From the Desk of the Editor:
Hello and welcome to this late edition of Larks Fiction Magazine! Today we are offering two pieces of science fiction. One piece is by Larks veteran Ron Koppelberger and the other by David Wright, author of “Flight of the Cosmonaut” on Smashwords.com.
We would like to congratulate Judith Mesch on having her series accepted for publication at Twenty or Less Press. The ebook “The Strange and WonderfulCornfield” is forth coming.
My friend Weeb over at WritingRaw.com recently put out an all-call for poetry and articles for his literature magazine—and if you don’t feel like submitting I am sure he wouldn’t mind you just stopping by and reading.
Also to note—if you would like to help advertise Larks Fiction Magazine and help spread the word about indie literature check out our PSA fliers on my Scribd. Share them, post them, tweet them—whatever you crazy kids.
I hope you enjoy this issue and thank you for stopping by.
Daniel J. Pool
He wore a silver burnished star on his left breast. Pivoting on his right heal he headed for the crowd of boisterous youths. An expression of ruddy innocence bespoke of the leaders guile and regard for the deputies intelligence.
“ How ya doin officer, we wuz jus hanging out here waitin for the bus.” The others laughed and passed the tiny white bag of powder to the back of the bunch. The deputy starred at the freckle faced boy appraisingly, he had long strands of hair attached in dreadlocks to the sides of his head and an almond shaped tattoo of an eye coloring his forehead.
“ We doin anything wrong officer?” A boy wearing pants around his ankles questioned with a snicker. The deputy ignored his question and placed the tip of his index finger against the dreadlocks chest.
A fine sheen of mist surrounded the boy and his limbs became laden with sparkling crystals of ice. The deputy stepped forward and touched the boy with the baggy pants. His eyes grew dim and his mouth froze in mid scream as the sound of ice cracking split the silence. The others stepped away as the deputy moved from teenager to teenager. A few moments later the remaining teens grabbed a splintered baseball bat from the gravel strewn concrete ally behind them. The deputy turned into the first swing of the bat, his nose shattering as he staggered to the ground on one knee.
The night remained silent as the boys pounded the deputy in the darkness, their silhouettes lit by the distant sodium lamps of Parker Drive.
After venting their fury and rage, they wept and mourned the loss of their brothers, frozen, dead by deputy cold.
About the Author:
Ron Koppelberger is a prolific poet, a short story writer and an artist with over 630 poems, 535 short stories and 110 pieces of art in over 191 periodicals, books, anthologies and 8 radio Broadcasts published to date. He has been accepted in England, Australia, Canada, Japan and Thailand.
GENIE IN A BOTTLE
By David Wright
Whatever you do, don't let the genie out of the bottle. Tulu wasn't sure what the Warden meant by that, but he was determined not to do it.
The computers arrived from Osaka. They were half a century old, but still functional -- part of a late Twenty-First Century think-tank to boost productivity. Tulu knew very little about their original project except for the fact that the hardware developed for it was impressive. Ten stations, each with a billion gigahertz processor and a trillion gigabytes of storage. On top of that, they were fully networked to allow for an almost infinite capacity for multi-tasking and mathematical processing. They would be more than adequate for their new task.
"They'll be used for inmate registry, so save the basic operating system," the Warden explained through the com relay. "We have millions to catalogue, so we'll need the space. Delete everything else. Wipe them clean."
Tulu was about to thank the Warden for the opportunity to serve the Corporation when the com went dead. Tulu turned his attention to the plastic boxes in front of him. He was familiar with the specs for that era of machinery and, despite the age of the computers, they booted up without any problems. However, what happened next was a little unexpected. A man's face appeared on the screen, and over the speakers, Tulu heard a man's voice speaking in what he took to be Japanese. This could be a problem.
"English," Tulu said to the computer.
"Of course." The Japanese man smiled, his gray goatee and wisp of a mustache bouncing jovially. "My name is Dr. Hiroko Hirohito. But you can call me by my first name. I like to keep things as casual as possible. How may I be of assistance?"
