Science Fiction & Fantasy

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Fiction

Giant Steps

Hear those engines roar / rumbling
Feel those fires burn
Blasting off / blasting off / blasting off / blasting off
Step back.
Hear those engines roar / rumbling
Feel those fires burn
Bear the cross / bear the cross / bear the cross / bear the cross

The Blue Marble is shrinking; as Orion II lifts off, ripping from the grasping tentacles of Earth’s gravity, the world gets smaller, smaller, a blot on the cosmic sheet of infinite blackness, which closes in like a camera iris in a classic film’s final shot.

Picture the planet’s surface, where the wonders of the old world buckle at the top of the hour under the weight of new wars; where down below, all those little people fall to their knees, desperate voices crying, crying out to their deity-du-jour for deliverance. There is no answer. Prayers unheard, wishes ungranted, for they’ve made their bed and now liars must lie.

But not Dr. Jenkins.

Strapped in this single-person spacecraft, plugged into tubes for food, water and waste, the thirty-three-year-old astrophysicist from South Carolina and soon-to-be first-ever human to step foot on Titan never felt freer in her life. As the Richard Strauss tone poem, “Also sprach Zarathustra,” rises in her ears, like the sun in her eyes, Dr. Charlene Jenkins turns away from her homeworld, never minding who she left behind. A long ride ahead—five years, two months, give or take—with gravity assists from Venus and Jupiter flinging Orion II like a slingshot to the destination. She hates that word, destination. Too close to destiny. Too far from reality.

“You cain’t defy you and I, baby, this some destiny-level shit here,” Dave used to say before he got clean, before Trane was born, before Gramma passed. Was that destiny too? Or did Gramma refuse to take her “med’sin”?

It’s choice, not chance, that defines who we are, where we end up.

Or down.

Or 1.2 billion kilometers away on Saturn’s largest moon, which may or may not be inhabited by giants, depending on who you ask.

“I don’t believe in giants,” Dr. Jenkins was quoted as saying by the Honolulu Star-Advertiser.

Not giants. Not the Nephilim. Definitely not the banduns Gramma used to tell stories about back in the day. No, she didn’t believe in that nonsense. Not anymore.

The same can’t be said for the world at large; a lonely world of blind believers, who see what they want to see. Take, for instance, the leaked images from NASA’s Jet Propulsion Laboratory in Pasadena, California, which captured the public imagination—and common sense. Were these the lost 350 photographs from the Cassini-Huygens mission? The European Space Agency, on the record, said not a chance. But denial only added fuel to the viral wildfire as the mysterious pictures spread to all corners of the globe:

What looked to be “giant footprints” on Titan, on the northwest shoreline of Ligeia Mare, a hydrocarbon lake larger than Lake Superior. Twenty-four prints total, in a single-file pattern; each one sixty centimeters long, twenty wide, three deep, according to various imaging teams. These “footprints” could’ve been impact craters, land erosion, shadows from methane clouds. But cold, hard facts don’t solidify in the minds of the masses, Homo ignoramuses, sheep in people’s clothing who’d rather believe in Goliath than science.

“People lie to themselves,” she told the reporter.

But not Dr. Jenkins.

She quit playing those mind games long ago, smart enough to know the human brain looks for patterns, seeks them out religiously, to deny the claustrophobia of utter insignificance. But who wants to hear that?

Definitely not the thousands of so-called “printers” who saw her quote online and flooded public eye-feeds with their own from Genesis 6:4—“There were giants in the earth in those days; and also after that, when the sons of God came in unto the daughters of men, and they bare children to them, the same became mighty men which were of old, men of renown”; who shared links to news stories about massive footprints discovered in China, Bolivia, and South Africa; who signed off messages with the sincerest of valedictions:

– Still don’t believe in giants? Suck my giant dick.

– Stick to picking cotton, tar baby bitch!!

– DIE SPACE MONKEY

She’s heard worse, seen worse, reflected in the green eyes of strangers and coworkers, men and women, those who resent her for making rapid strides against all odds.

“Initiating hypersleep,” says Rigel, Orion II’s sentient computer.

Silent shaming rings the loudest. A look here, a look there, a look away. Ironed-on, Made-in-America smiles that say, You’re not supposed to be here.

“Don’t you go believing all that she she talk,” she hears Gramma’s words echoing now, like rolling thunder, as she drifts into hypersleep. “The Lawd got you here for a reason.”

