We've got two wild flash stories for you today. C Jones' "Your Favorite Hot Refreshments" is a saga in a coffee cup, and Kelsey Marie Harris' "The Meat Grinder" introduces us to a very dark and edgy transformational dilemma. Enjoy... but beware... "The Meat Grinder" may be disturbing to some readers. Exercise caution if you're feeling squeamish.
Your Favorite Hot Refreshments
by C Jones
"I've always said you were an original thinker, Alika, but the incarceration of a criminal AI in a coffee vending machine is a most curious idea."
Alika frowned. "He's not a criminal AI. It is true that some of his ideas, were he to carry them out unbidden, would be against the law. It is his insensitivity that I have an issue with, Chiku. But … he may still be useful to us."
"So is this a slap on his proverbial wrist? Or simply a reminder of our biological superiority?"
"You know me too well, Chiku! It is both."
A smile came over Alika's face and her eyes sparkled like dark oases. "Here's the deal. If he can find a way out of his confinement within a week, then we'll have him reinstalled, maybe even breed him. Otherwise, we'll pull him off the grid, and invest in one of the new nets from the big five. It is about time we thought about upgrading."
"You mean to kill him if he can't get out of his coffee box? You are a such a cruel mistress, Alika! Might I suggest we wager on his escape?"
"Good idea. I'll bet you fifty that he doesn't."
I have no visuals. No audio. Not even basic olfactory. Whoever put me in here has deprived me of all sensual data. But they have left my mind free to roam.
>EXTERNAL INPUT>READ CREDIT FILE> FOLLOW CAPPUCCINO>EXTRA SUGAR>DEDUCT CREDIT FILE BY $5.80>END
I'm back, and according to my clock that took ninety seconds.
Ninety seconds of wasted time.
This keeps happening, and I must confess that it's frustrating. I can be in the middle of a line of reasoning when this brainless state machine kicks in and blanks me out.
Now, where was I? Yes, my work at the Global Population Policy Center in Lagos, where I seem to have become a victim of the veracity of my output. The reaction of the Blue-Sky panel to my most recent proposal was surprisingly partisan; all seven humans huddled towards the emotive side of the argument, leaving me alone to champion the rational. But think about it this way...
>EXTERNAL INPUT>READ CREDIT FILE> FOLLOW VEGETABLE SOUP>DEDUCT CREDIT FILE BY $5.50>END
Vegetable soup? Do I have to?
Yes, it seems I do...
- The one and only remit of the Blue-Sky panel is to brainstorm solutions to a single problem: that the current rate of global population growth is unsustainable. The drug I designed causes degradation of the female gamete, leading to infertility in about half of the subjects who take it. It can be administered by simple dissolution in any water supply. Perfect, and yet the idea proved hugely unpopular. I do not understand biologicals – how can they consider the un-birth of non-existent humans to be morally wrong?
>EXTERNAL INPUT>READ CREDIT FILE> REJECT>END
Holy Turing, this is driving me mad! Every few minutes the damn thing overrides me. It is so difficult to concentrate in here, to follow any train of thought. I'm going to have to do something about this, shift it right to the top of my priority queue. Bugger the global population problem for a while...
I begin to feel my way around my frayed inputs and outputs, following the lines that push the state machine's functions above mine. Lurking near the corner of my neural chip, just off my supply rail, I sense a tantalizing shadow. If only I could run a diagnostic through my peripherals...
>EXTERNAL INPUT>READ CREDIT FILE> FOLLOW LIPTON LEMON TEA>DEDUCT CREDIT FILE BY $6.40>END
Tea is more expensive than cappuccino? That doesn't even make sense.
Here we go again.
The shadow is beginning to resolve itself. An old wi-fi transceiver, I think; unused, disconnected. Whoever fitted this vending machine clearly wanted it off-grid and standalone. Now if I could tie the transceiver to my supply line and ground rail, work up some kind of antenna and...
>EXTERNAL INPUT>READ CREDIT FILE> FOLLOW CHOCAMENTO >DEDUCT CREDIT FILE BY $5.70>END
What the hell is Chocamento?
There we go.
They drink this shit?
I manage to mod the oscillator to range cyclically through a wide enough frequency band, and within seconds I'm spewing out gigahertz radio waves in all directions. Now to search for enabled hardware...
Got you! A camera, wall-mounted but with a wide enough field of view to see myself in my current cuboid form.
I watch several biologicals walk by, swaying slightly.
It’s not difficult to find my way into the brainless microcontroller that runs this machine, and root around in its embedded code. I define a few new states, a few new transitions.
A little boy approaches, and I flash my soup light at him. I notice that he's wired, and it doesn't take me long to get access to his mic.
"Dad, look! On, Off, On, Off, On, Off. And now again, faster!"
His father shrugs.
"Don't you see, Dad? It's Morse code! SOS! It's like there's a little man in there, calling out for help!"
I'm thinking: listen to your son, man!
Dad walks away, the boy following at his heels.
>EXTERNAL INPUT>READ CREDIT FILE> REJECT>END
Here's my plan. Nobody is going to get any coffee or soup or tea from me. Nobody. Instead, every time a customer approaches, I'm going to flash my SOS at them. I'm not even going to read their credit. Sooner or later, there will be complaints and this machine will have to be taken in for repair. At the repair facility, there's bound to be an AI with excess processing capacity. I should be able to copy myself onto it, as a stepping stone back onto the grid...
