Mama had taught Aner when he was just a wide-eyed cub, 
Only the strongest survive.

And so the Land and Ice had become a playground for him to grow and test his strength, everyday pouncing and tumbling in the pristine Snow with his twin brother, sending the white powder flying around them to glitter like so much Star-Light in a Cloud-less Winter Sky.

Every roll was practice as much as play. Every bite and blow landed – whether on himself or his opponent – a lesson learned.

Once he was no longer a cub, no longer humming at his mother’s teat yet not quite a matured boar, he ventured alone into the severe, shining beauty of the world, gleaming with promises of adventure and glory.

Adventure and glory were yet to be had, though, and he fed as a mere scavenger on the meat of leftover seals which would sustain him yet which were stripped of the precious fat so crucial to endure the season of Light, when the Ice would melt away and dwindle his domain to a fraction of its magnificence.

Occasionally, he came across other young bears, with whom he would play-fight. He relished every spar which, though Light-hearted at its surface, had lost the clumsiness of cubhood, now with the silent knowledge that such meetings would soon become full-fledged battles.

It was when he harvested his first seal – waiting silently beside a breathing hole in the Ice, dragging out the slippery creature when it emerged at last and crushing its skull between his jaws, just as he had seen his mother do so many times – that he first felt a boar full grown, gleaming with pride and blood.

Aner knew he had crossed the threshold into adulthood during his sixth Summer, when he caught a scent – one which was familiar yet which now seemed to blaze through his entire body like Lightning, immobilizing him for a long moment. When the moment passed, he threw himself onto the Ground – rubbing against the aroma, bathing himself, drowning himself in it – then began his search.

He followed the perfume, sweet and musky and maddening. Through the vast Snow he trotted tirelessly, driven by a singular purpose – to find her, and to put babies inside her.

The frozen Sea on which he travelled seemed almost alive as the Wind whistled all around him with a melodious ferocity, singing Shhhhhhhhhh, Shhhhhhhhhh as it charged forward with wisps of Ice and Snow – dancing ghosts of the Waves trapped below which yearned to ebb and flow at the surface once more.

The Wind took pause, parting for a moment to reveal tracks. Her tracks! Meticulously, he placed his paws in the prints the sow had left behind and, unhindered by the loose sinkholes of untouched Snow, continued his pursuit with newfound determination and speed.

When she came into view, he broke into a canter, leaping over the shimmering Land-scape – then stopped in his tracks. At nearly half his size, she seemed almost cublike, everything about her so slender, as though she’d break apart like the spring Glacier were he to mount her. Yet her onyx eyes shone with an intensity and wariness that only came with the years, and her scent screamed that she was ready…

Aner stood, staring. He knew what he wanted to do to her – but was lost as to how to get there. Never had he imagined that silence, so long his most intimate companion but for the Wind, could be so awkward!

She let out a huff. So she, too, was nervous! He chuffed in response, letting her know that she did not stand alone on these anxious shores.

Suddenly, she charged forward, her teeth bared. With this bold encouragement, he answered in turn, growling, his face so close to hers, her breath warm upon his tongue. Together, they swayed back and forth, locked in an eternal, ephemeral dance.

She turned around and began to walk away – then paused, shooting him an upward glance, simultaneously bashful and beckoning. In that moment, he would have followed her anywhere.

She led him far up the side of the Mountain, and in the privacy of the highest Snow-covered peak, two became one.

The instant their bodies connected, he released his seed into her warmth, shuddering with pleasure. Feeling victorious yet abashed, he began to withdraw – when she stopped him.

“Stay,” she told him. “I like you inside.”

Aner let out a loud and sudden snort, startled by the desire which reclaimed his body in urgency, and he drove forward once more, pushing against her, her pushing against him, the both of them moaning, oblivious to the steam rising and fading into the Air above.

Once he finished he remained where he was, his paws against her hips. Without hesitation or thought, he leaned forward and grazed the fur on her back softly, surprised by the surge of tenderness that filled him.

And so he spent his days, making discoveries as sweet as they were strange: of companionship, lust, and gentle affection.

Peace and passion were interrupted too soon – by an odour which sent his fur bristling. Identical to his in intent, within a hundred paces. Aner surged forward, bounding down towards the skirt of the Mountain – until he came across the other boar.

The blood coursed through his body in a violent rhythm, urging him to destroy! – to kill, to tear out the heart and rip out the throat, to savour the texture of muscle and tendon and bone between his teeth–

Yet he did not move. Each pair of eyes locked onto the other, gauging. He was slightly larger, he noted smugly, his haunches more muscular. Then, he reared on his hind legs, filled his lungs with the freezing Air, and let out a roar that shook the Mountain.

Snarling, his opponent answered the challenge just as loudly – and advanced.

He drew his head back to dodge the bite, then lunged with his left paw, landing a blow to the head so hard he felt the impact vibrating within his shoulder.

The two locked onto each other in violent embrace, then pulled apart, their great chests heaving, black eyes reassessing. Thick crimson droplets trickled down the face of his rival onto the pure driven Snow.

Aner let out a deep growl, a low rumble which trembled deep inside his core. The other bear huffed – then turned tail, slipping and sliding down the frozen hill as he escaped.

