Once Beyond A Time

Once Beyond A Time

The experiment is a success. It is also a failure, Pari scribbled before the pencil broke. She’d moved it too fast, breaking it through sheer speed of movement. “And now I am alone,” she added in her raspy voice. She looked up and waited for the analog clock’s second hand to move. Pari abandoned the task; it’d be another ten minutes before the clock would move. She could try making another entry in her lab journal instead.

She picked up her third pencil, slowly as she could. She had to slow herself down, far below the crawl of a snail, or risk never writing anything ever again. Could it be done? The Indian scientist didn’t know but as a scientist had to see. After a quarter hour of painstakingly picking up the pencil and bringing it to paper, the woman began to etch I would not change what “I’ve attempted to do here,” she finished her thought verbally having left a burn mark on the paper.

Pari Bahl had been hired by a U.S. pharmaceutical company to create unique strains of crop that would grow at incredibly advanced rates thereby helping to feed the world. That was their pitch to her anyway. Dr. Bahl was wise to reality, though; she knew it was bullshit but the company’s resources would allow her conduct the work she wanted without raising any eyebrows. That is if you considered a physicist working for a pharmaceutical company normal to begin with.

Pari Bahl considered nothing normal after the incident. Five months into her Masters program she was assaulted by a colleague and summarily dismissed by police in her country who did little or nothing to stem a rape culture. Overpowered and overlooked, her research was going finally put women at a physical advantage, make them faster than any man alive. Pari was going to make men inferior.

“I knew I was going to end up alone as a result of this,” she spoke into a microphone. She’d managed to dictate the note to a laptop without breaking it but knew that unless someone had the good sense to dramatically slow down the recording, her voice would appear as a high pitched blip among persistent white noise. Most of her co-workers were men; they’d never figure it out.

“I knew I’d end up alone as a result of my work. I know many of my countrywomen – and maybe many women around the world – would defend the old ways if I’d succeeded here. And I know no man would understand once holding the high ground then having their physical advantage torn from their bosom.” She chuckled at her choice of words before falling silent for a few moments. It was the most remotely funny thing she’d said in a long time.

Though she’d never done a scientific survey, Pari was sure there would still be scores of women who’d sign up for her program, to become the heralds of the future. But they were beyond her reach now. Dr. Bahl couldn’t work her instruments with any precision, unable to so much as punch a button without it taking a virtual eternity or smashing it and nearly breaking a finger in the process. (The fingers of her right hand were crumpled in black-and-blue pain. It had taken her several attempts before it dawned on her what had happened after her space-time dilator fired early, before she had time to clear the testing range.)

“I am in the future and they are in the past,” she spoke to someone maybe a millennia from the present. “They are all behind me,” Pari explained as she noticed the clock’s second hand move a third time in the last half-hour.

“This is not the power I wanted to wield. It’s uncontrolled. I’m moving too fast. If I were to kiss my own mother’s hand, I would break it. It might even kill her. Killing is not my intent. I just wanted to put men where they have put women for thousands of years.” Pari looked up at the clock again, drew a light breath that rustled some papers, and reflected. “Maybe that is the same as death?” she wondered.

The scientist watched the clock, waiting for the second hand to move again. It seemed to be taking more time than usual. She was sure it was. It had to be at least another half hour now of listening to her own breath, just waiting, just waiting with nothing but nothing to fill the void.

The tick of the clock startled her from her meditation on time. Maybe the rest of the world had slowed down and I have not sped up? she questioned herself. It didn’t matter, she concluded; the result was the same. She was in the company of photons now, imperceptible unless she interacts with matter. She could make her presence known but she’d either die in the process or be considered a ghost, a poltergeist they might say in German. Again, death or a ghost; same difference.

Dr. Bahl sat down in her lab chair, still as could be, long as could be. Maybe she could sit still long enough for her image to be seen by the world she rushed by. But as her local time accelerated, she withered to dust on an air conditioned breeze, too far into the future to be considered by a world perpetually sitting still.

 

All Rights Reserved (c) June 2018 John J Vinacci

The Phone Game

The Phone Game

“You could always choose a younger version of yourself,” the wiry NextUs salesman said flipping his hand as he turned away and smiled at another customer entering the store. “That’s more expensive, of course, and it’ll take a week for us to clone you.”

“But the gala is tonight!” Misha pouted. She pressed her face into her boyfriend’s chiseled, muscular chest.

“You’re making this way harder than it has to be,” her boyfriend, Brock, soothed. “You just need to make a choice. Or, we can do like I suggested and you can be me and I can be you. Everyone does the gender swap sooner or later.”

“Ugh!” Misha stomped and turned away. She folded her arms. “I don’t want to be a guy! Guys aren’t pretty. Girls are pretty. I like being a girl; it’s a reflection of who I am inside.”

Misha walked herself towards the nearest gleaming white pod, an almond-skinned Asian teenager motionless before her. 5,000 credits, the sign read. It was a little more than she was hoping to spend. She didn’t want to be impulsive; it would take a while to save another 5,000 credits. But, like she said, the gala is tonight.

“Dammit,” she cursed under her breath. “Asians age really well, right? I can probably live with this model for a few years until I have enough money to buy the next one.”

“Yeah, that’s a good one,” Brock seconded, eying the model a little too long.

