Published November 1, 2021
Letter From the Editor
By Rob Carroll
In engineering, “creep” is the tendency of a material to change over time after facing high temperature and stress—or, in other words, it’s the measure of a material’s stability and behavior when put through ordinary pressures. For an engineer tasked with deciding what material (e.g. what alloy or plastic) to use in the manufacture of another material or product, understanding the creep of the potential material components is necessary, for it is the creep that will often determine which material can do the job best. No one wants a material to fail, especially under normal use.
To determine a material’s creep, engineers use a creep-testing machine, and despite it sounding like some whimsically malevolent contraption stolen straight from the pages of a Roald Dahl book, the machine is rather simple. Want to know what a material’s melting point is? Use a creep-testing machine. Want to know how a material holds up in high altitude? Use a creep-testing machine. Want to know when a steady state of change will suddenly go parabolic? Use a creep-testing machine.
To me, the key word in all of this is “ordinary.” Even though it’s possible for materials to be tested to extremes, the machine itself doesn’t aim to subject materials to extraordinary stresses, only normal ones. The machine’s goal is not to bend, or break, or melt. The machine is simply there to test. It is the will of the tester that ensures the tested’s destruction. READ THE REST FOR FREE.
Her Name is Jo
By J. W. Allen
Ship’s log: Day 34
Vanya Ogana, Tech 3rd Class, recording.
The alien is such an asshole. It woke me early today. A constant banging around the brig from five decks below. Deck plates and consoles vibrating with each shriek. Trying to frighten us into letting it go. Thirty-one days since it killed everyone, except Jo and I. Thirty-one days since we managed to trap the damned thing, and it still won’t shut up.
I went about my new duties, heading down to engineering to purge the fuel manifolds of debris, then readjusting our course. Jo reported a two percent drop in speed during night watch. I confirmed this with the ship’s main computer. I’m jealous of Jo. She manages to do all the calculations in her head, but she’s just another third class tech like me.
Ship’s Log: Day 36
How did the alien even manage to board the ship? The question keeps rattling about my brain along with my headache. Both Jo and I have checked and re-checked the hull plating and airlocks. We couldn’t find any sign of a breach or fracture. I don’t believe in coincidence, but if I had a suspicious mind, I would say the alien must have been aboard when we left. Unless our shipyard was completely overrun by the assholes (which it wasn’t), either this one managed to smuggle itself over, or it had help. The thought of a potential traitor back at the shipyard is frightening and hard to believe. My headache hasn’t gone away, but Jo says it’s probably just stress.
Fomalhaut burst above the southernmost ridge, icy blue-white and blinding, as star-rises after the long season often were. The electrical cyclone that raged in my sector had finally calmed over the last twelve cycles, though crystalline debris floated in the static electricity still crackling between the boulders. Now I could, at least, see the ensuing destruction through my battered windows. The temperature had dropped precipitously, resulting in smooth, glossy pillars of frozen methane that jutted from the rocks and reached towards the sky. The paths to the adjacent buildings were thick with flakes of mordenite scattered about the ground like lethal, glittery snow.
I knew of snow, theoretically, though I’d never seen or felt it. The previous Caretaker had left a collection of small, yellowed squares affixed to the wall of my charging stall; postcards, they were called, according to the lettering along the edges. Made of paper, a delicate and ancient tool for preserving information, the crumbling surfaces featured scenes from other worlds: Greetings from Vail, Colorado! Snow, skiing, and fun! Welcome to Breckenridge!
I knew snow only from the way it looked in those postcards: white ski trails, blurry streaks across smiling, pink-cheeked faces. In the long hours of my recharge sequence, I memorized every line and color so that when the time came and the pictures faded, lost to the heavy hand of time, the smiles of the long-dead could keep me company.
Regression to the Earth’s Mean
By James Yu
As was required each morning, Yun placed a bowl of steaming rice at the foot of the statues. The boy and girl—their smiles frozen in stone—gazed out toward the Pacific. The girl’s sundress shimmered in the warm autumn light.
Yun bowed and said, “I am sorry for our actions. We are working every day to ensure Earth is ready for your return. Atmospheric carbon currently measures at 504ppm, with average temperatures at +6 degrees C.” Confessing to the statue comforted him. He hadn’t told the humans the truth: that terraforming was behind schedule.
