As of about 4:37 today, I crossed 50,000 words for Nano. The final scene is just starting to unfold, but the rules require that I end the story, so I do, rather abruptly. Not the final ending, of course, probably nothing about this novel is final though there are a few interesting scenes along the way and I have a good sense of who Dante Blackmore, Josephine Tyler, and Anita Graves - among others - are. It's more the bones of a novel than a full novel. But hey. This is where it all started. And it feels good to finish. :)
Tuesday, November 30, 2010
Saturday, November 27, 2010
Just a quick fix: Downloads of Looking Glass and Irreconcilable Differences should be working again. Apparently I erased the downloads on my development machine and propagated their non-existence to the server at some point. Sorry about that.
Posted by Jim Strickland at 9:25 PM
Tuesday, November 23, 2010
Once again, late to getting something on my blog, strung out in the last stages of Nano. (I cracked 40,000 words today). And naturally, I find myself without recyclable content to post. So I'm going to post this little bit of silliness that started going through my head about a thousand words into today's output.
(To the tune of I'm Gonna Be by The Proclaimers)
When I wake up, well I know I'm gonna write, I'm gonna write another couple thousand words.
At Panera I got a frequent eater card, and I've eaten every salad on the board.
If I get drunk, well I know I'm gonna fall, I'm gonna fall behind a couple thousand words.
And I can't give up. Yeah I know I can't give up, I can't give up though I'm behind ten thousand words.
And I will write 500 words and I will write 500 more just to write my fifty-thousand words 'bout steampunk old West zombie whores...
Ok, I'll stop now. Happy Thanksgiving to all who celebrate it.
Tuesday, November 16, 2010
Still doing Nano. The novel I'm working on is taking some directions I didn't expect, which is always rewarding. I like it when characters decide to be their own people. The novel is based (somewhat loosely) on my Brass and Steel short story, mentioned previously, but friends and neighbors, there's a lot more going on. I'm two days behind, which is actually pretty good. And in case you were hoping, this post does not contain any samples from the novel. I'm trying not to get all twisted up about this one the way I have about Einstein's Blues, and so I'm keeping this one close to the vest until I'm ready to show it.
However, since I'm already a day late with this post, and since I somehow didn't already post it in this blog, below is the teaser reading from Einstein's Blues that I gave at 2009's MileHiCon. No guarantees that any of this will appear in the final novel, and yes I do intend to go back and finish the thing, probably when I'm done with the novel I'm working on now.
• The year is 2967. It's a long way into the future, but the story really starts only a hundred or so years from now.
• Years get away from you in time dilation stories.
• Narrator is Haidee Lee Jones, lead vocalist and lead guitarist of The Prodigal Daughters. They're the house band for Amazitron, a traveling show in the vein of Circque de Soliel. They also do gigs on the side.
• The scene is on the conning tower of the S.S. Tallahatchie, originally a colonial ship that transported colonists and their stuff from Earth to one of the few dozen colony worlds up to forty lightyears away.
• Tallahatchie is approaching Duntemann's world, an Earth-like planet orbiting HR483 A and B, a binary star system in the constellation Andromeda, about 41 lightyears from Earth.
• Tallahatchie travels at relativistic speeds, resulting in time dilation for those aboard, but that time really passes for the place they left and the place they're going to. Einstein's Blues refers to that fact. "You can get there from here, but nothing will be the same."
• I'm still working on this novel, so take this scene as a teaser of the general flavor of the final novel, even though the scene itself may be very, very different in the finished version.
In the beginning, as the saying goes, there was nothing. Darkness on the face of the water. And then... wait for it... there. Starburst.
Space explodes into a silent shower of blue sparks as we slow down, as the light from those far-away stars is blueshifted less and less, until the coolest stars' light just scootches past the UV filter in the conning tower windows. It's quite sudden. One moment, darkness, the next, stars like fireflies, lighting up the vast gulf of dusty, empty space ahead.
