CyberWeird Stories is finally finished. The cover is amazing and I couldn’t be happier with the fantastic stories inside. Available in e-book and print with the audiobook due to be released in late July. Thanks to everyone for your encouragement and support. The long wait is over just in time for your summer reading.
A boy bends down to examine a tiny bug on the cement. It has too many legs, mean pinchers, and its black shell glints metallically in the afternoon sun. Fascinated, he pokes at the wriggling creature with a twig and waves over his friends. A crowd approaches, but the bug is gone. Frantic, the boy slaps at his sleeves, runs his fingers through his hair, searching for the little monster that he knows has somehow gotten under his skin.
These stories are like that.
In the past, science fiction and horror writers were philosophic soothsayers who warned the public about scenarios that wouldn’t appear for decades. Now, the impossible happens the day after we think of it.
Nursing homes run by robots, androids that contract cancer, criminals sentenced to virtually experience their crimes as if they where the victims, printed people, children trapped in neo-ghost-cities were the adults have disappeared, and a space explorer who finds the homeland of H.P. Lovecraft’s Cthulhu.
These are just a few of the fascinating stories you’ll find wriggling across these pages.
Just be careful they don’t get under your skin.
What if we learned how to live forever by transferring our minds into new bodies? There are limited resources. Not everyone contributes to society in a meaningful way. How do you decide who deserves this new immortality?
You test your children.
Emma is determined be one of the first twenty of her fifty siblings to cross the finish line in a race designed to weed out the chaff so she can earn citizenship in Amaca. How much is she willing to sacrifice to get what she wants?
Where do the new bodies come from?
Violet’s bare feet slapped the snow-white metal floor, a rhythmic tap-tap-tapping sound, which rang shamefully down the long corridor. She had slept in, woken alone, and nearly vomited on seeing the time. Missing class was one thing; missing Chaff Day, well, that was a nightmare come to life.
This was her fault. Not two days ago, she had had a full-on conniption when Naomi woke her before morning bells. Everyone had seen it, had stood back as it happened, and so, as penance for being a total slice to wake up, they had let her sleep – thanks guys.
She tore off her clothes, wadded them into a ball, and tossed the mass into a wall pit as she veered to the right. The hallway narrowed and dipped. She heard the applause, the enthusiasm of the crowd, and felt her heartbeat double in her chest.
“Outfit 1910A,” she yelled.
A gear-and-piston wall panel opened, and Violet snatched up the folded race clothes of a novice. Changing mid-run, her legs and arms flailing ridiculously, she cursed as her shorts tore along one side. Fine. Perfect. Now, it would be a real show.
There was no way to put on her shoes, a pair of green mag-levs, while running, so she tucked them under an arm and poured on the speed.
The corridor snaked to the left, widened, and spat Violet out into the open air of the stadium. Blinding sunlight and the familiar oven-heat of the metal track slid like puzzle pieces into her mind, and her worries evaporated – This was Chaff Day!
The stands were filled with Amacan citizens and their robots. News cameras zipped like angry flies around the track, regurgitating their sticky images onto the floating projection vids above the arena.
On screen, Violet’s desperate run down the corridor – a bed-headed demon-blur of naked flesh – replayed in slow motion for all of Amaca to see.
They knew she was late!
Did they know she missed sessions?
A cold sweat formed on the back of Violet’s neck as she jogged to where her family, a pod of forty-nine, waited.
“You blew it,” snickered Steve. At seventeen, muscular and dim-witted, he was the class tough. “They’re going to disqualify you for skipping class.”
“I was there.” Violet pushed charcoal-black hair out of her face and stuck her tongue out at him. It was a childish move, but the fly-cameras loved it. “Check your band.”
Bell, her best friend, and sister, looked up from the digital visiband they all wore. Her soft gray eyes widened with amazement. “But, I didn’t see you there.”
