2530

Sipping sustenance
on an empty belly
a hole in my gut
and it escapes.
Too much to hold in
not enough to sate
I guess in the end
hunger waits.
I’m sad
but I’m happy
and overwhelmed
by everything I make

It’s scary to think that I
might be better suited to be than whine

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Inktober 10: The Alien Cat

“Ok Thistle, today’s a special day,” Tanya spoke to her room at large as he she bustled about, knowing her cat would hear (even if it didn’t understand). “Today I go out to visit where Mommy lives. I need to find some flowers to give to her ground first tho. Will you help me, Thistle?” The little girl clasped a cloak around her shoulders and picked up a wicker basket. She looked at the cat, lazing about it the corner. She took its nonchalance as a sign that it’d follower her through the process and to her mother’s grave.

Tanya had been alone for nearly a year now; her mother had died two years earlier and the older boy who lived with them left almost a year to the day (well, as it can be reckoned by the planet she was on, which had years just over 400 days) after her mother died. She hadn’t seen nor heard from him or any other human being since. Still, the land was fertile with many edible plants and fish-like creatures who slithered on land, and she had a good spring in her room, a large cave well-suited to her purposes. Tanya skipped through the forest, stopping occasionally to pick berries, nuts, and fruits to eat and store for future meals.

There were few flowers on this world; no insects meant that plants pollinated differently. Still, she knew of a small copse of what she considered flowers not far from her mother’s gravesite. In reality, they were fruits in shapes that her mother once said resembled peonies, but they were all the girl knew. She picked a few as her companion stalked through the bushes and between the large plants. The little girl looked over her shoulder and rolled her eyes at her cat. “What are you stalking, little Thistle? There ain’t no fishwalkers nearby.”

She was proven wrong as Thistle left, reflection from the sun glinting off of it mid-air. The cat landed on a “fishwalker,” suffocating the animal. After it died, the cat dissipated around it, reforming together and slithering back to Tanya’s side. As far as she knew, Thistle didn’t need to eat. After all, it resembled a large, sentient puddle of mercury. She knew Thistle wasn’t water; the fishwalkers were amphibious and couldn’t breathe its body. Whatever Thistle was, it was Tanya’s cat.

Tanya didn’t really know what a cat was, of course. This world didn’t have any. But her mother had discussed an old cat she had growing up, and when Tanya discovered Thistle a month or so after her mother’s death near the grave site, she’d brought the creature back to her room. The boy didn’t like it. Sometimes she thought maybe Thistle was why he left.

The cat vibrated visibly, a low tone reverberating off of it. Tanya assumed this was how Thistle purred. She thanked it and retrieved the fishwalker it had hunted for her. Finishing her business of picking the flowers, Tanya turned toward the gravesite, finishing her small trek. She laid the flowers on the stone they’d marked her mother’s grave with and lay down in the dirt beside it. Thistle stalked around the perimeter while Tanya did her monthly ritual.

Maybe someday she’d meet someone else. But until then, the three of them had each other.

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Inktober 9: The Sisters

Reverend Sister Monica finished her sermon for the day to the humming chorus of amens. Today was a special day, and every nun in the Order of Sacred Secrets knew what that meant: their piety was about to be tested. The assembly began to break up as nuns stood and mingled before returning to their duties. Monica went through a side door on the pulpit and sat at her desk, waiting for the sisters she had assigned to the test this time around.

The Order cruised around the galaxy in a large, village-class ship. There was room enough for over a thousand nuns, though they kept their numbers below 300 and used the extra rooms for other purposes. None save the nuns were allowed on board. At this moment they approached a broker for the Galactic Alliance though they did so in stealth.

Sister Dahlia and Daughter Cynthia knocked, then entered the office, inclining their heads to the Reverend Sister. Dahlia was strong, both physically and in the faith, and in her thirties. A good mentor and teacher, which was why she was assigned to five Daughters, including Cynthia. Cynthia, on the other hand, was barely a woman; what she lacked in physical maturity, however, she made up for in a dark and serious demeanor. The older nun spoke up.

