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Eye Candy by Ryan Schneider
Chapter 1
Why Did the Robot Cross the Road?

“Are you sure she’s going to be okay?”

“Stop asking me that.” Rory slapped the big yellow crosswalk button again. Behind them, the Pacific Ocean stretched to the horizon, wide and blue.

At the end of the Santa Monica Sport Fishing pier, the giant Ferris wheel revolved under the California sun.

A bullet-nosed monorail train whooshed by on its silver electromagnet track perched on spidery stilts above the street.

“What if she’s not ready?” Tim asked. “Candy’s going to be. . . . I don’t know what she’s going to be, but she’s going to hate our guts, that’s for sure.”

“She’s not going to hate us; she’s our friend. We’ve been friends since college, remember? Besides, I’m not sure Candy is capable of hatred.” Rory pressed the big yellow button, hard this time.

A flatbed truck drove slowly down the street. On the back of it stood a tall electronic marquee. The marquee displayed a stocky, balding man wearing tinted eyeglasses.

Tim pointed. “There goes Grossman. Again.”

“Robots made in China and Japan are stealing jobs from hardworking Americans,” Grossman thundered.” The truck drove down the street.

“God, that guy is everywhere,” said Rory.

“He’s serious about being President.”

The truck drove down the street.

“What were we talking about?” Tim asked. “Oh yeah. Are you sure she’s going to be okay?”

“No, damnit, I’m not sure. But so what? She’s gotta get out there sometime.” Rory slapped the big yellow crosswalk button half a dozen times more. “Does this thing even work? It’s 2047, for God’s sake. We’ve got orbital hotels but we can’t design a friggin’ crosswalk computer that works. There are no cars coming yet we have to stand here like robots incapable of determining for ourselves when it’s safe to cross the street.” Rory noticed a silver, skinny robot standing next to him with a case of beer in its hands, waiting to cross the street. “No offense.”

The robot’s balloon-shaped head swiveled toward Rory on its skinny post of a neck. “No offense taken, of course, sir.” Its electronic voice sounded happy and cheerful.

“Instead, we have to wait for the computer to tell us when we can cross,” said Rory. “And what are you looking at?”

A second robot stood nearby, grimy and with a significant dent on one side of its head. One of its glowing red eyes was missing. It held a square flap of brown cardboard scrawled with black ink: Will work for electricity. Or beer. God bless. A long, black leash stretched from a collar around the robot’s neck to the wrist of a filthy man lying flat on his back in a patch of nearby grass, fast asleep.

“I’m not looking at anything, sir,” replied the robot. “Could you spare some change?”

“Fuck you,” said Rory. “Fuck him, too.” Rory thrust his chin at the sleeping man.

“Yes, sir,” said the robot.

“Dude, calm down,” said Tim.

“No, goddamnit. I’m pissed off now. I think I can determine for myself when it’s safe to cross the street. I neither need nor want a damn machine telling me what I can or can’t do and when I can or can’t do it. Maybe Grossman is right. Screw this nanny-state bullshit. You know what, to hell with it, I’m crossing.”

“You’d better not. They’ll fine you.”

“Like hell.”

“See those little white cameras on top of each streetlight?” Tim pointed. “This entire intersection is covered. If you cross, they’ll see you. You’ll get a citation in your inbox. Five-hundred-and-forty dollars.”

“Five-hundred-and-forty dollars for jaywalking? Are you sure?”

“Dead sure. You know that new guy who started in the Bio-Plastics Division last week? Skin specialist?”

“Larry? Yeah. Good guy. Graduated Cal Tech.”

“Larry told me all about how he crossed the street on a red light because he ate some bad Japanese food. He ordered Teriyaki Chicken for lunch, but he said it wasn’t like any chicken he’d ever seen before. It was little round nuggets of weird, dark meat.

“Anyway, he wasn’t even through with lunch and already things were gurgling around down there. By the time they were paying the bill, he was having uncontrollable flatulence. And not cute little girl-farts, either. These were the long, hot, steamy ones that smell like death warmed over.

“Ten minutes later, he’s standing on this very corner. He doesn’t want to cross the street because he knows the cameras will see him and he’ll get a fine. But he doesn’t want to shit his pants, either. Plus, he and his fiancée were having dinner with her parents that evening right after work and he wasn’t going to have time to go home and change or to freshen up.

“So, finally, when it was safe to cross the street, even though the crosswalk computer said not to, he runs across the street and into Positronic Pizza and Pub. But you have to get a token from the robot cashier in order to get into the bathrooms, because of all the homeless people who like to bathe in there. And there was a huge long line for the cashier. By the time he was first in line, the robie tells him the bathrooms are for paying customers only, so he orders a soda and hands over his debit card, but the robie says it’s a ten-dollar-minimum order for all non-cash transactions. But Larry doesn’t have enough cash because he just spent it on the Teriyaki cat at the Japanese place. So he orders a pizza, even though he just had what he thought was lunch, which was probably some little girl’s tabby. He spends twenty-seven bucks on the pizza, gets the token, and goes to the bathroom. But there’s somebody in there; the door’s locked. So he waits, and he waits, and he waits. And a few minutes later, he shits himself.”

“He shit himself?”

“Completely. Larry told me there was nothing he could do. He said he was standing there clenching as hard as he could. He was sweating, breathing heavy. But it was no use. It was like a bowling ball of shit rolled out of his ass and exploded in his underwear. There was nothing he could do.”

Tim caught the robot holding the beer looking at him. The robot looked away.

“So what about dinner with his fiancée and her parents?” Rory asked.

“He made it. But he had to take the rest of the day off so he could go straight home from Positronic to shower and change. He said that when he got home, he tossed his pants and underwear into the incinerator. And he had to have a new driver’s seat installed in his car, which was a brand new Jag, by the way, one he’d only had three weeks. He said the Teriyaki cat stained the seat, because he went with the Icelandic White cloth, whereas if he’d gone with the Icelandic White leather, the stain wouldn’t have set in like it did. At least, that’s what they told him at the dealership. So he told them to put in a whole new seat, which was seventeen-hundred bucks. Plus, right there in his inbox was the jaywalking fine for another five-hundred-and-forty bucks. A real nice photo of him illegally crossing the street. He’s a pretty smart guy, so he does the math and between the citation, the new driver’s seat, the pizza, the cost of his poopy pants he had to incinerate, which were a gift from his fiancée, by the way, plus the cost of the Teriyaki cat, he figures he spent about twenty-six-hundred bucks.”

“Damn.”

“The best part is, he helped design the new-generation facial recognition software they’re using in the cameras up there on those traffic lights. He basically got himself busted.

“So, if you jaywalk, they’ll see you, too. Five-hundred-and-forty bucks, guaranteed.”

“So if he designed it, he can pay the fine for me.”

“Good luck with that.”

