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Far Horizons All New Tales From the Greatest Worlds of Science Fiction 37


  “I know about your little sister. But our chances of getting the right evidence against Wells are stronger if we have more time with him. It will make all the difference to our case.”

  “Fire,” I say to the gun, and close my eyes.

  Nothing happens.

  My eyes fly open. The gun still sits on the windowsill, swiveling to follow the back of Wells’s head. The FBI agent has climbed the stairs between us. She puts a hand on my arm. I feel the biometal joints augmenting her grip. Her eyes are sad. “I gave you the chance to get out. Now please come quietly.”

  “What…how…”

  “We have counterfields you couldn’t possibly know about. Don’t you realize you’re way over your head? Weapons get more complex every day. And you’re not even a pro.”

  I let her lead me quietly out of the house, into an aircar marked BLAISEDELL BODYGUARDS, INCORPORATED. Nobody pays any attention to us. As we lift above Harpercrest Lane, the last two things I notice are Wells, bent happily over his garden, and a dog, a collie, lying on the bright green genemod grass on somebody’s front lawn, asleep.

  The FBI agent turns out not to be an FBI agent after all. She works for something called the United States Genetic Standards Enforcement Agency, something new, something created because of the eruption of genemod, legal and illegal. The GSEA is going to prosecute me. They have to, my new lawyer says. But they’ll do it slowly, to give themselves more time to nail Wells and Mountview Bionetics and Bent and all the other companies woven together with underground labs. The government will get Wells eventually, my lawyer says. The GSEA agent was right about that.

  But she was wrong about something else. Every day I sit in my cell, on the edge of my cot, and think about how wrong she was.

  Nothing makes all the difference. To anything. The systems are too complex. You genemod dogs for sleeplessness and you destroy their imagination. You genemod people for sleeplessness and you get super-people, who can imagine everything and invent anything. But Tony Indivino was killed by the lowest scum there is, and Jennifer Sharifi is taking Sanctuary from purposes of safety to purposes of revenge. Donna chooses to deny anything that makes her unhappy, but the deep black frozen place is in her just as much as in me. Daddy survives his wife’s death but breaks down at his daughter’s. Sleepless mice have great immune systems; sleepless sparrows starve to death; Sleepless humans regenerate tissue. Genemod algae will end world hunger. Dogs genemod for IQ go catatonic, and guard dogs with the best training in the world will revert to pack pecking order if the omega animal smells right.

  No one factor can make all the difference. There are too many different factors, now. Maybe there always were.

  So I’ll let my lawyer, who is a Sleepless named Irving Lewis, defend me. He wants the case for what he calls “the eventual chance to set significant Constitutional precedents.” Except for court appearances, he does most of his work inside Sanctuary.

  Maybe he can get me off, maybe he can’t. Either way, I don’t know what will happen next. Not to me, not to anything. I can only try to make things come out my way: get a job, make up with Donna, go to college. Someday I’d like to work for the GSEA. That wouldn’t make up for Precious, or for anything else. But maybe it might make a small, slight, necessary difference.

  TALES OF THE HEECHEE

  Frederik Pohl

  Gateway (1977)

  Beyond the Blue Event Horizon (1980)

  Heechee Rendezvous (1984)

  The Annals of the Heechee (1987)

  The Gateway Trip (1990)

  When the first human colonists arrived on the planet Venus (as described in the novelette, “The Merchants of Venus,” included in the book The Gateway Trip), they discovered its surface was honeycombed by tunnels, the work of some ancient alien visitors from space they called the Heechees. Apart from a few cryptic artifacts, the tunnels were empty. Who the Heechees were, why they had come to Venus, and where they had gone, everyone wondered and no one could say. (A prankster published a book of several hundred pages called All We Know About the Heechee. Every page was blank.) In their exploration of our solar system, the Heechee had not stopped with Venus. They had come to Earth as well, but the closest they found to intelligent creatures at that time were the short, hairy, small-brained primates now called Australopithecus robustus.

