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Not just rockets & robots...
"Science Fiction" means—to us—everything found in the science fiction section of a bookstore, or at a science fiction convention, or amongst the winners of the Hugo awards given by the World Science Fiction Society. This includes the genres of science fiction (or sci-fi), fantasy, slipstream, alternative history, and even stories with lighter speculative elements. We hope you enjoy the broad range that SF has to offer.


Gio Clairval is an Italian-born writer and translator who has lived most of her life in Paris, France, and now commutes between Lake Como, Italy, and Edinburgh, Scotland, followed by her pet, a giant pike. Her stories have appeared in magazines such as Weird Tales, Fantasy Magazine (Lightspeed), Galaxy's Edge, and several anthologies, including punkPunk! (Dog Horn Publishing), The Lambshead Cabinet of Curiosities (HarperCollins), Caledonia Dreamin' (Eibonvale Press), Darke Phantastique (Cicatrix Press), and Postscripts (PS Publishing). She can be found at KOSMOCHLOR: gioclairval.blogspot.com and she regularly haunts Twitter as @gioclair.

The white rat looks forlorn, sitting on a pile of empty clothes. Professor Talbot rolls her eyes. Apparently, Jeremy Turn, her assistant, was carrying the rodent snug in his breast pocket. It's a tradition among postgraduate wise-asses. But why did he strip, and where did he go, leaving his mascot behind? Turn never parts with his pet, which he calls "Lavoisier."
Despite her aching knees, Professor Talbot chases the rat across the lab. Finally, she closes her hand around the squirming beast, carries it to the maze, and drops it where it belongs.
In the showers, she looks for Turn, hears the water crashing down in the only occupied stall. Talbot stumbles on sneakers covered with sequins, glittering disco forgottens waiting for their partners. Beside the shoes is a shirt with sewed-on frills. Turn is going to a party, wearing a fancy 18th-century getup. If Talbot had the nerve to open her assistant's locker, she would probably find a three-cornered hat.
Tomorrow is Turn's big day. Defending the useless thesis. And he's going to spend the night drinking and dancing.
Silly Turn. Carefree Turn. Happy Turn. He's faffing around, as if he were about to walk down the aisle to give up his freedom. Which, in a way, he is. He's marrying the Academy.
Her eyes ache in the crude light. Forty years, climbing the university ladder--up or out--running around in the wheel.
The rodent she just put in the maze scratches at the glass wall, squeals at the Professor. Free me, free me! She pets the prisoner.
Sudden pain makes her jump back. The damned rat bit her! Only then, does she remember.
She's wearing a cocked hat of beaver fur over a red waistcoat. Her boat just arrived at a northern city on the Baltic, under a sky of zinc marred by sooty clouds. Talbot's name is different--she knows that. Muscles bulge under her garments. Her legs connect to the hips in a slightly unusual way, and, as she steps forward with powerful strides, she senses less flexible joints. A hand pressed to her crotch settles the question but, despite the evidence, she refuses to think of herself as James, what? Captain James Toppler, a free-contractor on King George II's payroll.
Jeremy Turn is a pale king rat leading his pack down a mooring line, and Talbot, now James (although, in her mind, her name's still Catherine), James the sea dog, rushes down the gangplank, scrambling through people and cargo, until she spots the rodent next to a puddle, among its retinue.
Talbot staggers on solid ground made of flagstones, slippery yet annoyingly steady.
The rat scurries through lead-colored puddles, tiny feet scattering reflections of gabled rooftops. Scuttling about on short legs close to the ground, while Talbot, lost in the rough crew, starved of friendship, stumbles forward on corded shins.
What would it feel like to be a rat? She imagines tiny things littering the flagstones: hard bristles and pebbles and crumbs of bread that come alive as whiskers stroke back and forth, back and forth, for knowledge and lust. Talbot, too, is a rat in a sea of rats, senses the paths of tiny claw-tips on her bare skin. The Rat King's subjects brush against her skin with hurried scratching.
Now two of her men, big-fisted sailors, spit on the ground before pummeling each other. Around the boxers forms a circle of cheering spectators. Pulled out of her reverie, she barks orders in a low-pitched male voice, punches a restive matelot. No brawls on the wharves, it's the law. They're privateers, not pirates.
The crowd doesn't budge. Bets have been made.
The wind howls, covers her voice. Falling from the leaden clouds, raindrops like bullets.
A wave high as one of the front-sea buildings crashes down, wiping everyone and everything off to sea. Talbot, tossed about in ice-cold water, thinks, The white rat will die. Why should she care? But she does. Around her, men struggle to keep afloat.
She spots the rat: a tiny thing bobs on black waves topped with mossy lace. Here's the bosun, too, drowning, stretching out his tattooed arms at her. Captain, captain, he says through his eyes. Talbot's gaze, though, lingers on the rat.
Rescuing a rodent can't measure against saving a human being. The bosun, despite being the crew's terror, is a man. A rat is just a rat.
The bosun flails. His beefy hands splash like paddles. I'm coming, she shouts. In a few minutes it will seem absurd to her, this urge to save an animal. Drowning is what all rats should do, even pale kings.
The bosun gurgles underwater. From the bulwark, surviving crewmen cheer as Talbot swims toward the ship. James the Wicked, James the Wicked! Light-headed, she holds the rodent above the water. She never liked the bosun.
The busy city port disappears, and so do ship and squall. Talbot squints at the lab. The Pale King, white fur, dark liquid eyes, looks up quizzically.
She leans over the maze, waits for the rat to free her.
The End
This story was first published on Wednesday, August 26th, 2015

Author Comments

So far I have transformed into a rabbit, a deer, a bat (twice), and, in "Maze" I am a rat. Metamorphosis fascinates me. Not shapeshifting, mind you, but the occasional transformation of Apuleius' "Golden Ass," which brings enlightenment to the protagonist by showing life through different eyes. In this story, Professor Catherine Talbot imagines what it would feel like to enjoy the kind of animal freedom humans have forgotten.

- Gio Clairval
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