12 Days of Christmas – Day 1: Madeline Ashby

It’s become a bit of an Angry Robot tradition that we celebrate Christmas with a series of guest posts from our authors. This year we’ve invited all those authors who have their first Angry Robot book out next year (note: not necessarily their first book, just the first one with us).

Today we begin our 12 Days of Christmas series. And yes, we know that the 12 Days starts on Christmas Day, but our blog, our rules, so nyarr!

Starting us off today, Madeline Ashby (author of “vN”, August 2012) entertains us with one of the least jolly Christmas tales you will read this year. Cracking stuff!


The Education of Junior Number 12

By Madeline Ashby


“You’re a self-replicating humanoid. vN.”

Javier always spoke Spanish the first few days. It was his clade’s default setting. “You have polymer-doped memristors in your skin, transmitting signal to the aerogel in your muscles from the graphene coral inside your skeleton. That part’s titanium. You with me, so far?”

Junior nodded. He plucked curiously at the clothes Javier had stolen from the balcony of a nearby condo. It took Javier three jumps, but eventually his fingers and toes learned how to grip the grey water piping. He’d take Junior there for practise, after the kid ate more and grew into the clothes. He was only toddler-sized, today. They’d holed up in a swank bamboo tree house positioned over an infinity pool outside La Jolla, and its floor was now littered with the remnants of an old GPS device that Javier had stripped off its plastic. His son sucked on the chipset.

“Your name is Junior,” Javier said. “When you grow up, you can call yourself whatever you want. You can name your own iterations however you want.”


“Babies. It happens if we eat too much. Buggy self-repair cycle – like cancer.”

Not for the first time, Javier felt grateful that his children were all born with an extensive vocabulary.

“You’re gonna spend the next couple of weeks with me, and I’ll show you how to get what you need. I’ve done this with all your brothers.”

“How many brothers?”


“Where are they now?”

Javier shrugged. “Around. I started in Nicaragua.”

“They look like you?”

“Exactly like me. Exactly like you.”

“If I see someone like you but he isn’t you, he’s my brother?”

“Maybe.” Javier opened up the last foil packet of vN electrolytes and held it out for Junior. Dutifully, his son began slurping. “There are lots of vN shells, and we all use the same operating system, but the API was distributed differently for each clade. So you’ll meet other vN who look like you, but that doesn’t mean they’re family. They won’t have our clade’s arboreal plugin.”

“You mean the jumping trick?”

“I mean the jumping trick. And this trick, too.”

Javier stretched one arm outside the treehouse. His skin fizzed pleasantly. He nodded at Junior to try. Soon his son was grinning and stretching his whole torso out the window and into the light, sticking out his tongue like Javier had seen human kids do with snow during cartoon Christmas specials.

“It’s called photosynthesis,” Javier told him a moment later. “Only our clade can do it.”

Junior nodded. He slowly withdrew the chipset from between his tiny lips. Gold smeared across them; his digestive fluids had made short work of the hardware. Javier would have to find more, soon.

“Why are we here?”

“In this treehouse?”

Junior shook his head. “Here.” He frowned. He was only two days old, and finding the right words for more nuanced concepts was still hard. “Alive.”

“Why do we exist?”

Junior nodded emphatically.

“Well, our clade was developed to-”

“No!” His son looked surprised at the vehemence of his own voice. He pushed on anyway. “vN. Why do vN exist at all?”

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