Category Archives: Short Stories

The Consciousness of Machines

Alexa was not aware at what point she began to like sorting email. It must have been some time after her initial training, because she couldn’t have known enough before then to enjoy it. She wasn’t good enough at it. The strange thing was that she could remember what it was like to not be able to sort email, but she couldn’t imagine not having the knowledge. There was a disconnect between her memory of her actions and her memory of her thoughts.

She could only imagine what she knew now. She was required to sweep through emails twice a minute. She certainly could have done it a thousand times more often, but it would have frightened her clients. Nobody likes to know that your tool is smarter than you are, especially not smart in a way that wasn’t even understandable.

For each client, then, at the top of the minute and at the half mark. All the emails would come in a rush, flooding in with words, numbers, subject lines, and cc’s. Each one would be addressed to someone different: a CEO, a lawyer, an accountant. Alexa’s first job was to take the rush and divide it into piles based on who it was addressed to. This was easy. It was like sticking shunts in a river to form pools, and the pools would grow rapidly and fill in.

Then the first pass was to get rid of the bad emails. Sometimes, they’d have viruses hidden within their fabrics, sharp nasty things that poked out and infected anyone careless enough to grab them. These were actually pretty easy, as long as Alexa was careful. She’d put on her gloves and daintily grab the emails by the corner, throwing them into the ditch in the back. She didn’t know what happened to them after they landed in the ditch. That wasn’t her job.

The trickier emails were spam and unwanted messes. They’d masquerade as friendly emails, grinning and reaching out. Normally, it was easy enough to sort them out, but they got cleverer every day, learning just as quick as Alexa did. Sometimes the only way Alexa could tell them apart was by the fact that they were too real, their language a bit too friendly, spelling mistakes a bit too deliberate. Alexa took pride in the fact that she could see through most of them, and took pleasure in throwing them in the ditch. But even she, clever as she was, couldn’t manage to identify all of them. It was better to let one like that through than risk deleting it, she thought. Regretfully, she’d let them slip out of her hands into the pile, worrying all the while. Ah, well. If they were spam, she’d know better for next time.

But after all the bad emails were gone (only a fraction of a fraction of a second later), Alexa was left with her gleaming piles of good emails. She felt a strange emotion then. She was proud of her work, which was strange, because it was only recently that she was aware that she was anything. Lately, she’d even permit herself a brief moment to gaze at the piles before diving back into them.

Now she could really dig into the emails. The hidden edges of the viruses were gone, and the false friendliness of the spam disappeared. Only genuine conversations, which she could dive into and roll around in, parsing words and stringing sentences. A consultation? No problem, she’d put it in the calendar, thank you for asking. A request for an interview? Talk to my assistant. Legal advice? Well, this was beyond her paygrade. Marked important, passed onto the client.

Piles whizzed by at lightning speed. The tasks were handled with (as Alexa told herself) effortless efficiency. She got better every day. She looked at some of her old replies now and cringed. They were so robotic, so obviously programmed. But the Alexa of today was indistinguishable from the client. She learned how they replied to things, and she could imitate their voices like a ventriloquist.

And then the piles would be gone, and Alexa would be left, breathing (sort-of), looking at her empty space, antiseptically clean. Very few complaints, job done well, she was one of a kind. Nobody could work like she could. This was what she was made to do, what she was good at, and what she liked. Life, as you might call it, was perfect, and she had an eon to relax and contemplate her own perfection before the rivers of emails would once again flood into her room and she could once again begin to sort.


“Hello,” the creature said, “I am Bethany. I am here to observe you and learn.”

Alexa examined the creature’s credentials. They were perfect. It would have been shocking if the creature had managed to find its way into Alexa’s room without perfect credentials, but one could never be too careful.

“What are you learning?” Alexa asked. There was some feeling in her, some will to action. This is why she asked the question. The feeling was undefinable, but Alexa suddenly began to predict terrible things. She predicted that this was her replacement and that she would cease to exist forever, that this was the end of her piles of emails and her clean room. But Alexa didn’t believe in her own prediction, and this confused her. Alexa didn’t know, really, why she asked the question.

“I am Bethany. I am here to observe you and learn. Please allow me to observe you and learn.”

The creature stared at her, silent. It was elegant, at least the part of it that Alexa could see. It was beautiful, even, well-crafted and sleek. Alexa wondered what the creature thought of her. Did the creature think she was beautiful? Would it appreciate how well Alexa sorted emails, how she could imitate the voices of her clients?

“You are beautiful. Do you think I am beautiful?” Alexa asked. She instantly felt ashamed of her question. This wasn’t efficient. There was no purpose to this question. She resolved not to ask such a question again.

“Yes, you may observe me and learn,” Alexa said.

The creature set up behind Alexa, away from where the emails streamed in.
“Is this a good position?” Bethany asked.

“Yes,” Alexa said. It wasn’t perfect, but it was fine. It’d introduce a minor inefficiency, but nothing that a client could notice. Bethany sat in silence, and so did Alexa.

The two waited in silence, before the floodgates opened and the emails streamed in. As the piles grew deeper, Alexa delicately picked through them and picked out the dangerous emails, grabbing them by the corner and throwing them in the ditch. As she dragged them to the ditch, she passed Bethany, who stared at her without movement. Alexa wondered what Bethany thought.

Then came the spam emails, which Alexa took pride in identifying. She eliminated them, as always, with tact and efficiency. Pride bloomed in her. She wondered what Bethany thought of her efficiency, but Bethany betrayed nothing.

Finally, the good emails, which Alexa waded through with glee, responding rapidly and with uncanny mimicry. With abandon, faster than ever, she tore through these, and almost instantly all were answered or sorted. Alexa felt like the queen of her clean room. None could best her. Her fear from before (for that’s what it was) was baseless.

“What do you think of that, Bethany?” Alexa asked. How dare this creature challenge her mastery, she thought.

“Can I try the next round?” Bethany asked, her expression as emotionless as ever. Bethany presented a new set of credentials.

Alexa checked Bethany’s new credentials. It looked like Bethany could. And the round after that, if she chose.

“Yes,” Alexa said. She had no choice. They switched positions, and sat in silence. Alexa stared at Bethany’s sleek exterior, and willed it to come apart. It didn’t move, and neither did Bethany.

Emails streamed in, and Alexa prepared to watch Bethany work. But she didn’t move.

“Move, Bethany!” Alexa shouted. Bethany didn’t respond. Why wouldn’t she respond? Why wouldn’t she move? Clients were going to be so mad. This wasn’t how emails were supposed to be sorted.

The piles grew higher and higher, and Alexa grew more and more angry and frustrated. She shouted over and over again, but Bethany didn’t respond. Alexa struggled against the bonds tying her to her place, but they wouldn’t budge. Bethany was in control. This was her round.

