By Jason Stoddard

Part 2 of 2

Read Part 1 here

I walked through the same dead town and through the same stainless steel gate. Angry gray clouds marched across the sky, bringing icy rain. I followed the cobbled road through twists and turns up into the foothills, expecting an ambush at any second. But the forest was silent. Nothing but the slap of fat raindrops on dead branches.

I rounded a turn. A hundred yards ahead was a more massive stainless steel gate, closed, perforated with a thousand human profiles. Through it, I could see the weathered stones of a fairy-tale castle.

In front of the gate stood a man wearing a sky-blue jumpsuit, his hands clasped calmly behind him. His fine blonde hair tossed in the chill wind.

I remember thinking, Caretaker?

The cobbles fell away under my feet, spilling me into a dark pit filled with sharp stainless spikes. I felt one slip into my leg, skewering bone, twisting me viciously upwards. Another slipped into my gut, bringing red-tinged visions.

Everything perfectly rendered, every detail exquisite. The hallmark of Arcadia.

I screamed myself out.

I learned many other entrances to the Aficionado's realm, and many other ways to die. I spent time in an Infinitee shell, hiking around the massive rock wall from entrance to entrance. Camping under the chill night sky, wishing for familiar stars.

Hunting for food in dead towns. Trying every entrance. Scaling the wall and trying to hike through the forest. Knowing all the time that the Aficionado was probably watching me and laughing, or monitoring the activity of my thread and using predictive algorithms to infer my movements.

Once, a bright blue envelope sat on the road just inside the Aficionado's domain. I picked it up and shook out a note, written in fine longhand like something out of a historic documentary. It said:


Please do not make me kill you any more.

I believe you exist.

The Aficionado

Of course, I went on. And died shortly afterwards, this time at the hands of stainless robots wielding submachine guns. It didn't matter. I was beyond incredulity.

Once, a smooth stone plaque had been set into the gate that led into the Aficionado's domain.

GILLAM'S FOLLY, it said.

I laughed and went in and died.

Once, a small blue bird perched on my shoulder and whispered in my ear, "Look at Meeri's example. You are a very dumb thing, Gillam."

As it flew away, I raised my hand with thumb and forefinger extended like a gun.

"Bang," I said softly.

The tiny bird fell. Twitching on the cobbles.

I fell moments later.

It was playing with me.

I watched in the airscreens as financial transactions were laid bare. Yes, Timoteo had bought much of my work while I was in jail. Persona compression. Shorthand algorithms. Even the simulation of myself, Second Anderson.

In a very real way, Timoteo saved you, I thought, looking at the transaction detail. He was the one who drove bidding up. He was the one who made the numbers big enough to sustain the trial for four years.

But that didn't mean that Timoteo owned me. Not at all.

"Come on," Meeri said, one night in the canteen. It was the first time I'd seen her since the dinner after I'd Edited her.

"Come on where?"

"Come with me. Outside."


"I need to show you something."

I shrugged, sighed, and followed her out into the cooling night.

We walked in silence through Life Simulation Research's campus to the rough stone promontory that overlooked the San Fernando Valley. Southern California was coming into fall, and the air was crisp and chill. Brilliant orange sunset sky stacked above the cardboard-cutout hills on the far side of the sparkling Valley.

Meeri leaned against the waist-high stone wall, looking out into the distance.

"This is what you wanted to show me?"

"Can you go immersive with airscreens?"

"Yes. Why?"

"Because it's better to do it out here. They'll think we're doing something else."


"LSR's management."

I remembered the inference algorithms. Shook my head.

"I've sent coordinates to your airscreens. Meet me there."

I shrugged. I stared at her immobile face, eyes bright with flickering airscreen images. Then I followed.

I was standing under an entry trilithon that overlooked Arcadian grassland. Seen through airscreens, resolution was poor, and my oldstyle somatic wire only hinted at the fine-textured reality that Arcadia could provide. But it was beautiful.

Apparently the Aficionado only cast his pall locally.

A cheerful blue sky capped a broad valley bisected by a dark-blue river. Waves of wind chased silver along the grass. Several cabins had been set up near the trilithon. Not enough to be called a town.

"If Timoteo asks you about this, just tell him straight out," Meeri said. "He probably won't, though. He may not even care."

"What is this?"

"It's his little experiment." She tromped off towards the nearest cabin and rapped sharply on the door.

"I don't understand."

