Category: Podcasts

EP571: Beetle-Cleaned Skulls

AUTHOR: J. E.Bates

NARRATOR: Trendane Sparks

HOST: Alasdair Stuart

about the author…

J.E. Bates is a lifelong communicant of science fiction, fantasy, horror and other mind sugar and screen candy. He’s lived in California, Finland and many worlds in between.

 

about the narrator…

narrator Trendane Sparks

Originally born in Texas, Tren eventually escaped and wound his way through a mystical series of

jobs in the San Francisco Bay Area where he has worked as a software QA Tester for both graphics drivers and video games, a freelance mascot performer, and several jobs on a PBS kids’ show. For most of his life, people have told him that his voice is a pleasure to listen to. But since being a werewolf phone sex operator can get boring, he decided to use his powers to entertain a broader audience.

Beetle-Cleaned Skulls

By J. E. Bates

Fine amber dust infiltrated everything in the Preserve. Each morning, I vacuumed it away with my ventral hose prior to opening my kiosk. I paid particular care to my curios: the fossils, the bismuth crystals, and the beetle-cleaned skulls. Forebears, especially the children, delighted in receiving my curios as gifts. Each successful transaction gave me a burst of surplus energy, expressed as pride.

The mineral specimens I gathered from the talus behind the kiosk. I polished them right in the kiosk according to aesthetic principles. But I prepared the skulls in the subterranean machine rooms. They were created from deceased rhuka, a species of domesticated bovine. No other kiosk attendant created such skulls, and Forebears traveled great distances to receive one. They used them to decorate their caves.

EP570: What Good is a Glass Warrior?

AUTHOR: G. Scott Huggins

NARRATOR: Jen Rhodes

HOST: Tina Connolly

about the author…

G. Scott Huggins grew up in the American Midwest and has lived there all his life, except for interludes in the European Midwest (Germany) and the Asian Midwest (Russia). He is currently responsible for securing America’s future by teaching its past to high school students, many of whom learn things before going to college. His preferred method of teaching and examination is strategic warfare. He loves to read high fantasy, space opera, and parodies of the same. He wants to be a hybrid of G.K. Chesterton and Terry Pratchett when he counteracts the effects of having grown up. When he is not teaching or writing, he devotes himself to his wife, their three children, and his cat. He loves good bourbon, bacon, and pie, and will gladly put his writing talents to use reviewing samples of any recipe featuring one or more of them. You can read his ramblings and rants (with bibliography) at The Logoccentric Orbit and you can follow him on Facebook.

about the narrator…

Jen is one of the co-hosts of the Anomaly Podcast; an all women sci-fi and fantasy “geek chat” show. She is also a co-host on The Star Wars Stacks; a book review podcast. Both of her shows are available on iTunes, Stitcher Smart Radio and everywhere else on the interwebs.
When she isn’t podcasting, Jen makes her living as a professional graphic designer, voice actress, and narrator. Jen has always been an introverted geek, but she’s definitely not the stereotypical nerd. In 3rd grade, during recess, she coaxed the entire student body into playing “V”. She led the Visitors as “Diana” until red dust, AKA: cherry flavored Kool-Aid mix, ended her reign of power. Without her leadership, the game soon ended. But she didn’t always play the villain. Jen was a real-life “playground superhero” who rescued kids from school bullies. Once a bully threw the first punch at Jen, they very quickly lost to a girl. “Hostile negotiations” were concluded without further incident due to the embarrassment felt by the aggressor. As a result, Jen became everyone’s friend—even the bullies were her buddies, once they were properly reformed that is. Jen is currently living happily ever after, in the Texas Hill country, with her husband and their little boy, Aaron.)

What Good is a Glass Warrior?

By Scott Huggins

 

Like falling through rings of intermittent diamonds;

White laser-circles of moon.

Kinhang Chan Tzu chose those words to describe being me. Given that he was Earth’s poet laureate, and I am only my parents’ daughter, who am I to argue? I have never seen any of those things – he might be right. How can I know? Colors remind me of swimming. Like water, they surround you, but give you nothing to hold on to.

I hold the release lever to the airlock in my hand. The inner door stands open behind me. I say a brief prayer. I pull the lever down.

The soft wind of Langstrand rushes into the colony ship, smelling of forest and beach. Behind me, bulkheads close with soft bangs. All except the ones I’ve cut out of the circuit. No alarms sound. No lights flash. Quickly, I jog back to Cargo Bay One.

Now there is only waiting.

