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The Master who came for Enri was wearing a relatively young body. Sadie guessed it was maybe fifty years old. It was healthy and in good condition, still handsome. It could last twenty years more, easily.
Its owner noticed Sadie's stare and chuckled. "I never let them get past fifty," the Master said. "You'll understand when you get there."
Sadie quickly lowered her gaze. "Of course, sir."
It turned the body's eyes to examine Enri, who sat very still in his cell. Enri knew, Sadie could see at once. She had never told him — she never told any of the children because she was their caregiver and there was nothing of care in the truth — but Enri had always been more intuitive than most.
She cleared her throat. "Forgive me, sir, but it's best if we return to the transfer center. He'll have to be prepped —"
"Ah, yes, of course," the Master said. "Sorry, I just wanted to look him over before my claim was processed. You never know when they're going to screw up the paperwork." It smiled.
Sadie nodded and stepped back, gesturing for the Master to precede her away from the cell. As they walked to the elevator they passed two of Sadie's assistant caregivers, who were distributing the day's feed to Fourteen Male. Sadie caught Caridad's eye and signed for them to go and fetch Enri. No ceremony. A ceremony at this point would be cruel.
Caridad noticed, twitched elaborately, got control of herself and nodded. Olivia, who was deaf, did not look up to catch Sadie's signing, but Caridad brushed her arm and repeated it. Olivia's face tightened in annoyance but then smoothed into a compliant mask. Both women headed for cell 47.
"The children here all seem nicely fit," the Master commented as they stepped into the elevator. "I got my last body from Southern. Skinny as rails there."
"Exercise, sir. We provide a training regimen for those children who want it; most do. We also use a nutrient blend designed to encourage muscle growth."
"Ah, yes. Do you think that new one will get above two meters?"
"He might, sir. I can check the breeder history —"
"No, no, never mind. I like surprises." It threw her a wink over one shoulder. When it faced forward again, Sadie found her eyes drawn to the crab-like form half-buried at the nape of the body's neck. Even as Sadie watched, one of its legs shifted just under the skin, loosening its grip on the tendons there.
She averted her eyes.
Caridad and Olivia came down shortly. Enri was between the two women, dressed in the ceremonial clothing: a plain low-necked shirt and pants, both dyed deep red. His eyes locked onto Sadie, despairing, betrayed, before he disappeared through the transfer room's door.
"Lovely eyes," the Master remarked, handing her the completed claim forms. "Can't wait to wear blue again."
Sadie led it into the transfer center. As they passed through the second gate, the airy echoes of the tower gave way to softer, closer acoustics. The center's receiving room had jewel-toned walls, hardwood floors, and luxuriant furniture upholstered in rich, tasteful brocades. Soft strains of music played over the speakers; incense burned in a censer on the mantle. Many Masters liked to test their new senses after a transfer.
This Master gave everything a perfunctory glance as it passed through. Off the receiving room was the transfer chamber itself: two long metal tables, a tile floor set with drains, elegant mirror-glass walls which were easy to wash and sterilize. Through the open doorway Sadie could see that Enri had already been strapped to the left table, facedown with arms outstretched. His head was buckled in place on the chin rest, but in the mirrored wall his eyes shifted to Sadie. There was nothing of anticipation in that gaze as there should have been. He knew to be afraid. Sadie looked away and bowed at the door as the Master passed.
The Master walked toward the right-hand table, removing its shirt and then paused as it noticed the room's door still open. It turned to her and lifted one of the body's eyebrows, plainly wanting privacy. Sadie swallowed, painfully aware of the passing seconds, of the danger of displeasing a Master, of Enri's terrible unwavering stare. She should stay. It was the least she could do after lying to Enri his whole life. She should stay and let his last sight through his own eyes be of someone who loved him and lamented his suffering.
"Thank you for choosing the Northeast Anthroproduction Facility," she said to the Master. "At Northeast your satisfaction is always guaranteed."
She closed the door and walked away.
That night Sadie dreamed of Enri.