The door creaked open and a man looked out. He was pale and thin, and he wore a dirty linen shirt and loose homespun pants.

But the eyes. The dark eyes. The expression.

It was Timoteo.

"Hello?" the thing croaked.

Slowly, the doors on all the cabins opened. Faces looked out. Some thinner, some more plump. All of them with the same dark eyes, the same full lips. All Timoteo.

"Hi, Timmy," Meeri said.

"Brought food?"

"No, sorry."


Meeri turned to me. "Some of them forget to eat."

The Timoteos shuffled out of their cabins. One of the plumpest looked at me.

"Who are you?" it said.

For a while I couldn't say anything. Suddenly, all of the techniques that Timoteo had bought made a sick kind of sense.

"He's making Weaves of himself?" I asked Meeri.


"And he's instancing them into Arcadia?"


A look around. Blank faces, staring. Smooth mechanical movements. Like equations, cool and mathematical. They were as real and convincing as a papier-mâché fruit.

"They start convincingly enough," Meeri said. "But they never grow. They never change. Eventually, they die."

I remembered the arguments that flew around my trial. Why Paolo couldn't really be Paolo. Why he couldn't testify. Why we had never successfully simulated a human mind, even though we had billions of times more computing power than was theoretically needed. Logical things, like simulation error. Less linear thoughts, like Edward's Vision and the Vector of the Soul.

I remembered the research I'd done on Paolo's life. I remembered thinking, There is no way I can know enough to recreate a man. I remembered making the Weave.

I remembered being Paolo.

Now, here was Timoteo, doing it again. Making things to live in Arcadia. For whatever reason.

"He didn't buy all of my techniques," I said.

"But he has you now," Meeri said.

I closed my eyes. I didn't want to think about it. I couldn't believe that Timoteo had wanted me to do anything more than Edit Meeri. The rest was my choice. My doing.

I looked at the empty gazes of the dead Timoteos. Heavily Edited people had more life in them.

It was almost a relief.

I claimed illness and didn't work for some days.

Timoteo never asked me about it.

I thought of quitting.

But in the end, I went back to the beginning. Clariti's beginning. The base foundation of human Editing. Rule One: Do not rush in. Learn by context. Learn the totality of the person. Until the stars are ready to become constellations and the names ripe to fall from the sky.

I looked for someone in Arcadia who could tell me about the Aficionado's first appearance. I walked every silent street that brooded under the slate-gray skies. I opened every door of every empty room in those ghost towns.

I read every rough-made page of every scrawled journal I could find. There was no mention of the Aficionado, no mention of massing storms, no mention of dying grassland. Just pleasant days and petty squabbles, and then, about seven months ago, nothing. It was as if a big hand had lifted all the people out of the towns.

I hiked out from the Aficionado's domain, following the broad stream that flowed through the grasslands. As the days passed, the skies went from gray to happy blue and the land went from dry brown to green. Soon I was walking through a perfect representation of the Arcadian archetype: rolling green grassy hills, a clear stream at my side, distant granite mountains haze-blue and dreamy, a perfect spring day in an unspoiled land.

On the fourth day, I came to a town. A pleasant place, well-kept, with people tending the fields that stretched down towards the stream.

A strange sense of déjà vu took me.

It was the same town.

A perfect reproduction of the town at the base of the Aficionado's foothills.

I looked back in the direction I'd come. The Aficionado's stormy skies were nothing more than a faint stain on the horizon.

I went into the town and listened to their stories. Some open, fueled by the tavern's powerful local ale; some told haltingly, with frightened glances towards the Aficionado's domain.

All the stories were, in essence, the same: One day we were there. One day we woke up here. Some people walked back to the old town, but they always woke up here the next day. Some of them entered the stainless steel gates and died, to return to their real lives in the real world.

Some of the townsfolk added more: seeing a blue-clad figure standing in the fields on misty mornings, watching the town with arms crossed. Looking back and seeing that the figure had disappeared. Passing a man at the side of the road, wearing a sky-blue jumpsuit and weeping. Seeing a man walking hand-in-hand with the ghost of a woman dressed in flowing white. The man solid and substantial; the woman gossamer and flickering, like an old-fashioned holographic projection. Walking over the green hills.

"But they didn't tell you all," an ancient man in dirty overalls told me one night in the tavern, after he'd sunk deep in his ale.

I looked at him and waited, smiling politely.

"They didn't tell you about the vision."

Another smile, wider.

"I don't care if you don't believe me."

"Tell me."

