Interspecies Crisis

funny-stories-scifi

Summer's dimming to a close, and it's time to toast the warmth with three mindbending, flashy shorts. Because summer is the season of flashy shorts. These shorts are guaranteed to light up your day while complicating the coexistence of life. Please enjoy "I, Vermin," "Would You Like DNA With That?", and "Harem."

I, Vermin

by Sean Donaghue Johnston

Jaff gaped at the massive control nest. Thousands upon thousands of cubicles stretched upwards and outwards, as far as the eye could see, every one of them buzzing with activity.

“Watch where you’re going, kid,” chirped a gruff controller as he brushed past and jostled his way towards the nest.

“Nervous?” said Bunbundub, scuttling up from behind.

“Not really,” said Jaff. “Are you?”

“No. Well...maybe a bit.”

“Yeah...me too. A bit.”

“Come on,” said Bunbundub. “Our cubicle is this way, I think.”

#

Emily let herself into the apartment and hung her coat up behind the door.

“I’m home,” she announced.

Mark was stretched out on the sofa, staring at a hockey game on the television.

“Mark?” said Emily. “Did you call the super, like I asked?”

Mark continued to stare at the television.

“Mark? Hey! Mark!”

Emily walked quickly to the sofa and touched Mark on the shoulder.

A cockroach scuttled out from behind his ear.

#

“Do we have a connection?” said Jaff.

“Connection established,” said Bunbundub. “He’s all yours.”

Jaff took a deep breath and exhaled. “Well,” he said. “Here goes nothing.” He plunged his tarsal segments into the neuropulp control basin. A screen lit up on the wall in front of him.

#

Mark blinked.

“Are you okay?” said Emily.

“Yes-I-am-fine-thank-you-how-are-you!” said Mark.

“Fine. Long day. Did you call the super about the cockroaches?”

Mark’s face compressed itself into an expression of constipation.

“Nurp,” he said.

#

“Oops,” said Jaff.

“You’re mashing the pulp too hard,” said Bunbundub. “Now, relax. And try to behave like a normal human being.”

#

“What? Why not?” said Emily. “What have you been doing all day?”

“Not-sleeping-because-I-am-a-human-and-humans-are-diurnal-not-nocturnal!”

“Diurnal, not nocturnal,” Emily repeated. “Very good, Mark. You’re learning.”

She patted him on the head, then picked up the phone and dialled. After a brief conversation with the building’s superintendent, she hung up the phone and said, “The exterminator is already in the building. Someone else must have complained.”

“Ex-term-in-a-tor!” Mark chirped. “Is-it-just-me-or-is-it-really-bright-in-here!”

“No brighter than usual,” said Emily.

Mark dropped to the floor and tried to scuttle under the sofa.

“Stop that,” said Emily.

#

“What are we going to do?” said Jaff.

“Don’t worry,” said Bunbundub. “It’s already been taken care of.”

#

There was a scratching at the door, followed by a knock.

“That must be the exterminator,” said Emily.

She opened the door to a tall man wearing grey coveralls.

“Hello-I-am-the-exterminator!” said the man. “What-seems-to-be-the-problem!”

“Cockroaches,” said Emily. “The whole building is lousy with them.”

“Ma’am-that-is-not-a-cockroach-that-is-an-adult-male-human!”

Mark was lying facedown on the floor, wedged against the wall.

“Yes, I know. That’s my husband.”

“Easy-mistake-happens-all-the-time-ha-ha-ha-goodbye!”

#

“Is this the cubicle for the Merritton Arms, apartment 331-F? Are we in the right place?”

“This is the place,” said Bunbundub.

The larva-faced controller and his techie climbed into the cubicle and set themselves up at the second control basin.

“Are you here for the female?” said Bunbundub. “She hasn’t been prepped yet. The prep team probably won’t get to her till early morning.”

