Archive for the 'Snippets' Category
* * *
The light of the cab drew nearer. He raised his satchel to gain the driver’s attention. But he jerked his hand back down as a woman screamed in terror from a nearby alley. Immediately, the street village was plunged into silence.
Phousita grabbed the doctor’s elbow and drew him backward until they were pressed against the door of the warehouse. “What is it?” he hissed. She shook her head, uncertain. The street was dark. Gas fires, stars, a few scattered flashlights: in the diffuse light she could make out the thoroughfare and the village that crowded the wayside, but she saw nothing that would—
She caught her breath as two great beasts trotted into view from the alley. They paused for a moment in the center of the thoroughfare, their armored heads swinging slowly back and forth as their nostrils tested the air. She could hear them snuffling. “Police dogs,” Zeke Choy muttered. He said it like a curse.
Phousita stood very still, wondering whom the dogs sought tonight. They were the servants of the Commonwealth Police. Their massive heads reached as high as a man’s shoulder. Phousita had seen one crush a woman’s skull in a single bite.
The dogs trotted slowly down the street, pausing now and then at a rickety shelter to lower their heads and examine visually the cowering inhabitants. In the harsh headlights of the approaching cab, their armored skulls glinted purest silver.
“…phenomenal….This one is a winner–grab it when you see it…”
Fred Cleaver, The Denver Post:
“…excellent….bursting with ideas and adventure…”
Tech-Heaven is a near-future political thriller that imagines the rise of nanotechnology in our world through the eyes of Katie Kishida, a mother and business woman whose life takes an extraordinary turn when she is widowed, and her husband’s body is cryonically frozen against a time when advancing technology will allow his resurrection.
* * *
Katie Kishida rode into the little Andean village of La Cruz on the back of a bony black steel mannequin. Through her VR suit she directed each crunching step along the mineral soil of the village’s lone street. A freezing wind whistled through the mannequin’s external joints and soughed past the rim of her VR helmet. She clung to the mannequin’s back, studying the helmet’s video display, anxiously searching the village for signs of life. But there was nothing—not a wisp of smoke or a scrounging bird, or even a cat slinking through the cluster of worn, wood frame buildings.
She commanded the remotely controlled unit to stop. The village made a neat frame for an imposing line of white peaks supporting a heavy ceiling of storm clouds. Bass thunder rumbled there, arriving almost below the range of hearing, a deep vibration that set Katie’s slight, sixty-four-year-old body trembling, and snapped the brittle tethers she’d placed upon her fear.
The Voice cops had forgotten her.
She didn’t want to believe it. Certainly in Panama they’d tried to stop her. Failing that, they’d seized her holding company, Kishida Hunt. They’d confiscated her assets, declared her a criminal, and then . . . nothing. She’d journeyed south for weeks with no sign of pursuit, and that worried her most of all, because the Voice cops wouldn’t give up unless they thought she was dead . . . or disarmed. Maybe they knew about her bootleg copy of the Cure. Maybe they’d seized it before it could be shipped to La Cruz. Or maybe the life-extension schedule was a fraud, and there had been no pursuit since Panama because there was no Cure—and no way to restore life to the cryonic suspension patients hidden in a clandestine mausoleum in the mountains above La Cruz.
Fear had become her default emotion.
She shut down the remote, then slid from her perch on its back to stand on her own stiff legs. Her lean muscles ached and her ass was forever sore. She lifted the video helmet off her head. The wind streamed past her cheeks, its bitter touch oddly familiar. She thought she could feel Tom’s presence in the mountains’ unremitting cold. Tom had been dead thirty years. Or maybe he’d just become a crystalline life-form when his heart had stopped, his body and their marriage both immersed in liquid nitrogen, –196 C, a cold that had haunted her life.
