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The Tale of John Marker

by Amy Fontaine

Table of Contents
Table of Contents
parts: 1, 2, 3, 4


Hearing loud, cruel laughter, I looked up. It was Blackwater.

“You’re a monster,” I said, rising to my feet.

His chuckles ceased. He smiled at me pitilessly. “Do you believe me now?” he asked softly. “I could kill more of you instantly, remember? All the humans of Strange Times volunteered their DNA to the storage, as a pact of dedication. There is no obstacle that can stop me.”

Startled, I whirled around, remembering my human companions. I had been oblivious to everything else in Scruffy’s time of need, but now I saw Mary and Reuben, gagged and bound in a corner and guarded by the mutated dogs that had immobilized them. Mary was struggling furiously against the ropes that held her, but to no avail. Reuben simply looked on sadly, though there was a faint glimmer of hope in his eyes.

I shot them both a look of sympathy, but I knew there was nothing I could do about it at the moment. Instead, I took a few steps toward Blackwater.

“What are you doing?” he demanded. Though I knew he could reach the button easily, I proceeded without fear. Something had occurred to me.

“You are overlooking something,” I said calmly, continuing forward at an easy pace.

“Don’t come any closer!” Blackwater warned. He had attempted to sound frightening, but there was a note of fear in his own voice. My own confidence in myself was unnerving to him. Still, his hand hovered over the button, ready to descend in an instant.

I halted, but kept staring forward at him.

“Details like this,” I continued, as if he had not spoken, “are what make or break one’s ability to rule the world.” Pausing for effect, I finished, “I am newly registered with Strange Times. My DNA is not in your machine.”

With that, I pulled off one of my coat buttons and flicked it toward the machine from a yard away, where it lodged between two plates with a slow and satisfying click, resonating enough to silence the world.

Reuben smiled knowingly from where he was bound, and Mary nodded approvingly. The dogs looked shocked.

As if in slow motion, Blackwater’s eyes widened. He lunged at me, and speed came back to life. I made a rolling dodge, but he seized some piece of equipment from the floor near the Doomsday machine. It was a syringe, attached by a thin cable to the computer. Before I could duck away again, he sank it into my arm. A picture of a braided strand appeared on the PC monitor.

“Your DNA is here now,” he said smugly, dislodging my button from the machine. “Now I’ve got all of you.”

I ignored him. I knew what I must do. As long as humans are still irrational, the world will not be ready for biotechnical fabricators, and I am certain it will never need a Doomsday machine. There are some things that can only exist safely in the imagination.

I launched myself at the machine. Blackwater pressed the button quickly, and I found myself aching and weak, but I forced myself to continue. I smashed into the monitor, and it crashed to the floor, scattering into nuts and bolts and drives.

“No!” cried Blackwater.

I ignored him. I ignored everything. Snatching up the mechanism beside the stool, I whirled it around and hurled it into the air. It eventually smashed on the floor with a smattering of sparks a few yards away.

Finally, out of the wreckage of the computer, I picked out three tiny silicon chips. Without hesitation, I laid them on the floor and stomped them all to bits.

Once I was certain I had ruined the machine beyond repair, I had no more energy left. Tired but satisfied that my purpose was complete, I sunk slowly to the floor. The last thing I heard was a cry of “John!” from a voice that sounded like Mary’s, as I settled into a sleep from which I would never awaken.

* * *

Police arrived at the scene twenty minutes later, having received reports of strange sounds coming from the vicinity. They noticed two odd sets of paw-prints leading away down the mall’s dead lawn, but dismissed them as unimportant and went in.

They found two hostages in a corner, and a decrepit man mourning a scattering of broken machinery on the floor. They untied the hostages and asked kindly for their story, a question the victims responded to with several different babblings all at once, none that they could quite understand. They assumed the two were traumatized and thus unable to relate ideas clearly.

The police did comprehend one thing, however. Having found the dead body of John Marker on the floor amidst the mechanical wreckage, they were informed quite firmly by the hostages that the mourning man had killed him. The man was quickly handcuffed and taken away. He went without resistance, seeming too miserable to care.

The hostages were put through the Witness Protection Program and given new identities, made to forget the entire incident.

As for the man, John Marker, his only remaining family, his mother, was informed. She was upset, but stayed strong about it. She asked if she could see his remains, but it was too late. John Marker had been fond of teaching; he had even considered being a biology teacher for a while. He had signed up to have his remains donated to education, though all that was left of him now was his skeleton, as his features had mysteriously been erased. He was being shipped to northern California as the policemen and his mother spoke.


I don’t know where I am. I think I am in a room. A woman is talking. There are a few teenagers at desks; they sit in front of her, listening. They have pencils and paper; she is explaining to them a creative writing assignment. This must be a school.

She points out features of a skeleton to the students. I don’t know who it belonged to. Maybe it belonged to me, once, but I don’t need it anymore. I am a part of everything: the earth, the trees, the sky. It is wonderful, not to be bound by anything.

Still, there is one more journey I must make. But I must let someone know the truth before I go.

After answering a few questions, the teacher stops talking. She permits the students to begin their task: to invent a story about the skeleton.

I see a girl. She is thinking. I whisper something in her ear. She smiles, pleased with her ability to come up with ideas out of nowhere.

My job done, I depart for my new life.

Copyright © 2015 by Amy Fontaine

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