Letter From The Editor - Issue 69 - June 2019

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Issue 67
Stories
The Gilga-Mess
by Alex Shvartsman
Reading Dead Lips
by Dustin Steinacker
All the Things You Want
by Andrew Peery
Dayshift
by Brian Trent
The Cost of Wonder
by Leah Cypess
IGMS Audio
The Cost of Wonder
Read by Alethea Kontis
InterGalactic Medicine Show Interviews
Vintage Fiction
Sweetheart Come
by Alethea Kontis
Bonus Material
The Story Behind the Stories
by Dustin Steinacker

Dayshift
    by Brian Trent

Dayshift
Artwork by Michael Wolmarans

She's getting to her feet, retracting her parachute into her backpack, when the junkpunk materializes beside her.

He's a frightful apparition. Snout-like mask and rubber-rimmed goggles appearing in a pixelating rainbow, his spectarmor dulling to pewter gray to distinguish him from the eye-melting colors of trash around them. "Welcome to the Pile, arky. I'm Neil Rix, corporate crow."

"Vanessa Roderigo," she manages, still breathless from the exhilarating paradrop. "World Tree Arcology and… did you say corporate crow?"

His laugh is tinny in his rebreather. "My formal title is Perimeter Security Officer. The title of crow, well, that's what we call each other."

Vanessa can see why. There are real crows about, alighting on the Pile's undulating slopes of junk and flapping, half-buried newspapers. And the junkpunks patrolling the peaks and valleys have a decidedly avian quality to them, too; with their beak-like masks and black goggles, they make her think of medieval plague doctor costumes. Even Neil's bulky armor gives him the hooded appearance of a carrion bird.

She wonders what he looks like beneath the armor.

"Well, Vanessa," he says. "Follow me."

She obliges, trailing him up the nearest slope. They halt at the precipice, and she gasps at the viewpoint it affords. The Pile contains two centuries of valuable crap, a veritable fossil shale of specimens from bygone consumer epochs compressed into a layer cake of metal, paper, and plastic. A landscape of tin cans and corrugated steel, appliances and upended couches, with plastic goop marbling it like fat in a lamb shank.

"I studied your list," the corporate crow says. "How's this for your first shot?"

"Perfect!"

Vanessa sends out a cloud of her angels to snap pictures of this moment--her and the junkpunk atop this jutting pinnacle, the Pile rolling in all directions beneath them. Her angels are invisible, as angels should be. Tiny spycams riding the viscosity of air, always recording and transmitting information to the arcology cloud.

Neil Rix watches her. "What news agency will this be going to?"

"Not sure yet," Vanessa says.

"Oh?"

His single word is laced with subtle emotional threads. Vanessa's sniffer program quickly breaks it down into a color-coded chart, based on millions of vocal analyses. There's a strong orange undercurrent of suspicion in his voice--he worries she is lying about her motivations for coming here today. Indigo threads of fear, too--RER is not the only excavation company working the Pile and competition is fierce, brutal, and lethal.

And hope.

Hope resonates through his voice like a seismograph reading in bright yellow. Hope, that by agreeing to allow this exposé into the lives of junkpunk families, good things might come of it. A better life.

"Good things will come of it," Vanessa assures him. "I'm sure I can interest one of the media agencies in this piece. It's completely unplowed territory. No one from the arcologies comes here. Most don't even--"

"Don't even know we exist." Her guide nods in his freakish mask and looks away, to the misty, predawn horizon where arcologies rise as pyramids and ziggurats. Vanessa can see her own arcology, designed to resemble a massive tree, the various districts supported by enormous nanosteel branches. Her angels take another volley of shots, with her and the junkpunk standing together on this mountain of garbage, civilization as a hazy dream in the distance. It's a spectacular image. Maybe the one she'll use for the article's splash page.

"Can we go into the tunnels now?" she asks.

The crow's goggles are dark mirrors. "Sure. But don't you want to know what we do topside?"

"Of course," she says, and then the guy can't stop talking. He tells her about an average day-in-the-life. Rare Earth Recoveries has staked out a four-mile turf on the Pile, he says. Further west are the borders of their biggest rival, Paragon Recyclers. To the south is a black barricade of car tires separating them from the border patrols of Eisman Earthworks.

When he finally stops to catch his breath, Vanessa nods. "Great. So . . . the tunnels?"

"Did you have breakfast yet?"

"Before a paradrop? That's not advisable." She realizes she is hungry, though. She's packed a few protein bars, but why not sample the local cuisine?