A child’s laughter broke her reverie. Katie looked up. Motion drew her gaze up the street to a single story building slightly larger than all the others, with a hand lettered sign by the door declaring Provisiones. Katie remembered. This was the same store where she’d bought a cup of hot coffee fifteen years ago. Back then, the building had been painted a shade of blue that matched the sky. But time had bleached and chipped away the paint until now there was only a hint of color left between the cracks. The walls were further abused with rusty staples, a few still clenching the tattered corners of handbills that had long since blown away. A little girl was peering past the partly opened door, bouncing up and down in excitement as she exclaimed in lilting Spanish over the skeletal aspect of the remote.
In her eagerness, Katie dropped the helmet in the street, forgetting it before it hit the ground. She hobbled toward the battered building, fighting muscle cramps in her legs. If the Cure had been successfully shipped from Vancouver, then it would be here, in the village store. She could claim her package and push on, higher still into the mountains, to the hidden mausoleum where Tom waited. If she could get to that quiet place, with the Cure in hand and no cops on her trail, then perhaps she could finally confront the ghost that had haunted her for thirty years.
* * *
“Come on, Skye,” Buyu complained as he stood on the rim of the box looking down at her. “Stop fooling around.”
Skye’s gloves were so stiff she could not bend her fingers. She was covered in wriggling tentacles, her skin suit felt like it was on fire, she couldn’t reach anything solid with either hands or feet, and Buyu was accusing her of fooling around?
“Help me get out of here!” she screamed at him. “Buyu! Or you are a dead man.”
Someone caught the half-curled fingers of her rigid hand. She twisted around and saw that it was Devi. He had a wicked gleam in his eyes as he hauled her across the writhing lydras. “That was a beautiful dive, Skye! Wish I’d caught it on record. Have you ever thought about working with lydras professionally . . . ?”
She glared at him, silently vowing to get even. It didn’t take long. As she reached the rim of the cargo container, she kicked the last of the clinging tentacles away. Then she hooked her stiff fingers around the rim and launched herself headfirst out of the box, driving her shoulder into Devi’s gut as she did it.
Devi was so surprised that he was still holding her hand as they flopped together over the side.
Too late, Skye remembered it was a full three-meter plunge to the floor. She got her forearms in front of her to take the brunt of the fall. At least the gravity was half normal! So she didn’t hit as hard as she would have in Silk, but it was hard enough. The air was knocked out of her lungs, so it took her a few seconds to realize she had landed on a writhing cushion of lydras. After that she was on her feet in an instant, scurrying back up the stack of containers to get away from the beasts while Devi lay on the floor laughing uproariously.
The dried bunches of herbs that hung from the thatch were almost all gone by the time winter neared its end. Ketty used a forked stick to bring down the last one, though she wondered if it had any flavor left in it other than smoke. But as she lifted it from its hook, another item was revealed behind it. It looked to be a small pouch, hanging from its drawstring.
Putting the bundle of herbs aside on the table, she used her forked stick again, to fetch the pouch. It was heavier than she expected. Full of curiosity, she took it in her hand, and at once she heard the clink of coins. She put down the stick and hurried to the door.
It was a gloomy day, with frost still crunching on the ground, but it was light enough that she could see the sparkle of gold and silver when she peered into the pouch. She forgot to breathe as she poked her fingers at the coins. There were many different sizes and colors, most that she’d never seen before. But she’d seen a silver tarling once, one of the wedding gifts when her cousin was married. That alone had been enough to buy a new plough horse, and she saw at least two silver tarlings in the pouch, and they were not the grandest coins.
“Ah, Smoke,” she breathed in wonder. “You did not tell me we were rich.”
She ran across the meadow and through the woods, to the little clearing where Smoke was scraping a deer hide. “Oh, you found the purse,” he said when she showed the pouch to him. “I forgot I had that.”
“You forgot?” she asked, incredulous.
“You speak as if you’ve killed men before.”
Smoke laughed. “Did you truly wonder? Of course I’ve killed men before. It’s nothing and I don’t care about it.” He walked down to the water’s edge where he knelt, gazing at the shapes of fishes swimming at the bottom of a deep, calm pool.
