Slipping, p.1
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       Slipping, p.1

           Lauren Beukes
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Slipping


  Praise for Slipping

  “Lauren Beukes is one of the most talented writers working today. Moving from witty to sad to horrifying, she makes it all seem effortless. We're lucky to finally have her short work in one place.”

  —Richard Kadrey, author of the Sandman Slim series and The Everything Box

  “Lauren Beukes is a remarkable talent, that rare writer who can go in any direction she desires and always deliver. In Slipping, you have the chance to see her at her most versatile and powerful. A wonderful collection from one of the strongest voices in the game.”

  —Michael Koryta, author of So Cold the River and Those Who Wish Me Dead

  “The dazzling short pieces collected in Slipping, which range from reportage to tender bits of personal reflection to weird sci-fi horror, together serve to confirm the impression Beukes already created in her novels: this is a writer who can do anything.”

  —Ben H. Winters, author of Underground Airlines and the Last Policeman series

  “Slipping is a rare surprise, and one that demonstrates Beukes's wide-ranging talent. Whether she's writing about corporate-branded future punks and celebrants, or the downtrodden casual menaces of daily life, from a compilation of tweets to a handful of remarkable non-fiction essays, her stories prove, repeatedly, that she is masterful writer and that she has a voice that absolutely must be heard. Hold on tight to this one—you do not want it to slip away.”

  —Michael Patrick Hicks, author of the Sandman Slim series and Emergence

  “Bold, brazen, and brilliant—now this is a collection to die for. Beukes fearlessly skewers personal relationships, social injustice and pop culture (among other things), and every story is a masterclass in flair, wit and fresh ideas.”

  —Sarah Lotz, author of The Three and Day Four

  “A ferocious collection from our brightest, sharpest talent.”

  —Adam Christopher, author of Made to Kill

  “Lauren Beukes is one of the most creative, thought-provoking writers working today, and Slipping puts us right in the bloody depths of her brain and gives us an intimate tour. This book writhes with ideas and undeniable energy.”

  —Steph Cha, author of Dead Soon Enough

  “Slipping is a dazzling array of stories, a 'greatest hits' from a prolific and imaginative writer. There's a mash of scenarios and genres from alternative histories to Manga, cyberpunk to feminist fairy tale. It's kick-ass speculative fiction with brains and heart. 10/10 stars.”

  —Starburst

  “While each story in this collection is unique, they all have one piece in common that make me so passionate about [Beukes's] previous novels—there's a sense of some underlying real-world threat in even the most intensely science fiction story lines. Much like Margaret Atwood's The Handmaid's Tale, the reader is left with feelings of unease, that though what you've just read is fiction, it still hits too close to home to not make you nervous.”

  —Pages and Pints

  Praise for The Shining Girls

  “Lauren Beukes’s strong contender for the role of this summer’s universal beach read. Ms. Beukes is a South African whose earlier works have been closer to hard-core science fiction, but The Shining Girls is pure thriller.”

  —New York Times

  “I’m all over it.”

  —Gillian Flynn, author of Gone Girl

  “Utterly original, beautifully written.”

  —Tana French, author of In the Woods

  “Talented Cape Town writer Lauren Beukes has managed to turn such borrowing and theft into a triumph in her new novel, The Shining Girls.”

  —NPR

  “Smart prose.”

  —Stephen King, author of The Stand

  “[Beukes] is so profusely talented—capable of wit, darkness, and emotion on a single page—that a blockbuster seems inevitable.”

  —USA Today

  “The premise is pure Stephen King, but Beukes gives it an intricate, lyrical treatment all her own.”

  —Time

  “Unreservedly recommended.”

  —Joe Hill, author of Heart-Shaped Box

  “One of the summer’s hottest books.”

  —Wired

  “Very smart . . . completely kick-ass. Beukes’s handling of the joints between the realistic and the fantastic is masterful.”

  —William Gibson, author of Neuromancer

  “Brilliant. A book about the duel of two fabulously realized characters. A triumph.”

