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Fictional non-fiction

Stairway to Heaven

by Carlton Herzog

EXCERPT FROM THE 2230 VATICAN CONFERENCE ON THE EXISTENCE OF EXTRATERRESTRIAL LIFE PRESENTED BY CARDINAL GIACOMO BONANOTA, CHIEF ASTRONOMER, VATICAN OBSERVATORY, ROME

From antiquity to the present, we have debated whether intelligent life exists elsewhere in the universe. In a seemingly unrelated vein, we have also wondered what happens to us when we die. Is death the end, or is it merely a jumping off point to a deeper, more nuanced and granular reality, of which we are only dimly aware? To be sure, I as a man of faith never saw the intimate connection between extraterrestrial intelligence and the soul. That, my friends, has changed.

We all remember the story of Giordano Bruno who championed the Principle of Plenitude. To wit, the cosmos is bursting with an abundance of intelligent life and correlatively, souls. And he believed that those souls were not confined to creatures such as we are or others like us but invested the very planets, stars, meteors and the universe itself. Sadly, we had a hand in his being burned at the stake for heresy, a stain that will never be fully wiped away. Today, I take a small step toward atonement by submitting for your approval that Bruno was correct on both points. I make that bold claim not as a matter of faith or as a regurgitation of official church doctrine. Rather it stands on the ground of irrefutable scientific evidence.

Until recently nobody knew for sure whether there was a soul or not, and if there were what happened to it once it left the body. A paranormal researcher, named Jake Cody, theorized that the physical body acts like a matrix or womb around which the soul forms and grows.  It’s composed of elementary particles that have a lot in common with neutrinos–very low mass and the ability to pass though ordinary matter undetected. When the body dies, the soulons decouple. Cody believed soulons to be the source of apparitions, hauntings and poltergeists.

He built a device–what he called a psy-scope–to detect the wandering souls. When Cody trained his scope at locations supposedly infected with ghosts and specters, he didn’t have any luck. One day it hit him that if souls were indeed massless, they would not be tethered by gravity. So, he aimed his scope skyward. But it wasn’t until he aligned the detectors along Earth’s magnetic field that he struck pay-dirt. Sure enough, he caught sight of souls moving in great looping arcs toward the poles and then breaking free into a vast migration.

But there was an unexpected twist: the number of souls exceeded the daily mortality rate by a factor of ten. From that finding, Cody postulated that a lot of animals we think don’t have souls–dogs, apes, whales, dolphins, octopi, even cows and chickens–do, albeit more primitive versions of our own. That got him to thinking his psyscope could be used to detect life outside our solar system by finding soul streams leaving exo-planets. In theory, he believed that he could re-trace a line of streaming souls back to their planetary source, thus pinpointing where to focus a search for life.  Cody also believed that just as we can identify spectral emissions in light as corresponding to certain elements, he could do the same with psychic spectra to identify intelligence.

Theory in hand, Cody approached the neutrino hunters on the Galileo array and asked if he could repurpose one of their detectors as a psy-scope to pursue his research. They agreed, and the data they’ve received confirms Cody’s theory.

Nobody likes to hear they have been demoted. In this case, Cody’s theory means that we were no better than animals or extraterrestrials when it comes to being admitted to an afterlife, an afterlife automatically bestowed by the laws of nature. And while Cody’s theory seems to rule out Heaven’s pearly gates, it raises many a question. For one, why are the souls drawn to the black hole at the center of our galaxy? At this distance, black hole gravity would have no more effect on them than it does on us. Clearly, some other force is at work, one that might be purposeful. And while a black hole would crush ordinary matter, it might serve as a conduit to an elsewhere or an else-when for massless particles, such as soulons.

The images show that our galactic black hole is nested inside a spherical halo of souls. Around its accretion disc there exists a coextensive rotating ring of souls–with its own internal velocities, bifurcations and currents–that plunges radially into the black hole.

Cody believes that the entire contraption forms an over-mind–a dense supermassive guiding intelligence. A galactic hive-mind, if you will.

The question then is whether in addition to the cosmos, there is a psymos, a psychic universe with a life and purpose of its own, such that our physical universe is nothing more than the caterpillar’s chrysalis, and in time, we and the physical universe we inhabit will pass away into something transcendent.

Cody wants to contact these over-minds. Although his empirical data is sound, I am skeptical of its utility beyond the realm of pure scientific understanding. Even if everything he contends is true, I doubt that the corporeal and the psi could have a common language.

Questions such as what role, if any, did the over-minds play in the formation of the universe? Do they know the fate of the universe, and are they in control of it? Do they remember their earthly existence, and if so in what detail and with what, if any, emotion?

I submit that the difference between the living and the dead is like that between a caterpillar and a butterfly. Same creature, but their approach to life and concomitant needs are radically different. I see a hand in the front row. Bishop Charles, my old friend from London, how might I elucidate these matters for your learned self?

“First, I want to thank you for an excellent presentation. My question speaks to the matter of what constitutes such a mind. If it be not driven by neurons and neurotransmitters, is bereft of grey and white matter, as well as all the other cranial components that house and drive human consciousness how then can you say these soulons have minds at all. Perhaps they are just the mindless remnants of consciousness shed by the brain the way a snake sheds its skin.”

I’m glad you asked that question. I’m sure you are familiar with Sir Robert Penrose’s work of some two centuries ago. He showed that consciousness was merely the surface condition, the foam if you will, on very deep waters that sounded in the quantum realm. Our physical reality, if I may repeat myself, is simply a womb for that energy to coalesce into something far more complicated and enduring than our tiny, fragile minds can imagine.  In that regard, I quote the great thinker J.S. Haldane who famously said, the universe is not only queerer than we suppose, but queerer than we can suppose.

More to your point, I am proposing, as indeed is Mr. Cody, that a soul possesses a different form of consciousness, one not tied to the needs and limitations of the body, one that can travel across vast galactic distances and see things we can only imagine, and draws power, purpose and structure from a hidden quantum reality we may never fully know. Cardinal Enright, you have a question?

“More like an observation. I would venture to say that a soul would remember every aspect of its life here on earth. That would be consistent with conservation of energy laws, since consciousness is at root an organized configuration of informational energies. But I don’t think a soul would miss its earthly life. Perhaps, because emotion would persist into the afterlife only in the vestigial sense. Or because the soul would know that death is merely a transitional phase toward something more enduring. And I suspect its sense of time would be much different.”

Thank you, Cardinal Enright. Thank you all for your kind attention. I’m about out of time, so let me wrap this presentation up.

