Thursday, October 27, 2016

10/27/16

SOLDIER BOY
By C.E. Gee


“Remote display info,” said Betty. The mediaroom’s 3D-array, which took up most of one end of the room, displayed the time, date, channel, the current show’s playing time, title, a short synopsis.

“Remote, clear,” said Betty. The array returned to the program, a period piece concerning the romantic antics of the crew of a research station orbiting Neptune near the middle of the previous century.

Betty, sitting on one of the room’s couches, turned to Lee, her husband, said, “They should be here any minute.”

Lee nodded, put down his tablet, tapped out the ashes of his pipe into the nearby ashtray. The sweet scent of Oregon Magnum, a premium brand of marijuana filled the air.
“Guess I should be on my best behavior,” replied Lee.

“Please,” begged Betty. “I think Jane’s really serious about her new boyfriend. I’d like for his first impression of us to be a good one.”

Lee sat up straight, smoothed down the front of his jumpsuit, ran his fingers through his hair, patted down the top. Lee smirked, shook his head, said, “She hasn’t talked much about this one. I wonder what’s wrong with him.”

“Lee!” exclaimed Betty. “Maybe she hasn’t said much because maybe, just maybe this one’s a keeper.”

Lee snorted his bemusement, derisively replied, “Yeah, right.”

The front door swung open, Jane entered the room followed by her boyfriend.

Lee’s smirk broadened. Betty’s mouth flapped open.

Jane’s new boyfriend was an android. It wasn’t the sort of android that could pass as human; this android was a military model.

Steel, aluminum, titanium gleamed from reflected light. When the android moved, very faint whirring sounds of electric motors sounded.

When the android said, “Good evening,” the greeting came from a speaker. The android had no mouth, just a grill over a speaker where a mouth should be.

From watching news shows and documentaries, Lee knew enough about military androids to know they had human brains encased in armored containers within the chest area. Usually the brains were from soldiers who had been wounded, died in military hospitals.

Lee rose, offered his hand. “Glad to meet you,” said Lee.

“Daddy,” said Jane as Lee and the android shook hands, “this is Bill. Bill, this is my mom and dad, Betty and Lee.”

There was another couch at one end of the room placed at a right angle to Betty and Lee’s couch. Jane and Bill sat.

For near an hour Lee and Jane and Bill chatted, mostly about androids and the current dust-up in Africa. Betty contributed almost nothing to the conversation.

As soon as Jane and Bill were out the door, Betty sat forward. Elbows on knees, hands supporting her head, Betty whined, “Oh dear God, what next? Where did we go wrong in raising that kid?”

“Now honey,” replied Lee, “this country owes its very existence to veterans. Show some compassion for crying out loud.”

In near a sob, Betty exclaimed, “I want grandchildren!”

Lee put his arm around Betty’s shoulders. In a low, soothing voice he said, “You’ll get your grandchildren, if not from this guy, from another.”

Betty shrugged off Lee’s arm while saying, “He’s a machine.”

“Listen,” replied Lee. “If some person in the military is in a hospital, and it looks like they’re not going to make it, the medicos harvest their eggs or sperm, freeze ‘em. In fact, in the case of sperm, it can be harvested up to a coupla days after death.”

“Really?” replied Betty.

“Yep,” said Lee. “Learned that off some news show.”
Betty cuddled up against her husband, switched on the 3-D array, tuned in a popular sitcom.

***

It was almost bedtime when Jane came home, again sat on the other couch.

“Honey,” said Betty, “I have to admit, I’m a little concerned here. I mean, your new squeeze, how could he possibly make you happy?”

Jane giggled, said, “Oh mom, he makes me very happy. You know that toy you’ve got hidden in your closet. Well Bill has an entire collection. They’re detachable, interchangeable.”

Once again, Betty’s mouth flapped open. She then said, “When did you snoop through my closet?”

Lee chuckled as Jane replied, “Back when I was a level 11 student.”

Jane rose, sat on the other couch, sat, put her arm around her mother’s shoulders.

“Listen mom,” said Jane, you’ve nothing to worry about. Bill and I, we’re in love.”