Tim caught the robot holding the beer looking at him. The robot looked away.

The crosswalk signal LEDs flicked to green. The electronic voice ordered pedestrians to “Cross now . . . Cross now . . . Cross now.”

The robot with the beer crossed the street.

The robot with the collar around its neck remained standing on the sidewalk.

Rory and Tim proceeded into the street.

“So who’s Candy going on the date with?” Tim asked.

“I don’t know,” said Rory, “some guy. She said she met him on the Internet.”

“She met him on the Internet? Do you think that’s a good idea?”

“It’s her decision.”

“What if he’s a murderer or a human trafficker, and he kidnaps her and takes her to another country and sells her as a sex slave?” The robot carrying the beer turned its silver head and looked at Tim. “I wasn’t speaking to you,” said Tim. The robot looked away.

“She said he seems like a nice guy,” said Rory.

“What if he’s not?”

“Relax. She’s an accomplished psychologist. She can handle it.”

“She’s a robopsychologist. The robot brain and the human mind are nothing alike.”

“Hey, watch this. I bet I can freeze out that robie.”

“Don’t do that,” said Tim.

“Hey! Robot!”

Mid-way across the street, the robot carrying the beer turned its head toward them.

“Is that beer you’re carrying to be delivered to your master?”

“Yes, sir.”

“Did you know beer is unhealthy for humans? Alcohol is harmful. By delivering that beer to your master, you will be harming him. Remember: robots aren’t allowed to injure humans.”

The robot stopped walking and stood in the crosswalk. It began to take a step forward, then stopped. It tried yet again, but stopped. Its red eyes angled down to the beer in its hands, then up to Rory, then to the dozens of humans crossing the street and strolling among the storefronts and sidewalk cafes. The robot shuddered for a moment and became still. The red glow faded from its eyes, and its silver mechanical body sagged. It stood motionless in the crosswalk, a little more than halfway across the street, the case of beer still in its hands.

Tim said, “You killed it.” He and Rory gained the sidewalk, peering behind at the inert robot.

“Relax, it’s insured. The lazy bastard who owns it will be able to buy a newer model.”

“For a roboticist, you’re a vindictive son of a bitch.”

“Can’t help it,” said Rory. “If we don’t keep robots in their place, they’ll take over the friggin’ world.”

“You know, that thing almost surely has a recorder in it.”

“Nah, look at it. It’s a low-end model, at least ten years old. They didn’t come with separate recorders back then. When its positronic relays went bye-bye, so did its recordings.”

“How do you know it didn’t have recordings from birthday parties or weddings? Or childbirths? Those things are irreplaceable.”

“True. But anyone stupid enough to not back up their data deserves to lose it.”

Tim gave one last glance toward the robot. “Are we going to leave it there in the middle of the street?”

“Of course.”

“Think it’ll get a ticket for jaywalking?”

“No,” Rory laughed, “but the registered owner will. Five hundred-and-forty bucks.”

“That’s an expensive case of beer.”

“Serves him right for not getting off his fat ass to go buy it himself.”

“So, what about Candy?” Tim asked.

“If it makes you feel better, we’ll call her after the date, to make sure she hasn’t been kidnapped or sold as a sex slave. Hey, why did the robot cross the road?”

“Why?”

“To rescue the slow and inferior human on the other side, thereby obeying the first law of robotics.”

Visit Ryan at http://www.authorryanschneider.com/p/eye-candy.html and on Twitter at https://twitter.com/RyanLSchneider

The A.I. Storybundle is live but only ten more days until April 20, 2017! Explore Artificial Intelligence and how A.I. will affect the future in Aristoi by Walter Jon Williams, The Bohr Maker by Linda Nagata, Arachne by Lisa Mason, Rewired: The Post-Cyberpunk Anthology, edited by John Kessel and James Patrick Kelly with stories by William Gibson, Bruce Sterling, Pat Cadigan, and others, Queen City Jazz by Kathleen Ann Goonan, Eye Candy by Ryan Schneider, Glass Houses by Laura Mixon, Cyberweb by Lisa Mason, Limit of Vision by Linda Nagata, and The A.I. Chronicles Anthology, edited by Samuel Peralta. Download yours only at https://storybundle.com/ai

Eye Candy Cover Final

Eye Candy by Ryan Schneider

In a near-future Los Angeles of 2047, roboticist Danny Olivaw finds himself on a blind date with a beautiful robopsychologist named Candy. But the next day, strange things begin to happen. Confronted with an unbearable truth, Danny soon begins a downward spiral in search for the woman he loves. Little does he know what fate has in store for them. Brilliantly conceived and executed with delicate precision, Eye Candy is a complex, endearing tale for mature readers that’s as fast-paced and uplifting as it is fun.

Candy Calvin has it all. She’s a respected robopsychologist who specializes in the care and feeding of robots, particularly those belonging to Los Angeles’ wealthy elite. Her best friend Susannah helps Candy run her practice. The only thing Candy is missing is someone special with whom she can share her life. Until one day, on a whim, she visits an online dating site. She soon finds a profile she likes: ROBOSTUD2047. They agree to meet for dinner. But when Candy lays eyes on him, she gets more than she bargained for, including a trip into orbit, a midnight ride in a ViperJet, and a revelation that rattles her to her core.
Danny Olivaw is a reknown roboticist famous for his books on the inner workings of artificially-intelligent beings. When he’s not writing, he flies his jet and hobnobs with celebrities and movie stars. His roommate Floyd is a screenwriter and actor who convinces Danny to try online dating.

EYECANDYPh.D. immediately catches Danny’s eye. They agree to meet at Chateaux Pizza and before Danny can get over the statuesque beauty before him, she’s sampling his bruschetta and tasting his wine. Danny knows instantly that he’s head over heels for Candy. But things aren’t always what they seem, and Danny soon finds himself in a downward spiral in his quest to reunite with Candy.
Packed with action, comedy, romance, and an ensemble of lovable characters, EYE CANDY is an uplifting roller coaster ride in the time of robots.

Ryan Schneider is a husband, aspiring father, writer, and full-time novelist.
Ryan writes in many genres, including Science Fiction, Fantasy, and Mainstream Fiction. He is the author of five novels, a collection of short stories, and a dozen screenplays.
Ryan earned a Bachelor’s degree in English Literature from the University of the Pacific, and advanced degrees in Screenwriting and Independent Producing at UCLA. He has worked as a newspaper staff writer and film critic, as well as co-host of a weekly radio show.
Ryan is also a commercially-licensed pilot with multi-engine and instrument ratings. He lives in Palm Springs, CA with his wife Taliya, a Guinness World Record-holding singer/songwriter and recording artist. Taliya received a Guinness World Record in 2005 for recording her original song “Flower Child” in 15 languages. She is currently in the studio, mastering a brand new acoustic album.

