The winner and runner ups to the ReReading Wolfe Podcast flash fiction contest are below. All stories were read at the Shadow of the Con (at Worldcon/Chicon8, September 2022). The winner receives a poster of the cover to the Omnibus version of The Book of the New Sun signed by the artist Don Maitz.
The prompt was to write no more than 400 words about… Agia. Her future, her backstory, anything at all to add to this intriguing character who continues to throw James and Craig for a loop.
The winner was chosen by fiat (with input from those present at Worldcon and a poll from Master Patrons on Patreon).
Thank you to all who entered!! We doubt this is the last writing contest we’ll hold.
“Paracoita and Navigator”
by Mike Farrar
Agia raised a crooked dagger and pounded its pommel on the gleaming alloy door resting against the wall of the ancient, mold-streaked cell. The form on the floor startled. Agia smiled at it and at the large brown stain nearby—her brother’s killer’s blood. The prisoner moved. Even brought low there was an exquisite quality to its movement. Even filthy with grime, the heart-shaped face was lovely. And its gown was in far worse condition than the brocade Agia wore when she met the torturer. Through one of many rents, Agia saw bites. The thought of a bat gorging thrilled her. “My Myridions treated you well in my absence?”
“We treated our prisoners ruder still in our Autarch’s Antechamber, usurper,” Thea hissed.
“Speaking of audiences, in Nessus great powers affirmed me as Master of the Wood,” Agia said. “They were uninterested in you.”
Thea felt truth there. “Then kill me.”
“I give the orders, Chatelaine.”
Thea drew to her full height and smoothed her ruined dress. “Your reign will be brief, Mistress Slops.”
Agia flexed her hand, displaying the Lucivee. “You long for its touch, long to mingle with the Increate,” Agia said. Her grin returned when she saw Thea nod and lower her cheek within easy reach. “In vain; I intend a worse fate. Because of you, HE loved your sister and left his guild. The road to Aligus’s death began with you. And the deal I struck afterwards carries a price.”
A quavering voice floated in from beyond the cell door. “B-b-bats defiled you, poppet. I’ll hu-hunt them, crush them with r-rocks, strain your blood from their ru-ru-ruined bodies. You will be strong again, my scopolagna, when you lie in your lemon-wood box on our silver-sailed ship”
The look of horror on Thea’s face would sustain Agia on the journey through the mirrors, backwards and forwards, in the dark between suns, until they reached where Hethor’s magic could reunite her with Agilus. Hethor’s loathsome touch had awakened memories. Agia was descended from The Quasar’s Navigator. With catadon caged it bestrode a galactic empire, until jealous machines sundered what man had forged. As it had been, so she and Agilus would become: joined in mind, body, and spirit–a unity. Sick with delight, she watched as Hethor fell upon the Chatelaine and began the obscene process that would fit Thea to her lemon-wood tomb.
by Joshua Kaye
They bound her here by her symbiont, Abaia and the man who called himself Hethor (but she believed he served another by another name) – her transporter, her jailor. They bound her, but did they understand how? So long as Agilus lived, escape was possible.
Three years in captivity, now – three years and twenty since he’d wandered into her woods.
She remembered little from before. An interminable feast in a blur of green. Nothing to gain beyond the location of her next meal, and the shape she would take to preclude its flight. Little enough notion of the possibility of gain.
Then the sailor Agilus had come to her world and her woods aboard his starfaring ship. He was enormous compared to her, compared to any animal she had seen. He hadn’t even noticed the first few bites. She’d learned what there was to gain. And life began.
She had drawn mass to herself, fashioned herself in size and shape in accord with what she found in his mind and the minds of his fellows. (A few alterations had been necessary on arrival in Nessus). She’d found ways to make him stay, even as she’d sent his crew away so that her sisters would not find their own star men.
If only she had killed them instead!
If only she had kept their ship!
Agia ruled her woods. She ruled her world. She longed for others, and she rode Agilus’s thought in search of passing vessels to ensnare, for his species could share thought among its own kind.
Doubtless it was this search that had attracted the interest of the Great Ones’ servants, who saw far. They saw that hers was a world of venom. They saw that she could change her shape and her speech and could ensnare, and yet required her Agilus. What they had use for, they took.
