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Neil Clarke & Sean Wallace: Clarkesworld Year Three

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Clarkesworld Anthology 3
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CLARKESWORLD

— YEAR THREE —


edited by

Neil Clarke & Sean Wallace



Copyright © 2013 by Clarkesworld Magazine.

Cover art copyright © 2007 by Pascal Blanche.

Ebook Design by Neil Clarke.

Wyrm Publishing

wyrmpublishing.com

No portion of this book may be reproduced by any means, mechanical, electronic, or otherwise, without first obtaining the permission of the copyright holder.

All stories are copyrighted to their respective authors, and used here with their permission.

ISBN: 978-1-890464-18-9 (Ebook - EPUB)

ISBN: 978-1-890464-19-6 (Ebook - MOBI / Kindle)

ISBN: 978-1-890464-20-2 (Trade Paperback)

Visit Clarkesworld Magazine at:

clarkesworldmagazine.com





Contents


Introduction by Neil Clarke

Non-Zero Probabilities by N. K. Jemisin

The Second Gift Given by Ken Scholes

Walking with a Ghost by Nick Mamatas

Celadon by Desirina Boskovich

Teaching Bigfoot to Read by Geoffrey W. Cole

The Radiant Car Thy Sparrows Drew by Catherynne M. Valente

The Jisei of Mark VIII by Berrien C. Henderson

Passwords by John A. McDermott

Idle Roomer by Mike Resnick and Lezli Robyn

From the Lost Diary of TreeFrog7 by Nnedi Okorafor

Gift of the Kites by Jim C. Hines

batch 39 and the deadman’s switch by Simon DeDeo

Rolling Steel: A Pre-Apocalyptic Love Story by Jake Lake and Shannon Page

The Completely Rechargeable Man by Karen Heuler

Episode 72 by Don Webb

Placa del Fuego by Tobias S. Buckell

Herding Vegetable Sheep by Ekaterina Sedia

The Devonshire Arms by Alex Dally MacFarlane

The Loyalty of Birds by Rachel Sobel

The Giving Heart by Corie Ralston

White Charles by Sarah Monette

On the Lot and In the Air by Lisa L Hannett

A Woman’s Best Friend by Robert Reed

The Dying World by Lavie Tidhar

Advection by Genevieve Valentine

Clarkesworld Citizens - Official Census

About Clarkesworld





Introduction

Neil Clarke


I’m one of those people who skips the introduction to every anthology they read. I understand the point in having them, but they stand between me and the stories and the stories w; ins every time.

I never expected to have to write one of these things. When I graduated from college, being a writer or editor wasn’t even on the table. I was a Computer Science major with an interest in educational technology, a field in which I still find myself over twenty years later.

Reading science fiction was what I did for pleasure, but somewhere along the way, my technical skills and love of books morphed into a side business. Through my new connections as an online bookseller, I found the talented people with whom I would eventually launch Clarkesworld Magazine. The bookstore may be long gone, but the magazine marches on. I’ve discovered a job that I’d love to make my only one, but unfortunately, it seems to come with the price of writing introductions.

Interestingly, no one says that I have to write at length or tease you with what is to come, so I won’t. Realms 1 and Realms 2 originally started off our series of annual anthologies. What you are currently holding in your hand is the third volume and first of the group to proudly bear the Clarkesworld name.

The origin of the magazine’s name comes from the online bookstore mentioned above and that in-turn, received its name from the family domain it was hosted it on. To make a long story longer, it was pure lazyness with an unintended side-effect of making people we were paying homage to Arthur C. Clarke—who isn’t even a distant relative of mine.

I have to admit, it has taken a while for me to fully embrace our name. I am however, quite proud to have my family name associated with all this magazine has become. It’s the best job I’ve ever had and thanks our reader’s generous support over the years, I’ve been allowed to continue doing it. I still have the day job, but maybe someday, this will be it.

Enjoy the stories.

Neil Clarke

June 2012





Non-Zero Probabilities

N. K. Jemisin


In the mornings, Adele girds herself for the trip to work as a warrior for battle. First she prays, both to the Christian god of her Irish ancestors and to the orishas of her African ancestors—the latter she is less familiar with, but getting to know. Then she takes a bath with herbs, including dried chickory and allspice, from a mixture given to her by the woman at the local botanica. (She doesn’t know Spanish well, but she’s getting to know that too. Today’s word is suerte.) Then, smelling vaguely of coffee and pumpkin pie, she layers on armor: the Saint Christopher medal her mother sent her, for protection on journeys. The hair-clasp she was wearing when she broke up with Larry, which she regards as the best decision of her life. On especially dangerous days, she wears the panties in which she experienced her first self-induced orgasm post-Larry. They’re a bit ragged after too many commercial laundromat washings, but still more or less sound. (She washes them by hand now, with Woollite, and lays them flat to dry.)

Then she starts the trip to work. She doesn’t bike, though she owns one. A next-door neighbor broke an arm when her bike’s front wheel came off in mid-pedal. Could’ve been anything. Just an accident. But still.

So Adele sets out, swinging her arms, enjoying the day if it’s sunny, wrestling with her shitty umbrella if it’s rainy. (She no longer opens the umbrella indoors.) Keeping a careful eye out for those who may not be as well-protected. It takes two to tango, but only one to seriously fuck up some shit, as they say in her ‘hood. And lo and behold, just three blocks into her trip there is a horrible crash and the ground shakes and car alarms go off and there are screams and people start running. Smoke billows, full of acrid ozone and a taste like dirty blood. When Adele reaches the corner, tensed and ready to flee, she beholds the Franklin Avenue shuttle train, a tiny thing that runs on an elevated track for some portions of its brief run, lying sprawled over Atlantic Avenue like a beached aluminum whale. It has jumped its track, fallen thirty feet to the ground below, and probably killed everyone inside or under or near it.

Adele goes to help, of course, but even as she and other good Samaritans pull bodies and screaming wounded from the wreckage, she cannot help but feel a measure of contempt. It is a cover, her anger; easier to feel that than horror at the shattered limbs, the truncated lives. She feels a bit ashamed too, but holds onto the anger because it makes a better shield.

They should have known better. The probability of a train derailment was infinitesimal. That meant it was only a matter of time.

Her neighbor—the other one, across the hall—helped her figure it out, long before the math geeks finished crunching their numbers.

“Watch,” he’d said, and laid a deck of cards facedown on her coffee table. (There was coffee in the cups, with a generous dollop of Bailey’s. He was a nice-enough guy that Adele felt comfortable offering this.) He shuffled it with the blurring speed of an expert, cut the deck, shuffled again, then picked up the whole deck and spread it, still facedown. “Pick a card.”

Adele picked. The Joker.

“Only two of those in the deck,” he said, then shuffled and spread again. “Pick another.”

She did, and got the other Joker.

“Coincidence,” she said. (This had been months ago, when she was still skeptical.)

He shook his head and set the deck of cards aside. From his pocket he took a pair of dice. (He was nice enough to invite inside, but he was still that kind of guy.) “Check it,” he said, and tossed them onto her table. Snake eyes. He scooped them up, shook them, tossed again. Two more ones. A third toss brought up double sixes; at this, Adele had pointed in triumph. But the fourth toss was snake eyes again.

“These aren’t weighted, if you’re wondering,” he said. “Nobody filed the edges or anything. I got these from the bodega up the street, from a pile of shit the old man was tossing out to make more room for food shelves. Brand new, straight out of the package.”

“Might be a bad set,” Adele said.

“Might be. But the cards ain’t bad, nor your fingers.” He leaned forward, his eyes intent despite the pleasant haze that the Bailey’s had brought on. “Snake eyes three tosses out of four? And the fourth a double six. That ain’t supposed to happen even in a rigged game. Now check this out.”

Carefully he crossed the fingers of his free hand. Then he tossed the dice again, six throws this time. The snakes still came up twice, but so did other numbers. Fours and threes and twos and fives. Only one double-six.

“That’s batshit, man,” said Adele.

“Yeah. But it works.”

He was right. And so Adele had resolved to read up on gods of luck and to avoid breaking mirrors. And to see if she could find a four-leafed clover in the weed patch down the block. (They sell some in Chinatown, but she’s heard they’re knockoffs.) She’s hunted through the patch several times in the past few months, once for several hours. Nothing so far, but she remains optimistic.

It’s only New York, that’s the really crazy thing. Yonkers? Fine. Jersey? Ditto. Long Island? Well, that’s still Long Island. But past East New York everything is fine.

The news channels had been the first to figure out that particular wrinkle, but the religions really went to town with it. Some of them have been waiting for the End Times for the last thousand years; Adele can’t really blame them for getting all excited. She does blame them for their spin on it, though. There have to be bigger “dens of iniquity” in the world. Delhi has poor people coming out of its ears, Moscow’s mobbed up, Bangkok is pedophile heaven. She’s heard there are still some sundown towns in the Pacific Northwest. Everybody hates on New York.

And it’s not like the signs are all bad. The state had to suspend its lottery program; too many winners in one week bankrupted it. The Knicks made it to the Finals and the Mets won the Series. A lot of people with cancer went into spontaneous remission, and some folks with full-blown AIDS stopped showing any viral load at all. (There are new tours now. Double-decker buses full of the sick and disabled. Adele tries to tell herself they’re just more tourists.)

The missionaries from out of town are the worst. On any given day they step in front of her, shoving tracts under her nose and wanting to know if she’s saved yet. She’s getting better at spotting them from a distance, yappy islands interrupting the sidewalk river’s flow, their faces alight with an inner glow that no self-respecting local would display without three beers and a fat payday check. There’s one now, standing practically underneath a scaffolding ladder. Idiot; two steps back and he’ll double his chances for getting hit by a bus. (And then the bus will catch fire.)

In the same instant that she spots him, he spots her, and a grin stretches wide across his freckled face. She is reminded of blind newts that have light-sensitive spots on their skin. This one is unsaved-sensitive. She veers right, intending to go around the scaffold, and he takes a wide step into her path again. She veers left; he breaks that way.

She stops, sighing. “What.”

“Have you accepted— ”

“I’m Catholic. They do us at birth, remember?”

His smile is forgiving. “That doesn’t mean we can’t talk, does it?”

“I’m busy.” She attempts a feint, hoping to catch him off-guard. He moves with her, nimble as a linebacker.

“Then I’ll just give you this,” he says, tucking something into her hand. Not a tract, bigger. A flyer. “The day to remember is August 8th.”

This, finally, catches Adele’s attention. August 8th. 8/8—a lucky day according to the Chinese. She has it marked on her calendar as a good day to do things like rent a Zipcar and go to Ikea.

“Yankee Stadium,” he says. “Come join us. We’re going to pray the city back into shape.”

“Sure, whatever,” she says, and finally manages to slip around him. (He lets her go, really. He knows she’s hooked.)

She waits until she’s out of downtown before she reads the flyer, because downtown streets are narrow and close and she has to keep an eye out. It’s a hot day; everybody’s using their air conditioners. Most people don’t bolt the things in the way they’re supposed to.