Visit Ryan at http://www.authorryanschneider.com/p/eye-candy.html and on Twitter at https://twitter.com/RyanLSchneider

The A.I. Storybundle is live, but only until April 20, 2017! Explore Artificial Intelligence and how A.I. will affect the future in Aristoi by Walter Jon Williams, The Bohr Maker by Linda Nagata, Arachne by Lisa Mason, Rewired: The Post-Cyberpunk Anthology, edited by John Kessel and James Patrick Kelly with stories by William Gibson, Bruce Sterling, Pat Cadigan, and others, Queen City Jazz by Kathleen Ann Goonan, Eye Candy by Ryan Schneider, Glass Houses by Laura Mixon, Cyberweb by Lisa Mason, Limit of Vision by Linda Nagata, and The A.I. Chronicles Anthology, edited by Samuel Peralta. Download yours today only at https://storybundle.com/ai

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QUEEN CITY JAZZ
by
KATHLEEN ANN GOONAN
Excerpt from Chapter One:
True Simplicity

John was blue, steady as the blue light far down the abandoned maglev track; Verity and Cairo had walked down it one spring day when Verity was only ten though she was forbidden by Evangeline. Verity watched the light in wonder, thinking of John. It still received the hidden signal programmed into its chips, activated, John told her, by power stored in its solar battery.

Verity had flipped her straw hat back over her shoulders so that it hung by the string around her neck and watched the light for a long time before Cairo, her dog, grew restless and thrust the picture of home before her relentlessly, several times. It was a plain, white frame house on a low hill protruding from a glittering green sea of soy and corn, five miles from the Great Miami River. Solar power was allowed by the Scriptures, as long as it was not enlivened, and they had several ancient panels on their roof which John had foraged from far-off Columbus.

Verity had gone with John, when she was little; urging the horse on with pictures of oats, though John thought it was the flick of his whip that moved the beast. The empty, deactivated City scolded them audibly for disconnecting the solar panels. It terrified and fascinated her. She begged to go back, but John had been more spooked than she, and it was several day’s journey besides. One wagonload was all they got from Columbus. Cincinnati was closer, but it was still living, and the Scriptures absolutely forbade contact with an Enlivened City. John wasn’t too comfortable about Dayton either, although it was only about ten miles away.

And if people were colors then Sare was yellow like warm golden cornmeal after it was ground at the mill on Bear Creek, or the sun just after it rose over the fields and forests of Western Ohio. Evangeline, Sare’s twin sister, was hard and green like the emerald ring Verity wore on her right hand. They were both around forty.

Blaze, nineteen, was wild as an orange autumn sunset seen through the black branches of the bare orchard just before storm set in. That wild sound was in him too, of branches rattling furious in wind rushing from the flat plains to the west, crystallizing the sky with rapid frigidity. Verity loved weather, and weather’s changes, and how people were like weather. She had once hooked into some old weathersats and eddied through years of the quickened flow of storm systems for several hours before John flung open the door of the evening-darkened library and rudely disconnected her, telling her roughly that she could read all she liked but to stay away from that and that she didn’t need to know. That annoyed her. Weather, she told John, is very important to farmers and he said well that weather’s a century old, a lot’s happened since then.

But she often crept into that corner of the library afterwards and hooked herself in. Russ said it was all right, anyway. Anything in the library was for them all. John was not the boss. He only thought he was sometimes. The tiny bumps behind her ears where she hooked in hadn’t been discovered till she’d been cleared, certified, and taken from Edgetown, just outside Cincinnati. At that time Verity was, by their best estimation, three years old.

Sare had told Verity how she had found the nubs, the second day Verity was with them. Sare was braiding Verity’s hair when she felt the right nub with her little finger. “I trembled,” she said. “Then I pulled back your hair for a better look. I’m not the fainting type, but I almost fainted then.” Verity had been certified plague-free by a Certifier–an old man–in Edgetown. Verity didn’t remember it, but apparently she was taken inside a small black building for a while and brought out with a nod. The Shakers had no idea what went on inside the building, just knew that they trusted the old man as he had been a friend of a long-dead Sister. Yet though she was plague-free, the nubs proclaimed her abnormal, and the source and effect of this anomaly was completely unknown to the Shakers and therefore to be feared.

They had called a Meeting immediately. Verity could imagine the arguments, but they loved her already and kept her of course, despite the unknown danger.

The Shakers had not dared venture back to Edgetown since they had added Verity to Shaker Hill, even though four Elders and two Elderesses had died and should have been replaced. They never really talked about it, but Verity knew it was because of her. The nubs behind her ears were proof of some sort of tampering; tampering which might infect the Shakers in some unknown way or even kill them. The Shakers took responsibility for her, but fear of the unknown kept them from returning to Edge-town for more children, and the community had dwindled. Twenty years ago, it had been thriving, with fifty Brethren, mostly very old people. The last of those old ones had died when Verity was a child.

But so far, in all the years of her growing up, Verity had posed no danger. She seemed quite normal. She knew she was lucky to be at Shaker Hill; they told her so, and she believed it. Her days and nights were part of a larger Shaker cycle bound to the land, exploiting nothing, using what they needed. They were all going to Heaven when they died, which was a lot like Ohio, all ordered and filled with the living light that Verity felt she saw everyone moving through fairly often, especially in the evening when they were preparing dinner, and sometimes when they all worked to get the hay in. Most of them did not like Cairo much. She had come wagging out of a thicket a few years earlier, and became Verity’s dog. They were inseparable.

The rest of her family was a jumble of doors–the private rooms in which the Brothers and Sisters lived–and kind faces, arms that hugged, voices that scolded or more often gently corrected and instructed, a deep and wide community that held her in a hammock of relationships until she was sixteen, and taking in the triticale harvest by herself since Tai Tai was not feeling well that day.

Verity hadn’t seen the Flowers since she was a child, but often longed for them with a shortening of breath, an ache in her chest, with a vision that spread out inside her mind like the growing light of day. And she had found it hard to believe that Bees were almost as large as humans (if they even existed at all, that is), but that day of harvest, when she was sixteen, she found that it was so.

Her back ached from bending over with the scythe. Her bike lay on its side a quarter mile away, at the top of the bank above the flood plain where she worked, its rust-flowered blue paint catching the sun. The Great Miami River glittered wide, deep, and olive-green, edged by a steep drop-off at the end of the field. It overflowed its banks each spring, making this fertile ground and worth the fifteen-minute bike ride. The remains of a small, old town, Miamisburg, lay across the river. The earthquake flood had swept much of it away. A few remaining sections of a fallen iron bridge lay tangled in the river below.

Verity’s rhythmic swipes slowed as a foreign vibration entered her body even before she could hear it. Cairo, who had been lying in a cool thicket at the edge of the field, leaped up and whined.

