Thursday, January 30, 2020

1/30/20

The Laws of Arizna
By Thomas G Schmidt


Jordan Kelly sat quietly, anxiously awaiting some explanation of why he was being charged with a "crime against the state".

"No need to be so nervous Mr, Kelly. This is just a preliminary hearing."

Arizna VII, the latest and most advanced legal robot on Earth, looked directly at the 42 year old man. The robot's voice software was very advanced and the android-like body made the robot seem almost human. Kelly was close to believing that he could plead his case to the machine but deep down inside, he knew that was probably impossible. This was a 7th generation "Insight" class robot which saw issues in a very "black and white" manner. No shades of grey.

"Please explain why you cut the electricity to the 3rd floor of Horizon Hospital on July 23, 2152."

"Why do you need that? You have already decided that I am guilty." Kelly had not planned to be confrontational but the Insight robot class was notorious for determining a man's fate even before any legal proceedings were held.

Arizna VII turned to Kelly, a perplexed look on the robot's face. "We need your explanation of the event for the legal records."

Kelly was tempted to tell the robot to just "shove it" but he knew that his actions might negatively impact his family. The Insight class robot held all the cards so he had to play by its rules.

Jordan Kelly sighed and then proceeded to explain that his actions were taken to save an 8 year old boy from accidental electrocution. He had to act fast and, in doing so, he was unaware that cutting off the electricity would lead to the death of 8 people relying on electrical ventilators on the same hospital floor.

"So you acted without thought?"

"No. I acted as quickly as I could save the life of a young boy."

"At the expense of 8 others."

"I didn't know about them!" Kelly was becoming agitated.

"That is not a defense under the law. You have sole responsibility for your actions."

Kelly shifted nervously in his seat. The Insight class of legal robots had been programmed using advanced Boolean analysis methods. A large series of binary response algorithms examined each situation. Yes/No or True/False decisions were made by the robots to be used in complex equations to remove all ambiguity from each decision. And decisions were final. No appeals.

The advanced robots had been the brain child of Weston Bennett, a brilliant robotics designer. Bennett created the Insights to eliminate indecision and conflict within a legal system which was rapidly tearing apart the fabric of society. But the very same robots created as part of Insight ended up ultimately turned on their creator when they judged him by these same new, non-yielding laws. Bennett ended up regretting his work while sitting inside a jail cell after being found guilty in a car accident caused a medical condition he had developed. "You are responsible for your actions" had been the verdict rendered by Arizna VII, the very same robot presiding over Jordan Kelly today.

Arizna VII jotted down some notes and then looked up at Kelly. "Have you any other defense to offer?"

Kelly raised his arms in frustration, not knowing what to say in response. "Only that I am sorry. I am truly sorry for what happened to those other people."

Arizna VII looked down at the legal papers and made some final notes. "Being sorry will not bring those people back to life, Mr. Kelly."

Kelly gave no response. After a few awkward moments, the robot looked back up and signaled to the Centurion III class guard to take Kelly back to his cell.

"Your trial will take place next Monday at 10 AM. Until then, you are remanded to custody in the Lincoln Federal Penitentiary. Good day, Mr. Kelly."

Jordan Kelly walked slowly toward the court room door and then stopped. Turning around, Kelly blurted out a single comment.

"This isn't fair."

Arizna VII responded almost immediately. "This court is not commissioned to be fair Mr. Kelly. We are solely required to be just."

And with that, the Centurion III guards escorted Jordan Kelly back to his cell.


- - -
Tom Schmidt is a Chemical Engineer working in medical diagnostics in upstate New York. He has had a variety of short stories published in the past on websites such as www.short-story.me, www.fartherstars.com, www.short-humour.org.uk and www.overmydeadbody.com.

