The Empathy Engine
The famous scientist switched on the Empathy Engine and the world started to care. People turned to their fellow humans and wanted to be nice.
The famous scientist harnessed the power of the sun and increased the Empathy Engine’s power by several orders of magnitude.
Terrorists stopped. Armies disbanded. Everything was fine in the Middle East. Even internet trolls went outside.
The famous scientist declared victory, declared the end of inhumanity, declared world peace.
But people cared too much. People stopped working, stopped speaking, stopped eating. Every potential action was preceded by a stressful calculation of impact.
Eventually, everything stopped.
— Jon Cronshaw, Copyright 2016
Chicken Little was right.
The sky has fallen and through the cracks came the Grimms.
If you’d seen what they did to the princess, you’d get the name.
Couldn’t win the war, so we did the only thing we could.
Into the jungles, the deserts — the Three Bears hunkered down in the tundra and Aladdin’s cell took to the caves.
We work from the forest. Us, Big Bad, Red and Mother Hubbard — Mother’s history with The Company gives us an edge.
I give Gretel a go and she posts the last breadcrumb while I set the mine.
— Kathleen McClure, Copyright 2014
My Job Experience on Mars
I used to hate SIMs, but now they’re just my job.
I’ve been on Mars two months now, completing my job experience. I work for Errikson, making and repairing simulacra, otherwise known as SIMs.
SIMs are part robot, part android, part Frankenstein. The huge male stretched out on the electroBench in front of me arrived by jetpack, marked, “Attention India Jackson.” The sender is anonymous.
I run my portaScan over the inert SIM. The scanner shows a possible damaged neuroconnector, and the SIM’s power supply is low. I pull out my datapad, and attach the diagnostic plug to the socket in the back of its neck.
The SIM admin boots up from the datapad, and the diagnostic sequence begins. The program picks up the damaged robotic nerve at once. It’s in the frontal lobe, and to replace it, I must operate.
While the diagnostic continues its sequence, I glance at Errikson, who is on the other side of the workshop, occupied with the disassembly of a young female SIM. “Errikson. I need to open up this one’s head. You okay with that?”
Errikson grunts. “Whatever.”
Errikson is of Nordic descent, but he’s actually a person of small stature, or as the others say behind his back, a dwarf-boy. Errikson is famous for his high-quality simulacra. And when this one arrived he took one look and passed it straight to me.
The SIM is ugly. Unkempt, short brown hair, simulated stubble, stained teeth, and a low brow. No one would mistake it for one of Errikson’s. Oh, and did I mention, it’s naked?
The diagnostic completes and shows me exactly where I need to get to work. I unplug the cable from the SIM’s neck and put the datapad to one side. I haven’t worked through the forehead before, only via the back of the neck, but I’ve watched Errikson do it many times. It looks simple enough.
I pull a microlaser saw from the toolbox behind me, then jump up on the bench and straddle the SIM with my knees either side of its barrel chest. I lean close to the SIM’s face and carefully slice into its forehead. I peel back the orgaSkin, which will regrow once I reattach it and paste skincomp over the top. Behind the skin is a part electronic, part organic interface.
I place the saw beside me and lean closer. I flip down my digiVisor and use the overlay to view the section the diagnostic indicated needed replacing.
The broken neuroconnect is obvious, and I get off the SIM to find my micro pliers and a spare neuronet assembly.
Tools in hand, I get back on the SIM. If somebody came in now, they would see a tall, slim young woman, with long unruly red hair swept back in a ponytail, in a work suit and straddling a giant naked man, minus his genitalia. They might wonder what is going on.
But it’s just an inert SIM. Not a man at all. A lump of organo-electronic matter, controlled by a sophisticated neural net.
With precision, I attach the new neuroconnector, run the diagnostic again and check in my visor to make sure everything is functioning as it should. It seems to be. I smooth the flap of skin back over the entry port and realize I have no skincomp paste to hand.
As I push myself up to climb off the SIM, its eyes flick open, its mouth breaks into a hideous grin, and both hands jerk up, grabbing my breasts.
I scream, and swat its brutish hands away.
“I love you, Indy,” it says, over and over. “I love you, Indy.”
It won’t stop, and keeps trying to grab me.
I reach out, swipe a pulseMallet off the bench, and rain blows down on the SIM’s head, until it no longer moves, and the head is no longer a head, but a bloodied pulp of organic and mechanical detritus.
I flop off the bench, panting, and look at Errikson. A grin flickers on his face. When he sees my state, he cannot help himself, and breaks out into hysterics. “Someone got you good, Jackson, din they?” He can’t stop laughing.
I look back at the destroyed SIM. What kind of job experience is this?
I hate SIMs.
— Robert Scanlon, Copyright 2016
It was perfect.
