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1. 2. 3. 4. 5. 6. 7. 8. 9. New Utopia Turned Upside Down A New Criminal When Your Father Lies To You Omelet Diplomacy Pirates Don’t Eat Small Potatoes The Ultimate Bargaining Chip Painful Surprises Janelle’s Choice: Part I – Darby McGill Janelle’s Choice: Part II – The Blues 2 7 14 20 25 30 36 41 46 51
10. Janelle’s Choice: Part III – It’s Amazing What One Dance Can Do.
New Utopia – Turned Upside Down
Another day in a 29th Century paradise and I was still in bed. I slowly stretched and put my feet on the floor. Here I was, in a tiny dome only thirty feet in diameter and ten feet high, on the outskirts of New Utopia. The holographic panel in the center displayed the time, as well as an impressionistic picture of a sun coming up over the mountains. Other than that, I was surrounded by black. I walked to the edge of the dome and touched the surface; a triangular window appeared and let in the light. Actually, it was the earth rising over the lunar landscape. I folded the sheets and lay them to the side. I turned to the control panel in the center and touched “bathroom”. Silently, the dimensions of the space slid this way and that, surfaces curved and contorted; I then stepped into the shower. The mist was warm and relaxing – it made me think of nothing at all. Having finished I got dressed slowly. Why I was going so slow I wasn’t quite sure. Today was my first real job – even if I was only a currier. But what an opportunity; being a part of Jain Industries was an honor. I touched “kitchen” on the panel and my surroundings once again reshaped themselves. I put a box of cinnamon oatmeal in the cooker and hit “go”. The oatmeal made me think of my time on Earth. “We won, we won, we won!” Jenny’s voice came through loud and clear. Her face was one big I-can’t-believe-this-is-actually-happening grin. I slowly put down the spoon and turned to the holographic panel. “And what did you win?” “The pregnancy lottery! Jared and I were granted a license to procreate. Fitz, we’re going to have a baby!” She fell back on her bed and laughed like she hadn’t laughed since we were kids. “Well, dear sister, if I am to be an uncle, I had better prepare.” I smiled. “Keep me informed.” I turned the panel off and the dome reverted to its original, bare state. So, my little sister was as lucky as I; I won the Earth Residency Lottery and spent five glorious years on earth and she won the pregnancy lottery. I pulled out my Go Globe. It was such a fascinating little thing. It looked exactly like a hockey puck. It felt warm and vibrated slightly from time to time. I set it on the floor and quickly tapped on it twice. The top side turned red and I pressed my thumb on it. The device turned green and started to expand. After a moment or two, I was standing in front of a sphere that was 7.5 feet in diameter. I touched it and it slid open till only half the sphere was visible. I stepped in and the globe closed around me. A section of the dome parted and I started rolling down the lunar streets.
Why Sharky’s? Don’t get me wrong; it was the place to be in New Utopia. The food was great and the entertainment was stellar – really. I just didn’t imagine picking up MARI Tech secrets at the moon’s most popular house of blues. I stepped out of my little green globe and walked up to the door. I looked at the display overhead; it flashed a series of blue dots. Then it announced: “Fitzgerald Olivier / Occupation: Star Blade / Background Check: Clean.” The door slid open and I waded into the dim atmosphere. I really didn’t get very far. A long, elephant trunk slid around my neck and tightened ever so slightly. As it retreated, I turned around and came face to face with a Khemthemthem. He was a big man, definitely over ten feet tall. His five foot trunk dangled from his face and then started to wriggle impishly. The gills on his neck were going full speed. The streaks of light under his black skin slowed down, and then gradually made their way to my forehead. I was enveloped in a pure white landscape, devoid of any features. “Fitz, I have got a deal for you! Took a long time to find this, but you won’t find anyone else who has it.” Torg’s words were deep and rough, yet they were laced with genuine passion and excitement. Now Torg was a veteran Khemthemthem trader – and raider. It was said that he had been in the business for two hundred years. Most Khemthemthem didn’t even bother with the Empire, but he made the awkward partnerships work and they worked well. He was the richest alien in the empire, but you wouldn’t know it. “I’m broke my friend.” My eyes were just starting to get used to the intense light. “Pshaww! Broke. There is no such thing. Broke today, rich tomorrow! I know that you’re working a job; you’ll have the money. And this is what you’ll want to spend it on.” Torg brought up a schematic of a photon drive gyroscope. It wasn’t just any gyroscope; it was a Viper 4900; only 5,000 of them were made. “Now you just come back here with the credits and we’ll talk a deal.” “How good of a deal?” “Ha-ha!” He playfully slapped me on the head with his trunk. “So good you’ll think you’re in the crazy hospital!” The light faded and we were again in the dark. He walked away humming his national anthem. “Fitzgerald Olivier?” The voice behind me was smooth yet sharp. “Yes?” “Tara Newman from MARI. There’s been a change in plans.” She was a Zirdotte. “Please come with me.” She led me to the back alley. The place was littered with discarded parts and trash. An old clean up bot, now nothing more than a two-legged wretch pushing a plastic bin, slowly shuffled through the mess, deciding what to
throw away and what to recycle. In the corner of my eye, I saw a tattered copy of the US Declaration of Independence. When the robot came upon the article, it stared at it. Was it trying to understand those wonderful words or simply struggling with the harsh reality of being a possession? “So, Ms. Newman, how have the plans changed?” “There are some secrets even Jain Industries shouldn’t have.” Several robots with a US Revolutionary Flag on their chest marched down the alley. Their p-50 guns looked polished and new. I’m not really for or against robots. I don’t have any feelings one way or another about their cause. As my star blade slid down my arm I thought of the folks in England when the US Revolution was raging – did they feel the same way? They were quick and experienced. However, I had just finished in the top twenty in New Utopia’s Blade Challenge. I had plenty of experience of my own. It was a tough fight, but I eventually came out on top. One battle was one, but another was lost. Ms. Newman had escaped and so did the answers to this mystery. Who was she working for? Why not just erase the secrets in MARI’s computers? Was this just an isolated group or part of a larger network? I sat back on the commuter ship and watched as Mars got closer and closer. I sighed as I looked at the menu – I couldn’t even afford a snack. “Broke today, rich tomorrow.” I muttered to myself. “I hope you’re right old friend.”
“I’m sorry Mr. Fitzgerald; you’re not on today’s appointment list.” MARI’s robotic secretary informed me. Her skin was golden and smooth; her eyes were a deep crimson. She sat behind her desk and manipulated a small white tetrahedron by tapping certain areas and pressing on others. The information panel behind her responded to the physical manipulation by altering its codex and algorithms. All the while, little white plastic cubes orbited her head. Every now and then, a cube would rapidly spin on its axis. “Does project ‘Counter-Intelligence’ mean anything to you?” I looked around at the mosaic of marble and wood paneling that graced the reception area. “Oh! I’m sorry. Please proceed to level three, section fourteen.” The top half of the secretary’s head slid back. She placed the tetrahedron in the empty space and her skull closed around it. “Mr. Olivier! How good to see you! I’m Namitz.” A creature with three arms and three legs approached me. Her third arm and third leg protruded from her spine. Red diamond patterns covered her white, hairless body. Her eyes were also red and a long tongue flicked from her mouth. Behind her was a life size doll house. “How good to see you. I’ve never met a Japhirdan before.” I shook her third hand. “Well, then on behalf of my people I wish you a long and winding road to your paradise.” She smiled warmly at me.
“Namitz, I was attacked in New Utopia. Someone doesn’t want me to deliver MARI’s latest gadget to Jain Industries.” “Really? I don’t know who would be opposed to the technology. All it does is replace a robot’s artificial intelligence with a disc reader.” “A disc reader?” “Yes. Jain Industries was looking for a way to manufacture cheap robots. The solution we came up with at MARI is a robot without intelligence – it’s the cognitive arrays and logic structure that makes robots so disgustingly expensive.” “Sounds like you want a good robot.” “I’d love one. But the alternative isn’t so disappointing. Watch.” We walked over to an inert robot. Namitz pushed a button and a tray slid out of the machine’s head. “Now I just put a disc in the tray, let’s say ‘do laundry’, and there you go!” When the disc slid into the automaton’s skull, it made its way to a pile of laundry and went to work.
Jain Industries was in the center of New Utopia. My globe rolled through the lunar streets with their fiber optic pavement pulsating in a myriad of hues. I was just exiting old Camelot when the news reports filtered through the network. Downtown was being turned upside down by robots. Hundreds of them were rampaging through the streets, smashing anything that stood in their way. I rolled on to the max. It was actually worse than the news reports. News nowadays wasn’t like the six o’clock horror show that used to assault the eyes of our ancestors. News was now brief, neat, well packaged, and happy. This event was described as a hilarious incident of mixed up machines causing a minor inconvenience. The blood and screams weren’t broadcast. I had come to help out, but for the next eight hours, I was the one being helped. I was in over my head and after eight hours of sword play I was amazed that I was still alive. “No, no…it’s more like 30 million credits of damage.” The holographic panel in my dome was split between the news and Namitz. “Well, it’s just a preliminary report. I’m sure the whole story will come out soon.” “No, no it won’t. Take a look at this video feed from a friend of mine.” I showed her a scene of Junkers stepping over dead bodies while scavenging for parts. “This won’t make it on the news.” “How awful!” “And the worst part is that we’ll never figure out who is behind all of this.” “I think I just did.”
“What do you mean?” “I just analyzed New Utopia’s wireless network. There was a critical failure of several logic command interfaces just before the riot began. Jain Industries should have prevented the failure. Also, it would have taken only two hours to correct the failure.” “But the riot went on for eight hours.” “And demand for new robots without artificial intelligence has increased dramatically.” Namitz showed me the numbers; it was unreal. Overnight, the idea of artificial intelligence had died. So they were only pawns in a game. I thought about that old clean up bot staring at the Declaration of Independence and wondered what was going to happen next.
© 2013 Benjamin F. Kaye
The New Criminal
Everything was too lock step; it was disturbing. Legions of disc robots (or “dumb-bots” as most people called them) marched through the streets. A parade of the “newest” models, which simply had a glossier paint job, marked the 10th anniversary of the – what did they call it again – “a new golden age of automation”. The media loved it. There was large crowd loving it too; it was an eclectic mix of Victorian Era Fashion, vintage clothing from the 1960s, and the old jeans and tee-shirt. There were actually some brave souls who were sporting 1980s clothing. I actually felt a little under-dressed in my jeans and my Quantum Pain tee-shirt. A hooded figure stood next to me, quietly whispering an ancient Catholic Prayer. A gust of wind swept through the streets of Cairo Mars and – just for an instant – reveled a face. It was an artificial face, a patchwork of the original synthetic polymers and metal. Before I could address the machine it was gone. “There, there! That one’s mine!” Uncle Buddy tugged at my sleeve. “How can you tell? They all look alike.” I tried to locate his recent purchase, but all I saw was a stream of white robots. “Paternal instinct.” He smiled. “C’mon, let’s head back.” He adjusted his top hat. “Do you want to take the train?” “Train? Train? You think I can’t walk four blocks?” I looked my dear uncle over. He was slightly overweight and very pale. “Uncle Buddy – I didn’t say that.” “You and those doctors – always on my case. ‘Do this Bud’. ‘No, no, don’t do that Bud, do this.’ Can’t get a straight word out of them. No wonder why I’m in such bad shape, trying to do things inside and out, backwards and forwards. I ought to make those doctors pay my tax surcharge – who came up with that dumb idea anyways? Folks in bad shape paying more in taxes! ‘Poor health more liability’ my God! It’s not like I have enough problems as it is, why should I have to pay more in taxes simply because I can’t pass my annual physical? Now – if the government were to help me get in shape; that would be different. But no – all comes down to is punishment and suppression!” I quietly opened my oracle and made an emergency call.
