Читать онлайн "Nebula Awards Showcase 2016"

автора "Лэки Мерседес"

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... . Winnipeg. I’ve got one more semester. “

“What are you majoring in?” Susan asked.

“Physics, but I’ll be going to grad school for meteorology. Climate science.”

“Awesome. You know what would make a cool tattoo for a climate scientist?”

Andy excused himself to get another beer. When he came back, Susan was drawing a barometer on the back of Lori’s hand. She and Lori had never been close, but they had gotten on okay. Susan had liked that Lori had ambition, and Lori had liked dating a guy whose best friend was a girl, which she said was pretty unusual. If they had moved to the same city, CTV could have made some cheesy buddy comedy about them, the small town valedictorian and the small town lesbian punk in the big city. He would make a one-time appearance as the guy who had stayed behind.

After his fifth beer he couldn’t feel anything but the road in his sleeve. The air in Colorado smelled like ozone, like maybe a storm was about to hit. That night, after Susan had drawn marker tattoos onto several of their former classmates and invited them to stop at her shop, after promises of email were exchanged with Lori, after the hazy drive home, he dreamed the highway had taken him over entirely. In the nightmare, the road crept up past his arm, past his shoulder. It paved his heart, flattened his limbs, tarred his mouth and eyes, so that he woke gasping before dawn.

* * *

He set up an appointment with a therapist. Dr. Bird’s broad face was young, but her hair was completely silver-white. She nodded sympathetically as she listened.

“I’m not really here to give my opinion, but I think maybe you were rushed into this BCI thing. You didn’t have a part in the decision. You didn’t have any time to get used to the idea of having no arm.”

“Did I need to get used to that?”

“Some people do. Some people don’t have a choice, because their bodies need to heal before regular prosthetics can be fitted.”

What she said made sense, but it didn’t explain anything. It would have explained phantom pains, or dreams that his arm was choking him. He had read about those things. But a road? None of her theories jibed. He drove home on flat prairie highway, then flat prairie two-lane, between fallow fields and grazing land. The road to his parents’ farm, and his own parcel of land in back of theirs, was dirt. His new truck had lousy shock absorbers, and every rut jolted him on the bench.

He had lived here his whole life, but his arm was convinced it belonged someplace else. On the way home it spoke to him without words. It pulled him. Turn around, it said. South, south, west. I am here and I am not here, he thought, or maybe it thought. I love my home, he tried to tell it. Even as he said it, he longed for the completion of being where he was, both Saskatchewan and Colorado. This was not a safe way to be. Nobody could live in two places at once. It was a dilemma. He couldn’t leave his farm, not unless he sold it, and the only part of him that agreed with that plan was not really part of him at all.

That night he dreamed he was driving the combine through his canola field when it jammed. He climbed down to fix it, and this time it took his prosthetic. It chewed the metal and the wire and he found himself hoping it would just rip the whole thing from his body, clear up to his brain, so he could start afresh. But then it did keep going. It didn’t stop with the arm. It tore and ripped, and he felt a tug in his head that turned into throbbing, then a sharp and sharp and sharper pain.

The pain didn’t go away when he woke. He thought it was a hangover, but no hangover had ever felt like that. He made it to the bathroom to throw up, then crawled back to his cellphone by the bed to call his mother. The last thing he thought of before he passed out was that Brad had never taught him how to crawl on the prosthetic. It worked pretty well.

* * *

He woke in the hospital again. He checked his hands first. Left still there, right still robot. With the left, he felt along the familiar edges of the prosthetic and the sleeve. Everything was still there. His hand went up to his head, where it encountered bandages. He tried to lift the prosthetic, but it didn’t move.

A nurse entered the room. “You’re awake!” she said with a West Indian lilt. “Your parents went home but they’ll be back after feeding time, they said.”

“What happened?” he asked.

“Pretty bad infection around the chip in your head, so they took it out. The good news is that the electrodes all scanned fine. They’ll give you a new chip when the swelling goes down, and you’ll be using that fine bit of machinery again in no time.”

