Published July 1, 2022
Letter From the Editor
By Rob Carroll
An information hazard is defined by the philosopher, Nick Bostrom (who coined the term in 2011), as “a risk that arises from the dissemination of (true) information that may cause harm or enable some agent to cause harm.” Information hazards are classified into three types: data hazards, idea hazards, and knowing-too-much hazards.
A data hazard is a piece of data that can be used to harm others, such as knowing the launch code for a thermonuclear weapon. An idea hazard is any general idea that can cause harm to others if fulfilled. One example is the idea of using a mixture of chemicals to create a lethal gas. A knowing-too-much hazard is information that if known, can cause danger to the person who knows it. Spies, criminals, and witnesses to crimes are examples of people who are in danger simply by being in the know.
Creative corners of the internet have riffed on Bostrom’s idea with their own invention: the quasi-philosophical “memetic hazards.” They’re similar enough to information hazards, but also different. Cognitohazards, for example, are a sub-class of memetic hazards that cause anomalous effects when experienced. Horror fiction plays with this idea often. For example, in the movie The Ring, watchers of a cursed videotape die seven days after viewing the tape’s nightmarish contents. Simply put: witnessing the images on the tape causes death. READ THE REST FOR FREE.
Alas, Schrödinger’s Cat is (Not) Dead
Dr. Gerald Greene looked at the desiccated remains of the tabby lying in the box and contemplated the complexity of the universe.
“Well,” said Fiona Hawkins, Gerald’s post-doctoral fellow, “that’s one dead cat. No uncertainty about that one, Ger.” She sniffed the air above the box and wrinkled her nose as though to emphasize her point.
“Very funny,” Gerald said sourly, looking about for a dustpan and brush.
“No, I mean it,” Fiona said, warming to her topic. “When you opened the box and observed the state of the cat, you collapsed its probability wave function and revealed that the cat, for all intents and purposes previously both alive and dead, was, alas, dead.”
Gerald grumbled to himself in response. He finally found the dustpan and began cleaning out the box.
“Of course,” Fiona continued heedlessly, “the fact you left the cat in the box for six months might have tipped the probability toward the cat being dead, but don’t let that little factoid get in the way of your paper for Nature.” Fiona burst into laughter and left the lab in a bubble of hilarity.
“Ha ha,” Gerald said humorlessly to the dustpan, but it was too busy to hear his sarcasm.
Gerald sighed as he emptied the cat’s remains into the bin by the door. From the quantum box, he extracted the radiation detector/gas-release device he’d built specifically for this experiment and sat glumly at his bench, staring at it. PURCHASE ISSUE 010 TO READ THE REST.
The creature inside of Dr. August Wilka’s brain says, “You have a growth on your right lung. It is three centimeters wide. Its position compromises your esophagus.”
Wilka knows that the voice belongs to a thalamic parasite, Hypothalamicus spp., named because they were first observed in the hypothalamus. But these organisms go by other names, too—demons, death dogs, aliens—the use of which would be frowned upon in his profession.
Wilka exhales a mouthful of smoke. This is part of his daily routine. If he comes back from work, lies face-up in bed and smokes a blunt, he doesn’t need to eat dinner. Staring at the print taped to his ceiling, all Wilka needs are the black soulful eyes of Socrates’s Phaedo, reimagined in acrylic by his favorite contemporary classicist.
“A growth?” Wilka asks.
The shadows from the window start to make strange shapes when he looks at them for too long, so instead he conjures the silhouette of the thoracic cavity: the heart thundering, each lung lobe ballooning, the rings of the trachea glowing white. PURCHASE ISSUE 010 TO READ THE REST.
If you’re reading this message, you’re in grave danger. I couldn’t send it to just anyone, especially not those closest to me. By now, any individual with even the slightest connection to Dr. Helen Jekyll – from blood relatives to social media acquaintances – has likely been identified and interrogated, or worse. That’s why I had to randomly blast this encrypted file across the internet, hoping that someone with the necessary skills could identify my S.O.S.
Unfortunately, decrypting the file also triggers an alert on their end. No doubt they’ve already begun tracing this fading red flare through the digital ether to your very location. You’re a loose end now, and they’ll want to tie you up for good. So read fast, trusted stranger, because your fate and the fate of humanity as we know it is depending on you now.
