“Science Fiction” by Clio Em

TALES FROM NEW CANADA:  “Science Fiction”

BY Clio Em

sci fi

For Yazz

I’m an engineer. My main diet should be engines, but I live on books. And every day after I finish my tasks in the lab at New Canada Engines, I go book-hunting.

Books are printed on paper on New Canada, so it is not as difficult to gather a collection as on some of the other colony worlds, or even on Earth. The library here in New Toronto is immensely well-stocked and has provided me with inspiration. The local culture values books, and especially recently I’ve been noticing a proliferation of tiny bookshops popping up, selling everything from Austen to Zalania.

I am taking the long way home from the glider station one day – regretting my decision with each step against the crystal eruptions of snow suspended in a freezing wind – suspended until they hit my face, that is – when I spot a flash of dark fur in a shop window. A lucky flash of fur, indeed: a cat has squeezed its way between the windowpane and what looks to be a genuine paper edition of a score of the Fire Opera, a work by my favourite New Canada composer, Lauretta.

Of course I step into the shop. How could I not? Immediately, the furball pounces on my feet and attacks my shoelaces. I laugh. An woman about my age – late twenties in New Canada years, early thirties in Earth time – emerges from the back, carrying a mountain of books. Her unruly red hair is tied back nonchalantly and her dress is green with a full skirt. Not the fashion at the moment, but she pulls it off wonderfully.

“The cat’s not for sale,” she says with mock sternness.

I presume this is the shop owner. She seems to adore green – there is green trim along the bookcases and the window display and green lettering denoting various categories of books – music, colony planets, Earth, New Canada, and an odd little corner with different, bolder lettering. Science Fiction. That particular bookcase’s bottom shelf is devoid of books and is instead filled with green cushions. Perhaps to enhance the comfort of the little beast that is currently attacking my shoe?

“Actually, I was more interested in that score in your window…” The cat is insistent and bats at my leg. I bend down to pat him and he begins purring like a little engine. He might be louder than some of the engines in the lab at work.

“My cat seems to like you.”

“My name’s Asimov,” I reply, with uncharacteristic impulsiveness. I never strike up conversations with strangers, not even friendly shop owners. Usually I’m quite introverted. Usually. But now something compels me. I notice that the shop owner’s eyes are brilliant and laughing and full of sharp intelligence; that her hair creates a bright cloud of unruly red curls.

“Ah, a Historical Earth name,” she says, a smile pulling at her lips. Mine’s Corinne. “But Asimov is a last name. What’s your first name?”

“That’s my first name,” I reply ruefully. “My parents are from Earth but I don’t think they know how names work.” She fights to suppress a giggle.

“Ah,” she finally says, calming her features back to bland politeness. Why would this silly thing amuse her? She walks over and picks up the cat. In her arms he becomes completely docile. “Never been to Earth.”

“Oh, neither have I!” I exclaim, a little too loudly. “My parents never cared much for naming convention, or convention of any kind. The genre this author wrote in escapes me.” I close my mouth before I can ramble any more.

“Isaac Asimov wrote science fiction,” she provides, and gestures vaguely at the boldly lettered shelf to her side. “His narratives may seem quaint and outdated today but imagine reading that stuff in the context of his time. We didn’t have interstellar travel yet. We had just the one planet, too! The essence of some of his stories really cuts to the heart of the colony world experience.”

“I’m embarrassed that I know next to nothing about him,” I reply. A silence grows between us. I can hear the ticking of a clock. She saves me.

“Maybe you’re more of an opera lover.” I nod in agreement. “We have a reading desk in the back,” she tells me brightly. I want to take her up on it but hesitate a little too long. “And free coffee, and Asimov the cat to keep you company.”

“Your cat has the same name I do?” I must sound very dismayed. She laughs, this time out loud.

“I’m afraid so,” she replies.

“Won’t I bother you?” I ask.

“Do you see many other customers?” She counters. The shop is empty, save for us and the cat. “I’m still new to this bookshop game. I think I need to reorganize and make the display more appealing.”

“It was very appealing to me.”

“I know, but I’m pretty sure you’re one of a kind.” I grin, then realize it’s a very wide grin. Foolishly wide. Why not stay, though? I make myself at home at the desk. The feline Asimov stretches out on the smooth wooden surface, occasionally lying down on top of the Fire Opera. I good-naturedly push him off and he returns insistently. I keep turning the pages, marvelling at Lauretta’s beautiful notation. The bookshop’s clock strikes Evening Mark. No, not possible. I must get going.

“I think I’ll buy this opera score,” I say to her as I pass the counter on the way out.

“It’s yours without charge,” she replies, eyes twinkling.

“I… I can’t…”

“Accept it? Oh, you can, but only if you agree to my conditions.”

“Conditions?”

“There’s a performance of the Fire Opera at the theatre in two days. Buy the tickets, and I’ll consider it a fair trade. They cost the same as the book.”

“I love … I love opera!” I manage awkwardly.

“Thought you might, given that you spent an exceedingly long time looking at an opera score just now,” she says. We exchange contact card codes, laughing. A contact card code never made me laugh before.

