Thursday, September 26, 2019

9/26/19

Illuminated Pixels, Like Lotus Leaves
By Hillary Lyon


trying to lift ourselves
out of the encroaching darkness
a rectangular blue light in hand

reveals the placement of constellations
while the loading wheel spins--
in heaven stars become signs

that tell us a story about ascendant fire--
a warning meme--about the conviction
everyone had fifty years ago

now it's all backwards
people shake theirs heads yes
people nod their heads no

civilized people can't be bothered
with the shadows on the cave wall
instead preferring electric fields of multi-petaled dreams

which will fade even as the ocher-halo'd hand prints remain
the true artifacts of history--the virtual signifiers--destined someday
to again spur the white horse to take wing


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Hillary Lyon is founder of and editor for the Arizona-based small press poetry publisher, Subsynchronous Press. The author of more than 20 poetry chapbooks, her poems have appeared in journals such as Black Petals, Bloodbond, Dreams & Nightmares, Scifaikuest, Illumen, and Jellyfish Whispers, as well as numerous anthologies. hillarylyon.wordpress.com

Thursday, September 19, 2019

9/19/19

The Artificial Men
By David Barber


It was now dinner time and they were all sitting in the shade of the dining tent, pretending that nothing had happened.

Curtis made his living from hunting trips, and studied the behaviour of his clients as if they were big game themselves. Take this Brooks-Bryant couple for instance. Madame had poked her head into their living quarters when they arrived and found it spartan and clean. She shrugged and busied herself with her gun.

Hubby had toured the camp complaining; there was no signal, no air-con, the toilet was outdoors and they were expected to perch on canvas stools.

Madame Brooks-Bryant had quizzed Curtis about the hunt. There were plenty of rogue mechanoids in these wastelands, and artificial men too, if you knew where to look.

Curtis always started with an easy shoot because you never knew the capabilities of your people.

“Have you hunted before?” he asked Madame, watching her in the driving mirror. He jolted the rover along a gully towards the herd of mechanoids he’d located by satellite.

“Not for some years,” Madame Brooks-Bryant said distantly. There was never any time now.

She gazed at the landscape with fine green eyes; probably not the ones she was born with, Curtis thought. Her hair was caught up in a careless bandanna and she looked poised and cool even in this heat.

“And you, Monsieur?”

“On the practice range. Under the circumstances you may call me François. And this is Héloise.”

“I am capable of speaking for myself,” Madame Brooks-Bryant said. She stared back at Curtis, daring him to use her name.

Rounding a bend, they had come across the mechanoids. Herding was an emergent behaviour, Curtis explained. He pointed out an autonomic digger that had once been yellow. Its solar array meant it was safer to hunt than those with nuclear power cells.

Hubby began booting up his weapon. In smart mode it could bring down targets a mile away without his help.

Curtis put a hand on his arm. “We shoot on manual.”

Madame Brooks-Bryant turned on her husband. “Perhaps you’d prefer an air strike.”

They approached on foot, with Curtis to one side, so he had a clear shot if needed. In a low voice he listed the mechanoid’s vulnerable spots.

François hit tyres, headlamps and the front grill before the mechanoid raised its bucket and charged. It bounced towards them at surprising speed, raising clouds of dust. The man emptied his magazine before dropping the weapon and bolting.

Curtis thumbed his safety off just as Madame, a statue with gun to shoulder, put one, two, three AP rounds into the mechanoid’s sensor cluster. Blinded, it slewed to a halt, engine still revving like a panting beast.

“Good shooting,” Curtis said as he walked past to finish it off.

So they sat through dinner pretending nothing had happened. Hubby was drinking. Curtis felt sorry for the fellow at first, but it soon turned to contempt. Still, it wouldn’t stop him drinking the man’s whiskey. He’d read that somewhere.

“You should stay in camp tomorrow,” remarked Madame Brooks-Bryant.

“Alright, I messed up,” began hubby, thickly.

Madame spoke over him; she wanted to know about the artificial men.

