Apex Magazine A magazine of science Fiction, fantasy, and horror 2016-02-10T16:45:43Z http://www.apex-magazine.com/feed/atom/ McKenzie Winberry <![CDATA[Interview with Cover Artist David Demaret]]> http://www.apex-magazine.com/?p=10974 2016-02-07T20:36:46Z 2016-02-10T14:00:10Z APEX MAGAZINE: Apex Magazine’s cover this month is David Demaret’s “The Observatory,” a piece that reminds me of Caspar David Friedrich’s “Wanderer Above a Sea of Mist.” In both pieces, the central character seems to be contemplating something. When you are creating your characters, especially with a piece like this, how closely do you put yourself in the character’s shoes? Does it start with the intimate idea of what they are thinking, or do you start more broadly with the idea of the observatory over the clouds and sea?

David Demaret: I’m humbled by that comparison and now that you mention it, I might have been influenced by this piece of art in a subconscious way! This is one of my first pieces when I wanted to do very scifi pieces, and I remember that I had some vision with that exact scene as a sketch. The idea is to depict out of this world and fantastic views, invent places where you can witness places in the universe in an impossible way. There’s an easter egg in that image, if you zoom on the top/middle part of the arm, you can read “sic transit Gloria mundi,” the Latin for, “thus goes the glory of the world.”

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA

AM: Your compositions and settings range from character close ups to large space battles, and everything in between. What are the differences in your approach when you are working on close versus distant imagery? Are your methods for painting a landscape similar to a space battle, or are they different techniques?

DD: Well, it depends on the subject and if the character is important. If it’s about a main character, it’s gonna be close to him/her. Otherwise, a battle needs a large view in general. It’s also about the demand of the client. I try to follow what he/she asks for. There are no different methods for these different views, I’m only careful for a nice and interesting composition, which is at the core of any type of good image anyway.

imperfectswordlarge

AM: When you are creating scenes in space, with large ships and even battles, how do you balance the detail work on each ship versus the composition of the overall layout? Is the effect of color and contrast more (or less) important than the details, in something like “Imperfect Sword”?

DD: Well, I’m thinking in “planes” —foreground, middle ground, background — with less and less details and contrast the more it goes away. Then I’m thinking about grouping visually the same objects/characters, and giving them different scales to give depth to the image. I’d say details are not as important as having a good design, interesting shapes, values, and colors. It’s just the icing on the cake and won’t sell an image.

AM: On your DeviantArt page, you have a gallery for a CD set called “Mystified,” and you have a number of other book covers in your galleries. Does the need for the graphic design of the final publication affect the choices you make as you are creating a piece?

DD: Yes, for CD covers and the CD itself, you have to take the format as a visual guide and not painting details that won’t appear at all (like the central hole of a CD or the back of a book/cd cover where there will be text lines.

AM: Your DeviantArt page lists a few visual artists that you like, including Beksinski, Frazetta, Monet, and Zorn. Those artists are somewhat different in their approaches, compared to one another. Do your favorite artists influence your individual pieces directly, or is it more that they mix overall across your works?

DD: Yes, I know their art is quite different, but they all have something unique and strong in their way to paint, and that’s what I admire as separate skills!

Beksinski had incredible visions in the “out of this world/never seen before” field. Frazetta was the man that “invented” the heroic fantasy look and feel. He made iconic images like Conan or the death dealer. He is a model. Monet is the master of color and light, and having seen real paintings very close, it’s just fantastic to look at. And Zorn has a fantastic understanding of values and such a simplicity in his strokes, it’s just incredible.

I should add Chris Foss, who made me love sci-fi and giant spaceships, he was my biggest influence. In the end I would like to mix all those qualities! 😉 But I’m not there yet.

Russell Dickerson has been a published illustrator and designer since the previous millennium, creating works for many genre publications and authors. He has also written many articles for various organizations in that time, including Apex, and his work can be found on his website at www.darkstormcreative.com.

Photo credit John Urbancik

]]>
0
Lesley Conner <![CDATA[Apex Magazine Artist of the Year 2015]]> http://www.apex-magazine.com/?p=11004 2016-02-09T15:34:45Z 2016-02-09T15:34:45Z We’d only planned for our poll for the Apex Magazine Artist of the Year 2015 to be open for a week, but snow, and life, and time got away from us, leaving the polls open longer than that. Which is totally okay! That gave all of you more time to ponder the amazing cover art from 2015 and decide which one was your favorite.

As the saying goes, though, all good things must come to an end. It is time we announce the Apex Magazine Artist of the Year for 2015!

The winner is Beth Spencer!

Beth Spencer was the cover artist for Apex Magazine Issue 72, with her whimsical piece “The Flux Capacitor.”

Congratulations, Beth!

image001

]]>
0
McKenzie Winberry <![CDATA[2015 Award Eligible Fiction from Apex]]> http://www.apex-magazine.com/?p=10991 2016-02-08T15:22:54Z 2016-02-08T15:00:02Z The time has come for all of you dedicated, stellar readers to nominate Hugo and Nebula worthy stories.  Our Editor-in-Chief, Jason Sizemore, is also up for the Best Editor, Short Fiction award!  We hope you will be participating in the voting process!

If you plan to attend MidAmeriCon II, you can participate in voting by submitting your ballot here.  If you are a SFWA member, the voting process has not started.  Keep up with when and how to vote for the Nebulas here.

 

Pocosin by Ursula Vernon (5000 Words)
http://www.apex-magazine.com/pocosin/

Multo by Samuel Marzioli (3770 Words)
http://www.apex-magazine.com/multo/

Anarchic Hand by Andy Dudak (3300 Words)
http://www.apex-magazine.com/anarchic-hand/

John Dillinger and the Blind Magician by Allison M. Dickson (4900 Words)
http://www.apex-magazine.com/john-dillinger-and-the-blind-magician/

Requiem, for Solo Cello by Damien Angelica Walters (1170 Words)
http://www.apex-magazine.com/john-dillinger-and-the-blind-magician/

Heirloom Pieces by Lisa L. Hannett (4600 Words)
http://www.apex-magazine.com/heirloom-pieces/

Foreknowledge by Mary E. Lowd (4100 Words)
http://www.apex-magazine.com/foreknowledge/

Inhale by Rhoads Brazos (950 Words)
http://www.apex-magazine.com/inhale/

The Best Little Cleaning Robot in All of Faerie by Susan Jane Bigelow (4700 Words)
http://www.apex-magazine.com/the-best-little-cleaning-robot-in-all-of-faerie/

Houdini’s Heart by Thoraiya Dyer (4195 Words)
http://www.apex-magazine.com/houdinis-heart/

Charaid Dreams by Rati Mehrotra (3500 Words)
http://www.apex-magazine.com/charaid-dreams/

A Beautiful Memory by Shannon Peavey (4000 Words)
http://www.apex-magazine.com/a-beautiful-memory/

Where I’m Bound by Nina Kiriki Hoffman (4200 Words)
http://www.apex-magazine.com/where-im-bound/

Beatification of the Second Fall by Sean Robinson (4400 Words)
http://www.apex-magazine.com/beatification-of-the-second-fall/

Silver Buttons All Down His Back by A.C. Wise (4500 Words)
http://www.apex-magazine.com/silver-buttons-all-down-his-back/

Crow by Octavia Cade (3200 Words)
http://www.apex-magazine.com/crow/

Wind by Naomi Kritzer (4300 Words)
http://www.apex-magazine.com/wind/

Slow by Lia Swope Mitchell (4800 Words)
http://www.apex-magazine.com/slow/

Remembery Day by Sarah Pinsker (2800 Words)
http://www.apex-magazine.com/remembery-day/

A Sister’s Weight in Stone by JY Yang (4400 Words)
http://www.apex-magazine.com/a-sisters-weight-in-stone/

Inhabiting Your Skin by Mari Ness (3800 Words)
http://www.apex-magazine.com/inhabiting-your-skin/

Proximity by Alex Livingston (4200 Words)
http://www.apex-magazine.com/proximity/

Foreclosure by DJ Cockburn (4200 Words)
http://www.apex-magazine.com/foreclosure/

