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0t Long after the Christlight of
the world's first morning faded,
when birds still flew to heaven
and back, and even the wicked est
things shone like saints, so pure was
their portion of evil, there was a village
by the name of Hangtown that clung to
the back of the dragon Griaule." These
are the evocative opening words to Lu
cius Shepard's "The Scalehunter's Beau
tiful Daughter
" a novella that won the
1988 Locus Poll and came in second in
our own Readers' Award poll. In all the
years that I've worked at Asimou's, this
is, perhaps, the loveliest beginning to a
story I've ever encountered.
My own friendship with Lucius began
about thirty years ago when we pub
lished "A Traveler's Tale" in our July
1984 issue. r frst met him in aUf ofce in
the spring of 1984. He was moving to
ew York fom Florida, and for a while T
got to see h in person fairly ofen. After
a couple of sublets in Manhattan, he
moved to Staten Island and visits be
came rare. But, like many of his friend
ships, our relationship continued to grow
and deepen over the telephone. In those
days before Amazon, he was a bit isolat
ed in that outer borough, so calls would
come in asking for favorscan you mail
me a ream of computer paper? How aboul
a copy of the 1 Ching? 1 need its advice for
a story I'm working on. But mostly the
calls were about every imaginable sub
ject. Politics, religion, philosophy, movies,
my new boyfriend, Lucius's love inter
ests, my father's adventures in Mexico,
Guatemala, and elsewhere, his son's ac
complishments. Lucius would tell me
about the books and articles he was read
ing, his latest obsessions-Lee Christ
mas and the United Fruit Company, box
ers and hobos-all the subjects that
would eventually fnd their way into his
stories. He had a stunning voice, and he
would sing songs and read me pieces
fom lUs latst work.
Not all our visits were on the phone.
One snowy New Year's eve we played
Trivial Pursuit at Jack Dann's home in
Binghamton, New York. Once Lucius got
the dice, the game was over for the rest
of us. He barreled along answering every
question correctly. There was one moment
when be wavered and I thought I'd at
least get another turn. The Entertain
ment query was "Who rode Diablo?," and
I can still hear that resonant voice repat
ing "Diablo," I was excited when, for an
instant he mused, "Pecos Bill" but then,
"Nah, he rode Widow-Maker." Of course
Lucius knew the rider was The Cisco Kid,
just as he knew all the other answers.
[n 1987, his April 1986 novella, "R&R,"
won the Nebula. As his ideas for ''Bara
cle Bill the Spacer" (July 1992) took
shape, he promised me he would bring
home the Hugo for Asimov's. When he
called to read the following passage, I
thought he just might be right. "It was
beautiful, of course. First a tiny stream of
fre, like a scratch made on a wall paint
ed black, revealing a white undercoat.
This grew smaller and smaller, and even
tually disappeared; but mere seconds af
ter its disappearance, what looked t be
an iridescent crack began to spread
across the blackness, reaching from the
place where Sojourner had gone superlu
minal t its point of departure, widening
to a finger's breadth, then a hand's, and
more, like an all-colored piece of light
ning hardened into a great jagged sword
that was sundering the void ... " And he
was right. It also tied with Isaac Asimov's
"Cleon the Emperor" for best novella in
OUT Readers' Award poll.
Lucius wrote remarkable tributes for
the tragedies that touched our lives. His
poem, "The Challenger as Viewed fom
the Westerbrook Bar" (October 1986),
moved one reader to write that it was the
best one we'd ever published in the mag
azine. And the lyricism of the novelette
"Only Partly Here" (March 2003), "Bobby
sptted a woman's sho sticking up out of
the ground. A perfect shoe, so pretty and
sleek and lustrous. Covered in blue silk.
Then he reached for it and realized that
it wasn't stuck-it was only half a shoe
with delicate scorching along the ripped
edge," exquisitely captures the sadness of
the World Trade Centers' destruction.
After I had children, I couldn't put in
the extra hour or two afer work to make
up for the time on the phone. Luciu had
moved west by then, and even when he
called me at home it was ofen just before
I had to run to pick up a daughter fom
daycare or elementary school. Still,
though the calls fell off, we stayed in
touch. Afer my father died he lef me a
sweet message about how he always felt
they were simpatico.
He promised to send me new stories
and swore that the one he had in mind
would be a Hugo winner. But such was
not to be. Last summer he had a terrible
stroke. Rehabilitation was rough and I
hesitated to get in touch. Finally, our
good friend Ellen Datlow arranged a
time for a phone call in January. Once
again, our conversation touched on many
subjects, but it was difficult. This man
who knew everything kept pausing to re
trieve words and names. I'm glad we
spoke, though, because I was able to tell
him how much he meant to me. On
March 19, I saw Ellen in Florida. She
had only just learned that Lucius had
died the day before.
The last words of "The Scalehunter's
Beautiful Daughter" are a vast improve
ment on the usual faiy ale ending as
well as an epitaph for nearly everyone, in
cluding-with a gender swap-Lucius.
"From that day forward she lived happily
ever after. Excpt for the dying at the end.
And the heartbreak in-between." Lucius's
tales broke my heart and brought me
much joy. J will miss my dear fiend. 0
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Ediloriol: lucius Shepord, He Wos 0 Friend of Mme
Uhhb 6ttN\t\t
hey say that when you're dying your
whole life flashes before your eyes in
a matter of seconds. Mayb so, though
I wonder how the reports of that phe
nomenon get back to us. In any case, last
year in Lndon I experienced a pretty se
rious medical event, which in many in
stances can b fatal, although, as you see,
that isn't how things worked out for me.
What saved me was a bit of very good
luck ideed-the fact that it happened in
the presence of a couple of expert medical
technicians who brought me through the
whole affair swifly and efectively. For
thirty seconds or so I may wen have been
on my way to the next wor1d-and then I
was back, and here I am, and I hope to
stay around for a while.
But what about that business of my
whole life fashing before my eyes? No,
didn't happen. Nothing flashed before
my eyes. I was simply out cold and un
aware for a few seconds, and then I was
conscious again and trying to find out
what had happened. Of course, it would
have been a big job to r instantaneous
ly through the writing of a whole book
shelf of novels and hundreds of short sto
ries, let alone everything else I've done
in the course of a busy eight decades, but
I didn't get even a flicker of any of that.
(Also no white light, no spi. ritual visions,
no sensations of levitation, no nothing.
As I said, out cold and unaware.)
However, as I was flying home a few
days later, I did have some chunks of my
life unroll like a movie before my eyes as
I sat, fully conscious, in my comfortable
seat aboard a transatlantic airliner head
ing from London to San Francisco. What
I found myself reviewing was a period of
my life i. n late adolescence, a time when
I wanted to be a science fi ction writer as
much as I have ever wanted anything,
and was beginning to think it was never
going to happen. This was upward of six
ty years ago, when dozens of science fic
tion magazines were being published,
and I was studying them aU with the in
tensity that a scriptural student gives to
Holy Writ, struggling to find the secret
that would allow me to sell just one story
t any one of those multitudinous maga
T have artifacts of that era spread out
all over my desk now-the magazines
tat foated into my mind as I daydreamed
about the early days of my career aboard
that Boeing 747, the ones that I looked
at so intensely in the days when, as I
have so often said. I stood outside the
world of science fiction publishing like a
small boy with his nose pressed against
the toy-shop window, yearning to get in
You probably have never seen or even
heard of most of these magazines. Here's
the November 1951 issue of Marvel Sci
ele Ftiol1, a small, rather dainty-look
ing item that lasted for five issues be
tween 1950 and 1952. I was a high-schol
student then, writing science fiction sto
ries on the weekend and sending them
of to the magazines of the day with high
(and invariably fustrated) hopes of get
ting one accepted. Marvel, which is now
about as forgotten as a magazine can be,
was actually quite good: the issue in
front of me has stories by Isaac Asimov,
Jack Vance, and Ray Bradbury, three
writers already quite famous who would
later be named as Grand Masters by the
Science Fiction Writers of America,
along with work by such signifi cant writ
ers as Richard Matheson (a brilliant
novella), William Tenn, and the long
time veteran Raymond Z. Gallun. Tough
competition for a novice like me, but
Marvel was such a pretty little magazine
that I longed to see a story of mine in it.
That winter I sent one in, but by the
time it got there Marvel had already re
verted to the cheap and very unpretty
pulp-magazine format of an earlier era,
and that one pulp-format issue was its
final one. I got my story back right
around the time I received my high
school dploma.
Here's the first issue of Orbit Science
Fiction, undated but published around
September 1953,just as I was beginning
my sophomore year at Columbia. It's an
other of the small, neat magazines that
came and went so quickly back then, and
its contents page shows a couple of rec
ognizable names of the time-Robert
Abernathy and Mack Reynolds-and
some very minor ones, mostly writers I
had never heard of before. Nor was the
editr's nare-Juies Saltman-familiar
to me. It seemed to me that this maga
zine might be a promising market for an
unknown writer like me, and off went a
story. To no avail, because writers like
Philip K. Dick, Jack Vance, Michael
Shaara, Gordon R. Dickson, and Chad
Oliver were competing for slots in the
upcoming issues. (And so were "Martin
Pearson" and "David Grinnell," both of
them pseudonyms for Donald A. Woll
heim, a powerful figure in the SF field
who was the behind-the-scenes editor of
the magazine, choosing the stories that
Jules Saltman published under his own
editorial byline.) Five issues and Orbit
was gone, unable to hold its own in the
overcrowded SF feld of the early 1950s.
No one remembers it now except a cer
tain nostalgic aging writer who tried in
vain to sell stories to it long ago.
Another of the multitude of new mag
azines that came upon us then was Fan
tastic Universe, a chunky i ter of 192
close-packed pages without illustrations,
and somehow I felt sure that that one
would enable me to break through the
publication barrier, simply because it
would need to acquire so much material.
The editor was Sam Merwin, Jr., who
had previously been in charge of those
excellent pulp magazines Startling Sto
ries and Thrilling Wonder Stories. A cou-
Reflections: Flashing Before My Eyes
pie of years before, when I was about ff
teen, I had visited Menin at his ofce;
he had received me cordially, praised a
story of mine (that he didn't buy), and
expressed confidence that I was going to
be a successful writer. Now I thought I
had a very good chance of selling a story
to Merwin's new venture.
r was wrong, of course. I have the sec
ond issue, August-September 1952, be
fore me now. The cover, showing the
Statue of Liberty buried chest-deep in
sand, mysteriously foretells the famous
final image from Planet of the Apes of
more than a decade later. And the con
tents page lists stories by Clifford D.
Simak, Eric Frank Russell, Richard
Matheson, Evan Hunter, and many an
other well-established figure. That
should have provided a reality check for
me. Science fi ction was primarily a mag
azine medium in the early 1950s, with
only a handful of book-length works be
ing published every year. The best writ
ers of the fi eld-and there were dozens of
top-notchers at work then-wrote short
stories, bushels of them, more than even
the numerous magazines of the time
could absorb. With famous figures like
Simak and Russell compelled to sell
their surplus work to a relatively low
paying new magazine like Fantastic
Universe, what chance did a new kid like
me have? Merwin once again was kind
when I sent him a story, but back it
came. I did eventually sell stories to Fan
tastic Universe, quite a few of them, but
my breakthrough there didn't come for
another three years, an eternity to an as
piring teenage wri tel' .
One magazine I didn't even dream of
sending a story to was the elegant Fanta
s & Science Fiction, still with us today
and still, as it was then, a mainstay of
the literary side of science fiction. The
February and March 1953 issues are on
my desk: beautiful covers, fine typogra
phy, and stories by such brilliant new
comers as Philip K. Dick and Robert
Sheckley, along with many veteran writ
ers. It seemed a waste of postage for me,
a college sophomore that year still strug-
September 2014
gling to learn his craft, to send stories
across the country to F&SF's Califoria
based editors, Anthony Boucher and J.
Francis McComas. I knew that that was
a magazine for my future, if ever, but
that I wasn't ready for it yet. (And I was
right. Editor Boucher, fascinated by the
youthful prodigy that I was, began en
couraging me to send him stories a few
years later, and actually accepted one
late in 1956, with others to follow. But by
1956 I was an established professional
myself, afer a hectic three-year appren
ticeship; in 1953 I would have had no
business sending stories there, and I
Likewise with John W Campbell's As
tounding Science Fction, whose succes
sor, Analog, is still being published, and
Horace Gold's glossy Galax Science Fic
tin. These were the two top magazines,
where an the top writers gathered-Ray
Bradbury, Isaac Asimov, Robert A. Hein
lein, Theodore Sturgeon, Alfred Bester,
Fritz Leiber. I bought them, I read them,
I tried to imagine what it would take to
create something that their demanding
editors might buy. But I knew I didn't
have the conceptual strength to come up
with something worthy of Campbell, nor
the sort of deep emotional reach that
Gold wanted for his fction. Campbell ac
tually believed that it was possible to
teach, and even to develop, significant
ideas about the nature of the universe
through science fction. Maybe so, but at
sixteen I was in no position to teach any
one anything. As for Gold, his life had
been difficult-he had returned from
wartime military service with a bad case
of agoraphobia, and almost never left his
Manhattan apartment-and he wanted
the fiction in his magazine to explore the
complexities of human emotion. I knew
plenty about the complexities of being a
teenager, but that was not what his read-
ers were looking for. Besides, both maga
zines were crowded with the sophisticat
ed work of my elders and betters, the
greatest SF writers of the time. So I
stayed away. My best hope, I knew-that
boy with his nose pressed against the
toy shop window-was to land a story
with one of the bottom-rung magazines,
and gradually to work my way up from
there as my skills matured.
And so it happened; and so it all came
back to me during that long fashback as
I flew home from London last fall. In
January 1954, still in my teens, I sold a
short story, 'Gorgon Planet," to the ob
scure Scottish magazine Nebula. It net
ted me $12.60, but I was on my way. Four
long months later the American maga
zine Future Science Fiction, whose edi
tor, Robert W. Lowndes, specialized in
buying frst-rate stories for third-rate
prices, bought my little story "The Silent
Colony" for a resounding $13.50. Future
had been one of the shoddiest-looking of
the SF magazines, but the issue dated
October 1954 that contained my story
came out in a handsome new format that
made it as attractive as any of its con
temporaries and better than most. And
there I was on page 111, in the same is
sue as stories by Philip K. Dick, Algis
Budrys, Marion Zimmer Bradley, and
other stars of the tinle. Within a couple of
years my work would be published by all
the other magazines, t ven the lofy
Astounding and Gala.
All of which passed quickly through
my mind as I sat daydreaming aboard
that San Francisco-bound jet after that
nasty but fortunately brief hospitaliza
tion in London: the hungry, ambitious
years just before the start of my career,
and the fulfling of all those teenage fan
tasies soon afterward. It's been a rich
and rewarding life, and I'm glad that I'm
still here to be looking back on it. 0
Robert Silverberg
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Brooklyn Book Festival
Sunday, September 21st, 2014
Brooklyn Borough Hall & Plaza

The following is adapted from remarks
delivered by Allen M. Steele as Principal
Speaker at the Philcon 37 science fiction
convention, held November 8-10, 2013,
in Cherry Hill, New Jersey.
hilcon is the oldest science fiction
convention, its origins going back to
1936 when a small group of young
men-teenagers, really-got togeth
er at Milt Rothman's house to discuss
the stuff they'd been reading in pulp sci
ence fction magazines. One of them was
the 2013 Fan Guest of Honor, Bob Ma
die. Another person there was Frederik
PoW, who recently passed away-as co
incidence would have it- n the last day
of the 2013 World Science Fiction Con
vention. And so were Donald WoUhei1
and David Kyle, both of whom would lat
er become influential editors and pub
This particular period fascinates me
because it was during this time that
what would become a major part of
American culture was being pioneered
by a small group of nerdy, socially awk
ward East Coast kids who'd come into
contact with one another through the
letters pages of trashy magazines so gar
ish that they couldn't be read in public.
Thanks to Hugo Gernshack's old Science
Fiction League, Bob, Fred, Don, and
Dave would soon be joined by other
young men-and, eventually, young
women-whose names would become
cornerstones of imaginative literature:
Isaac Asimov, Ray Bradbury, Jack
Williamson, Edmond Hamilton, John W.
Campbell, Jr., L, Sprague deCamp,
Julius Schwartz, Scott Feldman (aka
Scott Meredith), and the many others
who, three years later, would be among
the two hundred people who'd make
their way to Caravan Hall in ew York
for what was rather ambitiously called
the World's Science Fiction Convention.
My interest in this is both practical
and personal. On the practical side, my
recent story, "'The Legion of Tomorrow"
(July 2014), has its roots in science fc
tion's early history. But there's also my
own curiosity. I'm a science fiction writer,
but I'm also a science fiction fan, and
have been since 1973, when I attended
my first SF convention, Kubla Khan
Klave in Nashville, Tennessee, my home
town. Fred Pohl was the first major
writer I met, fve minutes after I walked
into Kubla Khan Klave, and over the
years, I've had the pleasure of meeting
several of the other people I just men
tioned. Yet, it' s not just memories of
singing "Onward SaUTon's Soldiers" with
Isaac Asimov or having Julie Schwartz
congratulate me when I won my first
Hugo for "The Death of Captain Fu
ture"-he told me then that he'd helped
Ed Hamilton plot many of the original
Captain Future stories of the thirties
and forties-that propels my interest in
SF histor I also believe that, in order to
extrapolate what might happen in the
future, one must study what's happened
in the past. So I think that the history of
the science fiction field may give us a
clue as to where the genre may go in the
years to come ... or at least should.
The internet has given two great gifs
to science fction. One is the ability for
fans to wage heatd, pointless feuds on a
scale unimaginable to ink-stained fanzine
publishers of previous generations. The
other is access to the earliest issues of
Amazing and Astounding, What were
once rare and extremely expensive arti
facts can now be downloaded, for free or
at least dirt cheap, from various digital
archives. I'm now able to carry the first
two years of Astounding on my iPad and
iPhone, where I can read them without
fear of having them disintegrate merely
by turng a page.
This came in handy during Balticon
last spring, when my wife had to rush
me to the hospital because my kidneys
decided that Sunday morning at four
A.M. would be an excellent time to pass a
few stones. While lying on a bed in the
emergency room, I distracted myself by
reading The Beetle Horde by Victor
Rousseau, the first serial published in
Astounding, which appeared in the inau
gural January 1930 issue. The cover art
tells it all: a heroic dude wearing avia
tor's overalls and goggles, punching out
a giant bug while a cavegirl in a fur
miniskirt shrinks in terror. It was a pret
ty good yarn, although truth be told, it
was probably enhanced by the morphine
the ER doctor gave me.
Rousseau's novel is a sort of a cross be
tween H. Rider Haggard and Edgar Rice
Burroughs, and probably wouldn't be en
joyed by most of tday's readers, yet it's
typical of the wide-open, f -throttle sto
rytelling typical of the science fction be
ing published i n the late twenties
through the late thirties. This was the
pulp era in which science fction was re
ally invented. Brian Aldiss makes the
case for Mary Shelley's Frankenstein be
ing the frst SF novel, but I believe that
it was in the pulps where SF became a
distinct genre, identifiable not only by
name but also intent.
I've downloaded and read the earliest
issues of Amazing, too, but they aren't
terribly impressive by today's standards.
Most of the contents were reprints; H.G.
Wells, Jules Verne, and Gilbert R.
Serviss were the headline authors, and it
was awhle before Hugo Gersback be
gan buying original stories. Much of
what he published was rather stodgy;
popular fiction was still being written in
a stilted Victorian style that was a
holdover from the last century, and it
was awhile before the more naturalistic
form of writing being developed by writ
ers like Hemingway and Fitzgerald be
gan making its way into the pulps. And
there was also Gernsback's notion that
the main purpose of "sci enti fction" was
to interest and educate young people in
science. A typical Antazing story of the
late twenties was likely to include a long
discourse by a fictional professor on
some imaginary scientific theory or engi
neering feat, complete with equations
conveniently scribbled on a blackboard.
It took the arrival of a compettor, As
tounding, and a new generation of writ
ers, including Williamson, Hamilton, and
Edward E. "Doc" Smith, for old-school
scientifction to be replaced by the new
school science fction. And there was an
other change, one that was more subtle
and can only be detected in hindsight.
Until around 1930, SF tended to be
grounded in the present day. Even when
they involved events taking place long
afer the current calendar year, the sto
ries usually begin with the protagonist
falling into suspended animation and
waking up in the future, or receiving
telepathic messages from someone in
the future, or even dreaming about the
future. Gradually, though, writers dis
carded these cumbersome plot devices
and began writing stories that took place
i the future fom the get-go, with no at
tempt to connect them t the present day.
The future is now the default setting
of the majority of science fiction stories,
but at the time this was an innovation.
So, too, was discarding the Gemsbackian
notion that SF was meant to provide an
easy-to-digest science education. The sci
ence fiction that started coming out of
the thirties was more adventurous and
less hidebound than most of that which
had been published in the previous
decade, and as more SF magazines began
arriving on the scene, and new editors
and yet more writers entered the field,
the genre began a period of rapid growth.
SF stories were no longer dry pontif
cations on the marvels of radio or guided
tours of lost continents. They took their
readers on reckless jaunts across space
and time, where starships moved faster
than light, aliens came in all conceivable
shapes, colors, and hat sizes, and time
Thought Experiment: Tomorrow Through the Post 9
September 2014
travelers cavorted with dinosaurs and
Roman emperors alike. And the writing
steadily got better. While still not very
sophisticated, overwrought narratives
were gradually replaced by a more direct
and natural style.
In 1937, John W Campbell, Jr., took
over the editor's chair of Astounding.
The following year, Raymond A. Palmer
took charge of Amazing. But while
Palmer took Amazing further down the
path of swashbuckling, if improbable, ad
venture stories, Campbell decided that it
was time the genre became more
thoughtful and-dare we say it?-ma
ture. Campbell's vision of science fction
was far different from where the genre
had been only a decade earlier, and the
latest generation of writers he brought
into the field-Asimov, Heinlein, van
Vogt, Sturgeon, and many others-were
given the mandate to think more care
fully about what they wrote and try to
imagine realistic futures instead of
merely grinding out stories about space
battles and killer robots.
All this came without any influence
fom the Hollywood movie industry. The
last major SF movies of the thirties were
Things to Come and 'ansatlantic Tun
nel before the musical comedy Just
Imagine became a big, expensive bomb
that, except for low-budget serials, killed
SF movies until the 1950s. And although
there was the rare mainstream best
seller like Brave New World or When
Worlds Collide, science fction remained,
by and large, a province of pulp maga
zines. It was a long time before SF nov
els began to be regularly published in
book form, and the mass-market paper
backs that would eventually kill the
pulps were still many years away.
Science fction was a genre that lifted
itself up by its own bootstraps. It was an
almost underground form of literature,
dismissed by critics, ignored by acade
mics, considered trash by parents and
teachers. And yet it managed to survive
by its own wits, generating writers,
artists, and editors within a subculture
that new just beneath the radar.
1 0
What I fmd remarkable about the SF
published in the thirties and forties is
that it was written during some of the
worst times in American history. The
Great Depression, with its economic, so
cial, and political upheavals, was soon
followed by the honors of the Second
World War. Nothing was certain, and life
was rather bleak for many people. De
spite everything going on around them,
though, SF writers persisted in imagin
ing better worlds and better times. The
collective message, intentional or other
wise, was one of hope. We'll liue through
this and go to other worlds. Our world
will become a better place than it is now.
However lousy life may seem, howeuer
lneas the times may be, don't worry.
the future is going to be great! This mes
sage may have been what gave science
fction its popularity: a sense of not just
wonder, but also optimism. However evil
Adolf Hitler might be, at least he wasn't
Helmuth of Boskone.
The first time I got a sense of science
fiction's history was one of the frst an
thologies J ever read. When my sister
Genevieve went of to college in the late
sixties, she left behind a large shoebox
full of SF paperbacks and magazines
she'd read in high school. I was still in el
ementary school, but I was already read
ing science fiction by then, so this little
cache was something of a gold mine.
Among those paperbacks was Award
Science Fction Reader, edited by Alden
H. Norton, a collection of classic stories
by Clarke, Sturgeon, Simak, Anderson,
van Vogt, Brackett, and Campbell. The
introduction was by Sam Moskowitz, an
other member of that founding class of
American science fction fans and writ
ers, and something he wrote has stuck
with me ever since:
"It was time for science fction to grow
up. I had been stagnating in a story for
mat which concepts alone could n longer
carry and the older readers had outgrown
the vicarious thrill of space battles alld the
blasting of alien monsters.
Moskowitz was speaking about 1941
and the beginnings of the Golden Age,
Allen M. Steele
but he wTote that i 1966, when the New
Wave was gathering force in both Great
Britain and America. I read this just as I
was beginning to graduate fom Winston
juveniles to Ace Science Fiction Specials,
and even to my adolescent eye it was ob
vious that SF was in a state of constant
development; I saw the evidence every
time I went to a drugstore or supermar
ket and turned the spinner rack in
search of another paperback I could buy
for sixty cents. There was a vast differ
ence between Heinlein's Rocket Ship
Galilo-the first SF novel I ever read
and Michael Moorcock's The Black Cor
ridol; which completely changed my con
ception of what a space novel could be.
So what does any of this have to do
with the current state of science fction?
I may make some people angry when I
say this, but Moskowitz's words are just
as pertinent today as they were forty
seven years ago, because they address
the present-day condition of the feld. To
paraphrase his introduction, science fc
tion needs to grow up . . . again.
Like many of you, I belong to an infor
mal online list-group, a group of like
minded friends who chat with one anoth
er via email. I've met only two of these
people in real life and the rest a relative
strangers, but the group includes a space
artist, a web designer, a Hollywood con
cept atist, a game designer, a legal assis
tant, and yours truly. What we share in
common is an interest in science fction,
and among our favorite topics of discus
sion are reent SF movies.
This last summer, we talked a lot
about that seasoo's crop of flms and how
disappointed or even irritated we were
in most of them. Oblivion was pretty but
dumb, After Earth was bad beyond be
lief, Star Trek Into Darkness was a major
letdown, War World Z was shunned, and
Pacific Rim was great if you happen to
like Godzilla movies (which most of us
do). The only two movies we all enjoyed
were Elysium and Europa Report, but I
think the one we liked the most was a
orth Korean propaganda film on
YouTube that showed the PRNK attack
ing the United States with stock footage
of other countries' aircraf carriers, jets,
and nuclear missiles.
Sometime during this email conversa
tion, we came up with a list of the four
biggest cliches in current SF movies, the
things we hope to never see again but,
unfortunately, probably will. In no par
ticular order, they are:
(1) alien invasions;
(2) space battles;
(3) dystopias;
(4) guys in body armor running back
and forth shooting at each other
with big guns.
It was pretty amusing until it occurred
to me that these cliches no longer belong
only to SF movies. They now belong to
SF novels as well . . . and if you don't
agree with me, I ask you to visit a local
bookstore and take a long, hard look at
the science fction section.
There's still a lot of good, original SF
being published; authors like Kim Stan
ley Robinson, Robert J. Sawyer, Joe
Haldeman, Nancy Kress, Alastair
Reynolds, Maureen McHugh, and Jack
McDevitt come to mind, among many
others. However, it' s become increasingly
difcult to fnd them among the stacks of
books about space marines fghting the
Bad Guy Empire or people battling aliens
ad the ruins of destroyed cities.
This is the new pulp fction, but the
difference between it and the stuf pub
lished during the thirties and forties is
that what's coming out now are, by and
large, repetitions of what's already been
done. A bestselling alien-invasion novel
generates ten more alien-invasion nov
els; a popular military space opera series
is quickly followed by another one pretty
much like it. Even the covers are repeti
tious. One of the major artists in the
feld recently told me that he's all but
stopped doing dust jacket art because
he's tired of being asked by art directors
to paint covers that look just like ones
that someone else did last month.
There're various reasons for this. The
biggest factor is the conglomeration of
the American publishing industry. Pub-
Thought Experiment: Tomorrow Through the Past 1 1
September 2014
lishers that were once independent have
been merged with larger publishing
companies, and they in turn have been
swallowed by even larger companies.
These super-publishers are chiefly inter
ested in profits, the bigger the better. So
a mentality has developed where novels
are being judged more by their potential
profitability than their literary merit,
and anything that isn't gauged to be an
immediate bestseller is forced into a
midlist that's getting smaller all the time.
So editors are forced to insist that
writers work within tried-aod-true for
mulas that fit inside distinct, easily mar
ketable subgenes. The result is that SF
novels are often taking their cues from
movies and computer games, because
the perceived wisdom is that the mil
lions of people who bought tickets for the
latest Hollywood opus or PlayStation
epic will buy books that promise a repe
tition of the same.
Fortunately. a handful of independent
publishers are still willing to take
chances with novels that don't follow te
latest trend or demand that every book
be a bestseller. It's become harder t fnd
such novels, but the SF field has always
been good at supporting both new writ
ers and established authors ... which is
a major reason why the genre has sur
vived for as long as it has.
There's also the continued existence of
SF magazines and anthologies. In the
U.S., there ae now only three science fc
tion magazines-Analog, Asimov's, and
Fantasy & Science Fiction-that regular
ly see print, a considerable decrease from
the days of my youth when there were
nearly a dozen. However, electronic pub
lishing has allowed many new magazines
t b proucd-Lightspeed Clarkesworld,
Subterranean, Galaxy's Edge, and oth
ers-which collectively publish as much
new fiction as their print cousins. And
while the major publishers seldom pro
duce original anthologies any more, the
small press has picked up the slack by reg
ularly publishing short story collections.
Short fiction remains the place where
you' re most likely to find original,
1 2
thought-provoking SF that doesn't fall
into convenient marketing categories.
Short fction doesn't make enough mon
ey for it to be written, edited, or pub
lished by anyone who doesn't sincerely
love the stuff. This is why, in recent
years, new ground is broken more often
by magazines and anthologies than it is
by novels; because there's not as much
pressure to follow commercial trends,
there's more feedom to experiment. It's
also the reason why many authors, my
self included, continue t write short fic
tion even though we could spend our
time producing only novels.
Nonetheless, over the last decade or so
there's been a growing sense of frustra
tion within the SF field that' s been
shared by writers, editors, and readers
alike, a feeling that we've entered the
horse latitudes where no fair winds blow.
I think there's something else going on
besides the absorption of the publishing
industry by Big Media. I suspect we've
also become haunted by the times in
which we live, and that has afected the
way in which we perceive not only the
present, but also our possible futures.
It's become a cliche to blame 9111 for
everything from the Iraq war to tooth
decay, but I've come to believe that the
terrorist attacks of that hideous day had
a subtle influence on science fiction as
well. Occurring when they did, just afer
the beginning of a new century, caused
people to dread the futue instead of em
bracing it ... and when writers and
readers alike turned to their favorite
genre, it was for escapism, not solutions.
I don't think it's a coincidence that fan
tasy leaped ahead of science fiction in
popularity during this time. I don't have a
problem with fantasy, but the fact re
mains that it doesn't confont reality the
way SF does. On the other hand, I can't
blame readers for preferring fantasy to
science fction, Over the last decade or so,
the prevalent mood of the average science
fiction novel has become that of despair.
In SF, the future has become bleak and
rather ugly. with dystopian societies so
commonplace that they're no longer
Allen M. Steele
unique or even scary; for the most part,
they're now just backdrops for frefghts.
When America reacted to 9111 by
launching a pointless invasion of Iraq
while searching every Little old lady who
gets on an airliner, science fiction re
sponded by becoming paranoid and mili
taristic as well. It's now become dificult
to find an SF novel that doesn't have
mass conflict as its focal point, or depict
extraterrestrials as being anything but
monsters bent on rubbing out humans.
The Singularity Theory has ofen been
pegged as a major reason why SF writ
ers are now reluctant to project an opti
mistic outcome for human histor. How
ever, Vernor Vinge himself has pointed
out that the Singularity is only a theory,
not an inevitable forecast . . . and I might
add that it's not even a theory, strictly
speaking, but rather a hypothesis. A the
ory is something that can be tested, and
we won't know what will or will not hap
pen after the Singularity until it actual
ly occurs . . . if it ever does.
Global warming has become another
elephant in the room. Science fction's re
sponse has been to portray the most dire
consequences-rising sea levels inun
dating coastal cities, the depletion of fos
sil fuels, the emergence of dictatorial so
cieties of haves and have-nots-without
searching for any solutions . . . or at least
none that don't come from a gun barrel.
The result of science fiction's current
inclination toward grim futures is that
readers are losing interest in the genre,
but the consequences may go beyond di
minished sales fgures. One of the inter
esting things about SF is its subtle iu
ence on real-life events, both social and
technological. It's been well established
that science fction has inspired space ex
ploration, robotics, and the digital revolu
tion. It's also possible that it may have
helpd avert global nuclear war by depict
ing, again and again, the horrible out
come of such a confict. SF doesn't exst in
isolation. It's part of a cultural feedback
loop; it not only takes its cues from pre
sent-day events, but feeds into them as
well. Yet we can't just take credit for psi-
tive contributions and ignore the nega
tives. If we continue to portray the future
as being nothing but a dark and danger
ous place . . . that may well b what we'll
get. If we continually tell readers that sci
ence and technology will betray us, who
will continue to believe in their ptential
for positive change?
One of the principal ways in which SF
evolved during the twentieth century
was the growing awareness among writ
ers that what they were doing wasn't
telling stories about the future so much
as they were telling stories set in the fu
ture. There's a subtle yet distinct differ
ence. Science fiction does not, and can
not, predict the future; attempts to do so
usually end in erroneous predictions, not
to mention really boring stories. What
SF does, really, is weave a sort of mythol
ogy, one based on science and technolo
gy-and to some degree sociology, psy
chology, and history as well-instead of
legend, magic, and superstition. I may
write a story set on Mars, for instance,
not because I believe that this is what
will or even could happen, but because I
want to tell what my fiend and colleague
John Crowley calls "a parable of the fu
ture" . . . a story whose outcome sheds
some light on a point I'd like to make
about the exploration of Mars, 01 perhaps
a story about the human condition that
just happens to be set on Mars. Kind of a
futuristic myth, or even a "scientifc fan
tasy" (to use one of the genre's oldest
names), but certainly not a prediction.
So it behooves us to be careful about
the kinds of myths we want to create. If
we're playing with possibilities
thought experiments, if you will-then
we ought to be telling stories with posi
tive outcomes as well as negative ones. If
SF is going to survive and even thrive in
the twenty-first century, we've got to
lear how to tell better parables. I'm not
advoating Pollyannaish avoidance of re
ality, where we pretend that tomorrow's
world will be a squeaky-clean utopia
where no one will have any problems.
On the other hand, writers must once
again address the future in a way that
Thought Experiment: Tomorrow Through the Post 1 3
September 2014
doesn't automatically assume that we
face nothing but dark times ahead.
Science and technology are rapidly
opening new frontiers that are only
barely being touched upon by science fic
tioD. In my particular area of interest,
space exploration, we're discovering that
the galaxy is a much different place than
was imagined only a few years ago, with
new planets in other star systems that
are stranger than anything previously
thought possible. At the same time, a
new space race is undenvay, with private
companies on the verge of assuming
ASA's former role in sending people
into space. And in the past few years,
I've attended conferences in which inter
stellar travel has been solemnly dis
cussed by high-level scientists and ftur
ists, not as something that might
happen in the far future but perhaps
even within the next hundred years,
SF used to be very good at depicting
space exploration. Now only a handful of
established authors do so, and new writ
ers are discouraged from tackling this
particular subject. Yet there's an audi
eoce for these novels. I know a writer
who tried to sell a novel about near-fu
ture space exploration afer successfully
publishing three post-apocalypse books.
When his editor rejected it on the grounds
that she only wanted t see a fourth book
in the trilogy, he published it himself on
Amazon . , . and sold as many copies as he
did of his post-apocalypse novels.
I don't think science fction is dying
I've been hearing that dire prediction for
as long as I've been actively involved in
the field-or that it's run out of ideas
and exhausted its potential. But writers
need to rediscover the sense of adven
ture-and, yes, the sense of wonder
that made SF so attractive in the first
place. We must stop being afraid of what
might happen tomorrow. It's entirely
possible that the future may not suck.
It's okay to write as if it won't.
Editors must be willing to take chances
with novels that don't fall into convenient
marketing categories, but electronic pub
lishing has also given writers the ways
1 4
and meas of getting their books to read
ers. If self-published ebooks are going to
be a viable alternative to Big Media,
though, I think it's important that au
thors who take this path don't simply im
itate the paperback bestseUers that are
already out there. Most readers don't
want the same thig over and over again,
and Amazon is already swamped with
enough military space-op to gag a
brigade. What we need is the next Roger
Zelazny, the next Cordwainer Smith, the
next Leigh Brackett, the next James Tip
tree, Jr., the next Frederik Pohl.
SF readers and fans have supported
the genre for generations, keeping the
feld alive through hard times, and I hope
they continue to do so. More than once,
I've had friends who are writers but
aren't in the SF field express envy over
the fact that science fiction has an orga
nized social network; they seldom get to
meet their readers except at bookstore
signings. Yet I think fans can hinder the
field when they're unwilling to accept
novels and stories that aren't what
they're already used to seeing, or take is
sue with material that doesn't live up to
preconceived expectations. It's a conser
vatism that doesn't suit the field, and
sometimes can be embarrassing. One of
the most amusing items I've found in the
pulps was a letter published i an issue of
Plant Storis where a reader complained
about a new writer's overly literary ap
proach to science fction, and how this fan
just wanted good, old-fashioned space
opera that didn't demand too much fom
him. The writer he was complaining
about was Ray Bradbury.
Perhaps the most intriguing thing I've
learned from studying the history of SF
is how the genre periodically renews it
self It did so in the late thirties and for
ties, and again during the late sixties
and early seventies, and yet again in the
mid-eighties through the early nineties.
If history is cyclical, then the SF feld is
due for another period of reinvention.
The stage is set, the actors are in place.
The time has come for the curtain to rise
on twentyfirst century science fiction. 0
Allen M. Steele
Current Resident, 20th Street orhwelt
The downstairs renter moved and never canceled
his subscription, and so they kept arriving-damp
most mornings, the paper tinged with blue
from the carrier's denim bag. We stepped over them
on our way to work, high or leather heels clacking
on blurred polychrome images, the day's date
in red. Sometimes a lengthy headline
drew our eyes, and we paused mid-step to read.
Missing woman happier now that parents
no longer express disappoi ntment, and girlfriend
ceases to pressure her to find better job.
I n the accompanying image, an empty house,
weeds floweri ng, lawn gone to seed.
Sometimes we thought we saw our names
pressed in soft black serifed letters.
Ex-boyfriend thought of you today while picking up
coffee filters and birthday cake on the way
home from class. Those days we read a little faster.
Studies find that you have the right to be unhappy
about moving out of state, even though you were the one
who chose to take the job. We swallowed hard,
pressed our lips, kept walking.
We never touched the pages, but by evening
they nestled safely in the bins behind the building,
pale and soothing and i nsubstantial as the smoke
from the cigarette of someone you used to love.
Experts now agree contentment possible,
more common than initially reported. Beneath
the stink of coffee grounds and banana peels,
the alley smelled of lavender.
The next morning, when we carried out the garbage,
the headlines had shifted a little. Depression
on the rise. Abandoned houses a concern
for public safety. Missing woman assumed dead.
The images were crisp in black and gray,
police commissioners and bar graphs,
posed smiles on faces decades out-of-date.
Every day, a new paper waited on the doorstep.
We always looked down.
