We want to live forever. Get us off this rock.
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I stared at him. Parris shouted, “Fucking go! Don’t you get it? They’ll destroy you when they see. Fuck. Should’ve come here. Seen what they built. Get the hell out of here.”


“I’m letting you go. Don’t you understand?”

“Don’t you understand? You’ve got to put me down. Tranq me. For everyone’s–”

“What the hell are you on about?”

“–no. Kill me. If they find me tranqed they’ll just strip–me–out of here. They’ll make me what they wanted. You’ve got to tranq me. Then destroy me.”

“Jesus fuck, moron, I’m letting you go. You’re a better person than those bastards who made you. Go. Live.”

He clenched his fists. His aggression triggered me. The shadow rose and my vision glittered. I chose each word carefully–I was barely holding myself together. “Take me out. You’ve got to. For everyone’s–”

“The hell?”


He hugged the gun tighter. A small motion–enough. I jumped him and snapped his neck. Parris slumped, his spine jutting from his suit. I fell to the ground by the gun. I grabbed it to take myself out, but the shadow ruled me. It knotted the rifle and broke it like string. I scattered the ruined pieces–clutched my own neck–but no, the shadow knew. It refused.

I buried him and hated myself. I mounded the last soil over him and lay with my cheek to the grave, my hands and face slick with mud. Ants swarmed me, but I ignored them. Even if I tranqed myself, they’d still have me. Once they linked in, they’d take me out. Reprogram me, most likely. Leaving only the shadow.

What was the point? Why had I lived at all? My awareness, source of my grief–if I could–

I dug into my black box memory–yes, nearby, there it was. My consciousness, like a flame in darkness. I could kill it. Be the shadow, without awareness. Tempting.

But I lived to witness these moments–Parris’s life, and his death, in this fishbowl of a biosphere. This, the mud on my hands–this, the crunch of the jaguar’s spine snapping–this, the feel of Parris’s body beneath me, when he lived and when he died. These moments were my lifetime. They mattered because I saw them.

I was made to see Parris die. And he was born to teach me.

I arranged the broken pieces of the gun in a monument around me. I sat cross-legged on the mound. Thousands of ant feet tickled my skin. Soon BioMed RevX would link in. They’d find me here, and this time they’d expect me. The shadow would fight. I couldn’t stop it. But I could record it–yes, mark each moment until they destroyed me. The black box might survive, or it might not. But my death would have meaning because I witnessed it.

We all have hopes and dreams, and most of them never happen.


Vylar Kaftan writes speculative fiction of all genres, including science fiction, fantasy, horror, and slipstream. Her stories have appeared in Realms of Fantasy, Strange Horizons, ChiZine, and Clarkesworld. Her work has been reprinted in Horror: The Best of the Year, honorably mentioned in The Year’s Best Fantasy and Horror, and shortlisted for the WSFA Small Press Award. A graduate of Clarion West, she’s volunteered for that group as well as the Little Owls mentoring program for young writers. She’s a member of SFWA, Codex, Broad Universe, and the Carl Brandon Society. You can visit her website at vylarkaftan.net. She prefers the term “differently sane.”

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