Going Endo by Rich Larson (3250 Words)
http://www.apex-magazine.com/going-endo/

All Who Tremble by A.A. Balaskovits (3900 Words)
http://www.apex-magazine.com/all-who-tremble/

Never Chose This Way by Shira Lipkin (1600 Words)
http://www.apex-magazine.com/never-chose-this-way/

Brisé by Mehitobel Wilson (5300 Words)
http://www.apex-magazine.com/bris/

Coming Undone by Alexis A. Hunter (800 Words)
http://www.apex-magazine.com/coming-undone/

It is Healing, It is Never Whole by Sunny Moraine (3400 Words)
http://www.apex-magazine.com/it-is-healing-it-is-never-whole/

Not My Circus, Not My Monkeys: The Elephant’s Tale by Damien Angelica Walters (3500 Words)
http://www.apex-magazine.com/not-my-circus-not-my-monkeys-the-elephants-tale/

Child, Funeral, Thief, Death by Tade Thompson (4000 Words)
http://www.apex-magazine.com/child-funeral-thief-death/

Find Me by Isabel Yap (4500 Words)
http://www.apex-magazine.com/find-me/

Frozen Planet by Marian Womack (2900 Words)
http://www.apex-magazine.com/frozen-planet/

Mountain by Liu Cixin (15000 Words)
http://www.apex-magazine.com/mountain/

When the Fall is All That’s Left by Arkady Martine (2275 Words)
http://www.apex-magazine.com/when-the-fall-is-all-thats-left/

Super Duper Fly by Maurice Broaddus (4000 Words)
http://www.apex-magazine.com/super-duper-fly/

All Things to All People by D.K. Thompson (1500 Words)
http://www.apex-magazine.com/all-things-to-all-people/

Me and Jasper, Down by the Meth Shack by Aaron Saylor (6000 Words)
http://www.apex-magazine.com/me-and-jasper-down-by-the-meth-shack/

Blood on Beacon Hill by Russell Nichols (7100 Words)
http://www.apex-magazine.com/blood-on-beacon-hill/

To Die Dancing by Sam J. Miller (6000 Words)
http://www.apex-magazine.com/to-die-dancing/

The Beacon and the Coward by Day Al-Mohamed (6400 Words)
http://www.apex-magazine.com/the-beacon-and-the-coward/

She Gave Her Heart, He Took Her Marrow by Sam Fleming (6500 Words)
http://www.apex-magazine.com/she-gave-her-heart-he-took-her-marrow/

Aishiteru Means I Love You by Troy Tang (2500 Words)
http://www.apex-magazine.com/aishiteru-means-i-love-you/

The Phylactery by Nick Mamatas (2700 Words)
http://www.apex-magazine.com/the-phylactery/

Memory Tree by Jess Rausch (3600 Words)
http://www.apex-magazine.com/memory-tree/

A Letter To Santa by Melanie Rees (250 Words)
http://www.apex-magazine.com/a-letter-to-santa/

Christmas is Coming by Gina L. Grandi (250 Words)
http://www.apex-magazine.com/christmas-is-coming/

Reconstituted by Marlee Jane Ward (250 Words)
http://www.apex-magazine.com/reconstituted/

]]>
0
McKenzie Winberry <![CDATA[Anabaptist]]> http://www.apex-magazine.com/?p=10968 2016-02-07T19:30:50Z 2016-02-08T14:00:14Z 4,500 words

Men wear hats outside. Black for the winter, brown for the summer. Hat brims are three inches wide. Once a man marries, he grows a beard but shaves his upper lip. Unmarried boys must be clean-shaven. When a man’s wife dies, he will not remarry, no matter how lonely. This is God’s Will.

Every morning, when the sun still rose, Jakob and I woke early, before the harsh blues of the day began to spread across our sprawling pastures, ours after the passing of Mother and Father and Elsie. This too, was God’s Will. We went out to the barns and poured measured buckets of grain mash for the dairy and spread grit in the compost for the laying hens. We ran hands through our sweaty hair and squinted under the wide brims of our hats and wondered where babies came from and which of us would grow the bigger beard.

Once we got started, my brother and I talked for hours on end. We talked about what heaven was like. We wondered what life was like outside of New Lancaster. We talked about the best way to button suspenders— for some reason Jakob just couldn’t see that one strap running over the right shoulder was superior. We argued over the best way to milk and who was the better singer of hymns, but we never questioned where the light came from, until we lost it.

It was cold that morning, on the day that the sun didn’t rise. Jakob noticed it faster than I did, pointing out our foggy breath.

“What do you think it means?” he asked.

I shrugged, filling a bucket with grain. “We should ask Bishop Yoder. He’ll know.”

After we finished the morning’s chores, we hitched up the buggy and rode out to Bishop Yoder’s house. The Bishop’d led me through my baptism and when Jakob was old enough he’d raise my brother up too, declare him a man and a faithful member of the church.

Bishop Yoder’s house had the same white-washed siding and solar panels as the rest of the houses in New Lancaster, but the inside was all warm brown and yellow and he gave us each a plate of snitz pie while we waited for him to tell us why the sun hadn’t yet risen.

“God’s Will,” he said.

“But why so sudden?” My brother had no patience.

“Gelassenheit, Jakob. I don’t know.” He shrugged and sighed. “Have either of you ever been outside the county?”

I shook my head. So did Jakob, a moment later.

“Good.” He tugged at his beard. “You know that leaving New Lancaster is grounds for excommunication. Only a young man who hasn’t yet joined the church can do such a thing.” He looked pointedly at Jakob. “It’s not my place to guide men of age who haven’t joined the church, though, so I’ll say no more on the matter.”

Jakob nodded slowly. I looked back and forth between the two of them.

“I’ll go,” I said.

They both turned to stare at me.

“It is forbidden, Ephraim. You will not go.”

“But I’m the eldest.”

The old man shook his head. “It is forbidden.”

§

My brother left in what would have been the afternoon. I sent him off with a backpack full of pickled vegetables and a few pork chops. He’d make do. I knew he would. We hadn’t said much when we’d got back from Bishop Yoder’s, no more questions about the absent sun— I still thought I ought to be the one to go, and Jakob knew it, but I wasn’t going to go against God’s Will.

So, for the first night in seventeen years, I ate alone. I cleaned the dishes alone. I said my evening prayers alone, kneeling at the side of my bed with my head bowed. It was strange to hear my voice alone in prayer, without my baby brother’s chorus.

The next day, I woke in darkness, broke my fast in darkness, and watered the livestock in darkness. The cows seemed spooked by the long night, but the chickens pecked blindly at grit and mash with their usual fervor. I wondered if the livestock could live without sunlight.

I wondered if I could.

Two days later, the sun rose, and I felt something inside me slowly crumble, some tangle of worry and fear. I smiled, and set about my chores. Jakob would be home soon.

Three days after the rising of the sun, I did our chores alone.

On the fourth day, I felt the knot tightening back upon itself

On the fifth, I hitched Susie to the buggy. She laid her ears flat and stared into my eyes. I thought maybe she missed Jakob, too.

Riding to Bishop Yoder’s house took longer than it had with Jakob. My brother was always in a rush, and even though I was the eldest, it seemed I was destined to be dragged along in his wake. There was the time when Jakob woke me in the middle of the night and we took out the buggy and raced along the empty paths of New Lancaster until sunrise. The scars on my knuckles made it hard to forget.

I arrived just as the sun began to set. Just like last time, it seemed as if the bishop was waiting for me. He sat on the front porch with a glass of milk, a lantern burning above him, illuminating the aged wood in flickering shadows. He’d always known, it seemed, when Jakob or I were coming.

I expected excommunication when I confessed my plan. I expected to be disowned. Instead Bishop Yoder closed his eyes, and opened them, and asked, “Can you bring him back?” We sat together on the porch, wrapped in blankets, though it wasn’t as cold as it had been during the long night.

“You could stay,” he said. “Let him live with the choice he’s made. He’s his own man.”

“I could stay,” I said, meaning I cannot.

“I’ve already lost one son. Don’t make it two.”

“The greatest loss in life is what dies inside us while we live.”

