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Authors: Michael Swanwick

Vacuum Flowers

BOOK: Vacuum Flowers
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Praise for the Writing of Michael Swanwick

The Iron Dragon's Daughter

A New York Times Notable Book

“Eerie … extraordinary … Dickens meets Detroit, full of grimy, toiling waifs, dark factories, trolls with boomboxes, and sleek, decadent high elves … Sordid, violent, funny, absurd, angry, by turns, as intense in its pleasures as in its pains … Swanwick takes huge risks here, and reaps big rewards.” —
Locus

“Entertaining reading … Flamboyant … Grotesquely Dickensian.” —
Newsday

In the Drift

“This episodic tale of life, war and survival in post-meltdown Pennsylvania builds a potent new myth from the reality of radioactive waste.” —George R. R. Martin

“Shocking … powerful.” —
Daily News
(New York)

“A powerful and affecting novel … Chilling, believable and uncomfortably close to home.” —
The Evening Sun
(Baltimore)

Bones of the Earth


Jurassic Park
set amid the paradox of time travel … I dare anyone to read the first chapter and not keep reading all the way through to the last shocking page.” —James Rollins,
New York Times–
bestselling author of
Subterranean
and
Bone Labyrinth

“Swanwick dramatizes of the world of dinosaurs with great flair and knowledge, even love.
Bones of the Earth
dances on the edge of an abyss.… [An] entertaining and deft performance.” —
The Philadelphia Inquirer

“Swanwick proves that sci-fi has plenty of room for wonder and literary values.” —
San Francisco Chronicle

Jack Faust


Jack Faust
is madly ambitious and brilliantly executed, recasting the entire history of science in a wholly original version of our culture's central myth of knowledge, power, and sorrow.” —William Gibson

“Superb … Wonderful and relentless … Provocative and evocative.” —
The Washington Post Book World

“Powerful … Marvelous … Consistently surprising.” —
The
New York Times Book Review

Vacuum Flowers

“Slick and highly competent entertainment that starts fast and never slows down.” —
The Washington Post

“Erotic and witty.” —
The New York Times

“Quintessentially cyberpunk … eminently readable and provocative.” —
Daily News
(New York)

Tales of Old Earth

“A stunning collection from one of science fiction's very best writers. Pay in blood, if necessary, but don't miss these stories.” —Nancy Kress

“Michael Swanwick is darkly magnificent.
Tales of Old Earth
is just one brilliant ride after another, a midnight express with a master at the throttle.” —Jack McDevitt

“Swanwick has emerged as one of the country's most respected authors.” —
The Philadelphia Inquirer

Vacuum Flowers

Michael Swanwick

For Gardner Dozois

1

REBEL

She didn't know she had died.

She had, in fact, died twice—by accident the first time, but suicide later. Now the corporation that owned her had decided she should die yet again, in order to fuel a million throwaway lives over the next few months.

But Rebel Elizabeth Mudlark knew none of this. She knew only that something was wrong and that nobody would talk to her about it.

“Why am I here?” she asked.

The doctor's face loomed over her. It was thin and covered by a demon mask of red and green wetware paint that she could
almost
read. It had that horrible programmed smile that was supposed to be reassuring, the corners of the mouth pushing his cheeks into little round balls. He directed that death's head rictus at her. “Oh, I wouldn't worry about that,” he said.

A line of nuns floated by overhead, their breasts bobbing innocently, wimples starched and white. They were riding the magnetic line at the axis of the city cannister, as graceful as small ships. It was a common enough sight, even a homey one. But then Rebel's perception did a flipflop and the nuns were unspeakably alien, floating upside-down against the vast window walls that were cold with endless stretches of bright glittery stars embedded in night. She must have seen the like a thousand times before, but now, without warning, her mind shrieked
strange strange strange
and she couldn't make heads or tails of what she was seeing. “I can't remember things,” Rebel said. “Sometimes I'm not even sure who I am.”

“Well, that's perfectly normal,” the doctor said, “under the circumstances.” He disappeared behind her head. “Nurse, would you take a look at this?”

Someone she could not see joined him. They conferred softly. Gritting her teeth, Rebel said, “I suppose it happens to you all the time.”