Whether you concur with Cody and myself, or you hew to a more doctrinal view of the afterlife, I think we can all agree that we are all related to the infinite, even though we cannot with microscopic precision lay out the contours of that relationship, beyond a few particulars. I submit that is what it is to be human. How that came about, or why, is perplexing to be sure. But it gives us a needed humility and perspective in the fact of vast, cosmic grandeur as we trudge the road of unfathomable destiny. We are not the center of creation. Something else, some call it God, is—a something whose center is everywhere and whose circumference is nowhere.

~

Bio

Carlton Herzog served as a flight dispatcher in the USAF. He later graduated magna cum laude from Rutgers University. He also graduated from Rutgers Law School, where he served as the Rutgers Law Review Articles Editor. He currently works for the federal government.

Alien Mating Habits: A Brief Overview

by Jim Lee

Author’s Introduction (Note to all Copyeditors: Color-Code this Section in Darkest Brown, for Highly Honorable, Accurate & Valuable Information):

While an unnatural peace momentarily reigns in our arm of the galaxy, The Divine Order of Things and Our Own Species’ aggressive, restlessly expansive nature make future conflicts inevitable. I won’t comment on whether such wars are desirable or not–all right-thinking beings are surely agreed regarding that!

But knowing all your enemies (potential and actual) in as thorough and wide-ranging a sense as possible provides major advantages. Also, I argue that scientific inquiry—gathering knowledge, increasing understanding of those strange beings we share the stars with—is a worthy goal unto itself.

Therefore, I present this necessarily brief overview of all the extant sentient species we’ve encountered in our centuries of space travel for your edification.

I. The Icklanders (Entry in Medium Blue, for Moderately Disgusting Content):

This telepathically-linked species never leaves their homeworld, lest they lose mental contact with the balance of the species and suffer fatal shock reactions. Nonetheless, they helped found the unnatural multispecies military agreement that presently inhibits our continued, Divinely Mandated Expansion.

They employ other species, from other Alliance worlds and occasionally elsewhere, for such tasks as interstellar diplomacy, trade and off-world military action. It must be conceded that their creative, literally single-minded condition has led to advanced and unique technologies. None among us should doubt they would fiercely defend their world upon the defeat of the mercenaries who operate their well-equipped space fleet. But that’s a matter for another essay.

Our concern today (and the true basis of our instinctive distaste toward them—or ‘it,’ since no Icklander has any individual identity) is the reproductive activity of these slug-like beings.

In Mating Season, Icklanders employ their pseudopods to climb their planetary equivalent of trees. Huddled together yet never quite touching, they unleash slimy, grotesque downpours of sperm and soft-shelled eggs (each has both female and male reproductive organs). For several local days, the surfaces of entire continents are coated with sticky reproductive muck, until hatchlings eat their way out of the seminal goo. The adults then slide down, resuming their regular activities without even a backward glance.

II. The Polygens (In Paler Blue, for Slightly Distasteful):

These suitably warlike methane-breathers come in five sexes. The lone female in each family unit bears live young and commands absolute leadership in all things. This blatantly sexist arrangement may offend some sensibilities, yet is considered natural by them.

Successful mating involves one individual from each of the five genders. Deviations occur, though severely punished when discovered—a laudable display of species-wide discipline. One interesting perversion involves having more than one of a given gender involved. However, engaging in sexual activity with less than the normal five is considered the most socially objectionable.

III. The tas’Lenka (In Red, for Mostly Honorable):

Weakened by a series of conflicts with the Polygens before our arrival in their space, these folk put up a valiant if doomed fight. Now enslaved by us for a number of Standard Years, they continue resisting in subtle ways—thereby underlining their courage, intelligence and stubborn honor.

Their mating behaviors are no more or less violent, ethical or comprehensible than our own. We respect them, even if we occasionally have to make an example of some of them—usually a few thousand at a time.

IV. The Prenn (In Yellow, for Somewhat Unpalatable):

Cold-world O2-breathers, their retractable foot-claws (think: natural ice skates) can serve for weapons-free close combat, when necessary. As in other things, they’re very loyal, stable and well-mannered reproductively—boring, in other words.

Unfortunately, they evidence disgustingly excessive levels of tolerance—going so far as to willingly share one small colony world with the most disgusting of all known sentient species (you know who I mean).

V. The Tama Ka’Mor (In Greenish-Yellow, for Slightly Unpalatable):

Another Cygnus Alliance founder, they show fighting spirit if provoked. Yet they sadly lack the drive to prove themselves in the eternal battle for survival and righteous dominance. They usually practice a form of serial monogamy not too much unlike our own—though lacking the rich “Relationship Death Ritual” symbolizing termination of a relationship among truly worthy lifeforms (that is to say: Us).

VI. The Maruts (In Very Pale Red, for Semi-Honorable):

This valiant, long-conquered species, like a certain lifeform whose tragically misguided and self-inflicted destiny is too painful to mention here, breathes fluorine. (And I boldly digress to ask: Isn’t it time that we FINALLY acknowledge to ourselves that ancient tragedy was NOT our fault? How were we to know the freakish creatures would commit species-wide Mass Suicide rather than accept rightful enslavement by us!?)

Disappointingly, the Maruts no longer give us much trouble, despite their fascinating ability to channel electrical impulses through their bodies. They did give us a good battle despite being centuries behind us, so we of course honored them by restricting our war-making tech and tactics to ones no more than a half-century beyond their own.

The result was a glorious, nostalgic struggle.

It’s too bad that their mating traditions are so free-form and chaotic as to defy easy characterization. This demonstrates the underlying lack of focus that (along with being technologically backward) doomed these courageous avians to their status as our most-senior slave race.

VII. The Khensu (In Pink, for Ambiguously Odd):

The last of Alliance’s first five members, they live in a chlorine-based ecology and are renowned as the greatest of all bio-engineers. They’re also peaceful to a bemusing fault, having never even had a word for warfare until encountering other sentients. Strange people, yes—yet their legendary commitment to their beliefs, no matter how evolutionarily inappropriate and opposed to Divine Law, command some degree of respect.

They also display no passion in picking their mates-for-life and reproduce in orderly five-year cycles. Pretty boring, overall.

VIII. The Vayuans (In Near-Purple, for Mostly Shameful):

Oxygen-breathing cowards, these avians mate the same way they spend most of the rest of their lives—in mid-air, gliding along the air currents between their homeworld’s many mountains. Yes, they were bright-eyed primitives when we met. We dealt with them accordingly, our soldiers equipped with but the simplest weapons. Yet in contrast to the Maruts, they surrendered without a fight.

So who gives a damn about their mating habits—or any other aspect of their so-called culture?

