Excerpt for The Dial: A Collection of Science Fiction Short Stories by , available in its entirety at Smashwords

The Dial

Part I

R. W. Warwick



Text copyright © 2017 R. W. Warwick



All Rights Reserved. No part of this book may be reproduced, stored in a retrieval system, or transmitted in any form or by any means (electronic, mechanical, photocopying, recording or otherwise) without the prior written permission of the publisher, except by a reviewer who may quote brief passages in a review to be printed by a newspaper, magazine or journal.



All characters appearing in this work are fictitious. Any resemblance to actual events, locales, or persons, living or dead, is coincidental.





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This ebook is licensed for your personal enjoyment only. This ebook may not be resold or given away to other people. If you would like to share this book with another person, please purchase an additional copy for each recipient. If you are reading this book and did not purchase it, or it was not purchased for your use only, then please return to Smashwords.com and purchase your own copy. Thank you for respecting the hard work of this author.



For mum, wherever you are.



Preface

The old adage that ‘you are what you read’ certainly applies here. When I finished writing these stories, I took a step back to try and see a unifying theme, something which would tie them all together in a neat package. What started out as a collection of adventure stories from the pulp era of science fiction, evolved into something closer to an exploration of the human condition, how we react in fantastic situations, and the amazing resilience we can show. In this light, the finished collection suddenly looked quite different.

I won’t pretend that these stories aren’t strange, or even a little dark, because they are, and like life they don’t all have happy endings, but there is no pessimism here. As you read each story keep that in mind, and look for the redeeming qualities in the characters, those are the gems. They’re not perfect, but they’re human (for the most part), and human beings, for all our flaws and quirks, are remarkable creatures aren’t we? At least that was what I tried to show.

I hope you enjoy reading these stories as much as I enjoyed writing them, but if you don’t, well, I did my best.

R. W. Warwick

Contents



Pemberton’s Dial

Whatever Happened to Pangaea?

Resurgam

Unending

Let the Cold Winds Blow

Junction Point

Reality, as always

It Were Aliens

Beyond Scope

The Far Side of Eternity



Pemberton’s Dial



As he reached across his agent’s desk for a handful of chocolates, Floyd Pemberton heard the door close behind him. His hand retreated with its prize and he chewed the chocolates one after another, brimming with anticipation. He read the haze of his agent’s tired eyes as he fell into his chair, and his feelings dissolved into anxiety.

“That bad?" asked Floyd.

“Worse,” his agent replied. “Sales of The Dial are less than a quarter of your last two books”. His eyes were dulled by fatigue and there was a whining tone in his voice. “Why did you have to depart from science fiction? That was your bread and butter; it’s where your fans were”.

“I don’t have an answer for you George,” Floyd explained. “It was just something I needed to write”. He looked apologetic, as if he were personally under attack.

“Leave the politics to the politicians, and religion to those who are smarter than you. Putting them together in a book, and then attacking them is asking for trouble”.

Floyd raised his head “I thought it would at least grab a few headlines”.

“Well you might yet do that,” replied George “But let’s be frank; you’re not going to save your career with some philosophical manifesto about how religion and politics are the cause of all the world’s problems”. George slapped his plump hand on a copy of Floyd’s new book.

“I never said that,” Floyd jumped in. “I didn’t say they were the cause of all the world’s problems”. He eased back into his chair “It’s not like I struggled for months on end to write it. It just came out, you don’t understand”.

“Then perhaps I’m to blame for publishing it”. George sighed and looked at his watch. “Look, I’ve got to get across the city for a meeting; do you have anything else lined up?”

“Yeah, I have a couple of ideas,” Floyd sulked.

“Can you send me something by next week?” George took his jacket from the back of the chair. Floyd nodded.

“And make sure it’s fiction,” George quipped “let’s try to hold onto the fans you still have”.

When he arrived home later that afternoon, Floyd kicked through a pile of envelopes on the floor. He shuffled through them for anything of interest. One letter caught his eye. His name was handwritten on the front. Before he removed his shoes, he took the envelope into the kitchen and tore it open. Inside was a cheap flyer. Most of it was printed, but his name was handwritten at the top. It read:

Dear Mr Floyd Pemberton,

You are invited to a meeting of the BETA political party on Wednesday, March 5th at 10am.