She sees Gramma now, coming into focus, reclining on the porch of her saddlebag house in Fairfield County, humming “Way Beyawn’ duh Moon” with a pop-up choir of crickets. Gramma was what southerners called “a force of nature,” mythic in style and stature with the head of a queen and heart of a bull, spilling stories for days. Dr. Charlene Jenkins—back when she was just “Leenie”—was raised on these stories; homegrown hand-me-downs from her great-grandmother and her great-grandmother, coming from the Lowcountry, namely St. Helena Island—a near-casualty of climate change that became one of the first UNESCO Bubble Cities.

“Leenie, come’yuh, lemme get them knockers out your head,” Gramma would call out from her porch on those muggy summer days. Between Gramma’s knees, Leenie fidgeted, feeling those rough hands pulling her pigtails and stretching her kinky hair like she always did to train it against shrinkage.

“Gramma, could you tell me about the banduns again?”

“If you keep still,” Gramma said, bouncing her right leg, which used to be for dancing, but now had a strange habit of losing feeling. She was tired all the time, too. But she could talk from sunup to sundown about her kin: the Gullah-Geechee people, descendants of enslaved Africans who survived and thrived for centuries on the Sea Islands of South Carolina and Georgia. How back in the day, after the praise meeting, they would gather round to take part in the legendary ring shout.

A songster kicked things off, call-and-response style; a stickman played the beat, slow at first, then faster, faster; as the joyful congregation moved in a circle, hand-clapping, feet-tapping, shouting and shuffling, dancing on the devil till he begged for sweet mercy, Gramma would say.

“But every now and again,” she said, looking around, then leaning forward to make sure no one else could hear, “some sanctified body would step in that ring there, wailing, flailing all furious-like. And lo and behold, that man, filled with the spirit, would up and start growing.”

“Growing like a beanstalk?” Leenie asked every time.

“Child, bigguh than a beanstalk. Bigguh than anything in this whole world. Hold this.” She handed Leenie her blue knockers. “Just kept growing and growing till they was big enough to reach for the clouds, then climb up to the sky and gone ’way.”

“Gone where?”

Gramma lifted a hand to the heavens. “Off into the big black yonder.”

Sitting there on the porch, Leenie cupped the knockers in her palm. Staring into the little blue orb, she pictured a far-away world. A land of banduns. A place where she might, for once in her life, feel free and feel big and feel like she belongs. Or find her mother.

“Put them knockers in the box ’fore you lose them,” Gramma said.

She did as she was told and tucked her small world in a container with the other worlds. And it was these stories of free Black giants that inspired Leenie to learn all she could about the “big black yonder.” In the process, she learned a bigger truth: Gramma, too, was a liar.

At the heart of every belief is a lie. A stretched truth. Facts distorted like the space inside a wormhole. Vows made to be broken. Like when somebody promises to return and never does. This, she learned, was the real world, so she did what disillusioned optimists do: Leenie grew up.

Never again would she fall victim to faith, be betrayed by hope, or led astray by love. Which is why, outside the Mount Wilson Observatory, when Dave popped the question . . .

. . . she popped him on the head. “What are you thinking?!”

“I’m thinking it’s high time you and I settle down for real for real, do the family thing.”

“Dave . . . I can’t do that. I told you I don’t want to be a wife, I don’t want kids.”

“What kinda woman don’t want kids?”

“My kind,” she said, closing the ring box and the conversation.

It wasn’t him. Not all him. Somewhat him, but not all. He was a good man. Not educated in the conventional sense, not extremely ambitious, but a laid-back, lighthearted type of man. The type who knew to ask how she wanted to be touched and where, and allowed himself to be shown.

There he goes now, up on stage in the spotlight, wailing, while she’s down in the shadows, clapping. But this is no ring shout. This was the night they met in New York at some underground jazz club with Dave on the sax. She watched his cheeks puff up, a man possessed. And, being a scientist-in-training, she wanted to test out a hypothesis: that a player who could maneuver his fingers and fix his lips to make that instrument scream could do the same to hers. No strings, just a release. She initiated, he obliged. For seven years he obliged, tuning her body between the sheets. But as she moved up in status, he fell back on old habits.

An old habit, like history, repeats itself. What goes around comes around like a satellite. A record. Needles dropping. Heroin and insulin. Dave and Gramma, injecting and rejecting shots, respectively. Two peas in the wrong pods. Putting faith in false gods.

