Monday, January 9, 2017

Thorns

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Photo by Alexey Yakovlev CC BY-SA

Thorns
by Martha Wells
CC BY-NC-ND

Coming down the stairs to dinner, I found the governess engaged in battle with my great great grandnephew. The disgusting little boy was wrestling with the poor woman, apparently trying to thrust her over the bannister.

“An application of the birch rod would settle that, Miss,” I said.

“I would dearly love to, Madame,” the governess answered, breathless and more sharply than her wont. Perhaps the struggle to preserve her life — we were on the third landing, and the stone-flagged floor of the Hall was far below — had overcome her usual reticence. “But I’ve been instructed to use only modern methods of disciplining the children… ”

The unruly creature’s mother, my great grand-niece Electra, was hurrying up the stairs toward them, her satin skirts rustling like storm wind. She dithered near the struggle, waving her plump soft hands. “Oh, Malcolm, you mustn’t treat Miss Grey so!”

I smiled grimly. Modern ideas. Such notions had succeeded in making the already over-indulged children a terror to the servants and the rest of the household. But Electra has always had a soft heart.

The boy obligingly released his governess, and with a triumphant grin stooped to seize her workbag which had fallen to the carpet. I had no doubt he meant to thrust it over the bannister in her place. I lost patience, and seized the creature by the ear. He desisted with an alarmed shriek — I’m old, but my fingers are strong. It was an effort not to squeeze too hard. We have cousins who are maddened by the scent of a child’s blood in the air, or the sight of the dew of perspiration on a downy cheek. It makes them inconvenient guests at family gatherings. Of course, one can’t eat one’s own great grandnephews, however deliberate the provocation.

Electra simpered and said, “Oh, dear, Malcolm, you must learn not to be naughty. Naughty boys die and are sent to Hell.”

“Some more precipitously than others,” I added, thinking of the deep well at the bottom of the garden.

Taking my action as tacit permission to apply mild force, the governess seized the creature’s other ear as I released my grip, and herded her charge up the stairs.

We continued down, Electra fluttering at my side. “Auntie, you know Malcolm is really a little dear… ”

“I know nothing of the kind.” Electra is a small woman, for our family, her wispy blond head reaching only to my shoulder. Her figure is plump, and requires a corset to keep its shape, and her eyes are mild and her face cherubic. An odd pair we would seem to outsiders’ eyes, for I am grown thin and cadaverous with the long passage of years, and my features were always rather sharp.

“Now, Auntie… ”

We reached the landing above the Hall. Below, Electra’s husband, Mr. John Dearing, was personally receiving a guest, a young man in the act of handing his greatcoat to the butler.

There were no guests expected, and just before the dinner hour is not considered an appropriate time for casual calls, yet Dearing was greeting this presumptuous fellow as a prodigal son.

He was a striking figure. (The guest, I mean. Dearing is a stout bewhiskered muskrat of a man, a fit mate for Electra.) Blond curls, broad shoulders, a chiseled profile. I felt a feather of unease travel down my spine; old instincts rousing, perhaps. His garments, though somewhat the worse for travel at this rainy time of year, were of fashionable cut and fine cloth.

Frowning, Electra caught the attention of one of the footmen stationed at the bottom of the stairs, and called him up to her to ask, “Why, William, whoever is that?”

“Madame, they say it’s a foreign Duke, the son of the King of Armantia.”

“I see,” Electra dismissed the man and looked to me, her mild dove eyes vaguely troubled. “Oh, dear. A prince.”

“It has been a long time,” I said. But I’ve dealt with such before.

[Read More…]

Friday, January 6, 2017

So You Want to Read Epic Fantasy: Here’s Where to Start

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Stories of Beowulf fighting the dragon Public Domain

So You Want to Read Epic Fantasy: Here’s Where to Start

I love reading and writing super shorts. Of course I spend more time reading epic fantasy. It’s got where trilogies aren’t enough. The stories are huge. Vast in scale and imagination. I will never write epic fantasy. But I do read it.

Link on over for these recommendations by Shawn Speakman. The ones he mentions that I have read or am reading are definitely good. I’ll bet they all are.

