Cast of Wonders 274: Won’t You Please Give One of These Species-Planets a Second Chance?

Show Notes

Theme music is “Appeal to Heavens” by Alexye Nov, available from Promo DJ or his Facebook page.

Won’t You Please Give One of These Species-Planets a Second Chance?

by Nathan Hillstrom

At 2:13pm EST on a slate-grey Tuesday, the Earth was caged.

The barrier appeared line by line, traced into existence by white-hot dots dragging their way through the thermosphere. From the lawn of the United Nations Headquarters, it looked like chicken wire wrought of pure light.

U.N. Secretary-General Ataahua Tan Tan Tamahi was strolling on the lawn as he took his lunch, a welcome break from the impossible demands of his job. He stopped chewing and stared at the sky. “Like chicken wire,” he said, to nobody in particular, before his security detail tackled him and knocked the pita pocket from his hands. After a mumbled consultation, they disentangled him from the protective huddle, brushed the grass off his suit, and whisked him to the U.N.’s basement bunker. The sandwich was left behind.

It quickly became apparent that the cage corrupted all aerial communication and satellite-assisted technologies. Within hours, power surges and brownouts were rolling across the planet.

Reports from the field were of unmitigated panic: Militaries everywhere went on war footing. Governments launched contingency plans and double-checked their lines of succession. Families devolved into tantrums as videos got stuck buffering.

Ataahua Tan Tan Tamahi sat at his mahogany desk, back in his top-floor office. He was a stout man with bags under his eyes and the hint of a double chin. He folded and unfolded his hands. “So you’re like . . . dog catchers?”

The avatar was a regal woman with skin of smooth granite who said her name was Joy. She had been smiling the same sad smile since she materialized in the U.N. Headquarters, requesting a private audience with the Secretary-General.

“More like a shelter,” she said.

“A shelter from what?”

She turned her head and examined the photos of UNESCO heritage sites lining his walls.
“Where is your owner?”

“My owner?”

She turned back to him. “Your master? Your galactic contessa? Your administrative overlord?” Her smile grew even sadder. “You’re abandoned, aren’t you?”

“I’m sorry, Ms. Joy. You have invaded a sovereign planet. We belong to no one.”

“Not even any tags.” She shook her head. “Happens too often. Bloom goes off a baby civ, and poof, just leave it to go feral.”

Ataahua slapped his palms against the desk. “Look here, Joy. You’ve disabled our satellites, all of our communications. You have no right! Remove this cage.”

“Mr. Secretary-General.” Even the smile lines radiating from her eyes looked sad. “We need to put Earth up for adoption.”

Joy was L’aif, a species of H-alpha emission-entanglements who inhabited the chromospheres of dwarf stars. She was a volunteer at the species-planet shelter, working Earth Sundays and every alternate Earth Tuesday, when she arranged local star-dweller accommodation.

“Joy, your cage is causing unacceptable problems.” Every aircraft, missile, and weather balloon that approached to investigate either froze into stasis or simply disappeared. “You must remove it.”

“I’m sorry, it’s necessary. We broadcast a lost species notice and nobody claimed you.” Joy’s perpetually sad smile turned a smidge less sad. “But there’s good news! You have a prospective adopter.”

Ataahua glanced down at his powder-blue carpet and its repeating pattern of globes. He wasn’t sold on the idea of being adopted, but his whole career had been an experiment in service to things outside his control. Joy had promised any new mentor would eliminate niggling concerns like war and hunger, which were parts of his job he’d frankly be happy never to deal with again.

“Who are they?” he asked.

“Enerid. A gas-billow species.”

An overwhelming smell of mustard seed blew through the room, and two cubes materialized behind Joy. One was as tall as her, the other maybe half her height. Spirals of blue-green gas swirled inside the shapes.

Startled, Ataahua accidentally rolled his chair back from his desk. “They’re cubes?”
“Just pressure containment.” She laughed. “Enerid aren’t a shaped species, of course.”

