Excerpts

Exclusive Excerpt: Gods, Monsters, and the Lucky Peach by Kelly Robson

Hello and a Happy Monday to all!

Today, we are happy to be hosting an exclusive excerpt from Kelly Robson’s novella, Gods, Monsters, and the Lucky Peach – out from Tor.com Publishing in March this year.

“Gods, Monsters, and the Lucky Peach is a tour-de-force, with nuanced characters in a masterfully conceived world of stunning, mind-bending eco-tech.” —Annalee Newitz

Experience this far-reaching, mind-bending science fiction adventure that uses time travel to merge climate fiction with historical fantasy. From Kelly Robson, Aurora Award winner, Campbell, Nebula, and Theodore Sturgeon finalist, and author of Waters of Versailles

Discover a shifting history of adventure as humanity clashes over whether to repair their ruined planet or luxuriate in a less tainted past.

In 2267, Earth has just begun to recover from worldwide ecological disasters. Minh is part of the generation that first moved back up to the surface of the Earth from the underground hells, to reclaim humanity’s ancestral habitat. She’s spent her entire life restoring river ecosystems, but lately the kind of long-term restoration projects Minh works on have been stalled due to the invention of time travel. When she gets the opportunity take a team to 2000 BC to survey the Tigris and Euphrates rivers, she jumps at the chance to uncover the secrets of the shadowy think tank that controls time travel technology.

The Excerpt

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The monster looked like an old grandmother from the waist up, but instead of legs it had six long octopus legs. It crawled out of its broken egg and cowered in the muddy drainage ditch. When it noticed Shulgi, its jaw fell open, exposing teeth too perfect to be human.

It recoiled and hissed: Oh-shit-shit-shit-shit-shit-shit.

Shulgi hefted his flail in one hand and his scythe in the other. He knew his duty better than anyone other than the gods. Kings were made for killing monsters.

#

On one of Calgary’s wide, south-facing orchard terraces, Minh pruned peach trees while paying vague attention to ESSA’s weekly business meeting. Minh and her partners were all plague babies. They’d worked together for nearly sixty years, so unless a problem cropped up—an over-budget project or a scope-creeping client—their fakes could handle the meeting nearly unmonitored.

No problems this week. Nobody playing diva, simply letting their fakes walk through the agenda. Everyone except for Kiki, the firm’s ridiculously frenetic young admin. She was playing with an antique paperclip simulation, stringing them into ropes. The clips clicked against the table.

Kiki, stop it, Minh whispered. The sound is driving me nuts.

I didn’t know you were lurking, Kiki replied. I thought I was all alone here.

The meetings are important. Sit still and listen.

Easy for you to say. You don’t spend every Monday morning with a bunch of fakes. I bet you’re halfway up a tree right now, aren’t you?

Minh didn’t reply. She was in a tree—four legs wrapped around the trunk of Calgary’s oldest peach. She’d just started the late-winter pruning. Below her, bots gathered the dropped limbs and piled them on a cargo float. A cold downwash funneled through the orchard, the wind caught and guided by the hab’s towering south wall. Minh pinged the microclimate sensors. A few more weeks of winter chill and the trees could start moving into bud break.

Since I’ve got your attention, Kiki continued, you might want to look over the RFP coming up next. It’s a big river remediation project funded by a private bank. You’ve never seen anything like it. You’re going to disintegrate.

Kiki shot her the request for proposal package with a flick of her fingernail.

Minh dropped out of the tree and spread the data over the orchard’s carefully manicured ground cover. She hadn’t seen a new project in ten years. The banks weren’t interested. Calgary and all the other surface habitats struggled to keep their ongoing projects alive. Some of the habs—Edmonton, notoriously—had managed the funding crisis so badly, they’d starved themselves out.

Before she’d even finished scanning the introductory material, Minh’s blood pressure was spiraling.

A time travel project. Aren’t you excited? Kiki whispered. I nearly blew apart when I saw it.

Half the RFP made sense. Past state assessment, flow modeling, ecological remediation—her life’s work, familiar as her own skin. The rest didn’t make sense at all. Mesopotamia, Tigris, Euphrates—words out of history. And time travel—those two words raised the hairs on the back of her neck. Her biom flashed with blood pressure alerts.

It’s intriguing, whispered Minh. Why didn’t you send it to me earlier?

Kiki jangled the paperclips. It’s been in your queue for two days. I’ve been bugging your fake about it. You never look at your RFPs before the meeting. None of you do.

Yeah, well, we’re busy people, Minh replied absently.

When the plague babies had moved to the surface six decades earlier, in 2205, they’d been determined to prove humanity could escape the hives and hells and live above ground again, in humanity’s ancestral habitat. First, they’d erected bare-bones habs high in the mountains, scraping together skeleton funding for proof-of-concept pilot projects. For the first few ecological remediation projects, the plague babies donated their billable hours, hoping to lure investment and spark population growth.

It worked. Not quite as quickly as they’d hoped, but over the decades, the habs proved viable. Iceland and Cusco were booming. Calgary wasn’t quite as successful but momentum was building. Then TERN developed time travel, and every aboveground initiative had stalled.

