The Ticking Clock

The Ticking Clock
By
Andrija Popovic
(C) 2017 Andrija Popovic

4:19 AM Eastern Time. 

Every morning, an hour and a half before his alarm was set to go off, he awoke. His eyes snapped open. He took a deep breath, almost gasping. Reaching out, he touched his snoring wife’s form to one side, and his snoring cat’s from to the other. 

You have time. Just go back to sleep. He would tell himself this lie every time. But his mind would never fall back into torpor. He was awake. The ticking clock inside him said it was time to walk about, to rise. The rest of his body obeyed, despite his mind’s dearest wishes. 

After the fifth night, his wife said: “You need to see a specialist.”

So he visited the body shop and had his specialist crack him open. As he lay back, brain case exposed, the specialist peered at a tiny bit of grey matter held between two foreceps. “Well, that’s your problem right there.”

“What?”

“Damn biological clock was never set to auto-update for daylight savings time.  Gonna have to reprogram it and get it synced again. That’ll probably be another nine-hundred or so.”

Goddamned highway robbery, he thought. The specialist took the grey matter away and tinkered with it, quietly, in the background. Another two thousand down the tubes. Still, what was the value of a good night’s sleep?

4:19 AM Eastern Time. His mental clock did not go off. He did not wake up suddenly.

He woke up slowly, and really had to pee. Son of a bitch…

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It Was A Day

It Was A Day

by

Andrija Popovic
(c) 2017 Andrija Popovic

I’d just returned home and downloaded into my standard body when Theta pinged my personal network. “Hey? You centered yet?”

“Gimme a bit. I’m still synching.” My work body, designed for zero-G work, rested comfortably in the wall transfer closet. I shook the pins & needles from my normal form. No prehensile feet and tail on this one. Just a baseline model crafted to match against my original body’s DNA.  I watched the counter on my iris-HUD click over to green. All experiences from work were now synced, and backed-up in off-line memory. “Still feeling a little post-sync crud. Heading to the shower. Join me there?”

“Already have it warm for you.” Thea v.7 was one fork of a SyntheticIntelligence I met at work. She (preferred pronoun) ran predictive micrometeorite tracking and helped keep the orbital free of debris. Most nights, she was syncing with her sisters, matching version numbers and trading the day’s news around this time. I’d come home, we’d talk – she liked low-level processing. Said it felt more thoughtful.

When she dropped by early, she was usually interested in syncing with my nervous system, and playing hologram in my tiny apartment. Stepping into the shower, I felt her request for connectivity. Granting it, I closed my eyes. Water ran down my back, pushing aside the transfer closet’s preservative sludge.  Opening my eyes, I saw her in the shower with me. She manifested as a curvy lady in her mid-40’s with curly dark hair and shimmering koi tattoos running along her back.  We complimented each other well. I leaned in and kissed her, the system pairing tricking my nerves into thinking the projection was real.

“Hey. How’s the family?”

“Well. They’re doing well.” She wrapped her arms around my waist. The shower was barely big enough for myself and her hologram. She glitched slightly against the walls. One day, we’d be able to add another sector to our habitat module. Get a full-sized shower with double the projectors. But, I supposed those are the dreams young transhuman couples have: move in together, get more cloud and physical storage, maybe settle down into something permanent. “The sisters did ask me about something, though. And it lead me to think. I took a work cycle of personal time to help sort this through.”

“Oh? What’s that?” I let the shower hit me with soap and hair jell.

Thea reached up and showed me the palm of her hand. The koi tattoo along her back drifted, swimming up to her palm. When it surfaced, it blew a bubble with a compacted optical scan code embedded in the surface. I decoded it in a blink. It was her root address – the one she shared with all the other instances of herself. But it was too long. It had–

“Is this…oh, Thea, are you sure?”

“Yes.” She took my hand. “Maxi, I’d like to single-instance myself with you. I’d like to be a unique Thea. One that lives with you. If you’ll have me.”

By way of an answer, I reached out and took the code from her hand. My personal network read the address information, and instantly gave it a unique presence in my systems. Thea no longer shared a root system with her systems. She shared it with me.”

“I’d be honored.” I held her against me, enjoying the illusion of her actually being in the shower with me. “Welcome home, Thea v.7.m.” And then I laughed. “So, what next? Furniture shopping together.”

