Veronica Roth is back with Black Mirror-esque short stories: Exclusive preview
The Divergent author will next publish The End and Other Beginnings: Stories From the Future in the fall, a book of six futuristic sci-fi tales, which recall the inventive unpredictability of Black Mirror, while remaining wholly in Roth’s voice. There are a few particular pieces here which should have fans extra excited: Two are brand-new stories from the Carve the Mark universe, while another, “Inertia,” has already been optioned for film with Jack Thorne (Harry Potter and the Cursed Child) slated to pen the adaptation.
The book is packaged with a unique design, and features intricate black-and-white illustrations alongside the twisty stories. For a sense of The End and Other Beginnings‘ vibe, EW can exclusively reveal the official cover below, as well as a first excerpt. Read on below. Roth’s new book publishes Oct. 1 and is available for pre-order.
Excerpt from The End and Other Beginnings, by Veronica Roth
“I didn’t come here to skewer you,” she said, low and throaty. “Unless you give me a reason.”
She uncurled her fingers so the weapon would retract. It made a click click click as all the gears shifted, but she still heard its low hum as she brought her hands up by her ears to show she meant no harm.
She was in a bar. A dirty, hot one that smelled like smoke and sweat. The floor was covered in a layer of stale peanut shells, and every surface she laid a hand on was sticky. She had busted her way in the locked door a minute or two earlier, since it was much too early for the place to be open to customers, just shy of 10:00 a.m.
The only person inside it wasn’t human—which wasn’t a big deal, unless they were trying to pretend to be one. Right now they were standing behind the bar with a rag in hand, as if it stood a chance against the grime.
“Not afraid of getting skewered by some kid,” they said. If she hadn’t been who she was, she would have called them an average man, even a boring one. Their face was rough with a salt-and-pepper beard, and there was grease under their—very human-looking—fingernails. But they had all the telltale signs of digital skin: flickering when their eyes moved, a still chest, and a shifty quality, like they didn’t belong in their body.
“That’s too bad,” she said. “I find a healthy amount of fear improves somebody’s likelihood of survival.”
Flickering, flickering, as their eyes moved.
“What can we do to improve yours, then?” they said.
She smiled, all teeth. “Why don’t you take off your little costume so I can get a good look at you?”
The ET shrugged. Twice. The first time was a human shrug, a Whatever, if you insist. The second time was a bigger one, to shuffle off its digital skin.
For a time, as a kid, she’d thought the skin was just a projection, like a hologram. But Mom had explained that wouldn’t work—if it was a bigger creature, it would get itself into trouble that way—knock glasses off countertops, hit its head on doorframes, jab people with a spiked tail, whatever. The digital skin was more like . . . stuffing some of its matter into an alternate dimension. The skin was real, but it also wasn’t. The ET was here, but it was also someplace else.
She didn’t have to understand the science of it, anyhow. She just had to know what to look for.
The ET burst out of its skin like stuffing coming out of a busted couch cushion. Matter bubbled up from the split, gelatinous and glowing purple-blue. For a second it just looked like a heap of purple crap, but then it started to take shape, a massive torso that oozed into squat legs, a bulging head without a neck to hold it up. And stuck on the front of that head like sequins from a Bedazzler, a dozen shiny black eyes.
The smell hit her next, like a cross between stinkbug and sulfur. It was lucky Atleigh had come across a few purpuramorphs last year, because she knew to keep her face passive. They were harmless unless you commented on or otherwise reacted to their stench. Then things could get ugly.
“Thanks for obliging,” Atleigh said. “You know, most ETs don’t bother to wear a digital skin unless they’ve got something to hide.”
She lowered her weapon, slow, and slid it back into the holster on her belt.
“What is it that you want, kid?” the purpuramorph asked her, in a low rumble, almost subvocal. Purpuramorphs were one of the few offplanet races that didn’t need some kind of tech to speak like a human. Their vocal cords—buried somewhere in that purple mush—were actually similar to her own, somehow.
Atleigh took her phone out of her pocket and lit it up. On the screen was a picture of a woman with long hair—the same auburn color as Atleigh’s own. She had deep lines in her forehead, and a glint in her murky green eyes, like she was telling you to get to the goddamn point.
“You seen her? She was in here last week sometime.”
A dozen glittering eyes swiveled toward the phone, and Atleigh schooled her features into neutrality as a wave of odor washed over her, so pungent it almost made her eyes water.
“And if I have?”
“I just need to know if you spotted her talking to anybody,” Atleigh said.
“My customers are guaranteed a certain level of discretion,” the purpuramorph said. “I can’t go violating that just because some little girl asks me to.”
Atleigh’s smile turned into more of a gritted-teeth situation.
“First of all, I’m a little girl who can make your insides come out of you before you even notice it’s happening,” she said. “And second, that woman is my mom, and she’s dead now, so if you don’t tell me who she was talking to, I might do something out of grief that we’ll both later regret, get me?”
She rested the heel of her hand on the holster at her side.
“So what’s it gonna be?” she said. “Carrot, or stick? Because I gotta tell you . . .” She drew the modified gun, hooked her middle finger in the metal loop just under the barrel, and tugged on it so the mechanism extended the needle again. Click click click. “I’m pretty fond of the stick, myself.”
A couple of minutes later, Atleigh slid into the driver’s side of an old green Volvo, patted the urn buckled into the seat next to her, and started the engine. She knew exactly where she was headed next.
Copyright © 2019 by Veronica Roth