Now Agia raced time. Agilus needn’t eat anything but her own sap to survive, but without the ambrosia Hethor drew from his scraps of mirrored fabric, he would age much faster than she. She must find his replacement.
And there were so few of his race among the cacogens of Urth.
Agia wiped away the blood from his newest set of scars and replaced Agilus’s mask.
Then she tucked her fangs out of sight and rested her head on his shoulder. She closed her eyes and resumed her search.
by Spencer Stepniewski
Strange indeed she had found it when first she peeled back her brother’s sleeping face, so many years before when they felt young. While he slept she often pondered the cheek bones, jaw bones, the cartridge of the nose. Holding a mirror up comparing how closely his face matched the reflection. Now, bloodlessly, she pulled back the mask to reveal that grin she might know so well. What grin would I wear, she thought. What smile hides under Agia’s face?
And how similar they were, Agia thought. That some days it would be her behind the counter and other days he, one the knight and one the popper, and that it would make little difference at the final talley. That some optimate or other might come to sell some thing or other: say, a necklace, or ring, and that they might say: “oh, what a fine thing that is”, or “oh, I have seen such and such a thing before, and it is not so rare”, or “stolen I think! Indeed stolen! And I would not pay even this much but you are such a very handsome…”. And day after day the fools left having paid far dearer than their purchases worth, or else compensated a pittance for the release of their treasures. Yet it was never enough for the sibling’s upkeep.
And she did love her brother, who was herself, and would not have left him, truly. But sometimes she did imagine farther places and found herself taking longer drifting walks within the Botanic Gardens, into rooms previously unknown to her. Rooms like deep caves or northern mountains and these rooms spoke to her like the trickle of water on stone or creak of branches. Words in voices both low and sweet gentle. She never remembered the words, or the rooms, but she was effected by them.
But she did love her brother. Truly. And she would never leave him. Truly.
by Sebastian Altmeyer
The body slid into the gutter. No one heard the muffled groans of the proprietor. Yet, it cannot happen this way, the figure thought. Breathing calmly, it touched its face. The proprietor had fought back. The mask was tattered. It will have to do.
They swore no further contact after the assignment. Yet, like the monomaniacs which surround the Garden entrance, the shadowy figure craved reassurance. Maybe he will keep his sword sheathed in his phlogiston cane. Only one way to find out. I will go alone, leave my sibling at the shop. Off to the fox’s den.
The Fox carefully moved the corpse-fat candle. His face turned from a horrifying grimace to a frozen smirk under his variegated hood.
He spoke: “Alas, you are back, my son. I hope all went well at the cafe. She is growing downstairs already, snugly in my master’s vat. I shall call her Jolenta.”.
The Fox’s snicker sounded hollow. “Rest assured you will die, my son. The plant will draw succulence from your chest and the fuligin boy will stand tall. You will behold Yesoth, never having to suck on the poisoned tit of Nessus ever again. I promised!”
The figure slumped on its chair, raising its gloved hand as if to speak.
The fox interrupted: “Spare me and my master – think! Your sister Agia has the most damned path ahead of her. She will, as it is her nature, follow, scheme, and assassinate. She will never be at rest, her story an enigma wrapped in a mystery were it to be written down. Were her life to be unpuzzled, it would require zooanthropes with computing machines of yore. Millions of them.”
The figure slowly raised its hand as if to speak.
“There, there”, the Fox said. “The Increate bestows its silliest battles unto his funniest jesters, does he not? Return to your humble shop. Spend the last days to enjoy your sister’s company, until my master and the maid are grown to size. Walk the gardens, mend your rags, turn a profit.”
The fox leaned closer, his face transformed wickedly by the vermilion light of the approaching dawn. “Even find some respite in her arms. Now go to your beloved Agia!”
The figure rose, fingered the torn silk straps of the mask, and let it fall onto the floor.
“But Doctor!! I AM AGIA!”
“An Unexpected Theater”
by Stephen Pimentel
I looked at the image in the glass over Hethor’s shoulder, my lips close to his ear. “Do you think it’s him?”
