Every first and third Friday of the month there will be two story excerpts from the Shine anthology. This is the sixteenth and final one: “Ishin” by Madeline Asbhy:
Brandon pauses, his fingers suspended over the keys. “What?”
“Stoning in progress. Well, a pebbling. Some girls going home for lunch. Their route passes some labour pick-ups.”
Brandon accesses Tink’s feed. Onscreen, the girls have formed a defensive cluster, heads ducking slightly as they walk onward. As Brandon watches, one of them brandishes her mobile and starts snapping pictures. Tink’s view is exceptional; he can see the defiant press of the girl’s thumb and her quick, almost unfazed dodge when a rock whips past her ear. Another girl dashes backward and grabs her elbow, tugs her back into the group as it re-assembles itself.
“Can we get her phone number?” Brandon asks.
“Probably. If we break some laws.” Through the earbud, Brandon hears Singer typing. “The mobile’s old; she probably got it as a donation. Could take a while. Better if you just hijack Tink.”
Brandon accesses Tink’s command line and inputs his own hack: ↑↑↓↓←→←→573. Now she belongs to him entirely, priorities momentarily forgotten, processes un-logged, movements off the grid. He directs her with his finger. She swerves, hovers, waits as Brandon plots safe Euler paths between the school and the nearest teashop. She pounces on the girl’s mobile, planting herself inside the phone, streaming the maps there. The girl nods as the first image pops up. Brandon watches through Tink’s eye, sees the slightly worried faces of the other girls as they look back at the labour pool on the corner, watches their lips move with a mixture of frustration and fear. When Tink withdraws they escape.
The people here are already so used to the bots, Brandon realizes, that they barely recognize them as surveillance. They are part of the landscape. As in a fairy tale, they have come alive through prolonged use: real dragonflies, real camels, real birds of prey.
For the first time, he thinks that this might have been the plan all along.
When he releases her from the hack, Tink zings upward and into the sky. She homes in on the beacon from a predator above, first aligning herself with its wide, arcing flightpath, and then pinning herself to its white steel flank. It blinks at her rapidly, and she dives off and streaks away back into the city.
“What was that?” Brandon asks.
“A work order,” Singer says.
Excerpt from “Ishin” by Madeline Ashby. Copyright © 2010 by Madeline Ashby.
NOTE: when searching the internet for ‘spider robot’ images for the excerpt of Paula R. Stiles’s “Sustainable Development”, I came across the BAE Systems website which features a video called Micro Autonomous System and Technology (MAST). I’m mentioning it, because such robots—either remote controlled or autonomous—play an important role in two Shine stories (“Ishin” and “Sustainable Development”) and one DayBreak Magazine story (“Fembot”). This is the future at your doorstep and near-future SF in action: while these systems are being developed, SF is already working out their implications.
Madeline Ashby can be found at her blog, escaping the trunk, and @madelineashby on Twitter. She immigrated to Canada in 2006, where she joined Toronto’s Cecil Street Irregulars genre writing workshop. Since then, she has been published in Flurb, Nature, and Escape Pod. When not working on her novel, she’s a student of the Strategic Foresight and Innovation program at the Ontario College of Art and Design, a blogger for WorldChanging Canada and Frames Per Second Magazine, and a fan of anime and manga.
Madeline Ashby’s Ishin is masterfully plotted with two very engaging characters that hold your attention. It’s a volatile story of two men — the one jaded and tired, the other optimistic and almost naive — who do their best to walk the fine line between making right choices for the right reasons in a world filled with political land mines. A truly well executed set piece of story-telling.
I had heard praises for Madeline Ashby before but it was only after reading her story Ishin that I had the realization that this was the Madeline Ashby other people were talking about. Ashby writes compelling hard science fiction that’s both imaginative and very down-to-earth. I could easily see this author giving Ted Chiang a run for his money down the line, and while Ishin isn’t the best story in the anthology, it’s certainly reason enough to buy the book.
An interactive map of the SHINE story locations: