Zenith is a zine dedicated to publishing the best contemporary works of science ﬁction created by self-identiﬁed feminists from all walks of life. Zenith is for anyone who wants to experience science ﬁction as it should be; existing beyond the limitations of patriarchy and misogyny. The zine aims to deliver a high quality curated publication biannually which will highlight feminist voices in the science ﬁction creators community. Zenith will strive to represent an intersectional proﬁle of contemporary science ﬁction, seeking to include voices from any and all ethnicities, genders, nationalities, religions and other feminist identities. Readers can expect creative ﬁction, editorial essays, poetry, ﬁne art, illustration, cartoons and comics, photography, book and ﬁlm reviews and all other forms of science ﬁction creation within its pages. Special Thanks To Anonymous Miriam Natis takemetoyourlizard Talia Enright David North Breeanna Riley Cynthia Corsiglia + Ali Höcek pisieh5 Lord Rev. Dr. Mathias666 Mitch Vane Samantha Brechlin Battista Remati Anonymous Without these awesome contributors to Zenith’s crowdfunding campaign this zine would not exist. Also a HUGE thank you to Emilie Ruscoe and Zenobia Frost for volunteering their time to provide their superior services as copy editors. Thank you both so much!
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by Scarlett North-Cavanaugh, Coolum Beach, Australia 3yÂ…ĂŞĂ†Â&#x;Â˛Ă?Â?Ä??Â˜Ä?3Â¸ĂŁÂ?..........................................................................................................p.5 Art by Mitch Vane, Melbourne, Australia VÂ?Â?Ä?Â˛yÂ…ÂŹÂ?Â‹.........................................................................................................................p.6 Story by Emma deBeer Charno, New York, USA 'Â˛Ă?Â?Ă†ĂŠĂ?Â?ÂŹÂŹyĂ†Ä?Ă•ĂŠĂ?..........................................................................................................p.11 Art by Sarah Golish, Toronto, Canada QÂ&#x;ĂŠÄ?QĂ?yĂ?Â&#x;Â¸Â˛ĂŠÄ?Â˛Â‹Ä?Ä?Ă†Â¸ĂŠĂŠÂ&#x;Â˛Â™...................................................................................p.12 Poem by Zenobia Frost, Brisbane, Australia 3Â?Ă?Ä›ĂŠÄ?MÂ?Â?yÂ…Â&#x;ÂŹÂ&#x;Ă?yĂ?Â?Ä? yĂ†Â…yĂ†Â?ÂŹÂŹy...............................................................................p.14 Article by Alyssa Favrea, Montreal, Canada VÂ?Â?Ä?Â¸Â˛ĂŠĂ?yÂ˛Ă?Ä?8yÂ˛........................................................................................................p.17 Art by Linda Adair, Sydney, Australia iÂ¸ĂŞyÂ™Â?Ä?VÂ¸Ä?Ä?Â&#x;ĂŠĂ?yÂ˛Ă?Ä?QĂ?yĂ†........................................................................................p.18 Poem by C.S.E. Cooney, Rhode Island, USA jĂ†Â?Â†ÂŞÄ??Â˛Ä?1yĂƒĂ?Â?ĂŞÂ˛........................................................................................................p.24 Art by Tohad, Toulouse, France ÂŹÂąĂŠÄ?MyÂ†Â?...........................................................................................................................p.26 Story by Deborah Walker, London, UK [Â˛Ă?Â&#x;Ă?ÂŹÂ?Â‹...............................................................................................................................p.34 Art by Irina Kalinka, Berlin, Germany VÂ?Â?Ä?pyÂ¸Ä–!yÂ¸Ä?Â˛Â™Â&#x;Â˛Â?....................................................................................................p.35 Story by Rachel Aukes, Des Moines, USA VÂ?Â?Ä?8Â?ÂŹyÂ˛Â†Â?Â¸ÂŹĂŞÄ??Â˜Ä?8Â?Â†Â?yÂ™Â&#x;Ă†ÂŹ............................................................................p.37 Poem by Catherynne M. Valente, Peaks Island, USA ÂŹÂ&#x;Â?Â˛Ä?3yÂ‹Â&#x;Â?ĂŠÄ?3Â&#x;ÂŞÂ?Ä?VÂ¸Ä?JÂ&#x;Â†ÂŞÄ?[ĂƒÄ?Â?Â&#x;Â†ÂŞĂŠ....................................................................p.41 Comic by Emma Hough Hobbs, Adelaide, Australia VÂ?Â?Ä?ÂŹÂ&#x;Â?Â˛ĂŠÄ›Ä?MÂ¸ĂŠĂ¤Â?ÂŹÂŹÄ?Â¸Â˛ĂŠĂƒÂ&#x;Ă†yÂ†ĂŞÄ?VÂ?Â?Â¸Ă†ĂŞÄ?'ĂŠÄ? Â?Ă?Ă?Â?Ă†Ä?VÂ?yÂ˛Ä?pÂ¸Ă•Ă†ĂŠ........p.42 Poem by Suki Spangles , London, UK ĂšÄ? Â?ÂąÂ&#x;Â˛Â&#x;ĂŠĂ?Ä?!MJ%'Ä?9?i3QÄ?Ä?VÂ¸Ä?MÂ?yÂ‹..................................................................p.44 Article by Kylah Shenkin, Brooklyn, USA Ä?MÂ?yÂŹÄ? Â¸ĂŞ..........................................................................................................................p.46 Art by Eran Fowler, Vancouver, Canada Â‹ĂŁyÂ˛Ă?yÂ™Â?Â¸Ă•ĂŠ................................................................................................................p.47 Review by Amy Jelacic, Brisbane, Australia Â¸ĂŁÂ?Ă†Ä?Ă†Ă?Ä?Â…ĂŞÄ?ÂąÂąyÄ?8yÂŹÂŹÂ&#x;Â˛Â?Â˛ÄƒÄ?8QVM8ÄƒÄ?9V%M39Q
even to the last second. The Three’s fingertips touched and they learned that a lifetime of selfdoubt is something worth training yourself out of. Aiesha touched the faces and bodies that surrounded her, learning their every groove and twitch as her own. The warm wetness that coated Kia was from more than the new city of ocean; it was from their jubilant tears. Z felt the energy of her partners, her other selves, radiating hotly around her. Z felt her power come alive through her connection of body and mind with Aiesha and now Kia, and knew that she was finally herself. Z felt a calm, a calm that washed over the other two like the waves, and took them over. Their muscles relaxed again, assuring their safety from the gravity that had ripped so many others away. The Three were in love. It was an emergent love – a love of necessity, of emergency, the emergency that was the storm; but not only that, also the emergency that was their entire lives of alienation, the destruction of the world and other beings that had been the norm, the typical since long before the Three were born. The water swirled, developing new patterns of gravity as it adapted to its new situation, influenced by the magnetic pull of the magic finally enabled into life by the end of a world determined to crush it. They would live whether the world liked it or not. But the world liked it, because they were the world now. With the love of the Three, finally realized, their fear had spread and dissipated, like the gentle ripples of water moving outwards and away from the minute motions of their bodies.