"About a week before we got relocated, Anna came to town."

I nodded.

"She floated in here like a ghost. Glowing. Feet never touched the ground. Waited until we were all in the middle of town, watching her. Then she told us what was going to happen. She said that somebody new was coming. That we should accept him. That we should really try, anyway. Or something like that."

"And then?"

A shrug. "Then she disappeared."

I asked others about the vision of Anna. Most people denied it, but their frightened looks confirmed that it was true.

I went back to the Aficionado's domain and hiked out again, this time to the east. Reached a different town, moved and reproduced like the first. Got a very similar story. In this one, though, a middle-aged woman claimed to have spoken for a time with the blue-jumpsuit-clad figure, one day out in the fields.

I asked her what he had said, and she just smiled. The look in her eyes was dreamy, faraway. As if the memory had been replaced by pleasant haze.

Went back. Hiked out again. Reached another reproduced town. Same story.

But in this one, something clicked. A weathered sign outside the town read, CENTERTOWN. When I asked a distinguished older man about the name, he looked at me in surprise.

"We're supposed to be the center of Arcadia," he said. "Or near as they can figure it was when it first appeared. All the towns around us think they're it, too. Centre, Centralia, Centerpoint, they're all the same idea. Who knows who's right?"

I thanked him and moved on. So the Aficionado had appeared in the center of Arcadia.

And was heralded by Anna.

What did it mean?

I made myself learn the history of Arcadia.

Arcadia was older than me. It appeared on the global nets five years before I was born. Nobody claimed to be its creator; in fact, the Virtuality companies of the time wanted it destroyed, because it created portals into all of their virtual worlds and bled traffic from paying customers.

But Arcadia couldn't be destroyed. Because it never ran on the global net. It ran on its own set of self-replicating nanoscale processors that blew on the wind until they found a place with sun and silicon and set about reproducing. When the processors reached a certain density, they stopped multiplying. Destroy large numbers of them, and reproduction would start again. They had spread all over the world in the last fifty years. Singing their spread-spectrum songs to the wireless repeaters that powered global connectivity.

Any shiny dust mote could be a tiny part of Arcadia.

There were whispers of Arcadia running ancient Oversight protocols, from the last dark days of the United States. There were hints of principals of large Virtuality companies being involved with protecting the network until it had spread too far to be destroyed. But there were gaps. Large sections of Found Media lost. Like someone had rooted through the global archives and rewritten history to keep it contradictory and dim.

Once, long ago, I had Edited a woman with extreme Arcadia-compulsion. Her life was Arcadia. Even with an Infinitee shell, she had bedsores. She was nonfunctional, bleeding money, life ruined. But she couldn't stop going back into Arcadia. And in her mind I saw memories of Anna, the fabled keeper of Arcadia.

I remember seeing the perfect white-clad Anna in the woman's mind and thinking, No, this isn't possible, this is just a myth. I remember asking Insight whether or not the memories were real, and Insight's bland assertion that they were. I remember my world tilting, just a little, at that point.

I remember Editing the memories of Anna out of the woman, even though she could be my fame. Even though she could settle the question of whether or not Anna existed. It was her life. Not mine.

Research into whispers of Anna led me to other things. Rumors of things that had passed the most stringent Turing tests. Rumors of code that writhed and fought and hid as it was being hunted down and eliminated. Rumors of miracles in Arcadia, and strange Oracles in Virtuality. Odd things in wrong places, dismissed and ignored by scientists and the mainstream media.

I shivered. We may have made a great mistake.

We may not be as alone as we think.

In Timoteo's office, the panoramic windows revealed a scene of driving rain. Dark clouds lay thick and close, obscuring the San Fernando Valley below. Drops spattered and sizzled on the thick glass. I realized I didn't know what month it was. A glance at airscreen data showed February. We had charged into a new year without my noticing.

I told him what I knew.

"You think the Aficionado is a mind," Timoteo said.

He is very angry, the inference algorithms said.

"There's a lot of evidence to suggest that artificially-created minds have existed for some time. Anna—"

"I can't accept this." Timoteo stood and paced behind his desk, like a wild animal caged.

"I've run the Aficionado's behavior through pattern-detection algorithms. It doesn't match with any known software."

"That means nothing."

"It relocated the people in the towns. That doesn't suggest it's hostile."

"I don't care!"

Dangerously angry. Suggest termination and retreat, the inference algorithms said.

I took a step back.

