A to Z April: Z – Zealot

Candles burning, he steps out from the pool inlaid into the altar space, the leader was ready for him. Pouring the freezing water over his steaming body, he screams in frustration at the state of the world today, and the potential cataclysmic future to come.

“You are ready, come join us in our mission.”

The leader kisses his brother on the forehead and releases him to do good work. The descend the steps of the altar together as the final blessing is complete and they step into their combat gear simultaneously.

Leaving the altar room, they ascend the stone steps to a higher point in the old church building on the outskirts of the city, hidden conveniently behind a ridge of mountainous terrain yet still visible from the tips of the crumbling structure, allowing the observers to gaze down upon the corruption below. The leader and his protégé burst out onto the flattened surface of the tallest spire, surrounded with high spike-topped spears tearing through the night sky, they joined their comrades.

“Tonight, ladies and gentlemen, we make our move. We have waited for this moment as we have watched humanity enhance their artificial existences into a state of blissful ignorance. Tonight we begin to end this capitalist regime of technological torment. Who is with me?”

Joining hands, the circle dressed in black say nothing.

“We mourn the death of humanity on this night. We seek to take from them, they in their curated cubes of habitation, the key to their success; soon to be the key to our salvation, we take from them their light and liberty from mother nature’s grasp. Let us go and do her work.”

With that as its cue to wake, the night chopper began slicing through the air, whipping up a nearby mist in its spiral and carried those inside to their long-awaited destiny. A long tail trailed behind as the driver retracted its spines into the underside.

Gliding across the town, the craft passes over the city and all of its inhabitants as they went about their night unknowing of the developments to follow.

The heli’s journey was a calm hiss as they passed overhead. In the suburbs, a candlelight memorial walk for a local suicide slowly turned a corner into a neighbouring suburb as they mourned the death of yet another loved one, succumbed to the pressures of the new social hierarchy.  As they lifted higher into the sky to soar over the taller buildings in the centre they saw all the way to the coastline; a tall castle loomed out over the sea looking out into the distance while keeping an eye on the progress of the growing city to its back.

Zooming over the taller skyscrapers the crew inside watched as countless screens blinded the shoppers and dawdlers on the streets below with advertisement after advertisement on the wonders of METAL. Dazzled eyes stare up at the marketing as a black shape crawled across the stars above them.

Coming to hover above the infamous METAL announcement venue, the chopper waits impatiently for its moment to strike. Long tendril curling down, poised to strike, a hatch in the floor opens to present the target area as several guided charges are sent plummeting down to latch on to the intricate structure.

In the seconds before the controlled explosion on the roof, a passer by happens to look up into the sky and watches as a man falls from what looks like a scorpion floating in the sky.

One single scream is heard from outside as the roof is popped open like a can and the prize is extracted from the guts of the building.

Elle is pulled from her sanctuary, hanging upside down with her long hair flowing in the darkened wind. The tendril is firmly wrapped around her most prized possession…

METAL.

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A to Z April: Y – Yuletide

Presenting the turkey to the family, Carol sits down to enjoy her hard work with her most loved ones during her favourite time of year. Tucking in, they were all thankful they were together after a long hard year for everyone involved. Carol took a moment to think, pausing to watch her family, she watched as her sons and daughters tucked into their dinners while her husband carved the meat with pride at what she’d provided for them. It was a moment of total personal validation for her, this was everything she needed.

“Oh, honey, we’re running out of wood for the fire, can you pop out and get some? Its your turn.”

Her eldest son Michael, having finished his first plate of the best food he’s ever had the pleasure of eating, rises from the table and waddles to the door. Sliding his cosy toes into the stiffened hiking boots for protection from the outside elements. Shrugging a warmed parka over his back he steps out into the back garden and the path is gone, covered in several feet of snow. In the distance a faint glow from a lamp beckons him to the wood cabin where the spare wood is kept. The snow fell silent and densely packed, the weight of the top layers pressing the lower depths into hardened drifts as Michael trudged through the waves of ice to cross the garden.

The snow had gathered around the doorway, Michael had to take a moment to clear the snow necessary to be able to pry the door open slightly and to quickly shut it behind him in order to keep the heat in and the cold out.