Thursday, January 23, 2020

1/23/20

Slug
By David Castlewitz


The woman who came into the shop was just another slug-induced daydream, Owen Fedderer thought. She was too beautiful to be real. She couldn't be interested in talking to him. Customers came in for radio repairs or to buy a new floor model or a do-it-yourself crystal radio kit; but they never lingered to talk about politics, or muse on the economy, or assess the rumblings of war on the other side of the Atlantic. Unlike his father, who'd established the repair shop when radios were a novelty for hobbyists, Owen lacked the art of repartee. No flashing smile. No inviting demeanor.

He lived with his shortcomings, content after 43 years of life to being the geeky middle-aged man behind the counter, just as he'd been an oddball when he was in school. He had his comic books, his paperback novels, and the radio dramas he looked forward to at the end of each day. They defined his life. Anything added by that slug his dad kept in a glass aquarium in the basement came as a bonus.

For years, Owen never gave his dad's strange pet much notice. He seldom stopped to look at the aquarium on the waist-high shelf dad built. He never had much interest in watching feeding time, when his father dropped two or three white mice near the slimy gray creature sitting on a bed of moss.

But, after dad died, Owen took responsibility for his father's pet. He continued to feed it. He monitored the mouse population kept in several cages in the basement, making sure the moms didn't eat their young so there was always a goodly supply of food for the slug.

As Dad had intimated before going into the hospital for the heart surgery that would kill him, the slug rewarded whoever fed it. It offered stirring stories of grand adventure, visions of great battles between space-faring warships, and stunning heroines. When such daydreams came to Owen's mind, he was certain these were slug-induced.

He shouldn't be ogling females anyway, Owen thought. Mom often chastised him for staring at people, especially girls, and he often worried that her spirit remained in the shop, ready to pounce on him with a wooden ruler if he didn't behave.

The slinky brunette looked like she'd been peeled from a page of a comic book. Silk dress and small hoop earrings, along with high heels and pointed toe shoes defined her as unusual for the neighborhood. Her husky voice matched the rest of her to the point that Owen felt the sting of his mother's ruler on his butt.

In his imagination, Dad looked on from the workbench in a corner, next to the toilet with its lopsided black-on-white "WC" sign.

The woman browsed the bulky radios sitting on the floor beneath a shelf of cathedral styled models. All of the radios were much the same, with a handful of tubes, waxy capacitors, crumbly resistors, and nests of beefy wire on the inside, with dials and station indicators outside.

"Is Crenshen here?" the woman whispered, her sweet voice stretching from where she stood at the shelf of radios. Suddenly, the slinky lady stepped behind the counter. Owen tried to stop her. Customers weren't allowed back there.

They especially couldn't open the door to the basement.

He reached for her arm, amazed that she felt so warm and real. She couldn't be a product of any daydream.

"You can't go down there, Miss!"'

"Crenshen's down there."

"Nothing's down there," Owen lied, but he thought of the slug – Crenshen? – and suspected his odd visitor of reading his thoughts.

"Hmmm," she said, smiling. She had an aristocratic face, her nose not too long, chin not too pointed. For a second, Owen thought he'd seen her in a comic book about Lady Star, a black-clad beauty who rescued lost orphans in dire need of a hero.

Owen followed the lady down the rickety steps into the basement. When she walked towards the cages housing the mice destined to be the slug's future meals, Owen pulled on the string that worked the overhead lamp, a naked bulb at the end of cloth covered wires.

"Crenshen," the woman said to the slug.

"Don't touch him," Owen pleaded. "Don't hurt him."

"Her," the woman said. "I've been looking all over for her. For years. All over and forever." She pushed aside the screen set across the top of the glass-and-metal aquarium, the one that Dad said protected the slug from rats and cats.

"He – she – is my pet. My dad's. And mine. Now."

The woman snorted. "Is that what you think?" A haughty voice. Condescending. She sounded so much like the Lady Star of Owen's imagination that he started to doubt her reality.

"Stop it," he said, embarrassed by how forcefully he spoke. Mom would've never put up with that kind of talk from him. Why was he the villain in this piece? "I'm the hero," he croaked.

"Then you should be protecting Crenshen."

