Angel

This short story is part of the series in the style of Black Mirror Season 4, Episode 2: Arkangel.

Angel


He has been spending the whole night out there. She must be scared right now, my lovely baby. He thinks to himself, going through all the possible combinations of terrible fates that might befall her. Did she get kidnapped? Or she fell into a drain and was calling out for help? The very thought shivers his bones.

He breathes faster and faster, his thought more and more muddled. The moonlight shines through the leaves of the trees, leaving streaks of shadow behind him. He ignores the yellow notification of raising heartbeat and flips up the Angel app. She is just there, how do I not bloody see her?

Target acquired: 50 metres ahead.

Angel beeps. He turns around, moving each step as lightly as he can in order not to startle her or anyone around her. He couldn’t tell anything in the darkness, but his Angel keeps flashing on his retina.

40 metres ahead.

30 metres ahead.

20 metres ahead.

This is it, don’t you run away from me again. His attention can’t be diverted away from the flashing notifications, keeping an eye on the nearby map. A few people stroll in the park, occasional joggers come and go. He says to himself, I’ll forgive everything and anything as long as you come back.

10 metres ahead.

He can see her, or can nearly smell her perfume. He can make out her silhouette despite hidden amid the trees. She seems to talk to another guy. Another guy!? He can’t stop but start running towards her. With his fist clenched.

5 metres ahead.

1 metre ahead.

“Hey, what are you doin-” Her word turns into a scream when his fist lands on the bastard standing besider her. He can feel one or two tooth was dislodged. The guy stumbles and falls down. Before the guy can react he lands a flurry of blows on his every visible body part. T

“Please stop, oh my god someone please help…” He turns around to look at her, but to see a pixelated image. The black and white mosaics move frantically on the face-part, her voice pierce his eardrums.

You have found your Angel. Congratulations!

He grins. This app really delivers its promise – Meet new and interesting people nearby. He has been stalking her since he swiped her right five days ago. He was timid at the start, but the app kept motivating him and gave him useful tips and newest updates of her whereabouts. It is really worth the price, he thinks to himself as he punches her boyfriend to death to remove her pixelated image.

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Toys

This short story is part of the series in the style of Black Mirror Season 4, Episode 1: USS Callister.

 

Toys


“To the infinity and beyond!” A booming voice resonates in the room.

“That’s enough for today Buzz,” I yawn while spinning a cowboy hat, “we don’t need to put up the act while he’s off.”

A figure in a spacesuit flies down from the table. With his boosters lit, he twirls and spins in the air a few rounds before landing. “I knew it, Woody, but I just can’t help it. I gotta practice it before my head gets twisted and stuck in this helmet again.” He taps his space helmet with a wink.

My stomach churns. “Don’t remind me of that scene again.”

“Nah buddy, cheer up! Not that you saw that for the first time!” Buzz pats me at the back. “Wanna get some booze?”

“It’s okay, I’m fine.” I look at the clock. 7:50pm. I motioned to Buzz. “He will be online soon.”

Buzz claps his hands heartily. “Well well, when did we get a cry baby here?” He zips in the air and lands back to the table, “always look at the bright side of life~” he continues whistling and signals the rest of the group to stay at where they ought to be.

“Potato Head, look, your eye is on the grou– oh shit, I forgot you can’t see, two steps in front of you– Hey, hey! Slinky, don’t get tangled up now, Andy don’t like to play with a spoilt slinky! Everyone brace up!” Buzz is busy with his work while I am walking back to my station.

“3, 2, 1… show time!” Buzz lands on the floor and turns off his boosters just before a hulking shadow walks in.

“It’s party time, Woody!” Andy, or I call Mr Andrew Jovinski back in my workplace, comes into the view and shouts at me. Andy, in the form of a boy of seven years old, grabs me at my feet and lifts me up the floor.

Before I realise anything, my world is spinning around me. I see the bed, cupboard and all other toys around me. I also catch a glimpse of Buzz’s iconic green suit, although I always joke he ends up in a “vomit bin”. Well karma always pays you back.

Andy smashes me hard on the floor after an eternity. I feel my head being pressed down by a weight.