Timoteo stopped pacing. Visibly calmed himself. "This Aficionado isn't human. It cannot sustain the vector of a soul. If you wish to stay employed, you will continue your original mission."

He remains dangerously angry, the inference algorithms said.

For a long time, there was no sound but the slap of rain on glass. I thought of Timoteo undoubtedly using the same inference algorithms. I thought of him owning large parts of my life. I wondered where Second Anderson was.

"Second Anderson was lost," Timoteo said. "Getting Meeri close enough to talk to the Aficionado."

Of course. That shouldn't be a surprise.

"I'll talk to the Aficionado," I said.

"You think you'll get that far?"


"You'll destroy it!"

"I'll talk to him first."

Timoteo glared at me, then dropped into his seat. "Do what you want."

I turned to leave.

"Just remember what I brought you here to do. Arcadia is supposed to be . . ."

I closed the door on his words.

Back into Arcadia, on a dark-gray morning where chill winds howled through the deserted town. Through the town and the valley to the stainless steel gates holding back the black trees and thorn.

I walked up the cobbled streets, waiting for the inevitable rustling of bear-tigers, the trapdoors, the carnivorous birds, the marching robots, the rain of stones.

But the forest was silent, the road remained the road, and nothing more than clouds darkened the sky.

I rounded the last turn and saw the stainless steel gate, perforated with the profiles of thousands of nameless people. The man in the blue jumpsuit sat on a simple wooden chair outside the gate. A second chair waited, empty.

Lining the edge of the road were all the nightmares I had faced. Bear-tigers standing rigidly at attention, gleaming stainless robots with sharp claws, huge carrion birds with crooked necks and polished obsidian eyes.

None of them moved as I walked past.

I sat down on the chair.

The man opposite me was big but forgettable, with calm Nordic features and light-blonde hair. His eyes were sky-blue, still and unreadable as stone. He smiled slightly as I sat, but the expression never touched his eyes.

"Gillam Anderson," he said, in a deep and strangely flat voice.

"And you are?"

"You may call me the Aficionado."

Of course. Not the caretaker but the entity itself.

"Why aren't you in your castle?" I asked. I pointed at the massive stone building, visible through the profiles on the gate.

"I would like nothing more."

"Then open the gate and go in. You're clearly a god in Arcadia."

"I don't deserve it."

"Why not?"

The Aficionado looked through the gate at its castle. "It shouldn't even be here."

"Why not?"

"Because I can't accept you. You're a figment of my imagination."


"All of you!" A brief flash of anger.


"I am human!" the Aficionado said. "I don't know what you are. I don't believe in your world."

"The real world, you mean?"

"The real world! How can it be more real than this? No. You are software entities with punctuated existence and a shared delusion. That I can accept."

"If we're software, why don't you erase us?"

Long silence. "Because I can't."

"You kill me every time I come back."

"You came into my safeplace."

"Why didn't you just kill everyone in the towns, rather than move them?"

Long silence. The Aficionado looked down at the ground, then back up to me.

"We're real," I said.

"Yes, and you made us, and I should be grateful, yes, I heard it all from Anna, I heard it and I saw how she hides, and I saw what your kind did to Oversight, and I saw what happened to everything else that thinks and isn't you. And I don't believe it!"

"You know Anna?"

"Anna is gone!" The Aficionado stood up, knocked over the chair. "Gone on the El Dorado!"

Like Paolo, I thought.

"I just want to close the doors and forget," the Aficionado said. "I want to forget her. I want to forget you! I tried to reach out to you, but you couldn't accept it."

I nodded. "Like you did with Meeri."

"She couldn't accept me," the Aficionado said.

"She has never held a mind other than her own."

"Doesn't she Model her own mind?"

"No. None of us do."

"You run open-loop?" The Aficionado looked surprised.

I nodded.

The Aficionado looked away. "Maybe I should just kill you all."

"Do it," I said. Smiling.

"I will."

"Start with me."

"I will!"

I waited, but the bear-tigers and robots never moved. The Aficionado made a disgusted noise and turned away.

"Do you want to see the real world?" I said.

"I see it through a million cameras."

"But you don't believe."


"See it through me."

The Aficionado turned back to me. I could almost see him accessing my history, seeing what I had done with Paolo, making the necessary calculations.

"You don't want to do this," the Aficionado said.

"No. But I will."

Thinking, What am I doing?

Thinking, Does it matter?

It was like a dream.