The perfect size. The perfect form, nestled in below the towering trees.
The hunter’s fur-lined boot crunched in the trackless snow. Silence stretched across the forest, towering pines standing rank up on rank, watching.
But as he approached his prey, it grew. Stretching taller, it was now above his head. Now taller than his reach. Now double his height.
And as it grew, it twisted and warped, its perfect form shown to be an illusion made by another behind it. The two together showing perfection. Each separately was misshapen, parts too thick, parts bald and broken. A too-thin crown.
The hunter sighed, his shoulders worn down with the hunt. Turning, he slung his saw up to rest on his shoulder and trudged back to the waiting truck.
Because just up the road he could just see the perfect Christmas tree. The perfect size. The perfect shape.
— JA Andrews, Copyright 2016
The Plug at the Bottom of the Universe
The engineer gave a whistle and stood.
“I see your problem,” he said. “Your filter is blocked.”
“Oh,” said God. “Bugger.”
“Not the end of the world,” said the engineer. He frowned. “Well, actually it will be if you don’t sort it out.”
“Will it be…expensive?” asked God cautiously.
“Nah. You’ve got a protection plan?”
God looked sheepish.
“Didn’t think I’d need one.” he said. “Offered them reincarnation. Closed system. Thought the overflow valve wouldn’t get much use.”
Back in the world, people still died. But they had nowhere to go. The place was thick with ghosts. It was getting uncomfortable.
“I can get you a new mesh,” said the engineer. “But it’ll cost you.”
“Nah,” he said. “I’ll just start again.”
He had been working on something new he wanted to try, anyway. He called it an ‘afterlife’. He thought it would be very popular.
— Jamie Brindle, Copyright 2016
I nearly stepped into an oozing puddle.
“Excuuuuse me!” the alien beauty queen said.
My face flushed. “Sorry.”
“Now, we brought you here because of humans’ reputation for unbearable ugliness,” my guide said, speaking cheerfully as if my presence here were a great honor instead of an involuntary abduction. “That will make you impartial in judging our Miss Galaxy competition. Come in!”
I followed him into the giant space dome, trying to feel flattered. After all, I had been chosen above all the humans on Earth. But it was pretty hard.
After all, back home, I had been Miss Galaxy.
— Emily Martha Sorensen, Copyright 2016
I don’t like August. It’s one of those months that’s too warm, too stuffy, too close to the end of summer (and the holidays), and always the month when my Muse packs up and cycles off into the sunset, cooling the lava of my inspiration, leaving it cracked and dormant. This year, however, was different—but not in a good way.
After the novelty of novel-less days had passed, I became almost ragingly restless, and languishing in my wordless despair was simply not an option I was prepared to tolerate again. So, I hired a private investigator to help me track down my missing Muse, but for a long time it seemed that I was just handing fliers to the wind and pasting posters on lampposts only dogs paid attention to. But, like all things this year, I was in for a surprise.
On the 16th of the month I got a strange phone call from a strange voice at a strange hour, whispering tales of my Muse being spotted in Las Vegas, in all the casinos, bars, and hotels from one end to the other. This anonymous person did not say much, but it was enough to tempt my intrigue and get the lava flowing again.
I took an early flight on the 17th and arrived late the following evening. Jetlag was another of my enemies, but I tried to forget him. With the first droning signs of a headache, I wandered the neon streets with the neon walls beneath the neon sky. I looked for signs of my Muse at every turn, quizzing the onlookers who watched as this crazed fool sought out an all too fleeting friend.
I found him soon afterwards in a fancy restaurant, but it wasn’t as I expected—as I passed through the entrance, I was greeted with a shocking scene: August, my Muse, had gone off with another writer! That cheating lowlife, I knew he was up to no good. Every year he’d come back with ink blots on his collar and crunched up paper in his coat pockets, not showing this other writer’s phone number, no—it was worse; it showed story ideas, character profiles, plot layouts, the lot!
I burst through those doors and back outside like the bullet I wanted to fire at him, my fists clenched as tightly as my teeth. Red rage volcanoed in my face and the people nearby backed away, as if I were a scarlet Frankenstein. It took me so long to regain my normal senses that I did not realise someone had followed me out.
I felt a hand upon my shoulder, followed by a gentle voice: “Hello there,” it said, soft like that phantom phone call. “I saw what happened back there, and I guess I’m in a spot of bother over it too. You see, I’m September, the appointed Muse of the other writer. Since I don’t believe she needs me any more, I think I’m free to pursue other relationships. Well, honey—what do you think?”
Volcanoes never get this option. They have to explode—this month or the next. Luckily enough a writer follows the same calendar as everyone and everything else, and after one month has gone, the next one has to follow. I don’t really like August. I much prefer September instead.
— Dean F. Wilson, Copyright 2007
More coming soon!