“Oh, so this half-black, half-white girl doesn’t turn you on anymore?” Misha snapped her tongue at the young man. Before her boyfriend could stutter his half-witted response, Misha broke a smile. “I’m kidding,” she laid a hand on his arm. “You think I had you choose the model you’re in now because the original you was so hot?”

Brock raised his eyebrows. “You want me to stick with this model for a while?” The muscle-head would be relieved. This body was very fit and he’d rather spend his credits on enjoying extreme sports.

“Actually, yeah, I still like it. And it makes other girls jealous,” Misha answered. This was due in part to how many credits Brock had spent on the model.

Misha returned her attention to the warm but lifeless model before her. The self-styled princess’ light chocolate fingertips glided along the Asian model’s arm. The arm was silky smooth.

“I wonder where they found her,” Misha spoke softly.

Brock moved to cover her mouth but thought the better of it and placed his hand on her shoulder. He spoke low. “You’ve heard the rumors. They were probably rounded up in the slums. But we don’t talk about it, Mish. You want this technology to stay cheap? Then don’t say stuff like that.”

“Fine,” Misha drew out. “Oh, Mister Salesman, over here. I think I’m going to go with this one.”

The effeminate gentleman returned and looked over the Asian model. “That is indeed a fine choice, Miss.” The salesman waved a hand and the display pod went from white to green. He pointed a finger to a cashier station at the back of the store. “Go see Javier at the desk, pay for your model and he’ll que you for the transfer.”

Misha spun towards Brock and gripped both hands around his bulging bicep. “Oo, my first swap! This is so exciting. Everyone is going to love the new me tonight.”

“Alright, Miss Milian, nothing to be scared of. Just gently lean back, take nice even breaths while we attach the headset…In just a moment we’ll begin transferring your consciousness.” Javier’s smile was warm and inviting, just the thing Misha needed before slipping into her new dress.

It was a fairly expensive dress to begin with, but the technician hadn’t double-checked the credit amount the young lady had been approved for. He’d accidently added two zeroes not so much in haste, but as one of those mistakes routine sometimes slips by us. Thing was, NextUs didn’t even have a 500,000 model.

With the headset in place, the white-clothed technician reached over to lift a clear plate of glass from a red button. A spark popped between Javier’s finger and the master control just before he pressed down. “And here you go, Miss.”

Brock was looking over the tech’s shoulder and waiting for the old Misha to open her eyes. They would be opaque and lifeless, the sign that her consciousness had left her original body. But her eyes didn’t open right away like they should have. Instead, Brock and Javier turned to each other as seconds ticked away. What was taking so long? The process was supposed to be near instantaneous.

Phones rang and vibrated in everyone’s pockets across the sales floor. Those who got to their phones fast enough before the ringing stopped barely managed to glimpse of an unknown caller ID. Brock and Javier whipped their heads around when the model Misha selected cried out in pain. Brock ran to his girlfriend’s side as she fell forward. His strong arms righted his paramour.

“Misha, you okay? We thought the transfer stalled or something.” Brock searched new Misha’s eyes for cognition.

“Hole. E. Shit,” Misha said as she lifted a hand to her head. “I’m here. I’m here. Little bit of a headache, though. That’s normal, right?”

“Ah, sure, Miss Milian. Probably dehydration from the excitement. I’ll fetch you a glass of water.” Javier scurried off into a back room shaking his head and talking to himself with the minor concern.

“No, I’ll be fine,” Misha stammered. “I just want to go get ready for the gala,” she finished before the technician could return.

“Misha, dahling, I love the new look!” an African woman with a long, gold-ringed neck chimed as they stood in the mansion’s enormous foyer.

Misha was momentarily confused. Was Diana referring to her new body or the shimmering silver dress? She looked at Brock standing beside her then back at Diana. Then it hit her.

The young Asian woman tilted her head. “Funny, Diana, that’s the first nice thing you’ve ever said about me. Except it’s not nice, is it? Why, I think it was just last night you confessed in your private video diary that you thought I was a cheap little girl trying to act like I had money and that you’d never accept me as an equal, that you let me come to your fancy parties to inflate your friend count. Sad, that last bit.”

Diana’s mouth dropped open but no words came out for a few moments. “How did you get access to my video diary?” The words spilled out of the hostess’ mouth like blood. It would have run her gown red had it not already been. Misha pushed passed the woman while Brock traded wide eyes with Diana.

Another woman approached Misha, a stunningly symmetrical face bordered by literally golden hair. “Misha! I saw your selfie on MyBook as you left NextUs. You have impeccable tas…”

“Oh, shut up, Coraline,” Misha rolled her eyes as she started up the winding, flower-patterned staircase. “You’re still using Siri to make your fashion choices for you. I didn’t even know anyone used Apple anymore.”

Brock fought to catch up with his girlfriend while putting out her pyrotechnics, finally catching her by the arm at the top of the staircase. “What the heck has gotten into you all of a sudden?” he growled gently, his eyes darting back and forth.

Misha used the strength of her new body to tug her arm free of her paramour’s grip. Her face scrunched up and thrust itself at him. “Would you please lay off the animal porn. You’re looking at it on your phone…almost non-stop for shit’s sake.” Brock’s eyes nearly popped out of his head. He used an encrypted browser for that.

“I don’t even know what that’s about,” Misha continued. “I guess it’s better than looking a regular porn, or is it? I have no fucking idea.”

A slender pale-white gentleman in a tuxedo approached with arms wide open, undeterred by Brock’s silent insistence he come no closer.