Look up. Let my eyes adjust to the faint light of HR 483 B. Her twin, A, is far brighter, but that means her light is higher frequency. Which means it's still into the ultraviolet. Which would sunburn my pasty white-girl hide worse than catching a round-the-backside wave on Glory, if it got through the conning tower windows. Which it doesn't. So for these few minutes, the light of the hidden twin, normally outshown by her much-brighter sister and visible only at sunrise and sunset on the surface of the one rocky planet that orbits them both; that feeble glow the red dwarf is capable of, is the major light on the face of the dark water of space that the Starship Tallahatchie sails into.
Final stop for the season. Last gasp for this show before we head back to Glory, and take a couple months off, surf, rest, lick our wounds, and spacedock the ship. Assuming Leo wants us all back and hires us again, after that we start building the next show.
And there was light. And there was still nothing, but at least now you could see it.
Look back to my soldering. Wait for the call on the radio that is, that should be coming, as the light slowly warms more and more into the visible spectrum, and shines into the dusty corners of the conning tower, over the metal grate floor, washing out the feebly blinking lights in the conning tower almost nobody uses anymore. Prop my amp on the science console. It hasn't worked since I've been with the ship.
The call comes.
"S.S. Tallahatchie, sierra sierra seven-zero-one, This is Turnbull Control, Hotel Romeo four-eight-three. Received your transmission at eighteen hours, forty-one minutes, August two-seven, two-niner-six-seven, Universal. Permission to approach is granted. We have you on the schedule and in the pattern. Your approach vector is attached to this message. Orbital control will pick you up when you clear the outer planets, and the signal will get there the same day. Look out for our extra star, and welcome to Duntemann's World. Turnbull Control, Hotel Romeo four-eight-three, end of message. Message will repeat on s-band, two two niner five megahertz in six-zero seconds." So it does, and so it will, hunting up and down the usable frequencies in interplanetary space, along with any other system to ship chatter, each with a sixty second reply window, until our reply gets there. I've heard stories about messages that stayed on the queue for a century until wreckage of the ship that never replied was found.
My voice slips into the usual 'com voice' patter by itself. I don't have to think about it. Just do it. "Turnbull Control, Hotel Romeo four-eight-three from S.S. Tallahatchie, Sierra Sierra seven-zero-one. Received your transmission at thirteen-forty-seven, August two-eight, two-niner sixty-seven. Vector downloaded. Will pick up Orbital control at or around noon, September one. Universal. Thank you, and I'm looking at your extra star as we speak. S.S. Tallahatchie, Sierra Sierra seven-zero-one, end of message. Message will repeat every hour, this frequency." Log the message into the communications console so that it will.
"Com to CIC."
Beth answers. Her watch is always the same as mine. "CIC. Whatcha got, Haidee?"
"I got approach permission and a vector download. We pick up orbital control in four days Universal."
"About time. Let me get to the nav console hon." She says. "Okay. We're set. Did they say anything else?"
"Yeah, watch out for their extra star."
"It's hardly ever missed. But noted. Thanks. CIC out."
Four days. I have work to do. Handmade twentieth century technology always needs work. The guitar's strings are steel. They stretch and wear out. Lose their tonal quality. Replace them. Find the loose solder joint in the amp head. It's been breaking into oscillation sometimes during rehearsal. I built this amp. I know where to look. And for that, at least, I only have my own shoddy workmanship to blame. Resolder it.
I could play blues and rock ’n roll on my optical guitar. But no. Analog, thermionic electronics are the same for my art as the wood choices, instrument shapes, and varnishes used in a Stradivarius. If you want the Stradivarius sound, get a Stradivarius. If you can't afford a Stradivarius... and who can, especially now? ...figure out how the master made his violins, and make your own the same way. If you want that sound bad enough, it's worth it.
