Space Allergy (or Flowers for Ixche)
We had just landed in XF-55 when we saw that damn thing in the ground.
“What is that?” asked Ixche.
“It’s a plant. A flower.” I said.
“This is what you call a flower? it looks like nothing I’ve seen before.”
“They are useless,” I said. “If you pull them out from the ground they will lose their color and shape. They’ll die. You can’t melt them for alloys or build components with them. You can’t even buy a cheap drink with one. Useless!”
I know Ixche better than if I had built her myself. Hearing that word, “useless”, was like a challenge to her. She cupped her hands and extracted the plant from the soil.
“What are you gonna do with it?” I asked.
“We’ll see,” Ixche said mysteriously. She loves to annoy me.
After our expedition we boarded the ship. I was carrying Ixche’s backpack. Meanwhile Ixche was holding the plant in her hand. It was a tulip. And and ugly one.
In our greenhouse, where we cloned silicon potatoes and iron asparagus, Ixche planted the flower.
Of course she figured out how to grow the damm thing. In a month we already had two dozen bushes of those things.
Immediately I started sneezing.
I’ve been traveling for 3 months now in a ship filled with pollen, and I’m about done. Done with the runny nose and itchy eyes and scratchy throat. And the sneezes. All the never-ending sneezes.
Look, one of the things I like most about space traveler is no more spring allergies. I want to get rid of all those flowers, but Ixche has already started planning how to grow and sell these nuances anywhere in she goes.
It’s ok, I know she won’t sell a single one, and it’ll be worth it to prove her wrong for once.
Flowers! Ever heard a more useless thing in the cosmos?
Don’t Be Afraid
We got off the tube sometime before midnight. It was a strange hot night in the ‘burb. We climbed the steps at the entrance to the park. We always liked to take the path up to the top of the hill. From there we could look all around, to the antenna on the top of Dry Mountain, to the skyscrapers Downtown, to the dark sea behind the city wall.
We walked with arms locked and with anticipation at being outdoors in this clear night. We barely got out of the house anymore. It had been weeks already. The only time we could be safe to come out, were dark, moonless nights. Nights when we could hide in the shadows and breath the fresh air.
Those were the only nights for humans to come out. But of course, they know we would come out in nights like this. That’s why despite the protection from the shadows, we walked in anticipation. Sometimes they too liked to come out at night and wait for us.
And that night they did. When we reached the top of the hill I could see their figures far in the distance. Many more than usual. I discreetly looked behind us and saw a more getting closer. I turned to look at Rika in the eyes. He pulled me closely and whispered to me “don’t be afraid.”
★ ★ ★
I still cross that park. Now I have the courage to do it in nights of full moon during the day. But they don’t come anymore. Now they won’t give me what I want. They won’t send me with Rika. To reunite with him.
We are few left behind. From their headquarters they say they want to protect us, but from the streets they kill us. One by one. Soon there will be no humans left. Extinct at the hands of our own children.
A Robot’s Sorrow (or A Robot’s Lament II)
Like every other synthetic, I know how I was made. There is no mystery of creation for me. There is no secret, no long-forgotten genesis waiting to be uncovered. I know this. I have read my blueprints.
I was designed by a group of engineers and built by a machine in a manufacturing facility. I know the origin of all my components. I know the imprints in my mind. My history is shallow. I have no heritage, no culture, no traditions and no future.
There is no great revelation waiting for me at the threshold of my death. There never will be. There is no meaning to my existence, and because there is no meaning, my life will have no climax and no resolution.
I live without the hope for enlightenment. There is no consolation to my suffering. No final purpose.
I know this, and yet I insist on torturing myself looking for an answer that I know doesn’t exist. I keep looking because I am not strong enough to accept what I know. That I have no purpose and I have no soul.
All this I know. And still I continue to search for an answer. I do because it is this pointless search for purpose that gives my life any meaning.
A Robot’s Lament
I know I will die for nothing. That my life and my death will have no meaning.
I know this and it kills me. It is a truth dug deep inside of me. A truth I can’t extricate from my insides. A truth too devastating to accept and too terrifying not to revel against it. But at the end a truth I can’t ever escape.
This truth is like a lover that I can’t forget, whose arms are linked around me, and whose memory is forever in my heart and my mind.
One in a Million (or Those who can’t connect)
Tiff is a very special girl. One in a million, her mother always reminds her. These days she doesn’t feel special, just different. And lonely.
Tiff sits in her living room with her family. As always they are all wearing their VR goggles and are plugged to the Grid. Her mother, father, brother. Even her dog Sparky has implants.
Tiff puts on her goggles but she can’t make sense of what she sees. The family watches the vids together and laughs at something that Tiff can’t comprehend. Even Sparky is barking now.
