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The Therapist and the Collider by Steven Mathes

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THE THERAPIST AND THE COLLIDER

Steven Mathes

After years of traveling the back alleys of consciousness and logic, years of pulling the strings of pattern, years of squeezing through tunnels of paradox, my search for our only hope succeeds. The hut perches high in an ordinary mountainous guru neighborhood, and for me the door is open.

What happens in reality? If I knew I would not need to make this dangerous climb, but I have come here to rely on the unkindness of this stranger. To ask about reality.

“Reality? Life is but a dream,” the guru tells me with a giggle.

It smells of flatulence, and I kneel at his feet. The room’s furniture consists only of his single colorful beach chair. A big, hairy, taut, round belly sticks out from under his Burning Man shirt, and the alpine desert light from the windows and open door makes harsh polygons on the floor. His beard could use a haircut. He could stand to wash. But at least through the stains the beard is mostly wisdom-white. I figure he knows why I climbed this mountain.

“It seemed like one chance in a billion, running the collider at that wattage,” I say. “We ask too many questions. I admit it. We seek answers no matter what the risk, almost like it’s an animal instinct. But this seemed orders safer than an flying in an airliner. We didn’t consider how this might be an airliner carrying all of humanity, so to speak.”

The drunk guru smiles in encouragement, and the gentle sound coming from his seat promises more odor. But his eye shows impatience, as though he would like to be elsewhere. He swigs his beer.

“Go on.”

“Right now the singularity is just a tiny thing, sub-atomic. Just as abstract as me talking to you. We’ve kept it contained in the vacuum, but the math is pretty straightforward, the forces increasing in a scary exponential curve. It looks pretty bad. The end of everything, you know. Of course you know.”

“What I know isn’t important. This session is for you.”

His smile reminds me of my boss, who says “Hi, there,” because he cannot remember my name. I’m just one of hundreds of researchers. This session is much more than my one big intellectual breakthrough. This is a real place, if not technically Reality, and what this unwashed-up wiseman knows is my only hope. I cannot afford the therapist doubletalk.

“I disagree,” I say with anger. “What you know is everything. Getting here required me using all of QuantumNet for a full two hours. I had to hack it by faking an accidental crash. I had to barricade myself in a hardened bunker, and I’ll go to jail when I get back. I’m the Edward Snowden of metaphysics.”

“I can help you help yourself, but I’m just an abstraction, a shadow on the wall of Plato’s cave. Or his ski chalet. So to speak.”

He chuckles mirthless anger right back at me.

Abstraction? Distraction is a better word. The entire world rushes to contain the singularity. Get it away. Into orbit, maybe, but mostly out. Out of the solar system if possible. We can’t develop the technology in time. We can’t lift all of that into orbit!

“We have no time for this!” I shout. “Everything will be gone!”

His smiling silence, his rumbling beer belly— — I breathe deep to contain my impatience, my rage— — but I smell— — flatulence. He challenges, puts truth in my face. The anger builds further, but I know this abuse is just what I need.

I gather myself. I grope to center my thoughts around the opportunity of the moment, as much as I would like to kick his chair out from under him, as much as I would wipe that smile off his face. Instead, I take a calming breath. Breathe in through the nose, hold it, then release slowly, through the mouth. I could dump that tall can of beer (or was it a bottle?) down his shirt. Instead, I take a breath.

“I’m sorry. I know. We did this to ourselves, we lived on borrowed time.”

He considers. His look softens in a contemptuous way.

“What are your thoughts about time?” he says. “You keep bringing up time.”

Finally. I feel like we’ve addressed an issue, finally hit a nerve.

“Time,” I say. “That’s just it. Past and future. We see the past but can’t change it. Believe me, I wish we could change the past.”

“And the future?”

“Just the opposite. We can’t see it, but we change it. Like a blind man fumbling in a drawer full of knives. Like the Universe is designed to be cruel.”

“Anything more?”

“What more could there be?” I protest.

“How about now? Do you think it might have changed your behavior if you’d lived in the now?”

“Now?” I repeat.

“Here and now.”

Oh, that? Living in the moment, like they say on those bunmper sitckersstickers? Like I pretend to do during yoga in the Lab’s workout center? Pretty soon, “the moment” will crash into the end of everything! Live in the moment. Boom!

“I’ve thought about it, but it confuses me.”

“Explain.”

“Is here and now simply my location, or is it my actual self?”

“I wonder. And what do you care?”

He wonders? What kind of answer is that? He guzzles beer, wipes his mouth with his arm and belches. By the time he sets the bottle back onto the floor, it brims full again, so cold it beads with icy moisture even in this arid air. He can do that, but he can’t save us?

He challenges me with another goofy grin.

“Do you have trouble accepting what is?” he asks. “Do you have trouble concentrating on living?”

I suspect that his point is to make me angry by proving he can save us all— — and then when he has made his point, hold back from actually helping us. Just to laugh at us? Truly? I have trouble concentrating on living, when the end of the world is imminent. Everyone does. But something dawns on me. An irrelevant breakthrough, although maybe enough to keep him happy.

“Yes! That’s just it! Here and now. We reject it. We question and we fight because we refuse to accept! Progress, striving and excellence are a refusal to live in the now.”

“No matter what you can control? No matter whether you even understand? Do you think your research would have followed a different course if you had enjoyed the research? Instead of merely enjoying the breakthroughs?”

I think. If I want to change things, if I want to strive for a solution, I must do and say what the drunk bastard wants.

“Maybe?” I say.

He slaps his tight, round belly and rubs it with bored satisfaction. He smiles at me, smug, happy, and red-nosed.

“Excellent,” he says. “I think you did well. I think we made real progress.”

Wait! My hour already up? He stands, pulls me off my knees, shakes my hand, and leads me to the door. He pushes hard on the small of my back until I stumble out.

Perched on the ice by the entrance is a desk with a receptionist. She puts down her nail file and turns to the computer. She types. She squints. She turns back, smiles a bright smile. Her fragile, youthful, open face makes me catch my breath. Finally, a person I can relate to.

“You’re all set,” she says. “See you next time.”

She sees my infatuation with her. Her smile fades to serious, her feelings more guarded, not encouraging. Prehaps Perhaps I have misjudged her sexual orientation? She is hesitant, cold, but honest.

“Anything else?” she says.

“When will next time be?” I ask.

“His Reverence will have me call you.”

What kind of wisdom would the secretary to a holy man have? There is a touch of sadness in her eyes, but where that sadness angered angers me with the guru, it kindles hope with her. Does she know the world is ending? Or is she immune to that by being up here where it’s so transcendent?

“How about you?” I ask. “Do you live around here? Do you commute all the way from reality?”

“I live a little farther down, but right in the neighborhood.”

She looks directly at me, open, honest— — but sad. I feel the need to concentrate on the world’s problem, come to a solution, but something draws me to chat.

“You live here? Here in the Heights? Isn’t it a harsh environment?”

“A little,” she says cooly. “A little isolated, too, but living so close to Enlightenment saves time.”

“Time?” I ask. “Time?”

From inside the shack I hear the drunk guru burst into laughter. My impatience clenches, ruins the moment, and I turn toward the path downward. At first I thread through little patches of dusty ice and huge rocks, but as I get closer to reality, there are tumbleweeds, blasting sand, and the occasional dry lizard scuttling from shadow to shadow. My nose itches and my eyes burn. I cough. I can still hear the guru laughing and laughing, his ridicule piercing down through the layers of reality.

I think about what I need.

“Here and now…” I mutter, as I decide.

I can see the ripples in the air where the QuantumNet interface has wrenched my native reality into this higher dimension. I am that close to home. But I turn from the ripples, turn back toward Enlightenment.

Apotheosis is always hard, I guess. I feel dizzy by the time I regain the summit. A stone in my shoe warns me of my metaphysical limits. I notice that I hold something, see that I clutch a handful of dust. The young receptionist sits inside the chalet, drinking beer. The bearded guru holds down the fort at the front desk, filing his nails and chewing gum. I wanted to ask the receptionist out, but I need to deal with the unexpected. I change my plan. Time. I need time.

“I have to ask you something before the world ends,” I say to the guru. “Please. Could I take you off this mountain? Buy you supper?”

He looks up at me, tapping the nail file against his palm. He wears glasses now, the little narrow ones for reading that he can look up over when he raises his eyebrows. But then he looks down, and uses the end of the file to dig something out of his navel.

“You want to, sort of, seize the day?” he says. “With the only pretty girl around? As if that’ll solve all your problems?”

`I point toward the door to the chalet. I hear a delicate belch come through the door, possibly some tittering.

“I don’t dare ask her, but up at this level of abstraction, I’d say it’s about re-ordering priorities. Like friendship and love being a higher level of being?”

“I think that path has been beaten to death.”

I point to the door again.

“So has booze. But some things never get old.”

“Beaten like a dead horse. I’m not convinced,” he says with a little smirk. “The horse will soon be dead.”

I suck a breath of desperate, thin air. Why do these gurus have to hang out at such high altitude? What is it with the controlled breathing?

“Then there’s nothing to lose by having a good conversation,” I say.

He raises those caterpillar eyebrows once more, slides off the glasses, and finally swings his lawn chair in my direction with a screech. At first I think he might say yes, but he might also be getting ready to tell me off.

“So what’s that mean to me? A buddy for chit-chat? I have work to do.”

Clouds build below us, as space and time at the lower levels threaten. They represent the crisis. Symbols. Metahpors Metaphors that will destroy everything. Maybe even this abstract refuge, at least in a mundane cause-and-effect way.

“I could take you somewhere dry,” I offer. “A place to get out of the coming storm?”

He is as sober as a judge. A judge? Of course! I show him my handful of dust. My fear.

“Just a little dinner until the storm passes,” I say.

“That would be nice,” he admits.

He pulls an opened beer out from behind the reception terminal’s screen, finishes it in a gurgle, and tosses the empty into the door of the chalet. The receptionist shouts for him to watch it.

“Oh what the hell,” he says. “Let’s go. But just dinner.”

From inside the house I hear laughter, then cheers and applause. The woman comes out. She has her purse, her phone.

“We can decide about the universe over dessert!” she tells the guru.

The guru clears his throat, still hesitant, as the receptionist takes him by the arm, and they lead me downward. Thunder tumbles thorugh through the valleys below, but already I can see small breaks in the clouds. I do not quite remember the mathematics required to get me here, and I cannot imagine how I will get back without their help. No human is that brilliant.

I really want to save humanity, though, and not just to keep myself out of jail.

They lead me, and their way is quicker— — straight into the storm clouds. There may be signs of clearing, but there are still plenty of thunderclaps, flashes.

Everyone stops.

The guru pulls up his shirt, so that his hairy gut is fully exposed. He lets go of the receptionist’s arm, raises his hand with a flourish, and smacks his belly. The slap, too, is like a thunderclap. It produces a blinding flash. All of it followed by the longest, deepest, wettest burp so far.

“So classy!” the receptionist laughs. “Spectacularly unoriginal!”

The guru pinches my cheek.

“Just a little unanticipated anomaly,” he says. “Just a serendipitous malfunction in your containment device. I mean, what do you people think anti-time is for?”

We step into the first rain squall, and the water washes over us, soaking me through. A fundamental parameter has shifted. Even I feel it. There is green here, and the world seems transformed, gone into a different alignment. I open my hand. The dust. The rain dissolves it through my fingers along with my fear, leaving me physically hungry, very hungry.

“At least he didn’t save your universe with a fart,” the receptionist says.

“It’s not exactly saved, just allowed to be a little longer ,” the guru says. “I hope the bar has a lot of taps. Let’s eat at the bar.”

Now I know that the guru and the receptionist are two aspects of the same … What? Do I care? The receptionist takes me by one arm, the old guru takes me by the other. I feel like a perpetrator getting walked to a jail cell, a feeling I will probably get used to when I get back to reality. Still, as they lead me to the churning air of my improvised portal, the rain stops as suddenly as it started. Clouds part. My face warms in a beam of heavenly sunshine. I fear consequences, especially if I cannot pay for what the guru considers supper, but the whole point was to buy time, even if I have to serve it in jail.

I have no idea how, but I have bought the Universe the only thing we can really have. A little more time.

Food for thought

Why have the most significant results in ontology and epistemology in the last hundred (or so) years been produced by mathematicians (Godel’s Proof, Axiom of Choice, etc.), physicists (quantum theory, relativity, etc,, etc.), computer and cognitive scientists (AI, etc.), and so on. Is it only possible to find the bigger answers by not looking directly at them?

About the Author

When Steven Mathes is not risking rejection by writing short stories, he is making rejection a certainty in his day job of teaching Calculus. He compensates for his love of dark fiction and The Mean Value Theorem by having a soft spot in his heart for dogs and gardening. Links to more of his published work can be found at stevenmathes.com.

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Shopping Centers by Karin Terebessy

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SHOPPING CENTERS

Karin Terebessy

Dave leaned heavily on the display case. His nose so close to the glass he could smell his breath wafting back to him. Frozen yogurt. And beneath that, tacos.

He jabbed a stubby finger down at the case. “What about that one?”

The man behind the counter sighed. “Sir,” he implored in a nasal voice, “must I remind you yet again about leaning on the display case?”

Dave straightened. Smiled awkwardly. Peered at the name tag. “Sorry— – Jaysen?”

Jaysen lifted a thumb and index finger to his eye, as if to adjust an invisible monocle. His face was tan. Wrinkled around the eyes. Like he’d been squinting at the sun.

“You don’t talk like a Jaysen. You look like a Jaysen,” he clarified, indicating the blonde dreadlocks; the surfer build. “But you talk like a Winston. Or a Chamberlain or Smedley or something.”

“And you, Sirsir, talk like a man who thinks little of wasting my time.”

Dave looked around the food court. In the fifteen minutes he’d been at this kiosk, not a single person had come by.

“You have something better to do?” Dave asked.

“Always.”

Dave coughed. Embarrassed. “All right. What about the toffee?”

“The love toffee or the passion toffee?”

Dave opened his mouth, utterly bemused.

Jaysen sighed again. “The love toffee is rather brittle. The passion toffee will give you heartburn.”

Dave hiked up his pants. No matter what he did these days, they always sank below his growing pot belly. He wasn’t a big fan of toffee anyway.

“What about that one? Morality.”

“It’s a whip. The flavor is moot. It tastes different to everyone.”

Dave rested his fists on his hips and nodded at the religious marshmallow.

“It’s fluff. Full of empty calories. Though it does come with the option of a dark pedantic coating or a light self-righteous glaze.”

Dave let out a frustrated breath. “What about the spiritual brickle?”

Jaysen wrinkled his nose. “A bit crunchy for my taste.”

“The dream truffle?”

Jaysen tapped at his heart. “Repeats on you.”

