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CLARKESWORLD

The Complete Fiction: 2006-2018

Cover Gallery About the Authors

Issue 137, February 2018

Deep Down in the Cloud - Julie Novakova

Obliteration - Robert Reed

Umbernight - Carolyn Ives Gilman

The Power is Out - A Que

Soldierin’ - Joe R. Lansdale

The Girl-Thing Who Went Out for Sushi - Pat Cadigan

Issue 136, January 2018

A World to Die For - Tobias S. Buckell

Say it Low, then Loud - Osahon Ize-Iyamu

Sour Milk Girls - Erin Roberts

A Cigarette Burn In Your Memory - Bo Balder

The Lighthouse Girl - Bao Shu

Her Smoke Rose Up Forever - James Tiptree Jr.

For I Have Lain Me Down on the Stone of Loneliness and I’ll Not Be Back Again - Michael Swanwick

Issue 135, December 2017

The Rains on Mars - Natalia Theodoridou

Crossing LaSalle - Lettie Prell

Falling in Love with Martians and Machines - Josh Pearce

Darkness, Our Mother - Eleanna Castroianni

Landmark - Cassandra Khaw

Who’s Afraid of Wolf 359 - Ken MacLeod

Botanica Veneris: Thirteen Papercuts - Ida Countess Rathangan

Issue 134, November 2017

Prasetyo Plastics - D.A. Xiaolin Spires

Retrieval - Suzanne Walker

Dead Heroes - Mike Buckley

Who Won the Battle of Arsia Mons? - Sue Burke

The Catalog of Virgins - Nicoletta Vallorani

Second Person, Present Tense - Daryl Gregory

Martian Blood - Allen M. Steele

Issue 133, October 2017

The Sum of Her Expectations - Jack Skillingstead

The Nightingales in Plaires - Natalia Theodoridou

The Last Boat-Builder in Ballyvoloon - Finbarr O’Reilly

The Psychology Game - Xia Jia

Intro to Prom - Genevieve Valentine

Shiomah’s Land - Nisi Shawl

Red Lights, and Rain - Gareth L. Powell

Issue 132, September 2017

Antarctic Birds - A. Brym

Little /^^^\&- - Eric Schwitzgebel

The Secret Lives of Bots - Suzanne Palmer

Pan-Humanism: Hope and Pragmatics - Jesse Barber and Sarah Saab

Möbius ; Continuum - Gu Shi

Bonding with Morry - Tom Purdom

Warmth - Geoff Ryman

Issue 131, August 2017

Twisted Knots - D.A. Xiaolin Spires

Reversion - Nin Harris

The Stone Weta - Octavia Cade

In the Blind - Sunny Moraine

A Man Out of Fashion - Chen Quifan

Fleet - Sandra McDonald

Venice Drowned - Kim Stanley Robinson

Issue 130, July 2017

An Age of Ice - Zhang Ran

Travelers - Rich Larson

The Significance of Significance - Robert Reed

The Bridgegroom - Bo Balder

Last Chance - Nicole Kornher-Stace

Forever Bound - Joe Haldeman

The Oracle - Lavie Tidhar

Issue 129, June 2017

Fool’s Cap - Andy Dudak

My Dear, Like the Sky and Stars and Sun - Julia K. Patt

Neptune’s Trident - Nina Allan

The Ways Out - Sam J. Miller

An Account of the Sky Whales - A Que

Human Error - Jay Lake

The Waiting Stars - Aliette de Bodard

Issue 128, May 2017

Streams and Mountains - Nick Wolven

We Who Live in the Heart - Kelly Robson

Baroness - E. Catherine Tobler

The Person Who Saw Cetus - Tang Fei

Running the Snake - Kage Baker

The Man Who Walked Home - James Tiptree Jr.

Issue 127, April 2017

Conglomerate - Robert Price

Some Remarks on the Reproductive Strategy of the Common Octopus - Bogi Takács

Left of Bang: Preemptive Self-Actualization for Autonomous Systems - Vajra Chandrasekera

