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Relics. A SF-noir-flavored nibble

Relics, is an SF-noir short story set in my Threading the Needle universe. Read about my inspiration and reasons for this story.

I’m very excited for the release of Relics, a short story set in the same universe as Threading the Needle.

When I originally conceived of a story that included a replica of Charlton Heston, I didn’t know any of the following things: Charlton Heston was Chuck to his friends. He and Toshirô Mifune were also friends, despite a language barrier. Heston said that if Mifune would have spoken English he’d have been one of the greatest actors of our time. Ironically, Mifune served in the Imperial Japanese Army aviation division during WWII and Charlton Heston served as a radio operator and aerial gunner in the US Army Air Service and would have taken part in Operation Coronet, the planned invasion of Japan. That gave me chills. 

The thought of would-be enemies developing a friendship that lasted for the rest of their lives even with an ocean between them and despite the cultural gulf that also must have been there has its own appeal. This story is my tribute not just to that idea (ideal?) but to two of my favorite actors, Charlton Heston and Toshirô Mifune themselves.

AIs don’t go rogue. Everybody knows it. Especially SAIs. Which never really made sense to me. They’re supposed to be people just like you and me, and people—flesh and blood humans such as yours truly—are sapient and we go rogue all the time.

But you never know.

Digital citizens were one of the first truly sapient AIs. Who knows what happens after a couple of centuries of rattling around, especially when you’ve been designed and built as an anachronism to begin with. Maybe they can’t handle change. If there’s one thing that the last three centuries have proven it’s that some people just can’t handle the world as it is, so why wouldn’t “digital citizens” lose it and go rogue?

To be honest, I was surprised to find out that these digital fossils were still around, although with the rise of Nostalgism, maybe I shouldn’t have been. The Commonwealth tolerated the movement because it helped move the, shall we say less-than-desirable, off-world. That much I knew.

A leggy brunette with doe eyes, ruby-red lips, and an hourglass figure—some things remain classics even in this screwed-up century—led me into a wood-paneled office and “He’ll be right with you Mr. Elliott,” rolled off her tongue with a distinctive twentieth-century lilt.

Given that this was a museum, her accent and the throwback design of the office shouldn’t have surprised me, although I’d figured the front—a replica of the historical Grumman Theatre—had been strictly for show and expected the back to be, well, a little bit more twenty-fourth century.

The desk was wood, the chair leather, and what had to be a mid-twentieth century television set complete with antennae was tucked neatly into a corner. No computers, no tablets, no holographic interfaces of any kind, at least not that I could see. Two couches fronted the desk, facing each other across a low table—also wood. A couple of books, huge ones, held it down, their covers sporting images from a cinematic golden age almost five centuries gone.

I picked up the top volume only to find that while indeed it was made of paper, the pages were blank.

“You’ll find us in compliance with the law.”

Setting the book back down, I turned toward the commanding voice. Like the human who’d shown me in, the SAI in the doorway wore twentieth-century attire—in his case, a suit and tie. It looked a bit odd on his tall and broad but clearly synthetic frame.

The pixelated membrane that covered the android skeleton mimicked human skin to an uncanny degree, one that immediately gave me chills. The face too did a remarkable job of emulating skin and coloring, placed as it was over a bone structure that must have been true to the original human—strong but not overpowering jaw, slightly curved nose, steely blue eyes. I’d seen images of SAIs of course, but never met one. It was the eyes that gave them away. They weren’t orbs inside sockets and didn’t move as such.

“I’m not a cop anymore,” I said a bit defensively, I don’t know why.

“But you are still required to report violations, are you not?”

A smirk found its way onto my face before I could stop it. “I don’t make it a practice to inform on my clients. Tarnished I might be, but not that much.”

He gave me a skeptical look and extended his hand. “Call me Chuck. I insist.”

What a throw-back custom.

Awkwardly, I shook his hand. Room-temperature like a corpse. While it emulated skin right down to the veins and calluses on his hand, there was no accompanying texture. Images of hairs were overlaid over images of veins. The calluses were as smooth as you’d expect a pixelated surface to be. Ironic, no? He was an image on a screen, just as he must have been when his original had been alive.

You can read the rest of the story at the Baen Books website.

Publications, Sci-fi, Science Fiction

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