by Eleanor Arnason
Lydia Duluth arrived at Innovation City, planning to stay a few days at most. At heart she was a rube, an old word that survived on her home planet, though in few other places. Its original meaning was “an awkward, unsophisticated person, a rustic.” When it was invented, in the distant past of Earth, it had been pejorative.
On her home world, it still meant a rural person, but the connotation was positive. This was hardly surprising. Her world had been settled by back-to-nature conservatives fleeing the nightmare urbanity of Old Earth. To them, “unsophisticated” meant honest, and “rustic” meant solid. To their descendants, “you rube” was a term of affection, and “she’s a real rube!” was praise. After all Lydia’s travels, she still felt uneasy in big cities, and Innovation City was as big as human cities got: a seething metropolis of more than a million people that occupied a series of islands off the planet’s one continent.
She took a hydrofoil from the spaceport, which was on the mainland, and a pedicab to her hotel. The cab was a partly organic robot. An odd experience, to ride in something that pedaled itself while playing a Bach fugue. To Lydia the thing was excessive. But excess was the nature of cities.
She reached the hotel, climbed out, and paid. The cab thanked her with a sonorous run of descending notes, then pedaled off. She went in to the hotel desk. Thank the Buddha, the desk clerk was human: a two-meter tall man with bright green skin and silver eyes. As far as she could tell, he was naked. She wasn’t going to climb over the desk to make certain.
She had a reservation made by her employer, the famous holoplay production company Stellar Harvest. The clerk raised a silver-wire eyebrow when he saw that, but—thank the Buddha again!—didn’t ask any questions about the company’s many famous actors. One of these was visiting Innovation City at the moment: Ramona Patel, making her debut as a director with a romantic comedy about Krishna disporting himself among the waitresses in a soy milk bar. The comedy was supposed to be sophisticated and urbane, which explained the location and the transformation of milkmaids into waitresses. It wasn’t Lydia’s kind of drama. The locations she found for the company were used as the exotic backgrounds for action tales.
The clerk input her data, then gave directions to her room. She rode an elevator up the outside of the hotel. The planet’s primary was rising, and the eastern sky was a lovely pale pink. Everywhere she looked, tall towers rose. Skyways outlined by electric lights hung between the towers, looking like so many diamond necklaces. As much as she mistrusted cities, she had to admire the view. This was civilization as humans rarely experienced it anymore!
It is impressive, said the AI embedded in her brain. Though not equal to the cities our long-lost makers built. You humans rely on biochemistry too much.
Her room faced west and had a spectacular view of the strait that lay between the city and the mainland. Lydia set down the one bag she carried and used the bathroom. Coming out, she noticed a pot of coffee steaming in the kitchen alcove. She poured herself a cup and walked to the window. The sun was fully up now. Close to the city’s shore, the water was dimmed by the long shadows of skyscrapers. Farther out it was bright blue-green, flecked with whitecaps that appeared and disappeared in a slow, relaxing rhythm. Could anything equal water as a source of relaxation?
Not for humans. I suspect you are remembering your original ocean home.
This didn’t seem likely to her. It had been a long time since fish crawled out of the ocean and turned into tetrapods.
The planet’s one continent was a dark line at the horizon. Although almost empty of humans, it was the reason for the city.
The native life used silicon as well as carbon, as did organisms on other planets: grass on Earth, for example. But the interpenetration of carbon and silicon was far more intimate here, going down to the molecular level, so the life had both strong (carbon) and weak (silicon) chemical bonds, making it flexible, breakable, friable, and as solid as cement. Lydia had not done well in organic chemistry, and she did not understand the details. But she did understand two facts. No amount of gene mod would enable humans to live on the life here; eating it was like eating sand, and ordinary carbon-based organisms—the kinds that lived on most human planets—could survive here, but they didn’t thrive and spread. You could plant a test plot and be sure it would not take over the local ecology, and there was no chance that the local organisms would contaminate your test plot. A few might creep in, but they did not interact with organisms being tested. If you planted the test plots far enough apart, there would be no risk of them contaminating one another.
The colony was a research station for BioInovation, the interstellar biotechnology company. First, BioIn had studied the odd local life forms. Then it made the planet its center for gene mod testing.