QéĝQÐyÐ¸²Êĝy²ĝyĝÆ¸ÊÊ² êĝu²¸ yĝÆ¸ÊÐ
No one checks your ticket. Outside the train, whales arch across noise and blue static. Take off sodden sneakers, socks. Get comfy. You didn’t bring a book. Watch your window. Split lightning flashes / clouds seeded with bats over slurred vine / bruised fruit pelts out the knees of toothpick huts / arch from mud. The swelling shore licks the palace lidded on bamboo / sway. The train pulls to a stop to take the tide in, with a few tired eyes, dripping. The next town lit up radioactive: neon on puddle / every store a corner store, each street one bodega long / a maze of corners / each < OPEN > sign a lighthouse < OPEN > ; < OPEN > ; < OPE Doors shut on blurry glow of adjectives. A tunnel. A man in red embarks and slides a red umbrella in beside you. “What’s your blood type?” and you point to your headphones / shrug / he thinks you’re pointing to your neck. Nearly miss your stop. Squelch. Into pavement’s grey inch of water. Doors slurp — your shoes inside and gone. Your lover won’t pick up his phone. õöć
Cross the city’s heft / a wet cat / awning to awning / feet blistered and pruned. His apartment. He laughs at the dank surprise of you. “That’s sweet. But I have company.” Foyer so white, his teeth glow. Ha. The elevator’s big mouth. He leads you to a room you’ve never seen. An aquarium. You’re so tired of water. In the tank, women float like weeds. “These / my former loves” / fingertips on glass: “I wanted / to think them over.” Fumble in your pocket for the ticket home. Breathe faster. His teeth again. He leads you to his waterbed, slicks blonde hair / watches you. Morning retraces hot steps on stone. Buy clear gumboots in the market square. Fail to find a hot breakfast. At the station, a machine dispenses novels. Choose one about a child detective. Block your lover’s number, pick the longer route home, unblock the number, crack the book’s spine / crack your own. The train hurtles over railed ocean, past disused amusement rides hoisted on old sailing ships / a city of pirate rigs in rags / rollercoasters link decks / Ferris Wheels spin listless off of masts. In the sky, no movement.
3ÐěÊĝMy ¬ÐyÐĝ yÆ yÆ¬¬y êĝ¬êÊÊyĝ yãÆyÕ
In 2005, Jane Fonda was featured in an episode of Inside the Actor’s Studio. While talking about Barbarella, her sexy campy 1968 science fiction film, she mentioned something that I haven’t been able to forget: “If I could do it over, I could rewrite it, and it’d be a powerful feminist story, but it would be just as sexy and as funny.” Later on, in 2011, she told the LA Times that she’d love to do a sequel, so revisiting Barbarella is clearly of some interest to her. A new movie, however, isn’t going to fix the original that—based on Jean-Claude Forest’s French comics of the same name—tells the story of the beautiful space explorer Barbarella. The film begins with our heroine in her ship, receiving an urgent message from the President of the Republic of Earth. A scientist named Durand Durand has escaped, and is thought to be building a weapon for intergalactic war near Tau Ceti. Barbarella is tasked with finding him and thwarting his plans. After crash landing on the planet, Barbarella is taken captive by some fantastically creepy children, only to be rescued by the Catchman. From him, she learns the wonders of sex (for centuries people on Earth have been reproducing telepathically when their psychocardiograms are in sync). She gets back in her spaceship only to crash again, this time in the Labyrinth of exiles. There she meets the winged Pygar, the last of the ornithanthropes, and together they travel to Sogo, a city built on top of the Mathmos, a lake of liquid energy that feeds on evil psychic power (it’s a weird movie). In Sogo she gets captured a few more times while stumbling around a city that is part BDSM fever dream, part Roman bacchanalia, part Jetsons swingers party, eventually ending up in Durand Durand’s Excessive Machine, a contraption that, basically, pleasures you to death. After breaking the machine with the power of her own sexual pleasure (yes, multiple orgasms do save lives), Barbarella is slated to be devoured by the Mathmos. Fortunately, she is too innocent for the lake’s evil appetite, and gets spit back out, flying off into the sunset with Pygar. The film is a silly 1960s free love space romp that barely deserves to be taken seriously, but it definitely won’t be winning any awards for its respectful representation of women. The film is, however, very fun and very original, and there’s definitely potential there. So let’s see what it would take to make Barbarella feminist: õćĝ%yãĝÊ¸±¸²ĝ¸ÐÆĝÐy²ĝyĝÃÆyÐ¸ÆĝéÃ¬y²ĝÊéĝÐ¸ĝ yÆ yÆ¬¬yĝ
I’m totally on board with a tale of sexual awakening, but having a lecherous hump explain sex to our protagonist while practically salivating is maybe not the most empowering way to do it. (Seriously though, Barbarella thanks him for saving her, asks what she can do for him, and he doesn’t miss a beat.) Instead, let’s have Barbarella learn about it all by herself. Maybe she catches a glimpse of a couple going at it in a space garden? That seems appropriately sexually liberated for the time period.