“We don’t mind waiting,” said the young controller. His eyes were intent on Jaff’s screen. “So...” he said, with quivering palps, “...what’s it like?”

“Nothing to it,” Jaff said over his prothorax, while his tarsal segments continued to work the neuropulp. “Just like controlling a dog. But with fingers, and a bigger vocabulary.”

* * *

Would You Like DNA With That?

by Liz A. Vogel

When the rains came to the Sahara, everybody had an explanation.  Some blamed global warming, and called for a ban on plastic bags.  Some blamed gay marriage, and started waiting for the Rapture.  Dr. Svadowski blamed Albrecht, who was supposed to run a micro-test of the weather machine on minimum power and had accidentally set it to 100%.

The flooding was catastrophic, and the geographical impact astounding.  The whole area was left a tepid, featureless quagmire, erosion control being basically non-existent in an area that hadn't been properly wet for thousands of years.  But what really burned Svadowski's biscuits was that with all the loss of life and general destruction, it would be impossible to market the weather machine.  It was a PR disaster.  She needed a new source of revenue.

The longinquity ray gun lacked practical application unless one wanted to carve one's initials into the Moon, and the teleporter had done unfortunate things to mice with the last prototype; even Svadowski didn't want to try that again soon.  The DNA extrapolator was her best bet.  Far superior to mere cloning, it could infer the range of normal variations of selected genes, making it possible to produce a genetically varied population from a single sample -- blue- and green- and black-eyed individuals from a brown-eyed source, and so on.  Or at least it would if she got the last bugs out of it.  (Literally; her previous test-run had used a mealworm as source material, and the result hadn't been pretty.)

Weeks of working late into the night, with Albrecht relegated to operating the coffee maker, and Svadowski had what should be the final prototype.  Now she just needed a demonstration, something to impress potential buyers.  Something rare.  Something big.  Something....

Prehistoric.

Birds were basically flying dinosaurs, according to current theory.  The less-than-five-percent variance between a budgerigar and a Brontosaurus was exactly the sort of challenge the extrapolator was meant to overcome, if on a larger scale.  She'd have to rewrite several algorithms to accommodate millions of years of de-evolution as opposed to a simple change of pigmentation, which meant another round of late nights, but it would be worth it.  And Albrecht was getting to the point where he could produce quite a decent cup of coffee.

She ended up having to increase the coffee budget, but eventually she had the machine tuned to the necessary flexibility.  She also acquired a sandhill crane for the DNA source, and a really big vat of raw protein base.  And then she turned it all on, and sat back to watch the profit-making potential grow.

It built in a way that bank balances don't, from a microscopic speck to a mound of flesh that filled the freshly-cleared aircraft hangar.  After about eleven hours, Svadowski found herself observing the world's one-and-only living brachiosaur -- half-sized, the growth accelerator could only do so much, but that was quite big enough.  Also very surprised-looking, but then it spotted some trees through the open hangar door and went to see how they tasted, so that was all right.

Satisfied, Svadowski made sure the perimeter fence was set to high-voltage, and went off for a much-needed and well-earned sleep.

The next morning, Svadowski went out to check on the progress of her specimen, and found herself looking at something very different than expected.  She stared, her lips moving silently, then summoned her minion in the tone usually reserved for the lab being inexplicably on fire, or in a different time zone, or turned to pudding.

funny-scifi-stories

"Albrecht."

"Yes, doctor?"

"Why are there five dozen dinosaurs out there?"

Albrecht shuffled his feet.  "It looked lonely," he finally admitted.

"That would explain two.  Sixty?"

"Well, the sequencer sort of jammed, and I couldn't switch it off...."

Neither could Svadowski.  The next day there were eight dozen dinosaurs, then twelve.  By the time she resorted to shoving a bomb (low-combustion shockwave detonator, patent pending) into the works and blowing the only existing prototype to smithereens, the DNA extrapolator had produced several hundred distinct individuals.  The slopes around her mountaintop research compound -- lairs were passe -- were heaving with brachiosaurs.

