Issue 193 – October 2022

5300 words, short story

Coding Van Gogh


A paintbrush, still dipped in Prussian blue, dissolved into a stream of code. Tara peeked at the 0s and 1s snaking up her wired arms, dimly illuminating the very human veins underneath. Her eyes shut.

Starry Night. Violently controlled waves, tamed only by the canvas, cupped in its palms—gold, amber, and rusted orange wheels, stuck to their eternal task: spinning. Geometry dictated the establishment in their penumbra: dark and shrouded, the people and the village as a whole gladly groveling in the shadows of the celestial bodies. Except, the gnarled tree, a trojan horse, broke the rules. Mottled and serpentine, it swallowed the village’s minaret in its splendor and stretched its talons to claim the blue ripples’ prizes.

Pure genius. The algorithms behind the different hues’ compatibility, the various brushstrokes’ calculated widths, and the elements’ proportions. What kind of genius was capable of this?

Tara’s fingers shuddered where she held the powerful utensil. Stroke for stroke. Color for color. Not even a “pico-shade” out of place. Those same waves spilled out of her brush, and the haughty stars, and the humble town, and the cypress—the ultimate symbol of a lucid mind eclipsing rigid boundaries.

Her brain throbbed, the billions of neurons colliding a bit more rapidly. What if—she fancied—what if I spread out the crown of leaves a bit farther? What if I let the tree’s darkness block out a bit more of the radiance? What if I create a replication of it?

Tara’s pulse ticked ¼ a beat faster before the pseudocode progressed onto the next line.

ERROR: ‘art-postimpressionism-vangogh1’ was undeclared in the scope.     NULL

“Fire, fire!” A bot squeaked in staccatos between the wailing sirens.

She neither saw a single flame nor heard a single crackle.

Simultaneously, a sharp instrument cut through Tara’s left arm, carving open skin around her triceps brachii. A cool liquid oozed down her skin as the tools plunged even deeper into her flesh, ripping out the wires and sending her into electrical shock.

Tara was encased in a capsule, submerged in a gooey liquid like the viscid mucus lining of intestines. She felt a foreign numbness over every nerve and every tissue on the left side of her body. She flexed her right hand. The sticky substance reciprocated. But when she tried with her left, nothing happened.

Whir. The top unlocked. Next, the glassy shell of the vertical container parted from the middle like doors sliding open. Finally, the fluid blocking her vision drained out in a leisurely trickle. Tara stepped forward and tripped.

Something caught her before she planted into the ground. “Careful, you are still in regeneration.”

Curious. This person was supposedly supporting her upright, yet Tara was not aware of being touched by human skin or any other devices. She had lost all feeling on the left side of her body.


Exposed to open air, the liquid on her body began to evaporate. She was in a laboratory.

Another voice. “Tara?”

An attractive male stood at the doorway. His muscular frame and dark olive complexion jogged her memory. When he limped inside, she finally put a name to the face.

“Rhett!” She dove into the arms of her best friend and squeezed him hard for ten solid seconds before she noticed it—the monstrosity clapped over his shoulder, extending out from no other being but herself.

It was a hand alright, see-through to the artificial skeleton within. The spherical joint of the elbow rotated. As for the outermost layer of the whole contraption, when in reflection of the light, it produced a glint of lightweight metals: magnesium, copper, and titanium.

“The inside is propped up with carbon fiber, and a transparent thermoplastic layer coats that prosthetic arm.” Rhett finished her thoughts for her.

“Oh, gosh.” She groaned. The featherweight contraption weighed exactly like a fleshly arm.

She had become even closer to a cyborg.

Rhett came around and inspected his creation, now an inseparable segment of her. “I made it. For you.”

Tara snapped, the precursor of a typical scolding. “You did what? Rhett, you shouldn’t have!”

His actions would seem romantic to any other, except Rhett was a friend, a brother, someone who had already put his life on the line for her twice. All those illegal metals had to cost some serious crypto, not to mention that the local PD would be onto him. But he gave her a wry smile that said she might as well accept what was already irreversible.