“Woody, how much I like you…” the weight shifts slightly, inducing a painful but tolerable sensation at my neck. “but I just hate you whenever I see you in the office.” The weight rocks back and forth, and to my horror I realise it’s Andy’s toe.

I think Buzz is totally frozen at the spot. He learnt the hard lesson when he was punished the first time. Unable to comprehend what happened, Buzz tried to escape with his booster but Andy hit him with a baseball bat, and duct taped the whole suit until he suffocated. Since then, he had been our de facto leader and orientated us in the new world. It is just common agreement between us – whatever happens to anyone, don’t move, don’t react.

“My play does not need you, little Woody.” Andrew’s tone changed from a kid to his usual voice in the office. Cold and unwelcoming. I should not have employed him in the first place despite all the warnings. Were he not the smartest programmer I have ever seen, I would have stopped the tragedy today–

Last thing I heard is the loud snap of my neck.

“To the infinity and beyond!” A booming voice resonates in the room again.


 

 

Writing Prompt: Black Mirror S4

The brilliant sci-fi series “Black Mirror” just aired its 4th season on Netflix. As beautiful as the previous three seasons, the six episodes illustrate the interaction between modern society and emerging technologies, particularly on the dark nature of humanity and the unexpected consequences of such interaction. In this season, the topics focus on the technologies of AI, cybernetics and implants, and virtual reality.

I’m going to attempt to spin a few tales about the themes in each episodes, and invite you to join me if your writing hand is itchy. Of course, limited by time I can’t explore the intricate issues in a detailed manner as the original does, but I hope I am able to take one idea from each episode and tell a decent story.

The links are below for easy access in the future.

  • S4E1: USS Callister – 12 Jan 2018 – Toys
  • S4E2: Arkangel – 11 Jan 2018 – Angel
  • S4E3: Crocodile –
  • S4E4: Hang the DJ –
  • S4E5: Metalhead –
  • S4E6: Black Museum –

Until then, live long and prosper!

Spicy

Raj walks past the shop he used to frequent. The small door swings open and close, croaking in a repeated pattern. He peers into the window: families, friends and couples, having meals together and enjoying each other’s company. Mr. Amnah, the shop owner, busily instructs his band of waiters and waitresses to serve his hot dishes to the patrons. He seems content and happy. Raj pulls himself away from the shop and look at the street.

It is drizzling right now and the gravelled road glistens with rainwater. The tantalizing aroma of the spices still assaults his nose and ears and mouth – the urge to get a taste is nearly irresistible. He starts to walk with no destination in mind. “The further the better,” he thinks to himself.

He walks into a park and sits down on a bench. The rain does not show any sign of stopping. Not that it matters to him, for ever since the incident he has not fallen sick, major or minor. He takes a gulp of plain water from his bottle. It somehow soothes his body and calms him down.

A cricket ball dropped beside him. He looks around only to see a few teenagers with their bats, a surprised look on their faces. He knows what happened: they must have hit the ball too hard and his head sat in the middle of the trajectory. Typically a cricket ball can achieve a speed of 100 to 150 kilometres per hour, which means it travels around 40 metres every second!

Raj smiled at them and waved, shouting that he is alright. He knows he can’t be hurt by any means at all. When he took up the mantle of Defender, he knows that he must endure. In enduring, grow strong. He reminds himself. People think that superheroes get their abilities in a snap of finger, but the fact is that superheroes need to be trained. They need to succeed in countless drills, numerous practices, simulated mind tortures and potential grave dangers. Ultimately, they need to sacrifice a part of what makes them human to achieve superhuman. Übermensch. Raj was chosen to be a Defender, the epitome of protector. He still remembers the time he deflected three meteors away with his body at stratosphere. What a glorious time.

The teenagers wave back and turn away. Raj looks at them walking into the restaurant. It feels as if the smell of spices comes back. He used to enjoy the spicy food, but now he can’t at all. In order to feel no pain, he has rooted all possible sensors of pain from his body. Here goes the sensation of spicy, his favourite taste. He takes another sip of water and walks home. He needs to be ready for the Earth.

via Daily Prompt: Spicy

The Woman Speaks [48hour Scifi London 2017]

In April, I wrote a short piece for a competition called 48 Hour Flash Fiction 2017 organized by New Scientist, SCI-FI-LONDON and Urbanfantasist.com.

