Goodly Creatures

When Crawford, a bioengineer, stumbles upon the eviscerated corpse of a florafox, she must hunt down her escaped biosynth—a dangerous benthomander whose genecode may have been compromised.

The sky burns blood-orange as Crawford scuttles from the bus stop on six crustacean legs and swipes her badge at KindCorp’s main entrance. Her blue lab coat flutters as the double doors hiss open and she hurries inside. She checks her watch and groans as she passes a pair of security meerkats and enters the main lobby.

The lobby is cavernous and off-white; KindCorp’s official motto, We Fix Things, is painted in large emerald letters on the wall opposite the windows overlooking the city. Voices swirl around Crawford as she weaves between fellow employees, nodding and waving to those she knows. She carefully maneuvers around the trash beetles appearing from and disappearing into the garbage chutes that honeycomb every level of the factory, pushing along large balls of collected refuse they will eventually feed to the company’s organic recycling system.

She almost makes it to the elevators when she bumps into the last person she wants to see.

“Tsk, tsk, tsk,” Mantle says, bringing a steaming mug of coffee up to his thin, scowling lips and taking a loud, drawn-out sip. His dark, beady eyes glare at her as the antennae sprouting from his head stand at attention. “You’re late.”

Crawford wants to sock the man square in the jaw. It annoys her to no end that a KindCorp bioengineer would stoop so low as to partake in the growing fad of body modification. The majority of KindCorp employees—like Crawford herself—have modifications that are absolutely necessary for living their best lives; Mantle’s are purely cosmetic. That, and he’s an insufferable jerk.

She answers him, but her words come out muffled and unintelligible—she’s still wearing her starphish filter-mask. She quickly pulls the creature from her face and stuffs it into the pocket of her lab coat, making a mental note to put it in water once she gets to her lab.

“What was that?” Mantle asks. He slurps more of his coffee.

“I said, you’re making me even more late,” Crawford says.


Crawford huffs and shoulders past him to the elevators. Mantle’s coffee sloshes, scalding him, and he hisses.

“You picked a bad day to be late,” Mantle calls after her. “Annual employee reviews…”

Crawford freezes, shoulders tensing as an elevator opens. She’d completely forgotten about the annual reviews. She steps inside, swipes her badge, and selects Sub-Level 2. Bad day to be late, indeed. She had just received a warning from her supervisor last month, the last time she’d been late.

What is happening to me? Her memory lapses have only intensified over the past few months, to the point that she can no longer wave them away as simple symptoms of stress. Her thoughts feel discombobulated, borderline incoherent at times. She doesn’t have time for this; the nature of her work, the company’s work, does not allow for nervous breakdowns or exhaustion.

The elevator comes to a stop and its doors swish open. Crawford steps out into another, smaller lobby, its pleasantly cool air thick with a sterile, iodine smell. Sub-Level 2 is oblong, the elevators situated at one end and the bioengineering labs at the other. Between them, the Pasture: a long stretch of plastic turf bristling with cornstalk-like rows of 3DNA printsacs.

Crawford enjoys walking past the Pasture every morning on her way to her lab. The mycoplastic limbs and organs printed there will go to people who desperately need them—people like Crawford, whose legs had been removed in the aftermath of a horrific car crash years earlier. Thanks to Dr. Abram Kindly’s cutting-edge bioengineering, she’d been given a second chance at the life she wanted. These morning strolls through the Pasture center her, each click-and-clack of her chitinous limbs reminding her that KindCorp is making a real difference, reminding her of all they have given back to her. And while her work is of a different focus—more concerned with giving the world a chance at a better life—it is of the same spirit. We Fix Things.

Nearing the lab suites, Crawford trips and goes sprawling into plastic turf. She grunts, struggling back upright, careful not to disturb any of the printsacs dangling over her. She turns to see what’s tripped her.

Bile rises at the back of her throat as she notices the blood soaking her clothes, the strong, sharp smell of copper assailing her nostrils. A small, red-furred biosynthetic animal lays bleeding to death at her feet, its intestines spilling from a terrible gash in its round belly.

Crawford’s stomach clenches. Rosebud. The florafox was a new kind of pollinator model—and she belonged to Mantle.

She’s not going to pull through, Crawford realizes. Not with that amount of damage. A part of Crawford just wants to act like she never came across the bloody scene, just retreat to her lab and let anyone else deal with it—someone Mantle doesn’t have problems with. I don’t need this; not today.