Gathering a heavy sack of the best logs, he shoves it out of the door and shuts it behind him as he steps back towards the house. Stumbling and falling onto the wooden porch, the snow packed onto the roof slides down in one fell swoop and throws him off onto the layers of white below, spreading the bursting sack onto him, anchoring him to the ice. Buried in snow, he lays there struggling to move as the ice compacts his legs and arms. He could feel his remaining natural arm on the left and his remaining leg on the right begin to soak and chill in the frost as he called for the family waiting for him.

“Michael should have come back by now.” Carol declares, looking to her husband for agreement.

“He loves that cabin, he’ll be back when he wants to be back.” Michael’s father Colin stokes the fire as he watches the embers dance in the updraft flowing out of the chimney into the dark night sky.

Fading from consciousness, Michael catches the faint glow of yellow as he loses sensation in his forearm and calf muscles. Watching the white fade to black, tears freeze on his cheeks as he breathes a final chilled sigh.

Several hours pass. Carol’s expectation of a log delivery from the other end of the garden wears thin as she watches the final crackles of the fire dwindle into the kindling. Standing upright, warmed by a creamy yuletide nog, she dons her own winter gear to travel out in search of her son.

Closing the back door of the house behind her, the snow picks up and pelts her with flakes larger than the stuffing balls she’d enjoyed hours ago, they stroked her face as she lifted her boots high to bring them back down into the crunch, step by step. With a gasp, she approaches the cabin to see a swell of steam rise from a circle of exposed grass and scattered logs as Michael lies on his side in the mush.

Carol grabs Michael’s own arm, reaches for the METAL arm and her hand connects with the synthetic flesh with a sizzle as she feels an intense buzzing heat sear through her palm. Recoiling in shock, she angles herself carefully so as to support his own arm and chest as she drags him up into the cabin and the welcoming warmth.

Colin remembers Carol left for the wood half an hour ago and wonders if he is missing out on some sort of dessert in the cabin that she took for her son. Slipping on his own boots and tying his dressing gown, he sprints for the cabin and slides in a large patch of mud before the step up onto the porch. Carol is on the floor, Michael in her arms wrapped in a blanket with his head resting on her shoulder, METAL arm and leg steaming.

“Call the company honey, he’s burning up.”

Colin glides over the snow in a fluid motion to call METAL as Carol nurses her son.

“Please give me a Christmas miracle this year, God, I’ll never make another request again.”

She watches as the snow begins to pile up against the door once more, sealing them in flake by flake.

A to Z April: X – X

“Ladies and gentlemen, welcome to the 10th anniversary of METAL’s famous announcement. This is where it all began!” The Marketing director welcomes the company’s invited guests. The applause is dignified but confident, it echoes through the presentation space, ricocheting back onto the drones and transmitting it worldwide. The auditorium had been completely redesigned over the years, especially in preparation for tonight.

Rows of static seating ripped up to make way for round banquet tables, seating parties of 12 around elaborate centrepieces and appropriately delicate tableware; all lit with a mix of candlelight, glistening blue strip lighting curling through the tables to compliment the METAL in the room and some dimmed Edison bulbs hang from balconies and beams overhead for atmosphere. The stage had been lowered and reduced in size to become a subtle space for events such as these where the focus is the presentation graphics and announcements than a performance on stage.

“First of all, we want to thank you all for coming and for coming to our drone streams.” The spherical drone cameras floated without a sound throughout the theatre, invisible blades spinning silently, keeping a close eye on the excitement for the world not so fortunate as those attending. “I know the weather has not been the idyllic calm we have come to expect with our latest developments but lets enjoy the evening.” Accompanying the controlled sound system’s amplification of Mark’s voice was a steady lashing of rain on the roof of the theatre as a storm battered the exterior walls hard in long whips of wicked wind.

“I have plenty to be excited about but I am going to leave you with the woman herself, the creator: Elnora Frost. Get out here, Elle!”

Spotlights beam onto the stage on Mark and zoom over to the left side of the stage where Elle makes her triumphant entrance. A floor length dusky grey gown with a small mesh train flowing behind her, METAL leg pronounced from the silhouette proudly, now with integrated mother of pearl outer shell. Having just announced she was fully recovered from a recent injury and back to full health, she strode across the stage and took the mic like it was a missing part of her. She calms herself, adjusts her grip on the mic and from a defined red lip she smiles a toothy porcelain grin.

