SIMON MORDEN ABOUT FICTION, THE FUTURE, & EVERYTHING IN BETWEEN
P L U S
OUR FIRST ISSUE Featuring Short Fiction, poetry, Interviews, art, And MORE
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CONJECTURAL FIGMENTS Issue #1, February 2012 â€œTranshumanismâ€?
Technological Handholding. To view this issue on an iPhone or iPad, first download iBooks onto your mobile device, then the issue itself on your computer. Then, import document into iTunes and drop it onto your synced device.
This is kind of new to me. Magazines, the whole ezine scene. But I think we’re onto something altogether unique here; a showcase of artists of varying backgrounds and styles getting together to present examples of their viewpoint and perspective on the subject of the month, this month’s being transhumanism. (Not to mention a slew of fantastic artwork!) We kept it simple this time, orbiting one particular idea whereas in the future we plan on branching out into fantasy and horror and every subgenre there is. A scattergun of genre writing, if you will (albeit a scattergun with a high-powered scope.)Added to that, going along with that same metaphor, this short fiction, poetry and artwork is of the highest caliber from some of the most talented artists out there. They are exceptional talents, beyond measure. So. A new year with new endeavors and new resolutions—if you go for that sort of thing. A time to buckle on the can-do spirit, that “screw it, let me try, I don’t care if I get hurt” mindset. Dive headlong with eyes open into new things. That’s what we’re doing here. Like Slim Pickens, ridin’ that sucker to the atomic end. Thanks for being here with us, as we too try something new. We appreciate it. -Andrew Post Editor-in-chief, Conjectural Figments
Conjectural Figments sent ten questions to Simon Morden recently, in which we asked the author of the Petrovitch trilogy (Equations of Life, Theories of Flight, Degrees of Freedom from Orbit Books) about—as the name of the article plainly explains—fiction, the future, and everything in between. We highly recommend that you seek out the Petrovitch novels for there hasn’t been anything in science-fiction with as much heart, humor, and bravado in quite some time. Here’s what he had to say.
Conjectural Figments: You've mentioned Bradbury as a major influence. Was there any specific works of his or other writers that really sparked your imagination when first beginning to write your own SF? Simon Morden: Oh, pretty much everything I’ve ever read. I’ve got shelves of the stuff, from right back to when I first discovered SF when I was still at primary school. I still have that first Arthur Clarke short-story collection “Of Time and Stars” (with the edition date of 1974) that I bought with my own money. I was ten. And the first story in the book is “The Nine Billion Names of God”. Seriously – can you imagine the effect that had on my ten year-old brain? “Overhead, without any fuss, the stars were going out.” Harry Harrison. Asimov. Niven. And Bradbury: the first Bradbury I picked up was Fahrenheit 451. Was there any way back after that? I had all those writers, all those books in my head. So when it came to writing my own stories, I knew how I wanted to do it. That didn’t necessarily make it any easier, as in my mind’s eye I had a vision of what it should look like, but initially lacked the skill to execute. Like any artistic endeavour, it takes time and effort – and you never stop learning, no matter how old you are or how many stories you write. Of course, my first efforts turned out more often than not as Bradbury pastiches, but eventually I found my own way of telling stories. What I want to do, what I always want to do, is to inject a little of that sensawunda I first got – and sometimes still get – from reading.
Besides writing you're also a teacher, is that right? I’m a teaching assistant, which means I’m not a proper teacher – here in the UK you have to take either a teaching degree or an extra year’s course on how to teach before they let you loose on a class of your own: I’ve done neither, despite having lectured at university. And I rather fell into the job, too. I was house-husband, my youngest child started primary school, and I just volunteered to help. I thought I’d be wiping noses and listening to the little ones read: instead I ended up in a class of ten and eleven year olds helping them with maths and english. After a few years of that, I was given the opportunity to take half a class at a time and teach them design technology. It’s supposed to be a bit of woodwork, a bit of cooking, a bit of sewing, a bit of model building. Stuff like that. Instead, we build bridges and bomb shelters and geodesic domes, cars and hovercraft and aeroplanes and rockets. Proper engineering, working from first principles. Probably not what you’d expect in a Primary school, but hey...
Have you used any classroom experiments as inspiration for your fiction? You might have noticed I quite like domes. We did try and make a huge one out of rolled-up newspaper, but it didn’t really work. I’ve plans for a plastic pipe one, but like all state-run schools the world over, we’re not exactly rich, so I’m going to have to scrounge the pipes and work out a reliable way to join them together. But Petrovitch likes his domes, too. His are slightly more robust than mine. Fortunately. In my other, earlier life as a research scientist, my first lab had this massive cheese plant that had not only outgrown its pot but had thrown aerial roots down the sinks, and had become part of the building itself. Probably because we weren’t too diligent in watering the poor thing. In homage to that, Petrovitch and Pif have a small one in their office.
Not to spoil anything for your readers, but Petrovitch undergoes a few . . . enhancements as the series to progresses. Do you foresee anything similar happening in the real world? We’re already doing it. Every so often, I bump into someone with a cochlear implant, and these days they can even fit them in babies. There are nerve and muscle-activated bionic limbs, now with force feedback. Pacemakers with inductive recharging. Artificial hearts. Insulin pumps. Put them all together, and that’s quite a lot of a human you can effectively replace. Some bits of us will take a little longer. Lungs, eyes. Some of those squishy bits in the torso. But when you think about how many people wear glasses, let alone are blind, the market for a cybernetic eye is simply huge: better than 20/20 vision, specialist lenses for close-work or distance, infra-red, UV capability? Oh yeah.