I crouch in a swirl of blue and black wind, and my polyfiber spear is a shaft of warmth in the ocean of air, heated by my fingers. Wind flaps against my father’s too-big combat jacket, making listening difficult. The only breathing is Uncle Jimmy’s, strapped in the gurney.

“You there, Unk?” I whisper.

“Lass? Where are you? It’s dark.”

“Yes, Unk, it’s dark. What do you see? Anything?”

“Too dark to see. Too dark for the Glass Lass. You should be in bed. Where are Don and Amy?”

“They’re safe, Unk.” As safe as sickbay can make them, anyway.

EP569: Safe Harbour (Artemis Rising 3)

Artemis Rising returns to Escape Pod for its third year! This month-long event highlights science fiction by women and non-binary authors. We have five original stories this year that range in topics from biotech to far-flung A.I, virtual reality, and nanotech.

AUTHOR: Kristene Perron

NARRATOR: Divya Breed

HOST: Mur Lafferty

ARTIST: Ashley Mackenzie

about the author…

Kristene is a former professional stunt performer for film and television (as Kristene Kenward) and a self-described fishing goddess. Pathologically nomadic, she has lived in Japan, Costa Rica, the Cook Islands and a very tiny key in the Bahamas, just to name a few. Her stories have appeared in Canadian Storyteller Magazine, The Barbaric Yawp, Hemispheres Magazine, and Denizens of Darkness. In 2010 she won the Surrey International Writers’ Conference Storyteller Award. Kristene is a member of SF Canada. She currently resides in Nelson, BC, Canada but her suitcase is always packed.

about the narrator…

Divya is a lover of science, math, fiction, and the Oxford comma. She enjoys subverting expectations and breaking stereotypes whenever she can. Her short stories have been published in various magazines, including Lightspeed, Mothership Zeta, and Daily Science Fiction, and her writing appears in the indie game Rogue Wizards. Her debut science-fiction novella, Runtime, was released by Tor.com Publications in May, 2016. You can find out more at www.eff-words.com or on Twitter @divyastweets.

about the artist…Ashley Mackenzie

Ashley Mackenzie is an artist and illustrator based in Edmonton, Alberta. She was born in Victoria, BC and grew up between Vancouver, BC and Edmonton, AB. After studying online for a year through AAU in San Francisco, Calif., she moved to Toronto to pursue a degree in Illustration at OCADU. Though she loves the challenge of creating complex conceptual illustrations and finding new ways to navigate ideas, visually she also enjoys making concept art and decorative illustration. When not drawing, she can be found reading, playing video games or thinking about her next project.

 

Safe Harbour

By Kristene Perron

It begins with breath.

In. Wrap my hand around the handle at the bow of the kayak. Out. Drag the boat across the rocks. In and out, in time with the low moan of the fog horn in the distance. I welcome the grey of dawn though my muscles ache from the damp and cold.

Ten years since I set foot on the shores of Barclay Sound, since I smelled the salty sweet decay of the open Pacific. The blood pulses in my veins and no matter how hard I fight it a single word rises from the depths like a corpse: home.

EP568: Dr. Mbalu and the Butcher’s Daughter (Artemis Rising 3)

Artemis Rising returns to Escape Pod for its third year! This month-long event highlights science fiction by women and non-binary authors. We have five original stories this year that range in topics from biotech to far-flung A.I, virtual reality, and nanotech.

AUTHOR: Megan Chaudhuri

NARRATOR: Laurice White

HOST: Caron J.

ARTIST: Ashley Mackenzie

about the author…

A toxicologist by training and a writer by inclination, Megan lives outside of Seattle with one husband and two cats. Her fiction has appeared in Analog, Crossed Genres, and Futuristica, among other places.

about the narrator…

Laurice is a theater graduate and long time theater student. She’s read stories for Podcastle, Pseudopod and for John Joseph Adams and Hugh Howey on The End is Nigh and The End is Now – the first two volumes of The Apocalypse Triptych.

about the artist…Ashley Mackenzie

Ashley Mackenzie is an artist and illustrator based in Edmonton, Alberta. She was born in Victoria, BC and grew up between Vancouver, BC and Edmonton, AB. After studying online for a year through AAU in San Francisco, Calif., she moved to Toronto to pursue a degree in Illustration at OCADU. Though she loves the challenge of creating complex conceptual illustrations and finding new ways to navigate ideas, visually she also enjoys making concept art and decorative illustration. When not drawing, she can be found reading, playing video games or thinking about her next project.