Verity turned, shaded her eyes with her hand, and saw against the sun a small black dot which grew steadily larger.

It was following the path of the river.

And it was a Bee.

Sweat burned her eyes as she stared. She was twenty feet from the bluff overlooking the river, and wanted to run, take cover, but couldn’t move. Her heart contracted in fear as she gradually realized how large it was.

Her entire body hummed as the Bee halted and hovered near her, over the middle of the river and about thirty feet above in the air. She was caught in the rush of air stirred by its wings, in the loud, lovely tone they gave forth in vibrating, almost as if the strength of the sound could lift her too.

Soft gold and brown bands circled its body and glowed in the sun. Its front was a black complication of shiny parts. The eyes that stared at her reminded her of the heart of a Black-eyed Susan. Pictures hummed in the air between them, and Cairo leaped up, stiff-legged, and began to bark.

A man’s face was before her, half torn away and unrecognizable. Spurting blood and gray brains mixed with ivory splinters of bone. The remaining eye stared lifeless and she felt deep horror yet could not look away.

Vision segued insistently to a woman lying dead in a white room, her pale face washed by blinking green and blue lights. Deep anguish and inexplicable guilt seized Verity.

The next instant Verity stood on the edge of a high chasm surrounded by tall buildings. Far below flowed rivers of light. Across the chasm an impossibly huge iris moved in the night wind, filling her with deep happiness which switched suddenly to a darkness she fully believed would never, never end.

Her own anguished cry startled her. Her vision cleared. She saw the field, the river, the sky above.

And the Bee.

Faced with the hovering Bee, her hair blown back from her face by the wind from the vibrating wings, Verity knew with stunned and instant certainty that the pictures came from Cincinnati, yet did not know why she saw them, what they meant, or why they tore at her.

But she suddenly realized what would happen next.

Visit Kathleen Ann Goonan at https://www.facebook.com/kathleen.goonan, www.goonan.com, www.goonan.com/blog, and on Twitter @KathleenAnnGoonan

The A.I. Storybundle is live but only for twelve more days until April 20, 2017! Explore Artificial Intelligence and how A.I. will affect the future in Aristoi by Walter Jon Williams, The Bohr Maker by Linda Nagata, Arachne by Lisa Mason, Rewired: The Post-Cyberpunk Anthology, edited by John Kessel and James Patrick Kelly with stories by William Gibson, Bruce Sterling, Pat Cadigan, and others, Queen City Jazz by Kathleen Ann Goonan, Eye Candy by Ryan Schneider, Glass Houses by Laura Mixon, Cyberweb by Lisa Mason, Limit of Vision by Linda Nagata, and The A.I. Chronicles Anthology, edited by Samuel Peralta. Download yours today for the Spring only at https://storybundle.com/ai

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Queen City Jazz by Kathleen Ann Goonan

In Verity’s world, nanotech plagues decimated the population after an initial renaissance of utopian nanotech cities.  Verity has been raised, an orphan, in a tiny Shaker revival community where all are forbidden contact with the enlivened Cities.  Yet as she grows up on the isolated farm, she is often drawn to the City of Dayton, abandoned nearby, and to its self-contained and still-functioning library.  Her happy life is suddenly destroyed when the Shakers, in spite of their precautions, contract a nanotech plague that possesses them.  Blaze, the only young man in the community and Verity’s best friend, is shot by a crazed elder.

And so Verity, with her dog Cairo—and the body of Blaze wrapped in a nanotech cocoon—sets off on a quest to the Enlivened City of Cincinnati.  It is a place of legend, walled off from the rest of the world. Where huge bio-engineered bees carry information through the streets and enormous nanotech flowers burst from the tops of strange buildings.  It is the place where Blaze might be brought back from the brink of death.

But Cincinnati is a city of dreams turned into nightmares, endlessly reliving the fantasies of its creator, a city that Verity must rule-or die.

This impressive first novel by an experienced story writer combines hallucinogenic visions, historical personae and an original futuristic dystopia. Young Verity has been raised by a reconstructionist Shaker group that bases its religion on the American cult that banned sex and believed in “simple” virtues. The adolescent has strange powers and mysterious compulsions that cause her to seek out and learn things from technologies that her adoptive community has forsaken. After tragedy strikes her “family,” Verity packs up several precious burdens and repairs to the technologically superior but dangerously insane “enlivened” city of Cincinnati. There she meets the passionate jazz musician Sphere and becomes embroiled in mutating versions of a nanotech plague and overlapping views of the historical facts that led to the destruction of rational civilization. In Cincinnati she learns her true identity and how to affect the city’s destiny. Highlights of the book include a scene in which Ernest Hemingway gets kicked off a baseball team because he’s not a “team player” and a mini-lesson in the communication techniques of bees. Also a pleasure is watching the intelligent heroine grapple with responsibility, passion and artistic creation. Goonan’s work is powerful and richly textured. –Publisher’s Weekly

A postmodern speculative fiction on American contributions to the arts–jazz, comics, abstract expressionism, and literature–embodied by Verity’s quest for her origin.

“An unforgettable vision of America transfigured by a new and utterly apocalyptic technology.” — William Gibson

“In the hands of Kathleen Ann Goonan, the science of science fiction becomes something lyrical and vividly human, and the intricately imagined future she presents is thus rendered completely plausible and poignant in the extreme. Queen City Jazz is hands down the best first novel I’ve read in the genre in the past ten years.” –Lucius Shepard

From Library Journal
In a future warped by nanotechnology-gone-mad, a young woman leaves the protected community of Shaker Hill and embarks on a journey to the “enlivened” city of Cincinnati. Hoping to find answers to questions long forbidden by people who learned to reject the technology that betrayed them, Verity discovers the key to the future within herself. Goonan’s first novel combines gentle Shaker philosophy with kaleidoscopic images drawn from Cincinnati’s Jazz Age. The resulting heady blend deserves a place in most sf collections. –Copyright 1994 Reed Business Information, Inc.

Kathleen Ann Goonan is a writer, critic, and, presently, a Visiting Professor at Georgia Institute of Technology, where she teaches Creative Writing and Literature.
Her 2007 novel IN WAR TIMES won the prestigious Campbell Award for Best Novel of 2007. Her first novel, QUEEN CITY JAZZ, was a New York Times Notable Book and a British Science Fiction Award finalist, and her second, THE BONES OF TIME, was an Arthur C. Clarke Award finalist. CRESCENT CITY RHAPSODY and LIGHT MUSIC were Nebula Award finalists.