The slug smiled. Owen had never seen its teeth – her teeth – though he suspected it – she – had them. How else did she – it – chew those white mice?

"I am. Protecting. Her."

The brunette tilted her head to one side. She looked strong and capable, much as Lady Star would in any comic book page. Then she turned, marched up the cellar stairs and into the store. Owen chased after her, arriving as she exited the store and joined the pedestrian traffic outside.

"Would you like Lady Star to come back?" the slug asked in Owen's mind.

Owen looked out through the window at the passersby. He'd enjoyed the daydream. He hoped the slug would send him more. Perhaps he'd turn them into something that would make his fortune. Stories for comic books, perhaps.

That idea brought a smile to his soft round face. The future looked very bright. He had the slug to thank for that.


- - -
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, January 16, 2020

1/16/20

Challenger Deep, A Romance of the Depths!
By David Barber


Time presses and this copy must must be brief.


The Descent

My name is David Barber, special reporter for the New York Daily Gazette, whose job is to record our story as we plunge into the sunless deeps, six miles below. Two hours have passed since we squeezed into the armoured hull of Professor Champion’s submersible and took our last lungful of fresh air at the ocean surface.

Hear the prescient words of Lord Royston, companion of Professor Champion in so many adventures, and now our pilot as we plunge downwards:

I've tried exploring and aeroplanes and such, but this search for undersea beasts that look like lobster-supper dreams is the salt of existence.

At last our lights reveal the drear expanse of the abyssal floor, where one tiny animal (a sea cucumber, Champion says) inches its solitary way.

I wonder if it has eyes to witness the blazing monster of steel invading its realm? We take turns crowding the porthole to view the desolate scene, as a sparse diatomaceous snow drifts down from the waters above.

Champion measures the temperature and salinity, and blinds us with a flash photograph. Time passes and Royston becomes concerned about our air. He says it is time we bade farewell to the depths. I feel someone should say a few words to honour the moment, but before anyone can speak, Royston releases the external weights to begin our ascent.

Trapped!

Except we do not rise! For half an hour Royston struggles with the controls. From the porthole we can even glimpse the fallen weights. It is as if something is holding us down. Perhaps a giant squid, Royston speculates, and wonders if an electric shock from our batteries might free us from its tentacles. Always the man of action.

Champion though is already busy, he flashes our lights, once, twice, then three, four times. Counting! But how could an insensate beast understand?

Whatever dwells here was attracted by our lights, Champion reasons. We are invaders and perhaps this is their response.

He and Royston square up to one another, as best two powerful men stooped inside a steel ball can manage. As I move to part them, our outside lights fail and our craft lurches into motion. Something is dragging us into the abyss!

Into The Abyssal Realm

We have come to rest within a chamber, lit by a ghastly phosphorescence. We have yet to glimpse what Champion insists are our rescuers. Royston and he bicker while the air in our submersible grows foul.

Panting, Champion argues if they had wanted our deaths, they need not have moved us. Royston bitterly regrets not bringing a gun.

In the end, Champion unscrews the door, and we gulp air as thick as fish soup, but there is oxygen in it and we live!

The World Lost To Us

Champion supposes the creatures keep us alive for study. To them the surface world must seem akin to the deadly vacuum of space for us. Released from the enormous pressure of the ocean, they would explode, and must believe no living thing could endure in the great emptiness above. And yet we came.

Examining our prison, Champion wonders if we are not inside some leviathan of the deep. We have not seen our captors though we have heard them. They have provided air, and sustenance of sorts can be scraped from the walls of this place.

Royston shrugs, he says he has eaten worse on his adventures.

Escape!

We must escape, Royston insists, his anger stoked by inactivity. He says we must lock ourselves in the Professor's vessel and somehow breach the chamber that imprisons us. A dozen impossibilities before we rise to the surface, where even then, the crew of Champion's ship, believing us dead, must have sailed for home long ago.

Champion merely shrugged shoulders big as an Assyrian bull, but if I had known his plan I would have supported Royston in his lesser madness.

