Deep Magic - Fall 2018
If you want to read gripping stories that don’t rely on sex, swearing, and graphic violence—you’ve come to the right place!
DEEP MAGIC is an electronic magazine that publishes clean short fiction in the fantasy and science fiction genres (epic, paranormal, steampunk, etc).
We're pleased to announce this new line-up of authors for our Fall 2018 issue!
- Sci-fi Novella "Love in the Time of Holodecks" by Charity West
- Fantasy short story "The Ropemaker" by Tim W. Boiteau
- Sci-fi short story "Sleepers" by Sophie Yorkston
- Fantasy short story "The Dying Glass" by Cameron Johnston
- Fantasy short story "Dream of Glass, Walk on Thorns" by Noel Wallace
Extended Sample Chapters of Novels:
"Once a King" by Erin Summerill
"The Tainted Crown" by USAToday bestselling author Meg Cowley
Release date: September 4, 2018
Print pages: 154
* BingeBooks earns revenue from qualifying purchases as an Amazon Associate as well as from other retail partners.
Deep Magic - Fall 2018
Love in the Time of Holodecksby Charity West
Katyn’s helmet clock flashed 9:50. Finally time to back out of this hole. With a deep intake of stale air, she dropped her pick into her cart and hefted the handles, creeping gingerly backward. On every side, sharp stones jutted from the mine walls, and she kept her elbows tucked to avoid puncture. The cocktail of gases in the tunnels would burn skin on contact, and she’d already dealt with decontamination twice this month.
She’d thought when she left Level Two that life would be better. But Level Three was more of the same, just another hole. And now there was no hope of advancing any higher. Not without—
Katyn brushed the thought aside. She didn’t want to think about that now. Or ever. Everything ached. Why did she never draw sorting duty?
Alarms blared through the tunnel, and Katyn swore. Not now! What clumsy idiot punctured their suit? If they delayed her payday, she’d go aggro.
A burning sensation seared across her left calf. Bury me, I’m the idiot. Katyn dropped the cart handles and ran the few steps to the tunnel exit. The pain shot up her leg as gas expanded inside her suit. She reached the exit, slamming the air lock release, her vision too blurred to register the group of faces waiting on the other side.
Rough hands grabbed her, wrenched the suit from her body, and shoved her under the decontamination shower. Freezing liquid coursed over her, cooling the burn and starting her teeth chattering.
Her vision cleared enough to reveal the angry faces glaring at her. She wrapped her arms over her chest, feeling exposed in her wet underthings.
“Idiot Katyn—you wait till now to pull this crap?”
She couldn’t tell who’d spoken, but she knew they were all thinking the same thing. Shift end was the worst time for this to happen. They might all miss their Holo session now, and that was unforgivable. They only earned one session a week for all their hours in the mines.
Mirci stepped around the crew, her voice rising above the grumbling. “All right, break it up.” She slapped the button to stop the flow of healing liquid and tossed Katyn a thin towel. “You should be thanking her—you’ll all get off five minutes early now.”
Mirci turned and winked at Katyn as the complaints turned to whoops and cheers. Normally, after a contamination incident, everyone would have to stay for a mandatory safety briefing. Katyn watched Mirci, wary. It wasn’t like her to stick up for anyone, especially not Katyn.
Katyn kept her head down and made to follow the others to the locker room, but Mirci held up a hand. “Wait in my office. We need to chat.”
* * *
Katyn huddled on the edge of the cold metal stool, the thin towel barely enough to cover her shoulders. She rubbed her hands over her face, shutting out her bleak surroundings. The bioluminescent vines in Mirci’s office were dying, barely able to emit a weak green light.
She tapped her foot against the cold tile. The skin on her calf was raw and cratered where the blisters had deflated. The pain had dulled to a throbbing sting, and it would scar for sure. She was lucky it was her leg this time. Her arms needed more time to recover from the last burn.
Finally, Mirci pushed through the door. She tossed Katyn a fresh jumpsuit, then grabbed the chair from her desk and placed it directly in front of Katyn. The light cast eerie green shadows in the deep pockets beneath Mirci’s eyes. Katyn leaned back and pulled the towel tighter around her shoulders, her wet tank sending a shiver over her skin. Was she allowed to dress yet? Should she wait for Mirci to dismiss her?
