DP FICTION #79B: “A Guide to Snack Foods After the Apocalypse” by Rachael K. Jones

Jaffa Cakes: 4/10

The Jaffas haven’t aged well. The orange jelly went runny while the box sat trapped in the trunk of that abandoned car sunk in the ditch. A whole ant colony died glorious chocoholic deaths trying to carry them off. There’s all these little antennas sticking out of the cakes. I took a bite so I could rate them, but left the rest alone.

Jordan finished his whole cake, antennas and all. He’ll eat anything.

We’re camping in Retro Games overnight. Jordan needs a new d4 for his dice set, and I want to forage for better snacks. It’s risky—the Ganglies like buildings, and this one’s only one story tall—but we haven’t seen any of them in a few days, so we’re taking the chance.

Anyway, I’m a yellow belt in Taekwondo. Just let them try to eat our bones. I’ll kick them to bits.

*

Gulab Jamun: 8/10

They’re canned donut holes soaked in rosewater syrup. I’ve added “roses” to my Master List of Things I’ve Eaten, after “poodle” and “roaches.” Jordan says stuff from dented cans might be full of bacteria, but the dent was pretty small, and we heard a Gangly scritching against the supermarket doors from our rooftop perch. Figured we might as well die with a sugar high.

The donut holes had mostly dissolved into the syrup, but they tasted so good I almost finished them before I remembered to offer Jordan some.

He rolled his eyes. You’d think he was my actual little brother and not just my pretend one. “You’re gonna be sooooooo sick tomorrow, Nadia,” he said. But he ate them too. I guess dying from bacteria together is better than fleeing Ganglies solo.

We sat on the roof after dinner and watched for Ganglies in the parking lot. Jordan got this huge sack of fancy unicorn dice from Retro Games. Probably a thousand of them, d4 through d100, shiny ivory like polished teeth. We were taking turns chucking them at bullet casings on the sidewalk, trying to see who could get the closest, when Jordan spotted a dust cloud from the street.

Then we were both on our feet, jumping and waving and screaming as a whole convoy rumbled past. We hadn’t seen that many adults in weeks, not since the Ganglies raided the last shelter we’d been in. Big trucks, a couple of tanks, and a semi with the windows covered in steel plates with holes cut in them. Gangly-proofed and then some. The convoy rolled into the parking lot, crushing shopping carts and abandoned bikes. My tummy flipflopped, half from excitement and half from imagining all the snacks those trucks must have. Beef sticks, baked cheese, maybe even BBQ potato chips (I was craving things that start with B).

The lead tank’s hatch popped open, and a lady with a buzz cut and camo pants climbed out. “You kids alright?” she hollered, cutting her eyes toward the pockets of shade near the cart return. Ganglies liked to unfold themselves from shadows when you weren’t looking.

I liked her. She reminded me of Officer Laws, my old middle school security guard.

“We’re orphans,” Jordan said, which was the truth, but also the best thing to lead with if you ever need adults to trust you.

The Camo Lady popped back down into her tank. These days nobody wants to share their food with strangers, but everyone makes exceptions for kids. There aren’t that many of us left, after all. We don’t run as fast as adults. A few minutes later, she came out again. “Can you climb down to us?”

“The store’s clear,” I told her. “We’ve been foraging. I found donut holes. Kinda.”

We gave her a tour of the ruins. I guess she liked what she saw, because she radioed her people, and they all piled out, twenty-one total and not one kid, and began stripping the shelves onto the checkout counters.

It was getting late, but Camo Lady (everyone called her Lily) said we could ride along. So Jordan and I scrammed back to the roof to get his dice and my backpack before we joined them.

I was halfway down the ladder when the Ganglies arrived.

The shadows between the shelves got real, real dark, like a cat’s pupils under the bed. Then out shot a long, thin spiderleg, then half a dozen more, and then whole Ganglies hoisted themselves up from the darkness onto the supermarket floor.

The Ganglies skittered long and tall right over the shelves on those long bony limbs, knocking jars to the ground and slamming shopping carts against the walls. They looked thin even for Ganglies, like if a skeleton married a spider.

Someone fired a gun and a window shattered. People were screaming everywhere, but it was over almost as soon as it started, and the Ganglies were dragging the bodies back down into the shadows. The final Gangly limped toward that shadow-portal more slowly since one leg-joint had been blasted off.

I hated it for killing Lily just when we were about to get protected. I threw a fat white d20 at it. It bounced off the floor and came up natural 20. Critical save. Instead of charging like most Ganglies do, it sat on its haunches and picked up the d20. Not coming after us, not calling for its friends, not scratching claws on the ladder, none of your usual Gangly stuff. Nibbled the d20 and watched us. Then it hooked the dead man again and crawled into the shadows, folding back into wherever they went when we weren’t watching.

I dropped to the floor and did a roundhouse kick at its dragging hind legs, and for just a sec my foot whiffed through the floor into somewhere else, somewhere damp and chilly and not-here. It was silly and dangerous. I braced for a Gangly’s claw jabbing through my shoe, but nothing happened except the shadows closed, and it was just the supermarket, quiet and empty.

At least until all the bodies came back 30 minutes later, minus their bones.

Jordan and I discussed our new D&D swag while we combed the abandoned convoy for food.  It gave us something else to think about besides the flat deboned sacks of meat that used to be Lily and her people. “Maybe these dice really are made from unicorn horn,” he said. “Horns are kind of like bones, right? Teeth too. I bet that’s why the Gangly liked them.”

“Unicorns aren’t real, though.”

“That’s what they said about the Ganglies,” said Jordan.

*

Twinkies: 1/10

Threw them up. I’m sick. Jordan’s sicker. Stupid dented donut hole cans.

He didn’t say I told you so. That’s why we’re best friends.

*

Zebra Cakes: 7/10

Jordan taught me how to sleep in trees tonight. We found the Zebra Cakes suspended among the branches in a dead pilot’s bag. The box showed a happy cartoon unicorn zebra—zebracorn?—saying, Magical Munchies for One-of-a-Kind Cravings!

The pilot’s mummified skin hung limp and empty inside the flight suit. Not Ganglies this time—all the bones were still there, just a little jumbled up. Ganglies can reach pretty high, but they don’t climb trees.

To sleep in a tree, you tie your hammock between two big branches and let the wind rock you to sleep. We used the dead pilot’s parachute. Jordan and I curled up together like the Zebra Cakes, two in a pack. The cakes had gone stale, but we didn’t care. Everything tastes great when you’re swinging peacefully under starlight with your best friend.