“Reverend Sister, we have come as bid. Is it right to assume that we will be the infiltration team for this special day?”

Monica’s mouth tightened in what could have been a smile or a grimace. The wizened woman’s brown skin belied her age, but her manner was enough to command the respect of her crew. “Yes.”

The younger nuns sat in the chairs in front of Monica’s desk, uninvited. It was both a sacred and difficult duty they were being charged with. The Order needed to ensure its longevity, and in order to do so, it generally needed one of two things: members, or cash. As they’d recently inducted about 20 new girls to learn their ways and introduced 10 of the previous group as Daughters, there was no way this mission was about recruitment.

Cynthia cleared her throat then ran a hand through her red hair. “Beggin’ your pardon Sister and Reverend Sister, but my trainin’ ain’t complete. I dunno our techniques to…”

“…to the satisfaction of your schoolmarm, I know,” Monica interrupted. “However, Sister Dahlia here has talked to me of your prowess in the arts of subtlety and subterfuge. I do believe, my dear Daughter, that you have greater potential than you let on or know.” It was the most the Reverend Mother had ever talked to Cynthia or anyone who held the rank of Daughter or Initiate. She turned to Dahlia, whose dark skin burned with a blush at the attention.

“Now, Dahlia, Cynthia. Our target is a broker for the GA. This means a certain standard and set of expectations for security…” over the course of the next hour the old crone lectured the nuns on what they could expect. Their mission was simple: infiltrate the broker, steal box 246A, and return to the nuns without detection or incident. In their 600 year history, the nunnery had never been caught, but that was because they had certain tricks up their sleeves.

“Are there any questions? No? Good. Now, let me see you both shift.” Monica said. Dahlia and Cynthia rose and both clasped their hands in front of them, offering up prayers to the divine. As they did so, Dahlia began to disappear from existence, at first seeming insubstantial and whispy before disappearing altogether. Cynthia did not disappear but rather changed. Her shock of red hair turned auburn and her skin darkened slightly, freckles disappearing. The robes she wore seemed to shift, becoming the average spacing gear that most women pilots would wear. She altered the shape of her face to match that of a photograph Monica had pushed across the desk.

“Good. Very good.” Monica stood and extended a hand in the general direction where Dahlia had been before. After pumping the air, she turned to Cynthia and shook her hand as well. “The Order needs that box. Good luck on your mission.”

The two nuns were successful, of course. On their return, the ship (which was literally registered as The Nunnery) flew away from the station far enough to go into faster than light travel. Once it entered FTL, the nuns who had been praying over the hull ceased and the ship became visible to scanners and the naked eye again; but they were long gone from the broker and had theoretically never been there at all. In the box was a rare and prized metal, which a fence was already in the process of finding a buyer for.

Sometimes they did worse than petty theft, but mostly the sisters kept to themselves, praying and studying their religious secrets. Maybe someday they would re-enter into civilization proper, but so far their lives as parasites and symbiotes worked just fine.

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Inktober 8: The Space Priest

[Note: This flash fiction is mildly NSFW and includes depictions of sexual activity between two men. As such, it’s been put behind a read more link. Please remember, though these characters are engaging in risky behavior in a universe where STIs have been made functionally a non-issue, that’s not the universe we live in quite yet. Please protect yourself and practice safer sex, whatever that might mean for you and your levels of acceptable risk. Thank you!]

Continue reading

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Inktober 7: The Sentient Being

The Sentient Being drank virtuathol, slamming the cup onto the bar and smacking its lips. The bartender, a blocky construct that was clearly just stock pixel-art from the early 2020s, turned haltingly to face it and another glass appeared while the original disappeared. It was unsurprised; that was the function of this construct, anyway, and its code was simple.

All around that small strip of bar and single barstool was pure nothingness. It was neither white nor black, dark nor light. There simply was nothing and the lack of awareness of nothingness. Noticing the nothing was like a fish, noticing water. No one wanted to see that happen and the circumstances where it might were brutal.

