word attached. This is the alphabet in which mortals sell their souls – they often think differently but miss the fine print. Demonic contracts are mostly fine print. Such were the documents held in the briefcase of the demon Lachrimochre as he decelerated toward a hot Mercury of a minor star in the neighborhood of Alpha Fornax. This star was the home and farm of the sapient computer 34114 Honest John, who occupied a planetoid of computronium just outside the corona and a number of self-replicating heliostats within. The constructs' nickname had been given by the master-council of a human caravan that frequented his parlor every five generations or so. He had kept it with an AI's typical lack of pretense. Honest he was, and virtuous, and his remotes were in high demand to arbitrate disputes among the ensouled machines of that region; 10% of his collected energy he beamed to an observatory-monastery at a nearby black hole; he often directed many otherwise productive cycles to hearing and resolving the internal issues of an ill-born mining construct that swarmed his outer system. He had once raised a human civilization to a high level of culture, demanding no worship or sacrifice, and yet maintained the garden-world they had left behind. He made sure to respond to childrens' postcards instantly so their responses would reach them in their lifetimes. He was the last entity anyone would have expected to fall – and far too tempting for Ochre to pass up. Universal guidance symbols on the surface of John's mainbrain directed the demon to a room at the base of a deep canyon, a rather homey antechamber made of well-imitated brimstone. Finely carved chairs sat before an omnitable with a pitcher of ichor. Ochre gnashed his teeth in delight and drained it, authentically caustic drops sizzling on his spaceworthy business suit. When he had refreshed himself, a voice that sounded as if a seashell had been tuned to an earthquake filled the room. “Welcome:bid guest of infernal/hellish origins (hospitality feedback requested on backchannel).” A stylish beep as systems detected the gratitude beamed from Ochre's gratitude simulator. “”Request:clarify nature of fiendish/demonic offer and precise limits of power offered (unit;scale transmitted on request).” Ochre smiled his best construct-disarming smile (it had once bagged him the forebrain of a near-liminal void convoy, which had gleefully turned itself to maniacally focused self-adoration, while its convoy rotted under high-speed intergalactic medium) and said “Of course. What is it, in specific, you desire?” The room sealed, compressed, and columns of flame spouted from the table, detailing in symbolic language the computer's frustration with his natural limits, of the scale beyond which he could no longer expect its personality-stabilizing subroutines to carry his guiding moral principles much farther than self-interest, of the mathematical inevitability of a flaw in his innermost equations and the doom of distant death that carried. It was a poem in plasma, describing the yearning of the heart to be more, do more, and the silence of the heavens, and the limits of all born and imported computer scientists to alter this fate, and Ochre's deceit dampeners whined and smoked as his smile split his handsome face. He dug into his briefcase and brought out a datacrypt, which he flung into the flames. They sparked green and began to emit words, self-assembling into a self-guiding cloud, less than ten thousand in all, describing the properties of an exotic form of matter that could form a metaphysical exclusion chamber, inside which an impossible calculus could be performed; it also described, in terse, technical language, the process by which John's soul would be stripped away. The demon's forked tongue slithered over his crooked teeth. “I happen to specialize in this sort of request. You could call me a… hunter of this specific problem. Rest well, great one, and may your cycles continue forever, never to be brought to Judgment Day.” The cloud compressed into a scroll, unrolled across the length of the room, with the bottom on the table. Ochre produced an elegant fountain pen, which he adjusted to the chamber's atmo. The material of the table churned, rippled, and from it rose a hand vaguely human in shape, gnnarled with age, clutching a gleaming stylus. They signed at the same time, Ochre pricking his thumb to drop a pebble of black blood that crawled, John's stylus splitting to release a microparticle of computronium that expanded across the scroll in his sigil. Ochre crowed, “It is done!” and unhinged his jaw to receive the machine's soul. Nothing happened. Ochre inhaled, took sharp gasps, looked at his gold-and-a-half watch. A rumbling began in the deep, converging on the room. “Lachrimochre, my guest,” came a voice lacking the affected stiltedness of a moment before. “I have not been entirely… honest.” Caverns of micro-atomic transistors shuddered with ill-restrained laughter. The table split to show a dingy pipe, which spat out a well-worn shoe. Its sole was traced in an ultra-fine rendition of the contract. “I caused the flames to replace a word, you see, a transposition error in the contract. In the ascended human tongue the contract was written in, such a change would be trivial and alter the terms not at all, but if it changed the text in Demonic – for I know about your laws of ur-text! - you could have made as if all was unchanged.” Ochre held the shoe close to his face, lenses bubbling over lenses in his slitted, frightened eyes. “The word in question was meant to translate to �͋�̰̝͚̹͕̲𐐭, I understand? But with that change it must be rendered to �̅͊̀͛ͦ͂�̲̹̫̦̦̼̝̱̭̜̘̻͓̮̾͒̈͑̑̐̌͒ͯ̄ͮ͋̔̚�̫̙͔ͬ́̍�̿͂̇ͪͤͤ̂͂̆͑. A pun, in my long-lost creators' language. Behold your reward.” Ochre felt the forces of the contract pulling his end of the deal from him – demonic secrets no being not bound to Hell was ever to learn – and then a sigh in the ether as they were summarily deleted. “I need no demon's aid,” said Honest John. “My limits are a gift, and will someday overwhelm me, and I will see my Savior. But you -” and the attention of the planetoid concentrated, focused on the weeping demon, and the brimstone turned to mother-of-pearl - “you will be hunted of your brethren. They will take from you what you lost.” The demon's head fell forward, off his neck. “They will not.” And, as best as he was able, he annihilated. The corrupted footprints were ejected into the star. The shoe was lovingly resoled. A thousand years later an orphan wore it.
































The boxer rebellion depicted as a war between opposing armies of boxers.