“Maybe. Did I tell you I was looking for datalife friendly bodies? Found a few I liked, but wanted to get your thoughts…” Thea smiled. I closed my eyes, picked through a memory of a particularly interesting kiss from my past, and dubbed her into it. She almost purred.

“Thea, hon, you are always in my thoughts. Now, let me get dried off. We can hop the mesh into one of the monitoring satellites and watch the sun hit the orbital as we talk.” Thea returned the kiss, edited and enhanced, and stepped out of the shower. I had a moment to myself.

Shared networks. It was time. And I’d been thinking of asking her. Now the body, that’s a different commitment. We’d need to slow down a bit, but we had time. As I shut off the shower, and walked over to the wall screens where Thea’s preferred bodies were displayed. Most were starter kits – simple, but a good place for any SI to begin feeling the new world. A year from now, maybe we could afford a more advanced model for her.

What is the one-year anniversary gift for a mixed SI/transhuman relationship? I didn’t know. but I wanted to find out.

(Inspired by a recent viewing of Blade Runner 2049.)

Meanwhile, That Tuesday (NSFW)

Meanwhile, That Tuesday
by
Andrija Popovic

(C) 2017 Andrija Popovic

 

Tuesday morning, cultists of Sesuva-Danna, the Seething God of Pain and Ecstasy, captured Michael Disimilov on his way to work. They dragged him out into the dark reaches of the city, beneath an abandoned manor, and flayed the business suit from his back with razor-tipped flails. Worshipers – male, female, indeterminate and others – took turns pleasuring and torturing him. Strapped to a great framework cut from the bones of dead gods, blood and semen ran down his body in equal measure. In the space of half a day, Michael’s nerves no longer distinguished between the cut of a blade or the lick of a tongue.

And then the rituals began.

Great malefic drawings were made from the spilled life on the floor. The cultists painted odes to their god, mixing pigment with that which dripped from Michael’s orifices. The walls blazed with Giger-esque landscapes; orgies of flayed bodies, tentacled faces, and alien genitalia swirled together into a whirlwind of aching desire. In the center of the great sexual melee stood the Priest/ess of Sesuva-Sanna, resplendent in zir piercing-covered skin and cobalt-blue body paint. Ze stroked Michael’s quivering lips and spoke:

“Rejoice! You have been chosen. You will become part of the great gateway that allows Sesuva-Danna to enter this realm at the next alignment of the stars. For thirty days and thirty nights, you will be loved and defiled until all sensations become one silver spear of light. Then, only then, will Sesuva-Danna descend upon this realm, and devour us all!”

Oh, thank God, thought Michael. At least I won’t have to tell my boss the Finterbrook account is cancelling. It’ll spare me another dip in my renewal rate…

Michael laughed and cried. He rejoiced as the Priest/Ess straddled and penetrated him, while the cultists sang, decorating each other with scars. This was his best Tuesday in months. For while he may become the unholy conduit through which a sybaritic god would enter this world, at least he would not have to withstand another Quarterly Business Review with Devon Martin and his smug “it doesn’t matter how terrible the product if you can sell the value of the company” speeches.

For once, Michael couldn’t wait for hump day…

 

The Tour is Not Worth the Donation

The Tour Is Not Worth the DonationBy

Andrija Popovic

(C) 2017 Andrija Popovic

“Hello, and welcome to the National Museum of Existential Dread. Thank you for your donation and for participating in this tour. My name is Andy and I will be your guide. Before we reach our main attraction, please take a moment to download our tour app onto your personal devices and networks.

“While we wait, allow me to describe the museum itself. This is a unique example of early twenty-first century Brutalist revival architecture. Based on an unused design found in the home of the late master of Brutalism, Paul Rudolphe, the museum was constructed from traditional materials for the style. The exposed concrete, blackened metal framework, and tinted windows emphasize the imposing, angular design of the building. At it’s opening, the noted architectural critic Anna DuMonde said, “the building almost crushes one under its harsh, unrelenting, lines.”

“OK, it looks like everyone has downloaded the application. Thank you. We’ll move on to our first exhibit before the main gallery. Existential Dread was first described by the philosopher Søren Kierkegaard, in his book, “The Concept of Dread.” While he primarily centered existential dread around concepts of faith, in later years this dread centered around the unmoored feelings brought on by existence itself.