Dr. Mbalu and the Butcher’s Daughter

By Megan Chaudhuri

With a raspy pop, the cell sprayer in Rebecca’s hand sputtered one last drop of fur progenitor cells. Ignoring her stiff back, she leaned over the culture vat and daubed the cells onto the pink, gel-sculpted contours of a cheetah’s back muscles. The gel rippled; Rebecca held her breath as the reflexive shiver splashed the surrounding nutrient broth.

“Go in,” Rebecca whispered, her eyes hot and dry behind her goggles. Please, she prayed, conscious of the crucifix’s weight at her neck. Another reflex rippled the gel, as if the nerve matrix suddenly sensed the truth: It grew inside an old Gates Foundation lab trailer on the cheapest hook-up in Little Nairobi, rather than in the hide of an adult cheetah.

But the droplet disappeared slowly, the cells sinking into the gelatinous stew of serum and growth factors that—God willing—would ripen them into a furred skin.

EP567: Baro Porrajmos, or Love in the Vardo (Artemis Rising 3)

Artemis Rising returns to Escape Pod for its third year! This month-long event highlights science fiction by women and non-binary authors. We have five original stories this year that range in topics from biotech to far-flung A.I, virtual reality, and nanotech.

AUTHOR: Eileen Gunnell Lee

NARRATOR: Marguerite Croft

HOST: Divya Breed

ARTIST: Ashley Mackenzie

about the author…

Eileen Gunnell Lee is an award-winning essayist, teacher, and graduate student. She is currently completing a PhD in literature focusing on science fiction, myth, and the environment, and editing her first novel. She lives in Hamilton, Canada, and tweets @eileenglee.

about the narrator…

Marguerite Croft is a professional writer living in the San Francisco Bay Area. She’s a recovering anthropologist and a graduate of the Clarion West Writers Workshop. She has read fiction for Podcastle, Pseudopod, and Escape Pod..

 

 

about the artist…Ashley Mackenzie

Ashley Mackenzie is an artist and illustrator based in Edmonton, Alberta. She was born in Victoria, BC and grew up between Vancouver, BC and Edmonton, AB. After studying online for a year through AAU in San Francisco, Calif., she moved to Toronto to pursue a degree in Illustration at OCADU. Though she loves the challenge of creating complex conceptual illustrations and finding new ways to navigate ideas, visually she also enjoys making concept art and decorative illustration. When not drawing, she can be found reading, playing video games or thinking about her next project.

Baro Porrajmos, or Love in the Vardo

By Eileen Gunnell Lee

The day we left the Static was the best day of our lives. The Static had been squalid—a cold concrete building with perpetually wet floors sloping toward the drains. There had been too many of us in there, even without the men.

We celebrated the day we left the Static. We ate the rest of our rations, so certain were we that after that day we would forage in the countryside, or trade for what we couldn’t glean ourselves.

Freedom! Opre Roma, and all that.

EP566: Honey and Bone (Artemis Rising 3)

Artemis Rising returns to Escape Pod for its third year! This month-long event highlights science fiction by women and non-binary authors. We have five original stories this year that range in topics from biotech to far-flung A.I, virtual reality, and nanotech.

AUTHOR: Madeline Alvey

NARRATOR: Tina Connolly

HOST: Alex Acks

ARTIST: Ashley Mackenzie

about the author…img_3547

Madeline Alvey lives in Lexington, Kentucky and is a full-time student at the University of Kentucky, seeking degrees in both Physics and English, and minoring in Creative Writing. She has no idea what she’d like to do when she graduates, though luckily she has plenty of time. When she has it, she splits her free time between crafting; cooking; gardening; writing science fiction, fantasy, and satire; and doting on her four rats.

 

 

about the narrator…Tina Connolly

Tina Connolly is the author of the Ironskin fantasy trilogy from Tor Books, and the Seriously Wicked YA series from Tor Teen. Her novels have been finalists for the Nebula and the Norton. Her stories have appeared in Tor.com, Lightspeed, Analog, Strange Horizons, Beneath Ceaseless Skies, Daily SF, and many more. Her first collection, On the Eyeball Floor and Other Stories, is now out from Fairwood Press. Her narrations have appeared in Podcastle, Pseudopod, Beneath Ceaseless Skies, John Joseph Adams’ The End is Nigh series, and more. She co-hosts Escape Pod and runs the Parsec-winning flash fiction podcast Toasted Cake.

about the artist…Ashley Mackenzie

Ashley Mackenzie is an artist and illustrator based in Edmonton, Alberta. She was born in Victoria, BC and grew up between Vancouver, BC and Edmonton, AB. After studying online for a year through AAU in San Francisco, Calif., she moved to Toronto to pursue a degree in Illustration at OCADU. Though she loves the challenge of creating complex conceptual illustrations and finding new ways to navigate ideas, visually she also enjoys making concept art and decorative illustration. When not drawing, she can be found reading, playing video games or thinking about her next project.

