The Fifth Zhi
By Mercurio D. Rivera
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.
About the Author
World Fantasy Award-nominated writer Mercurio D. Rivera’s stories have appeared or are forthcoming in a wide range of markets, including acclaimed venues such as ANALOG SCIENCE FICTION & FACT, ASIMOV’S SCIENCE FICTION, LIGHTSPEED, INTERZONE, BLACK STATIC, NATURE, ABYSS & APEX and anthologies such as YEAR’S BEST SF 34, edited by Gardner Dozois, YEAR’S BEST SCIENCE FICTION 17, edited by Hartwell & Cramer, UNPLUGGED: THE WEB’S BEST SF AND FANTASY, edited by Rich Horton, SOLARIS RISING 2, edited by Ian Whates, OTHER WORLDS THAN THESE, edited by John Joseph Adams, PARADOX: STORIES INSPIRED BY THE FERMI PARADOX, and CRISES AND CONFLICTS, edited by Ian Whates.
Tor.com called his collection ACROSS THE EVEN HORIZON (Newcon Press), “weird and wonderful,” with “dizzying switchbacks,” “a revelation” with “twists followed by more twists heightening a powerful sense of alienation and menace.” Learn more about Across the Event Horizon here.
Ten of his stories have been podcast at Escape Pod, StarshipSofa, Transmissions From Beyond, Beam Me Up and Kaleidocast. StarshipSofa devoted a two-part installment to his stories.
About the Narrator
Serah Eley is the original producer, editor and host of Escape Pod. She mispronounced her name as Steve Eley at the time, but has since realized that life is much more fun as a woman, and came out as transgender in 2015. Serah lives in Atlanta, Georgia, with her two spouses (she prefers “spice”), Sadi and Cat.
So if there were ever any betting pools on what happened to Steve: the dark-horse winner is “changed sex and joined a committed lesbian love triangle.” She is, obviously, still Having Fun.