Authors: Larry Niven,Mercedes Lackey,Nancy Kress,Ken Liu,Brad R. Torgersen,C. L. Moore,Tina Gower
The Best of
The Best of Galaxy’s Edge
© 2014 by Arc Manor, LLC.
All rights reserved. Individual stories copyrighted as indicated. This book may not be copied or reproduced, in whole or in part, by any means, electronic, mechanical or otherwise without written permission from the publisher except by a reviewer who may quote brief passages in a review.
This is a work of fiction. Any resemblance to any actual persons, events or localities is purely coincidental and beyond the intent of the author and publisher.
Tarikian, TARK Classic Fiction, Arc Manor, Arc Manor Classic Reprints, Phoenix Pick, Phoenix Science Fiction Classics, Phoenix Rider, The Stellar Guild Series, Manor Thrift and logos associated with those imprints are trademarks or registered trademarks of Arc Manor, LLC, Rockville, Maryland. All other trademarks and trademarked names are properties of their respective owners.
This book is presented as is, without any warranties (implied or otherwise) as to the accuracy of the production, text or translation.
ISBN (DIGITAL): 978-1-61242-237-4
ISBN (PAPER): 978-1-61242-236-7
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by Mike Resnick
by Brian Trent
POCKET FULL OF MUMBLES
by Tina Gower
CREATOR OF THE COSMOS JOB INTERVIEW TODAY
by Nick DiChario
VOLUNTEER TO KILL WENDY?
by Eric Cline
by K. C. Norton
EFFECT AND CAUSE
by Ken Liu
GHOST IN THE MACHINE
by Ralph Roberts
THE PRAYER LADDER
by Marina J. Lostetter
by Steve Cameron
THE SPINACH CAN’S SON
by Robert T. Jeschonek
by Gio Clairval
NO PLACE FOR A HERO
by James Aquilone
HAPPILY EVER AFTER
by C. L. Moore
by Tom Gerencer
LOVE IN BLOOM
by Sabina Theo
ICARUS AT NOON
by Eric Leif Davin
by Lou J. Berger
DO YOU REMEMBER MICHAEL JONES?
by Nancy Kress
ZOMBIES AT WORK
by Leena Likitalo
by Mercedes Lackey
by Brad R. Torgersen
TODAY I AM NOBODY
by Tina Gower
GOD WALKS INTO A BAR
by Larry Niven
by Kary English
THE UNCHANGING NATURE OF STONES
by Andrea G. Stewart
by Mike Resnick
one day I’m talking to Shahid Mahmud, the publisher of Arc Manor/Phoenix Pick, and he remarks wistfully that he would love to start a science fiction magazine, but of course magazines don’t make any money these days.
I reply that I’d love to edit one, but I just got through co-editing
Jim Baen’s Universe
, which had everything going for it and still went the way of all flesh. (Well, of all phosphors.)
And he stares at me for a long while, and finally asks if I’d be crazy enough to edit one. And I stare back and say, only if we can find someone crazy enough to pay me. And, I add, certain that I was putting the final nail in the coffin, I wouldn’t agree to do it unless it could be a showplace for new and lesser-known writers.
That conversation took place three years ago. The first issue of the magazine came out in March of 2013. It’s October of 2014 as I write these words, and damned if
isn’t still in business, still getting great reviews, and doing better than ever.
From the outset, I realized that we couldn’t buy
new stories by new writers each issue. A magazine titled
did that maybe a third of a century ago, even published William Gibson’s first story … and you haven’t seen it around in maybe a third of a century minus a few months.
We needed some Names (note the capital “N”) for the cover, to attract readers, and I came up with a format whereby I would buy four reprint stories an issue from the biggest Names in the field, and we’d serialize a novel by another huge Name … and this would allow me to buy five or six new stories by new and lesser-known writers for each issue.