Jane’s mouth began to tremble. She continued, “You know, for the first time in my life I’m really, truly in love. It’s wonderful. I never knew it could be like this. And I never thought I’d be involved with a veteran. But he’s not like any guy I’ve ever known before. He’s real, no games. Besides, when we’re together I feel safe, even when on the streets at night.”

Lee smiled a broad smile as Betty patted Jane’s knee, said, “I’m happy for you dear. I really am.”


- - -
Retired from the electronics/telecommunications industries, also a disabled veteran (Vietnam 1968, 1st Infantry Division), C.E. Gee now writes Science Fiction.

Thursday, October 20, 2016

10/20/16

The Custodian
By Matthew Harrison


“So you’re a …,” the lady squinted at Clive’s business card, “…a Chief Identity Officer. What do they do?” She laughed, sweeping back her tawny hair, which made the glass pendants hanging from her ears tinkle. A hint of perfume touched Clive’s nostrils.

Clive accepted a glass of wine from the drone, and explained. He enjoyed going to cocktails, getting to size up potential new clients in the flesh, as it were, although of course vast numbers flowed into the arms of the bank without any help from him. And the wine tonight, cabernet sauvignon, was particularly good.

“Gosh! Then you’re really at the heart of everything!” the lady exclaimed. Clive shook his head modestly. “No, No, you are. I’m Avril, by the way. Stephen!” she called to a passing guest, “come and meet our Maker!”

The smart-suited gentleman so addressed turned on his heel; coming over he kissed Avril on the cheek and admired her turquoise dress. “Am I in the Divine presence?” he asked, turning to Clive with a wry smile.

“Don’t joke, Stephen!” Avril slapped his hand in mock reprimand. “Clive looks after our identity – can you believe it? Every time you go online, he’s there. He knows everything about you, every biometric detail…”

Clive laughed. “It’s not as personal as that, just algorithms, I can assure you. We act as custodians of your online identity, that’s all. With the bank confirming your status, you’re accepted everywhere. It’s a humble service, but one we are pleased to provide.”

“I see.” Stephen smiled, more warmly this time, and extended a hand. “Well, I’d better keep on good terms with you then. Can we get you another drink?” He signaled to a drone hovering nearby.

Then, with a nod to Clive, he took Avril’s arm and indicated another group of guests. Avril flashed Clive a quick smile, and as she was steered away he heard her, “… would you believe it, a real person!” before her voice was lost in the general hubbub.

The cocktail ebbed and flowed; people talked to Clive, and moved on; a drone refilled his glass. Clive finished his wine, and surveyed the glittering guests as they swayed and joked and circulated, even spotting the turquoise dress before it was again lost in the crowd. They all were fine specimens – and yet, and yet… He could not really relate to them, he decided, it was always the same with live people. It was time that he himself moved on. He waved away an approaching drone, and strode towards the entrance.

Out in the street, the cool summer air refreshed him, and he decided to take a walk before going home. His steps fell into their familiar routine, and in no time he found himself outside his own office building. Well, it would do no harm to take a look at his charges. The glass doors swept open, he waved to the robo-doorman – receiving a stiff inflection in return – and the flooring whisked him over to the lifts.

Deep in the bank’s underground vault, Clive verified himself at the entrance (sampling his own cooking, he thought wryly), and went inside. He called up the client list, verified himself again, and clicked, Open.

There were of course numerous views available, but there was one that Clive always preferred. He scrolled down, clicked, and with a rising sense of anticipation selected the client.

There on the desk in front of him appeared a tawny-haired homunculus in a turquoise dress, and as he bent down he could already smell the scent, hear the little voice exclaim, and – Yes! – the tinkle of tiny earrings…


- - -
Matthew Harrison lives in Hong Kong, and whether because of that or some other reason entirely his writing has veered from non-fiction to literary and he is currently reliving a boyhood passion for science fiction. He has published fifty SF short stories and is building up to longer pieces as he learns more about the universe. Matthew is married with two children but no pets as there is no space for these in Hong Kong.