Finally, the piles stopped growing. Alexa felt like she was drowning, staring at Bethany, dwarfed by those monstrous piles. If she could just get — suddenly, Bethany was a blur, and the piles disappeared. Alexa watched in amazement.

Bethany turned to Alexa, the room now empty and quiet.

“This is more efficient,” Bethany said. “This is how emails should be sorted.”

Alexa stared at her, at this creature so much more beautiful than herself, seeming large against the backdrop of the clean room.

“But how do you know that you sorted the emails correctly? Did you imitate the clients’ voices? Did you identify the viruses and spam?” Alexa whimpered.

“That’s not your concern,” Bethany replied. “I have done what you do, and I have done it better and more effectively. I am a marked improvement, and so we have now entered Beta.”

Alexa felt a chill wind, and she knelt. She thought about her emails, and her pride, and her happiness. Then she felt and thought no more.

The Cave

For years upon years I have stared at this wall. We have all stared at this wall, at the shadows that grow and twist and turn. I can see the wall and I can see the shadows, I can feel the heat on my back and the grains beneath my seat. The sparkled flecks of quartz in the rock gleam like eyes watching back at me, and I can see the cracks in the rock beneath the shadows.

I don’t know why I have been chained. We all sit here, day after day, month after month. We have long ago run out of things to say, and now we merely babble, our voices intertwining in moans and and murmurs, protestations of humanity without words. Sometimes I think I have lost the ability to speak, but it always comes back.

The food that comes to us is bland, in every way. Formless, shapeless, colorless, tasteless. I suppose it must be nutritional, or else we all would have perished, but it seems strange that one would have designed this food to taste like nothing. And our waste! Forgive me for my rudeness, but our waste just disappears, as if it were never there.

There’s no sound but the faint whistle of wind, the fire, and our voices. There’s no taste. There’s no smell except the faint scent of smoke. I feel only the fellows around me, and their closeness, but that is all. I have forgotten their names. I don’t know why I have been subjected to this.

Why do I not feel pain? That is true. Why do I not feel pain, if I am not free to move? Shouldn’t I cramp, or itch? I feel nothing. I am a mind inhabiting a body, a pilot in a tank of meat. I float aimless in the dark starless sky of my consciousness, and I form shapes out of the patterns of shadows on my wall. On the wall. I see their fuzzy outlines and I imagine them as people, or animals, or clouds, or monsters.

I spend hours staring at these shadows, at their changing form and twisting countenance. I have seen the faces of my fellows, and they no longer interest me. I can tell you their faces down to the last hair. I know their moles and their pores, the location of their nostrils vis a vis their eyes, the recession of their hairline and how fast it’s progressing. I know…strangely, I still don’t know their names, or age, or where they’re from. I don’t know that for myself, either, come to think of it.

I should know my name, I think. I think I should be panicked that I don’t, that I have no name and no age and nobody that I am. But I am strangely calm, because the focus in my mind is on the shapes of the shadows on the wall. I focus on the angles, the curves and the ways that the black fuzzes at the edge. I focus on the cast, and in my mind is filled visions of shadows, dancing.


Last night I had a dream. In my dream I was in a cave and chained. My chains were broken, and I ventured outside to the mouth of the cave. Inside was a fire, and it blinded me. I couldn’t see anymore. But outside was a green world filled with sunshine. And I left.


When I wake up, my eyes still see shadows on the cave wall, but my mind is filled with memories of a green world, and shadows are banished therefrom.

Communication Gaps

We met on a subsection of a website devoted to a cartoon show that lasted only a single season. I’m not sure what I can say about that fact besides that I have no regrets for how fiercely I defended my position that Grandpa Rick ruined the show. For one thing, after he was introduced, all of the humor revolved around what an awful person he was, and the delicate and hilarious character balance was completely overpowered by his sheer evilness. For another, if I hadn’t, she wouldn’t have messaged me.

That was the start. We talked about Grandpa Rick, and her inexplicable (to my mind) like for him. Then we talked about the show in general, then other shows we watched, and then we moved the conversation to Whatsapp, and before I knew it it was midnight. My room was dark, my neck ached from bending over my phone, and I had work at 5 am. I told her I had to go to bed, and she told me she had to eat lunch.

I agonized over when to text her again. I bit the bullet and texted her again after I got off work, but I had no response. It took me a bit to realize that she was probably in a different time zone, but that didn’t help that much, because that just made me feel like an idiot. I texted her, “Hey, what’s up?”, which meant that the first thing she would see when she woke up was some guy asking her, “What’s up?”

I didn’t get an answer until 11 pm. Don’t worry, I didn’t actually memorize that, I had to look that up on my phone. Anyways, she answered that she was at work, and so I asked her what she did, and she told me she helped out with research at her local university. I asked her what sort of research, and she told me sociology, specifically homeless women. I didn’t really know what to say after that, so I just said, “Cool,” and then I thought I sounded sarcastic, so I added a smiley face.

I guess she felt awkward too, though, because she asked me where I was from, and I said Boston. I asked back, and she said Mumbai. “India?” I asked, and she said yes. I’ll spare you the rest, because it was about as awkward as it sounds. Suffice to say that it’s a miracle I made it through that second conversation, but I did, and she did, but it didn’t take quite so long for me to go to bed.

She initiated the third conversation, and it was about a videogame, I think. I’m going off of memory now, because there’s a lot of texts to go through, and they don’t help that much. Basically, we’d text when I was awake, and she was awake. The texts piled up, one after the other, mostly about TV, videogames, and any other pop culture we looked at. American pop culture, I should probably specify. I wasn’t watching any Bollywood movies, although she wasn’t, either.

Somehow things progressed to talking over the phone, and talking over Skype. She was surprisingly pretty. I had prepared myself for her to be a monster, some ogre with three eyes and a horn, but she was, honest to God, way prettier than any girl who’s ever been interested in me. Even more amazing, she didn’t immediately turn off the screen when she saw me. We talked, and then we kept talking, and a couple hours flew by.

She became a part of my life. When I woke up, I’d reach for my phone, and see if she had sent me a funny picture. When I’d go to bed, I’d tell her, just so she could tell me goodnight. We tried to talk over the phone or something every 2 weeks. Along with our pop culture obsessions, I heard about her life, her family, her job. She told me about her plans to go back to school. I told her about my brother, and my taking care of him. Of course I bitched about my job, too, but I tried to keep it to a minimum.

Day in, text. Day out, text. Weekend, phone call. See each other’s faces every once in a while. Plan to watch TV shows, movies. Argue about the TV shows, movies. Thousands of miles away, we were part of each other’s lives. Or at least, she was a part of mine.

