NO ANIMALS WERE HARMED… • by Suzanne Conboy-Hill

Retrieval: Time = 00.00

Just checked out a doozer of an AI unit the Scavenger crew brought in.

Yeah? Specs?

Carbon-based so obviously non-sentient, high-end multi-receptor architecture, a CPU that monitors damage and — interesting — limited self-repair capacity.

Candidate for extreme streaming? Translated sensory uplink?

Definitely. You’d almost think it was self-aware so —

If it loses functionality and transmits distress signals —

Best show since the old days!

Got a fix on the installed language?

Very sophisticated, but we’re activating the In-Stream Facilitator as backup.

I kinda miss the live prisoner hunts.

Ethics.

Yeah, ethics.

***

ShowTime: T+01.00

“Welcome to FearMax, I am your IsFac. You have been salvaged and your systems rebooted. There is an augmented uplink audience of forty-two billion.”

“What the…!”

“Thank you for disengaging sensory dampers and keeping your emotional reactivity processors operational; the audience is paying to experience your dysfunction. The first episode will go live in 5 — 4 — 3 …”

Neela sat up CRACK! She let her head drop back down. Shit! What was that? And what the shit-for-sense was an IssFack? Neela thought she must have been squirted a hypnotab. Her rookie ride out into deep space, plus they pinged a new exo-planet — this was a hazing, right?

“Jace, you’re all over this! I’m going to take your gonads in both hands and stuff them up your arse for you!”

“Please clarify ‘Up your arse’.”

“Who the hell are you?” Neela tried to sit again, taking it more slowly this time and probing her auxiliary memory stack. It coughed up an embarrassing image of her ‘head wetting’ ceremony. Oh crap — did she really punch the lights out of the medi-bot?

“I am your IsFac, please clarify …”

“Shut the fuck up!” Neela yelled back. “And screw yourself while you’re at it.” What, ferchrissakes, wasan Izfack? More to the point, what rank was it?

“Please clarify ‘Screw yourself’.”

Neela’s post-jump implants kicked in, launching wake-up hormones and sucking her hangover down the metabolic drain. She’d need to pee like an elephant pretty soon. She groped to scratch an itch on her butt and rolled a little, hitting her face on the overhead surface. It was smooth, metallic; an EvacPod? Oh, funneee! She squinted into the matt black dark, wishing her optical enhancers would come-the-hell on line. She pushed up, kicked; no movement. “Shit!” Neela raised her legs, then both arms, braced her body to test the surfaces above and below. She made a snow-angel. Smooth, top and bottom — but where were the sides? Why couldn’t she feel the sides?

“Hey, you bunch of shit-brained bastards! Playtime’s over, get me outa here!” Silence. “Either get me out or send in some beers and a bucket!” Those bastards were back there, crapping themselves laughing. “You piss-artists better be tooled up or I’ll neuter the lot of you with my bare hands!” They would hold the joke now for as long as possible, then they would be laughing and snorting at the crap they’d scared out of her. What colour are your pants, Nee?! Pwargh, what a stink! Better get them off before you come in here! Then they would tractor the goddammed pod, or whatever the hell it was, back on board and let her the frick out.

***

ShowTime: T+53.00

“Please supply some dialogue, auto-generated is acceptable.”

“Lose yourself, jerk,” Neela proposed, “I’m busy.” She tugged at her crotch where the seams carved her skin like wet rope on a pulley. Did she just butt-shimmy left or right? It was two bladders ago, at least, ha ha. She scraped at her lips with a sandpaper tongue, poked it out to catch a draught. NADA.

“Make yourself useful, PizzWac, where’s the water cooler? Oh, and the friggin’ exit?”

***

ShowTime: T+150.00

“Tell me a story.” Neela’s words crunched out like stale cheese from a grater. She picked at the scabs on her elbows and excavated some of the gunk gluing her eyelashes together.

“I am your IsFac, you are the story.”

“Aw shucks, I bet you say that to all the girls.” Neela tittered, coughed, examined through gummy shutters the mess that came up. “Which way’s best? Can’t see a freakin’ thing in this goddammed can.” She’d had a coin once, a mile back. Or a thousand, maybe.

“Heads or tails?” she said, flicking the eye-gunge up at the metal above her nose.

“Direction is immaterial, the journey is the thing; for the show.”

“Oh, the Show! Glass of beer for the star would be good, eh, FizzWic?”

***

ShowTime: T+300.00

“Your power unit is fading so, just for our records, what was your identifier?”

“Identifier? You want to know my name finally, ya old smoothie? Well, d’pends who’s calling: might be ‘Private Get-Your-Ass-Over-Here’, or ‘Neeeeeeee, gemme a beer’.” She poked a fat dry tongue out over a fat dry lip, “or Mummy.”

“What is ‘Mummy’?”

“Mother. Grows babies from eggs.” Neela slapped her belly, “God, NatsWaz, but you’re dumb.” She tried to turn over, hitch her knees to her chin, fold the spasm up tight and stifle it.

“You mean a developer?”