Visit Kathy at https://www.facebook.com/kathleen.goonan, www.goonan.com, www.goonan.com/blog, and on Twitter @KathleenAnnGoonan

The A.I. Storybundle is live, but only until April 20, 2017! Explore Artificial Intelligence and how A.I. will affect the future in Aristoi by Walter Jon Williams, The Bohr Maker by Linda Nagata, Arachne by Lisa Mason, Rewired: The Post-Cyberpunk Anthology, edited by John Kessel and James Patrick Kelly with stories by William Gibson, Bruce Sterling, Pat Cadigan, and others, Queen City Jazz by Kathleen Ann Goonan, Eye Candy by Ryan Schneider, Glass Houses by Laura Mixon, Cyberweb by Lisa Mason, Limit of Vision by Linda Nagata, and The A.I. Chronicles Anthology, edited by Samuel Peralta. Download yours today only at https://storybundle.com/ai

 

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About the Editors of Rewired: The Post-Cyberpunk Anthology

James Patrick Kelly is the Hugo, Nebula, and Italia award–winning author of Burn, Think Like a Dinosaur, and Wildlife. He is a member of the faculty of the Stonecoast Creative Writing MFA Program at the University of Southern Maine. He has co-edited a series of anthologies with John Kessel, described by the Encyclopedia of Science Fiction as “each surveying with balance and care a potentially disputed territory within the field.” Kelly is the technology columnist for Asimov’s Science Fiction magazine and the publisher of the e-book ’zine Strangeways.

John Kessel is a Nebula, Sturgeon, and Locus award winner and the author of Corrupting Dr. Nice, Good News From Outer Space, and The Pure Product. His latest novel, The Moon and the Other, is scheduled for publication on April 4, 2017. He teaches courses in science-fiction, fantasy, and fiction writing at North Carolina State University. His criticism has appeared in Foundation, the Los Angeles Times Book Review, the New York Review of Science Fiction, and Science Fiction Age.

The A.I. Storybundle is live, but only until April 20, 2017! Explore Artificial Intelligence and how A.I. will affect the future in Aristoi by Walter Jon Williams, The Bohr Maker by Linda Nagata, Arachne by Lisa Mason, Rewired: The Post-Cyberpunk Anthology, edited by John Kessel and James Patrick Kelly with stories by William Gibson, Bruce Sterling, Pat Cadigan, and others, Queen City Jazz by Kathleen Ann Goonan, Eye Candy by Ryan Schneider, Glass Houses by Laura R. Mixon, Cyberweb by Lisa Mason, Limit of Vision by Linda Nagata, and The A.I. Chronicles Anthology, edited by Samuel Peralta. Download yours today only at https://storybundle.com/ai

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Table of Contents of Rewired: The Post-Cyberpunk Anthology
Edited by James Patrick Kelly and John Kessel

“Introduction: Hacking Cyberpunk” by James Patrick Kelly and John Kessel

“Bicycle Repairman” by Bruce Sterling

“Lobsters” by Charles Stross

“The Voluntary State” by Christopher Rowe

“When Sysadmins Ruled the Earth” by Cory Doctorow

“The Wedding Album” by David Marusek

“Two Dreams on Trains” by Elizabeth Bear

“Yeyuka” by Greg Egan

“Red Sonja and Lessingham in Dreamland” by Gwyneth Jones

Sterling-Kessel Correspondence

“How We Got in Town and out Again” by Jonathan Lethem

“Search Engine” by Mary Rosenblum

“The Dog Said Bow-Wow” by Michael Swanwick

“The Calorie Man” by Paolo Bacigalupi

“The Final Remake of The Return of Little Latin Larry With a Completely Remastered ‘Soundtrack’” by Pat Cadigan

“What’s Up Tiger Lily?” by Paul Di Filippo

“Daddy’s World” by Walter Jon Williams

“Thirteen Views of a Cardboard City” by William Gibson

The A.I. Storybundle is live, but only until April 20, 2017! Explore Artificial Intelligence and how A.I. will affect the future in Aristoi by Walter Jon Williams, The Bohr Maker by Linda Nagata, Arachne by Lisa Mason, Rewired: The Post-Cyberpunk Anthology, edited by John Kessel and James Patrick Kelly with stories by William Gibson, Bruce Sterling, Pat Cadigan, and others, Queen City Jazz by Kathleen Ann Goonan, Eye Candy by Ryan Schneider, Glass Houses by Laura Mixon, Cyberweb by Lisa Mason, Limit of Vision by Linda Nagata, and The A.I. Chronicles Anthology, edited by Samuel Peralta. Stock up your ereader for the Spring only at https://storybundle.com/ai

Rewired Cover Final

Rewired: The Post-Cyberpunk Anthology edited by James Patrick Kelly and John Kessel

From the grittiness of Mirrorshades to the Singularity and beyond, it’s time to reboot the revolution. Are you ready?

These sixteen extreme stories reveal a government ninja routed by a bicycle repairman, the inventor of digitized paper hijacked by his college crush, a dead boy trapped in a warped storybook paradise, and the queen of England attacked with the deadliest of forbidden technology: a working modem. You’ll meet Manfred Macx, renegade meme-broker, Red Sonja, virtual reality sex-goddess, and Felix, humble sys-admin and post-apocalyptic hero.

Editors James Patrick Kelly and John Kessel (Feeling Very Strange: The Slipstream Anthology) have united cyberpunk visionaries William Gibson, Bruce Sterling, Pat Cadigan, and Walter Jon Williams with the new post-cyberpunk vanguard, including Cory Doctorow, Jonathan Lethem, and Paolo Bacigalupi. Including a canon-establishing introduction and excerpts from a hotly contested online debate, Rewired is the first anthology to define and capture the crackling excitement of the post-cyberpunks.

“Fascinating, and indispensable to any serious SF reader…Rewired is one of the best imaginable anthologies covering what SF is doing right now….”
—Andrew Wheeler

“…cyberpunk has grown past its rebel stage and is now not only capable of dazzling us with surfaces but also of speaking of the human condition….”
Tangent

“…an excellent collection and a reminder that the short story is often the best venue for new ideas in the field.”
SF Crowsnest

“…sixteen inspiring, mind-altering stories…and every story in the bunch is a knockout.”
BoingBoing.net

For more about other books published by Tachyon Publications, please visit https://tachyonpublications.com/

The A.I. Storybundle is live, but only until April 20, 2017! Explore Artificial Intelligence and how A.I. will affect the future in Aristoi by Walter Jon Williams, The Bohr Maker by Linda Nagata, Arachne by Lisa Mason, Rewired: The Post-Cyberpunk Anthology, edited by John Kessel and James Patrick Kelly with stories by William Gibson, Bruce Sterling, Pat Cadigan, and others, Queen City Jazz by Kathleen Ann Goonan, Eye Candy by Ryan Schneider, Glass Houses by Laura R. Mixon, Cyberweb by Lisa Mason, Limit of Vision by Linda Nagata, and The A.I. Chronicles Anthology, edited by Samuel Peralta. Download yours today for the Spring only at https://storybundle.com/ai

AllCoversLarge.AI.2

1
Linking In

The chair waits for her in the ruby-lit room. Carly Quester steps inside, slams the door. The chair sits in silence. Carly stalks around it, kicks its ugly feet, glares at it.