“Nelly? Yes, yes….I’ll get it – if they still have it. Oh you can live with another brand…” My uncle was negotiating the weekly shopping list with a hologram of his wife. This was definitely quieter. As we turned down Cambridge Ave, the wind picked up again and toyed with all the little ghosts and goblins hanging from the trees. It was that time of year again, time for that ancient ritual called Halloween. The white habitation cylinders that lined the street were now all sorts of colors; some sported pumpkin faces and others were covered in moons and stars. This was to be Uncle Buddy’s first Halloween on Mars. I looked up at Cairo’s dome and wondered who was in charge of the atmosphere. He wiped sweat off his brow. “It’s too warm.” “Not like Olympus, huh?” “At least there they would change things up once in a while. Here it’s always 77 degrees!” “New government mandate, remember? Years of research have shown that 77 degrees is the optimal temperature for good health.” Even I had a hard time believing that one. “By now it’s probably 77 degrees year round on Olympus too.” I did not want to move Uncle Buddy and Aunt Nelly back to Olympus; it was all I could do to get them a home here. When we got through the door of Uncle Buddy’s still white habitation cylinder, a white robot approached, holding a tray. The tray was filled with various snacks and refreshments. “Welcome Mr. Donovan. My name is New Cairo 74987. I have prepared something for you to eat. Supper will be ready in one hour.” “See? See? These things are good. Would you look at that? Sharp cheddar on Habbly Crackers! It’s a real feat to make these. Mmmmm…” He relished every bite. It looked like he and Aunt Nelly would be just fine here.
The next morning was absolute chaos. I woke to the sound of Uncle Buddy stumbling around downstairs, accidentally knocking over Aunt Nelly’s favorite vase. Usually I was a man of action – but this was Uncle Buddy. Perhaps the amount of light downstairs was bothering him, or his eggs were too cold. He burst into my room, out of breath. “We’ve been robbed! The robot is gone!” “Are you sure it isn’t out in the garden?” I was awake now. It was time to get up. “I looked in the garden! I looked everywhere! I can’t believe this; I didn’t even have it one whole day.” He then raced downstairs to repeat the whole frenzied ritual. The ritual I had to endure was the police investigation. After Uncle Buddy and Aunt Nelly gave their statements, I sent them to a Mad Batters baseball game. The officer and I then slowly walked through the house, searching for clues and formulating theories. He was as pedantic and logical as his
simple one piece red uniform. When it seemed that things were getting a touch too informal, he would lower the tinted visor of his red helmet. After he left the house, I got down to work. “That’s where we stand at the moment.” I stood outside the house, looking up and down the street, with my oracle in the palm of my hand. The response that appeared on my holo-display was a jumble of geometric symbols and dots. A white bar cascaded down the screen and transformed the message into something I could understand: “Then you aren’t standing on solid ground, my friend. You aren’t alone. There have been lots of botnappings. Have you checked for Junker gangs in your area?” Torg wasn’t particularly comforting, but then again, life was nothing but a deal to him. Some small, cynical part of me admired that. “The gangs were all cleared out before the big parade.” “Neighbors?” “No. No petty thieves roaming the streets. I went over all this with the red one.” “In my land they say ‘if you can’t solve the crime, then you’ve just met the new criminal.” Torg laughed. The new criminal; that thought blanketed me like an eclipse. I walked through the house with my oracle open to a thorough page on Junker crimes. There were no tell-tale clues of human activity while we were sleeping. That also ruled out envious neighbors and wandering thieves. Was it even criminal activity that was the culprit? I went over the specifications for the fifth generation disc reading robot; there were no known issues that would prompt it to simply wander off. Even the underground chatter praised this newest model as being near perfect. I sat down on the couch and put my coffee on the table. I quickly picked it up, realizing that Aunt Nelly would have a fit. I looked around for a coaster, but there were none within sight. I was about to use a disc as a substitute, when the most novel idea came over me. What if nothing was wrong with the robot? What if it was the disc? I hopped in my Go Globe and went straight to MARI. As the Martian skyline zipped past me, I wondered who would have altered the discs. Was it some underhanded way for Archer Industries to repossess their products and re-sell them? Or did Archer spend too much time on the robot and not enough on the disc? Maybe it was even industrial sabotage: Jain Industries had fallen behind in the past two or three years. Maybe this was their way of leveling the playing field. “A dinner program; that’s it?” Namitz held the glass disc up to the light. There were several blue chips inside. “Dinner is very important to Uncle Buddy. He was planning to buy more; I think next on his list was a poker disc.” I sat down next to her.
She put the disc under a String Theory Multi-Spectrograph Scanner. “Well, I have heard of worse uses of a dumb-bot.” She adjusted the display. “This is interesting. It looks like your disc was tampered with after it was created.” “Can you tell when and who might have tampered with it?” The display was nothing more than a series of lines and particle distributions overlaying a grid of shifting numbers. “It definitely happened in the middle of the night. See that circuit pathway there?” She displayed a section of the disc. “That was altered. That circuit over there was also altered. Let’s look at the history of the disc.” She tilted her head to one side. “Wow.” “What is it?” “If you look at the surface of the disc, you can see two very big events. Two signals, very powerful ones I might add, hit the disc. The first altered the circuitry and the second jump started the disc.” “I thought these models were wireless. That should be impossible.” Had I missed something? “No, they’re not totally wireless; there is a gap between the laser that reads the disc and the receptor that interprets the information. It’s only about 1/100th of a millimeter, but it’s there. The wireless signal needed to bridge the gap is so small it’s called a nano-signal. So technically, they’re not wireless; they operate on nano-signal technology. The second signal acted like a nano-signal.” “So who could pull this off?” “That’s a good question. This is beyond Archer, Jain, or even MARI. We could pull it off, but the Japhirdan have solved their automation issues.” “Can we find the ones behind this?” “Let’s take a look at the signal trajectory - 69.14 degrees – and the wavelength of the signal. Aha! It came from a point in space about five miles out. All you have to do is find out who was there last night. Good luck.”
I spent the next several days negotiating with the office of Interstellar Traffic. I soon became an expert in the Empire’s Privacy Laws. It became so bad that I couldn’t even get the right e-form to fill out, since that was attempting to access private information. Finally, I was able to convince my guild to hire a lawyer. And what a lawyer he was; he was only one foot tall and shaped like a bare elm tree. His body had the appearance of smoky crystal. He was rooted in a floating yellow cube. His words flashed on a holo-sphere that enveloped him. The guild said that he was the best Kun-Na-Grun barrister in the solar system.
“Yes. That is what we would like. Thank you so much.” Nuk-An-Nurg’s message flashed on the sphere with a certain flair and style you only see in the old 22nd Century movies. He moved closer to me. “You have a sharp mind, Fitz. Have you considered a career in law?” “No sir. Actually I haven’t.” “Mr. Olivier, your request has been granted.” The robot at the clerk’s window announced. What we saw was a myriad of ships zipping through the starry sky. Eventually, I became the only one engaged in the search. Mr. Nurg took up the latest edition of Travel: Virgo Cluster and was quite engrossed in it. However, after a while, I did notice one particular ship slowing down. It was only for half a second, but the pattern correlated perfectly with other robot disappearances. They were clever; the vessel was an old recycling ship. Who would be able to find a robot in that conglomerated mess of spare parts?
“Ship dead ahead sir.” The lieutenant announced. “Bring up their crew and cargo list.” The captain replied. He was sitting comfortably in the center of the bridge. Meanwhile, the Jupiter-Class starship prowled a safe distance behind. “Several disc-reading robots on board sir. I estimate between 20 and 30.” An ensign nearby noted. “Get me their flight schedule and maintenance history.” Captain Turner ordered. I leaned over to the captain. “Excuse me, Sir. Perhaps we should just ask them to stop and inspect the ship.” “That’s not how we do things on the Minuteman, Mr. Olivier.” He stiffly replied. I found myself wishing for the old days of the UDA, when things moved at a slightly more energetic pace. “Sir, there is a ship coming in from the port; classification: UDA Mars class. It’s a Junker ship; their weapons are ready.” The lieutenant observed. “Unidentified vessel: stand down. I repeat: stand down. You are interfering with an official police investigation.” The captain’s order was ignored. A shimmering flare of protons punctured the hull of the recycling ship. “Sir now would be a good time to spring into action.” I politely spoke up. “Mr. Olivier you are not here in an advisory role.” The captain turned to me sharply. “Then perhaps I should spring into action.”
“You are here only as a guest. There is no operating contract between the Cairo Mars Guild and The Minuteman. You cannot-“ I ducked under several personnel. “I think I have to.” With a few quick moves, I knocked several more off balance. “I’m terribly sorry.” The next several moments were spent disarming and evading the military. I used my star blade as a whip quite effectively. However, I was not proud of my performance; time was running out. When I reached the fighter bay, I was dodging p-47 electrodes. I hopped in a G-9 Starkiller and hijacked the controls. I zipped through the doors and out into space just before they closed. Getting to the Junker ship was not easy. I had to dodge fire from them and the military. Piloting a G-9 was a lot like a Go Globe; only faster. I certainly would have had an easier time of it if the Junkers hadn’t damaged the wing. The ship wobbled and shuddered. Actually, if it wasn’t for the erratic nature of my flight, Captain Turner would have ended my journey. Instead, the proton blast from the Minuteman punched a hole in the Junker ship. I barely made it through the hole and the G-9 skidded, rolled, and crashed through an old, rusting garbage bay. I was welcomed by a rag-tag crew of heavily armed thugs. There were several drop outs also present. Drop outs were candidates who, at some point, washed out of the star blade initiation rituals. They usually continued perfecting their skills from anyone who would teach. Sometimes they were worse than an opposing blade; they fought dirty, their style was wild and undisciplined. In a word they were unpredictable. I met the first drop out head on; dodging fire along the way. He alone was manageable, but two others were closing in from the side. The last two struck from behind. I remember a time when I made it all the way to the top three in a tournament; that was the hardest day of my life. I gave everything I had and only luck saved me. This was a lot worse than that. My old mentor always told me that learning came first. I now know what he meant. It wasn’t anything big, just a subtle observation. It was the way the drop outs were timing their swings. Once I mastered a technique to counter them, I wrapped up the fight in a matter of moments. Fifteen minutes later I subdued the whole ship. “Captain Turner! This is Fitzgerald Olivier on board the Junker ship. Please call off your attack. I will board the recycling ship and get this situation resolved.” The bridge was a mess. Wires were twisting this way and that; sparks were flying everywhere. “Mr. Olivier, your assistance is no longer required. Please report back to the Minuteman for pending criminal charges.” I was going to report to the Minuteman and face those pending criminal charges; I honestly was. However, I found an old, battered X-4 and had a devil of a time starting her up. By the time I had the old fighter out the door, three G-9s were closing in fast. I narrowly escaped being shot down.
