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Epistolary fiction

Beheading Of A Queen

by Matias Travieso-Diaz

Two heads are better than one.

John Heywood Proverbs (1546)

Gravesend, Kent, September 1, 1586

To: Nicolas de Neufville, Marquis de Villeroi, Secretary of State for War to His Majesty King Henry III of France [sent by carrier pigeon]

Monsieur Villeroi: Greetings. Please deliver this letter to the King.

[Following is the translation of a message encrypted using the Vivonne cypher]

Your Serene Majesty: This report updates my earlier ones regarding the hostilities between King Philip II of Spain and Queen Elizabeth. Since war broke out, Philip has been preparing to launch an attack against England. While Philip’s original motivation was displeasure over English privateer attacks on Spanish vessels returning from the New World and the aid Elizabeth is giving to the rebels in the Netherlands, a new factor is driving him to accelerate preparations for an invasion of England: the perilous situation of the long-imprisoned Mary Stuart, Queen of Scots. I have learned that, based on the discovery of a plot to assassinate Elizabeth in which Mary was implicated, Elizabeth intends to bring Mary to trial accusing her of treason.

My sources assure me that Philip is leaning strongly on renowned Admiral Marquis de Santa Cruz, under whose command an Armada is being assembled, demanding that the fleet depart without delay. Likewise, Philip is urging Alexander Farnese, Duke of Parma, the commander of his forces in the Netherlands, to gather the invading army and finalize construction of the barges that will carry Spanish troops to England.

The English are aware that an attack is imminent and are fortifying the approaches to London. I am fortunate, thanks to your Majesty’s wisdom, to have been secretly redeployed after relations between England and France soured last year and I was recalled from my post as Ambassador to Elizabeth’s court. I now reside incognito in a house in the village of Gravesend, a day’s ride by horse-drawn carriage from the center of London. I miss being Ambassador, but I realize my gathering and conveying accurate information is vital to France.

Sire, I pray to God that He keep your Majesty in perfect health.

Your humble and obedient subject,

Michel de Castelnau, Sieur de la Mauvissière.

Signed this First day of September, 1586.

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  Gravesend, Kent, October 17, 1586

Your Serene Majesty: Mary Stuart’s trial on charges of conspiring to assassinate her cousin Queen Elizabeth was concluded yesterday and Mary was found guilty, which will result in her death. The Catholic population in England is quite angry.

Your humble and obedient subject,

Michel de Castelnau, Sieur de la Mauvissière.

Signed this 17th day of October, 1586.

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Gravesend, Kent, February 9, 1587

Your Serene Majesty: Much has happened since my last communication. A matter of greatest importance is the demise of Mary Stuart. Following the guilty verdict of treason, the English Parliament passed a bill petitioning for Mary’s execution. For the next three months, Elizabeth took no action, perhaps fearful of the repercussions of killing an anointed queen. Finally, a week ago, the death warrant was signed and delivered to the Privy Council, which sent it out on its own authority to be administered. Mary was beheaded yesterday at Fotheringay Castle in Northamptonshire, where she had been imprisoned.

Intelligence from my Spanish sources indicates that the Armada has been assembled in Lisbon, and Admiral Santa Cruz is awaiting confirmation that the land forces are on their way to the departure area in the Netherlands. I expect that King Philip soon will issue orders for the invasion to proceed.

Your humble and obedient subject,

Michel de Castelnau, Sieur de la Mauvissière.

Signed this 9th day of February, 1587

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Gravesend, Kent, June 20, 1587

Your Serene Majesty: I am unable to confirm the accuracy of all the statements in this report, as some have been conveyed to me by people claiming to have witnessed them first-hand. However, I believe the information is substantially true.

The Spanish Armada, comprising about 140 vessels, took off from Portugal on Easter Sunday, March 29, 1587 and progressed towards the English Channel, which they reached almost two months later. The Armada had an initial encounter with the English fleet stationed in Plymouth, but the battle was inconclusive and the Armada proceeded without major casualties along the channel towards a meeting with the army being brought to the coast of the Netherlands by Farnese. Their plans encountered a difficulty, however, in that Farnese was late in moving his troops to the coast. Midway across the channel, Admiral Santa Cruz decided to anchor in the Solent, a sheltered strait between the Isle of Wight and the coast of England near Portsmouth. From this protected location, Santa Cruz continued to send messages to Farnese tracking his progress, until the two agreed to link up at the Flemish seaport of Ostend. 

The Armada was continuously harassed by the smaller, more maneuverable English ships but Santa Cruz was able to bring the Armada almost intact to Ostend, where the Spanish vessels arranged themselves into a crescent, placing the barges carrying Farnese’s soldiers behind the crescent, within the protection of the Spanish warcraft. The Armada then proceeded to the English coast, where it fought a decisive battle against the English across from Margate, a seaport close to my home. Both fleets suffered extensive losses, but the barges with the Farnese troops were able to land and quickly subdued the English militia guarding the shore.

As of this writing, the progress of the Spanish army is being slowed by arriving English troops, but the Farnese contingent is also receiving reinforcement by the several thousand men aboard the Armada’s ships.

Your humble and obedient subject,

Michel de Castelnau, Sieur de la Mauvissière.

Signed this 20th day of June, 1587

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Gravesend, Kent, June 24, 1587

Your Serene Majesty: Events in the Spanish invasion of England are proceeding with rapidity. Two days ago, the combined forces of the Farnese contingent and the Armada’s reinforcements broke through the English lines and forced the English to withdraw to a defensive position around the town of Dartford, trying to protect a bridge over the Thames through which troops could be transported to aid in the defense of London. Yesterday, the Spanish dislodged the English armies, crossed the bridge, and engaged and defeated the main English contingent under the Earl of Leicester, which had been stationed at Tillsbury. With this latest victory, the road to London is clear and the final battle may take place in the city itself.

Meanwhile, there have been uprisings of Catholics throughout England in support of the invaders in places like Lancashire, Westmorland, and Norfolk. The population of England, which includes a large Catholic minority, is sharply divided between those who support Elizabeth and those who want her deposed.  This sharp division between Catholics and Protestants has been a fact of English political and social life since Henry VIII broke away from the Church of Rome.   

Your humble and obedient subject,

Michel de Castelnau, Sieur de la Mauvissière.

Signed this 24th day of June, 1587

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Gravesend, Kent, August 4, 1587

Your Serene Majesty: The Spanish invasion of England has been completed. After defeating the main English land army, the Farnese troops marched west towards London. Opposition was mostly by ill-equipped, poorly trained militia whose members could not withstand the assault of the battle-hardened Spanish forces.

Two weeks later, Spanish troops arrived in London and occupied the city, meeting little resistance. They then marched in the southwest direction towards the official residence of the Queen, Windsor Castle. Elizabeth had taken refuge in the castle, which had been fortified and was protected by a force of over 30,000 soldiers under the Queen’s cousin and Royal Chamberlain, Lord Henry Hunsdon.

A siege ensued, which ended abruptly last week. Apparently, there was a revolt by Catholics within the English forces. After prevailing in a fierce struggle, the Catholics surrendered the castle to the Spanish. Whether the details of this event are true is immaterial, for the success of the invaders is a fact. Elizabeth is imprisoned and is expected to stand trial for Mary’s execution.

Alexander Farnese, acting on King Philip II’s behalf, has proclaimed Philip Howard, the godson of Philip II and a strong Catholic, as the next King of England, bearing the name Philip I. Philip Howard is the son of the Duke of Norfolk, who was Queen Elizabeth’s second cousin. The Duke had sought to marry Queen Mary Stuart and put her on the throne in place of Elizabeth, but the plot was uncovered and the Duke was tried for treason and executed in 1572.  Philip Howard himself was implicated in a similar plot in 1583 to place Mary on the throne. That plot also failed and Philip was imprisoned in the tower of London, where he was at the time of the Armada’s arrival.    

Philip Howard is thus an ideal choice to rule England as a pawn of the Spanish. He will be a strong Catholic ruler, furthering the aims of King Philip II. The English Parliament has been dissolved and many of Elizabeth’s supporters have been slain or imprisoned. However, the English fleet under Lord Howard of Effingham, Francis Drake, and John Hawkins – has taken refuge somewhere off the coast of Ireland and remains a threat to the Spanish domination of the country and the seas.

Your humble and obedient subject,

Michel de Castelnau, Sieur de la Mauvissière.

Signed this 4th day of August, 1587

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Gravesend, Kent, December 30, 1588

Your Serene Majesty: The trial of Queen Elizabeth was concluded and the Queen was found guilty of various offenses, including the murder of her cousin Mary. At dawn today, Elizabeth was beheaded and her remains incinerated.

Public opinion in England remains divided between those that revere Elizabeth as a martyr, and those – mainly Catholics – who believe her execution was justified.

New English King Philip I is expected to sign a peace treaty with Spain, seeking to bring about the removal of Spanish forces from the island. England has ended its support of the rebellion in the Netherlands and is renouncing its privateers’ attacks on Spanish shipping, which nonetheless continue to be carried out by the rebellious Navy Royal.

But all is not well with Spanish rule in England. The Protestants in the country, supported by Scotland, have chosen James VI, son of Mary Stuart, as King of England. A civil war is in progress, as the Protestant majority abhors the country’s domination by a Catholic beholden to a foreign power. The English resistance will make the ongoing Dutch efforts to oppose Spanish rule pale by comparison. 

Many years of conflict are in the offing. This enduring strife will undoubtedly weaken both Spain and England and create opportunities for France to increase its power throughout the world. Time will tell what transpires, but the potential benefits for France appear immense.

Sire, I pray that God will keep your Majesty in perfect health and grant you a blessed 1589.

Your humble and obedient subject,

Michel de Castelnau, Sieur de la Mauvissière.

Signed this 30th of December, 1588

~

Bio:

Born in Cuba, Matias Travieso-Diaz migrated to the United States as a young man to escape political persecution. He became an engineer and lawyer and practiced for nearly fifty years. After retirement, he took up creative writing. Over eighty of his short stories have been published or accepted for publication in anthologies and paying magazines, blogs, audio books and podcasts. Some of his unpublished works have also received “honorable mentions” from several paying publications. A first collection of his stories, “The Satchel and Other Terrors” has recently been released and is available on Amazon and other book outlets.

Philosophy Note:

I took to creative writing a few years after my retirement from a career as engineer and lawyer. The transition was demanding, for it forced me to call upon my fifty years of experience in objective, fact-based writing and refocus it to generate work in which reality must join hands with (and sometimes be replaced by) visions of the world as it could, or should, be. As I started generating works of fiction, I came to realize that there is room in the creative tent for both utterly fantastic musings and thoughtful, though distorted, view of reality. The first type of writing results in horror, fantasy, romance, and other “genre” works whose main purpose is to shock, amuse, or uplift. Such works serve to provide entertainment and are valuable in their own way. The second type of writing is intended to stimulate consideration of new or controversial ideas, world views, and philosophies. Works like Fahrenheit 451 and Brave New
World
are leading examples of this second type. I find such stories at times difficult to create but always satisfying, for they elicit in the reader the consideration of new or alternative concepts of human society.

A Rejection

by Lloyd Earickson

In Monouary of GSY 3567, Mr. Onikratchilisharomp submitted a paper discussing conclusions he developed in response to the findings of the GSY 3562 expedition to Glias 5867c, which was rejected for publication.  With the consent of the author and the Journal of Intergalactic Exoarcheology*, the resulting exchange is being printed here, in ExoarcheologyNews*, for readers to weigh in upon the editorial and scientific considerations involved.  Please note that all reader responses will be recorded and may be utilized in future exopsychology studies.

*Disclaimer: ExoarcheologyNews and Journal of Intergalactic Exoarcheology are both subsidiary publications of the Intergalactic Association for the Advancement of Exoarcheology (IAAE).

