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Excerpt from AUTOMATIC EVE

“A dark and fascinating meditation on what makes us human–think Blade Runner, but set in the Floating World of Edo Japan. Plus sumo wrestling!”—Molly Tanzer, author of Vermilion and Creatures of Will and Temper

“Amazing,” he said. “Kyuzo can even re-create memories in his automata?”

He sat down beside her and examined her face closely, noting the concern in it. He touched her cheek. It was as soft as a mochi rice cake, and he saw the downy fuzz on her skin, dazzling white

as the sunlight caught it. No matter how he tried, he could not convince himself that she was a creature of springs and gears like the macaw at Kyuzo’s mansion.

Could she actually be real?

He began to nurse this suspicion a while after they moved in together. But there was one thing he didn’t understand: how she could be identical to Hatori. Unless Hatori had a twin sister he

had been unaware of, he could not see the Eve who stood before him as anyone other than Hatori herself.

When he asked Eve directly, she insisted that she was nothing but an automaton made in Hatori’s image. But even when they shared the bed at night, she gave no indication of anything but humanity, to the point that Nizaemon found it disturbing. This led him to wonder where exactly Hatori had gone and what she was doing with the freedom he had given her.

Abandoning his resolution to make a clean break, refrain from looking for her, and comfort himself with Eve alone, he hired someone to search for her.

They found nothing. His suspicions grew stronger.

#

Without telling Eve, Nizaemon went to visit the Thirteen Floors.

Hatori’s old room was now used by her former attendant Kozakai, who had since graduated to full courtesan. Nizaemon bought her attentions for the evening.

“You mustn’t sneak around behind Hatori’s back, Niza,” she said, looking surprised but not entirely unhappy to see him. She leaned into him with a flirtatious smile, perhaps remembering how freely he had spent as Hatori’s client.

But Nizaemon had other intentions.

“Do you know the man Hatori was in love with?” he asked her. Seeing that Nizaemon was as single-mindedly infatuated with her old mistress as ever, Kozakai gradually abandoned the coquettish approach and looked at him with exasperation from under a furrowed brow.

“And her little toe—who did she send it to?”

At first Kozakai insisted that she knew nothing, nothing at all, but eventually she talked, although not without resistance. His sheer dogged persistence might have worn her down.

“Hatori told me not to say anything, so you didn’t hear this from me,” she began.

He nodded.

“I was the one who cut off her toe, with the help of one of the boys from our establishment. I tied it off tightly where it joins the foot and chopped it off with a single blow from a carving knife. The bleeding went on forever, and—”

“I don’t care about that,” Nizaemon said irritably. “Get to the point.”

“We put the toe in a silk-lined box and then had the boy deliver it.”

“Where?”

“You really don’t know?”

“Enough theatrics. Just tell me.”

“Kyuzo Kugemiya.”

Nizaemon was dumbstruck.

“And Hatori told you not to tell me?”

Kozakai nodded, without meeting his eyes. She had gone pale under her white makeup.

Nizaemon’s hands trembled with rage. Everything fit together now. Hatori had sent her toe to Kyuzo as the traditional sign of devotion. They had secretly been lovers all along, conspiring against him.

They had swindled him out of his priceless fighting cricket habitat, sold it to buy Hatori’s freedom, and then taken what was left as payment for an automaton they never meant to build.

Perhaps even the habitat they had sold was just another copy and the original was still in Kyuzo’s hands.

If so, Kyuzo had ended up with not only the money and the woman but the habitat as well. He must be laughing himself sick.

The memory of Hatori’s apparent humiliation at the hands of Kyuzo came back to him. He imagined them laughing together at his discomfort, and his insides boiled with fury and shame.

“Were you laughing at me with them, too?” he demanded of Kozakai.

Once the wick of his rage was lit, it was uncontrollable. No one had ever made a fool of him like this before.

Kozakai hurriedly tried to soothe his agitation. On the Thirteen Floors, to anger a customer was taboo. She could be whipped for it if word got out. Nor would she go unpunished if it was revealed that she had helped Hatori amputate a toe and send it to a customer.