In his intro Speakman says:

Epic fantasy once meant large books with an everyman-type of lead character against a dark lord. But to me, the epic fantasy that has been written in the last three decades are not only large in size and scale of story but also feature numerous point of view characters and several storylines that are separate but are also intertwined.

To talk about and recommend epic fantasy, it requires an epic list. These are the books I recommend people start with if they want a truly epic reading experience.

I can’t really add to that. So get epic. And enjoy!

Thursday, December 29, 2016

Galaxy Science Fiction Novels Collection

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Galaxy Science Fiction Novels Collection

DESCRIPTION

Galaxy novels, sometimes titled Galaxy Science Fiction Novels, were a series of mostly reprint American science fiction novels published between 1950 and 1961.

The series was started by H.L. Gold, the editor of Galaxy Science Fiction, in 1950 as a companion to the main Galaxy magazine. There was one (often abridged) novel per issue, which appeared in digest size format, which made the books in the series look like digest magazines.

In 1959, after 35 issues, the series was sold to Beacon Books, which changed the format to mass-market (small size) paperback and introduced its own numbering scheme, continuing the series for another 11 issues. They also had the contents of some books revised to add mild sexual content and changed their titles accordingly.

RIGHTS
All items are placed into the Public Domain under a Creative Commons Non-Attribution License. No restrictions under any copyright statutes which may exist now or in the future; in the local, global, intergalactic, or Universe-wide realms (if present government corruption extends that far).

Tuesday, December 27, 2016

The Knights of Arthur by Frederik Pohl

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The Knights of Arthur, by Frederik Pohl

* * *
The Project Gutenberg EBook of The Knights of Arthur, by Frederik Pohl This eBook is for the use of anyone anywhere at no cost and with almost no restrictions whatsoever. You may copy it, give it away or re-use it under the terms of the Project Gutenberg License included with this eBook or online at www.gutenberg.net

Title: The Knights of Arthur
Author: Frederik Pohl
Illustrator: Martin
Produced by Greg Weeks, Barbara Tozier and the Online Distributed Proofreading Team at http://www.pgdp.net
* * *
This etext was produced from Galaxy Science Fiction January 1958. Extensive research did not uncover any evidence that the U.S. copyright on this publication was renewed.
* * *

The Knights of Arthur
By FREDERIK POHL
Illustrated by MARTIN

With one suitcase as his domain, Arthur was desperately in need of armed henchmen … for his keys to a kingdom were typewriter keys!

I

There was three of us–I mean if you count Arthur. We split up to avoid attracting attention. Engdahl just came in over the big bridge, but I had Arthur with me so I had to come the long way around.

When I registered at the desk, I said I was from Chicago. You know how it is. If you say you’re from Philadelphia, it’s like saying you’re from St. Louis or Detroit–I mean nobody lives in Philadelphia any more. Shows how things change. A couple years ago, Philadelphia was all the fashion. But not now, and I wanted to make a good impression.

I even tipped the bellboy a hundred and fifty dollars. I said: “Do me a favor. I’ve got my baggage booby-trapped–”

“Natch,” he said, only mildly impressed by the bill and a half, even less impressed by me.

“I mean really booby-trapped. Not just a burglar alarm. Besides the alarm, there’s a little surprise on a short fuse. So what I want you to do, if you hear the alarm go off, is come running. Right?”

“And get my head blown off?” He slammed my bags onto the floor. “Mister, you can take your damn money and–”

“Wait a minute, friend.” I passed over another hundred. “Please? It’s only a shaped charge. It won’t hurt anything except anybody who messes around, see? But I don’t want it to go off. So you come running when you hear the alarm and scare him away and–”

“No!” But he was less positive. I gave him two hundred more and he said grudgingly: “All right. If I hear it. Say, what’s in there that’s worth all that trouble?”

“Papers,” I lied.

He leered. “Sure.”

“No fooling, it’s just personal stuff. Not worth a penny to anybody but me, understand? So don’t get any ideas–”

He said in an injured tone: “Mister, naturally the staff won’t bother your stuff. What kind of a hotel do you think this is?”

