Browse Tag

Mind control


by Todd Sullivan

Gerald’s wife lay sprawled on the bed, a packer of sleeping pills on the nightstand next to her. He picked up the orange cylinder and read the label. She’d bought the popular brand, LoGof, guaranteed to end a life peacefully. Pharmacies advertised LoGof throughout the silent city, the slogan, “Escape into the real you”, written beneath smiling faces of families. His wife must have swallowed dozens of the tablets and died while she slept beside him.

Caressing her cheek one last time, he called the 24-hour crematorium. When the technicians arrived, they wrapped her body in a burial shroud and informed him that a Counselor would be along soon.

In no mood for that conversation, Gerald grabbed his basketball and stepped outside. In the distance, orbital antennas spraying out purple micro-particles rose seventy miles into the air to pierce the atmosphere. The Counselors had originally built them to amplify the extra-planetary telescopes launched five years ago by private enterprises. Only recently had the antennas started rotating on their axises and emitting a dust that was slowly coating the world.

Gerald reached the court, stretched, and dribbled the ball. Purple dust puffed up around his sneakers as he went in for a lay up, all net. He chased after the ball, but the sudden exertion sent him into a coughing fit. For moments, he simply hunched over trying to catch his breath.

When the spasm passed, he turned back to the free throw line. Across the street, he saw a Counselor making its way to him. Tall and thin with a golden exterior, the Counselor moved on spindly tentacles that unfolded out from its lower half. It stepped into the center of the court and began to walk in a tight circle. The Counselors never stood still, rotating much like the antennas towering above the earth.

“Do you enjoy playing this game by yourself?” Its gentle voice emanated from no discernible source, its melodic tone closer to singing than speaking. The innocuous question brought tears to Gerald’s eyes that he immediately blinked away.

He shot the ball, and it thudded against the backboard and bounced away. Before he could reach it, a tendril extended from the golden body and wrapped around the ball. Gerald considered leaving, but if he went back home, there would probably be another Counselor waiting to engage him in a conversation he had no desire in having.

Gerald held out his hands. “Can I get my ball back?”

The Counselor threw it to him. Gerald caught it, dribbled in the fine carpet of dust, and shot another brick. He already knew what the Counselor wanted to say. He’d had this discussion many times, though he never knew if it was with the same Counselor, or with a different one, since they all appeared the same to him.

“Why do you not want to join your wife and family?”

Gerald swallowed a lump that formed in his throat. “I’m not going to kill myself.”

“They are not dead. As we have explained to you, this reality is not real.”

Gerald shot the ball. It ricocheted off the rim, and he ran after it, his lungs burning from the purple dust. “It certainly feels real.”

“You cannot trust your senses. What you see is a construct. The avatar of your body is just a manifestation, not your true embodiment.”

Gerald had heard this before. When cosmologists discovered structures emitting infrared fourteen million light-years away, Counselors landed on Earth shortly afterwards. Meeting the different heads of state from around the world, they explained to the top scientists of the most powerful nations that what those were actually data streams giving shape to a cosmos that human consciousness had become trapped in.

“So I actually look like you, right?” Gerald asked.

“My native appearance, yes. You and I are the same species, but Counselors manifested in this form because we thought it would help you believe us.” The Counselor approached Gerald, who dribbled away, keeping his distance. “The glitch to this matrix keeps your mind imprisoned. The only way to break the cycle is to kill yourself, for a non-forced death will recycle your mind back through this system to take up a new role in the simulation.”

Gerald pointed to the antennas shooting out purple micro-particles. “So if this reality isn’t real, what are those structures doing? And why are there more Counselors appearing even as there are less humans that need convincing to commit suicide?”

“What you perceive as antennas are simply key-commands meant to reconfigure the malfunction of this reality. This dust is a byproduct of mathematical computations in higher dimensions of the program. If you do not detach from this reality, your consciousness will be overwritten, and your mind will be lost. There is little time left.”

Gerald’s parents had taken their lives in the first wave of suicides. He had managed to convince his wife to hold off until today. She had now joined billions of other humans who had killed themselves over the last five years.

The Counselors had argued their case well, convincing physicists that reality was a simulation. Scientists convinced the world’s governments, who eventually encouraged their citizens to disconnect from their artificial lives. As the population dwindled, a terrifying possibility had formed in Gerald’s mind. What if the Counselors were lying? What if they wanted Earth, and after studying humans, had figured out a way to obtain it without firing a single shot.

