Read Clarkesworld Anthology 2012 Online

Authors: Wyrm Publishing

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Clarkesworld Anthology 2012 (6 page)

BOOK: Clarkesworld Anthology 2012
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“Just like maman?” I said. “But maman doesn’t need any help from me.”

“If she needed it, wouldn’t you help her? These people will need your help very much.”

“Okay.” I lay there on Frederick for a while, and then murmured, “But they won’t have whistles, will they?”

After Frederick let me scurry into the warm insides of the ship, he called maman onto the deck. I was too chilled to be willing to go farther than the door in order to listen to them.

“…more survivors than I expected…” he said.

“You knew there would be some,” maman said.

“But they’re starting to organize.”

Maman didn’t say anything. I imagined her plucking up Frederick by the arms and running her tests on him while he kicked around uselessly.

“Eve is terrified of human beings,” Frederick said. “I’m not sure what she’ll do when she encounters the survivors.”

“It will do what it decides is right.”

“It won’t do anything. It associates human beings with silence and neglect and electric shocks and tests.”

“According to those tests, it is in good health. It’s ready for reproduction.”

“I told you to pay attention to her socialization. You neglected her so much…I don’t think she’ll ever be able to interact normally.”

“I told you to do what you thought was necessary. You are still free to try to cure the psychic wounds I supposedly inflicted on her. You brought enough supplies to buy you that.”

“I had to kill a man in order to get these supplies. Next time, I doubt I’ll be lucky enough to find such a poorly-defended cache.”

“You brought enough for a few months. That is more than enough time.”

“Or barely enough. If we have to start over.”

“You want me to hatch another female?” maman said.

“We need to make the decision now. I think that Eve is too traumatized. She’s not going to be able to function. We need to start over. You won’t do any tests on the next one. I’ll take care of her. I’ll teach her all the things you held Eve back from: technology, art, literature, history, everything…Eve is such a fast learner…she really could have — ”

“She disgusted you,” maman said. “You didn’t want anything to do with ‘that damned roach.’ Until it first spoke, you called this a crazy scheme.”

“And how much earlier could she have spoken, if someone had been talking to her?”

“Why should their language be English? Why not something better? Something more suited to them?”

“You 
knew
 the kinds of things her mind was capable of. And you were still willing to drive her crazy, and stunt her forever. In fact, that’s pretty much what you did.”

“Did our art and literature and history help us? No. If its descendents create a better world than ours, they will do so 
because
 of their inhumanity.”

“That’s all moot now. There are too many survivors. That changes everything. This won’t be a post-human world. It’ll be a human one. The next Eve needs to be as human as possible.”

“No,” maman said.

“I risked my life to keep this boat running! Risked it four times now. You’ve contributed damn all. I could have lived twice as long if I’d gone off on my own, without you.”

“I’ll hatch another. But we won’t be ’starting over.’”

“Then the two of them will go to war eventually. Even you must see that there can only be one of them.”

“I won’t destroy it. It is perfectly healthy. Billions of dollars and lifetimes of work were spent in creating it. But I will start decanting another progenitor tomorrow. This discussion is over.”

The two of them entered. I waited until Frederick had gone off into his cabin and maman had settled down into bed. Then I crept up to her ear and softly whispered. “So I’ll have a sister, then?”

Maman’s hand twitched and I skittered away. I heard a soft exhalation of air, and waited for the words that would come next, but she never said anything.

I stayed in the mattress for hours, stewing in excitement and confusion. I hadn’t known that Frederick disliked me so much. I was sorry that he’d had to yell at maman because of I hadn’t given him the right answers. I knew that maybe Frederick wanted to be mean to me, but I was so happy that maman had stood up for me and said such good things about me. I knew that she loved me, just like the elephant’s maman had.

But, shortly before dawn, I felt the whistle. It was not the normal time for meeting with Frederick and I was especially lethargic. I lay in the mattress. The whistle cut through me again and again, but I didn’t want to move. Finally, I started to leave my burrow. The whistling was coming from Frederick’s cabin, where I’d never visited. I was on the edge of the mattress now, and was about to drop to the floor.

Something picked me up by the wings. “Wait,” said maman.