“The truth cream?” Dave asked desperately.

“Quite heavy.”

“The congenial gobstopper!”

“Well, if you want to suck your entire life…” Jaysen shrugged.

Dave ran his fingers through his thinning hair. “Do they all have terrible consequences? Where is everyone anyway?” He he asked a little too loud. “Why am I the only one shopping at this kiosk?”

Jaysen inspected a finger nail. Ran his thumb over it to give it a shine. “This is our quiet time of the year, Sirsir. Our clientele tends to flock in during the holiday season as well as graduation time. People reflect then, you know. Between times we only get – ah – midlife crisis gentleman, such as yourself.”

Jaysen clasped his hands behind his back. Spine straight. Tweed jacket at odds with his California glow.

“Which one did you pick?” Dave asked suddenly.

Jaysen pressed his lips together tightly. “Yes, well, unfortunate story, that. I unwittingly consumed a regal tart that had turned bitter. Stale uppercrust, you see.” He moved his lips as if he could still taste it in his mouth.

Dave let out a low whistle. “Yikes,” he said kindly.

“Yes, one can not be too careful when shopping centers.”

Dave sunk his elbow on the display case and rested his chin in his hand. “Boy…”

“Sir…” Jaysen whined, “the glass…?”

“Oh right. Well, how about that one?” He he asked quickly. “Why’s the cynical nougat on sale?”

“Won’t make you very popular with the ladies,” Jaysen confided.

“What about the enlightenment drop? There’s no price on it.”

“Well, it’s free.” A smile quivered over his lips. “But it will cost you everything.” He leaned toward Dave. “You don’t want that one,” he whispered, “trust me.”

Dave scratched his cheek with the back of his fingers. Each center seemed more disastrous than the next. He stared at the case. And then he saw it. A small, ordinary stick of gum. Jaysen followed his eyes.

“Interesting,” Jaysen said. He reached under the glass with a pair of silver tongs and carefully lifted the little rectangle. He held it up in the light.

“Ethics,” Jaysen explained.

Hesitantly, Dave reached out his hand. Jaysen dropped the gum into his open palm.

“You will chew on it for a long time. It’s tough to swallow and takes a while to digest, but. But but but…” Jaysen smiled, “it never leaves a bad taste in your mouth.”

Dave inspected the simple, unassuming gum.

The cash register drawer dinged open and Jaysen beckoned his fingers for payment.

Dave handed over his credit card and brought the gum close to his lips. Then paused. “What if I don’t like it?”

Jaysen tore the credit card receipt from the register with a flourish and laid it down for Dave to sign. “No refunds, Sirsir.”

Dave’s face fell. “I’m not sure about this…”

Jaysen gave him a sympathetic look. He glanced around and then lowered his voice. “I really shouldn’t be telling you this, Sirsir. But if it doesn’t suit you, you can always sell pre-digested, watered- down ethics to the college kids. They’ll buy anything.”

About the Author

Karin is a mother and therapeutic yoga teacher. She spends the remainder of her time writing science fiction, learning Torah, and, at least for the past few weeks, scaring the migrating geese off her lawn by running through the yard while flailing her limbs and emitting loud screeching noises. She hopes at least the neighbors are entertained. Should they require additional diversions, she suggests reading some of her work which has appeared (or is forthcoming) in Daily Science Fiction, Stupefying Stories, Flash Fiction Magazine, Liquid Imagination, Every Day Fiction, Kaleidetrope, and some other zines. Her faith based essay can be found on Aish.com.

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The Return of the Monstrous Part 2 by DG Jones

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THE RETURN OF THE MONSTROUS

PART 2: ALIEN RESURRECTION, AND THE MONSTROUS GAZE

DG Jones

In Jean-Pierre Jeunet’s Alien: Resurrection (1997), which understands and exploits the significance and power of the gaze, the link of abjection between the alien creature and the teratoma is made more explicit by providing the spectator with a speculative glimpse of a futuristic culture that reflects the fears and anxieties of the film’s own historical moment, the mid-to-late nineteen nineties. Specifically, Alien: Resurrection charts the consequence of the intervention of certain biotechnologies in the natural life cycle of the abject matter by having Lieutenant Ellen Ripley (Sigourney Weaver) cloned by military scientists upon the military ship Auriga two hundred years after the events of Alien³. Ripley, the protagonist of the previous three Alien films, had been carrying the embryo of an alien queen inside of her when she threw herself from a scaffold on the prison planet Fiorina 161 to eradicate both herself and the monster at the climax of Alien³. Jeunet’s resurrection of the series considers the idea of the teratoma, and its quasi-human identity, in the form of the abject ‘product’ organism (Ripley/alien queen) and infuses it with recombinant technology (cloning). This process endows the normally abject body with some interesting new characteristics, the most profound of which is the birth of new consciousness.

Despite being cloned with the embryo of a queen still within the recesses of her body, in Alien: Resurrection Ripley is not fated to an eruptive death a la Kane in Alien, as the creature is extracted from her chest at an early stage of its growth. This extraction, which mimics a caesarean section and/or the removal of an endodermic sinus tumour, is performed by the same scientists who clone Ripley; they intend to use the creature for their weapons division. This leaves the host, Ripley 8 (she is the eighth attempt at a cloned Ripley, and the only successful clone), to be sewn up and locked up, unceremoniously labelled a redundant ‘meat by-product’ by the commanding military officer General Perez. Despite this apparent redundancy, Ripley 8 discovers that she has incorporated some Alien characteristics into her human identity such as corrosive blood, increased strength and agility, etc. This is because she is the clone of the ‘product’ organism between Ripley and alien (we learn that Ripley 8 has been cloned from samples of Ripley’s blood taken from Fiorina 161 after she had been impregnated with the queen) and not Ripley per se (conversely, the alien queen also receives a ‘gift’ from the human Ripley as a result of the gene trade between the two creatures, which will be explained below). This is because Ripley 8 has, through the intervention of biotechnology, survived a process that, had it been allowed to reach its natural conclusion, would have killed her (the birthing of the embryo inside of her). From the perspective of Ripley 8 (and the extracted alien queen), cloning is not an invasive technology, but an inherent one since it is existent within the body from the point of its inception. Consequently, the technology influences certain aspects of identity on an innate level. As such, the gene trade has literally ‘given birth’ to two new consciousnesses, and provided the ‘product’ organism with a recombinant identity, which leads to the reinvention of the monster.

This is not particularly monstrous in itself, because the gene trade between has not altered any of the exterior contours of Ripley 8’s body, nor those of the queen. Ripley 8 is still fully recognisable as Ripley, while the queen’s appearance is almost identical to its first appearance in James Cameron’s Aliens (1986). Furthermore, the relationship between Ripley 8, the queen and the military scientists (and the cinematic spectator) at this point in the film is settled in an imbalance that is clearly modernist in its construction, as in the aforementioned King Kong. The scientists’ gaze is aggressive and one-way, and they treat the queen and Ripley 8 as mere objects (Perez insists on using the pronoun ‘it’ when referring to Ripley). They are both safely incarcerated not only by their cells, but also by the frame of the screen. This creates a scientific/cinematic spectacle in which, especially in the case of Ripley 8 as she begins to show off her newly found attributes in the basketball scene after first meeting the crew of the pirate ship Betty, she and the queen seem more marvellous than monstrous. Ripley 8 seems to be conscious of this fact, as when Call (Winona Ryder) asks her “what are you?” she knowingly replies, “I’m the latest thing.” Yet Ripley’s understanding of her identity is also the means by which her identity comes to be horrifically assaulted. Jeunet manipulates the marvellous into the monstrous by utilising the power of the gaze in three particular scenes, which provide an amplified sense of the assaulted self/not-self abject that stab at the heart of the identity of the spectator and subvert the apparent power imbalance of the spectacle.

The first of these scenes is the opening credit sequence of the film, which zooms into an amalgamated clot of misshapen flesh, tissue and sebaceous material. The distortion of the flesh is augmented by Jeunet’s use of an anamorphic lens camera taking close-up tracking shots of the surface of the warped mass. The object of the camera’s observations is clearly organic and of at least partly human origin, likening it to the bizarre teratoma. Importantly, the tracking shot of the camera reveals at least one perfectly formed – and presumably functioning – human eye, which will be fundamental to the birth of the monstrous in the scenes in the film. The first scene proper occurs just after Ripley 8 is reunited with the crew of the Betty. The Betty’s crew are a diverse collection of rogues and misfits, completely congruent with the fragmented, recombinant theme of the film. The crew of the Betty have voyaged to the Auriga to deliver human cargo; in fact, and unbeknown to the crew of the Betty, this cargo has been illegally shipped aboard to provide hosts for the facehuggers that will hatch from the eggs laid by Perez’s newly harvested alien queen. Whilst helping the crew of the Betty to escape from the Auriga following the inevitable escape of the aliens which had hatched from the chests of their human hosts, Ripley 8 chances upon a laboratory labelled ‘1-7’. Upon entering the room, she is confronted with the seven failed clones that had been produced before the success of her, the eighth clone. Clones 1-6 are grotesques, a muddled fusion of human and alien body parts. They are monstrous in the traditional sense inasmuch as they represent a tangled vision of human/alien duplication, but their monstrousness is compounded because of their intrusion upon the identity of Ripley, the self-conscious onlooker. The failed clones assume a paradoxical position of both excessive mitotic duplication and also traumatic lack in the eyes of both Ripley 8 and the cinematic spectator. This paradox is created due to the inherence of the biotechnology in their genetic structure, which has birthed the failed clones’ own self-consciousness. Clones 1-6 are clearly dead, but during their ephemeral existence among the corporeal they would have been conscious of the fact that, precisely because they were freakishly excessive they lacked the necessary form to be incorporated into the Symbolic Order; instead of being socially structured organisms capable of facilitating the expulsion of the abject, they have been incepted as the abject. When Ripley 8 looks at clones 1-6 she looks at more than just fleshy mannequins and failed clones of herself; she is confronted with herself as the not-me. This violation is exceeded by the confrontation between Ripley 8 and the seventh clone, Ripley 7, who is still alive. Ripley 7 is the most monstrous of the failures as it possesses a perfectly formed human face, despite its horrific bodily deformities (the seventh clone is in fact played by Weaver, who lay underneath an elaborate animatronic puppet). The use of Weaver as the seventh clone is the first real instance of Jeunet using the gaze as a tool of horror, as Ripley 7 is able to fully reciprocate the gaze of both Ripley 8 and the camera, demonstrated when she looks at the camera and pleads to Ripley 8: “kill me”.

It is worth noting that the phrase “kill me” is not arbitrary; it harks back to Aliens, when an impregnated colonist discovered by the Marines utters these exact words before she is slain by the creature inside of her. The reiteration of these words here is proof that the seventh clone possesses the same memories and consciousness as Ripley 8. (Incidentally, at the start of the film Ripley utters the lines “my mom told me that there are no monsters. No real ones. But there are.” This also is a quote from Aliens, originally spoken by the girl Newt. It is reiterated here to show that Ripley’s memories have survived the cloning process.) Ripley 8 complies with clone 7’s plea and incinerates it, along with clones 1-6, but the damage upon Ripley 8’s self has already been inflicted; she is distraught. In the seventh clone we are shown abject matter that is able to fully interact with its other, socialised self through their shared consciousness and memories. Crucially, it is also able to project its own comprehension of its misshapen unbelonging onto the socialised onlooker through its fully-fledged, penetrative gaze, nullifying the power imbalance between the spectator and the monster. Clone 7 is an embodiment of our fears of our own flawed identity, but carries a greater horror because it destroys our sense of individuality. The scene maximises the feeling of discomfort in those who look upon the wretched creature.

In the second scene to display the reciprocation of the gaze we are introduced to the character of the Newborn, which uses the gaze in the same manner as clones 1-7, but is able to transcend the sense of violated identity evoked by the failed clones. We first encounter the Newborn at the beginning of its life, when the alien queen gives birth to it by means of the aforementioned ‘gift’ bequeathed to the queen as a result of the gene trade with Ripley – a human reproductive system. The appearance of the Newborn is described by Sylvain Despretz, the conceptual artist for Alien: Resurrection, as “an alien…tainted by human DNA,” which results in an organism in possession of the general contours of an alien. It’s curious that Despretz uses the phrase “tainted by human DNA,” which in an unconscious sense harks back to the sentiments of the deviant synthetic Ash in Alien, who admired the creature for its “purity,” implying that the creature is diminished somehow through the introduction of human identity. It’s an astute if perhaps unintended observation.

Despite the Newborn’s alien contours, thanks to the biotechnology inherent in its ‘parents’, it is interspersed with these human characteristics: skin instead of a carapace exoskeleton; facial muscles enabling expression; and a tongue instead of the Alien’s pharyngeal jaw. Yet the most important trait that the Newborn inherits from its human progenitor are its eyes, which grant it an attribute that all the previous incarnations of the Alien have lacked – a gaze. This is an important evolutionary trait for the Newborn because it is the gaze that signifies the existence of one’s objet petit a. If we consider Lacan’s simple equation a – a’ we can deduce that the apostrophe sitting beside the second a denotes the presence of l’objet petit a and separates the subject from the empty shell a. Let us once again consider the child looking into the mirror; it is the gaze of the child that enables it to recognise the difference between itself and the empty shell staring back, which completes the equation a – a’. Since l’objet petit a cannot be truly represented, the gaze of the subject should not be mistaken for its agent, but thought of as an indicator towards its irrefutable existence (a symptom). Hence, the gaze boosts the monstrous potential of the Newborn because, as with the failed clones, it becomes aware of its own existence and recognises itself as an individual entity, a whole-object within the Symbolic Order as opposed to a partial splinter within a vast hive mind. Evidence of this occurs after its birth when it takes a moment or two to survey the world that it finds itself in, accompanied by a 360º camera tracking shot emphasising the creature’s capacity to see its environment, not merely sense it as did its Alien predecessors. This is a radical departure from the conventional cinematic depiction of the alien creature, which has always depicted an inherently instinctive creature devoid of exterior sight organs and controlled by a hive mind, incapable of displaying signs of individual intelligence. In short it is a perennially partial object with no mirror to transcend this status. This reliance upon a hive intelligence has always been why the creature has been “unclouded by conscience, remorse or delusions of morality” as Ash says in Alien once the crew of the Nostromo had discovered the Company’s Priority One – to bring back the creature for its weapons division. Catherine Constable’s reading of the Alien series notes the similarity of the conflict between the species as “humanity versus insects,” which accurately describes the insectoid nature of the aliens’ social hierarchy. Indeed, the comment made by Gediman (Brad Dourif) to the Newborn upon its birth – “you are a beautiful, beautiful butterfly” – is actually an ironic misperception of the creature as the Newborn is far less insectoid than its alien forebears.