The dead pilot had a dog collar in their bag too, a worn pink one with a brass buckle, tucked in a pouch with some photos and a wallet. I hoped that meant the dog got away safe.

“I had a dog once,” said Jordan. “Back before.” He didn’t usually talk about the days before the Ganglies. “Dogs used to be wolves, you know. Before we tamed them.”

“We should’ve let them stay wolves.” The Ganglies had picked the dogs off pretty quick. Dogs didn’t have the sense to keep quiet and climb trees like people did.

I miss dogs.

I thought about wolf-taming while I lay there stargazing with Jordan warming my back, about cavemen huddled around bright fires to keep the howling wolves away. Except one day a hungry pup scooched close enough for somebody to toss it a bone. You had to tame things a little at a time. First step: don’t kill each other on sight.

After Jordan fell asleep, I licked one of his unicorn horn dice. It didn’t taste like much of anything, but neither do my teeth, and they’re probably made of bone too.

I’ve added “bone” to my Master List of Things I’ve Eaten. I’d take another Zebra Cake over bones any day. But there aren’t going to be anymore Zebra Cakes, are there? Or zebras, for that matter.

Someday zebras will be like unicorns. Nobody will believe they were ever real.

*

Pocky: ??/10

We shouldn’t have slept in the tree. The Ganglies can’t climb, but they can sniff out crumbs. Must have been ten of them down there by morning.

We threw down the dead pilot to distract them. They picked the bones one by one out of his mummified skin like a plastic wrapper.

Wish I hadn’t seen that. It’s all I could think about when I opened the Pocky. They snap in half just like old bones. Chocolate-dipped old bones.

Jordan tore open his shin sliding down the tree once the Ganglies left. I had to sew it up with twisty-tie wire from a bag of moldy hot dog buns. Jordan cried a little. I gave him the whole box of Pocky to make him feel better, which is why I can’t rate them. I hope we don’t have to sprint again soon.

“You ever feel bad for them?” he asked, once he stopped crying.

“The Ganglies? Nah. Bunch of evil aliens. They ate both my moms. I hate them.”

Jordan crunched the chocolate off his Pocky stick. The sound made my teeth itch. “I feel bad for them. My theory is they’re starving. They crashed here with no way home, and nothing but bones to digest. Being hungry sucks. Like, if we went to Candyland, we’d be serial killers, right? The Licorice King and Gumdrop Princess would run screaming from us.”

Stupid Jordan. I want to write about Pocky, but now my Master List of Things I’ve Eaten just makes me feel like a Gangly.

*

Strawberry Twizzlers: 10/10

Okay, Jordan was right. I’d totally eat the Licorice King. Sue me.

*

Pickle in a Bag: 8/10

They have such a good crunch it doesn’t even matter they’ve turned pee-yellow from age. Their mascot is a cartoon pickle with big googly eyes. We ate so many we both smell like librarians now. We needed it after such a close call.

Jordan and I fell in with a minor league baseball team, the Ferndale Razors, while foraging at the old stadium. I thought maybe the stadium would have fried pickles, and I don’t have many things under “P” in my Master List of Things I’ve Eaten, especially after skipping the Pocky.

Instead we came across the Razors’ secret base in the concession stands. They told us they don’t normally show themselves because the Ganglies don’t know to look for them down there, which keeps them safe. But Jordan was crying because his leg hurt, just sat in the bleachers bawling, and they felt so bad for us they made an exception.

See? Everyone makes exceptions for kids.

The players helped us down the bleachers to the lower levels, which wasn’t easy for Jordan, since the elevators were out. The Razors gave Jordan a shot of medicine in his leg, then let us eat whatever we wanted from the concessions stash, which was good because I’ve been tightening my Taekwondo belt a whole lot recently.

“What I don’t get,” said Mr. Aaron, their catcher, in a comfortable drawl, “is how y’all have survived this whole time just the two of you, without proper shelter. The Ganglies track just about anyone not locked down deep these days. It’s why most of us have gone underground.”

“Jordan’s lucky,” I told him, because it’s true. Just yesterday he found a four-leaf clover.

Staying with the Razors was the luckiest thing of all, though. The Razors were strong and smart, and Jordan and I were tired of running. And if we stayed at the stadium, we could have popcorn and donuts forever.

We didn’t have the chance to even try the donuts because the Ganglies attacked that night. The sound of bones getting slurped from bodies just below your bunk bed will wake up anyone. Jordan raced up the ladder and burrowed with me deep under the sheets like the monsters might overlook us if we kept a blanket over our eyes.

That’s how my moms died. Burrowed under the covers while I watched from the closet. Blankets won’t protect you from anything but the cold.

I thought I’d try to help the Razors, or at least make them forget about Jordan. I cinched my yellow belt tight, counted to one hundred Mississippi, and ninja-rolled out of the bunk bed. I threw some punches at the long spindly legs retreating into the dark. One of the Razors—the pitcher, I think—was yelling bloody murder. I grabbed for his arms as a Gangly dragged him by the legs, and for a few seconds I thought we were both going straight into the shadow realm. But I lost my grip and the monster took him.

It was dim, almost dawn I guessed. A Gangly squatted over the dead baseball players, rummaging through the corpses. It fished out a small white skull, popped it into its razor-tooth mouth, and chewed it slowly, like those half-popped kernels you find in the bottom of the bag. You don’t really notice how small a skull is until you see it outside someone’s head.

I was real mad, and figured we were about to die anyway, so I started chucking bagged pickles at it just as hard as I could. “Go away! Get! Begone, you!”

It poised, rocking on mismatched hind legs for a sec. That stumpy walk again!  Then it threw a pickle in a bag at me. The package exploded, splashing pickle juice all over my Taekwondo dobok. The pickle slid under a chair, leaving the wrapper empty. Just a cartoon Mr. Pickle staring up at me, flat and boneless. The Gangly folded up into the shadows, and was gone.

Jordan and I stuffed our pockets and bags full of food and went on our way. It sucked to lose all the free donuts, but no way were we living in there with all the bodies. Not when the Ganglies could come back at any moment. Instead we gorged on pickles and hit the road.

If the same Gangly that killed the convoy people also killed the baseball players, maybe there aren’t that many Ganglies after all. But why are they following us? Do they hunt in packs? Did they take a shine to us? Are they waiting for us to ripen like stale candy canes after Christmas?

