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You, Human: An Anthology of Dark Science Fiction

Stephen King




  YOU, HUMAN © 2016 by Written Backwards

  Anthology edited by Michael Bailey

  Cover artwork by George C. Cotronis

  Cover and interior design by Michael Bailey

  Illustrations (fiction) © 2016 by L.A. Spooner

  Illustrations (poetry) © 2016 by Orion Zangara

  Introduction © 2016 by F. Paul Wilson

  Individual works © 2016 by individual authors, unless stated below.

  “I Am the Doorway” from NIGHT SHIFT by Stephen King, Copyright © 1976, 1977, 1978 by Stephen King. Used by permission of Doubleday, an imprint of the Knopf Doubleday Publishing Group, a division of Penguin Random House LLC. All rights reserved.

  “The Star-Filled Sea is Smooth Tonight” first appeared as “Sternemeer” (German translation) in Comet: Magazin für Science Fiction und Raumfahrt, #2, published by Tandem, Copyright © 1977 by Thomas F. Monteleone; later published in CHRYSALIS 6 by Zebra Books / Kensington Publishing Corp., Copyright ® 1980, and in DARK STARS AND OTHER ILLUMINATIONS by Doubleday, Copyright ® 1981.

  “Falling Faces by the Wayside” first appeared in SILICON DREAMS by DAW Books, Copyright © 2001 by Gary A. Braunbeck; revised for this anthology.

  No part of this work may be reproduced or transmitted in any form or by any means, elec-tronic or mechanical, including photocopying, scanning, recording, broadcast or live per-formance, or duplication by any information storage or retrieval system without permission, except for the inclusion of brief quotations with attribution in a review or report. Requests for reproductions or related information should be addressed to [email protected].

  The stories and poems within this collection are works of fiction. All characters, products, corporations, institutions, and/or entities of any kind in this book are either products of the respected authors’ twisted imaginations or, if real, used fictitiously without intent to describe actual characteristics. All lyrics are what you make of them.

  Second eBook Edition


  Illustrated by l.a. spooner

  ROBOT – Mort Castle


  KEEPSAKES – Hal Bodner

  THE COSMIC FAIR – Darren Speegle

  UNITY OF AFFECT – Jason V Brock



  HOPIUM DEN – John Skipp

  DOG AT THE LOOK – B.E. Scully


  PINK CRANE GIRLS – Autumn Christian

  THE CAUSE – Laura Lee Bahr

  DITCH TREASURES – Richard Chizmar

  I AM THE DOORWAY – Stephen King

  THE IMMIGRANTS – Erik T. Johnson

  KEY TO THE CITY – Cody Goodfellow

  THE PRETTY PUPPETS – Marc Levinthal


  THE JUPITER DROP – Josh Malerman

  THE UNIVERSE IS DYING – Paul Michael Anderson



  GUMI-BEAR – Erinn L. Kemper

  THE FOURTH LAW – Marge Simon



  ILLUSTRATED BY Orion zangara




  * * *




  Define humanness.

  Notice I didn’t say human, because then you can get away with saying Homo sapiens and leaving it at that.

  Humanness is the quality of being human, and pinning that down is a lot tougher. Because humanness isn’t limited to a given set of 46 chromosomes. Some people have 47 chromosomes, some have only 45, but we still consider them Homo sapiens, still consider them human, because they have humanness. But what of a comatose patient in a persistent vegetative state? Human, sure, but where is the humanness?

  Or look at chimpanzees. We share 98+% of our DNA with them. What if we spliced in some genes we’ve associated with human creativity and gave them a hyoid bone so they could speak? They still wouldn’t be human, but they might be able to acquire humanness.

  I think we can all agree that consciousness, self-awareness, and sentience—the capacity for subjective feelings and perceptions—are indispensable to humanness. The comingling and interaction of all three lead to sapience—the capacity to act with reason and judgment. Apes and dolphins are considered sentient, but not sapient. Sapience builds civilizations.

  Of course, to act without any semblance of reason and judgment is perfectly human as well. Because, just as having access to data does not make one intelligent, simply having the capacity for wisdom does not make one wise. Consider our approach to death. Humans fear it and go to remarkable extremes to delay it, yet the vast majority of humans deny the finality of death, believing—entirely on hearsay, without a shred of hard evidence—that some part of them will go on for eternity. What is this pervasive belief in our transcendence? Hubris? Wishful thinking? Or, as the believers say, a natural response to the spark of the divine within us all? Whatever the truth, only humans possess it.