“Of course, of course,” I said. But I knew he was lying, because I knew what kind of hotel it was. The staff was there only because being there gave them a chance to knock down more money than they could make any other way. What other kind of hotel was there?

Anyway, the way to keep the staff on my side was by bribery, and when he left I figured I had him at least temporarily bought. He promised to keep an eye on the room and he would be on duty for four more hours–which gave me plenty of time for my errands.

[Read More…]

Saturday, December 24, 2016

/r/FreeEBOOKS

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Available for free on Amazon

A subreddit for free ebooks. Lots of Science Fiction and Fantasy. New recommendations all the time. To Gutenberg and beyond.

Thursday, December 8, 2016

Runaway Cyclone

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Public Domain image by kai Stachowiak from publicdomainpictures.net

Runaway Cyclone by Jagadish Chandra Bose

Translated by Bodhisattva Chattopadhyay

Part I—A Scientific Mystery

A few years ago a supernatural event was observed which rocked the scientific communities of America and Europe. A number of articles were published in various scientific journals to explain the phenomenon. But till now no explanation of the event has been found satisfactory.

On 28 September the leading English daily of Calcutta(1) published the following news received from Shimla: Shimla Meteorological Office, 27 September: A cyclone in the Bay of Bengal is imminent.(2)

On 29 September the aforementioned daily published the following news: Meteorological Office, Alipore: A tremendous cyclone is about to strike Bengal in two days. A Danger-Signal has been put up on Diamond Harbour.

On the 30th the news was extremely frightening: The Barometer fell two inches in the last half hour.

By ten o’clock tomorrow Calcutta will face the worst and most dangerous cyclone in years.(3)

No one slept that night in Calcutta. The timorous souls stayed awake in fear of their uncertain future.

On 1 October the sky remained cloudy, and a few drops of rain fell during the day. It remained dark throughout the day, but about four in the evening the sky suddenly became clear without a trace of the cyclone.

The next day the Meteorological Department sent the following news to the newspaper office: The cyclone that was to strike Calcutta has left the Bay of Bengal and has probably gone off in another direction in the Indian Ocean.

However, despite the attempts of many scientists to follow the trail of the cyclone, no one was able to discover the cyclone’s new direction.

The leading English daily(4) published the following news: Now it is certain that scientific knowledge is completely false.

Another daily(5) published the following: If science is false then why should the taxpayers be burdened by the totally unreliable Meteorological department?

Various other dailies(6) joined as chorus: Let it go! Scrap it!

The government was in a fix. A few days ago new equipment worth over one lakh Rupees had been purchased for the Meteorological Department. Now those items would not even sell for the price of broken glass bottles. Besides, where would one transfer the Chief Officer of the Meteorological Department?

[Read More…]

Wednesday, December 7, 2016

The Linux Setup - Piers Anthony, Author

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The Linux Setup - Piers Anthony, Author

He uses Libre Office. For more details click on the link.

Monday, November 21, 2016

Snake Eyes

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Image from Pixabay, public domain.

Snake Eyes by Tom Maddox
Published: 1996

This work is released under a Creative Commons License: http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-nd-nc/1.0/

Dark meat in the can—brown, oily, and flecked with mucus—gave off a repellent, fishy smell, and the taste of it rose in his throat, putrid and bitter, like something from a dead man’s stomach. George Jordan sat on the kitchen floor and vomited, then pushed himself away from the shining pool, which looked very much like what remained in the can.

He thought, No, this won’t do: I have wires in my head, and they make me eat cat food. The snake likes cat food

He needed help but know there was little point in calling the Air Force. He’d tried them, and there was no way they were going to admit responsibility for the monster in his head. What George called the snake, the Air Force called Effective Human Interface Technology and didn’t want to hear about any postdischarge problems with it. They had their own problems with congressional committees investigating “the conduct of the war in Thailand.”

