Like thunder follows lightning, the moment of waking is often missed as the sounds of awareness rumble inside one’s head.

Tom’s awareness was triggered by the change of light on his eyes. He tried to roll his head away but still couldn’t move. All he could do was listen to his heartbeat and stare out.

Is this the same nightmare or a different one?

At first all was dark then a red warning light flashed from the side, revealing a dirty pane of glass inches from his face and beyond that a wall of pipes and other industrial protuberances. The red light disappeared and all he saw was black once more.

The red returned, sweeping over the window. Around the small pane was a trail of words. ‘Remain calm. You are waking from hibernation.’

Dim numbers changed beneath the window, counting down. 4.24. . .4.23. . .4.22. . .

Civil unrest over rationing in Middle East

‘Four two one!’ someone bellowed.

Tom stepped out of the bus, held out his palm for scanning, hung a number on him, four one something, then followed the directions of the armed men to form a line of boys and girls that led towards an opening in the white corral. A cart rolled by and told them to take a towel and clean their arms.

As he wiped his hands and arms he looked around.The road had a barricade two metres tall and behind it the pointed tops of white tents. In the gap ahead a nurse held up a checkpad and bellowed out numbers.

‘Four Two Zero!’

‘Four One Nine!’

‘Four One Eight!’

Four One Seven!’

It was his turn to go through the gap in the white wall across old footpath, onto metal stairs into a white tent. Inside was a balding nurse with a metal hand holding up a syringe, and a younger woman. Her skin was patchy like luncheon meat but she had big pretty eyes and silver lipstick.

‘Thomas Huxley is it?’ The blotchy young one said.

You have the sweeteest eyes.

‘Uh huh. That’s me.’

‘Just come sit next to Nurse Janice. Try not to stare at her scary claw hand or she’ll pinch you with it,’ she said laughing.

Ah! That’s the oldest cyber I’ve ever seen. I guess there was a time when square-edges were okay.

‘Stop telling them that. I’m really very nice.’ Nurse Janice’s smile was ruined by missing teeth. ‘So, Thomas. Would you like to hear what is going to happen now from me? Or the young pretty one who thinks she is so very very funny?’

Tom looked back and forth from their faces. He landed back at the old nurse with the claw. ‘What’s going to happen?’

‘It’s just two little pricks. One to take a blood sample. The other to give you the inoculation. You’re out of here in sixty seconds with your choice of lollipop.’

‘Okay.’ He looked at the young nurse. ‘What would you have said?’

‘I would have said you’ve got no choice and it’s for your own good. If you don’t get the Hastings you’ll end up looking like me.’

‘Oh . . .’

Nurse Janice took his arm, turned it over then raised her metal arm. The thing whipped up like scorpion tail, he gasped and pulled away.

‘Told you not to look at her claw . . .’

Killbot!

Children targeted in mass Killbot outbreak — Tehran

Tom opened the door to find a tall man in a thick coat standing with his back to the entrance staring at the students in the park. Beside him on the stoop was a thin and fastidious woman who cast worried looks towards the young people while repeatedly pressing the doorbell.

‘Sorry about the wait. Come in, please,’ Tom said.

‘Oh, hello. Are you Patrick?’

‘No, I’m his brother Tom. Come on in.’

‘Hi, I’m Anna Bakker and this is Bora Gwon.’ The big man turned around at the sound of his name. His expression was hidden in beard but he held out his hand and said his name.

‘Bora.’

‘Tom.’

Inside the apartment they were immediately greeted by Dalia and Ric with handshakes and air kisses. The tray of asparagus stalks in fauxciutto was passed around. Then, from the kitchen, Zizi appeared carrying a large platter of steaming vegetables. The smell rolled through the room like a change in weather. 

Zizi was followed by Patrick with a gravy boat and a bowl of herb salad. Ric and Dalia applauded.

When they had offloaded, the hosts came towards Bora and Anna and welcomed them warmly.

‘I’m glad you could make it,’ Patrick said. ‘Thank you for bringing him out for the night, Anna. Please sit down. Let us take your coats.’

Once everyone was seated and served, Patrick chimed his glass with his knife and stood up. Ric and Zizi groaned.

‘No, it’s okay,’ Patrick said. ‘Nothing formal and nothing long. Just a toast to good food, good wine and good company. Visiting celebrities and my own long lost brother.’ Here, here. Tinker tinker of varnished fingernails on glass rims.

‘So Anna, Bora, how is the exhibition going?’ Zizi asked while cutting some green beans down to bite-size.

