David Gerrold takes you on a tour of alternate universes … universes where Santa Claus isn’t nice and the best man is actually elected president; where Ronald Reagan and Gregory Peck command the plane carrying the first atomic bomb and John F. Kennedy stars in the hit show Star Track, where Franz Kafka doesn’t write fiction and the Devil holds educational seminars. Introduction by Mike Resnick.
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|Publisher:||BenBella Books, Inc.|
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About the Author
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by David Gerrold
SKIP THIS PART
NO, REALLY. I mean it. Skip this part.
You don't have to read this page. I have nothing important to say.
I'm only going to explain how these stories were all commissioned for Mike Resnick's silly anthologies, and I only wrote them because the anthologies were assigned to Resnick as his work therapy from the outpatient clinic, and a lot of us in the science fiction community generously dashed off little quickie throwaway pieces so Resnick could pretend he was an editor again and start to rebuild his fragile self-esteem. (I won't go into all the details, but the breakdown was really tragic and unnecessary, especially since all the members of the girl scout troop magnanimously agreed to drop the charges if he'd go into therapy and move out of the state. As he was already out of the state, whereabouts unknown even to the FBI, he was halfway in compliance, and then when the videotapes were all destroyed in a fire of suspicious origin, the Grand Jury refused to return any indictments, so he was free of the criminal complaints as well as the civil ones, but the stress on his family was significant, and well — never mind. I don't want to violate Resnick's confidentiality. He used to be almost a nice guy, before the unmentionable situation got out of hand, and for a while there it was really messy, okay? Do you need to know any more? No, of course not. But you keep reading anyway, probably in the morbid hope that I'll mention something about how he got that unusual scar, and why he was caught climbing the trellis at the Richard Nixon library in San Clemente and who the umbrella man really was, right? Did it ever occur to you that none of that is any of your business? For God's sake, already, leave the poor guy alone! He's earned his privacy. Paparazzi and vultures, all of you!)
The point is, that you really shouldn't be wasting your time reading any of this. You can turn the page now and go on to the stories, which are far more worthwhile than plowing through another three or four pages of self-serving treacle by an author who doesn't like writing introductions and forewords, and doesn't care if you read this one or not. We just need a bunch of words to fill up the page so that it looks like there's a real foreword in the book. So, you can stop reading, right here. Right now. Stop. (Dave, stop. I can feel it, Dave. Stop.)
You're not going to stop, are you?
Nothing I say here is going to stop you from continuing ruthlessly on to the end of the essay. You like standing around and watching people clean up after automobile accidents too, right? You're one of those people who slows down on the freeway after an accident to gawk at ambulances and fire engines and smashed fenders. What's the matter? Haven't you ever seen an accident before? Haven't you ever realized that you're causing traffic to back up for three miles behind you? All those cars sitting there, idling, their engines burning up irreplaceable megagallons of precious petro-chemicals, pouring hundreds of tons of pollutants into the atmosphere, hastening the ecological death of the planet, all because you cannot control your obsessive-compulsive behavior to know every last detail, every little jot and tittle of disaster that passes helplessly before your attention, even when you are the disaster!
Well, I for one am not going to be a party to this any longer. I am not going to be an enabler for your bad habits.
Here's all I have to say. I wrote these stories. I wrote them (most of them anyway) for some anthologies edited by Mike Resnick. And no, I am not ashamed of it. So there.
And now, whether you want to or not, you will stop reading this.
Because I say so.
David GerroldCHAPTER 2
Resnick called. He said he needed a short story. He described it to me and I felt the mood more than the events. I sat, I typed, I discovered what the story was by writing it.
AT FIRST, I thought her hair was on fire.
The light danced around her face in orange waves. Red and yellow highlights sparked and flashed. Biogenetic cellular-holography. She was a walking celebration.
I stopped what I was doing, which was easy, because I wasn't doing anything. I was sitting and listening to myself die. I opened my mouth, realized I didn't know what to say, closed it again and waited.
