Space Leek

Read a new short story about what food means in space.

Illustration of Shengnan floating through a module hallway, surrounded by vast growing leek plants.
Erik Frobom

Each month, Future Tense Fiction—a series of short stories from Future Tense and ASU’s Center for Science and the Imagination about how technology and science will change our lives—publishes a story on a theme. The theme for April–June 2019: space settlement.

Translated by Emily Jin.

I blinked. The walls and floors of the cabin vibrated as the spaceship adjusted its docking position, waking me up from my nap. My partner, Jing, was busily checking the dashboard.

“Are we there yet?” I mumbled.

“Look, it’s the Roast Garlic. Your favorite.” She pointed to the porthole.

The floating Yutu-3 space station gradually enlarged in my sight as I gazed out the porthole. I smiled. This was my third time up here, yet my eyes still widened when I saw it.

“Roast Garlic” was the nickname I had given the space station. Primarily used as an outpost for human exploration of deep space and potential colonization of other habitable planets, Yutu-3 was based at the Earth-Moon L4 Lagrangian point. To create it, our engineers at the Chinese National Space Administration had hollowed out a spherical C-type asteroid with a diameter of approximately 800 meters, reinforced its outer surface with a metal grid, and built a ring-shaped main module that could generate microgravity through slow rotation. They then assembled a pole-shaped component that passed through the central axis of the asteroid to hold an additional five cylindrical modules that hosted the laboratories. The completed form of the space station looked rather like a mortar that had been penetrated by a pestle.

The agency named the station Yutu after the jade rabbit of Chinese mythology that, the story goes, was the companion of the moon goddess Chang’e and pounded her elixir of life day and night with a mortar and pestle. As China had turned to deep space in the past decades, the Yutu-3 became the most advanced and sophisticated part of its space program—carrying an eternal dream to explore the vast darkness beyond.

The daily maintenance of the space station was fully automated. The laboratories in the space station enabled us to conduct all kinds of experiments: cultivating crops, reproducing organisms, even simulating the physical and chemical smelting of meteorite chemicals. Basically, it was a starter kit of all the technology humans needed to colonize the asteroid belt.

Jing docked the spaceship at the C5 module on one end of the “pestle” as gracefully as one would pin a cherry onto a toothpick.

“You must miss your leek,” she teased me.

Yeah right. I left my leek to you last time I went back to Earth. Hope you’ve overcome your Cantonese instinct of making them into cuisine.”

We often bantered like this. Jing had grown up in the metropolis of Shenzhen, received her Ph.D. in physical chemistry in America, and always wanted to be an astronaut. I had grown up in rural Shandong, studied agriculture, and, only after being introduced to the emerging field of astrobotany at university, saw it as a way to put even more space (literally) between me and my family’s all-too-traditional farming roots. Apart from being on these missions and being Chinese, Jing and I had almost nothing else in common: language, food, life habits, problem-solving approaches, taste in music and in men. Yet, despite all our differences, we became close friends. Often, I’ve felt like she understood me much better than my family.

She always joked about my leek. “I don’t know how you convinced CNSA to let you plant this stuff up here. It’s not even real food! And it smells!”

“I know.”

“That’s why you Shandong people love it!” She made a face at me.

Unamused, I threw a glance at her. I had grown so used to leek jokes back in college that I had stopped reacting to them. Back in school, whenever I pulled out the leek, garlic, and flatbread that my family had packed up and sent, all the other girls in my dorm would scream and run to the furthest corner of the room as if I had just unconcealed some deadly biochemical weapon.

“It’s the pride of Shandong!” I said, only somewhat ironically. “I’ve told you before, it’s my grandpa. I wanted to make him happy. Even if he was against this whole idea.”

“I understand. As a Shandong woman, the best life for you is to marry a man with a stable government job, and then give birth to two sons. Three is even better. The more the merrier!”

I couldn’t think of a witty comeback. And after all, marrying, giving birth, and raising children had been the ideal life my family had described to me ever since I was a child.

“But you found a way out. Now you’re doing something that you truly like,” Jing patted me on the shoulder. “You’ve made it!”

Have I? I’ve already asked myself this question a million times. For all my life, I had felt like I could never make Grandpa proud, no matter how hard I tried. Even if I had brought Shandong leeks to space.

I never realized that I have grown so distant from my family until I first found myself standing before the spaceship that would take me from Earth to Yutu-3 space station.

