Lightspeed: Edited by John Joseph Adams




The Narrative Implications of Your Untimely Death

Your deathless heart spasms. Once. Twice. You suck in a long, rattling gasp, and twist over the decanting table, great hacking coughs. Someone thumps your back.

“Welcome back, boyo,” Media & Talent Production Coordinator Kayn says. “They got some great footage out of your death. Viewership tripled for the episode.”

“Damn,” you wheeze. “Any chance I’m out?”

Goosebumps pimple across your cold skin. You’re so sick of the Talent Decanting Room. You hope for finales. You hope for your exit stage left.

“Nah,” Kayn says. “You’re polling too well with the sixteen to twenty-four demographic. The execs want to keep you in the cast roster.”

“Assholes,” you say with feeling, lying back down.

“Chin up,” Kayn says. “Least you’re back from the dead, Kingkiller.”

“You know I hate that name,” you say, staring up at the operating lights. The decanting fluid is drying to a tacky shell on your skin.

“Shouldn’t have killed Rally, then.”

“Yeah, well,” you say. You wish you hadn’t killed Raleigh King either.

• • • •

Raleigh “Rally” King was Axial Conglomerate’s sweetheart. Redrender’s knight in shining armor. You’d watched him sweat in high definition all through season twenty-seven’s desert sequence, his sword gleaming in the sunlight. You’d watched him cry too—big tears rolling down his cheeks whenever someone died and he couldn’t save them.

At the time, you’d rolled your eyes. Audiences love sentiment, so of course Rally would cry. The drones are always watching-cutting-streaming the tastiest morsels of Redrender for everyone at home. He’s faking it. It’s acting.

You know better now, after eight seasons as a cast member on Redrender. The show gets inside your head. You can think you’re going to treat it like a game all through the psychological profiling and the camera tests. You can tell yourself it’s just reality television while signing away the rights to your DNA samples and signing the contract that agrees that termination is at the studio’s discretion. You can pretend it’s all fake until you’re shipping down to Redrender and then it’s not a game anymore. It’s your life.

It turns out that even if death is cheap in Redrender, it still hurts to bleed out. It turns out that the stupid wargame isn’t just a series of artificial quests—it’s backstabbing and making pacts and persuading people to come die with you. It turns out that the other cast members have also lived the same sort of desperate life that drives people to the promise of a sixteen billion credit trophy if you can find it on the stupid rock. Never mind that no one’s found it yet.

And it turns out that the golden boy Rally is just as nice as he seems on camera, and then you kill him.

He thanked you while he was dying.

You hope he’s having a good time space-side. You wonder if he ever watches the show.

• • • •

You reintegrate into the storyline twelve hours after waking up in the Talent Decanting Room. It was a nice break. You took a high-pressure shower, slept in a real bed, shot the shit with Kayn, and siphoned some of his insider info—you get a good tip about the Amaba Basin’s layout. Kayn might be a corporate bastard, but he’s a congenial one.

He’s congenial all the way through herding you into a skiff and flying you down near camp, kicking you out with a cheerful “Don’t fall off of any more cliffs!” as he drops you back in the narrative.

Not a minute later, a low whine starts to reverberate in the air. Drone-cameras have a distinct sound. The privacy was nice while it lasted. You do your best to look “brooding” instead of “sweaty” as you walk back to camp.

Redrender is a beautiful planetoid. It’s a great stage set for the Game Of The Century™. A great place to “create alliances, betray your friends, and find the galaxy’s most valuable prize!” Redrender is supposed to be an action-adventure survival reality show. In practice, people watch it for the interpersonal drama. Redrender is a shifting mess of temporary alliances for the sake of plundering supplies and maps.

“Kingkiller’s back!” Lowry calls from the camp’s watchtower, and the announcement is met with a couple of whoops. Aw, the kids missed you. They’re new enough not to be scared by your reputation. Kingkiller’s a name to them, not a definition. Guess they never watched before season thirty-four.

You’re allied with ten others at the camp, all scouring the Amaba Basin for the next map scrap. It’s not a bad crew. Two-thirds freshers, one-third veterans. The gates open for your entrance.

“Thought you were dead,” Marc calls from where he’s poking at a fire. He scowls at you. He’s a vet—he remembers how you received your nickname.

“You wish,” you call back, heading to the main building built out from the microprinted pseudo-ruins. Other cast members give you nods as you walk by. You receive commiserating glances and winces, but no one’s willing to break character and say, “Sorry you didn’t get out, Jamie.”