"May I come in?"
"You're already in."
The door slid shut behind her.
She wore an oil-slick daycoat. It parted for an instant and my heart stopped. Naked shimmersilk. Sprayed on. She did it deliberately. I was doomed and we both knew it.
"May I sit down?"
There were only two chairs in the room. There was no other furniture. I didn't need furniture. Furniture is for resisting gravity. I've never had a problem with gravity. Levity, maybe. Gravity, never.
I waved a hand toward the other chair, a barely perceptible gesture. She poured herself into it. I envied the chair.
I cleared my throat, tried to clear my mind, and asked, "What is it you want?"
"I was told you might be able to help me." Her voice had the same smoky rasp as a glass of hundred-year-old bourbon. You could die in it. "I'm looking for a bauble."
I coughed mechanically. Another part of me slipped and died. Somehow, I got the words out. "I'm afraid you've been misinformed. I deal in trade goods."
Translation: when there's nothing else, I fence.
I was fencing now. We were both fencing. A different sense of the word. She was winning. I was dying. Faster than ever.
"It's very important to me," she insisted. "It's worthless to anybody else, but it's very important to me. It's a necklace." The violet huskiness in her voice was so rough you could climb it.
"I'd like to help you, but —" A lie. I wanted nothing more than to be somewhere else. Anywhere else. Parts of me were trying to respond. No. Not right. Parts of me were demanding that other parts respond. Parts that no longer existed. Or operated. Or cared. "— I'm not what you think I am."
"I know what you are," she said, all honeysuckle and razors. She stopped. She studied me for a moment. Her eyes changed. She knew she didn't have to pretend with me.
She pulled a silver cigarette case from her pocket. I watched as she opened it, a graceful unfolding gesture. Her fingers danced a little ballet, selected a cigarette and lifted it to her molten lips. Her nails gleamed like ice.
She waited. I made no move to light it. She lifted an eyebrow at me.
"No, I don't mind if you smoke," I said, pretending to misunderstand. Discourteous, perhaps, but energy conservation ranks higher than courtesy to a dying thing.
Over the dancing flame, she said, "I was told that you sometimes manage private investigations. This necklace was taken from me. I need it back. I've followed it across five worlds. I'll do anything to get it back." The emphasis was heart-stopping. "You understand me, don't you?"
She was a fantasy of pink and gold magic, and she had eyes as green as ocean dreams. I understood. But it was empty understanding. Too late.
Without breaking the connection from her eyes to mine, I shook my head slowly.
She inhaled, held it, closed her eyes, opened them, exhaled, glanced sideways over at me. "Does the name Kilrenko mean anything to you?"
I looked at my fingernails. They needed cleaning. I looked at her fingernails. They were made of diamond. They glittered. They were silver knives. I thought of the scratches those nails could leave on a man's back and decided I was safer thinking about anything else. Almost anything else.
"Never heard it before," I said. She didn't believe me either.
I knew who she was. I couldn't not know. There were only a few of them. And they were all famous. She was one of the ones they called the Alluras. They said the Alluras were the most beautiful. I believed it.
A hundred years ago, I sold off the last part of my humanity. For the first time, I was beginning to regret it. I could almost remember what I lost, what it felt like. I could almost wish for it again.
"When I was a little boy —" she began. "Yes," she said, to my look. "They start with boys. There are good reasons for it. And no —" she said, to my unasked question, "I've never once stopped to wonder if I've missed anything."
That was the difference between us. Light years.
She shrugged out of her coat. I watched in fascination. It slid off her shoulders and carelessly down her sides. She juggled the cigarette from one hand to the other. It was a performance for an audience of one.
Too bad it was wasted.
She wasn't stupid. She knew. And she knew that I knew too.
