Forty-Flesh Barrier

An essay by Tethys, as provided by Raluca Balasa
Art by Luke Spooner

Across the bar hangs a sign reading Humans Only.

A man with a seeing eye dog sits exactly twenty-three meters from me, hazy in the smoke under the fire basins. As my colonel banters with the bartender, I study that dog. It is not human. It is an improvement to its owner’s body just as my cybernetic parts are an improvement to mine, but no one tells this man or his dog to leave.

Because dogs are not what started the fourth world war. In the beginning, CanRobotics sent its robots to maintain the Canadarm and the space station. It seemed like a good idea, since the men and women on duty kept getting homesick. At first it was just little things going wrong: astronauts reporting glitches in the technology, minor accidents, power failures. Months later, everyone on the space station was dead and even Earth-bound technology had been affected by the virus. The CEO of CanRobotics was the first on Earth to die by drone attack. Those robots are still up there, replicating themselves until they’re ready to make a move for Earth. The space station has become the deadliest military base in history.

The public’s distrust of machines is everywhere now, in the orange glow of the fire these communes use instead of lamps, the giant sundials replacing clocks because people can no longer stand to see gears. When these villagers look around the bar, they find comfort in the wooden countertops, the old monarchs on the walls. I see only delusion, a refusal to acknowledge the danger I face daily.

Pain sparks through my remade body. First my right shoulder where the shrapnel tore through, then my left leg. These are nothing but sense memories–my cybernetic parts have no synaptic receptors for anything but motion signals. Less than forty-percent of my flesh is now receptive to pain.

But if I am no longer human, my body doesn’t realize it. I still feel longing, if not hunger. I still seek closeness, if not intimacy.

Art accompanying "Forty Flesh Barrier"

The night is alive with bonfires. Jurgis and Corrina squint, but my pupils contract in nanoseconds to accommodate the increased light. Before me is a billboard selling smiles and rifles. Join the Army. We’ll Make You Whole.

To read the rest of this story, check out the Mad Scientist Journal: Winter 2019 collection.

Tethys no longer remembers her last name. She belongs to the Army for Humanity, which takes her time, wages, and parts of her body as it sees fit. Despite being mostly machine herself, Tethys dedicates her life to defending flesh and fighting machines. Her love for individuals outweighs her distrust of humanity.

Raluca Balasa holds an MFA in Creative Writing from the University of Nevada, Reno. Her approach to writing is character-oriented, often dealing with love-hate relationships, antiheroes, and antagonists who make you agree with them. Her short work has appeared in Andromeda Spaceways, Aurealis, Psychopomp, and Grimdark Magazine, among others. When she’s not writing, she can be found playing the piano or spilling things.

Luke Spooner, a.k.a. ‘Carrion House,’ currently lives and works in the South of England. Having recently graduated from the University of Portsmouth with a first class degree, he is now a full time illustrator for just about any project that piques his interest. Despite regular forays into children’s books and fairy tales, his true love lies in anything macabre, melancholy, or dark in nature and essence. He believes that the job of putting someone else’s words into a visual form, to accompany and support their text, is a massive responsibility, as well as being something he truly treasures. You can visit his web site at

“Forty-Flesh Barrier” is © 2018 Raluca Balasa
Art accompanying story is © 2018 Luke Spooner

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1 Response to Forty-Flesh Barrier

  1. Myna says:

    This is a brilliant story. Kudos to the author. I continue to be impressed with the quality of stories from MSJ. Thanks for featuring this one. I’d gladly read more from this author.

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