And it is worth it. When I play, you hear what you'd have heard, feel what you'd have felt if you'd been alive in the 1950s through the 2050s, and had gone to your favorite club to hear the band. So yeah, my optical guitar has better bandwidth, easier fingering by virtue of not having physical strings, it's always in tune. It always sounds the same. And because of all those improvements, because it is so very modern and clean, playing Hendrix on it is like playing one of Bach’s sonatas on accordion and kazoo. You miss the point.
Monday, November 8, 2010
In 2006, my friend and fellow science fiction author Jeff Duntemann invited a few of his friends to write stories in what he called the Drumland world. This is a big deal. He was inviting these people to jump into his world and write stories that would become part of his canon, for future work in that world. I was one of those friends.
But his world was so different from the worlds I'd been building. The colony of Valinor had reverted to 1850s technology, and indeed one of the published stories in this world is about building steam locomotives. More than that, scattered all over Valinor are thingmakers. These machines can make any Earth artifact that will fit in a 2.2 meter bowl if you know the right rhythm to tap out on the two pillars of the machine. It had, it seemed to me, the makings of a utopia. And my first two novels are cyberpunk. Let's just say coming up with an idea for a story took a long time.
June, 2010. I had the idea. I also had some goals. I wanted to write something in third person. I wanted to write a main character who didn't have long internal dialogues. And I wanted to write a tragedy.
. Jeff is busy writing the companion novella in the same world, and we're hoping to see a release date through Copperwood Press sometime next year.
(Jeff's short stories in this world thus far are:
Drumlin Boiler: A competition to build and race steam locomotives is quickly polarized into a drumlin tech vs Earth tech race with strong repercussions down the road.
Drumlin Wheel: An ordinary guy discovers a most extraordinary drumlin – a wheel that turns itself. He quickly runs afoul of the simmering conflict between the pro-drumlin tech folks and the Bitstream Institute, that insists Valinor develop its technology for itself (so they can keep the thingmakers to themselves).
Roddie: A short short story about one man's encounters with an enigmatic drummer who is trying to drum up some deeper understanding of everything. And there's a disturbing sense that he has it.
These stories can be found in Jeff's anthology: Cold Hands and Other Stories, at Copperwood Press's site on lulu.)
On Gossamer Wings
The waters of the Steinbeck river come down a long way, from the snowmelt creeks high in the White Plume mountains, through the Veneris canyon, all the way across the western half of the continent named Arcadia by the spacewrecked settlers of Valinor. The river wends its way south and west to christen the arid land of the Great Bowl, and leaves a broad stretch of fertile green land in its wake.
Toward the southwestern edge of the Bowl, irrigation ditches have drained the Steinbeck to little more than a creek. The land is dry underfoot and trees are mighty few and far between. Clusters of windblown farms cling to the banks of the Steinbeck; wood and concrete buildings covered in the reddish brown dust blown up off the soil of the ancient lakebed of the Bowl. They live and die at the ebb and rare flood of the waters. Where the farms survive, the farmers carry on the war against the dust and the turf with the waters of the Steinbeck, prodigious quantities of manure, and backbreaking, spirit-crushing, endless labor for man and beast. They coax and cajole the green shoots of rye up out of the ground into the alien sunlight until the Earthborn grass is strong enough to keep them and the town of Joiners out of the dust for another winter.
It's hot. The sun has barely started its decline toward the horizon, and the heat and humidity press down on the small line of people waiting to use the thingmaker at the edge of Joiners. Such wind as there is brings more heat, and the taste of dust and cowshit to the people standing in line. A horse and buggy pass, and the driver watches the line at the thingmaker keenly for a moment, before heading on into the town of Joiners just up the road. A man works in the field with a small group of other men.
Natalie Bishop flies over it all. Arms outstretched, she turns and banks, a faint Mona-Lisa smile on her lips as the ground curves down and away in her mind, and she feels and hears the air rushing past her ears, and her hair dances behind her. Natalie flies. The people she's standing with sweat.
