A Winged Bug’s Pain

By Sele Hanakusa, Translated by Toshiya Kamei

sfgenreIf a flurry of cherry blossom petals moves you to tears, it proves you have emotions. Even though this is my fourth spring, I’ve failed to acquire a heart. I can’t help but count fine petals one by one as they swirl down from the trees. If I see them as a hazy expanse of sky colored in a pink pencil instead, then do humans think I’ve got a heart?

My spring has shimmered grey as far back as I can remember. It all started with a winged bug’s visit.

It was a transporter robot with a silkmoth’s head and chest embedded as the control device. An insect’s cranial nerves have become a subject of intense study. Scientists discovered that an insect brain attached to a robot takes over the robot’s nerve system. Thus, an insect brain inevitably becomes an integral part of the robot. Or rather, it functions as the robot’s brain. Silkmoths don’t eat at all, and they die after a few days. Only a silkmoth’s brain is needed to control a robot. Even so, its legs are left intact.

Once commonly used, artificial control devices had high production costs. Designed to deliver packages to homes, transporter robots get damaged frequently. Humans have surgically and genetically manipulated silkmoths for decades. Despite their short lifespans, silkmoths have replaced man-made control devices as inexpensive alternatives.

  The bug had legs missing. But it didn’t matter because it felt no pain.

I flashed a penlight on the transporter robot. The bug was genetically manipulated so that the blue light triggered its homing instinct. It flapped its machine wings and flew away.

The robot left me a nondescript envelope. It’s terribly anachronistic, but they say a physical copy carries a certain warmth with it. I slid my finger in the gap in the envelope and ripped it open. It was from the academy inviting me back again.

  Dear Yoku,

We at Robotic Heart Academy hope you are enjoying the fragrance of early spring flowers. We hope you will develop your heart as new leaves sprout on trees.

We request the honour of your presence at the commencement ceremony for returnee students on the following date. We want you to keep your chin up when you come back.

I put my attendance slip into my bag and threw away the rest. When I glanced toward the trash can, I spotted the postscript on the letter.

P.S. This is your fourth and last chance to graduate. Please be aware that if you fail to obtain the necessary grades, you may be scrapped.

I stuck my hand in the trash can and crumpled the letter. Humans think a heart will sprout in me if I face a threat of death. If I don’t want to die, I develop emotions only to gain finite time to live.

Robotic Heart Academy was a school for defective robots with no heart. We would get to graduate when we developed one.

***

The commencement ceremony began just like any other year.

“Stand up!”

“Bow!”

“Take your seat!”

We followed the orders. No, rather, we delayed our response slightly to show that we were human-like.

“Excellent! You are learning to be like humans,” the principal declared in her opening remarks. A storm of applause thundered across the air.

“You nearly made it last year,” she continued. “I can assure you that there’s no reason to worry. We’re certain that you have hearts. Thanks to the advent of quantum mechanics and electromagnetic interference, we humans have managed to install a heart in each of you.” She paused for effect, gazed up from the lectern and looked toward us. “Each of you has a large gemstone inside you. Make this year the one when your flower blooms. Our teaching staff and I hope that from the bottom of our hearts.”

She repeated the same welcome address from the previous years. She was the one who sounded like a machine. Maybe she would change the main topic that followed. 

“Now let me tell you about the way fruit flies avoid pain,” the principal began. “For a long time, insects were believed to be heartless creatures. They exist as a swarm instead of as individuals, so past scientists theorised that they needed no individual conscience to survive. In addition, their neural circuits are simple enough to be recreated in an old computer.” She darted her gaze around. “However, about twenty years ago, a certain experiment was conducted. Fruit flies’ larvae were poked with pins or exposed to heat. Researchers observed them rotate from pain. Even insects with little nerve cells feel pain and wiggle to escape. In other words, they have hearts. How about you? You have artificial nerve cells one million times more sensitive than those of insects. Of course, each of you has a diverse heart!”

She concluded her speech by recycling the same closing remarks from the previous years.

***

When I arrived home, another winged bug waited. This one was also a transporter robot. It had its legs intact, so it wasn’t the same as the one from yesterday. Maybe that one was scrapped as a damaged robot. Or it didn’t matter even if it had no legs.

A Change to Our Graduation Requirements

In October of last year, a new method was established to determine whether or not animals, plants, and inorganic entities have consciousness. This method has been used by scientists to determine whether or not living creatures have hearts. In May, it will be applied to plants and single-cell creatures. Thus, our students are required to pass this exam in order to graduate. Some of us humans fail this exam. This method will replace our existing ambiguous standards. Please be aware that you can’t pretend to have a heart and deceive this exam. So please do your best to develop your consciousness.

Did they decide that this bug, too, had no heart? I stared at the ommatidia in its compound eyes as the robot hovered. The bug, too, felt pain. The principal said it, too, had a heart. Or did humans decide that winged insects had no hearts out of convenience? If humans decided you had no heart, would they treat you like this bug?

I had no idea. It wasn’t my business to know such a thing.

I extended toward this pitiful creature. Each ommatidia in its compound eyes followed my finger. I touched its legs that look like wooden chips. The silkmoth wiggled.

Humans said I had a heart, even though I had none.

Even bugs felt pain. That was what the principal said.

“Does it hurt? Then show it!” As I ripped off its thin legs, a sharp pain pierced through my finger. The silkmoth bit me, its sharp teeth penetrating my skin coating.

“Ouch! You damn robot! Let go of me!” My body reacted almost automatically. I ripped off the bug’s head and crushed it with my fingers.

The robot twitched for a while and then stopped moving. It was dead.

I washed the bug’s bits and pieces off my fingers. Then I reported an accident to the transportation company, informing them that I had disposed of the robot. I tossed the bug’s remains into the trash can. I crumpled the notice into a ball and shoved it among the trash.

My gaze met the compound eyes. The thousands of ommatidia reminded me of cherry blossom flurries. I counted the ommatidia one by one as they shimmered grey. 

I felt my graduation evaporate like mist in the sun.

rocket crux 2 75

About the Author

Sele Hanakusa

Sele Hanakusa is a Japanese writer from Chiba.

In 1999, she received an honorable mention in the Cobalt Short Story Prize for New Writers.

In 2020, her story won an honorable mention in the first Kaguya SF Contest.

 

About the Translator

Toshiya Kamei

Toshiya Kamei holds an MFA in Literary Translation from the University of Arkansas.

His translations have appeared in venues such as Clarkesworld, The Magazine of Fantasy & Science Fiction, and World Literature Today.

AntiSF & The ASFF

AntipodeanSF supports the ASFF

ASFF logo 200

Please visit the ASFF website and consider joining for up-to-date info about Australian SF cons, awards, competitions, and to receive the Foundation's newsletter, Instrumentality, and more.

<https://asff.org.au>

The AntipodeanSF Radio Show

AntiSF's Production Crew

nuke conflux 2017 200Ion Newcombe is the editor and publisher of AntipodeanSF, Australia’s longest running online speculative fiction magazine, regularly issued since January 1998, and conceived back around November 2007. He has been a zealous reader and occasional writer of SF since his childhood in the 1960s, and even sold a few stories here and there back in the '90s.

“Nuke”, who it turns out loves editing more than writing, lives in the New South Wales North Coast holiday destination of Nambucca Heads, where he is self-employed in IT training, computer support, desktop publishing, editing, writing, and website implementation. He is also the resident tech-head, skeptic, and board member of community radio station 2NVR, where he produces a number of shows including The AntipodeanSF Radio Show.

aus25grn

mark web 200Mark Webb's midlife crisis came in the form of attempting to write speculative fiction at a very slow pace. His wife maintains this is a good outcome considering the more expensive and cliched alternatives. Evidence of Mark's attempts to procrastinate in his writing, including general musings and reviews of books he has been reading, can be found at www.markwebb.name.

One of Mark’s very best forms of writing procrastination is to produce the eBook series for AntipodeanSF, which he has been doing since issue 175.

aus25grn

In The Next Issue...

Coming In Issue 274

A Quindecillion of Cain
By Dan McNeil

Best Laid Plans
By Kevin J. Phyland

Fiction to Fact Technology
By P.V. Andrews

Lucky Bastards
By Kim Rose

Mavis
By Chris Karageorge

The Boy Who Cried Woof
By Col Hellmuth

The Gods in Their Galleries (Part One)
By Rick Kennett

The Mouse
By Natalie JE Potts

The Paragon Abyss
By William Kerr

The PM's Horns
By Len Baglow

The Witch of Borsevo
By Kyosuke Higuchi - Translated by Toshiya Kamei

AntipodeanSF June 2021

ISSUE 273

Speculative Fiction
Downside-Up
ISSN 1442-0686

Online Since Feb 1998

rocket crux 2 75

Download AntiSF E-Book

Epub version:

Kindle version:

AntiSF's Narration Team

carolyn eccles 100

Carolyn's work spans devising, performance, theatre-in-education and a collaborative visual art practice.

She tours children's works to schools nationally with School Performance Tours, is a member of the Bathurst physical theatre ensemble Lingua Franca and one half of darkroom — a visual arts practice with videographer Sean O'Keeffe.

(Photo by Jeremy Belinfante) 

old style mic flat 25

geraldine borella 200Geraldine Borella writes adult short stories and stories for children and has been published in anthologies for both. In 2018, one of her children’s short stories placed second in The Buzz Words Short Story Prize and she won an ASA Emerging Writer’s Mentorship. She currently works part-time as a hospital pharmacist and as an online creative writing tutor.

