Science Fiction & Fantasy

Beren & Luthien by J.R.R. Tolkien

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5×5

Sugarloaf Fine Sciences Summer Camp
Bunk Note: Cabin Lamarr
07.12

Dear Scully,

I should’ve been suspicious of the girl in the lab coat offering me psychic ice cream. But with you and your ponytail, the psychic ice cream just seemed so harmless. After it gave me a brain freeze that’d make the Sierra Nevada Mountains jealous, imagine my surprise when I started hearing people’s thoughts—thank science it’s only temporary! Good call on that, by the way—being able to permanently hear kids snarking to themselves about how you suckered me into testing your experiment for you is not exactly what I would call “an acceptable side effect.”

You were too polite to ask out loud today, but, yes, there is a reason I’m arriving during the final week of camp. I’m only here because I won a scholarship after winning my school’s science fair. In a school of forty-two students, it’s not exactly difficult to come in first. After I filled out the registration, though, some guy called to make sure I had correctly filled out the forms. He said most people use the scholarship to defer the cost of the other seven weeks. “Like a discount!” he told me. He sounded really perky, like he’d make a commission off my enrollment or something.

Even with a discount, my family can’t afford to send me here the whole eight weeks. So, I decided to come this final week to participate in the science fair since first prize gets a college scholarship. Because, where I’m from, we don’t dream about going to college. Around here, we grow up hoping to just get a spot in the military, or to find a plot of tillable soil for a pot farm.

But after having seen the experiments y’all have been working on for seven weeks straight—there’s you with the psychic ice cream; the dude with the temporally displaced printer that “prints” first issues of Detective Comics #27—how is that a science experiment? It’s more performance art, right? He’s “printing” as many copies of Detective Comics #27 as he can, all of which technically qualify as authentic as the original, in an effort to devalue the actual original issue. This is an economics experiment, a performance arts piece maybe, but not a science experiment. (And what does he have against Batman??)

Anyway, between you and that dude, plus seeing how everyone is so tight with each other, I started to wonder why did I come at all? What did I think I was going to be able accomplish in seven days?

I am so far behind.

So, even though the other kids are probably right, I was “too country” to know better than to taste your ice cream, I don’t regret it for a second. Because when you raised your eyebrows at me, nodded your head slightly in the direction of that dude, and thought, very clearly, I hate that guy, I knew we were meant to be friends.

By the way, what does 5×5 mean?

X,

Fox

P.S. Yes, it’s my real name. I heard you wonder about it earlier today, too.

P.P.S. (Is P.P.S. a thing? Maybe I just made it up. Whatevs. What’s the deal with the case of luciferase enzyme in the back room?)

Sugarloaf Fine Sciences Summer Camp
Bunk Note Reply: Cabin Lovelace
07.13

Fox,

  1. Why do you keep calling me Scully?
  2. What was your experiment that won your school’s science fair?
  3. I really do hate that guy. Yes, I agree: His experiment is not really a scientific one, especially considering the science he is employing in service to his thought experiment is not necessarily cutting edge, but, instead, is the kind of retro throwback that tends to win over nostalgic adults. (But I honestly don’t know what he has against Batman. I suspect someone in his family read their copy of Detective Comics #27 when it was meant to be an heirloom, thus decreasing its value by taking it from “Mint Condition” to merely “Near Mint.”)
  4. I’m glad you decided to come to Sugarloaf. It’s been hard for me to make friends here because it’s generally hard for me to make friends anywhere; but, also, here, people kept stealing my ice cream to find out who likes each other.
  5. The etymology of 5×5: You might be familiar with it as I originally learned it, through colloquial and pop cultural uses. I promise once you know the meaning, you’ll start noticing it everywhere. But 5×5 actually comes from old radio codes for broadcasting, which include a standard transmission check. Volume on a scale of 1-5; clarity on a scale of 1-5. So, 5×5 is shorthand for “loud and clear,” which is sometimes also used, and has been incorporated as slang. I find it appropriate shorthand for the purposes of my experiment, since I am trying to ascertain the volume and clarity of the psychic ice cream.
  6. As for the luciferase enzyme: I don’t know. The girl who ordered it special the first week of camp went home sick before it even arrived. Are you thinking of using it for your experiment somehow?

—Scully (I guess)

Sugarloaf Fine Sciences Summer Camp
Bunk Note: Cabin Lamarr
07.14

Scully,

My experiment studied the effect of synthetic bioluminescence on plant growth. I hypothesized that if plants could absorb light during the day and convert it to food, then they could be bioengineered to produce the same luciferase enzyme found in fireflies—even though I’ve never actually seen a firefly since they’re not native to California. But my plants had a very long persistence of phosphorescence when energized by normal sunlight as opposed to relying on a chemical reaction. My goal was to create marijuana that could continue to grow at night by reflecting off each other, lowering reliance on artificial grow lights.