  The Heechee did one more thing before they left. They established a sort of spaceship base in an asteroid. When it was found by human beings, quite by accident, it too was riddled with tunnels. The corridors were stripped as clean as those of Venus, but the Heechee had not left the asteroid entirely bare. Its surface was pocked with launch pods for spacecraft; hundreds of the ships were still there; and they worked.

  The Heechee spaceships had many wondrous virtues, and one severe flaw. They could travel far faster than light. They were fitted with automatic navigation systems, so that they went to specific parts of the Galaxy, presumably those that had interested the Heechee enough to explore. But no one knew how to choose one course over another; once you got in and started the ship’s drive you were on your way—but to where, you could not say until you got there. Abandoned Heechee base, supernova remnant, planet stripped bare by some other intelligent race—the destination could be anything at all.

  But sometimes—not often—the end of the long flight was a place where the Heechee had left other examples of their machines and instruments. They were products of technological skills far more advanced than humankind’s, and consequently of incalculable value.

  To seek out this treasure trove, the governments of Earth established the Gateway Corporation, and (as described in the novel Gateway and its sequels) invited the daring ones to come to the Gateway asteroid and try their luck—and their courage. For the courses set hundreds of thousand of years ago by the Heechee did not any longer wind up in places where fragile human beings could survive.

  When published in 1977 Gateway won nearly all the annual awards for best science-fiction novel, including the Hugo, the Nebula, the Campbell Memorial Award, and the national prizes of France and Yugoslavia. It has been translated into some thirty languages, was made into two video games, and is currently under development as a motion picture.

  —Frederik Pohl

  THE BOY WHO

  WOULD LIVE FOREVER

  by Frederik Pohl

  I

  On Stan’s seventeenth birthday the Wrath of God came again, as it did every six weeks or so. Stan was alone in the apartment, cutting up vegetables for his birthday dinner, when he felt that familiar, sudden, overwhelming, disorienting, horny rush of vertigo that everybody called the Wrath and nobody understood. Screams and sirens from outside the building told him that everybody else was feeling it, too. When it hit, Stan managed to drop the paring knife to the floor so he wouldn’t cut himself and staggered to a kitchen chair to sweat it out.

  People said the Wrath was a terrible thing. Well, it was. Whatever it was, it struck everyone in the world at once—and not just the people on Earth, either; ships in space, the colonies on Mars and Venus, they all were caught up in it at the same moment, and its costs in accidents and disasters were enormous. Personally, Stan didn’t mind it all that much. It felt like suddenly being overwhelmed by a vast, lonely, erotic nightmare. Like, Stan thought, probably what it would be like to get good and drunk. The erotic part was not very different from some of the yearnings Stan himself felt from time to time, and when the Wrath was over there was no hangover.

  When it had passed, Stan shook himself, picked up the things he had knocked to the floor and turned on the local TV news to see how bad it had been this time. It had been bad enough. Fires. Car smashes—Istanbul’s aggressive drivers relied on their split-second reflexes to avert disaster, and when the Wrath took away their skill the crashes came fast. The worst thing that happened this time was an oil tanker that had been coming into the Golden Horn. With everyone on both the tugs and the tanker’s own bridge suddenly incapacitated, it had plowed, dead slow and irresistibl
e, into one of the cruise-ship docks on the Old City side and there exploded into flame.

  Like any teenager, Stan had a high tolerance for other people’s misfortunes. He just hoped the commotion wouldn’t make his father too late getting back with the saffron and mussels for the stew. When he finished with the vegetables and put them in a pot of cold water he put a couple of his precious old discs on to play—this time it was Dizzy Gillespie, Jack Teagarden, and the Firehouse Five Plus Three—and sat down to wait, thumbing through some of his comics and wondering if, for once, his father would have stayed sober long enough to get him some kind of a present for his birthday.

  That was when the polis came to the door.

  There were two of them, male and female, and they looked around the shabby apartment suspiciously. “Is this where the American citizen, Walter Avery, lived?” the woman demanded, and the past tense of the verb told the whole story.