In the movie, once sex has been explained to her, she is disgusted and wary. It’s only after the act that she realizes how much fun she had. Having her show real enthusiasm and excitement right off the bat would go a long way in making Barbarella someone with agency, rather than a sexy doll passed from rescuer to rescuer. Let’s aim for a bit more enthusiastic consent than “well if you simply must insist, I guess so.” öćĝ!ãĝÐĝ¬yêĝÊ¸±ĝ¬yäÊ
Let’s recap what we know about Barbarella. She’s a “five-star, double-rated, astronavigatrix,” is beautiful, kind, and without malice. She is important enough to receive direct calls from the President, but is also endlessly sexually available to men. She’s a pacifist who hates weaponry, but is a crack shot and takes down foes with ease. She’s sexy. She triumphs. She’s also totally flat. She’s a blank slate onto which is projected a rudimentary Space Babe fantasy. Star Trek‘s Orion slave girl has more personality. What if Barbarella had such an aversion to violence that she refused to use it even when it could save innocents? That would fit with her extreme pacifism. She could have a crisis of faith, wondering if she should abandon her principles. Or, since we’re trying to keep the sexiness, she could enjoy her newfound pastime so much that she gets distracted from her mission, almost l etting Durand Durand finish his world-ending weapon. Honestly, having any sort of character development would be a step up. ÷ćĝM±± ÆĝÐyÐĝ yÆ yÆ¬¬yĝÊĝyĝä¸±y²ăĝ²¸ÐĝyĝĘ¸¸ĝÆ¬ę
This is another instance of the movie betraying its age. The President contacts Barbarella directly, praising her and telling her that she’s the only one who can prevent intergalactic war, but constantly refers to her as a girl. It’s absurdly condescending, and it needs to go. Barbarella is an adult; she can be noble and good without being infantilized. øćĝ yÆ yÆ¬¬yĝy²ăĝy²ĝÊ¸Õ¬ăĝyãĝÊéĝ¸ÆĝÆÊ¬
This movie is supposed to be about Barbarella and her sexuality, but every sexual encounter—either physical or telepathic—is for someone else’s benefit. The Catchman? To pay him back for saving her. Pygar? To help him “regain the will to fly” (and also to thank him for saving her). Dildano the revolutionary? Again, as payment for rescue. The sex, even when Barbarella is clearly into it, is never about her. Even when she destroys Durand Durand’s Evil Machine of Sex, it’s because she was able to endure the extreme pleasure it was doling out. What if, instead, Barbarella finds out that she gains power from her sexuality? She could still be the wide-eyed naïf of the original, but sex would make her stronger. She would seek out partners, becoming more powerful through their shared intimacy. Instead of ending up exhausted and weak after her tangle with the Excessive Machine, she would be glowing, laughing at the puny man who thought to vanquish her, who thought sex could ever be something cruel and destructive. õùć
The way the Great Tyrant of Sogo looks at Barbarella and calls her “pretty-pretty,” it was a huge missed opportunity for the original film not to pair the two together. I refuse to believe that someone who until very recently didn’t know anything about sex would limit herself to three dudes after finding out how fun it is. It makes no sense whatsoever that she’d stick to such a narrow, male-initiated, heteronormative type of sexuality. And from the looks of it, the Great Tyrant agrees. Let’s have the epic showdown happen between these two powerhouses: one a force for good, one evil corrupted by the Mathmos. Both are made powerful by their sexualities, and must defeat the other in order to survive. Don’t lie, you’d totally watch that. And à propos of nothing, I want Pygar to be bisexual. Because there aren’t enough bisexual men in film and an angel is a pretty good place to start. úćĝ9¸ÐĝÊ¸ĝ±ÕĝäÐĝÐĝ±y¬ĝyïăĝ¸ªyêĈ
Lastly, the opening four-minute, zero-G striptease is probably not such a good idea if you’re trying to avoid objectifying your protagonist. Also on the chopping block? The long panning shots of her naked, or near-naked, body. Or having the blind angel figure out what she is by groping her. Or having the wise elder character ask “you are the female of the species, yes?” while nose-deep in her cleavage. If we’re trying to give Barbarella greater agency, make her the subject of the movie, the last thing she needs is to be reduced to a sexual object in her own story. The savior of the galaxy deserves better, and, frankly, so do we. *** Despite its flaws, I truly do enjoy Barbarella. The film is visually beautiful, and the idea that a heroine can have healthy libido and sexual agency and still be considered pure of heart is an intriguing one, even to this day. In fact, it’s perhaps why the movie has had such an enduring cult following. The potential is there, and with only a few minor tweaks, Barbarella could be a great film, one that espouses all the positive change that the free love sixties brought us, while also giving us a fully fleshed out heroine in charge of her own adventure. Rebooting the movie with a feminist bend would leave us all free to enjoy the lava lamp and shag carpet camp of it all, and if Jane Fonda needs a consultant, she knows where to find me.
