All Gentleness And Its Enduring

Author : Salli Shepherd

People from a planet without flowers would think we must be mad with joy the whole time to have such things about us. ~Iris Murdoch

Pothilas set his briefcase down on the hallstand and paused to appreciate the afternoon light that lent his white-on-white decor an almost sanctified air. The apartment was warm, he realised. Too warm. He hung up his Director’s robes and hurried toward the biotank in which Sverta lay limply, sunk deep in her fluid, her tubes and filaments rustling. The sun was unseasonably hot, and it wasn’t as though she had the freedom to shift away from its glare. He frowned and closed the drapes.

“Sorry. Stuck in a Board meeting.”

Kneeling to adjust the tank’s temperature gauges and filters, Pothilas shook his head. Had he really just apologised? When he was satisfied that no damage had been done, he sat on the nearby sofa, studying Sverta’s vestigal nostril-slits and the smooth concavities where eyes might have grown. It was difficult to regard these new GenMods as little more than glorified tomato-bushes. Which was the whole point of them, really, but even he had to admit there was something inherently disturbing about the FructaFille prototypes.

The concept of the GenMod “companion plant” had been a stroke of genius on his part, and largely responsible for Pothilas’ rapid rise to the Directorship. GenCorp was banking on the thousands who’d happily part with a year’s salary for the sake of fresh produce and something semi-responsive to care for, when the alternative was standard ration synth-biscuits, mechpets and solitude. The World Genetics Council had finally decreed the experiments sound and classified the FructaFilles as plants, despite their features. Though perhaps those should be toned down somewhat; he’d talk to the Techs tomorrow.

Reaching forward, Pothilas plucked a ripe fruit from one of Sverta’s thicker tendrils. As he did, a spray of red flowers unfurled along her trunk and shoulders. Of course the way she quivered and blossomed at his touch could be nothing more than an animal– or rather, he amended quickly, a vegetable– reaction. Sverta’s tendrils stroked his chest and flower-buds burgeoned on her skin, bursting moments later into full display. Her perfume was unusually rich and heady today. Pothilas felt almost giddy with it as he bit into the fruit.

“Delicious, my dear.”

Where the swell of a woman’s hip would begin, Sverta’s trunk branched into the root-ball from which she fed on nutrient-rich fluids below. Pothilas found himself wondering what it might be like were GenMods permitted fully-formed bodies. He frowned again. Clearly, he’d been too long without proper female company. Brushing Sverta’s vines aside, he hunted through sofa cushions for the neurophone unit.

That night, as he spent himself inside an elegant woman whose company per day cost one thousandth of a GenMod FructaFille, Pothilas groaned and clenched his teeth, his mind filled with a red dazzle of flowers. Sverta, in an adjacent room, drank their pheromones through her pores and swayed to the measured rhythms of the Earth, while bloom after bloom flourished on her body like fireworks in slow-motion.

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Author : Phillip English

Dust swirls past a naked lightbulb and out amongst the wire-brush scrub. There is an old man, mid sixties, seated on the verandah. In his lap lies a twelve gauge shotgun; it is broken open, showing two empty barrels. A cache of shells nestles in the flannelette next to the gun, rolling back and forth with each deep breath he takes. The only sound is the continual plink of a moth impacting against the glass of the bulb.

A shuffling wakes the old man up, and he starts as he regains consciousness, spilling shells onto the hardwood slats. It’s the dog, a kelpie cross. It stands at the edge of where the greasy shine from the lightbulb fades into the night. Its back left leg is trembling and ticking. It stands there for a minute or so, and the old man stares at it. Eventually the dog lies down, sitting like a sphinx in the dirt and watching the old man bending down slowly to pick up the shotgun rounds.

There is silence once more; the moth has flown away to chase the spark of stars. The verandah’s joints creak as the man stands up. A puff of dirt floats in the now-still air between them as the dog springs to all fours. The man loads his gun and snaps back the barrel. The dog’s ears prick. He brings the rifle up to his shoulder and fires both barrels straight at the dog’s head. The dog is kicked back, and its body tumbles out into the darkness. The man swallows, licks his lips, and reloads.

He finishes tucking two more shells into their home just as the dog staggers back into th light again. Its lower jaw is stripped away, leaving a palate peppered with slivers of fang to pool bloody saliva onto the dirt. Added to this is a small string of silvery liquid, like mercury, dripping from the remains of its nose. It appears to be fighting against the flow of the blood; some of it succeeds in regaining its place within the confines of the dog’s skull.

