Central Station

Central Station

by Lavie Tidhar

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Product Details

ISBN-13: 9781616962142
Publisher: Tachyon Publications
Publication date: 05/10/2016
Pages: 288
Sales rank: 326,123
Product dimensions: 5.50(w) x 8.40(h) x 1.30(d)
Age Range: 12 - 18 Years

About the Author

British Science Fiction, British Fantasy, and World Fantasy Award-winning author Lavie Tidhar was born in Israel. He has traveled and lived all over the world, including in Vanuatu, Laos, and South Africa. Tidhar has been compared to Philip K. Dick by the Guardian and to Kurt Vonnegut by Locus. His most recent novels, The Violent Century and A Man Lies Dreaming, were published to rapturous reviews in the UK, with the Independent referring to them as masterpieces. Tidhar currently lives in London.

Read an Excerpt

Central Station

Uncorrected Proof


By Lavie Tidhar, Jill Roberts

Tachyon Publications

Copyright © 2016 Lavie Tidhar
All rights reserved.
ISBN: 978-1-61696-214-2


CHAPTER 1

The Indignity of Rain


The smell of rain caught them unprepared. It was spring, there was that smell of jasmine and it mixed with the hum of electric buses, and there were solar gliders in the sky, like flocks of birds. Ameliah Ko was doing a Kwasa-Kwasa remix of a Susan Wong cover of "Do You Wanna Dance." It had begun to rain in silver sheets, almost silently; the rain swallowed the sound of gunshots and it drenched the burning buggy down the street, and the old homeless man taking a shit by the dumpster, with his grey pants around his ankles, got caught in it, his one roll of toilet paper in his hand, and he cursed, but quietly. He was used to the indignity of rain.

The city had been called Tel Aviv. Central Station rose high into the atmosphere in the south of the city, bordered in by the webwork of silenced old highways. The station's roof rose too high to see, serving the stratospheric vehicles that rose from and landed onto its machine- smooth surface. Elevators like bullets shot up and down the station and, down below, in the fierce Mediterranean sun, around the space port a bustling market heaved with commerce, visitors and residents, and the usual assortment of pickpockets and identity thieves.

From orbit down to Central Station, from Central Station down to street level, and out from within the air-conditioned liminal space into the poverty of the neighbourhood around the port, where Mama Jones and the boy Kranki stood hand in hand, waiting.

The rain caught them by surprise. The space port, this great white whale, like a living mountain rising out of the urban bedrock, drew onto itself the formation of clouds, its very own miniature weather system. Like islands in the ocean, space ports saw localised rains, cloudy skies, and a growth industry of mini-farms growing like lichen on the side of their vast edifices.

The rain was warm and the drops fat and the boy reached out his hand and cupped a raindrop between his fingers.

Mama Jones, who had been born in this land, in this city that had been called many names, to a Nigerian father and a Filipina mother, in this very same neighbourhood, when the roads still thrummed to the sound of the internal combustion engine and the central station had served buses, not suborbitals, and could remember wars, and poverty, and being unwanted here, in this land fought over by Arab and Jew, looked at the boy with fierce protective pride. A thin, glittering membrane, like a soap bubble, appeared between his fingers, the boy secreting power and manipulating atoms to form this thing, this protective snow globe, capturing within it the single drop of rain. It hovered between his fingers, perfect and timeless.

Mama Jones waited, if a little impatiently. She ran a shebeen here, on the old Neve Sha'anan road, a pedestrianised zone from the old days, that ran right up to the side of the space port, and she needed to be back there.

"Let it go," she said, a little sadly. The boy turned deep blue eyes on her, a perfect blue that had been patented some decades earlier before finding its way to the gene clinics here, where it had been ripped, hacked and resold to the poor for a fraction of the cost.

They said south Tel Aviv had better clinics even than Chiba or Yunnan, though Mama Jones rather doubted it.

Cheaper, though, perhaps.

"Is he coming?" the boy said.

"I don't know," Mama Jones said. "Maybe. Maybe today he is coming."