Why would TERN get involved in river remediation now? Hadn’t they ruined her life enough already?

Minh’s biom slid an alert into the middle of her eye. Blood pressure wildly fluctuating, as if Minh couldn’t tell. She’d been lightheaded ever since opening the RFP package. Her field of vision was narrowing. Her fingers itched to dial a little relief into her biom, but no. Minh had promised her medtech she wouldn’t meddle with her hormonal balance, so instead of hitting herself with a jolt of adrenaline, she circled the peach tree’s central leader with two legs and hung upside down, rough bark against her back, and let the blood cascade to her brain.

Back in the meeting, the fakes finished walking through the project progress reports. Nothing over budget. No problems. The fakes approved them all.

“Okay,” Kiki told the fakes. “On to new opportunities.”

Watch this, she whispered to Minh. I can turn these fakes into scientists.

Kiki fired the time travel RFP onto the table.

“The first one is for Minh. River remediation, and it’s big. Thousands of billable hours.”

All round the table, the fakes dropped away as Minh’s partners engaged with the text.

Kiki grinned at Minh. See? It’s like magic.

Mesopotamian Development Bank Request for Proposal (RFP 2267-16)

Past State Assessment of the Mesopotamian Trench

Due March 21, 2267 at 14:00 GMT

The Mesopotamian Development Bank is embarking on a multi-phase initiative to remediate the Mesopotamian trench. This project will restore 100,000 square kilometers of habitat, including the natural channels of the Euphrates and Tigris rivers, their tributaries, coastal wetlands, and terrestrial and aquatic species. The restoration project will support a network of arcologies across the habitat.

The Bank is seeking a multi-disciplinary project team to execute a past state assessment supported by the Temporal Economic Research Node (TERN), a division of the Centers for Excellence in Economic Research and Development (CEERD). The successful proponent team will assess and quantify the environmental state of Mesopotamia in 2024 BCE. The project will include complete geomorphological and ecological baselines, responses to stressors, and processes of change and adaptation. The data gathered will guide and inform future restoration projects in an effort to impose a regular climatic regime across the Mesopotamian drainage basin.

“This project is too good to pass up,” said Minh. “I want it.”

“You can’t be serious, Minh,” David said. He was out of breath, puffing hard. “Nobody hates CEERD and TERN more than you.”

Minh pinged his location. David was cycling the Icefields Guideway, climbing Sunwapta Pass without boost assist.

“It’s a great job,” said Minh. “I’ve already started working on the proposal.”

Kiki rolled her eyes. Minh ignored her.

“This isn’t a job, it’s a joke.” said Sarah. “You can’t do an ecological assessment on a hundred thousand square kilometers in three weeks. Three years wouldn’t be enough.”

Zhang shook his head. “Maybe if we knew this bank, but we’ve never even heard of them.”

Kiki fired a documentary onto the table. “The Mesopotamian Development Bank specializes in West Asian projects. They’re designing a string of habs for the Zagros Mountains. Look at this design. You’re going to collapse.”

The table exploded into a full-blown architectural simulation, the angles and planes of a huge ziggurat echoing the peaks and crags of the surrounding ranges. In comparison, Calgary was a pimple on the prairie.

“Put the doc away, Kiki,” said Sarah. “It’s just pretty pictures to attract investment.”

Kiki slapped the doc down. Minh threw some numbers into an opportunity-assessment matrix and fired it onto the table.

“If we win, the follow-on work could be massive,” she said. “Make the client happy and they’ll keep us fed for decades.”

Minh’s partners reviewed the figures in the follow-on column.

“I like the numbers,” said Clint. “But the job’s got to be wired.”

Kiki leaned over the table, braids swinging. “If they already know who they want to hire, why bother with a public procurement process? Private banks don’t need procurement transparency.”

Easy, Minh whispered. I’m handling this.

“I want this job,” said Minh. “I’ve already started putting together my team.”

David said, “If you win, your team can’t pull out. The Bank of Calgary would peel the skin off us.”

“It won’t be a problem,” said Minh. “Who wouldn’t jump at the chance to time travel?”

Copyright © 2018 by Kelly Robson

About the Author

KELLY ROBSON’s fiction has appeared in Asimov’s Science Fiction, Tor.com, Clarkesworld Magazine, and several anthologies. Her Tor.com novella Waters of Versailles won the 2016 Aurora Award, and she has also been a finalist for the Nebula Award, World Fantasy Award, Theodore Sturgeon Award, Sunburst Award, and John W. Campbell Award for Best New Writer. Her stories have been included in numerous year’s best anthologies, and she is a regular contributor to the Another Word column at Clarkesworld.

Kelly grew up in the foothills of the Canadian Rocky Mountains and competed in rodeos as a teenager. From 2008 to 2012, she was the wine columnist for Chatelaine, Canada’s largest women’s magazine. After many years in Vancouver, she and her wife, fellow SF writer A.M. Dellamonica, now live in Toronto.

Gods, Monsters, and the Lucky Peach is out March 13 from Tor.com.

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