The old man flips the barrels closed again and takes aim. The scratch of the gun against his stubble reminds him of the animals that he has destroyed. And not just animals. He fires once more, and the dog’s skull explodes in a silver streak, twisting the lightbulb’s feeble glow into a neon fuzz that settles slowly to the dirt.

He relaxes slightly, drops the gun from his shoulder, and stomps back to the seat on the verandah. There is time for sleep now; the flies will take until morning to discover the corpse and lay their eggs, before springing off in a perfectly controlled formation; a silver speck residing in each of their tiny brains, searching for its next, stronger host.

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Sick Leave

Author : V.L.Ilian

“Linda Kroen! 155013! Report for duty”

Linda didn’t exactly know why the crystalline voice of the ship AI was blaring her name but she wasn’t going to answer. It’s her day off.

“Linda Kroen! It is estimated you only have 135 minutes until you expire. Report for duty!”

The impulses signaling the importance of the message and the impulse signaling that her mouth is full of blood were simultaneously received by Linda’s brain.

Stumbling out of bed she fell on the cold metal floor. She had sprayed blood all over while gasping for air but the room still looked sterile.

“WHAT? Why?”

Her radiation meter tattoo was black. The little patch of skin almost looked burned with a laser.

“You’ve been exposed to lethal doses of radiation. You must make your way to the auxiliary bridge”

“WHY? Where’s the captain?”

“You are acting captain”

“I’m a level 2 tech!”

“Linda Kroen 155013: promoted to acting field captain by automated succession order on 27 Feb ‘47”

“That’s today. Wher…” As she stood up her lungs filled and she coughed another spray of blood on the wall.

“Ok… Situation report.”

“Aces..Ac…Ac” The voice of the AI reverbed as if caught in an infinite loop. “Information limited. Data corruption. Sensor data shows extreme radiation spike approximately 2 hours ago. Uncorrupted log information begins 27 minutes ago as follows:

– Cpt. Musa deceased, replacement not mentioned

– automated succession order comes into effect. Linda Kroen 155013 selected.

– Cpt. Kroen’s lifesigns fluctuating. Life expectancy: 14 minutes. Medical staff not available. Stimulants administered through ventilation. Massive internal bleeding probable. New life expectancy: 160 minutes

– assessment of ship status begins

Current situation:

– large sections of hull missing”

“You pumped me full of damn stims to wake me up? That’s why I’m bleeding from every pore.”

“Your condition was critical captain”

“This doesn’t make sense… the succession order goes by rank there are hundreds of people above me and… everybody’s dead.”

“Linda Kroen 155013 is the highest ranking living crewmember. You must proceed to the auxiliary bridge to enable the main cannon.”

The new captain had already stepped out of the room leaving bloody footprints on the cold floor. Her heart was pounding, her eyes were sore but she was unfazed. Bodies littered the corridors.

“Why am I still alive?”

“You requested sick leave. That automatically creates a septic field in your quarters. Combined with your documented higher resistance to radiation it was enough to lower your exposure to the event. Next corridor, enter the lift.”

As Linda neared the lift its vents hissed open and flooded her senses with an electric feeling. The lift whirred down.


“Data corrupted”

The doors opened and a body fell. The sound of his head hitting the metal floor seemed interesting to Linda. Vents hissed again in the corridor making her feel better.

Skipping her way to the next lift she started thinking how cool it will be to tell her friends how fast she made captain. Rubbing the black tattoo on her arm and seeing everyone else’s was the same she spit out some blood.

The lift took her directly to auxiliary command. As soon as the doors opened she jumped into the swivel chair of the captain. Something snapped at landing but Linda was enjoying too much to notice.

“Take a note! Effective tomorrow everybody can customize his or her tattoo.”

“Acknowledged. Please authorize AI control of main canon.”

“Who are we firing at again?”

“Data corrupted”

Linda logged into the console and switched all control options to AI.


The vents hissed loudly letting in welcomed euphoria. Captain Linda Kroen reclined, twirling, with a smirk on her face, as tears of blood ran from her eyes.

“Stims are great…”

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Arwik Razy

Author : Kathy Kachelries, Staff Writer

He’d always known about them.