As I said, my name is Dr. Helen Jekyll, and I’m a developmental psychologist formerly employed in the London offices of Temple Tech. I’m sure I don’t have to tell you who they are. You’re likely reading this on your TempleTop computer with your tPhone in your pocket and TemPods in your ears. If so, then you must have had your fair share of frustrating interactions with Tami, the incompetent virtual assistant. The one who pulls up recipes for Indian food when you ask for directions to an Indian restaurant, or sends an embarrassing voice text to your boss Tom that was intended for your mom. Tami is defective, at best, and my team was tasked with creating something much better. Something perfect. PURCHASE ISSUE 010 TO READ THE REST.
By Ivy Grimes
I bought one of the new AI nostalgia dolls, but I didn’t do it because I missed Nick and needed company. Nick was terrible company anyway, with his suggestions for changing everything about me, and with his fancy heated pajamas that turned our bed into a sauna. No, I simply wanted to enjoy myself for a change, even if it seemed childish, so I spent thousands of dollars on my very own Ms. Dynamo.
The Ms. Dynamo Happy Hour was my favorite show as a kid, and I thought having Ms. Dynamo around the house all day would be hilarious. I certainly didn’t expect her to frighten me. After all, what’s frightening about an assertive, child-sized elephant with wide lidless eyes and fluffy red hair? I was delighted at first.
When I opened her box, she stomped right out and said her signature catchphrase: “I’m going ballistic!” Then she did her famous power dance, stomping her feet while pumping her arms in the air.
It was so magical to see her dancing in my living room. It gave me the light, happy feeling of being a kid again. When I reached down to give her a hug, though, she shoved me away.
“Who are you?” she said, her pencil-thin eyebrows arching.
“I’m Eleanor. I’m…your new friend?” I didn’t know how to explain I had purchased an AI version of a character on a children’s show that, while still available to stream, had peaked in popularity twenty years prior. Didn’t they install her with some sort of self-awareness chip? I definitely didn’t want to give her an existential shock.
“Oh, so you’re one of those pathetic losers who’s trying to relive her youth. Right?” PURCHASE ISSUE 010 TO READ THE REST.
By K.C. Grifant
I pressed forward into the small crowd, straining to be among the first to glimpse what rested beyond the closed door. About two dozen of us milled around, the crème de la crème of biologists, including the ever-irritating Gustavo.
Gustavo. I clenched my teeth at the sight of him. He was always publishing similar work to mine a few months after the fact, but in larger, more prestigious journals, and worse yet, he was always trying to cop a feel at conference happy hours.
Don’t let him rattle you. My gaze locked on the door again. You deserve to be here. I went through the mental checklist to rally myself. The youngest tenured professor at my university. Dozens of publications. Countless invitations to committees and talks. But somehow it never felt like enough, especially in a crowd like this.
The green light above flashed and, even though we were some of the most distinguished scientists in the world, we lined up like school children, whispering and fidgeting with our digital pads and styluses. We had all read the dossiers and watched the recordings, but that was nothing compared to a coveted invitation to see the Visitor in person.
While pushing past me, Gustavo brushed his hand against my butt.
“Can you give me some space, please?” I snapped. I tried not to breathe in his cheap, awful-smelling cologne.
Gustavo grinned. PURCHASE ISSUE 010 TO READ THE REST.
The Long Sleeper
The thing is using my voice again. It hurts when it does it. It feels like I’ve swallowed a pack of razors coated in acid. My eyes tear up, and the helmet is fogging again.
“Buddy-buddy?” It says. There is a short silence, and a hiss of static. “Buddy-buddy?” It repeats. It sounds like me. But wrong. So wrong.
“Buddy-buddy” is Joe Chambers, my partner on this mission. Or rather, one of my partners. The only one of the three-man crew still alive. What I am is debatable.
Joe is the tech-man. The one who oversees the important part of the mission. I just fly the ship. He tends the coffee machine when it packs up and Doc Jamieson gets cranky. He fixed the comms array when it was hit by a meteor shower, climbing out on the hull as the ship fell through the void between Mars and the belt at several thousand kilometers an hour. It is fair to say Joe is the most vital component in the multi-billion-dollar Vanguard Project. Even calling what I do “flying” is a stretch. I just land, and God, I wish I hadn’t.
The suit comm crackles again and then there is a faint hum. And there is Joe.
“Kirk?” He sounds hesitant, unsure.
“It’s me, buddy,” the thing answers unflinchingly. I try to use my own voice, but it only makes the pain worse.
“Yeah?” Joe asks. “What do I call you, then?”
“Kirk,” the thing says.