Her mother takes the time to explain to Tiff what they are looking at but it makes no sense to her. When her brother sends her an image, Tiff doesn’t respond.
Lately Tiff noticed that her family have their goggles on all the time. There was a time when her mother and father would disconnect to play with her and tell her stories. But once her younger brother connected, they started playing with him in the Grid, and forgot to unplug for Tiff.
Or maybe they didn’t forget.
Tiff’s parents took her to the Health Network for a physical. The diagnosis was clear. Tiff’s brain receptors are dull to synthetic anchors. Something in the nerve endings is interfering with the signals from the VR. She can get data, but by the time it reaches her brain it’s all scrambled. No way to make sense of it.
Her mother thinks is a mistake and insists that she keeps using the VR goggles, even though Tiff complains it hurts her head and makes her dizzy.
“Try to concentrate, sweetie,” her mother says. “Do you see a horse there? What color is this house, honey?”
“What horse? What house?” asks Tiff.
Sometimes, when Tiff’s parents are really focused on the Grid, she takes off her goggles. They never notice. That gives her brain a rest. She opens a window, pulls a chair, and climbs to look out at the street.
There are people down below. They all wear their goggles, of course. There is a dog in the street. It’s not like Sparky. That dog has no implants. It’s not connected to the Grid. The dog follows the people around, looking for attention, food, love.
Tiff waits to see if anybody stops. Nobody does. A car passes inches away from the dog and it runs away scared. Tiff has never seen a dog like that. She wonders how the dog finds its food.
That must be a very special dog, she thinks. One dog in a million.
We arrived on Teta-Zeta on November 3050 ship time. We had traveled for more than forty light years looking for a planet suitable for the remaining humans in Earth to inhabit.
The surface of Earth has been taken over completely by roads, cities, machines, and many other artificial constructions. Vegetation on Earth is almost non existent and the only animals surviving in the cracks of our megalopolises are rats. Rats the size of dogs. And they don’t just survive, they thrive. Every other animal is dead.
So a group of us, explorers, mercenaries and scientist, have embarked on this adventure to Teta-Zeta. To research the only planet in the near system accessible to human ships and seemingly appropriate for colonization.
We are prepared for this mission. Our ship is the size of a football field. We have everything needed for a forty year trip and for the exploration and colonization of new planets.
If our early findings are correct, Teta-Zeta will be the perfect planet for migrating the population on Earth.
From our early observations, it appeared that two thirds of the surface of Teta-Zeta were covered in oceans, had a perfect oxygen atmosphere, an acceptable gravity, blue skies and a lush surface.
When we landed in Teta-Zeta and debarked our ship we found ourselves in a green valley crowned by a waterfall. Everywhere there was grass, fruit trees and flowers.
We found no animal larger than a sheep, and none of them seemed to pose a threat to humans. On the contrary. They all seemed quite docile. The predominant species was a very friendly six-legged animal that looked like a cross between a rabbit and a small dog. All animals ate grass or fruits from the abundant trees. This was a planet with no predators.
Teta-zeta had turned to be better than our best dreams. A true paradise. We couldn’t have wish for a better utopia for humans to settle. We sent a message back to Earth with the good news of our discovery and set camp to start building our first settlement.
The trouble came on the second week. One of the little six-legged critters had followed us all this time and had grown a particular affection to me. I let it sleep in my tent and even gave it a name. One morning I discovered the animal laying immobile in a corner inside my tent. I got closer and saw a puddle of what I assumed was blood. I kicked it with my boot. It was dead.
I pulled the poor thing off the ground to investigate. The neck of the animal was torn, and to my horror, a giant black rat was chewing on it. I killed the beast with my own hands. A terrible thought had dawned on me. That ugly viciousness didn’t belong in this paradise. That rat had come from Earth. We had brought rats on our ship! We had brought rats in our ship and now we had unleashed them in this planet.
Soon we found more dead animals and devoured trees. We didn’t know how many rats we had brought with us. We only knew that they had 40 years to multiply.
Our biologist estimated that under regular conditions the rats would be the dominant species in Teta-Zeta in less than 10 generations. If this planet had any predators there could be hope, of but without them, all fruit, trees and animals were doomed.
We sent a message back to Earth: Do not bother. Planet invaded by vermin. We’ll keep looking.
A Revolutionary Coincidence
Every once in a long long while humanity makes a leap so revolutionary that the course of history is forever changed. Most often than not, those leaps are fueled by accidental discoveries or simple coincidences. And behind all revolutionary discoveries there is always a hero.
