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freedom of expression

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).


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


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


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


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


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


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


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


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


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


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.



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.

Preliminary Threat Analysis Of Security Guests Intercepted On A “Cultural-Intellectual” Mission In Possession Of Plato’s Dialogues  

by Thomas White

From: Ibis Smith, Chief Inspector, Office of Mind-Body Inspection Services (OMBIS), New Bright City.

To: Jason Taggort, Administrative Controller, Office of Minister of Hygiene (MOH), New Bright City.

Subject: Preliminary Threat Analysis of Security Guests # 7689 and # 7690.

Date: 7 May 5145, Year of Our Hygieia.

Greetings to the Honorable Minister of Hygiene!  All Hail to our beloved Hygieia, Goddess of Sanitation and Civilization! Blessed be our glorious species, Homo Perfectus!


This report is in response to an urgent personal inquiry from the Minister of Hygiene regarding two alleged inhabitants (hereafter “Intercepts”) of the Unsanitary Orifice Zone (hereafter “UOZ”) intercepted by a convoy brigade of the Knights of Purity (hereafter “KOP”) while the latter was on a security patrol near the Wilderness Road bordering the UOZ and New Bright City.

An investigation is ongoing, but given the personal interest of the MOH, the OMBIS is providing herewith a preliminary report, including a brief account of the interception action, scientific findings, and excerpts from the interrogation transcripts of the aforesaid Intercepts, which incorporate interrogator observations.

It is respectfully noted that some of the details provided by the interrogation officer are unseemly and graphic, but the OMBIS is dedicated to the full disclosure of all facts to the Minister. That said, the OMBIS is providing a full report to the MOH within ten (10) days of the date of this preliminary report.

Interception Action:

On two separate dates, April 30, 5145, and May 1, 5145, a Knights of Purity brigade separately arrested the two aforesaid Intercepts upon their entry into the rural outskirts of New Bright City via the Wilderness Road from the Unsanitary Orifice Zone.

It is unclear at this stage if these two Intercepts are cohorts engaged in a common mission; however, for the reasons explained below, they were formally designated as security risks. Our ongoing investigation is probing whether not only the two Intercepts know each other but also whether they are part of a broader UOZ conspiracy aimed at subverting the purity and tranquility of our social order.

Scientific Findings:

a) SSgt. Jay Chenwith, Brigade Commander, after officially arresting the two individuals, ordered that his brigade’s security officer extract evidence of any incriminating link to the UOZ:

i) Security Officer Michael Jones examined grains of matter from the Intercepts’ palms using the field kit’s certified, portable digital geo-magnification micro-lens. The holographic feedback generated clearly indicated that both Intercepts had soiled their hands in an unsanitary environment where there were unwashed dishes and coffee cups.

ii) An additional analysis using a micro-global positioning device verified that said unclean environment was located inside Café Camus, a known UOZ gathering place for poets, philosophers, “intellectuals,” and other marginal types committed to the illegal ideology of radical imperfection, normally implemented via the Socratic Dialogue and its variations.

iii) Further analysis, using an olfactory scanning device on the collected data, revealed the chemical traces of body odors and bad breath—consistent with a crowded café full of self-styled bohemian wastrels.

b) Given these incriminating facts, SSgt. Chenwith further ordered that Security Officer Jones, in conjunction with the brigade’s medical officer, Dr. William Sanders, conduct a species-specific identification saliva test on the Intercepts. The genetic markers showed a positive ID: both Intercepts were CONFIRMED as members of the species Homo Impurus. They were then officially designated as “Security Guests,” aka security risks, to be held in custody.

Interrogation Findings:

SSgt. Chenwith, as per the standard protocols, then holographed his chief operations officer at the Knights of Purity headquarters to query whether he should bring the Intercepts in for a formal interrogation or first conduct a preliminary inquiry in the field.

SSgt. Chenwith was advised that he should conduct the interrogation in the field, transcribe the proceedings, and then report in two days to the KOP HQ along with Intercepts #1 and #2 for further briefings and interrogations. SSgt. Chenwith agreed with this decision, as it would take his convoy about a day to reach City Central, while his brigade had on board an experienced, certified interrogation officer familiar with the ideological and philosophical writings studied by members of Homo Impurus.