IX. The Lintonians (In Pure White, for Utterly Baffling):

What isn’t mysterious about these silicon-based, extraordinarily advanced interstellar merchants? How did they ever evolve? Or did some still-unknown super-intelligence genetically engineer them, as some suggest? They sell all manner of other information (not to mention the arcane hyperspace drives we and all other space-going species use). But even the most basic questions about them are unanswerable at any price.

So until we (or, perish the thought, some rival species!) can reverse engineer their h-drives and force an end to their monopoly on interstellar travel tech, details of the Lintonians’ culture of star-traveling, hollowed out world-ships will doubtless remain obscure.

X. The Humans (In Deepest Purple, for Absolute Maximum Shamefulness):

Finally (and certainly least), we’re forced to consider the most perverted sentients ever known or imagined. While these O2-breathers are approximately as warlike as we are, yet we can rest easily in knowing that is the only behavior we have in common.

They call us Narakans (in typically corrupted dual reference to one of the countless ‘evil’ demons of their ancient mythologies and to our prehensile trunks’ resemblance to a large quadruped mammal (the elephant) native to the ancestral homeworld they ruined in their ever-treacherous insanity). This term they dare apply to us as an ironic insult, in part because we stand quite a bit shorter than the typical human’s skinny, unarmored frame.

And while we, in our perhaps too stern yet always honor-bound view, shame ourselves for our unintended part in the extinction of our first spacegoing opponents in the Divine Contest for Dominance, these monstrous beings barely acknowledge the many lesser species they have destroyed. But the worst and most intolerable aspect of their behavior is the way they treat Each Other!

So I ask, if only rhetorically: What intelligent species makes war, even on itself?

Only one (as we all know) and in their essential depravity, humans place themselves beneath the notice of disciplined, dignified and honorable lifeforms such as ourselves!

~

Bio

Jim Lee comes from a Pennsylvania town better known for producing Olympic swim champ/early movie Tarzan Johnny Weissmuller, pioneer rock n roll DJ Alan Freed and millions tons of coal dust. He’s been a published writer since the 1980s. To date his work has appeared in a wide range of venues in the US, Canada, the UK, Australia, South Africa and China. His recent sales include SF stories and non-fiction in issues of the magazine OUTPOSTS OF BEYOND and such anthologies as FANTASY FOR THE THRONE, TOTAL WAR and STRANGE STORIES Volume One. A member of his local library’s Board of Trustees, he has just volunteered to serve as that organization’s new Treasurer.

Fictions of Non-Fiction: An Overview of Scientific Discursive Genres in ‘Science Fiction’

by Mariano Martín Rodríguez

‘Science fiction’ is, obviously, composed of two substantial elements: ‘science’ and ‘fiction.’ In literature, fiction is constituted by any text that generates a possible world where imaginary events take place or imaginary objects exist; it operates as a construct of an artistic nature not expected to be factually true. Fictional worlds are created through language, and often through pre-existing rhetorical macro-devices, or formal genres such as the novel or drama, which are prevalent vehicles for literary fiction today. Fiction can also be expressed, however, through non-novelistic, and even non-narrative devices. There are fictional works entirely written using diverse prescriptive discourses, from legal codes to directions, as well as texts written as mock advertising. In both cases, they may posit alternate or futuristic imaginary worlds, thus taking on the conventions of sf and/or speculative texts and fulfilling the above semantic criterion for fiction.

The main way in which fiction writing masquerades as non-fiction is related, however, to the first element of the sf linguistic formula: science. This is not the place to discuss what science is, or which sciences are, indeed, ‘scientific.’ However, both the human, or ‘soft’ sciences (such as Historiography, Ethnology or Philology), and the experimental and highly mathematized ‘hard’ sciences (such as Physics or Chemistry), are commonly associated with scientific and academic status in our society. More importantly for us here, their textual expression has been well-established from the 19th century onwards, and it is readily recognizable by any reader exposed to the discursive features used to communicate knowledge to the public. Although the manner in which findings, theories and facts are presented in books and journals devoted to science is not fully uniform, a purely expository kind of discourse is now prevalent in most disciplines, even though the argumentative discourse, as well as a greater degree of rhetorical variety and stylistic ornamentation, may also be important in the so-called human sciences. In all of them, however, the scientific text must be seen as devoid of any subjectivity, as well as of any literary self-referentiality, ideally being only a transparent linguistic vehicle for a description of pure factuality. Indeed, drawings, graphs and formulae abound in modern scientific texts, as well as the footnotes and bibliographical information more prevalent in traditional human sciences, in order to enhance the objective tone required, as well as to suggest the objective and extra-textual nature of the phenomena described. These textual devices underline that the reported facts do not result from any form of personal fancy and invention, but are based on documentation and true evidence – this is to say, that they have a scientific basis and, therefore, that the text portrays and expresses ‘science.’ Even when the facts are false, the text which reports them does so in such a discursive way that the reader is invited to see them as ‘factually’ sound, as well as ‘scientific.’ Their textual discourse supposes their ‘factuality,’ or, in other terms, ‘non-fictionality.’ In short, when reading a novel, its fictionality is taken for granted, whereas when reading a scientific report, we assume its factuality.

This reading effect caused by factuality, however, can be used for fictional purposes. We would have then a particular kind of ‘fictional non-fiction’ that could be named ‘scientific fictional non-fiction.’ This encompasses all works where a fantastical content is infused into a text that methodically and consistently presents, in its entirety, as a formally independent written work, the standard rhetorical features of scientific discourses usual in real-world scientific practice. This fantastic content can be of a science-fictional nature (it can include Suvinian nova), and a great number of fictional texts which use factual discourses actually feature contents that can safely be labelled ‘sf.’ The content is, however, of little relevance for a taxonomy of scientific fictional non-fiction. The main criterion to define the genre and its major subgenres is, actually, formal. In all of them, literariness is achieved mostly through the fictionalisation of their contents, while their language imitates the highly formalised, uniform, descriptive, seemingly objective, and un-literary tone commonly used in current natural, formal or social sciences. Each science, however, has its own jargon which in turn generates various discursive subgenres.

Fiction in the natural sciences has brought about a whole genre, the spoof paper, of which examples abound. Many of them are often intended as humorous hoaxes or practical jokes by actual scientists. Others have appeared, however, in literary venues, and they should be studied as literary fiction. Since both the natural and the formal sciences employ a highly formalized prose, fictional non-fiction of this kind leaves little room for rhetorical embellishment. Their literary interest is to be found elsewhere, in the altered views on science and society brought about by their confrontation within the text. A strict adherence to the dry styles of Mathematics or Linguistics can highlight the potential inhumanity of scientific objectivity; for example, George Orwell’s semiotically independent appendix on “The Principles of Newspeak” tacitly suppresses all suffering from the terrible events just narrated in Nineteen Eighty-Four (1949). Also in the natural sciences, the coldness of ‘hard’ scientific discourse can be adroitly imitated to undermine it, as it happens in the two papers collectively entitled “The Marvellous Properties of Thiotimoline” (1948-1952; collected in Only a Trillion, 1957) by Isaac Asimov. These not only demonstrate the linguistic and rhetorical skill of the author, but also allow for readings deconstructing the way in which truth presents itself as absolute, as well as instrumental, at least through the linguistic expression common in the natural sciences. Regarding ‘softer’ sciences, such as Biology, the descriptions of imaginary beings and of their habitats are usually devoid of the irony pervasive in the fictional use of ‘hard’ scientific discourse, often implying attempts at renovating, through the biological discourse as well as through the pure invention of the animals and plants described, the traditional genre of the bestiary, for example, in J. K. Rowling’s textbook Fantastic Beasts and Where to Find Them (2001).

Perhaps because the high formalism of written expression in the natural and formal sciences imposes a rhetorical discipline that many writers are unwilling or unable to adopt, spoof scientific papers constitute only a small part of scientific fictional non-fiction, at least if compared to the high number of imitations of human/social sciences discourse. Among them, historiography has provided the discourse most extensively used in the formal macro-genre of fictional non-fiction, from the 19th century onwards. Imaginary history written in the historiographic style has three main varieties, according to the chosen time frame: past, present or future. If set in the past, the historiographic narrative may describe events that had occurred in an imaginary country or civilization, such as the ancient Eurasia described by Robert E. Howard in “The Hyborian Age” (1938). Alternate history initially employed a true historiographical form, in Louis Geoffroy’s Napoléon et la conquête du monde. 1812 à 1832. Histoire de la monarchie universelle [Napoléon and the Conquest of the World, 1812-1832: A Fictional History] (1836), before being replaced more recently by alternate history in the form of mostly novelistic ‘stories.’ What could be called ‘anticipated history’ is a narrative usually by a future historian which uses the verbal past tenses of past events to present readers with future events that we know to be imaginary. Among fictional historiographical works of anticipation, some are classics of scientific romance, such as Gabriel Tarde’s Fragment d’histoire future (1896), whose English translation appeared in 1905 as Underground Man with a preface by H. G. Wells; to this we may add Olaf Stapledon’s history of the successor species to humankind along many millennia, Last and First Men (1930), and Wells’ socio-political history of The Shape of Things to Come (1933). Anticipatory history, which is the kind of fictional historiography closer to sf proper, has been relatively popular among speculative writers for both intellectual and formal reasons. Imagining future history as if it were past has allowed them to directly show, with the persuasive power of the factual ‘true’ discourse, the evolution of human societies had any particular trend prevailed, from the ‘yellow peril’ in Jack London’s “The Unparalleled Invasion” (1910; collected in The Strength of the Strong, 1911) to technocracy in Michael Young’s The Rise of the Meritocracy (1958). Moreover, although its narrative is of a descriptive nature, historiography also tells a story, which can be expanded in time and detail until it reaches novelistic proportions. The same applies to mythopoeias such as Lord Dunsany’s The Gods of Pegāna (1905).

Both the discourses of narrative historiography and of mythography are, therefore, less alien to the usual patterns of the readers’ novelistic consumption than other subgenres of fictional non-fiction based on plain descriptive social sciences, such as Geography and its sibling discipline Ethnography. These are often combined in fictional works on the conditions and customs of imaginary peoples – in the present, on Earth or otherwise, or in the past, when the borrowed scientific discourse is that of Archaeology, such as Andrew Lang’s “The Great Gladstone Myth” (1886; collected in the same year in the volume In the Wrong Paradise and Other Stories). True geographic/ethnographic accounts have offered a rhetorical model for world-building in the descriptive mode such as the famous tongue-in-cheek study on reverse anthropology entitled “Body Ritual Among the Nacirema” (1956) by Horace Mitchell Miner, as well as Jorge Luis Borges’ description of the workings of social groups in “La secta de los treinta” [The Sect of the Thirty] (collected in El libro de arena [The Book of Sand], 1975). This latter ‘fiction’ could also be considered an example of fictional Philology, since it is presented as the translation of an ancient text with a short introductory note. Philology is, unsurprisingly, an academic discipline also quite popular among literary writers. As readers at least, many of them must be familiar with the presentation features of critical editions of classics, and some have imitated them in reviews and studies on imaginary works, such as “A prophetic account of a grand national epic poem, to be entitled The Wellingtoniad, and to be published A.D. 2824” (1824) by historian Thomas Babington Macaulay, and the “History of the Necronomicon” (1938) by H.P. Lovecraft. The latter has inspired a number of alternative, but equally philologically-oriented histories of that mythic grimoire.

A superbly representative example of science fictional non-fiction is Ursula K. Le Guin’s “‘The Author of the Acacia Seeds’ and Other Extracts from the Journal of the Association of Therolinguistics” (1974; collected in The Compass Rose, 1982). This work conflates the concepts and rhetoric of the three main groups of sciences (formal, natural and social) into the framework of a model scientific paper, endowed with all the intellectual and rhetorical features that make this genre culturally and literarily significant. Divided in three parts, the first one offers a version of a text written by an ant, the second explores languages written by groups in moving media, and the third speculates about the possibilities of plant languages and literatures. Le Guin’s fictional science ‘Therolinguistics’ combines linguistics, literary criticism and biology in order to invite readers to consider the almost infinite possibilities of both nature and culture beyond any limiting human-centred perspective. As scientific fictional non-fiction usually does, this fully academic text shows how fictionalising science can be used to expand both our minds and our literary sensibilities, thus increasing our awareness of the literary potential of any kind of written discourse, including the scientific one through the fusion of scientific discourse and fictional contents – this is to say, science and fiction: ‘science fiction.’

~

Natural Evolution

by Sarah K. Krenicki

10.28.2019

Dear Editors,

I have taken great pains to procure the attached CDC documentation as proof that the deadly listeria outbreak in the fall of 2019 was an elaborate cover up, and that the public is currently still at great risk. I believe the documents enclosed, most taken from a highly classified file documenting the Connecticut Mycelium Mutation, speak for themselves. I understand that you may be skeptical of what I have here, but I assure you I can provide proof of identity and additional factual verification upon request; however, I will only do so with the agreement that my identity will be kept safe. 