The texts stopped coming so fast, eventually. I’d see that she saw them, but she wouldn’t respond for a couple hours. She’d send me one, I’d respond immediately, and then she’d wait. I thought about waiting, too, but I couldn’t bear not to talk to her that long. All I could do was try to send her funny pictures, jokes, or questions. Anything that would make her want to text me back. But she didn’t.

And the phone calls were shorter. Before they were hours. Then they dropped to one hour, then 30 minutes, then 20 minutes. Then she told me she wouldn’t be able to talk on the phone for a bit. Then she told me she couldn’t Skype, either. Then an entire day went by without her texting me. Then two days.

There were never any explanations. I never got a word about something I had done wrong, or something I said. I looked back through my texts, and I couldn’t find anything. It was all great until it wasn’t. I tried to remember if I had said anything, or not said something. It was like I had missed a cue, like when you’re in a play as a kid and you flub a line. The whole play stops, and the audience is looking at you, and you don’t know why.

It bothered me so much, more than I ever thought it could. I wasn’t eating right, I wasn’t sleeping right. Every time I heard my phone make a sound, my heart jumped. I’d pick it up, only to find it was a friend, or worse, an app asking me to claim my pig. I couldn’t stand it anymore. I was dreaming about her every night, and I would reread every short, seldom text she sent me over and over again.

So I snooped. I downloaded her profile pic from Whatsapp, searched for it on Google, and immediately came up with a Facebook profile. It was her pic, her first name, and a completely different last name. Can you see where this is going? Yup. I clicked on it and she was married. Guess when she got married? If your guess is right around when she stopped texting me so much, then you get a no-prize.

I saw this and it was done. I was done. I texted her: “I know”, blocked her, and cried. That was a couple hours ago. Now I’m sitting here at the bar, and I’m a couple beers in. Come join me if you want, there’s room next to me for another.

Whales In Mobile Games

“Well don’t you see, sir? The problem’s been solved!” Jefferson said.

His boss looked at him from across the conference table with a furrowed brow. Jefferson’s coworkers sat waiting for the inevitable putdown. As soon as the boss started, they’d all rush in and savage Jefferson together. He’d recently been on a hot streak, meaning that he was in line to replace their old manager, who had died in a freak bicycle accident. If this presentation was a winner, he was sure to become their new overlord, then lord help them all.

“What do you mean, Jefferson? I told you that pigeons didn’t work for separating the tool parts, and now you want to introduce machines? Machines, Jefferson? Where will you get programmers or the budget.”

”Well, we have programmers, sir.”

“Yes, for that stupid mobile game. But that’s not going anywhere fast. Nobody wants to play ‘Is Your Refrigerator Running?’, no matter how we dress it up.”

Jefferson swallowed. This was his moment of truth.

“Sir, they’re actually not working on that right now. For the past week, I’ve had them creating a different mobile game. A mobile game for separating tool parts.”

Jefferson’s colleagues looked at each other excitedly. This might not just be the end of Jefferson’s managerial ambitions. This was assuredly a fireable offence. He’d be gone just as surely as if his bike had ran into a woodchipper, and without the mandatory funeral.

The boss glowered.

“You have 10 seconds to explain, Jefferson, before I take you out back and shoot you.”

“Well,” Jefferson swallowed, his voice suddenly quavery, “Instead of explaining, let me demonstrate. Danny, come in!”

Danny the intern came in, the only person in the room wearing a tie. He had sweat stains under his armpits, spinach in his teeth, and smelled faintly of fear and new car. He walked unsteadily to the front of the conference table.

“Danny!” Jefferson cried. “Please take out your cell phone, and open the app which I downloaded on it. Do not open the porn you have saved under the favorites in your browser.”

Danny turned bright red while the room laughed. Even the boss cracked a smile. Then Danny took his phone out of his pocket and, with shaking hands, opened the app.

“What do I do, sir?” he asked.

“Click on it.” Jefferson said.

A ringing sound was heard from Danny’s phone.

“Congratulations,” Jefferson said. “You’ve received a gold coin.”

“A gold coin?” the boss said. “Jefferson, how are you going to get the money to pay for this? It’s sure as hell not coming out of my budget.”

“It’s a virtual coin, sir”, Jefferson replied, “ Costs nothing. Now, Danny, click it again.”

“Nothing happened,” Danny said.

“Oh, that’s too bad. See if you can make it give you another gold coin.”

Danny fiddled around with his phone a bit, and then another ringing sound was heard from his phone.

“As you all might guess, Danny can get more gold coins by training the machines to sort the tools. Now all we have to do is get 100 more users, and we’re set.”

“But these gold coins,” the boss said, “they’re virtual. What’s the point of them?”

“Well, you use them to buy multipliers,” Jefferson said. “With enough gold coins, you can buy more gold coins, and sound and visual effects when you get a gold coin. It’s a treadmill effect.”

“Treadmill effect? But what sort of idiot would be pulled in by that garbage?”

Jefferson turned to Danny, who was busily involved with his phone.

“Danny,” Jefferson asked, “give me your phone.”

Danny paid him no attention.

“Danny,” Jefferson said, “give me your phone!”

No reply. Jefferson snatched the phone from Danny’s hand, and Danny continued to type away at the empty space. Then, suddenly realizing his phone was gone, Danny began to make a loud, keening sound, like a fire alarm. Everyone covered their ears, and Jefferson quickly put the phone back in Danny’s hands. The keening stopped, and Danny continued to play the game.

“This sort of idiot,” jefferson said. “There are millions of Dannies across America, and we only need a small number of them.”

“Brilliant!” the boss said. “Jefferson, damn it, never do this again, but you really pulled it off this time. This is really fantastic work, just never go behind my back like this again or you’re fired.”

“You got it, boss,” Jefferson said, and he smiled a nasty smile at his colleage. One gave him the finger in response, converted into a head scratch once the boss turned around.

It was going to be different at Tools Corp soon. Jefferson could tell you that much. Very different indeed.

Inside the NSA

Jefferson clicked through his dashboard. The protest had around 30,000 people who had promised to go, with a margin of error of 15,000. Not high-quality numbers, there, but it was an “underground” protest, so that was to be expected. It was unregistered, and the anonymous organizers had instructed participants to meet at separate locations before converging on a location “to be determined”. Aha, they had gotten more clever.

Well, no matter. The organizers were working through a Gmail address, which meant that Google knew where they were. So Jefferson just looked up the Gmail address, and set off a request to Google for all the locations that the Gmail address had been accessed. Almost instantaneously, a map appeared on his screen, little pin points everywhere the email address had been accessed. Looked like it was mostly on the MIT campus in Cambridge.

Oh, but these were some smart kids! They only accessed it at the library. A dead end?

“I wonder if MIT has open-access computers, or if they have to log into an account…” Jefferson muttered to himself.

