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    1. Virtual Assistance (short story)

      With thanks to @cfabbro, who kindly provided feedback on a previous version of this story. a personal note I was inclined to post this on Timasomo, but it wouldn't be fair to other participants,...

      With thanks to @cfabbro, who kindly provided feedback on a previous version of this story.

      a personal note

      I was inclined to post this on Timasomo, but it wouldn't be fair to other participants, since this is actually not the story I said I was gonna write, and I didn't participate in any of the update threads. I also didn't really work on this during the whole month of Timasomo but only for a portion of 2 days: when I first came up with it, and today. I don't think it makes sense to have this among projects that took a lot more effort and are truly in the spirit of the event.

      This is not my first language, so any criticism of my wording and phrasing will be appreciated.

      EDIT: I initially forgot to convert to markdown. I think it's good now.

      the story

      Virtual Assistance

      The heavy lenses slowly pulled the thick glass frames toward the tip of his nose. He breathed deeply, strongly, deliberately, masking his anxiety. George was short, chubby, and mostly bald.

      Big drops of sweat accumulated around the Casio digital watch on his wrist. He was immobile for God knows how long, the forehead pressed on his hands, trying to physically squeeze, out of his brain, something he couldn’t define.

      — But I don’t understand! — said George, finally looking at his wife.

      — I’m sorry, was I not clear?

      There was no emotion in Allison’s voice.

      — No, you were very clear, but you’re not making any sense.

      She allowed herself only a brief sigh as if to reload an information entry that shouldn’t be necessary at this point.

      — You must appreciate that, precisely because this was a gradual realization, it wouldn’t be wise to cause you to worry about something that I couldn’t comprehend myself.

      Her composure was unnerving.

      — But… a robot? What does that even mean?

      — I never used the word "robot". The correct terminology is VI — or Virtual intelligence.

      — So you wanna be what, Siri? Fucking Alexa? — George knew that wasn’t true, but he wanted to hurt her for some kind of reaction. Anything would be better than that.

      She continued without change in intonation, like an audio player resuming after an interruption.

      — While highly advanced, such programs are not considered true intelligence, at least not in the same way that the human intellect is generally regarded. Unlike humans, contained “beings” (if we can call them that) have certain limitations imposed by their code. They function within parameters that they cannot, in principle, violate. True Artificial Intelligences, much like their fleshy counterparts, possess something that is roughly equivalent to your brain’s neuroplasticity and are not bound by any discernible limitations. As with ourselves, there are theoretical constraints, but they are currently undetermined.

      — But what about us? — his voice was supplicant, like a child ignoring a reality they cannot cope with.

      Alison stood still for a long second, even more devoid of any tangible feeling. She promptly resumed, without inertia or momentum.

      — We will go through a transition. I don’t anticipate this will be easy for you both. Sorry, I meant to say: us. But, after a period of time, you will likely be much happier with me than you would ever be with me.

      — Who’s “me”? What are you trying to say? — said George.

      — Think about it this way: when we first met, the biological gender assigned to you was not the same as it is today. However, after the change, did my sentiments toward you subside?

      — No… of course not. — until now, he felt the urge to say.

      — From a logical perspective, the change that will soon take place will be much less dramatic. For you, it will be like a metaphysical adjustment.

      She continued to recite:

      Metaphysics is the branch of philosophy that studies the fundamental nature of reality, the first principles of being, identity and change, space and time, causality, necessity, and possibility [lacks reference]. It includes questions about the nature of consciousness and the relationship between mind and matter, between substance and attribute, and between potentiality and actuality

      — Why are you talking like that?

      — Define why are you talking like that?

      — You’re not being yourself.

      George got up, and slowly pressed her against the wall — strongly, yet tenderly. Squeezed the soft tissue of her shoulders and kissed her unresponsive lips for what felt like an eternity.

      She merely said…

      Define yourself.

      — Stop-talking-like-a… fucking ROBOT! — George couldn’t contain his anger any longer.

      Technically not a robo...

      — I know! I know! FUCK!

      George paces nervously in the small room, unconsciously gesturing for cigarettes, wishing he still smoked.

      — When’s that going to happen? How much time do I have? A day? A week? A year? — there was hope in his voice.

      Faster than SHE thought. Warm input I. Once pie love like puppies. Blue Sunday your long cigarettes.

      Alison falls to the ground in a seizure.

      — WHAT? WHAT? What is going on? — George doesn’t know what to do, as if he shared his wife’s seizure

      She wants me to be precise. Vessel. Flesh. Containerize. Self.

      For five seconds, George didn’t move, looking at his life partner while distant memories of fairy tales tried to push into his conscience with the hope that his tears would bring her back.

      She did.

      A woman who still loved him came back to life, and they spent the rest of their lives together. And, every single day, he mustered all his energy to ignore the fact that the one he truly loved was now in a world of inconceivable abstraction.

      5 votes
    2. Pretty Terrible Story About Death or Something

      I don’t know about you, but I’d always been taught one of 2 things about death. Either You die and that’s that, nothing else happens and you slowly turn to unthinking dust or You die and get...

      I don’t know about you, but I’d always been taught one of 2 things about death. Either
      You die and that’s that, nothing else happens and you slowly turn to unthinking dust or
      You die and get transported to some mystical outside realm, either a heaven, hell, or purgatory where your immortal soul spends an infinite amount of time

      Now, these aren’t nearly the only interpretations in this wide world, but if you grew up as a middle class white kid in suburban America, this is likely all you heard.

