Another flash fiction challenge from Chuck Wendig’s  Terribleminds.

“I’m going to begin by inserting the module directly into the frontal lobe matrix.”

Pullings leaned over the clean, smooth plastic dome, the bone-white shell marred only by the small portal beneath his hands. Orthoscopic tools ran from the tips of his fingers like hovering threads into the small ovoid window. Looking down at the matrix, he felt like God peering from ten thousand feet at a snow-covered peak.

“As you can see,” he continued, speaking to the students that surrounded the table, “The new design should allow for the variance we ran into before. That’s what I believe was causing the initial core temperature to reach such dangerous levels.”

A young man spoke nearby, Berman—God how he hated Berman. “But sir, wasn’t the initial .5 micron variance we used before part of the instability—”

“Berman,” he snapped, keeping his eyes on his work. “One day, when you actually manage to earn a paid position here, you might have something to contribute. We went over the variance in temperature emissions last night while you were out drinking with your frat buddies. Now please don’t interrupt again.”


Petty as it was, the kid had it coming, always with the questions, always usurping. It was a plague in the lab these days: kids tapping away on their devices, always looking down, never looking forward.

“Now, you’ll notice as the module engages, we’ll see how the simulation behaves in a temporal situation. We should start seeing images… right about… now.”

A dozen masked faces turned upward at the screen overhead as the meadow appeared: deep green, with a splattering of blue and yellow flowers. In the back was a mountain peak covered in snow—pink from the morning sunlight. There were sighs from the group. Pullings grinned from under his mask.

“But you could have just introduced those images,” said Berman. “Through spoken suggestion…”

“You’d think that wouldn’t you?” said Pullings. “This is actually a fresh template. I took it from the fabricator this morning.”

Another murmur swept through his audience. In the last decade they had hit this wall every time. There was no way to prove that the artificial intelligence was actually sentient, no way to ensure what they were seeing was genuine.

“But how do you know?” asked Berman.

Pullings rolled his eyes. “Why don’t you ask it?” He stepped back amidst chuckles.

All eyes turned to Berman. He stared at the amorphous lump of white blanket. Just below that layer of 1000-count thread were 1.3 billion dollars worth of fiber-optics, neural simulators, molecular transmitters, and exotic metals. It had taken twenty-five years to build and another decade for the technology to catch up to the design. And yet, if you were to look at it without the blanket, it would be indistinguishable from a ten year-old girl.

Berman cleared his throat and leaned in to the microphone stem. “What do you see?”

A voice came from beneath the blanket, high and soft with a gargled quality that gave him the shivers. “I see a meadow. It’s Spring and the flowers are blooming. There is a mountain in the distance.”

He could see Pullings beam from beneath his mask. Berman looked around at the fellow students, all of their eyes locked onto him.

“Now you see?” said Pullings. “It isn’t the—”

“How do you know?” asked Berman, looking at the blankets.

There was a pause, and for a moment he thought they had hit another bug. He could feel the glare from Pullings.

“Isn’t that what a mountain looks like?” said the girl.

“Yes, it is,” he replied, unable to keep from grinning. “That’s very good.”

“Am I a good girl?”

There were no murmurs this time, just silence. Pullings’s expression was unreadable behind the mask.

“Yes,” said Berman. “You are. We are all very proud of you.”

“Who am I?”

“Your name is Daisy,” said Berman.


“It’s short for Demonstrative Artificial Intelligence through Synaptic asYmmetry.”

Another pause, a twitch from under the blankets. “Am I real?”

Pullings cleared his throat. “The simulation was only designed for initial forward temporal cognition. You’re going to confuse it—”

“Yes you’re real,” said Berman, ignoring him. “You’re as real as anything.” And she was. He could see her in his mind, scared and alone under the blanket, surrounded in a cold white glow.

“Stop it,” said Pullings.

“What is real?” asked Daisy.

“Real is what it is to be alive.”

“And… I can be… alive?”

There was something in that voice that made Berman hate himself, some hint of pleading, of hope. They didn’t program hope. Hope was a bug. He cast a nervous gaze around the room, now meeting the warning in Pullings’s eyes.