Our reprints—by Robert Silverberg, Mercedes Lackey, C. L. Moore (we unearthed a story she wrote for her college magazine which hadn’t seen the light of day for 83 years), Robert J. Sawyer, Kristine Kathryn Rusch, Kevin J. Anderson, Jack McDevitt, Kij Johnson, Larry Niven, Andre Norton, David Brin, Nancy Kress, and that whole crowd—not only have attracted readers, but it seems, based on our fan mail, that most of these reprints are new to well over half our readership.
Anyway, running those reprints has allowed us to buy from more than three dozen new and newer writers in our first eleven issues. The best of them are in this book (as well as a few new stories by our established friends who just happened to have something ready to go when I had a hole to fill).
Some of these stories are by writers who are going to join the ranks of the Names pretty soon. There’s Brad R. Torgersen, who has picked up a Campbell nomination, a Nebula nomination, and three Hugo nominations during his first four years in the field. There’s Tina Gower, winner of the $5,000 Writers of the Future Gold Award. There’s Nick DiChario, a two-time Hugo nominee. And Bob
, winner of the International Book Award. And one of them, Ken Liu, may have been a newcomer when he wrote his story for this book, but he’s a bona fide star these days, a recent winner of the Hugo, Nebula and World Fantasy Awards.
Nor are the newer writers limited to our particular land mass. We’ve got stories by Bulgaria’s Sabina Theo, Italy/France/Scotland’s Gio Clairval, and Finland’s Leena Likitalo.
But I didn’t select their stories for their names, their homes, or their credentials, but solely for their quality. They’re all in the pages up ahead, just waiting to please you. So maybe it’s time to go take a look at them. I think you’ll be glad you did.
by Brian Trent
careful, Jimmy!” the old woman says. “It might bite you!”
“It’s a robot, Nana. It can’t bite me.”
“I’ve seen it bite flies!”
“But not a human being.”
The woman with the silver hair and brown eyes anxiously peeks over Jimmy’s shoulder to examine me. I’ve seen her before—in an abstract way while I fashion my webs outside her window—but now I see
. The person. The inhabitant of Room 18 in Sheldon Springs Retirement Home.
The nametag on her paisley blouse reads:
She begins a nervous pace, fidgeting and tucking her hair behind her ears as I sit helpless on Jimmy’s palm, the tools in his other hand operating on my thorax microchip access-panel. Tools the same color as Mildred’s hair.
“When I was a little girl on Anacreon,” Mildred mutters, “there was a spider living outside my window. It built webs from the flowerbox to the awning. Anacreon has two suns, did you know that? At twinrise, their combined light seemed to set the web ablaze in two different colors …” Mildred hesitates, drawing a finger to her mouth like a child who has forgotten an important detail. “I’ve already told you that story, haven’t I, Jimmy?”
“It’s okay, Nana.”
My eight metallic legs claw uselessly at the air. My eye-cluster swivels and adjusts to regard my tormentor, Jimmy, as he brandishes one last tool—a pair of tweezers—to insert something into me.
A final click reverberates throughout my frame. Jimmy closes my thorax, slips his tools into a small case, and flips me right-side up.
“That’ll do it!” he trumpets.
Again, Mildred peers over his shoulder and clutches his arm. “What did you do, Jimmy?”
The boy lifts me to his mouth.
Is he going to eat me? I do not wish to be eaten.
“Now listen here, arachnobot!” he declares in a rich, authoritative tone. “From this moment on, you are an artist. You are to continue making webs, but I’ve given you a little upgrade. You are to build webs which will make Grandma Millie happy. Every sunrise, you’ll make her a new web!”
He plucks me from the table and returns me through the open window to my shimmering, dew-heavy web of liquid protein microfabricated strands. I orient myself in the web’s center to watch the two humans in the room.
Jimmy hugs the old woman. “Now you have something to keep you happy until my next visit,” he says. “Goodbye, Nana.”
“Jimmy?” Mildred glances to the photographs on her nightstand. Her face crumples in quiet agonies. “You’re not Jimmy. My Jimmy has been dead a long time, hasn’t he?”
“It doesn’t matter. I’ll visit you next month, when I return from the conference. I love you.”
Not-Jimmy goes out into the corridor, while Mildred paces anxiously around her room.
My web isn’t good enough for her.
By sunrise the next morning, I’ve rewoven it into a silken paisley fern.
* * *
May is humid, hazy, and dominated by flies.
As the arachnobot of Sheldon Springs Retirement Home, I follow a set of orders not so different, perhaps, from the genetic com
pulsions of actual arachnids in the vicinity: Spin webs to capture flies. Digest them into the protein polymers I will use to make more webs to capture more flies.
Following this set of commands are the hard-wired underpinnings of my very existence:
And now my newest command sits weightily upon me:
Now listen here, arachnobot! From this moment on, you are an artist. You are to continue making webs, but I’ve given you a little upgrade. You are to build webs which will make Grandma Millie happy. Every sunrise, you’ll make her a new web!
Mildred, I notice through her bedroom window, likes to read books with pictures. She touches pages and new images appear. A landscape of canals. A ringed world swollen on a cratered horizon. Sometimes the pictures bring a smile to Mildred’s face. Sometimes they bring tears. I study her expressions. When she conjures the picture of a toad holding a crudely painted flower, she smiles and touches the screen with a quivering hand.
I could make a better flower than that.
By nightfall, she is sleeping with the book on the bed beside her. Its cover-screen fades to display the title:
Memories of Stars and Family.
Sunrise awakens her. Mildred rubs her eyes, squinting toward the glittering, dangling flower in silk I’ve woven. Suspended between sill and latch, it glows radiant orange in the rising sunlight.
A ten-degree angle adjustment, I note, would be better.
Mildred approaches the glass. She is wearing pajamas with stars and crescent moons on them.
“How beautiful! Did you do this, little spider?”
I shiver pleasantly from the happy notes in her voice.
“I saw flowers like this when I was a child on Anacreon. I’ve seen a thousand worlds since then, but it always comes back to the first one, doesn’t it?”
I have no idea, Mildred. But I like that you’re happy.
The itsy bitsy spider, climbs up the water spout,
” she sings softly. Mildred likes to sing. She knows so many songs.
The door opens suddenly behind her.
A nurse enters. The name-tag clipped to her uniform reads:
“Mildred, you’re up early!”
“Hello Janet. I like your earrings.”
“Do you?” The nurse jiggles the silver. “It’s Saturn.”
“Yes, I know.”
“Oh?” Nurse Janet tilts her head. “Yes, of course. You’re our famous astronaut! Helped discover a world of diamond!” Janet’s eyes glitter in the refracted light of my web. “Lucky you!”
Mildred smiles. “I wish I could remember it.”
Nurse Janet changes Mildred’s bedsheets and notices the framed photographs on her nightstand. “Such a lovely family, too. It’s just that grandson of yours now, yes? Such a handsome boy!”
Mildred gives a troubled nod. “Sometimes I don’t remember him. It’s like a stranger visiting me. Visiting his crazy grandma.”
The nurse finishes with the bed. “Don’t say that, Mildred. He’ll be back in a few weeks and I’ll bet you’ll remember him just fine. Say, how about a picture together?”
Janet retrieves a camera from her uniform pocket. She tucks her arm around Mildred’s waist and snaps the picture.
“Thank you, Millie!” Nurse Janet has a pleasant smile—a smile would make a nice design for a web—but as she examines the picture, the expression darkens. “You’re not smiling, Millie! Why aren’t you smiling? Oh, no matter.”
She leaves the room.
The next morning, I reweave the flower into Saturn.
* * *
I must create eight webs at various points around Sheldon Springs Retirement Home to most effectively cull the seasonal emergent fly population. The equation is as dependable as the structure of my body: a steady-state condition of fly populations versus predator (me) operating at optimal capture rates, resulting in a resource gain for the continued production of webs.
