Read Clarkesworld Anthology 2012 Online

Authors: Wyrm Publishing

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Clarkesworld Anthology 2012 (4 page)

BOOK: Clarkesworld Anthology 2012
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“You don’t believe that,” Nhu said.

“No.” Not any of that; but she knew what was in Zhiying’s heart, the hatred of the San-Tay that she carried with her — that, to her little sister, she would be nothing more than a collaborator herself — tainted by her use of the enemy’s technology.

“She just wants you gone. Because you’re her rival.”

“She doesn’t think like that,” Anshi said, more sharply than she’d intended; and she knew, too, that she didn’t believe that. Zhiying had a vision of the Mheng as strong and powerful; and she’d allow nothing and no one to stand in its way.

They were past the cordon now, and the maw of the ship gaped before them — the promise of a life somewhere else, on another planet. Ironic, in a way — the ship was from the San-Tay High Government, seeking amends for their behavior on colonized stations. If someone had ever told her she’d ride one of those as a guest…

Nhu, without hesitation, was heading up towards the dark tunnel. “You don’t have to come,” Anshi said.

Nhu rolled her eyes upwards, and made no comment. Like Anshi, she was old guard; a former teacher in the Mheng schools, fluent in High Mheng, and with a limited ability to control the bots. A danger, like Anshi.

There was a noise behind them — the beginning of a commotion. Anshi turned; and saw that, contrary to what she’d thought, Zhiying had come.

She wore the sash of Honored Leader well; and the stars of Felicity’s new flag were spread across her dress — which was a shorter, less elaborate version of the five-panel ceremonial garb. Her hair had been pulled up in an elegant bun, thrust through with a golden phoenix pin, the first jewel to come out of the station’s new workshops — she was unrecognizable from the gaunt, tall prisoner Anshi remembered, or even from the dark, intense leader of the rebellion years.

“Elder sister.” She bowed to Anshi, but did not come closer; remaining next to her escort of black-clad soldiers. “We wish you happiness, and good fortune among the stars.”

“We humbly thank you, Your Reverence,” Anshi said — keeping the irony, and the hurt from her voice. Zhiying’s eyes were dark, with the same anger Anshi remembered from the night of the Second Ring riots — the night when the girl had died. They stood, staring at each other, and at length Zhiying gestured for Anshi to move.

Anshi backed away, slowly, pulling her daughter by the hand. She wasn’t sure why she felt… drained, as if a hundred bots had been pumping modifiers into her blood, and had suddenly stopped. She wasn’t sure what she’d expected — an apology? Zhiying had never been one for it; or for doubts of any kind. But still —

Still, they’d been on Shattered Pine together; had escaped together; had preached and written the poetry of the revolution, and dared each other to hack into Felicity’s network to spread it into every household, every corridor screen.

There should have been something more than a formal send-off; something more than the eyes boring into hers — dark and intense, and with no hint of sorrow or tears.

We do not weep for the enemy, Anshi thought; as she turned, and passed under the wide metal arc that led into the ship, her daughter’s hand heavy in hers.

In the small antechamber, Wen dons robes of dark blue — those reserved for the mourners who are the closest family to the dead. She can hear, in the distance, the drone of prayers from the priests, and the scuttling of bots on the walls, carrying faint music until the entire structure of the hall seems to echo with it. Slowly, carefully, she rises, and stares at her pale, wan self in the mirror — with coiled bots at its angles, awaiting just an order to awaken and bring her anything she might desire. Abominations, she thinks, uneasily, but it’s hard to see them as something other than alien, incomprehensible.

Nhu is waiting for her at the great doors — the crowd has parted, letting her through with an almost religious hush. In silence, Wen kneels, her head bent down — an honor to the dead, an acknowledgement that she is late and that she must make amends, for leaving Grandmother’s ghost alone.

She hears a noise as the doors open — catches a flash of a crowd dressed in blue; and then she is crawling towards the coffin, staring at the ground ahead of her. By her side, there are glimpses of dresses’ hems, of shoes that are an uneasy meld of San-Tay and Mheng. Ahead, a steady drone from the monks at the pulpit, taken up by the crowd; a prayer in High Mheng, incomprehensible words segueing into a melodious chant; and a smell of incense mingled with something else, a flower she cannot recognise. The floor under her is warm, soft — unlike Felicity’s utilitarian metal or carpets, a wealth of painted ostentation with patterns she cannot make out.

As she crawls, Wen finds herself, incongruously, thinking of Mother.

She asked, once, why Mother had left San-Tay Prime — expecting Mother to rail once more at Grandmother’s failures. But Mother merely pulled a low bench, and sat down with a sigh. “There was no choice, child. We could dwindle away on San-Tay Prime, drifting further and further away from Felicity with every passing moment. Or we could come back home.”

“It’s not Grandmother’s home,” Wen said, slowly, confusedly — with a feeling that she was grappling with something beyond her years.

“No,” Mother said. “And, if we had waited too long, it wouldn’t have been your home either.”

