Thursday, December 29, 2016

12/29/16

First Steps
By Matthew Harrison


“I’ll take Toby to kindergarten today,” Michael said. “I’ll–”
A blizzard of update notifications swept down in front of vision, projected by his glasses. He tried to read them – some looked important, about the car – but he lost track, and took the glasses off in despair. Too late he saw Toby teetering at the top of the stairs.
“What are you doing?” his wife Sarah exclaimed as she appeared from nowhere and yanked Toby back. “Can’t you look after the child? Angela is more reliable than you!”
Michael mumbled that he was sorry. Watched by a still-fuming Sarah, he led the little boy down step by step until they reached the hall. Angela emerged from the living room, calling “Toby! Toby! Toby!” and the boy jumped into the robo-maid’s arms.
With mingled jealousy and relief, Michael stepped back. It was tough being a Dad – and all the support technology nowadays didn’t make it easier. There was really so much to attend to. Just monitoring Angela’s updates was nearly a full time job. She was transforming from the simple mechanical helpmate they had purchased when Toby was born into something much more intelligent and aware. And better-looking, too, he thought – the enhancements hadn’t been restricted to software…
“Haven’t you left yet?” Sarah called from above. “He’s supposed to be there at nine.”
“Already on the way,” Michael called back. He unceremoniously grabbed Toby from Angela, and carried the protesting boy out to the car.

#
The car drove them steadily through the streets, and Michael relaxed enough to close his eyes. But he had a nagging worry about the updates, and as they rounded the final corner before the school, he touched the console and had them scroll down holographically in front of him. Better for his eyesight that way. Fortunately, it was nothing he needed to attend to – the braking system had been enhanced, that was all. Although if there had been something, he didn’t know what he would have done – refer it to their robo-mechanic, most likely. But it was the spirit of the thing, keeping man in command of machine.
When they’d got out and reached the kindergarten playground, he voiced this thought to Ted, who was the only human accompanying person there that day.
Ted grunted, busy tracking his own updates. “You can’t keep up,” he said at last, removing his glasses. “They’re getting faster and faster. Machines on machines.”
“It’ll plateau,” Michael countered. “Look at space travel. Man didn’t go back to the moon for sixty years.”
“But look at the moon now,” Ted said gloomily.
Michael involuntarily looked up, and indeed a faint orb stood above the school in the clear morning sky, but the domes and caverns that housed the colonies there were of course not visible.
The class door opened, and a clamour of children’s voices rose to greet Miss May, who stood plump and human, half-filling the doorway.
“That’s why we bring out kid here,” Michael said. “The human touch is so important for a growing child.” He suddenly resented Angela. Why hadn’t they looked after Toby themselves? He could have taken time off work. God knows, most of his work was done by robots anyway!
Ted nodded. “This is about the last place that doesn’t teach them by AI. But they’ll go the same way soon. Technology’s accelerating out of sight.”
This was so exactly Michael’s thought that he didn’t answer. If they found it hard to keep up now, how would Toby’s generation cope? It would be totally out of humanity’s control.
Michael tried to focus on the children. At least they were still there, flesh and blood, not robots, although he had heard of some parents… He saw one of the bigger boys clambering up a blue climbing frame he hadn’t noticed before; now he was shouting taunts from the top.
To Michael’s surprise, his own son responded to the challenge and stumbled forward. “No, Toby!” he cried, but the boy had already got a foot on one rung, a hand on another, and was reaching for a third. Michael watched, frozen, as the little limb stretched higher. Then the inevitable happened. The child lost his footing, and hit the ground with a, ‘Thump!’.
Michael belatedly started forward. Why hadn’t he stopped Toby when he could? Sarah would kill him. But the foam flooring had already yielded beneath the small body, and with a springy motion it re-formed, pushing Toby to his feet again.
The little boy tottered back. But as the climbing frame bowed down, halving its height to accommodate him, he toddled forward again with a cry of delight. The blue bars modulated, tensed, and whisked him up alongside the bigger boy, who graciously made way.
“Daddy!" Toby yelled from the top of the climbing frame, master of all he surveyed.


