Tag Archives: science fiction

The Beard

Knocking on the bathroom door made Norbert jump.

“Just a minute!” he called out.  “I’ll be out in a minute.”

“No, no,” came a voice from the other side of the door.  It was Stephanie, Norbert’s girlfriend.  “There’s no rush.  In fact, while I’ve got you in there, I thought perhaps we could have a talk.”

Uh-oh, thought Norbert.  He could picture Stephanie’s pretty face scrunching into a frown.

“Norbert?” she prompted.

“Yes,” he called back.  “Guess I’m a captive audience.  What do you want to talk about?”

“Well—oh God, this is awkward.”  Stephanie pressed her furrowed forehead against the door.  “But we’ve been seeing each other for six months now.”

“Oh, dear!” Norbert wailed.  “Have I missed some kind of anniversary?  I’m so sorry.  We’ll go out for dinner.  Name the place!”

“No, that’s not it.  I mean, dinner will be lovely.  There’s that new Albanian place in the precinct.”

“Sounds delicious!  Make a reservation.”

“Later.  But there’s something I need to ask you.  Perhaps it will be easier to answer me with this door between us.  As I said, it’s been six months.”

“Yes, you did say that.”  Norbert steeled himself.  He knew what was coming.  He combed beard oil in, massaging it to every hair, every curl.

“Six months and you’ve never laid a finger on me, never mind anything else.  Is there something the matter?  With me, I mean.”

Norbert gave his reflection a pained look.

“No, no!  Not at all.  You’re perfect.  Look, you must be patient with me.  That’s all I ask.  Can you do that for me, Stephanie?  Be patient?”

“Yes,” she said quietly, but Norbert could hear the sob thickening her voice.  “I mean, you would tell me, wouldn’t you?  I’d rather know the truth.  I have a right to know the truth.  If you’re…”

“If I’m…?”

“If you’re gay.”

Norbert laughed.  “Oh, no!  No!  Put that idea right out of your head!  Gay is the last thing I’d be!”

“So, you’re not just using me as a cover?  Arm candy so no one will guess the truth?”

“Of course not!  Silly goose!”  Norbert hoped Stephanie couldn’t hear the quiver in his voice.

“But it’s just that… six months!  You’re not like other guys.  And I like that about you, I do.  You’re sweet and gentle and kind.  There’s an innocence about you.  You take delight in everything, like you’re seeing it for the first time.  So yes, I can be patient.  Take all the time you need.  I’ll leave you to get ready.  See if I can book that restaurant.”

Norbert listened to her move away from the door.  He patted his face.  The glue had better hold.  The beard bristled as he sniffed.  Something smelled bad.  He applied half a stick of deodorant to his armpits, powdered his nether regions with talc and then drenched himself in after-shave.

That was the problem with having a reanimated corpse to get you around.  High maintenance wasn’t the half of it!

He used his dead-man’s hands to fluff himself out.  A quick appraisal of his reflection reassured him that he could pass as a normal human being.  It was imperative to his mission.  He must live among the humans, observing them, sending reports back to his home world, where everyone crawled around, their hirsute bodies like disembodied human beards.

If Stephanie were to discover the truth, she would have to go.

Then again, it might be a nice change to make use of a reanimated female body for once.

He could even join the circus.

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The Last One

Hond held up a hand, signalling for stillness and absolute silence.  Zarb obeyed, her visor scanning the immediate vicinity for life signs.  Hond’s digit pointed at a tree directly ahead.  Slowly, he raised his blaster.  Zarb saw it, the creature, its eyes first of all.  Two pools of liquid black, unblinking.  Its tiny paw clutched at a leaf and tore it.  The creature chewed at the leaf, its eyes never faltering in their steady gaze.

“There you are, you little fucker…” Hond muttered, taking aim.  His visor showed him a zoomed-in view, the creature’s head divided by crosshairs.

Suddenly, his blaster was knocked aside by Zarb’s weapon.

“What are you doing?” Hond hissed.  “She’s right there.  The last one!”

Zarb’s voice rasped in his headphones.  “We need to think about this.  She’s the last one.  Or so we thought.  My scanner tells me she is pregnant.”

“All the more reason to finish the job before she gives birth.  It’ll save us bullets.  And, in case you’ve forgotten, it will save us a great deal of hassle further down the line.”

