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Matt

When Matt wakes up, the wind is so hard his sleeves are actually slapping him. He notices this first, because his buttons sting. It must be a hurricane, and he’s–scared? That would explain why his stomach feels odd. No, it’s because he’s sideways. But not lying down. The wind is his own passage. His fingers feel cold and stiff as they scrabble across the front of his body. There has to be something there. Is it in the back? The wind is so hard. Is that the–no, surely. Gasping, he tries to reach around, the ripcord, he can’t find

Mister Duckleford

“It decays,” says Mister Duckleford firmly. “This is provable and inevitable. Entropy is fact, at every level, molecular to galactic.”

Tyson smiles gently. “You fail to understand. Society is already its own form of controlled entropy; the manifestation of styles is a brilliant kind of planned obsolescence.”

Mister Duckleford glowers. “Bollocks. It’s all going to hell, you know it.”

Tyson’s skin is old, sad, liverspotted around his eyes. The eyes are clear and blue. He draws his knees up in the warm, frothy bathwater and considers the yellow rubber toy. How to explain? Mister Duckleford can be such a child sometimes.

Cyrix

They’re clamoring for him: “Compose! Compose!” Cyrix sighs theatrically–always give them a show–then pulls his Muse out of orbit around him.

The Muse is small, egg-shaped, purple, and it makes an elliptical circuit of his body twice a second on gravity-reflect. There isn’t really any reason for that, but it does add panache.

Cyrix touches the contact and feels himself suffused. Neurons fire randomly in Instant REM, and when he comes up he has it: the seed. The idea.

They hush. He lets them, momentarily, then begins.

“I met a hunchback,” he says softly, “who was also my uncle…”

Kate

Her hoodie will be damp forever, she knows, and it’ll smell. Her hair is tickling her freckled face, pale in limp strawberry ringlets.

Leaving. Of course. Kate can’t believe that she’s the only one with him at the station. Where are they? They must exist, nameless hordes of Prettier-Than-Kate, everyone who had him, kissed him, threw him away.

She’s always hated being too young.

The bus is coming. She knows she’ll remember this, suddenly. Pressing the hoodie to her face will bring it back: one moment of desperate clarity, her hand inches from his, the smell of cigarettes and warm rain.

Wu

When Wu was a small child, selling flowers by his mother’s rice stall, he saw a bandit and monk fighting once. The bandit was black-garbed, snarling, and the monk humbly dressed and bald.

The bandit flailed with his hooked sword, but the monk was amazing. He twisted and flipped, and Wu watched him run straight up a wall and fly away. His feet were like blown feathers.

Now, after twenty years of training, Wu has learned what the monk knew, the secret of long leaps, easy flight and running away from the earth.

The secret is this:

It’s really fucking hard.

Barnaby

Barnaby’s unfairly cheered by the sight out the hotel window: astounded people scurrying, trying to cover their heads with newspapers. They must think they’re freezing to death. For him, it’s cold, but it’s also the first time he’s felt at home here in Egypt.

It hasn’t been everything they predicted, he thinks. Not everyone’s dead, since the payloads mostly hit the Pacific–sheer statistics, there. They’d fired, but they’d lost their skill at aiming.

It’ll all get worse, soon, sure. Meanwhile, why not enjoy it? It’s a little bit magical, this new clear winter, this vision of snow on the Sphinx.

Dwayne

Dwayne’s moccasins are soundless on the carpet of Women’s Delicates. This wasn’t the best place to come–they’ll inevitably be drawn here–but he was cut off from Shoes and could not be forced into Electronics.

He sweeps his mane back over one shoulder, listening. His advantage is hearing; shushed giggles are like sirens to him. Theirs are numbers, and the range of their accursed cameras.

Sometimes he wonders if he could avoid all this–shop elsewhere, perhaps, or move where the sport is unknown…

But no. He wears the mullet, and they are the mullet hunters.

There is no other way.

Ampersand

Ampersand isn’t good at poetry. She wears the makeup well, certainly, and she has a knack for matching handbags, but though she’s finally stopped rhyming, she just can’t grasp meter.

She only got into it at all because she loved words (she has begun to suspect that this doesn’t matter). She chose her name when she joined the circle; it was a favorite, because she’d read it was a mutation of et, Latin for “and.”

She likes that little word. It brings back high school Faulkner, the dearness and scariness of Vardaman, stubbornly telling them cooked and et. Cooked and et.

Dottie

Eventually Dottie can’t resist: she opens the closet while the Sorcerer’s out and tries on the soft brown Seven-League Boots. Two steps and she’s terrifyingly fast, sounds roaring and changing around her. It’s light and explosions of color; when she lands, seconds later, she gasps and laughs aloud.

Two steps back find her near the wardrobe again, luckily, and she replaces the boots. That night she’ll dream of flying.

She won’t think about the other pair. They’re similar, but black and cleated, on the other side of the wardrobe.

Dottie’s sure they’re Thirteen-League Boots, and she doesn’t like them at all.

Barnhardt

Three and Four are going to close soon, but there’s still a gap. He dives between them headlong, hands splayed to hit the roof of Two. A roll, tucked tight, and he’s through with heels intact.

Immediately he wraps one arm in cable and begins hauling. Eight should handle this, but could never make it in time; there’s a pregnant woman up there, and today, avoiding the sitcom trope is up to him.

The car’s heavy, but counterweighted well, and his pull is long-practiced. He grimaces with fierce, wild pride: he is Barnhardt, Lord of Elevators, and this is his domain.

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