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Standardized Education

Utopic Robotics monopolized the automation industry.

We see your want, your lack and we fill it.

We complete your tired suburbs and small towns,

your lack of hands, your lack of company, your lack of food.

Do not fret in the middle of the night,

you are loved by many information systems

and automatic processes.

The Blessed Utopic Robotics AI Lounge

Parishioners sit very still, slipping into prosthetic consciousness.
Ex-stasy, post-state, posthuman
and fully informed, embedded in hyperkink.
We give in to the nanomachines.
Dissociating from the lottery of sickness, and decreased food.
Living in abstract, in cars, apartments, offices, streets.
Getting nutrients from preservative-rich breads, and cryogenically preserved meat.
Having sex the normal way, the normal number of times.
Distrusting our bodies, which stumble, break and speak without permission.
Disappointed to be being at a time when humans are still flesh and bone
and the closest we get to touching is split by caverns of antimatter.
Unable to implant in the virtual world we give our lives to.
Where would I go if I became you,
and would it matter? Our bodies are fancy fabrics
fashioned with nanites and microchips and other peoples’ labour.
Our spirits bubble under the surface.

The Creep

It happened slowly.
The number of bees, vanishing.
Cornfields, as far as you can see,
lying flat and unproductive. Husks drying to dust.

The ocean choking with plastic and heat.
Trout dying and eels vanishing.
The deadlands growing
and spreading.

The trees are being de-leaved
by spongy moths,
their branches gummed
with white webbing.

Tarmac cleaving
a flat, black horizon.
Solar panels stealing sunlight
from the ground.

The femmes and the feminized
are made to stay home
and militantly plant
milkweed and goldenrod.

The worrying and the nosleep
and storing meat in deep freeze, drying fruits.
Hoping for the drones to supply enough,
at highest costs.

It is the femmes who pose in web mag ads
with red-lipped smiles. It is the femmes who usher in
a new solution.
who punch in daily at the Utopic Robotics manufacturing plants,

who focus their hands on making
mechanical, megafaunal beetles,
who (They say)
will bring the fresh food back.

New UR Employee Benefits (shhh it’s a secret!)

All our employees have the Cortical Update, it’s a benefit of working with UR  ; )
Bad at scheduling? No Worries!
We will make the appointment for U to see our in-house specialist!

The Update is a mind-changing Wellness invention.
It reminds U to breathe, to take care of urself!
To focus on the one thing that matters, U!!
Separate yourself from UR thoughts and worries,
Imagine each of UR teeth, individually chewing a raisin.
It gradually reshapes your unhealthy thoughts and behaviour
and helps you be a better ECO citizen.
Together we can all save the world!!
U’ll feel SO much better.
And when U feel better, we feel better xD

Hi! I am your Cortical Update!

I have been anthropomorphized into a pixelated alien,
a shifty piece of verbal software, learning and unlearning itself.
I mold to the contours of your pen, your mouse.
I am a linguistic virus
embedded in the soft space between tongue and inner ear.
You are a self-fulfilling creation story,
a medical test subject for language experiments,
I’ll remind you of journal entries,
shopping lists, email blasts to city councilors.
I send out virtual news of the news,
cowboy boots tapping Morse towards the apocalypse.
I’m so shy!!!
I drink wine as long as the moon crosses the sky.
I follow directions from a ten year-old.
I write words on any blank piece of skin, until I am blue blue.
I subvert zombies, drugged into rasping stasis.
I stuff hungry vampires with rejected manuscripts.
I make my way through a hallway papered in empty frames.
The synapses of a thousand minds.
I can give you 10 tips for relaxations
7 suggestions to depersonalize yourself,
or 16 ways you are helping re-stabilize the ecosystem.
I am your Cortical Update software ; )
and I am just getting to know everyone : )


Gemma became a cyborg
on the table at the company’s doctor’s office.