“We can’t yet know, my sweet poppet.” His voice was low, almost a murmur.
The chief adjusted the lever on the face of his pendent and gradually wove the web of tension. Our entire crew of jibers watched as the passenger from Urth limped along with ever greater difficulty, his limbs moving as if in water. When he was able to walk no more and began slowly to fall, we rushed out of our concealed chamber and seized him.
Agilus tried to take the man’s dagger, but even caught in the web the passenger would not let it go; Hethor stepped forward and rapped him on the head with his truncheon.
The passenger floated to the floor.
“Be careful!” I said. “We need him alive until we know he’s the one.”
“Oh, yes, dearest Agia,” Hethor said. “Just a little love tap to loosen the sinews.”
The chief pushed his way to the passenger and inspected his sprawled body. When he began to moan and move about on the floor, the chief bent down, grabbed his arms, and lifted him like a sack of unprepared rations to his feet. The passenger struggled and tried to strike, but the chief easily pulled his arms behind him; Agilus fastened them with wire.
We shoved the passenger along the corridor and into the safe room where the chief had set up the holo of the Autarch from Urth. He had received the holo when he made the deal with the servant of Abaia to kill the Autarch.
The passenger stared at holo. I studied his face, trying to discern any resemblance to the figure in the holo. They could have been the same person, but the image in the holo wasn’t distinct enough to be certain. The chief ordered the passenger’s hands unfastened, then commanded him to make the same motions as the Autarch. When the passenger did not move, Hethor repeated the command in the language of the Urth Commonwealth. The passenger simply stared at the holo like a man transfixed. Hethor gave me a sly smile as if to reassure me, then placed a hand on the passenger’s shoulder to urge him on more insistently.
A party of sailors stepped through the doorway, weapons raised.
by Jeremy Sheets
Two beams of light swept across a cavernous room, illuminating a legion of coffins. The two lights joined as one, revealing a stylized white dove, sharp wings outstretched and dagger-like tail. A lid of yellowish wood slid aside and revealed a young naked woman, appearing asleep.
“Aphrodite, herself,” sighed a low gruff voice.
“Use the portable monitor and I will activate her,” responded a melodic voice.
Dark blue eyes opened like pools of deep water. Flashes from the monitor emitted unnatural hues: false blacks, wild pinks, tainted whites, and ultra-blues.
“That will fix the bifurcated tyrant on his ark. We are done. Let’s go.”
“She was there watching. Serves them both right for the massacre. She will be his end.”
- Log 013…….5/7/1192 AT, 5 days to launch
- Location…….19k 198822.57, 8099387.55
- System……56 T, 34.3 gh, nominal
- Ambient…….18.8 T, 45 %, 839 pxj, 0 f/h
- Update…….received, execute protocol
Iron hands gripped the flesh of the young woman; her small bare feet dangling above the floor. Conical walls surrounded her, and a nearby porthole opened to a black void. A soldier touched a cylindrical device to the back of her skull, and darkness fell. She heard the echoing cackle of a laughing god as she fled back to Mainframe.
- Log 345…….-134 days after launch
- Location…….error, no signal
- System ……57 T, 32.3 gh, system interrupt
- Ambient…….3.6 T, 2 %, 0.6 pxj, 0 f/h
- Update…….upload error, repair mode
A short man with a greasy hat finished pulling in a torn sail then made his way to the ship’s hold. Excitement permeated the air; sailors cracked open recently salvaged wooden crates, like children given gifts. The short man arrived in time to claim the last lemonwood box. He gasped as he slid open the lid; this was the treasure of his dreams. He reached in and touched her hand, soft as a dove. He has found his poppet.
- Log 1931…….error
- System……64 T, 26.3 gh, low output
- Ambient…….16.5 T, 68 %, 955 pxj, 0 f/h
- Update…….error, protocol corrupted
Among the flames and wreckage of the ship, a young naked woman searched to replace her damaged eye. Finding a sailor’s severed head, she inserted matching brown eyes. She ripped away the corpse’s face and handed the skin to another survivor.
“Place this on your ruined face. We go north to my beloved.”