Bishop Yoder smiled ruefully. “I suppose I deserve a taste of my own medicine.” The smile faded. “What if he doesn’t want to come back? Will you drag him home, gagged and bound?”

He turned away from me as I stood to leave, his face dry. He had always been a strong man.

§

I packed a bag: three sets of trousers and suspenders, two white shirts. Then I emptied the bag and replaced it with a fifty foot length of rope and two pounds dried beef. This too, I emptied, and refilled with a collection of small knives Jakob and I had made together, as well as my battered copy of Es Nei Teshtament. What do you take with you when you leave home?

The answer, I supposed, was nothing. It’s not really leaving if you take home with you when you go. After one more day of chores, after I’d fed Susie and the dairy cows and the chickens and said my goodbyes, I followed Jakob’s path, empty-handed. I passed by white-washed houses, neat picket fences, and bearded men tending gardens in silence. They looked up as I walked by, but said nothing.

By nightfall, I was further from home than I’d ever been.

It was a stretch to say there was a road leading out of New Lancaster, or a path, or even a trail. There was a way, though. There was a certain sequence of houses to be passed, and a certain curve to the hills. The farther away I found myself, the more I noticed the small changes. Fences disappeared. Instead of cows, there were sheep. Then goats. Then no livestock at all, at least none that I could see, just empty pastures. Houses I passed began to sport strange eaves and splashes of color on the doors and porch posts.

My stomach had been groaning for some time before I resolved to stop at the next house and ask if the inhabitants might allow me to sleep in their barn for the night. I didn’t mind traveling at night, and I was well accquainted with hunger, but I missed the company. I’d been missing it since Jakob left. My brother had stood by my side since we’d sucked at our thumbs and stolen tastes of father’s wine. It felt like part of me had left with Jakob, to unravel the mystery of the missing sun.

I wondered if he’d stop for the night, if our positions had been reversed. If he’d knock at some stranger’s door, late in the evening, begging alms. If it had been me who left instead of my baby brother. If I hadn’t listened to the bishop and stayed quietly at home.

§

The house I chose was low and squat, and unadorned save for a small grove of pink blossomed trees that stood in front of the porch. It was less colorful than the other houses I’d passed, and smaller. More like home.

On the porch was a wooden swing, and sprawled along it was a young woman dressed in brown. Her black hair poked out of every corner of her bonnet with a curious insistency, as if each hair were somehow determined to be free from its cloth prison. She wasn’t a pretty girl— she had a long birthmark that ran down the side of her neck, and her forehead was dotted here and there with pimples. Still, I bowed low and asked her as politely as possible if I could stay the night.

She smiled.

Inside, the house was littered with broken crockery. Shards of clay and ceramic lay strewn about the kitchen, the dining room, and on into the den. They covered tables and chests and chairs and shelves.

“Can I get you anything? Some milk? Pickles?”

At the kitchen table, she cleared away piles of paper and fragmented stoneware. From a cupboard, she pulled two blue mugs, curiously unbattered. Mine was wound about with tendrils of shimmering gold, as if the Creator had taken broken pieces from around the house and rendered it whole again, illuminated in glittering spirit.

“It’s kintsugi,” she said, reading the impoliteness of my stare and anticipating my question.

“Do you … break these?”

She laughed, a curiously raspy chuckle. “I mend them. I take broken things and learn them and then make them more beautiful than they were before. Kintsugi.”

I traced the lines of gold along the mug. They grasped outward like roots, stretching out from a single point where the handle met the cup. Then I set it down and looked out at the debris strewn around the house.

“What about all this?” I gestured around us.

She sighed as she arranged a plate of pickles, cheeses, and preserves. “Sometimes the broken pieces don’t fit back in perfectly. Or I’m missing too much of the original.”

“Couldn’t you just make something new?” The gathering of refuse and disorder here was, I suspected, against God’s Will.

“Kintsugi is about acceptance. There is beauty even in imperfection.”

“My name is Ephraim.” To change the subject is rude, but to argue with a host in their own house … not even Jakob would be so bold.

She narrowed her eyes. “Johanna.”

“A pleasure to make your acquaintance.”

§

On our third or fourth mug of milk, I began to acclimate to the debris around the house. Johanna was right. It was comforting, in a way, as if the breaking of order drew tension from the air, holding strict rules at bay through the breaking of things. We spoke about many things: she explained to me the philosophies behind kintsugi, the constant striving and acceptance inherent in paradise. I asked her if she’d seen Jakob, but she had not. She was curious about how we milked in New Lancaster, and I had many questions about her own community. Most of our time was spent discussing the sun.

She laughed when I told her about the long night. She said there hadn’t been a sun in six hundred years, since we left.

“Left what?” I asked her.

She just laughed more and led me upstairs. It was dark and she said she was running low on candles. Beeswax had been getting harder to come by. We crawled into the tiny bed, separated only by an old maple courtship board.

“What did we leave, Johanna?”

She said nothing for a time, and her breathing was slow and even. She might have been asleep, but then I heard her whisper.

“Home.”

§

In the morning, Johanna rose early and made breakfast. I stayed in bed. Several times throughout the course of the night I had woken to my brother’s name, whispered.

Over dried apples and pancakes, she told me many things. She told me about the sun. She told me about the Journey. She told me about how our ancestors agreed to gather together the best of the communities, the most virtuous and sustainable cultures of humanity, and board a massive interstellar vessel, bound for nowhere but offering respite from the increasing oppression of ignorant neighbors. She told me she pitied me. She told me that the sun was controlled from the end of the vessel, farther along the path I walked, towards the end of the world. She told me that, in fact, Jakob had come through before me and stayed several days in bed. When I asked her why she had lied, she looked away.

I didn’t stay for supper.

§

The shifting landscape only grew stranger as I drew away from Johanna’s house. The way itself had widened, a true path now, and along the sides there stood tall iron posts, tiny spheres like tulip bulbs embedded therein. At night, they came alive like fireflies and lit the road before me, casting my journey in the clean white light of the Creator. The houses too began to change: where before I had passed by simple wooden homes, I began to pass by places where the buildings seemed to erupt out of the earth, structures of colored stone, or still more exotic materials that glittered in the light of the lying sun.

Birds sang off-key here, when they sang at all, their music atonal, irrhythmic. Flowers had begun to spring up along the edges of the path, petals shifting rapidly between vivid hues of orange and indigo. The air here was sweeter, and wilder somehow, caressing the ends of my hair, threatening to pull my hat from my head with grasping fingers. The further I traveled from New Lancaster, the less improbable Johanna’s stories seemed to me.

Was all of this God’s Will?

For the first time in my life, I began to imagine a life outside New Lancaster. Jakob, too, must have felt this. He must have tasted this air, heard these songs. He must have realized, too.

Where we come from matters less than where we’re going.

I needed to find Jakob.

§

The flowers grew thicker as I traveled, creeping farther and farther over the edges of the path until they began to brush up against my ankles and feet and I began to trod upon them and finally the path itself was swallowed up in lawless color.

I kept walking until my legs were golden with pollen. The world around me shrank into a sea of flowers. My breath came hot and heavy and a loud buzzing sounded far in the distance. A low black thundercloud hanging over the fields of flowers began to drift toward me, and the drone increased in volume until I thought I might be deafened by it.

“Get down, idiot!” yelled a flower to my right, barely audible over the chaos of the buzzing cloud. At the end of the world, everything starts to speak to you.

Then a hand reached out and grabbed my ankle, pulling my feet out from under me and spilling me down onto the fragrant bed of flora. I was face to face with a woman dressed all in prismatic camouflage. Her cheekbones were framed by thick goggles, and she wore a net around her head.

“You got a death wish, country boy?” As she shifted around, I lost track of her for a moment in the riot of color.

I opened my mouth to tell her that I did not, in fact, want to die here, but she shook her head and put her hand on my lips. She handed me a pair of goggles. “Mouth closed. And put these on.”

Just then, the buzzing reached a crescendo and the sky grew black as the cloud drifted over us. I put on the goggles.

