Published September 1, 2022
Letter From the Editor
Letter from the Editor: Self Evident
By Rob Carroll
As we all know, culture has a massive influence on how we all think and behave. Culture is also very different from group to group and place to place, which makes human behavior as a whole wildly relative. This is exactly why when cross-cultural psychologists conduct research, their studies often take into account core differences between the cultures being studied. Chief among them: the differences between cultures that are individualistic and cultures that are collectivist.
So, what are individualistic and collectivist cultures?
Well…does the culture promote self-sufficiency, uniqueness, autonomy, and independence? If yes, then it’s most likely an individualistic culture. Does the culture promote selflessness, working as a group, doing what’s best for society, and making families and communities central to society’s success? If yes, then it’s probably a collectivist culture. Cultures in North America and Western Europe tend to be individualistic. Asian cultures tend to be collectivist.
Now this doesn’t mean that someone with a collectivist mindset can’t be living in a place where individualism is the dominant culture, or vice versa. But it does mean that the dominant culture, despite individual belief, will still be the main influence on individual behavior. For example, a collectivist living in an individualistic society will not define themselves as the norm, but rather as a member of the counter-culture. In truth, there is nothing inherently counter-cultural about collectivism, just like there is nothing truly counter-cultural about individualism. These labels can only be applied in comparison. READ THE REST FOR FREE.
How We Meet
We first meet on a boat, a chartered schooner afloat beneath a sea of endless stars. On a zero-G rocket, floating weightless in the atmosphere, Earth twirling blue-green below. Swaying on a sweaty subway pole on the MTA in a zenith summer. Seated on the backs of Saharan camels, marching steadily toward the oasis—or mirage—that will save our lives—or fell them.
Each time we meet for the first time, the therapy algorithm finesses the experience. It replaces the previous session, the shared memory that used to be. We only know where we’ve been because our patient notes are open; I can’t actually remember how it felt, the flesh and bone and raging hormones of our real first encounter. It’s buried deep in our subconsciouses now, so deep we’ll never recall it. Which is where our problems are supposed to go, too, once this brave new treatment starts working. TMR-T, the Therapeutic Memory Recodification Technique. The brainwaves of the future.
Hilarious, I find, that the TMR-T trial is covering the cost of our fertility treatments in full, while our insurance wouldn’t even cover semen analysis or injectables or egg retrieval. All it costs is the right to poke around in our heads twice a week. You don’t find this hilarious at all.
“Is it here yet?”
“Trust me, you’ll know when it arrives.”
The white orb floating between us flashed neon orange twice before it rose a few more feet. I dipped my head like Hadiza had instructed. A third flash was not always guaranteed, but if it came, it was best to preserve my sight from the intensity of its glow.
I sensed Hadiza’s head rise before I had the courage to lift mine. A need for further sanitization must not have been detected. Biyi’s tech appeared to be working better than he’d predicted.
“I’m sorry I keep asking,” I whispered, keeping my head a little lower than before, “it’s just, I’ve never met a Tribune before.”
“This privilege was extended because Takahiro requested we accommodate you.” Hadiza’s smug smile carried through in her voice despite my inability to see anything behind her tinted visor. “You are aware of what you must do?”
“And don’t forget the most important thing is–”
“Never to make direct eye contact.”
No one had explained what the consequence of this would be, but I sure as hell had no intention of finding out for myself.
Hadiza nodded. “Good. Brace yourself. It’s here.”
Cal sat down at the kitchen table, his eyes feeling grainy. He took a sip of coffee and watched Mia try and spoon pulped carrots into Liam’s mouth. He missed the days before Liam, when they sat out on the porch, drank coffee together, and talked about the day to come. If he didn’t say something now, he’d never get to. Mornings like this would be the rest of his life.
“I think we should integrate with the Gelephir. I…want to become a part of it,” he said.
Mia looked at him like he’d suggested they abandon their lives and join the circus.
“You cannot get absorbed by an alien consciousness Cal,” Mia said. “We have a son.” She gestured at Liam with the spoon. “I have the store.”
“I didn’t say I wanted to integrate with it. I said I want us to. I want to be with you, to really know you.”
She laughed and took a break from feeding their son so she could take a bite of her own breakfast.
