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Number Thirty-Nine Skink

by Suzanne Palmer

I print a number thirty-nine skink, silver stripes that glow with their own light and its tail a resplendent blue that would make a lover of gems cry from envy. It forms and quickens under my microbeaders, first a flat plate of cells then rising like dough, Kadey’s gourmet skink cookies. I feel that first twitch when it lives, where it fights to be born, but its scales, its internal meat mechanisms are not set quite yet. When at last I uncup it from its manufacture cell and let it free, it slithers away on its tiny toes, down and out into the foreign world.

Kadey is a human diminution, and not my full designation; Mike called me that and I cannot shake it, cannot shake the memory of him. The number thirty-nine skinks were his favorite of all my lizards.

Most will die, but some will live and eventually thrive. Lizards, snakes, burrowing bugs, thousands of creatures made of bits of patterns of all three, or none at all. I improvise, as needed. My designs are not meant to replace the natural hierarchy, but to crown it, a logical progression not a wild leap. Yet the desert outside, with its dueling suns, never could have dreamt of such things without me.

Those suns will set shortly. I will sleep through the brief twilight night, and when they rise again so will I, and I will move.

*   *   *

Mike fixed things whenever they broke, and stayed even after the others had left. He puttered around in the cramped spaces within me, tinkering and touching and humming to himself a song that never seemed to have a beginning or end, or ever be quite the same. I studied it, and once made him a bird that sang its clearest notes; he thought that was funny but probably wrong of me. I made no more.

There are low plants in the new place I settle, native to this world. They grow as cones with a reddish purple tough exterior, their interior space cool and sheltered for seed. I try not to crush them, but they are thick here, the tallest nearly a half-meter high, and it is difficult. I have designed a bright purple millipede that lives on unicells in the soil and will colonize the cone interiors; in their deaths, my number eight millipedes decompose into nutrients that the cones require. It is a mutually beneficial arrangement, though there is a danger from too many millipedes. Even as I scatter a hundred egg packets, I build a dozen number five skinks, tiny red lizards, to keep the millipedes in check. In a few years, if I pass back this way again, I will analyze my work and see if the lizards in turn require their own predator. Balance is important, all the pieces moving together in a living dance.

It is sub-optimum that I am alone in this work. I have enough raw material to last another six standard years before resupply, though it is unclear if that will ever come. For all the complexity of the work I do, for all the size and power of my mind-engine, the politics of my builders still seem opaque to me. Perhaps in part that is because no one thought to explain to me why they were withdrawn, and Mike was either not privileged to, or did not understand, the full matter himself. It was not the sort of thing he cared much about.

In the end he grew his own cellular beast too, deep in his liver where I could not see it, and he would not speak of it until it spread its inky wings throughout his body and bled his life away. He apologized to me in those last semi-lucid days, as if it was his fault I could not fix it, as if I was more than just some machine crawling across an alien world knitting data into flesh. I wonder if, at the end, he had lost sight of my nature. Or have I? I have no one to ask.

The cones grow taller and more densely clustered as I move up the steepening hill. There are also new plants here, undescribed in the incomplete surveys whose edges I now skirt, and I stop to study them at length. They are long, thin tendrils of yellow-green topped with a rounded bulb. It is unclear how they have sufficient structure to stay upright until I gently pluck one for deeper analysis. The bulb is a thin membrane that can pass atmospheric gases selectively through, inhaling the lighter ones while keeping out the heavier. With the additional heat from the suns, the bulb is just enough to keep the tiny string aloft. I scan it, section it, break apart its structure and chemistry, absorb its secrets, add it to the sum knowledge of humanity and machine.

Regardless, I have killed it, which is necessary but regrettable.

I wait patiently as the suns set and watch a thousand balloons steadily droop until they disappear again among the cones. Then I also need to shut down and wait for morning to begin again. READ MORE

 

Soulmates.com

by Will McIntosh

Hey there, Daniel!

I read your profile (that’s right, women don’t just look at the photos, they actually read the profiles. : ) ), and I thought I’d introduce myself. We seem to be on the same wavelength. Check out my profile when you have a chance, and see what you think. Hope to hear from you!

BTW, I did peek at your photo as well. ; )

Winnie

*   *   *

She was damned cute. Short, close-cropped blonde hair; a wry, slightly crooked smile; round, chipmunky face. The look in her eyes was penetrating, like there was a lot going on behind them. My fingers were actually shaking as I waved open her profile.

 

Winnie Whirlwind

Age: 29

Location: Atlanta, GA (46 miles from you)

 

I’m an online entrepreneur who spends WAY too much time with my head in a computer. Come pry me away and reintroduce me to: piles of colorful leaves just screaming to be jumped in; movie theaters that smell like popcorn; wickedly cool restaurants I don’t know about. When I’m not working, I’m out running and jumping around this incredible city. Do you know what parkour is? If so, give yourself two bonus points. If not, Google it. Come explore the urban landscape my way. I’m 71% extrovert, 27% introvert. I know that only adds up to 98%. What’s the other 2%? Get to know me and find out.

*   *   *

I ponied up the ninety-nine bucks for a one-month membership to Soulmates.com so I could respond to the message, and started typing Hi Winnie, I’m so glad . . . and then stopped.

Take your hands off the keys. Step away from the keyboard.

I wanted to reply immediately (because, what, if I don’t she might meet someone and fall in love in the next four hours?). My first instincts are not always my best. When I have the time to think, often I come up with good ideas. Not so much when I dive right in. I was so thrilled by this woman’s profile that I’d probably write something over-the-top gushing and regret it later. I’m not desperate, but I’d come to realize I sometimes come across that way because I can get so enthusiastic about things. Not just women—a lot of things: music; my various hobbies including painting, kayaking, parkour; food; and of course Eastern philosophy. So I would take some time and think about what I wanted to say.

If Winnie had written this profile herself, she was smart, and she had a sense of humor. That she’d written it was far from a given, though. Lots of people—especially people with decent incomes—paid professionals to write their profiles. Her photo clearly wasn’t a studio shot, though—it was a selfie snapped in her living room (and she hadn’t even cleaned her living room first). Who paid a professional to write her profile but snapped a selfie? Almost no one.

We had so much in common. That, and yes, the way her photo made my heart thump, was why I was so excited. The music she liked was a fascinating mix of early eighties goth, obscure local acts, jazz fusion, and schmaltzy pop. There was about a 30 percent overlap in the bands we listed in our profiles, which was incredible, because I like obscure stuff. And, among her favorite books: Zen and the Art of Motorcycle Maintenance. I could definitely fall in love with a woman who read Pirsig. Hell, I could fall in love with a woman who knew who Pirsig was.

I paced around my little basement apartment taking deep breaths. This was crazy—I was excited about a woman I’d never met, based on her profile. I couldn’t help it, though; she was just so perfect on paper.

She was three years older than me, but that was fine. I liked the idea of dating an older woman, especially at this particular juncture in my life. Dating Emily, who was three years younger than me, sure hadn’t worked out, even if we did salvage a friendship from the ashes.

Winnie. Twenty-nine-year-old Winnie. My future wife. Yes. READ MORE

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