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Issue 004

Published July 1, 2021

Letter From the Editor

The [Fourth Industrial] Revolution
By Rob Carroll

The United States economy is inefficient. A Keynesian case can be made that it’s incredibly inefficient. The siphoning of public wealth for the past thirty years, thanks in no small part to the advent of derivatives and high-frequency trading, has led to a wealth gap in this country so obscene that during a global pandemic, when most U.S. households saw their cash and savings decline dramatically, the collective wealth of American billionaires increased by a staggering 54% ($1.62 trillion). (Please bear with me as we approach the relevance of all this to science fiction; I promise we’ll get there soon).

An economy is most efficient when resources are used and distributed among the producers and consumers in a way that optimizes output, but due to adverse selection, asymmetric information, and moral hazard, we are moving in the opposite direction of that goal.

Adverse selection is the process that occurs when buyers and sellers have access to different information, also known as asymmetric information. Asymmetric information causes an imbalance of power. Moral hazard is a situation that occurs when, thanks to power imbalances, tendency to take undue risk increases because the costs (and potential losses) will not be felt by the party taking the risk. READ THE REST FOR FREE.

Fiction

Set For Life

Set For Life
By Warren Benedetto

Andy loaded the body into the back of the van, then slammed the door.

“Last one,” he called out, knocking on the rear door with his knuckles. The van’s engine started up with a roar. Its tailpipe shuddered, enveloping Andy in a swirl of exhaust. He coughed and waved the noxious fumes away from his face. Thanks, asshole, he thought.

As he moved around to the passenger side, Andy swiped his finger along the length of the filthy white van, creating a wobbly clean streak under the faded Chargers Inc. logo. The “I” in “Inc.” was a lightning bolt with an electrical plug at the bottom. It reminded him of the logo for the Los Angeles Chargers, his father’s favorite football team back when Andy was still a kid. Back when football—and Los Angeles—was still around.

Andy yanked the door open and hauled himself into the van. His weight squeaked down on the threadbare seat. The springs dug cruelly into his aching back. He pulled the door shut, then took off his Chargers Inc. work cap and massaged the sore red line it left on his forehead. PURCHASE ISSUE 004 TO READ THE REST.

Wildflower

Wildflower
By Anna Madden

Chase stared across the prairie of Aelous, a planet named for a long-forgotten god. Like any frontier, this place bred trouble.

Weeds rustled. The musk of bighorns filled his nose. Chase stalked closer. He gripped his faithful rifle, given to him by a man he no longer spoke to, and crouched behind blue-stemmed tallgrass. To the sides, night-bur grew. It was dense, spiny, with neurotoxic\ thorns. Good cover for a marksman in flat terrain. As Chase took a prone shooting position, his armor pinched. He ignored it, raising the rifle butt to his neck. His left arm supported the barrel.

The magazine held ten rounds. That’s all he had been given. No doubt a precaution in case he defected. Chase’s orders were clear. Despite that, his thoughts were sharp daggers. If he got caught, he would meet a fast bullet. If he ran, he’d be hung by the neck until dead. Beneath his helmet, Chase set his jaw. He wasn’t one to miss targets, and he didn’t waste bullets either. He would earn his surname back before sunset. PURCHASE ISSUE 004 TO READ THE REST.

Water Mosaic of a Mother

Water Mosaic of a Mother
By Pearse Anderson

Once the Americans discovered her engineering past, they wanted to test her weapons on pigs. The beasts—especially the sows—were biologically similar to the aliens they wanted to destroy. She would be able to corral about fifteen or twenty pigs each time and observe as some soldier pointed her mortars and missiles into the pen. She never worked like this on her planet, before settlement.

A pig’s insides were also similar to a human’s, and when they later discussed the details of weapons testing, she could tell the Americans knew that too.

Don’t you try it, Captain Early said with his eyes.

But before the final weapons proposal, before the Americans discovered her species’ figs, before the pigs were shipped down to her planet, she was given a name. Various political operators and military officials called her Sea Slug, and the longer she stayed the more they said it to her face. Early said they knew she had a real name, one spoken in a wet, alien tongue, but that her name, her species, was not a priority. The piggy-aliens were the fuckers who bombed the Moon out of the sky. Everyone knew their name: the Mox. They must hurt the Mox. She must become the American’s asset. And they thought pigs would help. PURCHASE ISSUE 004 TO READ THE REST.