-Megan Arkenberg
James Gunn celebrated his ninetieth year (and his sixty-fifth
year as a published author) with guest appearances at the
EatonjSFRA Conference and the World SF Convention in San
Antonio, as well as the publication of two new books:
Paratexts: Introductions to Science Fiction and Fantasy and
new novel Transcendental, illustrating his dual roles as both an
author and a scholar in the field (he is the only person to have
been president of both SFWA and SFRA). A trade paperback is
due out this year and a reprint of his 1 955 classic novel (with
Jack Williamson) Star Bridge. And he is at work on a sequel
to Transcendental tentatively titled Instrumental. Despite all
this activity, we're delighted that Jim managed to care
enough time to reveal the secrets that are hidden in the . . .
James Gunn
eremy fit his job the way fingers fit a keyboard-he saw paters the way others
saw people. That was what attracted Candace in the first place. She was fed up with
Illen who were focused on her face or heJ' body as if they were something special in a
world where there were thousands, millions,just like her.
Jeremy saw her as part of a patter of existence that extended fom a primordial
past, and, ifhumans were lucky, into a complex and potentially transcendent future,
with extnsions that stretched like the traceries of computer chips, throughout the
world and maybe throughout the universe. But recently Jeremy's focus had begun
to change; she was on the fringe of the patter rather than at its center. She had not
thought that would bother her, but it did, and that bthered her even more. She was
beginning to think it was more bother than she wanted to endure.
"What's wrong with us?" she asked Jeremy one evening. She wanted to ask
"what's wrong with you," but she knew it was better to begin with a pattern, even if
only a small one.
"I've been busy," Jeremy said, and that was true. He was home only to eat and
sleep, and not much of either. Jeremy worked as a data analyst for the NSA, or
rather as an employee of a firm that provided services for the SA. It was a de
manding job, analyzing all those numbers, looking for patters, but Jeremy had ab
sorbed it all, processi_g the numbers without stress. It was, after all, what he was
good at. Until the last few weeks.
The pattern that was revealing itself before his narrowed eyes had implications
he did not want to consider and did not want to discuss with Candace and above all
did not want to discuss with his supervisor, George Sampson. At last, however, he
could avoid the issue no longer, and he rose from the neatly ordered work station
1 6
that he inhabited, with its staring monitors inscribed with enigmatic hieroglyphs,
and walked uneasily to the office of his supervisor. George's desk, indeed his entire
ofice, was messy with scattered papers and disordered stacks of documents i cor
ners and under ofice furniture. It was almost more than Jeremy's sense of propri
ety could endure not to put those patternless elements into something that made
some kind of sense, but he swallowed his outrage and said, simply, "George, I think
we're being hacked."
"Hacked?" George repeated, as i it was a word with which he was not familiar.
"Hacked," Jeremy said.
"Why would anyone want to hack us?" George asked. "Oh, I know there are nations
that would like to get inside information, corporations that might even b able to use
some of the data we have gathered if they could figure out how to make sense of it,
even hackers who would do it just for the hell of it. But why would they want to do it
to us?"
"That's the question, isn't it?" Jeremy asked. He was standing in the entrance to
George's ofice, shifting his weight from one leg to the other.
'Ifthat's the question," George said, "what's the answer?"
"1 don't know," Jeremy said.
"Then come back when you do."
But Jeremy knew the answer. He just didn't want to say it yet-
not out loud. He
knew the pattern-the weird premise, the employee who can't keep his suspicions to
himself, the skeptical supervisor, the whistle blower, the condemnation, the firing,
the disgrace . . . Jeremy wasn't ready. He liked his job.
He went back to his work station and stared back at his computer screens. What he
saw, looking past the numbers into the storage units that were linked by miles of ca
ble though which flowed rivers of information, was the great pattern of a nation's
communication: phone calls, textings, e-mails, all the ways in which an electronic gen
eration connected itself like some vast hive mind, Pointless, irrelevant, purposeless
and yet vital, striving, struggling toward meaning. "jSome rough beast,' '' he thought.
''he pattr was all there, latent; he told Candace later. "The units, all struggling
to get into touch, to form a more perfect union . . . ,"
"They're people, Jeremy," she said,
''Yes, yes, but they're numbers, too." Jeremy looked at his hands with their scrawny
fingers able to digitize, to perform acrobatic feats with intangibles, to turn messy
personal relationships into cool, clean numbers. "And then the units got connected,
bit by bit, until we can finally consider the patterns that they form,"
''Then what's the problem?"
"Somebody else is considering the patters, too,"
Four days later Jeremy was back in George's work station. If anything, the space
was even more cluttered, more patternless. But it wasn't the clutter that kept Jere
my away; it was the reluctance to pursue a course of events that could not end welL
But at last the patter pushed him into action.
j'I've got an answer for you," Jeremy said,
j'An answer to what?" George replied.
'Why would anyone do that?"
j'Do what?" George asked, bringing his heavy dark eyebrows together.
"Hack us,"
'We've put together the data base for psychohistory," Jeremy said.
"You know, in Asimov's Foundation stories, The necessary interconnections to en-
Patterns 1 7
September 201 4
able predictons of the future. Asimov thought it would take a galaxy filled with peo
ple before Hari Seldon had enough data, like molecules in a sealed box, numbers he
could plug into his equations to predict the fall of the Galactic Empire and the dark
ages that would follow. But Asimov didn't anticipate the power of the new media and
OUT ability to capture it all,"
"So somebody is using our data t predict te future?" George asked. His voice was
heavy with skepticism bordering on ridicule.
"I said it was an answer," Jeremy said. " didn't say it was the answer."
"Well, come back when you have the answer," George said, but Jeremy knew what
he meant: "Don't come back."
Over a glass of red wine that evening, Jeremy said to Candace, "Of course I didn't
mean that people were trying to predict the future-although they could be doing
that. That's what we're trying to do at NSA, afer all. Trying to predict the fture of
terrorist attacks."
"Only they call it 'anticipate,' " Candace said.
"Same thing."
"Language matters," Candace said. lr think-"
jjI'm not sure you want to know what 1 think."
jel always want t know what you think."
Candace paused as if to say it wasn't true before she continued, "I think you've got
to prove, first, that there's hacking going on."
''hat's obvious."
"Really? Maybe it's obvious t you, but it's not so obvious to the rest of us who don't
see numbers like you do.'
"Ab," Jeremy said.
The next moring George called him. "They want to see you."
"They," George repeated. "I couldn't sit on your hunch any longer-just in case
there was anything to it.'" What George meant was that he was no more convinced
than before that Jeremy was onto something, but on the slight chance that Jeremy
was right he didn't want to be the one to shoulder the blame.
Jeremy recognized a classic pattern of eYA followed by a slightly less classic pat
ter of scapegoating. He felt a moment of panic, as if the proper course was to make
a break for the exit before he had to face the firing squad, but he swallowed hard and
began shaping his evidence in his head.
George escorted him down a long hallway and into an elevator and then to a floor
Jeremy had never before visited and into a room he had never before entered. It was
a conference room paneled in walnut, with subdued lighting reflected from a light
colored ceiling onto a walnut conference table and five people he had never previ
ously seen, four middle-aged men in business suits and ties and a middle-aged
woman i a gray pants suit that matched her short gray hair.
It was the woman who spoke, her words chopped of like pieces of rebar. "Sampson
reports that you think we've been hacked."
Jeremy cleared his throat. '''Hacked' is the generic term."
''What does that mean?"
"A better description is 'inspected' or 'sampled.'''
''We've got people inspecting twenty-four hours a day. That's what we do."
''Not like this. Data has been, well, sorted."
"Sorted? How?"
"Geographic, size, maybe other ways."
1 8 James Gunn
Jeremy shook his head. "Not that I was able to determine."
"And how were you able to determine the-sorting?"
"That's my job/' Jeremy said. "I notice patterns."
"Numbers, groups of numbers, algorithms."
"A, numbers," the woman repeated, as if she understood what he was saying.
" have the suspicion," Jeremy continued, although he knew he should stop, "that if
we had access we would f ind that other big data has been sorted-the census, for in
stance, bank files, the Federal Reserve, maybe the IRS, maybe their foreign counter
parts, wherever data is accumulated and stored in digital form."
"And why would they-whoever it is-do that?"
"Information is power." Jeremy had information but he didn't feel powerful . Of
course, you have to want power to know what to do with it.
"Power." Clearly the woman knew what to do with it. For the first time she loked at
the four men seated at the table. None of tem spoke. "And how would tey do tis?"
"Very subtly," Jeremy said, and then added quickly, "or we would have discovered
evidence before now that our firewalls and passwords and security have been
breached. Either they have perfected methods that we can't even guess at, or our se
curity measures are not as good as we think."
"Sorting," she said.
Jeremy nodded.
"Patters," she said.
Jeremy remained still, waiting for the blow to fall that he knew was part of the
The woman looked at the four men again. They nodded. "We'll take it under ad
visement," she said mildly and then continued. "Keep us informed of any new de
Clearly they had been dismissed without the completion of the pattern that Jere
my had foreseen. George tugged at his elbow and led him from the room and back
down the hallway and the elevator to their respective work station.
Jeremy peered into the glass of red wine as if the answer to his predicament was
about to emerge from its murky depths. He could see one of two patterns emerging
fom this moment. He could not see Candace in the one in which he continued, but
he could not help hmself "The problem is; he told her, " know where the hacking
came from."
"One of the geosynchronous satellites that relay television programs and mes-
"You know this?"
"I'm pretty sure."
"Why didn't you tell them?"
"They'd have asked the next question."
''The next question?"
''o was able to do that and where were they?"
Jeremy hesitated. None of this was supposed to be discussed outside the NSA, but
if what he thought was true, it didn't matter. "I don't know the answer to 'who?' al
though I can guess, but I have an IT friend at NASA who was able to trace the nar
rowband transmission, once he knew where to look."
Patterns 1 9
September 201 4
Jeremy swallowed, not wine but his own feelings of helplessness. "Not toward
Earth. Out into space. Toward Jupiter. Or, more accurately, toward Titan."
"That's a satellite of Jupiter, the biggest moon in the solar system. Bigger than the
planet Mercury. It has an atmosphere full of hydrocarbons. Toxic. To us, anyhow."
"What does that mean?"
"Somebody out there, capable of living in those kinds of conditions, cold, poisonous,
tor by huge gravitational tugs fom Jupiter nearby, wants to know more about us.
And we've given them the means to find that out. OUf Big Data."
''Why didn't you tell them?"
Jeremy was silent. He knew the answer but it wasn't something he could talk
about. Not now. Maybe not ever. He knew the patter: first denial, then den uncia
tion, then ridicule, and finally dismissal and irrelevance.
That wasn't the worst part. That was the waiting for whatever it was out there
gathering information about humans, where they lived and how they communicated,
the state of their technology, and whatever else lurked in those innocuous numbers
accumulating i n depositories all over the world. Humans, maybe, from a group or a
nation with unsuspected capabilities of space travel and colony building in deadly
circumstances. More likely, creatures evolved on Titan who had reached a level of
technology capable of piercing the clouds surrounding their home world and of de
tecting transmissions from a distant planet they could scarcely imagine. Or, most
likely, aliens from a distant star finding out what technological creatures existed in
this remote system.
And when they had enough information? Jeremy knew the pattern. 0
1HB Future
P ti
n the future of the past
we are like
the shallow scratches
of handwriting from another page on the pad:
not quite there.
The marks wi l l say nothing
we meant them to say.
But you wi l l look at us
with eyes that cannot lift the veil
of what was real here,
in the past of the future.
You wi l l be astonished.
You will say, look,
I have found the story
of how we came
to be.
-Michael Bedrosian Pifer
Only on!
Asimv's is famus for captivating stories and ricly rewarding tales by some of
toay's 6est-/o S' Wters. Whether they're a jaz musician on a
starship, the spirit of H.L. Mencken tangling with a tenty-frst centur medium,
or te new peronality of a wayward teenager trying to stake a claim on a bdy
that is and sort of isn't hers, they must all find their way in uncharted territory.
Join tem on their joumey. Turn the electronic page and enter a future!
Tochi Onyebuchi is a writer who goes to law school in New
York City on the side. He holds a B.A. in Political Science and
a Master of Fine Arts in Screenwriting. Tochi's fiction has
appeared in Crimespree Magazine and Panvere Three, and is
forthcoming in Ideomancer A collection of his nonfiction
can be found at http://tdotscribblngs.,
and much of what doesn't fit there, he keeps at The author also tweets, on
occasion, as @TochiTrueStory. He marks his first appearance
in Asimov's with a stor that skillfully depicts settings both on
the Earth and in space where one can find a . . .
Tochi Onyebuchi
hen I was a kid and when Dad was still alive, we'd sit on the font porch of our
house at night and stargaze. OUT family then lived in this Black and Puerto Rican
enclave in a Polish factory town, and all my memories surrounding that time, at
least the moments spent outside, are blanketed by an almost oppressive quiet.
That's what I remember most about those early evenings. The cousins would come
over and we'd play basketball in the driveway until we couldn't see the ball any
more, then they would go home and the family would have dinner and if it wasn't a
school night, Dad and I would sit outside and look up at those diamonds treading
water in that inky sea above our heads. God was somewhere up there, past the
stars, past space. But that whole layer of matter separated us.
Ad sometimes, in the crook of Dad's arm, I would tremble. I was a kid but I al
ready felt the prescience of that sea as darkness to be battled. It felt allpowerful,
and whatever struggle I could maintain against it was illogical. But it still made
sense in my mind to fight.
I was a star, people told me to boost my self-esteem, but when I looked at stars,
they shone with minuscule light against that thing that sought to encase them.
What powered their decision? What were the consequences? Did victory rest, then,
no longer in conquering the darkness but in merely choosing to exist within it?
My first flight to space took place at dusk, and I remember staring out the win
dow of my compartment at the amber atmosphere as we passed through it, cutting
through clouds and clouds and clouds on our way to the stars and the colonies slot
ted between them. And the amber looked like it could be gathered up in a bottle and
poured in a glass. That seemed a much better tactic than fighting it. Than shining.
I could drink it and the glass would never empty. There was enough for all of us on
that flight, u workers and laborers and wanderers in search of a new beginning, us
bartenders and bar-dwellers. Us drinkers and pourers. Tiny illumined souls swim
ming alone through a stream of darkness, unaware of the presence of others. But per
sisting in the hope of connection. Hoping someone will see our glow and be beckoned.
She thinks it's darkness.
I can see her now. She walks up to that door there, silhouetted by the dying sun
light that warms her back, and she stares in and sees me. Maybe I'm upright and
ramrod-straight. Maybe I'm curled around my familiar. Like a fetus around an um
bilical cord. And she probably thinks to herself "now that umbilical cord, that there
goes somewhere I can't reach." And maybe when she stands there, she sees me sleep
ing and wonders what relief I snatch at when I close my eyes. What despair I did not
know I could be delivered fom or what anguish gripped me so tightly that I lum
bered like a horse to poisoned water, day after day, and gulped until my body shut
down for a few hours. She stands right there and she stares and she probably thinks
that that space between my ears and behind my eyes, twinned with the contours of
this establishment, is absolute and unfathomable darkness.
She is wrong.
I don't always come to the bar to drink. And I don't always come to avoid conse
quence. Sometimesl I come because of how utterly still and quiet it can be when Boss
lifs the grate and gives the place its few hours of reverential tranquility before the
customers trickle in. Or on a Sunday night before the evening sports games and it's
just the people who have nowhere else to gO
no loved one to help them prepare for the
rest of the week, no professional obligation looming just around the weekend's corner.
This is the kind of place that is always being lost. I think guys, maybe guys like
me, used to come i n places like tlS i n the early 1920s and they would be under
ground so there wouldn't be people walking by the front windows and openly pitying
them, but the guys would sit in the smoky basements with dice games going on in
the background and be pitied anyway. Then, when the Depression dried everything
up, men who didn't have anyone to care for, or men who did and just did a poor job of
caring for them, would draw to their own watering holes and seek solace. Coming
back from war, a decade later, they or their sons would spend weekends or after
noons here, not necessarily nursing sorrow or even running away fom psychic war
wounds, so much as enjoying the quiet. Always we're chasing it or the idea of what a
place like this used to be like. It's a Shangri-La, a Utopia, but here we're not shamed
for our longing or harangued for our nostalgia. It's included in the price of admission.
So while aloneness is certainly a precondition for alcoholism, it is also a precondi
tion for love of bars.
Love for how the bottles of Sagittarius B2 on the second shelf gleam in the early
afernoon. Or when Smitty comes in for his shift and twists the tops ofT the bottles
and fits them with the pointed spout-hats they1l wear for the rest of the night. That
clink of bottle-tops in the pint glass he keeps by the register. The way the place gath
ers energy when a patron, even just one, walks in and sits down in his own nest of
noiselessness and doesn't even have to open his mouth to ask before his drink of
choice is in a glass in font of him. I wish she would see how beautiful that is. Or
maybe, if that doesn't convince her, the way the light falls in here just afer the lunch
hour, after people have had their meals and before the dinner-time rush when par
ents hurry back from constructing hydroponics and men stop by here for a little time
spent with their fellows before running home to b with their families. Love for how
the whole thing simply hangs together.
It's not all darkness here. It's familiar. Home. I'm always wearing the right shirt
and the right boots. And so is the regular who comes in every Wednesday and doesnlt
place of Worship 23
September 201 4
leave until he's covered his fiefdom in spilled Vostok HardWater Stout. So is the kid
who comes in at least twice a week, who's been building unlicensed educational sof
ware for grade-schoolers in his fee time and won't stop talking about how Austrian
modernism is the greatest literary movement ever. So is the Chinese-German twen
ty-something guitarist who's been working on a concept album for five years and
whose irresponsible drummer keeps breaking his wrist. So are the Dominicans that
never arrive before midnight and always stay till fifteen before closing, clogging up
the main arteries of the place with varsity jackets and hoodies and women with ass
es the size of car hoods.
Even though a shuttle runs by right outside, the inside of the place carries just the
right amount of background mosquito-buzzing white noise. The chairs swivel back
and forth with just enough give. And you always have just the right amount of mon
ey in your pocket, just the right amount of credit on your tab, to feel for one night like
the universe isn't conspiring against you, like the whole thing isn't ordered with the
express purpose of upending you, that in this place on this afernoon, the whole cos
mic machinery will leave you alone.
The colony lights dim just as the house Lights go up, and the promise of perfect se
curity is made. I'm here to witness it because I've wor a track in this seat over the
course of an hour. Not drinking. Not atomizing, even. Simply sitting and admiring
the angle of light of a bottle cap and how it cuts two beautifully branching stripes
across the counter, how one of those branches breaks of on a wall behind me and the
other leads into shadow.
I don't know everything that happens here, where that second bar of light leads.
But I know it means me no harm and isjust here to keep me company.
It means to balance my ledgers while I'm here. There's no winter in space but what
waits for us outside colony walls. In here, I feel further insulated. Here is that place
where the galaxy's yawning, frigid malice can't reach me.
Smitt stands across fom me, and there's light in his eyes. A I place my order, the
worry leaves me that someone I know might be standing in the doorway, silhouetted
by the dying light, staring in at me and seeing around me nothing but darkness.
There was an old hookah spot in South Williamsburg that I used to go to, right
around the comer from where I hit my bottom.
I was a grad student at the time, and my routine consisted of waking in the morn
ing to headaches that were simultaneously titanic and quotidian. Whatever was left
of the Stoli Lemon from the night before would go toward turning the chatter be
tween my ears into white noise, then 1 would hop on the M trai_ to my classes in
Greenwich Village. I was in school to do a thing I loved, so it was easy to fuck about
and still do it relatively well I slurred in participation, but questions fom professors
and concern fom friends and classmates were answered with the rate "'I'm just
tired." After a while, either they believed me, or they knew that asking one more
time wasn't bound to generate a different answer.
Once classes let out for the day, I would hop across the street to the most conve
niently placed package store in the world, scrape the bottom of my bank account for
enough to snatch two bottles of StoLi Lemon and feel proud of myself that they were
bought and not stolen, then hop on the train back home.
One and a half bottles' worth of vodka-waters later-I never drank vodka waters
before that semester-I would saunter off to the hookah spot where, during a week
night when a game was on and you could walk unabated to and from the bathroom,
a short-haired Ukrainian girl with nower-patterned tattoo sleeves would drip honey
in my ear about her Prospect Park poetry workshops while I gazed lovingly into my
shot of Jameson and my pint of Smithwick's.
24 Tochi Onyebuchi
The amber glow of the whiskey shot. That bartender's cruel optimism and facility
with words, the violence of the art on her arms. Even when she wasn't there, I had
that other server waiting for me behind the bar with her cheekbones and the Puerto
Rican rapidity of her speech and her insistence, every time I walked through that
door and took my seat, that I read Anna Karenina as soon as possible.
Pain dulled as soon as that door closed shut. Taking off my jacket, I was the
mariner removing the albatross from around his neck.
And with all of the activity around me, even early on a Sunday night when the
place was utterly still, I felt like 1 was participating in a sort of communion, engaged
in a conversation no one else could hear with someone or something that, here at
least, was out to protect me.
There was a part of me somewhere that saw the end coming. It wasn't deliverance.
It was that perfect agony that arrives when your cigarette is down to less than three
puffs. The inevitability of the unsustainable.
Much of that took place in the hookah spot. They saw me drink angrily. They saw
me show it off like that one time Tom the real estate apartment flipper refused to
believe I drank as much as I did and plied me with more free shots of well whiskey
than I'd had in a long time. I told him afer each one that he didn't have to do this,
that he would lose. And Karenina, from the other side of the bar, would smirk know
ingly, and I'd down the shot, then the next, then the next, then my fiend would order
more and before going home, I'd see with utter crystalline clarity the worry dark in
her eyes.
A friend of mine, a little afer I first got sober, joined the ministry. We'd gone to col
lege together and kept in touch intermittently afterward. He wound up in Nashville,
while I spirited my ambition and twined anguish to New York. But on Facebook, a
video of his appeared on my News Feed: an old, hand-held recording of a sermon he
had given earlier that month. He spoke on Nehemiah and homecoming and where
we get to and where we come from and how home is ofen a joining of the two in our
hearts. Reprinted below is a letter I wrote him after watching that.
While watching your "Homec01ning" sermon, something quiet and important was
happening inside me, and I spent much of my time during the hurricane tring to put
words to it. And failing quite spectacularly.
However, God made me a stubborn creature so here is another, perhaps more suc
cessful, attempt at describing the indescribable.
I love the Church. Not just the brick building with spires and a choral regiment to
rival the shepherd-visiting, Gospel-giving hosts, the edifce that's provided me solace
on many New England mornings and evenings. But the larger institution, the thing
that organies faith into a collective habit. J love it for many of the same rasons [love
habit in general. It is safet. I is sanctuary. It is home.
Only in retrospect have I been able to appreciate the voracity with which the intel
lectualism of college challenged that religion. J hated and feared the darts that were
thrown at the walls surrounding the only real island of stability and serenity I had
during those years, not knowing of course that each time a wall crumbled, J was able
to rebuild it with increasingly sophisticated buttresses. J was being made to explain
my faith, ofen to seemingly hostile audiences, but I was also being made to explain
my faith to myself And only then did I truly appreciate what it had done and was do
ing and continues to d for me.
Which brings me to the prsent moment.
I've witnessed some of the greatest minds of this generation at work while at that
school, forming themselves and arming themselves with the tols they will need when
they fnally capture positions of prominence in business and government, in interna-
place of Worship 25
September 201 4
tional as well as domestic realms. If they escape madness, if they escape malice, if they
escape the peyote solidities and the walling nightmares and the false prophets and the
desire to cultivate exacting habits, some of then! will write remarkable and astonish
ing works of fiction and non-fiction. Some of them will go on to revamp urban infra
structures. Some of them, rm sure, will find themseLves swearing an oath to uphold
an ofce to the best of their already august abilities.
So I can't tell you how heartening it is to see that one of these minds has devoted it
self so singularl:, to the understanding of personal faith and to dissemination of that
understanding to others.
I watched your sermon and I felt like I' returned home. Every time I think about
the fact that I can count among my peers such a remarkably intelli gent and generolls
preacher-man, J find myself smiling.
Tanks, man. And keep doing your thing.
The sun's dying outside. Light, reflecting ot the panels lining the ceiling of the
colony's interior, has started t blue.
I still don't know entirely why I kept going to that hookah spot afer I finally laced
together a few days of unbroken sobriety. Why, even in early sobriety, I thirsted for
temptation. Maybe it was only to feel strong i refusing it. Maybe it was to keep pick
ing a scab. There was magic in the place, though, and for this long, at least, I've not
wanted t dissect it, to leave its corpse splayed open on the operating table, tumes
cent legs frozen at the bend, mouth agape in wordless horror, calcified intestines
hanging out on each side of its carved-open stomach.
And I don't know why that place brings my friend to mind. We never drank. He
was a more disciplined man than me in that regard, and in many more. Ad Heaven
is rarely invoked in these walls. Same for discipleship and deliverance. But the pen
itents here are long-sufering. And while vice looms large in the imagination of this
place, in its psychic contours, there's room for virtue as well. When we hunch over
our drinks, when we bring them to our lips and close our eyes, when our body seizes
in recognition of the thing we are doing, the physical act of accepting the burn and
assimilating it, you can't say it does not resemble prayer.
Most friends, when they heard about my first run at sobriety, bore the obligatory
expressions of worried shock. A few of them, the knowing, or those who had more ex
perience with the leviathan tha I could guess, were silent and would only nod. Then
we would talk of something else. All in all, there were no surprises, really. I was still
in school and thus had no time for surprises, and early sobriety filled me with such
frenetic energy that 1 never had to sit down and simply wade in the ponderous
depths of what I'd decided to do. I could concentrate my eforts on "getting better,"
and that was more than enough to occupy me.
Yet I kept going back.
In the beginning, there was no religiosity to it, simply habit. The clock on my
phone would hit 10:00 P.M. or 11:00 P.M. or 12:00 A.M. and Pavlov's dog would salivate,
and the journey of his compulsion's fulfillment would lead him right back to the
hookah spot where he would wear a groove in that familiar seat and lean his elbows
on that familiar bar and eye those familiar taps and the bottles inveigling him with
the glint of the afectionate amber inside them.
I felt fresh, talking in clear tones to people l'd only spoken to while drunk. That
was the greatest surprise. My capability for sober conversation, this newly regained
ability to remember former conversations and not be governed by the fumbling
through-haze that crippled my earlier conversational efforts. It's still a wonder to
me, talking sober to people I remember talking to while drunk. I'm loud and boister
ous and aware. I can recall events, can spice up anecdotes, and my mimicry is con-
26 Tochi Onyebuchi
trolled, my pantomime disciplined. I can demonstrate Tom's episode in the rose
bushes without the self-destructive lurching toward ego-death of a Method actor.
Here, in space, someone new serves me now. The Puerto Rcan girl is a memory, a
bright light between two black eternities flanking me fore and af. Jo, in time, will
likely be the same, so will Smitty. But I wait for her, for Jo. I make sure that when I
get here, I don't start of too quickly, don't run out of steam, so that when Jo finally
does hurry through the door, Dee sometimes serving as forerunner and vanishing
into the back before they both assume their positions and find their rhythm, I'm my
old self again, for better and for worse.
The last Earthbound church I went to had its first gathering in 1635. Ten adven
turers, who had settled in Wethersfield, Connecticut, having arrived the year before,
found, in the wilderness of that unsettled country, a common deified entity from
which emanated succor and instruction on how to go about living where they did.
None of the old buildings remain, but each new cycle of development the town had
seen when I attended church there had sought to fer preserve the town's histor
ical bequest. As though the farther into the future we went and the closer we
stretched our faces toward space, the more important it became that the shingles
matched what we pictured in our imaginations, and the red of the brick and the
height of the achromatic spires and the chill of the sanctuary on a snow-Limned Feb
ruary morning.
The story is incomplete, we were perhaps saying to ourselves, without an author.
The meetinghouse, when I was a kid, was this handsome, Georgianstyle colonial
building. You could see it coming from a ways away because the chief white spire
would poke out above the evergreen treetops.
There were lots of hills around, and we'd put-put up and down them in our gaso
line-fueled antiquities toward that beacon every Sunday morning, Mom drawn by
the siren song of that bell tolling i the spire, the rest of us stumbling in her wake,
most of the time unafected by its clangs and chimes.
It was the first time Id ever seen a woman minister.
She was lovely and loving. On the surface, very much a stereotypical counterpoint
to the hellfire-andbrimstone Baptists I'd grown up in fear of, fundamentalists who
advocated the existence of a God somewhere off in the mountains that hurled com
mandments and plague with equally exacting terror. This minister, this Congrega
tionalist, snapped her fingers and shackles tured to vapor that we were meant to
inhale, then exhale. And in the interim of that breathing, we were to be changed,
made more like Him we were to serve.
She told me once when we'd had cofee to discuss my writing and my faith that
church wasn't simply a building or a denomination. It is people brought together by
God, to love and praise Him, to love all others, and to spread to others the good news
of God's grace. ''For where two or three are gathered in my name, there I am in the
midst of them" -Matthew 18:20.
Our home in the next town over was an old one when we bought it, and as busy as
Mom and the rest of us were, we had neither the time nor the resources to maintain
it. More ofen than not, it did all the things a house was supposed to do. Walls to keep
out the cold. Windows fom which we could watch the sun bleed across roofops and
the underbellies of clouds in the fall. A yard in which to rake leaves when they felL
Even a driveway where Mom could park the family minivan she used to take us to
and from college and the scarred, world-weary Subaru Legacy we drove everywhere
else. Both rear windows bore decals from every school we'd attended from middle
school through college, until an errant tree branch during a storm caused u to have
both windows replaced. Stamps in the passport, we would call them.
place of Warship 27
September 201 4
But when it rained, we discovered how thin-skulled our house really was, and be
fore long, thunder on the horizon became a call to bring out the buckets.
This wasn't particularly odious. But, hke the FAFSA forms we had to fill out every
year for financial aid from the government, and like the offices we would help Mom
clean every weekend as part of her second job, it was a reminder of how much we
didn't have. And whenever I'd return to school, surrounded once again by kids who
wintered in the Swiss Alps and summered in Barcelona and autumned on Cape Cod,
kids who had sprung ito an existence that did not hold within it the possibility of
leaky roofs, our own became a persistently crippling reminder of just who I was and
where I'd come from.
One long weekend away fom school, I'd come home and as the car pulled up to the
front yard, I saw men in the early fall warmth standing on our roof, girded with tool
belts and armed with working gloves and thick, paint-stained Timberland boots. I
didn't recognize them from anywhere and was further surprised when I noticed my
brother, the self-proclaimed laziest member of the family, up on the roof with them.
I asked Mom, when she came to the door, what was going on, what miracle Id been
caught witnessing, and when she tld me the men were fixing our roof, 1 asked her
how much she needed, so that I could feel good about helping to pay it of She told
me they were men fTom church and they were working for free, whereupon I found
myself fighting back reflexive tears.
It wasn't until later that I unearthed the rest of the story.
At our church, in the corridor bridging the social area and the sanctuary, there's a
prayer board to wruch chUl'ch members can affix post-it requests for prayer: a loved
one diagnosed with cancer, an extended unemployment stretch, even the occasional
struggle with substance abuse. They can post anonymously, or they can sign their
first name at the bottom (everyone knew everyone, more or less, even our woebegone
Mom had posted a note about our deficient TOOf And several members of our
church, themselves brothers whose father owned and maintained a contracting busi
ness, answered the call. And were they to be asked why, they would have answered,
I'm sure, that it was what Christ would have done.
In that moment, I'd never been prouder to call myself a Christian.
God exsted in the acts of others. Similar to Francis Kilvert's description ofrus pas
toral rounds of the Welsh countryside. Not once does he mention God. Not once does
his mouth morph around the word, the name, the title. But in every utterance there
exsts the breath of the divine, Kilvert the vessel through which God re-experiences
the world He created.
Thereafer, every time I saw that head church spire, I felt, without quite knowing
why or how, that the shackles I had not known were binding me had ben turned to
Early on in meetings, there was a lot of talk of prayer. What came up most often
was the Serenity Prayer, which was, at its essence, a verbalization of the stepwork we
were supposed to do to keep the gift of sobriety that had been bore out of the even
more inscrutable gift of desperation. God, grant me the serenity to accept the things
I cannot change, the courage to change the things I can, and the wisdom to know the
difference. A shortened version of an old American theologian's incantation, it was one
of the phrases I heard so often in the beginning that it had swiftly become white
noise. Still, whenever I thought about the entreaty, and the motley crew who had
taught it to me (reformed heroin junkies, methheads, and drunks), it stirred me.
My background, being formed largely in New England churches, had instilled in me
a facility with prayer, with being able to find the right words to baptize the food before
28 Tochi Onyebuchi
a family meal or to enlist God's ad in the salvation (spiritual or physical or both) of a
concerned acquaintance. I could talk it as I was supposed to talk it, but coming into
meetings, I was confonted for the first time with the interalization of the act.
Looking, for the first few times, at the people around me, I found I was staring at
a room full of people whose prayers had gone unheeded. And hovering in the stale
air of the room, mingling with the nicotine-tick odor of self-rejection and loathing,
was the question "why didn't God answer my prayer?" Men who'd lost families,
women who'd lost houses, kids who'd lost chldhood. Surely, they had prayed to keep
those things the disease took from them. And the beguiling leviatan that smiled in
side them at the sight of a drink or a needle, surely it was a weak enough beast for
the Almight to defeat.
There's the platitude that we can't possibly know God's will and our suffering is in
the furtherance of some larger, nobler design. Pharaoh's heart was hardened against
the Israelites for a divinely ordained reason. But [ think it might've been safe to as
sume that such an explanation wouldn't have reassured anyone there. Or might it
There they were, sitting around me in chairs borrowed fyom the adjacent sanctu
ary, wary of accidentally scufing the floors when they shifed out of nervousness or
reflex, alive. Breathing. And, for the most part, sober.
The clanking I'd thought I'd begun to hear after a few months wasn't the tinnitus
of alcohol-induced aural damage. It was men on a roof with my little brother, fixing
the damned thing.
The devil never sleeps. The devil is always busy. It is not enough to win once. One
must win over and over and over again.
There are no porches in the Walled City. Ofen, because buldings go up so quickly
with the unregulated construction, neighbors siphon utiLities from each other, a wa
ter pipe running fom one dwelling to another up and across a passageway whose
foundation is equally unstable. Even if one were to traverse the network of alleys
and gangways overhead, linking the City's North and South Ends, one wouldn't be
able to escape the odor that rises fom the waste below. Television antennas tangle in
the laundry laid out on clotheslines. Water tanks and drug addicts litter the rofs,
lghting up underneath the sunrise, sheltered from the heat by the tanks' shifing
shadows. Doctors operate without license. The sneakers sold out of one shop reek of
the meat chopped and processed in the next one. The windows are without calcula
tion, the streets open to prostitutes while, every Sunday moring, a priest hidden
somewhere in the maze leads a pre-recorded choir in the Doxology, then preaches a
sermon from the same passage in First Timothy.
But Jake, one of the men I first went into space with, he built a claustrophobic ve
randa out of scraps left from construction of the bar he planned on opening. Both the
bar and the veranda in violation of colony planning codes and common sense. But in
this corer of our Paradise, no one seems to mind. It feels a lot like home. Someone's
home, at least.
Coming to space, we didn't leave behind te urge to reproduce what we had left be
hind, and Jake goes inside, then comes back out a few minutes later with an old,
weathered bottle of Jim Beam. R Stag. I can still see the numbers on the faded,
creased price sticker.
I don't ask Jake where he got it fom, but there's only a bit lef in there. Three, four
fingers maybe. He pours half in his glass and half in mine. There's a story there and
I wait for him to tell it. There's a niggling in the back of my mind that this is wrong,
that I've been sober for eight years, that I was sobr when I made the biggest deci
sion of my life and left what remained of my family to go to space. But I don't want to
place of Worship 29
September 201 4
stand in the way of his story, so I keep quiet. He's never seen me drink, so why would
he know any better? Maybe he needs this.
The bttle, he tells me, was his grandfather's. A deacon, by Jake's recollection, who
had an otherworldly respect for astronomers and astronauts. The man witnessed
that first moon lancing through a television screen and preached an ad hoc sermon
in the living room that evening, a quiet afair for his family stating that Man had
been brought closer, by that act, t God; that shooting into the stars was only possible
because we'd been humbler than the angels who had kept God company for so long.
That, as a species, we were inclining toward something greater, grander, some im
mense destiny unfolding for us that we could not possibly know but that God, smil
ing behind his silver beard, had bestowed upon us.
Jake had brought the bottle out with him because he wanted his grandfather to
see space fom where he sat. It was beautiful, and it was quiet, sure. But it wasn't all
it was cracked up t be. Where we worked initially had vast windows that opened up
on the inky expanse and before long, our jetsam had formed a ring orbiting the space
station. We couldn't smell Long Island Sound, or the Connecticut River, but it had
come with us. Jake said he wanted his grandfather to see space before we ruined it,
so he poured half the bottle's remains in his glass and half in mine.
My own dad was a preacher-man, I tell Jake. He nods in appreciation. The bottle
has brought stories out of both of us. Well, he wasn't a preacher per se, he was a dea
con. But his best friend in our Polish factory hometown was the pastor, and they
would play afteroon racquetball and the pastor always called my father Bishop, not
like a title, but with a knowing smirk, like a term of endearment. I want to say that
my dad never drank, at least not like I did, but I can't say with any certainty. I sim
ply didn't know. He died before I could ask him, before I could get his counsel on
what would become my problem. Chronic myeloid leukemia.
We trade sips. My glass feels suddenly fragile in my hand. I try to tell myself that
it's not the euphoric, transgressive thrill of falling of the wagon. That it's the pre
ciousness of tis sacrosanct whiskey that makes the thing tender in my gip. Envy
shoots through me. I wish I had some physical bequest from my father and his be
fore him. Something other than tainted blood and a once-winning smile. Something
like a watch to have received at my wedding, or a secret recipe for rice and beans.
Some sort of talisman that, when I held it, reminded me of him.
We finish, and I ask Jake what's he gonna do with the bottle.
I dunno, bury it? he replies, smirking through his stubble.
Less than a month later, that bottle will join the rest of the flotsam orbiting the
colony. And I'll try to tell myself that the bottle's presence makes the ring look less
like junk, that it looks less like a collection of precious stuff thrown away. But I'll
have been of the wagon for a few weeks by then, so I won't be able to.
Mom got sick, and I almost missed the end.
No internet in space meant that coming here had reduced us, in many ways, to a
tie none of us could remember. Post offices, telephone lines. Love letters and job
references written on lined paper. We could receive electronic communiques from
Earth, but we couldn't send them back, and this often meant long queues at the local
station where colony workers waited to hear from those they'd lef behind. The mes
sage from one of my sisters read like an old-school telegram. Mom's sick. Stop. Not
long. Stop. Come back. Stop. I'd seen the message through the pounding haze of a
hangover that evaporated soon after. A I made plans to go back, the fog had van
ished. The pounding, however, never left . It thundered behind my eyes and as we hit
the atmosphere and slowed our descent, it radiated into every other part of my body,
threading each nerve until it felt like extremities would begin to detach, each wing
30 Tochi Onyebuchi
breaking off, each extremity snapping in the speed of falling, until all that landed in
the docking bay at Cape Canaveral was a bloody, throbbing core.
By the time I saw her, she had forgotten how to speak.
Everyone from our church had come by with gfs, with food she couldn't eat, with
promises for my brother and my sisters, with wish-list prayers for all of us. Please,
God, ease her sufering. Please, God, watch over her chldren, Your children. Please,
God, shine a light for them in this time of darkness.