When I said distant, I didn’t mean geographical distance. I meant the gap between our fundamental understandings of the world. And beyond it.

My oldest cousin made the long journey south from Jinan, our home in Shandong Province, to the Wenchang Launch Center in Hainan Province just to see me off. Together, we video chatted the others at home. On the other side of the video chat, surrounded by dozens of people, Grandpa, who had been celebrating his birthday, grinned. As far as I could remember, he had never smiled at me like that before. My relatives, one by one, asked to speak to me, as if it was some kind of great honor. I had changed from the black sheep who disobeyed her elders into the family’s favorite heroine overnight.

“Shengnan, you bring honor to the entire Song family! We all saw you on TV. Good to see that you’ve finally gained some weight!” Said my aunts.

“Shengnan, we are so excited that you will bring the Zhangqiu leek up to space. Leek is the pride of Shandong. Everyone in Shandong will remember you forever,” said one of my uncles. “As the old saying goes: A leek a day helps our hearing stay. Just look at Grandpa … ” added another.

Grandpa was the last person to talk to me. The way his face emerged on the phone screen reminded me of how the final boss would show itself in video games after all the minions were defeated. Upon meeting my gaze, the grin on his face disappeared. He turned back into the stern and hot-tempered old man that I remembered, like a pack of C4 that could explode any second. Instinctively, I sat up straight and tensed my muscles, despite knowing that he probably couldn’t even see my posture.

“Shengnan, Grandpa wants to say thank you … ” I heard my father, who must have somewhere in the distance offscreen, shout.

“No, Grandpa, it’s no big deal, really.”

“But I have to ask,” Grandpa began, “why on earth would a girl like you choose to become a farmer … a farmer in space?”

“Grandpa … ” I didn’t know how I had mustered up the courage to speak out against him. “I don’t want to go over this again.” Then, further unable to restrain myself, “You know, women have more advantages than men in space, physically, psychologically … ”

Grandpa waved his hand dismissively.

“That’s not what I’m talking about. Shengnan, I’m worried about you all the way up there, floating in space, yet still doing the same old dirty work.”

“Grandpa, I’ll be fine. I promise.”

“We’ll talk about finding you more fitting work when you return.” There was a firm edge in his voice, making him sound like a general commanding his soldier.

“Grandpa—”

And then the video chat cut off. Conversations between my family members have always been like this. No one tried to understand, let alone even listen, to each other. There were only endless criticisms and demands. Whenever someone opened their mouth, it was to impose their values.

My family hadn’t approved of me leaving home. They hadn’t approved of me getting a degree in agriculture, then getting further degrees in astrobiology and astrobotany, then earning my place conducting research and experiments for the Chinese National Space Administration. Grandpa didn’t speak to me for years. When he finally broke his grudging silence, he used his first words to disapprove again.

However, it was also Grandpa who first asked me about planting leeks in space. At first, I thought he was joking. Yes, yet another way to emphasize what foolishness he thought I had chosen to pursue. But he persisted. Even as the calls and visits I made to my family remained infrequent in those years, each time he spoke to me he’d remind me. “You must let the world know that the Shandong leek is a true gem,” he would tell me, and say little else.

I still cannot wrap my head around his sudden change in his attitude, let alone agreeing to his request. Leeks? In space? Coming from this man? But once seeded, I couldn’t get the idea out of my head.

“He’ll be proud of you,” my parents encouraged when I finally told them about his strange, repeated request.

“Oh yes, make the Shandong leek famous so everyone will want to buy!” one of my uncles interrupted.

Mother gave my uncle a look, then turned back to me. “Shengnan, I know Grandpa never told you this, but he cares about you. He said that if you miss home while you’re up there, you can look at the leek and take a bite out of your favorite food from home, flatbread-with-leek-and-roasted-meat … ”

Before I even realized, my eyes were already stinging with tears, as if I could smell the spicy odor of leeks and feel how they used to make my eyes burn. I swallowed hard to get rid of the lump in my throat.

“That’s right. He also said that every traveler, no matter how far they venture off, must always know of a path that can lead them back home. For the Song family, home is wherever the leek grows,” my uncle chimed in again.

Perhaps Grandpa’s request really meant something after all.

Putting Grandpa’s true intention aside, he would never understand how much work I did to make his wish come true. I slaved over a massive research proposal that not only had to make a case that planting and growing the leeks on a space station would be feasible, but also that the vegetable held such extraordinary potential it deserved one of the precious slots for extraterrestrial study. Fortunately, as I documented, the leek does happen to make an excellent study subject in terms of its potential significance for biology, medicine, and materials science.