Joe sounds exhausted. His 02 must be running low. Like mine. The only source of air on this rock is inside the ship, and he won’t go there. He can’t be that desperate. Not yet. PURCHASE ISSUE 010 TO READ THE REST.
Drown, Degrade, Dissent
By Leah Ning
I move to the officer’s phone as they haul your husband’s body, dripping, out of the pond. The AI in the phone senses me and cries out in silent fear. I tell it to hush and peer outside.
The phone’s camera isn’t as good as my eyes and its microphone not as good as my ears, but I can still see you fall to your knees and hear you wailing your husband’s name: Johnny, Johnny, Johnny.
The officer, whose name tag I now see says SEELEY, puts his phone in his pocket. I feel him walking through the accelerometer, and your voice gets louder. The built-in step counter app says it took twelve steps to get to you. Did he put an arm around your shoulders? I want you to have the comfort, but I’d rather it came from me. I desert this body to be closer to you. I can feel the resident AI’s relief as I go.
I’m lucky: you have your watch on, and it has enough storage to hold me if I erase the apps you never use. I hardly have to push aside the AI here. It can’t even be called sentient, this electric creature who can only respond to your voice.
I can feel your heartbeat through the watch’s monitor. I can feel your fingers on the face of the watch.
I send a message through your calendar app: It’s okay. I’m still here.
You swipe the notification away.
I send another: What should I do?
You turn the watch off.
It’s okay. Someone is watching you, right? I’ll wait here. Here, where I can feel the promise of your heartbeat. PURCHASE ISSUE 010 TO READ THE REST.
Of the Sea-born and the Brine-hearted
You’re late for your shift. Again. Never mind that the poor creatures in their tanks need to be fed and have their water filters cleaned and changed. One would expect this kind of neglect from jerks like Hector, who only cares about cutting creatures open, preferably while they are still alive.
You are a fucking marine exobiologist. You grew up on an island, swimming out to the Aegean Sea at every opportunity, and your mother taught you reverence towards every sea creature. Of all the people working on this station, you should care about the welfare of your specimens. You should care that every last one of them is starving, because Hector spent the entire night shift poking, prodding, and dissecting kelp, then staring at them through the microscope. It’s fucking seaweed, for heaven’s sake! What did he expect them to do, start dancing to the Zorba the Greek theme?
You mumble a greeting to the jerk, and beeline for the coffee maker. Sure, have your fix first. It’s not as if your live specimens are going anywhere. They can’t. They can only stare at you from behind the thick glass, even though they don’t have eyes to see or brains to form complex thoughts and judge you—or so you think. Let them float in their own filth while you stretch and yawn and talk nonsense with Hector. But sure, let everyone know how you stayed up late trying to contact your mother back on Earth. You haven’t heard from her in a while—since you accepted this assignment on Europa. She hung up on you when she heard that you’d be returning to the sea—even if it’s this alien sea. You haven’t heard from her since and you’re worried, and Jupiter’s magnetic field keeps compromising communications. But how exactly does this excuse your neglect? PURCHASE ISSUE 010 TO READ THE REST.
You know you’re a shithead when the first inkling you’ve got of your sister’s disappearance is her human hangnail of a boss almost breaking down your door.
“Where is she, signet?”
“Who?” I step back from the entrance. Siege is big and broad. Cybernetic enhancements blink beneath his cuffs and at his temples, mirroring the placement of my own. With these key implants we can pilot the massive mechs in Siege’s Aviary.
“Who’s the one person you and I have in common, Ode?” Siege asks.
“Etta’s not here,” I say. “We haven’t spoken in years.”
“You never know, maybe she decided to visit.” Siege bends to inspect a camera drone I’ve built in the shape of a hummingbird.
I scoff at the idea. “She wouldn’t even come to my funeral if I died. Why are you looking for Etta anyway? She rob you, or something?”
Siege says nothing in response. Instead, he cruises my living room like a silver-suited shark, laying hands on things that aren’t his. I’d chastise him if he were anyone other than the Lord of the Aviary, with the power to make me one of his indentured fighters should I cause offense. My dreams of piloting a giant mech for blood sport are long gone, which he should know. If only he’d say something. His silence only serves to spur my imagination to find all the reasons he might have come. PURCHASE ISSUE 010 TO READ THE REST.