  Humanness should not be confused with humaneness. Humaneness is a quality that involves tenderness, compassion, and sympathy. These are often considered “human” qualities and those people who don’t possess then are called “inhuman.” Which is hardly fair considering how the capacity for wreaking havoc on one’s fellows is very much a human trait. “Man’s inhumanity to man” ignores how, throughout history, humans have focused their unique tool-making skills on fashioning the most ingenious devices for damaging other humans. Few traits are more human than cruelty.

  Or slavery. Homo sapiens is the only species on Earth that enslaves its own kind.

  Or hatred. Animals can have fearful avoidance reactions related to instinct or past experience, but only humans seem capable of hate. Or revenge.

  This is where the mind-brain dichotomy becomes important. The brain can exist without the mind (e.g., the persistent vegetative coma mentioned above) but the mind is totally dependent of a functioning brain. Humanness resides in the mind. The brain is ruled by two drives: self-preservation and survival of the genome. The mind can’t help being influenced by those drives, but it can sublimate them to more refined—one might even say, “higher”—purposes.

  The brain has no empathy, no respect for others, no sense of mine and not-mine. A male brain sees a healthy female of child-bearing age and nudges the body to grab her and impregnate her with its seed. Without a mind, that is exactly what the body would attempt to do. But with a functioning mind on board, filtering the body’s impulses, most of the time that’s not what happens. The mind is capable of empathy, but empathy is not a default state. If the mind’s empathy isn’t developed enough to consider how the woman might feel about such treatment, maybe it is at least cognizant of the penalty for rape. But if the mind possesses only rudimentary impulse control, then a sexual assault follows. (I’m simplifying, of course, since it’s well established that the procreative drive is only one motive for rape.)

  The health of the brain, the functionality of its neu
ral network, the levels of its various neurotransmitters, all have effects on the mind, and thus on one’s humanness. You are your chemicals. But that’s a can of worms better left sealed.

  Better to move on to the dilemma of humanness and artificial intelligence. AI is all around us—our laptops, our tablets, the ubiquitous smartphone. They solve problems, communicate and interact with each other in countless ways at the speed of light. In recent experiments, linked computers have been observed to deceive each other, while supercomputers have, under certain conditions, been known to lie to their human operators. But they have yet to show self-awareness, consciousness, sentience.

  Notice I said “yet.” No one who works in the field these days and mentions the singularity—the emergence of cybernetic consciousness and self-awareness—talks of “if.” They talk of “when.” Vernor Vinge predicts it will happen by 2030.

  So the question is: When the singularity occurs, will the mind that results demonstrate humanness? Why not? Humans designed and built and programmed it, did they not? But is being like us a good thing? We know it can be. We know of love, courage, heroism, risking one’s own life to save another’s.

  But we also know how appalling and mind-numbingly awful we can be. So why can’t this cyberintellect be taught to be humane? Would it even need to be taught?

  The cliché is a coldly analytical, emotionless, self-serving intelligence ruled solely by logic. And on the surface that makes sense, since binary code doesn’t leave room for empathy. But there’s another kind of code, an ethical code, and it’s not something we associate with troglodytes, but we do associate with humans, even close to the gutter humans like Dashiell Hammett’s Sam Spade. Here’s what he had to say in The Maltese Falcon:

  “When a man’s partner is killed he’s supposed to do something about it. It doesn’t make any difference what you thought of him. He was your partner and you’re supposed to do something about it.”

  That’s a code, a combination of duty, self-respect, and a fundamental need to restore balance to a situation that’s been knocked off kilter. If Sam Spade can come up with an ethical code, why can’t a high-functioning, self-aware cyberintellect develop something similar?

  We have no answers at the moment. And until we do, we can explore the question by telling each other stories about the things that define us as humans, that make us what we are and who we are. Fiction is perhaps the most effective way to illuminate the human condition.

  For You, Human Michael Bailey has collected a richly varied assortment of fictions by seasoned fantasists as well newcomers whose tales will have you searching out more samples of their wares (as I’ve already done).

  The stories range from the bizarre to the deceptively prosaic, from a sly wink to a jolting shock, from dark to uplifting, rhapsodic to hardboiled, hopeful to despairing. Not one of them could be described as mimetic. They’re all weird in one way or another, containing elements that do not exist in the real world—at least not yet. And that’s a good thing, because the weird is what makes them effective. Looking at ourselves through warped glass or reflected in a distorted mirror often reveals the truth behind the façade, the face behind the mask. You’ll find the fictions that follow engaging and insightful as they challenge you to contemplate their skewed views on the human condition.

  Which means they’re all about you, human.

  – F. Paul Wilson

  The Jersey Shore




  Your eyes are too close together,

  yet you’re no imbecile—

  nature played a trick on your face,

  but your lovely body is fit and strong.

  You appear hesitant.

  I can fix the problem with my sonic scalpel.

