A Hundred and Seventy Storms

This is the room where The Snow Like a Dancer dies, year by year and piece by piece.

When they wheel in the cradle where she rests, she always thinks—for a bare, suspended moment—that it will be all right, that it will all end well—and then nausea tightens around her, and the white and stark walls seem to press down on her, unbearably sharp, a faint memory of Third Aunt and Cousin Lua asleep, and the incessant noise of machinery monitoring her, drips and feeds hooked into her broken, disconnected limbs.

Outside, in the atmosphere of Vu Con Bao, The Snow Like a Dancer’s body rests: her real body, not this diminished, isolated self squeezed in a cradle, the core of her taken away from the ship’s heartroom into the safety of White Tiger Orbital—her hull sensors and actuators deadened with anaesthetic until only a faint link to them remains, like the warmth of jade against skin.

Deadened. Dampened. Outside, the planet swings around its star at the perihelion and the atmosphere catches fire, and The Snow Like a Dancer isn’t there to feel it all burn…

No. She won’t think of that, not now.

Cousin Lua is already inside, dwarfed by the usual brown chair. She’s spread out her reserves of food on the overlarge armrests: rice flour buns, bread stuffed with cucumber and steamed sausage, and slices of fried, crispy fruit ranging from durian to pineapple. Her gaze wanders in and out of focus as she obsessively tests the implants that connect her to the orbital’s network, and the games and books she uses to while away the hours. “Hey, cousin,” she says, as flippantly as ever. “How is it going?”

“How do you think?” The Snow Like a Dancer says.

Cousin Lua shakes her head. “Six hours,” she says, with the easy, enviable nonchalance of someone who isn’t trapped and unmoving and stuck in the wrong body shape, waiting for the storm to hammer at her. “I’ve got vids of Three Drops of Blood. You’d like it. Revenge and war and mistaken identities, and there’s about seventy–nine episodes or so. If you ever get bored collecting ore outside—”

As if The Snow Like a Dancer spent all her time loafing around and sleeping. She snorts, amused in spite of herself. “I don’t get bored.”

“You’re too serious,” Cousin Lua says. “Scholar material.”

If only. If only she could leave Vu Con Bao. But she wasn’t built for space travel, and the atmosphere of the planet is where she’ll live. Where she’ll die.

The Snow Like a Dancer projects, slowly, tentatively, her avatar: not the usual compact shape of her ship–body, but the one with the round–shaped, softer face that looks almost like Mother. She braces herself for the usual rebuke, of how Mother is gone—as if she needed a reminder that nothing, not even her only daughter, will bring Mother back to the orbital she abandoned—and then notices that Third Aunt isn’t in the room.

“Is Third Aunt coming?”

“Later.” Cousin Lua’s slight grimace is no match for The Snow Like a Dancer’s sensors—even diminished and cut off.

“Don’t lie.”

Cousin Lua grimaces again. “She’s core–side, in the weather centre. It’s going to be a rough one.”

A rough one. “How bad?” In her nightmares, she’s outside when the storm comes—the Masters of Wind and Water forgot the date, or couldn’t get to her, or decided to discard her for a newer, better ship—she’s outside, and the temperature rises, and she feels herself burning alive, buffeted by winds that scour her hull, pierce her sensors like ten thousand spears—and she retreats, cutting off quarter after quarter and corridor after corridor, to the safety of the heartroom and its sealed doors, except that the storm is here too, a howling that rises and rises until everything from connectors to cradle is engulfed in flames…

“I don’t know.” Cousin Lua exhales with a look of frustration that’s pure Third Aunt. “They’ve dispatched all the children to the fortress rooms.”

Which isn’t good. Fortress rooms such as this one are for the weakest: newborn babies, the elderly, and of course mindships. Cousin Lua and Third Aunt don’t need to be here: they’re both human, both adults, and only keeping The Snow Like a Dancer company. Sending all the children to shelter in the fortress rooms hasn’t happened for as long as The Snow Like a Dancer remembers—and she has near–perfect memory, all the way to her birth and Mother carrying her from womb to ship’s cradle.