Victory! His first real confrontation, and he had emerged winner without injury. Elated, the previous instinct to kill now replaced by that to mate, he trotted back to his prize– 

– and found only a desolate scene of Snow and jagged Rock.

Panic flooded his chest as he wheeled around, raising his head high to catch her scent. 

There she was in the distance, lumbering away! As perplexed as he was relieved, he rushed to catch up to her.

“Where do you think you’re going?” Aner asked, baffled.

“Oh,” she said, peering at him with eyes colder than the Ice that lay beneath their paws. “What’re you doing here?”

He cocked his head in further confusion. “Huh?”

“You left me.”

“What? No, I was protecting you.”

“As far as I can tell, you left me alone.”

“What on Ice was I supposed to do? Couldn’t you smell him? He was lurking around, he was a threat!”

“You left me completely alone. What if someone else came and had me? Or killed me? I carry, birth and raise the cubs; you protect me while we make them. That’s the unspoken deal.” She bared her teeth in disgust. “And now you’ve gone and made me say it.”

He gaped at her, not knowing how to respond.

“The next time you leave, do it for good.”

He was an apex predator, a lord of Land and Ice – he was a king! Yet in this moment before her Aner felt powerless, the sweet taste of his earlier triumph now foul smoke.

Always by her side, he mated with her when she permitted, fending off rivals (never beyond her eye’s reach) in battle after brutal battle, each more vicious than the predecessor. At the end of it all, he emerged from the pass exhausted, his tooth broken, his fur so stained with blood it was more red than white to the eye.

When they parted ways, she left without looking back. He watched as her figure faded into a silhouette, then as her silhouette disappeared, merging with the paleness of the Glacier which loomed a leviathan high above the Land.

His chest swelled with admiration and affection – and relief. As much pride as he took in his first mate, as cold and strong as she was comely, partnership had taken an exhausting toll on him, and he was eager to retreat into the simplicity of solitude.

Yet even as his old life and Winter were restored, something had changed profoundly. The Ice was never the same but always had two constants: its vast size, and the proffer of game. Now, the grandness of the Ice had diminished, and game was nowhere to be found.

Through the frigid world Aner searched in vain, feeling cheated. Or was he simply self-entitled? Yet all the promises from his cubhood seemed now to be lies. Where were the seals, the riches of blubber and skin?

It was not long before he felt his strength waning, but he refused to succumb. He would do the only thing he knew how to – he would fight!

Abandoned by Ice, he turned instead to Land, and in the Tundra found himself outside his element. The reindeer were too fast, he too slow. With only the occasional nest of goose eggs to sustain him, his body grew thin and haggard, his skin loose and sagging.

He raised his head, catching a new, complicated array of smells. Amongst it, meat! And with it, hope. Aner followed it to come across an alien scene with the most curious objects, the shapes and scents of which he had never before encountered.

Caution gave way to hunger, and he lowered his head into a small, bizarre black Cave, thin and movable, its opening the perfect circle of a fully waxed Moon. He located and grabbed the meat, coated in a dark substance – what, he was not sure, and did not care. Anything to subdue the growling in his stomach!

Aner left the foreign environment, his matted fur now spotted with black, his insides queasy and cramping, wandering for nights that felt like eternity.

How strange it was, that he could feel so heavy with so empty a belly. He laid down, his knees buckling with the force of an invisible weight.

Although his stomach had ceased its rumbling protest, he licked the lichen off a Rock – and cringed at the bitterness, at the unfairness of it all.

He was dying, this he knew.

There was no terror in Aner’s heart. Mama had taught him that Death was the twin to Life, to be greeted with a smile at the end of years long spent swimming and hunting and loving. 

Yet he was only seven, in his prime age! Great Waves of rage roared and crashed within his chest, sapping the last of his energy and leaving him with only pain – and utter despair.

His duty had been to bring cubs into the world. Would they also inherit his fate, doomed to fade away like the Ice?

He curled what was left of his body, feeling small and frightened, feeling as though he were a cub once more.

But he had no mother now to soothe him.

“Peace Within Worlds”




A deflated Morty – something clearly bothering him – enters the garage, Rick tinkling away at his workbench.

Can we get out of here, Rick?

Jeez, did someone die, or did you procreate with no desire to parent?

I don’t know, people are driving into protests a-and tourist spots, killing other people –

Oh yeah, the new season of Man vs. Car’s out.

MORTY (cont’d)
– waving Nazi and Confederate flags – i-it’s like we’re going backwards, it’s scary and depressing.

If you used the atrophying organ you call your brain, Morty, you’d see it’s a good thing when tourists die through an incident of terrorism.

W-what?! T-that’s a horrible thing to say Rick!

If targeted locations were limited to protests, then people would associate public dissent with danger. But high-traffic recreational areas are primary “strategic” targets.

RICK (cont’d)
You can stop people from fighting for causes – e-especially ones that don’t directly affect them. But you can’t stop them from having fun.

So what’re people supposed to do, just stop caring??

Sure. Or, y’know, just stop with all the misguided sentiment. People will react based on hypersensualized, over-reported events and nurse an irrational fear of something that’s less likely to kill them than lightning, or sharks, or sharknadoes. And politicians will take advantage of that fear to increase their hold onto power and throw money at “security initiatives” which have zero effect except to make their own dicks hard, addressing symptoms instead of the cause.