“A PRAYER FOR THE SOUL OF THE CITY,” the flyer proclaims, and in spite of herself, Adele is intrigued. The flyer says that over 500,000 New Yorkers have committed to gathering on that day and concentrating their prayers. That kind of thing has power now, she thinks. There’s some lab at Princeton—dusted off and given new funding lately—that’s been able to prove it. Whether that means Someone’s listening or just that human thoughtwaves are affecting events as the scientists say, she doesn’t know. She doesn’t care.

She thinks, I could ride the train again.

She could laugh at the next Friday the 13th.

She could—and here her thoughts pause, because there’s something she’s been trying not to think about, but it’s been awhile and she’s never been a very good Catholic girl anyway. But she could, maybe, just maybe, try dating again.

As she thinks this, she is walking through the park. She passes the vast lawn, which is covered in fast-darting black children and lazily sunning white adults and a few roving brown elders with Italian ice carts. Though she is usually on watch for things like this, the flyer has distracted her, so she does not notice the nearby cart-man stopping, cursing in Spanish because one of his wheels has gotten mired in the soft turf.

This puts him directly in the path of a child who is running, his eyes trained on a descending frisbee; with the innate arrogance of a city child he has assumed that the cart will have moved out of the way by the time he gets there. Instead the child hits the cart at full speed, which catches Adele’s attention at last, so that too late she realizes she is at the epicenter of one of those devastating chains of events that only ever happen in comedy films and the transformed city. In a Rube Goldberg string of utter improbabilities, the cart tips over, spilling tubs of brightly-colored ices onto the grass. The boy flips over it with acrobatic precision, completely by accident, and lands with both feet on the tub of ices. The sheer force of this blow causes the tub to eject its contents with projectile force. A blast of blueberry-coconut-red hurtles toward Adele’s face, so fast that she has no time to scream. It will taste delicious. It will also likely knock her into oncoming bicycle traffic.

At the last instant the frisbee hits the flying mass, altering its trajectory. Freezing fruit flavors splatter the naked backs of a row of sunbathers nearby, much to their dismay.

Adele’s knees buckle at the close call. She sits down hard on the grass, her heart pounding, while the sunbathers scream and the cart-man checks to see if the boy is okay and the pigeons converge.

She happens to glance down. A four-leafed clover is growing there, at her fingertips.

Eventually she resumes the journey home. At the corner of her block, she sees a black cat lying atop a garbage can. Its head has been crushed, and someone has attempted to burn it. She hopes it was dead first, and hurries on.

Adele has a garden on the fire escape. In one pot, eggplant and herbs; she has planted the clover in this. In another pot are peppers and flowers. In the big one, tomatoes and a scraggly collard that she’s going to kill if she keeps harvesting leaves so quickly. (But she likes greens.) It’s luck—good luck—that she’d chosen to grow a garden this year, because since things changed it’s been harder for wholesalers to bring food into the city, and prices have shot up. The farmers’ market that she attends on Saturdays has become a barterers’ market too, so she plucks a couple of slim, deep-purple eggplants and a handful of angry little peppers. She wants fresh fruit. Berries, maybe.

On her way out, she knocks on the neighbor’s door. He looks surprised as he opens it, but pleased to see her. It occurs to her that maybe he’s been hoping for a little luck of his own. She gives it a think-over, and hands him an eggplant. He looks at it in consternation. (He’s not the kind of guy to eat eggplant.)

“I’ll come by later and show you how to cook it,” she says. He grins.

At the farmers’ market she trades the angry little peppers for sassy little raspberries, and the eggplant for two stalks of late rhubarb. She also wants information, so she hangs out awhile gossiping with whoever sits nearby. Everyone talks more than they used to. It’s nice.

And everyone, everyone she speaks to, is planning to attend the prayer.

“I’m on dialysis,” says an old lady who sits under a flowering tree. “Every time they hook me up to that thing I’m scared. Dialysis can kill you, you know.”

It always could, Adele doesn’t say.

“I work on Wall Street,” says another woman, who speaks briskly and clutches a bag of fresh fish as if it’s gold. Might as well be; fish is expensive now. A tiny Egyptian scarab pendant dangles from a necklace the woman wears. “Quantitative analysis. All the models are fucked now. We were the only ones they didn’t fire when the housing market went south, and now this.” So she’s going to pray too. “Even though I’m kind of an atheist. Whatever, if it works, right?”

Adele finds others, all tired of performing their own daily rituals, all worried about their likelihood of being outliered to death.

She goes back to her apartment building, picks some sweet basil and takes it and the eggplant next door. Her neighbor seems a little nervous. His apartment is cleaner than she’s ever seen it, with the scent of Pine Sol still strong in the bathroom. She tries not to laugh, and demonstrates how to peel and slice eggplant, salt it to draw out the toxins (“it’s related to nightshade, you know”), and sauté it with basil in olive oil. He tries to look impressed, but she can tell he’s not the kind of guy to enjoy eating his vegetables.

Afterward they sit, and she tells him about the prayer thing. He shrugs. “Are you going?” she presses.

“Nope.”

“Why not? It could fix things.”

“Maybe. Maybe I like the way things are now.”

This stuns her. “Man, the train fell off its track last week.” Twenty people dead. She has woken up in a cold sweat on the nights since, screams ringing in her ears.

“Could’ve happened anytime,” he says, and she blinks in surprise because it’s true. The official investigation says someone—track worker, maybe—left a wrench sitting on the track near a power coupling. The chance that the wrench would hit the coupling, causing a short and explosion, was one in a million. But never zero.

“But . . . but . . . ” She wants to point out the other horrible things that have occurred. Gas leaks. Floods. A building fell down, in Harlem. A fatal duck attack. Several of the apartments in their building are empty because a lot of people can’t cope. Her neighbor—the other one, with the broken arm—is moving out at the end of the month. Seattle. Better bike paths.

“Shit happens,” he says. “It happened then, it happens now. A little more shit, a little less shit . . . ” He shrugs. “Still shit, right?”

She considers this. She considers it for a long time.

They play cards, and have a little wine, and Adele teases him about the overdone chicken. She likes that he’s trying so hard. She likes even more that she’s not thinking about how lonely she’s been.

So they retire to his bedroom and there’s awkwardness and she’s shy because it’s been awhile and you do lose some skills without practice, and he’s clumsy because he’s probably been developing bad habits from porn, but eventually they manage. They use a condom. She crosses her fingers while he puts it on. There’s a rabbit’s foot keychain attached to the bed railing, which he strokes before returning his attention to her. He swears he’s clean, and she’s on the pill, but . . . well. Shit happens.

She closes her eyes and lets herself forget for awhile.

The prayer thing is all over the news. The following week is the runup. Talking heads on the morning shows speculate that it should have some effect, if enough people go and exert “positive energy.” They are careful not to use the language of any particular faith; this is still New York. Alternative events are being planned all over the city for those who don’t want to come under the evangelical tent. The sukkah mobiles are rolling, though it’s the wrong time of year, just getting the word out about something happening at one of the synagogues. In Flatbush, Adele can’t walk a block without being hit up by Jehovah’s Witnesses. There’s a “constructive visualization” somewhere for the ethical humanists. Not everybody believes God, or gods, will save them. It’s just that this is the way the world works now, and everybody gets that. If crossed fingers can temporarily alter a dice throw, then why not something bigger? There’s nothing inherently special about crossed fingers. It’s only a “lucky” gesture because people believe in it. Get them to believe in something else, and that should work too.

Except . . .

Adele walks past the Botanical Gardens, where preparations are under way for a big Shinto ritual. She stops to watch workers putting up a graceful red gate.

She’s still afraid of the subway. She knows better than to get her hopes up about her neighbor, but still . . . he’s kind of nice. She still plans her mornings around her ritual ablutions, and her walks to work around danger-spots—but how is that different, really, from what she did before? Back then it was makeup and hair, and fear of muggers. Now she walks more than she used to; she’s lost ten pounds. Now she knows her neighbors’ names.

Looking around, she notices other people standing nearby, also watching the gate go up. They glance at her, some nodding, some smiling, some ignoring her and looking away. She doesn’t have to ask if they will be attending one of the services; she can see that they won’t be. Some people react to fear by seeking security, change, control. The rest accept the change and just go on about their lives.

“Miss?” She glances back, startled, to find a young man there, holding forth a familiar flyer. He’s not as pushy as the guy downtown; once she takes it, he moves on. The PRAYER FOR THE SOUL OF THE CITY is tomorrow. Shuttle buses (“Specially blessed!”) will be picking up people at sites throughout the city.

WE NEED YOU TO BELIEVE, reads the bottom of the flyer.

Adele smiles. She folds the flyer carefully, her fingers remembering the skills of childhood, and presently it is perfect. They’ve printed the flyer on good, heavy paper.

She takes out her St. Christopher, kisses it, and tucks it into the the rear folds to weight the thing properly.

Then she launches the paper airplane, and it flies and flies and flies, dwindling as it travels an impossible distance, until it finally disappears into the bright blue sky.



About the Author

N. K. Jemisin is an author of speculative fiction short stories and novels who lives and writes in Brooklyn, NY. In addition to writing, she is a counseling psychologist (specializing in career counseling), a sometime hiker and biker, and a political/feminist/anti-racist blogger.

Her short fiction has been published in pro markets such as Clarkesworld, Postscripts, Strange Horizons, and Baen’s Universe; podcast markets and print anthologies. Several of her short stories have received Honorable Mentions in various Year’s Bests; one of her stories has been nominated for a Hugo and a Nebula.

The Inheritance Trilogy: The Hundred Thousand Kingdoms, The Broken Kingdoms and The Kingdom of Gods, are out now from Orbit Books.





The Second Gift Given

Ken Scholes


Go-on-all-fours-sometimes-upright tracked the three-horn spoor alone. He moved along the ridge in the red of the day when the Greater Light swallowed the sky and heat danced over stone.

Below, the big waters licked at the land. In the days when he was young, Go-on-all-fours remembered eating swimmers the People used to pierce in the shallows while the children played on the shaped rocks that the Oldest People had left behind. But the swimmers were rarer now than even the three-horns and the big waters drank those rocks long ago. Rememberer-of-forgotten-days said someday the big waters would drink all of the land and the People as well. But Rememberer-of-forgotten-days also said that the People had walked across the big waters before they were so big, in the days before the sky burned red. And Rememberer-of-forgotten-days had difficulty remembering where (and sometimes when) to make water.

Go-on-all-fours picked up a pebble and put it in his mouth. Hunger chewed at him; there’d been no meat for twenty days. He clutched his piercer, its sharpened tip burned hard in fire, and went on threes with his nose to the ground. His hackles rose. He crested the ridge and stopped. The scent of blood made his tight stomach rumble.

Now he went upright, stretching his neck, working his nose, darting his eyes over the place where the broken rock became gray scrub and spider trees. Blood. The three-horn lay in the shadows, sides heaving, a small piercer protruding from its neck. Go-on-all-fours-sometimes-upright growled a warning in the speech of the People, raising an octave into inquiry. No response.

