The Hot Equations

By Simon Petrie

sfgenreThe wind, the smell of it. 

The sky. Grey churned with orange. 

Fire tonguing the estate’s trees. The roar, the heat.

 The familiar sense of the world’s upending.

We reach the shelter, hearts a-thump. Are we the last? Roger believes so, is lowering the steel shutters almost before we’re inside. One last triple-glazed glimpse of the estate, our homes, our vehicles, abandoned, besieged by umber cloud and advancing flame; then we’re shut off. Gated once again, nested within. Time-locked. Incarcerated for our own safety.

The air in the community fire-cellar still carries the heat of outside — the climate control is slow to kick in — and a fusty smell, stale with disuse. Clinical cones of blue-white light, radiating from the concrete ceiling; the thrum of heavy machinery; the coppery taste of deep unease. Our neighbours, our friends, stand in knots of three or four, talking; or else alone, striving — fruitlessly, I’d imagine — to coax relevant detail from their devices. 

These are people accustomed to getting what they want. Movers, shakers, decision takers. Captains of industry, and higher ranks again. It can’t be easy, with that mindset, to be stuck underground like this, cocooned, secure, but effectively cut off from the systems one controls.

From somewhere nearby, a dog growls.

‘The Carters have brought in their plus-one du jour,’ Imogen mutters to me; her fluting tones make all too plain her disapproval of the Carters’ domestic affairs. ‘Completely against the regs. And the Hendersons have brought their fucking poodle in,’ 

I gaze around, count heads, take a few seconds to reply. The plus-one is certainly easy on the eye. ‘The Zhangs are down at the coast; it’ll balance,’ I hazard. Trying to placate, attempting not to sound like the odd one out, striving to pretend I fit; but it’s no secret that my access to this shelter is only through Imogen’s wealth, her connections. I’m probably the best fire-protected professor of English lit in all of eastern Australia.

‘Even so,’ she says, staring sharp in the dog’s direction, and I hope she’s not going to make a thing out of it. Im’s a bit quick with that stuff sometimes. Strictures, regulations; the black-letter law of the fire-safety facilities. And it’s not that she wouldn’t have a point: the rules are clear, the shelter’s for strata holders only, no pets. But nobody was expecting the front to come through that quick; I doubt Mel and Steph had enough warning to arrange anything else, and Persephone’s pedigree is impeccable. Worth thousands. At least.

The cooling has cut in. There’s a forced calm in the concrete cavern. Most are now seated in comfortable chairs; a couple still stand. Screens show the progress of the fire outside. The wind-stoked flames make short work of the community’s carefully-installed defences, a lopsided battle that plays out in near-silence. One of the screens darkens, then another, their cams overloaded. There’s a collective inrush of breath as the fire catches on the Martins’ roofline, is pushed around under the eaves.

A questing beast; a hunger; a conquest.

Home after home is caught in inferno. I watch, horrified, enthralled, numb. These aren’t the fires of a decade ago. It’s true, what they’ve been saying: these new fires are unstoppable. Too much heat in the air, too much force in the wind, too little moisture through the long sere summers. Too many lightning strikes striking too many sparks, in a world gone to tinder and kindling. No amount of irrigation can truly safeguard the houses in our little community; they’re best left to burn, in the worst years. Survive and rebuild is the only option.

Most will opt for the cheaper mass-printed rebuilds. Insurance has skyrocketed. Landscaping gets more challenging each time. So much for those who thought the community’s artificial lake, its berms, its fire-retardent walls would save it.

Lex gives an update. The firies and the water-tankers are fully stretched today, trying to save other structures in other communities; we’re locked in for the max. The winds are still ravaging, and help won’t be here until ten pm. There’s some disquiet at that, but the air supply in here should be just enough. If we stay calm.

Persephone growls again, barks aggressively. Not in the main hall, where we’re all gathered; off in the corridor that leads to the machine room. Roger goes with Mel to investigate.

‘Intruder,’ says Roger, returning.

‘Fox?’ Imogen asks.

‘Python?’ asks Steph.

‘Funnelweb?’ Brian’s the community’s arachnophobe. There’s always one.

‘Worse,’ says Roger.

