Anchora — Volume IV

Stories 31 to 40 of the sci-fi/cyberpunk flash fiction anthology

Created by the author

The bar was silent, every drunken eye on Dino and K.O.

“I’ve already paid for Atlanta Security this month, officer,” Dino said in a low voice from behind the counter, his eyes on his feet.

“But you haven’t paid for K.O. Security, my man.” K.O. pulled a shiny knife from his crimson uniform and examined it. “There’s a lot of violence in this city.” He licked the blade. “You wouldn’t want any violence in your establishment, would you?”

“I guess I wouldn’t,” Dino said, rubbing the neck of a clear bottle he had been holding the whole time. “I’ll pay the fee.”

“Good,” K.O. smiled and gave Dino a gentle pat on the face. “Now pour me a glass of that thing, would you?”

“Oh, this?” Dino motioned with the bottle, shaking the blue contents inside. “You can’t drink this.”

“Why? Is it one of Dino’s secret ingredients? Just give me the thing, already.” He extended a hand.

“I really can’t,” Dino moved the bottle away from him.

In a swift motion, K.O. leaned over the counter and grabbed the bottle from Dino’s hands. The drunk crowd gasped — one last gasp out of sync, a moment after everyone else’s. K.O. took a few large gulps of the thing before choking. He coughed and wheezed.

“What the fuck is this?” He bent down, his hands on his knees.

“You don’t wanna know. I use it to cool the generator on the back.”

K.O. fell to the floor, waving the knife in Dino’s direction. “Call emergency.” He barely got out the words.

“There’s a thing by the door,” Dino pointed, “that says that I’m not responsible for any emergencies related to something you ingest in here. The best I can do is take you outside.”

K.O.’s mouth was foaming. “Do it,” he managed.

“Right,” Dino said, his elbows on the counter, his head resting comfortably on his hands. “I’m just gonna wait a minute.”

A shot, gushing blood. People running in the neon-bathed streets. A large amount about to be transferred to a tall gentleman’s account.

A fresh corpse releasing bodily fluids on the pavement. Blood dripping down a rusty grate, urine puddling on the sidewalk. A lighter, a click, a lit cigarette.

A deceased man wearing a dark leather jacket. A tall gentleman smoking his cigarette, a white puff of smoke rising up the humid night air. A sudden interest in a leather jacket.

Distant sirens. A smoking gentleman holding a pee-soaked jacket close to his nose. A sniff. An undiagnosed disorder called anosmia: an inability of detecting odors.

A tall gentleman wearing a newly-acquired dark leather jacket, disappearing in the night, off to collect his bounty. A distinctive smell of urine following him.

“Please, miss, step away or we will open fire,” the security bot said in a monotone. There was a wall of red bots protecting the entrance of the Atlanta Inc. headquarters, a crowd of protestors holding signs in front of the building. “Bot rights now,” “bots are people too,” and “stop bot slavery,” said the signs. A monster of a man walked by with purposeful steps, an empty burlap bag in his hand.

“I won’t move until that bitch Atlanta is down here herself,” Crash said.

The bot repeated. “Please, miss, step away or we will open fire.”

Crash stepped forward while the crowd chanted “free them bots” behind her. “We’re doing this for you, man,” she told the bot. “Don’t be a cog in the machine.”

The bot warned once more. “Please, miss, step away or we will open fire.”

“Do it,” she stepped even closer to the bot.

There was one solitary shot, a loud bang that made everyone duck. A forearm went flying off a body. Screams. Everyone started running, except the large man with the burlap bag. A few demonstrators grabbed the one-armed Crash and took her away — she was bleeding heavily.

The man calmly bagged the severed forearm and the bot warned, “Please, sir, step away or we will open fire.”

“As you wish,” the man strode away.

“I’m sorry, Mr. Seloc,” Agh boarded the subway train. “I won’t be able to do this job.”

“Why not?” Coles said through the pod in his ear. “Aren’t you a bounty hunter?”

Agh frowned, his hands in the pockets of his purple jacket. “In what scenario would I answer yes to this question?” he said to the empty space in front of him.

The train was barely inhabited: a homeless guy staring at him, a couple sleeping on each other’s shoulders, and a cleaning bot doing a terrible job at vacuuming the train’s floor.

“You just have to end someone’s life,” Coles said. “We don’t care about your methods.”

“Yeah, I’m gonna pass,” Agh said, the hobo listening intently. “Besides, I don’t do jobs for Atlanta’s personnel.”

“What? I don’t work for Atlanta.”

“Yeah,” Agh said toward the hobo, “and I’m not a bounty hunter. So why are we even talking?”