Yeah, I come from a family of pot farmers. Sure, it seems glamorous on Dawson’s Field, but most of the time my family makes ends meet by scrapping metal at the end of the month to keep the lease on our land. When there’s water enough for the land even, that is. I really should’ve been trying to find an alternate way to manufacture water, right? You know what plants in California don’t need? More sun when there’s barely any water.

I’m sorry people were stealing your project. I think they’re just fascinated by the possibility of hearing the truth of things. But, maybe, also scared, too—because seriously, what experiment is going to possibly compete with psychic ice cream on Saturday? (Not temporally displaced 3D printers, I assure you—that technology is so ten years ago.)

When we were in lab, I “heard” a bunch of the seniors are heading up to the roof of the lab after lights out. So, if you sneak out of the cabin with me tonight, I will totally show you the altar I’ve built to my moon goddess, Dana Scully. (The altar is made of The X-Files.) So you’ll finally understand why I was so excited to have found my very own Scully.

Plus, you both have red hair.

5×5: Yes, I am totally thinking about using that luciferase somehow. Just don’t know how yet. Kinda hate the project I won my science fair with. So yeah. I figure I’ll come up with an idea . . . any day now.

X,

Fox

Sugarloaf Fine Sciences Summer Camp
Bunk Note Reply: Cabin Lovelace
07.15

Fox,

  1. I’m not really into spooning with strangers, but last night was fun. Not that you’re a stranger, not exactly anymore anyway. But the others pretty much are. I didn’t even ask the guy whose tablet we borrowed to stream X-Files his name, and it didn’t seem to occur to anyone that it was rude not to ask. There was a specific kind of freedom in it all that I’m not used to, and not sure I’m entirely comfortable with, but then I’m uncomfortable most of the time anyway.
  2. As a fellow Californian, I, too, have never seen fireflies. I’ve always wanted to, though.
  3. I’ve never seen Dawson’s Field. I’m not really into series reboots. But I assure you: farming doesn’t seem like my idea of glamour. But I’m from L.A.
  4. Yeah, you should totally come up with an alternate method to manufacture water. Why haven’t you done this already? And don’t be so hard on your school science fair experiment: It got you here. Plus, it sounds legitimately interesting.
  5. You’ve only got three more days before the fair. So. You know. No pressure. I’m totally lying: You need to come up with something! If you need help coming up with ideas, I’m here.

—(happy to be compared to) Scully

Sugarloaf Fine Sciences Summer Camp
Bunk Note Reply: Cabin Lamarr
07.15-02

Scully,

Yeah, the rolling brownouts up here last year had everyone tripping on ways to grow their plants with constant light. So I was kinda proud of my experiment at the time. It only halfway worked, though. I got the plants to glow in the dark, and that’s pretty much it. I had no access to a genome compiler or the proper cultures of bacteria to properly replace the chemical reactions.

See, it’s not hard to come in first when the next coolest experiment was a kid with a baking soda volcano.

But I honestly have no idea what I’m doing for Saturday. There isn’t really time to do anything competitive. Mostly, I’m just happy to help you with yours because I am absolutely in awe of your brain, and you should win all the things.

Question: Are the brain freezes completely necessary? They seem necessary, especially because of the way you smile to yourself in lab after you say, “Sorry,” to me during one of the brain freezes—even though you are clearly not sorry at all! And you shouldn’t be. You can’t help it if you’re a badass scientist. You invented psychic ice cream, for chrissakes.

There was a feeling on the roof last night that I’ve never felt before, too. And I wasn’t going to say anything because I was certain it was going to seem too country or you’d chalk it up to lingering effects of the ice cream, but last night was the safest I have ever felt—and this was in the arms of girls and guys I didn’t even know. I just enjoyed cuddling without having to worry about where it was all going.

I confess, when I woke up this morning, I felt an ache in my heart when you weren’t there, or anyone else for that matter, because we were all back in our own bunks instead of on our backs absorbing residual heat that was baked into the roof earlier in the day. I enjoyed the closeness with you all on the roof while I stared up at an uninterrupted sky. It’s the kind of closeness I’ve been looking for my entire life—the ease with which we just rested our heads on each other’s shoulders and streamed The X-Files—I want more of that in my life, even though it’s going to disappear soon.