But before Crawford can justify leaving the poor biosynth, its agonized cry makes her choice easy.

“This is your fault!” Mantle shouts. His antennae twitch wildly, like they want to rip free and strangle Crawford. He cradles Rosebud in his arms as her life leaks out onto his coffee-stained lab coat.

He and Crawford and several other bioengineers are gathered at the edge of the Pasture. Pinewick, their supervisor, is fending off any trash beetles that come along to take Rosebud away for disposal.

“What! How?” Crawford says.

“It had to have been your benthomander,” Mantle says.

“Bosch is in my lab.”

“Well, it must have gotten out!”

“How? He’s just a salamander

“—spliced with Komodo dragon 3DNA—”

Crawford sighs. “That’s purely for size.”

“Right, so his claws are big enough to do this kind of damage. And I’ve caught him snapping at Rosebud every time she passes your lab.”

“He’s right, Crawford,” Pinewick adds, scratching their right arm—the arm made of thick, wrapping vines that replaced the one they’d been born without. “I’ve seen it myself.”

“Bosch snaps at Rosebud because she taunts him,” Crawford says.

“So Bosch is showing aggression,” Pinewick says. They wave away another beetle.

“No,” Crawford says, “he’s just responding. Rosebud is clearly the one showing aggression.”

“So now you’re accusing me of writing faulty genescripts?” Mantle asks, his voice raising both in volume and pitch.

 “Is this about the glimmerhawks?” Crawford snaps, trying to keep her volume reasonable. She knows Mantle is jealous of her, has seen it in the way his face scrunches up and he mutters under his breath anytime someone congratulates her within earshot. Crawford’s glimmerhawk project is one of KindCorp’s most successful projects to date: the big birds are making a considerable dent in the amount of carbon dioxide blanketing the upper atmosphere.

“What are you talking about?” Mantle asks.

“The award I got last year?”

“Why would—”

“Enough.” This new voice interrupts like a thunderclap.

The air seems heavy and charged; the bioengineers stiffen. Shrike, KindCorp’s owl-headed security chief—second only to Dr. Kindly himself—strides toward them. Her piercing yellow eyes hum and click in their sockets as the nanoscopic cameras within them focus on one bioengineer and the next, taking a mental tally of who is not in their lab, working. She’s dressed in a black pantsuit that blends in with her marbled black-and-brown headfeathers, her taloned hands folded across her chest, her sharp beak drawn in a perpetual scowl as if the very act of being alive disappoints her.

“I’ll take it from here, Pinewick,” Shrike says. “The rest of you”—she glares at everyone who isn’t Crawford or Mantle—“get back to work.”

She doesn’t need to say it twice.

When Pinewick and the others are gone, Shrike spares a quick glance at the biosynth in Mantle’s arms. “What happened?”

“Crawford’s synth attacked her,” Mantle says.

“I was not aware your biosynth had been approved for testing, Crawford.”

“He’s not,” Mantle says.

Shrike shoots him a look that turns him to stone.

“Why is it out of your lab?” Shrike asks, turning back to Crawford.

Crawford holds the owl-woman’s unsettling gaze. “He’s not.”

“Explain, Mantle,” Shrike says.

Mantle swallows. “Bosch has snapped at Rosebud several times from containment.”

Crawford huffs. “Bosch was just—”

Shrike cuts Crawford off with a wave of her hand. “Aggression deviances are a serious matter.”

“I was looking over his genecode last night,” Crawford says. “Everything was perfect. No aggression deviances.”

“Still,” Shrike says, “let’s have a look. Shall we?”


“Now, Crawford.”

Mantle moves to follow, but Shrike grabs him by his arm and pulls him to an abrupt stop. “Not you. And no matter what comes to light, I’ll be writing you up for letting your biosynth wander around out of containment. You’ve been warned twice before.” Shrike looks at Rosebud. “And give the damn thing to the beetles already.”

The front containment field blurs as it deactivates momentarily to allow Crawford and Shrike into the lab.

Crawford pulls out a small sphere of recycled plastic from her pocket. Bosch has been engineered to consume plastics—both macro and micro—and turn them into self-sustaining energy; if her prototype can pass the trials and get approved for mass production, Crawford believes the benthomanders could be the answer to the world’s plastic problem.

“Bosch?” Crawford calls.

The lab remains quiet.

He would’ve shown himself by now, Crawford realizes. He can’t resist his plastic treats.