They ignored her. The scent of roses from the divider hedges was heavy and cloying, thick enough to choke on. Traffic continued flowing along the axis.

If she could have moved so much as an arm, Rebel would've waited for the doctor to lean too close, and then tried to choke the truth out of him. But she was immobilized, unable even to move her head. She could only stare up at the people floating by and the stars wheeling monotonously past. The habitat strips to either side of overhead were built up with platforms and false hills, rising like islands from a starry sea. By their shores occasional groups of picnickers ventured onto the window floor, black specks visible only when they occulted stars or other cannister cities. The strange planet went by again.

“We'll want to wait another day before surgery,” the doctor said finally. “But her persona's stabilized nicely. If there aren't any major changes in her condition, we can cut tomorrow.” He moved toward the door.

“Wait a minute!” Rebel cried. The doctor stopped, turned to look at her. Dead eyes surrounded by paint, under a brush of red hair. “Have I given permission for this operation?”

Again he turned that infuriatingly reassuring smile on her. “Oh, I don't think that's important,” he said, “do you?”

Before she could answer, he was gone.

As the nurse adjusted the adhesion disks on Rebel's brow and behind her ears, she briefly leaned into Rebel's view. It was a nun, a heavy woman with two chins and eyes that burned with visions of God. Earlier, when Rebel was still groggy and half-aware, she had introduced herself as Sister Mary Radha. Now Rebel could see that the nun had been tinkering with her own wetware—her mystic functions were cranked up so high she could barely function.

Rebel looked away, to hide her thoughts. “Please turn on,” she murmured. The video flat by the foot of her cot came up, open to the encyclopedia entry for medical codes. Hastily, she switched it over to something innocuous. Simple-structure atmospheric methane ecologies. She pretended to be absorbed in the text.

Then, as the nurse was leaving, Rebel casually said, “Sister? The flat's at a bad angle for me. Could you tilt it forward a little?” The nun complied. “Yeah, like that. No, a bit … perfect.” Rebel smiled warmly, and for a moment Sister Mary Radha basked in this manifestation of universal love. Then she floated out.

“Fucking god-head,” Rebel muttered. Then, to the flat, “Thank you.”

It turned itself off.

The flat's surface was smooth and polished. Turned off, it darkly reflected the foot of Rebel's cot and the medical code chart hanging there.

Rebel quickly decoded the reversed symbols. There were two simplified persona wheels, one marked Original, and the other Current. They looked nothing at all like each other. Another symbol for wetsurgical prep, and three more that, boiled down, meant she had no special medical needs. And a single line of print below that, where her name should have been. Rebel read it through twice, letter by letter, to make sure there was no mistake:

Property of Deutsche Nakasone GmbH

Anger rose up in Rebel like a savage white animal. She clenched her teeth and drew back her lips and did not try to fight it. She
wanted
this anger. It was her ally, her only friend. It raged through her paralyzed body, a hot storm of fangs and claws and violence.

Then the fury overran her sense of self and swept her under. Drowning, she was carried down into the dark chaos of helplessness below. Into the murky despair that had no name or purpose, where she lost her face, her body, her being. She was a demon, blindly watching people stream through the air and stars slide to the side, and hating them all. Wanting to smash them all together in her hands, cities and stars and people alike, and smear them into a pulpy little ball, as she laughed, with black tears running down from her eyes.…

She came out of her fugue feeling weak and depressed. “Please tell me the time,” she said, and the flat obeyed. Four hours had passed.

A woman stepped into the niche, a skinny type in greenface with a leather tool harness, some kind of low-level biotech. Humming to herself, she began to trim the walls. She worked methodically, obsessively, pausing every now and then to train a rose back into place.

“Hey, sport,” Rebel said. “Do me a favor.” Her loginess evaporated as the adrenalin began to flow. She flashed a smile.

“Hmm? Ah! Er … what is it?” With a visible effort, the woman pulled herself away from her work.

“I'm getting out in a couple of hours, and nobody's arranged for any clothing for me. Could you drop by wherever-it-is on the way out, and get them to send something over?”

The woman blinked. “Oh. Uh … sure, I suppose. Isn't your nurse supposed to take care of that?”

BOOK: Vacuum Flowers
8.77Mb size Format: txt, pdf, ePub
ads

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