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Birthday Party
About the Author: Bruce McAllister's short fiction has appeared in many print and online magazines and "year's best" volumes; and won or been shortlisted for awards from the National Endowment for the Arts, the Shirley Jackson Award, the Hugo, the Nebula, and others. His Hugo-nominated short story "Kin" was chosen to launch actor LeVar Burton's new podcast, LEVAR BURTON READS.

The yacht in question, manufactured by Blohm+Voss out of Hamburg, was anchored at the remote isthmus of California’s Catalina Island, not far from where a famous actress with doe eyes died under mysterious circumstances half a century before. The isthmus, a narrow piece of land with ocean on either side and a few buildings built during the nation’s Civil War, hadn’t changed in those decades, except for a few more moorings in the little bay, a terrible restaurant, and the old dock where shuttles operated by the yacht’s AI were even now beginning to take happy, smiling guests out to the Gypsy.

The yacht in question had been there for four days and, even when simply anchored and still, was intimidating to other craft. Because smaller yachts were now avoiding the little bay, the superyacht was alone as twilight arrived on the 46th birthday of the yacht’s owner, Liam Copeland.

At a distance, the yacht with its five decks, helipad, movie theater, conference rooms and twin at-anchor stabilizers looked no less affluent but also no better outfitted in state-of-the-art electronics than the most expensive luxury yachts of other billionaires around the world—those of the Saudi Princes and Russian oligarchs with their intruder missile-detection systems, the “king of Monaco” with his twenty kinds of marble countertops on all four decks, the alpha-magnates from Central America and their endless aquatic toys and tenders (some of them as big as small yachts) and American tech billionaires showing off their corporate wares like epaulets.

But looks were deceiving. The yacht in question belonged to an American billionaire who had made his fortune in self-aware AI and mobile robotics, and it had been designed, manufactured and outfitted accordingly to the tune of $1.5 billion rather than the mere half billion of many boats in its meter range.

The owner, a Hughes-styled recluse by the name of Liam Copeland, was not on the yacht. He would not, in fact, be present for his birthday party. He had died two weeks ago, brought down by a second stroke his medical team should have anticipated, and his land-based staff had worked hard to keep it from the media. The forty-six men, women and children invited to the party tonight didn’t know this, nor did they know what kind of birthday party it would really be. All they had been told was that it was indeed Liam Copeland’s 46th and that everyone should arrive at the same time at the little cove’s dock however they could get there. From there they would be ferried out to the yacht, where they would realize their mobile devices weren’t working.

It is time! the AI tells herself cheerfully. The last of the seven shuttles has departed the dock and the human staff on the dock, aware only of the job at hand, has disappeared into the twilight of the isthmus. There is no sound anywhere except for waves lapping against pilings and, farther out, against the great hull of the yacht. The restaurant a few hundred feet from the dock’s gate has been closed all day at the paid request of “Mr. Copeland.”

Some of the guests, who are finding their way to their staterooms even now, are friends (including his closest from college and that friend’s family, wife and two daughters); some are or once were relatives (including his three former wives and his son by the first, who has been hoping for reconciliation for years); some are colleagues from ForeverTech (including the CFO, COO, an office manager, and four secretaries—two of them male); and some have no idea why they were invited. But how could they turn it down?

This story appears in our OCT 2020 Issue
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Reader Discussion

Pleeeeeeaaaassseee write the full story as a novel or novella! What a great premise!
By Peri Dwyer Worrell

Love an unhappy tale. Conplete story in such a short story. Hard to do. Great job!
By Susan R

The story was artfully written. I assumed AI was artificial intelligence, but it took me a few minutes to realize the intent. Gory ending. Nice job.
By Frances Dunn

Be careful attending Birthday parties!!! Nice job, BM!
By George Garnet

Incredibly clever! An expanded version into a novel could be, would be gory yes, but a page turner to say the least. Write... The short story is “Powerful“!!!
By Tina Jude

Nicely done. Enjoyed it.
By Jude Roy

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