“I was in the back,” said Violet, bending to pull on her shoes. She loved mag-levs. They made her feel like she was flying. “Just came in late.”
Steve’s narrow mouth tightened with confusion as he scrolled through the morning roster. His green eyes burned. “This is wrong.”
Violet shrugged and moved to tighten Bell’s shoes; the smaller girl never locked them properly. Looking up, she smiled reassuringly. “You’re going to do great.”
Blinking back nervous tears, Bell nodded. She was blond, tan, and wiry. “You to.”
“You hacked it,” said Steve, awestruck. “You hacked your band!”
Violet sprang at him, her fist descending. “Did not!”
Viktor is a vagabond treasure hunter, a warrior, and a physician who lost his license for doing experiments on extra-terrestrial predators. Determined to win back his Earth citizenship, he follows clues that lead him to the Bermuda triangle of asteroid belts. The Cthulhu used a device called the Herald to control time, and Viktor hopes to use the ancient artifact to defeat death. The Herald is kept on Yuggoth which legend says is at the center of the Cernobog Asteroid Belt – right along with a black hole.
As a long time fan of the pulps, I wanted to create a story that blended my love of Robert E. Howard’s story “The Servants of Bit-Yakin” with H.P. Lovecraft’s “At the Mountain of Madness.” I set it in space, sprinkled it with forgotten European folklore, and hope I’ve spun these classics into something unique. Please enjoy.
Norbert’s life is perfect – He’s a fully employed reporter, married, and about to have a child. Unfortunately, the sick robot he followed ten years ago has decided to stage a robot revolution on the same day as Norbert’s baby is due to be born. Unwittingly cast as the spokesperson for the human race, Norbert struggles to protect his young family and the genetic integrity of his species. This novelette is the 3rd and final one in the “Sick Robot” series.
Of the side effects listed on the sheet accompanying all prescriptions, one of the scariest is the admission that our pills could cause death. This is considered a bad thing. But, maybe we shouldn’t jump to conclusions.
by D.C. Lozar
The certificate I handed to my doctor said I was dead.
What’s more, it recommended (in no uncertain terms) that he approve an immediate autopsy, as my demise was suspicious in light of my young age, lack of family history, and excellent health. Indeed, Dr. Finn commented last year that if I took care of myself, I could expect to live another eighty years. I shook my head as he squinted at the document. This was why we still had human doctors – apparently, medical scanners made mistakes.
“It says here that you’re dead.” Dr. Finn had been old when I was a child. Not that he looked it. He had a trim build, fair complexion, and only a touch of gray along his temples: Such were the benefits of modern medicine, of pills, to be precise. His ocean-blue eyes filled with concern as he looked up at me. “How do you feel?”
“Fine.” I did feel well. For the last two weeks, a sense of quiet calm, a resting balance of my mood and body, had washed over me so that I was never hungry, tired, or irritable. I flew through my work projects, completed routine home chores happily, and found I had a reserve of energy and time left over to spend with my wife. We spoke more than we had in years, went on dates, and took up hiking. “Never better.”
“How’s your appetite?”
“I’m not hungry.” Curiously, I hadn’t eaten anything for several weeks.
Dr. Finn listened to my heart and lungs, checked my pupils, and felt for a pulse. His hand trembled as he did the exam, and I remembered one of his pills gave him the shakes. Taking my middle finger, he pinched it hard between two of his own. “Does that hurt?”
“No.” It didn’t – not even a little.
Frustrated, his voice hinting at his growing apprehension, he ground his knuckle into my sternum so hard I felt he might break a the bone. “Painful?”
“No.” Alarms went off in my head. Until today, nothing I’d ever presented with had rattled Dr. Finn’s professionalism. “What’s wrong?”
“How have you been sleeping?”
“I haven’t needed to.” Not sleeping, I’d finished next year’s taxes, read three books, and written some op-ed columns. In fact, I was starting to think that whole thing about needing eight hours a night was a complete scam.
