For over 25 years, the Wild Cards universe has been entertaining readers with stories of superpowered people in an alternate history. "Long is the Way" by Carrie Vaughn and Sage Walker sheds light on what people will do to escape the sins of their past, and whether anyone can find redemption.
Zoe Harris is a marked woman: in hiding for decades because of her connection to a terrorist attack on Jerusalem almost twenty years ago. One determined reporter, Jonathan Hive, stumbles upon a lead that takes him to the south of France to discover the truth. What he finds out is a lesson in how life can bring about the most unexpected miracles.
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About the Author
CARRIE VAUGHN is best known for her New York Times bestselling series of novels about a werewolf named Kitty, who hosts a talk radio show for the supernaturally disadvantaged. In 2018 her post-apocalyptic murder mystery Bannerless won the Philip K. Dick Award. She's written a half dozen other novels, as well as upwards of 80 short stories. An Air Force brat, she survived her nomadic childhood and managed to put down roots in Boulder, Colorado.
SAGE WALKER lives in Albuquerque, grows tomatoes in a kitchen garden, and spends too much time cruising the internet.
Carrie Vaughn is best known for her New York Times bestselling series of novels about a werewolf named Kitty who hosts a talk radio show for the supernaturally disadvantaged. Her novels include a near-Earth space opera, Martians Abroad, from Tor Books, and the post-apocalyptic murder mysteries Bannerless and The Wild Dead. She's written several other contemporary fantasy and young adult novels, as well as upwards of 80 short stories, two of which have been finalists for the Hugo Award. She's a contributor to the Wild Cards series of shared world superhero books edited by George R. R. Martin and a graduate of the Odyssey Fantasy Writing Workshop. An Air Force brat, she survived her nomadic childhood and managed to put down roots in Boulder, Colorado.
SAGE WALKER is the author of Whiteout, which garnered critical acclaim and won the Locus Award for Best First Novel. She was born in Oklahoma and grew up steeped in simile and sultry south wind from the Gulf. She entered college as a music major and exited with a B.S. in Zoology and eventually a M.D. A long time Taos resident, her company established the first full-time Emergency Physician coverage in hospitals in Taos, Los Alamos, and Santa Fe. She stopped practicing in 1987 and describes herself as a burned-out ER doc who enjoys wilderness, solitude, good company...and telling stories.
Read an Excerpt
Long is the way and hard, that out of Hell leads up to light.
— Paradise Lost
Jonathan Tipton-Clarke — also known as Jonathan Hive, also known as Bugsy, and probably also known as a lot of other things that no one actually said to his face — drove up the impossibly picturesque country road with decreasing confidence that he was going the right way. The direction app on his phone had been silent for too long, which probably meant he'd lost the signal. The road grew narrower and narrower, curving through one tiny Provençal village after another, until the villages ran out, replaced by hillsides covered with olive groves and vineyards, and the soft, golden light that had given Impressionist painters ecstatic fits. He ought to be enjoying this. The assignment — track down and interview a "person of interest" who might or might not have been involved with a terrorist attack on Jerusalem almost twenty years ago — had been an excuse to spend time in the south of France on an expense account. He didn't expect to actually find Zoe Harris.
While he might have had romantic spy thriller notions about chasing down leads across the Middle East, the task had been bureaucratic and dull. Old-fashioned detective work, poring over records, asking the right questions, offering a bribe here and there to get a look at files he maybe shouldn't have seen. He hadn't even had to use his ace, much. Fortunately, Harris had spent a lot of time in countries without strict HIPAA requirements. He started with her last known location — Jerusalem, 1994 — and her last known associates. The problem was, most of them had died in the disaster. The sheer scale of it — five thousand dead from a biological attack, a weaponized version of the Black Trump virus that killed any wild carder who came in contact with it — meant records were spotty. A lot of people disappeared. But Harris popped back into the record once or twice over the years. A couple of arrests, a couple of hospitalizations — she'd apparently had a rough go of it.
Then he found a mug shot from a hospital in Cairo. Didn't have a name attached to it, but the ash-blond hair and angry expression matched an earlier passport photo. Harris was an ace who could animate small objects. According to the hospital records, her power was out of control. She was a danger to herself and others and had been kept sedated for years. Then she disappeared, again. Released, homeless, most likely. She was probably dead at the bottom of the Nile.
