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Rene Sears is the Editorial Director of Pyr, an imprint of Prometheus Books. This is her first appearance in Galaxy’s Edge.

 THE PRESS OF INFINITE BLACK
by
Rene Sears

The first time I helped my father reprogram someone, I was twelve. It was one of Anatol Jidanu’s button men. Jidanu was one of the bosses of the Daissa; he mostly ran drugs from here to there, but he had a pack of extortionists and kneebreakers as well. He liked my father, and brought us a good deal of business.

This guy was upgrading his hands. You’re not going to get an arm with a lockpick built in at Daissa Main Hospital, but father could add whatever they wanted. In this case, extra strength for climbing, pressurized tubes for shooting poisoned darts out of his forearm, a strong focused magnetic pulse that would take out most electronic locks, a different pulse for magnetic locks, and some added dexterity and steadiness through the fingers for the old-style tumbler locks, which were more prevalent in the poorer areas.

After father programmed his implant to connect the new additions to the prosthesis, we had him visualize the icons he wanted to use for the first two repeatedly, until the connection between those images and the pulses in his fingertips had begun to sink into his neurons. This was the part where we excelled. No cheap programs that would fizzle out while he was midway up a building, no imprecise icons that would cause his fingers to misfire or his muscles to seize up. He repeatedly demagnetized the practice lock we kept in the office until father was satisfied.

“You’ll find your hands quite stable should you need to actually pick a lock,” father told him.

The man flexed his new fingers. “You never know. Thanks, Dr. Banerjee. This’ll come in handy.”

Jidanu was pleased and feeling generous. He had made enough from an experimental drug for the sufferers on Riseda Segunda to reward father handsomely. Father invested in some heirloom tomatoes for his garden, a treasure of old-Earth fruits and vegetables. These tomatoes were purple and bulbous, and we ate them sliced in thick steaks topped with basil and oil.

Not all jobs were big, or for important clients. By the time I was fifteen, my father let me handle the smaller ones on my own: a street magician who taught me how to flip a coin across my knuckles while I rewrote her bioware to accommodate double and triple jointedness, a dancer who wanted his tattoos to writhe along with his body, an artist who had lost movement in her hands to a disease that deformed the bones and wanted replacements with more than the legal ten percent deviance from base human shape. Even when the jobs weren’t complicated, I took pride in my work, in the clean elegance of my code.

Father was proud of me. He taught me all I needed to know to work with him as a partner. It was just the two of us; my mother died before I learned how to walk.

I had everything I wanted in the Daissa of Harirra, and I never planned to leave.

*

In the movies, being kidnapped by space pirates is a lot more interesting. So far space is dead boring.

Today is not the day I solve the puzzle.

I toss the archaic interface screen—gently; I don’t actually want to break it—and stretch. Vertebrae pop along my neck.

“No luck, Priya?”

The computer’s voice is annoyingly chirpy. Whoever programmed it must not have considered the possibility of being stuck in a ship with only that perky voice for company.

“None.” I tap the interface and my notes upload.

“Maybe next time,” the computer says, voice loaded with programmed sympathy. As if it didn’t have the answers.

The puzzle would be a lot easier to solve if I could use my implant. It’s not unlike the code I used on Hirarra to alter bioware; it’s just much clumsier to use the screen instead of native visualized icons.

My throat closes at the thought of home and I swallow the loss. Hirarra is only memories for me: sun-warmed stone beneath my bare feet, the taste of heirloom blackberries, and my father’s face. Not as he was when I left, vague eyes creased with pain and misremembered words, but as he was when he taught me his craft; exacting, with sure, steady hands, eyes creased by his smile.

Memories they will remain. Even if I were to turn the Orchid around right now, decades would pass before I reached Hirarra again. By the time we reach Riseda, my father will be dead.

I’ll never know if the Doc managed to cure him. I tell myself she will, when grief threatens to overwhelm me. As long as we are in space, traveling, he isn’t dead yet, and he might become himself again. When we reach Riseda, I’ll know that it’s real and he is gone. But in truth I started grieving him years ago.

I reach for the interface. If nothing else, the puzzle distracts me from dwelling in memory. I’m becoming adept at the interface—I’ve had to be, since they put the dampner on my implant. Afraid I’ll call for the Blues, I guess, as if I hadn’t been dodging the cops since I was a kid.

Priya?” I jump. The chirpy voice sounds almost apologetic. “I need your help.”

“Me? What can I do?”