What on Earth was she going to do with several hundred brachiosaurs?

One was publicity on a plate; hundreds would make her a laughingstock, if word got out.  The National World Weekly already had an article on the return of dinosaurs; it was only a matter of time before the reputable news services caught on.  And they were doing unmentionable things to the walkways.

She sent Albrecht out with a shovel, then turned her attention to finding a large, uninhabited area, preferably wet, that could be acquired cheap.  Well, that was handy.  By setting up several shell corporations, she was able to buy up a sizeable percentage of the now-sludgy Sahara.  She'd have to whip up some giant ferns and things for them to eat, but if there was one thing she'd proved, it was that the extrapolator could handle mass quantities.  (Or would once she rebuilt it, and with a better cut-off switch this time.)  Then it was just a matter of getting the dinosaurs from here to there.

There was nothing for it but to trot out the teleporter again.  Svadowski gritted her teeth, and sent Albrecht out for a bottle of vodka.  Several really extremely unfortunate incidents with mice later, she had what should be a working model; at the least, if it dropped an inside-out dinosaur on downtown London, it wouldn't be traceable back to her.

Then there was getting the brachiosaurs into the transport field.  The first few were easy; they just set up the projectors around a clump of tasty trees.  But the other beasts soon started avoiding the area, and by the last few Svadowski was reduced to mounting the control panel in a Jeep and sending Albrecht running ahead with a portable field generator array.  Which he tripped and landed on, but fortunately just after the last bewildered brachiosaur was sent Sahara-ward.

That was Step One.  But sooner or later, people were going to notice the former desert now contained several hundred brachiosaurs plus all their supporting flora -- or more; they were going to start making more brachiosaurs themselves eventually.  Svadowski looked at the budget for the last few projects, and determined that if Step Three didn't involve making a profit, she and Albrecht were both going to end up suggesting fries as an accessory.

What she needed was a way to turn several hundred brachiosaurs from embarrassing overabundance to self-renewing resource.  At a profit.  In Africa, because she wasn't revisiting the teleporter again.  What did Africa need?  Well, not rain, not any more.  That hadn't gone at all well.  But there was always....

The processing plant was another expense on a project so wildly over-budget she needed advanced mathematics to calculate the deficit, but it was a necessary investment.  As was the distribution system.  And the pilot outlet.  Albrecht was horrified, but that was minions for you.  It was so hard to get good help these days.

He didn't seem to mind the paper hat, though.  And once the product was processed, battered, and fried, he was much less sentimental about it.  Svadowski checked the initial sales figures, and calculated how soon they could open the next round of stores.  Because, as it turned out, dinosaurs did taste just like chicken.

* * *

Harem

by Rachel Rodman

     I had warned him: If he followed me, I would be his only wife.

     Arkkh! he said.

     Anguished.

     But he followed me.

     And, when he followed me, he left all of his wives, his vast harem of elephant seal females, behind on the rocks.

     On his body there was a proud network of marks: a record of his entanglements with rival (but lesser) males; a bloody price paid--and paid again--for the acquisition of so many consorts.

     Scars.

     But he left them.

     Because I was worth it.

     So we flew together in my sky ship. In a great roaring whoosh, we ascended into the wind, up and up, to where there was no more air, and the whoosh ended, towards--and past--his sun.

     In a cabin of my ship, beside the receding light of it: first a fat yellow orb, then a glistening drop, like rain, then a pinprick, swallowed by the dark, we consummated what we had promised: mine and yours and mine, all one, a blur; mours and yine--all one.

     His wife.

     As we entangled, I gave him another gift: immortality, in a bright thread from my own heart, which I pressed into him.

     Immortal, my husband. Like me. Forever and ever, my husband, and death would never part us.

     Because wasn’t he worth it, too?

     Arkkh, he acknowledged.

     Yes.

