The year I turned five, my father got taken out by a giant robot. I was present and I took it very personally. You honestly don’t expect that kind of thing when you’re a kid, not even if you’ve seen the giant robot from a distance every day of your life and have been taught what random carnage the giant robot got up to. I had grown to that tender age knowing that the giant robot killed people at the rate of one a day.
O Mother, dear Mnemosyne! It is I, Anisah, fifteenth of my line! Here is my song. Long have I waited for this, the end of my first shift; at last I am a daughter grown old enough to sing. I have sat at my post—I have looked out my mirrored window—I have logged my report with the cousins who keep the histories. But for you, my mother, on my first night’s watch, I will confirm that, port and starboard, there is nothing out my window but the black and endless sea.
The kid was a cruise, you could see it in his eyes even if you’d never seen a single film made by his diminutive action star original. Something hungry flickered there; hungry and hunted. “He’s one of those kids,” you’d say, and depending on your own particular prejudices, you’d respond with disgust, lewd intrigue, inappropriate questions.
By the time Gil had stopped meditating and opened his eyes, Muu had already removed the body. Just yesterday he and Demi had walked the eighty-four flights of stairs down to the dusty city streets, and together he and Demi had strolled across the promenade of Usha Square under the tangerine light of the setting sun. The wind had whipped Demi’s long hair into a frenzy, and Gil had leaned forward to brush a lock away from his friend’s glowing eyes.
The shopping district was crowded on a Sunday afternoon, and Vivian Watanabe was out running errands with her sixteen-year-old, Cass. Together they wove through throngs of shoppers wearing customized skins or the generic default. Vivian wasn’t fond of Generics—they fell into that uncanny valley between a nondescript human and a silver android. Cold and impersonal, plus it was hard to keep track of who you’ve interacted with.
One of the Senators cleared her throat, turned on the microphone in front of her, and began. “Would you like to tell us when you first became aware of the phenomenon, Doctor? Perhaps that would be the best place to start. We can formulate our questions from there.” The hearing was not in the main Congressional building. It was in a building on another part of Capitol Hill, in a room overdue for remodeling, with drop-ceiling panels stained by leaking pipes. But the room, however humble, was crowded.
Harlan sat near the front of the room.
“Do you want to live free or die like a slave in this toy factory?” The drone hovered in front of RealBoy’s face, waiting for an answer, rotors chopping gouts of turbulence into the air. Its carapace was marbled silver and emerald blue, studded with highly reflective particles, giving it the look of a device designed for sparkle-crazed toddlers. Perhaps it was, or had been, before it injected malware into RealBoy’s mind and asked its question.
Listen. The world ended thirty seconds ago. You greet this whisper with incredulity. After all, here you are, living and breathing. The people around you are living and breathing. You might be drinking coffee in lying in bed trying to decide whether to get up. You are reminding yourself of all the little life tasks awaiting you, things that need to be taken care of in order for you to continue going about your day. Thoughts of the apocalypse are a thousand miles away. Lunacy, they seem.
Maybe her toes curl over the edge. The view is vertiginous. Maybe her gaze is tethered to something along the horizon, so that she steps forward, to reach for it, and plummets. Past analysts and technicians and international arbitrators and project financiers and insurance salesman and automated messaging systems, past janitors and clean-bots wiping soap suds off rectangles of glass in mechanized sweeps, and is then a million custom-made, factory-spec’d pieces on the ground.
The bear has been stalking the taxidermy garden for ten weeks now, ever since Raffi showed up. Sometimes it disappears for a few days or a week, but it always comes back. Prowls the perimeter, looking for weak spots. From inside the taxidermy garden, Raffi feels the bear’s presence tugging on her, as though it has become the pole of her personal compass. The taxidermy garden isn’t a real garden. It’s a ski chalet, or what used to be a ski chalet, all hand-hewn logs and wood stoves.