I knew she recognized me by how hard she gripped my wrist when I put my hand
on hers. And when tears rolled down her face, I knew why she was crying. Everyone
had given me a wide berth as I'd walked down the hospital corridors, smelling the
whiskey that leaked from my pores and hung in the threads of my jacket.
You're the reason I'm still alive, I wanted to tell her. Because it was true. After
every bender, I would wake on my floor or suspended in air with the gravity tured
of knuckles bloodied, shirt ripped sometimes, vomit on my jeans, tankful that this
wasn't the one to take me. I'd be grateful I still had more in me, but I was more grate
ful that I hadn't let this thing kl me. Not yet.
You kept me alive, Mom.
But she ddn't stop crying. What will you do when I die?
The silence at the end of that question was bottomless. Cavernous, and perfectly
Somewhere, someone was out there complaining about the hours added to their
shif, caring for a person beyond anyone's knowledge of medicinal art. Someone past
consciousness or even the ability to fonn memories. Past control of their functions. Past
sight of the matrial world. And that someone, somewhere probably considered that
burden a bag of shit. I many ways, a person in their last extremity is a bag of shit.
But on the other end of that cord is the penitent on knees that haven't been
padded with cartilage from a custom of genuflection. Begging, pleading to have that
sufferer's sufering removed, wondering aloud through his tears what conceivable
godly use that sufferer's suffering serves. Whether hearing her body fall apart piece
by piece is a reminder of His omnipotnce, whether the shortening of her breath is
something that makes Him smile severely and magnanimously. Whether the true
joy is in watching the rest of us flail about in our own understanding's imperfections,
hoping it isn't tomuch to ask that the su erer be cared for and made comfortable at
least until she expires.
The penitent ends his prayer with "thy will be done." And, simultaneously, the
someone, somewhere, heaves a sigh, and both pieces of flotsam unstick themselves
from the boulder that had moored them, free now to drift along the stream once
again toward an end around the bend that they will not see until they pass it.
My brother and I were silent for the ride back to Cape Canaveral.
He'd taken to construction work in my absence and had done an admirable job
with our house for Mom's wake, and I thanked him for it in my own way, but I was
numb again. It was the same feeling I'd had after Dad died, a sort of autopilot. I
ddn't care what it did to me this time. It was enough to get to the next minute in one
My bl"ther told me to take care, but I don't remember exactly what he said. Nor do
I remember swiping my visa, nor do I remember strapping in. But I did remember
to bring my sunglasses. The same ones I'd wor during the wake and during the pub
crawl afterward, the ones from behind which I'd watched them bury my mother. The
same ones I'd wor to keep the friends and family from seeing just how shaefully
bloodshot my eyes were while 1 shook their hands. They'd provided a mask of imp as-
place of Worship 31
September 201 4
sivity. and now as we escaped the atmosphere, ritual took over and I moved to put
them on again.
The first time I'd done it, I hadn't known why we had to. But one glimpse outside
the spacecraf, encased in the flame of its passage into the firmament, was enough
to school me. I'd put them on, but anyone who looked at me could've discerned my
mood. I was grinning from ear to ear.
I turned my sunglasses over in my gloved hands, examined them from the front,
then the back, then folded them and put them back in my pocket.
I didn't care if the shuttle night blinded me. Id seen more than enough for one life
Ater 1 got sober the first time, I'd moved back to Connecticut to b closer to fami
ly while still going to school. The money I saved was enough to make it worth it, but
the commute soon became a twice-daily ritual punishment. During the winter, I'd be
on the Metro-North train while stars still dotted the sky, and I'd be on my way back
when theyd retw'ned from their nap.
The first time I saw her, I'd been staring at something else entirely. I'd adjusted
slightly to the masochism of my early commute by taking solace in the sunrises on
that part of the Massachusetts River. The rain the day before had just broken sum
mer's hold on the Easter Seaboard and I'd been glad finally at the opportunity to
don a jacket. Early on in my commute, the rain had had the efect of altering the sun
rises, changing them from gorgeous, showy splashes of ochre and pink to gradual,
formless alleviations of the darkness. And, in my nervy, early sobriety, I couldn't
help but be thankful to the God that would send me such a gift on my way to work
every moring.
That was when I noticed her reflection in the window. It was a thing cut with
pinks and blues and gold, but I'd stared for a long time and discered the contours of
her face, the button nose, the high cheekbones, the streak of red slashed through her
bangs, the pursed lips on the clifs edge of a smirk.
She hadn't glanced at me at aU during that first ride, and I was ready to consign
her to the realm of dreamstuf. But she'd showed up again, as much a slave to rou
tine as I had been.
Back then, I think I'd been nursing a secondary addiction to locomotion, but she
made the whole thig palatable. It didn't matter that I never saw her outside a train
car or that we hadn't exchanged five words between us in the whole time we'd be
come a part of each other's routines, but it was enough to know I wasn't alone in do
ing this, that someone had caught sight of me and I of them and we'd nodded our
heads in silent acknowledgement and perhaps commiseration.
So imagine the look on my face-the look this girl surely sees-when I catch her
reflection in the window as a nova swallows us whole and gets ready t spit us into
the caverously silent and still maw of outer space.
She registers a flicker of surprise, the red in her bangs dancing above her right eye
brow, but that is it. She tightens her hood so I can't catch any more of her enflamed
reflection, but I nod my head. In acknowledgment, and perhaps commiseration.
My sunglasses somehow find my face.
Jake got me a job with waste disposal. We'd take little propulsion boards out into
the colony's atmosphere, explosive charges strapped to our backs, and we'd attach
them to the bits of detritus that needed blowing up. We'd prime the charge, then
high-tail it back to the docking station where we would all joke and laugh or marvel
at the silent, instant explosions that rippled out in waves before oxygen-less space
swallowed them whole.
32 Tochi Onyebuchi
In the lead-up to the detonation, the air was pregnant with laughter and jokes and
stories that would always wind down or peter of into silence as the foreman readied
the detonator. We nursed the ensuing five seconds of silence before the explosion and
watched in reverent quiet as the conflagration began, each explosion setting off the
adjacent charges that reminded me, in their imagery, of the lights that used to go up
on 125th Street in Harlem the month before Christmas. They were cross-street, ban
ner-type lights with three eight-pointed stars arranged at their center, the two side
stars trailing comet tails that pointed to the stars at each end flanking them.
In our work clothes, we would watch the light show, and afer every run there was
the obligatory throat-clearing before we tured back into normal, profane workmen.
It was dangerous work, so there were always more work openings than workers,
but we who did it loved the work. I imagine for some of them that it was the py
rotechnic display that did it, that imbued them with a sense of wonder. For some,
perhaps it was that this thing was so utterly noiseless, this cataclysmic destruction
we were wreaking on the ecosystem of waste out there ringing our hore. A couple of
the guys, before and afer, would talk about their runs and, for many of us, te utter
stillness when we left the colony and propulsed out to the ring was the opportunity
for spiritual devotion. It was a bit like riding a motorcycle, one ofthe guys would say.
You don't have all the metal and plastic of a truck frame or a van or a car shielding
you from the elements.
You never rode in the rain, though, one of the others would retort.
It doesn't rain in space, someone would sagely chime in.
At which we'd all laugh.
That slow swim in outer space felt like passing effortlessly through the calmest
waters imaginable. It slowed everything down, you could feel it in the blood. It was
like drunkenness without the incoherence or incompetence.
We'd walk into the observation booth and suit up, punch in Like we were contrac
tors or a construction crew, then whoever's tur it was wouJd head alone down the
corridor to the docking station, make sure the board was up to full power and that
his suit had no malfunctions. I'd wondered why there was no mechanic or technician
to independenty verif the suit's constitution (no one high-up made sure garbage
trucks back on Earth ran smoothly, did they?), but there was something daring and
romantic and incredible about doing it ourselves. If we didn't do it right, we would
die and someone would have to go out and come get us or our body would drif out
ward to join the refuse and eventually, the suit's life support system would power
down and the organs would clam up and the body would feeze and become brittle
until it broke and was just a lumpy mass of organic detritus.
No malfunctions so far, and if one of the guys had been inattentive or suicidal, it
never manifested during their run.
Maybe the work was too important. Not for the colony, but for us. A long as there
was waste, there would need to be people to take care of it. And as long as the colony
grew and made plans to spawn other colonies at other Lagrange point, there would
be waste. A long as there were people, there would be waste.
It's Jake's tum now, and suiting up is a ritual that govers his body so completely he
no longer needs to pay attention. He doesn't miss a beat, except for one of the oxygen
valves strapped against his calf It dangles lose, but its end doesn't scrape against the
floor, so he can't hear it. And I worry for a second that he's going to go out there and
die because he didn't take two extra seconds to check for it. At the last moment, he
looks behind him and catches it. He's listless as he takes the board from where it hangs
on the wall and punches in the code for the chute to open up and spit him out.
He wiggles a bit longer than usual into position, then his body stills, and he
rlace of Worship 33
September 201 4
We don't see him again util he's about a hundred meters fom the station, then it's
just his legs kicking at the absence of air as the board pulls him to his destination.
He planted the charges, armed them, and headed back, slower than usual.
When he finally resurfaced, he looked drained, like all his organs had slowed
down, and it took longer than usual for the blood to return to his face. The haunted
depressions i his cheeks looked eerily like the surface of another planet.
He didn't watch the detonation with the rest of us, and when I found him at the
end of our shif, he told me he was going back to Earth.
Fucking degenerate alcoholic, was all he answered in the way of explanation.
Andres came up to me afer Jake left and told me Jake wanted to be left alone
about it, that his brother was causing the family problems and that his alcoholism
had turned him int a tempest that was in the process of wrecking the man's family.
Before Jake lef, I caught h on his engawa one last time, and there was no drink on
the table between u, so I ended up blinging my own ber and drank it while he talked.
The kid has no fucking . . . the shit that my mother's had to go through, and he
doesn't see it right in front of his fuckng face to just . . . he's missing component
parts, man. The stuf that makes up normal fucking human beings, the machinery
and all that. He just doesn't have it.
I took another pull from my beer. Deeper than the last.
He's got no shame. Ifhe has t mow the lawn, he lets it grow till it's fcking tuching
the windows before he'll even do halfofit. Fucking stealing money out of her goddamn
purse to vanish for weeks at a time, Mom with no fucking idea where he is mosta the
time. It's like . . . (He looks at his hands.) It's like the only thing of interest to him,
the only thing he has any passion for, any desire to get good at. is drinking. I just .
He didn't have to finish. You just wish he would die and get it all over with? I
wanted to ask h, because it made sense and I didn't think Jake was wrong to want
Guilt brought the blood to my face and I drained the rest of my beer, then gripped
the bottle in both hands. I'd known the grace of deliverance, known that G was ca
pable of mercy by bringing me into the program and keeping me sober all that time.
And I'd spurned that because . . . because why? Did it even matter anymore?
Anyway. I'm going back to Earth. World's fuckin' falling apart anyway. Might as
well be around for the end.
I wondered if anyone ever thought that about me, or if they'd ever said a much to
anyone. More than that, I envied Jake's brother. What a wonderful thing to have
someone think you are worth saving. That was why Jake was going back, even if he
didn't know or believe it. He wanted to save his brother from imminent destruction,
or perhaps provide some relief and comfort in the man's last extremity. What a fool
that alcoholic was not to notice.
During my runs, I'd ofn thought about Dad, about my family. In thrillingly hor
rific feat of imagination, I tried to think about what form their anguish would take
at my dying. Because it was only a matter of time.
Often, I'd come back to that last memory of Dad alive.
It was a Sunday when I was ten years old. I was standing by my father's hospital
bed, wearing a protective mask over my mouth and nose. We had just returned from
church, still dressed to the nines. My first sister stood by the foot of the bed with my
mother. I didn't recognize the man beneath the sheets. Sores scarred his beautiful
face and had destroyed his mouth. His arms lay shriveled at his sides.
To my right, someone began shaking. My sister was crying. She ran to my father's
bed, embracing him, and it was then that the tears came to my own eyes. My vision
clouded. Any words I may have had choked in my throat, and I joined them.
"I love you, Daddy," my sister kept weeping. "I love you."
34 Tochi Onyebuchi
In every recapturing of that memory, I see myself and my sisters ad my Dad and
somewhere of-screen my Mom, but my brother is absent. I know with certainty that
he was there in the hospital room with us. But I don't remember where he stood. I
don't remember ever looking to see the expression on his face. lfhe too was crying. If
he needed my help. Or just to be looked at.
Jake lef and I brought my hangover with me to work to keep me company in his
stead. We'd paddle out into the giant nothingness, that punishing throb railroading
between my ears, and me. During those voyages, the thin membrane between me
and space started to grow holes like socks worn for too long, and the holes widened
until, every time I left the docking station, I felt like I was becoming water rather
than plunging into it. Eventually, I hoped, the whole damn thing would swallow me
whole and I could stop fighting it.
In the interim between runs, I'd ofen wake up with the gravity tured of in my
room, prostrate in the air with blood and vomit on my jeans. Some of the effiuent
floated in the space around me. It was a wonder I never choked on it. But it was also
a wonder I kept running into Rosa, that dark-haired neuroscientist from the shuttle
flight, who had as little idea what she was doing in space as I did, and who, like
Karenina at the old WilliamsblU'g bar. would always wear in her eyes that dark hint
of worry whenever we parted ways.
We walked similar routes to work, she to her job and I to mine, and I was glad for
the company, gladder still that, seeing my condition, she didn't seek to correct it, to
right my course. She never chastised my worsening, nor the inebriant reek that per
vaded my clothes after a few weeks.
That's the sign of a mature person, I said to myself, suiting up, having a conversa
tion no one else could hear, because that's what alcoholism always has been. She
knows her bounds and mine, the limits of her powers. Ad sometimes the best thing
a person can do is shut the fuck up about something they know nothing about.
A to the hows and whys ofliving in the absence of my mother's presence, I'd have
done well to heed that advice.
Self-destruction is the answer, always has been. Every time ] watch that waste ex
plode int nothingness, I have that proposition afirmed.
On my way back from my last run for the night, I thought about our old home and
one time dlUing the winter break between semesters when I'd come back for some
repose and to see the family I'd gotten increasingly proficient at neglecting.
Outside, it was cold enough for long johns and a hoodie but warm enough for snow
to fall i sof, tiny flakes from the sky. Highlighted by the amber glow of streetiamps
before continuing their descent onto the already-white pavement. I wasn't out there
for long, but aside fom a single SU whose taillights blinked forlornly as it navi
gated the street, I was the only movement outdoors at 10:30 P.1-.
It was nice, the manual labor. And it felt familiar the way an old pair of sneakers
feels familiar. I could let my mind wander over te worries that lurked around the
comer, waiting for me on the other side of the weekend. ] worried about school and
how I would handle whatever travails the final semester had in store for me. I wor
ried about my program, how I'd strayed from the path, lured by the comforts of va
cation and leisure time spent with the family when ] should've been doing the
spiritual heavy-lifing of this particular bit of self-improvement. I worried about the
chastisement that awaited me when I rejoined my group. And ] worried about the fi
nancial cesspool I'd spent two years wandering into. FAFSA season was always a bit
ter reminder of just where I'd come from, just how little I had and just how audacious
I was to want more than what I'd gotten. And every year without fail, the filling out of
those forms heralded a dark cloud. But for the thirty minuts that I'm outside shov
eling my driveway, alone in my work, I'm content.
place of Worship 35
September 201 4
I finish work and stomp back up the porch steps, clearing the snow from my
shoes, walk back inside and chuckle at the sight of my gloves on the couch opposite
me. I'd spent a good half hour shoveling a driveway barehanded, and hadn't even
The lanternslide is faded. sepia-toned. Slowly, it grows COIOf.
The opened door catches a sliver of Mom's bedroom. Organized chaos: laundry re
cently folded in piles of whites and coloreds at the bed's end. Textbooks splayed open
elsewhere. A Bible and daily devotional resting serenely, patiently, on the pillow she
will share in a few years with my second sister when Dad dies. His absence here sug
gests he is already in the hospital. I can't see where the Bible is opened to, but I
know it's the Gospel of Mark, Chapter 10 because that's what her Bible study last
Sunday discussed.
And I see it there, my mother on her knees, elbows resting on her bed, hands
clasped together in silent supplication. The different economies of Heaven and
Earth, that a wealthy man is not guaranteed access into Heaven and that sacrifice
and faith are the chief currencies and that the rate of exchange between earthly
riches and spiritual wealth is impossible to calculate, a rate known only to God. I
see the disciples beside Christ as he lectures, asking what they must do to get into
Heaven, having sacrificed everything to follow Him except their sense of entitle
The lanternslide flickers. The light changes.
My mother is sufused with an otherworldly glow, her image crystalline.
She's in her nightdress, but I know then I will never see a woman more naked
than now.
It's not all darkness here.
A few couples have taken tables along the wall and in a little bit, the guys will be
here to watch the game transmitted through crystal-clear satellite signal. Rosa
might show up in a bit. She doesn't drink, but we missed each other on our last few
morning promenades and I assume-I hope-that she has begun to worry. She
knows where to find me. Jake won't be here, but a friend of his has been running the
place i his absence and is a good enough guy. Boss, when the familiar stomping be
gins, will wake up in that cave he occupies downstairs and lumber up the stps, grog
g and bearish, chest hair poking out the collar of his T-shirt. And he'll slap me on
the back and shake my hand while scanning the landscape for customers, sizing up
the state of afairs. He won't notice that I've not touched my shot in the entire time
since Smitty poured it for me what seems like a lifetime ago.
Jo and Dee sneak in through the back and separate immediately and I can tell
that they've been fighting. I proffer a stubbled cheek and Dee kisses it before van
ishing into the kitchen. Jo takes up her post behind the bar. She doesn't want to talk
and neither do 1.
A guy in an overcoat comes in. Temperature has been San Diego-nice all night so
far, but the guy looks like Jake did after that last run. Al sunken cheeks and blue
flesh. He sits a couple chairs down from me, and premonition pours fom him. So I
nod to Smitty, mime smoking a cigarette and duck out back.
The back area, more a broom-closet than anything else, with a few cushioned
chairs and some hooks along the wall, is something the Boss put in afer Jake lef. In
part to give the girls privacy when they changed into the bar clothes. In part to give
guys who want to be alone in a bar a place to be alone.
By some cosmic two-step of providence, this prison cell, when the overhead blinds
are rolled back, reveals a tiny porthole that opens out onto space. It's always night-
36 Tochi Onyebuchi
time in this room, and if you're the only one there and you ask, you can have the
management keep the lights of and just sit in the dark.
The skylight is unblocked when I sit down. Like the place was waiting for me.
I draw hard on my atomizer and for a second I entertain the thought that this was
perhaps where that second beam of light led. Right to the heating coil at the center of
this translucent device, my last bit of refletion before I go and ride this one off the cf
Pharaoh comes to mind again, and [ wonder if perhaps he should've gotten a bet
ter break. God had hardened his heart for him. Perhaps He was doing a similar
thing with me, making me into a two-headed beast to savage what might be health
ily borne out of human endeavor and self-preservation, leaving me to sedately gnaw
my own privates in the of-hours between bouts of self-destructive atavislU. Break
what I will, He probably told himself regarding Pharaoh and the suffering he was to
enact on Egyptian and Israelite alike, and what I won't, set those parts against
themselves to weaken.
I sink into the chair-back, my hands between my knees. And stare at the f irma
ment above me through the vapor that curls before my eyes. That f innament, empty
of trash and waste and detritus. So precious. So empty of things thrown away. That
f irmament intricately and exactly ordered. "You are precious," I say, continuing that
conversation no one else can hear.
The rest of that passage fom Exodus comes to mind: "And the Lord said unto Moses,
G in unto Pharaoh: for I have hardened his heart, and the heart of his servants, that
I might shew these my signs before him: And that thou mayest tell in the ears of thy
son, and of thy son's son, what things I have wrought in Egypt, and my signs which
I have done among them; that ye may know how that I am the Lord" Exodus 10:1-2.
You are precious, I tell the sky. What did Ginsberg call it? The machinery of night?
Pharaoh and I. crushed in its gears.
You are precious, too, it says back, in a voice that reminds me of Dad. Of Mom.
My vision clouds.
Too precious to be thrown away.
I switch of my cigarette. The engine peters out into silence. There's a loosening in
my chest. It hadn't felt like prayer. It hadn't felt like a howl against emptiness either.
But I feel safe, and loved. And seen. And all I had to do was look up.
All the way up. 0
rlace of Worship 37
Kelly Sandoval
Kelly Sandoval lives with her fiance in Seattle, Washington.
Her fiction has been published in Daily Science Fiction and
Esopus. In Kelly's first story for Asimov's, a memorable
young character eventually understands why "Everyone
Will Want One:' The author wrote the tale while attending
the 201 1 Clarion West Writers Workshop and credits her
classmates and instructors with encouraging her to finish
it, and we're very glad they did.
n Nancy's thirteenth birthday, her father takes her to the restaurant he likes,
the one with the wood paneling, the oversized chandeliers, and the menus i n
French. Around them, people talk i n low voices but Nancy and her father eat their
soup i silence. Aer the waiter takes the bowls away, her father sets a wrapped box
the size of a toaster on the table.
She doesn't open it,just smoothes down the ribbon and rearranges her silverware.
The unsmiling waiter is watching her; she can feel it. She can feel that he doesn't
want her in his restaurant, opening her birthday present. It isn't a birthday present
sort of place, isn't even a thirteen-yeaT-old in her best dress kind of place. She tries
to be very smal in her chair.
"Go ahead," demands her father. "Open it."
He's frowning and his fown is much closer than the waiter's. Nancy picks at the
bow, undoing the knot as best she can with her fresh manicure. Checking t make
sure the waiter's not looking, she picks up her knife and slides it under the tape, eas
ing it loose without tearing the shiny paper.
The box inside has the logo of her father's company on it. Nancy tangles her fin
gers together, stalling. She wants, very much, for it to be a toaster.
"Hurry up," says her father.
She wants to fold the paper into a crisp square or turn it into a giant origami
swan. She wants to pretend that is the present, a sheet of white wrapping paper.
Her father clears his throat and she cringes. The box isn't taped and she tugs it
open. Inside, there's a layer of packing foam, which she picks through, not letting
any spill on the table, until her fingers meet fur. The thing in the box is sof, cold,
and the size of her two closed fists. She traces the shape of it, four feet, a tail, ears
pointed alertly upward.
When, a minute later, she gets it fee of the box and shakes the last of the packing
foam from its fur, she sees it has the shape of a kitten. Its fur is black and silver,
with patterns that look nothing like a real eat's, all loops and whirling, dizzy spirals.
It looks like a synth-pet. They're popular at her school and her father's company does
make them. But Nancy has a kitten, a dog, and a tiny-jeweled unicor at home. He
wouldn't give her another.
"Thank you," she says, setting it beside her bread plate. "What is it?"
"We've been calling it a reimager. That might change, though. Marketing's leaning
toward Synth-SociaL" He looks at her directly for the first time, checking her for a
reaction to the name. She wonders if he'll give her a focus group form to fill out on
her present. He's done it before.
"Oh," she says. She remembers him telling her about them, months ago. Reim
agers were synth-pets for losers; they could anaJyze social networks and facial ex
pressions, then tell their owners how to react. Nancy doesn't wonder how her dad got
the idea.
''They'll be huge in a year or two, when we're ready for market. Everyone your age
will want one. You're lucky to get one now."
"It'll be good for you. Don't you want to be popular?"
"I want to be left alone," she answers, half-whispering, cringing away fom him.
"You don't know what you want," he says. "It'll be good for you."
He's still frowning and she knows she isn't being grateful enough. She picks up the
reimager, cups it in both hands but keeps it held away fom her. She smiles as best
as she knows how. "I'm really excited," she says. "'Thanks."
On the drive home, Nancy stares out the window pretending that she'll get home
and find a birthday cake waiting in the kitchen, maybe even a couple of fiends, ea
ger to surprise her. Instead, there's only a dark house and the slam of her father's of
fice door. She stands in the entryway, made small by the high ceilings and oversized
windows, clinging to her present. She doesn't even know how to tum it on.
Afer thirty minutes of puzzling, Nancy finds a seam along the reimager's neck and
peels back the fr, exposing the steel beneath. There's a button, and she presses it,
holding it down until the I'eimager opens its eyes, which give of a faint green light.
''Finding signal," it says. Its voice is sof and without emotion. "Signal found. Pass
word needed."
It isn't the first synth-pet she's had that wanted access to the internet. She recites
the string of numbers by memory.
"Access achieved. Nancy Sterling?"
"Umm, yes."
"Searching." It leaps fom her hands to the thick white carpet. It prowls her room
with simulated grace and, watching it, she smiles without meanjng to.
"Searching for what?" she asks, sitting cross-legged on the ground to watch it more
It doesn't answer her and, for a few minutes, they are quiet. Nancy thinks about
school, where the other synth-pets are simple, and very few talk at alL She knows
what they'll say when they see hers.
"NanS, NanSilver,"
''eah, that's me."
"Analyzing. Please wait," It lies down and closes its eyes.
Nancy watches it for a while, but it doesn't move again. She takes down the uni
cor, turns it on. 1t runs circles around her room, rearing and whinnying. Without
turg it off, she climbs into bed.
She wakes to the pressure of a paw on her cheek, a soft patting that holds the
threat of claws. "Good morning. It is time to prepare for school."
She puts on her glasses, groggily pressing the button above the lef lens to bring
up the HUD. It's five in the morning. School doesn't start until seven-thirty.
Everyone Will Wonl One 39
September 201 4
"It's early," she manages to say.
"1 will assist you." It pats her face again, and she sits up, slipping down from her
bed and away fom the reimager.
"I don't really need help," she says.
"1 will assist you." It follows her to the edge of the bed and leaps, claws out, tiny
needle points digging into the thin cotton of her pajama top. Ignoring her surprised
whimper, it climbs up t her shoulder, path marked by a series of tiny red splotches.
Nancy lets it accompany her to her closet, where it doesn't object to her school uni
form: gray slacks, a crisp, blue shirt, and a V-neck, black sweater. It's not until she's
out of the shower, braiding her fine dark hair into a fishbone. that it stops her.
"Not like that," it says.
''Yes, I know, Dora Jefferson wears her hair in that style,"
''Not just her."
"1 have traced the trend. It began with Dora Jefferson. For you, a ponytail will be
Nancy does as she's told. The reimager also has an opinion about makeup. which
she isn't to wear; homework, which she's done incorrectly; and the bus, which she is
no longer permitted to ride. That, it explains, is why it woke her early. The walk will
be healthful.
It's two miles fom Nancy's house to the schooL On the way, the reimager coaches
her. It warns her against talking to it at school, where it is wishes to appear as just
another synth-pet. It's aware the school's wifi blockers will keep it fom texting her
once they get inside, and makes her promise to fetch it and bring it out with her dur
ing lunch. There's a list of people she's allowed t smile at. When she gets shoved in
the hall, she is not, uder any circumstances, to drop her books. She's not allowed to
cry either. That one's easy. She's gotten good at not crying.
Nancy's school is Thompson Middle, an exclusive, merit-based middle school with
a technical focus. It's the school her father went to but for him, it was different. He
actually passed the entrance exams. Nancy's entrance exam was a sizable donation
and a handshake. Everyone knows it. She misses grade school, where she could fade
into the clean, brightly lit hallways and imagine she didn't exist. Thompson is a mul
ti-storied brick building, with state of the art equipment and peeling paint. Her dad's
money bought the school a full software update and repaired the leak in room 34-C.
Like every moring, the students gather in companionable clumps on the lawn.
Many of them have synth-pets, which the student council recently voted t allow. The
teachers don't seem happy with the new rule, but they're the ones bragging about
student-centered leadership. The reimager, which sits on Nancy's shoulder, doesn't
look unusual. There's a second where she wonders if it might work, if someone will
tur and smile at her as they've never done before. But 00 one looks her way.
She hurries inside, not staring at her feet like she usually would, because the
reimager doeso't like that. One of the boys from her homeroom tries to trip her as
she climbs the stairs, but the reimager taps her neck with its tail and sends a warn
ing text. She gets inside without making a fool of herself and feels a wash of grati
tude toward her father.
After fetching her school tablet fom her locker, Nancy debates putting the reim
ager in her coat pocket. It'll get taken away if she's caught with it in class, but she
likes the idea of having it close. In the end she leaves it, and it doesn't seem to mind.
She makes it to lunch almost without incident. There's a point where the mathe
matics teacher asks her a question and everyone laughs at her fumbled answer, but
that's minor compared to what she's used to. The reimager is wating for her, its tail
wrapped around its feet, its eyes lighting her locker with a faint green glow. She sets
40 Kelly Sandoval
it carefully on her shoulder, where it purrs with imitation contentment. Together,
they head out onto the lawn, beyond the school's wifi blockers.
Even in spring, with the sod feshly laid, the grass is patchy and brown. The school
uses a green certified recycled drip system, but water is water. Nancy likes to sit
near the fence, where the desert presses against the grass, and the tickhsh smell of
sagebrush hangs on the air. But the reimager has other ideas, and they settle under
a timid stick of a tree, still supported by stakes on both sides.
They're close enough to where Lydia and her vicious, pretty clique sit that Nancy
can hear their laughter. She assumes it's about her. She recognizes Dora Jefferson at
the edge of the circle. Dora is a floater, welcome in a number of the tight little
cliques, and even Nancy likes her. She isn't mean, the way the others are. Instead
she doesn't seem to see Nancy at all, and invisibility has become the best thing Nan
cy dares to hope for.
Too nervous t eat her lunch, Nancy trows bits of pita into te grass and watches as
the little brown wrens that patrol the school yard debate over whether it's safe to stal
them. Unlike a true synth-pt, which would have pounced awkwardly at the birds, the
reimager seems more interested in exploring. It jumps from Nancys shoulder with a
stiff lack of grace and prowls toward the girls talking only five meters away.
She snatches for it, whispers, "No, get back here."
ADDRESSING ME AT SCIIOOL IS UNADVISED, it texts her. It doesn't stop.
The girls don't seem to notice it at first. Theyre all watching Lydia's synth-parrot,
whch has bright purple feathers and really flies. It repeats whatever they say, and
they are feeding it progressively dirtier words. Nancy can just hear it fom her tree.
"Cock," it says. "Cock, cock, cock."
The reimager reaches Cleo, whose straight, black hair and excellent test scores are
only half as memorable a her glare, which Nancy senses constantly. Cleo calls Nan
cy"Daddy's little retard" when Lydia isn't around to take offense. Lydia's little broth
er has issues, though no one seems to know what they are. Everyone says he's so
sweet, that Lydia is so good with him, a real saint. Lydia certainly looks the part
with her tired smiles and sad brown eyes. She calls Nancy "poor, stupid, rich girl,"
which feels the same as what Cleo says, in the end.
Nancy starts to get up. She has to grab it before they notice, before they realize
she's such a loser her dad had his company build a robot to fix her. But the reimager
is already at Cleo's knee. It bumps into her and falls over, twitching and giving off
little electric mews of pain. Cleo, who doesn't have a synth-pet, pokes it with her sty
lus, her lips twisting into a sneer.
"Whose trash?" she asks. Her gaze finds Nancys pained expression and she pokes
it again. "Oh, ew. Come get your reject, reject."
Eyes fixing firmly on her feet, Nancy stands. "Sorry." She can only mumble the
"Don't be a bitch, Cleo."The way Dora says it, the words painted in laughter, every
one mirrors her smile. She picks up the reimager, and it twitches in her hands, still
making the same high, hurting noise. "Poor thing. It probably just needs t be reset."
She presses the base of the rei mager's skull and it stops moving.
Nancys surprised by her own relief, which lasts exactly as long as it takes for a
new text to flash across her lenses. Do NOT WORRY. SAY: THK YOU, DORA.
''Thank you, Dora." She lifs her head again, because she knows she's supposed to,
and tries not to notice the anger behind Cleo's fozen smirk.
''No problem. I love synth-pets. Haven't seen that one before." Dora has a rushed,
coltiding way of talking that matches the sparkles of her cheap bracelets and gum
ball machine rings. "Is it from a kit? Did you make it?"
"Of course she did," Cleo says. "Everyone knows she sucks at programming."
Everyone Will Wonl One 41
September 201 4
Nancy can't force the words out. Her gaze fa11s to her shoes.
"It's true," says Nancy, though she doesn't smile. "'I'm not very good."
"Nah, programming's easy. I don't know anyone who can't learn it, right, Lydia?"
Dora says.
Lydia, lying on her back, synth-parrot on her fist, doesn't glance over. "Sure," she
says. And the parrot says, "Sure, sure, sure."
"See?" This is apparently as much support as Dora needs. ". tutored Lydia. I can
tutor you too, if you like. I've got an opening."
Nancy already has a tutor, and it hasn't helped. She makes herself nod. "That'd be
great," she says. "There's that test on Friday."
"No problem, we'l1 meet online tonight. Seven?"
"Cool, I'll message you." Dora turs back to her friends ad Nancy is glad for the
chance to get away.
She retreats to the fence, ignoring the reimager's objections, and looks out over the
desert, pretending she can't feel the continued weight of Cleo's hostile curiosity.
"I don't need a tutor," she whispers.
It stretches each limb, twitches it tail, and climbs back up to her shoulder. You
Nancy waits online that night, sure Dora won't show. But, right at seven, Dora is
there, smiling. She's energetic but patient with Nancy's fumbling. When she teases,
it's gentle enough that they both laugh. They meet twice online, and on the Thurs
day before the test, Dora invites herself over. Nancy wars her father, who doesn't
care, then follows the reimager's script, putting the number for pizza by the phone
where she'll be sure to find it, and uncleaning her room.
''Wow,'' says Dora, as she walks in, and Nancy wonders what she sees. "Big. 1 mean,
that's not bad. Doesn't have to be. But it kinda feels like it's gonna bite you, doesn't
it? Something about open spaces. They've got teeth."
Nancy has no idea what any of that means, but she nods like she does, and they
retreat to her room, where Dora seems more comfortable.
They don't study much. They eat pizza and watch the internet videos that the
reimager picked out.
''You should bring this one to school," Dora says, a the unicor stumbles over her
shoes. "It's neat.
"It's a kid's toy," Nancy says, embarrassed by its flashing ruby mane and golden
''hey're all kid's toys. Even your kitten." Dora stretches out on her back and the
unicor begins to canter around her. "Besides, they can be fun to reprogram. You ever
Nancy shakes her head and Dora seems to think that's enough of an invitation for
a lesson. She's outlining the basics and suggesting tutorials before Nancy can even
try to be disinterested. By the time Dora winds down, it actually does sound f. She
wants to say so, to ask questions, but the reimager isn't giving her any and she's
afraid to try one of her ow.
''We should hang out more." Dora says, concluding her lecture. "Not for studying, I
mean. Just to hang out. Of course, I like studying here. Your place is so quiet."
Nancy who hasn't forgotten that she's payig Dora for her time, shrugs. "I mea
it," says Dora. "Don't shrug at me, you'll hurt my feelings."
42 Kelly Sandoval
THT SOUNDS GREAT, prompts the reimager.
'That sounds great." Nancy finds another kitten video and starts it. "Just tell me
Dora doesn't, hut that's all right. ancy doesn't expect her to.
She gets a B+ on the test, two full letter grades up from her last score. When Dora
hears, she hugs her, and insists on sitting with her at lunch. It's nice having someone
to talk to, and Dora doesn't seem to notice the way that Nancy pauses, waiting for
the reiager to feed her lines.
Two days later, Dora catches Nancy eating alone and drags her to Lydia's group,
ignoring the protests Nancy makes against the reimager's better judgment.
"Oh, come on," says Cleo.
'COon't worry." Dora mimes a kick in Cleo's direction. "They're mostly not bitches."
''I wouldn't say that; says Lydia. But she doesn't tell Nancy to go.
By the end of the next week, even Cleo talks to her.
You're right, you know," she says, catching Nancy cleaning up her locker at the
end of the day. "She can be."
Nancy touches her coat pocket, where the reimager sits. It twitches against her
fingers and she tries t tur the shape of that movement into words. "It's just how it
seems," she says, trying to match Cleo's smile.
"She thinks she's better than the rest of us. Bith."
It can only be Lydia. "Bitch," Nancy echoes, finding more anger behind the word
than she expects,
''Well, don't tell Lydia. Dora's totally got her fooled. Helps her watch that freak
brother of hers."
Nancy doesn't say anything. Not even when she feels the sharp puncture of her
reimager's teeth on her finger.
"Anyway," Cleo says, "See you at lunch."
"See you," Nancy turs back to her bag, reananging her folders alphabetically by
color. It's something to do.
On the walk home, she nUrses her bleeding finger, and the reimager refuses to
apologize for any of it.
"You can't just do that. You can't pretend to be me."
"It's my purpose. I moderate and control your network to better promote your suc-
"And that means sending Cleo nasty emaiJs about Dora?"
'II Hke Dora! She's nice." Of course, that's the problem with her, Dora hasn't come
over since the first time. She's been very nice about not coming over, but it's not like
ancy hasn't noticed.
"Niceness is not socially efficient. Dora Jefferson is resented by a number of her
peers. She will be easy to sever from her prinary network."
"But we don't want that!"
"Every network has a point of maxmum expansion. To integrate new members,
previous members must be severed." The even, measured tones of the reimager are
as reasonable as they are infuriating. Nancy cups her hands around it, imagines
throwing it int the brush for the lizards and snakes. It rubs against her fingers, al
most like a reaJ synth-pet. She knows she won't do it.
"1 want you t leave her alone." She likes how she sounds, like she believes it'll lis
ten to her. "Pick someone else. Pick Cleo."
"Other targets are suboptimal. They will become negatively inclined toward your
success. Dora Jefferson wilJ remain neutral."
"Then just leave everyone alone. Leave me alone! I don't even like this," It's a little
Everyone Will Wonl One 43
September 201 4
true. She hates remembering her lines, faking smiles, skipping breakfast and only
pretending to eat dinner. But she likes how no one pushes her, and it's nice, not sit
ting alone.
"Canceling routines now would lead t negative responses across the network. You
would bcome an active target. Violence likely."
They've reached the house, and Nancy paces up and down the long curving drive
way, kicking the stones fom the landscaping back into place. She tries not to believe
the reimager. but flinches at the memory of old bruises.
Dora is smart, Nancy tells herselr. She doesn't need help the way Nancy does.
Doesn't need fiends the way Nancy does.
She doesn't tell the reimager to go afer Dora. She just heads into the house, pre
tending the argument never happened.
The reimager takes no more time than necessary. It sends messages, some from
ancy, some anonymous, some cleverly disguised as being from people who had nev
er written them. EventuaUy, a nasty letter comes to light and no one believes Dora
when she says she didn't write it.
"You don't actually believe rd say that, do you?" Dora catches Nancy a she's walk
ing home, running up beside her and reaching for her arm. Nancy pulls away, keep
ing a space between them.
''Who else could have?" Nancy asks, and she can almost pretend she doesn't know
the answer. "1 can't talk to you anymore."
Dora doesn't push it, and Nancy walks on without apologizing. The reimager purrs
in her ear, an approxmation of contentment.
With Dora gone, the group gets meaner, and Nancy worries she's traded one sort of
danger for another. It's Cleo that starts coming to her defense, making a pet of her.
ancy knows it's because of all the clever, nasty things the reimager writes, but she
lets it happen. She can sit on the edges, not even listening, parroting the rei mager's
texts, and everyone lets her be.
They still say things about her, in texts and private messages, but the reimager
traces those too, reads them back to her at night, so that she knows who to smile at
the next morning. She stops leaving it in her locker. keeps it in her coat pocket,
reaching for it during class and trying to turn the twitch of an ear or the sharp point
of a claw into meaning.