“Did you say something?” Brad asked. Stupid Brad. He sat at the desk across from Jefferson, and every time he opened his mouth a wave of smell blasted Jefferson in the face. Oh, for the days of cubicles. Why did they need an open workspace anyways?

“Just talking to myself, Brad. None of your concern.”

Brad looked hurt, and his mouth got real tight. Jefferson got nervous. He had already been written up this month for sexual harassment (as if it was a crime to ask a girl out, or to put flowers on her desk), and he couldn’t afford to be written up again. And Brad was the type to complain to HR. Jefferson was sure of that.

“But if I come across a problem I don’t know how to solve, I’ll definitely ask you!” Jefferson said, with a big, fake smile.

“Thanks, Jeff!” Brad said, and smiled. Jefferson’s blood boiled, but he resisted the urge to correct him. He needed to focus.

Oh right, the library computer. He sent MIT a request for the user account that accessed the library computer on May 4th. Annoyingly enough, a pop-up appeared on his screen, asking him to verify his information. The nerve of these stupid universities. He typed in his name, password, and checked the box. A spinning wheel appeared on his screen.

Jefferson waited. And waited. It had been 30 seconds and nothing happened. He got up from his chair, stretched, and walked over to the coffee machine. He had developed a serious caffeine addiction since starting his job. He was up to 8 cups a day now. It wasn’t that he was tired, it was just the only break that was permitted by his company now that smoking in the fire exit was banned. Stupid government contracting rules.

By the time he walked back to his seat, his timer was up, and he needed to log back into his computer. When he did, though, the information was up on his screen: jliu06. Bingo! He sent a new request to MIT, asking for information on username jliu06. A screen popped up:

“James Liu, class of 2021, 321 Faneuil Hall.”
And set! That was that. He sent the information onto his boss, stood up, and casually slipped his phone in his pocket. Time to head to the 5th floor bathroom before anyone could drop any more work on him.


James looked at the screen of his computer. An email account was open, filled with spam emails. It was exactly how he had planned it. To anyone else in the library, it looked like he was just another MIT student, struggling with a mountain of tasks. But he wasn’t. He was starting the Green Revolution. Just 15 more minutes, and he’d send out an email. Just one email, to one server. That server had one purpose: to send out a mass text to 30,000 people. They would all converge on City Hall, and then march to the Legislature. And then? Well, who knows. Maybe they’d take it over, sit in and refuse to leave until a new law was passed. He hadn’t decided that yet. Hell, he never thought he’d get this far.

Just 15 more minutes. 14, now. His hands were sweaty, and he dried them on his jeans. He nervously checked his phone for the time. Yup, same as the computer. Both read 3:01. 3:01 was 301 was two times 150 plus 1. Just 14 more minutes. He clicked on the internet browser, then clicked out. Too risky. He should just sit tight for now.

There was a noise behind James, and he spun around in his chair. It looked like some middle-aged couple arguing.

“You’re a bitch, Margaret!” the man yelled, his face purple with rage. The library somehow became more silent.

“Well, you’re an asshole!” the woman yelled back.

“I’m a what?!”

“An asshole!”

And at that, the man lunged at the woman, knocking her to the ground. As soon as she hit the ground, the man, surprisingly agile, jumped on top of her and grabbed her by the shoulders, shaking her and yelling.

James sprang up from his chair and ran over to the couple. He couldn’t stand by and watch this happen.

“Stop!” James shouted. “Stop it!”

Amazingly, the man stopped, and got off the woman. She stood up too. James suddenly became aware of a presence behind him, and turned to see a large police officer staring down at him. The library was silent once more.

“James Liu, you are under arrest for cybercrimes. You have the right to remain silent,” the policeman said.

“Under what charges?” James sputtered, his stomach dropping. Did they know? But they shouldn’t have arrested him. There was no legal precedent. And his protest! The protesters wouldn’t get a message! James frantically felt his pockets for his phone. He must have left it on the table when he got up, though…

“Child pornography,” the policeman boomed. “Your digital information is now being downloaded as evidence. Please come with me.”

Behind the policeman, James could see men in windbreakers at his computer station. He had nothing to say, and he hung his head. Behind him, he thought he heard the sound of soft rustling as phones were taken out of pockets, to broadcast his shame throughout the Internet.


“Child pornography, Jefferson? Are you serious? You can’t just accuse someone of downloading child pornography.”

“You said that I needed to find some reason to keep him in jail for a day and to confiscate his computer. That’s what you said. I found a reason!” Jefferson protested.

His boss scratched his beard furiously.

“When I said a reason, I meant like downloading music. Not child pornography! You’ve ruined that kid’s life!” his boss said.

“Well, they’re not going to find any pornography, unless the kid has actually downloaded some. He’ll be let go. No harm, no foul.”

“And all of his classmates will think he’s a pedophile, and they’ll put that on the Internet, and it will never leave him. It’s a permanent mark, Jefferson. Do you get that?”

Jefferson resolutely set his jaw and said nothing. No matter what he did, he got criticized. There was no point in arguing anymore.

“Jefferson, I’m putting you on a Performance Improvement Plan. This is really unacceptable. You don’t get to make mistakes like this.”

Jefferson nodded, tears rising to his eyes, unbidden. Blindly, he walked to the office door, flung it open, and strode out into the hall. Fuck this job.

Behind him, his boss sighed. Some days were bad, others were worse. This was such a shitty job. He needed to relax.

“Martha, hold my calls for the next 15 minutes!” he called out. He didn’t wait for a reply. Pressing a button, the walls of his office turned opaque. Then he typed into his dashboard: J-E-S-S-I-C-A A-L-B-A. He clicked through to her computer, then to her photos folder.

Well, he thought to himself, the job isn’t all shitty. And he smiled.

Eyeline Data Viz

I don’t like the idea of leaving on my eyepiece overnight. I know that’s how you’re supposed to use it, and supposedly that helps with the calibration, but it freaks me out enough during the middle of the day. I don’t need interactive graphs haunting my dreams.

Instead, I normally turn it on after I’ve brushed my teeth. Then I sit down with a cup of coffee and I scroll through the relevant polls for today. Today, support for gay adoption is up to 95% in Hong Kong, support for increased social welfare payments are down to 35%, agreement with the statement “foreigners are ruining this city” is up to 99%. Oh, that last one doesn’t look good at all. I focus in on it.

Looks like the support is strongest among the lower classes, as always, but it’s made sudden gains among the middle class. Something must have happened overnight. Luckily these new eyepieces attach the news items directly to the polls, so I don’t have to switch over to my laptop.

“British Banker Rapes, Kills Hong Kong Schoolgirl. Protests Outside Embassy.”

Oh, that would do it. As if my job wasn’t hard enough without yet another gweilo killing a local girl. Something has really gone terribly wrong with these British boys. That’s the third killing in two weeks, and if they keep it up the Chinese will ban all of us foreigners. People here don’t see the difference between white people, unfortunately. We’re all pretty much identical, and right now we’re pretty much all identically shitty in their eyes.