“Baby, that’s all in the past,” Dave told her the first week of his twelve-step program. And by the sixth week, he figured he could replace his defunct jazz band with a wedding band.

But what is marriage if not another drug? A lifelong dependence on a manmade substance that ultimately leads to abuse?

She’d heard that song time and time again. Lamentations of belittled women. Givers of life beaten down, swallowed whole by the vacuum of the fragile male ego. Born-to-be brides. Born-again wives. Ever-shrinking women with self-deflating voices who were raised to submit (from the Latin submittere: “to yield, lower, let down, put under, reduce”), to keep silent and to take up as little space as possible.

But not Dr. Jenkins.

She is not the one. She wouldn’t follow in the fading footsteps of those who walk down the aisle and wind up getting walked over. Didn’t matter how magical his fingers felt on the nape of her neck, how musical his lips felt massaging the length of her labia. She refused to sacrifice her identity on the altar of intimacy. She rejected a ring on her finger to see the rings of Saturn because life is too short to live in the land of make-believe.

“Wake up, Dr. Jenkins,” Rigel says.

And roused from hypersleep, she sees before her “The Ringed Planet,” grander and more glorious than she ever imagined, a swirling pastel ball with bands of clouds running around it. But how is this possible? Reading her confused expression, Rigel declares: “We are now approaching Saturn. Destination: Titan.”

She unstraps herself.

“It is advised that you remain strapped in, Dr. Jenkins.”

No. Something’s not right here. Why does the computer show a flight time of only four years, one month and seventeen days? Is she seeing things?

“Rigel,” she says, her voice like gravel, “how long has it been since the launch?”

“This is the forty-seventh day of the fourth year,” Rigel confirms. “The Jupiter assist gave us a bigger boost than—”

Right then, an alarm goes off as the spacecraft’s autopilot tries to maneuver through tiny particles running from or being sucked into the delicate, narrow outer band of Saturn’s F ring, herded by the shepherd-moon Prometheus. Stray pieces batter the composite shell of Orion II like sleet.

“A change of course is advised,” Rigel says.

“No, no, stay on current trajectory.”

“Dr. Jenkins, at this rate, you won’t be able to sustain—”

“Stay on course, I said!”

Keeping her eyes dead ahead, the AR interface labels the various satellites in view and right there, like a ripe Carolina peach bobbing in a deep, dark sea, the big, bright moon draws her nearer, as the warning alarm keeps ringing in her ears.

“‘Giant Steps!’” Dave shouted the day he saw the viral Titan photos.

This was last fall in the living room of their downsized apartment in Berkeley. Dave was bouncing baby Trane on his right leg, a twelve-month-old girl with curious wide brown eyes, as Dr. Jenkins stood over them, projecting a hologram of images from her palmtab.

“No, Dave, these . . . these aren’t footprints.” She sighed. “I mean, they could be anything: impact craters, land erosion, shadows from methane clouds—”

“Nah,” he said. “You not hearing me. See this right here? Look at this. See that pattern? Yeah, I’d recognize those opening chords anywhere. That’s Trane.” He tickled the baby girl. “That’s you, huh? Huh, little star?”

Dr. Jenkins knew legendary jazz saxophonist John Coltrane was his idol, his influence, the namesake of their newborn. But he was taking this too far. Was he using again?

“Charlene.” He set the girl down on the self-cleaning carpet. “Don’t look at me like that.”

“I’m not looking at you like anything.”

He walked out, leaving Dr. Jenkins alone with the baby. She’d only held her a few times since giving birth. Now she watched the little girl lift herself to stand and start sort-of-walking. But she kept falling back, then smirking up like she’d get in trouble for trying to defy gravity.

Gramma wasn’t walking either by then. She was on bed rest, post-amputation.

“The Lawd ain’t through with little ol’ me,” she proclaimed on more than one occasion. “I’ll be back on my feet in no time, you watch.”

Which Dr. Jenkins determined was a lie for three reasons:

1) “The Lawd” isn’t real.

2) Gramma didn’t have feet, plural. Diabetes hijacked her right foot. She had one left.

3) By the time she did leave that bed, she had to be carried out, never to tell a story again.

“Check this out here,” Dave said, coming back into the living room with sheets of paper. “You’ll appreciate this. I’m finna blow your mind right here. You know what this is?”