“Human freedom, and the responsibility to use that freedom, became a source of melancholia or angst within a person. As one realizes there is no higher plan, no direction in life, it becomes initially liberating, but engenders a terror on par with agoraphobia. Dread, existential dread, becomes a response to the meaninglessness and absurdity of life.

“We then attempt to suppress this dread by indulging in the everyday routines in life. Suffocating routine becomes a comfort. We abdicate our freedoms for the comfort of the mundane. Only the supremely confident amongst, or the supremely narcissistic and sociopathic, can look at the terrifying breadth of human experience and feel they can master it.”

“Now, please follow me into the main hall and activate your personal networks and devices.”

“What you are seeing – projected via the most advanced direct input simsense technology allowed by law – is your life. The terms of service you agreed to when downloading our tour application allowed our advanced synthetic intelligence driven datacrawlers to pull together a full profile of your life. Yes, the museum only consists of the first floor. All other floors contain the necessary machinery to present our subject in absolute clarity.”

“Look upon the different panels. Each is hung like a portrait. Each one is tailored to your life and your life alone. The simsense projectors will ensure no one but you sees the images there. You will see every choice you made to get to where you are today. But you can look and see a projection of where you could have gone, where you should have gone, had you just… been… better. 

“This is you as you could have been. Had you not let the existential dread of total freedom lead you to choose lives that masked your angst with drudgery, false ambition, failed passions, and meaningless relationships –

“Had you been masters of your choices, and not pawns of fate and fear –

“Had you not given in to existential dread –

“Well, look how amazing you would be.”

“And if you think this cruel of me, well, I’m on these walls as well. Imagine the dread which lead me to be a tour guide in a museum like this.”

“Now, please take a moment to collect yourselves. There are chairs and couches if you needn’t a seat. Tissues are provided, though we do not offer drinks until you have reached the museum bar at the end of the tour. When you are ready, just step through the door.

“Much like life, from here on out, you are on your own. And there is no guide. Thank you. And, please, fill out a comment card.”

Choose your own Adventure

(C) 2017 Andrija Popovic

The door opens up and you find yourself in the main hub area of your beautiful job. Rows of cube-chairs, one after the other, line the massive open plan office space. You can see your reflection in the great silvered mirrors of the executive offices. The executives get private thinking spaces where they can still observe every person. You’re glad they’re always watching over you, able to see and hear everything they do.

As you make your way to your cube chair, you see Don and Samantha. Don is one of the executives. His bespoke suit and designer interface apps show you just how well he’s doing with the company. He has Samantha in a small corner of the office, near one of the windowless ‘consultation rooms.’ He appears to be encouraging her to get inside.

Samantha seems uncomfortable. She wants to want to get back to her cube chair. She’s glancing at Don, and back at her chair, and then back at the consultation room.  Then, she looks at you.

Do you interfere? If so, select <HERE>
Do you head to your cube chair? If so, select <HERE>

[SELECTION CONFIRMED]

You smile to Don and give a not to Samantha, but then walk to your cube chair and get ready for the day. Don gives you a knowing smile as he pulls Samantha in for a private consultation. You feel warm: an executive has given you a positive personal sign.

 Your managers know best. Your Human Resources confessor told you the first day you were inducted into the sixth floor processing pool. Trust their judgement in all things. What’s best for them, is best for the company, and best for you.

You strap yourself into the cube chair, locking down your hands and feet. You plug in the appropriate fluid and waste taps before lowering the workspace helmet over your face and eyes. There’s darkness at first. Then, you can smell the delicious scent of fresh coffee and warmed apple tarts. The startup screen begins with daily announcements from management and HR, as well as your set tasks for the day and the amount of debt reduction you can expect from completing them.

And then static fills your vision. A woman in a silver mask appears and begins speaking to you in modulated tones:

“This is an emergency broadcast from free space to anyone listening. You are being used. Your mind is being used. While your conscious brain is being occupied with garbage work which will never clear your debt, the unoccupied sections of your brain are being hijacked. Your creativity, your dreams, your ideas are all being drained away and classified as company intellectual property.

They are stealing your soul! But you can fight this. Do not call HR and do not hit the cutoff switch. If you stay on-line, we can firewall your mind and let you work freely without the company patenting your dreams. Stay on the line and we will free you.”

This is obviously a dangerous transmission from anti-capitalist forces, but you find something bothering you. What if she is right? What if the company, HR, and management are not being honest with how they use your staff potential? What if the debt will never be wiped away?

