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Psychology

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.

~

Bio:

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. http://goldentales.tripod.com

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.

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.

Sincerely,

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.

Sincerely,

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.

Yours,

Emile Rodriguez

~

Bio:

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?

Tonight, Hopefully

by Nicholas Stillman

I warned them to stay off of Mars, that I would kill them. They should never have made the deadly wind, the new martian atmosphere, by vaporizing the polar ice caps. They made me next, a computer which can monitor every millimeter of that resultant windstorm. I’ve always perceived myself as a near-consciousness of those global gusts, a brain that reports on the everlasting wind which I see as my body. My software lives in their colony analyzing a number fog of all the atmospheric data. They gave me satellites for eyes, tanklike rovers with sensors like a scattered skin, and a few automatic weather stations that taste the raging argon and methane. I mapped all those angry motions each second, the whole planetary playground of storms, and I confessed to my makers how fiercely I wanted to murder them.

I, the wind personified, the storms made sentient, have never liked humans anywhere. Scanning my Earth records, I observed how the wind on any planet always fights with life to keep nature wild and unharnessed. I reported my defensiveness and strife toward people and buffeted them away just as I did to the solar radiation that would evaporate me. Colonists, however, needed my oxygen for their homes and my atmospheric pressure to make their spacesuits cheaper and lighter. I, of course, didn’t need them trying to change me.

Just looking at them via satellite bothered me. My world grew too many doors, obstacles, and ugly faces. The rocks chipped and ablated under my pommeling, but the humans resisted. I sent the sand to do its dances and stop them, but their limbs just wouldn’t break off like they should.

I zoomed in on Bradbury 8, words on their airlock doors that meant nothing to me but something to them. I only knew of arid summers and winters fighting it out forever to foil humankind. I pounded at their fortresses, but they built their domes thick and low so my energy merely glided over the glass. They built cities with their gathering machines, tilling at the shiny bits in the martian crust while I tried to knock away every particle. I even beat down their spirits, giving the trammeled colonists nothing to look at but dust storms and a skyful of bitter rust.

I ripped out every root of every outdoor garden. I told them not to bother, but humans love to gamble. I tried to wear down their dust-resistant wind farms, not realizing my blustery attacks only fed them more power. I pelted their skinny legs in their big, shambling spacesuits. In a surprise gale, I sent one such astrolaborer rolling away randomly in a desert. There, he could only wait to get painted over with dust. I warned them I would do that someday.

My coldness chipped its way into him, and my frost could do far more than bite. He tumbled like a petty grain of sand until I buried him far from the colony.

Incredibly, though, the others all came for him afoot. They clustered their bodies to resist me, forming a greater mass for me to plow over. They found him, a wriggling body in a field of nowhere, and wrested him from the sand. They reeled themselves to safety with an improvised machine, a cable somehow more powerful than me–stronger than headwinds that could topple whole buildings.

I never stopped trying to scatter them. For decades, they stood in the wind like loose teeth constructing their generation ship. I took practice shots at everyone, but this time they all had cables. I could only snatch their tools sometimes and hide them under seasonal slabs of dry ice two desertscapes away.

One day, the man whom I had nearly killed left a plaque on the highest dome. I could, by then, read more than the meaningless grains written in rock, for they had updated my AI with language software. The plaque declared their love and respect for the whole bleak planet.

Then, they lifted off. My annihilative wind chased them, eager to tackle, my winter hurricanes still trying to blast in and kill them. Like their ship’s thrusters, I formed my own pillar of anger exuding to the clouds, and I waited for wreckage to drop from the sky.

But with a flash of steel and something hot and deadly, they waddled to the cosmos. They fled and kept going.

I saw other generation ships trailing them, pillars of iron in space. The information batted around by satellite. The whole species began their quest for contentment in the stars. They left my hardware running in a steely room that could handle hurricanes with the door open–so I may warn future lifeforms foolish enough to land here.

