Featuring the story Celestial Shores
Towards the end of July 2022 we released a special episode to mark Alasdair Stuart’s 15 years as the voice of PseudoPod. It included the story Celestial Shores, written by Sarah Day and Tim Pratt and narrated by Alasdair and his partner, Marguerite Kenner, as well as special tributes to Al and other bits of voice goodness.
But it turned out there were things we hadn’t, quite, managed to squeeze into that release. So now, as a special early holiday gift, we present… THE DIRECTOR’S CUT! There’s some extra introductory chat, there are new, previously unheard tributes, there’s a beautiful selection of samples from the very best of Al’s outro work from across the years, there are even more hilarious out-takes, and the story itself, Celestial Shores, has a fabulous new sound bed.
We hope you enjoy it. And we promise you, it’s all true.
Britt drove silently while Ray gazed past her at the beauty of the rock-strewn ocean, beyond the sheer drop-offs and flimsy guardrails that separated the coast road from the end of the continent. They were farther north than he’d ever been in California, heading for Celestial Shores, a stretch of property that began life in the ‘70s as an intentional community and was now full of wealthy retirees with strong opinions about quiet hours and the evils of artificial light… and a few vacation rentals, one of which he’d snapped up at a reduced price on short notice as a way of apologizing for certain things without having to actually say he was sorry.
“That’s our turn.” He pointed, and Britt piloted their hybrid onto the unmarked asphalt road, past a sign that said “PRIVATE PROPERTY” above the symbol of Celestial Shores, a circle trifurcated by a pair of vertical undulating lines. Two more turns and the main road was hidden entirely by the landscape of tall grass and low scrub and the occasional towering tree. The houses were scattered gracefully around the bluffs, all in a similar style, angular and ocean gray, floor-to-ceiling windows and decks and skylights, looking like a past decade’s idea of modern and elegant. The homes were arrayed on the gentle slopes so that none interfered with the views of the others, and in between waved fields of tall grass with trails cut invisibly through them. The ocean boomed beyond, crashing white-capped against sea cliffs and seething around countless uprisings of pitted rock deeper in the water. “Can you imagine being rich enough to live here full time?” Ray asked. “What a life.” Britt grunted, which was, at least, a kind of communication.
They found the meandering driveway that led to their rental—the twee-ly named “Harmony House”—and left their luggage in the car while they went to check the place out. They’d once booked a stay at a “rustic cabin” that turned out to be more of a “mouse-infested lean-to,” so now there was always some worry that they’d wind up in a place overly amenable to hanta virus.
Harmony House was glorious, though, and Britt smiled for the first time all afternoon when she walked across the brown tile to the big windows, with their unobstructed views of the sea of grass and the ocean beyond. Red hawks swooped through the air, riding the currents before disappearing into the trees. The inside was beautiful too, though the décor was heavy on driftwood, standard California beachfront fare. The only odd note was the dozen spheres of various sizes and colors suspended from the ceiling at random heights and intervals. Planetary models? No, the colors were too odd, with one gleaming black, another prismatic silver, and a third seemingly blown of blue glass.
Ray walked up to Britt and put his arm around her waist. She stiffened and slid away, out to the driveway to get her bag, ruining his chance to be gracious and fetch them himself. He decided not to let it bother him. She just needed time to relax. Why would she have agreed to come on this trip unless there was still hope to fix his really very minor mistake?
There were no books in the house, just seashells and branches and stones, except for a paperback with a too-shiny cover tucked under the coffee table. He picked that up, curious. The words Spheres: Their Secret Harmonies and Sacred Strengths stood out against a backdrop of colored circles. The author was Horst Fischer, a name that was naggingly familiar for the moment it took him to place it—Horst Fischer owned this vacation house.
Ray flipped through the book, a self-published new-age manifesto about the magical powers of mysterious cosmic spheres that visited humankind in secret, revealing themselves only to the elect, and sharing their powers of protection and harmonization. The typesetting was extremely bad. The author bio said Horst was a PhD marine biologist who’d discovered the truths of the spiritual world when he lost his wife Ingrid in a vaguely described sailing accident, and mainstream science failed to comfort him in his grief.
