io9 is proud to current fiction from LIGHTSPEED MAGAZINE. As soon as a month, we characteristic a narrative from LIGHTSPEED’s present challenge. This month’s choice is “No person Ever Goes House to Zhenzhu” by Grace Chan. You may learn the story under or listen to the podcast on our web site. Get pleasure from!
No person Ever Goes House to Zhenzhu
I’d at all times recognized Calam would run.
He had all of the indicators. A taut restlessness, physique brittle as an overstretched lute string, once we stayed too lengthy in a single place. A gloom in his eyes, as we drifted by stretches of lifeless area. A sullen crease between the brows, at any time when I attempted to ask how he’d landed in that dead-end Martian workshop at seventeen.
However after ten years, why now?
Drumming my fingers on the battered dashboard, I gazed by the viewport on the planet under. My retina flooded with data from the Data. Zhenzhu. As soon as the pearl of the Feng System: terrestrial, principally ocean, strung round with island chains like jewelled necklaces. Now, centuries after colonisation, tainted puce-coloured whorls obscured its aquamarine floor.
It’s not troublesome to trace an individual. As a Beaconer, I do it for a dwelling. I might’ve dug into Calam’s previous at any level in our travels collectively. However we’d maintained an unstated code—till, in sneaking off with out a lot as a jotted message, he’d damaged it.
My preliminary sweep of each Meeting-run and personal surveillance databanks had uncovered a torrent of brainwave, kinetic, and metabolic signatures matching Calam’s to varied levels. Even with out the biodata, the clumsiest Beaconer might’ve used the serial numbers of his cybernetic enhancements to pinpoint his whereabouts in inhabited area. After discarding the outliers, I nonetheless had a transparent document of his actions, courting again not simply days, however years.
It was my first time to Zhenzhu, however not Calam’s.
I moved the Left-Handed Bandit out of orbit, right into a stealthy descent.
Calam’s path unspooled in shimmering blue on my retina—by damp-slicked alleys, thick with cinder-smoke and burnt oil, to Mur Angh’s canal district. On the other financial institution, mushroom-shaped skyscrapers loomed in opposition to an ochre sky, air site visitors zipping round their stalks like glittering fireflies.
The waterside market was a loud sea of aluminium-roofed stalls, meals carts with illustrated curtains, merchandising droids on versatile legs, and tricycle-hauled trailers piled with mass-produced trinkets. The residents of Mur Angh, in tattered artificial clothes and do-it-yourself goggles, appeared battered, weather-worn, just like the crumbling fee flats that dominated town’s slums. Fragments of dialog, a mixture of Widespread and native dialect, floated by the air.
Zhenzhu’s entry on the Widespread Data had been no completely different from the opposite first-wave colonisation planets. An inflow of diasporic teams. A number of many years later, the Human Nations Meeting’s coordinated terraforming effort. Now, issues have been cleaving alongside the standard strains: the expansionist elitists of their gleaming towers, birthed into new money and new assets, and the leftovers seething within the slums, wrestling for the scraps.
The path took me to a roadside stall, the place I gestured on the first merchandise on the menu and lit a cigarette.
I scanned the middle-aged vendor for enhancements. Ah, good. An lively reminiscence chip. I pinched the final couple of hours of recording and scrubbed till I noticed Calam’s face. He’d been sitting within the seat I used to be in, hunched over a bowl of porridge. I activated my decoding networks.
“—not so good as it was once, Kang,” Calam was saying, in a neighborhood dialect.
“Shut up, boy,” stated the seller. “You attempt making good meals with stale elements. Zhenzhu’s in decay. Imports, agriculture, all dying. The elitists don’t give a shit in regards to the canine underneath the desk. And also you and me, we’re the underside of the bottom-feeders.”
“Eh, Yen, have a look at you. You look properly. Wholesome. Ten years gone—you’re loopy to return again.”
“Not staying.” Calam seized a deep-fried doughstick and crunched into it. “Simply right here to see my mom.”
“Yeah. She despatched me a message. She’s dying.”
Kang stared flatly at Calam. “Boy, you realize what your mom did, to outlive, proper? Who she is now?”
“I do know.”
“You continue to wish to see her?”
“She despatched me a message,” stated Calam once more.
