The fire above me raged, bringing my awareness to new heights. Soon enough I would have to run, but for now I could try to memorize every feature of our most sacred shrine before it disappeared forever. A hundred and seventy-two seasons of memory, as the mammals count time, had passed since the first mark on the Tree of Awakening. The first mark was nearly at ground level on the strangely smooth bark, about where one of the Ancients would have been able to reach with a foreclaw, about knee-high to one of us. Even as a hatchling, the Tree...

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A bright moon glistens in a velvet black sky. An unseen dog barks bloody murder as a Clean-Bot 2100 purrs its way through a wide and spotless street. Around the street there are no cars, no signs of life except for a lone woman. She frantically runs ahead of the Clean-Bot as if she fears it will suck her up like trash. The woman, her ginger hair swinging from side to side, reaches the end of the street where there is a tall water tower, at least fifty feet high. Painted on the tower’s side, in vibrant red and blue,...

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Samsara heard a knock on the gate. He sat up, wondering if he’d dreamed the sound. Midnight watch at the monastery gate was hard duty, but good meditation practice. Despite the unyielding wooden bench, he always struggled against the urge to sleep. At forty-five staying awake was harder than when he’d first joined the monastery a dozen years ago. Switching on the light over the gate, Samsara opened the door. A squat machine slowly rolled into the light. It stood a little higher than his waist, with a square, low-slung body. It had three arms. One contained a complex array...

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“I still don’t understand how you became captain.” “Acting Captain,” Day corrected Zunzheim. “Acting Captain.” Zunzheim rolled his eyes. “Because after the accident I was the only one qualified. I tried to turn it down. When all the dust settled, it was me, a nurse practitioner, three marines and half of the maintenance department left onboard. Maintenance didn’t want marines in charge, so it’s me. Boucher was the ranking marine, so she is first officer.” “Maintenance would rather have a suicidal, misanthropic captain than a marine?” “Maintenance is suspicious of authority figures,” Day answered. “They have their own informal command...

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Chester “Ched” Edwards, one-time heir to AllRound Enterprises, spits out gobs of dirt and dried blood and takes a gulp from his water line. It tastes like warm piss. The horizon strobes magenta, each spike followed by a pitch-shifting whine, loose and ghostly. If this is a storm, it is unlike any he has ever seen. He unzips his landing suit, feeling around for his radio, keying in the number he’s been given. “Chester Edwards, customer 412-695-B. Waiting for agent.” Nothing but white noise. His pod is still visible as a trapezoid lump, overtly geometrical against the marshy flatness. He...

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“I’m Harry Meers.” A simple answer to a simple question: “Which of you is Mr. Meers?” Kendra Wilk glanced up and scanned the reception area outside of Mr. Reber’s office. She’d hung up the phone as she’d asked the question, eyes downcast after her boss had berated her for making Mr. Meers wait. She scolded herself for her carelessness. Everyone thought her just a pretty face, and in her drive to prove them wrong, Kendra bungled. Again and again she bungled. Repeatedly. Certainly she could manage to identify Mr. Reber’s next appointment. Certainly she could identify Mr. Meers without a...

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“No – you just look at that and tell me I’m wrong.” Sahl had seen many dawns in her life, and Earth’s had never featured among her favourites. The Solar System colonies had so much to offer in this sense – some of them of uncanny beauty. And from the stunning, week-long West Sunrise Parties in the Venusian Floating Cities to the blue hues of the Martian skyline, Sahl had seen them all. No nostalgia or misplaced sentimentalism for a well-travelled Solar System astrobiologist born in a faraway colony. But when, embedded in her heavy exoskeleton, she went out in...

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Marco crouched next to his master in the shadow of two leering demon statues standing sentry at Bongeunsa Temple’s arched gates. His hand rested on the hilt of a dagger tucked into his belt, and he gazed down the one thousand steps leading to the sacred summit. The slender woman had emerged from the tree line in her steep ascent up the temple’s stone stairs. When she finally stood before Marco and his master, her pale skin bore a light sheen of sweat, and she breathed heavily from the exertion of reaching the high peak. “I am honored to be...

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Susan always had Chatty Katty, Canada’s favorite gossip hour, on the wall screens on Tuesdays, and “Celebrity Crashes” on Thursdays. Mondays, Wednesdays, and Fridays were Elijah’s days. Then it was CNNetNews in the bedroom, the bathroom’s HUD holo-mirror and the kitchen’s wall screen. The rest of their home was wired for audio only. Elijah knew she hated that. There seemed to be a lot of things Susan hated these last few years. It wasn’t something they ever talked about; but sometimes the notion that something was wrong would take hold of him, but something else always seemed to come up...

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The walls around the town of Bootstrap are mostly old cars stacked one on top of the other and welded together. Outside Bootstrap, market stalls made from patchwork tarps and rusty pipes lean on either side of the wide gate. They are temporary places for the people who live inside to trade goods with the people stuck outside who need in. People like Pup. He looks up at the guard by the gate, who is thicker, but not much older. Probably grew up inside the walls. He looks as if he’s been well-fed, even during bad years. His skin is...

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