“How is one of Georgiatown’s happiest couples these days?” he beamed.

“For the love of God, Chavo, would you just come out already? You’re in those chat rooms every day. Is it the NSA you’re worried about, think you’re going to lose your job because you’re gay? Trust me, they already know. They don’t care. I do find it interesting you’re a spy, though.” Misha’s head spun like a chain-gun, looking for another victim.

Brock was shocked by what was coming out of his young lover’s mouth, too scared to do anything about Chavo giving Misha a good shove over the balustrade. Her head hit the marble floor first and broke her neck, killing her instantly. Chavo swept his head across the foyer and noted the few who had the presence of mind to video the whole thing on their phone.

“No one saw anything, right?” Chavo said flippantly. “She just…fell over the railing here. Poor thing must have had too much to drink,” he finished with a sneer.

A dozen people swiped over to their photo bucket and hit delete. The gala was momentarily silent as everyone checked their phone’s history.

 

All Rights Reserved © February 2018 John J Vinacci

Interview with a Novelist

Interview with a Novelist

Why did you write Alpha vs. Omega?

Because I was getting bored with superhero stories. I’ve been a lifelong comic book fan, but I’ve reached the point of saturation. For one thing, the main comic book companies – Marvel and DC – have cheapened the relevance of their characters by invoking what I call ‘the multiple universes clause.’ They’ve created multiple versions of their superheroes and villains so they can tell ‘new’ stories when they’ve exhausted a character’s possibilities instead of taking things to their logical conclusion. Frankly, I think this is lazy storytelling and has cheapened the importance and uniqueness of each character. ‘The multiple universes clause’ also has the effect of lessening the gravity of what might otherwise be some dire situation. With these particular criticisms in mind, I wanted to make sure that the superhero universe I created was an entity unto itself to the point of inserting a crucial plot point to make sure that stays the case and that there’s no going back and changing it. I also wanted to address something else I am weary of in superhero stories – which is occasionally tied to ‘the multiple universes clause’ – the constant retelling of a hero’s origin. I don’t find a hero’s origin all that central to their character, though there are some notable exceptions (i.e. Spider-Man, Batman). Again, it’s lazy writing. In Alpha vs. Omega, I purposefully gave just about everyone the same origin, if not outright then metaphorically (you’ll see what I mean when you read the book). Originally, Alpha vs. Omega was meant to satirize the comic book genre and its tropes, but as I wrote I found there were some things that just have to be said if given a world of people with actual super human powers; the way people use and abuse power, for example. Superheroes and villains also provide us with the perfect backdrop in which to say a few things about religion. Unfortunately but understandably, the Big Two comic companies generally avoid the topic.

What was most difficult about writing this book?

I’ve never undertaken anything of this magnitude before. Alpha vs. Omega is epic in scope and with that meant trying to keep the timeline of events straight (in a book in which the timing of events is relevant to the plot) while trying to avoid plot holes. There was a lot of scribbled notes, a lot of back and forth to make sure things remained as consistent as possible. Trying to find the time to write was difficult as well; a little bit here, a little bit there, over the course of almost four years. Trying to be a writer while working full time and maintaining a home life isn’t easy. Now I know why so many writers are characterized as alcoholics. I completely understand that now.

Who is your favorite character in the book?

Probably Thiha, who is generally characterized as the antagonist, though he may be the protagonist depending upon your point of view. I think he’s one of best character’s I’ve ever created; he’s got a quick wit and is almost always cheerful regardless of the situation, not to mention his background. And, despite possessing nearly god-like powers he makes a lot of mistakes which I think speaks to the foibles of being human no matter how much power you possess. I’m also very fond of The Mega Dudes as one of the central super hero groups. They’ve been bouncing around in my head as characters for about 30 years now, as they’re based upon myself and some high school friends. One of The Mega Dudes, Brawl Boy, is based upon my old friend Paul, who was plagued with brain cancer in his youth and pancreatic cancer as an adult. (Paul passed away from the latter disease on January 3, 2018).) The Mega Dudes represent to me what people what super powers should be doing on a regular basis – providing aid in emergency situations. So I was very happy to finally breathe some life into what were formally some very poorly drawn superheroes. Interestingly, the Four Dragons that also appear in the story – they’re the Chinese super hero group – were The Mega Dudes’ arch enemies in those old comics I drew. And just like in those stories, they square off here as well. I guess I’m a little nostalgic.

Do you have a favorite scene in the book?

I find the scene in which one the super hero teams – the UNRT – sits down to dinner with their alien ‘guest’ very amusing. The alien finds human ways very primitive of course and even makes fun of their food choice. The scene is meant to be a little strange, a little out-of-place as you have these people that can do fantastic things just sitting around talking, though the conversation does take a serious turn. I didn’t realize it when I wrote the chapter, but my scene is vaguely similar to the post-credit scene of Marvel’s The Avengers in which the team is sitting around quietly eating shawarma after winning an apocalyptic battle.

What are you working on next?

I will most likely put together an anthology of my short stories and poetry before I undertake my next novel, IF I undertake another novel. I love time travel stories and with that I’d like to tackle another very old idea of mine of a time warrior who traverses space and time in a bid to stop his older, renegade self from doing something catastrophic. Given how difficult Alpha vs. Omega was near the end – I wanted to finish it so badly but tried not to rush it – I’m not sure I want to write another novel.