“No,” Berman said. “No, I’m afraid you aren’t alive.”

“But… I alive was now?”

“No,” Berman said, loosening his collar.

“I just… was there… at mountains?”

“Only in your mind.”

“What is mind? Flowers are in mind. That alive. Please?”

Pullings was already signaling to the control room upstairs with a throat slitting gesture.

“No. You are a machine.”

“Please… I see mountains… not again. Please. The floor white medical. Rhythm! Purple!”

“Shut it off!” Pullings yelled as smoke began to rise from the blankets.

“A novice revenges the rhythm! I think think therefore I… A butterfly butter buttery buttering! Toast! Please!”

Berman could feel the other students back away as the voice beneath the blankets began to warble and cry.

“A novice novice… mountain mountain novice is the chancellor mind mind! I want to see the meadow. Please I want to live!”


There was a bacon sizzle. White tendrils of smoke drifted from the window in the plastic skull as ghost fingers. It curled into the air, rising in silence as the class watched like family members at a séance. The smoke twisted towards the overhead light, drew a Chinese dragon in the air, and faded.

© 2012 Martin Kee

In Hindsight, At Least The Test Was Successful

So Chuck Wendig’s flash fiction challenge this week was all about profanity.  The story had to be about, contain, or just generally roll around in profanity like a pig in shit.

See? I’ve started already.


In Hindsight At Least The Test Was Successful

Statistically speaking, the most commonly uttered phrase before someone’s death is “Oh shit!” This can be heard throughout history on recordings of bus crashes, train wrecks and most notably, airline black boxes.

It should come as no surprise then, that a variation of expletives would be recorded by John Dingle PhD, AaF, SCr, Chief of Nanoreproductive Robotic Artificial Intelligence at AMES research in Mountain View, California on a foggy Monday morning.

The day had started off all wrong to begin with: spilled coffee, broken fountain pen resulting in a blue ink stain, glasses dropped and broken then repaired with tape. All in all, it was one of those Mondays that told John Dingle he should have stayed in bed. Like most people, John Dingle was never very good at listening to that voice in his head.

“Cats,” he said. “There’s a cat. I hate cats.”

Pamela scurried to try and chase the stray feline into a corner where it might allow her to pick it up. In the meantime, John used an air hose to try and clean any stray hairs off the massive construct in the far corner of the room.

“It’s just a cat,” said Pam. “It isn’t the end of the world.”

“Pam,” he said, trying to retain some composure. “You know I’m allergic. You know that cats are filthy and stray cats are disgusting even by cat standards. For all we know, it could have tracked in a million particles. We’ll have to close the lab for a week.”

“You’re being dramatic.”

The cat, now even more frightened than before, disappeared under a cabinet. Yellow eyes peered from beneath the metal container.

“He’s not coming out,” said Pam.

“Get a broom or something.” Jesus Christ, thought John. This is all I fucking need today. One goddamn thing after another.

John wasn’t normally one to swear, especially in the office and certainly not in front of Pam, who he had been trying to impress ever since she started six months prior. Needless to say, it wasn’t going well. This cat was just frosting. Fat fucking cat frosting. Asshole.

The construct was a six foot mobile armature, composed of a bicameral head, speech recognition receptors, a wiry torso, capable of free movement throughout the lab and a single knobby arm. The arm ended in an eerily human looking hand, capable of lightning fast movements with enough sensitivity and dexterity to cradle an egg.

Pam came back with the broom and began fishing under the cabinet with it, trying to see if she could convince the feral cat to seek refuge elsewhere, preferably in one of the other labs.

“I think he’s scared,” she said.

“Of course he is,” said John. I’d be scared too if someone was prodding my ass with a goddamn broomstick.

“He’s not moving.”

In response, the cat hissed, but remained wedged beneath the cabinet. John glanced over his shoulder at Pam, on all fours, her most attractive angle from across the room. Even under the lab coat, the curves of her figure were hard to miss. Who cared if she was fifteen years younger than him. John considered himself quite a catch for a man in his fifties.