“What—happened?” She tried to remember.

He shrugged, as in I don’t know either. “They called me out of work last month as your next of kin. Tara, I saw you through the zipper of a body bag. Your left torso, more like a large purple burl, hissed out malware currents. What kind of trouble did you get yourself into?”

Tara was as clueless as him. She plopped down and stretched out on the not-cold-enough floor. She considered submerging her head in a tub of icy water to see if her memory might resurface. Dismissing that thought, she slapped her forehead, shrinking convulsively at the touch of the smooth material of her new hand. Slowly, she raised her human hand, scrutinizing the intermeshed lines crisscrossing over her beige skin, the luster of keratin in her nails, and those pricks of midphalangeal hair.

“Hey, Tara.” Rhett clasped her hand with his.

The calluses, proof of his occupation, scraped her skin. So very humanlike.

“We will figure this out, okay?” he said. “One step at a time. For now, you go back to work and go fill out all those documents to invalidate your death certificate.”

“Right.” She chuckled. She almost forgot that.

The next day, she found someone else working her shift.

“Look, Tara, obviously I am ecstatic and overwhelmed that—you came back from the grave, but you were declared deceased, and we already hired a replacement. The newbie is terribly sweet.”

Dr. Robin, director of the Art Recovery Department, had been a kind and understanding employer. He appeared as though he was about to tear up just because of this conundrum or like he was begging to be spared from additional misery.

Tara held him in great esteem. His many published works on respecting and preserving artistic heritage over data mining were what inspired her to pursue this line of work. Since then, she’d learned a great deal from him about art history, the chemistry of different mediums, and the psychological analysis of paintings.

In a society where code and data transacted as currency, only those who lacked the intuition of handling computers, those denied employment anywhere else, were pushed to this last resort. Tara was an anomaly. Computers were her expertise. She conversed in object-oriented programming (OOP) like a poet who manipulated words to her liking. After grad school, Pete Szain, inventor of Elysium (the coding language that enabled algorithms to generate physical creations), personally offered her a spot on his research and development team, which she tactfully turned down. Elysium enabled folks to make fake designer bags, build a palace out of a void, or even print currency themselves. Although the range of wonders it could accomplish still depended on the user’s skills, there had to be restrictions. As Elysium took over virtually everything, Pete Szain assumed this role. He set out quotas and enforcers, with a plethora of venal transactions in between.

Nevertheless, it was rather comical that Tara ended up using Elysium every day to recreate the lost paintings of antiquity. Though Tara held reservations about the omnipotent program, she’d been able to quit from the moment she started.

Most of her peers enlisted as Elysium’s code runners. They offered up their bodies as the vessels for prewritten codes and relinquished control to the compilers every single day. At the end of each program, the CPU yielded a new song, book, or headline for entertainment; batches of vacuum-packed ham and toast slices; or another shipment of Elysium wares, chips that could easily be used in everyday homes.

“Well, can’t you fire her then—I mean, this is a special case, right?” Tara lost confidence even as she was speaking.

Dr. Robin sighed. “Dear—”

“You know what? Forget it.” Tara let out a deeper exhale. Screw it. It wasn’t like she was being sent out to beg in the streets. “That was unfair of me. I apologize.”

“No, not at all. You had every right.” The muscles on his face slackened, sensing that he just avoided an extremely unpleasant conversation.

Tara couldn’t bear to leave one thing behind, though. “Can I come and watch the others start on the post-impressionism works? I mean, I guess they should be well into it the past month, but I want to see it one last time, please? One replication.”

Tara and her team celebrated their big finale on the prolific impressionists and expressionists shortly before her incident occurred. Now, they should be on to the freaky ones, the rule-breakers: Seurat’s pointillism, Matisse’s fauvism, or Munch’s dark and depressing scenes.

“That would be against protocols, my dear.”