Kang sighed and dragged a hand over his fleshy face. “Let an outdated good friend provide you with some recommendation, Yen. Although you gained’t hearken to me. End your juk, go to the shipyard, and purchase your self a one-way ticket. Overlook your mom. You probably did the proper factor ten years in the past. You’re not needed on this rock.”
I snapped out of the playback when Kang slammed a bowl onto the bench: steaming rice gruel, topped with a gooey black sphere. The fermented aromas made my mouth water. I hadn’t had a recent meal in weeks. Kang watched, with a happy expression, as I stubbed out my cigarette and dug in.
“First time on Zhenzhu, eh?” He spoke in Widespread.
“How’d you realize?”
“No jacket, no goggles.” Kang gestured at his personal gear. “After first time, you keep in mind acid rain.”
Ah. That defined the eroded buildings, the stalls decked in aluminium sheets, the tense expressions as folks flitted from door to door with hoods pulled low. Acid rain was a foul signal—an indication that, after mere centuries, as soon as once more, we’d extorted an excessive amount of from a planet.
“Forecast says rain coming in an hour,” Kang stated, pointing on the heavy sky. “I recommend, go someplace protected.”
Did he actually consider I’d let him go? He’d contrived an elaborate routine: sending his baggage forward to a public locker; slipping away after the Thurnos Bidding, muttering a few pleasure den; unleashing an actually-decent pirate program to cover his escape by way of a stem-cell colony ship.
Positive, I might’ve snagged one other mechanic. Thurnos was filled with unhappy souls vying to underbid each other for a heat meal and a heat mattress. However after ten years, you get used to somebody. You determine whether or not you possibly can dwell with their worst habits.
Kang referred to as him Yen. I wasn’t shocked to find he had a unique title. I remembered the half-starved squirrel-boy—twitchy, shaggy-haired, lined in engine grease—who’d stepped out of that rundown Martian workshop. Mine had been a reluctant stopover. I’d been itching to shoot away from the Sol System, however the Left-Handed Bandit had wanted a brand new portside cannon cradle.
The supply of a job had left my lips on impulse. Possibly, subconsciously, I’d needed somebody with secrets and techniques, who didn’t wish to discuss them. Possibly, in his brittle gloom, in his unwavering silence, I felt an unstated kinship.
Effectively, this was most likely one of many most secure locations in Mur Angh. I’d tracked Calam to the tallest tower within the fancy district, watched as a statuesque receptionist led him to the elevators, and hacked the service elevator to observe him as much as the penthouse suite.
Sliding doorways opened onto a hallway draped in Cultural Appropriation Lite. Whoever had adorned the penthouse was evidently a passionate however undiscerning fan of the Jovian-satellite diaspora aesthetic. Embroidered silks in an imitation of the Ganymedean artisans softened the chrome partitions; conventional Callistoan music thrummed from the ceiling. There was even a hologram of the Europa sky: a fire-striped orb with a stormy pink eye, obtrusive above a rim of icy spikes.
I activated my jacket’s bio-cloaking tech earlier than stepping out of the elevator, plunging straight by Jupiter’s equatorial belts. The warmth signatures of six or seven folks radiated from a big room on the north facet of the penthouse.
Bloody Calam. Why hadn’t he simply informed me about his mom? We might’ve come to Zhenzhu collectively. We might’ve put a plan in place. Now he was most likely going to die—and I needed to resolve how a lot to danger my life making an attempt to rescue the idiot.
I skulked my option to a service room. Wedged between a metal trolley and the wall, peeking between doorframe and door-curtain, I had a partial view of a richly furnished lounge.
Calam was standing in entrance of a luxurious sofa, shoulders hunched, eyes darting. Kneeling at a low desk of burnished wooden, the receptionist poured tea from a gilt teapot. She gestured for Calam to sit down. He lowered himself onto the sofa, one hand clenched at his bag.
“The place is she?” he demanded.
“She’s coming.” The receptionist supplied an enamelled teacup in a swish circle of fingertips. Her sleeves slipped down, revealing pale wrists. “Please.”
Calam blew on the tea, however didn’t drink.
A curtained doorway on the opposite facet of the room parted. A lady stepped in. A silk gown hugged pyramidal breasts, cinched a wasp waist, and swished round elongated legs. Scarlet lips bloomed in a pearly, luminescent face. Beneath puffy eyelids, inhumanly violet irises glittered. She was somebody’s embodied fetish.
She was not sick, and under no circumstances dying.