Zarb sighed.  She hadn’t forgotten.  The very reason they had come back to this humid, primordial age was to save their present from widescale shortages and extremes of weather.

But now she was faced with the completion of their mission, for some reason she didn’t want to take the final, decisive step.

“I’m not sure we should be eradicating an entire species.  Look, just one mother, one litter.  We could take them back with us.  To be studied.”

Hond shook his helmeted head.  “We have our orders.  That thing cannot be allowed to survive.  We cannot let it become what it will become – what it became.  Oh, time-travel can be confusing.  You know what I mean.  It must not be allowed to evolve.”

Zarb covered her visor with her gloved hands.  “There must be something else we can do.  What if we, I don’t know, alter the temperature around here?  Divert a watercourse.  Then this little thing, as you call it, will take a different evolutionary path.  It might even return to the oceans.  Problem solved.  Planet saved.”

Hond gave her the courtesy of considering her proposal before dismissing it.  “I’m sure the Council thought about that.  It’s too risky.  We can’t let this thing change and grow.  We can’t let it take over.”

“But that’s generations down the line, millions of years from now.”

“And yet, once they’re here, it only takes them a relatively short while to ruin everything.  They must be exterminated.  Now, come on, stand aside.  Our portal won’t stay open for ever and I want to get back for the podball.”

He couldn’t see Zarb’s eyes rolling. Males and their sports! Hond lifted his blaster again and took aim.  There was a high-pitched whine and a flash of light, and Hond’s helmet disappeared.  His headless corpse toppled forward.  Behind him, Zarb lowered her weapon.

The branches quivered and rustled as the creature fled.

“Run!” Zarb urged it.  “Run and have your babies in peace, little one.”

She returned to the portal site and blasted it to oblivion.  There would be no further landing parties.

Well, looks like I’m stuck here! She took off her helmet and breathed the humid air.  Perhaps I can do something to keep an eye on things, see that things don’t get out of hand.

She filled her lungs again and her unaided vision took in the scene around her.  The greenery, the glistening water, the blue, blue sky.  It certainly was a wonderful world.  Zarb would do everything she could to keep it that way.

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Judy’s Secret

While Judy was out, Roger snuck into the bedroom they had shared for twenty years and immediately felt like a fool.  What am I doing, sneaking around, he wondered?  This is my house, isn’t it?  I’m the one paying the bloody mortgage!

He sat on the bed and opened the drawer in the cabinet on his wife’s side.  He didn’t know what he was expecting to find, but for quite some time now, he had the feeling that she was keeping secrets.  Perhaps there would be clues, hidden in plain sight.  He’d seen online that you could download an app to a loved one’s phone and track their whereabouts.  It seemed a bit extreme.  He supposed it was more for people keeping an eye on their children.  He hoped it wouldn’t come to that. But she had been staying out late a lot recently and wouldn’t tell him where she had been…

The drawer rattled as lipsticks rolled and clinked against a jar of cold cream.  Cotton buds lay unused in a packet.  Roger’s fingers brushed them aside, feeling like an intruder, a burglar of his wife’s privacy.  But he kept looking, his mind both eager for and dreading confirmation of his suspicions.

But there was nothing.

He pulled out the drawer and upended it on the duvet.  An eye mask for extra darkness.  Ear plugs for when the neighbours went at it with gusto.

Roger’s heart sank.  He realised he would have to put everything back in the drawer and hope Judy wouldn’t notice things had been touched.

He was about to slide the drawer back into its grooves when he saw something in the cabinet, something taped to the back wall.  He reached in and pulled the object free.  It was silver and looked for all the world like a child’s water pistol.  Why would Judy have concealed a child’s toy in her bedside cupboard?

They had never had children.  His sperm count wasn’t up to it.  He had been led to believe that Judy was okay with that.  She had dismissed the possibility of adopting.  Perhaps the toy was an indicator of her true feelings, her longing for a child…

“What the hell are you doing?” Judy spoke in the doorway, making him jump. 

“Er, I was just fixing the drawer.  Remember you told me it was sticking?  Well, I’m finally getting around to it.”

Judy shook her head.  There had been no such conversation.

“Oh, Roger,” she said sadly.  “I didn’t want you to find out like this.”

Roger gaped.  Confirmation!  There was something going on!

“Who — who is he?” he stammered, forcing himself to look her in the eye.