Mirci leaned forward and anchored her elbows on her knees. “This happens to you a lot. Have you noticed?”
Katyn grimaced. What did Mirci want her to say? “I’m sorry. I don’t know what I’m doing wrong.”
Mirci rubbed her fingers across her palm, as if carefully considering what she would say next. “The tunnels are dangerous. Accidents happen. But—do you know most people don’t spend as much time in the tunnels as you do?”
If Mirci would just dismiss her, Katyn could get dressed and get out of here. There wouldn’t be as much time for character creation—she’d have to adopt a stock character, but that was still better than nothing.
“There are other duties you could be doing. Sorting, packaging. Lots of nice, safe rotations.”
“But—I’m always assigned to the tunnels . . .”
Mirci sighed and muttered, “How dumb do you have to be?” She cleared her throat. “Listen, you’re pretty new here, so maybe you don’t understand how it works. When you get your Holo chit, you’re supposed to give it to me.”
Katyn blinked, her attention pulling away from planning her Holo experience. “What?”
“I have clout with the big guys. If I put your name on my list, you get sent to the tunnels once, maybe twice a month.”
“But that’s extortion!”
“Where do you think you are, the Mids? I didn’t think you’d be so naïve, coming from Level Two.”
Katyn swallowed. Things were supposed to be better here.
“Look, my protection is valuable, and I expect to be compensated. Six months’ worth of your Holo time makes it worth my while to stick my neck out for you. You agree to that, you get on the list. This is all supposed to be understood.”
Katyn was already shaking her head before Mirci finished. “I can’t do that.”
“It’s standard practice, Katyn. I’ve worked hard to get where I am, and that comes with certain perks.”
“But it’s not right—”
“Find another job, then.”
“You know I can’t.” She’d just come up from Level Two—she wasn’t qualified for other work yet. It was the mines or nothing.
“Then pay me, or you’re out in the tunnels again. How many more burns do you think you can handle?”
Katyn could only gape at her. “But six months?” Even one month was too much to ask. “I can’t.”
“Look, I’ve got people to pay too. I can’t do this for you if you don’t help me out.” She stood and walked to the door. “This is how things work, Katyn. Unless you think you’re gonna find Socorro’s treasure, best get your name on my list.” The door clanged shut behind her.
Katyn yanked on her jumpsuit. Socorro’s treasure—how dare Mirci taunt her with that? Even if it did exist, it wasn’t like she’d ever get enough Holo time to actually find it. Just another way life was stacked against people in the Dregs.
She didn’t want to think about any of this. If she could get to the Holo, it would all go away. The clock read 10:05. Just enough time.
She ran out to the pay station, pressed her shaking thumb to the screen. The metal coin clinked into the tray, and Katyn glanced over her shoulder. No one. She snatched the coin and thrust it into her pocket. Mirci couldn’t take it from her; it was hers by right.
She’d gone without Holo time before—sacrificed for a year to climb up a level—and what had that gotten her? Mirci and the mines. If she’d learned anything, it was that life never got any better. So why give up the one thing that made life in Echelon livable?
Advertisements filled the walls along her path, splashy screens shouting promises of a new start in the colonies—New Worlds! New Life! She shuddered. The colony planets didn’t even have the Holo. Why would anyone go there?
Her pant legs slapped against each other as she ran down the dim streets. She’d heard that in the city’s midlevels and higher, bioluminescent trees formed elegant arches lining the walkways. Down here, they had only the vines that clung to the grate of the level above, their light soulless and pathetic like everything else in the Dregs.
None of it mattered. Soon she’d be in the Holo, and all of this would disappear—the mines, Mirci, these clothes, her life—it would all be like a distant memory. She just had to get to the station.
Katyn rushed in to find the station nearly empty, only one attendant still managing the reception desk, one she didn’t recognize. Heat rose in Katyn’s cheeks as she hurried up to the desk, out of breath, and pushed her chit toward the woman—Valyri, the name tag said.