Sunwake, in the Lands of Teeth - Juliette Wade

The Robot Who Liked to Tell Tall Tales - Fei Dao

Thing and Sick - Adam Roberts

Ancient Engines - Michael Swanwick

Issue 126, March 2017

Two Ways of Living - Robert Price

Real Ghosts - J.B. Park

Waiting Out the End of the World in Patty’s Place Cafe - Naomi Kritzer

Crown of Thorns - Octavia Cade

Goodnight, Melancholy - Xia Jia

The Discovered Country - Ian R. MacLeod

At the Cross-Time Jaunter’s Ball - Alexander Jablokov

Issue 125, February 2017

Assassins - Jack Skillingstead and Burt Courtier

Prosthetic Daughter - Nin Harris

How Bees Fly - Simone Heller

Rain Ship - Chi Hui

Dragon’s Deep - Cecelia Holland

The Dragonslayer of Merebarton - K.J. Parker

Issue 124, January 2017

The Ghost Ship Anastasia - Rich Larson

A Series of Steaks - Vina Jie-Min Prasad

Justice Systems in Quantum Parallel Probabilities - Lettie Prell

Interchange - Gary Kloster

Milla - Lorenzo Crescentini and Emanuela Valentini

Events Preceding the Helvetican Renaissance - John Kessel

The Shipmaker - Aliette de Bodard

Issue 123, December 2016

A Tower for the Coming World - Maggie Clark

Painter of Stars - Wang Yuan

Checkerboard Planet - Eleanor Arnason

Blue Grey Blue - Yukimi Ogawa

A Future Far Too Bright - Yosef Lindell

A Soldier of the City - David Moles

The Most Famous Little Girl in the World - Nancy Kress

Issue 122, November 2016

What The Stories Steal - Nin Harris

Where Water Joins - Nelly Geraldine García-Rosas

Of Sight, of Mind, of Heart - Samantha Murray

Follow the White Line - Bo Balder

Western Heaven - Chen Hongyu

Afrofuturist 419 - Nnedi Okorafor

An Eligible Boy - Ian McDonald

Reef - Paul McAuley

Issue 121, October 2016

The Next Scene - Robert Reed

One Sister, Two Sisters, Three - James Patrick Kelly

The Calculations of Artificials - Chi Hui

Everyone from Themis Sends Letters Home - Genevieve Valentine

Rusties - Nnedi Okorafor and Wanuri Kahiu

Old Domes - JY Yang

The Very Pulse of the Machine - Michael Swanwick

Issue 120, September 2016

The Despoilers - Jack Skillingstead

Aphrodite’s Blood, Decanted - Jennifer Campbell-Hicks

The Green Man Cometh - Rich Larson

The Opposite and the Adjacent - Liu Yang

Toward the Luminous Towers - Bogi Takács

The House of Half Mirrors - Thoraiya Dyer

The Dark City Luminous - Tom Crosshill

No Placeholder for You My Love - Nick Wolven

Issue 119, August 2016

First Light at Mistaken Point - Kali Wallace

Teenagers from Outer Space - Dale Bailey

Now is the Hour - Emily Devenport

The Engine’s Imperial - Sean Bensinger

Reclamation - Ryan Row

Alone, on the Wind - Karla Schmidt

The Fish Merchant - Tobias S. Buckell

A Stopped Clock - Madeline Ashby

Issue 118, July 2016

Helio Music - Mike Buckley

Fish Dance - Eric Schwitzgebel

The Sentry Branch Predictor Spec: A Fairy Tale - John Chu

Sephine and the Leviathan - Jack Schouten

Against the Stream - A Que

Nahiku West - Linda Nagata

Lion Walk - Mary Rosenblum

Issue 117, June 2016

And Then, One Day, the Air was Full of Voices - Margaret Ronald

Things With Beards - Sam J. Miller

.identity - E. Catherine Tobler

The Snow of Jinyang - Zhang Ran

The Promise of God - Michael Flynn

Pathways - Nancy Kress

Issue 116, May 2016

Left Behind - Cat Rambo

The Universal Museum of Sagacity - Robert Reed

Breathe - Cassandra Khaw

Jonas and the Fox - Rich Larson

Away from Home - Luo Longxiang

Tough Times All Over - Joe Abercrombie

A Heap of Broken Images - Sunny Moraine

Issue 115, April 2016

Touring with the Alien - Carolyn Ives Gilman

Balin - Chen Qiufan

The Bridge of Dreams - Gregory Feeley

The Cedar Grid - Sara Saab

Old Friends - Garth Nix

Winter’s Wife - Elizabeth Hand

Issue 114, March 2016

Salvage Opportunity - Jack Skillingstead

Seven Cups of Coffee - A.C. Wise

The Governess with a Mechanical Womb - Leena Likitalo

Coyote Invents the Land of the Dead - Kij Johnson

Chimera - Gu Shi

The King of Norway - Cecelia Holland

Gray Wings - Karl Bunker

Issue 113, February 2016

The Ficer - Paul McAuley

That Which Stands Tends Toward Free Fall - Benjanun Srisduangkaew

In the Midst of Life - Nick Wolven

Between Dragons and Their Wrath - An Owomoyela and Rachel Swirsky

Blood Dauber - Ted Kosmatka and Michael Poore

Mercurial - Kim Stanley Robinson

Issue 112, January 2016

The Algorithms of Value - Robert Reed

The Abduction of Europa - E. Catherine Tobler

Extraction Request - Rich Larson

Everybody Loves Charles - Bao Shu

The True Vintage of Erzuine Thale - Robert Silverberg

Old Paint - Megan Lindholm

Issue 111, December 2015

Yuanyuan’s Bubbles - Liu Cixin

Union - Tamsyn Muir

Morrigan in Shadow - Seth Dickinson

When We Die on Mars - Cassandra Khaw

Technarion - Sean McMullen

Daddy’s World - Walter Jon Williams

Issue 110, November 2015

So Much Cooking - Naomi Kritzer

Your Right Arm - Nin Harris

In the Queue for the Worldship Munawwer - Sara Saab

The Hexagonal Bolero of Honeybees - Krista Hoeppner Leahy

If on a Winter’s Night a Traveler - Xia Jia

Way Down East - Tim Sullivan

One Last, Great Adventure - Ellen Kushner & Ysabeau S. Wilce

Issue 109, October 2015

And If the Body Were Not the Soul - A.C. Wise

Ice - Rich Larson

The Father - Kola Heyward-Rotimi

Egg Island - Karen Heuler

Summer at Grandma’s House - Hao Jinfang

War, Ice, Egg, Universe - G. David Nordley

The Peacock Cloak - Chris Beckett

Issue 108, September 2015

Cremulator - Robert Reed

Loving Grace - Erica L. Satifka

Preserve Her Memory - Bao Shu

The Algebra of Events - Elizabeth Bourne

The Occidental Bride - Benjanun Sriduangkaew

Canary Land - Tom Purdom

Sea Change - Una McCormack

Issue 107, August 2015

Today I am Paul - Martin L. Shoemaker

It Was Educational - J.B. Park

Security Check - Han Song

The Servant - Emily Devenport

Dying Young - Peter M. Ball

Softly Spoke the Gabbleduck - Neal Asher

Issue 106, July 2015

When Your Child Strays From God - Sam J. Miller

Further North - Kay Chronister

Android Whores Can’t Cry - Natalia Theodoridou

The Hunger Tower - Pan Haitian

Snakes - Yoon Ha Lee

The Accord - Keith Brooke

Hair - Adam Roberts

Issue 105, June 2015

Somewhere I Have Never Traveled (Third Sound Remix) - E. Catherine Tobler

Asymptotic - Sam J. Miller

This Wanderer, in the Dark of the Year - Kris Inhering

Forestspirit, Forestspirit - Bogi Tackás

The Hole in the Hole - Terry Bisson

Riding the White Bull - Caitlín R. Kiernan

Issue 104, May 2015

The Garden Beyond Her Infinite Skies - Matthew Kressel

For the Love of Sylvia City - Andrea M. Pawley

Miss Griffin Prepares to Commit Suicide Tonight - A Que

Ossuary - Ian Muneshwar

An Evolutionary Myth - Bo-Young Kim

Solace - James Van Pelt

Tyche and the Ants - Hannu Rajaniemi

Issue 103, April 2015

The Empress in Her Glory - Robert Reed

Let Baser Things Devise - Berrien C. Henderson

The Petals Abide - Benjanun Sriduangkaew

Postcards From Monster Island - Emily Devenport

Noble Mold - Kage Baker

Weep For Day - Indrapramit Das

Issue 102, March 2015

Slowly Builds An Empire - Naim Kabir

Cassandra - Ken Liu

The Long Goodnight of Violet Wild (Part 2) - Catherynne M. Valente

All Original Brightness - Mike Buckley

Coming of the Light - Chen Qiufan

The Clear Blue Seas of Luna - Gregory Benford

The Book Seller - Lavie Tidhar

Issue 101, February 2015

The Last Surviving Gondola Widow - Kristine Kathryn Rusch

Indelible - Gwendolyn Clare

The Three Resurrections of Jessica Churchill - Kelly Robson

Meshed - Rich Larson

The Osteomancer’s Son - Greg van Eekhout

It Takes Two - Nicola Griffith

Issue 100, January 2015

Three Cups of Grief, by Starlight - Aliette de Bodard

A Universal Elegy - Tang Fei

Cat Pictures Please - Naomi Kritzer

The Apartment Dweller’s Bestiary - Kij Johnson

Ether - Zhang Ran

The Long Goodnight of Violet Wild (Part 1) - Catherynne M. Valente

An Exile of the Heart - Jay Lake

This Wind Blowing, and This Tide - Damien Broderick

Laika’s Ghost - Karl Schroeder

Issue 99, December 2014

Fatima’s Wound - Kali Wallace

The Magician and Laplace’s Demon - Tom Crosshill

Now Dress Me in my Finest Suit and Lay Me in My Casket - M. Bennardo

No Vera There - Dominica Phetteplace

The Emperor of Mars - Allen M. Steele

The Sledge-Maker’s Daughter - Alastair Reynolds

Tongtong’s Summer - Xia Jia

Issue 98, November 2014

Cameron Rhyder’s Legs - Matthew Kressel

Pernicious Romance - Robert Reed

The Long Haul - Ken Liu

Cody - Pat Cadigan

The Vorkuta Event - Ken MacLeod

Issue 97, October 2014

Taxidermist in the Underworld - Maria Dahvana Headley

Lovecraft - Helena Bell

Seeking boarder for rm w/ attached bathroom - Rahul Kanakia

Pithing Needle - E. Catherine Tobler

A Rich, Full Week - K.J. Parker

Wizard’s Six - Alex Irvine

Issue 96, September 2014

Weather - Susan Palwick

Patterns of a Murmuration, in Billions of Data Points - JY Yang

Spring Festival: Happiness, Anger, Love, Sorrow, Joy - Xia Jia

Falling Star - Brendan DuBois

Her Furry Face - Leigh Kennedy

Giants - Peter Watts

Issue 95, August 2014

Five Stages of Grief After the Alien Invasion - Caroline M. Yoachim

Bonfires in Anacostia - Joseph Tomaras

The Saint of the Sidewalks - Kat Howard

The Rose Witch - James Patrick Kelly

Seven Years from Home - Naomi Novik

Nevermore - Ian R. MacLeod

Issue 94, July 2014

The Contemporary Foxwife - Yoon Ha Lee

Stone Hunger - N. K. Jemisin

Soul’s Bargain - Juliette Wade

The Halfway House at the Heart of Darkness - William Browning Spencer

Gold Mountain - Chris Roberson

Issue 93, June 2014

wHole - Robert Reed

Pepe - Tang Fei

Communion - Mary Anne Mohanraj

Lambing Season - Molly Gloss

Have Not Have - Geoff Ryman

Issue 92, May 2014

The Meeker and the All-Seeing Eye - Matthew Kressel

A Gift in Time - Maggie Clark

Migratory Patterns of Underground Birds - E. Catherine Tobler

Night of the Cooters - Howard Waldrop

Beluthahatchie - Andy Duncan

Issue 91, April 2014

Passage of Earth - Michael Swanwick

Autodidact - Benjanun Sriduangkaew

Water in Springtime - Kali Wallace

The Cuckoo - Sean Williams

Going After Bobo - Susan Palwick

Shining Armor - Dominic Green

Issue 90, March 2014

Morrigan in the Sunglare - Seth Dickinson

Human Strandings and the Role of the Xenobiologist - Thoraiya Dyer

Suteta Mono de wa Nai - Juliette Wade

The Egg Man - Mary Rosenblum

Mountain Ways - Ursula K. Le Guin

Issue 89, February 2014

Tortoiseshell Cats Are Not Refundable - Cat Rambo

The Eleven Holy Numbers of the Mechanical Soul - Natalia Theodoridou

And Wash Out by Tides of War - An Owomoyela

Infinities - Vandana Singh

Martian Heart - John Barnes

Issue 88, January 2014

The Clockwork Soldier - Ken Liu

Grave of the Fireflies - Cheng Jingbo

Wine - Yoon Ha Lee

Ship’s Brother - Aliette de Bodard

Utriusque Cosmi - Robert Charles Wilson

Issue 87, December 2013

Daedalum, the Devil’s Wheel - E. Lily Yu

Of Alternate Adventures and Memory - Rochita Loenen-Ruiz

Silent Bridge, Pale Cascade - Benjanun Sriduangkaew

1016 to 1 - James Patrick Kelly

The Pure Product - John Kessel

Issue 86, November 2013

Mystic Falls - Robert Reed

The Aftermath - Maggie Clark

Never Dreaming (In Four Burns) - Seth Dickinson

Manifest Destiny - Joe Haldeman

Special Economics - Maureen F. McHugh

Issue 85,October 2013

The Symphony of Ice and Dust - Julie Novakova

Bits - Naomi Kritzer

The Creature Recants - Dale Bailey

The Ki-anna - Gwyneth Jones

A Night at the Tarn House - George R.R. Martin

Issue 84, September 2013

Mar Pacifico - Greg Mellor

The Promise of Space - James Patrick Kelly

One Flesh - Mark Bourne and Elizabeth Bourne

Out of Copyright - Charles Sheffield

First Principle - Nancy Kress

Issue 83, August 2013

Cry of the Kharchal - Vandana Singh

Shepherds - Greg Kurzawa

Found - Alex Dally MacFarlane

The Lovers - Eleanor Arnason

Cilia-of-Gold - Stephen Baxter

Issue 82, July 2013

Pockets Full of Stones - Vajra Chandrasekera

I Tell Thee All, I Can No More - Sunny Moraine

Across the Terminator - David Tallerman

The Illustrated Biography of Lord Grimm - Daryl Gregory

The Dust Assassin - Ian McDonald

Issue 81, June 2013

The Urashima Effect - E. Lily Yu

This Is Why We Jump - Jacob Clifton

Free-Fall - Graham Templeton

Mongoose - Sarah Monette and Elizabeth Bear

Dead Men Walking - Paul McAuley

Issue 80, May 2013

Soulcatcher - James Patrick Kelly

Tachy Psyche - Andy Dudak

(R + D) /I = M - E. Catherine Tobler

The Banquet of the Lords of Night - Liz Williams

From Babel’s Fall’n Glory We Fled . . . - Michael Swanwick

Issue 79, April 2013

Annex - Benjanun Sriduangkaew

No Portraits on the Sky - Kali Wallace

Melt With You - Emily C. Skaftun

Spar (The Bacon Remix) - Kij Johnson

Guest of Honor - Robert Reed

Finisterra - David Moles

Issue 78, March 2013

The Weight of a Blessing - Aliette de Bodard

The Last Survivor of the Great Sexbot Revolution - A.C. Wise

86, 87, 88, 89 - Genevieve Valentine

Issue 77, February 2013

Gravity - Erzebet YellowBoy

The Wanderers - Bonnie Jo Stufflebeam

Vacant Spaces - Greg Kurzawa

Issue 76, January 2013

Driftings - Ian McDonald

Variations on Bluebeard and Dalton’s Law Along the Event Horizon - Helena Bell

Effigy Nights - Yoon Ha Lee

Issue 75, December 2012

Your Final Apocalypse - Sandra McDonald

The Wisdom of Ants - Thoraiya Dyer

Sweet Subtleties - Lisa L Hannett

Issue 74, November 2012

(To See the Other) Whole Against the Sky - E. Catherine Tobler

Aquatica - Maggie Clark

Everything Must Go - Brooke Wonders

Issue 73, October 2012

A Bead of Jasper, Four Small Stones - Genevieve Valentine

England under the White Witch - Theodora Goss

The Battle of Candle Arc - Yoon Ha Lee

Issue 72, September 2012

The Found Girl - David Klecha and Tobias S. Buckell

Robot - Helena Bell

muo-ka’s Child - Indrapramit Das

Issue 71, August 2012

Mantis Wives - Kij Johnson

Honey Bear - Sofia Samatar

Fade to White - Catherynne M. Valente

Issue 70, July 2012

Astrophilia - Carrie Vaughn

The Switch - Sarah Stanton

Iron Ladies, Iron Tigers - Sunny Moraine