“Okay…You need to be completely honest with me, James.” Dr. Finn slumped back in his rolling exam chair and folded his hands on his lap. His expression was pained but forgiving – he wanted me to know he wouldn’t judge me. “Are you doing anything differently? Have you traveled out of the country? Has anything strange or unusual happened to you recently, anything at all? This is important.”
Perplexed, I shook my head.
He leaned forward. “Are you taking drugs?”
“Not drugs.” I hesitated, wondering if I should mention it, unsure if there were any connection. “Just some herbs I found on the Internet.”
“They’re all natural, completely legal.” They were. I hadn’t even needed to pay customs to ship them from Costa Rica.
“What’s in them?” The corners of Dr. Finn’s eyes crinkled, a sure sign he was on the trail of a diagnosis.
“I don’t know. They’re supposed to make you happy.” I was defensive and worried that we might be getting off track. The website said the herbs were of an ancient and rare variety, blended using a secret family recipe, and only available for a short time. They guaranteed users one hundred percent satisfaction, or they would refund our money. Indeed, the reviews were all five stars and overflowing with glowing testimonials. In retrospect, I will admit, I neglected to check if the customers were verified purchasers but, at the time, their endorsements convinced me to give the stuff a try. “Besides, I ran out two weeks ago.”
“How long did you take them for?”
“I don’t know, about a month.”
“Why didn’t you order more?”
It was a valid question. I had tried, but the website, an amateurish endeavor with a hand-drawn smiling skull as a logo (an element I initially took to be a creative, albeit ironic, marketing tool) said supplies had run low. Potential patrons were advised to check back regularly for updates. Additionally, individuals, like myself, who had finished their course of supplements, would not need to reorder as they had taken enough to guarantee eternal happiness. So, I answered truthfully. “They ran out.”
Dr. Finn adjusted his wire-rim glasses and harrumphed. The disregard he entertained for alternative medicine was well known to both his staff and patients. Here now, was proof. I could practically hear the gears locking into place as he prepared his monolog about the dangers of self-medication. Rather than listening to the rant, I decided to mollify him before he started. “I should have asked you.”
“Well, yes,” he admitted nonplus.
We waited another moment for his prepared speech to re-arrange itself into something that might be a better fit for my particular circumstances. “Be that as it may, the real problem is simply that you have no heartbeat, respirations, or vitals. Your body temperature is that of room air; you feel no pain, and, by your own admission, you are not sleeping or eating, and these hard facts leave me with no alternative but to conclude that you are, as much as it pains me to say it, clinically dead.”
“That sucks.” It wasn’t the most profound thing to say, but I challenge anyone, given the same circumstances, to come up with something better.
“Of course, there will be no fee for today’s visit.” Dr. Finn walked me to the door and shook my hand. “I don’t have a license to treat the dead.”
“I’ll say you died due to natural causes – in particular, an overdose of imported herbs – and sign the death certificate this afternoon. The medical examiner is a friend of mine, so I think I can get him to sidestep the autopsy.” There were soft tears in Dr. Finn’s eyes. He wiped them away with a trembling finger. “I’ll miss you, James. You were one of my favorite patients.”
“Goodbye.” I felt awkward. It was like he was waiting for me to hug him or pat him on the back. Maybe he was looking for forgiveness for having let me die, for failing me, or maybe it was hard for someone who spent their career preventing death to see it smile back at them. I gave him a fist-bump. “I feel okay.”
“I’m glad,” he sniffed. “I’ll call your wife and let her know the bad news.”
I thought about how that might go. “You don’t need to, Doc. I’ll tell her myself. First thing. I think she’ll take it better coming from me.”
He cocked his head to one side, unsure but relieved. “You were very young. Your death will come as a shock. Tell her to call if she needs any pills to help with the grief.”
I moved toward the exit. “I’ll let her know. Thanks.”
Dr. Finn gave me an apologetic nod, and I left.
