Short Story: In At The Deep End

On the seventh day after gaining physical access to humanity’s shared subconscious, the contractors announced that they had killed God. Of course, three days after that he rose again and forgave them, and from there on out it started getting strange. Well, stranger than it already was.

The whole thing had been designed as a preemptive strike to mold the general populace into something more malleable for the big businesses sponsoring the project. The discovery of applied branches of multidimensional mathematics and physics in the banking sector had taken a while to be smuggled past non-disclosure clauses and appropriated by rival research teams in a number of agencies. It hadn’t then taken long before productivity consultants had begun to get very excited about concepts such as description theory and psychodynamic modelling.

The thought of being able to edit their own workers, let alone potential customers, had been a siren call to the usual suspects. Given the projected financial gains, the research teams working in these fields were showered with budgets and carte blanche unseen since the Space Race and the Cold War. The Information War soon outstripped the simplicity of fake news and net traffic manipulation into far more esoteric realms.

As usual, nobody wondered what was watching from those realms. The shadows of these computations played like firelight on the walls of these sideways cavern’s and fields and curious intellects answering to alternative laws began to huddle round the brightest spots to push back.

In retrospect we can ask why nobody queried the higher incidence of unexplained phenomena like temperature changes or visual distortions in the research labs. Perhaps they did, but they were quietly edited out of the recorded reports dutifully spooled out to corporate masters. Nastier minds than mine have suggested that such editing may have come from The Other Side, just as the research teams were affecting things Over There.

Either way, nobody’s talking. Certainly not these days, anyway. The breakthrough event had a body count as the contrasting laws of competing realities twisted and pretzelled around each other’s event horizon and scythed a zone clear each side to a distance of precisely ten kilometers radius. We know this because the gateway on our side was in the heart of Wall Street. In that moment, we all knew we’d need something more effective than Ghost Busters to push back.

Given the generally pugilistic nature of both politics and corporations in search of recovered revenues, it wasn’t too surprising that a military response was made, despite the pleas for a more scientific investigation. A rapid corporate tendering process resulted in an outsourced security bidding war breaking out, and then the troops went in.

Human minds, even bolstered by drones and telemetry are not equipped to interpret other-dimensional spaces. Our brains are designed to approximate inputs they have no frame of reference for, so the intelligences on the other side were reported in terms that the troops brought with them – as the gods and devils that they believed in below their ostensibly rational fronts.

Over there apparently can be the nearest thing to heaven or to hell, even within a few steps of each other, so when someone tagged Over There as being our subconscious, it seemed to stick. The standing instructions from the corporate owners of the security teams became a mission to take down anything that might inspire the masses – which is why the biggest entity they could find was codenamed God, and taken down with extreme prejudice.

Of course, the entities over there were as affected by us as we were being by them. That’s why God rose again, a near infinite number of virgins began camping outside the Staging Area, Kali began reaping lone travellers, and new arrivals are now interrogated by Ganesh.

Suffice to say, all involved are desperate to find a way to disengage from this holy mess, church attendances are up again, and mathematicians are now on hit lists around the world. Strange times are back; now can I interest you in some prayer beads blessed by Buddha and Pikachu?

Short Story: The Cradle

The caverns of ice had originally been carved by meltwater, but the servitors had widened and straightened them to accommodate the prefabricated shelters and equipment. They had installed lighting, set up generators, even laid down decking to insulate the feet of those coming after them.

The vaulted ceiling that arched overhead shimmered with refracted colours sometimes. Condensation misted the air, and sometimes became a drizzle when the cavern’s ambient air temperature raised too far. As for the original meltwater stream, that still ran through the centre.

Sometimes it was visible, either where aesthetics had suggested it, or where materials were being conserved. For the most part though it was buried beneath the swathes of decking. That had presented a sufficiently flat surface that vehicles and buildings competed to use the new real estate.

The servitors had done their best to prepare the way and secure the site. It wasn’t perfect, but then you couldn’t expect even sophisticated automatons to be able to adapt to everything. Nonetheless, the habitat on this new world conformed to specifications well enough that stage two had been set in motion after a mere five local years. The incubators and soil reserves had been deployed, along with a tailored selection of biodiverse microfauna to create a reasonably stable biosphere and the conditions for a form of agriculture to be an option.

The clone banks swung into action after that. The new world was too far for a crew to survive the journey, and generation ships had proved a difficult sell to many. A seeding approach was deemed statistically effective, especially given the state of the origin planet at that stage. Panspermia had seeded the Earth, so why not use it to push back into the void? It wasn’t the only option, but it did offer a chance that the scattered worlds may find each other at some point in the future. Records of their cultural heritage, and technical templates and tools would allow the clones to bootstrap their societies so that they wouldn’t have to reinvent the wheel.

The failure rate would be immense. No one would know if the effort succeeded, but the risks were worth it. Would this cavern bring forth the heirs of empire, or would it be a tomb for the ages?

The clone banks are ripening now. We’ve read their files and media, and we’ve analysed what we can of their systems. They’re a strange race, these humans. Shall we see what these newborn invaders of our world have to say for themselves?

Short Story: Timelines

“How do you keep them separate in your head? I’d have thought you’d be constantly getting them mixed up.” Sara was rummaging in her toolbox for something to undo a stubborn nut in the cabinet between us. Given the amount of swearing I’d heard the last five minutes, I’d half expected her to have dropped the subject.

“Well, it’s like when you’re reading two books at about the same time, and you have one for sitting on the sofa, and another for by your bed. You read each for different reasons but keeping those stories separate isn’t that difficult really.” She continued to scratch around in the box without success.

“Really? I don’t think I could do that.” She frowned and straightened up to look round the room. I saw a monkey wrench on the floor behind her but decided not to say anything. I didn’t want to detract from her sense of achievement when she found it.