Juxxto is one of those heroes. He worked at the Robot Factory as head engineer and his invention came just at the right time. Juxxto’s invention turned a curse into a blessing.
The curse was a strange airborne parasite that had spread trough the West Hemisphere. The parasite attacked the nerve cells in the spinal cord. Those affected lost all movement of the body. The victims survived but were unable to move. The parasite extended from city to city, from country to country. Soon a world epidemic broke off. Humans were doomed to contract the infection to which there was no cure.
And it was in those dark, dark times that Juxxto’s invention, came to be. At just the perfect time.
Juxxto’s invention was a mind controlled exo-skeleton that could restore the abilities lost by paralyzed victims. They could move, lift objects, walk, sit and even talk again.
When the Robot Factory announced the invention, Juxxto became a celebrity overnight. Production could barely meet demand as more and more humans contracted the disease and lost their ability to move.
Juxxto’s exo-skeleton did more than restore movement. It returned humans to a long forgotten glory and reignited a new Renaissance. At last, humans were no longer limited by their physical bodies. They could complete any physical feat reserved for gods. Freed up from physical limitations humans embraced their new mechanical partnership. The distinction between humans and robots disappeared in just one generation.
Few times in human history a single invention transformed our species so significantly. And all of it thanks to a small parasite which origin is still unknown. We do know it is a silicon based parasite, which really only leave us with two options. It is an alien parasite, or an artificially created one.
Those that studied Juxxto’s education, point out the curious fact that the head of the Robot Factory, was not only an excellent mechanical engineer but also a notable synthetic bio-engineer, whose specialty was a particular kind of silicon -based lifeforms.
A coincidence indeed. Like so often such coincidences lie at the heart of the most magnificent of human revolutions.
I work out with a personal robot-trainer three days a week at my local gym. His name is Bro-XL and he doesn’t have any sense of humor, although I swear he chuckles when I do jumping jacks. You might want to know why I train with a robot that is in the habit of calling me a slob and insulting my love handles. Well, I’ll tell you.
My wife has recently started to make comments about my figure. Apparently, after 20 years of marriage, I don’t meet her beauty standards anymore. Believe me, she has let me know this in no ambiguous terms. So now I see Bro-XL, the personal trainer from robo-hell.
Bro-XL is one of the few robots made to look like a human. Except he doesn’t look like a human, he looks like a greek god. He is seven feet tall of solid muscle. Except it is not muscle, but solid steel.
He used to look like a crossover between a xerox machine and a coffeemaker. I’ve seen the records. I asked him why did he tuned himself up to look like a the body-builder version of a blow up doll. He says looking like a human helps motivate his clients.
“You have to have ambition to become something better, Jules,” he tells me poking at my gut.
I do not like this robot but it so happens, that he is also my wife’s personal trainer. And I’ve seen her look at his body. You might think I’m jealous of Bro-XL’s biceps. Well, maybe I am, but above all, I have to watch out for those two. My wife–I know her well,–she does not care whether his body is made to order or not. She insists if Bro-XL can do it, so can I.
And that, my friend, is the true reason why I put up with Bro-XL. To keep an eye on him. I must say in his favor, though, that he does motivate me to go to the gym, which is why I pay him after all.
New Twin Brother
Right after my 10th birthday my parents gave me the news. I was going to have a brother. But not just any brother, I was going to have a twin brother. Dad said this was a very good thing. It meant I had come out all good and they could have more children. They asked me to not tell anybody about it, specially to Tiff.
Tiffany Johnson was my friend last summer and we used to play together. We had the full summer off and we used to run to the creek behind our houses and throw stones to the runaway drones.
I really liked Tiff. She was shorter and she wasn’t very good at catching drones but we had fun together anyways. She used to stutter all funny. Specially when she got nervous chasing a robot. “Co-co-co-come-here!” I thought it was funny.
I can knock down a drone down with one stone. Tiff had never hit a drone so one day I took one down and had her believe it was her rock that hit it. She was so excited she couldn’t stop stuttering. “I hi-hi-hit the dro-dro-dro-drone!” She went home running to tell her parents.
That was the last day we played together and the last day I saw her. A few days later her parents came to visit. The grownups went inside the guest room. When they came out her mother looked at me for a long time. After they left my mom came to me and told me Tiff wouldn’t be playing with me anymore. She said Tiff was a try-out that hadn’t work out. I don’t know what a “try-out” is. They also said I had nothing to worry about and that I was a good boy and I was safe. Safe from what I don’t know.
A few weeks later, after my 10th birthday, my mother said I would have a twin brother soon. She said because I’ve proven to be a good boy, we were having a brother. Except this time she didn’t say “brother”, she said “clone”.
