Category Archives: Short stories

2082, the vintage Egg

This short story is a little longer than my others but I hope you like it. The concept and graphics for the Egg were created over ten years ago while I was working on my first ever story. It was a sci-fi thriller that just grew and grew. I still haven’t finished it but I thought you might enjoy a short story based on some of the tech. 

***

“Pop! Pop! Pop!” the child shrieked as he came running in from the main airlock.

“Timmy come back here!” his mother yelled as she tried to catch him.

“Watch that chair!” Gloria Flynn cried as she snatched the child into the air just a heartbeat before he crashed into her new Eames chair. It was a 1950’s original and had taken her forever to find.

“Sorry Mum,“  Jean Flynn Flannagan huffed as she waddled into the kitchen on swollen ankles. She was seven months pregnant with her second child and was finding the first one rather hard to handle.

“Sit down love,” Gloria said. “I’ll put the kettle on in a sec. Just let me say hello to this young man!”

Timothy Flynn Flannagan was only two but he already knew there would be no escape until he had received the obligatory dry kiss that was his grandmother’s highest form of affection, so he stopped wriggling and put on a winning smile. “Nannan!”

“Hello, you young rascal!” Gloria cooed as she pecked him on one rounded cheek. “Look what Nanna has made for afternoon tea.”

Glancing down at the kitchen table, Timmy’s eyes lit up at the sight of the huge mound of home-made chocolate biscuits. “Bikkie!”

“Yes, your favourite biscuits Timmy. I made them just for you.”

“Bikkie now?”

“In a minute. First we have to wash your hands and call Popp-…”

“Pop! Pop!”

The biscuits had distracted Timmy for a moment but the mention of his grandfather brought on a renewed bout of wriggling.

Giving up in resignation, Gloria put the child down and said, “Why don’t you go tell Poppi that afternoon tea is ready?”

“Pop pop!” Timmy agreed as he aimed himself at the reinforced door that lead up into the workshop. The door slid back into the wall at his approach and closed with a barely audible hiss once he was through.

“So how is Dad?” Jean asked as she lowered herself into the vintage Le Corbusier. It was the oldest chair in her mother’s collection and she worried about damaging it but knew it would be the only half-way comfortable chair in her present condition.

“Oh, you know,” Gloria said with a dismissive shrug as she picked up a shiny red kettle and held it under the spigot over the sink. The kettle, the spigot and even the sink were anachronisms and never used on a daily basis but she loved showing them off on special occasions and having her daughter and grandson home for a few months was as special as it got.

When Jean had sent her a holo asking if they could stay for a couple of months until the baby was born Gloria had said yes without hesitation. Then she had spent a whole week packing away her most precious possessions.

She had not been able to do much about the furniture but she had cleared a playroom for Timmy and had set it up with climbing frames and even a small sand box. She had had to think long and hard about the sandbox – the old jarrah floors would not take kindly to being scratched and scuffed by small, sandy feet – but then she had seen an advertisement for a cat mat that guaranteed to suck all dirt and grime from a cat’s paws as it walked. She had bought ten straight away and had covered every inch of the playroom floor with them. Hopefully they would work as advertised.

“Your father’s bought himself a new toy and now he spends all his time up in the workshop.”

“What is it this time?” Jean asked as she rubbed the small of her back. The chair was comfortable enough for an antique but she was already missing the modern chairs in her own apartment. They all had lift sensors and deep massage units that made sitting down and standing up just so much easier. She would miss them terribly but knew that the antiques were a small price to pay for her mother’s help with Timmy. The nannybot had proved to be useless once he had learned to walk. She had thought about upgrading it but had known she would need it for the new baby.

As her second pregnancy advanced she had asked her husband if they could buy a toddler unit for Timmy but Jim had just grunted that they could not afford it. She had not pressed the point because she had known how sensitive he was to the difference in their backgrounds. Despite everything he still saw her as a ‘rich bitch’. He had been furious when she had said she was going to her mother’s place until the birth but the doctor had been on her side for once…

“He’s bought an old rust bucket and intends to do it up,” Gloria said as she handed Jean her tea in a delicate Royal Doulton cup and saucer.

“Ah, lovely. Thanks Mum,” Jean said as she took a sip of her tea. Like everything else in her mother’s house the tea was real and utterly delicious.

One floor up, Charlie Flynn was busy yanking the mouldy seat covers from his new toy when the door hissed open and a pint-sized rocket slammed into his legs.

“Whoa there Tim!” he laughed as he peeled the toddler from his legs and threw him up into the air.