But the more desperately she sought to calm him with her feminine charms, the more of Hatori he saw in her.

When he came to his senses, her bloodied form lay at his feet.

From elsewhere in the pleasure quarters, he heard the strains of a three-stringed shamisen, coquettish voices at a party. He was fortunate that he and Kozakai had been alone in the room together.

He slid his sword back into its scabbard without even shaking the blood off, then covered Kozakai’s corpse with a blanket, blew out the lamp, and quietly left the room.

Hiding his bloodstained hands in his sleeves, he descended the staircase and departed the Thirteen Floors entirely. He crossed the bridge back across the canal and began the long walk back to the city along the path between the rice paddies, trying not to be seen.

Looking back, he saw the brightly lit Thirteen Floors towering against the indigo veil of night. Beyond the railings that ringed the balconies, through the latticed windows, he saw silhouettes without number in constant motion.

When he arrived breathlessly back at the rooms he shared with Eve, she was still awake.

Her kimono was of a plainness he would never have imagined possible from the Hatori he had known at the Thirteen Floors. She wore no powder or other makeup at all, but her simple beauty was not diminished in the slightest.

Hearing him come stumbling in, she paused and looked up from her sewing. There was surprise in her expression but also a kind of sadness, as if she had already sensed something.

“I told you happiness was not in my future,” she said.

“You’re Hatori.”

“Can I not just be Eve?”

Her dark-green eyes bored into him. For a moment Nizaemon wavered.

“Does it matter exactly what I am?” she continued. “Sometimes it is better not to know what is real and what is not.”

“If you’re an automaton,” Nizaemon said, “then show me your gears.” He drew his sword and brought it down on her where she sat.

Eve did not attempt to dodge the falling blade. She only closed her eyes, as if resigned to her fate.

A cascade of gears and springs, oil and mercury instead of blood—right up to that moment, Nizaemon still had hope that this was what he might see.

But what spilled from the wound his sword made was a tide of all-too-human blood.

Excerpt, Legend of the Galactic Heroes, v9: Upheaval

“Your Majesty, I have every intention of accepting the marshal’s staff from you alive.” Lutz retained his composure as he spoke. He even smiled. “I had the honor of sharing the founding of Your Majesty’s empire. With luck I will also share the ease and flourishing to come.”

Lutz glanced at Müller. The “Iron Wall” nodded, then respectfully took Reinhard by the arm. “We must go, Your Majesty,” he said.

Reinhard’s golden hair shone even more splendidly in the firelight.

“Lutz, when you are no longer able to fire, surrender. Von Reuentahl knows how to treat a hero.”

Lutz saluted, but spoke neither ja nor nein in reply. He watched Reinhard and the others leave, offering a final salute when the kaiser turned back one last time, and then strode unhurriedly into the trees by the path to take cover.

The limits of Lutz’s patience were not tested. Ten seconds later, roughly a platoon’s worth of pursuers turned up. Lutz opened fire.

The pursuers visibly shrank from him. They knew Lutz as a great general, but had never imagined that he was such an accurate marksman.

In just two minutes, Lutz’s blaster felled eight men, half of whom died instantly. Despite the flames and the relentlessly approaching enemies, he remained flawlessly composed. Half-concealed behind a great tree, sometimes even taking the time to brush off the sparks that showered down on him, Lutz held the line grimly. When he heard calls for him to surrender, he unflappably replied, “Surrender! And rob you of the chance to see how a senior admiral of the Lohengramm Dynasty dies? Whether you come with me or not, why not watch and learn?”

Then he extended an arm as unbending as his spirit and pulled the trigger again.

It was as if his own will poured forth from the barrel in streams of pure energy. The pursuers seemed to forgot their numbers—each of them returned fire desperately, as if facing him alone. They dove into the forest to escape his deadly accuracy, only to be chased out again by the flames.

As he loaded his third and final energy capsule into his blaster, Lutz wondered when exactly Brünhild would take off. He felt irritation not for himself but on behalf of Reinhard and the others.