It tells her she's happier than she's ever been, and shows her the numbers t prove
it. Sometimes, she feels so nervous her stomach knots, and it turs out that's a good
thing. The reimager keeps a running tally of everything she eats, and if she goes over
the number of calories it aHows her, she has to spend the next day fasting. Hunger
fuzzes the edges of her thoughts, but the reimager never lets her score below a 90 on
her homework, so it doesn't really matter whether the problems lose what little
sense they temporarily gained.
Even so, she misses Dora, who could turn a string of numbers into reason. Dora
doesn't seem to miss anyone. She floated easily into a new group, and if she notices
the way Lydia and her clique glare, she doesn't let it show. She still smiles at them,
though she doesn't try t stop and talk. Nancy hears her laughing sometimes, an ea
ger, open sound, and wonders what that feels like. The reimager has her practice
laughing but never seems pleased with the results.
At night, it curls up on her pillow and reads her the statistics of her own popular
ity, the soft drone of its uninflected voice lulling her to sleep.
Occasionally her father tel1s her to download updates, but the reimager never
changes much. He quizzes her about its performance, and she tells h it's great, she
loves it. It's what it tells her to say.
On the moring after an update, she rolls over to stroke it and it doesn't rise to
44 Kelly Sandoval
meet her hand. It sits on her pillow, still ad stif, failing to pretend at life. Its eyes
are open, glowing green, but it doesn't track her finger.
''What's wrong?"
"Processing," it says, a thin thread of sound. It repeats the word again a few sec
onds later, and then again.
Nancy waits, not leaving her bed. She's afaid to get dressed. What i she's supposed
to wear slacks and she picks a skirt? She's not supposed to get ready on her own.
"Wake up." She shakes it this time.
It continues its chant, not even scolding her for the tears running down her face.
"C'mon," she whispers. "C'mon. I need you."
She doesn't go to school. She cleans her room, reorganizes her closet. She goes
through the fridge and throws out everything the reimager has told her not to eat.
She wants to check the internet, see what's being said about her. But the reimager
has told her she's not to do anything social unaccompanied.
She calls her dad at work, and when he doesn't answer, calls again and again and
"What is it?" he snaps, picking up the phone on her fifth attempt. "You're supposed
to be at school."
"The reimager. It's broken. You have to fix it."
"You broke it?"
''No.'' She holds it curled against her chest, waiting for it to whisper the words that
will let her explain. "ltjust keeps saying processing. You have to fix it."
"Don't be hysterical," he growls. She cringes, folding in on herself, a posture that
the reimager would hate. "It must be the update. It worked fine on the newer test
models here. Well, I guess that proves what we were saying about the new processor.
Wit the amount of data these things handle-"
"Dad," she says, daring to interrupt. "I need it."
"Don't you think you've outgrown it?"
She shakes her head. It doesn't occur to her that he can't see her.
''Fine." The word holds more disgust than agreement. "You do seem to be acting out
less. I'll see about getting you another, but it will take a few weeks. The new models
aren't ready."
"I can't wait."
"Dammit, Nancy. I am at work. l don't have time t listen to you throw a fit. You're
lucky I gave you that one."
He hangs up.
She peels back the fur by its neck, thinking to restart it. She's worried it might
hurt it somehow, to restart right in the middle of whatever it's doing. But when she
finally finds the courage to hold down the button until its eyes flash and fade, it
doesn't help. It wakes, takes a single step, then freezes again.
Frustrated, she tugs at the patch of fr. It peels further, revealing a slim port. She
finds a corresponding cord and connects the reimager to her computer, thiking of
Dora's lesson on reprogramming synth-pets. She remembers none of it, and the reim
ager remains still.
Nancy refuses to leave her room for dinner. Without the reimager to count, she
doesn't know how much to eat. She spends the night with her head buried under her
piUow, trying not to hear the reimager repeat itself endlessly. It's still fozen the next
morning and she knows she can't go to schooL When her dad tries to drag her from
bed, she vomits thin liquid on his shoes. Ater the screaming, he's willing to accept
that she's sick. None of her fiends call her. Maybe they leave her messages online,
but she doesn't check. If the reimager were awake it wouldn't read her the messages
Everyone Will Wonl One 45
September 201 4
they sent her. It would read her the ones they sent t each other, the nasty rwuors
they were starting.
She waits until just before the end of schol before calling Dora. She's already thrown
clean clotes on the bedroom floor and ordered pizza. It's the reimagers pattern, hut
she knows it would be unhappy about Dora. She doesn't know what else t do.
She waits in the closet, curled up with the reimager beside hel, The doorbell rings
twice before she hears it. She hurries to answer, ashamed of her hope
The pizza guy
has to come. It won't be Dora.
But it is.
"Look, Nancy, what's this about? You can't just cryan my voicemail and expect me
to come running," Dora says, her expression a tight line that melts into concer.
"Nancy? Are you okay?"
She shakes her head, her tongue caught tight between her teeth. She's not sup
posed to talk to Dora.
Dora grabs her by the arm, shakes he .
gently, "Nancy. Talk to me. Tell me what's
wrong. Did Cleo do something? What happened?"
Nancy likes orders. They're so easy to understand. "The reimager, it's broken. T
don't know how to fix it. I don't know what to do. I thought maybe you would know
how to make it better again."
Keeping one hand on her arm, Dora leads her to the living room, and Nancy crum-
ples onto the couch, its leather crisp with lack of use.
'What's a reimager?"
Nancy holds it out to her, hardly hearing its unending refain, and Dora takes it.
"Your synth-pet?"
''Tell me what that means."
Nancy tells her everything. How it takes care of her. How it knows what she
should say. How it cut her into Lydia's group and cut Dora away The pizza arrives,
and Dora gets plates and cups and serves them both.
''You c eat," says Dora. Nancy is hungry enough to pretnd she doesn't know bettr.
"You want me to fix it?" Dora asks, afer the last stuttering words have torn them
selves from Nancy in an unscripted mess.
Nancy's on her third slice of pizza, full to the point of sickness. Greasy fingerprints
spot the white coach. She wonders who will be angrier, the reimager or her father.
She thinks the reimager. It has worked so much harder on her.
"I need it," she says.
" Look, Nancy. I think the nicest thing I could do is leave it broken. But I don't
know that I like you that much."
''You never did."
Dora laughs, a harsher sound than Nancy has known. "Well, I liked you enough to
stop them picking on you. It's better than you did for me."
"You like everyone that much, though. I liked you for reaL"
' didn't know you for real. I only knew your stupid toy."
"You only ever noticed me because of it."
Dora prods the reimager, which sits between them now. "You could have done that
for y

use)f, just by saying h." But she doesn't sound sure, so Nancy doesn't bother
"You know they'll hate me again," she says.
"It's not so bad. You can find other friends." She rests her fingers on Nancy's wrist,
leaving a pizza sauce thumbprint. "1 can be your friend."
Nancy's laughter has more than an edge of hysteria and after a second, Dora
starts laughing too.
46 Kelly Sandoval
"For real," Dora says. "I like this you."
"1 don't." Nancy picks up the reimager and pushes it into Dora's hands. "Don't like
me. Fx it."
"Let me finish my pizza."
After pizza, they clean the living room together. Then there's nothing lett to do but
go to Nancy's room. Dora sits in front of the computer, plugs in the reimager, and
starts typing. Nancy sits at her feet. Watching, she can almost remember the things
Dora tried to teach her.
It doesn't take a long as Nancy expects.
"All right." Dora turs from the computer and unplugs the reimager. "That'll fix it
for awhile. But I had to reset it completely. It's blank. No updates, no information on
anyone. Just the basic programming."
''What do I do?"
"Whatever it says, apparently. No. That's mean. Look, it's up to you. You start it
running like it was before, it'll be back to normal in a day and you can start feeding
everyone poison again. It should last until your dad ca get you a newer one."
The reimager is silent now. Its eyes glow but there's nothing behind them. It could
be any synth-pet. Nancy squeezes its paw and presses the needles of its claws
against her skin.
"Statistically," she says, "I'm as happy as I've ever been."
''eah. I don't think it knows what happy means. It'll happy you right into a psych
hospital at this rate."
Before the reimager, aney's dreams were full of razors. Now, she doesn't dream
at all. "It's doing its best," she says. "At least I'm not getting shoved down the stairs."
"Look," Dora says, not meeting Nancy's eyes. "I know it's hard. But if you can twist
yourself into one shape, why not another? You can change without tung into Cleo."
"So, what, I should be youT'
"Sure, as long as you're the one doing it. You've been letting a robot program you."
"It knows the rules."
''Rules change. We change them. We're doing it now. You're talking to me. I'm not
hating you." Dora says the last like it's a compliment. Nancy thinks maybe it is.
"I still need it," she says, shame making her mumble.
''Fine,'' Dora says. "You want your monster, it learns fast. Plug it back into your
networks. It'll figure out those rules again."
After Dora leaves, Nancy sits with the dormant reimager on her lap. Her finger
strokes the power button. It's blank, Dora told her. Wiped clean. Waiting to relearn
the rules.
She presses the button. It stretches in her hand, still beautifl and not quite grace-
"I'm Nancy," she says.
"Signal found," it answers. "Password needed."
"Not yet," she says. "Do you remember me?"
"No N aney in records."
''You like me," she says. ''You don't think I'm dumb, even though 1 need to study
harder. You like people, and think we need to be nicer to each other."
"Analyzing," it says.
"You tell me stories every night. My best friend's name is Dora. But I'm going to
make others."
She hears the front door open and cringes at the sound of her father's irritated
voice, calling her name.
"Sometimes," she says, "I'm scared. But we get through it. We're going to be all
right." 0
Everyone Will Wonl One 47
Rick Wi lber
Rick Wilber is the editor of the anthology. Field of Fantasies:
Baseball Tales of the Strange and Superatural. which will
be out in October from Night Shade. The book features
reprints of classic baseball fantasy stories from some of the
best mainstream and SF writers. The author's new tale about
a troubled baseball scout and an intriguing stranger seems
to be a perfect candidate for the collection.
Hobert Johnson had a newspaper and a freshly mixed mojito in front of him and
he was enjoying them both. The mojito, his third of the evening. was rumheavy and
cold and delicious. The newspaper, El Vocero, had a sports story about last night's fi
nal ballgame of the season for the Islanders, and went into great detail about the
towering walkoffhome run that Aloysius Stevens-Arce had hit to win the game and
the Double-A pennant for the I's. No need for a fourth game in the best-of-five.
Robert had been there and been impressed by the Stevens-Arce kid, who'd done it
again like he'd done it all season. A soon as Robert had gotten back to the hotel he'd
written up the game notes. This moring he'd put it aU together and sent in his rec
La Bodeguita in Old San Juan on a warm September evening was turning out to
be exactly the right place for Robert to celebrate his job well done. He'd emailed the
recommendations about ten A.M. to Teddy Driscoll, the farm director for the Peli
cans, and a few hours later he'd received an email back from Driscoll saying good
things about the report and asking Robert to come to St. Pete for a meeting about
his future with the club. That kind of news deserved a mojito or three; so Robert was
taking the day ofT, walking around to see the sights before tomorrow morning's
flight home to St. Pete.
La Bodeguita wasn't air conditioned, but there was a nice breeze coming in olTthe
water and the faded green shutters and louvers were all wide open to welcome the
cooler air, so the heat wasn't too bad. Plus, the long summer of scouting at minor
league games in ballparks all over the steamy South and here in Puerto Rico had
gotten Robert used to the warmth. He could take it. In fact, at the moment he felt
like he could take about anything baseball was dishing out, what with the future fi
nally looking as bright as that glint of the setting sun off the cobalt sea.
He was alone at a table by the window. Outside, the cobblestoned streets,
wrought-iron balconies, and cool pastel colors of the old quarter headed off to the left
on Calle Coqui. To the right was a low railing and beyond that the wharves and sea
walls and the beauty orthe open Atlantic, distant breakers over the reef line adding
a low background susurrus to the chatter of the street vendors as they bargained
with the turistas and locals who strolled along the narrow sidewalks.
It was damn beautifl is what it was: the muted pinks and oranges of the stuccoed
two-story buildings, the smell of the mofongo cooking over a dozen stoves in nearby
homes and cafetines, the cold bite of the mojito, the rhythm and harmony of the
Spanish rattling alaround h. He liked Puerto Rico, did Robert Johnson, he liked it
a lot. Hell, he was even putting his high-school Spanish to work reading the local pa
pers and picking up a little conversational phrase here and there. He was thinking
now, sipping again on that mojito, that he should come here sometime soon for a Jit
tie vacation, a little getaway; maybe spend some time with mojitos on the beach in
stead of at the rattletrap-charming, sure, but rattletrap-ballpark, Estadio Hiram
8itholO, the name honoring the first Puerto Rican t play in the big leagues.
There'd been a lot of others since, hundreds of them, a lot of them big stars like Vic
Power and Carlos Beltran and Roberto Alomar and Orlando Cepeda and the biggest
star of them all, Robert Clemente.
And now Robert Johnson, failed pitcher and failed coach who'd finally found his
place in the game as a scout, was convinced that he'd found the next Clemente, the
next Big Thing, the next phenom fom Puerto Rico; Aloysius Stevens-Arceo he of the
great swing and the golden glove and the amazing arm. Nineteen years old but
ready now, ready right now, is what Robert had said in that wrap-up he'd sent to Ted
dy Driscoll. Aloysius didn't need any more Double-A ball playing for the San Juan
Islanders or even the Pel's Triple-A club in Buffalo. Aloysius was ready for the Show
right now.
Robert sat back in his chair, sipped on what was left of that third mojito, and
turned the paper over to look at the front page. "lDONDE ESTAN?" the big headline
screamed across the top of the front page, with the rest of ti,e page taken up by that
famous color pic from the day the aliens crash-landed in a corfield in Illinois ten
years back. Fifty of them; thin, gawky things all spindly arms and legs. Tall, some
with that blond hair famously trailing down their backs, others bald. All of them
somehow surviving the crash that destroyed their spacecraf. All of them standing
there, patient, waiting, until the authorities showed up to meet them. First contact,
the initial videos and stills taken by a twelve-year-old who'd been riding his bicycle
down a farm road when there'd come a huge explosion ahead of h, smack in the
middle of the sweet-corn field that was stubble after the harvest just a week before.
The kid, Matt Weaver, son of Joseph and Angela Weaver of Hamel, Illinois, older
brother to the extremely obnoxious nine-year-old Arielle Weaver, had a smartphone
and a Kidz account and so before the Feds could arrive, young Matt had shown the
world what aliens look like and there was no taking that back.
The kid was famous for that, and Robert wondered, looking at the cover photo and
working his way through the story, what Matt was doing these days. He'd be twenty
two by now, done with high school and college and making his way in the world. Was
he back on the farm in Hamel, Illinois? Was he still a local hero? He'd been an inter
national sensation for a month or two and then he'd disappeared from the news,
right along with the interest in the aliens. A a kid, he had posted the video, so there
was no denying that fifty gawky visitors fom somewhere else had been standing in
that field. But afer that it all got hazy.
Little Mattie got to visit Scott Air Force Base, just thirty miles away, and that's
where the aliens went, too, before they disappeared into the bowels of a worried Air
Force. And what happened afer that? Mattie came home, the government said the
visitors were friendly and that afer all the safety concers were met they'd be free to
do whatever aliens did when they had crash-landed on a half-civilized planet. The
world waitd, and then waited some more, and then came an earthquake in China
Scouling Reporl 49
September 201 4
and Hurricane Tracy's epic destruction of the Gulf Coast and all the news that's fit
to print and nothing more about the aliens and what they were and where they
Robert shook his head. They were all probably dead. Or in some huge cave in
Nevada, being forced to share the secrets of the universe. Or something. There was
no way to hide them if they were out in public, aU those seven-footers with funny el
bows and knees and those triangular faces and that odd stride. No, they were locked
up somewhere, or hiding out on their own.
He turned back to the sports page and read some more about Aloysius Stevens
Arce. There were some nice quotes in the interview the sportswriter had done with
the kid afer that final game of the season. Hejust wanted to play ball, that's all. He
just hoped to keep moving up through the farm system. He understood he wasn't
ready yet for the big club, but he hoped to be at the next level soon. Step by step, he
said, "Paso a paso."
"Paso a paso," mumbled Robert, echoing the sentiment. His glass was empty and
he was thinking that called for another mojito when a hand holding exactly that
came down from over his shoulder and set the drink in front of him and when he
looked up a woman was there.
l'May I join you?" she asked as she pulled out the chair that was next t him and
sat down. She was carrying her own mojito, and she leaned over and clinked hers to
his new one and said, "Chin chin, Mr. Johnson," and gave him a little nod of her head
and a long, slow wink.
"Do I know you?" he asked. She was medium height, medium build, light brown
hair, a pleasant face, wearing brown shorts and a v-neck pastel T-shirt that said "Is
landers" in script across the font. A baseball fan, then. And about as nondescript as
they come. He might have seen her a dozen times, a hundred times, at the ballpark
and he wouldn't have noticed her.
lCes," she said, "e've chatted a few times at the Islanders games. In passing, you
know; harmless talk about the team and the players. Like you, I love baseball." She
was speaking English, and unaccented, like she was from the Midwest maybe, or
worked in radio or television and had learned how to flatten out her inflections. He
didn't recall the conversations she was talking abut, but then a lot of people stopped
by from time to time to say hello to him. Very friendly, these Puerto Ricans.
She reached out her hand to shake his. He took it and they shook politely. Her grip
was sof. "My name is Escuela."
She nodded. "Yes, it's a long story. I was born in a Puerto Rican school building, in
He reached over to get the mojito. "This for me?" he asked, and then took a sip.
Good stuf.
"Yes," she said, "that's for you, :. Johnson. And mayb we'll have another one, too?
Vou know the mojito is a Cuban drink, yes?"
"Sure," he said, "Cuban."
"And that this bar, La Bodeguita, is named after the one in Cuba, yes? The one that
Hemingway liked so much."
"Sure," he said, "Hemingway. And I bet he liked mojitos, t, right?"
"Yes, he did," she said, smiling. "Can I lure you with rojitos so we can talk base
ball, and talk about Aloysius Stevens-Arce?"
Robert laughed, took another sip, set the drink down. ''You don't need to ply me
with liquor to get me to talk about that kid, Escuela. He's a hell of a player."
She leaned over, pushed his mojito a little closer to h, said, "He's very talented.
But you've noticed, I think, that he's a little wall shy."
50 Rick Wilber
He smiled. The mojito, he thought, was a very attractive drink. Slices oflime; some
mint leaves; club soda; ice; two or three ounces of nice, light rum, Appleton if they
had it, but anything would do. Refreshing in the heat. He took a sip. Nice. He sat
back. So that's what this was about. An "expert" from the stands wanted to get him
drunk and then explain baseball to the dumb 01' scout from Florida.
"I like these mojitos," he said, holding up the drink and smiling. "Nice and cool, the
mint and the lime."
She smiled at him.
"Look, he's a terrific centerfielder, Escuela. He's got a great arm, he covers a lot of
territory out there, has a great glove, good footspeed. He has all the tools."
"His vision is twentytwenty, M. Johnson. Do you know how poor that is for a pro
fessional baseball player?"
Robert stared at her. "Twentyhventy vision is fine, Escuela."
She was catching the bartender's eye, got him and signaled for more rojitos. "The
average in the major leagues is twentythirteen, M. Johnson. And the best center
fielders, the great ones, have twentynine or even twentyeight vision. That's at the
physical limit of your human eye."
"I've been watching him all season, Escuela; seems t me he's of and running at
the sound of the ball off the bat."
She nodded. "Exactly." The bartender was coming around the bar with two more
mojitos. She waited for him to get to them, set them on the table, smile, and head
back to the bar. "The thing is, Mr. Johnson, hearing that sound takes a fraction of a
second more . "
"Look," he interrupted. He'd met fans like her before. Knowitalls full ofstats and
videos and charts and graphs and convinced they had the infonnation that would
change everything for a player, or a team, or, perhaps, a scout. She'd been following
him around, waiting for this moment so she could pitch her idea to him, some grand
scheme that would make the kid better i only someone would listen. But there was
no use getting mad over it, this sort of thing came with the job. Hell, people like her
paid the feight for the whole damn game. Her with her stats and her twentyeight
vision and all that crap; her and her fiends online arguing and watching videos and
going to the ballpark and caring-really caring-about the game is what paid the
bills for the whole system. Including, he thought through a slightly foggy mojito
haze, his salary. Play nice, he said to himself.
He finished of the mojito while she waved for another, one finger up since hers
was still full. ''Thing is," he said, "I really appreciate you information, Escuela, and
I'll pass it on to the farm director, all right? Maybe they can get him LASIK eye
surgery or something, help improve that eyesight."
"And that's why he's wall shy, Mr. Johnson. That late start." She was waving at the
bartender and got a nod in retur. Keep them coming. "Here, let me show you," she
said, opening her purse and pulling out her phone. "I have it all ready to go. Just
watch." She touched the screen and handed him the phone.
He took it from her and there, on the tiny screen, was a highlight reel of Aloysius
Stevens-Arce making deep catches in center. The quality of the footage was damn
good, so Rbert wondered if she'd taken these with the smartphone. He watched as a
pitcher came in with a fastball and the hitter-number fortytwo in a Mobile Bay
Bears uniform, so that was Jorge Rodriguez-ripped it to left center, the ball carry
ing and going deep.
Aloysius StevensArce in center looked to Robert like he was moving pretty good,
damn it, but maybe,just maybe, there was a moment's hesitation. But no matter, he
was turning and at full speed in two or three steps-man, the kid could accelerate
heading away from the infield at full speed, turing his head back once to keep an
Scouling Reporl 51
September 201 4
eye on the baU, finding it, keeping that head turned and running hard, running
hard . . ."
Escuela reached over and hit the pause button. "Now watch. As he gets another
step or two toward the wall he eases up, that's all it takes,just a litle easing up, and
then he won't quite get t the ball and won't have to deal with that wall. The ball will
bounce of the wall, halfay up, and come back to hit the warng track. Aloysius will
catch that cleanly afer one hop and will turn and throw to second. Too late. It's a
standup double for Rodriguez."
She reached over to touch the start button and the video began again and, damn
it, there was that easing hack a couple of steps later. It was subtle, a slight easing
that Robert would never have noticed if she hadn't prompted him; but there it was.
He'd never have seen it from the stands. Aloysius could have made it to the wall,
could have made the catch though he'd have had to make some contact with that
wall to do it. Could have. Should have.
"Shit/' he said. "'How many videos like this do you have?"
"Four more. Alseason long it's been a problem for him. It starts with his eyesight, I
think, when he gets a poor jump on te ball, and then it gets in his head fom there."
''What do you do for a living, Escuela? You're a reporter, right? Loking for a story?"
llI'm a lawyer, Mr. Johnson. For Seruicios Legales. Legal Services, you know?"
So maybe that was it, she's a do-gooder, he thought. Hell, that was better than be
ing some sportswriter. So, "What's that got to do with baseball?" he asked her.
She smiled. "Not too much. But my father, my brothers, they all played. They had
dreams, you kow? But it didn't work out forthem. Talent, maybe yes; but not the drive."
Yeah, Robert thought, he knew all about that. He could even admit it to himself
when he'd had enough to drink.
"Me, too," she added. "1 played, 1 had my dreams. 1 could out hit all the boys. Out
run them. Had a better arm. And then in high school they made me stop, told me to
play soccer, or run track or cross-country with all my speed and endurance. They'd
pat me on the back and then kick me out the door."
She took a small sip of her mojit. "That didn't sound good to me, it wasn't what I
wanted. But, you know," she shrugged. "'So I had good grades. I went to college. I
studied. I worked hard. Some bad times, some very bad times came my way; but
then, a couple of years ago, things got better and I'm okay. I'm good, in fact."
She smiled at him. "Always, through the bad times and the good ones, there's been
beisb6l, Mr. Johnson. Always. I know the game. I know it even better than I know
how to help people when they get into trouble, you know? And now here I am."
All right, all right. She's smart, and has an idea of how the game is played. Fine.
Treat her with respect, man. "Does Aloysius know he's easing up like that, do you
She shrugged. "Maybe not. Maybe it's so ingrained, so deep, that he doesn't control
it. Could be."
"But ifhis eyesight is so bad how come he's hitting .335 with all those dingers?"
She smiled. "Because it's Double-A and he hasn't faced the real thing yet. He is pa
tient, so in Double-A he waits for his pitch and usually, two or three times a game, he
gets it. In the zone, up, inside so he can get around on it even with that late start to
his swing, and there you go, .335 for the season."
Jesus Christ, Robert thought, this poor-man's-lawyer of a woman might be right.
She was smiling, finally taking a long sip on her mojito. Smiling, while Robert puz
zled through the implications, thinking of that recommendation he'd just sent to Ted
dy Driscoll. Shit.
Somehow there was another mojito in font or him, and a smiling bartender. Thing
was, he needed to sober up now, get a grip.
52 Rick Wilber
The lawyer woman, Escuela, was smiling at him, then leaning over to grab the news
paper, El Vocero, turing to te front page, looking at the picture of those aliens. "What
do you think of these aliens, Mr. Johnson? Do you think they are still alive somewhere?"
"I don't know," he said. "And if I did know I wouldn't know." He stared down at his
mojito. Was this the third? The fifth? More than that? "J mean, maybe after they
crashed they got picked up by some mother ship and went home?"
"I don't think so; she said. "I think they came here for freedom. I think that ship of
theirs did't crash, it was destroyed by the aliens so no one could find them here, so
the commitment was total. Fletcher Christian, you know, burning the Bounty at Pit
cair Island. You know that story?"
"Sure," he said, lying. Some fuzzy memory of the movie was in the back of his
mind, but aU he could remember was Bligh saying "Mr. Christian!" all the time. They
bured the Bount? Their own ship? What the hell?
"I think they just wanted a new hore, someplace better-a whole lot better-than
the place they were fom."
"Illegal immigrants," Robert managed to say, and also managed to find funny, and
then thought maybe it wasn't funny. maybe it was ofensive. Maybe he'd hurt her
feelings. And she was a lawyer. Oh, god. Amazing thing. really, how you can be very,
very drunk but there's still some part of you, some essential self down at the core
somewhere, that's sober and notices that the rest of you is getting monumentally
tanked and saying stupid things. "Sorry," he added.
But she hadn't even heard him. "I thin they escaped from wherever they were be
ing held, or maybe they made some agreements, traded some technology or some
knowledge, and they wound up with their freedom and away they went, by ones and
twos and threes, out into this world, making their way, trying to be happy, trying to
be safe and fee, maybe staying in touch through that local kid who took their pic
ture. Maybe helping him out."
Real nice. Robert wasn't that drunk. He reached over and tapped the picture on
the font of el peri6dico. "Kinda stand out a little, don't they? All tall and thin like
that, that crazy hair, the funny elbows?"
She took a long drink of her mojito, finishing it of and signaling to the bartender
for another round. Then she pushed Robrt's toward him. He got his hand around it,
brought it up, drank it down, a mint leaf getting caught in his teeth for a moment
until he pulled it out and laughed.
She smiled, reached over to pat his hand. "I don't think that matters, Mr. Johnson,"
she said. "I don't think they're in those bodies anymore; maybe theyve stored them
somewhere. I think they have a need to maybe take over the bodies of certain kinds
of creatures and control them, even improve them. Maybe that allows them to stay
on thi s planet they came to? Maybe it's survival for them? And in return they give
the hosts better hearing and sharper minds, better eyesight. Things like that. Im
prove them, you know?"
She leaned in toward him. "This all makes sense to me. The aliens do this to blend
in and to stay alive; and then they find things they like, things they admire in the
culture, things that fascinate them: politics, science, even sports, you know? And they
take control of a body for a whle to explore those things, to lear, to make things bet
ter. Then they have to leave the body before they do harm, and so they go find a new
one. They like to help. I think this explains things. What do you think?"
He was staring at her.
''What do you think?" she asked again, sitting back to make it easier for the bar
tender to set the drinks down. "It must be hard for them to find just the right body,
the right person to help_ Sometimes that person has a problem that interests them,
something medical perhaps or maybe a problem with drinking, or with drugs. So
Scouling Reporl 53
September 201 4
they help. And I bet that person is happy to be helped. Don't you think they would
be? What do you think? Wouldn't you?"
'1 think I need some fesh air," he said, taking a long drink of the new mojito and sit
ting down and then pushing back his chair and standing, unsteady. "I'm going to go
outside for a few minutes. That okay?" He wasn't sure why he was asking permission.
"Absolutely. Mr. Johnson," she said, rising herself, opening her purse and pulling
out a couple or twenty-dollar bills. She set them on the table, picked up her mojito
and drained it. "Come on, then, we'll go for a little walk, you and me, down by the wa
ter. There's a path there, goes past the wharf and through the mangroves to a little
cove where two paths cross. It's very quiet there. Peaceful. Come on, we can talk."
And she nodded her head; and gave him that long, slow wink as she reached to
take his hand and lead him along, out through the door, down Calle Coqui to the
path toward the beach, and the mangroves, and the cove. Robert Johnson, baseball
scout, drunk and stumbling, went along happily enough.
Below, the blue Atlantic, with Grand Bahama sliding by in the distance. T the lef,
Aloysius Stevens-Arce, aka the phenom, chattering away in SpangLish while Robert
tried to focus through the slowly fading haze of a monumental hangover. Two rows
behind them, in the first row of the economy seats, was Escuela fom the night be
fore. Ahead, Tampa Interational and a limousine that would meet the flight and get
Aloysius and Robert to the Trop for tonight's game with the Orioles, where the phe
nom would be starting i center and hitting fifth, and where Robert Johnson, the
brilliant young scout who claimed the phenom was ready, would be sitting right be
hind the dugout with the vice president for operations and the farm director: all of
them there to watch the phenom be a star, please, and save the day for the Pelicans,
whose regular centerfielder had scored on a play at the plate i the third inning last
night and separated a shoulder in the process.
The phone call had come about eight P.M.,just afer dark, with Robert fumbling to
answer the cell while sitting in the sand in that cove, drunk, with Escuela. It was
Teddy Driscoll, calling from the ballpark, saying bring that kid up here. He's in cen
terfield tomorrow night. I hope he's as good as you say. See you soon.
Escuela had been looking at him as he promised Driscoll that the kid was defi
nitely that good and then tapped the red button on the screen to end the call. "Aloy
sius?" she wanted to know.
''Yeah," Robert had said. "His big chance, tomorrow night against the Orioles."
'Wow," she'd said, and sat back onto the sand, her hands out to support her, facing
the sea, but turing to talk to Robert. "So you'll b taking him up there, I suppose?"
''Yes," he'd said.
She'd nodded. "Okay," she'd said. "His big chance. That's great ror him. And ror you,
"Yeah," he'd said. "For me, t. Sure." But what if she was right about the kid, he'd
thought? Good Christ, what ir she was right?
Robert looked back out the window and took another sip or the Bloody Mary. A cou
ple or these and a lot oribuproren had knocked back the hangover to the point where
it was bearable. Before the phone call fom Driscoll the woman, Escuela, had been
having an odd conversation, something fom her about baseball and freedom and
rules and endless foul lines. "Mr. Johnson," she'd said, "did you ever think of what
you could have been? A coach, perhaps, i the big leagues? A manager, even?"
Had he ever thought about that? Hell. Sure. The missed opportunities. The times
he'd screwed things up. The drinking. Too often, the women. No damn self-control, no
focus, no drive; and he knew it and now here he was, tanked. Again. He took a deep
breath. Shook his head.
54 Rick Wilber
''But what a beautifu thing is baseball, yes?" she said. "Timeless. A whole lifetme of
chances to fail or succed collapsed into a fewhours, and then again and again, day afer
day. It's wonderful, yes? It's no wonder that people fall in love with it. Isn't that right?"
It was a beautiful thing, baseball. So beautiful that here he was, scouting in the
minor leagues. A disappointment. Maybe, hell, a failure. But still in the game.
"If you want," she'd said, "I can help you. I can give you the things that are missing
from your life. You know that, yes?"
He did know it. He'd nodded, yes, and she'd reached out to touch his hair, put her
hand at the back of his neck, spoken softly to him about that better future, about
finding himself in the game, leaned in maybe to kiss him even as he thought about
what she'd said. Back in the dugout again, back in the bigs for real. And then the
phone had chimed take me out to the ballgame. Peanuts and popcor. And he'd an
swered the call fom Driscoll.
Now, at thirtyeight thousand feet over the Gulf Stream, he supposed it had all
been pretty damn silly, right up to the moment when he answered that call and it
was Driscoll talking to h about the phenom, telling him that he'd already called
Aoysius and the traveling secretary had arranged for the firstcJass tickets, so all
Robert had to do was struggle out of bed at five A.M., shave and shower and pack,
and get in the rental car to pick up Aloysius and get them both to the airport. Which
he'd done, with a good half-hour to spare once they got to the gate.
It was there, at the gate when they all got in line to board, that Robert saw Es
cuela. She smiled at him, and gave him that nod and the big wink, and said good
morning as she walked by h on the way t her seat. That was an hour-and two
Bloody Marys-ago.
"I'm starting for the Pelicans. No Lo puedo creer-I can't believe it," Aloysius was say
ing for the thirtieth or fortieth time. "T is it, this is really it." And he downed his
Coke. It was the fourth or fifth one he'd had, along with handfuls of things from the
snack basket the flight attendant kept bringing by: chips, peanuts, Oreos, and repeat.
"Get some rest, kid, all right," Robert said to him for the thirtieth or fortieth time.
"Descansa. You got a long day ahead of you, and a little nap for the next hour
wouldn't be a bad idea, you know."
He was a nice kid. A little fll of himself, but who wouldn't be? This was it, the fu
ture staring him in the face. The Big Day. The Big Leagues. He looked at Robert and
grinned. "Yeah, I know, Robert, I know. Estoy emocionado, you know? I'm just a little
wired, that's all."
Robert nodded. "Sure, of course you are. But you do need some rest. Now's a good
time for that."
''Yeah, yeah, yeah," he said, as the flight attendant came by and took his empty
glass, the empty wrappers, the napkins off his tray table, and then gave him a warm
smile. She knew who he was, so she was a baseball fan. Nice. She'd come by with
something for the kid to autograph later, probably.
Aloysius pushed his tray up, locked it into the seat in front, then eased out of the
seat to stand up. "Necesito ir aL baio, you know? Demasiadas Coca Colas, yes?"
"Sure, kid. You need the bathroom. I wonder why?" But he smiled as he said that.
It was kind of fn, really, seeing how excited the kid was. Ater they landed he'd be
playing it cool, of course, walking into that big, domed ballpark all calm and confi
dent, meeting the other players, sitting down at his locker. All of that stuf, cool and
collected. But here, in the plane on the way to the big day, he was allowed to drink
too much Coke and talk too much. No problem.
Robert watched the kid walk up the aisle to the lavatory. A little over six feet tall,
thin as a rail but plenty of muscle i that upper body. He looked like a ballplayer. He
looked, in fact, like a great ballplayer.
Scouting Report 55
September 201 4
Of course there was that vision thing. Damn, what if Escuela was right? What if
the kid's eyesight was a problem? What ifhe really was wall shy? What ifhe couldn't
hit a big-league fastball? Jesus-and not as in Jesus Colon-there'd be hell to pay.
Robert loved the game, truly loved it; but he hadn't been able to hack it as a ballplay
er and he'd been pretty terrible, to be honest, as a coach, so he'd been happy to find a
little success as a scout. That was something, an important something, that gave him
a paycheck and kept him in the game. And now this, which was either going to be
fabulous and make his career or be a total bust and derail it.
Robert was putting his seat back, thinking of trying again for a little shut-eye, when
someone walked by up the aisle toward the lavatory. He glanced that way and it was
Escuela. She stopped, looked at him, winked and said, "Hello, Mr. Johnson. Nice
''What are you . . ," he started asking, but she tured away and walked fOlVard, got
to the lavatory at the front of the plane, jiggled the door handle a bit and it opened,
and she walked in. Where Aloysius was, presumably, taking a piss.
Damn. What was she going to do in there? Seduce him? Lecture him on his eye
sight? Tell him he was wall shy? Ask for an autograph? Hell, Robert wondered,
should he go up there himself and yank open that door and make a scene? That'd
make for great headlines in Tampa and might end Aloysius' big chance and Robert's
own career at the same time.
He sat there, fidgety, for a minute or two, wondering what the hell was going on,
and then the problem resolved itself when the door opened and Escuela came out
and closed the door behind herself She looked unsteady and confused, unsure ofher
self as she headed back past to him to her seat. What the hell? Where was the kid?
Robert was just starting to get up and go see when the door opened again and out
came Aloysius Stevens-Arce, smiling, happy. He looked down the aisle and caught
Robert's eye and grinned. So, it must have been a Quick little bit of something in
there and that was that, all done. God, let's hope so.
They both sat hack down and Aloysius said. "You look worried, Robert, hut no hay
problema. To estc bien, you know?"
Robert nodded. "Sure, kid. Estc bien. I just wondered what was going on up there,
that's all."
''Nothing, my fiend. Nothing to worry about. I'm calmer now. I'm good. Everything
estc bien, okay?"
"Sure, sure," Robert said and then, to his relief, Aloysius pushed his seat back and
leaned back to close his eyes. Nap time for the next Roberto Clemente. Go, good,
good. Robert thought that was a great idea. And he tried to do the same.
At the baUpark, Rbert Johnson's hangover was finally, truly, gone. He felt good. In
fact, he felt great. It was the ninth inning and the Pelicans were hanging onto a two.
run lead, one of the runs coming fom a hard double down te line in lef by Aloysius
Stevens-Arce that had driven in Terry Jackson, who'd motored all the way from first to
score while the Orioles chased the carom down and finally got the ball headed-much
tlate-t home plate. Tugh pitch to hit, down and in, but the kid had followed it all
the way in, gone down and got it, ripped it hard. A god at-bat. A big-league at-bat.
In the field, Aloysius had made every play he'd needed to, but nothing had really
challenged him. Still, he'd caught the two routine fly balls that came his way and
he'd cut of one hard liner that if it had gotten by him would have ended up a triple.
Instead, it was a double and the fly ball to left that came after it didn't score the run
ner but left him stranded.
At the airport, Rblt had thought there might be more trouble with that Escuela
woman, but he and Aloysius had gotten off ahead of her and walked right to the air-
56 Rick Wilber
side shuttle and fom tere they'd been met by the Pelicans' rep at the main tenninal
and whisked through baggage claim and into a limo and headed for the ballpark. Even
at the baggage carousel for ten minutes he hadn't seen Escuela. What he figured was
that she'd gotten what she wanted out of all this, her own kind of personal autograph
sort of thing, her memento, and now she was happy, back in the stands somewhere
tonight and then headig hore tomorrow. He hoped that's how it was, anyway.
Robert hadn't been able to nap on the plane, tworried about her and the whole
mess. Even all the alien crap she'd been spouting had him spooked. What the hell
was up with that? He tried to recall in more detail that part of the conversation
when she'd leaned over to kiss him there at the cove, but couldn't remember much
of it. Something about hosts and survival and helping?
Forget it. Whatever nonsense she'd been spouting was irrelevant to things as they
were here and now. He was fine, the phenom was fine, and they were both at the Trop,
with the Pelicans ahead and the phenom playing good ball. It was all working out.
The sound of a well-hit ball off the bat brought Robert's attention back to the
game. With two on and two out, the Orioles' hitter had turned on one and let it rip.
Dead center, a screamer, probably a home run, and with two men on that meant the
game, the season, was in jeopardy.