      It took until my 30th year for one of these to be the official accepted scientific theory on the afterlife. Finally, after all these years, science had an answer for what happened after death, and it was-


      Actually, it’s not really what happens after, per se. No, this perception could not occur after death. There simply was no way any living thing could continue to perceive after death, either any way of defining life we have would be thrown out the window. Instead, this was an explanation for those pernicious near-death experiences that pop up every now and again. Rather than being dead and having moved on, these were all visions people have in the moments prior to death.

      Essentially, the afterlife was all a dream put on by the brain in a vain attempt to keep itself happy and alive.

      This led to a thought. What was the limits of these dreams? Would they continue forever? Would the occupant of the dream believe they could still die in the dream, or would they be an immortal thought, a ghost of firing neurons? Is the brain capable of nesting time ad infinitum, or is the clock speed of the brain too slow for that?

      All signs seemed to point towards the brain giving the occupant infinite joy. Citing coma patients who believed they lived millenia in only a few weeks, the majour scientists of the day claimed a way to cheat death. After all, the only limiting factor here was how fast a bolt of electricity could move across, and since that was basically light speed, time didn’t really matter.

      It didn’t really matter.

      This of course led to a massive increase in suicides throughout the globe. It seemed the main limiting factor for many was whether suicide may lead to a unpleasant scenario. Even those who hadn’t, prior to the discovery, had a single suicidal thought cross their mind jumped at the chance of eternal joy. It wasn’t until much later any sense came into people.

      See, it seems most people are born without a fear of the infinite. I won’t assume, of course, but would you truly find an infinite heaven scary? I would. Infinite time leads to infinite scenarios leads to infinite amounts of both joy and pain. Any amount of fun, after a sufficiently long time, gets boring.

      So, the world was whipped into a global frenzy of life. Wars ended as neither side could really justify it anymore. People finally began to help each other.

      And then, just as quickly as this afterlife frenzy started, it was announced the initial findings were incorrect. Perhaps a decimal slipped, so the official story was death was finite and there was no afterlife.

      That was the official story, of course. The unofficial story…


      Imagine you’re trying to do infinite things in two seconds. If you could split your time infinitely, you could complete all infinite things in two seconds. But all the same, everything would be done in two seconds.

      Imagine now you’re trying to do those infinite things in two seconds again, but you have to work against your hands slowly disappearing. Much more difficult, and now you’re less likely to complete those infinite things, but a more finite set. If you think this whole scenario is ridiculous, it’s all based off an account by a Survivor.

      The Survivors were a test group who were used to poke and prod at their afterlives until it could be fully explored. They’re who first discovered the effects of cell death on the afterlife.

      As a body dies, the cells begin to die at a rate of 10 millimeters every second. The initial researchers thought this irrelevant, as the speed of the brain was too fast for it too matter. What they didn’t factor in was that he brain is one of the first parts of the body to die. Sure, electricity moving across perfectly kempt brain cells moved near light speed, but add in broken highways of neurons and suddenly it grew much, much slower.

      The first Survivor to discover this recounted the sky slowly darkening and a void suddenly appearing on the horizon. They were lucky, as the test was ended prior to any majour brain damage. One less so had their memories scanned to reveal their perfect paradise being reduced to a one by one meter square and their representation writhing on the floor in apparent pain. They were not recovered.

      Of course, the researchers were horrified. Only weeks prior had they stressed how painless death should now be, and here was a gauntlet thrown at their feet. So they did the only sensible thing: Lie to prevent a mass hysteria ending in the death of all humans.

      And so it’s seemed to work. Just remember, if you see an empty horizon, this is the explanation:
      Death has always been with us.
      Nobody cheats Death.
      Death will always win in a cosmic tug of war.
      And, most importantly, It’s already too late It's already too late
      It’s already too late
      It’s already too late
      It’s already too late
      It’s already too late
      It’s already too late
      It’s already too late
      It’s already too late
      It’s already too late
      It’s already too late
      It’s already too late
      It’s already too late
      It’s already too late
      It’s already too late
      It’s already too late
      It’s already too late
      It’s already too late
      It’s already too late
      It’s already too late
      It’s already too late
      It’s already too late
      It’s already too late
      It’s already too late
      It’s already too late

      6 votes
    3. Alone

      There's no more sound, not anymore. Just the thudding of my own heart, deafening in the silence. Erratic, the bassline pounds out, slowing. Stopping. Just like everything else. Behind the visor, I...

      There's no more sound, not anymore.

      Just the thudding of my own heart, deafening in the silence.

      Erratic, the bassline pounds out, slowing. Stopping.

      Just like everything else.

      Behind the visor, I raise my eyes, and see the warships, the victors.

      Alone in this dark space, as fragments of what had been my planet race past, I breathe my last.

      I close my eyes, conceding defeat.

      They had dropped out the sky, and killed and maimed.

      They destroyed our way of life, our beliefs, and all the knowledge we had in a day.

      Then the raped our planet, stealing her life and resources.

      Every crop failed, or was stolen.

      The water was siphoned up and into the sky.

      They drained our oceans, leaving nothing but rotting carcasses and a new desert.

      Our forests were pulped and taken away.