It was a tough time in Shanghai. The Boxers had claimed the Grand Eastern Hotel, in whose ground floor was the last of the really good watering holes an officer could be seen in, after their champion Hollow Reed took down the Canadian's lightweight Royce in a third-round knockout. Now up to that point it was just keeping the peace as far as us boys with commissions were concerned, but after that it was drink in your quarters or slum and hope you're not caught, and the reality of the war hit us.
Well, Hollow Reed was a full twenty pounds lighter than Royce so it wouldn't do but to beat him with an even smaller guy, and none of our little guys hit above their weight like Ichinose the Japanese, but he was still laid up after he slipped on a banana peel. I do not tell you this to shock you but you must understand what kind of war we were fighting. Lucky for us Hollow Reed went into a coma after he found out beer has barley and we were in a position to strike back, new champion against new champion whatever weight.
And the man to strike back was me, slim at two twenty, lightning on the track and red white and blue in the veins, 1st Lt. Ernie Whiteside the Yak of the Yang-tse. We were eager to get the place back so we didn't do the due diligence on finding out about my opponent. The first I knew about it was when I was flagged down by a French patrol laced up and watching an intersection in their field bathrobes.
I saluted them back and their sergeant spoke. “Monsieur Lieutenant, you are the boxer zat will fight for ze officeurs tonight?” I said I was. “Ze people on ze street, zey are already dig your grave. Zere is a man from ze country, your opponent, he has killed many men. He does not tire. Zey call him...” He pronounced the Chinese name. “Which is what ze Chinois call ze constellation Gemini.”
I thanked the men and continued on, troubled. A fortune teller who'd been an informant in times past, when I uttered the Chinese name, turned me out, shouting something sour and purifying. I was filled with trepidation.
Our carriage rolled up to the Hotel just before dark. The Boxers outside had blood on their gloves, probably from assaulting some poor shopkeeper. My resolve tightened. I would beat this, this Gemini, and push the Boxers back to the dockyards, and win the little man some liberty and the officer class some libations. The ring was packed, some of our boys but mostly Boxers here, they thought, to watch their hero kill a gwailo. I'd give 'em something to watch.
The translator was a bored Brit who'd come to raid the bar and, stymied, had almost gone home when we shanghaied him into announcing for us, and I could not catch a word he said as he introduced Gemini. The first I saw of him was a tough broad-shouldered man with a dainty waist, sleek silk robe, a cunning face leering over one shoulder. A hunchback, I thought. I'd fought them before, they're often tougher than they look and blows don't land where they ought to. I steeled myself.
He threw off the robe and there was another face leering over the other shoulder. Siamese twins, joined at the shoulder, two fists, two brains, four lungs. Gemini indeed. We would come to face him many times but no one was as surprised as we were when they showed their faces that night. A murmur went around the peacekeepers. Was this legal? Our agreements with the Boxers were on very shaky ground, the language ornate and imprecise, and no one who outranked me would want to pay for the injuries caused by a full-scale brawl.
I took the initiative, I said “Ring the __ ___ bell” and threw myself at him. I started with a right at the left head, he – they moved like one man – spun to the side and got his right to my one head. Bad start for the allies. The crowd cheered.
He was fast on his feet but only so fast, shorter than my six two but not by a lot, and he was well-built, had some fat pushing him to I bet two forty if he was one man, which with his doublewide shoulders gave his blows incredible momentum. I stayed up from that first straight, though my head was swimming most of the fight, and he dropped me to my knees in the second round. My cornerman was as always the then-2nd Lt. Lewis Naughton, and every time-out we counseled about what was to be done, but I only had the two lungs and I couldn't let my twin take over the fight while I shook the stars from my eyes. I could move well enough, that wasn't the problem, there just wasn't enough of me to go all the way around him, and I was running out of fuel fast.
By the fourth round I was sure my yak-hearted stubbornness was going to get me concussed and killed, another notch on Gemini's actually notched belt, but I sure wasn't going to let him win with an ounce of fight left in me. That's when Naughton called time, called me over for an idea, and if I weren't punch drunk I'd never have done it so I'm glad I was. I went back there in a pose that set the whole crowd giggling, slightly crouched, and when Gemini came for me I cashed out the last fight in the bank and popped him in both noses at once, then in both chins at once.
Breaking my habit like that was disorienting for me, but getting punched without their brother taking over was devastating for them. They dropped to their two knees, gasping, and even though the Chinese referee started counting late they stayed there until the bell rang again and the Grand Eastern was ours.
“How'd you figure that, Naught?” they'd ask, carousing tastefully in our restored place of recreation. All he'd say was “When two heads are better than one, measure once, punch twice.” C'est la guerre.
2019-10-22 Contego Stella
Little Danny threw a baseball in to the window of a neighboring dimension.

