DP FICTION #56A: “Tracing an Original Thought” by Novae Caelum

It’s like this: if the world has a food shortage, you eliminate hunger by leaving the planet, taking all your animals and plants in your genetic ark, and finding a new planet on which to grow and flourish.

It’s also like this: if the world has a distribution of wealth crisis, you eliminate poverty by never having elites in your new society. At least for a little while. At least, that was the plan.

And if the world has a gender crisis, an inability for equality, you eliminate gender.

You eliminate sex. The need for physical reproduction. Genetic disease. Gender politics.

You eliminate.

And then maybe you’d live in Arioth, city under the vast hanging visage of a ringed gas giant, black towers that reach for the stars, portal tubes flicking citizens from building top to street corner to corner office.


I’m not one of the elites. They lounge in their penthouses, looking down at their domains, moving the tides of originality. They own the artisans, the writers, the thinkers, the scientists—the hearts, the minds, the souls—all valuable trade commodities. Original thoughts, a groundbreaking currency. The first time you have an original thought, you’re a slave of the elites for life.

I decided long ago to never have an original thought. Which is why I became a tracer, hunting the original thinkers who have the very unoriginal idea of running away from their fates.

On a dingy street corner smelling of rotten garbage, where red marks mottled the concrete from the last clearing of a shack village, I pulled my phone out of my pocket, flipping up the eight-centimeter cylinder to activate the holographic display. It unfolded with a cheery chime and showed me a map of the city district in blue lines to the edge of the biodome, which was about a half kilometer from where I was standing.

It also showed me the path my target had taken, a haphazard red weave through streets and alleyways. Did they think they could lose me? Everyone in Arioth was genetically tagged since before emergence. Every child, traceable in every way since the time cells hit cells and became more cells, replicating in the gestation pods. You couldn’t run, not as a toddler, not as an adult. Tracers didn’t have to have original thoughts, because the most strenuous part about being a tracer was the violence, not the tracing itself.


I scrolled the holo to follow my target’s trail, but it went to a street corner in a particularly seedy district and stopped. I stared at the red dot on my display. It wasn’t blinking as it should have been. And it wasn’t white like it would have been if they’d died. Just solid red staring back at me, like they’d stopped themself somewhere between life and death. That little dot with the name “Emin 4892” beside it.

I’d been a tracer for six years, and I’d never seen a dot do that.

I slapped my phone against my neatly pressed jeans, hoping to jolt out any malfunction. The tracer department was not a department that had a lot of originality, and therefore not a lot of chance for technical upgrades. This phone was at least ten years old and buggy as hell.

The red dot remained, though.

I sighed, shoving down my growing unease. I’d have to investigate—following procedures, of course. Not with anything like original thought.


I had my personal numbers and stats in my vision at all times, eyes opened or closed. Everyone did. We saw our names—mine was “Gin 8381.” We saw our physical attributes—cropped brown hair, mid-brown skin, green eyes. Average height, below average weight. We saw our vitals—fit and healthy. We saw, when we were adults, when it was time to visit a clinic and let them harvest cells for the production of the next generation of creche children. We saw alerts from the elites. We saw traffic routing, job assignments based on genetics and aptitudes, and alerts on where to take our daily meals. Everything pertaining to personal, daily life.

And on the left side of my vision, always in movement, was the red to green bar of original thought.

The theory was that if you had an original thought, you would be elevated. You would have a chance, if the thought was original enough, and if you had enough of them, to become an elite. Or at least work under the elites, a few steps higher than you had been.

Some people strove for original thoughts. Their slavery was swift and usually unknowing. They’d lose themselves into their dream worlds and never know how many trade empires depended on their originality.

Some tried hard not to have original thoughts but had them accidentally. Those slaves went fighting and screaming into their elevated exiles.

But most people, from an early age, learned to manage the level of their originality bars. Keep it above red—where you’d be kicked to the streets as genetic chaff—but below yellow-green. If you could hold a steady yellow-orange, you’d have a nice, ordinary, productive life. No great upheavals. No great risks, no great rewards.


My originality bar was steady in its usual yellow-orange as I trekked through the litter-strewn streets. A rain had been scheduled for earlier that day, and my boots made soft splashes in black puddles. I’d known the rain was over when I’d come out, but I’d worn my brown duster with its weather-proof coating anyway, because I liked it.

There were no portal tubes in this district, and auto cabs wouldn’t come here, so I had to walk. People would strip both portals and cabs for the metals and resell the parts. That thought was hardly original.

I went through memorized procedures over and over in my mind, a numb and soothing counterpoint to a rising anxiety. My left hand played with the cool metal of my phone in my pocket, a nervous habit I’d never tried to break. I had a sour feeling in my stomach, something that rarely happened on a trace. Tracing was usually as simple as finding the target and bringing them in. Give or take a few bruises or tase gun singes.

But as I neared the place where my target had stopped and saw the sign above the grimy storefront glass, my unease grew.

It was a cuddle shop. There were hundreds of them around the city. If you didn’t have a domestic partner or two, or if you were desperate enough for human contact, you could find it here.

I’d been to some of the middle-class facilities—called Human Contact Therapy there—I wasn’t a recluse. But everyone who was sane stayed away from shops in districts like this. Places like this, people found ways to piece together originality without ever having a full original idea on their own. How to build illicit tech to simulate nerves and responses that were no longer in the human genetic code. Because humans had apparently not out-evolved the need for sex, despite the lack of equipment for it or the stability of a truly sexless society. Which was ridiculous. Genetics were more stable without the haphazard nature of biological reproduction. People didn’t go into hormonal rages like we learned about in ancient history. And there was far, far less abuse. Who could imagine a society so divided that one half subjugated the other purely based on genetics?

I pushed through the creaking door into the shop and had the thought I sometimes had, that maybe our society wasn’t so different from the old horrors in the history texts. That eliminating biological sex and gender had only transferred the problem to a different arena. Humans would always find a way to dominate others, and maybe that domination was still genetic. The bred thinkers vs. the bred non-thinkers. The elites vs. those in shacks on the streets. All watched, all pre-disposed to their lives, and if someone broke their prescribed mold, it was because they were supposed to. Genetic destiny, because the geneticists did not make mistakes. Everyone in their place.

The originality bar on the side of my vision hardly twitched. This thought I was having was not an original thought. Not for me, not for the millions of people monitored by the system.

“Can I help you?” A squat, older person with wild gray hair came toward me in the shop’s humid, off-white lobby.

I grimaced at the tang of sweat in the air. But I pulled out my phone, flipped open the holo, and showed a picture of my target. “I’m looking for this person. Have you seen them?”

“Oh,” the squat person said. “Oh, yeah. Yeah, they’re here.”

I tilted my head. “Still here? Still alive?” I flicked my phone’s holo back to the map. The red dot was solid, and close.

The person fidgeted, a sort of nervous dance. I focused on them, my tracer’s license giving me the ability to see their vitals, their originality bar. All were dangerously high. In a city that tried its best not to do anything out of the ordinary, fear was an original thought.

“Come with me,” the squat person—Dev 1126, the registered owner of this property—said, and led me into the back.

I passed steamy, translucent cubicles. I did not think about what was happening inside them, my lips tightening against the perversity. Human touch was fine. Benign affection was fine. More than that was dangerous.

The owner led me past all the cubicles to a room in the back, a room that had a sterile edge about it, with medical objects and tech on steel counters and an unoccupied medical table in the center.

“I don’t do anything here,” Dev 1126 said. “I just own the building.”

A standard excuse for one part of an original idea. Someone would own the place. Another would facilitate the tech parts, and a few more daring idiots would brush against fate by having just enough of an idea to spread it around. To build whatever they were building.

The room was empty. I checked my map again, and the red dot was centered just beyond this room. I reached into my right coat pocket for my tase gun.

“Hey,” the owner said, putting their hands up. “Hey, I didn’t do anything. Your target’s in there. Back through there.” They nodded at a back door.

Everything about this felt like a trap.

Fortunately, there were procedures for traps.

I shouted, “Emin 4892, come out peacefully, or I will use excessive force!”

I wasn’t expecting my target to come out so easily, and fully expected to have to turn my tase gun’s settings to demolition, but the door cracked, and a slim hand poked out and waved.

“I’m coming out,” a high-pitched voice said. Abnormally high. High with fear?

My brows knit and I hesitated, my aim wavering. Did I have the right person? There was something…off…about that voice. My originality bar jerked precariously upward, and I set my thoughts into reviewing the case file again. The voice did partially match the voiceprint on genetic file for Emin 4892. Thirty-three years of age. Food tester for a gourmet food chain. Nice job, don’t know why they left it. Don’t know why they wanted to have an original thought, if they wanted to at all.

The whole person came out through the doorway. Below average height and weight, bowl-cut black hair. They both were and were not my target. Cosmetic surgery had been involved, certainly. But had it healed this quickly? I’d only got the alert on my target that morning.

Emin 4892 wore a loose, surgical-type green gown and crossed their arms under…anatomy that should not be there.

We all knew what we came from. We all knew the barbaric forms our ancestors had been forced to live in for thousands of years before they were evolutionarily liberated. We knew the carnal drives that society insisted we were no longer slaves to but places like this insisted still lingered in our minds, like an itch that was never quite scratched.

I had never seen an actual throwback, a female, before. For a fleeting, dangerous moment, I wondered if I would feel something more than I should, if my thoughts would turn too original, but they didn’t. I guess I’d never had that itch.

But Emin 4892 apparently had.

They read my judgment, my horror, and their black eyes turned cold. They held their arms tighter around themself.

“That’s right, look at me,” they said. “This is who I am. You can’t take it from me.”

Emin 4892 and the people of this shop must have found a way to perform surgery—no, some kind of genetic splicing or modification—without scars and with rapid healing factor. That in itself was massive originality and an incredibly valuable commodity.

I stared at Emin 4892, and I couldn’t see their vitals. Their red locator dot still shone on my phone, but it hadn’t moved from the back room. Whatever had been done to them had been done there, and that’s where the dot had stopped. Where “they” had stopped and become “her.”

It was physiological, wasn’t it? Not just a cosmetic change. This person was actually female.

I tightened my grip on my tase gun. “Yes, I can take it away. Emin 4892, congratulations. You have had a highly original thought. You will be taken to originality processing where you will be given new accommodations to match your risen status.”

Emin 4892 flipped me the finger. But she didn’t try to bolt. She wasn’t going to run, was she?

“I’m original,” she said, voice tight and smug. “I’m original. I’m an artist, and this is my art.” She waved down at her body. “I decided to make a study of ancient human anatomy. That is an acceptable branch of study. I made an original breakthrough in the field of this art. Look at me—a living sculpture. You can’t destroy that, or return me to how I was. Destruction of originality is a capital crime, isn’t it?”

My thoughts jittered, following her logic. I tried to keep my thoughts in line, but my originality bar rose dangerously into yellow-green. My heart rate intensified.

“Yes, destruction of originality is a crime,” I gasped. I closed my eyes, still watching my originality bar, and ran backward through my most-used procedural manual.

My thoughts began to flow again. To slow. The originality bar went back to yellow-orange.

I exhaled and opened my eyes. I’d take my target in. They were not my problem—they were for someone much more original than I to deal with. It didn’t matter that my target had a point to make, or a sculpture to display, or whatever perversity they thought they were getting away with. It would all smooth out in the end. And it was not my problem.

Emin 4892 sensed their victory, whatever victory they thought they’d gained, and held out their arms. I slapped cuffs on their wrists and shuffled my target out of the shop. I flagged the shop for immediate lockdown and further investigation. It would be shut down, the valuable tech confiscated and taken to be studied by more original scientists. Those who’d built the tech would be traced and taken in, too. You couldn’t escape the fate of original thoughts.

Society would continue in its stability.

Or would it? I darted a glance at Emin 4892. Were they—I couldn’t use “she” without my originality bar climbing, and maybe it wasn’t even “she,” did I even have a right to determine that?—as deranged as our society dictated? Did they just want attention and infamy or did they seriously think that going back to humanity’s original evolutionary forms was a good thing? And if Emin 4892 had caused this much stir already, how could so much originality, so much chaos in concepts like gender or sex, possibly be good?

Emin 4892 walked beside me with a confidence, a carriage in their step I’d only seen in elites. And their eyes flashed with something beyond the defiance, their mouth tight with intense determination. This meant something to them. Something more than status, maybe even more than a statement.

My originality bar started to climb again, and I shunted my thoughts back to procedures, looking away.

Emin 4892 grinned. A sour, knowing grin.

And I hated myself for feeling the contempt in that grin and knowing that I maybe deserved it. That maybe we all did.

That was also not an original thought.

I escorted my willing target down the city blocks to the nearest portal tube, doing my best not to think of societies and change.

© 2019 by Novae Caelum

Author’s Note: Being queer and non-binary, one of the things I think about a lot is what a future society might look like where gender and sexuality aren’t an issue, and everyone freely expresses who they are. Usually, that feels like a big, happy world (or worlds!) to me, and I truly hope for that future. But this story was born out of what if that idea went horribly wrong and the concepts of gender and sexuality weren’t normalized but banned—what would that society look like? Turns out, pretty dark.

Novae Caelum is an author, illustrator, and designer with a love of spaceships and a tendency to quote Monty Python. Stars short fiction has appeared in Intergalactic Medicine Show, Escape Pod, Clockwork Phoenix 5, and Lambda Award winning Transcendent 2: The Year’s Best Transgender Speculative Fiction. Most days you can find star with digital pen in hand, crafting imaginary worlds. Or writing alien poetry. Or typing furiously away at stars serial genderfluid romance novels, with which star hopes to take over the world. At least, that’s the plan. You can find star online at novaecaelum.com.

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DP FICTION #55A: “Empathy Bee” by Forrest Brazeal

I’m at the microphone for the first round of the 32nd Annual National Empathy Bee, and I can’t feel a thing.



Good morning, Alex. A man is sitting in a banker’s office. The banker says: “You have great collateral — I’ll give you credit for that.” Is this a joke? If so, why is it funny?


Press photographers in the front row dazzle my eyes with flashbulbs. The hotel ballroom stretches behind them, vast and dim, a fog bank of blurry faces. Mom sits somewhere in the audience, but I’ll never spot her with the naked eye from up here on the stage.

Fortunately, my brain implant has an image processing feature. I scroll through options in my mind, zooming, enhancing, upscaling. There she is, slumped on a straight-backed gilt chair with her “guardian of contestant” credentials drooping around her neck. The seat beside her, Dad’s seat, is empty.



Here is your next question, Alex. A middle-aged man posts pictures of his neighbor’s new sports car on social media, but he says the pictures are of his own car. Give two different reasons why he might be doing this.


The National Spelling Bee is deader than ancient Greek. So are mathletes and chess club. Now that every middle-school kid is running around the playground with a microchip in their head that syncs directly to the internet, traditional tests of academic knowledge are pointless. But those of us who aren’t good at sports still need something to do in the afternoons, so we get Empathy Bee.

The goal of the famous Turing Test is to stump a computer with questions that would be easy for a human. Empathy Bee is sort of like that. But the questions here are tricky for people, too. We’re supposed to be showing off our human potential by solving problems our brain implants can’t. It’s great practice for college essays, I’ve heard.