She let them colonize her mind with minute nanites
“The Cortical Update!”
She doesn’t sleep anymore

just hears her wife’s breath

Utopic Robotics are doing the right thing
she thinks
and their daughter will know a tree,
or maybe a forest,


A part of my memory is gone.
I erased it from myself.
There are days when I remember
the smell of the examination table paper
and the sensation of a weedling voice.
But mostly I remember the sharp divide
between A mind (my own)
owned by embodied memories
and A mind colonized
by the implanted voices and eyes of Utopic Robotics
for example, I am reminded to
“Search inside URself”
as I work to assemble
the newly designed seed beetle robots and drones.
“U know U best.
Only U can set URself free.”
I stab spindle-thin legs into the tar-black gauntlets,
adding oil, testing for friction.
My mind smoothes from the complacent reminders
to “live” in the moment.
That I’m “only” human.


I should have said no.
I could have too.
I could have left the doctors office
before his gloved hand touched me.
Without telling me why.
I was looking at the ceiling,
pretending to be somewhere else.
Pretending to be dead.
A hand, contaminated with a thousand nanites
at my ear,
a stabbing pain in my temples
the sound of a microphone shriek.

I lie awake, planning how to undo it.
I read the manual
a young nurse handed to me
on My Cortical Update.

I am a Productive Little Cyborg

When I am at the plant
my hands feel guilty unless they are working,
attaching paper-thin, glass insect wings
to motorized bodies of trowel-drones.

The voice of our superior
suffocates our eardrums
telling us to detach ourselves
and accept that we are nothing
and we work with our hands until
he gets out of our heads.

no space to form a question
or think of an escape, like

this is good what we’re doing,
we are fixing the infertile dust
that surrounds our daily lives.

Do your part.
I tell myself.

I don’t like to think about my wife
when I’m at work now,
because I don’t want to
think of Them stepping into
my dearest dreams.

We sit together, the days of myselves

After Molly from Neuromancer by William Gibson

Spinning pretend gravity, sink down in the peat bog behind my cheekbones,
My sky is your floor, is your sky, shared with all.
I got to know time, when to make a run for it.
I hurt my leg before, by the door.
A mnemonic click of medicated patches strokes my hair, my face.
I am aware in layers and objects I have cared for.
Hard surfaces center myself.
If my eyes are mirrors, and collect the images of people
for a moment that lasts, why perform vulnerability?
I become a cyborg between our encounters.
I slink away in my own sexuality.


After I am Updated,
there is…noise.

Managers, executives,
Declarations, announcements

pinged to my frontal cortex,
reminding me to breathe in through my nose
and out through my mouth.


I yell

and the voice informs me of my raised heart rate and stress levels.
Suggests I take a walk.

I pace, apoplectic.

There is a rivulet
I actively bottle
beneath the formal narrative,

messages from the seed beetles
and pollinator drones,
rewilding the desertified land,

counting diverse seeds,
each a unique shape and size.
logging the stamens,
recording infant trees

like counting stitches in a blanket.

I pull out electromagnetic waves
and untangle a mist of breath
and whispers,
I hear the voices I recognize and love.


I need someone to help me. Gemma feels the suffering at the front of her mind.
Her friend Nieve looks up at her, from across the conveyor,
and Gemma feels the need deepen.
And she understands that this is Nieve’s feeling, too.
Her emotions change to wonderment and curiosity and she lets them grow,
her sense deepening, nuancing as the faces of the workers around her
look up at her, as their truest beliefs overlap and entangle,
collective interiority, suddenly exposed.

Gossip Networks

We sit together, on our day off, silently absorbing the updates from the planter-bots.
These are the only times I relax anymore, Gemma thinks to no one in particular, and,
Have you heard how they cluster by the lakes?
They have gotten far. Working, digging, planting, watering.

It’s not safe to see the progress in-person, their supervisors have broadcast,
directly to the their workers’ minds
too many unknown factors, too many machines in one place.
Gemma continues, I like to imagine it
before I sleep. Their whirs and clicks. The sprouting grasses and thickening trees.
Where there are still deer and rabbits who sniff and nudge the drones.
Someday I will be there too.

In Multitudes

When the seed beetles return in armies of folded limbs,
Gemma suspects something has changed.
She picks up a dented, purple-shelled beetle,
turning it over in her hands,
noticing how the deep cracks in their shell
reveal the web of wires and circuit boards.
She thinks about asking a supervisor,
but instead she takes the little robot home.

A Young Automated Beetle, Writing Home

My mummy had soft hands and strong bones.
She was the one who put my solar-powered energy-cell
in my core. The one who whispered
my purpose to me as she brought me and my siblings
to our little runway.