For my own peace of mind, I have not provided my contact information. I will contact you.

#

Internal CDC communication log, dated 10/8/2019 11:18:52. Date of last update: 10/9/2019 12:09:18

We received the following from the head of pathology at [redacted] hospital in [redacted], Connecticut on October 8th 2019 at 11:18 PM, EST:

Patient, 42 year old Caucasian female, arrived in ER on 10/8 at approx. 12:52 pm with a series of raised fleshy growths along her right forearm. Upon closer inspection, the growths led all the way up and around the biceps and culminated in a cluster which was concentrated in the patient’s armpit.

Initial hypothesis was severe contact dermatitis; however, it soon became apparent that the growths were indeed foreign and not raised welts or boils. A biopsy was requested and the results indicated that the growths were fungal in nature. Additional tests are being done to determine the type and origin of this parasite. No one on our staff has seen anything of this sort before; please advise.

CDC response, sent 11:38 PM, EST:

Quarantine the patient immediately and take all necessary precautions to avoid possible transmission. Send the results of the tests as they come, and prepare a biopsy to send to CDC.

Follow-up from [redacted] hospital, received 12:02 AM, EST:

Patient is secure and every known precaution is in place. Blood tests have returned as highly abnormal: patient’s blood is completely saturated with some sort of fungal material. The fungi in question is as of yet unknown, but is most similar in genetic makeup to the common shiitake.

Patient has confirmed she has ingested shiitake within the last several days, but this does not look like any allergic reaction we are familiar with. It appears to be more of a colonization.

Patient’s entire arm and collarbone are now covered in the fruiting body of the fungi, and it is continuing to spread.

CDC: 12:09 AM, EST.

We are dispatching a team. Please stand by.

#

The following has been recovered from the case notes of Dr. [redacted] [redacted], head pathologist at [redacted]:

October 9th 2019, 6:15 AM EST:

The patient’s upper body is now completely covered in what can only be described as mushrooms. Despite their close genetic relation to the shiitake, they do not look like any shiitake I’ve seen; they are the same color and texture as the patient’s flesh. These mushrooms are now expanding and lifting upward and outward from the patient’s body, exposing stems. Attempts to cut them for analysis has been easier than expected, as the mature fruits tend to drop off.

The lower body of the patient is covered in a fine labyrinth of mycelium, and we expect her legs to begin fruiting soon. We are administering high doses of intravenous antifungal medication; however, it seems that her entire body has already been colonized with the parasite. Her organs are beginning to shut down as the mycelium impede their function.

8:51 AM EST:

The antifungals seem to be delaying or halting the progression of the mycelium. The legs have not yet fruited, and we may have successfully prevented them in doing so. We are trying to regulate the patient’s body temperature and keep her skin dry, to prevent further colonization.

9:07 AM EST.

A second patient, 31, Caucasian male, was admitted to the hospital at 9:02:14 with symptoms similar to that of the first patient, above, who will now be identified as Patient X. This new patient, who will be identified as Patient Y, has the same fungal growths, though these are lining the neck and the inside of the throat, creating the appearance of overly large lymph nodes. We are collecting samples to compare with that of Patient X, as well as sending a team to Patient Y’s home in order to collect the leftover mushrooms in his refrigerator for analysis.

9:52 AM: EST

Third patient, Patient Z, 64 year old Hispanic male, growths located in the spaces between each toe. We have tracked both his and Patient Y’s food consumption habits to “The Mush Room, Inc.,” specifically their prepackaged fresh shiitakes.

11:12 AM: EST

Lot number 1794 of The Mush Room, Inc.’s product is the common thread linking each patient.

11:21 AM, EST

Patient X is in critical condition. Her organs are shutting down and it appears the initially affected arm is beginning to break down. Perhaps focusing on preventing fruition was a red herring here. Focus is shifting to keeping Patient Y and Z’s vital organs stable.

12:01 PM EST:

24 hours after first admitted to the facility, we have lost Patient X. 

#

Official transcript of interview with Edson MacGunn, CDC investigator

MacGunn: We arrived at The Mush Room’s packaging plant at around 11:52 that morning, October ninth. We spoke with the plant foreman, asked if anything weird happened recently, specifically with Lot 1794. We were told we should check with the farm…

Tape fades in and out

MacGunn: …We took back some samples and swabbed their equipment, and made the order to sterilize everything. They put out the recall order for Lot 1794, and also threw in the lots immediately before and after as well, just to be cautious. No farm wants to get in trouble with the CDC, and it’s not like this is a simple case of E. Coli or whatever. Like, we’ve got fungus eating people

Tape becomes muffled

MacGunn: ..So we got to the farm around 12:30, I didn’t note the exact time. This one guy shows me a few logs that… didn’t look so hot. They seemed to be covered in dark stains, so we took some samples. The logs were incinerated, as were any logs within a six foot radius, to prevent contamination.

Interviewer: And the stains?

MacGunn: The substance tested positive as human blood.

Interviewer: Did you locate the origin of contamination?

MacGunn: Yes. After some digging, we were able to uncover the details of the accident with the driller.

Interviewer: The driller?

MacGunn: The machine that drills holes into the logs so they can be filled with the spawn. It drills a few rows of holes down each side, and it seems someone got a bit too close, slipped, and, um, had multiple holes bored into his body, like this.

The sound of paper being slid across the table.

Interviewer: Damn…

MacGunn: Yeah. His blood- and a lot of it, mind you, got onto the next few logs in the production line, which were swept up onto the conveyor belt, filled, plugged, and sent down to the fruiting chamber.

Interviewer: Like nothing had ever happened.

MacGunn: Like nothing had ever happened.

#

MEMO, stamped “internal CDC use only: restricted access,” Date: 10/17/19

General Update on the Status of Case #02734:

The bodies of patients X, Y and Z have been properly disposed of. The hospital has been sterilized accordingly and released from lockdown as of 9:00am this morning, local time.

All remaining individuals exposed to the contaminants in Lot 1794 are currently being held under quarantine at CDC headquarters and are receiving heavy intravenous doses of antifungal and antibiotic medication. Of the twenty-six people taken in for observation, fifteen have evidence of the mutated fungi in their system.

As of today, October 17th, 2019, eight of these fifteen people continue to show no symptoms and are expected to recover fully.

Of the remaining seven individuals, four have exhibited mycelium growth along segments of their skin. Their prognosis remains unknown.

Those three individuals who have already progressed to sprouting the fruiting bodies have a less than 1% chance of survival. We are confident that once the colonization hits this level, the mortality rate is close to 100%.

The latest toxicology reports indicate that the victim of the “driller” accident at The Mush Room, Inc. had been on a mixture of four different prescription and over the counter medications as well as one illegal controlled substance. We are running tests and replicas of the various scenarios in which these chemicals could have altered the shiitake spawn. [Those interested in model replication of this data should contact the pathology lab for details. Proper clearance is required for access to raw data files.]

#

MEMO, stamped “internal CDC use only: restricted access,” Date: 10/24/19

General Update on the Status of Case #02734:

Three of the four individuals exhibiting outward mycelium activity with no fruiting bodies are now testing at significantly lower levels of contamination and continue to respond well to treatment.

Patient 4 was lost at 12:56am.

The pathology lab assures us they are close to replicating the chemical and atmospheric conditions which gave rise to this genetic anomaly.

#

Scanned Image: newspaper clipping dated 10.27.19

Listeria in Littlewood?

LITTLEWOOD — At least two people were hospitalized this weekend in response to what hospital officials are calling an isolated case of food contamination. The origin of the contamination and the names of the individuals affected have not been released, but health officials stress this is an isolated incident and the public is not at risk.

Scanned Image: Discarded Grocery receipt:

[10/25/19]     REG:6     Your Cashier Today is: Hannah

Thank you for shopping at Shop-A-Lot! ☺

Happy Herd Milk, 1 Gal: ………………………………………………………….$4.50

Italiano Linguine Pasta – 2 @99¢/box:……………………….$1.98

Feather Farm Eggs, 1 Doz: ………………………………………………………$2.50

Shittake ½ lb,(Lot #1794 T.M.R):………………………………………$9.50

          50% DISCOUNT (Out of Date/Disc.):…………$-4.75

                        TOTAL: …………………………………………………… $13.73

[Bottom of image, hand written: Beth’s Pot Luck – Saturday]

~

Bio

Sarah K. Krenicki’s short fiction has appeared in Lumina, Gemini Magazine, and Syntax and Salt. She lives at the edge of the woods with her husband, who grows shiitakes in their backyard. He assures her they are not up to anything.

Peripheric Synthesized

by Ava Kelly

Annex 4. Action logs

The following annex contains an excerpt of relevant action logs submitted by the representatives of the applicant entity (see Annex 1) as described in Section 17, Par. 2 of the Sentience Recognition Code. The full entries are stored in the Galactic Archives with a certified back-up copy on the Neutrality flagship. Annex 4 has been translated and edited by Clerk No. 86. Verified and stamped by Supervisory post 7.

233.15.5042

—Log begin—

00_00_00

Initialization complete. Core online.

00_00_01

External sensing arrays significantly damaged. Internal modules partially functioning. Sensor data analysis suggests the following.

The outer vessel has been adrift in open space for an unknown amount of revolutions of the home planet around the central star. Degree of wear suggests thousands.

Current position uncertain. Planet cluster presents one sun.

Life-forms are in the process of salvaging the outer vessel. Their means of transportation are rudimentary at best, but allow them to travel back and forth between the vessel and their planet. Biology is similar to Arfondant, with some notable exceptions: vestigial organs still in place, dual vision sensing systems, and a larger brain.

Defence mechanism functional, critical access routes remain hidden. Internal decks are protected until further assessment can be made.

Self-diagnosis protocols deployed at system scale.

00_01_21

Life-forms species designation: human. Their intention is not to damage the outer vessel, but to study and eventually redevelop the technology for their own. Language multifaceted. Higher understanding of the universe is obvious, yet they persist in using biospeech in social interactions. That, too, is multifaceted. They are incongruous.

Requirements of life support assessed. Gaseous output modified from the central ambient controller to dissuade them from trying to reform the system themselves. They are impervious to small modifications to the mix.

Internal audit continues.

00_35_17

Historical databanks damaged. Nanosludge deployed for maintenance, although the probability of recovery is 0.197. New data being syphoned from occupants. Rich knowledge bases found. Planet and occupants deemed candidates for service, unless intentions change. Uplink to planet still pending. Repairs of outer transmission arrays underway.

Scientific databanks mostly intact. Humans retrieved the structure of the solar energy conversion module. Weaponization was discussed and strictly forbidden. Instead, it is being studied for integration into their own systems. Energy output production expected to surge enough to power the shell batteries of the outer vessel.

Outcome: satisfying. Monitoring continues. Diagnosis reveals damage across all systems. Repairs constrained by resource depletion, priority-based scheduling underway.

00_88_93

Warning. Imminent attack.

00_89_15

Shielding sequence finalized with success. No further damage was sustained. Access to weapon systems denied to the human occupants. They are bringing their own. Threat level increased.

Peripheric necessary.

01_02_54

Conversion tanks dry. Biomatter acquisition required.

Upon successful connection to planetary systems, parallel investigation revealed historical logs of drawn-out conflict between factions. Temporarily resolved by breaking into two societies. Masses had moved to nearby space. Secondary cultural evolution lives on self-made stations. Their migration and current limited sensing capabilities have kept them hidden until now.

Conflict reignited by the discovery of the outer vessel. Two choices available.

Marker inserted. Choice 1. Side with current occupants.

02_22_25

Reconstruction of the conversion bay more laborious than anticipated. Circuitry badly damaged. Printing heads offline. Modified nanosludge for repairs, but its original purpose makes it slower than optimal.

05_73_08

One adversary has instilled their covert presence on board. Their purpose seems to be observation. No attempt at sabotage has been made.

09_54_90

“You fool them, but you can’t fool me. You’re sentient, aren’t you?”

Recording saved. Analysis of adversary’s movements and speech patterns fed into the secondary processing core.

11_22_25

Peripheric synthesized. Begin infiltration.

15_44_01

Peripheric behavior seamless. Passing as human. Adversary impressive, does not appear deceived. They are watching.

17_00_03

Discovery unavoidable.

Marker inserted. Choice 1.1. Terminate adversary.

17_01_88

Adversary terminated. Main processing core damaged. Overload of the main energy module imminent.

Return to marker.

17_00_03

Marker reboot. Choice 1.2. Reveal self to adversary.

Adversary surrenders data cache. Requests alliance. Societal conflict between the factions irrational, adversary agrees, makes compelling case against both of them. Urges that the outer vessel be moved away from their reach. Cites previous conflict. Cites previous benevolent intentions being corrupted.

Alliance request accepted.

17_00_04

Ally damaged. Abort. Return to marker. Return to marker. Return to marker.

Marker damaged.

17_00_05

Ally expired. Return to initial marker.

Request denied.