She’s fascinated by stories that expand upon today’s technology, addressing the moral and ethical issues that might arise. Equally, she enjoys the creative freedom that writing for children allows. Right now, she’s writing a young adult novel, reworking a middle grade novel and writing adult short stories when inspiration strikes. She lives with her husband, Tim, in Yungaburra, Far North Queensland and dreams of one day taking a European gap year.

angle mic

pixie willo 100Pixie is a voice actor, cabaret performer & slam poet From the Blue Mountains in NSW.

She enjoys writing short fiction, plays for radio and stage as well as her own brand of weird poetry.

She hosts the 'Off-Beet Poetry Slam' held bi-monthly in Katoomba.

old style mic flat 25

marg essex 200Margaret lives the good life on a small piece of rural New South Wales Australia, with an amazing man, a couple of pets, and several rambunctious wombats.

She feels so lucky to be a part of the AntiSF team.

old style mic flat 25

mark english 100Mark is an astrophysicist and space scientist who worked on the Cassini/Huygens mission to Saturn. Following this he worked in computer consultancy, engineering, and high energy research (with a stint at the JET Fusion Torus).

All this science hasn't damped his love of fantasy and science fiction. It has, however, ruined his enjoyment of rainbows, colourful flames on romantic log fires, and rings around the moon. He has previously been published in Stupefying Stories Showcase, Everyday Fiction, Escape Pod, Perihelion and also on AntipodeanSF where he is part of the narration team.

old style mic flat 25

ed erringtonAlthough a writer of the baby boom persuasion, Ed has not boomed for quite a while.

He lives with his wife plus a menagerie of non-domesticated — native Australian animals intropical North Queensland.

His writing within the ‘real’ science fiction context of COVID-19 is intermingled by long night sky vigils — searching for pesky aliens intent on maintaining their social distance to the nth degree.

angle mic

garry dean narratorGarry Dean lives on the Mid Coast of New South Wales Australia, and has been a fan of SF for most of his natural life. Being vision impaired, he makes good use of voice recognition and text to speech in order to write. Many of his stories have appeared in AntipodeanSF over the years, and his love of all things audio led him to join the narration team in 2017.

You can read examples of Garry's fiction on his website <https://garrydean.wordpress.com>

 old style mic flat 25

sarah pratt 200Sarah Pratt is an avid fiction writer and a Marketing Consultant.

She is currently working on her first novel but loves diving into short stories to bring a little lightness, intrigue or humour to the day.

Her work has appeared in Sponge Magazine and The Commuting Book.

old style mic flat 25

tim borellaTim Borella has never lost his childhood passion for SF and writing in general and has been lucky enough to have worked most of his life as a pilot — in other words, he’s never properly grown up.

He lives in country Far North Queensland, has won awards for songwriting, and has had various other writing achievements, the most recent being an honourable mention in the 2018 international Literary Taxidermy Short Story Competition.

He also has bachelor degrees in science and teaching, and has completed a couple of as-yet unpublished SF novels. He’d dearly love to spend more time writing, but will have to continue juggling for another couple of years until the kids have fully left the nest.

angle mic

timonthy gwyn 100Timothy Gwyn is a professional pilot in Canada, where he flies to remote communities. During a lull in his flying career, he was a radio announcer for three years, and he is also an author.

In addition to short stories at AntipodeanSF and NewMyths.com, his SF novel is available internationally in print and ebook formats. "Avians" draws on his love of alternative aviation to tell the tale of a girl who runs away from home to join a cadre of glider pilots on a world without metal or fossil fuels.

On Twitter, he is @timothygwyn, and his blogs are at <timothygwyn.com>.

old style mic flat 25

The AntipodeanSF Radio Show

AntiSF Radio Show

antipod-show-50The AntipodeanSF Radio Show delivers audio from the pages of this magazine.

The weekly program features the stories from recently published issues, usually narrated by the authors themselves.

Listen to the latest episode now:

The AntipodeanSF Radio Show is also broadcast on community radio, 2NVR, 105.9FM every Saturday evening at 8:30pm.

You can find every broadcast episode online here: http://antisf.libsyn.com 

SF Quote

If your God is everywhere, if He is always watching, why should your people make houses to go to worship Him? Faced with an all-seeing, everywhere-being God, I would think what is needed is a place to hide.

Tad Williams, Caliban's Hour

The Contributors

Alex Iurovetski FB 200A very few words about myself: impossible.

A bit longer:

Alexander Iurovetski lives in Melbourne, Australia.

He had gone with the wind of freedom from the former Soviet camp to the former British colony.