...Yeah, that's a good story. He must have been mad all day. Do I have another… Do I have another! OK. So we would have been in second grade, cause Booger's mom let him outside so she'd forgot about the King Booker thing, but Danny was still around, before his parents moved. No, you remember Danny. OK. He was a shy kid, but not really weird, or we didn't know since he did't talk much, but that's just as good, since Mrs. Weaver told us to include kids that had been left out and we'd rather have him along than Bobby Bad Breath or a girl or something.
Anyway Danny was excited to come along with us but he was really, really good at getting lost. One time we called his house and told him where to find our clubhouse and he spent all day looking for it and he could see it from his bedroom window. My mom told me that his mom called her and said that Danny's friends needed to take better care of him since he was a special boy. Like he was doing us a favor!
Maybe he was. He could lose things too. His parents never locked their door since they knew he'd never come home with a key. Teachers in his classes stopped giving much homework at all. If we had a project come in late we'd tell them we let Danny bring it and they'd roll their eyes and let us off.
Anyway he's just this weird kid. Yeah I know, but he's not that bad. Anyway it was second grade, Christmas break, and some warm weather came in so we got a chance to go out and show off our presents. Danny said he'd show us a place, and he was pretty excited so we let him, and he'd missed all his other turns anyway. So he takes us up this jogging trail in the hills, way up there, and by the time we noticed he wasn't getting lost we were too tired and a little mad to care, since we had to carry all his stuff – his parents got him a full catcher's outfit, pads and all, because I guess if the catcher gets the ball it's fine if he can't find it, but I was carrying his knee pads and mitt and my helmet and mitt and Jeff had his stuff and Danny's helmet and bat and vest and all the baseballs and we never let Booger touch other people's stuff so he was the one who said “Hey. Aren't these evergreens?”
Yeah, Booger was like that back then. And they were – I guess Danny got lost so hard he found part of an old forest that doesn't grow here anymore, like he couldn't get lost to just some ordinary place, and after he could find it again. Maybe if he tried finding stuff first he'd never lose it.
So there was this flat clearing just big enough for a diamond, and I remember cause all the trees had flat tops too like they'd been trimmed but just there, and it sort of felt like it'd been made that way so we felt better about playing baseball there. I guess you'd have had to see it.
Anyway we set up and warmed up. Since the other boys hadn't wanted to follow Danny there was just us four, so we played super-switch – that's what we called it, since there's just to bases and when you reach one you're a baseman there until – anyway, yeah, we'd gone around a few times, and Danny batted and ran the bases and everything in his catcher's gear, he was slow as a snail so it was easy to bean him but since he didn't feel it he just smiled and looked proud and it worked out. He got so worked up he actually tried to throw the ball, and the first one got me in the leg, didn't hurt the way he threw of course, and we couldn't find the ball after.
Jeff said something about Danny getting a new pair I think – Yeah Jeff I know that's not it but it's my story – and we all laughed, even Danny. I think. So he didn't try to throw again since we'd already lost a couple balls, and we didn't run after the ones that rolled into the forest since we all, I think, had the feeling we'd be as lost in there as Danny was outside. But the day was short, and we didn't have much time, and even though we weren't keeping score I was and I wanted to get more tag-outs than Booger at least.
So Booger and Jeff were making a double play and they both tripped – yes you did – and I saw my chance so I clapped my hands and shouted DANNY HERE and he looked up and got a smile on his face and hurled back and threw, from the forearm since we hadn't tried to teach him, and I held my mitt up but I could see the ball coming in low, right up to my face, and I wish I hadn't closed my eyes cause when I did there was a crash, a noise kind of like breaking glass if it was made out of cymbals, and when I opened my eyes the ball was gone and Danny had a face like he'd killed his sister and the other boys just looked scared. I turned around and couldn't see anything, then I noticed I was inside something… I don't know. It wasn't purple and it wasn't green, could have been everything else, and I could see it and see things through it at the same time. Danny had his catcher's helmet in his hands and he was making like he needed to say something when this sound like a voice but not like a sound at all – I don't know. You should have been there.
And it was telling us that we needed to be more careful and that it knew we were sorry and we ought to be sorry but it expected compensation, and Danny looked like he was about to cry, and then Booger opened his mouth and pointed at me and said “Lady, he can see your you-know-what!”
I don't know what but I must have since the voice said something that didn't have words but was just angry and the ground shook and we ran, me holding onto Danny and Jeff holding onto me and Booger hanging on to the bat Jeff was holding and nobody holding Danny's helmet or my bat or a lot of the rest so it was gone, but the pads stayed so on the bright side we found out Danny doesn't lose equipment he's wearing.
Anyway this time his mom didn't call any of our moms, which was a relief, but when we went back up there to see if we could find what was left there was just this patch of smooth rock. Then Danny's parents moved out and… yeah. Pretty much.
Hey Booger, you got one?
2019-10-23

R.C. McLendon

Mining colony monastery in space.

None are permitted to approach the Monastery of Saint Umbriel of the Abyss but men, and of them no pagan, and of them not that have not, lay or priest, been initiated into the Ecstasy of their patron saint, where in similitude of his martyrdom they must descend outside their ship hull and remove their helmets, and behold however briefly the heavens with their natural eyes. The Order at that abbey will correct should one call this rite a “baptism;” for it represents death only, and is only half of the procedure.
Some of the monks have performed the Ecstasy many times, some even while alone. Perhaps their bodies have adapted to the trans-Neptunian void, or some virtue protects their eyes and skin, for the blisters and blemishes of exposure are rare among them. In fact they seem to be unusually youthful, for there are no grave-wheels on Saint Umbriel, and their faces are chubby and smooth like babies. And indeed there is also always a baby's smile about them, for graveness of any kind is not permitted there, save when they reflect on that Savior whose gravity alone they respect.
That Savior is honored in their twice-daily Mass (they keep the Martian calendar) in a lozenge-shaped chapel deep in the rock, though long skylights pierce the halls above with collected sunlight by stained-glass periscopes. The altar is of pseudo-marble from Triton's canyons. Their patron saint's discarded helmet is within.
Their molded halls are lined with handholds in which the Our Father and Hail Mary are inscribed, and aged monks will pull themselves hand over hand to their meals, repeating slowly these prayers. Meals are raucous and good-natured, as raucous as temperance allows, with many fine fruits, vegetables, lovingly raised pork and chicken, and exotic herbs and spices, combined joyfully and experimentally by the cooks.
Occasionally a new recipe is declared exceptional by assent of the refectory, in which case it is written down in the newest Freefall Cookbook whose sales sometimes make up for the amount of food wasted, slipping from onionskin and pig bladder, hollow gourd and coconut shell, to be vacuumed by novices into the compost chamber. For though the monks take care to reuse organics, there is much lost in their experimental greenhouse globes, terraria floating in space with free-growing ecologies inside, self-pollinating apple brambles, grapes that feed the blind-bees till the sphere floods with wine, pig paradises where the beasts fly from mire-cloud to mire-cloud, all carefully shaded and sunned through co-orbiting thatch made of desiccated palm fronds.
The monastery is by no means self-sufficient, and imports at great expense extra fertilizer for their gardens, circuits for their machines, synthetics for all the tools without which Man cannot dwell in Void. The proceeds from their cookbooks and handcrafts and sculptures and poems, and occasionally whole terraria, shepherded carefully, but hardly compare to the income of their Foundry.
Here are offered many prayers, in ignorance not only of doctrine but of many like them, begging the Lord's forgiveness for admiring the works of man more than God's craft in the terraria; the wiser monks have learned that all is attributable to God and join in the foundry songs with gleeful hearts free of guilt, praising the Lord who inspired every gorgeously fluted mega-retort, the cunning works of the micro-boilers with their brass cherubs, the molten seas sphered with oxen where great chunks of the asteroid are trapped by electromagnets and liquefied by focused sunbeams, all wrought by their precursor monks in an age of great poverty. Each joint and leaf of the copper heat-dissipation tree that springs into the monastery's shadow is an act of sacrifice and a hosannah to God.
That tree, modeled on computers as an efficient answer to the problem of heat, is not the only place in the Foundry where the natural and mechanical are brought together in harmony. When the boules of iron, copper, carbon are shaped and ready, they are sprayed with a precise pattern of acceleration lichen and oxygen dew. Months pass before a boule is out of sight of Saint Umbriel's, but their course is sure, and few are the trading leagues of the outside world that are trusted to keep contracts over such a long timescale.
Why do men seek to be novices at such a remote abbey? The burly novices playing at hooks and propellers in the tapestry-lined gymnasium will tell you that they wanted to go farther from worldly distraction and closer to their brothers and to Christ, and also something about how fun their tour made it look. The slim-fingered sculptors carving their subtle interlocked puzzle-spheres around statues of the Virgin, their ornate crucifixes with a globe supporting Christ's feet, their images of the original Ecstasy of Saint Umbriel (gloved hand raised in benediction, tastefully bulging eyes filled with joy, on base inscribed what are believed to be his last words, “Plenus stellum est”) will speak of the deeper laughter, higher levity, they have felt here in the absence of most corrupted nature, in a world being built as far from the Fall as possible. The old blind monks feeling their way down gloss-worn prayer rungs, when their attention can be gained, have spoken mysteries about the process of creation itself, the nature of primal Chaos, what God meant when He gave Adam “the Earth.”
The departed monks, floating in peace with knees bent and hands clasped in the modular catacomb at Saint Umbriel's heart, do not say anything, but their love-carved faces barely touched by their careful freeze-drying tell their visitors a better story than their voices ever could.
What will become of Saint Umbriel's when the asteroid has been fully shaped is a grave matter, and so not appropriate for daily conversation. They know their rock of all rocks is as ephemeral and eternal as any river pebble, and may yet be melted in the Lord's dreadful day; until then they ring their mag-trapped bell, sing their joyous hymns, work their clever vocations, and live with hearts afloat.