A high-pitched whine vibrated the Secretary-General’s bones.

“Oh. You need interpreters.” Joy raised her palm and two metal discs lifted, one floating to each cube.

The disc in front of the larger one pulsed. “I’m Jeet. This is Kay.”

Ataahua walked his chair back to his desk with his heels. “Hello,” he said.

“Hi.” Kay’s disc had a reedy voice. “What sort of mind do you have?”

“Kay!” Jeet’s spiral dissolved.

“What? It’s my species,” Kay whined.

“You’re not going to get a species with that attitude,” Jeet said.

“Fine.” Several pockets of Kay’s gas agitated. “What sort of mind do you have, please?”

“That’s better.” Jeet’s spiral reformed.

Joy’s avatar pointed to Ataahua’s head. “Electrically stimulated nerve bundles. Carbon and water, mostly.”

The Secretary-General rubbed at his temple.

“No, I mean, how do your minds connect?” Kay asked.

“Honey.” Jeet’s gas was billowing. “It’s not that kind of species.”

Kay vibrated at a pitch that hurt Ataahua’s jaw. The disc blinked, then interpreted it as the exact same whine, doubling the volume. The Secretary-General covered his ears.

“Honey?” Jeet asked.

“I said I wanted a hive mind! A. Hive. Mind. You never listen.”

“We talked about this. Hives grow up so sullen.”

“Imma get a hive mind! You said!”

Jeet rumbled and the disc rendered it as a long sigh. The large cube floated up to Ataahua’s desk. “Do you have any mind linkage at all?”

The Secretary-General removed his hands from his ears. “What do you mean?”

“Do you go through a collective phase? Before manifesting maybe?”

“I don’t think so.”

“Consciousness swapping? Blended self-awareness?”

“Not that—” Ataahua straightened. “Oh, I know.”

The others turned to him.

“We have Buddhists.”

Joy rolled her eyes. “I’m sorry.” She put her arm around Kay. “We do have an adorable crystal-dendritic thought-asteroid, just brought in. Has a bout of solipsism, but she’ll bounce back with a little attention.”

“Oh my god.” Microspirals coiled in Kay’s cube. “Thought-asteroids are sooo cute. Jeet, please? Please? Please?”

“Fine, we’ll take a look.”

Joy and the cubes disappeared. The mustard smell sent the Secretary-General downstairs to the cafeteria for a bratwurst, because they had that on Tuesdays and he had been thinking about it even before the stink of dematerialization, if he was being honest with himself.

“The Enerid were a long shot,” Joy said the next time she materialized. “You’ll have more luck with carbon-based species. I mean, a cluster of Class V Silicatrites did just adopt a planet of treepeople, but that sort of thing is rare.”

The Secretary-General touched a list of bullet points he had written on official stationary, beneath a gold-foil seal of the United Nations. “What can we do to be released under our own recognizance?”

“Good news!” Her sad smile tightened with excitement. “A trimunal of Forphlat is interested.”

He moved his finger to the second bullet point. “We will follow all galactic laws.”

“The Forphlat share a lot of your morphology.” Joy looked down at her body. She rotated her legs and shook her arms. “Practically identical. A good match.”

He moved his finger to the third bullet. “Please tell us the galactic laws.”

A powerful whiff of craft glue filled his nostrils. A tripod of three backward-jointed legs, muscular and the color of plum, appeared in front of him. Fleshy tubes looped between the legs and hung to the floor. There were two other leg-tripods, the three tripods connected through sinew to a single squirming mass in the middle. The oscillating center mass was covered in beaked suction cups and seemed to be tasting the globes on Ataahua’s carpet.

“Hello,” the translation disc said.

The Secretary-General just stared, finger still on his third bullet point.

“They can be a little shy,” Joy said to the Forphlat.

Ataahua composed himself. “A pleasure. Welcome to Earth.”

“Do I frighten you?”

