This time we're bringing you four delightful bite-sized treats for your fantastical brain. These trippy pieces should bend your consciousness in new and tasty ways. Explore the wonders of the DarkNet's Leyla with J.W.Wood. Then there's a quick dip into work dysfunction with David Pring-Mill. And don't sleep on our two cappers, both winners from Armadillocon flash fiction contests, from Reed Oliver and Phillip T. Stephens.
This thing came from Russia, like Tetris, vodka and cynical humour. One day nothing – the next, it’s all over chatrooms, the streets, the clubs. They say you hit the singularity when you’re on it: full interface between man and machine.
It’s a drug, right? And what a drug, what a drug. Here’s what you do. Drink a ton of water, eat a big meal. Lock the front door, then pop the pill. You’ll need a headset with biometric sensors on your temples and forehead. Get one from a military hardware site. Or get it from your uncle – I really don’t care. Once you drop, you got five minutes 'til you come up. While you’re waiting, hit the DarkNet. OnionWare is what you want. Then search for “Goznym: Leyla” and download.
By the time you’ve installed, you should be coming up. Feel every atom in your mind splitting. Like the acuity and speed of coke, only with more clarity and accuracy. Or like coming from every pore in your skin. But better. Most people use those new biometric gloves too. You know, 3D haptic whatevers. Using a keyboard and mouse don’t cut it, fam.
Anyway, once the GUI’s up and you’re in, the world’s your slimy mollusc. What can you do? What can’t you do. Leyla puts your mind at CPU speed. Full connection with your PC’s processor. And if you’re wearing sensors, she blends in your imagination. So you’re doing what you never thought you could – billions of calcs a second – and the machine’s got what it never had – our way of thinking.
Games? Haha, games. I heard novices swallow Leyla then smash every level of Battlefield VII first time. And not just games. Some people write school papers on it – I know a guy who designs houses on it. Dude who got electrons to move like they’re at absolute zero, only at room temperature? Yeah, him. Transformed computing. He was off it on Leyla when he did the calc.
And you can bump, no problem. Once you think you’re slowing down, take another hit and bump it up and bump again. I never heard anyone OD’d. And no, I don’t know how it works – no-one does. They said Russian military intelligence. A plot to destabilise the West. Paranoid shit, man!
So you’re going to ask me about the downside. The comedown. How bad is that withdrawal? The truth? There is no withdrawal. Well, no physical withdrawal. See the only thing about Zimming (that’s what we call being high on Goznym Leyla) is how you feel about life afterwards.
Like you wake up next to your girlfriend after Zim-sex, and she looks less hot than she did when you were on it. Or you go for a walk after coming down, staring at all the fucking morons who think they are dope because they’re rich or beautiful or good at tennis or something. Who gives a shit? Reality looks like nothing when you hit the singularity, trust me.
There’s memes going off about it. I mean, the other day I’m walking through this outlet store, right, and there’s a guy stacking shelves with toilet brushes or lightbulbs or some shit. And he’s got this T-shirt on under that terelyne uniform they give you in those places. Cos his uniform is unbuttoned, I can see the T-shirt says, “FRIEND OF LEYLA.” So I give him a nod and a wink and he smiles back. As I’m walking past him to the grocery section, we fist-bump and the dude looks content – like someone else knows.
So yeah, I’ve had sex on it, also. And last time I did, she stayed over. We met in a zimmer chatroom. She was on it when we met up IRL, I could tell. But then, so was I. When we got back to my place, I strapped up with the gloves and the headset – wireless, of course. She just went rough: that’s when you just drop the pill but don’t take the headset and gloves et cetera. How was it? Unbelievable. Like we were in one of those cheesy seventies-style kaleidoscopic movies. And I was CPU-enhanced, too, via wifi to my four-quantum-processor-enabled, dog’s-balls-and-dick desktop setup.
And now, the next morning, the comedown arrives. Could I remember her name? I remembered the works – her name, her star-sign, where she lived, all that. She rolls over in bed. I’ve still got the haptic gloves and the headset on, but nothing else. My dick is dragging like the flag of a defeated army.
“C’mon”, she says. “Take those things off and let’s do it old-style.” But making love like a human is not where I’m at. So I jump up and walk over to the table where my computer is to pull on my pants and shirt. “Hey! You’ve still got your gear on!” she yells. No shit, Stephen Hawking. Right then, when she’s staring at me, I get an idea.