Before she could answer, he explained: It was a diagram of Coltrane’s Tone Circle, a variation of the classic “Circle of Fifths” with a pentagram and vanishing point in the middle. “Been listening to these jazz and physics audiobooks, right?” he said. “And this Coltrane circle, it’s drawing on the same geometric principles your boy Einstein was working with. Quantum theory, mathematics, relativity—all that heavy-duty scientific shit you went to school for.”

“Dave, what does this have to do with anything?”

“I’m saying, it’s all connected, everything’s connected.” He set the palmtab next to the diagram on the legless LeviTable and ran over to stop the little girl from climbing up the stairs. “Trane was out of this world, we know that. Straight-up transcendent. But I always thought to myself: What if that cat was, you know, channeling? Like possessed?”

She stifled a laugh to spare his feelings. “You can’t be serious.”

“Why not though? The way he improvised? Go listen to Ascension and Interstellar Space. Listen to Om and tell me I’m lying.” He lifted the little girl’s arms to help her walk. “What if, tucked under those ‘sheets of sound,’ Trane was tryna tell us the truth?”

“And what truth would that be, my dear? Aliens?”

“Could be. Or a warning. Instructions on how to be free, hell, I don’t know,” he said. “You the big, bad scientist.”

Never copulate with a conspiracy theorist. An obscure scientific law she learned too late. She never told Dave about the banduns. The man believed everything he heard, never bothering to fact-check. In this day and age, you can’t afford not to fact-check. Dr. Jenkins volunteered to fly 1.2 billion kilometers just to fact-check.

“Brace for impact,” Rigel says.

A massive chunk of ice comes out of nowhere, slamming into Orion II like a fist. Knocking the craft off its trajectory. Dr. Jenkins, her heart pounding, looks around to find Titan, but the AR interface has shut off.

“Return to course,” she commands.

“Shields down to seventy-five percent,” Rigel says. “Life support systems damaged.”

“Return to course, return to course, go to Titan!”

“Navigation offline.”

“You ain’t told him?” Gramma asked from her hospital bed and soon-to-be deathbed. “That man’s the father of your child, for crying out loud!”

“He didn’t tell me he was planning to get hooked on smack. How come he gets to do what he wants when he wants and I can’t?”

“That’s a cross you gotsta bear.”

“But that’s not . . . look, it was his idea. He wanted to have a baby. Now I need to do what I need to do for me. I don’t wanna be one of those kind of women—”

“What women is that, huh?”

“Never mind.”

“Oh no, no, don’t get all hush-mouthed now. What kind of women? You don’t wanna be like me is what you saying. Tell the truth, shame the devil.”

“Gramma . . . I have big dreams.”

“And what? You think I didn’t?”

“You’ve lived in that same house since before I was born, weaving sweetgrass baskets, whipping up some Frogmore Stew, humming your spurrituals. You always said you wanted to get out of Carolina and dance on a big stage, and you could have. You really could have, but you never did. And now you’re refusing to get a bionic foot.”

“First off, don’t worry ’bout my foot. And second, best believe I chose to be here. Everybody and they mama got to migrating, up and over to the big cities, fooling theyselves thinking they could outrun racism. But I wasn’t fixing to leave my people like that. No ma’am, not me. I stayed my Black behind right here so I could raise you and this the thanks I get?”

“Gramma, this isn’t about you. This is about me. I want to explore.”

“’Clare to Gawd. So what, you think you Neil Armstrong? Hopscotching ’round the heavens like ain’t nothing better to do? ‘You wanna explore.’ Shuh. How ’bout you go explore being a mother? That’s some uncharted territory for that ass.”

“I’m not supposed to be here.”

“Oh. I’m sorry. Are you the Creator of the Universe? Didn’t think so. So who is you to say where you s’posed to be, huh?” Gramma sighs, then scoots over in bed and pats the mattress. “Leenie, come’yuh. Come sit.”

Dr. Jenkins shakes her head, staring at her single foot wiggling under the white sheets.

“Child, I know you scared. Seeing me all shriveled up like this, with one foot literally in the grave. Thinking ’bout Dave and his crookety self. You worried you’ll be left to raise that child by your lonesome, I understand that—”

“The only thing I’m scared of is looking back on my life and realizing I was too scared to live. You raised me, Gramma. By yourself. You’re the one who taught me to think bigger.”