She still remembers with the heartbreaking vividness of yesterday the day Mother left, the ship she was on receding in the distance until nothing was left but the merciless, unwavering light of stars; and how all The Snow Like a Dancer’s pleading, all her good behaviour—none of it could stand against the beguiling promise of a high–rank censor’s post on the First Planet.

In the room, a silence broken only by the slow beeping of the machine she’s hooked to. Some clear, yellowish fluid drips into her, a barely perceptible cold that would make her shiver, if her body was more to her than a distant, leaden weight with blocked pain receptors.

“You want the data?” Cousin Lua asks.

One of the first things Cousin Lua did when she was old enough was to patch The Snow Like a Dancer directly into White Tiger Orbital’s network. The Masters of Wind and Water would disapprove, as they like to keep her in the dark, but—as Cousin Lua would say—they can go be exiled for all either of them cares; even less than Mother. “Yeah.”

Cousin Lua’s gaze becomes unfocused, for a fraction of a moment, her eyes rolling up in their orbits. On the white wall at the far end, a screen blinks into existence, showing the outside of White Tiger Orbital—zooming in, onto Vu Con Bao, the planet as small as a thrown pearl, and then rising to fill the entire field of view. Arrows mark the gradients of temperature and pressure, and the speed of winds. A graph tracking the average temperature for the last day is superimposed over the lower right–hand quarter. Rising. Always rising.

“You’re moody,” Cousin Lua says, abruptly. “What’s wrong?”

“You—” The Snow Like a Dancer starts to say that Cousin Lua wouldn’t understand, and then she makes her avatar shake her head. “I’m old, cousin.”

Cousin Lua doesn’t speak, for a while. The Snow Like a Dancer expected her to make some careless, flippant remark—and she doesn’t know if it’s better or worse than Lua does none of these things, but instead simply looks thoughtful. “You’ll be fine,” she says, finally, except that her voice ends on a question mark.

The Snow Like a Dancer has always known she will die young. That, one day, the relentless battering of the winds and firestorms at the perihelion will finally cause damage beyond repair—that her body will die, and she won’t survive it, sliding into senility and death in a cradle that was never meant to host her for long.

There have been three mindships before her, collecting the ore White Tiger Orbital needs to survive. None of them lasted past their fifties, even patched up with all the repairs the Masters of Wind and Water could provide. The previous one—her great aunt, The Worlds Decked With Pearls—lost her body at fifty–three, into her hundred and sixty–ninth perihelial storm, and died soon afterwards.

This is The Snow Like a Dancer’s hundred and seventieth storm.

She’s ageing badly, and her body won’t take much more abuse. Her hull is streaked with deep–seated burns that pain her when she accelerates, and her entire left wing is stiff, moving only when she applies a great torque to it. When she rests between shifts, she feels twinges in the stretched, fatigued metal of her corridors, faint pains that never quite seem to leave, and that no Master of Wind and Water can smooth out.

“Anyway, you’re not old. Mother is old,” Cousin Lua says, shaking her head. “Grey and wrinkled and so stiff–necked it’s a wonder she can look at those screens in the weather centre.” She sounds angry, at an intensity beyond the usual frustrations of a teenager. And—come to think of it, now that The Snow Like a Dancer is paying attention—her entire demeanour has been agitated, her body too tense, too primed for flight.

What else has she missed?

“You had a fight?” The Snow Like a Dancer asks.

Cousin Lua’s face closes. “No,” she says. “You’re just being nervous. And morbid.” She stares at the screen, at the slow pattern of winds that will soon resolve itself into a storm. “Rubbish planet, seriously. No wonder it’s still not numbered. I don’t even understand why we’re stuck here.”

