Authors: Elizabeth Bear
Mitch spreads his hands wide, helplessly, and the look that breaks through his veneer chills me. You get to know that expression, after a while. You see it on the ones who’ve adopted goals other than survival. Dead men walking.
“Look, Maker. I’ve got a dead detective. I’ve got Razorface maybe linked to a murder. And not one of his little cleanup killings. I don’t give a damn about those. A dead cop. A dead cop is not good for you and it is not good for me and it is not good for your gangster boyfriend. And a street full of dead kids poisoned by Canadian special forces combat drugs—that’s not good for you either. Since I know how much you like people poking into your history. No?”
Mitch’s eyes flicker around my shop in that way he has, recording everything.
Our eyes meet: I see him in living color on the right side, and in high-resolution black and white complete with thermal readings and a heads-up array on the left. The bulge of his gun glimmers red on the threat display. Distracting. “It isn’t about that, Mitch.”
“Good. Then are you going to help me, or not?”
“A gritty and painstakingly well-informed peek inside a future we’d all better hope we don’t get, liberally seasoned with VR delights and enigmatically weird alien artifacts. Genevieve Casey is a pleasingly original female lead, fully equipped with the emotional life so often lacking in military SF yet tough and full of noir attitude; old enough by a couple of decades to know better but conflicted enough to engage with the sleazy dynamics of her situation regardless. Out of this basic contrast, Elizabeth Bear builds her future nightmare tale with style and conviction and a constant return to the twists of the human heart.”
has it all. Drug wars, hired guns, corporate skulduggery, and bleeding-edge AI, all rolled into one of the best first novels I’ve read in I don’t know how long. This is the real dope!”
—Chris Moriarty, author of
glorious hybrid: hard science, dystopian geopolitics, and wide-eyed sense of wonder seamlessly blended into a single book. I hate this woman. She makes the rest of us look like amateurs.”
—Peter Watts, author of
“Packed with a colorful panoply of characters, a memorable and likeable antiheroine, and plenty of action and intrigue,
is a superbly written novel that combines high tech, military-industrial politics, and complex morality. There is much to look forward to in new writer Elizabeth Bear.”
—Karin Lowachee, Campbell Award–nominated author of
“Even in scenes where there is no violent action, or even much physical action at all, the thoughts and emotions of Ms. Bear’s characters, as well as the dynamic tensions of their relationships, create an impression of feverish activity going on below the surface and liable to erupt into plain view at any moment…. The language is terse and vivid, punctuated by ironic asides whose casual brutality—sometimes amusing, sometimes shocking—speaks volumes about these people and their world…. This is a superior piece of work by a writer of enviable talents. I look forward to reading more!”
—Paul Witcover, author of
is one helluva good novel! Elizabeth Bear writes tight and tough and tender about grittily real people caught up in a highly inventive story of a wild and woolly tomorrow that grabs the reader from the get-go and will not let go. Excitement, intrigue, intelligence—and a sense of wonder, too! Who could ask for anything more?”
—James Stevens-Arce, author of
, Best First Novel 2000
(Rocky Mountain News)
“In this promising debut novel, Elizabeth Bear deftly weaves thought-provoking ideas into an entertaining and tight narrative.”
—Dena Landon, author of
(Dutton, fall 2004)
This book is dedicated to
Dr. Richard P. Feynman and
Dr. Robert L. Forward
—for being unable to put down a puzzle.
It takes a lot of people to write a novel. This one would not have existed without the assistance of my very good friends and first readers (on and off the Online Writing Workshop for Science Fiction, Fantasy, and Horror)—especially but not exclusively Kathryn Allen, Rhonda Garcia, Jaime Voss, Chris Coen, Ilona Gordon, Jean Seok, Derek R. Molata, Tara Devine, Chelsea Polk, Caliann Graves, James Stevens-Arce, Michael Curry, and Larry West. I am even more deeply indebted to Stella Evans, M.D., to whom I owe whatever bits of the medical science and neurology are accurate; to M.Cpl. S. K. S. Perry (Canadian Forces) and Capt. Beth Coughlin (U.S. Army), without whom my portrayal of military life would have been even more wildly fantastical; to Leah Bobet, my native guide to Toronto; to Thomas Ladegard, whose firsthand experience in the sewers of Hartford proved invaluable; to Stephen Shipman for handgun tips; to Asha C. Shipman for listening to me curse (and type) late into the night; to my copyeditor, Faren Bachelis; to the North Las Vegas Police Department’s Lt. Ed Finizie and Officer Marion Brady for giving me some idea what it means to be a big-city cop; to Dena Landon, Sarah Monette, and Kelly Morisseau, francophones extraordinaire, upon whom may be blamed any correctness in the Québecois—especially the naughty bits; to Jennifer Jackson and Anne Groell for too many reasons to enumerate; and most especially to my husband,
Chris, for staying married to me not only through the third novel (blamed for many a divorce), but through the fourth, fifth, and sixth ones, too.