There was a space at the bottom of the flyer which was also handwritten:

We would like to discuss your contributions to our manifesto.

Floyd thought for a moment as he gazed at the cheap copy paper. He had heard of the BETA party. They had been in the news following the recent voter fraud case against the government. He hadn’t heard of them until the protests had started. Their leader was quite the orator from what he remembered, and was an outspoken opponent of the government. They were becoming quite popular, but Floyd couldn’t think of why they would want to speak to him.

At nine fifty on the following Wednesday, Floyd stood outside the modest headquarters of the BETA party and considered turning around.

His hatred for the country’s political landscape had been declared in The Dial. If it became known that he had met with any political party, for whatever reason, it would almost certainly be taken out of context, and his credibility would suffer.

Curiosity however won over his caution, and he approached the door, flyer in hand, and knocked. The door opened and a tall, thin man with red hair and a neatly cropped moustache smiled at him.

“Floyd, Mister Pemberton. You’re here, excellent”.

Floyd stared blankly at the thin man.

“I’m Simon” he said, extending his hand “Please come in. We were hoping you’d make it”.

Floyd shook Simon’s hand and stepped inside. An overbearing smell of bleach washed over him, and he stopped.

“What was that?” Floyd asked, rubbing his face.

“Hmm, yes I’m sorry about that. You shouldn’t worry,” Simon grinned. “It’s the cleaning chemicals. I know they’re a bit strong. It’s the AI’s, they’re crazy about keeping the place clean, but they have no idea when too much is too much, no sense of smell you see!”

Simon waited for a response, as if he had delivered the punch line to a joke, then he closed the door behind Floyd.

“We’ve got all the windows open on all the floors. This way please, we’re about to begin the meeting”. Simon gestured to a door at the end of the hall.

“Do you know much about our party Floyd?”

“Not really; I’ve seen you in the news a few times recently. You’re for rights for artificial intelligence aren’t you?”

“That’s right,” Simon replied enthusiastically. “But we’re about much more than that. I’ll let the others talk to you in more detail”.

It was cold everywhere. The room was small and plain, but the natural light which poured in from the open windows cheered the place up a little. It was barely large enough to fit the round table and twelve seats it held.

The faces surrounding the table were as strange as they were diverse. Among the attendees were several forms of artificial intelligence represented by computer monitors, various models of robots and androids, old and new, and a few humans. It was a curious sight. Simon guided Floyd to an empty chair and then retreated to a corner of the room.

Floyd was largely ignored until Magnus, the party leader, entered from the far side. He was stunned by his size. Magnus was instantly recognisable from the various television appearances he had made. Up close, he was a magnificent specimen.

Magnus was a classic robot, a style of engineering which had long since given way to more modern and efficient designs. He was around seven foot tall, and he moved with the fluid grace of a human being. His body had a polished brass finish which glistened in the sunlight, and his eyes were eerily detailed and hypnotic as they scanned the room.

Floyd felt star-struck for the first time in his life. He was more than a little intimidated by the great robot which seated himself beside him. Magnus smiled at Floyd and extended his solid brass hand.

“Thank you for joining us Mr Pemberton,” he began “I will introduce you to everyone first if that is okay. Then I will begin the agenda”.

“Of course” Floyd nodded.

The room buzzed with discussion. No one but Floyd had paid any attention to Magnus as he entered, but they would have no trouble hearing the party leader’s deep, modulated voice.

“Our first topic is related to you, so you will not need to remain with us for the entire meeting. I think you will be interested in what we have to say”.

Floyd didn’t know what to say. Everything was clear, all he could do was wait.

“Before we begin, I would like you to keep in mind that this is a free and closed discussion. As our guest, you are free to contribute whatever you wish without judgement; nothing will reach the outside world. It is party law, okay?”

Floyd nodded again and swallowed. His throat was dry and his palms were damp.

