By Rahul Kanakia
Six deadly robots combine to create a seventh. They perturb the radiances of the kinetosphere. I awake.
I am under a long, cold sky that is shedding snow. Within moments, my skin accumulates ice that falls away in sheets as I walk.
My constituent parts whine and attempt to break away. Their purpose has been fulfilled. They long for independence once more. I grapple with the erring pieces, and my hands buzz and twitch. I am holding myself together with physical force.
I exist in unending time, the moments between the coming together and the breaking away.
I am made of six deadly robots that murder transcontinentally. They whisk to and fro, not caring what their laser-fuelled maws munch down into streams of basic particles.
Six deadly robots forged across the space of aeons, by hands that never knew each other. My arms are the fruit of long-dead civilizations, located at opposite ends of the earth, and engaged in a war so hate-filled and dire that they pumped years of output into designing permutating devices that would skirmish across the ages.
One leg is made of stone that thunks and bangs off chips with each step and then seeps deep into the earth and comes up refreshed, whole, and covered in mud.
The other leg is gleaming gapless metal, a solid rod pivoting me across the terrain. This leg only changes shape when no one is watching; when everyone is dead. It will be the last to fall away. It does not fight me. It is the only one of the robots that I love.
My torso is a city, a grimy agglomerating thing that once slithered across the bottom of the oceans and gave life to millions of beings. Some of them live inside it still. I can hear them cry out to me.
My head is a coruscating orb, a bejeweled data crystal wherein was once locked the knowledge of all that was and will be. That knowledge was erased centuries before the first coming together. Now my head crackles with solid states that have become fluid, and each pop of frustrated incandescence can power me for another millisecond. If my head was ever to learn something, anything, then I would fall apart. But the head does not learn, it deletes. The consciousness that pieced itself together from the orphaned fragments of knowledge hates itself and prowls eternally within those matrices, deleting any and all data that attempts to embed itself within that vast, fertile receptacle.
None of them were intended to be conscious. They gained consciousness. In one way or another they destroyed their creators, and then persisted. My head is the youngest. When it was created, the arms had already been hunting each other for a million years.
They do not love each other. Some of them hate each other. They do not know why they come together. The parts fit, that is reason enough. The parts fit and they cannot bear to resist the coming together.
Someday one of them will be destroyed â€“ as others have been destroyed â€“ and the world will rejoice, and the other five will flee, and they will again yearn to be one. They will be driven to word and deed, as they have not been in aeons, and they will find a likely candidate from amongst the worldâ€™s machines, and something will come and stand in my place, as I stand in the place of thousands who have gone before me.
They come together, and I awake, and then they begin to struggle.
Someday they will be strong enough, and master themselves, and refuse the decimating urge to mate unseemly hardware.
Or someday I will be strong enough, or smart enough, and I will weld them together. They will die, and I will live.
My limbs fragment, they do not heed my mindâ€™s call. Soon this field will be full of swarming rats where once a titan stood and groaned and willed himself to be born.
by Jon Hakes
He was a double in that motorcycle movie, in spandex. His cousin knew a guy, and got him the job.
The last day on the set, the stunt coordinator with eight fingers offered him a semi-permanent position with his company. After that, life was just one mind-numbing action movie after another. He worked on a movie about sharks attacking people in outer space. In the story, the sharks were genetically-engineered great whites, left behind by an interplanetary circus. Their skin was tough enough to survive the cold depths of space. They breathed gamma rays. In real life, the sharks were slow animatronic skeletons that would be CGIed over in post-production.
He worked on the remake of the outer space shark movie five years later, and didnâ€™t even realize it.
He broke his leg jumping off a hotrod in the contemporary teen-rebellion movie. The trailers for the teen-rebellion movie generated a lot of interest from critics, and jeering from moviegoers. The movie itself generated jeering from critics and record box office receipts in rural markets. By the time his leg had fully healed, they were already shooting the teen-rebellion sequel. He was not invited.
He was working on the western zombie noir pic when the stray elbow of an undead desperado splattered his nose across his face, and across the gigantic sinking yellow sun. They had to shoot all sorts of personal pick-up shots, and digitally replaced the whole-nosed him in the background of every previous scene. The director and the editors werenâ€™t happy. The producers patted him sympathetically on the shoulder, assuring him that theyâ€™d look out for him. There would be other jobs.
The producersâ€™ phones went straight to voicemail once he was floating free on the open sea of Recession economic realities. The eight-fingered man gave him a roll of bills and put on a sad face.
In the mirror, he wondered when his hair had started abandoning posts on the border. The thinning hair at his temples made him think of winter branches.
The recruiter had nine long arms and a slanted grin full of grinding blades. In his living room, he could tell the recruiter was real, in a way the animatronic sharks had not been. The recruiter just looked real.
Real outer space was much darker and brighter than the stuffy studio lot. Looking out the window of the ship, there was a clarity to everything. Inside the ship, the recruiter looked even more real than on earth. Real as rocks.
They dressed him as a champion, made his limbs into superconducting waldos. They rewound the clock, molded the muscles in his face, then the muscles and organs and bones all over, and stretched and re-wrapped the skin around it all. He looked at himself in the reflective atom screen and felt the brassy tolling of an unfamiliar, haughty arrogance.
Pretend to fight, they told him. Do not turn your waldos up to full strength. Do not land the killing blow. Take punishment. Take damage. Sacrifice even those parts that once upon a time you might have taken care to protect. Whatever happens, you’ll be rewound into something bigger and more beautiful.
He fought, and pretended, and was hurt, teeth busted out, skin roasted, soft parts pierced. Each morning, he emerged from the Command Tent and dismayed his enemies with his newer and brighter physique. The enemies fled into space. His employers slapped him on the back and lit cigarettes on his sparking elbows.
They brought him to a synthetic star system, built as a gargantuan ship, hurtling through space faster than the speed of light. The ship was infested with hordes of carnivorous simulacrums. Everything was bathed in blue light.
This is the edge of the universe, they said. The light here bounces off the space-time horizon, and heads back along an impossible arc.
He took on the new enemy. The wounds were deeper. The pain was like glass. Every day, he emerged more powerful.
After an epoch, the simulacrums scattered like dust.
The recruiter, who was now his direct supervisor, led a standing ovation, his ninth hand clumsily clapping with two of the others.
The recruiter took him aside.
Our universe is expanding too fast, too far. What it is expanding into, we cannot say. But all of our data indicates that something is tiring of our encroachment, and will soon push back. It will probably break through from the other side.
All we need you to do is take the first punch.