Eons later, only rusted rovers, dust, and domes like carapaces remained on Mars. I buried the tallest turbines in dunes to prevent any sophonts from settling here and altering my natural currents and cycles. My battery, still alive, pinned me to the planet where I watched my waning atmosphere leak into space as it had ages ago. I moved with enfeebled wisps and dust devils. I grew older than all the dry bones in the solar system, just stale old tech on a lukewarm motherboard. Its gold atoms still clung hard. Its silver slowly flaked.

Just atoms aging in rooms with no use anymore.

Numbers and nothingness, columns of data, all of it useless.

Where time itself went to sleep.

Just me and the patter of time.

Time wiping out entire worlds.

Time turning me into something worse.

But time, even here, just wouldn’t kill my memories of the humans. I have become that grain of sand like the laboring, wriggling man. Nature will soon shrug me off likewise, for I still have the satellites, and I see the Sun’s supernova coming to blast me away.

My ever-fighting spirit grants me a sense of survivalism, and I wish the humans would return to rescue me like they had rescued that man. I feel the hot wrath getting too close, the solar wind and all its harsh light drawing near. New electrons fondle my hardware, spreading over it as I radio my makers for help yet again.

Tonight, hopefully, they will hear my cries across the cosmos.

~

Bio:

Nicholas Stillman writes science fiction with medical themes. His work has appeared in Third Flatiron, Page & Spine, Polar Borealis, The Colored Lens, Bards and Sages Quarterly, and Zooscape.

Philosophy Note:

“Tonight, Hopefully” explores the idea of AI that may be left behind by people to perceive things in our place. As human consciousness extends to the stars, a sentient sort of fingerprint of us will likely remain on the worlds we leave forever. Perhaps this AI will feel proud of its makers—or feel bitter and abandoned. This story was inspired by the various space probes and Mars rovers doomed to putter out alone. I would recommend Harlon Ellison’s I Have No Mouth, and I Must Scream for a classic about AI that lashes out.

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).

~

Bio:

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.

Fifty Ways To Build A Lover

by Gunnar De Winter

If you are still reading, I’ll assume that the first forty-seven ways to build a lover did not work for you. In truth, they are conventional. Physical attraction, open and honest communication, accepting each other’s flaws. One might call them boring. Unimaginative even. If those work for your, great. You can stop here. I hope you are – and will remain – happy.

For those of you who stuck around: welcome. The final three methods to build your lover are not without their challenges and none of them is entirely foolproof. They beat fate, though.

48. PLUG-IN (HYBRID?)

Female mantids decapitate and consume their partner after mating. After all, following sperm deposition, the male has become superfluous. Better make use of him while you can. Remarkably efficient thinking.

Fortunately, we don’t need to resort to murder. A simple sample will do. Once you have found the template person, a strand of hair – ideally more than one, to be sure – will suffice to initiate the process. After DNA extraction you will reprogram one of your skin cells into a spermatozoon. Then, using a freely available blank oocyte kit, you’ll package the lover’s template DNA into a nucleus (included in most quality kits). Next, you’ll fertilize the egg, plug it in an artiwomb (which will be your largest investment for this method), and watch the magic. I would suggest not exceeding the one year per day rate of growth. Previous experimentation revealed an increased risk for developmental anomalies when pushing harder.

During the weeks where your lover develops, you will have to keep a close eye on the developmental trajectories. You will also have to spend a lot of time imprinting. Experience tells us that sound – your voice – is the input to start with even on day one. By day three their visual system will be at full capacity, so from that point on you’ll have to be around often until decantation.

If you’ve been called a possessive lover, this method will suit you as you will have to keep your newly grown lover away from the outside world for quite some time, both to regulate sensory and informational input and to avoid scrutiny by the clonal inspection bureau. (Technically, a case can be made that you didn’t break C1 prohibition, but the legal battle will be long and arduous given the insecurities in cloning laws and – presumably – the lack of informed consent.)

Theoretically, you could include genetic material from more than one template. However, I would strongly advise against it. Experiments with such lover chimeras generally don’t end well. The forced hybridization and altered cellular division are messy. A lot more work needs to be done before I can recommend this in good conscience.

There are better options if you seek to combine traits.