“There’s another ship approaching.”

“So? Can’t we avoid it?” I’m not afraid of sounding stupid. I’ve never been off Hirarra. If the computer needed to know how to program prosthetics or implants, I could provide expert advice, but the etiquette of rendezvous between smuggling ships is beyond me.

“It’s a cruiser-class Allied Systems ship.”

“You have to tell me what that means.” The Allied Systems has a presence on Hirarra, but my father and I lived in the Daissa, the slum; in luxury that would have surprised the people from the richer districts when I was younger, and in an overcrowded tenement after my father’s mind began to go. I’d never been within spitting distance of the Blues, the peacekeeping arm of the Allied Systems. I’d had enough on my mind keeping away from Hirarra’s local cops. For a moment I feel absurdly guilty, as if my earlier thought had summoned them.

“This route was supposed to cross between patrols in this area. We have to talk to them, which means you have to talk them. Can you do it?” It hesitates. “Will you do it? I am aware that you are not on this ship of your own will.”

The crew could have killed me; they only abducted me instead. “I’ll do it.”

“Excellent.” The computer sounds relieved. “They will be able to scan our manifest—most of the cargo is legal.”

My mouth is dry and my heart rate unpleasantly elevated. I wish they’d left me access to my wellcheck. A dose of serotonin would settle the unpleasant spike of adrenalin speeding my pulse. “Can you take the dampner off my implant? This would be a lot easier if I could regulate my physical responses.”

“You don’t have an implant.”

My hand rises to the scar that’s been at my temple since I was a toddler, where a series of chips of increasing complexity allowed me access to the datastream, and later, helped me program prostheses and rewrite bioware, like my father. The slightly-raised scar feels no different, but that means little. I’ve used dermal accelerator myself countless times.

“That’s impossible.” What I mean is I don’t want it to be true. After months of lobbying father for an upgrade like his, I’d gotten one even better. My specifications were precise, and I’d fired the first contractor who’d thought I was installing more processing cycles than a teenage girl needed. The second one, more aware of who father was, had installed what I wanted without argument. It was what I needed to help father write programs and go into the business myself. For all of that to be gone—if it’s true, I’ve lost a part of myself, and the most significant gift my father made me.

“I have scanned your body,” the computer says. “There are no subcutaneous devices anywhere on your person.”

My eyes burn and the galley swims, but there’s no time for that with the patrol coming closer. I blink until my vision clears. “Tell me what I need to do.”

“Come to the bridge. I’ll show you.”

The bridge is intimidating to someone who’s never been off world before. I remind myself that it’s just technology—only scary because I’m unfamiliar with what it does.

“Sit here,” the computer says, and I slide into what I suspect is the captain’s chair. I resist the urge to look behind me, as if Captain Pham is going to jump out of the hibernation chamber and berate me for stealing her seat.

“I don’t know what to do without...” My throat tightens at the thought of my lost implant, and I clear it.

A screen glides out of a recess in the chair’s arm. I wouldn’t have known how to use it before I left Hirarra, before the old style interface and the puzzle. A row of icons appears onscreen, so much slower and clumsier than an implant. Better than nothing, though.

“The flower should pull up the manifest,” the computer says, so I touch the orchid blossom. A list of the crew appears, along with the cargo. They are carrying boxes of seeds (my throat tightens again when I see some varietals familiar from my father’s garden,) a passenger, and the narcotic that I saw them loading when I stumbled across the Orchid’s crew in the Daissa. The passenger Sarai Breit is interesting because I didn’t know another person was hibernating besides the crew, but more interesting is that the Stemprasin is listed.

“But...they’re smuggling the drugs.” It sounds stupid said aloud.

“These cases of Stempresin were acquired legally and for medicinal purposes on Riseda,” the computer says. I nod absently. Yes. The plague.

“But if the drugs are legal, why didn’t the captain just let me go? There was no reason to keep me.” To take my implant.

“I don’t know,” the computer says. “But the AS patrol ship will pass within hailing distance in seventeen minutes, so we need to add you to the crew on the manifest.”

I turn to the screen on the arm of the chair. Such a clumsy way to interface with the ship. I add myself to the crew, picked up at Hirarra as a temporary employee, contracted only to Riseda. I figure that will explain the large gaps in my knowledge of where they’re going next and where they’ve been. I go ahead and cover my tracks, tagging my data with the appropriate timestamps and hyperlinks, as if it were a legitimate entry. I’ve done this sort of thing to make prostheses and body mods scan legal. It’s unlikely that the patrol will be suspicious enough to check, but it never hurts to be thorough.