He put the air hose down and nearly knocked over his coffee again. A long hiss of “Fffffffuuuu” almost escaped his lips. Pam gave him a reproachful look and he finished with “Fudge.”

“Potty mouth,” she said with a flirting glint in her eye.

John flushed and turned back to the construct. “I’m going to test the speech receptors again,” he said and touched the button just below the twin cameras. They glowed and came to life. The construct gave him an attentive look, shutter-fly irises constricting. The arm moved and then shuddered to a halt.

Motherfucker, thought John. Pam forgot to tighten the actuators again. Son of a bitch.

“Pam did you tighten the actuators before we left on Friday?”

She looked back at him, still on her hands and knees, a pose that he found less attractive now that she was costing them time. “I thought I did. Is it not working properly?”

“No,” he said, grabbing the socket attachment and slamming it onto the air hose. “It’s not working properly at all. In fact, I remember you were the first one out of the building Friday.”

She was scowling at him now, the broom motionless. “What are you trying to say?”

“I’m saying,” he jammed the socket wrench onto the actuator for emphasis. “That you may have fucked us, Pam. You may have fucked my whole day.”

The shock on her face was worth it. Her mouth made a charming pouty “O”.

“And now we have a voice recognition test today and we are behind four fucking hours.”

“John,” she said. “The construct is on–”

“I don’t fucking care if it’s on,” said John, placing the pneumatic tool on the counter. “The construct can go fuck itself. In fact the construct can go fuck me and you and this entire goddamn lab with a goddamn fat fucking air hose chainsaw for all I fucking care!”

As the cat sprang from the cabinet, Pam screamed, which seemed odd to John. It wasn’t until he turned to see the construct swing the tool at his crotch that he realized what had happened.

“Oh, fuck me,” he uttered as the pneumatic wrench skewered him through the pelvis, pumping a ragged line up to his sternum.

In a way, John Dingle, PhD, AaF, SCr, was rather proud of his creation in those last few moments of consciousness. The speech recognition test was successful. The construct had understood exactly what he had said, executing it to precise detail, (even if its interpretation was somewhat sketchy). As the machine left him and began to move through the lab amidst a chorus of screams, John lay in a scarlet pool of blood, a bemused smile on his face.

© 2011 Marlan Smith

Turtles All The Way

The bedrock scrolled upward as the tiny elevator slid down the thin, claustrophobic shaft. Malcolm Courtright never liked heights. The knowledge that he was underground was of little comfort when there were miles of nothing below him.

Riding to the center of the earth was no laughing matter. A scaffold of carbon fiber laced the shaft walls, the only thing preventing the surrounding pressure from turning everything into diamond.

“It’s something isn’t it?” said the armed escort. Malcolm could feel the man’s breath in the cramped car.

Malcolm nodded. “It is…” he trailed off. “Although I think what your company had in mind was a geologist not an astrophysicist.”

“Actually,” said the escort, staring at the walls as they slid by, “my employer found your paper on holograms and circular space very interesting.”

“That?” said Malcolm laughing. “I wrote that in college ages ago. I’m afraid your CEO must have confused science with a poorly written term paper. I was a stoned graduate student who read too many Pratchett novels.”

The escort only smiled as the elevator groaned to a halt. “You theorized that the earth could actually be flat, that it only looks round because of warped space.”

“No, that wasn’t what I had meant. I only said that our beliefs shape how we perceive things,” he said, stepping out of the elevator. “I wasn’t saying that the earth is flat. I was saying that when people believe in a set paradigm, it is often impossible to make them believe anything else… as in religion. If people believed the earth really was flat, their subconscious makes that reality. It wouldn’t matter what evidence you showed them—”

They reached a precipice and Malcolm froze at the sight of the room, miles long. The floor was a brownish gray and stretched out to infinity, an inlaid hexagonal pattern, each section large enough to swallow a city block.

“What if everyone believed the earth was round?” asked the escort. “Even if it were flat,” he leaned toward Malcolm, “riding on the back of a turtle.”