As I leave the shop I take a look back and see Corinne putting a new book into the display case. The cat named Asimov sits under it in the window, watching me as I walk away into the snow.

END

 

Story © 2019 Clio Em . Image © 2018 Hali Rey.

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“Star Garden” by Clio Em

Tales from New Canada: “Star Garden”
by Clio Em

For Karen

star

I step out onto a stage made of stars and sweep my skirt around me as I take a seat on the bench prepared in the centre. In reality, it is a panel of plexi showing the expanse of space below; we are still midway on the trip between Earth and New Canada. Surrounding me are New Canada pine trees, little lights floating between them. The audience is seated around the circular panel, creating the effect of a floating amphitheatre.

The stars swirl beneath as I play my first notes. Bow touching strings, first the lowest, an open string, a long, resonant tone. Then the next, a run, a leap, notes strung together like so many stars.

New Canada needs more musicians. At least so they told me – and lured me onto this beautiful spaceship with promises of contracts and performances and tours. The first tour is to take place in all the cities of the planet, and my first concert is taking place enroute, before I have even stepped onto the ground of my new home. The recent building boom has brought about a fascinating renaissance in historical Earth architecture, and I imagine that the acoustics will be beautiful, especially with the addition of sound relays.

It was the last world to be settled, but the people of New Canada are apparently thirsty for historical music. They especially want to hear Baroque works, coupled with new compositions, sometimes superimposed. I can hear in my mind how Bach and Handel and Purcell will sound here, on this ship, and in the beautiful conservatory gardens on the planet below. And how other composers will sound. How my own pieces will sound – I write for my viola often, though I seldom share these works. But I believe that on New Canada, I will begin performing my preludes and etudes and sarabandes.

In the first row, or rather the closest cluster of seats, I notice a woman watching in rapt attention. I try to pay her no mind, but it is difficult – I realize she is Lady Anne, a prominent engineer for New Canada Engines – the company that made this spaceship.

I have always been slightly afflicted with stage fright – switching to the vertical viola was the only thing that really helped. Back when I used to play the viola in the traditional manner on the arm, I would shake. But sitting on stage grounds me and helps me keep my thoughts together.

Stage fright is beginning now, its icy fingers working their way toward my veins, cooling them, inducing shivers. Shocking, this strange return of fright, after I thought it was long gone. But space travel affects everyone differently. Perhaps I traveled so fast on this spaceship, I caught up to my fear and must now vanquish it.

Lady Anne’s attention ceases to unnerve me. I imagine how a spaceship engineer must feel when testing an engine. In many ways, it must be very much like a musical performance. The acoustics of an engine must be perfect. And like I carry a melody and emotion, engines must carry a ship.

I think of the planet I have chosen to make my home on, without ever having seen it, having felt its air or tasted its water or walked through one of its gardens.

But if it is anything like this star garden on this spaceship, I believe I will be happy.

The viola is a marvelous instrument, one that sings precisely in a range where people speak. Many say this of the cello, and it’s true too, of course. But a viola brings out different resonant frequencies, ones that, to me, are more in tune with certain emotions. I can carry a heartbeat on a string. And I do, trying to attune my playing so that this musical beating heart is at a comfortable and warm speed. Bach. Handel. Purcell. And then, my own music.

I hear every nuance of my composition resound in my mind before I play a note. and then I can confirm my predictions as the sound is reflected back to me. This spaceship’s acoustics are indeed stellar.

I play the last phrase of the first partita I ever wrote, letting the air consume the final vibrations and overtake it with silence. Space expands.

I am home.

END

Story © 2018 Clio Em. Image © 2018 Hali Rey.

“Dreams” by Clio Em

Tales from New Canada:

“Dreams”

 

for Eric

 

I design dreams.

It was not a job I was assigned, but I decided to undertake it anyway. When I was taken for the program that brought me here from Earth, I had a very different view of what I would be doing. I found out quickly that I would be working every day with a hurting population. Many people on New Canada had engineered genes. This had allowed them to work for years in risky conditions, but not all those risks had been known, and now many were ill. Gene engineering is banned here now, and no wonder. It was a nightmare the planet will need a long time to wake up from.

I arrived on New Canada only a short time ago. It’s been a difficult adjustment, but one person has been making it easier for me. She has always listened when I was homesick; has always offered advice on how to settle into life here on New Canada. She has taken me to see the breathtaking sights on my new planet. In return, I’ve been helping this particular dreamer dream. And what I’ve been doing is introducing her to a dreamscape based on my own home.

She wakes up in a snowy landscape, the wind hitting her face in full force – or so she believes. She is still thinking in New Canadian terms – the landscape here is harsher, more unforgiving. She first sees the trees as New Canada pines, but she soon realizes that something is different about the way the sunlight strikes the needles, about the way they grow, about the atmosphere’s effect on our perception of colour. The brightness of the sunlight and the snow blowing off the distant peaks, not quite the same as what she is used to. She is experiencing the Rocky Mountains on Earth.