You don’t blame them—these guys are always scraping for screen time. You’re the weirdo getting followed by four drones and trying your best to die.

You haven’t been subtle about wanting to get out. You dream of your old microapartment. You dream of working showers. You dream of clean deaths. Anything as long as it looks accidental. The execs don’t resurrect you from suicide. Axial Conglomerate standard media and entertainment sector laws prevent the glorification of self-harm in T-13 class media.

You hope your gear hasn’t been redistributed yet. You head for the main building, then make the executive decision to detour through the mess hall before checking out your clothes and weapons.

The door to the mess swings open. You step in, and then stop. There are two figures sitting with cups of coffee, half-eaten plates of food. They both look up. Only one of them smiles apologetically at you. Only one of them would publicly call you a friend.

“Shit, sorry Jamie. I should have warned you about this,” Aava says. “He just showed—”

“It’s fine,” you cut in numbly, because it’s not fine, but you’re used to acting. Aava’s still after the prize money—you can’t break character if she’s around. You can hear the drone whining behind your head. “Look who’s back, huh?”

“Jamie,” Rally says, turning toward you, standing, the handsome bulk of him very protagonistic. “You thought you could kill me, didn’t you?” His voice is steady. He was always a better actor than you were.

“I did kill you,” you say. “Just thought it would stick.”

Rally strides forward, all the way into your personal space, grabs your shoulder tightly, and smiles with all his teeth. “We’ve got some talking to do.”

The audience must be loving this.

• • • •

You let Rally drag you back to your bedroom. You sit on the bed. Rally sits on a stool made out of a couple of ammunition crates. Both of you ignore the mess of clothing and knives on the floor.

The hum of the cameras around the two of you is loud. You wonder how many of the nanometer-sized drones are around, capturing multiple angles, closeups and cutting from your face to Rally’s and back again.

There’s a whole conversation you should be having that couldn’t have been spoken in the mess hall. Raleigh’s face is stoic. You give the world’s most miniscule shrug. There’s no one else in your bedroom. There’s no one else’s career to ruin here.

Rally’s whole posture shifts. He smiles. It’s a small thing, only the barest flash of teeth. “Hey, Jamie.”

“Shit, Raleigh,” you say, relaxing against the headboard. “I thought you got out.”

The drone’s whining immediately cuts. Breaking the fourth wall isn’t good television.

Raleigh’s smile pulls bitter. “Nope. I woke up on the slab a week ago, and they shipped me back down after Kayn told me where your camp was, and that you were being re-integrated soon. I think the execs expected me to try and turn the camp against you.”

“Understandable,” you say with a wince. Rally’s death had been bloody. You’d both thought that something graphic would be your best chance at getting off-planetoid. “I appreciate that you didn’t.”

Rally shrugs. You stare at him. He looks just the same as the day you killed him. A little rough—you all look a little rough—but there aren’t any new lines on his face, or any sign that you’d ever fought him at the Alecret Cliffs and thrown him off the waterfall overlook. Same as how there’s no sign on your skin detailing how Rally had grabbed your shirt and brought you plunging soundlessly into the water with him, bashing you against the rocks.

You bet the shots were beautiful. You had choreographed them to be.

The fight at the Alecret Cliffs was the narrative crux of both of your arcs—Rally’s last stand against the antihero upstart, your desperate attempt at overthrowing the golden boy’s throne. You’d thought that would be narratively satisfying enough to end both your storylines. You’d built a beautiful enmity with him over the five seasons you shared. Mostly you know Rally through his acted anger, through his feigned violence. Despite everything, you’re glad to see him now.

“It’s been three seasons, man,” you say. “What the fuck are they playing at? I thought for sure they’d been done with you. That you got out.”

“I don’t know,” Rally says, putting his head in his hands. “I was talking with Kayn. Got a copy of my contract and he helpfully pointed out that there weren’t dates in the termination clause. I think the execs think there hasn’t been that much drama this season—they’re probably trying to stir the pot a little. Bring back what Kayn called ‘our epic rivalry.’”

“Motherfucker didn’t tell me anything about this,” you say. “What’s our play?”

Rally looks up. “Do we have a play?”

“Of course we have a play,” you say with confidence you don’t feel.

“All right, Jamie,” Rally says. He sounds tired. Resurrected a week and tired already—that’s no good for the cameras. “I’ll follow your lead.”