Issue 69, June 2012

Immersion - Aliette de Bodard

If The Mountain Comes - An Owomoyela

You Were She Who Abode - E. Catherine Tobler

Issue 68, May 2012

Prayer - Robert Reed

Synch Me, Kiss Me, Drop - Suzanne Church

All the Things the Moon Is Not - Alexander Lumans

Issue 67, April 2012

Fragmentation, or Ten Thousand Goodbyes - Tom Crosshill

Draftyhouse - Erik Amundsen

The Womb Factory - Peter M. Ferenczi

Issue 66, March 2012

Sunlight Society - Margaret Ronald

The Bells of Subsidence - Michael John Grist

From Their Paws, We Shall Inherit - Gary Kloster

Issue 65, February 2012

And the Hollow Space Inside - Mari Ness

A Hundred Ghosts Parade Tonight - Xia Jia

All the Young Kirks and Their Good Intentions - Helena Bell

Issue 64, January 2012

Scattered Along the River of Heaven - Aliette de Bodard

What Everyone Remembers - Rahul Kanakia

All the Painted Stars - Gwendolyn Clare

Issue 63, December 2011

Sirius - Ben Peek

In Which Faster-Than-Light Travel Solves All of Our Problems - Chris Stabback

Silently and Very Fast (Conclusion) - Catherynne M. Valente

Issue 62, November 2011

A Militant Peace - David Klecha and Tobias S. Buckell

The Smell of Orange Groves - Lavie Tidhar

Silently and Very Fast (Part Two) - Catherynne M. Valente

Issue 61, October 2011

Staying Behind - Ken Liu

Pony - Erik Amundsen

Silently and Very Fast (Part One) - Catherynne M. Valente

Issue 60, September 2011

Pack - Robert Reed

Signals in the Deep - Greg Mellor

Issue 59, August 2011

Conservation of Shadows - Yoon Ha Lee

The Fish of Lijiang - Ken Liu

Issue 58, July 2011

Trois morceaux en forme de mechanika - Gord Sellar

Frozen Voice - An Owomoyela

Issue 57, June 2011

Semiramis - Genevieve Valentine

Trickster - Mari Ness

Issue 56, May 2011

Whose Face This Is I Do Not Know - Cat Rambo

The Architect of Heaven - Jason K. Chapman

Issue 55, April 2011

The Cartographer Wasps and the Anarchist Bees - E. Lily Yu

Matchmaker - Erin M. Hartshorn

Issue 54, March 2011

The Book of Phoenix (Excerpted from The Great Book) - Nnedi Okorafor

Perfect Lies - Gwendolyn Clare

Issue 53, February 2011

Diving After the Moon - Rachel Swirsky

Three Oranges - D. Elizabeth Wasden

Issue 52, January 2011

Ghostweight - Yoon Ha Lee

Tying Knots - Ken Liu

Issue 51, December 2010

The Taxidermist’s Other Wife - Kelly Barnhill

The Children of Main Street - A. C. Wise

Issue 50, November 2010

On the Banks of the River Lex - N. K. Jemisin

Seeing - Genevieve Valentine

Issue 49, October 2010

Laying the Ghost - Eric Brown

Salvaging Gods - Jacques Barcia

Issue 48, September 2010

The Cull - Robert Reed

Paper Cradle - Stephen Gaskell

Issue 47, August 2010

Thirteen Ways of Looking at Space/Time - Catherynne M. Valente

Messenger - J.M. Sidorova

Issue 46, July 2010

Beach Blanket Spaceship - Sandra McDonald

The Association of the Dead - Rahul Kanakia

Issue 45, June 2010

Futures in the Memories Market - Nina Kiriki Hoffman

My Father’s Singularity - Brenda Cooper

Issue 44, May 2010

A Jar of Goodwill - Tobias S. Buckell

A Sweet Calling - Tony Pi

Issue 43, April 2010

Between Two Dragons - Yoon Ha Lee

January - Becca De La Rosa

Issue 42, March 2010

Alone with Gandhari - Gord Sellar

The History Within Us - Matthew Kressel

Issue 41, February 2010

Torquing Vacuum - Jay Lake

The Language of the Whirlwind - Lavie Tidhar

Issue 40, January 2010

The Things - Peter Watts

All the King’s Monsters - Megan Arkenberg

Issue 39, December 2009

Night, in Dark Perfection - Richard Parks

The Grandmother-Granddaughter Conspiracy - Marissa Lingen

Issue 38, November 2009

The Mermaids Singing Each to Each - Cat Rambo

Brief Candle - Jason K. Chapman

Issue 37, October 2009

Spar - Kij Johnson

Of Melei, of Ulthar - Gord Sellar

Issue 36, September 2009

White Charles - Sarah Monette

Non-Zero Probabilities - N.K. Jemisin

Issue 35, August 2009

The Radiant Car Thy Sparrows Drew - Catherynne M. Valente

Advection - Genevieve Valentine

Issue 34, July 2009

Placa del Fuego - Tobias S. Buckell

On the Lot and In the Air - Lisa L Hannett

Issue 33, June 2009

Walking with a Ghost - Nick Mamatas

The Giving Heart - Corie Ralston

Issue 32, May 2009

From the Lost Diary of TreeFrog7 - Nnedi Okorafor

The Devonshire Arms - Alex Dally MacFarlane

Issue 31, April 2009

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

The Dying World - Lavie Tidhar

Issue 30, March 2009

Herding Vegetable Sheep - Ekaterina Sedia

The Loyalty of Birds - Rachel Sobel

Issue 29, February 2009

The Second Gift Given - Ken Scholes

The Jisei of Mark VIII - Berrien C. Henderson

Issue 28, January 2009

Celadon - Desirina Boskovich

Teaching Bigfoot to Read - Geoffrey W. Cole

Issue 27, December 2008

A Woman’s Best Friend - Robert Reed

Episode 72 - Don Webb

The Completely Rechargeable Man - Karen Heuler

Issue 26, November 2008

Idle Roomer - Mike Resnick and Lezli Robyn

batch 39 and the deadman’s switch - Simon DeDeo

Issue 25, October 2008

Gift of the Kites - Jim C. Hines

Passwords - John A. McDermott

Issue 24, September 2008

Worm Within - Cat Rambo

Can You See Me Now? - Eric M. Witchey

Issue 23, August 2008

Blue Ink - Yoon Ha Lee

Tetris Dooms Itself - Meghan McCarron

Her Mother’s Ghosts - Theodora Goss

Issue 22, July 2008

When the Gentlemen Go By - Margaret Ronald

The Glory of the World - Sergey Gerasimov

Issue 21, June 2008

Clockwork Chickadee - Mary Robinette Kowal

The Secret in the House of Smiles - Paul Jessup

Issue 20, May 2008

A Buyer’s Guide to Maps of Antartica - Catherynne M. Valente

Birdwatcher - Garth Upshaw

Issue 19, April 2008

After Moreau - Jeffrey Ford

Flight - Jeremiah Sturgill

Issue 18, March 2008

Teeth - Stephen Dedman

The Sky that Wraps the World Round, Past the Blue and into the Black - Jay Lake

Issue 17, February 2008

Captain’s Lament - Stephen Graham Jones

The Human Moments - Alexander Lumans

Issue 16, January 2008

The River Boy - Tim Pratt

Debris Ensuing from a Vortex - Brian Ames

Issue 15, December 2007

Curse - Samantha Henderson

The Buried Years - Loreen Heneghan

Threads of Red and White - Lisa Mantchev

Issue 14, November 2007

Summer in Paris, Light from the Sky - Ken Scholes

Acid and Stoned Reindeer - Rebecca Ore

Issue 13, October 2007

A Dance Across Embers - Lisa Mantchev

Excerpt from a Letter by a Social-realist Aswang - Kristin Mandigma

Issue 12, September 2007

The Ape’s Wife - Caitlín R. Kiernan

Lost Soul - M P Ericson

Issue 11, August 2007

The Taste of Wheat - Ekaterina Sedia

The Beacon - Darja Malcolm-Clarke

Issue 10, July 2007

I’ll Gnaw Your Bones, the Manticore Said - Cat Rambo

Transtexting Pose - Darren Speegle

Issue 9, June 2007

The Oracle Spoke - Holly Phillips

The Moon Over Yodok - David Charlton

Issue 8, May 2007

There’s No Light Between Floors - Paul G. Tremblay

Qubit Conflicts - Jetse De Vries

Issue 7, April 2007

The Third Bear - Jeff VanderMeer

The First Female President - Michael De Kler

Issue 6, March 2007

Clockmaker’s Requiem - Barth Anderson

Something in the Mermaid Way - Carrie Laben

Issue 5, February 2007

Chewing Up the Innocent - Jay Lake

Attar of Roses - Sharon Mock

Issue 4, January 2007

Orm the Beautiful - Elizabeth Bear

Automatic - Erica L. Satifka

Issue 3, December 2006

Urchins, While Swimming - Catherynne M. Valente

The Other Amazon - Jenny Davidson

Issue 2, November 2006

The Moby Clitoris of His Beloved - Ian Watson and Roberto Quaglia

Lydia’s Body - Vylar Kaftan

Issue 1, October 2006

A Light in Troy - Sarah Monette

304 Adolf Hitler Strasse - Lavie Tidhar





Issue 137, February 2018





Deep Down in the Cloud


Julie Novakova

“What is there more sublime than the trackless,

desert, all-surrounding, unfathomable sea?

What is there more peacefully sublime than the calm,

gently-heaving, silent sea?

What is there more terribly sublime than the angry,

dashing, foaming sea?”


Floating freely in the dark cold water, Mariana had lost her sense of direction. Suddenly a flash from somewhere (above? where was above?) illuminated the whole ocean, and in that instant, she could see a school of grunions swimming past: hundreds of silvery gleaming bodies together in a mass so alien and intimidating. So beautiful. Light reflecting off their sleek bodies and silver-lined black eyes.

The darkness returned, but it didn’t feel the same. She could feel the hundreds of eyes watching her. Irrational, yes. But this moment was beyond rationality.

Another lightning strike somewhere far away revealed a peculiar sight.

Chubs? she thought with an unnatural calm. How strange. Must be the storm . . .

However, still no sign of other people.

When the next lightning bolt lit up the murky waters a moment later, she glimpsed something else. She knew she ought to feel dread, fear, panic.

But she was far beyond that too.


“Ready?”

“Ready.”

“Ready,” echoed a second voice, and the three divers submerged together.

As soon as she entered water, Mariana Aguayro ceased feeling anxious. She was in her element. No matter what happens next, she’s where she belongs; and she had trained for what happens next.

It was difficult to tell whether the same applied to Hector Hodges beside her. Even though the full-face mask offered a better view of his face than usual diving masks, she could only imagine how he was feeling. In her imagination, however, he was still as nervous as on their way here.

Iku was already ahead of them, holding his sea scooter like it was a part of his own body. If she felt in her element here, he seemed born in the ocean.

They continued in silence. No need to speak, even if the transceivers would allow them to. They could view speaking as a security risk even here, still far from their destination. The fish-like scooters carried them forward. They could take a moment’s rest for now. Mariana knew they’d need it.

Even though they were not descending yet and it was early, light faded quickly around them. Mariana thought of the darkening skies above. No sane person would go for recreational diving today. They remained alone but for a few by-the-wind sailors above, and some moon jellyfish. The storm was coming. For them, it was ideal.

Iku turned and signaled “down.” She and Hector copied.

The waters grew murkier as they descended slowly. Usually, the visibility would be good. But today, the currents were disturbed by the approaching storm. The water was considerably colder than usual at this time of the year. Mariana could still see Iku’s silhouette beneath, but visibility was dropping quickly.

Finally, she glimpsed the bottom, or at least she thought so. On the sandy shelf, there was no reef to look for, nothing to use as a beacon. Her dive computer showed the depth of 110 feet, same as the analog depth gauge she had refused to leave home.

Upon reaching the bottom, Iku signaled for them to stop. Mariana’s heart skipped a beat.

It’s here. We’re really doing it. Just as we practiced.

It was time to leave the scooters and anchor them here, where they could find them on their return trip. If there is one. Even in the murky shade, Mariana saw the fear in Hector’s eyes. In contrast, Iku’s face was almost serene. She imagined hers full of anticipation.

We’re going to free freedom itself.

“Let’s go,” Iku gestured.

Hug the bottom. Kick ever so slowly. The rhythm we finally got right last week.


A week ago, at the same depth, but in clear water on a sunlit day tens of miles away from here, Mariana was trying to pass as a fish. She could see Hector swimming some ten feet from her. Iku floated somewhere overhead, monitoring them as always.

Hug the bottom. Go slowly. Use the add-ons on the suit to simulate fish movement, she recited in her mind. She should probably feel nervous. But being underwater always had a strangely calming effect on her. Hearing your breath, the pounding of your heart, and the ocean surrounding you, while you moved freely in its soothing cold embrace . . . Sometimes she wished she could stay.

“There wouldn’t be any motion detectors on the bottom,” Iku had said to them earlier. “Too many things would set them off. They would rather rely on autonomous guard bots, a few ROVs and aquamesh around the site.”

Hugging the bottom therefore seemed to be a good approach strategy, and Iku provided the rest.

Now they reached the improvised aquamesh: just a fishing net in this case, no fiber-optics. When Iku gave the signal, Mariana and Hector started cutting through it.

He was faster than she this time, having improved a lot. Mariana got used to the full-face mask and closed cycle rebreather already in their first test dive. Hector had a little trouble adjusting to the mask, but he too was an experienced diver and now he seemed just as accustomed to the equipment.

Going through, she signaled and went first.

She saw the outline of their target in the silty waters. Suddenly, a shock wave hurled her onto the bottom and made her earbuds ache. She was scared and disoriented . . . for a few seconds. Then she kicked fast toward where she thought the target was. She couldn’t see a thing through the upraised mud. We should have thermal, occurred to her. She wasn’t sure any thermovision mask even existed, but Iku apparently had access to a lot of gear she hadn’t known about.

Hector was beside her in another second. They reached the target, pulled the waterproof Taus and cords and got to work in perfect sync. The screens shone bright in this dim bottom world.

“Incoming,” Iku’s voice sounded suddenly in their ears. Mariana turned around to intercept the danger and readied her underwater gun. But nothing happened. Then Hector announced: “Got it.”

The timer showed eighteen minutes, ten seconds. Best result so far.

A diver silhouette approached.

Ready, Iku signaled. Up.

When they were ashore and stripping from the diving gear, Mariana felt oddly elevated. We did it. We’re well under the limit. It really can be done!

But the greatest news was yet to come.