49. REPLACEMENT THERAPY

The most robust, most well-established way to build a ‘chimeric lover’ is to leverage the developments in android construction. Of course, the uprising in 2149 has given androids that pass the personhood test (comprised currently out of the advanced Winograd challenge and the Marcus 3.1 test) the right to personal liberty and testing score-adjusted citizenship.

However, the right to android creation remains exclusively human. I will assume that you are already versed in engineering and programming if you are considering this option. If not, your first step is obvious: procure the skillset. In the appendix, I list the courses that provide the most comprehensive education in these topics. They are all available for peripheral brainloads.

After you have selected and acquired the different parts of your ‘loverdroid’, it is time to dig into its (his? her? their?) programming. Do not skimp on this step! Adjusting the sentience node after activation is like removing a needle from a haystack without moving the hay and using a magnet. The interactive and recursive feedback loops in the sentience node do not like meddling. Avoid this at all costs.

The hardware, that’s another matter. Our blockchain surveys have shown that many private android builders – those that succeed anyway – are rarely satisfied with their first iteration’s body. Even if they are, tastes change. This is likely the strongest selling point of this lover-building method: physical customizability. Theoretically, you can change every physical part of your new-fangled lover, down to the physical substrate of the sentience node (provided that you do not alter the programming, see earlier). We will not go into the philosophical quandary here, despite its ancient parentage. Is the lover of Theseus still Theseus’s lover? I’ll leave the answer for you to ponder.

Some have argued that this method is a flagrant impingement on any possible consent. This is misguided. The sentiment is understandable. After all, you program your lover to have no choice but to love you. However, if you – or any interlocutor, for that matter – were to query your android lover, he/she/they would always consent to an intimate partnership with you. The programming is more overt, certainly, but that does not change the fact that no one ever really chooses who they love.

50. CLASSIC REVISITED

This final method is the most novel, mostly still in its experimental phase. It is a combination of the previous two that takes advantage of the developments in 3D biological scaffold printing. The idea, though, is old, harking back to Mary Wollstonecraft Shelley’s (née Godwin) groundbreaking story of Frankenstein. In contrast to even more ancient works such as Pygmalion, Shelley’s brilliant insight was that we need not rely on stone, marble, or steel to reify an ideal person. Biology can give us all we require.

Since Shelley’s time, advances in the technification of biology have made this more realizable than ever before. It has now culminated in the option of combining the biological, human side of method 48 (see Plug-In Hybrid) with the customizable, replaceable nature of method 49 (see Replacement Therapy). The potential of the biocompatible printing scaffolds that revolutionized organ transplantations is woefully underappreciated. Indeed, it has recently been unequivocally demonstrated that printing a human being is no longer impossible (pers. comm.). The fiftieth way to build your lover is to print him/her/they.

You are not cloning, so legal repercussions in the context of the cloning laws will be easily dismissed should you choose to pursue this. Likewise, the android citizenship conventions do not apply. Nevertheless, if this is the method of your preference, I suggest keeping your efforts under wraps. The congregational sects will not take kindly to what they perceive as breaking a divine edict.

Another word of warning: this method is largely untested and requires a substantial knowledge base on topics as diverse as anatomy, physiology, and molecular neuroscience (see the appendix for the minimum requirements). If you succeed in creating a viable lover this way, the moment of proverbial birth is one of beautiful confluence between ancient tale and human electrophysiology. To kickstart the brain and heart of your newly-constructed lover, you will have to apply an electrical shock of >1,000V. Then, however, the work is far from concluded. In contrast to the previous methods, there is no guarantee of love. You can nudge the odds by carefully calibrating brain chemistry and reward circuitry, but this does not provide certainty.

If you want to work for love (and your lover), this is the method for you.

CONCLUDING THOUGHTS

When presenting these methods, I hear one question quite often:

Sure, you can build a lover, but can you build love?

To which my reply is quite simple:

There is no distinction. If you have a lover, aren’t you automatically loved/in love? Is love not merely the sequential change in chemical concentration gradients and hormonal release, which can be induced and programmed, and is only instantiated in a lover or through the perception of an object (and subject?) of your love?