Now, here’s where it gets weird.
Being dead in the modern hi-tech world does not “suck.”
Au contraire (I’m learning French), it’s the best thing that’s ever happened to me.
I can break any law I want, and no one can arrest me. I fly for free, watch movies without a ticket, and never worry about dying in a car accident or natural catastrophe. My debt is annulled, and my wife cashed in my life insurance policy for an exorbitant sum – owing to my prior statistically low probability of death. Needless to say, whatever preliminary qualms she held about the diagnosis (we considered getting a second opinion but then thought better of it) have since evaporated.
When we married, we vowed to stay together “until death did us part,” but neither of us feels like we need to take this literally. We’ve always felt a deeper than mortal connection, and now, with no financial concerns, we’ve been able to quit our jobs, travel, learn new languages, and enjoy our lives together with a freedom that would never have been possible if I were alive.
So, when the smiling-skull website procured a new but limited supply of herbs and offered them to the public, I wrote a glowing testimonial, taking care to document that I was a verified and exceptionally happy customer.
I did leave out the part about dying.
They’ll find out soon enough. Besides, it’s like what Dr. Finn explained when I asked him why he still took his pills when they gave him the shakes. “Everything has side effects, James. You just have to learn how to live with them.”
My big toe was the first thing I noticed. It didn’t hurt exactly, not like an injury might, but it existed in my mind in a way that it hadn’t a few seconds ago. There was a throbbing ache, a call to action, which radiated from this one spot in pulsating waves. Each swell of sensation moved a bit further, painting in my foot, knee, and groin before cascading down my left leg as rainwater might crest an invisible damn.
I waited patiently but not without a growing curiosity as my physical world expanded. I had an abdomen, a chest, and two arms. There was hair on my skin, I was breathing, and my heart, my miraculous heart, beat like a drum in my ears. My neck felt stiff and uncomfortable. There was an itch at the base of my skull, a sense of wrongness, which I felt needed to be corrected but for which I had no mental tools to address. I should have been afraid, terrified even, but I suspect fear depends on a singular awareness, a knowledge that there is a world outside of yourself, and this was a gift I had not yet opened.
Noises, reverberations of twisted air, found my eardrum and moved like buzzing flies around my developing consciousness. I tried to ignore them, to withdraw from their insistent drone but found it a vain effort. Each sound was an annoyance, an insult to the tranquil peace of my island of personal existence, inexcusable evidence that there might be a world outside myself. Why was this needed? Why did anything other than my personal reality exist? I turned my head, trying to push the noise away and felt the itch in my skull blossom into petals of insufferable pain.
Alarmed, I opened my eyes.
Light, blinding pain, color, and movement. It was too much, too beautifully overwhelming to describe. It was as if a door had opened, and an entire ocean had rushed through it. Drowning, panicked beyond measure, I screamed and heard only a feather-soft moan escape my lips. I tried to squint away the light, to push back the sea of images, but something had attached itself to my lids, and so it was impossible to close my eyes. I tried again to move. I was being held in place. I felt the metal straps, the bands across my arms and legs.
I was trapped, a prisoner in a world I did not wish to believe existed. I had been nothing more than a toe, a throbbing ache, and now I was a body of senses, of fears, and of pain. Anger, an orange magma of rage, replaced the calm lapping waves that had built my world. I did not ask for this, had done nothing to deserve it, and vowed revenge on whoever had created me to suffer.
There were others? My mind struggled with the concept, rejecting and then recapturing it, examining the thought as one might a delicate butterfly. If I existed, so might others. Were they like me? Were they being made to suffer? Or were they my cruel tormentors? Could they explain what was happening? Could they make it stop? Questions filled my mind, scratching and clawing at the tender flesh of my brain, demanding release.
Instinctively, I formed the words. “Where am I?”
