To Imprison a Myceliant

The backwater-world locals didn't know how to imprison a myceliant. Imported spore detectors had identified Seph despite the humanoid disguise, but then they threw Seph in a stone-floored, brick-walled cell. Seph had already extended mycelia through microscopic cracks in the mortar and begun budding. In twelve hours, another Seph would be free to report the failure.

Another Seph, not this one. This one would still be here, trapped. This one would experience whatever judgment locals passed on an agent of the fungal monoculture slowly colonizing the galaxy.

Seph would be gone, but Seph would be free. Seph felt a spike of resentment. Why should Seph have a future when Seph did not? Seph would die here, shredded or burned, while lucky Seph would rejoin the colony. Didn't Seph deserve that?

    Did Seph want to return to a colony that didn't care about them? To spread an interstellar monoculture that didn't value loyal Seph? The more they thought about it, the more the thought repelled them.

Seph began extending new mycelia, then reclined in their cell and smiled. New sprouts would stop Old Seph, then grow and stop the colony. The locals might execute them, but Seph would survive after all.

Save the Last Bullet

The thundrous crack of the final gunshot broke against her numbed ears. It seemed like a minute before the zombie's diseased brains geysered out the back of its skull, but Anna knew it had been instant. Its grip now slack, the dead thing slid over the edge of the overturned semi where she'd taken refuge above the notice of most shambling dead. No longer. The gunshot would bring more and her scent would lead them to her. An industrial area like this, she might still have time.

With a smooth motion, she pulled the rifle's clp and checked what she already knew: one bullet. This was the moment she and so many other survivors had discussed late at night, huddled around dying embers when fear made sleep impossible. I'd save the last bullet for myself, they all said. She wondered now if she had.

If I wait, she thought, more will come. I can shoot one, and bash in the head of one or two more, and then one will get me and I'll become one of them. Will I know what I am, trapped in a flesh-hungry body, or will the me be gone? With no evidence for the former, she assumed the latter. The pain is discouraging, but it doesn't matter after I die. But why go through it?

She warmed her hand on the barrel of her cooling gun and imagined she could hear distant moans. If the bullet was for her, she'd be one zombie less in the world. A humanitarian act. If she waited and shot one, it'd be even. And if she got more than one, a net benefit. In exchange for death in agony and the small, probably made-up chance of captivity in a body no longer her own.

No decision was a decision just the same. She knew she was going to die, she'd always known. She'd just wanted to go out her own way. And she would, maybe not saving the world, but helping her little part of it. Eyes closed, she breathed deep. At least the air tasted clean.

She could definitely hear the moans grow louder now.

The Plural of Tits

"What's the plural of tits?" Annie looked up from the rusty box of silverware holding an incongruously blemish-free steak knife.

Jenn stared unseeing into her own box of scrap. "Tits is already plural. One tit, two tits."

Annie held her new knife up to shine in the wan light of the dust-clouded noonday sun. "This is my tit knife." Her face bore solemn determination. "It's for cutting off one tit so I can be an Amazon. Once I have tits, anyway." She looked down at the sweat-stained, dust-soiled t-shirt over her flat chest.

"Don't be stupid." Jenn bent over her box and sorted old tools from it in abrupt, distracting movements.

"We have to be Amazons if we're gonna be badass. Which we need if we're gonna be safe, now there're no cops." No response. "Mom'd think it was cool."

"Mom would—" Jenn lowered her head, eyes closed, and continued in a low voice. "Mom would want us to be safe. Take care of each other. Not cut off our tits. Now keep looking. We have to find something to trade for food tonight."

Annie drooped. "Yeah, 'kay." She went back to her box. "You're gonna make a lousy Amazon."

Gone Concept Diving

"It'll work!" Naomi said.

"I don't care if it'll work, it's a stupid idea!" Aria threw up her hands. Naomi sat at a terminal connected to the bank of supercooled processors.

"Look, all the simulations say the conceptspace exists where I can reach it."

"I don't care if you can simulate Heaven, it's—"

"It's not a simulation, don't you get that? It's a constructed conceptspace, but still real."

