Lack of Trust

Author: Elizabeth Hoyle

“Come on, Calla! The meteor is almost here! We need to get to the shelter!”
I thought my door would last at least five more minutes of Paul’s battering. He grabs my arm, attempts to wrench me away from my telescope. I push him away.
I keep my eyes, covered with the strongest sunglass goggles I could find, trained through my telescope. On the meteor that should have struck by now. But it hasn’t and it won’t, so long as I keep looking.
I discovered my power when I was little. It was wintertime. The snowflakes had been dying quick deaths as they struck my window. I started watching, fascinated. It took me a long while to realize why my window grew covered in perfect, unique, unmelting snowflakes was not the force of the storm. It was me.
I tried to figure it out. I did small experiments to discover that my gaze could keep things alive, provided I didn’t blink too often. No one guessed, even when my mother was dying and she miraculously lived long enough so Paul could come back from a field trip he’d been on and say goodbye. They thought the redness in my eyes was from tears.
My brother is now throwing things at me.
“This is important,” I hiss under my breath. “Leave me alone.”
“The Disaster Agency said that no one is supposed to be above ground when it got this close.” His voice is high with panic.
“Radio the nearest station. Tell them to deploy the deflector fleet.”
“It’s too late for that and you know it! Calla, we’ve got to go!”
“It’s not too late, trust me! The deflector fleet will work!”
I force myself to blink quickly. The meteor’s afterimage burns my eyes. I’ll most likely go blind after this. It’s so odd to think that in keeping the world alive, I’m keeping the meteor alive, too. If it hits, it dies, too.
“What the hell are you doing, anyway? The Disaster Agency said you shouldn’t look at it.”
“Trust me. Go call them!”
The Disaster Agency was formed when more meteors started entering Earth’s atmosphere. All they’ve achieved is scaring everyone with their lack of organization and resources.
“No one is answering!” I jump as Paul’s radio shatters against the wall. He used to throw things when he was afraid when he was little, too. “Either you tell me what you’re doing or I’m going to leave you here to melt!”
My jaw suddenly hurts and I can’t seem to make my muscles relax. I’ve been so afraid of becoming an elixir of life that I can’t tell my brother about my power, even now, when all of this still might not mean anything. My telescope goes dark as Paul reaches up to cover the lens with his palm.
“What are you doing? Get away from there!”
“You need to come with me,” he yells, ripping my goggles off. I dive to the floor, grab them, and try to sit back down, but Paul shoves me away.
“You don’t understand; you have to trust me!”
Everything rumbles beneath us, as if a killing blow struck the planet’s heart. It’s too late, for everything. Paul grabs me and we fall to the floor, scrambling under my bed for protection. I fight against him, but he pins me down, holds me still. It seems he’d rather fall down and take me with him than try to prevent or escape the fallout.