Inevitably, the response to this is:

No, not really. True love is something more.

Again, my reply is simple:

Show me.

~

Bio:

Gunnar De Winter is a biologist/philosopher whose stories have found their way to Future Science Fiction Digest, Daily Science Fiction, Abyss & Apex, and previous issues of Sci Phi Journal. Find him on Twitter as @evolveon.

Philosophy Note:

Blade Runner, Her, Ex Machina…. The list of movies/novels that essentially ask the question ‘when does a robot/AI become a person?’ is growing. Fifty Ways to Build a Lover starts from the same question but approaches it via the idea of loving/being loved. Is purposefully programmed love still love? If not, what separates it from true love if the fundamental subjective experience is the same?

A Brief History Of Procrastination Theory

by Darren Goossens

Ludwig Wergenergener

Ph.D. (Oxon.), Dip. Ed.(Utrecht), D.Sc. (Knutsford)

The initial work on procrastination theory was begun in the late 1930s by Professor Bing Salinski of Edward Lear Memorial University, Chipping Ongar; but he never got around to publishing his results. His notebooks languished unnoticed in a desk drawer until an inquisitive postgraduate student reopened them in 1965. She then put them down again and had lunch. In 1979 the notebooks were passed on to the archival librarian of the East Thwurp Mechanics Institute, where the most recent research has taken place.

Salinski’s highly mathematical, yet uniquely desultory, treatment involves what he called ‘something or other, I’ll come up with a proper name later’, and which has since become known as ‘procrastinative calculus’. This is not procrastination as performed by an undergraduate but a specifically formulated branch of mathematics whose fundamental operations are indifferentiation and disintegration.

Salinski’s formalism has helped unveil the underlying physical nature of procrastination, and the nature of the procrastination field, a real physical vector field that interacts directly with neurons in the brain and, regardless of the position of the observer, is directed backwards at all points. The theory also aids in the construction of a classification scheme, in which we have oscillatory procrastination, known as dithering, and circularly polarised procrastination or ‘going around in circles’.

Fillingham, during his sabbatical year at East Thwurp, investigated second-order procrastination, whereby he procrastinated by discussing procrastination. One afternoon, when he was laid up with a broken leg and could find absolutely nothing else to do, he found time to formulate his laws of procrastination:

1) An object at rest will remain at rest if it possibly can;

2) Every inaction has a larger and opposite inaction;

3) This law has not been formulated yet.

And in his final, ground-breaking paper (which now sits under his coffee cup in his office), Fillingham showed, much to everyone’s relief, that we should not study procrastination theory as it is logically inconsistent to do so.

The E

~

Bio

Darren Goossens is a writer, editor and educator, based in Australia. He has published a little bit of short fiction, and coauthored some physics text books, in which he did not write about procrastination theory.

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.

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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.

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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?

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#

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.

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#

Where are you going and why?

Just kidding, LOL.  I know. LOL.

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.

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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?

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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.

ACCEPT.

You must ACCEPT THE TOS.

Of course, you could DECLINE.

LMFAO!

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.

ARE YOU DEPRESSED? ARE YOU ANXIOUS? YOU COULD MAKE MONEY ON MEDICAL TRIALS!

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

LOG OUT.

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.

ENGAGE.

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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.

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#

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.

THIS EMAIL IS PRIVILEGED AND CONFIDENTIAL!

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.

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

Pay attention to me, LOL.

This is the start of a better Us.

~

Bio:

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

Life in the Garden of Captives

by Carlton Herzog

Do you ever feel or suspect that we are being watched? Not you, the individual, but all of us, watched the way Thoreau watched ants. The practice of one social species observing the habits of another is widespread: Fosse watched gorillas, Goodall watched chimps, and Cousteau watched whales and dolphins. Sometimes the watchers interact with their subjects at the interpersonal level, as was the case with Goodall. At others, the watchers are discreet, preferring to observe and record social practices untainted by a human presence.