Hereafter is a brief executive summary of the said preliminary field interrogation, which includes excerpts from the transcript of the exchanges between the Intercepts and the interrogation officer, as well as the latter’s comments:

Under questioning, supplemented by electro-heat points briefly applied to their fingers, the Intercepts admitted that the reason for their intrusion into New Bright City was what they called a “cultural-intellectual mission,” although they denied conspiring with each other (an allegation that, as noted, is still currently under investigation).

[Transcript Excerpt]:

Interrogator: “So, you both deny conspiring to implement this so-called ‘cultural-intellectual mission, yet we have found that each of you was carrying an identical copy of Plato’s Dialogues.”

Intercept # 1: “A mere coincidence.”

Intercept # 2: [Nods in agreement.]

Interrogator: “Okay, we will leave that question for the main interrogation unit at headquarters to sort out. On another point: I noted that you both had ‘coincidentally’ highlighted in your copies the section in the Republic on Plato’s Allegory of the Cave. [The interrogator then held up the open, underlined pages in front of them.]

Intercept #1: [No reply.]

Intercept #2: [No reply.]

Interrogator: “Surely, your mission is not some confused effort trying to bring the ‘truth’ to a ‘cave’ full of ignorant people living in the shadows, which you probably think New Bright City is? That is not only a foul slander against the good and wise people of our fair land, but a fool’s errand. We long ago found the truth: cleanliness is godliness.”

[No reply from Intercept #1 or #2.]

Interrogator: “We are really having a terribly one-sided Platonic dialogue, aren’t we? Do not worry. There will be no more of the ‘hot finger’ procedure. I will leave that to headquarters, which has more expertise. I prefer to keep our little session at the civilized, intellectual level.”

[The interrogation officer then held up a copy of Plato’s Dialogues, opened a page, and showed it to the Intercepts. He then handed the two Intercepts their copies.]

Interrogator: “I am giving back your copies, and I want you to open at the dialogue of Parmenides. I call your attention to Section 130 b-d: another philosopher asks Socrates if there is any abstract idea linked to ‘hair, mud, dirt’ and he says that is absurd. There you have it. Even your great hero, Socrates, thinks you are preposterous. You longhaired Homo Impurus mutants lounge all day in your UOZ cafes, clad in your muddy hippie boots amid dirty bodies and bad breath, absurdly thinking that you can connect with meaningful philosophical ideas. Your intellectual lives, full of unanswered questions and poetic meanderings, disturb and confuse our minds. New Bright City is beyond all that. We want both the calmness and peace of mind, as well as the purity of clean bodies. Our government wellness meditation teams work hard to instill inner peace in our citizens, and we don’t need meddling from Socratic radicals subverting New Bright City’s beloved social tranquility with troubling questions that can lead to community unrest, poor sleep, and the general curse of imperfection.”

[End of Transcript Excerpt].


These excerpts from the first interrogation session by the Knights of Purity’s field brigade clearly show why SSgt. Chenwith was correct in designating the two Intercepts as security threats. They obviously were on a mission, driven by an ideology of radical imperfection, to ask the citizens of New Bright City disturbing philosophical questions disruptive of the citizens’ perfect, untroubled minds—a subversive plan enhanced by the disgust inflicted on the citizens via the Homo Impurus’ chronically unhygienic bodies.

I respectfully urge the Minister of Hygiene to give this serious matter of Homo Impurus threats the utmost attention, including the construction of an electrified wall at the border between the Unsanitary Orifice Zone and New Bright City.

My entreaty to you is given fresh impetus by recent reports from my field inspection staff: various youth with unclean bodies and in possession of philosophy books have been discovered having sexual intercourse in broad daylight. When confronted, they called our beloved Hygieia “a filthy whore” and shouted “Long live Diogenes,” an allusion, as you know, to that ancient, unsanitary philosopher who performed intimate bodily functions in public. Have other Homo Impurus subversives successfully infiltrated our fair land and, using their dangerous Socratic weapons, corrupted our youth? A full investigation at the ministerial level is urgently needed.

However, no matter what course of action the Minister of Hygiene ultimately chooses, I can assure the MOH of the complete cooperation of the Office of Mind-Body Inspection Services.