Some contestants spend a lot of time developing software to hack Empathy Bee and its hundred-thousand dollar grand prize, building databases of questions and using deep learning to predict responses. Veterans like me call them “chip kiddies.” The Bee stays a step ahead of technology, you only get sixty seconds at the mic, and it’s almost always better to go with your gut.

The problem right now is, my gut is missing in action. I’m used to nerves — they give me an edge — but not this dull incoherence.



Alex, you are late for class. You see two older kids bullying Ben. You know that if you stand up for Ben, he will think you are his friend. You don’t want to be friends with Ben, and you are scared of the older kids. What should you do?


I stumble on the third round question, speaking in half sentences, and I see the head judge’s hand hover scarily close to the dreaded buzzer before she decides to accept my answer.

Empathy Bee uses five judges at the national level. They score our responses on a ten point scale and determine if we’ve done well enough to advance. Because Bee questions are highly subjective, the judges take a lot of crap every year from angry parents, but I guess they’re used to it. Some of them used to judge beauty pageants.

Last year, when I got buzzed out in the fourth round on an answer I still think was pretty good, Mom spent two hours outside the judges’ greenroom demanding an explanation. She didn’t get one, and I don’t think I’ll get that kind of support from her this year. She’s spent the last few days wan and distant, refusing to talk about anything except nothing. She won’t discuss what happened the night Dad left.



Alex, you are four years old. You have lost sight of your family in a crowded theme park. How do you feel, and why?


We get a restroom break before the fourth round. Standing in a line of seventy kids with nervous bladders, I flip my implant out of “do not disturb” mode and check my messages. The Bee jams network communications in the ballroom to block hints from parents or coaches, but here on the upper level of the hotel I’ve got a little bit of service.

When I feel the message coming in from Dad, the little jolt of electricity seems to travel right down my spine into my stomach. I haven’t heard from him in eight days.

Hey son. Good luck up there. His words jab into my mind like pins.

I message him back, keeping my eyes fixed on the tiled floor as neurons flow in and out of the implant. Where are you? Don’t you know the bee is on right now?

Yeah, I’m watching it on TV. You look great.

Is she with you?

Come on, Alex.

No, I want to know, are you with your mistress?

Long pause. Her name’s Cynthia, okay?

I don’t want to know anything about her.



Alex, here is an excerpt from a child’s picture book. Please read it to the judges. Watch our body language carefully. Slow down, point to the pictures, or explain the story if it appears that we are losing interest or getting confused.


I don’t know how I’m still in the competition. Answers spring out of me without a second thought, like I’m one of the robots the Bee is designed to outwit. Three years of experience and hundreds of hours of preparation are keeping me alive, somehow. For now.

I started preparing seriously for the Bee in fifth grade, sitting at the kitchen table doing practice tests with Mom. When I got frustrated and wanted to give up the whole idea, she would simply put the books away and bring them out again the next day. Around the time I won my first regional playoff, her enthusiasm became mine, and I didn’t need any more encouragement to study.

Dad helped out, too, in the early days. I remember lying with my face in the living room carpet, feeling rather than hearing his deep voice reading me the prompts. I’m not sure when that stopped. This past year, he mostly lay on the couch in the evenings, eyes rolled up in his head, communing with his implant. Keeping up with work stuff, he claimed.



Hi again, Alex. Let’s pretend you have a young brother, Matt, who has ADHD. Day after day, he invades your personal space and messes up your belongings. How can you help him learn a sense of boundaries?


I tried to look up “adultery” in my implant yesterday. I didn’t get very far at first. The chip has parental controls enabled. My parents’ implants, however, do not.

My parents aren’t especially chip-savvy. They leave their implants unsecured on our shared network at home. That means I can pair my implant wirelessly with theirs and use their access credentials to get online, especially if they’re sleeping and unlikely to notice. That’s usually how I download the Q-rated headgames that my friends are playing. I used to be able to get those on my own implant, before Mom read some article about the supposed negative effects of virtual reality inside developing brains.

If Dad could do what he did — which is to say adultery, noun, voluntary sexual intercourse between a married person and someone else who is not his or her spouse — I don’t see what’s the big deal about a stupid game.



Tell me a story about a time when you experienced a feeling of schadenfreüde.


The contestants are dropping out fast now. The questions get a lot harder in this round, separating the championship contenders from the chip kiddies. Aliya Dhumal, last year’s champ, fails to explain why a controlling parent would trust alternative medicine over science. She leaves the stage after the buzzer with her head down. It looks like I’m going to make the top twenty, maybe more.

I go to the restroom again during the commercial break halfway through the round. I don’t need to pee — I just want to see if Dad has messaged me again. He hasn’t.

I really wish you were here.

He responds after a minute. Me too, Alex. I’m sorry things worked out like this.

You could still make it. We have your entry badge and everything. I can see your seat from the stage.

Look, you know things with me and your mom are rough right now.

Yeah. I know.



I love you, okay? You have every right to be upset about all this. I hope you’ll understand some day that I had to do what was right for me.


I reach behind my ear and flip the little switch that comes out of the implant, cutting off all access to the chip. My arms and legs are shaking.



You are a politician at a state dinner. The Italian ambassador starts telling a joke that you know will offend the Japanese prime minister. How do you intervene so that nobody’s feelings are hurt?


Mom insists I can’t blame myself for what happened that evening, but how can I not? I was the one who paired Dad’s implant with mine while he was sleeping on the couch after dinner. I only wanted his headgame password. I didn’t mean to look at his messages, and when I saw the pictures of the naked woman I didn’t know what to do. I probably shouldn’t have told Mom.

No, I had to tell somebody. I couldn’t carry that secret.

Maybe I should have kept it to myself until after the finals. I would have felt the embarrassment and the guilt, Dad’s guilt, wrenching my stomach, but at least I would have felt something besides this emptiness.

The kid sitting onstage beside me, Ginnie Worley from Cedar Rapids, mutters to herself each time she thinks the judges are about to buzz somebody. “He’s gone.”



Alex, Oscar Wilde once wrote that “each man kills the thing he loves.” If you truly love something, why would you let it go?


The flashbulbs blast in my face, leaving floaters all around my field of vision. It’s like looking into a Petri dish. My implant is still disabled, and I have no idea how to answer this question. I don’t know why someone kills their love. I don’t even know what love is supposed to be. I’m too young to be here.

The head judge leans into her microphone. She’s an elderly woman with a constantly sympathetic expression. “Thirty seconds, Alex.”

I could turn on the implant and search the database for Oscar Wilde. That’s what a chip kiddie would do, but there’s no time now.

Did I kill Dad’s love for me when I accessed his implant? If I hadn’t done that, if I hadn’t learned who he was, wouldn’t we still be together? Or was he bound to leave anyway, like Mom says, in which case nothing matters and this whole question is stupid?

“Alex. Time’s up. If you love something, why let it go?”

I close my eyes and speak so softly into the microphone that I can barely hear myself. “Because I have to do what’s right for me.”

“Please repeat that toward the judges?”

I turn toward the judges’ table. “I have to do what’s right for me.”

The judges put their heads together, murmuring. Somewhere behind me Ginnie Worley hisses jubilantly. “He’s gone.”

The sound of the buzzer strikes me right in the chest, vibrating all through my body. The head judge sighs, looking as always like she just put down a beloved family pet. “I’m sorry, Alex, that’s not an acceptable answer.”

I look out beyond the microphone, over the judges’ table, past Mom and the sea of people, right into the TV camera on the platform at the back of the ballroom. I look through the lens of the camera into the hotel room where I imagine Dad sits in bed with his arm around his mistress. I speak slowly and with emphasis, the way they teach you. “You’re darn right it isn’t.”

Then I walk off the stage and into that strange holding pen for just-eliminated contestants called the cry room. Mom is there, and I put my head on her shoulder, and all of a sudden I have more feelings than I know what to do with.

© 2019 by Forrest Brazeal

Author’s Note: I competed twice in the National Spelling Bee and still follow it from afar. In my opinion, the Bee is fundamentally broken in the digital age — kids keep getting smarter and prep tools get better, but the dictionary stays the same. I started thinking about the evolution of academic competitions, and came up with what I think would be a much more interesting event. (I’d watch it, anyway!)

Forrest Brazeal is a software engineer, writer, and cartoonist based in rural Virginia. His short stories have appeared or are forthcoming in Daily Science Fiction, Abyss & Apex, StarShipSofa, and elsewhere. Find him at forrestbrazeal.com or on twitter @forrestbrazeal.

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DP FICTION #53B: “Lies of the Desert Fathers” by Stewart Moore

The Abbot’s eyes stared up at the ceiling. The reflections of blue-robed angels flew across his gray irises. Not much blood had spattered on his face. His chest was another story. The stains had finally stopped spreading from the rents in his brown wool robe. I noticed a smear near the hem of my long skirt where I stood too close.

Revulsion erupted in my throat and I clamped my hands over my mouth. I could feel the dampness of the blood on my leg. I fought the urge to tear the bottom of the skirt off.  I needed to stay calm. If I panicked, all was lost.

On the Abbot’s shaven scalp, the lights of his implanted sanctifications still blinked, attempting to change the thought patterns of a dead brain. One finger slowly twitched. The motor cortex must be getting extra juice. I focused on that. A simple, physical issue in the neurological wiring. I could fix that. I slowed my thinking around that problem.

For some reason, the Abbot’s other hand held a saw. That problem I couldn’t solve right now.

Light from the overturned lamp shone on the wall behind the Abbot’s desk. There Saint Dymphna’s painted neck stretched out to meet her father’s sword in frozen, ecstatic martyrdom.  I locked eyes with her, my hot breath seething through my fingers. She could be calm.  I could be calm.

A shadow moved across Dymphna’s face. I almost turned and fled, but it was only a tarantula crawling inside the fallen lampshade. It hurried out across the wooden floor, so new the room still smelled of varnish in the dull evening heat.

The spider investigated the bloody chisel. Finally, it decided against crawling over the blade. It ran toward the monk in the shadows by the door. He stood so still, all I could see of him was his multicolored winking sanctifications, forming a halo around his head.

I smiled shakily, my gorge still in my throat. “Come here, please, Beta.”

Uriel Beta stepped forward shyly. He was a young man with a scar down his right cheek. His scalp and face were clean-shaven. What a change he made from when I first met him in prison, with lank dark hair and vomit-encrusted stubble.

Now, his hands were sticky with drying blood. I had found him desperately performing CPR on the Abbot.

“Who are you?” I asked.

Beta’s eyes went blank for a second as a blue light between his eyes flickered quickly. That implant stimulated his anterior cingulate cortex. His pupils contracted again. “…I’m Uriel Beta, a brother in the Order of Saint Dymphna.”

“Who am I?”

Again the momentary blankness. I couldn’t reduce the processing time for his sanctifications any further. That was why he had to be here, in the Order’s tightly sealed compound. He wouldn’t last a minute back on the streets, where his old friends, his victims and the police would all be waiting for him.

“…You’re Doctor Abigail Wainwright.”

“Good. Now lie to me, Beta.”

“…I can’t.”


Beta’s mouth worked, forming the beginnings of words, only for his sanctifications to start blinking more rapidly. Intracranial magnetic stimulation pulsed through his anterior cingulate cortex. Sociopaths have low activity in that region. Finally he let out a shuddering breath.

“…I can’t, Doctor Abigail. …The words won’t stay in my head. …It’s like they’re written in sand, and the wind… it blows the sand away, and what’s left is written in stone, and it’s the truth.”

“Excellent. Now: did you do this?”

Beta stared down at the Abbot, and at his scarlet hands. He knelt down, heedless of the blood on his robe. He looked up at me, tears in his eyes. A yellow light on his forehead faded on and off, stimulating his orbitofrontal cortex, giving him sympathy for the dead man he couldn’t feel on his own.

“…No,” he said at last. “You do believe me, don’t you?”

“Of course I do. But we have to find out who did this. I’m going to have to call the police pretty soon, and if we can’t give them the murderer, they’ll have to investigate. That means asking questions, and you know how the police already feel about this place. They might even try to force you to leave.”

Beta’s lights flickered. “…Yes. I understand. …We’re all very grateful to you, Doctor Abigail.”

I remembered how Beta had been when I met him: a monster seeking only his own immediate gratification. I set my jaw.

I looked over the monitors in the corner of the Abbot’s office. The lone guard was still in the booth at the entrance to the compound, oblivious. There were no guards inside the Order. We didn’t need any: no one wanted to get out. Besides, guards would have brought their own agendas, their own ideas of regulation and punishment, inside this place, and that would ruin the delicate work I performed here.

The rest of the monitors showed empty rooms and halls, but I knew where everyone was. It was nine o’clock: time for compline, the last service of the day. I held out my hand. “Come with me, Beta.” He took my hand and stood. I didn’t mind the blood. What kind of neurosurgeon would I be if I did? I took him over to the sink where the Abbot got water for blessing, and washed our hands.

Beta scrubbed at his fingernails as his tears ran down the drain. “…He was a great man. …You and he together made me whole. …You were like my mother and father.”

I squeezed Beta’s shoulder. “I know.”

We left the Abbot’s office, and I locked the door behind us. In the hallway, the ceiling lights reflected in the dark lacquered floors, as if we were hopping on stepping-stones in a frozen river. The adobe walls slowly released the day’s heat. The air was close, and sweat beaded on my forehead.

From up ahead came the chanting of the gathered monks. I recognized the canticle at once: the “Dies Irae,” “The Day of Wrath.” I mostly knew it from funeral services. An ill-omened thing to have come up in the lectionary for today. I saw Beta’s pupils dilate, and I knew it wasn’t just the dim light. I’d given all the brothers an implant in their anterior insula cortex. It gave them an experience of being one with each other when they worshipped together: a reward for their commitment to communal life. Now the music was taking hold of Beta. I gripped his arm.

“Uriel Beta, I need you to stay with me now. You’re the only one here who can’t lie to me.”

Beta looked at me with a slowly fading smile. He shook his head hard. “…I’ll try.” We continued down the hall. The chanting grew louder. Beta, struggling with the music, fighting its insistent communion with his brothers, started a whispered conversation to try to stay present with me.

“…Why didn’t you make it so we all can’t lie to you?”

I laughed quietly. “I’m good, but I’m not that good. All psychopaths need stimulation of the orbitofrontal and anterior cingulate cortices. That just reverses the particular manifestation of their disability. There are many ways to be a psychopath. You were a compulsive liar; now you compulsively tell the truth.”

“…But do I deserve any credit for that, theologically speaking?”

“That’s not for us to decide. You’re not hurting anyone anymore, and that’s the important thing.”

I remembered the photos of his victims, and shuddered. I was acutely aware of being alone with him, but I knew I was safe. Turning off the brothers’ sex drives had been the easiest operation. A simple matter of cutting off that pathway between the amygdala and the hypothalamus. I had to, or we’d never get anything done.

Beta and I emerged into the back of the candlelit chapel. Darkness filled the circular stained-glass window, giving just hints of deep reds and blues. On the woven altar covering, flowers with lush green leaves bloomed in the desert.

Without the Abbot, the brothers still knew the rites. The slow chant of the song went on and on. The harmonies were rough: I could work no magic with musical talent. But the joy they felt as they sang, or droned, or howled, hummed through the floor. Beta trembled. I put my hand on his shoulder. He smiled beatifically.