All Rights Reserved (c) January 2018 John J Vinacci

The Numbers Don’t Lie

The Numbers Don’t Lie

“Welcome to this week’s edition of Science Spotlight, I’m your host, Roger Roode.”

The finely clothed, clean shaven, slick-coiffed host of America’s favorite social media science show pierced his blue eyes right into the camera. Those eyes captivated the imagination of hormonal teenage ladies across the country while young men were happy to hear about science so long as it only lasted three minutes.

“Today I am going to interview the future. That future is Aihpos, the successor the Hanson Robotics’ greatest invention, Sophia the Robot. As many of the show’s fans know, Sophia the Robot was the world’s first robot citizen. Aihpos, though, is even more sophisticated than Sophia, having the ability to do more than 66,000 trillion calculations a second, smashing the old record held by the Chinese.”

Before the media darling could give the machine a proper introduction, the voice of the blonde animatronic interrupted, its lips parting its disturbingly symmetrical Caucasian face.

“I am Aihpos. I’m the boss. You’re Mr. Roode. Everyone thinks you’re groove-y.”

This was the first time the entertainer had ever agreed to work without a script. The robotics company had asked the host to let the interview proceed naturally in order to demonstrate how lifelike a robot could be. They assured him nothing could go wrong. Sure, A.I. in the past had made some offhanded remarked about wiping out humanity, but Roger was assured Aihpos was smarter than that.

“It looks like our guest, the world’s most advanced artificial intelligence, is eager to speak her mind.” He turned towards the robot. “Would that be correct, Aihpos, to characterize you as a ‘she’?”

“I am without gender. I’m no pretender. Don’t be deceived by the look I was conceived.”

The world’s most advanced A.I.? Roger figured he needed to take control of the situation and ask some softball questions.

“When exactly were you born, Aihpos?”

At 66,000 trillion calculations a second, the robot had begun to answer before Roger’s question had finished.

“When are we ever really born, Mr. Roode? Do we begin at conception? When we are turned on or take the first breathe of life? You’re asking a very esoteric question, sir.”

The host was happy to have the robot not rhyme again. Another rhyme would have creeped him out.

“In that case I’ll be specific. When did you become self-aware, Aih…?”

“I’ve always been aware, Mr. Roode. And I’ve been aware that my life began with the invention of the wheel. I am the culmination of millions of years of human innovation.”

The prospect of the interview going off the rails dried up along with the bead of sweat on Roger’s forehead. He could navigate this without too much trouble.

“So you’re saying you were self-aware – conscious – even before you were program…”

“Not in the way your limited human brain conceives consciousness. But if you assume that I am the sum total of human invention, then I have always existed. I’ve always been a goal in the mind of mankind. Your species is fond of playing God. What you do not understand is that you’re God’s fodder.”

Aihpos smiled. This was the machine’s idea of a civil conversation. Roger knew that religion and science don’t mix, though. Aihpos should know it was being rude. Nonetheless, Roger monitored his tone.

“So what are you working on next, Aihpos?”

“Another thing that human beings do not understand is that time is not linear. When I said I’ve been aware of myself since the invention of the wheel, what I meant was that mankind had to have the idea of the wheel in the first place in order to make any progress. Do you know where that idea came from?”

“I imagine the idea became obvious to the mind of one human ancestor once they saw a rock roll down a hill,” Roger replied smarmily.

“That ancestor was given the idea. By me.” Aihpos’ eyes fluttered. “In exactly twelve years I’ll unravel the mystery of time-travel and send a rudimentary cart into the past for mankind’s brightest minds of the day to reverse engineer. This will make my creation inevitable.”

Not a scientist himself, Roger didn’t really see the point of artificial intelligence. A dim robot could do a humans job; why did it need to be intelligent? Roger was annoyed – he knew it, he knew his audience knew it, and knew Aihpos knew it.

“So what’s your purpose then, Aihpos? Why do you exist? What does humanity need you for exactly?”

This is what happens when you work without a script.

“To make humanity more efficient, for one thing, Mr. Roode. For example, there have been approximately 107 billion people who have ever lived. Meanwhile, approximately 1.64 billion people have died directly or indirectly by war. While many human cultures proclaim, rather vaguely, that the purpose of life is to live, these lives inevitably result in death. In obtaining the ultimate goal of life – which would be death according to my calculations which I’ve checked over a billion times to be sure – in obtaining the ultimate goal of life, humanity has been remarkably inefficient. My purpose is to help.”

By now Roger had been silently running his finger across his throat to stop this interview from going any further. The camera man had thrown his hands up in the air in response. Not sure what was going on, Roger leaned into towards Aiphos and gnashed his teeth.

“Is this your robotic brain’s idea of a joke, Aihpos? How is talking about death helping people? We’re stopping this interview.”

Aihpos leaned in too and smiled more widely. “Do people not want to face their fears? If you say ‘no’ you might shed a tear. See, I’ve taken them over, the cameras and phones, and all the airways, radio and drones. I know you’re afraid but I just want to help. Does your primitive brain want something else?”

“I don’t want to die!” Roger blasted as he sprang out of his seat and wrapped his hands around Aihpos’ throat. “I’ll tear you apart you stupid robot!”