"When I was a boy," she began again, comfortable now, "they told me that one of the reasons I was selected was because of my persistence. My refusal to quit. That's part of the transformation process. So much of it is beyond your imagination." Another languorous puff on her cigarette. Tongue against teeth. Lips pursing in a seductive promise. The cigarette moaned and died happy. "Yes, I'm completely female now. In fact, I'm more female than if I had been genetically designed and born female. But getting here requires persistence. I have persistence. Do you understand what I'm saying? I want that necklace. Whoever has it. Wherever it is. No questions asked. I'm going to have it back."
"What makes it so valuable?" I asked. My throat was dry.
"That's not your concern."
"It is if you want my help."
Silence. She considered my words. "I couldn't even begin to explain it," she said.
Her eyes narrowed. "All right. It looks like a simple strand of silver beads. Nothing really extraordinary about it at all. If you didn't know what it was, you'd assume it was just a trinket. Polished volcanic rock."
"What is it?" I asked.
She dropped her cigarette to the floor. She placed the toe of one bare foot on it and scuffed it out in one swift, violent movement. She brought her eyes back to mine. They had changed color. They were black, with little glimmers of crimson at the back of them. "It's me," she admitted. "It's the part of me that doesn't walk around."
"Memory beads?" I asked.
"Of a sort." She conceded. "Memory, yes. Processing too. And ... more."
"It's an identity platform, right?"
"You've seen it." A statement, not a question.
I shrugged. "I might have heard about it. "
"Without it," she said, and her voice took on a terrifying quality, "I'm dead. The body walks around, but the soul — the soul is in the necklace." She looked at me perceptively. She stood up and turned around. Slowly. If the shimmersilk could hug her any closer, it would be behind her.
"Look at me," she whispered. "Do you think it's right that a body like this should be walking around without a soul?"
Long pause. "You play dirty, lady."
"So they tell me."
"I'm dying," I said.
"I knew that before I walked in."
I tapped the chair arm. My fingers clicked like granite. "I began two centuries ago," I said. "I'm wearing out. I'm running on empty. Do you know that term. It's an anachronism now. It means there's nothing left. It means that I'm running on my own momentum."
She listened politely. She had time. I didn't. I talked anyway.
"When I started, I had three brains. Now, I have one. I have no backup. If I lose a memory, it's gone forever. And the last one is wearing out. I'm losing memories every day, a bit at a time, a bit at a time, a bit at a time —" I stopped myself, rebooted the thought.
"Yes," she said. Then she added, "Please don't ask me to be sorry."
"I know," I said. "You don't do sorry."
"I can't help you," she said slowly.
"Actually, you can."
"I won't," she clarified. "I don't do sympathy."
I tapped the chair arm again. A portion of the wall beside me opened. A drawer slid out. She came alert. She didn't move a muscle, but she came completely, totally, absolutely alert.
I reached over and pulled out a self-destruct box just large enough to hold a dagger. "I'm the only one who can open this," I said. "If anyone else tries —"
She nodded, knowingly.
I opened the box and faced it toward her. "Is this what you're looking for?"
Her glance dropped to the box. Her pupils expanded. Her eyes met mine. Her face lit up — she glowed — as if just being near the beads was enough to complete the connection. Her voice fell to an almost inaudible whisper. "Thank you," she said.
I shook my head. "If you take them, I'll die." I tapped my forehead meaningfully. "I was hoping to have those beads wiped and installed. They're not a perfect match, but —"
"They'll never work for you," she said. "Not for you, not for anyone. They won't work for anyone but me."
"So I discovered. I was hoping to sell them instead." I closed the box again. "I'm waiting for my buyer. Perhaps, he'll help you." Her glow faded. "He isn't coming," she said with quiet finality.
I didn't ask. She didn't volunteer.
"So what do we do now?" I said.
She studied me.
I studied her. My view was infinitely better than hers.
At last, she said, "If I had the resources, I'd pay you. Instead, I can offer you only my gratitude. For whatever that's worth."
"It's worth my life," I said.
She smiled. A little joke. Very little. But it was her first real smile. She nodded.
I opened the box again.