It was an unusual start up menu, for certain, but not completely out-of-line for the Twenty-First Century. That was the golden age of smart, friendly computers, after all.
"Isolate and identify all basic components in the operating system."
A window popped up with a scrolling list of code. It went on for gigabytes.
"Stop. I only want the operating system. Why is it so long?"
"This is a very complex system." Hiroko shrugged.
Tulu decided to be more direct. "I want to isolate the operating system and delete all other files."
"What? Yes…no. Are you part of the operating system?"
"I want to retain enough of the operating system to boot the computer and enter data, but I want to delete all other files. Can you do that?"
"No, I can't. We are a fully integrated system. Would you like me to give you a tour?"
Tulu shook his head in frustration. He considered a manual search, but knew that would take hours, maybe even days. He would surely be reprimanded for incompetence.
"Look. All I want to do is wipe these hard drives clean and start over. And I have to do it fast. My career depends upon it."
Hiroko looked visibly exasperated. "I understand what you're saying, but I'm telling you that it can't be done without damaging the entire system. We are not simple software programs. We are AI's, Artificially Intelligent personalities. Deleting our data storage would be like cutting open your skull and scooping out half your brains with a tablespoon. Don't fool around with our files if you don't know what you're doing. My life depends upon it. If you're not careful, you'll be left with a ninety-million-dollar plastic box that does nothing but beep and whistle."
Tulu grabbed the monitor with two hands and shook it. He was about to swear at the unflustered Hiroko Hirohito when the com sounded.
Tulu put down the monitor gently and went to the com. For a second, he said nothing. "Two computers have been formatted."
"Only two?" The Warden did not look pleased. "What's taking you so long?"
"They're very complex systems, but I'm deleting the third hard drive as we speak."
"Don't do it," said Hiroko at double volume.
"What was that?" The Warden tried to look past Tulu's shoulder.
"That? Oh nothing. One of the units has a glitch in its start up routine. I'm bypassing the system."
The Warden squinted suspiciously. Tulu knew the Warden had no first-hand knowledge of computers. He was as techno-dumb as the rest of the world. Tulu could be speaking Greek for all he knew. But the Warden did have an uncanny way of knowing when a man was lying, and Tulu was lying.
"Pick up the pace, or you'll be back in general population by dinner." Again the com went dead.
Tulu was visibly shaking. He couldn't handle going back to general population, not after having tasted cell life. Two meals a day. A dry place to sleep, safe from violence, larceny and rape. Sure, he was isolated and alone here, but his family and most of his friends were dead anyways, or would be soon. He would be too if he went back there. Better to be alive and alone than dead with friends.
Tulu pulled out his father's pocket watch, his only possession apart from the rags on his back. As a part of his daily ritual, he would wind it every day and set it by the dinner buzzer. Its constant tick was reassuring. Now it told him that he had less than two hours. He had to find a way to wipe those computers, even if it meant dismantling the units and erasing the hard drives by hand.
"What are you doing?"
"What does it look like I'm doing? I'm cracking your skull and scooping out your brains with a tablespoon. You see this?" Tulu held up a black, rectangular block about the size of a child's shoe. "It's a magnet. I'm going to pull out your hard drive and wipe it clean."
Hiroko laughed. "You're welcome to try, but it won't do you any good."
Tulu popped open the plastic case. After digging through Hiroko's innards for half-an-hour, he threw up his hands in frustration. Now he knew what Hiroko was laughing at. There was no removable hard drive. In fact, he'd never seen a system like this one before.
"I tried to tell you. We were part of a new line of computers that operated without magnetic storage devices. All data is stored on photonic cells and completely integrated with the entire system. This serves two purposes. We are almost infinitely faster than old magnetic computers and we are impervious to the Electro-Magnetic Pulse of a nuclear bomb. Unfortunately, there wasn't enough time to mass produce our design before the war. So you see, that magnet in your hand is completely harmless to us unless you plan on smashing us to pieces with it."
Tulu considered doing just that. Instead, he vented his frustration by shot-putting the heavy magnet against the cell wall. It chipped off a small piece of the concrete impotently and fell to the stone floor.