Respectfully Yours,

Ibis Smith

Chief Inspector

Office of Mind-Body Inspection Services

New Bright City



Philosophical speculations and speculative fiction have long mixed and mingled in Thomas White’s mind. Spinoza, Dune, Plato, Socrates, The Magazine of Fantasy & Science Fiction, Star Trek, A Canticle for Leibowitz, Descartes, Shelly’s Frankenstein, Twilight Zone, Kant, Hume, as well as a host of dystopian classics, such as We, Fahrenheit 451, 1984, and Brave New World, have all energized his creative and intellectual spirits, as have the writings of philosophers J-P Sartre, Simone de Beauvoir, Albert Camus, and Iris Murdoch, who brilliantly combined philosophical themes and fictional narratives. He has published his poetry, essays, and fiction in online and offline (paper) journals in Australia, United States, United Kingdom, and Canada, was named the best philosophy student by his undergraduate university, was featured in the essay section of the Encyclopedia Britannica, and founded & coordinated a Socrates Cafe.

Philosophy Note:

This story is a dystopian tale of two city-states wherein humans have evolved into two radically different civilizations. One version is still fiercely dedicated to Socratic questioning, including of the social order; the other, intensely anti-philosophical, wants to maintain a perfect, stable society at all costs, including the freedom of its citizens from disturbing Socratic-style questions.
The Time Machine‘s two civilizations, the Eloi and the Morlocks, in part, inspired this piece. Additional inspirations include the Socratic Method, bohemian café life, Plato’s Dialogues, Diogenes, A Canticle for Leibowitz, Kafka’s The Trial, Brave New World, 1984, and Fahrenheit 451. Besides the well-known dystopian novels cited above, I recommend these sources for reading: (see page 6) (Plato’s Allegory of the Cave) (see reference to The Time Machine) (see Section 130 b-d, Parmenides)

I Regret Any Future Impact Of My Words And Actions

by Zary Fekete

Officer Timothy walked down the hall in between the holding cells. He noticed that the new weekly prompt signs had been tacked to the bulletin board. The signs showed the bright face of Mrs. Reminder smiling. Her word balloon said, “Remember! Speak now and sleep sound!” In another one she spoke in Mandarin, “Were you kind or sassy? The future is tricky…better be safe!” There was also a list of the new “no say” words.

Officer Timothy removed the cell key from his pocket, nodded to the guard on duty, and quietly let himself into the second cell.

He smiled at the prisoner and greeted her, “I apologize in advance.”

“I apologize in advance,” she said.

She was dressed in the grey detention dilute-suit which prevented Officer Timothy from being able to detect her weight, curves, or hair color. Standard common-era issue. No triggers.

The officer placed the prisoner’s folder on the metal table and took out a recording pill. He held it up for the prisoner to witness, and then he swallowed it carefully and showed her his empty tongue. He clicked a button on the table and a digital clock appeared on the wall and began to count down from 30 minutes.

He sat behind the table and briefly glanced through the prisoner’s file. He had been given this case because there was a line-item missing in the report. This was rare but still occasionally happened.

He looked up from the file and said, “I apologize in advance. This says your name is Pamela. We are yet unfamiliar. Will it harm you to hear me say your name?”

“I apologize in advance,” she said as she straightened. “Yes, that’s fine.”

“I apologize in advance,” he said. “Pamela, will you stipulate my continued regrets?”

“I apologize in advance,” she said. “If you will.”

Both took a breath and relaxed for a moment. Officer Timothy made a few notes and then clicked the video display button on the table.

The wall opposite from the digital timer lit up with multiple camera angles showing a downtown traffic crossing. The accident had taken place at 12:14pm last Tuesday. Officer Timothy quickly flicked forward until the scene was prepped at 12:13.

“Are you ready, Pamela?” he asked.

“Yes,” she said.

He pressed the button and the scene slowly played forward. The various angles showed Pamela from last Tuesday, reading a book, standing at the crosswalk. Slowly another woman approached from the opposite direction, pushing a baby carriage. On the screen Pamela and the mother said something to each other and then looked out at the traffic. Officer Timothy paused the video.

“What did you say to her?” he asked.

“Just standard regret,” she said. “We were waiting for the light to change.”

“And that’s when it happened?”


“Do you remember what caused it?” he asked.

