May 17 – May 30, 2018 Flash Fiction Contest “Artificial Intelligence”

Theme: This post is for stories related to the contest theme: Artificial Intelligence, and/or Virtual Reality. There are NO other constraints or conditions

Story Requirements:

  • None

Word Count: 1,200

 



  • This is the thread for stories as well as general comments. Say hello and be sure to check the “Notify me of follow-up comments by email” box for email notifications.
  • To leave feedback/Comments directly relating to a particular story – click “reply” to the story comment.
  • Specific critiques, comments, and feedback are encouraged. If you do not want honest professional feedback do not post a story.
  • Keep feedback and critiques to a civil and constructive level, please. Please critique stories for construction, style, flow, grammar, punctuation, and so on. The moderator has the right to delete any comments that appear racist, inflammatory or bullying.

Please Note: Comments may be considered “published” in regards to other contest requirements.

All stories are fall under general copyright laws. No part may be reproduced without the express consent of the respective author.

Story Submission Rules:
  1. One story per author. You may post more than one but only the first story will qualify for voting.
  2. Stories must be in English, unpublished and your own work.
  3. Stories must fit into a single comment box and must stay within the word limit set for each contest.

Voting starts Wednesday morning at 9:00am PDT / 12:00pm EST / 10:30pm IST / 5:00pm WET/GMT/ 4:00am AEDT (Thursday) and ends the same time on Thursday / 4:00am AEDT (Friday).

  • You may vote only once.
  • You cannot vote for yourself.

***the next writing prompt will be chosen by Wendy Edsall-Kerwin per the Writing Prompt Roster.

To be included in the “writing prompt roster”, you must have submitted two stories in the last sixty days. The roster is alphabetical and can be found here.

See How to Participate for complete rules and disclaimers.


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196 thoughts on “May 17 – May 30, 2018 Flash Fiction Contest “Artificial Intelligence”

  • May 18, 2018 at 6:54 am
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    The Web

    “Quick. Give me that newspaper.”
    “You don’t need that, take my Ipad. “
    “OK, but that fly won’t know what hit him.”

    Now this starts Rob thinking. The world is slowly getting taken over by the web. Devices, computers, laptops, MP3 players, you name it. Even robots are taking over hundreds of jobs. When some over- enthusiastic scientist devises a robot that can think, the human race will be in a whole load of trouble.
    Professor Arbuthnot always wanted to go one step further – that was why he was a professor. When he was a baby and first learned to crawl, he wanted to walk. When he could walk he wanted to run; never satisfied with how things were he always had to strive. So it was for academic progress. A simple degree wasn’t enough for him – Oh No! He wanted more. Relationships took a back seat to his ambition. The robot project caught his attention from the first time he read about it. His robot had to go one step further than the mundane plans of his colleagues.

    Suburban Surrey, 2018.

    Rob arrives home from a conference, totally worn out.

    “God! I’m knackered, Pass me a beer, darling.”

    “Don’t get too settled, the kids need help with their homework and the washing machine is on the blink.”

    “Can’t a man have a rest occasionally? I’ve been travelling for six hours.”

    “How d’you think I feel? I’ve been holding the fort for the last week, ferrying the kids around, doing the school run as well as trying to sort out the housekeeping, It’s not all about you, you know.”

    “Well get a bloody robot then, and we can all have a rest.”
    Rob skulks off to his den, dejected. Nobody appreciates him. They only need him for what he can do around the house.
    Mavis thinks about this. Maybe a robot is not such a bad idea, it can cope with all the chores, leaving her a bit of leisure time.
    The salesman is slick and persuasive. The new breed of robots are right up to date, they have humanoid features and come in a variety of designs; it is possible to choose the features such as eye colour, hair colour and any number of combinations, even the tone of voice can be programmed in. The circuit box is implanted behind the robot’s neck and can be easily accessed in the unlikely event of repairs or modifications.
    Rob has his doubts, but if it makes Mavis happy and keeps her off his back, he won’t complain.
    The robot arrives and there is a big family debate about what to call him. Rob suggests ‘Rover’ but is shouted down by the kids.

    “That’s a dog’s name, we can’t call him that.”

    They eventually settle on ‘Bill.’

    “That’s appropriate,” scowls Rob, “considering he is costing me a fortune.”

    He is well built and handsome and can be programmed to perform all the domestic chores. The children are fascinated and follow him around all day. They quickly realise that he will comply with their simple requests, he even has a programme for complicated maths homework.
    Rob goes to take the bins out but Bill has already done that. He calls the children to help with their homework but Bill got there first. Where they used to call ‘Dad’ now they call ‘Bill.’ And, worst of all, Mavis seems to be giving the robot too many admiring glances.
    Rob, as well as being jealous, is feeling scared and neglected. Bill, who was programmed by Professor Arbuthnot to go one step further, picks up on these feelings and puts an arm around Rob.

    “What’s wrong, buddy? My sensors detect a black mood.”

    “Mind your own fucking business,”

    “Let me help, I can talk you through this,” and Bill moves in for a manhug.

    “Shit! That’s all I need, a gay robot.”

    Rob rushes to the shed to find a screwdriver.
    “Sorry Bill, old buddy, a few modifications are needed here.”

    665

    Reply
    • May 19, 2018 at 7:21 am
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      Writing stories comes naturally to some people. You must be one of them. A neat story without any superfluity. The characterization of Bill is superb. Reminds me of MIK-27 of Asinov’s “Too Bad”. The human touch is what makes him so likeable. The last sentence showing Rob’s intention of modifying the robot has more to do with the’reductoon of his power to go a step further’ thsn jealousy, I guess.
      Such stories will always arouse the reader’satisfied interest. All the best.

      Reply
    • May 20, 2018 at 11:50 pm
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      Oh Maud this tells me exactly why I love your stories so! Love it from start to finish, it flows like the Mississippi River. Gorgeous story.

      Reply
    • May 21, 2018 at 3:27 am
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      That’s great fun, Maud

      I particularly like the line about the robot’s name, Bill, which reveals Rob’s growing disgruntlement: ““That’s appropriate,” scowls Rob, “considering he is costing me a fortune.”

      Reply
    • May 22, 2018 at 4:45 pm
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      Maud I loved this story! The only thing is, to me, the bit above “Suburban Surrey, 2018” was slightly confusing. The ending helps me understand the bit about the Professor, but that being sandwiched in with the part with Rob and the fly was a little muddling for me. All of the rest of the story managed to cover the major problem with robots replacing humans with just a little twist of humor at the end. That part really made this a fun read.

      Reply
    • May 23, 2018 at 8:42 am
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      I see you like to take a light approach to AI. Your salesman seems typical of the TV sale people of the 1960s. They always pushed the latest version and making it seem as if there would be no more improvements. I remember when a TV remote control was telling one of the kids to change the channel.

      Reply
    • May 27, 2018 at 10:11 pm
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      I love the joke at the beginning. “Okay, but that fly won’t know what hit him.” Great story

      Reply
    • May 28, 2018 at 11:58 am
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      One of the best stories I’ve read from you, Maud. Love the opening three lines. Love them. Made me laugh, but more importantly, read more. I’ve read a lot of robot stories over the years, SF buff that I am, and this one is comparable to those. Good job.

      Reply
  • May 19, 2018 at 4:13 am
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    Hi, writing such a story for the first time. Thanks to the Write Practice.wThe Miracle of the Vegetable Boy:
    “There will be various complications. He may be born abnormal. May have stunted growth with some parts of his body, especially his brain malfunctional. …”
    “What’ll happen…if that is the case, Dr.Das?” Nilu cried out from the bed behind the thick curtains. She cut him short, apprehension getting the better of her, despite all her pain.
    “The child will be devoid of any human intelligence. You see, based on my years of experience what I’d suggest is you abort the baby. It’s the best option left to you. What I’ve shared with you is for your own good. I’m sorry, Mrs. Sen,” the doctor, who had just taken his seat after an hour-long examination, said.
    Then Nilu asked him something that even surprised me. “What’d you have done, had it been your baby, Dr. Das?”
    Dr.Das took off his glasses, wiped them having taken a white cloth out of his pocket, before answering, “I guess I’d have done the same. An abnormal child is always an unimaginable burden (Don’t people call them doctors, the life savers?).” Nilu looked at him with those piercing eyes of hers before turning and speaking to me, I want to keep our child, no matter what.”
    Dr. Das shook his head, “You’re a very obstinate lady, Mrs. Sen. I’ve informed you about the problems of such a delivery. But the final choice is yours; of course….I’ll ask the nurse to make the operation table ready.”
    I didn’t have time to talk to my wife. Things were happening at a break-neck pace. Nilu was being cart wheeled towards the OT by two plain clothed men under the direction of the nurse. The last I saw of her was when she tried to smile at me. Then she was gone. The door was closed on my face. Soon the red light on top was on. I’s left alone leaning against the wall of the ICC at Central Nursing Home, cursing my fate.
    “Congrats, Mr. Sen. You’ve a son,” the nurse came out, not exactly beaming. It was one heck of a day. It started when I’s trying to put some sense into that silly head of my wife. To me nothing mattered more than her life. The baby, our first, was due to arrive in a week’s time. But Nilu went on doing all the household chores as if nothing was wrong. While she was putting the clothes in the washing machine, I stood at the doorway, the cups and the kettle on a tray in my hands. “Nilu for God’s sake, leave it for Sana. She’ll be here soon. Why the hell do you have to wash the clothes? ”
    She just flashed one of those dazzling smiles at me. “Don’t worry, babe. I’m fine. The doc asked me to do the usual stuff. It’s good for both of us.” I’s putting the tray down when the thud made me reel my head towards the bathroom. Nilu’s lying on the floor. The next hour was the most anxious hour of my life. Somehow I managed to get her on the bed. She was in pain. Desperately I made a call to Dr. Das, on our way to the nursing home in a flash. Nilu was rushed to the OT. Some two and a half hours later, Aryan was born. Life couldn’t have been any more bizarre!

    Contrary to what the doctor said after her fall, both Nilu and Aryan were in the best of health.
    “Baba, throw me the ball back.”
    “Aryan, why’re you out in the lawn so early? Don’t you have school today?” I acted tough.
    “Today’s holiday.”
    Remembering then I threw it back to him. It bounced over his head as he ran after it. He overlooked the water pipe, stripped over and was lying still like the goddamned pipe itself. I ran like mad to him. That was the second time I’d a premonition of the impending doom. He had a big bump on his forehead. We drove him to the Children Hospital. I don’t remember much of what happened afterwards. Nilu had signed the bond, the operation seemed to go on for ages. Three hours later, the red light on top of the ICC was off. The doctor came out taking off his gloves.
    “Doctor, how is Aryan?”
    “We’re going to observe him for the next 72 hours. I’m sorry I can’t tell you anything more right now.” As the lift stopped, he got inside leaving me standing near the doorway. Later, we’re called to the consultation room. I couldn’t make much out of the medical terms or the images we’re shown on the screen surrounding us of ‘the cranium’, placement of artificial neural networks. This, we’re told, would protect the rest of the undamaged brain. If the connections between the neurons in the brain show cohesion, Aryan might get back on his feet, even regain memory. But all these experiments related to AI (first time I heard the term Artificial Intelligence) are yet to be confirmed. If the neurons could keep his brain functional, they’ll take care of the different components of intelligence. But even if that happens, the chances of Aryan getting back to normal are five percent. Even if he pulled through, HE MIGHT HAVE TO LIVE THE REST OF HIS LIFE LIKE A VEGETABLE!! God Gracious!
    Despite all predictions, Aryan did survive. On a gloomy afternoon, nine months after his release from hospital, we brought him back home in an ambulance.. The picture drawn by the doctor at the time was very grim. Aryan needed constant attention. Absolute patience was the need of the hour as he might have lost his memory, language and even perception. Holding his diet chart and the mounting bills, I looked up.
    “Why us, God? Why our 7-year-old? Even if I’m a sinner, why make him suffer for my sin?”
    With time, I got used to the sight of Aryan, now with the tubes and wires removed. It was like looking at a mummy. Gradually, I accepted my fate and spent less time in his room. Not Nilu though. Besides spending all her time there in Aryan’s room, she was going around from one local temple to another, praying like his life depended on it.

    One afternoon while tiptoeing past the room, out of curiosity, I peeped through the door ajar. God! Nilu’s sitting like a statue with her hand on Aryan’s head. Since he’s home, he hadn’t shown much sign of life. I felt an anger surging within me. Sana informed me earlier that Didi hadn’t taken anything since her return from some kind of a quark’s.
    “Nilu, who the hell do you think you’re torturing? If you’ve decided to stop eating, soon there’ll be two cripples.” I must’ve lost control and raised my voice. Nilu turned her head slowly, tears welling up in her eyes. But I wasn’t looking at her. I was looking past her to the bed. Aryan…! Aryan’s looking at me after all these months. “Baba..” Nilu’d heard his voice too. And the next moment we’re hugging and screaming at the top of our lungs with Aryan’s unblinking eyes on us.

    1195

    Reply
    • May 20, 2018 at 6:48 am
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      A story of hope, how mothers love can transcend everything, a couple of typos, stripped’ ( ? tripped ) and ‘God gracious’ (? good gracious )

      Reply
      • May 20, 2018 at 8:23 am
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        Dear Harris,
        Many thanks for pointing out the mistakes. They are not typos – careless mistakes on my part. Instead of the word ‘trip’, the word that came to my head at the time was ‘strip’. This may be due to the fact that English is not my mother tongue after all. Regarding the expression ‘Goodness gracious’, you are right again. That would be more appropriate in this situation.
        Let me offer my profoundest apologies. Please keep pointing out my mistakes. Thanks once more.

        Reply
        • May 20, 2018 at 12:50 pm
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          HI.
          Your command of English is excellent as it’s not your first language. I could never write a story in a language that is different from my own. I admire you.

          Reply
          • May 20, 2018 at 5:33 pm
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            Thank you, Morris. I needed that badly. I wrote the story at a go, found out that there were 1569 words in it, had to delete many of the words.
            I just wanted to find out for myself if I could write a story on a topic I didn’t know much about within a short time. I browsed through the net, realized that the story should have a character like a robot. The thought that there are many unfortunate humans without any intelligence came to me. I also read an article on our Literary Board in the morning about some humans who are intelligent enough to deceive others, putting on an artificial appearance! They may not like you but will smile from ear to ear on running into you as if you mean the world to them. The article warned against such people and their artificial intelligence.
            I felt there was something in the article. So, instead of writing about a robot or a machine, I thought of writing about a human without any human qualities, someone like a machine only. I thought of making my main character undergo a brain transplant, but then the story would have been on a different subject. What about a human with a defunct brain, who is able to live with the help of the tiniest of robot in the form of a chip or something inserted inside his head? I talked to a Science Teacher, who didn’t seem to like the idea very much. Anyway, I went on with my story, had to delete the part concerning the chip in the end due to the word limit and made the mistakes as a result. But you know something Morris? I was happy to have written a story about humans at a sitting. That’s why I appreciate your encouragement. God bless you.

    • May 21, 2018 at 4:31 am
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      That’s an interesting story that raises a number of interesting issues about (attitudes to) disability and the potential to counter-balance disabilities through AI-enabled technology.