  —Independent

  “From something horrific and inexplicable, she makes delicate and redemptive magic.”

  —Chicago Tribune

  “Disturbing, smart and beautifully written.”

  —Erin Morgenstern, author of The Night Circus

  “Science fiction and psychological thriller collide spectacularly in this heart-thumping tale of a time-traveling serial killer.”

  —Entertainment Weekly

  “Imagine Poe and Steinbeck in a knife fight where Poe wins and writes Jack the Ripper’s version of The Grapes of Wrath. The Shining Girls is even scarier than that.”

  —Richard Kadrey, author of Sandman Slim

  Praise for Broken Monsters

  “Beukes’s captivating Broken Monsters defies the standard tropes of the serial-killer genre to become a thoroughly modern, supernatural thriller . . .”

  —Los Angeles Times

  “This wickedly unpleasant thriller has a rare and intriguing capacity to make the reader think.”

  —The Telegraph

  Praise for Zoo City

  “Beukes’s energetic noir phantasmagoria, the winner of this year’s Arthur C. Clarke Award, crackles with original ideas.”

  —Jeff VanderMeer, New York Times Book Review

  “Fabulous wordplay, imaginative settings and scenarios, and such a dark and cynical heart that I was totally riveted by it.”

  —Cory Doctorow, author of Little Brother

  “Beukes (Moxyland) delivers a thrill ride that gleefully merges narrative styles and tropes, almost single-handedly pulling the ‘urban fantasy’ subgenre back towards its groundbreaking roots.”

  —Publishers Weekly, starred review

  “If our words are bullets, Lauren Beukes is a marksman in a world of drunken machine-gunners, firing her ideas and images into us with a sly and deadly accuracy, wasting nothing, never missing.”

  —Bill Willingham, creator of Fables

  “Lauren Beukes brings to Zoo City the observant, cynical eye for the intersection of media, business, and pop culture that animated her debut, Moxyland.”

  —Ideomancer

  Other books by Lauren Beukes

  Novels

  Moxyland (2008)

  Zoo City (2010)

  The Shining Girls (2013)

  Broken Monsters (2014)

  Non-fiction

  Maverick: Extraordinary Women from South Africa’s Past (2005)

  Maverick: Extraordinary Women from South Africa’s Past 2nd edition with Nechama Brodie (2015)

  Graphic fiction

  Strange Adventures #1, “All The Pretty Ponies”

  with Inaki Miranda (2011)

  Fairest: The Hidden Kingdom

  with Inaki Miranda (2012, 2013)

  The Witching Hour, “Birdie”

  with Gerhard Human (2013)

  Wonder Woman, “The Trouble with Cats”

  with Mike Maihack (2015)

  Strange Sports Stories #1, “Chum”

  with Dale Halvorsen and Chrisopher Mitten (2015)

  Survivors’ Club

  with Dale Halvorsen and Ryan Kelly (2015, 2016)

  Slipping: Stories, Essays & Other Writing

  Copyright © 2016 by Lauren Beukes

  This is a collection of essays, journalism and short stories. A
ll events portrayed in the short stories are fictitious, and any resemblance to real people or events is purely coincidental. All rights reserved, including the right to reproduce this book or portions thereof in any form without the express permission of the publisher.

  Glossary © 2016 by Lauren Beukes

  Last two pages constitute an extension of this copyright page.

