Letter From The Editor - Issue 56 - April 2017

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Issue 3
Stories
Dream Engine
by Tim Pratt
The Adjoa Gambit
by Rick Novy
Xoco's Fire
by Oliver Dale
Small Magics
by Alethea Kontis
Fat Town
by Jose Mojica
From the Ender Saga
Cheater
by Orson Scott Card
Audio Bonus
Cheater
Read by Orson Scott Card
Tales for the Young and Unafraid
Hats Off
by David Lubar
Running Out of Air
by David Lubar
Senior Paper
Special Software Bonus
I-Wei's Amazing Clocks
by I-Wei Huang

Writing Fantasy

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Finalist for Story South's 2006 Million Writers Award


Dream Engine
    by Tim Pratt
Dream Engine
Artwork by Howard Lyon

The Stolen State, The Magpie City, The Nex, The Ax -- this is the place where I live, and hover, and chafe in my service; the place where I take my small bodiless pleasures where I may. Nexington-on-Axis is the proper name, the one the Regent uses in his infrequent public addresses, but most of the residents call it other things, and my -- prisoner? partner? charge? trust? -- my associate, Howlaa Moor, calls it The Cage, at least when zie is feeling sorry for zimself.

The day the fat man began his killing spree, I woke early, while Howlaa slept on, in a human form that snored. I looked down on the streets of our neighborhood, home to low-level government servants and the wretchedly poor. The sky was bleak, and rain filled the potholes. The royal orphans had snatched a storm from somewhere, which was good, as the district's roof gardens needed rain.

I saw a messenger approach through the cratered street. I didn't recognize his species -- he was bipedal, with a tail, and his skin glistened like a salamander's, though his gait was birdlike -- but I recognized the red plume jutting from his headband, which allowed him to go unmolested through this rough quarter.

"Howlaa," I said. "Wake. A messenger approaches."

Howlaa stirred on the heaped bedding, furs and silks piled indiscriminately with burlap and canvas and even coarser fabrics, because Howlaa's kind enjoy having as much tactile variety as possible. And, I suspect, because Howlaa likes to taunt me with reminders of the physical sensations I can not experience.

"Shushit, Wisp," Howlaa said. My name is not Wisp, but that is what zie calls me, and I have long since given up on changing the habit. "The messenger could be coming for anyone. There are four score civil servants on this block alone. Let me sleep." Howlaa picked up a piece of half-eaten globe-fruit and hurled it at me. It passed through me without effect, of course, but it annoyed me, which was Howlaa's intent.

"The messenger has a red plume, skinshifter," I said, making my voice resonate, making it creep and rattle in tissues and bones, so sleep or shutting-me-out would be impossible.

"Ah. Blood business, then." Howlaa threw off furs, rose, and stretched, arms growing more joints and bends as zie moved, unfolding like origami in flesh. I could not help a little subvocal gasp of wonder as zir skin rippled and shifted and settled into Howlaa's chosen morning shape. I have no body, and am filled with wonder at Howlaa's mastery of physical form.

Howlaa settled into the form of a male Nagalinda, a biped with long limbs, a broad face with opalescent eyes, and a lipless mouth full of triangular teeth. Nagalinda are fearsome creatures with a reputation for viciousness, though I have found them no more uniformly monstrous than any other species; their cultural penchant for devouring their enemies has earned them a certain amount of notoriety even in the Ax, though. Howlaa liked to take on such forms to terrify government messengers if zie could. Such behavior was insubordinate, but it was such a small rebellion that the Regent didn't even bother to reprimand Howlaa for it -- and having such willfully rude behavior so completely disregarded only served to annoy Howlaa further.

The Regent knew how to control us, which levers to tug and which leads to jerk, which is why he was the Regent, and we were in his employ. I often think the Regent controls the city as skillfully as Howlaa controls zir own form, and it is a pretty analogy, for the Ax is almost as mutable as Howlaa's body.

The buzzer buzzed. "Why don't you get that?" Howlaa said, grinning. "Oh, yes, right, no hands, makes opening the door tricky. I'll get it, then."

Howlaa opened the door to the messenger, who didn't find the Nagalinda form especially terrifying. The messenger was too frightened of the fat man and the Regent to spare any fear for Howlaa.

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