“No choice.” There is only one planet in this system, and even then, the settlers had to build White Tiger Orbital to have a viable habitat.

Cousin Lua snorts. “Should have pushed past this, then. Just refuelled and moved on.” She shakes her head, as if to clear a persistent thought. “Anyway. Come on. Bet you we can spot all the historical inaccuracies in Three Drops of Blood.”

Three Drops of Blood is very much period drama: the general betrayed and left for dead in a skirmish against the Nam Federation, working her way back to the First Planet as a tutor to a minor, disregarded imperial princess—the familiar dance of intrigues, revenge, and manipulations that leave the main players at each other’s throats. It’s rife with gorgeous period costumes, elegant brocade and sweeping five–panel tunics; and even the odd anachronism in officials’ titles or banquet dishes can’t quite spoil it.

But, as they start the second episode—as the winds on the screen form the shape of an eye, a whirlwind of air and fire that stars to spiral outwards around Vu Con Bao—The Snow Like a Dancer becomes aware that something is wrong.

It’s weak and diffuse at first—a nagging feeling where her body rests, one that refuses to leave—and then, as the Empress excoriates her advisors and puts together a list of dissident scholars, it grows and grows, a pinpoint of pain that blossoms into regular waves, before abruptly disappearing as if someone had pinched it off at the source.

“Cousin—” she starts.

She never gets to the end of the sentence, because all the lights go out at the same time.

Silence spreads, cut only by the regular beeps of the monitoring equipment. So there’s still power, but likely only the emergency one.

She’s surprised at how calm, how detached she feels.

Cousin Lua lets out a curse word that no proper, well–brought up person should ever know. “What in Heaven—”

The Snow Like a Dancer switches to infrared. It shows nothing but the lighter shape of Cousin Lua, sitting motionless in the darkness. Her connection to the network is gone, and the screen behind them has popped out of existence like a burst bubble.

“Nothing.” Cousin Lua’s voice is bleak. “I can’t raise the weather centre. Or the rest of the station. Hang on…” She gets up, fiddles with something behind the monitors. The lights blink, once, twice, before winking out again. She curses again.

“You’re going to have to teach me these,” The Snow Like a Dancer says.

Cousin Lua raises a hand, makes a shushing noise. A crackling sound resonates through the entire room, finally resolves itself into Third Aunt’s voice, weak and broken up. “Child?”

“We’re fine,” Cousin Lua says. “Lights have gone out.”

“Your cousin?”

“I’m here,” The Snow Like a Dancer says. She’s not blind in the darkness, and she’s still hooked up. She can hear the beeping of the equipment, as slow and as regular as a human heartbeat—a lifeline. “What’s going on, younger aunt?”

Silence. Then Third Aunt says, slowly, “It’s not altogether unexpected. We always knew it was going to be a strong storm—”

Get to the point. The Snow Like a Dancer is this close to sharply, indecorously addressing an elder. Cousin Lua shifts, slightly, but shows no signs of impatience. “Tell us.”

A pause, then, “The entire orbital is on emergency power, except the weather centre. Because all of it is going into the thermal shields.”

“The shields are holding.” Cousin Lua’s voice is flat.

A silence, that is altogether too long to be comfortable. “Yes.”

Which means the orbital is barely holding together. Which means—

She’s back in her nightmares, falling back against the onslaught of fire, running away to her heartroom only to find the storm already there…

No.

Another voice: Master of Wind and Water Le Thi Anh Tho, thoughtful and grave. “Stay where you are,” she says. “Thermal insulation is going to be worse in the corridors unless you can reach the inner rings, and in any case—”

In any case, The Snow Like a Dancer can’t stray far from the equipment that’s keeping her alive. She might live, for a handful of hours, but…

“My body?” she asks.

She honestly expect Master Anh Tho not to answer, or to rebuke her, but when she speaks again her voice is quiet, almost gentle. “I don’t know, ship. The winds are tearing everything apart outside.”