“There could be severe storms coming next week,” Iku announced as he closed the trunk with all the gear and stood by his car, an inconspicuous older wagon. “The timing is ideal. Augur will be conducting some site reliability tests elsewhere. Their guard will be high, but it always is, and they would be more vulnerable at the same time. Be prepared. The next time, we go live.”

It was exhilarating to hear that. Next time, it’s real. They’re gonna rob and sabotage an Augur datacenter.

In the wake of their successful dive and Iku’s announcement, they had made a mistake. Mariana would usually take a bus back to LA; after all, Iku had all the diving gear, she didn’t need to carry anything. But Hector had offered to drive her home.

“He’s being too paranoid,” he waved off Iku’s earlier advice. (Do not ride together. Do not call each other. Do not let your paths cross any more than they would before you had met.). “And he’s not here. Are you going to wait an hour for your bus, or be back in LA at that time?”

It wouldn’t hurt to get home earlier . . .

They spent the whole ride talking. It seemed like a mere moment when he stopped before her home.

“Wanna come upstairs for a drink?” she said on an impulse. Hector wasn’t her usual type. She wasn’t into older guys and typically avoided anyone from IT, if mostly for professional reasons, but the excitement of their dive and the upcoming op must have clouded her judgment. The fact that they had shared a secret from the rest of the world may have played a role.

He stayed for several hours. But when she said “you should go,” he just nodded and left. They didn’t see each other again up until this morning, after Iku had called them. It was time.

She couldn’t quite shake off the disturbing sensation that Iku somehow knew.


Hector was the first to notice the bots. Above, he gestured.

The AUVs were circling the perimeter in quasi-random patterns. They patrolled for unusual motion, light, heat signatures, sound, or transmissions. Though Mariana knew about them, her heart still skipped a beat when she saw that one was nearing her position.

Calm down and swim. This was to be expected.

The AUVs continued on their way.

The style they’d practiced seemed to pay off. They had passed as fish.

Then she saw what they were looking for. The mesh.

The real danger would only lie beyond that—if they managed to get through.

Mariana glanced at Iku, or rather tried to, but she couldn’t see him. The silt whirled beneath them and decreased visibility even further.

But something changed. She glimpsed movement. Silvery glint. Eyes. So many . . .

Pacific mackerel, she thought.

It didn’t stop with them.

So he did it; Iku released a batch of pheromones to lure the fish. The schools would provide more cover for them while they try to get through the mesh.

Iku went first, followed by the fish like some strange pied piper.

A sudden if feeble flash of light illuminated even these murky depths for a fraction. The storm above had started.

It would disturb the fish. It would also disturb the AUVs and sensor nets. Motion, thermals, sonar echo—all would be obscured. A lot of unusual activity just might pass unnoticed in a storm . . .

Iku approached the mesh. Mariana waited while he began attaching long stretches of optical fiber to the mesh. Then she saw the signal. She swam toward him and began cutting through the fiber-optic mesh, while Hector approached from another side. Another lightning struck somewhere above.

The final cut. Nothing visibly changed. No dazzler blinded them; no sound weapon thrust them away; no AUVs approached.

They swam through. Shapes began emerging from the mist-like whirling silt. Their ghostly glow felt otherworldly. There was something surreal about the server boxes and glowing displays down here: a true snippet of another world.

How did I ever end up here? Mariana wondered.


Mariana Aguayro sometimes wondered how their lives would turn out if the Sun didn’t misbehave. Just one peculiar cycle of increased solar activity. It was enough to first render billions of investments in satellite communications lost, and to make other such ventures too risky for another decade; and they could count themselves lucky that the storms only caused occasional blackouts.

Cables always held most traffic, but Internet giants promised free worldwide web connection for anyone on the planet. High-speed satellite connection in the furthermost, poorest village on Earth; it was too good to last. It almost hadn’t even started before the unprecedented solar storms fried most satellites, high-altitude balloons, and many land facilities too. Solely dependent on cable connections, with the corporations shaken badly and world politics already in disarray, it was a recipe for a slow plunge into unobtrusive dystopia.

If it didn’t happen, I may have gone to college.

If it didn’t happen, we wouldn’t have access outages for days.

If it didn’t happen, we might not have lost our freedoms so easily.

She remembered net neutrality, constant quick access to information, and reliable communication from her childhood. Chatting with friends online without worrying about the price or whether the messages would get through at all. Browsing encyclopedias and magazines without end. No outages lasting over an hour. Sometimes it made her feel old, despite not being even in her thirties.

She also remembered a semblance of privacy. Yes, people willingly, if unwittingly granted access to highly personal information to any stupid app, but there was at least a pretense of legal protection, at least some hope that individuals could persist against governments and corporations . . .

This, too, had been taken away, with the help of Augur.

Maybe that’s why Mariana liked diving so much. The fish, corals, and crustaceans didn’t care for human skirmishes. She could escape into their world, but even there, she would see the discomforting signs of human presence above. Little had been done to keep the oceans clean. Even down there, in her dream world, Mariana could not avoid getting angry.

So she’d started rebelling. Tiny steps, at first. Then she’d gotten more daring.

Being a hacker was nothing like in the movies she’d watched—and downloaded, impossible now—as a kid. But it was exhilarating nonetheless when she and the fission-fusion crews sometimes succeeded after weeks or months of dull work. Her life became a series of mood swings, and at times she also wondered whether it would have been so, had she been let to live a normal life.

She didn’t know how Iku found her.

He sat next to her one day on the beach, an inconspicuous black man of slender build and indeterminate age, and told her without any fuss that he wanted to hire her for a special job. One that involved both her computer hacking and diving expertise.

She could have said no. She didn’t know the stranger at all, nor did he mention having any contacts in common.

But it sounded like the kind of offer you cannot refuse.


She was just a few kicks away from the first server when the world broke.

First, there was light.

A bright flash blinded her for a moment, and a staccato of bright beams followed. No time to think about that. No time to prepare for the sound.

It threw her away like a punch in the chest. Her limbs flailed around her. She felt as if air was knocked out of her lungs. Her chest and stomach hurt badly. She couldn’t breathe. And the lights were still there, burying themselves into her skull . . .

Dazzlers and an ultrasonic pulse, some calculating part of her mind said. Shouldn’t cause permanent damage, only stun or injure. Get it together.

She kicked away before another cavitation could hit her. Only then she turned and looked back, grasping the underwater gun on her belt, though wary of using it.

But it was no longer necessary.

“Disabled it,” Iku’s voice sounded in her ears for the first time during the dive. Stealth didn’t matter anymore, and they would need to use the transceivers soon anyway.

She looked around. “Hector?”

She didn’t see him. Nor did she hear any reply. She was about to call him again, when Iku spoke: “He’s alive.”

Something in his tone made her shiver inwardly.

Iku moved smoothly, shark-like, toward a dark silhouette barely visible in the silt. She glimpsed him link his suit’s computer to Hector’s. As she swam nearer, she could see him activate the adrenaline pump in Hector’s suit.

The dark silhouette moved, and Mariana heard a sharp intake of breath in the comms. “W-what happened?”

“Dazzler and cavitation,” Iku said. “You’ll come to. Let’s do it.”

Mariana would have liked to see whether Hector was okay, but Iku was right; there was little time. They had to get in, and Hector Hodges, a disgruntled former Augur employee wishing to take revenge accompanied ideally by large sums of money, was necessary to manage it quickly.

The servers were just two dozen feet away. This near, AUVs wouldn’t use sonic pulses to knock them out; too much risk for the equipment.

Hector and Mariana got to work on one rack, Iku moved to another.

“You all right?” she asked Hector quietly, mask to mask; no need for Iku to overhear.

“Think so,” he spoke. Even in these conditions, she could hear his strained breath.

Broken ribs? Internal bleeding? she thought of the risks of cavitation. It was by no means a non-life-threatening weapon. Down here, every injury counted more.

The firewall held fast, but Mariana tried a few new exploits, while Hector worked his angle.

Still nothing . . . Would they have to use plan B and just DDoS Augur without making use of any of the data stored here?

Mariana glanced at her computer. At this rate, she had an hour of resurfacing to look for. An hour within which anything could go wrong.

“We’re there,” Hector said.

Mariana’s heart skipped a beat.

We’re really there. Inside Augur’s heart . . . about to seize it and tear it out.

She just sent an invite to a feast on the company’s internal files to a dozen informal hacker groups; most of them hopelessly idealistic anarchists, some strategically chosen groups that were in for money or mainstream politics, which translated to money anyway.

Her head almost spun.

For a second, she was tempted to look up Iku, regardless of whether the alias had any ties to his real self. Who, or what . . . But no—there was no time to waste.

Now to erasing the user metadata, and all the surveillance we can . . . To watch the watchmen for once. To free ourselves before they load the backups—but others will be ready for that. Let it run another half an hour, please, and then we can have a DDoS as a cherry atop the cake.

There was still a chance that Augur noticed only now what they were doing and couldn’t get in touch with its AUVs here because of the storm.

But the storm would also complicate their ascent. They’d all realized the possibility they’d become martyrs, but none wanted to reconcile with that. Not without a fight.

“Iku?” she spoke.

No answer.

“Can’t resurface now,” Hector pointed above. Even at this depth, they could see the lightning flashes. Even through the transceiver connection, Mariana heard the strain in his voice. Hold on. We’ll help you ascend, she thought. But where was Iku? She decided to find out and kicked slowly. Even moving this carefully, she almost caused a silt out. That’s why she didn’t see what happened next.

She was already at the further rack, and only heard the gasp and ragged, muffled breaths. She turned back, but another shape shot forward alongside her: Iku. She’d never think a diver could move so fast and smoothly, truly like a fish.

Hector’s body was jerking as if electrocuted. Mariana glimpsed some strange, ghostlike shape around him in the light of her LED torch, and realized that he was being electrocuted.

But Iku was already there, grasping the thing she could barely see, and pulling it away from Hector.

The battle resembled a surreal ballet: a diver against a barely visible translucent shape, swirling and writhing amidst silt. It was entrancing. The Finnish Kalevala myth came to Mariana’s mind, because Iku Turso in this instant truly resembled some kind of ancient sea monster like his namesake in the epic: sometimes depicted as a horned creature, sometimes a sea serpent, sometimes octopus-like, but always, always deadly.

The translucent robot sank to the bottom gently.

Iku turned to Mariana. “What are you waiting for?”

She wasn’t checking her Tau; she was checking Hector.

He was alive.

But even without glancing at his computer, Mariana knew he wasn’t going to make it. His suit was inflating visibly, and he started ascending. His face was constricted with pain. He was still conscious, and very much aware that this was just a brief period before certain death.

I’m so sorry, she thought.

“He was electroshocked,” Iku said on the transceiver. “Invisible robot creeps near you, pierces your skin with electrodes, shocks you, and doesn’t threaten nearby devices. Didn’t know they were in use already.”

Sizzling rage got ahold of Mariana. Hector was dying, and Iku was reciting his knowledge of the damn robot that killed him!

“What do we do?” she somehow made her voice sound measured.

“We continue our work.”

“No!”

“Yesss,” Hector hissed through the pain. His gaze met with Mariana’s. They were almost mask to mask. The eerie glow of the underwater servers made his face appear ghostlike. She was looking at it, and so didn’t see him pull a knife from his belt and cut at his own drysuit.

The inflation stopped, and then reversed. Mariana took a split-second to realize what he’d done. The stupid fool! He flooded his own suit to stop it from inflating. He’d never be able to ascend, even if he got rid of all the weights at once, and he’d get hypothermic in the matter of minutes.

“I’ll take care of it,” he managed to say. “You get out. They . . . seem to know.”

“Continue data transfer while you can,” Iku instructed him, and signaled to Mariana to follow him. She lingered for a second, put her mask to Hector’s and turned off her transceiver for a moment. Only then did she realize she had absolutely no idea what to say.

He solved it for her. “Goodbye, sweet girl,” he struggled to speak, but somehow he managed for the words to sound soft. “Go.”