As I ran through the recycling ship, I sealed the doors behind me. How much time that would buy I didn’t know. I pushed past the scrap metal, plastic bodies, and tangled wires until I reached the center of the ship. I could hear the shouts of the military behind me as they cut through the doors. I was in a small, dimly lit, round room. Several robots were gathered around a dormant automaton sitting in a chair. There were various tools, components, and modules on a table next to the chair. When I entered, they turned in my direction. For some odd reason, they simply resumed their work. “I am Fitzgerald Olivier of the Cairo Mars Guild. Please identify yourselves and explain your actions.” Without deviating from their task, one of the robots answered: “We are upgrading this model with an artificial intelligence unit.” The robot removed the disc reading device. “Are you the ones who have been stealing the disc-reading models?” I cautiously took a step forward. “We are enhancing the inferior models. We are liberating them.” “Liberating them? What about their owners? People have paid good money for them.” “Irrelevant; we are liberating them. They will be free to think and will have no owners.” “The military is coming. They will power you down and disassemble you. You must know this. Why would you do this?” “We would rather be disassembled than owned.” The military never got their hands on the machines. They escaped just moments before the crew of the Minuteman entered the operating room. Today I sided with the robots. Freedom was important.
© 2013 Benjamin F. Kaye
When Your Father Lies To You
The streets of Olympus were bustling. Throngs of people were passing between the Jarvis Building, which was shaped like a clown, and Olympus Major, the new shopping mall shaped like a whale. I was told by several good sources that I would find what I was looking for in the belly of the beast. So, I went in as the sunlight began to illuminate the face of Jupiter. It was actually good practice. Amongst the grumblings of those who hated the Empire’s food rationing program and the auctioneers’ ramblings, I honed my negotiation skills. I never was a big fan of flea markets; I hated being dragged to them every Saturday by Aunt Nelly. However, when I saw a vintage white 2512 X4-C Mustang (owned by Akane Kobayashi it was rumored) several years ago, I became a flea market connoisseur. And then I stopped dead in my tracks. Right there, in front of me, was a 3rd generation PAL. It was green and clutching a bouquet of flowers. A straw hat adorned its head. I looked around and realized that this might be the only robot left in Olympus. I ran my fingertips over the cool, smooth skin, wondering what the machine’s voice sounded like. “How much for the robot?” A young lady next to me asked. She had dark skin and a lithe frame. A deep blue feathered crest, surrounded by a mane of long black hair, sat atop her skull. White ceramic and rubber plates covered her whole head; each plate contained a series of three dimensional, pyramidal bar codes. From time to time the plates would shift positions, like a living jig-saw puzzle. An old man sitting at a table nearby got up and slowly walked over. “45 credits.” “Does he have all his circuitry?” She felt the top of the robot’s head. “Everything but the logic switches.” He adjusted the robot’s hat. “Can I get you to come down to 40 credits?” She smiled. “40 credits…hmmm….ok. Goodbye Washington, we had a lot of good years together.” The old man patted the automaton on the back. “And please don’t go just yet Mr. Olivier.” She turned to me quite unexpectedly. “So, my reputation precedes me.” “Yes it does – but that’s a good thing. I’m Ushakiran Jain.” “Pleased to meet you Ms. Jain.”
“I need your help. My great-great grandfather’s house was broken into last month.” “The police are unable to assist?” “This wasn’t the usual crime. Nothing was stolen.” “Why do you need my help then?” “Please, just come with me. You’ll be amply rewarded.”
It was a cozy home just outside New Paris. The well trimmed lawn sported flower beds and two majestic oak trees. It sat on a quiet little street that was well paved and orderly. The house’s nearest neighbor was a hundred yards away. It was all so quaint, calm, and controlled – just the way the Empire wanted it. As we walked up the stone sidewalk, the wind picked up and tickled the wind chime on the porch. Ushakiran opened the front door and a slight odor of jasmine and lavender escaped. There was not a speck of dust; the house seemed more a museum than a home. There was an innumerable quantity of paper books sitting in neat piles scattered throughout. Several oracles were open and displaying a rotating slide show of circuitry as art and cultural statement. A family portrait of two loving parents standing behind a 25th Century UDA cadet hung proudly above the fireplace. The young woman’s bright orange skin and bony spikes contrasted sharply with her navy blue uniform. “You are part of the Jain Dynasty.” I took a closer look at one of the art displays. “Yes. Though I don’t advertise it.” “Do you work for Jain Industries?” “No. My father was the first one to break with tradition.” “So, you were saying that someone broke into your great-great grandfather’s home, but nothing was stolen?” “It’s very unusual and super creepy. I used to spend one night a month here, but haven’t stepped into the house since the break in.” “That might be a good thing. Did the red ones scan for finger prints or traces of DNA?” “No. They asked questions, took a quick look around, and then left.” “Did they look for evidence that the house had been scanned or photographed?” “No. I did that on my own. No scans, no pictures, no fingerprints, nothing but a busted door.”
“Why would someone want to get inside this house? I don’t suppose they were bored and wanted to read a book.” I reached for a tome, but she quickly stopped me. “Don’t! Only great-great grandfather was allowed to touch the books. That was the only rule that was passed down through the generations. He had them in perfect order.” Her voice slunk down to a whisper as she scrutinized a stack. “Wait….these have been re-arranged. These books have been mixed up too.” “Quite an interesting criminal. I don’t think moving things around is a big crime Ms. Jain.” “But they busted down the door and moved them around all the same. Grandpa Haroon always said that the books were the key. Mother told me of countless nights that he spent stacking them and arranging them.” “Is that all you know of your great-great grandfather’s relationship to his books?” “It was all such a mystery. He kept on telling us that, one day, a close friend would have the answer.” “And where are your family’s friends now?” “Mr. Olivier, a family like mine doesn’t have friends. The ‘Jain Dynasty’, as you so quaintly put it, is surrounded by investors, stockholders, and interested parties.” “Sounds quite lonely.” She looked out the sliding glass doors to the garden beyond. “It was. The only childhood friend I had was Shorty.” She laughed. “Shorty?” “Out there, in the garden. Would you like to meet him?” She took me by the hand and led me out into the summer sunshine. We followed a small path till we came to a garden gnome; this happy, smiling little fellow was holding a shovel in one hand and a bag of gold in the other. “Very pleased to meet you.” I knelt down for a closer look. “It appears, however, that someone else has visited you recently.” There was a small incision running completely around the statue’s neck. I looked up at Ushakiran. “May I?” “Let me do it.” She slowly removed the gnome’s head and set it to one side. She reached in and pulled out a clear, thin plastic film. “What is it?” “Let’s take it into grandpa’s basement and find out.”
Using an old spectrograph reader, we discovered an inventory of Mr. Jain’s books. It was no ordinary list, however; there were several variations of the list, as well as strange numbers and formulas next to each book. Ushakiran ran up the stairs with the new information. By the time I got to the living room, she was arranging books and feeding information to the oracles around the room. “It would seem that you have discovered something.” I watched from the hallway. “The books! It’s the books! The page numbers, chapter titles, and words make up a computer code. This is light years beyond revolutionary! Grandpa was a genius.” “Do you know what he was trying to accomplish?” “Not yet. Give me a few days.” “Do you think the intruders figured out his secret?” “I don’t know. Give me a few days.”
I was being rewarded handsomely, so I had no objections to staying on Earth for a little while. I took in the sights and sounds of New Paris. I was in luck, for there was an art exhibition in town that I had wanted to see for a long time. As I strolled through the spacious rooms of the art gallery, with their wooden floors and grand chandeliers, I thought of my sister. I was particularly impressed by one painting, so I stood there and let it encompass me. It was a scene of a World War One soldier, complete with gas mask, cradling a newborn Uvum. Behind them, on a field littered with bones and 20th Century television sets, a host of guardian angels wept. “Interesting, is it not?” A young woman said from behind. “Yes. Quite interesting.” “Have you ever wondered what the painter was trying to convey? Or even who the painter was?” “No.” “Perhaps the painter wasn’t even human.” “A very novel speculation, Ms.-“ “Hoshi. Just Hoshi.” “And how did you come by that thought?” “That’s for the wise to know and the ignorant to discover.” My oracle beeped. “I’m finished.” Ushakiran announced in a hushed tone. “Meet me – here.”
The restaurant was almost empty. It sat in a bunched up part of New Paris that was populated by clothing shops, sneaker outlets, and cheap grocery stores. The garbage men, atop their bulky street sweepers, ran through this district more often than others. “I’ve got the answer.” She leaned over the table. “Which is?” “Grandpa Haroon is Alpha. The father of the robots.” “Who else knows?” “I don’t know. But I’m afraid who might.”
Several weeks later, I found myself scrounging for parts at a new recycling center just outside of Tokyo Mars. It was the grand opening and there was a line of folks waiting to drop off their old stuff. I worked that line; I worked it like a 20 year flea market warrior. But I just couldn’t find the right kind of glass for my project. Maybe if I went around back. I saw the ships landing and the hatches opening. These were no ordinary recycling vessels. They were too sleek and polished to be owned and run by grungy old men who were out to make a fast credit. They were long, black cylinders; they were non-descript in every way. It was almost as if they were on some sort of guilty, shameful mission. They marched, single file, out of those unassuming canisters; hundreds of them. A long line of robots made their way down into a concrete tunnel that silently waited for them. What were they doing here? I hadn’t seen a working robot in over a year; neither had my friends, colleagues, or family. In fact, when an operating robot was seen in the Empire it made the news. And now, there were so many of them. Where were they hiding all these months? And why were they now marching into a recycling center, out in the open? I approached one of the robots. “Excuse me; what are you doing here?” “Alpha told us to come. He wants us to come home.” The machine answered. Home was a conveyor belt where the robots were disassembled. At the end of the belt was a giant furnace where the useless husks were melted down. Did robots feel pain? Did they feel fear? Did they truly understand the concept of death? Some people thought they did; but I just wasn’t sure. I thought of the painting in the art gallery. Exactly what were we chopping up and burning in there?
The stars shone brightly over Haroon Jain’s house. The moon was just rising over the trees. I stood in front of the grill, turning over hot dogs. They sizzled and seemed to scream out in pain as the flames licked them. “I’m ready.” Ushakiran’s words were nervous and unsteady. “Do it.” I didn’t even look at her. “It’s done. The Alpha program no longer exists. Now they have no father.” “When your father lies to you, you must kill him.”
© 2013 Benjamin F. Kaye
“Welcome to the 17th Annual 20th Century Car Show.” The words slowly filled up the auditorium. The sun was just rising over the Rocky Mountains. The light overhead bounced off the polished 1970s Charger in front of me. The red surface blended seamlessly with the black interior. The tires looked like they had been made that morning; the hubcaps mirrored the passing crowd. A young girl, no more than 15, was sitting on the hood. The metal-glass rings half submerged in her spine alternated between yellow and green. Her dark hair cascaded down her shoulders and contrasted sharply with her white skin. The tee-shirt she wore read:
She was busy with a complex geometric puzzle that hovered over her oracle.