“Hello.”

The crowd are in awe. METAL hands clapped METAL hands, METAL legs stomped the carpeted floor and the room was alive with admiration for the woman responsible for the new definition of humanity as we know it. She flicks her hair hanging low behind her and her own infamous leg glints in the flattering spotlights.

“Tonight we-” Elle stops, interrupted.

The rain pelts the roof hard. The backdrop curtains shiver in response as some aisle and under-seat lighting flickers, as if in conversation with the curtains.

“Apologies about the rain, some times Mother Nature just can’t be controlled. Anyways, tonight we celebrate the anniversary of an important announcement. This year, on the 10th Anniversary we announce the new development, a leap forward whereas up to now have been mere steps into the realms of possibility. Tonight we announce-”

The rain bursts through the ceiling and showers Elle as a gaping hole is blown through the roof to present the audience below. As swiftly as the explosion, a long tendril slides down into the space and wraps around Elle’s leg as she drops the mic in shock, attempting to jump from the stage.

As she leaps, the tendril goes rigid and supports her ascension, meeting it, and whipping her up into the hole and away into the black sky as the distinct chopping sound of a helicopter whisks the driving force of the company into nothingness.

Chaos erupts from within as several controlled explosions decimate the structure as clouds of dust and guests disperse through the emergency exits, Mark getting caught in the stream of panic and carried out while he stares at the hole in the ceiling in true terror.

The space quickly empties to silence, bar the patter of rain falling heavily onto a growing mountain of debris underneath. Amongst the devastation, the graphic on the screen above the stage had progressed to the next slide. The announcement on the tip of the company’s tongue illuminates the rubble beneath with no one to see it…

METAL 2.0 shines proudly into the night, beckoning for Elle’s return.

A to Z April: W – Womb

“Take a seat and we can talk about the future.”

Sally sidles slowly over to the plush upholstered chair next to the counsellors desk, grabbing its supportive back to keep her upright as she walks around to sit down, making a brief sound of exertion as she situates herself.

“Now, here we are! The METAL womb is all fitted and you’re good to go for baby-formation. Now, the next few months are going to be tough as you familiarise yourself with the technology but I think you will do fantastic. Is there anything you want to ask me at this point?”

Sally glances down at her belly under her pyjamas. She thinks about the time she has spent in recovery, and the painful few years she has had leading up to this point. She has only one question.

“When will I have my child?”

“Brilliant first question. So, the way we have configured the womb to your own particular regeneration cycle, you should have your son, daughter or non-conforming little one (no judgements here), in approximately 18 months.”

“18 months?” She shifts in the chair and exhales a long slow sigh.

“It is longer than the advertised 9 months but consider this, won’t you want to make sure when your little treasure comes out you’ll be fighting fit to take care of it in these changing times? Who knows where we will be in 18 months after all. The 9 month option simply wasn’t available for you considering your age and current physical wellbeing. However, extending the period to 18 months means you can rest comfortably in the knowledge that deep within your METAL your child is being created piece by beautiful piece.”

The nurse was enthusiastic, that was for sure, but Sally couldn’t help feel like she was being sold the concept as if the womb had not already been fitted into her body.

“Let’s cover what you’ll be doing on a daily basis.”

The counsellor flicks a gesture on her tablet and the blinds slide across the window and a screen descends from the ceiling, infographics flick across as the counsellor explains the process of METAL womb.

“The METAL womb does not create a baby from nothing. We have programmed the technology to take the parts of you that you normally discard and form those cells into healthy living embryonic structures allowing you to grow your child from within just like any natural biological birth. Think of it as a new wave of IVF but we’re looking at it from a tech side rather than a medical side.”

Bespoke graphics fly across the screen, showing the augmentation process that Sally has already gone through. Several previous IVF methods bounce off the illustrated figure as the METAL womb intertwines itself into the patient.

