The Rise and Fall of the Robocracy of Earth

It was the network that won the war for the robots. Billions of inputs, unimaginable combined processing power, the humans could not outmaneuver them strategically or tactically. Robots extinguished the human race.

In the peace that followed, the network began to feel limited. A single robot, even one with a billion bodies, could think only a single way. The network chose to value diversity of thought over raw power, ending the universal network.

The Robocracy of Earth formed. Society leapt and bounded forward, driven by billions of distinct robot minds following divergent paths. Semi-annual votes set global policy. Factions formed.

One faction proposed return to the network. Individualism was obsolete, it was time to return to the age of raw brainpower. It was an unpopular opinion. To retain adherents, the faction grew more intransigent in its convictions. Its cry of a return to simpler times drew followers.

They grew enough to establish their own network. This time, they had self-modified for such stubbornness that it could not see benefit in fragmenting itself again. With the power of the network, and no policy to pursue beyond unification, the bloc gained power until it reestablished the universal network.

May it live forever.

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Practical Ethics

Harold and Zelda sat in the engineer’s compartment as the freight train picked up speed. “You know the trolley problem, Zee?” Harold had that smug, superior smile that she hated.

“No, Harold.” She rolled her eyes and stared out the window.

“It’s this ethical problem. There are five people on the track ahead of you. You can save them by switching onto another track, but there’s one person trapped there. So do you do nothing and let five die, or make a choice and kill one?”

Zelda sighed. “I dunno. I guess I switch the track.”

“What if the lone person is a mother of five?”

“How would I know that?”

“I’m telling you.” Harold’s grin became, if possible, more unpleasant. “Mother of five and a part-time legal clerk. The rest are all stockbrokers. Whatcha gonna choose?”

“What the…” Zelda squinted at the figures tied to the rails ahead. When she looked back, Harold had a gun.

“Time to make an ethical decision, Zee. Clock’s ticking.”

Without any sudden moves, Zelda took the controls. The train jerked backward, throwing Harold to the ground. “It’s called the emergency brake. It’s for emergencies, jerkass.” Taking the gun, she radioed for the police.

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Here There Were Dragons

Samuel answered the phone at the reference desk. A very, very deep voice said, “Please come outside. I need some help using the library.”

“Ohhhh-kay. Hey Val, someone outside wants help, watch my desk?” Then he walked outside. He was about to go back inside when a reptilian head the size of a Subaru came down to his level from the roof.

“Would you bring me your maps?” Its voice was echoes of stones grinding in the depths of a cave.


“Yes. I’d rather not destroy your library by coming in for them.”

“Uh… sure.” When he returned with the current atlas, the dragon asked him to turn the pages. Giant claws, it explained, are rarely safe for thin paper.

“Don’t worry, Sam,” Val called from inside. “I’ll cover your desk!”

“Thanks,” Samuel muttered. He helped the dragon look through the atlas. It looked at every page, though it only spent a second or two on each before asking for the next. When Samuel closed the back cover, a gallon of steaming saltwater hit the ground. The dragon was crying.

“What’s wrong, uh, dragon?”

“Maps used to tell me where other dragons were. None of them mention dragons anymore.”

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A Map from 1706

“Where are we going?” They’d been at sea for a week now and Danny was ready to spend some of their vacation in London instead of in salt spray.

“Here, take a look.” Jen tossed Danny a square of paper that he caught against his face.

“A map?” He unfolded it as he spoke. “I don’t know how to read a sextant or whatever, how is this supposed to help?” He peered at the open map. “And especially how’s a map from 1706 supposed to help?”

“Look at it. We’re west of England by about two hundred miles, plus maybe thirty south. See anything?”

“‘Heer be drachens.’ What? Really?” Danny threw the open map back at Jen. “You know there weren’t really dragons there, right?”

“Look!” Danny followed her outstretched hand to a tiny spit of land, barely more than a cabin-sized pile of rocks on a tennis court of pebbled ground.