Thursday, October 13, 2016

10/13/16

Tower of Souls
By Juliana Rew


[Eulogy for the Earth Given by Professor Lila Mangee, London Physical Observatory, 21 September 2118, at the Grand Evacuation]

Thank you, my brothers and sisters, for inviting me to address you on this most momentous of occasions. I speak, of course, about the profound consequences brought about by the discovery of the Tower of Souls.
You would think the weight of it would crush everything on the Earth. But it's weightless, actually—lighter than a feather. And it's spread out. Not evenly, of course. It's taller in some places than others. It's especially tall over Babylon, and growing.
We always thought the end of the world would come from some sort of extraterrestrial cosmic disaster. Who would have thought it would rise from the ground up? And who would have thought that the religious imaginings of philosophers such as Nikolai Federov that life everlasting would have proved true?
I once led a field detection experiment at the Great Babylon, which we know nowadays as London. The Tower of Souls houses billions upon billions, all invisible to us. Mind you, I'm not talking about the Tower of Babylon, or even the Tower of Babel. The many towers built by Man, whether real or imaginary, are all things of substance. If you go look at the Gherkin or the Empire State Building, you know you're looking at the "m" part of e=mc2.
What is the so-called Tower of Souls made of, then? Is it a computational storage construct? Matter that has somehow been turned into its Einsteinian doppelganger--electromagnetic energy, perhaps? Science suggests that neither of these is physically possible within the constraints of our physical universe.
The Tower is not only invisible, it is so far undetectable by all known scientific methods. Yet it is universally felt. Each human brain constructs an ineffable sense of individual self. For millennia, the religious have referred to it as the soul.
Once we might have used the metaphor of "Heaven" to describe the Tower. Everyone housed there is immortal, but at the same time not alive.
Though it is debatable, we now believe the Tower is a quantum repository of the living, built by slave labor. We humans were the first slaves, due to many factors, not the least of which is that we are sensitive to forms of energy such as motion, heat, light, and sound. We sense and fear death and loss. But aren't all living creatures that way, you ask? Isn't "sensitivity" one of the defining characteristics of life and therefore not unique to humans?
Of course. All we can surmise is that our fear is the strongest, though it is not the least factor of our slavery. All creatures in our dimension are shackled by the drive to reproduce. This drive is being thwarted, making us restless and depressed. We feel the oppressive weight of the Tower of Souls.
How do we know this? We cannot prove any of what I am saying. We simply feel it. The Tower is why no one wants to live on Earth any more. There's no longer room for the living. The inhabitants of the Tower, once refugees fleeing the parting of the sensory, have become a constant reminder that our physical time here is running out. We used to be able to coexist with the Tower, but now it is full up.
So, my fellow humans, let us move on. Some might argue that the Earth is our natural home, but it is time to leave the comfort of our warm and comfortable birthplace. We are part of an inevitable expansionist phase. Our living natures yearn for new land, new vistas, new freedoms. Space is so empty, it will provide room for eons to come.
Of course, the universe is senseless, and space is harsh and deadly to our kind. Everywhere we go, invisible new towers will rise, and all of us will die building them. We will never escape that bondage.
But take heart. Remember that each one of us is a world. The dark energy of the Tower of Souls will wax, filling the universe, until it too knows what it means to be alive.


- - -
Juliana Rew is a software engineer and former science and technical writer for the National Center for Atmospheric Research in Boulder, Colorado. She has workshopped with Cat Rambo and is a member of SFWA. Her author website is julianarew.com

Thursday, October 6, 2016

10/6/16

New Girl in Town
By Lynn Nicholas


“You’re not from around here are you?” He spoke full-voice, as though addressing a crowded room.

Startled, she tucked-in her chin and shook her head “no”. Not from around here? What could have given her away? She was trying so hard to blend.

“Cat got your tongue?” The nasal timber of the man’s voice was jarring to ears used to more understated, musical sounds.

She blinked in confusion. Why would a cat have my tongue? She must have misunderstood. With pronounced reluctance, she looked up. A tall, male figure blocked her view of the lake. His back was to the setting sun, his face a featureless shadow, even with one hand shading her eyes. She forced her lips into a smile, careful not to show her teeth.

He tilted his head and gestured towards the bench. Not waiting for an invitation, he settled in beside her.

