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Hardwired Humanity
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ISBN-10: 1-77115-243-5
ISBN-13: 
Genre: Science Fiction/Fantasy/SF
eBook Length: 177 Pages
Published: April 2015

From inside the flap

The quest for knowledge drives men and women to do amazing things in the name of science but not all amazing things are good. There are always those who would use technology and scientific breakthrough to rule, to conquer. And there are always those who will fight back.

We spend our days with machines in every pocket, on every wrist, jammed into every ear. We have become dependent on our technological wonders but, what happens when they start to wake? When they begin to talk back, to judge our actions. How will humanity measure up in the eyes of our creations? Follow these machines, or near machines, as they discover all that makes them human and what sets them apart. Standing on the threshold between man and machine, is it possible for a machine to be more more human than her creators?

An inventor on the run learns the truth of his past and discovers how far he’ll go for what matters most. A former fighter pilot must overcome her limitations to save her passenger and bear witness to the rebirth of his planet. A young soldier learns the true cost of war and the lengths men will go to to claim victory. A woman crosses the threshold of scientfic breakthrough and becomes something more than human.

Artificial intelligences, machines that think, hurt, and question. They love despite the cost. They protect despite the danger. Follow these machines, or near machines, join Kora, Avery, and Shade on their journey to discover all that makes them human, even when they aren’t.

Reviews and Awards

“...one of the reasons why I love this genre, is because along with a cracking good tale, the best writers also offer me interestingly difficult moral issues to consider. And Sarah Wagner is right up there with the best.”

“is a wonderful compilation of short stories full of drama and superb imagery.”

Hardwired Humanity (Excerpt)


Table of Contents

Switch

Venus and the Birth of Zephyrus

When Closed Eyes Open

Canned Man

Wreck of the Griffin

Evolution of a Shadow


Switch

1

There wasn't enough pavement in the city for him to drive off his mood. The streets were crowded with traffic but Spider barely noticed. He tightened his grip on the wheel and the wipers swished against the light drizzle. People moved around him, in cars, on foot, swarming toward something.

He'd been in Miami too long. They had to know where he was now and it wouldn't be long before someone came after him. They had been hunting him for nearly a decade, since the first testing of his disrupter. Spider had been lucky and kept a step ahead, but he feared that, this time, he'd been too complacent. He drove, seeing every face, inspecting every shadow, peering into every passing vehicle. Everything loomed, threatened. He ran a hand into his jacket, feeling the familiar worn grip of his old Beretta 9mm, comforted by its presence.

From the corner of his eye, he saw a woman with black hair and wide eyes standing on the sidewalk. She had stopped to light a cigarette. Her lighter flared and the cigarette caught, a plume of smoke hung heavily in the damp air. He watched in his mirror as she started walking again, pressing her bag against her, moving too quickly. Spider saw the two men behind her and knew immediately that they were tailing her. It didn't surprise him to see the woman throw down her cigarette and break into a run. For a brief moment, he admired the curve of her hip, swaying as she ran, as rhythmically as the windshield wipers.

The light in front of him glared an angry red and Spider stopped the car, pressing the button to unlock the doors. He watched her falter at the corner, her eyes searching for a way out. Just before he could roll the window down, she flung open his passenger door and threw herself inside. "Hang on." He couldn't help but smile as he slammed his foot down on the gas pedal almost before his passenger had a chance to blink.

"Thank you." She was trembling, her voice quiet and frightened. She turned to him and he watched her features change out of the corner of his eye. She was wary of him, like everyone else. The shaved, heavily tattooed head always made them step back.

"Don't thank me yet. They're still following." He glanced up into the rearview mirror. "See the gray sedan, three cars back? Your men hopped in when you decided to hitch."

"Of course they did." She slumped down in the seat. "I'm so sorry. I don't want you to get in trouble here. Just stop and let me out. They'll let you go."

"Why are they chasing you?"

"I have something they want." She turned in her seat to look out the back window. "They're too close. It's useless. They'll catch us for sure."

"No they won't." He reached into his leather jacket and pulled out a machine the size of a cell phone. "Hold on."

"What is that?" Her eyes went wide with fear as he slowed the car. "What do you think you're doing? We have to keep going!"