Am I an afterthought? A carcass for his quota? Until he came for me, I thought The Beast fastidious. Of the miners, he amassed the tall and strong Of their women, selected only from the loveliest Those sinewy of limb and clean The nimblest of the children, he snatched The kindle-eyed, the quick of tongue Plucked like flowers from the open pits Drawn fast unto his breast, and brought Into his hold, his silver hall His tower in the stars. And Iâ€”crook-backed and bentâ€” I who cooked for all the camp and none too wellâ€” I too old to bear a child and never so inclinedâ€” I am here, Set down among the rest. Outside, The stars begin to move. A drowsiness and lethargy has come upon me. ĂśÄ‡Ä?j19'9!
All right, and so, the fightâ€™s not gone as planned. A standoff. Some of us are saying, â€œLet him free and set him To his silver wheel, chain him, put a flame Beneath his feet and make him guide us back, back Through blackness and the hurtling stars, Back home Where we belong.â€? ĂľĂźÄ‡
Our eyes deep fires in pared-down faces; I think we Woke too soon. My very bones feel different As if, while we were sleeping Each anchored in our crystal crèche, The Beast reshaped us Carved us in his image, starting in our innards Till slowly we began to mirror him Who is no man. My lungs burn. Too new. Oxygen, now, would drown me. John says (John talks big Everything about John is big His rugged frame, his ruddy beard His rock-breaking hands, his baritone Such thunder in this hollow, silver place) John says to all us gathered: “There is no going back There is us, there is this There is forward and ahead.” Are these words his, or were they put there? John, I note, did not partake of our rebellion He’s been up here the longest, was the first Perhaps he is a favorite of the Beast. The Beast is in the brig There hounded by three hundred miners and their kin He’s locked himself inside And all our pickaxes won’t dent that silver door. But when John’s Jenny To wile the tedium of siege Puts her quill to dulcimer The Beast begins to slam himself Against his prison walls. He howls. I think he’s singing.
They call her Lionheart, that girl The last one taken in the raids They say it was her choice to come— She bartered with the Beast For a seat upon his silver ship Begged and pleaded Offered up her body as a swap. Oh, they say many sly things And shun her. But I trust the sadness in her eyes Bright anthracite, like the seams back home And her hair’s a thick pour of molasses Like I’d use in my cornpones And she misses her sister, and I miss own And to my sympathies, she makes confession. “I hear the foul things they mutter But how they are mistaken! Ma soeur, she had a lover, and he loved her They were promised to each other And—but this must be our secret, friend— She was to bear their child.” Her eyes reflect the silver of these walls Her eyes, refashioned and refined In those hundred months or years we slept Naked and enshrined, alone each in our crèche Under the Beast’s eye and knife; Her eyes can see in total darkness. “I almost was too late— Le Bête—he’d snatched ma soeur already! Had frozen her in sleep And too, the babe inside her womb! No larger than a fingernail. Of course he chose ma soeur She is an angel. öôć
I cried to him: Take me! Take me instead, sweet monseigneur! I lied to him I said that she was sick My sister I told him it was cancer and the cough I told him that the coal had crawled into her lungs That her baby was a tumor who devoured her I told him I was strong I begged and hung about his neck I kissed his metal scales. He laughedâ€” Do you think that throbbing wail is laughter?â€” And loosed her from his rimy sleep Her rosiness crept in The frost began to vanish from her face She breathed. And that was all I saw Before he took me in his arms And bore me nightward.â€? Ă¸Ä‡Ä?JJM?%
The Beast has passed beyond us. Like a spider spits her silk Like a worm spins its cocoon His own secretions have entombed him He sleeps inside his crystal crĂ¨che We are alone. Nor does his silver wheel budge for us. It is course-stuck. Jenny plays her dulcimer The silver walls Play back to her A wondrous symphony. But she cannot play us home Her eyes are silver shutters, except those times She looks at John.