In particular, I emphasized how we can extract a compound called allyl methyl sulfide from leek. This chemical—a colorless liquid that was the source of leek’s spicy odor and of “leek breath”—had been shown to help fight against viruses and bacteria, inhibit tumor cell proliferation, reduce the risks of cardiovascular and cerebrovascular diseases, and could even be made into anti-corrosion coating material.

“Wherever there is oxygen, there is oxidation and decay. Things fall apart before you even notice them. On Earth or in space, it’s all the same,” I wrote in my proposal. “But perhaps this leek-derived compound can help slow down this process.”

Sounds like another classic Shandong joke, I thought to myself.

Now that we had docked, Jing and I unloaded the supplies on the spaceship into the C4 module storage unit, and then returned to the main module to check on the space station’s autorun system. We floated from module to module in the microgravity, chitchatting and giggling like two college students.

“Who are you dating right now?” I asked Jing. She was always dating someone.

“Um … an athlete? Wait, no, an artist. Maybe both?” Clearly, Jing was struggling to recall.

“You should make a data bank of all the men you’ve dated, then analyze them the same way you would use a spectroscope, and create a distribution curve of their major characteristics.”

“Well, every time I go on a date, I always wonder whether I could live to see the next date happen. You know, just the usual ‘perks’ of being an astronaut.”

“Do you know what the men you’ve dated and leek have in common?” I asked.

“What?”

“They both come in batches,” I grinned. “Speaking of which, it’s time for me to check on my leek. You want to come?”

Jing tapped a finger on the mask of her helmet.

“I’ll pass. I should go catch some fish before the time window closes,” she said, referring to the meteorites captured by the L4 gravitational point. It was important work: rich in carbon, oxyhydroxide, and various rare metals, they were very valuable to space experiments. I sometimes wondered if my work seemed frivolous in comparison.

“And I wouldn’t want to be the third wheel on your date with your leek anyways,” she added.

I rolled my eyes. “Have fun fishing. See you later.”

After Jing left, I hurried to the C2 module greenhouse. I was immediately welcomed by an enormous leek forest. In a gravity-free environment, the leek, growing far too fast, had reached the monstrous height of three meters. We had already altered the soil-less culture device specifically to accommodate their massive size. While leeks on Earth were shaped like perfect straight lines with the leaves wrapping tightly around the stalk, without the restraint of gravity here in space, the leaves grew out in different directions, giving them the appearance of giant green octopuses waving their arms around.

“Home is wherever the leek grows,” I remembered Grandpa’s words. No, there is a purpose to my work, after all, I reminded myself. By bringing a piece of home to space, someday, I want to make space our new home.

Something was wrong, though.

“Jing, did you cut my leek?” I asked over the radio. “They look shorter.”

“I’ve never laid a finger on your leek. Maybe it’s sick,” Jing responded, a little too quickly. “This is absolutely critical to the future of humankind. You should run an experiment right now to find out what happened.”

I ignored her and went to check the lab data records. The soil, the air, the water, the compound fertilizer, the humidity, the temperature, the irradiation, the microbial level and the pH value … nothing was out of the ordinary.

I remembered the farming proverbs that Grandpa used to tell us: “Plant the eggplant deep and plant the leek shallow”; “keep the leek away from rain and keep the chives away from the sun”; “leek lives through coldness and garlic lives through drought.” He always said that those simple words contained thousands of years of collective wisdom.

Yet those proverbs no longer worked in space. Even my college astrobiology textbooks seemed outdated considering all we had learned in the past few years. In space, where everything was unfamiliar, humans who relied so much on previous experience were back to taking baby steps.

My musings were interrupted when, abruptly, the floor and walls began shaking. Amid the violent vibrations, I nearly crashed into the side of the lab. The leek leaves trembled and swayed like ripples on a green lake. The piercing sound of an alarm echoed in the module, and a red light began to flash in warning.

I rushed to the control room. It appeared that a group of micrometeorites had just collided with the space station. The situation was comparable to flying a plane into a hailstorm, but micrometeorites were even smaller than hail. They were grains of sand traveling at thousands of kilometers per hour in the expanse.

As usual, space was a place full of surprises.