“I’m going out to buy you breakfast.”
I size her up for a second. Coffee and croissants and orange juice, I think that’s her thing. I offer to procure her the same and she smiles, traces of smeared lipstick around her mouth, mascara smudged up below her eyebrow.
“You’re so sweet,” she smiles, wrapping herself in my sheets and lying back, hair pillowing behind her. I smile and mock-bow, throw on my Chuck Taylor hi-tops and hit the street. I want to connect to the local free WiFi when I’m zimming. No, no-one’s done it before. But then, no-one is not me. I can handle it.
After I shut the front door to my block, I reach in my wallet and pull out a pill from where my credit cards used to be. I drop the pill, then plug my headset into my mobile and link up with the local area network. Then I bluetooth my gloves to the phone and get on OnionWare. One search later, my phone is downloading Goznym. Fuck virtual reality. I’m about to hit the hyper-real walking down the street.
I’m coming up again now. I can feel it as I reach the main drag in my neighbourhood. You always know: you feel sharper, you sense everything more. I hook up to my PC through the headset. I’m transmitting and receiving. I observe the paving stones, the patterns of the bricks in the walls.
I think about what masonry techniques they must have used when these places were built a hundred years ago then I think about Italian and Polish builders based on the census records I just accessed thanks to Leyla.
Then I’m at the bakery to acquire the croissants.
“Morning, love”, says the lady behind the counter. Late fifties. I diagnose stage 2 atherosclerosis on the basis of her girth and complexion. Then I check the longevity profiles. Maybe ten years more if she’s lucky. So I decide to be nice to her.
“Good morning. Could I please have two croissants and two large Americanos?”
“Of course you can, darling. I like your little hat.”
She’s pointing to the sensor helmet. Irrelevant. I ignore her. I note the flourescent bulbs in the chiller cabinets – hardly effective, a nineteenth-century device to ward off infection. There’s probably more e coli virus in the corners of that fridge than in a body that’s been dead two weeks. I take the baked goods and the coffees off her and smile. I exit the bakery. To my left, there’s some drunken idiot who stinks like a dirty urinal.
“All right, buddy? I like the gloves, my friend. Got any change for me? I need a drink.”
I hate the fucker. He’s scum. So I size him up, say nothing.
“Hey! What’s with the hat? Is it Christmas or something?”
I calculate the probability of someone seeing me if I hit him. Elevated.
“I’ve got something for you.”
I see his creased, work-worn features. I assess him as chronically addicted to ethanol. I put down the croissants and the coffee on a half-height wall and deviate my body to be less visible from the main street. As predicted, the inebriate steps towards me anticipating his gift. I pull him towards me gently and use my foot to unbalance him.
“Careful! Don’t slip up!” I smile, then pick up the croissants and coffee. I still need to acquire orange juice, so I calculate the fastest route to the local supermarket based on traffic flows then reject this in favour of the intuitive approach – run across the street. When I reach the supermarket, experience persuades me to avoid the masses as I walk towards the chilled juices. I acquire the orange juice, and start thinking about orange farming. So I search orange groves in South Africa, Israel, Spain and Florida as I wait at the self-check-out. I barcode the orange juice and wave my mobile at the terminal to pay.
I take the plastic bag because it’s quicker if not cheaper to do so then I’m wondering about plastic recycling and the ethics of that so I start looking up how long and how expensive it is to recycle a single bag and how much energy it needs and as I’m walking out of the supermarket I’m having an internal four-way debate with myself, evidence-based of course, as to whether it’s worth it.
I want to get home and put these comestibles in front of that woman I’d slept with. So I rearrange the foodstuffs inside the plastic bag and walk as quickly as I can, allowing for the risk of spilling the hot coffees in my gloved hands. I reach my street and as I walk back down the street I observe the species of birds, the current state of foliage of the trees. I start two searches running on bird species and the deciduous patterns of trees and fauna at this latitude.