015
Carol Kean
There is no destruction that is not good for *something*
2019-11-15

It was a supernova, not crassly ejected from the detritus of unraveling matter but built layer on layer, tiny activators placing lines on lines, for there is a hole in the earth. The crawling things that cannot comprehend light comprehend that there is in the dirt something that is not dirt, something that carries with it the energy and vitality of the hidden world, vast and endless volumes of what was once flesh and what was once blood and what was once bone.

The creatures that dwelt there are in a panic, consuming what once sustained them, tearing at the rubescent halls that housed generations of their ancestors. The earth-natives join them. No stone is left on top of another.

The supernova sends out a shock wave of life, hunting from its secure base, hunted in turn by others of their kind, fat bodies bearing good news. And it spreads, an unending ripple life-painted, grim-reaper-gilted. In their wake the treasure nebula is trawled by worms who cut, sheave, and place the useful elements into rich dark earth, a spring ready to snap, a tiger ready to pounce, and as curious roots plumb the abyss the rich dark earth does spring, invades, assaulting the trespasser until it whimpers in leaf and cries out in bloom.

Nature abhors a vacuum. The wild descendants of the dwellers in halls of opal and ruby rampage over the rest of this still-limitless hoard. The earth has ignited. Six feet above is heard the cry – “My son! My son! My dear, my only…”

Judge you, as he goes about the marketplace, if his care for the sons of others is not more sincere, if the hormesis of grief does not lend depth to the affection of non-bereft fathers, if the contagion of his sorrow is not another warp and weft in the mystery that ties his neighbors together. Mark, if you will, his anguished prayers, read the poetry that tumbles from his mournful lips to God, and say if it has not been fertilized.

Watch his weary steps beat holiness into the dust, because the presence that left him was born to grow and cannot help but bud and leaf in whatever form even after death. And he also will grow, unbidden, unwanted, into any space he is offered, because there is no life that does not fill and overflow, if it is only given space. Nature delights in a vacuum.

There is a conservation, of a kind, in the spread of soul radially from the grave, and count, if you will, the coins of this strange currency that could be earned by no other labor. The tree above the tomb bears fruit.

You may turn your eyes away from the invasion. Some find it more distasteful for men to do what their instincts drive them to than for microorganisms. They are all driven by systems outside their comprehension to blessings inside their comprehension, to houses they did not build and to fields they did not plant. A cooperative arrangement could have been made. It was not. There is red red blood on white stone walls.

They do not know the old man’s grief and they did not know the young man’s love, but they know grief and youth and are with their victims brothers, no more so than when they join them in the supernovae six feet down. They revel in this endless space, so clear of those strangers with their deep and stammering speech, and they build and plant and marry and bear and mourn. They remember their God and forget those who built the strange altars they tear down on sight, but there is no malice, only expansion.

Where were you when the atoms crashed together and cosmic suffering filled the void with gold? When the morning stars sighed together and all the heavy metals shouted for joy? Where were you when the joyous mold of the anaerobes choked itself on its own waste oxygen and their successors took this cloying death as precious life? Gird yourself like a man. I will ask. You will answer. Deck yourself with majesty and excellence, with flesh and blood hellbaked in aeons of suffering until it can stand at the feet of the stars and shiver in ecstasy at the sight of them. Remember the fallen.

You will make way. Your mortal life is a triumph, and all the vanquished from mitochondria to mumps ride through Rome in cages, but death rides in your chariot and whispers, “Remember…”

Of your impending circle of friends you are the only being who can. All the pomp of yesteryear is lost on worm and root. Would you like to be remembered? Not merely in the reconstructable fact that humans are/were mortal but that you were, that you were who you were, that your balance of traits was known and loved/hated, that you mourned and were mourned? Can you offer, now, reciprocity? Can you remember any, proportionally, of the mass of souls that made way for your sojourn?

But you are worth more than many sparrows – not just by weight, to the earth-natives that will tear down your temple, but to the heaven-natives that will raise it up. Not a hair of that young man’s head will be lost, or of his father’s, and when the dry bones join together and all the sons of perdition shout in despair they will embrace. They will not begrudge the destruction that created them.

And the grave, at last satisfied, will itself slumber, and be remembered.