She looked at the wall video and pointed, “It was the next car. The one that will arrive in a moment. The horn was calibrated too high.”

“Yes,” he said. “That has been a problem. The older models can still cause true surprise.”

She nodded.

He pushed the button halfway and the scene slowly inched forward. The car in question approached, and even though the scene had no sound, it was clear when the mother was startled by the horn. Her body lurched, and the baby carriage rolled toward the street.

Officer Timothy paused the scene again. “Now, what exactly happened here?”

The prisoner smiled, clearly embarrassed, “It’s…I’m such an idiot. The book…the novel I was reading…it was published before the common-era. All the characters talk differently. I was kind of lost in that world…not thinking. So when I saw the carriage move I just grabbed it to stop it.”

“Without pre-apologizing…” he said.

“Yes, I… like I said, I’m an idiot.”

Officer Timothy nodded. He clicked the button and they both watched the scene conclude. In the video as the baby carriage moved, Pamela grabbed the handle and stopped it from rolling, whereupon the mother slapped her and took out her gun. The police cars arrived a moment later.

He looked down at the file again. “Well, it’s fairly straightforward then, Pamela. I’ll get this cleared up in the file. You agreed to be liable for any future discomfort for the mother and the child due to your unapologized personal intrusion and the mother agreed you would serve just one year and then she would drop the case.”

The prisoner smiled with relief, “Yes. That would be great.”

Officer Timothy closed the file folder and stood.

“I’ll leave you now. I regret any future impact of my words and actions,” he said.

“I release you from any future impact of your words and actions,” she said. He left the cell and carefully closed the door, so as not to startle anyone.



Zary Fekete has worked as a teacher in Hungary, Moldova, Romania, China, and Cambodia. They currently live and work as a writer in Minnesota. Some places they have been published are Goats Milk Mag, JMWW Journal, Bethlehem Writers Roundtable, and Zoetic Press. They enjoy reading, podcasts, and long, slow films. Twitter: @ZaryFekete

Philosophy Note:

As I wrote this piece I attempted to take the concept of personal offense to an extreme conclusion. What would it look like if society required constant apologizing as a kind of social currency?

Dare To

by Bruce Golden

I lie here, as I have lain for so long, like a crumpled fetus, waiting for an end that will not come. I beg for it . . . I pray for it. But even as I wait for a cessation to my terrible existence, I know it is only a seductive fantasy. I imagine release, escape, blissful freedom–for imagination is all I have left. How perversely ironic that the cause of my damnation is now my sole salvation.

The air reeks of disinfectant as it does habitually, and the only sounds I hear are distant murmurings. There’s a chill in the air so I clutch futilely at the lone, coarse sheet that covers me and open my eyes to the same austere wall, the same mocking shadows that greet me in perpetuity.

This time, though, I see a slight variation. Something is there. Something I can barely discern in the feeble light. A tiny, quivering, wiggle of activity. I strain to focus and see a caterpillar laboriously weaving its cocoon. Somehow it has made the Herculean trek to where the wall and ceiling intersect, and has attached itself in the crevice there.

As I lie here, I wonder what resplendent form will emerge from that cocoon. But even this vision is eventually muted by the despair that possesses my soul. I struggle not to reason, because there is no reason. Guilt or innocence, fact or fiction–they are concepts that no longer matter. All that matters are the gray ruins of my memories–memories that play out across the desolate fields of my mind. I cling to them the way a madman clings to sanity. In truth, I’m but a single, aberrant thought from slipping into the murky, swirling abyss of madness myself. So I try to remember.

I remember the carefree excursions I took to the ocean as a child–the warm sand, the cool water, the waves lapping at my ankles. I remember the university, in the days before reformation. The camaraderie of my fellow students. The give and take of creative discourse. Soaring over the sea cliffs on a crude hang glider built by a classmate. The girl with the bright red hair for whom I secretly longed. I remember many things, but always there is one tenacious, tumultuous recollection that intrudes.      

It’s always the same. The same thunderous sound of cracking wood as my door bursts open. The same flurry of booted feet violating the sanctum of my thoughts. The same rough hands that assault and bind me.