I’m think about the building techniques I observed earlier so I run a search for building styles in this city and another one on the original topography 00011 then I get home and I wonder whether the birds have returned from winter migration E”£%£$^$%^&ly and think aqbout romani££ po%$^try and whether I should drop some lines to impress her and John Donne comes to mind mark but this flea deciduous trees at LAT 51 swallows typically not before April how little that which thou deni’st me crenellated influence 00010101011110
I need to come 10101 down I need to come down I get in the house and she’s still 010111 asleep in bed. I drop the goods and I want to take off the headset 01101 but she wakes up major programmes of renovation in the Southern part of the city (^& from the nineteen eighties onwards modernised the buildings but in many ways compromised their 1011 character and she’s still naked and the bed is warm.
“So sweet of you to buy me breakfast.”
She pats the bed beside her and Ovid ovid who the fuck is Ovid In summer time and in mid-heat of day 01101010111101100101011011 I have no control (*(^&£$” I take off my Chuck T’s and drop my pants%£$ and I’m beside her and I’m on top of her and I’m thinking 00101 about hygiene of my matress how statistically ten million bedbugs and$£^£$%^&% litres of my spent seed are crusted on it and I’m inside her and the 0011 kaleidoscope runs and I hear £$%£$%^&%^ 1970s film music and I wonder why wasn’t even £$%£$%$£ born then the African Swallow climate change has meant lower leaf counts for most %^&%^&%^species of tree and we’re moving faster together and I’m not 01010011 wearing a condom fuck and one door open, the other half-shut stood the coffee will be getting cold alert 01101 alert cold cold no and I’m coming 0-0010101011010” and I roll off her and I wonder what we have done. I wonder where we are going. What have we created?
* * *
Questions Arising From An Existential Crisis
by David Pring-Mill
I don’t know if you’re someone who pays attention to the timestamp on emails… If you are, I’m sorry if it seems a little strange that I’m sending this to you at 3:30 a.m. I understand that you explicitly instructed me to take this vacation, because of all those obnoxious complaints that I had been “unraveling” at work.
Anyway, I want you to know that after some reflection, I have concluded that a few of the concerns (not all) were actually valid.
I think all the yelling and binder-throwing and Zoom call puppet shows marked the onset of an existential crisis. But I also think that I can emerge from this thing stronger and clearer than ever before.
I’m on my ex-brother-in-law’s farm right now, in upstate New York. The quietness has been disarming and reinvigorating. However, I still keep thinking about work.
Fortunately, I was able to procure a small amount of LSD, so yesterday I dropped acid, wandered out into the woods, and started really brainstorming this work project.
To be frank, I asked myself questions that we should have been asking ourselves much earlier in the process. Here’s what I came up with:
- Do you think that last Wednesday’s meeting could have been an email?
- Why does adding a button to our website require an approval process and protracted, meaningless discussion about “UX/UI”?
- Do you ever feel like you’re “previewing” one version of your life’s causality, instead of actually living it? Sometimes, I can trace everything I’m experiencing back to a critical decision point, at which different routes of fate branched apart. And in a way, it kind of negates the sense of reality that is underlying all of my sensory perception. I feel like I’m still at that fork in the road, and somehow, all of my present experience is just me peering ahead from that past point in time.
- Do you ever name your gummy bears before you eat them? If so, what are the ethical implications of that?
- What if the laws of physics constitute an alternative form of consciousness and every physical action is the universe’s way of thinking?
- Why does Carol from HR pretend to be so old and sweet when we all know she’s not? I looked up “passive-aggressive” on Wikipedia and added a picture of Carol.
- What if all our parents really did take our dogs to a farm upstate, and none of them ever died, and somehow, during the succession of generations, we forgot where the farm is? And now it’s overrun by wild dogs? Do you think I might be able to find them, if I searched hard enough?
- What would happen if we magnified images of microorganisms and saw writing inscribed on the cells? What if, when you look at a slide of a tardigrade really closely, you see the Copyright symbol, followed by the word “God”?
Let’s zero in on that last point. I mean, how would we even handle that kind of revelation? Because it wouldn’t just prove the existence of God… it would mean that either God has a weird sense of humor, or He’s from an extremely litigious echelon of divinity where IP gets infringed.
Anyway, I’m sorry if some of those questions don’t seem pertinent, but I just had this wellspring of brilliance and it seemed wrong to try to filter out some of the life-giving water.