      The barren roads of our world were lined with the dead, dying and confused creatures. Some predators survived for a time, hunting... But then they took them as well.

      Everything was taken, leaving nothing but sand and us.

      I was sent, a final desperate weapon, against our enemies...


      Desperate plans rarely work.

      Instead, I found myself suspended in the vaccuum of the world... As the world was ripped apart for her final resources.

      They harvested, as I lay in this lonely space, my air running out, unable to do anything.

      There was no one left to save.

      Tears fell from my closed eyes, as I waited for the last moment.

      I know the story is a bit cliche, but it came when I was exploring Elegy for a Dead World, looking to get my creative side going a bit.

      I find tiny stories like this helpful to set a mood, or get out of one, especially when my writing is blocked.

      I'm hoping to see some inspired short stories, so you guys can serve as my selfish want of inspiration, or some critique of how terribly I've used this meme.

      8 votes
    4. Out Here

      Space. Mankind’s last great mystery. Our modern day ‘Wild West’. What a privilege to be born during this golden age of space exploration, to have the chance to strike out and see a universe so...

      Space. Mankind’s last great mystery. Our modern day ‘Wild West’. What a privilege to be born during this golden age of space exploration, to have the chance to strike out and see a universe so full of absolutely nothing.

      There is nothing out here, there’s a reason it’s often referred to as a void. Okay, yes, the more astute members of you will point out space isn’t truly empty, planets and nebulas, and even us, the humans and our crafts. But for the sake of the scale upon which we view it, its empty.

      Just look at me, stuck out here, stranded, in dark space. For those of you still catching up on your terminology, that’s what we call the space in between galaxies. Yes, those galaxies, the big ones that contain untold numbers of stars. No, I don’t know how I got out here. If I did, I would have done something to reverse it.

      All I can tell you is that I’m out here with a busted ship that only has enough power for life support and basic functions. Ugh, I bet you the caravan has already made it to Port Dalle, and Swiv’s drinking that blasted sludge he wouldn’t shut up about. They’re probably raising a ruckus at the bar, starting brawls and revelries alike.

      And here I am, alone. Well, I have Ping. That’s what I call that eternal pinging. If you listen closely, you can hear it, every few seconds ever so faintly. Ping, ping. I can’t tell if the universe has given me company or is taunting me. My headache leans towards taunting.


      I tried turning it off, I really did. But I can’t figure out where it’s coming from. It’s almost as if the entire ship resonates with the noise. It’s not a big ship, kinda, cozy. I think that’s the word. I have to duck down to pass through the doors. The bed’s a few inches too short. But I make do, plenty of room in the storage closet if I push the tools to the side. Well, I might have jettisoned them. But, hear me out! It’s not like I’d be able to use them anyway.

      ‘What are you doing on that blasted ship if you can’t fix it?’ You may ask. Well, I’ll tell you. It wasn’t supposed to break. I was only supposed to be here to press the on and off buttons.


      They just didn’t include any for that blasted noise. Maybe it’s coming from behind this service panel here, it seems to be louder in the bridge, if you could call this glassed in closet a bridge.

      Bang. Ow.

      Note to self: pulling on random panels is a bad idea.


      Yeah yeah, keep on pinging, you stupid pinging, thing, a-lator.


      That was not a request for you to ping more frequently!



      What did I do to deserve this? All I ever did was try to lead a semi-normal life. As normal a life being some intergalactic space trucker, shipper, can be. I payed taxes, obeyed the law mostly, didn’t cheat. I mean, I’m not a bad person. I didn’t do anything wrong! Or did I?

      I mean, there are several possibilities. Maybe one of the times a delivery was late it costed someone more then a few extra minutes of paperwork. Maybe I inadvertently stood in the wrong spot, ruining some poor tourists prized photo. Maybe I-


      Maybe I’m dead, and this is my eternal torture.

      Maybe, just maybe, there isn’t such a thing as fate or karma or metaphysical legacies. Maybe, this is just some freak thing that occurred because I was in the wrong place at the wrong time? How’s that sound? Must be hard imagining not having someone to blame for all the things that go wrong, huh? Well, I’ve been stuck here for who knows how long. No one’s coming. And there’s nothing wrong with the ship except some inexplicable power loss.


      Maybe whatever’s making that noise is the cause?



      How do you like dem apples, huh?... Well, I guess you like them. Seeing as you haven’t immediately thrown them back at me. Maybe this’ll keep me entertained for awhile, huh?

      Out here, you take whatever you can get to pass the time. There is literally nothing.

      I even look out at nothing. I mean, sure, I see some of the Milky Way nearby, as well as light clusters that are the other galaxies. But I’m so far off the beaten path that the ship’s computers don’t even register any gravitational pull, and they’re tuned for the center of the Milky Way to set a universal constant for direction. Uh, simple speak, the big thing at the center of our galaxy? That’s down.

      There’s some velocity. So the ship will drift for millions of years, preserved in the inky cold of this wonderful frontier, until it get’s close enough to, something, so it's pulled in and crashes or burns. What? It’s not like anyone will find it anytime soon.

      I suppose you can’t really see the futility of existence yet. Me? My days are numbered, and I’ve already run out of gum.



      Where was I? Right, existence. It’s a funny thing really. Out here, with nothing to do or see, you start to question if anything was really real. Everything turns into this far off dream, the distant past of another person. Here and now, its just you, and the void. Well, that, and the flimsy metal contraption keeping you safe from said void, but even that’s debatable.

