Read an Except
Below are the first pages of Fonda Lee’s story “Old Souls” from Where the Stars Rise:
The fortune teller’s nose is speckled with moles. A tie-dyed scarf is wrapped over her scraggly blonde dreadlocks. She takes my left hand and turns it palm upward, tracing its lines with glittery purple fingernails.
“Ahhhh. Hmmm. Yes.”
She draws a lungful of incense-thick air and closes her eyes, tilting her head back as if ascending to a higher level of perception. I study her face and focus on the fleshy touch of her hand on mine.
A grave robber glances left and right into the darkness before snatching at a glint of gold.
A carnival ringmaster with a waxed mustache spreads his arms to the crowd.
A man in a pinstripe suit stands at the docks and lights a cigarette, watching silently as casks are unloaded.
“I can see,” the fortune teller says in a breathy voice, “you have a long life ahead of you. There is a man with you, a handsome man. Your husband? Yes! You have children too—”
I pull my hand away. The metal chair scrapes back loudly as I stand.
“What are you doing? The reading isn’t finished!”
“Yes, it is.” I’m furious at myself. What would compel me to stop in front of a cheap street sign with PSYCHIC in big curly silver letters? To take a flight of stairs down to a cramped basement and shell out twenty dollars for nothing?
I sling my messenger bag over my shoulder. “You aren’t psychic,” I snap. “You’re a fraud. You profit from dishonesty. You always have.”
She stares at me, mouth agape. Her face reddens, darkening her moles. “Who do you think you are? You’re the one who came to me! No one asked you to come. Get out of here, bitch!”
I don’t need further encouragement. I barge through the curtain of black and white beads, past a woman in a long white coat and sunglasses sitting in what passes as the waiting room, and nearly knock over a lava lamp on my way out the door.
Back out on the sidewalk, I pause, blinking back the prickle of angry tears, the weight of disappointment so heavy it seems as if it’ll push me through the damp concrete. I zip up my jacket, debating whether to go back to the campus or to skip my last lecture of the day and return to my apartment. My roommate will be gone for the rest of the afternoon, and I’m in no mood to sit through Medieval European History. I start down the sidewalk toward home, arms hugged around myself.
“Old soul,” a voice calls from the stairwell. “Wait.”
It’s the woman in the white coat, the one who was sitting in the fortune teller’s office. She follows me with quick strides until she reaches me. Her hand shoots out and catches me by the arm. “You see the past, don’t you? Yours and others.” Her words carry a faint tremor of excitement. She pushes her sunglasses on to the top of her head, pinning me with her gaze.
For a motionless second, I stare at her face, into dark, ancient eyes. Then I look down at the pale hand on my arm, and a shudder of astonishment goes through me. We’re close, touching, but nothing happens, the way it does with other people. No images unspool in my mind like a surreal art house video. She’s the person standing in front of me, and no one else. It makes her seem unreal. An illusion of a person. Either I can’t read her or there is nothing to read. No past. No other lives besides this one.
I jerk back. My voice comes out high. “Who are you?”
She gives me a small, satisfied smile. “I am one of the Ageless. And I’ve been searching for someone like you.”
We walk into the nearest Starbucks. This being Seattle, there’s one less than a hundred feet away. She buys a caramel mocha for me and green tea for herself. She tells me her name is Pearl. She’s been visiting every self-proclaimed psychic in the city, hoping to find someone like me—someone who can see past lives without trying to, the way artists see colour or perfumers detect scents.
“Most psychics are frauds,” she explains with an off-handed shrug as we bring our drinks to an empty table, “but once in a while, I find someone who can make reasonable predictions of the future by seeing the past, the way you do.” She glances at me. “It’s a rare ability.”
Not one I’m thrilled to have. I study my mocha. “Do you have it?”
She leans toward me slightly. “No. I don’t have your clear sight. I can only sense things about people, including those who can see better than I can.”
“Who—what are you?”
She takes a long sip of her tea. “Death and rebirth, death and rebirth. So it goes for everyone, except the Ageless. I have had no other life but this one. I will have no other after it.”
I’m silent for a long, baffled moment. Everyone I’ve ever met has past incarnations. It would be hard to believe Pearl if I hadn’t seen it—or rather, not seen it—for myself. I study her face.
She has smooth Asian features that make it hard to judge if she’s twenty- five or forty. “How old are you?”
She crosses her legs, resting her chin on her hand. Her gaze grows distant. “Five hundred and thirty-some is as far back as I can remember. I’ve lost the exact count.”
I suck in a breath. I imagine what it must be like to live for so many years without dying, to have the gift of so much time. As my eyes widen with awe, Pearl’s mouth tightens. “Trust me,” she says, “a life as long as mine isn’t something to envy.”
“But you must have been through incredible times, seen incredible things.”
A shadow crosses her face. “What I’ve seen is those I love die, while I live on, never changing.”
I hadn’t thought of it that way. An awkward pause rests between us. Quietly, I ask, “Are there others like you?”
“A few.” She doesn’t say more. “Enough about me. You must be wondering why I want to talk to you.” Her lips curve in a small smile that is beautiful but cool, like the smile on a marble bust. “I think we can help each other. You are searching for something, just as I am. Tell me, what are you searching for?”