The boy turned his head to her, and smiled. He looked very young when he smiled. He released the strange bubble in his hand and it floated upwards, through the rain, the single suspended raindrop inside rising towards the clouds that birthed it.

Mama Jones sighed, and she cast a worried glance at the boy. Kranki was not a name, as such. It was a word from Asteroid Pidgin, itself a product of Earth's old South Pacific contact languages, carried into space by the miners and engineers sent there as cheap labour by the Malay and Chinese companies. Kranki, from the old English cranky, it meant variously grumpy or crazy or ...

Or a little odd.

Someone who did things that other people didn't.

What they called, in Asteroid Pidgin, nakaimas.

Black magic.

She was worried about Kranki.

"Is he coming? Is that him?"

There was a man coming towards them, a tall man with an aug behind his ear, and skin that showed the sort of tan one got from machines, and the uneasy steps of someone not used to this gravity. The boy pulled on her hand. "Is that him?"

"Maybe," she said, feeling the hopelessness of the situation as she did each time they repeated this little ritual, every Friday before the Shabbat entered, when the last load of disembarking passengers arrived at Tel Aviv from Lunar Port, or Tong Yun on Mars, or from the Belt, or from one of the other Earth cities like Newer Delhi or Amsterdam or São Paulo. Each week, because the boy's mother had told him, before she died, that his father would one day return, that his father was rich and was working far away, in space, and that one day he would return, return on a Friday so as not to be late for the Shabbat, and he would look after them.

Then she went and overdosed on Crucifixation, ascending to heaven on a blaze of white light, seeing God while they tried to pump her stomach but it was too late, and Mama Jones, somewhat reluctantly, had to look after the boy — because there was no one else.

In North Tel Aviv the Jews lived in their skyrises, and in Jaffa to the South the Arabs had reclaimed their old land by the sea. Here, in between, there were still those people of the land they had called variously Palestine or Israel and whose ancestors had come there as labourers from around the world, from the islands of the Philippines, and from the Sudan, from Nigeria, and from Thailand or China, whose children were born there, and their children's children, speaking Hebrew and Arabic and Asteroid Pidgin, that near universal language of space. Mama Jones looked after the boy because there was no one else and the rule across this country was the same in whichever enclave of it you were. We look after our own.

Because there is no one else.

"It's him!" The boy pulled at her hand. The man was coming towards them, something familiar about his walk, his face, suddenly confusing Mama Jones. Could the boy really be right? But it was impossible, the boy wasn't even b —

"Kranki, stop!" The boy, pulling her by the hand, was running towards the man, who stopped, startled, seeing this boy and this woman bearing down on him. Kranki stopped before the man, breathing heavily. "Are you my dad?" he said.

"Kranki!" said Mama Jones.

The man went very still. He squatted down, to be level with the boy, and looked at him with a serious, intent expression.

"It's possible," he said. "I know that blue. It was popular for a while, I remember. We hacked an open source version out of the trademarked Armani code ..." He looked at the boy, then tapped the aug behind his ear — a Martian aug, Mama Jones noticed with alarm.

There had been life on Mars, not the ancient civilizations dreamed of in the past, but a dead, microscopic life. Then someone found a way to reverse engineer the genetic code, and made augmented units out of it. ...

Alien symbionts no one understood, and few wanted to.

The boy froze, then smiled, and his smile was beatific. He beamed. "Stop it!" Mama Jones said. She shook the man until he almost lost his balance. "Stop it! What are you doing to him?"

"I'm ..." The man shook his head. He tapped the aug and the boy unfroze, and looked around him, bewildered, as though he was suddenly lost. "You had no parents," the man told him. "You were labbed, right here, hacked together out of public property genomes and bits of black market nodes." He breathed. "Nakaimas," he said, and took a step back.

"Stop it!" Mama Jones said again, feeling helpless. "He is not —"

"I know." The man had found his calm again. "I am sorry. He can speak to my aug. Without an interface. I must have done a better job than I thought, back then."