Valyri sighed. “Cutting it close, aren’t we?” She was probably getting ready to start her own experience—Holo workers got a half hour after every shift. Katyn had been trying to get that job for years.
“Sorry,” Katyn mumbled. “There’s still time, though—right?”
The young woman forced an artificial smile to her lips. “Yes. What experience can I help you with today?”
Katyn’s blush intensified, but she cleared her throat and said, “I’d like a romance, please.”
“Of course.” The young woman nodded. “Our erotic experiences are among our most popular—”
“No!” Katyn slapped her hand on the desk, surprising the attendant. She pursed her lips and took a deep breath before continuing. “I’m sorry. No. Thank you. I don’t want an erotic experience; I want a romance. A Western, preferably.”
“Shared or private?”
“Private,” Katyn said quickly. Dealing with people in real life was bad enough.
“Happy endings only, or are tragedies acceptable?”
Katyn shrugged. “I don’t really care either way, as long as it’s well researched and authentic.”
Valyri’s smile turned genuine. “You know, I think I have just the thing for you. Follow me.”
* * *
Katyn lay on a paper-lined table in a tiny loading room. She’d traded her jumpsuit for a skintight stimulus suit, and she now fought the urge to blink against the needles protruding from her eyes.
The needles didn’t hurt, and they were so thin she couldn’t see them, only the faint outline of wires leading off them and down toward the humming machine below. Immersive experience wasn’t really anything like the Holodeck—she’d never understood why people had started using the name. Something about an old show, in the days before immersive entertainment. But people had started using it, and names have a way of sticking.
Valyri patted her on the shoulder. “Your two hours start as soon as I leave the room and commence the simulation. Do you have a good handle on your character?”
“Yes. Thank you.”
“Great. I hope you enjoy yourself.”
The sound of Valyri’s footsteps moved away from Katyn, followed by the whoosh of the sliding door. Katyn counted to three, then smiled as the quality of light changed from sickly green to the bright, warm light of a Western afternoon.
She blinked, reveling in the sudden absence of needles. The tightness in her chest eased, and she leaned back into the leather seat of the stagecoach, watching the bustle of the railway town through the fluttering curtains.
Her character, Kathryn Morgan, was a young woman recently bereaved of her aunt, coming to the town of Aurora Bluffs to inherit the woman’s farm. There were so many ways this could go—would the farm be run-down and needing rescue? Or would it be a thriving business, with predators salivating over their chance to swipe it from her? Excitement trilled through her.
She took a deep breath to steady herself and looked down at the dress she’d chosen, a lovely blue calico with puffed sleeves, a high collar, and buttons down the front. The buttons would serve as controls within the Holo—the top one allowed her to skip ahead, the second would record a still of any image she chose, the third could heal injuries, and the bottom served as an escape valve if she got into trouble.
She’d smoothed out her skin, traded her unruly copper coils for coifed auburn hair and her mud-gray eyes for sparkling blue ones, but otherwise left her appearance the same. She liked feeling like it was really her in here.
The stagecoach rolled to a stop, and the door swung open. The coachman helped her down and waited patiently as she pulled out her coin purse. She was pleased to see that her character had a decent amount of money. There were always challenges in these stories, but at least in this one, poverty wouldn’t be one of them.
As the coach rolled away, she turned to face the town proper. It was small but had all the basic accoutrements—sheriff’s office, saloon, general store, post office. People bustled all around, most turning to gawk at her. A few ladies offered polite smiles; gentlemen, the tip of their hats.
Katyn considered where to start her adventure. It would be natural for Kathryn to go directly to the farm she’d inherited, but would that give her many opportunities to meet possible love interests? Sooner or later, the program would send one her way, but she didn’t want to waste time in an empty house. No, better to start meeting people. She headed for the saloon.
She pushed through the swinging doors, her skirts brushing against the doorframe and swishing pleasantly around her legs. The noise in the hall died at her entrance, and all turned to stare at her. Every person in the room was an attractive man of marriageable age. She grinned.
Head held high, she sauntered to the bar, enjoying the heat of the stares on her back, and perched herself on the edge of a stool. The wall behind the barkeep was lined with “Wanted” posters for notorious bands like the Dalton gang and the Five Joaquins. It was a nice touch.