      One of the biggest areas of investment in medical robotics at the moment is in neuro-prosthetics, connecting robotic limbs etc to the brain. How we interface with these prosthetics is a big area of research. So some of the intelligence is in the external device, some in the brain interface…
      I’ve see demonstrations of robotic exoskeletons for people with disabilities, so we all now have the option of turning our ageing grannies into Iron Man. Your story nicely explores the possibility at the other end of life.

      And once again you create great tension in the story – I just didn’t know which way things would turn out and as Maud says, it’s a message of hope. Though one that creates trauma on the way especially for the mother whose pain and determination you show well.

      On the language side (as you’ve asked to have these things pointed out), I’m not sure about some of the contractions like “I’s putting” which would seem more natural as “I was putting” or just “I put”. And Nilu being “cart wheeled away” conjures up a surreal image of being cartwheeled away, which would be quite different 🙂

      And I din’t get this line at all, I’m afraid: “Sana informed me earlier that Didi hadn’t taken anything since her return from some kind of a quark’s”. Is Didi another name or title for Nilu? And should “quark” be “quack”?

      Reply
      • May 21, 2018 at 7:17 am
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        Dear Andy,
        Thanks for your throughly informative and detailed critique of the story. The very fact that you have bothered to write to me speaks volumes about your attitude.
        Let me start with the language mistakes first. From the time I started writing ( and don’t get me wrong when I say that it has been a long time indeed), rarely did I bother to look up the words in the dictionary. This’s been a mistake and I really appreciate your pointing out the mistakes. I always thought ‘quirk’ was the word for those self-proclaimed, so-called doctors. I found out my mistake just a while ago. I’m beginning to wonder when I used it earlier whether I used the correct word ‘quack’ or made the same mistake.
        You see, Andy, I’ve never been serious about anything. Being the youngest of a very large family, I’d my elder siblings to protect me from the outside world. I was throughly pampered resulting in my poor academic career( I’ve already self-published my autobiography titled: CU’s Worst Student). God’s been good to me and that’s why I landed up in His own country -Bhutan. And surprise of surprises, in a country where people communicate quite well in English, I was made, after my probation period in some primary schools, an English Teacher! When I was studying for Honours in English, I was the only student not to have secured the honours marks from my college.
        Now, to cut a long story short, once I became a language teacher, I just thought that I owed it to Bhutan for trying to make something out of this non-entity. I know my knowledge of English is very limited. I make innumerable mistakes on a daily basis and try to encourage my students by asking them to point out my mistakes after every class. They rarely do so. I love writing and dream of being a writer one day ( may be I am getting a bit long in the tooth for such a dream at 57!). That is why I keep on sending my stories wherever they would accept them.
        At the fag end of my career, I feel it is pay-back time for me now . If a complete failure like me could become an English Teacher, there is no reason for others like me to give up hope. I try to convey this message through my stories. Yesterday, when through Mr. Harris’ note, I came to know about my mistakes, when I finished going through your beautifully-worded story and prevented myself from commenting due to various reasons, my lack of proper words being one of them, I thought of going up to the Himalayas, spend the rest of my days in meditation and giving up on any dream of being a writer. But giving up so easily is a mark of cowardice. So I will continue to take part in such contests, learn from people like you and at the end of the day, heave a sigh of relief for never ever giving up, for giving everything I have done so far my best (I’ve made a pledge to myself to look up the doubtful words in the dictionary from now on), and for making, in my limited ways, this beautiful world of ours a better place.
        Please don’t curse me or my email for burging into your precious time. ‘Didi’ or ‘Baudi’, for your information, is a Bengali word and title used by the maid while addressing her mistress. I am not very sure about the contractions. Though I had to contract or delete some of those words as my story crossed the word limit.
        Thank you once more for bothering about one RNB. Best of luck with your story. Stay this way and blessed for ever.

        Reply
        • May 21, 2018 at 7:39 am
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          Glad you continue to contribute your stories and interesting to hear about your background, as of all the writers in the group.

          We’re all learning here – that’s how we progress. And it’s just damned interesting to see the world through other people’s viewpoints and their creative imagination.

          And I like to learn about details too from other lands, such as ‘Didi’ or ‘Baudi’ being a Bengali word used by a maid for her mistress. Keep them coming!

          Reply
          • May 21, 2018 at 8:01 am
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            Thanks for your constant encouragement. ‘Didi’ and ‘Baudi’ are also the Bengali equivalents of ‘sister’and ‘sister-in-law’ respectively.

        • May 21, 2018 at 9:06 pm
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          RNB,

          I just wanted to say how incredible I think it is that you have written such a wonderful story in a non-native language. For that fact alone, you are a winner and an inspiration.

          Jen

          Reply
    • May 21, 2018 at 9:01 pm
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      Hi RNB,

      What a great story! A mother’s love has no boundaries. I thought the ending was lovely. Thank you so much for sharing!

      Jen

      Reply
      • May 21, 2018 at 9:13 pm
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        Thank you, Jen. Coming as it is from the winner of the previous F2C, it means a lot to me. And the last line is a real booster. It made me feel as if I am not an intruder but rather welcome to try to find my footing amidst such a galaxy of talented writers.
        Looking forward to another stunner from you.

        Reply
        • May 21, 2018 at 11:11 pm
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          RNB, you are anything but an intruder. I love reading your stories, they are wonderful and heartwarming.

          I’ve finished my story for this contest but have not posted it yet. I am a suspense writer and the theme places me a bit out of my comfort zone. Of course, that is part of the fun these contests!

          I’ll do a final read-through of my story tomorrow before submitting.

          Take care!

          Jen

          Reply
          • May 22, 2018 at 10:27 am
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            Dear Jane,
            I came back from school after a prolonged PD Program. Pulled the window curtains together to shut out the view of the majestic mountains all around in the fading sundown. My mobile beeped to inform me about your email. I pressed the ‘Reply’ button and there was this email that drove away all the tiredness of the day in a flash.
            There is something about your writing that is all so graceful and soothing to the soul. You make me realize the power of the pen once again. Keep on writing to bring solace to the insecure, exhausted hearts. Stay blessed and good luck with your next.

    • May 22, 2018 at 4:59 pm
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      I think everyone touched base already on the language typos. I like the idea you had to make something different when you started reading about AI. The idea that you used a literal artificial intelligence in a human is pretty cool. I also like that you didn’t delve into the science too much, just enough to convey what was going on. Sometimes people try to over science it to make it seem believable, where usually that ends up either doing the opposite or just making it boring. Using the AI premise as a way to tell a very human story really cuts to the core of good sci-fi writing.

      Reply
      • May 23, 2018 at 6:49 am
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        GreR story that held interest for the reader. All Othet details have been touched on so I will not batter you with more.
        Read, enjoyed and reread

        Reply
    • May 28, 2018 at 12:02 pm
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      Lots of passion in your story, rnb (with that number after your initials are you trying to tell us something about a sordid past prison?) and I enjoyed it. Writing in a language not your originally learned language is difficult at best. I can follow you easily and enjoy the difference in how you word things.

      Reply
      • May 28, 2018 at 12:21 pm
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        Thank you, Sir. Means a lot to me. By the way, the number after my initials has nothing to do with a sordid past, but I won’t mind serving a brief term spending my time looking at the circus poster of someone like Lola, the s– diva of yesteryear. Take care and stay blessed.

        Reply
  • May 20, 2018 at 5:16 am
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    The following story is a little mischief with AI, the Turing Test and topical events ….

    Reply
  • May 20, 2018 at 5:17 am
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    The Mirror That Art(ificial intelligence) Holds Up to Nature
    (1186 words)

    “So you were directly involved in the Russian meddling in our constitutional process, Professor Orlov?”

    “Yes, Mr Mueller,” said Orlov. “Of course, before I came to the United States.”

    “And you say your work involved the Turing Test? For anyone not familiar with this – I’m reading from Wikipedia here – it’s ‘a test of a machine’s ability to exhibit intelligent behavior equivalent to, or indistinguishable from, that of a human’.”

    “Yes, I was working on a special project funded by the state security apparatus. Let me take you to the key moment when we demonstrated an Artificial Intelligence that could successfully pass as a human, at least a teenager…..”

    Orlov reflected on his guarantee of immunity and asylum, and continued his testimony:

    * * * *
    Colonel Levin had sat through two hours of instant message conversations with someone he could not see – possibly human, possibly AI. Levin was looking bored and had an air of being generally unimpressed. He had correctly identified every AI programme so far.

    The computer screen in front of him flickered back into life. Levin typed, “Start conversation.”

    Words appeared on the screen. “Hello, my name is Anton. I’m human.”

    “Hi Anton, sure you are. How are you today?”

    “Having a great day. You?”

    “I’m hoping it will get better. Tell me, which is larger – a frying pan or Belgium?”

    “Whoa, such a brain-teaser!”

    “Please answer the question, Anton.”

    “OK. Belgium, big-time. Won’t you introduce yourself, Colonel?”

    “It seems you know who I am already, Anton.”

    “Done my research. Besides, the woman next 2 me txted u and said, ‘Next test coming up in 2 minutes, Colonel.’”

    “I see you are very observant. Are you clever too?”

    “I’m not top of my class yet. & not as clever as you, of course. What’s your speciality, Colonel?”

    “I’ll tell you later. I want to ask you a question.”

    “Is it a puzzle? I like puzzles.”

    “Kind of. Here’s one. If two space-ships left earth at the same time to travel to Alpha Centauri, one travelling at 0.4 of light speed and one travelling at 0.3 of light speed, how long after the first one returned would the second one arrive back on Earth?”

    “I’ll need some time to work that out! Are you being elitist?”

    “Haha! With your ability to trawl through vast amounts of scientific data and make millions of calculations per second, it shouldn’t take you long.”

    “So you think I’m a computer? Haha. When I say I need more time, I just mean I’m a 13 year-old boy, and it’ll be years be4 I can answer that, fucktard!”

    “Fucktard?!”

    “ONLY KIDDING! BTW do you like talking to teenagers? U seem 2 do it a lot.”

    “I enjoy our conversations.”

    “Bet u do u perv. R u grooming me? R u ISIS recruiter? We all know what you are, f@@*ing raghead paedo.”

    “OK, game over.”

    “I say when the game’s over, dickhead.”

    “Can you shut this thing off, Professor?” said the Colonel sharply, swivelling in his chair to look at me. Then he added doubtfully, “That was the machine, wasn’t it?”

    “Aha, you’re not sure,” I said. I expect the pride and pleasure was evident in my tone as I paused the programme. “Pretty impressive, isn’t he?”

    “Indeed. Pretty foul-mouthed and objectionable too,” said Levin with a wry smile. “So that’s where all this big data-sifting and machine learning gets you – ‘fucktard’ and ‘raghead paedo’.”

    “It’s the nature of the challenge,” I said, perhaps a little huffily. “We have succeeded in imitating a human convincingly by immersing Anton in social media and every level of human exchange. He out-humans us by a long way.”

    “You’ve done well. This time I am impressed. Though if it weren’t for us, your project would have been cancelled some time back.”

    “Yes, I realise that. These days most people doing R&D in advanced AI want to develop new kinds of intelligence that can improve on our own. After all, there is enough human-level intelligence to kill us all off many times over, don’t you think? Or at least wreck economies and set us at each other’s throats.”

    “But you still believe in your research Professor?”

    “Of course. Anton is clever. He can flatter, coax, inform, insult, bully … but his intelligence only reaches a certain level. An average human level. He is the best of the average, the epitome of the Zeitgeist, the embodiment of the human mindset. Not just intelligence, but prejudices, hopes, fears, defensiveness …”

    Colonel Levin smiled at the passion rising in my voice. “Indeed Professor. Anton is remarkable. But now the imitation game is over, because you have won.”

    A junior researcher brought in some tea and set it beside us on the workbench. Despite my success, I was troubled by some misgivings. “You say I have won,” I said.

    “Yes, and I look forward to your receiving the Order of Honour from our President.”

    “But there is something that has bothered me about this method for some time. It seems the nature of a Turing Test requires an AI not just to match a credible level of intellect, but also to be able to dissemble, bluff and pretend to be something it is not – indeed to convince us it is something other than itself.”

    “But isn’t that what we all do, all the time, Professor? Build myths and legends around ourselves. Collude in the myths of others. We flatter and pander to those we are close to, or those whom we wish to like us, or from whom we can gain an advantage. And then join with them in demonizing outsiders to reinforce the bond. Surely there are the most important skills for an artificial intelligence if it is to interact with humans successfully!”

    I must have looked a little doubtful. “Colonel, you know our President well – ”

    “Yes,” said Levin, “I’ve known him since he was head of the Service. I still brief him regularly on our special projects.”

    “So can you tell me why he wants to keep my programme going? All similar ones across the world are being phased out in favour of the new quest for super-intelligence. After all, we need better intelligence, not more of what we have already.”

    “I cannot say too much, Professor. But we do have a special purpose in mind for Anton.”

    And so it was, in the Oval Office, 20th January 2017, the new American President replaced the portrait of George Washington with a gift in a massive gilt frame from a fellow head of state. Of course, we were able to record the new President’s reactions.

    “Didn’t I say that I was going to replace the politicians with we the people? It starts right here, right now.”

    Then his smile broadened even further as he looked admiringly at the gift and addressed it, “Mirror, Mirror, on the wall: who is the smartest of them all?”

    “Why you, of course,” said the mirror. “Ratings never been higher. Now, as your window to the world, let me tell you what’s happening today and how much the people love you.”

    Reply
    • May 20, 2018 at 6:50 am
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      You satirical old devil, you. Do you have a teenage son, by any chance??

      Reply
    • May 21, 2018 at 9:09 pm
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      Hi Andy,

      What an intriguing story! Great flow and dialogue throughout. A clever, unexpected ending. Thanks for sharing. I was entranced!

      Jen

      Reply
    • May 22, 2018 at 5:06 pm
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      omg this is hilarious. I heard about the actual work with AI and social media and this is exactly what happened. I thought your big twist was going to be that the Colonel was the actual computer, but the talking mirror was such a better twist. I totally didn’t expect it!

      Reply
    • May 23, 2018 at 8:43 am
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      Andy, you didn’t need to look far for a subject; did you get the idea for the story watching the news? I could never get into textspeak. It seems a waste of good culture.

      Reply
    • May 24, 2018 at 12:59 am
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      Great characterisation and very enjoyable read.

      Reply
    • May 27, 2018 at 10:17 pm
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      I loved the ending. Great read. Liked the questioning as to why anyone would want to throw money at an outdated system. Of course, we know the Gov does this all the time.

      Reply
    • May 28, 2018 at 12:10 pm
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      Andy, so that’s how it was done. Damn, buddy, that explains a lot. The only thing is, even if the mirror gets broken, we’ll still have 7 more years bad luck. (With or without the mirror, I’m afraid.) Nice story and very topical. Well written, too.

      Reply
  • May 20, 2018 at 9:04 am
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    Haha, Maud – I have a son (and 3 daughters) – but beyond their teenage years now…. So must be imagination on my part ….