***

The kid looks barely more than twelve, wire-thin, olive skin, sunken-eyed. Attention flitting sparrow-like from face to face of those now gathered stern as stone around him. Nothing to say for himself to the first few questions. Not much body to his voice when he does eventually start answering, after Kim has put the fear into him. We get from him a name — which might be his, or not — and an entry technique, which may or may not be the method used.

Jaden. His name’s Jaden. I realise with a shock I know him, dimly. I’ve taught him, from back when I’d had to fall back on primary tutoring. Not a bad kid. Two or three years ago now; it looks like the intervening years haven’t been easy on him.

There’s no indication he’s recognised me. I guess all middle-aged academics look largely of a piece.

Outside, the bushfire rages. In here, this interloper Jaden is using up our resources. Roger explains the deal to him: the timed lock, the air supply carefully calibrated for the number of strata holders in the community. The expense we all must meet for the upkeep of this facility. The balance which his incursion has thrown out.

Roger speaks calmly, deliberately, as would anyone mindful of the need to shepherd the shelter’s remaining oxygen.

There’s only one way this ends.

‘What’s to become of me?’ the kid asks, glancing once more from face to face, searching for eye contact, finding no purchase.

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About the Author

Simon Petrie

simon petrie 200Simon Petrie, born and educated in New Zealand, now lives in the Australian Capital Territory, where he is paid to be careful with words.

He's had a few stories published before, both in AntipodeanSF and elsewhere. He has been shortlisted several times for the Aurealis and Ditmar Awards, and is a three-time Sir Julius Vogel Award winner, most recently in 2018 for his SF/crime novella Matters Arising from the Identification of the Body.

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AntiSF & The ASFF

AntipodeanSF supports the ASFF

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Please visit the ASFF website and consider joining for up-to-date info about Australian SF cons, awards, competitions, and to receive the Foundation's newsletter, Instrumentality, and more.

<https://asff.org.au>

The AntipodeanSF Radio Show

AntiSF's Production Crew

nuke conflux 2017 200Ion Newcombe is the editor and publisher of AntipodeanSF, Australia’s longest running online speculative fiction magazine, regularly issued since January 1998, and conceived back around November 2007. He has been a zealous reader and occasional writer of SF since his childhood in the 1960s, and even sold a few stories here and there back in the '90s.

“Nuke”, who it turns out loves editing more than writing, lives in the New South Wales North Coast holiday destination of Nambucca Heads, where he is self-employed in IT training, computer support, desktop publishing, editing, writing, and website implementation. He is also the resident tech-head, skeptic, and board member of community radio station 2NVR, where he produces a number of shows including The AntipodeanSF Radio Show.

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mark web 200Mark Webb's midlife crisis came in the form of attempting to write speculative fiction at a very slow pace. His wife maintains this is a good outcome considering the more expensive and cliched alternatives. Evidence of Mark's attempts to procrastinate in his writing, including general musings and reviews of books he has been reading, can be found at www.markwebb.name.

One of Mark’s very best forms of writing procrastination is to produce the eBook series for AntipodeanSF, which he has been doing since issue 175.

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In The Next Issue...

Coming In Issue 273

A Farewell to the Best Friend
By Alexander Iurvetski

A Morning with Grey Clouds
By Swylmar S. Ferreira - Translated by Toshiya Kamei

A Winged Bug's Pain
By Sele Hanakusa - Translated by Toshiya Kamei

Christmas Cheer
By Stephanie Koorey

Microscopic Love
By João Ventura

Searcher
By Scott Steensma

Storm
By Tim Borella

The Author
By Chris Karageorge

The Heart
By Ovidiu Bufnilă

The Price of a Manospondylus Sandwich
By Wes Parish

AntipodeanSF May 2021

ISSUE 272

Speculative Fiction
Downside-Up
ISSN 1442-0686

Online Since Feb 1998

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Download AntiSF E-Book

Epub version:

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AntiSF's Narration Team

lauriebell 2 200Laurie Bell lives in Melbourne, Australia. She was that girl you found with her nose always buried in a book. She has been writing ever since she was a little girl and first picked up a pen. From books to short stories, radio plays to snippets of ideas and reading them aloud to anyone who will listen.

She is the author of The Butterfly Stone and The Tiger's Eye (YA/Fantasy) White Fire (Sci-Fi) and The Good, the Bad and the Undecided (a unique collection of short stories set during the events of White Fire/Sci-Fi). 