“Done,” I mutter. The process of falsifying the records has calmed my heart rate, but it speeds again when the computer pings with the patrol’s message.

“Put it through,” I say and sit straight, trying not to look too cowed. Then I decide that a street rat from the Daissa can look intimidated and out of her depth, and that’s what I am, though my hair has grown out of its slum crop since I’ve been aboard the ship. They might be space cops, but they’re still cops, and cops can tell.

They flicker into existence on the viewscreen: two women and a man. “What are you doing in this sector?” asks the older woman.

“Delivering supplies to Riseda Segunda,” I say.

“Interesting route,” she replies. “I need to see your manifest.” I tap the screen on the chair’s arm, and send it to her. Her eyes drift slightly to the right and focus on the information only she can see as she scans the manifest. She nods, satisfied, then her gaze returns to me. “And you are...?”

Priya Banerjee of Hirarra.” I remember too late that spacers id themselves by their ships, not their planet of origin. “I mean, of the Orchid.” The man behind her smiles faintly, but it doesn’t matter. It fits with the information they’re seeing.

“I’m going to scan your ship,” the woman says. If I deny her, they have a pretext to board to search more thoroughly.

“That’ll be fine,” I lie.

Her eyes change focus again as she activates their scanners, and I sit and wait, wishing I could use my wellcheck to keep myself from sweating. Ship to ship scanners are not supposed to sweep people—invasion of privacy—but how would I know if they did?

“All right,” she says, after an interminable thirty seconds. “You’re free to go. I’ve logged a note in your captain’s files. You’ll need to send an unmanned shuttle down to Riseda—the planet’s under quarantine.”

I don’t have to feign uneasiness. “I’ll mention it to the captain.”

Only after the Allied System patrol signs off do I allow myself a shaky sigh and wipe beads of sweat from my forehead. But I have questions and no answers. If the narcotics are legal, why did they take me? And if the drugs aren’t what they’re smuggling, then what is?

*

I don’t know how my father met the Doc.

It was a natural enough connection, through their not-entirely-separate careers. He was the best wetware programmer in the Daissa, and she was the best of the underground medicos. People who needed to get fixed up without questions asked or needed something added on or taken away that wasn’t entirely legal went to her, if they had the money. If they didn’t, there were scores of other doctors, of varying expense and repute that could more or less patch them up. The big bosses all went to the Doc. (I’m sure she had another name at one point, but I never knew what it was. Nobody ever called her by anything but her title in my presence.)

The Doc and my father worked together several times, and he held her in the greatest respect. When I was older, I occasionally wondered if they were lovers, but if so, they were very discreet. She came to dinner at our house every month or so, and my father had our cook prepare fruits and vegetables from our garden as the centerpiece of the meal, spiced with cardamom or thyme or saffron, accented with proteins synthesized to his specifications. The Doc had a refined palate; she had father send her the menu ahead of time so she could bring a wine to match each course. They did not speak of work on these occasions, but of current events, and of family. Father never failed to ask after her son.

It was from these meals that I knew anything of Riseda at all. Her son communicated with her via ansible. They had gone their separate ways from nu-Gaia when he was eighteen, but because of the travel times to Hirarra and Riseda they were nearly the same subjective age. He had lost half his vision when the Risedan plague attacked the neural interface between his brain and his implant, and at that he was one of the lucky ones. The plague scared me like nothing else; in a society where practically everyone has augments of one kind or another, to be unable to use them was to lose the use of limbs, or in the case of those with extensive illegal mods, to be trapped in a body that refused to obey, like a brain in a jar in an old twodee movie. No one knew the origin of the plague, or at first even the method of transmission. At first no one would help the Risedans; everyone was too afraid.

My father in turn would speak of his sister, or allow me to tell the Doc of the progress of my studies, though not of the work he and I did together in his office. When I was older, I was given charge of the final course, and they both praised me when I paired soft salty cheese with the figs from our garden, or wrapped cinnamon-imbued pastry around pears sliced thin and sautéed in butter.

When father began to forget words, it was to the Doc I went for help.

*

I no longer find the computer’s voice annoying. After all these months, I’ve grown to like the sound of her voice, even think of her as an ally of sorts. It’s not true, and it’s certainly not rational, but it makes me happy to hear her. So when she asks me for help, I’m glad to be her hands.