“Pop! Pop! Pop!” the child yelled with glee.

“I’m pleased to see you too, mate!” Charlie laughed. Giving the child a quick hug he set him down on the floor again. “Come see what Poppi’s working on.”

Hand in hand the big kid and the little one walked around the battered shape suspended on a cushion of air in the middle of the workshop. The vehicle was hardly a rust bucket as it had no metal parts but it was in a sad state of disrepair. The curved hull had a rather nasty dint in it, the three wheels were just plasteel  rims, the persplaz hatch cover was crazed with tiny cracks and now lay in two halves on the workbench and the parasail hung from the ceiling like a limp, rectangular balloon. ToCharlie though, the wreck was beautiful.

“She’s a bit of a mess now,” he said, “but once we fix ‘er up she’s really gonna fly!”

“Egg fly?” Timmy asked in confusion as he looked up at the strange machine. One of his favourite toys was a small plane that he could fly using his special ‘gloves’. The little plane had wings though. How could something fly without wings? “No wings?”

“Sorry mate,” Charlie said with a rueful laugh. “What I meant was that she’ll go really, really fast. On the ground. Here, I’ll show you.”

Snapping his fingers, Charlie said, “Parasail vehicle, circa 2025, 1 to 10 ratio to actual.”

As Charlie spoke, a beam of light stabbed down from the ceiling and hit the floor three feet in front of them.  Motes of light swirled in a wild dance until a three dimensional shape slowly resolved out of the chaos.

“That’s what she’s meant to look like,” Charlie said with pride.

“Egg um-bella?” Timmy asked.

“Mmm… I suppose it does look a bit like an egg with an umbrella,” Charlie conceded.

The holo model showed the parasail racer running at top speed. The small front wheel was retracted into the hull and the racer was balanced on its two rear wheels. The clear persplaz nose was pointing up at an angle of 45 degrees as the parasail pulled it along.

“Want to see it moving?” Charlie asked. Without waiting for an answer he muttered, “Run cycle begin and loop.”

The image of the racer dissolved into motes of light again before quickly reforming into a new configuration. This time the egg shaped racer was in a horizontal position with all three wheels on the ground and there was no sign of the parasail. 

“Watch!” Charlie said in a whisper. He had seen the run cycle many times before but still felt a thrill every time he watched it.

As the two continued to watch the holo with bated breath, the area beneath and above the racer began to fill in. Hard packed sand appeared beneath the racer’s wheels and a hot blue sky materialized above its canopy. As the rays of the invisible sun hit the top of the hull the shiny black surface began to bubble and stretch. In moments it inflated into a smooth black shape a couple of inches thick. Then the corners detached themselves from the sleek hull and continued to rise, trailing glittering filaments that remained attached to the hull. In moments the centre of the black material detached itself from the hull as well and then the perfect curve of the parasail was rising majestically into the air.

“Volume up,” Charlie muttered.

At first Timmy could hear nothing but a soft whisper but as the sound increased he realised he was hearing the sound of the wind. It was a sound he recognized from some of the educational holos his mother made him watch.

As the sound of wind increased the parasail rose even higher until it reached some optimal point. Then it slowly tilted towards the ground. Almost immediately a different sort of sound became audible as the wheels of the racer began to turn. Slowly at first and then faster and faster the racer began to move forwards.

“Zoom out by 10,” Charlie said.

The holo of the racer seemed to shrink as it faded into the desert background but Timmy could still see the moment when the narrow, pointy end of the egg left the ground. The small wheel in front retracted inside the hull with a soft snick and then the racer was bouncing along at a great speed, pulled along by the massive parasail that caught and focused the wind high above the Egg.

Desert scrub flashed past as the racer headed towards the bumpy red hills lining the horizon.

Timmy had no idea what a horizon was and was a bit hazy about hills as well but he understood speed and in that moment he knew that nothing would ever match the thrill of watching the egg run… except maybe to be inside the egg while it was running.

“One day we’re gonna take the Egg outside and let ‘er run,” Charlie said, as if reading his grandson’s mind. They were both still watching the holo when an irate voice sounded from up the passage.

“Charlie? Timmy? The tea’s getting cold!”

The sound of Gloria’s voice was punctuated by the sound of footsteps drawing closer.

“Holo off!” Charlie muttered quickly as he swung Timmy into his arms and turned towards the doorway. “Coming love.”

“I don’t know why you won’t let me install a comms unit in here,” Gloria said in annoyance as she loomed in the doorway. “Well, come on then you two.”

