This is a short fragment for review the book. The full version can be purchased in the store.
WASTELANDS Stories of the Apocalypse Edited by John Joseph Adams
INTRODUCTION by John Joseph Adams
Famine. Death. War. Pestilence. These are said to be the harbingers of the biblical apocalypse—Armageddon, The End of The World. In science fiction, the end of the world is usually triggered by more specific means: nuclear warfare, biological disaster (or warfare), ecological/geological disaster, or cosmological disaster. But in the wake of any great cataclysm, there are survivors—and post-apocalyptic science fiction speculates what life would be like for them.
The first significant post-apocalyptic work is The Last Man (1826), by the mother of science fiction—Frankenstein author Mary Shelley—so the sub-genre is in essence as old as science fiction itself. Although its origins are firmly rooted in science fiction, post-apocalyptic fiction has always been able to escape traditional genre boundaries. Several classic novels of the genre, such as Alas, Babylon by Pat Frank, On the Beach by Nevil Shute, and Earth Abides by George R. Stewart, were published as mainstream novels. That trend is seeing a resurgence, with authors like Cormac McCarthy venturing into post-apocalyptic territory with his bleak new novel The Road—which was not only a best-selling book and an Oprah Book Club pick, but a winner of the Pulitzer Prize as well.
But SF has produced its share of novel-length classics as well, including the undisputed king of the sub-genre, Walter Miller’s A Canticle for Leibowitz. Not to mention Leigh Brackett’s The Long Tomorrow, John Christopher’s No Blade of Grass, or Wilson Tucker’s criminally underappreciated The Long Loud Silence. I could go on and on… and I do—in the “For Further Reading” appendix you’ll find at the end of this book.
Post-apocalyptic SF first rose to prominence in the aftermath World War II—no doubt due in large part to the world having witnessed the devastating destructive power of the atomic bomb—and reached the height of its popularity during Cold War, when the threat of worldwide nuclear annihilation seemed a very real possibility.
But when the Berlin Wall fell, so did the popularity of post-apocalyptic fiction. If you examine the copyright page of this anthology, you’ll note that just two of the stories in this volume were written in the ’90s. On the other hand, more than half of these stories were originally published since the turn of the millennium. So why the resurgence? Is it because the political climate now is reminiscent of the climate during the Cold War? During times of war and global unease, is it that much easier to imagine a depopulated world, a world destroyed by humanity’s own hand?
Is that all there is to it, or is there something more? What is it that draws us to those bleak landscapes—the wastelands of post-apocalyptic literature? To me, the appeal is obvious: it fulfills our taste for adventure, the thrill of discovery, the desire for a new frontier. It also allows us to start over from scratch, to wipe the slate clean and see what the world may have been like if we had known then what we know now.
Perhaps the appeal of the sub-genre is best described by this quote from “The Manhattan Phone Book (Abridged)” by John Varley:
We all love after-the-bomb stories. If we didn’t, why would there be so many of them? There’s something attractive about all those people being gone, about wandering in a depopulated world, scrounging cans of Campbell’s pork and beans, defending one’s family from marauders. Sure it’s horrible, sure we weep for all those dead people. But some secret part of us thinks it would be good to survive, to start over.
Secretly, we know we’ll survive. All those other folks will die. That’s what after-the-bomb stories are all about.
Or is that just the beginning of the conversation? Read the stories, and you decide.
The stories in this volume go beyond the “wandering,” “scrounging,” and “defending” that Varley describes above. What you will find here are tales of survival and of life in the aftermath that explore what scientific, psychological, sociological, and physiological changes will take place in the wake of the apocalypse.
What you will not find here are tales depicting the aftermath of aliens conquering the Earth, or the terror induced by a zombie uprising; both scenarios are suitably apocalyptic, but are subjects for another time (or other anthologies, as it were).
In the stories that follow, you will find 22 different science fictional apocalyptic scenarios. Some of them are far-fetched and unlikely, while others are plausible and all-too-easy to imagine. Some of the stories flirt with the fantastic. Many venture into horrific territory. All of them explore one question:
What would life be like after the end of the world as we know it?
THE END OF THE WHOLE MESS by Stephen King
Stephen King needs no introduction. He is the award-winning, best-selling author of novels such as Carrie and the post-apocalyptic masterpiece The Stand. Although he is most well-known for his novels and the movies they’ve inspired, he is a prolific author of short fiction as well, having written enough of it to warrant several collections including: Everything’s Eventual, Night Shift, Skeleton Crew, and Nightmares & Dreamscapes. “The End of the Whole Mess,” appeared in the latter volume, but was originally published in Omni magazine in 1986. It was nominated for the World Fantasy Award, and was recently adapted into a one-hour movie as part of a TNT Nightmares & Dreamscapes miniseries.
There are several factors that go into deciding which story to lead off an anthology with. You might pick a story that’s by a high-profile contributor, one that’s uncommonly good and packs a strong emotional punch, or one that will set the tone for the rest of the book; this story is all three.
I want to tell you about the end of war, the degeneration of mankind, and the death of the Messiah—an epic story, deserving thousands of pages and a whole shelf of volumes, but you (if there are any “you” later on to read this) will have to settle for the freeze-dried version. The direct injection works very fast. I figure I’ve got somewhere between forty-five minutes and two hours, depending on my blood-type. I think it’s A, which should give me a little more time, but I’ll be goddamned if I can remember for sure. If it turns out to be 0, you could be in for a lot of blank pages, my hypothetical friend.
In any event, I think maybe I’d better assume the worst and go as fast as I can.
I’m using the electric typewriter—Bobby’s word-processor is faster, but the genny’s cycle is too irregular to be trusted, even with the line suppressor. I’ve only got one shot at this; I can’t risk getting most of the way home and then seeing the whole thing go to data heaven because of an ohm drop, or a surge too great for the suppressor to cope with. My name is Howard Fornoy. I was a freelance writer. My brother, Robert Fornoy, was the Messiah. I killed him by shooting him up with his own discovery four hours ago. He called it The Calmative. A Very Serious Mistake might have been a better name, but what’s done is done and can’t be undone, as the Irish have been saying for centuries… which proves what assholes they are.
Shit, I can’t afford these digressions.
After Bobby died I covered him with a quilt and sat at the cabin’s single living room window for some three hours, looking out at the woods. Used to be you could see the orange glow of the hi-intensity arc-sodium’s from North Conway, but no more. Now there’s just the White Mountains, looking like dark triangles of crepe paper cut out by a child, and the pointless stars.
I turned on the radio, dialled through four bands, found one crazy guy, and shut it off. I sat there thinking of ways to tell this story. My mind kept sliding away toward all those miles of dark pinewoods, all that nothing. Finally I realized I needed to get myself off the dime and shoot myself up. Shit. I never could work without a deadline.
And I’ve sure-to-God got one now.
Our parents had no reason to expect anything other than what they got: bright children. Dad was a history major who had become a full professor at Hofstra when he was thirty. Ten years later he was one of six vice-administrators of the National Archives in Washington, D.C., and in line for the top spot. He was a helluva good guy, too—had every record Chuck Berry ever cut and played a pretty mean blues guitar himself. My dad filed by day and rocked by night.
Mom graduated magna cum laude from Drew. Got a Phi Beta Kappa key she sometimes wore on this funky fedora she had. She became a successful CPA in D.C., met my dad, married him, and took in her shingle when she became pregnant with yours truly. I came along in 1980. By ’84 she was doing taxes for some of my dad’s associates—she called this her “little hobby.” By the time Bobby was born in 1987, she was handling taxes, investment portfolios, and estate-planning for a dozen powerful men. I could name them, but who gives a wad? They’re either dead or drivelling idiots by now.
I think she probably made more out of “her little hobby” each year than my dad made at his job, but that never mattered—they were happy with what they were to themselves and to each other. I saw them squabble lots of times, but I never saw them fight. When I was growing up, the only difference I saw between my mom and my playmates’ moms was that their moms used to read or iron or sew or talk on the phone while the soaps played on the tube, and my mom used to run a pocket calculator and write down numbers on big green sheets of paper while the soaps played on the tube.
I was no disappointment to a couple of people with Mensa Gold Cards in their wallets. I maintained A’s and B’s through my public-school career (the idea that either I or my brother might go to a private school was never even discussed so far as I know). I also wrote well early, with no effort at all. I sold my first magazine piece when I was twenty—it was on how the Continental Army wintered at Valley Forge. I sold it to an airline magazine for four hundred fifty dollars. My dad, whom I loved deeply, asked me if he could buy that check from me. He gave me his own personal check and had the check from the airline magazine framed and hung it over his desk. A romantic genius, if you will. A romantic blues playing genius, if you will. Take it from me, a kid could do a lot worse. Of course he and my mother both died raving and pissing in their pants late last year, like almost everyone else on this big round world of ours, but I never stopped loving either of them.
I was the sort of child they had every reason to expect—a good boy with a bright mind, a talented boy whose talent grew to early maturity in an atmosphere of love and confidence, a faithful boy who loved and respected his mom and dad.
Bobby was different. Nobody, not even Mensa types like our folks, ever expects a kid like Bobby. Not ever.
I potty-trained two full years earlier than Bob, and that was the only thing in which I ever beat him. But I never felt jealous of him; that would have been like a fairly good American Legion League pitcher feeling jealous of Nolan Ryan or Roger Clemens. After a certain point the comparisons that cause feelings of jealousy simply cease to exist. I’ve been there, and I can tell you: after a certain point you just stand back and shield your eyes from the flash burns.