The barkeep blinked at her, and his mustache fluttered as he spoke. “You must be Betty’s niece. You look jes’ like ’er.”
“She was a fine woman. And any kin o’ hers gets a drink on the house.” He cleaned out a glass and filled it with lemonade, plunking it down on the table in front of her. Kathryn thanked him and held back a sigh. Of course it would be too much to ask for a proper drink. Still, she should probably just be grateful he hadn’t kicked her out on sight. There were good and bad things about being a woman in this time and place.
She sipped her lemonade, peering around the room as the old man rambled affectionately about her late aunt. The men soon got over her sudden entrance and returned to playing cards and talking in small groups. Her eyes flitted from man to man—any of them could be her intended love interest.
Her eye caught on one in particular—a young man sitting alone at a table, gazing out the window. His wavy brown hair curled with sweat, and his furrowed brow held lines of dust in the creases. Dark, brooding eyes, full lips, chiseled jaw. He was gorgeous. She pressed the second button down on her dress, capturing the image.
She turned to the barkeep. “Who’s the loner?” She jutted her chin toward Handsome.
“Oh, that’s Eli Bradford. You’ll want to watch out for him. He owns the land right next to your aunt’s, and he wants that property real bad. I figure he’ll do anything he can to get you to sell.”
Kathryn smiled. “That so?” Incredibly handsome, with a natural point of opposition to the heroine—very likely this was her romantic hero.
Of course, he could also be the antagonist.
She nodded her thanks to the barkeep and made her way over to Mr. Bradford. She pulled out the chair across from him and sat down, getting a good look at him. Those lips—she was going to get to kiss those lips. All in good time.
First she needed to build the tension.
“I’m Kathryn Morgan.” She held out a hand. “And the farm’s not for sale.”
Eli raised one perfect eyebrow and leaned back in his chair. He opened his mouth to speak, but movement outside the window caught her eye and she turned. She felt a lurch of vertigo as her mind struggled to reconcile what she saw: something—no, someone—who didn’t fit into the experience at all.
She stared at him through the thick glass. The man’s close-cropped hair was an unnatural jet black, and the sun revealed blue highlights. He wore a crisp synthetic suit over wraparound pants that ballooned ridiculously around his thighs—clothes that were popular in Echelon’s upper levels. The whole ensemble was a deep, shiny black that would have been impossible to manufacture in 1855.
The sight of him brought flooding in everything Katyn was trying to escape. The mines, Mirci’s threats. That world was not supposed to intrude on this one.
A flash of anger heated Katyn’s chest. She’d paid for a private experience. She stood, knocking her chair to the floor. “Excuse me a moment,” she said to Eli. “I’ll be right back.” And she swept toward the saloon door. From the doorway, all she could do was stare at the abomination that had pulled her away from Handsome and his gorgeous lips.
The intruder walked down the street, pausing here and there to peer at random things—wooden fence posts, horses’ saddles, even a hat he swiped off some poor cowboy’s head. He tossed the hat aside and kept walking.
Not only had he not bothered to dress appropriately, he hadn’t even created an avatar for himself. His left eyebrow was patchy, and his eyes were smallish and drooped downward. He looked so normal, a stark contrast to the perfect sim characters who populated the town. If he’d wanted to participate in her story, he could have at least made an effort.
She captured his image for the complaint she would file and stormed over to him. He didn’t seem to notice her. He crouched down to pick up a fist-sized rock and examined it with strange intensity.
She cleared her throat. “Excuse me. What exactly are you doing here?”
The man glanced up at her, sighed, and dropped the rock to the ground. “Don’t mind me. I’m just passing through.”
“Passing through? You’re passing through my experience.”
“No one else seems to mind.”
Katyn gritted her teeth. “Yes, that’s the issue.” The townspeople didn’t register the man’s incongruous appearance at all. As far as they were concerned, he fit in perfectly.
“Just . . .” He waved his hand dismissively, still not looking at her. “Ignore me.”
“How am I supposed to do that? Your very presence screams ‘None of this is real’!”