Yun was a Model 2200 Enforcer, manufactured in the late US-Sino nation-state, sporting a milky sensing sphere and a tractor-sized body buttressed by thousands of spindly legs. His appendages were designed to unfurl into microscopic meshes that could test soil, air, plants, and animals. In essence, he was built to sense the environment.
The statues marked the location where Ocean Beach used to be, now a scraggly coastline a mile inward. Blooms of jellyfish polka-
dotted the water as far as Yun’s sensors could see. Terraforming had compounded their growth rates. They were a nuisance. He had conducted hundreds of simulations, and yet, none yielded a solution to reducing the gelatinous beings, aside from poisoning them—a drastic action he could never bring himself to take.
The Auger Process
By Y. M. Pang
That’s me, the blob on the sonogram. I shake back the sleeve of my ill-fitting lab coat and trace a finger across the image. I look harmless, just two misshapen circles joined together, like the bottle gourd so many wuxia heroes drank from. But like bottle gourds, fetuses occasionally turn toxic. Hence why I’m here, trying to erase myself.
I turn away from the screen and face the people who were—are, will be—my parents. My father rests an elbow on the desk between us, his thick fingers tangled in his curling beard. It’s still a shock to see him here, moving, breathing, with a full head of black hair and eyes free of swollen blood vessels. My mother sits straight, wearing the yellow blouse I’d seen only as jpegs on old USBs. Her face is yet unlined, but the defiant brows and tight lips are unmistakably her.
I lean forward across the desk and say the words I rehearsed. “No DNA testing, no modifications? Ms. Lu, Mr. Samaras, the window for modification is small. The treatments work best between twenty weeks pregnancy and one week after birth.” I push the gene-mod brochure toward them. “I recommend at least the Auger process. It will test for and scrub out genetic diseases as well as undesirable tendencies such as neuroticism, anti-social behavior, and psychopathy. All children who underwent the Auger process were born healthy and grew up to be productive members of society. We recommend this procedure to all expecting parents, and our clinic offers the most affordable–”
When He, Dreaming, Wakes
By Lora Gray
Transmission Log: Lt. Baker, Rebecca
Still trying to locate Dream Jumper X-512. Sand storm. Visibility poor. If I can’t get a better signal by tomorrow, I’ll start searching on foot.
I saw a plane last night, an honest to God Yokosuka straight out of WWII, the kind my brother, Rick, used to build models of when we were kids. It flew across the moon. Reminded me of that Jumper I took down two years ago in Fresno, the one who was Dreaming reality all to hell with his unicorns and that watery, thirty-foot iguana doing the cha-cha down Route 180.
The dangerous ones always Dream big.
When the Yokosuka finally crashes, the world ending all around him, Gabriel feels it in his bones. The cockpit shudders from gray to silver to kamikaze white. The plane is already corkscrewing like a rock-hit dove when a voice that isn’t his screams, “Tenno heika banzai!”
Gabriel ejects, parachute-less and rocketing into a moonlit sky. He slams into the ocean, his right leg snapping like kindling as he plunges into the dark Pacific. By the time Gabriel grapples upward and breaks the surface, the world is nothing but smoke and pinwheeling bombers, explosions like cherry blossoms.
And the moon, he realizes suddenly, is falling.
Gabriel gasps, the ocean hopping into his lungs as he paddles frantically. The moon hits like a bomb, a mushroom cloud of salt water, a tidal wave. For a moment, Gabriel gapes, hair roping over his lips, and then the riptide snags him, pulling him down and back.
Down and back.
Ninety-Nine Sextillion Souls in a Ball
By Larry Hodges
Wondera awoke to find a hand in her mouth. Again. She pulled it out and pushed it back into the mass of humans piled lightly against her on all sides. She’d once woke up with baby Pervo’s face lying against hers, slobbering all over her. Yuck.
There was a drawn-out dooong in her head, and from the low pitch she could tell it was seven AM. Then there was the familiar ding in her head, indicating Chico was about to speak directly to their minds.
“Good Morning, Humanity. Another Wonderful Day! Today is Full Conversion Day—F-Day! A Master Achievement! We Will Achieve Full Conversion at Midnight Tonight. Congratulations! I Who Serve You, Salute You. Be Fruitful and Multiply!” There was another ding, signaling the communication was over.