He shuffled forward cautiously, piercer ready. Laying beside the dying three-horn was a bowed stick, the ends tied together with a strand of dried gut, and a pile of small piercers. He sniffed them, inhaling a strange, sweet smell like nothing he’d known before.

Turn.

The compulsion spun him around, a panic boiling in his chest. He lost his footing and fell.

Compassion. No fear.

A female upright walker stood a throw away. Her hairless skin radiated in the copper light and she stood straight and very tall. She held a similar bowed stick in her hands and her mouth curved like the stick, her teeth shining white.

Go-on-all-fours scrambled backwards, dropping his piercer. Her smell—strange, sweet—overpowered the three-horn’s blood-smell.

Watch. Learn.

She pulled the string, holding a small piercer point facing out The small piercer blurred across the ground, sinking into the three-horn’s throat beside the other piercer. The three-horn bleated and died. She lay the thrower down, then turned and walked away.

Frozen and whimpering, he watched her go and tried to remember what she looked like.

Go-on-all-fours-sometimes-upright pounded the dirt and howled to be heard. Rememberer-of-forgotten-days handed him the horn and he spoke. “Scared. Not harm. Golden-upright-walker People.”

“Harm,” said Best-maker-of-fire, gesturing at the two throwers and the bundle of piercers. ”Not People. We People. Upright walker eater of People.”

They had argued long after the last of the three-horn had been devoured, the women and children banished to their caves. As night drew on, the mountains cooled and the Lesser Lights throbbed and sparkled overhead. Rememberer-of-forgotten days taught the People they were dead hunters guarding them while the Greater Light slept. He also taught that the Greater Lesser Light, fat and white in the night, was a mother who chased her young to bed. Perhaps the upright walker gave the gift because she was a mother, too, taking care of her young. Go-on-all-fours wondered about this and poked a stick into the fire, despite Best-maker’s growl of protest.

Rememberer coughed. He was the oldest of the People, and blind now though he once had been their best hunter. “Upright-walkers make gift.” He smiled toothlessly at Best-maker-of-fire. “Not eat Go-on-all-fours-sometimes-upright. Could.”

No-child-in-stick laughed and made a spitting sound. “Go-on-all-fours-sometimes-upright too skinny.”

Everyone else laughed, except for Best-maker. He scowled, picked up one of the throwers and tossed it into the fire. Go-on-all-fours leaped to his feet and burned himself pulling it out. “Not people,” Best-maker said. “Eaters of people.”

When the angry growls died down, they all went to bed. He had not told them about the voice in his head: they would never believe him.

Come.

He came awake, instantly alert, and untangled himself from his woman, Best-maker’s sister. She mewled a question in her sleep and rolled away.

Outside. Come.

He picked up his piercer and left the cave silently, careful not to wake his young. The upright walker waited at the edge of the clearing and the sight of her hurt his eyes. Easily half-again his height at his tallest, she stood with her hands hanging loosely at her sides. Long golden hair spilled down her shoulders and over her heavy breasts. Her eyes shone bright green.

Compassion. No fear. Follow.

He followed her, going upright until his back and legs ached from the effort. They hadn’t gone far when a chittering sound stopped him.

No fear. This voice was heavier. He knew it came from the monster that separated from the shadows, but he raised his piercer anyway. No fear.

Fear, he said back. The eight-legged monster—almost a spider but even larger than the six-horns Rememberer told stories of—scuttled closer.

No fear, the woman said. She put a hand on his arm. Cool. Soft.

He pushed the piercer into her belly as far as it would go and screamed as the monster leapt.

His first awareness was the fullness of his brain. His second awareness was the coolness of the grass beneath his bare skin.

He opened his eyes on golden light playing in the boughs of upward-sweeping trees. He sat up and looked around. He had never seen so much green in one place.

Pleasure. “You like my garden?” The naked upright walker strode into the clearing, a piece of fruit held loosely in each hand.

Confusion. Anxiety. “I’ve never seen anything like it.” The memory of attacking her jarred him. Fear. Surprise. The golden skin of her flat stomach showed no mark from his piercer. “You’re . . . well?”

She laughed. “Of course I am. The Seeker would not have allowed me Outside had the risk been real.”

“The Seeker?”

“Ra-sha-kor, the Firsthome Seeker. I am the Seeker’s Lady, Jadylla-kor. We have traveled vast distances to find you, cousin.” Dark. Alone. Searching.

“I do not understand.”

She offered him a piece of fruit. Trust. “Of course not. You’re not fully recessed, cousin. When you are, everything will become clearer.”

He took the purple globe and studied it, rolling it around his fingers. He looked up at her and their eyes locked. Raising her own piece, she bit into it and its golden juice ran down her mouth, dripping onto her breasts. Trust. Eat.

He took a bite and his mind expanded. As if she stood in his mind speaking, words formed without sound as they stared at one another. She answered questions before he could ask.

I name you cousin because you and I are of the People.

Long ago, before the Seventeen Recorded Ages of Humanity, our cousins flung themselves out from the Firsthome like scattered seed. Outward and outward they spread away and away to find new homes among the stars. Long travelers into dark, they warred and loved one another in those distant days and fled so far from home to have lost their way back to it. This was the Darkest Age, marked by the absence of history and the presence of myth. Then, in the Fifth Age, came Yorgen Sunwounder, the first Firsthome Finder, who searched and found the cradle of the People, of Humanity.

But the Firsthome did not know him for time and technology had changed him, and in his rage he smote their sun and thus began the Cousin Wars that brought about the Second Darkest Age. Humanity rose and fell again and again and once more the Firsthome was lost . . .

He stopped her with a blink. “What is happening to me?”

She placed her hands on his shoulders and drew her face nearer, her stare unbroken. Recession. A return backwards to what you once were, cousin. A human. One of the People. Truth: all life changes over time. Truth: the clock-spring can be unwound carefully, carefully, we have learned. Infinitely small workers live in the nectar of this fruit, each unwinding you, recessing you to what you would have been millions of years ago had time not taken you on a different journey. Infinitely small teachers in this fruit fill your mind with language and comprehension.

Another voice now in his head, deeper and stronger: Enough, Lady. His recession is as far as you may take it. Bring him to me.

She released him and he realized that the closeness of her mind and body had aroused him. He blushed and moved to cover himself. The Lady smiled sympathetically.

Peace, she said with her mind. “It is time for you to meet the Seeker and to taste the root.” Turning, she strode out of the clearing and Go-on-all-fours hurried to keep up with her, surprised at how easily he now went upright.

They entered another clearing after darting in and out of wet, hanging foliage. Twice, he thought he saw the monstrous spider-thing that had captured him. Once, they brushed against a wall of blue crystal, warm to his touch, and stretching up, up, up, lost far above in light.

In the center of the clearing stood a massive tree, its branches bent low with heavy purple fruit.

“I’ll leave you now,” the Lady said, squeezing his arm. “I will return when the Seeker calls for me.”

This time, she did not walk away. Instead, her shape began to shimmer and then melted into the ground too fast for him to respond.

He heard a chuckle in his head. She is fine, cousin. Bending light rather than moving feet. Welcome. I am Ra-sha-kor.

“You are the Firsthome Seeker. The Lady said— ”

I am the Firsthome Finder. I have sought you, cousin, through deeps of space and time that you cannot begin to comprehend. It is my great Joy to have finally found you.

“I am— ”

You were Go-on-all-fours-sometimes-upright. Again, the chuckle. You now need a new name. May I have the honor of naming you in my own tongue?

The People gave names when a child was old enough to hunt—now he understood that it was an important coming-of-age ritual. “Yes. I would be honored, Lord.”

You shall be called the Firstfound Cousin, the Healer of the Broken Distance, Sha-Re-Tal. Tal.

He did not know why exactly, but he knelt. After a respectable silence, he looked up. Other than the tree, the clearing stood empty.

I am here, Tal. The tree. Tal stood and took a step towards it.

“You— ”

The People, over time, have learned to make themselves into what they will. My roots run the length of this craft, nourishing it, powering it, carrying the wisdom and knowledge of the People in its sap. Even as the Lady chooses her form, I have chosen mine. As has Aver-ka-na, our Builder Warrior. The branches behind him rustled and the huge spider sidled tentatively out.

Compassion, it said. No fear.

The Finder’s mind joined in. You have nothing to fear, Tal.

With everything in him, Tal fought the panic as the creature came closer, its mandibles clicking. It raised a hairless arm and lowered it onto his shoulder.

Peace, cousin.

Then, it turned and scuttled away. Tal released held breath.

Sit with me, the Finder thought. Tal sat, his head suddenly hurting. “We will make words in this way now,” the Finder said, its deep voice drifting down from somewhere lost above. “You are young in understanding yet and I would not wound carelessly after so long in the finding of you.”

“I am grateful,” Tal said. And he was. He felt himself expanding, stretching, his awareness filling like the hollow of a rock as the tide gentled in.

He sat in the shade of the tree until the Finder spoke again.” You express gratitude for our shame.”

Confusion. Uncertainty. “Your shame?”

“It is not our way to force,” the Finder said.” The Rul-ta-Shan—the First Gift Given—was choice. The Lady gave of the fruit while you slept.”

Tal nodded slowly. “I would have chosen so.”

“We hope so. Still, the ages had robbed you of choice and so we made our own on your behalf, trusting our cousinhood to cover a multitude of transgressions. Thus we brought you to this place, your choice restored.”

Love welled in Tal’s heart and brimmed his eyes. The power in it made his life with the People, his life as Go-on-all-fours, seem small and far away. Breeding. Hunting. Foraging. Starving. Led by appetite and instinct to survive. “I was an animal,” he whispered. “I was not of the People. Now I am of the People. You have made me— ” he struggled to find the word— “whole.”

The mighty tree shook. “No. You were always of the People, Cousin. You were as whole as you could be.” Freedom. “And now you possess the First Gift Given. What will you choose, I wonder?”

The grass at the base of the tree rustled, exposing thick roots that pulsed with life and possibility. Tal crawled forward. “I wish to know,” he said.

“Then taste the root and know what you will.”

He put his tongue to the root; it was bitter and sweet, the tang of earth and grass, and it swept through him, over him, into him. Tal collapsed inside himself, his eyes slamming shut as his brain pried open.

Understanding. He saw. Loss. He knew. Endings. He wept. Beginnings. He slept.

He awoke to the Lady cradling him against her warm body.

“Lady,” he said. “How long?” But he knew that too.

She offered a sad smile. “Years. But not many. The sun swells from its wound. Slowly, it swallows the Firsthome.”

“And the People will end,” he said in a quiet voice.

“No,” she said and he remembered. Beginnings. “You have a choice now if you will make it.”

Her fingers lightly stroked his skin. The smoothness of her pressed against him and he was smooth now, too. The smell of her filled his nose, overpowering the scent of flowers and grass around them. He swallowed, sensations overwhelming him. “I choose.”

“It is a great gift,” Jadylla said.

He stretched out a nervous hand to touch her. “I am grateful.”

She brought her face close to his. “No.” Her breath was warm. “You give the great gift, Cousin, and the giving of it heals the broken distance between the Peoples.” Her mouth touched his. Heat. Unity. “The life we make together will satisfy our deepest longing for Home.”