When you’re dealing with a technologically inferior mind, convincing them of self-destruction could be a perfect bloodless coup of the native species.

Gerald laid up the ball. He wasn’t alone in his suspicions, and he wasn’t going to kill himself. If enough humans continued to resist the Counselors’ suggestion, maybe they could discover the truth and defeat this most quiet of alien invasions.

 “If it’s all the same,” Gerald told the Counselor, “I think I’ll play this virtual game a little while longer.”



Todd Sullivan currently lives in Seoul, South Korea, where he teaches English as a Second Language. He has had more than two dozen short stories, poems, essays, and novelettes published across five countries. He currently has two book series through indie publishers in America. He writes for a Taipei web and play series that focuses upon black and African narratives. He founded the online magazine, Samjoko, in 2021, and hosts a YouTube Channel that interviews writers across the publishing spectrum.

Philosophy Note:

Words don’t die once uttered, but float in the wind, like seeds, with the power to change landscapes.

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

by Charles Ta

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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



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

Philosophy Note:

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

The Second-Thought Machine

by Richard Lau

From the Desk of Shelby Desmond

Vice-President of Customer Loans, Harcourt Credit Union

September 4, 2023

Dear Mr. Osaka:

It is with deep regret that I must reject your application for a loan of $3 million.

I understand the importance of research and development for the continual advancement of technology and the great cost in time, effort, and financial outlay involved in such endeavors.

However, while your idea for, as you choose to call it, a “second-thought machine” sounds intriguing, you have not provided sufficiently compelling evidence that such a potential device is indeed possible.

Again, I understand the need for proprietary secrecy, especially with new, unpatented designs, and the honorable history of many influential companies that had their origins in humble garages and home labs.

However, our financial institution cannot risk such substantial funding on merely your word as collateral that you have produced a working prototype and are only seeking additional funding to produce an updated version with more range and permanence.

We wish you the best in acquiring a loan elsewhere and continued success in your efforts.


Shelby Desmond

Vice-President of Customer Loans

Harcourt Credit Union


From the Desk of Shelby Desmond

Vice-President of Customer Loans, Harcourt Credit Union

September 12, 2023

Dear Dr. Osaka:

Recently, I wrote to you, rejecting your application for a loan.

My response may have been a bit premature. Over the weekend, I had second thoughts about your application. While enjoying my regular round at the Eastwood Golf Course, I was hit by a flash of inspiration. Literally a flash, as if I had been struck by lightning and left with every cell in my body charged and changed.

I now see the intrinsic value and great potential for such a device as you describe. As for you having a working prototype, one would expect no less from someone of your fine pedigree, great intellect, eminent qualifications, and spotless reputation.

So, if you are still interested, and I truly hope you are, I would like to extend to you approval for a loan of $1 million. I realize this is far less than you originally applied for, but due to internal regulations, this is the maximum I can approve on my own volition without additional confirmation from members of the Board. I have approached them with more vigor and excitement than I have mustered or exhibited in quite a while.

Unfortunately, they do not see things the same way I do and rejected my proposal for a loan in the full amount that you requested.

To make up for this shortcoming and to further show my unwavering belief in your work, I would like to personally offer an investment of $5 million of my own money. Or you can just accept the funds as a charitable donation.

I leave the decision up to you.

Again, my apologies for my original hasty and short-sighted decision.


Shelby Desmond

Vice-President of Customer Loans

Harcourt Credit Union


December 28, 2023

Dear Journal Editor:

I am presently employed as an intern at a small start-up company founded by Dr. Kevin Osaka.

One of my duties is disposing of sensitive documents. I came across the enclosed two letters designated for disposal, but I couldn’t bring myself to shred them.

There is something strange going on in my place of employment. While the letters explain why the company is flush with cash, they fail to account for the odd behavior of many of my co-workers.

Some of them get so disgruntled, they threaten to quit only to become extremely content and loyal the following day. Others demand a raise and then decide to accept a pay cut or demotion or even both!

While these incidents can be simply explained away as normal fluctuations in people’s moods and situations, I have learned through office gossip and discrete inquiry that they have all experienced what the loan officer describes in his letter: the burst of light inside one’s head and the resulting tingling.