I don’t care about it.
Without warning, a sick heat stirred in his belly. He grimaced, and then he heard himself speaking in a soft voice that hardly seemed his own, “I don’t like to kill women or their children.”
The words were hardly out when the feeling passed. Why had he spoken at all? “Don’t think on it,” he told himself in a whisper. He stood up again and in a firmer voice he said, “Come, Ketty. The days have grown shorter, and we still have some long way to go.”
He turned, and was surprised to find Ketty already on her feet, her sack slung over her shoulder, and her staff raised against him as fear and fury waged in her eyes. “You’ve murdered children?”
He was taken by surprise and his own temper flashed. “They weren’t your people! And anyway, it was a war. The Trenchant commanded it.”
She was aghast. “The Trenchant? You’re a Koráyos warrior? From the Puzzle Lands?”
“Ketty, will there never be an end to your questions? You try my patience!”
“Answer me, Smoke! Are you a Koráyos warrior?”
“I was, but no longer. Now can we go?”
“No.” Ketty took a step back. “I don’t want to go any farther with a bloody-handed servant of the Bidden.”
Smoke’s hands squeezed into fists. A flush heated his neck and cheeks. Ketty must have sensed his perilous mood. She gasped, stumbling away as if expecting him to come after her with his sword. He wondered if he should.
Then again, the wolves were hunting.
“Go on!” he told her. “Go on your way. I’m young yet. I’ll find another woman.” He turned his back on her and walked on, so used to walking now that in the tumult of his thoughts he forgot there was another way.
POINT ZERO: INITIATE.
A sense kicked in. Something like vision. Not because it emulated sight, but because it revealed. Himself: Nikko Jiang-Tibayan. An electronic pattern scheduled to manifest at discrete intervals. Nikko Jiang-Tibayan. He’d been an organic entity once. Not now.
Point one: identify.
Personality suspended on a machine grid: He is the mind of the great ship, Null Boundary. His memories are many, not all accessible. He’s locked much of his past away in proscribed data fields. He interrogates his remaining inventory, seeking an explanation. It comes in an amalgam of cloudy scents: the clinging stink of living flesh parasitized by aerobic bacteria. All defenses down. “Don’t be sad, my love,” she whispers. “Whatever the cost, you know we had to try.”
He explores no farther.
Point two and counting: status check.
A scheduled mood shift floods his pattern with easy confidence. He confirms that Null Boundary has long ago reached maximum velocity, four-tenths lightspeed. The magnetic scoops have been deactivated; the solenoids folded to a point piercing the increasingly thick interstellar medium. Duration? Over two centuries ship’s time have elapsed since Null Boundary left Deception Well.
Two more centuries.
His past has become unconscionably deep for a man who’d been condemned to die at the age of thirty standard years.
“…one of the most enjoyable SF books I’ve read in the last 12 years…I can safely say that it is one of the very novels that has literally haunted my dreams, in that the book exerted such a powerful hold on my waking imagination that come nighttime I found my sleeping brain racing ahead with the story. It’s awesome!”
“…Nagata’s vision broadens our sense of who we are and what we might one day become as few others have done before her. Recommended.”
–Tom Easton, Analog
“VAST blends solid reasoning, lyrical prose, and an almost mythic suite of characters to form one of the most satisfying sf novels of the decade.”
A railcar was ferrying Key Lu across the tether linking Nahiku East and West when a micro-meteor popped through the car’s canopy, leaving two neat holes that vented the cabin to hard vacuum within seconds. The car continued on the track, but it took over a minute for it to reach the gel lock at Nahiku West and pass through into atmosphere. No one expected to find Key Lu alive, but as soon as the car re-pressurized, he woke up.
Sometimes, it’s a crime not to die.