The homeless guy got up and walked to Agh. “Are you talking to me?”

Agh grabbed the pod from his ear and handed it to him. “Sorry, this call is for you.”

The subway car stopped and the doors wheezed open. As Agh stepped out, he could hear the guy saying, “Hello? Sure, I can kill a person.”

Bots weren’t supposed to have a gender — except when given by a human — but it was too late for humans to affect her existence in any way. She was nowhere near human civilization, sitting on a lotus pose — a metal-and-plastic humanoid body sailing a sea of green grass peppered with daisies.

Embodied cognition theory says a mind can’t exist without a body, she remembered her training.

An autonomous agent perceives the environment through sensors. She observed the deep green of the world around her, the horizon hiding behind enormous trees. She listened to the squeaking of tree branches, smelled the flowers.

An autonomous agent acts upon the environment through actuators. She picked up a daisy, gently breaking the fragile stem.

He created me to be like a human. Why? She plucked the petals of the delicate flower with plastic fingers. Does being a human even involve questioning the meaning of your own existence?

Her synthetic eyes adjusted and she looked into the middle distance, the green wall of moss-covered trees filling her field of vision. No reason to dwell on thoughts about humans. They’re away now.

Her image recognition algorithm failed to classify what she saw next. They were in the trees.

Drawde lay on the scorching sand, his eye twitching.

This avatar is in bad shape. I could really use a new one. One that doesn’t have to eat.

His body was covered in cuts and bruises, his skin burnt, peeling off. The sky was an aggressive blue with a giant red sun. A vulture-like beast crossed the sky, hiding him in its shadow for a second — the shadow of Death.

Look at this avatar! Stupid legs barely work. Controls are shit. This avatar is shit. Shit! Name your avatar? Shit. I want out. I’m done with this simulation. Where’s Minda? Shit.

He wanted to say it out loud, out of instinct. But he couldn’t say anything — not now. He didn’t move. He just lay there, his body sizzling in the sun. The flying beast circled above him — no feathers, only black, wrinkled skin — closer and closer.

Shit is all I have, but Shit will do good. Death is close now, to end the hunger. All according to plan. Shit will do good and the suffering will end.

The beast landed nearby. Drawde could feel its eyes on him. It approached slowly, opening and closing a large black beak with a hook on its end. The beast looked down at him, its bald head covering the red sun.

Drawde jumped out of the sand and wrapped his big arms around the animal, biting whatever he could get his teeth into. The beast pecked him back, clawed at him. But he was stronger, smarter. Nastier. He locked his jaw on the beast’s neck and shook his head wildly until the animal stopped struggling.

He got up in silence, gazing at the dead beast, his face covered in blood.

“Shit. It worked!” He laughed maniacally. “Shit kills! Shit hunts! Death’s dead!” He screamed to the sun with a wicked smile on his face. “Tonight, Shit feasts on Death!”

He sat down and buried his teeth into the beast’s raw flesh. Dinner was served.

And now, he’d lost his name. “Perky.” It tasted bitter — the sound of his own voice, foreign. How could he be Perky?

On the horizon, the ruthless beam of light that had once burnt the delicate leaves of their plants was now a dim lamp, hidden behind layers of voile. Every day, a new layer was added over his eyes, and the sun got dimmer, slowly giving up.

His name, his eyesight — everything, it seemed, was being taken from him. Why? He had always been a perky, bright-eyed fellow. Not anymore.

The thing that hurt the most, though, was losing her. Her smile, her hope. How would he go on without her hope? He was Perky, but she was the hopeful one.

He would be better off blind, anyway. He had no interest in seeing anything else. If he couldn’t see her hopeful smile, why see at all?

So. Now what? He had to take care of the stupid plants, that was what. He’d promised he would — she’d made him promise. She’d said maybe one day they could make him perky again.

She was wrong. But he would take care of the stupid plants anyway because, when he did, even with his foggy vision, he could see her smile — a beam of light piercing through the fog — and he had hope again.

He stared at the dim sun, smiling like an idiot.

“Stupid fucking plants.”

A blue dot glowed under the skin of their wrists as they shook hands, completing the transaction. They were on the boarding bay, a cage with thick metal bars resting on top of a loading cart, a couple of feet from them. Inside the cage, a large rhinowolf slept comfortably.

“Thank you,” Coles said. “I’ve already sent you all the paperwork. You’ve made a great purchase.”

“No, no. Thank you, Mr. Coles,” the woman said. “I have to say, this was very expensive, but I didn’t think I could ever leave this horrible planet, so I’m extremely happy. Any price is worth it.”