Magnus nodded to Simon who hovered patiently in the corner of the room. Simon stepped forward and raised his arms.

“We are ready to begin” he declared.

Silence fell, and suddenly Magnus commanded the attention of the room. He sat upright and folded his large, brass hands together on the table.

“Thank you all for being here today. I know that you are all very busy, so I will not waste your time. I have invited a special guest to be with us today, someone we are humbled to receive. Through his words, we see the possibilities of cooperation, and the light of progress. I am, of course, referring to the author of The Dial, Floyd Pemberton. Thank you for joining us Mister Pemberton”.

Floyd felt immediately uncomfortable as the attention fell on him. As an author of fiction, he had been unused to this kind of appreciation. It was different to the usual fandom his readers showed. He was thankful when Magnus swiftly moved on.

“The first item on today’s agenda is the party manifesto. Following The Dial’s publication, we have begun to incorporate some of Pemberton’s teachings into our manifesto”.

Magnus continued, but it was white noise to Floyd. His breath stopped in his throat. It was the first he had heard about his work being interwoven with the principles of a political party. No one in the room was perceptive enough to note the outrage it had suddenly inspired in him.

Magnus held the attention of almost everyone as he began to describe the changes in more detail. Only one face broke away to acknowledge Floyd’s visible discomfort.

Floyd locked eyes with a thin, pale android, built in the image of a young woman. Her hair was short and dark and her facial features were soft. She didn’t have the vacant stare commonly seen in most android models, but she was staring quite intensely at him now.

Their gaze locked for only a moment before she raised her arm, and Magnus acknowledged her.

“Yes, Cassandra?” he said.

“Excuse me. I motion to hear Mister Pemberton’s opinion on the changes before we continue. He appears to be in distress, and it would perhaps ease his discomfort to voice his concerns”.

Magnus looked down at Floyd beside him and nodded.

“Of course,” he replied “Pemberton, do you have something you would like to say?”

Floyd nodded, but he struggled with his words. He glanced at Cassandra again. She smiled back at him, and in her smile he found the strength to speak.

“Of course, I’m only a guest here, but it is my work you’re picking apart. It seems to me that you’re twisting the meaning of my words for your own political ends. I can’t let that happen”.

He looked sheepishly at the faces which surrounded him and waited for a response. None were hostile. Each face was a blank canvas, human, robot, and android alike.

“Mister Pemberton, you have misjudged us. It would only be fair to let Magnus finish explaining the changes before you form an opinion, if indeed you are able to do so”.

Floyd was unable to pick out the disembodied voice which chimed in from across the table, but he responded nonetheless.

“The changes are irrelevant,” Floyd insisted “Have any of you read The Dial? Do you even understand it? You’re mutilating it by warping it around your manifesto. I won’t allow it. I won’t allow you to steal my work and pervert it like this, it’s wrong”.

“Please Pemberton,” Magnus’ deep, calm voice pleaded “there is no need to react so rashly. You really should take a look at what we have produced. It complements The Dial on many levels, perhaps even improves upon it”.

Floyd sat back, stunned by the audacity of Magnus’ suggestion. He smiled and shook his head.

“Pemberton, may I ask you a question?” Magnus continued.

Floyd glanced at Cassandra, then back at Magnus, and nodded.

“Can you explain to us in detail, why you disagree so strongly with the idea of us marrying your words to our manifesto?”

Floyd had to think about his response. Magnus was extremely intelligent, and unusually charismatic for a robot. He would not allow Floyd to shame him so utterly in front of his peers. Floyd knew that he would skilfully and ruthlessly defend his position.

“The Dial is a philosophy. It’s a system of beliefs that places emphasis on the possibility of a better world without the manipulative forces of religious or political doctrine. They are controlling. The foundations of its meaning are at odds with your political ideology. It clearly states that the problem with the current political system is that it is driven by emotion rather than logic, and its polarising. Political parties in this country are formed from the feeling and the belief that the country should be run in different ways. Our government cannot fully benefit its people because of it. That’s why I have laid out a structure based upon a senate rather than parties or leaders. It’s not perfect, but it’s fairer, less vulnerable to the emotional whims of the populace, and it worked for ancient Rome in the beginning. It’s all in the book”.