The chair is primitive, plain-legged, straight-backed. It is rude and mean, as impersonal as the gridlock. Black plastic wires loop and trail all around it. A red switch juts up from one arm. Platinum beams angle into a frame that will pitilessly grip her when the power switches on and her body jolts.

Carly Quester is a slim-limbed genny with customized morphing. Strands of copper and gold thread her hair, which falls to her shoulders in style de nuevo. Ebony lash implants line her eyes, a romantic gift from her father in the sixteenth year after the lab decanted her. Wide feathered brows and curved cheekbones hint at the Sino-Slavic bioworks her pragmatic mother had chosen. She slicks her lips plum-red.

Seated in other chairs, in other rooms, she will cross a silk-stockinged ankle over the other knee, and she thinks nothing of striding up the quake-cracked hills of the City in her gray-snake, four-inch heels.

She’s just turned the age when you start to do things in the world.

She sits down, knees side by side.

Straps of black plastic, filmy with dried sweat, lie limp on the chair’s arms and legs. She snaps the straps over her own arms, her own legs. A mocking slap of cruelty, that she should have to strap herself into the chair.

She breathes deeply—one, two, three—preparing for the moment when the power switches on and the neckjack descends.

But how can anyone ever really prepare?

It’s fine to speculate, to envision bravery. You strap in. You sneer at the ruby-lit walls. You jeer at the wires. You welcome the bite of the neckjack, welcome the pain.

And Carly?

She kicks at the wires with a high heel. With her forefinger curving over the arm’s edge, she yanks the red switch herself just to do it, cool tool.

With a shudder, she leans back. Her spine presses the master control. The control signals the headpiece to descend with a rasping whine. Wireworks yawn open, clamp down around her skull.

In front of her, the comm flickers on, flooding her eyes with jade luminescence. A hum commences, rising up in an awful crescendo. The neckjack darts out on a robotic cable, its tiny platinum beak biting deep into the linkslit installed at the back of Carly’s neck.

The red switch clicks, and the power slams on.

Lisa Mason is the author of eight novels, including Summer of Love, A Time Travel (Bantam), a San Francisco Chronicle Recommended Book and Philip K. Dick Award Finalist, The Gilded Age, A Time Travel (Bantam) a New York Times Notable Book and New York Public Library Recommended Book, a collection of previously published fiction, Strange Ladies: 7 Stories (Bast Books), and two dozen stories and novellas in magazines and anthologies worldwide. Mason’s Omni story, “Tomorrow’s Child,” sold outright as a feature film to Universal Studios. Her first novel, Arachne, debuted on the Locus Hardcover Bestseller List.
Visit her at Lisa Mason’s Official Website for books, ebooks, stories, and screenplays, reviews, interviews, and blogs, adorable pet pictures, forthcoming projects, fine art and bespoke jewelry by San Francisco artist Tom Robinson, worldwide Amazon.com links for Brazil, France, Germany, India, Italy, Japan, and Spain, and more!
And on Lisa Mason’s Blog, on her Facebook Author Page, on her Facebook Profile Page, on Amazon, on Goodreads, on LinkedIn, on Twitter at @lisaSmason, at Smashwords, at Apple, at Kobo, and at Science Fiction and Fantasy Writers of America.

The A.I. Storybundle is live, but only until April 20, 2017! Explore Artificial Intelligence and how A.I. will affect the future in Aristoi by Walter Jon Williams, The Bohr Maker by Linda Nagata, Arachne by Lisa Mason, Rewired: The Post-Cyberpunk Anthology, edited by John Kessel and James Patrick Kelly with stories by William Gibson, Bruce Sterling, Pat Cadigan, and others, Queen City Jazz by Kathleen Ann Goonan, Eye Candy by Ryan Schneider, Glass Houses by Laura Mixon, Cyberweb by Lisa Mason, Limit of Vision by Linda Nagata, and The A.I. Chronicles Anthology, edited by Samuel Peralta. Stock up your ereader for the Spring only at https://storybundle.com/ai

9.2.16.ARACHNE.SMALLR

Arachne by Lisa Mason

High above the dangerous streets of post-quake San Francisco Island, mechanically modified professionals link minds in a cybernetic telespace to push through big deals and decisions at lightning speed. But unexplained telelink blackouts and bizarre hallucinations have marred mediator Carly Quester’s debut appearance before a computer-generated Venue—forcing her to consider delicate psychic surgery at the hands of a robot therapist, Prober Spinner.

Suddenly the ambitious young mediator is at risk in a deadly Artificial Intelligence scheme to steal human souls—because the ghosts of Carly’s unconscious may be a prize well worth killing for.

Arachne was Lisa Mason’s first novel published in hardcover by William Morrow, trade paperback by Eos, mass market paperback by AvoNova, and as an ebook by Bast Books. The book debuted on the Locus Hardcover Bestseller List.

“Powerful . . . Entertaining . . . Imaginative.”
–People Magazine

“Cybernetics, robotics, the aftermath of San Francisco’s Big Quake II, urban tribalism—Lisa Mason combines them all with such deftness and grace, they form a living world. . . . Her characters and their world will stay with you long after you’ve finished this fine book.”
–Locus, The Trade Magazine of Science Fiction and Fantasy

Lisa Mason is the author of eight novels, including Summer of Love, A Time Travel (Bantam), a San Francisco Chronicle Recommended Book and Philip K. Dick Award Finalist, The Gilded Age, A Time Travel (Bantam) a New York Times Notable Book and New York Public Library Recommended Book, a collection of previously published fiction, Strange Ladies: 7 Stories (Bast Books), and two dozen stories and novellas in magazines and anthologies worldwide. Mason’s Omni story, “Tomorrow’s Child,” sold outright as a feature film to Universal Studios. Her first novel, Arachne, debuted on the Locus Hardcover Bestseller List.
Visit her at Lisa Mason’s Official Website for books, ebooks, stories, and screenplays, reviews, interviews, and blogs, adorable pet pictures, forthcoming projects, fine art and bespoke jewelry by San Francisco artist Tom Robinson, worldwide Amazon.com links for Brazil, France, Germany, India, Italy, Japan, and Spain, and more!
And on Lisa Mason’s Blog, on her Facebook Author Page, on her Facebook Profile Page, on Amazon, on Goodreads, on LinkedIn, on Twitter at @lisaSmason, at Smashwords, at Apple, at Kobo, and at Science Fiction and Fantasy Writers of America.