Any conjecture on transhumanism as a whole and how it might affect day to day life for better or worse? It’s always a tricky thing, taking a nascent technology and going all the way to its logical extremes. In the short term, it’s not difficult to imagine a user ‘occupying’ a robotic telepresence for use in a hazardous environment, using the same tech in bionics to see, hear and feel remotely. Neither is it difficult to imagine a soldier doing the same thing on a battlefield, being a weapon without ever risking the ‘meat’. In the medium term, another effect would be the ability to stream video straight from your eye to the internet. Potentially the end of privacy, for ever. And information from the net back to your eye. How would you test someone’s knowledge if they could access answers instantaneously from storage? And in the far future? Body modding. The end of bilateral symmetry, bipedal locomotion, two arms, two hands, even. We’d be brains in jars, and our bodies would
simply be plug-and-play tools. The holy grail of transhumanism is, of course, personality storage, and we can finally say farewell to biology altogether. We’d be immortal, but we’d probably need to keep some breeders around, just in case.
Given the opportunity, would you yourself undergo any possible "additions" of any kind? There’s nothing terribly wrong with the body I’ve got: it more or less works well enough for what I need it to do, so I don’t have the pressing need. My eyesight is fixable with prescription glasses, and it’s not like I’m not going to be entering the Olympics any time soon. Nothing’s particularly broken, and then there’s the squick-factor – even the idea of wearing contact lenses freaks me out. However – with necessity being the mother of invention, if it was a choice between going blind and having cybernetic eyes, I’d go for the eyes. If I was diabetic, I’d go for a pump. If I had heart problems, I’d get a pacemaker. If I’d lost a limb, I’d want a replacement that did as much as possible. I’m used to just getting on with things – lifelimiting conditions aren’t noble or fun. Let’s make things better with technology. Without Neal Stephenson's Snow Crash there'd be no Google Earth. Without Isaac Asimov there wouldn't be Honda's ASIMO. Anything from your own writing (or another writer's) you'd like to see make it's way over into reality? I’m already on record as saying that there should be a way of joining all the fundamental forces of nature together in a series of elegant equations, very much like Maxwell did with the electromagnetic. If we could then turn electricity into gravity, imagine all the amazing machines we could build – and not just ones that blow shit up, either. Hover boards! Flying cars! Floating buildings! Space ships with gravity drives!
Favorite movie robot? Don’t pretend this isn’t the hardest question on the list. There are so many, all the way from Maria in Metropolis to, well, they’re pretty much everywhere now. I have a soft spot for Hewey, Dewey and Louie from Silent Running, and Robbie the Robot from Forbidden Planet (and later Lost in Space), and the altogether more lethal T-101 and the way the SFX team get to deconstruct him as the movie goes on. But I’m going to go for Bishop in Aliens. Not only is it one of my all-time favourite films, but you know: he’s not bad, for a synthetic.
Least favorite movie robot? I remember paying good money to go and see Saturn 3. No. Just no. It was called Hector, a thought I’d manage to suppress for the better part of three decades. Until now, that is. Thanks a lot.
Seriously now. Who shot first: Greedo or Han? I’m honestly surprised you ask. Han. Han shot first when I was a kid, having queued around the block to see Star Wars, and there is no way that Han can’t shoot first. The universe demands it.
We want to take a moment to thank Simon Morden for speaking to us for our debut issue and let you know, the reader, that Equations of Life, Theories of Flight and Degrees of Freedom from Orbit Books are available at all major booksellers. The audio book editions are now available online at audible.com. You can visit Simon at bookofmorden.com.
Poetry This month’s installment of Conjectural Figments’ leap into poetry features two brilliant poets by the names of Jhon Z. Baker and Dale Herring. While their styles differ quite a large deal, both of them bring something unique to the transhumanism angle, and offer two very
vibrant viewpoints on the same sentiment. There’s a great deal of power in their work. I won’t spoil it for you by rambling on and on, but suffice it to say that once you read these poems, you most likely won’t be the same again—or look at poetry the same way, either.
happy new year Happy New Year - please party with abandon and in some unorthodox way. Kiss a stranger. make love wildly. drink to the kind of excess that makes you not drink for another year. dance. Stay off the roads and avoid police roadblocks. play the piano until your fingers bleed. I once got drunk on new years in Trafalgar Square, if your there - get naked - take pictures and send them. plan to sleep in tomorrow, show up late for work if you're alone masturbate twice and drink happily. ladies, pour your own drinks. don't allow video to trump your good time. kill the documenter if it makes it to you tube. be prepared for strong coffee at seven am do not go skinny dipping, it is still cold, unless it is warm where you are, then by all means. make no resolutions, Don't do what I would do... do it twice. for auld lang syne
Four fingers sleep sleep - where are you now? on Benadryl max strength, Ultram, Cymbalta and Norco - I should have passed out mid OJ guzzle - maybe to add whiskey. I love for southern France, with my wife, beautiful and windy like Chicago, but more beautiful, like my wife. - this at one thirty-six am, drunk off medications, OJ but no whiskey. - I'll take four fingers of your finest, please.
2am - corner diner and closing the joint. Mark sat up slowly, eyes closed, to sip off his coffee. Once erect he opens his eyes, parted slightly and sips while breathing through his nose and mouth, for the cooling effect. "Is there anything on your mind, darling?" he asks Janie shrugs her shoulders and looks off to her left. Her right hand firmly gripping her mug, a cigarette burning, ignored, in the ashtray. Mark slides back down to prone in the booth seat. Breathing a heavy sigh as he mentally notes, 'well then it's nothing'. It's been a long day and tomorrow is going to start with a hell of a hangover.
Jhon lives and breathes in Elgin, IL with his wife and son. While a classically trained musician and artist he spends most of his time secluded in a small room at the back of the house writing poetry that fists the gut on his 1983 IBM Selectric III, the Cadillac of typewriters. His first book, ‘hands on the hips’ (146939434) , available at amazon.com and other fine online retailers, his second book, ‘gypsy bars, back alleys and one way streets’ can be found at http://takeittothestreetpoetry.com published by Free Penny Press. His almost daily blog of poetry and such can be found at www.willfulresemblance.com For more of Glenn Porter’s artwork, go to gporterdesign.com
Consider yourself warned.
Lucky for you, w eâ€™re always taking new recruits.
