The great science fiction magazine Strange Horizons is having its annual fundraising drive, and to help raise money, Kelly Link has written them a brand new story. One which will only be released if Strange Horizons raises at least $17,000. And we’ve got an exclusive excerpt!
The chance to read a brand new story by Kelly Link is a massive, huge inducement to throw money at Strange Horizons right now. But you honestly should donate to this amazing magazine in any case. For the past decade and a half, Strange Horizons has been publishing some of the most thrilling and challenging science fiction and fantasy anywhere, and the magazine has only continued to get more ambitious and, well, strange as it’s become an institution. Strange Horizons was one of the first places to publish my fiction (along with debuting other authors, like John Scalzi) and I always stop by there to see what ground-breaking fiction they’re publishing now.
If you pledge some funds, you can also be entered in their prize giveaway. So this is an excellent time to support new, mind-blowing speculative fiction. And now, here’s the excerpt from that brand new Kelly Link story...
If there’s one thing Anat knows, it’s this. She loves Oscar her brother, and her brother Oscar loves her. Hasn’t Oscar raised Anat, practically from childhood? Picked Anat up when she’s fallen? Prepared her meals and lovingly tended to her scrapes and taught her how to navigate their little world? Given her skimmer ships, each faster and more responsive than the one before; the most lovely incendiary devices; a refurbished mob of Handmaids, with their sharp fingers, probing snouts, their furred bellies, their sleek and whiplike limbs?
Oscar called them Handmaids because they have so many fingers, so many ways of grasping and holding and petting and sorting and killing. Once a vampire frightened Anat, when she was younger. It came too close. She began to cry, and then the Handmaids were there, soothing Anat with their gentle stroking, touching her here and there to make sure that the vampire had not injured her, embracing her while they briskly tore the shrieking vampire to pieces. That was not long after Oscar had come back from Home with the Handmaids. Vampires and Handmaids reached a kind of understanding after that. The vampires, encountering a Handmaid, sing propitiatory songs. Sometimes they bow their heads on their long white necks very low, and dance. The Handmaids do not tear them into pieces.
Today is Anat’s birthday. Oscar does not celebrate his own birthdays. Anat wishes that he wouldn’t make a fuss about hers, either. But this would make Oscar sad. He celebrates Anat’s accomplishments, her developmental progress, her new skills. She knows that Oscar worries about her, too. Perhaps he is afraid she won’t need him when she is grown. Perhaps he is afraid that Anat, like their parents, will leave. Of course this is impossible. Anat could never abandon Oscar. Anat will always need Oscar.
If Anat did not have Oscar, then who in this world would there be to love? The Handmaids will do whatever Anat asks of them, but they are built to inspire not love but fear. They are made for speed, for combat, for unwavering obedience. When they have no task, nothing better to do, they take one another to pieces, swap parts, remake themselves into more and more ridiculous weapons. They look at Anat as if one day they will do the same to her, if only she will ask.
There are the vampires. They flock after Oscar and Anat whenever they go down to Home. Oscar likes to speculate on whether the vampires came to Home deliberately, as did Oscar, and Oscar and Anat’s parents, although of course Anat was not born yet. Perhaps the vampires were marooned here long ago in some crash. Or are they natives of Home? It seems unlikely that the vampires’ ancestors were the ones who built the warehouses of Home, who went out into space and returned with the spoils that the warehouses now contain. Perhaps they are a parasite species, accidental passengers left behind when their host species abandoned Home for good. If, that is, the Warehouse Builders have abandoned Home for good. What a surprise, should they come home.
Like Oscar and Anat, the vampires are scavengers, able to breathe the thin soup of Home’s atmosphere. But the vampires’ lustrous and glistening eyes, their jellied skin, are so sensitive to light they go about the surface cloaked and hooded, complaining in their hoarse voices. The vampires sustain themselves on various things, organic, inert, hostile, long hidden, that they discover in Home’s storehouses, but have a peculiar interest in the siblings. No doubt they would eat Oscar and Anat if the opportunity were to present itself, but in the meantime they are content to trail after, sing, play small pranks, make small grimaces of — pleasure? appeasement? threat displays? — that show off arrays of jaws, armies of teeth. It disconcerts. No one could ever love a vampire, except, perhaps, when Anat, who long ago lost all fear, watches them go swooping, sail-winged, away and over the horizon beneath Home’s scatter of mismatched moons.
On the occasion of her birthday, Oscar presents Anat with a gift from their parents. These gifts come from Oscar, of course. They are the gifts that the one who loves you, and knows you, gives to you not only out of love but out of knowing. Anat knows in her heart that their parents love her too, and that one day they will come home and there will be a reunion much better than any birthday. One day their parents will not only love Anat, but know her too. And she will know them. Anat dreads this reunion as much as she craves it. What will her life be like when everything changes? She has studied recordings of them. She does not look like them, although Oscar does. She doesn’t remember her parents, although Oscar does. She does not miss them. Does Oscar? Of course he does. What Oscar is to Anat, their parents must be to Oscar. Except: Oscar will never leave. Anat has made him promise.