He lay for a while with his cheek on the cold linoleum, got up and rinsed his mouth in the sink, then stuck his head under the faucet and ran cold water over it, thinking, Call the goddamned multicomp, then call SenTrax and say, “Is it true you can do something about this incubus that wants to take possession of my soul?” And if they ask you, “What’s your problem?” you say “cat food,” and maybe they’ll say, “Hell, it just wants to take possession of your lunch”

A chair covered in brown corduroy stood in the middle of the barren living room, a white telephone on the floor beside it, a television flat against the opposite wall—that was the whole thing, what might have been home, if it weren’t for the snake.

He picked up the phone, called up the directory on its screen, and keyed TELECOM SENTRAX.

The Orlando Holiday Inn stood next to the airport terminal, where tourists flowed in eager for the delights of Disney World. But for me, George thought, there are no cute, smiling ducks and rodents. Here as everywhere, it’s Snake city

From the window of his motel room, he watched gray sheets of rain cascade across the pavement. He had been waiting two days for a launch. At Canaveral a shuttle sat on its pad, and when the weather cleared, a helicopter would pick him up and drop him there, a package for delivery to SenTrax, Inc., at Athena Station, over thirty thousand kilometers above the equator

Behind him, under the laser light of a Blaupunkt holostage, people a foot high chattered about the war in Thailand and how lucky the United States had been to escape another Vietnam.

Lucky? Maybe … he had been wired up and ready for combat training, already accustomed to the form-fitting contours in the rear couch of the black, tiber-bodied General Dynamics A-230. The A-230 flew on the deadly edge of instability, every control surface monitored by its own bank of micro-computers, all hooked into the snakebrain flight-and-tire assistant with the twin black miloprene cables running from either side of his esophagus—getting off, oh yes, when the cables snapped home, and the airframe resonated through his nerves, his body singing with that identity, that power.

Then Congress pulled the plug on the war, the Air Force pulled the plug on George, and when his discharge came, there he was, left with technological blue balls and this hardware in his head that had since taken on a life of its own.

Lightning walked across the purpled sky, ripping it, crazing it into a giant, upturned bowl of shattered glass. Another foot-high man on the hostage said the tropical storm would pass in the next two hours.

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Hamilton Innis was tall and heavy—six four and about two hundred and fifty pounds. Wearing a powder-blue jump-suit with SENTRY in red letters down its left breast, and soft black slippers, he floated in a brightly lit white corridor, held gingerly to a wall by one of the jumpsuit’s Velcro patches. A view-screen above the airlock entry showed the shuttle fitting its nose into the docking tube. He waited for it to mate to the airlock hatches and send in the newest candidate.

This one was six months out of the service and slowly losing what the Air Force doctors had made of his mind. Former tech sergeant George Jordan—two years’ community college in Oakland, California, followed by enlistment in the Air Force, aircrew training, the WHIT program. According to the profile Aleph had put together from Air Force records and the National Data Bank, a man with slightly above-average aptitudes and intelligence, a distinctly above-average taste for the bizarre—thus his volunteering for WHIT and combat. In his file pictures, he looked nondescript—five ten, a hundred and seventy-six pounds, brown hair and eyes, neither handsome nor ugly. But it was an old picture and could not show the snake and the fear that came with it. You don’f know it, buddy, Innis thought, but you sin’t seen nothing yet.

The man came tumbling through the hatch, more or less helpless in free fall, but Innis could see him figuring it out, willing the muscles to quit struggling, quit trying to cope with a gravity that simply wans’t there. “What the hell do I do now?” George Jordan asked, hanging in midair, one arm holding on to the hatch coaming.

“Relax. I’ll get you.” Innis pushed off and swooped across, grabbing the man as he passed, taking them both to the opposite wall and kicking to carom them outward.

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[Read More…]

Tuesday, November 15, 2016

Adventure In Time

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Public Domain photo by Thomas Wolter on Pixabay.

Adventure In Time
by Larry Heyl CC BY-SA

1. You are sitting at the time machine. You can see a needle fluctuating behind a circular piece of glass. Next to that is a red button.
- Hit the button. - Go to to 2.
- Don’t hit the button. - Go to 1.