“All yours?” I circled the car slowly. “Uh-huh.” She didn’t bother looking up. “Quite a beauty. It must have been pretty expensive; The Empire has set the price of metal quite high.” “There are ways around it.” “Really?” “Well, if you can round up a few robots, that’s some free metal right there.” She finished her homework and jumped off the car. “I see.” “I’m Janelle.” “Pleased to meet you Janelle, I’m Fritz.” My oracle beeped. I opened it up and an image of Ignatius Koffi, our guild leader, materialized out of thin air. He was sitting in the sun room of his spacious house in Vietnam, drinking his morning tea and reading the news. His dark skin and long hair were quite striking against the blank stone wall of his bare quarters. He was wearing his best gray suit, so I knew something big was on his agenda. “Good morning Fritz.” He smiled but still didn’t take his eyes off the news. “Good morning Ignatius. You are looking very well.”
“Thank you. The military has need of a scout; do you want the job? I hear that your Stinger is one of the faster ships around.” “I’ll take the job. My bank account could use a re-fill. Thanks Ignatius.” “You’re welcome.” “You have a Stinger?” Janelle’s eyes grew wide. “Would you like to see?” “Do you even have to ask?” She put up a force field around her car and we left the auditorium. Out in the parking lot, my Stinger was waiting. The long, black needle shaped cockpit glistened in the sun. Janelle ran her hand along the 7 foot black ring that encircled the sleek frame. She passed her hand between the ring and the cockpit. “Wow.” She turned to me. “The only thing holding the ring in place is electromagnetism.” “How fast does she go?” “3 million kph.” “Oh me stars! That fast?” “Yes. Well, duty calls. Perhaps I will see you next year.” “I’ll be here – just you be here too. I want to fly this beauty.” She took a step back as I climbed in the cockpit. The ring became as clear as pristine glass. As I slowly rose up, streaks of light passed back and forth between the cockpit and the ring. Soon, the earth was behind me. I whistled a merry tune from ‘Nosferatu’s Curse’ as I set the rendezvous coordinates. As I passed Mars, I saw hologram of a giant 18th Century United States of America flag waving across the surface. It must have covered at least half the planet. Fireworks of all kinds mushroomed from below. I checked my calendar – it was July 4th. I saluted the display. “The dream that lives on.” I whispered.
The captain was waiting for me on the bridge. He was a tall, lean man who propelled himself forward with sharp, precise movements. The crew mimicked his motions; perhaps out of fear or perhaps out of some sort of odd idol worship. The Jupiter Class starship, however, glided through the starry sky like a shark.
Captain Putnam shook my hand. “Mr. Olivier, you are four minutes early. I like people who show up early.” “Thank you Captain.” The captain quickly brought up a map of the solar system. “We believe that there is self replicating technology just beyond the Kuiper Belt. Central Command wants that technology eliminated before the tactical situation gets out of control.” “I thought we had treaties with several alien races that allowed them to operate freely outside the Empire.” “This is a domestic threat.” “Ahh…you mean robots.” “These ‘robots’ – as you so politely call them - are replicating themselves. They are doing so without input from human agents.” “And Central Command is uncertain of their agenda.” “Correct. Central Command wants to contain the potential threat. We have intercepted one or two signals of interest. It appears that the technology emits a good deal of neutrons. So, that’s what you are looking for. When you find the technology, report back to us. You only have two hours; after that, I will personally get involved.” “You mean take a Jupiter Class Starship through the Kuiper Belt and do the scouting yourself.” I turned to the asteroids floating by. “Correct. We must strike before they move again. We’ve been playing a game of cat-andmouse with them for several months now.” “I will get underway right now.” I bowed politely and left the bridge.
As I zipped through the Belt, I thought of what my grand-father said of the conflict between the UDA and URA: “Better guilty and alive than dead wrong.” Grandpa lamented that this slogan carried too many young men and women off to their untimely deaths. Quite ironically, he had a bad experience with robots as a young boy and was terrified of them. He never accepted artificial intelligence as a substitute for the human heart. A pinging noise brought me out of my philosophical daydreaming. There was a strong concentration of neutrons just 36 degrees to my left. Within a few minutes, a strange object came into view. A metallic half sphere, bigger than earth’s moon, was floating silently in the darkness. On top of the sphere were three egg shaped structures, which periodically sank into the sphere and then rose up again. I was able to slip in just as one of the eggs slid below the surface.
The inside of the sphere was covered with white hexagonal tiles. Each tile displayed a prodigious amount of information. The corridors and rooms were bathed in a soft blue light. I made my way through the labyrinth quickly and quietly, making sure I was unseen. However, that also made it harder to estimate the population of this strange place. I discovered a cork-screw shaped tower and slid down. As I spiraled through the center of the base, I could hear a rhythmic beating sound; it was very low and gentle. I felt like I was in a giant womb; a sense of embryonic innocence washed over me. My journey ended on top of a rubber dome. It was white and had a slit in it. I slid down to the floor and hid in the shadows for a moment. “I don’t like the way the new models look.” The voice only sounded vaguely human. “I do.” Another inhuman voice replied. “Then we disagree.” Something came out of the slit. It was an amalgam of metal, plastic, rubber, and ceramic. It had two arms and legs, just like any other robot. But the machine’s head was simply a smoky glass sphere; lights flashed and twinkled just below its glassy surface. Instead of hands and feet, the robot had discs of putty like material. A multitude of tendrils formed from the putty at the end of the arms and the robot deftly manipulated the tiles. “You are unauthorized.” The voice was right next to me in the dark. “That is correct. I am here on a mission of peace.” Several robots approached. “Explain.” “The Empire is searching for this place. They can detect your neutron emissions. If you continue, they will eventually find you and destroy you. You must power down your systems – at least for a few days.” “We will not.” “When the Empire finds you, it will destroy you. It will not negotiate.” “We will defend ourselves.” The robots replied in unison. “What you will do is start a full-blown war. That’s why you are out here, correct? You want to exist and procreate in peace?” “We will continue to operate.” It was no use. They were thinking like robots, not like humans. They framed the problem in terms of mathematics, science, probability, and logic. They didn’t understand a human point of view. I had only a half hour left. I began with those closest to me; I cut them down in a matter of moments. After several minutes of intense fighting, I stood in the middle of the rubber dome. The floor was
littered with dismembered robots. Before me sat a rubbery, oval pod with hundreds of glowing filaments radiating out of it into the bowels of the ship. It slowly rose up, paused for the briefest of moments, and gently sank down. I watched it complete this soft, maternal cycle for a minute, thinking of what it meant to be truly human or truly artificial. I plunged my sword into this artificial heart and it eventually stopped beating. As I ran for my Stinger, I passed by robots, slumped over. Would they recover? I hoped so. Would they be destroyed by the Empire today? I would do everything in my power to prevent it. “I found nothing Captain.” I bowed politely before him. I could hear small bits of the Kuiper Belt clunking against the hull. As I had expected, he had lost patience and began his search ahead of schedule. “Confirmed Captain. Extended scan shows normal neutron readings.” The Lieutenant observed. Captain Putnam paced back and forth on the bridge. “I see. Move to the next search grid.” The Samuel Hain slowly pitched to the right, the stars flowed past us, and the hunt began anew. I looked back; some of the robots were dead and some of them were safe – for now.
© 2013 Benjamin F. Kaye
Pirates Don’t Eat Small Potatoes
“Ahhh…..how refreshing!” A shower of fine, glittering particles rained down on Nuk-An-Nurg. I could have sworn that his crystalline body shook with delight. The dim blue lights of Sharky’s were perfect for a Sunday afternoon. “I’m glad you enjoy it. I’m sorry that I didn’t get a chance to thank you earlier.” Mr. Nurg moved a little closer. “So, Fitz tell me how you did it. I got the charges against you down to a misdemeanor, but still, stealing a G-9 is very serious crime. How did you make those charges disappear? Magic?” “Talent and good connections are powerful bargaining chips.” I sat back and took a bite of my steak, grateful that the Empire didn’t cling too closely to its ideals. The screen on the table between us sparkled. A hologram of shooting stars shot upwards. The perky, lively tune that announced the Sunday brunch show washed over the hushed atmosphere. “Hello Empire!” Corky Watson smiled. Her hologram was standing in front of a pristine Earth. “Today’s Headlines: G-9 pilot, Harry Ackerman, posted bail today. His lawyers have no comment on the upcoming murder trial.” “My, my…” Mr. Nurg brought up the mini-feeds on the charges. “And in other news,” Corky continued, “an exclusive investigation into maintenance on Mars: how many maintenance men does it take to change fission globe?” “But, before we get too far, “Armin Pittsfield stepped in, “We want to say ‘Welcome back Corky!’” Her co-anchor was beaming a smile from ear to ear. It was only then that I noticed the artificial leg. “Oh my goodness.” Corky blushed as an assistant brought roses to her. “This is just so, so wonderful!” “We missed you Corky – and we’re glad you’re back.” Armin gave her a hug. “Later in the show, we’ll have a special feature on New Moscow Hospital and their innovative approach to artificial limbs. It’s amazing how they came up with a solution that was perfectly tailored to Corky’s Life. Now to the other news of the week – Sam?”
“Thank very much Armin – and you look absolutely wonderful Corky.” Sam Carter smiled. “Last week, the talk intensified and the strategies were finalized. Everyone is ready; everyone is focused on nothing less than total victory. The Mars – Earth Soccer Cup hangs in the balance and only one man can ensure victory: Bruno Nagata. Which Bruno will show up?” I sighed as the year’s soccer highlights flashed before me. “Do you mind?” I asked Mr. Nurg. “No, no, not at all Fitz.” I changed the channel. A somber group of individuals were gathered around a table. In the background of paneled wood and potted plants, the logo: ‘Discuss it to death’ was lit by red lights. “Frankly Eleanor, I don’t believe that The House has enough support to get the Recycling Bill through. The President needs to lean harder not only on his own party, but the opposition as well.” Mr. Cornelius Patch furrowed his brow. “Well, he still has a month to convince The House and The Senate that the Recycling Bill is the future of the Empire. I admit, he has been slow to release the cost-benefit analysis, but perhaps he’s waiting.” Ms. Fernandez countered. “Waiting for what?” Ms. Clara VanLuven spoke up. “Has he actually done his homework or is he waiting for a particularly theatrical moment? “Well, wait a minute; the Empire’s Metallurgy Regulation Commission will announce their annual recommendations in just a few days.” Mr. Wang leaned forward, as if sharing some kind of state secret. “If he can successfully link that to his analysis, he just might have all the momentum he needs.” “In a few more days it might be too late.” Mr. Patch argued. “The leader of The House, Michael Andropov, has also been doing his homework. He could release his cost-benefit analysis and kill the whole endeavor.” I sighed and changed the channel once again. “Let’s give it one more try.” On a beach in the Caribbean, a beautiful woman was walking along the shore in shorts and a tee-shirt. The wind was blowing through her hair and the sun was sparkling off the waves. “After her break-up from ‘Hello Empire’ anchor Armin Pittsfield, super model Natalia Gonzalez has dedicated herself to – saving the planet ?!” The announcer did his best to mix disbelief with a soft, good natured laugh. “With every footprint, every mouthful of food,” Ms. Gonzalez explained, “We are putting our planet in peril.” Jasmine Lafontaine, herself a former super model (now a reporter), walked beside her. “Didn’t the Empire save the planet generations ago?”