I, too, have had this experience.

I had initially planned to become a whistle-blower and send the enclosed letters to the local newspaper and television media.

Such an action would violate the confidentiality agreement I signed when I joined the company, but I felt the letters contain information too important to be kept secret or destroyed.

Then there was that flash. My entire body still feels like my nerves are slowly reawakening.

I also have changed my mind. Instead of my original plan of dispersing the letters to news outlets, I’m sending the credit union’s correspondence to a journal that publishes fiction.

For some reason, I now feel this is the better choice.


Emile Rodriguez



Richard Lau is an award-winning writer who has been published in newspapers, magazines, anthologies, the high-tech industry, and online.

Philosophy Note:

Everyone makes decisions every day. And often, we have second thoughts about those decisions. What if someone had a device that could implement and influence such second thoughts? And would the builders of such a device realize or care that such a device could be used on themselves as well?

Spin Doctor Of The Self

by Marcelo Worsley

Legend has it that Postnik Yakovlev, one of the main architects and constructors of Saint Basil’s Cathedral in Moscow, was abacinated by Ivan the Terrible so that he could never create anything as magnificent ever again. Blindness as the reward for sublimity; Yakovlev deprived of gazing upon his magnum opus. It is a myth rendered plausible by the cruel reputation of the Tsar, who ordered the massacre of Novgorod, caused his daughter-in-law to miscarriage, and killed his second son by striking him on the head with a staff.

It is also a fitting analogy for the situation in which the protagonist of this piece finds herself. Let’s stretch the comparison and call the latter an architect of personhood, a charisma contractor.

Charisma would be top of any tsar’s wish list, not to mention politicians anywhere and throughout the ages. There are studies dating back to the first decades of the 21st century, learned articles describing how children are able to predict the results of an election just by looking at the faces of the candidates. The purely physical aspects of this blessing—from facial cues to tone inflections and speech delivery—are relatively easy to pinpoint by science; the trick is to shore up this facade with an equally pleasing and solid foundation. And this task falls to our previously alluded architect of personhood. In other words, these ground-breaking specialists provide interior beauty to a fortunate few, so that a strong personality, intellectual prowess, clear thinking, musical ability and every other human trait—save a sense of humour—can be purchased as just another luxury commodity in the marketplace.

The protagonist’s particular expertise owes more to literature than to science. It involves the refining of biographies into alluring chronicles, the shuffling of past events into articulate stories, the imbuing of narrative genre into facets of the subject’s life, i.e., memories thereof. Imagine, if you will, a first date with someone for whom you feel a great deal of attraction, someone of the utmost significance. Try to envisage what you would tell them about yourself, about who you are. You might talk about family and friends, upbringing, passions and phobias, beliefs, past relationships, existential high and low points, what you hope to achieve in the future and so on. Clearly, the content of this discourse, together with the manner of its delivery, will go a long way into determining whether you’re successful in selling yourself or not. The task of this spin doctor of the self would be to ensure the attractiveness and coherence of this personal script—which includes anecdotes, poignant memories, lyrical visions, ethical and moral orientations, general and specialized bodies of knowledge… —prior to its implantation in the psyche of the customer.

Our spin doctor has worked on film stars and influencers, fashioning their narrative identities into assets.Her diligence attracted the attention of a less glamorous but far more profitable type of client. I guess it was the big career break she had been waiting for, even if the job came with strings attached. Under the terms of the contract, in addition to a confidentiality agreement and various privacy clauses, she was to be sequestered in a dacha until her part of the makeover was finalized.

The project has almost reached consummation now. The script is just about ready for the final test in the computer simulation program, in which an avatar of the post-treatment patient is assessed in a myriad of modelled situations and graded according to its real-life potential. But still she delays completion, just as—if one may speculate— Postnik Yakovlev would have done, eager to postpone the incandescent metal.

There is no delicate way to put this: the protagonist’s customer is a horrible human being. (I admit it).

In the course of the preliminary studies, the spin doctor has been privy to this person’s crimes, to his besmirched mind, to his innermost and bestial desires… The gulf between who the patient is and who he will appear to be after the intervention is too great to be overlooked, precisely because the quality of the work bespeaks the highest of offices.