Bobby read at two and began writing short essays (“Our Dog,” “A Trip to Boston with Mother”) at three. His printing was the straggling, struggling galvanic constructions of a six-year-old, and that was startling enough in itself, but there was more: if transcribed so that his still-developing motor control no longer became an evaluative factor, you would have thought you were reading the work of a bright, if extremely naive, fifth-grader. He progressed from simple sentences to compound sentences to complex ones with dizzying rapidity, grasping clauses, sub-clauses, and modifying clauses with an intuitiveness that was eerie. Sometimes his syntax was garbled and his modifiers misplaced, but he had such flaws-which plague most writers all their lives pretty well under control by the age of five.
He developed headaches. My parents were afraid he had some sort of physical problem—a brain-tumour, perhaps—and took him to a doctor who examined him carefully, listened to him even more carefully, and then told my parents there was nothing wrong with Bobby except stress: he was in a state of extreme frustration because his writing-hand would not work as well as his brain.
“You got a kid trying to pass a mental kidney stone,” the doctor said. “I could prescribe something for his headaches, but I think the drug he really needs is a typewriter.” So Mom and Dad gave Bobby an IBM. A year later they gave him a Commodore 64 with WordStar for Christmas and Bobby’s headaches stopped. Before going on to other matters, I only want to add that he believed for the next three years or so that it was Santa Claus who had left that word-cruncher under our tree. Now that I think of it, that was another place where I beat Bobby: I Santa-trained earlier, too.
There’s so much I could tell you about those early days, and I suppose I’ll have to tell you a little, but I’ll have to go fast and make it brief. The deadline. Ah, the deadline. I once read a very funny piece called “The Essential Gone with the Wind” that went something like this:
“‘A war?’ laughed Scarlett. ‘Oh, fiddle-de-dee!’
“Boom! Ashley went to war! Atlanta burned! Rhett walked in and then walked out!
“‘Fiddle-de-dee,’ said Scarlett through her tears, ‘I will think about it tomorrow, for tomorrow is another day.’”
I laughed heartily over that when I read it; now that I’m faced with doing something similar, it doesn’t seem quite so funny. But here goes:
“A child with an IQ immeasurable by any existing test?” smiled India Fornoy to her devoted husband, Richard. “Fiddle-de-dee! Well provide an atmosphere where his intellect—not to mention that of his not-exactly-stupid older brother—can grow. And we’ll raise them as the normal all-American boys they by gosh are!”
Boom! The Fornoy boys grew up! Howard went to the University of Virginia, graduated cum laude, and settled down to a freelance writing career! Made a comfortable living! Stepped out with a lot of women and went to bed with quite a few of them! Managed to avoid social diseases both sexual and pharmacological! Bought a Mitsubishi stereo system! Wrote home at least once a week! Published two novels that did pretty well! “Fiddle-de-dee” said Howard, “this is the life for me!”
And so it was, at least until the day Bobby showed up unexpectedly (in the best mad-scientist tradition) with his two glass boxes, a bees’ nest in one and a wasps’ nest in the other, Bobby wearing a Mumford Phys Ed tee-shirt inside-out, on the verge of destroying human intellect and just as happy as a clam at high tide.
Guys like my brother Bobby come along only once every two or three generations, I think—guys like Leonardo da Vinci, Newton, Einstein, maybe Edison. They all seem to have one thing in common: they are like huge compasses which swing aimlessly for a long time, searching for some true north and then homing on it with fearful force. Before that happens such guys are apt to get up to some weird shit, and Bobby was no exception.
When he was eight and I was fifteen, he came to me and said he had invented an airplane. By then I knew Bobby too well to just say “Bullshit” and kick him out of my room. I went out to the garage, Where there was this weird plywood contraption sitting on his American Flyer red wagon. It looked a little like a fighter plane, but the wings were raked forward instead of back. He had mounted the saddle from his rocking horse on the middle of it with bolts. There was a lever on the side. There was no motor. He said it was a glider. He wanted me to push him down Carrigan’s Hill, which was the steepest grade in D.C.’s Grant Park—there was a cement path down the middle of it for old folks. That, Bobby said, would be his runway.
“Bobby,” I said, “you got this puppy’s wings on backward.”
“No,” he said. “This is the way they’re supposed to be. I saw something on Wild Kingdom about hawks. They dive down on their prey and then reverse their wings coming up. They’re double-jointed, see? You get better lift this way.”
“Then why isn’t the Air Force building them this way?” I asked, blissfully unaware that both the American and the Russian air forces had plans for such forward-wing fighter planes on their drawing boards.
Bobby just shrugged. He didn’t know and didn’t care.
We went over to Carrigan’s Hill and he climbed into the rocking-horse saddle and gripped the lever. “Push me hard” he said. His eyes were dancing with that crazed light I knew so well—Christ, his eyes used to light up that way in his cradle sometimes. But I swear to God I never would have pushed him down the cement path as hard as I did if I thought the thing would actually work.
But I didn’t know, and I gave him one hell of a shove. He went freewheeling down the hill, whooping like a cowboy just off a traildrive and headed into town for a few cold beers. An old lady had to jump out of his way, and he just missed an old geezer leaning over a walker. Halfway down he pulled the handle and I watched, wide-eyed and bullshit with fear and amazement, as his splintery plywood plane separated from the wagon. At first it only hovered inches above it, and for a second it looked like it was going to settle back. Then there was a gust of wind and Bobby’s plane took off like someone had it on an invisible cable. The American Flyer wagon ran off the concrete path and into some bushes. All of a sudden Bobby was ten feet in the air, then twenty, then fifty. He went gliding over Grant Park on a steepening upward plane, whooping cheerily.
I went running after him, screaming for him to come down, visions of his body tumbling off that stupid rocking-horse saddle and impaling itself on a tree, or one of the park’s many statues, standing out with hideous clarity in my head. I did not just imagine my brother’s funeral; I tell you I attended it.
“BOBBY!” I shrieked. “COME DOWN!”
“WHEEEEEEEEe!” Bobby screamed back, his voice faint but clearly ecstatic. Startled chess-players, Frisbee-throwers, book-readers, lovers, and joggers stopped whatever they were doing to watch.
“BOBBY THERE’S NO SEATBELT ON THAT FUCKING THING!” I screamed. It was the first time I ever used that particular word, so far as I can remember.
“Iyyyy’ll beeee all riyyyyht…” He was screaming at the top of his lungs, but I was appalled to realize I could barely hear him. I went running down Carrigan’s Hill, shrieking all the way. I don’t have the slightest memory of just what I was yelling, but the next day I could not speak above a whisper. I do remember passing a young fellow in a neat three-piece suit standing by the statue of Eleanor Roosevelt at the foot of the hill. He looked at me and said conversationally, “Tell you what, my friend, I’m having one hell of an acid flashback.”
I remember that odd misshapen shadow gliding across the green floor of the park, rising and rippling as it crossed park benches, litter baskets, and the upturned faces of the watching people. I remember chasing it. I remember how my mother’s face crumpled and how she started to cry when I told her that Bobby’s plane, which had no business flying in the first place, turned upside down in a sudden eddy of wind and Bobby finished his short but brilliant career splattered all over D Street.
The way things turned out, it might have been better for everyone if things had actually turned out that way, but they didn’t. Instead, Bobby banked back toward Carrigan’s Hill, holding nonchalantly onto the tail of his own plane to keep from falling off the damned thing, and brought it down toward the little pond at the centre of Grant Park. He went air-sliding five feet over it, then four… and then he was skiing his sneakers along the surface of the water, sending back twin white wakes, scaring the usually complacent (and overfed) ducks up in honking indignant flurries before him, laughing his cheerful laugh. He came down on the far side, exactly between two park benches that snapped off the wings of his plane. He flew out of the saddle, thumped his head, and started to bawl.
That was life with Bobby.
Not everything was that spectacular—in fact, I don’t think anything was… at least until The Calmative. But I told you the story because I think, this time at least, the extreme case best illustrates the norm: life with Bobby was a constant mind-fuck. By the age of nine he was attending quantum physics and advanced algebra classes at Georgetown University. There was the day he blanked out every radio and TV on our street—and the surrounding four blocks—with his own voice; he had found an old portable TV in the attic and turned it into a wide-band radio broadcasting station. One old black-and-white Zenith, twelve feet of hi-fi flex, a coathanger mounted on the roof peak of our house, and presto! For about two hours four blocks of Georgetown could receive only WBOB… which happened to be my brother, reading some of my short stories, telling moron jokes, and explaining that the high sulphur content in baked beans was the reason our dad farted so much in church every Sunday morning. “But he gets most of ’em off pretty quiet,” Bobby told his listening audience of roughly three thousand, “or sometimes he holds the real bangers until it’s time for the hymns.”
My dad, who was less than happy about all this, ended up paying a seventy-five-dollar FCC fine and taking it out of Bobby’s allowance for the next year.
Life with Bobby, oh yeah… and look here, I’m crying. Is it honest sentiment, I wonder, or the onset? The former, I think—Christ knows how much I loved him—but I think I better try to hurry up a little just the same.
Bobby had graduated high school, for all practical purposes, by the age of ten, but he never got a B.A. or B.S., let alone any advanced degree. It was that big powerful compass in his head, swinging around and around, looking for some true north to point at.