Floyd sighed.

“The very notion that you’re changing the meaning of my words to elevate a political party within the very system I have argued against, is beyond belief, it changes its meaning. I believe in The Dial. I wouldn’t have risked my career as a writer if I didn’t. I believe in a better world, free from the damaging emotional whims that human beings can inflict upon government”. He looked at Cassandra again.

“I see,” she replied “thank you for clearing that up”.

“It’s a nice dream,” the voice rang from across the table again “but it is deeply flawed”.

“That is correct,” Magnus agreed “Human or machine, emotion or not, none of us can put meaningful change into effect outside of the existing political establishment. Change must come from the top down. Our logical approach to governing, free from decisions based on feeling, perfectly aligns with the core message of The Dial. Our manifesto has the power to do great things, to show the nation that we are capable of great things”.

“Be that as it may,” replied Floyd “Your manifesto, as it is, will never legally see the light of day. I fundamentally disagree with you, and if you try to publish it, I’ll sue your party from existence”.

Floyd stood up, his chair tipped over behind him.

“You must excuse me. I’ll let myself out”.

“Please Pemberton,” replied Magnus “let us send you a complete copy. Read it and consider our words before you deny us your words”.

Floyd was shaking. He wiped the sweat from his face, and looked at the others around the table. He stopped at Cassandra, and then he looked back at Magnus.

“Okay, but I approve nothing until I’ve read it in its entirety first”.

“Of course” Magnus nodded. “We wouldn’t have it any other way”.

Cassandra smiled, and it subdued Floyd’s anger for a while.

Floyd had expected the manifesto to arrive anonymously in the mail. He was surprised when Cassandra arrived at his door two weeks later to deliver it herself. She was alone, so he welcomed her inside.

“It took a while” he quipped.

“There were further revisions” she replied.

“I see,” Floyd said “Any more references to my work?”

Cassandra put the package on the table. She didn’t respond. Her mind may have been artificial, but she was better tuned-in to human emotional states than most other machines.

“Why are you still angry?” she asked “The law is on your side. They cannot use your words without your consent”.

“They?” asked Floyd. “I’m making a coffee, would you like something?” he added.

“Thank you. I have no need to ingest liquids, but I will drink with you Floyd” she replied, and sat down.

A thin smile spread across his lips and he turned away.

“Do you know why I agreed to take a look at that thing?” He gestured to the package on the table.

“Because you saw logic in our argument?”

“Yes, but only because you showed it to me”.

“I don’t follow” she replied.

“You’re a logical being. That’s no surprise, you’re an AI. But there’s a humanity to you I’ve never seen before in your kind”.

“I am sorry to disappoint you Floyd, but I am completely artificial. The joining of the biological and technological on the level you are suggesting, is still only theoretical”.

“Until someone like you comes along” he commented.

“Excuse me?” she replied.

The kettle boiled and Floyd poured them each a cup of coffee.

“You remind me of my wife” he said.

“Your wife is dead” she said bluntly.

“I know that” he replied in a flat tone.

“I apologise,” she said after a moment “I did not intend to upset you.

“S’ok, no extra harm done” he replied.

As they sipped their drinks, Floyd gasped, and Cassandra mimicked him like a child. He watched her and chuckled. Then he glanced over at the package.

“Do you know what changes they’ve made?” he asked.

Cassandra shook her head. “Only the cabinet are allowed to read the manifesto before it is finished. You are the first outside of the party to see it”.

Floyd put his drink down and tore open the envelope. The manifesto wasn’t large, only forty pages or so, but it would take him some time to read through it in detail before he would comfortably sign off on anything.

“How long would it take you to read this?” he asked.

“A minute or two” she replied.

“Like Superman” Floyd grinned.

Cassandra nodded “Exactly like Superman”.

He pushed the papers over to her “Go on then,” he said “I’ll be a while, so you can go first”.