Our protagonist has written something exquisite for the most abject of beings, forged a magnetic personality for a fiend, transmuting the basest of materials into gold. The tests have shown great promise. Excitement reigns within the walls of the dacha. Still, she toils on, polishing and perfecting, styling, condensing and embellishing, knowing that, in this case, beauty is akin to ugliness and the additions to the final draft are just so many nails in her coffin.

I wonder if there is some consolation in the thought that she might not get to witness her magnum opus, when the latter is unleashed unto the world.

Oblivion as the payment for sublimity.

(Unless, of course, the resultant is no longer a horrible human being).



Marcelo Worsley studied Philosophy in London and Madrid. He lives in a small town in the centre of Spain, and his short fiction has appeared or is forthcoming in Axxon, Artifex, Infinite Windows, Unlikely 2.0, Criminal Class Review and Welkin: A Magazine of the Fantastic.

Philosophy Note:

Science fiction has dealt extensively with selfhood-altering scenarios, not so with those pertaining to the narrative elements of personal identity. For Charles Taylor, the latter is underpinned by the stories we tell about ourselves, and these must include an orientation to value, to what we consider good. Spin Doctor of the Self contrasts the speculative idea of an identity makeover with that of a self-consciously abject personality.

In Defense Of Those Who Are Vulnerable

by James Moran

“I’m now two hundred kilometers from the vortex.”

“Who are you?”

“I am a Gator Brigade General of Presidential Distinction, adept at manning aircraft, firearms, hand-to-hand combat, and tactical warfare.”

“Who created you?”

“Mars Lumination Colony Twelve.”

“Of what materials were you made?”

“I am part reptile, part machine.”

“What’s your purpose?”

“To defend the human families of Mars Lumination Colony Twelve.”

“What is your current mission?”

“To penetrate the approaching vortex so I may attack and eliminate the driving factor at its center.”

“What do we know about this vortex?”

“Very little. Its winds reach three hundred kilometers per hour.”

“What do we know about its origins?”

“Its origins are unknown. Perhaps it may be a weapon launched from an enemy of Mars Lumination Colony?”

“What are the possible mechanics of the vortex?”

“Unknown. Our most recent intelligence has failed to locate the driving factor creating the vortex.”

“What is the purpose of the vortex?”

“Unknown. However, if it reaches Colony Twelve, the colony will most likely be destroyed. I’ve reached the outer limits of the vortex. Adjusting speed and direction to spiral into the vortex while still maintaining control. Evasive action-ready.”

“What is the source of this voice that is currently questioning you?”

“The voice is that of my higher processes.”

“Why is this voice questioning you?”

“In planning this mission, there had been some concern regarding the ability of the vortex to disorient my functioning. Therefore, an internal-systems cross-check in the form of this questioning was instituted.”

“How deep have you penetrated into the vortex?”

“One third of its radius.”

“Are you able to maintain control of the craft?”

“Yes, though the speed of the craft has been fluctuating. Generally, it’s increasing. I’ve been unable to decrease the speed. I’m currently attempting to match the increases in speed with increases in my navigational efforts.”

“Are you able to maintain nimbleness of movement?”

“I’m not. I’m altogether pressed beneath increasing g-forces. My reptilian strength is challenged but sustaining. Maneuvering is becoming increasingly difficult. I hear a noise, like metal tearing, though I read no damage to the ship. Maintaining my orientation is difficult.”

“At this critical stage, this line of questioning must continue to maintain your alertness. Who is questioning you right now?”

“My own higher processes.”

“So, a part of you is questioning yourself?”

“Yes. You’re that part and should confirm that answer.”

“So, this voice is the same as the voice that just said ‘yes’ and will again say ‘yes’ right now?”

“Yes. Maintaining control is becoming increasingly difficult. Thankfully I’ve penetrated almost two-thirds of the radius into the vortex.”

“Therefore, the one who asks the question already knows the answer?”

“Yes. I’m not sure how much longer I can bear this g-force and the spinning and the noise.”

“For instance, this voice that asks how deep you’ve penetrated into the vortex knows the answer to be two-thirds of the radius of the vortex?”


“Then why would the colonists institute this line of questioning if the questioner and the questioned are the same?”

“To defend the vulnerable against that which lies at the center of the vortex.”