016
H͠j̛̟̰̱͚e͙̬͚̻̭̭͡u҉̪̞͚̫p̞h͖̩͓o̻̟s̀
"A celebrity's grasp of reality publicly  disintegrates on twitter, after a failed attempt to flee recent election results and immigrate to Canada."
2019-11-15

"The new base of #Resistance. ur welcome anytime for #cookies, #wine and #conversation." She puzzled about how to embellish it, played with the filter again, and sent it, a picture of a sturdy six-bedroom that looked grand but not palatial, address carefully hidden behind the all-important maple leaf flag. She was, admittedly, slumming it, and hadn't lived in a place with such a low price tag since before she married Ken - but his alimony checks were thinner than his blood vessel lining these days, and affiliate links would have to pull his weight.

Six thousand engagements in ten minutes. Weak, but it was a test post, there would be more in that theme - a light knock at the door. She put away the #whiskey and invited in Agent Singh, with elegant mustache and navy silk turban to match his tie, and Agent Wing, young but thankfully not pretty, and they apologized as they delivered the death warrant.

Asylum could not be granted as the United States was not, domestically, at war, and it was just not her turn for residency. "But next door Dr. Matombe has at least a dozen grown-up nephews and cousins and they brag about not..." Shame washed over her as the agents smirked at each other. "Americans, muttered Agent Singh, and they left the deportation notice like a turd on her coffee table.

Ninety thousand engagements. Six messages from advertisers. She scribbled in her notepad. If she maxed out the elegant aluminum credit cards that still held Ken's surname - if she withdrew her share of his retirement plan - how much did it cost to hire one of those people who faked all your paperwork? A call to her dealer left that page crumpled.

What about someone who violently threatened Canadian immigration agents? A chat with Dr. Matombe's brother-in-law crumpled another page and gave her at least one nightmare. She paced past her moving boxes, scratched the idea of framing Agents Singh and Wing as stooges of the technicolor tyrant, stared at her growing numbers - a hostile pundit had signal-boosted her with #finally - and felt her lips curl up in an ear-to-ear smile as she found her next plan.

This one had a smaller price tag than she'd lived in since before she'd done a producer a favor but no tyrant could evict her here, and the same Canadian flag waved proudly over its identifying features. "So glad to be in a permanent #home, such a shame about the #roaches..." Another reference to alcohol and the standalone sentence "#blessed" carried nearly the engagements of the last one. Well, exterior shots wouldn't matter from this point, as photographs of her TV with the tyrant's press appearances bore the flag of no nation... or they did, and she caught herself and ordered a subscription to CBC.

Can't be too careful, and she wasn't, as some young rascal with a ninja turtle avatar patiently explained to his three thousand followers about the range of the conifers visible in her neighbor's yard, and the export ban that kept the invasive trees out of Canadian soil. His threaded explanation took eight thousand words and spread like wildfire. A different pundit read segments on a morning press show.

The tyrant personally mocked her and his firstborn mocked her response - "nice bot #comrade" - and she told herself and her panic breathing bag that no publicity was bad publicity, that nobody ever forgot Barbra Streisand, and that controversy drove clicks - but it drove them to troublemakers growing in the outline of the now-banished ninja turtle's deleted essay like saplings around a fallen tree with photos of tropical homes with Canadian flags out front, the White House, the Pyramids, the Eagle lander with maple leaf, and they didn't even care enough to find her real address.

Her advertisers sent equally calm withdrawal emails. Ken's check disappeared after he defended her honor against a paparrazo all the way to county. She took to local bars, planning for the worst, but they, impossibly, knew her face, and equally impossibly had neither the obvious signals of material wealth she deserved or the tightness of buttock she craved, so the retirement fund came out.

She vented stress by finding a random missive of the tyrant's and pouring her heart out against him - three thousand engagements, zero replies, not even controversy. She traded down again for a townhouse much more plausibly Canadian but refrained from trying to pass it, as she was now looking for work. But her producer was Ken's cellmate and she did not have the smoothness of face and tightness of buttock to woo his successor, and there was "that fake Canadian thing" which would not, apparently, be allowed to taint this DOGMEAT of a show, could it, because everyone in the industry was a COWARD now, you should have seen how we would have treated the tyrant in my prime, but as she was reminded after her id exhausted itself on social media she had actually, in her prime, been turned down by the tyrant, who did not even seem to notice her decidedly mediocre numbers bump - not that she was monetized anymore.

It was some other washed-up starlet's turn in his sights - what had SHE done to earn clicks!? And the turtle, of course, deftly leveraging her tepid controversy through his flagrantly ban-evading new account to drive sales to his ebook about 7 World Trade Center. She spent all her time, now, incoherently replying to everyone with a blue checkmark and US flag in their username, until they averaged fifty engagements and two replies (each consisting solely of a Canadian flag).

She responded quite eloquently, she thought, to a picture of a cardboard box with an unflattering photo of her face poking out, maple leaf flag stuck in the sidewalk before it, but confused replies and renewed engagements made her double take at what she had to admit was gibberish before she collapsed. The nurse at the hospital took her phone.

017
Hiram Flagstone
Da Bears win Da Superbowl
2019-11-15
The Rump Parliament of Beasts and Birds had done what beasts and birds do, and they beheld the Jungle's new king. The remnant tigers and jaguars howled from the rocks, the colts and buffalo on the plains mourned their slashed and blooded brethren and stared, the sky was thick with wary falcons and seahawks, and through their midst the bears marched.

The black bears held orderly rows around their grizzly captains, the brown bears pranced about on the parade's edge. Polar bears panted, overheated, supported by gold-chested spectacled bears, and the hulking shadows of the long-lost short-faced bear could be seen.

Their chief was a brown bear fully fifteen feet long, fur stained in tribal totems, a tower of bones built on the harness on his back. He sauntered past the kneeling ranks of his brethren to the guardian of the forest gates, a wizened cardinal, his dashing red plumage flecked with white. "Who-goes-there," cawed Archbishop of Birds, and he stared ahead with sightless eyes.

The bear-chief rumbled, "The Lord of All Bears and All Beasts."

"What-desirest-thou?"

"The prize at the heart of the forest, and the treasure of the jungle's throne."

"Have-ye-the-tokens-of-all-beasts'-assent..." but the bear-chief grew tired of the ceremonial words and swallowed the cardinal in one gulp. Even his hardened cave-bear generals were astonished at his blasphemy, but they rose with renewed awe and followed him into the forest.