“We’ve been together for nine years. I think you know me,” she said.
“Don’t you just think…” he trailed off. He didn’t know what to say.
“What?” she said.
She spooned more carrots into Liam’s mouth. He accepted them placidly this time. Cal took a sip of coffee and Mia watched him intently. She was still on reduced caffeine. She’d missed coffee dearly throughout her pregnancy. Cal had considered stopping drinking it as well in solidarity, but he’d dismissed the idea. He needed something to get him through the day. He sold software that helped companies with rentable assets keep track of where all their stuff was. It was not exciting work. He didn’t know how he’d make it through the day if he gave up coffee as a meaningless gesture.
All the Starlit Worlds I’ve Visited…Without You
By Marie Croke
My first trip away from you, I brought you back a rattle. That’s what parents do when they go on business trips, I’d heard. Bring back gifts, as if the gift could ever be a stand-in for the missing hours and days, and, in my case, months…years.
I thought a rattle appropriate. Which it might have been, had it not been wooden with starlit cracks running from its knots, made for and by a race of tree-beings on a planet far from here who used them on their saplings to roll their first twigs out and grow their first leaves. Not exactly the best rattle for human gums, baby ones still learning how to gnash mushy food. Your guardians made sure to document that, one more page to the growing government file keeping you from me.
I asked the tree-being who carved it to etch your name in the rattle’s side, the name I’d given you, not the one they foisted on you after I’d left. I’m sure your guardians threw the gift out the moment my airship turned in the winds and cast about for the stars once more.
I’m sure you won’t find it even if you look.
By Lisa Fox
I never asked to be created.
For fourteen years, I’ve walked the Earth a shadow, nothing more than an artifact of light cast upon a more worthy being. I exist only to follow. They tell me I live to serve.
I have never been. There would be no me without she—my sister, the host from whose cells I originated. I’m neither human nor inhuman, but something in between. I entered this world quiet, soulless, placed by the gloved hands of scientists into a lonely incubator. No loving mother waited with soft arms to warm me, no adoring father to wrap me in his gaze—only crisp white lab coats, whose faceless wearers hovered, proud of the specimen and ignorant of the newborn soul.
Of course, I do not remember my creation day. No one does. Human or clone, we all simply arrive, clueless and helpless and squinting against the light.
Yet we persist. Through hours and months and years.
Until we realize who we are.
What we are.
I’ve spent my life reminded that I exist only so another should live, a truth branded upon me by hard words and harder glares, by a surgeon’s scalpel carving that commitment into my flesh each time I’m needed. I’m here for a purpose, but unlike actual humans, I know what my purpose is. Conceived by science, I’m the remedy for my sister’s defects; the font for flesh and blood designed to repair her flaws, relieve her pain, allow her to live a ‘normal’ life.
Light penetrates the thin membrane of skin that covers my eyes, rousing me from a deep state of unconsciousness. Where am I? A rhythmic pulse in my ears, approximately ninety beats per minute, which accelerates to around one-twenty by the time I’m conscious enough to pry my eyes open. Stark-white ceiling and fluorescent strip lights, one of which emits a constant buzz in tune to its flicker.
Heavy as lead, I try to raise myself into a sitting position but fail miserably. The tip of the index finger on my right hand is the only body part capable of movement. It utilizes its nerve-endings to identify what it touches and concludes it is ice-cold steel. I’m on some kind of bed, prone and inert, incapable of anything more than thought. Have I been in some kind of accident?
Some of the overhead light is swallowed as a shape looms over me, dressed head to toe in white and wearing a face-shield and a scrub-cap made of thin blue plastic. Their appearance suggests I’m in a medical facility, and yet despite making eye contact, the figure issues no reassurance or words of comfort to welcome me back to the land of the living. Perhaps they do not realize I’m awake, though surely they must be monitoring my stats. Their face gives nothing away. Blank as the ceiling, there is nothing behind the mask to suggest an acknowledgment of my wakeful state.
Loaded with the Past and Hungry for More
The morning after, Paul Dixon woke up next to a gun and a crying baby.
The Ruger pistol had a piece of white paper wrapped around the grip.