<C://poetry/featured/configs/issue0001/transhumanism.exe searching . . . results:
poem.title: h+ humanity poem.author: dale herring flesh stretched and framed upon strange alloys. nozzles of knowledge inject binary dreams, awaking from a slumber. emotions from the past flood internal servers. over-heating systems shut down. rebooting . . . . a constant struggle between two sides: humanity versus technology.
Short Fiction For the debut issue of Conjectural Figments, we have collected together four short stories thatâ€™re sure to make any who read them think about the idea of transhumanism differently. The subject is broad, your humble editor now realizes, and just throwing out the word has brought in so
many different approaches to the subject that it genuinely alarmed me. Here we have short fiction pieces from Richard Thomas, Simon West-Bulford, Craig Wallwork, and Rommel Luna H.. Enjoy.
Handyman by Richard Thomas
DATALOG 2023:08.07 A.M. My first stop is a housewife on the north shore. She doesn’t ask me about the arm, and I’m pleasantly surprised. Most do. I like to mix it up. Sometimes it’s a factory mishap, my arm torn off in a conveyor belt, the concrete slippery with oil and blood. Other times it’s something more rural, a thresher that ripped it from the socket, the cornfield splashed with arcs of pumping liquid. Truth is I lost is to a needle, the golden sap my only life, my addiction, shooting up until the sores and pus disintegrated my arm at the elbow. They cut it off with lasers while I watched, the stench making my stomach buckle, and at the same time, hunger for a charred filet. The job is the usual digit work. I open a few jars and crimp a few pipes. I lift a piano, an armoire, the back end of her minivan—her two boys running around to rotate the tires, sweaty and laughing at the idiot lying there, his arm a piston powered jack.
P.M. These are always the tricky one, the ones at night. It’s never anything that they want done in the light of the day. At the apartment on the edge of the city I find an empty room with a single bulb lit and barely swinging, suspended over a naked man tied to a metal chair. His eyes bulge when I enter the room and he shakes his head from side to side, the gag in his mouth restricting his words. I know better than to let him talk. They’re never innocent.
I see a camera mounted in the upper right hand corner of this roachinfested slum, a sheet of plastic covering the floor. Nice touches, this one. She said her name was Amber, and the Voicescan told me she was speaking the truth—at least, the truth as far as she knew it. I’d come to trust the applications and instruments that had been built into my right arm. I carried a suitcase around with me, everything from screwdrivers and vice grips to handguns and blades. It took incoming data, via voice and email, complete with a slot for swiping, paying off the bill, and a data reader for they myriad of barcodes. Her payment had already cleared—an admission of anger and impatience. They never had the stomach, the ladies that hired me. It didn’t matter much to me. This was what I did now. Days filled with construction, chores and general housework. Nights filled with the wet work. I opened the suitcase and pulled out a long, thin blade. Detaching the hand, I screwed the knife on and turned to the man. “You know what you did. I’m not here to bargain.” His head shakes back and forth, and I exhale. Urine runs down the side of his leg as I nod at the camera and move in for the first cut. He’s crying soon, muttering apologies as his nipples hit the floor, followed by the digits on his right hand, then the left. He’s screaming soon after that, bucking in the chair, and to be honest, he’s getting on my nerves. I turn to the camera again and nod my head again, then run the blade across his throat. By the time I’m done attaching the saw blade the blinking light on the camera is dead. The limbs are severed and rolled in plastic. I attach the rib-spreader and dig into the ribcage, rummaging around for the heart. I vomit over the pile of appendages, the butterflied chest and the head that stares back at me, eyes open wide with shock.
DATALOG 2023:08.08 A.M. She won’t even get out of bed. And I know what she wants. Her skin in pale, and her eyes are bloodshot, but her smile is white and the room smells of vanilla. She has long gray hair that is almost white, her eyes a dull shade of blue. Light slips in through the sheer drapes and I pause to move them aside, looking down on the city, the placid lake to the east, the sky clear and blue. And cold. If the coffee doesn’t wake me up, it’s the random times I forget to warm the attachments, a cold hand screwed on sending shivers up my arm. It fractures throbbing veins all the way to my heart. What’s left of it. “Could you kiss me first, she asks?” I nod my head. “It’s part of the package, miss. Not that you aren’t pretty.” “I know what I am,” she gasps, reaching for the oxygen mask, “I’m a fucking ghoul, but I used to be stunning, once.” She raises a bony finger and points to a collection of photos, framed and sitting on a nearby vanity. “You don’t need me for this, you know,” I say. “I mean, there are other ways.” “You come highly recommended,” she whispers, sucking on the mask. “Hand me those pills, please,” she says, and I oblige. I pop open the top first, and she swallows down the contents of the clear tube. I hand her
water, which she holds in a trembling hand, spilling down the front of her nightgown. “Better?” I ask. “Take the sheet down,” she says. I pull the sheet down and she hikes up her nightie. She is glistening as she spreads her legs, one hand on her breast, her breathing accelerating, eyes on me the whole time. I lean in and kiss her, our tongues sliding back and forth. “I’m only forty years old,” she cries, tears running down her cheeks. I stand up and go to the suitcase. I take off my right hand, and screw on the device. It is a long fleshy thing, with various buzzing and throbbing points of contact. I turn to look at her and she smiles at me, her right hand busy between her legs. My clothes never come off. My right arm is moving back and forth, in and out, the buzzing and rotating filling the room with a dull hive of sweaty bees, her eyes glassing over as the drugs start to kick in. It’s going to be close, a race to the end. My left hand is holding her bony fingers as she gasps and moans, closer and closer. Something inside me shatters, as she bucks and shakes, the bed wet now, her back arching as the lights dim in her wide open eyes, and she stops moving now, her arms quiet at her side, her fingers falling out of mine. I log the entry, the deposit hitting my account with a hefty tip and I accelerate the car in a straight line, no longer looking for the curves.