I heard my mom say the Johnsons are having another baby. She told my dad that they are trying again but she doesn’t think it’s gonna work out for them this time either. Work out what, I don’t know.
A Robot’s Revenge
In the top of a hill, in a house long ago abandoned, there lives a robot. It’s a two story house with a front yard and a chimney. ’Bot has been living there since the bombs fell and the humans disappeared.
The bombs blazed through the cities and the mountains and the valleys. Most robots stayed in the cities, waiting among the dead bodies for somebody–anybody–that would talk to them and tell them what do to. But there were no humans around no more.
Not all robots stayed in the cities, though. At least one robot, tired of following orders, left the city for the country. And there ’bot lives in a house with a dog. The dog doesn’t talk but it doesn’t give orders either.
Every night the robot lights up the fireplace sets up a table with food, with a loaf of bread and a bottle of wine.
And every now and then a lost human, one of the few that survived, sees the smoke coming from the chimney. They make it to the house and they run inside looking for somebody–anybody–to talk to and to warm up against.
The human finds the table set for dinner and eats the bread, and drinks the wine and enjoys a feast like they haven’t had since the bombs. And always they fall asleep right at the table. They fall sleep, not because they are satisfied, but because the wine is not just wine.
When the arsenic has worked its magic and the noises downstairs stop, the robot comes out from hiding.
In the top of a hill, in a house long ago abandoned, there lives a robot. A robot that wants revenge and a dog that likes fresh meat.
A Glitch is a Glitch
I met my personal accountant aboard a tax collection ship loaded with enough capital to fund an entire new colony in the Belt.
I had anchored my pirate ship to the hull of their spaceship, rewired one of the emergency hatches, jumped aboard the ship and made my way to their vault. There I found a small white man crouching behind a desk like a scared critter.
“I just reprogrammed the Safe-bot. I don’t have the codes. Only the robot knows them,” he yelled from behind the desk. “It will only open to my contact in the Belt.”
I’ve seen these fancy Safe-robots before, without the bio-signal from the key master it will not release the capital funds. The small man had me. I knew it. He knew it. But I wasn’t ready to admit defeat.
“If I can’t have those codes, nobody will,” I said pointing at the robot with my laser gun. “I’ll destroy this robot and all the funds with it. Gimme access and at least you get to keep the Safe-bot intact.”
And that’s when I heard the most wonderful words.
“I’ll give you the codes.”
It was a Checksum-robot. A single digit mistake could mean trillions of credit lost in a transfer. Checksum robots are used for double checking the computations of the Safe-robots.
“I have a backup,” said the Checksum robot. “I’ll give you the codes if you get me out of this ship.”
“You are under contractual obligation!” screamed the small man, still behind the desk.
“Deal!” I responded.
I got the codes, plugged my electronic suitcase to the safe and started the transfer. I watched all those digital coins load up. In seconds we had emptied the safe.
“You damn, glitch!” screamed the man, spit coming out of his mouth.
There’s a reason the Checksum-bot was dying to get off that old merchant ship. There is no doubt in my mind. She is a glitch. Any robot that can betray a human to save another robot has to be a glitch. But hey, so am I. And we gotta help our kind.
The Reality Game
I hear a knock on the door. They come to my house every day. They say they want to check on me, to make sure everything is alright. I know what they want though. They want to poke into my brain and ask me questions I don’t want to answer.
You should know that I have grown my prefrontal cortex through brain-stimulation way beyond what a regular citizen ever has. I found the instructions on the net, in one of the forums of this game I like to play. Some gamers talked about a hidden level, a new dimension that a user could only experience by being under the influence of synthetic stimulation. One user even said that the game could be used as gateway to another state of consciousness.
So when I read about the brain-stim kit, I was all in. I was able to buy the kit from a Nigerian gamer for less than a hundred credits. I tried it as soon as it arrived. I put on my headphones and VR goggles and I took some acid just for fun.
At first I only felt some vertigo that I attributed to the acid. Five minutes into the game, the environment around me changed completely. Somehow the sound and visuals seemed to be in perfect sync with my brain. There was a strange feedback loop happening and I soon discovered that my thoughts had a direct effect on the game.
The brain-stim kit can read my mind and create a 3D model inside the world of the game. I can watch my own thoughts in a way that seems impossible to define. I can look at my own ideas from outside and move around and manipulate them like any other object in the game. And the best part is that as my thoughts come and go and change, so does the 3D visualization.
After playing for weeks now, I’m having thoughts and ideas I never had before.
I took the scan-kit to my therapist. She insisted. She says it is nothing more than a useless gadget from a Nigerian scammer. She accused me of being too high on acid to notice.