2. You are disoriented. You are in the corridor outside the lab. Looking up at the clock you can see that it’s five minutes earlier than it should be. Maybe the time machine works! You walk down the corridor and enter the lab. You sit at the time machine. Everything looks like before. You feel an urgent need to do something before the five minutes is up and your earlier self walks through the door.
- Hit the button - Go to 3.
- Don’t hit the button - Go to 1.

3. You are no longer in the lab. In fact you are at your grandfather’s house. But your grandfather died 5 years ago. Your grandfather is a mean old curmudgeon. You never liked him much. Your grandfather walks through the door.
- Jump out and startle your grandfather. - Go to 4.
- Hide in the closet. - Go to 5.

4. Your grandfather is startled. He says, “But you’re in California.” He looks pale. He grabs his heart. Falling on the floor he dies. You are disoriented. The floor shifts under you.
- You stand there staring at your dead grandfather. - Go to 1.
- You get down on your knees and try to resuscitate your grandfather. - Go to 6.

5. Your grandfather comes straight to the closet. He opens the door and grabs his coat. He doesn’t even see you hiding. He stomps out of the house. You feel disoriented. The floor shifts under you.
- You stay hidden in the closet. Go to 1.
- You follow your grandfather out of the house. Go to 6.

6. You are in a World War II German army barracks. There is fighting all around you. You are wearing an American uniform and you’re carrying a gun. You turn the corner and see your grandfather about to shoot Hitler.
- You shoot Hitler. - Go to 7.
- You shoot your grandfather. - Go to 8.

7. With Hitler dead Goebbels takes over as Supreme Leader. The Axis rallies. The Germans win the war and perpetrate atrocities all over the world. You feel terrible guilt.
- You regret shooting Hitler. - Go to 6.
- You decide you are going to try to shoot Goebbels. - Go to 1.

8. The end.

Another Afternoon in the Garden

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Image from the Wikimedia Commons.

Another Afternoon in the Garden

by Ingrid Steblea - CC BY-NC-SA

“Now the Lord God had formed out of the ground all the beasts of the field and all the birds of the air. He brought them to the man to see what he would name them; and whatever the man called each living creature, that was its name.” –Genesis 2:19
 
Adam grips the tool loosely in his left hand, poking at the dirt.

He cocks his head and studies it, backing away, brow
furrowed. “Trowel,” he says. Then, “Spade.” Eve watches
from the quince grove where she has just finished grafting
the shoots of a new cultivar onto rootstock. Hands full,
she scratches an itch, rubbing her forehead against tree bark.
It has been a long day. She rose before dawn. While Adam slept
beneath the fragrant frangipani, she checked the stakes
of the fruit trees, the branches for signs of canker.
She made the morning meal. He pushes figs into his mouth
with his thumbs, his jaw working like one of the cows
in the cornfields, muttering, “Chew, chew, chew.
Munch, crunch. Masticate, ruminate. Gnaw, gnaw, gnaw.”
 
After washing the bowls she nicked and notched
the espaliered pear. She watered and mulched the scarlet
runner beans and weeded the amaranth beds. She cannot
remember what color her hands are when they are clean.
Her hair bristles with twigs. She reeks of sweat and labor.
Adam’s soft hands smell of the rosewater she brews
each full moon. Clutching the chisel, the knife, the lopping
shear, she prowls for something else in need of tending.
The grass is thick beneath her feet. Bushes droop
with heavy blossoms. If she knows Adam,
it will take him all afternoon to collect the flowers
for the evening table, whispering, “Efflorescence,
inflorescence. Umbel, panicle, cyme.”
 
The garden spreads before her, green groves, florid
floral profusions, the golden fields and the meadow beyond.
An eternity of weeds to wrench from the earth,
a damnation of black flies and gnats. Day after day,
bending and stooping, the ache in her back like a curse.
 
He drops the spade and the dandelions he plucked
and ambles over to the tree. That tree. The one he cannot name.
He cannot name it if he cannot touch it, he whines; cannot taste it.
“How about persimmon,” she urges him. “No . . .” he sighs.
“How about bittersweet, then? Chokecherry? Kill-a-man?”
“No, no,” he groans, braiding daisies into his hair. “That’s not it, not it.”
She rolls her eyes, heaves herself to her feet
and leaves to dig the irrigation trenches for the banana trees.