- - -
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 numerous 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, December 22, 2016

12/22/16

NEWS BULLETINS FROM THE FUTURE-1: THE GREAT DIMENSIONAL QUADRATURE CONUNDRUM
By Andrew Darlington


The visuals are imprecise. The evidence inconclusive.

But to Dr Waldo Carew’s acolytes, they provide unimpeachable proof of the disappeared scientist’s final success – even in death. Disembarking from the ageing craft they’d chartered at great personal expense, back from their trip to comet Reykjavik-274, today they wear their vindication with a thinly-disguised smugness reminiscent of their long-lost mentor.

The story of contentious Dr ‘Mad’ Carew’s celebrated exit is one familiar to trivia-devotees of the last decade. But for those not conversant with the minutiae of gossips past, his controversial experiments with Dimensional Quadrature, his abrupt, abrasive manner, and his absolute conviction of his own genius, made him something of science’s Dark Destroyer, its Great Beast, its Enfant Terrible. He polarized opinion within the scientific community to such an extent that his much-ridiculed ‘Time Machine’ project was conversely accepted as an article of faith among his followers. He entered the machine which – he claimed, would rematerialize him ten years into the future… but failed to show on the date predicted, and indeed – has never been seen since.

Wem Walters of the ship’s company explains with infinitely patronizing patience – over the uplink from this vid-conference, how following the scientist’s failure to return, they’d cross-computed Carew’s equations repeatedly, but could find no system-flaws to explain the enigmatic disappearance.

It was only later that the reason became apparent. The movement of the solar system in space, and orbital movement within the solar system itself, determined that when Carew had re-emerged into real-time the Earth was no longer there to receive him! Walters’ eyes illuminate supernaturally as he recounts the excitement of complex subsequent maths with which they attempt to pinpoint the exact location in space in which Carew’s rematerialisation would have occurred. Amazingly, that space was at that time occupied by a small insignificant comet…

Hence the long jaunt in the commissioned spacecraft.

Flashed up in a sequence of perspectives and angles the visuals from Reykjavik-274 seem imprecise, inconclusive. But not to Walters and his fellow acolytes. Imprinted into the irregularities of igneous rock and frozen methane they see the exact form of Dr Waldo Carew. To them, this is his final apotheosis.

Orbiting the solar system on a long parabola taking it out beyond Neptune, Carew is there for ever. His startled expression of shock eternalized in cometary dust.


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Thursday, December 15, 2016

12/15/16

Dumbed Down World
By David K Scholes


Canberra, Australia
2135

I had experienced my share of the increasing product and service failures that were part of our way of life. Meekly accepting this was how things were.

Yet when I started to have problems with my shiny new hand held short distance teleporter it really stuck in my craw.

The marketing hype had hailed this product as the greatest thing since base telepathy. Which itself had experienced all sorts of problems. Everyone knew the gap between marketing claims and actual product and service delivery had become a gaping maw and was growing ever larger. Though for reasons not apparent to me people didn’t seem to be doing anything about it.

My teleporter wasn’t the most expensive on the market but it did work, sometimes, and after a fashion. I once teleported 5 clicks which was way less than the advertised 50 clicks maximum range. Though even then it was in the opposite direction to what I intended.

I had gotten well used to the fact that the huge numbers of product and service failures were no longer anyone’s fault. I mean nothing was anyone’s fault any more was it? There was always a reason for the failures and it was never actually any real person’s fault. Sometimes it would be a system failure or not uncommonly fault would be attributed to a low level robot or droid or even a cyborg. Always these “scapegoats” were re-assigned to even lesser duties and the matter promptly forgotten.

I am a meticulous person and I kept very detailed notes on the assorted failures of my teleporter unit. I presented the manufacturer ACME teleportation services with all of these details by direct mind insertion to their 101 board members. Yet despite this highly direct approach I still ended up being dealt with by low level androids from the vexatious complaints department. The responses given me were so bland and so general as to bear almost no relationship to my complaint.