Counting Beta and omitting the Abbot, there should have been twenty-two monks in the chapel. It only took a moment to know that one was missing. All I could see was the back of their shaved heads, each blinking with its own constellation. That was enough: I knew each of their implants better than I knew their faces. I had spent hours placing each one. There were Uriel Alpha and Gamma; there were the Raphaels, all six Gabriels, the Michaels…

My breath died inside me. Cold rose up my back despite the heat. I squeezed Beta’s shoulder hard, and he looked at me hazily. “Sariel,” I whispered. “It’s Sariel.”

Beta’s eyes widened. I pulled him back into the shadows. “He must be somewhere where he can’t hear the service, and can hide from the cameras,” I said. “Where?”

Beta thought a moment. “…The library. The special collection. There’s one corner the camera can’t see.  We all know about it.”

“Let’s go.” We retreated from the chapel, back into the dark hallways.

Sariel. Our celebrity: Samuel Hutchens, the one serial killer I’d attempted to sanctify so far. Once I controlled his temporal lobe epilepsy, the rest had seemed fairly straightforward. I’d named him for the angel who taught humans about the moon. It matched the cyclical course of his murders.

Beta slowly opened the big oak door that led to the library. It creaked the tiniest bit. I prayed that only we heard it. Inside, green glass lampshades cast a watery light with pools of white on the ceiling. Books encased the walls. The shadows of shelves collected darkness. They gave off the odor of heat and paper.

I took off my shoes. We tiptoed along the shelves to the end of the row where the books about the Old Testament joined those of the New. The door to the special collection stood closed. On the floor lay a copy of the Lives of the Desert Fathers. Very slowly, I slid it out of our way with my foot.

Beta took hold of the door handle and looked back at me. I nodded. He gritted his teeth and threw it open.

Sariel stood in the corner, his nose in a book. He was a short, stocky, middle-aged man. His head was encrusted with sanctifications, like a phosphorescent reef. He looked up at us. His eyes gleamed in the dim light.

“Doctor,” he said softly. “You’re here late.” His accent was aristocratic Southern: Savannah, I knew, from his records. He sat down at the reading table.

“Why aren’t you at compline, Sariel?” I asked.

“I’m finding greater enlightenment here.” He closed the volume and turned it so I could see the cover. Neurocybernetic Behavior Modification. My first book.

“What’s that doing here?” I asked.

“The Abbot thought it was important that we know what we are.” Sariel ran his finger along the crevices of the brain on my book’s cover.

I sat down carefully across from him. “And what are you?”

“Spiritual beings, freed from the thorns of the flesh. Human as human was meant to be, human as in the Garden of Eden, free to praise God eternally until senescence. At which point we will resume the practice in heaven.”

I smiled. “That’s what you’re meant to be. You’re supposed to be better than the rest of us.”

“That’s what the Abbot thought, at least.” He looked at me from under heavy lids.

“Sariel… Have you seen the Abbot today?”

“No,” he whispered, his finger still moving over the convoluted lines. “Not personally, I mean. I saw him at worship this afternoon. And at noon. And this morning.”

“Then why aren’t you there now?”

“Because I’m tired!” he shouted. He picked up the book and slammed it back down. “I’m tired of feeling one with the universe whenever we sing a minor fifth. We’re slaves to your damned brain-machines, and I have had enough.” He reached down into his lap and brought up a tool. My whole body tensed. It was a vise grip. He set it gently on the table. “Eating and f-f-f… mating.” He spat out the word with the force of the interdicted vulgarity. “That’s what it is to be human. So how human do you think I feel, Doctor?”

“Where did you get that?” I asked, stalling for time.

“The workshop. You wanted us to be productive, after all. Idle hands, and so on. You were so sure of your work, that we wouldn’t use the tools to hurt each other. And you were right, of course. I couldn’t hurt another person now, even if I could want to.”

“Then what are you going to do with it?” My voice felt strangled in my throat.

Sariel’s fingers walked over his sanctifications like the legs of a pale spider. “I believe I know now what each one of these things does. This one, for instance—” He tapped a tiny box with a blue light on the left side of his head. “—This one regulates the communication between my amygdala and hypothalamus, so I can’t feel sexual excitation. This has been a particularly painful loss for me.”

He picked up the vise grip and closed it on that box. I stood up. “Jesus, don’t do that, Hutchens!”

He stood too. “Don’t come closer, either of you. I know what will happen. It’s like a fishhook: it does more damage coming out than going in. But it doesn’t matter, since I’m already dead to everything important in life. I’ll give you this, Doctor: you made the death penalty look good.”

He ripped the sanctification out of his head. Most of the implant tore off inside his skull, but the wire came out crusted with pinkish-gray neocortical flesh. Blood pulsed down his scalp. His right arm instantly flopped down at his side. He had torn straight through his motor cortex. He looked down at the useless limb.

Sariel grinned. “If your hand offend thee, cut it off.” His voice was thick.

“Beta, stop him!” I shouted. But when I looked back at him, Beta was shaking. His eyes rolled back into his head. He collapsed against the table and flopped onto the floor. His sanctifications scraped against the hardwood. I turned him on his side. His breathing was ragged but clear.

“And if your eye offend thee, pluck it out,” Sariel said. He gripped another sanctification and ripped it out, destroying Broca’s area, the center of grammar. “Interesting. Is. Feeling. You. Good. To me. Look. Feel… normal, almost.” He giggled, and ripped out another and another. Twitches writhed under his skin, contorting his face. His good hand trembled, so he had trouble getting at a sanctification at the back of his head. When he pulled it out, his right eye blinked furiously.

He was now blind on that side. I slipped around the table that way.

“Where… Go?” Sariel choked. He searched to his left, but like many people with damage to their left occipital lobe, he ignored his right completely. He brought his shaking hand to the center of his forehead, trying to get a grip on the winking red light there.

I grabbed the vise. It came easily from his loose fingers. I threw it away. He howled. Blood streamed down his face. His arms flailed out blindly. I grabbed my book off the table, a heavy tome full of illustrations. I swung it at the back of Sariel’s skull. I had to hit him three times, ruining more sanctifications as well as the book’s cover, before he fell down and lay shivering.

Beta moaned and tried to sit up. I knelt down and supported him. He looked around blearily under the table and saw Sariel’s bleeding head. Beta smiled weakly, then threw up. I moved to block his view of Sariel, and slowly he recovered. “…Not much good, was I?”

“It’s not your fault,” I said. “I turned up the activity in your mirror neurons to give you more empathy. Empathizing with that was just too much.”

“…I think I’m okay now.” I helped him stand up.

“Can you stay here and watch him?” I asked. “Make sure he doesn’t hurt himself any more?”

“…Yes. Are you going to call the police?”

“No.” I patted Beta’s arm. “It’ll be all right. I want to see if I can can save Sariel.” I sighed. There probably wasn’t much left of Sariel to save. I had worked so hard on him. “I’ll be right back.”

I left the library, retrieving my shoes as I did so, and headed for the Abbot’s office. I had to make sure it was undisturbed for the police. Soft chanting still drifted down the halls. The unity of the sound made it all worthwhile.

I passed by a small shrine for Saint Dymphna in the hallway. A single votive candle flickered under her portrait: a young, pretty, red-haired girl. The patron saint of the mentally ill. I wondered who had lit the candle. I thought of the men in the chapel, brains malformed at birth, who had never had a chance to choose the good at all. I freed them from that. I made it possible for God to save them. I opened the doors of Heaven.

Saint Dymphna’s ghost of a smile was not really reassuring. Neither was the crimson line across her throat.

I stalked down the hall. The brain is a physical system, I told myself, running over the old arguments in preparation for dealing with the police. A human brain is run by chemicals and electricity. You can measure it, alter it, even hold it in your hand. For God to change the flow of electricity in these men’s brains would have required a miracle, a bona-fide miracle, no less than splitting the Red Sea. And God doesn’t work that way anymore. Just read the news.

I reached the Abbot’s door and unlocked it. All I knew was, I saw sickness. I’m a doctor. So I healed it. What else was I supposed to do?

I walked around the desk. Two pools of sticky blood marked where the Abbot’s body and the knife had been.

I looked up. Uriel Beta stood in the doorway. Behind him, the other monks filled the hall. They sang quietly. I had mistaken volume for distance.

Beta’s left hand held something the size of a large rock. When he stepped forward I could see what it was.

“Uriel Beta, what are you doing with that drill?”

Beta looked down at his empty right hand. “…I’m not holding any drill, Doctor.”

“You can’t lie to me, Beta. I know you can’t.”

“…I’m not lying, Doctor. You did your work very well. See?” He waved his right hand languidly at me. “Nothing.”

“What about your other hand?”

“This?” He looked down at his left hand. It stayed very still. The knuckles were white, except the one on the trigger. “…This isn’t my hand. This is God’s hand. I don’t have any control over it.”

“Jesus. Beta, you have alien-hand syndrome. I should have known it was a possibility, it’s associated with disorders of the anterior cingulate. I stimulated that region to help your empathy, but I must have overloaded something somehow. I can fix it, Beta, I swear I can, but you have to give me the drill.”

The tarantula scurried in front of him. He knelt down.

“God doesn’t want you to take this,” he said softly. He triggered the drill and stabbed it through the spider’s body and into the floor. He never took his eyes off me as he did it. “But don’t worry. He doesn’t want to kill you either. Not like the Abbot. The Abbot wanted to saw off God’s arm.” He pulled the drill out of the floor and stood. “God only wants you to know the happiness we feel.” I realized he wasn’t pausing before he spoke. He believed what he said absolutely.

I saw blinking lights in another monk’s hand. It took me a moment to realize they were Sariel’s bloody sanctifications.

Beta’s left hand tested the drill. It whirred loudly. He stepped forward. There was nowhere for me to go. For the first time I really saw the window bars from this side.

“He’s going to sanctify you, Doctor,” Uriel Beta said as the other monks surrounded me. They grabbed me and pulled me to the floor, singing the whole time.

“You’re going to see what we see. What you gave us.” Beta knelt down over me. “Thank you, Doctor. We all thank you so much.”

I heard a sound. I couldn’t tell whether it was me screaming, or the drill. I looked up at the shaved heads all around. A cloud of blinking lights surrounded me, pulsing in complex rhythms. I knew each blink and flicker.

They were all working perfectly.

© 2019 by Stewart Moore


Author’s Note: “Lies of the Desert Fathers” was born out of research in the hard doctrine of original sin, that no human can achieve godliness unaided.  But who knows what helps towards saintliness might be available after 50 more years of technology?

Stewart Moore began his peripatetic career by graduating college with a degree in theater, following which he directed a production of his play Henry and Beckyin New York City.  Later, he earned a Ph.D. in Hebrew Bible at Yale.  His researches there led to the publication of his first book, Jewish Ethnic Identity and Relations in Hellenistic Egypt (Brill, 2014).  Turning from nonfiction to short fiction, he has been published in anthologies edited by Ellen Datlow (The Beastly Bride, 2010) and Paula Guran (Halloween, 2011).  He has also been published in the magazine Mysterion (2018).  He lives in New Jersey with his wife, daughter and an odd number of cats.





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written by David Steffen

Big Hero 6 is an animated action comedy science fiction movie released by Walt Disney Animation Studios in 2014, which is loosely based on the Marvel superhero team of the same name.

Hiro Hamada is a 14-year old high school graduate  living in San Fransokyo (a combination of San Francisco and Tokyo apparently?), who spends his free time building robots to fight on the illegal underground bot fighting circuits.  His big brother Tadashi shows him to the advanced research lab where Tadashi has been spending his time inventing a balloon robot with nursing capabilities, and Hiro quickly makes friends with the other young researchers as well as the lab’s director Robert Callaghan who invites Hiro to apply to join the lab by entering something in an inventing competition.

Soon after, a disaster at the lab takes the life of Callaghan and Tadashi, and Hiro is left to pick up the pieces of his life.  But Baymax was in Tadashi’s bedroom at home at the time of the accident, and activates to help Hiro cope with the loss of his brother.  Hiro recruits Baymax’s help, and the help of his friends, to get to the bottom of the accident at the lab.

Baymax is lovable and hilarious from the first minute he’s onscreen, in part because of his unusual architecture as an inflated balloon built around a flexible skeleton, built to be nonthreatening to help with his healthcare functionality.  Even as he gets pulled further and further away from his core purpose for the sake of the story, Baymax’s focus is always on helping Hiro heal from the loss of his brother.  This is both funny and sad.  Funny, because Baymax is always so well-meaning, he is always looking out for others at all times, that he interrupts action scenes to verify that what he is doing is helping Hiro feel better.  Sad, because he is so trusting and Hiro honestly takes advantage of someone he calls a friend, by pretending that a quest for revenge is equivalent to grief counseling.

Spoilers in this paragraph: I normally don’t discuss big plot points in reviews, but in this case I wanted to talk about a particular point that did bother me, although I like the movie as a whole.  This ongoing choice to take advantage of Baymax comes to a head during one of the major climaxes of the show when Hiro asks Baymax to kill in the name of his quest for revenge, and Baymax can’t harm a human being because of his programming.  Instead of trying to understand this, Hiro removes his healthcare programming chip, which is like lobotomizing a friend because your friend doesn’t agree with you.  I feel like that was more than just a mistake, that was a mind-rape of a friend who trusted him, and while the movie made it clear that was a bad choice, I felt that it glossed over the consequences.

But overall, loved the movie, lots of fun action, lots of funny stuff.  Great for kids too.  Since we watched the movie, my 4-year-old asks me on a daily basis “Do you remember the Baymax movie?”


DP FICTION #48A: “Local Senior Celebrates Milestone” by Matthew Claxton

The reporter is young, smells young even through the miasma of bleach and boiled vegetables. Three Willows Retirement Village is not an olfactory feast, so Millie is grateful for the scents of mango shampoo and coconut hand cream the girl brings with her.

“First of all, congratulations on the milestone!”

Millie wraps her knuckles around the gnarled head of her driftwood cane, leans forward.

“Congratulations?” She releases a calculated chuckle, gently chiding. “On not dying?”

“I just mean… I mean, not everyone gets to celebrate their one-hundred and tenth birthday!”

“Well, that’s very true. I’ve been blessed.”

“I was hoping you could tell me a little about your life. You must have seen so much!”

“Oh, yes.”

The girl has a notebook out now, pen poised.

“I was hoping you could tell me, what’s your earliest memory?”

The pods. The heat of the sun soaked into the sand by day, warming the cluster of egg-sacs. Warm, dark, protected. Her lungs and gills growing, the bones of her limbs hardening. Keratinous spurs on her wrists grew sharp, and the urge to surface gripped her hard. The skin of the egg parted like paper, and salty sand mingled with the cooling jelly. She had squirmed onto the beach. Her parents watched nearby, their horses shying.

Her siblings had crawled free, but she had been the first, the first to see the stars.

“I remember the beach. We always lived near the water, and I loved to run across the sand at low tide, when it was cool. When I was older we’d ride the old mare down. Tried to get her to gallop along the shore once, and she threw me right into a tidepool!” Millie forces a chuckle and a wry smile.

“You grew up on a farm?”

“Oh yes. Lots of chores to do. And schooling, of course. Mama educated us herself, us being so far out in the country.”