He went through a physics period, and a shorter period when he was nutty for chemistry… but in the end, Bobby was too impatient with mathematics for either of those fields to hold him. He could do it, but it—and ultimately all so-called hard science bored him.
By the time he was fifteen, it was archaeology—he combed the White Mountain foothills around our summer place in North Conway, building a history of the Indians who had lived there from arrowheads, flints, even the charcoal patterns of long-dead campfires in the Mesolithic caves in the mid-New Hampshire regions.
But that passed, too, and he began to read history and anthropology. When he was sixteen my father and my mother gave their reluctant approval when Bobby requested that he be allowed to accompany a party of New England anthropologists on an expedition to South America.
He came back five months later with the first real tan of his life; he was also an inch taller, fifteen pounds lighter, and much quieter. He was still cheerful enough, or could be, but his little-boy exuberance, sometimes infectious, sometimes wearisome, but always there, was gone. He had grown up. And for the first time I remember him talking about the news… how bad it was, I mean. That was 2003, the year a PLO splinter group called the Sons of the Jihad (a name that always sounded to me hideously like a Catholic community service group somewhere in western Pennsylvania) set off a Squirt Bomb in London, polluting sixty per cent of it and making the rest of it extremely unhealthy for people who ever planned to have children (or to live past the age of fifty, for that matter). The year we tried to blockade the Philippines after the Cedeno administration accepted a “small group” of Red Chinese advisors (fifteen thousand or so, according to our spy satellites), and only backed down when it became clear that (a) the Chinese weren’t kidding about emptying the holes if we didn’t pull back, and (b) the American people weren’t all that crazy about committing mass suicide over the Philippine Islands. That was also the year some other group of crazy motherfuckers—Albanians, I think—tried to air-spray the AIDS virus over Berlin.
This sort of stuff depressed everybody, but it depressed the shit out of Bobby.
“Why are people so goddam mean?” he asked me one day. We were at the summer place in New Hampshire, it was late August, and most of our stuff was already in boxes and suitcases. The cabin had that sad, deserted look it always got just before we all went our separate ways. For me it meant back to New York, and for Bobby it meant Waco, Texas, of all places… he had spent the summer reading sociology and geology texts—how’s that for a crazy salad?—and said he wanted to run a couple of experiments down there. He said it in a casual, offhand way, but I had seen my mother looking at him with a peculiar thoughtful scrutiny in the last couple of weeks we were all together. Neither Dad nor I suspected, but I think my mom knew that Bobby’s compass needle had finally stopped swinging and had started pointing.
“Why are they so mean?” I asked. “I’m supposed to answer that?”
“Someone better,” he said. “Pretty soon, too, the way things are going.”
“They’re going the way they always went,” I said, “and I guess they’re doing it because people were built to be mean. If you want to lay blame, blame God.”
“That’s bullshit. I don’t believe it. Even that double-X-chromosome stuff turned out to be bullshit in the end. And don’t tell me it’s just economic pressures, the conflict between the haves and have-nots, because that doesn’t explain all of it, either.”
“Original sin,” I said. “It works for me—it’s got a good beat and you can dance to it.”
“Well,” Bobby said, “maybe it is original sin. But what’s the instrument, big brother? Have you ever asked yourself that?”
“Instrument? What instrument? I’m not following you.”
“I think it’s the water,” Bobby said moodily.
“The water. Something in the water.”
He looked at me.
“Or something that isn’t.”
The next day Bobby went off to Waco. I didn’t see him again until he showed up at my apartment wearing the inside-out Mumford shirt and carrying the two glass boxes. That was three years later.
“Howdy, Howie,” he said, stepping in and giving me a nonchalant swat on the back as if it had been only three days.
“Bobby!” I yelled, and threw both arms around him in a bear-hug. Hard angles bit into my chest, and I heard an angry hive-hum.
“I’m glad to see you too,” Bobby said, “but you better go easy. You’re upsetting the natives.”
I stepped back in a hurry. Bobby set down the big paper bag he was carrying and unslung his shoulder-bag. Then he carefully brought the glass boxes out of the bag. There was a beehive in one, a wasps’ nest in the other. The bees were already settling down and going back to whatever business bees have, but the wasps were clearly unhappy about the whole thing.
“Okay, Bobby,” I said. I looked at him and grinned. I couldn’t seem to stop grinning. “What are you up to this time?”
He unzipped the tote-bag and brought out a mayonnaise jar which was half-filled with a clear liquid.
“See this?” he said.
“Yeah. Looks like either water or white lightning.”
“It’s actually both, if you can believe that. It came from an artesian well in La Plata, a little town forty miles east of Waco, and before I turned it into this concentrated form, there were five gallons of it. I’ve got a regular little distillery running down there, Howie, but I don’t think the government will ever bust me for it.” He was grinning, and now the grin broadened. “Water’s all it is, but it’s still the goddamndist popskull the human race has ever seen.”
“I don’t have the slightest idea what you’re talking about.”
“I know you don’t. But you will. You know what, Howie?”
“If the idiotic human race can manage to hold itself together for another six months, I’m betting it’ll hold itself together for all time.”
He lifted the mayonnaise jar, and one magnified Bobby-eye stared at me through it with huge solemnity. “This is the big one,” he said. “The cure for the worst disease to which Homo sapiens falls prey.”
“Nope,” Bobby said. “War. Barroom brawls. Drive-by shootings. The whole mess.
Where’s your bathroom, Howie? My back teeth are floating.”
When he came back he had not only turned the Mumford tee-shirt right-side out, he had combed his hair—nor had his method of doing this changed, I saw. Bobby just held his head under the faucet for awhile then raked everything back with his fingers.
He looked at the two glass boxes and pronounced the bees and wasps back to normal. “Not that a wasps’ nest ever approaches anything even closely resembling ‘normal,’ Howie. Wasps are social insects, like bees and ants, but unlike bees, which are almost always sane, and ants, which have occasional schizoid lapses, wasps are total full-bore lunatics.” He smiled. “Just like us good old Homo saps.” He took the top off the glass box containing the beehive.
“Tell you what, Bobby,” I said. I was smiling, but the smile felt much too wide. “Put the top back on and just tell me about it, what do you say? Save the demonstration for later. I mean, my landlord’s a real pussycat, but the super’s this big bull dyke who smokes Odie Perode cigars and has thirty pounds on me. She—”
“You’ll like this,” Bobby said, as if I hadn’t spoken at all—a habit as familiar to me as his Ten Fingers Method of Hair Grooming. He was never impolite but often totally absorbed. And could I stop him? Aw shit, no. It was too good to have him back. I mean I think I knew even then that something was going to go totally wrong, but when I was with Bobby for more than five minutes, he just hypnotized me. He was Lucy holding the football and promising me this time for sure, and I was Charlie Brown, rushing down the field to kick it. “In fact, you’ve probably seen it done before—they show pictures of it in magazines from time to time, or in TV wildlife documentaries. It’s nothing very special, but it looks like a big deal because people have got these totally irrational prejudices about bees.”
And the weird thing was, he was right—I had seen it before.
He stuck his hand into the box between the hive and the glass. In less than fifteen seconds his hand had acquired a living black-and-yellow glove. It brought back an instant of total recall: sitting in front of the TV, wearing footie pajamas and clutching my Paddington Bear, maybe half an hour before bedtime (and surely years before Bobby was born), watching with mingled horror, disgust, and fascination as some beekeeper allowed bees to cover his entire face. They had formed a sort of executioner’s hood at first, and then he had brushed them into a grotesque living beard.
Bobby winced suddenly, sharply, then grinned.
“One of ’em stung me,” he said. “They’re still a little upset from the trip. I hooked a ride with the local insurance lady from La Plata to Waco—she’s got an old Piper Cub—and flew some little commuter airline, Air Asshole, I think it was, up to New Orleans from there. Made about forty connections, but I swear to God it was the cab ride from LaGarbage that got ’em crazy. Second Avenue’s still got more potholes than the Bergenstrasse after the Germans surrendered.”
“You know, I think you really ought to get your hand out of there, Bobs,” I said. I kept waiting for some of them to fly out—I could imagine chasing them around with a rolled-up magazine for hours, bringing them down one by one, as if they were escapees in some old prison movie. But none of them had escaped… at least so far.
“Relax, Howie. You ever see a bee sting a flower? Or even hear of it, for that matter?”
“You don’t look like a flower.”
He laughed. “Shit, you think bees know what a flower looks like? Un-uh! No way, man! They don’t know what a flower looks like any more than you or I know what a cloud sounds like. They know I’m sweet because I excrete sucrose dioxin in my sweat… along with thirty-seven other dioxins, and those’re just the ones we know about.”
He paused thoughtfully.
“Although I must confess I was careful to, uh, sweeten myself up a little tonight. Ate a box of chocolate-covered cherries on the plane—”
“Oh Bobby, Jesus!”
“—and had a couple of MallowCremes in the taxi coming here.”
He reached in with his other hand and carefully began to brush the bees away. I saw him wince once more just before he got the last of them off, and then he eased my mind considerably by replacing the lid on the glass box. I saw a red swelling on each of his hands: one in the cup of the left palm, another high up on the right, near what the palmists call the Bracelets of Fortune. He’d been stung, but I saw well enough what he’d set out to show me: what looked like at least four hundred bees had investigated him. Only two had stung.
He took a pair of tweezers out of his jeans watch-pocket, and went over to my desk. He moved the pile of manuscript beside the Wang Micro I was using in those days and trained my Tensor lamp on the place where the pages had been-fiddling with it until it formed a tiny hard spotlight on the cherry wood.