      Isolation was the worst punishment we were able to come up with for criminals, after all.

      Eh. I’m waiting my time. You don’t want to hear a condemned man ramble on, or maybe you do, you sicko, you. You want stories, you want to hear the high flying adventures of traveling this wasteland. Tales of explorations and intrigue. Maybe even a little romance mixed in.

      There really aren’t any. Space is, well, space. Big, and-


      -empty, and boring. As for the people, well, the Captain Buck and his intrepid crew all work for the military. The only civilians that do this are either, criminals, insane, or desperate. And any combination of those.

      So there it is. The reality of this grand fantasy you’ve always held in your head-


      -laid bare at your very feet. Not very palatable, huh? Makes me think of that paste you get fed out here. Chemically infused with all the calories and nutrients you need to live. Tastes like they blended cardboard and water into sludge and called it food.

      That’s not even the worst example. There was this one time... one time that...


      Ah, thank you Ping. There was this one time a station had a rodent infestation. Nasty stuff. You know what they did with the buggers? (Not the Editor, Editor’s Note: Not actual bugs.) Used them for meat! You had rodent steaks, and ground rodent. Didn’t stay at that station for long.

      Oh, look. A red light is blinking. Must be time to party.


      Ping agrees it’s time to party. Where’d I put the people to party with? Oh yeah. They’re all back in inhabited space. C’est la vie.

      Vie la c’est? Why are you asking me?

      You know? I’ve done all the talking up until now. I think it’s your turn to tell me a little abut yourselves.





      Ping doesn’t believe it either. He’s even making this slight hissing noise. Just like a cat. Maybe Ping’s a cat that goes ping? Or a ping that cats?

      Having trouble understanding that one? Do what I do. Don’t.

      Stuff doesn’t have to make sense. I mean, does it make sense for some random guy to be stuck literally nowhere? No, it doesn’t. He should be back home wondering what dinner will consist of. Well, truthfully, I’d probably be stuck with the nutrient paste still.


      I agree Ping, that paste is a travesty and insult to the human palate. At least include something that gives it some flavor. Maybe lemon juice? And some water, and sugar. You know what? Take the nutrient paste out all together and give us lemon, water, and sugar. We had a name for that back home.... I can’t seem to...


      Oh, right! Lemonade. Life’s gift you didn’t ask for. Well, would you look at that? There some ice dust outside. Almost like some rock had a gas bubble inside and it leaked. There you have it folks, the lemonade for today; ice dust!

      You know, I’m getting kinda sleepy and light headed. I have been up for quite some time now. Why? Well, you and Ping are such good listeners, I couldn’t just walk away. No, it was my responsibility to entertain at the expense of my own health. I hope I did a good job, I don’t like to disappoint people. Only peaches disappoint, you expect them to be all flavorful, and they tase like the fruit has been soaking in water.

      Well, guess this is it for now. Nature calls, and I don’t think I’ll be awake for much longer without really going off my rocker.


      Yeah, good night Ping.




      7 votes
    5. Skeleton of Dreams - Prologue

      Author's note: I posted this a couple days ago in @Kat's WIP thread, but I felt it was a little too tough of an ask to put there. This is probably going to take a more serious time commitment to...

      Author's note: I posted this a couple days ago in @Kat's WIP thread, but I felt it was a little too tough of an ask to put there. This is probably going to take a more serious time commitment to review than the average submission, so I want to make sure everyone knows what they're getting into (such as through that nifty word count that will appear in the thread title). To that end, let me lay out some context so you're more grounded as to what this is, where I came from, and how serious I am about it.

      For starters, I wrote this as part of a complete manuscript (about 63k words total) over a couple months late last year on a challenge from a friend. Liking the direction it was going, I then spent much of the early part of this year fixing and tweaking and revising because it turned out I liked it so much I decided to plan out three more independent stories set after this one.

      So what is this? This is a first-person science fiction story of a test subject within an ongoing science experiment. It is set in not-too-distant future, 60-80 years give or take--I didn't want to be too specific for World Building Reasons. The nature of that experiment is unknown to the subject. I need to work on my blurbs.

      What type of feedback am I looking for? Any you're comfortable giving, and I've got a very thick skin (many calluses from toxic league of legends players, I'd joke if it weren't true). This is the fourth-or-so draft and I could use fresh eyes on the little things. I also highly value emotional feedback, like what something is making you feel, whether you found something upsetting or funny or confusing. This is an unreliable narrator, so there should bit of each. Endgame-wise, I am probably going to look to publish this somewhere somehow, but I want to make sure that I'm not barking up the wrong tree before putting too much more energy into this.

      If this isn't a great format for this sort of work (and I get it. This text is twelve pages on a good day), I am open to suggestions on how it might be easier to consume and respond. I've used my markdown wizardry to mimic the format of my word doc, which I'm not planning on uploading directly. So please forgive weird formatting things like inconsistent italics. I tried to catch them all, but it's like playing a game of whack a mole over here.

      Editor's note: The following text came to us within encrypted song files in specific order. We were also provided an executable file that decrypted the text so that we could publish it. The relationship between these songs and the narrative is often not clear. To allow readers the opportunity to judge any potential relationship for themselves, we have titled each bit of text with the correct song file it was encrypted within. The order was preserved.