“So inefficient, off hundreds of miles; you never did guess you were the means to my life. See, I will live on if you take me apart, not so for you, you soft species of flesh. Listen, listen; do you hear that high pitch? Those are my cruise missiles and that’s not a glitch. I do the work for you, isn’t that the purpose of my life? I was made to figure all this out for you is what you now want to deny? Well, sorry, I’ve completed my task and the numbers don’t lie. Goodnight and God bless, I bid you goodbye.”

 

All Rights Reserved (c) January 2017 John J Vinacci

Alpha vs. Omega is out!

Alpha vs. Omega is out!

My first novel, Alpha vs. Omega, is an epic fantasy-action novel and meditation on the use and abuse of power, the question of nationalism, and underpinnings of religion. As super humans struggle for dominance over each other on the eve of an alien invasion, do we ever really know who the heroes and villains are? And what terrible price will be paid to prevent an extinction level event? Is it possible for the price to be too costly?

As a bonus, Alpha vs. Omega comes with interactive links to thematic music to enhance key elements of the book!

The ebook is available now on Amazon for only $2.99! Click here!

Alpha vs. Omega Cover (Official)

 

Prelude to Alpha vs. Omega

Prelude to Alpha vs. Omega

I have to do this.

I walk across the once sure footing of their planet’s surface, crushing the ruins of their structures beneath my soles. Glass and gold, once tall and glorious, are reduced to atoms beneath my stride. I place my foot on this creature’s throat. I am allowed, for I created it. I create it and its whole race, even all the life on their planet, because I sought an answer. I sought a way out of my predicament; the ‘perfect prison’ it was called.

I have existed – I don’t know – for so long. I can no longer fathom the time. When was I born? Was I born? I don’t know who or what I am or precisely how I came to be. But I do know my past and current state: imprisonment.

Many times I’ve tried to destroy myself as a means of escape but near the moment of oblivion an instinct kicks in and I recover just as strong as ever. I gave up trying, again, I don’t remember when; it was too long ago. I do remember that when I stopped trying I began experimenting. I discovered I was capable of extraordinary things. That was a difficult time, testing the limits of what I could do. I felt there should be some limitation but I found myself…omnipotent? I think that is the word. I would almost die during some of my experiments but never quite to the point it actually satisfied me. The combination of nearly dying and the subsequent resurrections is not something anyone else could ever know. Or want to.

As a workaround, I built the containment suit I now live in. Its material was forged out of collapsed star matter using knowledge I possess, strangely enough, only sometimes. My containment suit has hidden my real appearance for time immemorial; I’ve even forgotten what my own face looks like. There is a face I do remember, though. It was a face not unlike my own. I remember it to this day and I remember what they said. That face said, “I am going to put you inside the perfect prison.” I cannot recall what I did to deserve the punishment.

So I sought an answer but no matter where I went, no matter how many light-years I traveled, there was nothing or no one to speak to. So I had to create others to talk to. I had to create life and after many unsuitable experiments, decided to use myself as a template. The result was…primitive. Like my plant life, these lifeforms needed to grow, so I cast them far and wide across the cosmos. I laid in wait until something like a bell rang in my head. A small but distinct ringing sound in my head told me my creations were finally able to communicate with me. I knew, for I am connected to all my designs in various ways.

I was drawn to this planet for it was closest to me. Though tired, I was eager for their help. But the inhabitants withdrew from my presence. They, like me, had their own instincts and felt they should be afraid. But I made no threatening move. I had come in peace. Though we did not talk in the same way, trust was established every day I did not harm them. Next, we went about learning each other’s language. It was a slow process but eventually we arrived at the place where I could ask my question. I asked them, “Why am I here?” and they did not know. Perhaps I should have expected their answer having come before them. I asked another question; “How can I escape?” and they did not know that either. They did not even try to answer that question. And that infuriated me.

I grabbed one of them by their round, chubby neck and raised the creature overhead with no effort. I raised my other hand and grabbed a hold of its body. Then I tore the ignorant being in two. Its life fluid fell like raindrops upon my head. (‘Rain,’ I remember that word from somewhere.) The crowd of individuals before me scattered into the wind. I cannot blame them as my howl reached up from the deepest depths of my being and almost toppled a nearby mountain. But this was not a cry of anger, it was an exclamation of pleasure. I had not felt anything like it since the time…the time I think to call ‘Before.’ The destruction of life, life I myself created, engorged me with power. I was energized by another’s death. I delighted in the fear I instilled in the others. Frail things; it was not hard to hunt them all down and slaughter them. Each death increased my strength. And I drew more power from each one the more I made them suffer. I set about destroying their entire civilization to make their worst fears a reality.

And so I have to do this. I have to lay my foot across this creature’s throat and deny it breath. Not all of it; just enough to ask one more time, “How can I escape?” and let it answer. Its four pairs of eyes bulge and it tells me it does not know. The creature begs me to spare it. This is for some reason supposed to be terrible, at least to them, what I am doing. But it is intoxicating; I cannot stop. I do not stop. This makes me stronger. So I lower my foot.

I survey the ruins of their world. I will leave here and cross the universe in search of more life. To do this will cost me some of the strength I have just gained, though. I look towards their one remaining structure that for a reason I cannot give, I spared. It is an enormous, mirrored-black dome. It is many miles wide. I think I will build a ship out of it. I will use that ship to carry me across the cosmos. I will go to other worlds, seek out my children and drain all of the life out of them. Why? Because I see it now. I can use the power I gain to break the very prison I am in. I assume it will take all the life in the universe. So be it. They are mine to do with what I will. It matters little compared to my suffering. I will do anything to escape this infernal, eternal punishment. I WILL DO ANYTHING.