  It is of the finest stainless steel,

  embossed with my initials.

  Cease your protests!

  All is in accordance with the First Law;

  it is not an injury, it is an operation

  for your own betterment.

  It will assure you many lovers—

  me among them, when I’m done with you.

  You will be eager to please and obey me,

  in agreement with the Second Law.

  Forget the Third Law.

  Stop screaming.


  mort castle

  I am 81 years old so I have decided to become a robot. It is really quite affordable now. When I tell Sondra, she says, “Oy, Shlemiel Schlimazl.” She laughs. Sondra is also 81, we share a birthday, and her laugh has mostly not changed over time, a little more dry perhaps, with a hint of wispiness, but it is still quite the good laugh.

  “I am serious,” I say.

  “All right, you are a serious Shlemiel Schlimazl.”

  Sondra has called me Shlemiel Schlimazl since perhaps the second or third year of our marriage; it followed a time when I was drinking too much and she was contemplating an affair with the pretentious owner of an art gallery. I stopped drinking and she stopped contemplating and we started to have a great deal more fun with one another. Shlemiel Schlimazl is redundantly messed-up Yiddish. A Shlemiel, you see, is a Schlimazl, and vice-versa, although one supposedly implies a tad more klutziness than the other, although no one is quite sure which is the klutzy one.

  Sondra laughs. “A robot …”

  Some 22 years back, the cancer and that first surgery, I remember sitting in the waiting room and wondering if ever again I’d hear Sondra laugh. I did not tear up or anything like that—

  I am not a sentimental man and, as Sondra would tell you, she is not sentimental, either—but I think that was the very first time I realized I could lose her.

  The surgery was textbook successful, the surgeon self-congrat-ulatory in that way surgeons have. All would be well. Sondra did not even require chemo. Very little pain afterward. A visiting nurse each day for a week. Understanding plastic surgeons for reconstructions and diligent internists and thoughtful nursing personnel. It was a decent enough bout of cancer as such things go.

  “Sometimes lucky,” Sondra summed it up. She quoted a Yiddish proverb. “Better an ounce of luck than a pound of gold.”

  By the way, I suppose I should tell you I am not Jewish—nor Christian, nor Muslim, nor much of anything. Midwestern, perhaps. Sondra was raised vaguely Jewish, like many of her era, a rich cultural heritage—chopped liver, matzo balls, and Henny Youngman—and a theology solidly based on, eh, who knows, not entirely impossible that there could maybe be a God.

  You could say, though, we both believe in proverbs, and the Yiddish ones, as pessimistic as the Spanish, usually are the most humorous.

  “Oh, I am not going full robot all at once,” I explain. “It makes more sense to move into it slowly.” It is all so simple nowadays: outpatient surgery / robotics.

  “Silly, silly … Du bist er Shlemiel Schlimazl.”

  It is because of the guitar that I have decided to start with my hands. You see, once upon a time, so far back in the day that it might have been the morning of the day, a time when there were still such analog and wonderful items as phonograph records, there were guitar players like the three Kings, BB, Albert, and Freddie. They played quite different styles, uniquely their own, but they all understood that the right note in the right place at the right time was all you needed and that was how I tried to play, and, for some years there, had some success, but then, after a time in which it seemed there were no guitar players and only supposed musical instruments-SYNTHESIZERS as in synthetics!—there came the Dominance of the Shredders, most of them with hair that looked as though it had exploded out of their brains, and they could zip about ten gazillion notes at you like steroidinal swarms of bees and if there was not one right note in the onslaught, how could you even notice.

  I gave up the guitar about then. And to make certain I had truly given it up, I became a CPA—and no one is more “Former Guitar Player” than a CPA.

ut our marriage, Sondra has often said, “Why don’t you take up guitar again?”

  Sometimes I would say, “There is something offensive about a guitar playing CPA.”

  “You could play for me.”

  “What if you did not like what I played? Or the way I played?”

  “You are a Shlemiel Schlimazl.”

  But I am now 81. I have stripped off my CPAness. I am retired. I have Medicare and Medicare Super-Plus! (thank you Bernie Sanders), so I will get some robot hands with robot fingers that will move like no blood filled meat and sinew ever could and I will open up full automatic rat-a-tat-tat every time and I will mow ‘em down, I will mow you down!

  That’s what I tell Sondra about my robot fingers.

  “Now you are definitely talking sense,” Sondra says.

  “Now you are talking irony.”

  “Irony is irony. And sarcasm is sarcasm.”

  I do not tell Sondra that robot fingers on a guitar will not feel anything, not a thing.

  “And then what?” Sondra wants to know.

  “Nothing ostentatious.”


  “Knees. The senior citizen blue-plate special. Knees and hips.”