Appeared in Writers of the Future 30. Author interview with Hardwick.
Here's a futuristic Wizard-of-Oz type quest-adventure--only with a narrator who's more acerbic. The narrator, VRG11, is a thousand-year-old robot who feels his years are largely a waste. He's been living or sleeping on this comet for longer than he cares to count. He runs into Pilgrim, who is fascinated by VRG11 and urges it to join an escape off the comet. VRG11 is curiously drawn to this charismatic Pilgrim who emits his own light. Although incredulous they can escape (it's been attempted before), he joins.
They find a winged hermaphrodite, a mutant, whom Pilgrim invites to come along. They run into their opposites, their trio of villains: Sergeant Leon, his lover, and a nameless third with many teeth (but who is coward). There is a strange conflict, and they escape only to fall into a pit. VRG11 had been placed on here on the comet for some reason, and is the first of the first AI with many years of witnessing history [sort of. He says it's mostly sleep and darkness].
One of the nicest moments is when VRG11 challenges Odd Nobody to escape, and it is not a simple process. Just a grueling, repetitive leap and climb.
A compelling read. Norton invokes a lot of different literary classics: Bunyan's Pilgrim's Progress, Dante's Divine Comedy, Baum's The Wizard of Oz--probably others. The background story is a bit thin. The author is fantastic at hand-waving ("These are not the droids you seek," and the reader thinks "These are not the droids I seek."), but at some point the SF readers will ask for more details of why these events came to be. (It may be that the work is intended only as an allegory, which is fine, but SF readers tend to want to understand the universe they're inhabiting. As she is compelling, I will be on the lookout for more of Norton's work.