“Ma . . .?” Calam rose, dropping the cup onto the desk. Sizzling tea splattered. His expression stretched midway between a puff and a grimace.
The girl’s head drooped in the direction of her chest, like a stalk of wheat snapped in a harsh wind.
4 extra folks got here by the curtained doorway: a brown-haired, clean-shaven man in a high-collared grey go well with, and three troopers in fight gear. One of many troopers yanked Calam’s mom apart. In the identical second, Calam scrambled backwards over the sofa and whipped his hand out of his bag. He was holding a gun, however it appeared like a toy subsequent to the troopers’ weapons.
“You lied,” stated Calam, his eyes exhausting and glued on his mom’s face.
The scarlet mouth trembled. “I’m sorry, Yen.”
“I’m not shocked,” Calam hissed. “You offered us out earlier than. You offered your self. Why wouldn’t you promote out your final little one, too?”
The person within the go well with stepped ahead. From my hiding spot, I couldn’t get a transparent view of his face. However he reeked of elitist: oozing vitality, management, wealth. I wrapped my hand round my holster’s reassuring coolness.
“Now, boy. There’s no have to scold your poor Ma. We didn’t actually give her a alternative. Come. We don’t need this to be messy. Let’s put that gun down, hey? Let’s be civilised.”
“Evan,” spat Calam. “You’ve modded your self a lot I wouldn’t have recognised you—if not for that slimy voice.”
Evan unfold his arms broad. I had a detailed view of his left hand, extending from his cuff, which bore a coat of truthful downy hair. On his index finger, he wore a gold signet ring imprinted with an eagle.
“I informed you we’d see one another once more.”
“What would you like? It wasn’t sufficient so that you can kill my father, my brother, my sisters? To take my mom as your mattress toy? To homicide the Luying as a result of we have been an inconvenience?”
“Good grief, boy. You make it sound private.”
Calam was backed in opposition to the wall, each fingers wrapped round his pistol. Sweat poured down his flushed face. He had one shot. At most. The troopers’ enhancements have been a number of years forward of Calam’s—they may most likely kill him on the first twitch of his set off finger.
I dipped rapidly into the Widespread Data, trying to find any entries in regards to the Luying folks on Zhenzhu, or a bloodbath ten years in the past. Nothing.
“Why go to such lengths?” Calam hissed. “I’m a no person. Why trouble luring me again right here, simply to kill me?”
Evan took two steps ahead. “You already know I work clear. Free threads are an . . . irritation. Typically, the Meeting likes to stay their nostril into the previous. They don’t perceive that cleansing up the lowlife is a mandatory a part of constructing an ideal planet. Name it . . . tidying.”
Pursing his lips, Evan turned to his troopers.
A neural blast bludgeoned into my mind. I reeled.
Are you ready for me to fucking invite you in?!
It was Calam.
He knew. He knew I used to be right here.
I went for the receptionist first. I’d seen the faint scars of implanted pistols in her wrists. She was unquestionably essentially the most harmful one within the room.
I crossed the room in 4 strides. A neuro-linked command to my weapons belt dispatched a chemical blast at Evan and his three henchmen. A small vary grenade. In all probability go away one or two of them alive—however I didn’t wish to damage Calam or his mom. Pistol in hand, I fired on the receptionist. The bullet took her within the jugular. Blood sprayed in a crimson fan over the sofa as she crumpled.
I dove behind a grand pianoforte, simply because the photographs got here. Darn—two nonetheless standing. One thing hit my foot, however I felt no ache. I went low and ducked out, firing.
The troopers have been sprawled on the carpet. Two have been melted by the chemical grenade. The third had taken my photographs in his chest, and was gurgling his final breaths. Someway, I’d missed Evan totally—however Calam had acquired him, first with a bullet, after which with a knife to his face.
I needed to pull my mechanic away.
“Hey,” I stated. “Hey. Calam. Come again.”
He collapsed onto his heels, gasping and shuddering, knife clattering from slack fingers. He gazed up at me, blank-eyed.
“You—cursed—shagua,” I snarled, prodding my finger into his brow. “What the fuck would you’ve gotten accomplished if I weren’t right here?”
A delirious smile unfold over Calam’s blood-splattered face. “However you are right here.” Then he shivered, and appeared to return to himself. His gaze dropped to my ft. “Orin—you’re bleeding.”