She got up out of bed and dropped me onto the mattress. She walked into Frederick’s cabin, and I heard the sound of three slaps. When she came back, the whistle was in her hand.

She grabbed me and took me into her workroom, then locked the door behind her.

Frederick pounded on the workroom door. “What the hell are you doing?” he said.

“Stay back,” maman called. “If you try to break down that door, I’ll destroy the rest of the specimens. Then you’ll never get your second chance.” Maman held me down with pressure against my back.

“You don’t know how many people I saw out there,” he said. “There were hundreds of them, already organized into bands, tribes, and families. We’re going to make it through this catastrophe, you know.”

Then I felt the worst pain I’d ever had in my life. All my legs tried to move at once, but they moved in different directions. I craned around, trying to look up, and glimpsed a metal syringe pulling away from my posterior.

“That’s what I’ve been thinking about all night,” Frederick said. “About how humanity is going to endure. And how maybe it’s wrong for us to play God. Maybe the real catastrophe will be when all these creatures: so tiny, so intelligent, and so efficient, descend on the survivors. I’m wondering, I really am, if unleashing Eve — any Eve — is the right thing to do here.”

“What’s happening?” I said. Maman didn’t answer. She sank back, against the door. Frederick kept pounding on it. I lay there in the shallow receptacle where she’d set me down. After a few moments, maman got up and bustled around the workshop. Frederick kept saying things in the background, but I was no longer paying attention. What had maman done to me?

It seemed like hours later when I heard a crashing noise. The door flew inwards, and Frederick charged. Maman was standing next to the door. She jabbed him with a needle. He turned towards her and slapped her on the face. He hit her again and again. She hit back at him, but it didn’t seem that she was hurting him very much. Finally he saw me on the table, and took a step towards me. He fell down. Maman got up, and looked at him for a few moments. She took him by the feet and dragged him out of the workroom.

For the next thirty days, it was just the two of us. Maman only spoke to me one time. She told me that I was carrying eggs, and that I would soon be hatching into fifty new bodies. And even though the bodies would think and feel different things, all of them would think of themselves as me. I lay in her mattress as the eggs swelled. Sometimes she plucked me up by the wings and examined me under a looking glass. I think she’d become afraid to run electricity through me.

After one of the tests, she nodded to herself. She put me in a covered box and went out to the dinghy. I heard the motor start, and we traveled for several hours. I felt the boat hit something. I felt her pick up the box and carry it along with her. We were walking. Was I on land now? The box was still covered. I could not see where we were or where we were going. My abdomen was swelling. My body was aching. I felt a heavy pain along my back.

Frederick had tried to kill me. Now Maman was abandoning me. Was I so disgusting? For a moment, I was very angry with them. I wanted to hurt them all. Then I realized how awful I was. The reason that Fred and Maman had hated me was because I’d been such a brat about the tests and the whistle. But I swore that I’d show them they were wrong about me. I’d help every human being I saw. I’d be their best friends. I would do anything they wanted and I’d never, ever shy away or complain.

When the cover was taken off the box, I was in a dark alcove, like a cupboard or shelf made of stone. Warm air washed over me. I could see a light bobbing up and down in the distance. A door opened, and I saw maman silhouetted against the light of the sun. I tried to run to her, but I couldn’t move.

About the Author

Rahul Kanakia grew up in Washington, D.C.. He graduated from Stanford University with a B.A. in Economics in 2008 and subsequently returned to D.C. to work for the World Bank on environmental operations in India, Pakistan, and Bangladesh. He currently lives in Oakland, C.A., and works as an international development consultant. His short stories have been published by
Clarkesworld, Redstone, Nature,
and
Lady Churchill’s Rosebud Wristlet.

All the Painted Stars

Gwendolyn Clare

They are not the Brights, and so I hesitate to save them. Part of me is eager, and part of me ashamed.

Even through the haze of plasma blasts dispersing over their shields, I recognize the ship as a Bright construct — too much glass, arranged in sharp geometric panels so the entire upper surface glitters with reflected starlight. Still, I know the pilots must not be Brights. First, because they fly clumsily and appear not to know how to fire the main cannon. Second, because the Brights went extinct some twelve hundred solar cycles ago.