 

Honey and Bone

By Madeline Alvey

With each step she took, the girl’s leg hissed. Thump, hiss, thump, hiss, thump, hiss. Whenever she lifted her leg, the knee joint extended. Her thigh and shin pulled apart unsettlingly, reminiscent of something deeply broken. Her gait was slow, round, loping. She didn’t move with any expedience. It was a speed without rush, or any desire for such.

Her footfalls themselves were soft, a quiet – thup, thup, thup. Soft leather covered her feet as she padded along, her hissing knee the loudest sound there. Once, it had creaked, a creak reminiscent of breaking metal – or perhaps, nearly as much, a rusty hinge. Before that…she didn’t remember.

EP565: The Zombee Project 3.0 (Artemis Rising 3)

Artemis Rising returns to Escape Pod for its third year! This month-long event highlights science fiction by women and non-binary authors. We have five original stories this year that range in topics from biotech to far-flung A.I, virtual reality, and nanotech.

 

 

 

AUTHOR: Allison Mulder

NARRATOR: Ibba Armancas

HOST: Divya Breed

ARTIST: Ashley Mackenzie

about the author…

Allison Mulder is most likely a failed science experiment which originated in small-town Iowa. She is unabashedly addicted to puns, often lapses into a nocturnal lifestyle, and tweets too much as @AMulderWrites. Her fiction has appeared in Crossed Genres, and is forthcoming at Intergalactic Medicine Show. These stories can be found at allisonmulder.wordpress.com/ along with other experiments in fantasy, scifi, and horror.

about the narrator…narrator Ibba Armancas

Raised by swordfighters and eastern European freedom fighters, Ibba Armancas is a writer-director currently based in Los Angeles. Her darkly comedic genre sensibilities are showcased in two webseries and a feature film forthcoming later this year. One day she will find time to make a website, but in the mean time you can follow her projects and adventures on twitter or instagram.

about the artist…Ashley Mackenzie

Ashley Mackenzie is an artist and illustrator based in Edmonton, Alberta. She was born in Victoria, BC and grew up between Vancouver, BC and Edmonton, AB. After studying online for a year through AAU in San Francisco, Calif., she moved to Toronto to pursue a degree in Illustration at OCADU. Though she loves the challenge of creating complex conceptual illustrations and finding new ways to navigate ideas, visually she also enjoys making concept art and decorative illustration. When not drawing, she can be found reading, playing video games or thinking about her next project.

 

The Zombee Project 3.0

By Allison Mulder

Jensen brought the job offer to each of them in person, like no one did anymore. She poached them from the best labs and the best apiaries, all over the world. Put everything she knew on the table, in out-of-the-way cafés and fine-but-nothing-fancy hotel rooms and home kitchens which smelled strongly of coffee and not much else.

She handpicked them. She made that very clear. Like she was assembling heroes, forming a unit–a rescue unit, with a crucial task.

At that point, it wasn’t recruitment. It was a higher calling.

“It’s not legal,” Jensen told each of them. “But no one who could enforce that knows about it.”

None of them cared. They signed Jensen’s contracts and confidentiality agreements.

And from then on they were all members of Jensen’s team.

Nothing less and nothing more.

#

Jensen’s team wasn’t ready when the first resurrected bees began twitching in their wire-covered frames.

The team had gone through so many cases of small, still bodies sent by the collection branch of the project–fresh bees, long-dead bees, solitary, bumble, and honey. Pollinators, honey-makers. Stinging and stingless and every one of them dead from Colony Collapse Disorder, and a dozen other hypothesized causes, and more unidentified threats besides.

Jensen’s team was made up of professionals, happily married to their work, caring tenderly for the in-laws that were their safety protocols. But they got used to failure, administering the compound to insect corpses that stayed corpses. Observing only decomposition during the dictated test periods. Burning the samples to cinders, then receiving new batches of bees for testing.