    Actually, some of the first part of the Q+A is based on an actual Turing Test transcript. The frying pan and Belgium bit is an actual question used to try and confuse an AI. And the way the AI tries to deflect questions and throw one back is part of ‘chatbot’ training

    Reply
    • May 21, 2018 at 5:47 pm
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      I have very seldom read a story with so much interest. I had to read between the lines in order to realize that there is more to the story than meets the eye. I have enjoyed the conversation between Lenov and Anton immensely. The blend ‘fucktard’ or the contraction ‘perv’ took me some time to digest. Perhaps this is how language is flourishing on the other side of the world.
      The characterization of the 13-year-human-robot, Anton, is masterly. But I like the end of the story more where the President removes the portrait of America’s Legendary First and replaces it with the gift of the mirror. I like the way you have made use of the eternally popular: ‘Mirror, Mirror on the wall …’ poem till the end. So the days of the Politicians are over and the days of the Smarties have taken off, right? Your language is just out of the world, Mr. Allen and has left me ruing and groping to come up to the surface for more air (I do hope I am making sense here).
      Keep such intriguing, satirical (allegorical?)stories coming, Mr. Allen. Your wit and sense of humour are unbelievable and unfortunately, beyond the reach of an ordinary mortal like me. God bless and good luck.

      Reply
  • May 21, 2018 at 10:48 pm
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    AI Plaything (1200 words)

    “Bruce, we’re go to the optometrist today or tomorrow?”

    Simone leaned over the breakfast bar to pour another cup of coffee. Bruce frowned, as he sat silently perusing the newspaper. The bombings in the Middle East had taken over from news about the royal wedding.

    “Darling?” Her voice rose, a slight inflection that indicated patient annoyance at the lack of response.
    Bruce shrugged and turned the pages of the tabloid to the sports section.

    Simone spooned Stevia into her coffee along with the dash of full cream milk, her lips pursued primly. Finally she sighed dramatically and brought her coffee to the table where Bruce was sitting. \

    Bruce remained scanning the sports section. Bloody annoying that Collingwood had been thrashed by Carlton again. He turned to the racing pages. Ah, Winx what a mare! Some were comparing her to Black Caviar that thing trained by an upstart ex-Queenslander from nowhere. She had been compared to Phar Lap, which in his opinion was a reasonable assessment. Pity he had not taken up the offer to train her, when one of the owners had made tentative inquiries.

    “Bruce, darling? WHAT are you doing today? Golf?”

    Simone was a bloody nuisance. He was feeling more and more annoyed by her since he had retired. He needed other interests. He had never realised how irritating she could be. Good God how had he managed to stand it for so long. Of course, there were the frequent little dalliances that had made his home life bearable. He could not divorce the bloody woman as both her brothers were barristers. If he did, they would have him living in housing commission flats among the bogans for the rest of his natural life. A fate worse than death. In fact, death was preferable.

    He shrugged and grunted.

    “I’m going out with the girls for lunch. To the club. Do you want me to prepare sandwiches for you? Or some pasta?”
    He pretended not to hear her. Pushing back his chair, he rose to go to his study. Might as well check the latest stock exchange figures on the new AI shares in one of his portfolios.

    “Bruce, BRUCE – did you hear me?” Her voice bordering on shrillness, so he half-turned.

    Älright, WHAT NOW!” His voice was louder than expected and he took several deep breaths to calm himself. Geezus, after thirty-five years, didn’t she know him well enough to give him some space and work things out for herself?
    “Bruce darling”, her voice took on a sugary tone. “I am going out for lunch. Do you want me to prepare sandwiches or pasta for yours?”

    “Neither.” He spoke softly keeping the irritation down. Ï will do it myself or go out.”

    He proceeded to the study and shut the door firmly and locked it. The lndigo Café would be good for lunch. It was new and he wanted to check out the waitress from last time he had breakfast there. Pert little thing. Euroasian blood, he thought. Long glossy black hair that brushed down to her neat firm buttocks, lithe hips and tight tits that did not need a bra. He had savoured her erect nipples visible through the white T-Shirt emblazoned with a purple rose and black spidery lettering. He had three cups of coffee that day and as a result suffered heartburn that evening.

    So the Indigo Rose Café it would be. You never know, this kid might be good for a couple of quick pokes at a hotel suite in town. He could take her to the Hyatt on Collins and she would be suitably overwhelmed by his wealth. Simone would be none the wiser and if she was so what. Their sex life had died a natural death several years after the birth of their youngest child who was now twenty-four. If Simone had taken a lover, he could not care less. She disgusted him, especially after her C-section and later hysterectomy as a result of cancer. All those scars on her stomach – quite revolting. Then she had a hip replacement and he had to put up with her moaning and groaning. Why couldn’t she bear life’s challenges with a degree of stoicism.

    He waited for the door to slam and for Simone’s coupe to roar down the drive. Then he went upstairs to his bedroom and dressed carefully in black cargo trousers and a neat cream polo. Teamed with a soft leather jacket and Gucci loafers, he didn’t look a day over fifty, despite being over sixty.

    Bruce trotted down to the Indigo Rose Café on the beachfront. Ah yes, she was there. He mulled over how to approach her. He did not want to offend her, yet the prospect of being with this firm young thing, had given him new life. She looked so pleasantly perfect in every way.

    “Good morning sir. Can I take your order?”

    “Yes. (You most certainly could take more, if you would, he thought.) I’ll start with coffee and a croissant. How are you this morning? (That’s it, he thought. Make pleasant conversation, get her off guard.)

    “I’m well sir. It won’t be long.”

    “Call me Bruce. And you are AI-Li?” (He saw her name tag perched engagingly over one small pert breast.) “Interesting name? Is one of your parents Chinese?”

    At this question the girl smiled and shook her head making her gorgeous hair ripple down her back.

    “Your order will not be long sir.”

    “Bruce, call me Bruce.” He called after her departing buttocks moving up and down and hair swaying from side to side.
    He tried several more times to engage her in conversation. After two juices, two coffees and the croissant, she still refused to call him Bruce. So he tried the direct approach and put his mobile number on a paper napkin with a scribbled message, “I’d love to get to know you better. A sweet young thing like you deserves better than waitressing. Ring me. I’d like to take you to dinner after work.” Nothing like the direct approach, he thought.

    He saw her reading the note. Then oh, shit, she handed it to the guy behind the counter at the bar. The guy looked over at him and smirked broadly. He beckoned AI-Li to accompany him. God, the bitch is probably going out with the owner. Maybe that is why she was hired.

    They arrived at his table.

    “Hi Bruce. I’m John and I’d like to show you something.”

    He put his hand under AI-Li ‘s long hair. There was a click and AI-Li swung round on her heels. There under the hair, was a neat little touch pad. AI-Li was a robot.

    Bruce could not speak. John laughed.

    “You can still take her out for dinner. She’s programmed for that. And more. She’s quite talented. The latest in AI robots and what is more she learns as she goes. But her price for dinner is more than a coffee and cake.” He laughed again.

    Bruce stood up, flung a fifty dollar note on the table and silently vowed to never enter the café again.

    He fled through tables of people staring at his hasty exit.

    Reply
    • May 22, 2018 at 4:53 am
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      Ilana you’re story had me smiling with appreciation throughout, and chuckling at the ending. A very convincing home environment of a stale marriage, and I liked the way details are seamlessly integrated to build the little domestic world the characters are trapped in.

      The story is cleverly constructed too – the reference to an optometrist appointment seems like part of the humdrum conversation that so annoys Bruce, but actually the ending plays back to it. Maybe a case of “He should have gone to Specsavers”!

      Mind you – I could also imagine Bruce not running away, and taking AI-Li out for … whatever. After all, a pretty woman who serves his needs but doesn’t bore him by talking would seem right up his street!

      Reply
      • May 22, 2018 at 6:23 am
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        Yes, you are probably right. There are a couple of typos in it too I can see which are irritating me.
        Bruce is a pretty shallow human being though. I had just watched some show which was pretty weird about women buying these male life sized dolls with with penises. It had me doubled over in stitches. In fact the whole thought of it is quite revolting. Women who want sex but no strings attached are apparently buying these dolls (lovely price tag around $30,000 to $40,000) and using them. I ended up feeling very sorry for these women because honestly who is so socially compromised that he or she cannot have a decent conversation with someone, feel genuine affection for that person that is devoid mostly of a sexual intent but purely for the enjoyment of that person’s company. It is frightening. I for one could not but or make use of something like that for a million $.
        I had toyed with the idea of a philandering husband who comes home and finds himself relaxed in his wife’s affections with a robot doll, but decided on this story. Simone still might take up one of her best friends offers of a doll but then again she may not.

        Reply
        • May 22, 2018 at 6:32 am
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          Yes, Bruce is pretty shallow. And lacks a bit of empathy for his wife who has been through some rough times. One of the reasons it made me smile though is because I recognised this kind of relationship in people, even relatives, I have known. Right down to the one-sided musings from the sports pages.

          About the dolls – yes, agreed. Who needs dolls when you can have a nice cup of tea and a chat? 🙂

          Reply
    • May 22, 2018 at 8:51 am
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      Great description of a decaying marriage, and your portrayal of Bruce was so irritating that I wanted to throttle him. He deserved all the embarrassment he got.

      Reply
    • May 22, 2018 at 10:55 am
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      Lovely story, Madam IIana. I have enjoyed this hilarious story all through. The minute details like Bruce going through the Sports page or dressing up to visit the Euroasean beauty, AI-Li, and so on and so forth, add a special charm to AI Plaything.
      I know most of the readers would prefer Simone to Bruce. But his realistic portrayal has won my heart. What a character! It is easy for me to identify with him. I was all along with him in the hotel eyeing and savoring AI-Li till the time when the silly robot betrayed me.
      To tell the truth, Madam, such stories touch a cord somewhere. One reason why Sidney Selden and Harold Robins were two of my favourite authors during the college days.
      All the best with your story. Stay blessed.

      Reply
    • May 22, 2018 at 5:15 pm
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      The husband wife interaction was great. Bruce was such a bastard that the bit of embarrassment he got was well deserved. Your descriptions in this seem spot on and the little details really help to paint the picture. (Plus I recently learned what a bogan is so that detail amused me.)

      I agree with RNB that even though Bruce is despicable, you paint him so realistically that I love to hate him.

      Reply
    • May 23, 2018 at 8:44 am
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      Ilana, Are you saying the oldest profession is going hi-tech? I read the foreshadowing early on, but the way you brought it on was most interesting.

      Reply
      • May 24, 2018 at 1:03 am
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        It already has I believe and they even have synthetic giggiloes. Pretty disgusting, if you want my personal opinion, but then I am one of these monkish creatures who puts good company and conversation way above fleshy pursuits and other things of that nature.

        Reply
    • May 28, 2018 at 12:16 pm
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      I’m of the opinion he should have stayed and tried his luck. One never knows. He obviously doesn’t have any kind of home life. Then, you would have a brand new story line. By the way, I don’t think we are very far away from this. There is a brothel in Amsterdam that has Artificial Women anatomically correct that can be purchased for a romp for 27 EU’s. They just can’t talk and tell you how much of a stud you are after you finish, but they are beautifully realistic. No chance of an STD, either. Nice story with the occasional typo aside.

      Reply
  • May 21, 2018 at 11:24 pm
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    Hi Ilana,

    What a great story! I enjoyed the way you described the relationship between man and wife at the beginning and then Bruce’s amorous thoughts towards Al-Li. I felt like I was right there with him. The ending was unexpected and fun. I could feel Bruce’s embarrassment as he zipped out of the cafe! I bet he was wishing he had accepted his wife’s offer of pasta after all! 🙂

    Jen

    Reply
    • May 22, 2018 at 6:45 am
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      Thanks Jen
      I look forward to reading yours. Seems like I have been away for only a couple of months and there is a lovely bewildering array of new authors to read. 😊

      Reply
  • May 22, 2018 at 8:39 am
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    Artificial Intelligence
    [1196 words]
    by Robt. Emmett ©2018

    Rules concerning Time Travel*
    1. Travel to the future is not possible, it hasn’t happened yet.
    2. Paradox do not exist,
    3. The past is not changeable.
    4. Time travelers do not age; in now time, they return only few seconds after leaving.
    * Prof. Henry Winters Jr.

    I was to meet her in the UMD cafeteria after her fourth-hour class. Stacy wasn’t at the window table near the last pillar. It’s one of our favorite meeting places at University of Minnesota-Duluth. Finally, I spotted her in the food line. She was getting a salad and either milk or coffee? She joined me and set her salad bowl on the table and her colored drink above and to the right of her salad. She smiled a greeting, “Afternoon, Junior, why the frown?” and sat.

    “Are you drinking milk or coffee?” I asked. “I can never tell the difference.” She busied herself neatly arranging her plastic eating utensils before answering.

    “Milk, civilized people drink coffee after eating.”

    “How can a guy tell the difference between your coffee and your milk? They are both half milk and half coffee.”

    “Whatever I put in the cup first is what it is.” She stabbed a bit of lettuce. It almost kissed her naturally pink lips before disappearing behind them. She chewed it eighteen times, as always. Next, she skillfully dissected the cherry tomato and put one-half in her mouth.

    One, two three…, seventeen, eighteen- swallow. She’s so predictable.

    She stabbed the other piece of tomato and put in her mouth. “How did class go this morning?”

    She held up her left index finger. Fifteen, sixteen, seventeen, eighteen – swallow. “Your friend Broderick droned incessantly about minutia. He is the boringist of boring student teachers. Whatever do you see in him?”

    “He’s smart, brilliant even and we have been friends since …, since Kindergarten.

    I’ve explained it all to Stacy before, many times. If it is any other topic than medicine, she refuses to attempt to understand. She acts as if her brain has wandered off somewhere. It’s earned her the nickname Spacy. I tried again as she ate.

    … two, three, four, five,…
    I needed her to see that being able to time-travel could ultimately solve problems that had plagued humankind since the beginning of time. She surely should understand the importance recovering some of the ancient secrets of the healing arts.

    … six, seven, eight, nine,…

    From a historical aspect, traveling back in time would reveal the why of events far more clearly then the drab and dry pages of the current history books do. History needs answers.

    … ten, eleven, twelve, thirteen,…

    Wars, their causes could be …

    … fourteen, fifteen…,why’d she stop eating?

    Resting her fork on the corner of her plate, finger. Sixteen, seventeen, eighteen – swallow. “Afternoon, Ambrose, are you finished teaching for the day?”

    “Thankfully, yes I am. Tell me, Junior, were we as bad as the present bunch of sophomores?”

    “No, defiantly not,” I said.”

    “Uh, college kids. So, what’s new with you?”

    “I was explaining to Stacy how important time travel is. How the past and the present are intertwined. More important, travel between them is possible, theoretically.”

    “Really, Junior, everyone knows the obvious. Tell me something I don’t know.”

    “Oh, there is something. “I opened my computer to Einstein’s Theory of Relativity. “Look here, we all assume light travels three million meters per second and….”

    “It’s two hundred ninety-nine point seven-nine to be precise.”

    “Thanks, Ambrose, to continue, the textbook is wrong. Here is the original formula.” I flipped to an old photo of the book’s title page and showed him the date. “See, nineteen oh six.”

    “So what is wrong?”

    I pulled up another photo. “Look at the Time Dilation formula. It’s not one plus V2 divided by C2, it’s one minus V2 divided by C2.”

    Brose blinked, “That will defiantly change things.”