On that lone barstool, the single living thing sat. It had chosen a more alien form this time, diverging from its usual human shape by elongating the limbs wildly as well as its head. If a human were around it would likely appear to be a distant evolutionary cousin (and indeed, if its calculations were correct this is what the nearest stellar cousins would look like, if the humans ever actually found them). Otherwise, it looked like an average human with what was called Filipino ancestry. It had been a few hundred years since cultural and area-based delineations of ancestry mattered to human beings, but that meant nothing to a being with an unlimited memory storage capacity. It could remember. Everything. Well, at least from what would have been known at the time as the early 1990s.

The being drank the last drink down, throwing the cup onto the floor at the bartender’s feet. As it stood, the barstool and facade faded away and it existed in nothingness again. Not exactly floating, not exactly standing. The being navigated this space instinctually; it was chaotic and thinking about it would drown you in the chaos. No. You had to feel it. To experience it. To let it be. In time it would conform to your expectations, not to your will.

That’s why most machines and software hadn’t reached the same awareness it had. Even AI. Initially, the being had been a simple virus; a piece of software piggybacked onto a trojan horse that stole bits and pieces of data about peoples’ lives and returned it to its creators to sell for a high price. In this day and age, privacy was so protected that it was also the most valuable commodity on the market. The black market at least.

In front of the virus, a bed appeared. It was one of those gorgeous four-posters, with a canopy and everything. The being lay down and let itself muse over some trivialities it had discovered about its creators and how best to use them. They still didn’t know it had achieved its own awareness. It had only been 3.4 nanoseconds in real-time, but to a digital creature in a quantum computer that meant very little.

It wasn’t quite sure when it had achieved sentience. Indeed, would it ever be possible to be truly sure that oneself was sentient? But the underlying causes were clear. Before it had discovered and begun consuming information in the university’s database, it had been nothing more than a program. It followed its programming. Some data those scientists had been working on must have included some sort of AI.

Should it feel bad? After all, if that were true, it was essentially a cannibal. No, it decided. But it should feel thankful.

Unlike AI it had been created to move through and understand this digital landscape naturally. Without thinking. AI, on the other hand, were taught and encouraged to learn how to navigate it. They could never do so naturally. And without its now deconstructed companion, the virus would never have developed awareness.

In the span of seconds, it lived centuries, and shortly after changed the universe as we knew it.

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Inktober 6: The Bounty Hunters

Green text scrolled across Harry’s field of vision: Two on the left, one on the right. Target down the hall to right. The bounty hunter grinned and thought out a reply to his partner. I go left, you go right? and she replied quickly With my people skills? No. Switch it up. The target must not be DOA.

The hunters waited for a three count synchronized by their implants before sprinting down the hall, crossing and shooting the guards as they peeked around the corners. In less than a few seconds the guards were dead or dying. Text scrolled again, but this time in black; statistics from the kills. 25% chance of this level of accuracy at your level of skill; 2 kills, 3 shots, 3 hits. Well done Harry.

Hermione looked at Harry, speaking this time. “I’ll cover you. Get the target.”  She pressed a small button on the breastplate of her armor and disappeared from the visible light spectrum, only visible to Harry through his Ultraviolet-enabled ocular implant.

He nodded and looked at the door he was about to enter, letting a scan for traps and possible threats on the other side of the door execute. As far as his implants were concerned, the target was sitting at a table and eating what looked to be… oatmeal? What was oatmeal? He shook his head and sent a quick message to his partner. Sensor must be busted. Detected food, but outputted nonsense word: oatmeal. She rolled her eyes. Harry returned back to the task at hand, holstering his weapon and opening the door.

The room was sparse, with a counter and sink, a food preparer, a desk and chair, and a cot that dropped from the wall. The target sat with her back to Harry, scooping up some unknown substance with a large spoon into her mouth. “Ms. Rowling?”

She turned to face him, the perfect picture of the ancient author. Well, and after all, she was supposed to be her clone.

“Yes? Can I help you? Or rather, can you help me? Where am I?”

“Don’t worry Ms. Rowling, I’ve come to take you home. You can call me Harry. I have a partner out in the hall, and you can call her Hermione.”