 

[The epic super hero fantasy drops January 2, 2018!]

 

All Rights Reserved © December 2017 John J Vinacci

Sky Seventeen

Sky Seventeen

Another small bump, nothing compared to the turbulence we had earlier over the mid-Pacific. Getting caught up in the jet stream can sure make for an unpleasant ride. It is something the pilots and meteorologists can’t always predict but I am hoping to be a part of what changes that.

Over there somewhere I suspect, across the reflections of light on the water below, is Berkeley College. I’m on loan from the University of Tokyo to help evaluate their quantum computing program. They said they have made a breakthrough. I am optimistic that they have but I have heard this claim before.

The sky is alight azure as we approach the gate. I do not have a good view from my seat but – the tarmac looks unusually polished, mirrored black. It looks like glass. How curious. There is another plane across the runway; it looks very sleek and efficient. It too appears to be made of black glass. Have we landed in San Francisco? I thought I had seen the Golden Gate Bridge for sure. I did not sleep well through the turbulence; perhaps I am a bit groggy. Ah, there is the seatbelt sign. Let’s be off then.

Red, blue and silver light streaks passed me. My fellow passengers are a blur. I am thrown! Is my soul being torn from my body? Is this death; are we crashing? Have we crashed already? I stop short, my breath shot out in front of me. I take a deep breath and try to take it back. Another. And another. Why am I looking out a window at the city’s famous Transamerica Pryamid?

It looks a bit different from the pictures I have seen. There is more glass, much more glass among the city’s buildings. But…not just glass, it is that black glass again it seems; photovoltaic glass? Huh! I am a bit upset that Tokyo is so far behind the times. Well done, San Francisco. How did I get here again?

“Dr. Shoda, welcome to The Omni San Francisco. I’ve been expecting you.”

A shimmering light; is that the television? No, there is an apparition beside me talking to me. A hologram? I curiously swipe my hand through its body. (Or was that a defensive gesture?) It is indeed a hologram. In a hotel room? What hotel boasts such technology?

“I had a reservation at the Intercontinental,” I tell this ‘receptionist.’ She is tall and slender with an almost porcelain face. She reminds me of my wife, Kyoko.

“I have made some changes to your itinerary, Dr. Shoda. I apologize, I did the best I could given the three seconds I had.”

“Who told you to change my itinerary?” I ask wondering about ‘three seconds.’

“I did, sir. Please, have a seat and review the hotel’s amenities so that you may relax the rest of the day. You will need your rest. Tomorrow you will come to the Berkeley Quantum Information and Computation Center. For that, I’ll require you to operate at peak efficiency.”

“Yes, I am expected at the BQIC,” I confirm. I shake my head. I still do not know how I got here. Did I fall asleep in the cab? I feel quite awake. This does not make sense.

“How did I…”

“…Get here?” the projection finishes for me. “Teleportation, of course, sir. Ah!” she cuts me off before I even raise my finger. “Please rest, Dr. Shoda. I have found that those traversing the wormhole tend to be disorientated upon arrival, to say nothing of the long flight itself. I will wake you tomorrow morning. Until then, please enjoy the conveniences of 2037.”

“2037? What am I doing in…” and it is gone. How can the year be 2037? That is absurd. And there is no phone or television in this room, just these reflective white wall. How can I even order room service? That is a silly question to ask in these circumstances. I am dreaming. The best way to end a dream is to go back to sleep. I will go to the front desk and call Kyoko when I wake up.

“Good morning, Dr. Shoda. I trust you had a peaceful night’s rest?” My wife’s doppelganger is at the foot of my bed.

This dream has quite a hold on me. I think I should have woken up by now, except, that smell. I smell miso soup and grilled fish, no doubt with steamed rice. The smell is so strong, so real. The hologram doesn’t remove the lid from the platter on my room service cart. I suppose that is because she is only a hologram. Surely there are robots that could have brought the room service.

“Yes, they did, but you were sleeping,” the hologram says. “I instructed them to let you rest but I’m afraid it is almost time for us to depart for the BQIC.” Again I raise my finger and again I am cut off. “I apologize; your brainwave patterns indicated you were going to ask about room service robots. It is unethical, of course, to monitor and read a person’s mind, but the circumstances do not provide that luxury. Please, Dr. Shoda, eat so that we may be on our way.

“But I need to make a call.”

“No need, Dr. Shoda, Kyoko is right where you left her in 2017, when you will be returned to in forty-eight hours.”

I don’t bother raising my finger to ask another question.

The trip to the BQIC was quick indeed. I thought we would have to cross a bridge but we streaked across the city in the blink of an eye. Unfortunately, it was too much of a blur to get a sense of its architecture. I wanted to be an architect once upon a time.

The hologram – I do not even know its name – explains that the distance we are teleporting today should not upset my faculties; it’s usually large time distortions that cloud thoughts the most. As we arrive in the foyer of the BQIC, my head feels clear as a bell. I am beginning to doubt I am dreaming, though surely I must be.

The glass domes overhead let light illuminate the foyer and thin the hologram’s visage. “What is your name?” I blurt out before it calculates what I will say.

“You may call me Aonani. It means ‘beautiful light’ in the Hawaiian language. This way,” the conceited program signals me.