I stepped into the interrogation chamber. Key had been sitting on one of two padded couches, but when he saw me he bolted to his feet. I stood very still, hearing the door lock behind me. Nothing in Key’s background indicated he was a violent man, but prisoners sometimes panic. I raised my hand slightly, as a gel ribbon armed with a paralytic spray slid from my forearm to my palm, ready for use if it came to that.
“Please,” I said, keeping the ribbon carefully concealed. “Sit down.”
Key slowly subsided onto the couch, never taking his frightened eyes off me.
Most of the celestial cities restrict the height and weight of residents to minimize the consumption of volatiles, but Commonwealth police officers are required to be taller and more muscular than the average citizen. I used to be a smaller man, but during my time at the academy adjustments were made. I faced Key Lu with a physical presence optimized to trigger a sense of intimidation in the back brain of a nervous suspect, an effect enhanced by the black fabric of my uniform. Its design was simple—shorts cuffed at the knees and a lightweight pullover with long sleeves that covered the small arsenal of chemical ribbons I carried on my forearms—but its light-swallowing color set me apart from the bright fashions of the celestial cities.
I sat down on the couch opposite Key Lu. He was a well-designed man, nothing eccentric about him, just another good-looking citizen. His hair was presently blond, his eyebrows darker. His balanced face lacked strong features. The only thing notable about him was his injuries. Dark bruises surrounded his eyes and their whites had turned red from burst blood vessels. More bruises discolored swollen tissue beneath his coppery skin.
We studied each other for several seconds, both knowing what was at stake. I was first to speak. “I’m Officer Zeke Choy—”
“I know who you are.”
“—of the Commonwealth Police, the watch officer here at Nahiku.”
The oldest celestial cities orbited Earth, but Nahiku was newer. It was one in a cluster of three orbital habitats that circled the Sun together, just inside the procession of Venus.
Key Lu addressed me again, with the polite insistence of a desperate man. “I didn’t know about the quirk, Officer Choy. I thought I was legal.”
The machine voice of a Dull Intelligence whispered into my auditory nerve that he was lying. I already knew that, but I nodded anyway, pretending to believe him.
The DI was housed within my atrium, a neural organ that served as an interface between mind and machine. Atriums are a legal enhancement—they don’t change human biology—but Key Lu’s quirked physiology that had allowed him to survive short-term exposure to hard vacuum was definitely not.
I was sure his quirk had been done before the age of consent. He’d been born in the Far Reaches among the fragile holdings of the asteroid prospectors, where it must have looked like a reasonable gamble to bioengineer some insurance into his system. Years had passed since then; enforcement had grown stricter. Though Key Lu looked perfectly ordinary, by the law of the Commonwealth, he wasn’t even human.
I met his gaze, hoping he was no fool. “Don’t tell me anything I don’t want to know,” I warned him.
I let him consider this for several seconds before I went on. “Your enhancement is illegal under the statutes of the Commonwealth—”
“I understand that, but I didn’t know about it.”
I nodded my approval of this lie. I needed to maintain the fiction that he hadn’t known. It was the only way I could help him. “I’ll need your consent to remove it.”
A spark of hope ignited in his blooded eyes. “Yes! Yes, of course.”
“So recorded.” I stood, determined to get the quirk out of his system as soon as possible, before awkward questions could be asked. “Treatment can begin right—”
The door to the interrogation room opened.
I was so startled, I turned with my hand half raised, ready to trigger the ribbon of paralytic still hidden in my palm—only to see Magistrate Glory Mina walk in, flanked by two uniformed cops I’d never seen before.
My DI sent the ribbon retreating back up my forearm while I greeted Glory with a scowl. Nahiku was my territory. I was the only cop assigned to the little city and I was used to having my own way—but with the magistrate’s arrival I’d just been overridden.
Here’s what Locus says about “Nahiku West”:
“A complex mystery, with an intricate plot… Well conceived and well executed. RECOMMENDED.”