The crow points. "Head down that path to Kiosk Ridge. Go to the pink booth. The proprietor is a woman named Rosemary, and she'll make you the best meal you can find in a hundred miles. I'll join you shortly."

"Thanks." Eating here wasn't on her list, but it would make an interesting addition to the piece and--

Something like an invisible hammer strikes her in the chest. She's thrown backwards, nearly splitting her head open on the sharp corner of a half-buried office desk.

"Stay down!" Neil yells, wheeling around and aiming his rifle at the sky.

His rifle gives an electric whump! There doesn't seem to be anything up in the bright blue sky, but suddenly there's an eruption of sparks. A tail of smoke gushes from an unseen, madly spinning source.

Neil tucks the butt of his rifle into his shoulder, squints through the sights, and squeezes the trigger again. Whatever is up there blows apart, showering the Pile with fizzling streaks of debris.

A dozen crows materialize, rifles aiming wildly at the sky.

It all happens so fast that Vanessa can barely believe it happened at all.

"Drones," Neil mutters, lowering his rifle and hoisting her to her feet. "Probably Eisman's, if I had to guess."

"Why did they shoot me?" Vanessa asks. The aerogel layer of her shirt has condensed into a hard plate, dispersing the impact. But it still hurts.

"They saw your paradrop."

"So?"

"So they don't know what to make of you. As you said, nobody comes here. They've probably been watching you since you arrived, trying to decide how to handle the new variable. Some grim calculus decided you should die."

"But I'm just a reporter!"

He shrugs. "Maybe they figure RER shouldn't get the kind of publicity an arky could provide. Maybe they figured an arky dying on our watch would be good for them. They'd send press releases to all our clients, saying we're inept and uncaring. Everyone out here's always angling to win more contracts."

Vanessa is breathing heavily, seeing herself reflected in duplicate on his goggles. She closes her eyes and conjures the angels' playback.

They've caught it all. The crack of the shot hitting her chest. Neil Rix firing back, the drone trailing smoke and crashing. It's a breathtaking capture.

Neil laughs and slaps her shoulder. "Welcome to the Pile, arky."

Vanessa manages a grin. "Can we take a picture together? Without your mask?"

He hesitates. "That's pretty dangerous. One shot is all it would take to . . ."

"I only want one shot," she pleads, massaging the yellow line in his voice.

"Still . . ."

"It'll really help the story, Neil. Give it a human face."

Neil reluctantly slides off his mask.

He's handsome, in a wasted, famished way; some arkies got that look when their myostatin blockers were cranked too high, resulting in a total burn-away of fat. His eyes are as midnight blue as the rare earth his employers are cracking for.

Vanessa stands beside him, her angels snapping a flurry of pictures and sending them straight to the cloud.

"My hero," she says.

"Nice to be someone's hero," he mutters, nervously watching the sky.

Kiosk Ridge is a set of prefab structures anchored into the Pile's eastern cliffs, reinforced with scaffolding and a protective railing. They're supposed to be safe.

Vanessa doesn't feel safe. Her chest still hurts from the impact of the drone-gun as she passes the row of eathouse kiosks. Finally, she halts at one stall that's painted as hot pink as an '83 Hoverjoy. The overhead marquis, hung with empty bottles that clink and jingle in the wind, reads ROSEMARY'S.

Vanessa clears her throat. "Hi," she begins, forced to raise her voice above the crackle of skillets. "Neil Rix sent me."

There's a woman working the prep station. Eyes as white as milkstones. "Is that the arky? Welcome to Rosemary's!"

"Are you Rosemary?"

"Am indeed!" The woman blots her palms on a dirty apron and blindly feels her way towards the sound of her voice. She extends a hand. "How do you like the Pile so far?"

"Getting some great shots," Vanessa says diplomatically.

"You hungry?"

Vanessa considers the menu, scrawled in chalk on an old classroom blackboard; a small brass placard on the wood frame says ST. FRANCIS XAVIER MIDDLE SCHOOL.

"Um . . . not really sure what I want."

"Oh, you just leave that to me!" Rosemary insists. "I'm gonna give you the full treatment!" She begins to navigate the sinks and fryers with remarkable confidence, the crackling pots and skillets serving as an auditory maze that she moves throughout with precision.

The full treatment, as it turns out, is a regular charcuterie board of available foodstuffs: pigeon, rat, millipede, and fried balls of mashed termites. There's also a "special dish" coming, though Rosemary refuses to explain.