Richard Thomas was the winner of contests at ChiZine/Chiaroscuro,
JotSpeak and Cafe Doom/One Buck Horror. He has published over fifty stories online and in print, including the Shivers VI anthology (Cemetery Dance) with Stephen King and Peter Straub, the Warmed and Bound anthology (Velvet Press), the Noir at the Bar anthology, Speedloader (Snubnose Press), Murky Depths, Gargoyle, PANK, Pear Noir!, Weird Fiction Review, Word Riot, 3:AM Magazine, and Opium. His debut novel Transubstantiate was released in July of 2010. He received four Pushcart nominations in 2011. In his spare time he writes book reviews at The Nervous Breakdown and a column for Lit Reactor.
I like my prejudice.
It proves that I am still human, that I belong to something. But to say that I understand why I feel this way when I look at subject 249, is to lie. Everything about that thing wallowing there in its cell, festering in its rancid fluids, fills me with repugnance. I don’t like the way it stares at me. There is no expression in those wide grey orbs, yet there is an aura of superiority swelling from every greasy pore in its body. As if somehow, it is gloating at me. Perfectly formed lips—fleshy white strips of animal tissue—move to form words, and even though I have heard the voice at least once before, it startles me when I hear it now. “Is it my time?” The cadence of gill and augmented larynx vibrating in unison is almost hypnotic. “Or will I be forced to endure the pleasures of your indifferent tortures first?” This creature has no idea. It smells fear from the adrenal glands of a hundred more like itself; those peculiar black tendrils writhing like a nest of convulsing worms can detect hormones and pheromones oozing from its comrades’ organs several kliks away. The effects are diminished by the glass walls of its cell, but nevertheless, it can still smell everything. It thinks they are dead. It thinks I took pleasure in their suffering. Even if that were true, they could not be suffering as much as I. The voice of The Hive, the myriad harmony of a billion minds. Gone from me. “Why do you say indifferent?”
There is a sound like wet meat being squeezed through a metal grate as it uncoils from the floor, and despite the layer of thick glass separating us, I take a step back. Thick, ashen fingers press against the curvature of its orb-shaped prison as its unblinking eyes remain fixed on me. Each finger splits at the knuckle to spread into new fingers, and each of those splits to reveal yet more digits, reminding me of untempered weeds that have somehow evolved a skeletal structure. It caresses the glass, testing for fractures and weakness, and the squeak of its sweaty skin sliding over the surface stimulates a sensation of nausea and an urge to retreat—more proof that I am human. I switch the feeling off instantly; I need its help, and it cannot escape without mine. It shakes its domed head in disdain, like a sea snake swaying in the current of the ocean depths. “There’s no emotion under that hard skin is there?” It says. “Do you feel anything at all when you dissect us? Do you feel even a glimmer of remorse? Or do you just switch that off if it offends you?” “You’re wasting your breath.” “At least I can breathe. I can feel the rush of cool air running through my gills, soothing my throat and filling my lung. An alien concept to you. You don’t know what it’s like to feel human.” I laugh at the audacity. “Human? That air you are breathing doesn’t even have oxygen in it! You mimic human behaviour, pretend to laugh or cry, but to think you might actually believe you have some sort of connection to us is... well, frankly, it is disgusting.” Subject 249 slides back down the glass into its coiled position again, the many strange appendages folding like rubber under its gelatinous body. “I may not resemble those ape-like abominations you think of as human, but there is more humanity in my spinal lobes than there is in any of your... components.” A grotesque flinch forms on its lips that might be a smile as if it thinks it has somehow scored a philosophical
point. It has no idea that the pain and anger it’s reading from me is the agony of separation from my kin. “You think that because you had some distant ancestors on Earth millions of years ago, you can claim—” “Origins are irrelevant. What matters is—” “This is pointless. I am not here to debate with you.” “Then get it over with. Kill me. Cut me open. Catalogue me. Whatever it is you things do.” “I am not here to kill you either... and I am not... a thing.” There is something else in its eyes now. I process and compare the expression with the catalogue still residing in my personal cache. Curiosity? No. Compassion! No. That would mean . . . “Then why are you here?” I study it for a moment. Without The Hive, it is almost impossible to be concise about its condition or its sincerity. “How long have you been imprisoned?” “Long enough to know your kind well. Long enough to know that there is something different about you.” Does it know? Can it smell this all-consuming sense of isolation that makes me so afraid? “Different how?” “Just now. You reacted. You grew angry. And then you seemed”—it shifted, the black tendrils reaching forward—“alone. Not like the other Silicants that study me.” There is a pause. Long enough for me to have second thoughts about what I must do next. “I presume the length of your incarceration means you haven’t heard about the Queen of Death’s new decree?” “The Queen?” It shrinks back. “What is she doing now? Forming new legislation to wipe out another sector? Declaring another Golden Age?” “Of sorts, yes. You and I have something in common now.” “You and I could never—”
“She has rebooted the Genofect Project. Effective immediately.” It freezes for a moment. “She’s found a specimen? After all these aeons?” “Apparently, yes. A pure and complete DNA strand from original Homo Sapiens. I don’t know how.” Subject 249 does something that I could not have anticipated in my diminished state. I came prepared for violence, but instead I see tears. First a glittering bead in the corner of its alien eye, then a trickle, then a flood of what can only be remorse, or perhaps even terror. A shred of humanity after all? Can I truly justify my hatred of this thing? “I see that you understand what this means.” “Can you get me out of here? Is that why you came here?” It is actually quivering now. “Please tell me you came here to get me out.” “Much as I am loathed to confess, I need you. And you need me.” “Why would you need me?” “Surely you can work it out, especially after sensing my loneliness.” He shifts his head to one side. “You have disconnected yourself from The Hive!” he says with realization. “You want to escape too.” “If I break your cell and help you escape, they may assume my disconnection was the result of an attack and that my body was ejected into space, otherwise they will simply seek me out and reconnect me. And then when the Genofect Project reaches The Hive we will be disassembled. I would rather suffer this ache of isolation for the rest of eternity than go back to an animal form.” He nods slowly, calmer now. I think he is genuine. And why wouldn’t he be? His tears demonstrated his fear of the future. Not for him, he has already accepted his fate. He fears for the rest of his kind.