Jensen’s team got so used to failure that they got used to other things, like neglecting their bulky, white protective suits when not working directly with the dead bees. They filled out paperwork and cleaned beakers in quiet corners of the lab, bare-faced, chatting with the team members who handled the compound and the corpses at the far table.

When the first stiff, disoriented honey bee wriggled back to life and slipped from a surprised scientist’s forceps, several team members across the room were not wearing their protective suits.

“Got it,” he called. “I’ve got this one–”

He deftly swept the runaway bee from midair and–no alternatives in reach–cupped the beaker against his own gloved hand.

A wince. Wide eyes.

He slid beaker and bee onto one of the lab tables, waving a teammate forward. “Take it.”

The wire bee veil didn’t hide his colleague’s horror. “Did it–”

“Quarantine.” He edged to the door, heart racing. “I need to quarantine myself. But it’ll be fine. Just keep the others contained. Everything will be fine.”

EP564: Trusted Messenger

AUTHOR: Kevin Wabaunsee

NARRATOR: Phillip Lanos

HOST: Norm Sherman

about the author…

Kevin Wabaunsee is a speculative fiction writer living in Chicago. A former newspaper reporter on the health and medical beat, he is currently an editor and communications director for a large medical school. He is a Prairie Band Potawatomi.

 

 

 

 

about the narrator…Displaying Profile-Pic.png

Phillip Lanos is Los Angeles born, hyper-active and yet pensive. An Actor, Singer-Songwriter and currently the host and editor of the Ajax Union Digital Marketing Podcast. Television appearances include MTV’s “Copycat” & “Parental Control” and Telemundo’s “Yo Soy El Artista.
Trusted Messenger

By Kevin Wabaunsee

Dr. Thaddeus Begay had been expecting a dying child in the exam room, but no one had said anything about a woman half-dead from starvation. He stepped inside and muscled the door shut – like the rest of the clinic, it was made from metal reclaimed from the original dropship, and like everything else in the colony, it didn’t quite fit right.

“Good morning,” Thad said.

“Hello there,” the woman said. Her tone was probably meant to be cheerful, but to Thad, it sounded like it took significant effort.

Thad frowned. His nurse must have made a mistake. A woman had burst into the clinic without an appointment, the nurse had said, demanding help for her sick child.

But the woman sitting on the examination table with her child was thin to the point of starvation. Cheeks deeply sunken; the outline of her ribs and collarbone sharp through her tank top. Her hair, like her shirt, was thin and plastered against her flesh with sweat. On her lap sat a little boy of about a year and a half, had jet-black hair and deep brown eyes, and cheeks that were flushed with a painful crimson rash. Still, he looked healthier than his mother.

Thad dragged a stool over to her. It squealed across the faint outlines of the struts and tie-downs and internal dividing walls that had once honeycombed the massive storage container that now served as the colony’s clinic.

He glanced back at the chart – her name was Suzanne Buenaventura. He glanced at her vitals, and nearly gagged when he saw her records from the colony ship. She’d been more than 215 pounds when the dropships had landed. Sitting on the exam table, she didn’t look like she’d top 110. “And what seems to be the problem this morning, Mrs. Buenaventura?”

EP563: Two Steps Forward

AUTHOR: Holly Schofield

NARRATOR: Adam Pracht

HOST: Norm Sherman

about the author…

Holly Schofield travels through time at the rate of one second per second, oscillating between the alternate realities of city and country life. Her fiction has appeared in Lightspeed’s “Women Destroy Science Fiction”, AE, Unlikely Story, Tesseracts, and many other publications throughout the world. For more of her work, see hollyschofield.wordpress.com.

 

about the narrator…

Adam Pracht lives in Kansas, but asks that you not hold that against him. He works full-time as the public relations coordinator at McPherson College, where he also received his master’s in higher education administration in spring 2016. He’s excited to get his life back. He was the 2002 college recipient of the Robert F. Kennedy award for writing about the disadvantaged and has published a disappointingly slim volume of short stories called Frame Story: Seven Stories of Sci-Fi & Fantasy, Horror & Humor which is available from Amazon as an e-Book or in paperback. He’s been working on his second volume – Schrödinger’s Zombie: Seven Weird and Wonderful Tales of the Undead – since 2012 and successfully finished the first story. He hopes to complete it before he’s cremated and takes up permanent residence in an urn.
Two Steps Forward

By Holly Schofield

I eased myself down off the running board of the ’28 Hudson sedan then laid a hand on the hood in mute sympathy for its overheated pistons. A quick buttoning-up of my topcoat and a tug on my fedora and I felt ready to approach the farmhouse.