“That how you do it? No BoyNaz-on-GirlNaz action? Aw, shame. Much more fun our way.” Neela plucked at her breast pocket and fumbled out a video stick, “Hey, audience, want to see what we developed, me and my Jace?” She squeezed the stick and a dark haired, pink-cheeked infant flickered into the darkness. “Meet my beautiful girl.”

“You built that?”

“Nah — she just grew all on her own. Inside me.”

“That is — anomalous.”

***

ShowTime: T+350.00

“Mummy’s going now, sweetheart. Be good for Daddy.” Jace would manage; he would. When he got home.

“Going?”

“Checkin’ out, pal. Lousy service in this joint. Next time you have a guest to stay, remember you gotta feed and water ‘em, or they die.” She breathed in a breath gritted like ashes. It left again, slow and soft as a baby’s blanket.

***

ShowTime: Termination T+352.00

Tell me it wasn’t sentient.

Tell me none of them were.


Dr. Suzanne Conboy-Hill has been all sorts of things at various times and expects to be a few more things before she finally stops bothering everyone. The nice people at Zouche, The Other Room, Ether Books, and Every Day Fiction, among others, have published stories, and the whole mongrel assortment can be accessed from here.


This story is sponsored by
Adamar, book one of The Hennion Chronicles — Adamar and his friends race to save an alien world, humanity’s future and the woman he loves. They must unlock a secret from the dawn of creation, now used by an emperor to enslave his people, so they can stop his sadistic rule and open a portal to home.


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Every Day Fiction

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  • Lavender

    An interesting idea. I wasn’t convinced that the MC would have been wisecracking up to the point of death though. Also if she had engaged with the IsFac a little we might have had a few more clues as to what was going on. I was quite confused while reading it what exactly was happening and why.

  • Sorry, I’m not a fan of this one. Couldn’t even read it all.

  • Richard Pasky

    overly outside of entertainment.

  • Kathy

    I also was a reader who couldn’t read through to the end – the first time. I admit I gave it a rating before giving it a second chance. But, after a few hours, I thought I would take a second look. (I often do this because, I admit, I am addicted to the “comments” section and return to check those out even after I have posted my own.) This time, after I read the intro “Retrieval” section and moved on to “Showtime” I could see what was happening and read through to the end and appreciated the story so much more. I would definitely have rated it higher than I did if my first reading had been like the second. But, still, that is a problem. Most stories get one shot at being read by any one reader, so not only the storyline and characters have to work, so does the format.

  • Rob

    I really stumbled in the beginning, but I enjoyed it as soon as it got going.

  • Trillian

    I agree with Lavender that the wise-cracking to the end–esp if she has a child she’s leaving behind–wasn’t too plausible. A little more dimension to her would have been good.

    I liked all the details of the new world, though I felt a tad inundated in the first bits.

    I wonder that the IsFac seemed more robotic than the two scavengers (or whoever they were) in the beginning, and yet I know they’re on the same team/species/race as the IsFac. If you tighten the connection to them batter (perhaps at the expense of some of the jargon) it would round it out better.

    Overall, I liked it. Sharp, smart, and nice ending.

  • Bud Clayman

    I really liked a lot of the back and forth banter between the characters. But I, like a lot of people here, found this to be VERY CONFUSING!!!

  • Sorry about the gainsayers, but this story got my four stars because of its wicked invention. The wise-cracking spun it up the ladder from the usual OMG-I’m-trapped-by-aliens sub-genre, and moved it existentially toward the stars. Well done, Suzanne!

  • joannab.

    i gave it five stars. great work, suzanne. i was with your heroine all the way.

  • I got lost on this one.

  • Agree with Walt. Unique, highly creative. The language is easily believable as something within the semi-distant future, and the chaotic mood is intentional. Minor word fixes (matte black, outta), but there are real gems in here (“seams carved her skin like wet rope on a pulley”, the concept of meat-based life forms being inferior). I voted high.

  • Thank you for persevering – those who managed to do so – and apologies to those I didn’t manage to get over the line! I’d had the same idea as Aaron (Polson) with his illuminating ‘behind the scenes’ blog post so, if you’re interested, here’s the working-out-in-the-margin of it all http://conboyhillfiction.wordpress.com/2013/12/02/no-animals-the-story-behind-the-story/

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  • Joel

    Well I know a lot of people found this very confusing, but I loved it. I’m a big fan of short stories/flash fiction that minimise their use of narrative, leaving us just with dialogue and other devices such as the timings here. I also find overt exposition extremely irritating in fiction, so I liked that this story treated us as intelligent beings.

    It wasn’t perfect by any means: I certainly agree with some comments that the “wise-cracking” was sustained a little unbelievably (though it did remain amusing). However, this didn’t spoil my enjoyment of the story, and actually I feel it only needs minor tweaks – perhaps a sentence or two showing us that, towards the end, her attitude is a brave face she’s putting on to avoid giving the viewers the pleasure of watching her freak out. I think this might have been hinted at with the “spasms” line, but a couple more of these would have improved things, in my opinion.

    But still, a great story, and much enjoyed!

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  • Chris Edwards

    I’m firmly in the minority – I liked it a lot. I thought it fast-paced and entertaining.

  • I’m firmly in the minority – I liked it a lot. I thought it fast-paced and entertaining.