The Twilight Dancer & Other Tales of Magic, Fantasy and the Supernatural
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by Ardath Mayhar
Category: Fantasy/Dark Fantasy
Description: The Balrog Award Winner's First-Ever Fantasy Collection! Eleven unforgettable stories of magic and the supernatural. Plus, all her tales of "Hermione," the Cat Fantastic, including a brand new one, never published before. It's a fantasy lover's feast by the a author of Golden Dream: A Fuzzy Odyssey, How the Gods Wove in Kyrannon, Lords of the Triple Moons, Runes of the Lyre, Soul-Singer of Tyrnos, BattleTech: The Sword and the Dagger, Warlock's Gift, and The World Ends in Hickory Hollow. Among the stories are: "Knyghte Kellin," "The Twilight Dancer," "A Snap of the Fingers," "A Cat's Private Diary," "Hermione to the Rescue," and many others. Discover for yourself why SF Book Reviews calls Ardath Mayhar a "self-styled mean little old lady [who writes] "lyrical, dream like style" and why Joe Lansdale calls her "science fiction's national treasure."
eBook Publisher: Renaissance E Books/PageTurner, 2004
eBookwise Release Date: October 2004
11 Reader Ratings:
Available eBook Formats: OEBFF Format (IMP) [206 KB]
Reading time: 132-185 min.
I was young, then, with the lack of caution you can expect from a mossy-eared kid who hasn't yet lived a quarter of a century. Young and head over heels in love with my job. That's a bad combination, when you're a first-in reporter with the biggest, pushiest holocast system in the world.
Global, like any big corporation, hadn't a bit of concern for its employees' lives and limbs. Oh, they issued us the glow-suits and instructed us in all the signals we were supposed to use to keep from getting lasered by snipers. They implanted bugs in our skulls that told them we were still alive. When the proper gizmo was activated, it gave them our locations and told Big Mama to come quick. But when the chips were down, we were expected to jump into the middle of any blow-up, any place, any time.
It was lonely. I'll never forget my first solo job. The ride in the VTO was terribly long. The feel of being zipped into the jump-sphere was claustrophobic, and being pushed out, blind, to fall fifty feet to invisible ground was something you never got used to. When I finally got myself free of the cushioning sphere and onto my feet, I had just what I stood up in, plus fifty thousand Global Credits sewed into my glowsuit, my wrist cam and my satellite transmission code. I've never been that frightened since.
Scared or not, I hadn't learned yet to be cautious. I was still enthralled with the glamor of my business, for mine was, after all, the last really dangerous profession. In the past couple of brush wars, more first-ins had been killed than had professional military people. We and the civilians were the ones getting it in the neck, for at that time the pros stayed in their satellite stations or their miles-deep bunkers and watched things via remote.
If that seems a strange way to wage war, join the club. I never did figure out the rationale, and now I'm too old and tired to try. But as long as someone was out there, bleeding in glorious color and three dimensions, the fans of our 'casts demanded to see it all. Still do. That's what keeps Global and Trans-Terra and CIC and all the others in business. Big business ... it has to be to pay us a flat million a jump.
I was determined to make Tamerlane Wills a name to conjure with in my field, but my first couple of jumps didn't amount to much. Besides, I was in the company of old timers with big names. You can't make good copy from burning wheatfields and farmhouses ... the fans are sick of extrapolations showing famine and death from malnutrition that result from such destruction. They have been soaked in gore for so long that nothing milder gives them a charge.
I intended, with the sublime confidence of youth, to change all that. I wanted to educate our viewers, make them appreciate the subtleties of cause and effect, of guilt and expiation ... I suppose I wanted to civilize their tastes. Don't laugh. My fourth jump, the first solo one, gave me just that chance. It also taught me the first rudiments of self-preservation.
Ireland blew up in our faces. If you have read any ancient history, you know what has been happening there for half a millennium. The Irish seem to be so volatile that anything at all sets them off.
I had six hours warning, and then we were off in a huge long-range VTO. It ate up the Atlantic as if it were a mud puddle, and I rolled onto the damp soil of Eire just before dawn. My only consolation was that for once I had only to drop about ten feet.