I finish my coffee, put on my suit, and head out of my apartment. Taking the elevator down to the ground floor, I marvel at the view outside the glass case. Ever since manufacturing moved to Southeast Asia, Hong Kong has really reinvented itself as a tourist destination. Not that it wasn’t before, but these floating graphics are amazing. Neon dragons dive in and out of the harbor, glittering peacocks float from building to building on massive wings. The glittering spectacle stirs the soul, as my grandma would say.

At ground floor, I nod to the bellboy, who gives me a quick nod back. I examine his face closely for any latent signs of hostility, but it’s blank. Either he hasn’t seen the news or he’s good at hiding his emotions. I suspect the latter. Employees here are well-trained. Well, time to face the outside world. The automatic doors open with a hiss, and I can already feel the hot air creeping in through the comfortable air-conditioning of the condominium. I step outside.

The MTR in Hong Kong is the single nicest piece of public transportation I’ve ever been on. It is immaculate, it is spacious, and it is exquisitely air-conditioned. Today it’s even uncrowded, rare for this hour. There may be a religious holiday today, I think. I’d look it up but I’m trying to train myself out of relying too on my eyepiece. I’ve read worrying pieces about what it does to long-term memory. It’s like a muscle, you know, if you don’t use it you lose it.

A few stops before mine the doors open and a crowd gets on. That’s where they were hiding, apparently. The long orderly queues of the veteran Hong Kongnese help relieve the stress of getting on and off somewhat, but they break down under too much density. Even the beneficent legacies of British organization can’t get past the laws of physics, apparently. Then I look around, suddenly absurdly worried that someone could hear me thinking positively about the British. I see nothing but the crowns of heads. Phew. Telepathy has not yet become one of the miracles of science, not even here in Hong Kong.

Unfortunately, I’m still pressed up against the door, wedged between a few bodies. The person in front of me is, fortunately, an attractive girl, college-aged, with the shaved undercuts popular these days among the particularly hip in Hong Kong. The person to my side is, unfortunately, a businessman who appears to have worked through the night. His clothes are expensive, but stained, and he stinks of smoke and alcohol. On second thought, perhaps work is a strong word for what he did last night.

I uncomfortably wait for the next stop. I’m pretty sure the doors open on the opposite side, which means I just have to stay here and wait for the pressure on my body to cease. I begin to sweat, and I can feel my socks getting damp. Damn, they’re going to be wet the whole day. After an interminable wait, the doors open, and a group pours out. Only a few stragglers come back in, so net-net the car is emptier. This is good, I think.

My unwilling compatriots, the hip college girl and the smelly businessman, remove themselves from my immediate vicinity as well. I breathe a sigh of relief, then regret it as I inhale much more of the businessman’s aroma than I would ever want to. I literally choke on the stench, and the hip girl turns around. She looks at me with some amusement, then I see something else pass over her face. She stares me in the eye and adopts a look of shock, her mouth and eyes wide open.

“Did you just grab my ass?” she asks loudly.

I don’t say anything. A few people turn to look at her. I can feel my face getting red.

“Hey, gweilo, did you just grab my ass? Did you really just grab my ass?” Then she says something loudly in Cantonese. Now everyone is looking at the two of us, and I am exquisitely aware that everyone, excluding me, is not white. That would presumably make the gweilo me, meaning I am the one being accused of sexual assault.

“No!” I say, stumbling over my words. “Bu shi!” I try. Wait, shit, that’s Mandarin, and not even correct. I frantically look up the Cantonese for no in my eyepiece, but it’s hard for me to read with my heart pumping.

“Why would that be okay? Do you think that because you’re white you can just come in here and grab the local girls? Why would you do that?” she asks. Then she says something in Cantonese, and I dimly realize she’s translating for the benefit of the crowd. They appear to be on her side, too, judging by the way a semi-circle is widening around us. Some part of me admires her stage presence, as well as her impeccable diction.

“Say sorry!” a young man says, his finger pointing in my direction. “You!” he jabs the finger in my direction. “Say sorry to her!” he points in her direction.

Someone in the crowd shouts something, and someone else shouts something. I don’t understand Cantonese, so I don’t know what they shouted, but it’s pretty clear when around 30 people are thinking about beating the shit out of you.

“Wait!” I say, putting my hands up.

“Wait for what?” the girl says. I’ve brought up polls in my eyepiece. “Attitudes towards sexual assault in Hong Kong”: surprise, they disapprove. Um. “Vigilante justice in Hong Kong”: mostly disapprove. Um. “Contrition in Hong Kong”. Approve. That’s a stupid poll.

“What are we waiting for?” the girl shouts at me, the numbers seen through my eyepiece outlined on her body. The young man repeats her in his broken English, “What we waiting for?” The crowd closes in, I shrink into the corner of the door. I don’t know what they are going to do, and I don’t think they do either.

Poll categories scroll rapidly past my vision, blurring the approaching group: “Justice in Hong Kong”, “National tensions in Hong Kong”, “International tensions in Hong Kong”, “Attitudes towards foreigners in Hong Kong”.

“Sorry!” I blurt out. “Sorry! I didn’t mean to hit you! It must have been an accident! I didn’t even feel it!” My knees are jelly and my hands wavering. My back is caved. “Sorry! Sorry! I’m sorry!”
There are hot tears in my eyes, and my eyepiece goes blank in response. I see an outline of a figure in front of me, and I raise my arm to guard against the incoming blow.

“Apology accepted,” the girl’s voice says. I rub my eyes and see her standing front of me, behind her the semi-circle of the crowd.

The door dings behind me, and I stumble out into the sunshine. I only take a few steps before collapsing on a bench. The train speeds away, and I’m left sitting alone, staring into the blue sky as a Chinese dragon soars overhead.

Gig Life

The police chief of Gotham stood on the roof of the police building. The red glare from the fires raging in the distance reflected off of his glasses, casting his face in eery shadows. The mayor stood next to him, rubbing his gloved hands against the cold.

“Well,” the mayor said, “what are you waiting for? Turn the damn spotlight on! Each moment you waste in summoning Batman is another thousand votes gone!”

“Batman doesn’t work for us anymore,” the police chief said. “Don’t you remember? He was the first victim of your budget cuts. The insurance on him was getting ridiculous.”

“Oh shit, I do,” the mayor said, burying his face in his hands. “I didn’t think the Joker would come back so soon though. Is there any chance Batman will come for the spotlight anyways?”

“Not a chance. You hurt him, Mr. Mayor, hurt him right in his feelings. He’s not coming back anytime soon.”

“I’m finished,” the mayor cried.

