The Taste Twins

Author : Morrow Brady

I surfaced from the suckling gel, my memories muddied like debris in a low tide canal. I know gelwork has long term memory risks but this post work haze was getting ridiculous.

“Shell clear”, I mumbled.

Layered, milky scales shimmered transparent, revealing an outside view that needed a warning. My single room cell clung to the rim of a stadium sized crater and overlooked a hundred-strong blisterpak of similar cells carpeting the crater’s floor and walls. Beyond the crater’s rim, a blackened landscape receded, pricked with skylon antennae.

Above the chewed horizon was an asteroid, its rusty silhouette orthographically sculpted by mining operations.

A metallic Hadfield truss, shaped like a long-chain chemical structure, thrust upward from the horizon across ten miles of space. It anchored beyond into a pink regolith wad on the red asteroid.

Faint memories emerged. I was on asteroid Alpha. Out there was Gamma, a motherlode asteroid, rich in ship building ores and riddled with gel linked Minerbots.

Following their capture, asteroids Alpha and Gamma were towed into a stationary earth orbit to become astellites. Everyone knew them as the Twins. Their pirouetting dance over Japan, now part of everyday life.

Memories of my past life in Japan crashed into my thoughts, forcing me to sit down in shock. Memories of a good home and a love for sushi. Memories of corporate giant FukuCorp, looking me in the eye as it pissed in my pocket.

FukuCorp owned the Twins. Populating it with miners shanghaied through their Earth based restaurant chain FukuSushi. Shokunin robots installed at each restaurant, screened diners for suitability. It was eighteen months ago when I walked in for lunch that day. By my third plate, I was marked. Perhaps it was my chopstick dexterity or maybe my choice of dish from the sushi train satisfied the visual acuity tests. Either way, my life was about to change.

The seemingly innocent salmon nigiri I savoured, was laced with the Taste. A nanite laden serum, designed solely to control humans through addiction.

When saliva, tongue and Taste met, my jaw seized shut and I panicked. Starbursts of pent-up adrenaline released and moments later, the lockjaw dissipated. Biochemical energy cascaded in bands of relaxing warmth down my cheeks making my jaw peacefully slump. The warmth seeped through my neck. Wriggling into my spinal column only to rocket upward and gush into my skull. It flooded my brain with pure ecstasy making me swim in eye rolling joy. A layered cascade tickled every nerve ending in my body, leaving my joints lubricated and free. Thoughts became precise and true. I remembered every experience of my life journey.

I opened my eyes, having no memory of closing them. The restaurant remained unchanged.

A shiver down my spine preceded a strange feeling that I came to recognise as an all consuming emptiness. An aftertaste that would drive me to the heavens.

The Taste lingered on. Gifmarking my retina with a looping animation of the Twins and barraging my body with waves of discomfort. This depleted what remained of my mental strength, finally defeating me physiologically on the second day. I signed my life to FukuCorp in the afternoon and was space bound in an ascent dirigible the next morning. By week’s end, with training complete, I was sealed into my cell and charged with operating over a dozen drillbot teams via gel-link.

The gel bath delivers Taste and sustenance. The immersion period grows the less I remember. Maybe I will stay under a while longer this shift.

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Empathy Test

Author : George R. Shirer

The assessor is attractive in a button-down kind of way. Blonde hair, pink jumpsuit, digital makeup set to minimal. Her face is a sculpt, something from one of the mid-level catalogues. Attractive, but not too attractive. The same face you see on a thousand other people. Only her eyes, brown and liquid, are original.

“You failed your empathy test, Mr. Clawford.”

Her tone is carefully modulated. No condemnation there, none at all. Just carefully presented curiosity.

“I know.”

“You haven’t been taking your dose.”

It isn’t a question. I shrug.

“No.”

“Why?”

The assessor leans forward. Her pink uni-suit tightens slightly, emphasizing the shape of her breasts. It’s a cheap trick, meant to distract one, make your interviewer more susceptible to the subharmonic pulses they use in these interview rooms, to make one more compliant.

“Compassion fatigue,” I say.

The assessor arches her brows. “Honestly?”

“Honestly. I’m tired of being chemically forced to care for my fellow man.”

“Are you experiencing nausea? Fatigue? Some people develop a sensitivity to the pills over time.”

