We have no quota, no set hours. We keep going for as long as burnt coffee recharges us, slouching in lumpy plastic chairs that scritch on the parquet floor of a ground-floor office whose single plate window is blotted by standees of the Candidate, wearing a reassuring smile and a dark pantsuit. We repeat phrases like “bringing back forward thinking” and “the bronze path to the light,” as if we know what they mean. We never look at each other, but we imagine that all our faces wear the same look: professional, focused, ecstatic.
Gorman was on foot, crossing a frozen continent. It was not Antarctica. That was light years away, and so over. Nobody went there anymore. This continent he had chosen for his latest adventure was bigger, broader, colder, deadlier, nastier. It was not fun. Every step was an occasion for regret. He was probably going to die. He was glad he came.
“In old times, popping ’sphere was much more serious.” Reinventing her bedside manner, Nerethe had found, was the hardest thing about pretending that she no longer had any mental abilities. Harder even than wielding hand-held med instruments instead of reworking the flesh with her mind. “When we were planetbound, we didn’t hibernate under any circumstances. We were spacers for over a thousand generations before we developed a survival mechanism.”
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.
Leslie Anne Moore had known Hardy Devine since second grade, when he had bloodied her nose in a game of dodgeball and then the other boys caught him crying about it and beat him pissy. By the end of the school year, Hardy had picked a fight with each one of those boys individually and found more satisfactory results. He didn’t look Leslie-Anne square in the eye again until seventh grade when he asked her to the Boone County Middle School Homecoming Dance and she said no.
She was using an ice-cream scoop this time. I came home to find her slumped in the deck chair out back, scoop in one hand, other hand holding open the skin of her abdomen. “That is disgusting,” I told her. She scooped out a lump of guts and dropped it onto the tiles beside her chair. Already there was a significant mound of the stuff, coiled like pale snakes. Blood seeped out and trickled along the grooves between the tiles.
Look at how bright we burn. I’m driving my spaceship with a hacked joystick and my friends in the side-seats: Tiger, Grizzly Bear, and Joshua Tree, my boyfriend. And me, Sequoia—all named after extinct species, as if our light could bring them back. The spaceship is an older model we stole from a junkyard, souped up and kept at an abandoned building in the Park Zone so our parents wouldn’t confiscate it when they saw all the mods. I’m sitting backwards, straddling the inward-facing seat.
“Bones?” “What about them?” “Our data suggests you’ll feel a great deal of pain in them after you transmit.” “Oh? Like how much, a lot?” She shifted where she stood and I sensed she was annoyed with me. It’s funny how much you can understand from body language. I couldn’t really tell from looking at her face, since the room was almost entirely dark. “All of this is covered in the manual. Didn’t you read it?” I didn’t answer her because the answer was obvious. Instead I started taking off my clothes.
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.