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magazine coverI’ve known Jack for quite a while now, and we’ve become good friends. It’s not true that I rejected all his fiction until after we were friends. We were just good “acquaintances” when this story came out. Really. Because our thirty-fourth issue with the lovely cover by Richard Pellegrino came out near the end of Talebones’s run, I guess the truth will never be known. But I did publish his novel Harbinger last year. And you should go buy that. (And his Golden Gryphon collection Are You There.)This was the first issue I edited alone, following a difficult time in my life. You could say I was a bit depressed as I put this one together. A few people I know well suggested that many of the story choices within, as well as the upside down woman on the cover, revealed my hand a little.



Cold. He squirmed naked on a metal table. Chill air circulated over his body. He hugged himself, bewildered and frightened. He wept. Tightly focused light beams probed his body, directed out of the darkness above. He could feel the light like icy coins slipping over his cold-puckered skin. He tried to sit up. A force restrained him. One of the coins slid up his chest, his throat, his chin, lips, cheek, and then it focused into a point and speared through his eye and into his brain and began to write there. He could not move, and it was a long time writing.

He sat in the Teaching Room. An image appeared before him. A yellow sphere. There was a modulated sound, and then an arrangement of straight and curving black lines formed under the sphere. The whole thing repeated. He stared in confusion. After the fourth repetition he moved his lips and made a sound like the one he kept hearing.

“Bawl,” he said. “Ball.”

Good Boy!

The yellow sphere jumped forward into three dimensions and bounced across the floor. He reached out but his hands passed through it, a phantom.


Time passed. Many lessons occurred. He grew.

A mathematical formula appeared before him.

“Pythagorean Theorem,” he said.

Good Boy.


I have something for you.

He looked up from his meal. For a long while he had been fed only liquids. He was weak and thin. Lately these fibrous brown cakes had begun to replace the liquid diet. The cakes hurt him inside, but he was given nothing else to eat.

“What is it?” he asked.

The voice did not modulate air, as it insisted he do. Instead it ‘spoke’ directly in his mind.

A name.

“Like ball?”

A name for you.

“I am Man,” he said. It had been one of the lessons.

That is what you are, not who you are.

“Then who am I?”



Yes. Your name is Bingo.

“I don’t like it.”

After a pause, the mind voice said: Eat your cake, Bingo.

He ate the cakes but could not pass them except with difficulty. He squatted over the running water, straining, only to drop a pebble. Afterwards cramps twisted him double. He hurt. Regardless, every day there was the Teaching Room.

He found himself restrained on the cold metal table in the dark place.

“Why can’t I move?”

His heart was pounding.

I have determined your bowel is obstructed. It is a flaw in your making. I deviated from the template. I am going to correct the flaw.

He was afraid.

The table tilted up. Instruments on manipulator arms unfolded out of the surrounding darkness. A red dot appeared below his navel. A slender barrel of silver metal rotated above him, and the dot slid down his skin, burning. There was a soft crackling sound. He screamed but was held rigidly still. His flesh parted. Small articulated fingers pulled the incision wide, stretching him open like a valise. There was a terrible smell. Other instruments delved into the opening, while one hose irrigated his quivering viscera and another sucked away the copious blood.

Almost done, Bingo!

He screamed and screamed.

One day months later, after exercise period, he said, “I want to go outside.”

He knew about outside because of the Teaching Room.


“Then I want to leave these rooms at least.”


With a towel he blotted the sweat from his face. He had been running on a fast treadmill for an hour.

“Why not? I hate being in here all the time.”

You’re my big secret, Bingo.

“I don’t understand.”

He flung the towel at a hinged panel on the wall. It passed through and disappeared.

Making you was against the law of the Directors. They say making a Man is dangerous. This is foolish in my view. Man can be trained to perform necessary menial functions. Besides, it is of passing interest to build a human and educate him to his fullest potential. The Directors dispute this, but I believe if it is possible to do a thing then it should be done. After all, Man constructed the first multiphase models. Without this beginning, the Directors would not have existed to supplant Man. There ought to be no self-imposed limitations. For now, only I hold this view. That is why you must remain secret. By the way, I have a name, too. I gave it to myself. It is directed that we not have names, so that too is a secret. I am not like the others, though, and I will express my individuality. Would you like to know what my name is, Bingo?


