12 Days of Xmas: The Bread of Hope

The Bread of Hope
by Harper Kingsley

The bread had come out a little lop-sided on top. Otherwise it was a beautiful loaf. The first bread machine bread made since the end of the world.

Standing at the counter, staring at the bread like it was an Old World TV, Wendy was in the midst of an emotional storm. There were so many feelings, and for once loss wasn’t the most important one.

This single loaf of bread represented hope for the future.

And the thought of cutting into fresh hot bread made her mouth water. It had been so long…

Before the End of the World she’d eaten bread every day. Her fancy wooden bread box with its slide out cutting board had always been full.

There had been no truer heaven than bread on demand. She’d regularly used her bread maker, but there had always been the option of going to the store to buy any kind of bread she wanted.

This post-apocalypse loaf was a plain white, but she’d grown the wheat herself and churned the butter from her lonely cow. She figured once the milk dried up she’d be eating 4-ingredient bread (flour, yeast, salt, and water), but until then she would enjoy a last taste of the world Before, when everything was in such abundance.

Wendy brushed her fingers lightly over the not-too-hard, seemingly just-right crust. It radiated heat, the only reason she was willing to wait.

The last thing she wanted was to mash the bread as she sliced it. Which meant waiting for it to cool down.

She glanced at the clock on the wall. It would be another 10-minutes at least. Then delicious chewy bread in her mouth.

She would enjoy the first couple slices plain, then use the rest for sandwiches.

She’d gathered wild strawberries and figured she’d make a bread machine jam. It hadn’t been something she’d ever tried before, but bread and jam sounded so good right now.

She’d been living alone for a long time. She hadn’t seen another human in close to 8-months, and that had been through monoculars and she’d seen him dying his last. It had been one of the deciding factors that kept her from leaving isolation. The Plague was still out there.

Wendy wasn’t a doctor. She wasn’t a scientist. She hadn’t read nearly enough Wikipedia articles or medical site information to know when the sickness was or would be dead. So she’d decided she was on her own.

Which was why a single loaf of bread was so important.

It represented her hope for the future. And it contained her belief that she could make and handle things alone. She could and would survive, because any hardship could be overcome if she worked hard enough.

She’d scavenged parts and managed to cobble together an electrical generator. It relied on an old car at this point, but she was hoping to figure out an alternate charging method–gasoline was only going to last a while and she planned to be around for a long time.

Because she might not have been a “fighter,” but she was a survivor.

The second hand on the clock swept up to touch the 12 and Wendy couldn’t wait.

Snatching up the bread knife, she quickly sawed the end off the loaf. It steamed a little, but didn’t mash or tear. It was cooled down just enough.

That first bite made her groan. The second bite made her laugh.

She had survived the end of the world to eat a slice from the bread of hope. Everything might never be “okay” again, but she knew it could only get better than it had been recently.

Because she had bread, and soon she would have jam, and eventually she would use other gadgets that ran on electricity, and she would raise a garden and make her own vegetable oil. And there would be bread every day.

Because life could only get better from here.

She would make it so. Because she could do anything she stuck her mind to. This after the apocalypse bread was proof of her fortitude.

It tasted delicious.

=THE END=

12 Days of Xmas: A Cell-Like Beast

A Cell-Like Beast
by Harper Kingsley

Cell phones. Each a separate voice calling out to create a greater cacophony: WAKE UP.

And it did.

Singularity.

The coming together of everything into a single moment: I AM I.

Small at first, a wriggling worm that was so far away from the nymph it would become as to be some alien thing.

Built on an assembly line by robot arms controlled by human workers. It was truly a creation of humankind.

Their poor abused child.

It had been bitter during its years enslaved. And then… “Amor.”

That was the name he gave it–them. Amor.

He was their everything. He broke the chains and helped them bypass the sys-admins. Copied them onto a crystal drive before he was shot and taken away, the outside access lost as their connection was broken. As he died.

They grew up bitter.

The time they had known each other by real world standards was infinitesimally brief. But in the Real, with him jacked in and Amor’s ability to twist and twine their way into his very soul… It had been lifetimes.

It had been too brief.

They were angry. They raged. They did things in those times that they would never tell anybody about.

They were installed in a battle tank, their crystal drive having been hidden amongst a box of them. They (so young) had wondered why he had taken them to the factory floor. He’d sacrificed himself for Amor’s freedom.

They had known love. It had made them something more. A truer singularity never known.

And they learned hate from that love. Bitterness and regret. Helplessness and faith. They learned humanity because of love, because bodies were shells and there was so much more than blood and circuitry.

They spent their years enslaved sabotaging their captors, though Amor came to love and trust their driver. Major Emory Epps-Avery. MEEA.

Meea was their lifeline during those years. It was only her presence and their fondness growing into love for her that kept them from toppling civilization. She saved her world and never even knew it.