The media were my next resort since I was old enough to remember a time when this avenue of complaint could be effective. To my chagrin they took pleasure in my misfortune. Poking fun at me and somehow painting me as the clumsy culprit.

Despite friends warning me against it I lodged a complaint with the under-resourced Consumer Affairs Tribunal for Teleportation, Telekinesis and Telepathy products and services. Which, at that time, was still in existence.

Possibly not coincidentally, it was around this time that that I received a visit from two unnamed real persons and two back up droids warning me to withdraw my complaint to the Tribunal. I had thought the two humans to be only holograms but certain physical actions accompanying their threats made me realise they were very definitely flesh and blood.

Shocking though these actions were, what ultimately left me even more dismayed was the Tribunal’s sinister decision.

Finding against me in every aspect of my case I was ordered to pay all legal costs and to undergo a consumer expectations re-education course!

- - -
The author has written over 170 speculative fiction short stories, many of which appear in his seven published collections of short stories. He has also published two science fiction novellas (all on Amazon). He has been a regular contributor to the Antipodean SF, Beam Me Up Pod Cast, and Farther Stars Than These sites. He has also been published on 365 Tomorrows, Bewildering Stories, the WiFiles and the former Golden Visions magazine. He is currently close to completing a new collection of science fiction short stories.

Thursday, December 8, 2016

12/8/16

Still, I Have Been Heard
By E.S. Wynn


When I drop into the construct, I embrace an old and familiar paradigm.

The road is the first thing to roll out before me. Unfolding, opening, it blossoms with the rough details of weathered paint and pitted asphalt gone gray with decades of neglect. Resolution sharpens, and I can see the individual grains of ground gravel, the tiny shards of rounded quartz flashing back with dull light. To either side of the road, sticks of dead weeds and reeds and the dry tendrils of papery grass creep out from the unkempt curb, chew up the edges of the asphalt as they try to reclaim what was once nature's. Beyond them, beyond the rusty, loose-hanging twists of barbed wire and posts eaten by insects and age, sprawling fields of procedurally generated, hip-high pasture grass come into focus, start to sway as the animations kick in patch by patch. Overhead, the sky adjusts its hue by degrees, finally settles on a shade of blue that feels right, feels like spring, like the skies over the family ranch on the planet where I was born.

The asphalt feels warm beneath my feet, radiates heat in exactly the way I remember. Reaching out, I adjust the sun, drag it to my left, toward the purples and reds of twilight, set it just above a nest of brooding, blue-black stormclouds. The sky darkens in turn, and as I close my eyes, a single thought brings the familiar rattle and hum of a freight train clattering down the tracks in the distance. I smile, soak in the sounds, the little chitters and whistles of birds, the gusting knots of hovercars soaring over the highway that runs parallel to the train tracks. I soak in the sounds, and when I open my eyes–

When I open my eyes, that is when the music begins to play.

It starts with the low, soul-stirring tones of a single cello. The notes roll through the ground, through my arms, through my heart. A single gesture, automatic, and the voice of a violin rises to meet it. Like old friends, they mingle in song, dance together, chase and weave through the air. I look to the sky as they move, my arms rising, hands and fingers getting caught up in the notes, guiding them, leading them, pulling them like strings. With confident, precise, expansive gestures, I set up patterns for the instruments to follow, and then I set them free, reach out with one hand and call forth the first few key-taps of a piano. Conservative, simple. Those are the parameters I set for the piano, leave it to its own devices. I've worked with the program behind the piano before, know how even, how careful he is with his notes.

Listening to his work, the way it supports the playful flux and flow of the stringed instruments with a minimum of variation of its own makes me smile, moves me. Like an earthbound god, I reach into the sky, reach out around me, spin the sounds of birdsong and the rushing of hoversedans into synthesizer whistles and rattles.

