st1mulus z3r0 [excerpt] – Will Bernardara Jr.

Infinity impossibilities in the formation of fractal, refractive shapes and rays of strange, bold light crisscross and dapple the air daedally.  It is a VISHnatural marvel, a show presented by IRnature. It’s a VISHzoo lure too – as mesmerizing to adults as it is to tots. 

      Corie Rigel’s popsicle-sticky mouth curves into an awed, red-goo-ringed O at the sight of the manipulated light. He is four years old and this is the first time his mom’s taken him to a real VISHzoo. (It’ll be the last: Corie’s mom, young herself, just 20, will die two years later of an outrageously rare supercancer, the anomalous tumor discovered inextricably tangled in the tendinous webbing of her armpit like a lethal golfball snarled in fibrous vines.) Mom smiles in response to her little son’s amazement.

      Corie’s and mom’s sockets sponsor the same gray-blue eyes, eyes that are now wide at the prismflies’ light-modeling: tiles of blue and pink hyaline EM radiation ascending disconnected like ghostly pale Escher steps; spokes of blare-dazzle circumvolving and whipping off little licks of liquid shinestuff; strobing tunnels of gold and phos-bright inlay skewering the air; there are actual bubbles of iridescent luminosity – they float upward and pop into muted fireworks of glittering dust-luster.

      Mom musses Corie’s blond spikes and nudges him forward encouragingly. “Go on, angel,” she says. “They won’t mind.”

      Corie presses his dot of a nose to the mesh. Inside the soft net-cage, much of which is in fact Styrofoam, the sources of the beautifully strange lightshow – the prismflies – flutter and flit and volitate from artificial branches (a kind of hard latex, these branches) and plastic flowers, effortlessly remodeling beams and illumination according to a physics the theoreticians can’t make heads or tails of. (VISHgeeks in academic spheres dubbed it sparkleapp, this likely involuntary aptitude prismflies have for exploiting luciferous scintilla.) Slender bodies and wings, all composed of an organic stained glass (OK, maybe not organic, exactly, but certainly animate); antennae, the segments wire. And yet prismflies aren’t made; they’re born. The chrysalides are silicate – inside each pupa ensues an impossible process of melt-and-cool. (Prismflies, however, breaking with WAKEspace’s butterflies, have no wormlike larva analogue.)

     “What that, mom?” Corie pipes up, pointing as children do at a horde of prismflies involved midair in some alien collaborative dance that, at its nucleus, sweats and spills splashy effulgence like orange mercury. Other visitors wow and oooh and ahhh. It’s fireworky, but more chunkily psychedelic, more there. 

     Mom kneels by her son and hugs him from behind, her chin on his head. “Those are DAYS, Corie. DAYkyme. They’re friendly to us.”

     Hope rushes through mom like an ultraviolet drug.

    “Maybe you’ll catch them someday, eh? My little wesher. A lepidcrystalist.”

     A prismfly of obsidian etched with trigonal scarlet runes settles on a synthetic rubber bough, mere inches from the net-wall and little Corie’s phiz.

    “Ah! See that one, Corie? That one’s called a Pnin. They named it after a famous Russian-American novelist’s book. I imaged it and learned all about it.”

    “Pnin! Pnin!” Corie exclaims, jutting a munchkin finger at the glassy genus.

     Corie will never forget this day. It will replay achingly in his brain-cinema for the remainder of his life: the transcendent light and glassware insects; his mom, looking so young and tonic, belying the inchoative death-mass that, on that day, was pullulating in her axilla. The smell of corn dogs and sizzling churro merging with the distinctively exotic odor of the VISHfauna: like hot saltwater taffy, chlorinic semen, and the techstink of overheating circuitboards all mixed together. 

    Mom kisses son’s doughy cheek. A solitary teardrop blunders down her face. She is losing her baby. It’s the Law.exe. Federal. Corie will be taken from her later that same summer. He will be placed in a private SAM facility. To begin his training. 

    Because Corie’s natal gene-scan indicated serious wesher potential. (That, and then his deadbeat father’s Internet purchase history sealed the deal.) 

    Because the dad Corie never knew was a kinkster and pruriently experimental in the bedroom. He wanted to try something different, Corie’s father.

    And different – exceptionally different – is what he got… in the son he never stuck around to know.