Crawford and Shrike wander further into the lab, past steel tables projecting multiple holoscreens. Several flicker with lines of biosynth genecode, while others display computer-generated models of the Hellbender salamander, Komodo dragon, benthic isopod, and cephalopod 3DNA strands that form Bosch’s genetic framework.

“Oh, God,” Crawford says. The plastic sphere drops from her hand and bounces off the floor with a series of diminishing tinks until it settles somewhere beneath a holotable.

The containment field blocking off the lab’s rear entrance is down, lightning-bright sparks spraying from what remains of the control panel.

Shrike grunts.

“I don’t understand,” Crawford says. She motions to the sparking ruins of the panel. “He was here last night. And he couldn’t reach it—he doesn’t have wings, and even on his hind legs, Bosch isn’t tall enough to get to it.”

“Then how do you explain this?” Shrike asks.

Crawford shakes her head. “Maybe he thrashed the controls with his tail? His tail could reach the panel, but I’ve never seen him do anything like that before.”

“So…an aggression deviance.”

“No, it can’t…Bosch’s genecoding is intact. You can see for yourself on that holo—”

Shrike cuts Crawford off with a flick of her wrist, her yellow eyes focused on something only she can see. She stands quiet and unmoving for several moments, her eyes locked on the floor. She pulls a buzzing phone from her pocket and puts it to her ear. “Yes, I see. I’m taking care of it now.”

Her eyes whir back to Crawford as she returns the phone to her pocket. “Is there any reason your biosynth would appear to be spurting in and out of existence on the security feeds? It’s crawling through the Sub-Level 7 air system as we speak.”

Crawford’s eyes widen. “That can’t…I deactivated that.”

“Deactivated what?”

“Cephalopod 3DNA. Squid. I used it for part of his genecode, as a bridging agent. But I’d rewritten that part, to neutralize the natural camouflage.”

“Why would it be moving down-level, not up?”

“He’s probably headed for recycling.”

“Sub-Level 9…”

Crawford nods.

Shrike ruffles her head feathers and turns to go. “Wait here. I’ll handle this.”

Crawford grabs Shrike’s arm. “No. I’m coming—”

“Like hell you are.” Shrike jerks her arm from Crawford’s grip.

“Bosch knows me,” Crawford says. “He’ll just run from you.”

“Stay here, Crawford.”

“Dammit, Shrike! He isn’t—”

Shrike points a taloned finger in Crawford’s face. “Stay. Here. Or I can have Pinewick just skip your review today and go straight to firing you.”

Crawford feels her rage building, feels her fingernails cutting into her palms as she tries to suppress the anger coursing through her entire body. She wants to scream in Shrike’s face.

“Fine,” Crawford says through clenched teeth. It’s all she can do to keep some semblance of control.

“Good,” Shrike says, then she’s heading for the elevators.

Once she’s sure Shrike is gone, Crawford lets fly a string of obscenities, spinning and thrashing everything within her reach. Glass shatters; holotables upend; sparks surge. Crawford lets out one final exasperated grunt and slumps against the wall.

She can’t understand it. She’s been so very careful, checking and re-checking the genecode more times than she can count. She’s been so meticulous, so thorough. Bosch was more than ready for trials.

Crawford pulls herself up and begins cleaning up the mess she’s made. She wrangles a holodesk right-side-up and scoops up the notepads and papers she’d sent scattershot across the floor, heaping them back on the desk.

She catches a flicker of Bosch’s genecode on a holoscreen projecting from the table. She swipes at the projection, zooming in on the code.

No… That isn’t right; that isn’t Bosch’s genecode. She can practically recite it from memory by now. No, the code she’s looking at is for another benthomander, one that—

Crawford pulls up the holoboard and punches in her password, opening the access logs for the file. She stares at the username that appears on the logs, unbelieving. She reviews the data several times to make sure she’s read it correctly, re-checks the genecode, then slumps back into a nearby chair, shaking.

Bosch’s 3DNA genecode had been accessed, copied, changed, and sent to render in the Pasture last night, only a few hours after Crawford left work. This new, bastardized code removed the aggression/predation dampeners and the cap on the cephalopod camouflage. Worse, it added a command imprint directing the benthomander to retrieve a printed heart from Sub-Level 10.

Dr. Kindly’s office.

What was going on? What did any of this have to do with Dr. Kindly or a mycoplastic heart? And if the benthomander Shrike is chasing isn’t Bosch, but a newly printed biosynth, where was Bosch?