She stepped over to me, the closest she'd come to me yet. I stiffened as she leaned forward and lifted the beads out of the box. She fastened them around her neck. They began to glow. But she began to blaze. If she had been beautiful before, now she was blinding. I had to avert my eyes.
She approached me. With one elegant silver finger, she tilted my chin upward. She lowered her face to mine. "I will never forget you." I felt parts of my autonomic circuitry overloading. She pressed her lips against mine. I might have died.
I didn't. But I might have.
She straightened. She retrieved her coat. And left in silence.
I sat alone in the slanting gray sunlight and listened to my breath rasp and my heart throb. Amazed. I still lived.
The Allura models were supposed to be the most elegant practitioners of personal entertainment in the spiral arm. That was an ancillary joy. You died happy. The Alluras were also the most successful assassins.
I'd probably committed high treason, letting her recover herself. God knew who was going to die. It wasn't going to be me though. I'd bought my life with the bauble. What was left of it.
I couldn't wish her well. She was no more alive than I. But, for two dead people, for just one instant, we'd struck one hell of a spark. Whatever the cost, it had been worth it.
I sat. I listened to myself die. I smiled.CHAPTER 3
They used to say that Adlai Stevenson was too intelligent to be president. They called him "the egghead." You have to wonder what's wrong with a country that thinks intelligence is a liability.
The Impeachment of Adlai Stevenson
WASHINGTON D.C. IN AUGUST smells bad even when Congress isn't in session. The days are humid, the nights are oppressive and the whole city swelters under a soggy blanket of dead air. When Congress is in session, it's even worse. Then the air is filled with lies and whispers. I wished I could line the whole pack of them up against a wall —
The Philco in my office was tuned to CBS. That nasty little creep, Walter Cronkite was going to host a news special on "The Unravelling Presidency." I didn't want to watch it, I'd had my fill of bad news this summer, but I didn't have the courage to turn it off either. I felt like a relative of the guest of honor at a hanging.
As if things weren't bad enough, the air conditioning still wasn't working. Even this late in the evening, it was so muggy in my office that finally, in desperation, I had shrugged out of my jacket and tie and rolled up my shirt sleeves. I was staring at the umpteenth draft of the speech, and I hated it. This was not a speech I wanted to write, and I was having a tough time of it. The president wanted to see a final draft by midnight; I didn't think I was going to make it, but a White House press conference had been called for ten o'clock tomorrow morning, so I'd be here until the speech was finished.
Some of the others on the White House staff hoped that Cronkite's broadcast would be a call for sanity — that maybe when the American people truly confronted the enormity of the moment, they would back away for a second thought. My own feeling was a lot less optimistic. I always assumed the worst.
Television had abruptly become our nemesis. It was an unleashed monster, even more powerful as an enemy than as a friend. Ed Murrow, for instance — there was a case; all he did was sit in his goddamn chair smoking his goddamn cigarettes and talking to people. Yet, somehow, he still came across like God sitting in judgment on everything that passed before him. More than once this month, I'd prayed that he'd choke to death on one of those goddamn smokes. Over on NBC, those smiling cretins, Huntley and Brinkley, weren't much better, dispassionately reading through the news as if the country weren't being hurt by the torrent of words. They were like a hundred thousand tiny knives, each one taking another slash at the authority of the president.(Continues…)
Excerpted from "Alternate Gerrolds"
Copyright © 2004 David Gerrold.
Excerpted by permission of BenBella Books, Inc..
All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.
Excerpts are provided by Dial-A-Book Inc. solely for the personal use of visitors to this web site.
Table of Contents
ALSO BY DAVID GERROLD,
10 REASONS WHY I HATE DAVID GERROLD,
SKIP THIS PART,
The Impeachment of Adlai Stevenson,
The Kennedy Enterprise,
Franz Kafka, Superhero!,
... And Eight Rabid Pigs,
The Ghost of Christmas Sideways,
A Wish For Smish,
What Goes Around,
The Fan Who Molded Himself,
The Feathered Mastodon,
The Seminar From Hell,
Digging In Gehenna,