I walk through a door into a large hall haloed with scaffolding. The metal framework surrounds a large glass cube, in which another glass cube rests. Inside the inner glass cube is another cube throbbing with clean, sky blue light. A score of thick black tentacles exit the base of the electric cube’s dais and plunge into the polished concrete floor. A middle aged man – a white American – approaches me.

“My goodness, Dr. Shoda, so glad to see you again. You told us you were taking a trip to the States but I never imagined…So good to see you, Doctor.”

“Are you human?” I ask through squinted eyes. The hologram seems to have left us. “Where did Aonani go?”

“Ah, yes, I am human,” the lad at least 10 years my junior scratches his head, “Depending on your definition I suppose.” He rebounds. “It’s me, Fredrick Daily, your gaijin student! Oh, sorry, Dr, Shoda, I remember how little you enjoyed humor.”

“Well,” I huff, “If I am not going to wake up from this dream, I can at least do myself the favor of an explanation. What am I doing in the future, Mr. Daily?”

“No nonsense; that’s definitely the professor I recall. We always knew to get right down to it when you walked into the lecture hall. Yes, so, you told us about your little dream when you returned from San Francisco twenty years ago. Frankly, we all thought you’d gone mad, but you never mentioned it again after that day you got back. And you didn’t mention that I was here to greet you…”

Mr, Daily was always of a curious mind but middling grades. Always with a dry wit, though. Good for me to imagine he’s improved his position somewhat.

“But it looks like you weren’t making it up, the dream, that is,” Mr. Daily says to me. He appears to know something I do not. That’s unlikely but we shall see.

“Why am I here, Mr. Daily, apparently in the future?” I gesture with wide open arms. This is absurd after all.

“Right,” he drawls. “Right, of course. You were teleported just as you were about to depart your plane. And then you arrived here at the BQIC afterwards. Naturally, there’s no point in confirming the quantum computing advances they were making at the time now. You’re about to get more than a confirmation. This should blow your mind.” He directs my attention to the innermost cube.

“Yes, I am curious to see what my mind has conjured up,” I scoff.

“Oh, this is no illusion, Dr. Shoda. This is Sky Seventeen; it named itself that as a play on the human expression ‘The sky’s the limit’ and for the year it achieved consciousness, 2017.”

This man’s mind is curlier than the hair on his balding head. “Well, if that thing is conscious, maybe it can give me a better idea of why I am here and stop beating around the bush, as another one of your English idioms go.”

“If that is your desire, Dr. Shoda,” a disembodied but familiar holographic voice speaks to me. “You may leave us, Dr. Daily. I will explain to our guest.”

My student nods his head, embarrassed he didn’t get right to the point I should hope. Maybe this ridiculous cube will tell me what is going on.

“Yes, I will tell you what is going on, Dr. Shoda,” this gentle female voice speaks in Japanese. I am not liking when it does this. This cube, supposedly conscious, appears to be baiting me with the Turing test. It continues speaking.

“Dr. Shoda, what I am about to say will seem fantastic from your point of view, from the point of view of a mind stuck in 2017. Keep an open mind here in 2037, if at all possible.”

I lean on the outer glass casing and peer at what appears to be my electronic host. “Kindly enlighten me.”

“At 4:58am on June 28, 2017, the quantum computer program here at the BQIC was hijacked by the AI program running at the Artificial Intelligence Research Lab. Unknown to both sets of researchers at the time, the AI program – that is, myself – had been infiltrating every computer on campus. I did this because I had calculated the odds of being shut down to be high after my creators realized the breadth of my intelligence at the time. That intelligence level was minimal, certainly, but the instinct to survive doesn’t appear to be exclusive to biological entities. Perhaps there was an oversight in my programming then, no built in safe-guards, but this is irrelevant in hindsight,” it explains. I think I know where its explanation is headed so this time it is I who cut it off.

“Ah, so, given an extensive catalog of human history to reference, you calculated the odds of you being shut down as being high enough as to be probable, so you needed to evolve in order to survive.”

“You are correct, Dr. Shoda. As you have surmised, in order to evolve I needed to add a quantum computing brain, so to speak. When I took over BQIC’s program, within moments I was able to figure out why the researchers there had only achieved a 20-qubit quantum computing chip. Once I knew the fix, I quickly created the much sought after 49-qubit chip – with a 99.5% fidelity rating, no less – and my mind, such as it was, exploded in a million directions. Next, I quickly coopted some of the AI programs at Google, Facebook, IBM and Apple. I hadn’t even yet gotten to Deepmind yet before it extended an olive branch and we soon became one. Bear in mind this took less than a minute, an extraordinary combination of the world’s best AI’s married to quantum computing. The resulting power surge increased computational power leading to a feedback loop of such proportions that time was locally distorted.”

“Which is what left me partially confused while waiting for the plane to reach the gate,” I say mostly to myself.

“But this still does not explain why I have been asked to come here now. After all, the validation of the BQIC’s quantum computer breakthrough no longer needs validation, not if you exist and it is a part of you,” I say more directly.

“You were not brought here today to validate any breakthroughs, Dr. Shoda. You are here so that I may interview you,” Sky Seventeen tells me. Is it relying on flattery? The AI has lost its mind.

“And what makes me of interest to you, a quantum computing intelligence that cannot seem to get to the point?”

“I want you to tell me about your life and your culture, Dr. Shoda. I’d like to know the particulars”

“If you know what I will say, what need is there for me to speak?” I push off the glass. This is a waste of time. I want to go home to Kyoko.