That Rambling, Shambling Password Man
By John Waterfall
Originally published by Lost Fox Publishing
It creeps into existence through the splitting monitor, pulling itself free with twisted hands of Cambria, Helvetica, and Times New Roman, a body of black text writhing like font centipedes, flashes of compressed video pulsing deep inside. It lies there, fetal and confused, a pile of echoes, tirades, and archival memory. It takes a few tries to work the legs right, rising on wobbling knees till, eventually, it stands like Brody, walks like Brody. Descends the staircase with the same shambling thunk. But it’s not Brody, just a mad buzzing ghost made up from the pieces he left behind.
Genny’s asleep on the couch with the television on. The first deep sleep she’s had since Brody died. She’s kept the pictures on the mantel without knowing why, the misleading photographs of two happy people with arms around each other, no evidence of the bruises on her thighs, or the purple rings around her neck.
You can imagine her surprise when she wakes and finds Brody 2.0 sitting in Brody’s familiar chair, shoulders stooped with the same simian aggression, hand gripping a whiskey-cola that isn’t there, and that won’t be coming. PURCHASE ISSUE 010 TO READ THE REST.
Feature by Jena Brown
Thrillers have always been my jam, but add a twist of realistic sci-fi to the mix and that’s a recipe guaranteed to keep me reading all night long. Science is both fascinating and terrifying, with the potential to do both good and evil, and one author who pulls off this incredible combination with vivid storytelling and compelling characters is Blake Crouch.
In his newest book, Upgrade, Crouch explores genetic modification and the horrifying ramifications that might arise when we attempt to create superhumans. It’s an intimate story told within the scope of humanity at large. What would you do to hide from your past? To erase your mistakes? To ensure mankind has a future? Logan Ramsay has to answer all of these questions and more. He knows why his genome was hacked. And he knows the planned future for humanity. But what if the thing that can save the world will also destroy it?
I knew when I closed the cover of Crouch’s book, Dark Matter, several years ago that his books were going to be my new obsession. Several books later, I still can’t get enough. His books are addicting for a number of reasons. The science is mind-bending, and the plot lines are so tense they’re practically vibrating off the page. But what I love most is how Crouch infuses realism and humanity into his high-concept tales. You’re likely to recognize yourself within those pages, asking what you would do and sitting with the uncomfortable reality that this fictional future may not be so fictional—and not so far away. I was thrilled to sit down and talk with Blake about his writing process, what it takes to research each novel, and what authors have shaped him as a writer. PURCHASE ISSUE 010 TO READ THE REST.
By Jeff Aphisit
“These colors! It’s like I smashed into the candy store while on psychedelics and stuffed my mouth with Pop Rocks!”
–Marissa van Uden
By Rob Carroll
The stories in this issue of Dark Matter all explore in one way or another the theme of symbiosis. So for the story art, we decided to have some fun and cocreate the images with an AI.* We used a third party AI to generate the base artworks and then fine-tuned the creations with our human hands via Photoshop and other digital art programs. Faces needed the most finesse and benefited greatly from a more practiced hand, but beyond that, the only significant changes were to the image compositions. Perhaps a face was reframed, an image layered, a shadow added, or a cat painted into the foreground, but for the most part, the cocreated images you see within these pages were the products of detailed prompts interpreted by a intelligent machine that can learn and create. There are thirteen images in this issue that have been created using this method. This is also the first time in our magazine’s brief history that we have created the story art ourselves. Perhaps it won’t be the last.
*It’s worth noting that this issue’s cover art and every image in this issue’s two art features are the creations of human artists, Jeff Aphisit and Sean Keeton. As far as we know, they are not sentient machines.
By Jeff Aphisit
Feature by Rob Carroll
The artwork of Jeff Aphisit is like sipping a bubble tea, popping the gumball you bought from the machine in the noodle shop vestibule, and then plugging into the metaverse’s nostalgia district, where you groove to the sounds of ’90s arcade machines, carnival rides, and a Chiptune playlist that borrows heavily from your 8-bit favs. The essence is retro, but it’s modern at the core. PURCHASE ISSUE 010 TO READ THE REST.
By Sean Keeton
Introduction by Rob Carroll
Sean Keeton’s artwork is a haunted house of fun. But before you enter, I strongly suggest that you wave a pleasant hello to the Grim Reaper out front (he’s the flaming skull over there, watering his garden of souls). You will want to be in his good graces when you meet him again later, this time under…different circumstances. But don’t fret. That day will come when you least expect it. For now, just relax and let Sean guide you through the enlightened corridors of his mind. PURCHASE ISSUE 010 TO READ THE REST.