I lower my gaze. Customers bustle around us as the baristas call out orders. I’m oddly unsurprised to be sitting in a coffee shop having this unbelievable conversation with a woman even more unusual than myself. Still, I hesitate. I tried to talk about this to my parents when I was ten years old. They put me in therapy until I said what the therapist wanted to hear and was proclaimed “better.”
My voice falls to a whisper. “I want to know how to break the pattern.”
To read more, click to purchase Where the Stars Rise
Below are the first pages of Jeremy Szal’s story “The DataSultan of Streets and Stars” from Where the Stars Rise:
The alien slams me up against the station walls so hard I think he’s broken my spine. If I didn’t activate my arm-bands of my skinsuit in time to cushion the impact he might have. I try to squirm out of his grasp but it’s like pushing against an iron wall.
I throw my hands up. “You win. Just let go off me.”
His grip tightens. “Try to run again and I will snap your neck, Bohdi.”
I’d planned on darting away as soon as he released me, but now I think the better of it. I’m a short, scruffy guy and it won’t be hard for him to catch me. He releases me, and I slide down the wall, raking in gulps of air.
“Humans.” Zuqji Sma shakes his head. Like most Ghadesh, he’s two metres tall with a stocky body. Thick tubes snake in and out of his carapace-like armour, recycling oxygen to match the methane atmosphere of his Dyson sphere home. But we’re both far from home in Anăcet Station, a place built in the mined-out husk of a metallic asteroid. Most of the folk here are humans, but there are a few Ghadesh wandering around. The cosmos rolls the dices, and of course I bump into him of all people.
“Let’s have a talk, shall we?” Sma pokes me in the chest. He’s cut himself from the sharp edge of the metal wall, and a few droplets of his green-blue blood spatters on my chest.
We go to a Lebanese shop that sells Arab-style coffee. The turbaned owner does the physical work while his djinn performs the electronic activities, flipping the machine on and rotating the dispenser. Wispy smoke floats up to the mosaic ceiling. I can’t remember a time when we didn’t use djinns to assist us. A kilometre-long starship glides by our viewport, a testament to human engineering. Humans might have designed it, but djinns built it.
The djinn-bot arrives with our cups of steaming liquid blackness. The stuff is overpriced, and somehow I doubt Sma’s going to be paying for it.
“You wanted something?” There’s no way in hell I’m catching my ship now, so I might as well humour him.
“Of course.” Sma doesn’t touch his coffee. From the way he sits, you’d think his spine was made of steel. For all I know about Ghadesh biology, it probably is. The one thing I do know about Ghadesh is that their armour shifts in colour to match their mood, and right now his is only starting to dial down from pitch black. “I hear they’re making new djinns on Earth, yes?”
“They’re always making new djinns.” There’s no reason I have to make it easy for him.
Sma’s rectangular pupils narrow to cold grey slits. I’ve never noticed just how grey they are. “I mean high-tier djinn. Ones that can pilot ships without any assistance. You would know about this, yes?”
“They are,” I respond. “They won’t be on the market for years.” You can almost see the I’ve got you now twinkle in Sma’s eye.
“Now that is where you come in.”
“I’m not going back to Istanbul,” I tell him. “Not after what happened.”
“What exactly happened down there? The GalaNet has been rather quiet.”
He probably knows, but I tell him anyway. We’re always attempting to improve the djinns, raise their tier so they can juggle together activities and for longer. We were so, so close to crafting djinn capable of deep space asteroid mining. We’d unveiled them in a conference room to investors in the business.
Only there’d been a malfunction and the djinns had gone rogue, killing a dozen people.
I’d been the dataSultan, one of the lead programmers.
We shushed it up afterwards, but my superiors recommended I skipped Earth and waited for things to cool down. The families of the deceased were powerful people with deep pockets and shallow mercy. Still, it’s unlikely they’d chase me across space.
Sma leans back on his seat, the divan creaking under his weight. “Hmm. Fascinating. Very fascinating. You really did mess up, didn’t you?”
“With a dozen people dead and a bounty hanging over me? You could say so,” I respond.
“Well, I have a proposition for you.” The sarcasm seems to have gone over his head. “I want you to go back to Istanbul and get me one of those djinn-7s. They should be sorted out by now, yes?”
“Probably, but I won’t be going back there,” I tell him.
His eyes narrow again and his armour darkens. “You act as if you have a choice in the matter.”
“I’ll damn sure say I do.”
A sudden blur and I glance down to see a pistol folding out of his metal sleeve. Thousands of miniscule metallic bits scramble over each other like glossy black ants, coalescing to form a revolver pointed straight at me. Unnervingly, from this angle he’s got it aimed at my crotch. I make it my goal of never having pointy things prodded in this general direction.
“Never had a coffee date go this badly.” I do my best to smile as I pretend to inspect my drink. “Say, what exactly did you put in this?”
Sma is not amused. “You’re going to get that djinn, regardless if you want to or not.”
“Why me?” I demand.
He taps the veins on my forearm. It’s a challenge not to recoil from his blood-warm touch. “The djinn-7s are synced to your DNA. You have those implants that allow you to enter the systems. Do not try to fool me; we both know you’re the only one who can do it.”
To read more, click to purchase Where the Stars Rise