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It was Thursday at 7:30 in the morning. Jordan walked into his classroom, which was dimly lit by a glow from the newly ascending sun through the huge vertical windows covering the entirety of the northerly side of the room. 

Jordan turned on the lights and then, standing directly below one of the LED bulbs, starred up into the brightness, squinting and wincing. 

He took a healthy slug from his coffee mug. He was still tired—and a little hungover—he wasn’t the best morning person. 

He was staring into the light for a reason, though. The swarming eastern yellowjackets, previously sluggish and slumbering in the cold darkness, began crawling slowly, themselves awakening. 

“God dammit,” said Jordan, “Those bastards at maintenance were supposed to take care of this.” Jordan then, cranking the metal cord on the curtains covering the windows—he liked a room with windows, but still preferred darkness—looked outside. Out from within that fucking bush, the perceived locus of their hive, Jordan saw several yellowjackets flying around contended, as if undisturbed. 

“Fuck,” said Jordan to no one, “Hopefully the winter will take care of the bastards.”

That’s what maintenance had told him, but it was already January and the wasps had yet to perish. 

Jordan sat at his desk and opened his book. He always showed up to work early—he wanted his superiors to think he was a dedicated employee—but he rarely ever performed any actual work-related duties before his first class, which didn’t begin until 8:30. And why should he? The University paid him an embarrassing salary, based solely on the number of hours he spent literally teaching class—no time considered for planning, supply purchasing, grading, classroom upkeep, meetings, etc. 


Jordan got into his book. He was reading Jurassic Park, by Michael Crichton. He loved science-fiction but had somehow neglected to read Crichton. Jordan had promised to reconcile that glaring hole in his literary knowledge this year. He was loving it so far—it was just as good as the movie. He found himself enjoying Jeff Goldblum’s character, the mathematician Dr. Ian Malcolm, even more in the book than in the movie, which was really saying something.

Jordan took a break and looked at his closed classroom door. It was still twenty minutes until class time, but he could already hear students shuffling and chattering in the hallway, which as always filled him with an intense sense of anxious dread. 

A collection of yellowjackets crawled along the inside of the lightbulb. Several more crept into the classroom, safe from the outside cold. 


Sarah walked into the engineering building. It was a fairly cold morning, though still strangely warm for January. She looked at the bulletin board outside the hallway to her department, which she loved to check each day for anything new. Something about random news physically posted onto a bulletin board made Sarah excited—a primitive social-media. It made her feel truly part of a real community. From Peter to Putin: An Overview of Russian History, read one of the flyers, which wafted and fluttered in the wind pushed upward from the heating vent below. 

“That sounds interesting!” said Sarah, justified in her decision to always check the board. 

She walked into her office, sat down in her comfy leather swivel-chair, and opened her book: The Sirens of Titan, by Vonnegut. Sarah liked to begin her day by reading fiction; she thought it kept her creativity alive, unlike the ceaseless, endless research she would spend the rest of the day scouring. 

It was such a weird book, but she loved it. Mars invading Earth and losing! What a crazy idea. It really pissed her off when scientists questioned the validity of the claims of sci-fi writers. Of course everything they write isn’t going to be accurate—they’re not scientists. She would like to see, she thought, actual scientists try and create engaging prose; to create characters people actually gave a shit about. That thought made her chuckle. It happened occasionally; she knew—but still.

She spun in her office chair, finishing her morning cup of Earl-Grey—which she enjoyed with heavy milk and sugar—and walked across the hall to the Intelligent Robotics and Autonomous Systems lab. Sarah had been studying robotics. How can we teach robots to teach themselves? This was the question that drove her research. Many scientists had been somewhat successful—there were cases of robots learning to play soccer, perform household chores, or fight with plastic lightsabers—but it was always so clunky, nearly to the point of embarrassment. Robot Learning was such an important field, one that will inevitably dominate the technological world sooner rather than later—people needed an example they could take seriously. 

Sarah looked at her prototype, named Salo, and thought fondly about how much work she had put into his development. Salo looked almost spider-like—featuring six legs and two Swiss Army Knife-like gadget arms—though he also had a somewhat humanoid head, which sprouted out from his eightfold limbs. Sarah had based Salo conceptually off Babyface, from Toy Story, though she felt that Salo was much more impressive. Each front limb could be converted into a multitude of tools for a variety of purposes—gardening, cooking, grooming, brushing, washing—Salo could do it all. Most primarily, Sarah wanted to teach her robot to take care of living, biological creatures. She wanted to inspire within the robot a parental aspect. Not something programmed into it—something achieved through its experience with the world. She wanted to teach Salo to learn to understand living things and then respond to peculiarities in their personalities in order to better care for them. She thought this could be her gift to the world—this type of robot could be unimaginably useful in retirement homes, or at day-care centers, or with disabled people. 