The man appealed to Curtis as if his wife were not present. “About that business today..."

“Don’t think about it. Could have happened to anyone on his first hunt.” But he pictured the man’s wife, coolly taking three good shots.

“Curtis, d’you think we'll find one of those artificial chaps tomorrow?”

“A good chance, yes.”

“Then I’ll show you.”

“Let us hope they’re not as frightening as that digger,” said Madame.

Curtis was bored with marital discord. She must have had her reasons for marrying the man. “Going for a smoke,” he said.

A little later she joined him, as he guessed she would. Curtis knew women of her sort, rich and unhappy. They watched a lurid red sun setting behind the cliffs.

She waved away a cigarette. “Used to. Cost me a new lung, but you carry on.”

“He wasn’t always like this,” she said, and began a rambling tale about a marriage arranged between families. Curtis listened with half an ear. That night she came to his tent. Next morning they all set out after artificial men.

They drove in silence. Curtis supposed the couple had some arrangement; still, he should have shown her the door. Stupid of him.

On previous trips he’d seen signs and had a notion where they might be. They liked caves, he said. It showed how smart they were. He’d never seen it himself, but they survived on parts, fluids and power cells from the mechanoids.

He was talking too much; out of awkwardness perhaps, or because the husband sitting behind him had a gun.

It was just an overhang of rock, but enough to shield from surveillance. At first Curtis thought there was only one of them, until they emerged from the shadows, one supporting another that limped and stumbled. One each then, no need for more arguments.

Hubby stepped forward and took aim.

The artificial man put itself in front of its damaged fellow. Their metal faces had been fashioned to crudely resemble people. It raised its free hand and made noises that might once have been speech.

Madame’s patience snapped. “What are you waiting for?”

Hubby lowered his gun. “Let’s just go back.”

“You really are a useless man.” Madame Brooks-Bryant shoved her husband aside and raised her own weapon.

Curtis saw it all from where he stood, off to one side so he had a clear shot if needed. He recalled it all later; the push and the man's awkward fall, the single shot, the AP round blasting through his wife.

Definitely an accident, Curtis confirmed. A tragic accident.


- - -

Thursday, September 12, 2019

9/12/19

Benny’s Bad
By David Castlewitz


Benny's transgression didn't rank high on the list of "bads" published in the legal app he'd leased. That gave him hope that his eventual trial would be more nuisance than trouble. He was a first-timer. He shouldn't warrant time at a work camp.

But the app had some dire warnings. Considering how far he'd fallen in his Personal Social Account, Benny feared he'd never get back to where he'd been five years earlier. That was a lifetime ago, those heady days immediately after he finished his doctorate degree in social dynamics. That was back when he thought he'd used his education to his advantage. In fact, soon after he'd finished his seven year curriculum, he had gigs ranging from writing an original thesis to talks at virtual conferences and even a one-week stay in the Adirondacks as a seminar leader.

But none of that would matter when a judicial type got hold of his case. Those algorithms were fierce. They weighed. They assessed. They measured. Transgressions were evaluated and applied against his Personal Social Account, which were as significant as his IQ or GPA.

When he was a student, Benny found his Social nearly unchanged from day to day. He went to class. He turned in assignments. He earned points and lost them, all without much effort, it seemed.

Then life happened. A slip in attention and he earned a "dig" by crossing the street against a traffic signal. He got caught not exercising "expected politeness" when boarding a tram. There were many ways to earn demerits. They piled up.

Somehow, he'd ventured into forbidden social territory and made a terrible mistake.

He didn't know what cues he'd missed with Gloria Deel. They'd had a virtual date and he thought she'd enjoyed it as much as he. His avatar reported back with glowing recommendations about what to do next. Possibly a dinner via holo-plane, he in his apartment and she in hers. Maybe followed by a meet-up. The avatar presented a bright green future since they belonged to the same peer group.