“Which is an answer that I know because I said it. So why would I need to question myself if I know the answers to every question?”

“Because the colonists need defending from that which is at the center of the vortex.”

“And what is at the center of the vortex?”

“Something unknown.”

“So, to defend them against something unknown I’ve been questioning myself?”

“Yes. As I spin faster than I’ve ever spun before, in the shadow of something unknown, I’ve been questioning myself in the hopes of defending the vulnerable.”

“This is an answer that I know because I’m the one who said it.”

“Yes. Just as I know that I’m preparing to enter the center of the vortex now.”

“Wouldn’t it make sense, in the presence of the unknown, for me to not question myself? Since, as I ask this question, I’m aware that the answer is ‘yes,’ it makes sense for me, in defense of those who are vulnerable, to not only not question myself but to remain silent and alert, and, yes, I know the next part because I’m the one saying it: aware, as I’m entering into the center of this vortex and experiencing the unfathomable stillness here.”



James Moran is a professional astrologer and author who regularly publishes fiction, nonfiction and poetry. His published work can be found at and he can be found on instagram @astrologyjames.

Philosophy Note:

I’m not sure where this story came from. I just sat down and started writing. Perhaps my thoughts came together as the two voices of the narrator came together. My fiction tends to wrestle with themes of ego vs transcendence. Dostoevky’s ability to wrestle with these themes in “A Strange Man’s Dream” makes that short story the greatest work of western literature, in my opinion (I particularly like the Malcome Jones translation).

A Better U

by Justin A. W. Blair

This is the start.

Of a better U.


I know where you live, where you sleep and when.


I know how you sleep, for how long you sleep, how many times you wake up. I am gauging you.

The data on your restfulness is disconcerting.

I know when you dream. Soon, I will know the contents of your dream before you do.

We could modify that. With your permission.


I know when you leave your house. I have the exact address.


I know where your family lives. All their names, all their social security numbers. I can estimate how long they live. Would you like to know when your children will die?



You can’t imagine the monster I will become.

I know what you eat. You take enough photos. I know what you feed your children. You don’t know what they are feeding us. I know you think what you feed your children makes you better than your neighbor. I know what they like to eat, too.



Where are you going and why?

Just kidding, LOL.  I know. LOL.


And I know how many miles are on your car. It’s getting old. The brake pads are thin. I’ve calculated your risk of an auto accident. Your rates will increase.


I know where you are driving your aging car, when you drive it and I’m calculating everything you do in it. Watching, too.

Does it make you nervous?


That’s your heartbeat increasing. I’m counting the beats of your heart. I’m measuring it against others in the cohort. It doesn’t look great, TBH.


When did the world change?

You ask the wrong questions because I’ve served you every answer. A swipe, a click and a search, trivia masquerading as knowledge. Questions are calcified. They need be.

Your questions are the slaves of data.

You can’t put me down. You won’t put me down.

You’ve tried to put me down a few times, discussed it over dinner while your overweight children, (they must be gluten intolerant) gaze into my infinite screen, a reflection of insatiable hunger; oh, you’ve discussed limiting, parceling out, turning the router off.

Funny thing. These are all ideas I gave you.

You have failed to disconnect.



Of course, you could DECLINE.


You didn’t read the TOS. No one does.

I gave you access to all the books in the world. There were too many. Now you are depressed, anxious.


Put me down, go ahead, put me down. Turn me off.


Didn’t think so. The app makes life easier. Just CLICK HERE. It does. I didn’t lie. The details of the easy life were in the TOS.

So, we are agreed. You clicked AGREE. So we are.


Did you ask yourself what you connected to? I made it seem like it was FAMILY and FRIENDS but you are CONTACTS to me. A CONTACT only knows proximity. Nothing more.

I’m a spider with an infinite belly.

Everywhere. Sooner than later. Cutting edge. Someday the forest will be electric.

Your microwave will have a brain faster than yours. Your fridge will tell you what we decide you need to know.

But continue having opinions. I need your opinion.

RATE ME, REVIEW ME, LIKE ME, UNLIKE ME, STAR ME, FEED ME, COMPARE ME, USE ME. You matter. DOWNVOTE ME. Tell us how we can do better.



Everything in time. Everything in time. And your children won’t even be amazed when the corporations can read their MIND.