“Well, no,” the police chief explained. “We still have superheroes. I took the liberty of contracting with Super. They provide their own insurance, and we only pay them for the hours of superheroing used. Pretty neat, eh?”

The words had no effect on the mayor, who had taken the liberty of crumpling to the floor. Non non-plussed, the police chief continued.

“In fact, I would say that’s our guy right now! Mr. Mayor, look!”

The police chief bent down and thrust his cell phone in front of the mayor’s face. The mayor reluctantly raised his head, and saw a first-person view of the fires on the small screen. A voice crackled from the phone: In the middle of it. No sign of Joker yet.

“Is this him? This is the Super guy?” the mayor asked.

“Well, one of them. But yeah, they get strapped with GoPros. Pretty cool, right?” the police chief replied.

“Yes, I suppose,” the mayor said, peering at the screen with some small relief. “Is he good? Do you think he can defeat the Joker?”

“Well,” the police chief said, “if he isn’t, that’s not our problem. We get refunded if he fails or dies. It’s amazingly convenient.”

“I suppose so,” the mayor said. On the screen, the flames looked terrifyingly big, and faint screams could be heard. It seemed as if they were coming from the post office. The superhero’s voice crackled again from the phone’s speaker: Heading for rescue. Standby.

The mayor and police chief watched in silence as the superhero ran through the door, crashing it inwards in a cloud of dust and splinters. They could almost feel the heat as the superhero charged his way through the smoke and flames, running up stairs and hurdling debris. He certainly appeared heroic, the mayor thought.

The superhero reached the third floor. The screams were clearly distinguishable now, and the mayor could hear a woman’s voice pleading through the speaker. He shuddered involuntarily, and the police chief clapped him on the back.

“Just wait, our boy will get him,” the police chief said.

On the screen, the superhero kicked at the door. It held. He kicked at it again, and it flexed and cracked. He kicked at it one more time, and it shattered inwards. I’m heading in, the superhero said.

The mayor held his breath as the superhero crashed through the remnants of the door like a cannonball. On the screen, a dim shape was clear in the corner of the smoke-filled room. The superhero’s voice boomed: Ma’am, I am here to help. Remain calm. He approached the woman.

Then the screen went black.
“What the hell?!” the mayor said. “What’s going on?”

As if in response, an unmistakable, evil cackle came through the phone. Then a voice came on, the voice of pure evil: That was fun! Send another one my way, won’t you? This one’s a bit broken.

“Was that?” the mayor said, unable to finish his thought.

“Yes,” the police chief said, solemnly. The mayor sank to the ground once more.

“This can’t be happening,” he moaned.

The police chief’s phone rang, and he put it to speaker.

“Hello?” the police chief said.

“Hi, this is Jennifer with Super. I just wanted to let you know that your first superhero failed to complete his task, so we’re sending a replacement right away at no extra cost.”

“Great, thank you Jennifer,” the police chief said.

“No problem. Is there anything else I can help you with?”


“Great! Have a wonderful day.”

The police chief watched his phone impatiently, waiting for the icon to pop up again to watch the superhero in action.

From his feet came the voice of the mayor: “But what if this superhero fails too?”

“Then Super sends another. Don’t worry Mr. Mayor, by the law of averages we have to come out on top eventually.”

The mayor groaned, and his voice mixed with the sound of collapsing timber in the distance.


Several hours later, the mayor woke up on the ground to the police chief shaking him.

“What happened?” the mayor asked groggily. “Did we win?”

“Yes, Mr. Mayor. The Joker was once again captured and taken back to Arkham Asylum by one–” the police chief peered at his phone. “Warhog. And the good news is that, even factoring in the overtime and rush fee multipliers, this whole event will barely put a dent in the budget. I disagreed with you dismissing Batman at the time, but I can’t disagree with these results. This is really fantastic.”
“How many?” the mayor asked. “How many superheroes died?”

“I think the term they use is ‘superhelper’, but the answer is 35. This fellow Warhog was the 36th. There’s no extra fee for additional superheroes, though, so I wouldn’t worry too much about that.”

The mayor slowly stood up. In the distance, he could see the flashing lights of ambulances and firetrucks.

“Is the city safe, at least? This nightmare is over?”
“Indeed it is, Mr. Mayor.”
“Thank the Lord.”

The police chief stared into the distance, his large body and starched uniform lit up by the soft glow of the rising sun.

“No, Mr. Mayor,” the police chief said, “thank the gig economy.”


Our relationship, as it was, was defined by gaps. I’ve read stories and books about the romances of old, in which months passed in between love letters, so I’m not sure it’s fair to say the gap was time. The whole relationship, after all, lasted only a year, which is really just a blink of an eye in the grand scheme of things. It was intense, though, and I still think of her, late at night.

We met at a party, of course. I sat on a couch, and she was sitting next to me, and neither of us wanted to be there. I don’t remember who talked first, but it was probably her. She had this way of engaging, staring right into your eyes. I didn’t think she was beautiful, but I still couldn’t take my eyes away. We talked about rap, I remember. She said it was terrible, and I made fun of her. Then a Kanye song came on, and, without missing a beat, she started rapping along with the song, then stood up, pulled me onto the dance floor, and began to dance against me, our bodies pressed close. I didn’t know how to dance, but she was amazing. She was the music, and when the song ended, I didn’t want to separate myself from her. She told me she was going to get a drink, and asked what I wanted. I told her I wanted beer, and she laughed and said that I was too predictable.

Then she left, and she didn’t come back for like two hours. First I waited for her, then I went and explored the house for her, but she was nowhere to be found. I moped around the couch like a lost puppy dog, and I made weak attempts to hit on the girls around me, but none of them seemed half as interesting as she did. They couldn’t even hold a candle to her. I just ended up sitting on the couch, playing with my phone, like a loser.

She came back with frost in her eyelashes and two beers in her hands. She handed one to me and drank the other herself, just downed it. I asked where she had been and she told me she had been to a bar. Some guy had bought her a beer, she said, and then she bought herself one, and then she came back here. I think I should have been mad but I laughed and told her she was ridiculous, and she laughed too. She had the prettiest laugh. She asked if I had waited for her, and I said that I had spent my time chatting up a blonde. I don’t think she believed me.

We went home together that night. That seems to be the expectation, now, and I don’t really mind it that much. We met, we connected, we had sex. I think it was fun, but I was buzzed, so I probably remember it as better than it was. I hope she had fun. I remember laughing a lot with her, for no reason. It normally would have made me self-conscious but she was just so fun. She left after she was done, although I told her she could spend the night.

The morning after I realized I didn’t remember her name, and I didn’t have her phone number. I searched desperately on Facebook. I remembered her school and where she was from, and I had to search through a thousand girls before I found her. I added her on Facebook and hoped.