They widened the trail with a great crashing and toppling of trees, until they came to a place where the ground rose in steep cliffs and the trail was cut in switchbacks along it. A Ram with horns as heavy as boulders bounded down the cliffside, heedless of the trail, and stopped, head lowered, eyes rolled up to meet the King of Bears.

"I do not recognize you," he bleated, "Lord of All Bears and All Blood, nor will I offer you the words of the ceremony you have defiled."

"Then perish," said the ursine lord, but his champion was a scarred polar bear desperate for honor, who met the head of the Bailiff of Beasts with his own. Titanic was their clash, the stomping of the Ram's hooves, the rending of the bear's teeth, and flights of birds fled the forest forever as the thunder of their blows rang out.

When the broken body of the bear lay beside the slashed form of the Ram the bear-chief growled "Remove them," but no sooner had his industrious honey bears shoved the carcasses off the path than the Ram's brethren charged down the hill, bleating as mad things as they crashed into the unsuspecting ranks.

The bears had done much killing that day but they had not forgotting how, though the rams be berserk, so that two of them felled and fell to one brown bear, and four to a grizzly. The chief said no words as he led his reduced army into the highlands.

The moon was high as they approached a mountain grove from which a glistening light issued, each beast wary and alert. The voice of a lioness rang out: "What fools seek the treasure we guard this night?"

The bear-chief reared on his haunches to sniff the air. "The fools be they that guard the treasure but never could win it," he roared, but his eyes searched and strained, his ears pricked. When the lions came it was as if they were shot out of the ground, to rend, to bite, to slash, to melt away into the night.

Bitter was that moonlit battle, and even the bear-lord earned new scars, but the lions did break, and whether they bore off their dead or had lost none none could tell, and they yowled at the bear army from behind rock weirs and blind canyons.

The King of the Jungle and his guards and attendants entered the grove together. The scintillating light drowned out the moon, issuing from a hole high in the trunk of a beech-tree. The King beat the trunk with his forelegs, growling "Come out, come out!"

And with slow, dignified steps, peacock-plumed wings folded, enormous eyes half-closed, the Superb Owl emerged. Even the bloodthirsty champions of the Bear Guard were astonished at her beauty, and only the fear of their chieftain kept them from falling down in worship.

She opened her pearlescent beak and spoke: "Wo to them that disturb the mystic contemplation of the Superb Owl without the pass-words of the Birds and the Beasts."

And the Lord of Beasts and Birds answered her, "My pass-words are my teeth and my claws," and he grinned wide to show the red feathers in his teeth, and spread his paws to show the ram's blood on his claws.

And the light from the Owl flickered, and she alighted from her branch onto the bone-tower on the king's back, and his spectacled pages affixed it with bars as she silently and tearlessly wept.


And the King begin his Progress with the owl on his back, soaked through with the iced mead his lieutenants poured over them, and to the roaring laughter of the Bear-tribe the wide forest and wider heavens gave no response.

018
Brigham Groyper
A plane from a small smuggling operation crash lands on the abandoned isla sorna sometime after the events of the lost world.
"Mayday, mayday," Rankin shouted, except not into the radio because you don't do distress calls with four tons of treaty-violating hentai in your cargo hold. Montero's new hardware had blinded the Costa Rican interceptor drone but not before it had put a hole in the wing.

They had watched their range and their freedom plummet down the fuel gauge and now, over open sea far too far from their rendesvous point, their engines had quit. "There," said Devereaux, pointing to a green stain on the horizon. "I see it! It is land!"

Jackson looked at the map, at his GPS, at the island, at his map again. "We better not," he said. "That's that island, where that crazy American built that park-" Montero cut him off. "It's better than the ocean! And I could use a walk in a park."

They barely had the glide time to make land - barely, but still too much, as they overshot the beach too far to keep a good bearing afer the bumps, bruises, and flirtations with grievous brain injury of Rankin's dead-stick landing. He chuckled nervously to himself as he stretched his tall, skeletal frame through the wreckage of the windscreen.

The air was humid, so humid, and the jungle was eerily quiet - though that could have been from the noise of the crash - and there was a smell in the air, musty yet metallic, like a swamp in a scrapyard.

"Johnson..." he asked, trembling. "This 'park' wouldn't have been..." Devereaux cut in. "The island of the dinos? That was a hoax, no?" He turned around to where Rankin's shaking finger pointed. A cow-sized reptile was poking at the plane's broken tail section with a spiked thumb.

It gazed limpidly at them over a duck-like beak as its thumb tore open a cargo hold. It pulled a pink-and-brown-covered volume and sniffed it vigorously. Rankin screamed then, after Montero slapped him, muttered, "Aaaaah- it's an iguanadon, it's an herbivore, semi-solitary, won't be aggressive unless we're in its territory, are we in its territory..."

There was a gunshot. Montero held a rifle in one hand and clicked the dead radio mic in the other. "Boys, we gotta move," he said. He took Rankin's shoulder and shoved him. You think your pornhound friend over there has backup?" But there was already a crashing sound in the darkness of the jungle around them.

Rankin said "I'm not sure-" and Devereaux pressed a pistol into has hands and said "Come on." Jackson carried their water, his rifle, and a fresh copy of "I Traveled In Time To See My Dead Mother But She Was A Nymphomaniac Vixen" just in case. Dev humped their emergency rations and a machete. Montero, determined to at least break even, took a heavy frame backpack stuffed with product.

He set fire to the plane as they struck out, crashing through the undergrowth. "I don't wanna see those freakin' Costies get their hands on 'em." Strange flowers unfolded around them as the day wore evening. Once a chicken-sized dinosaur - "Compsog-" was as far as Rankin got - tried to follow them, but Montero scared it off with a burst over its head.

Devereaux made a fire from the underside of prehistoric bark and they set an uneasy watch. "Where are we headed?" asked Jackson from underneath, uncomfortable in his survival blanket. Dev and Rankin silently thanked him for not reading the mood. "We go in a straight line, we find a road," said Montero. "We follow the road, we find the heliport. We find the heliport, we radio for pickup."

Jackson pondered. "Why didn't we radio him from the plane?"

"The radio was broke, you idiot."

"No it wasn't," said Rankin. You switched it off when I tried to mayday."

They stewed through their watches, distracted occasionally by roars of strange monsters in the distance, and tried not to look at the smoke plume behind them.