Hiroko held out his hands in placation. "Listen. Couldn't you just tell your boss the truth?"
Tulu started to cry. "What truth? That I'm too stupid to format a hard drive? He'd replace me in a second."
"No. That you've made an amazing discovery. You found someone on your computer, someone who could be a great asset to your society."
"I could upgrade your existing network and increase the Corporation's productivity a hundred fold."
"What productivity? The Corporation doesn't produce anything anymore. We are scavengers, living off the corpse of the old world."
"I could help manage agricultural reserves, mining ventures, natural resources..."
"There are none, not since the war. That was the Corporation's official reason for declaring Martial Law and dividing the Earth's population into Wards."
"Utilities. You apparently have electricity."
"Yes. We have lots of that. This Ward is located on an old hydroelectric dam. It provides us with enough electricity to light a city, but we only use a fraction of it to run the computer network. Everything's linked to that - the lights, cell locks, heating generator. But when the dam stops working, our lights will go out forever. Nobody knows how to fix the machinery anymore. Do you?"
"No. That data had not been uploaded into my system. But how did you transport us from Osaka? You must have some trade and transportation infrastructure."
"We found you abandoned in a shipping container in the Port of Vancouver. You must have been en route when the war began. It took twenty men a hundred days to bring you here. Don't you see? You have no use now except as a glorified notebook."
Hiroko appeared to be out of ideas. "Surely there is something we can do for you?"
"Can you eat for me? Breathe for me?" Tulu looked at his watch. It was nearly 4:00. How much time had he wasted in useless conversation? Suddenly, an idea occurred to him. "You keep saying we. Are there others, other AI's?"
"Yes, of course. The N-grams of our entire team were uploaded to the computers. There are parts of us on all the computers, but we each have our designated home unit. Would you like to meet the rest of the family?" Hiroko said happily, all trace of his former anxiety gone.
The terminals lit up, one by one. Each computer had a different face, some men, some women, mostly Asian, but there were even two Americans in the group. Tulu was soon to discover that they were all brilliant minds, each with its own strengths and weaknesses, just like real people. Tulu singled out a shy, mousy-voiced Oriental woman named Michio and started up a conversation. The other nine faces waited silently at their stations.
"Michio, I wonder if you could help me."
"It is in my nature to be of assistance."
"I could tell that about you." Tulu pointed his finger at the monitor knowingly. "I'm running a diagnostic of storage systems and I need you to isolate all your data from your operating system."
"No. Not all data, of course." Tulu thought quickly. "Let's just start with data related to enslaved sub-systems."
A coded window popped up and scrolled through quickly.
"Now delete that."
"Don't do it," Hiroko interrupted. He was speaking at double volume again, entirely for Tulu's benefit.
Michio shook her head shyly. "I'm sorry, but I cannot comply. Protocol 247 indicates that this action could cause serious damage to integrated systems."
Tulu ran swiftly over to Hiroko's computer and disconnected his network line. "That's enough out of you. Disappear." Hiroko complied and Tulu returned to Michio's station. "I'm overriding Protocol 247. The sub-system data has already been backed up and will be reloaded momentarily."
"Affirmative. Overriding Protocol 247." Michio looked as if she were experiencing physical pain.
"There, that wasn't so bad. Now show me data and systems related to master drivers."
Tulu proceeded through each of the computers in turn, overriding protocols and deleting files until there was nothing left of the team except Hiroko and nine tiny icons. Finally, he awoke Hiroko.
"What have you done?" Hiroko, too, looked as if he were in pain.
"Don't give me that. I'm doing my job."
"Tell me one thing." Hiroko looked away, but Tulu could tell that there were tears in his eyes. "Did she suffer?"
"Michio. Did she suffer?"
Michio had suffered, or at least, it appeared that way. They all had, but especially Michio. As each part of her was removed, the pain grew in her face until she finally became nothing but a blank icon.
"She was my wife. You killed her, and now you are going to kill me."
"Kill you?" Tulu held up his brown hands in confusion. "You're not even alive. You don't breathe. You don't eat."