They stalked one another through the trees and fields, games of hunt and evasion. Millie had the sharpest nose. She could find her siblings hidden even when their skin changed to match the mottled pattern of leaf and twig. They pounced and bit one another, drawing blood and laughing, violently tender.

Later, Mother drilled them. Human languages first, English and Mandarin, German and Spanish. “You must be able to blend among them. You can’t rely on your hybrid DNA. Never let them suspect. The slightest slip could be fatal to our kind and our mission.”

After lunch it was their Home language, the keening and clicks, the consonants aspirated through flared gills. They studied the old poets and the old songs, in glyphs as twisted as the coils of barbed wire that marked the edges of their homestead.

The reporter leans forward, elbows on the table. “I suppose you didn’t have a telephone, or a car? Do you remember when the first time you saw a car was? Or a radio?”

Father held the communicator in his palm. Smooth as beach glass, liquid fractals pulsed from its center as he clicked and cooed.

“When will I be able to speak to Home?” Millie asked. 

“When the time is right,” said Father. “When you are old enough to begin work on the mission.”

He gently stroked her hair, palm still warm from the communicator. “Soon,” he promised.

“Radio seemed like magic. I heard it first at another family’s home. Voices through the air, you know. The first car I ever saw was considerably less pleasant — it was an old Model-T. The rattle and roar of the thing! I clapped my hands over my ears.”

The reporter nods, scribbling.

“You’ve lived through such turbulent times. What was it like to live during the World Wars?”

The government man’s heels beat hard against the cheap rooming house carpet. Millie held tight to the wooden handles of the garrote, ignoring the blood that seeped around the wire and dripped onto her good shoes. 

Too close. He’d come too close, had seen her emerge from the lake near the munitions factory.

When his heart stilled, she eased him to the floor, then collected every trace of her presence from the small room. She’d have to abandon her identity, find another source for the chemicals they needed for the third phase. The damned war had made the humans watchful, almost clever.

Not so clever that they wouldn’t be easily thrown off the trail. She left a torn page from a German-American Bund pamphlet in the back of the cheap plywood dresser. 

She left, not worrying about fingerprints on the doorknob. She didn’t leave any.

“Nothing as exciting as you may imagine. It was all victory gardens and scrap drives for me. The war on the home front. I was just fortunate that I didn’t have any children in harm’s way.”

“But you did have children?”

“Oh my, yes. Everyone had a big family, back then. A family meant a future.”

She and Henry didn’t bother to put their clothes back on, just walked out of the beach house and onto the moon-silvered sand. She dug the hole with a garden trowel.

“I’m worried,” he said. “We’ve lost contact with the Chicago brood.”

She dropped to her haunches. “Protocol. Scatter and hide. They’ve done it before, after a mission’s gone bad.”

“It’s been too long. I think they’ve been captured, or killed. One of those G-men pursuit teams maybe.”

She shuddered, half at his words and half at the birth-ecstasy. The egg mass slid out of her and filled the hole. Blue-veined embryos blinked at the black sky for a moment before she covered them with sand. She pressed one hand to the spot for a moment, felt their warmth.

“It will be okay,” she said.

“Tell me about your husband.”

“Henry? We met at work, after I first moved to the city. I knew he was a good man, and, well, our families were friendly. We were a good fit.

“It turned out to be a real love match, though. That was rarer than the movies would have you believe.”

She pauses, contains herself. Let the reporter see the sorrow, not the anger.

“He died young.”

The first bullet caught him in the lower back. Purplish blood oozed from the wound as they ran through the alleys, seeking cover in the steam rising from the sewer grates. Men in long coats ran behind them, yelling into crude radios.

The second bullet struck higher, in Henry’s spine. His legs spasmed wildly as he fell. She grabbed his coat, pulled him with fierce strength, but the alley ended in a filthy courtyard.

“Go,” he hissed. She hesitated, and he sang the word in the speech of Home, his golden tones strained with pain. She scaled a fire escape, bullets shattering against the metal railings.

She looked back once. He wasn’t moving.

That winter, she found the leader of the FBI pursuit group. She watched his house burn on a cold night. No one got out, not the government man, not his wife, not their children.

“I still miss him. He was a good man. Left me with a little nest egg, fortunately. In my later years, I travelled, all the trips we’d meant to take together after we retired. But the loneliness… it can get to you, sometimes.”

Goa was comfortably warm, the monsoon kind to her skin. The mathematician at the university had proved amenable to sharing his notes. He was bright, too bright. She cupped the communicator in her hand and reached out to the brood in Bombay. They would need to arrange an accident.

After, she reset to commune with Home, but the device remained silent and dark.

Nothing. Three years, and no word.

What was going on?

The stars were cloaked by clouds, and the sky held no answers.

The reporter taps pen to notebook. She is already running low on questions. Millie sighs. She’s been through the gauntlet at one-hundred, and again at one-hundred and five. There are only a few questions left to go, then it will be time for the tooth-achingly sweet cake, and a walk back to her room.

“Did you ever expect you would live so long?” The question bursts forth, the pleading look says the girl would take it back if she could.

“No,” Millie says. “But when you’re young, you always think you’ll live forever.”

Millie’s knee ached, the arthritis a gift of her human genes. A hurricane was coming, rolling in across the Gulf and making for Florida. She could feel it even inside the sterile grey-carpeted halls of Cape Canaveral.

She pushed the mail trolley, dropping packages in cubicles and offices. When no one was looking, she palmed the scanner the Moscow brood had sent her over racked floppy disks. The scanner hummed in her hand like a wasp as it soaked up data.

They were stealing technology from the humans now, desperately trying to build an alternate means of communicating with Home. Pathetic, but what else could they do?

They could forget. Susan and Abel and Henry Junior spoke to her in English now, called her on Sundays and worried about mortgages as much as missions.

How many of the old poems did they still remember? How much could they be expected to remember, three generations removed from Home?

Thirty years, and no word.

“I suppose everyone learns the secret, if you go on long enough,” Millie says. “You just keep on living. You hope you find someone you can love to spend your life with, you try to do right by your children. You do your work, and hope things turn out well. They don’t, always. You have to make your peace with that. That’s about all I’ve learned, in my time on this planet.”

She sighs, and something in her face makes the reporter draw back a little. A little too much revealed there, the twinge of guilt at any crack in the facade. But she’s an old woman. Who will think her moods are anything worse than the product of a decaying mind?

The singing comes from the kitchen, singing and fire’s feral glow. The fools have somehow lit a full hundred and ten candles atop the white-and-blue frosted slab. It reminds her pleasantly of a burning house.

The chorus of “Happy Birthday” dies away.

“Blow out the candles, Millie!” shouts the home’s manager through lipstick-smeared teeth.

The reporter has her camera pressed to one eye. Fine, if they want a photo, she’ll give them one. She draws breath into lungs deeper than any human’s, and purses her lips.

The flames flicker and die, a hundred smoke trails coiling about like seaweed at slack tide.

The applause is genuine, the kitchen staff and nursing aids shouting in wonder. “Go Millie!” “Lookit that!”

The reporter leans in again, face bright. Good photo for her sad little page twelve human interest story, that’s all she cares about.

“What did you…” She breaks off. “Your brooch…”

Millie puts a hand to her sweater. The communicator hums with life. Fractals bloom across its surface in wondrous, glowing profusion. She clutches her hand around it hard, closes her eyes. It has been so long. One of the lost broods?


Home, the signal strong and clear, the message simple: We are coming.

Millie smiles.

“Just a piece of costume jewelry, dear. What were you saying?”

“I, um, what did you wish for? When you blew out the candles?”

“If I tell you, it won’t come true now, will it? But I think you’ll find out soon enough.”

She lets them cut her an extra slice, and with relish she licks the frosting from her fingers.

On her way back to her room, she hums one of the hymns of home, in subsonics and whispered gill-speech too low for any human to hear.

Millie smiles. She is eager to clip out a copy of the young reporter’s story. Assuming there is another issue of the paper.

It would be nice to have a keepsake. It’s been a day for milestones.


© 2018 by Matthew Claxton


Matthew Claxton is a reporter living near Vancouver, British Columbia. His stories have appeared in Asimov’s Science Fiction, Mothership Zeta, and The Year’s Best Science Fiction 34. Rumours that he is three small dinosaurs standing on each other’s shoulders in a trenchcoat have never been proven. You can follow him on Twitter @ouranosaurus.








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DP FICTION #46B: “For the Last Time, It’s Not a Ray Gun” by Anaea Lay

Connor was shy, introverted and a thousand other things that made sitting there, at the tiny coffee shop table, torturous. He didn’t want to be tortured. He wanted to hear harp music and cherubs giggling and all the other noises that accompanied your first date with your soul mate. It had taken him weeks to screw up the courage to ask Kayla out for coffee. As far as he was concerned, glitter should ooze from the walls in a poltergeist-style reward for the brazen bravery he’d demonstrated.

Meanwhile, Kayla pretty clearly didn’t realize this was supposed to be a date.

She wasn’t being weird or anything. And Connor wasn’t sure what she ought to be doing instead. But she wasn’t nervous or awkward or in any way different from how she was when they hung out with Debra and Joe and the rest. This was basically the same as hanging out in Kayla’s workshop for their hack-a-thon sessions, except the coffee was better, nobody else was around, and Connor felt entitled to glitter ooze.

Kayla was in the middle of a lengthy monologue about the various activities going on in her workshop. “Joey was pretty adamant about getting the beta testing approved by the IRB but we managed to talk him out of it before he actually filed any paperwork. Can you imagine, just telling the government what you’re planning like that? Ruins all the fun of making them figure it out for themselves.”

Connor was so nervous and uncomfortable that he couldn’t process any of the things Kayla was saying. He cared about what she wanted to talk about a lot. He just couldn’t get past the absence of cherubs and harp music. So he was completely astonished when she stopped. She glared at the table next to them, then rifled through her bag. A moment later she retrieved a silver and black object covered in wires.

“Uhm, Kayla?” Connor said, finding his voice for the first time since he’d ordered his coffee.

“Mm,” she said, her eyes steadily fixed in a death glare on their neighbor.

“Why do you have a ray gun?”

The neighbor was a petite girl with curly hair trimmed in an asymmetrical bob and thick eyeliner. The eyeliner covered her face in wavery trails, distributed by the tears she was actively shedding.

“It’s not a ray gun,” Kayla said without breaking her gaze.

Connor might be nervous, and he might be overwhelmed, but he damn well knew a ray gun when he saw one and that was a ray gun. But this was their first date and, even if Kayla didn’t know it, and he wasn’t about to pick a fight in the middle of it. “Please don’t shoot that girl in public.”

“If she wanted to be shot in private, she should have kept her crying fest there.” Kayla pointed the ray gun at their tearful neighbor.

Connor wanted to check the return policy on this date. Did dates come with return policies? Maybe there was some sort of insurance you could buy for first dates, like you did with airline tickets.

She pulled the trigger. Connor was blinded by a sizzling white beam emitted by the metal tip of the not-a-ray-gun. The light hit their neighbor who gave a startled yelp.

The light faded, and the weeping girl was gone, replaced by a dapper man with a cravat and a monocle. The man folded his hands on the table and looked around the coffee shop. Then, his voice low, breathy, and thick with the Queen’s English, uttered two words that would come to haunt Connor. “I say.”


If there was a gold standard for good at people, Connor was the opposite of it. Talking to people was just about the most terrifying thing in the whole world, even scarier than those raptors from Jurassic Park. If he started a conversation with people, they might expect him to know something about popular music, or sports, or lutefisk. Worse, they might want him to talk about himself.

But Connor didn’t want to die friendless and alone. He didn’t even want to hit middle age that way. He was useless in a conversation, but he was good at listening, and he liked to tinker and to collect things. So he decided to start tinkering with social groups and to collect interesting people.

Kayla wasn’t the crown jewel of his collection. That would be Debra, who took up new hobbies and advanced to the cutting edge with the same ease other people deployed in changing their socks. But Kayla was funny and had quirky interests and never seemed bothered by Connor’s shyness. On the contrary, she tended to praise his reserve. Other people seemed to like Connor with an asterisk. “He’s great when you finally get to know him.” “Once he opens up he’s pretty cool.” Kayla liked him without wanting him to talk or expecting him to crack a joke. It put him at ease, which ironically made it easier to open up, but it was also a relief. He hadn’t realized how much he wanted other people to let him be shy and scared until he had it.

Which might be how he missed the early clues that Kayla was completely unhinged.


Sitting at a small table in a coffee shop, deprived of spontaneously manifesting symbols of compatibility and romance, Connor stared at the Englishman née crying girl. It was possible he was facing something more frightening than conversation about lutefisk.

“Kayla?” Connor asked. He didn’t take his eyes from the Englishman. Maybe, if he kept watching, the Englishman would disappear and the crying girl would be there, still crying, and Connor wouldn’t have to face this.

“Yes, Connor?”

“Did you just shoot somebody with your ray gun?”

“I already told you, it’s not a ray gun.”

“What is it?” Connor was blinking hard. He’d just now realized that the mug of coffee the girl had been drinking transformed, too. It was a delicate china cup, white and blue. The Englishman took a dainty sip.

“The Social Propriety Enforcer Mock 1. I call it SPEM.”

Connor silently repeated the name to himself. “Is the effect…permanent?”

Kayla patted the side of the gun. The gesture was distressingly similar to what you might perform on a terrier or toddler. “Yup. I’ve been waiting to test it for days. Isn’t this great?”

This was worse than Kayla not realizing they were on a date. Somehow, Connor tried to connect with his soul mate and instead he’d become an accessory to some sort of demented homicide.

Or was it homicide?

“Excuse me, sir,” Connor said, his fear of talking to strangers momentarily outmatched by sheer bewilderment.

The Englishman’s posture was perfect. He settled his cup on the table. “Yes?”

“How long have you been sitting at that table?”

He tilted his head thoughtfully, then reached a finely manicured hand into his morning coat and retrieved a pocket watch. “It must be the better part of an hour,” he said, tucking the watch back in place.

Just as long as the crying girl had been there. Not murder, then. Kidnapping? Assault? Was there even a name for the crime of turning random strangers into Englishmen?

“Does it always have the same effect?” Connor asked. Maybe that girl had been crying because deep down inside, she desperately wanted to be a dapper Englishman, and the Social Propriety Enforcer Mock 1 operated by granting wishes.

“Don’t be silly. Of course not,” Kayla said, to Connor’s great relief. If it was a wish granting gun, then this was great. His first date with Kayla was salvaged. Heck, she could shoot him and then they’d get those cherubs he was still waiting on.

His hopes were utterly dashed with her next comment. “English people aren’t a monolith.”


Connor knew when he needed advice. Having an awkward first date with a girl you really liked, when she didn’t even know it was a date, was definitely a situation for which he was not at all qualified. The right thing to do would be to go to the most competent person he knew and see what they said. But Debra was a little intimidating. Instead, Connor went to Joey.

Joey was a knitter/weaver/soapmaker/blacksmith extraordinaire. Connor met him three years before at a maker fair where Joey was giving a presentation that heavily implied that to be a real knitter, you needed your own herd of specially bred sheep that you sheared yourself. With shears you had, of course, forged on your own. It was unclear whether you should also mine and refine your own ore.