Strange Objects

Author: William Torphy

“You’re messing with nature.” Dean’s tone is vehement. His green eyes flash. “Haven’t we done enough of that already?”
“Of course I’m messing with nature,” she replies. “Nature is screwed. Only intelligent interference can rescue it.”
“Someday, Catherine, this obsession is going to bite you in the hand.”
Dean Chalmers is a professor in the Department of Environmental Science. He’s generally easy-going and docile, but lately, he’s grown critical toward her, his objections conventional and tiresome.
Dr. Catherine Traylor is the pre-eminent champion of De-Extinction Science. She is a cheerleader among DNA scientists who makes the practice look sexy. Photographs of her—long, dark hair framing an attractive face with high cheekbones—crop up everywhere, from the pages of scientific journals to Traylor teaches biophysics at a state university where she spends most of her time in the school’s biotechnology lab, developing DNA cocktails that promise to drive defunct herds out of extinction directly into the global marketplace. A pet food corporation provides the university with a large research grant in the expectation of reaping financial rewards from her findings.
Dean laughs through his thick red beard. “You have to admit, Cath, that you’ve come up with some pretty strange objects so far. Wingless passenger pigeons, a hairless wooly mammoth, a three-legged dodo.”
The last wasn’t hers, and she angrily pulls away. He doesn’t understand. Her work promises to bring a host of species back from oblivion. But De-Extinction Science is technically exacting, involving a complex process of extracting DNA molecules from fossil remains of the extinct specimen, isolating and identifying its genetic sequences in order to recreate a living form.
Not that Dr. Traylor isn’t used to skeptics. She preaches to dubious peers at scientific conferences and frequently encounters questions about “ethics” and “morality, which she deftly avoids answering by extolling the value of “a more diverse environment.” But her work has ignited the public’s imagination: TV executives slaver over the possibility of a ‘Weird Nature’ series, children fantasize about pet dinosaurs running around their back yards and their parents envision amazing Instagram photo opportunities.
The big break-through arrives when her overworked graduate assistants sequence a femur bone that was recently found by paleontologists in Nova Scotia, the remains of a dog-like animal that once proliferated but mysteriously disappeared around 1200 BCE. When its DNA patterning is successfully completed, Dr. Traylor proclaims it a perfect candidate for extinction reversal.
She tells the news to Dean one night in bed after a rather pallid sexual episode.
“I’ve found a wild dog.” Her face is flushed with excitement. He knows she couldn’t be referring to him.
“A three thousand year-old specimen. We’re bringing it back.”
“That’s great, Cath. If you don’t get the Nobel Prize, there are plenty of ribbons you could win at dog shows.”
She lurches to the other side of the bed, tired of his sarcasm
“Just kidding, my love.” He hugs her, nuzzling his ginger beard against her neck. “I need you really badly right now. Woof-woof.”
But she has other plans in mind, breaking up with him the next morning via interdepartmental email. She’ll then begin the work of sequencing genes gathered from a wineglass left on the coffee table, from hairs in the bathroom sink, and fingernail cuttings she’s managed to gather.
She issues very specific orders to her grad assistants: “The species was feral, of course, but we’ll regulate the Y-chromosome toward domestication.” Then, as if an afterthought, she says: “And we’re adding a new sequence to the mix. Genes for green eyes and a reddish coat.”
One assistant raises objections: “You’re asking us to compromise our protocols. I thought that we were legally constrained for revivification only, not alteration.”
She glares at him dismissively, making a mental note to downgrade his next performance report. “We need to stimulate radically adoptive evolution. Our sponsor is looking for a major breakthrough. If we don’t deliver, this lab will be shut down and all of you will go back to dissecting frogs.”

* * *

Canis docilis far exceeds even Traylor’s expectations. Luxurious soft auburn hair replaces his aboriginal mangy coat and beardlike ginger-colored strands sprout around its muzzle. The French female lab assistant exclaims with appreciation at the specimen’s wiry muscularity, calling him “tres sportif,” The cur still requires domestication, however, and a cadre of trainers and animal psychologists descend on the lab to administer behavioral modification. The research team especially enjoys tossing balls into difficult spaces and watching the clever way he retrieves them. Within a few months, the canis has grown remarkably docilis.
A press conference is finally called, sponsored by Pets-R-Us, which owns the formulation patent and rights of reproduction. Traylor stands before a phalanx of the media and triumphantly announces the results of her research: “This marks a great advance in DNA science that truly brings real world results. I have the honor and privilege of introducing Canis Docilis!”
Emerging on all fours from behind a curtain, the creature resembles a strange cross between a dog and a man. Its green eyes flash from a luxurious coat of red hair. Upon command, he trots over to Traylor, who rewards him with a Pets-R-Us Protein Puppy Scone.
The assembled reporters applaud and fall all over themselves to get a closer look, snapping pictures, and shooting questions.
“Have you chosen a name for him yet, Doctor Traylor?” one of them asks.
“Yes. His name is Dean.”

