Read about the contributors to issue fourteen and see excerpts from each article or story.
my soul was easy. No fire and brimstone. No Mephistopheles grinning over my
shoulder. Not even blood to sign the contract. And no mounds of gold and pearls,
no naked succubae as my reward – nothing but a credit slip and a ticket to
Perel on a Company starship. It was all so simple that I never really noticed
the moment when my soul slipped away from me.
the journey out to Perel I had plenty of time to think over the transaction.
I’d been in the Company Chairman’s office, valeting his air conditioning
unit – the kind of stupid, mindless job that didn’t stop me listening to the
two men on the other side of the room.
Chairman had hauled up some sweating minion to explain why the project to open
up Perel was going so badly.
world has everything,” he snapped. “Mineral deposits, good agricultural
soil, mountains and beaches just crying out for tourism… It’s a goldmine. So
what the hell is going wrong?”
locals don’t want us, sir,” the minion explained. “They’re perfectly
polite, they listen to everything we tell them, but they’re not interested.
And you know the law won’t let us move in without local consent.”
Chairman snorted. “Bribe them.”
tried that, sir.” The minion slicked back his hair with a hand that I swear
was shaking. “It doesn’t work. We haven’t got anything they want.”
then,” the Chairman snarled, frustrated. “Blackmail. Flog a few. We – ”
minion coughed. “That would be … inadvisable, sir. The success of the
project depends on a good working relationship.”
it, man, soon there won’t be a project. Time is money, and we can’t keep our
teams there indefinitely.”
fuming silence descended.
them God wants them to do it.”
hadn’t realized I was going to speak until the words were out. The minion
whirled, and both men stared at me as if the water cooler had stood up and
addressed them. I swallowed; was I suicidal or something?
we can’t…” the minion protested feebly. “All our researches … the
people of Perel have no god.”
shrugged. “Then give them one.”
day after the conversation in the Chairman’s office I found myself on board a
starship. I had a contract to cover the time I would spend on Perel, with the
promise of a permanent position if I was successful. More money than I had ever
seen in my life before, and on top of that the security and status that comes
with being a Company man. I was tired of bumming around the galaxy, taking
whatever stupid job was on offer, pretending superiority to settled earthsuckers.
With any luck, this would be my last journey.
is a distant world, at the end of a flight path through four or five wormholes.
I had time on the journey to get used to the translation implant, to learn what
I could about my destination, and to manufacture a god.
was one large continent in the northern hemisphere, and a scatter of islands in
the southern. The bulk of the population was in the north, a mixture of nomadic
tribes and settled villagers beginning to develop agriculture. I played scenes
from a holocube and saw what the Company Chairman meant: it was a beautiful
world, ripe for development.
The question I had to answer was what kind of god would appeal to these primitive folk. I thought of a pantheon like the Ancient Greeks', but it was too complicated. I hadn't the time. One god, I decided, and when I discovered the Perelians set great store by hospitality, I made him a traveler -- a neat explanation if anyone asked why this god had never paid any attention to their world before. I dreamed up a few symbols and ceremonies, and set the computer to produce random combinations of letters until it came up with one I liked. Ghair. The god's name was Ghair the Traveler, and by the time my starship made orbit around Perel I was all ready to begin my great work of evangelism.The Wind at Carthage © 2004 Mark Tiedemann
Ambejack maneuvered his ship, Skamander,
into orbit above the lush green world and released a shower of small probes.
Wispy clouds formed in tiny spirals all through the atmosphere. He punched up a
topographic display, which modified itself as data from the probes came in. The
surface seemed pocked uniformly, like the depressions in a golf ball. As he
watched, the monitor sketched in lakes in the bowl of each depression. And at
the locus of each set of four, towers.
them then he touched a contact on the console.
coming in,” he said. “I’m sending through the feed for you.”
you, Shipmaster,” Moira Armagh replied.
world you found.”
welcome to join our discussions.”
invitation had been made half a dozen times during the run.
would have to shuttle them down, though. No excuse not to join them, at least
make motions toward sociability.