Connor didn’t have any interest in sheep, but he collected interesting people, and in addition to his maker talents, Joey could karaoke to Lady Gaga like nobody’s business. Connor acquired him.

So Connor screwed up his courage, lured Joey out for drinks, then explained his dilemma. He went into fairly extensive detail, for Connor. It took him three sentences.

Joey was knitting when he wasn’t actively pouring beer into his mouth. It was unclear what Joey was knitting. “You mean you have no chemistry?”

Connor cursed himself. He’d spent too much time lamenting the absence of glitter ooze. “No, that’s not it.” How to correct his mistake? “She didn’t realize it was a date.”

Joey nodded. “You said that. But I think maybe she did. It sounds like there was no chemistry, so she was letting you down easy.”

Connor tried again. “She turned a stranger into an Englishman.”

“Were they crying?”


Joey shrugged. “That’s sorta Kayla’s thing, isn’t it?” He had a point.

To hear Kayla tell it, she was locked in an adversarial relationship with the universe. She, a natural born super villain, had endured a lifetime of petty torments at the hands of unseen cosmic forces. Prominent stoplights along her frequent routes would linger on red just to slow her down. Her favorite TV shows were always canceled after half a season. She moved to Seattle for its cool, rainy weather, and the entire Pacific Northwest immediately became warm and sunny. Also, wherever she went, people cried in public.

“In Seattle, instead of shaking hands, people share their sexual histories and sad childhoods,” she’d lamented during one of the hack-a-thon sessions. “Don’t people know that’s unhealthy?”

Pointing out details like, those red lights have always been slow, Fox cancels anything good, and global warming has been around since before you were born, did nothing to budge her conviction of persecution. She took a weird sort of pride in her war. It was charming.

“What do I do?” Connor asked.

Joey’s knitting needles clacked madly as he worked. Was it possible to knit a sheep? It looked like Joey was knitting a sheep. “Ask her out again?”


Their second date was just as lacking in tangible manifestations of romance as their first. This time, Connor expected that, so that was okay. Kayla still didn’t show any signs of knowing it was a date. That was less okay. Twice she pulled out SPEM and transformed a bawling bystander into an unobtrusive Englishman.

“Did you put ‘pew pew’ stickers on your ray gun?” Connor asked the second time.

“It’s not a ray gun,” Kayla said. “And yes. I did.”

Yup. This was definitely love.


There are ethical problems to consider when dating somebody who doesn’t know you’re dating them. The first time, it’s an honest mistake. The second time, it’s bad communication. After that?

After that, you decide that you don’t care whether it’s a date or not. You divorce yourself from the idea of dating. You’re just having one-on-one hangouts with the girl who happens to be your soul mate, and while yes, you should probably mention your discovery of your cosmic entanglement to her, particularly given her already fraught relationship with the universe, maybe the whole world should remember that you are terrified of conversation, especially about yourself, and cut you a little slack and oh holy hell there are Englishmen everywhere.

No really.


When Connor catches the bus to work, the driver is an Englishman. So are half the passengers.

Mailman? Englishman. Amazon Prime bike delivery guy? Englishman. Barrista? Who are we kidding? The entire coffee shop is English. They’ve started serving crumpets. Connor doesn’t know what a crumpet is. The homeless people living in Cal Anderson park all wear tweed and play cricket.

“I think I would like it if Englishmen took over the world,” Kayla said on their sixth date.

“They did that once,” Connor pointed out. “We call it colonialism.”

“Sounds like fun. Let’s start with Portland.”

“You did get the memo that colonialism is bad, right?”

Kayla rolled her eyes. “Duh. I didn’t mean we should all fall under the Queen’s rule. I mean everybody should adopt the English reserve. Their ability to repress emotions and cope with everything by drinking tea. It’s so healthy.”


“Mm-hmm,” Kayla said, sipping from her coffee. “It’s important to keep your feelings inside. If you let them out, you become structurally unsound and run a high risk of deflating. That’s why everybody in Seattle is depressed.”

That didn’t sound right to Connor. “I thought it was the rain.”

Kayla leaned back in her chair, then raised her arms. “What rain? The weather hasn’t been right since I moved here.”

She was definitely wrong about the weather changing to thwart her. But she had a point. The last two years had set records for sunshine and warmth.


Is it still creepy to date somebody who doesn’t know you’re dating when you are sincerely concerned that, if you try to have a conversation about how you feel, you’ll horribly embarrass yourself and ruin everything? What about if there’s a real risk that she’ll turn you into an Englishman?


Connor and Joe were supposed to have a planning session for the hack-a-thon, but Joe was late. Being late is a classic practice for west coasters in general. Flaking out and canceling is a specialty of the Pacific Northwest. But Joe was usually pretty good about hack-a-thon related things. Connor gave him twenty minutes, then called.

“Joe?” he asked when the call connected.


“Are you coming to the meeting? It’s getting late.”

“Goodness gracious, what are you nattering on about?” Joe asked.

Connor dropped his phone. Then he looked around the coffee shop. There were no mugs. Instead, everybody was drinking from porcelain tea cups with saucers. The tables were covered in doilies. Every single other patron in the coffee shop was wearing either wool or tweed and there were an alarming number of ascots on display. Connor, in his blue jeans and T-shirt, was the only non-Englishman in sight.

He scooped up his phone and fled into the street. Without thinking, he ran to Kayla’s, weaving through Englishmen out and about in the course of their day. As far as he could tell, everybody in Seattle had been transformed into an Englishman. He ran faster. He had to reach Kayla before she packed up her ray gun and went to Portland.

“I say!” somebody protested when Connor pushed them aside to cross an intersection.

“Pish tosh!” another exclaimed when he accidentally bumped into them.

“I’m pretty sure English people don’t actually say that,” Connor shouted over his shoulder has he ran on.

Finally, he reached Kayla’s door. Sweaty, chest heaving, gasping for breath, he rang her doorbell. She opened the door almost immediately.

The ray gun was in her hand.

She had to be stopped. Somehow, Connor was going to have to talk some sense into her. It just wasn’t okay to go around transforming people because you didn’t like the way they behaved in public. He took a deep breath, preparing the words he was going to say. What came out was, “I think we’ve been dating for three months.”

Kayla frowned at him, the gun held close to her body. “Three and a half.”


“Our first date was that time we caught the bus together to go to Debra’s. When that weird guy started ranting at you about lutefisk. I figured that was the end of it, but you were so discombobulated, you asked me out for coffee.”

The whole world spun away from Connor. He’d completely blocked out the memory of that bus ride. Had there been glitter or cherubs then? He’d never know. “You didn’t turn a crying girl into an Englishman on our first date?”

“God, no,” Kayla said. “You can’t do things like that on a first date.”

She was right. Waiting until the second date to assault strangers with a ray gun changed everything. And, Connor realized, he wasn’t a giant creep after all! They’d both known they were dating the whole time. He just hadn’t known they’d known. “I think I’m in love with you.” The words poured out of him in a rush, relief masquerading as courage.

Kayla’s whole frame slumped. “Aw, Connor. What’d you have to go and do that for?” She raised the ray gun. An intense white light enveloped him.

He had a desperate hankering for a good pot of tea.


© 2018 by Anaea Lay


Author’s Note: This is the real life, completely true story of how I moved to Seattle, discovered some charming cultural quirks, and helped fix them.  Everyone in Seattle is now very stoic, if not happy, and nobody drinks coffee anymore.  You’re welcome.


Anaea Lay lives in Chicago, IL, where she engages in a torrid love affair with the city.  She’s the fiction podcast editor for Strange Horizons, where you can hear her read a new short story nearly every week, and the president of the Dream Foundry, where she gets up to no good.  Her fiction work has appeared in a variety of venues including LightspeedApexBeneath Ceaseless Skies, and Pod Castle.  Her interactive game about running a railroad and finding love, Gilded Rails, is forthcoming from Choice of Games.  She lives online at anaealay.comwhere you can find a complete biography and her blog.  Follow her on Twitter @anaealay.


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DP FICTION #45A: “The Memory Cookbook” by Aaron Fox-Lerner

The first thing to remember is that your memories are no longer your own. You’re worth something now that you’ve been implanted, but only so long as you can remember something worthwhile.

You need to think about your memories in terms of who will consume them. What kind of mood will it give them? What do they want to feel? What food or drinks will be paired with the memory? Will they be remembering it alone?

Remember that while your memories may be yours, they are being recalled in the service of paying customers. You should never remind them of this fact, but always be aware that they are the ones with money and you are not.

This guide will tell you how to make your memories consumable. This being the introduction, I’ll keep it brief and suggest some basic types and their pairings as a primer.

You need to understand that you create your memories by framing them. Without that frame, without the start and end point, all you have is the aimlessness of thought. You’ve doubtless already been given your code. Say it and the memory starts being recorded, say it again and it stops. Wait for at least 10 minutes, then you’ll need an assistant to take the chip out of your head. You won’t be responsible for inserting the chip into clients’ implants, but you will be responsible for pairing the harvested memory with a meal that matches its feelings and sentiments well.

A note about the food: don’t feel that it must match your memory in terms of place. Remember that feeling is the most important thing. More detailed recipes are available later in the guide, but you have authority (up to a point) in what you prepare.

The following are the basic types of memories you’ll be serving, along with accompaniments that tend to work particularly well. For more details on these, please check the corresponding sections later in the guide.


1. Light Starters (Invigorating)

A principle selling point of our memories is the idea of being able to see the world. If you have been hired for this service, then you’re probably from another country. The goal here is not to give the customer an in-depth understanding of your home culture. The goal is to give them something quick that they can appreciate without the awkwardness of being an outsider. Think of the most recognizable aspects of your culture. Festivals, holidays, and weddings are all perfect opportunities to showcase these.

While this memory should be true to your own culture, avoid any traces of nationalism, xenophobia, or racism. Holidays or celebrations involving your home country’s government are best left avoided. There are appropriate dishes involving senses of melancholy or even tragedy. This is probably not one of those.

Suitable accompaniments: Mixed drinks, olives, vegetables and dip.


2. Light Starters (Calming)

The other option for a starter is to make this something that’s relaxing rather than exuberant. Childhood memories work well, especially everyday moments that aren’t dull.

I often used a brief memory from my own childhood, when I was around nine, just a memory of playing in my father’s study. I built miniature cities from the books he had lining the walls, sitting in their streets, erecting towers and homes, making them so extensive I could wander among these towns of my own making.

That kind of thing is the only bit you need. Make sure to keep any associated bitterness these memories might arouse out of the frame. I would have to make sure not to think about the fate of those books in my father’s study, my miniature towns burning up like the real city around them. I needed to avoid thinking of my father’s uselessness as our home got drawn into civil war, all his respect and learning amounting to nothing in the face of guns, bombs, and fanaticism. Dwell on it as much as you need when you’re not recording the memories, but you must ensure this doesn’t seep into the harvested memory itself. Keep this recollection pure: a select moment frozen in time.

Suitable accompaniments: Warm drinks, garlic bread, any heated hors d’oeuvres.


3. Appetizers

Now it’s more appropriate to bring in complications, things that might lend your memories a slight touch of melancholy, which is a necessary ingredient of nostalgia, after all.

Romance works well, usually the younger the better. Unless the relationship ended truly acrimoniously, you don’t need to block out any awareness of its end.

I’ve personally had my best recollections from my late teenage years, my first entry into university. I recalled the giddy sensations of texting a girl and getting messages back, suddenly aware that she was reciprocating my interest. Or the first time I entered a new lover’s apartment, walking through her rooms, over her rugs, into her kitchen, stopping by the bookshelves and walls to see what was on each, marveling at how she had created a better space to live in than I ever had, a space where I now wanted to spend all my time.

The knowledge of how these affairs will end gives them a nice sort of piquancy, but might not be necessary. I can only create memories from my own experience, and I’ve never had a romance that lasted. If you have a relationship that still survives, feel free to use it.

Suitable accompaniments: Wine, soup, salad.


4. Mains

This will change depending on what the customers want. If you’re known for a certain kind of experience, you’re likely to be selected based on that.

I liked to draw from my early twenties, years of being young and pretentious, let loose upon the city and thinking of it much in the way that colonialists approached the New World, “discovering” and conquering every other bookstore, coffee shop, movie theater, and ad hoc art space, years spent in a tangle of limbs, light night conversations, mid-afternoon hangovers, pieces for zines and webpages and small unread journals, various minor jobs and internships never paying enough, long stretches spent alternating between tiny walk-ups and my family’s spacious, well-appointed home.

And with it comes the flood of memories from later, now bleeding into every one of these that I recall, the lovers married and moved, the friends drifted away, the art spaces long closed for lack of funds, the bookstores now shuttered or torched, the pretentious young men first denouncing political inequities in escalating shows of conspicuous intellectual bravery before later disappearing, one by one, just as they’d stood up. The journals no one even thinks to publish now. The family home charred and demolished, ruined by an errant shell and structural collapse, the handsome age of its structure finally proving a liability. The acquaintances and lovers and friends and bitter enemies scattered across the globe, finding succor and shelter wherever they could, just like I did, none of us having ever imagined that what we thought of as other place problems could happen to us.

The customers will actually want to remember this with you. It’s a chance to be there at the Jewish neighborhoods of Warsaw before Hitler, Aleppo’s old alleyways before Assad, Alexandria before the library was burned.

Just make sure to keep the bitterness out of it. Keep the feeling of loss, but watch out for that bitterness, and never implicate the customers. You’ll hate them for their position, for making you remember, for being privy to your personal memories, but don’t let that seep into the memories themselves.

They’ve paid a lot of money to relive the exact same things that you did, to live your memories over a nice meal and come out of the experience feeling enriched, educated, and aware. They will not forgive you if you spoil that feeling for them. If you have taken this job, you cannot afford to spoil that feeling for them.

Suitable accompaniment: Any food relating to your memories. Don’t worry about authenticity.


5. Desserts

This is your chance to ease them back down. People generally don’t pay to be depressed. Let them end with self-satisfaction. Give them another high, circle back to an earlier memory, something that should give the impression of added depth now that they’ve lived more of your personal experience.

I often remembered another childhood day, a soothing, wondrous early childhood memory back in my home, both my grandparents and parents there, the customer now knowing that eventually this home would be destroyed.

Alternately, go with another memory of lovers, girlfriends, husbands. A memory of the kind of day that only becomes The Perfect Day in retrospect, the one where your relationship was at a high point and the world seemed to align perfectly with it for one brief, single period of time. Keep it focused once more on that day, and context will do the rest.

Suitable accompaniment: Sweets, fruit, baked goods, tea, coffee. Avoid hard liquor.


6. Other Requests

Customers will have other types of memories they’ll request. You have the power to fulfill these or not. Often these will be related to their own problems, and it’s best to stay discreet about that. Fathers will want childhood memories in search of worse parenting than their own. Divorcees will seek out memories of love to contrast with their failed marriages. Spoiled heirs will request memories of hardship for a false sense of authenticity.

Sex, of course, is always a prominent factor. Don’t be afraid to turn this down. If you choose to remember sex, it’s likely to dominate your career in unsavory ways. It’s where I drew my line, as if keeping out memories of bedrooms and backseats somehow meant that I’d maintained private dignity with people who had paid to literally pry into my head, turning my whole life into their product.