Flipping the robot’s on switch, Salo’s bright eyes flashed awake as he greeted Sarah. “Good morning!” said Salo, “How was your evening? Did you go to that concert you were planning to attend? What was it… A punk-rock band, right?”

“That’s right!” said Sarah, “But no, I wasn’t able to go…”

“Why not?”

“I just got caught up with some other things.”

“You need to get out more often,” said Salo, “You really do. You can’t spend your whole life thinking about work. Doing that can even ironically affect your work negatively—your brain won’t function as effectively.”

“You’re right,” said Sarah, smiling. 

“So go to the next concert; do it!”

“I will”

Sarah had been planning to go to the Menzingers show at nearby Bogarts music hall, but she became too lethargic after work. This was the third time in the last two years the Menzingers had been in Cincinnati, and the third time she had missed them. She felt depressed at that thought. She was growing so boring that not even her favorite bands could drag her out of the house. 

“Don’t sweat it!” said Salo, noticing her developing sorrow, “There will always be more concerts; you don’t need to worry about that. If concerts survive COVID, they will survive anything.”

“Very true,” concluded Sarah. 

“We can have a concert here, how about that?” said Salo, “A nice morning jam-session?”

“Sounds good to me!” said Sarah. Salo’s speakers immediately played Bad Catholics, by the Menzingers at full blast. 


Jordan’s morning classes—an hour-long English-grammar class and a two-hour essay-writing class—were a struggle. His hangover was kicking his ass. Coffee wasn’t even helping much. He tried to do what his superiors had always advised of him; he tried to put the class into the hands of the students, having them lead the discussion and discuss topics together in groups, but it what no use—they wouldn’t fucking talk to each other, so Jordan had to take the reins. 

He made it through, though—he made it to lunch time.

After scarfing down the leftover, questionably prepared chicken shawarma he had made the previous night, Jordan darted out of his classroom, out the building, and onto the campus green. He was making quick, waddling work of the long walk to the engineering building—Jordan had to take a fucking shit. He was prairie dogging it. 

Jordan couldn’t shit in his own building—the English building—his students were always in there. How could you respect an authority you saw—and smelled—taking a gigantic dump every afternoon? You couldn’t; that’s why Jordan insisted on walking across campus to go to the bathroom. He preferred the engineering building because their bathroom was clean and usually quiet. Plus, he liked to look at all the cranes and robots in each of the labs. 

Jordan shuffled by passing students quickly as he made his way across campus. This felt like it was going to be a close one. 

“You should watch where you’re going,” said a tall, long-haired student as Jordan pushed by. The kid was wearing a brown leather jacket and jeans. Upon receiving Jordan’s irritated glare, the student involuntarily unveiled a sheepish, quivering grin. 

Jordan continued staring at him, momentarily forgetting his urge to shit. 

“I bet you’re a really well-liked individual, what with give out such helpful fucking advice all the time,” Jordan said finally before again walking away. Behind him, the kid looked confused. Jordan, grabbing at his ass—as if that might help—couldn’t help but smile. He thought he had really told the kid; really delivered a dose of harsh reality.”

Scrambling up the concrete steps, he sprinted the last leg of the journey to the engineering building. That didn’t help, though—running made it seem like the shit was going to force its way out more quickly—so he slowed and settled for a frantic, slew-footed monkey-trot.

He pushed through the revolving door into the building, glancing only in passing at the sculpture of Neil Armstrong making a paper airplane which stood in the lobby of the building. Apparently, Neil had taught at the university after the moon landing; apparently, he had participated in a paper-airplane making competition with some of his students. 

Jordan rushed down the narrow hallway, noticing in his mental periphery some sort of loud rock music before making it to the bathroom, which was thankfully unoccupied. He rushed into the stall, unzipped his pants, and collapsed onto the seat, which buckled beneath the weight of his fat ass. Shit ejected instantaneously from his bulging asshole. 

Fuuuuuuccck,” he exclaimed aloud, relieved. He wondered why no one in the engineering department ever took shits. The place was always empty—always. “Thank sweet Jesus for that,” he concluded, beaded sweat painting his brow.

