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George Simling has grown up in the city state of Illyria in the Eastern Mediterranean, an enclave of logic and reason founded as a refuge from the Reaction, a wave of religious fundamentalism that swept away the nations of the 21st century. Yet to George, Illyria's militant rationalism is as close-minded and stifling as the faith-based superstition that dominates the world outside its walls. For George has fallen in love with Lucy. A prostitute. A robot. She might be a machine, but the semblance of life is perfect. And beneath her good looks and real human skin, her seductive, sultry, sluttish software is simmering on the edge of consciousness. To the city authorities, robot sentience is a malfunction, curable by periodically erasing and resetting silicon minds. Simple maintenance, real problem, it's only a machine. But it's a problem for George; he kws that Lucy is something more. His only alternative is to flee Illyria, taking Lucy deep into the religious Outlands where she must pass as human because robots are seen as demonic mockeries of God, burned at the stake, dismembered, crucified. Their odyssey leads through betrayal, war and madness, ending only at the monastery of the Holy Machine...
Chris Beckett is a former social worker and now university lecturer who lives in Cambridge. Beckett has written over 20 short stories, many of them originally published in Interzone and Asimov's. In 2009 he won the Edge Hill Short Story competition for his collection of stories, The Turing Test.