X,

Fox

Sugarloaf Fine Sciences Summer Camp
Bunk Note Reply: Cabin Lovelace
07.15-03

Fox,

  1. The ice cream has to be super-cooled in order for the temporary telepathic effects to last as long as possible—the restriction of the blood flow effects the absorption rate. So the brain freeze is part of the reason why it works. I also want the effects to be temporary—since you’ve already experienced some of the reasons why.
  2. Even while it is happening, I know the friendships we are developing on the roof at night aren’t sustainable outside of that space—not even sustainable in the lab the next day, as you so heartlessly pointed out after this afternoon’s test. (I really do hate that guy!) And, usually, I would resist giving myself over so completely to a candle I can clearly see is about to burn out. But, instead, with the science fair only three days away, my eyes are open wide enough to memorize everything I can, as deeply as I can, so I can carry you all (mostly you) with me even after we leave.
  3. Thank you kindly (in regards to your thoughts about my brain and things). But I don’t want you to feel obligated to help me. Helping me is not a price you must pay in order to have my friendship. Also: If you think my brain is so brilliant, remember my brain will help yours pull off whatever you need in time for Saturday. I don’t want you to feel like there’s no time to do something amazing. We’re good at sneaking out after hours, after all.
  4. Where do you disappear to during lunch? You’re always around for breakfast and dinner—I know because one of us always manages to receive inter-camp mail, but I have no idea where you go at lunchtime. Are you working through lunch at the lab?

—S

Sugarloaf Fine Sciences Summer Camp
Bunk Note Reply: Cabin Lamarr
07.16

Scully,

Will you help me develop a serum that will infuse me with the qualities of an anglerfish? If you do, I would take that vial of purple goo right here, right now, right this very moment. And I would drink it down gladly in hopes that I would grow gills and filament, and be able to find a home, beside you, deep beneath the ocean’s surface—where the crushing force of the water would surely crush any other creature, save for the two of us, who were built to withstand the high pressure environment, but, also uniquely built to amuse each other. And I would make my bioluminescent filament dance in hopes that it might attract your attention, just once. Because once is all I would need—since we would be the last two anglerfish in this deep end of the dark sea.

X,

Fox

Sugarloaf Fine Sciences Summer Camp
Bunk Note Reply: Cabin Lovelace
07.16-02

Fox,

  1. That’s really, very sweet, but you realize that all anglerfish, as you know them, are female anglerfish—as the species has evolved one of the most extreme forms of sexual dimorphism in the animal kingdom, in which the males, literally the size of minnows, fuse with the females to form a parasitic union in which he becomes little more than an appendage that produces occasional sperm?
  2. I am not interested in any such union. I am only sixteen.

—S

Sugarloaf Fine Sciences Summer Camp
Bunk Note: Cabin Lamarr
07.17

Dear Scully,

If you were a firefly and I was a wolf, I would be glad to chase you all through the summer night, not caring where we ended. Being a wolf, I’d be clever enough to leave tracks behind to follow on the mountain path so that I might find my way back home again at the end of our adventure—at which point you would take to chitinous wings and spark a glow that would make even barred and spiral galaxies jealous.

But I am melting into the darkness with my black wolf coat, and it’s difficult to tell where the shadows end and I begin. It’s becoming difficult to remember which way is home because our adventure has shown me wonders that I always thought best left for other creatures to pursue.

Until you showed me, I am not sure I had ever rightly examined a firefly and appreciated its secret for flying. Until you gave me a spoon, I had never tasted ice cream. Until you sang, I never heard music. These things existed before, of course, but I never knew enough to know how to appreciate them. But they now contain the secrets of the universe and contain a kaleidoscopic kind of beauty that my black wolf heart can barely take the colors.

So here I am, quite desperately, in my own wolfish way, trying to find my way back home. But my wolf legs and my wolf heart are crying out to run, and each wants nothing more than to run to you.

And so, Scully, this is where our story rests for now. We: as two different creatures as Difference could fathom in the deep, dark depths of her imagination.

And yet the experiment must go on. And so it will. But neither my wolf heart nor anglerfish soul can give up the chase that easily.

X,

Fox

Sugarloaf Fine Sciences Summer Camp
Bunk Note Reply: Cabin Lovelace
07.17-02

Fox,

  1. You are much better with emotions than I am—which is weirdly appropriate given our monikers. So, please, know that in the cases of both Agent Scully and myself, a lack of expression does not necessarily telegraph a lack of emotion. I have practiced the fine art of restraint for years in preparation for college applications. Utilizing this skill, I have mastered the violin, volunteer work, and Virginia Woolf. So remember: still waters and things.
  2. I enjoy cuddling with you on the roof. And I greatly enjoy collaborating with you in lab. And I find myself reading and then re-reading your letters over and again throughout the day, and my breath catches in my chest when the inter-camp mail gets delivered at breakfast and dinner—you still haven’t told me where you go at lunch. And while I respect and admire you—and I love your brain, too, don’t forget—I am a scientist. I am not naturally predisposed to effusiveness the way you are.
  3. But know that I think very highly of you. That I greatly esteem you. That I like you.
  4. And that’s right, I just totally Sense and Sensibilitied you because I’m a big nerd. But I’m pretty sure that’s why we get along so well.