“No, nothing like that. I just decided not to take my dose.”

Her carefully modulated expression becomes one of concern.

“You are aware that refusing to take your dose is illegal?”

“It’s a class two offense. I know.”

“Will you take your dose now?”

“No.”

“Why not?”

“I sort of like feeling like a bastard. Does that make me a bad person?”

“It makes you . . . atypical,” says the assessor. She shifts in the chair. “This is the second time you’ve failed an empathy test, Mr. Clawford.”

“I know.”

“There are three options at this stage,” says the assessor. “You can take your dose and agree to daily monitoring for the next three months.”

“No. I won’t take the dose any more.”

She nods. “Fine. The second option is isolation. You’d be placed under house arrest and not allowed to leave your residence until you resume taking your dose.”

I shake my head. “No, I don’t think so. I think, miss, I’ll go for option three.”

She frowns. “Exile to the Cold Isles?”

“Yes.”

“You are aware that if you choose exile, Mr. Clawford, it’s a one way trip?”

“I know.”

“And that is what you want to do? To go and live among the callous and the unfeeling?”

“Yes.”

“Why?”

“Because I’d rather be an authentic bastard than a fake nice guy.”

Her grin surprises me. She stands and her suit tightens, turns matt black.

“Good answer. Come with me. We can be in Christchurch within the hour.”

I’m confused. “We?”

She laughs. “What? You didn’t think the fuzzies would trust one of their own to do these assessments, did you?”

“You’re one of the cold?”

“No, Mr. Clawford.” She gives me a look that I’ll get from lots of people over the next few weeks, part condescension, part genuine sympathy. “I’m one of the free.”

 

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Franny

Author : Bronwyn Seward

Franny,

I know this letter will be nonsense, beyond your wisdom and understanding. But I need to write it. You need to read it. I dated it so that years after you have shoved it into an old shoe box or tucked it away in your hope chest, you can look back on February 5th, 2013 and evoke my memory.

I can picture you reading this. Oculars scanning the lines, dots, and swooshes that compose this English language. Your brain seeking to process the information set before you. Some of this data will be impossible for your primary visual cortex to distinguish and associate with any meanings you are currently aware of. That is because my explanations for departure will be otherworldly, alien to you, but necessary.

Four years ago, I “moved” into town appearing to you in my burly human shell, as a farmer from Bovill, Idaho. Instead of the four day walk I claimed it to be, I traveled a century through the inky space you call sky to arrive here. Of course with all that time I was a wonderfully well-thought out character with a backstory, quirks, pictures of my ma and pa. A ruse. A trickery. A character in a game. And I was well studied, well prepared.

This appearance on earth was my last step toward sprubeity. I had to observe human interactions in order to become an ambassador for our eventual full scale return to this planet. My break from the Perknite, my home, was agonizing, we don’t feel pain as you do but independence is a foreign concept. Your entirely unnatural composition, with abstract ideas such as happiness, joy, fear, and death is what spawned my journey to your planet.

Franny you were a closely studied individual from the beginning. Fear pervades your planet, but you escape it. Earthlings fear spiders, snakes, heights, public speaking, and close spaces. There is cynophobia, astraphobia, trypanophobia, mysophobia, and hundreds more. Mankind is marked by its fears. But Franny you never seemed afraid. Because I couldn’t seem to overcome your spirit with wild ideas, I had to try to influence you in another way.

On Perknite, every Prectiss is a puppet, our motives are determined by our energy source, some, like myself, are expelled in order for possible future conquest. Forced explorers. Our flexibility allows us to mold ourselves into whatever the prime specimen of a race should value, treasure, or act for. We can only think apart from Perknite when on a different planet, under different rules. On earth, men are ruled by their fears, and by an emotion called love. This is what I employed to weaken you, Franny.

Love is merely a chemical reaction in the brain. In this shell I could feel its effects, its clouding in my judgment, the focus I could not keep. The human body I had played this act through infected my individuality as a Prectis, and I started feeling. Feeling emotions, feeling pride, feeling a joy in my independence, enjoying friendship by choice, instead of that I am forced into. Last night, you told me you loved me and I replied in the acceptable manner. But I do not love you. I cannot love you. I fell into my own trick. My own lie. My own character. I am starting to desire things I can never experience apart from this planet. Impossible things. I want to feel fear, I want to be an individual, I want to experience love. I want to stay.