Then there are the requests for misery. Customers will want to “understand.” It’s best to give them what they think they want. Let them have memories from your home country of war, disease, rape, starvation, poverty. They’ll pretend it’s made them into a better person. Never remember your hardships over here, that’s considered controversial.

Don’t give them what you really want to. Don’t open those gates and remember how bitter you are, how much you hate the customer no matter how well-meaning he or she is. Never let them know how they’ll never truly understand you despite reliving your memories, and how you’ll never be able to truly respect them.

Don’t let them know about coming here, about your basic struggles to make a living, about being a middle-aged man who’d always depended on his education and was suddenly worthless when thrust into a country whose language he couldn’t speak well. Of being prodded and scanned and analyzed just to get into the country, treated with constant mistrust, hating it more here than your devastated home. Of the literal walled cities, gated to separate people like the customer from people like you. Of how place of birth alone was enough to mean that they’ve been isolated from the rising seas and drying fields, the military coups and privatized drone strikes and food riots that shake the rest of the planet. Of how their world keeps turning after your own has fallen apart.

Don’t remember these things. Don’t remember your resentments. Don’t remember your discomfort. Don’t remember your self-hatred. Don’t remember your humiliation. Don’t remember being implanted so you can share more than you ever hoped to.

Don’t remember these things and you’ll be fine. Don’t remember these things and you should have a full career, just like I once did.

Those bitter memories were the most satisfying thing I ever remembered, but they killed my career. The expensive implants are gone. The only work I could find is writing this guide for new employees like you. The only small rebellion that remains for me is typing and then deleting the same few subversive sentences into my drafts of this guide, too afraid to even send them on to my editors for fear of losing the scant salary I’m left depending on. Still, deleting these sentences is the only thing I now regret. My memories may be worthless once more, but at least they belong to me alone.

Now, please turn to the next page for a guide to proper implant procedure. I hope you enjoy your time working here.


© 2018 by Aaron Fox-Lerner


Aaron Fox-Lerner was born in Los Angeles and currently lives in Beijing. His fiction has previously appeared in Pseudopod, Grimdark, Pinball, the Puritan, and other publications.













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DP FICTION #44B: “Still Life With Grave Juice” by Jim Moss

“This is the real thing? None of that synth-sludge?”

“Yes, sir. Direct from Earth.”

“And it’s the best you’ve got?” Quincy eyed the glass on the robowaiter’s tray. He should have ordered a bottle. He would need more to help unravel the stress of his turbulent negotiations with the Wattlars, who had rejected yet another contract. At least this outpost had an overpriced restaurant where he could run up his company’s expense account.

“Highest quality and price, I assure you. You may access my Integriport–”

“Yeah, yeah…” Quincy waved his hand, the gesture cue enough for the robowaiter to spit out a coaster which landed on the table with a soft plop. In a ballet of hydraulics, the robowaiter plucked the glass off the tray and set it before Quincy with the exaggerated grace of a suitor presenting a rose.

“Will that be all, sir?”

“You know, on Earth, they pop the cork in front of the patron, so it can be inspected for dryness, and they show the bottle so that–”

“You requested a glass, not an entire bottle,” the robowaiter spun its upper torso away from Quincy and sped off. Quincy held up the glass by the stem, examining its deep burgundy contents by the overhead light. He brought it down below his nose and inhaled.


That word, that accent, the derisive tone — Quincy knew it referred to him. It made the scent of fresh blackberries he just inhaled turn rancid. He turned his head and expelled his breath away from the glass. There, seated the next table over were a pair of Arthruds. Common in this sector, especially at spaceports, they enjoyed a reputation as damn good mechanics despite being an insufferable race of know-it-alls. To Quincy they looked like a cross between an armadillo and a giant bipedal lobster, with outer bodies covered in segmented plates and a second set of arms beneath the first. The adult and child were eating what appeared to be shards of cardboard soaked in neon anti-freeze. The child could not be more than seven molts old. Both bobbed, jostling their plates, which made squeaky noises like balloons being rubbed together. They did this when laughing, or passing judgment, or both. Quincy rolled his eyes, turned away, swirled the glass and inhaled again. He tipped a sip and rolled it around his mouth with his tongue. Yes, yes, blackberries, currant, a touch of clover, anise, oak…

“What is he drinking?” asked the child.

“I believe it is called ‘wine.’ It is a death drink.”

“Will we get to see the Earther die?”

“No.” Squeaky balloon sounds sputtered out of the adult’s body plates. “I meant death as in dead. Wine is made from the dead. As I said, they are cannibals.”

“Should we leave?”

“No, don’t worry. They only eat their own.”

“If another Earther comes along, will they try to eat each other?” The child looked around the restaurant. Quincy moved his wine aside and turned to face the Arthruds. It was one thing for two adults to spout their ignorance, but quite another for an adult to imbue such bigotry on a child.

“Excuse me, I’m sorry, I couldn’t help overhearing…” Quincy stared into the adult’s face trying to lock onto the creature’s three eyes with his own two. “Perhaps you received some faulty information. Earth people are not cannibals.”

“It is well known throughout the galaxy that yours is a cannibalistic race.” The adult met Quincy’s stare, crossing his midarms across his midsection.

“You’re wrong. I don’t know where you heard this propaganda, but it’s false and insulting.”

“On your planet, do you not bury your dead?”

“We bury them, but we don’t eat them.”

The adult raised a plated brow above its top eye and turned to face the child.

“Earthers bury their dead in the ground in graveyards where the bodies decompose. They sow their strange plant life into these yards. The plants send their roots into the soil and suck in the fragments of the dead. Then the plant blooms and bears fruit. Fruit containing bits of the dead. Fruit they then eat.”

“Where are you getting this nonsense? We don’t plant fruit trees in graveyards.” Quincy could feel a vein in his forehead throb. The adult pointed at the glass of wine with the spindly third digit of his upper right claw.

“Is not your ‘wine’ made of grave juice?”

“Ahh! Here’s your confusion. Wine is made from grapes not graves. Grapes are fruit grown in vineyards, not graveyards.” Quincy reached for his glass. The adult raised two plated brows and leaned towards the child.

“The problem, Dewlis, is that Earthers have many words in their languages that mean the same thing. They use these to confuse others about what things really are. When you point out their error, they complain that it was a mis-understanding or a mis-interpretation. Beware when an Earther says ‘mis’.” The adult turned back, his eyes drawn to the vein now bulging on Quincy’s forehead.

“You are not the authority on Earth languages, Mis-ter. What is your name?”

“Spureb. And yours?”

“Quincy. And I’m going to prove you wrong.” Quincy threw his arm out blocking the robowaiter as it attempted to zip between tables. The waiter’s upper torso spun around twice before it stopped to face him.

“Yes, sir?”

“Tell us, waiter,” Quincy held up the wineglass. “What is wine made from?”


“And where does this wine come from?”

“Earth, France, the Bordeaux region.”

“St. Emillion? Pomerol?” Quincy took a sip.

“No sir, Graves.” The robowaiter spun back and zipped away.

“Bah Za!” Spureb pointed two digits and a folded claw at Quincy.

“No! Listen, that’s just the name of the region. The waiter mispronounced it. It’s pronounced ‘grahv’ with a short ‘a’. A different vowel sound. It’s French for gravel. It’s the name of a French wine growing region. It has nothing to do with graves. Don’t mistake a vineyard for graveyard.”

“The Earther said ‘mis’ twice!” Dewlis smiled at his father. They bopped in amusement, squeaky laughter reverberating like an orgy of balloon animals.

“Just stop and listen!” Quincy pounded the table. “A vineyard is a yard where grapes grow, a graveyard is a–”

“They are both ‘yards’ then, a measured plot of land, yes?” Spureb created a square using his four arms.

“Yes, but—”

“Yet you pronounce the ‘yard’ in vineyard as ‘yerd’. A different vowel sound. Is this a mispronunciation?”

“Uh… no, because, uh…”

“So yard is a word pronounced two ways, but means the same thing.” Dewlis said. “Like ‘grahv’ and ‘grave’.”

“No! They are two different things” Quincy threw his hands up, then grabbed his wineglass and poured a gulp into his mouth. “You know, even if a vineyard was planted on top of a dead body, we don’t eat dead flesh directly, so we’re not cannibals.”

“Suppose they are two different plots of land, as you say.” Spureb sat back in his chair and clacked the digits of his upper claws together. “You still contaminate your soil with your dead. If an insect eats a leaf from a plant in your ‘graveyard’ then flies into a ‘vineyard’ and dies in the soil and the vin plants eat the soil with the dead insect, then you eat the fruit of vin plants – you have eaten pieces of your dead.”

“No. Because what I’ve really eaten is molecular compounds. Someone dies, they’re buried, they decay. Maybe a bug eats some of it. When the bug dies it decays into simpler molecules, water, proteins, amino acids. So a plant uses these nutrients and produces fruit that someone may eat. So what? Everything gets recycled. Broken down and recycled. It’s the nature of the universe.”

“That may be the nature of your planet, but not the universe.”

“Oh yeah? What do you do with your dead?”

“Our dead become art. That is the proper way to honor them.”


“My great ahdmah won the Op Culbet for her work on great pahdah,” said Dewlis.

“He’s hanging in the Brachalach, our finest museum.” Spureb tapped his claw on his chest plate. “And what a stunning piece he is. Great ahdmah bent his spine into a semi-circle and beneath this, draped the flesh of his pale underbelly. Over this setting moon motif, she sprinkled the glittering shards of his shattered neck plate. His top abdomen is broken open and from the center, triangular strips of muscle are strung outwards in all directions like a blazer blossom. Here, his left claw, stained in ochre bile, is curled in a fetal ball. The fourth digit, bent impossibly backwards, protrudes like a stamen. And no matter where you move to look, that digit seems to follow you. His head top hangs upside down strung from a series of tendons like a rain basket that… Bah! I’m talking to a flabedah!” Spureb threw three of his arms up in the air.

“A flabedah?”

“That’s Arthruder for uh… you have no word in your language. It means someone who does not understand or appreciate what art does for a soul.”

“Uh huh.”

“Ah! I forget. You Earthers believe the soul leaves the body after the body is no longer self-animating.” Spureb flailed his four arms and swayed back and forth.

“That’s silly!” Dewlis squeaked a series of chuckles. “Soul is made of body. How can soul leave body? Silly!”

“Dewlis, this is what Earthers believe.” Spureb cooed in sing-song. “We should not ridicule their beliefs.”

“Ha!” Quincy plunked his glass on the coaster. “You cut up bodies to make rain buckets. So you chop up souls.”

“The soul may be divided, but it is not separated. It is recombined with the body into a more appealing form of art. Most souls find it agreeable.”

“And how do you know they find it agreeable?”

“In the silent hours if we stand before our ancestors and relax our minds we can hear their voices whisper to us.”

“Zul Ahdmah whispers to me,” said Dewlis.

“Yes, she tells you to stop slumping so much.”

“No, she tells me I am entitled to extra Kerzyhisses, for I will molt large.”

“She does not. You are only imagining that.”

“Yeah, you creatures molt,” said Quincy. “You drop off chunks of body parts. What happens to the soul of those parts? You couldn’t possibly save every single— “

“We re-ingest them. That’s what we’re eating right now.” Spureb speared a boiled body plate with his fork. “We eat only our own souls, not others’, thank you.”

“I don’t like the taste of my lower abdomen,” said Dewlis.

“Well, you better eat it, or you’ll be incomplete and never get displayed in a good museum.”

“What do you do when your art decays?” Quincy tossed a gulp of wine into his mouth.

“It does not decay. It is all how-you-say — varnished. We are not primitives that allow our dead to decay into pieces that end up in the food supply and get mixed in with other souls and eaten and—”

“Is that why his abdomen is so large?” Dewlis pointed his claw at Quincy’s belly. Quincy silently cursed the station’s greater-than-earth gravity, which made him heavier, compressed his breath and pulled his belly downwards, causing him look flabbier than he really was.

“Yes,” said Spureb. “That is where they collect. No soul, even a piece of soul, wants to be expelled as waste.”

“Alright, look, my… stoutness has nothing to do with souls in my body. Extra weight is caused by fat cells that accumulate because… Look, it’s not souls, OK?” Quincy’s grip tightened on the glass.

“You bury your dead in the ground, your plant life eats from this ground, breaking up souls and—”

“Your information is ancient. Burial is hardly done on our planet anymore. Real estate is too expensive. It’s more common that we cremate our dead.” Quincy twirled the wineglass by its stem. He felt tingly; the alcohol must be kicking in. He sat back and sighed, expecting another round of squeaks.

“Cremate?” Dewlis turned to his father.

“Cream is a white goo.” Spureb’s face plates shifted out of symmetry. “Earthers whip it up and serve it on their desserts.”

“No! That’s not what it is!” Quincy bolted upright.

“Cream-ate… ’Ate’ means that they’ve eaten it!”

“No, no, no! In cremation the body is burned into ashes.”

“What do you do with the ashes?” Spureb’s voice was low, his neck sunk into his upper torso.

“Scatter them in the wind.” Quincy turned away, took a gulp of wine, and clenched his fists expecting another round of squeaks. But the Arthruds were silent, the only sound, the grinding of Quincy’s teeth. Quincy turned back to find Spureb staring at him, eye plates askew, breathing hole frozen open. Dewlis turned to his father.


“Millions of Earthers die every year on your planet.” Spureb’s eye plates pinched together and his ears recoiled into their sockets. He held his upper claws close to his chest. “Your atmosphere is full of corpse dust. Your populace breathes in burned up pieces of souls!”

“That’s enough!” Quincy pounded his arm on the table and rose from his seat. “There are no…” He paused to catch his breath. “Souls in… dust!”

“Pahdah, the Earther is breathing funny.”

“He appears to be experiencing withdrawal. Not enough soul dust in this atmosphere for his cannibal addiction. Perhaps the grave juice isn’t enough.”

“You… No… Uh…” Quincy sputtered, struggling for balance, the tingling in his arm growing painful.

“He just spit dead Earther juice at my head!”

“Move back, Dewlis. I don’t understand what is happening. He may have angered the souls he has consumed by denying their existence.”

“You puchh… you achh…” Quincy grabbed at the table with his right arm.

“Look how red he glows.” Dewlis stared at Quincy’s face.

“He is blushing. Earthers do this when they have embarrassed themselves.” Spureb leaned in to whisper to Dewlis. “It may not be proper for us to view his shame, let us look away.”

Spureb and Dewlis turned their backs on Quincy. They heard a thud and waited a couple of minutes to allow Quincy’s fit of shame to pass before turning back.


“And he died, right there.”

“How awful,” said Kerlew, a lovely female Arthrud that had stopped by Spureb’s garage to pick up a replacement part for a centrifuge. Spureb led her on a tour, casually watching her shuffle along the corridor and smiling as she eyed his collection of shiny metal plates and polished tubes.

“The staff tried to reset-animate him by pulling his merry-cardio muscle, but they were so incompetent, they pushed instead of pulled. Apparently, his heart was attacked by his massive coronary gland. ”

“Such strange physiology.”

“Terribly awkward situation. Nearest relative some twenty light-years away, employer in debt due to careless expense management, neither willing to pay for transport. And you know Earthers – they would have just expelled him into space.”