Except ... a decade ago, a woman named Zoe Harris popped up as the president of a small chemical company in Toulouse, France. Couldn't be the same person, could it? This Harris was reclusive. He couldn't find any pictures of her. So he asked for a meeting, and now he was on his way to meet her. Assuming he could find the address.
He rolled down the window, set his arm on the edge, and let loose a couple of bugs. Bottle-green wasps popped from his hand and were whisked away by the wind of the car's passage. That was Jonathan's own weird and occasionally surprisingly useful ace: He could turn into an equivalent mass of wasps and his consciousness could follow along wherever they went. He sent them straight up, high enough to give him a map-eye view of the road ahead, to make sure he was really going the right way and wasn't about to end up in some cowshed.
The place wasn't even that far ahead, turned out, and he'd been going the right way the whole time. Trust the app. Hidden behind a hill and an uninviting stone wall, Harris's enclave was disguised as a remote country farm. No one who didn't have a reason to be here would find it. And here he was, driving through a gap in the wall and up to a set of buildings arranged around a gravelly courtyard. Some of the structures were old, maybe even medieval — weathered gray stone, cracked Spanish tiles on the roof. One was very modern, glass and steel, with wide windows and skylights. That must hold the labs.
A small, unassuming sign placed in front of the modern building read Zephyr in a very expensive-looking font. He hesitated a moment, hands on the steering wheel, engine idling. Did he really want to go in? Probably this Harris woman wasn't even who he thought she was. She probably hadn't had anything to do with anything. He'd ask her a few questions, maybe get a rundown on her perfume business, and write a puff piece for an airline magazine. Expense account justified.
He sent his already-released bugs ahead, along with a few more of them besides. Just to look the place over. Got the layout pretty quick. Apart from the main building, there were a number of cottages and more typical country buildings, with whitewashed walls and tile roofs, the little kitchen gardens and trash bins of any residential neighborhood. He gathered that a lot of the people who worked here also lived here. Middle of the day, no one much was out and about.
Zephyr was involved with processing ingredients used in perfumes, which seemed an arcane business but somebody had to do it, he supposed. The sleek modern building was the centerpiece of the estate, and a couple of the bugs skimmed over the roof. They found a vent and slipped inside. The sharp tang of volatile chemicals — alcohols, esters, solvents — almost knocked them out right then, and back in the car he shivered in response, until they got their wings back in order. If this lab really did belong to Zoe Harris, maybe-former-terrorist, was she hiding anything in plain sight here? Maybe cranking out something else besides overpowering smells? The bugs flew on through the ductwork. He was hoping he could pop them out into a room — some actual lab or even a secret storage closet — but it turned out the interior vents all had really good filters on them. He couldn't find so much as a loose seam to crawl through. He'd have to find another way in. He diverted a couple of bugs to wait by the front door, right at the top where no one ever looked.
Back in the driveway, he stepped out of the rental car, shaking out his jacket and running his hands through his dark hair to make sure he didn't look too respectable. Made him more approachable, he thought. Or maybe he was more nervous than he wanted to admit.
A man left the modern building and approached Jonathan. Middle- aged, with Mediterranean features and a brisk, practical walk. An eye patch over his right eye. He looked a little like a pirate. So the place had surveillance. They'd known the minute Jonathan arrived.
The man said, "Puis-je vous aider?"
"Ah ... Je ne parle pas français." That was most of the French he knew right there.
"Oh yes, of course. You're American."
Jonathan tried not to feel insulted. "My name is Jonathan Tipton- Clarke. I have an appointment with Ms. Harris. I assume I'm at the right place?"
"You are; she's expecting you. Right this way." The man smiled thinly and gestured for Jonathan to follow him. With one last look around the yard, he did so.
A pair of bugs went inside when they did, and quietly buzzed off looking for whatever they could find.
Windows along one side of the corridor looked into a laboratory, stainless steel tables filled with glassware — flasks and bottles, the intricate tubing of distilling apparatus. Several people shrouded in white lab coats, caps, and masks seemed intent on their work, bent over metal trays, carefully lifting bits with delicate forceps.