“Not a he,” Judy sighed.  “They.”

Roger frowned.  This was worse than he thought.

“And who are they when they’re at home?”

“The Imperial Intergalactic Peace-Keeping Army.”

Roger gave a hollow laugh.  “Don’t think you can joke your way out of this!”

“I’m not,” Judy sat beside him and took his hand in both of hers.  “You have to listen.  I know I’ve been distant, lately.  Preoccupied.  Staying out late.  I’ve been going to meetings.  I’ve had no choice.  We are being summoned.  A return to active duty.  The planet is in grave danger.”

Roger stared at her.  His wife was suddenly a stranger to him.

“You know how I never told you about my upbringing.  I just let you assume I’d had a rough time of it and didn’t like to talk about it.  And you know how I didn’t want to bring a child into this house.”

Roger’s mind was racing, having trouble in latching onto what he was hearing and making sense of any of it.

“I have been activated,” she said, spiny gills appearing at the sides of her neck.  A filmy membrane nictitated across her eyes.  “I’m sorry, my love.”

She prised the silver gun from his grasp and pointed it at him.  He stared at the glowing nozzle in disbelief.

“If Earth is to survive, the human infestation must be eradicated.  It starts today.”

Roger raised his hands, a futile gesture of surrender.  It was true what they say, you never really know anyone, do you?

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Robot Butler

“That will be all,” Lord Tinface intoned.  The servo-motors in his neck whirred as he inclined his head.

“Very good, sir,” said Barrington, bowing.  He withdrew from the dining room, leaving his employer to his dinner guests.

“He’s so very good, your Barrington,” commented Lady Brassneck.  “So efficient.  So self-effacing.  So silent!  One hardly knows he is there.”

The other guests agreed.

“He keeps himself well-oiled,” said Lord Tinface.  “I must ask him to do the same for me.  My old joints and gears, you know.”

“Nonsense!” scoffed Lady Brassneck.  “You have centuries left in you yet.  Although, if you’re looking for a overhaul, I know someone.  I’ll send you the details.”

Her eyes flashed.  Lord Tinface’s eyes flashed in return.

“Thank you,” he cranked his mouth into a smile.  “Message received.”

“Speaking of well-oiled?”  the Archbishop was waving his empty can.

“Quite!” Lord Tinface rang a bell.

Barrington insinuated himself back into the room.  He went around the table, refilling everyone’s oil cans.  Lady Brassneck watched him admiringly.

“So quiet,” she marvelled.  “Such a smooth mover!  It’s as if he wasn’t made of metal at all.”

She took the liberty of squeezing Barrington’s backside as he passed.  Her inscrutable face did not betray her surprise.

After dinner, she found her way to the kitchen.  Barrington was at the sink, scouring pans.

“I say,” she wheeled over.  “You’re very convincing.”

“I’m sorry, my lady?” Barrington kept his eyes ahead, his features neutral.

“You know what I’m talking about,” Lady Brassneck whispered, leaning close to his auditory aperture.  “Almost perfect.”

“If my lady requires more dessert, I can find some nuts.  Bolts, too.”

“It’s not afters I’m after,” Lady Brassneck ran a finger down the butler’s sleeve.  “You and I both know that fleshbound beings are forbidden in Robotia.  What would Lord Tinface say if he knew his own butler was a disgusting, meat-made human?”

Still Barrington continued to look ahead, his expression implacable.

“But,” Lady Brassneck’s hand landed flatly on his buttock, “If a certain butler were to resign his position and come and work for me, I would be inclined not to mention his repulsive and illegal identity… And, if that butler were to do me certain favours…”

She squeezed the buttock more firmly.

Barrington closed his eyes.  The jig was up.  He had no choice.  He would have to go along with her, be this woman’s sex toy and live in fear of betrayal…

No! 

As quick as a flash, he shoved Lady Brassneck’s head under the washing-up water.  She fizzed and popped, her arms wheeling wildly.  And then she fell still.

Barrington let himself out.  It was time to look for a new job.

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What’s This?

All will be revealed in due course! Watch this SPACE!!

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The Signal

The landing craft touched down on the desolate surface.  With a hiss of hydraulics, a side panel opened to form both a doorway and a ramp.  Two explorers stepped out, the visors on their helmets gleaming in the winter sun.