As soon as I did, my world exploded. Blues popped and crackled with a new intensity. Yellows and reds burned, flickering at the edges. Light and dark stood out in stark contrast against each other, and I saw that it was no ordinary cloud blocking out the sun, but instead a massive swarm of bees, wings thrumming in unison as they spun through the air in dizzying spirals.

The goggles revealed a beautiful wake of pollen trailing behind the cloud of bees.

Maroon, cerulean.

Fuschia, fallow.

Turquoise, teal, viridian, and violet.

Colors beyond the ken of man, colors for which there are no words— these drifted and mingled in the currents left behind, whorls of chromatic particles spinning around each other like fireflies in a twilight marsh.

Almost as soon as it had begun, the storm of buzzing color ceased.

“That was a good one, huh?” the woman said. “Constance, by the way.”

I stared at the woman. She was as fair as Johanna had been dark.

“My name. Constance. What’s yours?”

“Ephraim.”

She screwed up her nose and pushed the goggles up to her forehead. “Weird.”

I took my own goggles off and stared at them. “What are these?”

“Chromaweaver lenses. My god,” She pushed my hat off and ran her fingers through my hair. Her hands felt cool and soft against my scalp. “You really are clueless.”

“I’m a traveler, not an idiot.” It was the first time I’d described myself thus. I took her hand away from my head. “Anyway, I’m learning.”

“Learning, huh?” She lifted the goggles up. “These let you see a wider spectrum of light: ultraviolet, infrared, and a bit of microwave. I use them for my art.” She spread her arms wide, encompassing the fields around us. “Pretty cool, eh?”

I shrugged. “It doesn’t seem very practical.”

Practical? What about our life on this ship seems practical to you?”

“Well, if you eat the crops that you’ve worked yourself and give the leftovers to the livesto—”

Constance pushed me down. “Enough. You hungry, country boy?”

I nodded.

“Good. Me, too.”

She unhooked a satchel from around her shoulders and dug around, coming up with several soft containers of gold.

“Open wide, Ephraim.”

I leaned back, and she squeezed the sticky liquid into my mouth, letting the lion’s share of it dribble down my lips and into my beard.

“Oh no. That won’t do at all,” she said, and then I felt the Holy Spirit rise in me, as it had with Elsie in the night, and Constance began to lick the sweetness off my lips and then she began to kiss my neck and down to my chest and stomach until she reached the hairs of my belly and she pulled my trousers free, letting the sun graze my pale flesh and the Spirit grew in me until finally I gasped the Creator’s name and the Spirit left me.

Constance licked her lips.

“Your turn.”

§

Constance lived outside amongst the flowers. She fed me dying bees and together we drank deeply of their honey. At the end of the world, she said, we could do whatever we wanted. I could live shirtless, hatless, clean-shaven. We could be married by whatever words I chose and I could give up to her the Holy Spirit that I held inside me and feel blessed emptiness whenever I wanted.

She named for me the colors I’d never seen and counted them out in kisses on my brow. She showed me the dancing steps of the bees in courtship, and the geometries they wove in the walls of their massive earthbound hives. She was lonely.

Still, I left in the morning, crossing her chromawoven fields; for the end of the world was not the end of my journey. There was so much more to learn.

I needed to talk to my brother.

§

I’d come far enough that I felt no surprise when the flower fields ended in a smooth wall of steel and synthetic polymer. The Wall stretched out to my left and right, as far as my eyes could see, rising up to meet the sky at a sharp right angle. I pushed my goggles up to my forehead. Somewhere beyond the Wall, Constance said, there was a chamber which held the controls for the ship, the controls for the sun, and, I suspected, my brother.

My skin bronzed as I paced the length and breadth of the Wall, searching for an entrance: a door, a portal, anything. I found it easily enough, right where Constance said it would be, at the border of two warring hives of bees, a swinging metal hatchway limned in blinking neon. When I stepped up to it, the door opened with a grudging hiss.

It took a moment for my eyes to adjust to the dim light of the chamber, a smaller room than I’d expected from Constance’s stories. There was a single chair in the center, lined all around with flickering screens. In it sat my brother.

I ran to him. Wires snaked up from the ground and wound around his legs, wrapping him in dull greys and reds and greens. He was naked, clean-shaven, his eyes caked shut with sandy yellow grime. He wore nothing on his head, and I would have wept to see him so if my body had the water to spare.

“Ephraim.” A disembodied voice rang out from the flickering images around me. Jakob’s eyes remained shut. “Disconnect me from the ship.”

“How?”

“The wires. First the red, then the grey. Leave the green.”

I pulled my brother free of his constraints, the colored lines sliding out of this skin without much resistance, the slight popping sound of their release enough to make my gorge rise.

After I’d pulled the wires free of my brother’s sallow flesh, his eyes fluttered open.

“Thank God! I’d hoped you’d come. I feared I might be trapped: hugging the walls of the ship, crawling the vents, in the rising sun, gazing forever into the emptiness of space.” Jakob began pulling out the green wires, and he laughed, tears leaking out of his crusty eyes.

“What do you mean?” I said.

“These—” he pulled up the wires, limp and empty of life. “They connect you to the ship. Your mind, I mean. There’s more to it than making the sun rise. That’s nothing. Easy. There’s a whole other world out there. A whole universe, Ephraim! There are other places that dwarf our ship. There are animals and places and people that we’ll never see, never understand. It’s so much bigger than we realized.”

He dropped the wires. “The whole ship was mine from that seat, but I was powerless here. I couldn’t free myself from the machine.” He stood and grasped me in a hug. His arms felt weak. “Let’s go home.”

“Home?” I asked, surprised. This was the last thing I expected my brother to say. “I can’t go home.”

“Nonsense. Bishop Yoder will take you back. He’s always had a soft spot for you, and we saved New Lancaster.” He paused and grabbed my shoulders. “We made the sun rise, Ephraim. We’re heroes. We can marry whoever we want, our pick of the litter.”

“I can’t remarry, Jakob.” Elsie’s face came to mind, mixed now with Johanna and Constance, and I felt a pang of regret. “Don’t you want to stay here?”

My brother smiled for a moment, then the grin melted away, replaced by a look of incredulity.

He shook his head.

“You know why I left, Ephraim? So that I could come back. So I could go home and see everything anew, see everything differently, with fresh eyes. And people back home will see me differently, too. Going back home is the end of the journey.”

I nodded slowly. “Can you make it back, do you think?”

He smiled. “Of course. We might need to make a couple stops on the way— I haven’t eaten solid food in days, but yes, we’ll make it back just fine.”

“Bishop Yoder will be glad to see you.”

“Ha! I can’t wait for the look on the old man’s face.”

“Me, either,” I said.

“Let’s go then.”

“Lead the way, brother.”

He did. Without a second thought, he stepped out into the bright light of the chromawoven fields, into the flowers and pollen and mass of wild scent and color, the first step back home.

I watched him for a moment before closing and barring the door. The sound of it echoed just once. Strange, that such a simple mechanism would end my journey, a single length of metal, out of all the strange things I’d seen. I’d come all this way to save Jakob, and then when I got here, I found that he wasn’t the one who needed saving. I was. It wasn’t enough to live in New Lancaster, not without Elsie. It wasn’t enough to eat with Johanna, or make love to Constance. It had never been enough. I needed more. And now I’d found it.

I watched the chair in silence for a moment, waiting, perhaps for the sound of my brother at the door. There was nothing. Either he knew I wouldn’t go, or he still didn’t know I hadn’t followed. Then I sat and began sliding the sharp ends of the wires into my wrists, my arms, my ankles, and my legs.

My vision began to blur around the edges, and when next I breathed in, I felt the air flowing over the tops of flowers, kissing the fine hairs on the legs of bees, tickling Constance, pushing and pulling Johanna on her swing, guttering the flame of Bishop Yoder’s lantern. The blinking of my eyes was day and night. When I breathed out, I felt myself rush into stygian vastness outside the ship. I knew colors that Constance never could. I coursed out over the contours of my domain and tasted the wavelengths of stars so distant that even a thousand, a hundred thousand generations from now, my people could never know their light. I knew hydrogen and helium and ionized metals. The ship filled me, and I felt tears stream down my cheeks.