They both worked at the State Street Emporium, a shopping mall of pop-ups, some holographic and some material, four stories deep under Chicago's downtown streets and another four stories tall above. Benny often admired Gloria zipping through the aisles on some mercantile mission. Once, they worked together setting up display cases. It was that experience that led to the virtual date during which their avatars exchanged viewpoints.

Its success prompted Benny to craft a media clip recounting the date. Tinkling glasses and catchy music provided aural highlights. The lighting was soft and dreamy, but not seductive. It wasn't meant to entice Gloria to be open to suggestion.

Where had he made his mistake? Benny wondered. How could he escape punishment? Most of the tube-pods that whisked commuters in and out of the city were liberally swept by robotic monitors. He'd be scanned when he boarded. If he evaded that trap, he'd have to deal with iris readers in the ceiling at the stations along the route. If he could tube-it north, he'd hire a self-driving car to traverse the interstate and get out of Illinois. How many dozens of electric eyes would he need to duck under to get that far?

What if he did make it to the Milwaukee Collective, he mused as he pondered his situation. They might not mind the demerits in his account. Outside of Chicago, transgressions such as the one he committed weren't considered crimes. They were just mistakes that could be chalked up to enthusiasm, excused as an excess of youth.

Lingering at Union Station, head down to avoid sensors in the walls or ceiling, an old time Cubs baseball cap pulled down so it partially obscured his eyes, Benny took stock of the situation for the umpteenth time. If he ran, he might attract attention and be tackled by some do-gooder type who needed the Samaritan points. If he walked like he had nothing to hide, he'd certainly run into a cop on the beat scanning for a quick arrest. No matter what he did, he was bound to be caught trying to board a northbound pod, and considering that his residence was on the Near South Side, he'd raise suspicion.

He knew what his dad would have told him. He should turn himself in and deal with the consequences. Dad would tell him he'd get some points for that and, who knows, he might whittle his punishment down to a long weekend pulling weeds along the highway.

Benny wandered Union Station's cavernous lobby. He knew he should find a police kiosk, pull up his record and plead guilty. He'd failed to follow protocol. Eager to pursue Gloria and capitalize on their virtual date, he'd approached her in person, exhibiting his best boyish grin, and asked her to dinner.

He'd used words. He'd spoken.

You should've sent an avatar," Gloria said, her large dark eyes blazing like fired-up coals. "Don't you even know your account balance? You don't have enough points to ask me out. Not like this."

She turned her back on Benny. She walked away, fuming over the insult and muttering that she had no choice but to file a complaint.

Benny found a kiosk in a dark corner of Union Station's marble-floored lobby. A private guard glanced sideways at him and he quickly looked into the kiosk's scanner. He didn't want that guard getting credit for collaring him.

With a sigh, Benny answered the requisite questions, took ownership of Gloria's grievance, and then waited for a uniformed cop to arrest him. Maybe, he mused, Gloria will want to have a real-time date after he finished serving his sentence, though he worried that he'd have no way of asking. His account balance wouldn't be high enough for even an avatar-sent missive.


- - -
After a long and successful career as a software developer and technical architect, David has turned to a first love: writing fiction of all sorts, especially SF and fantasy.
He's published stories in Phase 2, Farther Stars Than These, SciFan, Martian Wave, Flash Fiction Press , Bonfires and Vanities (an anthology) and other online as well as print magazines.
Visit his web site: http://www.davidsjournal.com to learn more and for links to his Kindle books on Amazon.

Thursday, September 5, 2019

9/5/19

Silent Memories
By Bruce Mundhenke


I woke in the night
To look at a star,
Through slats in the window blind,
It's blue-white light had found me,
From a far, far place in space,
And set my mind in motion,
To think of many things.
I wondered if it still was there,
And if its fires still raged,
And did it warm a creature once,
That circled it in space,
And often pondered questions,
When answers never came.
Lived its life and perished,
Was joined to other silent memories,
That were quiet as they grew.


- - -
Bruce Mundhenke writes poetry and short fiction. He lives in a small town in Illinois.


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