Staff stripped by austerity, the last great telescope closed its eye to the heavens, and was gutted for scrap. No one saw the comet coming.

In a recent analysis of disaster movies by scientists at UCLA’s Institute of the Environment and Sustainability, it was found that humanity would rather blame human greed or ego than simple ignorance for disasters. This finding could extend far beyond environmental disasters. Globally, austerity measures cause potentially irreparable damage to vulnerable communities, public health systems, and scientific research, with even the ISS endangered by funding losses. Inspired by the news that Brazil’s science funding would be cut by another 40% in 2018 endangering observatories, Carrie Cuinn looks to the stars and imagines a threat unseen – not because of human ego, but because we were simply ignorant.

//Carrie Cuinn is a writer, editor, historian, and geek. Find her online at @CarrieCuinn or at http://carriecuinn.com.//


Retiring Faux-Meat Competitive Eater Checks Into A Diet Facility
Surgeons penetrate her skull, implant an electrode into her basal
forebrain and press the trigger. ~
Zz!~ Her cravings switch off.

 In the first serial story published by the Vault, D. A. Xiaolin Spires serves us up a second helping of competitive eater Yamamoto. Reading that innovative approaches to food cravings and impulsive behavior may lead to new methods of dietary supervision, Spires surrenders her character to another stage for observation by a crowd – a diet facility. Is this technology new in her universe? Or are cravings now pathologised? That is up to the impulses of our readers. // Alex Massey

//D.A. Xiaolin Spires chomps on a faux-meat “Sham Jim”. Work in Clarkesworld, Analog and Fireside. @spireswriter//


Flecks fly from Yamamoto’s lips. She soaks another lab-grown burger in water, swallows it whole. The crowd cheers, waving flags featuring animations of stem cell extraction.

As lab-grown meat grows in popularity, the public begins to turn its attention from the scientists who created it to where it will be sold. Contemplating this, D. A. Xiaolin Spires blends together the notions of promotional stunts and extreme sports to create a new competitive eating contest. In the crowd, the ethical consumer cheers, waving flags made of digital OLED fabrics. In Spires’ future, GIFS are printable, and meat is vegetarian. Will her fiction become fact before our very eyes? // Alex Massey

//D.A. Xiaolin Spires waves from a billowing fabric screen. Work in Clarkesworld, Analog and Fireside. @spireswriter//

107 | First Place

In the beginning, they went to war. Now arbitrium came through to the descendants with instructions to settle; to make a new home and wait.

This story tied for 1st place in our 48 HOUR FLASH FICTION CONTEST. Bacteriophages (or ‘phages’) are viruses that replicate inside bacterium. In 2017, researchers discovered that the original phage and their progeny communicate using the arbitrium system. So, how does this work? Once a phage enters a host, they release a peptide chain message. The initial phage then communicates that its replicated progeny should destroy their host cells or maintain the cell’s life and integrate the phage genome into the host cell genome. This research drove Alex Robinson to ask: If such “simple” entities are capable of such complex message transmission and group decision-making, who knows what else viruses can communicate to each other? 

//Alex Robinson @pronerdalex is a nerd and a nurse. They write table-top RPGs and co-host @letsdoitpodcast, a sex ed podcast. Check out Alex on Medium for more of their sexual health writing.//

106 | 1st Place

Fly away with your tiny wings, my Charon. No monkey-business for me anymore. Flee, for pain is yellow, and death is human.

This story tied for 1st place in our 48 HOUR FLASH FICTION CONTEST. There’s an outbreak of yellow fever in southeastern Brazil, and people are clubbing infected monkeys to death, mistaking the victims for the vectors—the mosquitoesResearchers are investigating whether the outbreak is linked to Rio Doce (river) pollution caused by the Samarco’s dam collapse in 2015, which destabilized the ecosystem. The dam collapse, an event also known as the Mariana tragedy, is considered the worst environmental disaster in Brazilian history.

//Rodrigo Assis Mesquita @RGMesquita is a mostly strong-willed SFF writer from Brazil.//


105 | 2nd Place

“Didn’t think I’d see you here again. Relapse?” The bartender at the Virulent Virus raised an eyebrow. “The usual?”
I grunted.
He slid over a Flutini.

This story was awarded 2nd place in our 48 HOUR FLASH FICTION CONTEST. We typically associate viruses with death, disease and malware. In short, nothing good. This year’s flu season has done nothing to redeem our perception of this infective agent. So when I read how researchers could potentially use genetically-modified flu viruses to cure cancer, I wondered if staving off this disease could be as simple as downing an influenza-infused martini in the future. Perhaps, like how our ancestors tamed fire, something once-thought deadly will revolutionize humanity. // Personal statement by the Author

A SCIENTIFIC NOTE FROM THE JUDGES: Ingesting influenza would probably ‘kill’ it in your gut. However, there are viruses that do use ingestion as their route of transmission like adenovirus, which are also being explored as a cancer treating agent. We have allowed for creative license in this story as it is important to highlight positive uses for viruses.

//Bijou Lin is current on all her shots, of both vaccine and vodka variety.//

104 | 3rd Place

The DNA sequence on his dating holo stops her. Oh, yes, she needs some of that. She’ll use a new tube of viral lipstick for this heist.

This story was awarded 3rd place in our 48 HOUR FLASH FICTION CONTEST. Researchers at Capital Medical University in China have recently come one step closer to genetically engineering a DNA vaccine for dengue fever. A major health concern in Asia and Africa, dengue fever may spread throughout the Mediterranean in coming years as temperatures climb due to climate change. Yet, researchers aren’t the only ones capable of genetically engineering DNA – viruses have been found to do this themselves. In 2016, biological scientists Seth and Sarah Bordensteing discovered a virus had stolen the DNA of a black widow spider allowing it to make intesticidal toxins. Megan Hippler combines this sequence to create a new take on the traditional heist and won the approval of our judges.

//Megan Hippler @MeganHippler is a Queensland-based writer from West Virginia and a former algae farmer.//