My journey was far from over. The whole of the universe stretched out before me, untasted and unexplored. I was becoming something greater than myself. The ship was expanding me, teaching me the secret language of the stars, the boundless palette of the universe. This, finally, was God’s Will.

Daniel Patrick Rosen writes speculative fiction and swing music. He grew up on a tiny farm in northern Minnesota, where he learned the value of hard work and the relative softness of kittens. His work has appeared in publications like Lakeside Circus, Spark, and The Saturday Evening Post. You can find him online at http://rosen659.wix.com/avantgardens and @animalfur on Twitter.

]]>
1
McKenzie Winberry <![CDATA[Calabash]]> http://www.apex-magazine.com/?p=10952 2016-02-09T18:39:23Z 2016-02-05T14:00:23Z It breathes midnight—
the shape of her hips
is the body of a sitar
notes that thrust
notes that drone,
that wash away breath.

The shape of her hips
a hand grenade
washing her explosive
mouth, the mouth
of the winnisimmet—
flowing, chasing rabbits

Through muck and salt
and salty clams.
Fevers walk their edges
tiptoeing to a house
painted by thought.
The house takes off

His hat, erases his
red soil, beckoning.
Beckoning.
Melted wax of the sun
if the sun was Icarus
or two ovaries.

A calabash pipe sits
in a room all alone.
Mother-of-pearl inlay
adorns its stem
stem adorns her lips
she pulls hard

at smoke,
rich and thick
her lungs are smiles.
A C string resonates
inside her gourds
her white flowers
Her white smoke

Her white blood cells.
She switched
her babies over
to compassionate care
that evening, holding

Them when they went
peacefully back to
the source of everything.
Her hips a calabash.
Her hips a hand grenade.
Washing utensils—

Calabash cups, bowls,
and basins, ital lifestyle
let the moons eat
this salt, Caribbea,
stars in the sea.
We wither,

We ashes,
we new fishes
even your touch
is alive, your tongue
a conduit, insulator,
conductor.

It spills midnight
through the sky’s
panes of glass.
Trace mandarin
oranges with it—
a surfeit.

Calabashes
Calabasas
Caligula
use for cleaning rice,
carrying water,
bowls for palm wine

And yerba tea
and pennyroyal
steeping
in mason jars
steeping
with mason bees.

Mike Jewett is editor and publisher of Boston Poetry Magazine. His poetry has been compared to, among others, Andrew Wyeth, Van Gogh, Richard Brautigan, Galway Kinnell, and Dylan Thomas. When he was a wee lad he was featured on poetry.com. By day, he is a web developer.
]]>
0
McKenzie Winberry <![CDATA[Interview with Author Benjanun Sriduangkaew]]> http://www.apex-magazine.com/?p=10947 2016-02-03T16:01:09Z 2016-02-03T16:01:09Z I first read Benjanun Sriduangkaew’s short fiction in a Clockwork Phoenix anthology, and it was love at first read. For the first time in a long time, I felt like I was reading something new, a fresh writing style that no one else was doing. Although peppered with futuristic sounding words, reading “The Bees Her Heart, the Hive Her Belly” it was like getting immersed in the smell and memories of my favorite comfort foods. Unapologetic and avant-garde, her writing blends lustrous beauty and edgy technology, in environs that can be dreamlike, militant, and intimate; and often all of them at the same time. It’s happened a few times now, that I’ve thought about purchasing an anthology, and only decided to buy the book because her name was in the table of contents. If you’ve enjoyed novels from N.K. Jemisin or Kameron Hurley, Benjanun Sriduangkaew is right up your alley.

You can see where it all started with her intensely imaginative “Courtship in the Country of Machine-Gods” that was published at The Future Fire (and can also be found in The Apex Book of World SF: Volume 3) and would garner her a 2014 Campbell nomination. Since “Courtship” debuted, her work has been featured at Expanded Horizons, GigaNotaSaurus, Beneath Ceaseless Skies, Clarkesworld, Mythic Delirium, Tor.com, and in the Clockwork Phoenix, Steampunk World, Meeting Infinity, Phantasm Japan, and She Walks in Shadows anthologies, among many others. Her novella Scale-Bright, the final chapter in her series of mythology retellings, was nominated for a BSFA award. I highly recommend Niall Alexander’s columns at Tor.com about Scale-Bright and the associated stories.

bdb78b49-70bd-4636-917a-da60fc8c55c1

If this issue of Apex Magazine is your first experience with Sriduangkaew’s writing, you’re in for a treat with “The Beast at the End of Time.” At first, the story felt a little like Valente’s “Silently and Very Fast,” albeit written in a very different key signature. Nabaat wakes up in a world that should be thriving, if her instructions had been followed to the letter. But this world is dying — programs haven’t been followed, requests weren’t answered, something went horribly wrong and the world’s denizens began sacrificing themselves in an attempt to find a solution. But now that Nabaat is awake, she can fix everything, right? Because fixing the broken things is her job, that’s the reason she’s awake, right? Depends on your definition of the word “fix.” Benjanun was kind enough to answer a few of my questions about the genesis of the story, tricky POV switches, her writing style, and other short fiction authors she recommends.

Apex Magazine: Early in “The Beast at the end of Time,” you use a smart method to change the narrative from third person POV to first person. Why not present the entire story in either 3rd or 1st? Why the decision to switch POVs at certain points?

Benjanun Sriduangkaew: I love experimenting with points of view — I’ve written a story that was partly in second person and partly in third, and I like to joke that someday I’ll do one that does all three. Here in particular I think the switch helps illustrate Nabaat’s success in compartmentalizing herself, in creating a second self. Some distance is required and, in text, that move back and forth between third to first person feels to me like a natural choice.

AM: The story is ultimately about Nabaat, but I was completely fascinated by Enmaten and what her family went through. Can you tell us a little about the creation and genesis of these characters?

BS: I was slightly tempted to give Enmaten her own viewpoint, but felt that’d make the story too long for the short story format. Needless to say she’s led a demanding life (as has Nabaat, to be fair, but they have responded to harshness differently). Enmaten’s motive is partly to avenge her family, partly to heal the world as best she can, and most of all to survive. In those ways she’s the opposite of Nabaat. I also ended up unconsciously writing this story as a take on Beauty and the Beast; despite Nabaat’s nickname, both she and Enmaten variously fulfill both the roles of Beauty and Beast respectively, at different points.

AM: Nabaat wakes up to a world whose coding has eroded over so many iterations. Perhaps eroding is the wrong term, but something in the code changed, and it’s caused unexpected and irreversible consequences that become tragic for the world’s remaining denizens. Many of your science fiction stories include references to computer coding, futuristic technology, the melding of people and machine, and the like. Is there any particular research that you’ve done (or real world experiences) to develop the technological terminologies you employ in your writing?

BS: I’ve done my share of dabbling, and the interaction between tech and everyday life has been a longtime interest for me. We trust the tech we use easily but their origins are sometimes unsavory (created for use in war, for example) or part of malicious/oppressive systems. We shy away from understanding these tools at our own peril, so to speak.

AM: Many of your stories feature two (or more) characters who often come from different backgrounds but realize they have a common goal. “The Beast at the End of Time” goes in a different direction entirely, with Nabaat having a very different goal than those around her, and I happily admit the end of the story was a surprise for me. Why does Nabaat want this particular ending?

BS: She is a nihilist who believes that humanity is destined to end. I expect — though I haven’t built up extensive background for her — that she’s lived a less-than-easy life; before she went into suspension, she’d achieved considerable fame and power but it didn’t change her outlook that humankind is essentially unfixable. When hope is lost, all that remains is a finale and because (like most people) she’s narrative-minded, she wants an ending that is beautiful and total. Nabaat in particular is a character I intentionally wrote as having a role that’s usually not given to female characters, a genius and unapologetic in her monstrosity.