"Trust me." He slammed on the brakes and turned off the car. He pressed a small red key and everything stopped.

The moment he glanced at her, Spider knew something was wrong. His passenger sat frozen, whatever she'd been about to say silenced. He cursed, panic knotting his gut as he heard the breaking of glass behind him. One of the men in the chasing car had busted out the window and started shooting at them. He glanced at the number screen and the moment the counter hit zero, he turned the key in the ignition, the car jerking back to life. A bullet hit the trunk as he started the car. He took off, chancing a quick glance behind him to see the man with the gun climbing out of the broken window. He maneuvered easily around dead vehicles and gawking pedestrians.

He sped through the streets easily, twisting and turning through the alleys. Pressing a small button on the steering wheel, he paused for a breath and gunned the machine through a newly opened door that automatically began its quick descent the moment the car had passed fully into the cavernous hold of the rented storage unit. In the folds of relative safety, Spider inspected his passenger. If the disrupter had shut her down, that could only mean one thing. She was a machine. If it were true, her construction was glorious.

Her skin was soft and smooth to the touch, a thousand times more real than any cyberskin available on the market, even in testing. Spider touched a length of hair. It didn't feel synthetic or even dyed. The woman's shape was natural, imperfect but pleasing. Through her damp blouse, he could tell that her breasts weren't exactly even, the left just a fraction larger but not so much as to be awkward. He'd never have thought they were fakes. Never. Everything about her looked real, smelled real, felt real. But, his disrupter had shut her off.

A small nagging part of him told him to ditch the girl and get out of town. But, his curiosity piqued, he couldn't leave the machine. He'd spent his whole life creating and tampering with machinery and he had never seen anything like this. He doubted if he'd ever see anything like it again.

Spider climbed out of the car and went around to the passenger side. He'd expected her to be quite heavy but found she was relatively light. Her body mass barely exceeded the expectations for a woman her size. He laid her gently in the back of an old blue van parked next to his beat up Honda Prelude. It was dirty with faded exterminator logos emblazoned on the sides.

The second trek through the city was far more sedate than the first had been, but it was still a great relief to see his warehouse. He had work to do. He had to figure out how to turn the machine back on if only so she could explain what had just happened.

The refurbished warehouse in the middle of an industrial complex served a dual purpose. It was his workshop and it was his home. There were a handful of people there who worked with him or stopped in to hire him, but he didn't want to share the girl. Not yet.

Spider pressed a small blue button on a black fob hanging from his keys and the rusty gate down into the complex slid aside just long enough for him to drive through before it rattled shut behind him. He pressed a red button and one of the uniform metal bay doors rolled up on its old rails. He pulled the van slowly into the well-lit warehouse and heard the familiar clangs and whines of hammers, torches, and pneumatic drills. It wasn't that he didn't trust them. If he didn't, he'd never allow them to enter his space. Spider had never been good at sharing.

He parked the van and got out, looking around for anyone who might see his passenger, but the parking bay was empty. Quickly, he made his way to the door and nearly ran into the one person he knew without a doubt he could trust with such a find.

"Trent. You gotta do me a favor." Spider whispered even though there was no one near enough to hear them. "Get everyone out of here for today."

"Really?" The young man stepped back, his forehead furrowed, and his blue eyes full of questions. "You got it. Give me ten." Trent moved quickly to get everyone out of the building.

Spider paced next to the passenger door, alternately checking his watch and peering into the shadows for any sign of movement. He'd come to embrace his paranoia after so many years on the run. He kept to his two-stride pacing for nearly fifteen minutes before Trent finally returned.

"Okay, it's just us now. What's going on, man?"

"I don't know." Spider eased the woman out of the van, stiff and contorted, and carried her through the warehouse to the office he'd converted to his bedroom. It wasn't much, just a bed and his clothes. He laid the woman down on his bed. "Isn't she wonderful?"

"Dude! Are you completely fried? What are you doing bringing a chick here? What the heck is wrong with her, anyway?" Trent's brow furrowed as he looked her over.

"That's just it." He grinned broadly. "She's not a woman. She's a machine."

"No way. That's just movies, man." Trent's blue eyes took in the woman lying before him.