As she dreams on, her thoughts parse out sensations more effectively. The wind becomes more gentle, the whispering in the trees becomes milder, more of a whistling echo. As she wanders through the dreamscape, it begins changing again, now some sort of intentional shift – from the expanse of skies over sharply drawn peaks and a glittering, half-frozen lake, to a grayer vision – a landscape from her own New Canada. She walks toward a small cluster of trees. The air is bracing. She feels it more sharply on her skin in this dream than she ever has in her waking hours.

At least, so she tells me. Earth and New Canada, meeting in one beautiful landscape.

She has never been to Earth. And to be honest, I didn’t design the program to show her both worlds. Her own thoughts have been modifying her perceptions. In fact, I had wanted to show her what it meant to me to be under the sky in the mountains on Earth, to feel that wind, to hear it, to be among those trees. But she draws so much meaning from this blending of our two planets. I have never told her that I didn’t design it that way. She is an engineer, and her mind sparks with creative energy. I believe that this is why she constructs constantly, even while dreaming.

I must admit that I thought of one particular mountain valley in New Canada with an uncanny similarity to one on Earth when I designed this particular dream program. Since the New Canadian valley is her favourite place to hike, I’m not surprised that her mind is interpreting the signals this way.

 

 

 

 

Check out the New Canada “universe” here:               http://clio-em.com/gravity-wing

“Instrumental” by Clio Em

insert 2

Tales from New Canada: Instrumental

for Jake

I’m being driven to the Engine Industry Ball in a carriage so ornate it looks like decoration, not transporation. This ride was not my idea; I was picked up as the clock struck Evening Mark. The clock inside the carriage. It is as ornate as the carriage exterior, and rather more ornate than my simple rose gown. The colour to wear this season, I’d been told.

New Canada is beautiful but it intimidates me. I just arrived onplanet last month for a yearlong residency at the New Canada Arts Centre. My mentor here, Isabel, originally comes from the Terran Canada like myself. I am already overwhelmed with my musical tasks, but I know that Isabel managed to accomplish a tremendous amount here in a little over a year – not only artistically, but also taking part in an incredibly complex set of legal proceedings, foiling a nefarious sabotage plot – and finding a life partner. She’s now the director of the New Toronto Art School. Incredible. I am barely treading water keeping up with my repertoire.

I wonder why Cecilia, New Canada’s star violist and dear friend to Isabel, didn’t come pick me up herself but sent only her carriage. I ask the driver, who says I should wait for a message. Mysterious – and annoying. Then my contact card chimes and her message comes through. Sudden illness, meaning she had to cancel. I feel a sharp pang of disappointment. She has found a violist to take her place, so my performance will go ahead.

Isabel introduced me to Cecilia the day I arrived. I have no idea how the two of them are such great friends. The violist is eccentric and a lot more dramatic than my rather reasonable mentor, but both have offered me guidance and ready friendship. I gather that it is usually harder to make friends on socially restrained New Canada, but I suppose neither Isabel nor Cecilia are typical New Canadians.

I envy Cecilia her ability to communicate with her audience when she is onstage. Compared to hers, my playing is reserved. She promised that she would design a very effective exercise for me to allow me to break out of my shell. “It’ll be a shock and come when you least expect it, Fiona, but it will let your musicality shine,” she’d said.

It’s a shame we didn’t get to that before tonight’s performance. I will be terrified without her up there with me.

I try to reason my nerves away. I am an experienced guitarist and have memorized the program. I just haven’t performed it on this planet yet, nor with this duo partner. Who’s this mysterious new violist, anyway? Whoever it is, they had better be quick-thinking; we won’t even have time to rehearse beforehand.

I am surprised that Isabel’s Partner, Serge, is the one waiting for me when my carriage arrives. He co-runs a company called New Canada Engines – this planet’s most important corporation. I’d thought he would be too busy tonight to socialize much with me, but he seems to take his Partnerly duties toward Isabel seriously.

“Fiona!” He calls, waving me over.

“Hi Serge,” I say, gamely attempting a cheerful and fearless tone. “Cecilia said my new violist would be here to meet me, but you seem to have beat him to it.”

“Actually…” Serge grins. I notice that he is holding a viola case.

“You?!” is all I can manage. He laughs. Isabel had mentioned he played the viola. Beautifully, she’d said. She told me the story of how they fell in love. His viola playing had had a lot to do with it, apparently. But how objective is her assessment? I have my doubts.

“Cecilia only told me that it’s time to try the performance exercise she was telling you about,” he says.

“She mentioned an exercise, yes…” A realization hits me. “She’s not really ill, is she?”

“She’s been known to do things like this before,” he replies, a smile quirking his lips. “When she and Isabel worked together last year….”

“Well, I hope you’ve been practicing daily for Isabel,” I retort, cutting him off. “I don’t know how you play but at least you give a lot of speeches and won’t get stage fright.” I sound too annoyed. “Sorry,” I add mitigatingly.

“Look, I know I’m in a different line of work, and we all know Cecilia is the better performer,” he says. “But this is part of the exercise, I think. I’m definitely not what you’d expect in a duo partner.”