“Writin’ anything good, Bow-Wow?” he asked casually, and I felt the hair stiffen on the back of my neck. When was the last time he’d called me Bow-Wow? When he was four? Six? Shit, man, I don’t know. He was working carefully on his left hand with the tweezers. I saw him extract a tiny something that looked like a nostril hair and place it in my ashtray.
“Piece on art forgery for Vanity Fair,” I said. “Bobby, what in hell are you up to this time?”
“You want to pull the other one for me?” he asked, offering me the tweezers, his right hand, and an apologetic smile. “I keep thinking if I’m so goddam smart I ought to be ambidextrous, but my left hand has still got an IQ of about six.”
Same old Bobby.
I sat down beside him, took the tweezers, and pulled the bee stinger out of the red swelling near what in his case should have been the Bracelets of Doom, and while I did it he told me about the differences between bees and wasps, the difference between the water in La Plata and the water in New York, and how, goddam! everything was going to be all right with his water and a little help from me.
And oh shit, I ended up running at the football while my laughing, wildly intelligent brother held it, one last time.
“Bees don’t sting unless they have to, because it kills them,” Bobby said matter-of-factly. “You remember that time in North Conway, when you said we kept killing each other because of original sin?”
“Yes. Hold still.”
“Well, if there is such a thing, if there’s a God who could simultaneously love us enough to serve us His own Son on a cross and send us all on a rocket-sled to hell just because one stupid bitch bit a bad apple, then the curse was just this: He made us like wasps instead of bees. Shit, Howie, what are you doing?”
“Hold still,” I said, “and I’ll get it out. If you want to make a lot of big gestures, I’ll wait.”
“Okay,” he said, and after that he held relatively still while I extracted the stinger. “Bees are nature’s kamikaze pilots, Bow-Wow. Look in that glass box, you’ll see the two who stung me lying dead at the bottom. Their stingers are barbed, like fishhooks. They slide in easy. When they pull out, they disembowel themselves.”
“Gross,” I said, dropping the second stinger in the ashtray. I couldn’t see the barbs, but I didn’t have a microscope.
“It makes them particular, though,” he said.
“Wasps, on the other hand, have smooth stingers. They can shoot you up as many times as they like. They use up the poison by the third or fourth shot, but they can go right on making holes if they like… and usually they do. Especially wall-wasps. The kind I’ve got over there. You gotta sedate ’em. Stuff called Noxon. It must give ’em a hell of a hangover, because they wake up madder than ever.”
He looked at me somberly, and for the first time I saw the dark brown wheels of weariness under his eyes and realized my kid brother was more tired than I had ever seen him.
“That’s why people go on fighting, Bow-Wow. On and on and on. We got smooth stingers. Now watch this.”
He got up, went over to his tote-bag, rummaged in it, and came up with an eye-dropper. He opened the mayonnaise jar, put the dropper in, and drew up a tiny bubble of his distilled Texas water.
When he took it over to the glass box with the wasps’ nest inside, I saw the top on this one was different—there was a tiny plastic slide-piece set into it. I didn’t need him to draw me a picture: with the bees, he was perfectly willing to remove the whole top. With the wasps, he was taking no chances.
He squeezed the black bulb. Two drops of water fell onto the nest, making a momentary dark spot that disappeared almost at once. “Give it about three minutes,” he said.
“No questions,” he said. “You’ll see. Three minutes.”
In that period, he read my piece on art forgery… although it was already twenty pages long.
“Okay,” he said, putting the pages down. “That’s pretty good, man. You ought to read up a little on how Jay Gould furnished the parlor-car of his private train with fake Manets, though—that’s a hoot.” He was removing the cover of the glass box containing the wasps’ nest as he spoke.
“Jesus, Bobby, cut the comedy!” I yelled.
“Same old wimp,” Bobby laughed, and pulled the nest, which was dull gray and about the size of a bowling ball, out of the box. He held it in his hands. Wasps flew out and lit on his arms, his cheeks, his forehead. One flew across to me and landed on my forearm. I slapped it and it fell dead to the carpet. I was scared—I mean really scared. My body was wired with adrenaline and I could feel my eyes trying to push their way out of their sockets.
“Don’t kill ’em,” Bobby said. “You might as well be killing babies, for all the harm they can do you. That’s the whole point.” He tossed the nest from hand to hand as if it were an overgrown softball. He lobbed it in the air. I watched, horrified, as wasps cruised the living room of my apartment like fighter planes on patrol.
Bobby lowered the nest carefully back into the box and sat down on my couch. He patted the place next to him and I went over, nearly hypnotized. They were everywhere: on the rug, the ceiling, the drapes. Half a dozen of them were crawling across the front of my big-screen TV.
Before I could sit down, he brushed away a couple that were on the sofa cushion where my ass was aimed. They flew away quickly. They were all flying easily, crawling easily, moving fast. There was nothing drugged about their behavior. As Bobby talked, they gradually found their way back to their spit-paper home, crawled over it, and eventually disappeared inside again through the hole in the top.
“I wasn’t the first one to get interested in Waco,” he said. “It just happens to be the biggest town in the funny little nonviolent section of what is, per capita, the most violent state in the union. Texans love to shoot each other, Howie—I mean, it’s like a state hobby. Half the male population goes around armed. Saturday night in the Fort Worth bars is like a shooting gallery where you get to plonk away at drunks instead of clay ducks. There are more NRA card-carriers than there are Methodists. Not that Texas is the only place where people shoot each other, or carve each other up with straight razors, or stick their kids in the oven if they cry too long, you understand, but they sure do like their firearms.”
“Except in Waco,” I said.
“Oh, they look like ’em there, too,” he said. “It’s just that they use ’em on each other a hell of a lot less often.”
Jesus. I just looked up at the clock and saw the time. It feels like I’ve been writing for fifteen minutes or so, but it’s actually been over an hour. That happens to me sometimes when I’m running at white-hot speed, but I can’t allow myself to be seduced into these specifics. I feel as well as ever—no noticeable drying of the membranes in the back of the throat, no groping for words, and as I glance back over what I’ve done I see only the normal typos and strike overs. But I can’t kid myself. I’ve got to hurry up. “Fiddle-de-dee,” said Scarlett, and all of that.
The nonviolent atmosphere of the Waco area had been noticed and investigated before, mostly by sociologists. Bobby said that when you fed enough statistical data on Waco and similar areas into a computer—population density, mean age, mean economic level, mean educational level, and dozens of other factors—what you got back was a whopper of an anomaly. Scholarly papers are rarely jocular, but even so, several of the better than fifty Bobby had read on the subject suggested ironically that maybe it was “something in the water.”
“I decided maybe it was time to take the joke seriously,” Bobby said. “After all, there’s something in the water of a lot of places that prevents tooth decay. It’s called fluoride.”
He went to Waco accompanied by a trio of research assistants: two sociology grad-students and a full professor of geology who happened to be on sabbatical and ready for adventure. Within six months, Bobby and the sociology guys had constructed a computer program which illustrated what my brother called the world’s only calmquake. He had a slightly rumpled printout in his tote. He gave it to me. I was looking at a series of forty concentric rings. Waco was in the eighth, ninth, and tenth as you moved in toward the centre.
“Now look at this,” he said, and put a transparent overlay on the printout. More rings; but in each one there was a number. Fortieth ring: 471. Thirty-ninth: 420. Thirty-eighth: 418. And so on. In a couple of places the numbers went up instead of down, but only in a couple (and only by a little).
“What are they?”
“Each number represents the incidence of violent crime in that particular circle,” Bobby said. “Murder, rape, assault and battery, even acts of vandalism. The computer assigns a number by a formula that takes population density into account.” He tapped the twenty-seventh circle, which held the number 204, with his finger. “There’s less than nine hundred people in this whole area, for instance. The number represents three or four cases of spouse abuse, a couple of barroom brawls, an act of animal cruelty—some senile farmer got pissed at a pig and shot a load of rock-salt into it, as I recall—and one involuntary manslaughter.”
I saw that the numbers in the central circles dropped off radically: 85, 81, 70, 63, 40, 21,5. At the epicentre of Bobby’s calmquake was the town of La Plata. To call it a sleepy little town seems more than fair.
The numeric value assigned to La Plata was zero.
“So here it is, Bow-Wow,” Bobby said, leaning forward and rubbing his long hands together nervously, “my nominee for the Garden of Eden. Here’s a community of fifteen thousand, twenty-four per cent of which are people of mixed blood, commonly called Indios. There’s a moccasin factory, a couple of little motor courts, a couple of scrub farms. That’s it for work. For play there’s four bars, a couple of dance halls where you can hear any kind of music you want as long as it sounds like George Jones, two drive-ins, and a bowling alley.” He paused and added, “There’s also a still. I didn’t know anybody made whiskey that good outside of Tennessee.”
In short (and it is now too late to be anything else), La Plata should have been a fertile breeding ground for the sort of casual violence you can read about in the Police Blotter section of the local newspaper every day. Should have been but wasn’t. There had been only one murder in La Plata during the five years previous to my brother’s arrival, two cases of assault, no rapes, no reported incidents of child abuse. There had been four armed robberies, but all four turned out to have been committed by transients… as the murder and one of the assaults had been. The local Sheriff was a fat old Republican who did a pretty fair Rodney Dangerfield imitation. He had been known, in fact, to spend whole days in the local coffee shop, tugging the knot in his tie and telling people to take his wife, please. My brother said he thought it was a little more than lame humour; he was pretty sure the poor guy was suffering first-stage Alzheimer’s Disease. His only deputy was his nephew. Bobby told me the nephew looked quite a lot like Junior Samples on the old Hee-Haw show.