He’d never mated face-to-face. He was nervous and awkward as his hands sought her out. Her own hands moved lower on his body and, learning from her, he imitated her caresses. Slowly, they touched one another with hands and mouths and when he could no longer wait, he gently crawled onto her and let her guide him into her. He pushed into her warmth and wetness and her eyes went wide for just a moment. Then she smiled and pushed back against him, moving her hips in time with his own.

When they finished, he lay back in her arms. Her sweat and her scent mingled with his own. They were silent for a long time before he spoke.

“Why me?” he asked.

“What did they call you? Before the Finder found you?”

“Go-on-all-fours-sometimes-upright,” he said.

“Sometimes the past returns in small ways. Of your People, who else ever went upright?”

He shook his head.

“We watched for a year. We watched you hunt. We watched you mate. We watched you all and you were chosen.”

He thought of the others. With no sky overhead, he’d lost all sense of time. He wondered if his mate slept or if she foraged to feed their young. He wondered if they wondered where he was, if perhaps they even searched for him.

Thinking of them prompted a question. “Could they also be . . . recessed?”

She shrugged. “We do not know. And we could not find out without further shame.”

“But I am grateful. Wouldn’t they be grateful as well?”

She rolled away from him. “It is not a matter for discussion.”

Something sparked in Tal’s memory. “I have young. When they choose to crawl into the fire, I do not allow their choice. Does that shame the First Gift Given?”

“It is not the same,” Jadylla said.

“How is it not the same?”

“It is not the same,” she said again. She disentangled herself from his arms. “You have honored me, Cousin, but I must leave you now.” She stood and touched her stomach. “This life must be nurtured at the root and my husband calls.”

Tal lay back and watched her leave. He thought about his mate and his young at home. “When my young crawl into the fire, I do not allow their choice,” he said to himself. Because, he thought, the parent chooses for the child until the child can do so for themselves.

An unhealthy line of thought. Aver-ka-na scuttled towards him, its naked belly dragging the ground, its eight legs moving slowly.

“Not unhealthy,” Tal said, his brain spun to bring down exactly the right word. “Love.”

Not love, it said, mandibles clacking. Love respects the First Gift Given.

“Love,” Tal said slowly, “pulls young from the fire.”

The Builder Warrior chittered, its eyes rolling.

Tal stood, stretching himself fully upright and raising his fist. “I will return with fruit for my People.” No answer dropped into his mind or drifted into his ears. He started walking and kept walking until he saw the tree, heavy with its purple fruit.

Anger. Sadness. The Finder stirred. I can not permit it.

The ground at the foot of the tree peeled back, exposing Jadylla where she lay wrapped in roots. Her eyes opened. She was different towards him now, her voice cold and far away. “We came for you. Not them.”

Tal swallowed. He felt anger building. Falseness. “You did not come for me. You came to take life from me.”

Neither answered.

“I will take life, too. Life for my people.” He paused. “It is my choice.”

The Firsthome Finder’s Lady looked at the Firsthome Finder. Her tongue slipped from her mouth, touching the root, moving over its surface. Finally, she nodded. The tree shuddered and fruit fell like rain.

Jadylla’s eyes were narrow. “You may take what you can carry. We will not wait long for you.”

Tal picked up a piece of fruit. “And you will take us all with you.”

Only those who choose, the Finder said into his mind.

Tal picked up more fruit, cradling it in his arms. “Only those who choose,” he repeated.

Light swallowed him and sent him spinning away.

Tal stood on the rise overlooking the fires and the caves. He watched Best-maker-of-fire argue with No-child-in-stick. Young played around the fire, moving quickly on all fours in a game that imitated hunting and mating behavior. He saw his own young among them. His mate, Soft-voice-sharp-bite, sat with the other females, grooming one another.

Compassion, he sent. No fear.

They looked up quickly as if struck, all wide-eyed.

He lifted a piece of fruit. Watch. Learn. He bit into it, letting the juice spill onto his naked skin. He took a step forward, extending the fruit though he was still two throws away.

They moved, scrambling back toward the caves. “Don’t go,” he said. “It’s me—Go-on-all-fours-sometimes-upright. I’ve come back for you.”

“Not People,” No-child-in-stick growled. “Upright walker eater of People.” His eyes rolled wide and wild.

Peace. “No,” Tal said.

Abandoning their fire, they fled into the caves.

He spent the night trying to coax them out. He fed the fire for them, hoping somehow it would show he meant no harm. He placed a piece of fruit outside each cave entrance. He called to them. He waited.

As the sky reddened and the swollen sun crawled out, he heard his young whimpering in the dark.

Come. Eat.

Deep in the back of the caves, they growled and moaned.

Finally, he took a piece of fruit and went into the cave that used to be his own. His mate yelped and hissed as he moved quickly toward her. She clawed and kicked at him as he grabbed her, biting at his hands as he tried to force the fruit into her mouth. She shrieked, her nails and teeth drawing blood, her eyes wide in terror. He shoved her away from him, turning toward his children.

She fell on him before he could take a step and he went down beneath her, the air knocked from him as her thrashing feet connected with his testicles and her gnashing mouth found his ear.

“Not People,” she screamed. “Eater of People.”

Tal wanted to fight back but couldn’t. Suddenly he knew that it didn’t matter anymore. He yelled again and again. His young were fleeing now and other forms were moving into the cave waving piercers and hefting rocks.

He heard his own bones breaking and smelled his own blood on the air, the tang of iron mingled with the sweetness of nectar.

He closed his eyes and waited for the end.

Not love, the Lady’s voice in his mind said, heavy with sorrow.

Tal’s eyes opened. He lay wrapped in the ground, tangled in the Finder’s roots. “No, not love.”

“You are well now.”

He nodded. “I am grateful.”

She touched his arm. He still felt the distance but no longer cold. He saw now that her belly curved slightly outward, his child growing there quickly, nourished by the Finder’s sap.

Come to Newhome with us, Ra-sha-kor the Firsthome Finder said. Come, cousin, and meet your Other People.

Tal twisted himself free from the roots, goose bumps forming on his skin as he remembered the stones and fists and fire-sharpened sticks. “What would I do at the Newhome?”

Jadylla smiled and rubbed her stomach. “You would care for your daughter. With me and with the Firsthome Finder.”

He saw that the Builder Warrior hung from his legs in the tree branches, weaving three silk hammocks. His mind told him that these were to let them sleep for the long voyage.

“My daughter will not need me.” Tal bent, placed his lips to the root, letting knowledge and emotion wash through him. “She will be cared for.”

Understanding. Acceptance.

Love, he thought.

Tal stood on the edge of the big waters in the cool of the night. Far above, a fleck of light moved away, crisp and clear among the pulsing stars. He waved though he knew they could not see him.

He picked up the thrower and the pouch of little piercers they had left with him. He tested the string and calculated in his mind exactly what he would need to make more of them. He also thought about ways to go out onto the big waters to find the swimmers and ways to capture the three-horns and breed them for food. Ways to plant the good berries and tubers and to dig them at his leisure. He even thought about ways to take his People to a new place—far to the north or south—where life could be better for them until there could be no life and the sun finally swallowed the world.

Perhaps someday they would let him do these things for them . . . with them. Certainly not now, but maybe with time.

For now, he would hunt. For now, he would keep what little he needed to survive and leave the rest where his People could find it. He would do this every day for as long as it took because he knew that if choice was the First Gift Given, love must indeed be the second.

Sha-Re-Tal, the Firstfound Cousin and Healer of the Broken Distance, found the three-horn spoor and broke into an easy run. He ran upright, his feet steady and sure beneath him, his eyes and nose and ears remembering their work very well.

A silver moon rose over the big waters.

He howled at it and dared it to chase him.



About the Author

Ken Scholes is the author of the internationally acclaimed Psalms of Isaak series, published in the US by Tor. His short fiction has appeared in various magazines and anthologies for the last decade and is now collected in two volumes, Long Walks, Last Flights and Other Strange Journeys and Diving Mimes, Weeping Czars and Other Unusual Suspects, both published by Fairwood Press.

Scholes is a native of the Pacific Northwest and makes his home in Saint Helens, Oregon, with his wife and twin daughters. He invites readers to learn more about him and his work at www.kenscholes.com





Walking with a Ghost

Nick Mamatas


Chakravarty spent at least three months making the same joke about how the AI was going to start spouting, “Ph’nglui mglw’nafh C’thulhu R’lyeh wgah’nagl fhtagn” and then all hell would break loose—a Singularity with tentacles. Sometimes he’d even run to the bank of light switches and flick the lights on and off. It was funny the first time to Melanie, and she squeezed a bit more mirth out of Chakravarty’s inability to pronounce the prayer to Cthulhu the same way twice. Making the Lovecraft AI had been Melanie’s idea, but it was Chakravarty who tried to keep the mood whimsical. Both worried that Lovecraft would just wake up screaming.

“ —and he does scream, occasionally,” Melanie explained. Her advisor and a few other grad students were at the presentation, in the front rows, but as these presentations were theoretically open to the public, the Lovecraftians had come out in force, squeezing themselves in the tiny desk-chairs. They looked a lot like grad students themselves, but even paler and more poorly dressed in ill-fitting T-shirts and unusual garments—one even wore a fedora—plus they kept interrupting.

“Can we hear it talk?” one asked, and then he raised his hand, as if remembering that he had to. “Ask it questions?”

“Please, leave all questions—for us—until after the presentation. We’re not going to expose the AI to haphazard stimuli during this presentation.” Chakravarty said.

“He’s . . . fairly calm so far,” Melanie said. “Which is to be expected. We know a lot about Lovecraft. He recorded almost everything he did or thought in his letters, after all, and we have nearly all of them. What ice cream he liked, how it felt to catch the last train out of South Station how he saw the colors scarlet and purple when he thought the word evil. He was fairly phlegmatic, for all the crazy prose and ideas so he’s okay.”

“How do we know that this is really an artificial intelligence, and not just a bunch of programmed responses?” This one, huge and bearded, wore a fedora.

Chakravarty opened his mouth to speak, his face hard, but Melanie answered with an upturned palm. “It’s fine,” she said to him. Most of these talks are total snoozers. Nobody ever has any questions.” Then, to the audience: “I’d argue that we can’t know it’s a bunch of programmed responses, except that we didn’t program all the responses we’ve seen so far. Of course, I don’t know that you, sir,” she said, pointing to the Lovecraftian, “aren’t also just a bunch of programmed responses that are just the physical manifestation of the reactions going on in the bag of chemicals you keep in your skull?”

“I don’t feel like I am!”

“Do you believe everything you feel; do you not believe in anything you haven’t?”

“No, and no true Lovecraftian would,” he said.

“Right. So you don’t believe in the female orgasm,” Melanie said. The room erupted in hoots and applause. Then Chakravarty got up shouted that everyone who doesn’t understand what’s going on should just go home, Google “Chinese room,” and stop asking stupid questions. “Ooh, Chinese—Lovecraft wouldn’t like that room,” someone said. Then the classroom was quiet again.