I glanced down. A puncture in my boot was leaking blood onto the carpet. The ache got here to me distantly. I activated a neural internet to scoop it up, for later.
“You didn’t should smash into my head, by the best way,” I snapped, as a result of snapping would hold the wooziness away. “You took down three layers of delicate safety work. I used to be about to waltz in and rescue you.”
“Simply needed to be sure to didn’t change your thoughts, enyi.”
“Beginning to want I had.”
We each jerked our heads up at a mushy noise. Calam’s mom was clawing on the velvety wallpaper, her physique spasming. I limped as much as her.
“Wei. You OK?”
She moved her lips, however no sound got here out. She didn’t look injured. Tentatively, I touched her shoulder. She crumpled right into a heap, her chin coming to relaxation on her knees like a decommissioned android. Her synthetic eyes appeared by me, previous me, in the direction of the tall home windows, which have been squealing beneath an onslaught of poisonous rain.
“Overlook her,” Calam stated. His tone was indifferent, however not merciless. “She’s been rewritten too many instances.”
I got here again to Calam. We gazed down at Evan’s corpse. Bits of jellied eyeball and stringy muscle have been seen within the pulpy stew of what had been his face. I questioned if Calam had ever killed anybody earlier than.
“After I escaped,” he stated in a low voice, “I attempted to search out others. Family members, buddies, anybody. Didn’t have a lot luck. I’ve accepted that I’m the one one left. The one one who is aware of every little thing he did. He needed my reminiscence chips—most likely would’ve ripped them proper out of my head. Can’t have an annoying Luying child popping up and making Zhenzhu’s historical past look . . . unpalatable.”
I scanned the physique for ID and enhancements. Evan Enders. Date of delivery: 12/08/2571. Age: 56 Earth-years. Chief Minister for Sustainable Growth, third time period of service. I drew in a pointy breath. “He’s Meeting. Large shot. He’s acquired a Scribe Implant.”
“In fact.” Calam glanced at me. “How do you suppose he wrote the Luying out of existence? You suppose Meeting don’t mod their very own Data? Wah, Orin. You’re extra of an optimist than I believed. Hey—what are you doing?”
The tip of my serrated knife was the place Evan’s nostril had lately been. “I’m taking it. Isn’t that what you needed?”
“I do know we’re into murdering Ministers now, however tampering with Data—that’s against the law in opposition to humanity, no?”
“I’ve already accomplished it as soon as.” I believed again to undulating swathes of grey, the pink followers of salt basins, smoky breath fanning my face—and a virus I’d crafted to cover, to guard. I couldn’t consider how guileless I’d been, just some quick months in the past, about the best way the galaxy labored. “We’ll write the Luying again into it. Take that reminiscence loop out of your head and add it. Against the law for humanity.”
“Then we’d be identical to him.” Calam wiped his fingers on his pants, leaving grisly trails of the Minister. “Utilizing stolen energy for our personal functions. We must always do extra. We must always tear down the partitions. Make it so anybody can amend it.”
The acid rain gave the impression to be hammering proper into my cranium, corroding the bony arches, shaking the flooring and roots. For many of my life, I’d averted desirous about the Meeting if I might—there was a cause a sure form of folks turned Beaconers. I felt all of the sudden silly. For years, I’d thought that in fleeing the Sol System, in slicing all ties, I’d defied them. However at the same time as a Beaconer, I used to be totally of their thrall. I labored for money. I delivered these with much less, to these with extra.
The Data have been yet one more device for the privileged few to hide, to regulate.
Calam’s mom lifted her face from her knees with a small, unhappy smile. Her whisper was barely audible beneath the rattling home windows. “Good chaos.”
An imprint of my very own mom rose unbidden in my thoughts—stolen, rewritten, forgotten. I squashed the reminiscence away. That was one other ache to cope with later.
“Are you able to do it, Orin?”
Can is a shitty phrase in Widespread. It’s a mash-up of meanings, conflating levels of capability with levels of willingness till an entire spectrum of nuance is condensed into one clumsy time period. In my mom’s Callistoan dialect of the Jovian language, there are 13 other ways to say can, every with their refined hints of inclination, capability, significance, and immediacy.
I questioned how Calam would’ve requested, within the Luying tongue—and what he was actually asking of me. He’d by no means requested something of me earlier than. Indirectly, not like this.