Sometimes when we bunk down for the night, we find a bagged pickle somewhere neither of us remembers leaving it, right where the shadows are thickest.

I wonder what we taste like to a Gangly.

#

Star Crunches: 0/10

I was crying so hard the Star Crunch just tasted like tears and snot, but it’s all I had in my pocket when I led the Ganglies away from poor hurt Jordan.

We’d stayed up all night playing D&D on the roof of an elementary school, which isn’t the best spot to hide from Ganglies since you can’t clear out all the classrooms. But the nurse’s office has medicine for Jordan’s leg, and the big flood lights keep the shadows away, so we risked it.

How come they keep finding us? How come we’re still alive when everyone else is dead? I miss my moms. I miss my dog. I miss not knowing what people look like on the inside.

I woke up when Star Crunches began pelting my sleeping bag. They arced sideways from over the edge of the building like hail in a windstorm. Some Ganglies down below had one of those rotating metal snack trees you find at gas stations. Our old stumpy-legged friend was working them off and lobbing them at the roof.

Jordan and I lay really quiet underneath a blanket, fending off the snacks, because really, what could you say about that? “They’re just trying to bait us,” I decided. “It’s a new hunting technique.”

“I bet they learned it from you,” said Jordan irritably, “when you threw them my unicorn dice.”

“Seriously, Jordan? No way you’re still mad about the dice.”

“Obviously. You can’t roll initiative with two d10’s. It’s not mathematically correct.”

Jordan’s such a punk, but you should never stay mad at anyone after the apocalypse. He looked really bad, honestly. He’d been getting paler and sweatier ever since we’d left the baseball stadium, and our food had run low. Jordan was already pigging out on Star Crunches.

Then a tree crashed into the rooftop. The Ganglies must’ve worked all night digging it up. They strolled right up the trunk like pirates on a gangplank, all spindly and uneven in the moonlight. So thin and a little wobbly, like when you’re fall-over hungry and can’t even make it to the table.

Maybe they’re not naturally gangly at all.

No way Jordan could run from them, not with his hurt leg. I whooped and hollered at the Ganglies, and bolted toward a spot where trees overhung the roof. “Go for the door, Jordan!”

I caught the sagging branches of an old elm leaning over the roof and climbed up as high as I dared. “Jordan? Jordan, you there?” I hadn’t heard any running, or the rusty door clanging closed. The Ganglies hung thick around the spot where I’d left him.

More Ganglies gathered around my tree. One of them gnawed on something. Maybe a dead deer. The shadow around the roots thickened, and another Gangly climbed out right underneath me.  I tossed the second Star Crunch into that shadow, into their dimension, but I missed, and it just glanced off the dirt. I felt just like a Gumdrop Princess in Candyland, begging it to please fill up on something else, please don’t notice Jordan, because I need him and anyway I’m not done with my journal yet.

I was all set to climb down just as soon as my heart stopped racing. Maybe if they ate me, they’d leave Jordan alone. But before I could pick a way down the branches, they unzipped the shadows again and slipped away ahead of the morning.

I ran all over the school looking for Jordan, whispering for him, screaming his name, lying on the rooftop sobbing while the sun dragged all the shadows long and spindly. But I didn’t find him. When I finally ran out of tears, I lay peering at the patch of leaves where the shadows had unzipped, waiting for the return delivery, the one they always made of the… unused bits. I didn’t want to see Jordan like that, all flat and empty without even his skull, but when it’s your best friend, you don’t really have a choice.

I waited all day, but they never sent him back. I’ve been waiting ever since.

Where are you, Jordan? Where did they take you? Are you in the shadow dimension still? They could’ve eaten us a billion times by now, but they always spared us. Are they finally out of adults to eat?

Whatever it is, I’m sick to death of running. I’ve got a plan to get into the shadow dimension. I’m saving Jordan if it kills me. And if he’s already gone? Well. I’d rather be eaten than live without him. There’s a reason they always come two in a pack.

Jordan, if you’re reading this, I’m really really sorry about your unicorn dice.

*

Gummi Bears: 10/10

My moms always used to say there’s good news and there’s bad news—which do you want first? You’re always supposed to ask for the bad news first. So here it is: I could only think of one way to get the Ganglies to open the shadow dimension, and I’m not proud of how I did it.

I had to walk a long time to find some adults. It was nearly a week of searching the outskirts of the city before I found it: the sleepy hum of generators, running water, and twinkling lights at dusk. I traced the sound to a complex of three greenhouses surrounded by a barricade of overturned semi trucks, patrolled by adults with guns.

I waved an empty foil wrapper to get their attention. “Help! Help me! Over here! My parents died, and I’m lost.” I made a big deal out of crying and wiping my grimy face on my Taekwondo uniform, which wasn’t so white anymore, and I slumped my shoulders so I looked really small and pathetic.

That got me brought inside real quick. Everyone makes exceptions for kids.

I liked how they’d Gangly-proofed their home. They’d rigged huge floodlights like from a football stadium all over the whole compound, especially inside the greenhouse. You had to sleep with a mask over your eyes to shut it out, but it kept the shadows away. I had salad for dinner for the first time in who knows how long. I’m adding something called kohlrabi to my Master List of Things I’ve Eaten. It looks kind of like Yoda if he turned into a vegetable.

I pretended to sleep until really late at night, curled up in a sleeping bag in the floodlit greenhouse next to the strawberry bed. When the guards swapped shifts at midnight and the compound got quiet, I crept on my knees to the wall socket and pulled the plug on the lights.

The Ganglies piled in immediately, sixseveneightnine before any of the adults could find the plug. I forced myself to crawl toward the Ganglies. They were coming in from under the snap pea bed. I didn’t even wait for them to get out of the way. I just threw myself between their legs into that blackness.

Which means I hit the ground in the shadow dimension face-first and bashed my nose. I’d landed on a walkway running along a series of pits or compartments open from above, almost like honeycombs. I pinched my fingers to stop the blood flow from my nose. A Gangly stepped over me on the walkway and dumped a pile of small, shiny packages into the nearest pit. Then it lowered itself into the compartment.

The Gangly’s long claws shot every which way, performing a thousand tiny chores: refilling a water bucket, organizing the snacks into a neat basket, and tucking the blankets around the kid who lived in the pit.

And this is where I have good news, because the kid was Jordan.