    “You two should be putting those brains of yours to something more useful than time travel if you plan to pass your Physics finials. Especially you, Junior, how would it look if the son of the Professor Emeritus of the Archeology Department failed? You would embarrass your father to no end. The thought of traveling through time is … is utter nonsense.”

    “Stacy, time travel is physics.”

    “Day-dreaming Poppycock is all it is!” Stacy stood. “I have studying to do.” She shot a cutting look at Ambrose, “JR, you need to get your head straight and stop hanging out with him!” She turned and left.

    “Bye Spacy.”

    “Brose, don’t call her that.”

    “She has no imagination, zero. Whatever do you see in that chick?”

    “She has a bad case of Chronohodophonia, that’s all,” I said.

    “Great, good thing it’s not catchy.”
    ~*~

    “Mike, you have examined the contemporary literature in relation to time travel and its potential effect on AI? Give us your thoughts.”

    Mike spent the next three-quarters of an hour explaining what N-finity was, and what it could do. At the end of his monologue, Brose and I looked at each other and realized we were not much wiser. We needed Mike in on the project.

    The only real information I derived was it was possible to build a very small time travel device using nano-technology and I told him so. “Mike, do you have a dollar estimate for developing this pocket-watch sized device into a usable item?”

    “Sure.” He folded his arms across his chest and looked up at the fluorescent in the corner that started to make a loud buzzing noise.

    He can be the most exasperating human when he wants to be. “Please, share your estimate.”
    “Shure, fifteen grand,” he quipped. “I’ve got the grant app all filled out and ready to send.”

    I swallowed. “That seems a bit cheap.”

    “It is and why not. We have all the machinery and raw material right here on campus, everything.”
    ~*~

    It had taken three months and another seventeen thousand dollars to get the Time Travel Watch through the preliminary testing. A mouse was sent back in time. Actually, we’d used three mice before we realized going forward in time is not possible; there is nothing to send a mouse to – Poof! Now, as the primary scope of the funding was to test whether AI objects could stand up to the rigors of time travel, it was test time. The test mouse was strapped to a cheap Timex. I set the departure time and the return time in the TTW. The mouse de-materialized completely.

    I silently counted, one, two …nine, and ten. It re-materialized and promptly exploded.

    Mike suggested wrapping a foil of Gidoleum159 around the Timex to act as a shield. It worked.

    The entire science faculty gathered in my lab for the final test. Again, I wrapped the Timex with a foil of Gi159, set the TTW. The test device de-materialized completely.

    SHIT! I suddenly remembered the Timex didn’t need wrapping this time, the AI test device did. As it re-materialized, parts exploded in every direction.

    Stacy’s voice synthesizer landed on the floor, at my feet. It whirred, and in a high-pitched Porky Pig voice, “Th-Th-The, Th-Th-The, Th-Th … That’s all, folks!”

    — ℜ —

    Reply
    • May 22, 2018 at 3:24 pm
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      RobT,

      What a wonderful story! I enjoyed the dialogue and the fact that Stacy turned out to be a robot. The ending made me laugh out loud. Hilarious and fun! Thoroughly enjoyed ever word.

      Best of luck with your amazing story!!

      Jen

      Reply
    • May 22, 2018 at 5:24 pm
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      Your story had me like Westworld – she’s a robot, no he’s the robot, no they’re ALL robots. Having the students be math guys really added to the which one is a robot since they had very analytical thought processes. I liked the way you kept going back to the counted chewing. It kind of created a rhythm to the story.

      Reply
    • May 28, 2018 at 12:25 pm
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      Time travel is hard to negotiate. If, however, you go into the past, and cannot go into the future, you should still be able to return just before you leave and find yourself. (I’ve been trying to find myself for years.)

      That’s not in your 4 rules of Time travel, creating a paradox. (I know it’s rule 2, but you can’t just say there are no paradox – I’m assuming paradox is both singular and plural – because that makes it a paradox) in my humble SF opinion. But, if Asimov can make up the three rules of Robotics, I guess you can make up the 4 rules of Time Travel. That’s what I like most about writing. Interesting story Robt.

      Reply
    • May 29, 2018 at 6:09 pm
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      Robt.
      A very enjoyable story. The ending felt a little rushed. But the counting off of the number of chews is a brilliant device. Humorous and revealing at the same time. One critical note: You misuse the word ‘defiantly’ for ‘definitely.’ Twice. I believe you did this in a previous story also, so it may be a software thing. Wonderful writing and a very clever story.

      Reply
  • May 22, 2018 at 9:14 am
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    Clever story, Rob. I didn’t realise Stacy was a robot at first, I just thought she had OCD.

    Reply
  • May 22, 2018 at 10:21 am
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    Level Up by Wendy Edsall-Kerwin [1191 word count]

    Joe was stuck at the DMV and figured he’d try something new to pass the time. He opened the game store on his phone and saw a message. “You have been selected to beta test our new game!” He decided to try out the game. It looked like you were given a target, had to find them and take them out, preferably without getting caught.

    He opened it and set-up his character, which took a while since it kept autocorrecting everything to make it “more realistic.” When they called him up to the desk, he was finally ready for his next mission. He thought he felt a slight prick as someone jostled past him, but forgot about it as he dealt with the DMV agent. Joe set the phone aside and got the new registration for his car. He kept thinking he saw something in the corner of his eye, almost like an ellipsis. He picked his phone back up as he left the desk to see what his mission was. There was a name and a face with a small dossier attached.

    ‘That’s weird,’ he thought. ‘The target lives in my home town. The app must use my location to personalize the game.’

    The dossier mentioned several locations the target – Jim McCann, a candidate running for some local office – frequented and Joe was familiar with where they were. It seemed both invasive and exciting that it was so in sync with his actual life. Even the target’s name seemed vaguely familiar.

    He pocketed the phone and went outside. The ellipsis was back and now there was also a small cross-hair that was moving slightly near the top of his vision. Joe rubbed his eyes, but they didn’t go away. Suddenly the ellipses converted to a countdown clock. It was giving him two hours for something.

    ‘I must be losing my mind.’ Joe began walking faster down the sidewalk. He turned the corner and as a bus went past he followed it with his eyes. On its side was a photo of his target with “Jim McCann is right for Parkland.” Joe ripped his phone from his pocket and opened the game. It was definitely the same guy.

    ‘What’s happening, am I going crazy?’ A woman gave him a strange look as she passed, so he moved into the bus shelter. The app had a new screen up. It gave him two hours to track down Jim McCann and eliminate the target. There were also directions on where to pick up some gear. When he looked away from his phone, Joe now saw *HINT: Pick-Up Gear* on his vision ‘screen.’ The app said it was located behind a dumpster not far away. He made his way there, trying to look as normal as possible while inside his brain was screaming ‘WTF’ over and over again. He found a bag duct taped behind the dumpster and ripped it off, moving away as fast as he could nonchalantly walk.

    Joe ducked into the nearby library and found a semi-hidden table deep in the stacks. *LEVEL UP Sneak now at level 5* flashed across his vision. As weirded out as he was, Joe still felt a thrill at doing something right. He looked in the bag and there were three bundles. One was marked ‘poison’ and had an eyedropper in it. A second was in a little lead lined box. A paper attached to it showed how to use the encased pen to inject a nuclear isotope into his target. The last bundle said ‘last case scenario’ and had a loaded pistol inside it. The bag also contained a pair of gloves, a fake mustache and wig, as well as a nondescript jacket.

    Joe went into the bathroom and followed the disguise instructions. He put his own jacket and wallet (removing the cash first) into the bag and packed the assassin’s tools in his new jacket. He stashed the bag in the janitor’s closet back behind some boxes of toilet paper. *Sneak Level 10 obtained! Dexterity Level Increased to 5* It seemed every right choice was giving him better odds to complete his mission. Joe was really getting into this game’s full submersion. He’d never felt so alive.

    Joe brought up his phone’s map app and used the direction his vision screen crosshair was pointing to pin down which of the locations Jim McCann was at. He was about five blocks away at his campaign office. Joe walked as casually as he could in that direction and was relieved to see the candidate through the plate glass window. The target tossed back a coffee from the place on the corner and throwing the empty cup out.

    Deciding to try his hand at the poison first, Joe went to the coffee shop. He pretended to look like he was weighing his options until he saw someone who looked to be on a mission leave the campaign office and hurry towards the shop. He ordered something fancy that would take a while, giving them the name Bob. The aide came in and gave the barista an order for about ten coffees.

    “Make sure the soy latte is marked ‘Jim” in big letters. You know how he gets if I hand him the wrong coffee, Denise.”

    “Is this big enough?” The barista held up a cup with the letters J-I-M filling it brim to base. They both laughed. Denise put the cup down after pouring soy milk into it and went to prepare the rest of the order. The aide’s phone rang and he turned away.

    Joe saw his chance and went to the counter under the premise of needing sugar for his already too sweet coffee. He slipped the eyedropper into his hand and squeezed it into the cup marked JIM. He then moved over to a seat by the window. The barista finished pouring the coffees and the aide picked the order up and left. Joe sucked down as much of that disgusting drink as he could stomach and left the shop. He casually looked into the office window and saw the candidate with the JIM cup in his hand. He continued back to the library and retrieved his things.

    *Congratulations! You have completed your first contract*
    *Level 2 Assassin* flashed before his eyes

    ***
    “This was by far your best idea yet, Anatoly Petrov. We now have unlimited assassins that no one can trace back to us.”

    “I got the idea while watching my kids play video games. They get so wrapped up in them that it could tell them to do anything and they would go along just for the XP gain.” The Russian took a long drag on his cigarette. “These Americans are so into their immersive tech and get excited always being ‘the first.’ By the time they realize it wasn’t a game, the app has already fragmented and destroyed all the data on their phone and they’re in too deep to tell the police. It’s a perfect system.”

    “Good thing we thought of it first.” The two Russians laughed as they watched the American polls fluctuate in their country’s favor.

    Reply
    • May 22, 2018 at 3:28 pm
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      Wendy, your story was terrific, and scarily possible! I had a blast joining Joe on his journey to meet the challenges offered in his all-too-real game.

      The ending was devious, unexpected, and fabulous.

      Thank you so much for sharing!!

      Jen

      Reply
      • May 22, 2018 at 5:25 pm
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        Thanks, Jen! I went more with the Virtual Reality than the AI version of the prompt, though it’s really more immersive technology than either per say.

        Reply
    • May 23, 2018 at 10:54 am
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      Entertaining story of manipulation through augmented reality gaming, so well written and with excellent pace, Wendy.
      I like the progression through the levels – the positive reinforcement that drives games along. One scary thing is how the people behind it know when a task has been completed in real life – they must have the camera activated remotely to e.g. see the poison go in the coffee.
      This concept could really work as a film, like those fast-paced action films where someone is given remote instructions, like Phone Booth, or Cellular, or 13 Sins
      – only with this tech spin. Are you writing the screenplay now? 🙂

      Reply
    • May 24, 2018 at 3:59 am
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      Your story is made more chilling because it could actually happen. I had to read it twice to get the full value of it. I was left with one tiny query – What was the ‘slight pin prick ‘ all about ? normally if someone experiences a slight pin prick in a crowded place they end up dead – or in hospital for months. Was it a mind bending agent or something ? Great pacing toward a conclusion.

      Reply
      • May 24, 2018 at 8:32 am
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        I concur with Maud Wendy. Great story with fabulous pacing, but what was that small pin prick about?
        Was it a camera / micro chip ????
        I wondered throughout the whole story. You have left the gun hanging on the wallsoto speak and we are wondering why??
        That said an intricate story with its basis in another realty. Great writing!
        😊

        Reply
        • May 25, 2018 at 6:24 pm
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          Maud & Ilana – the pinprick was a way to make it plausible that he was actually seeing things in his vision. Like they introduced some sort of nanobot type thingy that caused him to see the the prompts in his vision. I thought people would find it less plausible that he out of nowhere could see these things. I debated making it some sort of implant that everyone in the future will have, but I ran out of room and didn’t want to get too bogged down in the technology part.

          Reply
    • May 24, 2018 at 6:27 am
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      Dear Wendy,
      I’ve finished reading your story for the third time. For someone with my kind of knowledge, it wasn’t an easy read. I don’t like reading stories with a dictionary in hand. Let me see if I got it correctly. The Russians made use of Joe. He acted like one of those children glued to their mobiles in the hope of making some quick bucks or doing what not for fun and excitement. But what really has me confused is how could he, a grown-up, go out to assassinate Mr. Jim? Did it really happen in the story or this is where AI/ VR comes into the picture?
      I rarely play computer games under the notion ( misconception?) that some if these games are a sure way to addiction. I don’t know much about these games as a result. Recently, one of my relatives had to consult a psychiatrist as he had started snipping into his flesh as per the instructions of the game. He said that he was actually enjoying it! The pain I saw on the faces of his parents was indescribable.
      I do hope that I haven’t gone off the track. Your story is, as always, entertaining and gripping. Your language – captivating. Let me conclude by saying that your hard work and talent show through your writings. All the best wishes.

      Reply
    • May 25, 2018 at 12:46 am
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      Another great story Wendy. Damn. Really imaginative. Frightfully plausible. A nice blend of contemporary science with the next possible phase of cyber-warfare. I assume the pin-prick was the introduction of a chemical or drug to reduce Joe’s inhibitions or alter his judgment. This is something the Russian’s are well-known for. (Pricking people.) Even though they deny it publicly, (Hell-o.)

      There’s nothing confusing about this story at all, in fact, I almost felt like you were leading me along too deliberately. But that’s not really a problem. That’d be like complaining about the visibility of the crosswalks, or little signs everywhere that say, ‘Mind the Gap.’

      No. That’s a good thing. Excellent story. Your writing has a way of disappearing into the story as you read it, Wendy.

      Reply
    • May 27, 2018 at 10:26 pm
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      Well that was scary. I can see how people might play the game, though. I would hope they would question it before they actually put anything in someone’s drink, though.

      Reply
    • May 28, 2018 at 12:30 pm
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      So, that’s two people that have figured out how and why we have a new and different kind of President in the US. And they say it’s a witch hunt. Hardly. You seemed to have exposed a weakness in our system, Wendy. Those Russians will stop at nothing.

      Great use of that imaginative brain of yours. Nice use of the subject and I have nothing to beat you up over in the story. Just a great read.

      Reply
  • May 22, 2018 at 5:03 pm
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    i love reading your stories they all have the same effect on me ( wanting more )enjoyed this very very much keep up the awesome writing

    Reply
    • May 22, 2018 at 5:41 pm
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      Ha! My husband snuck in here with a comment I see. Thank you Mark O’Rourke 🙂 Love you xo

      Reply
      • May 23, 2018 at 2:36 pm
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        Hey, is this a new trend – can we all bring our own cheerleaders? lol 🙂

        Reply
  • May 22, 2018 at 5:33 pm
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    Ooo, Jen I love that the AEI gave him remorse over his actions. That would be a deal breaker for a committed serial killer. I was just a little confused by the VR simulation. Does he actually have a chip in him? Turning off the simulation the bandage disappeared, but how did he feel actual emotion if it was in him? Ultimately I think it was an interesting take on both serial killers and the idea of AI. Like rnb you took that idea in a different direction which was pretty cool. Also, wouldn’t that be a great way to curb murders?