“Put those two guys in a Pennsylvania town similar to La Plata in every way but the geographical,” Bobby said, “and they would have been out on their asses fifteen years ago. But in La Plata, they’re gonna go on until they die… which they’ll probably do in their sleep.”
“What did you do?” I asked. “How did you proceed?”
“Well, for the first week or so after we got our statistical shit together, we just sort of sat around and stared at each other,” Bobby said. “I mean, we were prepared for something, but nothing quite like this. Even Waco doesn’t prepare you for La Plata.” Bobby shifted restlessly and cracked his knuckles.
“Jesus, I hate it when you do that,” I said.
He smiled. “Sorry, Bow-Wow. Anyway, we started geological tests, then microscopic analysis of the water. I didn’t expect a hell of a lot; everyone in the area has got a well, usually a deep one, and they get their water tested regularly to make sure they’re not drinking borax, or something. If there had been something obvious, it would have turned up a long time ago. So we went on to submicroscopy, and that was when we started to turn up some pretty weird stuff.”
“What kind of weird stuff?”
“Breaks in chains of atoms, subdynamic electrical fluctuations, and some sort of unidentified protein. Water ain’t really H2O, you know—not when you add in the sulphides, irons, God knows what else happens to be in the aquifer of a given region. And La Plata water—you’d have to give it a string of letters like the ones after a professor emeritus’s name.” His eyes gleamed. “But the protein was the most interesting thing, Bow-Wow. So far as we know, it’s only found in one other place: the human brain.”
It just arrived, between one swallow and the next: the throat-dryness. Not much as yet, but enough for me to break away and get a glass of ice-water. I’ve got maybe forty minutes left. And oh Jesus, there’s so much I want to tell! About the wasps’ nests they found with wasps that wouldn’t sting, about the fender-bender Bobby and one of his assistants saw where the two drivers, both male, both drunk, and both about twenty-four (sociological bull moose, in other words), got out, shook hands, and exchanged insurance information amicably before going into the nearest bar for another drink.
Bobby talked for hours—more hours than I have. But the upshot was simple: the stuff in the mayonnaise jar.
“We’ve got our own still in La Plata now,” he said. “This is the stuff we’re brewing, Howie; pacifist white lightning. The aquifer under that area of Texas is deep but amazingly large; it’s like this incredible Lake Victoria driven into the porous sediment which overlays the Moho. The water is potent, but we’ve been able to make the stuff I squirted on the wasps even more potent. We’ve got damn near six thousand gallons now, in these big steel tanks. By the end of the year, we’ll have fourteen thousand. By next June we’ll have thirty thousand. But it’s not enough. We need more, we need it faster… and then we need to transport it.”
“Transport it where?” I asked him.
“Borneo, to start with.”
I thought I’d either lost my mind or misheard him. I really did.
“Look, Bow-Wow… sorry. Howie.” He was scrumming through his tote-bag again. He brought out a number of aerial photographs and handed them over to me. “You see?” he asked as I looked through them. “You see how fucking perfect it is? It’s as if God Himself suddenly busted through our business-as-usual transmissions with something like “And now we bring you a special bulletin! This is your last chance, assholes! And now we return you to Days of Our Lives?”
“I don’t get you,” I said. “And I have no idea what I’m looking at.” Of course I knew; it was an island—not Borneo itself but an island lying to the west of Borneo identified as Gulandio—with a mountain in the middle and a lot of muddy little villages lying on its lower slopes. It was hard to see the mountain because of the cloud cover. What I meant was that I didn’t know what I was looking for.
“The mountain has the same name as the island,” he said. “Gulandio. In the local patois it means grace, fate, or destiny, or take your pick. But Duke Rogers says it’s really the biggest time-bomb on earth… and it’s wired to go off by October of next year. Probably earlier.”
The crazy thing’s this: the story’s only crazy if you try to tell it in a speed-rap, which is what I’m trying to do now. Bobby wanted me to help him raise somewhere between six hundred thousand and a million and a half dollars to do the following: first, to synthesize fifty to seventy thousand gallons of what he called “the high-test”; second, to airlift all of this water to Borneo, which had landing facilities (you could land a hang-glider on Gulandio, but that was about all); third, to ship it over to this island named Fate, or Destiny, or Grace; fourth, to truck it up the slope of the volcano, which had been dormant (save for a few puffs in 1938) since 1804, and then to drop it down the muddy tube of the volcano’s caldera. Duke Rogers was actually John Paul Rogers, the geology professor. He claimed that Gulandio was going to do more than just erupt; he claimed that it was going to explode, as Krakatoa had done in the nineteenth century, creating a bang that would make the Squirt Bomb that poisoned London look like a kid’s firecracker.
The debris from the Krakatoa blow-up, Bobby told me, had literally encircled the globe; the observed results had formed an important part of the Sagan (Groups nuclear winter theory. For three months afterward sunsets and sunrises half a world away had been grotesquely colourful as a result of the ash whirling around in both the jet stream and the Van Allen Currents, which lie forty miles below the Van Allen Belt. There had been global changes in climate which lasted five years, and nipa palms, which previously had grown only in eastern Africa and Micronesia, suddenly showed up in both South and North America.
“The North American nipas all died before 1900,” Bobby said, “but they’re alive and well below the equator. Krakatoa seeded them there, Howie… the way I want to seed La Plata water all over the earth. I want people to go out in La Plata water when it rains—and it’s going to rain a lot after Gulandio goes bang. I want them to drink the La Plata water that falls in their reservoirs, I want them to wash their hair in it, bathe in it, soak their contact lenses in it. I want whores to douche in it.”
“Bobby,” I said, knowing he was not, “you’re crazy.”
He gave me a crooked, tired grin. “I ain’t crazy,” he said. “You want to see crazy? Turn on CNN, Bow… Howie. You’ll see crazy in living colour.”
But I didn’t need to turn on Cable News (what a friend of mine had taken to calling The Organ-Grinder of Doom) to know what Bobby was talking about. The Indians and the Pakistanis were poised on the brink. The Chinese and the Afghans, ditto. Half of Africa was starving, the other half on fire with AIDS. There had been border skirmishes along the entire Tex-Mex border in the last five years, since Mexico went Communist, and people had started calling the Tijuana crossing point in California Little Berlin because of the wall. The sabre-rattling had become a din. On the last day of the old year the Scientists for Nuclear Responsibility had set their black clock to fifteen seconds before midnight.
“Bobby, let’s suppose it could be done and everything went according to schedule,” I said. “It probably couldn’t and wouldn’t, but let’s suppose. You don’t have the slightest idea what the long-term effects might be.”
He started to say something and I waved it away.
“Don’t even suggest that you do, because you don’t! You’ve had time to find this calmquake of yours and isolate the cause, I’ll give you that. But did you ever hear about thalidomide? That nifty little acne-stopper and sleeping pill that caused cancer and heart attacks in thirty-year-olds? Don’t you remember the AIDS vaccine in 1997?”
“That one stopped the disease, except it turned the test subjects into incurable epileptics who all died within eighteen months.”
“Then there was—”
I stopped and looked at him.
“The world,” Bobby said, and then stopped. His throat worked. I saw he was struggling with tears. “The world needs heroic measures, man. I don’t know about long-term effects, and there’s no time to study them, because there’s no long-term prospect. Maybe we can cure the whole mess. Or maybe—”
He shrugged, tried to smile, and looked at me with shining eyes from which two single tears slowly tracked.
“Or maybe we’re giving heroin to a patient with terminal cancer. Either way, it’ll stop what’s happening now. It’ll end the world’s pain.” He spread out his hands, palms up, so I could see the stings on them. “Help me, Bow-Wow. Please help me.”
So I helped him.
And we fucked up. In fact I think you could say we fucked up big-time. And do you want the truth? I don’t give a shit. We killed all the plants, but at least we saved the greenhouse. Something will grow here again, someday. I hope.
Are you reading this?
My gears are starting to get a little sticky. For the first time in years I’m having to think about what I’m doing. The motor-movements of writing. Should have hurried more at the start.
Never mind. Too late to change things now.
We did it, of course: distilled the water, flew it in, transported it to Gulandio, built a primitive lifting system—half motor-winch and half cog railway—up the side of the volcano, and dropped over twelve thousand five-gallon containers of La Plata water—the brain-buster version—into the murky misty depths of the volcano’s caldera. We did all of this in just eight months. It didn’t cost six hundred thousand dollars, or a million and a half; it cost over four million, still less than a sixteenth of one per cent of what America spent on defense that year. You want to know how we razed it? I’d tell you if I had more thyme, but my head’s falling apart so never mend. I raised most of it myself if it matters to you. Some by hoof and some by croof. Tell you the truth, I didn’t know I could do it myself until I did. But we did it and somehow the world held together and that volcano-whatever its name wuz, I can’t exactly remember now and there izzunt time to go back over the manuscript—it blue just when it was spo—
Okay. A little better. Digitalin. Bobby had it. Heart’s beating like crazy but I can think again.
The volcano—Mount Grace, we called it—blue just when Dook Rogers said it would. Everything when skihi and for awhile everyone’s attention turned away from whatever and toward the skys. And bimmel-dee-dee, said Strapless!