“You know it isn’t real, don’t you?” He wiped the dust from his hands and stood, peering off into the distance as if searching for something.
“Yes—no—I mean, it’s supposed to feel real—you’re destroying the illusion!”
He looked down at her. He was only a few inches taller, but the arrogance in his posture made it feel as though he towered over her. He tipped a nonexistent hat. “Begging your pardon, ma’am.”
Katyn set her jaw and squared her shoulders. No one was going to make her feel small in the Holo. “I’ve paid for this experience, and you are ruining it. You need to leave.”
He turned and walked away from her, as if she were no more important than the sims. Katyn hesitated for a bare second, then followed him.
“Hey!” She grabbed the slick fabric of his suit coat.
He turned toward her with a sigh. “I’m leaving—isn’t that what you wanted?”
“I don’t want you to walk away. I want you to disappear.”
“I’ll never be able to get back into my story knowing you’re here mucking around. Can’t you respect that?”
“I get it. You want to play pretend. Pretend I’m not here.” He started walking again, and Katyn lost no time matching his stride.
“You don’t get it. This isn’t a game to me. I know how everything is supposed to fit in this world. If something is anachronistic, it ruins the whole thing for me. A hat from the wrong era bothers me—there’s no way I’m going to be able to ignore you.”
He stopped and looked at her then, head tilted, eyes calculating. Katyn couldn’t shake the feeling that he was pondering how he could use her. For what, exactly?
His silent study was infuriating. “Fine. Just stay out of my way.” She reached for the top button of her dress. She could lose this guy when the program deposited her further along in the narrative, though she hated to miss part of her story. The second before her finger pressed the skip button, the intruder’s hand snaked out and wrapped around her wrist. Katyn glared at him.
“Hang on a second—”
“We’re done here.”
She wrenched her hand free and jabbed her thumb against her top button. The world dissolved.
Color filled in around her, and Katyn lurched forward, dizzy and disoriented. She reached out with both hands, hoping something would be there to catch her fall. Her right hand met soft flesh, and she gripped it until the dizziness subsided. When her vision cleared, she looked up into the heavily lashed eyes of Eli Bradford.
She resisted the urge to scream. This was so unfair—that Uppie had made her miss something crucial. Somehow Kathryn had ended up here, with Eli, but Katyn had no idea of the circumstances. Had they arrived together? Or just happened to arrive at the same time? The distinction was critical, and it grated at her that she’d missed the events that brought her here. Where was here, anyway?
She turned to ascertain her surroundings. They stood on a wide wooden porch; the setting sun cast a golden light over the evening. Crowds of festively dressed people passed them to enter some kind of dance hall.
She looked down to see her calico dress was now a deep-blue silk gown with lace at the sleeves and collar. The four control buttons were still there, worked in along the bodice.
“You all right?” Eli’s sonorous voice pulled her back into the moment.
“Yes, I’m fine.” She managed a small smile, though she wasn’t sure if they were on good terms right now. This was so frustrating.
Eli looked pointedly to where she gripped his arm, and she let go, flushing. He stepped aside for her to proceed ahead of him, and she swept into the hall.
Wooden pillars propped up a high ceiling, and a band played on a low stage at the far end of the hall. The crowd was mostly men, sprinkled with a few well-attended women. Couples danced in the center of the room. A flash of silver glinted from the back of a dress, distracting her. Was that—?
A cough sounded behind her, and she turned, expecting Eli to make his polite exit. But he held out a hand. “Care to dance?” His voice was deep, sultry, and thick as honey. Katyn’s heart sped as she accepted his hand. The music started, and she found that her feet knew the steps. Eli stared at her, surprise evident on his face.
“Ah. You didn’t expect me to know the dance,” she said.
His guilty silence was all she needed as confirmation.
“So you asked me to . . . what—humiliate me?”
His step faltered a little. “I wanted you to see . . .”
“That I don’t belong here,” she finished for him.
“The West’s no place for someone who can’t keep up.”
Katyn smirked. “I assure you, I can.”
The music picked up tempo, and the two stormed across the floor, a dance more combat than courtship. They matched each other step for step, until suddenly Eli stopped.