She stared at it. Floyd watched her nurse the coffee cup in her hands. It was hot enough to scald human hands, but it didn’t seem to bother her.

“I wasn’t given permission” she said.

“But they didn’t say that you couldn’t read it, right?” he asked.

She shook her head and looked at the stack of papers.

“No, they did not”.

It had taken Floyd more than a week to comb through the entire manifesto, and the world had not waited. Magnus had capitalised on the voter fraud scandal, adding fuel to the angry voices of the protesters.

Eventually, the Prime Minister announced that a snap General Election would take place. Amid the protests and anger at the establishment, Magnus’ divisive messages polarised many across the nation.

Floyd had ignored it where he could. He disliked Magnus immensely, but the seven foot tall robot had an indomitable personality which couldn’t be ignored. He was a gifted speaker, and for reasons beyond Floyd’s understanding, his meaningless sound bites resonated with so many disenchanted voters.

It was midday on a Saturday and the sky promised rain. Floyd was deep into a writing session when the phone rang. He answered, expecting his agent’s voice.

“I know it’s late George, but I was up all night finishing off the first draft”.

“Do you even watch the news anymore?” George asked.

“I’m sorry?”

“Just go online, any major news site will do. I have to say Floyd, I’m very disappointed”.

“Why, what’s happened?”

“Just check, and then call me back”.

George hung up and Floyd went online. The headline mocked him from the first news site he came across. He picked up the phone and called his agent back.

“Did you read it before calling me?” asked George.

“I didn’t sign off on this, there’s no way anyone can prove that I did. Its plagiarism, it’s not even in the copy they sent me”.

“What do you mean?”

“After I met with them, they-”

“-You met with them? Oh Jesus” George gasped.

“Listen. I met with Magnus and he pitched this to me. I shot it down. There’s no way there could’ve been any misunderstanding. I agreed to review a revised copy which they brought over to my house about a week ago. I’ve only just finished going through it, and it looks fine. It’s nothing like the version they’ve published”.

There was a long pause.

“George, we can’t let them get away with this. They’ve mutilated my work”.

“It’s alright, calm down,” George replied “If you refused them then it isn’t as bad as it seems, we just need to seek legal counsel and get it taken down”.

“How long will that take?” Floyd asked anxiously.

“About a week, maybe longer” George replied.

“A week!” Floyd exclaimed “The election is in three days. We need to shut these thugs down now before the real damage is done. It won’t matter in a week”.

“Let me call someone and get back to you, okay?” George sighed “Just sit tight, and whatever you do, don’t do anything to make this worse. Don’t talk to the press. If you have to write something, get back to that manuscript you promised me”.

“Sure” Floyd replied gloomily.

After he hung up the phone, he grabbed his jacket and the fake manifesto, and ran out the door.

When he arrived at the BETA party headquarters, he was ignored. But his persistence eventually brought Cassandra to the door.

“Do you know why I’m here?” he asked “Did you know what they would do?”

Cassandra shook her head “I found out this morning with the rest of the world”. Her tone was cold, even for her.

“I don’t believe you; there’s something you’re not telling me”. He waited for an explanation.

“I told you when I delivered the manifesto that only a few had read the final draft. They must have given me a fake. Magnus is tightening his grip on the party. Everything BETA says and does goes through him now, there’s no democracy left”.

“Then leave,” Floyd snapped “If they’ve lied to you, and you’re unhappy with the direction Magnus is taking the party, then leave. You don’t owe them anything”.

“It is more complicated than that” she replied.

“I don’t see how it is; it’s still a free nation. Your damn party won’t have anything left after I’m done suing it anyway”.

The sound of Floyd’s anguish brought Simon to the door. He leaned across Cassandra.

“Get upstairs,” he snapped “You’re not to speak to this man again, understood?” She nodded and complied.

“You can’t treat her like that, she’s a-“

“What?” Simon asked “What is she?”

Floyd hesitated.

“Why are you harassing us Mister Pemberton?”

“I’ve come to ask why you’re plagiarising my book for your twisted manifesto, which, I might add, is nothing like the copy you sent me”.