The door creaked behind him, and foosteps approached. “Our host is some kind of insane sphere fanatic,” he said. “A real spheritual guy.” He turned to make his eyebrows-raised pun face at Britt—but it wasn’t Britt at all. The figure was backlit by the skylight, but they were far too short and stocky. At first Ray thought the intruder was wearing an old-fashioned round diving helmet, but no—their head was encased entirely in a sphere, opaque and milky white, and when they raised their hands, Ray dropped the book and squeaked out a gasp.
Britt left her bag in the biggest bedroom, then slipped into the kitchen, avoiding Ray in the other room. She took a mug from the pantry, and the sink dispensed metallic-tasting well water not much colder than the damp air inside the house. Even with all the doors shut, she could smell brine.
It was a primo location, she had to give him that, swankier than they could have usually afforded. Ray was good at finding opportunities for sweeping romantic gestures, although this was more of a diving save. He’d scored a deal on this place and suggested it as an alternative to the anniversary he’d completely forgotten. He was better at gestures than apologies.
Her mouth twisted. He’d protested that they were in love, they’d be together forever, and they’d have plenty of anniversaries to look forward to, but this was their first, and it hurt to think he didn’t care.
Some things you only get to experience once. First date, first kiss, first anniversary. First wife? No, don’t go there.
Britt had a hangover, which certainly wasn’t helping her mood, and while some ginger tea might have, she couldn’t find any in the kitchen—just jars of weird unmarked leaves that smelled pungently organic when she made the mistake of sniffing them. She settled for tap water warmed in the electric kettle with a squeeze from a geriatric lemon hiding in the back of the fridge. There was a plastic bear full of crystallized honey in one of the cabinets, and she scraped some out with a teaspoon, stirring it into the mug to make a hot toddy that was mostly just hot.
Cupping the mug in her hands, she leaned against the kitchen sink and looked out the window overlooking the bluffs. The sun hung low over the ocean—they must be out on a point or something, because the GPS had made it look like the house faced north, but the setting sun was dead ahead. Not quite golden hour yet, but the light was taking on that hypnotic syrupy texture she loved, casting little circular motes into her vision like a film editor was leaning heavy on the lens flare effect. Her vision swam. This was a hell of a hangover.
Something moved on the bluffs in front of the house and she squinted. A deer, picking its way cautiously through the scrub and round white stones among along the cliff’s edge.
Britt had grown up in the suburbs of the East Bay with deer bouncing all over her backyard, but had lived in the city long enough that seeing one had become a novelty. The ocean side of the house was rimmed by a deck, and she opened the sliding glass door slowly, trying not to make a lot of noise.
The deer froze, swiveling enormous eyes and ears toward the house. This close, she could watch its dainty jaw moving in an endless circle. Ruminants, she called up from a Zoology of the West class she’d taken in college. They chew their food a lot to better digest it. Like cows.
The deer’s eyes were perfect hemispheres the soft black of the night sky. She waited for it to dip its head down onto the grass for a bite, but it stared silently in her direction, jaw sawing mechanically, until she wanted to say something aloud just to break the silence. Oceanside scrub must be tough to eat. It chewed and chewed and stared and chewed.
The white stones scattered around its feet drew her eye. They were all smooth and about the same size, like giant eggs or puffy mushrooms or (morbid) skulls….
A fawn stumbled out of the tall bushes beneath the deck, still so young it was peach-fuzzy and dappled with spots, each one perfectly round.
Britt squeaked with glee and turned back into the house to get Ray. He’d grown up in the heart of the city. He’d love this. She’d forgotten about being mad at him, at least for the moment.
She turned a corner and found him in the living room, staring wide-eyed and hurt-baffled like he’d just been slapped in the face with a dead fish. He blinked at her. “Did you see… was there….”
“On the deck? Yeah, there are deer—” she turned to gesture out the window, but found the bluffs standing wind-whipped and empty. The deer were gone. “Oh.”
“No, I thought there was someone, a neighbor, or maybe Horst—”
“He owns the place.” Ray made a visible effort to pull himself together.
“I didn’t see anyone. The door locked behind me when I came back in.” She shrugged. “These are weird.” Britt tapped one of the hanging balls. It was deep inky black with a white swirl looping through it. The glass pinged with a deep sound like a gong or a Tibetan singing bowl. “Kinda pretty, I guess.”
Ray gave a crooked smile. “You’re prettier.”