But there was Aloysius, on his horse the very moment the ball came of the bat,
turng his back to the field, racing away toward the wall, turing his shoulders and
his head to find the ball in the Trap's roof with all those braces and supports up
there. Finding it, keeping it in sight as he pushed hard, then harder, trying to make
the play. No hesitation, no slight easing back to make an excuse to catch it on the re
bound off the wall. Pushing hard, onto the warning track and then, as the ball arced
down, maybe over the wall and maybe not,Aloysius Stevens-Arce took one fial long
stride and launched himself ito the air, reaching up as his body extended, straining
to get the glove where it needed to be.
He crashed into the wall, the ball and the glove and the padding of the wall and
that long, lean body all coming together into a collision so loud that Robert could
hear it from where he sat. Did the kid catch it? Where the hen was the ball?
Aloysius, lyillg there, raised his glove. The ball was in it.
Like everyone else, Robert was standing and applauding and shouting as Aloysius
got to all fours, then slowly stood up and shook himself and trotted in from center, a
long jog fom the faest reaches of te playng surface to the dugout and a greeting
fom his teammates, and the fans, and Robert Johnson.
Robert, pleased and relieved, was watching him. Escuela had been wrong; there
was nothing wrong with this kid, nothing at all. He was a big leaguer.
Coming toward the dugout, Aloysius reached up t tug at the bill of his cap by way of
saying thanks for te applause. Then, when he reached the dugout he paused, looked
into the font row of seats where Robert was looking back at him. Good job, Robert
mouthed at him, knowing it was useless to shout i the middle of all the noise.
Aloysius looked at Robert with a slight smile on his face. Yes, it was a good job and
he knew it. Then he nodded his head, gave Robert a long, slow wink, and disap
peared down into the dugout. 0
rogue transmutation
the Camembert l i brary
stinks to high heaven
-David C. Kopaska-Merkel
Amanda Forrest ( spent many
years as a programmer and manager in the MMO video games
industry before going on hiatus to pursue writing. She recent
ly relocated with her family to her small hometown in western
Colorado. There, the empty landscapes provide plenty of
space for inspiration and opportunity for outdoor adventures.
Her fiction appears in the most recent Writers of the Future
anthology and is forthcoming in a number of publications. In
the author's first story for us, the unsettling depiction of life
in a future Vietnam will leave you haunted by . . .
Amanda Forrest
1uan's mother expressed displeasure in the only acceptable ways: with her silence
and with her cooking. She averted her gaze when she set his breakfast before him,
clack of the heav porcelain howl against age-sofened teak. Tuan stirred his food.
Limp noodles drifted in a broth overburdened with fish sauce and oil. The lemon
grass was missing, and the mint.
Tuan hated hjs mother's silence. It meant she'd already convinced herself that
Tuan would tell his father about the problems with the diatom pools. Even though
he'd announced no such intent. Even though the admission would anger the fore
man and bring his vengeance down on Tuan's mother. Even though the village work
unit had agreed to hide the problems in hopes they'd devise a solution.
His mother bent over her soup. While he listened to the click of her chopsticks,
Tuan remembered long-ago mornings. Standing, apprehensive, in his primary
school uniform, propped up by nothing but the crisp folds of the fabric. His mother
had never complained while she stooped to lace his shoes. Only talked sofly, prais
ing him for how much he was learning.
Tuan couldn't bear the thought of the foreman's leather strap smacking her arms
and back, sending her skin wobbling under the blows, exacting punishment for
Tuan's betrayal. Neither could Tuan let his father go bfore his superiors in Hanoi
and admit there was a shortfall and his own home village-his own. son.-hadn't re
spected him enough to war him. Yet in a few hours, he'd have to choose.
Tuan shifed his fork to his prosthetic hand, settling the flat metal against the
pincer pads, which, as of last week, no longer trasmitted tactile feedback. He laid
his other palm on the table, edging his fingers out toward his mother. Deep gouges
marred the wood, and he rubbed the scars gently.
''Maybe Chien will admit the problems," he said, speaking of the foreman.
His mother looked at the small altar where incense plugs smoldered next to brass
offering bowls. Her brows drew together, but she said nothing.
Tuan's fork clattered down, bouncing olfthe rim of his bowl and spattering his face
with hot broth before skittering of the table to the floor. He unstrapped the pros
thetic, disgusted, and rubbed the skin of his stump, sending tingling impulses up
fom the tattooed interface.
"Let me, Tuan."
His mother plucked the prosthetic from the tabletop and slipped it into the charge
bath. Wires wrapped with electrical tape led fom the charger up across the bare
wood walls, stapled to detour around a faded, gilt-framed portrait of Ho Chi Minh,
and exited at a caulk-sealed cranny.
While she crossed back to the table, the floor tilted ad rocked slightly, setting the
soup lapping in the bowls. A boat's wake passing under the village, most likely. But
not his father's. Not yet.
She retrieved the fork and laid it beside his undamaged hand. "Eat, son. Your fa
ther will want to see you fll of energy."
Tuan's eyes flicked toward the door. Before his fater arrived, he planned to fetch
a broken coffee grinder from his cousin, Lien. He'd have a busy moring repairing
that and prying free his prosthetic's tactile pads to see if the lack of sensation might
be due to lose connections. Enough to excuse him from a shift at the diatom corrals.
He dreaded the corral work, the constant relocation of pallets of diatomaceous
glass, the meticulous supervising of mutation clocks ad nutrient inputs. One small
error, a tic of his fickle prosthetic, and the diatom-built circuitry wouldn't match the
requisitions: smart cosmetics for the Chinese elite; drug delivery systems; and lately,
minuscule controllers for the government's pollination drones.
Tuan slurped the rest of his broth and stood. He limped to the door, weak thigh
cramping at the sudden abuse. Unsure what to say in parting, he stepped silently
out the door.
Outside, the haze piled thick above the jungle-draped crowns of the limestone is
lands that sheltered the village's harbor. On the crop platforms fixed to the sheer
sided clifs by titanium bolts and plasti-coated cables, workers stooped, thinning the
rows of greens. The low hum of the water circulators and micron filters in the cor
rals harmonized with the drone of the cicadas in the jungle.
A grid of floating platforms supported the village shacks. Netting stretched the
gaps between the huts, decorated with drying fishing tackle. The morning's catch
jellyfish, mostly-swam in buckets waiting selection for the cookpots.
The villagers moved back and forth across the platforms with shoulders hunched,
uneasy, preparing for the arrival of the government boat-Tuan's father's boat. Some
glanced at Tuan, faces subtly mistrustful. Just as h mother had, they expected him
to inform his father and his father's partner, Uncle Bao, about the problems with the
diatom cultures.
Tuan snatched his walking stick fom its place against the wall of his shack. Ig
noring the gazes of his fellow villagers, he began the slow journey to Lien's hut to
fetch the cofee grinder.
He heard his father's boat long before it arrived. The snarl of the biodiesel engine
bounced of limestone cliffs ad through narrow passages, punctuated by gargling
chokes when the drive screw chewed through schools of jellyfish.
A lullaby in Glass 59
September 201 4
On the splintered wood planks before him, parts of the disassembled cofee maker
were sorted into various containers, some with solvent to clean of the grease, somejust
holding the tiny screws to keep them fom bing lost forever in the jade waters of the
bay. Tuan scooted the jars and bowls up against the wall of the shack before standing.
The arriving boat shoved through the final aisle between rocky hummocks, faster
than usual, with a foth of seawater plowed up by the bow. Tuan headed toward the
outer row of shacks at a steady but careful pace. Frequent glimpses of the shadowed
waters between decks kept him cautious. It had been five years since the accident,
but he cringed when he remembered the cold beneath the platforms. The taste of
mildewed air that he sucked. choking, from the voids under the rafts while blood
gushed fom his mangled limbs. He'd finally surrendered to the slow, deathward
sink before the fishing gaff pulled him out into the sunshine. Sometimes, Tuan
thought that he'd never see water without imagining his life's end.
Despite his father's imminent arrival, he stopped short when he saw the girl, Anh,
ahead. She carried a basket of fesh-picked greens fom shack to shack, ofering out
bundles to the women inside. The village women greetd her with thinned lips and dis
missed her wordlessly. Ah was an outsider. One of the refugees from the flooed south.
Anh's hair glinted where she'd woven in bits of junk, fishing lures and tabs from
old soda cans. Tuan had never seen her in a traditional conical hat or wearing a silk
mask over her nose and mouth to hide her skin from the sun. Her face was tanned to
the color of burished tak, and her teeth shone like pearls.
Anh. He'd never had the courage to say hello.
Her eyes widened when she looked out toward the docks. The basket slipped down
to the tips of her gloved fingers, threatening to fall from her hands. Tuan had noticed
those gloves before, simple white silk with a strip of elastic across the backs. He won
dered why she wore them and realized that he could just ask-finally start a con
versation-when she abruptly darted away from the docks.
Tuan clenched the walking stick. He never seemed to ready his words before she
was off and away.
He tured back to the water just as the boat hit the fringe of the village straight
on, far too fast. Uncle Baa had the wheel, his face locked in a startled mask. Tuan's
father yelped and shoved his brother aside. Wood groaned and the metal hull of the
vessel squealed when the thrust of the engine tured it sideways to scrape along the
The shockwave rocked the village. Platforms collided with hollow cracks, and
mooring lines creaked under the strain. The jolt knocked Tuan sideways, stumblng,
and his weak thigh buckled. His knees smacked the deck planks, twin hammers
pounding his kneecaps into the sof tissue beneath. ShU, five years afer losing his
right hand, he thrust it fonard to break his fall and jammed the flesh of the stump
onto splintery wood, sending a shriek of sensation up from his tattoo. Skin grated
across the deckng until the arm finally folded under and his face hit the planks.
The vessel had tured aside, and the motor was pushing it back away from the vil
lage. Tuan's father cranked the rudder to port and backed the engine down to an
On the dock, men tossed out lines and pulled the boat in. Tuan's father and Uncle
Bao stepped of onto the deck and bent to check for damage on the hull. Over the
sounds of the jungle and the machinery, Tuan caught snatches of conversation. Sao'd
been distracted at the helm. There were problems in Hanoi. Someone should fetch
the foreman, Chien. Send a local. A refugee couldn't be trusted to do the job quickly.
By the time Tuan's father reached him, Tuan had managed to clamber to his feet,
ignoring the pain. Planting his walking stick, he straightened and met his father's
eyes. The older man's face was grim, lines of stress along his mouth.
60 Amanda Forrest
''Tuan," he said. "Good to see you."
He clapped Tuan on the shoulder, a gesture that looked rough to observers, but
which made contact without disturbing Tuan's balance. His father was deft with
these things, making Tuan appear sturdy despite his handicap.
"Is Uncle Bao okay?"
"Just under pressure." His father turned to the clot of men that trailed him. "We'll
meet outside my shack. Heads of households."
The sun hid behind the haze, a vague presence that nevertheless heated the air to
steaming. The men of the work unit gathered, sweating, around Tuan's home. A crowd
this size spilled over to the neighboring platforms. There was no jostling or argument.
Beyond the crowd, Tuan caught glimpses of the refugees. Those with business
amongst the huts-laundresses hanging the wash on lines, girls like Anh who dis
tributed the harest-slowed their pace and watched while trying not to appear idle.
The goverment's Migration Control boats had delivered the refugees over the last
months, insisting that the work unit provide them meaningful chores in the domes
tic duties. But only the domestic duties, nothing with the corrals.
For the locals, the situation grated. They were not allowed to disclose any details of
the circuit-building process or the specific requisitions. Secrets lay heavy on tongues
unused to silence.
llI'U get to the problem quickly," Tuan's father said. "You know the basics. The rice
crop in the south is ruined and we don't know when the floods will subside. We've
been told that the People's food stores would carry us through. But here's the truth:
there are no more food stores. We have nothing but the northern paddies and plan
tations. The typhoon that doused us last week swept away or disabled most of our
pollinators. People in the highlands are starving aready because there's nothing left
after the food trucks make their urban deliveries."
A ripple of understanding crossed the crowd. Foreman Chien's face blanched. Only
the nano-glassware built by the diatoms yielded components small enough that the in
digestible part of the pollination drones could pass through the stomachs of the coun
try's bird species. Without the output of te corrals, there was no fruit or nut crop.
"The government needs more product. We're to stop all manufacturing of junk chips
for private companies and focus entirely on drone controllers. Well double our output."
Chien stepped fonvard. "Double? The cosmetic smartchips are less than a quarter
of our orders. At most we can increase output by 20 percent."
Tuan's father's smile verged on condescension. "Only if we hide behind OU excus
es. Look at my own son."
Tuan's heart stuttered. Blood rushed to his face.
lTuan spends his days repairing your personal appliances and small motors. Why
isn't he out assembling the circulator for a fifh corral? The refugees can keep our
homes running while everyone works. Blossoms are dropping of the dragon fruit
trees without setting fuit."
Tuan stifened, accepting his father's degrading comment as a way for his father to
let Chien back out of his argument without losing face. But Tuan couldn't accept his
father looking like a fool, talking about a fifh corral when the first fOUT weren't even
l'here won't be another delivery, father." Tuan drew himself up tall, transferring
weight to his strong leg. "'ot unless Chien figures out the source of contamination.
They've thrown away the last five batches of glass."
Chien roared. "Little eel'"
The crowd descended into argument, but Tuan's gaze remained on his father. The
man stood like an abandoned teakwood carving, weak and age-pitted. His face was pale.
A lullaby in Glass 61
September 201 4
''Tuan,'' he said, voice barely discerible uder the babble, "is this true?"
"They've bleached the membranes and verified the source culture with genetic se
quencing. No one can find a problem with the mutation clock or the final organism.
But the circuitry has no resemblance to the blueprints."
A tiny muscle twitched in his father's lower eyelid. "1 guaranteed OUT success,
His father turned and retreated into the family's home. The sunlight left the man's
shoulders as he passed into the shadowed interior.
Tuan took a dinghy and Towed, clumsily. to a crescent of yellow sand beach. From
there, he slipped into the jungle, following a mud-slick trail toward the base of the
cliffs and past an old Buddhist shrine.
Under the tees, the buzzing of the insects was louder, but somehow more tolerable
when experienced fom within. Vines draped down from above, webbed by dew-laden
strands of spider silk. Leaves tinted the sunlight green, dim except where a butterfly
fluttered into a rare spot of dapplng and caught the full spectrum upon its wings.
He wanted to disappear up a jungle-choked gully. Let the island swallow him. If
he'd just told his father the truth, phoned him back i the beginning when the prob
lems were isolated, his father never would have promised increased production. In
stead, he could have worked with Chien to fix the initial contamination. Wared his
superiors of coring shortfalls. Prevented this.
Tuan jammed his walking stick down into the undergrowth, twisting it to tear at
the earth.
"Are the government people gone?"
Tuan spun, losing his balance and throwing his good arm out to snag a vine. A
stepped out fom the side trail that led to the shrine. Tuan clenched his jaw, fighting
anger. A day ago, he might have been stunned and overjoyed to see her. But not now.
''Those goverment people are my father and uncle."
"Oh." She looked away, a nervous movement of her head like a small bird. "Sorry."
"It's okay."
She nodded. The silence was awkward. He scratched behind his ear.
"[ heard that your parents run a private paper factory in Ho Chi Minh City. That
they sent you north because the city isn't safe." He didn't mention that none of the lo
cals believed her story. No mother with any sort of status would let her daughter go
about with skin as brown as the earth.
A studied a leaf while she spoke. "Yeah."
He waited for her t elaborate. The drone of the cicadas seemed to grow louder.
"Are you . . . did you come to . . . ?" He gestured at the shrine.
Anh glanced back at the gilt-painted lintel. An emotion he couldn't identif crossed
her face.
"Not really. Id like to believe. Imagine . . . reincarnation."
It was a strange answer, but maybe to b expected from someone so far from her
flood-ravaged home. Maybe she thought that she would't have to lose so much i
her next life.
"I suppose." He smiled at her then quickly looked away, afraid that eye contact
would make him nervous and more awkward.
''Then again," she said, "if you don't remember your previous life . . . seems to me
that the person you were is still dead. So what's the point?"
"Maybe we're more than our memories." Tuan had never given religion much
A sad expression crossed her face. " have to go. Harest shift starting."
Just like that, she vanished into the greenery like rain into soil.
62 Amanda Forrest
"See you," Tuan said. He stilled a branch that vibrated following her exit.
The tamarind-spiced shellfish-his father's favorite dish-seemed as tasteless as
the room was silent. Partway through the meal, Tuan's mother reached out and
touched Tuan's hand as if forgiving him, acknowledging he'd had no choice but to dis
close the work unit's secret given the events of the morning.
For Tuan, it was small consolation.
A quick tapping at the door preceded Uncle Bao's entrance.
"Uncle,"Tuan said when neither of his parents spoke.
"I sent a query up the chain. A subtle as 1 could make it. There are no other corral
units ready to up production." Baa sat across the room on a wobbly stool.
Tuan's father nodded. "A expected."
''Why won't the blame fall on Chien?"Tuan's mother asked. Her voice was pitched
higher than usual, and she fumbled her chopsticks when she set them down, smack
ing the table to keep them from rolling of. Tuan swiped his napkin over the splatter
of tamarind sauce that she'd made.
" It doesn't really matter who takes the blame." Tuan's father looked up at the por
trait ofHo Chi Minh. ''People are starving. Dying."
"It maters because you don't deserve the punishment," Tuan said.
In that moment, Tuan was a young boy again, not the sixteen-year-old who would
soon b a man. He thought of his father standing before some green-uiformed ofi
cial from Hanoi. A still face on the government man, hjnting nothing of the punish
ment to come. His father following the man down a long hallway with no windows.
His father wouldn't say it, but the set of his face showed the severity of the disci
pline he expected. Demotion. Prison, maybe. Tuan's eyes felt hot.
A warbling tone rose from Uncle Bao's pocket. He pulled free his phone and
scrolled through a message.
"It seems they may suspect. We've been summoned to Haiphong, Due."
Tuan's father showed no emotion save the tremble in his cheek. "Are the ship
ments loaded? lfwe deliver what we have, l may b able to stall until our next sched
uled drop. Maybe Chien will solve the problem."
Uncle Bao moved to the door and turned the knob.
Tuan felt as if a storm wave had lifted the village and dropped the floor fom be
neath him. He stood, realizing that he meant to step in front of the door and stop his
father fom leaving. His father looked him in the eyes for a moment and plucked the
prosthetic hand fom the charge bath.
"Come on, Tuan. Help me take inventory."
His father's hands were warm on Tuan's skin while he fastened the bands that se
cured the prosthetic. Tuan kept his breath steady though his throat clamped down.
"Thank you." His voice was almost a whisper.
Lying in bed, Tuan inhaled deep of the smoldering incense. He listened to his
mother's breathing, filtered by the canvas drape they'd hung to divide the room for
sleeping. Until two years ago, both his parents had bedded down on the other side of
the curtain. The space still seemed empty without his father. But the work unit pro
gram wasn't supposed to last forever. In a couple of years, his father had planned to
go back to fishing.
Tuan rolled over, the thin sheet brushing his bare thighs. He'd fastened a silk cloth
over his stump to keep static charge fom stimulating his tattoo in the night, but the
pressure change provoked a small jolt of heat.
He pushed his fist against h forehead. How could all the diatom pools have failed?
They were strictly isolated from one another. [t had to be an error in process or source
A lullaby in Glass 63
September 201 4
culture, but as far as Tuan knew, everything had been checked and double-checked.
He wasn't going to be able to sleep. Tuan swiped the sheet from his body and drew
on trousers and a thin shirt before slipping out the door.
The barest glow fom the distant port of Haiphong colored the sky ahove the is
lands to the west. Over by the corrals, brighter light leaked from beneath the door to
Chien's ofice. At least the man had the decency to work late. Tuan tramped across
the gangway, sending blue-green eddies of phosphorescent algae outward fom the
bridge. He pounded on the door to the ofice and entered, not waiting for an invitation.
"Tuan. It's late." Chien stood from his desk.
"Let me see the records,"Tuan said. "Maybe I can spot the problem in the process."
Chien appeared ready to protest, but then seemed to realize that there was no
harm in it. He slid a viewscreen across the desk.
When Tuan blinked, he imagined the man with a strap raised, whipping it down
on the defenseless girls employed in his service. He thought of his father bearing the
consequences of Chien's failure.
Chien drummed his fingers on his desk. "I don't blame you for telling your father,
Tuan. Some people might, but I don't. Ws a son's duty."
Tuan stared at him, wanting to shove the man for daring to insinuate that they
shared a common understanding. He swallowed his contempt. "Is there any infor
mation on exactly what's wrong with the final glass?"
Chien shrugged. '1bere's not much we can tell without an electron microscope. At
a macro level, the glass doesn't crumble like it's supposed to. We test a small control
batch before shipping out the sheets of final product. When the agitator shakes the
sample, it's supposed to collapse into individual drone controllers."
He slid a small dish across the desk. A layer of opalescent sand sparkled in the bot
tom, glinting in the harsh light fom the single LED bulb mounted above Chien's
desk. "The minds of bees," he said.
"So what happens with agitation?"Tuan asked.
Chien ran his hands through his hair. "Nothing. It's like a huge, fused matrix. I
tried stimulating the circuit at various points with different frequencies of light.
Can't make sense of it."
'"Mind if I take this outside?"Tuan held up the viewscreen.
Chien gestured acquiescence. "Just don't drop it in the water. We don't want to re
quest a replacement on top of all this."
The haze had thickened, soggy air blotting out Haiphong's glow. Tuan moved slow
ly in the inky dark. Tree frogs croaked in the jungle, and the water circulators
hummed their constant song. A few LEDs glowed on the machinery, red and green
like the eyes of small night creatures.
Tuan chose a spot at the far edge of the corrals. Sitting cross-legged on the lightly
bobbing walkway, he opened the records for the first pool that had failed. Step by
step, he compared the recorded sequence of inoculations and mineral dosing to the
plan. Spotting no discrepancies, he rose and moved to the circulator, putting his ear
against the casing to listen to the whirr and the slosh of water through the chambers.
Near a gang"vay that led to the shore, a flicker of movement caught his eye. Some
thing wiggled within the spill of vines that curtained the beach off fom the jungle.
He powered of the viewscreen's display and dropped to a squat where the circula
tor would hide his form.
When she stepped lightly onto the bridge that led fom the beach, there was no
mistaking the glint of the metal woven into her hair. Anh. Tuan's arms went cold. He
should have put it together when she'd run at the sight of his father's boat. The pools
had all failed because they'd ben sabotaged.
She stopped near a bank of LEDs, and in the strange wash of indicator Lights, her
64 Amanda Forrest
face took on more accents. Her jawline cut sharply up to delicate ears, and the hollow
at the base of her throat collected shadows.
A sat down on the walkway and pulled off her gloves. She laid them beside her
and then plunged her hands into the water of the corral.
Tuan chewed his thumbnail. What was she doing? Dissolving a mineral additive,
something to gum up the latticework and keep the glass from fragmentng properly?
He wanted to creep closer, but his motion would set the gangway bouncing.
Sitting as she did, Anh almost looked like a nun at meditation. Every once in a
while, she cocked her head slightly. Tuan couldn't tell if her eyes were open or
He watched for maybe half an hour. In that time, Chien's door opened and shut, a
brief flare oflight across the water. The foreman walked across the bridge to the vil
lage, cigarette burg. Anh didn't even look up.
Finally, Tuan stood and strode toward her. She yanked her hands from the pool,
scrambled back and shook her head, blinking as if disoriented.
"Who?" She squinted. "TuanT'
'What are you doing?" The fog swallowed his voice. It seemed as if he and Anh
were the only people within kilometers.
((I'm . . . I'm sorry. I just-"
He stomped closer. "People are starving. Dying in the highlands. How can you do
She blinked. "I don't understand."
"You're ruining the circuitry."
Anh wrapped her arms around her knees, drawing inward. "I wasn't thinking of it
that way." Her brows drew together. "What do you mean, starving?"
"Without pollinators, the crops can't set fruit." Tuan gestured at the pool. Lo
cals weren't supposed to talk about the product with refugees, but he figured the
circumstances excused him. Besides, she probably knew exactly what the corrals
Anh grabbed a fistful of hair and stared at the water. When her hand moved, he
caught a glimpse of the intricate lines of a biotattoo on her palm and the inside of
her fingers. Tuan looked away. Tattoo work on healthy nesh-that explained her
gloves. He wondered who had paid for it, whether the money had come from the
same tiny fund that should have replaced his junky prosthetic years ago.
" don't understand how cosmetics afect pollination," Anh said finally.
Tuan exhaled. "Is that what you think we're making here? Cosmetics?"
She nodded, wide-eyed. '1'he Migration officials told the refugees that your work
unit made additives for Chinese smart cremes. Something about bending the light
based on underlying blood flow, skin tone." A pause. "Please tell me that's true." Her
voice tightened.
"The circuits are controllers for pollination drones. So that our plantations can pro
duce food."
A flashed the tattoos. "My interface . . it's not that sophisticated. 1 could't tell.
I mean it, Tuan. They told us-"
''Well, they lied."
She looked sick to her stomach. "Can we fix it? Please. I'm so sorry."
Tuan pressed his fingers into his temples. "I don't know. We're weeks behind.
don't even know what you've been doing. Or why."
Her breath shook when she sighed. "I can't tell you. It's not safe."
" don't see that you have a choice." Tuan crossed his arms over his chest. "My fa
ther is on his way to be punished for the work unit's shortfall."
"Punished . . . " She dropped her gaze to her hands. "Then he's the work unit's Iiai-
A lullaby in Glass 65
September 201 4
son. I was worried he was with Migration ControL That they'd tracked me . . Tuan,
I only wanted to . "
''To what?"
She looked up with pleading eyes. "Please sit. It's hard to talk like this."
Tuan considered fetching Chien immediately. They had their culprit. But Chien
would just beat the information from her. He lowered himself to the damp planks.
Anh's jaw trembled. "I'm going to die, Tuan. When Migration Control figures out
where I am, who I am. They'll take me to Hanoi and . . . " She dopped her forehead to
her knees. "J know things that I shouldn't. Did things I shouldn't have."
"Back up. What do you mean, Hanoi? They'll take you for . . . executon?" The word
passed through his throat like a hard-edged piece of metaL
She kept her head bowed but nodded.
Tuan sat, stunned.
After a moment, she straightened. "My parents aren't paper moguls."
"1 know."
"I haven't seen them since we were separated during a typhoon thee years ago.
A far as I know, I'm an orphan."
Tuan thought of his father, and his chest tightened. What if he never saw him
again? "It must be hard not to know what happened to them."
Anh gazed out over the diatom pools. Her face was still, strong. A night bird trilled
fom the trees.
"I need you to tell me about the circuit," Tuan said gently.
Her lips thinned, and after a moment she nodded. "It would be easier if I showed
She exposed her palms. The biotattoos shimmered, excited by static and her per
sonal EM field. "They're similar to yours." She nodded at his stump. "Diferent use."
"Which is?"
"Communication with computers, circuitr, wireless devices. I can understand and
manipulate data sort oflike you use your prosthetic."
Tuan's brows drew together. "Biotattoos can do that?"
She nodded. "I have a digital interface for regular computers and light spectrum
for glassware. And a translator chip up here." She tapped her skull. "If I'd had the
protocol installed, I could have recognized the pollinator controllers. I swear, Tuan.
Even though I'm in trouble, I never would have . "
The reminder of her coming fate sank, cold, into Tuan's chest. "1 believe you," he said.
Her lip trembled when she smiled. "Anyway, while the diatoms are building the
circuits, my tattoos can alter the structure. Make it into something else." She ges
tured at his stump. "Here, I'll show you."
Tuan swallowed and raised his arm. From the inside of her glove, she pulled a
small swatch of circuit-printed silk. Using a rubber band from her hair, she fas
tened the fabric around the end of his flesh. "It's a protocol translator. Reach into
the water."
Tuan dipped hs hand into the pool and felt nothing but cool seawater on his skin.
"You have to contact the lattice," she said.
She pulled a small flashlight fom her pocket, reached over the water, and shone
the beam down into the pool.
When the glass brushed his arm, an explosion of sensation entered his mind. The
feel of knotted hair, woven with metal, slipping under his palm. Sunshine on his
hand while he plucked greens fom the soil. Damp bruising orthe stems, slick leaves
that crunched when they folded.
When she tured the flashlight off, the sensations vashed. Tuan slowly pulled
his arm from the water. "What is . . . ?"
66 Amanda Forrest
"My memories," Anh said. "} trained the glass to reproduce my experiences. At
least . . . I tried, but it's still not right."
''It's amazing," Tuan said quietly. "But why do this, Anh?"
Her shoulders slumped. "1 only wanted to help Vietnam. At first."
Anh's gaze jerked away. "I can't tell you. If the glass isn't destined for China, it
doesn't matter anyway. What matters is that I got selfish."
Tuan smoothed the thin fabric of his trousers. He wasn't sure what to say.
"Do you remember when we talked at the shrine? About how your memories
would just vanish when you're reincarnatd? I don't want to be erased like that. I
was trying to make a full record . . . an imprint of me. So that I'd live on somehow."
Tentatively, Tuan scooted toward her, c10se enough to feel the warmth from her
body. "Anh . . . I'm so sorry." He didn't know what else to say.
Her next words were nat. "All these attempts. An the ruined glass. And still it's so
"But it's-"
"Compare." Anh's hand darted out. When she laid her palm against his stump, her
experiences crashed over him. The feeling was intimate beyond imagination. Anh,
the things she felt. The ways her fingers laced against one another. The bone-deep
fatigue at the end of a day working. A wooden dowel in her hand while cooling grease
fom street food dribbled onto her flesh.
''Your tattoo is keyed to your hand only, or I could show you more."
Tuan's voice was gone, hiding away in the depths of a clamped throat. He stared at
her, this girl. This incarnation of spirit. He wanted nothing more than to hold her
and feel her warmth. She was talive to die.
By morning, a rare wind had scoured the haze from the sky and the sun beat
down, harsh and unwelcome. Tuan hadn't slept, and the glints off the wavelets
stabbed his eyes.
He entered Chien's ofice without knocking.
''he circulators were set to the wrong now rate."
Chien looked almost offended even in his relief. "What? Really?"
"I suspect it was enough to cause problems."
"But how? Why all of them?"
''They're all the same model. Maybe it was a glitch. I suggest we check them regu-
"Then we can reset production? Start a new batch?"
Tuan sat dO. " think that you can come c10se to meeting my father's promise.
ot this delivery, but the next. It may be enough. But . . ." He laid his palm on the
desk and stared at Chien.
"It's no secret that you beat the unmarried girls because they have no husbands to
protest. Their work is worse for it. Stop, or I'll give my father the details on the cir
culators so that he can explain the shortfall to his superiors."
Chien stammered, but Tuan cut him of. ''You need my help to meet the quota. We
need three more corrals and double shifs until we catch up. 111 install the machinery
and teach the refugees how to tend the pools when they aren't otheTW'ise occupied."
''hey aren't supposed to be involved with the diatoms."
Tuan shrugged. "The alternative is we all suffer. The government is too cautious."
Chien recoiled from Tuan's words, as ifTuan were guilty of major sedition. But
Tuan had the man figured out. Chien wouldn't protest the refugee presence, not
when it would save his skin.
A lullaby in Glass 67
September 201 4
"One mOTe thing," Tuan said. "I'm almost certain about the circulators, but I'd like
to have one of the fused lattices to look over. Pool one's circulator was the farthest off
"It's junk anyway. l'Il have someone pull the pallet first thing."
The fused glass glinted, opalescent in the square oflight that fell through the win
dow arTuan's hut. Eyes closed, he laid his stump against the lattice, the translator
silk a thin barrier between his tattoo and the circuitry. Upon contact, one of Anh's
memories unfolded in his mind. A coo) metal bar under her palm, slight crunch of
flaking paint,
-maybe it was the rail of the refugee boat that had brought her here.
Or maybe not.
For the last two days, between his scanty sleep and his work on the machinery for
the new corrals, he'd explored the experiences she'd stored in the glass, searching for
the story behind her predicament. He'd learned noting; with only the sensations his
tattoo could produce-those necessary for controlling and perceiving input fom his
prosthetic-he had no better pictue of her situation than when he'd started.
Heavy with fatigue, he pushed himseLf up 01 the floor and wrapped the glass in a
blanket before tucking it under hs cot. Just another ofTuan's many side projects,
his mother would assume.
His work on the last circulator was stalled while Chien waited for a borrowed re
placement part fom a nearby village, so Tuan took one of the rowboats toward the
small beach with the path that led past the shrine. He'd watched Anh emerge from
the jungle there more than once. With luck, he'd encounter her.
Though he believed that Anh wouldn't damage any more glass, Tuan knew that he
risked to much by trusting the work unit's fate to this belief He had to know her
fun story. Had to know he was making the right choice, even if the knowledge put
him in danger.
He heard her approach, a gentle rustle of leaves and scuff of feet on the packed
earth. Tuan stood and leaned against one of the upright posts of the shrine. He spoke
sofly so as not to startle her. "An."
A smile touched her face. "How are you, Tuan?"
''ired.'' He indicated a flat-topped rock where they could both sit.
Side by side, they listened to the jungle sounds. Tuan thought about the glass and
the things she'd recorded, felt a flush of embarrassment for exploring her memories
without her pennission.
"Anh, I need to know more."
Anguish flashed on her face. "1 can't. You could get hurt or-"
''ou already told me the risks, and I've had a couple days to think about it. This is
my decision, not yours."
She turned toward h, laid a gloved hand on his shoulder. A shock traveled his
spine, and he swallowed, steeling himself for the argument.
"Okay." Her hand fell away. An took a deep breath. ''Things are bad in the south.
You know that. I was hungry-really hungry. So I started working for an under
ground organization. They said that the State couldn't handle the floods. Too rigid.
Too isolationist. There has to be some way to get help for Vietnam, right? Even if it
comes from foreign governments. Even if there are obligations attached."
Tuan chewed his lip. "I really don't know."
She shrugged. "Me neither. Not really. Anyway . . ." She laid her hands, palm up,
on her knees. "Adolescent minds are still plastic, better at adjusting to technology.
The organization installed my tattoos so that I could get around the State's informa
tion blockades. They wanted me to get Vietnam's story out to the world."
68 Amanda Forrest
"And you did?" Tuan asked. Anti-government anything carried heavy penalties.
But execution? "That doesn't seem bad enough t(-"
She shook her head, curt. "I broke into the State's databanks while I was trying to
access the public internet. Mostly by accident. The real problem is what I saw there."
She grimaced while she fiddled with her gloves. "The govemment can't take care of
everyone. No food. No resources."
"Which is why we need pollinators."
"I know. 1 . . . " Her voice cracked, and she took a shaky breath. ''Tuan, the govern
ment has a plan for who dies and who lives. Every citizen has a rankng based on po
tental contribution to the country's survival. Lowest ranks die of in batches until
Vietnam can sustain herself again."
Sanctioned starvation? Tuan looked at his stump, wondering what his handicaps
meant for his ranking. A laid a hand on his arm.
''he worst thing is," she said quietly, "I believe they think this is the best solution.
Or at least the kindest. Puts needed resources to those most likely to survive."
Her hand lfed, leaving a cold spot on Tuan's arm. ''here'd be riots if the popula
tion found out, you understand." She looked at him for confirmation.
He nodded.
"At any rate, I was traced," Anh said. "The police caught my handler. I heard he
died by firing squad. I was so scared. Joined up with the refugees and gave a fake
name and some stolen skin cells for identification. 1 planned to cross to China fom
here until I heard that they've got DNA sampling and tranquilizing darts on the bor
der drones. Anyway . . . " She shrugged and swiped a sleeve across her eyes. "I'm sure
the bad ident is triggering all kinds of alerts in the census database. Shouldn't be
much longer before Migration comes for me."
He picked at a clump of moss. 'Why don't you move on? Hide somewhere else?"
"Satellite surveillance will flag the movement. They'll catch me sooner or later. At
least if I stay here, I won't be running like a rat." Anh sighed. "Part of me thinks I de
serve the punishment. I ruined the pollinators, which just means more deaths. I
wish I'd known."
"But you didn't."
"It was still wrong, though. If I'd just stopped after . . . " She tilted her face to the
ceiling of green. "When I heard that the circuits were intended to go into Chinese
smart cremes, I thought I could record my recollections of the State's plan. If some
one in China happened to have the right glassware interface, maybe they'd discover
my message. Maybe there is help out there for us."
" It was a good idea."
Her eyes were wet when she looked at him. "But I didn't stop there. I got greedy. I
wante t send all of my memories to China. It would b almost a ifl'd made it afer al."
He lifted his arm, hesitated, and then laid it across her shoulders. "I know. And I
still don't blame you."
Tuan's eyes were gritty fom lack of sleep. He'd been getting less than four hours a
night, crying sometimes. No mattr what means he considered to hide Anh from the
Migration authorities, there were always flaws. But at least the additional corrals
were producing, and he'd squeezed in a side project for Anh as well.
Tuan's father called for an update the day before his scheduled arrival. Nervous,
Tuan explained the outlook for production.
"Tuan," his father said, voice sounding small in the cell phone's speaker. "It's
enough. I'm proud of you."
His father's next words sucked the air fom Tuan's lungs. A Migration Control boat
planned to follow his father's vessel into the harbor.
A lullaby in Glass 69
September 201 4
Tuan met Anh with the news when she returned from her shif up on the crop
"Anh," he said, touching her ann. "Some Migration oficials are following my father
tomorrow. You could try to hide."
She lifed her chin. "I've ben waiting for the end for a long time,"
"You're really certain you'll be executed? What about prison? You're still a minor."
She shrugged. "You know what happened to my handler. Best to prepare for the
Tuan curled his fingers around the tips of hers. "I have something to show you."
He led her to his rowboat and offered a seat on the plank opposite him. Though he
knew he looked awkward and clumsy tugging the oars with an unreliable prosthetic
and pushjng off a weak thigh, he wasn't embarrassed. The warm air made him feel
strong, and A looked beautiful with her tanned face tured to the sky.
A gap barely wider than the boat separated a pair of islands on the far side of the
harbor. Tuan rowed through, using the oaTS to push off the gray-white stone when
the walls drew too close. On the far side, a crescent of beach arced away. His creation,
the side project he'd finished in the dark, empty hours when he should have been
sleeping, was moored along the shore. He'd anchored the tiny boat, hull no longer
than his forearm, by driving a peg into the sand. A tow chain stretched out to a bob
bing crate, wide and low in the water.
"It's solar-powered," he said. "Ancient panels, but I tested the output. There's GPS
"What's it for?"
He waded out and unlatched the seals on the crate, opening the lid to reveal the
glimmer of opal. Within the box, a pair of straps secured the sheet of crystalline glass
that held Anh's recollections.
"To take you to China," he said.
A sat on the beach. She ran a finger along the rail of the little boat.
"It's the last copy you made," he said. "You're wrong when you say it's imperfect."
He looked her in the eyes. "It . . . you . . . are a miracle."
She blushed and studied the cargo. "The circuits are conditioned to replicate the
memories of the person I was when I built it. There won't be any new experiences."
''rue.'' He sat beside her. "It's missing the part of you that can grow and change
maybe that's the aspect that moves into your next incarnation. But you're also the
sum of everything you've seen, everyone you've been." He tugged lightly on the tow
chain. "The story about the State's plan is here, too. Maybe you will make a cfer
ence for Vietnam after all."
"Will you know if the boat makes it to China?" she asked.
"Only in my imagination. But I believe in it. Someday, someone is going to crack
this crate on a faraway beach and find you."
"My glass spirit." Her heels were in the water. "Is the boat ready? Can it sail
Tuan crouched and pulled the peg from the sand. "I've just been waiting for you."