You can read more of her work on her blog <www.solothefirst.wordpress.com> Look for her on Facebook <www.facebook.com/WriterLaurieBell/> or Twitter: <@LaurienotLori>

Rambles, writing and amusing musings

Smile! laugh out loud! enjoy the following

<www.solothefirst.wordpress.com>

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mark english 100Mark is an astrophysicist and space scientist who worked on the Cassini/Huygens mission to Saturn. Following this he worked in computer consultancy, engineering, and high energy research (with a stint at the JET Fusion Torus).

All this science hasn't damped his love of fantasy and science fiction. It has, however, ruined his enjoyment of rainbows, colourful flames on romantic log fires, and rings around the moon. He has previously been published in Stupefying Stories Showcase, Everyday Fiction, Escape Pod, Perihelion and also on AntipodeanSF where he is part of the narration team.

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garry dean narratorGarry Dean lives on the Mid Coast of New South Wales Australia, and has been a fan of SF for most of his natural life. Being vision impaired, he makes good use of voice recognition and text to speech in order to write. Many of his stories have appeared in AntipodeanSF over the years, and his love of all things audio led him to join the narration team in 2017.

You can read examples of Garry's fiction on his website <https://garrydean.wordpress.com>

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carolyn eccles 100

Carolyn's work spans devising, performance, theatre-in-education and a collaborative visual art practice.

She tours children's works to schools nationally with School Performance Tours, is a member of the Bathurst physical theatre ensemble Lingua Franca and one half of darkroom — a visual arts practice with videographer Sean O'Keeffe.

(Photo by Jeremy Belinfante) 

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ed erringtonAlthough a writer of the baby boom persuasion, Ed has not boomed for quite a while.

He lives with his wife plus a menagerie of non-domesticated — native Australian animals intropical North Queensland.

His writing within the ‘real’ science fiction context of COVID-19 is intermingled by long night sky vigils — searching for pesky aliens intent on maintaining their social distance to the nth degree.

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timonthy gwyn 100Timothy Gwyn is a professional pilot in Canada, where he flies to remote communities. During a lull in his flying career, he was a radio announcer for three years, and he is also an author.

In addition to short stories at AntipodeanSF and NewMyths.com, his SF novel is available internationally in print and ebook formats. "Avians" draws on his love of alternative aviation to tell the tale of a girl who runs away from home to join a cadre of glider pilots on a world without metal or fossil fuels.

On Twitter, he is @timothygwyn, and his blogs are at <timothygwyn.com>.

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marg essex 200Margaret lives the good life on a small piece of rural New South Wales Australia, with an amazing man, a couple of pets, and several rambunctious wombats.

She feels so lucky to be a part of the AntiSF team.

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tim borellaTim Borella has never lost his childhood passion for SF and writing in general and has been lucky enough to have worked most of his life as a pilot — in other words, he’s never properly grown up.

He lives in country Far North Queensland, has won awards for songwriting, and has had various other writing achievements, the most recent being an honourable mention in the 2018 international Literary Taxidermy Short Story Competition.

He also has bachelor degrees in science and teaching, and has completed a couple of as-yet unpublished SF novels. He’d dearly love to spend more time writing, but will have to continue juggling for another couple of years until the kids have fully left the nest.

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geraldine borella 200Geraldine Borella writes adult short stories and stories for children and has been published in anthologies for both. In 2018, one of her children’s short stories placed second in The Buzz Words Short Story Prize and she won an ASA Emerging Writer’s Mentorship. She currently works part-time as a hospital pharmacist and as an online creative writing tutor.

She’s fascinated by stories that expand upon today’s technology, addressing the moral and ethical issues that might arise. Equally, she enjoys the creative freedom that writing for children allows. Right now, she’s writing a young adult novel, reworking a middle grade novel and writing adult short stories when inspiration strikes. She lives with her husband, Tim, in Yungaburra, Far North Queensland and dreams of one day taking a European gap year.

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sarah pratt 200Sarah Pratt is an avid fiction writer and a Marketing Consultant.

She is currently working on her first novel but loves diving into short stories to bring a little lightness, intrigue or humour to the day.

Her work has appeared in Sponge Magazine and The Commuting Book.

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The AntipodeanSF Radio Show

AntiSF Radio Show

antipod-show-50The AntipodeanSF Radio Show delivers audio from the pages of this magazine.