I made a huge mistake then and yelled his name. I was just so happy I couldn’t keep my voice quiet. A lot of things happened very quickly. The Gangly in the pit whirled around and skittered toward me, stumping on its shortened limb. Jordan tried to stand up, but he fell over. His leg was in a cast now. I realized all at once what horrible danger I was in and spun to find the way out, but other Ganglies were streaming back home, each with a shrieking adult in tow.

The stump-legged Gangly caged me in its limbs, pinning my arms to my side, and dropped me into Jordan’s pit. Hitting the floor didn’t hurt like I expected because all the snacks broke my fall. I kicked away a bag of gummi bears, unopened and undamaged, with that little air bubble inside from some far-off factory before we ever knew about Ganglies.

“Nadia?” Jordan crawled right into my arms. He was shaking so hard I thought his skeleton would shred his body and leave his skin-sack behind. “They got you too. I thought you got away.” He sounded wrung out, like he’d cried all the tears already. He looked good, though. Better color, stronger, even gained some weight. That chilled me, because you don’t have to be a serious brain genius to remember Hansel and Gretel.

“They’re going to eat us,” I said. “They’re saving us for dessert, aren’t they?”

Jordan slowly shook his head. He’d stopped trembling. “No. No, it’s nothing like that.”

My stomach turned in on itself, but you can’t digest fear. “Then what’s the deal?”

Jordan shushed me. “Nadia. Just hush a sec. Listen.”

The Ganglies trooped back from our dimension on the walkway under a dim gray sky that pulsed with red lights. A whole forest of legs, all of them gripping bones and skulls and more snack bags. Salted peanuts, chocolate-covered cherries, fun-sized potato chips. They distributed the treats into the pits, absolute masses of them, so many I wondered if they had a factory of their own. Then I heard it: high-pitched voices, kid voices, talking or crying or yelling bad words. All those honeycomb pits running out into the darkness.

“The kids didn’t get eaten,” I breathed. Jordan nodded, wide-eyed. I dropped to my knees and pulled him into a hug, just to feel him as close and warm as in the hammock that night under the stars. “Jordan. Jordan, what is this place?”

Jordan’s eyes glinted red in the weird light. “Can’t you tell? It’s our kennel.”

I didn’t understand what he meant until the stump-legged Gangly climbed back down into our pit and held out a clawed appendage. A pearly white bone gleamed there. It was one of the unicorn dice. It nudged a pack of gummis toward me. Gummis As Special As You, said the pink bear on the bag. The Gangly lifted a claw and gently, so gently, traced over my skull right through my hair. I’d expected it to be cold like an insect’s, but it was warm and velvety against my cheek. The gentle hand on a kitten’s head as it burrows, shaking, into your lap.

“Watch,” muttered Jordan. “It’s already sent me out once. That’s how I got my cast. You stay out as long as you’re working, but they like to bring you back between runs.”

It drew a pattern on the pit’s wall. The shadows ripped open. It was an asphalt road to a faraway town where the roofs sloped weird and I couldn’t understand the signs. Streetlights lit up every inch of the pavement, driving back the shadows, and beyond that a castle wall patrolled by adults with guns.

And as one type of fear died in my heart, another one replaced it.

“You just have to go through and get the adults to let you in. The Ganglies don’t hurt kids,” Jordan added blandly. “We get plenty to eat. They don’t eat our food anyway, so they just give it all to us.”

I didn’t need his explanation, because I knew the truth in my heart. It had happened a few times already, after all: we starve, we move, we find adults.

And when we eat, so do the Ganglies.

The Gangly handed me the bag of gummi bears. It nudged me toward the portal. Everyone makes exceptions for kids, but dogs have to earn their keep.

“Let’s get out of here, Jordan,” I pleaded. “We’ll find some adults. We’ll tell them what happened. We’ll stay with them. We don’t have to summon the Ganglies.”

“Doesn’t matter what we want,” said Jordan. “Didn’t matter with the Razors. The Ganglies will find us. Just a matter of time. How long did it take them to eat all the dogs, anyway? A year?” His head slumped to his chest. “I’m sick of running, Nadia. I’m tired.”

I opened the bag of gummi bears and shoved one of the green ones between my back teeth. It was tough at first, but the more I chewed, the more it softened and released its sweetness.

Suddenly I wanted to barf. All that gross and nasty junk food only ever filled you up for a while, and then you were hungry again, and you had to keep eating.

Jordan, Jordan, this isn’t what we wanted. We were supposed to grow up, go to high school, learn to drive, get black belts in taekwondo. We were supposed to run, fight, and survive together. Now we’re giving Candyland tours to Ganglies, and I can’t run away because every step I take would be away from you, and you’re all I have left.

But I realized something, Jordan. They don’t know us at all. They never should’ve let us get so close.

We are not pets. We are not the friendly cartoon wolf on a wrapper. We are the real thing. We have teeth and claws, and when we bare our teeth, it is not to smile. It is not just cakes that come in packs, you know.

They want to snack on us? Well, snacks come at a price, Jordan. And we will make them pay.


Rachael K. Jones grew up in various cities across Europe and North America, picked up (and mostly forgot) six languages, and acquired several degrees in the arts and sciences. Now she writes speculative fiction in Portland, Oregon. Her debut novella, Every River Runs to Salt, is available from Fireside Fiction. Contrary to the rumors, she is probably not a secret android. Rachael is a World Fantasy Award nominee and Tiptree Award honoree. Her fiction has appeared in dozens of venues worldwide, including Lightspeed, Beneath Ceaseless Skies, Strange Horizons, and all four Escape Artists podcasts. Follow her on Twitter @RachaelKJones. 


Previous stories by Rachael K. Jones that appeared in Diabolical Plots are: “St. Roomba’s Gospel” in December 2015, “Regarding the Robot Raccoons Attached to the Hull of My Ship” co-authored with Khaalidah Muhammad-Ali and published in June 2017, “Hakim Vs. the Sweater Curse” in December 2017, and “The Day Fair For Guys Becoming Middle Managers” in April 2021. Her story “Makeisha In Time” was also reprinted in The Long List Anthology. If you enjoyed the story you might also want to visit our Support Page, or read the other story offerings.

DP FICTION #50B: “One Part Per Billion” by Samantha Mills

There were already two Irene Boswells onboard and a third in the making.

Radiation poured out of the Omaha Device in an endless stream of buttery yellow light, and Irene (the Irene in the containment room) knew they were doomed. But she slapped patch after patch over the ruinous crack in the device’s shell because she hadn’t come twenty billion miles to sit and wait for death.