Alex codes and debugs for the sake of living, and bugs living for the sake of writing.

Occasionally, he helps his wonderful wife to raise their two sweet and mischievous boys.

aus25grn

scott steensma 200Scott is a Melbourne based librarian, writer and son of a cat fancier.

He has written non-fiction for The Age, The Australian, The Sydney Morning Herald and other magazines and dailies, but it's writing and reading Science Fiction that really fires his imagination.

He tweets at <https://twitter.com/scottsteensma?lang=en>, and if you're on Goodreads he would love to chat SF with you at <https://www.goodreads.com/user/show/36819318-scott>.

aus25grn

dr stephanie koorey 200Steph Koorey really wants to get out more, and exercise a lot more, but as it is, she is a home-body Canberra-based academic, and writes occasional fiction, non-fiction and science fiction.

She published her first SF in the High School yearbook, and was mesmerised around the same time by discovering the work of Kurt Vonnegut.

Many decades later, she is reading David Mitchell (not the comedian) and John Birmingham, and is trying to learn from them, including by shamelessly following them on Twitter.

aus25grn

Sele Hanakusa is a Japanese writer from Chiba.

In 1999, she received an honorable mention in the Cobalt Short Story Prize for New Writers.

In 2020, her story won an honorable mention in the first Kaguya SF Contest.

swylmar ferreira 200Swylmar S. Ferreira lives in Brasília, Brazil's capital city.

He is a passionate reader of fantastic literature and an apprentice in the art of writing.

Writers he admires include Philip K. Dick, Neil Gaiman, and Stephen King.

He blogs at Fantasticontos, escritos e literários.

João VenturaJoão Ventura writes short fiction, which has appeared in several websites (AntipodeanSF and Bewildering Stories among them), and also in printed form: Somnium, in Brazil; Dragão Quântico, Hyperdrivezine, Phantastes (Portuguese fanzines); Universe Pathways (in both the English and the Greek versions).

He had short stories in several Portuguese and Brazilian antologies: A Sombra sobre Lisboa (2006), VaporPunk (2010), Antologia de Ficção Científica Fantasporto (2012), Lisboa no ano 2000 (2013), Lisboa Oculta - Guia Turístico (2018), O resto é paisagem (2018), Almanaque SteamPunk (2019), Winepunk (2019), Regiana Magna (2020).

In 2018, a collection of his short stories (in Portuguese) came to light, with the title Tudo Isto Existe.

He likes reading, writing (surprise!), has a blog and is a university professor (now retired).

He is married, with two children and he lives in Lisbon.

Those who read Portuguese can have a glance at some of his stuff in Das palavras o espaço.

chris karageorge 200Chris Karageorge is a lover, brother, son, neighbour and a keen observer of all things in sight. 

He reads, writes and cooks in his spare time and dreams of coffee darker than a moonless night. 

He is from Melbourne, Victoria and can be found walking his pug Monty during the weekends.

aus25grn

Toshiya Kamei holds an MFA in Literary Translation from the University of Arkansas.

His translations have appeared in venues such as Clarkesworld, The Magazine of Fantasy & Science Fiction, and World Literature Today.

tim borellaTim Borella has never lost his childhood passion for SF and writing in general and has been lucky enough to have worked most of his life as a pilot — in other words, he’s never properly grown up.

He lives in country Far North Queensland, has won awards for songwriting, and has had various other writing achievements, the most recent being an honourable mention in the 2018 international Literary Taxidermy Short Story Competition.

He also has bachelor degrees in science and teaching, and has completed a couple of as-yet unpublished SF novels. He’d dearly love to spend more time writing, but will have to continue juggling for another couple of years until the kids have fully left the nest.

aus25grn

bufnila authorOvidiu Bufnilă was born and lives in Romania. He has headed up Waved Philosophy since 1977.

Ovidiu Bufnilă binds everything so beautiful that the universe seems to be born of a wave that has shattered.

His novel Jazzonia was awarded as the best Romanian SF Novel.

He received the award for the best Romanian SF Story, Mandhala, 2002, and was also awarded for excellence in Romanian SF and the Sigma Award for the best Romanian SF Novel, Moreaugarin’s Crusade.

He received the annual Clouds Magazine Award (USA).

Wesley Parish is an SF fan from early childhood. Born in PNG, he enjoys reading about humans in strange cultures and circumstances; his favourite SF authors include Ursula Le Guin, Fritz Lieber, Phillip K. Dick, J.G. Ballard and Frank Herbert. He lives in Christchurch, NZ, is an unemployed Java and C programmer, and has recently decided to become a mad ukuleleist, flautist and trombonist, and would love to revert to being the mad fiddler and pedal steel guitarist..  "Where oh where has my little pedal steel got to ... ?"

aus25grn