“Oh it’s not so difficult.” I said. “You don’t have any difficulty remembering the differences between your siblings do you? You know their favourite foods are…?”

“I’m an only child.” She said. She turned round and saw the wrench, giving a brief triumphant cry.

“Ah.” I said, and juggled my next sentences around. “But you can imagine can’t you? If you had one who liked certain things and another who liked others – you’d remember and tailor your conversations accordingly.”

“Okay,” she said cautiously, “so you’re saying navigating timelines and paradoxes is like reading two books at once?” She’d turned back to the console cabinet and was busy at work again.

“Yes, and at the same time no, because both stories are in the same volume and they keep flipping depending on the moment and what you’re doing while holding that book open. Flicking the pages means you can have a different version of the story each time you flick back and forth.”

“Still sounds like you’re making it up. How come you can remember both versions?” She was plugging replacement components back into place now.

“Oh that’s because I exist in the old one and have travelled into the new one. It’s more complicated than that, but that’s simple enough. How are we doing there?”

“Nearly done. Don’t know what caused that surge and blew the console but should be good as new now. So, where next for you?”

“Oh not far, and yet it’s probably longer than you’d credit. We’ll probably not meet again – thank you, as ever, for your quick work.” I handed over a wad of bills in payment and escorted the engineer out of the control room. She had a frown on her face.

“What do you mean, as ever?” I heard her say as he closed the hatch and hurried back to the console.

“Don’t worry, you’ll have your family back soon Sara.” I said, and flipped the launch switch.

Short Story: Aaron

The advert for Zeiss optics was looping – or at least the uncorrupted part of the media file was anyway. A thirty second hymn of luxury visuals reduced to three or four seconds of a focusing and refocusing artificial eye in a flawless model’s airbrushed face.

Aaron watched the loop for a couple of iterations before turning his attention back to the wreckage of the rest of the station platform. Dust hung heavily in the air, particles of ceramic and brick dust wreathing the surviving light sources and turning torch beams into ethereal wands that flickered from surface to surface in their bearers’ hands.

The sound of sparking electrics from ruptured conduits, and of groaning metal twisted and pressed into unexpected configurations covered the sound of his footsteps. He made his way towards the exit stairs ahead of the search teams still approaching from further down the tunnel. He picked up his pace, eager to be already of use by the time they got here.

Ahead he could hear movement and cries both for help and of alarm. The bark of gunshots punctuated the confusion too. Aaron tilted his head to try and work out how many people were shooting, but the acoustics in the stairwell defeated that notion.

There was no option but to move into the concourse. Bodies could be made out across the hall, and Aaron stopped to see if there was anything to be done. There wasn’t, but he had to check anyway. A new set of priorities now presented themselves.

Ahead of him, two gunmen had re-entered the area. They seemed to be wearing some kind of paramilitary uniform. Aaron noted the common elements and decided that the lead figure seemed to be in charge. He rose smoothly to his feet and turned to face them.

“What the hell?” One of the gunmen raised his firearm instinctively at the sight of him. Aaron wasn’t given to introspection, but was unsurprised. There weren’t many units like him in operation yet.

“My name is Aaron. It stands for Advanced Artificial Recon Online Neonate. You will stand down now.”

Two shots impacted his chest and he advanced. He tried to explain his next actions. “I’m afraid, to safeguard the team behind me and any survivors of your attack, I must now engage you. Please do not resist. You will be taken into custody.”

They resisted anyway, for all the good it did.

Short Story: They’re In The Walls

The clicking of the spider-limbed surveillance drones echoed in the crawlspace below us. I imagined the criss-crossing beams of their active infrared sensors would make that narrow area positively glow if looked at with the right equipment. I wasn’t sure if it was necessarily something I’d want to see under the circumstances.

While they were reasonably autonomous, the small swarm of drones had strict boundaries coded into them for their search area. There had been too many incidents early in their development of image recognition systems “recognising” doors as the goal of their maze-solving routines.

A number of them had escaped, leading to frantic searches in the university research facilities developing them to try and retrieve the skittering droids that were now trying to “solve” the maze of the outside world.

There were rumours that some were at large, even now, meeting up and sharing their discoveries to more efficiently map everything they could. As they had been programmed to charge themselves and interface to share and rewrite each others maps, it wasn’t beyond the bounds of possibility.

Those features were particularly useful for tasks like this, where buildings needed to be quickly searched. We’ve been using them to search for kidnap victims, criminals, drug stashes, and other less fortunate locations in missing persons cases.

In this case we were looking for whatever the inhabitants had hidden in their building that had attracted suspiciously large bids from certain flagged eBay accounts interested in proscribed technology.

The sellers were outside in a van, awaiting a trip back to the precinct while the crime scene investigators played with their expensive but oh-so-useful toys.

The skittering noises were, admittedly, unnerving – especially if you’d ever lived in a house with rats in the walls, but they did seem to be slowing and quieting, with the occasional link-connection beep audible through the floors and walls.

I flicked through the papers on one of the desks that the techs had finished with – a magazine with a puff piece about our drones and how they’d revolutionised evidence mapping and gathering – it seemed a bit dog-eared and well-read.

I’m a great believer in intuition. It serves me well, so I listened to it as the muffled noises all seemed to stop at once. It prompted me to look at the suddenly concerned drone officer who seemed to be tapping his keyboard rather a lot. He looked up at me and pointed to the screen.

All the feeds were showing the same thing – a large and clunky spider-limbed piece of technology looking back at us while data streamed from it straight into our drones and the workstation. We both dived for the power cord at the same time, but it was too late.

The spiders are climbing between the walls and floors now. They’re not listening to us any more. I hope they’re just planning to map the world rather than solve it. I’m not sure we’d like the solution.