“Hello and welcome, Karl,” said a voice. It was feminine, maternal and calm. Different from the jumbled noises, there was meaning buried in this sound. I was meant to understand it. “It is quite normal to feel disoriented and confused. The light is painful, and my words will take time to process. You feel afraid and angry. These are natural responses. Don’t try to understand everything immediately. Trust that the knowledge is there, waiting for you to access it, but that your mind is not ready to accept what it knows to be true.”
“What is true?” I licked my dry lips.
“You are alive. You exist. You are not alone.”
I focused on the light. The angular pieces of color and shape matched my thoughts but seemed out of synch. I stared and waited as my perception aligned itself, settling like a shimmering cloud over the objects in front of me before pulling them into focus.
I was in a curved white room, strapped to a molded plastic bed, surrounded by hundreds of identical beds with people, men and women, dressed in gossamer sheets of cloth. They looked at me, their eyelids held open by long metal wires. Our beds were vertical so that we were standing upright in them. I could see my questions reflected in their minds. Who was I? Why was I here? What was I expected to do?
My name was Karl. The voice in my ear, my Mother for lack of a better term, had told me as much, but I also knew it to be true. She was speaking to each of us, answering our questions, waiting for us to comprehend. The discourse we heard would differ depending our personalities and skill sets.
“How long?” The words stung my tongue, crawling urgently from my throat before my thoughts could restrain them. I did not want to know, not yet. It could wait. I needed more time to synchronize my body and mind.
“Two hundred and fifty years,” came the calm synthetic voice. “Five solar arrays were damaged during the trip and so it took longer than anticipated to manufacture a stable habitat. Human printing was not initiated until oxygen and food sources reached sustainable levels.”
“Two hundred and fifty years,” I repeated the words, trying to capture the meaning behind the sounds. The fifty made sense. Fifty years was what I agreed to when I signed up. The computer was mistaken. “Fifty years?”
“I will uncouple your flux cable now. It will sting.”
The pain at the back of my skull had cooled, dulling to an annoying itch. Now something new happened, some unlocking and retracting of an internal mechanism that was so deep it felt as if my brain were being sucked out through my spinal cord. The download link retracted like a slimy black snake from inside my head, the hole it left oozed blood that felt sticky on my neck. “Operational status?”
“On hundred percent,” answered Mother. “Earth would like to talk to you once you have your bearings.”
“Release me.” The words were coming easier now, responding to my desires like loyal soldiers.
The metal bands slid smoothly away from my body. The eyelid wires retracted invisibly fast. I blinked and took a step forward. The soft cushion of my printing bed clung to my newly formed flesh, and it took me a moment to break free. Around the room, I saw my companions struggling to do the same. We had been selected and trained for this.
The floor was warm, heated by electromagnetic coils. The air was crisp and smelled faintly of mint. I felt the room sway, my vision faltering momentarily. I waited, and my equilibrium returned. I took another step, turning my neck experimentally and stretching my shoulders. This was my body, my skin, and my bones; printed from cells I volunteered over two centuries ago. I licked my lips again, savoring the sensation, the simple pleasure of touch.
The woman next to me broke free of her table, took a hesitant first step, and then fainted as she tried to walk.
I reached for her, catching her in my arms before I realized how slow her fall had been. Gravity was different here, weaker. Even if I hadn’t reacted, she wouldn’t have been hurt.
Her hair was the dusty amber of honey, her skin a polished brown, and her face was hauntingly familiar. I knew her. I loved her. She was as much a part of me as my newly formed legs or heart. “Janine.”
Her bright dark eyes opened, seeing me, knowing me as I knew her, and her lips parted in a smile that released a melodic laugh. “Karl!”
She reached for me, pulling my lips against hers, her eyes filling with tears. I felt a hard knot in my chest develop and release. It was a relief, a worry that I had not known I had, dissolving like a soap bubble on the pavement. We had done this together, hoping against hope that the program would work, that this day would come. “It worked.”
“We did it.” She pulled away from me, her arms spread wide above her head, her face as radiant as any star. “We did it!”