She doesn't fly alone. Two small girls in the line fly with her, following in their own dream of leaving the ground behind. For Natalie, though, there's more. In her mind's eye, she can see her flier, delicate wings shining in the sun, long, slender, graceful body trailing behind her, shiny thingmaker-diamond windows in front of her. She takes it apart again, and notes well the shape of each part. She lines up all the parts just so, and each one whispers mathematics to her – the lift it must generate, the drag it will create, the thrust and direction each part will force the air. The numbers swirl in her mind, and sort themselves back into the single, complex formula that is flight, and their sweetness makes her smile yet again.
The flyer reassembles in her mind, and banks lazily in the sky, low enough that she can see the astonished faces below. She smiles back, lost in her vision while she waits. The little girls run around the line, flapping their arms like wings and giggling.
Ms. Carmichael teaches. Has always taught. It shows. Straight posture, proud, with her hair tied into a neat, efficient bun at the back of her head. Of everyone in the line, she seems the least affected by the heat, and other than Natalie, she is the only woman wearing pants rather than a skirt, and a modestly cut blouse dyed in bright, primary colors. She watches Nat fly, squinting into the sun slightly, then leans to whisper to the woman standing next to her. Bea McHelvy, a younger, heavyset woman, listens to Ms. Carmichael, and then calls her children in.
"Nat's building a flying machine, mama." the older girl says. "I seen it."
"You have seen it." Mrs. McHelvy says.
"Yes mama. I have seen it."
"She's too old to be pretending that anymore. She's nearly full grown."
"Nat can do it, mama. She can drum up anything."
Ms Carmichael shakes her head at the child. "It takes science to build flying machines, Elizabeth. Science we had once, and we lost. Make-believe, drumlins, and funny noises won't get us there."
Natalie turns toward the little girl when she hears that group of sounds. The nasal one that sounds so funny when someone's nose is plugged up. 'NNNN.' The open one whose flat tone shapes the whole progression of sounds, 'AAAA,' and the sharp tongue-against-roof-of-the-mouth cutoff that most people truncate the sequence of sounds with. 'T'. The sounds, in and of themselves, take no shape in her mind, carry no meaning. But she knows from long experience that when she hears those sounds, all jammed together in a quick flutter of lips, tongue, and mouth like that, they refer to her. She turns toward the little girl who said it, and smiles at all that enthusiasm in the little girl's body language.
Ms. Carmichael whispers to Mrs. McHelvy again. The latter looks Nat in the eye only a moment. Natalie can see the tiny flicker of expression cross the other woman's face. Fear. Mrs. McHelvy glances toward her daughters, then back at Natalie, expressions only bare moments, like the flicker of hummingbird wings, but Natalie can see them. She looks away. Mouth sounds can make people happy or unhappy, and much worse. She knows that. They can also bring great joy, happiness, all these things Natalie can see when people make sounds at each other. She can see that they get some meaning out of them, the way she can out of hand signs and body language. She knows that it's practically effortless, that even little babies learn it. But for all her efforts, it's just barnyard noise to her. Like the clucking of so many chickens. She looks away, and reaches down for the shaft of the wheelbarrow. Clenches her fist around it hard.
Natalie's turn at the thingmaker. She closes her eyes again. Lets her mind clear to focus on this one thing. A low humming and whistling comes from her, not quite disconnected from her thoughts as she pictures what she needs, imagining every single detail of the part she wants to make, until she can imagine the individual grains of it, vibrating and humming with their own motion, with the sound and the energy and the feel of thought. She hums to herself, then changes to a whistle. A cylinder about ten tocks in diameter – nearly up to her waist – and roughly the same length. It's hollow. With two parts that turns inside, counterrotating. Angled blades on them to catch the air and force it out the back. This, she imagines as she takes two sets of what look like round shutters off the top of her wheelbarrow and lays them on the ground, then empties her wheelbarrow of all the other thingies and cricket legs and bits of drumlins back into the silver dust of the thingmaker's bowl. She waits while her offering is absorbed, imagining each thing, and how the pattern of it leads inexorably to the pattern of the thing in her mind now.