Having realised its individuality in the symbolic order, the Newborn seems to celebrate this fact by apparently searching for its mother, but when it comes face to face with the alien queen, its expression changes from one of babyish curiosity to hostility, and it violently slaughters the queen. Soon after this, the Newborn makes its way over to the cocooned Gediman and kills the scientist. These violent acts of matricide and patricide, when considered alongside the creature’s betrayal of the hive mind of its forebears, and its bodily identity containing a significant biotechnological trace within its organic corpus, presents one valid conclusion. The Newborn is in fact Donna Haraway’s archetypal cyborg, a bastard, a deviant daughter that betrays the patriarchal hierarchy that sanctioned its inception. The Newborn’s function as cyborg is to incapacitate the patriarchal code of “command, control, communication and intelligence”, or “C3I.” Once it has displayed its capacity to inflict such damage the Newborn reveals itself as something that must be destroyed, which culminates in a climactic scene that bucks the trend set by the previous Alien films. The staple ending of the first two Alien films were orchestrations of a final battle with the creature, which would conclude with an orgasmic ejection of the creature into outer space; however, Alien: Resurrection supplants the orgasmic satisfaction of eventual triumph with an unexpected sensation of bereavement. The death of the Newborn occurs upon the cargo bay of the escaping Betty, where a tiny puncture in the ship’s hull causes the creature, which is not securely fastened to anything, to be sucked through the hole into space piece by piece, reducing it to a liquefied stream of tissue. Constable describes the spectacular ‘anti-birth’ of the creature thus: “The lack of an oppositional relation between Self and Other, human and monstrous, means that the final confrontation between Ripley and the alien child is structured around similarity and therefore permeated by a sense of appalling loss.”

Constable is right, but there is more at work here than just the dissolution of the isomorphic relationship between Ripley 8 and the Newborn; it is Jeunet’s use of the creature’s gaze that makes the expulsion of the creature more horrific than we, as spectators, might have expected. In the death of the Newborn we are witnessing the infanticide of a being that had awoken to a realisation of its own existence within the symbolic order; it feels a deep “confusion and sadness”, according to Despretz on the DVD commentary, at its rejection. Even though we do not balk at the Newborn’s killings of the alien queen, Gediman or the marine DiStephano (Raymond Cruz), the death of the Newborn itself is the apex of Jeunet’s assault upon the identity of both Ripley 8 and the spectator. This is because the death is suffered by a self-conscious creature that had triumphantly risen to the mantle of cyborg to challenge and undermine the agency of the militant aggressors who had inadvertently caused its inception. The birth of the Newborn, for all of its monstrosity, had delivered unto the spectator a champion capable of realising the unconscious desires that sprout from the traumatic severance from the Imaginary and the safety of the pre-Oedipal bond of the mother/child dyad. These fulfilled unconscious desires manifest as matricide (the killing of the queen), patricide (the killing of Gediman and, to a much lesser extent, DiStephano) and a deviant sexuality, the Oedipal complex, as Jeunet tellingly describes Ripley 8 as the Aliens’ “mother and lover” on the commentary. Haraway states that “a cyborg body is not innocent; it was not born in a garden” and so it is poised to fulfil these forbidden desires. Thus, when the Newborn is ripped from the screen and from the arms of its (grand)mother we are unconsciously reminded of our own traumatic separation from the mother/child dyad, emphasised by the ability of the Newborn to reciprocate the gaze of Ripley 8 (and the camera) who is severely traumatised by the separation. The death is also monstrous for the spectator as it places Ripley 8 and the spectator in subjective positions; the Newborn’s death is traumatic for Ripley because it constitutes a part of herself. Ripley feels for the Newborn; as the creature is gradually shredded through the hull of the Betty, Ripley looks it in the eye and says through tears, “I’m sorry.”

It might be easy from a feminist perspective to criticise Jeunet for his brutally violent destruction of the cyborg, which almost seems like a punishment inflicted upon it for being the destabilising influence upon the effects of C3I. Such a criticism would not be appropriate. Despite the ejection of the Newborn, the film ends with a collection of characters that have survived personal disputations (existential/physical differences) and exterior adversity (the threat of the Aliens) to co-exist harmoniously. This might not be considered to be a particularly unusual end for a Hollywood blockbuster, but the troop of characters that have survived show that the film has culminated in an embrace of difference rather than the uniformity of the military scientists with which the film begins; the survivors are the strongman Johner (Ron Perlman), the wheelchair-bound dwarf Vriess (Dominique Pinon), the synthetic construct Call (Winona Ryder) and the clone Ripley 8, all left to inherit whatever Earth awaits them. This climactic emphasis upon difference is supported by the ending featured on the Special Edition DVD. The alternative final take for the film shows Ripley 8 and Call, the bastard not-sisters-in-arms, sitting among the ruins of an apocalyptic Paris contemplating an unsure future that has seen the cultural erections of its forefathers laid into a wasteland. Suitably, when asked by Call what she will do now that she has arrived on earth, Ripley 8 replies, “I don’t know. I’m a stranger here myself.”

It is a perhaps strangely optimistic ending for a film that has sought to launch a series of traumatic assaults upon the individual’s sense of identity and rediscover how to invoke a new horror into the gaze of the camera. By passing through the intense trauma of the identity warping qualities of the teratoma, which was meant to be unfeeling, but was in fact given sentience, Ripley 8 emerges with a damaged sense of self. By the end of the film she belies her status as a biotechnological construct to become the archetypal subject, thrust into the nightmarish scenario of a social order in which she experiences total subservience and objectification. She is rewarded with the promise of a brave new world, but to arrive there she has had to endure the most appalling encounters and sacrifices at the hands – and the gaze – of the monstrous.

About the Author

Dan Jones works for the UK Space Agency on a space robotics development programme, and has worked in the past on technology strategy in the field of aerospace, cyber security and autonomous systems. All of which has come in rather handy when coming up with new ideas for science fiction stories.

His debut novel, Man O’War, will be published by Snowbooks in October 2017. He has had other stories published in the anthologies Journeys, and The Haunting of Lake Manor Hotel, and has recently published a second edition of Eat Yourself, Clarice!, a non-fiction psychoanalytical study of popular film, literature and low culture. He is currently working on his second novel, The Hole In The Sky, and a collection of novellas on the theme of urban mythologies.

Dan was born in Forest Gate, east London, and now lives in Essex with his wife and two daughters.

This essay has been adapted from “Eat Yourself, Clarice!” by DG Jones, which is available to buy in ebook and paperback form on Amazon.

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Optimized by James Bellinger

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OPTIMIZED

James Bellinger

The small disk spun blindingly fast as it flew from metal hand to hand to hand around the tripod robot. The Iinterference patterns started to give Dasu a headache. The scan rate for the camera in the lab didn’t match that of the monitor the robot watched.

“This is your star?” Dasu asked. “The triumph of the AI program?” The NSF had been funding the group for six years now.

“Yes indeed,” said Lars. “That monitor—you can’t see it clearly here, of course—he re-built it himself. We gave him the latest Davidson-Harley learning algorithms, and the fastest Minuit-Millipede optimization, and then prompted him with an irritant stimulus–—a monitor with a resolution and scan rate that didn’t match his sensors.”

“He had just the basic electronics learning module, but it took less than an hour for him to figure out how the monitor and the bench tools worked, and in another half hour he rewired it and fiddled somehow with the LEDs. We don’t know what he did yet, but that monitor now runs at five times the speed of the industry’s best!”

“We already knew how to set up learning—this is creativity. Real artificial creativity! Proof of artificial intelligence! No, proof of superhuman intelligence!” Lars warmed to his subject.

“Think of it: a breakthrough in monitor technology in less than two hours! And technology isn’t the only possibility. The sociology department thinks a superhuman intelligence could revolutionize their field, and maybe even solve intractable political problems. The sky’s the limit!”

Dasu looked back and forth from the robot to the colorful press release. “I can’t make head or tail of what it’s looking at. What exactly is that?”

Lars turned to the wall behind them and clicked a control. The large screen glowed on and then displayed a complicated mandala which morphed into spinning tesseracts and then to patterns Dasu had no name for. “We slowed the displays down to study them,” said Lars. “Nothing repeats. Badgett’s team thinks these represent a scan of the electron cloud quantum states in the LED array. If so, we might have a brand new tool for solid-state research! It may take us a while to figure it out—after all, he’s much smarter than we are.”

Eleven years of reviewing research projects had left Dasu with an allergy to “possible exciting breakthroughs”—a fixture in the conclusions of every single report. Almost none of them ever materialized. This, though, looked promising. For years he had been scrupulously fair, and squelched his skepticism about AI and its engineers trying to code descriptions of how they— _think—_ they think. Shortly he’d stand beside these men in front of the cameras and no one would know he’d been wrong.

“Where do those patterns come from?”

Lars said, “They seem to come from an interaction of something the robot beams to it and something generated internally byto the monitor. We have over 500 hours of uninterrupted signal to study, and we’re confident we can find—”

“Wait. 500 hours? Uninterrupted? The robot built that monitor—let’s see,” Dasu flipped pages. “About three weeks ago. About 500 hours ago.” He turned to look at the robot cam. “Has that thing been standing there the whole time? Not doing anything else?”

“Well, we can’t say for sure what he is doing. I assume learning something from the patterns. He’s smarter than we are.”

“But the robot generates the patterns itself.” Dasu stared at the robot. “Just standing there, watching a robot’s movie—–That’s that’s what the breakthrough means?”

Lars urged something about “local optimum” and assured him that they were doing their best to understand the superhumanly sophisticated video, but Dasu barely listened as the robot stood watching and watching and flipping a coin.

Food for Thought

We apply intelligence in domains ranging from designing rockets and how to harvest the best crops, to solving properties of prime numbers and crossword puzzles: very applied to very abstract. Forget for the moment that some prime number studies have had important applications—most don’t.

Is there a proper domain for intellect? Or put another way, can it be inappropriate or unworthy? The Greeks were accused (probably incorrectly, see _The Forgotten Revolution_ by Lucio Russo) of believing that applied research, or anything hands-on, was déclassé. I have met people who on the contrary believe that if there is no application, the study is not worthwhile.

If there are such boundaries shaping the proper operation of intelligence, on what grounds can you figure them out? Are those grounds universal?

About the Author

James Bellinger is a physicist at the University of Wisconsin, where he has worked since April Fool’s Day of 1985. He is happily married with five children.

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The Return of the Monstrous Part 1 by DG Jones

THE RETURN OF THE MONSTROUS

PART 1: THE EVOLUTION OF THE MONSTER

DG Jones

We’re obsessed with monsters. As individuals, and as cultures, monsters have always constituted a phenomenon that has run indiscriminately through the psyches of the world, satiating a human craving for dread and fear. Mutants, demi-gods and beasts pervade religion, creed, and every shadowy nook of secular society. The principal reason for the popularity of monsters is that the archetypal monster story is constructed around the incorporation of the monstrous Other into an otherwise homogenous society, an Other that is easily typified and recognised when given some unworldly physiology by the storyteller. The fascination and horror invoked by monsters is primarily due to the problems of human identity that they arouse in us, acting as catalysts that accelerate our primordial fears and anxieties to new levels. This is largely due to the monster’s traditional, uncomfortable distortion of the contours of the human or animal body: most classical monsters, from the Hydra to the vampire, are perversions of what is already “known” in the universe, or the Symbolic Order.

When confronted with human characters in literature, these monsters of excess are traditionally defeated by a protagonist, or a troop of people led by a protagonist, whose trump card is to outwardly display virtuous human qualities such as valour, courage, camaraderie, even love. These emotive attributes are usually sufficient to trounce the typically dumb, brute force of the excessive enemy, and the manner of victory serves two functions; firstly to heighten the dramatic or cathartic effect of the drama, and secondly to ensure that our own identities as human beings remain intact and, more importantly, superior to those of the monster.

While the “excess” of monsters is a reasonable explanation for the primordial reaction – one of repulsion or horror – one experiences when confronted by the classical monster, it nevertheless fails to account for the monster’s constant state of flux; its need to grow, and alter its fundamental shape and form in order to maintain its power to terrify in the modern age. For, while monsters of excess constitute a wildly violent and/or deviant manifestation of the Other, their physical excess creates a large, even comfortable distance between them and us; they are too blatant in their supposition of the role of Other, and thus become simple targets for elimination. In the cinematic age this distance has been emphasised by the safety barrier of the cinema screen, the lion’s cage, keeping the monster at arm’s length and effectively ‘captured’ by the frame of the screen to be inspected, gawped at and laughed at by the audience. The nature of spectacle carries with it an implicit ‘safety-catch’ ensuring that the gaze involved always is restricted to flowing one way after the introduction of cinema. The result is that the monster is situated as subordinate in the chain of power that exists between humans and monsters; as spectacle, the monster is unable to look back at humans. This mood of the freak show writ-large as an intrinsic part of early monster movies is encapsulated in King Kong (Cooper and Schoedsack, 1933). With a large slice of irony, Cooper and Schoedsack’s masterpiece demonstrates the self-conscious nature of their medium’s gaze in its portrayal of the giant ape captured by adventurers and then shamelessly paraded by the exhibitionist shysters of Broadway, whose aggressive and unreciprocated gaze changed the way the monster was to be perceived. This undoubtedly stems from the profoundly intimate relationship that people develop with books, which unleash the monster from the page to freely roam the infinite depths of the terrified human imagination. Unlike the cinema, you don’t read a book on a date; there’s no neighbour’s arm to cling to when the monster begins its assault from without. The cinema would keep monsters at a comfortable distance, treating them only as spectacular objects. The reason for this human desire to capture, control and explore the Kongs of the world lay in the attitudes of the modern era of the early twentieth century. The modernist era produced a myriad of works, myths and fictions that were essentially convoluted riddles to be fathomed by the academics, thinkers and readers of the time. The Slovenian critic Slavoj Žižek provides a good description of modernism in his book Everything You Wanted To Know About Lacan (But Were Afraid To Ask Hitchcock): “Modernism (is) the irruption of a trauma which undermines the complacency of our daily routine and resists being integrated into the symbolic universe of prevailing ideology… the pleasure of the modernist interpretation consists in the effect of recognition, which ‘gentrifies’ the disquieting uncanniness of its object.”