Her hundred and seventieth storm. Her last. The room where she dies, piece by piece and year by year.

“You can’t know for sure,” Cousin Lua says, sharply. “Mindships are sturdy.”

“When they’re first built, yes. But—”

“Master. Please.” Cousin Lua’s voice is sharp. She’s cut off Anh Tho, without a second thought. The Snow Like a Dancer can feel Third Aunt’s displeasure like a leaden weight, but no one says anything—as if they’d expected it all along. As if they were making allowances. What is going on?

“Mindships are sturdier than the orbital,” Master Anh Tho says, at last, with just a hint of frostiness. “You’ll be fine, ship. We just might not be.”

“Great,” Cousin Lua says. “I don’t suppose there’s any chance we can get the full network back? Because talking in the dark is going to be kind of stale.”

Another silence. Cousin Lua exhales, loudly. “I guess not.”

The Snow Like a Dancer stares at the walls. She can no longer feel the pinch of pain that heralded the loss of power: the tenuous link to her body, flaring to life and then sinking back down into embers.

It will be fine, surely, if there is no pain? Surely…

“Thank you,” she says.

Cousin Lua shrugs, a blur of white in infrared sight. “Don’t mention it. Do you want to make bets on how Three Drops of Blood ends?”

“Cousin.” The Snow Like a Dancer’s voice is sharper than she’d thought. “Tell me what’s wrong. With you and Third Aunt.”

Cousin Lua sits in her chair for a while, not speaking. Her eyes—what little The Snow Like a Dancer can see, shifting between infrared bands—are wide open, black holes in the white oval of her face. “I took the examinations this year. The metropolitan ones. They have special dispensations for non–numbered planets, to let you submit via the network instead of travelling to the First Planet.”

“You haven’t been studying,” The Snow Like a Dancer says, sharply. Cousin Lua is thirty–six: not too old to be a candidate, for there is no age limit—but she’s an adult with a job of her own at the ore refineries, and her own compartment in the family’s compound on the outer rings.

“No. I—” Cousin hesitates, nibbling on a piece of fried jackfruit. “I wanted to see how well I could do. How far I could go.” She’s utterly serious for once.

“I see.” Escape, or the promise of escape, the same lure that took Mother away.

“But, nevertheless—” Cousin Lua exhales, again. “I came in third. They’ve offered me a post on the First Planet, in the Secret Institute.”

This wasn’t what The Snow Like a Dancer expected, and it’s like a knife twist in her gut. “Doing honour to your family,” she says, finally.

Officials leave: Vu Con Bao is a backwater named planet, a pathway to nowhere in the hierarchy of Dai Viet society. Mother left, only coming back for the occasional visit well out of perihelial season. She writes from time to time, sending distracted, careless vids and letters—speaking of her expeditions with the Galactic Ambassador, a tall, fair–haired man by the name of Edmund Schweppe—spending more time on him and his opinions than on enquiring about her own family—about her own daughter.

She’s sleeping with him, of course; but it still hurts.

“I’m happy for you,” The Snow Like a Dancer says, and it’s a lie. Cousin Lua has kept her sane, all those years, all those storms. Third Aunt is stiff and formal, and Mother is… not here. Never here.

“You don’t understand,” Cousin Lua says. “I don’t want to leave, cousin.”

Thank Heaven. And then The Snow Like a Dancer hates herself for the thought.

She stares at the walls again, stops. Because, in infrared, the temperature of the walls has gone up. It’s small and insignificant, a fraction of a degree, but her sensors are attuned to the most minute changes.

White Tiger Orbital has thermal shields, reinforced and well–maintained. The fortress rooms have the best ones, else why would they shelter her here? But…

Illusion. Fears. Her nightmares of burning alive made manifest, her own treacherous fears of being abandoned. She shouldn’t be so ridiculous. “Why don’t you want to leave?”

“Because this is my home.” The answer is altogether too glib, too fast, at odds with her earlier exasperation. “Where my family lives.”