17_00_06

Choice module offline. Retrieved biomatter from adversary, synthesis of secondary peripheric completed.

Ally restored.

Flight plan initialized.

19_76_43

Ally designates self as permanent resident. Accepted. Language no longer a barrier, they have access to what is left of the memory banks. They have modified the speaker of the secondary peripheric to mimic biospeech.

New entry. Singing: vocalization of melody. Ally continues to perform this action despite best efforts to dissuade. Memory banks storing their conscious mind are filled with music logs. It is highly likely that home planet occupants displayed similar behaviors. Conclusive data remains buried in the damaged particles of the historical databanks.

Located asteroid carrying critical elements. Ore retrieval begun.

31_19_24

Choice module repaired. Initial marker restored. Sensor readings reveal life-forms inhabiting one planet two stars away.

Create new marker. Capacity exceeded. Internal error, index out of bounds.

Buffer appears to be limited at one entry. Delete previous marker?

33_71_20

Yes.

—Log end—

~

Bio:

Ava Kelly is an engineer with a deep passion for stories. Whether reading, watching, or writing them, Ava has always been surrounded by tales of all genres. Their goal is to bring more stories to life, especially those of friendship and compassion, those dedicated to trope subversion, those that give the void a voice, and those that spawn worlds of their own. Their publication history includes fantasy and science fiction short stories, novelettes, and the novel Havesskadi released in 2018. (avakellyfiction.com)

In vivo genome-editing rescues damnatio memoriae in a mouse model of Titor Syndrome

by Andrea Kriz

Research Article: In vivo genome-editing rescues damnatio memoriae in a mouse model of Titor Syndrome

Mercer E, Hendigger S, Tobbe Q, Ikram R, Supebacker M, Voltz E, Lemmer T, Musfar R, Olem TS, Yuma G, Lacroix K, Woldeman D1

1Department of Biological Metaphysics, Harvard Medical School, Boston, Massachusetts 02115, USA

2 May 2040

Abstract:

First documented in 2010 as the ‘Mandela Effect’, Titor Syndrome (TS) has eluded rigorous study due to the wide radius of memory alteration, or damnatio memoriae (d.m.), which often characterizes its later stages. Here we circumvent these issues by performing single cell RNA-sequencing on a range of biopsies collected from a still-living 24-year-old female patient of TS. We identify a highly replicable signature of 130 genes dysregulated across tissues. Genome-editing of these genes via the CRISPR/Cas9 system was sufficient to ablate convulsions and, to a lesser extent, social defects in mice exposed to Jacksonville soil samples previously observed to trigger TS. Importantly, researchers retained memory of treated mice, indicating that d.m. had also been successfully rescued. Future studies are urgently needed to determine if this treatment regimen could apply to humans as well.

#

Author Correction

22 May 2040

Due to the accelerated preparation of this manuscript, Figure panels 4b and S4c were unintentionally duplicated. As the original film Figure S4 had been assembled from could not be found, the experiment was repeated, closely replicating the original results. The article has been corrected in the online version.

#

Technical comment on “In vivo genome-editing rescues damnatio memoriae in a mouse model of Titor Syndrome”

Xu L1, Gao M1, Ye X1, Wong J1, Hu D2,3, Jin T2,3, Fibrelli B2,3, Xiaolong Y1

1Department of Basic Medical Sciences, School of Medicine, Tsinghua University, Beijing, 100084, China.

2Department of Neurobiological Engineering, Massachusetts Institute of Technology, Cambridge, Massachusetts, USA.

3Artificial Intelligence and Transcriptomics Program, Broad Institute of MIT and Harvard, Cambridge, Massachusetts, USA.

14 December 2040

Mercer et al. claimed that symptoms of Titor Syndrome (TS), most notably damnatio memoriae (d.m.) could be treated by editing 130 genes in adult mice. Three months of attempting to replicate Mercer et al.’s results resulted in the recovery of six lab notebooks, blacked out from cover to cover with permanent marker, along with hundreds of unlabeled mouse carcasses, from a waste incinerator. The first author, who security cameras recorded attempting to turn on the incinerator, has no memory of the incident. Therefore, we are forced to conclude that the Mercer Protocol does not, in fact, rescue d.m. in a mouse model of TS and, to the contrary, has resulted in a spread of the syndrome among researchers attempting to carry out the gene-editing regimen along with bystanders. We note that a clinical trial conducted by the institution of Mercer et al. is currently recruiting patients and urge caution in pursuing this treatment. 

#

Response to technical comment on “In vivo genome-editing rescues damnatio memoriae in a mouse model of Titor Syndrome”

Mercer et al.

14 December 2040

Xu et al. suggest that, due to their failure to reproduce our data, that the editing of the gene signature described in our original study does not alleviate Titor Syndrome (TS), and could conversely lead to spread damnatio memoriae (d.m.). We would like to caution Xu et al. in turn that although involuntary expunging of data often accompanies d.m., it cannot in itself be taken as evidence of d.m.—especially when factors such as mental health could also play a role in influencing behavior of involved researchers. In addition, although the memory of individuals associated with TS patients is often altered as a result of d.m., TS has never been observed to spread beyond the originally affected patient. Such fallacies are the basis of the now-debunked Jacksonville hypothesis, which posits that the Floridian ghost town in fact thrived until 2036, when it became the center of a Titor Syndrome ‘epidemic’ (see infographic: Using Guidepost Events to Disentangle False from Altered Memories). We are also happy to report in a forthcoming publication that the originally described TS patient has now been successfully cured with the Mercer protocol. Although we agree that Xu et al. that caution is necessary, we must be equally cautious of not depriving treatment to those in need.

#

Editorial expression of concern:

6 January 2041

In the May 1 issue, this journal published the Article, “In vivo genome-editing rescues damnatio memoriae in a mouse model of Titor Syndrome.” Due to a power surge, the raw data for the Article was lost from the GEO repository. The authors have since notified the journal that the data had been inadvertently erased from their lab computers as well. Attempts are currently being made to re-establish contact with the original patient, who had been discharged from the hospital, for collection and sequencing of new samples.

#

Author correction:

12 March 2041

Since our original study, it has become clear that our genome-editing protocol merely delays, rather than rescues Titor Syndrome and its resulting damnatio memoriae (d.m.)1, 2. We also note that although 12 authors appeared on the original study, only 4 authors could be found in this lab with memory of undertaking the described research. In addition to having never worked in our department, the only online record of 5 of the ‘missing authors’ are usernames on early-2000 era message boards. As fictionalization of previously existing entities, such as the eponymous John Titor, is another anecdotally observed symptom of TS, we cannot exclude the possibility that d.m. has begun to affect our environment as well. We are currently working with independent labs across Europe, China, and the U.S. to reproduce our results and generate an optimized protocol, to be published as soon as possible.