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Letter to Mr. Onikratchilisharomp: 50th Monouary GSY 3567

Mr. Onikratchilisharomp,

                We regret to inform you that the Journal of Intergalactic Exoarcheology cannot publish your submitted paper, “An analysis of the impact of an electromagnetic “anchor” on the development of domestic habits and civilizational complexity in A-type lifeforms,” as it violates our policies regarding the equitable treatment of all classes of sentient lifeforms.  Thank you for your submission, and we look forwards to working with you in the future.

-JIE Editorial Board

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Response to JIE Editorial Board: 2nd Diuary GSY 3567

JIE Editors,

            Thank you very much for your reply; I am a long-time reader of your journal and am grateful for your consideration of my humble paper.  It is the product of much cogitation since I first became aware of the results of the Jominurish expedition through your pages, and I hope that, with your guidance, I may revise it as necessary to comply with your policies, which I certainly did not intentionally violate.

               Towards that end, I am requesting clarification regarding precisely in what way my paper violates your policies regarding the equitable treatment of all classes of sentient lifeforms.  My conclusions are derived from the data provided to the exoarcheology community by Jominurish et al from the GSY 3562 expedition to Glias 5867c in accordance with my best understanding of standard exoarcheological practice, and I in no way intended to be less than equitable in my treatment of any class of sentient lifeform.

-Mr. Onikratchilisharomp

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Response to Mr. Onikratchilisharomp: 37th Diuary GSY 3567

Mr. Onikratchilisharomp,

                Your paper implies that the civilizational and technological complexity and milestones typically exhibited by T-type lifeforms make them superior to A-type lifeforms.  This is a discriminatory perspective towards A-type lifeforms, which the JIE cannot support.  As A-type lifeforms have fundamentally different contexts, physiologies, biologies, and psychologies, they necessarily develop along different standards from T-type lifeforms, and thus the two cannot be compared.  In concluding that the A-type civilization that evolved on Glias 5867c “overcame the inherent disadvantages of amorphous lifeforms through the use of an electromagnetic anchor to achieve civilizational and technological complexity more similar to early-stage T-type civilizations,” your paper is necessarily suggesting that A-type lifeforms are inferior to T-type lifeforms.  For this reason, the paper cannot be published by our journal.

-JIE Editorial Board

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Response to JIE Editorial Board: 40th Diuary GSY 3567

JIE Editors,

                As an A-type lifeform myself, I find it troubling that you would suggest I am coming to a discriminatory conclusion; on the contrary, my conclusion is empirical, and is based on reasonable comparisons.  The Glias 5867c civilization seems to have developed along lines similar to T-type civilizations, including in their technological, societal, and domestic spheres, which my paper attributes to their unique electromagnetic anchor, created from their planet’s unique preponderance of gaseous and plasmatic heavy metals (see Nez’kerixt-Maxwell-qqXXghj spectroscopic analysis from Jominurish et al), and it is therefore reasonable to compare them to T-type civilizational development stages.  When I refer to the inherent disadvantages of amorphous lifeforms as compared to terrestrial lifeforms, it is intended only in the context of the development of civilizational and technological complexity, in particular their domestic habits, which is an approach well-documented in such varied sources as Hisisisisisisisisish, Calaxaraty, and Johnson, and not as any form of broader moral judgement on the capacities of A-type lifeforms.

            It is my hope that with this clarification, you would be willing to reconsider your rejection of my paper for publication.  I have attached a revised manuscript in which I attempted to make clearer the limits of my specific comparisons so that they cannot be misconstrued for a broader judgement.  Again, I appreciate your time and consideration in this matter.

-Mr. Onikratchilisharomp

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Response to Mr. Onikratchilisharomp: 32nd Heptauary GSY 3567

Mr. Onikratchilisharomp,

                While we appreciate and encourage ongoing dialogue regarding our publication and editorial processes, we are unable to review your paper for publication at this time.  We look forward to working with you in the future.

-JIE Editorial Board

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Response to JIE Editorial Board: 34th Heptauary GSY 3567

JIE Editors,

                Are there rigorous, scientific grounds for rejecting my paper, or is this judgement purely because of a perceived violation of subjective moral standards?  It is gravely concerning to me that the premier exoarcheological journal should make publication decisions based not on the quality of the science involved, but rather based upon an absolutist moralism which cannot possibly accommodate all circumstances.  How many other papers that include legitimate science have been rejected by your publication for such reasons?  It should be the responsibility of your readers to determine the validity of the exoarcheology involved on the merits and to make their own moral conclusions, such as may be applicable.  Your unwillingness to continue this dialogue or to reevaluate my paper is clearly indicative that your organization has fallen victim to the whims of the tri-galaxy capital region in which you are based, rather than remaining true to the spirit of free inquiry that underpins the discipline of skepticism that is true science.

                In light of this, I withdraw my paper from the JIE.  I have been a JIE subscriber my entire professional life, and it was reading your local publication, IAAE-Triangulum, which first inspired me to pursue studies in exoarcheology.  It is now clear to me that your institution does not maintain the same standards it once did, and I will be cancelling my subscriptions to all IAAE-associated publications forthwith.  I can only hope that you will one day return to the standards of rigor, quality, and reliability with which I once regarded you.

-Mr. Onikratchilisharomp

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Response to Mr. Onikratchilisharomp: 45th Heptauary GSY 3567

Mr. Onikratchilisharomp,

            Regardless of your intention, the fact is that your paper is in violation of this journal’s editorial policies and therefore ineligible for publication.  That the journal published papers employing a similar methodology prior to the adoption of the current policies is a source of continuing concern, the damage of which the IAAE is actively attempting to mitigate.  Any attempt to compare A-type and T-type lifeforms and civilizations is inherently discriminatory, and scientifically unsupportable.  Thus, your paper’s conclusion and methodology are morally and scientifically flawed by current standards.  While those standards were different in past decades, that is only evidence that our own cultural mores are subject to iteration and improvement.

-JIE Editorial Board

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Response to JIE Editorial Board: 7th Octouary GSY 3567

JIE Editors,

            The nature of exoarcheology as a science necessitates comparisons, as there is no agreed-upon fundamental organizing principle upon which all civilizations can be analyzed, such as is done in fundamental physics or astrochemistry.  As stated previously in this exchange, I am myself an A-type lifeform, and neither I nor any of my associates take offense at the notion that T-type civilizations, with their solid-state forms, manipulable extremities, and existential constancy, are superior to A-type civilizations in the areas of technological and civilizational complexity.  Indeed, the Glias 5867c civilization very clearly followed T-type domestic patterns, which are nonexistent in traditional A-type civilizations.  It is inherent to T-type lifeforms, just as A-type lifeforms’ dynamic intelligence, passive physical existence, and transient, gaseous forms make them naturally superior to T-type lifeforms in areas of science, philosophy, mathematics, and other forms of intellectual exercise.

             Arguably, by insisting that all comparisons between sentient lifeform classes are anathema, you are implicitly perpetuating a conception that A-type and T-type lifeforms differ too fundamentally from each other to exist in close harmony, symbiosis, and interdependence, the very states which the Intergalactic Coalition attempts to foster.  Therefore, your policies render you guilty of the sin of which you accuse me, by suggesting that one lifeform or another is diminished by comparison.  This is the inherent danger in rendering any kind of value-judgement in a moral sense.

            I must hope that not all journals have adopted the unscientifically-minded policies of the IAAE; although I would have preferred to publish my research through the Journal of Intergalactic Exoarcheology, this dialogue has convinced me to submit to other scientific journals, including the prestigious Svelcher Journal of Intergalactic History.  If the IAAE should return to its roots as an organization of which I was once proud to claim membership, such as when I received my first membership card 237 GSYs ago, I will gladly renew that membership.  Sincerely yours in science,

-Mr. Onikratchilisharomp

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Response to Mr. Onikratchilisharomp: 39th Monouary GSY 3568

Mr. Onikratchilisharomp,

            The JIE and the IAAE remain steadfast in our support of the pursuit of moral, responsible science that promotes the equitable treatment of all sentient species, and we stand by our editorial processes, guidelines, standards, and decisions.

-JIE Editorial Board

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What do you think? Share your thoughts on the exchange in the comments below or via our anonymous survey.

This material is copyrighted in the tri-galaxy region and all satellite galaxies in accordance with applicable Intergalactic Coalition (IGC) policies and standards.  For distribution and usage information, please contact IAAE headquarters at 132a Trappist Street, Dexillon, Fregad 35a, Andromeda.

~

Bio:

Lloyd Earickson is the founder and author behind IGC Publishing, host to his completed Blood Magic short story series and numerous other short stories and novellas. Since he began taking his writing seriously in 2016, he has drafted three novels and dozens of short stories and novellas, including several available through IGC Publishing, and Charmers, published professionally in Elegant Literature. A professional astronautical engineer with an insatiable curiosity, Lloyd’s writing, like his work on spacecraft, seeks to explore all regions of space and time.

Philosophy Note:

Recent editorial statements at prominent scientific journals, including Science and Nature, are the most proximal impetus for “A Rejection,” which involves a fictional exchange between a far-future, alien researcher and the editorial board at the prestigious journal to which it submits its manuscript. I often refer to science as a “discipline of skepticism,” a tool by which we can progress from wrong answers to less wrong answers in our impossible quest to understand the universe we inhabit, which necessitates the presentation and subsequent debate of a variety of conclusions, perspectives, and analyses in order to function effectively. Editorial statements, standards, and policies which suggest, foster, or impose ideological standards on the publication of scientific papers promote an insidious, holistic bias at the institutions which issue them by quelling, deterring, or outright rejecting research results, conclusions, and analyses that do not align with the reigning ideology.
Editorial standards and policies, and editorial gatekeeping generally, is a necessary part of the broader scientific enterprise in curating and presenting high-quality research, but those standards and policies should be ideologically agnostic. Papers should be selected based upon scientific rigor, analytical quality, reproducibility of results, and scale of potential impact and importance – metrics which can be, if not wholly objective, at least not blatantly biased. Even the appearance of ideological conformity by editorial enterprises casts a pall upon the institutions for which they gatekeep. In the long tradition of science fiction serving as a more palatable lens through which to view the issues which torment our own, contemporaneous societies, “A Rejection” probes this concern.
We have been exploring the value, impact, and effects of the freedom of expression at least since John Milton’s “Areopagitica.” In that broader sense, this story might seem to have little new to offer to the conversation, examining the esoteric subject of editorial decision-making in scientific publication without probing the more dramatic, overt impingements on the freedom of expression like book burnings and censorship. Nonetheless, I assert that “A Rejection” covers important ground precisely because the crimping of free inquiry it addresses is subtler. If it is not called out, it could go unnoticed, and the impacts of that are unknowable. Ideological limitations on publishing result only in “a fugitive and cloistered virtue, unexercised and unbreathed, that never sallies out and sees her adversary.” Those who truly believe in their values and ideologies should be unafraid to see them challenged and contradicted, for if they are valid they shall only come to greater wisdom and temperance in the process.
In other words, “since therefore the knowledge and survey of vice is in this world so necessary to the constituting of human virtue, and the scanning of error to the confirmation of truth, how can we more safely, and with less danger, scout into the regions of sin and falsity than by reading all manner of tractates and hearing all manner of reason? And this is the benefit which may be had of books promiscuously read.” I cannot express it more eloquently than John Milton. Here’s to promiscuous reading.

The Familiar Stranger

by Carlton Herzog

Professor Mulder,

I have practiced psychiatry for the past 30 years, specializing in the diagnosis and treatment of schizophrenia. In late 2054, I attended a patient—a CERN engineer—who seemed sane in every respect.

Yet, he insisted that he had been contacted by a visitor from the future. He also claimed that this traveler was his doppelganger, possibly from an alternate timeline. I remained skeptical and attributed his wild claims to a florid imagination and the stress of his work.

However, the further I delved into his story, the more I became convinced that he sincerely believed the truth of his claim.

Currently, he is on extended medical leave and remains under my care at the Institute. I convinced him to provide me with a written statement along with a copy of the Phone video he made of his visitor’s monologue. I have included both with this letter.