  Cover art, “Heart Study,” copyright © 2011 by Clara Bacou

  Cover and interior design by Elizabeth Story

  Tachyon Publications LLC

  1459 18th Street #139

  San Francisco, CA 94107

  (415) 285-5615

  tachyon@tachyonpublications.com

  www.tachyonpublications.com

  smart science fiction & fantasy

  Series Editor: Jacob Weisman

  Project Editor: Jill Roberts

  ISBNs: BOOK: 978-1-61696-240-1;

  EPUB: 978-1-61696-241-8

  MOBI: 978-1-61696-242-5;

  PDF: 978-1-61696-243-2

  Printed in the United States of America by Worzalla

  First edition: 2016

  Muse

  Slipping

  Confirm/Ignore

  Branded

  Smileys

  Princess

  My Insect Skin

  Parking

  Pop Tarts

  The Green

  Litmash

  Easy Touch

  Alegbra

  Unathi Battles the Black Hairballs

  Dear Mariana

  Riding with the Dream Patrol

  Unaccounted

  Tankwa-Karoo

  Exhibitionist

  Dial Tone

  Ghost Girl

  Adventures in Journalism

  All the Pretty Corpses

  Judging Unity

  Inner City

  On Beauty: A Letter to My

  Five-Year-Old Daughter

  About the Author

  Glossary

  The gloves arrived in the mail in a box lined with tissue paper.

  There was no return address.

  They were elbow-length. Lace-up. Finest suede.

  Muse-skin, the attached note said.

  These will get you unblocked, the note said.

  It was only when she put them on and sat down to write

  That she realized there were fishhooks in the fingertips That drew blood with every keystroke.

  1. High Life

  The heat presses against the cab, trying to find a way in past the sealed windows and the rattling air-conditioning. Narrow apartment blocks swoop past on either side of the dual carriageway, occasionally broken up by a warehouse megastore. It could be Cape Town, Pearl thinks. It could be anywhere. Twenty-three hours travel so far. She had never been on a plane before.

  “So what’s the best thing about Karachi?” Tomislav, her promoter, asks the cab driver, trying to break the oppressive silence—the three of them dazed by the journey, the girl, the promoter and the surgeon, who has not looked up from his phone since they got in the car because he is trying to set up a meeting.

  The driver thinks about it, tugging at the little hairs of his mustache. “One thing is that this is a really good road. Sharah e Faisal. There’s hardly ever a traffic jam and if it rains, the road never drowns.”

  “Excellent.” Tomislav leans back, defeated. He gives Pearl an encouraging smile, but she is not encouraged. She has watched the World Cup and the Olympics on TV; she knows how it is supposed to be. She stares out the window, refusing to blink in case the tears come.

  The road narrows into the city and the traffic thickens, hooting trucks and rickshaws covered in reflecting stickers like disco balls, twinkling in the sun. They pass through the old city, with its grand crumbling buildings from long ago, and into the warren of Saddar’s slums with concrete lean-tos muscling in on each other. Kachi abadi, the driver tells them, and Pearl sounds it out under her breath. At least the shacks are not tin, and that’s one difference.

  Tomislav points out the loops of graffiti in another alphabet and taps her plastic knee. “Gang signs. Just like the Cape Flats.”

  “Oh they’re gangsters all right,” the driver says. “Same people run the country.”

  “You have gangsters in your government?” Pearl is shocked.

  The cab driver clucks and meets her eyes in the rear-view mirror. “You one of the racers?”

  “What clued you in?” Dr. Arturo says, without looking up. It’s the first thing he’s said all day. His thumbs, blunt instruments, tap over the screen of his phone. Pearl rubs her legs self-consciously, where the tendons are visible under the joint of her knee, running into the neurocircuitry. It’s a showcase, Dr. Arturo told her when she asked him why it couldn’t look like skin. Some days she thinks it’s beautiful. But mostly, she hates seeing the inside-out of herself.

  “Why do you think you’re in Pakistan?” the driver laughs. “You think anyone else would let this happen in their country?” He rubs his thumb and fingers together and flings them to the wind.

  2. Packed with Goodness

  Pre-race. A huge +Games banner hangs above the entrance of the Karachi Parsi Institute, or KPI. It’s an old colonial building that has been extended to accommodate them, the track built over the old cricket ground and into the slums. The original school has been turned into the athletes’ village, classrooms converted to individual medical cells to cater to their unique needs. Pearl’s, for example, has hermetic bio-units and sterile surfaces. The window has been fused shut to prevent polluted air from leaking in.