For aeons, the Fleshers have been manipulating methods of DNA replication, bridging the reproductive paradigms that separate the uncountable species across eight galaxies, engineering those aspects of the human genome to cull the weakest traits and dilute all life forms into a single species. All to one end: the creation of the ultimate human. The thought that the Queen would reverse all of their ‘progress’ and begin a ruthless campaign to return humanity to her own vision of human perfection must be as abhorrent to a Flesher as it is to me. I could never go back to an organic state. It is a constant horror to me that we must... I must endure: that last piece of brain matter within this silicon shell festering like a tumour that cannot be eradicated. I am still a human being. Not because of a tiny piece of wet gristle, but because I feel that I am, and I will not submit to the Queen’s barbaric plans. I would rather be alone. “Well? Are you going to get me out or stand there calculating forever? The Hive must already have dispatched a team to recover and repair you.” I stare for a moment longer at the Flesher. Now that the moment has arrived, do I really want give this thing its freedom? After all, it was put in there because it was dangerous, and I doubt that I can conceal my squeamish fears when it writhes out of its prison. Would some sort of animal instinct take over when it smells my phobia? “Well?” “Of course, but our plan must be executed quickly once I smash the glass. Sentries will be here in seconds, so there must be no delay.” “What do you intend to do?” “There will be a span of two minutes and twenty-six seconds in which we can use a genoplant to transfer to the flight bay, and then you will pilot us out. My disconnection from The Hive means I will not be able to access the navigational charts, but you have a conditioned instinct that will guide us to your homeworld. I can use that as reference to plot a different destination.” “Where do you intend us to go?”
“I will be content to wait for a few hundred years on one of the abandoned moons of the Castorian Sector. For now. Once you have taken me there, you are free to go where you please.” Subject 249 continues to watch me, considering its options. I anticipate a point zero four per cent chance that it will try to kill me when I let it out, yet I cannot resist the fear that this remote possibility brings. “Do it.” “Stand back.” It slips upward, its bulk supported by cloud of dangling limbs, then settles on the far side of the orb to retract its legs and wait. My fingertips clink against the glass as I Calculate the frequency requirements and trigger the sonic resonance, amplifying it until the wall begins to shudder. A galaxy of silicon fragments spray outward. Sharp chips gouge into my synthetic layers and I instantly deactivate the nerve endings to prevent shut down and regeneration. Subject 249 gurgles in protest as shards pierce its jelly-like dermis and I watch in disgust as he shivers to shed the outer layer in a series of jaundiced fatty deposits. In the time it takes me to disable the connection nodes to the area it has grown a new skin, the same revolting sheen coating it. “Make your mind up,” it says. “Am I an ‘it’ or a ‘he’?” With the prison destroyed, all barriers gone, it... he... can read everything. There is a moment of silence and sheer horror as my soul is bared before him—a cowering intimacy, a sense of shame and nakedness that forces me to look away. It should at least know now that I am not lying about escape. “Does it matter? Come, we have to hurry.” “Has the Project reactivation been reinstated everywhere? Is it publicized?” “We don’t have time to discuss it. We must go.” “Answer the question. I could search that tiny scrap of grey matter under that metal cranium to find out, but it would be a lot less effort if you just tell me.” “Come. We don’t have—”
“You need me. If you want my help, answer the question, Silicant.” “Yes. The decree is final, effective immediately, and spans all the governed sectors including this one.” “That’s all I wanted to know.” “Why?” The Flesher raises itself to its full, terrifying height and advances on me. It means to attack! “Not everyone wants to be who they are, Silicant.” It was the shock of its confession that caused my hesitation, the sudden realisation that its earlier tears were not fear or terror, but relief and joy. It wanted the Genofect Project. It knew exactly where to hit me: the feedback capacitors. Without them, I could not possibly anticipate and respond to its aggression with the usual dexterity of an automaton. After the first blow, it grabbed me with two hands around my shoulders, lifted me with ease from the floor, and began its vice-like crushing of my torso. There is no pain, my nerve endings have already been deactivated, but the fear of my termination is more than enough to make me act, and I lash out with my legs, pumping hard into its pallid chest. The putty flesh, new and freshly formed, cannot resist a quarter-tonne piston, and caves in. We both collapse, Subject 249 is not releasing me, its desperation only escalating. “I was born like this,” it wheezes, “but I have dreams of walking on human legs and feeling sand between my toes. Dreams of seeing a sunset with human eyes and tasting wine with a human tongue. I want to be real.” Sparks glitter in my peripheral vision and dark spots follow, alerting me to the fact that my systems are seriously damaged. It takes a second to shuffle backward, but even as I do so, the would-be proto-human brings its fists down heavily upon me. I don’t even know where they hit. I only know that everything is dark and the hollow echo of my own voice fills the mourning void in my mind that used to welcome so many others. “Flesh and blood, silicon and steel. It doesn’t matter. You are what you want to be.” “But I don’t want to be this.”
“Then don’t. Whatever the shell, you will always be”—my systems are nearing expiry—“a killer. Will it matter any longer if you are human or not? Perhaps it is this that makes you human.” There is one last sound. The tearing of metal from frame, and then a milky-white vortex of light summoning me. Is this the exposure of my soul? Torn from the confines of a shell made from atoms to realize something new? Perhaps it doesn’t matter what I want to be, or what I am. Perhaps, I just am.
lives in Essex, England earning his keep alongside his wife, Ruth, as a Clinical Trials scientist. Having spent too many hours tinkering with game design, painting bugs and battling theologians, he settled down as a writer. Some of his work can be found in the Eternal Night anthology, Dark Fire, Colored Chalk, Thunderdome, and This Mutant Life. “I Am” is a spin-off story from the world of the The Soul Consortium – his debut novel, due to be published by Medallion Press in July 2012. You can find out more about his writing at simonwb.com.