You hum thoughtfully. Rally’s good at playing determined, at emanating generalized righteousness, at keeping a crew together. Rally remembers you as a villain, but you’ve been playing nice ever since he died, so your classic good guy-bad guy thing won’t hold.

“We’ll do a reconciliation arc,” you say firmly, calculating storylines and scraping together what you remember of the season before Rally’s death. “I’ve been doing a redemption thing after my ‘near miss.’ I’ve been trying to get cut by being boring—except that’s not working, and Kayn told me that I keep polling crazy high. So maybe we play it like you don’t believe my face-heel-turn, but I’m still trying to befriend you, and you’re trying to keep an eye on me, and then I try and save you from something but we still both eat shit again while having some sort of emotional conclusion.”

“I can do suspicious,” Rally says. “Also. ‘Kingkiller.’ Really?”

“I didn’t choose it!” you protest. “Just use my actual name, all right?”

“Sure, Kingkiller,” Rally says, cause he’s the sort of guy who thinks that’s funny. “What’s our time frame?”

You think for a bit. “End of the season,” you say. “We’ll build our story up ‘til the end of the season and execute. No breaking kayfabe unless we’re alone, just to be fair to the rest of the cast.”

• • • •

Day to day livelihood on Redrender isn’t glamorous—it’s a big stage set full of fun murder props and bullshit mythology, but people still have to eat. You take your kitchen shifts and your patrol duty between the strategy sessions and scouting missions.

Your crew maps the entirety of the Amaba Basin and plunders a few of the lesser sites, comes back with some maps and once a couple of old bottles of liquor which the crew cheers about. You’re significantly less excited. The planetoid is lousy with alcoholic dead-drops: a tipsy cast is a fun cast. The whine of the camera drones is loud that night. You angle your way through the party by drunkenly picking a fight with Rally, adding a little texture to your slowly repairing relationship.

Rally rises to the occasion admirably, chewing the scenery and saying some very hurtful things about your moral character, ending with calling you a “reckless, suicidal, maniac, who’s going to get all of us killed,” which is correct enough to make you laugh. It’s fun to have a co-conspirator again.

You and Rally knit the story of your grudging friendship by inches. You don’t spend a lot of time alone together—that’s the last thing you need, to be suspected of hiding something—but it’s an easy story to sell. You play the reformed asshole trying to prove he’s changed. Rally plays the slightly traumatized hero coming to terms with a world that has changed around him.

You go on mission runs together. You argue about locations of potential map fragments. You spend a long afternoon repairing the camp roof together and talk around your attempted murder. You ask for forgiveness. Rally doesn’t give it to you because it’s too early in the narrative for that. You leave all your conversations unfinished—the scaffolding to your hopefully narratively satisfying death.

The spiderweb of story you’ve woven finally gets a tug when you’re sitting around the war table with the other veterans arguing about the approach to the Fere Cathedral ruins. It’s the last piece of the Amaba Basin map you haven’t charted. None of the other ruins have yielded anything useful, so this site’s definitely going to have something big and dangerous. A blood key. A gene-edited guardian beast. A classic laser grid that you’ll “accidentally” trigger. Deadly stuff. High stakes. Great television, unlike this planning session, which devolved immediately into quibbling.

“I’ll go.” You glance up from the map at Rally, handing him the relay baton.

“We’ll go,” Rally says, frowning at you and taking the metaphorical baton from your hand.

“You don’t trust me?” you say, tossing a layup to Rally.

“As far as I can throw you,” Rally says, completing your pass. “You tried to kill me once. A guy doesn’t forget things like that.”

“I succeeded,” you say with all the grandiose megalomania you can shove into your voice. You’ll succeed this time, at least.

The drone-camera whine is almost sweet in your ears.

• • • •

You set off early the next morning with Rally in a beat-up little skimmer carting a bunch of supplies. The others are in the newer skimmer, and you didn’t argue too much about pulling the short stick because now it’s just you and Rally trundling along, filmed by at least four camera drones. You bet the audience wants you to argue. Or fight. Or kiss. That last one would really spike the ratings, and then you’d never be free.

“So, you ready to get out?” you say. Before you even finish your question the whine cuts out. Sorry, audience. You’re dreaming of space shuttles. You’re dreaming of watching television and not participating.

Rally makes an indiscriminate noise. You glance at him.

“You pulling out?” you say. “Don’t get cold feet on me.”

“No, I’m in,” Rally assures you. “You did a great job this season. You’re a real annoying guy when you want to be, you know that?”