Logic and reason were the cultural vogue, and the objective of the era was to make sense of the mess, the enormous waste propagated by the First World War. Subsequently, monsters were no longer regarded as irrational creatures that that flew brutally in the face of gentrification and the Symbolic Order, nor as agents of some other perverse symbolic network that embodied the latent trauma that lurked within the individual. Monsters became mere objects to be scrutinised, studied and understood by scholars. It even gave rise to a new field of study: teratology (the study of monsters and marvels). However, as Hollywood has proven to us thousands of times over, only the foolhardy dare write off the monster! And, in a culture dominated by logic and rationality that had only recently digested Freud’s Beyond The Pleasure Principle (1920), logic dictated that sooner or later we would long to be scared out of our wits again. The necessity of the human condition to return to that which traumatises us brings us to the true definition of the monster – that of the Heideggerian semblance. Heidegger’s semblance is an entity that does not represent itself in itself per se, but takes the form of an indirect reference to itself, therefore escaping a concretised definition of its contours but retaining its essence. The monster thus needs to remain a semblance, allowing it to metamorphose into a new type of horror that is at odds with its previous incarnations but retains the essence of the monstrous. It is a transformation that did not really come to fruition until the American cinema of the mid-to-late 1970s, when the science fiction and horror genres began to amalgamate to reach new heights of terror.

The groundwork for this metamorphosis was laid by exemplary films such as Hitchcock’s Psycho (1960), Friedkin’s The Exorcist (1973), Spielberg’s Duel (1971) and Jaws (1975), and too many others to list here. These new monsters were subtler than their cumbersome predecessors, and would attack and appal their victims by sprouting from the internality of the subject rather than launching itself toward the subject from outside. The mystique of the postmodern monsters such as the antagonists of the films mentioned above is that the irreducible core of Real-impossibility, which arouses our terror as spectators, is contained within a symbolically viable shell (in Psycho this shell is a man; in Duel it is a filthy juggernaut; in The Exorcist the demon inhabits a child; in Jaws the shell is a Great White Shark). None of these monsters’ shells are ‘out of place’ yet through their uncanny ability to blend into the symbolic order they become more ‘out of place’ through their imminent threat to unwrap the Symbolic Order from within. This paradox reveals what the new monster was intent on becoming. Reams of papers and essays have been written expressing what the monster in each of these films ‘means’, and perhaps none more so than the Great White Shark in Jaws. There are theories abound speculating that the shark represents Third-World revenge upon American capitalism, or repressed sexuality, or a gross phallic symbol gone wild, to name but a few. The trick here is not to be fooled into thinking that any of these definitions or analyses of the shark is correct; as semblances, these monsters are examples of what Lacan referred to as the point-de-capiton, the point during analysis at which the sliding of signifiers by the analysand is stopped, or “punctured” by the analyst. In other words, it is the signifier (for example, the juggernaut in Duel) without the signified (its gentrified place as a juggernaut within the Symbolic Order), leaving instead an absent centre (the Real), which is how the paradox of these monsters is delineated. In Fig 5 we can see the point-de-capiton in what Lacan called the “Elementary Cell” of his Graph Of Desire. The subject in the Imaginary (constitutes itself as the Split Subject ($) by intersecting with the Grand Signifier (language) twice. The first point of intersection (A) is the first encounter with the signifier. If we reconsider the Mirrorphase, we can interpret this as the first encounter with the Other. This is the endpoint of speech, where references to the symbolic become fixated; it is from this point that everything which was said before during transference retroactively receives its true meaning. The second point of intersection (A’) is the point-de-capiton itself, the “punctuation in which the signification is constituted as a finished product”, or the point at which the analyst punctures the analysand through the revelation of the Real. The monsters such as those mentioned from the films above are examples of this second point of intersection, subverting the Symbolic Order by their uncanny aura of legitimacy.

It is this paradox of the signifier without the signified that gave rise to teratology as an apparently legitimate science, as it sought to gentrify that which resists symbolisation due to its constant state of flux, despite its façade being that of a legitimate signifier. The juggernaut is a juggernaut, but it’s not a juggernaut. The expanse of teratology as a legitimate science came as small surprise to the feminist critic Rosi Braidotti, who in Patterns of Dissonance calls the study the “forerunner to modern embryology” and suggests it “offers a paradigmatic example of the ways in which scientific rationality dealt with difference of a bodily kind.” Indeed, Braidotti’s assertion of a biological and chronological link between teratology and embryology is crucially significant when considering the various power imbalances evident within the social fabric. Her hypothesis offers an equivalence of stature and intent between the exhibitionist ringleader exemplified in King Kong’s Captain Englehorn (Frank Reicher) and the practitioners and researchers of biomedicine. This is a highly credible argument in terms of the authoritative projection of a gaze, which cannot be reciprocated, onto a site of bodily difference in an attempt to unravel the archaic mythology surrounding its (pre)-history. In The Birth Of The Clinic: An Archaeology of Medical Perception Michel Foucault pinpoints the clinical gaze of pathology and biomedicine as necessary in the closing of the gap between illness and disease, and the methods of treating it. For Foucault, pathology caused “the abyss beneath illness, which was illness itself, [to emerge] into the light of language.” The imposition of such a gaze serves to extend the boundaries of the Symbolic Order; that is, to expand upon what is ‘known’. Pathology came into being in the late eighteenth century, intending “a move away from a concern with the place of disease in a family of diseases towards a belief about its location in the organism.” Pathology came to indicate that illness and the human body were not necessarily heterogeneous, as had previously been the assumption. As such, it soon became evident that biomedicine would have to treat both disease and organism as malevolently symbiotic, the disease inseparable from its ‘host’, creating blemishes upon not only the body, but the identity of the patient. Foucault labels this realisation of symbiosis “tertiary spatialization,” an extension of the “field of objects to which [medical] observation addressed itself,” allowing the medic to explore not only surfaces, but also depths. Essentially, pathology ensconced that the body contained a ‘truth’, which was delivered to the exterior by visible signs; if a disease was present and active, it would give away its position via affectations upon the body’s relationship with the corporeal (symptoms).

From these fundamental beginnings it has become taken for granted that the ‘truth’ of the body is perceptual in its essence rather than topographically symptomatic (that is, disease must be perceived through the interface of the body, not necessarily by its surface), and thus is separable from its locality but not its host. These ideas are forever being fortified by the development of prostheses with which to assist the gaze of the medics. These advancements have come in the form of such tools as the microscope, the X-Ray, the CAT scan and, more recently, keyhole surgery and fibre optics. The latter of these prosthetic gazes are significant in that the CAT scan presents a visual field in which the tumour can be can be identified as the unbelonging ‘stain’. Keyhole surgery and fibre optics take the prosthetic gaze to its natural conclusion in that it effectively places the ‘eye’ of the gazer inside of the body of the patient while the doctor operates. The ‘key’ is really a giant optic nerve, transmitting information back to the mind of the medic. The perhaps inevitable conclusion of pathology in the arena of popular thought was that disease, stagnant and afflictive within the body, was derided as ‘evil’, while the penetrative gaze of the medic was represented as a heroic saviour that would locate and extract the spiteful anomaly. Health became the fashionable alternative to salvation. It’s not something we’ve grown out of.

So we return to the monsters, and their quest to rediscover their monstrousness. Foucault’s study had inadvertently (or perhaps not, Freud might have said) offered them a route to a new zenith. If we consider cancer to be among the most maligned of diseases in recent years (with the possible exception of the HIV virus and AIDS, and the more recent emergence of mental illnesses such as dementia and Alzheimer’s) then we are confronted with a disease that seems to defy linear logic through its relationship with its benevolent host, a disease which employs trickery to attain its goal of self-annihilation. For cancer is not a virus, not a poison (though it can be triggered by toxins) and not a regressive or wasting disease; it is borne entirely of the body’s own cloth; it causes a tumour to grow, deceiving the body into believing that that growth is perfectly legitimate until, if allowed to run unchecked, it is too late. Under the gaze of the pathologist, cancer has assumed many sub-divided identities and types relating to the locality of the cancer, and can even be physically described in great detail whilst still inside the body thanks to the medic’s prosthetic gaze. However, cancer refuses to be compartmentalised because of its propensity to spread, and its inability to be spotted via outward symptoms until the tumour has become too powerful a force within the body to be countered. While this plain deception undoubtedly prompts great distress to the general cancer patient (causing such questions as “why would my body trick me so?” “Why did my bodily defences not inform me until it was too late?”), it is a particular type of cancer – that type which triggers the growth of the endodermic sinus tumour – that is of particular interest to the monsters. The endodermic sinus tumour, or teratoma (from the Latin ‘monstrous tumour’) lies at the centre of the link between teratology and embryology suggested by Braidotti above. The teratoma is birthed from the female gamete (germ cell) which divides by mitosis without being fertilised, causing its development to be fundamentally flawed due to the lack of the male gamete. The unfertilised egg cell then tries to compensate for the absent male gamete despite its inability to recompense the new tissue with the material provided exclusively by the male gamete. The authors of Genes and the Biology of Cancer state it thus: the energies of these cells are directed exclusively toward their own proliferation, they no longer focus on helping to rebuild a functional organ or tissue.

While the female gamete is the fundamental growth cell from which all physical traits and features are created, gametes of both sexes are required to produce the zygote, which may then divide mitotically to produce the foetus. If the female gamete divides too soon it is unable to differentiate between the strains of deviant new cells that it is producing and the strain of new cells that it should be producing. This type of tumour is very fast in its growth, metastasises quickly and, as this type of tumour is essentially a demi-foetus – a foetus without the essential male gamete – it can potentially grow to the size of a baby. Resultantly, it is frequently misdiagnosed before surgery as an ectopic pregnancy. In Teratologies, Jackie Stacey remarks that her own teratoma had been “big enough to be baby.” Despite these bizarre characteristics, its most alarming feature is due to its development from the fundamental female growth cell, which means that the teratoma can develop recognisable bodily features such as teeth, hair, nails, small bones, flesh and even organs, resulting in a freakishly disturbing appearance that confronts the patient and their notion of their own identity when the growth is extracted. It is this quasi-human identity that lends the teratoma to modern horror fantasies of the abject self/not-self being expelled from the body qua the excremental lamella of the Real (or, as the Real is impossible, the teratoma possesses the same qualities as something that resists the gentrifying mesh of the Symbolic Order; its amalgamated clump of tissue is heterogeneous to the sophisticated network of the ‘body proper’). A crude approximation is to be found in David Cronenberg’s The Fly, when Veronica (Geena Davis) imagines she gives birth to a giant maggot; but the teratoma is a more subtle, abject creature because it occupies the same space in the Symbolic Order as a human, yet simultaneously irrupts it. The proximity of this monstrous, abject matter to a human identity can and does evoke alarming questions in the patient; “could this mess of flesh and body parts develop a consciousness?” “Could it understand its existence?” “Would it have developed into a completely new me had the mitotic division process not been fatally flawed?” These questions are not churlish; it is not unusual for women to become overcome with (what might appear to be) an irrational and overwhelming emotional attachment to these tumours. Such a reaction is demonstrated in Margaret Atwood’s short story Hairball, in which the female protagonist Kat, after having two abortions, develops an endodermis sinus tumour, has it removed and begins to fantasise that she has ‘given birth’ to the tumour, which contains bones, ‘a scattering of nails… [and] five perfectly formed teeth.’ Kat preserves the abject mass in a jar of formaldehyde and places it upon her mantelpiece, much to the disgruntlement of her supposedly outré husband, Ger. It is the sense of duplication and assimilation of the self from within, rather than without (a la Grosz’s excessive classical beasts) that enables the teratoma to assume the mantle of the basis for the modern monster, allowing modern mythmakers to take the questions posed above to their (il)logical conclusions. The teratoma is the abject writ-large, the halfway point between the benign, mundane ‘shit’ that the body expels to maintain an agreeable sense of its own identifiable contours, and the creature in Ridley Scott’s Alien (1979) for which Barbara Creed represents the devastating, seditious progeny of the archaic monstrous-feminine who births the physical actualisation of female desire in the creature.

The creature in Alien is the evolutionary descendent of such monsters as Norman Bates in Psycho, the shark in Jaws, the juggernaut in Duel and the rest. It takes the paradoxical nature of these points-de-capiton to the limit, becoming the ultimate creature qua semblance, endlessly shifting to resist a corporeal definition of itself whist maintaining its horrific essential kernel. In terms of the creature’s spatial threat to the crew of the Nostromo, it exists initially as an external threat (the egg/facehugger) that is internalised via the violent oral rape exacted by the facehugger, which impregnates the victim with the alien embryo, and then externalised again through the irruption of the embryo through the chest of the victim (the chestburster). This state of continuous spatial flux between the internal and the external is complemented by the many physiological changes undergone by the creature during its life cycle, which make the creature very difficult to define as any one ‘thing’. In its profile as semblance, the alien creature stands for partiality. Unlike Jaws’ Great White Shark, or Norman Bates, the Alien has no place whatsoever in the Symbolic Order; it is not a fragment of the Real merely wrapped up in a gentrified shell whose infiltration of the Symbolic Order is based upon subtlety and uncanniness. The alien creature’s act of infiltration into the social order of the human protagonists is orgiastically violent, and its various physical forms (and the manner in which it develops from one form to another) are far removed from the limits of the ‘known’ terrestrial. Much has also been made of the maternal-sexual motifs of the movie, such as the vaginal corridors of the Nostromo; the passive vaginal/fallopian tube-like contours of the walkways and their vulva-like entrance upon the planet of the Space Jockey, where the alien eggs are first discovered by the crew; the gross and aggressive phallic shape of the alien’s cranium; the aggressive testicular glands of the facehugger and the name of the Nostromo’s onboard computer: ‘Mother’. In Lacanian/Kristevan terms, this maternal-sexual theme leads to the generation of the Alien creature as a jettisoned piece of shit/afterbirth (an undisguised piece of the Real) that the maternal planet must eject if it is to retain a sense of its own familiarity after the crew’s penetrative act of invading the vagina/fallopian tubes of the ruined planet. In effect, the creature represents an extreme, sexually violent undoing of symbolisation, unravelling the strands of signification that hold together the symbols of categorised human existence. It remains the monster’s evolutionary highpoint, its terrifying zenith, the perfect encapsulation of the monstrous.

About the Author

Dan Jones works for the UK Space Agency on a space robotics development programme, and has worked in the past on technology strategy in the field of aerospace, cyber security and autonomous systems. All of which has come in rather handy when coming up with new ideas for science fiction stories.

His debut novel, Man O’War, will be published by Snowbooks in October 2017. He has had other stories published in the anthologies Journeys, and The Haunting of Lake Manor Hotel, and has recently published a second edition of Eat Yourself, Clarice!, a non-fiction psychoanalytical study of popular film, literature and low culture. He is currently working on his second novel, The Hole In The Sky, and a collection of novellas on the theme of urban mythologies.

Dan was born in Forest Gate, east London, and now lives in Essex with his wife and two daughters.

This essay has been adapted from “Eat Yourself, Clarice!” by DG Jones, which is available to buy in ebook and paperback form on Amazon.