I remember the looks of hatred and repugnance, the shouted threats of violence from unfamiliar voices. The relentless malice focused upon me was like a living thing. Time and space became a rancorous blur as I stood in the center of an imposing room, still bound, surrounded by more strangers. I was on display, the accused in a courtroom where only the degree of my guilt seemed subject to debate. 

Much of what occurred that day is lost in a haze of obscurity, but I clearly remember the prosecutor’s embittered summation.

“The facts are incontrovertible, honorable Justice,” I recall him stating with restrained assurance. “A routine intruscan of the accused’s personal files disclosed numerous writings, both prosaic and poetical in nature, which can only be described as obscene and disturbingly antisocial. Public decorum prevents me from detailing the improprieties here, though the complete volume of these degradations can be found in the articles of evidence.

“In addition to the possession of these heinous works of pornography, the accused fully admits to authoring them. I say he stands guilty of counts both actual and abstract. I request that no leniency be shown by the court, and that he be sentenced under the severest penalties allowed for such crimes.”

I distinctly remember the prosecutor, indifferent but confident, returning to his seat as the presiding justice contemplated the charges. 

Turning a stern glance towards me, the justice methodically asked, “Does the accused have any statement to make before judgment is passed?”

I remember standing there, befuddled by the ritual of it all, unable to accept the realization that it was my fate they were discussing. When it seemed I wouldn’t reply, the justice opened his mouth to issue the verdict, and I quickly stammered the only thing I could think of.

“I . . . I admit I wrote things that may be considered inappropriate by some, but they were simply meanderings of a personal nature, never meant for public dissemination. In no sense was I propagating the enforcement of my ideals upon society. They . . . they were simple fantasies, scribblings of an unfettered imagination, nothing more.”

“Surely,” boomed the justice, “throughout the course of this trial, if not previously, you have been made aware that, under our governing jurisprudence, thought is deed.”

When I failed to respond, he went on. “If you have nothing further to say in your defense, I rule, by law, your guilt has been determined within reasonable doubt. I hereby sentence you to the withering.”

I remember the clamor of hushed voices swelling like a balloon about to burst as the words were repeated throughout the courtroom.

“The withering.”

The sound reverberated inside my skull, but terror and denial colored my reality. The withering. It was something spoken of only in whispers. No one I had ever known knew the truth of it. There were only rumors, grisly tales with no substance, yet the power to invoke dismay and horror.

Much of what happened next is a void of innocuous bureaucracy, but I remember the room where it took place. I was still bound, this time by sturdy leather straps that embraced my wrists and ankles. Except for the straps I was naked. Lost in the surreality of the moment, I felt no humiliation at my nakedness, but was overwhelmed by a pervading sense of vulnerability. I remember a chill in the room. There was a draft blowing from somewhere nearby. A single bright light was positioned so that it blinded me with its glare.

Three others were in the room. One I designated the “doctor,” and two men who assisted her. They went about their business with systematic efficiency, seeming to ignore my obvious presence.

Then, without really acknowledging me with her eyes, the doctor began explaining the procedure. Paralyzed with fearful anticipation, I failed to absorb much of what she said. I remember only bits and pieces. Something about “hormonal injections” . . . “osteo and rheumatoid mutations” . . . “effects which bypass the brain.”

The technical details of her explanation became a mere backdrop when I spied the row of hypodermics. Its length extended beyond absurdity, and when she reached for the first one I braced for the pain to come. However, after a few minor stings, I felt only a pinching sensation as needles were inserted with care into my thighs, my forearms, my neck . . . and on and on until each violation of my body no longer mattered. I must have passed out at some point, because when I awoke I was in another place.

I have no idea how long I was asleep, but as I weaned myself from unconsciousness I felt a stiffness that convinced me I had been lying there for some time. I tried to move but couldn’t. I saw no restraints holding me down, so I tried again. I was successful, briefly, if you consider inducing a stabbing pain somewhere in my back a success. The pain convinced me to forego any further attempts at movement. So I shook off the vestiges of slumber and tried to recall with more clarity what had happened.

Oh, that it could only have been a horrible dream. But my reality had become a nightmare, one I hadn’t yet grasped in its fullness. I know now nothing could have prepared me for what I was about to learn.

After I lay motionless for some time, a white-coated attendant approached me and bent over to engage in some sort of interaction with my bed.