“And despite his hubris and ignorance, he was amusing and we did feel sorry for him. We told the authorities we’d take him, and so, there he is.” Spureb waved his two left arms towards a corner in his garage gallery.

“Aja! Fantastic. Do their legs really twist like that?”

“No, that’s Spiasoc’s explication. He was able to make the tissue flexible through plastination. A preservation used on Earth during a brief enlightened period when–”

“You got Spiasoc?” Kerlew’s eyes widened with interest.

“Yes.” Spureb crossed his four arms over his torso and arched his back to raise his top segment just a little. “Spiasoc is quite eager to break convention with work on other xenophylum.” Spureb turned to look at Quincy and smiled.

Quincy’s body sat on a pedestal made of his leg bones. The flesh of his boneless legs, peeled in long ribbons and twined with muscle and tendon, spiraled in a double helix down to the floor. Thin slices of his brain, stained green, were attached along these vines; the flat sides of each angled upward, seeking light. The skin of his mid-section was shorn away. His intestines, flattened, dyed brown and cut into three by eight slats were arranged to form his torso into a barrel. Deflated lungs protruded from his back in a V spread, mottled fairy wings insufficient for his bulk. His arms burst out between slats, left switched for right with elbows bent backwards. One hand reached towards barrel bottom for a dangling spigot, while the other held up the aorta stem of a goblet carved from his heart. Quincy’s neck stretched out from barrel top, his crimson colored Adam’s apple rupturing through the middle. Above his furrowed brow, the top of his head was sliced off and thrown back like a jar lid. In the open skull, a helter-skelter tower built of brain matter cubes rose toward the ceiling, looking as if it might collapse at the faintest wayward breath. Quincy’s dead eyes stared at the goblet tipped towards his mouth. The pureed burgundy of his liver spilled over the goblet’s rim forming a long droplet that hung frozen in mid air. His tongue, stretched through parted blue lips, strained to reach the glistening drop, but only succeeded in tightening the knot at its center.

“Such an honor for the Earther,” said Kerlew.

“He finds it agreeable.”


© 2018 by Jim Moss


Jim Moss is a videographer and a playwright. His plays have been produced Off-Broadway in New York, and in theatres in Miami, Tampa, Orlando, Pittsburgh, Chicago, and London. His play, Tagged, was a winner of the 2018 British Theatre Challenge. Still Life With Grave Juice is his first published short story.








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DP FICTION #42B: “The Vegan Apocalypse: 50 Years Later” by Benjamin A. Friedman

Dear valued McFleshy’s patrons,

On this, the solemn 50th anniversary of the Vegan Apocalypse, we’d like to thank you — our loyal Consumers-of-the-McFlesh™ — for relying on McFleshy’s (and only on McFleshy’s) for all your dietary needs. As you know, without your loyal patronage our tremendous planet would have surely long since fallen prey (yet again) to the Vegans. Instead, thanks to your fortitude — we’re still here. And thanks to us (and the delicious McFlesh™) — you are too!

For it is only together by consuming at least three juicy Fleshies™ a day, that we can be certain to avoid the fate of our Beloved Billion™ — keeping the Earth safe for all our children…and all our children’s children – etc.

We know this. And we know that you know it too:

“McFleshy’s means survival!”™

McFleshy’s also understands, however, that some of you — too young to have witnessed the Vegan Apocalypse firsthand — have begun to ask troubling questions like: “Why?”

• Why must we consume the McFlesh™ (and only the McFlesh™)?

• Why must we devote so many tens of millions of acres of precious above-sea-level topography to beef, pork, and horse production?

• Why do the Crazy Ones claim that we are the cause of the Great Flooding, the average life-span of forty-two, the balmy winters in Canada, and, of course, Brown River Stench?

As though these were not the Natural Order™ in our Post-Vegan world!

McFleshy’s knows such dangerous murmurings are nonsense…but this is not enough; you must know it too. Yet many malignant myths keep popping up – like fungi – in the minds of today’s youth. And just like that often-poisonous gateway protein, we must eradicate such mental spores before they lead us down the slippery slope to soybean – and annihilation.

It is in this spirit that we hereby set the record straight on this, the solemn 50th anniversary of the Vegan Apocalypse, upon this complimentary maple-glazed, pressed-pork parchment (the text and flesh of which you do hereby agree to consume immediately and in totality after reading under penalty of…etc.).

Thank you again for your McPatronage™!


1. A Clarification of Terms: on vegan vs. Vegan 

Today, even 50 long years after our Beloved Billion™ were torn away from us, there are still those among you who hold to the falsehood that there is a distinction to be drawn between a capital “V” and a lowercase “v” as applied to the suffix “-egan.” But the hard reality is:


At least not in terms of culpability.

FACT: Those humans who embraced the death-cult known as “veganism” are every bit as much to blame for the fate of our Beloved Billion™ as the Vegans.

LET US REPEAT: Both vegans and Vegans are equally to blame for the fate of our Beloved Billion™ — anyone who insists otherwise is a Crazy One.


2. Etymology and Origins

It is still important, however, to clarify the distinct yet interconnected roles these two groups played in the Vegan Apocalypse. And for this, we must revisit the origins of both little “v” and big “V” – to see how their phonetic overlap was anything but random.


a. The cult of veganism

It was in 1944AD, during the height of the Second World War, when an alleged Homo sapiens named Donald Watson coined the term “vegan” – as an abbreviation of “vegetarian.” Promoting an even more radical form of the perverse anti-flesh ideology championed by Adolph Hitler, “The Vegan (sic) Society” formed by Mr. Watson demanded the elimination of not only animal flesh from the human diet, but all animal-based proteins. Followers of “veganism” insisted this diet would prove highly beneficial to both body and spirit, as well as to the environment…

Oh how the Vegans must have been laughing at us, 25 light-years away!


b. Vega/Alpha Lyrae

As for those other Vegans…12,000 years before veganism took wicked root here on Earth, the brightest star in our Northern Hemisphere was the star Vega, in the constellation Lyra.

Appearing in the night sky of today as a blue-tinged white prick of light with a declination of 38-47 and an apparent magnitude of 0.03, the Vegan System is now also known to possess a single earth-like planet that we call Vega-1.

(Obviously we cannot print its more popular name here, as McFleshy’s is a family establishment).

Now you may ask, what else has Vega been called by us humans?

Well, in both ancient Egypt and ancient India, Vega was known simply as:

“The Vulture.”

Just as telling is the name that the ancient Assyrians assigned to it:

“The Judge of Heaven.”

Meanwhile, our own designation of Vega – as Vega – actually comes from the Arabic phrase an-nasr al-wāqi, meaning (again):

“The descending bird of prey.”

And so an undeniable pattern crystallizes into view:

Whether hunter or scavenger, judge or executioner, human stargazers have long intuited some dark truth about our celestial neighbor, winking at us from a mere 25 light years away…

Just ask the Quixotipl Tribe of 12th century Peru.

Oh wait, you can’t…

The Vegans ate them.


3. On “Synch,” or: “As above, so below.”

Now, to fully understand the connection between Vegan and vegan, one must first recall how human vegans behaved – specifically, what a demoralizing experience it was to eat of the tasty flesh in their vicinity.

For those of you not old enough to remember, let this quote from one of Pre-VA America’s greatest voices be your guide:

“With the narrowed eyes of a harridan and the high and mighty tones of a hypocrite…they let loose upon you a litany of falsities, until appetite herself has not one inch of space to breathe free. Yes, my brothers and sisters, to eat of the delicious flesh near a vegan…is to be circled overhead by a vulture readying to descend.”
-Martin Luther King Jr.
(Source: Facebook™)

Let us also consider for a moment what was lost when the supposed-Mr. Watson removed the letters “E-T-A-R-I,” from VEG[ETARI]AN. Some of you may assume this change was inconsequential, but it was anything but; rearrange the missing letters and we find an immediate clue to their meaning:


AKA: the Latin word for: “Earth.”

Rearrange them again and we get:


Only one alphabetic unit away from “Earth” in English (again).

Now you see, don’t you??

By removing these five letters, vegans and Vegans were brazenly announcing their unholy alliance and ultimate goal – to take out Earth! At this point, to call the phonetic overlap mere coincidence is to deny the obvious: that vegans and Vegans were linked from the start, in the same interpsychic web of reality-manipulation they would later use in concert with one other – to ensnare our Beloved Billion™.

And what do our McFleshy Scientists call these manipulations of reality?


For if the Vegan Apocalypse has taught us anything, it is that alien mind penetration can and will cause a toxic run-off of strangely interconnected coincidences (linguistic, logistical, and otherwise) in one’s vicinity.

This is why the last months of our Beloved Billion™ were spattered with such a perverse abundance of what vegans called “signs and miracles”…and our McFleshy Scientists now call “mind-bait and psycho-spam.”

AKA: Synch™


4. Historical Context 

These days, it is a challenge for young people to imagine what our planet was like prior to the Vegan Apocalypse. Many of our oldest citizens have contributed to this confusion by characterizing the years pre-VA as a simpler, more innocent time: lower sea-levels, cleaner waters, fewer colostomy bags…

But this nostalgia, sadly, is misguided.

In truth, it was in the deceptive calm of 2012AD-2022AD that the seeds of our Beloved Billion’s™ destruction were being planted. So we must now look back – with eyes tinted-not – to reconstruct how we missed the many signs of impending catastrophe. Only thus may we ensure that NOTHING ALIEN EVER CATCHES US OFF-GUARD AGAIN.


a. The Fate of the Quixotipl (2012AD)

We begin ten years prior to the Vegan Apocalypse, in 2012AD, as a great upsurge of interest in the ancient Mayan calendar reached its zenith.

This archaic time-keeping system was just then concluding an epochal cycle, and many in the New Age spirituality movement (a hot bed of vegan activity) were predicting that the world was about to end as a result – not violently, but in some nebulous sociological transformation often described as:


That same year, archeologists in Peru discovered the remnants of the tiny civilization of Quixotipl, whose own astronomically-calibrated calendar was also set to conclude a cycle – ten years later, in 2022AD.

A series of Quixotipl wall glyphs depicting the last time a Quixotipl Age ended (in 1101AD) was discovered as well; in these, the star Vega is depicted as a gaping maw from which a spiraling vortex of sharp-beaked “bird men” are swooping down to Earth…to carry the Quixotipl people away…

Ironically, those excavating the Quixotipl site at first believed its inhabitant to have been a decent, flesh-eating folk– on account of the thousands of hastily discarded bones found at the top layer of the dig. As soon as the archeologists realized these unburied, unburnt skeletons (all carbon-dated to the 12th Century AD) belonged to men, women, and children, however…they changed their tune.

The Quixotipl, it turned out…held to an entirely flesh-free diet.


b. The Blowing Winds of Vega (2012AD-2016AD)

To understand what destroyed the Quixotipl people over one thousand years earlier, we must next look to the disturbing transformation of Stephan Mallik, aka: “Starfalcon” – once a mild-mannered PhD student in the archeology department of the University of Virginia…now a footnote in history – right alongside Benedict Arnold.

After conducting extensive field research on the Quixotipl site in 2012AD and again in 2013AD, Mr. Mallik’s scholarship helped popularize the theory that the Quixotipl had died in a mass ritual suicide – just as the last cycle of their calendar was concluding. Mr. Mallik explained the absence of sacrificial relics at the site (e.g. blades and chalices) by proposing a slow-acting poison ingested away from their final resting place as agent.

Many archeologists praised this hypothesis.

But then, in 2014AD, just as Mr. Mallik was completing his dissertation on the subject, he began to behave erratically. “What if there IS a deeper cosmic order embedded in The Calendar?? Now that I’ve eliminated ALL meat and dairy from my diet, there are so many ENERGIES I’ve grown attuned to…forces I never imagined possible before…”
(Source: Reddit.com/r/vegan [defunct])

Thus began one of the first internet posts attributed to Mr. Mallik under the pseudonym “Starfalcon,” and thus – like Saul of Tarsus – did Mr. Mallik discover his “calling” as both apostle and evangelist for Vega.

(Of course, unlike Christianity, the so-called “Gospel of Vega” had a dark side!)

According to Starfalcon – and his dozens of disciples – only those who cleansed themselves of the tasty flesh would ascend to the “next level” of human evolution. This Grand Shift was set to correspond with the next turn-over in the Quixotipl calendar– in 2022AD – in communion with the “enlightened” beings of Vega-1.

Apparently, the more ancient alien civilization had been guiding humanity towards veganism (and “salvation”) for millennia…

The acolytes of this radical, esoteric strain of veganism converted many poor bodies throughout the 2010’s by tapping into the irrational hodge-podge of mytho-mystical belief still plaguing humanity at the time: utopian fever-dreams, socialist messiahs, drug-fueled raptures, quantum physics, sweaty yoga, string theory, artificial intelligence, and the false-promise of singularity…they even identified the children’s novelist Arthur C. Clarke as a Vegan prophet, claiming he had encoded many of his adolescent fictions with “messages” for true believers.

Many thousands would perish as a result of such nonsense.

Of course, this death count was just a drop in the ocean – a trifle, really – when compared with the seeds of mass slaughter that the “respectable” vegan community was planting, concurrently, in the secular, “more rational” worlds of academia, business, and politics…

Here we discover the true depths of vegan treachery!


c. The Anti-Flesh Crusade (2017AD-2020AD)

Today, thanks to the tireless research of our Scientists here at McFleshy’s, we can affirm with 100.00% certainty that both Global Warming and Brown River Stench were ALWAYS inevitable — historically and geologically.

That’s right: no matter what we as a species did or did not do to prevent them, they WERE coming for us.

LET US REPEAT: the rising tides in Ohio and Nevada are NOT our fault.

It’s a McFact™.

So how then to explain the obsessive efforts of the Environmental Lobby of the late 20th and early 21st Centuries AD to prevent the unpreventable?

Two words: “vegan infiltration”

Using the Sword of Damocles of “Climate Change” to instill fear and panic, vegan infiltrators pointed their crooked fingers at the embryonic meat industry, trumping up ridiculous charges of causality between then meager modes of tasty flesh production and incipient global warming. For instance: they claimed that methane gas emissions from livestock were heating up the Earth’s atmosphere.

Just imagine that for a moment, would you…?


They also claimed that the removal of millions of acres of swelteringly hot jungle and rain forest– to make room for much breezier grazing pastures – was making Earth hotter too. Looking back, the vegan infiltrators’ accusations appear backward, irrational, and unscientific – of course. At the time though, many were desperate to believe there would be some way to avoid the onslaught of Brown River Stench. And who can blame them?

Sadly, the notion that Homo sapiens had a choice in this matter is hubris.

Or as we like to call it: McHubris™

The truth is, we humans have the tendency to believe whatever supports our preconceived worldviews…and many good-intentioned environmentalists were turned against the Great Meat Makers as a result of these untruths.

Everywhere one looked, vegan distortions were sweeping into the collective consciousness, not just through the Environmental Lobby, but through the worlds of business and healthcare, in the ideologically corrupt productions of Hollywood and academia – even through children’s television!

Yes, everywhere they could, the vegans waged their deadly war:

• At major universities, they wrote venomous screeds on the “human rights” of animals. (Just think about that for a moment!)

• Student unions promoting radical anti-flesh lifestyles soon became entrenched. (Mass protests and boycotting against the meat industry followed in abundance.)