AM: I first discovered your work in one of Mike Allen’s Clockwork Phoenix anthologies. “The Bees Her Heart, the Hive Her Belly” brimmed with pearlescent metaphors, unearthly technology, and emotive characters that were a hybrid of animal, insect, and metal, feeling like the most perfect blend of science fiction, fantasy, and engineering. After that, I was constantly on the lookout for more of your work, being rewarded time and time again with gorgeous prose, sentient spaceships, reinvented mythologies, and character’s journeys that spoke to me. I’m often recommending your work to others, yet I struggle to describe your style. So I put the question to you: For readers new to your work, how would you describe your writing style?

BS: Ha — this is a difficult one! I’ve written a fairly big range, I think, of subjects and themes but I often come back to memory, identity, power. I want to say my writing is ruthless, though that mightn’t make a lot of sense to new readers. Maybe I can say that my style is intense?

AM: I’ve enjoyed so many of your short stories and novellas over the years, do you have any plans to write a full length novel, or do more books similar to Scale-Bright that bring together a number of connected short stories?

BS: I’m absolutely doing more novellas! It’s a very natural length for me, and a superbly attractive format. Not too long, not too short, room enough to develop and flesh things out but still a form that allows for a lot of experimentation (versus a novel, which tends to ‘have’ to be commercial). What I have got in mind right now would be entirely new things rather than bringing together short stories. (I dream of completing and publishing a novella every year, but it turns out writing longer-form is a bigger challenge than I thought! Scale-Bright went by really fast — it took me a couple months, not counting edits and revisions — but that was an exception.)

AM: What trends in speculative fiction would you like to see gain more popularity in the next few years?

BS: Hm, that’s hard to say, but I’d love to see more writing that’s unconventional. Think Genevieve Valentine’s Mechanique or Kuzhali Manickavel’s fiction. Not a trend, but I’d still like to see more of: #ownvoices. That is to say, greater representation in fiction by authors from those backgrounds (writers of color writing characters of color, and so on).

AM: As a writer of short fiction, I’m sure you read a lot of short fiction as well. What authors (of short or long form fiction) do you recommend?

BS: For novels, my recommendations are Helen Oyeyemi, Nina Allan, and Chimamanda Adichie; for short fiction, Vajra Chandrasekera, Pear Nuallak, and Rahul Kanakia have published fiction in 2015 that really worked for me. They are all different writers, with vastly varied styles, but they have in common a willingness and strength to challenge, subvert, and create work that repudiates hegemonic pressure. (I also enjoy Chandrasekera’s and Allan’s criticism; they are both passionate, incisive readers.)

Andrea Johnson lives in Michigan with her husband and too many books. If she’s not walking around her day job with a coffee mug in hand, then she’s at home with a book in one hand and a craft beer in the other. She can be found online at her book review blog Little Red Reviewer and on Twitter, where her handle is @redhead5318. You wouldn’t know it from this bio, but Andrea is a very goofy person.
]]>
0
McKenzie Winberry <![CDATA[The Beast at the End of Time]]> http://www.apex-magazine.com/?p=10925 2016-02-02T14:12:52Z 2016-02-02T14:01:10Z 4,000 Words

As the world marches toward the guillotine of its finale, the sleeping beast shakes loose the slats of its painted unthought and licks the tang of dénouement from its fangs. It stirs upright on trembling ligaments, clad in starvation and rust.

“You are not here,” a calm voice which mimics the beast’s speaks in its skull. “You died a long time ago.” An existentialist voice, it thinks as it tests the strength of its sinews, the curve and length of its legs.

“You’ll understand nothing,” the voice goes on. “This is not your place and you will die again, returning to sand and grass.”

The beast totters and falls to its knees. The catenary of its spine warps and its mouth opens, stretching to the limit of its hinge.

It vomits. A catalogue of its regurgitation: half a meter of soft wire, seven silicone molars, one-fourth liter of fluids—acid, blood, mucus. And a single hexagonal chip, data-bright and laden with age.

The beast’s skull-voice slows and stutters, then goes silent entirely.

§

The beast sips (I sip) knowledge from the remains of the chip. Raw data remains inside its (my) mouth, on my gums like the detritus of a meal, but I haven’t eaten for a long time. Recollection (hers?) of food kicks up in spumes, tamarind paste and egg, sleek pork laid out against coils of rice noodle. Sour. Hot. My palate stings at the pinpricks of memory.

There are ports in my flanks and calves, leashed to nodes that tremble like loose teeth in the stone. Delicately, I unplug each, unmooring myself. I expected shackles; I expected resistance. Instead I step free with ease, a dry rasp of corroded jewelry falling from my shoulders, desiccated hairpins from my shorn scalp. Sockets in my ribs and shins gush one last mouthful of fluids, purging. I skim my fingers down between my breasts, along the ladder of my bones. I’m all rungs, only I lead nowhere and no one will come to climb. In this climate, there is only descent.

The horizon is distant, the sun a needlepoint in the sky’s burial shroud. Stars are absent. The remnant of my chip tells me this dissolving place is humanity’s last shelter and that I’m its last failsafe.

This piece of information snags. My voice, which until now meant to emerge, shrinks in panic. The rest of me strides on, bare-footed, under lycoris lilies that surround the chamber of my waking, rising tall and pitiless overhead. Bulbuls perch on their stamens, beaks sewn shut. The wind is thick with dust and machine appetite.

When I look down again, a lynx is circling me. Its pelt gleams pearl-gray, its eyes scintillant with live circuits. Old habit guides me to peck at the weave of its heuristics, intricate gossamer code as visible to me as the flowers and the birds, as tangible as my own feet. In this way I remember myself: what I was, what I did, what I can do. I unearth my voice from the mud of its fear; so much of me is animal froth, mindless terror unconnected to intellect. “Lead me.” My words flow, liquid rather than the parched rasp I expected. Once there was a girl who loved my voice, called it silk and enamel; she’d love it still if she were alive now.

The lynx lowers its head. Turns, and obeys.

Despite everything, this is not a world in ruin. The buildings that rise before me, choking the streets like a vise: all new, new. Freshly made windowpanes, umbels of roofs just blossomed and glossy, houses just hatched and eggshell-smooth. The ever-renewing city, its face always novel. I begin to see the shape of the disaster, how it had gone wrong.

Strange that no one roused me when armageddon was still gestating rather than sprung. No one woke me when it had grown to adolescence. Now it is fully fledged and I have risen too late.

The lynx halts before an arch of quicksand, points its muzzle to the bronze-wheeled path beyond.

The path runs straight and determined, unmarred by fork or intersection. By next week this corridor will be something else: an empty room in an empty house, an auditorium lined with ivory seats, a stage with shifting heat-tiles for dancers who will never arrive. Where the path stops a woman is waiting for me, encased in body armor like surface tension. Her gaze moves against me like a knife against rags. “You’re the beast. The architect, Nabaat.”

“I’m a stopper for the bottle of apocalypse, but I fear the glass has already broken.”

“Cracked. Not broken. Come with me, if you’re really who you seem to be.”

She brings me to a pomegranate hall: pillars of white pith housing red seeds and clad in tatters of golden rind. Some dozen people look up and become still. On the walls heads are mounted, horned and antlered; it takes a moment to see past the stylization, the demon-paint and tusks, the impossibly wide mouths. “When was it,” I say aloud, “that you began to call me a beast?”

“When the end began and you didn’t wake; when it gobbled its way to maturity and still you lay, despite your promises. After that your name became a curse.” She holds up her hand, gesturing for calm at her people. “Your life and the pledges you made were before my time, but some of us are very bitter.”

Their faces resolve in degrees—it takes me time to reacclimatize to this sudden human contact. Most are of that indeterminable age, between prime adulthood and withering. One or two children. There’s nobody I know and they are all dressed to evacuate at a moment’s notice, their belongings lashed to them like messy exoskeletons. Few look well fed. “I’m here now. Give me something to eat.”

She might have chastised me for so brazen a demand, but she must recognize that even I require food. From an adult—a man I think, though it can be hard to tell—she liberates a nutrient tube. Tasteless, but against the memory of life and full bursting fruits it’s even more so, like graveside offerings — all melted wax and incense smoke. As I lick and suck the flavorless fluid, she tells me of what happened while I slept.