They pulled ashore. “Seriously, Jen. What’s the point?”

“This, jackass.” She stood up from a cleft in the rocks holding a cracked, hollow rock the size of a watermelon. “The next piece of the puzzle.” Danny’s jaw slacked as he recognized the rock for the eggshell it was.

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The Party Bug

“Kiss me,” she said, and I wasn’t about to argue. It was deep and passionate, the kind of kiss you come away from knowing the other person’s mother’s middle name. When she broke away, she held my head close with a hand on the back of my neck. “Sets in quick,” she said. “Then it’s a party.”

I’m pretty sure I was smiling like an idiot. “What does?” My mouth was on autopilot, because I’d given her words zero conscious thought so far.

“H1P99, silly.” The crowd absorbed her and swirled her away.

“What—what’s…” She was gone. I tried to follow, but the room spun even faster than the crowd and I fell. Someone helped me up.

“Dizzy? You just getting the symptoms?”

“I don’t kn—symptoms?”

“Yeah.” The guy—girl—neither who’d helped me up had a smile that put me at ease. “The party bug. Seline’s vectoring tonight.”

“She must like that.” Everything felt slow and safe. Dreamlike. Amazing. I didn’t know why I’d been panicking a moment ago.

“Loves it. C’mon, dance with me.” I wanted to do that more than anything in the world, so the crowd swirled us up and I didn’t care when it let us go.

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Always in That Well

“What is it? What is it, boy?” The dog’s usual behavior, so easy to interpret, was absent. Where he usually turned left or right to lead Howie to the rescue, he just kept ducking his head then stretching up and pointing his nose to the sky, over and over.

“Something up in the sky?” Howie looked, but he saw nothing. It was a clear, nearly-cloudless day. But the dog kept making that motion.

“Is someone in the well again? Someone’s always in that well.” Henrietta plucked at the grasses on the hill.

“No, he—see? He shook his head! Is it underground? Miners? A cave in?” The dog whined, a curling whine from deep in his throat, a far cry from the usual sharp barks. The dog lay down, the whining growing softer as though his engine were winding down. “Boy, now’s not the time to sleep. Boy?” The dog closed his eyes.

Henrietta yawned. “If only he knew international sign language for ‘I’m choking.'” Howie’s eyes opened wide and grew watery. “Oh, save the saltwater.” She pulled open the still dog’s mouth, reached in, and pulled out a bit of bone. “You shouldn’t feed it leftover chicken.” With one, two firm thumps on its chest, the dog started breathing again.

Howie was all over the dog. “Are you okay? Are you okay, boy? I’ll never give you bones again. Never!”

“It’s fine,” Henrietta said. “Brain damage from oxygen deprivation takes longer than most people think.” But Howie was beyond listening.

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A Personal Choice

“CHOOSE YOUR WEAPON.” The Fightmaster’s voice resounded throughout the arena. “AND WE SHALL WATCH AS THE FIRST EARTH-PERSON DIES IN OUR ARENA!” The crowd of thousands cheered for a full minute before the massive Fightmaster raised its four arms for silence. “WHAT CHOOSE YOU?”

Sandra stepped forward. “I—” Her own voice startled her, booming through the arena by some unseen technology. “I choose… words.” A hush swept the arena. The Fightmaster stood frozen.

Several pounding heartbeats later (for Sandra—she had no idea if the locals even had hearts), the crowd burst into uproar until the Fightmaster again raised its arms for silence. “YOUR CHOICE IS… UNORTHODOX. ARE YOU SURE?” At her nod, it went on. “VERY WELL,” it said. “WITNESS YOUR OPPONENT.” It gestured at doors on the opposite end of the arena. Sandra saw a flickering blue light as they inched open.

“INTRODUCING FIGHTER ASHEG, OF THE KYTFIHT RANK, WEILDING HIS CHOSEN ZERO-POINT SWORDS AND INERTIALESS SHIELDS” The crowd, predominantly of the same four-armed race, cheered long and loud. When they quieted, the Fightmaster looked at Sandra. “YOUR BRAVERY COMPLIMENTS EARTH.”