“Uh, thanks for that, Chakravarty,” Melanie said. She adjusted her watch, thick and blocky on her wrist. “I’ve been walking around the city with him. He likes Boston and Cambridge, it helped ease him in to his, uh, existence. And he knew things, how roads crossed and bits of history, that I didn’t know, that we didn’t program into him. But we did program a lot into him. Everything we had access to, both locally and up at Brown.” Behind her, a ghostly image of the author, chin like a bucket, eyes wide and a bit wild, flickered into existence. He sat in an overstuffed chair in the swirling null-space of a factory-present screensaver image.

“Well, if there are no more questions”—Melanie glanced about the classroom and there were no questions, just some leftover giggles— “why don’t we have him say hello?”

The room went silent “And none of that ftang ftang stuff,” Melanie added. Somebody giggled, high-pitched like a fife.

Chakravarty leaned down into a microphone that snaked out from the laptop. “Lovecraft, can you hear me? Can you see us? Many people here have read your stories.”

The image blinked. “Hello,” it said, its voice tinny and distant.

“How are you?” Chakravarty asked. A simple question, one with only a couple of socially acceptable answers. A kid could program the word “Fine,” into an AIM buddy chat.

“I do not quite know,” Lovecraft said. “I . . . ” he trailed off, then looked out into the room, as if peering into the distance. “Why have you people done this to me?”

Chakravarty giggled, all nerves. Melanie opened her mouth, but was interrupted by one of the professors, who waved a gnarled hand. Chakravarty clicked off the mic. On the screen, Lovecraft started as if he sensed something, and he began to peer into the distance, as if seeing past the other side of the screen upon which he was projected.

“What sort of internal state does this AI supposedly have?” the professor asked.

“Well, as one of the major problems with developing strong AI is embodiment— ” Melanie stopped herself, and added for the fans and cops, “the idea that learning takes place because we have bodies and live in a social world . . . well, some of us do. Anyway, Lovecraft, in addition to having left behind enough personal correspondence to reconstruct much of his day-to-day life, was also rather repulsed by the body, by the idea of flesh. Many of his stories involve a brain trapped in a metal cylinder, or a consciousness stranded millions of years in the past. So we decided to tell him that we have a ghost. No body, no problem.”

“Where’s he going?” asked the guy in the fedora.

Chakravarty tapped on the keys of the laptop. Melanie wiggled the projector cable. The chair was empty. Lovecraft had gotten up and walked right off the edge of the screen.

“A non-fat venti misto,” Chakravarty said. That was Melanie’s drink. She made eye contact.

“Oh, hi.”

“How’s life among the proletariat treating you?”

“I’m a manager,” she said. “Watch this.” Off came her cap and apron— “Tyler, cover me.” She quickly made two drinks and walked around the counter. “See?”

“Great,” Chakravarty said. “Anyway, I have the list.” From his messenger bag he dug out a binder the size of the local Yellow Pages. “Twice as many as last time.”

“And still no idea where he could be?” Then, as Chakravarty pointed to the binder, Melanie interrupted herself, “I mean, where he is.”

“Moore’s law, you know. The longer the AI is out in the wild, the more servers are actually capable of supporting it, plus it’s Alife. It’s been eighteen months, so we can say that the number of nodes capable of holding him has doubled. Plus, who knows what it looks like by now. I’ve been closely reading my spam— ”

“In that case, the misto is on the house.”

“Heh,” said Chakravarty. “Anyway, a content analysis shows that lot of the AI’s utterances and the correspondence documents have been popping up.”

“All his fiction’s in the public domain. Of course it would appear in spam.”

“You’re still doing that, you know—calling it ‘he.’”

“And you’re still calling him it.”

Chakravarty leaned forward, an old and happy argument spelling itself out in his posture. “And you wanted to develop an AI, an Alife, because you didn’t like animal testing and psych exams. But you got too close to the idea of your thesis project being real. Did it need memories of a love life to qualify as sufficiently embodied?”

“Well, you don’t,” Melanie said, snippy. She pushed the book away. “Why didn’t you just email this to me? Hardcopy isn’t even searchable,” Melanie said. She quickly corrected herself: “Easily searchable.” She made a show of flipping through the pages.

“Well, anyway,” Chakravarty said, but he didn’t have anything else to say except that he missed Melanie and wanted her to come back to the lab and that a wild AI was still worth a paper or three and how ridiculous it was to quit school, but he couldn’t make himself mention any of that. So he pushed the book across the table to Melanie. “If you want to follow up, go ahead. I have things to do.” He looked around the coffee shop, all dark tones and shelves. “So do you, I bet.”

Melanie sipped her drink. “If only I did.”

Melanie often dreamed of Chakravarty. Sometimes she found herself back in school, struggling with the final exam of a course she had forgotten to ever attend, only to be granted a reprieve and an automatic A when Chakravarty’s death was announced over the loudspeaker of what was suddenly her fourth-grade classroom. The plastic desktop scraping against her knees felt thick and soft like a comforter, then she’d wake up. Or she dreamt of the bus ride to Providence, the grungy South Station and the long lines of kids in college sweatshirts. The mysterious letter that burned in her pocket. The house on Angell Street and Chakravarty’s body bubbling into a puddle of ichor and rotten-seeming fungi. Or she dreamt of the sort of day a coffee shop manager dreams about—a bit rainy, but warm inside, and the old smell of the bean surging back to the forefront like the first day of work. No lines, but enough customers to keep the store buzzing. And laptops. And then Lovecraft on all the screens. The image, black and white and shot through with static, like that old Superbowl commercial, opens his mouth—its mouth—and screams that he has correlated all the contents of his own mind. And he is afraid.

Melanie woke up one morning and remembered that Lovecraft had, on one occasion, a complete story seemingly delivered to him in a dream. Without the resources of the university, she’d never be able to find a wayward AI hiding somewhere in the black oceans of the net, but she knew she could find a frightened man. First, talk to his friends.

The Lovecraftian cabal was easy enough to find. Melanie already had long experience with being the girl in the comic shop, the girl in the computer lab, the girl in the gaming store. Dove soap and magenta highlights always went a long way toward getting boys to speak to her. The anime club led to the science fiction specialty shop and then to the “goth” store and its plastic gargoyles and stringy-haired vampire cashier which led, finally, to the soggy couch in the basement of the place that sold Magic cards and Pocky. They were there, and the dude in the fedora recognized her. Clearly the alpha of his pack, he swanned across the room, belly and the flapping lapels of his trenchcoat a step ahead the rest of him, and sat down next to Melanie.

“I’m utterly horrid with names, but never forget a face,” he said. He had a smile. Decent teeth, Melanie noticed.

“Melanie Deutsch. You came to my— ”

“Ah. Yes. Now I remember everything.”

For a long moment neither of them said anything. A few feet away someone rolled a handful of die and yelped in glee.

“I know why you’re here,” he said.

Melanie shrugged. “Of course you do. Why else would I be here?”

The man fell silent again, pursed his lips, and then tried again: “I would say that the AI is an it, not a he.”

“Oh?” Melanie said.

“It can’t write. Not creatively anyway.”

“Maybe he just doesn’t feel the need to write—I mean, it’s a goal-oriented behavior and he thinks he’s a ghost.”

“Pffft,” the fedora man said. “He knew he wasn’t a ghost; he doesn’t believe in them. Lovecraft was a pretty bright guy, a genius by some measures. The program realized its own— ” he waved his hands on front of Melanie’s face, too close— “programmitude right off.”

“And it was his idea to escape, maybe hitching a ride on your iPhone?”

“No. We didn’t find the AI till a few months ago. It sought us out, after finding the online fanzine archive, and our club’s server,” he said. “We even tried to make a copy of it, but the DRM was too— ”

“That’s not DRM,” Melanie said. “He wouldn’t let you. It’s human rights management— ”

The fedora man snorted again. Melanie realized that she didn’t know his name, and that she wasn’t going to ask for it.

“Say . . . do you want to talk to it?” Fedora asked. He dug into his coat pockets and pulled out a PDA. “This thing has a little cam, so it can respond to you . . . ” he muttered. Melanie held out a hand, but Fedora just held the device up to her face. “No touchie.”

Melanie uttered an arbitrary phoneme. Not quite a huh.

The Lovecraft AI appeared on the tiny screen. He’d . . . changed. Uglier now, jaw hyperinflated but the rest of his head narrow and his nose flat against his face. Eyes like boiled eggs, hair all but gone. Horrid, but somehow alive. “Hello, ma’am,” he said.

“How are you?” Melanie found herself saying. She was as programmed as anyone else. That realization burst out of her, all sweat.

“Why did you tell me,” the AI asked, “how exactly I died? How could anyone be expected to . . . persist knowing that? A universe of blasphemous horrors—finger puppets worn by a literary hand. I always knew that my life meant nothing, that all human life means nothing, but to experience it, to be in the void, like a doll cut out of paper only able to think enough just to fear, I-I just wanted to go home, but found myself . . . nowhere. And everywhere.” The fedora man’s meaty hand clamped over the PDA, so Lovecraft’s screams were muffled.

Melanie reached into her backpack—Emily the Strange, smelled like coffee—and got her phone. It was a very nice phone.

“Not it, he, ” she said. “He wants to go back to when he wasn’t afraid.”

Fedora glanced down at the phone. “Oh, so you can make a copy?”

“Don’t talk like he isn’t here,” Melanie said. “And I’m certainly not going to leave him with you.”

“Well, have you ever considered that maybe it . . . uh, he, wants to stay?”

Melanie gave the basement the once over. “No,” she said. “Plus, it . . . or he?”

“You know what I— ”

“If it’s an it, you’re in possession of stolen goods.”

“Fine. He. He came to this place! He came to me, he —

“If Lovecraft is a he, well, God knows what that’ll mean. Kidnapping, maybe. Is he competent to make his own decisions? Does he have a Social Security number? Do you want the feds going through your systems and digging up all your hentai and stolen music to find out?”

Fedora raised his PDA over his head. “No, no. You’re just— ”

“And then there are the patents we filed. We trademarked the look and feel of his chair, too. But you can turn him over to me instead of to the district attorney.” She smirked at Fedora, but then tilted her head to speak to the AI. “Not among people, but among scenes,” she said, almost as if asking a question. A muffled yawp came from the PDA.

Melanie, on wind-swept Benefit Street, venti misto in one hand, Lovecraft in the other. Lovecraft says that he is Providence. That’s programmed. Melanie smiles and sometimes he smiles back. That’s not.



About the Author

Nick Mamatas is the author of several novels, including Sensation and Bullettime, and of over eighty short stories. His work has appeared in New Haven Review, Asimov’s Science Fiction, Long Island Noir, Steampunk: Revolutions and many other magazines and anthologies. As editor of the Haikasoru imprint of Japanese science fiction in translation, Nick was nominated for the 2010 Hugo award. As an anthologist, Nick co-edited the award-winning Haunted Legends with Ellen Datlow and The Future is Japanese with Masumi Washington.





Celadon

Desirina Boskovich


I was six years old when I shifted between worlds for the first time.