The Professor spends his time trying to communicate with our unseen gaolers. They are rational beings, he insists, and claims to have progressed beyond simple mathematics.

I wake to find Champion unloading the submersible. Our captors do not need this equipment, he says, and who knows what we may find useful for our survival.

What he meant, I did not realise at first, though Royston had already guessed. Moustaches quivering with rage, he accuses Champion of planning to hand over our vessel to these creatures!

The Professor faces him calmly. Filled by the ocean, then sealed, his submersible was capable of containing the terrible pressure even to the surface. These beings might visit our own world much as we had visited theirs. By helping them he hoped to earn their trust.

Trust! mocks Royston. These unseen creatures will no more return us to the surface than we would return a specimen to the ocean floor. Champion is deluded if he hopes to become their ambassador to the world of light above. Again the two men begin shouting at one another, but I suspect it is all too late.

To the Editor, New York Daily Gazette.

Perhaps Champion's ship faithfully searches for us still; perhaps the creatures will make contact above; perhaps we will be freed after all.

I have little faith in the Professor's plan, but it is my job to report a story which may be Champion's last adventure. Whatever the outcome, I ask only that it is printed under my byline. These pages will ascend with the submersible.

I must hurry, I hear the creatures coming.


The End


- - -

Thursday, January 9, 2020

1/9/20

The Art of Detection
By David K Scholes


With super computer assistance, the three of us pored over the various mind image, life force energy, and bio patterns. All of them in 3D.

Robotic investigators, the “B” team if you like, were at hand ready to assist. Perhaps even hoping, with their emotion chips in, to find something that we human experts couldn’t.

There were of course other “A” teams and many, many other robot led “B’ teams, the world over, doing the same type of work as us. Fighting the same fight.

Even with all the expertise at our disposal though it was hard going.

“They are getting almost impossible to detect now,” said the Prime investigator. “Their ability to replicate even a mind image or life force energy pattern is approaching perfection.”

I sighed remembering back to the old days – when fingerprints, retina scans and voice prints were enough for differentiation.

“That particular mind image there,” I laser connected to it. “If you fast forward the 3D pattern, condense 10 minutes worth into 30 seconds, there’s something different about it. Something clearly outside of human parameters.”

“You are right,” responded the prime “well done indeed!”

“Only problem now,” grumbled the Third putting a damper on things by stating the obvious “is determining what alien race we are dealing with.”

“If indeed it even belongs to a race,” I countered.

Non-human needn’t be adversarial. Of the many extra-terrestrial and extra-dimensional visitors and occasional alternate reality visitors we received some were proven friendly and would never seek to take advantage of us. Just curious visitors.

On the best available information the number of alien assumptions of existing human identities was far, far more than any Earth authority could ever admit to. If it were known it would lead to panic. The only plus, if you can call it that, was that almost all of them only ever appeared to be temporary. The Aliens, extra-terrestrial, extra-dimensional or whatever all had somewhere to go back to. They’d leave and we would do our best to clean up afterwards.

Prime had made the joy ride in a car analogy but I didn’t like that comparison. After all – joy ride cars often got burned out.

I persisted with the mind image currently occupying our attention. “We’ll need to go back on this one – re-check everything; interview records, current surveillance, even the basics like retina scans and such, everything. There’s something not right about it.”

“I think it’s one of them,” I said quietly “one of the non-recognisables,” I tried to keep an emotionless face.

Both the Prime and the Third’s faces went white.

They were the hardest of all to deal with. Something in their natural form, even if we could expose it, that we would never normally recognise as any form of intelligent life. It was not proven but some considered that these visitors were not temporary.

We meticulously worked through everything we had on this one and another A team with another Prime joined us.

The evidence, each just little things, started to accumulate. Even among the non-recognisables – there were different types; non-recognisable corporeals, non- recognisable non-corporeals, extreme transients that didn’t fit either of these categories and finally – them.

“I think its one of them,” I exclaimed, speaking at a point where I should have left it to one of the Primes.