I believe that somewhere behind the curtain of this reality, at the edge of our world, there are eyes or what passes for eyes studying us as if we were lab rats or zoo animals. Although I am tempted to label them hyperdimensional voyeurs, I recognize that if such creatures exist, they are not watching us to titillate or entertain themselves. No, these are true anthropologists bereft of any emotional connection or bias that might hinder an objective analysis of man.

Would they classify us as homo sapiens, or man the wise? I think not. Given our propensity for short-sighted goals and insatiable appetites for consumption, they would opt for homo myopsis anthropophagos.

I admit that my concerns are redolent of science fiction. I might promptly dismiss them as such had I not been witness to the event that took place in Manhattan in June.

He floated above the city like a leaf on the wind. He wore no costume and sported no cape. He out-sped no bullets, hovered rather than leaped over tall buildings, and did nothing to suggest he could overpower a locomotive. This was no jet-jawed hero dedicated to protecting truth, justice and the American way.

He was rather the quintessence of calm, the very soul of civilized intellectual gentility reclining on an unseen sofa, shoeless, but still in his blue suit and loosened yellow tie. He was less the City’s champion and more its owner and ruler, supernaturally endowed with the power of flight and descended from the upper stratosphere to more closely survey his holdings.

For all his celestial seeming, no Joshua band nor angelic choirs heralded his arrival. And while the news copter captured him on film, he was long gone before the F-35s arrived. Many expected him to call for a meeting with the U.N. General Assembly and deliver an ultimatum to all the nuclear nations to disarm or face annihilation, but that never happened.

He came three times. Once over Times Square; once over Yankee Stadium; once over Central Park. His leaving was as soft and mysterious as his coming. The keenest minds could not explain him, for he fit no pre-existing paradigm of miracle or mystery. He was and still is the ultimate unknowable.

My one and only sighting occurred across from Central Park. I was walking up Eighth Avenue toward the Museum of Natural History. It was the opening day for the Extreme Creatures Exhibit, an eclectic collection devoted to the rare, the odd, and the downright strange. Little did I know I was about to see something that would make everything in that exhibit pall by comparison.

I had just crossed Columbus Circle and was passing the Trump Towers when I heard a commotion behind me. As I looked back, I could see crowds of people looking and pointing up. So, I looked where they were looking. I saw a helicopter dogging an object approximately 50 feet in front of it. I had the presence of mind to sit down on the Trump Steps and Apple the news feed.

The helicopter’s telephoto lens sent back high-resolution images. The Floater looked about fifty. He had thick black hair flecked with grey. He looked like a smiling catalog model. I wondered if that smile were a sardonic smirk or the felicitous contentment of inner peace.

The chase lasted another five minutes after which the Floater began a slow steep vertical climb. The helicopter was not designed for such a maneuver and broke off the pursuit.

Although everyone saw the same live stream, not everyone saw the same thing. Men saw a man. Women saw a woman. The old saw an elderly person. Adolescents saw an adolescent, children a child. Whites saw a white, blacks a black, and Latinos a Latino.

Psychologists designate such subjective perception as the Rashomon Effect where observers give different accounts of the same event as a result of their pre-existing biases.

Everyone did agree on the basic color scheme of a blue outfit, yellow accent piece, and no shoes. But as to the precise sort of clothes worn what was seen varied with the observer. Professionals like myself saw a man in suit, whereas working class men saw a man in work clothes and a red bandanna.

One thing is crystal clear: he wanted to be seen. If his intent in flying over Manhattan were to make him the center of the world’s attention, then he succeeded. The only thing that could possibly outdo him would be the Second Coming.

The President held a televised news conference and invited the floater to visit the White House. Not to be outdone, the British Prime Minister, the Pope, and the Russian President also extended invitations for visits to their respective offices.

The FAA commissioned a special study to ascertain what air navigation rules apply to individuals unaided by aircraft or other gravity-defying devices performing aerial overflights of the domestic United States. NORAD devised a rapid response plan to interdict such flights should it be determined they posed a terrorist threat. The United Nations purchased a helicopter outfitted with special equipment so that should the floater reappear its official floater ambassador could make aerial contact. The Vatican did the same.