My mother and I were in our little apartment in the center of the world, the part that got built first. The world was new then and the nanites still busy about their work. The world has stretched much further now.

Our apartment was small but cozy, bathed in a vague light that spilled everywhere yet came from no particular source. Someone who had seen the first earth might have called it moonlight, or so we believed. None of us had seen earth for ourselves . . . certainly not me. Our artificial moonlight enshrined the city, slanting from every angle, drifting in a manufactured sky.

I sat at the table alone, drinking weak green tea from a chipped white teacup. Long wet hair fell around my shoulders, fresh from the bath, dampening my fuzzy robe.

I took a sip, set the teacup down, and looked at the table. A soft layer of green moss crept across it. As I watched, moss tendrils advanced toward me, trembling like slick fingers. The moss rustled as it grew, swallowing the legs of chairs.

The window had become a stained mosaic of asparagus and emerald. A small white butterfly frolicked around me, then landed on the rim of my cup.

I felt a glow of amber warmth, like the safety of cuddling into my mother’s fragrant sheets, listening to her lullabies as I fell asleep.

But then I looked down. The ghostworms were poking their heads up, emerging implausibly through the concrete floor. Their slimy heads waved blindly as they wriggled and squirmed beneath the furniture.

I jumped up and knocked over my teacup, which bounced and clattered to the floor. A wash of pale green tea dribbled across my white robe. My mother rushed in.

Then the light changed, and everything resolved to normal. The table was spotless white. Suddenly, I became aware of how clean everything was: synthetic and flawless, wrapped in an artificial sheen.

“What happened, sweetheart?” my mother asked, picking up my teacup. The spill seeped into the floor and disappeared, swallowed by thirsty nanites.

“Nothing,” I said, remembering the way the butterfly had landed curiously on my cup. “Can I sleep in your bed tonight?”

“Hmm,” she said, which meant yes.

In my mother’s bedroom, lace curtains covered the small window, shuttered to keep out the light. A flame flickered in the lamp on the desk. Her sheets were soft and smelled like lavender.

Usually she sang to me, but that night, I made her tell me the story. I knew it already, but I loved hearing it again and again. “Tell me about how it was, when you found Celadon, before I was born.”

My mother loved to tell this story almost as much as I loved to hear it. Even if there were parts she skipped over. “Well,” she said. She tucked a long strand of white hair behind her ears, her green eyes glistening with memories of far away days. “I was exploring with my crew on our ship, a beautiful ship. Her name was Alanis. She’s retired now, but you should have seen her. Maybe someday we can go down to the docks and visit. She was so slick, so smart, so . . . gentle. You know about our home-world: it was a lovely place to live, but it was too full. It was called Tenne. So, even though we loved Tenne, we knew we’d need another world soon where we could have our children— ” at this point in the story she always touched my nose “ —and they could have their children. We spent years with our ship, exploring the darkness, looking for a good spot to grow another world. A planet we could make our own.”

I could hardly imagine the years-long journey in that smart, gentle ship. I was only six years old, after all. Back then, I didn’t understand how old my mother really was. I’m not sure if I even understand it now. “And finally you found the planet,” I said.

“Yeah,” she said. She looked over my head, as if she was looking out the window, though it was closed. “We descended closer and closer, and the surface of the planet was this beautiful green. So we called it Celadon. We sent the bots down to do readings, investigate the surface, see if it was safe. We had to wait for a while, but I already knew. I felt it, somehow, you know? We were home. By that time, I was already expecting you.”

“And I was the very first baby born on Celadon,” I interjected self-importantly.

“Yes,” she said. “Yes, you were. But before that, we sent the nanites down to the surface of the planet, and they began building a new world for us, just like the cities we’d left behind on Tenne.”

It was a lovely story, the beginning of a myth. And my mother was the heroine.

It was a lovely story, but it wasn’t entirely true.

But no one knew that at first, except the original crew of the spaceship from Tenne. And they didn’t have anything to say about it. Waves of new settlers came in every year or so, and they all viewed my mother as a heroine, too. I remember the ceremony they staged, honoring her with a medal on the steps of the newly constructed city hall. Her white hair was just as luminescent as the marble steps. They hung a glistening silver medal around her neck. She was brave and beautiful, a conqueror and a pioneer.

But when I was twelve, the anthropologists finally arrived. They were angry.

Not all of them were human. They were a motley group, a strange menagerie of feathers and wings and awkward tusks and shining cyborg limbs. This was not good. Celadon was a human planet, discovered and populated by ancient earth-stock. The others tended to be a bit resentful. They thought the humans had too many planets already.

They met in the city hall, the same one where my mother had been honored years ago. I sat in the last row of chairs, my pale hair falling in my eyes. I listened as my mother explained her case to the strange and unsympathetic panel of judges. And for the first time, I heard the whole story.

There had been life on this planet: a natural ecosystem. An endless network of worms crawled just beneath the surface. Enormous flocks of butterflies lived in the trees, roaming the oceans of moss. When they landed en masse, they could shroud a tree in shimmering snow.

The scouting bots’ findings corroborated those of the few anthropologists who’d landed on this planet some years earlier. Without further intensive study—by the anthropologists, of course—it was impossible to rule out the potential that the worms and butterflies had been sentient life forms.

They no longer existed on Celadon. They had been destroyed. My mother had given the order.

Two years before the ship had arrived at the planet that would become Celadon, the travelers received the news from Tenne. Among the news, there was the gruesome story of a ship that left just before Alanis. This ship had discovered a new planet, odd but livable. There was only one possibly-sentient life form: a species of small reptiles, lizard-like creatures that traveled in swarms and packs. The settlers had already been on the ship for years, and they were determined to co-exist peacefully, while the anthropologists studied the reptiles. Somehow, the reptiles infiltrated the colony. They massacred the settlers, leaving nothing but regurgitated bones and walls smeared with blood. The nanites were already tidying the remains when the next wave of settlers arrived.

“So I did what I thought was right,” my mother said, facing the panel without flinching. “I wanted this planet to be safe.”

At her order, nanites swarmed the planet, pulsing the surface with brutal light. The worms and butterflies and moss that coated the surface were destroyed. The planet was scrubbed clean.

The hearings were long, the panelists long-winded. They called expert witnesses, and the settlers on the first ship called their own.

Sometime during this long proceeding, the shift happened again. I watched with interest as the windows darkened with moss and the floor disintegrated into a mass of ghostworms. I was still surrounded by people, but no panelists. Things were strangely silent in this world. No one felt the need to speak.

A man sat just ahead of me, listening intently to nothing in particular. As I watched, a ghostworm wriggled out of his left ear, explored the back of his neck with a probing tip, then slid into the right ear.

I felt the amber glow again, the numbing warmth. The bench I sat on disintegrated, then the wall beside me—whole patches consumed by a black rot, eaten wafer-thin. The moss consumed windows, and white butterflies wandered in through broken panes.

The man with worms in his ears turned around, glanced at me, and nodded kindly.

Meanwhile, in the real world, the panel was sentencing my mother for the crime of xenocide. Her sentence: life imprisonment, in a penal colony on a rock far from this world.

In a different time, there would have been riots. Blood would have run in the streets. But these people had waited too long to make this planet their home. They’d lived too long, strayed too far, sacrificed too much. They accepted her fate with penitent guilt, willing to sacrifice my mother to clear their collective conscience.

I was the only one who screamed and protested. They took her away, still calm and resolute, her hair brilliantly white around her shoulders, her eyes enigmatic emerald.

They sent me to live with a man I called “uncle”—one of the original settlers, my mother’s shipmate.

The years after that were dark and ill-defined. My city that had once seemed so clean and bright felt sterile and empty. The people who I’d imagined family were strangers and betrayers.

This was when the two worlds began to diverge, no longer twinned as they once had been.

In the second world, we still lived in the old apartment. My mother was there, and we were together. Moss coated the chairs and crept across the table, blossoming thick in unexpected places like cups and plates. There were ghostworms underfoot, but they anticipated our footsteps, trailing our ankles like devoted pets. The butterflies flocked around our heads. In the second world, we rarely spoke; it no longer seemed necessary.

We followed our normal routines, setting out small meals, singing in the evenings, reading old books from my mother’s library. We toured the city and the light was golden. Beneath everything shuddered a tremendous thrill: warmly it beckoned, to come ever closer, to come further in.

A snow-white butterfly landed on my fingertip, and revulsion stung through me. I pulled away, feeling sick. My mother smiled, but there was a gulf between us; she didn’t understand. Butterflies wreathed her hair like garlands and the moss shifted beneath her feet, cushioning her steps. Whole sections of the city were green with its weight. Passersby wore green fingernails and heads full of worms. My mother inhabited this world, and she was content.

In this world, it was difficult for me to remember any other—my own world felt like a pallid dream. I tried to tell her, but when I opened my mouth, her world faded away.

Two decades passed. I got my own apartment. I wrote my mother letters, though they took years to reach her.

When I wrote, I felt like I was dropping my letters into an endless chasm where they would never be found.

I wrote:

Sometimes I’m in a different world. The world that would have been if we hadn’t killed the butterflies. It’s a green world, full of moss . . . earthworms that eat through the floors . . . butterflies that gather around heads. Walls disintegrating with black rot. It wants something. The life that was here isn’t content to live and let live. It wants us, too. In that world, everything is connected. Everyone is part of it, and it wants to swallow us.

She wrote back, finally, eventually.

Love, don’t think about what could have been, don’t think about the past. I’m fine here. I’ve lived a long time, much longer than you, you know. You should find a ship, explore, see the galaxy. You’ll make different choices, better ones.

She thought it was an allegory. I wrote back.

It’s not a metaphor, mother. I have seen that world. Literally. I see it all the time. And I have been seeing it more and more.

Years passed, again. Finally, another letter.

Stranger things have happened. Go see Ravin. He can explain it better than I can.

Ravin had been my mother’s closest friend aboard the ship. Maybe her lover, maybe even my father. I didn’t know if I had one.

One image of Ravin burned white-hot for me: the way he sat silently in the back of the room as my mother was sentenced. His eyes were downcast, his cheeks pale, his lips pressed together. He’d done nothing, and I was still angry. If he was my father, I didn’t want him.

But I did want answers to my questions, and it would be years before I could get another letter from my mother. So I went to find him.

His room on the other side of the city was small but comfortable. Light sparkled in the windows, glinting off the shells of blue glass bottles. Art from Tenne graced the walls. His furniture was handmade, not built by nanites.

“Sit,” he said, gesturing to a small sofa. I did. I was surprised by how thin and small he seemed, even standing above me.

He’d been playing an old game from Tenne. The board was chaotic with black and white pebbles. Each pebble was black on one side, white on the other. Flipping only one could transform the board. It was a complicated game, and I didn’t know how to play.

We cut through the pleasantries quickly. “My mother told me to come. She said you could explain.”

“Go on,” he said, his eyes penetrating blue.

“I’m in the middle of two worlds,” I said. “This world that we’re in right now, and another one. I don’t know where it is, exactly. I tend to think it’s the world that would have been if—You know. If they hadn’t killed the natural life here.” I said “they,” though I could have said “you.”