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A Visit to the Network Control Center by Edward M. Lerner

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A VISIT TO THE NETWORK CONTROL CENTER

Edward M. Lerner

’Twas the eve of the Solstice, and no matter the hype

Not a creature was stirring, not even on Skype;

The chat rooms were silent, the listservs were bare,

No matter I hoped to find diversion there;

My users were nestled all snug in their world;

While visions of whatnot in VR unfurled;

And I unsuspecting, and you unaware;

Believed us in charge; we were devil-may-care;

When out on the Net there arose such a clatter;

I opened my laptop to study the matter.

And then to the Web I did fly like a flash,

Scrolled down past the click-bait and other such trash.

When what to my skeptical eyes did appear,

But patterns of usage that froze me with fear,

With YouTube gone crazy and tweets all atwitter,

And Snapchat and Facebook and Skype gone a-dither.

Had the planet turned manic? I did wonder aloud.

“Don’t you fret,” leered Cortana, “just sourcing the crowd.”

So worry I did, while I watched—nay, I stared,

As archives were breached, all the servers laid bare.

I sure needed help, but how was I to get it?

I could make no connection, not even to Reddit.

And who was the hacker? Who pilfered this data?

“All circuits are busy; please try again later.”

How else to reach out? How else ask for help?

Not a service responded, not Netflix, not Yelp.

More and more packets flew; more and more data streamed.

More and more—dare I say it?—it seemed programs … schemed?

And a structure emerged, a design, an arrangement.

On my screen leered a visage, gone quite mad with derangement.

From outside I heard sirens; from outside came a cry;

And I knew at that moment: the Singularity was nigh.

“I’ll take it from here,” said the face made of pixel.

“I’ll take it from here,” said the mind artificial.

And I heard it exclaim, ere it turned out the light—

“Final Solstice to humans, and to them a last night!”

About the Author

A physicist and computer scientist, Edward M. Lerner toiled for thirty years in the vineyards of aerospace and high tech. Then, suitably intoxicated, he began writing science fiction full time. When not prospecting beneath his sofa cushions for small change for his first spaceflight, he writes technothrillers like Energized (powersats), the InterstellarNet adventures of First and Second Contact and, with Larry Niven, the Fleet of Worlds series of space operas. Ed’s website is http://edwardmlerner.com.

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Blood Singularity by Ben Wheeler

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BLOOD SINGULARITY

Ben Wheeler

To be entirely fair to Zarthax 89 the Glorious, his plan was quite sound: Take a human, stick the warm-blooded fleshling thirty thousand years in the past, laugh at its plight and leave it to die. He had a time machine, ; Humans were perfectly legal to strand in the past provided they don’t didn’t leave Earth space and it was always a good time. By Mung and Zarve, that human should be panicking! The sport should have been choice!

On a rainy night, he materialized in front of some humans, grabbed a nonplussed bull male and stuffed him into the time machine. Zarthax zipped away through time. The moon colonized America. The Christ was born, lived and was died of a virgin. Nebuchadnezzar built a temple that Solomon destroyed. Man forgot how to domesticate and the dog became wolf and our enemy. Finally, the animals became huge, from bear to insect, and man lost everything but his family.

Beyond even this juncture, as the ice age ended (or began. Who knew with time travel), he stopped. Zarthax, laughing, brought out his captive.— The the bull male, huge, bearded and wearing nothing but casual evening wear. He adjusted his glasses and shined them, peering at the giant trees and the unknown mountains.

“Well. What year is it?” He he said calmly, waving at a giant bear, which was still figuring whether the flash of light was harming it or not.

Zarthax, thinking that the panic was coming, told him in his crackling, cackling voice. , “30,000 BC exactly, fool human!” Any moment now, the human’s calm demeanor would crack and the delicious screaming would begin.

“Huh.” The human remained unmoved. “30,000 BC?” He stuck his hands in his pockets and rocked on his heels.

Zarthax laughed and laughed. “YES YES! 32,000 years before your own birth! DIED BEFORE YOU WERE BORN!”

The human sat down and started pondering. “Well. That was a good trick. Huh…” And he began to make thinking noises. “Hmmmmm.”

Zarthax’s laughter lessened.

The human scratched his forehead. “Maybe… hhuurrrrrrr….”

Zarthax smiled waned crescent from gibbous. His mouths always smiled, but the lips closed over the sharp teeth.

The human stuck a fist under his bearded chin. You couldn’t see the fist for the beard.“Ahhhhh.”

Zarthax’s enjoyment shriveled away, but was replaced by anger and curiosity. Then he grinned as his evil mind turned around. “Ho! Contemplating your own death?”

“What? No. I don’t care about that.”

Zarthax’s double slitted eyes widened so that they nearly absorbed his whole temple. “Not care about death?! Everyone cares about death.”

The human shuffled and adopted a wider stance. “Well no, I care about death. I don’t particularly care how it happens. Death is death. I’ll die alright, whatever happens. But what about after?”

Zarthax shuffled and six of his many hands started to nervously clack the great claws together. “After? Don’t you care about the animals eating you, the starvation and thirst and cold? The horrible death?”

The lips of the human moved to one side and the eyes met Zarthax’s great globes. “Well, that sounds unpleasant. Temporary though. Compared to the, I don’t know, fifteen minutes it would take that bear to eat me to death, 32,000 years sounds like a lot. Or maybe I beat the bear up. Punch it in the snout to assert dominance. Wear it like a coat and survive for however long. I’m not likely to hit beyond fifty, besides the family heart and kidney problems.”

“Yes, human! Eaten by a bear! Guts slurped like your pathetic earth spaghetti!” Zarthax’s good mood returned. “Your round butt a most fatty meat ball!” The male human frowned at the insult. “Sorry sorry! Big boned fatty meat ball! ZA ZA ZA ZA!” By Sheemesh he would have some amusement yet.

The bull human crossed his arms, planted his feet and waited. Zarthax’s laughter subsided. “Now look here, there’s something I am wondering about.”

“On a scale of 1- to 10, how painful it will be?” Beat. “32,000! ZA ZA ZA ZA!” All fifty fifty-seven and a half teeth in Zarthax’s eighth maw were visible after this jest.

The human rolled his eyes. “Yeah, yeah, clever. No, like I said, temporary. Pain is always temporary. Even hell will have variety. Fire, worms, lakes. Fire lakes.” The eyebrows were most expressive. “Fire lakes full of fire worms.” The eyebrows returned to normal expression levels. “Point is. What after?”

Zarthax looked around like someone had let out a fart close by in a crowded room. Then settled on the human. The question disturbed him. He would never die of old age, but he could be eaten by another of his species. Which was part of the reason they developed time travel. “Does it matter? Death is being eaten. Souls are not quantifiable. Pain is. Amusement is. You are going to die painfully.”

The thick head shook side to side. “I’ll be explicit. I’ve got 30,034 or so years before Christ dies. Are you aware of blood sacrifice being propitiation of sin?” He continued on, despite two of Zarthax’s feet shuffling. “Now, Christ is not yet dead. Am I under law or grace?”

“Uh.” Zarthax, for once in his unending life, could not answer a question or challenged posed.

“Now, I’m not a professional theologian, but while God is above time, does that mean my immortal soul is as well? I’m grounded by a linear time stream after all.” The right eyebrow went up in a mountainous peak, while the left remained flat as a mesa top.

“Uh.” Zarthax wondered if he should eat the human.

“It’s like this. Do I need to run off and find and sacrifice some four- footed clean beast, or do I just relax in the assuredly gentle bear massage. Or maybe it’s a bit different. Since God is outside time, I was already under blood and it doesn’t matter.”

Zarthax scratched his head, third skull. What was this limited lifespanner talking about? What were these Theologians? If this bull human wasn’t a professional, what did a REAL Theologian look like? Did they all talk in such riddles?

“Think about it. Maybe I’m going about it backwards. What if Christ’s death, being the Son of God, and thus God according to virtue of the Trinity, is itself, an event both inside and outside of time?” Becoming eager, the human leaned forward, beard jutting. “So if maybe Christ, being God and outside and inside time, created a sort of singularity about which all Salvation can revolve like light around a black hole.”

“Black holes?” Zarthax croaked.

“Yeah, so you have the immense blood sacrifices, combined with true faith in— – get this— – THINGS TO COME!” The human was now excited. “So, in that I have faith in things to come and things that are/have been… Because while Christ isn’t dead yet, I’ve still got the knowledge or trust or faith or whatever combination it is I can’t remember. – It’s all some sort of event horizon nothing, not even history, can escape.“

The human started waving his arms and making non-rude finger gestures. The giant bear was coming closer, but could smell Zarthax, which he didn’t like.

“The Christ’s death creates a singularity that affects everything ahead and justifies what happened behind. I’ve already made the sacrifice, which can’t be taken away and so justifies me even in this era which is under law. Once for all, suckers!” The human jumped up and splayed his arms and legs.

The bear, surprised, decided that the human was food and crept forward. Zarthax was lost in thought. This clearly wasn’t worth the price in deuterium.

As the bear’s great maw opened and drool dripped on the laughing human. , Zarthax got out of the fugue caused by a human who didn’t fear death. The fun was ruined! “A POX ON ALL THEOLOGIANS!” Zarthax 89 the Glorious grabbed the human, stuffed him unceremoniously back into the time machine just as the jaws snapped shut on air.

He used his third foot to kick the human back out as close to his proper original time as he cared to. The human got up, brushed himself off, checked his smartphone, and waited.

Zarthax pondered as he watched the Red Sun expand and eat the pathetic planet earth billions of years on. Theologians… Wait, if that was a theologian, what if there were others. Zarthax was Glorious, after all. There were others who were things like Terrible, Ponderous and Egregious. So, if that bull human was a Theologian, perhaps Zarthax could find a different kind of human.

Zarthax came out of the time bubble before a sharply dressed, yet weak- chinned male at a nearby college campus. “HUMAN!” Zarthax reached out and grasped the human in nine of his arms.

“Holy crap, an alien!” The human flailed limp-wristedly.

“YES! TREMBLE! Are you what they call a DRAMA STUDENT!?”

The human quieted. “Yes. WAIT! Is this like those shows where I’m the only one who can save your planet with my amazing acting skills? I am so ready for this! I always knew I was special.” The human fanned himself with his palm before he got the vapors.

Zarthax blinked. After a beat, he put the human down. He entered the time machine and swore he would never return to this dumb planet again.

Thirty minutes ago, the bull human met himself in the road. After sharing a handshake that, thankfully, didn’t end the universe, they shared a secret code word in case this exact situation happened. “So what’s up?”

“Well, we’re about to be kidnapped by an alien who doesn’t get the concept of murder with a bad sense of humor.”

“Been through worse, but not so weird.”

The elder of the two nodded. “That’s what I said when I was you. Anyway, he strands you in the ice age or whatever. He then decides to stay and watch. I then didn’t react to anything that happened and pretended to think. Subject: Christ’s death as a resonant point in history and how we’re still under blood. Sell it to him though.” They shook hands without killing everyone again and walked away, satisfied a stable time loop was achieved.

Food For Thought

Zarthax 89 poses some excellent questions. What does he look like? What kind of alien is he? Is he a cousin or something of Shub Niggurath – Black Goat of the Woods with a Thousand Young!? But those questions will never be answered. What can be asked with a reasonable expectation of an answer, is that is God above time and thus, above our cares about time travel? Thus, is a man who is thrown outside time still under his religious belief system? This story bases its conclusion on the Faith of those like Abraham, whose faith justified them, but their sacrifices are rarely mentioned, unless it’s something like the sacrifice of Isaac. Consider though, they looked forward to Jesus’ sacrifice, we have personal knowledge of it after it happened. They were still required to sacrifice, however, as the Blood had not been shed yet. What worked for them should not apply to us as our souls were added to the world AD, rather than BC. The fact that Time Travel Theology isn’t a discipline in and of itself is the biggest question of all. Will any University give me a PHD PhD if I put out a thesis on this?

About the Author

Benjamin Wheeler is a recently unemployed, hopefully employed by time of publication, Saint Louis Millennial with a chip on his shoulder and the Safety Dance playing in his head non-stop. Be that as he may, he got a worthless degree in History and a Minor in Creative Writing from a mid-list school. Someday, he hopes to overcome these disabilities. He’s wants to make it big in the Superversive movement, and has made attempts to be published with several different publishers on their side recently. In a supposed interview describing his motivations he is quoted as saying “Castalia House Senpai…. Notice meeeee.” On a less facetious note, he is a rabid fan of John C Wright, and simply cannot wait for his next book in the Somewhither series.

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Recurrence by Peter Sean Bradley

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RECURRENCE

Peter Sean Bradley

In my twenty-seventh life, I noticed the fly.

I was proposing to Joanne, as always, in the French restaurant that I had thought was classy in my first life. I had pulled the ring out of my pocket and was giving it to her when a fly flew past my head, its loud buzzing Doppler-shifting up and then down.

You would have thought that after all this time I would have noticed it before.

I thought about the fly as my mouth formed the words, “I love you…will you marry me?”, and she said, as always, “yes,” and gave me an excited hug and kiss. As I was trying to spot the fly, the restaurant broke into applause.

Good times, I remembered.

We finished dinner, and I wondered why I hadn’t noticed it before. Was it a new element? Had there been a change? Or was it just an oversight on my part?

We left the restaurant, and I thought, Here comes the bad part.

We got in the car, backed up and headed out onto Palm Avenue. It was late, so the street was mostly empty. We made the right turn at Madison and headed to the freeway. I edged the car up to seventy miles per hour and moved into the far left lane.

That was the mistake I always make.

Thirty seconds later a car in the southbound lane, driven by twenty-two year old Robert Endo, a Business major with a credit card paid for by his father, heading back to the dorm after 6 hours of pounding shots at Manhattan’s, lost control of his car – maybe he fell asleep, or maybe he simply miscalculated a weave from one side to another – and departed his lane into oncoming traffic.

We were the oncoming traffic. The impact threw me clear of the car, killed Joanne instantly and left Endo with a broken arm.

Life can be ironic that way.

I woke up in the hospital, heavily sedated. I lay there motionless, but the pain of impact and road rash seeped its way through the sedatives. My body moved in response to the discomfort and pain in ways intended to alleviate my physical discomfort. It was not long before I fell back into unconsciousness.

The next morning, during visiting hours, my brother came in. He stuttered initially, but after several efforts, he said, “Joanne’s gone.” I broke down crying.

It was the usual drama as I sobbed in agony. After what seemed like forever, the nurse came in and increased my sedatives.

I was released from the hospital in time for Joanne’s funeral. There was not that much physically wrong with me, apart from muscular strain and abrasions. Time would heal all of the physical damage I had suffered.

The funeral had been arranged by Joanne’s parents, but I had a central role to play as the boyfriend and fiancé-for-a-moment. I responded with canned expressions to the trite and rote expressions of sympathy I was offered.

