Art by Rick Berry

I love this story by Strange Horizons editor Brit Mandelo. Apparently I’m not alone — it’s nominated for a Nebula for best novelette (stories longer than a short story, but shorter than a novella).

“You’re the doctor?”

The newcomer’s voice was a melodious, rough-edged alto, like the women who smoked tobacco in old movies. It took Molly a moment to reconcile that voice with the thick, broad body. She saw the faintest hint of breasts under the tan shirt where she hadn’t noticed them before.

“Yes,” she said, stepping around her desk. She passed the examining table and storage shelves in three strides. Her tank top slid wetly against her skin as she stuck her hand out in offering. “You are?”

The woman paused, then took Molly’s hand. Her fingers were hot to the touch, red with sunburn. She must not have worn gloves. “Jada.”

Molly frowned. “What do you need?”

“Right to the point,” she said. She tugged her hand away and in one smooth yank pulled her shirt over her head. Then she stood straight, shoulders back. Molly flinched but forced herself to look. Jada was heavily muscled, dense as a tree trunk and probably just as hard, but that wasn’t what was breathtaking. It was the scars.

“You recognize these?” the woman asked.

Designs snaked over her torso, down into the temp-reg pants, up to her neck. The left side of her rib cage was a silvery mass of letters and symbols, all jumbled; there was a stylized sun around her navel with waving lines of light. A crane, its legs hidden by the waistband of her pants, spread its wings over her right side and torso. There were smaller signs hidden around the larger; three simple slashes crossed the space between her collarbones. Her skin was as readable as a novel, her flesh a malleable masterpiece made with knives. Some of the scars were still pink, and a spiral design on her left breast was an angry, fresh red.

Murder scars, Molly thought. Syndicate badge. The sheer number of them made her throat constrict. She took a step backward, as if one step would make any difference to a skilled killer.

Full Story: The Finite Canvas by Brit Mandelo