Went to get my milk back
Hold down the fort
Breasts on the charger
Paul winced as he lifted the sobbing toddler. His ribs didn’t feel broken, but his body hollered as he propped her on his shoulder. He limped to the charging hook on the bedroom wall, where the disembodied, golden-brown breasts hung.
“Hold on, hold on,” Paul told the crying baby. “I know you hungry.”
It was 4 a.m., the city still asleep, still oblivious. Paul strapped himself into the breasts. The mold rested on his chest, the aluminum milk tank secure on his back. The tank felt heavy enough to last two days, but Paul couldn’t refill it at the pumps outside. Not after last night.
Paul unbolted the bedroom door, steeling himself for the spiteful sight, the dreaded confirmation that what happened did in fact happen. He cracked open the door.
The fibershop was in shambles: metal shelves knocked over and corn, wheat, and fruits and vegetables scattered across the floor. The plunderers didn’t come for fortified products. They came for the source: that so-called “black gold.” They stole all of it but a little bit. And what if they came for what was left in the tank? Worse yet, what if Lu took too long to come back?
We categorized the pigs by what we grew inside of them. One quadrant of the barn penned pigs with extra kidneys, another livers, a third pancreases, and a fourth, hearts. We didn’t have fields or crops and we never took the pigs outside. Grass didn’t even grow on the dirt hill leading up to the barn. Well, we called it a barn, but it was really a hangar. On nice days, its heavy gray shape cut a perfect rectangle out of the otherwise baby-blue sky. When it rained, its steel body blended in so seamless and flush with the clouds that I sometimes drove past it. When I think of barns I picture red wood with white trim, big wooden doors left cracked open, and a variety of animals. The kinds of animals they put on kids toys, the kind that make noise: horses and roosters and sheep and dogs and yes, pigs. But we only had pigs, and we kept the pigs in a hangar and called it a barn while we grew things inside of them.
All the pigs were male to avoid reproduction, and we tagged their ears with colored plastic markers. Pink for kidneys, blue for livers, purple for pancreases, and red for hearts. The tags gave them names like A178, K390, T789.
The bio-engineers never really talked to me, but whenever they were near, I heard them call the pigs chimeras, sometimes chims. I thought about adopting that nickname myself, but when I walked down the rows of the barn I was assigned to maintain, and I looked at the pigs under the panels of blue-green fluorescents, I didn’t see anything that looked like a chimera. I only saw big, fat, oinking pigs, their soft pink skin almost white under the light.
Occasionally, people in business attire would tour the barn. Investors. I gave them rubber boots to wear so their shiny business shoes wouldn’t get dirty. They’d walk like they were on stilts. It always made me laugh, how out of place they looked.
The investors called the pigs donors. I liked the nickname even less than chimera.
By Casilda Ferrante
Originally Published as part of SYNTH #2: An Anthology of Dark SF
I slip in head first, flexing and rolling along the bottom of the tub, coming to rest in a loose curl. My agent told me to take a bath to prepare my skin for the auction.
Underwater, sounds ripple and bounce off my skin. I can hear words spoken by distant mouths, a cruel low chuckle, a muffled plea. If I concentrate hard enough I can hear the slow drift of satellites overhead and the drag of bleeding feet through dust, far below on ground level.
I remain submerged a long while without feeling the need to come up for air. Everything about this body is efficient, streamlined.
It’s the first time I’ve been left alone since I entered the Corporation towers. I relish the brief solitude, even if it is pretense. Have I been here weeks? Months? It’s hard to judge. Even time follows different laws up here.
Underwater, I can hear two heartbeats. That of my own heart, which I am relieved to find is still human, and a tiny, racing beat lodged deep within me. I suspected I was pregnant. I wasn’t sure, but I didn’t have time to think about it, and it wasn’t the reason I left the ghettos. I heard the Corporation was recruiting and I wanted in. I figured all I had to do was make myself found inside the city line. My class would be quickly flagged by surveillance.
Feature by Janelle Janson
Nat Cassidy is the author of the new horror novel from Tor Nightfire, Mary: An Awakening of Terror. Dark Matter Features Writer, Janelle Janson, sat down with the author for a chat about his new book and the horror fiction landscape, both past and present.
JANELLE JANSON: Hello, Mr. Nat Cassidy. Thank you for joining me on this horror adventure. Please tell us a bit about yourself and your relationship with the horror genre.
NAT CASSIDY: Hello! Thank you for chatting! I’m ALWAYS down to talk some horror, so I’ll try to keep my answers as concise as possible! I look at horror as my home, my playground, even my psychological orientation in a lot of ways. That might sound bleak, but I’ve always found a deep comfort in the genre. It’s what I turn to when I want stories with stakes (honestly, I’m of the opinion that EVERY good story is, in essence, a horror story), and it’s also what I turn to when I don’t want to feel alone in this strange, disorienting existence. I mean, it’s scary being alive, it’s scary knowing we have to die, and it’s scary not knowing what happens after that, so I find it immensely cathartic to be able to take matters of life and death and pain and fear into my own hands for a little while.
Feature by Jena Brown
Gemma Amor is no stranger to horror, and she isn’t afraid to draw you into her worlds. She’s written several novellas and short stories, and if you’re big into horror podcasts, you’ve probably come across her work with various shows. Her stories are intimate and will likely break your heart. And her newest book, Full Immersion, (Angry Robot, September 2022) is her most personal story yet.
The story follows a woman who can’t remember who she is. But when she finds her own dead body, she embarks on a path of self-discovery that will either set her free or be the reason for her destruction. Themes of trauma and postnatal depression are central to the work, and Amor doesn’t flinch when confronting these difficult topics. She articulates the thoughts, feelings, and emotions that accompany mental illness, while also challenging any preconceived or harmful notions on the subject. Full Immersion is a surreal, yet hauntingly realistic nightmare that dares you to think of someone you love and ask yourself: How far would I go to bring them back?
I was delighted to sit down and talk with her about her writing journey, finding her voice, and where she would take her characters for an afternoon.
By Olly Jeavons
“What is this dude looking at? That’s what I want to know. Or do I?”
–Marissa van Uden
Symbiosis 2: The Return of Symbiosis
By Rob Carroll
They’re baaaaack. We had so much fun cocreating last issue’s story art with the help of an AI, that we decided to do it again.* As was the case for Issue 010, 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. There are fourteen images in this issue that have been created using this method. But please, enjoy with caution. We have no idea what kinds of cognitive hazards are hidden within the AI’s creations, but we’re pretty sure there are many.
*This issue’s cover art and every image in this issue’s two art features are the creations of human artists Olly Jeavons, Sean Andrew Murray, and Brian Keller. As far as we know, they are not sentient machines.
By Sean Andrew Murray
Feature by Rob Carroll
Sean Andrew Murray likes to call the majority of his work “tradigital,” which, as you’ve probably guessed, is a portmanteau of “traditional” and “digital” art. The traditional aspect of his artwork is the pencil drawing. The digital aspect is the coloring. According to Sean, this process helps strengthen the end product in ways otherwise unachievable. “I have a high degree of confidence in my ability to get the results I want from pencil and paper,” he tells me, “but I have always struggled with natural media when it comes to full-color paintings. This is why after completing the pencil drawing, I scan the image into my computer and do the color work in Photoshop, using acrylic painting techniques I learned in school.”
By Brian Keller (aka Brain Killer)
Feature by Rob Carroll
Brian Keller’s artwork takes me back to those lazy after-school days, growing up as a typical grade school kid in the late ’80s and early ’90s—one with a love for Starter jackets and snapback hats: Double Dare on the TV, a Hi-C Ecto Cooler fresh from the fridge, a commercial for Madballs reminding me that I still need to grab Skull Face the next time I’m at Toys ‘R’ Us (as if it was a place I could just go to whenever I wanted). But Brian’s work is also the art equivalent of a 1989 Santa Cruz 7-Eleven that sells killer Slurpees twenty-four hours a day, managed by a guy who lets you top the cup off a few times before purchase because he’s too busy flipping through his beat-up copy of Thrasher magazine to care. Bad Religion’s latest album plays on the tape deck behind him. (Brian spent some time in California, so I hope this analogy tracks. I wouldn’t know. I’m just creating a half-imagined scene based on movies like Bill and Ted and Encino Man.)