“Doctor . . . ” Tara stuttered. “I think you might be mistaken, sir.” She had memorized all fifty-seven rules in the manual after all.

“Dear.” He pursed his lips, struggling. “It is simply not possible. I am sorry. I know your commitment to the cause, but I must consider the others’ safety as well. Please forgive me.”


After centuries of neglect, Elysium contained the last coded copies of all the prehistoric classics. No one was going to dig them out until Dr. Robin initiated the program to reproduce physical versions of these artworks for public education. It was a one-of-a-kind human endeavor to backtrack history instead of bulldozing forward.

For an accident that Tara couldn’t even remember, she was forever banished from dealing with those glorious paintings and barred from the only method to lay eyes on them. This realization hit her harder than any of the events of the last few days.

Something didn’t click. He lied or changed the rules for what? Her request wasn’t outrageous or threat-inducing.

She glanced around his office. The walls had been sloppily repainted recently. The antique furniture Dr. Robin collected, each one a king’s ransom on the black markets, bore the wounds of a fire that scorched the fine quality of wood into burnt sienna and various spots of sooty black. She glanced past the cabinet to the corner where a Matisse now hung.

Where was his beloved Water Lilies No. 23? She’d spent two hundred and fifty consecutive nights recreating every single painting in Monet’s first series. Monet’s dreamy palette often explored the intermediaries of colors, the blend between turquoise and chartreuse, magenta and violet, or fuchsia and burgundy. It was like smearing a tearstained landscape.

Dr. Robin claimed that he hated Matisse, the incompetent copycat of the Master who pioneered capturing the shifting nature of light. Yet the piece that now hung in the Monet’s place was Woman with a Hat. The figure’s blue-green face shirked under the ostentatious fascinator hat. The imbalance of colors and mass repulsed Tara.

It was a possibility, so she had to ask. “Did I have an accident here?”

The old man broke into an incredulous face of definitively arched eyebrows and suggestively beady eyes behind his spectacles. “No. Nothing of the sort.” Dr. Robin clearly lied little in his honorable way of living.

“Sir, please,” she cried. “Was I allegedly killed here at the Art Recovery Department?”

“I just told you. No.” But he did call her a potential breach of safety for the other employees.

“Sir, I want the truth. I want to know what happened to me.” Her voice broke like the nasty squeak of a dislocated shoulder.

“Stop, Tara!” He removed his glasses, no longer shielding the silent apology in his sage gray eyes. “I need you to leave and never come back.” The naked vulnerability spoke of his helplessness, his forced compliance, and his duty to follow guidelines.

She was reminded of the time she prodded him about when their first exhibition would be. He’d said, “There are higher powers on this earth to answer to.” Little did she know that God was perhaps out of reach, and her hero was but a metal link on the entire chain of command. Rusty and old.

She shivered at the doorway and droned out the two words—her death sentence. “Yes, sir.”

She didn’t do herself a favor by burning her bridges. Halfway down the block, her eyes angled towards where her heart belonged—the entrance of one dilapidated edifice—obtrusively bracketed by modern houses. Monotonous quadrilaterals formed these buildings that were trimmed to the same height. They unrolled down both ends of the street.

Onlookers scoffed at her bare shoulders. Unlike the Elysium uniform, the front-knot blouse loosely puffed down her arms. Her ripped jeans were a marker of social deviance.

“Girl, you are blocking my clients.” The flower shop lady cleared her throat.

Every time Tara allowed herself the last glimpse back over her shoulder, she fell into minute-long dazes. She mumbled an apology.

“Just hit the road.” The white polo clung tightly to the woman’s wider bodice. And stretched in long wrinkles as she turned with tree-trunk legs.

Tara thought of the flowers the woman had in stock. Technological manufacturing equipment, upon receiving instructions, would fuse filmy petals around a central stigma. The process was several hundred times more efficient than the natural method. She’d go out of business in a month if her seeds were still spreading roots in the dirt, let alone without a worthy bloom.

