His brother had the nicest bathroom he’d ever seen—and this was just the guest bathroom.
It was spacious, had a heated floor, worn-gold taps and faucets, a giant white bath under a window that looked onto a small courtyard garden. Every surface was tiled with complicated geometry, black edging tracing every corner and edge. Tom shook the water off his hands and stepped back out into the main room.
New Soviet Bloc introduce conditions of citizenship
By midnight of October 30th, all people wishing to maintain citizenship in the SovBloc must:
- install self-surveillance applications on all devices
- installself-surveillance assistants in homes and workplaces
- turn all personal property over to the state
- be prepared for reassignment and relocation
Patrick had been living in Belgium with his partner Zizi Schamoul for the last three years. Zizi was an undergraduate when they met and he was finishing his doctorate. Patrick lectured on political history, and Zizi travelled back and forth from the Norwegian Sea where she was doing field work.
They had a stylish two bedroom unit on the third floor of a townhouse that looked out onto a central square bordered by other townhouses very similar to their own. They varied mainly in the kind of brick used and front garden design.
The square was a simple rectangle with a one-way road that wrapped around it. One half of the square was taken up by a basketball court, a set of swings and a sand pit, and the other, the side closest to Zizi and Patrick, was a formation of leafless winter trees. In its centre stood a statue of a forgotten military figure, his helmet spiked to prevent pigeons desecrating his verdigris bust.
Beneath the trees stood a gathering of young people silently looking up at their window. They did not group together nor speak to each other.
The first guests to arrive were Zizi and Patrick’s mutual friends Ricard and Dalia. As the hosts supplied aperitifs, they joined Tom in looking down from the tall bay windows at the silent staring youths.
‘They’re back, I see,’ Ricard said.
‘Yes.’ Patrick nodded. ‘Every year.’
‘What exactly are they doing again?’ Tom asked.
‘Protesting? At night?’
‘It’s part of an initiation ritual to the colleges. They do it to get housing.’
‘And it doesn’t bother you?’ Dalia touched her delicate hand to her décolletage and looked back and forth between Zizi and Patrick.
‘Only when they shout,’ Zizi answered. ‘But then we just close the curtains and put some music on.’
‘Oh yes, every night.’
‘What do they say?’ Dalia asked.
‘Not very flattering things,’ Patrick said. ‘Things you’ll get to hear for yourselves if you stay through dessert. Zizi has baked the most marvellous peaches.’
‘Peaches?’ Dalia exclaimed.
‘Yes, Zizi brought some back with her from Norway.’
Tom watched Patrick and leaned in closer so the others couldn’t hear him whisper, ‘How long do they stand out there?’
‘Until one of the colleges comes to accept them. Or they give up. It should only be a few more days at most, but each year they stay a little longer and become a little more vocal.’
‘Can’t you do anything?’ he asked. ‘Won’t the police move them on?’
‘They can only do something if there is violence. They have the right to congregate.’
‘How can you stand it?’
Patrick shrugged. ‘It’s a tradition here.’
‘Well, it’s an odd tradition if you ask me. You don’t get students behaving like that in Oz.’
‘No, there they just lynch each other.’
Tom was ten, glaring at his reflection in the mirror. Staring at the flecks of his own eyes while outside someone was knocking on the door.
‘Come on, Tom. We have to go,’ Patrick called.
‘I don’t want to,’ he mumbled, too quietly to hear.
The door shook. ‘Get out here, Tom!’ an older angrier voice shouted.
Tom stared straight ahead at the mirror.
The door flung open and uncle Jack grabbed him, his hairy hand on his collar, pulling him through the door. ‘Get out here. People are waiting.’
He screamed and kicked but Jack hauled him out of the building, not releasing his grip until he had tossed Tom inside the back of a black sedan. Patrick climbed in beside him. He wore black too. Tom flung himself at his brother, burying his face until all he could see was black. Black black black.
The mud churned around the robot’s sharp feet and it slipped backwards before immediately leaping forward to claw at him—Clthunk!
‘Kill bot paTROL. KillBOT PAtrol. Now it’s time forrrrrr—KILLBOT PATROLLLLLLL!’