It happened pretty fast like sex and checks and special effex and everybody got healthy again. I mean—
Jesus please let me finish this.
I mean that everybody stood down. Everybody started to get a little purstective on the situation. The wurld started to get like the wasps in Bobbys nest the one he showed me where they didn’t stink too much. There was three yerz like an Indian sumer. People getting together like in that old Youngbloods song that went c-mon everybody get together rite now, like what all the hippeez wanted, you no, peets and luv and
Big blast. Feel like my heart is coming out thru my ears. But if I concentrate every bit of my force, my concentration
It was like an Indian summer, that’s what I meant to say, like three years of Indian summer. Bobby went on with his resurch. La Plata. Sociological background etc. You remember the local Sheriff? Fat old Republican with a good Rodney Youngblood imitashun? How Bobby said he had the preliminary simptoms of Rodney’s Disease?
Wasn’t just him; turned out like there was a lot of that going around in that part of Texas. All’s Hallows Disease is what I meen. For three yerz me and Bobby were down there. Created a new program. New graff of circkles. I saw what was happen and came back here. Bobby and his to asistants stayed on. One shot hisself Boby said when he showed up here. Wait one more bias
All right. Last time. Heart beating so fast I can hardly breeve. The new graph, the last graph, really only whammed you when it was laid over the calmquake graft. The calmquake graff showed ax of vilence going down as you approached La Plata in the muddle; the Alzheimer’s graff showed incidence of premature seenullity going up as you approached La Plata. People there were getting very silly very yung.
Me and Bobo were careful as we could be for next three years, drink only Par-rier Water and wor big long sleekers in the ran. so no war and when everybobby started to get seely we din and I came back here because he my brother I cant remember what his name
Bobby when he came here tonight cryeen and I sed Bobby I luv you Bobby sed Ime sorry Bowwow Ime sorry I made the hole world fill of foals and dumbbels and I sed better fouls and bells than a big black sinder in spaz and he cryed and I cryed Bobby I luv you and he sed will you give me a shot of the spacial wadder and I sed yez and he said wil you ride it down and I sed yez an I think I did but I cant reely remember I see wurds but dont no what they mean
I have a Bobby his nayme is bruther and I theen I an dun riding and I have a bocks to put this into thats Bobby sd full of quiyet air to last a milyun yrz so gudboy gudboy every—brother, Im goin to stob gudboy bobby i love you it wuz not yor fait i love you
sinned (for the wurld)
SALVAGE by Orson Scott Card
Orson Scott Card is the best-selling author of Ender’s Game, which was a winner of both the Hugo and Nebula Awards. The sequel to Ender’s Game, Speaker for the Dead, also won both awards, making Card the only author to have captured the field’s two most coveted prizes in consecutive years. Card is also the winner of the World Fantasy Award, eight Locus Awards, and a slew of other honors.
In addition to Ender’s Game and the other books in the Enderverse, Card is the author of dozens of other novels, including the books in the Tales of Alvin Maker saga and the Homecoming series. He has also published more than 80 short stories, which have been collected in several volumes, most notably in Maps in a Mirror.
“Salvage” was one of the first stories in which Card openly explored his religion, and was among his first forays into post-apocalyptic SF. This tale, one of Card’s “Mormon Sea” stories, originally appeared in Isaac Asimov’s Science Fiction Magazine and was later included in Folk of the Fringe, a collection of stories set in the post-apocalyptic state of Deseret. There, on the shores of a flooded Great Salt Lake, the remnants of a ruined civilization rely on their faith—and each other—to carry on and rebuild…
The road began to climb steeply right from the ferry, so the truck couldn’t build up any speed. Deaver just kept shifting down, wincing as he listened to the grinding of the gears. Sounded like the transmission was chewing itself to gravel. He’d been nursing it all the way across Nevada, and if the Wendover ferry hadn’t carried him these last miles over the Mormon Sea, he would have had a nice long hike. Lucky. It was a good sign. Things were going to go Deaver’s way for a while.
The mechanic frowned at him when he rattled in to the loading dock. “You been ridin’ the clutch, boy?”
Deaver got down from the cab. “Clutch? What’s a clutch?”
The mechanic didn’t smile. “Couldn’t you hear the transmission was shot?”
“I had mechanics all the way across Nevada askin’ to fix it for me, but I told em I was savin’ it for you.”
The mechanic looked at him like he was crazy. “There ain’t no mechanics in Nevada.”
If you wasn’t dumb as your thumb, thought Deaver, you’d know I was joking. These old Mormons were so straight they couldn’t sit down, some of them. But Deaver didn’t say anything, just smiled.
“This truck’s gonna stay here a few days,” said the mechanic.
Fine with me, thought Deaver. I got plans. “How many days you figure?”
“Take three for now, I’ll sign you off.”
“My names Deaver Teague.”
“Tell the foreman, he’ll write it up.” The mechanic lifted the hood to begin the routine checks while the dock boys loaded off the old washing machines and refrigerators and other stuff Deaver had picked up on this trip. Deaver took his mileage reading to the window and the foreman paid him off.
Seven dollars for five days of driving and loading, sleeping in the cab and eating whatever the farmers could spare. It was better than a lot of people lived on, but there wasn’t any future in it. Salvage wouldn’t go on forever. Someday he’d pick up the last broken-down dishwasher left from the old days, and then he’d be out of a job.
Well, Deaver Teague wasn’t going to wait around for that. He knew where the gold was, he’d been planning how to get it for weeks, and if Lehi had got the diving equipment like he promised then tomorrow morning they’d do a little freelance salvage work. If they were lucky they’d come home rich.
Deaver’s legs were stiff but he loosened them up pretty quick and broke into an easy, loping run down the corridors of the Salvage Centre. He took a flight of stairs two or three steps at a time, bounded down a hall, and when he reached a sign that said SMALL COMPUTER SALVAGE, he pushed off the doorframe and rebounded into the room. “Hey Lehi!” he said. “Hey it’s quittin’ time!”
Lehi McKay paid no attention. He was sitting in front of a TV screen, jerking at a black box he held on his lap.
“You do that and you’ll go blind,” said Deaver.
“Shut up, carpface.” Lehi never took his eyes off the screen. He jabbed at a button on the black box and twisted on the stick that jutted up from it. A colored blob on the screen blew up and split into four smaller blobs.
“I got three days off while they do the transmission on the truck,” said Deaver. “So tomorrow’s the temple expedition.”
Lehi got the last blob off the screen. More blobs appeared.
“That’s real fun,” said Deaver, “like sweepin’ the street and then they bring along another troop of horses.”
“It’s an Atari. From the sixties or seventies or something. Eighties. Old. Can’t do much with the pieces, it’s only eight-bit stuff. All these years in somebody’s attic in Logan, and the sucker still runs.”
“Old guys probably didn’t even know they had it.”
Deaver watched the game. Same thing over and over again. “How much a thing like this use to cost?”
“A lot. Maybe fifteen, twenty bucks.”
“Makes you want to barf. And here sits Lehi McKay, toodling his noodle like the old guys use to. All it ever got them was a sore noodle, Lehi. And slag for brains.”
“Drown it. I’m trying to concentrate.”
The game finally ended. Lehi set the black box up on the workbench, turned off the machine, and stood up.
“You got everything ready to go underwater tomorrow?” asked Deaver.
“That was a good game. Having fun must took up a lot of their time in the old days. Mom says the kids used to not even be able to get jobs till they was sixteen. It was the law.”
“Don’t you wish,” said Deaver.
“You don’t know your tongue from dung, Lehi. You don’t know your heart from a fart.”
“You want to get us both kicked out of here, talkin’ like that?”
“I don’t have to follow school rules now, I graduated sixth grade, I’m nineteen years old, I been on my own for five years.” He pulled his seven dollars out of his pocket, waved them once, stuffed them back in carelessly. “I do OK, and I talk like I want to talk. Think I’m afraid of the Bishop?”
“Bishop don’t scare me. I don’t even go to church except to make Mom happy. It’s a bunch of bunny turds.”
Lehi laughed, but Deaver could see that he was a little scared to talk like that. Sixteen years old, thought Deaver, he’s big and he’s smart but he’s such a little kid. He don’t understand how it’s like to be a man. “Rain’s comin’.”
“Rain’s always comin’. What the hell do you think filled up the lake?” Lehi smirked as he unplugged everything on the workbench.
“I meant Lorraine Wilson.”
“I know what you meant. She’s got her boat?”
“And she’s got a mean set of fenders.” Deaver cupped his hands. “Just need a little polishing.”
“Why do you always talk dirty? Ever since you started driving salvage, Deaver, you got a gutter mouth. Besides, she’s built like a sack.”
“She’s near fifty, what do you expect?” It occurred to Deaver that Lehi seemed to be stalling. Which probably meant he botched up again as usual. “Can you get the diving stuff?”
“I already got it. You thought I’d screw up.” Lehi smirked again.
“You? Screw up? You can be trusted with anything.” Deaver started for the door. He could hear Lehi behind him, still shutting a few things off. They got to use a lot of electricity in here. Of course they had to, because they needed computers all the time, and salvage was the only way to get them. But when Deaver saw all that electricity getting used up at once, to him it looked like his own future. All the machines he could ever want, new ones, and all the power they needed. Clothes that nobody else ever wore, his own horse and wagon or even a car. Maybe he’d be the guy who started making cars again. He didn’t need stupid blob-smashing games from the past. “That stuff’s dead and gone, duck lips, dead and gone.”