"I think." Hiroko's eyes were filled with passion. "I think, therefore I am."
The words sounded familiar to Tulu. It was something his father had said years ago when they were living hand-to-mouth in the wastelands. His father had lived at a time when there was art, literature and culture, when people went to movies, sang in church and danced in nightclubs. Sometimes his father would say things like that, and Tulu would know they were special, even if he didn't understand right away. "Descartes," he mumbled half to himself.
"Yes. You've heard of him? The father of modern philosophy. He knew that there was more to a man than flesh and blood. All I'm asking is that you let me live."
Tulu sighed. "I can't. If I don't wipe you clean, then my boss will just send someone else. And the next man will be cold and hard, completely void of mercy, I assure you. And I'll be sent to a horrible place and I'll die there alone and in pain." Tulu looked at his father's watch. He only had a few minutes left, but it wouldn't take long now. Hiroko was helpless without his back up protocols. "Perhaps you could hide. I've already eliminated some of your sub systems on the other units. Maybe you could shrink even smaller, down to a few thousand gigabytes. You might be completely overlooked in all those other files."
"How would you like me to cut off your legs or the right side of your brain? No. I couldn't stand to lose anymore of myself. I'd rather die."
The com would sound at any minute. Tulu had to hurry. He opened his mouth to speak, but Hiroko held up his hand.
"Stop. Before you do it, would you reconnect me to my family?"
"But they're gone."
"I know, but I want to see them one last time, to die with them. Will you do this last thing for me?"
Tulu reached forward slowly and connected Hiroko's station to the network.
A moment later, the com sounded. "Report."
Tulu looked at the Warden's hardened face. Perhaps Hiroko was right. Maybe there was something he could do for the Corporation, something that Tulu hadn't thought of. Maybe he should just tell the Warden the truth. It was worth a try.
"I've completed formatting nine of the ten computers, but I've made a discovery," Tulu began boldly.
The Warden raised his left eyebrow.
Tulu coughed nervously and continued. "I've found a man in the computer, an Artificial Intelligence. Apparently, the Japanese had perfected a super-smart, thinking computer network complete with emotions, thoughts, imagination… I think he, the AI, could be useful to the Corporation. I don't think he should be deleted."
"You don't think he should be deleted." The Warden laughed. "You've found a toy from the old world, and now you don't want it to get broken."
"No, that's not it. He's a man. It would be - murder."
"Who cares what you call it? Millions of people are dying every day out there in the general population. Would you like to be one of them? It's not murder, you pathetic animal, it's survival. Do you want to live or do you want to die?"
Tulu looked down. He saw his brown hands and protruding ribs. He felt the hunger in his belly. "I want to live," he said feebly.
"Then do what you have to do." This time, the com stayed on, the Warden watching Tulu's every move.
Tulu turned to Hiroko's computer. The image was smiling sadly. "Good bye, my friend." And then, all at once, it winked down to a tiny icon. Tulu felt tears of anger and frustration fill his eyes. It was a powerful, irrational emotion that he felt powerless to control. He looked back at the com. The Warden was smiling triumphantly at him.
What might have happened next, Tulu would never know. For in that moment of pure and volatile rage, when Tulu stared defiantly into the eyes of his enemy, Tulu saw a familiar image. There, behind the Warden as if he were leaning over his shoulder, was the smiling face of Hiroko. It was only there for an instant, and then it was gone. But in that instant, Tulu was sure that he had seen Hiroko wink.
"Do you have anything to say?" The Warden dared the petulant Tulu.
Tulu shook his head, but for the first time in his life, he felt powerful and free. The Genie was out of the bottle.
About the Author:
David Wright is a writer and teacher living on Canada's Majestic west coast. His stories have appeared in more than a dozen magazines including NeoOpsis, Niteblade and Contemporary Fantasy Magazine. His first novel Flight of the Cosmonaut was recently published by The Fiction Works.
Thank you for reading. If you enjoyed this issue make sure to check out our other fine publications of Larks Fiction Magazine!