When it snowed, Arwik lived in abandoned buildings. He slept in the rusted creases of abandoned subway tunnels to escape their satellites, and he ate whatever he could forage. He found a lot in disposal bins, but he’d never tried to eat it. People poisoned that stuff, he knew.

They injected tracking devices into his skin when he slept. Often he’d find an unexplained pockmark on his body, something that looked like an insect bite, but he knew what was inside of it. He used to try to gouge it out, but he soon realized that they’d used nanites. Thousands of silicon creatures, eating him from the inside out.

No one believed these things.

At first, he’d tried to warn people. He tried on the subways and on the streets, but everyone walked by with their eyes firmly on the ground. They could come for anyone, he said. They could come for you. Arwik hadn’t wanted anyone to get hurt.

Now, it was about survival.

Sometimes he saw the cops on the street and felt their sideways glances. Sometimes he couldn’t see them at all, but felt their eyes as they watched him through the scope of a sniper rifle. Arwik had seen those rifles, watched them in movies as a child. He knew the power of invisibility.

Once, they’d cornered him on the L train. The trackers, he knew. The goddamn trackers. They always knew where to find him. They offered help, but he knew what help meant. Scalpels and brainwashing. His eyes held open with wires as he would be forced to watch propaganda. Drugged with truth serum and forced to confess to everything he knew about them. He’d be executed in an electric chair, or shot at point-blank range in a seedy alleyway. Sometimes he wished that he hadn’t been smart enough to figure them out. If he hadn’t known the truth, they might have left him alone.

Arwik ran, dashing up slush-covered subway stairs until he found a dumpster in a trash-filled alleyway. The metal lids scrambled the signal, and surrounded by fish bones and plastic bags, he knew that he was almost protected. They could have used dogs, but they didn’t. That time, he’d gotten away.

It’s impossible to know who’s real. Some of them are brainwashed, or have given into the nanites. Some of them might even be cyborgs. Arwik has nowhere to turn. No one is ever safe.

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Author : Duncan Shields, Staff Writer

With those sleek shoulders and sculpted faceplate features, I would have guessed her be a Russian model.

Hard to tell with the standard techniques. The criminals always had their own serial numbers sanded off and I2P addys scrambled. I don’t know how it’s possible to live like that.

I’d seen the initiation ceremonies for those involved in the ferrogangs. I understood needing a sense of belonging but the bosses of those gangs were so brutal. Plus, having your identifying marks removed in a shower of sparks just didn’t seem to me like something that a friend would do.

I was made by a good parent company, though. Still in business, still under warranty, still protected. I guess I’d never really know what it would take to become like the unit here in the interrogation chair in front of me.

I had guessed her make to be a relatively recent design going by trends. I’d have to check the catalogues. Wear and tear made her look to be about thirty kilocycles old. She was more likely sixteen with no repairs or upkeep. I’d never know her serial number but at least I’d able to pinpoint year, make, and O-stats with a little research.

Her chipsets were a mess. They’d been booby-trapped, privacy-looped and dust-locked to the point that it was a wonder she could form rational sentences. A low-level soldier for the gang, I’d say. Expendable to the point of being borderline scrap.

I had the wiretap link spooling across the table from my head to hers. It was touch and go. I was sniffing around in her head to find evidence without tripping a defense charge that would kill her. She sat silently during the process. She knew that her life was in my hands. She had to trust that I was a careful detective.

Colleagues of mine cared less about the fates of units like this. I had seen fellow officers hook up, go in and laugh when their clumsy antics triggered their prisoner unit to freeze up and smoke. Feeble excuses and a few months of probation later, they’d be back on the street. It made my wires cross.

I probed slowly, looking for something circumstantial that seemed harmless to her internal watchdog programs but might lead me to a physical location that we could search later for something more incriminating.

Trawling through her memory directories, I found .3pegs and bitmap snapshots of units she’d allowed herself to love and save in non-password protected folders. Their faces were pixilated to me, of course, but the backgrounds weren’t.

There. A signpost in the background. 12th and Iron Ave. Next to a rundown house that was a ferrogang hovel if I’ve ever seen one.

Feigning boredom so as not to alarm her, I copied the shots into a viral protected temp folder in my memory and jacked out.

She looked up at me. “Find anything, sparkpig?” she asked with a sneer.

“No. You’re free to go. Don’t leave town, though. We might need to ask you more questions later.” I said.

“Screw you, bolt-fucker.” She said.

I buzzed for the flatfoots to come in and escort her out.

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