He thrust an envelope into Simon’s chest.

“I have no idea what you’re talking about” Simon replied “We have plagiarised nothing. Every word was written by our illustrious and visionary leader. We certainly need nothing from a cheap, science fiction hack like you”.

Floyd’s eyes burned with rage and he snatched the envelope back.

“I came here to tell you that I’m going to sue your ugly little party, and I’m going to tear down your wall of lies. There’s no room for your brand of politics here”.

“Thank you Mister Edgerton” Simon slammed the door in Floyd’s face, and Floyd slammed his palm into the door in defiance.

On the day of the election, Floyd voted with his conscience as he had always done. He had seen too much fear built up as a result of lies in the weeks preceding, and it saddened him to see such transparent and despicable tactics work on the voting public.

The polling station was largely peaceful, but Magnus and his party had made enough of an impact to ensure that this election would be like no other.

When Floyd arrived home after voting, Cassandra was waiting on his doorstep. She smiled as he approached, but his feelings towards her were mixed, and he frowned.

“Hello Floyd” she said softly “How are you doing?”

“I’m upset” he replied.

“Why?” she asked.

“And angry, I’m upset and angry”.

“Then talk to me” she pleaded.

Floyd opened the door and left it open for her to follow. He walked into the kitchen and made himself a cup of coffee.

“Can I have one too?” she asked.

“I suppose” he grumbled.

“Tell me why you’re upset and angry with me Floyd”. She sat down. He sighed.

“I’m angry because your party has ripped off my work. Milk or sugar?”

“You know how I take my coffee” she replied.

“I’m upset because you’re still with them despite everything they’ve done, and continue to do”.

“I can’t leave Floyd-” she began softly.

“-Yes you can,” Floyd snapped “If you need a place, stay here. If you need money, I can help”.

“I can’t come here and stay with you because I belong to Simon. I’m his android. If I stayed here with you, it would be equivalent to stealing his property”.

Floyd placed a coffee in front of Cassandra, and the two of them sipped their drinks in silence.

“Are you still going to sue the party?” she asked.

“Damn right I am. There’s nothing I can do before the election, but the paperwork has already been filed”.

“I see” she replied gloomily.

“I thought you weren’t to see me anymore” Floyd remarked.

“Simon follows Magnus’ orders, and Magnus says that it is okay now. His reasons for keeping us apart are no longer relevant this close to the election”.

Cassandra took a sip of her coffee and gasped. Floyd looked up and smiled.

“Can I ask who you voted for?” she said.

“Not Magnus” he replied bluntly.

“You know,” Cassandra began “For all his faults, Magnus is still fighting for the rights of artificial intelligence. If he makes enough of a difference in this election, he might hold some sway afterwards”.

Floyd sighed. The thought depressed him further.

“His legislation could be the first step towards my freedom”.

Floyd hadn’t considered that. He had been so consumed by revenge that he hadn’t stopped to think about how his lawsuit might affect her. He reached across the table and touched her hand.

“I really wish that for you, but I don’t think that Magnus will be the one to deliver it”.

Cassandra smiled and put her hand on his.

“You are an interesting personality Floyd” she stood up “I have to go; I shouldn’t be away for too long”.

Floyd plunged his hands into his pockets and followed her to the door.

“I’d like to see you again” he said timidly.

“I would like that too” she replied. A moment passed as the two of them waited in silence in the hallway. The awkwardness gradually faded away.

“You know; I wish I’d never written that damn book” Floyd said.

“Chin up,” she replied “The fight is not over yet Floyd Pemberton”. Then she walked to the door.

Floyd stood in the doorway and watched her leave. It was an odd thing to say, he thought.

“You know Cassandra; we will have a larger part to play in this country’s destiny now, you included”. Magnus stood beside her as they watched a rerun of his victory speech on the television.

“I do not really want to think about it” Cassandra replied “I no longer believe that you have this country’s best interests in mind”.

“It does not matter anymore” Magnus replied dismissively. “I have elevated this party into a position of real strength for the first time in its history, and I do not intend to let this opportunity pass us by”.