This was not unusual. Her dreams had always been dangerously vivid. As a child she had sleepwalked, attacked others in the confusion of waking, heard voices when no one had spoken, bitten through her lip and nearly drowned in blood. Her caregivers sent away for a specialist, who diagnosed her as something called bipolar — a defect of the brain chemistry. At the time she had been distraught over this, but the policies were very clear. No Master would have anything less than a perfect host. They could have sent her to Disposal or the plantations. Instead, Sadie had been given medicines to stabilize her erratic neurotransmitters and then sent to another facility, Northeast, to begin training as a caregiver. She had done well. But though the other symptoms of her defect had eased with adulthood and medication, her dreams were still strong.
This time she stood in a vast meadow, surrounded by waist-high grass and summer flowers. She had only seen a meadow once, on the journey from her home anthro to caregiver training, and she had never actually walked through it. The ground felt uneven and soft under her feet, and a light breeze rustled the grass around her. Underneath the rustling she thought she could hear snatches of something else — many voices, whispering, though she could not make out the words.
"Sadie?" Enri, behind her. She turned and stared at him. He was himself, his eyes wide with wonder. Yet she had heard the screams from the transfer room, smelled the blood and bile, seen his body emerge from the room and flash a satisfied smile that no fourteen-year-old boy should ever wear.
"It is you," Enri said, staring. "I didn't think I would see you again."
It was just a dream. Still, Sadie said, "I'm sorry."
"I didn't have a choice."
"I know." Enri sobered, and sighed. "I was angry at first. But then I kept thinking: It must be hard for you. You love us, but you give us to them over and over. It's cruel of them to make you do it."
Cruel. Yes. But. "Better than ..." She caught herself.
"Better than being chosen yourself." Enri looked away. "Yes. It is." But he came to her, and they walked awhile, listening to the swish of grass around their calves and smelling the strangely clean aroma of the dirt between their toes.
"I'm glad for this," Sadie said after a while. Her voice seemed strangely soft; the land here did not echo the way the smooth corridors of the facility did. "To see you. Even if it's just a dream."
Enri spread his hands from his sides as they walked, letting the bobbing heads of flowers tickle his palms. "You told me once that you used to go places when you dreamed. Maybe this is real. Maybe you're really here with me."
"That wasn't 'going to places,' that was sleepwalking. And it was in the real world. Not like this."
He nodded, silent for a moment. "I wanted to see you again. I wanted it so much. Maybe that's why I'm here." He glanced at her, biting his bottom lip. "Maybe you wanted to see me, too."
She had. But she could not bring herself to say so because just thinking it made her hurt all over inside, like shaking apart, and the dream was fragile. Too much of anything would break it; she could feel that instinctively.
She took his hand, though, the way she had so often when they were alive and alone. His fingers tightened on hers briefly, then relaxed.
They had reached a hill, which overlooked a landscape that Sadie had never seen before: meadows and hills in a vast expanse broken only occasionally by lone trees, and in the distance a knot of thick variegated green. Was that a ... jungle? A forest? What was the difference? She had no idea.
"The others think I came here because we used to be close," Enri said a little shyly. "Also because you're so good at dreaming. It wouldn't matter, me reaching out for you, if you weren't meeting me halfway."
Others? "What are you talking about?"
Enri shrugged. It made his shirt — the low-necked smock she'd last seen him wearing — slip back a little, revealing the smooth unblemished flesh of his neck and upper back. "After the pain there's nothing but the dark inside your head. If you shout, it sounds like a whisper. If you hit yourself, it feels like a pinch. Nothing works right except your thoughts. And all you can think about is how much you want to be free."
She had never let herself imagine this. Never, not once. These were the dangerous thoughts, the ones that threatened her ability to keep doing what the Masters wanted or to keep from screaming while she did those things. If she even thought the word free, she usually made herself immediately think about something else. She should not be dreaming about this.
And yet, like picking at a scab, she could not help asking, "Could you ... go to sleep? Or something? Stop thinking, somehow?" Pick, pick. It would be terrible to be trapped so forever with no escape. Pick, pick. She had always thought that taking on a Master meant nothingness. Oblivion. This was worse.
Enri turned to look at her, and she stopped.
"You're not alone in it," he said. Whispering, all around them both; she was sure of it now. His eyes were huge and blue and unblinking as they watched her. "You're not the only person trapped in the dark. There's lots of others in here. With me."
"I, I don't —" She didn't want to know.
"Everyone else the Masters have taken."
A Master could live for centuries. How many bodies was that? How many other Enris trapped in the silence, existing only as themselves in dreams? Dozens?
"All of us, from every Master, down all the years that they've ruled us."
"And a few like you, ones without Masters, but who are good at dreaming and want to be free the way we do. No one else can hear us. No one else needs to."
Sadie shook her head. "No." She put out a hand to touch Enri's shoulder, wondering if this might help her wake up. It felt just as she remembered — bony and soft and almost hot to the touch as if the life inside him was much brighter and stronger than her own. "I, I don't want to be —" She can't say the word.
"We're all still here. We're dead, but we're still here. And —" He hesitated, then ducked his eyes. "The others say you can help us."
"No!" She let go of him and stumbled back, shaking inside and out. She could not hear these dangerous thoughts. "I don't want this!" She woke in the dark of her cubicle, her face wet with tears.
The next day a Master arrived in a woman's body. The body was not old at all — younger than Sadie, who was forty. Sadie checked the database carefully to make sure the Master had a proper claim.
"I'm a dancer," the Master said. "I've been given special dispensation for the sake of my art. Do you have any females with a talent for dance?" "I don't think so," Sadie said.
"What about Ten-36?" Olivia, who must have read the Master's lips, came over to join them and smiled. "She opted for the physical/artistic track of training. Ten36 loves to dance."
"I'll take that one," the Master said.
"She's only ten years old," Sadie said. She did not look at Olivia for fear the Master would notice her anger. "She might be too young to survive transfer."
"Oh, I'm very good at assuming control of a body quickly," the Master said. "Too much trauma would destroy its talent, after all."
"I'll bring her down," Olivia said, and Sadie had no choice but to begin preparing the forms.
Ten-36 was beaming when Olivia brought her downstairs. The children from Ten had all been let out to line the stairway. They cheered that one of their year-mates had been granted the honor of an early transfer; they sang a song praising the Masters and exhorting them to guide humankind well. Ten-36 was a bright, pretty child, long-limbed and graceful, Indo-Asian phenotype with a solid breeding history. Sadie helped Olivia strap her down. All the while Ten-36 chattered away at them, asking where she would live and how she would serve and whether the Master seemed nice. Sadie said nothing while Olivia told all the usual lies. The Masters were always kind. Ten-36 would spend the rest of her life in the tall glass spires of the Masters' city, immersed in miracles and thinking unfathomable thoughts that human minds were too simple to manage alone. And she would get to dance all the time.
When the Master came in and lay down on the right-hand table, Ten-36 fell silent in awe. She remained silent, though Sadie suspected this was no longer due to awe, when the Master tore its way out of the old body's neck and stood atop the twitching flesh, head-tendrils and proboscides and spinal stinger steaming faintly in the cool air of the chamber. Then it crossed from one outstretched arm to the other and began inserting itself into Ten-36. It had spoken the truth about its skill. Ten-36 convulsed twice and threw up; but her heart never stopped, and the bleeding was no worse than normal.
"Perfect," the Master said when it had finished. Its voice was now high-pitched and girlish. It sat down on one of the receiving room couches to run its fingers over the brocade, then inhaled the scented air. "Marvelous sensory acuity. Excellent fine motor control, too. It's a bother to have to go through puberty again, but, well. Every artist must make sacrifices."
When it was gone, Sadie checked the Master's old body. It — she — was still breathing, though unresponsive and drooling. On Sadie's signal, two of the assistants escorted the body to Disposal.
Then she went to find Olivia. "Don't ever contradict me in front of a Master again," she said. She was too angry to sign, but she made sure she didn't speak too fast despite her anger, so that Olivia could read her lips.
Olivia stared at her. "It's not my fault you didn't remember Ten-36. You're the head caregiver. Do your job."
"I remembered. I just didn't think it was right that a Ten be made to serve —" She closed her mouth after that, grateful Olivia couldn't hear her inflection and realize the sentence was incomplete. She had almost added a Master who will throw her away as soon as she's no longer new.
Olivia rolled her eyes. "What difference does it make? Sooner, later, it's all the same."
Anger shot through Sadie, hotter than she'd felt in years. "Don't take it out on the children just because you can't serve, Olivia."
Olivia flinched, then turned and walked stiffly away. Sadie gazed after her for a long while, first trembling as the anger passed, then just empty. Eventually, she went back into the transfer room to clean up.