“An abstract!” – the super computer beat both Primes to it.

“A concept?” the Third from my team exclaimed.

“The assigned SAS surveillance team has lost track of it,” the Prime from my team exclaimed nervously. “Two of them were killed in the process.”

We knew about the abstracts but nobody had ever caught one – not in human-assumed form and most certainly not in its impossible to detect non-recognisable abstract form.

“Any sense from all of our analysis as to what concept we are dealing with here?” I asked.

“Enmity, enmity is the primary concept registering here,” the super computer with its super emotion chip was best placed to answer this. “Perpetual enmity,” the super computer modified its initial statement.

“Hatred, perpetual hatred,” I exclaimed.

“This is too much for Special Forces,” exclaimed my Prime. “Even the SAS; get the Queller teams on it. Find it, dump it, before it returns to its abstract form."

If it returns, I thought.


- - -
The author has written over 200 speculative fiction short stories. Some of these are included in his eight collections of short stories (all on Amazon). He has also published two science fiction novellas and been published on a range of speculative fiction sites. Including: Antipodean SF, Beam Me Up Pod Cast, Farther Stars Than These, 365 Tomorrows, Bewildering Stories, the WiFiles and the former Golden Visions magazine. He will soon publish a new collection of science fiction short stories “Contingency Nine and Other Science Fiction Stories”.

Thursday, January 2, 2020

1/2/20

NOWHERE--WITH DIRE WOLVES
By Janet Shell Anderson


I’m nowhere. Utica Rainbasin.

I’m Jesebeel Florencia Delilah Hanson, from DC, which is probably on fire. There’s no news here. The Second Civil War’s not happening here. Nothing’s happening here but the wind, the “stock,” the birds, the dire wolves.

I’m sitting on a pile of something, hay, maybe, in Flyover country, watching the “stock”. Wild Jack Bisonette’s the biggest, kind of like a cow and goat combined, huge. Has two calves, big as buses. Frankie’s another one. They talk in weird accents but don’t say much, and I’m warned not to get close because they have tempers.

Another thing here when I came were giant white birds, whooping cranes, thousands. Five feet tall. Scary. But they’re gone now.
And there are dire wolves, far out, by Lincoln Creek. An alarm will sound if they come too close.

Why’m I here?

I think a couple of guys are missing back in DC who went to my room to question me a couple of weeks ago because they thought I knew too much. I’m a professional entertainer, a Lollapalooza Class II, sixteen years old. So these guys were not cool. My turndown service, which eats anything that shouldn’t be in my room, like crumbs or dried flower petals or whatever, probably ate them. So the thing is, I can’t go back.

There isn’t much call for an entertainer out here.

The prairie--they call it--is huge. Right now, except for the animals, it’s almost bare, kind of wet, the ground’s black and makes a mess if you walk in it with heels.

So I have to make sure the people here--all twelve of them--don’t get any ideas about sending me back. Have to make sure they don’t get any ideas at all. Not so hard. They talk less than Wild Jack and don’t seem to care I’m around.

But the dire wolves do. I’ve a feeling they watch me. I dream they do.

I’ve a feeling the people here are really, really old. They don’t look old, don’t act old, and I don’t really know anybody who is old, but they feel old. Their eyes are old. Their eyes have seen too much. They have huge green and yellow machines that “put the crop in.” I don’t know what the “crop” is. I asked Wild Jack what it was, and she said, “Stuff to eat.”

The sky’s low and grey, and the wind howls. A robotrain crosses far off. Machines like insects sit in fields. No cars. The cloud’re pleated like the belly of the whale that hangs in the hall of the Natural History Museum in DC.

I’m in the belly of a whale, hiding out, nowhere--with dire wolves.


- - -
I have been published by Farther Stars Than These, 365 Tomorrows, Vestal Review, decomP, FRIGG, Grey Sparrow and many others, nominated for the Pushcart Prize, included in a collection of short works with Joyce Carol Oates. I am an attorney.


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