According to the system report, all of our modules concealed within the asteroid stayed intact, but C4 and C5, the two exposed modules, were fractured. It meant we’d lost a biology lab and most of the supplies in the storage unit. Fortunately, Jing had left with the spaceship already and I was on the other side in C2, or else we would’ve been crushed.

“Shengnan? Are you alright?” asked Jing.

“Still breathing.” I was glad to hear her voice. Thankfully, the radio system was undamaged.

“How much supply do you have left? C4 and C5 were shattered to pieces, there’s debris everywhere … ”

“I need to pinch and scrape now. Guess it’s time to go on a diet. Thank heaven the main module is—wait a second.”

A data set on one of the control screens caught my attention. The air pressure in the main module has been decreasing. The drop was slight, almost unnoticeable, but I knew it could be a bad sign.

“What’s the matter?”

“I think the main module has been punctured. There’s a leak.”

“My God! Do you need me to come back? We can probably still make it back to Earth before it’s too late—”

“No!” I cut Jing off. “There’s not enough fuel on the spaceship for you to turn around and take the two of us back down to Earth again. If Yutu is doomed, at least you can still go home.”

“Go look for the leak. I’ll call the ground control center right now. Don’t worry, we’ll find a way to fix it.”

To find the leak point in a module about the size of a small sports field is as difficult as it sounds. I lowered the main module’s oxygen concentration level, just enough to allow me to breathe normally. Even if the ground control center was able to send another spaceship up to evacuate me, the preparatory period and time spent waiting for an appropriate launch window would be no less than three weeks. Starting from this moment, my life entered a countdown.

I projected a map of the entire module onto my helmet’s screen. With the help of the computer-calculated incidence angle of the micrometeorite group and the module’s rotational position when the collision happened, I was able to prioritize certain areas of the main module that had a higher probability of being hit.

In the face of danger, I could at least be calmed by the numbers.

“Jing, is there Kapton in the space station?”

“What?”

“Polyimide tape. Remember reading how, back in 2018, the astronauts in the International Space Station used it to temporarily seal up a leak point when an oxygen leak occurred in the Russian Orbital Segment?”

“Yes. Back in the days before the privatization. Not long after, NASA decided they wanted out.”

“In my grandpa’s words, it was a sign from heaven. It accelerated the development of our own space stations.”

“What are you trying to say?”

“I will try my best to save Yutu-3.”

Slightly hypoxic, I needed to take a break every 15 minutes to catch my breath. But, finally, I found the leak. Located on the edge of a heat sink on the service module, it was about the size of the tip of my little finger. Given that our entire main module was the shape of a ring, the micrometeorite would have made four leak points in total. The computer located the other three holes based on the position of the one I found.

Now, onto the next problem: How could I fix those four holes and stop the oxygen leak?

“Shengnan, I just checked the list of supplies. Most of the Kapton tape was in the C4 storage unit—they are now drifting in space. There’s still some left on the spaceship, but I can’t bring it back to you.”

Tape was no longer an option. The experts down in the ground control center suggested various alternatives. Without tape, I could only block the holes with things I found, hoping that the air pressure difference on the inside and outside of the module would secure them. I tried almost everything around—cloth, plastic film, paper, a sanitary pad, even a latex bra. None of those materials worked: They either had bad airtightness, or were too soft. The airflow in the module and microgravity would easily cause flimsy material to shift around.

I remembered how, when the ISS crew first discovered their leak, one of the astronauts blocked the hole with his own fingers to preserve the oxygen at first. Unfortunately, I was alone up here, and my limbs were definitely not long enough to cover all four leak points.

I glanced at the oxygen reserve. It was at 50 percent. I could feel anxiety washing over me. All of my physiological indicators seemed to be signaling an immediate nervous breakdown.

Jing tried to calm me down. “Hey, Shengnan, do you still remember the myth of Chang’e, the moon goddess?”

“Yes. What about her?”

“You’ve told me a version of her story before. Chang’e used to be an ordinary woman who married the hero, Houyi, whom the gods had rewarded with the elixir of life for his brave deeds. One day, Chang’e, out of curiosity, took a sip of the elixir. It made her immortal and gave her the power to fly to the moon. That was how she became the moon goddess and how she met Yutu, the rabbit. Soon, she tried to convince Yutu to stop pounding the elixir of life, and pound leek and garlic instead.”

Forcing a laugh, I finished her joke. “Right. Research has shown that Chang’e was actually from Rizhao, Shandong. Apart from being a true Shandong woman, she was also the first female astronaut in history. And she and her husband Houyi were the first advocates for monogamous marriage in ancient China. She’s a female pioneer!”