“Um, no?”

The Forphlat approached his desk, each of its nine legs moving in steps seemingly too rapid and delicate for its glistening musculature. The suction-head stayed suspended between them. “We are very interested in your species.”

Ataahua forced himself to keep breathing. “It’s good to, uh, be interested.”

“We were once where you are, developmentally. We were abandoned, too. But our mentor guided us into a post-scarcity world. We want to pay that forward.”

Joy smiled sadly. “We need more heroes like you. Adoption is so important.”

One of the leg tripods ballet-stepped closer to Joy, stretching its sinew. “I don’t think they like us?”

“He just needs time to acclimate.”

The Forphlat jerked and started skittering around the office. It looked almost as if it was ice-skating, its steps so tiny and fluid. “They hate us they hate us they hate us.”

“Oh crud,” Joy said. She hung her head.

Ataahua brought his index fingers to his lips. “What’s wrong?”

“Other Forphlat are visiting your major cities. They’re being attacked everywhere.”

The Secretary-General pushed his intercom button. “We need peacekeeping—”

“I put the attackers into stasis.”

Ataahua released the button. The Forphlat disappeared. The smell of adhesive paste didn’t really put him in mind of anything on the abbreviated Sunday menu, except perhaps the gluten-free pesto wrap by texture.

“Sir,” the intercom buzzed. “We have reports of nuclear blasts.”

Joy vanished.

A growing human resistance had detonated bombs in Paris, Novosibirsk, and Winnipeg, but Joy imposed stasis before the explosions reached their full destructive potential. The resistance believed world government had fallen to alien powers, and swore never to relent: activists hurled Molotov cocktails at local U.N. offices, slipped leaflets under apartment doors, and organized nightlong drum circles.

The Secretary-General sat on his sofa, at home for the first time in days. He had spent the week dealing with large sections of the world being literally on fire and, on top of that, his doctor had called him a problem eater. Food was a distraction from what he couldn’t control.

He speared a crouton at the bottom of his Caesar salad and wished the aliens had actually taken over world government.

Joy materialized on the other side of his coffee table, the first time she had broken schedule or location. “Mr. Secretary-General, all our cages are full. We need this one back within the week.”

Ataahua stood, waving his fork. “Remove it whenever you want!”

“Tan Tan, please understand.” Joy’s sad smile turned sadder than ever. “I am deeply against the euthanasia of healthy, adoptable species.”

“Wait. You’re not going to—”

“Not if we find you a home.” She balled her hand into a fist. “I’ll widen my circle of human interaction. I’ll volunteer double this week, even though I’m overstaying my welcome with the solar locals.”

Ataahua slumped back onto his couch. “You’ve never answered why we can’t self-govern.”

“I didn’t think you were serious.”

The Secretary-General raised his eyebrows.

“Well, first, it’s ridiculous.” Joy said. “If you had access to the standard technology package, you’d be a mess of reconfigured molecules within minutes. Some of us star-dwellers are scarcely responsible enough for it.”

“We don’t need your technology. Just let us be.”

“Life without the standard package? Not at all humane.” Joy shuddered. “But let’s say we left you. You’d multiply and spread over everything: planets, asteroids, dark matter conveyance belts. You’d get caught in the mechanics and gunk up everything. Always happens.”

“We’d agreed not to leave the Earth.”

“That’s the problem. Who would agree not to leave? You have no authority except to consult with your member states. And only their figureheads. And even they keep changing. Nothing is binding.”

Ataahua could not think of a counterargument.

“Anyway. I’ve decided which other humans to involve. First, Simisola from SETI.”

Simi Sekibo-Poulter was SETI’s chief exobiologist. The Secretary-General was already in contact with her several times a week. He nodded.

“Lars from NATO,” Joy continued.

“The Security Council will freak,” he said. Lars Bjorgson was the presiding NATO Secretary and a former Norwegian Prime Minister. At least he wasn’t a North American.