Huang’s voice came through over the intercom, tinny with horror. “Your hair,” he said.

It was on fire, or close enough. The strange light lifted it away from her face in a rippling wave. The ends were burning down like the fuses of a hundred thousand bombs. Her arms were smooth and hairless, her face the same.

“Just tell me what to do next,” she said.

There were no more patches in the kit. A six inch gap remained in the smooth white shell but it may as well have been a mile long. The Omaha Device just sat there, as unyielding and enigmatic as a ceramic tortoise, and still that noxious light poured forth. Irene squinted but she couldn’t see past the light, she couldn’t see what was inside. Dammit, if she was going to die today she wanted to know what she was dying for.

But Huang was telling her to get to the controls, just rip off the back panel and do what I say, and Irene wasn’t about to argue because he was the computer specialist, wasn’t he? He stood on the outside of the containment room with his palms pressed flat to the glass. Begging.

She tore herself from the toxic mystery and dropped to her knees beside the control panel. She was sweating and starting to shake, and it took three tries to wrestle the slick casing open. What she found inside looked more like an engine than a computer, full of pipes and valves and a cooling unit that had seen better days.

At Huang’s urging, she tore open the manual that was chained to the device. She had nothing but a wrench and a screwdriver sealed in the room with her, and as she skimmed the first elaborate diagram she didn’t think they’d do the job.

It was selfish to wish she had stayed in navigation. If she had, there would be somebody else trapped here instead.

She hadn’t abandoned her post though, not really, because the other Irene was still at the wheel (well, the console), and just thinking about that other Irene made her hands shake worse.

It wasn’t right, it wasn’t natural, it was a mistake.

At the other end of the ship, in navigation, Irene looked over the ship’s readings, and they didn’t make a bit of sense. The ship was accelerating, but it wasn’t changing position. Bandile was in the room with her, a stun gun aimed loosely in her direction, but he didn’t have the nerve to take her down. Her mind began to wander. Her thoughts flitted back and forth to the containment room, where a computer like an engine was coming apart under her hands. She jerked free of it. It wasn’t her fault. It wasn’t her responsibility.

Because honestly? Irene had really wanted to be a dancer, if only she hadn’t sprained her knee so badly in tenth grade—and it was entirely possible her parents had lied when they said the injury was fatal to her aspirations. They’d always wanted their kids to pursue a STEM career.

Funnily enough, the knee hadn’t bothered her one bit during mission training.

This Irene had always resented being funneled into the sciences. It was the other Irene who had embraced her studies wholeheartedly. It was the other Irene’s fault they were both here.

*

First, there was a spaceship. A rather large and complex spaceship (because how else are you going to travel that far?) built precisely for eight crewmembers.

Three were Americans, because the message was received in Nebraska of all places, and the remaining five were representatives from around the world, because the message specified ambassadors of genetic and cultural diversity—and also because let’s face it, this sort of mission was mind-bogglingly expensive, and anyone with a checkbook was invited to try out.

The other delegates included: a Russian man, a Chinese man, an Italian man, a South African man, and a man from South America (let’s say…Brazil).

There was also a girl (because there is always one girl). She was one of the Americans. She was technically the navigator, because everyone had to fill a role, but for the purpose of the mission she was also the anatomical female. One uterus, two ovaries, check.

So, first, there was a spaceship. Well, first there were plans for a spaceship, and they fell from the sky in northern Nebraska, attached to a device that resembled a ceramic tortoise. There was quite the welcome party there, full of scientific and military personnel, because an interplanetary correspondence had been going on for decades, and this was their first tangible gift from space. They knew what it was supposed to be, but it could have been an elaborate Trojan horse instead.

It wasn’t.

The ship was another ten years in the making, which wasn’t bad all things considered. It gave the entire world time to agonize over the selection of a crew. After all, the ship was only designed to carry eight. Who was qualified to represent Earth in the first face-to-face meeting with their distant friends?

*

The alien light flowed through Irene and tugged strands from her hair, her memories, her thoughts, her DNA. The Omaha Device was still desperately trying to process and package, to collate and collect. It bled radiation and took in great gasping gulps of Irene Boswell.

Her fingers reddened and blistered from the heat of the wires, but she didn’t have any pliers and Huang was insisting that control had to be transferred out of the room now, right now, no time to let the equipment cool even if they could risk going to standby.

“You have to hurry,” said Huang.

And Irene screamed, “Tell him to stop looking at me!”

On the other side of the glass, a man lay trussed on the ground, his head and shoulders twisted in her direction. His eyes bulged in their sockets. A shadow covered half his face, contracting and contorting with the soundless yammering of his jaw. His name was Michael—or Miguel, or Mikhail, depending on which country he was from. That wasn’t important.

Mi/gu/ail lost it, plain and simple. He couldn’t handle the dreams being tugged like loose threads from his brain every night. He couldn’t handle the theory tentatively formulated by their own computer—the computer they kludged into the alien system out of nervousness, suspicion, unwillingness to rely entirely on alien design. The mission probably would have gone a lot better if they hadn’t tried to guess what it was doing.

They found him attacking the Omaha Device with a wrench. Huang and Parker dragged him from the room, but Irene was still inside when the casing cracked. She should have been in navigation, but she’d answered the distress call, and now she was trapped.

Irene felt herself splitting again. She shut her eyes, her mouth, her fists. She held her breath and clamped her thighs. But the pull was relentless. It scanned the heart of her and jotted her down in ones and zeroes or whatever the aliens used. It should have only filed the information away for future reference, but that idiot had broken the storage unit. Now there was a big fat crack in the tortoise leaking bits of crewmember, and Irene was splitting again.

For a moment there were four hands fisted in the wires, and then there were two.

Down in the sleep deck of the ship, another girl appeared. A full-figured shadow girl named Irene Boswell. This Irene resented each and every one of the crew. For two months she had put up with their pet peeves and their bad jokes and their bravado masking fear. They were friends and colleagues, but if she never saw a single one of their faces again she’d be gladder for it. She was sick of this crew and sick of this mission and sick of this ship.

Irene ran to the nearest communication panel and ripped it from the wall. She liked the way the wires snapped in her grip. She set off to tear something else apart.

*

Before they became a crew, they spent years trying to destroy one another.