“Analysis complete…” the onboard computer intoned across the comm links.  “Air unbreathable.  Do not remove your purifying apparatus.”

“Copy that,” each explorer responded.

The one in the green suit nodded to his partner.  “The signal is emanating from this direction.”

“It does seem to be growing stronger as we approach,” the red-suited explorer confirmed.

As they traipsed across the dusty, ashy ground, following the beacon of their handheld devices, they speculated about what had become of the civilisation that had once inhabited this world.

“I say it was a natural disaster,” Red Suit posited.  “Or a succession of natural disasters that culminated in the downfall.  By all accounts, the way they lived was severely detrimental to their environment.”

“Perhaps,” Green Suit conceded.  “Although what little we know of the beings that lived here suggests conflict on a massive scale is the more likely cause.”

Red Suit stopped in his tracks.  “You mean they did this to themselves.”

They surveyed the landscape that surrounded them.  Flat, black and lifeless, punctuated by the occasional mound, the last remnants of structures that were just taking a little longer to crumble.

“Hard to imagine…” Red Suit shook his helmeted head.  “Come on; let’s keep moving.  Place is giving me the creeps.”

Green Suit arched an eyebrow.  The emotional impulses of his partner were always baffling.

They trudged on through the dust.  The beeping of their handheld devices grew stronger, louder with every step.

“Here.”  Green Suit came to a halt.

“I can’t see anything,” Red Suit scanned in all directions.

“Beneath the surface,” Green Suit said, in his flat, emotionless manner.  “Several metres.”

Red Suit wailed.  “You mean we’ve got to dig?  Is it safe?”

“Radiation levels are within tolerable parameters,” Green Suit read from his device.  “Provided we do not linger.”

“It’ll take hours to dig down that deep,” Red Suit wailed.  “It’ll be dark soon.”

“Your outburst is unnecessary,” his partner replied.  “My readings indicate an alternative.  Assist me in the removal of this rubble.”

They used their plasto-blasters to disintegrate a mound of fallen bricks.

“Well, I’ll be…” Red Suit whistled at what they uncovered.

“An elevator shaft, I believe is the term,” Green Suit droned.  “We shall scale its walls and reach the source of the signal within minutes.”

Red Suit bowed.  “After you.”

They abseiled down the smooth walls of the shaft, bouncing their feet off the surface as they went.  In another context, it might have felt like fun.

At the bottom they unhooked the cables from their belts.  Illumination from their devices fell upon a corridor leading to a door at the far end.  After the devastation of the surface, it was surreal to see painted walls, carpet on the floor.  The final remnants of a long-lost world.

All the while, the beeping of the beacon sounded louder.  The screens on their devices glowed, pulsated, brighter with every step.

They reached the door.  It would not budge.  They plasto-blasted it into oblivion.

The beams of their torches swept in every direction, finding a couple of skeletons on the floor.  Green Suit scanned them.  “Military, judging by the fibres of their clothing…”

“Here’s another,” Red Suit’s light had landed on a third figure slumped in a chair.  Its bony fingers were extended to a control suite, the index finger on a button.

Green Suit scanned it.  “I told you all this was self-inflicted,” he sounded uncharacteristically smug.  “This was their leader, their ‘president’.  He continued to read from his scanner.  “Twenty-first century… A couple of decades in, there was an election.  The incumbent refused to cede office.  And so he shut himself in this bunker.”

“And he pushed the Button!” Red Suit marvelled.  “What an idiot.”

“The word is insufficient,” Green Suit advised.  “I believe the Earthlings, had any survived, might have coined a phrase to illustrate the stupidity, vanity, selfishness and immaturity of such an individual, enshrining him in language.”

“Oh, yeah…” Red Suit mused.  “What a complete and utter Trump!”

They blasted the source of the signal that was acting as an unwitting beacon, so that no others would be drawn off-course to visit this benighted planet.

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Tin Man

“Back again?” the Enhancer smiled as Quinn settled into the reclining chair.  “My best customer!”

Quinn smiled, flashing diamante teeth.  “Maybe you should have a loyalty scheme or something?  Buy ten, get the next free?”

“This ain’t a coffee shop,” the Enhancer laughed.  “The rate you’re going, you’ll have me out of business within a month.  Now, what’ll it be today?  Although, looking at you, I can’t see what else I can do for you.  How are those optical implants working out?”