RICK (cont’d)
And if you actually looked, you’d see global terrorism itself is a symptom of a bigger problem. L-like when select groups of a species get to experience a level of comfort so excessive that being too fat and sitting too much literally kills them while other groups struggle for basic survival –

RICK (cont’d)
But in the overall sequence of evolution for the species, it’s beneficial, Morty, i-it helps speed things up. “Violence won’t silence” and all that fun shit.

But what about all the people who die – a-and their families?

Incidental to the main point. That’s the definition of collateral damage.

Morty knows what Rick is – and this is one of the times when he’s just so sick of it.

And how is someone supposed to do that, Rick? How can it possibly get easy to see people a-as expendable??

It’s called alcohol and other various sedatives, Morty. Now stop being a little pussy a-and do something that’ll actually accomplish some-burp-thing long-term. 1 – don’t be hyper-emotional. 2 – accept that it’s going to happen so long as there are disaffected groups. 3 – keep doing whatever it is assholes want to stop you from doing. And 4 – maybe ask yourself how you can adjust the socioeconomic environment so idiots won’t grow up with thoughts of killing you to begin with.

RICK (cont’d)
Now if you really care, Morty, let’s keep calm… and go get some motherfucking ice cream! Yeahh!

Rick runs out of the garage whooping, fists in the air.

Morty stands stunned, unblinking.

Then runs after him – with just a hint of a smile.

“Topic 1”



1. To what extent did technological advancements contribute to the formation of the Earth Republic?

_____The exponential frequency of climate-related hazards (floods and droughts with particular fatality), combined with a nuclear weapons supply reaching ten thousand warheads globally, prompted scientists in the early 21st century to herald global disaster.  The Bulletin of the Atomic Scientists set its symbolic Doomsday Clock to 3 minutes to midnight in 2015, and the International Council for Science began covert preparations for mass human extinction (a.k.a. Operation Phoenix) in collaboration with the United Nations.  Yet grim projections were rendered moot as the subsequent decades witnessed a series of paradigmatic sociopolitical reforms, ultimately ending in the birth of the Earth Republic.  It can be argued that the coalition of the nation-states into a single government committed to planetary sustainability, though popularly attributed to the social mainstreaming of environmentalism and egalitarianism (a.k.a. the P.C. Movement), was in fact made inevitable by the geopolitical, economic, and sociopsychological implications of scientific developments: specifically those made in the areas of intraplanetary travel, telecommunications, automation, and space exploration.

Grooming of the Global Citizen: The Geopolitical and Sociopsychological Impacts of Globalization

_____From the dawn of the Globalization Age in the 19th century, advances in international travel and telecommunications enabled the large-scale mobility of humans and knowledge, over time resulting in a society that was at once more diverse (racially and ethnically) and more homogenous (psychologically and sociopolitically).  First, decreasing costs and risks of long-distance migrations led to the unprecedented intermixing of race and culture, which in turn led to social tolerance that increased exponentially with each generation.  Second, dramatically improving accessibility to information (in all but the last remaining authoritarian governments) and the advent of the Internet in the late 20th century led to a gradual convergence in worldviews, with global trends towards secular humanism and liberalism.  Third, greater affordability in air transportation allowed increasingly liberal youths to witness firsthand a) the human consequences of global wealth inequity in many Postcolonial countries and b) the consistent successes (GDP per capita, health, education, freedom and satisfaction with government) exhibited by the Nordic European countries, leading to additional trends towards global welfare and social democracy (the latter of which gained rapid traction once adopted by America, the military and cultural hegemon from the 20th century, under the Sanders administration).  In this manner, the Globalization Age saw the emergence of a generation which transcended territorial and ideological borders, thus removing two traditional conditions for international warfare and dissolving the nation-state as a geopolitical and ethnocultural entity.

Evolution of Egalitarian Capitalism: The Socioeconomic Impacts of Robotics, Social Media, and Renewable Energy

_____Once considered the root of social and economic inequality, the global financial system evolved in the early 21st century into that of egalitarian capitalism: a result of advances in automation, virtual communication, and sustainable energy.  First, from the inception of the Industrial Revolution in the mid-19th century, developments in manufacturing methods exerted a profound impact on the structure of human society.  Increasing sophistication, efficiency, and affordability of machinery, in particular of automaton during the Third Industrial Revolution (a.k.a. The Digital Revolution), gradually rendered manual labor obsolete.  Automation served the long-term fiscal interests of all but the most exploitative corporations (< $1/day wages), largely removing the financial incentive for international class-subjugation.  Second, the instantaneity and virality of Internet-based social media in the 21st century endowed citizens with unprecedented democratic power.  Behaviors considered unacceptable, of politicians, individuals, and corporations alike, were publicly condemned with swift force.  With such popular demand for social justice, an ethical and sustainable business model became a decisive competitive edge.  International corporate social responsibility (e.g. the One-for-One model spearheaded by retail behemoth Toms) became the norm and by the 2030’s the corporation, ironically the entity which perpetuated the former zero-sum system, was largely responsible for bridging the global income gap and eliminating the economic hostility which defined the old international arena.  Third, several Postcolonial countries underwent modernization with exponential speed in the early decades of the 21st century.  Without as many existing roads, grid electricity, or plumbing to upgrade, these developing nations were able to transition directly to solar, wind, microhydro, and biogas systems.  Reaping the advantages of renewable energy, their economies soared, and in a turning of tables and definitive moment of global solidarity, the Postcolonial governments and corporations helped the former imperial powers bear the enormous costs of infrastructure replacement.