He rolls over in the deep grass nap, mumbling, “Arduous. Onerous. Hard, hard work.”
 
If only she were not utterly alone here. If only there was another like her.
Is it too much to ask that he show some initiative? Is it too much to ask
that he pull his own weight, wash a bowl, get his hands dirty? Behind her,
Adam calls her name. She turns on her heel, thrusts the shovel’s blade into the soil. “What now?” she says.
He scrunches his nose the way he does when he is thinking, or smells rotting fruit.
“Did you hear that?”
 
She looks to the branches where she heard the hiss,
catches a flash of copper scale, a flicker of pink tongue.
Adam scratches his chin. “Unknown,” he offers.
“A mystery. Crisis! Opportunity.”

From LCRW 12-33 on the Small Beer Press Creative Commons page.

Monday, November 14, 2016

Most Of My Friends Are Two-Thirds Water

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Public Domain illustration from Pixabay. Thanks werner22brigitte.

MOST OF MY FRIENDS ARE TWO-THIRDS WATER

by Kelly Link

“Okay, Joe. As I was saying, our Martian women are gonna be blond, because, see, just because.” -RAY BRADBURY, “The Concrete Mixer”

A few years ago, Jack dropped the C from his name and became Jak. He called me up at breakfast one morning to tell me this. He said he was frying bacon for breakfast and that all his roommates were away. He said that he was walking around stark naked. He could have been telling the truth, I don’t know. I could hear something spitting and hissing in the background that could have been bacon, or maybe it was just static on the line.

Jak keeps a journal in which he records the dreams he has about making love to his ex-girlfriend Nikki, who looks like Sandy Duncan. Nikki is now married to someone else. In the most recent dream, Jak says, Nikki had a wooden leg. Sandy Duncan has a glass eye in real life. Jak calls me up to tell me this dream.

He calls to say that he is in love with the woman who does the Braun coffee-maker commercial, the one with the short blond hair, like Nikki, and eyes that are dreamy and a little too far apart. He can’t tell from the commercial if she has a wooden leg, but he watches TV every night, in the hopes of seeing her again.

If I were blond, I could fall in love with Jak.

Jak calls me with the first line of a story. Most of my friends are two-thirds water, he says, and I say that this doesn’t surprise me. He says, no, that this is the first line. There’s a Philip K. Dick novel, I tell him, that has a first line like that, but not exactly and I can’t remember the name of the novel. I am listening to him while I clean out my father’s refrigerator. The name of the Philip K. Dick novel is Confessions of a Crap Artist, I tell Jak. What novel, he says.

He says that he followed a woman home from the subway, accidentally. He says that he was sitting across from her on the Number 1 uptown and he smiled at her. This is a bad thing to do in New York when there isn’t anyone else in the subway car, traveling uptown past 116th Street, when it’s one o’clock in the morning, even when you’re Asian and not much taller than she is, even when she made eye contact first, which is what Jak says she did. Anyway he smiled and she looked away. She got off at the next stop, 125th, and so did he. 125th is his stop. She looked back and when she saw him, her face changed and she began to walk faster.

Was she blond, I ask, casually. I don’t remember, Jak says. They came up onto Broadway, Jak just a little behind her, and then she looked back at him and crossed over to the east side. He stayed on the west side so she wouldn’t think he was following her. She walked fast. He dawdled. She was about a block ahead when he saw her cross at La Salle, towards him, towards Claremont and Riverside, where Jak lives on the fifth floor of a rundown brownstone. I used to live in this building before I left school. Now I live in my father’s garage. The woman on Broadway looked back and saw that Jak was still following her. She walked faster. He says he walked even more slowly.

By the time he came to the corner market on Riverside, the one that stays open all night long, he couldn’t see her. So he bought a pint of ice cream and some toilet paper. She was in front of him at the counter, paying for a carton of skim milk and a box of dish detergent. When she saw him, he thought she was going to say something to the cashier but instead she picked up her change and hurried out of the store.