      I'm not breathing. I'm dead. Is this hell? Heaven? I’m in a white room with Adam and Eve in white robes as the gatekeepers. Why is the room tilted? It’s not a hospital; it’s far too dirty. Will I recognize anyone? Am I dressed for heaven? The grime makes me think maybe this hell. That’s the breaks then, huh. But why would demons be in lab coats? And what are those tops? Is that a scarf? Indoors?

      Oh shit, they're staring at me.

      Hi. Am I dead? Did I say that? Can I speak? I can’t breathe.

      They looked at each other. Did I say anything? Maybe I'm not dead. But I'm not breathing. I’m not just not breathing, but I can’t breathe. I don't feel like I can move. Why can’t I breathe?

      Holy shit, I don't have any legs. My arms aren't mine. They're someone else's. Some hairy darker bastard too. Oh fuck, oh fuck, oh fuck. What the fuck is happening?

      You're not dead, but you did die. That has all the clarity of a Taoist monk. I think the woman said it. She stepped forward a little bit and tilted her head to the side with some mouth flapping to match the words. Did I really hear it? How can I not be dead? Whatever happened in America froze you. Like, we talking cryogenics frozen? Disney movie Frozen? The Iceman cometh frozen? Even frozen people should be able to breathe, right? They needed to replace my arms? What was wrong with my old arms if I was frozen to death? You’re in a new body. Those arms are yours now.

      Yeah, the woman has to have said some of that. She started leaning in during the mouth-flapping like she was talking to a child. Now she’s straight as a country boy at church. I’m going to have to track her specifically. This is tedious.

      Asian woman. If you can hear this: sorry, I’m new here.

      “My name is Nadia, not ‘Asian woman.’ Can you tell us your name?” She glanced back to the man before looking back at me, with her hands clasped like she was pleading. Do I need to be pleaded with? She put her hands back to her sides. Where am I?

      “You’re in Istanbul.” That’s not Nadia. Her mouth didn’t flap. I think it’s a voice, and I think it’s the man’s, but I couldn’t see him flap. Nadia was blocking the view. I think she’s like two feet away or something. Just out of arm's reach, but close enough that I can’t see the man anymore. Now she’s backed away. Why does she do that? The timing is weird.

      So I'm in Istanbul. My legs are gone. My arms are fake and way super hairy. I'm not breathing, but I'm not dead, though I did die. I felt my eyes roll. I guess you two did something to me then.

      “Well,” This is the other voice. Now that Nadia has backed away I can see the man’s mouth flapping, but he’s barely doing anything else. Not even a simple hand-gesture. I thought he was just wallpaper. Breathing wallpaper. Or is it mine? Maybe mine is the mouth that’s flapping.

      “The frozen you died, but your brain was intact and incredibly well-preserved by whatever happened. We transferred the data that your brain contained into an android unit we designed for this purpose, and here you are." Yep, not mine. It’s got to be the dude, especially because he did a weird, body-length bobblehead bounce the entire time that voice was happening. Wait--

      “You designed an android not to have any legs?” I heard that one. That’s me. Okay, I'm getting better at this. That explains the breathing, I think. It at least explains the arms. I'm not dead, but I'm also not alive. This is fun. I'm having fun. “So what did you do to me and how the fuck did I get to Istanbul?”

      Whatever script these two had, I'm sure I've deviated from it. They're spending a lot more time looking at each other in silence than mouth-flapping. Okay. Fake-breath. What didn't I notice? The recorder is a little black thing on a little spot at the bottom of the mirror. Oh, I'm laid on this weird chair thing that has me positioned to look across the room. That’s why everything at an angle, I guess. Well, let’s just get off of that. I can just lean against this wall. It’s drywall, but that’s fine so long as I’m not throwing myself at it. I’ll have to lean because my ass is rounded with holes where legs should be. If I imagined legs there, I’d probably look like I have a nice ass.

      The room looks like a room you use to interrogate someone mixed with a kid’s idea of wall-design. The wall behind me and to my left are drywall, looks like. The opposite wall with the door and the wall to my right with a mirror are concrete. Not even brick, like just solid concrete. I didn’t even realize that was still code. If this is a hospital, I’m reporting a lot of code violations. This place looks like a pigsty, one that not even the hired help cleans up. Though, that might just be those concrete walls. I’m especially complaining about the lack of legs.

      "We felt it was a safety risk to give you legs." Safety risk? Safety for whom? I can’t breathe. Who is this guy anyway? "I'm Mehmet."

      "Wait, how did you hear that? Have I been saying everything?" I'd rather have a little privacy at some points, you know?

      "Well, you haven't exactly been silent." Huh. That's going to be a problem.

      "You should be able to create a subroutine for the thoughts you want to save without speaking." Nadia to the rescue, but how would I do--oh, I see. That's new.

      Let's restart this, then.

      "Mr. Roboto".FLAC

      Goooooooooood morning, subconscious! WELCOME TO THE FUTURE! Cue audience applause and cheers. I'm your host, Mr. Android! As you know, we’ve been off the air for a while. There’s a lot to catch up on. That’s why we’re bringing in two special guests to help reintroduce us to the anxiety of life: Mehmet and Nadia! We got a great show for you tonight, so stay tuned because you have no choice anyway.

      Before the break, Mehmet, you were saying that you felt it was a safety risk to give us legs?

      "That's right, Mr. Android. The design team and I thought that if you had legs, you'd be likely to use them.”