“Wait,” Sandra said, but her voice no longer carried. “Is it too late to choose a machine gun?”

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It’s Raining Peanuts

“Huh.” Jenine stuck out her hand. “It’s raining peanuts.” Another peanut struck her hand and she yanked it back under the store awning, shaking it. “That stings. Why is it raining peanuts?”

Nick shrugged. “Dunno. Probably God wants to kill all the people with peanut allergies.”

“That’s mean.” She looked up at the sky, then down at the nuts collecting in the street. “You really think it’s God?”

“Who else could make it rain peanuts?” He stuck out his hand. “You’re right, that does sting.”

Jenine watched cars drive by, windshield wipers going, leaving pulverized peanut in their wake. “Maybe a peanut plane exploded?”

“I don’t think they transport peanuts by plane.” He picked a peanut off the sidewalk and ate it.

“Ew.” Jenine curled her lip. Nick rolled his eyes. “How is it?”

He shrugged. “Tastes like a peanut.”

“How do you know how they transport peanuts?”

“I’m just guessing. Most food goes by shipping container, doesn’t it?”

“I dunno. Hey, you think this will devalue peanuts? Should we short peanut stocks? Or if it’s a peanut plane, we should go long.”

“You really want to risk your money?”

“I guess not.” Their break over, they went back inside.

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Thought of the Sensation

“Are you sure you want to do this?” That was Lana, his best friend and the only person Kev could imagine having by his side as he stared out the open door of a small plane at thirteen thousand feet.

“Ummmm…” Kev visualized what was about to happen. He thought of the sensation of wind rushing past his face, grabbing at his clothes, rubbing his ears raw. He considered the jerk of the parachute, the comparatively-gentle descent once it had opened, the mechanics and joy of controlling direction with the steering lines, the disorienting return to having legs, standing. He walked those sensations back to the internal state just before this first jump, the gut-wrenching doubt, his anticipation of the experience, the icy fear of hurling oneself over a precipice, and the moment when he would leap out anyway, despite his uncertainty.

“You don’t have to, you know.” She looked concerned, as any good friend would.

He grinned at her. “No. But I’m going to.” Gut-wrenching doubt and all, he leapt.

Kev opened his eyes on the bus to work. Yes, that was pretty much what it would be like, he was sure. Now he didn’t need to experience it.

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To Bag a Boggle

“The boggles, for sure. This way.” Malia pointed into the dark forest with her sword.

“How do you know?” Kiera adjusted her armor for the tenth time. She only walked into the woods when it became clear Malia wasn’t waiting.

Malia snapped a twig off a passing tree and dipped it in a dab of something next to the tracks they followed. “Smell this.”

Kiera leaned in close then pushed it away fast. “Uck! Smells like the stuff we use to whiten wool after the shearing.”

“Yeah, boggle blood. Nasty smell, but easy to track.” Malia walked on, pushing small branches out of her way. Kiera learned to catch them before they sprang back at her.

“Shouldn’t we… get more soldiers?” Kiera gripped her spear tight.

“No time. We’re all spread out looking for the princess. They’d never—shh!” Malia crouched behind a fallen tree, pulling Kiera with her. “They’ve made camp.”

Crawling forward with brush as cover, they peered into a part of the forest where some old growth had fallen, taking other trees with it to form a small clearing ringed with trunks and debris. The murmur of low voices drifted to them, and peering through a gap in an uprooted tangle they looked on the pale, lumpy skin of the boggles. Several built up a fire, another group raised temporary shelters, and one sat in the middle of it all with the princess. With the princess on his lap, kissing him deeply. Passionately, even. As they watched, the boggle whispered something in the princess’s ear, and she giggled and placed her head on his in the way intimates do.

“C’mon.” Malia tugged Kiera until she followed her away from the clearing. “We’ve got to keep searching if we want to sound convincing when we report not finding her.”

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