Tara purchased a lily—a much more realistic reproduction of the physical world than Monet’s violet blobs smeared onto the canvas.

She strained out her right hand and measured the lily’s radial symmetry. The lone flower spelled a fraction problem. Imagine a pie, divide it into five equal slices, and one gets the five ivory tongues sticking out.

“Shouldn’t you start applying for a new position?” Rhett said.

He was poking pincers, drills, and scalpels into the arm she irresponsibly punched into the wall several times. And maybe intentionally set on fire just for the sudden impulse to see if she would feel any pain. The answer was no, since Rhett couldn’t have possibly afforded those nanotech sensory processors.

“What job, hmm?” Tara yawned and repositioned herself on the sofa. She had hardly got up and walked around for the last two months, fifteen days, eight hours, and thirty-three minutes.

How did she survive then? Codes made everything possible.

She positioned her personal compiler right atop the adjacent desk. If she clicked five buttons, two slices of toast, one with peanut butter spread, a plate, and a glass filled with orange juice, would amalgamate into her breakfast.

Tara’s high academics enabled her to do far more than that. With some clever synthesis, she turned five clicks into one: Tara’s breakfast. She even tweaked a few values to burn the toast just right and to improve the spread’s sweetness.

Her mind drifted to Vermeer’s The Milkmaid. It had a peculiar interior design. The sheeny wall backdropped a full counter of pots and pans and baskets of food. The figure, dressed in rich aquamarine, was pouring a jug. What do people do in those kinds of settings? What could possibly take them so long to prepare food?

Rhett was answering her nonchalant question. “I don’t know. You haven’t lost your touch with computers. You are still the coding wiz I know from kindergarten even after your time with that messy art stuff. Szain will still want you. Maybe not in research, but you will get decent pay as a satellite coder. Or if you could create something close to Kako again?”

“No. Don’t even think about it,” she snapped.

As he finished polishing the damaged skin covering, Tara jumped to her feet and paced the room.

Kako was her baby. Kako was God. Kako became so powerful a language that she scratched out the entire thing, deleted it, and wrote a memory-erasing program to run on herself. Kako built upon the concept of Elysium, except it took into consideration the human factor. Luckily, she couldn’t remember how that worked; she only recalled the mortal fear and inadequacy she’d felt.

“Fine. I shouldn’t have mentioned it, but even an average employee at Szain has a yearly salary of 200 BTC crypto.”

Poor Rhett. All he wished was for her to get out of this suburban slum neighborhood.

Tara snorted. “I would rather you give me a brain prosthetic implant.”

He frowned. “You are joking about my prosthetic after it saved your sorry ass? That’s in bad taste, Tara.”

She realized instantly how he would misunderstand. “I’m sorry, Rhett. I owe you my life after all the risks you took for me. Let’s drop the subject.”

Even though the two of them knew each other when they were in baby carriages, he wouldn’t get it. Tara could vouch for his kind heart, but not necessarily for a shrewd mind.

Szain and all the other data big shots (side branches of Szain) had roughly a couple of thousand employees per. The workers, who were not as skilled to become code writers, sacrificed their brains to serve as compilers and interpreters, acting as avenues to run surveillance or manufacturing codes, whether through artificial satellites or tracking devices. At that point, what was the difference between mindless robots and them?

“Promise me that you will at least go to an interview,” Rhett pleaded as he was leaving.

Tara threw up her hands. “I thought that I made my point!”

“One interview,” he insisted.

It was a futile battle: her against the times. She hated losing, but she would have to concede at one point since she’d just about eaten through her savings.

Her scowl softened. Rhett wasn’t her enemy. “One. And you will never bother me with it again.”

His shoulders sank in relief. “Thank God.”

Watching him leave, Tara developed other plans.

First things first, she went to the State Archives. She slumped into the swivel chair across from her advisor’s cubicle, rigid slabs closing off the rat in a maze. “I am here to have my death certificate revoked.”