The jump-sphere gave a tired sigh and shrivelled to almost nothing; the weather would biodegrade it in a few days. Now all I had to do was find the nearest plug-in and interview the Operations Officer for this sector. By remote, of course.
As I followed my automatic guidance system, I saw that the land was burned black. Not so much as a bush was in sight that wasn't scorched to a cinder. The trees were reduced to ash. I smelled something nasty and familiar and winced. Filming burnt bodies is not my favorite pastime.
I turned my nose toward the breeze and followed it. Global loves burnt corpses, if they can't have mutilated people dying in full color. I twitched the muscles activating my "I am sending" light on the edit-board thousands of kilometers away in New Boston. Then I activated the satellite code and opened the connection to the fixed Atlantic satellite.
The cam warmed against my wrist, as I held my arm across my chest, panning the blighted countryside. Everything sent now would register on the computers in New Boston, to be edited by my own personal editor and sent out on the regular 'cast.
When I reached the top of a small hill, I could see that a little farm had occupied the valley beyond. A few walls still stood. Solid stone is hard to disintegrate, even with today's devastating weapons.
A dead cow lay, grotesquely spraddled, each leg pointed in a different direction. Her head was plowed straight forward into the mud. I filmed her ... dead animals will do if dead people aren't available.
Yet I knew quite well that the stench in my nostrils was human. That smell is distinctive and unforgettable.
I found them huddled against the wall that still stood shoulder-high. Three of them, man, woman, and child, the classic family. Except for the relative sizes, I couldn't really tell which was which.
I got down on my haunches and let the cam catch the glints of bone glimmering through black rags of flesh. For the first time in my professional life, I felt like a ghoul. There came a crack in my conviction that what I did was right and important. A chink opened in my belief in the glamor of my work, and I felt I pandered to unnatural tastes of sick-minded and over-coddled monsters.
Bile rose in my throat, but I held it down as I turned away to move eastward again. Ahead was the pylon marking the plug-in for the sector.
The Op Officer didn't appreciate having his breakfast interrupted. When I gave him my Global ID, however, he quieted down and assumed his best PR face. Strictly for the camera, of course ... he reeked of phony, even at a distance, as did most of the professional military of that era.
"General John O'Rourke Vasquez?" I asked.
He nodded, his figure tiny on the monitor.
"I arrived only an hour ago and have seen, so far, little of this operation. I did pass a farm, just west of this pylon. The buildings were burned, and the family had been lasered. Can you explain why this action was taken?"
His smile was a tight grimace that did its best to give the impression that here was a soldier doing his duty, no matter how distasteful. "A sad necessity," he said. "But unavoidable. The family there has--or had ?a relative on the Other Side. We felt it possible that their sympathies might lie with the enemy. One cannot risk having such a situation so near the command post. The farm might have posed a threat to this pylon, and so we eliminated it."
He made this sound almost reasonable and justifiable. But I had seen those bodies and I knew better. Inspiration hit me, and I looked into that oily face, untouched by any of the destruction its owner wielded.
My tone carefully respectful, I asked, "Do you have another such operation planned? That should make excellent copy for the evening 'cast."
For a second, he looked at me searchingly, as if suspecting that I had some ulterior motive for asking. But he was being filmed, and generals were Global's favorite 'stars.' Clearing his throat, he said, "There is a trouble spot just six klicks north of here. If you will wait beside the road to the east, you can get a lift when one of the robounits passes to attend to it.
"Riding on the unit, you will be safe and can film the entire operation. I will look forward to seeing your 'cast tonight."
I finished up the interview in standard format, and less than an hour later the robounit trundled up the cracked and pitted road. It stopped for me, and I knew the General had signalled it to pick me up.
I climbed the armored skirting to the observation deck atop the turtle-like mechanism and strapped myself into one of the gimballed seats. We went fast, when we moved, and I stayed busy recording a voice-over that would either make my point or get me booted out of Global and blacklisted everywhere else on the planet.