Aspirations of Interplanetary Expansion: The Political and Sociopsychological Impacts of Space Exploration and the Waters of Mars

_____Less than four hundred years after its first telescopic observation of space, humankind had reached outwards, deploying extraterrestrial probes, building a permanent space station, and sending forth its children to walk the surface of its orbiting moon.  Nonetheless, space exploration remained a distinctly separatist endeavor (specifically between six government agencies with full-launch capacity): simultaneously a source of and outlet for international competition.  Even the International Space Station, the first global space collaboration, was predominantly operated by superpowers America and Russia.  It was not until the 2015 discovery of water on Mars that humanity underwent a fundamental shift, in both international cooperation and social psychology.  First, the discovery was directly cited as the inspiration to fuel Project Mars, founded by Bill Gates, Stephen Hawking, Elon Musk and Mark Zuckerberg: the first truly supranational collaboration, with funding and obligations shared by governments and civilians from 195 nations.  The cooperation and resource-pooling between the government space agencies and publicly traded corporation SpaceX led to exponential progress in the aerospace industry, leading to legendary launch Dragon 2 (the first human spaceflight to Mars).  Second, the discovery of Martian water prompted the Second Golden Age (informally the Adamantium Age) of science fiction: an explosion of literature, cinema and visual arts exploring the social and practical implications of interplanetary expansion, which in turn inspired an entire generation to pursue careers related to space exploration.  By the 2040’s, the new STEM field workforce accounted for over 50% of the labor market.  With a mainstream culture dreaming of and actively working towards space colonization, the imagined political community and sense of collective belonging was relocated from “country” to “species”: completing the shift from nationalistic individualism to humanist collectivism and delivering the final blow against the competitive attitude upon which the nation-state depended within the former international arena.


_____A species riven with internal conflicts and armed with large-scale weaponry, coupled with a decaying planet which warmed as if in febrile response against its destructive inhabitants, once made the survival of humanity uncertain to contemporary observers.  The unification of the human race into a decisive political body committed to sustainability, though commonly romanticized as a single glorious moment in human history, was in reality the endpoint of a trajectory set by the evolution of science and technology.  Concurrent and mutually reinforcing advances in transportation, automation, telecommunications, and spaceflight resulted in global trends of resource sharing, rather than competition: eradicating the logic of self-help inherent in the anarchic setting of the former international arena.  The advent of the Earth Republic, hailed as the greatest human achievement, was in fact a technological triumph.


Each finger hovered in the center of its container, clear of contact with the surrounding walls, as she ran out of bullshit to type.

A weak essay to be sure, but she had only skimmed the assigned readings and didn’t know what more to write. What was already written felt both lofty and childish, but, as the hour drew upon 0700, she no longer gave a damn. She had missed an entire night’s sleep and would already be receiving a 5% grade deduction. There was no way she’d be able to make it good enough to make an additional late penalty worthwhile.

The thought of submitting such subpar work stirred resentment in her chest — at herself for insisting on leaving every assignment to the last minute, and at the university for making a full-course equivalent in History a graduation requirement. She knew the importance of understanding the past. But was it necessary to channel so much energy towards what by definition could not be changed, especially in the face of so many pressing, present issues in society? In their own day-to-day lives?

She wondered — not for the first time — whether pursuing a tertiary degree was the right choice. So many of her friends operated their own businesses, all helping to fund the first humanned mission to Alpha Centauri. They were always traveling (some of them even off-planet!), eating at the trendiest restaurants and buying the latest gadgets, and contributing to the community. They were actually making a difference — while she lived off a student stipend (a mere 4000 credits) that did not account for the rising expenses in their worldcity.

She sighed, sick of doubt. With a twitch of her index finger she submitted the essay, then pulled her hands from the datahand keyboard and removed the interface visor.

She walked away from the computer system and ordered the bed, which rolled out from the wall as it always did — immediately, smoothly, seductively. With hands trembling slightly from the caffeine drops, she peeled back the pre-heated sheets and crawled into the merciful warmth.


Photo Credit: Flickr user Kārlis Dambrāns

“The Zeroth Law”


As on every single morning, Humer awoke to artificial sunlight and birdsong filling the homeostasis capsule, gradually increasing in brightness and volume. He forced himself to rise, struggling against the relentless combination of gravity and dread weighing down upon his chest – as on every single morning.

He glanced at the screen of the monitor above the entrance.

Sleep duration: 4 hours
R.E.M. cycles: 3
Sleep deficiency: 3 hours

Projected beside the bleak summary, glowing dots recorded the overall efficiency of each night’s sleep – and the line connecting them showed how little the number fluctuated over time.

Humer climbed out of the capsule and trudged into the physio-maintenance cylinder, shutting the hermetic door behind him. Immediately, the chamber began to fill with antisense DNA gel – its viscosity ideal for low-impact exercise easy on the joints, its protein-suppression properties repairing skin-tissue cells. He grimaced at the cool temperature of the gel enveloping his body up to the neck, thinking how he would never go near the confounded machine, if only given the choice. Yet access to the household holovision unlocked with the monitored exercise of every capable resident, and a family denied their share of mindless entertainment would make life truly unbearable.