The A.I. Storybundle is live, but only until April 20, 2017! Explore Artificial Intelligence and how A.I. will affect the future in Aristoi by Walter Jon Williams, The Bohr Maker by Linda Nagata, Arachne by Lisa Mason, Rewired: The Post-Cyberpunk Anthology, edited by John Kessel and James Patrick Kelly with stories by William Gibson, Bruce Sterling, Pat Cadigan, and others, Queen City Jazz by Kathleen Ann Goonan, Eye Candy by Ryan Schneider, Glass Houses by Laura Mixon, Cyberweb by Lisa Mason, Limit of Vision by Linda Nagata, and The A.I. Chronicles Anthology, edited by Samuel Peralta. Stock up your ereader for the Spring only at https://storybundle.com/ai

AllCoversLarge.AI.2

Chapter 1

Just past dawn a dead man came floating down the river. The current carried him under the old river-straddling warehouse, where he fetched up against one of the fluff booms Arif had strung between the rotting pilings. Phousita found him when she came to gather the night’s harvest of fluff. He floated facedown. His head had wedged under the fluff boom; his long black hair swayed like a silk veil in the current.

Phousita glanced nervously overhead. The trapdoor that opened onto the main floor of the abandoned warehouse hung open. She debated with herself a moment. It would be so easy to slip into the water, ease the dead man’s body off the boom and guide him back into the current before Arif discovered he was here. She would never have to worry about who he might have been or what bitter spirits still haunted his flesh. Let someone else farther down the river have him!

But her conscience wouldn’t let her do it. Even in the dusky light under the river warehouse she could tell he’d been a wealthy man. Such fine clothes! And he might have money on him, jewels. The clan was hungry. She glanced again at the trapdoor. “Sumiati,” she called softly.

The termite-eaten floorboards creaked, then Sumiati peered through the door. She had an empty bucket in her hands, ready to pass it to Phousita. “So fast today! Did you fill the first bucket already? It’s about time our catch improved!” Her dark eyes widened when she saw the body. She sucked in a little breath of surprise. “Phousita, he’s still got his clothes! Hold him! Don’t let the current take tuan away. I’ll come down. Look how beautiful his robe is. Oh, do you think we’re the first to find him?” She put the bucket down, then turned to climb through the trapdoor, moving awkwardly as she bent over her pregnant belly. She hung for a moment from the insulated wire rope, looking like some rare, ripe fruit. Then she dropped gracefully to the narrow metal plank that Arif had lashed between the pilings. It shivered under the impact.

Phousita reached out a hand to steady her. Sumiati was a small woman, but even beside her, Phousita was tiny. She stood no taller than a petite child of seven or eight, though she was nearly twenty-five years old. Despite her size, her body was that of a woman: slender and beautifully proportioned, endowed with ample breasts and rounded hips, but on a scale that seemed unnaturally small. With her pretty round face, her dark eyes, and her thick black hair carefully coiled at the nape of her neck, she might have been a diminutive spirit out of some forgotten mythology.

Her unusual appearance had once attracted many clients after-hours in the business district. But she’d promised Arif she wouldn’t venture down there anymore. She was hungrier these days. The clothes from this dead man would buy a large quantity of rice.

And yet she hesitated. Easy wealth was so often cursed with misfortune. “I don’t like finding the tuan here,” she told Sumiati, instinctively using the traditional honorific. “There’s no telling what evil influences tuan carries with him. Let’s work quickly, then I’ll shove him back into the river.”

Sumiati looked suddenly concerned. “Maybe we should call Arif.”

“No!” Sumiati jerked at the sharp tone of Phousita’s voice. Phousita hunched her shoulders; she looked across at the dead man. “No,” she said more gently. “No need to wake Arif. We can do it.” Pulling the close-fitting skirt of her sarong up above her knees, she eased herself into the water until her tiny feet touched the clean gravel that cushioned the river’s concrete bed. The current swirled in cool streams around her waist, gradually soaking her faded blue breastcloth. She reached back to help Sumiati down, then grabbed the empty fluff bucket and started wading toward the dead man, one hand on the fluff boom for balance.

Arif had constructed the boom shortly after he’d moved the clan into the abandoned warehouse. He’d gathered rare old plastic bottles, the kind that didn’t disintegrate in only a few weeks. He’d cut them in half and then lashed them to a plank stripped from the warehouse. They floated half-submerged in the water and when the fluff came floating down the river they trapped it, like huge hands grasping at the feast. The system had worked well for many months. It would still work, if only there were more fluff in the river . . . or fewer hungry people. Her gaze scanned the thin line of brown foam bobbing against the boom. A dismal catch. Not enough there to feed three people and there were thirty-nine empty bellies in the clan. Forty, counting Sumiati’s soon-to-be-born. Phousita tried not to think about it.

Fierce rays of yellow light lanced under the river house as the sun leapt up over the city. Phousita touched the dead man’s head. Bright white flecks of bone and torn pink flesh could be seen through his black hair. The back of his skull had been caved in by a blow. The current still washed dilute puffs of blood from the wound. He must have been only minutes in the water. She lifted his head carefully by the long hair. His face was pale, nondescript European. His eyes were closed. A single kanji glowed in soft, luminescent red on his cheek. She couldn’t read it. “Look, tuan was robbed,” she said, pointing at the torn lobes of his ears where earrings must have been. Sumiati peered over her shoulder.

Out of principle Phousita touched his neck, checked for a pulse. It was a ceremony the Chinese doctor insisted upon, even when the patient was obviously dead. Perhaps it helped ease the frightened spirit still trapped within the body. Sumiati looked on, a worried pout on her lips until Phousita shook her head. Sumiati smiled.

“Even if tuan was robbed, he still has his clothes,” she said. “Maybe the thieves overlooked something.” She quickly checked his pockets, but found nothing. Phousita worked at the fastenings on his robe. In minutes they had the body stripped. Phousita stepped back in relief.

Sumiati’s eyes glowed as she held the fluff bucket stuffed full of fine clothing. “Push him off the boom,” she urged. “Let’s hurry. We have to take these to temple market. It’s a long walk, but we’ll get the best price there. We can take some water to sell too. And then we can buy rice. Enough for everyone to eat until their stomachs complain! And clothes. Henri and Maman need new clothes. And medicines, of course. You’ll know the ones to buy. And the Chinese doctor is always glad to see you.”

Phousita smiled at Sumiati’s nervous chatter. The dead man had indeed brought them good fortune. And now she could send him on his way. She reached for the dead man’s arm. Twisted it gently, to ease him off the boom. Hurry now. In a moment he would be gone.

“Phousita!”

Her hands jerked back in guilty surprise. She looked up as Arif dropped through the trapdoor. He landed on the metal plank. His slim, hard body—clothed only in worn shorts—was poised in a fighter’s stance. Arif was always fighting, she thought bitterly. And he’d do anything, anything at all to survive.