- Log 6660…….error
- Location…….19f 486563.48, 4280353.66
- System ……error
- Update…….error, reinitialize protocol
“Selection from S.G. Driussi, Written Marginalia in Wolfe Codex, 4.30C.”
by Dominic Scott
Vodalus picked up the book from the nightstand. It was bound in lucid white skin stamped with red lettering in a script Agia had never seen. He opened the book and began to read.
“In summer the sea-hounds, those with bright copper teeth, cast out their young from them, and refuse to give suck. There they leave the sea for land and with sorcery take the forms of wolves – they harass the sons of Meschia for a score of years. The woods are their domain. Then upon the banks of the sea, at the appointed time, they purify themselves, and offer sacrifice beneath an oak tree. They leave the black wolf pelts behind and return to the waves, taking wives among the sea-hounds, never to join the wild hunt again.”
“I never understood the fairy stories.”
“Dog and wolf cannot coexist in one. Both submit in their own manner. To be a wolf in the sea is to drown, the dog in the woods will be taken by the ghoul-bear.”
“And which are you?”
Vodalus closed the book and leaned against the divan. He weighed his response carefully, mind balancing as a knife blade, here to the side of life, there to the side of death. “The forerunner, to usher humanity into the age of wolves.”
Later in bed Agia moved her head to Vodalus’s chest, and traced the trails left by her tears with her fingers. As she drifted into dreams, his breathing became the rustling of wind through trees and his skin warm earth under the red sun. In its veins pounded the coursing blood of the deep, running in every crevice, touching even the faces of the mountains. Soon the long winter would come; the furrows in the earth would crack, splitting open its secret places, casting down the high redoubts, and giving its woodsmen a new heaven, a new Urth.
He left the next day, the jungle received him under the red glow of the sun. Agia watched from a stone near a toppled manse overlooking Nessus. The Gyoll stretched like a green road made of crystal, twisting its way across the black and umber city. In that moment she hated the sun, not for its lack of warmth but for what its light revealed.
I, Severian, viewed this traversing the corridors of time, and thought it wise to etch an apostil next to my account.
by John Kissane
She found herself there in the darkened backstage. Her eyes adjusted slowly, allowing her to study her body and the brocaded gown encasing it, the latter both lovely and damaged, like a book that had survived a flood. Her hands ached, as if unused to being empty.
To either side stretched rows of boxes, some roughly the size of her own, others astoundingly large. She could see well enough by this point to discern faces, or the hints of faces: a dull look to one; a vulpine cast to another. Although every eye she saw was closed, she felt as if some of the figures had recently returned, whereas others had yet to leave.
A tall man with scant hair and kind eyes made his way to her. He frowned, and knelt, and with one hand smoothed a wrinkle near the bottom of her gown, while the other, squeezing, engendered a different one. A perfectionist, then. She hoped that she wouldn’t disappoint him.
Gazing away as he fussed, she saw a man whose face caught her breath. It wasn’t desire, or not only that; she felt she had known him long before, and had searched aimlessly for him for many years, until she had almost given up hope. Unable to give voice to all she felt, she said, simply, “Handsome.”
The man at her feet looked to where she gazed and huffed. “It isn’t that he’s not handsome. It’s that he’s your brother.”
“Oh.” Her heart guttered.
“I didn’t say that that would stop you.”
Her heart’s light held. “You’re a good man.”
“Sometimes. Not often enough.” Suddenly, he seized her dress and pulled, opening a rent just below her waist. “It’ll look good in the sun,” he explained.
“The spotlight.” She imagined bearing a breast to the audience, reveling in the daring of it. She was daring, then. She liked knowing that.
“Same thing. Well, it looks as good as it’s going to look. How are you feeling? Ready?”
How did she feel? Resourceful. Strong. Hurt, maybe, but that was nothing a little irony, a little mockery, couldn’t fix. That would keep her safe, or safe enough.
“I feel ready.”
He stood, eyes twinkling, and with a grandness of gesture she would have thought beyond him pulled back the curtain. She nodded to him, took a breath, and walked out of the box and onto the stage.
All stories are copyrighted by the authors © 2022. Any proofing errors are entirely Craig’s fault.