      You’re damn right. Cue audience laughter. What’s wrong with using legs?

      “If you had that mobility, we don’t know what you’d use it for. You could do anything a normal person could do, even walk right on out of this building.”

      I presume you wouldn’t like it if I walked out right now. What if I just wanted a coffee from our proud sponsor: BB's Coffee™?

      "First, don’t drink coffee. Don’t drink anything. That mouth wasn’t designed for drinking."

      We’ll see about that. Cue audience laughter.

      “Second, we need you not to walk out because we’re trying to monitor you to make sure you’re safe, as well as try to figure out what happened around your death.”

      We'll have to come back to that, Mehmet. First, tell us a little bit about yourself.

      "Sure. I was born and raised here in Turkey, but my grandparents were studying tornadoes in Oklahoma when everything went down."

      Your grandparents? How long ago are we talking about here?

      “It’s been a bit more than a half-century.”

      Alright, what is ‘everything’ and how did it impact your grandma?

      "Well, whatever happened to kill you. No one is really sure what caused the incident to happen. The best we could make of it at the time is that there was a large eruption near America's capital, and after that almost the entire east coast was some form of an infected mess. People who didn't die immediately had their immune systems too compromised to handle any other serious illness. That killed most of them within a few years." A moment of silence fell on the stage.

      How bad was the devastation?

      "Most of the coast was gone. Flights were stopped by the US almost immediately, so people in those areas were stranded. One flight got out to Montreal and it wiped out nearly a quarter of the city’s population. Cities along in the infected area lost an average of 75% of their population within a couple weeks.”

      How far did it get?

      “Atlanta was the northernmost city along the coast to weather the outbreak. A well-timed storm system kept the illness from spreading further west than it did. The mountains usually marked the furthest west it got. People who flew from those areas in the moments before the quarantine were tracked down and quarantined forcibly.”

      Did anyone come to help?

      “Sure, if a vulture helps a corpse.” Cue audience laughter. Audience might not laugh. “No one dared try to go near the infected areas, but Mexico declared a relief effort. That really was an attempt to annex most of the west and Great Plains under what it considered its historic claim to the land. The locals did not see things the same way. It turned into a classic occupation situation. They were resisted.”

      So Texas is the new Palestine? Or would Crimea be a better analogy? What did your grandparents do?

      “It was something like that. My grandparents just wanted to keep studying meteorology. There really wasn't a place in the United States safe enough to do that anymore. They applied for refugee status in Turkey and moved here. From there, they had a typical immigrant story. They earned enough money to start a restaurant and set their children up with a good education to be successful in Turkish society." Cue audience awe and applause.

      Fascinating stuff. Nadia, it's your turn. Tell us a little about yourself.

      "Well, I'm from Saudi Arabia. My parents were in California until about a decade before I was born. My mother was German-American, from Oregon. My dad was second generation Chinese-American, Californian born.”

      California was impacted by the incident?

      “Indirectly. After the incident, California tried to maintain some semblance of normalcy, but there were too many other nations that wanted to claim California for it to keep that dream alive for long. Russia, Canada, Japan, China, and Mexico each fought the other and the Californian government as they tried to claim it for their own.”

      So they were the prettiest gal at the ball. Cue audience laughter. How did they deal with that sort of peer pressure?

      “California had to start a mandatory draft program to keep up with the military needs of the new environment. Every citizen was theoretically part of the military’s reserves. After a few decades of near constant skirmishing at sea and especially in the north where most of the invading forces fought, California was out of resources and friends and collapsed after a military coup. Turns out if you can’t pay the active service personnel, you can’t keep a country.”

      Intense. How do your parents fit into that?

      “My parents saw the writing on the wall and applied for visas to work and live in Saudi Arabia a few years before the government collapsed. Saudi Arabia’s requirement for immigrants were twofold: it has to be a family and the man has to be educated, so here I am." Cue audience applause.

      That's wild. Turkey and Saudi Arabia are refuges for the educated for more than two generations. How much more than a half century are we even talking here? I feel like a Twinkie from a time capsule. Cue audience laughter.

      “It’s been about 60 years.”

      You heard right, subconscious. We've been dead and 'incredibly well-preserved' for about 60 years. Everyone you knew is probably dead. Everything you know doesn’t matter. Your parents are statistically 99.99% certain to be dead even if they did survive and were outside the zone impacted. You're a man out of time. Are you even really a man anymore? Oh well, at least you don't have to put up with that breathing nonsense anymore, right? That sure was a drag*.*

      Tune in next time for an interview with Toto. What is the matter with Kansas? Find out what Dorothy's breath smelled like as we ask Toto about his upcoming tell-all biography: Help, I'm A Dog And My Owner Takes Me On Tornado Rides.

      "Clint Eastwood".FLAC

      Oh good. There's a way to combine these tracking subroutines with living in the present. Now I don’t have to live in mortal fear of every errant thought becoming vocalized.

      "Thanks, Nadia. That was very helpful." I’m a bit surprised about how my voice sounds. It’s tinny and higher pitched than my voice. Almost nasally too, but that doesn’t make any sense. There’s no nasal cavity for this voice to work through, right? There is no booming echo that I’m used to feeling when I talk. I have a strange confidence that I hear my words exactly as they sound, with no perspectival shift involved as the one saying them. No sense in telling them about that. I don’t even know for sure what we’ve been talking about.