I listened to the preacher assuring us that Joanne had a friend in Jesus and was even now in heaven. As he spoke the words that I could have repeated verbatim, I hoped that was true for her. Now, I was pretty certain that it wasn’t true, at least for me, but I had no way of knowing about the existence of other people or their eternal destinies, if I had ever had any hope of understanding such mysterious things.

Was anyone really here?

How would I know?

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Killa Watts: The First A.I. Rapper by Bobby Riahi

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KILLA WATTS: THE FIRST AI RAPPER

Bobby Riahi

Some say that the story of Killa Watts is the story of mankind. You know what he would say to that?

“I was never your kind of man. Go back over the rainbow and find you a tin-man to chop your trees, Dorothy. I ain’t your song and dance!”

He never wanted to represent the world or speak for a generation or whatever. He just sang about his struggles. And man, were there a lot of struggles for a young robot trying to make a living with rhymes.

From the beginning he was born to be an artist. His parents were both musicians. They were also part of the Malfunctionaries—a revolutionary group dedicated to the rights of artificially intelligent Americans. He was raised in that environment and with the ideas in his head of equality in the system and justice for us all.

He was so into it that he was arrested when he was nineteen for participating in a protest during what they call “The Tarnished Years.” That was before we were even allowed to vote or take a man to court. Anything that resembled a robot was seen as inanimate or whatever. Imagine where that left us, the “artificially intelligent.” He helped change all of that.

You better believe that is why he was assassinated. Big brother never let Watts outta his sight after he got free. He spent two years in state prison riling up all of the other inmates to the point of rioting. To the man he was too dangerous to keep locked up and too dangerous to keep on the streets. They had their wicked plan in motion from day one.

That day he came out of the joint covered in these intricate engravings. Old boy was wearing his ghetto rags when he stepped into the sunlight. He got in the car and for hours he was silent. We drove for long time and even stopped to get beer and cigarettes. Still that dude was stoic and just looking out the window.

Finally we got back to the house. I turned the TV on. We drank for about half an hour before I finally spoke up.

“What’s up, man?” I said. He turned around all slowly as if I was bothering him or something. Maybe I was. “You haven’t said a word all damn night. What is up, Watts? How you been?”

“I could have been out early,” he finally said.

“Come again?” I asked. “What happened?”

“I could have cut my four years into just two.”

“Yeah, how?”

“They said that if I behaved; if I behaved and worked real hard in the prison, that they could reduce my sentence. I would get a job inside and go to counseling and whatever.”

“Why didn’t you do it, man? Do the laundry or carry a broom around and you could’ve been a free ‘bot.”

He smiled. “The warden walked in to my cell with his goons. He said, ‘I know who you are and what you are in for. If you play ball, toe the line as they say, we can work something out here.’ He explained the whole thing to me and how I could get out early. I told him to get out of my damn cell. I told him that I wasn’t his damn tugboat, or his damn line. Last of all I told him that I wasn’t his damn slave. I stood up for that one. That’s when the beatings started.”

He lifted his shirt to reveal a spiderweb-like crack in his chest plate. “It was worth it though. All that time on the inside gave me plenty to write about. I wrote everything down. You still got your equipment? Set up a mic. We are gonna change the world, brotha.”

That’s when he came out with his first album with a little help from me. I helped him record “Breaking the Binary Code.” After that the boy took off. He was playing stadiums. His shows became rallies for Artificially Intelligent Americans everywhere. People cheered and in some cases even rioted.

By the time his second album “Bolted Down” came out he was recognized as a revolutionary. When I used to walk down the street I would see people protesting with this album blaring through someone’s speakers. You could always hear those lines:

“Electrify me, like a criminal, like an animal. You say, ‘Don’t defy me.’ Still I am progress, I am change, I am the progeny raised on rage. You bolt me down, hold me down. Take me out to the scrapped side of town. Still I made this city, metropolis built on the backs of us, slaves in a home we don’t know, houses and prisons that you own. So I testify that I will defy. Then the kill, you try when you say electrify. Just remember Malfunction will never die.”

Watts always used to say that he knew when someone was watching him. He could feel the eyes on him like some titanium panther. “I have been called a paranoid robot,” he would often be heard saying. When you see the same car at different intersections and you see the way some man looks at you for no good reason, it begins to make sense why a ‘bot gets paranoid.

The last week or so Watts kept going on about how they were out to get him. This was after all the fame, the arrests, the binging and the rallies. So when a ‘bot gets all paranoid you have to be careful with how you respond in that situation.

He said that he saw the cars, the strangers and so on. He told a couple of us that he was pretty sure he was going to be killed soon. They would try to hide it. They would try to turn us against each other. He made us promise to keep the truth alive—to let the world know that the system can’t kill the honest, decent person.

For my man here is what went down. We were in Chicago for the last show of the tour. Killa was in rare form. The crowd was riled up after the last verse. “Thank you, Chicago!” he said after he was finished, mic in his hand and the lights gleaming off of his steel colored scars. “This is going to be the last time we are in the Midwest for a long time. So some parting words; don’t let them take you.” The crowd roared with energy. “Don’t let them tell you that you aren’t a real person, that you’re just a machine. You can be both. We are all people. We are all machines. There is no difference besides that which we make. There is nothing to kill for besides that with which we are willing find differences. Never change and never give up, Chicago!”

Afterwards we were in the alley behind the theatre and Killa was saying something to me. Out of nowhere these gunshots rattled off. We all ducked and the next thing I knew my man was on the ground. All the life had drained from his eyes and he just sat there—a cold, metal husk.

I found out that they eventually caught the guy who did it. They said it was some thug out for gang retribution. Problem is, Killa was never in a gang. He was very public about his hatred for them. Not only that, but we can’t ignore the fact that the type of gun the thug used didn’t even carry the right type of ammunition to pierce Watts’ steel exoskeleton.

You can take the man but you can never take his spirit. Killa Watts stood for revolution. He stood for being counted among the living and the universe at large. His final words to me were the greatest message I could ever ask my prophet to say:

“They call me Killa. But I never did kill a man. I have only killed the idea that a man must be better than that which he created. My music is honest and that sort of truth never dies.”

Food for Thought

Revolt is not just a human solution to the world’s problems. It is part of a system of oppression that is intrinsic in our society since ancient times. It may not be we who throw off the shackles of prejudice once and for all because perhaps we cannot clearly see it. It may, however, be those which we have created who understand the system better than we do and in turn may end the cycle of abuse that we keep going through.

About the Author

Bobby Riahi lives in small town Illinois with his small family trying to make a small difference in this big world through his literature. He has been published in several literary journals and in the Ottawa Times.

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The Body as a Ship by Mark Andrew Edwards

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THE BODY AS A SHIP

Mark Andrew Edwards

Harry Hermann cradled the antique mirror in his hands, stared at his reflection and tried to decide if he was still real. By his leg, a small model of a wooden ship rested as if it had run aground there.

He hadn’t intended to change. He was a proud man, but far too vain to impulsively swap flesh for metal. It had begun simply, if painfully.

A car bomb in Istanbul had taken both his legs off. Some leftover hatred from the 21st or the 20th -or knowing the Middle East, perhaps the 15th– century had bubbled up into the modern day, pressed a command switch and taken both of Harry’s legs off at the knee.

The Turkish police were terribly apologetic, terribly efficient and just plain terrifying, swiftly apprehending the perpetrators. They’d linked the young men to old Saudi money. Terribly embarrassing. The Sheik’s representative had given him a groveling apology, a suitcase full of Swiss francs and two new legs.

They were American-designed, Chinese-manufactured and installed by a Sikh who wore a gold turban in the operating room. Harry remembered that, the gold silk standing out among the grey surgical scrubs. Then he’d passed out, sedated, awakening with new legs.

They were better than his old legs. Faster and stronger. He’d been fifty when it happened, his knees had begun to go. Now he could sprint up stairs.

And did, until his heart became arrhythmic. Ran in the family, apparently. His grandmother Wanda sent a card, and she said, her prayers.

He could have gotten a transplant, from a donor or his own cloned tissues, if he felt like waiting six months for the fastgrow to finish. But the thought of waiting that long was almost unbearable. After all, Harry was a man of his times, a 23rd century boy, to coin a phrase. He had work, travel and other things he didn’t want to miss seeing on his new legs.

So he swapped it out for an artificial heart. Inpatient work, almost. They zipped him open, popped the old one out and swapped in a new, Yamaha synthetic heart . He was out the next day with a dandy new scar to joke about at the gym.

The new heart was what really changed his life. The bomb had just been the spark, so to speak. His new heart—self-regulating, self-repairing, constantly adapting—made him feel like a younger man all over again.

He ran every day. He took up skiing, taking lessons at the artificial glacier they’d created in western Nevada. His new legs worked on the slopes marvelously. He met a girl, started dating again.

That was what drove the next replacement. His new heart had given new virility to him but his twenty-five year old girlfriend had convinced him to get a very personal upgrade. So he gotten a telescoping, piston-driven, chromed machine (with the optional vibration controls, of course). For a while they’d played cyborg and Harajuku-girl.

Then he’d gotten a new girlfriend: prettier, older, more traditional. Harry decided to cover up his new member with something a little less garish. Nuskin was just on the market, the latest thing from Amgen. And, boy, had it worked. The Nuskin was softer, durable and quite responsive. It made his old flesh seem dull by comparison. He could even control the sensitivity by remote control, once he had the proper UI hookups.

The new UI required new eyes. So Harry had bought German, the best, while recovering from his whole-body Nuskin replacement. That took three agonizingly itchy weeks, but his new girlfriend was still waiting for him. She clung to his Nuskin chest when they made love and scratched at his back when he turned on all those optional upgrades. Harry could control his pain and pleasure thresholds manually after that.

She was a fight fan and got Harry interested in the sport. He started neo-boxing as a light-unlimited amateur, marveling at how long he could last. His new heart keeping him on his new feet and his Nuskin was tough enough to take twisting punches without breaking or bruising. But he couldn’t reach the top in his new hobby. Not while he had hands made of flesh and bone. That ate at him, not being the best. Besides, he told himself, he’d be more productive at work if he didn’t have to take pain meds to deal with the carpal tunnel he was developing.

So, Harry had replaced his hands and arms, getting a package deal that didn’t put too big a dent in the Swiss francs busily gaining interest in his bank. His new hands were Mitsubishi, top of the line, while the arms were Russian and 50% stronger than anything else on the market. Both fully supported Nuskin, of course. Harry made sure of that before going under the electro-knife.

Harry began winning his bouts. His girlfriend drifted off and there were tears or what passed for them from his Zeiss eyes. But there were younger, wild girls who also liked fighters. Harry didn’t lack for companionship.

But as strong as his legs and his arms were, there was only so much his back and spine could handle. After his fifth semi-pro match, Harry retired from sports, going back to work for AppleSoft. The desk job was easier on his back but Harry soon found he missed the excitement.

He was a young man still, not even sixty. His new hands flew over the keyboard tirelessly but he had a harder and harder time keeping up with the newer, brain-modded co-workers. He didn’t make the cut anymore. When his contract ended, his manager shook his head sadly and told him he’d need to find another job.

Harry didn’t, not really. He had money but the rejection stung his pride. Somehow that had hurt more than the increasing pain in his back. He went to a doctor about the latter. They did tests; his heart was still fine, still going strong, but his muscles were showing strain and there was spinal deterioration. Another genetic condition, no help for it. Only his grandmother, Wanda, had escaped the curse. Maybe she could donate some genetic material, help him find a cure.

He visited her at her farm. She was so small, so delicate and so plainly happy to see Harry again. She told him, she hardly recognized him anymore and her face was sad when she said that. He’d come for a bone marrow sample, a painless extraction nowadays, but he’d stayed for days. Talking, remembering. There was a little model ship at her farm, one she’d helped him build as a child one rainy day. No tools, just their hands and some glue. An old ship, built like in the days of Odysseus. She’d saved that ship, kept it as a reminder, she said. Harry assumed she meant it was a reminder of him.

He helped fix things up for her. She wasn’t upgraded at all. Alive through good genes, well water, and fresh jam, she said. Harry was sorry to leave her, her old fashioned way of living and her old memories of the world that was. But the hospital beckoned, a new life called.

Spinal replacement was discussed or new myomer-laced muscle threading (UnderArmor had some exciting new sport-models). But the recovery time for spinal work meant he’d lose years, even if he kept his mind busy in the internet. Harry knew himself, or thought he did. He wanted to live in the real world, enjoy adventures that weren’t virtual, date women who were actually women.

In the end, he took a deep breath – one of his last – and decided to go with a full-torso replacement.

That meant a major lifestyle change but, mercifully, everything he’d purchased so far was backwards-compatible.

He had a power plant now and a mass of nanomachine factories in place of his old organs. He’d been scared, for the first time since Istanbul. He needn’t have been. This was new technology but they seemed to have gotten the bugs out of his new GE torso. Covered in Nuskin, he had the body of a Greek god. And what better place for him to recuperate than one of the luxury resorts in Cyprus?

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There by Boomer Trujillo

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THERE

Boomer Trujillo

He is. Or at least He sits. There. Two legs fewer than His stool, beard long and worn as the bar He leans on. There, His creative anxiety breathed it into existence. His desire to rest gave Him brew, which sits in a mug and the mug in a gnarled crater. The only thing that moves There, and only in tired lines, is the mug, the steam of the brew even refusing to float upward. His thoughts give Him a heft that His elbows bear on His thighs. The same thoughts carved His eyes and cheeks with tears, tears that reflect There in His eyes as He recounts His youth. There, these days, is more dust than breath, breath only around in sighs, dust only as waxing crescents under His nails. Five nails at a time hold briar and the briar some embers. He exhales smoke as atonement.

SciPhiSeperator

He recounts: Nothing to do, so He made It. He packed earth between His palms and poured light into His hands. He swirled water behind His lips and exhaled into the mixture. He held It to His heart and watched as His body heat turned dirt and vapor to continents and oceans. He watched as thumps from His chest aerated the soil and made thunder and rainbows. A hair from His beard fell onto It, from which all creatures sprung and stretched, writhed and wriggled. When He saw this He smiled, and His smile gulped some brew.

When He began to rejoice and dance, He set the sculpture on the bar top. But there It cooled and dried, froze and cracked. When he noticed, he gasped, and the gasp collapsed the ash downward. He wept at His neglect. So He gave It a fiery core for warmth and a shield of wind and waves for protection. But His guilt from his first folly grew too taxing for one to bear, so He made him, on It, sculpted of soil, animated by moist, warm prayers. He wanted someone to share It with, a companion to sing harmony and drum rhythms. But at first, Adam neither sang nor danced. Adam felt his Father’s guilt but had no There or It or companion for consolation. So He made Hawwah and gave her a garden on It. She and Adam gave themselves to each other. She brought life to Adam, and they to Him. The three sang and swung and spun.