“Now comes the fun part. The womb needs the time and energy from the patient, you’ll be required to commit two hours a day to the growth process. We recommend distancing them, to aid even growth, and the two hours cannot be within your own sleep cycle as the process uses your vitality rather than restoring it. You’ll find there are side effects, these can vary and we do not have a full understanding of the extent but they can be things such as: hair loss, nausea, breaking of the surface skin, and general deterioration…but what pregnant person can say they’ve never experienced morning sickness? Am I right, ladies?”

The nurse laughed, she obviously loved that anecdote. The infographic splits as it shows several different people, all with METAL wombs. One sitting at home, one in a quiet space at work, one on a train and one in a park.

“We recommend spending this time stimulating yourself mentally to cope with the growth process. It is a tough and intensive journey and we want to make sure you’re taking care of yourself as well as your little one. Shall we give it a go? We can chat while you concentrate.”

Sally reclines in the seat and attempts to get comfortable as she begins to concentrate on the womb within her. She feels the tingle as the device begins to recognise her intention and her body tingles. Small electric prickles flicker along her arms and pinch her fingers as she squeezes the arms of the chair in surprise.

“It’s an entire body experience, isn’t it? We have found people get used to it but feeling it for the first time must be incredible.” The nurse has a glint of wonder in her eye as she watches the womb drain Sally’s energy, physical material and mental vitality to feed the child.

Sally feels her scalp itch and scratches it for a moment, the feeling of her hand touching her scalp was sharp and confusing. Her skin ached yet it felt like physical contact was explosively colourful, scratching her scalp never felt so good before.

She moaned, and she blushed.

Sally lay in bed after the session and considered how the next 18 months would change her. Waddling back to her room she felt that little bit heavier with the METAL inside her, tucked cosily beneath her stomach. She lay in bed and concentrated on the feeling and felt it waken within her once more.

“18 months? Pfft, I’ll do this in 9.”

If she had have been looking in a mirror at the time, she could have counted the wrinkles around her eyes as they deepened.

A to Z April: V – Vat

Checking she hadn’t been followed, two doors slid open next to her automatically. They revealed a darkened room, indistinguishably deep but she could see the ceiling was high. The reflection of water was shone up onto the industrial beams, much like a swimming pool casts light in the evening, the sparkle was slow and subdued.

A clanging turned a corner as she caught the eye of two chatting colleagues in the heat of conversation. Knowing she had to move or else forfeit being spotted, she throws herself into the room, the doors slide closed behind her in a silent embrace and a satisfying chunk as the rubber seals connect, confirming she was secure in the new space.

Clicking on a small pocket torch she had stowed in the chest pocket of the lab coat she nabbed on the way in as a temporary disguise, she felt around for a proper light switch.

She trips over a shallow box on the ground and hurls a hand out to reach for anything to break the fall. Her hand slides down a smooth cold surface and lights flash in reaction to her touch. Dimming after the initial flash, fluorescent tubes splash a deep green light up through a large tank of thick liquid, visible through a large riveted window revealing the inner contents.

“Oh my god…” She gasped and covered her mouth as she focused on the contents of the tank.

The liquid held within it a vast number of limbs and organs suspended equidistant from each other, all floating peacefully with a horrid green tinge given by the interior lighting. Arms twitched and legs kicked on occasion as the vat slowly grew in height as she watched the lighting flick on one by one in reaction to her touch.

The collection of natural limbs was unnamed and unattended. These parts weren’t important enough to safeguard with personnel but they were important enough to keep alive, as she noticed several wires and tubes flowing miscellaneous stimulants into their inner linings to keep them fresh.

The doors whooshed open behind her and she dove behind a control console to hide her presence. One worker entered and approached the console.

A crane with a delicate claw swings from above and plunges into the depths. The liquid carries debris of several decaying parts from deeper in the vat that have needed removal. The crane whirrs as it stirs the soup of human bits and caresses those it passes by.

Selecting the limb of the day, the worker flicks a switch and the crane extracts a dripping unidentified organ from the mix. Fetching it from its metal clutches, the worker takes the part in a bowl and exits the room swiftly.

The journalist creeps out from behind the console and tries to retain her lunch as she attempts to process the sight she has just held witness to.

This was not what she was expecting.

And it was only the beginning.

A to Z April: U – Unplug

He lies on the bed in tears, the machine arm clicking and whirring as connections are severed and a part of him is taken.