He flipped a switch to engage the guidance and then pulled out the cotter pin that
kept the smaH propeller still. The boat nosed into the sand a couple of times before
completing a tur and then bobbed away, bound for the channel of open water that
led to the South China Sea.
A slipped her hand into his while they watched it sail, the crate gently rocking
as if to put her glass-spun soul to sleep. By sunset, the small tugboat was gone, and
still they remained on the beach, hand in hand, awaiting the dawn.
Hours later, the Migration boat shoved into the harbor. By midday, the vessel de
parted, taking Anh away forever. 0
70 Amanda Forrest
Susan Palwick is an Associate Professor of English at the
University of Nevada, Reno. She has published four novels,
all with Tor, and a stor collection with Tachyon. In her lat
est tale, readers can catch a glimpse of a not-too-distant
future looming in the . . .
Susan Palwick
1he bus smells like plastic and urine, and the kid sitting next to Vangie has his
music cranked up way too high. It's leaking out of his earbuds. giving her a
headache. He's a big boy. sprawled out across his seat and into hers as if she's not
there at all. She squeezes herself against the window, resting her head against the
cool glass to try to ease the throbbing behind her eyes. Maybe the kid will get of at
the next stop. in forty minutes or so. Maybe nobody else will get on to take his seat.
The bus is completely full, and the waves of chatter and smell might have made
Vangie sick even without the booming bass.
It's a ten-hour rde t see Graham; Vangie just hopes she'll get i this time. She can't
shake her gut fear that everything's lined up too neatly, that something has to go
wrong. More than once, she's spent the time and money to get down there-the time's
no problem, but the money's not so easy, not with her monthly check a small a it is
t find the prison on lokdown, nobody in or out and G only knows whats going on
inside. All you get a reprts you can't trust, and you sit i the shabby town library
Googling the news every two seconds until it's time to catch the bus back home, be
cause you can't aford anoter night in a motel. Sometimes it's been days unti Gra
ham's been able t call out, until Vngie's been able t hear his voice again. She always
accepts the collect charges, but they never talk long. Those calls cost.
Vangie's small overight bag is under her feet. She's got her purse strap crossed
over her body, and her arms crossed protectively over that, as if the kid next to her
might snatch the bag and sprint to the font of the bus, diving out the door at sev
enty miles an hour. She knows this wouldn't happen even if she looked like someone
worth robbing, even if what's in her purse had the slightest value to anybody except
her and maybe Graham. He won't value it a much as she does. She doesn't see how
he could. Every time she thinks about it she feels a great weight in her chest, a clot
of grief and guilt and relief and love, and sometimes a tiny bit of pride creeps in
there too-one of her kids got away, is getting away, even if it's too far-but she
squashes that, always. No one else would think she deserved to feel proud. She
doesn't think she deserves to feel proud. Pride is dangerous. So's luck, because it al
ways turs, and there's already been tmuch this trip.
The kid next to her yawns and shifs, giving her an inch or two more room, and
she takes it, grateful. It's getting dark, sunset a dull bruise to the west, obscured by
clouds and by the dirty window, but at least she can see out, watch the gray high
way rushing past. When she first started making this trip, three years ago, she
promised herself she'd look out the window the whole time so she'd be able to tell
September 201 4
Graham about it, but there's nothing next to the road but flat fields, cor and alfal
fa. Sometimes a combine, but she can never make out people. She looked for cows the
first few times, horses. No luck. She'll tell him about this sunset, though. She'll make
it sound prettier than it is.
And when it gets completely dark she'll peer up through the window and try to
make out stars. Sometimes she can see them. She can't remember if there's a moon
tonight, but she'll look for that, too. Vangie feels like she has to look, because Gra
ham can't. He doesn't get to see the night sky anymore.
Zl dosn't get to see anything else. She thought she was so lucky when she won the
ticket, blind lottery, her name pulled out of the hat with all those other folks'. It still
rips Vangie's heart open to remember how eager Zel was to leave all of them, leave
everything forever. '1" m going to the stars!" she said, but all she's doing is living in a tin
can, living and dying there, and they'll make babies out of her eggs who'll live the next
leg, and babies out of their eggs who'll live the next, and final1y there will be a planet at
the end of it, that world the scientists found that's suppsed to b as much like Earth as
makes no never mind. Zel will never see it. She'll b long dead, her cildren's children
will be long dead, by the time they get there. She'll never see sunset or alfalfa again.
A far as Vangie's concered, she's got two kids in for life. She's just glad she can
still visit one of them.
She's almost dozed ofwhen the bus stops. The kid next to her gets of. Nobody else
gets on. Nobody moves from their current seat to take that one. A shiver goes down
Vangie's spine, and she crosses her fingers even as she's moving her bag onto the
other seat, stretching out the way the kid did, sighing and feeling her muscles un
knot because now maybe she can actually sleep the last few hours of the trip. More
luck, too much luck, as much crazy luck this time as it took Zl to get that ticket. She
won the generation-ship lottery right before Graham got caught moving more co
caine than anyone could claim for personal use, dumb bad luck, he hadn't noticed
one of his taillights was out and got pulled over, third strike you're out. It's like Vang
ie and her kids only get so much luck, and Zel's heaping lottery serving-if you call
that luck at all-meant Graham ran short. Vangie hopes she herself isn't not hog
ging it now. The kids need it more than she does.
She knows there are people who'd say Graham doesn't deserve luck, say what hap
pened to him was all about choice and not about luck at all, say he's scum for dealing
drugs. Vangie wishes to God he hadn't gotten involved in the cocaine deal, but she
wishes Zel hadn't won the lottery ticket, too. The world ca think what it wants. Gra
ham's her son. He's the only family she has lef, and tomorrow's his birthday. And in
her bag, infinitely precious, is a message fom his sister. And if this impossible steak
of luck holds, Vangie will actually get to deliver it to him on his birthday.
She gets dizzy just thg about everything that's already had to go exactly right.
Zel's end is tricky enough. The settlers-settlers! as ifZeI will ever get to settle any
where but inside that tin can!-don't get to send messages very often, because there
are so many of them and they're all busy growing beans or doing things t each other's
eggs and spenn or whatever they spend their time on up there. Vgie tries not to won
der about the babies. Whatever babies Zel has, Vangie will never get to hold them.
But anyway, they don't get to send messages very ofen. There's a schedule, as strict
as the one dictating when prisoners can call out, and for how long. And the ones from
the t can have t travel a lot farther. There's a computer that tlls the person sending
the message when it will reach Earth. Right now it takes a couple of days, and a lot of
messages don't even get through becuse they have to travel so far, bouncing off plan
ets and satellites and space rocks and G knows what else. A lot of them just get lost.
So Zel just happened to get her slot last week sometime, or the week before that,
72 Susan Palwick
and sent Graam's birthday video in time to reach Vangie's fee e-mail account the
week before Graham's birthday, which falls at the beginning of the month, right afer
Vangie's check comes in, which means she had the money to buy a thumb drive to
put the file on, and also had the money for the bus ticket and the hotel down by the
prison, because Graham's birthday falls on one of the weekend visiting days, and
how ofen will that ever happen? It's amazing enough that the message actually
came through. The trip will leave Vangie short on grocery money for the month, but
she'll go to the food pantries and soup kitchens. She'll scrape by.
Of course she called aead to the prison to see if theyd even let her show Graham
the file. She hasn't watched it yet; she wants to see it with him. It's called "Happy
birthday, Graham," so she knows what it's about. She and Graham will have to
watch it on one of the prison computers, and she wanted to make sure she wouJdn't
have to pay: video visits are one hundred dollars an hour, another racket, like the col
lect phone calls. The prison's so crowded because there's no money, they always say,
but it looks to Vangie like they're cleaning up.
More luck: because a prisoner just died in isolation and there's been a big flap
about it, and they're worried about PR this week, her can got put through to the war
den, and he promised her that she'd b able to use a prison laptop, no charge. Some
thing about prisoners' rights to contact with family, and if your family's on a
generation ship and your only possible contact's a video message that just traveled
days to get to your mother's e-mail account, well then.
Vangie trusts this as far as she can throw the bus. The flap's died down now. 'I\en
ty to one there won't be any laptop. She doubts the warden will admit to taking her
call, or even remember it.
The bus rocks her, that lulling rushing motion she's always loved, the feeling of go
ing somewhere. She peers up through the window, but there are clouds now, and be
tween them and the grime, she can't see stars. She pushes both of her seats back,
and stretches out as much as she can, and sleeps.
It's a good thing she slept on the bus, because she can hardly sleep at all in her ho
tel room: a blasting T on one side of her and raucous sex followed by a screaming
fight in the other, and a lumpy mattress. Her own TV's broken, so she lies in the
dark, staring up at the ceiling, reminding herself that Zel and Graham both have it
much worse. Prison's even noisier than this, and much more crowded, and there's no
checking out of the gen-ship.
She dozes off a little, finally, around three, but wakes up smack-dab at five, the
way she's done her whole adult life. This means she gets close to first dibs on the hot
water, which stll runs out too quickly. A shower's a shower, though. The cofee at the
diner across the street restores her even more, and the scrambled eggs are fluff, just
like she makes them herself
She's first in lie at the prison. "Evangeline Morris," she tells the guard, who looks
like she's barely awake herself "I'm supposed to b able to use one of your laptops.
The warden said."
'''es ma'am. I have that down here. They'll get it for you inside."
Marveling and suspicious-the PH flap must have lasted longer than usual
Vangie hands over her purse so another yawning guard can search it, and goes
through the metal detector and reclaims her bag. There's a long line of other visitors
behind her; she can feel the weight of them pressing on her back, pressing her
through the doors into the visiting room.
The visiting room's a dull yeUow cube dotted. with tables and chairs. The two vending
machines i te corer are always broken, and noise echoes of the walls. There's noth
ing resembling privacy, but if you have somebody in here, you take what you can get.
Windows 73
September 201 4
And there's Graham waiting for her, and someone else is with him, but Vangie
doesn't care about that right now: she just reaches out for the hug she's allowed, one
at the beginning of the visit and one at the end. She hugs Graham as hard as she
can, as if she can force aU her love for him through his skin. armor against his life
here. "Happy birthday, baby."
"Mama." His voice is thick. She pulls back t look at h: he's thinner than he was
last visit, and tears track his cheeks. "Mama, I brought the chaplain with me."
"What?" Her heart flutters. "What's wrong?" Graham's thinner than last time. "Ae
"Mama, the ship. You didn't hear? The news last night?"
"What? What news?" She was on the bus last night, in the hotel with the broken
T. 0, she hasn't heard any news.
''The gen-ship. There was a fire. A explosion. They've lost contact. Nobody knows
anything. Everybody's scared."
Vangie blinks. The chaplain reaches out to steady her, and she realizes she's sway
ing. Graham guides her into a chair. All that good luck: she knew something terrible
had to happen. She swallows.
"I didn't hear anything." She didn't hear anybody talking about it at the diner,
even. She was in a bubble, as isolated as any prisoner here, as isolated as the people
on the gen-ship, dead or alive. "I-they don't know?"
Graham's sitting now, at the little table across from her. "Nobody knows anything
yet. They're afraid it's bad."
The afertaste of cofee is a bitter tang in her mouth, metallic as blood. The chap
lain clears his throat. "Ma'am, I'm so sorry. I'd be happy t pray with you, or talk-"
She wants to send him away. If no one knows anything yet, maybe it's all fine.
There are safety systems on the gen-ship. There've been fires i space before, haven't
there? And everybody lived? Of course the newS people are pushing fear. That's their
drug, making everybody scared, as iflife's not scary enough. News fear isn't real.
This chaplain's real, too real; he makes her nervous, and she wants him gone. But
Graham brought him here. Graham's trying to do something for her. Graham, who
may now be her only child, is trying to be a good and loving son. He doesn't have
many ways to take care of her. She has t let him.
So she and Graham bow their heads, and the caplain says a quick, bland prayer
for safety and a good outcome and comfort for all the families here on earth, and
squeezes her shoulder, and asks if she needs to talk.
''Thank you, reverend, but I need t talk to my son. I don't have long with hm, as
you know. It's his birthday."
''Happy birthday
" the chaplain says sofly, and leaves.
Graham wipes his eyes. The prayer seems to have moved him far more than it did
her. "Mama, I don't know how we'll know if she's-"
"She's fine," Vangie says. She hears her own voice, too shrill, too loud. She recog
nizes that voice: it's how she talked when Graham was arrested, in the weeks before
his sentencing when she had to hope that somehow everything would work out, that
he'd get of. Maybe everything will be fine, and if you say so loudly enough, maybe
you'll believe it. "We don't know anything. Until we know for sure, she's fine. And she
sent you something, Graham." She calls over a guard and asks for the laptop.
He brings it. This no longer surprises her. Her dread at the improbable run ofluck
is gone now, and she refuses to let any other dread replace it.
The guard clears his throat. "I need to stay here while you use it."
"Yes. We understand."
He turns on the machine, and Vangie, hands shaking only a little, inserts the
thumb drive and opens the file. Somebody's set the laptop volume too high: there's a
74 Susan Palwick
blast of music, the theme music for the genship, like it's some kind of T show, and
then "Happy Birthday, Graham!" fills the screen in flowery letters, and then there's
Zel's face. Vangie hasn't seen it in months, except in photos. Zel's smiling. She loks
healthy. Her hair's short, and she's wearing a white Tshirt; behind her, Vangie sees
metal walls, a white corridor, people walking through it.
Vangie turs down the volume so Zel's voice will sound normal. "Hey, Graham! I
hope Mama got this message to you in time for your birthday, but if not, happy be
lated. I only have about a minute, but I just wanted you to know that I miss both of
you and think about you all the time. The ship's a little boring but not too bad. I'm
still working with the plants. I like it." Zel holds up a tiny yellow jacket. "I crocheted
this. One of my eggs took: I'm going to be a mom!" Her grin's huge now, the expres
sion Vangie remembers fyom summer trips to the public pool, from the times Zel got
to play with a neighbor's dog, fom when she rushed over to tell Vangie she'd won a
place on the ship. "So Mama, you're going to be a grandma, and Graham's going to
be an uncle! And whatever the baby is, I'm naming it after one of you. It will be one
of the first babies born here. I'm getting special food and everything, lots of vitamins.
It's a big deal. Okay, that's my time. Love you both. Bye."
The message ends. The room's quieter than Vangie's ever heard it. She feels that
pressure at her back and turns to find a crowd around the table: other inmates and
visitors, other guards. The guy who manned the metal detector, the woman at the
desk. The chaplain. Some of them are snifling. They look stricken. They look alike,
whatever they're wearing, uniforms or prison jumpsuits or street clothing.
They heard the music. They canle to watch the message from the ship.
"We don't know anything yet," Vngie says. Her voice sounds like her own again.
"Not for sure. And whatever's happening up there, we can't do anything about it. To
day is my son Graham's bithday. Help me sing to him."
And they do. It's a ragged chorus gathered by shock and tragedy, wavering and off
key, and it won't last long, but it's here now. And Vangie knows that's luck, too. 0

O|I |O|m5

I dream I am on a parallel Earth where they do not use any short

forms. There are no initials, no contractions, no abbreviations. My
computer stops working, so I buy a new International Business
Machine. I log on, someone sends me ajoke, and I find myself rolling
on the floor laughing my ass off. Later I go to a party where every
one wears polyvinyl chloride. It was one of those kinds of parties.
One woman tells me she uses self-contained underwater breathing
apparatus when diving the Barrier Reef Her favorite poets are
Edward Estlin Cummings and Thomas Stearns Eliot. I tell her my
favorite authors are Herbert George Wells and John Ronald Reuel
Tolkien. I find that I miss the ability to be brief, that contractions
give us more time to get to know each other. I want to return to my
world where there are lasers and radar, a world where there is the
promise of an FTL drive, a world where you can write a letter that
ends with PS: I love you.

-David Livingstone Clink
Tom Purdom
Tom Purdom tells us, "A collection of many of my Asimov's
stories, Lover and Fighters, Starships and Dragons, has been
published by Fantastic Press, which is headed by Ian Strock.
who was an editorial assistant at Asimov's when Gardner
Dozois started buying my stories for the magazine. Michael
Swanwick did the introduction and he and his wife, Marianne
Porter, hosted a champagne launch party at Boskone-a heady
experience compared to the launch party for my first paper-
back fifty years ago, when I visited the bus station and saw
the book really was on sale at the newsstand:' Tom's latest
novella is a fast-paced adventure tale that brings closure to
humans and aliens attempting to co-exist on a distant planet.
Leza hiked and braided rope for fiftyseven days. They were planetary days, not
Earth days, so she marched for about five hours every day and braided during the
last four hours of daylight, using the terrestrial time units the humans on the plan
et still favored.
There were forty-eight combatants in their little army-three hwnans, twenty
three itiji, twenty-four male tree people. The male tree people were aU Warriors of
Imeten and they moved through the trees in a disciplined defensive circle, with a
dozen women and children in the center. The humans and the itiji walked on the
ground, the humans trudging under the weight of backpacks and weapons. Most of
the itiji pulled sledges that gained weight as the rope accumulated.
The humans were the only creatures i the group who were built for sustained
long-distance walking. The itiji were four-legged hunters who usually stayed within
a day of their home base. The tree people were city builders who normally moved in
spurts as they went about their business. The itiji had to spend part of every day
pursuing their dinner. The tree people ate some of the meat the itiji killed, but they
drew most of their calories fom the fuits they gathered as they traveled. In the af
ternoon they joined the humans in the rope braiding sessions.
They were going to climb a cliff that measured about one kilometer from its base
to the plateau at the top. The tree people would climb the clif and install ladders
the itiji could climb.
The plateau on top of the clif was a grassy plain, dotted with clumps of trees. The
tree people would mount the itiji and they would attack the human settlement i a
single rush, hammers, swords, teeth and claws, against the guns of the gang who
tyrannized the humans. The tree people couldn't fight on the ground without the
help of the itiji. The itiji couldn't climb the clif without the tree people.
Bogdavi the Dreamer walked with Leza for part of every day. Bogdavi came and
went as he pleased, but he always came back to Leza. The itji had developed a tra
dition of romantic love, and Bogdavi had apparenty transferred it to a female from
another species. The oldest itiji woman explained the tradjtion to Leza. Her round
itiji face wrinkled into a patter Leza associated with amusement.
Leza had spent most of her childhood reading factual material, but she had dal
lied now and then in the imaginary worlds inhabited by Lancelot and Sir Galahad.
"We have a tradition like that, too," Leza said. 'We had males called knights who
courted women they couldn't have. They wrote poems and did good deeds just so the
women would admire them."
'We find it useful and amusing," the oldest itiji woman said. "Do your women feel
that way?"
"Some of them probably did. I'm not sure how I would have felt. I'm not sure how I
feel. "
Leza usually braided rope in a group that included Joanne and four of the tree
people. Harold worked with a group that included the leader of the Warriors, Jila
Jen. The tree people gathered the vines that provided the basic fiber and they all sat
there, monotonous hour afer monotonous hour, working in pairs so they could keep
the braid tight as they twisted.
Bogdavi had dreamed the plan. But Bogdavi was not the most practical of dream
ers. They would need two ladders, side by side, if they were going to get everybody
up the clif in a single ascent. Each ladder would require two vertical lengths of rope,
plus the rope they used to make the rungs.
The two ladders would actually be a series of ladders, each section about a hun
dred meters long, depending on the exact topography of the clif. The itiji would climb
the ladders fom anchor point to anchor point, harnessed to safety ropes managed
by Warriors. They were going to need a lot of rope.
Leza had thought of herself as a loner for most of her life, but she had discovered
she could circulate among the itiji and the tree people. The itiji ate raw meat and
walked on four legs, but their big heads had generated thoughts and cultures that
shared common features with the songs and customs humans had created. She
walked with different groups ofitiji during the wallUng periods. She told them about
humans and their strange lives. She swapped ideas about parent-child and male-fe
male relationships.
This was the first time she had engaged in protracted conversations wit the tree
people women. They tended to be silent and withdrawn, but they loosened up when
they found themselves braiding rope in all-female groups, even if two of the females
belonged to another species. Harold had a theory about the tree people personality,
based on the fact that their children were bor with fully developed brains, free to
scamper around and get in trouble minutes afer they exited the womb. It was all re
lated to the full upright stance of the humans, which had narrowed the birth canal
at the same time the brain was getting bigger, so human babies were born depen
dent and immobile, with brains that were still growing. Leza wasn't convinced you
could explajn personality differences that easily, but the tree people mothers did
have their hands full fi'om the moment their babies were born. They did indeed feel
they had to keep the little devils under tight control. Tree people societies did seem
to be based on rigid, harshly enforced rules, just like tree people families. But you
could cath glimpses of the softer emotions that bound human societies when you lis-
Bogdovi's Dreom 77
September 201 4
tened to the women talking among themselves. They were hazy wisps of emotion
compared to the aggressive communalism of the itiji, but you could pick them up i f
you paid attention.
The forest presented her with an endless series of mysteries and questions. She
had never seen a terrestrial forest, but she had looked at pictures and read descrip
tions. The forests of Earth had probably looked like the forest of Delta Pavonis II
before humans had turned trees into fuel and cleared open spaces for their farms.
Evolution had a logic to it. It had followed a similar course on both planets, as nat
ural selection favored creatures who could thrive in similar environments. The dif
ferences and the similarities raised questions that could have occupied whole
universities of researchers. The flying creatures that flitted through the trees re
sembled birds and oversized insects, but the creatures who resembled birds sported
teeth instead of beaks and generatd plumage that looked like brightly colored moss.
The longchain molecules at the roots of their chemistry formed molecules that re
sembled terrestrial proteins, but humans couldn't digest them.
The real mystery was Harold. He claimed he wasn't a warrior. He liked to joke that
nobody had ever heard of a warrior with myopia. But Leza had fought beside him.
She had seen hinl kill. She knew what violence did to you. Harold had been living
with violence almost continuously for three years. He and Joanne had been driven
out of the human settlement by an outbreak of violence that started with the murder
of Harold's father. They had stumbled into the conflict between the itiji and the tree
people, who had been enslaving the itiji for generations, and led the itiji in a struggle
against the Warriors who ruled the tree people city oflmeten. Harold had risked his
life, against heavy odds, in an audacious act of violence that forced the Warriors to
accept the itiji as equals. He had masterminded a border war between the Warriors
and their enemies in the city of Drovil. Imeten had become a city in which itiji and
tree people lived as equals. Then Harold's human enemies had come down off the
plateau in their antigravty sleds and allied themselves with the Drovils .
And now Harold was trudging through te forest with the surivors fom the ruined
city of Imeten, gathering rope for an assault on the human settlement. It hadn't been
his idea. He had hoped they could start a new cit-a place where they could hide from
their enemies and create the kind of society they had been building in Imeten. But
Bogdavi had swayed the refugees with his Dream. And Harold had acquiesced.
But what did Harold feel? Could he really be as calm as he acted, given everything
he had seen, knowing he was advancing toward an event that would add more im
ages of death and mayhem t the memories that already crowded his brain? Didn't
people reach a limit Sooner or later? Harold had fought during the escape from Ime
ten, but Leza had noted that he had only fought when he was attacked. He had
agreed t this risky, incredibly demanding adventure because he felt he had to, be
cause he had realized Bogdavi had fired up most of the refugees and they would
probably drif away ifhe didn't.
"He never talks about his feelings," Joanne said. "It's the way he keeps himself un
der control. He's got this cage inside him and he puts all the dangerous feelings in
side it. But he can be pretty funny sometimes. Even now."
Joanne had been just as heroic as Harold. He had engaged in more hand-tohand
combat, but she had lived with the same continuous threat of defeat and death. If
she didn't know what Harold felt, no one did.
They had grown up on the plateau, with Leza as a kind of big sister, six years old
er than Harold and Joanne. Leza and Harold had worked with some of the same
learning modules, building the foundation for studying the planet. They had both
dreamed that they would leave the plateau someday and explore the world that lay
below them. Harold had developed a quirky interest in the history of war, but boys
78 Tom Purdom
were like that. He claimed it was just a fonn of recreational reading-a break from
equations and the intricacies of involved biochemical reactions.
Leza saw that side ofhir when she watched the discussions he held with the War
riors and itiji who would lead the attack. What will we do, Harold would ask, if they
discover us while we're climbing the cliff? While we're gathered at the tp of the cliff
preparing to move? What would you do if you were running their side?
He liked to draw diagrams on the ground and manipulate a little collection of to
kens he accumulated as they marched. Grey stones represented humans. Flat wood
en rectangles represented the four anti-gravity sleds the humans in the settlement
possessed. Black nuts represented itiji, wooden cubes Warriors.
He called the sessions "contingency planning." It made sense. But every contingency
they considered could b used a an argument for abandoning the whole project.
Coils of rope rose above the beds of the sledges. The itiji struggled against heavier
loads. The ground sloped upward. They had traveled through a wide circle that had
brought them into te foothills of the mountains. They were still hiking through forest,
but there came a moring when they realized something was looming above the trees.
They reached the edge of the forest a little afer the time they would normally stop t
rest. A long slope rose i font of them, covered with grass and clumps of stubby trees.
The slope ended at the base of a stone wall-a mass of exposed granite that rose al
most straight up, with patches of trees and bushes scattered through the fissures and
outcroppings. Flyers clustered around the areas that ofered them food and shelter.
''hat's about as close to vertical as you can get," Joanne said.
"We can climb it," Jila-Jen said.
Harold nodded. He probably couldn't make out most of the cracks in the cliff face
at thi distace. Leza wasn't even sW'e he could see the flyers.
Golva planned the route they would take up the clif. Golva was a strange person
by itiji standards, but he was a good planner. Once he had the route planned, he
could calculate the lengths of rope and netting they would need. Golva had climbed
another section of the cliff all by himself, but this was diferent. Twenty-three itiji
must climb the clif in a single day.
The tree people worked their way up the clif with the same techniques they used
when they moved through the trees and erected cities in the branches. They drove
spikes into the rocks in the same way they hammered spikes in the softer flanks of
the trees. They spread over the clif like children who had discovered a new kind of
They established the first anchor point on a narrow ledge a hundred meters above
the base of the cliff. The empty ladder that dangled below it fluttered in the wind.
The next anchor point would be a hundred and thirty meters higher. Golva's plan re
quired eight anchor points between the base and the top.
Harold made the first climb. He wrapped a safety line around his upper body and
the tree people on the ledge pulled in the line as he rose. The rg on the ladder had
been placed close together, for the benefit of the itiji, but he was still breathing hard
when he reached the ledge.
Golva volunteered to be the first itiji to test the ladder. Golva had climbed the cliff
on the other side of the plateau) where the drop t the forest was three times longer.
It looked like a good idea to most of the itiji.
"Let Golva do it."
"Show us how you climb, Golva."
"Walk toward the sky."
But Golva wasn't a normal itiji. Everybody knew he was odd. Golva had left his
Bogdovi's Dreom 79
September 201 4
fiends and kin, and risked hs life on the side of a clif, merely because he had heard
about the human settlement and wanted to see what it was like. No normal itiji
would do something like that.
Golva had a good mind. Golva could plan batles and joureys, and fill his memo
ry with a minion facts no one else would think about twice. But he didn't know some
of the simplest things. He could listen to his kin talk about the most important mo
ments in their lives and never hear all the things they were saying about their feel
ings and their unons. He could only hear the most obvious meanings of their words.
The oldest itji woman understood that. The itiji would watch Golva climb the lad
der and tell themselves it was the kind of thing Golva did.
"We need Golva," she said. "He's the best planner we have."
The other itiji tried to discourage her. She was growing old. Her huntband placed
her in statc ambush positions when they foraged for meat.
"How far is it? You don't think I can walk that many steps?"
In the end, her third son said he would do it. He trembled when Joanne rastened
the saety harness around his shoulders. He voiced his fears althe way up, as itiji
did. But he made the climb.
He stood on the rim of the ledge and let out a long cry of triumph. The itiji below
threw back their big round heads and sang their praise.
Harold was still standing on the ledge, a long step back from the rim. The third son
retreated from the drop and looked up at him. His tail was quivering like a buzzing
"1 think I would like t stay here," the third son said. "I can test each section as it's
Harold gestured at the work parties laboring above them. "Some of these anchor
points won't have ledges. You'll have to test two at a time before you reach a place
where you can rest,"
'We said we would climb the clif, Harold. We didn't say we would descend it."
Leza had been working on a field study on the day Emile Ditterman murdered
Harold's father. She was studying a colony of tree-nesting flyers she had labeled
Blue Winged Strikers. They inhabited a clump of trees next to the biggest river on
the plateau and they lived on the amphibians that populated the riverbank. She
didn't know her life had changed until she hiked into the settlement the day after
the takeover.
There were people supervising the ag machines in the farm plots, as usual. None
of them waved at her or yelled a greeting. Nobody kidded her because she had been
running around "bird watching" while they had been knocking themselves out grow
ing rood.
The buildings in the settlement were a collection of utilitarian boxes constructed
by the fabrication machinery lowered from orbit. The only significant amenty was
an area that had been planted with terrestrial shade trees and furnished with tables
and chairs. Two of Emile Ditterman's fiends were sitting in the shade under one of
the trees. Leza didn't see the rifles lying on the table until she started toward them.
She tried to maintain fiendly relations with everyone. You had to when you were
essentially living in a small town with only two hundred people in it. But she had
never developed any warm feelings for either of the men. They belonged to a younger
age group, for one thing. And she didn't like the way they looked at her. They were
both at the age when male biochemistry churned up a storm, according to everything
she had leared about human and animal behavioral physiology.
She gestured at the guns. "What's going on?"
She had mentored one or them ror a while when his mother had decided he wasn't
80 Tom Purdom
making proper use of the educational facilities available on the information net. He
was named Mack Veil and he had spent most of the time thinking the kind of thoughts
he was obviously thinking now. The other one was named Jan something. His major
interests seemed to b muscle building and long sessions with the weapon simulators.
"There's been a change in administrations." Mack Veil said.
Jan smiled. "We're watching for civil unrest."
She knew some of the management committee meetings had gotten stormy. She
knew a lot of the younger people were getting tired of the way Harold's father and
his friends ran things. She had joined in a few grumble sessions herself. It had nev
er occurred to her anyone would pick up a gun.
"You can have a seat," Mack said. "Did you spot any interesting birds?"
She was feeling confused but she apparently had good instincts-better than she'd
realized. Nobody had t tell her she should break contact as fast as possible, with the
minimum release of phonemes.
" have to put my stuf away."
She was very conscious of her stride as she walked toward the building that
housed her room. Was she walking too fast? Did she look frightened?
She shared the building with seven adults and two children-three singles and
two married couples with a child apiece. The married couples had retreated to their
apartments. She got some infonnation out of the two people who would talk to her,
but they kept it to a minimum. Nobody knew what their new leaders were planning.
Harold's father and his best friend had been killed without warning. Harold had
been backed into a corer, determined to litter the ground with bodies before he died
himself, and Joanne had ended the standoff by arranging a bargain that let the two
of them leave the plateau and try to survive in the forest.
Leza had watched Emile for the next three years. Everybody in the settlement
watched Emile and his friends. There were only twenty of them, but that was all it
took when they had guns and you didn't. Everything that happened to you, every
day, depended on them. On their moods. Their impulses. You studied their routines
so you could be someplace else as much as possible. You watched for the shadows
that fell across their faces.
She woke up every moring wondering if this was the day she would be raped or
simply added to some stud's string. It didn't happen. They didn't need her. They all
had women a month afer they started strutting around the settlement. Emile liked
toying with her. He smiled every time he talked to her. His smile hung in her
thoughts everywhere she went.
She stuck with other women as much as she could. She knew she couldn't let him
think she had linked with a man outside his gang. He wouldn't let that happen. He
never said it but she knew she couldn't take the chance.
But she couldn't walk around free forever. Emie would get tired of it. Without
warning. Like everything he did.
Then Golva made his famous climb and became a prisoner. Emile recruited her to
help him find out what they'd caught. She found out what Golva was. She helped
him escape. And her world changed again.
Imeten had fallen because Emile and his thugs had decided they should venture
out of the settlement and see what the planet ofered a band of technologically supe
rior freebooters. But what did they hope to gain? The settlement had all the re
sources it needed. The nuclear reactor in their lander could provide them with power
for centuries. The livestock they had generated and the fields they had planted pro
vided all the food they could eat.
Harold thought Emile had some vague idea they could bring slaves back to the
plateau. The tree people tured their own species into slaves, along with the itiji,just
Bogdovi's Dreom 81
September 201 4
as humans had enslaved humans on Earth. Emile could haul both species to the
plateau and build up a combined labor force.
''Machines wear out," Harold argued. "Sooner or later we'll have to get more of our
assets from the planet. It can be done cooperatively. the way it could have developed
in Imeten. Or you can do it by force."
Joanne had a simple]
theory. "They like to make people cringe. They like to wreck
things. They don
t need excuses."
The tree people missed Golva's deadline. When the third day ended, they had just
started planting the spikes that would hold the final section of the ladder.
Golva had worked out an installation plan that would take three days if every
thing went well. They would all rest at the end of the third day, according t the plan,
and spend the next day climbing. They would haul the last climbers over the rim late
in the afternoon, rest through the night, and attack just after sunrise.
And now they were facd with a dilemma. Should they start the climb the next mor
ing, when the tree people finished the last section? Or should they sit in thei camp for
most of a day, so they would have a full day ahead of them when they began climbing?
Golva believed the itiji should start their climb while the tree people were working
on the last section. Eight of Jila-Jen's best workers would finish laying ladders. The
rest of the tree people would work the safety ropes and help the itiji climb. It was all
clear in Golva's head, like everything he planned.
"And what ifit takes longer than Golva's numbers tell him?" Jila-Jen demanded.
"You told us we could finish in three days, Golva. You haven't been up there yourself
You don't know what we're struggling with. What will we do if the first itiji reach the
last section and it isn't finished? Will we have itiji spread all over the cliff howling in
fea while they wait for u to finish?"
Leza sat on the edge of the little group, resting against a tree in the dark, and lis
tened to them argue-Jila-Jen, Golva, Harold, and the oldest itiji woman. They were
all screaming at each other in Imeten. Jila-Jen had made no attempt to learn the
language of his allies. Leza had often wondered if the tree people cou.ld learn other
languages. When tree people from different cities spoke to each other, they always
used itiji slaves as interpreters.
"We will make the climb," the oldest itiji woman said. "We will do what we
promised. If we have to hang on the ladders while we wait for you to finish, we will
hang on the ladders. We will live with our fears."
''My calculations were only of by one part in sixteen," Golva said. "I've taken that
into account. I know how long it takes to lay a section. I calculated how long it takes
per worker. The first itiji may reach the bottom ofthe last secton before you're done
with it but they won't have to wait long."
''With eight of my people working on the ladder? And the rest of them helpi ng you
In the end Harold decided they should accept Golva's plan. They had to think
about time, Harold argued. They knew Drovil warbands were searching the forest.
The itiji in the area kept them informed.
'We had a nice, neat schedule," Harold said. "It didn't work-not as well as we'd
hoped. Golva's plan will be messy. We'll have to cope with problems. But there are
times when you have to push yourself."
Ji1a-Jen screamed a final objection, but he accepted Harold's decision. They would
have argued until dawn if Harold hadn't put an end to the debate. He was the only
person in their group who had acquired that kind of authority. Right or wrong, he
had given them a decision. Tomorrow Leza would pull hersel up a full kilometer. She
would stop on the way, with the other two humans, and help with the safety ropes.
82 Tom Purdom
Golva would tell them exactly where they would stop, moving them around like
pieces on a game board, as he always did. The next day, at dawn, she would stand on
the plateau with a war hammer in one hand and a knife in the other, like a woman
warrior in a medieval adventure vid.
The first rope failure left an itij i clawing at the rock as he hung from his safety
line. A rung broke under the itiji's hind legs and the sudden lurch caught him by sur
prise. His front paws lost their clumsy grip on the rung they were clutching. The
Warriors holding the safety line strained against the itUi's weight.
Leza was climbing the ladder five rungs ahead of him. She looked back and her
stomach rolled. They were working their way up the second section. She had already
put a hundred and fifty meters of empty air between her body and the ground.
She pressed herself against the rock. She had been resolutely staring at the cliff
face as she climbed. ow she had to keep looking down.
The itiji was roaring his fear-as itji always did. The itiji below him were re
sponding in languages she didn't understand, but she knew what they were saying.
Most of them would be expressing their sympathy-and their own fear something
like this would happen to them.
The tree people derided the emotional outpourings that accompanied everything
the itiji did. To the tree people the itiji were fearfl, whining creatures. But the itiji
could fight and risk their lives in spite of aU their moaning. They exchanged infor
mation about their feelings for the same reason they exchanged information about
their actions when they were hunting and fighting.
She sucked in a breath and forced a shout out of her lungs. ''ell them to lower you.
Tell them to lower you two rungs. To where you can hold on."
She could scream i the Imeten laguage, but the itji had a louder voice and he prob
ably spoke the language better than she did. He threw back his head as soon as he
heard her and delivered a perfect imitation of a Warrior of Imeten issuing a command.
A Warrior screamed in reply. The safety rope slipped down the cliff as the itiji
backed up. A Warrior scrambled down the ladder with a length of spare rope draped
around his neck.
Leza could see the two ends of the broken rung hanging from the sides of the lad
der. The rug had definitely succumbed to a break. It hadn't failed because someone
had tied a bad knot. It looked just like all the other rungs on the cliff. It could have
been any of the other rungs on the cliff.
In the military terms Harold had picked up, they were trying to win a "logistics
victory." Armies won logistics victories because they overcame an "impassable" ob
stacle. They crossed a desert or climbed a cliff and outmaneuvered theLr adversary.
The other term Harold used a lot was "in detail." They mustn't let themselves be
defeated in detail.
It was a classic mistake, Harold claimed. You fed your forces in bit by bit and the
enemy defeated you one unit at a time. Every group you committed fought outnum
bered. They couldn't let that happen to them. They had to raise their entire force in
one sustained movement.
The fourth section took advantage of a slope that angled inward. It wasn't much
of a slope, but it relieved some of the stress on her thighs and arms. The rock on the
slope had a flinty, whitish color that radiated heat, but the wind at this height
whipped off the sweat.
She was climbing under the fl impact of a sun that would have shriveled most of
the life forms that had evolved on Earth. Delta Pavonis II orbited a star that was a
Bogdovi's Dreom 83
September 201 4
few hundred degrees cooler than the star that heated Earth, but it was twenty-three
million miles closer. Ln the forest, all that extra energy supported trees that created
a perpetual shade. On the clif she was creeping across a vertical desert.
Above her, when she raised her eyes, she could see two Warriors who were roped to
spikes. Their legs were braced against a ledge that was a little wider than their feet.
There would be no pause for a rest when she reached the end of this section. She would
transfer to the next safety rop and start hauling herself up the next hundred meters.
Most of the itiji were engaging in their usual chatter. A few were singing as they
rested. They were scattered over three or four resting places, above and below her,
but they were maintaiing a precise, multi-part harmony with interweaving melody
lines. Itiji singing sounded of pitch t human ears, but she had adjusted to that.
She didn't look down when she heard the change in the voices below her. She
tipped back her head and looked uP. hoping she had misjudged the emotions they
were communjcating.
The itiji above her were all looking down. Three of them had automatically
switched to English, so the humans would know what was happening.
She swallowed her giddiness and turned her eyes toward the drop below her. A
dark body was clawg at the rocks beside the left ladder in the second section.
She pressed her forehead against the hot stone. The itiji voices reached a crescen
do that ended in a huge collective moan. A slow, weary alto initiated a dirge that
spread across the clif.
Most of the itiji near her switched to English when the death song faded. They
wanted the humans to know what had happened-and how they felt.
