3 Minute Futures: Winning Stories

Robot image by Thinkstock

Read — and listen to — the winning entries of our 3 Minute Futures science fiction writing contest, co-organized by WID, To the Best of Our Knowledge and the UW Center for the Humanities. We received many great sci-fi stories, based on real science and set in the near future. Sci-fi expert and author Kim Stanley Robinson, best known for The Mars Trilogy, served as the final judge for the contest.

To the Best of Our Knowledge and LA’s Ensemble Studio Theatre, directed by Gates McFadden (Dr. Beverly Crusher on Star Trek: The Next Generation), coordinated to produce the stories for radio, which were first shared at the event “Imagining Possible Worlds” to explore literature, science and the future with Robinson on April 9, 2014.

Listen to the full show from To the Best of Our Knowledge, including longer interviews with Kim Stanley Robinson and Gates McFadden.

Read more of our favorite entries from the contest.

First Place

SocialScene Alert

by J.M. Perkins 

Audio courtesy of To the Best of Our Knowledge and produced by LA’s Ensemble Studio Theater


Hello Sarah Johnson!

As a Premium Subscriber of the SocialScene community, your account comes with several Gold Level features. We find that some of our subscribers aren’t even aware of all the associated benefits of their Premium Subscription.

However, we regret to inform you that one of your advanced features (adultery tracker) has been activated with regards to [Mark Johnson].

You are receiving this letter because the person you are currently listed as being in a relationship [Marriage] with [Mark Johnson] has a [HIGH] (>75%) chance of beginning an affair with one of your first tier friends [Eunice Peggwell] within the next three months. This has been determined through a number of tracking points analyzed through SocialScene’s proprietary algorithms: most notably profile view history, comment keyword tracking, and ‘liking’ behavior (click here to view a non-proprietary version of the associated data with human-readable explanation). Due to a lack of corroborating message data, we estimate a [HIGH] (>75%) probability that [Mark Johnson] and [Eunice Peggwell] are primarily using another communication vehicle to extend their relationship.*

Also, based on previous collected correlating data of couples in similar circumstances this affair has a: [LOW] (<50%) chance of being kept a secret between the two of them, a [MEDIUM] (>50%) chance of placing serious strain on your relationship, a [LOW] (<50%) chance of ending with a divorce where [Mark Johnson] does not begin a successful relationship with [Eunice Peggwell] and a [POOR] (<25%) chance of ending your relationship [Marriage] to [Mark Johnson] wherein he will begin a successful relationship with [Eunice Peggwell].

Moreover, due to your and [Mark Johnson]’s personnel data, renegotiating your relationship into a polyamorous arrangement has a [LOW] (<25%) probability of success.*

Sponsored Material:
Maria Tompkins–Anaheim’s Top Rated Relationship Counselor. Over 13 years experience, and a 99% positive review rating. Specializing in making sense of SocialScene data, with real world advice concerning pre-conscious attraction and pre-action infidelity. Beat the odds and save your marriage today!
In one week Anaheim’s oldest and most sensuous Orgy–The Sexxus–will be celebrating its fifth anniversary. Multiple streaming and participation options available: With special packages available to couples with recently altered relationship statuses. ‘Get your groove back’ by expanding your sexual horizons today!

We understand that this news is difficult to receive but, as always, we believe that giving our subscribers access to the latest and best-analyzed social knowledge helps make the world a better place. We’ve included a coupon for a free, one hour session with Chandra – the SocialScene automated relationship counselor and/or for discounted re-enrollment in our premium dating services.

Always remember, thousands of potentials are only a click away within the SocialScene Prospect Network!

Our Condolences;
The Team at SocialScene.

Click Here to Unsubscribe or Manage your Subscriptions

*Please note that all probabilities listed above take into account causal streams emanating from your receiving, understanding, and acting upon this information. In Section 8 Subsection 17 of our terms of service (‘Causality and Probable Future Action’), you have released us from any and all indemnity that may arise from the change of probabilistic outcomes and emotional distress resulting from the distribution of this knowledge.


Second Place

Food Production

by Michelle Clay 

Audio courtesy of To the Best of Our Knowledge and produced by LA’s Ensemble Studio Theater


Giraffe. Porcupine. Dolphin.

I avert my eyes as I walk past the freezer of shrink-wrapped meats. Sure, it’s all vat-grown, but somewhere, some-when, an animal had to die to provide the cell cultures. Maybe it was just one penguin that became the ubiquitous party food, but that’s one penguin too many. The New Hipsters can choke on their curried circus elephant. And don’t even get me started on the rhino, exhumed from extinction not to be saved, but to be snacked on.

But anyway: eyes on the prize. There he is, the beautiful boy behind the counter with the tattoos and the pout. He is delicious to look at.

But what side of the store does he shop from? The vatting technology brings together warring factions of eaters to shop under one roof. Is he a status-seeking Hipster, going for the expensive and exotic meats up front? Or is he one of those dullards who dash fearfully to the aisles of school-cafeteria pseudo-chicken glued to a plastic “bone?” I can’t ask him out if he’s one of them.

