Writers (in order): Sophia Yoshimura, Isabelle S. Li, Alyssa Tang, ChloeLux, Crystal Tse, Emily Chaisson, Z. Bransi, Max Webster, Julie Chiang, Yonglin Kuang, Gem Silva, Aritra Nag, Luke Chan Onn-Jit, Melody Gao

Editor: Irene Tsen

Jayce checks the time again. His shift is on in five minutes. As soon as the door of his hovercraft whizzes closed, he shimmies over to the government building quickly but carefully to keep his espresso from spilling. He can’t afford dry cleaning again this week, or another lecture from his supervisor.

Just like always, he lets the sonic elevator bring him to his floor. Heads five doors down, scans his eye. Then breathes in that sterile, carbolic lab smell. He was just here yesterday, and Jayce feels his face droop at the unsavory reunion. He veils himself in some retro polyester mask—they ran out of the usual gas masks—and soberly sets his tumbler inside his locker.

The two-headed boy is still sitting in his cryogenic tube, curled up into a fetal position and cocooned in artificial sleep. This sleep cycle is supposed to last until the two brains can be fully extracted, but Jayce doesn’t even remember the last time he shut his own eyes for that long. Dawn and dusk have long melded together for him, not unlike this boy’s conjoined heads. A jagged incision runs up the two skulls and down the boy’s spine, wires splayed out of his shoulder blades like wings. If Jayce squints enough, this boy might even resemble a bird: an angel of formaldehyde and embalming fluid, begging to be set free.

A sharp signal from the monitors shakes Jayce free from his reverie. He can’t afford to be empathizing with some specimen. But when the freakish creature peels back its amphibious eyelids, its vitreous eyes stare right into Jayce’s soul.

Jayce looks away, but his superficial deflection does little to minimize its magnetic stare. Some nights, at the end of his shift, when the automated sounds of crickets—engineered by the Public Safety Sector to encourage a healthy early curfew—rustle through layers and layers of reinforced walls to overlap with the familiar hum of machinery at the heart of the research facility, when it’s just him and this boy, the pale fluorescence of overhead lights splayed over his hands feels accusatory as he fiddles with probes and vials.

He can’t get distracted now. Other than regular maintenance check-ups, the higher-ups want to try cycling a new activation protein that would provide more insight on his CT scans, ease open his doubly abundant neural pathways. There’s work to be done: he unpacks the new shipment of gels for staining and sets it by the RTR-dex for one of the technicians to handle. After, he checks in the freezer for the scaffold and guiding KNA he’ll need, swirling them in their plastic bullet-like casing.

There’s a shuffling noise behind him, like water filtering through gravel.

It’s mostly clear, with strands of drifting white genetic material. Aged—but there should be more than enough to supply his experiments today.

“Father…” it croaks.

Important to note: it’s spoken before. With each crackling whisper, thunder seems encrusted within its scattered consonants. It sends lightning up spines such as Jayce’s. Shocking every hair into spearheaded submission, a touch from this… creature would surely leave Jayce shaking.

I’ll ignore it… The creature lies through the wires embedded in the hollows his wisdom teeth once nested soundly within. They poke like fresh stitches. Twirl with the twitching of his tongue, for him, something to bite on. Though not too roughly of course. Electrocution would surely put a hold on any remaining plans for any remaining future still huddled within his subconscious. Or whatever’s left of that.

Ignore it. Not likely. Not probable Jayce is even trying. To ignore this particular specimen would be to ignore the thoughts in one’s own head. Futile.

“Won’t…” Jayce lurches forward. He’s decided to run from it, apparently. For a scientist you’d think him smarter. “It” seems to choke on its consciousness, bubbles catching among its sallow cheekbones, wavering as they twirl to the top of its glass tank. “Look… you… a-at-t… m-me…?”

Struck by lightning. His hand freezes just above his keycard, prepared to scan himself free and out of the room. His uneasiness is unwarranted, he recognizes this. What am I doing? I can’t just hurry away. What am I so scared of?


Jayce’s heart comes to a painful halt. The boy in the tank, floating, bubbling, thundering behind him, freezing the very atoms making up the room around him—He’s seeing into my soul. It’s happening again. He can hear me, I know he can. You can hear me. How can you hear me? Get out! Get out get out please just leave me!

“Need… y-y-your… help.”

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