The Barnes & Noble Review
Kage Baker's first novel of the Company, In the Garden of Iden, was a lively debut featuring one of the most whimsical and lavish time-traveling frolics in recent memory. In her follow-up book, Sky Coyote, Baker returns with a colorful and vivid setting for the highly witty, sometimes seditious tale of a group of immortals who still have a lot to learn about the crafty ways of mankind.
The cyborg Facilitator Joseph, last seen at the end of In the Garden of Iden saving his partner Mendoza from the Inquisition, ends his mission as a Jesuit priest and faces a new assignment. Joseph and Mendoza are "employed" by the Company, also known as Dr. Zeus Inc., a 24th-century time-traveling corporation devoted to garnering wealth by manipulating past events. To accomplish this, the Company sends human operatives into the past in order to turn orphans into immortal cyborgs, using drugs and implants. The immortals are then given centuries' worth of missions until they "meet up" with the 24th century, where they are supposed to be rewarded with riches untold. Their objectives in the past are varied, including the saving of species, hiding cultural art treasures, making perfect future investments, or reallocating entire preindustrial villages.
The year is now 1699, and Joseph and Mendoza are relaxing at New World One, an extravagant Company resort hidden within the Mayan civilization. Joseph is soon sent to California to pose as the Chumash deity Sky Coyote in order to save one particular Humashup village from the European horrors of disease, slavery, andwar. Endowed with various cyborg accessories in his Sky Coyote form, Joseph relishes his part as a trickster-god. His own existence parallels that of the trickster, who is neither mortal nor god, hero nor villain. Joseph presents the Chumash with the story that he is to save them from certain doom at the hands of the evil sun god and his fair-skinned minions.
But the Chumash are a wary and intelligent people (the originators of money and labor unions), and they question the wisdom of the proposed upheaval. As Joseph is forced to defend the Chumash from neighboring invaders, he must also deal with his own ignorant and arrogant mortal masters, and he fears that the riches assured him for his millennia of servitude might not materialize. In his brain he carries encrypted data given him by a friend, and in that data the truth about the 24th century may reside, if only Joseph dares to decode it and face the reality of his own existence.
Facilitator Joseph has a refreshing "tell it like it is" attitude that threads through the course of his narrative. He's one of the "old ones" from the dawn of time, a Neanderthal child turned into an immortal. After 40,000 years, having assisted in Egypt, Athens, and Rome, and faithfully serving the church for the last three centuries, Joseph is at once a slave and master of his own fate, and often the fate of humanity. Baker's characterizations are humorous and engaging, with a lyrical depth that makes the protagonist not only an independent being but also a significant part of the greater whole of history. Sky Coyote is a fine addition to an already daring and intriguing world of possibilities in the Company series.
Tom Piccirilli is the author of the critically acclaimed supernatural novel Pentangle, as well as the dark suspense mysteries Shards and The Dead Past. His short fiction has appeared in many anthologies, including The Conspiracy Files.
Read an Excerpt
You'll understand this story better if I tell you a lie.
Well, a myth, anyway. There was this god once, the Greek god of Time. He was a cruel old bastard and he ate all his children as soon as they were born. Zeus, the youngest son, managed to escape; when he grew up, he came back and ended the rule of Time by killing his father. Then he cut him open and set the older children free. King Time is dead; long live King Zeus.
In the twenty-fourth century, a research and development firm proudly appropriated Zeus as its corporate logo when it developed a method of time travel.
The method didn't quite pan out, though. Traveling through time is prohibitively expensive, and there are certain crucial limitations. For example, you can't go into the future, only backward into the past, and forward again to your point of departure in the present. Another problem is that history cannot be changed. Period. It's the law.
However, this law can only be observed to apply to recorded history ...
So the discovery wasn't a total loss. The company altered its logo slightly and became Dr. Zeus. They were able to make a nice profit looting the past by collecting "lost" works of art and arranging long-term investments. They loaded a database with every event in recorded history and found they still had plenty of uncharted past to move around in. They realized that if the past couldn't be changed, it could at least be manipulated to Company advantage.
But who were they going to get to do the actualmanipulating? Traveling back in time is rough, if you do it the cost-effective way without extra buffers. Twenty-fourth-century agents bitch about it constantly, and demand extra pay. Fabulously rich corporations never seem to have enough cash, paradoxically enough; though you may really need to send that man back to deposit a certain sum in a certain bank on a certain day in 1806, you're reluctant to do it unless you've got a guarantee it will pay off in six figures. And how many times do you want to lay out money to send people through? Isn't there a way to cut costs on this?
Dr. Zeus got its answer reviewing another failed project: immortality.
Technically it's possible to make an immortal person. It is not commercially practical. It only works on infants or little children, not middle-aged millionaires; and since middle-aged millionaires are the only ones who could afford to pay for the process, it's sort of a loss as a market item. In addition, the chosen babies must meet certain stringent physical requirements, and endure years of surgical alteration and training. Not even the most determined millionaire parents, once they knew what it entailed, would put their little Gloria or Donald Jr. through such an ordeal.
So, you can't sell immortality. On the other hand, if you're looking for Company agents who will work loyally without health insurance and never, ever retire ...
They sent a team back to Lower Paleolithic times. A permanent base was established; equipment was shipped back, too. The original team went about collecting little Neanderthals and Cro-Magnons. These kids were then implanted, augmented, amplified, fortified, hopped up, switched on, tuned in, and thoroughly indoctrinated. They were given the whole harvest of human knowledge and culture from the other end of time; the books, the music, the cinema. They grew up, these superüberkinder, and when the last nasty mortal tissues had been well and truly excised, the base technicians handed them the keys to the lab and said: You take over. We're going home.