I finish the initial safety surveys,” he said. “Then I’ll be down.”
looking forward to it,” Moira said.
entered the common room in the midst of a debate. Moira sat at one end of the
broad table, reclining leisurely, one arm thrown up and draped over the back of
her chair. Saunders leaned intently on the edge of the table, his big hands
shaped in upturned claws while he tried to drive a point home.
– that doesn’t explain their uniformity,” he said. His face seemed too
thin for his otherwise muscular body. “What could drive that kind of
we’ve got a variable star,” Moira said, “then we could be seeing the
results of rapid cycles of glaciation.”
haven’t seen evidence that this star is a variable,” Saunders said.
“Not to that degree.”
on its cycle, doesn’t it?” Krueger, across from Saunders, asked quietly.
“We have records on it going back at most two hundred and fifty years. Some
variables have cycles longer than that. Moira’s right, a cycle of freeze thaw,
freeze thaw covering a few millennia instead of tens of thousands of years might
account for it. Cryostatic induction. No time for weathering to erode the
the towers?” Saunders demanded.
Price leaned into the argument from where she sat between Saunders and Moira.
“Possibly the same process. I’ve worked out a model that has warm air caught
in the floes funneling through the ice cover and permitting displacement by rock
and soil pushed up through the resulting chimney. Sort of like a volcano.
Differences in temperature combined with pressure could drive it.”
looked at her incredulously. “So uniformly?”
don’t understand your problem, Jack,” Moira said. “We’ve seen naturally
occurring features with symmetry and regularity before.”
not covering a whole planetary surface.”
dozen or so empty segments out of the thousands everywhere?” Saunders said
derisively. “Too few to convince me the rest are natural.”
leaned forward, smiling. “Nor have we ever seen artifacts covering a whole
surface. Not even on Earth. Construction fails to achieve that kind of
uniformity over simple continental areas.”
smiled playfully. “I suppose that depends on how you interpret certain sites
– natural or artificial.” He glanced at Saunders. “Would it make you feel
better if these were artifacts?”
sighed and pushed himself back in his chair as if physically leaving the debate.
only way we’re going to find out is to look at one,” Price said reasonably.
looked up at him. Moira smiled slightly.
probes cleared the atmosphere for our lungs, the soil for our feet, and the
fauna will not eat us,” he said. “Standard prophylactic measures will be
maintained and return to Skamander will require decontamination. But we may descend tomorrow
at eight hundred shiptime.” He grinned at Krueger. “Then we’ll see if
these are canals or canali, eh?”
Saunders reddened slightly while Krueger chuckled.
Seventy-nine percent of all ConMine scouts
signed a second ten-year contract. The thought depressed Myrle Tannon, though
scouting for mining opportunities through the galaxy was the only life she had
known for the last ten years. She stared at the goggles and VR suit, knowing she
should be using the psyche programs. Myrle sighed, grateful when the ship
bounced out of the hop.
“Hop completed, Tannon.”
“Deason,” she said, activating the computer
personality beyond the alarm features. “ETA for the system?”
“Two hours before scanning range,” Deason
said. The voice touched on tenor, being somewhat male in tone. Myrle kept it
close to her own vocal range. At one time, she thought Deason sounded like her
father. “In twelve hours we will be in the star’s habitable zone. Shall I
prepare the cryonics lab?”
Myrle smiled. The royalties from the mining
discoveries fueled her retirement, but the plant and animal specimens paid for
the luxuries. ConMine took thirty percent of the sales, but they did provide the
ship and supplies. Of course, ConMine didn’t oversee every transaction. Deason
reprogrammed with ease.
She thought about her contract. College had been
out of the question, but her scores were too high for the ConMine reps to
ignore. After passing the psyche tests, she went through two years of training
before beginning her ten-year contract. Though the computers would do the
majority of the work, a human had to know how to deactivate the computer and fly
the ship home if problems arose. Sometimes, Myrle thought of herself as a
redundant system for ConMines.