Taking a deep breath, I plunged the knife by Evan’s crushed nasal bones. I believed I heard a whimper, a gurgle. The Implant was nestled between his frontal lobes. Pinching it between two fingers, I pulled it freed from its gory cage and held it as much as the wan gentle streaming by the home windows. Beneath a silver-scarlet sheen of viscous fluid, the Scribe Implant appeared like a bronze slug, coiled right into a spiral.
I wiped it roughly and tucked it into my glove, the place it nestled warmly within the crease of my palm.
“Let’s get again to the Bandit, Calam.”
As soon as we have been freed from Zhenzhu’s orbit, I scrambled the Left-Handed Bandit’s outgoing positional knowledge—an energy-draining program, however mandatory to hide our subsequent steps. The Scribe Implant sat on the dashboard, cracked open and linked to the mainframe.
Calam dropped into the seat subsequent to me. His poncho was melted in spots the place it had caught some rain; a tuft of hair poked out of a gap in his hat. From his left cheek to his proper temple, a sprig of dried blood—the receptionist’s? Evan’s?—shaped an offended crimson arc.
“How’d she go?”
“Freaked out once I tried to buckle her down,” stated Calam, wearily. “Needed to give the sedative. She’s strapped into the bunk now.”
We hadn’t talked about the place we might take his mom, however that was an issue for later—together with my injured foot, which I’d unexpectedly patched with a globule of Soothe’em, the puncture gap in my favorite boots, which nonetheless carried some Ranzan soil, and the dual pains I’d netted away behind my thoughts.
Calam leaned ahead to gaze by the viewport. The angle of the Feng Star revealed solely a slender crescent of Zhenzhu—the air pollution clouds creamy, like frothed milk, in opposition to an inky backdrop.
I glanced at him. “Will you miss it?”
He shook his head. “It was by no means actually house, you realize. Although I used to be born there. From the start, they chased us out.”
The Widespread Data unfolded in shimmering hologram earlier than us. A shiver thrilled by my physique. I’d solely ever seen the floor, the lacquered exterior of a puzzle-box. However all of the sudden we have been within the coronary heart of the labyrinth, with a birds-eye map of deeply tangled layers of archives, and the data of the place issues had been knotted and unknotted. And at our fingertips, a harmful energy: to extract, rewrite, exchange.
It will not be troublesome to interrupt it open. Unlock the puzzle-box, crack open its compartments, and switch it inside out, for anybody and everybody to play with. The Widespread Data can be really frequent.
“Huh,” Calam stated. Touching a dirt-streaked hand to his temple, he neuro-linked to the mainframe. A rigorously compiled database unfurled from his reminiscence chip: holographs and names of the Luying folks, dates and locations of delivery, dates and locations of dying. There was a whole lot of data, nearly a thousand identities, however I might additionally see a whole lot of gaps. Trails, gone chilly. Lacking, whereabouts unconfirmed, presumed lifeless.
I turned to him. Tears glimmered on his cheeks, carving paths by the blood.
He reached over me to provoke the hack.
The ghost-blue faces of his grandparents, father, siblings, cousins, drifted into their digital shrine. Web page by web page, the Data opened to the galaxy. Good chaos, his mom had whispered. As the primary wave flowed again to us, a deluge of grief and shock and fury, I shifted the Left-Handed Bandit out of impartial, balancing on a knife’s fringe of stars, and waited for Calam’s path.
Concerning the Creator
Grace Chan is an Aurealis and Norma Ok Hemming Award-nominated author and physician. She will be able to’t appear to cease writing about brains, minds, area, know-how, and identification. Her quick fiction will be present in Clarkesworld, Hearth, Aurealis, Andromeda Spaceways, and plenty of different locations. Her debut novel, Each Model of You, will probably be printed in September 2022. You could find her at gracechanwrites.com and on Twitter as @gracechanwrites.
Please go to LIGHTSPEED MAGAZINE to learn extra nice science fiction and fantasy. This story first appeared within the Might 2021 challenge, which additionally options work by Jonathan Maberry, Lauren Ring, Tobias S. Buckell, Andi C. Buchanan, Aigner Loren Wilson, Lina Somewhat, Peter Watts, and extra. You may anticipate this month’s contents to be serialized on-line, or you should buy the entire challenge proper now in handy e book format for simply $3.99, or subscribe to the e book version here.
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