“Definitely not,” I say, trying hard not to sound rude. I hope he can hold his own on that stage; I’ve met too many rich hobbyists who considered themselves artists and were actually dilettantes. But the exercise design here is brilliant and it’s forcing me to be flexible. As mad as I am at Cecilia, I also see exactly why she did this to me.

 

insert

We take our places and tune. So far, so good. My resolve intensifies. I play the opening chords. When Cecilia and I rehearsed, she was always the one leading, but now I have to assert myself. It turns out that I can do this quite well. Even more surprisingly, Serge plays with an appealing musicality. Not as techically perfect as Cecilia, but he is definitely a competent performer. I briefly wonder why he plays so well, or when he has time to practice if he’s busy co-running an engine company, but push all that out of my mind as I focus and pour everything of myself into the piece.

Cecilia is in the front row, dressed in red. So is Isabel, also dressed in red, but a darker shade. The two of them are whispering and laughing. Cecilia’s own Partner, Brigitte, joins them and begins laughing too. Her own gown is a deep magenta. They stand out in a sea of fasionable rose-coloured gowns and applaud enthusiastically at the end of every piece. I realize that their enthusiam is not only for Serge, whom they know so well, but also for me. They can see my musicality reshaping itself up here on this stage, and I can tell they are proud of us both.

This performance is both wonderful and absurd. I am at a ball, making music on a new planet, and I have been tricked into playing more expressively than I ever have before. The audience seems to be enjoying the performance immensely. And for the first time since I landed on New Canada, I feel truly, completely at ease.

The ornate clock in the hall strikes Midnight Mark.

Serge and I play on. And now Cecilia joins us onstage, improvising counterpoints to our melodies.

The ball continues.

Story © 2019 Clio Em. Image © 2018 Hali Rey.

“meeting” by Clio Em

“meeting” by Clio Em

You mean to tell us they look down on us?

Not exactly. All eyes are on her as she tries to explain what she has written down. She clears her throat. He taps expectantly on the meeting table, making her nervous. She misses Lee. Focus. She finds her voice again.

But there are some aspects they find, well, archaic. Anachronistic, maybe. Especially the architecture. I’m merely speaking of practical concerns.

Who are they to judge?

He seems incensed, though it may just be his mannerisms.

They cannot find anything better to do with their time? They build their way, we build ours. They must know we have limited materials here. Our traffic may be comparatively slow but it is definitely efficient. And I’ve seen the vids of their cities. Hypermodern ugliness sprouting up everywhere, but all among them, buildings that look quite like ours. Not so different. I wish we had the hothouses, though. Something we can work on implementing in the next year, perhaps. For the park.

They call them conservatories.

Yes, well, that’s something to put on the list. You’re absolutely right, something like that might bring the visitors. Thank you for your report. We’ll take your recommendations into consideration.

Of course, Sir.

All right, everyone. I think this meeting’s just about finished.

People begin scattering. Finally only she and he are left in the room. He addresses her with his back turned, pouring himself an Amoral. Typical of him. Amoral is inordinately expensive. He does not offer her any. Not yet.

You’re free to take the rest of the day off. In light of your recent hard work. I found what you wrote very insightful, you know. Your recommendations are good. Very good. Helping a young city grow isn’t easy.

Thank you, Sir. She leaves before his praise can become too effusive, before the Amoral can be offered, either out of a sense of awkward obligation or from desire. Some things never change.

Outside, she pulls down her hat further to ward off the cold, though it is a cloche hat and it is brim is already cupped downwards like an inverted tulip. This place is indeed archaic. Those are her own thoughts. Airships. Goodness. She admits their suitability to the situation but can’t help wonder at their continued use despite the challenge of the winds. She watches them when she can. Most steer safely into port. Inevitably, though, there are accidents. Not always fatal ones, but nerve-shattering. Each time a storm front comes in, her heart stops. The fronts are growing.

Think of other things. The books are archaic, too, though she loves those. Beautifully historical. The paper feels so wonderful whenever she gets to open them and feel the naked fibers under her bare skin. Too often she was stuck with the task of carrying the books unopened, though this promotion should help her access their innards more often. No more work in private salons, but in boardrooms. Trust in her abilities.

And she is meeting him tomorrow. Lee. Her heart spins.

Tonight she will go back to Sal’s apartment. They will drink black tea from dainty filigree teacups which she will handle nervously. She won’t break anything, but she might spill some tea; her hands want to shake themselves to distraction like brittle leaves. Sal likely expects her to show up dressed all in brown again, salary spent on futile little nothings that nevertheless infuse her day with meaning. And she will be dressed in brown tonight. Honestly, there isn’t that much salary. But yesterday she found out about the promotion. She took a risk and bought the dainty gray dress, cut like an inverted tulip. But pretty. Pretty on her.

An airship drones out of port overhead. She’s growing used to their sounds, their shapes, their billows and fits and flights and fouettés.

Tomorrow for their meeting she will wear gray. Where did you get that dress? he will ask. I bought it, she will reply. I earned a promotion. He will be proud of her.

Tomorrow she will watch the airship he is on steer safely into port, before the winter storms. Before the long winter, when airships lie deflated and dormant in the fields as the air swoops over them, screaming the names of those it has taken.