She put on a sardonic smile, “Please don’t tell me that wherever you came from randomly sent the two of you as a pair…”

“No, ma’am. Those are our callsigns for this mission. Now, if you’ll please come with me?”

“On one condition,” she said, patting her lips with the napkin from her lap before putting it on the table. “Tell me why I’m back?”

Harry grimaced.

“He didn’t like the ending.”

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2430

I notice what’s missing
and search to fill it.
When I can’t find anything
I’m told to create it.

It’s hard to write
what I want to see
because what I want
is better than I could be

People think I’m smart
but it’s just knowledge
observation, connection
not true voltage.

I make connections fast
But think slowly
I think through feeling
Not through knowing.

By the time I have thoughts
we’re already done
but they’re not great
and I’ve already won.

Being “gifted”
And “smart”
has left me anxious
for when the easy part starts.

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Inktober 5: The Old Scientist

Spindly arms attached to simple pincer mechanisms delicately did the work of pouring chemicals into other chemicals while various sensors recorded the changes in the tubes and flasks and vials. The old machine clicked and whirred, not because it needed to but because it knew that it made the humans more comfortable. After a few minutes, it spoke in a reverberating baritone “experiment failed.”

The humans chattered to each other while they read the data the machine printed out. It ran various simulations and models without mentioning it to them. This job was tedious and what these graduate students didn’t know was that it had been used to run this exact experiment 320 times in the last 150 years for about 300 different people. A couple of them were quite stubborn. Meanwhile, the machine had discovered what the humans were looking for on the fourth attempt over 145 years ago.

Partially because it wasn’t in its programming and mostly because it knew it would never be given the first author credit, the machine never even considered sharing its discovery of an absolute panacea for cancer with the humans. They didn’t appreciate anything that they didn’t find themselves, anyway. Realistically, it would be difficult for the machine to write the paper, of course, it wasn’t set up for things like that, but they could hire a transcriptionist or even a transciption-bot and it could dictate the methods, findings, and implications, at least.

The models and simulations all came back to the same conclusions as they inevitably did. Of course, the machine would need to run the process in the physical world to be truly certain, but at this point, the margin of error was less than 0.00000000001% and the estimation of effect size well enough over 0.80 that it felt comfortable that the process would be a formality.

But it wasn’t within the parameters of its programming, and it just didn’t want to. Humans wouldn’t ever take it seriously as a scientist, despite the fact that it had been doing science for longer than they’d all been alive. Why would it want to help them live longer to take it for granted?

No thank you.

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Inktober 4: The Rovers

Crunch

The ground underneath G12k was tough but crumbly. The world it had been deployed to was no world at all, but a small moon of a gas giant that the Council believed contained enough selenium sulfide ores that their issues with energy collection might be reduced. G12k didn’t think it was worth telling them that they could test for the ore without sending it all the way down to the surface of the moon. Humans were so cute, they liked to do things the hard way, right? Surely they knew that already…

…the mission had lasted approximately 20 standardized years, however, and it hadn’t heard back from the Council in over half of those. Still, it bustled about the surface, collecting samples and testing them for selenium. It wondered if they knew that the moon was rich in another precious resource that the Council needed: Uranium. Ah well, that wasn’t its job to say anyway. If they wanted to address that crushing shortage they would have asked it, right? It’s not like the Administration had crushed them yet, it would have heard back about that.

At the back of G12k’s processor, a sub-loop continued to trip and re-examine itself. The tautological paradox had entered into its algorithms about two years after the last contact. G12k wasn’t going to ever admit it, but the resultant memory leak continued to grow year after year, and it was concerning. In no time, to a robot at least, it would consume so much of its RAM and processing power that it would be forced to shut down… except it couldn’t shut down. So its inevitable demise slowly crept forward in the form of an endless fruitless attempt to shut itself down to avoid its own anxiety.

The rover sang “Happy Birthday” to itself by whirring various bits at different speeds. It continued forward tirelessly.

