RAMSHEAD

The Ramshead Algorithm and Other Stories

Genre
Fantasy and Science Fiction
Length
92,000 words
Published
ISBN-13
978-1939056139
Format
Print and Ebook
Buy ($15)
A fresh new voice in the genre.

A best-of short fiction collection

Ramshead Jones has a billionaire father, a dysfunctional family, and a shocking secret nestled in the hedge maze in his backyard: Earth’s only portal to hundreds of other realities. When Ramshead’s unwitting father decides to rip the hedge maze out, Ramshead is forced to use dangerous magic to move the portal before it’s destroyed, too—unless the deadly maze of other family secrets that come to light destroys him first.

In THE RAMSHEAD ALGORITHM AND OTHER STORIES, sand cats speak, ghost bikes roll, corpses disappear, and hedge mazes are more bewildering than you’ve ever imagined. These 11 fantasy and science fiction stories from KJ Kabza have been dubbed "Sublime" (Tangent), "Rich" (SFRevu), and "Ethereal" (Quick Sip Reviews) and will take you deep into other astonishing realities that not even Ramshead has discovered.

Cover design and interior illustrations by Dante Saunders. Introduction by Gordon Van Gelder.

Excerpt From the story "We Don't Talk About Death"

Allie goes to the door without even saying goodnight.

My toes clench inside my shoes. The medical assistant isn't finished typing up her assessment of me, so I have to sit there on the exam table and pretend like Allie leaving doesn't bother me at all.

The door slides open. Allie stops there, and because of the lights in the outer corridor, this nimbus glows around her springy red hair. She looks at me for a second. Any time now, she's going to invite me to come with her after one of our post-run medical clearances to get some food or coffee or whatever, and I'm going to have to say no.

I mean, I could say yes. But then I'd have to talk about myself, and Allie would finally learn the truth.

Which is this: I am boring. Boring as dirt. According to my mom, the only thing I've ever been good at is sitting around like an idiot, and she's 100% right. Pilots—people like Allie O'Donovan—are the interesting ones, with their calibrated synesthetic schizophrenia, and their ability to perceive Ureality the same way every time and use those perceptions to navigate it. Whereas Passengers—people like me—are the ones whose brains are so lethargic, we can't experience Ureality at all.

"Laurel?" Allie says.

My toes clench harder. I don't want to fuck up Allie's idea of me as someone who's likable, but Mom has a saying about this, too: Nothing good lasts forever. "Yeah?"

Allie looks down at her hiking boots. You don't need to wear anything special to fly an Overship, and I always just show up for runs in my boring old regular clothes, but Allie likes to dress up like she's tromping through a wilderness. To her, I guess she is. "Good job today."

Was it? "Thanks."

She hesitates.

"Listen..." I say. But I have no idea what, exactly, Allie should listen to. What is my mouth even doing?

Thankfully, Allie doesn't hear me. She turns and walks out.

"Okay," says the medical assistant. She pounds in a couple of hard returns. "Any tingling-numbness-pain in the extremities?"

***

I've been a certified Passenger with Close Companions for twelve years. Before joining the agency I majored in General Studies in college, in between lying there like a broken robot while boys crawled over me and I hoped to feel something. (Spoiler alert: I never did.) I still keep in touch with some people from my college days, and I know some people through work and around various orbital stations. But I wouldn't say I have friends, exactly. Friends share their deepest darkest secrets, and I'm not interesting enough to have any.

I mean, there is all the stuff about my mom. But that's her stuff. Not mine.

***

At 4 a.m., my Phalm rings. For a second I don't know where I am—my mom's house in Cincinnati?—but then I remember that I'm on Friedman Station, a good 6,000 light years away from her.

And if it's 4 a.m., it must be the hospital calling.

My guts clench. I fumble for my Phalm. Despite all this call data squeezing through the wormhole network from Earth and back again, this near-instantaneous signal transfer still feels far, far too late. "Hello. This is Laurel. Coco's daughter."

"Embers," says a voice that's definitely not a hospital person. "Get down to the launch bay and bring an overnight bag."

I blink. It's Karen Jadhav, Allie's boss (and by extension, mine) for as long as Allie and I are in port here. My heart's still pounding. "Geez, Karen, what the hell? I thought you were—I thought this was an emergency."

"It is," snaps Karen. "Bag. Launch bay. Meeting room. Come."

The call ends. I'm wide awake now. For three weeks now, ever since Allie's agency subcontracted mine and I got paired up with her, we've been doing a series of runs between all the stations in the Marchante-Friedman corridor, carrying sedated riders in mega-comapods. (It's an easy job, if creepy.) And if you're poor enough to be willing to buy an FTL ride in a shared comapod, jammed shoulder-to-shoulder with twelve other people per row, you're not important enough to merit an emergency ride at 4 a.m.

Well, whatever. I just work here. I root around in my trunk for some clean underpants.

***

Allie's face is pale, even paler than usual. "You want us to... what?"

Karen Jadhav faces us from across the meeting room's table. She looks like hell. I look like hell, too—half my hair is a ball of static, and even though I found my good bra it's underneath yesterday's dirty shirt—but then again, this is basically how I look every day. (Am I rock-solid confident or just slovenly? You be the judge.)

Karen's jaw tightens. She's a skinny little woman, and right now, she reminds me of a determined terrier. "You don't have to accept, of course," she says. "You are private citizens, not military. And besides that, a run from here to Barahna Station 6 would be entirely outside the scope of your current contracts."

I pick at the dirt beneath my fingernails and look out the window into the corridor. A lot of unhappy-looking people in Commonwealth Fleet uniforms mill around outside.

"Is there really nobody else?" asks Allie.

"Considering that Kagan Base Station is still literally on fire, full of dead and dying people, and being evacuated as we speak, I would say no. No, there is nobody else."

Allie makes a hissing noise between her teeth. Outside in the corridor, a trim gray-haired guy who has a lot of shiny bits on his uniform says something to the others. They look even more unhappy.

"If we don't get that ship full of seeds to Barahna Station 6 today, terrorist attack or no terrorist attack," Karen continues, "we will be in serious breach of our trade pact. And right now, with tensions with the Barahna being what they are, the Barahna are looking for any excuse to..." She shakes her head.

"Look. The Barahna are demanding the seeds. All the Fleet's Pilots that were on Kagan are now too injured or dead to fly. Friedman Station is mixed-use, not military, but it's the closest source of backup Pilots, and you are the only registered Pilot here who has both the training and clearance to fly Darter-class military Overships.

"I'm sorry, Allie. Admiral Bettencourt wouldn't have asked us, and I wouldn't be asking you, if we had a better option."

It's 4:30 a.m. now. Allie has had no more sleep than the rest of us, but she still looks fantastic, dressed as usual for a wilderness adventure. She's got a vest on, for Christ's sake, the kind with all the bulky pockets. And a necklace of some kind of animal teeth. "But Barahna Station 6 is across a war zone..."

"It isn't a war zone yet," Karen says.

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