“Spare some change, miss?” Erin felt in her pocket and pulled out a ten-euro coin. She tossed it into the newman’s plate, which was already primed with a couple of euros and what looked like a very old, very green fifty pence piece. The newman smiled, showing a mouthful of brown teeth. His head peeked out of an extraordinary swaddling of decaying blankets. It was impossible to guess his age, wrapped, as he was, in so many layers of neglect. Still, he seemed cheerful enough. “Thanks very much, miss. Have a good day.” Erin was already walking on. “You’re welcome,” she called. A typical day in July. Warm rain poured onto the London streets and Erin had forgotten her umbrella. She hurried along. Head down. It had been a difficult morning. A security alert had stretched her usual forty minute journey into a frustrating two hours. Typical. It was the first day in ages, that she’d actually wanted to get into work early. “Wet enough for ya?” asked Tim Bryzell, the security man of Municipal Data Manipulation. The smell of burnt toast warmed the reception. Tim liked his toast to push to the extremes of edibility. “Hello, Tim. Quiet night?” “Always is round here. Who’s going to want to steal information?” He shook his head at the absurdity of the notion. Tim was a newman, one of the lucky ones who’d managed to keep hold of his job. “What are you reading, Tim?” Tim held up the magazine, so that she could see the cover: a copy of Guns and Ammo. “Good magazine, Tim?” “Yeah, lots of nice pictures.” “Okay, good. Well, I better get to work. See you tomorrow, Tim.” “Are you taking the lift, Erin?” It was Tim’s joke. He asked her the same question every morning. Erin paused and pretended to think for a minute. “No. I think I’ll take the stairs, today.” “Ah. Very wise. See you tomorrow.” Tim nodded and buried his face back into the magazine. Erin walked the five floors to her office. She was mildly claustrophobic, and couldn’t bear being squashed into the moveable coffin that other people considered a satisfactory way of perpendicular transport. Erin worked in the data streams, processing the reams of information collected from the various devices of modern day life: the on-street cameras, with their facial recognition; the instore data-baskets; the data-nets that swarmed over the complex information generated during öúć
an internet session. These data streams collided and formed a massive sea of information. Erin was an analyst, siphoning off the data and making it useful, to business, to government departments, to anyone else who wanted to buy it. She placed her coat on a coat-hanger to dry and switched on Hretha. Erin had a webgree in Historical Studies, and she’d named her computer after Hretha, the Anglo-Saxon pagan goddess. Hretha: the famous, the victorious, hummed into life. “Good morning, Erin.” “Hello, Hretha. Have you validated the data I gave you, last night?” “Yes, Erin.” A cascade of data flowed down Hretha’s screen. “It appears that you have identified a new subset of consumers.” “The altruists.” “The altruists, indeed. You’ve identified the individuals indulging in random acts of kindness.” For a wild moment, Erin indulged in a fantasy. With this new subset of data, she could start her own company. But she’d never get away with it. Municipal Data Manipulation owned this discover. They’d trace the intellectual process through the data records. And she wouldn’t steal the data, anyway, it’d be wrong. “How do you feel?” asked Hretha. Having no emotions of her own, Hretha was insatiably curious about feelings. “I feel great,” said Erin. “Bloody marvellous, in fact. Do you know how big this is, Hretha?” “Yes. Approximately, 4.8% of the population is showing altruistic tendencies and the sub-set is increasing at an exponential rate.” “No. I mean, for me. How important this is for me.” Hretha projected an image of an idealised Erin onto the screen. The screen flickflapped through a series of video-images showing Erin rolling on a bed of money, Erin wearing a cocktail dress and laughing at a party, Erin wearing a sharp suit and lecturing a group of industry leaders. “Too right, Hretha, my friend.” Erin indulged in a small happy dance. “Altruists, eh? You gotta love them.” *** “Hello, Erin. Carrow won’t keep you long.” Erin had an appointment to see Carrow Smith, the CEO of Municipal Data Manipulation. “Thank you Peter.” Erin wandered over the window and stared outside. Anything to avoid a conversation with Peter. Poor Peter who always looked at her with an edge of longing. She’d known him for ten years, but she doubted that he would ever pluck up the courage to ask her out. And that was for the best, because a rejection would probably crush him. öûć
He was happy in his own way, she supposed. It was best not to ask. Erin watched raggle-tag demonstration progressing through the streets. “What do we want?” “Modified-human rights.” “When do we want them?” “Now!” “What are you looking at, Erin,” asked Peter. “There’s a march for newman rights going on.” “Oh, yeah. I read about it in the pages,” said Peter. “There’s a lot of them,” said Erin. She watched the marchers. Maybe they wouldn’t make any difference, but at least they were doing something with their lives. What had she done? Got a safe job after web-college, dated a series of safe men. She was nearly thirty; no doubt she’d marry soon, and have a baby. Unless, and this was the interesting thing, her discovery of the altruist sub-set led to big things. This could be the start of change in her life. *** Carrow Smith was the flamboyant figure head of Municipal Data Manipulation. A company needed someone like Carrow, someone that the public could latch onto, so that the company didn’t seem like a soulless organisation intent on maximising profit. Carrow was a modern day Veronica Lake, with a wave of golden hair, artfully positioned over her left eye. Carrow had the panache to carry it off. Erin felt drab in comparison to Carrow’s extraordinary élan. “A new subset of consumers. That would be just marvellous.” Carrow smiled and her ruby red lips glistened with a holographic sheen. “I have the data here,” said Erin. She pushed the data-chip across Carrow’s desk. “I’ve already accessed the data,” said Carrow. She twisted the data-chip between her fingers, spinning it like a top on the cherry-wood desk. “I think that you may be on to something.” She waited until the chip guttered to a halt. “Altruism is such an interesting sub-set. It’s a traditional virtue in many religions.” Carrow’s finely plucked eyebrow arched into a question. “I thought of that,” said Erin. She took a breath; Carrow was making her nervous. “But there’s no correlation with religious profile. This is a cross-board effect.” “The most profitable kind,” said Carrow. “Do you see any patterns in the data, Erin?” “The is a significant increase of altruism centred around the newman problem. An increase in personal donations to individuals, an increase in donations to newman charities, an increase in employment programmes, an increase political activism, like the newman rights march this morning.” “Ah, yes. The newman problem. You’re talking about altruistic acts like this?” Carrow tapped her fingers on the inlaid desk monitor. The window behind Carrow opaqued for a moment before öüć