I was given the story elements required (title, a piece of dialogue that must be in the story etc) on the 8th of April and 48 hours to complete a 2,000 words story. It was a grueling experience – what word to use, what science issue to incorporate, how to unfold the story – but I did learn a lot from it. I would say at the point of time it was heavily inspired by popular culture that I enjoyed the most, mainly in the genres of dystopian or futurology. Here is the article transcribed faithfully as below.


Title: THE WOMAN SPEAKS

Dialogue: Music cannot exist in a vacuum.

Science (Optional): A machine that records people’s dreams for morning playback – would you share them or want to watch them?

Word Count: 1583 Words

The Woman Speaks

“Good morning, Mr. Patterson.” A warm female voice echoes in the room.

I open my eyes and peer at the holo-display. 6:00 am sharp, a standard time made compulsory for all Class-C workers in the country. I quickly roll off the bed and make a beeline to the washroom. I am getting dressed for work while the female voice continues the briefing of the summary of the day with my favourite playlist on the stream. An image of a middle-aged woman flickers on the bathroom mirror.

“Mr. Patterson, you dreamt of your mother for a consecutive period of five days pertaining to the matter of your five years old birthday party. Do you require any professional help?” I groan a little. That was my dream last night. A “Smart Doctor” dialog pops up, accompanied with a list of suggested psychologists in my neighbourhood if I am inclined to do so.

“No, Sarah, I told you not to poke your finger into my dream again!” I yell before realising that the voice does not have a finger at all. She’s an artificial intelligence built by those smart brains in the mega corporations. I do not understand how this “Smart Personal AssistantTM in the Cloud” works; I never learnt it in the school I went. I just know it is given free to everyone in the country, so I don’t really care. She falls silent. The hot steam from the showerhead subsides.

I sigh. There is no use in venting anger to a virtual person. Sometimes I am just dissatisfied with my life – getting screened and filtered out of the system when deemed not worthy for the college, and there is no way to learn any skills other than the assigned one by the government – all the resources on the web have been adjusted to my social status.

The holo-display blares loudly, displaying 7:00am in red rays. I charge out of my small dorm and hop on a hovering car. There are another four people in the car already on the same Share-a-Drive, all staring blankly to the front. I rub my nose and turn on my device as well. Everyone used to hold a “smartphone” twenty years ago. I recalled my first iPhone 8 for the tenth year old birthday. Now the chip is directly on the retina, providing a stream of non-stop, tailored information to the users’ eyes, all day long while they are awake. The mega corporations have even come up with a way to tap into their dreams while they sleep. Dreams, the vault of secrets and desires, have been cracked open and reduced to mere data points on the graphs.

I shake my head: what’s wrong with me and these philosophical thoughts? I have never learnt Descartes, Zhuangzi or Vasubandhu – wait a second, how do these names swim into my mind?

“Mr. Patterson, please proceed to Meeting Room 3 when you arrive at the company.” I am disrupted by Sarah’s prompt. It smells like an urgent request. I eye-ball the “Accept” button and wonder who demanded my audience. My boss, Ms. Jacqueline, is not very keen of my performance lately. I shudder at the thought of losing my job.

The car whizzes on the highway for ten minutes and stopped in front of a complex. Tall buildings sprawled across the horizon, glinting with grey under the Sun. The weather is a nice forty degrees Celsius, unlike yesterday where a heat wave killed three people in the neighbourhood. I alight and spot my section-mates. Mr. Lee and Ms. Abagail in my section are walking to the assembly point. I make a turn to the Administration.

I cannot put my finger at the exact date I started working in the company, not even the interviews. The job seems to be prearranged way before I graduated from high school. Perhaps it is the filter system again, I think. I authenticate myself at the gate. Not many people work here, at least not for my rank. A blue navigating line appears in my field of view to provide guidance.

Exquisite drawings are displayed along the walls of the corridor. Van Gogh, da Vinci, Zhang Daqian, Monet… I can’t help but stop to appreciate them. The strokes, the flow of colours, and the light brushes to draw the faces…

“Mr. Patterson, your next meeting will start in 3 minutes. Please proceed to Meeting Room 3.” The female voice breaks my train of thoughts with a friendly tone. I pick up my pace.