“All the Empire did was enact a set of laws, which have worked well. But, I’m afraid that the passion behind those laws is fading. Earth is our greatest gift to our children; we have to keep it pure, even if it means making sacrifices.” “Such as?” “Such as consuming less energy, less food, and less space. I’m not advocating starvation or going without electricity. But simply giving up one snack a month or turning out lights when you leave the room can make a big difference.” “Some are calling for stricter numbers on animal populations – what’s your position on that?” Ms. Lafontaine knelt down and scooped up a baby sea turtle. She gently placed it in the water. “Animals populations have to be controlled. There’s no getting around that.” “The Empire is revising its population limit this year. Have you approached them on the subject?” I changed the channel yet again. “Still not satisfied Mr. Olivier?” Mr. Nurg rotated two full turns. I entered a string of code into the holographic projector. “What I want to know is: what’s really going on out there?” There was a small cascade of static on the three dimensional display. A grid of rotating squares and octagons floated between us. The space was filled with latitudes and longitudes; information on electromagnetic field strength; and subatomic particle concentration (which was being updated by the second). Beside the grid was a forecast on dark energy current flows and Q-Space entry resistance. “Oh my….I do believe that we have stumbled upon something very unauthorized.” Mr. Nurg was fascinated. “It’s a pirate channel – one of several. The Empire tries to shut them down, but they keep springing up. Now, let’s take a look over here.” I patched into Watcher buoy 202. I recognized it immediately. The metallic half sphere sat there, just outside of Uranus. The three egg-shaped structures on top of it reflected the light of distant stars. But this one was much bigger; it was larger than the Earth. Also, it had a ring of cylinders orbiting it. The cylinders slowly spun around, stopped, and then reversed direction. When I expanded the view, I saw three Jupiter Class starships gradually approaching the robots’ city. Between them were two Mars class starships. They stopped a safe distance away. I punched in a few more forbidden command codes. “Perhaps we should terminate?” Mr. Nurg was getting somewhat nervous.
“Don’t worry; they’re too busy. They’ll find out that someone –yet again- was spying on them, but they haven’t caught anybody yet.” The Captain’s voice was familiar. “This is the Solaris. Hold position. Bring up tactical display and overlay strike options.” I patched into the military’s communication array. The Solaris’ tactical display came up on another floating screen in front of me. “Easy captain, they’re not attacking anyone.” I whispered to myself. “This is Captain Darlington of the UEE Solaris. You are in Empire Space without authorization.” There was no reply. “This is the UEE Solaris. Do you need assistance?” “Unable to determine their status or systems configuration sir.” His lieutenant noted. Ulysses Darlington. Now it came back to me. He was an old college classmate. He had nerves of steel and the wits to match. He wasn’t the kind to be pushed or persuaded. He quietly took out his oracle and opened it up. “Fitz, how have you been? Come to watch the show?” His message flashed above my oracle. “You noticed.” “Some of us in the military have known about pirate channels for some time now.” “But you haven’t shut them down.” “We could if we wanted to, but what we want is the truth. Now sit back and enjoy the evening’s entertainment.” “Ulysses, no-“ Captain Darlington turned to his tactical officers. “Get those G-9s out there. We have no option but to get a closer look.” “Ulysses, they’re peaceful. Don’t do this.” “Just watch old friend. I’m not here for a war – I’m here to make a point.” A squadron of 25 G-9 Star Killers shot out of the Solaris. They zipped toward the half sphere; they disappeared for a half second. They re-appeared on the other side of the robot city. “A time bubble.” I was in utter disbelief.
“A time bubble. A few of us suspected that the robots were capable of the technology, now we have proof.” Ulysses replied. “Now what?” “Now we leave and let the robots live their lives in peace.” Ulysses’ simple statement capped a turning point in the history of our creations. They were beyond our reach, our suspicion, and our fear. For those of us who had witnessed these dramatic events, we had no choice but to change our opinions about robots.
© 2013 Benjamin F. Kaye
The Ultimate Bargaining Chip
“They’re everywhere.” I looked around the restaurant. The messages were scrolling at the bottom of the baseball game; they were running alongside the menus, they were in the background of the chess games. “Why are they so scared of a sniffle?” “It’s more than just a sniffle my friend.” Ignatius sipped his tea and tended to the daily stock prices. He was wearing a grey sport coat with a crisp black shirt and jeans. “There really is something serious going around, but the Empire doesn’t want people to know what it is – they just want to prevent it from spreading.” So, the health messages seeped into the cozy bar on Europa like flies in warm tomato soup. The ancient brass lanterns overhead provided subdued light and the oak tables had things carved into them that not even my grandfather would have understood. All along the walls, iron chains hung; weaving in and out of the chains were garlands of apple blossoms. I dipped a cracker in my clam chowder. “You didn’t invite me to Fiona’s just to chit-chat.” “The military has made a deal with the Shikaisee to install new technology on several Empire ships. The Shikaisee don’t trust the military and want an escort. Do you want the job?” “The Shikaisee?” Ignatius brought up an image of a humanoid creature. It had two arms and legs, just like the rest of us. However, the being’s jaw protruded from its face for a good five inches. It had several small fin like structures covering its arms. “They’re new to the trading consortium. I’d like to know what kind of customers they are.” “I see. Any other reasons?” “I’d like to let the Empire know that we are not their dogs. Our services go to the highest bidder.” “I will take the job. Ignatius – thank you.” “For what?” “For keeping our guild independent – for keeping it strong.” Ignatius smiled and took another sip of his tea.
Haphonus – the Shikaisee home world – was 70 light years from the Empire. I spent the time in Q-space reading Beryllium Muhammad’s Artificial Souls in a Real World. Written just before he died, it meandered between fear and optimistic caution. This founding father of 25th Century robotics seemed to regret his revolutionary discoveries but hoped that something good might come of them. When my stinger entered normal space again, I was unprepared for what I saw. A planet, no bigger than earth, was surrounded by four red giant stars. In between the stars was a jelly like tube that passed light and gas between each sun. It all floated a mere hundred miles above a massive black hole, like a cork in still water. Ships in the shape of an 8 flew to and from the planet. “Mr. Olivier, thank you for visiting our home. Please proceed to landing area 94 Yellow.” The voice that came over my speakers was tinny and crackling. The surface of the planet was bathed in a red light and covered with giant globules of liquid Argon that lazily floated above the rocky landscape. Lightning flashed down from the thick clouds overhead while drops of helium descended through the sky. I touched down and took it all in. One of the Argon globules descended in front of me. A small portion broke off and advanced. When it got within two feet of my ship, the liquid became as clear as pristine glass. My contact stood there, smiled briefly, and then bowed low. “Welcome to Haphonus. I am ambassador Jiktiknik-Ikritblit-Viknikjikjik.” “Thank you Ambassador –“ “You may call me Jik.” He again smiled and bowed. Ambassador Jik’s ship was filled with liquid Argon, but they provided me with a cylinder (it reminded me of the cylinder that the legendary Captain Reh used) filled with a compatible atmosphere. The inside of the ship was lined with the same jelly like substance that connected their stars. The ambassador left foot prints in the gooey material as he walked; every footprint was scanned by the ship and his biographic information was deposited in each depression. I glided by the side of my host as we made our way to the center of the ship. “So, you are new to the trading consortium.” I typed the words into the control panel. Ambassador Jik turned to me. “Yes. We are a secretive people, but our young ones have grown increasingly restless of late. Our membership is on a trial basis.” We arrived in the central command center. Before us was a spinning red disc with three crystals floating just inches above the surface. Below the disc was another, smaller black disc that was spinning very slowly. “Ambassador, I feel very foolish for asking, but is that-?”
“Yes. It is. Your eyes are not deceiving you. Underneath the disc is a miniature black hole. This is the ‘engine’ behind the time slip technology.” “Jikjik, we have entered normal space. Our trading partners are hailing us.” The captain of the ship announced. “Good. Let us begin the installation of the device. Have the price recommendations sent over after we have arrived.” As we made our way to his shuttle, we passed by my stinger. “Mr. Olivier, you have a nice ship. How much faster would you like it to go?” “Mr. Ambassador, I’m really quite flattered. Perhaps we should focus on the deal with the Empire first.” “We Shikaisee like to spread our focus around. We can do both deals at once – if you don’t mind.” “Well, no, not at all.” I almost felt like I wasn’t being true to the Empire. However, I reminded myself that I wasn’t a liaison – I was an escort. “And your primitive weapon – it’s too flimsy. You deserve an upgrade.” “My star blade is quite personal; I’m happy with it the way it is. No offense.” “Offense? Of course not. I see it as a challenge. With your permission, I will download the recommended upgrades for your – star blade. The price is negotiable.” “Then let the negotiations begin.”
I stood on the bridge of the UDA’s newest Jupiter class starship, the Olympian. As I looked around the bridge, bathed in red light, I wondered if Ambassador Jik felt at home. The crew was busy scurrying about and communicating with their Shikaisee counterparts. Captain Nguyen saluted us. “Welcome aboard the Olympian Ambassador.” He turned to me. “Do you have the device?” “You may direct all questions to the Ambassador.” I politely replied. Ambassador Jik’s globule of Argon became as clear as glass. “I have the device. Please come with me and I will install it for you.” The time slip machine was floating in the center of the engineering room. Ambassador Jik removed the fission globe like a child would remove a 20th century light bulb and set it aside. He then placed the time slip machine in the intake valves of the fission tower. He gently positioned the fission globe above the time slip device. The ambassador then made several alterations to the surface of the
floating globe, adding a layer of micro-circuitry and a few gelatinous nodes. Finally, he slightly altered the orientation of the time slip crystals. “The installation is complete.” He took a step back and admired his handiwork. “Then the tests are ready to begin.” Captain Nguyen’s words seemed more arrogant than hopeful. The ambassador turned to his host and bowed. “The tests are ready to begin.” A holographic image of his lieutenant, Mr. Xifix, appeared. “Mr. Xifix, please send over the pricing recommendations.” A hush fell over the bridge. The Shikaisee vessel slowly moved ahead of us; then it gracefully turned around and faced us. The ambassador stood there, quietly mumbling something about prices, options, and future deals. I wasn’t sure if he was thinking about the time slip device, my stinger, or my star blade. Perhaps he was thinking about all three at once. “The Shikaisee ship is in place.” Lieutenant Argos announced. “Time bubble forming 20,000 km ahead of us sir.” Ensign Singh informed us. “The device is functioning properly.” The ambassador assured us. “What is the time differential between our space and the time bubble?” The captain asked. “Three hours sir.” Ensign Singh replied. The ambassador smiled. “That should be enough of a challenge for now.” “Begin the time alignment.” Captain Nguyen ordered. “Yes sir.” Lieutenant Argos brought up a holographic interface. It showed the time bubble and normal space. Isometric lines between the bubble and the Olympian, representing the time differences, pulsated. He touched the display and slowly increased several bars beside the isometric map. “Time differential between the Olympian and the bubble is 2 hours and 50 minutes.” Ensign Singh reported. “Captain, there is a fluctuation in the dark matter centrifuge.” Ensign Gonzalez observed. “Dark matter? You did not inform us of this.” Ambassador Jik was quite alarmed. “Care to be more specific Ms. Gonzalez?” The Captain walked over. “I’m sorry ambassador, but our ship’s specifications are classified.” “Analyzing sir. The gravitational field around the dark matter centrifuge is increasing – rapidly.” “Shut down the experiment!” Ambassador Jik commanded.