  The rest of the facts were quickly told. The Wrath had made a statistic of Stan’s father. Overcome, he had fallen while crossing the street and a spellbound taksi driver had run right over him. There was no hope of holding the driver responsible, the woman said at once; the Wrath, you know. Anyway, the driver had long disappeared. And, besides, witnesses said that Stan’s father had of course been drunk at the time. Of course.

  The male polis took pity on Stan’s wretched stare. “At least he didn’t suffer,” he said gruffly. “Died right away.”

  The woman was impatient. “So you’ve been notified,” she said. “You’ll have to come to the morgue to collect the body before midnight, otherwise there’ll be a charge for holding it an extra day. Good-bye.”

  And they left.

  II

  Since there would be neither mussels nor saffron for his birthday meal, Stan found a few scraps of leftover ham and tossed them into the pot with the vegetables. When he had put them on to simmer he sat down with his head in his hands, to think about what it meant to be an American—well, half-American—orphan, alone in the city of Istanbul.

  Two facts presented themselves at once. First, that long-dreamed-of day when his father would sober up, take him back to America and there make a new life for the two of them—that day wasn’t going to come. From that fact it followed that, second, there was never going to be the money to pay for his college, much less to indulge his dream of flying to the Gateway asteroid and wondrous adventure. Therefore he wasn’t ever going to have the chance to become one of those colorful and heroic Gateway prospectors who flew to strange parts of the Galaxy. He wasn’t going to discover a hoard of priceless artifacts left by the vanished old race of Heechee. And so he wasn’t going to become both famous and rich.

  Neither of these new facts was a total surprise to Stan. His faith in either had been steadily eroding since he reached the age of the first dawn of skepticism at twelve. Still, they had seemed at least theoretically possible. Now, nothing seemed possible at all.

  That was when Stan at last allowed himself to begin to cry.

  While Stan was drearily cleaning up the kitchen after his flavorless birthday meal, Mr. Ozden knocked on the door.

  Mr. Ozden was probably around seventy years old. To Stan he might just as easily have been a hundred—a shriveled, ugly old man, hairless on the top of his head, but with his mustache still black and bristly. He was the richest man Stan had ever met. He owned the ramshackle tenement where Stan lived, and the two others that flanked it, as well as the brothel that took up two floors of one of them. Mr. Ozden was a deeply religious man, so devout in his observances that he did not allow alcohol on his premises anywhere except in the brothel, and there only for the use of non-Islamic tourists. “My deepest sympathies to you on your loss, young Stanley,” he boomed in his surprisingly loud voice, automatically scanning everything in sight for traces of a forbidden bottle of whiskey. (But he never found any; Stan’s father had been clever about that.) “It is a terrible tragedy, but we may not question the ways of God. What are your plans, may I ask?”

  Stan was already serving him tea, as his father always did. “I don’t exactly know yet, Mr. Ozden. I guess I’ll have to get a job.”

  “Yes, that is so,” Mr. Ozden agreed. He nibbled at a crumb of the macaroon Stan had put on a saucer for him, eyeing the boy. “Perhaps working at the consulate of the Americans, like your father?”

  “Perhaps.” Stan knew that wasn’t going to happen, though. It had already been discussed. The Americans weren’t going to hire any translator under the age of twenty-one.

  “That would be excellent,” Mr. Ozden announced. “Especially if it were to happen quickly. As you know, the rent is due tomorrow, in addition to last week’s, which has not been paid, as well as the week’s before. Would they pay you well at the consulate, do you think?”

  “As God wills,” Stan said, as piously as though he meant it. The old man nodded, studying Stan in a way that made the boy uneasy.

  “Or,” he said, with a smile that revealed his expensive teeth, “I could speak to my cousin for you, if you like.”

  Stan sat up straight; Mr. Ozden’s cousin was also his brothel-keeper. “You mean to work for him? Doing what?”

  “Doing what pays well,” Mr. Ozden said severely. “You are young, and I believe in good health? You could have the luck to earn a considerable sum, I think.”