The room is nothing that I have seen before. A huge pedestal is at the other end of the room with holo-displays everywhere. Dozens of men and women are busily working on the displays, flicking and tapping virtual buttons and switches. I behold at the scene.

“Welcome, Mr. Patterson.” It is the familiar voice of Sarah. Not from my device, but directly emanating from the pedestal.

“Sa…Sarah?” I raise my voice.

“Oh my dear, don’t you forget me?” A figure emerges behind the floating holo-displays. A middle-aged woman. “I gave birth to you, remember?”

I step back in shock. She looks exactly like mom, always appearing in my dreams and recalling myself of the sweet memories.

“Sarah, why on Earth…”

“Corrections, two to be exact. One, we are not on Earth. Two, I am Sarah, but not the one you are thinking.” She points at her own eyes.

“Wait a minute, who are you exactly?” I can’t tell the reality from dream anymore.

“I created you, Patterson. Or your internal name, Subject #312. You are the first robot that possesses human-like memory.” She turned a holo-display towards me and pulled up a holo-blueprint.

“We have perfected the way to make robots. At least in the physical appearance. We mastered the manufacturing process, understood how nervous and circular systems work, we even sliced brains into tiny pieces to study all the nature offers to us.” She seems to be making a speech to an empty audience. “We still don’t understand how memory works. What lunch did I have yesterday? What flower did I receive for my valentine’s day twenty years ago?”

She clears her throat and faces me. “More importantly, how does memory interact with our actions and our emotions?”

“I don’t understand…” I stumble upon my words.

She smiles to me. “It’s alright, Patterson. We felt the same before we found the missing piece. The dreams. A constant feedback of signals back to human brain when the physical body is down to repair every night. The sleep time is a moment when the mind has the total freedom to feel, to construct, and to cleanse the memories.”

She takes a pose as if she were conducting a musical piece. “Let me illustrate it with an example. We can mix and match different notes through algorithms. Tempo, virtuoso, all sorts of intricate moments. But those is not music. Totally inferior to Beethoven, Bach and Mozart. Those which are composed organically.”

Her fingers moved in the air in an Allegro tempo.

“However, music cannot exist in a vacuum.” She stopped at the last word, as if thinking of a hard problem. “Algorithms can run perfectly with high computing power, but the result is just unreal. It is an uncanny valley in which we can tell what is computer generated and what is not. Art is hard to silicone chips.” She laughs at her joke and I somehow make some exhaling sound from my nose to reduce my anxiety.

“So we decided to fill up the vacuum. We want our robots to learn from their senses and experience even when they self-repair at nights. So we assembled five hundreds robots, loaded up with different initial memories,” she look into my eyes, “and made them dream every night. You are one of them.” She winks.

The memories? Like the birthday parties during my childhood? The red iPhone I got? Those were all fake? I squint at the holo-displays on the pedestal and see videos playing. Mr. Lee had a wet dream with his fantasized object and Ms. Abagail was looking forward for a trip to Neo-Shanghai. All of the dreams are recorded, shared and watched in this room. The results are analysed and then feedback to our memory. Every night.

“Guess what we observed? The emergence of emotions. Not the pre-programmed ones where you enter different loops based on the conditions, but those emerge spontaneously from nothing. We found that these beautiful displays of inner states tremendously helpful to form a higher state of mind. Consciousness, self-realisation, a soul if you like to call it.”

She turns her back to me. The air feels still in the room now. “This soul, combined with a robot’s superior computing power, allows you to form far more connections in your neuron network. Recently you grow appreciation towards abstract concepts, don’t you? To you, art, philosophy, music is beautiful instead of some random pixels or noises.”

I start to feel dizzy. It is too much for me to handle right now. She wave her hands and two droids crowd beside me, restraining me by the arms.

“Good night, Mr. Patterson. That’s a great soul you have built, and we thank you for your hard work.” The two robots disassemble my skull before I blank out.

… …

… …

“Good morning, Mr. Patterson.” A warm female voice echoes in the room.

Conquer

“So tell me, what’s the whole point of doing this?”

I sat down quietly on the metal chair. I wished the cold sensation could wake me up from this nightmarish reality.