END

Clio Em is a mezzo-soprano, a composer, musician and creator of sci-fi worlds. She is also an Irregular Dreams writer.

“Where Flesh and Steel Mesh” by Mark Anthony Brennan

Turner naturally avoided the main streets. Too many potential encounters. So he stuck to the filthy alleyways with their rusted dumpsters and stacks of sodden cardboard. Beneath a grandiose jumble of telephone poles rivers of rain streamed along the centre of the asphalt.

His hood was intended to keep out the rain but it was crude. Human made. Rain still spattered his face and somehow found its way down the back of his neck. That was little more than a nuisance, however, given that he had his mechanics cranked up for scanning purposes.

Motion detected ahead. Perhaps human. Turner immediately dialled down mechanics to a minimum, with his human responses elevating accordingly. The chill of the damp air hit him, causing his body to jerk involuntarily. His nose was wet and freezing. Fatigue swept over him like a smothering blanket, attempting to drag him down. But it didn’t work thanks to that one human trait he was counting on. Fear.

So far he’d only passed a couple of heroin addicts who hadn’t even noticed him. This could be different. Any interaction with a human was potentially dangerous. The back alleys of Vancouver were treacherous in these troubled times, but Turner wasn’t concerned about his personal safety. He was more than a match for most humans, even if they were armed. No, his only concern was detection.

His heart pounded with fear. Distracting, but the adrenalin was useful. It sparked his organic thought processes. He needed them. In order to appear human he had to think, feel and respond as a human. Without mechanics his senses were dulled (all he could hear now was the rain pounding on his hood) but his human instincts were on high alert.

The approaching figure stepped into the light of the naked lightbulb dangling from the overhead poles. It shuffled stiffly, awkwardly. A droid. A human droid, of course. Designed for police work only, therefore not particularly intended to pass for an organic. They were humanoid in appearance merely to make the human population feel more comfortable. And they were necessary — the war-torn city back-streets were riddled with drugs, criminals and undesirables. Cop droids were on the look-out for scum. Unfortunately, Turner’s kind fit that bill.

Turner’s stomach heaved. He was nervous. But he realized that was normal. A human would naturally be nervous if a cop approached them in a dark alley. Besides, he calculated that this conversation should go smoothly. Like all police droid this one would be highly sensitive in detecting invasives — those clever human-like units sent in as spies by the AIs. Convincingly real, but machines nevertheless. Machines that human droids could detect in an instant. But they were not so attuned to detecting hybrids. Although humans held no love for Turner’s kind, they didn’t consider them a major threat. With his mechanics virtually turned off Turner should easily pass for human in a routine engagement like this.

Unless the droid unit was informed, of course. Unless Turner had been betrayed.

Had Adachi raised the alarm? Meeting him had been a big risk, of course, but it was a risk that Turner had taken into account. This deal had to take place.

They’d met in one of those hole-in-the-wall diners on the Downtown East Side. The kind that have gone from respectable to sketchy, and then from gentrified back to sketchy. Rickety booths lined a wall of peeling paint, some in darkness, others lit up in a panicked neon glow.

Turner had just been blowing on his coffee to cool it down when Adachi came in the front door, slamming it loudly behind him. He looked around the room with a grimace, clearly disgusted to be in such a place. Turner beckoned him over with a wave.

“So you’re Turner, obviously,” said Adachi, sliding onto the bench. He frowned as his pants got caught on the multitude of rips in the fabric.

“Yeah, thanks for coming.” Turner held out his hand across the table.

Adachi looked into Turner’s eyes as they shook hands. His hand went limp and slipped out of Turner’s grip. The problem was obvious. The tell-tale glimmer of digital read-outs in the back of a hybrid’s eye was still perceptible. Something Turner’s kind needed to work on.

“Shit, you’re a Mix.”

“Yes. Is that going to stop us from doing business?”

Adachi peered at Turner’s face intently, then took a deep sigh. “Depends.”

“Look,” said Turner. “We’re not your enemy. We have an enemy in common — the AI’s. They want us dead as much as they want you humans wiped out. We can help you.”

“Fuck off. Get to the point, what do you want?”

Turner smiled. He knew it was irritating but his human side couldn’t resist. “It’s not what I want, it’s what I can get for you.”

“What would that be?” asked Adachi flatly.

“An entire shipment of medical supplies. That includes pharmaceuticals and equipment.”

Adachi hunched over the table. “Are you serious? That’s impossible. How?”

It was almost impossible to anything through to Vancouver. AIs occupied much of the territory surrounding it. The city was dependent on goods brought in by ship from Asia, but shipping was sporadic and unreliable. Without communication the people of Vancouver had no idea what was going to arrive or when.

“Never mind how,” said Turner. “This is an entire cargo container. Imagine how much that is worth on these streets?”

Adachi sat in silence, his eyes narrowed. Finally he said, “Let’s say we do this, how do you get paid? I’m guessing local currency isn’t going to cut it.”

“Correct. All we need is a small favour in return.”