“Tannon? What about the cryonics
“Yeah, Deason. Get it ready and the pod.”
“As you wish, Tannon.”
Ten years in space with no company, but a few
psyche programs and a computer drove many of the ConMine scouts beyond rational
thought. Myrle planned her time alone, while the ship made the hops necessary to
fulfill her contract. A communications degree through the computer kept her busy
the first few years. But on these last few hops, she sensed her loneliness. Four
years ago, royalties from her mining discoveries reached one hundred thousand
credits per year. At what point do I have
enough profits? The answer eluded her.
think that everything would have changed when the human race grew wings, but
you’d be wrong.
sure, some things changed on the morning of August 26th, when the
human race woke to find their beds full of wings. A lot of things changed,
a lot changed, but a lot stayed the same. People still ate, slept, and dreamt.
People still walked, though walking was optional now.
People still talked to make sense of things, and most of that talk was
still gossip. And I was still the same, too.
I was young my friends were runners. I joined the cross country team to be with
them, and discovered that I had no foot speed at all. I trained hard, running
daily until I could run six, ten, twelve miles easily, but no matter what I did,
I still ran at the same glacial pace, my body plodding even as my mind sprinted
ahead of the pack.
the same was true now that I had wings. I loved feeling my primaries catch a
breeze, and flapping my wings was a genuine and literal rush. As my recent glide
along the winding
The city looked like an angel. As he guided his
ship down through the dark skies of Vagal Rone, it was the first thing Commander
Richard Hagel thought when he saw the flames that engulfed the city. The High
Ones Coliseum, now totally ablaze, was the hallo. The city-long aqueducts were
shaped like slender wings. The twin domes of the Ascender’s Chambers looked
like breasts. And the rest of the various buildings within the aqueducts formed
a womanly body. It was such a remarkable and obvious image that Richard wondered
why it took a raging inferno to get him to see it, especially after making the
trip dozens of times.
And then, of course, he realized: He couldn’t see an angel, but he could see a burning angel just fine. Julie wouldn’t have been surprised at the
irony of this – at least the old Julie wouldn’t have been.
“How long until the asteroid hits?” he asked
“Twenty seven minutes,” the ship answered.
Richard grimaced and set his stopwatch. The good
news was that he knew exactly where she would be, where everyone who was left on
Vagal Rone would be: in the coliseum. But there would be thousands of people
there, and there was no telling if he would be able to find her.
He landed just outside the city –as close as
he dared put his ship to the fires – and ran to the back of the ship. He
jumped in his three-wheeled buggy and buzzed down the landing ramp before it
even touched the ground, landing with a jolt and tearing off over the dunes
toward the city.
He didn’t even bother turning on his
headlamps; the fires were so bright it was almost like day.
When he met Julie for the first time, Richard
was recently divorced, still simmering at being dumped for a miner who smelled
of cheap beer and spoke in monosyllabic grunts. He asked for Vagal Rone because
it was the most distant assignment available. The Rones, as they were commonly
called, were mostly made up of followers of the Order of Ascension, and
abstinence was one of their pillars. It was fine by him. He didn’t even want
to think about other women.
Yet when Julie barged into his office five days
after his ship touched down, he was surprised at how instantly he was attracted
to her. She wasn’t part of the Order, as she was wearing a simple floral dress
instead of the traditional brown fri’loch robe, but he would have known
she was an off-worlder just by her eyes: there
was a burning intensity in them that was never present in the ever-vacant
expressions worn by members of the Order.
It only took a few seconds before he realized why the intensity was there.