She rolled her eyes. “Prettier than ‘kinda pretty, I guess.’ Charmer.”
“You know what I mean.” He shuffled close and put a tentative hand on her arm. She decided to allow it on a temporary basis. “I hope you like it here. I know I messed up, and I want us to have a really good weekend to make up for it.”
“That was almost an apology.”
“Well, what do you want?” His face went from annoyed to panicked at showing annoyance, and he gestured vaguely. “I booked this nice place, it’s got…” He looked up at the ceiling. “…spheres. You love spheres. People ask, what does Britt love, and I say, she loves spheres. Makes you easy to shop for.”
She snorted a laugh despite her best intentions. “You are an enormous asshole, Ray.”
“On my bad days. On my good days I’m a very small one.” He grinned. “I’m sorry, okay? I say the magic words. I screwed up and I’m hoping to unscrew it.”
She waited for the “and screw you” pun finale, but he somehow resisted, and she decided to let the ball of resentment she was holding float away. “Okay, fine. I don’t want to be mad all weekend anyway. That’s no fun for me.” Britt handed him her mug. “Here, someone forgot to put whiskey in this. I need medication. My head is killing me.”
“Your wish and my command and all that.”
“Just don’t forget next year.”
“So there’s going to be a next year?”
“Provisionally.” She smacked his ass and he went off to the kitchen. She looked out the window, and watched people moving across the grass, so far away they were doll-sized, a little knot of three. One of them seemed to be wearing some kind of big fishbowl diving helmet. Weird. She turned away, and the spheres above her swayed in the wind of her passing.
They ambled down the street until they hit a trail marker, decorated with that split circle emblem, and that led them to a neatly mowed five-foot-wide trail through the tall grass, on a diagonal path toward the ocean. The stalks bent in the wind, about waist high; much taller and this would be less of a trail and more of a maze. Britt held Ray’s hand, and that felt like a triumph. He thought anniversaries were silly—if you show up every day, who needs special occasions? Birthdays and all that, they were just traps to get you in trouble, but being with someone meant accepting the things they found important.
She was laughing at his jokes again, too. He’d shown her the sphere book—but omitted his weird hunger-hallucination about a sphere-headed stranger—and they’d been riffing on the absurdity. “Is not the sun a sphere? Does it not shine its spherish glory upon us?”
“Is the sacred butt not also like unto a sundered sphere?” Britt replied gravely.
They reached the bluffs, and Britt stepped confidently out onto a tiny little point of grassy land an inch from a hundred-foot drop onto jumbled rocks and smashing waves. Ray physically shuddered, the imp of the perverse piping up to say, “What if you pushed her?” He never would, of course, not her, not anyone, but it was such a moment of balance and vulnerability—death was very close here, he realized, in a way it wasn’t, usually. His head swum, a rare attack of vertigo, and he crouched down and grabbed onto some grass with both hands. Circles swarmed in his vision, like a fleet of UFOs, composed of dizziness and flashes of sunlight from the waves. He blinked and they went away.
He stared into the dark water around the rocks, some shattered remnants of sea cliff as big as school buses or small houses. He watched diving cormorants, and was that the nose of a seal? He almost pointed it out to Britt, but it vanished. Mostly he watched long undulating things move beneath the surface of the waves, as if trying to reach into the world of air and light and warmth. Long fronds of kelp, surely, but they seemed to move of their own accord, not just with the motion of the waves but against it. They looked like reaching tentacles, like some kind of underwater entity of unimaginable vastness was trying to—
“Is that a seal?” Britt said, and he followed her pointing finger, expecting to see the one he’d glimpsed earlier, but this was paler, and didn’t move right, and honestly it looked more like….
“Is that a body?” he said, and she turned and looked at him before gazing back at the water, where the pale thing had vanished.
“Probably driftwood,” Britt said. They watched the water for a long time, but the pale floating thing didn’t reappear.
They decided to walk on, not holding hands, both deep in their thoughts, following the trail closest to the bluffs, stopping occasionally just to take in the severe broken beauty of the coastline. A group of five people, all older, wearing floppy hats and carrying formidable walking sticks, approached from the other direction, the sound of their squabbling arriving ahead of them. “…which is why we don’t let just anyone join the HOA. Not everyone is willing to pay their dues.”
“It’s a special place, with as many responsibilities as privileges, and not everyone gets that,” a second said.