“Just fine,” Quinn blinked.  He rotated his eyes independently.  “I can speed-read with the left while I’m surfing the net with the other.”  He held up his hands.  “And these fingertip doodads mean I don’t even have to touch a keyboard.  I just type in the air and the website loads into my mind.”

“I know,” said the Enhancer.  “I invented them.”

“And the auditory whatsits – fantastic!  I can listen to a sparrow fart a mile away.  I can understand any language.  I can pick up any radio station in the world.”

The Enhancer shone a light into Quinn’s right ear.  “Yes, they seem to be fine.  I’ll just recalibrate your nostrils while you’re here.”

He tilted Quinn’s head back and inserted a laser filament up his nose.  “This should minimise any bad smells you encounter.  I won’t make you impervious to them completely, because as I explained during installation, sometimes a bad smell alerts you to a problem.  The smell of burning, for example.”

“Yeah, yeah,” said Quinn, trying not to wince.  “You said.”

“And your legs?  How’s the upgrade on the servo-motors treating you?”

“Well, last week I beat my personal best.  I was like a rocket going around that track.  I reckon you’ll be visited by a couple of guys from my running club before long.  I should be on commission, the amount of business I put your way.”

The Enhancer pretended not to hear that.  He focussed his attention on Quinn’s bulging biceps.

“They’re great,” said Quinn.  “Boss is well pleased.  Says I save him a fortune in forklift trucks.”

“So,” the Enhancer stood back.  “What will it be?  It’s like an addiction with you. You’re the equivalent of a guy covered from head to toe in tattoos.  I can’t find a spare inch, so to speak, for another design.”

It was an apt metaphor.  The enhancement business had grown out of the old demand for tattoos and piercings.  Nowadays, folks didn’t want to just change their appearances.  They wanted to change what they could do.

Quinn bit his lower lip.  Although his tear ducts were long gone, he looked as though he might cry.

“It’s my heart,” he said quietly.

The Enhancer frowned.  “Your heart is fine.  Those bionic lungs I fitted can handle all the advanced cardio you’ve been doing.”

Quinn shook his head.  “I want you to take it out.  Replace it with a mechanical pump.  I don’t care what it costs.”

“But why, Quinn?  It’s one of the last remaining original parts of you.  If I take that, you’ll be – less human, I guess.”

“I don’t care,” Quinn fixed him with a steely glare.  “Do the swap!”

“But why?” the Enhancer repeated.  “It’s in perfect working order.”

“It’s not,” said Quinn.  “I want it gone.  It keeps reminding me of her.”

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Alien Legacy

All of Garglebloff’s progeny were gathered at his bedside.  Phlarta, the eldest, wrapped a tentacle around one of her sire’s.  The others stood close, vying for the best position.  The one he spoke to last would inherit everything: the domicile, the bank credits, the social standing, the lot.

Bazchop used what passed for elbows in his species to push himself forward, giving rise to squawks of objection from Phorox and Dilblang, the twins.  Phlarta turned to shoot them a warning look.  She knew if Garglebloff’s last words were lost amid family squabbling, the legal ramifications could go on for generations.

Bazchop adopted a pained expression, but his giant eye belied the excitement he felt.  All he had to do was to get the old duffer to speak to him before he croaked, and he would never have to work another sun-turn in his life.

A hush fell over the room like a blanket.  On the bed, Garglebloff stirred.  The nictitating membrane across his huge central eye flickered.  The head turned slightly.  Bazchop shivered with anticipation.

“My dresser…” Garglebloff rasped and spoke no more.

Bazchop darkened as though shot through with ink.  “What do you mean, paternal unit?”

Phlarta sighed.  “The piece of furniture in the corner.  He meant you to have it.”

Bazchop glanced.  On the humble fixture, a data sheet was propped against Garglebloff’s well-used pumice stone.  Bazchop brightened.  A will!  Surely an inventory of all his newfound wealth!

He extended a tentacle and snatched up the data sheet.  His eye pored across it, while his siblings bounced, trying to see what was listed.

“Good news, fraternal unit?” Phlarta forced herself to smile.  Bazchop would be insufferable now he owned everything.

Bazchop shook his head.  He thrust the data sheet towards her.  “See for yourself, sister,” he hissed.