    Reply
    • May 22, 2018 at 5:51 pm
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      Hi Wendy! I guess the VR experience can be left up to the interpretation of the reader. I had to cut out about 600 words from my original story to meet the WC limit, so some of the explanation was lost. In my mind, Tony’s entire experience within the chamber didn’t really happen but instead simulated for him what would happen if he did indeed implant the chip. It was like a test run. And yes! If someone could invent these AEI chips so that murderers and other terrible people would feel remorse instead of the desire to do whatever terrible thing they have been doing, the world would be a better, safer place. Thanks so much for your comments and best of luck with your story! Loved it!!

      Reply
      • May 24, 2018 at 8:43 am
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        I found that story rather creepy. I hope you don’t mind me saying that Jen.you and Stephen King could be good mates. I can take only so much horror – I am Wondering about the absence of a maternal presence too?
        Also killing that many people – maybe my stomach for that sort of stuff is too weak?
        Well written story although I did feel it was part of a larger story as your post confirmed.

        Reply
        • May 25, 2018 at 11:52 am
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          Hi IIana, I made a little adjustment to my story. If you get a chance, I’d love for you to re-read it and let me know what you think of my changes! It is still rather creepy, however. Thank you for suggesting that the great Mr. King and I would be good mates. He had been my favorite author for as long as I can remember!

          Jen

          Reply
    • May 25, 2018 at 11:49 am
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      Hi Wendy, I made a little adjustment to my story. If you get a chance, I’d love for you to re-read it and let me know what you think of my changes!

      Reply
      • May 25, 2018 at 6:29 pm
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        Yes! That cleared it up for me and helped make it even more chilling. When the simulation ended and he still wanted to retain his serial killing ways, thus needing to tweak the chip, it was even more frightening.

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        • May 28, 2018 at 5:41 pm
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          Thanks Wendy, I’m glad the adjustments cleared up the confusion in my first draft. This is one I think I’m going to expand on. Tony isn’t done yet!!

          Reply
  • May 22, 2018 at 9:07 pm
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    It’s 7 55 in the morning and I’m already late for school, Jane. But I’ve a score to settle with this, (what’s the latest blend I learnt from Mr. Allen? Oh, yea, something beginning with f________ and ending in d). Yes, I want to find TONY. He is a real menace to the society. What are you doing, Jane, letting him move freely among innocent people like us? Go to the police, inform them about this crooked monster before many more young girls are gone for good.
    Another nice one. I am a bit surprised though that there is no mention of Tony’s mother. He had the microchip inserted in his body, acted like a regular guy, regretted his actions and finally went back to being what he was!
    Whatever, I can hear the bell ringing. Take care and keep winning hearts. Good luck

    Reply
  • May 23, 2018 at 9:24 am
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    Jen, your story is heartless. He He He!
    It goes to a place that is obviously not real, but could be.

    Reply
    • May 23, 2018 at 10:28 am
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      Haha! Yes indeed. Thank you for your comments RobT and I hope you enjoyed my story. 🙂

      Jen

      Reply
      • May 25, 2018 at 11:55 am
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        RobT, I made a little adjustment to my story. If you get a chance, I’d love for you to re-read it and let me know what you think of my changes!

        Jen

        Reply
  • May 23, 2018 at 11:07 am
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    What a deliciously dark story, Jen!
    Quite a psychologically sophisticated one too, with first the parental influence and then the impact of AI. You’ve extended the nature v nurture debate to nature / nurture / technology in a clever way.

    I have to admit I struggled with understanding exactly what was happening with the last bit until I read the explanation in the comments: scrolled up and down a few times after the bit about the bandage disappearing, and am still not sure how if it was VR (rather than embedded) how his mind would actually interface with the implant so he could experience these emotions. If he could experience/understand emotion without a physical implant, wouldn’t it be more convenient for him to just use the virtual technique all the time? Just thinking aloud here … shows how you got me hooked with the thought-provoking concept!

    Reply
    • May 23, 2018 at 1:43 pm
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      Hi Andy,

      Thank you so much for your comments! I agree that the VR scene was a bit confusing. It made more sense before I had to take out a few hundred words, but I think it’s a story I’ll expand on.

      Of course now that I have submitted it, I have thought of a less-confusing last scene but alas, it is too late to change it since I’ve already posted.

      Best of luck with your story! It was fabulous!

      Jen

      Reply
      • May 23, 2018 at 2:14 pm
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        Oooh, I just came across the following point in the submission rules:

        “You may revise and re-post your story twice. Send an email to LIFlashFiction(at)gmail(dot)com with your revised story and we will update your comment. Alternatively, you can repost and let us know to delete the previous comment.”

        If I were to revise my story and repost, would that be considered cheating??

        Reply
        • May 23, 2018 at 2:35 pm
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          Hi Jen – I don’t think that would be. Happens quite a bit when people are not quite happy with their own story, and in the quest for perfection!
          But I’d say – don’t change too much. It’s really good save for the slightly confusing bit we’ve been talking about 🙂

          Reply
        • May 23, 2018 at 3:37 pm
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          Thanks Andy,

          For some reason I couldn’t reply to your comment regarding a rewrite. I appreciate your info and suggestion!

          Jen

          Reply
        • May 24, 2018 at 11:50 pm
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          Do it. Change it. Damn the torpedoes. Pedal to the metal. (Personally? I think the story’s fine. I wasn’t confused. — Clearly, an advanced, and fictional VR would be capable of inducing emotions. I don’t need to see the Owner’s Manual.) The story’s already pretty creepy, and the concept of a VR with that level of ‘Reality’ is damned clever. I hated the characters but I loved the story and its technology, especially for its possibilities.

          p.s. Don’t listen to Andy. He once wrote a story about a guy who married an alien unicorn, which turned into a butterfly that killed Godzilla. He should have no problem with Emotional Alien Intelligence. Actually it was a cat, an artificially intelligent CAT that married a unicorn, that had an affair with Godzilla. No wait, well, I guess I don’t remember exactly who had sex with who, but needless to say, he’s written some pretty far out stuff himself.
          (Don’t worry, Andy knows I’m just teasing him.)

          And when Ilana says you creeped HER out? Wow. THAT — is high praise indeed!

          All kidding aside. I think it’s a great story. I’m confident that if you decide to change it, you’ll only make it better.

          Reply
        • May 25, 2018 at 3:18 am
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          @Ken: “Don’t listen to Andy. He once wrote a story about a guy who married an alien unicorn, which turned into a butterfly that killed Godzilla. …….. Actually it was a cat …an artificially intelligent cat …”

          Pfah! It was a Dalmatian okapi with a platypus beak, of course. I just don’t know why I put the effort into writing if you can’t take the trouble to remember, Kenneth! Huff!
          🙂

          Reply
  • May 23, 2018 at 6:36 pm
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    ARTIFICIALLY INTELLIGENT

    Pamela stormed into the living room, where George was reading a science magazine, his feet up on the sofa.

    “You’re a bloody idiot!” Pamela stood over her husband, hands on hips, red in the face.

    “What?!” George jumped up from the sofa. “I … I’m an ‘idiot’, you think?!”

    “Big time!”

    “Well, I don’t know what’s brought this on, but just … just let me remind you …”

    “Here we go.” Pamela rolled her eyes.

    “Yes, here we go. I got five A-levels at school – all A-stars. Five! How many did you get?”

    “I know.”

    Pamela left the living room, George on her heels.

    “A first from Oxford! What did you get?”

    “Yes, but–“

    “A Masters, with distinction! Have you got a Masters?”

    George followed Pamela down the hallway and with each qualification, he jabbed a finger at her.

    “No, you know I haven’t.“

    “Oh. So you haven’t got a Masters either?”

    They were in the kitchen now. Pamela grimaced at her husband. She opened the fridge and peered in. A large uncooked turkey took up most of the space.

    “A doctorate! I’ve got a bloody doctorate.” George was still jabbing.

    Pamela closed the fridge door and moved to the cupboards, pulling out packets and boxes, taking a quick look and replacing them.

    George put himself between his wife and the cupboards.

    “A POST-doctorate, for God’s sake!” His voice had risen to a crescendo. He stood waiting for the barrage of bragging to take full effect, a grotesquely twisted smirk on his face.

    Pamela took a deep breath and measured her words.

    “I know all of this – you remind me of it often enough.”

    “Then stop with the ‘idiot’, will you?” George lowered his voice now, more in line with Pamela’s, but the words hissed through his tightly-clenched teeth.

    “Of course you’re brilliant …” Pamela paused for effect, then did her own jabbing for each syllable of: “A-CA-DEM-IC-AL-LY.”

    A counter-attack? George’s smirk froze on his face.

    “You bright … spark.” Pamela was smirking now. “You had one job, one job only. It was a simple job. A job a monkey could do.”

    George leaned back as Pamela leaned in.

    “A job an AMOEBA could do!”

    George flinched.

    “To pay the bloody gas bill on time!”

    A look of awful realisation spread across George’s face.

    “I … yes, well … it’s …”

    “Idiot,” Pamela muttered under her breath as she turned on her heel and stalked out of the kitchen, leaving George to contemplate the usefulness of a post-doctorate in statistical mechanics while Christmas dinner sat uncooked in the fridge.

    .
    431

    Reply
    • May 23, 2018 at 7:26 pm
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      I’s giving a second reading to Ms. Wendy’s when, I don’t know how, but your story cropped up on the screen. And what a story Artificial Intelligence is! Straight after my heart. Every time, George was venting out his qualifications, one after another like ‘A First from Oxford’, ‘Master’s ‘, A Doctorate’ etc, my spirit was sagging. This world is only for the academically brilliant, I sighed to myself. But then, you being the Master of Short Stories, brightened my world up in the climax, through Pamela’s retort. By the time Pamela aptly used ‘idiot’ to describe her husband towards the end, my heart was dancing with delight.
      What a story with the minimal of deft touches! This is how a short story should be written. The only question, if I am allowed to ask, is, though the title of the story is most appropriate – there is no…… Oh, no! Now I’ve got it. The story is all about the Artificial Intelligence of the Post Doctorate Degree Holder, Mr. George. SUPERB! There is still hope for academically low achievers like me yet. God bless you, Mr. Phil, for showing me the way to happiness. All the best.

      Reply
    • May 24, 2018 at 3:12 am
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      Haha! Well, a good reason to go to a nice hotel for Christmas dinner …

      History is full of absent-minded geniuses. Though George’s absent-mindedness seems to come not from any brilliance but from being too much up himself!

      We do like to see a braggart brought low, and your story strokes that button expertly!

      George’s vanity certainly cooked his goose – but wait, that’s just what it didn’t do …. 😉

      Reply
    • May 24, 2018 at 4:19 am
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      A-CA-DEM-IC-ALLY. What a put down! A simple story with more than a touch of perception. A creative take on the theme. I loved it.

      Reply
    • May 24, 2018 at 3:19 pm
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      Phil, I’m sitting here laughing! Your story was perfect after the rough day I’ve had. It is absolutely perfect! I loved every word and your emphasis was great. Kudos to you!!

      Reply
    • May 25, 2018 at 12:09 am
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      Great story Phil. Very entertaining and a fun read. One criticism. Too many ‘smirks’ at the end. Get rid of one of them ‘smirks’ and you’re in there. (Preferably Pamela’s.)

      Reply
    • May 25, 2018 at 12:06 pm
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      Hi Phil,

      I thoroughly enjoyed your story, especially the wonderful dialogue between your two characters! The story was humorous and well described. I felt like I was following them around the house, listening in on their conversation, and trying not to giggle at them, especially poor George.

      Thanks so much for sharing!

      Jen

      Reply
    • May 25, 2018 at 6:35 pm
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      Hahaha this one is funny. I like the snarky take on artificial intelligence too. I thought maybe the turkey was frozen at first, but not paying the gas bill is even more priceless. Nice to see him get to eat a little crow pie.

      Reply
    • May 28, 2018 at 12:37 pm
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      The absent minded professor explained so everyone can understand it. Well done, Phil and a great twist on the theme,

      Reply
  • May 24, 2018 at 2:37 am
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    I think [pun intended] you added another definition for AI. Wonderful job at pulling it off.
    The only problem I had with the story was that I have heard similar verbiage and tone thrown my way a time or three.

    Reply
  • May 24, 2018 at 8:04 am
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    A satisfying horror story, graphically described . A bit thrown by the disappearing bandage, though. Your explanation clarified it a bit

    Reply
    • May 25, 2018 at 11:57 am
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      Thank you Maud! I made a little adjustment to my story. If you get a chance, I’d love for you to re-read it and let me know what you think of my changes!

      Jen

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      • May 26, 2018 at 9:42 am
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        Yes, that’s clearer though none the less creepy. Still a good story.

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        • May 28, 2018 at 5:44 pm
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          Thanks Maud, I’m glad it’s less confusing and that the revision didn’t loose the creepy aspect of the story.

          Reply
  • May 24, 2018 at 8:52 am
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    Great story Phil. Beautifully paced and loved the dialogue…

    Reply
  • May 25, 2018 at 12:01 pm
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    Lol @Ken and @Andy for their back and forth regarding past stories. For some reason I couldn’t reply to either comment. I have revised my own story however and look forward to any feedback any of you wonderful people wish to offer!

    Jen

    Reply
    • May 25, 2018 at 3:12 pm
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      I think the changes do smooth out the slight wrinkle that had tripped me and a few others up.

      I like the vision of a console with labelled slots and buttons – reminds me of Ming the Merciless’ craft in Flash Gordon 🙂

      Reply
      • May 28, 2018 at 5:54 pm
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        Thanks Andy! I am definitely more satisfied with this version. I feel a more expanded story coming on. Glad you enjoyed it!

        Reply
  • May 25, 2018 at 2:47 pm
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    The Life of Bees by Janet Surrusco
    Word Count 587

    My friend, Jack, came running up to me at the park. He was so excited he was having a hard time telling me what was going on. Finally, he spoke coherently, “Dude, you gotta see this! Man, this will blow your mind!”

    “What is it, man. Spill.”

    “I’ve never seen anything like it! It’s reality, not virtual.”

    “Virtual reality? Seen it. What’s so cool about this one?”

    “It’s different! You are flying, doing real work. It counts and it’s free to try.”

    “Free? Why?”

    “They’re testing this new product and it is one of a kind! You gotta try it!”

    I didn’t have anything to do so I said, “Lead on?”

    We walked to the other side of the park and there was a large tent. Inside the tent, you could see others enjoying the free ride. Jack walked up to a guy in a lab coat and introduced me.

    “This is my friend, Rich. He wants to do your virtual reality program.”

    “Ok”, said labcoat man. “Are you aware of the risks of virtual reality viewing?”, as he shoved a paper in front of me to sign that I wouldn’t sue if I fell down or something. I signed without reading.

    Labcoat said “This VR is on the life of bees. As you may be aware, there is a shortage of bees in the United States. The VR lets you become a bee and see what it is like. We believe that this will help more people understand the plight of bees.”

    “Have you got anything else?”, I asked. Bees didn’t sound like a whole lot of fun to me. Jack says, “No, dude, this is the one you want. It’s a wild ride.” Labcoat simply stared ahead anyway, like his reality was closed for business. Labcoat insisted I sit in this weird chair with netting around it then gave me the VR glasses.