“The problem with being in a community is everyone has an opinion,” a third said, and then they all stopped, right in the path, blocking the way forward.
“Hello,” Britt said, and Ray offered a little wave.
The one in the lead, short and stocky and white-haired, grunted. “You’re staying at Horst’s place? What do you think?”
“It’s really nice,” Ray said. “This whole place is wonderful.”
“Well, we aim to keep it that way. That’s what a community is for.” She spoke like someone had argued with her about it. The group broke around them and continued on. Britt and Ray watched them go. The group resumed their arguing once they’d gained a little distance, and an errant breeze brought the words “…seem energetic enough, that’s something…”
Ray raised his eyebrows at Britt. “The rich are different.”
“The rich are assholes,” Britt said. “Can you imagine having an argument about HOA dues? Get some real problems, people.”
“Are the rich not also beloved by the spheres?”
“I’m so hungry I could eat a sphere.”
Ray brightened. “I brought tomatoes, and mozzarella balls, so we can have a caprese salad! It will be a meal of spheres!”
“Better we eat the spheres than the spheres eat us, I guess,” Britt said.
They enjoyed a light dinner with a bottle of rose they found in the pantry (“Are you sure we should be taking their food?” Britt asked. Ray pointed at the pattern of interlocking bubbles on the label, mouthed spheres!, and they took it as a sign). As the evening went on he made her laugh again, and the last of the murk between them settled. When they went to bed they had silly, tender, half-drunk sex, and at the end of it he whispered that he loved her more than all the spheres in the sky. Britt fell asleep remembering what she liked about him after all.
She even had a nice dream: she floated on her back in still black water, gazing up at the sky, and the stars floated down closer to her, revealing themselves to be spheres of light in many colors, bobbing gently around her. So energetic, the dimmest of the spheres whispered, drifting down close to her smiling face, its honey-colored light warm and comforting—
She woke to Ray shaking her and babbling “Get up, wake up, you have to get up, you have to see—”
“The fuck?” Britt was never at her best first thing in the morning, and from the darkness outside it was still the middle of the night. Ray was lucky she remembered how to speak English. “What? What is it?”
“Outside.” Ray’s fingers were cold against her skin. He trembled like a chihuahua. “There’s something happening outside.”
“What?” A jumble of disconnected possibilities tumbled through her mind. This was California, so the standard roster of natural disasters flickered by; earthquakes, tidal waves, wildfires.
“The stars. You have to see the stars.”
“You woke me up in the middle of the night to look at the stars?”
“Just come on.”
“I’m going to kill you,” she said, and meant it with all her heart.
The biggest window in the bedroom was a sliding glass door that opened onto the deck. A hot tub, big enough to seat four, was sunk into the wood surface. Ray had pulled the cover off, she assumed to have a soak during one of his frequent middle-of-the-night insomnias. She looked up and the stars were bright, clear, perfectly nice. Nothing they hadn’t looked at hours ago.
Ray stepped to the edge of the tub and pointed wordlessly into its depths.
Britt squinted. “What?”
The light from the bedroom reflecting off the water cast a haunting, wavy reflection along Ray’s torso. In the dim light he looked gaunt and deep-eyed. Haunted.
“Don’t look at the water. Look at the stars on the water.”
She blinked, refocusing her eyes, and looked again.
The surface of the water rippled, and the reflected stars bounced along in the miniature tide, split into doubles, and unified again. Something wasn’t right. Were the stars… different colors? Were they moving, beyond the movement of the water?
Britt looked at the sky. The stars were still. “That’s bizarre,” she said.
Ray grabbed her arm. “The water reflecting something that’s not in the sky? Yeah, that’s weird. But the sky is weird, too. Look at it. It’s all wrong. Shouldn’t there be a moon? Even if the moon is below the horizon, where the fuck is Jupiter?”
She was no astronomer, but anyone who’d gone on a weekend campout with the Girl Scouts could find the Big Dipper. Orion. Polaris. Her little sister had emailed an astrology forecast to her every week for the last three months, and Britt read the damn thing even though astrology was bullshit, so she knew where Jupiter was because it was nearing opposition. Jupiter was the brightest thing in the sky at night this summer, a solid point of orange-white fire…
But not now. No Jupiter. No familiar constellations. Alien stars.