“And you’re a self-righteous prick,” you say. “Nice touch last month with accusing me of having altered all the maps.”

“I try.”

The skimmer slides across a long plane of brown grass, shivering in the wind. The ruins of Fere Cathedral look like a crumbling slice of unfrosted cake from this distance. You feel the tightness in your shoulders unwinding. The skimmer is going fast enough that the camera drones won’t be able to catch up with you. Soon there won’t be any camera drones at all.

“Jamie,” Rally says. “After what they did to me, how do we even know anyone actually gets out?”


You slam the skimmer into cruise control and turn to Rally. “Seriously. What?”

Rally smiles a little, but he looks nervous, which isn’t an expression you see on him a lot. Devastated, angry, righteous—he wears all of that on his sleeve, but nervous, that’s not for the cameras. “Never mind. It was just something I was thinking about. Not seriously.”

“No, explain this to me. What do you mean ‘what if no one gets out?’ I’m not doing any suicide missions, Rally.”

Rally groans. “I’m not saying they murder people or anything. I just mean, you know. They fridged me for three seasons. That’s been eating at me like crazy. We don’t know if anyone actually gets out, right? What if they just put everyone on ice for later?”

“No way,” you say with confidence you don’t feel. “That doesn’t make any sense. There’s been over two-hundred cast members, minimum. No way they have the facilities for long-term stasis.”

“Well okay, yeah,” Rally says. “But what about facilities for a few people. For, y’know, guys polling well with the fanbase. For guys like you and me.”

You look away. You shift the skimmer back into manual to have something to do with your hands. The Fere Cathedral looks like the white skeleton of a colossal beast.

“You get why I didn’t want to bring it up,” Rally says.

“Yeah,” you say.

“I’m still in, if you are,” Rally says, voice very steady. “This doesn’t change anything. Either I’m right, and we wake up and do this all over again. Or I’m wrong, and we wake up and get our exit paperwork from Kayn. Or I’m really wrong, and we just don’t wake up.”

The Fere Cathedral ruins look like they were focus tested by a team of architects.

“You are so fucking dramatic, Rally,” you say, putting an extra burst of speed on so you’ll get there faster. “Save it for the cameras.”

• • • •

It’s not hard to remember your life before Redrender. Microapartment, lots of part-time jobs, dwindling savings. A handful of friends you hung out with in bars and talked about life goals, significant others, how Axial Conglomerate is going to shit, etcetera. You miss it like crazy. You miss how the air used to smell like recycled lime cleaner. You miss instant noodles from the vending machine. You miss stocking shelves at five in the morning.

Back then, you didn’t know how to throw knives or shoot a gun. You didn’t run across microprinted ruins of civilizations that never existed. You didn’t think about narrative. You were just Jamie Low, some guy. You are still Jamie Low, some guy. But no one remembers Jamie Low. Everyone remembers Kingkiller.

• • • •

You get to the Fere Cathedral ruins and unload the gear silently. You didn’t talk to Rally for the rest of the trip, and he hadn’t started any new conversation. You offer him his bag. He takes it along with the big sword that he carries around when he’s not at camp. You strap your bag on and holster your knives and rifle.

The other skimmer pulls up near you. Aava waves. You wave back. You can hear the camera drones approaching like a pack of invisible flies.

“Hope there’s something interesting inside,” you say, which is a piece of nothing dialogue, but probably good foreshadowing.

Aava smiles at you. “You know it.” Another piece of nothing dialogue.

“Let’s just get going,” Rally says, third piece of nothing dialogue, and great, cut scene, print.

• • • •

The executives had insisted on a battery of psychological tests before you joined the cast. It’s standard. “To see if you’re a good fit,” Kayn had explained once when you asked him. “You scored crazy high, if you were wondering.”

“What does that mean?” you asked. This was back in season twenty-eight, when you were still gunning for the sixteen billion credit trophy.

“Means your psychology is primed to make interesting decisions at points of stress,” Kayn said.

“Sounds like you’re just calling me crazy,” you said, which Kayn had laughed at, but hadn’t denied.

You hadn’t thought much about his answer until you started polling really well. Until you started asking to be cut and started being told you were too popular to be let go.

• • • •

The interior of the semi-destroyed cathedral is a series of small rooms that connect to a larger nave, with a staircase that leads to some sort of catacomb situation. This isn’t your first cathedral, or temple, or monastery. Redrender is pan-religiously sacrilegious. You case the ruins cautiously. There’s not much in any of the smaller rooms, no lockboxes or carved sigils or anything that hints to a map.