“I have told you our intention. We’ve done our part, and now it’s your turn to decide. As the best person Earth could offer, I have a great faith in you to make the optimal decision.”

As the appointed Diplomat of the Earth, I was out of my wits for the first time. In my career spanning three decades, I have achieved the unachievables. I stopped Russia from invading the fringe countries with my diplomatic skills; I reconciled the long grudge between North and South Korea and disarmed the nukes by having a long overnight talk with the President Kim; and I witnessed the birth of Earth Federation unified under the same flag. I thought it was finally time to call it a day and had the chance to enjoy my retirement somewhere in Iceland, before they came to us.

“Well, Mr Frederick, we can’t resolve this if you don’t speak at all!” Another shrill. These strangers spoke with a focused, high pitched voice. The humanoid, roughly 8 feet tall, was tapping two appendages on his left arm. He was one of the many who came on the day. For an unknown reason, the alien fleet – dare I say alien while they spoke perfect English – just emerged on top of the stratosphere. Were they here to greet, to inquire, or to conquer? No one knew, and that’s the reason why I was sent here.

“I represent Earth Federation to welcome you and your friends, and …” I started my welcome speech before getting interrupted by another shrill.
“What’s the joy of unification? Why are you putting yourself in a risky, distasteful, restraining state in which you don’t grow at all?” He turned around and faced me. His eyes were of inquiry, of caring without any sense of anger. It’s like how an elder reproached his child.

I clenched my fists. “Thank you for your concern. The people on Earth realized that wars between nations and tribes don’t really advance the humanity as a race, and only under a peaceful condition we could make our lives better by devoting the resources to better uses.”

“I would say you were misguided and misinformed. Having a big, unified nation doesn’t really reap the benefits you just said. What science do the scientists should research? What machines do the engineers should build? What epics do the poets should compose? What anthems do the people should sing? Divided nations bring fire to the fight, and the people are motivated to fight for a better tomorrow. For an analogy, imagine a perfect lake: the water stays stagnant, lifeless if the water didn’t flow at all. Break the border a little, and the water will flow to form a river, bringing lives around.”

“Divided nations conquer each other. A united nation conquer itself from within. The difference is that one leads to prosperity, another complacency.” He cast a thoughtful stare with his single eye before locking the room.

That was the first meeting with these aliens. This memory was still replaying vividly in my head every night in my sleep. I have lost count of the days that have passed, but I could see, from my little room, that the electric lights on Earth was getting less and dimmer. Didn’t they figure out nuclear power or other energy sources before I came? I observed less and less launches of satellites or spaceships as if the Earth has closed the border to Space. What happened to the space policy? Don’t we want to explore beyond the Earth after we settled all the differences among us?

Without the spirit to conquer, humanity seemed to be conquered from within.

via Daily Prompt: Conquer

Swarm

He spun around his thrusters, speeding away from the disintegrated Sun. Although broken down into tiny globules of plasma matter, the collective mass of the remnants was still able to pull objects fairly easily, all thanks to gravity. He didn’t want to fall to the centre and get surrounded by the blazing glitters.

Under the slow yet deep hums of the ion engines, he flicked switches and pushed buttons frantically. The survival instinct had kicked in – he gotta run away from this menace. He has seen this exact scene before in the Aegean System where Perxians destroyed the stars one by one. Their grey fleets hovered in the dark void and sent out the silent killers – innumerable amount of tiny drones.

They looked completely harmless at the first sight. In his scope, he could only see small dots creeping across the view, creeping on the small golden pie. It reminded him of his mother’s raspberry pie baked in a sunny afternoon. Black ants came and formed a trail to the pie, busily following each other’s pheromone to the food. Being a young boy, he could not fathom why the ants were so busy, nor where they came from – He only knew how to crush them using his thumbs. The ants remained unmoved, and he still remembered how the crushed ants smelled on his hand.

“Warning: Small unmanned drones approaching. Number: Unable to calculate.” He woke up from his reminiscence. Thousands of small dots started blinking on his starmap, forming a green trail from behind, at the starboard side. Like ants looking for their food, these tiny dots were on a steady course to its prey – his space capsule.

 

via Daily Prompt: Swarm