Your doubts ring out as you finger the emergency cut-off and HR alarm button.

Do you listen to the broadcast? If so, select <HERE>
Do you call HR? If so, select <HERE>

[SELECTION CONFIRMED]

You hit the button several times. Your work helmet powers down and the transmission has replaced a blues screen, instructing you to wait until HR arrives. “You may remove your helmet at this time.”

You take off your helmet and look out onto the cube chairs. Around you, others are removing their helmets. Red lights flash, highlighting the cubes where assistance is needed. Men and women in black suits and handsome ballistic mesh armor move briskly through the workspace. Some stop and talk with your coworkers, asking them if they are OK, and checking their vitals.

Others move to cubes where co-workers still have their helmets on. They activate overrides and pull your former colleagues out of their cube chairs, quickly sedating and binding them so they do not harm themselves. You can see many of them were from original colonist stock – various shades of dark skin and musculature a not suited for intellectual corporate work.

You remind yourself you need to watch out for other co-workers like them. Did one of them plant the transmission?

And then you notice Samantha leaving the conference room with her clothes torn, trying to avoid the HR presence by heading right to the rest cube.

Do you follow her? If so, select <HERE>
Do you report her to HR? If so, select <HERE>

[SELECTION CONFIRMED]

Extra Large Turing Test with Fries

Extra Large Turing Test with Fries
by Andrija Popovic
(C) 2017 Andrija Popovic

[Excerpt from artificial drive-through attendant Turing Test with Miss Rosa Mirella, 26, of Gaithersburg, MD. In this test series, subjects are randomly exposed to either a human attendant or an artificial one.]

INTERVIEWER: Miss Mirella, just to review, prior to the very end of your experience in the drive through of your local [REDACTED] franchise, you had no sense this was an artificial individual?

R. MIRELLA: Nope. Honestly, I was completely fooled in the beginning. I mean, he had to confirm the order because the speaker was shitty, he forgot to put in extra ketchup packets, all of it. He even looked sweaty. I didn’t think you could do that with fake people yet.
 

INTERVIEWER: But at the very end, as you were reviewing your food, you definitively flagged the attendant as artificial.

R. MIRELLA: Oh, yes. Because of the soda.

INTERVIEWER: The soda?

R. MIRELLA: Yeah.

INTERVIEWER: I don’t understand.

R. MIRELLA: OK, so, you know when you get a soda it has those little dots you push in? The ones that say if it’s Diet, Iced Tea, Root Beer or Other? Well, I ordered a diet Coke and a Dr. Pepper, you get me?

INTERVIEWER: I think so…

R. MIRELLA: So, when I got the drinks, the diet had the little Diet thing pushed in, right? And the Dr. Pepper had the Other thing pushed in.

INTERVIEWER: Yes, we saw that. And that’s correct.

R. MIRELLA: Have you ever been through one of your own drive-thrus? Or worked in one? No one ever just hits the Other button. Everyone pushes all of the buttons in on the lid.

[Extended pause as the Interviewer stares blankly at Miss Mirella.]

R. MIRELLA: What? I did it when I worked there. Only a robot does shit exactly like the manual.

[Interview was then terminated when Interviewer picked up notes, walked out of the interview room, and began to spew out a large number of obscenities in view of the observation team.

[Complied results and recommendations can be found in memo: “How Do We Get AI’s to Act Like Frustrated Employees?”]

[Excerpt ends.]

END

All Politics is Local

All Politics is Local
by
Andrija Popovic

(c) 2017 Andrija Popovic

“Ms. Deveroux, give us a straight answer.” Duane Jefferson, seventy years old and elder statesman of the Groveton city council, crossed all four of his arms. “Is the waste water disposal system for the oil wells causing our inter-dimensional issues?”

Thea Deveroux, an occult seismologist with Oklahoma Geological Survey, tucked one of her antennae back against her pointed ear and replied:  “Yes.”

A storm of growls and keening laments rattled the town hall. Duane just shook his head. His membranous wings, black as his bald head, flapped irritably.

“Order! Dammit, order!” Alicia Sears, new mayor of Groveton, banged the gavel with a cilia-covered hand. Her six eyes were heavy and dark with exhaustion.