Hashtag No Filter

Hashtag No Filter
By Louis Evans

It was another glorious evening in paradise. The sun hung low over the ocean, gold lining the pomegranate sky, and Zoe took more than thirty pics—sharp-edged little squares capturing her painted toes, the sand, the surf, the sea, the sun, the sky—until she found the one she wanted. The one that would make some poor girl shivering on a train platform in Chicago practically feel a warm breeze playing around her calves. The perfect shot.

Once she had it, Zoe put her thumbs to work. #paradise #sunset #perfectday she wrote, hashtags flying out in machine gun succession, and then the obligatory #LuxeauResort. And, as always, she finished with her signature #nofilter.

Some of the other girls liked to write little stories, bad puns, or commentary in their hashtags, but Zoe kept it simple. That was her attitude, her whole essence: simple, fun, chill. Never fake, but never depressing, either. Her life was amazing, and she just felt it was her privilege—and her duty—to share it with her followers. Yes, of course she enjoyed the views, the likes. But it was really all about her fans. PURCHASE ISSUE 004 TO READ THE REST.

Little Loves

Little Loves
By Sophie Yorkston

When I stroke the bubbly lumps of you beneath my skin, my professor pales, sweating. Will she make the mistake of vomiting in her helmet? However amusing that had been last time, it had made me gag.

With reverent fingertips, I trace your calcified cocoons underneath my stretched-tight skin. Inside, if I’m lucky, I can feel the minuscule vibrations from within your tiny grey egg sacs. I wonder if you will know me when you hatch, this body that has sheltered you, my little loves.

Quarantined in this deserted medical complex, I’ve had the time to hunt down what it is that makes people so squeamish about you, little ones. Trypophobia. People are disgusted by the holes you’ve put in me, at the way you move beneath.

“You’re not the mother wasp!” my mother has shouted into the commlink. “You’re the senseless caterpillar!” PURCHASE ISSUE 004 TO READ THE REST.

100 KIAs

100 KIAs
By L.P. Melling

Corporal Anu’s nervous system is regulated frosty cold as he watches the flame-drop drones reach the Bedouin village. Though the thought-space that is still his own tells him something is off. 

Blinking red trackers for G Squadron overlay a map in Anu’s right eye. He scratches his forearm, his implant itchy and hot.

“Hold!” Sarge says on the open channel.

His late father’s words echo in his head again. You’ll be a hero, son. Like your great-great-grandfather.

The waves of adrenaline spiked by nano wartech in his veins no longer help him. The reasons he signed up mean less and less as he automatically traces structural outlines with his pulse rifle’s cobalt laser. Squat buildings made from the desert. Tents rippling in a gentle breeze. A large dome that sits at the center of the village like a silent sentry. PURCHASE ISSUE 004 TO READ THE REST.

If We Were All Made of Jelly

If We Were All Made of Jelly
By Heather Santo

Ocean wind whips my hair around my face, like tangles of Medusa’s snakes, stinging my eyes. I blink away tears and call to my daughter. “Be careful, Meredith!” She runs ahead, brandishing a piece of driftwood against the wind, as if in challenge.

At four years old, she is the most fearless human I have ever met.

An overcast sky mutes the normally vibrant colors on this stretch of beach. It’s like viewing the world through a gray filter, and I think to myself how some people have a constant self-imposed gray filter, one they are unaware of or unwilling to remove.

“Some people” include my daughter’s father.

The surf crashes, and salty water froths at our feet.

“Mommy! Mommy!” Meredith yells. “What’s that?”

She pokes at a gelatinous blob, motionless on the sand, with her stick.

“A moon jellyfish,” I tell her. Aurelia aurita. PURCHASE ISSUE 004 TO READ THE REST.

Marasa, or a Withdrawal of Pure Joy for Mr. Antar

Marasa, or a Withdrawal of Pure Joy for Mr. Antar
By Prashanth Srivatsa

It was past midnight when Antar realized he’d run out of Pure Joy. The vial lying on the bedside table was empty. When he opened the stopper, the fading aroma of that once thick-blue liquid wafted up his nose. He dropped the vial, leaned against the pillow, and closed his eyes.

The effect was less than momentary.

He surveyed the room—the immaculate bedding, the polished cupboard, the walls cleaned for the crayon scribbles, the portrait of a water-pastel Ganesha, a toy rocking horse in one corner whose basket was now a newspaper holder (a bit of a genius idea, really), carpet dusted and vacuumed, and the old magenta curtains replaced with a lighter teal. A swell erupted in his chest, and he smiled to himself. A room to be proud of. Simple Indian middle-class aspirations. Nothing fancy, nothing intricate. A part of the house he’d be inclined to display if someone visited.

A smudge on the wall caught his eye. A frown appeared, deepening as he traced the brown scar to a spattering of chai.

He got up, walked over to the wall and punched the smudge. Hoped it’d shrivel like an earthworm. Pain seared through his knuckles. Rushed to his head. PURCHASE ISSUE 004 TO READ THE REST.

The Crossroads Troubadourr

The Crossroads Troubadour
By B.C. Matthews

Robert Leroy “O’ Lord Lord” Johnson picked at his quintar, letting his deeper tenor voice stream lazily into the smoke-filled bar. The heavy violet-colored smoke was the byproduct of a popular “dimmer,” a drug that made those who smoked it so calm, their hearts beat in a sluggish arrhythmia. Leroy had to control his breathing during the song so that he wouldn’t inhale too much of the violet haze and lose focus on his mission.

He was here to find a new agent for the Rat King.

The subdued crowd suited him just fine. He wasn’t in the mood to bellow out the usual crowd-pleasers, but if they were willing to pay, he’d perform the entire Voyager Set List with a practiced smile. Someone had already asked twice for him to play “Johnny B. Goode,” or one of its more popular Troubadour-style versions.

Troubadours never refused a request to play songs from the Voyager’s Golden Record.

After his set, he sidled up to the bar and cleared his vocal cords of the Many-Voices.

“Care to sing us one last ditty, my lord?” came the rough voice of the bartender.

Leroy switched to his One-Voice to speak. “For trade?”

The bartender’s scarred face twisted into a frown. His dark eyes darted about the noisy, foul-smelling bar. “I hear your kind command a high price, m’lord.”

Leroy didn’t bother to hide the Many-Voices of an Altered. “Depends on the song.” PURCHASE ISSUE 004 TO READ THE REST.

Reprint Fiction

Balloon Season

Balloon Season
By Thomas Ha
Originally published by Fusion Fragment

I’ve never gotten used to the sense of urgency of summer afternoons, that feeling of being drenched in the thickness of that still, blanketed heat, and trying to think of anything I’ve missed while checking the outside of the house. I make sure to test the plywood boards over each of the windows, and when I feel one by the kitchen shift an inch, I reach for the hammer tucked into my waistband and a few extra nails in my pocket. The banging of my hammer echoes through the neighborhood, joining others tapping away during the preparation for sundown.

It’s still early, but with every lock to check and entryway to reinforce, the hours evaporate faster than any of us like. It feels like I’ve only just started, and Jean calls from inside the house, telling me that it’s almost four, and that the kids are in their pajamas.

I pick up the false door and lean it against the detached garage, positioning it until it is firmly front and center, then I bolt the side gate and go to the other end of the house. Jean holds the metal dog door up as I crawl back into the kitchen, winking at me as I wriggle onto the tile, and she slides the door down behind me.

The boys are already waiting in the living room, so I scoop the two of them up in my arms and nuzzle them with my sweaty face as they yelp and squirm. I carry them down the basement steps and ask them what I missed. They start telling me about an episode of Power Puggies or Power Piggies, and I nod while looking over at Jean and rolling my eyes. She stifles a laugh and tells me I’m bad.

The night-light in the basement is spinning from its cord, projecting a swirl of star shapes in glowing blue colors across the cement walls. I put Cal down in his bed first, then David, then I sit in my armchair, studying their scrunching little faces while Jean reads them a story. After a few lullabies and wrangling them back under the covers a few times, we kiss them goodnight and head upstairs. PURCHASE ISSUE 004 TO READ THE REST.

