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  Viper Wire by Richard Kadrey



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Growth Cycle


Lynch woke to a grinding headache and the sound of dripping coming from the kitchen. Spinal fluid was leaking from the faucet all over the dishes he'd left to soak. Lynch turned first the cold, then the hot spigot. The dripping continued for a moment, then a final thick, yellowish drop fell onto a plate of uneaten pasta from the night before.

Trying to clear his head before the pain bloomed into a full-blown migraine, Lynch brewed a quick cup of Earl Grey. Carrying the tea back to the bedroom, Lynch tripped, spilling the tea and burning his leg. There was a lump in the living room floor, a two-foot rise of vertebrae, like a dowager's hump. Lynch went back to bed. His head still ached, but the effort to make another cup of tea was too much. He wondered if it was sunny outside, but when he opened the curtains all he saw was a pale fog. The windows had all developed cataracts.

Lynch's head pounded. It felt as if a bright silver rod were being pounded through his brain, just behind his left eye. When he tried to sleep, the house lurched and seethed, twitching like a sick animal, lost in its own fever dreams.

In the morning, Lynch felt worse. The pounding in his skull had become a steady machine hum, the sound of a hydraulic jack trying to push his head apart from the inside. In the living room, the mound of vertebrae had receded, but the walls were swollen and red with lesions. Dry sheets of skin fell from the walls and ceiling and drifted through the house like autumn leaves. When he tried to make his morning tea, blood instead of flame bubbled from the oven burners. Lynch dry-swallowed a handful of ibuprofen and squirted an aerosolized mix of sumatriptan hemisulfate and endorphins into each nostril.

Home didn't used to be like this, Lynch thought. He remembered his boyhood in San Diego. The sky was the most perfect blue and it, like summer, went on forever. He'd helped his father test the house's melanin levels. Those old houses could get sunburned in bright climates, develop melanomas and suffer from insect and animal bites. Lynch and his dad often had to help the house self-repair, injecting antibiotics into trouble spots and checking its vital fluids. Once, an El Niño storm knocked over a date palm in the back yard. The tree sheered off a section of the roof, exposing the underlying tissues. At the roof's corner, Lynch could see where a modified femur and tibia were bound together by tendon bundles; each tendon carried a gene from the Golden Orb spider that banded the connective tissues together with a hair-thin silk stronger than steel. Like the sight of his first naked girl, his first car, and his first limb upgrade, that image of the old injured house had remained with Lynch his whole life.

The endorphins Lynch snorted did the job, cutting his pain to a white, needle-thin line behind his eyes. But he was nauseous and the pressure continued to build in his head. Lynch didn't make it back into the bedroom this time, but collapsed on the living room floor, not sure where he was, if he was awake or dreaming. He just let himself sink down into the dark.

When Lynch awoke the next morning, he was sweating and exhausted. He lay with his right side pressed to one of the walls. He'd been pushed there in the night by the opposite wall, which now bulged with an enormous tumor; it filled half the room, like a balloon the color of bruised flesh. Lynch steadied himself and stood up. The wall on which he leaned was spongy and cold. Slowly, he went to the kitchen pantry where the octopus lived.

It wasn't a real octopus, just a cephalopod brain in gel-suspension. Through the ganglia that ordinarily controlled the animal's limbs, the brain linked to the house and ran its daily life functions and growth processes. But not anymore. Lynch closed the pantry door. The polycarbonate sphere that enclosed the brain, strung with fiber-optics and nutrient tubes, like some Frankenstein snowglobe, had gone dark and cloudy. The house was dead.

Lynch rubbed his neck, feeling the lack of pain, his muscles unknotting for the first time in weeks. His headache was gone. He was sorry to see the house go, but better it than him. He'd watched his father die of a malignant brain tumor years before. Back then, houses were just dumb meat boxes. You had to take care of them, like children. They could never take care of you. Lynch felt a pang of sympathy for his father. The old man had been a constant tinkerer, working on one bio-upgrade or other for the house or the family nearly every weekend. Dad would have loved to see what our homes can do for us these days.

Lynch got dressed, called his insurance company and then his mother. That afternoon, they had lunch in the country, drove out to his father's grave and left fresh flowers.


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Richard Kadrey is a member of a small group of innovative writers, including William Gibson, Bruce Sterling, John Shirley, Pat Cadigan, Tom Maddox, and others, who changed the face of science fiction in the 1980s. He also creates art. He lives in San Francisco.

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