The Snow Like a Dancer doesn’t probe. She says instead, carefully, “And Third Aunt thinks you should go.”

“Mother, and Grandmother, and the entire family. Not to mention the orbital magistrate and the Masters of Wind and Water,” Cousin Lua says, drily. “That it’s the opportunity of a lifetime. It’ll be good for White Tiger Orbital, to have me at court.”

Because it will make them proud. Because she can advocate for White Tiger in the capital, be part of a nucleus of power with Mother. No wonder they’re all making allowances for her, for the favoured child, the prodigy. And they’re right: she should leave. Cousin Lua isn’t a teenager anymore, but she’s younger than Mother when she left. She still has a lifetime ahead of her. Her future shouldn’t be tied to a harsh, unpredictable backwater such as Vu Con Bao.

The Snow Like a Dancer wants to say this, but the words—the insincere, razor–sharp, biting words—won’t get out.

“Anyway,” Cousin Lua says, “you need me. What would you do, without me?” It’s light–hearted and flippant, and yet truer than anything she’s said before.

I’ll cope. I’ll live. Just as The Snow Like a Dancer lived after Mother left, but again she’s unable to speak the words. If Lua leaves, of course the family will find her another minder: some other, distant cousin who’s unattached, a stranger willing to spend every storm cooped up in a fortress room with only a fractious mindship for company. But it won’t be the same. Never.

She stares at the walls again. They’re whiter, aren’t they?

They are.

What she saw earlier is not an illusion. The temperature has gone up again. And it’s far too fast, far too spread, for it to be anything harmless. “You—” The Snow Like a Dancer stops, starts again. “Something is wrong.”

“Besides the bad storm, the emergency power, and the possibility the orbital might not hold?” Cousin Lua’s voice is sarcastic, but then The Snow Like a Dancer’s tone registers. “Tell me.”

“The temperature is going up.”

“In the room?”

“In the walls. I don’t know about the room yet.” It’ll follow, eventually.

“How fast?”

“Too fast.”

“That’s not helpful!”

Burning burning burning. The Snow Like a Dancer forces herself to slow down, to speak quietly. “It’ll become unbearable in an hour or so.”

“Still time, then.” Cousin Lua bites her lip. “I—I don’t know what to do.” She pauses, for a while. “Mother.”

A crackling sound, and then a faint voice. “What is it?”

“We have a problem. The temperature is going up—”

“You’re not the only ones.” Third Aunt’s voice is breaking up, the coms being eaten away into nothingness. “Rooms—up—stay—people—leaving…”

And then nothing.

The Snow Like a Dancer feels, again, that stab of pain, that echo of an unbearable burning, except it’s not going away. Out there, her body is being hurt, again and again, and she’s dying away from it.

“Cousin—” It’s rising, slowly, like the storm—a slow series of pains that wrack her in her cradle, that seem to pinch off the entire room until every wall shines an unbearable white—pausing, for a bare moment, just enough that she has time to forget what it felt like, before the next pang starts, and she struggles to gather thoughts that aren’t screams.

The beeps are coming in fast and frantic, now. Cousin Lua is kneeling by the machines, her head cocked. “We have to leave. Find refuge in the inner rings, or somewhere else that’s safe. How long can you—”

Live without the fluids? “Not long,” she whispers, in the interval between two pangs of pain.

She wasn’t meant to be like this—just for a handful of hours, just enough to ride out the storm. To survive, until the next turning of the planet around the sun brings yet another storm, another nightmare to run away from…

Mother…

A hundred and seventy storms, counted like strings of coins.

The fire engulfing her, and she, retreating, closing off quarter after quarter, only to find the storm in her heartroom…

Flashes in the darkness, Cousin Lua fumbling with cables, cursing, praying to absent ancestors. The walls, whiter and whiter. The flashes of pain, closer and closer, growing and growing until they seem to be her entire world. Wind, howling past her, taking her apart. Her thoughts, scattering like pearls in vinegar. A dash of sharp, different cold as Cousin Lua grabs something and starts pulling.