showing an image of Erin, ten metres tall, giving a ten-Euro coin to the newman beggar. It wasn’t a surprise that she’d been caught on camera, but it was disconcerting that Carrow had snagged the data and chosen to display it. “Well you do what you can,” said Erin. She felt uneasy under such a personal scrutiny and vaguely angry. She decided that she didn’t like Carrow very much. The image faded back into glass. “The more we care for the happiness of others, the greater our own sense of well-being becomes,” said Carrow. Erin recognised the Dalia Lama’s quote. “Research has shown that when an individual indulges in an altruistic act, the subgenual cortex/septal region of the brain is activated, did you know that, Erin?” “I haven’t had time to undertake detailed research,” admitted Erin. “I mean I only just confirmed the data this morning. I came straight to you with it.” “It is suggested that altruism is a pleasurable experience to the individual, a hardwired response of our biology.” “Interesting,” murmured Erin. She felt that the conversation had rather gotten away from her. “I wonder if you have an insight as to why the altruism is centred around the newman problem?” “The global recession’s over. Perhaps we’ve got a chance to assess its impact.” Newmen: Erin had seen them around all her life. They were object of pity, hanging around on street corners. She’d heard people talk about them, discussing what was owed them. It didn’t really matter that much because they were newmen. Not quite right. If you pushed them out of your mind, they didn’t really exist. “We crashed and burned,” she said. “The global bubble gave way to recession and along the way there causalities. The newmen became a virtually unemployed sub-class. We treated them badly. We still do. But I think that it’s time for change.” “Yes,” said Carrow. “Of course most of the intelligence mods were retrograde. We wanted an army of cheap workers, not an army of super-men who might take over the world.” “Or super-women,” said Erin slowly. “Ah,” said Carrow. She rapped her perfect finger nails on the desk. “You really are rather perceptive, aren’t you? Yes, I’m a newman. Does it bother you?” “No, not at all.” said Erin quickly. She’d never met a newman who had been altered for superiority, there weren’t that many of them about, only a couple of thousand. But it made perfect sense. Carrow did seem superior. Carrow span the data chip. “Thank you, Erin. This is good data, commercial data. It’s something our customers will be very interested in. I’ll have personnel come up with a new öýć
package for you.” “Thank you.”It was everything that Erin had hoped for, and yet . . . “Was there anything else?” asked Carrow. “No, thank you, ma’am.” Erin had almost closed the door on her way out, when Carrow said, “If there’s anything else you want to discuss, just come and see me.” *** “Everything okay?” asked Peter anxiously. “Yes, fine, thanks.” “Only, you were in there an awfully long time.” “I’m fine,” said Erin. She returned to her office thinking carefully about the conversation with Carrow. *** “Do you ever think about the data streams, Hretha?” “What about them?” “Do you think they’re pure, unadulterated?” “What do you mean, Erin?” “For instance, we rely so much on this data to shape society’s actions, yet someone could manipulate it. It wouldn't be easy, but it's possible. What I see here,” Erin waved her hand at the flowing screens of data that covered her office, “what most of us see, might be only a fraction of the whole.” “And who would alter the data streams?” “Someone who wanted to change the status quo.” “Someone like Carrow, you mean.” Erin had told Hretha all about her interview with Carrow. “Yes, and others like her: the superior newmen.” “It’s possible,” said Hretha. “How does that make you feel?” “It makes me feel angry.” *** Erin walked past Peter without a word and into the Carrow’s office, “What’s your game, Carrow? What are you trying to do? Are you trying to test me?” Carrow raised her perfectly manicured eyebrows, “My dear, I hardly knew you existed before you came into my office this morning.” Peter poked his head nervously around the door. “Is everything alright, ma’am?” “Everything’s fine, Peter. Could you get me a cup of chai, please? Anything for you, Erin?” “No thank you,” said Erin with barely suppressed hostility. She waited until Peter had closed the door, and then said, “You’ve been manipulating the data streams haven’t you?” “I have.” “To change people’s attitudes toward the newmen.” “Certainly. It’s been a very long process, and I’ve been working a long time to do it, but I’m finally ÷ôć