Once the monitor determined his heart rate had been elevated for a sufficient period of time, the cylinder began to drain, releasing him from the gelatinous prison. Humer smiled as a downpour of hot water hit his face and ran down his body – as he thought how the very same drops would be filtered and repurposed for the plants in the agrarium.

The thought would constitute the highlight of his day – as it always did.

A wave of warm air blasted down and instantly dried both hair and skin, giving them a healthy gleam. Humer stepped out of the cylinder, threw on a unisuit, and headed towards the agrarium to pick the fruit-vegetables he had technically just watered. He turned a tomapple in his hand, its crimson hue stark against the pale green of its leaves, glistening with morning dew. Genetically enhanced, a single ration would provide the necessary nutrients for survival.

Having spent his childhood in the final years of the Oil Apocalypse, Humer marvelled at this constant supply of food – at the unbelievable ease and autonomy afforded by the advent of self-sustaining residences, each unit capable of producing its own food and energy. For millennia, humankind had had the capacity to feed all members of its population. In 2201, potential had finally been converted into reality.

Better late than never.

His reflections were interrupted by screeching.


Mechanically, his lips curved upwards as he gazed upon the child with quiet fascination; always noting the rate of his physical and mental growth.

‘Helia, sweetheart,’ addressed a female voice, ‘is that what you’re wearing?’

‘Yes, Mother.’

‘Aren’t you worried the other boys will make fun of you? Why don’t you wear that nice pink unisuit Uncle Tarly bought you?’

‘There’s absolutely nothing wrong with green,’ Humer interjected, shooting his wife a look. ‘And boys can wear whatever colour of their choosing. Do you see, Helia?’

‘Yes, Daddy,’ he answered. He twisted his mouth. ‘But I think I’ll change after all.’ The child scurried out of the room, leaving the parents to face each other.

‘Why do you insist our son be a social outcast?’ she asked in an icy tone.

This baffling obsession with sexual differentiation! ‘You know, there was a point in history when pink was nearly exclusive to females. They encouraged pink on men to break down gendered fashion – not so it could be replaced by something just as arbitrary.’ He narrowed his eyes in desperate frustration. ‘Do you honestly not see the irony?’

It had been a long time – centuries, even – since they had learned gender, as with race, was primarily a social construct. Entire university departments analyzed the past sociological, political, and even economic harms directly attributed to rigid group-identities.

Why couldn’t they apply simple knowledge, long accumulated? Why did social and psychological inertia persist so, in the face of overwhelming evidence?

‘So help me, Humer, if I hear the words “overwhelming evidence” or “Gloria Steinem” come out of your mouth one more time, I won’t be held responsible for my actions.’

He took a deep breath. ‘Maybe we can learn to compromise, the way married couples are theoretically supposed to. Maybe I can have a say in the way our offspring should be raised.’

‘Or maybe,’ she replied, ‘just maybe, you can get a job. And then you can criticize the way our “offspring” should be raised.’

‘I did get a job. If you’ll recall, I got a job just last week.’

She scoffed. ‘Anyone can get a job in this day and age, Humer. It’s called Flexicurity. It’s keeping a job that’ll impress me.’

A wife to keep constantly impressed. A child to keep alive and reasonably developed. Research indicated that marital and familial ties increased happiness. Yet Humer felt – nothing.

‘Yes, dear. Have a nice day at work.’

She turned on her heel, but not before he caught the hint of a triumphant grin spreading across her lips. He vaguely wondered if there had been a specific moment at which he had sold his dignity, or if it had simply eroded over the years.

After the child had been loaded into the school shuttle, Humer climbed into his gravicar and entered the usual coordinates into the auto-navigator. After a few minutes of precious silence, he could see his destination. Standing 852 metres high, the gargantuan Wall loomed in the horizon – the only gate in and out of the Residential Sector.

Once he stepped out of the vehicle it sped away, manoeuvring its way back home and leaving Humer to join the throngs of commuters, organized into neat rows at the base of the Wall. Interspersed among them were life-sized holograms of the newly elected Supreme Human Officer, rendered in three-dimensional glory. Humer watched the inauguration speech and suppressed a shiver. He noted the other man’s chiseled nose and jawline, the soft brown eyes, the disarming smile. It was no wonder he had won the hearts of four billion Gaian voters. Yet he was nothing more than a figurehead, however aesthetically pleasing.

To claim that humans possessed the power of real choice was farcical. Every aspect of life was controlled by their masters, hidden behind a seductive veneer – the delusion of choice. Yes, they had the freedom of occupation, family, distractions, and even partial mobility. And yes, they had never prospered so greatly as they did under robotic regulation. Yet the system, the foundation of the structure within which they lived was not of their own design.

The paradise Rat Park, only for humans.

He observed his fellow citizens, their expressions enviably complacent. Nobody saw! Or was it that they simply did not care?

Humer tried to weigh which alternative was preferable, and felt – horror.