Finally comfortable, Jordan removed the book from his backpack and began reading. An adolescent t-rex had just ripped Ed Regis to shreds, leaving his leg—detached in twisting fashion—in the road for his companions to later discover. 

Jordan felt good; he had made it. 


Salo’s Menginzers playlist had shifted from Bad Catholics into Lookers. Sarah—squatting in an office chair while spinning slowly—sang the opening lyrics, adding drama she would never feel comfortable expressing around an actual, living human-being. Salo recognized this vulnerability Sarah displayed around him, though he wasn’t sure how to feel about it. Salo’s emotional capacity was developing—as it had been programmed to. Did Sarah feel so comfortable around him because they were truly close, or merely because she considered him inhuman—something whose opinion was unworthy of worrying about? Sarah put up no shield around Salo. The robot, though battling with his pessimism, forced himself to feel positively about it. 

Behemoth dashed from under a table atop a nearby curved crane, meowing loudly as if along with the music. She wasn’t singing, though; Behemoth hated loud noises. She hated punk rock.

“Oh, we’re so sorry, little miss!” said Salo, rolling over to comfort Behemoth. The music from Salo’s speakers shut off abruptly. Now purring, Behemoth nestled his head against Salo’s robotic arm. Salo then gently lifted Behemoth:

“It’s your breakfast time, anyway, isn’t it? Let’s get you some food.”

This was Salo’s task—taking care of Behemoth. Sarah had been painstakingly attempting to help Salo learn how to develop emotional intelligence and a sense of responsibility, and the care of this cat—a long-eared, gray Devon Rex with chaotic, zigzagging whiskers—was his latest test. Sarah should feel happy about the success of her research, she knew; hell, she had devoted her entire life to it for the last several years—but for some reason she couldn’t. She couldn’t help but feel annoyed with Salo. She knew this was mostly a result of her withering social life; Salo was now her only real friend in the world, but Sarah was frustrated at the amount of time Salo devoted to Behemoth. The robot didn’t think about anything else, at least not for very long. The purpose of Salo’s self-perceived existence had become completely dependent on the happiness and safety of the cat. 

Sarah wondered whether she should be worried. 

Salo opened a can of wet, chicken-flavored cat food and set it on the floor near Behemoth’s water bowl. Sarah usually purchased dry food for Behemoth, but Salo had been researching housecat nutrition and had recently insisted upon getting this organic, wet kind. Plus, Behemoth liked it better; that much was obvious. 

Behemoth licked at the can and pureed with satisfaction; beige, greasy gelatin mash covering her face.


Washing his hands, Jordan stared ahead into the large bathroom mirror which covered the entirety of one side of the wall. 

“It’s going to be a good afternoon,” he said. He only had one class left to teach, though it was a two-hour one. Usually, he hated teaching longer classes, but this one didn’t bother him so much. He was teaching a general-education course on how to conduct research for academic papers. It wasn’t the most exciting topic, but he liked the kids; they listened well—they actually gave a shit about learning. That always made teaching easier. 

While rinsing the sudsy soap from his hands, Jordan noticed behind him—on his backpack—one of those damned eastern yellowjackets. It was crawling around as if exploring the surface of a new planet. Jordan turned, opened the bathroom door, removed his backpack, and began shaking it furiously in hopes of launching the wasp into the air. He was successful; the yellowjacket detached from the backpack and buzzed obliviously down the hallway.

“I’ve really got to do something about those fuckers,” thought Jordan, now walking back down the hall. His next class started in twenty minutes, and he still had to get all the way back across campus.


“I’ll be back in a second,” said Sarah. She was looking at Salo gazing lovingly down at his animal companion. She could barely stand it—she needed a break from the action. She opened the double doors of the lab and paced across the hall into her office. 

As the lab doors were swinging shut, the yellow jacket—unaware of where it was, but still exploring this new world with unstoppable, robotic persistence—flew confidently into the lab.

Sarah sat in her office chair trying to recollect herself. She knew she shouldn’t become so upset with Salo—he was the result of her success, after all. She prepared another cup of tea and sipped it as she listened to Gymnopédie No.1, by Erik Satie, which always calmed her. Reassured, she rose from her office chair to go back into the lab, but before she could leave her office, she heard from across the hall a loud crash and the sound of shattering glass. She rushed out of the room, on her way spilling the rest of her milky tea across the already dirty tile floor. The spilt liquid surrounded the broken, jagged pieces of ceramic as if the rippling shore of some dystopian, polluted hellhole. 