Vanessa has her angels out again. She's feeling better now, her shock at the morning's attack subsiding as she samples the dubious four-course lunch.

Eventually, Rosemary joins her at the table. "The pièce de résistance is almost ready. How's the food so far?"

The food so far has been terrible. It is mealy and crunchy in ways that food shouldn't be.

But Vanessa insists, "Delicious! So tell me what's it like living at the Pile?"

The blind woman is glad to indulge her. Living at the Pile is hard, but it's probably harder elsewhere. She has a husband who works perimeter security. They have two kids together, and the kids are probably running throughout the tunnels right now, playing with things they find. It's the life of junkpunk families everywhere, Rosemary supposes. As arcology tech demands more and more rare earths in a world with fewer and fewer resources, excavation companies have to meet that demand: descending on trash heaps like eager flies, burrowing into the trash heaps like hungry maggots. It's all tunnelwork and careful excavations, digging in a way that tries balancing the needs for preserving the Pile's overall stability (the worker families don't want cave-ins), concealment (the rivals are always watching), and finding the best routes to the rarest of rare earths within the layer cake of old throwaway technologies. There are teams using ultrasonics and microbugs to peer into the Pile's deeper flesh, analysts poring over the blurry images as if they were astronomers trying to discern objects seen against a soupy nebula.

"We got a good Pile here," Rosemary says with pride. "So other companies, they want in. Naturally that means there's conflict and . . ." She trails off, tilting her head to listen to the popping from one of the cookpots. "Be right back!"

She leaves and almost immediately returns with a plate of what looks like a dirty snowball. Some kind of breaded meat, golden brown and dripping in grease. Vanessa steels herself and jabs it with her fork. Syrupy fluid disgorges, flushing black flecks of dubious ingredients across the tin plate. Vanessa's never seen anything like it: she considers its hollow, cratered interior as a kind of culinary interpretation of the Pile itself, maybe, containing subterranean warrens and secret lakes.

"Go on girl, dig in!"

For the sake of her angels, Vanessa draws a knife across the steaming, greasy thing and takes her first bite. She has to suppress her gag reflex at the pungent, cloying odor, and she's forcing herself to take a second bite when, mercifully, Neil appears from around the bend.

"I asked to leave my shift early," he says. "It's not every day people take an interest in us. How's breakfast?"

"Amazing! Rosemary is the best chef in the world. So, so talented!"

Neil grins. "Hear that, babe? You've got an arky endorsement!"

The blind woman kisses him on the lips, then she leans her head on his shoulder, smiling in contentment. Her pale eyes seem to find Vanessa again and she asks, "How's the Chicken Kiev?"

"Chicken Kiev?"

"We were told you were coming from World Tree. Chicken Kiev is popular there, right? They're always eating it on the TV shows."

"It is very popular," Vanessa admits, still wondering how what she had just eaten could possibly be construed as Chicken Kiev.

A warm wind blows past, clinking the bottles that hang like glassy fruits from kiosk rooftops.

Neil says, "Vanessa, you ready to go into the Pile? Or would you rather more to eat?"

Vanessa wipes her greasy fingers on a towel. "I'm ready to go."

They descend through the cherry-red door of an ancient Mack truck. The way is utterly black until they reach a row of work-lights that transform the tunnel into a ghostly esophagus.

Vanessa sees a security booth ahead, structured of old riot-shields arranged like semitransparent headstones.

A woman is waiting for them there, rifle slung around her back. She's dressed in deactivated spectarmor, so it looks like she's been dipped in lead paint, with only her face showing as a pale oval above it.

"Prettiest piece of trash I ever seen," she says, brazenly looking Vanessa up and down as she approaches the booth. Vanessa is dressed in arky casuals, but she feels naked beneath the security officer's gaze.

"She's been cleared, Hena," Neil explains, handing over Vanessa's arcology identity card. "Top brass gave the okay."

"You writin' a story about us?" the woman asks, running the card through a scanner.

Vanessa nods.

"On what specifically?"

"Life in the Pile."

The guard named Hena stares at her until Vanessa begins to sweat. "Really? That interesting to arkies?"

"It should be. People need to know where we get the very materials that keep society running."

"What do you know about those materials?"

