Kate took the hatbox to the dining room table, lifted the top, and removed the items: a glass brooch, a wood carving of a beaver, an empty perfume bottle, a blue silk scarf. It was the photograph she picked up: four by six, black and white, but well preserved beneath glossy finish. A man and woman stood in front of a small, red-bricked house—this house, but minus the coniferous shrubs and mature trees, it appeared different. Bleak almost, the coziness that had lured Kate and Shawn absent.
The derelict ship ward was in an isolated section of Outsider space, one of the numerous spots left blank on interstellar maps, no more or no less tantalising than its neighbouring quadrants. To most people, it would be just that: a boring part of a long journey to be avoided—skipped over by Mind-ships as they cut through deep space, passed around at low speeds by Outsider ships while their passengers slept in their hibernation cradles.
Tain held a pistol toward me. The black gel of the handle pulsed, waiting to be gripped. “Better take this,” she said. I shook my head. “I never use them.” We sat in an unmarked police cruiser, the steering wheel packed away in the dashboard. Tain’s face was a pale shimmer in the cool blue light of the car’s entertainment system. “Your file says you are weapons trained.” “Yeah,” I said, “I got one of those cannons at home, locked in my kitchen drawer.”
Gesta waddled through the lobby of the Charenton Hotel Mars, masking his revulsion as best he could. The whole place had that cheesy charm that humans had so adored. Mindless plants grew in containers here and there. A large excavation filled with water, a “swimming pool,” lapped gently at the edge of the registration slab, giving off a faint trace of chlorine. Not enough chlorine to intoxicate, but it did give the air a pleasant tang.
Welcome to the Medical Clinic at the Interplanetary Relay Station | Hours Since the Last Patient Death: 0
You take a shortcut through the hydroponics bay on your way to work, and notice that the tomato plants are covered in tiny crawling insects that look like miniature beetles. One of the insects skitters up your leg, so you reach down and brush it off. It bites your hand. The area around the bite turns purple and swollen. You run down a long metal hallway to the Medical Clinic, grateful for the artificially generated gravity that defies the laws of physics and yet is surprisingly common in fictional space stations.
At night, the hot zone was patched with drifts of soft pastel light. Violets and indigos; dark reds, translucent greens. Jellyfish genes for luminescence had been used as markers for tweaks in the first genetically modified organisms, and that tradition had been adopted by alife hackers. The colours were tags, territorial claims that pulsed and twinkled like spring blossom in an alien and verdant land.
The rock star washed ashore at high tide. Earlier in the day, Bay had seen something bobbing far out in the water. Remnant of a rowboat, perhaps, or something better. She waited until the tide ebbed, checked her traps and tidal pools among the rocks before walking toward the inlet where debris usually beached. All kinds of things washed up if Bay waited long enough.
September 15, 2006 : That autumn she’s back in Toronto, staying at her mom’s place, before deployment. At Queen’s Quay Terminal, her two girlfriends go inside to grab a coffee, to stave off the late afternoon chill. She stays outside to check in, but the phone at her mom’s rings four, five, six times, and she flips her phone closed before it goes to voice mail. There’s a soft crush of wind, and she hugs herself in her jacket. Time for that coffee.
At night she pores over the corpus catalogues online: Incorporated Incorporated, Modern Anatomy, and Shoulders, Knees, & Toes. She weighs the merits of femur length and belly fat, redundant kidneys, attached earlobes, and pronated feet. Most people buy pre-configured corpi with symmetrical faces and standard organ kits, but she wants a custom build. Something completely unique.
As soon as the recorded message pinged in her peripheral vision, she accepted and listened to the call on her cochlear implant. “Suzanne, I need to see you. It’s urgent. I . . . well, I’ll tell you when I see you. All my love.”