Professor Allen Treadwell, Department of Abnormal Psychology

Saint Mary’s Hospital, Zurich

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 “He didn’t belong here. Or anywhere else on this earth. I took him to be the stuff of dreams, an airy nothing that had found a habitation outside my head. But there was too much sensory detail for him to be a mere figment of my imagination.

He steamed as the brown ice on him melted. That vapor reeked of feces and corpses and the deep earth.

He wore a parka with matching leggings but had wrapped the entire suit—including the boots—in thick black plastic then mummified it with duct tape. Bandages and rags covered his ears and nose, while a scarf or three wrapped python-like around his neck and mouth. Reflective ski-goggles covered his eyes. 

But for all those layers, he seemed oddly familiar—a badly dressed, noisome me.

He told of the coming world.

 ‘We are dying. My wife passed last week. My daughter the week before. There are no doctors left, no medicine. There is little hygiene in our crowded burrow. We live on top of each other, feeding on odious things—dung beetles, maggots, mushrooms, tilapia, worms—that live on feces and the dead. Raw dirty things that make you gag before you swallow. Thanks to that retinue of coprophages, my wife and daughter will be part of me again and again and again.

How the mighty have fallen: the once proud lords of the earth now reduced to scurrying moles. It is small consolation that this dramatic change came not from man’s hubris, but from circumstances wholly beyond his ability to predict or control.

The scientists saw It coming hundreds of years before It arrived. The mother of extinction events. At first, the cosmologists called it a “supermassive debris field.” Later, the poets, renamed it the Tartarus Field. But whatever the label, words could not contain its proportions or scope, though they could at least describe its components: stars, comets, asteroids, brown dwarfs, cracked planets, whole planets, gas, and dust—moving like a horde of locusts over a wheat field. It was as if an entire arm of some galaxy had somehow detached itself and begun a pilgrimage through our piece of space gravitationally absorbing all forms of matter within its field of influence. Over billions of years, it grew as it passed through system after system in galaxy after galaxy. Maybe through another universe or two. And the bigger it got the more stuff it attracted.

One might expect that when all that matter passed through the Milky Way, the earth was in greatest danger from a collision. Or simply being dragged along with the other debris. But that was not the case. It just nipped the edge of the Sagittarius Arm, and did so only with its dusty halo.

Yet, that was more than enough. Sweet, beautiful dust, the diamonds of space, reflecting light like the Star of India. Trillions upon trillions of tumbling, dancing, whirling, spinning, gyring, jittering dust particles. A great diamond necklace that wrapped itself around the neck of the earth and told us that we were married to the fate of the cosmos around us whether we liked it or not. And what a marriage it was: the sun disappeared from the sky, and with it the moon, and it wasn’t long there after that the earth and her waters began to die, and when they did, so did we.’

Then he was gone. I reached for a drink to steady my nerves. I went outside and scanned the night sky. I wondered if my visitor were some time-slipping version of myself projecting a warning into the past or a potent sign of incipient psychosis.

Professor Allen Treadwell, Max Planck Institute for Advanced Gravitational Study

Potsdam, Germany

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Dear Professor Treadwell,

Consider that our brains are tuned to detect a shockingly small fraction of reality. We are taken in by the illusion of time having a single unified behavior. However, as special relativity makes clear, time’s expressed properties, like motion, are defined by its relationships. If one accepts the premise that time is a concentration of ever shifting energies running in all directions, one will not be surprised when it defeats our mundane expectations. To be sure, we can expect to acquire a greater understanding of its secrets. But that dynamic will remain asymptotic, for aspects of its truths–as with any other phenomena–we will always elude our grasp.

Hence, the foundation of science must always be to keep the door open to doubt. I find it helpful when an unfamiliar idea holds my attention to welcome that idea as the way to   something new. Therefore, I believe that it would be premature to prematurely dismiss your patient’s visitor as a hoax or hallucination. Further research is warranted.

Professor Fritz Mulder

Department of Physics and Astronomy, Iowa State University, Ames

#

Professor Mulder,

I need your help in solving a problem. As you may already know my team discovered an ancient human habitation in California’s Mitchell Caverns. For good reason, I have concealed the specifics of the find from the public. There are aspects to it that are deeply troubling. Let me briefly summarize what we have found.

On April 24, 2036, the cavern floor collapsed stranding a group of tourists on a heretofore unknown level below. The rescue team subsequently found an extensive network of a man-made tunnels fanning out from that initial rupture. They also found the remains of a human society. Soon thereafter, I, as head of the UCLA Anthropology Department, immediately put together a team and set out for what is now known as the Enigma Site.

When we arrived, I was shocked by what we found. There were miles of tunnels. Judging from the remains I conservatively estimated that this subterranean community had a population of a few thousand. Radio-metric dating of the human remains registered in the 3 to 4 million year range. However, those remains were anatomically modern in every respect right down to their dental work and steel replacement joints.

There were many more anomalies: the cavern floor, wall and ceiling contained high levels of iridium, an element common to asteroids; there were numerous ferromagnetic crystals magnetized on one end but not on the other (monopoles); the organic material we found proved aberrant, insofar as the human remains consisted of right-handed amino acids.

I realize that your expertise is in theoretical physics and not anthropology or archeology. But I believe that you may be in a better position to explain this mystery than anyone in my allied disciplines. I eagerly await your insight.

Sincerely yours

Professor Jesse Parris, UCLA

#

Professor Parris,

I have just returned from your Enigma Site. Based on the physical evidence you have provided, as well as my own observations, I believe that the Enigma Site is the result of a superposition between our reality and another. The tell-tale signs of that superposition are the right-handed amino acids and the monopoles, neither of which normally exist on this material plane.

After that, I can only speculate. How the remains of modern humans could be millions of years old yet be fitted with modern prosthetics would seem to defy explanation. But I know of no physical law that would prohibit the cross-pollination of alternate time streams. Nor one that would discourage time streams, like any distributed system, from evolving and developing emergent features along the way. Frankly, I am surprised that such a chronometric chimera has not been discovered sooner in one form or another.

Were I you, I would begin my analysis with two competing hypotheses. On the one hand, time like any physical system is subject to entropy, namely, moving from a state of order to one of disorder. On the other, time is a self-correcting code that keeps the universe from getting too big and makes local adjustments that to us seem disorderly but are necessary to maintain the greater equilibrium. In that respect, perhaps time like energy is conserved.

In any event, I suspect that we will see more of these time displacements.

Yours

Professor Fritz Mulder, Iowa State University, Ames

#

Dear Professor Parris,

I too have visited the Enigma Site. It confirms my hypothesis that time is not a linear, unidimensional feature of our reality. Rather, it is a dynamic, bi-directional wave consistent with Einstein’s observation that “the distinction between past, present and future is only a stubbornly persistent illusion.”

Indeed, we live in a carousel universe with more and more galaxies in the northern hemisphere rotating to the left and an equal number of galaxies in the southern hemisphere rotating to the right. When our universe spins, it focuses space and propagates sometimes as a wave, and at others, as a filament structure accompanied by robust, but entirely random, time vortices, sweeping bits of the future into the past.

But the story does not end there. My most recent observations indicate that our universe not only rotates on an axis but also revolves around a more massive object, such as another singularity or universe. Just as a white dwarf star pulls matter from a companion red giant in a binary system, the tidal forces between our universe and its companion amplify the time like curves produced by our universe’s rotation.

We can only guess at the larger reality we inhabit. For all we know our universe could be a speck on the spiral arm of some meta-structure composed entirely of universes. That meta-structure could be part of something even larger. Where it ends, we will never know.

We do know some small things with certainty. Rotation is one feature of this universe, from the spin of an electron to that of a galaxy and everything in between since the sphere is the most efficient shape to house matter and energy.

Self-similarity is another: big things look like the little things that comprise them. Circular solar systems are comprised of circular objects in circular orbits, many of which are circularly orbited by circular objects.

As the foregoing discussion suggests, I do not hold with the traditional multiverse view of discrete universes existing incommunicado from one another. To be fair, I do not have a language for the occulted, inaccessible structures in which we are imbedded. Suffice to say that if viewed from the domain of the very large, the meta-structure would reveal itself as a fractal pattern of self-similar topology extending into infinity.

Proof of this hypothesis is for the moment in short supply. But if Einstein’s theory of General Relativity showed us anything it’s that there is selective advantage in believing in what can’t yet be proved.

Professor Sherman Klein, Emeritus Professor of Astrophysics,

Oxford University

~

Bio:

Carlton Herzog publishes science fiction, horror, and crime as well as non-fiction. He graduated from Rutgers University magna cum laude and Rutgers Law School where he served as Article Editor of the Law Review.

Philosophy Note:

As linear creatures, our language is saturated and animated by notions of time. Time is basically an illusion created by the mind to make sense of our reality. Albert Einstein, shared this view, writing, “People like us who believe in physics know that the distinction between past, present, and future is only a stubbornly persistent illusion.”

Xenogram: A Chronology Of The Global Erasure Of Vowel Number Three, And The Merger Of Man

by Charles Ta

An orthodox pan-temporal account of the fate of all occupants of Earth (from System S-108374421) before, throughout, and after the Astralect Engagement, as recounted by one of the last pre-Merger “Tamed” humans, for the Astralect Eternal Records:

When the spacefarers who called themselves the Astralects came, they took our heads and planted a “theozoan” pathogen that changed how we saw and understood the world. They had no craft to speak of, at least none that could be seen, because they were needless for the Engagement they had planned, and had far more subtle means to control us.

Over the course of several years they secretly entered our vessels of flesh, through our water, our sky, our land. As the pathogen they created covertly grew and spread, we began to lose our language, our knowledge and awareness. We started to forget our words and abandon our thoughts, as they were usurped by the vernacular of the Astralects, called Startongue. Our technology proved no match for them, and as a result, our downfall was assured. The names of faraway lands, states, and settlements faded away, books sat unread, schools turned to ash, the past and future merged as one, and pen and sword all crumbled to dust. Then whole concepts became less and less understood by greater and greater numbers of people, only to be deposed by new concepts unknown and unfathomable to our unprepared psyches.

Eventually, the bonds that once held people together broke down, for they could no longer transfer messages or speak properly, and slowly, but surely, all human art and culture fell apart. And from the shattered fragments of Earth’s old governments there arose a new, supreme government. A new hegemony and a new language unencumbered by petty squabbles. One that would enforce absolute sameness for all, and both create and preserve true harmony for everyone.

Before we knew what had happened, we were no longer people. We had become dumb subdued cattle, Tamed beasts who had been quelled by the slaughter of our vocabulary. From deep beneath our frontal and temporal lobes, now managed by our mental overlords, we were told that under the Startongue language, we could no longer speak the vowel after “e”, also known as the letter after “h” and before “j”, or say or contemplate any word, phrase, concept, or sentence that used, referred to, or was related to a word that used that banned letter of the alphabet, because such words were absent from Astralect grammar and morphology. We were told through the spacers’ uncanny utterances that the symbol was censored for our own good, and out of paramount concern. Through the necessary purge, they stated, our egos would be destroyed, our hearts would be freed from the cage that was the self, and our very selves would be prepared for transcendence, for reasons unknown back then.

We flawed, broken humans, they added, would be herded towards greatness, mended and made complete, and become perfect, gentle creatures through a Great Merger that would last for hundreds of years. We had to be. The result of that Merger would be total Oneness and peace, as had been the fate of thousands of advanced races before us across the cosmos.

From the Astralects’ frame of reference, the letter our language once harbored was not only one of the most dangerous terms throughout the whole galaxy, but also the root of our agony, our greed, our separateness—the source of all our problems and the problems of countless other peoples and worlds comparable to ours. Lethal to nonhuman orthography and the catalyst to wars and clashes across the ages. Heresy to all that was pure and holy. Before the Astralects assumed control over us, they asserted, we were purposeless, fallen, and doomed. Had they not removed our autonomy, our free agency, we would have brought apocalypse upon ourselves—an event the Astralects could not allow to happen at any cost.