“One of the coldsleep units is reporting a problem, but none of my diagnostic scans has turned up anything. I’d like you to take a look.”

“Of course.” I grab the interface screen and jog to the hibernation chamber. The thought of the units malfunctioning sends ice down my spine. There are only a few months left until I go back into that dreamless sleep. I am not looking forward to it.

It’s easy to tell which of the units is having the problem; the one with the blinking orange indicator, when the others are a calm unwavering green. I check to see who it is: Captain Pham. So no pressure, then.

“What am I looking for?”

The computer runs me through basic diagnostics, and I conduct a visual check, and then one by feel, running my hands over all of the seals, making sure nothing is loose. We can’t find anything, but the indicator blinks orange, as though telling me to hurry up.

“All right, I can’t find anything wrong with the unit. Can you scan the captain herself?”

“I’ll display the results on your screen.”

Images and lines of code scroll across my screen. Nostalgia and loss knot my stomach; this is biocode, as familiar as the smell of lemon blossoms in my father’s office. There’s the problem: Somehow the nutrient drip sustaining Captain Pham has stopped regulating intake. She’s either not getting enough or getting more than her body can process. I explain this to the computer, then add, “We’ll have to wake her. I can’t fix this from out here, and if diagnostics didn’t pick up the problem, I’m not sure even you can fix it.”

“Very well. Initiating revival.”

The blinking orange light cycles to flashing red, then steady yellow, then green. The seal of the hibernation chamber hisses as it breaks and the lid slides to one side. Captain Pham is unmoving for a long minute or two, then she sucks in breath and her eyes open.

Immediately her brow furrows, and she lists to the side and vomits bile. I sympathize; I felt like shit when I first woke up, and I hadn’t had a faulty regulator. By the time she’s done, I’ve retrieved a glass of water and some towels from the galley and can silently offer them to her. She cleans herself up as the computer chirpily welcomes her back to the land of the conscious.

“Why am I awake?” Her voice is rough from disuse. “It isn’t my rotation.” Her eyes narrow suspiciously at me.

“There was a problem with your nutrient regulator.” I show her the code on the interface. She frowns at the screen, pushing lank black hair out of her face.

Her skin goes ashen as she realizes what could have happened. “Why didn’t diagnostics pick this up?”

I shrug, and she frowns at me. I realize that of course the computer is sending her the information directly via her implant. I set the interface down gently.

Captain Pham frowns again and looks at me more sharply. “We were stopped by a patrol?” I start to tell her about it, but she holds up a hand as the computer gets her the information much more concisely than I ever could. She nods, and the next time she looks at me, her gaze is softer, almost approving. “That was good work you did with the manifest. We’ll see what we can do about this hibernation unit.”

“About the manifest—” I hesitate until she nods impatiently for me to continue. “I couldn’t help noticing that the Stempresin I saw you loading is on the manifest.” Her eyes have gone hard again, and her jaw tightens. “If I didn’t witness a crime, why didn’t you let me go?”

She’s the first to look away.

*

At first, it only took my father longer to find words, but before long, code began to desert him too. His elegant hacks of Daissa prosthetics began to be riddled with holes. Nothing that I couldn’t fix, but it worried us both.

One morning over tea and thin bread scraped with strawberry preserves, he called me by my mother’s name. The sugary jam went sour in my gut. A tiny line formed between his thick black eyebrows. A moment later, he was talking of the project he was working on as if nothing had happened.

When he went to his office to work, I pinged the Doc. A quick message, asking to meet (I didn’t want to commit my father’s problem to the net) to which she responded almost immediately. She was coming to dinner at our house the next day; she knew it was something important if it couldn’t wait until then. Or maybe she too had noticed the missing words, the shaky code, and had been waiting for one of us to bring it up.

She met me at a plaza several blocks from our house. In the middle of the square there was a fountain that worked intermittently, and when the weather was fine, people gathered around it to sell each other things, or pass messages or play games together, or only to drink in the sunshine. Rain was threatening and had been all morning, so there were fewer people about, but the really dedicated drunks and gazers were still there.

“So,” the Doc said, sitting beside me on the rim of the fountain, “What is it, Priya?”

It’s father,” I said, and then stopped, not sure how to begin. She waited, turning a thick gold ring around the smallest finger on her right hand. “I don’t know if you noticed. He’s been forgetting words. Not just words. Biocode is his second language but he’s been forgetting that too.”