Iku was circling the center, and Mariana noticed he was planting something in semi-regular intervals. She swam to it.

Charges.

Iku waited for her at the far end of the datacenter and signaled to leave.

“Explain first!” she spoke regardless of knowing that Hector will likely hear it. He had the right to know.

“Destroying the center will set Augur back many months, if not years. Time for us to act.”

It made sense, she knew it. Just . . . leaving Hector behind, even if the best he could hope in otherwise would be surviving the hypoxia or a stroke after rapid ascent, if they could somehow get him out of his suit and share their air with him . . . No. Hector Hodges was gone and knew it very well.

“What did you really want to gain from this?!” she said.

Iku’s lips moved as if in silent prayer. His face, illuminated by the datacenter’s glow, looked inhuman, almost demonic.

“What anyone wants,” he whispered. “Freedom.”


“Who do you think our Iku really is?” Hector had said back during their ride home.

“What do you mean?”

“The equipment he got us, his knowledge of the facility . . . I think he’s a frogman.”

“Ours, or someone else’s?”

Hector laughed quietly. “That’s what I’m wondering too.”

“He could just be Augur’s. Don’t they have their own frogmen? Military-grade stuff?”

“I guess so. I even heard some rumors about . . . enhanced soldiers. But I’d think they watch theirs more carefully.”

“Like they watch you?” Mariana raised a brow.

Hector seemed unperturbed. “That’s different. I’m unimportant.”

Mariana didn’t question that; they both were. Was Iku too?

“Someone has to clean the facility,” she spoke finally. “Biofouling can be a problem after less than a year down below. Not speaking of tech maintenance.”

“Iku isn’t an IT crowd guy.”

“I never said he was. He could have posed as one.”

“I dunno.” Hector shrugged. “Something seems . . . off about him to me. Can’t explain it.”

Mariana snorted, but it was just a facade; in fact, she felt the same about Iku.

“There must be a lot of people outside our scope of abilities,” Hector continued. “Not just the H+ nerds who implant magnets into their fingers and bloody Fitbits under the skin. I mean gene-modded people, or laced, or fitted with optogenetic circuits, enhanced senses, strength . . . Don’t you think someone must have tried that already?”

“Perhaps,” she said evasively. She didn’t like to think of how she only saw the surface layer of the world, and how much might be going on underneath, concealed by Augur and others like them. It led to paranoid thinking, and she saw enough of that in her mother to know that she wanted to avoid that at any cost.

She was glad when Hector changed the topic and resumed flirting with her.


“Freedom?” she said once they were nearing the aquamesh. “From what?”

Iku didn’t answer. She could think of a thousand options, but recalled her conversation with Hector back in the car all too vividly. But maybe she just felt guilty about Hector.

They began making another hole in the mesh; the first site was likely compromised.

“From my creators and controllers,” Iku spoke suddenly. “Everyone will know now.”

She wanted to ask more, but then there was light.

Something pushed her aside—no, someone, it was Iku—and after that she was pushed into the bottom with considerable force.

“Go—” she heard Iku, but his voice was cut out.

Silt was everywhere.

And then all was darkness.


“Where are the bones, the relics, of the brave and the timid, the good and the bad, the parent, the child, the wife, the husband, the brother, the sister, the lover, which have been tossed and scattered and buried by the washing, wasting, wandering sea?”


. . . and they dug tunnels in the silt and mud, bore into the bottom like worms. Blind, constrained, deaf but for the sound of their breath.

She soothed herself with this image from the past.

As a child, Mariana had loved stories of her underwater heroes. Cousteau and his diving saucer sub. Franzén and his men, excavating the Vasa from her infamous grave in the Stockholm harbor. In the decades after she sank in 1628, pioneer divers submerged into the 32-m depth in bells filled with air to excavate some of the treasures the ship had carried. Then, she lay forgotten and silt buried her, until amateur marine archeologist Franzén found her again. To un-sink the ship, they had to dig tunnels beneath her to secure her, and tow her into the harbor.

Mariana remembered the story now, as she clawed her way desperately through the silty bottom. She didn’t know how long she’d been out, since she had no way to look at her dive computer, but hopefully she only lost consciousness for a few seconds. She couldn’t have been buried deep, nothing could do that; but was she trying in the right direction? Fear almost got ahold of her.

Finally, she felt little resistance.

She emerged from a silt grave into pitch dark waters.

“Iku?” she tried.

Only silence answered her.

She assessed the damage. Her torch was lost, her rebreather got damaged, her trimix would soon run out, and she was still lucid enough to realize she was hypothermic. Her computer was broken, and she lost track of time.

So she did the only thing she could: started ascending as fast as she dared.


Another bright flash of lightning somewhere above. The lone chub, normally a river fish, was swimming desperately in this unwelcoming strange place. Mariana just floated with current. She started feeling strangely elated. Hypoxia? Or just cold? she could still guess.

A flash revealed a school of sardines gazing at her with a thousand little eyes.

Big brother watches you, she mused. Even here. Did we change anything?

Lightning—and the briefest of glimpses of a dreadful shape. The strange mask and suit . . .

Frogman. Augur’s. Who else?

They were fast, or perhaps there were more secrets she knew nothing about . . . She realized she ought to feel dread, fear, panic. But she was just cold and tired.

Maybe they didn’t win. But they didn’t exactly lose, either.

A series of lightning bolts. The ominous figure, strobing toward her like in a stop-motion movie. And behind it—

Iku-Turso, son of Old-age, ocean monster, Mariana recalled dreamily the verses she’d looked up in the library.

In the murky ocean, illuminated only by lightnings further away now, she watched the strange battle unfold like a magic lantern projection. How beautiful, her mind marveled. Years ago, she’d seen the black jellyfish. It was huge, unearthly, menacing, infinitely elegant. Mariana had almost forgotten to breathe. Dread had seized her. She had only been wearing a spring suit, and the thought of the giant jellyfish stinging her had almost paralyzed her. But her sense of wonder had eventually won. She’d been captivated by the alien motion of the creature and its colors—a whole palette of purple, green, black, scarlet, and more colors as the light changed. It didn’t look like an animal at all.

Neither did those two struggling monsters look human.

Who are you, Iku? Mariana mused.

Suddenly, the dark waters turned even darker, as if ink had spilled in the sea. She realized it was blood.

The remaining figure swam closer to her.

“Thank you,” she heard in her transceiver, and that was it. “Now we’re even.”

Later, hard to say how much, she suddenly felt sand beneath her fins, and the next wave threw her ashore. There was no one else.

Mariana gasped and tore off her mask. She hungrily took in a breath of fresh cold air. Then she looked at the raging skies and around the shore, where she saw no artificial lights. She had no idea where she was.

She’d get rid of the suit. She would start walking. She’d try to make it somewhere dry without collapsing. If anyone asked, she’d make some excuse of getting lost in the storm, and give a fake name. Only then would she go online, if possible, and try to find out what they did.

Perhaps, just perhaps, she just emerged on the shore of a different world.


Author’s note: The quotations come from “Poetry and Mystery of The Sea,” as referred to by Edward Howland in “Ocean’s Story; or Triumphs of Thirty Centuries” (1873).





Obliteration


Robert Reed

A lot of people preferred this Mars to all the others.

This was the Mars wearing a cobalt blue sea in the north and towering redwood forests across its wilderness south. Ancient volcanoes had been re-plumbed and reinvigorated, helping maintain a deep warm sweetly-scented atmosphere. This was a tourist destination famous for its open-air cities, for flying naked, and for the billion human-stock citizens leading fascinating lives. And best of all, this Mars was a paradise within an arm’s lazy reach, and always free.

Kleave didn’t know much about the real Red Planet. Just that it was cold and dead on the outside, but infested with bugs underground. Only the Unified Space Agencies had access, and they sent nothing up there but sterile robots. But as a public service, Agency researchers built a faithful model of what was real, using off-the-shelf AIs and a fraction of their annual budget to build a virtual seed planted inside servers somewhere in the depths of the Atlantic. Ten thousand years of inspired terraforming were crossed in a week, and the results were opened for everyone to enjoy: A public playground and an advertisement for scientific inquiry, as well as one of the densest simulations in existence. Only the Disney-Burroughs Mars was as sophisticated, and that park was far too expensive for a man living on investments and a public stipend. Kleave had visited the D-B just once, and that adventure was still being paid off a little more every month.

The public Mars had a famously lovely coastline. Lying inside his in nubibus, Kleave felt as if he was facing the warm surf while lying naked on hot butterscotch-colored sand. Full of peppered shrimp and a vodka Collins, the young man was happy and ignorant. There was absolutely no inkling of disaster. Doobie was in charge of the lunch menu, and his long-term partner had just stepped out of her in nubibus, needing to pee and check on the oatmeal cookies. And that happened to be when a mature jelly-island decided to breach on the horizon. Always interesting, the creature began to spit flares while it inflated and deflated its gigantic body, proving its magnificence while driving waves at the red shoreline below. That was a scene worth watching. But then a pair of native humans approached. Tall, tall people with albatross wings growing from those broad Martians’ backs, they were a gorgeous couple singing with opera voices. Something intriguing was sure to happen. Should he call Doobie back from the apartment? No, Kleave just stared with shameless, re-woven eyes. Every pixel was supposed to be committed to memory. In a world of easy tricks, this was about the easiest. Kleave watched the girl catch her boy in midair, her body curling around his and then pulling both of them into the impossibly warm surf. A romantic embrace ended with the Martians emerging, laughing as they shook those white feathers dry, and then the lad began to chase the girl, first with long, graceful strides, and then both in the air again, musical giggles merging with the soughing of slow magnificent waves.

The lovers vanished and the jelly-island submerged again, but then the promised cookies arrived, warm and moist, familiar hands slipping them inside Kleave’s in nubibus.

Doobie appeared beside him, spectacularly naked. “What did I miss?”

“Quite a lot,” he promised.

Yet the world’s simplest trick refused to cooperate. Kleave first tried to summon the strangers coupling in the water, then tried to bring back the giant cnidaria quivering under the silvery-blue air. Yet neither memory file seemed to exist.

“What are you doing wrong?”

That was Doobie’s first reaction.

“I’m doing nothing wrong,” said Kleave. Then he failed to summon up half a dozen random events. The terror grew until his heart pounded, and that’s when Kleave finally tried to bring back the evening when he first took this glorious woman to bed. An event which he remembered very well on his own. But even that eternal file was gone.

“That’s crazy,” Doobie said.

Kleave wanted to agree with her.

“You’ve done something wrong,” she kept insisting.

Which implied that he could do something right and fix this.

“Fix it,” she said.

That’s what Kleave intended to do, for sure. But where to begin? Eleven years of a thoroughly recorded life had been lost, and the beautiful, disagreeable woman beside him seemed like a stranger.


“Three archives,” said the wizard. “That’s the common standard.”

“And that’s what I did.”

“Two technologies, two languages.”

“Yes, and yes.”

“With one archive kept off-site.”

Kleave couldn’t remember where that “on-site” storage was, but he was confident about his “off-site” archive. “I’ve got a second null-drive at my sister’s apartment.”

“And your sister lives underground?”

“Sure. In an abandoned gold mine, sure.”

The wizard stared at him, humorless as stone.

“Okay, I’m kidding,” Kleave said. “But the drive is sitting safe inside a lockbox, and I should be able to access it now. Right?”

Scorn filled that older face. Was this was a real man running diffusion software, talking to multiple clients, or a single AI designed to make unfortunate souls feel even more miserable than they already were?

“I know what you’re thinking,” Kleave said.

“What? That idiots deserve their fates?”

Only humans could be that dickish. “Yeah, well. Just try and help me figure out my fate. Would you please?”

A shiny probe appeared. Kleave’s face was interesting, then his neck. The hunt ended with a spot behind the right ear.

“Now I remember,” Kleave said. “It was implanted in college, when I upgraded from . . . what? Did I have an Intel archive before this?”