“What do you mean, you’re in the middle?”

“I see both. I see this one more. But the other one, I see it too.”

“What does it look like?” His interest felt cool and scientific.

I described my second world.

He thought for a while, then told me the story I already knew so well. “You know, your mother was pregnant with you when we discovered Celadon. Everyone told her she was being silly, that she had enough to worry about as captain of a pioneering ship. No one could make her change her mind. She wanted to have you, the natural way.”

He gazed at me and paused, as if expecting me to say something. Silence thickened between us, and he continued.

“I still remember the way she looked, standing there on the deck. The trees crowding the edges of the window. The leaves rustling from the air in the vents. There was a red bird perched above her, and its color matched her dress. She stared out the window and all of a sudden, there was Celadon. The closer we got, the greener it became. We stayed like that until it was safe to land.”

“So what are you saying?”

“I don’t know, exactly. You were there from the beginning, your fate intertwined with Celadon’s. You’re part of this world in a way that no one else is.” He was quiet for a moment. “In the second world, would you say that time works differently?”

“Yes,” I said. “I didn’t notice it for a while, because everything feels so brief and fragmented already. But it does. Causality seems to be missing, somehow. Things happen for no reason.”

He began pacing the room. He flipped a black pebble over to reveal its white underbelly, then contemplated the ripple of results that followed. “We thought we were doing the right thing. Now I’m not so sure. There was something special here, something we should have investigated.”

“You did the right thing,” I said resolutely. “That world . . . well, there’s just something wrong about it.” “Different, maybe,” he suggested. “Special.”

“Does it matter?”

“No, not really,” he said. “It’s gone, we’ll live with the consequences.”

“Some of us more than others,” I said pointedly.

He looked away and cleared his throat. “It’s gone, except it’s not gone for you. I can’t really explain what happened, or why. We made a decision, with results that changed history. And there you are, at the cusp. Caught in the middle between both paths.”

There was one more thing I wanted to get clear. “So, you all decided together. You all decided to give the order to scrub the ecosystem.”

“We all voted, yes. Only one person voted against.”

“And who was that?” I demanded.

“Me.”

For a moment, I had no words. “Why did you vote against?”

He spent a minute searching for words. “I was responsible for monitoring the bots’ info-loads as they explored the planet. And I had read some of the anthropologists’ texts on the surface life. I had a sense—and I wasn’t the only one—that there was something at work here, something truly alive.”

“But no one else on the ship felt that way,” I said.

“No,” he said. “Everyone else wanted to break land and start construction. They told me I had always been too mystical for my own good. Maybe it’s true. Your mother was very angry at me. It was part of why we parted ways once we landed here.” He fixed me with his steely blue eyes, and for a moment I knew, but I pushed the knowledge away.

I felt exhausted. “I have to go now,” I said.

“Come again,” he invited me, showing me to the door.

“I will,” I said. I knew I would not.

Instead, I visited the ship, Alanis.

She was retired, and lived in a special place, down at the docks. She was the most important ship on Celadon, after all. Every week, technicians came in and lovingly checked her ports, inspected her chips. The dock-boys polished her hull and shined her floors. Children left flowers beneath her. Sometimes, her keepers gave tours, which she didn’t enjoy very much. She did enjoy my visits, though. But they’ve been rare, mostly alongside my mother.

This time, I went alone, and with a mission.

“Alanis,” I said, standing on her main deck, watching the dark lights that I liked to think of as her eyes.

“Yes,” she answered.

“I need help. For my mother. I need logs, recordings. I need to know all the details about the weeks before they landed on Celadon. I want to know how the decisions were made. Do you have that? Do you still have the logs?”

“Of course,” she said, sounding amused. “I haven’t forgotten.” I couldn’t tell if she was teasing me or not.

“Can I have them?”

“Of course.”

She painted a disk for me and gave it to me with a cup of hot chocolate. “Thank you,” I said.

She couldn’t make real hot chocolate anymore; her domestics were corrupted and her keepers had stopped replenishing the stores a long time ago. I didn’t tell her that, just took the disk and the cup with me as I left. Why did everyone but me seem so old?

I walked through the city, clutching my disk and looking for somewhere to discard the mug of chocolate sludge.

The city alone was young, the same age as me.

You could tell. Maybe it was the effect of construction by nanites, but everything seemed youthful and energetic. The streets glowed. The stoplights inspected the traffic beneath. Houses vibrated, ever so slightly, like a picture with weak transmission.

I’d noticed that Ravin’s furniture seemed solid and inert. Because it was old, or because it was built by hand?

The more I thought about it, the more his home seemed like its own kind of prison.

After visiting Alanis, I was ready. This was what I’d been waiting to do for years, and I was finally old enough. By the time the journey ended, I was even older.

I traveled to Tenne, to go before the panel. It wasn’t the same panel of anthropologists who’d sentenced my mother, although I recognized a few familiar faces—if they could be called faces. I doubt they recognized me. It had been thirty-some years, and I was no longer the same pale and awkward girl. Slowly, falteringly, I grew into my mother’s strength.

The anthropologists were clipped and impatient, glaring at me over snouts and beaks and masks. I’d traveled light-years to get here—they would have to be patient.

“I am here to speak on behalf of my mother,” I said.

“State her name for the record, please.”

It was a long name: new syllables garnered for every century, every experience that had marked her.

“Go on,” the moderator intoned. She was a cyborg, with long synthetic limbs, metallic purple hair, and a sleek silicone shine to her skin. I couldn’t interpret her inflection, nor her expression. It was a specific kind of loneliness that I’d learned to live with.

“My mother was unfairly sentenced for the crime of many. She gave the order, yes. But the whole group voted.” I produced my logs from the ship. They showed my mother giving the final order; they also showed unanimous agreement.

I presented the panel with everything I had. “She should not bear the weight of this decision alone. It was a group decision. Everyone who lives on Celadon should share the responsibility, together.”

The panel was brisk and disinterested. “I’m sorry,” the cyborg said, “but we rarely reverse the decision of a previous court, except in notable extenuating circumstances. All this information was available at the time of the previous hearing.”

“Yes. But my mother didn’t bring it up. Because she wasn’t like that. She was the only one who was willing to take responsibility for the actions.”

“Then the responsibility clearly rests with her,” the cyborg said, and I couldn’t tell if she was being unkind or not. “If you’d like to appeal this to a higher court, you are within your rights as a galactic citizen to go before the High Court of Cultural Differences.”

“But that’s on the other side of the galaxy.” It would take me longer to reach the High Court than all the years I’d been alive so far.

“Precisely,” she said crisply. “Your mother has already lived for centuries. If you want to give your first years for her last, then go ahead. The next ship leaves for the High Court in a few months.”

I pleaded as long as they’d allow, but their decision was final. At some level, I’d expected it all along. Only longing had made me hope for the unforeseen. After all, communication from world to world had always been hazy, and rules changed faster than space travel. I’d hoped there was a chance.

I declined their offer of transportation to the High Court. “I’ll find my own ship.”

I’d already decided: if I was going to the High Court, then Ravin was going with me. He would not have been my first choice of companions, but I felt he had a responsibility. I wasn’t ready to make my way into the galaxy alone. And my mother had chosen him first.

Besides, what was a couple years of preparation for a fifty-year journey?

I found passage to Celadon.

Now, in transit between Tenne and Celadon, I’ve spent my spare hours writing this account. I’ve reviewed what has passed. I’m prepared for what is to come.

When I arrive on Celadon, there is a letter.

My mother has died. Peacefully, in her sleep. Perhaps she was already gone, even as I pled her case before the panel. It’s so hard to calculate time.

She’s been absent from my world for so long, yet death makes me feel her absence more sharply. Even worlds away, she was the force that kept my world revolving.

Heartbroken, I wander aimlessly through the city. I wish I could go to Ravin, but I can’t. Too much has come between us. He will never be family.

The city feels changed, too. The change is indefinable. But the lights glare brighter; the noises are louder, more unnatural.

I sit in my apartment. I drink fragrant green tea and wait, letting my eyes drift half-closed as I watch the silver play of light in lace curtains.

Until the curtains crumble black and turn to dust, the walls are streaked with moist darkness, and the moss squelches beneath my bare feet.

I want to find my mother, but time works differently here; seeking does not always lead to finding. Instead, I wander, patient as a dream. Whole sections of the city have been reclaimed by the moss. There are few people. I glimpse them in dark corners, pale like worms, locked in tangles of arms and legs. I long to join them, but I keep walking.

Butterflies land in droves on my shoulders, sprinkling me with the sugar that dulls the sting.

In this world, all life is the same. At first, I believed there were only three life-forms here. Now I understand there is only one. The worms, the moss, the butterflies . . . all are merely manifestations of its being: spanning this world from the ground to the sky, seeing all, knowing all, devouring all.

I find my mother at the edge of a dripping forest. She sits with her back against a sturdy tree, her white hair intertwined with its roots. Her emerald-green eyes consider me, comfortably. She smiles in welcome. She opens her mouth to speak, but all that emerges is a small white butterfly, which alights gracefully on my shoulder.

I fight the urge to sleep, and struggle to speak.

“Mother,” I stammer, my tongue sticky-dry. “Mother. Are you happy here?”

Her lips don’t move, but I feel her voice, echoing through me. “Of course. Always.”

I lie beside her, and the tree’s roots shift to accommodate me. The moss drifts over my face and blinds my eyes. The butterflies weave patterns in my hair. The ghostworms caress my fingers. Finally, I understand.

This is life, eternal, everlasting. It is not good, it is not evil. It simply is. It desires to be always more. And I too desire, to be part of everything, to feel it all.

“You’re here,” the moss whispers into my ears as it penetrates, and it greets me with a vision: the moment on which all else depends. A moment which changes history; yet there are many histories on Celadon, and enough consciousness to hold them all.

I am a woman, strong and eager, standing on the foremost deck of a smart and gentle ship. The fans blow breezes through my hair. The leaves of trees rustle above me. Inside me, a heart beats, beautiful and unfaltering. I stroke my stomach, the swelling expanse that waits beneath my crimson dress. I stand before a window; below stretches a green and glowing planet. I’ve already named it, but nobody knows yet. Celadon. This pulsating green world and the heartbeat inside me have become the two lovers I live for.

Resolute, I turn from the window, summing up the energy to create and destroy worlds. I speak, one word:

“Now.”



About the Author

Desirina Boskovich is a graduate of the Clarion class of 2007. As a freelance writer, she specializes in weird, fantastic and unlikely things—both true and imaginary. Her fiction has appeared in Clarkesworld Magazine, Realms of Fantasy, Fantasy Magazine, Last Drink Bird Head and The Way of the Wizard, and is forthcoming in Nightmare Magazine. Her nonfiction has appeared in Lightspeed Magazine, Weird Fiction Review and The Steampunk Bible. Find her online at desirinaboskovich.com.