“Mind if I cut in?” a voice came from behind Eli. Kathryn peered around his shoulder, brow furrowed. A new suitor?
“You again!” she cried. This wasn’t happening. Yet there he was, the intruder, a maddening smirk on his face.
“Of course,” Eli said, his voice sounding wooden. Before she could stop him, he bowed to her and walked away, sim deferring to user, his face placid and blank.
Katyn whirled on the intruder. “Look what you did! You turned him into an automaton!”
“Exchanging witty repartee with the gallant cowboy, were you?”
Katyn growled low in her throat. Any decent person knew not to mock another’s Holo preferences. “It’s none of your business.”
He held out a hand. “I’m Nyx.”
“And I’m not doing introductions. What do you want? You can’t be here just to thwart my romance.”
“Please. I’ve got bigger ambitions.” The spark in his eye was so familiar, like the flare of an old wound. Bren used to look like that when—Katyn clamped down on the thought. She didn’t want to feel the shame that always accompanied his memory. Not in the Holo.
“Whatever you want, you’re not getting it from me.” She pivoted on her heel and strode off the dance floor.
She ducked through the wide doors to stand on the porch. Her finger strayed toward the escape button, but she couldn’t bring herself to press it. If this Nyx cretin would just leave her alone, she could still salvage this. She took a deep breath of the cooling night air, and watched the last scrap of sunlight slip below the horizon. The sky turned a green blue that faded into inky black, and the first stars twinkled into view. “I’m Kathryn Morgan,” she whispered, closing her eyes and pushing Bren back to the recesses of memory, where he belonged.
The music drifting through the door slowed to the gentle one-two-three of a waltz. If Nyx hadn’t interrupted, she would be dancing this waltz with Eli. Their gazes would have turned tender, and the air between them would have crackled with heat. He would have leaned in, powerless against the enchanting blue of her eyes . . .
Footsteps rang out on the wooden boards.
“Hear me out,” the all-too-familiar voice said, and she groaned inwardly. She turned to Nyx with a sigh.
“Fine. Tell me what you want, so I can tell you no, and we can part ways.” Never mind that their ways never should have crossed in the first place.
Nyx glanced over his shoulder. A couple stood just inside the door, and a group of men lounged at the other end of the porch. He beckoned toward the stairs. Katyn rolled her eyes but followed. The sooner she could get rid of this creep, the sooner she could get back to Eli.
They stepped out into the darkness, the street lit only by weak oil lamps and the ethereal light of a full moon. The music faded with each step, and the sound of night creatures filled in around them. When they’d left the dance hall far behind them, Katyn stopped.
“All right, there’s no one around. Can you please get on with it?”
Nyx turned to face her. He bit his lip and ran one hand over his close-cropped hair. “All right. I’m looking for something, and I think you can help me find it.” That glint in his eye was back, and Katyn crossed her arms against its pull.
Walk away. Right now. “You’ll need to give me a few more details.” Why wasn’t she walking away? She knew better than this.
Nyx sighed. “Fine. I’ve got a lead on Socorro’s treasure.”
Katyn winced, Mirci’s smug face rearing up in her memory. Nyx kept bringing the real world slamming back into her. She could almost feel the sting of the chemical burn on her leg. This wasn’t supposed to happen.
She gritted her teeth and focused on the idiocy of what he was saying. “Oh, please. The treasure? You’re wasting my time for that fairy tale?”
Almost as soon as the Holo was made available to the public, the rumor started that there was treasure hidden in the fabric of the sim. Supposedly, Socorro Boon, the Holo’s brilliant, elusive creator, had placed codes that would manifest in the different experiences, one leading to another. Collect ten of them, and unimaginable treasure would be yours—a million Holo hours, it was said.
It didn’t matter that no one had ever found the rumored treasure. Miserable junkies still spent all their Holo time searching for the codes. And Katyn wasn’t going to be one of them.
“This has been fun and all, but I think I’ll opt out of your little treasure hunt.” She turned to walk back to the dance hall.
“Let me prove to you that it’s real. Help me find a code, one code, and you’ll see that I’m not crazy. If you help me, I’ll split the take with you. What do you have to lose?”
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