* * *
by Reed Oliver (Armadillocon flash fiction contest first-place winner 2021)
The hole was so deep, the kids taking turns shoveling the dirt out, pushing through the roots. They must have done this before - maybe always. The farmers solemnly waiting. And then it was done, and I was slowly lowered into the hole. I imagined the roots digging into me immediately, but no. I was just a naked man gently sliding into a hole - the only way to get enough moisture to an almond tree.
* * *
Power of Language
by Phillip T. Stephens (Armadillocon flash fiction contest third-place winner 2019)
“It’s a perfectly good word.” Sara stared down Principal Arswischen, who stared down Sara—pompous, supercilious, his hooded eyes drooping into porcine cheeks.
“Perhaps, but ‘frock you’ is not what you meant to say. Mrs. Good was clear about the word you intended to use.“ He smiled, the smile of a feral boar, teeth bared and dripping with saliva at the thought of devouring another child. “I’m so disappointed by your behavior. We expect so much more from a bright girl like yourself.”
“‘Like you.’ ‘Yourself’ is a reflexive pronoun.” Sara left unspoken the question, “How’s that for bright?”
Arswischen dragged his fingers along the desk like a hog in the roots.
Sara stared at her lap. Maybe she shouldn’t have pushed it. Yes, the word wasn't the word she meant to say, but the word she meant to say would have meant a summons to her parents instead of a one-to-one conversation.
He leaned across the desk, his jaws a snare about to spring. “I’ll bet you don’t even know what the meaning of the word you meant to use.”
Sara drew herself up in her chair. “Let’s put it this way. If you were a priest they would defrock you for incompetence. But if I used the word I meant to use, well, you can’t de-'frock' someone, can you?”
Suspended for three says. Sara didn't mind.
Some punishments are worth the crime.
About the Creators
J.W.Wood's poems, articles, stories and reviews pop up here and there, from England (The Times) to the US (The Boston Review), Canada (The National Post) and points North, East, West and South of wherever you may be. This summer his stories are being anthologized in the UK and US; next spring his satire "By Any Other Name" will appear in the US and Europe. To find out more, please visit www.jwwoodwriter.net.
Frankenstein monsters don't get enough genre love. How would you revive the Frankenstein trope in the 21st century?
By virtue of too much screen-time, almost everyone's becoming a digital Frankenstein these days. So I'd revive Frankenstein as an interior monologue, which is in a way what I was trying to do with "Goznym: Leyla," maybe a kind of "Frankenmind," in which far too many data sources are referenced all at once - and more than half of them are unreliable...
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?
It has to be the asterisk, doesn't it? Asterisk goes on a quest to prove she's a little star, not a logical operator used by the Google calculator, a means of separating paragraphs or an etymological link to a French cartoon about ancient Gauls....
As a tech journalist and consultant, David Pring-Mill has been quoted in Forbes, CNBC, Business Insider, and USA Today. In his spare time, he contributes poetry and humorous ramblings to literary magazines.
Frankenstein monsters don't get enough genre love. How would you revive the Frankenstein trope in the 21st century?
For various reasons, the audience focus seems to be drawn towards the rather one-dimensional monster, hence the incessant name confusion and corrections. The reminder that Frankenstein is the scientist, not the monster, is almost a trope on its own. Still, there is something powerful about the theme that our ingenuity might take us to a dark place. It's reflected in human history, and it's also the most grandiose form of dread.
Anyway, a 21st century revival of "Frankenstein" already happened, they just called it "The Social Network" instead.
What's your favorite imaginary sound, and why?
A: Well, obviously it would be this sound...
What, you didn't just hear that? No? Still nothing?
Yeah, no kidding. It's imaginary. One cannot phonetically capture the conceptual, blissful, hypothetically auditory wonder.
Reed Oliver is a tech worker in
Austin Pflugerville, Texas. He loves writers but doesn’t think of himself as one. Make of that what you will.
Phillip T. Stephens is the author of Cigerets, Guns & Beer, Raising Hell and The Worst Noel on Kindle, Nook and iBooks.
About the Artist
Matthew F. Amati, associate editor, wears socks and lives by a canal. Occasional temper-tantrums give way to resigned melancholy. Amati's diffidently-updated writer blog is www.mattamati.com. He is the author of the bestselling novel Loompaland (and by bestselling, we mean it has literally sold two copies to date) which features drunk Oompa-Loompas and gross candy.