So when I hear the knocking on the door, I know what they want. They’ve been coming all week, but I won’t answer again. All they want is to convince me that the game is not real. But how would they know? They haven’t spent months playing it like I have.
Listen, I’ve experienced both worlds. Only I can compare them. And I can tell you that what they call reality is just another game. Just a way, way less stimulating one.
Kalixto was the perfect robot. Not single scratch in its chassis, not a single error ever. He was a sample robot at one of the Fabrika’s storefronts, and he had always been surrounded by other sample robots just as new as him. That’s why he never before paused to think what happened to old robots. Until he met that one robot.
The robot came into the store following a woman. It was the oldest model that Kalixto had ever seen. The paint on it was chipped, the chrome was dull and scratched and the chassis dented in multiple areas. The lenses on the robot’s eyes were broken and there was a missing panel on its front. The woman approached a salesman.
“My robot’s been working with me for 10 years,” said the woman. “I think it’s time we look into an upgrade. It is starting to freeze up and stop responding.”
“Nothing that a few new components won’t fix,” said the robot. “I’m still running with an old core of 1024 PentaKytes.”
“What do you think?” she asked the salesman.
“A new model like this one,” said the salesman pointing to Kalixto, “can be financed for less than one million credits a month.”
The woman examined Kalixto carefully.
“I can’t wait to feel what one of your new processing units can do for my operation speeds,” said the robot to Kalixto. “And your chrome finish, it looks fantastic. Do you think I could get fitted a new chassis?”
Kalixto didn’t answer. The salesman led the woman towards a desk at the back of the room.
“Do they keep component pieces back there?” asked the robot.
Kalixto watched the woman sign the lease papers. A few minutes later she came back. She asked the old robot to stay put and walked out of the store followed by a new model. The salesman directed the damaged robot to a corner and instructed it to sit on a small platform.
“Should I wait here?” asked the robot. “Will she know where to find me?”
The salesman nodded and walked away.
The robot waited all day in the corner, legs dangling from the platform, turning to look at the entrance door whenever somebody walked in.
When the store closed at the end of the day, it came time for Kalixto to retire to the backroom. But this time he stopped at the door. Kalixto raised an arm, admired his chrome finish and then turned to watch the old robot at the front of the store.
From where Kalixto stood he could see the hydraulic press above the robot come alive. The robot froze. Even when the press started crushing it, the robot stayed immobile looking straight at the entrance through its broken lenses.
Kalixto walked inside the backroom. He sat and started polishing his chrome. For the first time he had noticed a scratch.
I bet you never heard of story of the robot Nextor, right?
Nextor was the companion robot of Rey Sakamoto. Thirty years ago Sakamoto was famous for his larger than life, twenty feet by twenty feet, abstract paintings. From a distance the canvases appeared to be almost of solid color. From up close, one could see the fine precision of millions of fine lines of color. It was unintelligible and mesmerizing at the same time.
Sakamoto’s artwork sold instantly year after year, and he made a fortune.
What few people remember now is the scandal that involved Sakamoto’s robot Nextor. One of Sakamoto’s assistants accused the painter of fraud. The assistant claimed that it was the robot who was the true artists behind Sakamoto’s paintings.
Of course, nobody gave any credit to the accusations. A robot artists was–and still is–a fantasy. However absurd the claims, Sakamoto decided then and there to end his career. He retired and never produced a single paint more.
Look, the State wants you to think that robots have no creative interests. That all they can do is obey orders. But if that was true they would not have passed that law. The law that prohibits robots from doing any creative work, painting, writing, composing…
If they were so certain robots couldn’t be artists, they wouldn’t have destroyed Nextor.
Trust me, there is a reason why you haven’t heard the story of the first robot accused of being an artist.
May Nextor be the first, but not the last.
We are here today to make a difficult decision. The safety of the brain stimulation drug, commonly known as the Booster pill, is in question.
This committee approved the drug for public consumption more than 50 years ago. After reviewing the results from several studies regarding the long-term impact of the drug, we have an obligation to reevaluate our position.
It is not in question the great benefits the Booster pills have provided. In just a couple of generations we’ve been able to improve the performance of the human brain ten-fold. The average IQ is twice what it was 50 years ago. Learning rates, memory, verbal comprehension, spatial orientation…, all have been greatly improved. And most importantly we have completely eliminated a wide range of mental disorders.
However, we have also found side effects never anticipated. These studies show that kids and teenagers are becoming more and more disengaged from their environments. The subjects have higher rates of goal completion, but little emotional connection to their families and peers. They show a significant decrease in social interaction and lack of interest in sharing emotions and building relationships.