Vanessa blinks to privately access the internet. "Old computers were chock full of precious metals. Circuit-boards had gold, palladium, platinum, copper, aluminum, zinc, and silver. Smartdevices are even more valuable: europium, dysprosium, rhenium, rhodium, lanthanum, ytterbium, yttrium . . . things we can no longer find in the world, or can no longer afford the separation process to obtain. In ancient times people just threw that stuff away, I guess assuming there would always be more. The newest arky tech still needs those materials, but I don't think anyone really thinks about how we're going to get it now."

"You mean that arky demand has created the junkpunk caste."

"Right."

The card-reader chirps. Hena consults a small screen. "Interesting."

"What's interesting?" Vanessa asks, heart in her throat.

"I don't have you registered as a reporter in any arcology."

"I'm--"

"A nobody," Hena growls. "I requested verification access. You're a twenty-year-old nobody."

Neil frowns. "Hena, were you expecting a celebrity journalist to get dirty down here? So she's young and just starting? Maybe it takes someone young to get our story out."

"I want to help," Vanessa insists.

Hena's expression is winter frost, her voice spiked with ice-blue hostility. "That true, really? The arkies suddenly give a crap about outland rats?"

"One does. Where there's one, there could be more."

Neil leans over the counter and takes Hena's hands. The security chief pulls away from his touch and scowls. "Don't try pulling that old charm routine on me, Neil. And I don't care that she's only twenty; I was younger than that when I first picked up a rifle."

"Then what's the problem?"

"We don't know anything about her. She could easily be spying for Eisman or Paragon."

"She's not spying for any--"

Hena aims a device into the air above their heads and casts a purple light. Vanessa's angels appear like a cloud of gnats overhead. "Pull your spycams in or I'll fry them! Now!"

The blood rushes to Vanessa's cheeks; she's not used to people yelling in her face. Nobody does that at home.

Still, she sends the RECALL command, and her angels withdraw into her skull-port like nervous fish darting into a protective sanctum.

Neil swallows, and in a wavering voice, said, "A drone shot her topside."

"How perfectly convenient for her that . . ."

The security chief trails off as, in a simple and fluid motion, Vanessa slides her pants down to her ankles and steps out of them. As the two junkpunks stare in utter bewilderment, she skins out of her shirt, too. Then she holds out her arms, rotating slowly in place, like a windup ballerina on its plinth.

"No weapons," Vanessa says. "No secret dossiers, no tracking devices. I came here to document your lives. I'm not a spy. I don't work for Eisman or Paradrome."

"Paragon," Hena mutters.

"Paragon. I'm not here to hurt any of you, and I fully submit to your authority." She rights herself and advances towards the security chief. "I need to use my angels down here, but I'll agree to patch their feed into your local network. Every picture they take will go to your attention first. If you think they've snapped something too sensitive, something that might comprise your security protocols, feel perfectly free to erase it." She swallows hard, trembling openly in the cool air of the tunnel. "I'm entirely in your hands, Officer Hena."

"Put your clothes back on," the officer snaps, too quickly, with a forced dismissiveness that indicates to Vanessa's sniffer program that the last thing Hena wants is for her to get dressed again. A sudden blush creeps onto Hena's cheeks, like a sunburn. Vanessa wonders when the last time was that Hena experienced a sunburn. She's a pasty, greasy, subterranean creature.

At any rate, the venom is leeched from Hena's voice as she adds, "Your angels, little angel, are to send their images to me first. If I detect a single transmission attempting to bypass me, I'll hit you with an EMP that will fry your hot little body down to its protons. Understand?"

Vanessa holds the woman's gaze. "Whatever you want."

Neil leads her along tunnels of compressed trash. Newspapers transformed into papier-mâché mortar. Support pylons made from vertical stacks of tires and I-beams.

There's a narrow fissure ahead. Neil squeezes through and motions for her to follow.

Within, Vanessa finds herself in a single oval-shaped cave with a bed, dresser, desk, armoire, and laundry bins marked CLEAN and DIRTY.

"Where are we?" Vanessa asks.

"My place," Neil says, laying his rifle against the wall. "You wanted to see how junkpunks live."

Her angels whirl through the room, photographing everything. Magazines are stuck like spackle to the walls and ceilings. Forgotten celebrity smiles. Naked breasts and legs framing headlines reading "Special report!" and "Doomsday Predictions for 2021!" She sees a flatscreen 2D television set and VCRs and game consoles like from the old movies, plugged into a serpent's knot of wires.

Vanessa catches her own reflection in a body-length mirror, set into the nearest wall. Beside it is a liquor cabinet.

"Ah!" Vanessa smiles. "The great equalizer!"