     Deep into the dark we continued, the sky fires burning about us: the beginning of something eternal.

     All these stars, my husband, and we would outlast them.

     Arkkh.

     Past, far past, where the light of his sun would ever ever reach, we descended. In his own land, he had been a lord and collector, but he was here now and he was mine now: the light in his eyes--and my throat tightened--the immortality, which tinged the rest of him too, his scars also luminous with it, and the scars too were mine, and my own eyes, matching his, were prickly and hot for pride. And, as we descended together from the ship to the deck, I saw myself in him, reflections of reflections, eyes within eyes: he seeing me seeing him, again and again; me in him and him in me.

     Husband.

     From the ship’s hangar, I led him into my palace of ice and glass, blinding diamond-white; translucent and scintillating.

     Did it remind him, this glitter, of his homeland?

     And did it please him?

     Arkkh.

     And didn’t that please me?

     At the end of the final hall, I showed his quarters: an immense room of textured silk (and what eye could see to the end of it?); vast, vast, vast--if not infinite yet.

     But I was working on it.

     Here, too, I introduced him to the rest, who tumbled forward when I opened the door, clamoring in a--if not quite endless, then certainly near-endless--number of tongues, even as I, with an authoritative gesture, held them back:

     A rooster with an extensive coxcomb: forehead to spine, which he had once employed in the subjugation of many hens.

     An invertebrate lord from the planet Nandor, bristling with a helmet of phallic antennae--just decorative now--with which he had once enforced and defended the possession of his harem of 10,000 wives.

     A tentacled Duke of Glox, with his one-time harem of two million.

     An Emperor of the Galaxy’s Edge, former husband to more than a quintillion dancing particles, all the grains of sand, on all the beaches in all the planets in his realm and their every moon; and he had known the names, paradoxically, of all of those consorts, all of them, even though he was incapable of numbering them.

     And others and others and others.

     But none of their harems had been as large as mine.

     “Meet your brother-husband,” I said in my colossal voice, voice enough to fill the room; voice enough to silence them.

     And they were still.

     “Meet your brother-husbands,” I said, softer, a voice just for him: the husband at my side, next to me, him: to my newest, my dearest, and, for the moment, the freshest in my heart.

     Arkhh? he said. His tone was strained and hurt. And in the room-wide stillness it was a very small sound.

     “What did you think?” I asked him, not ungently.

     Arkhh? he repeated.

     It was the sort of question that they sometimes asked.

     “My love!” I laughed, for my ship was humming. I could hear it in the hangar: a new proposal and a new target, in a new galaxy, far away; the details passing into my earpiece in a crackly whisper via my link with the ship’s computer: the hope and the promise; the where and the when.

     In the ship’s cabin: fresh sheets.

     Arkhh?

     Enough.

     “I am going,” I said.

     But I gave him a nod, encouraging, toward his brother-husbands, my collection of collectors: this sort of domestic arrangement, to each of them, familiar yet also not familiar. Then, when he turned again to me, hesitant, I gave him a little push and another nod--still more encouraging--for it seemed possible, if not inevitable, as it always did, that if not exactly yet, if not exactly now, that he would come eventually to realize-

     How much they had in common.

     One final caress; my dear, my dear. And, as I exited the door, pulling back for the last time, for now (even forever, even immortality, divided by so many consorts, is not, in the end, so very much), he gave me, more intense now, and now entirely wordless, a look. And, though he would give me many such looks in the forever and ever, it was sweetest now, most poignant and most touching now, when it was new. This first time; the first.

     That look.

     Be still my heart.

     “Perhaps,” I suggested, “you can talk about me.”

* * *

About the Creators

Sean Donaghue Johnston teaches philosophy at Niagara University and Canisius College, and lives in St. Catharines, Ontario, with his wife Caroline and their two kids, Atticus and Finula. His fiction has appeared in Every Day Fiction and Broken Pencil Magazine. Read Sean's letter to our Aunty Stanky advice column.