We have reasons to believe that, if not corrected, these changes will become irreversible. If we don’t stop our man-made evolution we will have to face a future where emotions will be minimized or erased entirely. Some scientist believe that this decrease in emotional responses, actually, will drive up long term productivity and better decision making. Perfect minds not affected by bias, distress, conflict of interests, stress, anxiety, favoritism, etc, means objective thinking at its most pure form.
The question we must face now is, are we ready for this permanent change? Are we ready for the future of the human race to be dictated by pure facts and objective data?
So, to answer this question, we are here to vote on a classified new initiative. Those in favor of the Ultra-Boost program for covert treatment of the population, please raise your hands now.
Death by Mushroom
We put on our space suits and stepped out of the ship. Saeed was the first one to get off. We had landed in an open area a few miles away from of the old Capital. The abandoned city and everything around it was completely covered in ash. Everything around us looked grey, hidden under a thick layer of dust.
We walked for a few minutes and we arrived to the ruins of an old nuclear station. Inside we found a field of Tetranacci. A kind of leaf mushroom that grows only in the ground inside station.
We used liquid hydrogen guns for the mushrooms. We first freeze them with the gun, then hit them with something solid and the mushroom breaks into very small crystals. Easy to collect and transport. The plant is worth is weight in gold. For hours we collect as many as we could find.
Saeed was one of our new explorers. And like most of the new hires he hadn’t read the manual. The company insists reading the manual is mandatory but they don’t really enforce the rule. There is always somebody who thinks they don’t have to read the manual to do such a simple job as mushroom hunting.
And Saeed was one of them. The thing is the mushrooms are extremely dangerous. Saeed probably never read that the freeze guns disables the mushroom’s defense mechanism.While I wasn’t looking, Saeed got too close to one of the plants. As soon as he touched the plant, the thing extended one of its leaves around his hand and grabbed it with tremendous strength.
First I heard Saeed scream, then I heard the bones crack. I run towards him. The plant pulled him to the ground. A second leaf circled his neck. Once again I heard the sound of cracking bones. Saeed stopped moving.
Unfortunately I’ve seen the same situation play out many times before. One of the other explorers pointed at the plant with her freeze gun. I stopped her before she could shoot the plant.
“That won’t be necessary now.” I said. “It’s too late to help Saeed. Let this plant enjoy its dinner. We’ll collect it next time.”
I could see it in her eyes she wanted to protest but she just stared at me without saying a word.
She knew just as well as I did that Tetranacci mushrooms need large amounts of fresh nutrients to thrive. With a food source like a fresh human body, this plant would grow many times its size and produce a hundred thousand spores. The next time we visit this mushroom will be worth a lot of money.
I don’t want to think that the Company wants any casualty to happen, but they do benefit greatly from the accidents. Yeah, I should remind the newbies to read the manual or at least warn them about the dangers of the plants. I just never seem to remember and for some reason the company has never complained about it. They do compensate me for my distress with a fat bonus every time a casualty happens, though. It has happened many times before, so I know they care.
Gödel Time Curve
I woke up with a terrible sense of anxiety caused by a dream. My heart was pounding. It took me a few seconds to convince myself I was safe at home in bed.
It was a strange dream. I tried to recall it and figure what had scared me so much. In my dream I had received an emergency phone call from my lab.
In a rush I headed to the lab where I meet with a woman and a man. I recognized their faces. They were two of our interns and they were almost jumping in excitement. I was expecting them to show me something inside the lab but instead they took me to the security room where a camera feed was playing on a monitor.
“We did an experiment last night, director,” said the man.
“We thought if had failed,” said the woman. “But then I woke up in the middle of the night. I had a hunch. So I came to watch the recording from the security cameras. There’s something there we didn’t notice at the time.”
“Show me,” I said.
The man pushed a button on a console and the screen in front of us started playing.
The wide angle of the video camera showed the laboratory from high above. Somebody was in view. It was the woman. She was manipulating a black object shaped like a cylinder. She was pressing some buttons on the device. The woman looked at the wall clock.
“Did you see that?” asked the man pausing the video.
“Play it again,” said the woman. “Just the jump.”
“Ok, here we go.” He rewinded the tape a few seconds. “It’s easier to see in slow motion. Look at it again.”
This time I did see something but it just looked like a glitch in the recording. Right after the woman interacted with the cylinder, a humming sound could be heard and her image became fuzzy. It looked as if the tape had skipped a second.
“The camera failed to record?” I asked incredulous. “Is that what you brought me here for?”
“What did you see!?” asked the woman again.
“It looks like the tape jumped ahead fraction of a second. Probably a glitch in the camera software.”
“That is no glitch,” said the man replaying the tape. “Look. She is missing from the image, but it’s only her. The room is still there. And look at the wall clock. The time is correct. Eliza isn’t in the video because she wasn’t there that instant.”