Anna turned to Bora who didn’t look up from his plate. ‘There have been some technical problems. But I think we are very close to being ready.’

‘Forgive me for asking,’ Ric said, ‘but what kind of show is it? I’m not that familiar with the art world.’

Again Anna waited a moment for Bora to reply but instead he fed a forkful of potato to his mouth and immediately began to prepare another load.

‘Well,’ she began, filling the silence, ‘it is a collection from artists all over the world exploring sensation and perception.’

‘I have no idea what that means,’ Ric laughed. ‘Isn’t that what all art is meant to do?’

‘This is different. Each installation is experimenting with human machine interfaces.’

God’s Robots

Last week’s killbot outbreak in Tehran has been traced to an extremist Baptist group in Virginia.

Federal agents surrounded the home of preacher Bob Phillips to make the arrest. After surrounding Phillips’s compound, ready for an protracted siege, the leader of the group let himself be taken without resistance.

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A thin and dented screen door slowly opened and a man of fifty wearing a long white robe and ten gallon Stetson emerged with his hands in the air.

“I surrender to the law of man knowing I have done God’s work. With these hands I have created an army of righteousness. God’s robots. Nothing you can do to me can stop the apocalypse I have set in motion.”

‘Say again?’

‘Direct communication between a computer and the body, but not from the brain to an interface, but in reverse. False sensory input.’

‘Oh. I still don’t understand.’

‘Then I invite you to come along. The best explanation is to experience it. We open next Thursday.’

‘Don’t. It is rubbish,’ Bora said.

‘We have been working on this exhibition for years, Bora. How can you say that?’ Anna said.

‘It is trash. Rubbish.’

Anna looked around the faces at the table. ‘Please, Bora, can we not discuss this now?’

‘Fine. No discussion. Never discuss. The show is ruined. There is nothing to discuss.’ Bora drank off the last of his glass and refilled it from the decanter.

‘Surely it isn’t that bad?’ Zizi said. ‘Your shows are always a success.’

‘Bah,’ he spat. ‘It will be popular because it is Bora, but success it is no.’

‘So what would make it a success for you?’ she asked gently.

‘Chi. I need Chi Fang.’

‘What does that mean?’ Ric asked. ‘Is that an art word I should know?’

‘He means Chi Fang the artist.’

‘I haven’t heard of . . . him?’

‘Her. She is a neural artist who has created a helmet that can implant brainwaves.’

The other guests looked at each other.

‘She puts television inside head,’ Bora said, tapping his cranium pointedly. The group nodded in dawning conception.

‘Does it really work?’ Patrick asked.

‘It works,’ Anna said. ‘We have both tried it and it works very well. Eerily well.’

‘Without her, there is no show.’

‘And she can’t be a part of the show because . . .?’ Ric asked.

Anna frowned. ‘We can’t get her artwork here in time. Her studio is in Osaka and the air space over the continent is restricted.’

‘You couldn’t get an exemption?’

‘China isn’t really inclined to give exemptions for an art exhibition in Europe.’

‘Can’t you go the long way around?’ Ric bounced back.

‘No, the artwork was already in the air when the restrictions set in.’

‘That’s unfortunate.’

‘Yes. Both the artwork and Chi Fang have been impounded.’

‘The artist as well?’

‘Yes.’

‘That’s terrible.’

Islamic leaders call for end of religion-targeting LAWs.

For a moment it looked as if Bora was about to say something more but he was merely reaching for the decanter again. Ricard took up the dropped ball and served a fresh topic.

‘Well, before dinner Zizi was telling me something interesting about fish. Let’s go back to that. ’

Zizi easily caught the ball Ric had lobbed up and retold what her team were studying. The table resumed eating.

‘It’s not that there is something special about the fish, it’s that there is a specific area of the Norwegian Sea where animals are mutating faster than usual.’

‘I thought animals were always mutating?’ Anna asked.

‘Not like this. Not this fast.’

‘So there are other animals this is happening to?’ Ric said. ‘You didn’t say that before.’

‘I didn’t? I’m sorry, that is because it was in the fish we first saw it, and that is what our study is focusing on.’

‘What are you studying about them?’ Anna asked.

‘We need to know exactly what is happening to them, how they are changing, the rate of mutation. Everything really.’

‘Is it radiation?’

‘It could be something like that, but we really don’t know anything yet. We haven’t detected radiation above normal levels.’

‘Progressive evolution! Isn’t that what this is called?’ Ricard declared.