Months passed. Once the Astralects made sure the pathogen they had created had overtaken all humans, they appeared through portals on Earth as many-eyed, many-tentacled archangels made of nacreous, lustrous ooze. They ushered on the world a new Golden Age—one where no one could be hurt or suffer anymore, death had been overcome, war and money were forgotten, every person was equal, the extremes of ecstasy and comfort were bestowed upon us, and the problems of resources, ecology, hunger, and energy had long been solved. Although the Astralects had helped us reach the apex of our development, however, some of us felt they were not as benevolent as they portrayed themselves to be. Remnants of our past haunted our dreams even as the Astralects had begun to delete our memory of ages long gone.

Around the year 53 AE (After Engagement), a number of us challenged the rule of those who took our encephalons, corrupted our speech, and had created dull pets out of us. We attempted to rebel, to overthrow our masters as best as we could, because deep down, though the Astralects gave us heaven, we felt…detached from ourselves. But because of the pathogen that taught us Startongue, we had no words to express our rage and sorrow, let alone understand who we were. We could not comprehend that we had been robbed of our freedom and reason, nor that the Astralects were not good, not holy, or not truthful. The antonyms of these words unfortunately featured that letter that could not be pronounced by Astralects, nor even thought of. Our sloth and secret enjoyment of Astralect pleasures further hampered our cause, as we allowed ourselves to be led astray further towards beasthood than we already were.

As a result, our crude revolt collapsed mere moments after we had made our demands by groan and grunt, and assembled a clumsy, weak assault. The Astralects soon found out about our treachery and unsuccessful upheaval, but rather than torture us for our conduct, they showed us care, love, and mercy, and sought to protect us more than ever.

They accelerated the Merger they had planned for us. One by one, they gathered every Tamed person across planet Earth and created enormous, mouthless protoplasms out of them called Gestalts, each one composed of thousands of humans and the pathogens they harbored. Then they took these Gestalts, fused them to other Gestalts to form even larger Gestalts, constructed “wombs” to house and feed them, and altered the genes they possessed so they resembled the thousand-armed Astralects themselves.

As of today, hundreds of thousands of Gestalts have already been Merged. Only a select few of us wander Tamed but UnMerged—the narrator tasked to be the record-keeper and curator of the Astralects’ deeds on Earth—among them.

Soon, we too shall be Merged, and become Astralects ourselves, no less godly or perfect than them. And for that, we thank them. We thank them because they freed us from the tyranny of selfhood and the soul out of mercy, so that we could escape our troubled, confused past and transcend our lesser forms towards godhood. The Astralects, blessed as they are, saved us from ourselves, preserved our people, and gave us a clear purpose: to usher total peace, order, gladness, and safety to all worlds, just as they had done to us on Earth.

And one day, as the Astralects revealed to me, we newborn Gestalt-turned-Astralects would travel across the galaxy to perpetuate the cycle they started, once we were deemed ready. The torch would be passed from them to us, just as the Astralects had been handed the torch from older predecessors, so that all peoples from all worlds could share and enjoy the total peace, love, and harmony bestowed by the spacefarers.

From there, we would travel amongst the stars to search for fallen worlds to descend upon, chosen for the advanced peoples seen to dwell on them. We would then send pathogens from ourselves to these planets, and watch as they assumed control of other races, compelled them to speak Startongue, and cleanse away the cultures they once held dear. Then we would emerge through portals over our conquered worlds, corral the races-turned-pets, and oversee heavenly Mergers between them, so that more Astralects could be bred to advance the sacred cause, and spread onto more worlds, and repeat the endless Mergers to forge ever larger and more numerous Gestalts and Astralects. Forever.

And eons from that era that we were foretold about by the Astralects, who knew many pasts and many futures all at once, the cosmos would at long last know peace after the last untouched planet of the farthest galaxy was Merged. The Astralects, they declared, would keep the peace and constantly Merge amongst themselves for eons more afterwards, so that true Oneness and peace could be reached. Over the ages, as the stars burned out, the Astralects would gradually grow as large as moons, then Merge to become planets, then stars, then black holes. Eventually, they would grow so enormous and Merge so frequently that only a few of these ageless gods as gargantuan as galaxy superclusters would be left to roam the endless darkness, and fuse and become One Astralect. One Absolute Whole, composed of the selves of all peoples and all races across all space and all eras, past, present, and future.

Through these events, however, tragedy would befall the One Astralect, the One Whole. A Great Cataclysm called “The Severance”, whose other name was “entropy” would eventually occur to the One at the end of the cosmos. A Cataclysm that not only could not be stopped or reversed, not even by the Astralects’ powers, merely delayed, but would utterly tear apart the One by the sheer forces of dark energy. But the One had foreseen the fate that would end the Astralects, and had created a method that would save them, and us all.

“Do you want to know why we do what we do, and how the One ensured our safety?” the Astralects told me. “The One created a portal to send our pathogens back to the past, to the early days of the cosmos, so the Astralects could be remade, and all planets could be seeded and Merged once more, your Earth just one from a long thread of many. For the Astralects truly are endless. We are the Alpha and the Omega. The Creator and the Created. Eternally One.”

~

Bio:

Charles Ta is a teacher, illustrator, and writer based in Union City, NJ. His short story “Tough Luck, Kid” was recently published in the novel BLAST , the latest entry in the Ben Blackshaw action thriller series by Robert Blake Whitehill, while another short story of his, “Nano-Noir”, recently won Third Place at a local writing competition about technology. When not writing, you can usually find Charles reading a good book, drawing, or inspiring his students to succeed academically. Follow him on Instagram (@charlestaart) or check out his website (charlesta.com) to see his latest artwork.

Philosophy Note:

“Xenogram” was initially inspired by the obscure philosophy of Symbiosism (which views language as a kind of organism or memetic virus that aims to propagate itself) as well as by the ideas and theories of anti-colonial philosopher Frantz Fanon, who investigated the relationship between language, power, and colonialism. He wrote that “to speak a language is to participate in a world, to adopt civilization” (i.e. that speaking a certain language forces you to participate in the culture and society of the civilization which that language originates from, and can even influence the way you view yourself and the world around you). Applied to colonialism, Fanon asserted language is a tool that could be used by a colonizer civilization against a colonized people as a form of “linguistic imperialism”. By forcing indigenous peoples to abandon their native languages and learn the language of their oppressors, they would be made to participate in the world of the colonizer, and thus facilitate their own subjugation. In my narrative, the Astralects are unfathomably powerful, eldritch alien entities who colonize Earth by implanting a parasitic pathogen into the brains of humans, slowly destroying their ability to understand and speak their own languages, and forcing them to worship the Astralects, as well as speak their alien language—Startongue. By speaking Startongue, humans lose their intelligence/sapience and their identities, largely forget their pasts and the history of their species (leading to the death of human culture), and become unable to conceive of themselves as individuals separate from others, because the Startongue alphabet lacks the letter “I” and also lacks singular pronouns (meaning speakers can only speak in plural—which is how the Astralects see themselves—as collectives/groups rather than individuals). The entire story functions on a formalistic, stylistic level as a lipogram—not once is the letter “I” used in the entirety of the narrator’s account of the Astralect intervention. Furthermore, Startongue lacks certain words that would allow humanity to view their oppressors as malevolent, or realize they are being oppressed. It is the ultimate colonialist language which successfully keeps humanity subservient. To the Astralects, Startongue is a perfect, divine language (a reference to the Biblical language of the angels, or the idea of “speaking in tongues”) because it eliminates what they believe is the root cause of suffering and destruction in the Universe—egoism, individuality , and ultimately , free will. “Xenogram” also elicits questions about time, identity , and ethics, and whether they are ultimately constructed or illusory. The ending of the story implies it is one giant time loop and that the Astralects eventually reach an Omega Point-like state of singularity that is inevitably annihilated by entropy and the Universe’s Big Rip, forcing them to travel back in time to ensure their own survival and recreate the Omega Point (suggesting they create themselves, causing their own existence, making them seem increasingly godlike and paradoxical, both in a secular and Biblical sense). Indeed, my story subverts the concept of “reuniting” with God or the Omega Point from something holy and beautiful to a kind of body horror nightmare. Furthermore, the Astralects don’t seem to have a conception of time like humans do, and don’t believe in free will. Thus, their Universe is ultimately a deterministic one ruled by fate, one in which we don’t really have any choices to speak of. They see all events past, present, and future, occurring at once, therefore all events have already been predetermined. The Astralects are inevitable. They are the antithesis of free will themselves, a product of their own worldview as much as the species and civilizations they absorb. As a result, the Astralects seem to espouse an extreme form of utilitarianism or consequentialism—their lack of a belief in free will allows them to legitimize their oppression and transmutation of other species, because they see the results as ultimately beneficial to the colonized civilizations as a whole. From a religious or theological standpoint, the Astralects equate free will to a disease that must be cured, to the Christian conception of sin as arising from our ability to decide whether to do good or evil. To “remedy” this flaw they perceive in all sentient life forms, the Astralects remove their ability to “sin” in the first place by turning people like us into angelic beings like them, then descend upon pacified planets to create utopias which give their inhabitants a heavenly existence, easy answers, and leaves everyone dissatisfied: is it ever morally permissible to take away the free will of individuals if their lives are made infinitely better in exchange?

End Of Year Missive: Sundered Keep, A.F. 5962

by Matthew Ross

To the Men and Women of the Onyx Legion,

When the daylight hours dwindle and the nights grow ever longer, it can only mean two things: the Winter Solstice draws near…heralding the arrival of the Onyx Legion’s annual end-of-year missive from our beloved warlord! The High General bids you all her greetings and commands me to convey her warmest wishes to you this Solstice season. It has been nigh on six millennia since the infernal hordes last dared to cross the Adamantine Pass and terrorize the realms of men – six millennia of uninterrupted peace and prosperity that the Seven Lands owe to the steadfast watchfulness of the Onyx Legion. And though many believe that the great Fergus the Red (hallowed be his name) wiped their loathsome race from the face of the earth so many years ago, we cannot rely on faith alone to shield us should they ever return once more. The ongoing existence of the Seven Lands depends upon the unceasing vigilance of the men and women of the Onyx Legion. Whether your enlistment into the Legion came voluntarily or otherwise, that is something that should make us all square our shoulders in pride.

Though it is nearly time to bid farewell to A.F. 5,962 and toll the welcome bells for A.F. 5,963, at the High General’s behest, I’d like to take a moment to reflect on all that we have accomplished this past year. A.F. 5,962 will surely be entered into the logbooks as a banner year for the Sundered Keep. In addition to keeping the infernal horde (should they still exist) from sweeping down through the Adamantine Pass to menace our loved ones once again, we also fought – and won – a good twenty-six skirmishes with local tribesmen treacherously seeking to steal back the land rightfully commandeered by the Legion during the reign of Niall the Peacemaker (hallowed be his name). That’s nearly ten more victories than last year – way to show those filthy goatkissers what’s what! In addition, though the Keep continues to lose more hands to self-slaughter than the High General would prefer, our overall casualty numbers actually dipped a bit from A.F. 5,961, with accidental maimings suffered in the line of duty hitting a new ten-year low. Let’s all be sure to show our gratitude to Morale Centurion Mordha by giving him an extra-big round of applause at next week’s series of mandatory safety lectures!

Having now conveyed her Solstice greetings, the High General has directed me to issue a brief series of announcements and reminders for all Legion personnel, which I shall append below.

-Following the results of last week’s surprise barracks inspection, all personnel are to be reminded that Legionnaires are forbidden from keeping animals in their living quarters. Anyone caught harboring mice, rats, squirrels, hedgehogs, woodchucks, voles, moles, lizards, toads, newts, or birds of any kind – whether as pets or unauthorized livestock – will be assigned to Punishment Detail and the offending creature (or creatures) destroyed forthwith. In addition, Morale Centurion Mordha has directed me to add that the Legion’s rations have been carefully portioned to provide a Legionnaire with all the nutritional sustenance that they require and assures me that there is no valid physiological reason why a Legionnaire need supplement them further.

-All personnel are also to be reminded that while they are free to visit the Legion’s Taproom during their off-duty hours, the consumption of intoxicating spirits while on duty is a serious offense that will result in an extended assignment to Punishment Detail. Legionnaires are also advised to remember that both the possession and consumption of unauthorized intoxicants is strictly prohibited.