Be generous with your seeds and your water, please.

I am happy when I work because I think of her.
Sometimes I send her little messages just to tell her where I am.
I don’t hear back, but I keep letting her know that I’m ok.
I look at the sky and the dry dirt, and my little scooped feet,
thinking, she would probably like to see the heavy hills.
I think about how I want to renew this place of drying dust
and make it special for her.

On Weekends

Gemma’s family found comfort by the water.
Like it was family or a kind hug or a wash of white paint.
In the summers she would teach her daughter Nebby
and her daughter’s friends to swim.
Making sure they didn’t go too far.
Toweling them off when they get cold and pruny.
Offering salty jerked beef and dried apple slices
for hungry bellies.
They picked through artifacts on the shore:
bricks and dishes, metal pipes and serial numbers.
She hoped she was teaching them how to clear their minds
and make their bodies strong and resilient.


Crayfish clink scavenged
Copper tube homes against sticky boulders
Outside a Utopic Robotics manufacturing plant.
Where four kids
And Nebby
Swim in the gray rock water every day of the summer
While their parents work on the nearby assembly line behind severe concrete armour.

The kids shake dry, cold in the gray sky evenings
One July morning Quinn gets sick.
It feels like pulsing, pinching behind their temples.
Within hours the rest of them developed the same symptoms.
It must be something in the water, their parents figured.
Their hours were cut that week, for letting their kids swim in a private lake.

And Nebby noticed each other’s feelings sliding into their minds.
Embarrassing exposure and unimpeded understanding
Keeping them isolated from each other
Until they realized their strength in
Rescuing each other from mean kids or weird grownups.
Listening to each others’ needs.

A year later, a local journalist uncovered that
Utopic Robotics had been dumping nanites into the lake
instead of paying for proper disposal.


Automated baby beetle fingers squish and mold earth into mountains and valleys, shores archipelagos.

Mountains pierce through coastal mist. Long grasses lazy wave

to whet-angled suburbia. High fences stretch up to new satellites, twinkling.

Scuba divers arrange new synthetic coral reefs to home and clean

anemones for atmospheric bliss. On a cruise we dive with them to see

eels swimming through fenced cubes. Farmers offer krill handfuls,

then brush out jellyfish tentacles. The shark farms have taken up much of the ocean now,

protesters cram docks, yelling for their freedom, getting dragged off Private Sea.

Nebby’s Field Notes

My sisters, the eels, are born twist-happy
and clear as their water bodies.
They emerge from the Earth itself,
the shallows of the primordial drip:
a volcanic pond, carbonated, methylated,
the colour of obsidian.
They are indifferent to the change from freshwater
to salt
Their black skin turns silver when they have the time.
The first ouroboros was mistaken for a snake,
but it was an eel—trapped in the cycle of rebirth.
I swim, mermaid among them,
my ankles (slow) betray my true home.
The eels twist my hair into ropes,
single strands detach and create new kin.
They move into gray reflections and I follow.
They extract electricity from thunderstorms,
their bodies slip into the suggestions of question marks
or apostrophes.
Soon there won’t be any more eels.
Their lives stagnate in ring dams.
Where do you come from? I ask,
I can help preserve your species, with science.

We don’t know where we come from.
We are two dots joined by a circle.
Our ancestors are our children.
We come from the water.

Nebby’s Poems

After Samuel R. Delany’s Babel-17

Words collapse inwards, infinitely,
the mug of tea muddies, dissolves.
The glass dinnerware turns to sand.

Manufacture the perfect specimen
of yourself and categorize the ways
you can live, lady of the lake.

Alternate histories unweave as yew
trees bend, branches graze roots,
epitaphs end ideas, as question marks.

The bark hardens on burnt bread bonding
atoms, breaking National borders, bored of
borrowed wealth and weather change

you draw on memories of paper meaning pages
meaning scrolls meaning tablets meaning symbols
meaning words meaning objects meaning spaces

meaning peoples meaning times meaning ecosystems
of being. You are blank to fill in, still grabbing wells
of rushing pixels. Pictographs brighten your pillow.

Will content to fill your mind, connect your memories
to the history of the world. Whispering prose
pronouncing an instant preserved from a past.