Tommy McQueen and his brother walk by. The ground seems to snatch at his boots sometimes. He wobbles a bit, trying to make his feet do what he wants, paying too much attention to their rhythm and getting lost in it before he stops, closes his eyes and just wills himself to walk. A knee twinges. Tommy ignores it. 'Growin' too fast.' his father told him. 'Ain' nothin' wrong with you. Get back t'work.'
He glances over to Billy, his brother. Shorter now, sure. But he's strong, and compact, and he has that man-smell of sweat and alcohol that reminds Tommy of their father. Tommy watches Natalie a moment, and he takes a breath to call out her name, the automatic habit ingrained for more than half his life. But he stops, closes his eyes, and doesn't let the sound out.
His older brother doesn't miss the expression."Oh hey Tommy, look. It's your girlfriend. The amazing good-for-nothin' moron."
Tommy rolls his eyes."She is not my girlfriend, Billy. We were friends when I was a kid, that's all. I keep tellin' you that." He looks her way again, though, glancing at the wild hair blowing in the wind, and at the curve of her profile.Then he looks away. "She's not useless, an' she's not a moron either. She c'n drum anything. Anything at all."
"You still are a kid," he says. "An' so what if she can drum anything. Can't talk. Can't read. Can't write. Damn near burned the house down last time she tried to cook, I hear." He gives Nat a quick glance of his own, watching her body move. His lips curl into a slight baring of teeth that doesn't quite become a smile. "'Now … there is one thing she might be good for."
"Don't you look at her like that, Billy."
Billy laughs and elbows his brother. "I'll look where I damn well please. You get married, an' from then on you're just lookin'. Maybe wishin'. Maybe not, but you're lookin'. "
Tommy glares at his brother. "Cut it out. You got Becka. You don' need to be lookin'."
Billy goes uncharacteristically quiet. It only lasts a moment. "Becka's a good woman. You need to find one like her, when you're done foolin' around with your moron."
"Damn it, Billy, I told you, she's not my girlfriend."
"Oh yeah?" Billy's lips curl into a smirk. "You two were foolin' around by VanHutchen's Pond back in May. Dad told me. I heard you were both naked. She look good naked, Tommy? She got nice tits?"
"We were not foolin' around!" Tommy says, hitting his brother harder. "Knock it off. She's gonna hear you."
"So what?" Billy says. "She don't understand. She's a moron, Tommy. Her parents should send her away before she drums up somethin' bad, like that death drumlin that fried that guy in that display over in Wakeen. That's what Dad says. She's useless trouble, that's all."
Tommy punches his brother as hard as he can in the stomach.
Billy's stomach tightens and he grunts at the blow. He bends over, choking. Tommy steps back, not expecting that. "Billy, are you…" and Billy flicks out a hard jab deep into Tommy's own stomach. Tommy folds up, the wind knocked out of him.
Billy grabs Tommy by the wrists and shoves him down, straddles him, leans close until his nose is an inch from Tommy's. "Sucker. That always works on you. Bein' around her makes you soft. You thought you really hurt me? Aww. Did the liddle brudder hurt his old, old big brudder?" Billy laughs. "Is that what you think? You think maybe you're too big for me to whoop you any more? Or maybe that I ain't your big brother no more?" Billy's smirk wars with a snarl, as though the wildness within him has seen an opening in the cage it's spending more and more time in.
Tommy struggles to breathe, writhes against his brother's iron grip like a pig being dragged to the slaughterhouse. Tommy's eyes tear up. When the air finally does come, it arrives in a ragged gasp. He squeezes his eyes shut and grits his teeth. "No."
Billy sighs, takes a long, slow breath. The smirk fades. He takes another breath and lets it out slowly, and nods. "Good." he says, as he lets go of his brother's wrists, and rocks back onto his heels. He stands slowly. Steps back. His hands stay up, as though they're not quite sure what to do. "Good." he says again, and lowers his hands when his brother doesn't swing on him. "'Cause I'm always gonna be your big brother. Don't matter if you're taller than me. Don't matter that I'm married now. Maybe I settled down. But I ain't completely tame. Don' forget it."