Eight thousand candidates whittled down to eight hundred whittled down to eight dozen whittled down to eight. A ludicrously small crew, but the message said eight would go, and eight would be sampled, and it would all be perfectly safe.

In theory they were all jockeying equally for a slot, but everyone knew how the selection would shake out. The Chinese candidates were competing with the Chinese candidates (and several other Asian nations, but it was always going to be China). The Europeans were competing with the other Europeans. Africa and South America were probably lucky they snagged one spot apiece. If there had been a more genuine commitment to representing the world then the Middle East should have been there, but the Americans got greedy in the end and held three spots for themselves. Nebraska, remember?

And within and across these continental divides, all of the women eyed one another sidelong, because in addition to their national colleagues they were also competing with each another. A thousand voices insisted, “I am unlike the rest of these women. I am the best of us.” And maybe some of them felt a nagging guilt, because it seemed a shame to earn her place among the men by trashing the qualifications of the other women, but let’s be real. There were only going to be eight spots, and in all likelihood only one would go to a woman, and goddamn if any of them came this far to see it go to someone else.

When Irene Boswell was named navigator at the final roll call, she wanted to cry with joy, but she kept it contained because she had spent a great deal of time proving her emotional unflappability to the psych evaluator. Several of the men smiled and let the tears roll happily down their cheeks, but that was all right.

That was different.

The psych team was meant to reject the worst and prepare the best, but stress did amazing things to the brain, and long-term voyages had a way of amplifying hidden qualities. Somehow, no matter what you did, you always ended up with a hothead, a depressive, a workaholic, and that one guy who totally buckled under the pressure.

*

The ventilation system couldn’t keep up. The walls of the containment room flickered and groaned. Red lights strobed and klaxons wailed. The ship was breaking, breaking, breaking.

More of them stood outside the glass now: Huang and Parker and Freddie. Even Bandile had come up from navigation. They had nowhere else to go. Either Irene neutralized the device, or the walls shattered and they all broke apart beneath the accelerated effects of the Omaha Device.

Irene slammed her bloody fists against the glass. She said, “You have to get me another patch kit.”

At least, that’s what she thought she said. Her lips were numb and her words came out garbled, but she was still lucid, dammit, she knew what needed to be done. Huang stood by the outer door, shaking his head.

“The inner door’s breached,” he said. “We can’t use the airlock.”

In the navigation room, Irene danced beneath the strobe lights. She rose slowly on her toes and then down again, in lithe stretches and remembered turns. There was not one twinge of pain in her knee, Mother. Her eyes drifted shut. She extended her arms and twirled. The klaxons faded to background noise and she danced for the young woman she’d once been.

In the sleep deck, another Irene ripped photos off the walls of her crewmates’ bunks. She was a furious shadow girl screaming louder than the ship itself. Parker’s reading tablet: smashed. Freddie’s ukulele: oh, definitely smashed. The floor filled with debris, pictures and letters and electronics in a thousand pieces, and each piece was a tiny kernel of her pent-up fury, the inevitable explosion of the perfectionist pursuing an impossible goal.

In the kitchen, yet another Irene flickered ghostly and half-formed on the floor. She pulled her knees to her chest and cried and cried and cried. Her armor had cracked, as surely as that of a tortoise dropped from the sky by a hungry eagle. The cabinets rattled madly overhead, and she wished something would just fall on her skull and be done with it.

There were four Irenes, then five, then six. Each one a little different. Each one the same woman. In the containment room, Irene Boswell watched the color leach from her hands and she knew there wasn’t much time left before she’d be too thinned out to wield the wrench.

Her mouth trembled, then firmed. She said to Huang, “I’m so sorry.”

*

It was a deal that couldn’t be refused.

But.

Nobody could read the terms and not feel a bit of self-doubt.

The little gray men (their color was unknown, their gender unlikely to be binary, but play along)—the little gray men were engaged in research. They wanted a sample. They would send along the collection device and the means to deliver it back. In exchange, humanity would keep the design for a ship capable of intergalactic travel. Eight lives (and they wouldn’t even be harmed, it isn’t harmful, it’s only a sample), and in exchange you get the universe.

It was ludicrous, of course. How could Huang stand in for Asia? How could Bandile speak for all of Africa? How could eight represent eight billion? It wasn’t just the potential sacrifice that made people uncomfortable (would they even come back?), it was the limited data set. The entire human species was about to be filed away in some universal library, and they only got eight volumes to tell their story.

Because that was what the little gray men wanted, right? Not endless sociological footnotes, not a thousand characters yammering for attention so you couldn’t even remember their names. They wanted a simple narrative. The story of humanity, condensed. But they weren’t going to get that with a crew of eight or a crew of eight hundred.

The only way to understand the people of Earth was not by wedging more people into this mission. It was to launch a hundred million missions with a hundred million different crews.

*

“Boswell! Irene!” Huang screamed through the intercom as though he could stop her if he only said it loud enough. In addition to the hothead, the depressive, the workaholic, and the coward, there was always a romantic.

Irene had resisted him for a year, ever the consummate professional (and deep down she suspected the aliens were keen to observe a mating ritual; hell no). Now she stepped close to the glass, with her burning hair and smooth arms and bloody hands, and she pressed a kiss to the glass. She said goodbye with her eyes. Then she picked up the wrench.

It was impossible to distinguish between the trembling in her body and the shaking of the ship. She couldn’t patch the device. She couldn’t turn it off. She couldn’t reroute the controls. All she could do was close the overflow valve before it reached the rest of the crew.

Even now, the smooth white shell was cool to the touch. Irene fell to her knees beside it, groping along a crack she could barely see, ripping off the patches that hadn’t dried solid yet. She almost stopped there, caught in the thick persuasion of alien radiation. It was only trying to fulfill its purpose, after all. For two months it had sent subtle waves throughout the ship, recording their interactions, their thoughts, their dreams. Somewhere inside this husk were samples of their DNA, the better for syncing data. The better for recreating subjects for future study.

Inside this lump of alien technology lived all of Irene’s hopes and fears. Her confidence and her hesitation. That weird dream where she was an opera singer climbing up the walls of the opera house, bellowing love and grief directly into the faces of the people in the balcony seats, and she woke up strangely aroused and almost went knocking at Huang’s bunk.

Maybe the data was still salvageable. Maybe, when this was all over, Irene Boswell would continue to exist somewhere in the universe, although in what form and under what conditions she refused to contemplate.