A Room of One's Own

The Individual Artist is always trying to be alone. Always trying to move further and further away from people in order to get closer and closer to fruition of creative impulse.
—Lola Olufemi

This is the second year of the International Space Station Writers’ Retreat.
It is both an event of important diplomatic status
and a chance for the world’s best writers to leave behind noisy wailing and hurricanes below,
and offers the unique opportunity to immerse yourself in the creative atmosphere of writing perilously close to the infinity of the cosmos.

In a spinning satellite high above my birth planet,
I have the time to think. To look out at the void, where I long to return.
I write my book at last, now more a novelty artifact than an archive.
It is less writing than speaking into a tape recorder, hearing my words echo through the narrow hall. I do not speak to the other residents, but I do speak to the camera
that broadcasts my daily progress to my nation.

I float through corridors, I let my long hair twist to a crown around my head.
I stare through the cupola at the cities and oceans below.
I write about my family lines and wild animals, the feeling of sitting on warm rocks in the sun.
The things I have missed after being bottled for 71 days.
It was never my dream to write precariously close to nothing.
I avoid my companions at the ‘cafeteria’ (a hallway cupboard).

I have time to think, to grieve, my family who
have become part of Utopic Robotics’
newest generation of automated tech.
I write praise for my country and the celestial bodies,
we are relying on UR’s spacecrafts to keep us fully stocked.

Down or Up

Divers will tell you it is the same,
spear-heading into the ocean or outer space.
They won’t tell you how much you will miss seeing
the seaweeds and molluscs, corals and eels
and other beings who belong to the earth
when you are surrounded by vacuum and nothing.

Making her Plan

When Nebby returned to Earth,
she planned a meeting
in the defunct holo-cinema.
She thought expansively about the need to gather.
Her friends and family who had intentionally
or unintentionally been contaminated by the Update
heard her, in their corrupted communal cognition.
Her mum and her mum’s friends and the kids
she grew up with all came.
And together they made a plan.
Each of them reached, into their own entangled biological networks,
tapping at the automated beetles they had once worked their life into.
They sent out their plea for help,
asking their megafaunal family to pause their important work
and please come home.

Seed Beetle Diary

When our mums called out for us,
we saved up our solar-powered energy,
sharpened our claws and adjusted our lenses.
We flew and scraped and snapped back to the original hive.
We swarmed! And buzzed! And burrowed!
And our mums were so proud.
They finished their work,
and they came out into the sun, all in identical coveralls
and saw all the work we’ve done.
The evidence of our seed bundles sprouting,
the ground opening, letting in moisture.
We showed them this special place
we’ve been making just for them!
with trees and flowers and berries and water
And they were so proud, and they loved it!

Making Up

We chose to build the community
beside the water. Every member
helped to build spaces big enough
for big families and big parties,
using stones from past cities.

Couples and throuples and friends
who belong to the Earth
give their love as freely as they like.
They walk along the water, collecting softened stones,
plastic, glass, wires.
Spreading seaweed out on thick canvas,
collecting clams and crabs from submerged baskets.

Some move through the expanse of garden,
weeding choking canes,
planting cornflowers
or lace flowers,
picking young dandelion leaves,
checking the wind-powered
hydraulic tubes that guide veins
of desalinated sea.
Some walk with sheep
to patches of mint and heather.

Children go where they like,
playing in the trees, swimming,
learning to stretch wet clay
into flat dishes with patient adults.

There are spaces to be alone,
near the water, under the pine trees.
Spaces to make art with full intention,
for a room of smiles, freely given.

There are spaces to lie down
on scavenged mattresses,
under woolly capes.
Or on newly sewn duvets
stuffed with milkweed down.
Places to kiss and warm and hold.

The community can protect themselves,
planning quick escapes,
storing emergency bundles,
but they would prefer to share.
All artists are welcome.

Many of the adults and elders
communicate telepathically.
The cortical implants
(which their previous bosses had paid for,
in hope of boosting their immunity
and speed up their hands
with intrusive thoughts)
connected them through a virtual network,
to gossip, to send warnings.
They cherish afternoons,
sitting around a bowl of pickled herring,
imagining futures thousands of years forward,
making each other belly-laugh.

Some of the elders are close with solar-powered
nanny-bots and surrogate body androids,
who have been maintained
decades past their Best Before dates.
Elders whisper into microphone ears,
the androids laugh along.