‘That’s right viewers, it’s time for Killbot Patrol. I’m Garth.’
‘And I’m Yasmina.’
‘Today we are live from Chicago with a special report of a malicious new nasty.’
‘As you know, any machine, robot or drone can be remote controlled or have autonomic software implanted to turn it into a killbot. Each machine has its own inherent threat level so even a toaster set to evil, is still only a toaster.’
‘Just don’t put your hand in it.’ Garth giggled.
‘As robotics have developed, machines not only have better sensors and algorithms, they also have more lethal arsenals.’
‘That’s why the IPA started the remote patroller program. And we thank you for taking part in making a difference.’
‘Ggood workk patrollersrs,’ they squeaked, almost in sync.
‘Killbots can be anything,’ Garth continued, ‘that’s the danger of them. There are four things a machine has to have to be classified as a killbot: external sensors, object recognition, a targeting list and command control.’
‘Command control,’ Yasmina took over, ‘is what makes a machine into a lethal automatic weapon, or L A W. Law. It means the onboard computer can give itself commands. Without a human operator.’
Cut back to Garth. ‘Now, it’s important to not think of killbots as being sentient. While they can move and act like animals, they are responding to set programming and within each is a filter of targeting criteria. This is called the kill register, or K-list.’
The screen cut to a white on blue list. Yasmin, now dressed as a lecturer with a long wooden pointer, took over explaining. ‘A K-list is limited only by the sensors of a given machine and the details included by the programmer.’
‘In episode three we will talk more about K-list psychology, for now we just want you to start differentiating between non-harmful, potentially harmful and actively harmful machines. In your overlay options you will see the default coloured outlines of the robot you are driving. Blue for safe, amber for potential and red to show an active threat that must be pacified.’
Patrick put his binoculars away and stood up. ‘That’s enough for tonight, Tom. It’s getting dark.’
‘Nup. I’m hungry. Let’s go in.’
Neural implants approved by World Health Organisation.
Rain began hitting the window and Tom looked outside to see if the students would push off to find shelter or not. They continued to stand as still as they could even as their clothes became soaked.
Behind him Zizi was answering Ric’s enthusiastic questions. ‘Speciation? Is that really a word? It sounds ugly,’ he said as he bit into an asparagus hors d’oeuvre.
‘Yes, it’s a word. That’s not important, though, it happens all the time. It’s how rapidly new species are forming that matters.’
‘So, what is causing it?’
‘We don’t know,’ Zizi answered, ‘and I wouldn’t like to lay blame without evidence, but . . . it is likely the result of pollution rather than intention.’
Patrick tried to insert a question, ‘Darling, how long until–’ but Ric overrode him.
‘Are the fish deformed in any way?’
‘There is increased deformity, yes, but natural selection takes care of those. It’s the rate of healthy genetic change that is most unusual. We are watching an accelerated mutation cycle and the evolutionary process at work. Next week we are placing test subjects into the zone to see if they also begin accelerated mutation. That will prove if it is something in the water.’
‘Darling, have you checked the roast?’ Patrick threw in quickly.
‘Yes. It’s ready already. Waiting for you to carve.’
‘Why didn’t you tell me?’
‘Didn’t you see me do this?’ Zizi mimed some side-to-side movements of her arms and elbows.
‘I didn’t realise that meant the turkey was ready.’
‘What did you think this meant? I’m carving, see?’
‘Oh,’ Patrick laughed. ‘I thought you were rocking a baby.’
‘You think this is how you hold a baby?’
‘It’s certainly not how you carve a turkey.’
‘You just get in there and do your job.’ She laughed and waved him away.
‘Okay. Don’t forget to listen out for Bora.’
‘Yes, dear.’ She finger pushed him into the kitchen.
‘Not just us tonight then?’ Tom observed. ‘Who is Bora?’
‘Bora Gwon. He’s an exhibition designer we met last year. He’s currently in Linz installing a show for the Ars Electronica.’
‘He is. His work is anyway,’ Zizi said. ‘I think he is bringing the head of the museum with him. She didn’t want to let him out of her sight.’
‘He drinks a bit, and they’ve paid a lot for him to be here.’ The doorbell chimed.