Crawford pulls her phone from her lab coat and dials.

Shrike doesn’t answer.

Crawford throws the phone onto the holotable and buries her face in her hands. This is a nightmare. And she still has her annual review to look forward to…

She sighs heavily, glancing back at the abomination’s genecode flickering on the holoscreen.

Screw it.

Crawford skitters back to the elevators and pushes the down arrow, watching the glowing numbers on the overhead panel show which elevators are in use; the elevator carrying Shrike is moving toward Sub-Level 9.

A digital bell chimes and the elevator doors open. Crawford rushes inside, smashing Sub-Level 9’s key as if it is Shrike’s face, smudging it with blood.

Crawford clacks out into a humid, dimly lit room covered in a thick mucous membrane. Beetles roam the halls beyond, rolling their large clumps of refuse along perfunctorily. She wades in among them. The air on Sub-Level 9 is wet, almost tropical in its dense humidity, and it smells sour, rotten: a mix of wet trash, bad milk, and the mix of organic matter covering the floors, walls, and ceilings.

Crawford realizes this is her first time ever venturing this deep into KindCorp. The lowest sub-levels are designated for administrative purposes; bioengineers normally have no reason to visit. And no one, with the exception of Shrike, is allowed on Sub-Level 10—that was Dr. Kindly’s sanctum, and his alone.

She follows the beetles around a corner into an intersecting hallway, and she thinks she catches a glimpse of something large and black turning down another corridor. She’s about to call after Shrike when something at the other end of the intersection grabs her attention. Crawford squints, focusing on the spot where she’s sure she saw movement.

There. Like moonlight glinting off slow-moving water. It streaks down the passageway and around another corner.

The new benthomander. It has to be.

And Shrike went in the opposite direction…

Crawford creeps down the hallway, peering around the corner she saw the glimmer of light blur past. The passage ends several hundred steps ahead at a large opening where beetles disappear into the gloom beyond. Loud, chittering noises and wet crunching sounds come from within. She follows a pair of beetles into the opening, entering a chamber that smells overwhelmingly of rotting offal. She gags.

The room is vast, lit by a lone fluorescent light, half crusted over by ever-present mucous, flickering maddeningly from the ceiling. Crawford’s eyes have trouble adjusting to the sudden splashes of half-light in near-complete darkness; she’s aware only of beetle shapes moving around her, and further back, something massive lurking in deep shadow.

In a burst of light, Crawford sees it, this massive, shadowed thing. The monstrous grub-like organic recycling system looms in a far corner of the chamber, shoveling heaps of midden into its mouth with nubby limbs and chittering loudly between crunching bites. Crawford has heard rumors about the Grub, of course—breakroom whispers about KindCorp’s legendary first biotech project—but nothing has prepared her for this.

She swallows, feels her heart thrum in her chest, forces herself to step forward. She collides with something large—something solid and fleshy. She looks down, waiting for the next dim flicker of light.

She doesn’t need to.

The benthomander coalesces into its natural bioluminescent form, lighting the Grub’s chamber in a bright cerulean blue.

Crawford’s mouth goes dry and a scream catches in her throat—

The benthomander is chewing on a face.

A familiar face.

Dead eyes stare back at Crawford from heaps of trash. Terrible things are strewn throughout the room like broken, discarded toys, littering the entire width and breadth of the chamber: scraps of biosynths; the corpses of Mantle and Pinewick and Shrike; even something—someone—who looks like Crawford herself.

She can’t breathe.

Taloned fingers tighten around Crawford’s neck and squeeze.

“I told you to stay in your lab,” Shrike whispers in her ear.

Dr. Abram Kindly slams a fist down on his holodesk. Papers fly like startled birds.

“Apologies, sir,” Shrike says. She stands on the other side of his desk, hands clasped behind her back. The doctor is a stout man, his white hair slicked back in a classic style, his round face framed by a curling cloud of beard. He wears sneakers, a pair of dark jeans, and a red hoodie. He is casual and cavalier, just like his species.

“They’re not made to understand,” Dr. Kindly says. “Not like you and I.”

What a gift that is. “Yes, sir.”

“A fifth incident in as many months!”

Shrike has to force herself not to smile: she’s proud of the other “incidents,” especially the one before this most recent attempt, with the terrestrial jellyfish biosynths. They’d lost a handful of employees in that debacle, so much so that they couldn’t reprint them all, not with their deaths so visible, so public.