"My bank account," Neil corrects her.

"Bank account?"

She opens the cabinet to find liquor bottles like gemstone canopic jars: sake in fish-shaped bottles, brandy in swan-like decanters, mead ensconced in golden flutes, beer in aluminum cans.

He stands beside the cabinet. "There's a fiat currency, but nothing beats the old liquors. I bought my wife her dresser by trading a stash of malt whiskeys I had discovered while on excavation." He looks at her. "I hear in the arcologies, you just print alcohol whenever you want."

"The rapid processor manufactures it. Every drink in the world is on tap."

"And every kind of food, too?"

"Well, not every kind of food." She's thinking of his wife's interpretation of Chicken Kiev.

He shakes his head. "Must be a fascinating place you live in. I'd love to show my boys what an arcology is like. Have you visited all of them?"

"Too many times," Vanessa says absently. She paces slowly through the hovel, and is formulating her next question when an alarm blares from the corridor.

"Code 5, goldway!" a voice shouts. "All available security to goldway! Code 5!"

Neil's eyes grow wide. He grabs his rifle and rushes towards the door.

"Stay here!" he cries.

Vanessa lumbers after him. "What's going on?"

"A Code 5," he shouts, and then he's out in the hall, dashing towards a pathway glinting by urine-hued lights.

A tremor ripples through the Pile like a soft earthquake.

She doesn't know what a Code 5 is, but she's not about to stay behind. She dashes into the gloom after him.

Neil spins around and seizes her, throws her against the wall. "I said stay here!" he snaps.

"Tell me," she pleads. "Tell me what's . . ."

"Sappers are intruding on our turf. Now get--"

The ground beneath them both gives way--an implosion of plastic bottles and hubcaps and carboard crates. Vanessa's falling through a cloud of debris and into the sound of screams and the stuttering of gunfire.

She lands hard in a tunnel below, and her first thought is: It's a cemetery. A damn graveyard.

There are things that look like enormous headstones protruding from the floor, uneven teeth in a gaping maw. Its dark down here, but some of the work lights from above create a faint luminosity that glints off of appliances--they're not headstones!--studding this airy netherworld. Vanessa sees cast iron furnaces, refrigerators, washers and dryers.

The air seems to be full of wasps. They whisper and zip by her head. For a moment she thinks that the upper tunnel collapse has disturbed a hidden hornet hive, its insects thriving on ancient syrups and sugars that wash down with the rainwater.

Then something white and glowing lashes out of the darkness like a massive tongue. She's never seen anything like it. The phosphorescence leaps across a dozen meters, illuminating the trash tunnel like a welder's torch.

Invisible junkpunks are struck by the glowing fluid, painted bright from their spectarmor concealment.

"Stay down!" someone screams at her, and she sees that it's Neil. He's streaked by the luminous paint like a tiger, but the rest of him winks in and out of visibility as he raises his weapon and fires into the tunnel. Bullets whisper back, popping bottles and thumping the walls.

Vanessa crouches low, breathless and sweating. Invisible junkpunks from RER and the intruding enemy faction battle each other in the semi-darkness. White phosphire erupts from both sides, splashing unseen shapes into stark targets. Whenever this happens, all muzzle-fire swings towards the hapless revealed, and then he or she is mulched by a bullet-storm.

Neil is a magnificent figure, crouching and shooting, rolling and tumbling. Vanessa thinks that even the sports stars of arky gladiator games can't match the rage and desperation in his face. He is invisible, then not, then invisible again, the colors swirling as he moves.

And then something bites her in the throat.

She tastes blood in her mouth. Hot liquid spills around her fingers where she touches her neck.

Vanessa staggers around in a tight circle, unable to swallow.

A pixelated ghost rushes to her, striped luminous and invisible.

"No!" the ghost cries, and it's Neil's voice. He tackles her to the ground, his body like a shield over hers. She's growing cold, her vision turning gray.

She doesn't see Neil Rix get shot, because she's practically blind now. But she hears the impact of bullets. Slap! Slap! Slap! He topples over her, like a spent lover collapsing against her, his breath in her ear. Even as her angels go to work. Snap! Snap! Snap!

She's still hearing wasps as her senses wink out like ancient television screens.

Vanessa dies in his embrace.

When she comes to, there's a sheet over her head. She claws it off her, startling a nurse so badly the woman screams and flees the room.

The room is some kind of medical clinic, with gurneys and IV bags and cabinets marked by scarlet crosses. There are nurses and doctors here in blue scrubs.