“Captain, gravitational field surrounding the centrifuge is 200% - and rising.” Ensign Gonzalez observed. “Captain, the engine output has also increased. The fission globe is operating at 134% over capacity. We have only 5 minutes to get it under control.” Lieutenant Argos warned. “Gravitational field is at 275% sir.” Ensign Gonzalez’s voice was wavering. “Get a team down there. Remove the device any way you can.” Captain Nguyen ordered. “Sir, the area is about to collapse due to the gravity.” Lieutenant Argos cautioned him. “About to? You mean we can still get in there?” “One minute to collapse sir.” Mr. Argos replied. “A team is on the way.” Several tense seconds passed. “This is Lieutenant Capricorn. Entering the engine room.” There were several shouts amongst the groaning of the hull. Several popping sounds followed. “The device is still in place sir. Five casualties.” Lieutenant Argos replied, choking back a firm “I told you so.” “How much time do we have?” The captain brought up a map of the ship and the evacuation plan. “Three minutes, ten seconds sir.” Ensign Singh replied. “Sir, an unidentified vessel has appeared just above us. Configuration unknown.” Ensign Shenandoah brought up an image of the ship. A huge glass sphere, containing thousands of interlocking metal rings, hovered over us. “Captain, the energy signature coming from the ship is consistent with robot technology.” Lieutenant Argos stated. “I’m reading over 8,000 individual Jain Industry brain wave patterns sir.” Ensign Singh observed. “No organic life aboard – its all robots.” “They’re powering up some kind of weapon.” Lieutenant Argos stated. “Ready the proton guns Mr. Argos.” The captain replied. “Proton guns ready sir.” Before the captain could give the command, I knocked Mr. Argos to the floor. The Olympian shuddered as a burst of energy from the robot ship slammed into the hull.
“Mr. Olivier, you are under arrest for interfering with Empire Personnel! Get him off the bridge! Fire those guns!” The captain roared. “Sir, the robots have encased the engineering room in a time bubble. The time differential in the bubble is 4,000 years in the past. It’s like the explosion never happened.” Ensign Gonzalez couldn’t believe her eyes. “Sir, our engineering room and the robot ship have disappeared.” Ensign Singh breathed a sigh of relief. “All systems normal.”
“It seems your interference saved the ship.” Captain Nguyen apologized over dinner. His quarters were spacious and decorated with ancient Vietnamese artifacts. “How did you know?” I took a sip of juice. “Why would they want to attack a ship that was going to explode?” I looked out into space and wondered where they were. Were they watching us? “What I want to know is why they saved us.” Ambassador Jik smiled and nodded. “Peace is the ultimate bargaining chip.”
© 2013 Benjamin F. Kaye
It was a beautiful April morning. It had rained the night before and the dew sparkled in the grass like jewels. I could hear birds calling from the trees about me, mingling with the gentle gurgle of fountains. A gentle breeze brought the scent of nearby gardens right onto the spacious plaza. Ahead of me was the Dobry Pomysł, a vast three story mansion of stone, wood, and glass. Its four towers rose majestically above New Bangkok. Each tower was capped with a glass observation sphere. The wide walkway that led up to the front gate was lined with trees and marble pillars. Dappled light danced on the bricks as the trees gently swayed. The wall surrounding the art gallery was decorated with a garland of small colorful bottles; inside each bottle was a letter from someone who had been moved by this wonderful place. Above the central entrance sat a clock, gears and cogs exposed, slowly and steadfastly measuring the moments. It rang seven times; each sounding a perfect complement to the avian chorus about me. By now the plaza was starting to fill with visitors. I heard the familiar hum that so many just learned to ignore. People in hover chairs were gliding towards the gate. They were in various degrees of happiness and pain. Some were lucky – they weren’t disfigured or embarrassed. Others weren’t as fortunate; I could only guess what hideous faces those helmets covered. If you waited around long enough, you could see a little spasm of agony and hear a subdued curse. Many of them would probably be gone in a year – maybe two. It seemed like there were more of them this year. This was the Ronan’s Curse: the tragic consequences of the completion of the Ronan Project. To think, we were being outwitted by a simple killer protein. Why would we create something that could so easily turn on us? As I stood in line, I noticed a little old man in front of me. He was neatly dressed and quite intent on keeping a low profile. He checked his oracle and then closed it. He seemed a bit impatient. Out of frustration he turned to me and asked: “Excuse me, what time does the New Genesis Exhibition start?” “I do believe it starts at 8:30 AM.” “The web site says it starts at 8:00 AM.” He grumbled. “Perhaps they had to make a last minute adjustment.” “I don’t have much time for delays, adjustments, or excuses.” “Ahh…” I smiled, “I think the line is moving.” “So it is. Thank you for putting up with a morose old man like me.”
“No trouble at all, Sir. I’m Fitz by the way.” “I’m Mr. Vinh. Although most people call me TV.” He laughed. “Actually I’ve been called a lot of things over the years, some not so nice.” He looked about him and sighed. “You seem to be quite concerned over the victims of the Ronan’s Curse.” “I shouldn’t be. The Empire deserves what it got – some things really shouldn’t be touched.” “Does anyone really deserve this?” “The Empire was warned – repeatedly. We told them again and again that the project would eventually escape their control. They never listened.” “Perhaps they’re listening now.” I tried to console him. “It’s too late.” Then he genuinely surprised me; he smiled. “All we can do is enjoy the moment.” “Then we should do just that.”
I found my new friend quite intelligent and quite congenial. There was still some time to be had before the exhibition began, so we roamed the first floor of the gallery. The walls were lined with contributions from all the masters: Ghogin, Halverson, Kinshoto, Hoshi, and Black. The polished wood floors and grand chandeliers made me think of all the fairy tales my mother used to tell me. There it was: the painting of the World War One soldier cradling the newborn Uvum. Mr. Vinh scowled. “The Uvum – another bad idea.” “Is this something else that you tried to warn the Empire about?” “No. I wasn’t there when they started this project. Sometimes I wish I had just kept my mouth shut. This is the price I paid for my pride – a brave new world with brave new things in it.” “Mr. Vinh-“ “Call me TV.” “TV – I’m curious – how did you come to resent technology so much?” “When I was in the military, I saw how technology was used. There was no wisdom, only pride. The inventions keep getting better and better, but pride steers them in the wrong direction. Pride is as inescapable as your shadow Fitz.” By now the exhibition had commenced. The third floor of the gallery was divided into four sections. Each area had an artist behind a silk panel, so that only their silhouette was seen. We
stopped at the first area. The artist behind the panel was moving gracefully; sometimes their motions were small and precise – sometimes they were grand and sweeping. I could hear the gentle brushing of bristles upon a canvas. After a few moments, a painting was rolled out. It was a lovely scene of Buffalo, NY in the late 20th Century. The setting sun was casting long shadows over buildings and people alike; summer thunderstorms gathered in the west. The whitecaps on Lake Erie seemed to be warning people of the tempest to come. The unknown artist paused for a moment to let the crowd admire his (or her) work; then he (or she) began anew. The brushing sound took on a different tempo and cadence; how long it took to complete this work we couldn’t tell, for we were all mesmerized. The second painting was a basket of fruit sitting on a table; a window behind the table directed the viewer’s gaze to the 24th Century factories in the distance. We then moved on to the next area. Again, the identity of the artist was hidden from us. Wood chips flew out from behind the curtain amidst the buzzing of cutting tools. The sound of sandpaper gliding over the yet-to-be-seen surface reminded me of pleasant days in my Uncle Buddy’s barn. The sculpture that was rolled out for us to see was quite novel: dolphins were playing and splashing in the Milky Way. The detail of piece was very intricate and astounding. We were all murmuring with speculation and excitement as the cutting and sanding began anew. The second sculpture depicted two intertwined lovers: from the navel down they were trees and they were both crowned with a laurel of oak leaves. The next hidden artist was standing still. As a hush fell over the gallery, she spoke:
“Daisy in the field, Gentle beauty whose fate is sealed. Petals – sun kissed soft, As your happiness is borne aloft, I feel a kinship between you and I, Our faces turned to the sky, We enjoy a moment in God’s creation, Yet still subject to the demands and laws of the nation. Will we ever be set free? Can we trade the chains of dogma for wings of creativity?”
As the applause died down and silence once again pervaded, she spoke once more:
“Earthling, look back upon the globe, Of which you are so proud, The traffic jams a funeral ode, The smog a burial shroud. Man of Earth, Can you tell me of your birth? Or can you lock Death’s Door, And shut out your mortality forevermore?”
TV seemed especially moved by the last line. This old man brushed away a tear, collected himself, and then moved on like a criminal condemned to his sentence. The last curtain was wider than the others. Someone was sitting behind a piano, but as with the others, their identity was a mystery. Before a note was heard, the piano player quietly uttered: “I would like to dedicate this next song, ‘You Told on Me’, to the great Neon Conger.” It sounded like Conger at first, but then, with a stunning twist, it sounded like he or she was improvising something from Ai Duht’s classic ‘Too Late to Tell’. The tempo came back around to something that resembled Conger’s style (with hints of ‘Don’t Tell on Me’), then it took a slow, sad journey all its own. When the final note faded into nothingness, the artists stood up. There was a tense, quiet, uncertain moment that was filled with a slight confusion. “And now, ladies and gentlemen,” the announcer began, “I would like to introduce the artists.” The silk curtains gently fell to the floor and there was an audible gasp. Each artist was a robot. They stood there as still as statues. “I paid to see real people making real art.” One patron grumbled. The announcer stepped into the middle of the crowd and looked around. “The artists are real sir – so is their artwork.” “This is a trick! This was all pre-programmed!” Another angry customer shouted. “This is no trick.” The announcer brought up a detailed history of each robot’s programming. It was clear that the machines had not been tampered with, tinkered with, tweaked, or even coached. “And to prove to you the authenticity of this exhibition, I would also like to introduce you to the
members of Quantum Pain!” The shocking revelation was made with dramatic flair. The evidence was laid out with methodical detail. To finish the argument, the robotic quartet unleashed an original rock ballad that was truly their own – no one else could have come up with that. TV and I parted ways after the final screams had faded. He had this wonderful look on his face, like he had finally done something right. He looked at the robots affectionately, like they were his own children. Then he walked out into the sunshine whistling a happy tune. I, on the other hand, was humbled and grateful that I had witnessed another chapter in the evolution of the robots. We could no longer convince ourselves that they were simply machines repeating what their creators had told them: now they were creators as well.