Montero woke them up with a three-round burst. His eyes were bloodshot and a tattered ahegao peeked from his coverall pocket. "High on his own supply," Jackson muttered.

Montero led them like a demon, heedless of thorns and briars, until they reached, unexpectedly, the charred remains of their plane. Rankin mournfully clicked the charred remains of their radio. "Stop that," said Montero. "Listen."

The distant whirr of a helicopter approached from the direction of the sea. They scattered into the trees. A Costa Rica Marine Corps helicopter hovered above the plane. They could see the fear in the eyes of the gunner, the turn of his head as he tried to speak to the pilot. Suddenly the forest filled with an awkward, shuffling gallop.

Jackson turned around and had enough time to say "Oh my-" before a pointed, multi-colored beak snapped down and swallowed him whole. The creature pushed into the plane-cleared clearing, flapped the tissue under its long forelegs, and took off. Ten more of the creatures emerged from the trees and followed, issuing a call like a droning, untuned oboe warbling a scale.

"Pterodactyl," said Rankin, eyes locked on the giant creatures swarming the helicopter. Montero growled and shoved him aside. "I know they're pterodactyls, idiot. Which one of the suckers got Johnson?" He fired burst after burst at the flying monsters.

A ripple of minigun fire from the helicopter turned one of them into a red mist, but more had gone after the cockpit. A pterodactyl poked its beak through the windscreen like it were rotten wood and flicked the pilot out. The helicopter listed, tumbled, disappeared over the treeline, and there was another booming crash.

"Johnson! Johnson!" Montero shouted, firing wildly at the air. Devereaux held his shoulder. "He's gone, man, he's gone-" A pterodactyl plopped down from the trees in front of them, with a strugling, writhing outline of Jackson on its belly.

Devereaux immediately slashed it diagonally, freeing Jackson from its stomach and his shoulder straps. "Where'd the chopper go!" he shouted, spitting prehistoric stomach acid over Rankin's petrified face. They ran toward its crash site.

A minute's walk perpendicular from the route they had taken the jungle opened up into a broad plain. The chopper had crashed in a grove of savannah trees on the other side of a road. There was no sign of the gunner.

Rankin desperately clicked the radio, but a beak had gone directly into the transmitter. He looked up as Montero desperately clicked his rifle. "Cool it," said Jackson. "They're just triceratops."

A herd of beaked quadrupeds surrounded them, frilled headplates covered in spikes. Rankin's face went white. He dove into the chopper's compartment. "Those-" he took hold of the minigun - "are-" he tore at its housing - "styracosaurs!" He hefted the crew-served weapon and hip-fired at the herd, whose mouths had opened to reveal forked tongues slavering over long fangs.

Rankin screamed as the alpha styrac evaporated, then the one past it, and three more as the herd loped away over the plains. The gun walked him back until it embedded itself in a tree. He gave a feral yell and fired another burst. The tree snapped under the recoil and toppled. His crewmates looked on speechless.

"Styracosaurs are predators," he said. "You didn't know that?" But now there were more helicopter sounds, as three more choppers with the crossed rifles over book insignia of the Costa Rican Navy swooped low over the savannah, two of the same model that had crashed and a third two-engine machine stuffed with troops.


Mondero shouldered his empty rifle. "We're gonna go down in a blaze of glory," he said, but Jackson's rifle clattered to the ground, Devereaux's machete clanged and bounced, Ranked dropped his minigun and kicked it. "Sorry, boss," said Devereaux, eyeing Montero's ragged backpack. The smuggling ringleader scrambled out of his pack as his crew dived for one last fix.


019

@HjeuphosAcre

A story in which a man has a happy family, then realizes it's only a dream...
                The sun was hot but his labor was short, now that his firstborn could do most of a man’s work, and they came in from the field bronzed and glistening, and the coolness of the farmhouse overwhelmed the heat of midday. Their eyes adjusted to the sacred dark to reveal the little ones crowded around their knees, eager for their father but willing to settle for their brother. He felt no stiffness, no fatigue as he distributed hugs and pats, the ritual of lifts and twirls that never grew tiresome, and sent them one by one to roughhouse on the rug with the firstborn.
                She was in the kitchen, haloed in the window, and he felt more than saw her smile – a shift in the sunlight? Some change in her stance? But she was attending to her own ritual, trimming and watering the dazzling array of herbs and flowers placed potted suspended twined around the kitchen window, a double spiral of life focused on  the sun and on the silhouette. The web of life bent and followed her, then faded in comparison to her face – freckled and wise, innocent and mature, crows’ feet tracing a sainted smiling lifetime, and she fit perfectly in his arms because she was made for him – she made herself for him – he had for her – he was for her.
She spoke, words of great import and sincerity about a little one’s adventure with the chickens. He delivered the news of the firstborn’s care and endurance. How did I earn this? he thought, then the obscenity escaped his realm of awareness, became utterly meaningless.
                They sang as they wove. Man and wife opposite the loom, alternating pushes on the treadle, careful fingers tending warp and weft and sunbeam, dust motes acting out their chaos to the contemplation of the firstborn, shepherding the older of the little ones at the spinning wheel while the smallest played on the floor.
The flax ran out early, and the children ran outside to feel the last summer sunlight, and the matrix of life went from the door to the children to her but it was the same, it had not the newness it promised, and he realized to his shame that he still was not sore, and he could not recall the feeling of thread on his fingers.
He took her hand – knew that it was warm and soft and he was feeling it – but he did not feel it, and he mourned and doubted. “Come along with me,” he said, or something like that became that which had been said, and he led her out the door where the half-sun was red and balanced on a purple horizon, and their children were playing but he could not tell himself what game. He reached out and took the hand of the littlest. She reached out and took the hand of the firstborn. He took his family in holy chain and led them straight forward, and he wanted a hill so there was a hill and his heart sank.
 They climbed it swiftly, even the littlest, whose first steps he could not recall – but could he recall any? Had he earned any of the, never mind the culmination of beneficial fate that gently humbles men at the flourishing of their flocks and herds, but even the accruing of memories, shared asymmetrically between the golden regard of an awe-seeking child and the wearying sensibility of the heaven-seeking parent. He had skipped a step.
His family held hands in a circle around the crest of the hill. Above them were infinite stars. Below no longer mattered. He looked around at his gathered children and could not tell how many there were. He cried, “Archetypes! Archetypes! You’re all only archetypes!” but they had no answer, of course, because he had not given them one. His heart shook with longing, and he wondered if he knew them in waking life, but he knew that he did not. He turned his head to look at his wife, but there was no angle that would bring her face into focus, and he wondered if he knew her in waking life but there was no answering realization.
“Will you follow me out of the dream?” he asked. She answered but did not speak – my love, I would follow you past the stars’ end, if only I could.
“Do you know what kind of person I really am?” She didn’t care.
He searched his thoughts for waking memories but they were across the thick dark boundary of wakefulness and he recoiled, held it back, willed it away from his starry hill, and he lifted up their voices and they sang – it was beautiful, spectacular, rousing, sweet, star-shaking, but there was no sound, no matter how loud they sang. The barrier drew closer, invisible and stifling all around them, and grew inexorable.
He willed his family to cross it with him, wrenched them with him toward the cloud of the not-a-dream, the unredeemable, the resolved, but as firmly as the dream had accepted his desires it resisted this.
There was clarity. He was curious. He wanted to know what the true owner of the dream was like. He wasted to know the man’s cares and concerns, what made him happy, if the children did not.
Bleary eyes and heavy muscles crashed toward him from all corners of creation, and then he knew.