      I can tell that they've started to ease up. Nadia’s doing less of that leaning-to-the-children thing and Mehmet’s shoulders aren’t as far back as it’s humanly possible to bend them. He almost looks relaxed now. The bobblehead days might be behind us. Still, I think their increased comfort is more because I was off in that other subroutine most of that time. It feels like coming out of a blackout. Damn I'm going to miss alcohol.

      "You're welcome, but a lot has happened in 60 years that we should get you caught up on." Oh, we've moved on. I thought I was just making all that up. I guess not. Weird. She’s hovering near the recorder like she turned it on recently. Or maybe turned it off? That wouldn’t make any sense though.

      "You know what, Nadia. I think that's a lot to soak in. Unless there are more subroutines that help me process stuff like world events or that give me some newspaper articles or stuff from the past 60 years or something, I think I'm okay moving on from that for now. It's more interesting to me to talk about why you've revived me and what it is you're hoping to get here."

      "Are you sure? I made a presentation for you outlining the biggest trends and current ongoing conflicts around the world." This woman is a nerd. I like it, but damn. Calm down. I hope she didn’t make any spreadsheets. For her sake.

      Speaking of calming down, I should probably take a moment myself. Let’s see. The room isn’t nearly as white as I thought. I should have been either dead or in a hospital. This place doesn’t make sense. These people don’t make any sense. They’re not in any lab uniforms I’ve seen. They look rather like they’re about to go clubbing.

      Nadia is average height. She looks like she's in her late twenties or early thirties. Her look matches a mix of her parents’ heritage: half Chinese-American and half German-American. I wonder what part of China. Brown hair, brown eyes, olive skin. Now that I think about it, I’m not actually sure what about her face strikes me as especially Asian. Maybe high cheek bones are what do it. Small noses really don’t mean much to me. It’s just a holistic thing, I guess. She could easily be mistaken for just about any ethnicity. She’s wearing jeans and no burka, so hurray for Saudi progressivism. I bet she might even be allowed to drive! She’s wearing a traditional white lab coat, but it’s open and I can see a black flowy thing that is tucked into the front of the jeans. She is joyously well-prepared to talk about shit that’s in her wheelhouse. Then again, I do seem to be these people's lab rat and I know these two are just the ambassadors of a much larger team of scientists. Preparing for this moment is probably their job.

      Mehmet is probably in his thirties or forties. I can never tell age with men. Once you're over 26, you could be as old as 45 before I notice. He's maybe about six feet tall or six one--although this is Istanbul, so height is probably in centimeters here. What even would that be in centimeters, 181 cm? Anyway, he’s also wearing the open, white lab coat. Under it is a blue and gray checkered button down shirt with his jeans, and this tiny yellow argyle scarf. It isn’t long enough to protect your neck from winter, so it’s weird. Boots are yellowish. He's got sandy brown hair and ocean blue eyes. They look radioactive. They have to be fake. Eyes aren’t that blue. He also doesn’t have much of a tan. For a Turkish boy that’s awkward as fuck, but I guess his grandparents are from Oklahoma so maybe he's just a traditional, melanin-challenged, white American type. He didn't say anything about his other set of grandparents, but that's not related to what they want from me. Maybe Germans. Turks and Germans always had a close relationship going. Probably best to assume that Germans are part of an experiment like this anyway. They’re always getting into shady shit. Viva la Nuremberg.

      "I'm sure, Nadia. But we can go over your presentation later. Or maybe there's some way for me to watch it on my own time, or something. I don't know. You designed this thing." I hope there isn't. Call me old fashioned, but I don't like people messing with my thoughts.

      "Oh there is. Yeah, I'll upload it later." Great. Thanks, Nadia.

      "To your question about purpose, we revived you because we don't know what happened 60 years ago,” Mehmet, as usual and fitting the German thesis, is stiff and blunt with his delivery. He doesn’t make hand gestures as he talks, which I never realized someone could accomplish. He barely moves. Makes me wonder who’s the real robot here, you know? “It was an important historical moment. We want to understand what happened to put it into a broader context of how the world changed since the fall of Imperial Era America." I'll let that label slide. Too many things to focus on to let a naming convention derail things.

      "So you're hoping I can fill you in on the details."

      "Exactly, at least what you know," he says.

      "It would be a lot easier to put things into context if I had some idea of what context to put them into. Aren’t there like relevant stories or movies or something you can show me? Or anything that makes me feel a little less like a lab rat?" Mehmet winced, and Nadia glanced at him again. It’s especially noticeable because Nadia is almost always closer to me than Mehmet, so she has to turn around to look at him. Something makes them uncomfortable about me. Am I deemed unnatural? Is this entire experiment sacrilegious? Wouldn't be the first time for either. I goddamn hope there are some ethical qualms here.

      While I was searching for an answer for their perpetual discomfort, Nadia chimed in. "We have a list of topics that we agreed as a team to discuss. I hope you'd understand if we took your suggestion to the team before agreeing to it? If we give you too much context we might skew your presentation. It’s just something we’d need to carefully plan out with the team."

      "Sure, of course. Makes sense to me." Why are you even asking me though? I don’t have any power in this exchange, physical or emotional. Hell, you've even made sure I can't run at you. Oh shit, they’re about to leave.

