Iron Sunrise (Charles Stross)

A Hugo Nominee

The blood pounds in my ears like the footfalls of a charging elephant. TUB TUB TUB. I dodge to my left and narrowly avoid a briefcase. TUB TUB. I glance up to see a hefty man coming at me. TUB. He has two white wires embedded in his ears, a determined expression on his face, and a full head of steam as he barrels toward me.

TUB TUB TUB

I jump to the right and he flies down the escalator. I notice him squint up his eyes and work his mouth angrily. Over the thudding in my ears, I can hear his voice:

"And you...Light up my life..."

It must be some kind of code.

What is that wheezing sound? I ask myself. I just about reach my goal when I realize: It's my own breathing. This is not an assignment for an old man like me. My mobile phone rings.

"You are not yet at the designated location," says a voice.

"Hazel," I say. "The escalators at Rosslyn are out of service."

"Never-the-less," the voice says. "Your target has now changed." I groan and stop running. Putting my hands on my knees, I lean over to try to catch my breath. A businessman running down trips over me and slides down the studded metal ramp between escalators. I'm only a few steps from the top of the longest escalator in the DC Metro system. At the top, the station's resident crazy woman mutters to herself. At the bottom, the large businessman picks himself up and shakes his fist at me. It's a long way down.

"You know that Wheaton has the longest escalator in the Western Hemisphere, don't you?" asks Hazel.

"What?"

"Rosslyn is only fifth in DC." I hang up on Hazel and make my decision.

I'm taking the elevator down.


The Grosvenor Station is a terminal stop on the Red Line, though it is not at the end of anything. Potential passengers mill about aimlessly, waiting for a train to a real destination. I glance around to check out the environment.

The escalators are only half a story tall.

I sit down on one of the marble benches. Beside me is a woman reading Charles Stross's Iron Sunrise. She has nearly finished.

"So, uh, what do you think?" I ask.

"What?" she says, startled.

"You know, the, ah, book." I gesture at the book in her hands.

"Why are you talking like that?"

"I have to say," I have to say, "I find the written stutters, uh, tiresome. Don't you? We all know that people, uhm, punctuate real speech with these verbal, ah, ticks. But do we have to read it, too? Isn't that too high a price for, uhm, realism?"

"Well," she says. "You've made your point. You can stop now."

"Ah," I say. "I don't think I, ah, can."

She turns away from me and returns to her book. In the meantime, we have been joined by others. All of them hold the same bright orange book.

"Personally," says a man in a reflective vest and mirrored shades. "I liked this book. It's pure space opera all the way."

"Is that enough for it to win the Hugo?" I want to know. "I mean, why did this book have to be science fiction anyway? Take away the exploding sun and the crazy computer and it's just another Ludlum thriller. Right?"

"If you like Fforde, you'll like Stross!" shouts a kid with his hat on backward. We all nod in agreement with Positive-Spin-Review Boy.

"Not quite so funny," the woman on the bench demurs.

"In how many books will you read the line 'Bring me the head of Svengali the Clown!'?" I say.

"You forgot to stutter," she points out. I snap my fingers in self-flagellation.

Suddenly, all of our mobile phones ring. "What now, Hazel?" We ask in unison, then we reflect each other's surprise. Hazel tells us that "they" are coming and we must run.

"Who are you, anyway?" I ask, but I get no response. We are all running in different directions. I glide up the escalator. I hear Hazel's voice, but I don't have the mobile to my ear. I look around, but the only other person I see is the crazy woman. I double-take as I realize that it's the Rosslyn Station crazy woman.

She winks at me and cackles.

That's when I notice that on her ear is a hands-free device for her mobile phone. She hasn't been talking to herself after all.

"Go!" she shouts. "Fly, you fools!"

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