grey bed sheet issued by Management gathered in pleats around my waist, the cotton soaked red to resemble a beautiful sunset I’d once seen in a magazine. A long pinkish tail slipped from under the cover, wagging in rhythm to a faint gnawing sound. Two black eyes peered at me through the fingers of my ribcage. The rest of its body lost in the tangle of my intestines. I screamed aloud, but not in pain. I screamed only to scare the rat away. But the rat did not move. The transformation of the old Shipping Level to accommodate freights had happened in my first year at Factory 37, so did the replacement of fossil fuels to wind turbines to power the main generators. I did not see any of these changes. Management sent a memo to all accommodation blocks explaining the details and benefits. This is how I found out about the extinction of #34297. I had met #34297 once during a refreshment break. He was occupying the restroom. Other than the nurse, it was the first time I had seen another Employee in twenty years. His face was under reconstruction. His jaw was missing so he couldn’t talk, but he was able to write words on a piece of paper for me to read. I still have it hidden under the venting unit in my bedroom. It said, Where do the bones come from? The Aspiration Line is a stretch of conveyor running five miles from Mother to the Shipping Yard, and it is my main place of work. Management sent an artist’s impression of what
His jaw was missing so he couldn’t talk, but he was able to write words on a piece of paper for me to read . . . It said,
Where do the bones come from?
In the night, it had taken my toes.
the Factory 37 looked like from above, with measurements and data on how much steel was used during its construction. In the picture, I could see the hundreds of tiny cubicles where people like me and #34297 work. I tried looking for my cubicle, but it was hard to place it because I have no frame of reference to what is above, behind, or at the side of me. The memo also said that after the TB outbreak of 2015 that killed 30% of the Outer World, a leadership council was formed to devise a way of manufacturing synthetically enhanced bone marrow to build the immunity levels of all citizens should there be another epidemic. Management made it clear that our work was very important for the well-being and citizens of the Outer World. One day last week, Mother stopped working. Mother holds all the bones, and distributes them to various conveyors depending their size and marrow content. The Aspiration Line grinded to a halt and an awful burning smell filled the air. I stared at the conveyor and saw hip and breastbones, ribs, vertebrae and the long bones such as the femur and humerus. I peered to my left and saw hundreds of idle hands waiting for Mother to begin churning out the bones again. I looked to my right, and there were hundred more doing the same. I could see no faces because the partitions are too high and wide. But each personâ€™s hands was identical to my own; reddened fingers, thin and malnourished. When the rat first arrived, I was sleeping. In the night, it had taken my toes. I awoke to blood seeping from the tatty ends of the standard grey issue socks and ten stumps of white bone jutting out at different lengths. The rat was in the corner of the room, chewing on my big toe. I lunged forward to grab the toe from its yellowed fangs and fell to the floor in a heap.
The nurse cleaned and dressed the wounds. She wore glasses with thick frames, the kind Iâ€™d seen in perfume advertisements. A blue tight fitted tabard revealed a slender body with tiny breasts. I asked her why I could not feel the rat eating my toes, and she said my particular model had not been fitted with a dorsal horn, a part of the spine which in important in receiving pain signals. I asked her if I could have one fitted, and she said Management did not have the budget to fund a procedure for older models. The journey from my domicile on the 88th floor to the hospital on the 3rd had been difficult on just my heels so the nurse arranged for a pair of crutches to aid my walking. She helped me understand the correct posture, and how to distribute my weight, and though it was easy, I stumbled so the nurse would catch me. For the briefest of moments, we were holding each other, so close I could smell her fennel brown hair. That night, I hoped to dream of her, but the dream did not come. Nuzzled deep in my ribcage, the rat began nibbling at my lungs. I thought about the consequences of this. Besides safeguarding the Outer World by extracting bone marrow, Employees of Factory 37 were also incubators, harvesting vital organs for donation. Lungs, heart, liver and kidneys implanted in the bodies of every Employee were living organisms, just like the intestines, colon, bladder, spleen and trachea. They were real and could be easily damaged if not treated well. Management said all Employees were heroes, saviours of future generations. To violate or purposely damage oneself ran the risk of organ failure, which would be a serious offense. To die meant someone else would suffer. This is why the nurse told me I should never stop breathing.
I was a mistake, a design fault, and instead of correcting me, allowances were made and excuses given.
If I held my breath, or submerged my head in water, my lungs would fill and I would die. I asked the nurse what dying was, and she told me it would mean I could never work to help the Outer World ever again. I would be redundant, but more than anything, to die would displease Management. I encouraged the rat by pushing my right lung toward its snout. My breathing turned shallow, and then it stopped all together. I wondered if I would panic, cough and splutter if I tried to swallow the air around me. But I didn’t. My chest rested, my body relaxed. I licked my lips and they were dry, but warm. I read in a magazine that after the Vanderbilts commissioned artist Paul Cesar Helleu to paint the constellation on the ceiling of Grand Central station, an astronomer was brought in to check its accuracy. He told the Vanderbilts that the artist had been looking down at it the diagram when he painted it, so everything was back to front. Refusing to have the ceiling re-painted, the Vanderbilts told everyone that it was intentional, and instead of looking at the constellation through the eyes of a human, you look down upon it through the eyes of a God. I think this is what’s happening to me. I was a mistake, a design fault, and instead of correcting me, allowances were made and excuses given. Instead of looking at me through the eyes of a human, Management looked at me through the eyes of God and decided I wasn’t worth the effort. A flutter gathered in beats through my chest. Plasma sprayed like piston oil through the bony crate that penned in the rat. I looked down and noticed its ears twitch, its head tilt, and all at once, I knew within its tiny brain neurons were sparking and creating images it had not seen, nor lived. My
life was being transferred to the rat, little by little, organ by organ. With cheerless eyes, its body was already suffering under the weight of a curiosity I had carried around with me since construction. It could see the Aspiration Line, and my encounter with #34297. If I knew how to, I may have smiled, a simple gesture to let it know I too wanted to be human, to love and have hope. But I couldnâ€™t because there was nothing in me to force those muscles to tighten. I asked the rat to stop consuming me. Its life would be darker if it did, but the rat did not care. I remember the rat lunging toward my eyes, its face twisted by the need to exist and that of pity. Then there was nothing.
lives in West Yorkshire, England. His stories have appeared in many journals, magazines, and anthologies both in the UK and US. Snubnose Press will be publishing his novel in 2012, and his short story collection, Quintessence of Dust, will be released by KUBOA earlier that same year. You can follow his progress at www.craigwallwork.blogspot.com.