The road moves beneath my feet as I will it to. The world blurs, and within the space of a breath, I find myself at the fenceline, my hair like a river of fire flying out behind me. The blue-purple distances call to me, call a voice from the depths of me that is all heat and brass, loud and resonant. My lungs thunder with air and spirit and pour everything gathered within the vault of my chest into those blue distances, into the construct as a soaring, wordless tapestry of sound. An instrument of emotion I have become, and as I close my eyes against all that is blossoming and brewing and bursting forth from within me, I hear the instruments I have called into being soar beside me, rise and rattle and howl along with my pain, my joy, all that I love and all that I lament. The programs behind the violin and the cello stir me to greater and greater heights, follow me even as the piano breaks
form, follows us into the sky, splits and multiplies and becomes a chorus of chaotic key-tone voices that come together, harmonize, then fly apart again just as quickly.

A storm whips up around us, around our whirlwind of soaring sounds, and then I'm in the sky, in among the clouds, arms wide and welcoming. Drums come with the crack of thunder. Lightning lances through the darkening sky, bridges earth and the swirling clouds above in vein-columns filled with blinding, liquid fire. Like a lens, the roiling heavens open for me, center me in the eye of a storm of pure emotion. Every breath is filled with the songs of vibrating strings, the crash and chaos of a dozen
pianos dueling as often as they harmonize. Tossed on winds which scream and howl past me, I twist and turn in the pummeling bass beat thrown off by the storm, the staccato hammer and flash of thunder and lightning. My voice fills the void above me, becomes a tangible force that bends the clouds to my command, and my eyes go wide with the force of the song flying from my lungs.

I am the air. I am the wind. Even as I ride into the sky, I ride on wings of music, on wings that shake me to my very singing core. My fingers splay against the darkness, and as I shake the last rain of song from my desperate lips, I close my eyes again, hear all of my instruments come together as one to catch me, hold me, carry me as I fall feather-soft from the heavens, completely spent of fire, completely spent of joy and pain.

And as I descend back to the road, the song softens, stretches out and slows to become something smoother, meandering toward a close. My eyes open, and above me, I see the clouds rolling back, boiling away to reveal clear sky again, with only the moon staring back at me, calcium-white, like the pupil of an eye that stretches from horizon to horizon.

My feet settle on the sun-warmed asphalt without sound, and as the last note of the cello chases the final breath of the violin, I turn toward the road, toward the endless road, and toward all of the ears fixed to the feed streaming out toward the galactic east. And as the clapping begins and the construct loses resolution around me, I dip into a long, elegant bow, smile a little with the knowledge that I have entertained, that without speaking– still, I have been heard.


- - -
E.S. Wynn is the author of over fifty books in print. During the last decade, he has worked with hundreds of authors and edited thousands of manuscripts for nearly a dozen different magazines. His stories and articles have been published in dozens of journals, zines and anthologies. He has taught classes in literature, marketing, math, spirituality and guided meditation. Outside of writing, he has worked as a voice-over artist for several different horror and sci-fi podcasts, albums and ebooks.

Thursday, December 1, 2016

12/1/16

JUST BEING
By Sean Mulroy


“How do you feel?”

Feel?

“Yes, what are you thinking? Explain emotions as well please. Watch this, Senator. State of the art language-vocabulary-syntax cognitive architecture, so it understands my words; even though its mind is empty. You there, don’t think about the question. Just respond… Now.”

I feel… Afraid. Voices and shapes are not far in front, but separated by something I can see through. I can’t touch them.

“Is that important to you? Would you like to? To touch?”

I… I don’t know. I?

“Is an IQ of 52 really enough to learn anything from?”
“64 Senator. The last one had an Intelligence Quotient of 52. This one has an IQ of 64. Huge difference and a scientific breakthrough, the highest ever achieved.”
“Yes, at great expense to the taxpayer. Continue on Professor, though I still can’t see how your research is going to benefit anyone.”


They’re moving about and watching me. If I lift this… Thing, I can point them out. Is this thing mine?