“Where am I?” I asked, my voice cracking with dryness. “What’s wrong with me?  Why can’t I move?”

The attendant made no sign he heard me. Instead he pushed my bed into a corridor that stretched on without end. The wheels churned below me as we passed cubicle after grim cubicle. In the dim light I saw other beds, beds occupied by inert bodies. The shadows and the constant jog of movement prevented me from seeing more until we came to a halt. The attendant departed, leaving me as naked and helpless as the day I was brought into this harsh world.

The alcove where I had been left was much brighter, and it took time for my eyes to adjust. Unable to turn my head without great pain, I could look in only one direction. Facing me was a metallic wall or door of some sort. The metal’s sheen was highly reflective, and in its mirrored surface I saw myself.

Rather, I saw what I had become.

I have no idea how long I screamed before my cacophonous lament attracted a swarm of attendants who quickly sedated me. But I’m sure I wasn’t the first, or the last, to wail in terror inside those somber halls.

I try not to remember what I saw in that hideous reflection. But I can’t forget that my fingers are now gnarled deformities, my arms shrunken and folded against my chest as if my tendons had shriveled. I know the slightest attempt to move my legs will cause indescribable agony that writhes up through my hips and assaults my spinal cord. I can try to forget that my once wavy hair has been shaved to a coarse stubble, but the feeling my lips are dry and cracked is ever-present, and too often my skin is aflame with a devilish itch I cannot scratch.

Warehoused like a spare part that no longer serves any purpose, my days passing into years, I suck sullen gruel through toothless gums and wait for the impersonal touch of an attendant to wipe my body clean. It is a morose whim of fate indeed, that even such routine maintenance is a welcome diversion to an otherwise monotonous subsistence.

Trapped in a useless husk, perched on the precipice of lunacy, I turn inward for deliverance. From a place deep within I rise and soar high above other lands, gliding lazily into other times. They don’t know about my journeys. They think I’m a prisoner of this room. They don’t know I become other people–bold people, curious people, people who commemorate their adventures in rhyme. I don’t tell them about the improper thoughts that creep into my head. I still dare to imagine the unimaginable, but no one knows. They won’t find me in here. In here I don’t allow myself to dwell on past transgressions. I seek no pity nor submit to reproach. And, no matter how seductive its siren call, in here I resist the longing for sweet death.

Instead, like the caterpillar, I wait to emerge from my cocoon, spread my glorious wings, and fly.



Bruce Golden’s short stories have been published more than 150 times across a score of countries and 30 anthologies. Asimov’s Science Fiction described his novel Evergreen, “If you can imagine Ursula Le Guin channelling H. Rider Haggard, you’ll have the barest conception of this stirring book, which centers around a mysterious artifact and the people in its thrall.” His latest book, Monster Town, is a satirical send-up of old hard-boiled detective stories featuring movie monsters of the black & white era. It’s currently in development for a TV series.

Philosophy Note:

This story was inspired by health problems my mother was suffering through. I wondered, what if such physical problems were a form of torture or punishment in a dystopian society instead of a medical condition.


Does This Offend Thee?

by G. Scott Huggins

This is a column with more questions than answers, I’m afraid, but one I feel needs to be written. Some background: some time ago, I asked a question on social media that boiled down to, “When is one justified in taking offense?” I didn’t get a lot of takers on that question. The one I didn’t expect was from a rather well-known SF writer, who doesn’t often weigh in on my threads. He brusquely informed me that the question was a useless one, and unanswerable.

Detail of street art by Dan Perjovschi at Museumsquartier in Vienna

Since then, I have seen this same writer offer a lot of opinions about which people are right and wrong to take offense at certain actions and statements of other people, and why they are right or wrong in doing so. I am therefore forced to the conclusion that one of three things are true of this writer:

1) He did not understand the question I was asking (which may be the fault of either or both of us).

2) He is simply unaware of the conflict among his utterances about taking offense, or

3) He is well aware of what he is doing, and simply doesn’t want people to think about it too hard, lest they discover a principle that upsets his method for designating who gets to take offense and under what circumstances.

I am generally inclined to believe that the first or second explanation applies, here. But what’s the point? Why do we take offense in the first place?