Rally comes with you, of course. You’re both keeping your eyes peeled for a good moment to have a fight to the death, or at least start some sort of argument. The air simmers with tension.

“I think these ruins are a bust.”

“Maybe there’s something in the basement,” Rally says.

“There’s never anything nice in the basement,” you say, but dig around in your pack for a chemical torch anyway.

You and Rally walk up to the front of the nave, clambering over big microprinted rocks and aesthetically pleasing, spiritually void stained glass windows cracked in big shatters. Aava and Marc are climbing over from the other side.

“You guys find anything?” Aava calls.

“Only the stick up Rally’s ass,” you call back, which gets a laugh from Marc and a punch from Rally’s right fist in your shoulder.

“We didn’t find anything either,” Aava says. “Looks like it’s basement time, boys.”

“Jamie and I will take a look,” Rally says. “You guys should set up camp for the night.”

“Don’t volunteer me for things,” you say, using a crowbar to lever a big chunk of marble out of the way so you and Rally can go single file down into the dark.

• • • •

You genuinely don’t know why you poll so well. You’re handsome, but everyone on Redrender is attractive. You’re not particularly heroic, and you’re not particularly evil—no matter what Rally castigates you for. You’re kind when it’s easy, but you don’t cry for people. You like to think you used to be funny, but most of your good humor’s been drained by nine seasons of media indenture.

You’ve tried being compassionate. You’ve tried being violent. You’ve tried being apathetic. No matter what you do, you still wake up on the decanting table.

• • • •

The basement reveals an altar in the middle of a circular chamber, and a low groove around the room that, when you touch your torch to it, alights with a soft red glow. The altar is white marble. You could say a lot of things about stage sets, but you can hear the cameras humming like a cloud of mosquitoes.

“Pretty grim, huh?” you say.

Rally examines the altar, squinting at the text carved into the surface. You survey the rest of the room. You can taste the shape of the argument you’ll have with Rally. Something about the ethics of blood keys and sacrifice that he’ll spiral into a personal attack on your character, which you’ll turn into a physical fight.

“You’re telling me,” he says. “It’s a blood key.”

“Well yeah, I figured. For what?”

“Map of the whole western hemisphere,” Rally says, sounding legitimately awed. “With artifact drop points. I’ve never seen one so comprehensive before. This could be a game changer.”

“Shit, what’s the catch?”

“It’s a full-sacrifice blood key,” Rally says, and he looks straight at you. You don’t dare nod. This can’t look premeditated. This wasn’t part of the plan. But it’s better than your plan. It’s like the executives are handing you a new plan on a silver platter, giving you their blessing.

“No wonder it hasn’t been plundered yet,” Rally says softly.

“Well, let’s change that,” you say. And you pull out one of your knives and throw it at Rally’s head.

• • • •

You used to think you were a nice guy. Then you shipped down to Redrender. Then you thought you were a cutthroat bastard. Then you failed to die sixteen times. These days you think maybe what you are is “fun to watch on television.”

• • • •

Rally ducks, but you were expecting that, so you just use the knife as a distraction to dart around the altar and behind Rally, slamming him down on the altar.

“Whoops, missed!” you say, forcing psychopathic cheer into your voice.

“You planned this,” Rally wheezes, scrabbling for his sword. He’s making a half-hearted attempt at escape for show, but you’re holding him down easier than you should.

“I’m doing you a favor,” you stage-hiss into his ear. “I killed you once, Rally. At least this time it’ll mean something.” You imagine you can see the camera drones zipping around your head. C’mon, Rally. Complete the pass.

Rally heaves you up and grabs your arm, twisting you down so your positions are reversed. You lean into the throw and snake your arm around to press the tip of your knife against his stomach.

This must be a fantastic tableau. Rally with his sword above your chest, his arm held at bay by your loosely clenched fist. You with your dagger about to pierce his stomach. Both of you lit by flickering light.

• • • •

You always wonder what Rally’s like, outside of Redrender. You wonder if he had friends who he talked with in bars, whether he is as nice as he pretends to be on television, whether his determinator thing is an affectation. You wonder if he worked shit jobs for shit pay and filled out the Redrender application on a whim cause hey, LARPing on a terraformed planetoid sure beats shivering in the recycled lime-scented habitat ring air.