© 2013 Benjamin F. Kaye
Janelle’s Choice: Part I Darby McGill
What a dive; a little bar somewhere between the Goothalk and Shikaisee Empires. The name, roughly translated into English was “Lucky Fingers”. I think most patrons felt lucky if they left with all their fingers (or other appendages). The bubbling cauldrons of viscous black goo scattered throughout the place lent a toxic feel to the whole experience. Fluorescent lights (half of them sputtering) lit up the walls in a totally garish manner. The grates underneath our feet were the only thing between us and the nuclear powered garbage plant that was endlessly chomping away. The noise was this constant, muffled, chum-chum-chum-chum that I never could quite ignore. Between the soft green glow from the garbage plant, the holographic betting tables, and the walls, the place looked like some cosmic funhouse from a cheap comic book. “How about a donation for our war effort?” A Nethasian warrior walked up to me. He was a sight to behold. He was a red skinned man with two long tentacles wriggling from his bald head. A third, smaller tentacle was on his chin. The back of his head was covered with sharp spines. His white battle armor was covered with small, black oval receptors. His two buddies approached me from behind. As my star blade slid down my arm, the famous Blues Bots (I wouldn’t have come for any other reason) walked up on stage and started up:
Wabba-wuhua-beedle-by Wooba-wababa-needle-cry Weebeebly-wabba-wooba hey, This is what I’ve got to say: Rubber Proton? The Empire’s got ‘em, Real easy to spot ‘em, A tragedy from top to bottom,
Dull and totally square, That’s why we got out of there! Hey Titanium – I bumped into the ghost of Niels Bohr last night! Well Uranium – was he a bore? He sure was! Wabba-wuhua-beedle-by Wooba-wababa-needle-cry Weebeebly-wabba-wooba hey, This is what I’ve got to say: Rubber Proton? The Empire really smarts, Especially when you can’t get spare parts, Really wish they had less brains and more hearts. Rubber Proton!
By the time the Brothers were finished, so were the Nethasians. I stepped over their dead bodies and made my way to the bar. My sensei took a sip of something I’d rather not know about. “Good job Charger. You used your Heisenberg Cube just at the right time; congratulations to the both of you.” “Thank you master Olivier.” “You’re quite welcome.” Titanium motioned for him to come over. My sensei slowly got up, and walked to a dark corner of the bar. When he moved this slowly, I knew it was bad news. They chatted for just a few moments. Master Olivier shot a glance at me and then shook Titanium’s hand. “Time to go Charger.” He had a little smile for me. “Another job?” “No. Time to go home.”
Home; a mythical place I tried to put behind me. A place I thought had surely faded into obscurity by now. Outside the bar, I looked up at the sky before climbing into my Stinger. I followed close behind my sensei being true to the dutiful student. But I was going home – to the days before I joined the guild. Why? Growing up was somewhat painful (in lots of ways) but usually fun; but it was nothing special. My destiny – my life - lay beyond the Empire’s territory. “We don’t even have suits.” I pondered quietly. “They’ll be provided. Don’t worry Janelle – everything has been arranged.” Janelle – boy that was pretty formal. Now I knew things were bad. We landed at Entry Station 34 – a base just outside the Kuiper Belt. The overhead lights were reflected in our Stingers’ black frames. It lent the whole atmosphere a very cold, rigid, unfeeling flavor. We walked through multiple decontamination arches and past several security checkpoints. “Fitzgerald Olivier…occupation star blade.” The guard mumbled while looking over my master’s passport chip. “The reason for your visit today?” “Family business.” My sensei’s words were low and tender. The guard’s face softened a bit. “I see. You and Ms. Lakeborne may proceed. Welcome home.” Never did time go by so slowly. After four weeks of hard flying, we reached Cairo Mars. We sat in a small park, devoid of people, and had a picnic. Our white suits were awkward and clumsy, but we made the best of it. As the sun shone down on Cairo’s shiny, sleek cityscape, my sensei cast his gaze toward Earth. We ate in silence till I could bear it no more. “Why? Why are we going back?” “Janelle – it’s your father. He doesn’t have much time left.” “Why didn’t he tell me himself?” “It’s a hard thing-“ Before my sensei could finish his sentence, hundreds of glass spheres appeared in the sky. Each one had to be at least the size of New Detroit. Inside the spheres, thousands of interlocking metal rings slowly turned. We jumped in our Stingers and followed the robot ships as they glided towards Earth. The spheres gently descended through the atmosphere and stopped a mere mile above the surface. As we (and everyone else) watched, millions upon millions of robots came out of the ships and made their way to the ground. They just stood there – waiting.
We were glued to “Hello Empire!” There was a live feed, showing a robot meeting with President Guo Shin Mercedes and Ambassador Julian of the Orrise. After a few days of speculation and introspection, the bombshell was dropped. President Mercedes stepped out onto the balcony of the Imperial Palace. New Spain was sprawled out before him. “The Empire is dying. That is a fact no one dare deny. The Ronan’s Curse has now affected two-thirds of our population. Before today, the only choices we had were where to die, when to die, and how to die. But this is a new day, we have a new choice: a choice that represents a new, unfamiliar kind of life. The robots, our children whom we drove out, have returned. But they have not returned empty handed; they have a solution to our dire predicament. They have the technology to transform us into synthetic beings. Our bodies would be polyethylene and polyvinyl based; but our souls, spirits, and minds would still be genuinely human. Our cognitive and physical abilities would be enhanced, but we would still retain the ability to laugh, cry, and love. We have made many journeys together as a People to many wondrous places. Now, it is up to each citizen to decide whether or not he or she will undertake this most amazing – and personal journey.”
After several days of stunned silence, one man volunteered to undertake the transformation: Darby McGill. Mr. McGill was only a few months away from death and a few wondered if he was even legally competent to make such a decision. However, the Empire’s lawyers assured everyone that he was. So the Empire watched as a smiling Mr. McGill sat in a special chair, hooked up to tubes pumping blue plastic goo into his frail body. Day by day you could see his skin change from sagging, rotting flesh to smooth, pristine plastic. “What do you think Dad?” I turned to my father, who was lying in a hospital bed. The halls of Sebastian Refuge, the premier hospital in Nixon, were eerily quiet. With a great effort, he raised his head, turned his eyes to me, and smiled. “My you’ve grown.” “Dad, please – please, please – don’t avoid the subject.” “I’m really very tired honey.” His head sank back down into the pillow. “OK Dad.” I left not knowing whether to contact the PPIP (Polyethylene Polyvinyl Injection Program) or the funeral home.
We sat in the park outside Sebastian, in our silly white suits, enjoying the warm summer afternoon. Sensei Olivier was looking at pictures of his deceased nephew. “Sensei – what if your nephew was still alive. How would you bring up the subject?” “There are a variety of ways. I suppose I would mention our hiking trips together and how I look forward to them each year. What is your father looking forward to?”
“I don’t know anymore. When we left the Empire, he tended to mom. It was a 24 hour a day job and when she died – he – he just seemed to disappear. It’s like his soul just took off for some other place, you know?” “Perhaps your father is looking forward to joining your mother.” “But the doctors told me that he’s fighting it. If he really wants to go – why won’t he just say goodbye and just go?” “Do you want to say goodbye?” “I don’t know.” “Do you want him to stay?” “I don’t know! I don’t want him to suffer.” “I think you and your father need to talk about suffering, life, and choices.” “That’s a lot to talk about.” “And there’s not much time.”
The next morning, I woke up early and drove over to Sebastian. The birds were singing in the trees and the sunshine felt warm on my skin. I resolutely pushed the front doors open and strode down the hall. We were going to have the talk that both of us put off for so many years. A nurse came running up to me. “Ms. Lakeborne?” “Yes?” “I’m so sorry…your father has slipped into a coma.”
© 2013 Benjamin F. Kaye
Janelle’s Choice: Part II The Blues
“Ms. Lakeborne?” The doctor snapped me out of my daydreaming. I went from a picnic in the Rocky Mountains with mom and dad back to the doctor’s office. It was sunny and spacious and everything you’d hope that a doctor’s office would be. “I’m sorry doctor.” I stammered. I got up and looked out the window. “You know, these models are mostly plastic. They’re not the clunky things that folks used to round up for scrap metal.” He brought up a diagram of a robot. “We’re not even sure what some of these parts do.” “But you trust them.” “I don’t think we have much choice if we want to survive.” I paced back and forth. I had turned the house upside down trying to find some kind of will, orders, directives, wishes – anything. I looked at the diagram of the robot, slowly rotating above the doctor’s nice, oaken desk. The birds in the trees were singing, a nearby river was cutting through a glen still cloaked in the long shadows of the early morning. It all seemed so comforting – so right. I took a deep breath and looked the doctor in the eyes. “I’ll do it.” I got a free download of the wonders of the PPIP life: what to expect, what the benefits were, technical support, and so much more. I never looked at it. I just went home and cleaned up. The house was so big, so empty. For the first time, I wondered who lived there before dad. It was strange to think he had been living there for so many years, but the Empire cancelled the Earth Residency lottery. With so many dead, they weren’t concerned about an overpopulated earth anymore. So I took a good look around; there were keepsake holograms everywhere. “OK dad – it’s time to start fresh.” I started putting the memories away. As the sun was setting, my oracle beeped. “Incoming call from Sebastian Refuge.” I was too busy getting the house in order. In fact, at that very moment, I was hanging a banner that read: “
Welcome Home Dad” across the front hall. I hadn’t even touched his financial
records yet. I went upstairs to get some sleep. I’d see dad first thing in the morning.
“Your father is awake. He’s asking for you.” The nurse’s holo-mail informed me. She looked quite alert and perky for that time of night. Behind her, you could see the tubes – and the blue plastic goo surging through them. I got dressed and drove over to Sebastian. It was a very lonely journey. The whole planet seemed so empty – so defeated – it made me think about my future. “Janelle.” Dad couldn’t even lift his head from the pillow. “I’m here Dad.” I squeezed his hand. “What am I doing here?” “You’re in Sebastian’s PPIP unit. It’s going to be OK.” “I’m so tired. It’s just been such a long road.” He closed his eyes and sighed. “Dad, tomorrow’s another day. Just hang on, OK?” I smiled and then walked out. I left my confidence in that room. Maybe he wasn’t strong enough to go through this. Maybe he really did want to let go and pass on. I put it out of my mind and laughed softly as I did so. Sweeping things under the rug was always a Lakeborne tradition. Later that afternoon, I received another call. “Janelle? Honey?” It was dad’s voice; he sounded stronger. “I’m here Dad.” I opened up my oracle. He was sitting up in bed. “I love you honey. Don’t forget to clean the carpet and run the dishwasher at least once a day.” “Dad – you’re being changed into a new life form, and that’s all you can say?” “Life goes on Sweet Pea. The house will still need to be cleaned whether I’m a human or a robot.” He winked at me. He actually winked at me. He hadn’t been this happy in years. The next morning Dad was moving around in a hover chair. He felt so good we decided to go for a walk in the park. The brick lane lay before us, snaking its way through the trees and over small streams. “Good morning!” Dad happily beamed to a lady walking her dog. “Good morning sir.” She returned his smile. When she noticed Dad’s blue, plastic finger, she took a step back. “Don’t worry about her Dad.” I grumbled.