S E L F
R o m m e l L u n a H.
aybe cutting off my son’s entire little toe is unnecessary, but I’m not a scientist; I’m not sure how much of him is needed, so I cut. He thrashes and screams. I know it must be painful. I try to hush him, to settle him down, but he won’t take any of it. He’s no longer the old man dying of cancer that he was just a few minutes ago; the pain has brought back his old self, his fighting self. So much blood from such a small wound, and so much struggle; but at least I have his toe now. His decrepit, crude, diseased, little toe; all wrinkled and hairy, it curls up on the palm of my hand like an ugly embryo. Should I keep it on ice? I’m not sure, but I rather be safe than sorry. I’m sure I’ll find a container in the kitchen; maybe some ice in the fridge. I only wish he would stop crying, but he doesn’t listen to a word I say; I was never very good at consoling him; that was his mother’s gift. When he was a child he would wake us up in the middle of the night, crying his lungs out, terrified at some nightmare and the darkness he woke up to; and no matter what I did, no matter how much I held him in my arms, or kissed him, or turn on all the lights to show him that nothing bad was hiding in the shadows, he would keep crying until his mother entered the room and, with a single gentle
hush, erased his wailing almost in an instant, turning it into a sobbing that soon would become silence.
That always made me jealous. Not the control she had over his fears, but the response she always got from him, the assurance that he knew how much she loved him. I too loved him very much, and I knew that he loved me back; maybe he was better at demonstrating his love to his mother, but I knew that there was also love for me in his little heart. We were always great friends too, there never was any doubt about that, but his mother got to be his confidant. Yes, I was a jealous father, I can admit that much. Jealousy is a stupid sentiment, especially within family members, but, like my good physician always says: “You can’t control your feelings the way you can
you can control your cells.” Maybe that was one of the things that didn’t sit too well with him; maybe my constant need for love is what drove him away from me and into the loving, caring, and understanding arms of his mother. Kids are like that: they don’t like needy parents; they consider them weak. They need protection, someone to take care of them even against their wishes, and I’m sure they can identify which
Fig. B parent is more capable to lead them safely through their lives. “She understood life better than you ever will,” he told me once, the same year his mother died. I don’t remember what prompted him to tell me that. We were not having a fight or anything like that; we never even argued. We loved each other! Why would we fight? But those words hurt me. They were not intended to hurt me, but they did anyway. And not because I thought that they meant that he loved his mother more than he loved me; jealousy was not the issue anymore; I couldn’t be jealous of a dead person. They hurt me because with them he told me that he
had chosen his mother’s philosophy of life over mine. He was making the same mistake his mother did, and that terrified me! “Son,” I replied. “Let me help you.” He looked at me with his eyes so serene, a faint shade of facial hair making him look older than his nineteen years. I don’t know how much time he spent like that, just looking at me; it’s been too many years since that day, more than fifty years, more than half of what used to be considered a lifetime, so the memory has faded to some extent. But I do remember the way he embraced me right after: tightly, lovingly, and for almost as long as he had been staring at me before; and I also remember how he said something in my ear, very quietly, as if he didn’t really want me to hear it: “I’m the one who can help you.” And then in an even softer whisper: “God bless you.” I pretended I didn’t hear that last sentence. I even tried to convince myself that I had misunderstood him. I was too much of a coward to confront him like I confronted his mother years earlier, when we separated, when she started to let herself die.
Instead, I kissed him full of sadness and hoped, wished, that I had heard wrong. You could say that after his mother died we grew apart even more, but I would have to disagree. We kept in touch in spite of our busy lives. Proof: I was finally added to his small circle of friends and I added him to mine. Our profiles automatically shared updates for the next several years so all I needed to do was to take a peek in his socnet to find out pretty much all there was to know about what was happening in his life. I didn’t miss any of his birthdays. I would see him at least twice a year and chat about stuff, like adult friends do. We became comfortably acquainted with each other for the following decades, celebrating each occasion when we found ourselves in front of each other’s holograms. I sometimes really missed having him close to me, like when he was a little kid, but that was something I usually realized when we were together, not before, and not after. In some occasions when we met, the need to hug him and kiss him made me wish that he was there in the flesh, sharing the same room with me instead of talking to my hologram thousands of kilometers away. I even offered to visit him several times, but he always found a way out of my propositions. I should have pressed the issue, maybe follow my instincts and travelled to his home unannounced, at least once; but there were always other more hedonistic impulses to satisfy, and my son, well, he seemed always to be all right. His hologram always looked happy and healthy. How was I supposed to know that his mother had infected him with what she used to call a “sense of human spirituality”? Of course I call it by its real, archaic, and obscene name: Religion. She went through pains to keep her beliefs a secret from everybody. Even I wasn’t sure about their existence until it started to show on her wrinkles and her ills. “I would be persecuted,” she told me
one of the very few times the subject was brought up and I asked her why all the secrecy. “What persecution?” I asked her. Instead of answering my question, she looked at me in silence; her eyes wide open showed a strange horror that contrasted with the rest of her agape expression. I waited a little longer for her explanation, but none came. She suddenly turned around and left. Having a religion may be frowned upon or even ridiculed, but nobody really persecute you in any way if they know you have these beliefs. They will think you are an ignorant person, maybe demented by choice, but there has always been religious people in the world. Religion is not something that will be eradicated like tetanus or rabies, and there’s surely less and less religious people every time anybody bothers to check, but they are there, they still exist. So I didn’t pay much attention to her beliefs and unfortunately she took advantage of that, secretly filling my son’s head with her crazy ideas of suffering and redemption for all those years while I thought he was happy with his life. How naïve I was! How stupid and irresponsible! Imagine the horror when I received the call from his Socially Appointed Physician! More than fifty years had passed since the last day I saw him in person. Fifty years since he had confessed to me his faith through that whispered blessing. Fifty years of me pretending cluelessness out of cowardice. For five decades his dead mother’s ideas had corroded his brain with impossible promises from an impossible, almighty being, while his life, his real life, was being wasted away. For fifty years I thought that he was leading a happy life! And why wouldn’t