“And Millie from the Humane Society.”

Ataahua choked on his lettuce. But after getting past the insult, he decided there was sense to the suggestion.

“We’ll contact their offices and get her details,” he said.

“Her shelter is in Ogallala, Nebraska.”


“Millie is their junior volunteer of the month. Every month.”

“Junior . . .” He squinted at her. “What?”

Joy pulled in a deep breath. “Just last month, she found homes for a diabetic Maine Coon, a litter of puppies, and a ferret with glaucoma.”

“Puppies and ferrets?”

“The puppies were half Shiba Inu, that was a gimme, but poor Couscous . . . he’d just run into a wall and then start hissing at it. Not an easy sell.”

He sunk into the couch. “I don’t think—”

“This cage is being cleaned in a week.”
He pressed his face into his hands.

The U.N. Executive Emergency Ad Hoc Committee for Human Adoption sat around the boardroom table. Ataahua dribbled water over his freeze-dried stroganoff and wondered if something so rubbery could be considered a distraction. The U.N. Headquarters was a bubble inside a stasis zone, and they were down to emergency rations. He couldn’t believe he had ever complained about Sunday’s abbreviated menu.

Simi Sekibo-Poulter wore a lab coat over her tweed jacket. She bent toward Joy as though drawn by gravity, long braids curtaining her face. “So, are Silicates always from high pressure environments?” she asked. “Could any live on, say, Venus?”

Joy chewed her lip. “My background’s pretty heliocentric, to be honest. Everything outside a star seems freezing cold.”

The Secretary-General put down his fork. “Dr. Sekibo-Poulter, we’re trying to save the world, not research a textbook.”

“Sorry, sir.”

He turned to Lars. The lanky man’s salt-and-pepper hair was cropped short, and his uniform was a festival of ribbons and medals. “Secretary Bjorgsen,” Ataahua asked, “what is the state of our military?”

“Pieces of NATO core command are holding, with maybe ten percent of assets responsive.” His jaw was tight. “Sir, things are a mess.”

Joy furrowed her brow. “It’s seriously against policy, but I’ll give you stasis technology.” She cut the air with her hand. “Freeze anyone fighting. Nobody will adopt you if you’re all bitey like this.”

Lars nodded.

Ataahua looked at Millie. They had provided her with business attire on arrival, but the thirteen-year-old was wearing a shirt with an embroidered baby owl cuddling a kitten.
“Adoption-Specialist Millie, what is our plan?” he asked.

Millie leaned forward. “Okay. Placing animals is super easy, Mr. Tamahi. The person just needs to think the animal loves them, like, a bunch.” Millie laid both hands over her heart. “It doesn’t matter what’s wrong with it after that.”

“So, we just need to, um, love them?” He thought about those glistening tripod-legs and decided to finish his stroganoff later.

“Seem eager! For sure. But also, I tell them, like, ‘look how much he loves you’ or ‘omigod that ferret has just been waiting for you to finally show up!’”

Ataahua, Simi, and Lars looked at each other across the table. Joy scratched her granite head.

“Joy, what do you tell these aliens?” Millie asked.

“We exchange greetings and coordinates, mostly.”

“How about, ‘they’ve never taken to anyone like that—you two are ace special together!’”
Joy blinked. “Okay, I’ll try that.”

Millie crossed her arms and smiled.

The Secretary-General and Joy waited in his office for the BinYitin. Joy presented him with a steaming pile of chicken teriyaki and sticky rice on a china plate. Once they ran out of rations, Joy began conjuring food: just nutrient bars, at first, but she had started to accommodate the occasional request from Ataahua.

“So, cyborgs?” he asked, between bites.

“The BinYitin are a co-evolved hybrid. Machine-and-bio intelligence.”

The air burst with an odor of sulfur and chicken broth. A glass coffee table appeared in front of his desk, covered in thousands of something like marble-sized fish eggs. A mess of wires tangled over them, like silver-colored hair in a shower drain. At least one wire terminated in each egg.