I decide to take a closer look at their attackers, and the fibers in my flesh tauten with anticipation — though I tell myself I will just
look
, not engage. Intent ripples down my middle tentacles to the interface between flesh and machine, and my little stellate-class fighter zips nearer. The attackers have seven mid-size cruisers, nothing so cumbersome as the Bright ship nor so whimsical — boxy and compact, and decked with weapons. I do not recognize the design. Some backwater species, no doubt. I am patrolling near the edge of protected space, so it is to be expected.

I choose a wide selection of frequencies and broadcast an audial message to all the ships in the vicinity. “Hostile vessels, please be informed you have entered protected space. Under the laws of the Sheekah, acts of genocide are punishable by death. Power down your plasma weapons.”

The attackers do not respond. But then, if they do not know our laws, what is the chance they know our language?

I broadcast the same message in the Bright language, and then add, “You must provide evidence of personal grievance to a Sheekah enforcer prior to engaging in interspecies violence.”

I wish I did not feel a surge of excitement at their silence, at the continued barrage of plasma fire.

I spin the fighter nervously, considering my options. The aggressor may hold a legitimate grievance and simply suffer from an onboard system too crude to translate the transmissions. Or they may have chosen to ignore me, assuming my tiny fighter poses no threat. A compromise then: I will destroy one ship at a time until they relent.

My neurochemical balance adjusts, heightening awareness and reducing reaction time, and I cannot help but enjoy the feel of neurons singing for battle. I trigger the thrusters and slice through the void toward the nearest ship, my body fibers tensing against the heavy acceleration. My fighter is a difficult target to hit — shaped like an eight-pointed geometric star, with just enough room for my core mass in the middle and a tentacle stretching down each ray of the star for interfacing. Stellate-class fighters are highly maneuverable, but I am still outnumbered six to one. This is why I am an enforcer: I am one of the few Sheekah violent enough to accept such odds with glee.

I fire my own weapons in quick, precise bursts, and the reactors of the first cruiser explode in a glorious ultraviolet light-show. Now I have the attention of the rest; two of the remaining cruisers break off from their engagement with the Bright ship to pursue me. I dance away like a comet on an eccentric orbit, there and gone again before they can look twice.

When I repeat the transmission, I should be saddened that they still do not cease fire, though in truth the challenge thrills me. I dart through their fleet and destroy two more cruisers, pausing between each explosion, but the remaining cruisers seem if anything incensed to further violence.

I am closing in on the fourth cruiser when my fighter is hit.

Stellate-class fighters are much too small to carry shield generators, relying instead on maneuverability to avoid getting hit. Ironically, it is not a plasma blast that finds my little fighter, but a shred of shrapnel from one of the cruisers I destroyed. Through the interface, I feel the shrapnel impact as if it were slicing my own flesh, and then one of my tentacles goes numb, a safety precaution against excess stimulation. I run diagnostics and discover that one ray of the star is badly damaged, the thrusters useless.

Well. This changes things.

My fighter has a Stillness Bomb installed, though I have never before activated it. Use of the Stillness is tightly regulated under Sheekah law — it is considered a last resort. But here I am, damaged and outnumbered, and the Brights were never formally removed from our list of treatised allies so I am justified in using the Stillness to defend the Bright ship. A technicality, of course, since I know the inhabitants aren’t Brights, but it allows me to use the weapon nonetheless.

To save them, I need to maneuver into contact with their hull, a task I struggle to accomplish without my full array of thrusters. After long seconds of angling, I pass through the Bright shields and stab into the ship, one of the rays of my fighter penetrating the hull. The ray unfolds, sealing the two vessels together and leaving one of my tentacles dangling down through an open aperture into a hallway in the Bright ship. This fusion complete, I can now calibrate the Stillness Bomb to avoid the Bright ship and its occupants. When I am certain the weapon identifies the Bright ship as an extension of my fighter, I meticulously disengage three levels of safeties and activate the Stillness.

BOOK: Clarkesworld Anthology 2012
10.57Mb size Format: txt, pdf, ePub
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