“What—” she said again, and then stopped, because Ray wouldn’t be able to explain it any better than she could.
“Those stars aren’t ours. I’m not… I’m not even sure they are stars. They don’t look—”
He squeezed her arm, raising a trembling hand to point toward the horizon, or where the horizon would be if it wasn’t too dark to see anything.
Gold sparks clustered together in the darkness beneath the stars, each one a tiny point of light. As they watched, the six points swept in close together, then broke apart to spiral around each other in a tiny ballet.
“It’s a bonfire. Someone’s out on the bluffs. I think they’re dancing. Holding torches or sparklers or something.”
Two of the points of light broke away from the group and drifted straight up into the sky. Britt thought of lantern festivals—of wishes being made and coming true.
“Are they… growing?” Ray said.
The two sparks swelled. Britt stared at them until her mind jumped tracks and she stopped perceiving them as growing. She realized they were actually getting closer.
She took a step back toward the house, pulling her arm out of Ray’s grasp.
“We should go inside,” she said, but then the spheres were upon them.
The two lights resolved themselves into volleyball-sized orbs, honey-colored and giving off a watery eldritch luminescence, like bubbles filled with glowing champagne. They drifted over the deck and stopped in front of Britt and Ray, tethered to nothing, supported by nothing. Dreamy. Britt’s breath slowed down, her muscles relaxing like she’d just drunk a beer too fast.
Ray gazed rapt at the sphere hovering before him, and reached out a hand.
Alarm stirred in her sluggish mind. “What are you doing? Don’t touch it!”
“Britt…” He blinked. The reflection of water from the hot tub on his face had been replaced by golden ripples of light. “They’re the spheres. The ones Horst wrote about. Harmonies. Can’t you hear them?”
There was something, a faint ringing sound, like the aftermath of a bell being struck. She thought back to the sphere hanging in the living room, ringing when she tapped it. She resolutely refused to listen. “Horst is an insane person. These are just… St. Elmo’s Fire or something, ball lightning, a natural phenomenon….”
“They are natural.” The voice came from the other side of the deck railing, and Britt shrieked and took a step back. The spheres bobbed at the sound, each flickering a little. “But there are mysteries beyond human understanding in nature, from the depths of the sea to the dark beyond the last stars. Some of those mysteries are frightening, and some are beautiful. The spheres are beautiful. They reveal themselves only to the elect. You have been chosen.”
Ray looked away from his sphere with visible effort. “Who’s there?”
A short, stocky figure stepped out of the darkness, head encased in a milky white fishbowl helmet. She was followed by four others, each wearing a thick indigo cloak and holding a clear ball the size of a grapefruit. Britt recognized them as the group they’d passed on the bluffs earlier.
The balls they held emitted the same yellowy glow as the floating spheres. The four points of light near the horizon were gone, Britt realized. These were the dancers, and their leader.
The one in the milky helmet spoke. (Why wasn’t her voice muffled?) “Each year, we give of ourselves to feed the spheres, and in return, they keep us safe, and prosperous, and healthy. We used to offer only those from our community, but as we’ve gotten older, the spheres find us… less nourishing than before, and so sometimes, we welcome others to our communion.”
Ray stepped back, the sphere hovering in front of him keeping pace. “Shit, babe, they’re some kind of sphere cult.”
The cloaked figures moved in closer, laying hands on her and Ray’s arms.
“Let go of me!” She jerked her arm away, but they just moved with her, flowing rather than fighting.
“The resonances and harmonies within you will strengthen the spheres, and their power will keep us all safe,” the leader said. “I envy you this experience. The spheres assure us that your consciousness will live on within them, and oh, the sights you’ll see, the thoughts you’ll think, the voids you’ll taste—”
They’re going to kill us, Britt realized. They’re going to sacrifice us to aliens or something to keep their stock portfolios healthy and their hips from breaking and their property values high.
“Fuck this.” Ray jerked violently away, and to Britt’s shock, he glared at her. “Why did you have to make such a big deal about me forgetting our stupid anniversary? You had to have something special, you wanted a trip, well here’s a trip, we’re going to goddamn outer space or something now—”
“I would have been happy with a nice dinner, you asshole!”
“Please, you’ll cause disharmony,” the leader said. “Don’t upset the spheres. This is a very delicate time. The stars are going wrong. We should proceed before the balance shifts irrevocably.”