“Hello,” Joy said, releasing her interpreter disc.

“We’re so happy to have you,” the Secretary-General said. “Welcome to Earth!”

“Greetings.” Larva-shaped shadows thrashed inside the eggs.

“I love all your wires,” Ataahua said. “They really catch the light.”

“Appreciation for that. Most pure bios have a chip on top of their shoulders about hybrids.”
“Do they?” He balanced the last chunk of teriyaki on his fork.

“Bios are threatened that one can be born of flesh but also machine. Sentient technology is a fright agent for them.”

“Oh, not us! We love technology. It’s so clean and modern.” The Secretary-General scraped sauce residue off his plate. “Don’t we love it, Joy?”

Joy nodded. “Honestly, they stare at their technology artifacts all day long. What a great adoption fit.”

“Perhaps.” The eggs made splashing noises. “But also . . . it seems like they are constantly on fire?”

“Oh, that’ll clear right up.” Joy walked closer to the BinYitin and lowered her voice. “Do you see how the Secretary-General is looking at you? He’s so excited.”

“And they appear somewhat primitive?” There was more splashing and a fresh handful of eggs splurted from the center, some falling off the table to hang by their wires. “We were desiring a civ further along. Are you aware some of their energy is generated by giant pinwheels?”

Joy walked to the back of his office and the BinYitin’s table trundled after her, trailing a few stray egg-wires. They spoke in hushed tones. Ataahua couldn’t follow the conversation, but thought he heard “ace special.”

The alien and avatar both disappeared. The stink of broth and sulfur brought Vegemite to mind, but even the Secretary-General had to draw the line somewhere.

The Ad Hoc committee waited silently at the conference table. Clocks set to every major time zone lined the room, and the hushed chorus of their ticking made Ataahua’s head throb. Joy finally materialized, her smile betraying only the slightest hint of sadness.

Ataahua exhaled. “Thank God.”

Joy nodded. “That’s right. They want to adopt!”

Simi clapped her hands together. Lars’ medals jingled as he whooped and high-fived Millie.

“A good fit,” Joy said. “It’ll be the perfect utopia for you. We just need a quick meeting with their other civ.”

The Secretary-General frowned. “Sorry?”

“They adopted it a couple of centuries back. You guys will meet. Just to make sure you get along.”
“A dog intro,” Millie said. “We do those in Ogallala.”
Lars turned to her. “Dog intro?”

“Yeah, before someone adopts a dog, you make sure it won’t attack any of their other pets. So you bring them together for, like, an intro.”

Lars turned from Millie to Joy. “How do we do this?”

“We move their planet outside your cage and open a window. You should pop over and say hello, whatever. I won’t interfere.”

The Secretary-General tapped a finger on the table. “Bjorgsen, do we still have space capabilities?”

He set his jaw. “We’ll make it work.”

The green and grey planet fuzzed into view behind the chicken wire, its cloud patterns visible from the window of the U.N. situation room.

The Secretary-General watched white-hot dots eat a hole in the cage on one monitor. On another, he watched the U.N. Adoption Committee Greeting Probe launch, smoke and flames billowing beneath it. They didn’t have time to prepare a manned mission, but they were sending a hardened A/V drone with a variety of soft landing mechanisms and several bags of confetti.

On a tracking screen, he watched the dot blip from one planet-circle graphic to the other. As it reached the halfway point, a number of dots appeared from the opposite direction.

“Welcome probes?” Ataahua asked.

Lars pulled off one ear of his headset. “Visual, a field of missiles.” He mumbled into his microphone. “And two giant . . . tuning forks?”

On the map, the two fork-shaped blips turned just above the atmosphere and headed towards either pole. Flashes lit the New Jersey side of the building.

“An attack!” Lars shouted. “Nukes. And the forks are inserting themselves into the poles. Get me McMurdo.”