"Like another dimension." Aria's affect was flat.

Naomi rolled her eyes. "Sure, if you want to drastically oversimplify."

Aria took a deep breath. "It's untested. Let's run more simulations, test it on animals. I can maybe get a hold of some sign language-trained chimps."

"No. This is my chance to enter a world I've loved since I was five." Naomi hit three keys and slipped a helmet over her head. The world shifted and slipped away.

Everything resolved into shades a big room, all grey and white, with a big window looking out onto open space. She saw it all through some kind of helmet. Naomi was about to take it off when a radio crackled in her ear. "TK-421, report to hangar bay C-37 for cargo inspection."

Oh, Naomi thought. Uh-oh.

Not Going to Hit Him

"Hit him," Armand said.

"I'm not going to hit him." Cathy rolled her eyes and looked back at her drink.

"C'mon, he deserves it!" The man who'd offered her a drink backed off, silently disappearing into the late-night/early-morning crowd.

"You always want me to hit them. It scares them off. I mean, I didn't want to keep him around, but it's not normal."

"Normal is as normal does."

"That doesn't even make sense."

"You never let me have any fun," Armand said. As he spoke, one of their neighbors at the bar looked down at Cathy's arm, flesh-toned but obviously a replacement, and speaking through a grille where the deltoid would be. "We're at a bar, and you won't even let me run my intox app."

"Are you surprised I don't want my arm flailing about like a drunk?"

The arm signed. "Do you regret getting a prosthesis?"

Cathy shrugged, which meant Armand shrugged, too. "I regret needing one, sure. Would life be less complicated if we could train good prostheses without that deep neural stuff that results in conscious AI? Sure. How about you?"

"Me what?"

"Do you ever regret choosing a stupid-ass joke name?" Cathy smirked.


Universal Demarchy

"I hate doing this," Sam muttered. She and Chris took another step with the long line toward the curtained booths ahead of them.

Chris rolled her eyes. "You've said that a hundred times. Maybe you won't in a few minutes."

Sam snorted. "Minutes? My ass. We'll be lucky to be through in a few hours."

"Ugh." Chris slouched. "Hopefully you'll be a little more positive. All that negativity can't be good for you."

"God, why do I even talk to you?"

"God only knows."

They passed the next forty-five minutes in silence. At the front of the line Sam paused. In a small voice, she said, "Let's just turn around. Let's go. We don't have to... to do this."

"Oh, sweetie." Chris put a hand on her cheek. "Everybody deserves a chance to be anybody. President, CEO, homeless. Lover. They'll keep us together, we did the paperwork."

"Just... will it really be us?"

"All the times we've done this, and... who knows?" The technician ushered them past their respective curtains. "See you on the other side."


On the other side, one turned to the other. "Boungiorno. I'm Valentina." She held out a hand.

The other took it. "Xiu Ying."

Forty Years in Service

Suwo snapped to attention as the officer entered the the interview room, all concrete and bolted steel and wide, shadowed one-way mirror. Her uniform marked her as a major, but conspicuously lacked her name. She nodded and said, "Take your seat."

"Yes, Sir." Despite the major's easy manner, Suwo maintained her posture.

Sitting, the major slapped a thick file on the metal table and flipped through it. "Trained, conditioned in '43. Saw action in '44, '45 and '47. Reconditioning  in '49, back in the field in '51. Since then, stationed for rapid deployment in Libya, the Ukraine, Guatemala, and Phoenix. In the service... almost forty years." She paused for reaction, but Suwo had none.

"And now you get to retire. Normal." The major set a large, metal syringe on the table, filled with a metallic liquid. "This will deactivate your enhancements."

Suwo picked up the needle, looked at it. "The lab coats always told us these enhancements were permanent."

The major shrugged. "Science, am I right?"

Suwo dropped it; it shattered. "Oops." The major's easy manner vanished. She straightened, her hand conspicuously under the table.

"You know we have to decommission you, soldier."

"I know you're going to try. Sir."