She’d found out some of this on her way to the planet, which had been named Grit by its first settlers. It was a silly name, but the interstellar rules for naming meant the planet was stuck with it, though BioIn had been able to change Grit City to Innovation City in honor of itself. The rest of her data came from infotainment ads in the Grit spaceport. BioIn had packed the port with holos showing its history, accomplishments, and plans for the future.
by Ian R. MacLeod
Being in the condition I was in, nobody thought it was a good idea that I should travel to Berlin in the autumn of 1940. Even my editor, who’d generally trusted my nose for a good story, and wasn’t too fussy about putting her correspondents at risk, was dead against it.
“Well . . .” She sat back in the herbal fug of her office and pointed her pipe at me. “Look at you.”
I glanced down. The small but growing bump in my belly still seemed strange even to me; one of the many things about pregnancy no one ever tells you is that you never really get used to it. “But that’s the whole point. I can go over there, say I’m reporting on, I don’t know, dear old King Willy’s prize geraniums. Then I can just turn up at the famous first Birthplace as if for a standard check-up. Maybe I’ll ask them right out, or maybe I’ll just go on a wander. You know me. I’m good at wandering.”
“And you think that that will get you some kind of piece about Lise Beckhoff, maybe even an interview?”
“What about going through the proper channels?”
“There aren’t any proper channels. She’s a recluse, and incredibly elderly.”
My editor raised an eyebrow, then looked at me the way many people were starting to. “And you’re comfortable with this?”
“Of course I am. Otherwise I wouldn’t be asking.”
“You do know we have an excellent Berlin correspondent?”
“I don’t need a hunch.” I smiled, and ignored the small, dizzy shiver that passed through me. “This is a last chance. Lise Beckhoff’s going to be dead soon.”
“And if I said you couldn’t go, you’d go anyway, wouldn’t you?”
“But, nevertheless, and even though you’re selling me little more than a wild goose chase, you expect the Times to sanction this?”
“Isn’t that what I’m paid for?”
* * *
I’d wanted to be a crusading journalist for as long as I can remember. Even before I knew exactly what journalism was, I craved knowledge—to establish the real truth instead of comfy lies—and had grand dreams of astonishing, and perhaps even changing, the world.
Admittedly, the particular corner of the world I grew up in wasn’t that astonishing, Gallowhead being a small town on the Clyde not that far from Dumbarton, but a million miles away from being remarkable, even if it did have two rather pointless claims to fame. The first being the concrete folly of the Tesla Tower that rose like a rotting mushroom from the granite crag overlooking the town, and the second that it was where Mrs. Clara Innocent chose to spend her declining years. Which, as far as I was concerned, was no fame at all, and definitely no reason to hang around. That, and I definitely wasn’t going to have any children.
I first met my husband Richard when I was working as a reporter on the Dumbarton Daily Messenger, and he was a trainee architect up from London to do some work on a project that, like most things in and around Gallowhead apart from that stupid tower, never actually got off the ground. When we fell into talking one evening in a local pub, it turned out we both had much bigger plans. He wanted to set up his own practice as soon as he qualified, and from there the sky was the limit. Which, as I pointed out, didn’t even have to be a metaphor if you happened to be an architect. And we laughed and shared another beer, and kissed passionately under the stars.
We were sharing a freezing bedsit in London by the next spring, and I was finding out that all working for a Scottish regional newspaper got you at the big nationals was the chance to report on minor traffic accidents at a farthing a line, whilst Richard was far too occupied drawing plumbing diagrams to find time for his own designs.
But we worked hard. We stuck at it. Richard was able to take the leap and set up his own small practice on the back of a lucky inheritance, and a succession of minor freelance scoops finally got me a post as a junior reporter at the London Times, just as I’d always planned. But it turned out that junior anything wasn’t what I really wanted, any more than Richard was satisfied designing pneumatic substations for Western Rail. He wanted to be building town halls, department stores, new cathedrals, next-generation reckoning houses, and I was still on the hunt for the scoop that would change the world.
We weren’t rich, but we were hugely ambitious and ridiculously busy. We bought a house in Camden because it was cheap and convenient, and climbed into bed each night exhausted, and rarely made love. Still, and mainly to shut up my mother, we found the time to get married, although I kept my surname (after all, I had my reputation to protect as Sarah Turnbull, soon-to-be world-renowned reporter), and children still remained entirely off the agenda, especially as I approached the supposed milestone age of thirty. After all, I was a woman of today. I had my own life to live, not someone else’s.
It was Richard rather than me who cracked, at least in my version of this story—which is the one you’re going to have to put up with, whoever, wherever, and whatever you are, seeing as I’m telling it. Unlike me, he had an extended family of young cousins, nephews, and nieces, and was famously good with them. READ MORE