Huang was yelling and trying to breach the outer door. Irene couldn’t hear him anymore but she knew what he was saying. She turned her back, to make it easier. Parker and Freddie were there to restrain him. They knew what needed to be done.

A thin pipe snaked out beneath the Omaha Device. A scant foot of it was accessible before it burrowed into the wall. Irene wedged herself into position, half-concealed behind the device, and struck the pipe with the wrench. She struck again, and again, and again. She was sweating and crying and her hands kept flickering and threatening to drop the wrench, but the pipe dented once, dented twice, pinched halfway shut. A high-pitched whistling sound escaped through the crack. Everything was yellow light.

The pressure built until the device vibrated madly at her side. Hot air shrieked through, panicked, desperate, scrabbling for release like a fisherman fallen beneath the ice.

She felt it envelop her, when the device finally gave out. Vaguely, she knew that it had exploded. She knew that a large chunk of the shell had pinned her to the wall. But she only felt the hot cushion of power wrap around her body, in its dying throes still trying to collect and quantify. It poured down her throat and in her ears. It raced through her blood, scanning, testing, plucking out sample after sample. It wrapped around her heart and her brain and her knee, and it squeezed.

Irene Boswell shattered into a million pieces.

One by one, Irene Boswell disappeared from the ship. They were entangled, after all. She was all of them simultaneously: the good student and the dancer and the angry girl and the grief. And she was more than that. She was the half-formed wraiths who didn’t quite split off in the containment room: the lonely woman, the daughter, the good friend and the bad lover. But even in all her complexity she was not nearly all the women left behind on Earth, any more than their captain was all of the American Midwest or their communications specialist was all of South America.

She was only Irene, and she was gone.

*

The ship limped along, sans navigator. The crew left the Omaha Device in pieces. The ventilation system cleared the lingering radiation, making it safe to enter the containment room, but nobody did.

A week later they saw it, flickering in and out of radar on their ailing machines: the other ship. And then they really saw it through the transparent hull of the navigation room: a strange and beautiful emissary, far larger and more advanced than the little exploration vessel whose plans they had traded for human samples.

The remaining crewmembers put on crisp uniforms. They combed their hair and cut their nails. They assembled in the docking room antechamber with all the solemnity of funeral attendees. None of them had slept in days, and the captain couldn’t stop the nervous tic in his cheek. The coward—whose name was almost definitely Michael—had deep circles under his eyes and red marks where his wrists had been tied until recently.

Whatever data the Omaha Device gathered was gone, disintegrated and vented off the ship. No computer simulacrums. No travel narrative. No biological samples except what they carried in their own bodies. Despite their best efforts to fulfill the terms of the deal they were seven now, not eight, and their anatomy woefully misrepresentative.

They really should have brought another girl.


© 2019 by Samantha Mills

Samantha Mills lives in Southern California with her husband and babies and cats, in a house that might be haunted by a demented handyman and his loyal army of spiders. Her short fiction has appeared in Beneath Ceaseless Skies, Strange Horizons, and LampLight Magazine. She blogs about life, reading, writing, and pop culture at www.samtasticbooks.com, or come by and chat on Twitter @samtasticbooks.


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DP FICTION #35A: “Six Hundred Universes of Jenny Zars” by Wendy Nikel

Sometimes I forget which universe I’m in.

It happens most often on days like today. I’ve spent the last twelve hours in the makeshift lab I threw together in the basement of the University, tucked away in some long-forgotten storage closet where the boxes of toilet paper are so old that the brands that produced them don’t exist anymore.

All I want to do now is go home, nuke myself one of those Salisbury steak meals that always burns my tongue, boil a pot of tea, and curl up with a good book. Something fluffy and filled with the kind of one-liners that transcend dimensions, jokes that I can laugh at without worrying whether they have a deeper meaning somewhere else or what my shrink would say.

I ride my bicycle home. It’s the safest mode of transportation when I’m dimension-jumping, and it’s all I’m allowed here. I’ve tried to drive cars in parallel universes, just because no one stops me, but they’re tricky. Even in this dimension, cars have each got their quirks, but elsewhere, those little differences can be deadly. In #497, people drive on the wrong side of the road. In #287 and #381, the gas pedal’s on the opposite side. In #088, they’re all equipped with self-eject buttons, labeled with the same symbol that’s used for in-seat heaters in our universe. Good thing I checked the manual that day.

When I get to my apartment and the key doesn’t fit, I realize I’ve done it again.

Somehow, I’m in the wrong universe.

I duck into the row of rhododendron that run along the edge of the apartment building (they’re magnolias in my universe) and try to sort out my thoughts, figure out where I went wrong. I didn’t see anyone else as I was leaving the lab, but considering it’s a Saturday (unless I’m in universe #185, in which case it’s Bananaday, I kid you not), that didn’t automatically tip me off. The apartment building is the same, beat-up, ugly, low-income housing unit as in my universe, the only place that would let me rent with my record.

I must have overshot my return trip, but to what degree? Am I in universe #549, that uses social media “likes” as currency and that tried to legally elect a toad as president? Or #599, where buffalos are kept as pets? From my limited view through the rhododendron blossoms, it’s hard to tell, though the lack of buffalo droppings on the sidewalk makes me think it’s probably not the latter.

I take a deep breath. I’ll be okay. Just as long as it’s not #600, where all food has been replaced by Ranch Bee’s All-Natural Protein Bars… those things are revolting, and it’s getting dangerously close to dinnertime. I’d rather starve than choke down another one of those.

The dimension-hopping device and my notes are still in the lab across campus, so — despite my stomach’s grumblings — I have to head there first to sort this out. And I have to do so without running into my other self.

I’m not being hyperbolic when I say I hate myself. As if my own consciousness and what I’d done weren’t bad enough, then there’s all of the alternate ‘me’s whom I have to work around. As far as I know, I’m the only one that’s figured out how to hop from one dimension to the next, and who knows what the other ‘me’s would do if they met me on the street. For some reason, we’re all stuck here in this same pretentious university town with its same pretentious street names (Liberty Row? Freedom Lane? Albert Einstein Avenue?). Me, I can’t help it that I’m stuck here; I’m not allowed to cross state lines. But all the other ‘me’s have somehow gravitated here by some twisted cosmic joke. Probably just to thwart me.

Think, Jenny, think.

It’d help if I knew what universe this was. Then I’d know where the other ‘me’ might be and which of the people and places in this town to avoid. But unless I see a buffalo tromp down the sidewalk on a leash in the next few seconds, hiding in the bushes isn’t going to help.