Her name is Enmaten. Her mothers—engineers, my contemporaries—led the first of what would be many efforts to wake me. Enmaten accompanied the third and fifth. “By the sixth,” she says calmly, “I was down to one mother. By the seventh, I was an orphan. At that point even organic matter—flora, fauna—fell under raw material; your children turned one of my mothers into a bridge, the other into part of a mural. I kept visiting them but within the month they’d become something else, until I couldn’t find them anymore.”

I do not and have never felt parental toward the flock. They are product, not offspring. “When I made the fabricators, I implemented very exact protocols. They shouldn’t have been able to defy those.”

Enmaten smiles with a pale, thin mouth nearly the color of her skin. Aged ivory, lightly gilded. “You don’t believe in evolving heuristics?”

“They are built to be competitive, to some extent, but no. The sentient AI is an ancient fantasy for the romantic mind. There was a limit: if-else arrays, however complex, remain just those.” I glance over my shoulder at the masks that represent my face. “You said there were efforts to rouse me.”

“Oh yes, people journeyed far and wide to see you. Before it all went wrong they built a temple around you, canonized you as a saint in several religions, the deity-in-flesh who gave us the future. You ended scarcity, made desert-ruins habitable, turned waste to gold. Your fabricators allowed for beauty. And on top of that you suspended yourself so you’d always be there to fix everything. Who could not love you, not braid your casket with rare orchids and dream of lying at your feet like tame housecats?”

The lynx has put its head in my lap. Absently I stroke it, the ruff of its neck pashmina to the sandpaper of my palm. “What prevented them from waking me?”

That edge of gaze again, scalpel priming for vivisection. “The suspension system never unlocked and there was no way to extract you from it without the risk of killing you. One of your lovers, it was said, tried to kiss you through the glass—kept trying right up until the fabricators made a marble pillar of her. I’m sure her bones are still out there somewhere, incorporated into a roof or street. Or scattered between a thousand houses. Like dust, like pearls spilled from a necklace.”

Pearls and dust are nothing alike, I want to point out. “I don’t know whom you might mean,” I say not to sound callous, but because I genuinely can’t remember. I haven’t had so many lovers and of those I can recall none would be so devoted. “It should have been simple to wake me. The moment the fabricators started malfunctioning, I should have been alerted.” Jolted from my dreams of negative space, my dreams of submersive heat where my skin is glass, my lungs and stomach planet-core blaze. Where I arise from magma, first of all things, preceding humankind.

Her eyes are feverish, though the rest of her face betrays nothing. “What are you going to do about it?”

Her people’s gazes mimic hers, the gazes of famished beasts ready to sink teeth into soft meat. I may be humanity’s final failsafe, but I’m also the architect of its demise.

“My flocks and my sleep have been tampered with,” I say and the mouths of the masks move with me, silent chorus. “I know who did so. I’ll find them and bring them to heel.”

§

The road snakes along the city’s seams, though by tomorrow there will be neither road nor city; Enmaten tells me that the world lives nomadic now. Those last few sites of production are jealously guarded and isolated, but she says they don’t have long before they too are overtaken. “A generation or two, at most,” she says, laughing like it’s a particularly fine joke. “It’s why I never got around to having children.”

I lead as though I know precise directions—and I do, I remember the shape of things. The identity of my opponent abides in the seedbed of my throat, roots writhing, for the right time and the correct amount of light. Until then I’m a harvest in waiting, a series of partitions to which I as yet lack the command.

They watch my every move for that moment of uncertainty, for a step that falters. Enmaten herself sleeps at my back, one arm slung over my waist like a possessive bride, though it has nothing to do with desire or tenderness. She’d whisper of the woman who tried to wake me with a kiss: her eyes the brilliant black of an event horizon, her voice a mezzo-soprano. “And her name?” I ask one evening.

The first time she says, “That you will have to earn.” The second time she answers, “You are not worthy of it.”

The third time she says, “When the ships left, they brought your flocks with them to terraform.”

I do not ask if any has returned or when they were last heard from. She does not name those who follow her and nor do they introduce themselves. In this way they recede from my awareness, existence distilling down to Enmaten and Nabaat, Nabaat and Enmaten.

When I sink into my implants I can track the fabricators, cluster by cluster, their cognitive arrays like star-sear. Access to modify and redirect remains out of my reach. Not denied: rather that the part of me which knows how to pluck and pull their strings is missing, detached like a lost tooth or misplaced like an old coin—the part of me I’ve come to think of as it, the beast. In spite of that the fabricators chart my path, the patterns of their migration as clear as vectors. I could reach my destination with eyes shut: the flock would never harm me—that much can’t be pried from the core of their code.

But I have more with me than my scattered self. An entourage still nameless, and Enmaten who watches me with the glittering eyes of a hungry ghost.

Navigating around the clusters lets us keep to the most stable patches, where a house might stand for as long as a month before it’s refashioned into clock towers and life-size statues. We take shelter in a forest of jewelry, boxy trunks spreading human arms. All shapes: biceps thick or thin, wrists scarred or smooth, hands wide or tapered. From them dangle chains, bracelets, torques with gemstones the size of heads. Even the earth is lustrous cabochon. I can almost remember it—my fabricators can recompose raw material into nearly anything and I must have commissioned an artisan for templates, for fancies, to absorb into the flock’s library. I might have even meant it as a gift for the woman whom Enmaten refuses to name.

Strange there’s such a void; strange my dreams are empty of family, colleagues, spouses. On so blank a canvas, Enmaten could have painted anything and I’d be none the wiser. Is painting it already, with this woman who may or may not have existed.

The forest stretches on (the beast knows where it ends; it does not tell me). We spend nights under lattice earrings the size of chandeliers, canopies of linked anklets and circlets sized for titans. My certainty grows stronger as we go, yoking me to its muscled stride, its inexorable might. Without meaning to I set the pace. When I’ve shortened my sleep from six hours to three a night, Enmaten takes me aside to tell me that her people can’t keep up. “I can’t slow down,” I try to explain. “Do you see? There’s a time limit. What awaits us won’t be there forever.”

She does not see. Instead she gives her people a maze-map of stable sites that I didn’t realize she has been drawing up all this time, and comes to me saying, “I can keep up with you.”

So we march, lynx-shadowed, the sighs of wind making blank verse against jewelry accompanying us. This far in the trunks begin to show, like the pomegranate hall, images of me: my sleeping face etched in gold, a silver nose and copper cheekbones. In others my eyes are masked behind strips of brass, my mouth open wide to swallow entropy. Each looks like a parasite fruit feeding off the filigreed trunk.

On the third night after we have parted with her people and I at last submit to fatigue, she encircles me with her armored body and a glimpse—at last—of the gun I always knew she would have. Enmaten murmurs, “You said you know who did this.”

Under the shivering platinum shadows, the topaz and emerald drops like rain, I smile. “That you will have to earn.”

“This isn’t a game.”

“Are you worthy of it?”

Her fingers twitch: I see it now, the callus at the base of the thumb, the way epidermis hardens to the gun’s trigger as the mind hardens to the kill. “This is a matter of survival.”

“Humanity carries its own destruction,” I say, though the words are not quite my own, “within the womb of its animus. That is how we are made, embedded into the road of our axons, inscribed like cipher into the myelin sheath. All of this was inevitable.”

“Then why bother? Why did you suspend yourself, pledge to return?”

My head cants this way and that as though too ripe for the stem of my neck. “We’re creatures of narrative and structure. A path that begins must of necessity end. Like anyone else, I crave closure and knew I wouldn’t get it within my lifetime.”

The forest thins, rounding out to a gentle slope so the transition between jewelry ground and pelt prairie seems almost natural. Sheaves of skin and fur, the coat of every conceivable animal: the red spotted flanks of deer in summer, the black of panthers sleek with health, the brindle white of seal pups. They rustle gently against our calves and hips, and in the thick of them my (our?) lynx blends camouflaged, moving predator-sure among its own kind.

In the distance, collared by a ring of shivering rabbit pelts, is a prison.

Unlike everything else in this refashioned world, it is not new; the corrugated shell is overrun by heat and scourged by time, crowned in its own rot. Like the chamber of my waking, it has never been renewed, never touched by the offspring of my imagination. This is original. This has always stood, somehow, not as old as my suspension but nearly its contemporary. As my person and my sleep, the flocks hold this place sacrosanct.

This is the home of my enemy. The one I will fight, and vanquish, and through that defeat redeem this fallen earth.

Enmaten precedes me, gun out. The weapon nests in her hand shadow-drinking, its industrial edges pure with purpose. I’ve always wished the human creature could be like that, built and honed to a single focus, ennobled by it.

The doors have long collapsed, leaning against equally dilapidated partitions. There are no bars but there are indentations in the walls: when I hold my wrists to them, they fit exactly as though this was tailored for my capture. On the ceiling women pray in high relief and their faces do not belong to me: the chin is too sharp, the nose too high, the mouth like a seam. Her gaze is lidded, lacquered black as a bride’s teeth, but there is an attitude of accusation—or judgment—in the angle of her chin, the bend of her flat pressed hands. It is as though I have crossed an invisible line that divides country from country, and not into a friendly neighbor but into that of an enemy locked in war against mine. All is hostile, even the dust crowding the corner, the decay breathing down our necks. The lynx noses along the ground, sniffing at debris.

My tongue darts out, tasting the air. It is inert. There’s no machine here, nano or otherwise, my fabricators or simple engines. No thrum of generators, no murmur of electromagnetic impulse. “There’s no one here.”

Enmaten does not object that perhaps we ought to search every room first, turn up every floor tile and move aside every shard of architecture. “Perhaps she fled knowing Nabaat approaches and heralds her conquest,” she says, her voice tuned to the music of mockery. “Perhaps she couldn’t bear the weight of your footsteps, the sound of her imminent loss.”

“That can’t be.” I press my wrist, again, to the curve in the wall that seems built just for me. If I engage it with my body entire I may well find that my frame fits too, exactly right. Cradling me as close as my skin cradles my bones. “My flock told me who and where she was. It’s not as though machines have much room for ambiguity.”

“They don’t,” Enmaten agrees and puts the muzzle of her gun to my temple.

The corporality of it seems almost preternatural, the chill of it nearly arctic. No weapon has ever felt so hyperreal, but then no other has ever been pointed at me so close, digging into my scalp like a lover’s fingers rigid in passion.

“When did you realize?” the beast says through my mouth.

“I carry the name of the mother who bore me. The name you never did earn. She believed in you; her wife—my other mother—did not. Both were engineers but Enmaten was blinded by sentiment, unwilling to consider that someone like you would never have created fabricators so prone to error, let alone one of this magnitude. The notion of nanobots gone amok, replicating and recreating mindlessly, because its coders didn’t limit and check it—that isn’t reality, it’s cheap entertainment. You were better than that, so was everyone working with you, like my mothers.” Her expression does not change as she kicks my feet out from under me.

I lack the strength to resist and the beast provides no surge of counterforce; it allows me—us—to collapse. It does little to defend us from a blow to our side that empties our lungs of wind, leaves us gasping and curled like a salted snail.

“Another possibility,” she goes on, “had to exist. A hidden section of protocols, set to activate after certain conditions were met. So secretive none of those who helped midwife the project could detect it, so buried as to be invisible to my mothers. The same protocols regulated your sleep. You never woke up because you didn’t want to; you were waiting for the fabricators to complete their work.”

“This isn’t a story,” the beast says softly, its voice like wind through picked bones. “Destroying the monster does not murder also its offspring. I’m not the cortex that feeds the flock its thoughts, the heart that gives it animation. With or without me, they will continue.”

“Nothing is a story.” And here her mouth bends, her jaw clicks, as though nursing an old hurt. That her mother wasn’t a story, gone unnarrated and without meaning. That she isn’t a story, for all that she’s trying to tell herself. “But when you die I’ll rake through your corpse, crack open your skull like a fruit. There, or in your spine, I’ll find a neural chip where your secrets reside. Decryption is its own dénouement, perhaps the definition.”

With my lips the beast grins, and there must be a glint to it—alien and revolting—that makes her take a step back. “You share my love of finales.”

“Is that why you did it?”

“To see a world fashioned to a single purpose. To see the ending when all else has been stripped. To be the last thinking creature alive. Yes.” It touches its flanks (mine) to check for damage, locate bruise or rib-crack. “Enmaten might have mentioned it, my dreams of emptiness, of a world made pure by absence. She didn’t see the appeal, but truly I did love her.”

Were she her function alone she would already have pulled the trigger. Instead that driving curiosity slows and blunts her, makes her bitterly ask, “You couldn’t have waited longer? Sleep enough and you would have woken up to a planet denuded and vacated. Heat death would have come. Or humanity would have extinguished itself, you were already convinced it’s written into us.”

“I am. But I was never patient.” Pulled into reluctant unity we both gaze overhead, to the praying women, to the praying Enmaten we left behind who tried to kiss us awake. Enmaten, whom the flock has preserved in image. “Not then. Not now.”

A lynx leaps; a gun fires. A story ends.

§

The prairie is motionless, furs and pelts flattened as those of animals lying in wait. For prey, or else for hunters to pass.

From the prison’s gate a lone woman emerges, accompanied by a pearlescent lynx. Both move with the certainty of belonging, predators paired, dressed in muscle and warm with the sweet hunger of monsters.

Blood stains the lynx’s jaw. She bends to wipe at it until her hands are as slick as its mouth. With crimson fingers she traces characters, spelling out a name. “Enmaten,” she says, putting her thumb to the lynx’s ear, a full stop to the uneven calligraphy. “It’s an inherited name, wealthy with two generations. Someone should carry it on. You will do. Shall I teach you to speak, one day?”

It tosses its head, indifferent and incurious, serene in its animal completeness. Nabaat draws to her feet, casting out the net of her mind. The flocks ignite the fabric of her thought, embroidering it like the light of distant suns, the light of ships that left seeking other stars.

The prairie parts. The architect steps through, in search of the best spot from which to watch the world end.

Benjanun Sriduangkaew writes love letters to strange cities, beautiful bugs, and the future. Her work has appeared in Tor.com, Beneath Ceaseless Skies, Clarkesworld, and year’s bests. She has been shortlisted for the Campbell Award for Best New Writer and her debut novella Scale-Bright has been nominated for the British SF Association Award.
]]>
0
McKenzie Winberry <![CDATA[Words from the Editor-in-Chief]]> http://www.apex-magazine.com/?p=10917 2016-02-02T15:35:51Z 2016-02-02T14:00:31Z Welcome to issue 81!

This month we’re back to normal in terms of volume. Even so, it’s an issue rich with imagination and strange worlds.

What kid on the cusp of becoming an adult doesn’t look forward to the day when they’re able to travel past the bounds of childhood? Daniel Rosen takes that concept and, because this is Apex Magazine, adds a disconcerting and thought provoking twist. We welcome Betsy Phillips and Benjanun Sriduangkaew back to our pages. Betsy’s story feels particularly timely due to the recent 1.5 billion dollar Powerball Lottery drawing.

As for Benjanun’s story … I’m going to leave her opening sentence right here:

“As the world marches toward the guillotine of its finale, the sleeping beast shakes loose the slats of its painted unthought and licks the tang of dénouement from its fangs.”

Wrapping up our fiction selections, we present a reprint of “On the Occasion of My Retirement,” a novelette by Nick Mamatas receiving its digital debut inside Apex Magazine.

Our poetry this month comes courtesy of Heather Morris, Mike Jewett, Crystal Lynn Hilbert, and Laurel Dixon. Russell Dickerson interviews cover artist David Demaret. Andrea Johnson interviews Benjanun Sriduangkaew regarding her avant-garde and poetic fiction output.

Our podcast fiction this month is “Four Gardens of Fate” by Betsy Phillips.

Finally, enjoy an excerpt from Glitch Rain by Alex Livingston, the latest book from Apex Publications. Many of our regular readers will recognize Livingston for his story “Proximity” from issue 73. Glitch Rain is set in the same universe as “Proximity.”

See you next month when we have Lavie Tidhar, Jason Sanford, Travis Heerman, and Elizabeth Bear.

 

Jason Sizemore

Editor-in-Chief

]]>
0