Happy book news. Untethered: A Magic iPhone anthology is available for pre-orders today [update: now available everywhere] and the very first story is ERROR: Kappa Not Found, my very first anthology sale. To celebrate, I got some backstory and a free sneak peek at ERROR: Kappa Not Found.
Before I underwent my magical girl transformation into a professional make-stuff-upper, I worked many years in the tech industry. Working in a start-up is an adventure that is sometimes equal parts fantasy and horror, so it was pretty inevitable that those experiences eventually ended up in a story. I wrote ERROR: Kappa Not Found to play with what a 'disruptive tech start-up' would look like in a world where magic existed. What kind of tech could upset the wizard status quo? What kind of problems would our scrappy entrepreneurs and geeks encounter? Just how does a grumpy web dev troubleshoot a bug when the bug has claws and teeth?
Cantina Publishing bought that story and it's been a joy working with the editor Janine Southard. Untethered: A Magic iPhone anthology is a collection of stories about magic and technology. From the jacket:
Almost everyone carries a smartphone these days. They sit in pockets and on tables. They sleep on headboards and are the first things their owners check in the morning. They’ve edged out more mundane equipment like calendars and MP3 players.
They aren’t magical, of course. Or are they?
In Untethered: A Magic iPhone Anthology, 21 authors twist reality and call into question the mundanity we hold in our hands. They ask the question, “Is that smartphone completely explainable by science?” and they decide the answer is a resounding “No!”
From award-winners and bold new voices, from experienced fantasists and professional technologists, these stories are fun, clever, and often positive about the power of technology.
Without further ado, I'm sharing a sneak peek of my story, ERROR: Kappa Not Found, here on the blog. Read on, and if it trips your trigger, make sure to pre-order the anthology, out on October 1st.
ERROR: Kappa Not Found
The kappa was screwing with her IP authentication again. The server had failed its checks for the third time today.
Malora Clover gnawed on the frozen candy bar that constituted her lunch as she thumbed away another error notification on her phone. She’d just managed to return to her Zombie Match game when a new notice clogged her screen again. Mal swore and dropped her bar on the table with a thunk.
“Curse jar gets a dollar,” Ronnie said. He didn’t look up from his tablet.
“So dock it from my pay.”
“We aren’t making money yet.”
“Then take it from my stock.”
“At a tenth of a penny per that’s...” Ronnie furrowed his brow, and Mal was immediately glad he didn’t handle their financials.
Ronnie, Zapsumo’s sales guy—“director of marketing!”—was more of a people person. Broad but chubby around the edges, like an affable footballer gone to seed, he was just approachable enough to maneuver his way around investor meetings and industry hackathons alike. Which was good, because neither Mal nor their cofounder, Bethany, could charm their way out of a paper bag.
Well, being a wizard, Bethany could literally charm her way out of a paper bag, but Mal didn’t think that counted. Ronnie was the much-needed face of Zapsumo.
“Well.” Ronnie gave up counting. “We’ll just say another sprint or two of cursing, and you’ll owe me the company.”
Mal waved him off. She swapped her phone for her laptop and jabbed at the keys. She brought up a terminal window while she grumbled about temperamental server daemons under her breath.
Mal was what Ronnie introduced to potential investors as the “technical founder.” As far as Mal could tell, that meant she evenly divided her time between keeping the app afloat and trying to plug holes in the marketing website’s spaghetti code that Ronnie had thoughtfully outsourced when she wasn’t looking.
“What’s the fire this time?” Ronnie asked.
“I told you, with the traffic we’re starting to get, we need to upgrade to a full-on demigod core to handle the cantrip requests. A sylph, maybe. Or Beth and I had ideas about grafting an undine with the cooling and...”
Ronnie made a face. “You know we can’t afford a new summon.”
“So off to the server room I go. Again.”
Mal heaved an extra-heavy sigh for Ronnie’s benefit. She shoved the rest of the candy bar in her mouth and swept up her phone before heading to the door. She dug out her earbud, flicking the voice commands on. “Call Sparkles.”
“Mal?” Bethany’s voice chirped in her ear a second later.
“Your gremlin is fucking up my life, Beth.”
Mal clomped down the stairwell. They technically only rented part of the workspace co-op. However, once Mal and Bethany had started filling the server room with franken-creatures like the Kappa deck—part hacked-together hardware, part shackled magical beastie—the rest of the renters had graciously given them their space. They were forced to host their own servers since the whole magic-as-a-service thing didn’t exactly have ISPs lining up to take in stray daemons.
Uber for magic! Tap and summon up a spell! Cast from your phone and avoid guild fees. Disrupt the wizard elite! Ronnie pushed a bright, rosy vision to investors, but it came with a whole new set of problems.
“Kappa is technically a river guardian, not a...”
“What’s the river guardian freaking out about this time? Because it sure as hell isn’t hardware. That’s a brand new rig,” Mal gritted through her teeth.
“Hang on. I’m pulling together a scry in the living room.”
Bethany was the only daughter of one of the oldest magical families in San Francisco. That led to a lot of friction with her relatives, who didn’t appreciate the idea of “app-ifying” their field, but it meant her house was tricked out with every dusty monkeyclaw a wizard could require. Since Beth used a wheelchair, she found it easier to telecommute most days rather than deal with the hassle of the workloft’s creaky elevator. And since her work as the company’s arcane founder was not, per se, operating in the same physical plane as the workloft, it generally worked out okay.
Today was not being general.
Mal hit the bar on the server room door with her hip. “If this thing is just missing its mommy, you’re going to have to get down here and—”
The server room was lit by auxiliary lights, accented by blue blinking LEDs. The door stopped abruptly as it hit something with a faint wet sound. Mal looked down.
A crumpled finger pointed neatly to the toe of her sneakers. The crumpled finger was attached to a mangled arm, which was attached to its body by only crushed flesh and a growing pool of blood that was black in the dim light.
The body was folded over against the door. The sight of familiar spiky orange hair hit her like a punch. Chocolate and bile revisited Mal’s throat.
Zapsumo was too small to have much in the way of employees besides Ronnie, Beth, and Mal. Still, Ronnie had a younger cousin with a knack for running cables, and Ronnie had worn Mal down with the promise of help with the hardware.
“Anup.” Mal meant it as a whisper, but it came out more as a squeak. The intern didn’t move.
“Mal?” Beth asked in her ear.
“New plan. Tell everyone to go home and call the police or the sparkly police or—god, whatever your dad’s guild uses for bad days? We need—”
Metal groaned as the nearest rack, burdened with a dozen blades of blinking lights, tilted toward her. Mal lost her grip on the door and tripped over Anup as she dove out of the way.
The server room was even dimmer with the door closed. She could just make out the racks that lined the walls and the dim glow of a Yoda lamp someone had left on the tiny folding table that served as Anup’s desk most days. She fumbled for a flashlight in the table’s mess.
Mal’s throat clenched thinking about Anup, but then a slithering sound shot ice up her neck. Mal pivoted, searching the cramped basement. “Beth... ?”
“I called my dad. Hold on, Mal. I don’t get why my scry isn’t picking up any...”
Mal swiveled her light, and a pair of navy saucers mirrored back at her through the dimness. The eyes were darker than the blue LEDs and were perfectly set into a slim shadow. A growl fluttered through the room.
And Mal forgot to breathe.
“Beth. Your gremlin is loose.”
Continued in ERROR: Kappa Not Found in the Untethered: A Magic iPhone Anthology!