“Right behind you,” Charlie said with a grin. “Just turning the lights off.”

“Hmm! You could have saved me a walk by coming sooner!” Gloria retorted as she turned and headed back up the passage once more.

As Charlie started to follow his wife, Timmy still in his arms, he bent his head and whispered, “This has to be our little secret sport. Ok? You know how scared your Nanna is of the outside.”

“Thecret!” Timmy whispered back. He was a little scared of the outside himself but he knew that he would brave anything if it meant he could be inside the Egg when it went for its run.

The Egg took far longer to fix than either Charlie or Timmy expected and Charlie died of a sudden, massive stroke before he could fulfill his dream of putting the racer through its paces but Timmy never forgot the dream and when he came into his inheritance at the age of 25 the first thing he did was to complete the work his grandfather had begun. Two years later he donned an enviro suit and made the dream come alive by circumnavigating the continent… in the Egg. Some dreams are too precious to waste.


2081 – The To-do List

“Replay, to-do list, current.”

“Would you like me to replay the to-do list in order of priority?”

“Yes.”

“You have two priority 1 tasks. The first is to  visit your Mother. The second is to visit your Grandmother. Then there are three priority-…”

“Cancel and return to cupboard.”

“As you wish.”

I know most people love their AI’s but I’ve never  been one of them. There’s just something about those smarmy, computerized voices that makes my teeth ache. I mean I know AI’s are meant to simulate real people but why do the manufacturers have to make them sound so… cheerful. And polite.

When I bought my first AI I tried swearing at it. I  even slapped it around a bit and all it said was, “Please do not hit me. You will injure yourself.”

The fact that the damned thing was right just made  me even angrier. I know it’s stupid to get angry with a machine but the disconnect between how it looks and how it behaves annoys the shit out of me. A pile of e-plas and electronics just shouldn’t look like the sexiest man alive. It really shouldn’t.

I tried a female AI for a short while. I dressed  her/it up in my ugliest ‘fat’clothes but the damned thing made them look good. It had to go. I mean, for real!  I’m not crazy vain but what sane woman wants to be woken each day by a vision of perfection when she knows she’s got bed hair and sleep lines?

So now I’ve got a male AI again but it’s one of the  older models, not one of those new walking, talking dildos that my Mum has. Her AI really gives me the creeps, especially when she calls it ‘Elvis’.

I guess I’m more like my Nana that way. We both think machines should look and act like machines.

Mum says Nan is just too old-fashioned for her own good but that’s not completely true. Nan isn’t anti-tech, she just prefers ‘bots that look like boxes on castors. Her appartment is full of them. Some vacuum the floors, some crawl all over her shelves dusting the knick-knacks and she even has one that lives in her cooler, sniffing out off food and composting it in this weird expandable tummy.

Mum is forever at Nan to get the cooler replaced  with a new model that does all the food disposal  automatically but Nan just smiles and keeps her antiques anyway. And they are antiques in their way. How she keeps them going I’ll never know. I think she must have a network of other oldies who still know how to repair things.

The trouble is that Nan and her oldies are getting old too.  What is going to happen when they get too old to fix stuff?

I hate to say it but Mum is right about this. We  have to get Nan modernised a bit, starting with the cooler. Off food is no joke, especially now that Nan’s sense of smell is not what it was. If her sniffer ever malfunctions the food in her cooler could kill her.

That’s why I have to go over to Nan’s place. Today.  She doesn’t know it yet but in a few hours she’s going to be getting a brand new cooler and I have to be there to sweet talk her into letting the delivery ‘bots in through the door.

It’s not going to be easy but I have a plan, of  sorts. I found this place that sells reconditioned box coolers. They’re the kind that the old vendor ‘bots used to carry around full of ice-cream in the summer. They don’t take up a lot of space and I’m hoping Nan will agree to retiring her sniffer to the box cooler. Then, instead of putting her food scraps down the composting shute she can feed them to the
sniffer. Sort of like a pet.

After old Rufus died Nan swore she wouldn’t get another cat but I know she misses having something to look after so maybe, just maybe the sniffer can take Rufus’ place. Sort of.

Just thinking about turning a ‘bot into a pet makes me squirm a bit but sometimes you have to make sacrifices for the people you love. And I do love my Nan.

Today is not going to be a good day though.

“AI?”

“How may I help you?”

“Update to-do list.”

“I am ready. Please go ahead.”

“Tag Nan, visit equals done. Reschedule Mum, visit for next week.”