I step out onto the sidewalk, mount my bike, and enact plan A: ride as fast as I can back to campus, grab the device, and get out of here as fast as humanly possible before I really screw things up.

I’ve just turned onto Madame Curie Memorial Drive when a pickup with 22-inch rims barrels through the intersection, cutting me off and nearly turning me into squashed buffalo dung on the asphalt. I swerve and somehow avert disaster, but the whole time my head is spinning because I’d know that Hulk-green pickup anywhere, in any universe. And here it is, all in one piece, with its fender intact and an uncracked windshield. Which means this is one of the universes where I didn’t take it on an adrenaline-fueled joyride and crash it through Mr. Wilson’s fence, killing his prize dairy cow Buttercup.

“Hey, Jenny! Want a ride?” The voice somehow rises over the engine’s din.

I avoid eye contact and wave a hand in the universal gesture for “go away” (at least I hope it’s universal, that it doesn’t mean something embarrassing here), but I can still feel the truck rumbling behind me. Why can’t he just leave me alone?

Some people believe in soul mates, the one person whom you’re destined love. If such a thing transcends alternate universes, then Lex Fischer is my soul hate, the one person who’s destined to be my downfall.

“C’mon, J-Zars,” he calls, using a nickname he knows I hate (then again, maybe the alternate Jenny here doesn’t mind it). “It’s been almost two years since Dougie’s party. You have to forgive me sometime.”

My feet drop from the bike pedals, stopping me dead on the sidewalk.

So there was a party in this universe.

Seeing the truck in one piece, I’d assumed that none of that night’s events had happened here. But obviously the divergence between my timeline and this one was sometime after the fact. Here was my chance to find out how things might have turned out differently.

I shouldn’t… but my curiosity wins out.

Lex has got the door of his truck swung open for me, but I don’t trust him in this universe any more than I would in any other, so I just stand on the sidewalk and shout to him. “Forgive you for what?”

“For…? C’mon, Jenny,” he pleads. “You know what I mean.”

I hold my ground, though I know what I really should be doing is ducking out of sight, running away, and getting back to my own messed-up version of the universe.

“You know… for slipping the vodka in your drink. It was a joke.”

It was a joke. That’s what he’d said that night back in my universe, right before I screamed something intelligible at him, grabbed his keys, and raced off to his truck. Not my brightest idea, but hey, I don’t handle alcohol well. Unfortunately, since Lex’s dad is friends with the DA, that one bad idea and the involuntary cowslaughter that followed led to six months of jail time, a big, ugly mark on my permanent record, and a parole officer from whom the only escape is darting in and out of parallel universes.

In short, that joke ruined my life.

“Come on,” he pleads. “Can’t you let it go? I called you a cab like you asked! It’s not like anyone got hurt!”

Huh. So that’s how it happened here. Now that I have the information I wanted, I turn and pedal across the grass before I can do something that the ‘me’ here might regret. I duck between two of the University’s buildings at the first opportunity. When I finally reach the building where my makeshift lab is located, not only is the outside door propped open, but the one to the storage area is ajar as well. I throw my bike to the ground, hoping that this universe’s ‘me’ wasn’t too inconvenienced by its disappearance, and press myself against the wall to listen.

No doubt about it, someone’s shuffling around downstairs in the storage area, right where I’ve left the teleport device and my notebook. I promise myself that if I get out of this, I’m going to be more careful about where I keep it. Impatient, I inch toward the door and nudge it open further so I can peer in. After running into Lex, my nerves are rattled, and I need to get out of here now. This day couldn’t possibly get worse.

Except it does.

The body that’s kneeling beside my green backpack is all too familiar. So are the hands flipping through my spiral notebook and the eyes staring at the teleportation device. I chomp down on my thumb to keep myself from screaming at the other ‘me’ to back away and leave my stuff alone. I should’ve known that another ‘me’ would be the one to seek the solitude of this abandoned storage room; that’s totally something I would do.

Her eyes are wide in surprise as she reads the notes written in her own handwriting. Her hand is on the device, now on the dial, now on the button. The button that would shift her from this dimension to another.

I have to say something. My hand is on the door, ready to push it open. I have to stop her before she leaves with my only means to get back home.

Or do I?

If she’s anything like me (which how could she not be?), she’s not going to take no for an answer. She’s not going to sit by and simply watch me go on my way. No, she’s going to want in on this, too. She’d see it as an adventure. So why not let her?

This is what I’ve been searching for all along, isn’t it — an escape from the wrong turns of my past, a universe where Lex Fischer hasn’t ruined my life? And all I have to do is let her disappear from it, and it’ll be mine for the taking.

It’s now or never. Once she’s gone, the device is gone with her, along with it the notebook that contains my last two years’ worth of work. It’d take me months to reconstruct the plans for another device, and even longer to figure out where ‘home’ is from here without my notes on the six-hundred different universes I’ve explored so far. But why would I ever want to go back there, to that universe where I was imprisoned by my past?

I take my hand off the door and step back. A noise like “zolt” fills the air, and I know even without looking that she’s gone. I’ve done it. I’ve stolen my life back.

I duck into the room and grab the purse she left behind. I gleefully rummage through her (my!) class schedule, car keys, and the keys to the off-campus housing that — from the address on the tag — is probably a million times nicer than the place where I’d been living.

I fly up the steps and nearly trip over my bike. Never mind that old thing. I have a valid driver’s license again. At the parking lot, I jam my thumb down on the unlock button, watching for the flashing lights that will indicate which car is mine. A newish convertible winks its headlights at me.

“And this is where the heroine rides off into the sunset,” I mutter to myself as I slide into the driver’s seat. My stomach grumbles a protest. “Fine, fine. First a drive-thru.”

I pull into the drive-thru and nearly ram my brand-new convertible into the car in front of me in shock.

In place of the menu, there’s a giant advertisement for Ranch Bee’s All-Natural Protein Bars, the only food sold here or anywhere else.


© 2018 by Wendy Nikel

 

bw-gp-treeWendy Nikel is a speculative fiction author with a degree in elementary education, a fondness for road trips, and a terrible habit of forgetting where she’s left her cup of tea. Her short fiction has been published by Fantastic Stories of the ImaginationDaily Science FictionNature: Futures, and elsewhere. Her time travel novella, The Continuum, will be available from World Weaver Press on January 23. For more info, visit wendynikel.com

 


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