The old woman on the veranda watched me as I drew close. Fly-away gray hair surrounded a narrow, clever face, faded housedress atop rubber boots, she was as much of a hodgepodge as I used to be. The late model Stewart Warner radio perched on the windowsill shimmied with “The Spell of the Blues”. I hummed along as the saxophones swooped and soared.

The old woman fingered the jumble of items on her lap as if looking for a weapon and I stopped a few feet from the bottom step of the porch.

“Afternoon, ma’am.” I tipped my hat, not too far, and put my hands in my pockets. “I won’t take up much of your time. Your husband built that famous automated scarecrow, am I right?” At her tightening mouth, I quickly added, “I’m not a reporter, just an admirer. I saw that scarecrow ace the dance marathon at the Playland  Pavilion in Montreal last winter. Truly hep to the jive.”  The ballroom’s mirrored walls reflecting the graceful moves of the dark-suited figure, hands as clever as Frisco twirling a chiffon-clad partner–a sight worth seeing, all right. The old woman grunted and picked up a dirty rag. She poured something golden and syrupy over it from a pickle jar, and began rubbing a coaster-sized metal disc—a flywheel? a gear?—with more vigor than necessary.

EP562: Meltwater

AUTHOR: Benjamin C. Kinney

NARRATOR: Rajan Khanna

HOST: Tina Connolly

about the author…

Benjamin C. Kinney is a neuroscientist by day, speculative fiction writer by night. Once upon a time, he worked in a glass-walled tower making cyborg monkeys, but he long ago abandoned that business to run electromagnetic fields across human brains. He lives in St. Louis with two cats and his spacefaring wife. His fiction and nonfiction have appeared in Strange Horizons, Clarkesworld, PodCastle, and Flash Fiction Online – and, at last, his beloved Escape Pod, where he sifts through submissions as an Associate Editor.

about the narrator…Rajan Khanna Author Photo

Rajan Khanna is a fiction writer, blogger, reviewer and narrator. His first novel, Falling Sky, a post-apocalyptic adventure with airships, was released in October 2014 from Pyr. A sequel, Rising Tide, came out in October 2015. His short fiction has appeared in Lightspeed Magazine, Beneath Ceaseless Skies, Shimmer, and several anthologies. His articles and reviews have appeared at Tor.com and LitReactor.com and his podcast narrations can be heard at Podcastle, Escape Pod, PseudoPod, Beneath Ceaseless Skies and Lightspeed Magazine. Rajan lives in New York where he’s a member of the Altered Fluid writing group. He is represented by Barry Goldblatt of the Barry Goldblatt Agency.
Meltwater

By Ben Kinney

My beloved waits for me in the flooded church. She’s died one time too many, and I can’t get her back without her help. At least, at last, it gives me a reason to see her again.

The church lies at the edge of the Mediterranean fracture, below cliffs barely eight thousand years old. Glacial melt pours down the precipice, filling the air with a fine frigid mist. Rime ice coats the façade, making the church look like a sharp-clawed hand locked in melting wax. Another fork drops me off in a flier, leaving me alone in the valley with my pack and what few memories I can carry.

Boulders and high water have turned the entrance into a scramble over icy stone. My lungs heave against thin cold air as I catch my breath in the nave atop a half-submerged pile of boulders. There’s just enough dry space for me to stand upright. I wish I’d taken a different body, but for this task–for me–only the traditional shape will do.

I first spot Emlune as a glowing line of blue. Her primary lamp cuts across the chamber, and the air glimmers with frozen mist. She clings to the vaulted ceiling with eight articulated limbs. Smaller lights spangle her teardrop-shaped chassis, as if she had swum in water rich with bioluminescent algae.

I cup my hands in front of my mouth. “Emlune!”

The light swivels toward me, even though she must’ve noticed me already. The artifice lends her attention a charming, primitive touch. I say, “There you are. Six thousand years, and this place hasn’t changed a bit. You’re still maintaining it, yes?”

“Percel.” Her voice sounds calm, but as distant as steeple to pews. “If you’re using that name again?”

“Of course.” I rub my hands together through their gloves, though my flesh is already warm. “Bad news. Your last iteration died without leaving any other forks of herself. No variants, no backups, nothing.” I intend to add she’s gone, but the words never leave my throat.

She scuttles down from ceiling to wall and hops onto a boulder beside me. Her body is glossy with layers of diamond, twice the size of my relic form. She says, “How?”