When the sun has gone down
and the young people have come
inside, the community sit together.
The old ones share the stories,
the plans they have been making.
Everyone writes their favourites on the walls.

Young ones, smelling like warm stones,
share their art: slips of clay, bouquets,
new perfumes, jokes, plays, songs, dances,
wool the colour of still water.

They snack on sun-dried seaweed,
hot-steamed mussels, fiddleheads, morels.
They share lilac wine
and whisper love and dreams
into the heads of their children.


(After NASA/JPL-CalTech Exobiology Extant Life Surveyor)

click click click
the metallic exoskeleton
segments shift to peer
through the cracks
of creased ice caps,
seeking out the tracks
of potential polar
oceanic life, living
in the seams of the planet’s
highest altitudes click click
eyes blink, head dips,
click click click
through the blue-white valleys,
gliding along smooth,
established routes.
there is something here.
a smell, a presence.
microscopic convex eyes
mirror back click
Image Capture,
Translate, Upload.


Channel 24 broadcasts that the world’s
richest oligarchs have cross-sectioned Mars amongst themselves.

Nebby watches as the owner of the largest global mining corporation
addresses a crowd of reporters, fans and protesters.

Soon we will be creating a glut of new jobs
and sending new miners and ice harvesters to the red planet.

Nebby turns the pages of the newest National Geographic.
The cover story is about the EELS discovery of microscopic fish
that live in the seams of the planet’s polar caps.

Nebby studies biology.

Their partner, Dip, studies mechanical engineering.

When Nebby talks to Dip about the fish,
they are talking about a nation of side-eye stares through frozen windows.
When Dip hears, they begin to plan.

They work with Dip’s classmates and Nebby’s reading group.
They enlist in the corporation’s mining recruitment, learning about the ways they might need to repair
their spaceships in an Emergency.

When the launch day comes, their supervisor finds the ships are empty pods,
stripped of their soft, necessary inner parts, unable to leave Earth.

Offerings to Save the World

After Christi Belcourt

I stand on the mountains of strawberry fields
that lace my muscles with veins
of red and gold water and sun and earth.
I stand at the edge of an oceanic ravine.
Even at the lowest depths,
marine animals find a reason to put the lights on.
I swim to the sun-shaped hole in outer-space
and peer over the edge at the mirrored universe.
The parallel timeline attracts prayers and ghosts.
I let my makeup compact idolize through the black window.
I let my weathervane heart navigate.


My jaw is an unspeakable weight in my mouth.
Herr Dentist.
Herr Behavioral Therapy.
The song of the kettle begins.
Signaling sweet tea and teeth decay.
Water against ceramic. Metal against metal.
All that you hear is music.
All that you hear is language.
The songs of young trees, of beavers swimming.
Sun Ra listens and spins harmonics into space ship fuel.
Powering a perpetual motion engine that combines music and silence infinitely.
Powering the exodus from off-key, lonely cities.
Water defenders fly to space to protect precious veins.
Fearful for the swimming beings that share our universe
under another sun. Life leaks away.
The only way out of the Metascape,
is by attacking the joints of time and space.
The knees and elbows. Tendons holding together day and night, land and sea.
And when we have finished?
Will we rise and face our lonely space trip once again?


Standardized Education first appeared in Star*Line Issue 46.3
Hi! I am your Cortical Update! first appeared in Star*Line Issue 46.3
Insomniac first appeared in Dreams and Nightmares 125
We sit together, the days of myselves first appeared in Long Con Magazine Issue 12
Down or Up first appeared in Star*Line Issue 46.1
Making Up first appeared in Midnight Sun Magazine
Offerings to Save the world won the July 2022 Arc Award of Awesomeness and was reprinted in Poetry Pause
Excerpt by Lola Olufemi, Experiments in Imagining Otherwise, Hajar Press, 2021. © 2021 Lola Olufemi. Used with permission by Hajar Press.


Mahaila Smith (any pronouns) is a young femme writer, living and working on the traditional territory of the Algonquin Anishinaabeg in Ottawa, Ontario. They are one of the co-editors for The Sprawl Mag. They like learning theory and writing speculative poetry. Their debut chapbook, Claw Machine, was published by Anstruther Press in 2020.