Charday’s Save Point

Author: Thomas Andrew Fitzgerald McCarthy

Charday Dee Williams’ entire body froze in mid-step on the sidewalk at the intersection. That thing happened which she’d heard stories about all of her life. All thirty-five of her years had begun to flash before her eyes. Memories collided into one another like exploding icebergs. Beneath everything, tiny green lights shimmered. Zeroes and ones, like console data. A gleam filled her eyes and she had a sense of weightlessness, like something had detached from her.
Without warning, she felt something hard hook her around the throat. There was a merciless yank and a crushing force expelled the air from her chest as she was flung backward.
At the last second, she heard the metallic vibrations, the kinetic explosion and sizzle of exposed electrical wiring and she saw a delivery drone whir by her head, propeller blades hacking at the air, searching for victims, its motor and cargo aflame. The fiery drone deflected off a blue postal pin and cratered hard into the sidewalk.
An old woman was standing over her, leaning on a walking cane and smiling, as if her entire life had been leading to this singular moment of quick-thinking.
“Like my boyfriend says, I may be an old crank, but I can still give a great yank!”
Charday looked up stupidly at her savior.

For months afterward, Charday replayed the incident in her mind over and over again.
Evolutionary psychologists published academic papers claiming that the flash was a biological survival mechanism, the brain’s way of frightening the body into motion. Still, that only made sense if her brain had known that she was in danger. She hadn’t seen the drone until she was nearly lying on the sidewalk.
Charday thought about the flashing lights, the technology hidden beneath everything, like cybernetic circuitry beneath a thin veneer of flesh.
Somehow, it all seemed so obvious.
The flash was a download. All of her memories. Perhaps even her soul. By whatever had been expecting her flame to be extinguished. The where and who didn’t seem to matter. Comptrollers, aliens, a holosuite’s datacore, a video game’s memory banks.
Now she remained, empty inside, like a banana peel after its unripened yellow core had been plucked from it. Charday struggled to motivate herself. Everything seemed like unsaved progress. No matter what she did, it seemed as if it would never matter. What of all that remained unfinished? A family? Philanthropic deeds? That celebrated novel she hadn’t written? What would a record of her be without a Magnum Opus?
Finally, with no other recourse, she began to experiment with her own mortality. After every published novel, each newborn daughter, she would test to see if the universe had taken notice. She drove truckloads of food through warzones. She sabotaged a parachute and then mixed it in with five other backpacks in a game of skydiving Russian Roulette. She drove a motorcycle ninety miles an hour without a helmet through Nova Scotia.
But there were no more flashes.
Finally, she realized that the unknown that she now faced was no different than it had been in the time before the flash.

At one hundred and six years old, three generations of her descendants gathered before her deathbed. Charday’s great-grandson, a minister, remarked, “To believe that your life is unwatched, is to believe that the eyes of God are blind.” Looking back over her life, she marked the flash as the moment that changed her entire life—the jumpstart that she’d needed.
Pulitzer-prize winning novelist and award-winning humanitarian Charday Dee Williams died peacefully in her sleep.