The question hurts, and I succumb to the temptation to avoid it. “She was in the Cascadia Zone, working on the volcanoes. She must’ve mis-timed an eruption.”

A manipulator swivels, like the shake of a head. “Why didn’t she make any backups?”

“I don’t know.” I want to fidget, to look anywhere else. Beneath her bright-light gaze, I can’t hold back the truth. “But it can’t have been an accident. Unless you think you forked someone careless.”

I wince as the last words escape my mouth. I don’t want her death on my shoulders, but I’d rather blame myself than her. Her beam flickers over my face, and I wonder what my skin and muscles reveal.

She laughs, a sound like the memory of bells. “You’re so transparent in that body. It’s sweet. It’s all right, I know you’re on edge. I’ve missed you too.”

I take a deep breath, filling my lungs with the easy grace of her forgiveness. “It’s good to see you, Emlune. It’s a lonely world out there without your fork. But to be honest, we missed this you.”

Emlune braces four legs beneath her and tilts her spun-diamond body like a sitting dog. “Am I so different from my forks? Or did you change yourselves to love me less?” Her voice gains a bittersweet edge, as if disappointed by the sadness on her tongue. “Probably both. I knew my fork would be different out there. Because of the work. I just can’t… obsess about the old Earth, not like you do.”

Frustration surges inside me. “What’s wrong with the work? At least I’m doing something productive! What have you accomplished these millennia? Thought deep thoughts and kept a church from falling down?”

Blue light strikes my eyes. I squint, but hold my ground. What could be more important than repairing this shattered Earth? I have to make her understand.

She says, “You shouldn’t have come back.”

She slips into the water and vanishes between the boulders. I am alone in the frozen church, hating myself. I haven’t forked into a body like this in millennia, and I’ve forgotten how to manage the emotions. The frustration remains, and I find myself pacing back and forth.

I slip on the ice. I catch myself on my hands, and my bones jar with the impact. I curse with clenched teeth and words that have long since lost their meaning.

I sit up. My body aches, but nothing worse. I’m not going anywhere. I may not remember all nine thousand years, but I know patience.

#

I dig a transmitter out of my pack and pass the time by keeping tabs on the work. I have four other forks currently running: two submarines working the Mid-Atlantic Ridge, a solar array warming the Cocos Plate, and a flyer surveying the Iberian peninsula. I consider envying my other forks. They miss only Emlune’s now-dead fork, with an affection faded by the malignant accumulation of changes. They barely recall Emlune’s frozen source, but I exist for my task: body, mind, and memories. When I finish my mission, when we splice back together, all of us will learn what we’ve been missing. They will remember my minutes and hours with Emlune, and they are the ones who will envy me.

Emlune clambers up onto the rocks. Screenlight reflects off of the camber of her fins, rippling as her limbs narrow themselves into legs.

She says, “I’m sorry, I shouldn’t have have run off like that. I’m not used to company.”

I shift my jacket on my shoulders. “I’m sorry too. I was being nasty. I’d blame this body, but that doesn’t make me any less responsible.” I try a smile. “I hope you’ll forgive me?”

“Always. As long as you will,” she says wistfully. Her light flickers to my face, to my screen, and back. “I’m glad you’re still enjoying your work.”

I nod toward my screen. “Do you remember the old Earth?” I try to recall us walking there together, breathing air rich with nitrogen and oxygen, warm sunlight on our singular face. “But never mind. It’s okay if you don’t. I just need another fork of you that will.”

“It didn’t work out last time. Evidently.”

“It worked for six thousand years. If we have to do this every few millennia, that’s not so bad, is it?”

She sighs, her voice heavy with regret. “My fork must’ve been miserable. To end the way she did. Maybe this isn’t meant to be.” Her tone hardens, but I can hear the crack beneath the plaster. “Learn to adapt, Percel.”

I wince. This isn’t going well. “We will. But we–I–don’t want to do it alone. Won’t you try again?” My pleading tone embarrasses me. This is futile, even if she acquiesces. As long as the idea repels her, she’ll never be able to craft a self that wants this future.

An idea dawns, and I grasp it like a whisper of radio signal in a cave. “Wait. I’ve been greedy, haven’t I? Let’s trade forks. I’ll bring one here to keep you company.”

Emlune’s primary lamp goes dark. The other lights on her carapace twinkle like a cupful of stars. I can still discern her shape, as the light from my screen casts her spangled shadow against the false window-arch of a triforium. She says, “You think a version of you could be happy here?”