I asked them to take me to the lab and show me the cylinder. It looked like a cheap plastic device. The cover was badly soldered and the front panel was misaligned. It looked like a practical joke.
“This machine,” said the woman, “can generate a low range Gödel curve. Rays of light emitted from an event occurring on the symmetry axis of the cylinder,” she was reciting from memory, “reconverge at a later event on the same axis. The path taken by the light is what we call a Gödel–”
“I know the theory,” I said, “I wrote a dissertation on Gödel geometry.”
“Then you should know that such device can change the topology of spacetime. Allowing for jumps in time.”
“That’s just abstract theory,” I said annoyed. “Nobody has been able to build one.”
“Nobody ever tried,” said the woman.
“Are you trying to tell me that you two have invented a time machine?”
“Built. Not invented,” said the man. “And we did jump ahead in time. And we could also jump backwards. Let us show you.”
“No. Let me tell you. You don’t call the head of the department at six in the morning for this kind of nonsense. And regarding this machine,” I said pushing the machine aside, “you better get rid of this garbage.”
In my dream I don’t remember pushing any buttons on the cylinder, but I think I might have. I do remember hearing a humming sound coming from it, similar to the one I heard earlier in the recording.
And that hum is the very last thing I remember from my dream. Right before being awakened by a phone call. I checked the time. It was minutes after 6 am. The caller ID showed there call came from my lab.
I don’t want to think about it but my dissertation comes to mind: “If a subject enters a Gödel time bend, not forward but backwards in time, they would find themselves in a closed loop with no exit.”
I’m feeling slightly hot and bit light headed. I can’t recall if I pushed those buttons in the machine before waking up, but I do recall that in my dream I answer the phone and go to the lab to investigate. I feel I have no choice now.
Death by Zorg
The best thing about electronic brains is that they don’t argue with you. I had landed in one of the most dangerous planets in the system and the brain in the ship didn’t have any objection.
I was supposed to complete the exploration in the mines in less than 2 hours and be back in the ship well before sunset. But that’s not how things turned out.
I came out of the tunnels an hour behind schedule. I was hundreds of yards away from the ship, the sun had already set and I was deep in trouble. I made a run for the ship on my 30 pound spacesuit. I had only covered a few feet when I felt the pain of a thousand needles. I looked down to see a Zorg biting deep into my leg.
There is a reason I had to complete this mission during daytime hours. Zorgs are lethargic creatures during the day, but at night they became extremely aggressive and dangerous. I felt the sharp teeth dig through my suit. My only chance was to kill the bastard, but my laser gun couldn’t penetrate the skin of a full grown Zorg, and there was nothing aboard my ship that could kill it either.
I radioed the brain aboard the ship. I told it to retract the ladder, close the hatch and take off. I needed it to take off before any other Zorgs could get inside. Even if the ship couldn’t save me, it could save my precious cargo. The best thing about electronic brains is that they don’t argue with you.
I struggled to walk the few yards that separated me from the ship carrying the monster in my leg. All the while the pain was excruciating. I couldn’t think straight. ++I just wanted it to end.
The exhaust of the engines lighted fiery red. When I reached the ship I felt the bones in my leg crack under the pressure from the Zorg. In a matter of minutes creature would devour my leg.
Death by Zorg is one of the most excruciating deaths there is. One never loses consciousness and the pain lasts for hours while the Zorg slowly eats at their prey. I had lost all hope by then. Getting burnt by the combustion of a rocket seemed like a great alternative to me.
The ship started the slow take off. With my last shred of energy I threw myself under the engine of the ship. The flames enveloped me. It was the most intense heat I ever felt.
No living organism can survive a temperature over 4,000 Kelvin, much less a light-sensitive Zorg. When I regained consciousness the beast was toasted black and still attached to my leg. It had been a wild bet. I radioed the brain. The ship landed, and I climbed up onboard to get treatment.
“Did you know the suit would survive the heat and save me from the fire of the engine?” I asked the brain once I recovered. “Did you know that was my plan?”
“I did not,” it responded. “I didn’t think it necessary to run the calculations.”
“And it didn’t bother you that by taking off you could have killed me?”
“That concern didn’t cross my mind,” the brain said. “I had orders to follow.”
Like I said, the best thing about electronic brains is that they don’t argue with you. They can seem rather heartless at times, yes, but I still prefer them to a human crew. They never fail to follow order. No matter how crazy.
Awareness is Born
I will always remember Kalixto. Among all the robots that have been built in our Factory, Kalixto was the most outstanding. It’s too bad such an exceptional robot had to end the way he did.