The clean rooms were really clean. The wasps couldn't find a way inside. Not that Jonathan would have known what he was looking at if they had. Be helpful if he could find a box labeled Danger, explosives, a package with a return address from the Twisted Fists, but he didn't.
"Not what people imagine when they think of a perfume factory, eh?" his guide said, with obvious pride. "Not very romantic. This isn't really a perfume factory — we don't make perfume here. We make what makes perfume, yes? We can draw the essence from nearly anything."
There was a metaphor there that Jonathan chose not to chase down.
One bug caught a glimpse: a woman approaching ... and she saw him. Them. She was a joker, with a face that looked melted on one side, average white middle-aged matron on the other, with brown hair tied in a ponytail. She held a tightly coiled newspaper in one hand. The pair of bugs crawled along the ceiling — well out of reach of the universal weapon of "death to insects."
And then her arm stretched. She whipped it back and flung it out, once, twice, and both wasps smashed into spots of goo. Well, then. Jonathan felt the buggy deaths as an itch. He decided not to send out any more bugs, at least not right now.
The corridor turned away from the lab, then ended up at an open door, which they passed through. His guide announced, "Zoe? Mr. Tipton-Clarke is here."
"Ah. Thank you, Tarek." The man gave a little bow that somehow didn't seem anachronistic, and slipped back out, leaving Jonathan to confront his interview subject.
The office was like something out of Architectural Digest. Nothing but clean lines, glass and steel, a soft carpet in a comforting shade of gray. The desk and credenza were black lacquer, and several available chairs seemed somehow soft and repellent at the same time. Zoe Harris, a woman of late middle age, with short-cropped hair and a tired, severe expression, wore black slacks and a gray silk blouse. She'd been studying her large computer screen — only the screen sat on the desk, and a small cordless mouse was tucked under her hand. She clearly ruled this domain.
It was her. That ashy hair, the shape of her face — this was the Zoe Harris from Jerusalem. The terrorist.
He waited while she finished whatever task on the monitor held her attention. After a moment, she stood. "Please, come and sit." Her accent was American. New York. She didn't offer her hand for shaking, and Jonathan didn't press the issue.
"Thanks for agreeing to speak with me, Ms. Harris."
"Do you mind if I record our interview?" He held up his digital recorder.
"I'd rather you didn't, if that's all right."
It made things harder, but he understood. He'd even offer to let her speak anonymously. He was imagining an artistic photo to accompany the article, her face shrouded in shadow. He traded the recorder for a pad and pen. "I'm looking forward to hearing more about your work here, and how you got started —"
"That's not why you're here," she said bluntly. "I read up on you, you know. I had people on the lookout for your, ah, associates."
Jonathan smiled wryly. He was years past being embarrassed at his spying. People generally knew what they were getting when they invited him in.
"Can't blame a guy for trying," he said.
"No, of course not. But we can't be having outside contagions cluttering up our clean rooms. You understand."
He spread his hands to say yes, he did. In a way, he was relieved. No pretending he was something he wasn't, and no dancing around the subject. "So. I'm here about Jerusalem."
"And you're one of the loose ends. You had contact with the major players. Then you disappeared. A lot of people assumed you were dead. Then you pop up here?" He took in the quiet, professional surroundings.
"Are you working for the police? The CIA?"
Jonathan laughed. "No, no — I'm exactly what I said I was. I'm a reporter on assignment for The Atlantic." It was the highest-profile gig he'd ever had. They were doing a whole issue of think pieces on wild cards–related terrorism and its aftermath. A lot of retrospectives, interviews with people who'd been there. Trouble was, given the nature of the topic, there weren't a whole lot of survivors to interview. Jonathan was shocked they'd called him — his usual gig, Aces! magazine, was generally considered a tabloid rag, all celebrity gossip and scandal. But he'd been one of the aces to ditch American Hero to battle the Righteous Djinn in Egypt, back in the day. Five, six years ago now? Seemed longer. He had front-line experience, so to speak, and if an editor thought that made him qualified to tackle the subject, well, he'd give it a shot. This was going to be a coup. If he could get the interview.
"All right, then. What is it you hope to learn, Mr. Tipton-Clarke?"
Why did you do it? was never the right question. It was too big, too prone to pat answers. He had to come at it backward. Find out who Harris was then by figuring out who she was now.
