“Damn and blast it!” Plaquette let herself in through the showroom door of the watchmaker’s that morning to hear Msieur blistering the air of his shop with his swearing. The hulking clockwork man he’d been working on was high-stepping around the workroom floor in a clumsy lurch. It lifted its knees comically high, its body listing to one side and its feet coming down in the wrong order; toe, then heel.
Of course I can be angry. But I wear a headscarf. The moment I’m angry, you put me in your mental box labeled “TERRORIST” in neat, tidy small capitals. You store me under “Potential Danger” in the warehouse of your mind. When I cross the parking lot to the grocery store, sometimes people hit the gas, not the brakes. And this is a university town, supposedly liberal—or is it? I’m not a Muslim, but it’s not like most people around here can spot the difference.
After battle with the Fleet of Honest Representation, after seven hundred seconds of sheer terror and uncertainty, and after our shared triumph in the acquisition of the greatest prize seizure in three hundred years, we cautiously approached the massive black hole that Purth-Anaget orbited. The many rotating rings, filaments, and infrastructures bounded within the fields that were the entirety of our ship, With All Sincerity, were flush with a sense of victory.
Daya had been in no hurry to become a mother. In the two years since she’d reached childbearing age, she’d built a modular from parts she’d fabbed herself, thrown her boots into the volcano, and served as blood judge. The village elders all said she was one of the quickest girls they had ever seen—except when it came to choosing fathers for her firstborn. Maybe that was because she was too quick for a sleepy village like Third Landing. When her mother, Tajana, had come of age, she’d left for the blue city to find fathers for her baby.
The river’s in flood again, and it feels like a blessing from God. You emerge from your home, built with wood and plastic scraps of ancient towns, and stand on the green hill high above the rushing waters. You remember from when you were young that the river would spill over its banks every year, submerging the low-lying land, turning fields that had lain fallow through the darkness and bitter cold of winter into lakes of rushing, wild water. And then when the waters had drained away, the corn could be planted in the deep sediments left behind.
The difficulties of transporting wine over interstellar distances are manifold. Wine is, after all, like a child. It can bruise. It can suffer trauma—sometimes the poor creature can recover; sometimes it must be locked up in a cellar until it learns to behave itself. Sometimes it is irredeemable. I ask that you greet the seven glasses before you tonight not as simple fermented grapes, but as the living creatures they are, well-brought up, indulged but not coddled, punished when necessary, shyly seeking your approval with clasped hands and slicked hair.
The city surrounded him while he slept. He had been fleeing it for four days. Long before its walls became visible, it was a grayish smudge on the horizon, beneath which the air shimmered in silent testimony of its radiant heat. It was one of about ten living cities he knew of and he had avoided it for as long as he could, staying out of their usual migratory paths, contenting himself with the company of the small tribes who had also managed to keep out of the reach of the cities, living on roots and the small animals that fell to his bow.
“Life is the only indulgence,” was the Ames motto, and today was meant to be the latest, grandest example of that philosophy: Fecundity given breath and shadow, with the promise of ludicrous profits tomorrow. The “I do’s” were to be held exactly at noon on the summer solstice. A thousand species of expertly crafted, first-of-their-kind foliage stood on the island’s highest hill, creating a church of pigmented cellulose, perfumes and pheromones and wet-earth stinks. The honored guests were carefully shaped and then firmed by regenerations.
Henrietta followed the receptionist down the hall of Schneider Hospital. The woman’s keys jangled as she walked, mixing with the echoing clicks of Henrietta’s blue church shoes. No other noises greeted them. Henrietta watched her shadow stretch itself in each unlit room, her form made large by the ultra-bright fluorescent lights of the hallway. One of the lights in the hall blinked on and off. Henrietta pinched her eyes closed to ward off dizziness. Her lower belly throbbed and she stifled a groan.
We stood naked on the shore of Bernal and watched the candles float across the bay, swept by a lazy current off to the north, in the direction of Potrero Island. A dozen or so candles stayed afloat and alight after half a league, their tiny flames bobbing up and down, casting long yellow reflections on the dark water alongside the streaks of moonlight. At times I fancied the candlelight could filter down onto streets and buildings, the old automobiles and houses full of children’s toys, all the waterlogged treasures of long-gone people.