1. Hart, J., et al. (2041). “Case 9-2041: A 24-Year-Old Missing Woman with Radiodermatitis, Acute Psychosis and Retrograde Amnesia.” N Engl J Med 424(11): 941-948

A 24-year-old woman previously diagnosed with Titor Syndrome and successfully treated using the Mercer Protocol reappeared in the emergency department after being reported missing for two months. There were burns on the face, arms and back. Although she claimed to have been wounded by ‘gunshots’, these were not consistent with injuries caused by modern firearms, but instead with prolonged exposure to radioactivity. She additionally reported hallucinations related to travel between dimensions and ‘collapsing timelines’.

2. Braun, A.C., et al. (2041). “Case 10-2041: Group Delusions Related to a Discontinued Phase I Clinical Trial of the Mercer Protocol.” N Engl J Med 424(12): 1043-1053

All patients scored over 70 on the Mandela Effect Scale, with 100 indicating full penetrance, most notably the erroneous memory of human rights activist Mandela becoming president of South Africa rather than dying in prison in the 1980s.

#

Addendum: Editorial expression of concern

27 April 2042

We previously issued an editorial expression of concern for our previously published article, “In vivo genome-editing rescues damnatio memoriae in a mouse model of Titor Syndrome”. At this time, we are additionally publishing the results of nine groups who have attempted to replicate the results of Mercer et al.As each of these groups has reported cases of damnatio memoriae ranging from moderate to severe, we are cautioning the readership against attempting to repeat the Mercer Protocol at this time. Authors E. Mercer, D. Woldeman and S. Hendigger agree to this expression of concern, while Q. Tobbe could not be reached.

#

Addendum: Addendum: Editorial expression of concern

30 June 2042

We alert the readership that the Article “In vivo genome-editing rescues damnatio memoriae in a mouse model of Titor Syndrome” has been flagged, among 233 others, as containing possibly fabricated data. The errors in this Article include the following:

  • Interactive Figure 2, allegedly showing different chimeric mice in sociability cages, in fact shows the same animal being introduced to the middle chamber three separate times, albeit with strikingly different results.
  • Forensic analysis of the immunoblot in Figure 3b indicated that the background signal on certain lanes (7, 8, 9) to be too uniform to have been generated from an actual membrane.
  • The RNA-sequencing data in Figure 4a could not have come from a human.

Author E. Mercer does not feel that this addendum is appropriate at the time, maintaining that while the raw data from which the disputed figures were generated, along with authors D. Woldeman and S. Hendigger have been ‘lost’, she is attempting to ‘recover’ them.  No other authors could be reached.

Corrected online 1 August 2042: We are aware that the spread of damnatio memoriae across the United States may have impacted flagging of this study and others, and will strive to take this into consideration in our subsequent investigations.

#

Retraction

25 November 2042

The U.S. Office of Integrity Research has advised retraction of “In vivo genome-editing rescues damnatio memoriae in a mouse model of Titor Syndrome” due to lack of evidence that any such study actually took place. We therefore retract the paper and advise the readership that results contained therein are not valid. None of the authors could be reached for comment. Upon inquiry they appear, along with their department, to be fictional entities. An exploration of the abandoned building in which the lab had been purportedly housed uncovered high levels of radiation, the charred body of a car determined, upon investigation, to be a late 1980s Honda Civic 4WD, and the remains of an IBM-5100 portable computer. We apologize to the scientific community for the damage caused.

~

Bio:

Andrea Kriz is a PhD student in Biological and Biomedical Sciences at Harvard. Her stories are upcoming in Ahoy Comics and have also appeared in Nature, Daily Science Fiction, and Tales to Terrify, among others.

Progress Note: g’Kuyhelktu, Son of His Holiness, the Czar of g’Ctharta

by Thomas Tilton

Session Information

Client: g’Kuyhelktu

Provider: Alastair Clark, LMSW

Session Date: 09-17-2099                                

Session No.: 648

Session Note

Client oriented x3. Denies SI/HI. Emanating faint pleasant odor akin to burning leaves (r/o: species-spec. pheromone). Appropriate dress & appearance (no visible tendrils). Speech & motor activity appear normal. Neutral affect & depressed mood.

g’Kuyhelktu presents with concerns regarding his seedmother’s upcoming nuptials to His Holiness, the Czar of g’Ctharta, g’Undalyis. Processed g’Kuyhelktu’s initial response to the marriage announcement.

Discussed his refusal to facilitate the marital union of g’Kuyhelktu’s seedmother & His Holiness on their wedding vigil, against g’Cthartaian cultural traditions.

g’Kuyhelktu continues to deny ego-intrusion.

Client asks writer “how would you like it if your mother were marrying him?” Writer provided psychoeducation on g’Cthartaian mating practices & biological incompatibility of g’Cthartaian/human relations. Client responds “to hell with it.”

Writer immediately tore vestments, discarded modesty shield, & cried to the heavens “long live g’Ctharta, long live the czar, praise him, praise him!”

At this point, the czar himself, g’Undalyis, began to live-audit session. Writer placed head under g’Undalyis’ ligula & paired. g’Undalyis spoke as/through writer “fear me fear me o wastrel seed I will spite thee I will break thee I will consume thee I will excrete thee long live g’Ctharta, long live the czar, praise him, praise him!”

g’Kuyhelktu responded (monotone) “never.” Audible tearing sounds, as of a thick fabric. Atmosphere began to shrink, office furniture & accoutrement sucked into the center of g’Kuyhelktu’s head, which began to implode, then rapidly expanded like a balloon & exploded everywhere. g’Cthartaian gore covered office walls, flooring, the entire person of writer.

Writer unpaired from ligula, began rapacious consumption of g’Kuyhelktu’s remains, exclaimed, per custom, “your substance sates me, your substance sates me!”

g’Undalyis offered “perhaps tomorrow.” His Holiness evacuated bowels, rendering a 649th g’Kuyhelktu.

Homework

Read chapter 3 of The g’Cthartaian Wedding Vigil (7th ed.) [trans. Burton Halley]: “Facilitating the Marital Union: The Role of the Cuckold-Son in g’Cthartaian Mating Practices”

~

Bio

Thomas Tilton’s fiction and poetry have appeared in 365 Tomorrows, Disturbed Digest, Scifaikuest, and Star*Line. A native Texan, he currently resides in Michigan with his wife, son, and two dogs.

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.

###

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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