“With you? Of course.” I’ve spoken too quickly. Would that fork still be us, the me whom she loves, without its interest in the world beyond?

Maybe not. But maybe she’ll be happy, even if her partner is someone else.

I wonder whether she can see my agony. But I put on a smile and say, “It’s worth a try. I don’t have the hardware to copy from this body, but I’ll have one of my others send the new fork.”

Her light flickers back into life and she reaches out. Her diamond manipulator touches my skin. Not as cold as ice, but as cold as the dead. Still, it’s the only touch I desire.

“It’s worth a try,” she echoes. “And until your fork arrives, we have time to talk.”

#

I receive a message from my fork in the church. Emlune wants us to make a version willing to stay here.

I can make such a fork, and I know her future. The new fork will diverge so far we’ll never achieve a proper splice. She will learn the things I most lack: peace, certainty, trust in permanence. She will ask the hardest questions. She will challenge me.

I will fall in love with her.

Six thousand years have passed since the last time I did this, but I have not forgotten.

#

Dawn light filters through clerestory window holes as Emlune sits on the cold stone beside me, telling tales of her work. Water and ice and time form an ever-changing loom, and every day she weaves the church anew. She doesn’t pause at the sound of turbines, but she falls silent when spun-diamond feet clink against boulders in the entrance.

An eight-limbed teardrop-shaped machine joins us, carrying a box full of gear. With my inchoate senses, the kit looks like nothing more than a tangle of shadow and silver.

I say, “Hello, Percel.”

“And to you, Percel.” The new arrival laughs with my voice, and then swivels toward Emlune. “You must be Emlune? I’m afraid I don’t remember much of you. But I will in a moment.”

The new Percel unspools a pair of leads from the kit, plugs one into her carapace, and offers me the other. “You have the only full instance of our feelings for her. Ready to share?”

More than ready, if it’ll create one more soul who understands me. I slip the lead into the socket where my spine ascends to skull, a concession to modernity in the timeless architecture of my human body. The world stutters as my functions lock down during the copying process, but when I resume, only an instant has passed.

I disconnect, and rub my fingers against the hard rim of the port. I force myself not to glance at Emlune; even if I did, I wouldn’t be able to read the reaction on her carapace. “Do you remember now, Percel?”

My newest fork hesitates, lights cycling beneath her surface as she weighs my gift. For her, it should be no burden. “I do.” The lights fall still, and her main lamp flickers to Emlune, then back to me. “But why Percel? Neither of us should answer to that. Names don’t mean much if we reuse them. I think I’d rather go by Temze. How about you?”

Satisfaction freezes in my veins. “I like Percel.”

Temze’s lamp dims, and she swivels it toward Emlune. Tightbeam communication passes between them. Temze’s dismissal hurts, a spike of disappointment somewhere behind my ribs.

I’m still not sure I understand Temze’s meaning. There’s no reason why I should; she has a long and different life ahead of her. But I want to make her proud of me. I clear my throat. “Call me Arju.”

Emlune and Temze focus on me. A breath of mist eddies across the nave. Emlune says, “It’s been a pleasure meeting you, Arju.”

Meeting. We both know I’m not the same Percel who left her here six thousand years ago. I’m a short-lived fork, and soon I’ll splice back into the others. I will become part of my future selves, to live my manifold lives with Emlune’s copies.

It’s not enough.

This time, I’ll know what I’ve lost. In love but forgotten, as Emlune and Temze build their private world. I can’t imagine a more painful fate. There must be a way out.

There is a way out.

I take the kit from Temze’s manipulators. “Download Emlune’s fork into me.”

Emlune recoils. “Your body barely has room for one personality. I’d overwrite you! If it’s even possible.”

Temze speaks cautiously, her voice deferential. “It’s possible. We designed this kit to create Arju.” I’ve surprised her, and I try to hide my flash of pleasure before her attention swivels toward me. “I don’t understand, but I’ll respect your choice. If you’re certain.”

Emlune scrapes her manipulators along the ice, as if hunting for purchase. “Why are you doing this?”

The wire shakes in my hands. My body feels like glass, strong but brittle. I must not crack. I was made to love this Emlune, solitary and eternal. If I splice, my love would rejoin the stream of my future selves. As long as some part of us pines for Emlune in her sanctuary, we will return here again and again, frozen in our yearning for an impossible love.

I look at them both, two bodies dazzling with diamond and light. “Because without me, we’ll be free.”

I attach the lead and wait for her to flow into me.

###