Counter Universe was dim. The Counter Earth below them had a gray grandeur –
lightly banded in pale pewter and salmon red, save where the shrunken Moon cast
its huge gloomy shadow. Here the Moon clung close to the Counter-Earth, in a
universe chilling toward absolute zero.
peered out at a universe cooling into extinction. Below their orbit hung the
curve of Counter-Earth, its night side lit by the pale Counter-Moon. Both these
were lesser echoes of the ‘real’ Earth-Moon system, a universe away – or
twenty-two centimeters, whichever came first.
ice sheets spread like pearly blankets from both poles. Ridges ribbed the frozen
methane ranges. The equatorial land was a flinty, scarred ribbon of ribbed black
rock, hemmed in by the oppressive ice. The planet turned almost imperceptibly, a
major ridgeline coming slowly into view at the dawn line.
sighed and brought their craft lower. Al sat silent beside her. Yet they both
knew that all of Earthside – the real Earth, she still thought – listened
and watched through their minicams.
focal point is coming into sunlight ‘bout now,” Al reported.
go get it,” she whispered. This gloomy universe felt somber, awesome.
curved toward the dawn line. Data hummed in their board displays, spatters of
light reporting on the gravitational pulses that twisted space here.
had already found the four orbiting gravitational wave radiators, just as
predicted by the science guys. Now for the nexus of those four, down on the
surface. The focal point, the coordinator of the grav wave transmissions that
had summoned them here.
just maybe, to find whatever made the focal point. Somewhere near the dawn line.
came arcing over the Counter night. A darkness deeper than she had ever seen
crept across Counter. Night here, without the shrunken Moon’s glow, had no
planets dotting the sky, only the distant sharp stars. At the terminator,
shadows stretched, jagged black profiles of the ridgelines torn by pressure from
the ice. The warming had somehow shoved fresh peaks into the gathering
atmosphere, ragged and sharp. Since there
was atmosphere thicker and denser than anybody had expected the stars were not
unwinking points; they flickered and glittered as on crisp nights at high
altitudes on Earth. Near the magnetic poles, she watched swirling blue auroral
glows cloak the plains where fogs rose even at night.
cold dark world a universe away from sunny Earth, through a higher dimension ...
three days out from Earth and time had already grown alien for him, simply
one more number to be tallied and communicated by machine. The break had begun
back in the departure lounge of Baikonur Cosmodrome, when Zoë’s vid-mail
knows I’ve tried to understand you, Rodion,” she offered in self-defense.
was Rodion to her now, just Rodion Kovalev like he was on his driver’s
license. Not Rodya any more. Now only his mother would be so familiar. The techs
at the launch pad had got the impression Rodion was pale with terror, but it was
Zoë’s message that had bled him white. She was moving out. After nearly three
years. He was unambitious – going nowhere, she said. If only he could have
told her where he was really going; but he couldn’t tell anyone, not until it
was a done deal. By then it would be too late for them to patch things up. Hell,
it was too late already.
time was out of joint from more than just Rodion’s break-up. He was on the
flight deck of the little module carrying him to the Moon, the cratered gray
land rolling away beneath. Facing aft with the engines turned forward for the
final burn, it was like riding a caboose through the heavens with the world
forever receding, a photo-negative of black skies and shining soil.
since they’d met in ‘23, Zoë had spared no effort to charm and wheedle him
up the hierarchy at the Union Bureau of Foreign Affairs in
all three Powers vying in the Central Asian ‘Stans for the dregs of Earth’s
oil, no-one had been able to say where the tension might lead, nor whether the
Free Trade Coalition would really fire on a manned vessel. But the FTC had
downed a few Union satellites already. It was enough to give a civil servant
more pressing duties to attend to. Apart from any reluctance on the part of his
superiors, Rodion was young, fit, and Russian, which in this case was a point in
his favor. Obviously the assignment was none of Zoë’s doing. She had no idea.
No-one in the public did.
autopilot fired two control jets to spin the module upside down and again stop
it there. Rodion laughed a little hysterically at the topsy-turvy sight of the
Moon overhead, for he had gotten no sleep since leaving Earth, and had been too
excited on the night before launch to get any rest then either. To make matters
worse, the spin popped open a locker behind him, and he knew with a sense of
dread that the thump that followed was caused by the pilot’s body, spilling
out of the locker and drifting into the opposite wall.