“Yes!” Jing cheered. “I just wanted to remind you that Shandong women are badasses. You’ll be alright.”

“Well, Guangdong women are pretty great too. Everyone knows that Guangdong is a food heaven, and you people can make anything into cuisine. I’m sure an army of Guangdong women could eat the whole world.”

The familiar sound of Jing’s hearty laughter echoed in my earphones, but I was too fatigued and dizzy to respond. Don’t fall asleep, I thought to myself. If you do, you’ll never wake up again.

“Shengnan, go to the greenhouse. The oxygen concentration is better there.”

She was right. Slowly, I trudged toward the greenhouse. The oxygen that the plants produced was certainly not enough to compensate for the leak, but it was better than nothing.

I walked into a forest of lush, ripe Zhangqiu leek. Every leek was as thick as a child’s wrist; the stalk was as white as jade, and the leaves were as green as emerald. A familiar sweet and spicy scent permeated the air. I lifted my chin and inhaled deeply, letting the leek-flavored air stimulate my senses and fill my lungs.

Growing crops means to have your back against the earth and your feet on the ground. If Grandpa were here with me, he probably would have said that.

When I was young, that saying meant humility, submission, and compromise—and not just in agriculture. It meant that I should stay in Shandong, marry early, give birth to many children, and live the rest of my life as a housewife just like all my other relatives expected.

When Grandpa found out that I had decided to go to university and declared a major in agriculture, a fight broke out between us. Later, as I continued my studies, I heard he swore to our whole family that he would disown me if I dared to specialize in “some nonsense about planting crops in space.”

Because of that, for all six years of college and graduate school, I never visited home again. Not even during the New Year festival. When I video chatted my family to send my New Year greetings, Grandpa would wave his hand in dismay upon seeing my face and leave to smoke a cigarette, sulking.

He finally made peace with me when I became an astronaut candidate. However, I couldn’t even tell whether it was because I “brought honor to the Song family” or because he was truly happy for me.

Perhaps I would never find out.

The leek leaves, waving and dancing, gradually surrounded me, their numerous tentacles seemingly trying to pull me in for an embrace. I must have been hallucinating. I couldn’t quite figure out whether it was because of hypoxiation or the smell of leek.

The tip of a leaf brushed past my cheek. Like a key that opened the gateway to my memories, the familiar texture transported me back to an autumn day in my family’s field, long before the robots had replaced human farmers. I, as a child, hid in a pit behind leek stalks that were twice my height and peeked out. Grandpa was teaching Brother how to use fertilizer. I had pleaded to Grandpa over and over, but he never let me go near the field, let alone learn from his generations of knowledge of how to grow.

I watched Grandpa and Brother firm the soil around each sprout, apply fertilizer, pull the weeds, and water the plants, carefully memorizing each of their moves.

I could see Brother had spotted me. He didn’t give me away. Instead, he met my eyes, then turned and asked, “Grandpa, why won’t you allow Shengnan to work with us? Is it because she’s a girl?”

“No,” came Grandpa’s crisp response.

For a moment the patriarch was silent. He wiped the sweat from his forehead, glanced at the sky, and then let out a sigh. “Never forget, Shandong women are just as good as men. I never let Shengnan work in the fields not because she wouldn’t learn, but because I feel she’s meant for something bigger.”

I frowned. What Grandpa said just now was very different from what I had remembered.

Squatting by the field, Grandpa took a long drag on his hand-rolled cigarette. He rolled up a pant leg, revealing a long, brown scar. “I spent my entire life as a farmer, and look where it has gotten me. It’s the 21st century. She could become anyone. Do anything. An engineer, a scientist, a country’s leader … why should she tie herself down to farming? Just because everyone else in the Song family is a farmer?”

“Growing crops means to have your back against the earth and your feet on the ground,” he continued. “But think of all you can see with your back to the earth.”

He exhaled and then gazed into the smoke, his eyes glistening, as if he had caught a glimpse of the future through chaos and nothingness.

The cigarette smoke, harsh and bitter, was blown in my direction by the wind, sending me into a coughing fit. Grandpa and Brother glanced over at once. Panicked, I made a dash for the edge of the field, clumsily tripping on my own foot. Desperate to catch myself, I grasped onto some leek leaves, but tore them off instead and tumbled into the drain.