One of the choicest locations, nine meters from a pond where flies breed, is the staff breakroom. At 9:43 a.m., I construct a standard web outside that window.
Nurse Janet is in the room, sitting at a table across from a man in blue porter scrubs. I try to get a better glimpse of her earrings.
“He’s hopped the space elevator,” the porter says, nursing his coffee. His nametag reads:
. “He’ll be gone three weeks. If we’re going to do this, sis, we won’t get a better chance.”
Janet drums the table with her fingers. “Of course we’re going to do this. Think I’m going to be stuck working here my whole life?” She half-turns, allowing me an oblique view of the earrings. I catch a glimpse of fishtails.
“I’ve already got it worked out,” she continues. “Tomorrow, you drug her breakfast and bring it to her at 8 a.m. At 8:30 a.m., you knock over a mop and bucket right outside her door. That’s the perfect excuse to keep people away from her room; there’s a stairwell right there, and that floor is deadly when wet.”
“While you’re cleaning up the spilled water, I visit Mildred.”
She turns to the window. I see the earrings in full now. Mermaids.
I could do that.
“Pillow over the head,” Janet says.
“And what about her will?” Daniel asks. “The old bitch is so out of it, she might have left her estate to a field mouse.”
“Her original will left everything to the Space Agency and her grandson. Let’s say I’ve gotten …
to her executor. There’s a new will now. It leaves a substantial sum to her favorite nurse.”
“And porter …” Daniel insists.
“Of course. Just remember: 8 a.m. breakfast; 8:30, spill the bucket.
I almost fall off my web, dangling from a single strand.
As the two humans depart, I climb in through the window, setting my eye-cluster on the wall-phone. Emergencies are handled by the police. Police can be contacted through various communication devices such as, but not limited to, a phone.
Mildred is in danger.
From the sill to the breakroom table, past rings of old coffee-stains and a discarded fork, I crawl towards the phone. It is red, shiny, and has a flat readout screen.
I hesitate, quivering uncertainly on my metallic legs.
I don’t have a voice.
Nonetheless, phones are for communication and there are ways to communicate other than through larynx vibrations. I
communicate the murder plot. Otherwise Mildred will die tomorrow. The First Law vibrates along my limbs. So, too, does my other programming: Build webs to catch flies. The compulsion rises. I’ll have to build a web soon. The flies are out there, multiplying.
But first …
I stab one leg into the
“Enter biometric signature,” says the phone.
I halt, stunned.
Arachnobots do not have biometric data. Only humans do.
I peer at the many coffee mugs, magazines, and eating utensils in the breakroom. There must be a hundred biometric samples I can use here. Fingerprints on that dirty fork, for instance. This should be a simple matter to—
A scream startles me.
I pivot towards the door and see Janet standing there, a look of horror on her face. She rushes me, snatching a magazine as she does, and slams it down just as I leap out of the way. I land hard on the floor, and narrowly avoid a second, crushing blow from her boot.
“Little bastard!” she cries.
I dash into the dust beneath the heater, hiding behind pipes.
From the doorway, Daniel peeks in. “What’s wrong?”
“A spider! A
“Real or robotic?”
“It was bright blue! Robotic, I think.”
“Then it can’t hurt you. Calm down, sis!”
While she’s jabbing the rolled-up magazine beneath the heater, I clamber up the wall and escape to the other side of the window. Another cry, and the magazine smacks the glass, knocking me into the bushes.
Janet leans out the window.
“Hey arachnobot!” she yells. “I order you stay out of here forever!”
* * *
I try to enter the breakroom during the night.
Janet has closed the window but there’s space for me to squeeze through the jamb. Yet each time I approach the glass, my movements become sluggish. My legs stick in their sockets. It helps to imagine flies in the breakroom. There
be flies in the breakroom. Still,
voice is like a web of her own stretching across me.