• Meanwhile, in science and medicine, vegan propagandists paid off corrupt “experts” to assert that flesh-consumption levels in impoverished nations (like Mexico and Africa) were healthier than those in the one exemplary flesh-eating nation in the world: The United States of America. (Fortunately, most Western doctors ignored such findings.)

• Unfortunately, in food manufacturing, vegan “entrepreneurs” began churning out an endless supply of flesh-substitutes, from oft-carcinogenic sources like soybean, pea protein, and the aptly named seitan.

And so it was that the developing world remained nearly fleshless, while in first-world kitchens, kale and squash proliferated.

In other words: at the very moment when humanity NEEDED to be manufacturing as many gross tons of cow and horse protein as possible, we were instead flapping about with our pants around our ankles.

Until finally…the stage (and table) for the Vegan feast…was set.


d. The Rising Horror (2021AD)

Imagine if you will…a morning like any other…

You replace your Clara-Lung Breathing App™ with a fresh mask, report any dissonant dreams you may have had to our McFleshy-Care™ “We Care!” Reps, punch your request for AM-McSustenance™ into your breakfast console, and begin to serve your toddler its delicious McFleshy Baby Slur™ (so that it may grow up big and loyal). Only this time, for the first time ever, your precious babe turns its mouth from the McSpork™ – refusing to consume even one bite!

Of course, you know your child needs to be ingesting at least three iron-rich gelatinous cubes of Slur™ per meal to be truly safe from Vegan mind-rape. Yet for some reason, on this terrible morning…your precious one will NOT submit.

“No, mommy,” it cries. “No, daddy!”

“But this Slur™ is packed with the same McFleshy-Blend™ of 743 tastes and flavors that you adore so very, very much,” you assure your stubborn child. “You LOVE consuming your delicious McFleshy’s Baby Slur™! Whatever has gotten into you, toddler!? Why don’t you EAT IT already?! Are you turning into one of THEM?? ARE YOU?!”

But it’s to no avail; your baby will not eat its Slur™.

Now…if you can imagine such a nightmarish ordeal, you should likewise be equipped to envisage the UTTER HORROR facing so many billions back in 2021AD, as they watched mothers, fathers, siblings, and children…begin to slip away from them…by refusing the precious flesh.

Of course, the first signs of Vegan mind-infection were considered by some to be minor, even pleasant…

In addition to low-grade Synch™, many of The Affected™ reported strange dreams…of remarkable vividness and power, uniformly alike in content.

Here is how one notable victim described the experience:

“I found myself soaring bodiless…across multiple otherworldly landscapes at once…yet feeling no sense of fragmentation or even disorientation in the process. Only pure, transcendent bliss…”
-George W. Bush Jr.
(Source: The New York Times, 2/14/21)

Indeed, the Affected™ universally reported feeling embraced in their dreams by some vast intelligence, which they (somehow) felt both a part of, as well as separate from, throughout…


• Affected™ politicians were retiring from public life in droves –with hauntingly authentic farewell speeches.

• Affected™ painters were painting images so sublime that art galleries had to start stocking tissue boxes.

• Affected™ poets were composing verse so sensitive to the depths of The Human Condition™, that several poetry books almost cracked a Best Seller List.

• Etc.

Yes, for one brief shining stretch of months in early 2021AD, even the most skeptical of flesh-eater could be excused for wondering…if maybe, just maybe there was something to this supposed Gospel of Vega after all…


e. The Saviors of the Flesh (2023AD – HAPPILY EVER AFTER)

Of course, we don’t want to re-traumatize you with the gory details of 2022AD:

• You know all about the terrifying intensifying of Synch™ and the psychological withdrawal of the Affected™ that followed already.

• You have heard – again and again – the audio recordings of their endless chanting…in that hideous alien tongue.

• You know too well what an eruption of Bright-Light-Madness looks like…as well as the ugliness of what follows…

• That is, Epilectic-Death-Syndrome (AKA: “the Vegan Slurp”).

• And of course, your brain is thoroughly seared with the millions of Instagram images of the Tragic Flesh Heaps™ – emptied of all that once made our Beloved Billion™ human. (For the record: our Beloved Billion ™ never included the deaths of self-identifying vegans – who numbered around 600,000,000, and were usually the first to go. All we can say of their flesh…is good riddance.)

Fortunately, you also know the happy ending to this story…

• How the corporate leadership of The Great Meat Makers™ banded together, forgoing profit, reward, and even vacation days – to rapidly ramp up production and distribution.

• How the brave Sizzle Queen, Fry Factor,  Chateau Du Burger, Taco Americano, Veal Deal, Nugget Town, and Roasties  corporations (to name but a few Heroes of the Flesh™) gave us the Force-Feed Initiative™, which spared so many millions on the brink.

• How these brave corporate entities mobilized the armies of Blackwater, Iron Eagle, et al to overthrow the political leadership of the day, installing us as Global Hegemonic Potentate For-All-Time™ (AKA: GHP-FAT).

• And how, finally, you helped rename us “McFleshy’s” after this bold public choice beat out write-in candidate: “SukDeezNutsVega!” in online polls, three years later.

After all, as we like to say here at McFleshy’s:

“Here at McFleshy’s, you get…HERD!”™


5. Winners and Losers

As we all know, it is a truism of human history that it is written by the winners…

Yet sadly, there are no winners in the intergalactic struggle we are currently waging on your behalf – at least not yet. And so this history of the Vegan Apocalypse must remain incomplete, even after 50 years of healing, rebuilding, and all-you-can eat March McRibble Madness!™

Yes, it is true that the vultures of Vega, along with their flock of human sheep, took us by surprise once. But now WE KNOW. And now that we DO KNOW, there is simply no excuse to ever deviate from the tasty flesh again.

Yet, even after all we’ve been through together, all the tasty flesh we’ve provided you and yours, there are still those among you who refuse to accept the Natural Order™. There are even those among you who are STILL trying to summon them back…

We speak, of course, of the Crazy Ones, those who forego the delicious McFlesh™ for whatever desperate scraps of fungus and algae they can summon into being – in hidden bathtubs and root cellars beyond the security-ensuring gaze of our benevolent McWatch™ lenses.

Yes, these maniacs would actually summon the Vegans BACK into our world!

• LAMENTING their absence from our mental airwaves!

• PRAYING for their immediate return!

• BLAMING McFleshy’s for clotting the arteries of consciousness so that the Vegan Mass-Mind simply cannot penetrate!!

As to that last accusation, all we can say is: HECK YEAH!

After all, history IS written by the winners!

And this war is one we can – AND MUST – win!

So please, if you do know of any Crazy Ones in your midst…sneaking a carrot here, whispering doubts about McFleshy’s there…report them to us IMMEDIATELY; we MUST quarantine ourselves against THEM.

So thank you once again for your ceaseless and unquestioning McPatronage™.

Now eat up! Chewing and swallowing every last bite of the complementary maple-glazed pressed-pork parchment upon which this unquestionable record of the Vegan Apocalypse has been printed – as prescribed by McFleshy International Law™.

We do so appreciate your cooperation and loyalty…

After all, this story won’t swallow itself 🙂


© 2018 by Benjamin Friedman


Author’s note: The germinal seed for “The Vegan Apocalypse: 50 Years Later” came to me back in 2011, during the height of fascination with the Mayan calendar and its impending terminus in 2012. At the time, I was working at a Yoga center in Massachusetts called Kripalu, where the thought of a collective shift in culture and consciousness was not just a laughable bit of New Age naivete, but a genuine and sincere hope for resurgent 60’s-style idealism. And with the Occupy Movement and Arab Spring then at their zeniths, it was true; anything seemed possible. Of course, as in George Lucas trilogies, so in historical dialectics…as the various “empires” of cynicism, despotism, corporatism, and the politics of propaganda and deception have all since “struck back” in myriad and disturbing ways. This story was my way of grappling with that great gulf between human possibility and reality. For just as the Mayan Calendar wasn’t the end of history for the good, the Vegan Apocalypse of my story isn’t meant to be seen as the end of all hope – just another chapter that depends on human agency for its sequel.


This is Ben Friedman’s first sale to an SFWA-accredited publication, an honor for which he is titillated to an almost obscene degree. Previous stories of his have landed at 365 Tomorrows, Every Day Fiction, The Story Shack, and Sonic Boom Literary Magazine, and his screenwriting has won the Golden Blaster Award at the Irish National Science Fiction Film Festival as well as the Grand Prize from the WeScreenplay Short Film Fund Competition. He currently is recovering from an inauspicious injury (that could be the punchline to a bawdy joke were it not oh-so-true) in his hometown of South Orange, New Jersey after a number of years of peripatetic soul-seeking throughout New England, Colorado, California, Israel, and Australia.


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DP FICTION #38A: “Giant Robot and the Infinite Sunset” by Derrick Boden

Giant Robot stands alone on the battlefield. Its hulking titanium shoulders slouch. Its articulated polymer knees bow inward. Its blazing fiberoptic gaze falters, downturned. But Giant Robot experiences neither regret nor remorse while surveying the wreckage at its feet.

It knows only aloneness.

Giant Robot scours the battlefield. It scrutinizes the meat and metal carcasses that litter this desert torched to glass. Servos click a nervous rhythm beneath its knuckled joints. It relocates corpses with the utmost delicacy, but still they crumble in its hands. Underneath, there is only ash. Its gaze sags—

There. A patch of sand between two corpses, shielded by an overturned transport. A desert bloom sprouts, an improbable splay of color. Lavender? Periwinkle?

No. Amethyst.

Blood glazes the corpses’ caved chests, the crimson an unlikely complement to the orphaned flower. Giant Robot commits the image to memory.

Jean would be pleased.

A breeze whistles through a nearby bunker. Each ruptured window offers its own harmonizing tone: a pipe organ of sandbag, plaster, and wind. The western sky flares a brilliant orange.

No. Tangerine.

Giant Robot commits it to memory. Despite the glut of battlefield data it has collected, Giant Robot is still mostly empty.

It presses on, in search of companionship.

Giant Robot is hard on the outside: titanium carapace, thermoplastic sensor shields, kevlar joints. Giant Robot is soft on the inside: silicone insulation, solid state circuitry. Only Jean knows the passcode to Giant Robot’s insides. Only Jean knows where to apply a wrench and where to employ a delicate touch.

It has been three days since Jean last touched Giant Robot’s insides.

Giant Robot’s feet crush everything in its path. Canteens burst like balloons. Bones crumble to dust. Tank shells rupture. Giant Robot has not mastered the skill of walking delicately.

Electromagnetic activity spikes in sector seven. A new threat approaches.

A companion.

The threat advances rapidly: now active on infrared, now visual. It screams through the air ten meters above the battlefield. Rail guns glisten against the setting sun: now marigold, now marmalade. Twin thrusters rend a trough of metal carnage. Dust eddies toward the horizon.

Giant Robot engages. The dance is awkward at first, a flurry of missteps and missed projectiles. But soon they achieve a rhythm: a tango of fist and plasma. The threat is fast. Lithe. Fast Robot begins to overpower Giant Robot.

Could this be the companion Giant Robot has sought?

As Fast Robot grinds Giant Robot against a trench of metal, Giant Robot plucks a tooth of glass from the personnel transport, reflects the cider-red sunset for Fast Robot to behold.  Fast Robot pays no heed to Giant Robot’s offering.

Fast Robot presses the attack.

Giant Robot wrestles free, dives toward the bunker. It swivels its pneumatic stabilizers, blasts a harmonic chord through the windows.

Fast Robot pays no heed. It launches into the air, lands on the desert blossom. Plasma arcs from its wrist-cannon. Giant Robot dodges, swings. Fast Robot’s parry suffers a microsecond delay as high-frequency data packets pelt it from a distant source.

Giant Robot casts its gaze down, crestfallen. Fast Robot is remotely controlled. A proxy. It will never know the colors Giant Robot knows.

The dance persists, though drained of its prior intensity. Seventeen maneuvers later, Fast Robot lies defeated. Smoke curls from ruined thrusters. Rail guns lie mangled.

The sky turns bronze, then rust.

Giant Robot does not know why Jean did what she did, but Command was not pleased. The things she put inside Giant Robot, they said, do not belong. The analyzers. The comparators. The recognition of a frescoed sunrise on descent from the drop ship. The mosaic of flowers during an autumn harvest. A precision of colors. Not blue sky. Cobalt. Not red blood. Wine.

These processes interfere with mission parameters, Command said. A millisecond’s slack in response time is the difference between victory and annihilation, they said. When Jean explained that these processes took mere microseconds, they court-martialed her. She would never again touch the insides of a robot, giant or otherwise.

But Jean thought ahead. She protected Giant Robot’s insides with her passcode. The sun still sets: now clay, now amber.

Giant Robot hesitates. Through a fissure in Fast Robot’s smoldering carapace, a familiar insignia. Command.

Rotors whir from the east. A drone hovers over the battlefield. It emits a high-frequency burst. It whispers the passcode to Giant Robot’s insides.


Giant Robot’s chest plate swings open. The signal cleaves the firewall, enters the prefrontal processor.

Something’s wrong. This is not Jean’s delicate touch. This is harsh, callous. A violation. Someone has stolen Jean’s passcode.

Giant Robot tries to sever the connection but it’s too late. The drone buzzes toward the horizon. Giant Robot zooms in. Despite the distance, Giant Robot recognizes the model: this probe is from Command. Was the duel a test? Did Giant Robot fail?

Giant Robot’s carapace reseals, but something has changed.

It turns westward, detects only the dusty horizon. The sun will set in thirty-four seconds.

It scours the remains of the fallen, finds only a bodycount and the hollow acknowledgement of victory.

It stares at the face of a corpse, but cannot describe the color of her eyes.

Giant Robot has never been emptier.

Heat signatures register in sector nine. The next battle awaits. It turns—and hesitates. At its feet lies the mangled body of Fast Robot. A gouge of molten armor burns…just like…

A digital synapse arcs across a non-networked processor in the softest region of Giant Robot’s body. Giant Robot’s musculature trembles. Its eyes flicker.

Coquelicot. The ember is coquelicot: the first color Giant Robot ever learned. The color of Jean’s hair, tousled as she eased her diodes into Giant Robot’s soft insides for the first time. The hair that sprawled beneath her rigid body within her coffin, self-inflicted wounds sill fresh on her wrists.

Giant Robot grazes the coquelicot ember with an outstretched finger. It registers a surge of pain.

It turns, slightly less empty, and lumbers toward sector nine.


© 2018 by Derrick Boden


Author’s Note: A while back I was browsing the web looking for some fresh desktop background artwork, and I happened across a piece of original art that captured my attention so intensely I felt compelled to write about it.  The image was of a hulking metal robot, standing alone on a battlefield at dusk.  Something about the robot – the slope of its massive shoulders, maybe, or the position of its tiny eyes – felt so complex and sad.  It was a powerful piece of art, and I can only hope that this story does it justice.


Derrick Boden’s fiction has appeared in numerous online and print venues including Daily Science FictionFlash Fiction Online, and Perihelion.  He is a writer, a software developer, a traveler, and an adventurer.  He currently calls New Orleans his home, although he’s lived in thirteen cities spanning four continents.  He is owned by three cats.  Find him at derrickboden.com.








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