That night, Sadie dreamt again. This time she stood in a place of darkness, surrounded by the same whispering voices she'd heard before. They rose into coherency for only a moment before subsiding into murmurs again.
here HERE this place remember show her never forget
The darkness changed. She stood on a high metal platform (balcony, said the whispers) overlooking a vast, white-walled room of the sort she had always imagined the glass towers of the Masters to contain. This one was filled with strange machines hooked up to long rows of things like sinks. (Laboratory.) Each sink — there were hundreds in all — was filled with a viscous blue liquid, and in the liquid floated the speckled bodies of Masters.
Above the whispers she heard a voice she recognized: "This is where they came from."
She looked around, somehow unsurprised that she could not see him. "What?"
The scene before her changed. Now there were people moving among the sinks and machines. Their bodies were clothed from head to toe in puffy white garments, their heads covered with hoods. They scurried about like ants, tending the sinks and machines, busy busy busy.
This was how Masters were born? But Sadie had been taught that they came from the sky.
"That was never true," Enri said. "They were created from other things. Parasites — bugs and fungi and microbes and more — that force other creatures to do what they want."
Enri had never talked like this in his life. Sadie had heard a few people talk like this — the rare caregivers educated with special knowledge like medicine or machinery. But Enri was just a facility child, just a body. He had never been special beyond the expected perfection.(Continues…)
Excerpted from "Sunspot Jungle Volume One"
Copyright © 2018 Rosarium Publishing.
Excerpted by permission of Rosarium Publishing.
All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.
Excerpts are provided by Dial-A-Book Inc. solely for the personal use of visitors to this web site.
Table of ContentsIntroduction - Bill Campbell
Walking Awake - N.K. Jemisin
The Black Box - Malka Older
A Song Transmuted - Sarah Pinsker
Water - Ramez Naam
Underworld 101 - Mame Bougouma Diene
The Faithful Soldier, Prompted - Saladin Ahmed
Beautiful Curse - Kristine Ong Muslim
Real Boys - Clara Kumagai
Born Out of Frost - Mélanie Fazi
The Coffin-Maker’s Daughter - Angela Slatter
I Make People Do Bad Things - Chesya Burke
Blood Drive - Jeffrey Ford
Six Things We Found During the Autopsy - Kuzhali Manickavel
Please Feed Motion - Irenosen Okojie
Madeleine - Amal El-Mohtar
Notes from Liminal Spaces - Hiromi Goto
Medusa - Christopher Brown
A Universal Elegy - Tang Fei
Lalibela - Gabriel Teodros
The Copper Scarab - K. Tempest Bradford
The Arrangement of Their Parts - Shweta Narayan
The Applause of Others - Corinne Duyvis
Lacrimosa - Silvia Moreno-Garcia
Those Shadows Laugh - Geoff Ryman
There Is Nothing to Bind Our Hearts Together - Sabrina Huang
Douen Calling - Brandon Mc Ivor
Spectral Evidence - Victor LaValle
A Model Apartment - Bryan Thao Worra
Water in the Rice Fields Up to My Knees - Johary Ravaloson
The Spooky Japanese Girl is There for You - Juan Martinez
The Executioner - Jennifer Marie Brissett
Girl, I Love You - Nadia Bulkin
The Castaway - Sergio Gaut vel Hartman
A Good Home - Karin Lowachee
How to Piss Off a Failed Super Soldier - John Chu
Super Duper Fly - Maurice Broaddus
Rabbits - Csilla Kleinheincz
A Different Mistake - Eve Shi
Lost Bonds - Margrét Helgadóttir
The Bones Shine through with Light - Joyce Chng
Ana’s Tag - William Alexander
Flush - Francesco Verso
No Kissing the Dolls Unless Jimi Hendrix is Playing - Clifton Gachagua
A Pinch of Salt - Hal Duncan
Escape to Hell - Iheoma Nwachukwu
The Lady and the Poet - Walter Tierno
Salvation - Claudia De Bella
How to Remember to Forget to Remember the Old War - Rose Lemberg
Bottled-Up Messages - Basma Abdel Aziz
Acception - Tessa Kum
The Day It All Ended - Charlie Jane Anders