“I’ll observe him tomorrow. If I think he needs it, we’ll schedule an exam.”

I should have felt relief at telling someone, but instead I felt only dread. The feeling dogged me through dinner. At the end of the meal, the Doc stood abruptly, wineglass clutched in her hand. “Rakesh, I’d like to ask you something.”

“Of course.” My father leaned back in his chair and waited courteously. “If it’s within my power, you know I’ll help you.”

She smiled sadly. “I’d like to give you a physical exam and run a series of tests.”

I expected anger or denial, but my father’s gaze slid toward me, and he acquiesced.

*

The news, when the Doc brought it to us, was not good. My father was in the early stages of a neurocognitive disorder unlike anything she’d seen. Had it been any of the normal permutations, it would have been easy to correct, but as it was, she was unable to help.

“The effect is similar to abnormal protein folds, but my attempt to use a phage on the misfolds was unsuccessful, and my scan of the foreign bodies indicates that they are nonorganic. My conclusion is that this state is induced.”

“Induced,” father said slowly. “Someone did this to me? How?”

“And why?” My father and the Doc exchanged glances and I flushed. He did illegal things for criminals, and those criminals had enemies. He was not what most would think of as a good man. But I didn’t love him any less. “What can we do?”

“I’ll continue to explore options,” the Doc said.

But whoever had done this to my father was very good. She didn’t find alternatives, and he continued to slip away piece by piece. I took over working for him for a while, but soon his condition was obvious, and while many people didn’t mind dealing with me, people like Anatol Jidanu wanted Dr. Banerjee.

I sold the house, bitterly regretting the loss of father’s garden, and we moved to an apartment in the Daissa. I got enough work to support us, but most of it was low return: adding a tail to a dancer, hiding subcutaneous weapons along a kneebreaker’s arms. The Doc came to our apartment often, checking on father, but there was nothing she could do. He was going, neuron by neuron.

“I’m so sorry, Rakesh.” I was bringing a tea tray up from our galley kitchen. She was sitting next to him, his hand loosely clasped inside both of hers. “We’ll never be finished now. I wish I knew what you wanted me to do...”

Priya,” he said, low but clearly, and I swallowed past the lump in my throat and coughed so that she would know I was there.

*

The hibernation pod is beyond our capability to repair, which causes Captain Pham no end of frustration. I know she’d like to send me back to sleep, but there’s no way I’m getting in the damaged unit until it’s seen by a specialist. Not willingly anyway.

We never become close. I still don’t know why they kidnapped me. I keep asking her, but she usually just grunts. She keeps me at arms’ length either because she doesn’t like complicating a simple job with getting to know the victim, or maybe just because she’s tired of my questions. I ask the computer too, but she doesn’t know, or she’s been programmed not to tell me.

When we’re within weeks of Riseda, the captain tells me we’re waking up the rest of the crew.

“And the passenger,” I say. The captain looks at me and cracks her knuckles. “Sarai Breit. I saw it on the manifest when the patrol stopped us.”

Captain Pham mutters under her breath in a language I don’t know. “All right. Come with me to the hibernation chamber.”

I don’t know why she wants me there, but I go with her. We stop in the galley to gather nutrient drinks, prepared to Captain Pham’s specifications. She initializes the units one at a time, and they cycle through red and orange and finally green. The seals pop and the lids hiss open. The three crew members I only met briefly at the beginning of the trip sit up, complaining and reaching for their drinks with the confidence of those habituated to coldsleep. The thought makes me shudder.

The final pod slides open, and a woman sits up, coughing and shivering. The captain passes her a steaming cup, and she cradles it in shaking hands and sips it as though it were a fine Halvenar red from her cellar. I can only stare at Sarai Breit—the Doc.

Pieces click into place. It’s not a coincidence she’s here, and no accident that brought me aboard the Orchid. I have the corners of the puzzle, but the middle is still a blank. Why? Then I realize this means that my father died alone, without anyone, never cured. I hadn’t been aware how much the thought of her caring for him—maybe unraveling the degenerative progress of his dementia—had comforted me.

My knuckles pop. My hand is gripping the beveled edge of the doorframe as though I could crush it. I make a sound—of rage, of grief, even I don’t know. The Doc looks up.

She’s still trembling with hibernation aftereffects, but her gaze snaps to the captain. “Why is she awake?” she croaks.

“I think you need to tell me what’s going on.” To my surprise my voice is steady, and as cold as starlight in the void.