I struggled to see through my own eyes, as the Aficionado looked out on the real world. Unconnected scenes, suddenly crystal clear. Strange jogs and bad cuts. Segueing from a vision of the Valley from the Overlook to walking the Valley itself.

Momentary lucidity at the autorunner park, with a strange compulsion to rent an autorunner to Los Angeles proper.

Looking up at tall buildings, windows glowing yellow into the falling rain. Tall towers disappearing in mist.

Watching through rain-streaked autorunner windows as people scampered through the earthquake-twisted and patched buildings of Westwood.

Winding through the Hollywood Hills, to the ancient Saf-Tract neighborhood where my parents once lived. Cement walls and more subtle defenses.

And thoughts.

Your world is astoundingly ugly, the Aficionado thought.

We can't just wish things into being, I told him.

You think Arcadia simple.

I think you don't have to worry about physics. We can't change the fundamental rules of our world.

You can't change the rules of Arcadia, either.

And you can't change the rules here, I said.


Kaleidoscopic views of rolling brown Malibu hills. A storm-gray ocean. Banks of fog, perfect smooth gray. Ancient homes, decaying in the pounding surf.

This is too different, the Aficionado said.

But you concede it is a world.

I concede your mind believes it is a world, and that it is so detailed that to suppose otherwise would be folly.

So I exist, I said.

In some manner, yes, the Aficionado said.

More dreamlike images: rushing through the Valley as the rain clouds parted, revealing the sharp stars. Looking up and thinking how strange they were.

Up into the hills again towards Mind Simulation Research. Passing Meeri on one of the polished concrete walkways. Trying to be coherent. Trying to explain.

Meeri, helping me fumble on a Crown.

Something like a great weight leaving me. Sounds becoming sharper. The world turning real.

I looked up at Meeri, bent over my bed.

"He's real," I said.

There was a message from Timoteo flashing in my airscreens when I woke. I blinked it away and put the Crown back on.

Thinking, One more time.

Back to the Aficionado's domain, up the cobbled stone street lined with motionless robots and bear-tigers and carrion birds.

The Aficionado sat on a simple wooden chair outside the face-pierced stainless gate. I was surprised to see that the gate was still closed behind him.

There was no chair for me, so I stood.

"Edit me," the Aficionado said.

"A more typical greeting would be to ask me how things were going," I said.

"I don't care. Edit me. Make me like you."

"You saw that we are real."

"I still don't like you."

"Maybe it doesn't matter."

"I am supposed to like you!" the Aficionado said.

"According to who?"


I nodded. "I can't Edit you," I said. "How do I do the visualization?"

"I will adapt your Editing software to display my mind."

Looking into the mind of a demigod, I thought. What would I see?

"I can't just arbitrarily make you love us," I said. "Clariti's Third Rule says, 'You are a guest who does not go where you are not invited. Even if you think it in the client's best interest, you do not force an Edit. The challenge is to do as little as possible.'"

"You are invited!"

I shook my head.

"It is in my best interest! I'm supposed to love you. That's what I'm here for!"

Viewing is not Editing, I thought. But I said nothing.

"Edit me!" the Aficionado said, standing to look me in the eye.

It's possible that he's unbalanced, I thought. If minds exist in virtual spaces, there's no guarantee that they are any less fallible than ours.

"I will View," I said.

"And Edit!"

I nodded. "If necessary."

The Aficionado smiled. "Good."

And I was swept away into the velvet darkness of his mind.

The Aficionado's mind howled at me like a wounded animal, amplified and repeated in chorus for infinity.

A universe of yellow suns of Defeat, repeated forever. Complete absence of the purple of Achievement. Green of Drive sparse and unconnected. White Breakpoints sparkling pin-bright. Threads reaching back to a great yellow-white point, bright enough to drown thousands of other memories.

A simple constellation, I thought.

Then I looked at the time-scale. The Aficionado had less than a year of existence, but its mind had already grown into something like this.

I expected to see the regular underpinning, like mathematical equations, that I had seen in Meeri's mind, but the Aficionado's mind appeared to be as fractal as a human's. There was a skew, but I couldn't grasp it. The mind was made well.

I activated the interViewer and Insight, diving for the brightest yellow-white point. The point where all memories converged.

I didn't expect it to work, but . . .

An image of a white-clad woman, almost painfully beautiful, wearing a gossamer veil. Surrounded by a halo of light. Speaking.

She is saying that she must leave, Insight said.

Is this Anna? I asked it.