The failures, of course, are my own, with one exception: Jenny’s completely wrong about the squirrels.
In the interests of presenting a detailed personal perspective on a crucial moment in history, we have taken the liberty of rendering Master Warrant Officer Casey’s interviews—as preserved in the Yale University New Haven archives—in narrative format. Changes have been made in the interests of clarity, but the words, however edited, are her own.
The motives of the other individuals involved are not as well documented, although we have had the benefit of our unique access to extensive personal records left by Col. Frederick Valens. The events as presented herein are accurate: the drives behind them must always remain a matter of speculation, except in the case of Dr. Dunsany—who left us comprehensive journals—and “Dr.” Feynman, who kept frequent and impeccable backups.
What follows is a historical novel, of sorts. It is our hope that this more intimate annal than is usually seen will serve to provide future students with a singular perspective on the roots of the civilization we are about to become.
—Patricia Valens, Ph.D.
Jeremy Kirkpatrick, Ph.D.
0307 hours, Wednesday 29 August, 2062
Abandoned North End
I never sleep if I can help it.
So when somebody starts trying to kick down my door at 0300 hours on a rank hot summer night, it isn’t quite the surprise for me that it might be for some people. When the noise starts, I’m sitting on a gouged orange plastic chair in my shop. I drop my old-fashioned paperback book, stand, and draw my sidearm before sidling across oil-stained concrete to flick the monitor on. Smart relays in the gun click on in recognition of my palm print, too quietly for normal ears to hear. The air thickens in my lungs; my heartbeat slows ominously.
And then I curse out loud and go open up the big blue steel door, holding the safetied pistol casually in my meat hand while the metal one turns the knob.
“You wanna pound the damn door down?” I accuse, and then I get a good look at the purple-faced kid dying in Razorface’s arms and I’m all somebody’s sergeant, somebody’s mother.
Not that the two are all that different.
“Ah, shit, Face. This kid is hammered. What do you expect me to do with this?”
Face shoves past me, skirting a dangling engine block and a neat pile of sheet metal, two of his “boys”—teenage hoods—trailing like ducklings. He doesn’t answer immediately. Even as I take his name loudly in vain, Razorface carries the baby gangster gently around the scarred steel lab
table that holds up my hot plate. He lays the kid on my cot in the corner of the shop, wrinkling the taut brown blanket. Razorface, Razorface. Gets his name from a triple row of stainless steel choppers. Skin black as velvet and shoulders wide as a football star’s. The old kind of football, yeah.
I know the kid: maybe fourteen, maybe twelve. His name is Mercedes. He’s rigid, trying to suck air and failing.
Besides that, dark red viscous blood oozes out of his nose, and his skin looks like pounded meat. The nosebleed and the wide-open capillary color of his face are dead giveaways, but I give him the once-over anyway. Then I grab my kit and lug it over, dropping to my knees on the cold damp concrete beside the cot. Bones and metal creak. The room reeks of Razorface’s sweaty leather, the kid’s blood, diesel fuel. Once it would have made me gag.
I ain’t what I used to be.
“Can you fix him, Maker?”
Face’s boys stand twitching just inside the doorway.
I fumble in my kit, finding epinephrine, the long needle. Even as I fill a syringe I know the answer. “Nah, Face. There’s no fucking way.” But I have to try. ’Cause Face is one of mine, and the kid is one of his.
I don’t look at the punks. “Will one of you two be so fucking kind as to lock the goddamned door?”
“Derek,” Razorface says, “do it,” and the taller of the two shoots him a sullen-jawed look and stalks away.
I know already, from the color of Merc’s skin, but I need to ask—so I turn my grim expression on Razorface.
“What’d he OD on?”
Please God let me be wrong.
They can break you of religion, but they can’t break you of praying.
Face holds out a twist of pills, and a chill snakes up my spine. I reach out with my metal hand and take the packet away from him, squeezing the ends to pop the slit. “Putain
de marde!” Yellow pills, small as saccharine tablets, with a fine red line across the diameter. Rigathalonin. Hyperex.
We used to call it the Hammer.
How did a two-bit piece of street trash get his hands on something like this? And just what on God’s gray earth do you think I can do for a kid who chewed down a handful of Hammers, Face?
But I don’t say that. I say, “How long ago? When did he take them?”
Face answers. “An hour ago. About an hour ago,” and the taller gangster starts to whine.
I glare up at Whiny. “Shut up. How many of these did he take? Anybody see?” Nothing that I can manage—that anybody can manage—is going to make a difference for this kid. If Merc’s central nervous system isn’t already so much soft-serve, I’m not a card-carrying member of the Teamster’s Union.