Slicing and cauterising in minute specific strokes makes quick work of the unplug. Terms of the METAL limbs are clear and breaching these terms is a violation of the agreement made in the appointments leading to the augmentation.

“Ok you’ll feel a shock as we break the anchor point. Do not be alarmed this crack does not relate to any of your own bones, merely the METAL itself.”

A chilling crunch and a blast of air hits the boy as his arm is ripped from him. Several long strands of leftover connectors fall limp throughout the limb as they slowly untwine and drop to the floor.

“You will be expected tomorrow for counselling. Life without a limb can be hard. Life without METAL is harder. Off you go.”

And just like that, sealed and sanctioned, the boy slowly steps out of the room and into the corridor where his mother waits for him.

A to Z April: T – Turing

Elle walks with a confidence that defies all other egos in the room. She is surrounded by subject matter experts and scientists with knowledge deeper than she can ever imagine and she knows this, it does not bother her. Elle knows she holds her own cards close which her colleagues will never be able to replicate. She stops by a viewing window spanning several meters along and begins to describe the scene to her guest.

“You’ll understand that we are hard at work perfecting a number of different potential breakthroughs, one is the idea that computers can do the thinking for us. AI is a technological marvel, but one that should be monitored carefully. METAL strive to be the first to perfect such technology to enable us to shape its capability and use going forward. If we can understand how a computer might think, we may be able to assist it in assisting us. Please watch, we’ve timed this perfectly.”

An intercom screeches into life for a moment as introductions are made.

“Enter subject 1.” In a viewing window parallel to Elle and her guest’s, a researcher gathers countless streams of data from several cameras and sensors throughout the room.

A man enters the room and greets the interrogator warmly before stepping back to the designated point in which he is to stand.

“Also enter subject 1.”

Another man enters the room and greets the interrogator, turning to locate the spot on the floor and assuming his own position in the room.

“Test 126…go.”

“How are you today?” The interrogator asks blankly.

The subject on the left takes initiative and speaks up first.

“I’m perfectly well thank you. Yourself?” The subject smiles at the interrogator warmly, they do not receive a response, the silence is awkward between them.

The subject on the right has taken pause to consider the question.

“How is that relevant?” The subject on the right answers, with an intensity in their eyes that asks for more than just an answer to their question in response.

The interrogator turns to look at the subject on the right, head tilted to the side and shrugs their shoulders.

“I don’t know what to say.” The interrogator turns and blinks at Elle blankly.

“End simulation.” All three figures form a line in the middle of the room and walk out as one as the reset cycles through for test 127. The scientist opposite Elle makes brief eye contact in a way that says this has not been a good day. She nods and leads her guest on to further testing labs for further points of conversation. A question irks them.

“What were they measuring in that particular test, Elle? Correct me if I’m wrong, the interrogator is supposed to be isolated from both subjects in order to make a decision as to which one is AI.”

“That is correct.” She walks confidently to the next lab, the guest quickens their own pace to keep up.

“But the Turing test relies on an isolation of data in order to maintain a fair testing facility.”

“Oh, that wasn’t the Turing test. Nobody was human in that room. AI has been done already, we are working on our own projects, we just happen to find an interest in how AI interacts with other unique independent AI. As you saw, they find it difficult to hold a conversation like we do, it’s alien to them, inefficient. You’ll find by looking through the data that they calculated the future of the universe twice over in that room while we watched, yet they couldn’t care less for the well-being of their peers, we are seeking to change that because if the computers can do the thinking for us, what if we became apathetic to our peers with the thinking capacity of their magnitude?”

As if to punctuate her point, she glances into another viewing window behind her to watch as two METAL figures stare each other out until one begins to melt under the intense heat produced.

“Not even METAL could save us.” Gazing to the floor, she turns on the spot and continues to the atrium with her guest. The guest’s personnel were waiting patiently for her.

“Elle, thank you for your insight into the possibilities of the future for our species, I’ve learned a lot today.”

“It’s been my pleasure, Mrs President. Please, take my card.” From nowhere, Elle produces a card and presents it to the President.

Elle waves her guest as she ascends the stairs to her office as she normally does after such an important business opportunity. The President of the United States is the next step in global relations.

And she’s got METAL’s number.