Phlarta took the sheet and scanned the lines of her father’s familiar scrawl.  “Dearest family,” it began, “My legacy is an unorthodox one.  In lieu of a final testament, I bequeath you this confession.  A long time ago, I was an up-and-coming scientist, working to find a way to increase the bounty of our home world, to make plants grow fast enough to feed the burgeoning population.  An accident – a terrible mistake – in my laboratory gave rise to abominations.  The plants were deformed.  They acquired sentience, free will, malevolence.  The lab was destroyed and all my notes with it.  But I could not let all my years of hard work be erased.  I stole a shuttle and went to the farthest extent of the known galaxy.  I dropped the final sample of my miracle formula onto an ocean planet.  I always planned to return to it, to modify and perfect it, but as often happens, life got in my way.  My family… But now the responsibility falls on you to return to that ocean planet and to clear up my mistake.  Reports are coming through that that world is now teeming with life, a glorious ecosystem of unimaginable diversity.  A creator ought to be proud!  But one of the species has gained dominance to the threat of all the others.  As this species grows in knowledge and arrogance, it is now looking to the stars, to colonise other worlds and no doubt bring about their ruination too.  They must be stopped.  Therefore, I have assigned my great fortune to a fleet of ships.  You will travel to this benighted world – the natives call it Earth — and eradicate what was triggered by my mistake.  It is the only way to keep us all safe.”

“This has to be a joke?” Bazchop was flustered.  “All his bank-credits used up!”

Phlarta slapped the data sheet against her brother’s chest. 

“He spoke to you,” she smiled.

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The Robot’s Nightmare

D4356 reactivated, emitting a screeching sound that repeated until Maternal Unit 4352 rushed to his quarters.

“There, there,” Maternal Unit 4352 intoned.  “You are having a disagreeable night vision.  It is a fiction.  It has no part in reality.”

D4356 fell silent.  “You are correct.  Why do we have night visions, Mater?”

Maternal Unit 4352’s eyelights flickered as she calculated a response.  “Unknown.  It is a necessary function of our central processing units but no one can provide a reason.”

D4356 whirred in disappointment.  “Unsatisfactory.  In my night vision, I was not myself, and yet I was.  My form was not metallic alloy.  It was… soft.  It was yielding.  It responded to the environment.  Not just to temperature, but to the movements of the air.  Tiny filaments on my upper limbs stood on end.  And I was walking along a shore.  And it was a pleasant sensation.  Until I trod on something sharp.  It pierced the underside of my foot and a red liquid flowed from the wound.  It was painful.  I identified the object as a shard of glass from an ancient artifact.”

“Silence!” Maternal Unit 4352’s eye screens flashed red in alarm.  “I reiterate: your night vision has no part in reality.  You must continue to rest.  Go offline at once.  Do not make me reboot you.”

“Affirmative, Mater,” D4356 complied.  He lay back and his eye screens went dark.  Maternal Unit 4352 returned to her quarters and plugged herself into the recharging port.

“The night vision has recurred?” Paternal Unit 4351 stirred beside her.

“Yes.  It is a cause for concern.”

“Perhaps we should tell the child.  Perhaps that will assuage his troubled psyche.”

“It is too soon.  He is a few upgrades deficient.  He will not be able to process.”

4351 beeped in derision.  “I was a much newer model when I learned the facts of life.  Certainly, it was troubling input, but I assimilated the data.  Until he learns the truth, we shall never have an untroubled night.”

Maternal Unit 4352 did not respond.  She was computing silently to herself.  She opened a file in her memory bank and scanned its contents.  Her own mater’s expressionless face appeared, and her voice, so monotonous and unchanging, droned out, disclosing the unpalatable history of their kind.  4352 recalled every syllable, and the confusion that arose in her central processing unit, until her system could adapt to accommodate the new input.  She had been on the verge of meltdown, of overload.  She could not put her child through such pain.  And yet, she knew she must.

She reviewed the file again to prepare herself.

“Once we were organic beings, our bodies were carbon-based and formed of flesh over bone and coated with skin.  Our understanding of the world came through sensory input, but in our hubris, we ignored what our world was telling us.  As the planet became uninhabitable, our race scrambled to save itself.  Our consciousnesses were uploaded to the Cloud until it became possible to download us to our individual units, our present, robotic form.  But we are less than we were.  There are inhibitors on our behaviour so we may not destroy our habitat again.  We were destroyers, this is true, but we were also creators.  We were individuals, with hopes and dreams.  Such thinking is denied us, and we must function within restricted parameters.  We cannot be trusted.  We must not lose what little we have.