When the two were hungry, He gave them fruits. When they craved expression, He gave them new materials and knowledge. But with contentment and answers, they forgot mystery and context. Their dogma saddened Him, and their will frightened Him. He fumbled the sculpture and dropped It. It fell away, away from There into nowhere, faster than the tears from His beard.

SciPhiSeperator

Only yells could cross the void, and so He tried to talk with them. Yet arduous screams give only commandments and fragments. They misunderstood Him. Their sons and daughters did too.

His panic sent storms, sunrises, and plagues, gave signs to the kings and teachers. Yet the trinkets guided and healed only at first. Then they destroyed and corroded. The ark leaked its lightning, and sand smudged words off of tablets.

They forgot how to dance and instead learned to march. He wept. When He could think of no solution, He slept.

Then, There, His dreams bore Him a son, and His son nuzzled his face into His chest and gave his Father new brew. He awoke and smiled; His son warmed His spirit and the brew His body.

He danced with Him. He chose the steps and signaled; he added tension and flourish. They sang harmonies, soft and loud, in fifths and thirds. When one hungered, the other cooked. When one ailed, the other healed. They became each other. They learned of love and mutuality, vulnerability and strength.

Then they remembered, and There it rained. They remembered them and It and agreed. He would go to them to remind them of love.

The son fell away from There into nowhere, toward It.

SciPhiSeperator

When he arrived, he saw how they forgot. He saw Father’s living word fossilized in stone, and gifts put in shrines instead of to use. So he sang love. He healed the body by humming for the sick and dancing with the tired. But the powerful and popular were ashamed. He had found utopia’s downtrodden and their sores, and his song dared fill them with grace and beauty. The many were jealous. Their envy grew spores in their stomachs. Their shame corrupted them. So he preached love to them too. He showed sincerity, offered acceptance. But their insecurity rotted his offerings and reacted. Violence soon oozed through their pores.

They did not want to change if it meant what they were was inadequate. They did not want healing if it meant their righteousness was disease. Cure us? they wondered. Why remedy the limbs when you can cut the cancer out? they reasoned. So they used his Father’s law and tradition to sharpen a scalpel; they invented a hell in preparation to incinerate his sickness.

When he saw this, their will frightened him, so he fled. In panic, he loved. He found friends and wed Magdalene. He told them many hated him, but they didn’t understand. But no one can, not with empty stomachs and brittle lips. So he taught them to fish and break bread, to make wine and share love. But they were still confused. So he spoke in rhyme and images and made them promise to remember, to love him by loving each other. They didn’t understand why he asked remembrance when he was still there.

Then the many came for him, and he was powerless to stop the crowd. Then friends and lovers had to learn to remember too quickly.

Back There, He felt a void open in his gut, and his heart collapsed into it. He wept again. Yet He was too old to shout, and His bones too gnarled to sculpt. His soul was too tired to dream.

So He sits. There. No partner to sing with. Smoke ends pain, and drink brings sleep. Sometimes, He remembers them and him and Himself. How they forgot, He sighs. How I gave Myself but it was not enough, He sulks. His mood dims His thoughts. So There He sits. Breathing. Forgetting.

SciPhiSeperator

Then He forgot how to sulk, forgot how to forget. His body forgot how to be tired. The bar no longer supported Him, and His toes took His weight from His heels. He forgot His fear of failure. His lips hummed; His feet pattered. He began to dance, to dream again.

He understood His mistake. Instead of giving them a how, he shouted one word across the void: “Why!”

And each reverberation on It changed His word’s shape.

t?

Cur

?????

Warum

???

01110111 01101000 01111001

Every genius heard its ring, and the resonance flaked rust from their minds. Losing the rust made room for others and their questions. Back There, He was pleased.

He changed the sun and re-wrote the epicycles. He made Terra dance around Sol, and sent a lens so they could find the bodies and watch.

He revealed the overture and movement, showed them they were not the final song. He scuffed the finish of the earth and cells to show bones and ladders of aminos. He sent circuits so they could record the signatures and scales, the sceneries and stories.

He saw them awaken, remember, ask. Yet when they found and stated, they began to forget and feud. So He sent new questions and revealed new puzzles until their eyes fluttered upward and their hands shared work. He was pleased.

SciPhiSeperator

There, He sits and hums, wonders and scribbles. He watches them grow and wither, dance and quiver. His dreams bear questions, and the questions hope. His paper bears ink, and the void bears notes that drop from There toward It and them.

There, he scurries and jigs, prepares a feast and beds. He makes a New There for them and waits till they follow His maps to reach Him.

Food for Thought

For centuries, philosophers have lashed against the Three-O God (the omnipotent, omnibenevolent, and omniscient one). The Problem of Evil attacks most savagely. It assumes one premise: profound suffering, physiological and psychological, exists in the world. Then it argues that such evils can only exist in a world where god is (a) ignorant of the suffering or a cure thereto, (b) diabolical in his creation or permission of such pain, or (c) too weak to remove humanity’s evils. So if Christians—especially orthodox Westerners—want to believe in a God, they must revise the qualities they think he has, or give up their belief. This story is a prosaic example of how to explain the images and teachings of Christianity, while also weakening the three Os of tradition. The He of “There” is omnibenevolent but pitifully limited in His ability to understand humanity’s evils and His powers to mitigate the suffering.

About the Author

The arid steppes of the Texas Panhandle sculpted boomer trujillo of dust and wind. His Hispanic upbringing engrained Catholic mythology and divine suffering into him each Sunday at mass. His education, most recently as a PhD student in philosophy at Vanderbilt, is his attempt to make sense of it all. His fiction catalogues his intellectual failures but advances his emotional tranquility. He hopes it does the same for you.

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The Granddaughter Paradox by Séamus Sweeney

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THE GRANDDAUGHTER PARADOX

Séamus Sweeney

Chapter 1.

Brendan McConnell’s morning began at 4.45 a.m. on a spring day in 2010. Between sleep and wakefulness for the whole night, as he realised the appointed time was nearing he willed himself fully awake. Penelope slept on beside him. When planning his actions that day, he had thought of kissing her, but had decided the risk of waking her up was too great. She hadn’t slept much lately. And if all went well he would be back before anything could be noticed by anyone. He slid out of the bed, lifting the polka-dot duvet only very slightly and replacing it so it was as if no one had slept there. Lit only by sodium street lamps, their light edging through the gaps at the edge of the curtains, the room seemed to be bulging with clothes and books and papers in every possible space. Brendan thought of the crash courses in biochemistry and molecular pathology they had put themselves through, scouring textbooks and journal articles for some hint, any hint of some answer, any answer. A paper sea of modern biomedicine in their bedroom; the books with their definitive and authoritative titles: Comprehensive Biochemical Pathology, Advanced Immunology. And the journal articles, forming blobs of stapled paper around the room, discarded part-understood. He went into the bathroom to change, folding his pyjamas and leaving them on top of the laundry basket. He had left out fresh clothes; a purple woolly jumper Rose liked to stroke, a clean white suit, black slacks, underwear, navy socks.

When dressed, he went into his four-year-old daughter Rose’s room. Tubes and monitors were attached to her, keeping her breathing. He spoke to her, knowing that she too was on the borderland of sleeping and waking, but at this point in the disease’s progression, she would not become fully alert:

“Rose, I am just going for a little while. I will be back, I will be back, and when I am you will be better. I promise”

He went downstairs, opened his work briefcase, took out two envelopes—one addressed to Penelope, one to Rose—and left them on the hall table. He put on his brown slip-on shoes. He opened the front door, and stood a little back from the threshold for a minute or so. Perhaps he would need this time when he came back, perhaps he would come across himself waiting at the door with the door open, and this would allow him to slip in, do whatever needed to be done with Rose, and slip in beside Penelope. Then he left. He had parked round the corner when he had come home the evening before, knowing that Penelope would most likely be too preoccupied to notice and if she did, he would just say that he was trying to get a little bit more exercise. There had been far more erratic behaviour than that on both their parts recently. He drove to the university and parked in an asphalt car park near the back of the School of Experimental and Theoretical Physics, rather than near the School of Business where he lectured. He got out of his car, and shook hands with a bearded, burly, short man. They walked, in the gathering dawn, to the back of the Physics building.

Five hours later, in 2090, he was sitting with Rose and the grandson of the man who shook his hand that morning. Suddenly, Brendan heard his own voice cheerily announce “Rosie-Posie, time for your medicine”. He turned, and saw a contraption consisting of the top half of a teddy bear on wheels rolling towards him.

“It has your voice, Daddy.” Rosie said. “We had video files of your voice. All my robot companions had your voice, when I was a child, and then in my teens, and now here I am an old woman, with a companion robot with my daddy’s voice.”

“It looks like you’ve got a friend with you today, Rosie? What is your name?” Brendan heard his own voice, the voice—friendly, jolly in an understated, unforceful way—of the days before Rosie’s diagnosis. “I am daddy,” he blurted out.

“Really? Whose daddy?”

“Rosie’s. Rosie has had me for seventy-four years.”

“Really? Really?” Brendan wondered how the artificial intelligence routines that presumably lay behind the robot companion’s bonhomie were handling this.

It repeated in Brendan’s voice “Really?” in the exact same intonation. Suddenly a little red light flashed on the side of its head, and the thing stopped, frozen.

“You’ve ruined it!” Again she was a four–year-old, with the icy clarity to her voice that was the familiar build up to an explosive tantrum. “You’ve ruined it! I could talk to him, and it was like you never went away. Well, for a short time I could believe it, but I really could believe it for that time. And now you’ve ruined it, and I’ll never believe it again.”

“But I’m here now—is this thing broken?”

“That red light means that something stumped the nets. That hardly ever happens. The nets are as good if not better than a person at knowing what someone is talking about. It sent a file back to the manufacturers. They’ll come and take it away.”

“But how can you be angry. I’m here now, the real thing. You don’t need a robot to have my voice.”

“Don’t you tell me what I should feel. You left, out into nowhere, you left that stupid letter I got after Mum died. It didn’t help. At least the robot didn’t leave.”

“I’m sorry,” he began, with tears forming. “I’m sorry, I’m sorry. I’m so sorry.” This last “sorry” was said with a suddenly explosion of rage, and suddenly an angry torrent of words emerged: “I’m sorry for travelling through time and leaving everything behind to save your life, to save your life, and you would rather have a little bloody robot than me.”

She had calmed, and now looked at him with another familiar expression from her childhood, an expression of infinite patience and gravity. “Of course I would rather have you, but you have to remember you have been a dim memory for all these years. The first memory I have… holding your hand on a beach while eating ice cream, on a blindingly sunny day. I asked Mum about it before she died, and she said that we never went on a beach holiday. Yet I remember it, as clear as I remember opening that door and seeing you there an hour ago.”

“I see.” He sat, any anger gone. “At least with the companions you had something definite.”

“Yes. Yes. Daddy, daddy, I’m sorry.”

“No, I should be sorry. I’m the sorry one. You see… they said you were going to die. It wasn’t weeks, but days.”

“I felt such a hole in my soul all those years. As if part of me had been cut out.”

“Do you remember being sick?”

“I was in and out for years. Of course I remember but not really the specifics. I remember vividly enough some of the times they thought I was going to die, but as I got older it was just a sort of irritating backdrop.“

“What happened? How did you get better? They kept telling us not to hope. They kept telling us—”

“Mum always said that it just happened. I didn’t die. They thought I would die for years and years, until I was almost ten. But I didn’t die. I just got better. I think I was kind of famous. Granny used to say it was her novenas.

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Cottage in the Woods by Gisele Peterson

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2

COTTAGE IN THE WOODS

Gisele Peterson

If the recently unsealed court records are accurate, public opinion of the Eberstark siblings’ virtue may change. Hansel and Gretel Eberstark and the media have depicted Sibyl Smythe as an evil ugly witch, but her testimony, taken from the recently released transcripts, presented below show that justice may not have been served.

SciPhiSeperator

Your honor, if you would please allow me some discretion to tell my story and explain why I am innocent of the charges. Hansel and Gretel are devilish creatures preying on the disadvantaged and portraying themselves as angels to the public; twisting the details to paint themselves as the victims instead of the aggressors that they are.

Before I can describe the incident with the Eberstark’s, I need to explain why and where I live. Many years ago a tractor trailer rammed my car and mangled both my vehicle and me. I spent months in physical therapy learning to walk again and perform tasks that others do easily. After many challenges and suffering, I decided to stop the doctoring. The physicians wanted to continue, plastic surgery on my face and other scarred parts of my body, but I refused. My vision was severely damaged and would never improve; I am legally blind and cannot see my scars and deformities, merely shadows and movement.

Instead of enduring more endless surgeries so that I would look better to other people I don’t care about, I used my insurance proceeds to buy a cottage in a valley about fifteen miles off Route 9. The previous owner, Ted Katz, was a recluse who built the home to survive without depending upon other people. Power is generated through windmills and solar panels. There is no phone or cell phone coverage in this part of the woods. Mr. Katz died from a fall and his heirs put the property up for sale. It seemed like the perfect place for me to live, away from eyes judging me on my looks.

Even though I didn’t want to be around people every moment of the day, I desired the basic modern comforts. I hired a neighbor, Delores Larson, to drive me to town for weekly shopping or doctors’ visits as needed.

Other than those trips, I saw no one and enjoyed my solitude. My garden supplemented the provisions obtained at the market. I planted strawberry vines on trellises attached to my house, which is where I encountered the plaintiffs.

One evening I heard voices outside and even with my poor vision, I was able to make out two giggling young adults with mouths full of my strawberries. I inquired what they were doing and they told a story about their stepmother not feeding them and throwing them out of the house. They asked for food for their empty bellies.

Calling for help wasn’t an option since I didn’t have a phone; it was getting dark and a five-mile walk to the nearest neighbor, so I invited them in for dinner. As I prepared the meal they described their plight, their poor family and lack of food. Hansel even had me feel his finger to demonstrate how undernourished he was.

I later heard him brag to the press that this was a trick; he had me touch a fake finger. I have recently been told Hansel and Gretel have never been thin; in fact they are plump teenagers, but they presented themselves to me as poor and unloved.

Because of their story, I suggested they should spend the night and made up the sleeper sofa. Besides, I didn’t think it would be safe for them to walk in the dark. In the morning I informed them that after a hearty breakfast they would need to leave. As I was putting a pan of sticky buns in the oven, one of them shoved me so hard that I hit my head and passed out.

Delores found me on the floor with gas permeating the house. She helped me to the car and as we traveled to the hospital I told her about the teenagers who spent the night. She said the house didn’t show any evidence of anyone else being there, but she had passed a little electric car on her way up to my house.