Spider marveled at her again. Except for the fact that her eyes were open, her body was still positioned as if she were sitting, and her fingers seemed frozen in a curl, she looked remarkably natural. Too real to be a machine. "The disrupter shut her off. Find me a better explanation."

"What have you gotten into this time?"

"I have no idea. Now, help me find out how to turn her back on. There's got to be a key somewhere." Spider ran his hands over her head, feeling for anything strange. "Where would you put it?"

"Let's see. If I were to have made something like this, I know exactly where I'd have put the on switch." Trent's eyes lingered on the place where her legs met.

"Get your head out of the gutter, Trent. Only you would think of something like that." Spider shook his head.

"Hey, I'm just your average guy." He smiled wickedly. "Maybe it's as simple as twisting a nipple."

"Lay off it. Come on, help me out here." Spider opened the woman's mouth and inspected her teeth. "There's got to be a control panel somewhere." He glanced at Trent who was removing the woman's shoes, running his fingers gingerly over her feet. "If you find anything, let me know."

The two men ran their fingertips over the woman in front of them, feeling for something indicative of a panel. Wherever it was, it was well hidden. Spider was almost to the conclusion that maybe Trent had been right and her creator was a sick puppy when the light bulb went off in his brain. The glint of fillings had caught his eye when he inspected her teeth. It had been years since dentists had stopped using silver metal in dental work. "Trent. Get me a pen or something."

"Did you find it?"

"I might have, but I'm not going to try it with my fingers." He took the long slim pen from Trent and pressed the tip against the filling in her right, back molar. When nothing happened, he pressed the tip to the left, back molar. Both men jumped back away from the woman as her entire form twitched and arched on the bed.

"I think you found it." Trent watched wide-eyed as the woman sat up on Spider's bed.

"Who are you?" Her eyes were wide and Spider could have sworn he could sense fear in her, but he told himself that was impossible.

"I'm the guy who saved your butt. Who the heck are you?"

"Kora Walker." She clutched her knees to her chest, her eyes flipping between the two men hovering over her.

"You'll have to forgive him; Spider's manners aren't the best. I'm Trent." He extended his hand to her. "You really don't have anything to worry about; he's harmless."

"Right." She snorted. "What did you do to me?"

"It's not my fault." Spider sat on the edge of the bed, secretly thrilled when she shifted away. So much simulated emotion it was hard to believe she wasn't real. "I didn't know the disrupter would shut you off. It doesn't destroy anything or erase anything, it just turns everything off so that the computers all have to reboot and reset before anything can be turned back on."

"That's why you turned off your car." Her whisper filled the room. "How did you find my switch?"

"Your silver fillings gave you away."

"Oh." She shook her head sadly. "That's how I figured it out too."

"What do you mean, figured it out?" He stared at her, unable to look away.

"I didn't know what I was until about two months ago. I was in a weird accident, got an electrical shock that caused some circuits to go haywire. Fortunately, it didn't shut me off like your little box."

"I really am sorry about that, Ms. Walker."

"You might as well call me Kora." She reached up and pulled a clip out of her hair, letting the mass of black waves down around her shoulders. "I've gotten you into a mess haven't I?"

"Maybe a small one. I think you need to tell us what's going on." Spider glanced over at Trent. "Maybe we can help."

"I doubt it. After my accident, after I figured out what I was, I started trying to find out more. It took me almost a week to get into my own programming. When I saw what I'd been made for, I panicked. I reprogrammed myself and I think when I did, I set off some sort of alarm. They've been after me ever since."

"What were you programmed to do?" Trent leaned against the wall, unable to look away.

"I was supposed to kill the President." She dropped her head onto her knees and closed her eyes tight.

"You would never have gotten close enough to President Roberts." Spider smiled again and took her hand in his, amazed at the craftsmanship.

"I was already there, working in the White House. I was a secretary for the President's Deputy Chief of Staff. I already had full access." She snatched her hand back as if she were afraid of him.

"Wow." Trent whispered. "Do you know who made you?"

"No. I only know that if they get me back, I'll either be destroyed or reprogrammed. I don't want to be destroyed, but I will not kill the President. I don't want to kill anyone."

"Well Kora, looks like you and I are in the same boat." Spider sighed.

"Excuse me?"