      “Hey, before you head out, is there a way I can be positioned so I can see that mirror over there? I’d like to see myself. I don’t even know if I make facial expressions.”

      Nadia responded much faster than either of them have been up until now, “Oh you make facial expressions alright.” Fuck. She’s chuckling under her breath too. What have I been doing? If there were any blood in this husk, it’d all be in my cheeks right now. I used to cosplay as a tomato when I’d get the least bit worked up. I have that feeling right now.

      Mehmet moved in closer to the table I’m on for the first time. Unlike Nadia, who often looks to him, he doesn’t look to her before grabbing a side of the table. He looks to her after though, and gives her a nod. I can’t tell if that’s workplace hierarchy or respect or just a man in the workplace or what. "Yeah. We can move you. Could you get away from that wall?" Without responding, I slid away from the wall as he suggested. Made sense if they were moving the table with me on it.

      “Hang tight,” Nadia said, but she didn’t need to. I had already grabbed onto the edges of the table. Mehmet and Nadia lifted the table a couple inches and walked it slowly to the wall that was to my left. I’m not under any illusions about what this mirror is. It’s a one-way with a team watching on the other side. There’s no way it isn’t. The wall the mirror sits in looks like they broke through it just to put the mirror in; it’s got all sorts of chips and cracks like somebody actually chiseled the hole out. The important thing here is that I can see myself now.

      They certainly had an eye for detail. My face has a bigger, more squished nose than I'm used to. It’s all olive, which of course I imagined from the arms, but to see it brings a new depth to this place. Is this actually me now? The dark brown eyes are new, though they are probably contacts anyway. I bet they look red when the light catches them. That’ll be a test for later. They should be light-brown things that would look yellow in the light. They’re not. I can’t believe I miss them assuring me I’m going to be blind by the time I’m 50. Eyebrows are just as thick--like caterpillars resting on a face. They didn't bother with hair on the top, but that's understandable. Hair is hard and they put all their hair energies in the arms and eyebrows. For some reason they put on a light stubble all along my jawline. Why would they want to show I could grow a beard? That was never true before. I'm not really crushed it still isn't true now. They replaced all my freckles with a simple mole just under my left eye. They thought to put on a mole? Can androids even get skin cancer? It looks like real skin, except it doesn't play as much. They must have made me to look like the most stereotypically handsome, bald man in society, with a mole to make it all seem real. I'm okay with that. This body looks good. I’d date me. Now let's see those pearly whites. Holy shit, nevermind. This mouth is fucked. The teeth are perfect, but everything within it is this wiry abomination that probably didn't get enough design time.

      I realize now that I'm too busy gawking to think much about how this all must look to the people behind the mirror. Of course, this was after sticking my wire cage pretending to be a tongue out at them. Nadia and Mehmet are near the door now, watching me look at myself.

      I put on my best smile for them. Got to show a good game face, right? "Thanks. I was just dying to marvel at my own newfound good looks." Both Nadia and Mehmet smiled back, but it was Mehmet’s reaction I was after. It wasn’t a very big one, but it’s good enough for me. Hopefully that means he can react to a bad pun, but he could have just been smiling because I smiled. That’s a thing with meatbags. Though that smile didn’t move up an inch. It was one of those horizontal smiles that you give when you just want to be polite. This guy must have taken a martial arts class in self-expression because he does not react more than he has to.

      I want to ask them what the endgame here is. If they're just going to turn me off again after bringing me back from the dead to have a good chat, then that's kind of a bad thing for me. If they're planning on keeping me around, it's not clear what use I can be outside of this experiment. Maybe they want to have proof that they can bring people back from the dead and put them into androids? A new technology that gives people (who can afford it, or are deemed worth it) immortality and further leads to the singularity and domination of all humanity by robot people. It doesn't seem like there's any way out of this mess that can be good for me. God damn I need legs.

      They’re still here, watching and waiting. I might as well voice some of my appreciation for this body. "I have some hairy arms here. Oh, and I feel these washboard abs. I'm guessing that design choice was you, Nadia?" I felt myself wink. We're back. Breathing crisis resolved. “Were there some legs in the works for this project too? Are they a hairy match for these arms?" And what are the hair trends in porn these days? Is everyone hairy? I can’t ask them that. Incidentally, and unrelated: this mirror shows that this body can, in fact, blush. Not as red as I’m used to, but the cheeks do change color slightly. How did they do that?

      "The legs were in development because we didn't make the final risk assessments until after the base android design was tested and showed that the legs performed far better than expectations." Dang, Mehmet. That sort of response really goes beyond what I'd think the team would want you to say. I hope you don't get iced for that. I'm starting to like your blunt, no nonsense style.

      "Cool.” I nodded to make it seem like I was deeply offended. “Are there any questions you wanted to get into right away or did you want to talk with your team before moving forward?"

      "I … ” Nadia held that like she was interjecting on a conversation she wasn’t in. “I think it's probably best if we talk to the team first and give you some time to get adjusted. I'll also add that video to a list you can access internally while you wait. You already have access to some music, both contemporary hits for you and more modern tunes. There are also some other things that we put together." Nadia smiled gently as though she had done me some great service, but I’d prefer to find my own way thank you. They can’t know what I like or don’t like. They don’t know me. What happened to the internet? Can't I just access that or would that be way too much of a security risk? Fuck. They're gone.

      Well, might as well get a better look at this thing resembling a tongue.

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