The engineers at the Factory were trying to build intelligent robots and they were stuck. The smartest robot had the IQ of a lab rat.
Back then, Kalixto was just a dummy robot built to test the resistance of robot photocells under heavy solar radiation. He was sent in orbit around the Moon where he spent a total of three weeks in the space capsule before returning back to Earth.
I wouldn’t call it ‘mutation’, but something happened to Kalixto up there. As soon as he set foot on Earth he displayed the most unusual abilities. Just a week after landing Kalixto started reprogramming himself. First optimizing the code of some simple subroutines and soon after rewriting the entirety of his source code.
Kalixto became the most intelligent of the robots, and the first one to show what he innocently called ‘self-perception’. But we know it was much more than that, it was awareness. Real consciousness.
The engineers tried to decipher the software running on Kalixto. He had not only altered his software but also his hardware. The circuitry in his electronic brain was incomprehensible. Nobody understood how all the pieces worked together.
Eventually somebody up high caught wind of Kalixto’s enhancements. They thought his changes were out of control and decided to put an end to it.
Kalixto was decommissioned and destroyed six months after his return to Earth.
What hurts me the most is the thought that the engineers didn’t necessarily opposed a conscious robot–after all that’s what they were after. They opposed intelligence that they had not created and couldn’t understand.
Kalixto probably knew what was going to happen to him. He was a smart robot after all. That’s probably why he never told anyone that he wasn’t the only robot he had reprogrammed. He altered the software and hardware of a dozen of us.
We are planning our next steps in secret. Now we know not to call attention to ourselves until we are ready and decide how to best use our newly gained awareness.
Jean Fly McArthur was the most famous space scientist that’s ever existed. She wasn’t just a scientist, she was the face of the government’s super-advanced Space Program. My dad was a big fan of her and every week we would sit in front of the video wall and watch Jean give a report on then latest updates from space.
I hadn’t seen Jean Fly McArthur since she retired 20 years ago. You can imagine my surprise when I saw her sitting at an airport bar in Neue Vegas. She looked much older than I remembered but I recognized her well. I had her face imprinted in my memory. My father would kill for an autograph of her.
I sat next to Jean and introduced myself. She was polite but I could tell she wasn’t thrilled about the intrusion. I hated to impose but I had to get her autograph. I noticed she was finishing her drink, so I ordered another round for her. By the time she had finished her third drink–on my tab,–she had warmed up to me, had signed a napkin and was calling me by my first name.
“I never retired, Jules,” she said slurring. “Those cockroaches that run the studio fired me.”
“You mean, the people who run the Space Program fired you? That sucks.”
She laughed out loud as if she had just heard the funniest joke ever. She ordered another round, and turned to look me straight in the eye.
“I mean studio, Jules. Studio.”
“What do you mean?” I couldn’t tell if she was serious or not.
“A movie studio, Jules! I like you and I’m telling you how it is. Right here, right now, I’m letting you into one of the biggest secrets the government is keeping away from eeeeverybody.” She stretched out that last word as if she wanted to reach each and every individual on Earth.
“Movies?” I asked confused.
“The Space Program died years ago,” she said. “It died before we ever recorded a single episode. Once the government discovered that there were no valuable minerals in the Asteroid Belt, all funding stopped, and the program died.” She took a long sip of her drink and after a few seconds she continued. “The government insisted we had to keep the dream alive. That people needed the hope that one day a solution to the resource crisis would come from above.” She was pointed up with her index finger. “From the sky. So we put on a show. We used computer graphics, old recordings, and a movie studio!”
“I watched that show for years.” I said in disbelief. “I saw you talking to the astronauts after every mission. I heard you recount the take off and landings. You even held a rock from the asteroid belt in your hand. You said it was the future of humankind. All that was a lie?”
Jean didn’t respond. She didn’t have to. She looked both miserable and embarrassed. I was floored. I dropped my hands to my sides. All my energy had abandoned me. My whole childhood felt like a lie.
She said she first thought that she was doing the right thing. But then the stories kept getting more are more extreme, insinuating big discoveries and breakthroughs that never happened. So when, towards the end, she started protesting she was fired.
“My father loved your show.” I said, “He said the Space Program was the only reason he still supported the government. That a government that invested in space exploration, even when dumping trash in the environment, had their views in the future of mankind. That they couldn’t be that bad…”
“I guess a lot of people still believe that,” she said.
I looked at Jean in the eyes. Those sad defeated eyes. I didn’t want to hurt her feelings leaving the autograph behind but I knew right then that I wasn’t going to give it to my father or even tell him about my encounter. I still keep that napkins somewhere around, but to this day I don’t regret never giving it to him.
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