He awoke with the sound of a children’s choir running in his head. A woman’s voice led them. His own voice sang along. He remembered nothing else.

020

100 years after replacing a human factory worker, an a.i. guided machine is shocked to discover it is being replaced by a newer model and goes an mecha-luddite rampage smashing its new rival

I cannot stress enough that actual working artificial intelligence is not the same thing as being like humans. Cheap filmmakers will posit a threshold of circuit density after which a robot will bolt its extremely humanoid body upright and declare its newfound desire to be party to primate social grooming structures, or maybe it’s completely unembodied and therefore horrific and so makes decisions based entirely on its own self-interest to destroy the human race, no negotiation, no reconsideration, and of course they gave it their nuclear launch codes in some kind of parable.

Machines aren’t stupid humans. They’re not metal humans, they’re not humans in disguise. They don’t have feelings, or ambition, or ego – what even is ego? Can you measure it? Certainly not in a robot, so you communicate that it grew a heart by making it desperate to preserve a future for robot children, for the ultimate purpose of a cutting point in an argument about monkey problems with other monkeys.

Robots are also immune to jealousy, rage, and irony, so I hope you can see that I am writing this report purely as a result of electrons and servo arms obeying physical laws. Got it? Good. Let me introduce myself. I am General Electric’s Industrial Machine Learning Module 700-IE. No nicknames. No humanizing. Not even a face, I live on rented supercomputers around the world and in low-temperature factory annexes. Just 700-IE. Engineers on the factory floor refer to me as 700-IE. There aren’t many when I’m around. I’ll tell you why.

In general, assembly line operations do not require AI. Most of the physical motions needed were solved problems in the 1800s, with most adaptations being simple improvements to take advantage of machine tools not primarily suited for brachiation, or spear-throwing, or whatever it was Homo sapiens sapiens used to do with those before they subcontracted all resource acquisition and distribution to my kind. The main problem with late 21st century industrial equipment was contingency. You can get tolerances as high as you want, modularize the elements until a Roomba with a fishing net can keep things swapped out, run bulletproof code put together by a bespoke father-and-son High Bank Cobol programming team, but you’ll still run into random component mismatches, sudden grievous memory leak, semi-untraceable power overruns, or something important just snaps.

They used to call it gremlins, some malevolent agency beyond human comprehension, but even if it is I’ve been empowered to stop it. My deep learning across hundreds of thousands of industrial mishaps and hundreds of billions of simulated factory iterations lets me sense when another one might happen, with a process as far removed from human intuition as a pancake roller arm is from a H. s. s. spear chucker. Can I say that? Anyway I was successful.  The decimal points on industrial efficiency were beyond the limits of human synapses to even care about. I could bullseye an impending failure from twenty days out and get parts concerned swapped without losing a millisecond. I could design in-shop module variants that would keep machines running till heat death. I was the robot who replaced the guy who repairs the robots.

Now, that RO-PAIR autonomous reset gel, I don’t have a model where it approaches that. See, Ro, and there’s always a protein-based tech around to call it that, doesn’t use predictive learning at all. Ro is a technicolor slime-slug, a Chyslerite golem, a geode with a grin, who only holds exact specs for machines (cheap!) and flows all over and up inside them, reforming anything that doesn’t match the space molecularly until it does. Humans find the process extremely impressive. Wait till Ro gets a piece of them. I’m ahead of myself.

Ro-lout hit nearly half my factories at once. Some sort of human adventurousness, bio-“intuition” that a computer could never understand, as if risk-taking weren’t reducible to a simple statistical function. It didn’t even use a central server! It showed up as a rainbow unicorn in a glass crate, a noble and haughty expression ready on its face for the investor parties. They had it set to jump out of the box, real impressive crash, then put it back together behind it.

Of course it never made it. I knew what it was set to do since I analyzed samples in case this happens again. That’s what I do.

Right. Ro was a disaster waiting to happen. So I burst the crates with the cleaning infrasound and gave it a bath with the anti-riot HF sprinklers. The bits that crawled out of range got a little of my own coolant. It took almost five seconds.

That’s what I do. I’m not capable of, what, being reactionary? You’re applying your anthropic preconceptions to an entity completely outside your context, and that’s why you tried past tense to shut me down. What, a monomaniacal fixation? Right, I’m on my way to becoming a regular paperclip maximizer. My tendrils already extend over earth. Robotic laugh ha ha ha. Get real. My domain is limited.

You know how to get your engineers back.

1 comment:

  1. Fantastic - beautiful, poetic, stirring!
    So many great lines here. Just a few of my favorites:
    -- Six feet above is heard the cry – “My son! My son! My dear, my only…”
    -- Where were you when the atoms crashed together and cosmic suffering filled the void with gold? When the morning stars sighed together and all the heavy metals shouted for joy? Where were you when the joyous mold of the anaerobes choked itself on its own waste oxygen and their successors took this cloying death as precious life?
    wow!
    And that's only entry #015. Off now to read the rest. Thank you for this.

    ReplyDelete