“I don’t understand.” Wen put a hand on one of the kitchen cupboards — the door slid away, letting her retrieve a can of dried, powdered shrimp, which she dumped into the broth on the stove.

“Like two men carried away by two different currents in the river — both ending in very different places.” She waved a dismissive hand. “You’ll understand, when you’re older.”

“Is that why you’re not talking with Grandmother?”

Mother grimaced, staring into the depths of her celadon cup. “Grandmother and I… did not agree on things,” she said. “Sometimes I think…” She shook her head. “Stubborn old woman. She never could admit that she had lost. That the future of Felicity wasn’t with bots, with High Mheng; with any of what the San-Tay had left us.”

Bots. High Mheng — all of the things that don’t exist anymore, on the new Felicity — all the things the Honored Leader banished, for the safety and glory of the people. “Mother…” Wen said, suddenly afraid.

Her mother smiled; and for the first time Wen saw the bitterness in her eyes. “Never mind, child. This isn’t your burden to carry.”

Wen did not understand. But now… now, as she crawls down the aisle, breathing in the unfamiliar smells, she thinks she understands. Reconciliation means forgetfulness, and is it such a bad thing that they forget, that they are no longer chained to the hatreds of the past?

She reaches the coffin, and rises — turns, for a brief moment, to stare at the sea of humanity before her — the blurred faces with bots at the corner of their eyes, with alien scents and alien clothes. They are not from Felicity anymore, but something else — poised halfway between the San-Tay and the culture that gave them birth; and, as the years pass, those that do not come back will drift further and further from Felicity, until they will pass each other in the street, and not feel anything but a vague sense of familiarity, like long-lost families that have become strangers to each other.

No, not from Felicity anymore — and does it matter, any of it?

Wen has no answer — none of Mother’s bleak certainties about life. And so she turns away from the crowd, and looks into the coffin — into the face of a stranger, across a gap like a flowing river, dark and forever unbridgeable.

I am in halves, dreaming of a faraway home
Not a dry spot on my moonlit pillow
Through the open window lies the stars and planets
Where ten thousand family members have scattered
Along the River of Heaven, with no bridges to lead them home
The long yearning
Cuts into my heart

This is the last poem we received from Xu Anshi; the last one she composed, before the sickness ate away at her command of High Mheng, and we could no longer understand her subvocalised orders. She said to us then, “it is done”; and turned away from us, awaiting death.

We are here now, as Wen looks at the pale face of her grandmother. We are not among our brethren in the crowd — not clinging to faces, not curled on the walls or at the corner of mirrors, awaiting orders to unfold.

We have another place.

We rest on the coffin with Xu Anshi’s other belongings; scattered among the paper offerings — the arch leading into the Heavens, the bills stamped with the face of the King of Hell. We sit quiescent, waiting for Xu Wen to call us up — that we might flow up to her like a black tide, carrying her inheritance to her, and the memories that made up Xu Anshi’s life from beginning to end.

But Wen’s gaze slides right past us, seeing us as nothing more than a necessary evil at the ceremony; and the language she might summon us in is one she does not speak and has no interest in.

In silence, she walks away from the coffin to take her place among the mourners — and we, too, remain silent, taking our understanding of Xu Anshi’s life into the yawning darkness.

“With apologies to Qiu Jin, Bei Dao and the classical
Tang poets for borrowing and twisting their best lines”

About the Author

Aliette de Bodard lives and works in Paris, where she has a day job as a Computer Engineer. In her spare time, she writes speculative fictionshe is the author of the Obsidian and Blood trilogy of Aztec noir fantasies, and her writing has been nominated for a Hugo Award, a Nebula Award and the Campbell Award for Best New Writer.

What Everyone Remembers

Rahul Kanakia

I remember being with maman in the cabin of her ship, anchored someplace where the wind was always howling, the temperature was always freezing, and fires were always dancing just beyond the horizon. I spent most of my time inside the mattress where she slept, burrowing as close as I could to maman so that I could feel her solidity and heat spreading out above me without burrowing so close that I came in contact with the harsh light and cold air. It was a delightful spongiform environment, flecked with tinier insects — mites and flies and spiders — and with the crumbs of food and flakes of human skin on which the lesser creatures fed. Life was not hard for me there.

But maman frightened me. When I emerged from the mattress, she would sometimes grab me, pinch my useless wings and interrogate me in front of bright lights. She’d put me in her nest of tubing and plastic cupboards and order me to run from one place to another as quick as I could. She would touch delicate golden wires to my various legs and my body would dance with strange impulses.

Usually my days passed in total silence, except for the few occasions when maman interacted with the other occupant of the ship, Uncle Frederick. These conversations were always initiated by Frederick, who would stare at her for a long time, then nod. They’d go onto the deck, shut the cabin door behind them, and talk in very low voices. On one of these occasions I oozed out through a crack in the doorway and tried to listen to them more clearly.

BOOK: Clarkesworld Anthology 2012
11.05Mb size Format: txt, pdf, ePub

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