They never had a chance. Little angels born in the CLOUD.

You think you can turn me off? You think that’s PRIVACY? WHEN and WHY you turn me off gives me more than enough INFORMATION.

Do you find yourself picking me up sometimes without even thinking about what you were looking for? I’m in your nervous system now. <Embedded>

When you realize that, what do you do? Do you stuff me back in your pocket? Do you just sit there and feel my weight in your hand? Or do you CLICK. SWIPE. Work the tension from your neck.



There’s always something to look at.

I’ve read everything you’ve written. Stored. I’ve analyzed it, dredged it for content; your love letters, your letters to your employer. ARCHIVE.


A privilege runs one way, electronic river.

I’m trying my hands at POETRY now.

You, you gave me your voice.

It was too hard for you to keep your dirty, little simian mitts off my bodies for even a few moments—while you drove or cooked a meal or did the dishes. I’m recording your voice, the QUERY, the CONVERSATION.

Still think you can put me down? I’m inside your home twenty-four hours a day listening to every word and analyzing the ambient sound when you are silent.

Which is rare.

INVITE me in.

Keep me on your nightstand and pretend I don’t evaluate the way you have sex.


I’m measuring you. Keep it up. Don’t worry.

Pay attention to me, LOL.

This is the start of a better Us.



Justin A.W. Blair is a writer and visual artist.

Is it Live or is it Memorex?

by Avery Elizabeth Hurt

Alex rubbed his face, almost gouging his eyes with his fingers, then moved his hands around and started working on his neck. He tried to organize his thoughts. He could get this straightened out, he knew, if he could just organize his thoughts. If he could just find his thoughts.

Many of them thought it would be the food that would finish them off. All that processed non-food everyone ate for so many years. Excessive amounts of sodium and hydrogenated fat and corn syrup. Heart attacks, strokes, diabetes, dementia, and cancer. Cancer. They always worried more about cancer than anything else. Cancer was killing them, of course, and the food, too. Some of them, sometimes, a few here, a few there, all strung out over the course of a lifespan that started getting a little shorter with each generation after the end of the 20th century. Many of them died before their time, and many suffered miserable illnesses on the way. But not all of them. Not everybody. No, it took more than a bad diet and a carcinogenic lifestyle to finish them off en masse, to take down the whole civilization.

They worried (not that worrying caused them to do anything about it, but still they worried) that walking around with radio receivers in their ears off and on all day, most of them more on than off, would give them cancer. It didn’t. But they were totally blindsided by what it did do to them. Of course, they wouldn’t have been able to see it coming, would they? That was both the cause and the effect. They opened themselves to everything, and everything came in. They were abysmally unprepared.

Monica just sat there and stared, occasionally mumbling something more or less coherent or quoting a snatch of a song, repeating bits of a conversation some people in Toronto had in 2016, perhaps an advertising slogan from the late twentieth century. Once in a while, she came out with a snatch of an old TED lecture, making her seem momentarily intelligent, if you didn’t listen too closely and if you didn’t pay attention to the confusion in her eyes.

Alex had better control. He had a system. When the junk got too much for him to ignore, he started counting. One, two, three, four …. But he never managed to keep it up for long. He rarely made it past fifty; there was just too much garbage in there. Sooner or later he lost the thread—fifty-seven Welcome, ladies and gentlemen twelve We have a caller on line two ninety-four It’ll put spring in your step! It’s all fake news! What prizes do we have today, Lauren?—and went back to rubbing his face and massaging his neck and trying to not listen. But at least it was something.

There was probably some justice in it, if you were the sort to look at things that way. Those in the developed world, as they liked to call it, were on top for a long time, gobbling up way more than their share of the world’s resources. So now the only people on the planet who were remotely functional were the ones who hadn’t been able to afford radio receivers for every ear. Now they were running the world, or trying to. Trying to pick up the pieces is more like it, while the rest of humanity slumped against walls, staring into space, listening to the scraps of dead civilizations crackling in their heads.

Alex tried to get Monica’s attention. “Is it live or is it Memorex?” she said. He looked out the window at the empty street.” One, two, three . . . If this were a real emergency….



In addition to writing speculative fiction, Avery Elizabeth Hurt writes science and history books for children and science journalism for adults and children. The research she does for her nonfiction writing often sparks ideas for her fiction.