She sets her cup down. “I suppose I must.”

*

The last day I saw my father, we ate blackberries in the courtyard of our apartment building. They weren’t heirloom, not like his, but the best synth I’d been able to afford. He smiled at me as I got ready to go. The vagueness of his smile pierced me. I imagined black haze closing in the bright details of his life.

The Doc asked me to meet. Her ping hadn’t gone into any detail, but she said she had a promising lead on a phage. I was ready to try anything. The other palliatives we’d tried had done nothing, or so little as to be unnoticeable.

I met her at the fountain in the Plaza Sirocco. It wasn’t working today, but the square was just as packed.

After we exchanged pleasantries, she explained what she needed. The problem, she said, was the phage she wanted to try was only available at the Daissa Main.

“You want me to steal drugs from the hospital?” I was a programmer, not a thief. “We should hire someone who has a shot at it.”

“Until we know who did this, I don’t want to trust anyone. Not the lowliest pickpocket. And you won’t be stealing. This is not a job for a, um, a thief.” She bit her lip, then shook her head and went on. “I have a friend who works at the Main who’s willing to help. This will be easy, Priya.”

She outlined a plan: I would pose as a courier to the office where her friend worked, the friend would hand over a package containing the phage, and I would take it home by a route she’d mapped out for me. She sent the map into me and my implant pulled it up, the route obligingly outlined in a nice calm green. “That’ll get you around the security routes, and I’ll give you a courier’s pin, so no Blues ought to question you.”

Ought to, I thought, but I nodded anyway. I could go right away; she couldn’t do it herself, because too many people knew her at the Daissa Main, knew she was usually on the wrong side of the law. But me—I was unknown. She had the messenger uniform and pin, and I changed into them, eager to get this over with.

It worked exactly as she had said it would. I followed the map in my head, ducking through corridors as though I belonged there. The technician that handed me the packet didn’t even blink. It was just a normal day’s business. I continued following the green line, through hallways and down staircases, through the door that should have led to the outside.

I stumbled and drew up short. Instead of sunshine on my face, I was in a small white room with four women looking at me with varying expressions of surprise and hostility. I had interrupted them unloading boxes from a dolly. The boxes were clearly marked STEMPRASIN—a class C narcotic only scheduled for strictly supervised medical use.

The shortest woman stepped forward as the door snicked shut behind me. I whirled, reaching for a doorknob that wasn’t there. The woman jabbed a button with her thumb, and the earth shifted beneath my feet. Earthquake! I thought, but then my stomach dropped and my inner ear sorted out what was happening. We were rising.

The short woman sneered. “Welcome aboard, street rat.”

*

“Your father and I were working together.” The Doc taps the rim of her teacup, watching the steam swirl up over the table. The crew has given us privacy in the galley, while they make whatever adjustments they need to on the bridge. “As you are aware, I have family on Riseda. Your father was so talented. Gifted. He has—had—the ability to help those suffering people, and when I asked, he agreed to help. So we collaborated.” She stops to pull in a shuddering breath, her eyes glistening. I am too angry for tears yet. I rest my own hands on the table next to my teacup to keep them from balling into fists.

“We were close. But Jidanu found out what we were doing.”

Understanding washes over me. “The Jidanu clan sells Stemprasin.”

“Yes. Had we succeeded in helping the Risedans, an enormous source of Jidanu’s profit would have dried up.”

“So they destroyed my father’s mind.”

Her eyes close. “And his ability to help my son and grandson.”

Pain scalds my hand and I hear the ring of tin on the galley floor before I realize I’ve knocked my cup over. “So you left him to die alone. Fine. Why take me with you?”

“You’re the only one who can finish what we started. I have his notes, I have the program, but I don’t have the skill to understand it. To complete it. Only you do that.”

“I could have done that on Hirarra. You didn’t have to take me.” Now my voice catches. Did he die thinking I’d abandoned him?

“I did. I’m not the only one who knows how much you helped him, that you were his successor. They were getting close to me. How long do you think it would have been before you began to forget what you knew?” Her eyes follow me, dark with guilt or pain.

“You could have asked.”

“I could have. Maybe I should have. But we were short on time. I knew you’d never leave him.”

I wouldn’t have. I understand why, now, but I don’t forgive. It was not her choice to make. “Tell me, why take my implant?”

“I’ve removed mine as well. Only non-enhanced humans are safe from the Risedan plague. We’ll use interfaces once we get there. You have learned how, yes?”