The other cultists began to hum, their voices harmonizing with the distant chime Britt was still trying to ignore. Britt tried to make a break for it, but one of the younger cultists stepped into her way. He was still old enough to be her dad—for fuck’s sake, she was getting sacrificed to aliens by goddamn Boomers. He handed his sphere to the leader, and when Britt tried to dart around him, he bear-hugged her and held tight, dragging her back to the circle.
The leader considered Ray, whose face had gone curiously slack after the humming started—he hadn’t even reacted to Britt’s attempt to flee. What was wrong with him? Had he always been so weak, and she just hadn’t noticed?
“Start with him,” the elder instructed.
Ray blinked. “What? Why start with me? I didn’t even want to come here, this was all her idea—”
Asshole. Britt wrestled hard against the cultist holding her, trying to stomp his instep and whipping her head back to smash his nose, but he was ready for all that, like he’d done this before. Oh god, of course they’d done this before—
The sphere floating in front of Ray alit gently on his upturned forehead, pulsed a sharp white light, and then…. it was like he was a man-shaped pool float someone was squeezing all the air out of. He deflated, skin sagging and collapsing, and the sphere began to glow a deep red. His bones poked out against his skin, sharp protuberances, like he was a tent that had collapsed in a rainstorm. Ray made a sound she’d never heard before, like an old book having its spine cracked—dry, desiccated, helpless. The cultists held up the emptying husk of his body, and she thought for sure he was dead, but then his eyes moved and he looked at her. A moment later his eyes deflated, too, transformed from spheres into dried whitish raisins.
Britt’s screaming drowned out the sound of the cult’s chanting.
The cultists dropped Ray’s body to the deck, where it made a soft, shivery rattle. He was completely drained of fluid, of vigor, of life. The sphere above him pulsed with fresh vitality, illuminating a space around the deck as big as a football field, casting hard shadows.
Britt sagged in the cultist’s arms, shuddering with terror. She wondered if anyone would see the glowing sphere, if anyone else even existed in this weird not-California, or if they were alone under these unknown stars.
“There’s no need to grieve,” the leader said. “Your love is among the spheres now. He lives eternally in their light.”
Her love had just tried to feed her to the spheres first, so Britt had a decidedly mixed reaction to that—grief and love and terror and fury chasing their tails inside of her, but there was no time to sort through her emotions. There was a second sphere. She was next.
A deer climbed up onto the deck, hooves clicking, followed haltingly by a fawn. The same fawn from this morning, Britt thought—it had those same perfectly round white dots. Two of the red hawks they’d seen circling earlier landed on the deck railing and peered at Ray’s body with interest.
As she watched, the deer made their way shyly into the circle of cultists. The leader placed a gentle hand on the adult deer’s back, stroked the downy fur.
“Our community lives in perfect harmony with nature,” the woman said. “All of us together, man and woman and bird and deer alike, in allegiance to the spheres.”
The baby deer bent its tiny head and ate a tuft of Ray’s hair off his skull.
One of the men stopped chanting. “Deer are opportunistic osteophages,” he said helpfully. “That means they eat bone when they can. Lots of people don’t know that.”
The leader nodded. “The spheres take their sustenance, and when they are done, the deer and birds feed on what remains. No part of you is wasted. It’s all part of the great design. All things serve the spheres.”
“All things serve the spheres,” the other cultists murmured in unison. They resumed chanting, and the other, dimmer sphere bobbed a bit closer to Britt.
The baby deer looked directly into Britt’s eyes and swallowed a mouthful of Ray’s scalp.
Britt mule-kicked the cultist holding her in the kneecap. Something slid under her heel and the man screamed. Britt bounced both feet off the ground and broke through his grip, charging toward the elderly woman. The chanting faltered.
“No! You mustn’t interrupt—”
Britt barreled into the old woman and knocked her down. She snatched up the glass ball from the leader’s arms. The woman had tried to protect it when she fell, like she was holding a baby, and that meant it must be fragile. Britt expected the sphere to feel like glass, but it was warm and yielding, like holding an oversized eyeball. She spun and hurled the hideous thing directly at the sphere that had eaten Ray.