He can’t be an old-school vegetarian, not here in a vat-meat specialty store. And he couldn’t be a traditionalist, either. Only our parents cling to those habits, every mouthful from an actual dead animal. They don’t shop here.

Could his tastes be like mine?

I make my way to the counter, feigning interest in a selection of pseudo-salami – but, yuck. There is no use pretending that I like anything on offer in the front of the store.

“Hey,” I smile.

“Find what you’re looking for?” he asks.

“I was in here to pick up a specialty culture yesterday,” I say. “But it doesn’t taste right this time.” I’m lying, of course. “I was wondering if I could have it redone.”

“Sure, no prob,” he says. He goes on apologetically about the no-refund policy, and how the results can vary, but all I really see is the muscle in
his jaw sliding around under his skin. He pulls up my file and waves me to the sampling room.

“So,” I say, seizing the moment, “how’d you end up here?”

He shrugs. “It’s a job.”

“People sure do eat funny things,” I say.

His store-front expression bends into a confidential smile. “I had a lady last week ask me if I could clone butterfly. She even brought one with her,
in a jar! I don’t know if that’s even possible. Or edible.” He pushes through the door into the tiny room.

“Oh my god, what did you tell her?”

“I gave her a copy of our policy and told her to try the Internet.”

I snort. You can find any meat on the Internet, but it always tastes like chicken.

The sampling room is empty but for a chair and a sink, meticulously clean. I sit down and roll up my sleeve.

“So what about you?” I ask. “You into selfies?”

“Oh, yeah, I’ve got a culture in back,” he says, swabbing my arm. I look the other way when he unwraps the needle, but mostly it’s to hide my grin. He’s a selfitarian, too!

I walk out with a band-aid decorated with cartoon steaks and bacon. “You know the drill,” he says. “First cuts will be ready in two weeks.”

When I pay, I slip him my e-mail address. And judging by the way he smiles back, we may be tasting each other soon.


Third Place

Dogs in the Snow

by Jedediah Berry

 Audio courtesy of To the Best of Our Knowledge and produced by LA’s Ensemble Studio Theater


They have an unspoken agreement: Evelyn doesn’t watch the tapes with him, and Miguel doesn’t go near the hospital. But this time, when his daughter hands him the new batch, she says, “They don’t like that you never sign for them yourself.”

He knows that what she wants is for him to go to the hospital, to see Jack in that room. He snorts and says, “The doctors understand who they’re for.”

Evelyn walks into the kitchen. Miguel looks at his yellow notepad, feeling helpless.

“Don’t let me get in your way,” she calls.

“You’re not in my way,” he says.

“I know,” she says, and pours herself a glass of wine.

She used to watch the tapes with him, but never Jack. Jack didn’t want to interfere with the process: Miguel did the writing, Jack did the dreaming.

“It is,” Jack liked to say, stretching as though to yawn, “an equitable division of labor.”

Now Jack is gone, except in the new tapes. They aren’t tapes, really, but flash drives packed with flickering representations of what passes through Jack’s unconscious brain. Only three this week—two less than the week before.

From the kitchen comes the noise of banging pots, which means that Evelyn is staying for dinner. That she’ll make dinner, even if Miguel protests.

He inserts the first tape into his console, uncaps his pen, and sits forward to watch. A computer makes the videos, arranging stock images by matching brain scans against the catalogue Jack and his colleagues assembled over the course of months. Hallway, ocean, horse, house. The computer melds pictures, bringing them into and out of focus to shape an approximate rendering of the dreams.

“It’s beautiful,” Miguel said, the first time he saw one.

“You think my brain is beautiful?” Jack asked.

“That’s been established, I think.”

When Miguel began writing poems to accompany the videos, Jack was charmed. “They’ll love these at the lab,” he said. “Practical applications.”

Miguel shrugged off his sarcasm. “Even a scientist’s dreams are poetry,” he said.

Then the accident, the coma. And now, at the hospital, that beautiful brain is dying. They’d given Miguel the papers he needed to sign to let his husband go.

And their daughter, he knows, wants him to sign them.

But in Jack’s dreams, he is still alive. How can Miguel kill him while he dreams? Their collaboration is unfinished.

Miguel watches and writes. He sees a picture of his own face rise from the gloom: Miguel had been catalogued, too. One pattern repeats several times: an image of dogs alternating with an image of falling snow. He saw it last week, too, and the week before.

Miguel. Dogs. Snow.

Miguel knows what it is, this dream. Three years ago, they’d walked in the woods by Amethyst Brook, the water frozen into sheafs of ice. Three dogs came bounding out of the snow, sniffed them both, then returned through the trees when their owners called. Jack held Miguel, and said that he had everything he wanted. That if he died this moment, he would die happy.

Miguel puts down his pen and goes into the kitchen. Evelyn doesn’t look up from the pot on the stove.

“I’ll go see him tomorrow,” Miguel says. “I’ll put my name on the line.”

“Good. That lab creeps me out.”

“Not at the lab,” he says. “Not for the tapes.”

When she understands, Evelyn stops stirring. He puts his hand on hers, and she lets him take the spoon. Later tonight, he’ll write that last poem. But first he’ll make them dinner.