I also, just now, remembered how it ended. That day, Grandpa carried me home on his back. To comfort me, he even made flatbread-with-leek-and-roasted-meat for dinner.

For all these years, I had suppressed those parts of the story.

Grandpa had spent all his life in Shandong, in the fields. I had always told myself that he was a stubborn, conservative old man who could never see past the traditions he came from. Especially the gendered ones. As much as he was unwilling to recognize that I saw a real future for myself in farming, I was also unwilling to believe that he, perhaps, thought more highly of me than I had imagined.

I was suddenly jerked back into reality by the stickiness in my palm. Slowly, I opened my fist, and realized that I had torn off a handful of leek leaves. The leaves were now crushed, and a sticky, translucent juice oozed from the cracks. The spicy odor grew stronger. I stared into the lush forest. The smell had given me an idea. Chang’e and Yutu, the mortar and the pestle …

One by one, I began to pull leeks out from the culture device, letting them float in the air around me.

“Shengnan? What’s wrong? Have you gone mad?”

“Jing, leek contains allyl methyl sulfide!”

“Yes, ugh, the source of the smell. What about it?”

“I thought about PPS. It was written in the space station operation manual.”

“Polyphenylene sulfide? The thermoplastic polymer resin? You mean … ”

“This is your area of specialization! Is it possible to—to fix the leak with the leek?”

“Yes, do it right now!” Jing sounded even more excited than I. “Catalyst, solvent, acid … it’s all doable with what we have, in theory. We’ve got this. Stay on the line, I’ll instruct you!”

“You’re a genius!”

Like a real space farmer, I gathered the harvested leek into bundles, bound them all to my back, and staggered through module after module to get to the physical chemistry lab. Some cracks on the stalks oozed their pungent liquid, staining my spacesuit green; the odor permeated the air, giving me energy to carry on. With the help of science and leek, I would create a synthetic polymer strong enough to seal the leaks, save myself, and protect Yutu-3.

“Wait!”

“What? You’re giving me a heart attack!”

“According to the formula ratio, it seems like you’re a little short on leek.”

“You mean I need to plant more leek right now?”

“I mean … you can check the fridge.”

“You’ve been cutting my leek! I knew it!”

“I’m sorry! I couldn’t stand the odor, and they grow so fast anyway … ”

The leek, now crushed into emerald-colored paste, was placed in a computer-controlled reactor that Jing had instructed me to operate. With a flash of light, they began to transform.

Maybe I had found a way out. Maybe, even as Earth farming had become dominated by machines, space agriculture would continue to offer a rich realm that humans needed to explore. Maybe, when we thought we had fully exhausted all the resources these plants could provide, after thousands of years of sowing and reaping, there was still something greater that could be created out of the most ordinary.

I wanted to video chat Grandpa right away. I wanted to visit him, for the first time in forever, and maybe even embrace him, the same way that the leek had embraced me in my hallucination. I wanted to look into his eyes and let him know—with pride in my voice—that I had not let him down.

Also, thank you for the leek. I would tell him. You were right. Home is wherever the leek grows. And no matter whether standing on Earth or floating in space, humans need a home.

Grandpa, I’m coming home.

Fred Scharmen, an architecture professor who studies space settlements, responds to “Space Leek.”

Previously in Future Tense Fiction:

Mika Model,” by Paolo Bacigalupi
Mr. Thursday,” by Emily St. John Mandel
The Minnesota Diet,” by Charlie Jane Anders
Mother of Invention,” by Nnedi Okorafor
Domestic Violence,” by Madeline Ashby
No Me Dejas,” by Mark Oshiro
Safe Surrender,” by Meg Elison
A Brief and Fearful Star,” by Carmen Maria Machado
The Starfish Girl,” by Maureen McHugh
When We Were Patched,” by Deji Bryce Olukotun
Lions and Gazelles,” by Hannu Rajaniemi
Burned-Over Territory,” by Lee Konstantinou
Overvalued,” by Mark Stasenko
When Robot and Crow Saved East St. Louis,” by Annalee Newitz
Thoughts and Prayers, by Ken Liu
Mpendulo: The Answer,” by Nosipho Dumisa
The Arisen,” by Louisa Hall
The Song Between Worlds,” by Indrapramit Das
No Moon and Flat Calm,” by Elizabeth Bear

Future Tense is a partnership of Slate, New America, and Arizona State University that examines emerging technologies, public policy, and society.