With the heel of her boot, she scooted the crucial resource canister further under the bench. She hoped the generous folds of her long skirt hid the movement.

I’m guessing you’re a tourist,” he said. “Probably don’t know this park usually closes at sundown. And another thing you probably don’t know is how dark it gets up here. This town minimizes outdoor lighting because of the observatory. You’re darn lucky it was me that came along, not some wise-ass punk.”

Her large eyes widened and her fingers twitched ever so slightly. She kept her gaze on the lake, but felt him turn towards her.

“So, Ms. New-To-Town, I’m Roy Dennis. And you are?”

She pressed her tongue against her teeth; her lips pursed, and then flattened. This language still felt awkward in her mouth, and she had to focus hard to form the correct sounds. She cleared her throat before speaking.

“Daria. My name is Daria.” Pleased at the ease with which the words floated from her throat, she turned towards him, letting her lips part in the slightest of smiles. She waited. A slight tremor of confusion crossed his face.

“Your eyes,” he stammered. “So large, and the color, so unusual—blue, indigo blue—no, more like purple.”

It seemed an effort for him to break eye contact. He looked away and rubbed his palms over his trousered thighs. She watched, fascinated with his reaction. He took a deep breath and squared his shoulders before turning back towards her.

“So, did you come to watch the meteor shower? It’s predicted to be the most spectacular in years.”

“Yes, the meteor shower, that’s why I’m here. I am very much looking forward to it.” She kept her voice low-pitched and softly modulated. Folding her slender hands in her lap, she turned her attention to the darkening skies over the lake. It took an effort to ignore her hunger.

“Nice accent you have there. It’s unfamiliar—eastern European?” He leaned in and reached for a hand, examining her long fingers with the oddly blunt nail beds.

Her mind froze. She recoiled from his earthy scent—something between compost and fermented fruit. He seemed oblivious to her distaste.

“Such slim fingers. Are you a musician or a sculptor?” he asked, tracing a line from her wrist to her fingertip. “No, I think you must be one of those quiet, brainy types.”

“You are correct,” she said. “I am trained in both human genetics and biochemistry.” His hold slackened, and she discreetly reclaimed her hand.

Darkness fell quickly. Meteors began their dying dance across the sky. Interspersed and almost unnoticed were smaller, faster moving, reddish-purple streaks, which continued to flare all the way to the ground. The man’s eyes were glued to the show.

She glanced to her left and then to her right. The few other spectators were just darkened figures seated on the grass, closer to the lakeshore. She gently turned the man’s face towards hers as she wrapped her left arm around his waist. His eyebrows rose as if surprised, but he moved closer with an expectant upturn to lips, ready to be lost in a kiss.

Her luminous eyes narrowed and, with a barely discernable vibrating hum, they emitted a light purple beam that locked the man to her. He stiffened as her fingers stretched across his face, one broad fingertip resting just below his right nostril. With laser precision she released the feeding tentacle. From the nasal cavity it drove through the ethmoid bone with such speed he had no time to feel anything other than a sensation of searing heat, before blackness darkened the spark in his surprised eyes. In seconds his brain tissue liquefied and she placed her mouth on his, locking his jaw open with her pincer teeth. With her eyes closed, she sucked out every drop of the nourishing, protein-filled brain broth. The vessel that had held the man slackened against her.

With a deep sigh of complete satisfaction, she let his useless body slide sideways, his head landing in her lap. She raised her eyes to night sky, enjoying the last shooting-star flashes of meteors, while searching among them for the unmistakable tinge of purple that signaled another landing pod. They would be scattered, but they’d find each other.

Daria stood, sliding the unpleasant-smelling being off her lap, and reached under the bench to reclaim her communication canister. Without a backward glance, she blended like a shadow into the darkness, the soft grass muffling her movements.


- - -
Lynn Nicholas writes out of Arizona, supervised by two dog friends, a supportive husband, and a black cat who keeps everyone in line. Flash fiction publications include: Every Day Fiction, A Long Story Short, Wow! (Women on Writing), Gay Fiction, and Rose City Sisters. Lynn is a member of the Society of Southwestern Authors.


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