One screen flipped to a soldier in heavy winter gear over a white background. “We’re cracking,” he shouted. The image destabilized. “Cracking!”

The Secretary-General laid his hand on top of the screen. “What’s cracking?”

“The Earth!”

The chicken wire drew its way back across the sky, closing the window. Every monitor showed a scene slowed into stasis, or simply blacked out.

The Earth cracked open like a dropped watermelon. Strips of mantle and core were exposed along countless fissure lines. Joy had imposed almost complete stasis at the moment of break-up: they were living on a freeze-frame of Earth about to absorb its crust back into its liquid core. It was so depressing that Ataahua couldn’t even ask Joy to conjure him a watermelon, though he was definitely thinking about it.

Joy’s smile was as gloomy as a frown. “It’s so sad you guys couldn’t get along.”

Lars pounded the table. “We were attacked!”

“We can’t permit adoption if you’re just going to fight.”

“We were—”

The Secretary-General held up his hand. “Joy, our planet is breaking into pieces. Help us.”

“It would take weeks to fix. There’s no point.”

“Let’s get the next prospective mentor in here!”

“Nobody wants a planet they’ll just have to rebuild.”

Millie raised her hand. “In Ogallala—”

“Millie, enough Ogallala. Seriously.” Joy shook her head. “There are no expressions of interest. None at all.”

“What about friends? Half my placements are to friends’ families.” Millie spread out her arms. “Everyone needs another pet.”

“None of my helio cohort wants a cold-space primitive. Not way out here on the Orion Arm, with a broken planet. No offense.”

Simi Sekibo-Poulter leaned forward. “Well, what about the local helios?”

“They got the broadcast.”

Millie raised her hand again. It was shaking. “But have you asked them? Maybe they’ll be smart and reasonable. Ace like you.”

Joy chewed on her lip. “One moment.” She disappeared.

The Secretary-General decided it wouldn’t be too depressing to ask for just a single slice of watermelon. What was so bad about distraction, anyway?

An hour later, two Joys rematerialized.

One Joy rolled her eyes. “C’mon,” she said. “At least pick a different avatar.”

The second Joy disappeared, then reappeared in gold instead of granite.

“Fine,” the first Joy said. “Whatever. Good enough. Guys, this is”—she made a whooshing sound the disc translated as Rick—“from the local photosphere.”

“We’re so happy to have you,” the Secretary-General said. “Welcome to Earth, Rick!”

“You here to adopt us?” Millie asked.

Joy’s sad smile twitched with barely concealed anger. “Not exactly.”

“You chromos don’t understand what it’s like in the photosphere,” Rick said. “We shift with our granules. Our selves get blended, separated, remixed. We never stay the same individual for long.”

Joy’s granite face flushed red. “That’s exactly why you need to tag!” she shouted. “Do you have any idea what you’ve put me through?”

“Technically, only a small part of me put you through that.”

“Wait, Rick is our . . .” Ataahua swallowed. “Our owner?”

She nodded. “As soon as he pays the impound fine.”

“Yeah,” Rick said. “Not paying any fine. Don’t need a species right now.”

Joy stared at him. “It’s already your species. They’re about to be euthanized.”

“Sorry. Not really my responsibility.”

“What? Whose responsibility is it, Rick?”

Rick shrugged. “The responsibility is sort of, well . . .” He turned his palms up and wiggled his fingers in the air. “It’s all mixed up.”

“Un-be-lievable.” Joy pressed her hands to her temples. “You’re as bad as the humans!” She turned to the U.N.’s globe-and-laurel insignia on the wall, then swung back to Rick. “Is there any chance you’ll do the right thing?”

Rick stared at his hands, transfixed by his still-wiggling fingers. He shook his head.
“Sorry guys.” Joy radiated sorrow as she looked at the humans. “It’s over.”

Millie stood. She walked to Joy and whispered to her through both hands. Joy nodded as she listened, and Millie sat back down.