The man’s snobbish accent drew her attention away from his monocle.

His mustache twitched. “Proof?”

Tara chuckled dryly. “I am my own proof.” She spun the chair, wheels creaking, once, twice, waiting for him to bring up the documents then verify the DNA match.

“Tara Amethyst Valadkani?”

“That’s me.” She nodded at his arched brows. “I know, it’s perfectly understandable to feel surprised.”

The man regained his aristocratic cool with a little brush of his crinkled collars. “Give me ten seconds, Ms. Tara.”

He clacked his plastic and rubber keyboard. Dragged his mouse to the center of the screen and hit the print button. From the lack of upkeep towards his outdated equipment, his seemed just as forlorn a dying profession as hers. She would bet a thousand crypto that she was his first client in a month or two.

But nevertheless, Elysium saved the changes. “This is a copy of your revised certificate. Have a good day.”

Tara started a thank you and stopped. She corrected her false death; that was too far a tangent from normalcy for her to conclude it with a mere expression of gratitude.

Before her final destination, she went to see Vic, a colleague who worked on the same spiritual level as her. The dripping graffiti outside his apartment reeked a kindred repute—outcast. Tara grabbed on to the lowest part of the ladder and pulled, swinging it down from a hinge of the fire escape. She sprinted up one set of stairs, swiveled herself at the end of the railing, and hopped onto another set. The motley orange and brown rust clanged against her nimble feet.

Vic told Tara that he’d owed his landlady rent for months, but the old woman still gave him the top-floor apartment. Along with a warning that its floorboards might cave in any day.

Tara knocked on the fused screen panels—his door—fuming at the clamorous beats coming from inside that made her toes curl. She shut her ears, and still, her feet rocked from the vibrations. She slipped out a pocketknife. Pricked the mesh.

“Whoa, princess!” Vic held one panel open. “See that black dividing line? It’s a magnetic strip.” He removed his hand from between the two panels, rejoining the attracted screens.

“You—” She pushed her way in.

“Don’t feel bad. Everyone fell for the fake door.” He did not comment on her arm.

“Vic, you—” Tara gaped at his studio.

Natural light cascaded without hindrance through the glass roof and graciously flooded the confined space. Exotic creatures roamed in disarray on the wooden desk, such as tin buckets with brushes thin as needlepoint or thick like a lion’s tail. Crushed tubes of paint squirted out some precious residue on the palette.

“Black market?”

“That’s why I’m broke like a church mouse.”

Along the ancient bricks surfacing out of gap-toothed mortar hung some of his sketches. Crude charcoal lines delineated the masterpieces, contours of Mona Lisa and The Last Supper. She shot him a quick look of approval. Vic nodded.

She proceeded to the opposite end where an oversized piece, draped in theatrical red, balanced atop a rickety easel. The painting throbbed beneath the covering, itching for light and air. She pulled it off. And gasped.

Unfinished but almost, a nude girl bathed in an ethereal meadow, where dotted blossoms melted into the lime green and flax yellow. The impressionist brushwork evolved to dramatic tenebrism on the female body, accentuating her innocence in the softer breasts and arch of her back. The tenderness. The chastity.

Tara finally let herself face Vic and the knife he gripped hard onto.

“I had other plans of action if it wasn’t you visiting.” He promised like a faithful defender, unabashed by his treacherous deeds.


Tara envisioned him in an artist stool, lanky legs dangling over the bottom footring. He whizzed left and right, craning taller and dipping down to adjust every detail. He applied each layer ardently.

“How?” she breathed. The green-eyed monster prodded her ribs. Her knowledge of the art collection far exceeded his, but she had never laid eyes on anything like this before. Shadows of imitations flickered here and there, but every stroke cried his name, not Van Gogh, Raphael, or Caravaggio.

“You know how, princess. Inspiration feeds on intense love or hatred.”

Tara had neither, like the rest of their society. “What did you call me?”