Tommy clutches his stomach and breathes. "You'll always be my asshole brother. Can't wait until you move out. Might be a day I don' get beat on then."
Billy spits on the ground, still breathing a little heavily, as though there was more to the fight than there was. He reaches out one hand to his brother. "I never beat on you that much. You're my brother. I'd never beat on you that much. You know it was all in fun."
Tommy's jaw squeezes shut, and flinches as he takes the hand that's offered and slowly pulls himself off the ground. "Yeah." he says. "Sure."
Natalie scarcely notices the trouble behind her, glancing over her shoulder only a moment while Tommy's not looking. She looks away quickly, and faces the thingmaker. The people behind her in line watch curiously. They've always watched since she drummed up the Big Ball of Iron, since her father started making things with the iron and things got good for a while. They always watch, and she used to see the hope in them that she'll drum up something else miraculous, something they can see the point of, like the iron.
Nat whistles and hums, setting up the beat frequency between her voice and her whistle, and then, as the wind begins to blow her hair and her skirts back, her hands begin to tap the pillars, quickly, an alien rhythm, seemingly random, but she drums it out fast as the hoofbeats of a galloping horse, as though this pattern is an old friend, as though the rhythm of it has been part of her all along, as though the drumlin is something she's drummed up a thousand times, weaving the pattern around her sounds, around her thoughts, around the thing she has imagined.
The dust in the thingmaker fountains upward, blowing into her face like warm rain as the wind backs through the bowl. Her soft mouth curves into a dazzling smile as she waits, listening, still humming tunelessly, and very high, to the thingmaker, as though she understands its secret language, its enigmatic truth, and as though it, like herself, has a mind of its own but doesn't know the words.
When the dust settles again, Nat jumps into the thingmaker's bowl to catch her new prize, like it's a living thing that will try to escape. Which is not far from the truth. It seems to dust itself as the parts inside begin to turn. Thingmaker dust blows out the lower end as the rotating parts inside pick up speed, and a faint whoosh comes from it as the air begins to move. But she's wise to it. She gets close right away, and the whole process stops as abruptly as it started. In her mind's eye, it's all to easy to picture what would happen if this drumlin built up to its full thrust. It's easy to picture it launching itself into the sky, uncontrolled, in some random direction, like an arrow shot without fletchings. But drumlins are funny. They try not to hurt people, at least the complex ones like this. As close as she is, it would have to hurt her to get away. And it won't. She clamps down on the upper end quickly with one set of the shutters, and ties them in place with silver drumlin three-tick rope, then steps back, the way her father does after roping a calf to brand and castrate him.
The drumlin's blades spin up again, but they quickly exhaust the air behind the closed shutters, and the thrust dies away again before it really gets started.
Nat watches and smiles. She moves close again, and tips her prize over. Rolls it to the wheelbarrow. Picks it up, loads it in, and ties it down. Then she gets picks up the other set of shutters, places it on top of the wheelbarrow, and moves to the back of the line to drum up another. A few people chuckle. Most just look down and away. Natalie doesn't watch them as she leaves. The disappointment in them hurts too much.
Posted by Jim Strickland at 11:33 PM
Monday, November 1, 2010
Since I'm doing NaNoWriMo again this year, I'm likely to be a little quiet on the blog front. (Which, I know, is not that unusual.) However, it seemed like a good time to put up a taste of the work I have that is in the pipeline. So I'm cutting and pasting a reading I didn't actually deliver at the con so y'all can see what I've been up to. The whole short story will come out in Science Fiction Trails' next edition, in December or January.
When the good folks at Science Fiction Trails asked me to do a story for them, they put relatively few stipulations on it, other than it not be Wild Wild West fanfic. I loved Wild Wild West when it was on reruns, so I figured I understood the genre well enough. I gave it some thought.