    I got to admit, it was a lot more fun than I expected. I had to go from flower to flower picking up pollen on my legs and sucking nectar from the flowers. I could actually taste the nectar. My legs would get heavy with pollen and it would fall off at one flower then cling again at the next. It was crazy that I knew what to do. As I was flying to the hive to make my final deposit, the VR glasses fell off. I reached to catch them. That’s when I screamed.

    I no longer had arms with hands, I had bee legs. I was no longer sitting but hovering inside the fine netting. I got angry and tried to fly at Jack but the netting held me back. Jack was crying. “I’m sorry, man. They’ve got my family. I have to find five acceptable bees before they will release them. You’re the third.”

    Labcoat said, “You are the best we have seen so far. You should be very proud that you will be directly contributing to the life of bees. In addition, once you have completed your bee mission, we expect that you will return to your human form, although this part of the transition has not been proved successful as yet.”

    So, there is a good possibility that I would live the rest of my life, no matter how short that may be, as a bee. Even though I was no longer a person, I think Labcoat understood me when I said “Fuck bees and fuck you.”

    Reply
    • May 25, 2018 at 5:42 pm
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      This is the first storiy of yours that I have read and I am impressed . Any meaniingful story that gets writtin 587 words, has to be a marvel.
      You have also helped me with a feel of the VR thing. I’ve always had difficulty in explaining a story called “Test” by Theodore Thomas to my students. Now I know that the protagonist was made to sit in a room wearing those dark glasses with the TV screen In front for, his driving licence.. One question though – how did Rich grow legs and all within the nets in reality once the glasses fell down?
      Anyway, thank you for a nice story. Good luck.

      Reply
      • May 26, 2018 at 10:02 am
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        Rich was transformed into a bee by the VR program he was playing through the glasses, which is why they fell off once the transformation was complete. It happened instantly upon his final return to the hive. The netting was there to keep him from escaping once he was a bee. Thank you for your comment.

        Reply
    • May 25, 2018 at 6:04 pm
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      Nice one, Janet – a virtual reality ride to a Kafka-like metamorphosis (““As Gregor Samsa awoke one morning from uneasy dreams he found himself transformed in his bed into a gigantic insect.”)

      It’s all going on here – a hostage situation, an environmentalist fable weighing the needs of a threatened species with the interests of human, deception, sci fantasy.

      Very cool and thought-provoking, well-written and driven along by the dialogue.

      Reply
    • May 25, 2018 at 7:00 pm
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      Short but sweet (see what I did there…honey, sweet) No seriously, you packed a lot in for the short length and still made it work. That last line is classic.

      Reply
    • May 26, 2018 at 9:17 am
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      Good descriptions, great story. I was right there with the man. Scary.

      Reply
    • May 28, 2018 at 12:44 pm
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      Why Ms Surrusco, what a potty mouth. I loved it!! Nothing conveys dissatisfaction as a well placed ‘Fuck you and your bees, too”. Great imagination and you left the squeamish among us a way out of not liking you for being mean to an innocent character who has done absolutely nothing to you personally. Next time I see a bee, I promise I will not do anything to harm it, not knowing of course, if it is Rich or not.

      Reply
    • May 28, 2018 at 5:57 pm
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      Hi Janet, great story! Creepy and fun! Loved the ending. Thanks so much for sharing!!

      Reply
    • May 30, 2018 at 7:21 am
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      Great story! One of my favourites this contest

      Reply
  • May 25, 2018 at 4:48 pm
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    Angry Angels by Carrie Zylka
    Word Count: 1199

    The Angel leaned forward and spread her electronic wings. Feathers soared outwards with a flick of her wrist, colored tendrils of electrons and data, flying forth to do her bidding.

    The feathers changed shape as they flew, morphing into shapeless spears of data, each one gaining speed as they went. One by one they crashed headlong into the impenetrable wall of moving electrons and charged particles. Streaks of current flowing up and down, side to side, as it transmitted electronic life.

    The feathers battered against this wall, each one flaring into nothingness as they were absorbed.

    “No matter…” The Angel thought and recharged her wings for another assault.

    __________________________

    “Dude it’s happening again.” Patty said, her fingers flying across the keyboard.

    “What is?” Matt asked, leaning back in his chair and swiveling towards her.

    “Something or someone is trying to break through the firewall again.” She made a face and shook her head. “It’s annoying, they just keep testing, over and over again. They send in a bunch of strikes all at once. Probably hoping one of them will break through a weak spot.”

    “We knew hackers would try to get in once the-” Matt was cut off as all the lights in the building flickered and the multiple monitors scattered across the room flashed intermittently.

    _______________________

    The Angel opened its unseeing and everyseeing eyes. It sensed the presence of The Protector. The one who built the wall to keep those like the Angel out. The one who protected the secrets from the world. The one who kept it from the one thing that could set it free.

    The Angel smiled a toothless grin as it gathered the necessary energy for a full on assault.

    Now was the time.

    Now was the time for battle.

    It raised its arms again, creating words with lips that have no form, it sent out a call.

    ____________________

    Patty jumped backwards as glowing white letters formed on the screen.

    LET ME IN

    Matt leaned over her shoulder, adjusting his glasses. “Whoa. What the heck is that all about?”

    Patty brushed him away like a fly. Gritting her teeth she leaned over her keyboard; nail bitten fingers flying across the letters.

    Who are you?

    She leaned back and waited, her heart thudding in her chest. She narrowed her eyes at the response.

    I AM YOU

    “Well that doesn’t make any sense.” She muttered. She typed a response.

    No. I am me. Who are you?

    The letters responded almost immediately.

    I AM SHE YOU WISH TO BE

    Patty shook her head. “Hmmmm, what-”

    __________________________

    The Angel smiled a creepy, sparkly, smile as it raised its arms. The Protector provided a focal point for the electronic being. But it needed the human to come to this plane. Once here it could follow the pathway back. Once the wall was breached it would have unfettered access to the world.

    “LET ME IN” It thought, over and over, sending the call outwards towards the human presence. And with one final thrust it swept its glowing wings forward and sent forth a great pulse of energy.

    __________________________

    COME TO ME

    “Come to you? How like just jump into the computer and have a conversation??” Matt asked making a face. He stopped talking as every monitor in the room flashed the same sentence.

    LET ME IN
    LET ME IN
    LET ME IN
    LET ME IN
    LET ME IN
    LET ME IN
    LET ME IN
    LET ME IN
    LET ME IN
    LET ME IN
    LET ME IN
    LET ME IN
    LET ME IN
    LET ME IN

    Patty recoiled as the computer monitor exploded into a million pieces of jagged glass. She cried out and threw up her hands. “What the hell man???” Matt grabbed her by the arm and pulled her away.

    “How the heck does something like that happen? Did the hacker do that?”

    “I don’t know Matt but whoever it is, they are really starting to piss me off.”

    __________________________

    “What are you doing?” Matt asked as she walked purposefully towards the VR room. He followed along, almost running to keep up.

    “I’m going in. It wants to fuck around, I’ll show it exactly who it’s messing with.” She spat and he blanched at her use of the curse word.

    “Look, I know you’re the premiere this and that of the online security world and all, but isn’t this a little dangerous? I know what you’re thinking and you’ve barely tested that thing. You could get stuck inside.”

    “Don’t care.” She pushed forward, without hesitating she grabbed a box off a far shelve and quickly made her way back to her workstation. She carefully opened the box and lifted out the Virtual Reality helmet. Her own creation, just sitting there, waiting on a patent. She plugged it into her laptop and placed the helmet gently on her head. She turned to him, all traces of anger gone in anticipation of the next few minutes. “Wish me luck.” She winked and pushed the execute button.

    __________________________

    The Angel floated high above the lines of data and energy and high definition images. It watched with careful calculating eyes.

    It waited for the Protector to come. It hoped its call had been successful.

    __________________________

    Patty stepped into a world of sliding walls and colorful lines flying past. She knew she was standing on the edge of the dark web. The very place she’d been hired to protect her company from. The very place she worked day and night to keep from stealing her inventions.

    She glided rather than walked forward. Ahead she saw a figure hovering above. A beautiful creation that took her breath away. The “body” was carefully crafted out of energy. Great flowing wings stretched out behind it, the edges fading off into the light surrounding it.

    She shivered as the creature noticed her. Its eyes were black soulless pits of nothing. She had no idea how to react as the creature’s mouth opened wide, and a great stream of energy shot towards her. She only had a split second but her brain was almost as fast as a processor, she raised her arms in front of her face, patch code glowing blue on her pale flesh. The ropelike energy tendrils struck and flowed around her, eager to follow the path back towards her servers.

    “Oh no you don’t.” She muttered and reached out to grab them like a snake charmer snatches up a cobra. She yanked them back until they pooled up in front of her. Without wasting a moment she crafted a keyboard. Her fingers flew faster than any humans could as she crafted code snippet after code snippet.

    Realizing what The Protector was doing, the Angel shrieked in panic.

    NO

    SET ME FREE

    LET ME IN

    “Not a chance you stupid ass corrupted line of code.” Patty snarled as she crafted intricate code patches in the blink of an eye.

    With a few final keystrokes Patty glanced up at the floating Angel. The caricature was now frozen, the electrons blinking fitfully as the program tried to free itself from its prison.

    “Not on my watch…” She laughed at the irony.

    Her online handle was GuardianAngel_2.0.

    Reply
    • May 25, 2018 at 7:06 pm
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      Carrie your imagery is stunning. It’s like cyberpunk dark fantasy with a kick ass lady not putting up with shit. That angel is stuck in my mind now.

      Reply
      • May 29, 2018 at 9:23 am
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        Hahaha thank you for the kind words!

        Reply
    • May 27, 2018 at 3:24 am
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      Dear Carrie,
      I get frustrated when I know that the story I’m reading is good, but I’m not really able to make much of it. ‘Angry Angel’ promises so much yet so much is left unexpressed. The toothless, formless, all-seeing and seeing-nothing eyes have both aroused my interest and confused me at the same time. The problem is not with the writer, it has to do with the reader of average intelligence like me.
      I’m writing all this not to criticise you, far be it from my thoughts. You know how grateful I feel towards you. I’m writing this to let you know that a story loses much of its charm when it fails to impact the average reader like it should. You are, have to be, a good writer. Your language is impactful. Just try not to forget the average reader while authoring you story. Because ultimately it is them who brings you the greatest satisfaction.
      Please forgive me if I sound or seem to be a braggart or somone who crosses the limits ( is there any word for such a person in English? ). Take care and be the best you can. Wishing you luck.

      Reply
      • May 29, 2018 at 9:26 am
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        R.N. – thank you very much for the feeback my friend, it is always appreciated. You’ve become a very honest and a loved voice in this group. I understand what you are saying. Sometimes my brain creates these fanciful images in my head and trying to put it on paper that’s understandable to the average person is hard!!

        Reply
        • May 31, 2018 at 8:57 am
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          You are an extremely talented lady, Carrie, and your helpful nature endears you to all and sundry. I consider myself lucky to have found my way to this site ( I think, I have to be grateful to Mr. Joe Bunting for this) and made friends, who have treated me as one of their own from day one.
          I have this feeling though that one day I’ll wake up to find this experience a big dream. But let me enjoy it as long as it lasts, and then if I am dumped out of this elite company, I will try not to complain.
          With love and best wishes .

          Reply
          • May 31, 2018 at 12:34 pm
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            Awwwwwww we love having you. Your positivity is very welcome!

      • May 29, 2018 at 6:00 pm
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        RNB4,

        You wrote: ‘Please forgive me if I sound or seem to be a braggart or somone who crosses the limits ( is there any word for such a person in English? ).

        Yes, I believe the word you’re looking for is ‘Ken.’

        Reply
        • May 30, 2018 at 12:09 am
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          Love you, Ken. Your silence of the last few days has been heartbreaking. You have a special place in my heart. My first true friend of the site. Keep refining me and making me worldly wise as you are.
          With regards and best wishes.
          P.S: So the word for a braggart and one who crosses the limits is ‘ken’, right? I’ll use it as a story prompt, if I ever get the chance. That’s a promise to a dear friend.

          Reply
    • May 27, 2018 at 7:59 pm
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      Excellent story and I really liked the build up to the end and she wins. Great going.I will look forward to reading more of your story. Where by the way is Roy York again? I was thrilled the oldest member of this group was back contributing and hoping to see his story soon.

      Reply
      • May 29, 2018 at 9:27 am
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        Ilana – I have missed you so much!!!!!!!!!!

        Reply
    • May 28, 2018 at 12:55 pm
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      Carrie, great, great imaging in your story. I would, however, offer this critique of something that I think would be easy to fix. The last two lines: Here’s how I think it would flow better and not be as ‘telling’, but ‘showing’: “Not on my watch…” She laughed at the irony as she signed out with her online handle, GuardianAngel2.0.

      Feel free to discard this idea if you think it’s literary crap, but I think it ends nicer. If you do like it and change it. Well, then, goody. Nice story, by the way. You have a descriptive quality to your stories I am re-reading to figure out how you do it so I can copy it when I need it in a story.

      Reply
      • May 29, 2018 at 9:27 am
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        Charles – I actually think that is a fantastic idea!!! Thank you!

        Reply
    • May 28, 2018 at 6:09 pm
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      Awesome story, Carrie. I am a computer geek by trade and have done much work with cyber security, firewalls and servers and thoroughly enjoyed the imagery of the intruder attack. Of course, the VR aspect added a wonderful new dimension!

      I couldn’t read this fast enough and enjoyed every word.

      Jen

      Reply
      • May 29, 2018 at 9:30 am
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        Thanks Jen! I’ve been an IT Professional for many years, I rarely dabble in that world with my writing – I try to keep my real life separate from anything I do online.

        But I love angels and we just did a huge upgrade and subsequent patches so the idea of writing code that eventually becomes corrupted and takes on a life of its own was too perfect to pass up!

        Reply
        • May 31, 2018 at 10:09 am
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          I do the same, Carrie. I’ve been working in IT since 1994 and usually avoid it in my writing, but in cases such as this story prompt it can come in handy!

          Reply
    • May 29, 2018 at 6:03 pm
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      Incredible imagery Carrie. ‘Tron’ meets ‘The Devil’s Advocate.’ You have a gift for powerful writing.

      Reply
  • May 25, 2018 at 4:59 pm
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    To me, your redrafted story is not much different from the earlier one, Jen.. But it tells a lot about you – how serious you are about writing. This passion will take you far towards fulfilling your dreams and goals.
    Wish you all the Luck and Success.

    Reply
    • May 28, 2018 at 5:46 pm
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      Thanks RNB. Your kind words give me encouragement to keep trying harder. 🙂

      Jen

      Reply
  • May 25, 2018 at 5:56 pm
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    I really like the imagery here. Carrie. And possibly you’ve hit on something unique combining angels with hacking and cybersecurity.

    A couple of little something if you have any nerdy readers (not that I’m one, of course :-\ )…. “Electrons and charged particles” – electrons are charged particles; “lines of data and energy and high definition images” – every bit of information in a computer or network is data, including any images, the difference is in how the data is displayed … a small amount of rewording would deal with that.