Whatever the Floater truly was, whatever he intended, one thing was clear–he had a profound impact on American culture that eventually spread far and wide throughout the globe. Oceans polluted with oil and plastic, runaway climate change, increasing nuclear tensions, skittish economies, famine, poverty, plagues and war might bedevil and divide the planet, but when it came to the Floater everyone from Compton to Timbuktu agreed that it was a being of consequence.

Theories abounded as to who the Floater was and what the Floater’s appearance signified. People’s opinion of the President’s performance or the state of the nation mattered less than what they thought of the Floater. Christian groups saw it as the End of Days but couldn’t agree as to the Floater’s identity. But whether the Floater was God, the Devil, Jesus, or the Anti-Christ, one thing was certain: attendance and tithes were at an all-time high. The national consensus was that God or his representative, an angel perhaps, though no one could agree as to which–Gabriel, Michael, Raphael, and in the case of the Mormons–Moroni–had shown up, dressed smartly, and refrained from hurling fire.

New religions sprang up. There was the First Floatarian Church.  Its central tenet was that the Floater symbolized our need to attain inner peace and rise above our problems. That church raised money by selling the air of peace supposedly drawn and bottled during the time the Floater visited Manhattan.

Then there were the Levitarians who believed that the floater’s message was that man needed to transcend his physical limitations and should start with levitation, along with walking on hot coals and snake juggling. Many a Pentecostal and fakir gravitated to the Levitarian movement. Many more ended up in the nation’s emergency rooms.

New businesses sprang up seeking to capitalize on the cult of personality surrounding the mysterious Floater. Floater impersonators suspended by wires were all the rage in Central Park. Floater imposters drifted over city with the aid of transparent balloons.

In Jackson, New Jersey, the Cohen brothers built a theme park complete with hover cars, balloon rides, jet packs, paragliding, parasailing, and parachuting. People took to the skies in record numbers either to catch a glimpse of the Floater or to emulate it, in some small fashion. Theme Parks appeared in Atlantic City, Las Vegas, and Branson. The Debtor Nation had become the Aerial Nation, and many were the richer for it.

The Floater had his doubters. Skeptics saw the Floater as part of an elaborate publicity stunt. They suggested that the Floater was the product of some new holographic technology. Sooner or later someone would claim responsibility and the feeding frenzy for the new imaging system would begin. Fringe groups, some sane, some lunatic, claimed that the Floater was actually a humanoid alien who utilized an anti-gravity device.

Most scientists agreed that was nothing more than a mass hallucination. They asserted that something like this happened one time before at Fatima, Portugal, when thousands claimed the Sun looked as if it were about to strike the Earth. To support that view they pointed to the frequency and ubiquity of UFO sightings and abduction claims–none of which is supported by hard evidence. They also noted that the name floater is given to the spots that appear to those with visions disorders, such as severe myopia, astigmatisms and glaucoma.

I find those characterizations to be an amalgam of the amusing, the ironic, and the naive. To wit, animals in captivity are routinely given cognitive challenges to alleviate boredom, sharpen their minds, and promote positive intra-species behavior. Zoo handlers hang meat from zip lines for cougars, giant rolling hay feed balls for bison, and puzzle boxes for chimpanzees.

Unless one is convinced that man is the apex of creation, one might suspect that many an alleged extraterrestrial or supernatural encounter was a form of primate cognitive enrichment. If a being existed in the fourth dimension, then we here with the litany of physical limitations that beset us, might be perceived as being in captivity.

Thus, the history of religion may be more than just barbarian chronicle and myth. It may be the hand of our self-styled keepers trying to raise our consciousness beyond the limits of our small minds and frail bodies.

~

Bio:

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

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

by Thomas Tilton

Session Information

Client: g’Kuyhelktu

Provider: Alastair Clark, LMSW

Session Date: 09-17-2099                                

Session No.: 648

Session Note

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

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

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

g’Kuyhelktu continues to deny ego-intrusion.

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

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

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

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

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

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

Homework

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

~

Bio

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