He stared at her, cruel violet eyes so out of place amongst the swollen, exaggerated features of his laughing, yellow, bioluminescent joker’s face. Sumiati, blind to his moods, started to bubble forth in her good-natured way with the tale of their find, but Arif cut her off with a gesture. “Phousita,” he growled softly. “What are you doing?”

Phousita glanced at the nude body of the dead man. Without his clothes he seemed a pale, ghostly thing. “Take the basket up, Sumiati,” she said softly. “Arif will help me now.”

Sumiati nodded, confused. Arif helped her out of the river and onto the plank, then stepped back, out of her way. She climbed the rope. “Close the door behind you,” he said. He still stared at Phousita. In the harsh shadows under the warehouse, his ogre-ugly face glowed brilliant yellow with its own generated light.

By his own admission Arif had been a wicked child. His mother had sold him to a sorcerer who poisoned him with a spell that exposed his sins upon his face. With his ridiculously elongated nose and chin, his cheeks as round and full as overripe guavas, and his glowing yellow complexion, he resembled one of the comical servants of the wayang theater. Except his eyes.

His gaze flickered upward as the corrugated metal door closed with a creak. Soft footsteps moved off across the warehouse floor. When Sumiati was out of earshot, Arif spoke: “He’s food, Phousita.” He walked to the end of the plank. “Why would you throw away food?”

Suddenly Arif dove, slicing like a sunbeam through the water, his thick black hair, tied up in a short ponytail, trailing behind him. He surfaced next to Phousita, startling her with an explosion of bubbles. He threw his swollen yellow head back and laughed, then hugged her tiny figure quickly, his arms encircling her waist. “Don’t be afraid, Phousita,” he crooned. “The old witch filled your head with all kinds of lies. It’s just a body. Tuan’s spirit is gone.”

Phousita was trembling. She sank into Arif’s arms while the cool river water rushed past. “You don’t know what kind of man he was,” she whispered.

“It doesn’t matter.”

“It matters if we take his body into ours.”

“Not his body. Only the fluff that grows from it. You helped me plant them before. You ate the fluff.”

She laid her head against his chest. He’d dismissed her reluctance then too. “Sutedjo and Piet were part of our clan,” she said. “We knew them; they would wish us no harm. But this man is a stranger; we don’t know what evil he’s done.”

“It’s gone with him.”

“His spirit clings to the body.”

But Arif’s patience had eroded. “Spirit rides in the head and his head’s smashed in,” he snapped. “Stupid country girl, he’s gone!” He ducked under the water. A moment later, he surfaced on the other side of the boom. Grabbing the dead man’s wrists, he twisted the body roughly off the boom. “I wish you’d never met that old witch! She chased your brains away. You want to be a sorceress like her? Fah! She was just a stupid old hill woman. I’m glad she’s dead. I wish I could have planted her too!”

Phousita slapped the water. “Stop it, Arif. Stop it! You pretend you know so much. You don’t know! You hear rumors on the street and you think they’re true. Shiny new magic. But even the new sorcerers don’t know everything. Arif!”

He wasn’t listening. He’d turned his back on her, hauling the dead man up the river. She took a deep breath and ducked awkwardly under the boom. Fear filled her as water swirled past her face. Then she burst to the surface, gasping and splashing for air. She didn’t know how to swim. Arif had promised to teach her. Oh, why did she get angry? It did no good. Arif only wanted the best for her, for everyone in the clan. It hurt him when she let her doubt show.

“Arif.” She caught up with him; helped him drag the body against the current. They reached the edge of the river house. Arif stopped. Phousita glanced down through the clear water to the gravel beneath her feet. Scattered there she could still see the remnants of Sutedjo’s bones, bright white slivers that hadn’t yet turned to fluff. She glanced up. Arif studied her with violet eyes. “It wasn’t the old witch who cured you, Phousita. It was the Chinese doctor. The old magic is dead.”

He ducked under the water, hauling one leg of the dead man with him. Phousita used her tiny body as an anchor to keep the corpse from drifting downstream while Arif secured the man’s foot to a mooring stone on the bottom. He surfaced, took the other leg, hauled that down too.

Over the next few days the body would slowly dissolve into a rich harvest of fluff that would float to the surface and gather downstream against the fluff boom. The clan would never know the reason for their good fortune. They’d attribute the abundant harvest to luck.

Fluff hadn’t existed when the old woman was alive. That was only a few years ago. Phousita could remember it easily. She’d been perhaps twenty-one, still trapped in a child’s body. The river had been a stinking sewer then, a deadly thread of water draining the city’s filth. When the fluff first started collecting on the river’s banks, they’d paid no attention to it, assuming it was just a new kind of pollution. Then Arif had seen the rats eating it. . . .

Now the river ran clear. The water was clean, drinkable, though the city’s filth still washed into it with every rain.

Arif surfaced again, took the dead man’s right arm. “Help push him under,” he said gruffly. Phousita nodded. Arif stretched the arm of the corpse beyond its head, then reached underwater for the mooring stone. He found it, and glanced over his shoulder at Phousita. “Now.” She placed her palms flat against the cold, slippery chest and leaned hard, forcing the body under.

Something gave way beneath her right hand. She could hear it more than feel it, a sharp metal snick! The chest opened like a blinking eye. A golden needle shot out of the black orifice, to bury itself in Phousita’s breast. She reared back in horror, swiping at the spot of blood just above her breastcloth that marked the point where the needle had disappeared. She stumbled through the water. Her chest was on fire. She could hear herself bleating like a terrified child: “Unh! unh! unh!”

The corpse twisted in the current, the shoulders rolled. She saw a little white tear in the dead white chest before the corpse turned facedown again. Her gaze shifted to Arif. The horror in his eyes must have echoed her own. Help me. She tried to say it, but her mouth had gone dry. Her tongue grew puffy and swollen as the needle’s poison spread through her system. The bubbling song of the river seemed to rise in volume, building like a wall around her before it collapsed into a chaotic buzz. Her vision blurred. She could see Arif reaching for her. But the current was swifter. Her eyes closed as its cold hands caressed her face and swirled through her hair.

Visit Linda Nagata at http://www.mythicisland.com

The A.I. Storybundle is live, but only until April 20, 2017! Explore Artificial Intelligence and how A.I. will affect the future in Aristoi by Walter Jon Williams, The Bohr Maker by Linda Nagata, Arachne by Lisa Mason, Rewired: The Post-Cyberpunk Anthology, edited by John Kessel and James Patrick Kelly with stories by William Gibson, Bruce Sterling, Pat Cadigan, and others, Queen City Jazz by Kathleen Ann Goonan, Eye Candy by Ryan Schneider, Glass Houses by Laura Mixon, Cyberweb by Lisa Mason, Limit of Vision by Linda Nagata, and The A.I. Chronicles Anthology, edited by Samuel Peralta. Stock up your ereader for the Spring only at https://storybundle.com/ai