I’m really thrilled that a fairly self-contained portion of the beginning of my novel-in-progress Borne is appearing in the just-released latest issue of Steve Erickson’s awesome magazine Black Clock. I’m even more thrilled to find out the loose theme: “Both in its contributors and subject matter, this new Black Clock finds women on the verge: of revelation, euphoria, madness and history.” And further thrilled to see that my friend the dynamic and awesome Katherine Min is included in this issue. I’m also very much looking forward to reading the work of the other contributors, including Sarah Vap, Jazmin Aminian Jordan, Geoff Dyer, Marisa Crawford, Kate Wolf, Rick Moody, Scott Bradfield, Samantha Cohen, and more.
You can buy the magazine here, and I highly recommend that you do. (Also, Borne the novel won’t be finished until December, and might not be published for another year, so…)
Below you’ll find a short teaser from the section of Borne running in Black Clock. It’s set in a somewhat Kafkaesque ruined, nameless city after a partial Collapse. An anonymous Company still creates bioneered creatures and sends them to places not yet Collapsed. Mord, a giant bear who used to be human, terrorizes the city. The main character came from far away—in my mind she’s Fijian, but that isn’t specified on the page.
There is no other way to say this: Wick was a drug dealer when I met him, and the drug he pushed was terrible and beautiful and sad and sweet and like life itself. The beetles Wick made from materials he’d stolen from the Company didn’t just teach when shoved into your ear, they also could get rid of memories and add memories. People who couldn’t face the present shoved them into their ears so they could experience someone else’s happier memories from long ago and places that didn’t exist anymore. Many of his clients blissfully starved to death while in the grip of another person’s life. That was the first thing Wick offered me when I met him, and the first thing I refused, seeing it for the trap it was—sensing a trap even when it seemed like an escape.
I set the sea anemone on a rickety table between our chairs on one of the rotting balconies that inspired me to name our refuge Balcony Cliffs. Behind us the buried hotel, and in front of us, veiled by the protective skein Wick had created to shield us from unwelcome eyes, the steep rock face at the bottom of which seethed a poisonous river: a stew of heavy metals and oil that generated a toxic mist.
“What is it?” I asked Wick. It pulsed there on the table, looking as harmless, as functional, as a lamp.
He smiled, a thin smile for a thin man. In the two years since his firing from the Company, Wick had lost any remaining fat. His handsome face, lantern chin and high cheekbones, had begun to eat themselves the way a candle is eaten by flame. He had shadows under the eyes, a tremor at the mouth, and yet this only made his gaze more piercing, the purity of his features more arresting and intense. Those hazel-green eyes now seemed larger, more empathic in the shrunken face, and they saw everything—except, perhaps, how I saw him.
“What isn’t it, we should ask first, perhaps,” he replied. A sense of distance or a lecture-y quality often created a wall between us when discussing finds. It emphasized the conflict that might one day overtake our relationship. He was self-sufficient and self-contained. So was I. Or so we both thought.
Meanwhile the thing just lay there on the table, pulsing and strobing in a way I found comforting. The strobing made it look bigger. Or perhaps it had already started growing.
“But I know what it isn’t,” said Wick, responding to my silence, “it isn’t Mord-made, like his proxies. Nor is it necessarily Company made.”
“How can you tell?” I asked. “And where did Mord pick it up if not from the Company?”
Wick shrugged, as if to say how can anyone be certain of anything? “The Company is too big to keep track of itself. So let’s find out.” He passed his hand over the object so that the crimson worms that lived inside of his wrist could leap out briefly to analyze it before retracting into his skin. “Surprising. It is from the Company,” Wick said. “Created inside the Company, at least.”
“But not by the Company?”
Wick’s smile became a tight frown. “It has the economy of design usually achieved only by committees of one.”
This answer exasperated me. When Wick didn’t know, when he couldn’t make sense of the senseless, he would dance around a subject and I would become nervous. The world was already too uncertain.
“Do you think it’s a mistake?” I asked. “An afterthought? Something put out in the trash that got tangled up in Mord’s fur?”
Wick shook his head. “It’s too perfect.”
Wick folded his arms, turning that green-gold gaze upon me. “It could be almost anything, but it isn’t random. It could be a beacon. It could be a cry for help by someone inside the Company. It could be a bomb.”
So Wick really didn’t know. “What do we do with it? Eat it?”
He laughed like I was a child, ruining the architectural lines of his face. The laughter didn’t bother me. Not then, at least. “I wouldn’t eat it. At least not until we know its purpose. Much worse to eat a bomb than a beacon.” He leaned forward and I took such pleasure from staring at his face that I thought he had to notice. “If you give it to me, I could break it down into its component parts, repurpose it through my beetles. It might even make good spare parts.”
I had let Wick into the Balcony Cliffs. My domain. I told myself I let him stay now for my own protection and called him my boss because I scavenged for him, but as I’ve said the relationship was more complex. I didn’t have to give him the sea anemone, although he could always take it while I slept—but this was always the test of our relationship. Were we symbiotic or parasitic?
I looked at it, lying there on the table, and suddenly I felt possessive. I shouldn’t have, and yet I did.
“I think I’ll keep it for awhile,” I said.