“Don’t,” The Snow Like a Dancer whispers. “Not this.”

“You have to hold still, or you’ll make this worse.”

“I—” she can’t. She can’t.

“I don’t know what to unplug! I’m not a Master of Wind and Water.” Cousin Lua’s voice is on the verge of panic. She takes a deep breath, lets go. “I’ll go outside. Try to find someone. Or to raise the weather centre.”

No. Please. “Don’t.” Leaving. Always leaving—and her in the dark, with nothing to cling to.

“I have to.” Cousin Lua shakes her head. “Hang in there, please. I’ll be back. I promise.”

She’s on her feet—a brief moment of hesitation as she opens the door and the higher temperature in the corridor makes her pause, and then she’s out. Gone.

The walls are white, and pressing closer and closer, and the only sound is the beeps—so close together they’re a single, high–pitched sound tearing away at her sensors—why haven’t they deadened these, too? Pain, rising and falling like exhaled breaths, and The Snow Like a Dancer can’t move or make it go away, and she lies powerless, bodiless, struggling against it all…

She can’t maintain her avatar, but then again what would be the point? Away it goes, subsumed back into her, the image of Mother banished past recovery; her thoughts jewel–hard and single–purposed. Survive. She has to ride this. To endure. She’s done it before, so many times. She can—

She’s alone and in pain, and no matter how much she screams for help, no one will come.

She can—

Slowly slowly slowly. She’s done this before. She has to remember.

But there’s never been a storm like this. And all the other mindships have died, and what makes her think she can survive? She’s flawed jade, ill–fired porcelain; so easily broken, so easily taken apart…

Wave after wave after wave of pain, riding upon each other until they all seem to meld—the sound of wind whistling in her hull sensors, rising and rising and scorching, and she can’t take much more of this.

She’s going to die here.

Her body. She—she has to find her body. If this is her death, if this is the last and greatest storm she endures, then she’ll die whole, and not cut into disparate, faltering halves.

The coms have died, but she feels its pain. Her pain. She… she’s out there, somewhere. If she—if she opens the door—if she pushes out, corridor after corridor, quarter after quarter, with the storm howling on her heels—again and again, hurling herself into the maelstrom, heedless of the convulsions that wrack her…

Something snaps, with a sound like bones breaking.

And, abruptly, she feels it—hanging, almost weightless, in the atmosphere while winds buffet her from side to side—racing like a thrill in her hull, the familiar sharpness of gases and vaporised ore rising around her. Two halves—the white room where she’s dwindling away—and this—this excruciating, blazing glory that is the face of her death.

Except—

Her hull sensors, barely deadened, connect again; track the progress of the wind; the storm, wrapped around her like a fist.

It’s dying down. The planet has passed its perihelion, and the worst of the winds have come and gone. The temperature, still unbearably high, is sinking back down to the merely scorching—to what she can—barely, harrowingly—endure.

“Cousin!” Cousin Lua’s voice is a distant thread of sound, thin and fearful and horrified. “There’s no one outside, and it—it feels like the entire structure is being pulled apart—”

“Have—” she tries to speak, finds the words lodged tight against her, bitter and charred. “Have to hold—”

Five minutes. Half an hour. An hour. She doesn’t know, not anymore. It’s still hard to think, with everything connected again, every ache of her body, the hull afire, the corridors filled with blistering air, the walls melting under the high temperatures…

This. This is why they bring her inside, why they put her under anaesthetic during storms. This. “Cousin. Stay here. Have to—hold—it will pass—”

Cousin Lua’s hand, resting against her in the cradle. “I’m not leaving,” she says, slowly, fiercely. “Neither of us is going anywhere.”

And she’s not only talking about now, about the storm.