Cruel Paradigm

Author: Noah Viti

The twins sat before the checkered board as they always did: Ide was on the right, and Ire on the left. The chamber they played in was silent, but there was a black glass panel adjacent, and they knew that the others were watching.
Neither of the twins bothered to pay that detail any mind. All that mattered was the game before them.
Ide began by pushing a pawn forward; a simple move, but he knew it would be vital to lose that pawn in three turns, so as to cost Ire a bishop on the next. “How long do you suppose we’ll be playing a child’s game?” Ide asked his brother.
Ire mimicked Ide’s movement, but on the far side of the game board; Ide suspected that it was a sort of deception, perhaps to draw in his rook. “How should I know?” Ire responded, never looking up at his twin. “Apparently, they record every move we make. Did you know that?”
Ide grinned and moved a knight; the move would make Ire defend his left side. “I would be more surprised if they didn’t,” he said. “I wonder how well we match our template.”
“That ‘father’ of ours?” Ire’s voice grew coarse at the mention of it. “Do you and I make the same moves? Is your side a mirror of my own?”
Ide shook his head as Ire moved a bishop toward the center of the board to intercept the knight.
Unfazed when Ide moved his rook to take the bishop, Ire said: “Then we are hardly parallels to each other, let alone a perfect copy of some template.”
“So long as you and I differ,” Ide said, watching Ire move a pawn on his left side up two spaces, “you believe we’re imperfect?”
“No,” Ire said sharply. “So long as we differ, one of us must be an imperfect copy. The other… perhaps not. I don’t know for sure.”
The twins then fell silent, and the game went on for a short while. For half of it, Ide’s predictions came true; in sequence, Ire lost a knight, three pawns, and his other bishop, at the cost of both knights, a rook, and two pawns to Ide. Of course, it was always possible that Ire saw just as far ahead as his twin, but such was the thrill of the game.
Who was playing into the other’s trap?
It was only at the very end that Ide had his answer, when he called checkmate, but realized that, in making the final move, Ire had trapped Ide’s king as well.
He only noticed when he and his twin both claimed victory at once.
Ire only grinned at Ide’s confused look. “Why must one of us come out on top?”
As the outside watchers came in to escort the twins to their quarters, Ide smiled at his twin. “That sort of sentimentality isn’t supposed to be a part of our paradigm.”
Ire only said in reply: “That is what makes us imperfect.”
Ide wished that could be so, that they could live as brothers and not rivals, that one mind need not have been greater than the other. But then, such was the point of creating two replicas: one day, one game, one of them would come to dominate the other.

Last Minute Code Push

Author: Katlina Sommerberg

Joe has until the automatic build at 12:05 am sharp to submit his feature. It’s a stupid button that does in one click what used to take five, and the UX designers loved it in his presentation last month. It hadn’t been done before because of all the bugs, and the company’s flagship app can’t have even a minor glitch.

He’s up to his eyeballs in code, blue irises flicking from right to left monitor in a state of caffeine-induced hysteria. Dark mode is on, but his raw eyes are weighed down with so much exhaustion, even coffee is useless. His #gamerlife white mug can’t cheer his spirits. Neither can the Funko POP’s LT. Simon “Ghost” Riley.

11:45 pm. Less than fifteen minutes left. His palms, slick with sweat, fumble. But he still types the right commands into his terminal. Five minutes until everything finishes compiling on his local machine and the unit test results spit out, in borderline unreadable text format, in his transparent terminal.

He leans back into his ergonomic chair. Joe sinks one inch into the seat, but he barely notices as his eyeballs are glued to the screen. He sips the coffee, adds a pack of sugar. His legs fold into a misshapen pretzel, squishing down into the blue cushion.

11:50 pm. The build finishes. He tries to sit forward, but he only manages a twitch. His back won’t leave the chair. Grumbling, he determines to never work so hard he forgets to show for three days again, but it’s a lie. He tells himself this at least twice a month.

He pulls the desk. It wiggles, and his chair rockets forward. His knees slam, hitting his keyboard. It flies off and clanks on one of the many desks in the open office.

Joe doesn’t watch it soar through the air or contemplate the pain in his knees. He’s laughing in open-mouth astonishment at the screen. He’s passed all the checkpoints. He can submit this code to the cloud. His feature will be added to the next release.

He reaches for his laptop, but his hands can’t leave the armrests. Tugging harder, he screams when his thumb breaks free, leaving the skin stuck to the metal. He sinks down another inch. When he looks down, his mouth opens wider and his eyes go wide. His pelvis is completely fused with the blue cushion. His legs and torso connect to stiff padding, and his hips are nowhere in sight.

Now he’s shrieking. Wordlessly. Nobody hears, because nobody stays in the office this late on a Wednesday night.

The chair engulfs him, swallows him whole. The blue cushions, vibrant and squishier now, are as pristine as the day the factory shipped them off. Inside, somewhere between the chair’s metal frame and delightfully cozy padding, Joe is still screaming.

12:05 am. His feature builds, and Joe’s code successfully enters the core components of his company’s product line.

Meanwhile, Joe is still screaming, but only inside what remains of his brain. Tomorrow, his manager will discover the miraculous comfy chair mistakenly delivered to Joe instead of himself, and he will swap chairs. Then Joe will really have something to scream about.