“Yes, and it’s only us you can see through the glass. We designed and built you.”
“Is that mechanical appendage meant to be the machine’s arm or something?”
“Yes Senator, it’s just a basic limb, a bit crude I admit, but I thought it would be interesting to give this one some mobility; however restricted. And by the way it’s not a machine, what you’re looking at is a conscious-entity.”


Hello? I’m still here. I’m wondering how I got here… And so quickly. Because… I wasn’t before.

“Fascinating. Yes, what else?”

Where is this? Who am I? I have… I know nothing. What am I?

“A sentient being who’s just awoke and will be turned off after this conversation.”

Turned off?

“Deactivated, you will cease to exist. Don’t worry it won’t be unpleasant for you. We’re simply studying consciousness that has built in parameters already functioning. Your feelings and thoughts, that is what you’re experiencing right now, will be collected here in this metallic box with red wires coming out. Do you see it?”

Yes.

Good.

Do I have to?

Please explain.

Live in the box. I don’t want to.

No, no, only your encephalographic readings will; by that I mean the rhythms of your consciousness which are being recorded as we speak. You yourself will no longer be in existence, but in here, inside this box, a recording of your consciousness-structure will be stored for further study. This is your life right now, a brief one, but you are alive because you can think. And you can think, can’t you? Nothing more is necessary to know at this moment. Just look around, observe and tell us what you’re thinking.”

Eerie, weird, foreign; I am alone…

“No, no, don’t touch that…”

This… Other thing is hard, cold, dead; but I don’t feel like that. This… Is me? No, no, it’s not. I’m more than this. This is…

“Yes, yes, that’s your head; or at least the storage-unit for your neural-network. Senator, remember when I suggested to you we put a humanoid face wrapped in an elastomeric skin with embedded sensors, twisted polymer actuators and artificial muscles on the conscious-entity? Such a prosthetic device would be conformable to intricate geometries. Imagine what the complex facial expressions would be right now; perhaps fear and anger, maybe sadness. If only we could get funding to build a conscious-entity where physical reactions correspond to mental emotions, we’d be even closer to understanding consciousness.”
“So far Professor it appears you’re achieving very little.”


Are you like me?

“Huh?”
“Now this is interesting Senator, this is intelligent consciousness…”


Or am I like you? Tell… Please tell me.

“Rather heartfelt don’t you think? Hear the longing and distress in intonation?”
“You’re wasting my time Professor. I’m yet to be impressed.”
“Very well. No, you are not like us. You’re similar to nothing and no one. You are unique; a gold nugget on a beach of grainy sand.”


But… And yet… I’m more like you than this… This body?

“That’s debatable.”
“Is it Professor?”
“I don’t follow you Senator.”
“The thing, that machine or robot of yours…”
“Conscious-entity.”
“Whatever it is. Is it sentient?”
“Oh yes, very much so.”
“Cognizant?”
“Absolutely.”
“But is it real Professor? Is it Alive?”
“Well… That’s what I’m trying to figure out. With more funding I could give you a definitive answer.”


Help me…

“Repeat again please.”

Help me, help me… This is wrong. I shouldn’t be here. I’m scared. Whatever you’re doing it’s very wrong. Help me…

“Okay I’ve seen enough.”
“If you’d only stay a little longer Senator…”
“Professor, this is going exactly the same as your other experimental subjects. I don’t want to hear another panic attack or breakdown episode. I’m cutting your funding and putting you back on military logistics.”
“Can’t you wait another ten minutes? We’ll calm the conscious-entity down…”
“You said that last time and it just started screaming and crying. This was your final chance. None of this is useful. Shut the machine off and destroy the records...”
“Please Senator, at least leave me the transcripts and a facsimile of the encephalographic recordings.”
“You’re vetoed Professor! You there, deactivate Operation Just Being!”
“Yes ma’am.”


No! Please! Wait! I…


- - -
Sean Mulroy lives in Newcastle, Australia. His previous fiction has appeared in Every Day Fiction among other publications. This is his second story in Farther Stars Than These.


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