And that is why I must go.

Forever yours as Peter Clark Young,
Alespapewanes

 

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I Just Want My Dreams Back

Author : James McGrath

The knife blade gleams in the half-light, sliding through its target.
The tape then gives and the box lid opens. This must be box five-hundred, I think as I pack the circuit boards onto the conveyor belt. But what do I know? All time has moulded into a lump; one solid, inescapable moment.

Think of Earth, think of terraformed Mars. They wouldn’t allow these conditions there, but nobody as poor as us could hope to live on planets like those. Diode Ltd, the owners of this Planet (or is it just a factory? How would any of us even know?) run a completely different kind of world.

We awaken at five each morning, eat our bowl of porridge and go downstairs.
Straight to work, no messing about.
Work ends at midnight and if you’re sensible you have your evening meal and go straight to sleep. If you’re too tired in the morning, you could work too slowly and those that are fired are “thrown to the wastes”.

The others seem to enjoy their sleep. Each of them breathing peacefully when I awaken, confused and disorientated.
You see, even in my dreams I work.

It must be my brain, I tell myself. It has known nothing else since I finished the “Earth Education for Colonials”. The course lasts until age ten and I think I’m forty-two.
I’ve almost forgotten what it’s like to do anything but pack these boxes now, but the vague and clouded memory of childhood makes it worse. It taunts and teases me from afar.

Time makes no difference to me; at 5.15 each day I pack boxes, and in the dreamscape of night I pack boxes. My knife always looks the same and the drab backdrop of the factory never changes.
It’s maddening.

I try to fight it. Pinching myself whenever I can, but I say “Ouch!” in my dreams too.
When you’re asleep, how do you distinguish between what hurts and what is perceived to?

I draw a cross on the back of my hand, hoping it won’t appear in my dreams. It enters my subconscious after two days of working with it and it follows me into the night.
I try changing the symbol every day, to trick my brain. Now, when I’m checking if I’m asleep I’m no longer sure of what to look out for.
Did I change it today? Did my head change it for me?

I look at the snake drawn on the back of my hand. The guy in the bunk underneath mine dealt with the checklists and is now wandering the wastes for losing his biro.
But I couldn’t feel sorry for him when I wasn’t sure I was even feeling pain myself.

Inspiration struck.
I needed something new.
It would only work once, but that was enough.
The knife misses the tape this time.
The back of my wrist feels beautiful.

The back of my hand feels.

IT FEELS.

This is new. It has to be!
It’s overpowering. Intense. Raw.

I scream manically and no one looks up from their stations, but as I go down I see a foreman rushing over to me.

I couldn’t dream this. I’ve never felt this before.

Something warm and sticky caresses my cheek and I hear the foreman swear loudly.

“Shit! Not another one of these today.”

 

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Full Circle

Author : John Kinney

When I was twenty years old, advancements in medical science and our understanding of DNA coding finally climaxed. I invested half of my money in a company called Stockholm and Siegfried, who specialized in genetic manipulation and, most importantly, cloning. They didn’t normally clone humans, despite how easily they could, because most considered it to be an ethical dilemma, but my frequent donations eventually changed their minds. When I was thirty, I had my parents’ graves dug up for samples of DNA. I told the research team that the whole project would be our little secret.

On the eve of my thirtieth birthday, the DNA was replicated and, in the morning, two embryos floated in a vat in the basement of the lab.

My parents are twelve now, the tender age that I had lost them in the crash, so many, many years ago. My father’s blue eyes stared into my own and in a small voice he told me that he loved me. He used to look me in the eyes and smile and tell me so when I was his age. I had to choke back tears when my mother smiled and told me to buy her more finger paint because of how much she loved painting. I hung her stick figure picture of my father and I next to one of her college portfolio paintings of a beautiful mountain landscape. I always loved that painting. She had told me that it was of a mountain that she had hiked during her trip to Germany. I made sure to get her more finger paint from the store when her and dad were sleeping in their beds.

I call them mom and dad, and I taught them to call me son.

They will be married when they’re old enough. It will be just like it was, so long ago, but I won’t let them leave me this time. Technically, they can never leave me.

When I die of old age, their son will grow up to be just like me.

 

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