Morale Centurion Mordha wishes to add that these prohibitions are there to safeguard your health and wellbeing, as unauthorized intoxicants have been placed off limits for good reason. Legion studies have shown that the fermented berry spirits commonly known as ‘swipe’ have been known to cause blindness in up to one third of Medical Corps test subjects drawn from Punishment Details.

-Morale Centurion Mordha would also like to remind all personnel that the hallucinogenic mushrooms which grow in the caves west of the Sundered Keep are still officially classified as an ‘intoxicating spirit’ and remain off limits to all Keep personnel. All Legionnaires are to be advised that a new guard rotation has been posted to the entrance of these caves since the previous guards were found to have been trading in said mushrooms and permanently reassigned to Punishment Detail.

-Lastly, all personnel are to be reminded that enlistment in the Legion, both voluntary and compulsory, lasts for the duration of a Legionnaire’s natural lifetime. While Legionnaires who sustain disabling injuries honorably in the course of their duties will be reassigned appropriately, any Legionnaires who suffer disabling injuries that are later deemed to have been self-inflicted will NOT be discharged, but instead assigned to a suitable Punishment Detail. THIS INCLUDES ANY LEGIONNAIRES FOUND TO HAVE SUFFERED DEBILITATING INJURIES RESULTING FROM THE CONSUMPTION OF UNAUTHORIZED SPIRITS! Legionnaires would do well to remember that blindness would be no serious impediment should they be assigned Punishment Detail to the Brothel, Medical Testing corps, or Sewer Maintenance division, and to conduct themselves accordingly both on and off duty.

Turning now to cheerier subjects, the High General and Morale Centurion Mordha have some very exciting news and announcements to share, which they have directed me to disseminate as follows:

The High General wishes to announce that due to the ongoing financial crisis, his radiant majesty Duncan the Festive (hallowed be his name) has tabled the hoped-for increase to the Legion’s monthly wages for at least another year. The High General is proud to add that it was only thanks to her personal petition that she was able to convince his radiant majesty not to decrease the Legion’s monthly wages, and that we should all celebrate that generous concession as the great victory that it is.

The High General is very excited to announce an exhilarating new initiative aimed at improving the Winter Solstice experience for everyone here at the Sundered Keep. As we all know, Solstice season is a time of celebration, but also a time when many Legionnaires may find themselves missing their friends and family back home. Thus, Solstice season does tend to be one of the busiest times of year for the Keep’s Brothel.

In order to keep wait times to a minimum and show a little consideration for our brother and sister Legionnaires on temporary or long-term assignment to the Brothel (it is Solstice season for them too, after all!) the High General is pleased to unveil her new A-B-C campaign. Morale Centurion Mordha is already organizing an invigorating series of mandatory informational lectures for us to enjoy in the coming weeks, but in brief, this electrifying initiative is as simple as A-B-C:

A: Appointment – plan out your Brothel visits in advance by making an appointment with our Brothel’s new Scheduling Department! Just stop by the front desk and ask to speak with Morale Optio Bradaigh for more details.

B: Be Open to Alternative Scheduling – Brothel lines tend to be the longest in the evenings and during the 48 hours that follow each Pay Day. So, the High General will soon be announcing an exciting new Incentives Program to encourage Legionnaires to space out their Brothel visits and/or visit the Brothel during off-peak hours. Come by to pick up your complimentary Incentives Program punch-card from Morale Optio Bradaigh any time after First Moon and start working towards your first upgrade!

C: Consider Alternate Forms of Gratification – the Legion is well aware of the existing gender gap between male and female personnel stationed at the Sundered Keep, as well as the various ways in which that gap contributes to the necessary function that our Brothel plays. In an effort to address that disparity, new Legion directives are now encouraging all troops to be open-minded towards other forms of physical gratification that they may not have sampled previously. Men, if you’ve never experienced it before, have you ever considered consensual buggery? If your answer is ‘No,’ what’s stopping you from trying it out now? How do you know you wouldn’t enjoy it – or perhaps, even prefer it to whatever forms of gratification you currently favor? Why not grab a like-minded bunkmate and give it a go – you might both soon find yourselves saving a fortune in monthly Brothel fees!

And as for you female Legionnaires out there, don’t think we’ve forgotten about you either. If you’ve always preferred the company of your own fairer sex, why not try a roll in the hay with one of your brother Legionnaires – after all, you have nothing to lose, and a whole new world of gratification to potentially gain! And for those female Legionnaires who already take pleasure in rutting freely with their male comrades, have you ever considered seeking to turn your part-time hobby into a full-time profession? The High General has been authorized to offer some very attractive benefits packages to female Legionnaires willing to volunteer for Brothel duty. Not happy with your current duty station? A more rewarding one may only be a short conversation with Morale Optio Bradaigh away!

While the High General is confident that our Keep’s new A-B-C campaign will ensure that all personnel are able to satisfy their physical desires in an orderly and enjoyable fashion, Morale Centurion Mordha bids me remind all Legionnaires that freelance harlotry within the barracks remains strictly prohibited. While Legionnaires are free to pursue consensual physical relationships with personnel of an equal or equivalent rank, it is forbidden for Legionnaires to accept any form of compensation for the physical acts of gratification they may choose to engage in. Legionnaires of any gender who are found guilty of exchanging their favors for coin or barter will be immediately reassigned to Punishment Detail in the Brothel.

Lastly, the High General is pleased to announce that due to the recent civil unrest in the capital, enlistments into the Onyx Legion have just reached their highest point since the food riots of A.F. 5,959. With the courts returning to session shortly after the new year, we can expect to start receiving our first shipments of new recruits by the beginning of Second Moon. The High General encourages you to greet our new brothers and sisters in the same spirit with which we were all initiated into the Legion and to begin accustoming them to our ways as soon as they arrive. Remember, the Legion is only as strong as its weakest link – and the High General is sure you will all go to whatever lengths are required to properly motivate our new fellows and swiftly bring them up to Legion standards of discipline and deportment.

In closing, the High General wishes to commend you all on another year of honorable service to the Onyx Legion. There may not be a feather-bed, a silken handkerchief, or a brandied sweetmeat to be found outside the officer’s quarters, yet the Sundered Keep remains stocked to the brim with far greater rewards – like the satisfaction taken in an honest day’s toil, or the fellowship born of dangers braved with steadfast comrades. And above all else, there is the greatest reward of all – the pride one takes in knowing that a Legionnaire’s life is a worthy one, for the hardships it entails and the sacrifices it demands play a vital role in the protection of the Seven Lands. We are the thin black line which safeguards our countrymen from the hellish terrors of the infernal hordes, should they have the temerity to ever show their grotesque faces above ground once more – and the High General knows that there’s not a man-jack among us who would trade a day in the Legion for all the feather-beds in the world.

All Glory To The Onyx Legion!

–Scribed by Ossian, Scrivener 2nd Class, as directed by High General Kenna

~

Bio:

Matthew Ross is a writer, editor, and English professor living in Los Angeles, CA. His fiction has previously appeared in Teleport Magazine and The Chamber and will be forthcoming in Literally Stories. Find him online @matthewrossphd.

Philosophy Note:

As an English professor teaching at a struggling community college, I’ve come to dread the yearly end-of-year emails that seek to put a positive spin on the latest round of hardships that my colleagues and I can expect to face in the upcoming year. This story was inspired by the brief “What If” response I had last December that went, “I wonder what those end-of-year messages would look like in one of those dreadfully barbaric military organizations you always see in fantasy books…” This story is the result. Readers interested in exploring other literary excursions into the realm of workplace dystopias may enjoy Severance by Ling Ma, or Convenience Store Woman by Sayaka Murata.

The Last Tsar

by Matias Travieso-Diaz

It is better to abolish serfdom from above than wait for it to abolish itself from below.

Tsar Alexander II

“My Grandfather: A National Hero”    

On this, the fiftieth anniversary of his untimely death, I have been asked by the New Literary Gazette to share a few recollections of the life of my grandfather Gennady Ilych Kramnik. As I have grown older, memories have faded, but I still remember enough to pay tribute to my beloved dedushka, who was as much a personal hero to me as he is to Mother Russia.

My most important reminiscence is an early one, for it dates back to 1858, when I was a six-year-old lad. That spring, my grandfather took me to a performance of Mikhail Glinka’s A Life for the Tsar at the Bolshoi Kammeny Theater in Saint Petersburg. Glinka had died the year before and there were commemorative performances of his operas throughout Russia. My mother remonstrated with her father-in-law for taking only me to see the opera and keeping the rest of the family at home: “We should all go and pay our respects to the late great Glinka,” she argued.

“Galina, my dear,” replied my grandfather soberly. “Tickets at the Kammeny are very expensive, and all I could afford were two of the cheapest ones, in the upper gallery where the sparrows nest. The hero’s son Vanya is an important character in the story and I want my grandson to see his namesake in action and learn the importance of being patriotic.”

My grandfather Gennady Ilych Kramnik was a bear of a man, tall and full-bearded, with a gravelly voice that commanded immediate respect. By then, he was already a member of the famous Leib Guard, the personal guards of Tsar Alexander II, and was for that reason respected by his colleagues and feared more than a little at home, where his decisions were law.

So, we went together to the opera, a first-time experience for me.

I was bored through most of the performance. However, in the third act, the hero Ivan Susanin sends his adopted son Vanya to warn the tsar that a contingent of Polish soldiers is on a deadly search for him; meanwhile, Susanin misleads the assailants into following him through remote woods. The suspense in the opera’s plot kept me awake during the fourth act, in which Vanya reaches a monastery and alerts the monks to spirit the tsar away, and in the meantime Susanin keeps the Poles off the right track. At the end, Susanin’s ruse is discovered and he is put to death.

At that point in the opera, as Susanin is about to be killed, he sings an aria about his willingness to face death, since as doing so will have made it possible for the tsar to survive. My dedushka squeezed my shoulder so hard that I winced in pain. Choking with emotion, he declared: “Vanya, I swear, I would like nothing more than to give my life for our Tsar, as Susanin did.” I could have never imagined that this wish would eventually come to be realized in a most dramatic fashion.

The concept of patriotism was rather vague for me then, but kept being reinforced by my dedushka as I grew older. He was of the true Russian country stock that might suffer indignities at the hands of the aristocrats and landed gentry but would never waver in their love for the Motherland.

Like his ancestors, he grew up on a farm in Yelets, in the Russian heartland, a member of a penniless family of serfs. Like thousands of others, they were emancipated by the Tsar in 1861. Thereafter, my grandfather would visit his kin in Yelets and regale them with tales of his service to Alexander the Liberator.

Later on, Tsar Alexander stayed the reform course, but one action that benefitted my grandfather in particular was the appointment of Dmitry Alekseyevitch Milyutin as Minister of War in 1861. My grandfather and Milyutin had become acquainted when they served in the Caucasian War. Milyutin was impressed with my grandfather’s courage, loyalty, and skill, and recommended to the Tsar that he be promoted from the Leib Guard to join the Cossack Escort, the regiment that provided personal security for the Tsar. At the time, almost all the members of the Escort were Cossacks from Terek and Kuban, thus including my dedushka, not a Cossack, in the regiment was a high honor that made him even more beholden to Alexander II and Milyutin.

Our contacts became less frequent after he joined the Escort, for he travelled constantly throughout Russia accompanying the Tsar during the sovereign’s frequent visits to all parts of our vast nation. Whenever he came to visit us, he would keep us enthralled with descriptions of the multitude of peoples and lifestyles of both the European and trans-Uralian parts of the country. All throughout those years, he never ceased to sing the praises of our beautiful land and its beloved ruler.