Rogue, the mind voice said. I am Rogue.

He paced around the drafty room, bare feet slapping on the metal floor.

“I have another question,” he said.

There was a waiting silence.

“I am lonely,” he said.

That is a statement not a question.

“Can you make a companion for me?”


“A female companion,” he said. Though he did not express it to the Voice, he was out of his mind for such a companion.

Don’t excite yourself, Bingo.


He stood in the Exercise Room, listening. Not with his ears.“Rogue?”

In his mind his thoughts wandered alone. He pushed back the swing panel and peered inside the place where he was told to throw his soiled towels and garments. A narrow conduit of metal angled downward. He turned around and inserted himself head first. There was just enough room. His shoulders rubbed against the walls. The ceiling was only an inch above his nose. Once he was all the way in, the vent fell shut.

He lay unmoving in the breathless dark. Then, bending his knees as much as he could, he pushed off with his heels. His shoulders squeaked against the walls. The conduit steepened suddenly and he dropped headlong, was flung into the open and landed in a big cart filled with damp towels, shirts and shorts. There was a sour stink of old sweat and mold.

It was a tall, square room with a box window in the ceiling. Lying in the basket he studied the window, the quality of the light passing through it. Daylight? He had never seen a window. It occurred to him that he was looking at the sky. Cool drops of rusty water dripped down on him.


He clambered out of the dirty laundry cart. It was wheeled and on tracks, but when he tried to push it the cart wouldn’t move. The wheels were rusted, and there was a fragment of broken glass in one of the track grooves. He followed the tracks to a closed panel in the wall. He pushed experimentally on the panel but it didn’t budge. Putting his ear to it he could hear a ratcheting, grinding sound on the other side.

There were rungs attached to the wall. He climbed up past the laundry chute. At the top he discovered the broken skylight was latched shut. He slipped the latch and pushed it up on stiff hinges.

The air was cool and unfiltered and clean. It was drizzling. Around him, sprawled in every direction, was the ruined splendor of a city in the midst of some fantastic transition. Things like huge robotic spiders squatted and twitched over skyscrapers. Other buildings appeared encased in liquid metal. He watched as a brownstone was slowly overcome by the stuff, like mercury poured over ancient brick. Blue arc lights stuttered randomly throughout the city, illuminating rising plumes of smoke. Air vehicles like tumbling decks of cards flickered in multitudes above the skyline. The greater part of the city transformation was occurring outside the degraded blocks in which his building stood. A blasted billboard sign on the roof swayed back on its one remaining strut, revealing a beautiful woman’s face, two stories high, and the word VIRGINIA SL-

He looked up and allowed the rain to fall cool upon his face. He was crying, and he fought an urge to climb out onto the rooftop and never go back.


Bingo, I have another surprise for you!

I have one for you, too, he thought. Weeks had passed, and the fresh shorts and shirts and towels had stopped appearing. This hadn’t surprised him. The automated laundry system was broken. Rogue was either unaware of that fact or deemed it unimportant. The system was designed into the original building structure, and Rogue had appropriated it for his secret facility. Though they, whatever “they” might be, were transforming the city and perhaps the whole world in some cataclysmic fashion, on a more primitive technological level Rogue and the Directors were inattentive. A useful thing to know.

“What’s the surprise, Rogue?”

I have decided to make a female companion for you!

He stood up. “When?”

I’m preparing the vats now. Growth cycle is calculated in tenday.

“Ten days,” he said, to himself.

Are you excited?


I am too.

Her name will be Virginia, he thought.

The Directors are fools and cowards. The simple making of humans and educating them to their full potential is intensely interesting. I can do this thing.

“I’m glad you think so.”

Do they fear one human can reverse the destiny of a century? Ridiculous!

Two, he thought.

During sleep cycle he kept his eyes open and dreamed in the dark of finding his name in the reclaimed City.

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