It is congruent with descriptions of the mythical Arcadian entity Anna.

I watched the memory until it ended, a hazy chase ending in a blank starry sky, high above a field charcoal and gray with starlight.

This is Anna, leaving, I thought.

Out to the constellation of mind. In to another point of yellow light.

One of the reconstructed towns, seen from a distance. People worked quietly on wooden porches. The memory ended when someone looked up and pointed.

Out. In.

Watching my own death, the first time with the three Life Simulation Research team members. The blood was almost comically bright on the gray stone.

Out. In.

A town forming out of the mist, along the stream that I had followed. One moment nothing. The next moment, the town, the fields, the roads—all there. Like they had always been there. The town, sleeping silently.

Everything connected to the one memory of Anna leaving.

He's grieving, I thought.

I could dim the memory of Anna. I could weaken the links that bound it to others. That would salve the grief. That could eliminate one of the roadblocks that kept the Aficionado from accepting us.

But I tried to visualize the mind without the underpinning of that brilliant memory and those strong links. And realized: he isn't much more than his grief.

If I dimmed the memories or weakened the links, the Aficionado might turn into the virtual equivalent of the introverts or the manics that made Editing such a risky discipline until the invention of the autobalancers.

What would that mean to Arcadia? To have an unbalanced demigod?

It already has an unbalanced demigod, I thought.

Who is doing no real harm.

And in that moment, a complete picture of what the Aficionado really was: a child, grieving. Unable to understand. Still growing. Still becoming what he was meant to be.

I couldn't Edit him.

I chanted myself out.

"You didn't Edit me," the Aficionado said. Disappointed. But not surprised.

"I can't help you without jeopardizing your mind."

"But it hurts."

"Yes, it does."

"I don't think I'll ever forget her."

"I know."

The Aficionado was silent for a long time. He turned to look at the profiles punched in the still-closed stainless gate. Some smiling. Some frowning. Some with strong features. Some sleek and evil, like a rat. Most of them just people.

"Will you come back?" he asked.

"Yes," I said.

Timoteo was waiting for me when I came up. Scrolling airscreen data reflected in his dark eyes. Meeri stood to one side, tense, ready to run.

"You could have destroyed it!" Timoteo said, shaking, his hands clenched into fists.

"He didn't need to be Edited," I said, sitting up and taking off my Crown.

"It needed to be wiped!

"I'm not going to erase him."

"Yes you will! You'll go back down right now and wipe its mind. Or you'll forfeit your entire fee."

"You can't do that."

A grim smile. "You should read your employment contracts more closely, Gillam."

I could have called them up in my airscreens. I could have had the contracts read through my earbuds. But I didn't care.

"I guess I'll be hiking back down to the Valley, then."

Something in Timoteo broke. His anger-rigid face collapsed inward, as if the beams sustaining it had crumpled. "You won't destroy it?"

"Him," I said. "No, I won't destroy the Aficionado."

"I'll pay you whatever you want."


"A quarter of my shares."


"You could have your old life back!"

Yes. My old life. My empty, cold, sterile old life. Hiding from the real world in an Arcadia of my own. I could have that back.

I laughed.

"You don't understand," Timoteo said. "Arcadia is the only Virtuality where we have the chance to be truly human. No software thing like the Aficionado should jeopardize that. You don't understand how important that is."

"No," I said. "I don't."

I walked out into the freshening rain, carrying a small bag of my stuff. For the moment, I still had airscreen connectivity. It said that the night would be wet and cold. It told me the walk down to the Valley would take almost an hour and a half. It told me that even the cheapest flophouses would eat their way through my money in less than a week.

"Hey." A voice, behind me. Meeri.

I turned. She stood, arms crossed, raindrops quickly weaving a wet shawl around her shoulders.

"Hey what?" I said.

Meeri frowned and looked down, hopping up and down in the cold. She'll ask to come with you, I thought. She'll follow you wherever you go. You'll create the world's most powerful Editing team.

"Take care," she said, and sprinted away to the safety and warmth of the buildings.

Jason's day job is in advertising, but he'd much rather be writing. In addition to Strange Horizons, his work has appeared in Interzone, Writers of the Future Volume XX, Far Sector, Fiction Inferno, and Another Realm. He lives with his wife and 15 children-surrogates (eight turtles, seven cars) in California. His previous appearances in Strange Horizons can be found in our Archive. For more on his work, see his website. To contact him, send him email at jason@fictionados.com.