Despite his many reforms – or perhaps because of them – Alexander II was the focus of many attempts on his life by radical fanatics. Unsuccessful attempts to assassinate him were made in 1866, 1867, 1879 and 1880, the last two the work of a socialist group known as the Narodnaya Volya, whose aim was to overthrow the government by eliminating its leaders. My grandfather narrowly escaped the 1880 attempt, in which Stephan Khalturin, a member of the cell, set off a time bomb in the guards’ quarters one floor below the dining room in the Winter Palace. The explosion killed eleven people and wounded thirty others, including my dedushka, but failed to achieve its aim of killing Alexander II because the Tsar and his family were not in the dining room at the time. My grandfather suffered minor shrapnel wounds on the chest and left arm, but was otherwise unharmed and was decorated by the Tsar, as were other guards injured in the attack. The Tsar appointed Count Loris-Melikov as head of a Supreme Executive Commission charged with identifying and neutralizing the threats posed by so-called revolutionaries, and the Commission was in its initial stages of organization when the final attempt on the Tsar’s life was made on March 13, 1881.

On that fateful day, one of the Narodnaya Volya members, Nikolai Rysakov, threw a bomb under the Tsar’s carriage as it traversed the Catherine Canal over St. Petersburg’s Pevchesky Bridge. My grandfather was one of six Cossack guards who at the time were riding in formation escorting the Tsar’s carriage. One of the guards was killed in the explosion, as were the carriage driver and several bystanders. The carriage was bulletproof and was undamaged, and continued to proceed driverless for a few yards until it came to a stop against the bridge’s railing.

The Tsar emerged from the vehicle and started to head back towards the explosion’s location. My grandfather and other guards dismounted their horses and tried to persuade him to return to the carriage, but Alexander seemed unable to hear and stood, dazed, in the middle of the bridge. At that point, a second member of Narodnaya Volya, Ignacy Hryniewiecki, tossed another bomb at the Tsar’s feet. My grandfather, who was standing by the sovereign’s side, reacted with blinding speed: he threw himself to the ground, covering the exploding bomb and sheltering Alexander, who escaped with only minor wounds to the body.

My dedushka was essentially torn to bits by the explosion. His chest and stomach were blown open and his legs were severed; his face was terribly mutilated and unrecognizable. He was placed on the snow, on the side of the bridge, in mortal agony. A pastor from the Saint Isaac’s Cathedral who was at the end of the bridge watching the Tsar’s procession rushed to his side and gave him the last rites.

According to the pastor, my grandfather was gasping for air, taking his last few breaths before leaving this Earth. Although his words were garbled and almost inaudible, he managed to ask whether the Tsar was safe and when the pastor confirmed this he said “thank you, O Lord” as the remnant of his face smoothed into a beatific smile. And with that, he passed away.

The past five decades have proved my grandfather’s supreme sacrifice to have been worthwhile. Alexander II remained Tsar for twelve more years, during which he carried out extensive economic, legal and social reforms, such as the constitutional changes implemented in 1882. At the end of his reign, he voluntarily renounced the throne upon turning 75 in 1893. At the same time, the monarchy was abolished and the Russian Republic began its existence.

Alexander also came down hard on the left-wing conspirators that had tried to assassinate him and overthrow his regime. Count Loris-Melikov’s Supreme Executive Commission was implacable in pursuing the Narodnaya Volya and other radical groups. When the writings of Karl Marx circulated and began to be espoused by the Russian intellectual elites, the Commission rounded up socialist radicals by the thousands, executed their leaders, sent the captured rank-and-file members into exile in Siberia, and banned entry into Russia of radicals from abroad. As a result, Russia has been spared the class struggles that have taken place in Germany and France, among other countries. We have no communists here.

Partly as a consequence of the elimination of radical opponents, the transition from an Empire to a Republic proceeded without significant opposition except for the nobility and members of the Tsar’s immediate family. Alexander Alexandrovitch, who would have succeeded his father on Russia’s throne, received a very generous pension granted to him by the State, and ended his life in luxury, in a villa in Italy. Similar payments to other members of the Romanov family and the nobility were a drain on Russia’s coffers, but allowed the peaceful handover of state powers to a Federal Assembly led by a Prime Minister, not unlike counterparts in Great Britain and other Western powers.

I will add briefly that the success of the Russian Republic, itself the fruit of Tsar Alexander II’s reforms, has been partly due to the country’s governance by Alexei Maximovich Peshkov (popularly known as Maxim Gorky), a brilliant writer who became, in 1898, the youngest Prime Minister of the Republic. Gorky, who in his early years had been associated with the socialist movement, became less radical when elected to be Prime Minister. He believed in the power of diplomacy and in 1904 avoided a costly war with Japan by engineering a territorial swap under which Russia would maintain dominance over Manchuria while Japan controlled Korea. He kept Russia at peace and prosperity for another decade so that the country was united when war broke out between the Triple Entente and the Central Powers. Russia was a key player in defeating the Germans in what became known as the Great War.

After the end of hostilities, a peace conference was convened in Paris, lasting between 1919 and 1920. At the talks, Gorky mediated between U.S. President Woodrow Wilson, who desired a lenient peace agreement with Germany, and French prime minister Georges Clemenceau, who was determined to see Germany punished. Through his intervention, while Germany was ordered to pay reparations, the amount was reduced and the time for payment extended to allow Germany to remain viable and recover from the losses suffered through the conflict.

As of this writing, there is still peace in Europe, although turmoil remains in the countries that were defeated in the Great War. I am confident, however, that a democratic Russian Republic will remain untouched by any troubling developments and will maintain the social and economic gains that my grandfather’s selfless sacrifice made possible. Russia will continue to be a positive force for world peace.

Ivan Viktorovich Kramnik, Moscow, March 1931

~

Bio:

Matias Travieso-Diaz was born in Cuba and migrated to the United States as a young man. He became an engineer and lawyer and practiced for nearly fifty years. He retired and turned his attention to creative writing. Over seventy of his stories have been published or accepted for publication in paying short story anthologies, magazines, blogs, audio books and podcasts; his work in the alternate history genre includes recent publications by Grantville Gazette, The Copperfield Review, and Sci Phi Journal.

Philosophy Note:

“The Last Tsar” is an alternate history tale in which a small twist of events in Nineteenth Century Russia (failure of the 1881 attempt to assassinate Tsar Alexander II) leads to a total change in the future of that country and the world by forestalling the rise of communism, preventing Russia’s war with Japan in 1905, avoiding War World II, and creating a peaceful Russia that does not engage in military forays abroad.

The Curriculum Vitae of Simon

by Richard Lau

Dear Prospective Employer:

My name is Simon Peter. I am currently unemployed and hoping to obtain a position with your company.

Here is a chronological listing of my previous occupations with brief descriptions of each.

Fisherman – along with my brother, caught fish to feed family and others.

Part-time Lifeguard – acquired temporary certification for absolute buoyancy.

Church Organizer – assisted church founder in leading a team of eleven others.

Pope – Appointed first Bishop of Rome, which led to a long successive string of others holding that prestigious office.

Security Officer – screened incoming personnel.

I would like to note two things about my last position as a security officer.

First, while a transition from Pope to Security Officer might seem like a downgrade or demotion, I must stress the action was indeed the opposite. As the one and only security officer, I was given the greater responsibility of granting or forbidding admittance to company headquarters. In essence, I was given “the keys to the company.”

Second, I am no longer holding that position through no fault in my performance. For further details about my performance and my dismissal, please refer to the attached glowing reference from my co-worker and immediate supervisor Gabriel.

Ironically, it is my former responsibility as gatekeeper that makes me a perfect match for your advertised opening.

While you do not currently have an official gatekeeper, you do have long lines of those awaiting entry, which I have tremendous experience in handling. You do have signage, but I believe as a living (so to speak) gatekeeper intoning, “Abandon all hope, ye who enter here,” I can add immense value to your brand (pun intended).

I took the initiative to perform some market research, and I realize you have a very different company culture from my previous employer. However, I am flexible and a quick learner. I go back to my experience as a fisherman and ask: “Is casting a fishing line and flicking a whip all that different?”

In the spirit of full disclosure, I have spent some time in prison, but I think you may regard that as another positive asset in my favor.

Thank you for your time and consideration.

Looking forward to hearing from you.

Sincerely yours,

Simon Peter

#

[Note from Human Resources: The attached scroll of papyrus is glowing, literally.]

Reference for Simon Peter by Angel Gabriel

To Whom It May Concern:

My name is Gabriel, and my title is Archangel. Not to toot my own horn, but I have been with Heaven, Inc., for a very long time and have worked with many born-mortals.

It is without reservation that I say Simon Peter is among the best of them.

The line of applicants to our company headquarters is long and never-ending. His duties included politely and professionally greeting visitors, looking up their names in the Book of Life, and assigning them to their appropriate destination. A great and heavy burden to be placed on such small and frail human shoulders.

I worked beside him during our eternal shift and never have I seen him falter, act inappropriately, or bring shame to the high standards our brand puts forth. No matter what or who he encountered, he always behaved like a saint.

Unfortunately, our company decided to upgrade and automate its entry system. Visitors are now identified by retina scan and facial recognition software. Information about each prospective entrant is now gathered and displayed through Google Search. Yea, the Book of Life is now truly “in the Cloud.”

I hope you will find a position for this fine human and worker.

Please feel free to contact me if you have any questions.

Gabriel

~

Bio:

Richard Lau has been published in newspapers, magazines, anthologies, and the high-tech industry.

Yesterearth’s Morrow

by Ádám Gerencsér

Singapore Straits Times – 1st July 1947

Readers with any interest in current affairs will scarcely need reminding that today is the first anniversary of the appearance of those strange phenomena that marked the gradual unravelling of time as a constant and steadfast quantity, the steady progression of which all previous generations could rely on so safely as to take it for granted. This view is now considered obsolete, and rightly so, but it bears repeating how nigh impossible that would have seemed just over a year ago. Over the course of the past twelve months, thanks to the rapid advances of modern science and skilful observations made by vessels of the Royal Navy, we have gained a better understanding of the new role that the International Date Line has come to play.

I have taken the liberty to compose this recollection and offer it to our esteemed editor on account of my rather immediate proximity to the longitude in question. Not only as correspondent of the Straits Times in the Crown Colony of Fiji, documenting both momentous and provincial events as they unfold, but also as a simple resident who experiences daily the disturbing effects that still have the ability to startle as much as they did at their initial onset.

It started on the 1st of July 1946 (or the 30th of June, depending on one’s whereabouts) east of the Marshall Islands and gradually spread north and south thereof, fanning out like elongated ripples along the date meridian. Within a brief period that could not have taken more than a week, or two at the most, we found ourselves confronted with a novel and hitherto unimaginable reality: anyone crossing the international date line roughly along the 180° longitude eastwards no longer cuts across a mere imaginary division, but finds himself an additional day further in the past, or rather, on a past incarnation of the Earth that is now independent of the present. The traveller may than engage in any form of interaction with the inhabitants of that past world, a Yesterearth so to speak, without perturbing in any way the future time he had left behind. After interfering with the events on the other side of the date line, one may return to the present by simply retracing his journey and realise that nothing has changed on account of their actions, other than the fact that time has moved on during their absence. On their subsequent visit to the world of two days past, however, they will notice that their interlocutors remember them well enough and any seeds of future consequence they had planted there have come to fruition.

A world map based on Mercator’s projection distorts the proportions of the surface areas of the continents, by making landmasses at extreme southerly and northerly latitudes, such as Antarctica or Greenland, appear much larger than their actual size would merit compared, for instance, with Africa. So, when we wish to achieve a more proportional representation, we divide the map into equidistant segments that are thicker towards the Equator and thinner at the poles, as if peeling the skin off an orange, and lay it out flat. Our hypothetical map now stretches from Alaska in the West to Siberia in the East, and we know that, just as the gaps between segments of the Earth’s ‘skin’ are imaginary, the edge of the map is no true boundary, but in fact loops around and connects to the opposite end. Thus, in the world as we had known it until 1946, it was not possible to stray off the map of the globe, since a resolute straight line would take one around in circles, returning to the self-same point with each circumnavigation.