  Something was churning, not pleasantly, in Stan’s belly and groin. From time to time he had seen the whores in Mr. Ozden’s cousin’s employ sunning themselves on the rooftop when business was slow, often with one or two boys among them. The boys were generally even younger than himself, mostly Kurds or hill-country Anatolians, when they weren’t from Algeria or Morocco. The boys didn’t seem to last long. Stan and his friend Tan had enjoyed calling insults at them from a distance, and none of them had seemed very lucky.

  Before Stan could speak Mr. Ozden was going on. “My cousin’s clients are not only men, you know. Often women come to him, sometimes wealthy widows, tourists from Europe or the East, who are very grateful to a young man who can give them the pleasures their husbands can no longer supply. There are frequently large tips, of which my cousin allows his people to keep nearly half—in addition to providing his people with Term Medical as long as they are in his employ, as well as quite fine accommodations and meals, at reasonable rates. Quite often the women clients are not unattractive, also. Of course,” he added, his voice speeding up and diminishing in volume, “naturally there would be men as well.” He stood up, most of his tea and macaroon untouched. “But perhaps the consulate will make you a better offer. You should telephone them at once in any case, to let them know of your father’s sad accident. It may even be that he has some uncollected salary still to his account which you can apply to the rent. I will come again in the morning.”

  When Stan called the consulate Mr. Goodpastor wasn’t in, but his elderly secretary was touched by the news. “Oh, Stanley! This terrible Wrath thing! How awful for you! Your father was a, uh, a very nice man.” That part was only conditionally true, Stan knew. His father had been a sweet-natured, generous, unreliable drunk, and the only reason the consulate had given him any work at all was that he was an American who would work for the wages of a Turk. And when Stan asked diffidently if there was any chance of uncollected salary she was all tact. “I’m afraid not, Stanley. I handle all the vouchers for Mr. Goodpastor, you know. I’m sure there’s nothing there. Actually,” she added, sounding embarrassed, “I’m afraid it’s more likely to be a little bit the other way. You see, your father had received several salary advances lately, so his account is somewhat overdrawn. But don’t worry about that, dear. I’m sure no one will press a claim.”

  The news was nothing Stan hadn’t expected, because he knew how chronically short of money they had always been. All the same, it sharpened his problem. The Americans might not demand money from him, but Mr. Ozden certainly would. And had. And would do his best to collect. The last time someone had been evicted from one of his tenements Mr. Ozden had sei
zed every stick of their possessions to sell for the rent owed.

  Which made Stan look appraisingly around their tiny flat. The major furnishings didn’t matter, since they belonged to Mr. Ozden in the first place. Even the bed linens and the kitchenware. His father’s skimpy wardrobe would certainly be taken. Stan’s decrepit music player and his stacks of ancient American jazz recordings; his collection of space adventures, both animé and morphed; his school-books; the small amount of food on the shelves—put them all together and they would barely cover the rent. The only other things of measurable value were the musical instruments, his battered trumpet and the drums. Of course Mr. Ozden had no proper claim to the drums, since they weren’t Stan’s. They’d been brought there and left by his friend Tan, when Tan’s parents refused to have any more music-making in their house.

  That Stan could do something about. When he phoned it was Tan’s mother who answered, and she began weeping as soon as she heard the news. It was a while before Mrs. Kusmeroglu could manage to tell Stan that Oltan wasn’t home. He was at work, but she would get the sad message to him at once, and if there was anything they could do…

  When he got off the phone with Mrs. Kusmeroglu Stan looked at the clock. He had plenty of time before he had to get to the morgue, so he opened up the couch he slept on—he wasn’t quite ready to move into his father’s bed—and lay down in case he needed to cry some more.

  He didn’t, though. He fell asleep instantly, which was even better for him. What woke him, hours later, was Tan Kusmeroglu standing over him. Stan could hear the braying of the muezzin, calling the faithful to prayer from the little mosque around the corner, almost drowned out by Tan’s excited voice as he shook Stan awake. “Come on, Stan, wake up! The old fart’s at prayer now and I borrowed my boss’s van. You’ll never have a better time to get your stuff out!”