“How the hell would I know?”

Yeah. Definitely a human male.

“Okay, I see the problem,” the wizard said. “Judging by the damage, it looks like a fat daughter hit you.”

“Fat daughter?”

“Born from an ultra-high-energy mother particle. That big gal struck the upper atmosphere, triggering a rain of particles. I’m guessing your sister lives nearby.”

“It’s a long walk.”

“Of course those daughters aren’t as energetic as the original. But one of them definitely found you inside your apartment, and in the same thousandth of a second, one of her sisters struck your precious lockbox too.”

“God, that sounds so unlikely.”

“Disasters are always unlikely. That’s why nobody seems ready for them.”

Except “disasters” were other people’s problems. This was a catastrophe. Struggling for hope, Kleave said, “Maybe something else went wrong.”

The wizard didn’t call him, “Idiot.” Except with those narrowed eyes and that smug, silent mouth. “Well, that’s a thought. But null-drives are extraordinarily reliable, and a ‘failure’ signal in one drive triggers its twin into disaster mode. Fifty milliseconds. That’s all you need for the full library to be replicated and partitioned, then rapidly off-loaded.”

“Off-loaded where?”

“I’ll assume that your sister has neighbors. Well, in this case every adjacent null-drive absorbs a little piece of your library. That’s the standard protocol, years old and proven. You would have heard alarms announcing the event, and I’d see the data begging to be noticed now.”

Kleave was listening, and he wasn’t listening. He was mostly focused on his anger and misery as well as the profound embarrassment. And this very unpleasant wizard and his technology were very impressive. Except Kleave didn’t want to feel impressed just now. Pissed seemed like the perfect state of mind. “Okay, the backup drive failed. Two daughters struck my archives at the same time. But what about my second backup? I’m wearing a DNA chip that’s nearly new.”

A different tool appeared, blunt and dark. It quickly dropped to his hip, settling on the left side.

“I see one Amber Forever Repository, last year’s model.”

“That’s when I bought it.” Kleave didn’t remember the cost, but vivid wet-memories reminded him about the monthly payment. “It’s a state-of-the-art masterpiece. That’s what my research said.”

“The Amber Forever is basically good. But there was an enzyme update three months after it reached the market.”

“I did that update.”

“Did you?”

“Sure.” Kleave was aiming for confidence. He wanted to put an end to this professional disgust. But he was also suffering a faint recollection, something about a little chore going unfinished. “Okay, let’s say the update wasn’t done or done properly. What does that mean for me?”

“When the null-drive in your skull fails, the Amber Forever should prepare for a retrieval of its inventory. But the original enzymatic matrix had a flaw. Without that critical update, there’s a one-in-seventeen chance that the DNA self-wipes itself.”

“And why the hell would it?”

“That’s standard protection for encrypted files. Popular with intelligence agencies and media empires.”

“I’m neither of those things.”

“But that is what the Amber Forever was. Before the commercial models were released, it was the archive that could never be beaten.”

“I feel beaten,” Kleave said.

“‘Obliteration.’ That’s the industry’s term for this business.”

There was no way to calculate this awful luck. A single particle coming from outside the galaxy had burned out two innocent null-drives, and after that happened, an array of DNA washed away everything that it had ever learned. Kleave wanted to hit something. Not the wizard, since he might take offense. But attacking one of the walls seemed reasonable. The virtual office offered fake shelves full of photographs that must mean something to its owner. Kleave could throw every portrait to the floor and then stomp them under his feet. That seemed halfway suitable, pretending to destroy another man’s invincible memories.

And thoroughly stupid too. With a defeated sigh, Kleave asked, “So what do you advise?”

The wizard sat up and offered a suddenly eager smile. “Standard procedure would be for you to remove the null-drive from your neck and grab its mate from its box. With available methods, and patience, I should be able to recover . . .” There was a pause. Technical aspects were in play, but the client’s pain as well as his bank accounts needed to be weighed too. “Twelve, maybe fourteen percent of your files would be retrieved. But a random sampling, with acceptable degradation of sensory quality.”

“Acceptable degradation” sounded like an eight percent recovery. That’s how techno-juggling worked. Kleave decided to abuse the virtual floor, stomping hard, delivering a much-welcomed dose of pain to the soles of his feet.

“Of course I can borrow from other people’s archives,” the wizard continued. “Friends and family will be easy enough, and sometimes you come across useful strangers. The goal is to harvest enough data and build a convincing likeness of your life experiences. Which will always be other people’s experiences, except for the realigned perspective.”

“That sounds expensive,” Kleave said.

The man didn’t disagree. Better to shrug with resignation, then tell the client, “I’m old. I was alive when memory was weak and people took snapshots to help us remember. But the pictures were simple and aged badly or got tossed out by mistake. So we threw slightly better photographs up on the cloud. But then came the Hacks of ’29 and the advent of cheap, nearly infinite private storage. That’s the history. That’s why memory is weaker now than ever. Nobody remembers shit. We don’t have to. Everything that happens is clean and pressed, eagerly waiting for us, and we don’t know what to do without it.”

“And you think the cost would be worthwhile?”

“To me, recovery would be priceless.”

“Except you won’t ever have my troubles. Will you? I bet you have more than three archives.”

A big smile, a slow nod. “Six of them, and four languages. And three null-drives are secured inside deep vaults, on separate continents.”

Kleave gave the floor another hard kick.

Which the wizard noticed. But Kleave’s misfortune deserved a warm little smile. What mattered now was to make the sale, and that’s why he leaned forward. “But really, you aren’t a careless fool. You’re not like the usual cases that I see. What happened to you . . . well, it’s remarkably rare, and in so many ways.”

“Others suffer like this?”

“The Obliteration of Everything. It happens all the time. Usually when a single old and badly maintained archive fails.”

And that’s when Kleave detected the faint beginnings of something that wasn’t pleasurable, no. But suddenly this situation wasn’t as lonely or quite as horrible as it once seemed.


Doobie was a woman of appetites and ideas and loud, blunt enthusiasms. She could be lovely and she was always physically impressive, but when his partner was sick, she became radiant. Illness was an event worth experiencing. Something about a good fever made Doobie more vivid, and Kleave secretly looked forward to the days when he had to serve as a tireless nurse to this complaining beast.

But Kleave’s illnesses and mishaps were never as well-received.

“You didn’t take care of your archives,” Doobie told him.

“I did what I could, and I thought it was enough,” he said.

“That enzyme update,” she said. “Did you or didn’t you do the mandatory update?”

With nothing but his soggy brain in play, Kleave couldn’t remember anything with certainty. But “I don’t know” seemed dangerous. Instead, I redirected the conversation by saying, “You should have been with me. To ask questions and punch the walls for me.”

“And that would have helped how?” Doobie always found excuses when her roommate visited a physician, AI or otherwise. And apparently it was the same for tech-wizards. “No, I’m too angry to sit. Too furious to ask questions. We’re together all these years, and now, because of all these little catastrophes, you’ve lost everything that we’ve ever shared.”

Doobie used to be flat-chested and then she was a buxom lady, but now she was back to the original shape. And those were just a few of the changes with a topography that was never quite happy with itself. Yet every version of Doobie had lived inside archives that Kleave trusted as much as his next deep breath. An infinitely complex apparition had lived inside his null-drives—a wondrous lady that shared the world with him all the way back to college. For years, they remained stubbornly unaware of each other’s existence. But re-woven eyes meant that every glance was recorded, and auditory sinks meant that every overheard word was real. Doobie was the big and pretty girl on the track-and-field team who threw the shot farther than any other woman. And Kleave? The handsome if rather shy boy who looked at his future partner exactly 156 times before finally noticing her wonders.

They went to the public Mars on their fifth date. They were already lovers, and that particular day didn’t offer any special fun. But worlds were the same as people. Sometimes it took 156 inadequate glances before you noticed what was precious. Or sometimes it took seven visits and staring into the throat of a reborn volcano, and then the two of you emerged ready to stop dating other people, at least for the time being.

That’s the promise Kleave made to Doobie and to himself. Though she was never as enthusiastic towards monogamy. They often shared archives, and sometimes he caught glimpses of other sexual adventures. Of course digital records had another spectacular power: The unwelcome and unseemly could be purged. A jealous-minded lover could make those bad minutes go away. Except Kleave never did make that effort. The way he looked at it, his partner was a world of flesh recorded in staggering detail, and he would never throw away anything that was Doobie. Each touch and the smell of her breath was waiting to be remembered, and even the flavor of his sweat mixed with hers. Kleave always wanted those joys close. Just as he never wanted to stop hearing that strong lady who was never ashamed to speak her mind.

“Well,” said Doobie. “Regardless of blame, you’ll of course get this problem fixed.”

Kleave stared at his roommate. This woman. Her hair was short, the clothes casual, bare toes digging into the stones resting beside a Martian river, cool water charging down a new canyon, making for the cobalt sea.

“It’s expensive,” he began.

“And I know that,” she interrupted. Except her knowledge didn’t push very far into the finances. She didn’t sit in the wizard’s office, and she didn’t show the slightest interest in liability law or Kleave’s financial resources. And she absolutely hadn’t put in the hours that he had spent researching this business of Obliteration. Which was perfectly named, and as he had learned, far more common than he would have guessed yesterday.

“Just pulling what remains from the two null-drives,” he said. “That would cost more than ten days on Disney-Burroughs.”

On that Mars, Doobie played the powerful princess.

But this woman, the one standing before him, wasn’t a princess. And this Doobie wasn’t the splendid force of nature that he loved. That idea arrived suddenly, entirely by surprise, and then it refused to let him go.

“Well, someone should pay for this,” the stranger said.

“Like who?” Kleave asked.

“The companies that built these awful drives. They should be happy to replace everything that failed.”

“The Amber Drive is under warranty,” he mentioned. “I’m entitled to a new, updated model.”

But then Doobie found a larger target. “A government that cares for its citizens, that educates us and treasures us . . . that sort of government should protect our pasts too. With a shared repository, or something else along those lines.”

Kleave didn’t see how any of these words helped.

“You’re awfully quiet,” she said.

He agreed with silence.

Then the original, most urgent question returned. “So how did you let this happen?”

Obviously this woman was a stranger. Kleave’s Doobie was eleven years of vivid existence, while this was just a thin slice of one mostly unknown existence. Her name didn’t matter. Kleave stared at the short hair and brown face and the anger that seemed quite familiar, but without the help of the archives ready to blunt the bad moments, offering up treasured moments and perfect long days.

“Why won’t you answer me?”

Kleave didn’t particularly like this woman.

“What are you thinking?” the stranger asked.

“That I can’t afford to do anything about anything,” he said. “Except outfit myself with new archives. And since your equipment isn’t any better than mine, we need to give you more backups too.”

“But I didn’t lose anything,” she said.

What did that mean?

“My in nubibus and yours are always side-by-side,” she said. “But did any of my archives die?”

“Radioactive daughters are tiny.”

“I know that.”

“This was just stupid bad luck,” he said.

A heavy, doubtful sigh.

“Or did I have a plan? Is that what you’re thinking?”

“No.” That idea sounded spectacularly paranoid, even in her ugly mood. “Where would such an idea even come from?”

“Because this was nothing but an accident,” Kleave said. At least those were the words that came out of him. Except his voice felt wrong, as if he was nothing but the bottle carrying the expected sentence.

She became the silent one now.

“I need to leave,” he said.

This Doobie shifted her weight. “Okay. Sure.” Staring at the pathetic man was painful. Kleave had lost every second that they had ever shared, and it took all of her grace to say a few obvious words. “You’re off to get some new archives. Right?”

That plan was set. He had addresses written on paper, yes. But Kleave said, “No. First I’m going to go to my sister’s and collect the other dead null-drive.”

The old Doobie had always feuded with Kleave’s sister.

This Doobie seemed much the same. “Fine. You do that.”

“Do you want to come with me?”

“No.” Then she thought about it, hard. And again, she said, “No.”