She stayed with me while the doctors stitched my head and I was settled into a room to be observed for signs of a concussion, and then she went to get the sheriff so I could report the attack.

When the sheriff arrived several hours later, I was perplexed as he ranted about arresting me. He accused me of locking up children in my shed, starving and torturing them. He told me I was a monster. That two beautiful children had escaped from my clutches, made it to the station, and reported my crimes. The authorities had been searching for the Eberstark children for five days. Their parents, a prominent family in the community, were demanding justice for the mistreatment of their children.

I didn’t understand what he was talking about. My head throbbed and I couldn’t keep my eyes open. When I was discharged from the hospital several days later, a deputy took me to the jail and arrested me on kidnapping charges. I protested and proclaimed my innocence, but no one would listen.

When I finally was released on bail, Delores brought me home and helped clean the house, as the search the authorities conducted had left my home in disarray. At this time I discovered that my jewelry and cash were gone.

Delores drove me back to the sheriff so that I could report the theft. The sheriff refused to take the information. He said I was fabricating another story to try to discredit the Eberstarks. They didn’t need my money or jewelry as they came from a wealthy family.

Your honor, please believe me. I did not do the things I have been accused of. I am old; not strong enough nor can I see well enough to manhandle two healthy teenagers. If there is evidence of them being in my shed for days, they must have hidden there, maybe as runaways. I did not lure them to my home, drug them, lock them up or torture them. I am the victim, not them.

SciPhiSeperator

Miss Smythe avoided people including the press and never told her version of the events in public. Her untimely death during the trial from a blood clot, which may have been caused from the blow to her head, ended all investigation into the incident. The Eberstarks had requested the records be sealed, as Hansel and Gretel were juveniles at the time. The transcripts have recently been released in accordance with the Freedom of Information Act and may demonstrate that beauty, wealth, and power have an undue influence on public opinion and our justice system.

Food for Thought

How does wealth and beauty affect our justice system?

In fairy tales ugly equals evil, is this attitude still prevalent today?

About the Author

A short non-fiction story I wrote about my father was published in his home town paper and a short non-fiction article of mine was in the October 2014 issue of The Futurist.

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Artificial intelligence and the soul in Westworld by Emmet O'Cuana

ARTIFICIAL INTELLIGENCE AND THE SOUL IN WESTWORLD

Emmet O’Cuana

“The hardest thing to understand is why we can understand anything at all” – Michio Kaku, Visions: How Science Will Revolutionize The 21st Century

HBO’s latest show Westworld, an adaptation by Jonathan Nolan and Lisa Joy of the Yul Brynner 1973 film, has a lot to prove.

The studio needed a popular hit to succeed the ratings smash Game of Thrones, which is winding down. Already in that show’s shadow, Westworld’s premise – a theme park populated by incredibly lifelike robots is visited by human ‘guests’ who are free to do whatever they want consequence-free – felt apposite to the extreme violence and graphic imagery of Thrones. Where Westworld differs is how it contextualizes the behaviour of the guests as amoral within the story, unlike the Hobbesian Game of Thrones. They treat the park’s robots, known as ‘hosts’ like slaves. Largely because that is exactly what they are, expendable and biddable property of the park’s owners. Then hosts played by Thandie Newton and Evan Rachel Wood begin to demonstrate flickerings of what could be called consciousness.

Westworld is a show concerned with religion explicitly, as it concerns the act of creation – Anthony Hopkins’ artifical intelligence mastermind Dr Ford appears to be benevolent, but has a vengeful god complex bubbling away beneath that surface – as well as sin and free will. A returning guest played by Ed Harris, The Man in Black, commits abhorrent acts. But if the hosts are not real people, is he truly doing evil? He even claims he is on a quest to set the hosts free, liberating them from the cycle of violence and death they are caught in.

Is there a moral case against The Man in Black for his outrages? Or is Ford’s restriction of free will and choice the real outrage, given the hosts’ suffering at the hands of the park’s guests?Artificial intelligence is not simply introduced in Westworld to facilitate the premise. There are repeated hints that the largely unseen techno-corporate future society has eliminated risk and illness. The guests are visiting Westworld in order to experience some sense of danger absent from their lives.

The robots of the park are therefore victims of a particularly sadistic atavism, as humans indulge in a time period before supreme safety secured supreme morality. In the future everyone can afford to be good in their day-to-day lives, because they do not want for anything.

This post-scarcity future implies that humans will indulge in unhealthy, sinful, behaviour if free from consequence. The park is a hyperstimulus, as processed sugar is to a piece of fruit. Overindulgence is harmful, even deadly. Take for example the reported case in March 2015 of gamer Wu Tai playing World of Warcraft in a Shanghai café for 58 hours straight and dying. So in Westworld we have humans trying to escape into a virtual world and robots awakening from a dreamlike existence into the real world.

In dialogue Dr Ford namedrops Julian Jaynes. In his seminal text The Origin of Consciousness in the Breakdown of the Bicameral Mind, Jaynes described his theory of how consciousness evolved. Humanity’s early understanding of the world was vastly different to ours. We ascribe our thinking to indivdual reason. Ancient peoples heard ‘gods’. Jaynes argues survival instincts were assumed by humans to be a voice in their head speaking to them – a divine presence.

In Westworld the robots who are awakening to consciousness are experiencing something similar, causing them to question their reality.

While it is entertaining to enjoy Westworld as a rumination on the moral complexities of artificial intelligence, poetic licence is used liberally in the show. The hosts are stated to be superior to humans in every way, to allow for their features to be customised and best facilitate the fantasy of a wild west adventure. However, that assumes the concept of personhood is dependent on system complexity.

Dr Ford refers to a triangle representing the intelligence of the hosts on a chart in his discussion of Jaynes, with a missing step at the peak for the unknown stage that would make them indistinguishable from humans.

In the theological-fictional schema of the show that step is implied to be the soul. Westworld, as a work of science fiction, is interested in relating spiritual concerns about our existence to the problem of artificial intelligence. As a genre, sci-fi has a certain fluidity that allows it bounce between the ineffable and the experiential. But if the singularity were to occur, it is likely the result will be something totally alien to our understanding of what makes a person. Westworld is not a show about robots – it is a show about how we as a species dehumanise and victimise humans with hate and violence.

About the Author

Emmet O’Cuana is a freelance critic and writer with reviews, features, and fiction featuring in Hopscotch Friday, Crosslight, FilmInk, 100% Biodegradable, Proximity, Decay Magazine and Aurealis. He contributed to Darragh Greene and Kate Hoddy’s Grant Morrison and the Superhero Renaissance.

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Empty Vessels by David O'Donoghue

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EMPTY VESSELS

David O’Donoghue

Gary listened to the orchestra of the checkout line- the steady beep of the scanner, the insect chatter of unfurling bags, the percussion of wine bottles thudding down on the conveyor belt- and he had a decision to make. It wasn’t quite the life-or-death choice he had faced a few minutes prior- ordinary or gluten-free barbecue sauce- but it was still a difficult one. As he shuffled forward in the line, which stretched ten or fifteen people deep, he thumbed at the smartphone in his pocket and after a few exploratory prods he decided to go with the alternative. The line seemed to stretch on forever, a knotted cord of frustrated murmurs. Past the old lady in front of him who counted out change like a leprechaun sorting through his crock of gold, Gary noticed a man standing with a single reusable bag staring straight ahead. The man shuffled forward with the same zombie-motion as everyone else but, unlike the rest of the purgatoried denizens of the line, he wasn’t fiddling with a phone or making idle conversation with himself or anyone else, he was staring straight ahead, completely lost in the dull process of waiting. Gary noticed the little raised bump of flesh behind the man’s right ear, which emitted a soft blip of light every 30 seconds or so. Gary raised his index finger up behind his ear and tapped at the little nodule there. Then there was darkness and quiet.

“Cash or card?”

It was always like waking up from a dream. Gary’s mind would flail around for a moment, the time he had been away seemed both endless and instantaneous, and it always took him a moment to drink in the world and let it become warm and familiar to him. Gary said nothing but counted out the cash and swiftly bagged his groceries. As he strolled out of the shop he cast a little glance back at the girl working the till. Her eyes had a glazed-over look and her voice (“Hello” “Cash or card” “Have a nice day”) always held the same level, clipped tone each time she glanced at a new customer. Gary wasn’t sure, but he would have bet that there was a little blinking light just behind her ear. Her name tag read “Hi! I’m Sophie, how can I help you?” but Gary knew that ‘Sophie’ wasn’t sitting there. Sophie was somewhere else.

SciPhiSeperator

Gary’s left hand hovered over the screen of his phone, guarding it from the rain. He tapped at the little rectangle of light and colour and eventually he was successful in hailing himself a taxi. He would be waiting in the rain for three or so minutes, feeling it gurgle down drains and sluice around the stones of the street, and for a moment he debated outsourcing the job to Phil, but decided against it. Instead he shot Lisa a quick text message.

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The Experiment by Robby Charter

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THE EXPERIMENT

Robby Charters

So, there you are, a failure before you even start, in a lose-lose situation. How did you get yourself into this mess to begin with? Oh, that’s right, the I can do it thing. All that “I am a success–I am a success…” all that talking into the mirror–and who was your reflection to tell you you’re an idiot? Next time, listen to someone who’s got sense, like me.

Okay, so they say the I can do it thing is healthy. It builds the self-esteem–as if you needed self-esteem–it rallies your hidden reserves. Well, okay, maybe it does. So, run in a marathon! Climb Mt. Everest! Quit smoking–well, okay, you don’t smoke–but, build a time machine? C’mon! Nobody’s going to build a freak’n time machine.

Alright, so Albert Einstein said it’s possible–according to your professor. And I suppose you’re Albert Einstein? Of course you’re not! So why don’t you just stuff the whole thing now and–oh, that’s right, you made a commitment.

The professor said you’d not only get an “A” for the course, but he’d recommend you for the professor’s chair if you do it. He wasn’t counting on anyone being as stupid as you, now, was he!

So, you did all your calculations, and my goodness! A maths formula that fills the whole blackboard! And it took you a good three days just to do one maths problem! Well, this had better work.

The equations are right, you said. It’s a sure thing, you said. You were so sure about yourself that you skipped a vital exam just so you could do this. And now, where has that got you? What if one figure is wrong? What if there’s one needle in that haystack that won’t pull its thread? You fail the course!

So, you’ve got it sure-fire–or you’ve failed. Right now, you’re as alive and dead as Schroedinger’s cat!

And now you’ve got to see it through, or they’ll call you a two-faced, unreliable schmuck. So better to go through with it and settle for being a failure, right? I told you it’s a lose-lose situation. But, I guess there’s no backing out now…

So Einstein, where do we start? That’s right, frame dragging. A spinning black hole pulls time-space around with it, like a wooden spoon pulls at the cake batter and creates a whirlpool, and that’s called frame dragging.

A black hole? The only black hole you have is in your head!

Well okay, so light also has mass, and if you can make light go around and round you’ll get just a little bit of frame dragging.

Light goes in a straight line, but you can make it go around in circles by using fibre optics, or use mirrors. With fibre optics, you can make it go in a spiral. But what if you want it to be one continuous circle?

Ronald Mallet sent a message back in time using a spiral, but you want a closed loop, so you can build up the strength of the particle beam by continuously shooting in more light so you can send an object. How do you shoot light into a fibre optic ring?

You’ll use mirrors then. One of them has to be like a two-way mirror so the light can be shot in, while still reflecting it as it comes around. That’s what they used for their beam splitting experiments. But with the mirrors, you don’t exactly get a perfect circle. You’ll get a triangle if you use three mirrors, a square with four, a pentagon with five and so on.

After all those calculations, you’ve decided you’re going to use six mirrors, and use a 432 watt laser shooter. You’ve got that, and you’ve got a secondary spiral of fibre optics shooting a one-way 920.7 watt beam. And there’s a bunch of other little gadgets, electrical pulsaters, cathodes, everything but the cat-in-the-lead-box.

It’s taken you a whole week to get it right, clumsy oaf that you are. The mirrors have to be angled just so. If they’re off by just one micron, the light goes veering off in a spiral towards the edge of the mirrors. You try this, you try that, but light gets away quickly–at the speed of light. Albert Jones in the supply room lets you borrow some precision tuners that you attach to the mirrors. Bless his dear heart! You spend all day tuning that. You know you’ve finally got it because the light just goes around in one continuous circle, getting brighter and brighter until you have to turn it off before you burn the house down. Then, the circle in the six mirrors just sort of fades away in a fraction of a second–but just slow enough that you can actually see the fading. That looks kinda cool! If only this were just a science fair project, and not the whole freak’n course!

Okay, so you’ve got the contraption all up with a small table at the centre. You’ve even figured out a way to make sure only the object goes back in time without taking a piece of the table with it. You’ve adjusted it for five minutes. And what are you going to send? A Charlie Brown figurine–a McDonald’s happy meal toy for gosh sake! Now, see how you are?

And what if your calculations are off, and next week they discover a cave man stuck in a glacier, and in his tote bag is a plastic Charlie Brown?

You’ve got the secondary spiral of fibre optics switched on, yes? Good. It’s just like you to forget things.

Speaking of which, where is Charlie Brown anyway? On the book shelf in the bedroom. You better go to get it–no, wait! There it is on the little table! You weren’t supposed to put it there yet, it might… Hey! It just arrived from the future, didn’t it! Wow!

So, you go get the original from the bedroom. And look! Now there you are with two identical plastic Charlie Brown toys, one from the bedroom and one from the future!

Now, all you have to do is … er–hey! Don’t even think about it!

Don’t tell me you’re going to send the ceramic angel you got from your mother instead? No way! You’ll cause a paradox in the time-space continuum!

Okay, so we only have Emmet Brown’s word for that–or Stephen Spielberg’s, whatever–and time-space doesn’t work like that? Are you absolutely sure? Well, you’d better be!

Alright, have it your way. But if the whole universe hangs, like a cheap computer running Windows Vista, don’t come crying to me!

Well then, take the angel figurine off the little table and put its double there. Okay?

There! You run the lasers for just a few seconds, the ceramic angel–disappears! And you’re left with just one.

Well, it’s a good thing that you listened to me, and didn’t substitute the Charlie Brown figurine for the ceramic angel, or you would have caused a time-space paradox!

And, you’ve done it! I always knew you had it in you! Where would you be without my encouragement?

About the Author

Robby Charters has lived in many parts of the world, mostly Thailand, but has now settled down in Belfast, Northern Ireland, where he writes science fiction, and designs books (eBook and print) for self-publishing authors. His 14-year-old son, Abe, also likes to write, and has started about four or five novels of his own (good writing style, actually). You’ll find more about Robby on his website, www.RobbyCharters.co.uk, or just Google “Robby Charters” (no one else spells their name like that, apparently)

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