I already had an idea I'd been turning over in my head for a webcomic script that didn't pan out, and it took about a minute to re-imagine the idea set in the Old West, albeit with a steampunky flare. It transmuted even more after that.
The result is a short story with a big scoop of steampunk, a dab of High Plains Drifter, a beautiful woman – or two – of questionable morals, cultists, and of course, zombies.
They say the #6 mineshaft punched a hole in the lid over hell, and the Devil has his due for all the gold mined out of the other five shafts. I say the gas explosion started one of those coal seam and gas fires like they have in Pennsylvania, and the flames and coal ash light the town at night, and fill the morning sky with sulfurous smoke from the pit. As may be. The war's over. I'm a law-man now. I deal in facts. The romance of it all is lost on me.
Dawn in Perdition. The start of a new day. My clothes are fresh, my hat is crisp, and I'm well rested, shaved, and sober. My joints feel like a freshly greased machine as I walk down to Cannibal Way, just south of Main Street, past Lucifer's Bar and Restaurant, toward my office in the fine new brick courthouse, finished only this spring. I watch the steam trolley rumble down main street, carrying the morning shift of miners toward the Pit. The miners have been back at work coming on two years now. The gold is flowing, and the town is flush with money. Because there's money, there're gadgets big and small, mostly manufactured back east from technology looted from the Hive. It's been a busy few years, I reflect, as I scratch the lump on the back of my skull. 'Nothing to worry about.' Doc Kimble tells me. 'It's called an occipital bun. Some people have them'. Not him, apparently. But some people.
"Mornin' Marshal." Ed Parker. Editor of the Brimstone Daily. Little guy with an apron and ink stains on his hands. His hair's a little wild, too. He gives me my paper without my asking him to. Pay the man. Skim the headlines. Glance up at the elegant redhead that walks by. "Mrs. Graves." I say, and tip my hat. Frown at the bruising I can see on her hands and the back of her neck as she walks by, giving me only the slightest of nods that her manners require. I'd say something. Question her about the bruising. Any other woman, I would. Not her. They say Elias Graves sold his soul to the devil to get her. Someone bought and paid for someone, that much 's certain. But who owns who in the end? That's another question. The bruising makes me curious. Maybe old Graves is trying to renegotiate.
Ed rolls his eyes and shakes his head. "Don't, Marshal. You know better."
"Course I do. Anyone from that family can come to me if they want some law."
"Wise man." he says. "Speaking of your work, Is it true you brought down the Dope that killed Ned Pervis?"
"Yes sir. Last night."
"Congratulations. What was it like?"
"Like all of them. Looks like an ordinary man on the outside, but strong as an ox and nimble as a cat. Took two twelve gauge slugs in the head to stop him."
Doc Kimble wanders past. I always picture Moses looking like Doc Kimble. Big man. Old, craggy, bald as an egg. Beard. It's easy to imagine him raising his cane and parting the Red Sea. "You two talkin' about that Doppelgänger?"
Nod to Doc. "Yeah. You get a chance to work on him yet?"
"Same old story." he says. "Preserved human corpse, full of brass and steel cables and metal bones, and what we now call a Pons-Fleischmann boiler in its belly. The usual micro-clockwork in its head, for what what little was left of it."
"Was there a stamp on the boiler? It'd be in the back."
Doc Kimble nods. "There was. It was a type 81."
"An eighty-one." I say. Figures. Old model. The model number's the same as the year they were introduced. An eighty-one could be as much as 14 years old now. It doesn't always hold. Could be a 14 year old Node that got isolated from the rest of the Hive when they lost the war, and kept on making the same Doppelgängers it was designed to back then. We still run into those now and then. "Figures he didn' have much to say. Those early wartime models ain't real bright."
"You talked to it?" Doc and Ed ask the same question at the same time.
"A little. He gave me the usual horsefeathers about the God abandoning man and raising up Man's machines as the true keepers of His word. I took it under advisement. Then blew his clockworks out."