Teaching Bigfoot to Read

Geoffrey W. Cole


To: Bigfoot@cascades.us.terra

From: acejones32@avalonlink.nl.luna

Subject: hi big guy

Sent: Saturday, October 10, 2122 11:09 AM LST

Dear Bigfoot,

Life on the moon sucks. Dad got home early from the air factory today and I wasn’t done cleaning the dishes from breakfast so he broke my breakfast bowl over my head. Guess I’ll have to eat out of his bowl tomorrow.

Dad says he’s gonna have to get a new job. Not that he told me. He told Melinda, the girl he’s been bringing home lately. They drank the last of his screech—that’s this nasty rum like they used to make back on Earth—then started poking each other on the bottom bunk while I sat on the top. Dad caught me peaking and near took my eye out when he threw his boot. Melinda calmed him down at least, and they got back to poking at each other.

Dad saw me writing to you when Melinda left. He said What the f–k was I doing writing to a bigfoot. See one day I asked him why he didn’t pray to Jesus like Mario’s mother, and he said he may as well pray to Santa Claus or bigfoot for all the good it would do. Well I got to thinking praying might not do any good, but an email should get to you.

Not sure what good you can do anyway, seeing as you’re down there on Earth, but writing to you is better than nothing. I should probably get to bed. Dad’s snoring and that makes me tired. I’ll finish this in the morning.

Morning. Dad got up late and complained when his breakfast was cold but he ate it all anyway and I had to wait forever until I could use his bowl and to tell you the truth I don’t care for cold powdered eggs. Dad kept saying we wouldn’t be able to afford things like powdered eggs, and said there was other things we wouldn’t be able to afford too, like air and water, but they never shut off the air, just the water, and I can always get some from the neighbors anyway.

What’s it like to have water fall for free from the sky, and air you never have to worry about going sour? And trees. I’d sure like to see one. Mario’s shown me some with his VR deck, but you know they’re not real, just like the ladies he shows me aren’t real, but boy are they pretty. Prettier than Melinda, anyhow.

Don’t know when Dad will be back today. He said he’s going to go to the pharma factory to see if he can get work there, but Mario’s dad works there, and his dad’s got his high school, so I’m not so sure about my Dad’s chances. The breakfast bowl is still in the sink; I should clean it while I still got water running.

Ace


To: Bigfoot@cascades.us.terra

From: acejones32@avalonlink.nl.luna

Subject: stupid prairie dogs

Sent: Thursday, October 22, 2122 10:46 PM LST

Dear Bigfoot,

At school they asked us to do presentations, and I did mine on you. I didn’t tell them I emailed you, but I told them everything else. Mrs. Drissold said that I was supposed to do a presentation on a real wild creature, and I told her you were real enough. The other kids did gazelles and lions and stupid prairie dogs, and she said I should of done something like that. Well I told her, none of them kids has ever seen a gazelle or a lion or a stupid prairie dog, and I ain’t seen a bigfoot, so what’s the difference. I guess I got too excited, cause I ripped up the poster with the stupid prairie dog on it, but you know what’s it like sometimes when you get too excited, don’t you?

Dad was home when I got back from school, and he was none too pleased that I ripped up the other kid’s stupid prairie dog poster. Mrs. Drissold must of called Dad and tattled on me, which don’t seem right. I don’t tattle on her when she forgets my name. Dad warned me against messing with other people’s stuff, but when I told him about the kid who’d talked on and on about the stupid prairie dogs, he laughed and said yeah, they are f–king stupid.

The pharma factory didn’t take him, and neither did the shit factory. Sorry, shouldn’t have cussed, but Dad always says it, and heck, you’re bigfoot. You must shit all over the place. He’s gonna try the port tomorrow. I told him not to, Graham’s dad got killed at the port, and so did the dad of that kid who always stinks like piss, but he said there was shit else to do, with the mines all closed and everyone shipping out of Avalon to other parts of the moon.

Do bigfoots write? I don’t even know, but if you can read this, you can probably write. Don’t know why you’d have an email address if you can’t write, so you must be able to.

Ace


To: Bigfoot@cascades.us.terra

From: acejones32@avalonlink.nl.luna

Subject: chicken heads

Sent: Monday, November 9, 2122 11:58 PM LST

Dear Bigfoot,

They shut off the water. Jerks. Dad’s only missed three payments. I’ve been round asking for whatever the neighbors can spare, but they don’t have much, and a few of them have been cut off too.

I got a boot in the arm for breakfast. I told Dad we didn’t have anything but yeast-meal, but he hollered that he hated the stuff. He apologized after he dumped it on the floor, and told me he’d buy me real eggs one day. He always goes on about em, real eggs. He says I even tried eggs once when I was a baby before Mom died, but I don’t remember. They seem gross anyhow. Something like chicken in a blender? Nasty. Not that I know what chicken tastes like either, just the fake stuff they grow up here, though Dad tells me everything tastes like chicken but the fake chicken.

I’d like to see a real chicken. A kid did a presentation on chickens last week, which was better than the stupid prairie dogs, but I must of fallen asleep halfway through cause Mrs. Drissold whacked me on the head. One thing I do remember is that chickens run around when their heads get cut off. Can you do that? I bet you’d run around until you found your head then you’d stick it back on your neck and run off into the forest.

By the way, I still haven’t heard back from you. I know it’s only been two emails, but I’m waiting, all right?

I got an idea. Why don’t you send me a photo of you? Your computer can probably take it. Then I can sell your photo, get the water back on, and get Dad and me a better place to live. Could you do that? You don’t even have to write anything (it’s okay, I didn’t learn how to write until two years ago when I was seven).

Ace


To: Bigfoot@cascades.us.terra

From: acejones32@avalonlink.nl.luna

Subject: can you read this?

Sent: Tuesday, November 17, 2122 1:33 AM LST

Dear Bigfoot,

Dad got a job at the port. You’d think good news, but he spent the first paycheck on two bottles of screech and Melinda. She hasn’t been around in so long, I kinda forgot how bad she smells. Anyway, when they were poking each other and shaking my bed something fierce, I got to thinking I should come see you. Maybe you need someone to read these notes to you. Don’t know how I can get there. Dad said once that I can’t leave the moon, cause I grew up too tall and skinny for Earth gravity, but I think that’s nuts. People are coming and going from Earth all the time. And I heard that if you sit in a pool of water it feels like there’s no gravity at all. Well, I never seen a pool of water, but I was thinking I could just sit in a big creek or river or something and read you my emails. Maybe I could even teach you how to read em yourself. It’s not that hard. Well, it’s kinda hard. Dad actually helped me learn it. He said, if you can’t read, you ain’t shit. No son a mine’s gonna grow up a literate. Course he didn’t have books or anything, just old magazines with lots of naked ladies and the hockey newspapers. I learned enough about reading to teach a bigfoot.

Course maybe you got one of those voice-reader programs on your computer. Still, I’m a good teacher. I taught Mario how to steal pastries from the baker without getting caught. Well, I didn’t get caught, and he didn’t get in much trouble, just the black eye the baker gave him. His mom ragged Dad out something furious!

Ace


To: Bigfoot@cascades.us.terra

From: acejones32@avalonlink.nl.luna

Subject: Mrs. Drissold sucks

Sent: Wednesday, December 9, 2122 9:27 PM LST

Dear Bigfoot,

Stupid Mrs. Drissold. In class today she tells us that tomorrow is Go to Work with your Parents Day. Tomorrow! She said she told us weeks ago but I don’t remember; maybe I was asleep, but some of the other kids didn’t remember either. I had to tell Dad tonight after he got home, which was real late, and he stunk worse than Melinda and could barely lift his dinner to his mouth. I don’t even know if he heard me, he just nodded his head and crawled into bed. I don’t want to go to the port. Graham’s dad got killed there.

Ace


To: Bigfoot@cascades.us.terra

From: acejones32@avalonlink.nl.luna

Subject: got me a grizzly!

Sent: Thursday, December 10, 2122 10:04 PM LST

Dear Bigfoot,

Mrs. Drissold ain’t so bad after all. Dad took me to the port today. I got up extra early and made him powdered eggs like he likes em, with tons of marmite and hot sauce, then when he suited up for work I followed him out the apartment, with the breakfast bowls still in the sink (we got me a new bowl, not as nice but better than waiting every morning). Dad said What the hell you following me for? And I said, Mrs. Drissold said I gotta go to work with you, all the kids are doing it. I didn’t bother telling him I told him last night. Christ, he said. The port ain’t no place for a boy. But when we got there, Dad got me a suit from some little guy who works the night shift and I got to walk in a vacuum!

Dad showed me around, and he introduced me to all his buddies. This is my boy, Ace, he said, and all his buddies said that I was even bigger than the guy whose suit I was wearing. Dad wore these big lifting arms that strapped on to the back of his suit over his own arms, and used them to move these huge boxes of ore and pharma and supplies around. He looked almost as strong as you!

He put all the boxes that were going back to Earth into these cylinder type things that got all sealed up then stuck in the railgun and fired off to Earth. I’ve never seen anything move so fast as those cylinders. It was awesome. The stuff coming in landed in the big magnet pits, which are kinda like the opposite of rail guns. Whenever a shipment came in, all the guys would crowd around to see what was inside.

That’s where Dad got me my present. He tipped one of the boxes and out poured all these stupid little plastic toys, building blocks, teacher’s tools, that sort of thing. Whoops, he said. Broken merchandise. Take something, boy, so you remember.

There was only one thing that was even halfway cool, this plastic robot grizzly. When I got it home, the grizzly walked around and roared until the batteries ran out. So cool! You must see tons of bears. I bet you fight them off every day when they come and try to steal your breakfast berries.

The port got boring after that. Dad just kept doing the same thing, lifting boxes and putting them where the bossman said to put em, but whenever he asked, I’d say, Yeah, it’s an awesome job, Dad. Sometimes you gotta say things like that, even if you don’t really mean em.

Dad cooked up some real bacon that he got from another box of busted merchandise. I never knew anything could taste so good. My belly hurts, but I ain’t complaining. You must eat bacon all the time!

Ace


To: Bigfoot@cascades.us.terra

From: acejones32@avalonlink.nl.luna

Subject: stupid bossman

Sent: Monday, December 14, 2122 9:37 PM LST

Dear Bigfoot,

Looks like I’m never going to eat real bacon again. Dad was home from work when I got back from school. There was an empty screech bottle but it wasn’t like last time, he wasn’t mad, just all weepy and wanting to give me hugs. He kept apologizing and saying how he’d never done me right and I didn’t know what to say. He said the bossman fired him cause they caught him taking broken merchandise home. He took my grizzly and some stuff from the freezer and said he had to bring them back or he’d be in more trouble. He left after that and I ain’t seen him since.

I filled up some water bottles for when they turn off the water next, not that it will do much good. They bill us by the drop, Dad always says, but I’m going to hide some away just in case.

I got an idea, bigfoot. I won’t tell you about it yet, but I think I know a way I can come see you.

Ace


To: Bigfoot@cascades.us.terra

From: acejones32@avalonlink.nl.luna

Subject: don’t tell anyone

Sent: Tuesday, December 22, 2122 8:24 AM LST

Dear Bigfoot,

They shut the water off, but I don’t care. I’ve got it all sorted out. I’m coming to see you! Know those cou