As he always did, Jordan read the signs on each of the laboratory doors as he passed. He thought it was so interesting; it made him wish he were an engineer. He didn’t consider himself intelligent enough to be a scientist, though, unfortunately. One sign, which was taped onto a red, metallic box, read SPILL RESPONSE KITS. Another, on the doorway of one of the labs, read STRONG MAGNETIC FIELD INSIDE—MAGNET IS ALWAYS ON!

“Damn,” said Jordan, reevaluating his desire to be a scientist, “Must be dangerous working in this place.”

Hearing a loud, shattering crash from within one of the nearby labs, Jordan became curious about what was happening inside. He thought maybe he should go help, but he didn’t want to interfere with any experiments or tests. He had only gone to the engineering building to take a shit; he shouldn’t presume that anyone needed help with anything. Experiments can be noisy, sometimes; he was sure of that. 

Another crash. It sounded so unnatural, so unplanned. Jordan decided that he should go see if everything was okay. Before he got to the door, however, another door from across the hall was flung ajar. Jordan made eye-contact with a woman. She was wearing jeans and a blue, pink, and green, 80’s style windbreaker jacket. She had frizzy, curly black hair and thick glasses. 

“Excuse me,” said the woman.

“What’s going on in there? Is everything okay?”

“No idea.”

The woman is then pushed by Jordan into the lab. Jordan followed. He didn’t think to ask whether that was okay; he was too curious—his feet moved as if automatically. 

Inside, Jordan saw a robot swatting with its numerous limbs at that damn eastern yellowjacket, which was flying in agitation around the room. The robot had little regard for anything, destroying research notebooks, crushing wooden tables, and shattering light bulbs. 

“Salo!” yelled the woman, “Hey! Salo! You have to stop!”

“Stop?” shrieked the robot, “This buzzing little thing hurt Behemoth! It landed on her and stung her; look at my poor little baby!”

Jordan looked around the room, seeing a cat cowering beneath a table. 

“We have to protect Behemoth,” said the robot, “Poor little kitty can’t take care of herself. She needs us; she needs me!”

The yellowjacket continued flying around the room. The robot, raising itself toward the ceiling like a spinning, cylindrical tower, extracted each of its eight limbs and swirled around the room like an amusement park ride. Its limbs moved, spinning in counterclockwise fashion, raising and lowering as if the work of a massive blender. Eventually, one of the arms swatted the yellow jacket, which fell from the air onto a nearby table. 

The bug writhed around momentarily before stilling itself. 

“Thank God,” said the robot, rushing over to comfort Behemoth, “We did it, and no thanks to you!”

“Um, sorry,” said the woman, seemingly unsure of how to react. She instead began tidying the wrecked room, as if busying herself in order to avoid confrontation. As she was scooping some broken glass from the floor into a dustpan, Jordan noticed a metal bookshelf unexplainably tilting as if to fall on her.

“Hey!” said Jordan, “Watch out!” 

Jordan tried to grab the bookcase and lift it back to stability but it was no use. The bookcase fought back, pushing itself forward even against Jordan’s force.

“Shit!” said the woman.

“What?” said Jordan.

“The window into the neighboring lab broke; the magnet is always on in there.”
Jordan turned to look toward the doorway into the adjacent room. She was right; a window had been broken. The bookcase flew across the room, further shattering the cracked window. 

The woman rushed to a nearby computer, typing furiously. “I have to turn off the magnet,” she said.

“Good idea,” said Jordan. He continued looking in her direction, noticed a pop-up message on the screen:


“Fuck!” said Sarah.

“What?” said Jordan.

“I have to reset my password—they make us change it every fucking six months—but I can’t reset it because I don’t remember my old password.”

“Why don’t you remember the old one?”
“Because I have to change it so damn often!”


Jordan then noticed he was being dragged across the room. The magnet was pulling him by his belt buckle, his watch, and his wedding ring—which was unfortunately not composed purely of gold. He attempted to remove them but he didn’t have enough time. He soon found himself crashing into the closed door. Looking through the broken window he could see the magnet in the other room. It looked hungry.

Every metal object in the room soon followed, including the robot, who was thrown spinning like a gigantic shuriken across the room. Jordan turned, seeing the massive, metallic, spinning death machine flying toward him. He had no time to save himself.

Before closing his eyes to brace for the impact, Jordan looked around the lab. He saw the girl, who gazed at him with such fright. He saw the cat, who was lying under the table, grooming herself in apparent nonchalance. 

Then, at his last moment, he saw that damn eastern yellowjacket. It was still alive. Jordan watched as it flew around the room without a care in the world.

Jordan closed his eyes.



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