Spotlight on NFT Art

Digital Underground

Digital Underground
Featuring André Vieira Auer, Andy Dudak, Jason Madden, Beryl Bilici, Idil Dursun (aka Jarvinart), Dominik Gümbel, Retric Dreams
Feature by Rob Carroll

A non-fungible token (NFT) is a unit of data that is stored on a public digital ledger known as a blockchain, and is certified to be unique and not interchangeable (i.e. non-fungible) by way of advanced cryptography and decentralized validation. Because the unit of data is verifiably unique and unchangeable, NFTs can be used to revolutionize almost any industry. For example, NFTs can be used to: 1) represent and authenticate real world assets like property deeds and brand name merchandise; 2) provide immutability and transparency to the logistics industry by authenticating, tracking, and safeguarding supply chains (e.g. perishable goods and pharmaceuticals); or 3) revolutionize the finance industry by democratizing entire markets and shrinking settlement times down to zero.

But for the purposes of this feature, we’re going to explore the booming new world of NFT art. Yes, NFTs can also be used to represent digital media, including images, photos, audio, video, and even magazines. The NFT assigned to the particular work acts as proof of ownership that is separate from the copyright, and which allows for the purchase and resale of digital goods (a right of commerce that has been historically reserved for physical goods only). Because of this advancement in digital ownership, artists and art collectors alike have taken to the NFT art space to create, share, collect, and even speculate on the stunning digitalworks that are quickly populating this brand new ecosystem. The NFT market value tripled in 2020 to more than $250 million.

To help us map this wild new frontier, we sat down for a chat with three individuals currently working in the space: NFT artist, André Vieira Auer; NFT artist, Andy Dudak; and blockchain developer, Jason Madden. PURCHASE ISSUE 004 TO READ THE REST.

Art Features

Ice Cream Robot

Ice Cream Robot
By Katerina Belikova (aka Ninja Jo)

What if you’re a robot, living with humans and testing out stuff that humans usually do, just trying to be like them so you don’t feel quite so alien; like wearing a dumb t-shirt and “eating” ice cream in the park? That’s the idea I had for this painting. For the color palette, I wanted to create something that feels like summer: warm, clear, captured in a single moment. PURCHASE ISSUE 004 TO READ THE REST.

Electrogenesis

Electrogenesis
By Katerina Belikova (aka Ninja Jo)
Feature by Rob Carroll

Many of our most powerful thoughts, feelings, and emotions can be described as beginning with a spark: good things like the spark of love, the spark of joy, or the spark of life; and bad things like the spark of anger, the spark of sadness, or the spark of hate. And yet, when applying this wildly effective metaphor to the works of Russian digital artist and painter, Katerina Belikova, better known by her pen name, Ninja Jo, the sentiment falls a bit flat—her works don’t just spark the thought and emotion centers of the brain, they light them immediately afire.

The flame of creation begins with a spark, whether in the brain of an artist, or in the lab of a mad scientist like Dr. Frankenstein. It can ignite a machine (e.g. the combustion engine inside an automobile), or power a thinking mind (e.g. the synapses in a human brain; the current in a computer processor).

“My inspiration comes from real life,” says Katerina. “Sunset colors, old buildings, music, movies. But my favorite thing about my art is when I imagine robots living like humans—doing human things, feeling human feelings. What would they be like if they were common like us?” PURCHASE ISSUE 004 TO READ THE REST.

Life Aquatic

Life Aquatic
By Aylin Sophia (aka Pevvit)
Feature by Rob Carroll

Aylin Sophia knew art would be her life when, as a small child still in kindergarten, she drew a fish with seventeen legs.

“The best stuff usually comes from nonsensical bursts of passion,” Aylin explains. “I’m able to run the furthest with wacky concepts, like for example, a creature that has the best qualities of a microfluidic device, a soft stingray robot, AND a glistening strawberry jelly tart.”

…Welcome to the watery world of Aylin (aka Pevvit).

“WHAT IF THEY WERE SMASHED TOGETHER?” she continues. “And then you go to town trying to figure out the logistics of it all. It’s very satisfying when people aren’t able to identify the individual components of the creation and instead go, ‘Huh…I wonder how that happened,’ or when your grandma says it’s ‘unsettling’ and ‘has too many eyes.’” PURCHASE ISSUE 004 TO READ THE REST.