He grinned mischievously. “Your middle name, Amethyst. It comes from Amytis of Babylon, a Persian princess, wife of Nebuchadnezzar II.”

“Whatever book you scrapped on the markets, I want it after you are finished.”

“You shall have it, princess.” He took a step closer, whispering down her neck. “I painted my interpretation of Amytis. You two have the same eyes, sterling gray with flecks of the purple gem’s glint.” His breathing was a low-pitched tremolo.

A frown surfaced on Tara’s forehead. She turned sideways. “Thanks, I guess.”

His audible exhale followed. Tara frowned harder. What was that supposed to mean? Like he just proved something.

“Well.” She lightly pushed him away at the shoulder. “I need a favor. Don’t come to night patrol at the Art Recovery Department today.” She exited without an answer, not like it mattered either way. This was her last go at living freely.

Almond Blossoms. A Sunday Afternoon on the Island of La Grande Jatte. The Basket of Apples—No. She rummaged through their several-thousand-terabytes file, but none of them fit the situation. None of them had the edge she searched for, the one attribute that would make her blood sing in excitement.

Starry Night. That would do. She had never seen it, but its historical legacy and Dr. Robin’s high praise thrummed out the potential masterpiece.

She opened Elysium and called the variable.

ERROR: ‘art-postimpressionism-vangogh1’ was declared twice.     NULL

She punched the desk. Whoever had the privilege to replicate this famed piece was now the target of all her envy. She only hoped that they lived up to it. Back to the file.

Her fingers, at least the human side, itched at the prospect of handling each and every one of them, but she hadn’t got the time. Their department only closed for a short span of two hours every night.

This was her last chance to feel something before she went to that interview, signed the contract, and became another mannequin succumbing to binary numbers. She possessed such vast aptitudes, not necessarily in computers but in the novelties she’d never explored before. What if she could create her paintings? There also used to be something called lyrical music, a particular knowledge she gleaned from a visit to the Ancient Volumes Department. Music was the byproduct of composers pressing down zebra-striped tiles to sound pitches that made coherent sense and served melodical purposes. Maybe she could do that?

Not even Rhett supported her when she decided to work under Dr. Robin. He refused to talk to her for a long while. “Wasting your brilliance on ancient pictures is a mockery to us stupid people.” Those were his exact words.

But Tara remembered when she was first astounded. Dr. Robin was giving a speech at her campus. He showed a lost painting, one that Elysium didn’t have the title for, with clocks sagging off a branch, a tabletop, and an unknown anthropomorphic element. It had just the line contours and no colors. It was one of the precious artifacts that truly disappeared in the course of history. She hearkened back to her resolve then, that she was going to complete it one day.


It did not change from her memory. Tara hated that the arch and dip of every curve conveyed meanings beyond her comprehension but there were no hues in the entire picture to elucidate each feature’s meaning. That was now her job: giving the painting color.

She gave the landscape in the back an icy blue and a mustard yellow with brown highlights. A hundred years ago, trees still existed in this mad world, ushering speckles of shade to a pedestrian and glimpses of untouched natural magnificence. It was said that their leaves shifted between wondrous colors with the seasons. Tara didn’t want to dishonor the fabled greeneries, so she resorted to the same color as the shabby hills one saw nowadays.

The empty spaces she filled with a darker brown, and then came the foreground. Decors like clocks belonged in the antique shop, and the antique shop was the realm of gold, silver, and bronze.

She assigned an orangish bronze to the pocket watch on the table. And pristine gold to the rims of the rounded clocks, a tribute to the unsullied age they hailed from.

From her experience with Monet’s Impression, Sunrise, a plain gray for the clock faces couldn’t go wrong, but it did. So light a color made it blend in and not stand out. The wrong shade of gray perhaps, but as she dialed up and down the intensity, the entire composition only morphed more and more out of proportions. Silver, which was like shiny gray, didn’t make it any better.

Gold/yellow’s complementary color is purple. Now, that only turned it into some androgynous creature. Tara clicked her tongue by reflex. She was not the person that settled for second-best, not when there was perfection out there.