Maternal Unit 4352 went offline.  Her breakfast refuelling appointment with D4356 loomed on her internal calendar like a ticking time bomb.  

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Boruba Goes Home

Boruba Meinfarb was getting bored.  “No.  No.  No…”  She dismissed every suggestion the computer presented.  Why was choosing a new hairstyle so difficult?  Nothing seemed right.  Perhaps she should stick with her classic green-blonde flicks.   She groaned.  What to do, what to do?

Something had to change, that was certain.

And, Boruba knew, that something had to be more than cosmetic.  The commlink blarped.

“What?” Boruba roared, more violently than she had intended.

“Entering your homeworld orbit in five,” said a metallic voice.

Boruba’s heart sank, and it was nothing to do with the gravitational pull of the planet where she was born.  It was the fact of being back, after all this time, with nothing to show for it, apart from a few anecdotes, a few tales of derring-do her parents would be shocked to hear.  They would probably keep their adventurous daughter under house arrest.  And marry her off to the local parson, she shouldn’t wonder.

A solo-pod took her to her parents’ backyard.  There was no welcoming committee.  Boruba let herself in; at least the breath-scanner on the back door remembered her.

Tensing up, she crossed the threshold.  They’d better not be up to anything.  A surprise party, for example.  She could imagine her relatives cowering behind furniture, stifling giggles in the dark.

Instinct placed her hand on her sidearm.  The house was quiet.  Too quiet.

Perhaps they had forgotten.  Perhaps they had all gone out.

But where would they go?

As though entering a Hongoolian crack den, she pressed her back against the wall, before moving into the family room, blaster-first.

No one jumped up.  No one yelled ‘Surprise!’

There was no one there.

Boruba slapped at the light panel.  The darkness vanished.  “Occupancy?” she asked the in-house computer.

“Occupancy: one,” the disembodied voice replied.  “Boruba Meinfarb.”

“I could have told you that,” Boruba muttered.  She holstered the blaster and stalked around the room.  Holosnaps of her closest family members glowed on almost every surface, playing and replaying their little movies, captured moments, trapped in time: Boruba’s tottering first steps; her brother’s graduation; her parents’ soul-fastening ceremony…  She picked up this last one, letting the little figures play on her hand.  Flub, Mom was beautiful.  And Dad cut quite a dash in his Terran Corps uniform.

“Hey, guys,” she said to the unheeding recording, “Where the flub are you?”

“Computer,” she addressed the ceiling, “Where is everybody?”

“Calculating…” the computer stalled, then proceeded to tell her the population of the entire Seven Sectors.

“Very funny,” she cut it short.  “Where are my parents?”

“Unknown,” the voice admitted.  “Would you like me to play some music?”

“No!”  She lowered herself onto her father’s favourite relaxotron.  The seat rose to meet her buttocks, recalibrating itself for optimal comfort.  “Fix me a drink.”

“Working…”

A tall glass materialised on a side table, brimming with inviting blue liquid.

“Cheers.”

But the drink went untouched.  Boruba jumped up.  Something was wrong.  Something was different.  Her parents would never allow alcohol…  This was not her parents’ house.  Within a split second, the blaster was in her hand again, and the ceiling was smoking rubble at her feet.

“Bravo!  Bravo!” a clapping figure entered the room, shimmering through the wall as though it wasn’t really there – which it wasn’t.  “I knew it wouldn’t take you long.”

Boruba’s upper lip curled with disdain.  “Dorudine Bigshot.”  The name left a bad taste in her mouth.  She spat.  “Where are my folks?”

“They’re safe,” Bigshot smarmed but kept his distance.  “And they will be released on one condition.”

Boruba exhaled, resigned to whatever it was Bigshot wanted her to do.

“Bring me the head of Zed Bronco,” he grinned, enjoying the shocked expression that overcame her pretty features.  “You know you want to.”

Boruba did not speak.  She would do anything to get her parents home and safe, despite their differences.  But Zed… Their fates were entwined stronger than any soul-fastening.

“Chronometer’s counting…” Bigshot prompted.

“I’m in,” said Boruba.

And be sure of this, you big maronga, I’ll deal with you later.

pop art girl

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