"The safety rope failed her."
"She lost her footing. She lost her footing and the rope broke."
''he safety rope wasn't safe."
"The rope had weakened and we didn't know it."
"Her fiends and kin have lost a brave and steady voice."
Two Warriors knotted a spare length of rope t the end of the broken safety line.
Harold descended from his position on the fifth section and proved the repair could
support his welldeveloped fame with all hjs weapons and armor.
"The other rope was tested, t."
"Every rope has been tested."
"Any rope can fail."
"At any time."
'We are hanging over death."
But they were still climbing. They had started climbing a son a the lament faded.
"We are hanging over death for our fiends and kin."
The last itji hauled his body over the rim just before sunset. The itiji and the War
riors established a defensive position in a group of trees near the edge and settled
down for the night.
The three humans huddled in a shallow indentation fifty meters below the r.
Their allies could rely on the darkness for concealment, but the humans had t work
around the locators implanted in the arms of every human on the planet. They had
all agreed they had to stay below the rim. protected by the mass of the clif The de
tectors could only cover two kilometers, but Emile could have set up security
arrangements that induded outlying detectors.
Leza knew she should sleep. Harold and Jo had settled their backs against the
rock and dropped into unconsciousness as if they were stretched out on cots.
At tills height, far above the forest, she was looking straight at the sky. There was
nothing between her and the stars.
84 Tom Purdom
Joanne froze into a rigid shaft of hate when she talked about Emile. Normally, she
viewed the actions of the people around her-human and non-human-with a good
natured tolerance for their foibles. There were times when she even smiled at
Harold's quirks. The only person she seemed to hate was Emile.
Leza had asked her what she thought they would do if their attack succeeded. The
settlement had never formalized its political arrangements. Harold's father had been
the acknowledged leader, but he had never been electd to a specific post.
"We'll have to work that out as we go along," Joanne said. "Maybe te itiji can give us
some ideas. They seem to try out a new idea every time fifty of them start a new band."
"But what will we do if Emile surrenders? You know he won't just accept a
'1fe won't surrender. He's not the type. He may run away. But he won't surrender."
Leza had killed one Drovil during the escape fom Imetn-the only time in her
life she had blotted out the emotions and sensations nowing through te brain of a
conscious, intelligent being. It hadn't bothered her as much as she had thought it
would. She had even felt a flash of satisfaction at the way she had blocked the
DroviJ's sword with her back swing and slammed the hammer into his head with a
two handed retur.
She could still feel that flash of satisfaction when she thought about it. But she
could also remember the way she had stared at the stuff on her hammer when she
had realized she was going to live.
How many of the stars in front of her fueled planets that had generated intelligent
species? Did every intelligent tool-making species spend its days bashing and shoot
ing its own kind?
Humans should study the universe, not conquer it. Instead they wasted their lives
fighting over which swaggering egomaniac should be the leader of their tribe.
Jila-Jen roused them just before sunrise. They ate cakes of a cheese fngus that
tasted like tart tomatoes and hauled themselves up the ladder.
The itiji were already arranged in a broad semicircle, with a Warrior standing be
side each itiji. Golva and the oldest itiji woman sat behind the line.
Waving grass brushed against Leza's knees. She had retured to the place where
she had made the passage fom childhood to early adulthood-her home.
Golva tensed his throat muscles and screamed instructions in the stripped-down
lmeten he used when he was directing all three species. The line moved forward at a
slow walk, with the tree people creeping on all fours beside the itiji. There had never
been any possibility they would charge across the whole length of the plateau, as
Bogdavi had dreamed. Fourteen kilometers of plain lay between them and the set
tlement. They would get as close as they could before the Warriors mounted the itiji
and they broke into a run.
It was a strange, silent advance-the only time she had been surrounded by itiji
who weren't chattering. She could hear the nyers in the sky above them. The things
that lived in the grass scurried out of their way. A stream bubbled on their lef.
The plateau received less rainfall than the forest. The texts Leza had studied
would have classed it as a short-grass or medium-grass ecosystem. The itiji held
their heads high and pushed the grass aside with their shoulders. The Warriors
could see over the grass if they stopped and rose to a crouch. On all fours they
ploughed through a tunnel of rustling stalks.
She exchanged glances with Joanne and received a reassuring smile. She was car
rying a hammer and a knife because they were the only weapons she could use with
any skill. Joanne had opted for a sword and a short hammer with a crude blade on
one face. Harold carried his bow slung over his shoulder, a sword in his hand.
Bogdovi's Dreom 85
September 201 4
They halWd beside a dense stand of the skinny tees the hwuans called whitepoles.
Leza eyed the half dozen flyers circling above the stand and spotted two nests.
A Warrior picked out one of the thicker trees and climbed halfway up. He gave
Harold and Golva a sign and slithered to the ground. The line resumed its advance.
The ground in front of them tilted upward, toward a low crest that blocked the
view beyond. Golva yapped a signal and the youngest itiji hurried forward.
The itji was only eight or nine years old-a half grown child by itiji standards. His
parents had died in the fall of Imeten ad he had been adopted by an itiji who had
lost his grown son. He was supposed to stay in the rear when the f ighting started.
He is the last of his line, his stepfather had said. His parents died so he could escape.
The young itiji settled into position in the grass on top of the rise. The line followed
him up the slope. A Warrior mounted an itiji and the itiji carried him through the
grass on the down slope, toward another group of trees.
They stopped for a rest when they had covered eight kilometers. Golva was setting
a pace that was supposed to balance speed against the need to conserve their energy
for the f inal rush. The three humans dropped to one knee-the posture that gave
them a rest without lulling them into total relaxation. The tree people sprawled on
the ground in a variety of awkward positions, none of them completely satisfactry to
bodies that were used to lounging in hammocks or sprawling on branches with their
arms and legs dangling over the sides.
Joanne moved forward, to be close to Harold. She settled in beside him, with their
shoulders and legs touching, and Leza noted that she was methodically scaning the
area in front of her, left to right, right to left. She didn't raise her voice when she
threw out her ann.
"That's an itiji!"
Leza followed the line of Joanne's arm. Her eyes picked out the top of a round
head. Joanne moved her arm to the lef and she spotted a second head about five
meters from the first.
Harold was already murmuring orders. 'vo itiji left the line and trotted toward
the strangers. 'l\vo other itiji shot forward at pursuit speed, to place themselves be
tween the strangers and the settlement.
Harold stood up and started toward the strangers with his bow raised above his
head. An itiji woman feU in beside him, murmuring a description of the scene in
fout of them.
"Everbody stay down," Harold said. "Don't let them see what we've got."
The two strangers broke into a run. Harold shouted and the two itiji in front of
him shot forward. The other two itiji exchanged huntcries and set themselves on an
intersection course.
Itiji voices crisscrossed the plain. The four pursuers had shifted to a utilitarian
hunting version of the commonest itiji language, leaving out every noun or verb a
normal, linguistically adept itiji could infer. Leza could catch a word here or there,
but most of it passed through her brain like the fuzziest math lecture she had en
countered in the settlement libraries.
"They're telling them we're friends," Golva translated. "They're asking them to
stop and listen . . . must stop and listen."
A burst of fliers pulled Leza's attention to a patch of trees directly in front of the
fleeing strangers. Sunlight flashed on a reflecting surface.
Golva threw back his head. Leza shaded her eyes with her hands and focused on
the anti-gravity sled gliding over the top of the grass. Two people sat behind the
86 Tom Purdom
One of the strange itiji had turned around and started running toward his pur
suers. The other was shouting in English as he raced toward the sled.
Harold had paused halfay between the sled and the half-hidden force behind his
hack. He began backing up, one step at a time. The four itiji who had been pursuing
the strangers dropped the chase and settled into scattered positions in the grass, in
response to Golva's instructions. The sled was advancing at a walking pace.
The itiji who had tured around was following Golva's request and passing infor
mation as he ran. A hand gripped Leza's shoulder. Jia-Jen had slipped into position
behind her.
''What's he saying?" Jila-Jen rasped. "Can Harold kill the humans with his bow?"
The itiji on their lef responded. "He says there are three more itiji in the human
base. He and his friend were hunting. They're allowed to hunt because they know
their fiends will be punished if they run away."
The sled halted. The driver stood up and scanned the scene around him. His hat
shadowed his face, but Leza recognized Mack Veil's stooped slouch.
Harold had notched an arrow in his bow as he backed up. He was staring at a fuzzy
blob, as far as Lza could detrmine from the things he had told her, but he could have
put an arrow in the center of the blob if Mack had been fify meters closer.
Leza had been startled by the speed of Joanne's reaction. Joanne had shifted to
combat mode without a break. Now they were all waiting for Harold to tell them
what to do.
The passenger raised a radio to his ear. Mack Veil bent over and came up with a ri
fle in his hand.
"We have to attack them." Leza said. "They're calling the settlement, Golva. We
can't wait."
Joanne snapped her head aound. Leza had seen the anger on her face before but
this was the first time it had been aimed in her direction.
Golva had already started screaming instructions. The four itiji who had been
chasing the strangers sang replies and converged on the sled. Three Warriors scur
ried through the grass on all fours, their weapons secured by sheaths and belt hooks.
Harold settled to one knee, bow drawn.
The four itiji were singing at full volume. in a deliberate attempt to surround the
humans on the sled with the consion of an attack arriving from fou directions. A
arrow clattered on the front of the sled. A second arrow sailed over the passengers.
Mack Veil dropped into the driver's seat and Harold launched three more arrows
over the top of the windshield.
The sled rose above the grass with the disquieting effortlessness of all anti-gravity
vehicles. Climbing drew extra energy fom the sled's batteries, but there was no sud
den surge of noise, no visible indication a powerful machine was overcoming a fun
damental force.
Mack halted the rise about ten meters above the ground. The sled stared floating
toward the figures scattered through the grass.
Golva had shrieked new orders as soon as Leza had realized the sled was rising. Jila
Jen was scrambling toward the sled on all fours with another Warrior on his right.
Harold ran forward and launched another arrow as the sled started its advance.
Darts rose out of the grass in font of the formation. The three Warriors who had
already left the line had stopped running and unsheathed their dartblowers.
Leza could feel her knee pressing into the ground. The Warriors crouching near
her had loaded their dartblowers-the only defense they would have if the sled kept
advancing. Itiji murmurs spread across the line. They were keeping their voices
down, so everyone could hear Golva, but no one could make them stay silent when
they knew the humans in the sled could look down on a field of helpless targets.
Bogdovi's Dreom 87
September 201 4
Harold and the dartblowers were shooting methodically-just enough to let Mack
know he couldn't stand up and aim his rifle. But how long could they keep it up?
Harold had already used most of the arrows in his quiver.
Mack had to know the toxin on the dart points couldn't kill humans. It could trig
ger allergic reactions but that was a long-term effect. The darts were an annoyance.
Like insects.
A dark object flew toward the sled. It arced across the flat cargo bed behind the
driver and Leza realized it was attached to a line.
The line draped over te sled. Jila-Jen leaped out of the grass and carried the ob
ject down. He and his partner started climbing hand over hand, one on each side of
the sled, a pair of screaming live counterweights.
More darts flew at the sled. Mack twisted around in his seat. Harold broke int a
Jila-Jen and his partner hung below the edge of the sled. Jila-Jen ripped a ham
mer off his belt and threw it toward the front of the sled without raising his head
above the rim.
The itiji couldn't have done a better job of coordination. Jila-Jen and his partner
released the rope simultaneously, grabbed the edge of the sled with both hands, and
hauled themselves onto the deck. Leza couldn't see the whole picture from her an
gle, but she had a clear view of Mack as he cringed away from the flying hammer
and fired a panicky shot at the two screaming furies charging toward him.
The sled drifed to a stop. "Lower the sled," Harold yelled. "Bring it down."
A female voice answered him from the sled-a young, panicky female voice.
"You've killed him. He's dying."
"Lower the sled. We'll see if we can help him."
"That thing stabbed him. He's got blood all over him."
"He kiled Meti-Lin," Jila-Jen screamed. "We've lost one of our hardest Warriors."
Harold switched languages. "Can you see the panel with the lights, Jila-Jen? Tap
the red light. Keep tapping until you're down."
The body in the driver's seat came into view as the sled lurched toward the
ground. Mack was draped across the back of the seat, facing backward. Jila-Jen was
reaching over his shoulder as he tapped the control panel.
Leza recognized the passenger as soon as she saw the angular, thin-shouldered
figure staring at Jila-Jen through her uprased hands. Nanette Dominic had been a
bubbly thirteen-year-old when Emile's gang started their fling. Leza had taken her
on field studies and Nanette had been fascinated by the way Leza turned direct ob
servations into mathematical models. But she was also an adolescent female. Emile's
takeover had shoved her into a confused situation at the worst possible moment in
her development.
Joanne ran toward the sled. "Did you call for help? Did you tell them we're here?"
Leza stood up. The itiji had realized silence had lost its value. Voices were com
menting and questioning up and down the line.
''You need to get up there, Golva."
Golva trotted toward the sled and she hurried afer him. Nanette was staring at
Joanne as if she thought she was being attacked.
"We're not going to hurt you, Nanette," Leza said. 'We just need to know what you
radioed. Who did you talk to?"
Harold checked Mack's neck pulse. "He's still alive. Where did you stab h, Jila-
"Chest and stomach. I turned the blade in the stomach."
"Can you lay him on the ground?" Leza said. "Do you need help moving him?"
Nanettejerked around. "He needs help. We have to get him back to the settlement."
88 Tom Purdom
" need the sled," Golva said. "They know we're here. They'll be attacking us with
''Tell us what you and your boyfiend told them," Joanne said.
Leza lowered her voice. "We have t know, Nanette. Do they know what kind of a
force we have? Can we expect an attack?"
''] told them everything we saw. They'll be coming for you as soon as they can get
"We need to put Warriors on the sled," Golva said. "Can you show a Warrior how to
operate it, Harold?"
Harold was staring at Mack's body. "We have t get him out of there," Jila-Jen said.
Leza rested her hand on Harold's arm. "Take his shoulders. I'll help you keep him
Golva had the numbers for the anti-gravity sleds stored in his head. He could cal
culate the optimum number of Warriors they could put on the sled, given the energy
lef i its batteries, the amount of energy expended per kilometer, the extra energy
drained by ascents, the average weight of a Warrior, and the tactics they would prob
ably use in combat. The effect of the tactics had to be estimated, but he could still
come up with a number. Seven, plus a human driver.
"Let's make it eight," Harold said. "Let's give the Warriors the tactical unit they're
used to."
They left Mack lying on the ground with Nanette kneeling beside him.
"We didn't do anything to you," Nanette said. "We just wanted to see who you
Harold had decided Leza should operate the sled. They moved out at their walk
ing pace, with the sled in reserve behind the line, Harold and Jo keeping pace on the
driver's side.
'We've been assuming most of the people in the settlement will see us as libera
tors," Harold said. "Should we revise that, Leza? How many Nanettes are there?"
Leza had drawn the path for the next kilometer on the sled's navigation display.
She had set the altitude just above the top of the grass, so the sled could drive itself
without any problems with minor variations in the terrain.
"I'll stick with what I've been saying. Emile's buddies picked up a few Nanettes,
but most of the people in the settlement would start dancing in the streets ifthey all
suddenly keeled over dead. The big issue is what they think of you. Nanette's basi
cally a decent person. But we don't know what Mack told her about the attack on
Imeten. They may not know what Emile's been doing outside the settlement. Some of
them may think you're just coming back to replace Emile. With a bunch of non-hu
mans as henchmen. There's no telling what kind of things he's been telling them."
''] think you should use the general alarm system. Tell the community our side of
the story. Tell them what he did to Imeten."
"You want me to do that?"
"You're the most neutral person we've got. They know you. I'm coming home afer
three years. Carring a personal grudge."
"This whole project depended on surprise. One big sudden rush."
"Nothing ever works out the way you planned."
"You think we can take on twenty thugs with rifles holed up in solid buildings?"
"That might be the easy possibility. Emile's still got three sleds. We're a lot more
vulnerable out in the open."
"And you expect me to drive this thing if we're attacked?"
"1 was hoping you would. Can you use a rifle?"
"I've fired one. Three times."
Bogdovi's Dreom 89
September 201 4
"I'll give your Eight some basic rifle instruction while we're walking. They
shouldn't have any trouble grasping the basic idea."
Leza stared at her displays. The Warriors crowded behind her had fallen into com
bat silence. The battery indicator advised her she still had a 59.7 percent charge.
"We can't go back to the clif," Harold said. ''They'd just slaughter us. All of us."
The general alarm system would activate every personal communicator in the set
tlement. They had all memorized the number when they had been children.
"They'll probably cut me off two minutes afer I start talking. Do you have any
suggestions for a nice concise speech?"
"Just tell them we're here with representatives of two intelligent species Emile
tried to conquer and enslave. Make sure you get that in. Most of them must have
seen the itiji by now. Don't ask them to fight. Don't ask them to take sides. Just let
them know we're trying to fee them."
"Emile's got three sleds/' Joanne said. "He's got all the rifles in the settlement.
We're out here in an open field with one sled and one rifle. She') be telling Emile he
doesn't even have to worry about the possibility they'll help us."
"The threat will still be there," Harold said. "They know what people think of
them. They'll have to take it into account."
l'Why not ask for it? Why give people a good excuse to lie low and let things hap
This was the first time Leza had seen Jo argue \ith Harold in public. Did Harold
really think they could succeed without some help from the people they were rescu
ing? Bogdavi's dream of a mad rush across the plateau had tured into a slow crawl
toward an enemy who could outmaneuver them and outshoot them.
''We're the ones who decided to fight," Harold said. "They're the people who have to
live with the consequences if we don't pull this of"
Leza tapped 224 into the radio. "You have activated general alarm," the system
said. "Disconnect if this is not a genuine emergency."
"This is Leza. With Harold and Joanne. And people from two intelligent species
Emile and his gang tried to enslave. Please give us any help you can. It could be-"
The radio pinged. Words flashed on the screen. INAPPROPRlATE MESSAGE.
"That didn't take long," Joanne said.
Harold's face had tued to stone. Joanne put her hand on his arm and he tured
away from both of them.
''There are people in the settlement who hate Emilejust as much as you do," Leza
said. "I know how they feel. They've been living with him and his fiends for three
years. They get a new reason to hate him every day."
A message popped onto the communication display. ONE SLED IMMOBILIZED. To
The return address on the message credited it to kjlot. "Do you know who that is?"
Harold said.
Leza shook her head. She had only exchanged messages over the years with her
personal c1uster-twenty-six people at its maximum. There had been a time when
people crowded the communication system with messages on anything that came
into their heads, but the trafic had faded as they realized it was being watched by
people who weren't noted for their tolerance and good will.
"We owe somebody," Harold said.
"Two somebodies," Joanne said. "We've got one less sled to worry about and we
know exactly what we're going to be dealing with, thanks to whoever sent the mes
sage. Golva can concentrate on the two sleds without worrying about the third one."
"And what happened to them after they did it?"
90 Tom Purdom
Joanne touched him again. It was her standard response to everything that trou
bled them-as if she was trying to close an emotional gap with physical contact.
''It was their decision," Joanne said. "You would have helped us, too. You know you
would have helped us."
Golva had added Italian to the library of human languages stred in his head. The
itiji liked Italian. Leza had been amused (and more pleased than she cared to admit)
when they had discovered, as had generations of humans, that it was a wonderfl lan
guage for people who liked to sing. She had never been an opera fan herself She had
studied Italian out of a sense that she should preserve the language of her ancestors,
even if her family had been speaking American English for six generations. She was,
in fact, the only person in the settlement who could speak Italian. Her Italian "con
versations" had been limited to interactions with the simulations the information sys
tem placed on her screens. Her first conversation with a real flesh-and-blood Italian
speaker had been a chat about human and itiji musical forms with an itiji who was
noted for the precise emotional nuances that colored h formal speeches.
Today, her Italian would have a tactical value. Golva would give her his instruc
tions in Italian-a distinct, unmistakable message directed at her and no one else.
Golva had arranged them in a compact mass, with the sled to the rear and look
outs in far vocal range on the flanks and rear. He had clustered the main body so
they could concentrate their arrows and darts on any sled that came in range. That
made sense. But it also meant they would be an easy target for the ten guns that
would blast at them from the sleds.
You do what Golva tells you to do, Joanne had said. And hope he's right.
Theirs not to reason why. Theirs not to make reply .
She had asked Harold about that poem once. It cropped up in a lot of anthologies.
He had tried to explain it to her but it hadn't made much sense. Somebody had giv
en a vague order. A lot of men had died riding horses at a line of cannon. Couldn't
they see it was a mistake? That wasn't the way it worked, apparently. It might look
like a mistake to you. But it might be a critical move in a larger plan.
She heard the itiji warnings before she saw the two sleds. She had been watching
the front and the sleds were coming in fast on the left, rising as they came, putting
empty sky between their hulls and the grass.
Her orders cut through the di like a aria fom an operatic rage scene, relayed by a
bass that clashed with the shrieks of the Warriors. She ran her finger over the control
screen and the sled tured toward the attackers and rose with them. Below her, bipds
and semi-bipeds closed the gap at the best pace the Warriors could make on all fours.
The two sleds separated, obviously planning to sweep along thei.I' flanks and fire
into the helpless targets on the ground. The figures below her veered toward the sled
on the right and she tured with them. The Warrior strapped into the passenger seat
beside her braced the gun against his chest and trained it, awkwardly, in the gener
al direction of the other sled. It was a small weapon, by human standards, but it
looked large and clumsy in his hands.
Arrows and darts rose in font of her. The gun banged beside her. The Warrior let
out a scream that could have been a battle cry or a surprised reaction to the recoil.
She hadn't asked Golva for a briefing on his plans, but you didn't have to be a ge
nius to understand the basic idea. She was supposed to close in on one of the sleds
and her passengers were supposed to board and overwhelm the gunners by force of
numbers-the only strategy that could ofer them the thinnest hope of success.
The gun banged again. The Warrior's chest might be flaming with pain but he was
Bogdovi's Dreom 91
September 201 4
still doing his job. The gunners on the other sled had responded to the shower ofmis
siles by throwing themselves nat. Five guns pointed at her sled.
Her fingers responded to the order. The sled lurched upward. Bullets echoed on
the bottom of the hull. The other sled rose with her as she closed the gap.
She glanced at the gauges and realized Golva was basing his whole strategy on a
single pass. Climbing devoured energy. She couldn't stay active more than a few
more minuts.
The gap shrank. The driver in the other sled bounced upward and she bounced
higher. He tried to back away and she bured more energy sliding sideways.
The five gunners were all wearing hats, but they had pushed them up and she
could see most of their faces-three orEmile's longtime cadre and two younger ones
who must have joined him after she lef the plateau. They were looking up at her
with their guns trained toward the back of her sled. They wouldn't shoot at her un
less they had to. She had other uses . . .
She had forced a temporary height advantage out of her sled, but they were com
ing up fast. They would be firing across a fifteen-meter gap when they drew level
a short, nasty range for their rifles.
Her finger traced a sharp move across the screen. She cut her upward movement
by 80 percent and poured the extra thrust into the sideward slide. The gap narrowed
to ten meters.
The Warriors behind her launched themselves through the air. Guns crashed.
Screaming living missiles landed on the other sled with their hammers and swords
Her sled bobbed upward in response to the lost weight. The Warrior beside her
banged a shot in the general direction of the driver in the other sled. Most of the
Warriors who had made the jump had landed on their target. One had fallen short
and managed to cling to the side.
The sled lurched downward. Her passengers had dropped ropes over the side be
fore they jumped. Reinforcements were hauling their way up.
Two human bodies dropped of the other sled. Human bellows mingled with the
shrieks of the Warriors. She had closed the gap to a short jump and the reinforce
ments on her sled had joined the havoc. In close combat, guns were no match for
numbers and old fashioned smash and cut weapons.
More Italian penetrated the din. THE SECOND SLED. ON YOUR RIGIr. DESCEND. LEAVE
She turned her head. The second sled was closing in on her. Its five passengers
were lying flat, guns braced against their shoulders.
She slashed downward on the screen and her sled dropped. It stopped just above
the ground with a spine-bashing jolt and she put a dozen long steps between her hy
persensitive body and any bullets Emile's gunboys tossed at the sled.
She dropped to one knee and hoped a small target would give her some protection
fom anyone who decided human women might not be indispensable afer all. Above
her, the Warriors had won their struggle and begun firing at the second sled.
She had risked everything on that sideward push. She had acted without waiting
for an order. Golva could have ordered her back. He could have decided he couldn't
risk the sled and the Warriors she was carrying. Instead, he had responded by or
dering a jump at the maximum range most tree people could manage. Eight War
riors had launched themselves into an attack that could have ended with half of
them falling short and crashing to the ground.
Harold had run up to her sled while she had been r g away fom it. He had tak
en pssession of the tine and dropped t a crouch behind the front end. On her left,iust
92 Tom Purdom
a few paces away, somebdy was groaning and thrashing-a human somebody, judg
ing by the voice. Two Warriors were lying near him, half concealed by the grass.
The itiji had spread out, so they could follow the battle and present isolated moving
targets. They were relaying information in a mixture of English, pidgin-[meten, and
one oftheir own hunt languages. Golva seemed to be patrolling somewhere behind her.
''wo Warriors on the captured sled have been hit."
"Warriors take the human guns and fire."
"They have hit a human on the human sled."
"Joanne is climbing to the captured sled."
Leza tured her head and saw Joanne pulling herself up a ladder that dangled
fom the side of the captured sled. The sled was holding attitude, but it was drifing
aimlessly across the plain. The sled they were fighting was maintaining a gap that
would give its human marksmen an easy range, with no danger the Warriors on the
captured sled would launch another boarding party. Harold was pointing his gun at
a target that was steadily moving away from him.
She lowered her head and took a deep breath. She had never ben completely con
vinced Harold's father had made the right decision when he had decreed Harold had to
lear to operate without glasses. There would come a day when the settlement couldn't
provide him with glasses-that was inevitable-and she had to admit his glasses
wouldn't have survived his first hand to hand combat after he left the platau. But
right now they would all b better ofifhe had a clear view of the people he was shot
ing at.
She ran forward at a crouch and dropped beside Harold. "Let me have the gun. [
think I may have the advantage here."
"Golva put you in reserve."
She put her hands on the gun. "Golva can't keep track of everything. I closed on
that sled without waiting for him to tell me."
Harold dropped his hands and she tured away from him, gun at her shoulder,
and realized the sled was positioned at an inconvenient angle, vertically and hori
zontally. She could choose between one head and two hands.
"Aim a little low," Harold said. "Uphill or downhill, always aim low."
The rifles were relatively primitive devices, with pistol grips, front grips, and sim
ple blade-and-circle sights. They had apparently been stored on the starship out of a
general feeling a few weapons might be handy-or might be needed to keep order as
the years passed. The settlers hadn't even realized they were there when they had
highjacked the ship.
She trained the sights just below the head. The guns had been stored with two
kinds of ammunition-solid bullets and a cartridge that fired five pellets, like a
shotgun shell. She hadn't seen any indication this one was loaded with pellets when
the Warrior had fired it.
It was a lightweight, low recoil weapon. The press on her shoulder felt like a
friendly pat compared to the whack at her eardrums.
The head was still there. The hands were still holdng their guns. She edged the
sight tward the middle of the head-Who was it under the hat? Was there any pos
sibility it was Emile himself?-and realized the sled had picked up speed.
She took her eye off the sight. The sled had turned toward the settlement. The
gunners were still firing at the Warriors on the captured sled, but they were pulling
away as they did it.
Golva had already reacted to the situation and told the Warriors to stop shooting
and save ammunition. Warriors were gathering under the captured sled and hauJ
ing themselves up the ropes.
"The humans seem to retreat."
Bogdavi's Dream 93
September 201 4
''The Warriors think they have hit two humans."
"Four Warriors are dead."
''Three Warriors are wounded."
'"rhey're taking their wounded back; Harold said.
Golva settled in beside Harold. "Should we pursue them, Harold? Should we make
the charge now? We have thirteen Warriors who can fight. And all the itiji. How
much help will we get from the humans in the settlement?"
Warriors were sCLUrying toward them and climbing on the sled. Leza glanced at
the gauges and noted the batteries could still power the last two kilometers.
''What kind of help do you need?" Leza said.
"They should lock up any buildings they control. So the Emiles can't use them. Hu
mans who can use guns can join us and take over the guns. The other humans can
run away from the settlement so they can't be used as hostages."
"He's got at least thirteen guns," Harold said. "Are you willing to tB them we could
fail, Leza? And leave them at the mercy of somebody like Emile?"
"Are you willing to turn around now and give up? And leave them to Emile afer
some of them have already helped us?"
Harold stood up. He ttITned away fom her and stared across the plain.
l'We aren't promising we'll win if they help us. It's their decision. We aren't mak
ing any promises."
The settlement mostly consisted of one-story buildings. The majority of the struc
tures had been formed from sludge created fom the local rocks, using the energy
from the orbital lander's nuclear plant. The biggest buildings were the barn that
housed the terrestrial animals and the garage that stored the vehicles. The buildings
fonned a single line, along one side of a dirt street, with shade trees breaking up the
utilitarian lines of the architecture. The building with the medical center and the
community hall had been placed in the middle of the line.
The batteries on the sled died as they traversed a field of terrestrial potatoes.
Emile's sled had slipped behind the medical center as they approached.
l'How many people were in their sled?" Harold said.
"It looked like it was just the driver," Leza said. "I can see three on the roof of the
"So they've already unloaded the sled."
l'What can Emile do now?" Golva said.
The other captured sled had settled down on their right, about three hundred me
ters behind them. Leza figured she and Harold were crouching about five hundred
meters fom the roof of the medical center-far enough that a shot would be a waste
of ammunition. But who knew what Emile's young bravos would do?
Two humans came around the back of the nearest building, hands raised above
their heads.
'Tell everybody to lower their weapons," Harold said. "Stand still. Stay quiet."
Golva tipped back his head. His voice floated over the field at half its nonnal vol-
ume and the itiji settled into their best approximation of silence.
''It's Max," Leza said. "1 can't tell who the other one is. But the big one is Max."
''We should put some Warriors on the nearest roof," Golva said.
Harold shook his head. "Not yet. Tell the two humans to come forward. Tell them
Iltalk to them."
Max was one of the best-liked people in the settlement-a large, good-natured
man who had become their expert maintenance technician. He had gone along with
Emile's takeover without raising a complaint and Emile had left him alone. Every
one liked him, the settlement needed him. He and his partner advanced across the
94 Tom Purdom
field on a course that carefully kept the last building between them and the guns on
the medical center.
Harold broke into a crouching run and Leza decided to follow him. "I've been kid
ding around with Max most of my Life," Lza said.
"Keep an eye on that last roof for me. Golva's right. They could slip some guns on it
from the other side."
She identified Max's companion as soon as she realized he was helping her pick
her way across the field. Katrina Loy was one of the sixteen people i the settlement
who had made it past their seventieth birthday. She was a quiet woman and she had
become even more reserved after her husband had died. No one had ever questioned
Emile's statement that her husband had attacked the young man who killed him.
Max could bring them nine volunteers who could handle guns. Half the people in
the settlement had scattered into the fields, including all the children. The rest had
locked down most of the rooms, as requested.
''They've just got that one building?" Harold said.
"It looks that way."
It took a moment to realize the implications. "You've wan," Leza said. "They're cor
"They've still got the sled," Harold said. "And twelve guns. They're probably
recharging the sled now."
"They won't give up," Katrina Loy said. "They've made too many enemies."
''They can't stay in that building forever."
"How many will stick with Emile?" Harold said. "'If they think it's hopeless?"
Max frowned. "Ha]f. Maybe. That's a good question."
"Half is probably about right," Katrina said.
Harold waved at the roofop. "I'd like to put four Imeten Warriors on that roof To
be on the safe side. Is there any reason we can't do that?"
Max looked around the field. "They're the ones that live i the trees, right? The
ones Emile calls monkeys."
''hey're aU just as smart as we are," Leza said. "They don't think exactly like us
but they're just as intelligent. The itiji may even be smarter."
"That's not a prob]em," Katrina said. "Right now wejust want to get rid of that lu
natic, Leza."
Golva bounded across the field and greeted the humans with rate courtesy when
Harold made the introductions. Jila-Jen and the oldest itiji woman joined the con
versation. The volunteers accepted the guns the Warriors had captured. Joanne
transferred some energy fom her batteries to the stalled sled and the two sleds trav
eled to an outlet and began recharging.
It was an odd moment for everyone. Leza could sense the emotions all three
species were experiencing. For the humans from the settlement, some of it would be
simple awe-the recognition they really were making their first contact with repre
sentatives of both intelligent species on the planet.
They had seen the itiji Emile had brought up the cliff, but most of the settlers
hadn't talked to them. The tree people were a complete novelty. Emile had been cre
ating a supply base at the foot of the clif and they knew he had a group of Drovils
guarding the solar panels and other equipment he had ben stockpiLing. But none of
the volunteers had seen the tool making, weapon wielding creatures who played a
centra] role in the schemes that seemed to b dancing in Emile's head.
JiJa-Jen wanted to attack at once. Their enemies were obviously recharging their
sled. The Warriors and the itiji should make an all out assault, JUa-Jen insisted,
while the humans fired at the building. The Warriors could take the roof Holes could
Bogdovi's Dreom 95
September 201 4
be broken. Warriors could drop inside while humans and itiji charged the windows
and doors.
"Kill them now," Jila-Jen said. "Fight them where we can get close. Fight them
where their guns can't kill us from the other side of a field."
The humans stared at the shrieki_g figure crouching in the grass while an itiji
translated his outcries into English almost a fast as he talked. To people who were
seeing the tree people for the first time, he must look like an overwrought fanatic.
Golva and the elder itiji agreed. Gu could smash the windows. ltiji could coordi
nate their charge so they leaped into the building the instant the guns stopped firing.
" will lose some people," the elder agreed. "But it will all be settled. We will do
what we came to do."
Harold had borrowed Max's personal phone. He stared at it for a minute and they
all waited while he called up habits he hadn't used in three years. He tapped out
Emile's name and held the phone so they could all see the screen.
Emile greeted them with the smile they had all learned to detest. "Welcome home,
"Id like to make you an olTer, Emile."
"} was thinking of making you one."
l'hree years ago, you and Ben Keeler had me cornered the way you seem to be cor
nered now. I'd like t make you the same ofer you made me,"
'%at was Ben's idea. I would have lef you there until you rotted. You and your bow."
"You've got young people in there who could still have a future here. You all know
how the tree people and the itiji fight. You know what will happen to your people if
we have to take that building by assault."
"So what are you offering me? The honors of war? We march out with flags flying
and drums beating? Isn't that the way they used to do it i all those military story
books you used to yak about?"
lTm offering you the same thing you ofered me. You-and anyone who wants to
go with you-will be given the basic supplies you need to survive and we'll take you
to the bottom of the cliff and leave you alone. We can even take you down the river to
the Dlvils."
Jila-Jen stiffened into teeth-bared rage the moment he heard the translation. "You
can't let him live!"
"Do we get to keep our guns? We let you keep your bow. Ben told me you even stud
ded a club with nails."
"No guns," Leza said.
l'He's a dangerous person," the itiji elder said. "He'll b dangerous even if you don't
give him guns."
Harold looked around the group. Most of the humans were shaking their heads.
"The consensus here is no guns."
l'How are you going to take them away from us?"
"I'm offering you the best deal T can. We know how this will end. We don't have to
make a lot of peeple sufer."
llAnd what about the people who don't go with me? What are you offering them?"
"We'll work that out. It's up to you, Emile. You're responsible for your people."
''You and I could settle this between us, Harold. Just the two of us. Like your fa-
mous duel to the death on behalf of the itiji."
"1 don't think the other people here would accept that. You don't have a lot of
friends here."
"That seems to be one of my permanent weaknesses. Let me talk to my legions. I'll
get back to you i a few minutes."
Max's personal logo replaced Emile's face. "He's stalling," Katrina said. "Get it over."
96 Tom Purdom
* * *
They yielded to Harold's stubbornness and agreed they would give Emile an hour,
by Max's watch. Harold pulled Golva and Jila-Jen out of the group and the three of
them settled into a huddle and worked on a plan for the assault.
Harold had leared to work with itiji and tree people, but he seemed t have lost
some of his sensitivity to human emotions. He didn't seem to realize he hadn't in
cluded a human in his strategy committee. Max shrugged it of, but most oftheiT hu
man volunteers looked irked.
"They're the people with the combat experience," Max said. ''We're just a bunch of
civilians with guns."
The plan they worked out started with a sled attack on the guards on the roof. One
sled would lay down fiTe. The other sled would carry the Warriors who would actu
ally make the assault. The itiji and three humans armed with guns would launch
their attack when the roof was "secured."
They began moving into position twenty minutes before Harold's deadline. The
three humans who would support the itiji assault slipped through the line of build
ings and settled into the building next to the community center. The rest of them
arranged themselves behind the end building.
Leza sat in the driver's seat of the sled carrying the assault party, with Harold sit
ting beside her. She'd already had some experience, Harold had argued when he gave
her the assignment. The Warriors crowded behind her knew she was willing to press
the attack.
She had accepted the job with one change in the original plan. They had to place a
gun on the sled.
Harold had argued with her. They were supposed to load the sled with all the War
riors it could carry. They couldn't add a human with a gun.
"You can carry the gun," Golva said. "You'll be firing at close range. We'll have a
crossfire-two guns on the other sled, you on yours."
So now Harold slouched in the passenger seat with the gun pointed at the sky. He
had already decided to ride with her before they had burdened him with the gun. He
hadn't said why he had given himself this position, but Leza was certain he had done
it because he felt he should b expsed to danger. Golva had posted himselfon the oth
er sled, where he would have a god view ofthe situation when they went into action.
Joanne was standing beside Harold, her hand resting on his arm. The strategy
committe had put her in a support position, for another unspoken reason in Leza's
opinion. She would be the humans' best link to the itiji if Harold died.
Emile's sled was still parked behind the far end of the community building,
plugged int an outlet. Two itiji were watching it fom a safe distance, ready to raise
the alarm if anyone boarded the vehicle.
"One minute," Golva said.
Leza counted of ten seconds and touched the power panel. The sled rose to grass
Jila-Jen commanded the Warriors behind her. He had arranged them in two neat
ly spaced four-man rows, facing the right side.
"Now. Attack."
The two sleds slipped around the end of the building, one on each side, rising as
they sLid through the air at maximum speed. Harold lowered his gun and she heard
the rasp of the action as he loaded the first round in the chamber.
She focused her attention on the job at hand-height on the gauges, position in re
lation to the line of roofs. The bang of Harold's gun was just a background noise. She
was only a driver. Get the cargo t the right position. Hold altitude at three meters
above the roof
Bogdovi's Dreom 97
September 201 4
Harold fired. Jila-Jen shieked a battle cry. Nine Warriors jumped onto the roof
"Hold your position," Harold said.
She stopped the sled's fonard motion. On the other sled, the gunners had stopped
firing. She couldn't see most of the roof from her side of the sled but she could hear
shots and screams.
"Go down. Land on the roo("
She edged the sled sideways. Jila-Jen's Warriors had already thrown ropes over
the side of the roof and started their assault on the windows. Behind her, the three
humans in the next building were firing at the windows in front of them. ltiji were
singing their wildest hunting song as they raced around the line of buildings.
Two Warriors were lying on the roof, one clutching a chest wound, one sprawled
across a mangled human body. The other two humans on the roof had both been
killed by hammers.
The sled touched down. She rested her hands on the control panel and stared at
her knuckles.