What about blue, purple’s analogous color? She envisioned it. And smiled.

What a fool. How had she forgotten her purpose here tonight, illegal but determined? By her definition, this was her last moment of living before she lost her humanity, so why was she deducing from logic and not from the heart?

Blue is the answer, a surprising coincidence, but what type of blue?

The thin minute hand spins and spins. Overlapping, the hour hand crawls in slow motion. The two added together times three. Ants feed away at the abandoned timepiece. A source, a scorching sun perhaps, stimulates the metal’s ductility, bends it, warps it, yet gravity keeps pulling it down, down, until it is elongated out of shape. They melt like heated camembert yet time, time tethers them from disintegrating into a liquid puddle. The faded seashore and rocks further suspend it at one precise instant where clocks stopped ticking, changes stopped occurring, and the world altogether stopped advancing forward. In such an apocalypse, where the mind surrenders all consciousness, time, even time ceases to matter.

It has to be a blush of blue. Transient. She thought of a shade almost identical to what she chose for the sea but with tinctures of pure cyan, as if existing in the threshold of dream and reality. That was it. Genius.

The painter intended for it to be mindless. Nonsensical. A portrayal of madness where the basis of humanity—feeling—no longer governs. At that extremity, time withers into an oblivion that is Death. Tara felt her fear embodied through her and a stranger’s combined creation. Every fiber of her trembled.

A job at Szain didn’t horrify her. It was what that job implied—Death.

Horrification. Excitement. Her heartbeat raced as temperature spiked in the room. She didn’t need the bot’s notification to realize that she was on fire. The socket where she was wired into Elysium burned her from the inside out.

Sirens wailed. “Tara Amethyst Valadkani. You are under arrest.” A bot squad in black filed in and formed a circle, training their laser guns on her.

Pinned down in red, she winced.

Her right hand, rendered into ashes, screamed for morphine, but the fire stopped there. Someone shut the program down remotely.

“For what damn reason?” she roared.

They stood their ground. Couldn’t the persons operating the bots see that she needed a medic more than a police investigator? Right. They were technically not humans anymore.

“I said for what damn charges, you metalheads. If you are only here because of a code error, get the hell out! This is private property owned by Dr. Russell Robin.”

One bot calmly whirred around and cuffed her ankles. With her remaking human arm mutilated by fire, Tara was in no place to resist.

Another spoke. “Tara Amethyst Valadkani, former employee of the Art Recovery Department, you are under arrest for violating The Elysium Bylaws Section V Clause 1.” Before she could demand the specificity, it gave exactly that. “Individuals must refrain from concentrated human emotions when utilizing Elysium to conduct business associated with past human activities.” They then proceeded to move her into a prisoner transport vehicle.

So her passion was her crime?

The computer inside chirped, “Tara Amethyst Valadkani is associated with two collaborators: Rhett Falkman, suspected of illegal metal trade, and Victor Pongetti, another violator of Clause 1.”

Tara heard two ordinary male names, nothing more.

Dr. Robin’s self-driving race car screeched into the driveway. The old man staggered out of his seat, dropping his cane.

Knees on the ground, he yelped, “I told you to stay away, Tara! I tried ripping out the wires last time to save you. Why did you have to come back?”

“Last time” must be the accident, but Tara couldn’t care less now.

After the bots opened the backdoor hatch of the prisoner's vehicle, she allowed them to haul her in without protest. In a short while, she won’t be able to think or feel for herself, be that joy which warms her from head to toe, or fear like chilling gusts cutting her skin. And then, nothing will mean nothing no more.

Author profile

Elaine Gao is currently a junior at an Oklahoma high school and moved to the US with her family almost four years ago. Her passion for reading young adult fiction sparked her interest in a writing career. Whenever she has time, she fills it by writing poetry, short stories, and even novels. Elaine is currently in the final stages of publishing her first novel, The Oracle.

Share this page on: