Published January 1, 2021
LETTER FROM THE EDITOR
It was a random summer evening in June, and for many people, the world was feeling on the verge of collapse; yet there I sat, safe and sound at home, messing around on my computer like it was any other Thursday night. Maybe—relatively speaking—it was. The COVID-19 pandemic had been stateside for a few months, and my wife and I had long since settled into our new rhythm of doing nothing, going nowhere, and working remotely from home. Plus, the weather in the Midwest had warmed enough to where we could safely visit with extended family for a brief, socially-distanced gathering outside on a back deck somewhere. It was at these gatherings that my parents would sit six feet away from my one-year-old daughter and make silly conversation with her, or perhaps just watch with joy as she ran around the back yard like a giddy child possessed.
So, yeah. Maybe it was just another Thursday night.
Maybe. READ THE REST FOR FREE.
It’s the Great Fire of London and I’m serving biofarmed eel canapés. Smells and sounds don’t get through the bubble, or I guess they call it the chronofield, but I can see plenty: thatched roofs going up like match heads, blue-and-orange flames licking and crunching on wood, smoke tunneling up into the hazy sky, people running for their lives. It’s a trip.
I shouldn’t be watching, though. I gotta sling these canapés and then get more champagne flutes out the chiller. Clay, who is now head server, stuck her whole bony neck out to get me this job. I spot her across the way, offering appies to three musty old men posted up at the shimmering edge of the chronofield. She’s autosmiling and hide-the-pain laughing at whatever junk they are saying to her.
Usually her hair is a rust-colored buzzcut, but today she’s wigged up, all straight and glossy and long, because it’s one of those gigs. They also got us in period costume, which is not falling-apart sweatpants but instead these stiff, soot-smeared dresses that actually, me to you, look somewhat good in an aggressively retrobomb way. PURCHASE ISSUE 001 TO READ THE REST.
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Emerson Carbonhouse is ready to die when, instead of the bullet shattering his temple and bringing welcome oblivion, time freezes like a video paused. The man holding the gun to his head is a statue. The other home invaders stand likewise motionless, caught in sudden criminal dioramas. The one that was tossing the kitchen is trapped in a suspended cloud of macaroni and prescription bottles.
Emerson gulps panicked breaths in the profound silence.
His eyes flick from detail to impossible detail. He’s still alive, still in motion through some kind of time, but this is not a relief.
His father lies sprawled on the floor by the fireplace. The brickwork is splashed with blood. The pool of blood around the old man’s head has stopped expanding.
Emerson tries moving a leg, then crawls out from beneath the gun. He wonders if this is death—the universe arrested, he, doomed to wander it alone. Or it could all be a dream. PURCHASE ISSUE 001 TO READ THE REST.
I’m always a little excited and nervous when Mother unwraps a new package. Sometimes, under the wooden lid is a folder stuffed with photographs—perhaps a storage disk with video references as well. If so, Mother’s body seems to grow heavier on the instant; her shoulders slump down. It will be a challenge to get everything right. She will labor and worry for weeks, and even so, the robot will most likely keep coming back to us for adjustments.
Sometimes there is no folder, but the body under the foam peanuts and plastic is a chill russet pink instead of the standard green-gray. This indicates extra mechanisms in the pelvis. There will be extra steps in the molding process of its “bottom,” and I won’t be allowed to watch some of her work. Mother looks on this kind with distaste. I am glad they don’t come very often.
The best is a greenish body and no folder. This is Mother’s opportunity to practice her art. And I’ll get to help! PURCHASE ISSUE 001 TO READ THE REST.
Alarms overlapped into cacophony. A blob of violet fire drifted past. Then another and another, splashing and spreading across the bulkheads, igniting electrical panels with the smell of ozone and burning petrochemical compounds.
Evrim tumbled uncontrollably. Failure! One alarm babbled. Systems! Failure!
No, Evrim thought. Not failure. Catastrophe.
Evrim’s severed leg drifted past.
As the oxygen drained away, the sound of the alarms dimmed, growing more and more remote. Consciousness began to slip as well. PURCHASE ISSUE 001 TO READ THE REST.
Still in the delirium of fever, the boy heard his mother pray, “May Sutej of the South have mercy on him.” Then came her sobs, and her pleas for salvation and healing. She was willing to do whatever it took to save her son.
The boy had no strength left in his body. As soon as the controlled contagion began to spread in the radioactive waste treatment plant, the Gentium woman did everything possible to shield him from the guards, who were clad in their airtight suits, spewing the latest strain of virus cooked up in the resident doctor’s lab.
The place was overrun with children who suffered from sickness and empty stomachs, and who clung to the feet of their parents. The Daonais saw this as a distraction, and a detriment to their colony’s productivity, so they ordered a massive sterilization of the laborers. Moreover, the Gentiums desired something other than what they were given. This yearning was seen as yet another problem for the Daonais. PURCHASE ISSUE 001 TO READ THE REST.
Clan Uvoma 13’s streets had been exposed to whatever impurity was causing mass blindness. It was a scourge. Guesses were that some laboratory experiments had gone haywire deep in the urban sectors of the clan after new entities had invaded our solar system. To breathe clean air now meant the dependence on high-powered masks which acted as separators, converting the inorganic to organic. The masks were modified to stabilize and regulate the rate of contamination.
The particles first infected our spaces years ago. They interfered with the ecosystem, tipping the once balanced scales. The Council of Chiefs, who saw to the affairs of the clan, proposed a bill, and a safe site was established miles away from the servers. The selected cores that harbor high-powered energy, which, when combined electrically with the ancient Kianji Dam, could power all of Clan Uvoma 13. This was a well-known fact.
I was a worker at the clan’s train station, where the ancient magnetic locomotives and greased steam engines were housed. They were spectacular machines that fed on the sacred powers of coal. I remember the coal to be darker than the blackest night. PURCHASE ISSUE 001 TO READ THE REST.
We were clanging and cranking the machines, up and down the old Spinal Line, first time we saw its face. It was small and grimy and, by its branding, female. A defect, plucked off the Inspection Line, bound for Recycling. Slipped through the gap of some fool daemon’s reclaiming sack. Tearing from its eyes. Bleeding from its nose. Hungering for parent, as our products are built to do.
We paid no heed. Grinding for quota, every one of us. And Besides, Recycling’s got its own daemons. They’d come around and snatch the defect before dawn raised its baleful lens on Rust City and sent us scrabbling for shadow. We were but twelve daemons, strutting the Spinal assembly—the rumbling belts, the pounding stamps, the grease traps—keeping the line in line. Twelve amalgams of metal and meat, suited for factory purpose, with no time for sidetracks. Today was shipping day, and by dawn’s clamor we’d stamp, seal, and ship twenty products cross-river to Glass City. Quota met. Bonus paid. Scabs enough to fill our furnace-guts twice over. Living grand.
Then, it was looking up at us, fingers atremble. She. Though such labels aren’t more than shipping orders to us androgynes. With our backhand raised, we said, “scram.” PURCHASE ISSUE 001 TO READ THE REST.
Some people call it murder. I’d call it arguable.
Either way, it’s less confusing to focus on the science. And they’re volunteers, after all—although how much choice there really is between the electric chair and the examination of evolution, courtesy of the current experimental nature of palaeontology, is a question for ethicists and others.
“Don’t kid yourself.” Madeline stares at me from under fringe, all freckles. Her hands are cuffed to the table, her fingernails bitten down to the quick. “You’re part of it too. There’s no choice here.”
“Your choice was made before you hacked someone to death with an ax,” I say. “Though credit where it’s due, you did a very thorough job. That kind of skill could help you in obtaining protein.”
“Except I won’t remember being good at butchery, will I? So no help at all.”
“Maybe you’ll get good at it again.”
Small cruelty on my part. But then, she won’t remember that either. READ THE REST FOR FREE!
I bought us our future! Our worlds, our freedom!” Her voice cracks in her throat, hate rising in fresh seams beneath her skin.
“No one is denying that, General, but any world that’d allow you to live in it unpunished is not worth its existence.”
“You. Need. Me.” She grinds the words out like stone to sand. “Who else is going to make the hard choices, to bloody their hands for those who can’t? Who won’t? You think you can do what I can?”
Calloused soles taste the new path as she sprints, thickened skin recording the rhythm of pebble and grain underfoot. In this iteration of the labyrinth, cool marble overtakes rocky trailheads. In this iteration of bodies, wrinkles stretch over every inch of skin, splotched with the marks of a lifetime beneath a sun she’s never seen. She runs up the switchback hall, the liquid-smooth floor flanked on either side by violet walls, painted with jellyfish arabesques. Above her, the night spreads into a wide black pool. READ THE REST FOR FREE!
Aún sumergido en las aguas turbias de la fiebre, el niño escuchó la condena: «que Sutej del Sur se apiade de él». Identificó los sollozos de su madre, la súplica por la salvación, por obtener más medicinas. Estaba dispuesta a hacer lo que fuera necesario para brindarle esperanzas. En cuanto comenzó el contagio controlado en la planta de tratamiento de desechos radiactivos, la mujer lo mantuvo oculto, alejado de los guardianes quienes, protegidos dentro de sus ropas herméticas, regaban el virus resultante de la última investigación del experimentador residente.
Después de la esterilización masiva de los peones, quedaron demasiadas criaturas de narices mocosas, hambrientas, inútiles, agarradas a las piernas de sus progenitores, y los daonais determinaron que eso era un problema para la productividad. COMPRA LA REVISTA PARA LEER EL RESTO.
The Past and Future Lives of Test Subjects is a disgusting story. I don’t blame you if you don’t like it.
I don’t like it either.
Every person in it is vile. They have no redeeming value whatsoever, unless it’s as a warning to scientists of what they should never let themselves become.
The story is based on the Tuskegee Syphilis Experiment, conducted by the United States Public Health Service in the mid-twentieth century. Its intended victims were Black men, who were told they were receiving free health care; in reality the scientists of the Public Health Service wanted to observe the unchecked progression of syphilis and no treatment was ever given. You’ll note I say the “intended” victims. Syphilis is, of course, transmittable, and it was transmitted both to the wives of these men and to the children born from these partnerships.
Syphilis, whether congenital or from sexual contagion, is an ugly disease. The women and children were collateral damage. They must also, to the scientists involved, have been an opportunity, a happy windfall of extra test material, to expand progression into reproduction. READ THE REST FOR FREE!
Destruction of Troy
By Arula Ratnakar
By André Vieira Auer