“Bigguh don’t mean running from your motherly duties.”

“I’m not running, I’m trying to grow!”

And as she said this, it dawned on her: Of the countless times Gramma sat on that porch, telling the story of the banduns, she never ever described these free Black giants as women. Leenie never pictured them as women. Never even thought to ask if any of them were women. The same way most people assume “Dr. Jenkins” is a man.

“I want to grow, Gramma. Like the banduns.”

Gramma shook her head, chuckling to herself. “You so smart, huh? ‘Like the banduns.’ You even know why they was called banduns?”

Silence. Dr. Jenkins never thought to ask that question either.

“Means abandon,” Gramma said. “As in: Your mother abandoned you to quote-unquote find herself and what happened? She fell off a cliff in them Himalayas.”

More silence.

The space between them filled by the ever-expanding agony of unforgotten grief.

Dr. Jenkins wanted to say something. Something like “I’m not her” or “She only went out there to escape from that monster she married.” These words wouldn’t matter to Gramma.

“Know what your problem is, Leenie? Got your head all swell-up with facts and figures, only believing what you can see and prove, but child,” she tapped her ear, “you not listening.”

“Listening to what?”

Gramma gestured as if to say, “My point exactly.” And passed away three months later. Two months after that Dr. Jenkins was boarding Orion II. Not depressed or guilty or ambivalent like one might expect. She was ready.

“Go to Titan now!” she commands again.

“Shields down to fifty percent,” Rigel says. “Navigation still offline.”

She plugs the coordinates to the target site into the computer manually: 78° N, 249° W. “Initiate emergency landing procedures!”

“Initiating emergency landing procedures.”

She was ready.

But right now, as the single-person spacecraft plummets toward Titan, she wonders if she made the biggest mistake of her life. Did she come on this mission to discover something? Or prove something? Maybe both. But why? Why this constant need to prove herself? Why couldn’t she escape the long shadow of feeling less-than? Inferior? The feeling that no matter how high she climbs in her career, she’ll always be looked down on, a speck of a speck of a speck in spacetime and the eyes of society. And that the slightest misstep will cause irreparable damage, not just to her life, but the lives of others like her.

Who can live in those conditions? Under that kind of pressure?

The nitrogen-rich tholin haze wouldn’t break her fall. The dense methane shroud of clouds wouldn’t break her fall. Nothing would break her fall, save the moon’s freezing surface. She pictures herself outside herself, like a methane droplet in a chemical downpour, falling, in a tragically slow descent toward the north polar region.

Falling . . .

“I want to make an impact,” she said. “Why can’t you understand that?”

“What I understand is, you going through a lot right now,” Dave said. This was the night after Gramma’s funeral, at Gramma’s house, as they were packing up Gramma’s belongings. “C’mon now, let’s be serious.”

Falling . . .

“I’m dead serious.”

“How you talking ’bout going to space and your grandma’s body not even cold yet?”

“This is my chance to do something that matters.”

Falling . . .

“Oh, so this don’t matter?” He moved his right hand in circles, like tracing an orbit, referring to him, her, and sleeping baby Trane. “We don’t matter?”

She was about to say, “That’s not what I meant,” but right then, her eyes caught something in one of Gramma’s sweetgrass baskets. It was the box. She snuck outside to peek at her childhood in private. On the porch, in the warm solitude of the starry night as male crickets called out for mates, she opened the box and inside, all those colorful knockers, all those small worlds were still clustered together, though much smaller than she remembered. With her thumb and index finger, she held the orange one up to the clear new moon sky.

Falling . . .

The screen door creaked open behind her. Dave stepped out, Trane resting on his chest. He kept silent for a moment, observing; and when he did speak, his voice trembled, his words drifting out on the wavering wings of a half-whisper.

“Listen, baby, I understand you wanna go exploring, see what else is out there . . . I know you hate being boxed in. You been saying that since day one.” He took a step forward, gazing up at the sky with her. “Now you tell me you wanna go to outer space to see if some moon can sustain human life. But here’s a human life right here,” he said, his long fingers on Trane’s spine, like how he used to hold his sax. “Ain’t she worth sustaining?”

The question echoes as if it came straight from the mouth of Ligeia Mare, which lies below her now, wide open and ready to devour Titan’s first human trespasser. In the seconds before splashdown, she watches Trane, growing up so fast, bigger and bigger by the day, walking, talking, asking questions, learning to read, about to turn five, losing her baby teeth, printing her first bot buddy, wanting her own space.

Her own space.

A little girl on the porch looking up at the stars.

“Where are you, Mommy?” she calls out into the big black yonder.

But this little girl isn’t Trane; it’s her, Dr. Jenkins, in stretched pigtails and bright knockers, a little girl who actually believed prayer could bring her battered mother back home.

“Ain’t she worth sustaining?”

That little girl, now grown, jolts as the damaged ship smacks belly-first into the still lake. She opens her eyes as Orion II converts into a hovercraft.

Floating.

“We’ve arrived on Titan, Dr. Jenkins,” Rigel says. “Connect to the bioport for me to check for any injuries you may have sustained.”

“Give me a second.” She breathes deeply, to slow her heart rate. Five-second inhale. Five-second exhale. “Do you hear something? Like a hum?”

“Systems currently in standby mode for damage assessment and repair protocols—”

“No, not . . . not in here,” she says. “I’m going out.”

“Dr. Jenkins, for your safety, it is advised that you first connect to the bioport for me to check for any injuries—”

“I’ll be right back.”

And moments later, she is outside the spacecraft, looking over the vast landscape that stretches out past the lake’s edge, where the subdued terrain then takes over, saturated in a hazy sepia tint, something out of a dream. A deathly cold dream. Negative 180 degrees Celsius cold. Her only shield against the elements, the smart skinsuit compressed to her body; a banged-up body with bruised muscles and potentially internal bleeding that would deter anybody else.

But not Dr. Jenkins.

Below her, Ligeia Mare is still once again, like a mysteriously murky sheet of glass. What unknown creatures could be lurking in the deep? How many invisible hands might reach out to touch her, grab her, pull her under?

She replaces those thoughts with thoughts of her mother. And jumps.

She knew the viscosity of liquid methane was about a tenth that of liquid water, but the airy feeling catches her aching body off guard. She struggles to make her way, less swimming than gliding, to the shallows of the northwest shore. Crawling out of the lake and onto the land.

The surface feels somewhat solid, not all the way stable, like slush. She looks around to get her bearings and when she does, she sees it—right there, right in front of her: the footprints. She drags her wounded self forward and puts her gloved hand in the first indentation, deeper than originally estimated. When she touches it, she hears that hum once again, a familiar voice, like rolling thunder, humming “Way Beyawn’ duh Moon,” the looping soundtrack to those muggy Carolina summers, the song that helped Gramma survive and thrive, like other songs did for so many before her, and led Dr. Jenkins to being inevitably here, now.

She clutches her belly, buckles over in utter agony, her helmet hitting the frosty ground. Thinking about Gramma and her stories. And Dave and his sax. How truth, like spacetime, is relative and the beliefs we hold onto, the beliefs that keep us alive cannot, consequently, be lies.

That thought gives her the strength to lift herself to stand and start sort-of-walking. But she falls down, not used to the gravity being fourteen percent what it is on Earth. She stands again and the atmospheric pressure pushes against her, which feels like walking in a swimming pool, but she staggers on. Following the marked path. One excruciating leap at a time. As she goes on, she discovers a different tune, a fact she can’t prove, but a truth that can’t be denied:

Dr. Charlene Jenkins does believe in giants. She was raised by one.

And as she comes to the end of the single-file footprints, she collapses on her knees and lifts her head, and the sight, suddenly, steals from her any semblance of speech, as if the same force beckoning the billions of rocks and ice and dust to bear witness to Saturn has seized the bulk of her words as well; and the sacred few she managed to salvage can be neither spoken nor swallowed, for they remain stuck in her throat, forming a lump as her eyes grow wider, wider, filling up with all the wonder in the world.

Hear those engines roar / rumbling
Feel those fires burn
Blasting off / blasting off / blasting off / blasting off
Step back.
Hear those engines roar / rumbling
Feel those fires burn
At a loss / at a loss / at a loss / at a loss

Russell Nichols

Russell Nichols is a speculative fiction writer and endangered journalist. Raised in Richmond, California, he gave up all his stuff and now lives out of a backpack with his wife, vagabonding around the world since 2011. Find his work in Fiyah, Apex Magazine, Terraform, Fireside Fiction, Strange Horizons, Lightspeed, and Nightmare Magazine’s POC Destroy Horror! special issue, and others. Look for him at russellnichols.com.