One bloody thumb to the imp’s contract and like was erased from her speech. Her boss promoted her. Her friends heard each absence as a pain.

 I study under a professor who’s dedicated part of her career to “like”. Even though prescriptivists love to make fun of it in women, “like” is not especially correlated with gender overall, but with youth, and it plays an important role in cognition and discourse, like most other parts of talk that grammarians deride as purposeless. It’s well-established in sociolinguistics that, through speech, we manifest our identity to our peers and mark ourselves as part of a group. How often are people on the wrong side of a power dynamic told to alter their speech toward an imaginary ideal, something much less like us, and less like the people dear to us? What are the implications of telling people to prune language that they use to demonstrate who they are? // Personal Note from the Author

//Meghan Cunningham writes and studies linguistics in British Columbia. She can be found on Twitter and WordPress as @separatrices.//


Psychiatrist Li handed me the prescription, a mechanical parrot. Every night it delivers its dosage, tooting three seventh-chord tunes.

Used as a tool in advertising, productivity, and relaxation, music has become a powerful influence on humanity and other biological organisms (even parrots have genre preferences!). For years, science has attempted to quantify this phenomenon, analysing lyrics, chords, and even brain waves to find the links between music and emotion. Inspired by this research, D. A. Xiaolin Spires plucks a familiar chord and composes a new method for delivering musical therapy – mechatronics. Could humans fall asleep to electric parrots? // Alex Massey

//D.A. Xiaolin Spires hums through her shiny antenna. Work in Clarkesworld, Fireside and Analog. @spireswriter daxiaolinspires.wordpress.com//

Flash Fiction Contest: Virology

Holy moly! Was it only seven months ago the Vault ran our first Flash Fiction contest? What an exciting half year it has been. With an influx of new followers on social media, I’m going to take this opportunity to tell you a little more about us, and why we run these contests.

The Story Seed Vault is an online micro-fiction publication that aims to entertain and educate our readers about scientific research through fiction. We are an international publication based in Sydney, Australia. As Story Seed Vault is new to the industry, we are pushing to increase our reach and to partner with science communicators all over the world.

One of the ways that we do this is by holding thematic Flash Fiction contests. Our first competition was based on Antarctic research, judged by two members of the Australian Antarctic Division, and our second is on bees, judged by two prominent European researchers. You can read about these contests here and here.

This time around, we’ve taken a different tack. Instead of picking a theme that was based on our site views or audience selection, I reached out to several researchers I admire to see if they were available to judge our contest. The first to respond with enthusiasm was Dr. Bish Marzook, a virologist currently based in Oxford. Her enthusiasm is definitely catching and so, it is with great excitement that I introduce our judges for the first Flash Fiction Contest of 2018!

Our Judges

Dr Ben Johnson is Head of Communities & Engagement at Springer Nature. He runs the Nature Research Communities, where authors and editors tell their personal stories. Ben has a PhD in influenza virus and researched vaccines at Imperial College London, before entering publishing. He can be found on Twitter @drbenjohnson.

Dr. Bish Marzook is a virologist, comedian, and writer. Armed with a PhD in virology from The University of Sydney, Australia, she recently moved to the UK for a post-doctoral position in biochemistry & cell biology at Cambridge. Viruses remain her one true love. She can be found on Twitter @bish_marz.

The Topic: Virology

We want your best micro-fiction, 140 characters or less, inspired by research on Virology. Innovative vaccine delivery systems, viral warfare, viruses that hijack personalities – we want them all. Go forth and research!


  1.  It must be based on topics/research relevant to VIROLOGY. The more recent the research, the better. We will judge a great story with science from a few years ago  over an alright story with a study published yesterday.
  2. If the story is about VIROLOGY but the research provided is generic educational info, it will not be awarded a placing.
  3. The story has to be able to stand on its own – the science can provide context/make it more interesting, but it should not rely heavily on the science to be entertaining.


Like our previous Flash Fiction contests, we will be selecting 1st, 2nd, and 3rd place entrants.We will paying the placed winners $10 each.

If you are happy to waive this prize, we will be donating this amount to Virology Comics, an educational organisation based in Europe. The funds raised will be used to ship free comics to American public schools. Virology Comics is run by Dr. Susan Nasif, who can be found on Twitter @VirologyComics.

Submission Timelines

Submissions open 10PM AEST January 25, 2018.
Submissions close 10PM AEST January 27, 2018.
Results will be announced 1PM AEST February 1, 2018 and the winning stories will be published over the week of February 5th, 2018.

See our submissions page for how to submit and information on payments and copyrights.



As the seas rose, she grew a respiratory system in the lab. A new kind of selkie, she replaced her old lungs, and made a life in the depths.

Carbon monoxide has long been classified as a substance that is toxic to mammalian tissue in high concentrations. Yet this classification may soon be turned on its head. At the Marine Mammal Society in late 2017, researchers presented their discovery that the high accumulation of carbon monoxide in the blood helps elephant seals make deep ocean dives. This discovery has major implications for biomedical research into human organ transplants. Diving deep into this research, Gabrielle Friesen breathes new life into the Celtic selkie myth. Could this be how humans escape the consequences of climate change? // Alex Massey

//Gabrielle Friesen @BeteMonstrueuse deepest fears are dogs and the ocean. She enjoys talking about bats, and old things buried in archives.//


During the Hydrocarbon Era (ca 1790-2040 CE), humans loved burning so much, they would ritually inhale smoke. – A brief history of Earth, 2357 CE

Usage of fossil fuels is rising slower, and renewables are increasing faster, than predicted only a few years ago. We are approaching the end of the fossil-fuel-burning era, coincidentally at the same time tobacco smoking is declining in many parts of the world. Will future historians make a distinction between these two habits? // Personal Statement by the Author

//O. Westin @MicroSFF has written thousands of seed-sized science fiction and fantasy stories on Twitter since 2013.//


Errors with functional living ink meant his facial skin graft photosynthesised light. Deciduous, his face casts cells in autumn, regrows each spring.

In a fascinating development in 3-D printing, researchers have created a living ink, embedded with the bacterium Acetobacter xylinum. This bacterium produces cellulose, which can be used as scaffolds for skin replacements and more. These advances are stunning and hold such hope for many. As someone who regularly struggles to get their ordinary old paper printer to work properly, Dengler’s article sent F. E. Clark off to wondering what might happen if the wrong bacterium for a skin graft was loaded into the Flink (Functional Living Ink) and the result went unnoticed until it was too late.

//F. E. Clark @feclarkart is a writer and painter from Scotland. She has had many a bad printer experience.//


It breached the airlock, propelling itself purposefully towards the galley. Horrified, we watched eager tentacles crack open our last beer.

In Anhauser-Busch’s first steps towards making Budweiser the first beer on Mars, the company recently announced its plans to conduct experiments on the International Space Station to better understand how barley reacts to a microgravity environment. Given humanity’s affinity for booze and ideas such as the “drunken monkey” hypothesis—which proposed that our primate ancestors came down from the trees for alcohol—it did not seem outside the realm of possibility that another large-brained carbon-based life-form capable of space travel would turn up their noses at such an intoxicating source of calories. // Statement by the Author

//Bijou Lin monkeys around imaginary realms built on hope and bananas. But mostly bananas. She blames all poor life choices on a hardwired evolutionary disposition for ethanol.//