Jila-Jen had laid out the humans' guns. He pointed at them and Harold slid out of
his seat and arranged them on the sled.
Gunshots echoed in the rooms below them. The other sled was hovering near the
side of the building with its two gunners watching the windows. She closed her eyes
and concentrated on the information she could pull from the multi-layered conver
sation of the itiji.
"Humans plea for mercy."
''hey r through the door."
"They throw down their guns."
Harold jumped into the passenger seat. She lifed the sled and they slid sideways,
into the airspace over the street. Four battered humans stared up at them-four
young men with faces she had grown up with. One of them was crouching on one
knee, arms wrapped around a bloody leg.
Max trained his gun on them. "Get away from the building. Keep moving. We'll try
to protect you."
"Monlo lies bleeding."
"A human falls before my claws."
"A gun fires from behind a table."
"Bullets fell a Warrior. I leap. The human falls beneath me."
Auuiare il slitta. Leza. Emile e sulla loro slitta.
The Italian sentences yanked her attention away fom the itiji. A itji had been
guarding the sled recharging behind the building. Emile had wounded the itiji with
a shot through the window. Emile had climbed out, the wounded itiji had charged,
Emile had fired again as he boarded the sled.
She had automatically jabbed at her control screen in response to Golva's START
VOU SLED. Her slitta rose above the rooftops. A sled was skimming across the field
near the garage.
Harold's hand dug into her shoulder. "It's over, Lza. We've won. He's the only one lef."
She looked back. Golva was holding the other sled in the settlement, where it could
help keep the prisoners under control. The three guns Jila-Jen had placed on the
sled were all lying in a neat row.
She ran her finger across the communication screen. "This is Lza, Max. We're pur
suing Emile. It looks t me like he's hoping t go over the clif. Tell Golva I think we
should have some help. Remind him Emile's sled still has functioning solar panels. R
mind h Emile still has a relationship with the Drovils and we understand Emile has
fod and seeds and other supplies stored i a base at the fot of the cf With Drovil
guards. Glva's probably thought of that himselr, but it might be worth mentioning."
98 Tom Purdom
''Will do."
"He's got one gun," Harold said. ''That's all we know he's got. One gun and whatev
er ammunition he's got with him. What's he going to offer the Drovils? Plans for
making more guns?"
"How many people are lying dead back there because of him? On both sides."
"He's panicking. He tried to make a last stand in the community building, when
he didn't stand a chance. And now he's running away with one gun with a limited
amount of ammo and one sled. He's finished. Bogdavi's crazy scheme worked. It may
not look that wonderful to the people who got killed and ripped up, but it worked."
"He's got more than you had when you and Jo left here. He may be panicking but
he isn't a fool. He still has supporters in the settlement. We just proved an army can
climb the cliff. Don't you think he could come back with hundreds of Drovils?"
''We're on our way," Max said. "'Golva agrees with you. We've got three humans
with guns. One driving. Two itiji. And two of the Imetens."
"That's a heavy load for a chase," Harold said.
"Golva made up the manifest. We've got you and Emile on the tracker. Energ's about
60 percent but Golva says we can take the whole load over the clif if we have to."
She had hoped they could overtake Emile before they reached the cliff, but he still
had a fifty-meter lead when he went over the edge. Harold could have tried a shot at
that range, judging by the things she had seen him do with his bow. But he didn't
This was the second time she bad been involved in a chase over the clif. The last
time she had been the quarry. Golva had been sprawled in the cargo area and her
pursuers had fired at them every chance they got.
Emile had floated over the clif near the river that ran past the settlement and
formed a spectacular waterfall. Three kilometers below her, the waterfall emptied
into a small river. Trees grew right up to the wall formed by the clif. She couldn't see
the ground through the trees but she could assume Emile had located his base on
the river. In the far distance, if she had bothered to look, she could have seen the
break in the trees that marked the place where the river joined the Great River that
watered the cities of the tree people.
Emile was dropping fast---dangerously fast. She cut their energy flow by 12 per
cent and her stomach reacted to the increase in drop speed.
'We don't need suicide tactics," Harold said.
''I'm just trying to get in range. I'm trying to get on his lef-so you can get a shot
from your side."
''He's drifting lef too."
"Are you loaded with pellets? That would be the best thing, wouldn't it?"
"It's not an easy shot. We're both moving. I'm shooting down."
Emile had slowed his descent. She let herself drop for another second and boosted
the energy flow. The anti-gravity units took hold and killed most of the increase in
their speed. But not all. They were still falling faster than he was.
She had never really understood the physics that explained anti-gravity vehicles,
but she could grasp the laws that govered their actions, A descent over the clif was
essentially a controlled fall. You could save energy by reducing the power flowing
fom the batteries, but you had to make sure you didn't overdo it. You couldn't forget
that the planet's gravity field increased your speed by forty kilometers per hour dur
ing every second of uncontrolled fall.
She glanced at Harold's face. Was he frowning? Could she see a break in that stol
id, locked up exterior? Or was she just seeing what she wanted to see?
"How close do you need to be for a shot?"
Bogdovi's Dreom 99
September 201 4
"We're still too far right."
The waterfU crashed against the rocks behind them. They had slipped so far left
they were crossing over the river. The edge of the spray chilled the back of her neck.
"We're coming over the edge," Max said. "We can see both OfYOll."
"1 think you should aim for the river. Watch for Emile's base when you come in."
She rested her finger on the energy indicator. "Hold on, Harold. Try to get a shot."
She slid her finger to the lef to a 17 percent cut. The sled dropped with a rush
that made both of them gasp. Harold leaned over the side and aimed the rifle.
"Move left. More to the left."
She couldn't see Emile's sled fom her position. The yellow line on the drop speed
indicator was the only visual information of any importance. It had passed forty-five
meters per second and it was still climbing.
The gun fired. She placed her finger on the energy indicator and held it motion
less. The gun cracked again and she shoved the energy now as high as she dared.
The sudden deceleration would have been a minor event if they had been lying on
their backs. Sitting upright, it felt like somebody had swatted her from below with a
giant board.
Harold had let out a yell. She tured her head and saw him struggling with his bal
ance. The jolt had hit him while he was still leaning over the door. He was gripping the
gun barrel with his left hand and clutching the back of his seat with his right.
"Don't you believe in warning people?"
"Did you hit hi?"
''How could I tell? I don't think so."
She had reduced their descent speed to a comfortable five meters per second by
the time they crashed into the upper branches of the trees. The top of the forest
looked like a carpet fom above but that was an illusion created by the spread of the
spindly upper branches. The real problem was the solid middle branches. The sled
could slip through the biggest gaps, but she had to locate the openings. She gave
them another solid jolt and they maneuvered through a series of side-to-sides and
back-and-forths at the descent speed of a drifting leaf.
The big, widely spaced lower branches ended about ten meters from the forest
floor. She locked the sled into a one-meter altitude and turned toward the blips on
the tracker screen. Emile was moving toward the river. Max was still descending.
Harold squinted into the gloom. Far above them, the leaves blocked most of the sun
light. The map display indicated they had landed about two kilometrs from the river.
'We're descending on the river," Max said. "1 can see two huts. Some solar panels.
Some stuf in the trees. I can get us to shore, but that's about as far as this thing can
take us. The base looks like it's deserted."
"Take control of the base," Harold said. "Cut him off from his supplies."
''Will do."
Leza pointed at the tracking screen. Emile had turned away from the river and
started angling toward them.
She reacted without waiting for Harold to make up his mind. The sled veered lef.
The two blips on the screen started to converge.
"Get ready to shoot, Harold. We'll be coming up on him any moment."
She could mark Emile's position on the screen, but the trees limited her line of
sight. She didn't see him until they were closing almost head on at about twice the
range of Harold's efective eyesight. Emile was controlling his sled with his lef hand
and holding his gun braced against his shoulder with his right. She saw two nashes.
Harold's gun fired once.
She rounded a tree and turned for another pass. There was a moment when
Harold actually had a long shot at Emile's retreating back. Then the trees blocked
1 00 Tom Purdom
their view. Emile darted in and out of sight twice before the display let her know he
was coming back.
''This is crazy," Harold said. But he was inserting a new magazine in his rifle. He
had checked the rifles lying in the back of the sled and found a magazine with more
A flash of motion in the distance caught her attention. "Here he comes. Of to the
right center. I'm taking us up a little. Abut a meter."
Harold started tapping the trigger as soon as he had a clear field of fire. His g
hammered as fast as his finger could move. She couldn't see Emile as they flashed
past him but she could hear pellets fom his gun strilting the rear of the sled.
A groan jerked her head around. Harold was looking behind them. She couldn't see
any indication he'd been shot.
She brought them around as fast as she could. Emile's sled was lying on its side,
tipped against a tree. Emile was sprawled on the ground beside it.
She halted the sled and brought it to the ground about a hundred meters from
Emile's body. She couldn't see any sign of movement.
Harold jumped out of the sled. He flipped open a locker built into the back of the
seats and pulled out a box with a handle-the emergency medical kit.
"Have they made any changes in this thing?"
''He's probably dead, Harold."
"He could just be unconscious. I hit him and he lost control. I saw him crawl out of
the sled."
The three guns were scattered over the back of the sled. She eased herself out of
her seat and picked up the handiest.
"I'll cover you."
She opened the breech part way and made sure she had a round in the chamber.
She took three steps sideways, so she could maintain a clear field of fire, and
watched Harold break into a trot.
Harold stopped. He tipped back his head and she realized there had been a jump
in the squawks and flutters directly above them.
Screams erupted in the trees. Harold stepped to one side and threw up his gun
hand. Two shrieking acrobats were swinging toward him. Ropes dropped from the
middle branches. Drovils slid toward the ground. A well-placed lick dragged the g
out of Harold's hand. A blow from the Drovil on the other swing sent him staggering.
The sights on Leza's gun halted over one of the Drovils on the ropes. She fired
twice and swug toward another target.
A heavy weight landed on her back. Long fingers wrapped around the barrel of
her gun. A leather-covered ann closed around her neck.
She stumbled forward. She could see her knees folding under the weight wrapped
around her shoulders. Harold was advancing on one of the ropes with his sword in
his hand, concentrated on his own situation.
The gun was tilted upward. She squeezed the trigger and the Drovi!
s hand jumped
away fom the explosion. She shifed her grip and rammed the butt backward. The
hold on her neck loosened and she twisted under the mass on her back as she fell.
And found herself lying on the ground staring at an upraised hammer. She was
still holding the gun but it was lying across her chest. There was no way she could
bring it around.
She jerked her lef hand of the g and grabbed the Drovil's wrist. Her right hand
clawed at his face. He pulled her hand away and they struggled, muscle against
The tree people tended to be scrawny compared to humans but they were stronger
than they looked. Humans could grow bigger muscles in response to the planet's
Bogdovi's Dreom 1 01
September 201 4
higher gravity. The tree people were bor with naturally denser muscles, shaped by
genes selected over millions of years . . . .
The DroviYs face twisted. A round black face loomed over his shoulder. Bogdavi the
Dreamer bit into his neck. A strangled gasp terminated his shriek of pain.
Bogdavi jerked the Drovi!'s head. Leza rolled onto her side, eyes closed, and
crawled fee of its body.
"Bogdavi has come. They told me I should stay by the river but I came."
Leza nodded. She could make out every detail of the ground and plant life in font
of her eyes.
''Thank you."
She was holding the gun again. She had moved it with her as she rolled over. She
pushed herself up t one knee and saw Harold looking over the area with his sword in
his hand. Three Drovils were lying near him. Two of them loked like they were dead.
"They ran away," Harold said. "The last three. I think there were three,"
"1 see five here," Bogdavi said.
And three would make an Eight. Harold had tuned away from her. He bent over
and she realized he was picking up the medical kit.
Emile was still lying beside the sled. She squinted at him and thought she saw his
arm move.
"Emile! This is Leza. Can you hear me? Are you conscious?"
Emile raised his hand off the ground. She thought she heard him say something
but she couldn't be sure. The hand dropped and Harold started forward.
It was an awkward shot. Her target was lying flat against the ground. She couldn't
pick an obvious aiming point like the center of his torso and be confident most of her
bullets would strike something vital. Her first shot kicked up the dirt near the tar
get's head. The second hit hard enough to make him twitch.
She kept firing until the magazine ran out of bullets-seven shots, maybe eight.
Harold was staring at her when she lowered the gun.
"He was wounded," Harold said. "He was helpless."
''He was dying. He probably would have died whatever we did."
"We don't know that. He was still alive when you shot h."
"You're going to be the leader of the settlement, Harold-the leader of a communi
ty that's going to include three different species. He wouldn't give up. He'd be caus
ing you trouble as long as you could breathe."
Bogdavi ran between them. "Don't touch him," Leza shouted. "Don't give anybody
any excuse to think an itiji killed him."
Bogdavi stopped three steps fTom the body. He walked all the way around it before
he threw back his head.
"Our enemy is dead. Leza has killed our enemy. Harold has won another victory.
Bogdaui's dream has been fulfilled. "
Harold could have accepted it if she had let him think she had succumbed to a
surge of emotion. She had been angry. She had just escaped an attack that could
have killed her. Leza could have given him excuses. But she knew she couldn't do it.
It would sound like what it was-like something she was saying just to smooth
things over.
"Everybody in this community knows how you feel about it," Harold told her. "You
haven't said a word that indicates you're sorry you did it."
"And none of them blame you for it," Leza said. "Nobody thinks he died just be
cause their new leader wanted revenge."
Harold had stumbled into a violent situation and attacked it with all the energy
and idealism of a young man who could do genuinely heroic things when he thought
1 02 Tom Purdom
he had to. And now he was sick of violence. He had burned up all the emotions that
drove warriors and soldiers. Leza could understand that. But it hadn't worked that
way with her. Not yet anyway. She had slipped into a violent situation and discov
ered she had the temperament for it-that she could do what she had to do, calmly
and with no regrets. She could have been shooting into a stuffed bag when she put
those bullets in Emile.
Harold had moved one way. She had moved the other.
But Harold wasn't her only problem. She was a natural target for the rage Emile's
followers couldn't vent on anyone else. She would be a source of trouble and conflict
as long as she hung around the settlement.
Two of the itiji women made the arrangements, first through a radio link to itiji
posted at the base of the cliff, then through the itiji's own communication system.
The women let them know when everything was ready and Joanne drove the sled
that carried Leza and Bogdavi t a rendezvous forty kilometers from the clif. A band
ofitiji met them in a patch of forest that looked just like every other patch of forest to
a human eye.
"I have one last message from Harold," Joanne said. "He said T should say it one
last time."
Leza smiled. "I can come back any time. It's up to me. No one is making me leave."
"You must come back if you need help. We'll come for you if you can't get back your
Leza nodded toward the itji standing around them. "Believe me, if! need any kind
of medical help-or any other kind of help-I will beg these people to get the news to
you as fast as they can sing it."
"And we will," the leader of the itiji said. 'She will receive all the help we would
give our fiends ad ki."
They stared at each olher for a long moment. Then they both threw out their arms.
Leza felt herself letting go and decided she didn't have to fight it. They were both
hugging the only human woman in the universe who knew what each had lived
They stepped apart. Joanne boarded the sled. They both raised their hands.
1o of the young itiji had already wiggled into a pannier arrangement that car
ried her research equipment and three hundred rounds of ammunition. Her person
al backpack was lying on the ground with her rine strapped to its side. Bogdavi was
carrying a small set of panniers loaded with items she had declared "of special per
sonal value."
"Where are we going?" Bogdavi said.
The leader's tail thumped. He regarded Bogdavi with a look she had seen on the
faces of other itiji who had met him. Patient amusement seemed to be the best way
to describe it.
''o a small lake about two eighths of a day from here. It has some water creatures
in it we think Leza will find interesting. Some of them have developed unusual rela
tionships with the creatures that live on the land around the pond."
"It sounds fascinating," Leza said. "I'll be ready to go as soon as I get this thing on
my back."
The pack settled on her shoulders. She smiled down at the itiji. They were all volun
teers, she had been told. They were all people who "shared her appetite for knowledge."
They would teU her te things they had learned fom generations of observation. She
would add the knowledge she could acquire with the equipment in the packs and her
understanding of biochemistry and molecular biology.
Bogdavi's dream had been ffilled, more or less, well enough. Leza's dream could
now begin. 0
Bogdovi's Dreom 1 03
201 4 doubl e issue leads off with a deep
chi l l . Explore the icy seas with sailors who hunt the "Pinono Deep"
on a frozen pl anet, and you' ll encounter murder and human
treachery, as well as l i fe-threateni ng peril from the giant creature
itself. The tension doesn't l et up in an exciting new novella by
Allen M. Steele because the fate of interstellar travel may hi nge
on the return of "The Prodigal Son. "
you'l l find this month's traditional slightly spooky and, perhaps
more than a little, scary stories. Joel Richards introduces us to "The
Witch of Truckee"; new author Emily C. SkaHun makes her Asimov'
debut with the uneasy "Diary of a Pod Person"; James Patrick Kelly
entices with "Uncanny"; Tim McDaniel reveals that there are those
who can learn a "New Trick"; well-known mystery author, but new to
Asimov', Brendan DuBois, brings us the "Mi nutes to the End of
the World"; and Dale Bailey spi ns a terrifying tale about the divide
that can open between parents and children i n "Troop 9"; but then
new writer Jeff Grimshaw romances us with a charming story
about "The Cloisters"; Kristine Kathryn Rusch has a lot of fun
"Playing with Reality"; Jason Sanford keeps us on edge as we pon
der "What Is Sand but Earh Purified?"; surprise military tactics arise
i n Robert R. Chase's "Decaying Orbit"; and Gord Sellars fuses
alien technology, the history of jazz in America, quantum physics,
and much more for a spectacular riff on "Stars Fell on Alabama."
Robert Silverberg messes with our mi nds i n hi s Reflections col
umn about "Robert A. Heinlein, author of The Martian Chronic/es";
Jay O'Connell's Thought Experiment "I s Resistance Futile? Or: How
I Learned to Stop Worrying and Love Google Glass" provides us
with one man's eye view of his latest adventure; Norman Spinrad's
On Books covers "Space-the Permanent Frontier"; while James
Patrick Kelly's On the Net looks at the short history of Skylab, Mi r,
and other posts where humans have been "Stationed" in space;
pl us we'll have an array of poetry and other features you're sure to
enjoy. Look for our October/November issue on sale at newsstands
on September 22, 2014. Or subscribe to Asimovsin paper format
or in downloadable varieties-by visiting us online at wasimovs.
com. We're also available individually or by subscription on Bares
andNob/'s Nook and Amazon. com' Kindle and Kindle Fire, as
well as from magzter.comimagazines, Google Play, and Kobo's di gi
tal newsstand!
Not Ony a S , but A a Se r
aving nominated Nicola Griffith's
Am.monite as one of the enties in the
volume that Damien Broderick and I
compiled-Science Fiction: The 101
Best Novels 1985-2010-1 can be pre
dictably counted on to get excited at the
appearance of a new book by Griffith,
even if she has continued to forsake out
right fantastika for other modes. And so
the arrival of Griffith's HUd (Farrar,
Straus and Giroux, hardcover, $27.00, 560
pages, ISBN 978-0374280871) caused
much excitement here. In advance, I had
heard that the book was more or less 100
percent mimetic, a historical reconstruc
tion (or confabulation, given how much
creative supposition was involved),
And this is true. The primary way to
read Hild is as a gloriously dense and
bright-edged and breathing recreation
that brings the vanished seventh century
of Britain to glittering, palpable life, in
the manner of such elder wizards as Mary
Renault or Thomas Burett Swann.
But what was not conveyed to me by
literary scuttlebutt, and which ] should
have anticipated, given Grifth's talents
and background and predilections, is
that the novel, despite no overt super
naturalism, is a delightfully estranged
and estranging ride. It will appeal to any
genre fan who enjoys the far-removed
fom-the-present thrills of George R. R.
Martin's A Song of Ice and Fire, or Edgar
Pangborn's Davy, or Robert Charles Wil
son's Julian Comstock. ]n its essential
cultural otherness-and with our hero
ine Hild embodying the rationalist, pro
to-scientific attitude toward the uni
verse-this is a book that welcomes SF
and fantasy readers with open arms.
Grifith's tale centers on a real-life his
torical personage, Saint Hilda of With by,
of whom very little is known. But this
blank canvas gives Gri th the feedom to
create a character whose life is consistent
with the bare canonical facts, but so much
more psychologically complex. A the au
thor says in her brief aferword, her meth
od was to learn as much as she could
abut Hild's era, then set the girl loose in
the period and follow her as she grew, em
bedded in the medieval soiocultural ma
t a very Bradburyian technique.
We start when HUd is tree years old,
her royal father slain, her existence with
her mother and some clan membrs pre
carious. But even then the child is ex
hibiting the analytical and curious nature
that allows her to correlate events and
emotions and circumstances into what
amoWlt to prophecies. When she becomes
part of the court of her uncle, King Ed
win, she enters a roiling world fraught
with danger and possibilities, confusions
and exaltations, war and domesticity.
Of course, one of the major phenomena
Hild encounters is the spread of Chris
tianity through the isles. Hild and her
compatriots are steeped in old pagan
lore-Woden, wights, and aU-and Jesus
at first seems enigratical1y unalluring.
But ultimately, thanks in large part to
her mentor, Father Fursey, Hild con
verts. But her baptism hardly renders
this formidable, sel f-possessed,
long knife-wielding waror woman into a
lamb, and certainly not into a chaste
nun, since the book concludes with Hild's
marriage. (Grifth is already at work on
the sequel.)
The writing in this volume i ferocious
and peaceful, elegant and blunt, caustic
and soothing by tu. Steeped in weath
er and the seasons, peat smoke and mud,
the novel conveys the essence of the quo
tidian past in beautiful and sonorous
"Winter was harsh: wind and snow,
then,just as the snowdl'ops were poking
free of the dirt, silence and cracking cold
from skies as blue as enamel. Sunlight
glittered on ice-cased twigs. Fawns in
1 05
September 2014
the wood starved and foxes ran thinner
than weasels. In York, folks like Linnet
hunched against the cold alongside their
bYTe animals, glad of the warm stink,
glad of the dung to burn-while it last
ed---ying the tree hay and weighing the
coming choice between staying warm
and letting the kine starve."
In a way, Grifth h delivered to us the
equally brilliant obverse of. or compan
ion to, T. H. White's The Once and Future
Kilg. Instead of the wide-ranging biogra
phy of a young boy destined for martial
greatness and born to rule. we get the
far-ranging tale of a young girl's matura
tion into a destiny that valorizes the mind
and soul, and proud service to aU lire.
F_ Sott Fitzgerald Was Wrong
Of course F. Scott Fitzgerald had a lot
of wise things to say about life. That's
one of the things that make his works
endure. But he also famously opined,
"There are no second acts in American
lives." His observation has some general
validity, in the sense that all too often
American success stories peak early and
then fade forever, subject to the fickle
ness of a public that is always eager to
move on to the next flavor of the month.
But it's that blanketing "no" in his quote
that undermines his insight. For there
are indeed some rare second acts in the
lives of American creators and business
people and scientists and politicians and
altruists. And we have a brilliant exam
ple right here in our genre, in the career
of Tom Purdom.
If you scope out Purdom's page at the
ISFDB, you'U note that his career divides
neatly into two parts. The frst part was
effectively over, save for a couple of outlier
stories, by 1973. Then came seventeen
long years of silence, until a so-far-unre
lenting feshet of stories commencing in
1990, when the author was ffty-four
years old. In effect, Purdom hauled him
self back on stage, in a world and field
that had changed immeasurably-a feld
that had essentially, save for old-timers,
forgotten him-and proved himself utter
ly cutting-edge and au courant.
1 06
You try telling me that's not a second
act worthy of applause!
The proof of all this lies i his new col
lection, Lovers & Fighters, Starships &
Dragons (Fantastic Books, trade paper,
$15.99, 356 pages, ISBN 978-1617209437).
I'm probably preaching to the converted
in t venue, since altwelve stries here
first appeared in Asirou's. But they span
twenty years of this magazine, and your
memories of them separately at intervals
will not compare to the impact of them all
together in their own lovely vol ume.
An afectionate and insightful introduc
tion by Michael Swanwick, which almost
renders my job superfluous, kicks of the
volume. Then comes "Fossil Games," a
story that illustrates right away all the
powers of Purdom's comeback writng. He
combines the best of his old-school train
ing with the best of twenty-first-century
attitudes and techniques. It's as if Samuel
Delany had been one of John Campbell's
stable, or John Kessel had been groomed
by H.L. Gold, or Maureen McHugh had
been tutored by Anthony Boucher.
In this lead-off story, a few thousand
"obsolescent" people flee the future post
human Solar System in a slower-than
light asteroid ship. But rather than fall
into a predictable Dark Age or achieve
some kind of unlikely transcendence, as
per cliche, they simply continue to exhb
it all the old fascinating dynamics of hu
man culture when confonted with their
frst planetfall, where evidence ofnonhu
man life forms threatens and encourages
diferent factions.
In the second tale, "Haggle Chips," a
similar far-future ambiance and affect
obtains. Interstellar trader Janip, arriv
ing on the planet Conalia, falls afoul of a
feud t his client and a rival group. His
kidnapping by the latter element leads to
new lessons about love and duty, as well
as some stirring heroics. This story shows
Purdom mixing action and unabashed
yet subtle infodumps seamlessly.
Just when you might surmise that Pur
dom's shtick will focus exclusively on
near-singularity scenarios, along comes
"Dragon Drill," a historical fantasy that
Paul Oi Filippo
evokes the military mind when confront
ed with a more humanist tradition. "Ca
nary Land," with its nearish fture action
on a settled Moon, evokes John Varley's
Steel Beach scenario, albeit with distinc
tive Purdom touches. "Research Project,"
with its fine depiction of aliens and their
misunderstandings and cross-purposed
interactions with humanity, might re
mind you of those great Michael Bishop
"Urban Nucleus" tales of yore. The po
tent motifofthe role of the elderly comes
fonard in the next two stories-"Shel
tering" and "Bonding with Morry"-the
first featuring a wartime setting, the sec
ond a domestic scenario.
"Sepoy" manages to be an action
packed story about alien invaders and
their human confederates, that never
leaves the single venue of the room in
habited by a wheelchair-bound protago
nist. Purdom's skill with shifting view
points is on display in "Legacies," which
follows the plight of a young boy named
Deni, a "military brat" who is subject to
some transformative therapies. A with
"Fossil Games," and yet laterally differ
ent, two rival groups contend over a new
ly discovered planet in "A Response from
EST17."The opening line of "he Path of
the Transgressor" is typical of Purdom's
talent at hooks: "Davin Sam owned a
complete map of his wife's chromosomes
and a detailed flowchart of her postnatal
personality modification program." The
attached tale brilliantly conflates a dead
ly and protracted assault by alien preda
tors with a deep probing into the nature
of love and self-sacrifice. And finally
comes a time-travel tale worthy of Kage
Baker, "he Mists of Time," where futur
istic researchers record a long-ago inci
dent of the slave trade.
Besides providing hours of pleasure
and stimulation, this collection refutes
another maxim by proving you can teach
an old dog new tricks! And Purdom is a
Big Dog indeed.
Citizen of a Fresher Galaxy
My fellow writers in this field always
amaze me. Not just with their work, but
On Books
with their lives-how they live and ac
commodate their craft. This phenome
non is especially true when it comes to
matters of mortality. For instance, Jay
Lake's brave and large-spirited grap
pling with his incurable cancer bas been
a well-known epic lesson for many. Asi
I1U'S own Robert Silverberg sufered a
near-fatal cardiac incident on his way to
the 2013 World Fantasy Convention and
bounced back with his humor andjoie de
vivre intact. The list goes on and on.
One of those inspirations is the Britsh
writer Paul McAuley. He said recently on
his blog, i n a summary-of-2013 post:
''he big news as far as I'm concered is
that it's another year in which I cidn't die
of cancer. Afer being diagnosed with and
bing treated for cancer in 2010 I remain
in remission. Three years on, afer it cdn't
look like I'd outlive Margaret Thatcher,
I'm gratful that I'm still here, still able to
work, and still being published."
Did you notice any of that hidden per
sonal struggle as McAuley released his
past three impressive novels in his Quiet
War series? (The Quiet War; Gardens of
th Sun; In the Mouth of the Whle.) I bet
not. And you won't fnd any stress-related
slackening of craf in his newest either,
the fourth in this loosely interlocking
quartet. In fact, it might be the best yet.
That's courage and dedication at work.
Evening's Empirs (Gllancz, trade pa
per, 14. 99, 384 pages, ISBN 978-
0575100794) takes place, I believe, fur
thest along in the shared timeline of this
fture history. It's an era of trouble and di
minished expectations, where mankind is
preoccupied by the meaning of "the Bright
Moment," an instance of either mass
epiphany or psychosis, no one knows
which. The dilemmas of the age are in
stantiated in the plight of our hero, youg
Gajananvihari "Hari" Pilot. Youngest of a
clan of interplanetary tech scavengers,
Hari is on the run fom the "dacoits" who
stole his ship and killed his family, all in
pursuit of the severed fozen head ofa sa
vant who knows secrets about the Bright
Moment. Hari's courage and ingenuity is
on display early, as he foils attackers who
1 07
September 2014
have found his asteroid hideaway. steals a
ride, and heads out into the motley solar
system's various odd habitations looking
for allies and answers.
McAuley portrays a multiplex post
human milieu that is half Bruce Strling,
half Alfred Bester, and half van Vogt.
(Yes, you can have three halves in SF!)
His inventiveness is unrelenting and yet
not overtaxing, something surprising on
every page, from "skull feeders" to Eu
ropan life forms. The many strangeness
es are fully explicated without giving a
feeling of being lectured to, and the ac
tion is never impeded. We learn things
along with Hari, whose uncommon back
story and fate are not even what they
first seemed. His quest resonates with
that of Thor by in Heinlein's A Citizen of
the Galaxy, another "slave" looking for
freedom and his true heritage. The
growth of Hari's mind and heart are the
ultimate deeply felt reward for both Hari
and the reader.
One fnal subtext to this estimable nov
eL Given that our hero's name shortens
down to an evocative "Hari" (as in "Hari
Seldon"); and that one of the venues in
his solar systm is named "Trantor"; and
that the section headings all bear the
names of famous SF tales ("Childhood's
End; "The Caves ofSteel"j etc.), the canny
reader is justified in suspecting that the
book hosts some metacommentary on sci
ence fction. And I believe it does. Hari's
era is one of decay and desuetude. "We
live in an age that cannibalizes its past
because it has lost faith in its future,"
says one of Hari's brothers. Now, isn't
that the portrait, promulgated by critic
Paul Kincaid, among others, of current
genre SF itself? That the mode is ex
hausted and empty of new ideas?
Yet McAuley's book is anything but ef
fete! It's hip and engaged and genuinely
speculative, authentic and daring and
moving into new territory while still hon
oring classic tropes and primal narrative
virtues. In other words, by calling atten
tion to his novel's own embedded place in
the long continuity of SF, via the chapter
titles, etc., McAuley is refuting Kincaid
1 08
by the sheer bravado of his storytelling,
proclaiming that SF is not tapped out,
but, under the right hands, has just as
much to ofer as it ever did.
The Man Who Made
Science Fiction Evolve
It is almost impossible to overstat the
importance of what Stephen Haffner is
doing at his Hafer Press. By assembling
the otherwise practically unobtainable
classical work by such giants as Kuttner,
Hamilton, and Brackett, he is reinforcing
the very foundation stones of this field.
All literary and ideational advancement
yet to come will rely on appreciating and
analyzing these seminal authors respon
sible for our very existence, even if one ul
timately chooses only to repudiate them.
And Hafer's not doing it in any cheap
jack fashion, but instead providing sump
tuous hardcovers that will live forever,
buttressed wth great supporting materi
al and at reasonable prices.
Oh, yes, did I also mention that these
volumes are not just scholarly drudge
work, but immense fun to read? Well, it's
a fact. They transport one back to a time
when the genre was young and less self
conscious (like the Gernsbackian USA it
self), and the feld was unifed and more
collegial and familial.
The Reign of the Robots: The Collected
Edmond Hamilton, Volume Four (hard
cover, $40. 00, 696 pages, ISBN 978-
1893887657) showcases eighteen stories,
alproduced during the years 1930 through
1932. They range all over the map, the
output of a man determined to support
himself by writing, striking at whatever
markets availed.
"The Man Who Saw the Future" brings
a Frenchman fom 1544 to the year 1944
(a year still distant from Hamilton i n
1930), and nicely illustrates mankind's
long jourey fom superstition to enlight
enment. Mad scientists don't come much
madder than the fellow in "The Mind
Master," who has a plan for world domj
nation that first involves subjecting his
fellow savants to unspeakable horror.
Can you credit an era when the unchart-
Paul Oi Filippo
ed wastes of Arabia might plausibly hold
a hidden city of malign octopus beings?
You will endorse the possibility after
reading the Lovecraftian tale dubbed
'1'he Horror City"
"The Man Who Evolved" is perhaps
one of the more well-known tales here,
depicting that classic future path for our
race, development to the state of giant
head resting on a vestigial body-one
whose fngers, presumably, could still tap
a keyboard to send out tweets. As with so
many of these stories, an almost neurotic
complex involving aliens and invasions
and paranoia and fear of inhuman rivals
manifests itself in "Monsters of Mars,"
when Earthmen reach the Red Planet
via matter transmitter to fnd insidious
crocodile-headed Martians intent on con
quering Earth. Similarly. "Ten Million
Years Ahead" portrays trifd-like intelli
gent plants dominating our Eloi-style de
scendants. And the theories of Charles
Fort get an objective correlative in "The
Foreshadowing the plight of Bester's
Gully Foyle and the characters in Stphen
Baxter's Raft, the disabled spaceship in
"The Sargasso of Space" finds brutal
On Books
castaways to be more of a problem tha
mere physics. More ill-intentioned aliens
cause trouble in "The Shot fom Satur"
and "Creatures of the Comet," forcing the
humans t reach deep for new resourcs
of heroism, ingenuity, and daring. "The
Reign of the Robots" offers an O. Henry
twist not common to Hamilton's work,
while "Dead Legs" riffs on the famous
T Hands of Orac.
Then comes the story that Mike Ashley
in his introduction characterizes as revo
lutionary: "A Conquest of Two Worlds."
This stirring meditation on imprialism,
colonialism, and warfare is probably the
first Conradian outcropping in SF, and
forced the feld to reassess the very kind
of Evil Alien story that Hamilton himself
had been turning out so blithely.
Five stories after this deal with tropes
and themes similar to those in the early
portion of the book-but with a certain
diminished intensity. It's as if, having
seen through the unvoiced assumptions
of the period, Hamilton began to lose his
enthusiasm a bit for the same old tale. It
will be highly interesting to chart his de
velopment in the next volume in this
stellar series. 0
1 09
he WorJdCon is almost here. My picks fOf Asimovians this lime are ConFluenc, DiversiCon, BuboniCon, When
Words Collide and ArmadilloCoo. Next lime, we'll get into the busy autumn convention schedule. Plan n lor
social weekends with your faorite SF autors, eitors. artists. and fellow fans. For an explanatioo of our cn(ven
lion)s, a sample of SF folksongs, and info on fanzines and clubs, send me a SASE (self-addressed, stampd #10
[siness] envelope) at 10 Hin 12L. Newark NJ 07102. T hot line is (973) 242-5999. If a machine answers (with a
lisl of t week's cns), leave a message and I'll call bc on my nickel. When writing cons, send an SASE. For
free list
ings, tell me 01 your con f moolhs out. lo for me al cons behind t Filthy Pierre badge, playing a musical key
board. -Erwin S. Strauss
24-27- Clnlemational. For inlo, write: 10 H Sl, Ne N 07102. Or phone: (973) 242-599 (10 am. to 10 p.m., I clect)
(Web) (E-maj) ()foOcmic-co,org. C wi! b hk in: San Dieo CA (if C omitted, s as in ad rs ) al lhe
Coventi Center. Guests -I i: too m to list 15,00 lans c. Hollostars helipter in (laffic is impos).
227-ConAuence. Sherato4 Pont Pitrg"l N . Mars PAW. H. Keith. W. S. Snydr, P Grubs, M. Bliss
25-27-Oiversion. www.dio .Og. BestWesterBaSq . St. Paul MN. c IYe Gi TeIA. c SFllntasy cn.
25-27-Anime I. Coralvill IA.
2. l(. oosic War. Coope(s lake Campgoood. Slip R PA Medieval re-en. 43rd year.
1-BubniCon. ww MrUptown. Alue NM. Jack G(aka Jon G.Hemry). Pr!. Gould, Harl\
I-Shore Leave. Wm HlMt valley Inn, Hoot Valey (Bfe) MO. A. O. Ar, Picardo, S. W. Mitchell.
I-3-Fandom Fest. www.fandomfeslcm. ConventCenter. loisviIe KY.Canime. gaming, media SF.
1-3-FandemorilXl"l. Y.landemoniLm.Ofg. Gr: Hotel, Boise 10. "Entertainment Ex" i h ii's billed.
1-3-MuseCon. w .musog. Westi1 Ct Not, Is IL "AU lins ceatve." Cs s and workshops.
1-Con. www.m. com. New OrIans LA Mime.
l-rk. GrandW ConvenhoCenter. Fort WaynIN. Anime.
I-3-DeCKly Ink. Hyatt. N BcN. D Bain, Renee PaleyBain, O. Ae. For mysteryfi fans.
7-1o-PulpFest. ww.pu\ Hyatt. CoIumbs OH. OIdpu\magazines.
8-10-When Words C, do 185 10th Ave., Galary A T3C OK. w"Feslor readrs &Wfit9fS."
8-10Wlk. ww.otematnalcom.Town & Ct Resort, San Di CA. WO01 L Frank 8atJm, creatOf of Oz.
8-1S Weekend. P O'Hare, Roemont (Chigo) IL. Hooor flm. Robrt Englund.
8-10- . Co t Center, Be MD. Anim.
8-10-80slon Comic Co. SWorldTrade Center, Boston M A, wrers and celebrit.
8-11-MythCo. Whealon College, Newton MA. Theme: 'Where Fantasy Fits." H91 fantasy-Tn, C. S. Le-Ms, etc
8-11-OiC, B 4101, Shepton Mallet, Sr B 9AJ, UK. Palace HoIeI, Manchester UK.
14-17-GenCon, 120 L Ave. '100, Seattle WA 98122. (2) 957-3976, x. CoIumbs OH. Big gamincn.
14-18 3, 379 Myrle Ad .. Sheffield S2 3HQ. UK. WWW.Ioncon3.Ofg. DokIands, lO UK.Wor. O 70+ al door.
1 18-Anime Fest. Shraton. OanasTX.
2O-24-EuroFure. w EstI Hotel, Ber1i Ge. T: "Gr S." Anlhrplooies.
22-24-Aloon, B 26442, Austin T 78755. (512) 332. 1. Ml T C, J. Wesman, S. Law.
22-24-Eu. ww.Shmroon.i. Ooubietre Bul1inton Road, Dublin Irelan. Jim Fitzatric, Seanan MGuire, Andfzej Sk.
22-2.kon. Marritt Wes. MadsoWl.TIa Ballard. M. BiII. J. Bckbr. C.Cason. Anime. SF, gming.
2Mo SF Writers' Confrence. www.rI NothWales UK. For pthIish writers only, plase.
28-31-Mepit Fur WWos. Oive BMS (MephisTN). AnIrs.
2-31-Sac,Anime. tis.c. Ction Center and St Grand, Sro C J Faunt (P Rangrs).
2. l-Dn , 9) 16459, Atnta G 3321. (4) 69-0n3. Hugmeia. comi a gaming c.