“It’s not a real baby,” Jain says flatly. “And we should kill it.” Another sunless morning in the Waste. She and Stromile have woken up to a gift: a canister of pepto-pink fluid with an infant inside it. The tiny figure is chubby and squirmy and perfect, and it’s only now that Stromile finally takes his eyes off the thing. “Kill it?” he echoes, rubbing his finger in the hollow of his collarbone. “You serious?” “Serious, yeah.” Jain nods her head at the canister. “This is them fucking with us, babe.”
It began just like a fairy tale; an orphaned young woman pricked her finger on the thorn of a rose, and fell asleep. She had always loved to be outdoors, and so the job she had as gardener at one of the stately, ancient yalis along the shore of the Bosporus was perfect for her. The mansion looked out over the waters of the strait from the Asian side, where it widens to meet the Black Sea, just north of the border of Istanbul Protectorate. It was an investment owned by an Emirati family who was hardly ever there.
In the last decades of the Terrestrial Age, when humanity had figured out how to leave the planet of their birth but not quite why they’d want to bother, the majority of the world’s wealth was concentrated in the hands of very few. This was not, in and of itself, remarkable: this pattern had repeated, over and over again, throughout human history.
The boyo working the transmitter doesn’t look like much, except his face is radiant. Radiant, like one of those pooka upworld adverts for neural templates. Dopamine-druggy, but lucid. Like he’s in love. Boyo also looks like he hasn’t spoken to a human in days, and like aside from the food allotments he doesn’t have a lick of capital. His clothes have that washed-while-wearing look, and they’re homespun; no fancy imported fabrics or styles. You’d walk away from this jondo in the market.
The bazaar on the moon that wandered Transitional Space did not meet Kestre sa Elaya’s exacting requirements for a safe transaction. In years past, as the duelist prime of House Elaya, she would have journeyed with an honor guard to the much-feted Gray Manse. Her meeting would have involved liquors imported from the Flower Worlds and delectable canapés and candies, some of which she would pocket to give to her nieces when she returned home.
I have experienced some tastes of my afterlife as a crustacean. In it, I am one of many, on a beach with purple sand abutting a sea that could be water but might be some other liquid entirely, beneath stars that seem larger and brighter than any I see in the night sky now. The effect is very alien, but I have no idea whether the place really looks that strange, because I am looking at it with the eyes of a creature not human, which may be seeing it in spectra my human self cannot measure.
Before she became a hermit, Asa –π had been a managing director with JP Morgan Credit Suisse on Valentina Station, Venus. She would, of course, find this description small-minded and obtuse. “Call a woman a financial engineer or a man an agricultural systems analyst, and the world thinks they know something about them,” she wrote. “But what does the job a person has been channeled into have to do with who they are?” Nonetheless, I will tell you that she was responsible for United Planet’s public offering thirty years ago.
Only when Marlo and her mother have followed the attendants through the faux-marble foyer and into the room filled with diffusers and soft jazz and laid down on the massage tables covered in crisp, clean-smelling sheets; only when someone has placed a cool gel pack over Marlo’s eyes and set something against her skin that starts kneading, a familiar, needling motion that ignites a distant spark of recognition within her; only then does Marlo understand where her mother has taken her. She pushes back her eye mask and sits up.
I hate when I have a call in Inglewood. It’s still the 1990s in Inglewood, and for all I know, people still care about Madonna. Los Angeles County has a forty-bed psych facility there. Arrowhead looks like a nursing home: a long one-story building with a wide wheelchair ramp and glass doors and overly bright, easy-to-clean floors. I stop at the reception desk and check in. “Rosni Gupta,” I say. “I’m here to do an evaluation.” The young man at the desk catches his bottom lip in his teeth and nods.
For as long as I can remember, I have always been two people. My earliest recollection is of myself as a three year-old boy, Danny—and at the same time as a girl of the same age, Cristina. Another early memory is of playing in the rubble of the bomb-ravaged streets of London, when I asked a little boy, “Who will you be tomorrow?” He looked at me as if I were mad. I took it for granted that everyone I met, everyone in the world, was two people like me.