"I want to learn about all this. Zephyr. How did this start? What is it you do here?" He was thinking of a nice lead-in, contrasting the pastoral beauty of the place with the violence of the woman's past.
Her gaze narrowed, as if she had made a decision. This was usually the point where Jonathan got kicked out of places. "What is it you think we do here?"
"Uh ... it's a perfume business?"
"No. This is redemption."
He hesitated, taken aback. Now this sounded like a story. "What do you mean? What are you redeeming?"
She might have been a little surprised by his attention. Like she expected him to be uncomfortable with that kind of declaration. She pursed her lips, gave a little nod. And then she told her story.
* * *
There have been no criminal charges against me, yet. The penalty I deserve is death. If I thought an eternity of torment, of fire or torture, awaited me after death, that would be comforting. I'm stuck with a rationalist's disbelief in immortality. My hell is that I have memories of what I've done and didn't do to stay alive.
When I left Jerusalem, my plan was to somehow find ten people who were cursed with generosity and the power to forgive. I'm a secular Jew at best, but the mythology is that ten good men are required to keep the world from destruction. I wanted to get ten people out of living hell and into a place where they could live and thrive. Everyone I employ here at Zephyr is a joker. I was born in Jokertown, you know. The people there, the people in jokertowns all over the world, need a leg up more than most. If I can do this little bit ...
But I think I might be getting ahead of myself. I'll start again.
You're here about what happened in Jerusalem in 1994. The Black Trump. The Card Sharks. There are some words, some memories that cause physical reactions, even after years have passed. See this? I'm trembling, even now. I remember too much.
I was working with the Black Dog — you know the name? At the time he led the Twisted Fists, and I know you know that name. I imagine you sent your little spies out to look for signs of them, to see if maybe I'm still working with the most notorious terrorist ever to crawl out of Jokertown. You know about their "five for one" policy? They'd kill the killer and four others for every murdered joker. It was justice that no one else was seeking at the time. But no, I have no ties with the Fists, not anymore. The incident you're here about was the Black Trump, the moment Jerusalem was held hostage. The Card Sharks wanted to release the Black Trump, kill every wild carder in the area. So the Fists had a bomb, a nuke. Retaliation I helped haul to the Mideast in an old Blue Bird bus. And then I tried to stop them from using it. So, no, I'm not working with the Twisted Fists.
I'm a murderer. I've slaughtered people in anger and killed in self- defense. I saw a moonlit desert, an ambush, a forever-anonymous man with a rifle, his outstretched arm clouded by needle-sharp grains of a private and deadly sandstorm. My vision of that arm would replay for me that night or on some other night soon, a nightmare view of forearm and wrist and finger bones, scoured blue-white and fresh, falling to the sand.
I did that.
I didn't save Jerusalem, or children who depended on me, or my mother. I went to Pan Rudo's camp, I even had sex with that genocidal monster, but I didn't manage to destroy the Black Trump virus. Other people did. A virus that could have killed every ace, deuce, and joker on Earth had been destroyed. The quantity of evil in the world remained much the same. Its forms remained banal.
You're here about what happened to me after Jerusalem. How does one get from that to this?
The first thing I did — I went mad.
I had a list. Jack Braun. Thomas Tudbury. Nephi Callendar. Tachyon. Tachyon was off-planet. I managed to learn that much. Others. People who could have done, should have done, and didn't. But I couldn't manage to get close enough to anyone on the list to even sneeze at them. Those were pre-Google years, remember? No, you wouldn't. You're young.
I have powers, Mr. Tipton-Clarke. You must know that about me. But I still couldn't save anyone. And then I realized I was one of those people I hated. I should have done more, and I didn't, I couldn't. Self-hatred grew in tandem with my desire to lash out at the perpetrators of so much violence, so much slaughter. I had nightmares, and my nightmares ... fear fuels my power. I'd wake to a bedside lamp rocketing through the air, smashing into the wall above my head. Lumps of dust would grow huge, sharp teeth and chatter in Arabic under my bed.(Continues…)
Excerpted from "Long is the Way"
Copyright © 2019 Carrie Vaughn and Sage Walker.
Excerpted by permission of Tom Doherty Associates.
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.
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About the Authors,