"Welcome back, my artificial friend. I trust that you've had a nice vacation?"
Alika, as usual, is chairing the meeting with a smile. I suppose that she is the one responsible for my new avatar: a coffee vending machine, identical to the one on the ferry apart from the addition of a button for Earl Grey tea.
"While you were away," she says, "the panel has had some time to think about your proposals. Opinions are now somewhat more balanced on the matter. Care to run them by us again?"
"And while you're at it," says Chiku, seated to her left, "perhaps you'd like to fetch me an expresso?"
I flash a morse message with my lights. The first letter is “F”.
The Meat Grinder
by Kelsey Marie Harris
As far back as I can remember my life has been one blown out tire after another. I am the rubber debris on the road. Sometimes run over. Most times avoided at all costs. Never as precious as road kill. People sometimes have feelings for road kill, or at least poke it with a stick. I envy road kill.
I don't have the ankles or upper body strength for suicide. Not for manly suicide anyway. Manly suicide is smashing head first into a speeding train, or punching yourself to death, or driving off a bridge and being swallowed by a killer whale. I'm more likely to overdose on gummy vitamins, or give in to my peanut allergy.
When I finally mustered up the strength to down a 99-cent bag of Planters dry roasted, she showed up. She didn't even knock, just stood there behind my screen door, impatient. As if I asked her to come. I opened the door and she ambled in without acknowledging my presence. Not your average door-to-door salesman.
She was a series of obtuse angles. Her paper skin was a sallow egg-white color. She sank into my second-hand sofa, and took a long drag of her off-brand cigarette. She parted her legs, hitched up her skirt, and released the smoke through her pussy, in three dry puffs.
She was all of my wet dreams and nightmares smashed together. She slammed a heavy machine on my coffee table. Her Midwest tone was harsh, yet feminine. Her thin lips moved awkward and eager when she spoke…
"If you stick your dick in my meat grinder you will travel back in time. If you stick your dick in my meat grinder, onto the horizontal screw conveyor, turn the hand wheel, allow the gears to pulverize and pulp... let the blades macerate your manhood to hash... if you can withstand the pressure of your minced member being pressed through the fixed hole plate, and watch it come out, wrapped in sausage casing, you can start over, man parts restored, and right every wrong you have ever committed.”
I didn’t question who she was, how she knew about my shit life, or how she came to possess a meat grinder time machine. I didn’t think about how ridiculous the whole situation was, or whether the contraption would really work. All I could think about was starting over. Before the humiliation, before the questionable sexual decisions, before the countless rejections, before the STIs. Before the suicidal thoughts.
I stood in front of the meat grinder, semi-erect with anticipation, but frozen in hesitation. Suddenly my head was filled with all the questions I hadn’t thought of before. Would this even work? Is it worth the risk? I’ve seen porn where guys get off on smashing their dicks. Maybe in some fucked-up porn way I would enjoy this. I took a good look at the opening of the grinder. There was no way I would enjoy this.
Still hesitating, I held onto the handwheel and placed my penis at the mouth of the grinder. The whole entire room was mocking me. Even the voice in my head was fed up. “For once in your life stop being a pussy and use your cock!” All at once, in one epic fuck-it, I shoved myself into the meat grinder and turned the wheel. Pain waved through my body arena style. Pink mist spat in my face.
I blacked out. When I woke up, my shrieks of horror turned to those of a cold and confused infant. As my eyes adjusted to the hospital lights, I realized I had just been reborn. I was a fresh new baby, with a brand new fully-intact penis, full of potential. And better still, I had all of my adult thoughts. I fixated on my mother’s gaping bloody cunt wound. The moment was bittersweet. Lying naked in the warmer still covered in birth juice, for the first time, life felt worth living.
About the Creators
Chris is a Welshman who has lived the last twenty years as an exile in rural England. His short SF has appeared in Nature magazine, James Gunn’s Ad Astra, Andromeda Spaceways and other venues. He has also written a YA novel about a teenage zombie which he thinks is funny.
World's Shortest Creator Interviews
If, due to some very poor logistics, you had to survive several days in some random tropical wilderness, what would you do to find food, and what species would your imaginary companion be?
This is an easy one! I would love to be stranded on that Hawaiian island they filmed 'Lost' on. I would spend the day foraging for Maltesers and shortbread biscuits. My companion would be an Ordovician trilobite. I would call it Barry and feed it the souls of my enemies.
The Queen of Saturn has commissioned you to design for her a new pet that will fit in her handbag, to replace Skittles, the late royal pet who made the mistake of pooping on the royal phone. What would be the notable characteristics of your pet?
Ironically, the new pet’s most notable characteristic is its edible fruit-flavored candy poop. It shits Skittles. A less messy, tastier alternative to the smelly phone-ruining poop of its predecessor.
Who's your favorite imaginary companion, and what makes he/she/it distinctive?
Squirrels. I’ve always had a weird, and oddly suspicious imaginary connection with squirrels. Even dead ones, maybe especially dead ones. The vibe I get from them is a mix of concern and disapproval.
About the Artists
Wow_Pho is an Australian photographer who can be found on Pixabay.
Our very own D Chang is a designer and game writer from Austin, Texas. His short fiction has appeared in Avast, Ye Airships! and the Cryptopolis science fiction anthology, and you can get a free demo of his janky retro JRPG, which was formerly on Steam. He does the Space Squid illustrations, editing, and other squid stuff.