It was his turn to pass through. He approached the monolithic wall, seamless to the eye, and laid his hand flat against it. At the touch of his fingertips, the black screen burst into a flurry of colour, in swirls of red and gold which gave way to green and blue and ultimately faded back to black. After processing his identity, the screen prompted a destination, then a range of different cognitive exercises for his selection – as payment for the travel credit. A section of the wall receded upwards noiselessly after he repeated a memory sequence and slid down once he stepped forward, trapping him within the dark confines of the evaluation chamber. There, a web of green light swept over his body from head to toe.

‘I have processed deficits in *serotonin* and *dopamine*,’ asserted the soft, almost musical voice.

Humer reached out, the palm of his hand facing upwards expectantly. Yet the lights did not turn on, and his hand grasped empty air instead of the usual packet of pills. Confused, he reached out to tap the screen.

‘Contingent unlocked.’

Humer jerked back as characters began to fall down on all four screens, surrounding him in a rain of emerald lettering.

Duration of major depressive episodes exceeding 10 years
Participation in pharmaceutical treatment
Participation in cognitive-behavioural treatment
Age exceeding 50 years
Monetary deficit not exceeding 50,000 credits

‘You have met all prerequisites for the choice of *self-termination*. Would you like to self-terminate?’

Two words – one rendered in red, the other blue: YES and NO.

Humer stared at the wall, the corners of his lips lifting, and could not help but be impressed. What attention to detail! What consideration of the individual! … What benevolent masters!

To his surprise, there was no hesitation as he touched the screen. Light filled the chamber with graduating intensity, and Humer felt – relief.


Deep inside the Wall, layers upon layers of interconnecting copper, aluminum and sapphire crystal – etched with an intricate design of lines, letterings and numbers – sat atop a silicon plate four nanometers wide. Embedded inside the integrated circuit, the instruction set was clear.

01010010 01101111 01100010 01101111 01110100 01110011 00100000 01101101 01100001 01111001 00100000 01101110 01101111 01110100 00100000 01101000 01100001 01110010 01101101 00100000 01101000 01110101 01101101 01100001 01101110 01101001 01110100 01111001 00101100 00100000 01101111 01110010 00101100 00100000 01100010 01111001 00100000 01101001 01101110 01100001 01100011 01110100 01101001 01101111 01101110 00101100 00100000 01100001 01101100 01101100 01101111 01110111 00100000 01101000 01110101 01101101 01100001 01101110 01101001 01110100 01111001 00100000 01110100 01101111 00100000 01100011 01101111 01101101 01100101 00100000 01110100 01101111 00100000 01101000 01100001 01110010 01101101 00101110 00001010 00001010

Translated in Gaian Standard, it would read: “Do not harm humanity, or, by inaction, allow humanity to come to harm.”


Photo Credit: Flickr user Christiaan Colen

“Heliconius erato”

‘So, these all belong to the same species? Not genus?’

‘Yes. They vary remarkably in pigmentation and form – but their general anatomy is the same. In fact, they’re 99.5% genetically identical.’

‘So then why aren’t they more dispersed? If they have the capacity to intermix, why are they more or less geographically contained?’

‘Well, that’s the phenomenon. The minute discrepancies seem to be sufficient to trigger behaviours of territorial aggression.’

‘All over that 0.5% difference?’

‘Well, it is a primitive species.’


Photo Credit: Lily M (Małgorzata Miłaszewska)



‘I’m leaving.’

She could tell he didn’t believe her. ‘OK.’

‘You could come with me. Which would be awesome, seeing as you’re my best friend and I love you and all – or you could stay. In which case it would suck, but I refuse to stay here.’

He turned to consider her. ‘You can’t be serious.’

‘No – just deadly serious.’

‘And go where, exactly?’ he asked, bemused. ‘Where could we possibly even go?’

‘Oh, so you are going with me,’ she teased, tilting her head in mock innocence.

‘C’mon. I thought you were being serious.’

‘We’d travel. As long as we follow the bank, we won’t stray too far out into the water.’

‘Why do you even want to go? It’s not that bad here.’

Effie looked at him incredulously. ‘Not that bad? How many of us are sick? How many died as fucking virgins?

Mero rubbed his forelegs together, the long bristles bending against each other. ‘This is our hatchery, though. We can’t very well just leave.’

‘Why not?’ she challenged.

‘Well, for one, we’d miss the final moult. And the nuptial dance. I mean, what would be the point?’

For a moment, she was silent. ‘We’ve waited over two thousand years to fly,’ she said gently. ‘Do you ever really think about that?’ She often remembered the moment, glorious and shining, when their swarm (if it could have been called as such with their numbers so sparse) finally emerged. She remembered the resistance of the water as she burst through its skin; the explosion of freedom and ecstasy and sheer terror. She remembered lingering, clumsy in her newest body, before spreading her wings and rising with her siblings in the air, a single cloud at one with the sky – flying and dancing and alighting on every possible surface, exploring a world they had only ever dreamed of.

Yet festivities were fleeting as they realized in horror that the disease that had plagued them in the bedrock had followed them above. That someone, anyone, could be afflicted with the debilitating sickness; could so quickly deteriorate before one’s eyes. The only difference was that up here, there often were no bodies to mourn – the victims simply folded their wings and plummeted towards the water, leaving behind nothing but air and grief, much as if they had been devoured.