The weekly program features the stories from recently published issues, usually narrated by the authors themselves.

Listen to the latest episode now:

The AntipodeanSF Radio Show is also broadcast on community radio, 2NVR, 105.9FM every Saturday evening at 8:30pm.

You can find every broadcast episode online here: http://antisf.libsyn.com 

SF Quote

There’s no real objection to escapism, in the right places… We all want to escape occasionally. But science fiction is often very far from escapism, in fact you might say that science fiction is escape into reality… It’s a fiction which does concern itself with real issues: the origin of man; our future. In fact I can’t think of any form of literature which is more concerned with real issues, reality.

Arthur C. Clarke

The Contributors

emma louise gillEmma Louise Gill is a British-Australian spec-fic writer of flash fiction and short stories.

She writes most genres (except horror, since the real world is scary enough).

Currently querying her first novel, a space opera.

She likes cats, coffee, and computers that don’t break.

Emma lives in Perth, Western Australia, with her hubby and two kids.

You can read more stories on her blog at <www.emmalouisegill.com>.

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ashley cracknell 200Ashley Cracknell is an Irish-Australian writer who lives in Sydney.

His short fiction has featured in the Honest Ulsterman and two University of Sydney Student Anthologies.

He has also dabbled in editing, for ARNA.

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chris karageorge 200Chris Karageorge is a lover, brother, son, neighbour and a keen observer of all things in sight. 

He reads, writes and cooks in his spare time and dreams of coffee darker than a moonless night. 

He is from Melbourne, Victoria and can be found walking his pug Monty during the weekends.

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Len BaglowDreams of worlds that might be, and the clash that brings them into existence.

In past lives he was a policy advocate in Canberra and an environmental activist in Queensland.

In awe of such great Australian SF authors as Glenda Larke, Garth Nix, Trudi Canarvan and Kate Forsythe, he dares to dabble in the arcane art.

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myna changMyna Chang writes flash and short stories in a variety of genres.

Her speculative fiction has been featured in Best Indie Speculative Fiction 2020, Daily Science Fiction, Antipodean SF, Mad Scientist Journal, and Twist in Time, among others.

She is the winner of the Lascaux Prize in Creative Nonfiction for 2020.

Read more at <MynaChang.com> or find her on Twitter at <@MynaChang>.

S.A. McKenzie lives on one of the better-looking islands of New Zealand, in the earthquake-ravaged ruins of Christchurch.

After surviving more than 12,000 aftershocks she has become adept at estimating the exact magnitude of any quake based on the amount of coffee spilled.

She writes offbeat and blackly humorous science fiction and fantasy stories featuring time travelling rabbits, carnivorous unicorns and man-eating subway trains, because someone has to speak up for these misunderstood creatures.

Find her online at <www.hedgehogcircus.com>.

sculpture reiff 200AE Reiff has two recent collections, The True Light That Lights @ Parousia Reads, and Recon @ Trainwreck Press.

 

Tony Owens is an ESL teacher living in Brisbane with his wife and son.

His short fiction has appeared in the anthologies In Fabula-Divino, Zombies Ain’t Funny,18, Darkest Depths and Andromeda Spaceways Magazine 2017’s Best Stories.

He is a proud member of the Vision Writers Group and his ultimate ambition is to find the literary sweet-spot between H.P. Lovecraft and P.G. Wodehouse.

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Harris Tobias lives and writes in Charlottesville, Virginia. He is the author of two novels: The Greer Agency & A Felony of Birds. He has written dozens of short stories many of which are available on line at <quantummuse.com>. He is the author of many children’s books including At The Robot ZooMoonRivet Saves His Skin and An Alphabet Book of Bugs available in print from

CreateSpace and as ebooks for Nook & Kindle. You can find links to his writings here: <harristobias-fiction.blogspot.com>

simon petrie 200Simon Petrie, born and educated in New Zealand, now lives in the Australian Capital Territory, where he is paid to be careful with words.

He's had a few stories published before, both in AntipodeanSF and elsewhere. He has been shortlisted several times for the Aurealis and Ditmar Awards, and is a three-time Sir Julius Vogel Award winner, most recently in 2018 for his SF/crime novella Matters Arising from the Identification of the Body.

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