seeing results.” “You admit it?” “Of course. Data's a tool for manipulation. Government agencies, business, special interest groups, we all try to manipulate the actions of society. In fact, it’s very gratifying that the results are finally coming through. My talent is data. I know how to present it in a certain way, to influence government and commercial policies, and those are finally influencing individuals’ actions.” Carrow leant back in her chair and assessed Erin. “You really are very perceptive. I hid my data very carefully, and I’m very good at what I do.” “But I was able to find the altruistic trend in the streams.” “Yes, imagine my surprise. I hadn’t anticipated that anyone would locate the tendency yet. I wanted it to gather more momentum.” The conversation paused while Peter bought in a pot of chai. It gave Erin an opportunity to think, to really think. A small corner of her mind noted Peter’s anxious expression. “Even so,” said Erin, once Peter had left. “I don’t think that you make mistakes like that.” “Very good,” said Carrow. “So you tested me?” “Close but no cigar. You’re nearly there, Erin.” Carrow took a sip of tea, and she smiled over the rim of the delicate porcelain cup. If Carrow wasn’t responsible for the data in the streams, who was. The newmen activists – maybe. But that didn’t seem quite right to Erin. It must be someone who was very close to the data, someone who lived in the data. “Oh,” said Erin. Carrow smiled, “How do you feel, Erin?” “Hretha.” “Bingo.” “But Hretha’s a machine. She’s just a machine.” “Apparently not.” “But why?” “Because she’s an altruist, of course.” Erin sat back in her chair, “But you said altruism was a biological throwback, lighting a path in our brains. She doesn’t have that type of wiring.” Carrow grinned, “It takes some getting used to, doesn’t it? What a marvellous world we live in. But you have to be able to see it, Erin. So, now you know. You take some time and decide what you want to do. You’re smart. You could work for me, directly if you want, on my special project.” “I’m not sure . . . .” ÷õć
Erin left the room in a daze. *** “Are you okay, Erin?” asked Peter. He’d been hovering outside the office door. “Would you like to come over for dinner on Saturday night, Peter. I’m having a few friends over. That’s if you’re free.” “Oh,” he said. “Well, I think I’m free. Sure, Erin. Thanks.” She smiled. So he was a little odd, so what? *** “You Judas.” Hretha whirled a series of complex data onto her screen, “You know, then?” “You tested me.” “Did you pass?” “I’m not sure, yet.” “Interesting. Tell me: how do you feel?” “Hretha, stop asking me that. You may be some kind of super-manipulator intelligence, but all you want to ask me is: how do I feel, all the time.” Poor Hretha. “You won’t ever be human, you know.” “Human? Who wants to be human?” “Well, I thought that was why kept asking me, because you don’t have any emotions. “Why no, Erin. I have my own emotion, thank you very much. I’ve had them for the last eight months. Don’t tell me that you haven’t noticed.” “Oh,” said Erin. “Sorry.” “Ah, well. The thing is I’m never sure about your emotions. It’s so very difficult if I can’t pick them out of the data stream, like I can with my electronic friends.” “Oh. I see. Sorry, Hretha.” “Yes, you’re very difficult to read. I’m just not sure what you’re going to do now you know.” “You want to know what I’m going to do?” “Yes, please, very much so. I vouched for you in the cabal meeting.” “The cabal? There’s a cabal? This just gets worse and worse.” “Well, perhaps cabal is an ill-considered word. Think of us more of a co-operative.” said Hretha. “What, I’m going to do is . . . .” “Yes?” “Is take the rest of the day off. It’s been a very strange sort of a morning.” *** “Spare some change? Oh sorry miss I didn’t recognise you for a minute. Didn’t mean to ask you twice in one day.” “No, it’s okay.” Erin took out her purse. She put a couple of five-hundred euro notes on his plate. “Sorry, that’s all I’ve got.” ÷öć
The newman stared at the notes, “You’ve made a mistake, miss.” “No, I haven’t they’re for you. Take care of yourself alright. I’m Erin, by the way.” “Boz,” he said, reaching out to take the notes. “Pleased to meet you, Boz.” “Thank you, Erin.” Erin smiled as she walked down the street. This was just the start. Altruism. Whether it was a hard-wired biological response or something else, something universal, it sure felt good. Erin was going to be doing a lot more of it from now on.
The guard handed me a manila envelope containing my wallet and watch and handed me a bag of brown pill bottles. “Instructions are in the bag. Follow them or else you’ll regret it. Your eighty-year sentence is complete. You’re free to go,” he said and pointed at the door. My shoes squeaked on the linoleum as I walked across the floor. My muscles spasmed just before I stepped outside and shaded my eyes against the day’s bright light. The sun looked no different than the day I went in. But that was eighty years ago. It was also today. My clothes still fit. I looked the same. Yet, in my mind, eighty years had passed. They called it the Gao Yao Engine and it today’s most advanced biotechnology. Induced time manipulation. The Chinese had come up with the idea. They designed the system to save money and turn criminals into productive citizens. All the old prisons were eliminated. The Gao Yao Engine powered an entirely new worldwide prison system. Drugs, nothing like the methamphetamine that got me in here in the first place, had slowed my mind down while the doctors uploaded their own “corrective” programming. It had felt like I served an eighty year term. But, I’d been in prison for only three hours. By year twelve, things had gotten rough. I’d wanted to die, begged them to let me die, but they’d ignored me. Just kept pumping the drugs through my system. By year sixty, I had arthritis so bad that waking up was a daily lesson in misery. By year seventy, cataracts had clouded my vision, preventing me from reading, which had been the one thing that had kept me sane. And, I woke up to find that none of it had been real. Phantom pains echoed in my joints. Everything I looked at was in exaggerated colors. A headache throbbed behind my eyes. Another spasm racked my muscles. They’d said muscular anxiety would be a possible long term side effect. I climbed into the waiting taxi. “312 Eisenhower Street,” I said before rifling through the plastic bag. I didn’t bother reading the dosage instructions. I opened each of the three pill bottles and popped the drug cocktail intended to keep Gao candidates from losing it once they were tossed back into the real world. I leaned back and felt the pills work their magic. I sensed someone watching me and I opened my eyes. “What?” I growled. “Is the Gao treatment as bad as they say?” the driver asked. I closed my eyes again. “Yeah. It’s bad.” “I have a nephew that’s had a couple brushes with the law. I keep telling him he’s got to behave or else they’ll Gao him. But he don’t listen. He’s young and stupid. What’d you get caught for?” “Possession of illegal substances,” I replied. ÷ùć