And for the first time in days, Kleave physically left their home. The apartment was no bigger than a space capsule bound for another world. Outdoors, the world turned huge. Pausing on a street corner, Kleave contemplated the idea that he could go anywhere and do almost anything, and no record of his adventures would be baked into some useless slab of Forever Amber.


Full names weren’t offered. That’s what Kleave noticed first. Just a single name and some people shook hands while others didn’t, depending on a lot of factors, including the quality of their in nubibus. Kleave couldn’t grasp anyone’s hand. He was inside an old cheap and very public machine, which meant that he could smell the dozens of strangers who had used it already that day. The experience wasn’t as awful as he would have guessed, but this was an experience that he wouldn’t happily do again either.

“Hello there, Kleave,” an older woman said. “And by the way. You have our permission to smile.”

He smiled at the smiling group.

And in a chorus, they shouted, “Hello, Kleave.”

OBLITERATED BY CHOICE. That was the official name for an organization dedicated to living without the modern burdens. At least that was the stated purpose in the literature that came up high in every search into Obliteration. This meeting was one of eighty currently happening, and he selected it for no reason but the location. This was the well-loved Mars. And in particular, a couple dozen believers had gathered east of Hellas, inside the damp redwood forest where ferns grew taller by the minute and enhanced gibbons rode gigantic tame eagles, hunting for tourists that would throw them baubles, or better, gold coins.

Kleave and Doobie had talked about coming to this district. And now he was here, as without her as he could be.

The gray lady seemed to be the group’s leader. “And what brings you to us today, Kleave?”

Being with strangers meant freedom, and even better, Kleave loved being unable to remember even a few of their names. Honesty. That was a quality that he often avoided with people who recorded everything. In that spirit, the new man surrendered a quick description of his day, centering on the major failures of proven technologies.

Some people were impressed, but most preferred superstition. The leader in particular. “Well, obviously, the gods have steered you to us,” she said. “You should take this wonderful day as a clear, unimpeachable sign.”

All right. That wasn’t the expected response. But again, Kleave felt free to tell them, “There aren’t any gods. The galaxy turns on its own.”

That won giggles from several faces, and from the high branches, laughing gibbons.

“Bad luck is nothing but bad luck,” he told everyone.

Then one man said, “Yet you haven’t replaced your archives. Have you?”

“Not yet, no.”

“Gods or not, you seem ready for a different course.”

Testimonies. Suddenly everyone had to share earnest tales about how good life was without re-woven eyes and terabytes of absorption. Several of these passionate, possibly crazed believers came close enough to grab hold of him, then couldn’t because his in nubibus was that awful. But their faces were pushing too close to his face, and although different people kept talking, all the same words were being said.

“The old, proven memories.”

“So much better than null-sinks.”

“And so much cheaper too.”

Then he posed what seemed like a reasonable, obvious question. “How do others react to your beliefs?”

“Badly.” Everyone said so, in every possible way, and there was no greater pleasure to be found. They boasted about being dismissed as outcasts, deviants, and moderately insane, or much worse than that. But the believers knew better. “We know best,” they sang. Life without archives meant trusting a brain that did spectacular things for millions of years. These ancient neurons were forgetful and lovely because of it. Memory should be just like the brain it inhabited, soft and malleable. Parts of yesterday and most of last year were lost, but that was a very good thing. Ordinary life deserved to be discarded. All that mattered were the impressive and shocking days, and those very pleasurable moments that stood tall and bright inside the dreary gray of normal existence.

Without question, their enthusiasm for ignorance was impressive. They had mastered a logic that arrived with force. Kleave found himself believing everything just long enough to surprise himself. But then the doubter inside him would take charge, and he’d have to squelch a laugh and a hard shake of the head. Ten minutes of passionate noise, and he still didn’t know which side of the line to choose.

Then someone wiggled a fingertip camera, naming the model while bragging about its cheapness and its terribly tiny memory. “So you can’t catch more than a few special scenes,” she said. “Nothing more than that.”

But that was too much. Others became angry enough to curse, while their leader tried to staunch what was plainly an old political fight. “Now we’ve agreed to disagree, and let’s focus back on Kleave.”

But then one fellow stepped forward, and almost everyone else groaned. Which he appreciated. Scorn brought energy, and he couldn’t keep his voice from shouting when he stated his own vision of life without mental aids.

“I don’t accept written words,” he stated.

“What can that mean?” asked Kleave. “You don’t read or write?”

“And I don’t know how to do either.”

How could anyone be illiterate? That seemed too bizarre.

Then the old lady succeeded in touching the new recruit. Just for an instant, Kleave felt the pressure of fingers, and with a threadbare patience, she reported, “Our Lauren had his brain worked with. Supposedly, he can’t do more than recognize letters and some of their sounds.”

“Supposedly” was the most important word in that account.

“We don’t believe him,” a younger woman admitted.

But that only encouraged the true believer. Looking and sounding like everyone else, except for the specific words that he used, Lauren stood tall while he explained, “I live without artificial tricks or aids from any time in the last ten thousand years. And that’s why I’m the only pure one here.”

And that’s when a great fight broke out.

Nobody noticed when the newcomer, whatever his name, managed to slip off into the emerald ferns. Kleave walked until he couldn’t hear any human. A gibbon and her eagle landed on the path before him, both begging for gold, and because nothing was real here, he gave them what they wanted badly—a digital bauble that one swallowed whole, keeping it safe in the belly.

He walked a little farther into the Martian wilderness.

But as happens sometimes when a cheap in nubibus pushes against the limits of any data-drawn world, the ferns grew yellowy pale and the ground softened until every step landed on pillows, and the deep sky beyond the redwoods forgot which blue it should be.


Doobie was sitting on the floor of the tiny apartment, tired of crying but not angry enough to stand when Kleave finally came home.

“You didn’t go to your sister’s,” she began.

They owned two chairs, and he took the nearest one. It was the chair that Doobie preferred, and she didn’t seem to notice.

“I got worried,” she said. “So worried that when you didn’t come home, I called that awful woman. Why does your sister hate me so much?”

“You were rude to her,” he said.

“When?”

“I don’t remember,” he said. “But she does. It was the day when you two met, and you said some unkind words about . . . well, it doesn’t matter what you said. The point is, she’s never let those ten seconds get lost.”

Doobie was sick with misery. How wonderful!

“So you called my sister, but she hadn’t seen me. Is that right?”

“I thought you might be leaving me,” Doobie said.

“I considered it.”

“And maybe you’ve come back for your belongings?”

“Maybe I haven’t decided yet.”

That broad body stiffened, and then hopelessness won. The old athlete seemed to turn to paste, soft and ready to flow. The weakest voice of her life said, “I won’t fight you. If you want to go.”

Kleave abandoned the chair for the grimy floor. The two of them sat with legs crossed, facing not so much each other as the third corner in a tidy triangle. Looking at that empty space, he said, “I went to Mars with strangers and learned a lot.”

“Good for you.”

“Then I finally walked to my sister’s. Which wasn’t long after you called her, by the way.”

Staring at the same bit of air, Doobie said nothing.

“Like I planned, I was going to retrieve the other broken null-drive.”

“I am sorry,” said Doobie.

And then, “I know what I said. When we met, I told your sister she was too pretty to ever ever ever be unhappy about anything.”

“She didn’t like those words.”

“I guess not.”

“Anyway.” A moment passed into another several moments, nothing memorable in the bunch. And then Kleave dropped a little piece of machinery on the dirty rug between them.

“What’s that?”

“An old Intel archive,” he said. “My archive, once. I found it in the lockbox with my irradiated archive. I’d forgotten I put it there, or that it existed anywhere. And do you know what, Doobie?”

“No. What?”

“Because it was so easy to do, I plugged this old model into my new archive. One connection. That’s all it took. And for the last eleven years, it’s been backing up my null-drive, a terabyte at a time.”

“Eleven years?”

“Yes.”

She stared at him, hope buried under all the fear of being too hopeful. “Was there room in the old drive for that much time?”

“Just barely.”

“So now you can get your memories back?” she asked.

To which Kleave said, “I never lost my memories, darling. Just a big world made up of tiny, tiny days.”





Umbernight


Carolyn Ives Gilman

There is a note from my great-grandmother in the book on my worktable, they tell me. I haven’t opened it. Up to now I have been too angry at her whole generation, those brave colonists who settled on Dust and left us here to pay the price. But lately, I have begun to feel a little disloyal—not to her, but to my companions on the journey that brought me the book, and gave me the choice whether to read it or not. What, exactly, am I rejecting here—the past or the future?


It was autumn—a long, slow season on Dust. It wasn’t my first autumn, but I’d been too young to appreciate it the first time. I was coming back from a long ramble to the north, with the Make Do Mountains on my right and the great horizon of the Endless Plain to my left. I could not live without the horizon. It puts everything in perspective. It is my soul’s home.

Sorry, I’m not trying to be offensive.

As I said, it was autumn. All of life was seeding, and the air was scented with lost chances and never agains. In our region of Dust, most of the land vegetation is of the dry, bristly sort, with the largest trees barely taller than I am, huddling in the shade of cliffs. But the plants were putting on their party best before Umbernight: big, white blooms on the bad-dog bushes and patches of bitterberries painting the arroyos orange. I knew I was coming home when a black fly bit me. Some of the organisms we brought have managed to survive: insects, weeds, lichen. They spread a little every time I’m gone. It’s not a big victory, but it’s something.

The dogs started barking when I came into the yard in front of Feynman Habitat with my faithful buggy tagging along behind me. The dogs never remember me at first, and always take fright at sight of Bucky. A door opened and Namja looked out. “Michiko’s back!” she shouted, and pretty soon there was a mob of people pouring out of the fortified cave entrance. It seemed as if half of them were shorter than my knees. They stared at me as if I were an apparition, and no wonder: my skin was burned dark from the UV except around my eyes where I wear goggles, and my hair and eyebrows had turned white. I must have looked like Grandmother Winter.

“Quite a crop of children you raised while I was gone,” I said to Namja. I couldn’t match the toddlers to the babies I had left.

“Yes,” she said. “Times are changing.”

I didn’t know what she meant by that, but I would find out.

Everyone wanted to help me unpack the buggy, so I supervised. I let them take most of the sample cases to the labs, but I wouldn’t let anyone touch the topographical information. That would be my winter project. I was looking forward to a good hibernate, snug in a warm cave, while I worked on my map of Dust.

The cargo doors rumbled open and I ordered Bucky to park inside, next to his smaller siblings, the utility vehicles. The children loved seeing him obey, as they always do; Bucky has an alternate career as playground equipment when he’s not with me. I hefted my pack and followed the crowd inside.

There is always a festive atmosphere when I first get back. Everyone crowds around telling me news and asking where I went and what I saw. This time they presented me with the latest project of the food committee: an authentic glass of beer. I think it’s an acquired taste, but I acted impressed.

We had a big, celebratory dinner in the refectory. As a treat, they grilled fillets of chickens and fish, now plentiful enough to eat. The youngsters like it, but I’ve never been able to get used to meat. Afterwards, when the parents had taken the children away, a group of adults gathered around my table to talk. By then, I had noticed a change: my own generation had become the old-timers, and the young adults were taking an interest in what was going on. Members of the governing committee were conspicuously absent.

“Don’t get too comfortable,” Haakon said to me in a low tone.

“What do you mean?” I said.

Everyone exchanged a look. It was Namja who finally explained. “The third cargo capsule from the homeworld is going to land at Newton’s Eye in about 650 hours.”

“But . . .” I stopped when I saw they didn’t need me to tell them the problem. The timing couldn’t have been worse. Umbernight was just around the corner. Much as we needed that cargo, getting to it would be a gamble with death.

I remember how my mother explained Umbernight to me as a child. “There’s a bad star in the sky, Michiko. We didn’t know it was there at first because there’s a shroud covering it. But sometimes, in winter, the shroud pulls back and we can see its light. Then we have to go inside, or we would die.”