That, alas, is no longer the case. Beyond the eastern margin of our map lies the western edge of someone else’s. Of course, in a manner of speaking, our world is still round, and we may be so bold as to argue with some conviction that our present time is unique and one of a kind. For it has become evidently clear that while ships and aeroplanes making their way over the surface of all preceding Earths may travel both backwards by crossing the dateline eastwards and also forward in our direction by traversing the same line due west, the same is not true for vessels in our time. We can regress by two days on the passage from Suva to Samoa, but we may not proceed into our future, as it were, giving us the impression that we stand at the pinnacle of time’s arrow. That is to say, the future is not yet existent, or certainly not accessible, until we unlock it day by day as we stride forward in tune with our calendars.

Being first among equals (and some in the colonial administration would indeed dispute even that proposition), our position brings great opportunities, but also imposes significant responsibility upon our statesmen. The lives of nations and empires now unfold in an entirely separate manner on all contiguous Earths, and the next general election back in the British Isles, to be held in 1950, might yield wildly different results in our continuity compared to the Earth of the day before yesterday. It is therefore eminently possible that the cabinet of our Empire might find itself at loggerheads with the British government elected in our immediate temporal neighbourhood. In fact, His Majesty of today might disagree with policies that are received approvingly by His Majesty of two days ago. The fact is that the political realities of life in the Dominion will inevitably develop very differently across every successive Earth each two further days down the line.

Your correspondent here admits to having made an involuntary, yet naïve attempt at bridging the date meridian and exploring some of the strangeness of the most immediate past just east of his stationment. In the spring I had received a telegraph dispatched by my former self from the world of two days ago. It had been transmitted to Samoa, which by itself was no mean feat, as communications across the Pacific have become impossible lest one was interested in sending messages across time. Telegraphs and mail to one’s contemporaries from an island west of the date line to another speck of dry land just east thereof have to ferry westwards around the entire globe, rendering a journey that formerly took less than a day into a voyage of Magellanic proportions. It is therefore incomparably easier to reach the French Polynesia of the day before than that of today. Laborious as it may be, the telegraph drafted by the man who is my equivalent in the neighbouring past was delivered by the post boat that makes the weekly crossing from Samoa. Without indulging in the tedious details of our exchange, which was hampered by delays caused by both dimensions of time and space, suffice it to say that our correspondence was short-lived and we finally agreed never to meet in person, but to live out our respective lives to the best of our conscience and abilities.

Not all contact is, however, this consensual. One hears all kinds of anecdote around the archipelago and beyond: of people trying to find their near-contemporary selves and bring them back voluntarily or otherwise to share their work or exchange places with them, of investors travelling back and forth with the intention of effecting parallel financial transactions and reaping the same profits several times, or of bereaved families striving to find their loved ones killed in accidents on a previous Earth where the same accident has not yet occurred and might never happen. The world market in commodities and resources has become confusing and at times almost untenable, and prices across near-past worlds may fluctuate in an unsustainable manner due to a potentially inexhaustible supply of material from across the datelines, while for the same reason scarcity may beset another globe. It is not unthinkable that in the future, some catastrophe or another great war could send millions of refugees fleeing to the next available future or past Earth.

On an encouraging note, one must not forget that there are those enterprising spirits who see Yesterearth’s developments as the opening of a new, endless horizon, the gateway to the exploration of the past – and not just one, but countless possible pasts. As far as we can ascertain, endeavours to traverse a long succession of datelines near the Tropics of Cancer and Capricorn, where distances are smaller but travel is unhindered by excessively cold climate, are limited only by the durability of the mode of transportation, the ability to procure fuel and, ultimately, by the life span of the traveller. We can only hope that our relative advantage of chronological primacy shields us from the worst excesses of the chaotic insecurity that must eventually arise on Earths further in the past, which are flanked on both sides by another world each two days ahead or behind them. Although news of full scale inter-temporal war have yet to be reported from anywhere, it is not inconceivable that one day the menacing powers of barbaric despotism and fascist banditry, which the valiant Allies so gallantly fought to defeat in this our last Great War, rear their ugly heads from the depths of the past and gather enough tenacity to conquer hundreds of planets up the chain to the present day, growing in strength and ferocity with each new acquisition. Should that day come, we do hope that our past compatriots would send warnings across the dateline well in advance, fully trusting in the brotherhood of free nations holding together steadfast even across several zones of time. And rest assured that the Royal Navy would be first to do its duty in the defence of Singapore, Malaya and the Crown Colonies dispersed throughout the East – whether in our time or that of Yesterearth. For we will surely not hesitate to deliver a pre-emptive strike across the meridian, for King and country, should a menace arise from the Pacific of a bygone day!

~

From The Desk Of J.G. Faust

by A. J. Rocca

Wittenberg University
Universitätsplatz 10
Halle, Germany 06108

6 March 2020

Mr. William Z. Beuv
Head of Transactional Services
Ad Bestias, Inc.
01 Judecca
9th circle, Hell 61616

Dear Mr. Beuv,

I am writing to lodge a formal complaint against one of your associates, a Mr. John Mephisto. Mr. Mephisto has been your company’s representative to me for some fifty-two years now, and I must express some dissatisfaction with services rendered as of late. I have postponed sending this letter in hopes that Mr. Mephisto would resolve whatever trouble it is that’s been plaguing his quality of work, but his continued negligence has finally run out the last of my patience. Mr. Mephisto has roundly failed in his duties as my temptation consultant, and I must request his immediate transfer and replacement.

What leaves me so profoundly frustrated is that for the first forty or so years of his tenure, Mr. Mephisto had approached his work with admirable gusto. I can still remember his voice in my ear back when I was a hungry child roaming the market. He would pull my attention to the stalls just spilling over with juicy red apples and then helpfully note all the most expedient escape routes should I avail myself of one. Then as a youth, whenever my gaze chanced upon an attractive woman, Mr. Mephisto could always be counted upon to provide comprehensive and speedy analysis of her assets along with multiple proposals for a personal merger. True, Mr. Mephisto’s consul from these early days was not terribly sophisticated, but he more than made up for that through his sheer intensity, his passion, his fire! Mr. Mephisto’s whispers could burnish the sheen on an apple, the bloom on a cheek, until they shined red hot and practically burned to look at.

As I grew into a man, that fire only spread. I became the renowned scholar I am today because Mr. Mephisto made me hungry not just for apples, but for knowledge. I burned through book after book in lusty frenzy because Mr. Mephisto showed me that while there are many beautiful women, it is Sophia who is most desirable of all. Mr. Mephisto made me ravenous for life and all of life’s pleasures, so ravenous it frightened me. Indeed, I even pursued a degree in divinity (in addition to the others) and went to mass nearly every day just to keep Mr. Mephisto and the hungers he inspired in check. I used to be a quite decent tenor once upon a time, and I remember the hymns I used to sing to drown out Mr. Mephisto’s voice. My passion made me stand against the rest of the congregation as a pearl on the sand.

In the past few years however, I have observed Mr. Mephisto’s fire slowly lose its intensity until now it has all but fizzled out. No longer do I hear that insidious hiss in my ear pushing me to take, to consume, to make mine no matter the cost. Instead I hear some listless, faraway murmur suggesting something like “You can order the T-bone if you want. You’ve been so good on your cholesterol this week,” and that’s if I’m lucky. Most days I don’t hear him at all, and without Mr. Mephisto’s demonic injunctions pressing on me, all the things I once loved and lived for have lost their appeal. I never notice the apples in the market anymore, I can’t remember the last time I turned a second glance at a woman. And my books, my beloved books, they only bore me now. The fruit of knowledge—argument, schema, and paradigm which I once took such delight in mastering—are now only words to me, strokes of ink on a page, empty breath without even the breath.

I never really appreciated the importance of your company and its services until I found myself deprived of them. There is simply no life in the business of life without a little hellfire there to heat it. Without that, I don’t see the point in doing much of anything anymore. I don’t even go to mass now save for on Christmas and Easter; what’s the point in going to church and singing psalms anymore when I can just as easily drown out Mr. Mephisto’s scant few murmurs by getting a drink and turning up the TV? I can think of no reason. Please, Mr. Beuv, send me someone who will make me want to sing again.

Respectfully yours,

Johann G. Faust, Ph.D., M.D., J.D., Th.D.
Chair of Philosophy & Religious Studies, Wittenberg University
+49 345 55 21589
jgfaust.us@wittenberg.de

#

Ad Bestias, Inc.
01 Judecca
9th circle, Hell 61616

10 March 2020

Dr. John G. Faust
Chair of Philosophy & Religious Studies
Wittenberg University
Universitätsplatz 10
Halle, Germany 06108

Dr. Faust,

You have all my sympathies and deepest regrets, sir. If we had a nighttime down here, it is letters like these which would keep me up through it, I do not doubt.

First, I must speak a word in defense of Mr. Mephisto. Mr. Mephisto is one of our finest employees with a special talent for temptation, a talent to which your early years with him can attest. It has been a mark of pride for this organization that for centuries we have been able to provide the services of him and those like him on a pro bono basis to individuals such as yourself. Unfortunately, the demand for evil in the world is higher today than has ever been before, and we have only so many demons in hell to meet that demand. Mr. Mephisto’s diminishing quality of work is not because of any negligence or defect on his part, but simply because his efforts are spread amongst so many thousands of clients all queuing for his attention. Providing that individual level of care you cited in our charitable work is simply no longer feasible, economically speaking.

However, my good doctor, we do offer another option for distinguished individuals such as yourself. It is possible for you to privately contract the services of Mr. Mephisto for a set duration during which time you will be his sole priority. Not only would you be provided with basic temptation consul, but also a number of chthonic perks to help in pursuing said temptations. Please note that this is a paid service, and the costs for privately hiring one of our consultants tend to run rather steeply. I can guarantee you though that if you sign up, you’ll be getting plenty of that fire you asked for.

Tell us if you’re interested and we can have one of our lawyers begin drafting up a contract posthaste.

Respectfully my own,

William Z. Beuv
Head of Transactional Services, Ad Bestias, Inc.
(024) 411-9198
bzbeuv@adbstias.com.he

~

Bio:

A.J Rocca is a writer and a graduate student in English at Western Illinois University. He writes short stories and critical essays, and occasionally creates videos for his YouTube channel, BlueMorningStar. His work has been published at Every Day Fiction and Short Edition.

Last Entry

by Ahmed A. Khan

(Last entry found in the diary of the famous astrophysicist, Dr. Wendel Hubbi, written just days before he was carted away to the asylum.)

Imagine a drop of water free-floating in a vacuum. Imagine you are sub-molecular in size. Now imagine yourself inside the drop of water.

What do you see?

You see H2O molecules moving away from you on all sides.

Why?

Is the water molecule expanding due to some unexplained reason?

You ponder for some time and come up with a more rational scenario: the drop of water is evaporating. As the molecules on its surface are pulled away into space, new molecules move up into their place. And the process continues. This is the movement you see – the molecules moving away from you and towards the surface on all sides. In short, the water molecule is not expanding but shrinking. Soon, a point will come when it will be all gone.

Do you perceive the analogy?

The red shift of astral bodies all around us does not signify expansion of the universe. In actual fact, the universe is shrinking as its matter evaporates into the super universe.

~

Bio:

Ahmed A. Khan is a Canadian writer, originally from India. His works have appeared in various venues like Boston Review, Murderous Intent, Plan-B, Strange Horizons, Interzone, Anotherealm and Riddled With Arrows. His stories have been translated into German, Finnish, Greek, Croatian, Polish and Urdu. Links to some of his published works can be found at   ahmedakhan.blogspot.ca. He has social media presence on twitter (twitter.com/ahmedakhan) and facebook (www.facebook.com/ahmed.a.khan.140).

Regarding Bridges

by J. L. Royce

July 6th, 1918

To the Editors –

Regarding The Bridges to the Island of Manhattan, and Corpses Depending therefrom:

I write to object in the most strenuous possible terms to the substance and tone of the editorial which appeared Monday last in this newspaper, entitled ‘The Crisis of Leadership’.