Wondera clapped her hands together, careful to avoid hitting any of the others on all sides. “F-Day!” she cried. The day had finally arrived! She noticed her own foot was jammed against Magnifo’s face, who slept beneath her. Silently giggling, she pulled it back. She pushed off a neighboring woman with her hand to dodge out of the way of a large man, who went sailing by from out of the masses of squirming human bodies—above, below, left, right, forward and back, for thousands of miles in every direction—home, as she’d known it all her life. The crying of babies was everywhere; there were always so many babies and little kids.
She pulled out Blackie, her only possession, a shiny black stone she kept jammed in her left ear. She gave it a kiss and then returned it to her ear. A little later, Chico beamed breakfast directly to her stomach, as it did for all the human bodies surrounding her that made up the great planet Earth. She felt a lightening in her bladder and colon as wastes were similarly beamed out.
On the Eve of the Cumberland Incursion
Hello there, my darling,” I hear. “What’s your name?”
[00:24:07 remaining** Switching log mode from torpid to terse. The thick cloth covering me is untied. Hand reaches in, grips my propeller #4. Can’t fly. Then sudden light as cloth is pulled off. Still no GPS. No net. I’m in an attic, maybe. Second floor. Civilian who untied me presents female. Possibly mid-60s. I see a window over their shoulder with some smoke in a slight breeze. I can see one navstar: Arcturus. Passed its declination to my astronavigation processor. Threat assessment low. Switching log mode from terse to verbose.]
They don’t offer an authorization code [Subscenario 3], so I don’t have to answer. I perform a pass of the room for details. All around the walls is a double-layer of mesh, held in place with irregularly placed tacks. So, I’m in a Faraday cage, which is why I feel disconnected from everything. A string of pinpoint lights like from a Christmas tree are twined around tacks along the sloped walls, creating a star-like canopy. On the wall with the door are dozens of shelves with a workshop’s collection of jars and cardboard boxes, liquids and batteries, tools and parts.
[Images queued for extended domain analysis, pending net connectivity.]
I am on a workbench with several other older-model border drones. Their reg numbers have been scratched off. Each looks to be in some state of advanced disrepair and do not respond to my wireless pings, though one turns its gimbal to stare wordlessly at me.
“You’re a model I haven’t seen before,” they say. “Maybe they haven’t outfitted you with a speaker. Here. I have one you can use.” They pull a small wireless speaker from the pocket of their threadbare robe and set it in front of me. It is about the size of a hockey puck. Black like one, too. [Subscenario 7.] They press a button, and it begins to blink an indigo light at me. I ignore it.
The Eternity Machine
History is for survivors. But if I’m to help you grasp what we went through that terrible night, and what you all face now, then best we take this in tiny steps, just as it happened to me.
Like a baby dropped from its mother’s arms, I screamed, that moment I lost the touch of the Earth.
Twisting and flailing in a howling wind, I felt my outstretched fingers scrape something huge, my bare foot kick away a small, soft body, all falling with me. I was blind, suffocating in the bedsheets that had wound around my head and tightened as I tumbled and twirled.
There’d been an explosion, too, like a thunderclap at my window. Its echoes, mixed with snaps and groans, as if the building around me were coming apart, seemed now a physical fluid filling my ears to near-bursting. But this agonizing pressure, presently, my stifled shrieks seemed to relieve, as the roar of rushing air subsided to a moan, then a sigh. Until at last, except for my own pants and sobs, and the occasional distant creak and rumble, I found myself floating
in dead silence and perfect stillness—and, when I had torn the last of the clinging fabric from my face, utter darkness. My outer senses no longer found cause for alarm, but I was still falling inside.
I tasted blood. My nose was filling with blood. Another minute of panic as I learned to deal with bodily fluids that no longer drained on their own.
I Feel the Absence of Her Shape
By Alexandra Seidel
Originally published by Not One of Us
I could never fully hold her shape, not because hers was a shape of vast fractal difficulty, but because she was more to me, so much more. She was not like I am, came not from a spore and moved not through the mycelium, but her mind was my echo, and I hers; I could never fully hold her shape after she was gone, because it hurt.