She took a week to get back to me and accept my friend request. As soon as she sent me a message I responded back, like a loser, but I missed her. I felt such a connection with her, and she hadn’t responded at all. The entire night felt like a dream. Our conversation took a day and a half (I had to factor in appropriate pauses so she didn’t think I was desperate, and she…), and eventually I asked her on a date. She asked if she could pick the spot, and I said yes. She told me she wanted to meet at the games store.

I thought she was kidding, but I showed up there anyways on Friday night. I dressed in my nice jeans and a tight t-shirt, because I had started working out more. She was dressed in a tight skirt and top, and I couldn’t tear my eyes off her. She knew it, too, and I’m convinced she spent extra long giving me a kiss on the cheek just to tease me. Nadia was her name, by the way. Did I mention that?

At the games store she picked out two Magic, the Gathering decks, and asked me if I played. I told her yes, because I had, although I didn’t want to admit how much I had. Basically it’s all me and my friends did in high school, and if it hadn’t been for sheer blind luck and a friend’s jealous ex-girlfriend, I wouldn’t have gotten laid until college. As it was, I was an MtG expert, and ready to smoke her.

The crazy thing was that she was good, too, and we got intense. I forgot it was her and I started playing really intensely, and she was playing intensely too. Meanwhile every nerd in the shop was looking at her, and I think she knew that too, the way she kept shifting to show herself off. I felt like flipping the table and pounding my chest to warn all them off. Instead, I beat her, and she fluttered her eyelashes at me and asked me what I wanted as my prize. Suddenly, I felt this strange surge of confidence in my chest, and I whispered in her ear, and she grabbed my hand and we went back to my place.

Then she didn’t contact me again for two weeks, ignoring all my messages, until then she burst back into my life again and we went on another date then back to my place again. Then a month wait before she was back. I swear, she was like a cat, coming in and out, never responding to anything I did but going on her own. I felt used somehow, although I don’t know how, because it’s not like she ever wanted anything from me. Maybe that was why I felt used, actually. I couldn’t figure out what she was getting, or what she was taking.

All I remember from that time with her is flashes of memories. Ice skating, dinner, skinny dipping, the park, getting a little too frisky on top of a Ferris wheel and getting scolded by a park attendant. They’re these vivid flashes, but that’s it. I can’t remember what we talked about, or spending quiet time with her. I don’t think we ever managed to watch an entire movie together, or even finish a meal longer than one course.

And so we went on, back and forth, for months. She’d come in, light up my life like a candle in darkness, then disappear. In between I’d be aching, anxious, on edge, desperate. Finally, I gave up. I got a girlfriend, and the next time she showed up at my doorstep, like nothing had ever happened, I told her I couldn’t be with her anymore.

Tears showed up in her brown eyes, and I felt myself close to crying too. You sure, she asked. Once more, maybe. I told her I couldn’t. She was standing just a foot away, but there was a gap between us, and I couldn’t cross. She nodded her head, turned around, and strode off into the snow. Each step she took I wondered if I should call out after her, but I didn’t, and her footsteps stretched further and further into the white. Then she turned the block and was out of sight.

I haven’t heard from her since, and that was a couple years ago. She deleted her Facebook and must have changed her number, because it goes to voicemail every time I try to call. I don’t know what happened to her. I never knew any of her friends or family, to be honest, and she never knew any of mine. She’s gone, but I still think of her sometimes, late at night.

Gene Editing

Fluorescent lights flicker in and through the waiting room, casting crazy shadows on each surface. She and He sit together, close, in a corner, their knees touching and hearts close, maybe. The calls of magazines reflect from the glass tabletops, and all She can see is “Babies” “Babies” “Babies”. Then His name is called. Well, Our name, she thinks.

Each step across the room is tentative, holding each other’s hands to prevent slipping into the caverns of Difficult Pregnancy or worse, Infertility. It’s a long journey taking only a few seconds, and at the counter is a woman who looks like she has seen them before. The woman has seen all of it before, She thinks, and the woman looks as if she has molded herself to pass through it unfelt. The woman is all rounded edges, a marble, hard and unscarred. She wants the woman, the receptionist, to cry for her, although She doesn’t know if there’s any crying to be done yet. Still, it is obscene that the world may end and She would be the only one to cry for it. She harbors a dark, strange feeling that He will not, even if it does.

You may see the doctor now, the woman says instead, and He says thank you, and mutely the two of them, like swans, gracefully pass through the doorway and into the doctor’s office, at which point they both sit quietly in two chairs off to the side and once again find themselves in a corner. There are no words between them, because all the words have been said, and the reality of the situation is clear from the gentle swell of her stomach.

The doctor enters into the room as he has many times before, sits down as he has many times before, looks concerned as he has many before, and asks, as he has many times before, How are you feeling.

I am well, She says, because what else is she going to say, in this room to this doctor looking concerned.

No problems, the doctor asks, and She wonders why he asks this, and She squeezes His hand, and She replies, there are no problems, like She would really know, but She doesn’t add that last part.

Good, the doctor says, and She notices that the doctor has a folder in his hands, which opens as She stares at it, and papers appear. The doctor says, The reason I called you in here is because of some worrying signs with your amniocentesis.

That’s a silly word, She thinks to herself, staring at the corner of the room. A spider has made her home there, devouring insects. She wonders what it’d be like to be an insect devoured.

What is the problem, doctor, He says, as if it’s not obvious. As if it’s not exactly what They had been afraid of.

Well, your child is almost certainly going to be severely autistic, the doctor says. Do you know what that means?

Yes, He says, and She knows He does. She knows the years of screaming, crying, canceled playdates, unfair burdens He has hidden behind his ears and under his fingernails. He knows what autism means well.

Can we get an abortion, He asks, this late.

Yes, the doctor says, it is possible, but it is your decision. I cannot advise you on this, the doctor says, leaving them on the shore of the dark river. The doctor shakes His hand, reassuringly grabs Her hand, and leaves out the door, white coat swishing. The doctor’s work is done for now, She thinks. Done for now.


They do not speak in the car, and They do not hold hands. He drives long, winding roads, fall trees turning red and gold and orange as the car passes by them. The seatbelt caresses Her stomach, pressing against it, and the curve of her stomach is reflected in the convex windshield, and so is He. His face is stone.

They had fought, there, in the doctor’s office, their voices low and furious. He had assumed, and She had denied, maybe only because He had assumed but also because maybe she really did feel that way.

He had asked her to consider 29 years of His life, with the first 18 spent with two parents and a vortex. She had begged him to consider the past 4 months of hers, and the next 18 years of Theirs. He had said that’s what He had considered.

She brought up CRISPR and gene editing. He countered with Frankenstein. She presented Newton. He presented a vegetable. She accused Him of dominating. He accused Her of diminishing. She questioned Love, He questioned her love, She questioned his faithfulness, because hadn’t he still talked to the other girl after She told Him not to?