he? He had everything to be happy. Why would he choose religion instead of happiness? Why choose a fantasy instead of the real life blessings of our current science and technology? Life is good now that we have put a rein on it. Now that life is no longer our enemy, or at least not an enemy that we have to fear, we can face the good things it can offer without worrying about our decay. Regardless of what new feeble disease life invents, our engineers and physicians will often have the cure even before one single person comes down with its symptoms. And if they don’t act quickly enough and you end up with some new virus destroying your heart or your liver, they just grow a new organ for you and replace it in the next bimonthly visit. Pancreas is busted? Your physician’s visit will have to be extended for an extra fifteen minutes. Multiple organs at the same time? They can always schedule you for next week, or some other date that doesn’t conflict with your busy life. The truth is that nobody really has to make any extra appointments these days. The physicians usually detect organ and cell malfunction even years before they actually start giving you problems, and replace what’s necessary during your following preventative check-ups. Old age? Accelerated cell regeneration keeps me in a permanent state of physical and mental youth. Most of the cells in my body don’t even get to die before they are replaced by new ones. You look at me and you see a twenty-something, hungry for life. Give me more! Give me everything! Who wouldn’t want that? We are practically immortal now! All hail the new flesh! Sure, there are ways to perish, but it is becoming harder and harder to suffer that outdated natural death. And yet . . . My son didn’t know that I had been alerted by his physician. When I arrived to his house and entered his bedroom, I found
and old man in his deathbed instead of my son. A decrepit seventy-year-old man; so different from the young and healthy holographic image he tricked me with for so many years. There were no greetings coming from his tired self. “Why?” I had to ask him. His opaque eyes stared at me with almost no reaction. The physician had warned me that he was dying. ‘Too far gone into death’, those were his words. The same physician was now here in his room, surely monitoring my son’s death as a rare event that should be documented for science. He even started to explain to me what kind of cancer was killing my son, hardly suppressing his excitement, until I interrupted him and asked him to please leave us alone. I promised I would allow the monitoring continue until the end. I wanted some privacy in case my son decided to offer an explanation. The physician reluctantly understood and, with a simple nod, signed off his hologram and disappeared from the room. “It’s not too late, my son,” I said once we were alone. “Who are you?” my son asked. “I am your father,” I answered surprised and sad; I supposed his disease had impaired his judgment. “You’re a stranger.” He breathed heavily. “My father would be over a hundred years old now.” “My son . . .” I wanted to explain the blessings of science, the beauty of technology, and how we no longer had to bow to life, but he interrupted me. “No! You are not my father. You are a copy of my father. You have been replacing yourself for years; piece by piece, you have discarded your own self like filth! You are no longer you, and you don’t even know it. You are a second-rate copy.” “No, no. I am the same. Don’t you recognize me?” “There’s not a cell in your body from
the original. and even if there is still something left of you, you will replace it soon enough. If there’s still a piece of my father in all that reengineered body of yours, it will soon be gone.” “This is still me, this is still my body, don’t you understand? You don’t have to suffer anymore. We can replace whatever fails. We can improve our bodies, son.” “You cannot improve what God created.” There it was. Religion. Religion would never let him understand. I knew that he was in its grip regardless of how much I wanted to deny it. I could make all the sense in the world, and he would never accept a single fact that contradicted what he believed to be true: Mankind is playing God, and that is a sin. His physician was right, he was too far gone into death. But I was prepared anyway. I had a very good notion of what was needed: Nervous, epithelial, muscle and connective tissue. After several minutes of silence, with none of us daring to offer arguments in what we knew would be a futile attempt to convince the other, I grabbed his left foot and with a very sharp pair of scissors I’d brought with me, I cut, as swiftly as I could, the smallest portion of his body that would hold all the cells I would need: his little toe. His crying is subsiding now. I’m glad he’s not asking or speculating about my seemingly violent action. He wouldn’t understand anyway. He would never understand any of my justifications the way he never understood how he could have prevented all this if he had only taken care of himself. His reasoning was clouded by a righteous faith that annihilated logic. Religion never let him understand that we are all constantly changing anyway, regardless of any medical procedure. My body may have more new parts than original ones: new organs, muscles and bones, cultivated in laboratories and transplanted into me to compensate for what entropy has decayed, but that’s not so different from the natural entropy of every atom
in the universe. His own old body is a mass of different molecules from the ones he was born with! We all are a constant shuffle of atoms, always new, never the same. Therefore, he wouldn’t have shared my fear of having the mnemonic strands of his cells infected with death; that’s why I couldn’t wait for him to die. I wish I could have waited to save him from the painful amputation, I really do, but I’d rather cause him pain now than bring the memory of his death into the newly cultivated cells. He would have never accepted that the cells I had now in my hand would produce a new him; a new son for me; new and yet the same. But this time I will make him understand; I will take care of him and I will convince him of how fortunate we both are of living in this age. “I love you, my son,” I say to his dying, old, bleeding body, and quickly leave for the geneclinic to clone him. A liquid container in my hands and in it; ice, hope and his little toe.
Rommel Luna H. was born about 13.7 billion light years after the big bang, and just before that year’s Halloween’s daybreak. A loving father of four and the husband of one, he works as a Systems Analyst for an Insurance Company in Winnipeg, MB (Canada). He is the author of two novels (one of them in Spanish, Eterna, selfpublished through Amazon Kindle Direct Publishing), one novella, and over thirty short stories. He finds inspiration in music, and normally tries to keep his views on life to himself so as not to depress those around him.