Jak says that the lights on Claremont are always a little dim and fizzy, and sounds are muffled, as if the street is under water. In the summer, the air is heavier and darker at night, like water on your skin. I say that I remember that. He says that up ahead of him, the woman was flickering under the street light like a light bulb. What do you mean, like a light bulb? I ask. I can hear him shrug over the phone. She flickered, he says. I mean like a light bulb. He says that she would turn back to look at him, and then look away again. Her face was pale. It flickered.

By this point, he says, he wasn’t embarrassed. He wasn’t worried anymore. He felt almost as if they knew each other. It might have been a game they were playing. He says that he wasn’t surprised when she stopped in front of his building and let herself in. She slammed the security door behind her and stood for a moment, glaring at him through the glass. She looked exactly the way Nikki looked, he says, when Nikki was still going out with him, when she was angry at him for being late or for misunderstanding something. The woman behind the glass pressed her lips together and glared at Jak.

He says when he took his key out of his pocket, she turned and ran up the stairs. She went up the first flight of stairs and then he couldn’t see her anymore. He went inside and took the elevator up to the fifth floor. On the fifth floor, when he was getting out, he says that the woman who looked like Nikki was slamming shut the door of the apartment directly across from his apartment. He heard the chain slide across the latch.

[Read More…]

Saturday, November 12, 2016

The Altar at Midnight by C.M. Kornbluth

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This etext was produced from Galaxy Science Fiction November 1952. Extensive research did not uncover any evidence that the U.S. copyright on this publication was renewed. Thanks to Project Gutenberg.

The Altar at Midnight

By C. M. KORNBLUTH

Doing something for humanity
may be fine–for humanity–but
rough on the individual!

He had quite a rum-blossom on him for a kid, I thought at first. But
when he moved closer to the light by the cash register to ask the
bartender for a match or something, I saw it wasn’t that. Not just the
nose. Broken veins on his cheeks, too, and the funny eyes. He must have
seen me look, because he slid back away from the light.

The bartender shook my bottle of ale in front of me like a Swiss
bell-ringer so it foamed inside the green glass.

“You ready for another, sir?” he asked.

I shook my head. Down the bar, he tried it on the kid–he was drinking
scotch and water or something like that–and found out he could push him
around. He sold him three scotch and waters in ten minutes.

When he tried for number four, the kid had his courage up and said,
“I’ll tell you when I’m ready for another, Jack.” But there wasn’t any
trouble.

It was almost nine and the place began to fill up. The manager, a real
hood type, stationed himself by the door to screen out the high-school
kids and give the big hello to conventioneers. The girls came hurrying
in, too, with their little makeup cases and their fancy hair piled up
and their frozen faces with the perfect mouths drawn on them. One of
them stopped to say something to the manager, some excuse about
something, and he said: “That’s aw ri’; get inna dressing room.”

A three-piece band behind the drapes at the back of the stage began to
make warm-up noises and there were two bartenders keeping busy. Mostly
it was beer–a midweek crowd. I finished my ale and had to wait a couple
of minutes before I could get another bottle. The bar filled up from the
end near the stage because all the customers wanted a good, close look
at the strippers for their fifty-cent bottles of beer. But I noticed
that nobody sat down next to the kid, or, if anybody did, he didn’t stay
long–you go out for some fun and the bartender pushes you around and
nobody wants to sit next to you. I picked up my bottle and glass and
went down on the stool to his left.

He turned to me right away and said: “What kind of a place is this,
anyway?” The broken veins were all over his face, little ones, but so
many, so close, that they made his face look something like marbled
rubber. The funny look in his eyes was it–the trick contact lenses. But
I tried not to stare and not to look away.

“It’s okay,” I said. “It’s a good show if you don’t mind a lot of noise
from–”

He stuck a cigarette into his mouth and poked the pack at me. “I’m a
spacer,” he said, interrupting.

I took one of his cigarettes and said: “Oh.”

He snapped a lighter for the cigarettes and said: “Venus.”

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