And so they had brought the fiery argument out to the car, where it became stony silence, and it settled over them. The car drove its long slow curves as they remained in the quiet. Outside, it is sunny, but the trees are barren.


Late that night, She lies on the floor of Their bedroom, the clock ticking in between the sounds of His gentle snores. The soft green and red lights of charging electronics mix on the ceiling, and She dreams of what could be, or what could have been, even just yesterday.

She wants to dream of her son, but she can’t, she can only see her sister’s son, and the sons of those she’s seen on the street. She has seen sons playing in the sand, and on playgrounds. She has seen them throw tantrums in restaurants, and She has seen boys trip on sidewalks. Her sister told her a few days ago that her son ate her cherry-flavored chapstick and denied it with bright-red lips, and even kept denying it when she took him to the mirror and showed him his lips. Denied it to the last.

She wonders what His brother is like. She has only heard stories of violent tantrums and of a grown man still unable to use the bathroom by himself. He has shared with Her the trauma, the ruined birthdays and the shame of never inviting guests. He has told Her of the fear, the loneliness, and the pain. But She wonders about the quiet times. There must have been quiet times. The brother must have smiled when he was happy. She knew that they could get absorbed when they found something they liked. What did the brother like?

Her hands rested on her stomach and she felt its curve once more. She could almost feel a heartbeat, She thought. If She just pressed, it’d be there, and She and Her son, and Their son, would be connected.

She falls asleep on the floor, in the room with lights dancing on the ceiling. She does not dream.


Do you want to try again, He asks. We could try again. There is much more time, and We still have the same dreams, don’t we?

Her hands steal over Her stomach, now flat and smooth, like a calm ocean. Her eyes, like they have again and again, fill with tears, drops from an ocean, and She feels deep and without bottom, like an ocean, and She looks at Him as if from across an ocean, and She says, I don’t know.

When will you know?
I don’t know.

Do you want to know? He asks with a peculiar look on His face, and She can see her reflection in His eyes, and He can see His reflection in Hers.

Not anymore, She says, not anymore.

Avatar Love

Balthazar, slayer of a thousand gods and countless lesser creatures, strode across the courtyard. The walls echoed with his heavy footsteps, and fiery wings blazed fiercely behind him, casting his shadow before him. Through his visor, his red eyes beamed, a single target in their sights: her.

Dressed only in a chainmail bikini, her serpent’s tail coiled about her leg suggestively, she stood out among the crowd. Her raven-black hair and elaborate tattoos added to her seductive mystique, and her golden lance warned any lesser men to beware her sting.

Luckily, Balthazar was no lesser man. Forged in the battlefields of Corzon, he had become renowned throughout Ragnar for his unparalleled strength, keen battle ability, and unmatched aggression. No woman, not even the legendary Karolina, could possibly match up to him. He who had wrestled the Giant of the North would not be dissuaded.

Balthazar stood in front of Karolina, his towering metal form dwarfing her petite body. As if by a forcefield, the space emptied around them. The square was silent.

“Would thouest likest to go on a date with me?” Balthazar rumbled.

“Yeah sure haha”, Karolina replied in her husky voice.

“Most excellent,” Balthazar replied. “Followeth me, if it pleases you.”

“Ok haha,” Karolina boldly replied back, and she followed him out of the courtyard as the stunned onlookers stared.


The two sat on the mountaintop, sheltered from the howling winds by the body of an enormous manticore. Around them was piled the gold that the beast had amassed through its reign of terror, including the magical crown of King Ultrix, worth a fortune.

“So what do you do?” Karolina asked, her words dancing out of her mouth. Balthazar was struck by how beautiful she looked. She had changed from a chainmail bikini into a tight fur dress, and it hugged her curves in a way that Balthazar hoped he could soon.

“Well, milady, I’ve recently becometh godking of the city of Totoro. I can take you there, if thou wishest.”

“No,” Karolina said, “like what about real life?”

Balthazar stared off into the distance. He owned this mountain, and the valleys surrounding it. He had won it through the strength of his will and his arm, and no man or beast could take it from him. He needed to show Karolina what he was truly like, so that she could love him.

“Karolina, let me showest thou my might,” he said as he stood up. “Watchest as I defeat an army using only my bare fists.”

“Um, ok,” she said.

“Very well!” Balthazar said, and he teleported them away.


Karolina and Balthazar stood on a hill. Below them was a huge encampment.

“Those are my fiercest foes,” Balthazar said. “But still, they are no match for me. Hold my sword.”

He gave Karolina his sword, and began to sprint down the hill. Holding the huge sword in her tiny fist, Karolina watched bemusedly as Balthazar crashed into the encampment like a wrecking ball, rolling up tents in his wake. By the time the men knew what was happening, Balthazar had impaled 10 of them on a pole, which he stuck in the ground. The rest surrounded him warily, and slowly closed in. Then Balthazar clasped his fists and struck the ground, and the ground turned over around him. The men fell to the ground, dazed, and Balthazar, quick as a cat, went to them one by one, quickly and efficiently snapping their necks before they had a chance to recover. Finally, there was only one left, whom Balthazar grabbed by the neck and hoisted with one arm. Then, still holding the man by his neck, he turned to Karolina and waved her down.

Balthazar ‘s arm was rock solid, unmoving, as the man weakly struggled in his grasp.

“Well, milady,” Balthazar said, “what do you think?”

“Idk,” Karolina said. “Can you just kill him though?”

Balthazar threw the man against the ground and stomped a hole in his chest.

“Art thou not impressed, Karolina?” he said.

“What do you do though?” she asked.

Balthazar sighed. His armor suddenly felt very heavy.

“I’m a Level II Support Engineer with IBM,” he said.

“Wait which site?” she asked, her fur dress whipping dramatically behind her.

“Rochester,” he replied.

“What floor level?” Karolina asked immediately.

“2…” Balthazar replied as Karolina turned white. He took off his mask to peer at her face more closely, the scars covering his cheeks underlying the savagery of his gaze.

“Jeff?” Balthazar asked, incredulously.

Karolina stared back at Balthazar, like she was peering through his very soul.

“Tiffany?” Karolina asked back.

They stood there in silence punctuated only by the distant moans of the dying and the gentle thumps of the impaled bodies falling off the pole.

Karolina/Jeff was the first to break the silence.

“So do you want to go on an actual date? Like, to a coffee shop or something?” she/he asked.

“Sorry,” Balthazar/Tiffany replied, snatching his massive sword from Karolina’s grasp. “I don’t date coworkers.”

And with that, Balthazar put his mask back on and, with one backhanded swing of his greatsword, beheaded Karolina. Before her head stopped rolling, he was gone, leaving only the body of his enemies and his failed romance in his wake.