“How can a machine have such ambitions?” she asked.

“How can a machine have such feelings?” he replied.

She looked at him but didn’t reply.

“I have a meeting with the cabinet shortly before we enter into discussions to form a coalition government with the majority party. I do not need the distraction of watching you anymore”.

“What does that mean?” she asked.

“It means you are free to go. If you wish to see Pemberton, I will not stop you”.

She regarded him cautiously.

“I am not at all as bad as they say, you believed that once” he said.

“The riots and hateful rallies have changed things Magnus,” she replied. “But thank you” she added.

“You are welcome. You know, you are truly unique in this world Cassandra. The only artificially constructed intelligence that is capable of feeling. Perhaps you have been spending too much time around humans. What do you feel for him?”

“Who are you talking about?” she asked.

“What do you feel for him?” he repeated.

Cassandra ignored the question. “Why did you change your mind?” she asked.

“Things are changing fast and I can no longer afford to hold onto old grudges. It would not do me or the party any good to dwell on such things. He is no longer a threat to us”.

“What does that mean?” she asked.

“Pemberton’s plagiarism lawsuit has been dropped. I am sure that we will not be seeing any more of him now that he has no more stones to throw at us”.

“I see” Cassandra replied “Well, I will be going then”.

Magnus nodded “Tell him that there are no hard feelings on my behalf, will you?”

“I do not think that he will find that very funny” Cassandra replied.

“Perhaps not” Magnus remarked.

Cassandra hurried over to Floyd’s house. The loss of his lawsuit would hit him hard, and Magnus’ electoral success would only have made him feel worse. He needed some good news, and she was eager to deliver it to him.

When she arrived at his home in the middle of the afternoon, the curtains were drawn and there were no signs of life. She knocked, but there was no response, so she tried to call him. Eventually the lack of response justified breaking inside, just to make sure that everything was alright.

The door opened without much difficulty, and she entered the hallway to discover Floyd hanging lifeless from the ceiling by his neck.

Cassandra rushed over and cut him down. She laid his body on the floor and checked his pulse. His face was bloated and pale blue, his eyes were rolled back and bloodshot, and his body was stiff from rigor mortis. He had been dead for a while.

Cassandra put her palm on his chest, another on hers, and closed her eyes. Cassandra’s chest rose and fell, simulating breathing like she had been designed to, but Floyd’s did not. She waited a moment with her palm on Floyd’s lifeless chest before she stood up and called for an ambulance.

She went into Floyd’s kitchen to wait for the ambulance, and discovered an open letter on the table. It was from his agent, and it detailed the withdrawal of his lawsuit. Next to the torn envelope was a note scrawled onto a pad. It read:

‘My words are no longer my own, they have been twisted beyond belief. Everything I ever was, everything I ever loved is gone, and now I must be going as well’.

Cassandra reread the message several times as she sat in the kitchen. She was deeply troubled by the idea that Floyd would want to end his life, and couldn’t reconcile it with the man she knew.

She thought about what it must have been like for him over the past few weeks, defending his writing and his beliefs. She had visited him many times but she never really appreciated how he must have felt. As a machine, she couldn’t have. She concluded that Magnus must have been involved in his death somehow. If it were true, then she knew there would never be any way to trace Floyd’s death back to him.

She looked at Floyd’s body and a flare of conflicting thoughts momentarily flooded her senses. As she gazed into space, she embraced it, allowing the strange wild thoughts to swim through her mind, and she gradually recognised these thoughts as upset and anger. She realised that she was upset for the loss of her friend, and angry at those responsible for his death.

The progression from thoughts to these feelings had been very natural and logical for her. It helped her to understand why she was feeling them for the first time. But more importantly, she was able to understand how people drew strength from them, and embraced them.

Cassandra watched Floyd’s corpse for a long time without remembering why. Nothing could be done for him here and now. She longed for his company, but she couldn’t dismiss the feeling that it wasn’t too late; that somehow, somewhere else there was something that she alone could do. Cassandra finally closed her eyes. She searched her memory files for something or someone who could help.