“Oh I am so pleased you will be visiting your Grandmother today and I will reschedule the reminder to visit your Mother for Monday, July the 16th, 2081.


2080 – a short story

Emmi lay rigid with misery. Her eyes were closed but tears still leaked into the biofluid in which she lay. She couldn’t feel them anymore because the electrodes attached to her temples had switched off the moment she keyed the quit switch but she knew they were there because her throat ached in that awful way it does when you want to cry.

Long moments passed as the biofluid slowly drained away and was replaced by warmed air, except that it was never quite warm enough. When Emmi had complained about feeling cold the support tech had explained that that was a built in safety factor so users would know when it was safe to remove the breather tube but she remained unconvinced. How many alerts did they need? The tank always chimed when enough fluid had drained away and then that smarmy computerised voice would state the obvious just in case you were asleep or deaf. Having that first touch of air cold was just overkill and she hated it.

Of course Emmi hated having to leave the tank at the best of times and bitterly resented the two hour limit that framed her life. She understood why the manufacturers would impose that limit. They must have lost millions after those early models had allowed addicts to starve to death but it was ridiculous to impose such arbitrary limits on people like herself. At one hundred and twenty-two just exactly how many years did they think she had left? If she wanted to die online then she should be allowed to do so. But not today. Today she had fled back to the real world with half an hour still to go.

As Emmi’s face and chest began to tingle with goosebumps she lifted one shaking hand and pulled the airtube from her mouth. Like a genie escaping from a bottle her angry sobs filled the coffin-like tank with flat, animal noises. They sounded horrible even to her own ears but at least they were real and today she needed the slap of reality to validate what she had done, or not done. Yet even with her stroke-garbled sobs to remind her of who she really was the need aching in her groin was still intense.

The advertising blurb tip-toed around that aspect of the biofluid with the propriety of a 1950’s matron. “Trillions of nano particles giving that life-like sensation” was one of their favourite phrases. Cybering was closer to the mark, not that anyone under ninety called it that anymore. The young laughingly called digital sex ‘stimming’.

Brehak had not said anything about stimming. He had been all seductive touches and soft murmurs and she had found herself paralyzed with indecision. And shocked by how much she had wanted to abandon herself to the moment. She hadn’t felt that way in decades. Yet even as his fingers had begun peeling away the layers of soft black leather covering her body a part of her had known that letting him continue was madness. And wrong. Wrong in a way that only someone from her lost generation could understand.

The young called it OR, online reality and they frolicked in their digital bodies as happily as newborn lambs once frolicked in their meadows of lush spring grass. But of course there were few places on earth where lambs frolicked anywhere any more. Most lived and died in multi-story manufactories that recycled everything from poop to farts in an effort to keep the weather from getting even worse. Top restaurants had to pay a small fortune for free-range meat because it cost thousands of credits to let lambs out onto domed meadows free of pollution.

Maybe that was why the young embraced OR so fervently, because it was the only place where they could live in a way her own generation had once taken for granted.

I’m a dinosaur. That’s what I am, a rich, bloody dinosaur.”

The garbled sounds coming from Emmi’s throat were almost drowned out by the sound of servos as the lid of her tank slowly retracted to reveal the anxious faces of her personal attendants Gem and Mira.

“Is Madame unwell?” Gem asked in that strange, archaic diction he favoured.

“Nngh,” Emmi said with a slight shake of her head. “Gowgh!”

“Madame wants to get out of there you great fool,” Mira said as she reached down into the tank and gently wiped the last of the biofluid from Emmi’s face.

There was another soft whir as the mirror foam base rose up level with the top of the tank.

Mira wrapped warmed towels around Emmi’s naked body before stepping back to allow Gem to lift her out.

Since her stroke five years before Emmi had had to get used to being handled like a lump of meat – there was nothing sexual about her wrinkled, useless carcass after all – but she was still grateful for Mira’s understanding, especially today when her sense of self was already in tatters. How could she have come so close to forgetting who she really was? Ktah might be young and beautiful but Ktah was not real. Neither was Brehak for that matter but whoever animated that avatar was young. Had to be. Probably one hundred years younger than her.

A shudder of revulsion made Emmi’s body twitch and squirm as Gem lowered her into the gentle bubbles of her bed. She settled into the mirrorfoam and warm water with a sigh. She might be a dinosaur who had outstayed its welcome but she was a dinosaur with principles. That was who she was and that was who she would stay. Ktah would have to be deleted. Maybe she should try a male avatar. That should be safe enough…


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