Mountain rain hissed
along the meadow’s edge, its aurora-like waves touching down in stinging,
staccato, icy curtains over the blue-green grass, slapping, slashing my face.
by the beating of Dragon wings.
grayed and swollen purple fills the cloud’s belly, thinned and burning to
orange as its arms touch both mountain and water. Pink duels yellow in the arms
above. Below hang long hairs, A-te showing favor, streaking through the black
with gold and pure white.
cloud casts down its darkness, the shadow of the valley trees falls greener. The
sharpness of the mountain blurs as the gray finds me high on the slopes. It
covers me, but I will not night-dig my seeing arm into the ice. I will turn and
look at it.
soon as I can move again. I will write in the ice.
mas remains my name.
of my talking arms is no good. It does not hurt, but will not move, as if it is
forever under clouds. I can still find strong purchase on the steep flat ice
with my other four arms. The glace talons have gotten bigger, catching more of
A-te’s light, melting the ice quickly to sink my grip in deep and true. The
wind rocks my bad arm; gusty days toss it back and forth, making the talon tap
nonsense on the ice. But I will not fall.
happened so long ago, I cannot quite remember. A cloudless day and I had not yet
mastered the elegantly timed turn of the arm. I faced all five of my wrists to
A-te at the same time and the talons all melted out.
mas almost fell from heaven.
masta-te caught me in time, digging her talon in deep to hold me. But it burned
something and now that talking arm hangs limp. When I move across the ice it
drags with a brittle scraping, a sound that does not belong with the masta-te on
the Steeps of Heaven.
worse. I could not pray with them. I could talk with anyone one by one, me with
my one good talking arm and them with either of theirs. But when they prayed
together, all by all, I could not join that way. The leader, Wichuk masta-te,
would tap his superior talons on the ice, calling all to Circle as was his
right. Talking arm was linked to talking arm on either side so the prayers
passed through everyone.
tried to understand.
eyed the selections at the automated bar on Moon Launch Pad Two. She felt
someone behind her and gripped the pistol at her waist. The person took the
stool next to hers.
been gone awhile,” he said. “Can I buy you a drink?”
card is in the slot, but I can’t figure out what to drink.” Somi had hoped
to run into Rod. He was in her thoughts of late. Their separate careers made it
difficult to maintain a friendship and mutual attraction. Somi smiled. “How
have you fared of late?”
old Spatial Police stuff. A little pirate tracking, a little bail-out of some
ship in trouble. I’ve missed you. Where did Dako have you this time?”
Jupiter system heading up an exploratory team. Hauled the geologists back to
Earth and picked up a work team for here. Next stop Mars.”
you accomplish anything?”
to make the old man rich … or should I say richer. While everyone was all over
Io and Europa we found pay dirt on Ganymede. Elements and minerals new and
rubbed his chin. He was tall, gray-eyed, craggy-faced, and the black SP jumper
fit him well. “If Dako’s so well off why doesn’t he get some new ships?
Damn if we spend more time hauling in his hulks then chasing law breakers.
of these days I’m going to take SP’s request move topside and go after that
old man. As much as I prefer patrolling he makes a senior officer’s promotion
to a desk feel good.”
stiffened. The pain hadn’t eased. Her sister, Dena, had crashed on Mars and
died while Somi had been away. Dena was too good a pilot to have erred. Dako’s
damn vessel must’ve been at fault. Now, except for her sister’s two
children, she had no meaningful family. Somi disliked her brother-in-law,
Weldon, and an aunt and uncle in the asteroid belt were mere shadows in her
the old man much and yet hate him wholeheartedly for his part in Dena’s death.
Dako cried when he told her what had happened
and that the fleet would be updated in her sister’s memory. Sure. Somi
wasn’t going to hold her breath. As for the kids, they and Weldon were off
Earth still in mourning. She didn’t press Dako for she knew he’d not give
her anything concrete. Wherever they were she’d find them.
stood and eyed Rod. As much as Somi liked being with him, the time wasn’t
right for the next step. Not until things were straight in her mind. “Got to
move out. Let’s plan something next time I’m lunar bound.” Somi patted his
more intimate. I’ll hold you to that,” he said to her retreating back.
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