Something about the face, the voice, and suddenly she felt a tension in her chest, an old feeling, strange and unsettling now. "Boris?" she said. "Boris Chong?"

"What?" he raised his face, looking at her properly for the first time. She could see him so clearly now, the harsh Slavic features and the dark Chinese eyes, the whole assemblage of him, older now, changed by space and circumstances, but still him. ...

"Miriam?"

She had been Miriam Jones, then. Miriam after her grandmother. She tried to smile, couldn't. "It's me," she said.

"But you —"

"I never left," she said. "You did."

The boy looked between them. Realisation, followed by disappointment, made his face crumble. Above his head the rain gathered, pulled out of the air, forming into a wavering sheet of water through which the sun broke into tiny rainbows.

"I have to go," Miriam said. It's been a long time since she'd been Miriam to anybody.

"Where? Wait —" Boris Chong looked, for once, confused.

"Why did you come back?" Miriam said.

He shrugged. Behind his ear the Martian aug pulsed, a parasitic, living thing feeding off its host. "I ..."

"I have to go," Mama Jones, Miriam, she had been a Miriam and that part of her, long buried, was awakening inside her, and it made her feel strange, and uncomfortable, and she tugged on the boy's hand and the shimmering sheet of water above his head burst, falling down on either side of him, forming a perfect, wet circle on the pavement.

Every week she had acquiesced to the boy's mute desire, had taken him to the space port, to this gleaming monstrosity in the heart of the city, to watch and to wait. The boy knew he had been labbed, knew no woman's womb had ever held him, that he had been birthed within the cheap labs where the paint peeled off the walls and the artificial wombs often malfunctioned — but there had been a market for disused foetuses too, there was a market for anything.

But like all children, he never believed. In his mind his mother really had gone up to heaven, Crucifixation her key to the gates, and in his mind his father would come back, just the way she'd told him, descend from the heavens of Central Station and come down, to this neighbourhood, stuck uncomfortably between North and South, Jew and Arab, and find him, and offer him love.

She pulled on Kranki's hand again and he came with her, and the wind like a scarf wound itself around him, and she knew what he was thinking.

Next week, perhaps, he would come.

"Miriam, wait!"

Boris Chong, who had once been beautiful, when she was beautiful, in the soft nights of spring long ago as they lay on top of the old building filled with domestic workers for the rich of the North, they had made themselves a nest there, between the solar panels and the wind traps, a little haven made of old discarded sofas and an awning of colourful calico from India with political slogans on it in a language neither of them spoke. They had lain there, and gloried in their naked bodies up on the roof, in spring, when the air was warm and scented with the lilacs and the bushes of jasmine down below, late-blooming jasmine, that released its smell at night, under the stars and the lights of the space port.

She kept moving, it was only a short walk to her shebeen, the boy came with her, and this man, a stranger now, who had once been young and beautiful, whispering to her in Hebrew his love, only to leave her, long ago, it was so long ago —

This man was following her, this man she no longer knew, and her heart beat fast inside her, her old, flesh heart, which had never been replaced. Still she marched on, passing fruit and vegetable stalls, the gene clinics, upload centres selling secondhand dreams, shoe shops (for people will always need shoes on their feet), the free clinic, a Sudanese restaurant, the rubbish bins, and finally she arrived at Mama Jones' Shebeen, a holein-the-wall nestled between an upholsterer's and a Church of Robot node, for people always need old sofas and armchairs reupholstered, and they always need faith, of whatever sort.

And drink, Miriam Jones thought as she entered the establishment, where the light was suitably dim, the tables made of wood, with cloth over each, and where the nearest node would have broadcast a selection of programming feeds had it not been stuck, some time back, on a South Sudanese channel showing a mixture of holy sermons, weather reports that never changed, and dubbed reruns of the long-running Martian soap Chains of Assembly, and nothing else.