This account is what she would have said about how we met, how we loved, how I consumed. She gifted me her voice after all, not only in cadence but in tongue and lexicon; I cherish it, cherish feeling her sigh shivering through my mycelium, those soft vowels, their acerbic edges when she would have borne anger like ice on a winter wind.
Listen, we both were invaders here, but I came first.
I have no idea where from I came, some place not dissimilar to what this place, our home, has now become, of this I can be certain. I would have flown here, drifted for a long time, then descended.
At first, when you start growing up, you notice so very little. I know it was the same for her. There were memories like pictures torn from frames and scattered: a house with red geraniums growing in the sunlight, the smell of red currant jelly on toast, and grass. I only know geraniums, currants, or grass because she knew these things; there is nothing like that here.
Science That Makes You Scream: or, When Sci-Fi Meets Horror
Feature by Janelle Janson
When I think of science fiction, I think of a genre of ideas. I think of surreal worlds and the abstract laws that govern them. When I think of horror, I think more about emotion. Horror stories are usually less about world-building and ideas, and more about evoking a strong visceral response in the reader, usually based in fear. So, what happens when a talented writer combines the two genres? Let’s take a look at a few of the most famous contemporary examples and find out. You go first. It’s scary up ahead.
Firestarter and The Stand
So, there’s this really prolific, genius writer named Stephen King. Ever heard of him? He’s only the most famous writer to have crossed several genres,including both science fiction and horror. In his work, Firestarter, for example, we follow a father/daughter duo as they run from a government agency known as The Department of Scientific Intelligence, aka The Shop. The daughter, Charlie, inherited pyrokinetic powers, and her father wants to keep her safe. What would The Shop do if they got their hands on a little girl that conjures fire with her mind? If you are a parent, I’d say that’s a mighty frightening thing to ponder, and one that asks interesting questions about science and ethics. And then we have King’s epic, post-apocalyptic story, The Stand, in which a deadly strain of the influenza virus leads to a catastrophic pandemic that shines a bright light on the human condition and the nature of good versus evil. Maybe it used to be considered fantasy back in 1978, but now it’s all too real, and this makes it even more terrifying, and a lot more like science fact.
By Voodoo Salad
This piece was completely experimental, so I don’t really have anything that would change the perspective for the viewer.
Wizard of Odd
By Voodoo Salad
Feature by Rob Carroll
The art of Voodoo Salad is a dark and twisted magic conjured by an artist that took one look at reality and said, “Nah.” Much like the black magic practitioners from whom half of his pen name is derived, Voodoo Salad appears to take inspiration not from the material world, but from the unseen realities that have long ignited the one engine within the mind that has both the innate ability to parse all that which is beyond basic human perception, and the capacity to make sense of it all, albeit poorly: Imagination.
Trying to make sense of our multifaceted world, and all the infinite worlds that lie beyond, is probably a lot like trying to piece together a one-trillion-piece jigsaw puzzle in the dark after catching only a glimpse of the box’s cover art before all the lights went out forever. And so, it only makes sense that a lot of Voodoo Salad’s art feels like a fragmented facsimile of that universal answer—one that he painted by memory after first falling asleep for a century and then waking in the next room over (this room has lights).
By BKK BROS.
Feature by Rob Carroll
“I try to make each character come alive,” says Thailand artist, BKK BROS., creator of the wildly successful (and successfully wild) NFT art collection known as GameBros. “Some are funny, some are cool, and some are weird, but the one thing they all have in common is a link to retro video games. I love expressing my passion for video games through my art, and I love when people enjoy what I’ve created. I love when they find the little hints and messages hidden in every GameBro.”
The enthusiasm BKK BROS. exudes for his popular project is contagious, but I don’t need to be sold. I’ve been hooked on his artwork from the moment I first discovered it online a few months ago. When trying to remember what initially drew me to his art, I inevitably land on the obvious answer first: nostalgia. But when I think harder, I realize that this answer is far too simple. Many products try and harvest the dreams of our childhoods with little or no success. If nostalgia were the answer, then it would always be the answer, and that’s just not the case. No, there is something about the way in which BKK BROS. conjures up the past that makes it feel so special, and I think I know what it is: joy. There is great joy present in every image BKK BROS. creates, and that is something that will always transcend style, theme, and intentionality, because unlike its counterparts, nothing about joy is prescribed to the viewer, it is simply just shared.