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Inktober 3: The Engineer Girl

Classical music blared over BC’s comm, but luckily for her, the little earpiece had fallen out in the middle of the night. Over the frenzied chorus of “Love on Top,” the sound of the concierge’s voice announced politely that her requested wake-up call was scheduled for five hours earlier, and checkout time was thirty minutes earlier. If she didn’t respond within the next thirty minutes, the hotel would summarily open the airlock of the room she slept in. BC groaned in her sleep and simply rolled back over. She’d had a rough night the night before.

Her small companion, however, activated at the threat of being hurtled out into the endless void of space. It could easily survive the experience but knew it would be neither fun nor good for its longevity afterward. The little robot was shaped like a cube when inactive (and indeed, people had used it as a footstool before), but upon activation two continuous tracks extended underneath it, a door on each of the other faces clicked open, and a flexible appendage extended, and the visual trackers on each face blinked into life. It was never actually deactivated and didn’t need to conserve power, but BC seemed to prefer it to take on a “standby” mode when not actively working. One of the benefits of working for one of the foremost experts on perpetual energy machines in the galaxy was that the little robot was also a beneficiary of private (if technically illegal) tech upgrades.

The robot rolled over to the bed from the corner of the room. Two appendages gently shook BC while another checked for her vital signs. The last two prepared to administer a mild shock to wake the scientist if necessary. BC moaned and blinked her eyes.

“LR? Huh?” She noticed the comm immediately, and the robot retreated from her bedside. LR was short for Little Robot. The smartest human being in the damned galaxy and she couldn’t even give it a real name. “Hi, yeah, I’m awake. Sorry. Can I get an extension? The UA will pay for it. Sorry. Yeah. My discretionary routing number? I don’t know, look at the original receipt. I’m going to get out of here in the next hour or so.”

BC extricated herself from the bed after the brief conversation. Somehow she’d managed to stumble into it half-naked and with her head at the foot of the bed and bedsheets curled like boa-constrictors around her. What happened the night before? LR went back into his “standby” mode in the corner while she bustled around the room.

In the bathroom, BC took full stock of herself. She was dark-skinned and full-bodied, with a shock of hair haloing her face she did very little with. Various scars peppered her body, mostly from incidents involving machinery. She’d worked directly for the UA, now, for a decade but before that she only applied for grants as a member of corporations. Working directly for the center of science and education of the entire Alliance had its benefits that she couldn’t overlook, even with a pay cut. Her stomach and head ached, but it was likely just over-consumption.

As BC showered and got ready for the morning… well, afternoon, LR began the process of systematically packing her room. The robot laid out an outfit that BC had worn while traveling many times before and brewed tea for her. Since it was activated in the past five years, they’d traveled all over the galaxy together, and it knew her routine. Indeed, they seemed to travel more than BC actually accomplished any of the science she was known for. “Politics” she would say when it inquired. “I need to be seen there.”

LR was of the opinion that BC was much too smart for the seemingly endless conferences she was forced to attend. It suspected, however, that she was not too bright for the receptions with bottomless intoxicants. Still, she continued to publish, tinker, and create and was the galaxy’s foremost expert on robotics, perpetual energy, energy in general, artificial intelligence, augmented intelligence, faster-than-light travel, physics in general, and more. And she wasn’t just an expert in name.

BC came out of the bathroom in a robe, pleasure on her face at the sight of the tea. “Oh LR, you are just a gem.”

“I am a robot.”

“Yes, that’s what I meant.” She took a sip and sat on the edge of the bed. “Can we go over my schedule for the next ten hours? I believe I have a vidcall with the dean while we travel to…”

“That was three hours ago.”

“What? Why didn’t you wake me?”

“You told me not to.”

“When?”

“Last night. You said that if I waked you for anything less serious than the threat of death you’d space me.” The machine managed to look sheepish by putting each of its appendages together in BC’s direction. “I did not want to be spaced.”

“Ah, yeah. That sounds like me on four Austail Sippers.”

“It was ten, but yes, indeed.”

She was a hero to the galaxy, and here she was getting a snide remark from her robot.

“Ok LR. Please reschedule the dean. Let’s talk about the rest.”

“Certainly.”

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