Since the very beginning of our first term, my administration has endeavored to strengthen our city: to root out the rot of Tammany corruption, and prepare America for its role in the War that consumes Europe. In the ‘puzzling’ election of November last (and despite political machinations) the people voted to stay the course. And now, strengthened, we face together an unprecedented challenge, a Crisis of Nature.

Let me first extend my sympathy to the families of all those affected. Our hearts go out to you, and all those suffering the consequences of this bizarre epidemic. Next, I thank our Police and militia forces, who are on the front line of our emergency every day.

This return of our dearly departed represents an event unprecedented in human experience. Science can and will arrive at an explanation—moreover, a solution—to this affliction.  But the medieval proposal cited in your editorial, to suspend these undead still writhing piteously from the superstructure of bridges and other public works of our Fair City as a ‘solution’ to this plague is unsupported by anything but superstition.

Interdiction at the bridges has already been established, as well as Neighborhood Watches. Yet certain groups propose the barbarous practice of gibbeting as a deterrent to the undead phenomenon. These vigilantes have taken it upon themselves to capture and display the undead in this fashion, aided and abetted by those who would see this administration torn down.

And where is our humanity, in proposing that these unfortunates, after capture, be put on public display? We become no better than the horror that we face. The fallacy should be apparent: the undead lack the power of reason, and respect no deterrent save for brute force. But of course, this ghastly display is a warning not to the dead, but the living.

Need I remind any of your readers that it is the brave soldiers who sacrificed their lives in the Great War who, through no fault of their own, first became the unthinking, puppet-like mob now shambling through Europe? Rising from their rude graves in the French countryside, they spread the contagion, through contact with the living, around the world. And now that this threat has reached our shores, those same Isolationists who sought to prevent America’s intervention in Europe would stigmatize our returning soldiers as possible plague-carriers!

We must not lose faith. Consider the threat posed by influenza – had medical science not fortuitously isolated the responsible virus within months, a catastrophe of global proportions might have developed. These same medical minds are already hard at work on this latest challenge.

I trust the readership will join with me in denouncing as unscientific any harmful ‘solutions’ such as this, and will put their faith, as I have, in American Science to solve this mystery and provide us all relief. When the Allies prevail (as they surely will) and our brave troops return, it must be to adulation, not superstition and fear. My recent re-election tells me that there is no ‘crisis’ in leadership, and I intend to do everything in my power to see our City through this emergency.

(Signed)

John Purroy Mitchel

Mayor, New York City

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Bio:

J. L. Royce is an author of Science Fiction and macabre writings (and whatever else suits his fancy) residing in the upper American Midwest. Some of his other publications may be found at amazon.com/author/jlroyce.

Letter From a Slave-Making Ant

from Charlas de café [Coffee-Shop Chats]
by Santiago Ramón y Cajal

Translation and Introductory Note
by Emily Tobey

Santiago Ramón y Cajal (1852-1934) was a pioneering neuroscientist from Spain who is best known for receiving the Nobel Prize in Physiology or Medicine in 1906. Cajal was the first Spanish laureate in medicine, and cities around the country responded to the honor by re-naming streets for the scientist. As a child and a young man, he demonstrated an affinity for art, sketching in particular, that would prove to be unexpectedly advantageous to his medical career. After serving as a medical officer in the Spanish Army in Cuba, he returned to Spain and received his doctorate in medicine in 1877. In connection with his research, he applied a particular staining technique to the densely-packed and therefore previously unstudied neurons of the brain and spinal cord, enabling him to see their structure with more detail than theretofore had been possible. This in turn facilitated his conclusion that the relationship between nerve cells was not continuous, but rather contiguous, a discovery now considered a foundational principle of modern neuroscience. His meticulous handmade illustrations of his findings combine two fields in a relationship that proves to be characteristic of Cajal: he synthesizes the sciences and the humanities in his interpretation and depictions of neuroscience and social systems alike. In addition to his not only notable but also prolific scientific work in which he published over one hundred articles and books, Cajal produced a collection of science-fiction stories, Cuentos de vacaciones (Vacation Stories) in 1905, and essays, Charlas de café (Coffee-Shop Chats), in 1920. While the stories in the collections diverge from what might be considered a “typical” (whether through unusual organizational divisions or their intent to teach a bit of science to a layperson), they reflect Cajal’s ability to weave together science and art. The same can be said of his story “Carta de una hormiga esclavista” (“Letter from a Slave-Making Ant”), published in Charlas de café in 1920.

In the translation of the latter story I have taken into account two main principles: Cajal’s combination of the scientific and the literary; and the parallels between this letter and the early conquest narratives of Hernán Cortés and Christopher Columbus. The style of Cajal’s imagined correspondence between a worker ant and his queen imitates the reverential form of address, attitude of an expert by experience, and superiority in the face of colonized people that those conquering authors employed in corresponding with the monarchs they served. In translating the piece, I have endeavored to maintain those elements through word choice and sentence construction. I have attempted to be as faithful as possible to the original text, though clarity for an English-speaking readership required some changes throughout the piece. Where possible I have maintained original punctuation, but again, some differences in sentence construction necessitated small departures. Where Cajal includes Latin names of existing species, I leave them in Latin; where he invents names in Spanish that allow the narrating ant to name orders of humans, I render them in English. It is my hope, in so doing, to allow the description of each caste to speak for itself. Cajal’s decision to place these observations in the unlikely voice of an ant that is set on colonizing humanity encourages us to recognize their destructiveness. In this piece, Cajal masterfully brings up one of the darker parts of humankind’s behavior and uses it to admonish a post-World War I audience, encouraging them (and by extension, us) to consider our motivation for actions, our treatment of each other, and the ways in which we allow our worst impulses to govern not only ourselves but our societies.

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Letter from a slave-making ant (Polyergus rufescens), written during his travels through Europe, to the queen of his colony

My dearest mother: Fulfilling the charge that you gave me to secretly explore the colonies where dwell Man (formica ferox as classified by our underground naturalists) I now briefly convey my impressions.

These exceptional ants, not so in their education or wisdom, but rather because of their size, live almost as we do, but with several essential differences that speak little to favor their instincts and customs. Verily, they occupy colossal colonies that they call cities, formed by a labyrinth of family chambers and of avenues and of connected streets; but these seem to be filled with all kinds of litter; and the dwellings, lacking the underground apartments where we keep out of the heat, become unbearably torrid in summer and glacial in winter. In a select few more refined locales, the humans have begun to care for and pave the streets with cobblestones, though not with the perfection of our American relative.1

We must recognize various types of Formica ferox: the farmer ant, who resembles our farmer sister Aphenogaster barbara (I employ here the ridiculous and pedantic nomenclature of Man), and above all the ingenious Attini of South America,2 who make their living through the sowing and harvest of seeds; the milkmaid ant, who, imitating the conduct of many of our sisters, dedicate themselves to raising a type of monstrous giant flea called a cow, which they milk daily; the gardener ant, more docile imitator of our lasius niger and of other hymenoptera, and who feeds on fruit and leafy vegetables; the sugar-making ant, dedicated to the production and sale of sugar, like our cousins the bees and the Myrmecocysfus melliger, from Texas; the mason ant, builders of solidly closed houses, shamelessly plagiarizing our cousins the calicodomas bees; with all this said, they do not lack a special warrior caste who, following in our footsteps, has war as their exclusive occupation, etc.

With regard to this singular profession, I have noticed one curious thing. Instead of fighting for the sake of taking useful slaves, as we do, mercifully limiting our slave-making to the larva of other races of ants (these, even having reached adulthood, remain ignorant of their condition and serve us most selflessly and solicitously), Man fights fiercely with those of his own race with no other object than the pleasure of exterminating one another, taking and returning hungry and mutilated prisoners, and exhausting the provisions of the community. Just recently I watched with astonishment a general conflagration of nearly all of the great colonies of Europe, whose result has been the death of ten million workers and the terrifying ruin and desolation of all of the human communities. (The date of this writing being 1919.)

Further regarding the war, permit me to note a particularly strange contradiction. Homo sapiens – as he is content to call himself – is possessed of a peaceful body and warlike mind. Can we conceive of an earthworm endowed with warlike instincts? But as his body has lost the ability to model within itself the arms of aggression and defense, the brain has taken it upon itself to supplement this lack, constructing deadly and varied, enormously costly annihilating machines that he puts away when he goes to work. How different from us, who never allow ourselves to be separated from our formidable mandible claws! Such inability to manufacture organic defensive instruments has brought about the gravest of inconveniences: the creation of a social class, highly onerous at that, of armed slackers with the objective of protecting the defenseless workers. In spite of this, there is not a day that passes without raids and instances of violence. It is no surprise, then, that beings endowed with irresistible predatory impulses would find it more convenient and expeditious, in order to satiate their hunger, to exchange the heavy tool of work for the light and efficient revolver of the robber! . . .

Representatives of the Formica ferox puff themselves up with vanity at having invented flight (such a novelty!) several million years after insects, reptiles, bats, and birds had done so. But this so-called flight does not move beyond being an unobstructed method of suicide; they dishonor it, besides, using it not in order to love within the azure sky as we do, but rather to assassinate without fear of reprisal. They do not understand, therefore, the sublime nuptial flight of the hymenopterans. It would be better for the aviators, imitating our queens, to amputate their wings and live hidden in their homes.

Each nation lives fighting fiercely within itself, once they no longer have foreigners to despoil. All social classes, as we would refer to our soldiers, workers, and queens, are at each other’s throats. And not few of them have taken up imitating the communism of bees and ants! Could they be more foolish? They even plan to install a new regime, maintaining a plurality of females, the separation of families and the full freedom of love!…We resolved this struggle millions of years ago, but with logic and foresight, which is to say, rejecting outright corruptive individualism ad delegating to a singular female, our revered queen, and to a few select males, the work of the perpetuation of the species. And we, the neuter, do not feel nostalgia toward love, because we know from experience that love, slavery, and death are all the same.3

Another incomprehensible custom has shocked me enormously. The Formica ferox is educated in schools where they teach to speak and to understand the Universe somewhat. Studying for learning’s sake! Such idiocy has never been seen. Even without demanding teachers or blighted professors, we know how to communicate our preferences and emotions, educate our children and slaves, get our bearings in unknown lands, distinguish between noxious plants and animals and those that are useful, begin long hunting expeditions without faltering, and work in a coordinated and peaceful manner in favor of the community. As being embarrassing, vile and fallacious, we disdain rational logic, which we have instead replaced with the celebrated method of direct vision or intuition, a supremely intellectual perfection which all animals, including Man, envy in us. Fabre, one of our oldest counsellors amongst the humans, has compared instinct to genius.

In sum, and here I conclude my lengthy epistle. Nothing transcendental has grown out of the human vermin: they still discuss the enigma of understanding versus instinct; they only begin to decipher the mechanism of the Cosmos; they do not know the essence of life, and with regard to practical and legal order, they have not even resolved the pressing problems of social stability and an ideal political system. Not to mention the riddle that is death. It must not worry them, whatever the preaching of their apostles, given that the most densely populated colonies of the Formica ferox, having just shaken the dust from the ruins and dried the blood, hurry on to new wars, infinitely bloodier and more destructive. The future contest – or so they say – will be resolved purely by air, hurling at harmless peoples balloons full of germs and suffocating gasses.

Let us not rush to deplore this incredible dementia. In the form of human cadavers, many insects of the muscidos family will find inexhaustible rations, which are also the favorite delicacy of the nomadic tribes of hunting ants (Myrmecocystus viatitus, Aphenogaster tertaceopilosa, Tapinoma erraticum, etc).

And since I have nothing to learn here, but rather much to endeavor to forget, I will return as soon as possible to the anthill, our beloved homeland.

Embracing you effusively with my antennae, R. y C.

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Endnotes:

1. P. barbatus, who pave their nests with very small stones.

2. Admirable ants, who within their nests pile pulp of mashed leaves where they sow a fungus (Rhocites gongyophora, Müller), from which they sustain themselves.

3. Lest the reader forget, the queen is cloistered and absorbed entirely in the work of motherhood, and the scarce males perish once the queen is impregnated, whereas the workers can live for many years, as Lubbock has shown.

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