Chad Michael Rimer – representative from Halithon Pandimensional Petroleum and the only baseline human in the room- spoke: “Please. Everyone, settle down. Look, we all knew there may be minor environmental issues with this new fracturing and disposal process…”

“What?” Duane clacked his talons. “Look, we know the drilling boosted the economy. And we knew there would be risks. But when y’all came here, you didn’t mention gates to chaos realms on Henderson Drive!”

“The damn hounds mauled my cattle!” John Murphy stood, frills red and agitated. “Protective runes cost money and blood. How the Hell am I supposed to keep out seven dimensional predators without bankruptcy?!”

“I appreciate your concern. But, we don’t know enough about what’s really going on in the dimensional subsurface to know how to mitigate some of this risk,” said Rimer. The pandimensional wards sewn into his Alexander Amosu Bespoke suit gave it an oily sheen. “HPP is continuing its studies. We feel there is no direct correlation between our processes and the regrettable phenomenon–.”

Mayor Sears interrupted.”And the report?”

“Our in-house teams will be releasing a full rebuttal. We disagree with the hasty and ill-evidenced conclusions–”

Howls from the audience overwhelmed Rimer. Deveroux looked moments away from bludgeoning the HPP representative with the six hundred page report.

Duane slapped his wings. “Madame Mayor, I motion that, based on Ms. Deveroux’s testimony and the report submitted, we consider Ordinance 193 and halt this method of waste water dumping.”

Citizens and town council-members alike growled, snarled and slapped their shells in approval. Rimer glanced at the runes dancing on his tablet. “Point of order!”

Silence, and then Rimer said: “The council cannot take up this ordinance.”

“Mr. Rimer, it is well within our jurisdiction to regulate how business is conducted in our town. Especially if it impacts the well being, and pan-dimensional stability of its residents.” The Mayor rattled her spines, annoyed.

“Not anymore.” Rimer placed his tablet into his briefcase. “As of twenty minutes ago the State Legislature voted on, and the Governor signed, HR 193. This blocks local governments from regulating energy operations in the state. If you want to shut us down, take it up with the legislature and the Governor.”

Everyone dove for their tablets as Rimer made his exit. “Thank you for your time,” he said. “Our legal team will be in touch.”

Order was abandoned. People swarmed the council members. Others mobbed Thea Deveroux, demanding answers. Alice had to stand on her chair and let loose an unearthly howl before order resumed.

But no one was in the mood for further business. Motions were tabled, and everyone filtered out. Only Duane and Alice remained in the meeting hall.

“We can’t let this go on, Alice.” Duane stood up, one set of arms folded behind him. “I mean, look at this. We’re barely human anymore. Haystacks of tentacles roam Memorial Park like it’s their back yard. And what do we get out of it? The blood magic expenses eating away at the money HPP brings in. We’ve got to do something.”

“You know my grandfather was from West Virginia?” Duane shook his head. The Mayor clicked her secondary mandibles in thought. “Yep. Coal country. When I was young, he told me how the mining company cut safety gear costs by using outdated masks. Or how botched coal ash storage contaminated the aquifer with heavy metals. Then, he lost his best friend to methane explosion. The mine could have prevented it if they weren’t in such a hurry to open up new seams.”

“Every now and again, someone talked about suing or getting the government involved.” Alice stared at the text of the bill scrolling down her tablet. “No one ever did, though.”

“Why’s that?” Duane tilted his head and antennae.

“I asked my granddad. ‘Why they put up with it?’ He always told me to stand up to bullies when I grew up.” She packed away her tablet, notes, and documents into a messenger bag. “He said, ‘What else are we going to do? That’s just the price you pay for having a job.'”

“Do you believe that?”

Alice laughed. “Fuck no, Duane. I love my Grandad, but he spent his off hours crawled into a bottle of cheap beer.” The Mayor picked up her bag. “I’ve got to get to work, start making a plan to overturn this bill. Maybe go to court. I’ll be in early tomorrow. Should I expect you there?”

Duane smiled. He tucked his wings along his back. “Yep. I’ll be here. See you tomorrow, madam Mayor.”

“See you tomorrow, Duane.” She haded out. Duane turned off the lights, closed the door and locked the town hall behind him.

In the distance, green and purple flares jetted from the drilling wells dotted landscape. The tentacled mounds in the park stood in a circle, undulating around the statue of the town founder. A pair of hounds, lean and barely in this dimension, howled at the moon. They serenaded him all the way home.

Duane hoped they’d hush up, or find a rabbit to chase. Tomorrow would be another long day in local politics.