After that, I had nightmares in which I looked up at the sky and there was the face of a corpse hanging there, covered with a shroud. I would watch in terror as the veil would slowly draw aside, revealing rotted flesh and putrid gray jelly eyes, glowing with a deadly unlight that killed everything it touched.

I didn’t know anything then about planetary nebulae or stars that emit in the UV and X-ray spectrum. I didn’t know we lived in a double-star system, circling a perfectly normal G-class star with a very strange, remote companion. I had learned all that by the time I was an adolescent and Umber finally rose in our sky. I never disputed why I had to spend my youth cooped up in the cave habitat trying to make things run. They told me then, “You’ll be all grown up with kids of your own before Umber comes again.” Not true. All grown up, that part was right. No kids.

A dog was nudging my knee under the table, and I kneaded her velvet ears. I was glad the pro-dog faction had won the Great Dog Debate, when the colony had split on whether to reconstitute dogs from frozen embryos. You feel much more human with dogs around. “So what’s the plan?” I asked.

As if in answer, the tall, stooped figure of Anselm Thune came into the refectory and headed toward our table. We all fell silent. “The Committee wants to see you, Mick,” he said.

There are committees for every conceivable thing in Feynman, but when someone says “the Committee,” capital C, it means the governing committee. It’s elected, but the same people have dominated it for years, because no one wants to put up with the drama that would result from voting them out. Just the mention of it put me in a bad mood.

I followed Anselm into the meeting room where the five Committee members were sitting around a table. The only spare seat was opposite Chairman Colby, so I took it. He has the pale skin of a lifelong cave dweller, and thin white hair fringing his bald head.

“Did you find anything useful?” he asked as soon as I sat down. He’s always thought my roving is a waste of time because none of my samples have produced anything useful to the colony. All I ever brought back was more evidence of how unsuited this planet is for human habitation.

I shrugged. “We’ll have to see what the lab says about my biosamples. I found a real pretty geothermal region.”

He grimaced at the word “pretty,” which was why I’d used it. He was an orthodox rationalist, and considered aesthetics to be a gateway drug to superstition. “You’ll fit in well with these gullible young animists we’re raising,” he said. “You and your fairy-tales.”

I was too tired to argue. “You wanted something?” I said.

Anselm said, “Do you know how to get to Newton’s Eye?”

“Of course I do.”

“How long does it take?”

“On foot, about 200 hours. Allow a little more for the buggy, say 220.”

I could see them calculating: there and back, 440 hours, plus some time to unload the cargo capsule and pack, say 450. Was there enough time?

I knew myself how long the nights were getting. Dust is sharply tilted, and at our latitude, its slow days vary from ten hours of dark and ninety hours of light in the summer to the opposite in winter. We were past the equinox; the nights were over sixty hours long, what we call N60. Umber already rose about midnight; you could get a sunburn before dawn. But most of its radiation didn’t reach us yet because of the cloud of dust, gas, and ionized particles surrounding it. At least, that’s our theory about what is concealing the star.

“I don’t suppose the astronomers have any predictions when the shroud will part?” I said.

That set Colby off. “Shroud, my ass. That’s a backsliding anti-rationalist term. Pretty soon you’re going to have people talking about gods and visions, summoning spirits, and rejecting science.”

“It’s just a metaphor, Colby,” I said.

“I’m trying to prevent us from regressing into savagery! Half of these youngsters are already wearing amulets and praying to idols.”

Once again, Anselm intervened. “There is inherent unpredictability about the star’s planetary nebula,” he said. “The first time, the gap appeared at N64.” That is, when night was 64 hours long. “The second time it didn’t come till N70.”

“We’re close to N64 now,” I said.

“Thank you for telling us,” Colby said with bitter sarcasm.

I shrugged and got up to leave. Before I reached the door Anselm said, “You’d better start getting your vehicle in order. If we do this, you’ll be setting out in about 400 hours.”

“Just me?” I said incredulously.

“You and whoever we decide to send.”

“The suicide team?”

“You’ve always been a bad influence on morale,” Colby said.

“I’m just calculating odds like a good rationalist,” I replied. Since I really didn’t want to hear his answer to that, I left. All I wanted then was a hot bath and about twenty hours of sleep.


That was my first mistake. I should have put my foot down right then. They probably wouldn’t have tried it without me.

But the habitat was alive with enthusiasm for fetching the cargo. Already, more people had volunteered than we could send. The main reason was eagerness to find out what our ancestors had sent us. You could barely walk down the hall without someone stopping you to speculate about it. Some wanted seeds and frozen embryos, electronic components, or medical devices. Others wanted rare minerals, smelting equipment, better water filtration. Or something utterly unexpected, some miracle technology to ease our starved existence.

It was the third and last cargo capsule our ancestors had sent by solar sail when they themselves had set out for Dust in a faster ship. Without the first two capsules, the colony would have been wiped out during the first winter, when Umber revealed itself. As it was, only two thirds of them perished. The survivors moved to the cave habitat and set about rebuilding a semblance of civilization. We weathered the second winter better here at Feynman. Now that the third winter was upon us, people were hoping for some actual comfort, some margin between us and annihilation.

But the capsule was preprogrammed to drop at the original landing site, long since abandoned. It might have been possible to reprogram it, but no one wanted to try calculating a different landing trajectory and sending it by our glitch-prone communication system. The other option, the wise and cautious one, was to let the capsule land and just leave it sitting at Newton’s Eye until spring. But we are the descendants of people who set out for a new planet without thoroughly checking it out. Wisdom? Caution? Not in our DNA.

All right, that’s a little harsh. They said they underestimated the danger from Umber because it was hidden behind our sun as well as its shroud when they were making observations from the home planet. And they did pay for their mistake.

I spent the next ten hours unpacking, playing with the dogs, and hanging out in the kitchen. I didn’t see much evidence of pagan drumming in the halls, so I asked Namja what bee had crawled up Colby’s ass. Her eyes rolled eloquently in response. “Come here,” she said.

She led me into the warren of bedrooms where married couples slept and pulled out a bin from under her bed—the only space any of us has for storing private belongings. She dug under a concealing pile of clothes and pulled out a broken tile with a colorful design on the back side—a landscape, I realized as I studied it. A painting of Dust.

“My granddaughter Marigold did it,” Namja said in a whisper.

What the younger generation had discovered was not superstition, but art.

For two generations, all our effort, all our creativity, had gone into improving the odds of survival. Art took materials, energy, and time we didn’t have to spare. But that, I learned, was not why Colby and the governing committee disapproved of it.

“They think it’s a betrayal of our guiding principle,” Namja said.

“Rationalism, you mean?”

She nodded. Rationalism—that universal ethic for which our parents came here, leaving behind a planet that had splintered into a thousand warring sects and belief systems. They were high-minded people, our settler ancestors. When they couldn’t convince the world they were correct, they decided to leave it and found a new one based on science and reason. And it turned out to be Dust.

Now, two generations later, Colby and the governing committee were trying to beat back irrationality.

“They lectured us about wearing jewelry,” Namja said.

“Why?”

“It might inflame sexual instincts,” she said ironically.

“Having a body does that,” I said.

“Not if you’re Colby, I guess. They also passed a resolution against figurines.”

“That was their idea of a problem?”

“They were afraid people would use them as fetishes.”

It got worse. Music and dance were now deemed to have shamanistic origins. Even reciting poetry aloud could start people on the slippery slope to prayer groups and worship.

“No wonder everyone wants to go to Newton’s Eye,” I said.


We held a meeting to decide what to do. We always have meetings, because the essence of rationality is that it needs to be contested. Also because people don’t want responsibility for making a decision.

About 200 people crammed into the refectory—everyone old enough to understand the issue. We no longer had a room big enough for all, a sure sign we were outgrowing our habitat.

From the way the governing committee explained the options, it was clear that they favored the most cautious one—to do nothing at all, and leave the cargo to be fetched by whoever would be around in spring. I could sense disaffection from the left side of the room, where a cohort of young adults stood together. When Colby stopped talking, a lean, intellectual-looking young man named Anatoly spoke up for the youth party.

“What would our ancestors think of us if we let a chance like this slip by?”

Colby gave him a venomous look that told me this was not the first time Anatoly had stood up to authority. “They would think we were behaving rationally,” he said.

“It’s not rational to sit cowering in our cave, afraid of the planet we came to live on,” Anatoly argued. “This cargo could revolutionize our lives. With new resources and technologies, we could expand in the spring, branch out and found satellite communities.”

Watching the Committee, I could tell that this was precisely what they feared. New settlements meant new leaders—perhaps ones like Anatoly, willing to challenge what the old leaders stood for.

“Right now, it’s a waste of our resources,” Anselm said. “We need to focus everything we have on preparing for Umbernight.”

“It’s a waste of resources not to go,” Anatoly countered. “You have a precious resource right here.” He gestured at the group behind him. “People ready and willing to go now. By spring, we’ll all be too old.”

“Believe it or not, we don’t want to waste you either,” said Gwen, a third member of the Committee—although Colby looked like he would have gladly wasted Anatoly without a second thought.

“We’re willing to take the chance,” Anatoly said. “We belong here, on this planet. We need to embrace it, dangers and all. We are more prepared now than ever before. Our scientists have invented X-ray shielding fabric, and coldsuits for temperature extremes. We’ll never be more ready.”

“Well, thank you for your input,” Anselm said. “Anyone else?”

The debate continued, but all the important arguments had been made. I slipped out the back and went to visit Bucky, as if he would have an opinion. “They may end up sending us after all,” I told him in the quiet of his garage. “If only to be rid of the troublemakers.”


The great announcement came about twenty hours later. The Committee had decided to roll the dice and authorize the expedition. They posted the list of six names on bulletin boards all over the habitat. I learned of it when I saw a cluster of people around one, reading. As I came up behind them, D’Sharma exclaimed emotionally, “Oh, this is just plain cruel.” Someone saw me, and D’Sharma turned around. “Mick, you’ve got to bring them all back, you hear?” Then she burst into tears.

I read the list then, but it didn’t explain D’Sharma’s reaction. Anatoly was on it, not surprisingly—but in what seemed like a deliberate snub, he was not to be the leader. That distinction went to a young man named Amal. The rest were all younger generation; I’d known them in passing as kids and adolescents, but I had been gone too much to see them much as adults.

“It’s a mix of expendables and rising stars,” Namja explained to me later in private. “Anatoly, Seabird, and Davern are all people they’re willing to sacrifice, for different reasons. Amal and Edie—well, choosing them shows that the Committee actually wants the expedition to succeed. But we’d all hate to lose them.”

I didn’t need to ask where I fit in. As far as the Committee was concerned, I was in the expendable category.

My first impression of the others came when I was flat on my back underneath Bucky, converting him to run on bottled propane. Brisk footsteps entered the garage and two practical boots came to a halt. “Mick?” a woman’s voice said.

“Under here,” I answered.

She got down on all fours to look under the vehicle. Sideways, I saw a sunny face with close-cropped, dark brown hair. “Hi,” she said, “I’m Edie.”

“I know,” I said.

“I want to talk,” she said.

“We’re talking.”

“I mean face to face.”

We were face to face, more or less, but I supposed she meant upright, so I slid out from under, wiping my oily hands on a rag. We looked at each other across Bucky’s back.

“We’re going to have a meeting to plan out the trip to Newton’s Eye,” she said.

“Okay.” I had already been planning out the trip for a couple work cycles. It’s what I do, plan trips, but normally just for myself.

“Mick, we’re going to be counting on you a lot,” she said seriously. “You’re the only one who’s ever been to Newton’s Eye, and the only one who’s ever seen a winter. The rest of us have lots of enthusiasm, but you’ve got the experience.”

I was impressed by her realism, and—I confess it—a little bit flattered. No one ever credits me with useful knowledge. I had been prepared to cope with a flock of arrogant, ignorant kids. Edie was none of those things.

“Can you bring a map to the meeting? It would help us to know where we’re going.”

My heart warm