So, see what was accomplished with just one round trip? You don't send your agents back and forth through time; you recruit them at the beginning and let them walk forward through time in the ordinary way. Outlay for the project was kept to a minimum, and now Dr. Zeus had immortal operatives working for it, strategically placed at every important event in history. Of course, they were promised a golden future when they finally got to the future. Though that hasn't happened yet ...
And the immortals made more immortals, though not in the usual way, because they had all been very carefully sterilized; suitable infants were selected from the mortal population and processed at remote bases inaccessible to marauding primitives. More bases were built, more secret Company projects were inaugurated, and the fix, as they say, was in.
Dr. Zeus ruled the world. Covertly, of course.
By now you've probably got a mental image of these immortals. You're only mortal yourself, and the idea of a deathless, perfect race makes you uncomfortableand maybe just a little hostileso you imagine them intellectual and emotionless. Stuck up, too. You're probably thinking they all look like vampires or superheroes, tall and steely-eyed, the men with bulging biceps and the women gorgeous in a chilly sort of way.
Well, you're wrong. The truth is, they look just like you, and why shouldn't they? They used to be human beings.
The year is 1699 A.D., the place is South America: deepest jungle, green shadows, slanting bars of sunlight, a dark rich overripe smell. Jaguars on the prowl. Orchids in bloom. Little birds and monkeys making continuous little bird and monkey noises in the background.
And here's the Lost City in the middle of the jungle: sudden acres of sunlight and silence in the middle of all that malarial gloom. Red and white stucco pyramids. Steps and courtyards and avenues, straight as a die. Straighter. Really impressive architecture out in the middle of nowhere. Gods and kings carved all over the place.
And here's the intrepid Spanish Jesuit, our hero. You couldn't mistake him for anything else. He's got those little black raisin eyes Spanish priests are supposed to have, but with a sort of twinkly expression the masters of the Inquisition usually lack. He's got the black robe, the boots, the crucifix; he's shortwell, let's say "compact of build"and is of olive complexion. Needs a shave.
He approaches cautiously through the jungle, and his cute little eyes widen as he beholds the Lost City. From somewhere within his robe he produces a square of folded sheepskin, and opens it to study a complicated design penned in red and blue inks. He seems to orient himself, and proceeds quickly to a wall embellished with scowling plaster monsters whose terrifying rage seems to keep even the lianas and orchids from encroaching on them. He makes his way along the perimeter, then: ten meters, twenty meters, thirty, and comes at last to the Jaguar Gate.
This is a magnificent towering megalith kind of a thing of red plaster, surmounted by a green stone lintel on which two jaguars are carved in bas-relief, upright and rampant in fighting poses, with eyes and claws inlaid in gold. Nay, but there's more: no actual gate occupies this gateway, no rusting bars of iron, oh no. Instead a solid wave of faint blue light shimmers there, obscuring slightly the view of the fabulous city beyond. If you have really good hearing (and the Spanish Jesuit has), you can just perceive that the blue light is humming slightly, crackling, buzzing.
And what's this in nasty little heaps around the base of the gateway? Lots of fried bugs and a fried bird or two, andgosh, the Spanish Jesuit doesn't even want to think about what that blackened and twisted thing is over there, the one reaching out with a skeletal claw to the blue light. Probably just a dead monkey, though.
Peering at the detail of the pictographic inscription that runs up one side of the gateway, the Jesuit finds what he has been searching for: a tiny black slot in the face of a parrot-deity who's either beheading a prisoner or fertilizing a banana plant, depending on how good your knowledge of pictographs is. After observing it closely, the Jesuit reaches into a small leather pouch at his belt. He brings out an artifact, a golden key of strange and unkeylike design. How did this Spanish Jesuit come by such a key? Did he read about its fabled existence in some long-forgotten volume moldering in the libraries of the Escorial? Did he track its whereabouts across the New World, following a long-obscured trail through unspeakable dangers? Your guess is as good as mine. Holding his breath, he inserts it into the slot in the parrot-god's beak.
At once there is a high-pitched shrilling noise, and the Spanish Jesuit knows, without being told, that someone has been alerted to his presence there. Maybe several someones. The blue light falters and blinks out for a second. Seizing his opportunity, the Spanish Jesuit leaps through the gateway, moving remarkably quickly for a man in a long cassock. No sooner has he landed on the pavement beyond than the blue light snaps back on, and a mosquito who was attempting to follow the Spanish Jesuit meets a terrible, though not untimely, death in a burst of sparks. The Spanish Jesuit breathes a sigh of relief. He has gained entrance to the Lost City.
Making his way through this awesome pile of arcane geometry, he finds a shaded courtyard where a fountain splashes. Here are tables and seats carved from stone. He sits down. There's a stiff sheet of calligraphied parchment lying on the table. He leans forward to peer at it with interest. A shadow appears across an archway, and he looks up to see the Ancient Mayan.
Again, this is a guy you identify immediately. Feathered headdress, jaguarskin kilt, silky black pageboy bob. Hooked nose and high cheekbones. A sad and sneering countenance, appropriate on a member of a long-vanished empire. Is this the end for the Spanish Jesuit?
No, because the Ancient Mayan bows so his green plumes curl and bounce forward, and he inquires:
"How may I serve the Son of Heaven?"
The Jesuit looks down at the parchment.
"Well, the Margarita Grande looks pretty good. On the rocks, with salt, okay? And make that two. I'm expecting a friend."
"Okay," replies the Ancient Mayan, and glides away silently.
Boy, I love moments like this. I really enjoy watching the illusion coming into sharp contrast with the reality. I imagine the shock of the imaginary viewer, who must think he's walked into a British comedy sketch. You know why I've survived in this job, year after year, lousy assignment after lousy assignment, with no counseling whatsoever? Because I have a keen appreciation of the ludicrous. Also because I have no choice.