EP 204: The Fifth Zhi

By Mercurio D. Rivera
Read by Steve Eley

First appeared in Interzone

Zhi 4’s scream pierces the Siberian night.

My spiked metal boots crunch through the snow as I race towards him, with Zhi 6 running at my side. The nanochip in my brainstem clicks on, and I reach out with my mind, but I can’t sense even a trace of Zhi 4. A few seconds earlier his form had been outlined by the dark turquoise glow of the force field.

We stop twenty feet short of the field’s perimeter. Beyond it, the hazy silhouette of the colossal Stalk looms, its millions of cilia undulating.

My bodysuit hums as it transmits data back to Xiang Xu Base, situated behind the Rusanov ice cap half a mile away.

My pulse flutters in anticipation and I take a deep breath to try to rein in my excitement. I — like all Zhis — have been designed with an insatiable curiosity about the Stalk’s origins and vulnerabilities. Knowing I’ve been bred to feel this way doesn’t make me feel it any less. Where did the Stalk come from? Why is it here? How can it thrive in these temperatures? I see the same questions reflected in Zhi 6’s expression.

Rated PG-13 for cloning and some adult themes.

Comments (26)

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  1. phignewton says:

    holy crap, what a great story!

  2. SciFiGuy says:

    I originally heard this story on a broadcast of The Hour of the Wolf last year (read by the author himself). I thought it was a great story back then and have since read some of Mr. Rivera’s other short stories (the internet is a great thing!). Good stuff.

  3. Brave Space Monkey says:

    I just finished re-reading “To Kill a Mocking Bird”. I first read it in middle school, reading it now as a father, as an adult — it is the best novel I have ever read.

    I will suggest to the entire group that everyone should re-read Harper Lee – “To Kill a Mocking Bird”.

  4. maxiewawa says:

    Is escapepod looking for narrators?

    I am fluent in Chinese and Japanese… I only bring it up because Steve has pronounced “Zhi” wrong… I’m writing this as he goes through the intro, and I’m sure “zhi” is going to grate me every time I hear it.

    I remember a while ago him stumbling through a story with a Japanese phrase too.

    Or perhaps just skype me if you’re ever unsure about Asian pronounciations!

    Keep up the great work!

  5. […] the introduction to Mercurio D. Rivera’s “The Fifth Zhi” on Escape Pod, editor Stephen Eley says, “Sybil’s Garage [is] one of the best […]

  6. Ken_K says:

    Left me with a ginormous empathetic rush when I heard the sad exclamation:” You thought you mattered.”

  7. Don says:

    Excellent story. Excellent reading. I, too, fluent in Mandarin, yet recognize that each culture pronounces non-native words differently and the reading had absolutely no impact on the story or the reading. Basically, I talk different depending on the language I’m speaking. It’s “peking” to my dad and “beijing” to my father-in-law.

    Excellent story for the eve of Father’s day. Gave me pause on what I’m going to do with the fat kid and the skinny kid tomorrow. Perhaps I won’t send them into the maw of an extra terrestrial. Maybe I’ll just have them help me mow the lawn…

  8. Anony says:

    I cant help but wonder where they go in the end, and what would concern two suddenly non-corporeal entities.

    One likely has it’s own gravitational pull, and the other is only 1 year old.
    One was non-corporeal for a long time, and the other has…Time for bed.

  9. scatterbrain says:

    Interzone almost always has stories that exist on the farest edge of the fringe(its Rudy Rucker’s playground must issues). I don’t know why but most stories seem like they’re written by the same author: sometimes unfinishable, sometimes quite enjoyable and memorable. Luckily, this story was of the later.

    On a seperate note, at least somebody’s having a nice Father’s Day…

  10. […] the introduction to Mercurio D. Rivera’s “The Fifth Zhi” on Escape Pod, editor Stephen Eley says, “Sybil’s Garage [is] one of the best […]

  11. Saturnino says:

    “You thought you mattered” indeed! I was left with a deep sense of sadness and loss. This was a very moving and well-paced story. I wonder what it would sound like in Chinese…

  12. Natasha says:

    Phenomenal story. I loved it, and my partner and I can’t stop talking about it.

  13. MasterThief says:

    I, too thought the “you thought you mattered” was also a punch in the heart. But I also appreciate that Zhi-5 found a kinship with the thing he had been raised to fear and hate…

  14. Franquera says:

    Such an awesome story! I loved it, it was really amazing to listen to.

  15. Roccofan says:

    Great story.

  16. Really great, I had to listen to it again soon after. Read really well too Steve, thank you! Couldn’t help but think there was a bigger untold-world outside the confines of the narrative. Nice world-building.

  17. Excellent storytelling here. Who knew such different entities could relate to one another so deeply? Keep em’ comin’ Mercurio!

  18. […] up at the best podcast on the net: Escape Pod. Give a listen to Stephen Eley’s great reading HERE and feel free to leave a comment.  no commentsJump to comment box Leave a […]

  19. […] 25, 2009 Mercurio D. Rivera’s The Fifth Zhi is now a free podcast by Steve Eley at Escape […]

  20. Bart says:

    Outstanding story! This is the kind of writing that Escape Pod should be showing off, in my humble opinion. So creative. Such a wonderful exploration of technologies and possible futures, mixed with emotions we all share.

  21. emmajeans says:

    Yeah, the pronunciation of ‘zhi’ got me, too. (But I’m a pedant, and even people’s usual pronunciation of Beijing (as /beɪʒɪŋ/) can irritate me!)

    SciFiGuy said he heard a recording of the author reading the story. I wonder how he pronounced it?

    This aside, I really enjoyed the story! I love the idea that matter is only one reality.

  22. JMills says:

    At 7m41s of EP204, does he say “Purple vSphere”?


  23. […] out loud. A slew of both positive and negative reactions to the story can be found over at the comments section and forum discussion at the Escape Pod site. It’s always great to get so much feedback on a […]

  24. […] Sybil’s Garage [is] one of the best run and downright prettiest of the small press magazines… – Stephen Eley, Editor, Escape Pod (listen to podcast) […]

  25. […] think the story was first published in Interzone but you can listen to it for free at Escape Pod, and if you are not familiar with the website “Escape Pod,” and you enjoy short […]

  26. […] EP 204: The Fifth Zhi […]