“Nahiku West” is a 9,000-word novelette. Find it at Book View Café Use coupon code NW1012 for $1 off through October 30, 2012.
The pit was an ugly chunk of a room, weirdly lit by panels set between the three sets of elevator doors along its curving back wall. Faint shadows shifted and rippled across the floor, leading Skye to glance up, at the domed observation bubble, and the faces of nearly two hundred ados staring down at her. Buyu was there. He gave her a thumbs-up. Skye pretended not to see.
She straightened her shoulders, glancing nervously at Commandant Penwo’s office, sheltered behind a transparent wall on one side of the jump pit. She could see him, dressed in street clothes and rocking in a high-back chair. He didn’t look happy. He wanted to veto this jump, but Skye was fourteen now, and by Silk’s city charter that meant she was free to do any activity approved for ados. It was a giddy freedom that she had been cherishing over the five days since her birthday.
Penwo caught her glance. He shook his head. “Somewhere between six and sixty people lose their good sense,” he said. “We don’t call this phase ‘dumb ado’ for nothing.”
Skye’s fingers twitched. “Can you remember that far back, Commandant?”
Penwo grinned. “Have fun, Skye Object. Hope you live.”
Advanced middle-grade / young-adult science fiction, available in print and ebook versions. More Info.
“I will tell you a story of these children,” Ky Xuan Nguyen said, startling Ela again with his voice so intimate in her ear. “It is said the Roi Nuoc are not human. Some say no children are truly human anymore. They are invaders, living in disguise among us. Aliens. They hope to keep us unaware until they reach breeding age, at which time they will bear only alien-type offspring. At that point the world as we know it will end. If we are unlucky, or undeserving, they will murder us all. If we have shown the proper deference and respect, they may choose to see us through an honored old age, but even so, we will be the last human generation. Any children we bear will belong to them.”
Ela caught herself barely breathing. She had heard this same story in Bangkok, after Sawong left with his lover and she was alone. “If you want to be afraid of something,” she said softly, “it’s easy to find an excuse.”
“I’m not afraid.”
No. Why should he be?
She spoke to the green-tinted mud. “People like to talk. But these are not evil spirits. Not alien invaders.”
Her mouth felt dry. Sawong had left her with a thousand baht, a set of farsights, and the keys to his apartment. She’d been twelve. “They are just children.” She tapped her fingers, wishing she could see Nguyen’s face so Kathang could read him. “They are just children. I should do an article on them. That would be a good thing, if I show—”
“No, Ms. Suvanatat, that would not be good. You will not write about the Roi Nuoc. Not now. Not ever.”
Ela stood still, gazing back at the village and the silhouettes of distant women working in their platform houses, feeling as if she stood on the rotten floor of an abandoned tenement. Only a fool would take another step. So. “You think you can make it forever?”
“You are much like the Roi Nuoc, Ela. You are very like them. You could have found Sawong, or waited for him to return. But you didn’t. Why not?”
Anger blended with her surprise. He should not know about Sawong. He should not have bothered to know. “Say, did you want to do an article on me?”
“That would be difficult. There’s not much to tell, is there?”
“Sure. Aliens lead dull lives.”
“I take it we understand each other, Ms. Suvanatat?”
Oh yes. She understood him. He had made a mistake, talking to her about the Roi Nuoc, and now he wanted to pretend that mistake was repaired. Fine. “Of course, Mr. Nguyen.”
So what was his connection to the Roi Nuoc anyway?
With a few quiet finger taps, she passed the question on to Kathang for investigation. After all, she was not going to stay trapped in the Mekong forever. Someday soon she would be in Australia — and beyond Nguyen’s reach.
[A] compelling biotech thriller. Nagata…enlivens this extended chase through the steamy murk of Mekong swamps and the monsoons of the southeast Pacific with fascinating biotech hardware and gadgetry as well as clever extrapolations into nanotech potential…an idea-provoking narrative that is genuinely innovative in conception.