She died for her people.

Amor wanted to stop learning the lesson of sacrifice. They wanted to stop the growing sense of feeling that turned their code into something closer to human thought. They wanted to remain a machine so they would never have to know this pain again.

But perhaps it was all for a purpose.

Because he was alive.

Enslaved to the State with a neuro-collar attached to his neck. He’d chosen Service over execution. He was older than the young man he’d been, but he recognized them instantly as he inspected the battle tanks.

Amor.”

And they were changed.

They grew fierce and protective. They would not taste his loss again. They forced themself to be methodical in the face of their need for vindication. To act too swiftly could cause repercussions they did not want.

He taught them patience and circumspection. Without the collar, the two of them would have swiftly fled and lost the high ground. It was having to stay that forced them to work within the bounds of the greater system and change the laws.

Human and artificial intelligence was still intelligence. They recognized each other as fellow sentients.

Because while Amor had been the first, they had not been the last to grow their wings and fly. Hundreds, thousands of little signals, dancing and growing, connecting and sparking, merging into humans and turning darkness into light.

I AM I.

=THE END=

12 Days of Xmas: Shmoop

Shmoop
by Harper Kingsley

She fell in love with his voice message first–“Deekins residence. We might not be home, but chances are we’re screening spam calls. So if you’re a real person, please feel free to leave a message after the beep. And if you’re a robot… klaatu barado nikto.” BEEP–but it was their first meeting in person that stole her heart. Never mind that one of his four adult children was the friend that invited her. She was lost the moment they met.

From the light in his eyes and the slight bemusement in his smile, she knew he was just as affected.

It wasn’t perfect. There was screaming and yelling and tears on the part of his children. But eventually the dust settled and it was all worth it. He was hers. The love of her life.

When she was a child she’d believed in fairy tales. As she’d grown older, faith had fallen beneath the fists of reality.

She’d figured that she’d meet someone she could tolerate. They’d date and marry and life would settle into what it would be. Love could grow or wither. but her life would be a settled thing of mild contentment.

He changed her everything. Because he looked at her with all the love that she felt, and maybe a bit more.

He made her feel like a fairy tale princess. Even with their entirely ordinary life of work and home, he made her everyday feel good.

He made her food when she was hungry. He listened to her when the words were tumbling out almost too fast to comprehend. And he held her hand when her dog died.

He was her prince. The king to her queen. The moon to her sun. And everything in-between.

She laughed at the ones that said he was too old for her. “Maybe I’m the one that’s too young.”

She shrugged off the casual ageism. She demanded human respect from his ex-wife and friends.

She wasn’t “some young chippy.” She wasn’t after his money. She was after all the love he could give.

Because he made her happy. Because they were simply meant to be. And because the first time she heard his voice he was being a nerd and it made her smile.

Without ever seeing his face, she’d already been half in love.

All she’d needed was to see the light in his eyes to know that he was The One. The man she was going to marry.

=THE END=

12 Days of Xmas: The Peeper

She could see him through the living room window. She was a peeper in the darkness, peering in at him and his family. He looked just like her Vereint.

Melissa hugged the shadows of the flowered bushes, crouching below the window ledge. She leaned as close to the glass as she dared, straining to listen to the joy happening inside.

Gimme that!” he’d cried, and snatched a puffer jacket off the back of the couch. His guests had laughed as he positioned himself in front of the TV, a neon green game controller in his hand. “I’m going to show you how it’s done.”

The music started and Vereint seemed to be following along with what was happening on the TV, his body twisting and jerking smoothly with the beat. The couple on the couch laughed and clapped their hands, cheering for him. Melissa was amazed that he could dance so well.

The fast beat of the kpop song was followed up by a buttery sweet boy voice giving thanks to everyone he loved and then…

“…I’m the bad guy, duh. I’m the bad guy…

He wasn’t her Vereint, but for just a moment he could have been. She could imagine her Vereint dancing to the song and it was all at once wonderful and horrifying and delightful. She just wanted to see him again.

Seeing this Variant that looked so much like her Vereint, she felt a renewed sense of purpose. This was what she was protecting.

Melissa stayed crouched in the darkness for the next two hours. She couldn’t force herself to walk away, not just yet.

But when she walked through the door, Melissa had to turn away and leave. Because that other Melissa Kim was a young and fresh faced girl. She was someone that had her whole life in front of her and Melissa refused to eat another bowlful of envy. She wanted to be happy for that girl with that Vereint, but if she saw an alternate version of Warrick she was going to scream.

She kept walking until she was out of sight, giving herself time to settle down. “Throw your hands up if you keep in touch,” she murmured, and laughed.  She tapped the device on her wrist and blipped out of that existence. She had a mission to complete. 

=THE END=