‘You could mean orthogenesis,’ Dalia answered. ‘That there is an inbuilt bias to evolve according to an internal force – or “plan”. It’s another one of those theories based on the believer’s wish that there is reason to the chaos.’

‘That’s not the one I meant. I’m thinking of evolution influenced by external forces.’

‘New Lamarkism? Coercive evolution?’ Zizi asked.

‘That sounds familiar. Is there any merit to these ideas?’

‘You mean the environment pressuring the animal to change?’

‘Yes. That’s it.’

‘Well, in some ways it is always the environment pressuring change, by changing the conditions for survival.’

‘What about evolution through genetic modification?’ Ric asked.

‘We don’t normally call that evolution,’ she smiled then dipped her fingers into the salt pig and sprinkled a large pinch over her vegetables.

‘Why not? Ever since genetic modification went mainstream, every plant and animal has become subject to amateur experimentation, isn’t that the equivalent of species deviation?’

‘Ric, what have you been reading?’ Zizi laughed and threw a bit of bread roll at him.

Explosion at Sacred Site (Spain)

While speaking to a gathering near Montserrat Shrine, Adela Manresa was targeted by a drone which flew at her and exploded.

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“We have all made the mistake of confusing politicians with moral guides and yet our governments have led us to the brink of destruct–“

With a flash, the top of her head turned red and she collapsed pulling the podium down with her.

Patrick’s fingers rubbed over his nose and nostrils, over and around his chin, the back of his neck and behind his ears.

‘Stop moving. We’re nearly done.’ Patrick said

He heard the tzzzzt of a can and felt a fine spray wet the back of his hands. As it warmed he felt it wriggle, like hairs turnscrewing into his skin.

‘There you go. You want the plugs?’

‘Nah.’

‘Okay. Now you know you’re going to have to do this yourself when I’m gone.’

‘Gone?’

They were on the roof of the flattop building, sitting on the edge, Patrick binocularing over the streets below, while Tom read out passages from the Handbook for Bot Watchers and played Killbot Patrol in the background.

You have been chosen as a scout because you are known to be reliable and responsible and also because you have the necessary qualities of patience and observation.

You will need:

• Hammer

• Stun stick

• Net

• Alert button

• Visor and gloves

• Water bottle (filled)

• Protein nibs

The street they were on had a large net pulled across either end, blocking any drone larger than a coconut from going through. The birds liked it for perching on.

They had a packet of hard nibs. The opening was just big enough to get a couple fingers inside and pinch a couple nibs which they then slid under their gas masks into their mouths. They were sweet and chewy once your saliva had softened them.

When you sight a malicious machine, you must:

1) Immediately connect to the scout app to confirm your location, number and description of the machine or machines – take photos only if it is safe to do so.

2) Press your alert button to let your community know there is a threat.

3) Only engage with a bot to prevent harm to yourself or others. In all other instances, await response from the patrollers.

‘You know I’m going, Tom. I’m going into the service.’

‘You can’t go!’

‘I have to. Jack hasn’t given me any choice. Don’t make it harder.’

‘But I hate him. I don’t want to stay here by myself.’

‘He’s the guardian. I can’t do anything.’

‘We could run away.’

Patrick laughed. ‘I’m sorry, little mate. Not this time.’

Lilliantheonly_35: I’m at Montserrat Shrine. There’s just been some explosions. –I’m okay Mum!

Lilliantheonly_35: drone bombs have gone off at Catholic sites around Barcelona.

Lilliantheonly_35: A drone carrying explosives detonated outside the Montserrat Shrine where @AdelaManresa was hosting a political rally.

Lilliantheonly_35: Adela Manresa has been killed! along with over a hundred others at three different locations.

Lilliantheonly_35: There has been a second attack IN the shrine. Rescue teams going in.

Lilliantheonly_35:The local government isn’t acknowledging the attack. WTSF?

Lilliantheonly_35: Okay. Government now confirms the attacks. Centro Nacional have told us it was a homemade explosive.

Lilliantheonly_35: I just saw about ten army helicopters fly over.

Lilliantheonly_35: More blasts reported from Tarragona.

Lilliantheonly_35: There are so many bodies being taken from the shrine. I count another 65. Not enough ambulances to take them away. They are laying them in a row.

Lilliantheonly_35: Police lockdown. Not getting back to hotel tonight.

Lilliantheonly_35: FINAL UPDATE: 3am. Safe in room. Room service on the way. My thoughts with the victims and families. I know I was almost one of them.

More memories thawing soon!

In the meantime, read more from this author.