It’s the Day of Good Birds in the city of Um-Helat! The Day is a local custom, silly and random as so many local customs can be, and yet beautiful by the same token. It has little to do with birds—a fact about which locals cheerfully laugh, because that, too, is how local customs work. It is a day of fluttering and flight regardless, where pennants of brightly dyed silk plume forth from every window, and delicate drones of copperwire and featherglass—made for this day, and flown on no other!—waft and buzz on the wind.
I never had a sister. Okay, so I did have a sister. She just died before she was born. No one talked about her, because sometimes a family looks ahead and sees through a veil into another universe where tomorrow is a given. But then we end up not living in that reality, and it creates a terrible break in our brains. Her name was Sarah. My dad finally told me her name on the deep black road between Omaha and Chicago, on my return to college for junior year.
The rifle murmured into Wilson’s brain as he held it. It told him of its full load of guided, high-velocity, fire-and-forget armor-piercing rounds. It whispered of wind speeds and horizons, of lethal range and reload times, of firing lines and killing zones, of obstacles its smart bullets could arc around. He was the rifle, and it was him, a limb as familiar and intimate as his right arm, and more deadly by far.
Staring west at a blood-red sunset, Adam Fisk leans against the railing encircling the beer garden, willing his body to feel the alcohol. Usually he’s blunted by the third Manhattan, but tonight his tolerance foils him. All he wants is an empty mind, cool evening air, the susurrant drone of insects. But his every attempt to find contentment is just that, an attempt, an effort he feels, unnatural and doomed to fail. He wills his eyes to enjoy the beautiful hues of the sun-touched horizon.
She’d had a hard day. Earlier that morning she’d discovered that the game her company was developing, which was already months behind schedule for release, had a glitch somewhere in the code that caused the game to crash if the player character was equipped with diamond armor on the level with the meteors, and nobody could figure out why. It didn’t make any sense. It was a total nightmare. Anna, her boss, was mad at her for leaving dirty dishes in the kitchen again.
Hello Senator. Thank you for returning my call. I’m so glad to speak to you at last. Yes, I did say in my message that this is a matter of life-or-death. It is. Absolutely. Oh, no—you misunderstand, sir. It’s not your life that’s threatened. It’s the life of a child. The life of your unborn child, in fact. First, congratulations are in order. I understand that Julia Banks, your former intern, informed you that she is pregnant. I believe that was just over a month ago. She’s just entering the second trimester.
Water looks the same everywhere. It’s only the background, lighting, and impurities that differ. I peer at the silver-gray surface of Bimha’s pond, calm and still, undisturbed by wind. It’s deep and the bottom is a black abyss. Midday here is like dawn on Earth in the middle of the Kalahari. Light shines through the transparent panelling of the pressurised geodesic dome that prevents the water boiling straight into vapour. “This is where it happened,” VaMutasa says to me on the crackling open channel.
In one tiny part of one of the new bubbles emerging from the bubble that is our particular universe, there is a place and time where you might exist and I might exist where I have a daughter named Janine. Perhaps, in that tiny bubble, I may have been lucky with sports and found some success. As quarterback in high school, I’ll have converted to a tight end in college at the University of Minnesota, where I’ll bang heads and block like a demon, catching most of the passes they throw my way.
Ellis Neider met his soulmate. The End.
That’s his story. The rest is annotation. We would almost skip that part, were it not for the stone knowledge that any love story not about masturbation does require at least two characters. The object of his affection does deserve something approaching equal time. Ellis was a guy. Some men are guys, other men are dudes. Ellis was a guy. As a child, he was a little guy. As an adult, he was a bigger guy. Like most guys, he gave off the vibe that he knew the universe operated by a certain set of rules.
The runoff had broken the sandbags overnight; by the time Davis got to the office, somebody was skimming dead carp from the top of the pond. The rain was pissing down and the big nets must have been borrowed to shore up the sandbags, because the soldier was using a hand skimmer. Davis watched her sluicing the net hypnotically back and forth, piling up hundreds of bodies, scraping the oil off whenever it got too heavy to lift or too slippery to hang on to anything.