"Pity you didn't talk to it further." Doc says. "Mighta known some things 'bout the Hive after all that time. Even if it's just for the history books now."
Ed pipes up, "So you think this is just another straggler? A leftover from the war? Or is this maybe the start of another wave?"
I look at Doc. Then Ed, who asked the question. "Another wave, Ed? Don' you trust your government 'n they say the Hive is dead?"
Ed's smile falters a little. "Well, we keep finding them. You'd think two years after war's end they'd be all gone. Maybe they pulled back at the end of the war. That's my theory."
I think on that a few moments while I light my cigar. "There's a nasty thought." I say, finally. "'You think they mighta pulled a strategic retreat. Go back somewhere secret and regroup. Nasty. You know somethin' the rest of us don't, Ed?"
Ed pales. "I'm just talking, Marshal."
I nod to him. Take a long pull on my cigar and let the smoke out my nose. "You go on talkin'. They fought us hard for twelve years, but at the end they just … petered out. Now, a strategic retreat could just explain it." Pretty sloppy retreat, though, leaving all that technology behind for humanity to pick up and learn. I don't say it aloud though.
Doc Kimble looks at me. "You shared that opinion with the War Department?"
I look at Doc. "What I pass along to the War Department ain't for mortal ears, Doc. But I'll tell you this much. I am thinkin' about it. And I ain't convinced Ed's wrong."
There's an uncomfortable silence. Town folk get that way when they remember I work for the Federal Government. Which isn't very often. It's not something I brag about. Ed breaks the silence after a moment. "For the record, any advice to the citizens if they think they’ve found a Dope?"
"Sure. Run. Swim, if there's any water around. Doppelgängers don't float."
Ed laughs softly. He thinks I'm joking. "You have a good day, Marshal."
"You too, Ed." And with that, the moment is broken, and we all live in the same town, drink at the same bar, keep our eyes open, and try to keep the place from going too entirely crazy together in the peace we all fought so hard for. I watch the two of them walk away, and I watch them go, leastwise until the hair on the back of my neck prickles and I turn to face the woman coming up behind me, quiet as a breath of wind.
"Marshal Blackmore?" she asks, shrinking back.
"That'd be me. What's on your mind, young lady?" I ask her. I look the girl over. She's tiny. Not more than five foot tall. Her skin is perfect, pale, but the folds in her eyelids, the tilt of her eyes, and the broadness of the bridge of her nose tell me a different story. The voice is surprisingly rough. Voice of someone who shouts a lot. Or screams. There's a hardness to her eyes, too, that belongs on an entirely older face. She dresses the fashion, leastwise as much as I'm aware of it, but her dress hugs her just a little too tight, the skirt drapes to show just a little too much of her ankles when she walks. Trying too hard, basically. An adventuress, probably, or an outright public woman.
"I ain't no lady." she says. "But I read in the paper about you an' the Dopes. The Doppelgängers, I mean." She leans closer, and whispers, "You gotta help me. One's after me." She shudders as she says it. "She's after me. They made her out of a friend of mine, and now she wants to do the same to me. I was in the Node. I seen the whole thing."
"Were you now?" I ask her. But I can see it in her. Clenched jaw, eyes that stare, then flit over my shoulder, as though a Dope might be fool enough to step out onto my street at any given moment. She's seen it. I know she has. I spent enough of the War fighting my way into Nodes to know the look. She has the fear. Stretch my own jaw and take a slow breath. "What's your name?"
"Jo" she says. "You believe me, right? They say you're the expert 'bout these things. You don' think I'm just some plain half-Chink whore out to make a buck on a story, right?" She says it in a rush, in one breath, like there's not a moment to spare.
Shake my head. "I ain't one to judge a lady by the work she does, or the shape of her eyes. Not anymore. I think you got a story to tell me."
She shakes her head. "Not here." she whispers. "Someplace private. Someplace they can't get in."
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