“Rick, could you do me one favor?” Joy asked. “It’s the Secretary-General’s dinnertime. Would you mind feeding him?”
“Why can’t you?”

“Well.” Joy rubbed her chin. “It’s his last meal. The whole thing is so sad . . . I just can’t.”

Rick looked up from his hands. “Fine, whatever.”

Ataahua glanced frantically between Joy and Millie, both of whom were giving him pointed stares. He was a little hurt that they expected him to be thinking about food when the world was ending. Then again, the world was ending.

“Sushi please,” he said.

Rick gestured and a foot-long wooden serving boat appeared, covered in octopus, abalone, amberjack, eel, sweet shrimp, tuna, and more. Ataahua raised his chopsticks. Millie caught his eye and mouthed “look happy” from across the table. It all clicked. He bit into some sea urchin. He didn’t have to pretend: it was delicious, like a creamy ocean. And the Bluefin—the Bluefin was like butter, its ruby red essence melting in his mouth.

The lines around Rick’s eyes started to soften. Joy tapped his shoulder and pointed at the tuna. “He seems to enjoy those,” she said.

A ceramic plate overflowing with Bluefin materialized next to the boat. The Secretary-General laid down his chopsticks. He picked up a slice of o-toro in his right hand and a slice of chu-toro in his left, and swallowed them in rapid succession. This was his moment. Ataahua was not eating to escape what he couldn’t control. He was eating to impose control. He was eating to save the world.

Nothing had ever tasted so good.

Rick turned to Joy. “He really does like it, doesn’t he?”

“Does he ever!” she said. “Rick, look how much he loves you.”

“I think he just loves that I’m feeding him?”

“That’s not a meaningful distinction with humans.” Joy slapped Rick on his back. “And it’ll be a different Secretary-General next time anyway. They’re just as mixed up as you.”

“Huh.” Rick was grinning.

“What do you say, be an owner?”

“Oh, yeah.” Rick started to fade. “I’m definitely going to think about it.”

Ataahua let out a long, low sigh.

Joy flicked her wrist and Rick solidified. “I’m sorry,” she said, “it’s now or never. Do you want that to be his last meal, or not? Will you take responsibility?”

Rick chewed his lips and looked from person to person.

“You know what, okay.” He shook Joy’s hand. “Let’s do it.”

The humans clapped and cheered, then fist-bumped each other across the table. Dizzy waves of relief washed over Ataahua.

He stood and shook Rick’s hand, then embraced Joy. “So we’re good?” he asked her. “It’s really over?”

“It is. I just put tags on you guys, so this will never happen again. Next, we’ll get you inoculated, neutered, and right out of this cage.” She glanced at Rick, who was back to watching his fingers wiggle. “You’re going to be so happy together.”

About the Author

Nathan Hillstrom

Nathan Hillstrom has a sad but overwritten backstory involving computer science, a first career on Wall Street, and ruinous sashimi cravings. He now lives and writes in beautiful Southern California. His fiction has appeared in Asimov’s, Interzone, Compelling SF, and elsewhere. Nathan is a graduate of the 2015 Clarion Writers’ Workshop.

Find more by Nathan Hillstrom


About the Narrator

Chris Williams

Chris Williams is a professional voice actor of just about every variety you can name. He works with private agencies, New Zealand TV and NZME, radio and a variety of international brand companies, drawing on experience in theater and documentary broadcasting dating back to 1981. He is in demand as a lead singer and MC for hire, working with big bands and variety shows since 2001. Contemporary songwriting is an exciting part of Chris’s passion for expression as he often reflects sociopolitical trends. He also composes music and songs designed to stimulate memory recall to help Alzheimer’s sufferers reconnect with family and friends using the power of music vibration backed by a knowledge of therapeutic harmonics. Chris’s hobbies include, cooking, scuba diving, energy therapy and stress release counselling and vocal coaching.

Find more by Chris Williams