—Scully

Sugarloaf Fine Sciences Summer Camp
Bunk Note Reply: Cabin Lamarr
07.17-02

Scully,

Let me to tell you what is natural.

The way your mind shines so bright that I am nearly blinded by your light—woman was never meant to stare directly into the sun.

The way you sing to yourself when you walk between cabins when you think no one is listening—or maybe the way you sing because you secretly want someone to hear you singing and admire from a distance.

The way your ponytail bounces as you walk.

The way I get to feel special because, in the midst of everyone working on their experiments—experiments they’ll most likely forget about as soon as college application season is over—I discovered you.

X,

Fox

Sugarloaf Fine Sciences Summer Camp
Bunk Note: Cabin Lovelace
07.18

Fox,

  1. Your psychic frustration with me yesterday—yes, I admit I “sampled my own product” while you weren’t looking—makes me think you should be with someone as equally free in their expression as you. Because I don’t think I will ever rightly be the kind of girl you want me to be. Freely expressing yourself is the quality I love most about you, but it is not something that will ever feel natural to me. Sneaking out, and, generally, breaking rules is not something that feels natural to me, either, but I did these things to be with you. But, at a certain point, I have to accept what I can offer to you as myself without trying to change to suit you—also, I suspect, if I fundamentally changed myself to suit you anyway, I would lose one of the reasons you like me so well.
  2. I know that this might be painful to read—but I like you too much to give you false hope the way I have seen both girls and boys do here to each other all summer long. My hope is that our friendship will be able to withstand not being at Sugarloaf, because you are a once in a lifetime kind of friend, and I would like to know you the rest of my life.

—Scully

Sugarloaf Fine Sciences Summer Camp
Bunk Note: Cabin Lamarr
07.19

Dearest Scully,

I may go on to do other things in either science or art, but last night will always remain my masterpiece.

I realized on the first day I arrived that my presence here was something of a joke. I could never really be in the running for the science fair here. Even if you all hadn’t had a seven-week head start on your projects, you had years of preparation before any of us ever stepped foot at Sugarloaf. And that’s okay. I felt weirdly triumphant in this realization. I think it’s okay to know when to give up. And I think it’s okay to feel triumphant in that knowing.

When you look back on last night, promise me that you will remember that there were hundreds of them, thousands, really. Remember the way we held hands as we each held a bucketful of moonlight and seeded the woods around camp with the moth larvae I genetically modified to glow in the dark. I couldn’t bring you fireflies—invasive species and all that—but remember the way the glowworms spread themselves amongst the limbs, and don’t forget the way they dripped themselves down phosphorescent strands of silk and gently swayed in the night breeze.

But, most of all, remember that none of this would’ve been possible without you.

By the time we set the last of the glowworms loose, their bioluminescence was so bright that the camp started waking up and coming outside to investigate the phosphorescent glow. The trees were lit up with soft shades of minty neon green against a night sky a shade of blue so deep it’s only been seen by scientists in deep sea submersibles—maybe hunting anglerfish?

This week issued me a challenge: to either grow or diminish, and you gave me the power to grow. Even when I wanted to resist it, even when I was afraid of what growing would mean, even when I was afraid of where my anglerfish soul, my wolf heart, and the glowworms would take me. And I can’t thank you enough for this gift.

I realize there’s a part of you that will always think I need you to be differently than you are. Don’t. I realize there’s a part of you that will always think I made a terrible decision in not submitting the glowworms to the science fair. It wasn’t. It’s important to me that you know I wouldn’t have spent this week any other way, I wouldn’t do anything differently even now, and that I regret nothing about turning my experiment into a love letter for you.

I would’ve made a truly terrible scientist. But I’m in love with a truly remarkable one.

XO,

Fox

Sugarloaf Fine Sciences Summer Camp
Bunk Note: Cabin Lovelace
07.19-02

F,

5×5

S

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Jilly Dreadful

Jilly Dreadful

Jilly Dreadful is the founder of The Brainery: Online Speculative Fiction Workshops + Resources which has been featured on The Geek’s Guide to the Galaxy, The Roundtable Podcast, and io9. She completed her Ph.D. in Literature and Creative Writing at University of Southern California and is a member of SFWA. Her fiction has been nominated for a Pushcart Prize and has appeared in NonBinary Review, Devilfish Review, and has stories in the first all-female Lovecraft anthology, She Walks In Shadows (Innsmouth Free Press), as well as Rough Magick, edited by Francesca Lia Block and Jessa Marie Mendez. Together with her writing partner, KT Ismael, she will be releasing a serialized audio drama that takes the feminist emphasis on friendship from Parks & Recreation and mixes it with a Lovecraftian strangeness—stay tuned for it at blueprintandengine.com.