It seems to me that offense is the first part of our defense mechanisms, by which we keep ourselves, our families, and our tribes from harm, or signal for help after we have been harmed. We recognize what we perceive to be a danger, and react against it, marshalling our energy and will to oppose the threat. But then again, what is taking offense? Is it the belief that we are under threat, or is it the action we take in order to signal that we have the belief? These are separate things, much as a thought is separate from the utterance of a thought. And of course, it is imminently possible to have a thought, and then speak in contradiction to the thought. In other words, we can lie. So the outward “taking of offense” can, like any other human signal, be subverted: it will not always truly signal the belief that the “offended” party is under threat or has suffered harm. It can also be used to gain advantage in the absence of threat or harm. The taking of offense can be deployed offensively.

So from these principles, we can break offense into three possible categories:

1) That in which a threat or harm to the offended party exists (e.g. a person has been slandered, and they take offense).

2) That in which no true threat or harm to the offended party exists, but they believe it does (e.g. a person believes they have been slandered, and takes offense, but the person committing the “slander” was actually referring to a third party).

3) That in which no true threat or harm to the offended party exists, but they believe it is to their advantage to pretend it does (e.g. a person knows that their “slanderer” was talking about a third party, but takes offense, insisting that the “slanderer,” a political opponent, was acting maliciously in order to discredit them).

There is of course, a great deal of difficulty in distinguishing among these three categories: to distinguish whether someone “taking offense” is in the second or the third categories would require reading their minds. If they are of the third category, they have every reason to continue the lie, and none to tell the truth. To distinguish whether someone is in the first or the second category may be easier, but if the offended party has reason to distrust the offending party, it may not.

I imagine that a number of readers may at this point say, along with Stephen Fry, “so the fuck what? Be offended?” But the problem with this is that the very term “offense” is enshrined in law: at some point, we decide that real harm has been done to someone that justifies doing violence to bring the offender to justice: to force them to repent or make restitution for their offense. And that certainly does not limit itself to physical violence or even violence to property. The offense of slander requires no physical violence to be considered an injurious crime. Or perhaps a better example would be this: The “offense” of disrespecting a reigning monarch was enshrined in law not three centuries ago. The “offense” of Black people walking into public places where White people didn’t want them was enshrined in law in the United States not sixty years ago. The “offense” of women appearing in public without head coverings is law in several countries today. Insofar as these laws have been repealed, it was because we came to believe that such “offenses” should not offend any reasonable persons: that the offense caused by their existence was much greater than any “offense” suffered by those in favor of those laws.

Now if we consider the elimination of such laws to stand for actual moral progress, rather than just a kind of legal fashion, we must agree that there is a standard by which we measure, or ought to measure, offense. And yet, I am unsure on what principle we can draw this line except to state it thus: “Offense should be taken only when a credible threat of harm, or actual harm, is done to a person.” But even then, we have a vast judgment call to make about what constitutes a credible threat of harm, or actual harm, or a proportional response to it. I might be justified in taking offense at a person who openly insults me. But even if I am a germophobe, I would certainly not be justified in responding with offense at the mere offer of a handshake. Already in the West, many restrictions upon free speech have been proposed and passed in the name of freeing people from the burden of suffering offense. Have those people truly been threatened? Have they suffered actual harm? And obviously that is a very different question than whether they have felt threatened or harmed. Anyone can feel anything; but when are we justified in those feelings? And even if the offended parties have been truly threatened by others’ speech, does curtailing that speech truly lead to less harm? I strongly believe it does not. But my beliefs alone cannot stand against a tide of feeling that may reshape our laws – our “offenses” – if we do not frame an answer. What should that answer be? What is the guiding principle by which we may distinguish a true threat from a false? A true “offense” from the gratuitous taking of offense? It is an important question, and one to which we need an answer, yet I see no easy answer to it. Nor do I believe that we can simply ask people to ignore all threats, as some of my acquaintances have suggested: it might be reasonable to ask me, (to use an example that in no way reflects something I am now worried about), to simply ignore someone who said, “All Christians ought to be shot.” But if you say that no verbal utterance ought to be restricted, then you would be giving carte blanche to someone who would, for example, call me at all hours of the day and night threatening to kill me and my family, specifically, for being Christian. And no one can live with that. But where do we draw that line? This is the question that must be answered. And I am no nearer to answering it.