You like the idea of seeing him in the real world. Sliding into a booth at a local bar with him, having conversations about both of your shit jobs, reminiscing about the good old days as character foils.

• • • •

“What’s the matter, can’t go through with it?” you say, leaning up and into the sharp slice of the sword. Rally keeps his gear clean. “Never pegged you for a coward. You didn’t have any problem dragging me down before.”

“I don’t want to kill you,” Rally says. You don’t know if he’s serious about that. Is he changing the plan on you? You’re so close.

“You don’t want me to jab my knife in your kidneys, you mean,” you say. You can’t break character now. The camera drone hum is like a third member of the conversation, it’s so loud.

“God dammit, Jamie, why do you have to make everything so hard?”

What does that mean? Does that mean he doesn’t think this is the right moment? He’s not going to get a better moment.

“What are you waiting for,” you snarl at him. “You’ve been waiting to put me down. Now you have an excuse. A good reason. So better be quick. Gotta make it hurt. Gotta make it count. Gotta kill me in one shot.”

Ball’s in his court, now. A couple more lines of character development and you’re home free. But Rally is silent. His pulse is still beating double-time, his ventricles must be spasming manically. Your hand is starting to cramp where it’s holding his arm.

“What are you waiting for,” you say again. Hurry up and start slicing so you can return the favor. “They call me Kingkiller for a reason, Raleigh King.”

“We don’t need to do this,” Rally says.

His voice is steady. His pulse is rabbit-quick against your skin. He’s breathing sharp and shallow. His pupils are pinpricks. He’s scared. He wasn’t scared the last time you killed him.

You know Rally through his feigned violence, his acted anger. He knows you through your artificial indignation, your counterfeit sociopathy. You know the way fear feels on his skin. You can hear everything he’s not saying.

Fine. Deal’s off. You’ll improvise.

“Yes, we do,” you say, and drop your knife. With your other hand, you yank his arm, plunging his well-sharpened sword into your chest.

• • • •

The guy you pretend to be—the guy everyone calls Kingkiller—really isn’t all that different from you. It would be too hard to keep up the act if he was. He’s mostly you. He’s you when all the stakes don’t matter. He’s you when death is cheap.

• • • •

The stab hurts like hell. The pain is real, a bright blossom of agony lodged in your chest. You give a soft little exhalation rather than the dramatic gasp you would have preferred.

“No, no, no, Jamie,” Rally says, hindbrain instincts kicking in at the sight of a what-should-be-mortal injury. You want to tell him to shut up and stay in character. “Jamie, this wasn’t the plan—what are you doing, Jamie?”

“Sorry I tried to kill you that one time,” you grind out, because you’re a professional.

“No you’re not,” he says, picking up your thread, because he is too.

“No, I’m not,” you agree, and close your eyes. You can hear the camera drones whirring.

“Why’d you do that?” he says softly. He’s cradling your body against the altar. There’s blood flecked on his face. It looks artistic. “I told you, we didn’t have to.”

You grin at him. You hope it’s bloodstained.

“I don’t know,” you lie, but it comes out weak and very far away. The shock and blood loss must be getting to you.

“We’ll get you out,” Rally says, steady as ever, his panic tucked away. “You’re not dying here.” He doesn’t make any attempt to move you. He knows what you want.

You’re pretty sure you’re going to wake up on the decanting table. Maybe you’ll wake up and it’ll be five seasons later and they’ll have resurrected you for the sake of the storyline. Maybe this counts as a suicide and the execs won’t resurrect you at all. Maybe this is a narratively satisfying character arc and you’ll be shaking hands with Kayn before boarding a spaceship off-planet. You’re hoping for endings. You’re hoping for your exit stage left.

“I didn’t know you were scared,” you say.

Your vision is tunneling. The camera whine is like a drill against your eardrums. Rally says something, but it’s not audible. That’s okay. You trust Raleigh King to narrate your perfect death. You hope for endings. You hope for your exit-stage left.

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Isabel J. Kim

Isabel J. Kim. A young east Asian woman with medium length black hair, wearing a black leather jacket, smiling in front of an out-of-focus city skyline.

Isabel J. Kim is a Korean-American speculative fiction writer based in New York City. She is a Shirley Jackson Award winner and her short fiction has been published in Clarkesworld, Lightspeed, and Strange Horizons, among other venues. When she’s not writing, she’s either practicing law or co-hosting her internet culture podcast Wow if True — both equally noble pursuits. Find her at or @isabeljkim on Twitter.