  In the room next door, they installed extra generators for Charlotte Grange after she plugged in her exo-suit and tripped the power for the whole building. Pearl can hear her grunting through the walls. She doesn’t know what Siska Rachman has. Do the technically braindead still need to eat?

  She sits on the end of her bed, paging through the official program while Tomislav paces the room, hunched over his phone, his hand resting on his nose. “Ajda! Come on!” he says, in that Slavic way that makes the first part of the sentence top-heavy. Like Tomislav himself, still carrying his weightlifter bulk all squeezed up into his chest and neck. He doesn’t compete anymore, but the steroids keep him in shape. The neon lights and the white sheen off the walls make his eyes look bluer, his skin paler. “Peach” she was taught in school, as if “peach” and “brown” were magically less divisive than “black” and “white,” and words could fix everything. But Tomislav’s skin is not the warm orange of a summer fruit, it’s like the milky tea she drinks at home.

  Tomislav has thick black hair up his arms. She asked him about it when they first met at the Beloved One’s house on the hill. Fourteen, too young and too angry to mind her elders, even though her mother gasped at her rudeness and smacked her head.

  Tomislav had laughed. Testosterone, kitten. He tapped the slight fuzz above her top lip. You’ve got it too, that’s what makes you so strong.

  He’s since made her laser all her unsightly hair. Sport is all about image. Even this one.

  He sees her looking at him and speaks louder. “You want to get a meeting, Arturo, we gotta have something to show.” He jabs at the phone dramatically to end the call. “That guy! What does he think I’m doing all day? You all right, kitten?” He takes her by the shoulders, gives them a little rub. “You feeling good?”

  “Fine.” More than fine, with the voices of the crowd a low vibration through the concrete, and the starting line tugging at her insides, just through that door, across the quad, down the ramp. She has seen people climbing up onto the roofs around the track with blankets.

  “That’s my girl.” He snatches the program out of her hands. “Why are you even looking at this? You know every move these girls have.”

  He means Siska Rachman. That’s all anyone wants to talk about, the journos, the corporates. Pearl is sick of it, the interviews for channels she’s never heard of. No one told her how much of this would be talking about racing.

&nb
sp; “Ready when you are,” Dr. Arturo says into her head, speaking through the audio implant in her cochlear. Back online as if he’s never been gone, checking the diagnostics. “Watch your adrenaline, Pearl. You need to be calm for the install.” He used to narrate the chemical processes, the shifting balances of hormones, the nano-enhancing oxygen uptake, the shift of robotic joints, the dopamine blast, but it felt too much like being in school; words being crammed into her head and all worthless anyway. You don’t have to name something to understand it. She knows how it feels when she hits her stride and the world opens up beneath her feet.

  “He’s ready,” she repeats to Tomislav.

  “All right, let’s get this show pumping.”

  Pearl obediently hitches up her singlet with the Russian energy drink logo—one of Tomislav’s sponsors, although that’s only spare change. She has met the men who have paid for her to be here, in the glass house on the hill, wearing gaudy golf shirts and shoes and shiny watches. She never saw them swing a club, and she doesn’t know their names, but they all wanted to shake her hand and take a photograph with her.

  She feels along the rigid seam that runs in a J-hook down the side of her stomach, parallel with her hysterectomy scar, and tears open the velcroskin.

  “Let me,” Tomislav says, kneeling between her legs. She holds her flesh open while he reaches one hand up inside her abdomen. It doesn’t hurt, not anymore. The velcro releases a local anesthetic when it opens, but she can feel an uncomfortable tugging inside, like cramps.

  Tomislav twists off the valves on either side, unplugs her stomach and eases it out of her. He sets it in a sterile biobox and connects it to a blood flow. By the time he turns back, she is already spooling up the accordion twist of artificial intestine, like a magician pulling ribbons from his palm. It smells of lab-mod bacteria, with the faintest whiff of feces. She hands it to Tomislav and he wrinkles his nose.

 
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