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The fad among seventeen-year-olds this year is crop tops with some kind of silk band worn just underneath the bottom hem and it makes Nouri feel like an ancient ruin. It’s hard to keep their attention on a whiteboard when they’re busy flashing color-coded bellies across the aisles.

Yesterday in the cafeteria, snapping a phone picture, one of them used the term “belfie.” Nouri almost bit through her spoon. She’s barely thirty. Whither the sexting of her youth? Shamefacedly, she tries on red and cerulean at Forevs that weekend, but she’s worried they carry messages she never learned.


“We’re here with noted kaiju critic Esther Hayes, and the lines are open!” says the anchor.

“Yeah, what even is your job,” says the line.

“I interpret kaiju rampages through a lens that makes them relatable,” Esther says patiently. “For instance, Vulfhor’s destruction of the Wilbury neighborhood last week was an allegory for the oligarchical–”

“Twelve hundred people lived in that allegory.” The line crackles. “My great-aunt lived in that allegory.”

“I know.” Esther lets her exhaustion show, almost. “Sometimes you need a lens to make things farther away.”

Vulfhor rolls his radioactive eyes and tries to change the channel.


“It’ll fade if we play it too many times,” Poppy warns her. “Vinyl or satin, it all wears out.”

“Just once more,” says Clemence, a little too old to get away with liquid-eyed begging but still trying. “I can’t do it like you can!”

“I’ve shown you a million times,” says Poppy, but she unspools the typewriter ribbon anyway. Everything that turns steadily can record sound. If you’re sharp as a diamond needle, you can play it back.

Poppy opens her mouth. Clemence listens close, above the clatter-bang of the keys, for the singsong rumble of her father’s voice.

Grant Breezy

Grant Breezy is the best tanhacker in Pacifica and he has no time for some rat-tailed kid from Lincoln City. “Move on,” he drawls, “this sun’s taken.”

The kid, looming, kicks sand at him.

“Watch it,” snaps Grant Breezy, on his feet and inspecting the sensitive ports for grit. “You ever seen a top-class mirrorboard? This thing’ll trace circuits on the insides of your ears!”

“I can outbronze you by moonlight with my junker,” says the kid.

“Challenge accepted,” says Grant Breezy. “I’m Grant Breezy.”

“I’m Loyola Mint,” says Loyola Mint, and boots up to her custom puka shell.


“Clumso is very sorry about the dishes,” says Clumso.

“It’s fine,” says Maya.

“Also the car. And the little puppy.” Clumso heaves a sigh and tries to lean on a column, misses, stumbles, and smashes a flower pot. “Oh no!”

“It’s fine,” Maya repeats.

“Clumso is so bad at this!” he sniffles, wiping his nose with one enormous, grubby hand. “Clumso never means to break things!”

“Intent isn’t magic,” says Maya, with the slightest strain in her voice.

“But MAGIC is!” shouts Madame Zaganza, bursting in with stars showering from her wand. “Correcto tremundis!

And that fixes everything!

It’s all better!!


Total the talking turtle is currently too excited to talk, which was fine when he was on the acting-out side of this charades game.

“Thirty seconds,” says Sybil the speaking snake, coiled up in a pet carrier like everyone else in this airplane cargo hold.

“Come onnnn,” grouses Griswold the grumbling Great Dane. “Two words! You can get this!” He points his nose at Total, then kind of around him, then back again.

“Time’s up!” Sybil says. “We win. I get to eat the little dog.”

“WHAT,” shrieks Shara the shih tzu.

“Box turtle!!!” Total bursts out, a week later.


Tickertape is one of the oldest iron walkers, corroded gearwork limbs bolted to a big head-shaped body. Moya’s crammed a leather armchair into its cockpit top. There are dozens of unlabeled levers, not to mention the toggles, dials and flickering indicators. Just for her, they work like charm.

“Whipoorwill,” she murmurs into a rusted microphone stalk, jerks two stuck controls and jams a footpedal, and with a grinding sound it begins. Smiling, she climbs down to let its ribbon of mechanical poetry spill through her hands. Tickertape doesn’t walk much, and she doesn’t type, but together they make something good.


“I was named after a defunct website,” Xanga has to explain.

“What is a ‘web site?’” growls the six-eyed naked bear.

“A glowing rectangle that my grandparents used to request advertisements.”

“Also what is ‘defunct,’” asks the bear, whose name is Osiris but it doesn’t really come up.

“It’s what you’re going to be if you don’t let me out of this net!” says Xanga. The postapocalyptic trees creak skeletally above her; the bear laughs.

“No. I think we boil and eat you right in it!”

“Believe me,” sighs Xanga, “there’s not enough left of me to feed a family.”


Dear ASTRID, It is for your safety that we must insist your new password adhere to the following requirements!

  • Must contain mixed-case letters and at least one number.
  • Must contain two non-alphanumeric characters (such as parentheses!)
  • Must not contain spaces or apostrophes.
  • Must not contain words
  • Must contain the obfuscated answer to one of your security questions.
  • Must not be pronounceable by human tongue
  • Must baffle me and break my heart
  • Must be something within it to make sense of this, ASTRID
  • Must explain why he left, ASTRID
  • Must not be his password
  • Must be okay.
  • This once.


“Look, I deactivated physical push notifications,” Egbert says. “I mean the technology is amazing, but I had fourteen people today shove me while announcing it was my turn in Word Game, and then some guy told me I was mayor of Coffee House and bumped me into traffic. I don’t want” and then the next straw wrapper thwocks him in the eye.

“That’s not what this is,” she says, reloading.

“Then please,” says Egbert with what he feels is mighty restraint, “tell me what you are.”

The young woman across the train aisle grins and takes aim one more time. “Flirting.”

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