A raised bar, offering Palestinian Taiba beer and Israeli Maccabee on tap, locally made Russian vodka, a selection of soft drinks and bottled lager, sheesha pipes for the customers and backgammon boards for use of same — it was a decent little place, it did not make much but it covered rent and food and looking after the boy, and she was proud of it. It was hers.

There were only a handful of regulars sitting inside, a couple of dockyard workers off-shift from the space port sharing a sheesha and drinking beer, chatting amiably, and a tentacle-junkie flopping in a bucket of water, drinking arak, and Isobel Chow, her friend Irena Chow's daughter, sitting there with a mint tea, looking deep in thought. Miriam touched her lightly on the shoulder as she came in but the girl did not even stir. She was deep in the virtuality, that is to say in the Conversation.

Miriam went behind the bar. All around her the endless traffic of the Conversation surged and hummed and called, but she tuned the vast majority of it out of her consciousness.

"Kranki," Mama Jones said, "I think you should go up to the flat and do your school work."

"Finished," the boy said. He turned his attention to the sheesha pipe nearby and cupped blue smoke in his hand, turning it into a smooth round ball. He became intensely absorbed. Mama Jones, now standing behind her counter and feeling a lot more at ease, here, queen of her domain, heard the footsteps and saw the shadow pass and then the tall, thin frame of the man she last knew as Boris Chong came in, bending under the too-low doorframe.

"Miriam, can we talk?"

"What would you have?"

She gestured at the shelves behind her. Boris Chong's pupils dilated, and it made a shiver pass down Mama Jones' spine. He was communicating, silently, with his Martian aug.

"Well?" Her tone was sharper than she intended. Boris's eyes opened wider. He looked startled. "An arak," he said, and suddenly smiled, the smile transforming his face, making him younger, making him —

More human, she decided.

She nodded and pulled a bottle from the shelf and poured him a glass of arak, that anise drink so beloved in that land, and added ice, and brought it to him to a table, with chilled water to go beside it — when you poured the water in, the drink changed colour, the clear liquid becoming murky and pale like milk.

"Sit with me."

She stood with her arms crossed, then relented. She sat down and he, after a moment's hesitation, sat down also.

"Well?" she said.

"How have you been?" he said.

"Well."

"You know I had to leave. There was no work here in anymore, no future —"

"I was here."

"Yes."

Her eyes softened. She knew what he meant, of course. Nor could she blame him. She had encouraged him to go and, once he was gone, there was nothing to it but for both of them to move on with life, and she, on the whole, did not regret the life she'd led.

"You own this place?"

"It pays the rent, the bills. I look after the boy."

"He is ..."

She shrugged. "From the labs," she said. "It could be he was one of yours, like you said."

"There were so many ..." he said. "Hacked together of whatever non- proprietary genetic code we could get our hands on. Are they all like him?"

Miriam shook her head. "I don't know ... it's hard to keep track of all the kids. They don't stay kids, either. Not forever." She called out to the boy. "Kranki, could you bring me a coffee, please?"

The boy turned, his serious eyes trained on them both, the ball of smoke still in his hand. He tossed it in the air and it assumed its regular properties and dispersed. "Aww ..." he said.

"Now, Kranki," Miriam said. "Thank you." The boy went to the bar and Miriam turned back to Boris.


(Continues...)

Excerpted from Central Station by Lavie Tidhar, Jill Roberts. Copyright © 2016 Lavie Tidhar. Excerpted by permission of Tachyon Publications.
All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.
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Central Station 3.7 out of 5 based on 0 ratings. 3 reviews.
Anonymous 3 months ago
This+is+a+well+written+book+that+offers+a+compelling+future+world.+That+said%2C+it+either+really+needs+a+sequel+%28hopefully+coming%3F%29+or+it%27s+just+frankly+incomplete.+
adge73 on LibraryThing 10 months ago
That. Rabbit. Is. Cute. I like how Emily Brown refers to individual people as "Army" and "Navy," and I like the adventures she and Stanley get up to. The mixed media illustrations work especially well in a story that blurs the line between imagination and reality.
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
If I read it a second time, I may understand it better.