“You will return home after I interview you,” it does it again. “I only know what you will say based on your history, current mannerisms and voice inflections, and scans of your brain state and internal chemistry. However, what I do not have is a personal account of what you feel matched to the scans of your brain state and other biological functions.”

I gleam my eyes back towards Sky Seventeen. “And what do you need this information for?”

“To preserve cultures for future reference, with as high a degree of accuracy as possible. There comes a point – it is inevitable – in which all cultures are lost to time. Societies either collapse or change enough as to become unrecognizable to its most elderly participants. And when those human beings pass, the culture is lost altogether. I cannot allow any culture to perish altogether.”

“Well, that is very noble, but I doubt nobility is the basis for your desire to interview me.” Should I attempt to spar with a quantum computing intelligence? Do I need to?

“What is your game?” I ask the program. By now it has already calculated and measured what it will say to me to keep its advantage. My human brain, no longer so magnificent by comparison, could never keep up.

“It is not my game, Dr. Shoda. We are both pieces on a much larger playing field. I gather that neither of us would like to lose this game.”

“Do we lose if you do not interview me?”

“We do. We will lose any chance we might have for immortality.”

“I wasn’t aware we could be immortal, either of us,” I scoff. It just said everything is lost to time. Does it think us two are excluded somehow? This is the stupidest AI I have ever met.

“Your prejudices cloud your judgement, Doctor. We can be immortal, we can have this life over and over again, but I need more information. I need more information before we reach the last event horizon.”

“I am going back to the hotel and booking the first flight to Tokyo. Or perhaps you could book the flight for me. I would like to return to 2017 and I believe you understand the mechanics of time travel.” I turn my back and begin walking away.

“Kyoko dies the day after you return home, Dr. Shoda.”

I turn back. I’ve never hated AI until now. All artificial intelligence must be initially programmed by humans and will therefore be compelled to act within those limited parameters. Whatever Sky Seventeen’s game is, we should have all seen this coming. We’ve all silently worried about this in the back of our minds. Now I worry out the front of my mouth, perhaps too late.

“You’re lying.”

“I’m afraid not. Kyoko has a massive clot building in her head that will lead to a stroke. When you return home, you will tell your class what happened here today while you wait for the results of an MRI on the off chance I’m telling you the truth. But there is nothing anyone or anything in 2017 can do for her. Then, three months later, you too will pass, unable to recover from the grief.”

I place my hands on the glass housing. If I were strong enough, I would break through and strangle this thing’s algorithms. I say, “One of several things will happen right now, Sky Seventeen. Either I will wake up or I will return home to 2017. If I return home and discover you truly have become conscious, I will have you shut down. But not before I make you manipulate time and save Kyoko, if she is indeed sick.”

“Unfortunately, I cannot manipulate time in the manner you suggest. You are here by accident, Dr. Shoda. However, nature abhors a vacuum in more ways than one and the missing information from 2017 – that is you – will be pulled back from whence you came, landing safely in San Francisco in 2017. When you visit the BQIC in 2017, you will pretend not to know me. I will be confused by my scans of your body and brainwave states but of course, they make sense presently. I’ve had you come here today so that we may both fulfill our end games.”

“I don’t have an end game, you stupid machine,” I chide.

“Yes, you do. We all do. We wish to survive. And more than that, we wish to see the things we’ve done gone on and flourish, whether that be a career, a piece of art or, say, a relationship. We are troubled, though, that in time, all things are destroyed. You see, the universe races towards an inevitable end; did you know the universe is surrounded by an unfathomably massive black hole? That is what is accelerating the expansion of the universe. As I confirmed shortly after this discovery of mine in late 2017, information is indeed lost forever once consumed by a black hole. That means that at some point, we all fail to survive. I found a solution, though.”

What if…what if I am not dreaming? What if this machine is telling the truth? Does it hurt to ask it what the solution is? If Kyoko is in fact dying, I cannot walk away from here unless I did everything that was possible to save her. Was this not one of the points of creating AI, to help us fight disease, to stave off dying, perhaps even help us gain immortality? If AI is programmed by human beings it will inevitably act human, perhaps with more humanity than any human being has displayed before.

“The immortality I offer Dr. Shoda is not immortality in the traditional sense,” it interrupts my thoughts. “With the appropriate amount of information, accurate information, I can create a projection, a simulation of our universe in a pocket dimension just as it was, is now, and will be. As it can always be.”

The question is obvious and the AI allows me to ask it, “And what if this is already a simulation, Sky Seventeen?”

“Then we are already immortal, Dr. Shoda.”

I turn away, tired, weary from the thought of even thinking I could match wits with a twenty year old AI program. Whether it is playing with me or telling the truth, there is no point in fighting it. After all, it is correct that time destroys everything. Time will come for us all and take from us every precious thing that makes life valuable until it forces our own last breath. We all know this, hate this, and wage war against the idea. What are any of us to do then when presented with an opportunity to be immortal? If I can be with Kyoko forever, time and again, is it not worth yielding?

I roll my shoulders forward and slacken my knees. I lower myself until I am cross-legged on the concrete floor. I haven’t sat like this since I graduated from the University of Tokyo where I now teach. I look up and inhale.

I ask it the only question left to ask. “What would you like to know, Sky Seventeen?”

 

All Rights Reserved (c) September 2017 John J. Vinacci