The flames flickered wildly. The red and black and darkness and light that had struggled for supremacy above him was pushed aside by an all-illuminating silver gleam. Looking skyward, Lutz saw a warship that every soldier in the Galactic Empire knew. A great bird of purest white, spreading its wings amid a thicket of energy beams rising uselessly toward it from the planet’s surface. The sight was magnificent.

The transcendental moment passed. Lutz saw a thin beam of white light pierce him beneath his left clavicle, and then felt it emerge from his back just beside his left shoulder blade. Pain exploded from the point of impact, spreading to fill his body. Lutz staggered just half a pace backward, frowned slightly, and brought down two more pursuers with two more pulls of the trigger. He pressed his left hand to the breast of his uniform and felt an unpleasant stickiness. Tiny snakes of a dark, wet color trickled from between his fingers and crawled downward.

Still upright, he once more pulled the trigger, which now felt very heavy. As his target spasmed before a backdrop of flame in a brief dance of death, the left side of Lutz’s skull was pierced by a diagonal blast of return fire. A gout of blood poured from his ear. The flames disappeared from his field of vision, leaving only darkness.

Mein Kaiser . . . I am afraid I cannot make good on that promise to accept the marshal’s rod alive. I shall await my reprimand in Valhalla—but let it not be for some time yet . . .”

Excerpt for The Thousand Year Beach

Jules lay back against the rocks.

Jules was unable to get a certain thought out of his mind.

Could that old man be my papa?

When exactly had this idea taken up residence in his head?

He did not know.

I’m resident of this Realm, this virtual resort space, thought Jules. Just an NPC AI, built in from the beginning.

My thoughts, my memories, my body—all a precisely designed set of objects running on the Realm’s system.

But Papa’s different.

Papa’s a guest.

An unidentifiable face in the crowd of thousands who lived in the real world but held memberships in the Costa del Número. Papa used his membership to come to my house, after choosing our Realm of Summer out of countless other Realms and reserving the open role of my papa.

The Realm had many open roles like this. As long as they weren’t already in use, anyone with Costa del Número membership could fill them, regardless of sex or age.

And in that way, a new Papa sat at Jules’s table every day.

His family shared a range of summer pleasures with “Papa.”

But not that old man. So what’s this mysterious kinship, almost like a bond of blood, that I feel around him? (more…)

It’s the ORBITAL CLOUD Giveaway contest!

We haven’t done one of these in a while, but it is that time once again—we’re giving away four copies of Taiyo Fujii’s latest book, Orbital Cloud!

If you read Fujii’s previous novel, Gene Mapper, you already know what Fujii is all about: near-future settings, hard science fiction, a positive outlook on humanity, and intriguing thriller plots. Orbital Cloud is all that and more:
Growbox

In the year 2020, Kazumi Kimura, proprietor of shooting star forecast website Meteor News, notices some suspicious orbiting space debris. Rumors spread online that the debris is actually an orbital weapon targeting the International Space Station. Halfway across the world, at NORAD, Staff Sergeant Daryl Freeman begins his own investigation of the threat. At the same time, billionaire entrepreneur Ronnie Smark and his journalist daughter prepare to check in to an orbital hotel as part of a stunt promoting private space tourism. Then Kazumi receives highly sensitive, and potentially explosive, information from a genius Iranian scientist. And so begins an unprecedented international battle against space-based terror that will soon involve the Japan Aerospace Exploration Agency, NORAD, and the CIA.

Check out a sample excerpt on The Verge and also in the ebook version of March’s Lightspeed Magazine.

Convinced you want a copy yet?

Yeeeeeah, you’re convinced! So here is our contest:

In a comment to this post, tell us about your favorite work of hard science fiction—that is, SF that mooooostly holds true to the laws of physics as they were known at the time of the story’s writing. You can write a little hundred-word essay, or poem (we like villanelles) or fannish rant or whatever you like. Friday afternoon, we’ll pick four winners. We ship anywhere, and you can submit in English, Japanese, Spanish, Greek, or German.

So let’s play!

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