She’d hoped this latest gamble would be her crowning achievement: the code she’d slipped into the new benthomander biosynth should have sent it to this level right away. Instead, it had taken a detour to the Grub’s chamber—a deviance Shrike had not prepared for. A deviance that had cost her much.

“Do we have a problem?” Dr. Kindly asks. “Is someone doing this deliberately? The employees?”

“No, sir,” Shrike says. “Nothing like that. But we are pushing them very hard, sir—they’re bound to get sloppy every now and then.”

“We don’t have time for sloppy, Shrike. We have a strict schedule to keep. A limited window to fix the planet. The longer it takes for us to get our tech out there, the closer we get to a point of no return, when nothing we do will matter. We’re on a precipice, with the edge crumbling away beneath our feet more and more every day.”

Shrike doesn’t buy that they have to “fix” anything; nature would heal itself, given half a chance. It didn’t make sense to poison the world in the name of making things to undo that poisoning when it was as simple as just stopping, just changing the way humans lived. “It won’t happen again, sir.”

“See that it doesn’t. Under no circumstances are we to fall behind schedule.”

“Yes, sir.”

“Replace the Crawford-synth tonight. If anyone asks, she left work early, on account of the accident. I assume her memory backups are up-to-date?”

“They should be, sir.”

“And make sure this, uh,”—Dr. Kindly taps a finger on his desk to bring up a file—“this Mantle-synth is replaced as well, with a fresh set of memories. The last thing we need is animosity between the employees.”

Shrike nods. “Yes, sir.”


She turns to leave.


She stops, shifting on her feet. Does he suspect me? “Sir?”

Dr. Kindly’s eyes are hard. “Don’t think I won’t send you to the Grub again.”

Memories flash within Shrike’s mind, previous versions of herself consumed and digested by the Grub, the feeling of being torn apart, remade—every horrific second of it. Such a terrible burden, this being so fully self-aware. She finds herself once again envying the lesser employees.

“Understood, sir.”

Dr. Kindly grunts and waves her away.

Shrike hurries out of the doctor’s office, wondering if—and how—she’ll finally rip out the printed plastic heart keeping him alive.

She calls up a lift, enters it, and presses the button for Sub-Level 11, the level that can only be accessed from Sub-Level 10. She needs to get Crawford’s data downloaded into the clonestalks and ready to print if she wants to have the woman replaced by morning.

There must be a better, more efficient way of waging this one-sided war with KindCorp, with humanity’s incessant need to meddle with nature. Shrike knows the world’s best chance for healing is to be left the hell alone. She needs to pull off something bigger, something to push the company completely off its axis, give nature the chance it needs. But she can only cause so much trouble behind the scenes, only throw so many wrenches in the works before Dr. Kindly catches on and she is removed—for good.

The elevator doors slide open on Sub-Level 11. Shrike walks between the rows of clonestalks that branch from the memory bank interface at the center of the sub-level like spokes on a wheel. Mycoplastic bodies hang in amniotic sacs, waiting to be imprinted and brought to life.

O, brave new world, Shrike thinks, that has such creatures in it

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Issue 2.1 Paperback

In this issue of The Dread Machine, you’ll meet a few shapeshifters, launch an attack on Her Majesty’s Royal Admiralty with a ragtag band of space pirates, and watch Paul McCartney die over and over and over again.

Read a sales listing for a cursed household mirror, deliver some fresh ears to your grandmother, greet the Big Bad Wolf in the cosmos, see influencers battle for democracy, experience your worst nuclear nightmare, change your face, hunt down a dangerous engineered creature, and discover a strange splinter. Whatever you do, don’t itch, be careful about which derelict ships you decide to salvage, and do not trust the maintenance bots.

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Issue 2.1 Paperback

Meet a few shapeshifters, launch an attack on Her Majesty’s Royal Admiralty with a ragtag band of space pirates, and watch Paul McCartney die over and over and over again.

Read a sales listing for a cursed household mirror, deliver some fresh ears to your grandmother, greet the Big Bad Wolf in the cosmos, see influencers battle for democracy, experience your worst nuclear nightmare, change your face, hunt down a dangerous engineered creature, and discover a strange splinter.

Whatever you do, don’t scratch, be careful about which derelict ships you decide to salvage, and do not trust the maintenance bots.

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When Crawford, a bioengineer, stumbles upon the eviscerated corpse of a florafox, she must hunt down her escaped biosynth—a dangerous benthomander whose genecode may have been compromised.

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