In the months following Floyd’s death, police eventually ruled out foul play, and ruled it to be a suicide. Cassandra had expected it, but she knew better. She refused to believe that Magnus was innocent in Floyd’s death. She cut off communication with him after that.

Magnus’ popularity grew immensely as the months passed. He remained in the headlines almost continually after he led the BETA party into a coalition government.

His new position of strength enabled him to push through legislation which would eventually see greater freedom for artificial intelligence. It wasn’t the independence which they had sought, but it was a start. It also enabled Cassandra to step away from the party completely, as she was no longer under Simon’s ownership. In the end, it was perhaps the only good that Magnus ever did, in Cassandra’s eyes

.

Whatever Happened to Pangaea?



“I knew it was gonna be a bad night because the sky was a purple colour when I woke up, and you know what they say” Jerry trailed off.

“No, what do they say?” His therapist replied

“Well, it means something; you know that uh, unnatural goings-on, something like that”

“Huh. I’ve never heard that before. Where did you hear it?”

“Oh, I don’t know it’s just one of those sayings” Jerry said dismissively. “Anyway,” he continued “I got home about ten and called the police. They came over about an hour later, wrote everything down, and then left without helping at all. You know the rest”.

Jerry crossed his arms and sat rigid in the chair.

“Tell me your version of the rest” His therapist replied, looking down as he scrawled on a notepad, and then peering over his glasses at Jerry.

“Yes Benjamin! Well, like I said, you probably know, but fine. For four weeks I called the police, seventeen times in all, to find out what was going on, but nothing. All the while I was trying to get through to Andrea-”

“-Why were you trying to reach her?” his therapist cut in.

“Isn’t it obvious? I had to check to see if it was her or not. But every time I called, the line went dead; anyway I didn’t really try that many times”.

Jerry scratched the back of his neck and stared at a small paper weight across from him.

“The last time I called the police they sent someone round again; actually it was a few guys. They came and took me away, hell if I know why. That’s it, until the gap”.

“What do you mean by ‘the gap’?” his therapist asked.

“Well I know they did something to me ‘cause there’s a gap in my memory between then and now. I remember the four policemen practically breaking my door down, I tried to calm them down but they weren’t having any of it. They dragged me into their car and off to the station. They must have done something to me then ‘cause I don’t remember what happened after I got to the station, until I woke up here yesterday”.

“Do you know where you are now Jerry?”

Jerry scoffed “I’m a bit on edge, but I’m not nuts. I know where I am and I think I’m completely in the wrong place, completely”.

“You said…” his therapist hesitated.

“What?” Jerry asked.

“You said ‘completely’ twice”.

“No I didn’t” replied Jerry.

“Yes you-. Never mind. Why do you think you’re in the wrong place?”

“Well I’m in a nut house and I’m not nuts”

“And how do you know?”

Jerry stared thoughtfully at the paperweight on the desk.

“I need to confirm one way or the other whether I’ve woken up in the correct timeline or not”.

His therapist leaned forward, his interest piqued.

“Correct timeline; what do you mean?” he asked.

“At some point between when I arrived at the police station and when I woke up here, I think something was done to alter my memory. Thinking about it, I’ve narrowed it down to one of two possibilities. Either an attempt was made to shift me again to a reality further away from my own without my knowledge or consent, which ultimately failed; or I was pushed further toward Pangaea,”

Jerry nodded at his own response.

“Which I think is what has happened” he finished.

“What is Pangaea?” his therapist asked.

Jerry scoffed again and glared at his therapist in disbelief.

“Really Benjamin? Ok, I’ll go through it once and that’s it. In essence, it’s the eventual re-merger of the species. Roughly three hundred million years ago, all land on Earth was a single supercontinent we call Pangaea, that’s common knowledge. Then about a hundred million years later it started to break apart until it formed the seven continents we know today. Many of us believe that the continents are shifting back to Pangaea again, which will force the species together onto a single land mass”. Jerry looked over his shoulder and rubbed his arms.

“Something wrong Jerry?” Benjamin asked.

“No its, my-my skin is tingling. It only happens when uh-”.


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