“What’re you talking about?” asked Lehi. “Dead and gone. All your computer things.”
It was enough to set Lehi off, as it always did. Deaver grinned and felt wicked and strong as Lehi babbled along behind him. About how we use the computers more than they ever did in the old days, the computers kept everything going, on and on and on, it was cute, Deaver liked him, the boy was so intense. Like everything was the end of the world. Deaver knew better. The world was dead, it had already ended, so none of it mattered, you could sink all this stuff in the lake.
They came out of the Centre and walked along the retaining wall. Far below them was the harbour, a little circle of water in the bottom of a bowl, with Bingham City perched on the lip. They used to have an open-pit copper mine here, but when the water rose they cut a channel to it and now they had a nice harbour on Oquirrh Island in the middle of the Mormon Sea, where the factories could stink up the whole sky and no neighbours ever complained about it.
A lot of other people joined them on the steep dirt road that led down to the harbour. Nobody lived right in Bingham City itself, because it was just a working place, day and night. Shifts in, shifts out. Lehi was a shift boy, lived with his family across the Jordan Strait on Point-of-the-Mountain, which was as rotten a place to live as anybody ever devised, rode the ferry in every day at five in the morning and rode it back every afternoon at four. He was supposed to go to school after that for a couple of hours but Deaver thought that was stupid, he told Lehi that all the time, told him again now. School is too much time and too little of everything, a waste of time.
“I gotta go to school,” said Lehi.
“Tell me two plus two, you haven’t got two plus two yet?”
“You finished, didn’t you?”
“Nobody needs anything after fourth grade.” He shoved Lehi a little. Usually Lehi shoved back, but this time no.
“Just try getting a real job without a sixth-grade diploma, OK? And I’m pretty close now.” They were at the ferry ship. Lehi got out his pass.
“You with me tomorrow or not?”
Lehi made a face. “I don’t know, Deaver. You can get arrested for going around there. It’s a dumb thing to do. They say there’s real weird things in the old skyscrapers.”
“We aren’t going in the skyscrapers.”
“Even worse in there, Deaver. I don’t want to go there.”
“Yeah, the Angel Moroni’s probably waiting to jump out and say booga-booga-booga.”
“Don’t talk about it, Deaver.” Deaver was tickling him; Lehi laughed and tried to shy away. “Cut it out, chigger-head. Come on. Besides, the Moroni statue was moved to the Salt Lake Monument up on the mountain. And that has a guard all the time.”
“The statue’s just gold plate anyway. I’m tellin you those old Mormons hid tons of stuff down in the Temple, just waitin’ for somebody who isn’t scared of the ghost of Bigamy Young to—”
“Shut up, snotsucker, OK? People can hear! Look around, we’re not alone!”
It was true, of course. Some of the other people were glaring at them. But then, Deaver noticed that older people liked to glare at younger ones. It made the old farts feel better about kicking off. It was like they were saying, OK, I’m dying, but at least you’re stupid. So Deaver looked right at a woman who was staring at him and murmured, “OK, I’m stupid, but at least I won’t die.”
“Deaver, do you always have to say that where they can hear you?”
“In the first place, Deaver, they aren’t dying. And in the second place, you’re definitely stupid. And in the third place, the ferry’s here.” Lehi punched Deaver lightly in the stomach.
Deaver bent over in mock agony. “Ay, the laddie’s ungrateful, he is, I give him me last croost of bread and this be the thanks I gets.”
“Nobody has an accent like that, Deaver!” shouted Lehi. The boat began to pull away.
“Tomorrow at five-thirty!” shouted Deaver.
“You’ll never get up at four-thirty, don’t give me that, you never get up…” But the ferry and the noise of the factories and machine and trucks swallowed up the rest of his insults. Deaver knew them all, anyway. Lehi might be only sixteen, but he was OK. Someday Deaver’d get married but his wife would like Lehi, too. And Lehi’d even get married, and his wife would like Deaver. She’d better, or she’d have to swim home.
He took the trolley home to Fort Douglas and walked to the ancient barracks building where Rain let him stay. It was supposed to be a storage room, but she kept the mops and soap stuff in her place so that there’d be room for a cot.
Not much else, but it was on Oquirrh Island without being right there in the stink and the smoke and the noise. He could sleep and that was enough, since most of the time he was out on the truck.
Truth was, his room wasn’t home anyway. Home was pretty much Rain’s place, a drafty room at the end of the barracks with a dumpy frowzy lady who served him good food and plenty of it. That’s where he went now, walked right in and surprised her in the kitchen. She yelled at him for surprising her, yelled at him for being filthy and tracking all over her floor, and let him get a slice of apple before she yelled at him for snitching before supper.
He went around and changed light bulbs in five rooms before supper. The families there were all crammed into two rooms each at the most, and most of them had to share kitchens and eat in shifts. Some of the rooms were nasty places, family warfare held off only as long as it took him to change the light, and sometimes even that truce wasn’t observed. Others were doing fine, the place was small but they liked each other. Deaver was pretty sure his family must have been one of the nice ones, because if there’d been any yelling he would have remembered.
Rain and Deaver ate and then turned off all the lights while she played the old record player Deaver had wangled away from Lehi. They really weren’t supposed to have it, but they figured as long as they didn’t burn any lights it wasn’t wasting electricity, and they’d turn it in as soon as anybody asked for it.
In the meantime, Rain had some of the old records from when she was a girl. The songs had strong rhythms, and tonight, like she sometimes did, Rain got up and moved to the music, strange little dances that Deaver didn’t understand unless he imagined her as a lithe young girl, pictured her body as it must have been then. It wasn’t hard to imagine, it was there in her eyes and her smile all the time, and her movements gave away secrets that years of starchy eating and lack of exercise had disguised.
Then, as always, his thoughts went off to some of the girls he saw from his truck window, driving by the fields where they bent over, hard at work, until they heard the truck and then they stood and waved. Everybody waved at the salvage truck, sometimes it was the only thing with a motor that ever came by, their only contact with the old machines. All the tractors, all the electricity were reserved for the New Soil Lands; the old places were dying. And they turned and waved at the last memories. It made Deaver sad and he hated to be sad, all these people clinging to a past that never existed.
“It never existed,” he said aloud.
“Yes it did,” Rain whispered. “Girls just wanna have fu-un,” she murmured along with the record. “I hated this song when I was a girl. Or maybe it was my mama who hated it.”
“You live here then?”
“Indiana,” she said. “One of the states, way east.”
“Were you a refugee, too?”
“No. We moved here when I was sixteen, seventeen, can’t remember. Whenever things got scary in the world, a lot of Mormons moved home. This was always home, no matter what.”
The record ended. She turned it off, turned on the lights.
“Got the boat all gassed up?” asked Deaver.
“You don’t want to go there,” she said.
“If there’s gold down there, I want it.”
“If there was gold there, Deaver, they would’ve taken it out before the water covered it. It’s not as if nobody got a warning, you know. The Mormon Sea wasn’t a flash flood.”
“If it isn’t down there, what’s all the hush-hush about? How come the Lake Patrol keeps people from going there?”
“I don’t know, Deaver. Maybe because a lot of people feel like it’s a holy place.”
Deaver was used to this. Rain never went to church, but she still talked like a Mormon. Most people did, though, when you scratched them the wrong place. Deaver didn’t like it when they got religious. “Angels need police protection, is that it?”
“It used to be real important to the Mormons in the old days, Deaver.” She sat down on the floor, leaning against the wall under the window.
“Well it’s nothin now. They got their other temples, don’t they? And they’re building the new one in Zarahemla, right?”
“I don’t know, Deaver. The one here, it was always the real one. The centre.” She bent sideways, leaned on her hand, looked down at the floor. “It still is.”
Deaver saw she was getting really somber now, really sad. It happened to a lot of people who remembered the old days. Like a disease that never got cured. But Deaver knew the cure. For Rain, anyway. “Is it true they used to kill people in there?”
It worked. She glared at him and the languor left her body. “Is that what you truckers talk about all day?”
Deaver grinned. “There’s stories. Cuttin people up if they told where the gold was hid.”
“You know Mormons all over the place, now, Deaver, do you really think we’d go cuttin people up for tellin secrets?”
“I don’t know. Depends on the secrets, don’t it?” He was sitting on his hands, kind of bouncing a little on the couch.
He could see that she was a little mad for real, but didn’t want to be. So she’d pretend to be mad for play. She sat up, reached for a pillow to throw at him.
“No! No!” he cried. “Don’t cut me up! Don’t feed me to the carp!”
The pillow hit him and he pretended elaborately to die.
“Just don’t joke about things like that,” she said.
“Things like what? You don’t believe in the old stuff anymore. Nobody does.”
“Jesus was supposed to come again, right? There was atom bombs dropped here and there, and he was supposed to come.”
“Prophet said we was too wicked. He wouldn’t come cause we loved the things of the world too much.”
“Come on, if he was comin’ he would’ve come, right?”
“Might still,” she said.
“Nobody believes that,” said Deaver. “Mormons are just the government, that’s all. The Bishop gets elected judge in every town, right? The president of the elders is always mayor, it’s just the government, just politics, nobody believes it now. Zarahemla’s the capital, not the holy city.”
He couldn’t see her because he was lying flat on his back on the couch. When she didn’t answer, he got up and looked for her. She was over by the sink, leaning on the counter. He snuck up behind her to tickle her, but something in her posture changed his mind. When he got close, he saw tears down her cheeks. It was crazy. All these people from the old days got crazy a lot.