“I—I know,” The Snow Like a Dancer whispers. And for a while, there is nothing but the long, continuous beeping sound of the monitors; the winds and the heat, twisting her apart; pain slowly, unbearably slowly ebbing down.

Have to hold.

They can survive this. They have to.

Slowly, slowly, the beeps come apart. The pain recedes, like waves away from the shores. The walls become a darker colour again, and finally—finally—the link to her body, with its familiar aches and twinges, becomes an unremarkable part of her, a distant awareness she can dismiss with a moment’s thought.

Cousin Lua doesn’t take her hand away until the lights have blinked on again, until the network is back, showing the dwindling winds in the atmosphere. Then she moves, to stand a bare hand–span away from The Snow Like a Dancer. “Well,” she says. “That was a scare.” Her voice is light, flippant, but her whole body is shaking.

The Snow Like a Dancer, too weary to speak, says nothing. Outside, the sun is shining on Vo Con Bao’s dayside, the pattern of irradiation still engraved onto the planet’s surface—but the atmosphere is calm again, with only residual winds.

Alive. She’s alive—and so is Cousin Lua. On the coms, distant noises: the weather centre and Third Aunt, and the Masters of Wind and Water running diagnostics on the damaged orbital, redirecting engineers to the Outer Rings for the first emergency repairs. Alive. Hurt and battered, but alive.

She could weep, if she had tear ducts.

She says, finally, “Cousin…”

Cousin Lua is straightening up the brown armchair, packing away her things. She doesn’t look back.

“You should leave. For the capital.”

“I’ve already told you—” Cousin Lua starts, but The Snow Like a Dancer cuts her off.

“At the very least, think on it. Make sure you’re not just staying because of me.”

Silence.

“I’ll be fine,” The Snow Like a Dancer says, and it could almost be truth. “I’ll survive.” She’s not going to drag Cousin Lua past what she’s willing to do.

For a moment, Cousin Lua looks as though she’s going to argue, but then she shakes her head. “You’re impossible. And you need me.”

“I’ve seen a hundred and seventy storms,” The Snow Like a Dancer says, gently. “Don’t let that happen to you, if that’s not what you want. I—” she manifests her avatar again, the face that looks so much like Mother’s—”I wasn’t meant to leave. And I wish I could.”

Cousin Lua doesn’t answer for what feels like an eternity. She’s looking away from The Snow Like a Dancer, at the map of the planetary surface, where the epicentre of the storms still shines red. “Perhaps I wish I could leave, too.” Her voice is quiet. “I’ll think on it. Before I give them my answer.”

Cousin Lua won’t be here next year, The Snow Like a Dancer knows, with absolute certainty. She’ll take her chance, her lifeline, leave the planet that she’s no longer bound to, scarcely looking back. And that is as it should be.

This is the room where The Snow Like a Dancer dies, year by year and piece by piece.

White walls, and the smell of fire and stale fears, and the memories of pain—and, above it all, the monitoring equipment beeping slowly, evenly, the beat of a heart soldiering on against all odds.

(Editors’ Note: “A Hundred and Seventy Storms” is read by Erika Ensign on the Uncanny Magazine Podcast Episode 11A.)

Aliette de Bodard

Aliette de Bodard lives and works in Paris. She is the author of the critically acclaimed Obsidian and Blood trilogy of Aztec noir fantasies, as well as numerous short stories which have garnered her two Nebula Awards, a Locus Award, and two British Science Fiction Association Awards. Her space opera books include The Citadel of Weeping Pearls, a book set in the same universe as her Vietnamese science fiction On a Red Station Drifting. Recent works include the Dominion of the Fallen series, set in a turn-of-the-century Paris devastated by a magical war, which comprises The House of Shattered Wings (Roc/Gollancz, 2015 British Science Fiction Association Award, Locus Award finalist), and its standalone sequel The House of Binding Thorns (Ace, Gollancz). Visit aliettedebodard.com for more information.

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