The brighter sphere detonated on impact. It didn’t shatter, but exploded with a wet pop, showering the surrounding area with luminescent goo that hissed and sizzled where it landed. Some fell on Britt’s outstretched hand, burning her, and she screamed, but it was hard to hear over all the other screaming. The deer and birds fled in a burst of hooves and feathers and the deck plunged into darkness.
“No! No!” One of the cultists seized her by the shoulders and shook her over and over. “You stupid bitch, you’ve killed us all!”
Britt looked past him to the night sky over the sea, and watched the stars shift and change. There were familiar patterns there again, and the baleful gleam of Jupiter, and the brightly shining moon, illuminating the waves. Britt began to laugh. Whatever these evil bastards had been trying to do, she’d ruined it. Sure, Ray had died, and maybe she would die, but at least she’d spoiled their rich white vampire sphere cult bullshit—
The elderly woman stepped forward. “Let her go,” she murmured. The cultist stopped shaking Britt and turned away, hiding his face in his hands.
Britt slid down and sat on the deck, cradling her burned hand to her chest. The elderly woman sat down beside her. “It doesn’t matter now,” she said quietly. “The spheres have protected us for generations. But they can’t protect us anymore.”
“Oh, no, you’ll have to pay property taxes now?” Britt sneered. “Your old men will have to buy boner pills online like everyone else? You’ll get cancer sometimes, you murderous fucks?”
The woman blinked at her, then shook her head. “Oh. No. The spheres didn’t only protect us.” She gestured at the weeping cultists around her, then made a larger, more expansive wave. “They protected… all of us. Me. You. Your friends, your family. Every other living thing on this planet.”
Britt frowned. “What are you talking about?”
“Did you know,” she said thoughtfully, “I used to think the ocean was beautiful, before I learned about the spheres? About the spheres… and what they held back.” The woman sighed. “Look.” She pointed at the sea.
The moon still shone down, but it didn’t just illuminate the ocean anymore. Now it illuminated the undulating things rising up out of the ocean. They weren’t smooth and organic, like kelp, or the arms of a cephalopod, or anything else she’d expect to emerge from the sea. They were jagged, and angular, and branched like bolts of lightning rendered in quivering, slick-shiny flesh.
She watched them rise until they towered high enough to blot out the moon entirely.
About the Authors
Tim Pratt is a Hugo Award-winning SF and fantasy author, and has been a finalist for World Fantasy, Philip K. Dick, Sturgeon, Stoker, Mythopoeic, and Nebula Awards, among others. He is the author of more than 30 books, most recently multiverse adventures Doors of Sleep and Prison of Sleep. His stories have appeared at Tor.com, Lightspeed, Clarkesworld, Asimov’s, and other nice places. He’s a senior editor and occasional book reviewer at Locus, the magazine of the science fiction and fantasy field. Since 2013 he’s published a new story every month at www.patreon.com/timpratt, and he tweets incessantly at twitter.com/timpratt. He lives in Berkeley, CA.
About the Narrators
Marguerite Kenner (she/her) is a California transplant living in the UK city named after her favorite pastime.
She runs Escape Artists with her partner Alasdair Stuart, and practices as a technology lawyer in London. She loves to voice minor characters in podcasts and play video games, often where people can watch.
Her contributions to genre fiction include being a 2021 Hugo Award Finalist, editing Cast of Wonders from 2013 to 2019, project groups for too many industry orgs to count anymore, community organising, mentoring, and teaching business skills to creatives.
You can follow her adventures across various social media platforms.
Alasdair Stuart is a professional enthusiast, pop culture analyst, writer and voice actor. He co-owns the Escape Artists podcasts and co-hosts both Escape Pod and PseudoPod.
Alasdair is an Audioverse Award winner, a multiple award finalist including the Hugo, the Ignyte, and the BFA, and has won the Karl Edward Wagner award twice. He writes the multiple-award nominated weekly pop culture newsletter THE FULL LID.
Alasdair’s latest non-fiction is Through the Valley of Shadows, a deep-dive into the origins of Star Trek’s Captain Pike from Obverse Books. His game writing includes ENie-nominated work on the Doctor Who RPG and After The War from Genesis of Legend.
A frequent podcast guest, Alasdair also co-hosts Caring Into the Void with Brock Wilbur and Jordan Shiveley. His voice acting credits include the multiple-award winning The Magnus Archives, The Secret of St. Kilda, and many more.