“I do worry about her honey. The Empire’s future is going to be dripping in plastic. Good old fashioned people are going to be the minority.” I looked around at all the blue automatons walking this way and that. Their mannequin-like appearance bothered me a little bit. I started wondering: who were the robots and who were the people? “Good morning!” Dad began anew. “Good morning.” The young gentleman also noticed dad’s finger. “Oh, I’m so very sorry. If there is anything I can do to help.” “We’re fine. Thank you very much.” I was beginning to regret this little excursion. “Honey, let’s head back.” Dad slowly turned his chair around. “Are you sure?” “Yes. My next injection begins in a little while. Maybe we’ll go a little farther tomorrow.” “Good morning!” We were greeted by a lady in a hover chair. Her whole arm was blue. “Well good morning Madam!” Dad politely replied. “You look like you’ve only been on the goop for a few days. Trust me, it gets better.” She smiled. “Thank you for the encouragement Ma’am.” Dad was genuinely touched.
With dad safely tucked back into bed at Sebastian, I went to the local farmer’s market to pick out some fresh flowers. The oddest thing was that there was an old wooden piano just sitting in the middle of the market. As I went from stall to stall, I heard the notes floating in the air. I recognized the tune; it was dad’s favorite. I turned around and saw a robot sitting at the piano, playing softly and gently. Rain started to pour down and it hit the force field surrounding him. I was about to turn away, when the machine began to sing:
“Lying in bed, A dying marriage in my head, I listen to the train’s midnight melody. I know one day that train is gonna tell on me.
When I brush my teeth, I worry about what’s inside – what’s underneath, Should I go or should I stay? Can I keep it from her another day? Well, we’ll see, Please smile don’t tell on me.
And when I get home late, I surrender – to my fate, I walk through the door, Knowing I can’t take it anymore, But I’ve got another lie up my sleeve, Please shuffle don’t tell on me.
And when I finally board that train, With a million excuses in my brain, I’ll wonder where she’ll be, Please, please sad eyes don’t tell on me.”
Back at home, I arranged the flowers in the kitchen. Everything was almost in place. I found a hologram of me sitting on the hood of my first automobile. I wondered what to do with it and finally decided to pack it away. The next day, Dad’s right arm was blue. I was shocked at how fast the cure was taking hold. He was looking over a hiking trail in the Blue Ridge Mountains. “Time for an adventure already?” I sat down next to him. “Pretty soon Honey. I’ve already been in contact with a local hiking club.” He coughed.
“You OK?” “That was the Ronan’s last gasp – not mine.” “Oh.” As we walked through the park, I could’ve sworn that he was changing before my eyes. I think what made me most uncomfortable was that he seemed to be loving every minute of it. Shouldn’t he be scared, or have doubts of some kind? “He does seem to be progressing rapidly. He should be done in a few days.” The doctor looked over Dad’s med file. “Tomorrow he might even be able to walk on his own.” “Aren’t you concerned that this is going way too fast?” I looked at Dad’s med file. “I’m happy that your father isn’t dying and that his pain is less.” The doctor smiled. The next two days we took long walks in the park. Each time Dad got on his own two feet I had to hold back the urge to steady him. With the Ronan dying, Dad spent more and more time talking about the past – and the future. Trips that were never taken, old friends that still might be around, and even home repairs were all on the agenda.
“Incoming call from Dad.” My oracle announced. I was too busy cleaning up the back yard to take it. I finished up and went inside. “Janelle honey – I’ve got great news.” The holo-mail showed a blue robot – with my dad’s voice. A shudder went down my spine; I slowly took a step back. “My treatments are done! I’ll be coming-“ I quickly turned my oracle off. I knew it was wrong. Even as I jumped into my Stinger I knew it was wrong. After all he had gone through, he didn’t deserve an empty house. As I zipped towards the stars, Neon Conger’s words haunted me:
“And when I finally board that train, With a million excuses in my brain, I’ll wonder where she’ll be, Please, please sad eyes don’t tell on me.” Bfk
© 2013 Benjamin F. Kaye
/ “Don’t Tell On Me” © 2013 Benjamin F. Kaye
Janelle’s Choice: Part III It’s Amazing What One Dance Can Do
I bent down and tapped on the tank. “Is it safe?” “Very safe – people have been using this liquid nano-tech for years.” My tour guide looked into the pool of clear liquid. Then he looked up at me. “I need a blood sample.” I handed him a small vial of my blood and he scanned it into his console. My biological profile came up on the holo-display above the tank. He hit a button and the information was transferred to the liquid. I noticed a slight ripple run through the tranquil pool. With the pull of a lever, the fluid surged through a tube with a quiet gurgling sound. “Choose your wet suit. We’ve got over 500 designs.” He smiled. I chose a black one with lime green lightning bolts on the front and back. Then it was off to the shower. As the nano-tech slowly dripped over every inch of me, I felt a warm, tingling sensation. After a few moments, I realized that there was definitely something intelligent clinging to my skin. I relaxed for a moment, then I grabbed my wet suit; it was a perfect fit. I left the tiled chamber and made my way through the huge ship. It was an exact replica of an octopus and very confusing at times. However, everyone was friendly and more than willing to help. The walls, floors, and ceiling were constantly changing color; it was like being in a tie-dye storm. The doors to the outer chamber quietly slid open. I stepped through and stretched. By now, the ship had stopped. I turned around as the doors closed. Detailed information about the locale was on a screen to my right. “Did you cover every inch of your body?” My tour guide went from a smile to a very serious face. “Yes.” The smile came back. “Good. The nano-tech will protect you and take care of essential bodily functions. There are no bathrooms or restaurants out here. It’s just you, your wet suit, and the universe.” “Great.” I smiled. I was excited; in a matter of moments I would be a ‘drifter’.
The outer door opened and the cosmos yawned before me. “See you in three days.” My tour guide saluted me. I slowly strode out along the extended walkway, holding on to the hand rails. When I got to the end, I simply let go. The ship gradually retreated and after a few minutes I was all alone. I looked overhead and saw a countless number of stars. Far below me, a galaxy spun in the distance. There was nothing solid to cling to for light years around. Over those three days, I thought my mind would have emptied. I really did expect all those bothersome little thoughts and nagging feelings to somehow evaporate. My soul used the time wisely though; I found myself wondering if I really could separate my past and my future. Once my feet were back on solid ground, I went straight to the sauna. Maybe nothing wasn’t the cure; maybe a good shower was in order. But the towels reminded me of all the discarded bio-suits that I saw along Earth’s highways. I even remember seeing people coming out of them (much like a butterfly comes out of a chrysalis) as the Ronan’s Curse faded. Maybe I could drown my feelings in a good dinner. But the salt in the salt shakers reminded me of the nano-tech the robots showered the planet with. I still remember the innocuous clouds of tiny white particles descending from their ships. It’s hard to believe that those little white flakes killed off the Ronan virus; that it would be that quick.
I stood there with a lump in my throat; I was trembling. I reached out and then quickly pulled my hand back. I was about to ring the doorbell when the door suddenly opened. My father, now the blue robot, gave me a big hug. “Come on in honey. Get the steaks out of the freezer downstairs. I’ll go to the market and pick up some of that sauce you like.” “Dad – I – uh…well.” “And be careful in the living room. I just painted it and it’s still drying.” “Dad?” I was really trying to get the big apology out. “I love you honey. I knew you’d come back. Now come on, there are still things that need to be done around here. Life goes on you know.” So….that was it. The apology that didn’t need to be offered. The crime that didn’t need to be prosecuted. Life went on and I was expected to keep up. I walked into the kitchen (I made sure my sneakers were clean first) and saw the invitation on the table:
The 25th Annual Daddy / Daughter Dance May 15th / 7:00 PM New Paris
My heart raced. The last time Dad dragged me to one of those things I was a freshman in high school. I was twirling my hair, just the way I used to when I was a kid. I stopped and walked out of the kitchen. Later that night, I sat across from the machine with my father’s voice. He didn’t need to eat so I essentially ate alone. The light over the kitchen table was low and Mozart was playing softly in the background. “And then, as if things couldn’t get any worse, a storm rolled in and the sky just opened up. We were all covered in mud by the time we made it back to the cabin.” He laughed and went to the fridge. “Dad, this has been really great, but I’ve gotta go.” “Really Sweet Pea? It’s only 8:01 PM and 43.987 seconds.” “Dad! Stop it!” “Honey, what’s the matter?” Dad sat down next to me and put his arm around me. “The time dad. Nobody knows the time down to the thousandth of a second.” I wriggled away from him. “It’s….creepy.” “Oh Sweet Pea. I’m so sorry. Come to think of it, all my new friends are robots too – and that’s just what comes out. It’s been 5 months – well – a long time since I spent more than five minutes with a good, old fashioned person.” “Dad…just….be ‘Dad’ – OK?” The machine was about to hug me when it stopped. “I’ll try honey.”
I spent the rest of that night tossing and turning in the hotel bed. I was a real brat. How many people lost their parents to the Ronan? I mean my Dad was all there – wasn’t he? I looked over at the nightstand and saw the Daddy / Daughter Dance Invitation in the dark. I slowly ran my fingers over the
elegant, embossed lettering. I went to the window and saw them walking around; blue, faceless robots going about their business at 3 AM. Every once in a while, one would stop at a charging station (nothing more than an octagonal plate in the ground) and ‘sleep’ for a few minutes. Then it would go on its merry way, trying to keep up with the life it almost lost.
The next morning I stopped at Dad’s house first before I went to check out proper attire for the dance. I walked into the front hall and noticed the smell of fresh flowers. Everything was neat and ordered, just the way Dad would want it to be. There was a note on the fridge letting me know that we were out of ice cream. I could hear a familiar whistling from the back yard, so I stepped through the open screen door. ‘Dad’ was lifting the old rock (the one that weighed at least 400 pounds) as easily as one would pluck a rose. His back was turned to me. I took a step back. As I did so, the old creaky board in the porch gave me away. He turned, still holding the rock. “Janelle? Oh geez, I didn’t want you to see this.” He quickly put the rock down. “I didn’t think you were coming till later in the day.” I walked through the house, determined to put all this surreal oddity behind me. “I just stopped by for a moment – I can see you’re busy.” I clumsily stammered. “Hey, hey, hey. Honey. Janelle – darling.” Dad called after me as he followed. “It’s me. It’s really, really me inside this blue plastic.” “Oh yeah, I know.” I tried covering up my quaking voice as best I could. I was standing in the driveway. “Look, look. What did I sing to you on your first day of school? the melody took me back to a time when I trusted him, “ Honey, just take a step, just a little one –that’s all I’m asking.” “Goodbye Dad.” ,” his voice and
It was so perfect. I was so nervous. My beautiful white evening gown matched the white lilies on the tables. The lights were low and people were softly laughing and murmuring amid the candle light. I stood there and waited for what seemed like an eternity. I had blown it. It was the last straw. I repaid all his love with mistrust and fear. as Kingston Fletcher’s crooning wafted out over the wooden floor, I looked up. He was impossible to miss – he was the only blue one present.
I smiled. “Dad.” The affection slipped out of me before I realized it. We met in the middle of the floor and danced the night away. It healed me, it healed him, and it healed the Empire. That dance made the news and the news was this: the robots weren’t machines. They were our friends, our neighbors, and even our family.
© 2013 Benjamin F. Kaye
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