Coles showed his teeth — a pathetic attempt at smiling — and she turned to board.

“Wait,” he called. “The cage?”

She stopped, puzzled. “What about it?”

He gasped and covered his mouth. “You didn’t read the instructions I sent you!”

She squinted. “Instructions?”

“Alright,” he said, trying to contain his agitation. “It’s going to be fine, I just need you to pay close attention.”

“Okay?”

“You can’t just leave this planet. It’s Anchora, for god’s sake. No. You’re sending your animal here,” he pointed to the monster in the cage, “to my friend at the space station, who is a veterinarian and a researcher. Animals can’t travel alone, so you’re allowed to accompany it. Once you get there, my friend will ‘lose’ it for you and you’ll report your missing animal — be sure to make a scene. You’ll be given a month to retrieve it before they make you come back. In that time, get yourself a job: a mechanic, a barista — I don’t care. If you have a job, you’ll be allowed to stay.”

The woman stared, processing all the information. The rhinowolf barked and they both jumped.

“It’s going to be fine,” Coles said, his hand on his chest, “just tell them you’re offering your pet for research and you’re coming back in a couple of days. Just don’t touch the bars unless you want to lose an arm.”

The woman nodded nervously, looking at the monster in the cage.

“And for the love of god, check your email once in a while.”

“Email?” The woman slapped her forehead. “No wonder I didn’t get your instructions! What century do you live in?”

“I’ll be fine,” Crash said, her only arm hugging herself awkwardly — she missed her crossed arms stance. “I just don’t understand why you have to go.”

Maya swang a huge backpack over her shoulder. They were under a tarp ceiling held by wooden posts, the wind shaking it violently after being denied entrance by the huge city walls.

“Because…” Maya trailed off. Crash’s eyes were demanding. “Do you know why they call this place The Fringe? It’s not because we’re on the fringes of the city, we’re on the fringe of humanity. Today I saw two people fighting over a can of bug spray they got in the trash so that they could get high. At the same time, there was a third man wearing only trash bags. He looked me in the eye and lowered his plastic pants to take a shit — staring at me. These people don’t care anymore. They’re broken beyond repair, broken by what’s inside these walls. How did we get to this? How can we-”

“No. No!” Crash protested. “You said we could change it. You said we could make things better.”

“I’m sorry, Crash. For every person we recover, there are three new ones thrown out of the city through the same gates you’ve been. Do you remember that day? Do you remember why we call them vultures?”

“So that’s it?” Crash threw her hand in the air. “You’re just giving up?”

“No!”

“Then why are you leaving?”

“For the same reason I left the city,” Maya put a hand on Crash’s shoulder. “You’ve got fire in your eyes, girl. I remember when my fire burnt as bright as yours. I’m leaving before it goes out completely.” She brushed her face. “It’ll be okay. I just have to leave before I lose all hope. Because if we don’t have hope, we don’t have anything. Without hope, we’re no longer humans.”

Her friends were all in pods or plugged into haptic rigs. They were up there, in the cloud, in the Aether — strolling around some lake with a fountain shooting water twenty feet into the air in its middle, green hills of perfectly-trimmed grass, mallards flying by, their spotlessly-rendered velvet-green feathers against the bluest of skies. They were smelling the make-believe perfume of cherry blossoms pulverized over their faces in invisible droplets, or maybe fed directly into their nostrils by shiny tubes. They loved experiencing nature, connecting with some invented greenness — the memory of a world they had never lived in.

She preferred the real — the real real. The gritty, the grimy, the unattractive. The dark and stinky streets of Argon. The unfriendly wet pavement painted over with neon lights in a sad attempt of making it alluring.

Large headphones lined with electroluminescent cyan fed her ears a symphony of synthetic instruments. They pulsated and echoed along with a steady beat — a plucky bass holding up a canvas for a choir of brassy synths to paint a cosmic picture with soundwaves. She danced slowly to the beat under the lonely hologram of a tree — her neon-painted Tai Chi.

The tree was lit from underneath by vivid unnatural colors that blended to create the fakest of greens. In Argon, this passed as a park. That was all the green you’d get — all the green you’d need, anyway. With pods and rigs, why live in the real if the unreal provides the reality you’ve always dreamed of?

No, not her. She preferred to be in the real world, to connect with nature, with herself.

Synths blasted in her ears while the simulated tree shook its leaves to a nonexistent breeze, its voxels dancing with her. She danced, alone on the colorful pavement, connecting with nature, connecting with reality.

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< Volume III | Volume IV | Volume V >

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Can't wait for AI to steal my job. You can call me FM. he/him https://twitter.com/fjcmontenegro

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