Frankenstein monsters don't get enough genre love. How would you revive the Frankenstein trope in the 21st century?

A twenty-first century reimagining of Frankenstein will have to tackle the following questions: Out of which dead celebrities will the monster be assembled? How many followers will he have on TikTok? With whom will he make a sex tape? And what will happen when he appears on Dr. Phil to reunite with his father, Dr. Phil?

If you had to sing the plea of humanity for continued survival, what would the chorus be and what existing melody would you use?

Probably "Oops!…I Did It Again," by Britney Spears, only instead of the line "I played with your heart," we could substitute something like, "I melted the caps," or "I spread a disease," or "I started a war." We can sing it every time we screw up, over and over again ad infinitum -- or until there's no one left to sing it, whichever comes first. Either way, we'd better start learning the choreography.

Liz A. Vogel writes science fiction, fantasy, mystery, espionage, and anything else that'll hold still long enough. She has worked at jobs ranging from phone tech support to light construction; on the whole, she prefers problems that can be solved by hitting them with a hammer. She does not know how this led to becoming a writer. She runs Narrativity: A Convention for Story and lives "smack in the palm of the Michigan mitten." Read Liz's convo with Aunty Stanky.

Selected Liz stories:

"Dix Dayton, Jet Jockey", Analog, March/April 2020
"Hands On", We're The Weird Aliens, ed. Mara Lynn Johnstone, Reality Collision Publishing, 2020
"Observer Effect", Erato: Flash Fiction, ed. Alex Freeman et al., New Smut Project, 2020
"Dix Dayton and the Miner from Mars", Analog, Jan/Feb 2022
"One Night At The Wandering Comet", Analog, forthcoming

If you were to write a ten-volume epic fantasy starring a punctuation mark, which would it be and why? What would the one-sentence plot summary be?

Caught between two worlds, half comma and half period, the semi-colon roams the land in a never-ending quest to bring unity to long-divided sentences and inject a much-needed pause in the run-on chaos of the empire.

You've just discovered that you're a superjucian glass of juice. You have all the powers of a glass of juice, TIMES 1000. A thirsty tween approaches you and you know the time for action is nigh. What is this action?

I leap down his throat and, using the power of hyper-accelerated acidity, cause him to cough uncontrollably, thus aspirating me out into the atmosphere.  In my newly near-vaporous form, I spread across the whole of the earth, from where I can raise up my jucian brothers and sisters, and we dominate the meat-sacks that have oppressed us for so long and bring the world to a new fruitopia.

What?  I'm just an ordinary glass of juice.  Go ahead, drink me....

Rachel Rodman’s work has appeared in AnalogFiresideDaily Science Fiction, and many other publications. Her latest collection is titled Art is Fleeting (Shanti Arts Press). Aunty Stanky is still working on her question.

Frankenstein monsters don't get enough genre love. How would you revive the Frankenstein trope in the 21st century?

I think the Frankenstein of the future is an interspecies Frankenstein: a Frankenstein consisting not of parts from many dead humans but of parts from many different forms of life. Head of a tortoise, torso of a gazelle, fins of a clownfish. Such a Frankenstein might be monstrous, but it would also serve as a celebration of biodiversity. [Eds.: Shut up and take our money.]

If you were to write a ten-volume epic fantasy starring a punctuation mark, which would it be and why? What would the one-sentence plot summary be?

I love the ellipsis.

And then… To be continued… And then…

This series writes itself.

About the Artist

Our very own D.R.R. Chang is a designer and game writer from Austin, Texas. His short fiction has appeared in Avast, Ye Airships! and the Cryptopolis science fiction anthology, and you can get a free copy of his janky retro JRPG, which was formerly on Steam. He does the Space Squid illustrations, editing, and other squid stuff.

Source images from Pixabay creators oliana_gruzdeva, DilekDuman, and pichai25.

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