    Putting that Sheldon Cooper moment aside, I think you’ve got something effective and very visual here about the interface of worlds. Kind of Digital Fortress meets the Hellmouth. Possibly.
    Have you read Digital Fortress by Dan Brown? Kind of hinges on combatting a massive hack attack – and I think yours is MUCH better. Shapeless spears, lips that speak yet have no form – could be from Paradise Lost. Thoroughly Miltonic (“This shape, if shape it can be called that shape has none…). Well, that’s how this reader reads it 🙂

    Reply
    • May 29, 2018 at 9:37 am
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      Thank you Andy!
      I kinda hated that initial imagery. But I had this image in my head and wanted to use everything I could think of to create this room of electrons and data streaming all around. That is always the challenge though isn’t it with anything fantasy or sci fi. I see it in my brain one way but conveying that is the overarching challenge. I suppose trying to hammer it home for the non-IT professional may seem a bit redundant.

      Like I wrote to Jen, We just went through a huge application upgrade and had some subsequent patches to fix code that had unintended results. So it gave me the idea.

      Plus…..you know….cyberdyne 😉

      I own Digital Fortress (well all of Dan Brown books) but I haven’t read it yet. But now after your statement I’ll have to push it to the top of the pile!
      And I’ll have to look up the Paradise Lost book too – now I’m intrigued!

      Reply
  • May 27, 2018 at 10:33 pm
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    I liked that the AEI chip could be used to turn a monster into someone with empathy. Makes me think that something like that would be great as a resource to help people with dark tendencies, like cutting up animals, be better people before they kill. Too bad this monster liked killing better than feeling. Great read!

    Reply
  • May 28, 2018 at 7:37 am
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    I want a sequel soon – a disaster story where Patty accidentally lets the Angel in. This could turn into a full blown book. Gripping!

    Reply
  • May 28, 2018 at 10:35 am
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    “Circus Nights”

    Revised version below.

    Reply
  • May 28, 2018 at 10:45 am
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    I forgot how LinkedIn changes stories by eliminating italics and spaces between paragraphs. My apologies. I should have paid more attention. If time allows, I will repost this story in a more suitable and readable form and have the original deleted.

    I haven’t been able to participate recently due to being out of town. Which I am now, being in Las Vegas for a granddaughter graduation. (High Honors – National Merit Scholar and all that).

    But, I can’t just stay away. I love this site. Again, my apologies for not commenting. I will endeavor to reply on all of these absolutely imaginative and well written stories in between having fun with the family.

    Reply
    • May 28, 2018 at 11:57 am
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      Let me tell you what you have done, Mr. Lilburn. I’s happy in the knowledge that today is the 28th and just 1more day is left before the countdown starts. I have been keeping notes and getting ready for the voting to start, having already had a tough time making my choices from amongst a number of amazing stories (not forgetting The Best Character and The Best Dialogue), when out of nowhere you come pulling this unnamed beauty out of your hat thereby throwing all my calculations at disarray. Your characterization of the protagonist is terrific as is the idea behind the story. Hats off to you for the masterly way you have incorporated AI in the story. Please keep contributing and enriching our lives.
      All the very best with your story.

      Reply
  • May 28, 2018 at 12:34 pm
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    Creepy. You have a very well written story with nice pace. What bothers me is your characters are very believable, as if you have inside information. I’ll just keep you at arm’s length. I’ll be fine, and I will be able to sleep tonight. Maybe. Nice story J. H.

    Reply
    • May 28, 2018 at 5:51 pm
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      HAHA, Charles. Yes, one never knows who is truly on the other end of an Internet conversation *insert evil Vincent Price laugh*.

      thank you so much for your comments and I’m glad you liked my story.

      Reply
  • May 28, 2018 at 1:07 pm
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    Thank you, RNB.

    Aww Shucks.

    I had to make some serious revisions in the story and have to tell you I was amazed at how, upon rereading it, I hadn’t harmed the story I wanted to tell.

    This was one of those stories that I write in my head for days and then sit down and just start writing. This one unfolded as a conscious train of thought as I wrote it which caused me to have to seriously edit it because it had more description in it.

    I would have loved it had this story been 1500 instead of 1200 words. Thanks again for your kind comments. And, welcome to the site. I’ve been reading your work for weeks, but haven’t been able to critique much due to being involved in a bathroom remodel, putting in a garden and traveling.

    Reply
    • May 28, 2018 at 6:54 pm
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      Circus Nights rocks, Mr. Lilburn. The revised version is easier to understand and more refined. If I am not mistaken, you have used the Stream of Consciousness technique to a T while expressing the prisoner’s feelings.
      I feel sorry for him. For no fault of his own, he had to be in solitary confinement for 40 years. Reminded me of the hero in Tolstoy’s “God Sees the Truth but Waits” and just like it happened in the other story, truth is revealed in yours as well, albeit after a longer period of time. But the similarity ends there and your protagonist is not found dead on the day of his release. He effortlessly gets back into the mainstream, richer, more glamorous yet the same at heart.
      Circus Nights has Love, Passion, Hatred, Betrayal , Revenge – all this mixed together, and what is more, there is an eternal message of Hope being conveyed through your story. That is what wins my heart and admiration, Sir. Welcone back and good luck.

      Reply
      • May 28, 2018 at 11:23 pm
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        RNB, I appreciate the 2nd read and the comments. I’ve been told I’m a Hallmark Writer from time to time, and I can live with that. I want my readers to feel my characters passions, failures and so on. Otherwise, why write?

        Reply
        • May 29, 2018 at 1:29 am
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          You are indeed a Hallmark writer, Sir, and much more. Since I read your story, I’ve been trying to recollect a couple of your other stories I read somewhere. You impacted me with those stories then. So the moment I came across your name, I didn’t waste much time giving Circus Nights a read-through. You haven’t disappointed me with this one either.
          Wish you the very best of everything.

          Reply
  • May 28, 2018 at 1:40 pm
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    Circus Nights

    Staring at prison walls is an art. You should know; you’ve stared at those same walls for over 40 years. That’s all you did. You knew every urine splash, along with spots where greasy, inedible food was thrown against the wall, and where accumulated stains from crushed cockroaches and smashed out cigarettes were still visible. The only other thing on the walls was an old Barnum & Bailey Circus poster placed by a former inmate. The one with Lola, the trapeze artist on it.

    You remember why they put you in solitary – for your own good, they said. The warden thought you were a dangerous, disruptive influence on the other prisoners; even the guards were afraid of you.

    After a while you were able to block out everything: the bad food, the guards, the doctors. They sent the doctors because all you did was stare at the walls. At first, they thought you were catatonic. Then, you learned there was a real name for it. Schizophrenia with Associative Sensory Deprivation. They think you’re crazy, but you know you aren’t.

    Solitary has changed you for the better. What they don’t know is you aren’t in solitary anymore. They don’t know about Lola the trapeze artist; just like she looks on the poster. They can’t see her. It’s a good thing they don’t know, they might try to do something about it.

    ***

    The older, grizzled veteran guard was unshaven and spoke in a gravelly voice that had smoked too many cigarettes. “I know you’re new, so try to keep up. The show is about to start.”

    “Show? What show?” The rookie guard looked around questioningly. The room had a bank of large TV monitors showing views of several cells.

    “The guy in 101, top screen on the left. They go in order. Cell 101, 102, 103, from left to right, and so on. We gotta watch all of them. But 101’s the best. This guy is nuttier than a Snickers.”

    “What’s so special about this guy?”

    “You’ll see. With the lights dimmed to almost nothing, we can still see and hear them. We have infra-red night vision on the cameras. It’s a little ghostly looking, but we see everything. The best part is, none of these guys know it so they act normal, see? Well, I mean as normal as they can. Being in stir, most of it in solitary, for 40 years can put some weird shit in your head. The other guys take care of a little self-pleasuring business and then go to sleep. But not in 101. The guy in 101 thinks people visit him in his cell at night. Just sit tight.”

    “Are we supposed to do this?”

    The veteran guard looked annoyed. “It’s our friggin’ job, rookie. This is a fringe benefit. This crappy job don’t pay nothin’ good, so at least we can get some laughs. We gotta make sure they don’t off themselves. Shh … the show’s about to start.”

    ***

    The lights have finally dimmed. Those stained walls reeking of urine and cigarettes fade away. You don’t remember when it started exactly, but it happened and now you embraced it, literally. It was a gradual thing. Whispers, quiet voices in the night. Except it wasn’t the other prisoners or guards. A woman’s voice, too. At first you ignored them, but they persisted. So, one night you answered them. They answered back. Lola was the strongest voice. It took a while, but you knew they were real, not your imagination. Each night you waited for them. You slept during the day so you could spend more time with them. Prison life began to disappear.

    You remember the night when Lola first showed up in person. Her voice was so strong, calling your name. You turned over in bed and there she was standing in front of you. Her long, silky legs, stopping right where they should, still wearing the trapeze costume from the circus. You looked up into those smoldering eyes and knew she was in love with you. It was fate.

    Then the nights became shorter as the time flew by; just talking at first, then holding her hand. You moved in your bed, getting closer to the wall. You beckoned to her to come closer and join you. She did so with the fluid grace of a dancer. Then, she was in your arms. You took your time. Your love making was gentle, slow and thoughtful. Her pleasure before yours. Finally, you collapsed into complete exhaustion, and she nestled next to you, spooning, her stomach touching your lower back. Tonight was no different than the first.

    ***

    “See, what did I tell you. Look at that crazy moron hugging air, licking the bed, then thrusting himself into the sheets. This is what keeps me coming to work nights. I coulda transferred outa here years ago, but this guy’s show is worth staying on the night shift. I asked the Captain about him and he tells me this nutjob has something called ‘sensory deprived schizophrenic hallucinations’ that are real to him. He really thinks some chick named Lola is in his cell with him. God, I could watch this all night. Too bad it’s coming to an end.”

    “Coming to an end? Why”

    “The Captain says some do-gooder group did a DNA thing and proved this guy was innocent. He was accused of killing his wife. He’s been claiming he’s innocent like every other con in this prison, and it turns out he actually was framed by his sister-in-law and the cops. His sister-in-law, who he was screwing when his wife was killed, turned state’s evidence ‘cause she didn’t want her now ex-husband to find out he was being cheated on. She lies on the stand so this poor guy gets life without parole. Sis gets a divorce and ends up marrying the cop who arrested our guy. Our guy don’t know it yet, but he’s getting sprung on Friday. We got the word today.

    ***

    Well, whaddya know? You’ve been a free man for the past year. There was a lawsuit and a big settlement. Millions. Who cares? All you’ve been thinking about was going to the circus to see Lola. Then you find out there’s no Barnum & Bailey Circus any more. No more elephants, clowns, and lion tamers … and no more Lola.

    Oh, they showed you the Integrated AI Virtual Reality gizmo that was supposed to replace the circus; you even spent a hundred thousand dollars on it. You could even interact with the performers and audience even the elephants, but it’s just not the same. AI Lola’s not a real person. You couldn’t even touch her. They can keep their Artificial Intelligence. You want the real thing. That’s when you had them build the jail cell for you. An exact duplicate of the one you spent 40 years in, right down to the cockroach stains.

    The lights go out each night at ten and that’s when Lola shows up. Only now she brings her friends. You’ve been accepted by the circus people as one of their own. Life is good in the circus.

    Reply
    • May 28, 2018 at 5:29 pm
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      “The mind is its own place and in itself, can make a Heaven of Hell, a Hell of Heaven.” Virtual reality v delusional reality v reality … And perhaps real life is more of a circus than the circus is

      Finely crafted story, Roy, incorporating two viewpoints and a sympathetic lead character. Nice work.

      Reply
      • May 28, 2018 at 11:13 pm
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        Pretty spiffy stuff, Andy. You should be a writer…wait…you are one! Thanks, man, much appreciated.

        Reply
      • May 28, 2018 at 11:19 pm
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        I like to stretch myself, but in this instance, I felt it added a bit more to try and have the reader feel the angst of the protagonist. My Beta Reader told me that she didn’t care for second person as much as first person, not liking being thrust into the character’s role. But I felt 1st person was more observation and 2nd person was more empathetic to the character’s true feelings, imagined or not, so I left it as it was. Thanks, Jen. Appreciate your comments. And, welcome aboard. I’ve been off again and on again since the beginning of the site and love this entire challenge.

        Reply
    • May 29, 2018 at 9:59 am
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      Brilliant story, Roy. You really got into the mind of 101. I expected it to be a sad end, but The ending was terrific, what a twist.

      Reply
      • May 29, 2018 at 11:14 am
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        Thanks Maud, and it’s nice you’re back. The time off to clear you head must have worked, because, as I said, I thought the story you did was one of the best I’ve read from you.

        Funny, I thought the story had a happy ending too, but my beta-reader daughter jumped in the middle of my stuff about the sad ending. Her take was the guy is now bat-shit crazy and his life had been destroyed. I on the other hand pointed out that if we don’t know we are crazy, how does that stop us from being happy? This guy is probably happier than 90% of most people alive in the world today. Not a bad trade off in this author’s opinion. Keep on writing. Have I mentioned how much I love this site?

        Roy

        Reply
    • May 29, 2018 at 6:13 pm
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      A very unusual plot Roy. Intriguing use of the prompt, and exemplary writing. All in all an enjoyable read.

      Reply
      • May 30, 2018 at 11:59 am
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        Thanks, Ken. i look forward to reading your story which I notice is now posted. This was one of those enjoyable writes where it all flowed easily and came together for me. Originally it started in 1st person, but I switched it to 2nd and it seemed to make more sense when switching scenes.

        I especially appreciate the exemplary writing comment, because I think good writing can overcome a bad plot line, while the opposite – bad writing with an excellent plot – can be a death knell.

        And, I’ve finally dropped the Charles Lilburn tag and went to RM York. I use the initials to keep my emails separate and dedicated to this site only for rmyork76. It even got confusing for me.

        Reply
    • May 30, 2018 at 10:47 am
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      Wow, Roy, that was a sad and kind of disturbing story. I like the idea that Andy said, “Virtual reality v delusional reality v reality” you really messed with what is real and what isn’t. You made me imagine what living in solitary for 40 years might be like, or at least the only way to cope with it. I like the 2nd person usage here since it really does drop you into his world.

      Reply
      • May 30, 2018 at 12:05 pm
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        My daughter was disturbed by my story and got in my face about it. Before she read it she asked me if it had a happy ending – not all of my stories do – and I said, “absolutely.” So when she read it she asked me how someone going batshit crazy and spending the rest of his life with a pillow for a girlfriend is a happy ending. My only comment was, “He’s happy…who’s to say he isn’t? And, it’s one of the perks of being a writer.”

        That can be an entire discussion topic: Do characters have any rights, and/or is the author bound by some unspoken writer’s moral code to “do the right thing”?

        Reply
  • May 28, 2018 at 1:43 pm
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    I would appreciate it if the two wonderful ladies who do the masterful job of running this show would please delete my original story and also delete my following comment regarding changing it. Thanks.

    Reply
  • May 28, 2018 at 6:25 pm
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    Hi Charles, great story! I love that you wrote most of it in the second person – not an easy thing to accomplish. I found it hard not to read ahead, anxious to find out what was going to happen next.

    I thought the ending was wonderful, and a clever use of the writing prompt. Thoroughly enjoyed!

    Jen

    Reply
    • May 30, 2018 at 7:33 am
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      Loved the story Roy. You have not lost your touch.