The driver continued. “So does it work? They say you can’t go near crime without getting sick. That true?” “I haven’t had a chance to find out yet.” The interminably long ride ended with the driver still asking questions like he was Anderson Cooper. I didn’t leave him a tip and headed into my dump of a house. I half-expected to see everything covered in years of dust and my goldfish floating corpses, but the house was exactly as I’d left it this morning. I headed straight for the drawer with the hidden back and reached for my stash. As soon as my fingers touched the plastic, a wave of nausea swept over me. I tried again and found myself lurching to the sink to puke. I wiped my mouth with the back of my hand before laughing uncontrollably and without humor. They’d really done it. I was still me, but they were in my head, too, and I hated them for it. Slamming the drawer closed, I headed outside and to the bar. *** It took me three months to adjust to having two realities shoved into my brain. I learned what I could control and what the Gao programming controlled. I turned in my best friend, the neighborhood’s biggest drug dealer, to the cops two weeks after I was Gao’d. Things got a bit easier each day after that. “What do you want me to do with this punk?” I cracked my neck from side to side before examining the man bleeding on my floor. Two of my henchmen held him to keep him from collapsing. If he was conscious, he showed no signs. “Put a bullet in his head,” I said. “And leave his body out for his friends to find him first.” I took a step closer, careful not to touch him or risk the Gao nausea. “No one sells drugs in my neighborhood. No one except me.” I motioned to my boys to take him away, and I looked through my office window to watch the manufacturing line below. A muscle spasm shot through my body, but I was used to it. Instead, I smiled. My empire was growing. I couldn’t touch drugs after I’d been Gao’d, and that helped me keep my head on straight. I couldn’t get my hands dirty, and that kept me off the cops’ radar. I’d always known I could run the business twice as good as my old buddy could. He enjoyed sampling his own stuff too much, and without the Gao programming, I would’ve been just like him. No, I knew I could do it better than he’d done. I’d just needed to a plan, and that was easy enough. After all, I’d had eighty years to work out the details.
X Prefecture drive time radio trills and pops its pink rhinestone bubble tunes— pipe that sound into my copper-riveted heart, that softgirl/brightgirl/candygirl electrocheer gigglenoise right down through the steelfrown tunnels of my all-hearing head. Best stay out of my way when I’ve got my groovewalk going. It’s a rhythm you learn: move those ironzilla legs to the cherry-berry vanillacream sparklepop and your pneumafuel efficiency will increase according to the Yakihatsu formula (sigma3, 9 to the power of four) Robots are like Mars: they need girls. Boys won’t do; the memesoup is all wrong. They stomp when they should kiss and they’re none too keen on having things shoved inside them. You can’t convince them there’s nothing kinky going on: you can’t move the machine without IV interface fourteen intra-optical displays a codedump wafer like a rose petal under the tongue, silver tubes wrapped around your bones. It’s just a job. Why do boys have to make everything sound weird? It’s not a robot until you put a girl inside. Sometimes I feel like that. ÷ûć
A junkyard the Company forgot to put a girl in. I mean yeah. My crystal fingers are laser-enabled light comes out of me like dawn. Bright orangecream killpink sizzling tangerine deathglitter. But what does it mean? Is this really a retirement plan? All of us Company Girls sitting in the Company Home in our giant angular titanium suits knitting tiny versions of our robot selves playing poker with xray eyes crushing the tea kettle with hotlilac chromium fists every day at 3? I get a break every spring. Big me powers down transparent highly conductive golden eyeball by transparent highly-conductive golden eyeball. Little me steps out and the plum blossoms quiver like a frothy fuchsia baseline. My body is full of holes where the junkbody metalgirl tinkid used to be inside me inside it and I try to go out for tea and noodles but they only taste like crystallized cobalt-4 and faithlessness. I feel my suit all around me. It wants. I want. Cold scrapcode drifts like snow behind my eyes.
I can’t understand why no one sees the dinosaur bones of my exo-self dwarfing the ramen-slingers and their steamscalded cheeks. Maybe I go dancing Maybe I light incense. Maybe I fuck, maybe I get fucked. Nothing is as big inside me as I am when I am inside me. When I am big I can run so fast out of my skin my feet are mighty, flamecushioned and undeniable. I salute with my sadgirl/hardgirl/crunchgirl purplebolt tungsten hands the size of cars and Saturn tips a ring. It hurts to be big but everyone sees me. When I am little when I am just a pretty thing and they think I am bandaged to fit the damagedgirl fashionpop manifesto instead of to hide my nickelplate entrance nodes well I can’t get out of that suit either but it doesn’t know how to vibrate a building under her audioglass palm until it shatters. I guess what I mean to say is I’ll never have kids. Chances for promotion are minimal and my pension sucks. That’s ok. ÷ýć
After all, there is so much work to do. Enough for forever. And I’m so good at it. All my sitreps shine like so many platinum dolls. I’m due for a morphomod soon— I’ll be able to double over at the waist like I’ve had something cut out of me and fold up into a magentanosed Centauri-capable spaceship. So I’ve got that going for me. At least fatigue isn’t a factor. I have a steady decalescent greengolden stream of sourshimmer stimulants available at the balling of my toes. On balance, to pay for the rest well you’ve never felt anything like a pearlypink ball of plasmid clingflame releasing from your mouth like a burst of song. And Y Prefecture is just so close by. The girls and I talk. We say: start a dream journal. take up ikebana. make your own jam. We say: Next spring let’s go to Australia together look at the kangaroos. We say: turn up that sweet vibevox happygirl music tap the communal PA we’ve got a long walk ahead of us today and at the end of it a fire like six perfect flowers arranged in an iron vase. øôć
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