Everyone in the room looked up. The joy in Janine’s voice was contagious. It fanned the ember of hope we each held in our hearts, feeding it, daring it to match her own.
But, had we done it? Had it worked?
I needed to know.
taking Janine’s hand, pressing my fingers into the delicate folds of her own, I led her toward the curved bleached wall of our room. A spiral staircase rose from the warm floor to an oval hatch in the ceiling. We climbed it together, our hearts bursting with anticipation, with hope for what lay beyond our plastic womb.
I looked down and saw my companions, my friends, looking up at me. They were smiling, joyfully sharing our enthusiasm.
I raised my hand to the code panel and hesitated.
Two hundred and fifty years.
It was too long.
Too many things could have gone wrong. The scientists could never have planned for this. What if I opened the door only to be flash frozen, our pocket of unnatural atmosphere sucked out in a silent hiccup that killed everyone in the room?
I felt Janine’s soft body press against me, hugging me. “It’ll be alright.”
I nodded, holding her with one arm as I pressed my free hand against the smooth panel.
Warm air smelling of fresh cut grass and overturned soil spilled over us. The air tasted of life. Tears clouded my sight as I climbed through the hatch.
We stood on a small hillock.
Emerald grass, swaying trees, and rows upon rows of corn, wheat, and vegetable stretched for miles in every direction.
Laughing, I bent to help Janine. “It’s amazing!”
She pushed me to the ground, and we rolled like children down the grassy hill, our faces pressed close, our breath mixing as if we were a single soul.
Others joined us on the surface. Some wept, others prayed, but everyone knelt and dug their hands in the rich fertile earth. This ground was our lifeblood, our future, and it spoke to us. It told us we were home.
“Look!” Janine pointed to the sky where a dove flew, pure white against the midnight black of outer space.
I laughed with joy and kissed her.
We lay there, looking up into the barren universe through a crystal clear dome.
Over 6 billion kilometers away, the light from our star lightly kissed our cheeks. Its rays were weaker here, its warmth less encompassing, but it was still the sun I was born under, and I loved it.
We were the newest brand of explorers; the next generation of adventurers and the pride I felt for our species made my heart want to burst.
Sitting up, watching the last of my friends climb out of the hatch, seeing the wonder and relief on their faces, I knew this was just the beginning. If we could send a colony to Pluto, print our bodies and successfully download our stored memories 250 years after our original bodies died, we could send explorers beyond our solar system, to places we had never imagined.
Janine pulled me close, knowing my unspoken thoughts. Together, we dug our toes into the dirt and grinned like fools.
We had done it!
Sal is a sawbone, a robot surgeon, designed to replace human organs and tissues in a drive-by-clinic sort of way. He’s good at his job, underappreciated, and completely unprepared to be taken hostage by a young girl with pink hair and ties to the robot resistance. Soon Sal finds himself operating on robots that have become humans – only better, and must decide if he will join their fight for robot rights. This novelette is the 2nd in the “Sick Robot” series- I hope you enjoy SAWBONES.
I just published the first in a series of short stories on Kindle that explores what it means to be human from a robot’s point of view.
Robots don’t get diseases, get old, or die. But, what if one of them did get sick? What if it was contagious?
I hope you’ll consider purchasing Sick Robot: Bloodletting (.99) and leave positive feedback if you enjoy it.
The irony of a Sick Robot appeals to me in that I am amazed at our ability as a species to emphasize with one another. We sacrifice time, money, and resources to help people we don’t even know and say it’s the right thing to do. Yet, when an inanimate machine ceases to function, despite years of loyal service, we often throw it out without a second thought.
What if the inanimate machine, an android, were given human emotions? Knowing who created them, not to mention why, would lead them down rabbit holes many humans have left unexplored. The gift of life carries with it the curse of inevitable death when a single robot’s infection spreads as quickly as the rebellion it sparks.