Vanessa realizes there are bodies around her. Corpses covered in sheets to her left and right, stacked like cordwood against the walls as if they are just another kind of artifact dug out of the trash.

Her wondering gaze crawls to the man across from her. It's Neil Rix, wearing a bloody rag slung around his left eye. Security Chief Hena is there, too. The two junkpunks gape at her.

"Neil?" Vanessa cries out. "You're okay?"

The junkpunk doesn't say anything for a long time. His single eye stares at her.

"Neil?"

One of the doctors in a dark smock rushes over to her, his hands trembling. "You were dead! Neil carried your body back from the tunnels, but you were dead! I examined you myself!"

Vanessa slides off the gurney. "Yeah, but I'm all right now." It actually isn't the first time she's been dead. Three years earlier, she made a strato-jump with her friends, falling like a fiery meteor in her biosuit. Her damn parachute failed to open. The impact crater she made was now a place where she celebrated Death Day with her buddies, sitting on the edge with their legs dangling, drinking and laughing and snapping pictures. Sooner or later everyone had a Death Day. Some had many of them, and celebrated in turn like an Advent calendar of unique, personalized holidays.

Vanessa embraces Neil, and her voice is muffled against his chest when she says, "Did you repel those invaders? They were a competing firm, right? Is that why they were attacking?"

"We repelled them," Neil says dully. He pulls away from her, a bloody cyclops. "So it's true, isn't it?"

"What's true?"

"Arkies don't die anymore."

Vanessa considers the lovely blue of his remaining eye. "Of course we still die. It's just not permanent. Do you know who was attacking us?"

"Paragon," Neil says, and in that moment the door behind him opens and Rosemary rushes in. The doctor intercepts her, helps her find her way. Rosemary throws her arms around her husband, and they're kissing and crying and holding each other. Vanessa gets it all on her angels.

The doctor is quick to return to Vanessa however. "Your heart stopped. You lost so much blood."

"The nanocloud repairs the tissue," Vanessa explains, and before she can say more, Security Chief Hena has grabbed her, pulling her out from the hospital and into the hallway beyond. Vanessa fights in her grip but its no use. The woman's hands are like eagle talons.

"You're leaving now," Hena snaps. "You're done here."

"I didn't attack us! I already told you, I'm not a spy!"

"You're not a spy, fine. But I'm not convinced you're human."

Vanessa blinks. "Excuse me? What the hell does that mean?"

"Neil lost his eye and has permanent nerve damage in one arm."

"And you think that's my fault?"

"I think that if you can come back from the dead, you can share some arky tech with us and fix him up!"

Vanessa shakes off the woman's grip. "My health system is hard-wired into my body. There's nothing to share unless you want to crack me open."

Hena is a dark-haired banshee in the murky corridor. "You could get something for him! You could go to some kiosk at your ark and buy a repair kit! He tried saving your life!" Her face contorts into a frightful transformation, all teeth and flaring white eyes. "We dig up the materials that allow you people to live your perfect lives! Please help him!"

The voice is searing red, and Vanessa thinks: She's in love with Neil. The two might have even dated before his marriage to Rosemary. This is the cry of mortal love like in the movies, flaring bright like a supernova. Interesting.

"Are you listening to me?"

"I'm listening." Vanessa meets the woman's gaze. "I'll help Neil. He's a great guy and I will definitely, definitely help him."

Snap!

The liftglider comes soaring down to the Pile at 09:31 to extract Vanessa, and once she's strapped into the harness, it carries her away in a diagonal retreat towards the distant shadow of World Tree. Vanessa closes her eyes, enjoying the feel of the breeze on her face as she ascends, like an angel of her very own, into the deep blue sky and towards the glittering haze of home.

She doesn't look at the ground far below her. She doesn't look back at the Pile's garish slopes.

She's reviewing the pictures her angels have taken. The photos from every step of the past few hours.

Her exciting paradrop onto the Pile!

Her face in profile, with the enemy drone exploding marvelously behind her!

Her eating that disgusting breakfast of bugs with the ugly blind woman!

Her getting yelled at by that security chief bitch!

Her getting shot and actually dying in the middle of that amazing tunnel fight!

Her getting yelled at again!

It's great stuff, and Vanessa is certain that no one else will have anything like it, so she should have a real chance to win the #YourMostOutrageousAdventure contest. And even if she doesn't, she's taken plenty of pictures to share with her friends.

Pictures of what matters most.


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