She opened the window shade. From the bed, all Andy saw was sky, blue and serene. The best sky to work under. He looked down at the metal arm again, and realized that for the first time in months, he saw the arm, and not Colorado. He could still bring the road—his road—to mind, but he was no longer there. He felt a pang of loss. That was that, then.

When the swelling went down, a new chip was installed in his head. He waited for this one to assert itself, to tell him his arm was a speedboat or a satellite or an elephant’s trunk, but he was alone in his head again. His hand followed his directions, hand-like. Open, close. No cows, no dust, no road.

He asked Susan to get him from the hospital. Partly so his parents wouldn’t have to disrupt their schedules again, and partly because he had something to ask her.

In her car, driving home, he rolled up his left sleeve. “Remember this?” he asked.

She glanced at it and flushed. “How could I forget? I’m sorry, Andy. Nobody should go through life with a tattoo that awful.”

“It’s okay. I was just wondering, well, if you’d maybe fix it. Change it.”

“God, I’d love to! You’re the worst advertisement my business could have. Do you have anything in mind?”

He did. He looked at the jagged letters. The “I” of “LORI” could easily be turned into an A, the whole name disappeared into COLORADO. It was up to him to remember. Somewhere, in some medical waste bin back in Saskatoon, there was a computer chip that knew it was a road. A chip that was an arm that was Andy who was a stretch of asphalt two lanes wide, ninety-seven kilometers long, in eastern Colorado. A stretch that could see all the way to the mountains, but was content not to reach them. Forever and ever.



Aliette de Bodard has won two Nebula Awards, a Locus Award, a British Science Fiction Association Award, and the Writers of the Future contest. She has also been a finalist for the Hugo, Sturgeon, and Tiptree Awards. “The Breath of War” was published in Beneath the Ceaseless Skies.

Going into the mountains had never been easy. Even in Rechan’s first adult years, when the war was slowly burning itself to smouldering embers, every Spring Festival had been a slow migration in armed vehicles, her aunts and uncles frequently stopping in every roadside shop, taking stock of what ambushes or roadblocks might lie ahead.

The war might be over—or almost so, the planet largely at peace, the spaceports disgorging a steady stream of Galactic and Rong visitors onto Voc—but the pace was just as frustratingly slow.

They’d made good time at first: coming out of the city early in the morning and becoming airborne at the first of the authorised takeoff points, the steady stream of soldiers repatriated from the front becoming smaller and smaller as they flew higher, like insects on the intense brown of the road; zigzagging on the trails, laughing with relief as they unpacked the fried dough Rechan had baked for lunch, almost forgetting that they weren’t setting on an adventure but on something with far longer-reaching consequences.

And then the flyer’s motor made a funny sound, and the entire vehicle lurched downwards with a sickening crunch that jolted Rechan against the wall. And before they knew it, they were stranded on a dusty little road halfway up the mountains, leaving Rechan’s niece Akanlam bartering with a local herder for a repair point.

By the sounds of it, the bartering was not going well.

Rechan sat against a large rock outcropping, rubbing the curve of her belly for comfort; feeling the familiar heaviness, the weight of the baby’s body in her womb like a promise. You’ll be fine, she thought, over and over, a saying that had become her lifeline, no matter how much of a lie it might be. You’ll be fine.

“We should be able to solve this,” Mau said. The stonewoman’s face was as impassive as ever. Her eyes didn’t crinkle as she spoke, her mouth didn’t quirk; there was only the slow, quiet sound of her breath.

“You think so?” Rechan shook her head, trying not to think of her dreams. It was so many years since she’d carved Sang—so many years since she’d gone into the mountains with little more than rations and carving tools—but, with the particular link that bound a woman to her breath-sibling, she could feel him every night: blurred images of him hovering over the plateaux, never venturing far from the place of his birth. A relief, because he was her only hope.

On Voc, it took a stoneman’s breath to quicken a baby at birth—and not any stoneman’s, but the mother’s breath-sibling, the one she had carved on accession to adulthood and entrusted with her breath. Without Sang, her baby would be stillborn.

“We’ll find a vehicle,” Mau said.

Rechan watched her niece from a distance. The discussion was getting animated and Aka