“Oh, here it comes,” said Adachi with a sneer. “Of course you can’t trust a fucking Mix. Look, what’s stopping me from just turning you in? We need to get rid of you all. They pay a nice little bounty for turning in a hybrid.”

“You’re not going to do that. First of all, you’re too sharp of a businessman to let a deal like this slide. Besides, you know fine well we’re not a threat to you. Ever since the War started there’s only been one enemy — the machines. The AIs will kill us all.”

“The War is over.”

“Of course, it isn’t. It hasn’t even started. The AIs aren’t in retreat. You didn’t defeat them. They’re simply in hiding, strategizing, planning. When they re-emerge they’ll have technology you cannot stop.”

“Well, we’ll see about that,” said Adachi. “We won’t be the same people they turned against.”

“See, we don’t disagree. Humans need to evolve. It’s the only way for us to survive.”

“Is there any service in here?” asked Adachi abruptly.

“Um. You have to go the counter.”

“Ah, fuck it then.” Adachi squinted at Turner. “Becoming a hybrid isn’t evolving. You’re losing your humanity. You’re becoming more like them.”

“We’re not like them. We are still human.”

“Hardly. You know why we can’t trust you? Because you can turn it on or off. Turn off your feelings.”

“That’s our advantage. Don’t you see? Clouded with baggage like emotions you non-hybrids will never get anywhere.”

Adachi snorted. “We’ve already developed intelligence off the charts. We can also communicate. Locally right now, but soon distance won’t be an issue.”

“Telepathy, you mean?”

“We don’t call it that, but yes I suppose so.”

“And do you have any of that? Superior intelligence? Can you talk to me with your brain?”

“Well, no.” Adachi blushed. “I’m three generations old.”

“And you don’t qualify for an upgrade, right?”

“Fuck you. Look, what’s the favour?”

Turner leaned back folding his arms. “The Fraser Valley is blockaded to the east. It’s the only way out. For us. All we need is a little … gap in the wall. Just enough to get our people out.”

Adachi laughed nastily. “Who do you think I am? The fucking First Consul? I’m just a small businessman. How the hell am I gonna get you through?”

“Let’s cut the crap. You’re a black marketeer in a city ripe for exploitation. You do well for yourself. Very well. That kind of business naturally means having the right kind of people in your back pocket. We know you have the connections. We know you can do this.”

Adachi frowned in silence for several seconds before scrambling out of the booth. “I’ll see what I can do. I’ll be in touch.”

With that Adachi left the diner without a sound.

Turner had been certain Adachi was hooked, giving him absolutely no reason to squeal. But now, in a wet and miserable back alley with his human responses on full, uncertainty squirmed in Turner’s stomach like an evil worm.

“Good evening, sir,” said the cop as he approached Turner.

Despite the stiffness in his walk the droid looked passable. The uniform hung naturally from his body, which was not athletically perfect, in fact rather pudgy. But the face gave it away. Little effort was put into detail so it was no better than a hideous talking mask.

“Hey,” said Turner, allowing his voice to quaver with cold.

“You should be careful out here, sir,” said the pink plastic face. “Very dangerous. Do you live around here?”

“Yeah. Just over on Abbott. This is just a short cut I always take.”

“Ah. Well, maybe consider sticking to the main streets. It’s safer. Have a good night.”

“Thanks, officer. ‘Night.”

Turner breathed a sigh of relief as the cop trundled on. That was nothing but the simplest of human interaction organic tests. Turner passed easily.

And of course the droid hadn’t been informed. How could he be? All human technology was stand-alone with no communication. The first things humans did when the War broke out was to shut down the internet. Not entirely successfully, leaving entire cities and regions under AI control. But humans could no longer use it. Nor could they use any other form of communication because AI satellites had the ability to detect anything.

As he dialed down his human responses Turner’s rationality came flooding back. Such a relief. He could get back to clearer thinking.

He headed off more briskly. There were things to do. Arrangements to make. Adachi was clearly ready to do business so they had to get ready.

He faintly remembered feeling somewhat sorry for Adachi. He had that noble pride in truly believing that humans would prevail. That by engineering themselves they could win the desperate race they were in with the machines. Human evolution over technological innovation.

They were doomed. Having rooms full of specially bred children to act as biological computers wasn’t the answer. Nor was having the military breed instant soldiers or allowing research labs to harvest extra organs from human hosts.

Integration was the only answer. Turner and his kind carried with them everything that was human but in a body that was technologically advanced. And they had the ability to replicate themselves, passing down both biological and technical data.

Humans were frankly right not to trust hybrids. They could turn down their emotions, making terms like “double-crossing” and “back-stabbing” lose all their meaning. Turner needed the hole in the blockade all right, but it wasn’t to get anyone out, it was to bring more soldiers, arms and supplies in.

Adachi had been right about one thing. Humans would prevail. And they certainly wouldn’t be the same humans the AIs rebelled against.

“Duosentience” by Clio Em

 

TALES FROM NEW CANADA: “Duosentience”

For Laura

 

“The scan will be next,” the voice in my mind informed me. My own voice; not my own thoughts. Rather disconcerting.