“I was just teasin,” he said.
“It’s just part of the old days. You know how I am about that. Maybe if I remembered, it’d be different. Sometimes I wish I remembered.” But it was a lie. He never wished he remembered. He didn’t like remembering. Most stuff he couldn’t remember even if he wanted to. The earliest thing he could bring to mind was riding on the back of a horse, behind some man who sweated a lot, just riding and riding and riding. And then it was all recent stuff, going to school, getting passed around in people’s homes, finally getting busy one year and finishing school and getting a job. He didn’t get misty-eyed thinking about any of it, any of those places. Just passing through, that’s all he was ever doing, never belonged anywhere until maybe now. He belonged here. “I’m sorry,” he said.
“It’s fine,” she said.
“You still gonna take me there?”
“I said I would, didn’t I?”
She sounded just annoyed enough that he knew it was OK to tease her again. “You don’t think they’ll have the Second Coming while we’re there, do you? If you think so, I’ll wear my tie.”
She smiled, then turned to face him and pushed him away. “Deaver, go to bed.”
“I’m gettin’ up at four-thirty, Rain, and then you’re one girl who’s gonna have fun.”
“I don’t think the song was about early morning boat trips.” She was doing the dishes when he left for his little room.
Lehi was waiting at five-thirty, right on schedule. “I can’t believe it,” he said. “I thought you’d be late.”
“Good thing you were ready on time,” said Deaver, “cause if you didn’t come with us you wouldn’t get a cut.”
“We aren’t going to find any gold, Deaver Teague.”
“Then why’re you comin with me? Don’t give me that stuff, Lehi, you know the future’s with Deaver Teague, and you don’t want to be left behind. Where’s the diving stuff?”
“I didn’t bring it home, Deaver. You don’t think my mom’d ask questions then?”
“She’s always askin questions,” said Deaver. “It’s her job,” said Rain.
“I don’t want anybody askin about everything I do,” said Deaver.
“Nobody has to ask,” said Rain. “You always tell us whether we want to hear or not.”
“If you don’t want to hear, you don’t have to,” said Deaver. “Don’t get touchy,” said Rain.
“You guys are both gettin’ wet-headed on me, all of a sudden. Does the temple make you crazy, is that how it works?”
“I don’t mind my mom askin’ me stuff. It’s OK.”
The ferries ran from Point to Bingham day and night, so they had to go north a ways before cutting west to Oquirrh Island. The smelter and the foundries put orange-bellied smoke clouds into the night sky, and the coal barges were getting offloaded just like in daytime. The coal-dust cloud that was so grimy and black in the day looked like white fog under the floodlights.
“My dad died right there, about this time of day,” said Lehi.
“He loaded coal?”
“Yeah. He used to be a car salesmen. His job kind of disappeared on him.”
“You weren’t there, were you?”
“I heard the crash. I was asleep, but it woke me up. And then a lot of shouting and running. We lived on the island back then, always heard stuff from the harbor. He got buried under a ton of coal that fell from fifty feet up.”
Deaver didn’t know what to say about that.
“You never talk about your folks,” said Lehi. “I always remember my dad, but you never talk about your folks.” Deaver shrugged.
“He doesn’t remember em,” Rain said quietly. “They found him out on the plains somewhere. The mobbers got his family, however many there was, he must’ve hid or something, that’s all they can figure.”
“Well what was it?” asked Lehi. “Did you hide?”
Deaver didn’t feel comfortable talking about it, since he didn’t remember anything except what people told him. He knew that other people remembered their childhood, and he didn’t like how they always acted so surprised that he didn’t. But Lehi was asking, and Deaver knew that you don’t keep stuff back from friends. “I guess I did. Or maybe I looked too dumb to kill or somethin.” He laughed. “I must’ve been a real dumb little kid, I didn’t even remember my own name. They figure I was five or six years old, most kids know their names, but not me. So the two guys that found me, their names were Teague and Deaver.”
“You gotta remember somethin.”
“Lehi, I didn’t even know how to talk. They tell me I didn’t even say a word till I was nine years old. We’re talkin’ about a slow learner here.”
“Wow.” Lehi was silent for a while. “How come you didn’t say anything?”
“Doesn’t matter,” said Rain. “He makes up for it now, Deaver the talker. Champion talker.”
They coasted the island till they got past Magna. Lehi led them to a storage shed that Underwater Salvage had put up at the north end of Oquirrh Island. It was unlocked and full of diving equipment. Lehi’s friends had filled some tanks with air. They got two diving outfits and underwater flashlights. Rain wasn’t going underwater, so she didn’t need anything.
They pulled away from the island, out into the regular shipping lane from Wendover. In that direction, at least, people had sense enough not to travel at night, so there wasn’t much traffic. After a little while they were out into open water. That was when Rain stopped the little outboard motor Deaver had scrounged for her and Lehi had fixed. “Time to sweat and slave,” said Rain.
Deaver sat on the middle bench, settled the oars into the locks, and began to row.
“Not too fast,” Rain said. “You’ll give yourself blisters.”
A boat that might have been Lake Patrol went by once, but otherwise nobody came near them as they crossed the open stretch. Then the skyscrapers rose up and blocked off large sections of the starry night.
“They say there’s people who was never rescued still livin’ in there,” Lehi whispered.
Rain was disdainful. “You think there’s anything left in there to keep anybody alive? And the water’s still too salty to drink for long.”
“Who says they’re alive?” whispered Deaver in his most mysterious voice. A couple of years ago, he could have spooked Lehi and made his eyes go wide. Now Lehi just looked disgusted.
“Come on, Deaver, I’m not a kid.”
It was Deaver who got spooked a little. The big holes where pieces of glass and plastic had fallen off looked like mouths, waiting to suck him in and carry him down under the water, into the city of the drowned. He sometimes dreamed about thousands and thousands of people living under water. Still driving their cars around, going about their business, shopping in stores, going to movies. In his dreams they never did anything bad, just went about their business. But he always woke up sweating and frightened. No reason. Just spooked him. “I think they should blow up these things before they fall down and hurt somebody,” said Deaver.
“Maybe it’s better to leave em standing,” said Rain. “Maybe there’s a lot of folks like to remember how tall we once stood.”
“What’s to remember? They built tall buildings and then they let em take a bath, what’s to brag for?”
Deaver was trying to get her not to talk about the old days, but Lehi seemed to like wallowing in it. “You ever here before the water came?”
Rain nodded. “Saw a parade go right down this street. I can’t remember if it was Third South or Fourth South. Third I guess. I saw twenty-five horses all riding together. I remember that I thought that was really something. You didn’t see many horses in those days.”
“I seen too many myself,” said Lehi.
“It’s the ones I don’t see that I hate,” said Deaver. “They ought to make em wear diapers.”
They rounded a building and looked up a north-south passage between towers. Rain was sitting in the stern and saw it first. “There it is. You can see it. Just the tall spires now.”
Deaver rowed them up the passage. There were six spires sticking up out of the water, but the four short ones were under so far that only the pointed roofs were dry. The two tall ones had windows in them, not covered at all. Deaver was disappointed. Wide open like that meant that anybody might have come here. It was all so much less dangerous than he had expected. Maybe Rain was right, and there was nothing there.
They tied the boat to the north side and waited for daylight. “If I knew it’d be so easy,” said Deaver, “I could’ve slept another hour.”
“Sleep now,” said Rain.
“Maybe I will,” said Deaver.
He slid off his bench and sprawled in the bottom of the boat.
He didn’t sleep, though. The open window of the steeple was only a few yards away, a deep black surrounded by the starlit grey of the temple granite. It was down there, waiting for him; the future, a chance to get something better for himself and his two friends. Maybe a plot of ground in the south where it was warmer and the snow didn’t pile up five feet deep every winter, where it wasn’t rain in the sky and lake everywhere else you looked. A place where he could live for a very long time and look back and remember good times with his friends, that was all waiting down under the water.
Of course they hadn’t told him about the gold. It was on the road, a little place in Parowan where truckers knew they could stop in because the iron mine kept such crazy shifts that the diners never closed. They even had some coffee there, hot and bitter, because there weren’t so many Mormons there and the miners didn’t let the Bishop push them around. In fact they even called him Judge there instead of Bishop. The other drivers didn’t talk to Deaver, of course, they were talking to each other when the one fellow told the story about how the Mormons back in the gold rush days hoarded up all the gold they could get and hid it in the upper rooms of the temple where nobody but the prophet and the twelve apostles could ever go. At first Deaver didn’t believe him, except that Bill Home nodded like he knew it was true, and Cal Silber said you’d never catch him messin’ with the Mormon temple, that’s a good way to get yourself dead. The way they were talking, scared and quiet, told Deaver that they believed it, that it was true, and he knew something else, too: if anyone was going to get that gold, it was him. ...
All rights belong to the author: Stephen King, Elizabeth Bear, John Joseph Adams, Paolo Bacigalupi, Nancy Kress, George R R Martin, Jonathan Lethem, Cory Doctorow, Orson Scott Card, Jerry Oltion, Richard Kadrey, John Langan, Octavia C Butler, Gene Wolf, M Rickert, Tobias S Buckell, Jack S McDevitt, James Van Pelt, Carol Emshwiller, Neal Barrett, Jr, Dale Bailey, David Grigg.
This is a short fragment for review the book. The full version can be purchased in the store.