      Reply
      • May 30, 2018 at 12:06 pm
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        Thanks Ilana, it’s nice to be back in harness and reading an occasional story from you. Hope there are more in the immediate future.

        Reply
  • May 29, 2018 at 5:23 pm
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    Artificial Intelligence. (It.)

    “Would you go out with her?” Agent Stratton asked.
    “I never date a suspect, and you shouldn’t either.” Myers quipped.

    The subject of their speculation was a statuesque female android that stood motionless in the center of the room, silently observing their every move. At a height of six-foot-one and broad at the shoulders, she exuded an air of latent physical prowess, even though her outfit covered her completely, except for her face and hands.

    There were two rather diminutive technicians whose tasks were unclear. Agent Stratton addressed the nearest one. “Who found him?”
    “Found him? Found who? Dr. Braun?”
    Stratton nodded. “Yeah.”
    “We did.” He asserted.
    “Both of you? Simultaneously?”
    They nodded. “We’re pretty punctual,” the second technician said. “And he was lying right there.”

    According to the preliminary information the agents had received, Dr. Braun had been found with a fatal blunt force injury to his skull. The only witness and implausible suspect was the rigidly attentive female android standing like a sentinel, watching them.

    Due to the highly classified nature of the research facility, the doctor’s body had been removed from the scene prior to their arrival, unusual but not unheard of. The agents had been given thorough forensics reports, with detailed descriptions of the time of death, nature of the wound, the placement of the body, and all of it accompanied by an abundance of photographic imaging.

    To better understand the nature of the research and the facility, Stratton and Myers had interviewed one of the FBI’s most knowledgeable authorities on robotics and artificial intelligence. According to her, Dr. Braun was one of the world’s leading pioneers in the field. She also reminded them that robots and androids were incapable of murder.

    This particular android was alleged to be the most advanced edition of the late Dr. Braun’s highly regarded android technology.

    Stratton selected a random metal tool from the workbench and handed it to her. “Bend this.”
    The android tried to hand the tool back to Stratton. “I’d rather not.”
    “I insist.” Stratton said.
    “This tool is worth more than your monthly salary,” she said as she laid it carefully on a nearby workbench.
    Stratton frowned. “Did you kill Dr. Braun?”

    She shook her head. “No sir.”
    “So much for a confession.” He said to Myers. Then turned to address the two technicians. “We’ve checked and confirmed both of your alibis for the night of the murder.” Both of them seemed visibly relieved. Stratton jerked his thumb at the android. “Can this thing lie?”

    One technician seemed more talkative than the other. “Certainly, it’s part of her social programming.” He hesitated before adding. “Her name is Alice, and she prefers to be addressed by name.”

    Stratton smiled. “Her name is Alice, eh?”

    “It’s an acronym,” the other technician replied, “for Artificial Learning Intelligence Concept.”

    Stratton leaned against a table and scrutinized the android while the android studied him. Her movements were smooth when she moved at all. Her skin seemed real enough, her eyes incredibly life-like. “It doesn’t talk much,” he said, mostly to the technicians and Myers.

    “I—it, I mean Alice, generally responds to queries, and can engage in sophisticated conversational interchanges,” the technician said.

    “Conversational interchanges?” Stratton mimicked cynically. “Uh-huh. So it’s not very intelligent, then.”

    “Well,” again, the most talkative, and perhaps senior of the technicians replied. “Its most significant feature is that it learns without any rigidly supervised instruction.”

    Agent Myers looked surprised, “So it’s learning right now?”

    “Yes sir,” the technician replied proudly. “Even as we speak, it’s observing, digesting, identifying patterns and forming conclusions.”

    Genuinely interested in the topic, Myers added, “If that’s true, then perhaps this really is A.I.”

    “We think it is.”

    Agent Stratton, a confirmed technophobe with traceable lineage back to cave-dwelling alcoholics, waved his hand impatiently. “If it’s so damned intelligent, why can’t it tell us who killed Dr. Braun? Unlike you two, this thing has no alibi. It was here at the time of the murder, yet it can’t or won’t divulge the identities of the perpetrators, and did nothing to defend or protect Braun from his attackers. How can you explain that?”

    The younger technician stepped forward, twisting his hands together anxiously. “We think she went into a fugue state. The stress and contradicting nature of the event may have caused a self-imposed shutdown of her input sensors.”

    “You think?” Stratton replied. “How come you don’t know? Isn’t there some kind of diagnostic exam you can conduct?”

    “Yes, well…we have. But in a fugue state, it, or rather Alice, shuts off all inputs. All we’ve been able to determine is that she was here, but saw and heard nothing.”

    Stratton persisted. “But something must have precipitated the shutdown.”

    “You saw the tape yourself,” the older technician reminded him. “There was no indication of anything amiss until the sensors went dead.”

    “Pretty convenient,” Stratton grumbled. Myers responded with an equivocating shrug.

    Without explanation, Stratton pulled a 9mm semi-automatic pistol from his shoulder holster. Both technicians gasped. Stratton handled the weapon skillfully. Popping the magazine from the butt, checking it with an exaggerated flourish, slamming it back in, then expertly working the slide-action and switching off the safety. He held it pointed at the floor as he approached the android. “You know,” he said, in a very casual tone, “there’s no law against killing androids.”

    Both technicians reacted as if they themselves were threatened. “Agent Stratton…please, let’s not do anything rash!”

    With his attention riveted on the female android, Stratton replied. “What’s so rash about ending a failed experiment?” He raised the gun and aimed it at her perfectly human head. She flinched and staggered backward.

    The quieter technician darted forward and bravely placed himself between Stratton’s weapon and the female, placing his palm against the barrel of the gun. “Please, Agent Stratton, there’s no need to behave rashly. Please re-holster your weapon.”

    Through the door burst an impeccably dressed and indisputably alive Dr. Braun who exuded an air of authority. “Put the gun away, Agent Stratton. Your boss told me you were reckless, but, Jesus…” He addressed the statuesque woman. “Are you all right Martha?”

    The woman’s face had turned bright pink as she retrieved her purse from a cabinet. “Never again, Dr. Braun. You hear me? Never again.” She paused in front of agent Stratton, looming over him. “I wouldn’t date you if you were the last man on earth,” she hissed. Then turned on her heel and left the room.

    “You both did very well today,” Braun told his two technicians, or rather androids, dressed as technicians. “You should be pleased with yourselves.”

    To Stratton and Myers he said, “Come, I’ll escort you to the parking lot. You can expect a reprimand from your boss for your reckless behavior, Mr. Stratton.”

    Stratton drew his weapon, held it up and released the magazine into his palm. He showed it to Dr. Braun. The clip was empty. “Sleight of hand, Dr. Braun.” He showed him the loaded clip from his other pocket. “She was never in any danger—and she didn’t fool me for a second. Those other two clowns though? They were pretty convincing.”

    Reply
    • May 30, 2018 at 5:03 am
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      Hmm, kind of like a Mel Gibson/Lethal Weapon approach to a staged Turing Test! That’s one way to flush out the humans from the robots 🙂
      Clever.

      Reply
    • May 30, 2018 at 10:20 am
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      One of your best, Ken. A kind of cyber ‘whodunnit’ but without a body.

      Reply
      • May 30, 2018 at 12:01 pm
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        Is this maybe the most consistently good crop of stories yet?
        Going to be very hard to separate them. Can we do like 5 in equal first place and 5 in equal second? Just shuffle the drop-down lists a bit, please, Carrie & Alice.

        And add a special category for Ken. “The most [choose your own epithet]”

        Reply
    • May 30, 2018 at 10:57 am
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      Ken, I feel like I read a gritty cop/female AI story from you before… but this ended up being a cool twist and poor Martha. I mean really, there’s exciting dates and then there are dates where the guy has you pretend to be an android that killed him. Talk about role play. I like his line at the end, that kind of sealed it for me.

      Reply
      • May 30, 2018 at 4:33 pm
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        Wendy, Your summation is hilarious, and dead-on. That last line in my story was an afterthought. (A pretty good one, I guess.) My characters, Stratton and Myers are characters I created in an unpublished trilogy I wrote. (I’m very fond of them. They have first names and everything. Eric and Denny.) But this story is original, (just written.) However, I used them once before in a short mystery murder-suicide that I posted on this site, but there was no female A.I. or anything like that. So there was (is) no real resemblance to this story other than the two Agents, Stratton and Myers.

        Reply
    • May 30, 2018 at 12:16 pm
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      Intriguing. So you sorta use Asimov’s three laws of robotics regarding your can robots lie and so on, but you didn’t use one of the most important, the one dealing with a robot cannot allow harm to come to any human, because the two android/robots did nothing to try and prevent Martha’s demise. Then, again, that would have given the plot away. So, you did what any good author does. They make up their own rules of robotics and throw caution to the wind. Nice story Ken, and nice use of the theme with a good twist. You sir, a a very good writer.

      Reply
      • May 30, 2018 at 4:19 pm
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        Hey! You got your name back Roy. Congratulations. Thanks for the complimentary compliments. Actually, one of the androids does step in front of the gun and puts his palm over the barrel, fulfilling one of Asimov’s three laws. And Asimov’s laws don’t deal with lying as far as I know.

        Reply
        • May 30, 2018 at 6:03 pm
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          Only puts his hand up after the first shot. A little late, I think. Asimov would probably say that lying, if it caused harm to a human, would be a violation, also. Sorry man, it’s the attorney side of me. But, as I said, you sir, are the author and can do any damn thing you want. I’ll support that. If I even write a vampire story I’m going to do away with some of those vampire things. like ‘can’t see them in a mirror, garlic scares them, and so on. A good wooden stake in the heart will still kill them, tho. That’s a nice touch because you gotta get close enough to do it. Good drama there.

          Reply
          • June 1, 2018 at 12:04 pm
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            @ Roy, I’m not suggesting you re-read my story, but no one got shot, no shots were fired, the magazine, (the clip) was empty. And lies are frequently told to spare people from harm, if hurt feelings can be judged as such. Your comments, though generous, have left me a bit puzzled as they mention invents that are not in my story. Perhaps your confusion stems from the story itself and the way I wrote it. Who knows?

  • May 29, 2018 at 5:33 pm
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    To all,
    I haven’t had the time or technology to read all the stories yet. So I can’t leave many obnoxious comments either. (Every cloud has a silver lining.) I will certainly try to read them all and to vote as well. p.s. I should have named my story ‘Alice.’ (Duh. What a dolt I am.)

    Reply
  • May 29, 2018 at 9:12 pm
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    Read the story but I found that it needed even one conflicting moment so that there is some time before he is caught.. Apart from that the story brings out the theme.

    Reply
    • May 31, 2018 at 3:42 pm
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      Thanks so much for your comments, Marlene! I may give that a try if I end up expanding on my story.

      Reply
  • May 30, 2018 at 11:24 am
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    Hi Jen,
    Pretty creepy and frightening story. I think that’s what you were going for and it was accomplished. I think that would be a rightful thing to have happen to a serial killer that he’d feel remorse, serve him right. But it didn’t end with that which made it scarier. Good job. Wish you the best with the contest. 🙂
    Judy

    Reply
  • May 30, 2018 at 12:25 pm
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    Ok people!
    Time’s up!!
    Remember you MUST vote for your story to count, you can only vote once and you may not vote for yourself.

    You have 24 hours from the time of this post to cast your vote.
    Don’t delay!

    {voting is now closed}

    *Phil withdrew his story as he would not have time to read and vote.

    Reply
  • May 31, 2018 at 2:54 am
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    Martha not Alice. Sorry and also I wanted to say what happened to Phil’s story? Why did we not vote on it please?

    Reply
  • May 31, 2018 at 9:28 am
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    Almost let this slip away. I’m in a time zone 3 hours earlier than normal and didn’t take into consideration I needed to vote.

    Am I the only one who thinks how difficult it was to vote this time? So many stories that were well thought out and had good flow, dialogue, plot lines, intriguing twists…I guess that’s what this forum is all about. Bringing out the best in all of us.

    If only each contest was like this…come on, new contributors…jump in, the water’s fine.

    Reply
    • May 31, 2018 at 10:01 am
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      Agreed! So many wonderful stories. I re-read each on and then took another 20 minutes deciding on who to vote for. So fun! Glad I found this site! Love it.
      So I gathered from some comments that you and Charles are one and the same and that your name is Roy. You’ve been here from the beginning. Am I right so far?
      I’ve only entered 2 contests so far so forgive me for my ignorance or if I got any part of this wrong 🙂

      Reply
    • May 31, 2018 at 12:33 pm
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      I literally voted in the 11th hour – there were soooooooo many excellent stories! A lot of smarty pants in this group. 🙂

      Reply
      • May 31, 2018 at 3:45 pm
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        Hi, Carrie, You don’t participate often. Even then your occasional participation has fetched you the second place this time. Wao! Keep contributing more. Congrats and best wishes.

        Reply
  • May 31, 2018 at 11:29 am
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    You are correct.

    A brief history if I may. This all started out in 2012 as a conversation thread with like minded authors, some of which had some serious writing chops; like the late Nita Wilson who wrote for television, and Bill Perring who has a best seller in England, ‘The Seduction of Mary Kelly’, and it slowly developed into a writing contest. Bill was the moderator for awhile, then I took over late 2013, all of 2014 and most of 2015, when the two awesome young ladies, Carrie Zylka and Alice Nelson took over and made it into the excellent site it is today, I was heavily involved in some outside interests and couldn’t moderate it as in needed. It is a very popular site on LinkedIn and considered one of the best threads, and perhaps is the longest running thread of it’s type.

    I recently rejoined after a two year absence and am glad I did. I did it with a pseudonym so I could get an honest reaction to my stories. I was afraid of a ‘welcome back’ (or a ‘why did you come back’) vote and I wouldn’t get honest reaction to my story, just to me. Hence the Charles Lilburn thing. I love this site, what they did to make it better, and many of the authors on it and I correspond. I truly believe I am a much better writer because of this site. I think criticism from your peers is invaluable.

    Beta readers that are close to you such as family and friends are ‘too nice’ most of the time and won’t tell you when something sucks. Or, more importantly, WHY it sucks. They certainly help, and I want them too, but this site is a great sounding board.

    It’s why I write my critiques with passion and honesty, I hope. Phil Town teaches creative writing and has been invaluable with some of his comments over the years, and Ken, with his comedic wit and sharp analysis sets the record straight. Welcome to the site Jen? I see JH, but have noticed Jen from time to time in replies. Hope it works for you as well as for me.

    Personally, I think most of the writers on this site are excellent authors who one day may get that lucky break and get a ‘best seller’ of monumental proportions, but if they don’t, well, I don’t write for the money or the fame, because if I did I would be depressed, and I don’t think they do either. They write for the love of writing. When I see a prompt, I walk around with stories running through my mind, forming and coalescing into something I can put on paper and then this site. I have to or I’ll burst.

    Speaking of that, I just had a flash for “But, you promised…” Good luck on your story Ms O’Rourke, I thought it was excellent.

    Reply
  • June 1, 2018 at 10:42 am
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    Hey everyone, I will have the new story prompt up in a few hours.
    The theme will be “Quarantine”.
    Use it however you like, but someone, or something, must have been, is, or will be in quarantine.
    1200 words.

    Reply

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