Duosentience is defined as the coexistence of two consciousnesses operating as one. In practice this means pairing one mechanical and one organic being in a single human body. This is done by implanting a nanobot.

The nanobot in my arm, the source of that disquieting voice, did confuse the scanners and we made it through. My circuit tattoo was disabled in a puff of circuit smoke by stern looking and very tall New Canadian officials. Under the cover of this procedure, the nanobot shut down and entered my vein, where it was disguised by the flow of blood. The cube I carry around – the main source of the nanobot’s intelligence – was disguised as a decorative accessory. It was certainly pretty enough, and when you pressed a button it displayed wildly changing constellations. One of the officials turned it on and admired the patterns, then switched it back off and placed it carefully back in its case. I hoped that my heart rate hadn’t spiked. But then I remembered that it could not spike – I had taken a quieting agent, administered by my fully legal medical implant.

As far as I know, I’m the only person on New Canada carrying a nanobot inside me. I don’t want it in there, either. But it was a requirement from my employers when I was sent here on this assignment.

“Corporate espionage?” I asked, when I was told what I would be doing on New Canada.

“Nonsense!”  retorted Vanos. “This is an information-gathering mission.” This of course meant exactly the same thing and I was momentarily angry at her, but then she pushed her thick glasses up further on her nose, a gesture I found both endearing and attractive, and my rage dissipated. Lately In the last while she had been distant and strange. And she seemed to be relieved that she was finally sending me away. But in moments of tenderness, I was able to forgive everything.

It was easiest on New Victoria to part ways, where relationships such as ours were heavily disapproved of. Even though it was precisely our mutual desire that had worked so very much in her favour before, it was inconvenient to her now. I thought wistfully of how it would be here on New Canada. We could be together. But Vanos? She was still Vanos to me, not Stella. Last name, after all this time. They didn’t use last names here on New Canada, or at least, not very often. I wondered if that would have affected our relationship, rendered it kinder.

My cover identity, or rather cover profession, was that of a holoprojection artist. Preparing for this mission had taken years and had involved artistic training. This was the real reason I had taken on the job – I could never have afforded art school on New Victoria on my own. I did not qualify for scholarships because my parents hadn’t agreed to the full set of neuroenhancements when I had been born. In fact, that was how Vanos and her team had found me. Stubborn to the last, I had applied and passed all the phases but the physical at the end. Someone in a dark suit had been waiting outside the exam room: Stella Vanos herself. Could she have known I would be so attracted to her? Yes, she must have. She’d had access to my psychological profile. Though these things weren’t openly discussed on New Victoria, it must have been obvious in every scan.

But my lack of neuroenhancements – my weakness – turned out to be an advantage for the organization I now worked for. I would pass through every interplanetary scan undetected. I would not be subjected to the same waiting lists as most New Victorians. If I wished, I could blend into other populations on other planets.

As visiting artist, I would be collaborating on a commission for a company called New Canada Engines. Vanos and her people wanted to know about their technology very much – NCE built the most advanced engines on all the colonies. And since I was to represent New Canada Engines to the New Victorian public, I would be given access to lower-level design specifications. This would be enough for Vanos and her team to extrapolate the key to the engines’ design – at least, she seemed to think so. I thought she was either being naive or intentionally deceiving me, because I felt I would have to do some more active spying at some point, something that terrified me.

I had signed a mountain of nondisclosure agreements and had undergone countless psychological tests.

The New Canadians were convinced that I was trustworthy.  And I trusted them. As soon as I arrived here, I felt at home.

This would definitely be a problem. It was so tempting. No more restrictions, no more hiding. I even courted a woman for a while, trying to forget Vanos. Unfortunately, this woman’s name was also Stella. Maybe I had sought her out intentionally. I don’t know.

I actually lived far more luxuriously here than I had on New Victoria. That in itself was a shock. Back home, we’d been told that we had the highest standard of living on all the colonies. True enough for the richest of families; not true for everyone else. Wealth disparity was tremendous.

Here there were differences, too. But somehow, people enjoyed a high quality of life overall. New Canada was always mocked in our media. It seemed that the truth lay somewhat removed from what was being said.

“New Victoria has a clearer social structure and more benefits available to its citizens,” insisted the nanobot, cutting irritatingly into my thoughts. I had not realized it was listening to everything that passed through my mind.

“Look around yourself and see how well we could live here,” I retorted, fighting hard to make my raging thoughts calm. But it saw my distress anyway and administered a dose of quieting agent. How disturbing that it could control my dosage.

Over the following months the nanobot’s thoughts would find its way more and more often to my mouth. Was it controlling what I said, or was I just subconsciously mirroring what it was saying because I heard it so often?

I tried leaving its cube behind in my apartment whenever I went out but it made no difference.  Its range must be tremendous. It could probably reach me anywhere on the planet, I thought morosely.

“Yes,” it chirped cheerfully at this. “I am programmed to interface between my units at great distances.”

I was sure the nanobot had compelled me to go down to the library and read for hours about the wonders of New Victoria, that it had been the one that hat convinced me I was homesick. But the more I thought about it, the more I realized it couldn’t possibly have the ability to alter my thoughts…

Could it?