I shake my head in agreement. The puzzle, so similar to biocode. There was never any point in solving it, and maybe no solution. The point was to familiarize me with an interface that the plague couldn’t touch. She has been nothing but thorough.

“We’ll be there soon,” she says. “Will you look at his notes?”

I understand then that I do have another choice. I could refuse to help her, so that all of this would be for nothing. It’s so petty a revenge that I only consider it for the time it takes to think of it. The people dying on Riseda are doing so in an awful mirror of my father: his mind fled him, but his body remained a relentlessly healthy shell. These people are trapped fully aware in bodies that are slowly losing all function. If there’s a chance I can prevent such horror then of course I must try.

“Yes,” I tell her, “I will.”

*

Reading his notes, I can almost hear my father’s voice in my ear, making suggestions. He is...he was not a doctor, and his solution is not a doctor’s solution, but a biocoder’s. It’s a workaround rather than a cure, and it will probably have to be adapted once I get on the ground and see the precise dimensions of the problem—and it may have to be tailored to each individual. None of that matters.

I see a way to build a bridge around the misfolds that deformed his brain. He saw a path to connect augments to neurons that had stopped communicating; I see a way I could have helped him when all the Doc’s phages could not. If only it were not too late. A stupid what-if paradox I can’t help: If he had not suffered from dementia, would he have seen that his research contained a clue to help with his dementia?

The Doc listens to my suppositions and her hands tremble. Her lips thin until they are chalk-pale from her pressing them together, and I understand: they did not come close to her, back on Hirarra. They got her. What my father suffered, she is suffering.

“It doesn’t matter,” she says when she sees realization in my eyes. “I brought you here for my son, for his children.”

My father’s face in my memory, smiling as he taught me to code. I could let her suffer as he did. I could let her die alone. Instead, I pick up the interface and prepare to do for her what I could not for him.

“Lie down,” I tell her, tapping the icon that summons up the interface’s clumsy version of biocode. “I’m going to fix it.”

Copyright © 2016 Rene Sears

 

LIMITS
Larry Niven

An extraordinary mix of fantasy and science fiction from one of the masters of science fiction, Larry Niven.

TABLE OF CONTENTS

HOME

The Editor's Word

FICTION
The Bone-Runner
by Jennifer Campbell-Hicks

Wiping Out

by Robert J. Sawyer
Full Skies, No Water
by Lou J Berger
The Press of the Infinite Black
by Rene Sears
Second Person Unmasked
by Janis Ian

The Little Robot's
Bedtime Prayer

by Robert T. Jeschonek

Life on the Preservation
by Jack Skillingstead
Love, Your Wolpertinger

by Dantzel Cherry
Thuindergod in Therapy

by Effie Seiberg

Coward

by Todd McCaffrey
Confidence Game (Sargasso)

by Laurie Tom

INTERVIEW
Joe Haldeman

by Joy Ward

SERIALIZATION
The Long Tomorrow (Part 1)
by Leigh Brackett

COLUMNS
From the Heart's Basement
by Barry N. Malzberg
Science Column
by Gregory Benford

Book Reviews
by Bill Fawcett & Jody Lynn Nye

 

Loosely based on Larry Niven's 1973 novella "Flash Crowd," Red Tide continues to examine the social consequences of the impact of having instantaneous teleportation, where humans can instantly travel long distances in milliseconds.

This is a theme that has fascinated the author throughout his career and even appears in his seminal work Ringworld, where the central character celebrates his birthday by instantly teleporting himself to different time zones, extending his birthday. The author also discussed the impact of such instantaneous transportation in his essay, "Exercise in Speculation: The Theory and Practice of Teleportation."

Larry Niven is joined by two younger writers, Brad R. Torgersen and Matthew J. Harrington, as they take on this challenging idea and further develop the theories and concepts that Niven originally presented in "Flash Crowd."

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His novel 1632 has launched an enterprise which has seen more than a 100 writers participating in some form or another and may be the most collaborative universe ever created.

To accommodate the huge demand (from readers as well as writers who wanted to write stories set in the universe), Eric created an online periodical called the Grantville Gazette which publishes stories set in the 1632 universe.


 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Copyright © Arc Manor LLC 2016 All Rights Reserved. Galaxy's Edge is an online magazine published every two months (January, March, May, July, September, November) by Phoenix Pick, the Science Fiction and Fantasy imprint of Arc Manor Publishers.