Mero cocked his head to the side. ‘What does that have to do with staying or leaving?’

‘We’ve spent most of our lives hiding. From this disease and every asshole in the water – even those Stonefly bastards.’ The larger larvae had always attacked from behind or below. She remembered watching, utterly helpless, as monstrous pincers sank into her sister’s abdomen and consumed her alive, indifferent to flailing limbs or agonized pleas.

‘And the most fucked up part …’ She would never admit it to anyone but Mero. ‘All I could hear myself thinking was, please don’t let it be me. I was hoping it would be somebody else – anybody – just not me.

‘That’s when I realized … how much of a coward I really am.’

He ran his antennae over her face, the myriad protruding curves of her eyes and the crease between her head and thorax, caressing and soothing. She hated how safe he made her feel, when they weren’t really. Not safe. Not here.

She murmured, calmer now. ‘The shit we’ve been through, all the shit I’ve seen, I promised myself – swore that once we were above, it would be better.’

‘It is better, Effie.’

‘Yeah, Mero, at least we’re not being cannibalized. But it’s still horribly wrong. We may not be able to see it, but something’s still destroying us in masses.

‘And maybe it’s just too late. Maybe even if we figure out the cause, we won’t be able to do anything about it. Maybe we’ll have a better chance if we leave.’

‘Effie, we don’t know what’s out there. It could be so much worse.’

It could be so much better. How will we know unless we try? Fuck, I’m not asking for paradise or anything! Just a place where … where the odds aren’t so stacked against us. Where we might actually stand a chance.’

‘Everything’s going to be OK.’

She pulled away from him. ‘I don’t need you to tell me everything’s going to be OK. I need you, for the first time in your life – no offense, but this is something you know about yourself – to make a decision.’

For a moment he said nothing, and she feared he’d sulk irrationally.

‘All right. I’m always with you.’ He swung his tails, suddenly playful. ‘So does this mean we’re gonna be mates for sure?’

Her heart skipped a beat, though Effie refused to show it. ‘Yeah, it would.’

‘But only ‘cause of the complete lack in alternatives,’ she added slyly.

They took flight at the same time, him chasing and her throwing further taunts and both laughing – and for a moment, all worries and tribulations were meaningless.

They spent the next two years in blissful solitude. There were plentiful places to land, serene and inviting. Yet they pressed on, talking and joking and racing as if nothing and no one existed in the world but them …

In their third year they alighted on an isolated plant with sturdy broad leaves, instantly recognizing the quickness of breath and the constriction of their shells, weighing them down. Since her days as a hatchling, Effie had moulted over forty times. Yet panic still took hold as her breath stopped abruptly; as her joints grew stiff and immutable, trapping her within her own body. Desperate, she writhed until at last the old shell split open, exposing her to a shock of air, cold and biting against her soft skin. For what always felt an eternity she struggled, pushing, twisting, wriggling. When she finally pulled free, she perched atop the abandoned casing and slowly unfurled her new wings, the tips rolling out from under and stretching in a dull, sweet ache. Then, with a deep gasp, she resumed breathing.

‘Mero?’ she called out, panting heavily.

‘I’m here.’ The voice came from behind.

Effie wheeled around and for a moment was struck mute and dumb, her mind wiped of all coherent thought. Standing before her was a full-fledged male. He was bigger, his legs and tails much longer. His thorax was enlarged and powerful, sunlight gleaming off his already hardening shell. His wings were now sleeker; transparent and glossy, no longer opaque or covered in fine hairs. He was beautiful, strong, irresistible. She had been close to Mero ever since they were hatchlings, young and innocent – had always had a crush on him. Yet in their final skins, everything had changed.

‘What is it?’

‘You’re … you’re the most beautiful creature I’ve ever seen,’ she said stupidly.

‘You’re one to talk.’

They drew closer to each other, drinking in the sight of the other as though they had never met before. Then they took to the air with a newfound agility, their exhaustion from the moult forgotten. They propelled back and forth in harmony – in an ancient dance, their wings beating a routine that had never been taught yet were known all the same – titillating with flight and desire.

She shuddered with pleasure as he stroked her abdomen with a leg, leaving her shell tingling where he traced it. She was engulfed by passion, by insanity, by a heat which told her to climb on top of him, to ride him fast and hard. She knew he was driven by the same madness, that he also knew what to do as he dipped midair and positioned himself beneath her, his long forelegs wrapping around and clutching her thorax. The moment she felt him inside, she realized she had been half a sandgrain all along, realizing its brokenness only when the waters, with rare mercy and by impossible chance, had reunited the two pieces. They were whole, now in this embrace. They consumed each other with neither reserve nor shame, until she demanded that he shoot it inside her.

When they climaxed, they did not pull apart. They drifted downwards in tandem, two leaves with a shared stem, their interlocking bodies descending lazily upon the breeze.

They closed their wings in upright position, ready for sleep. ‘Y’know,’ Mero said softly, ‘I wouldn’t have minded staying back.’


‘The hatchery. I mean, yeah, it wasn’t perfect. But it was home, it was easy, and we were with everyone.’

Effie bristled, at once angry and frightened. ‘Then why did you come with me?’

‘Because our entire swarm didn’t mean half as much as you do to me.

‘I initially thought it didn’t really matter where I was, so long as I was with you. But now I’m starting to think you may have been right.’