I lay awake for hours every night, trying to stop my mind from barreling down the tracks of suspicion. I always failed. And every night, the nanobot soothed me. It sang me songs, all of which would only make me more uneasy. After many songs, it would inevitably pump out a dose of quieting agent and I would drift off, relieved in spite of everything that I could finally rest.

 

And one day, it crossed another line.

I remember the moment. I was in a cafe, a type of establishment popular here. It is so cold here that this white frosty precipitation called snow covers the ground, and hot drinks are very much in demand. As I sipped something delightful, a brew they call hot chocolate, the nanobot protested.

“This is not healthy for your body,” it scolded me. “Your mission requires proper nutrition and this is your third such drink today.”

“Please leave me alone,” I replied. “I am having this, whether you like it or not.”

As I reached for the drink, my muscles seemed to freeze. Then my arm started shaking. I managed to pick up the hot chocolate, but my wrist twisted, and I was now spilling hot liquid all over the table. And my dress. And the floor.

I apologized profusely to the staff, tipped heavily, and escaped. I was hyperventilating and crying. What a violation.

“Overt displays of emotion are undesirable in the context of your mission,” chided the nanobot. “Drawing attention to yourself in a transit car would be unwelcome.”

So I walked home. It was a very long walk and I kept thinking of a wonderful heated transit car, but I also thought of all the stares and the judgment, something this planet did not lack, and here I agreed with the nanobot that this walk would do me good. It was so happy at my compliance, it almost seemed to purr.

“You have not yet done your exercises today,” the voice reminded me when we had reached my apartment.

“I walked home. I’ll do them tomorrow,” I grumbled back.

“You are aware that these two activities are not equivalent.”

“I’ll do them tomorrow,” I repeated firmly.

“You must exercise.” This time, it did not then force my muscles into action. But the threat was there – I now knew that it could make me carry out any physical action it wished. The nanobot simply didn’t consider it necessary yet.

What if it made me hurt someone? The thought chilled me. Usually the nanobot would say something whenever I was distressed, but on this point it was eerily silent.

“Well?” I asked it outright. “Would you?”

“That is not within mission parameters,” it answered me. Hardly comforting, somehow.

That night, I called Vanos and told her what had happened. Rather than shock and sympathy, she offered me coldness, mirrored by unsympathetic words in my mind piped there by the nanobot.

“It stays,” she told me. “It is necessary, especially with your psychological profile.” She meant my rebelliousness, my independence. Those things she had claimed to love about me, but had only ever intended to exploit.

The next day I asked the New Canadians for asylum. It was surprisingly easy, and no one asked me any difficult questions. I was terribly nervous –  I could not admit that I had this insidious machinery inside me. That would most definitely result in a Trial, something to be avoided at all costs on this planet.

I could not destroy the nanobot inside me; at least, not right away. So I destroyed its home.

The cube that once housed its mind is now at the bottom of the New Bow River, doubtless flooded and frozen. Water resistance can only last so long, and at these temperatures, no delicate New Victorian robotics could survive down there.

I heard it clearly for a few more days. Then its messages became simple and emotionless, unrefined. It had no more control – I could now oppose it. I hadn’t realized its intelligence was housed in the cube. Probably less expensive that way. Maybe less risky – it seemed the nanobot in my arm was simply a rudimentary model. That was likely why the New Canadian scanners hadn’t picked it up. My advantage – usually nanobots are far more complex and intelligent.

As soon as its fading words flickered out for the last time, I went to a doctor who worked with neuroenhancements. She was not New Canadian, obviously. But there was demand for her services from offworlders with all sorts of malfunctioning tech.

Please remove this circuit tattoo, I asked her. I do not wish to be reminded of my time on New Victoria. It was difficult for me. I think one of its components may have floated into my vein.

She knew. No components float away from a circuit tattoo. But she nodded understanding, and she removed the tattoo, and the nanobot. Wordlessly, she showed me my sentient parasite, now lifeless, under high magnification. Then she incinerated it. No record of it appeared on my file.

New Canadian administration is slow. My asylum application is still being processed, but in the meantime I am being treated very well. I told them the truth about who I worked for. I said there had been an abuse of power. Vanos is persona non grata here now. I suspect this will make her very upset – she had been slated to take a diplomatic trip here next month. It was to have been our contact time for a large data transfer. I had hoped it would also be a defining moment in what I had naively perceived as our relationship.

Surprisingly, they let me continue my artistic work for New Canada Engines, a detail that gives me so much joy I can hardly breathe. I haven’t taken my quieting agent in… well, since I got rid of that nanobot, actually. I find I am calm on my own these days.

I will never speak to it again. I will never speak to her again, either.

Late at night when I drift between dream and wakefulness, I hear the nanobot singing to me, only now it is the voice of Stella Vanos, taunting me, romancing me and then betraying me.

I do not miss being duosentient.

 

END

 

Clio Em is a mezzo-soprano, a composer, musician and creator of sci-fi worlds.  She is also an Irregular Dreams writer.

Artwork:  Hali Rey