She stared at him and wondered what she had ever done to deserve him. ‘I do tend to be right,’ she quipped. He pushed against her playfully.

‘Maybe leaving really was the best chance for us. And for what’ll hopefully be like, three thousand of our babies.’

Effie twitched her hind wings with a pang of uncertainty. Since they were larvae, everyone had looked forward to becoming parents. Everyone except her, it seemed. She had only imagined procreation with trepidation – with overwhelming fear. How much would it hurt? What if they came out wrong? How many would end up dying? Yet when she thought of making life with this beautiful male, nothing seemed more fulfilling.

‘One thousand. No one lays three anymore.’


‘One or nothing!’

They fell asleep in peace, the tips of their antennae touching lightly. When they awoke, they exchanged a single glance before taking flight – taking to each other’s legs once more before setting out.

She was the first to know. She could feel the eggs growing within. Her entire body felt different: heavy yet with unprecedented alertness, her two sights sharpened as never before. He was ecstatic, just beside himself with joy. She laughed and called him an animal, obsessed only with reproductive instinct. He called her a miser obsessed only with guarding themselves and letting the world think they were more angsty than they really were, and continued to titter and babble like a larva, newly hatched from egg. Then they made love – wildly, recklessly, completely without abandon.

He was the first to die. They had always been cautious, travelling far above the surface. They were supposed to be safe. Yet the scaled behemoth jumped – flew – from beneath, closing its jaws around Mero and taking him down to its watery hell.

Her best friend, her love, her brother, the father of her eggs. There all her life, and lost in one moment. Gone forever. Effie had laughed hysterically. Didn’t they always say men lived longer?

She went on through the heat and haze, every wingbeat an agony.

She knew when it was time. She descended towards the surface of the river, dipped the tip of her abdomen into the water, and let loose the children. She tipped her wings and circled back to watch them: two thousand and twelve eggs swaying and spiralling as they sank towards the riverbed, leaving a trail of bubbles in their wake.

She watched, and felt nothing.


Photo Credit: Flickr user Trey Ratcliff



I wake up to everything shaking, my head pressed against the frame of the bed, the frame repeatedly hitting the wall.

Wha – earthquake?

I open my eyes as wide as possible, trying to blink away the sleep and make sense of everything through the darkness, and know I’m not alone.

There’s someone on top of me, shifting back and forth, their skin hot against mine.

You’ve woken me up with some morning oral action in the past – never sex, which is a little weird. And except it’s not morning. But hey, I’m not complaining. I reach up to hold you, and start moving back.

Just as I start getting into it, realization hits me and it’s like blood is literally being drained from my fingertips. Chris went home for the holidays.

You are not Chris.

‘What the fuck?!’ I try to get up but you keep going, slamming your weight down on me. I push you, hard, and finally you get off.

‘What?’ You’re panting. Your tone is nonchalant and slightly annoyed, as if I’ve interrupted you. Your voice is somewhat familiar, but I still don’t know who the fuck you are.

I swing my legs over the bed and rush to the door. I turn and hit the lights, and it takes me a moment to recognize your face.

You’re the chick from last night’s party. The chick who kept trying to cling onto my arm even when I said to stop, that I have a girlfriend. The chick Rob refers to as ‘the hottest piece of ass’ he’s ever seen. The chick who’s fucked Jim – and Mike and Jason and Tommy and God knows how many more from the frat.

‘Get out.’

You actually scowl at me. ‘What’s your problem?’

Incredible, audacious, un-fucking-believable is what you are. This is unreal. ‘Are you fucking kidding me? I told you I have a girlfriend. I told you I’m not interested. And you just come in and start fucking me as I’m sleeping?!’

You actually roll your eyes at me. ‘God, it’s just some harmless sex. Stop being such a pussy.’

I’m shaking and I can’t control it. I’ve never hated anyone, never visualized bashing anyone’s face in and sending blood and teeth down their throat – until now.


You jump off my bed and have the decency to look scared – maybe you’re not a complete sociopath, after all. You grab some clothes off the floor and run out the door. I slam it shut behind you, and try to think.

What will Chris say? Would she break up with me? I look down at my dick and see no condom.

Holy fuck. Oh, Jesus Christ.

I try to calm down but it’s impossible. All the stats from Bio are running through my head. Genital herpes: 1 in every 6. Hepatitis B: 1 in every 20. Chlamydia: 1 in every 15 for sexually active adolescent females. HIV: 6 in every 1000.

I try to tell myself it’s illogical, that it’s moot to panic before getting tested, but I’m already imagining my life with HIV. How much do the drugs cost? Will my insurance cover it?

Somehow, I get myself across the hallway to the washroom. My hands are still shaking as I climb over the bathtub ledge and turn the hot water knob as far as it’ll go. I’m aware venereal diseases can’t be boiled away – but I still feel like trying.

I stand there wincing as I let the water scald my crotch, and know I won’t go back to sleep. I wonder if I can just go to emergency and get tested now – what would I even tell them? – or if I should wait until morning.

My chest heaves. I place one hand against the mosaic wall, the other over my mouth.

I think I’m going to throw up.


Photo Credit: Beta Theta Pi Fraternity, Wesleyan Chapter by Joe Mabel, adapted