From Walter Jon Williams, the author of Hardwired and Implied Spaces, comes this bleeding-edge collection of SF stories, including the Nebula-winning "Daddy's World" and "The Green Leopard Plague." Other stories include "Lethe," "The Last Ride of German Freddie," "Pinocchio," and "Incarnation Day."
So high-powered is this collection that three stories were nominated for Nebula Awards, one for a Hugo, and one for a Sidewise Award.
The collection includes extensive annotations by the author and an introduction by Charles Stross.
Walter explores such far-future themes as the uploading of human consciousness into a computer-generated environment, AI, and cloning (among other amazing things). But he sympathetically grounds his tales in family relationships—parents and children, brothers and sisters, husbands and wives—so you, the reader, will experience the dilemmas and resolutions in a satisfying way. His vigorous, vivid, multi-award-winning style in The Green Leopard Plague is a treat to read in The Story Collection StoryBundle. – Lisa Mason
"In this provocative, entertaining collection of nine reprints, Williams (Implied Spaces) brings together tales of the College of Mystery as well as other explorations of the gray region where psyche and technology meet. Standouts include the Nebula-winning Daddy's World, in which a young boy finds himself trapped in a nightmare not of his making; The Last Ride of German Freddie, an alternate history in which Friedrich Nietzsche meets Wyatt Earp; Incarnation Day, wherein humanity raises its children as computer programs; and the title story, another Nebula winner, about a utopian society's birth and psychological effects. Coupled with extensive notes from the author, these stories invite readers to share and enjoy Williams's extensive knowledge of history, psychology, and culture."– Publisher's Weekly Starred Review
The Green Leopard Plague
Kicking her legs out over the ocean, the lonely mermaid gazed out at the horizon from her perch in the overhanging banyan tree.
The air was absolutely still and filled with the scent of night flowers. Large fruit bats flew purposefully over the sea, heading for their daytime rest. Somewhere a white cockatoo gave a penetrating squawk. A starling made a brief flutter out to sea, then came back again. The rising sun threw up red-gold sparkles from the wavetops and brought a brilliance to the tropical growth that crowned the many islands spread out on the horizon.
The mermaid decided it was time for breakfast. She slipped from her hanging canvas chair and walked out along one of the banyan's great limbs. The branch swayed lightly under her weight, and her bare feet found sure traction on the rough bark. She looked down to see the deep blue of the channel, distinct from the turquoise of the shallows atop the reefs.
She raised her arms, poised briefly on the limb, the ruddy light of the sun glowing bronze on her bare skin, and then she pushed off and dove head-first into the Philippine Sea. She landed with a cool impact and a rush of bubbles.
Her wings unfolded, and she flew away.
After her hunt, the mermaid—her name was Michelle—cached her fishing gear in a pile of dead coral above the reef, and then ghosted easily over the sea grass with the rippled sunlight casting patterns on her wings. When she could look up to see the colossal, twisted tangle that were the roots of her banyan tree, she lifted her head from the water and gulped her first breath of air.
The Rock Islands were made of soft limestone coral, and tide and chemical action had eaten away the limestone at sea level, undercutting the stone above. Some of the smaller islands looked like mushrooms, pointed green pinnacles balanced atop thin stems. Michelle's island was larger and irregularly shaped, but it still had steep limestone walls undercut six meters by the tide, with no obvious way for a person to clamber from the sea to the land. Her banyan perched on the saucer-edge of the island, itself undercut by the sea.
Michelle had arranged a rope elevator from her nest in the tree, just a loop on the end of a long nylon line. She tucked her wings away—they were harder to retract than to deploy, and the gills on the undersides were delicate—and then Michelle slipped her feet through the loop. At her verbal command, a hoist mechanism lifted her in silence from the sea and to her resting place in the bright green-dappled forest canopy.
She had been an ape once, a siamang, and she felt perfectly at home in the treetops.
During her excursion she had speared a yellowlip emperor, and this she carried with her in a mesh bag. She filleted the emperor with a blade she kept in her nest, and tossed the rest into the sea, where it became a subject of interest to a school of bait fish. She ate a slice of one fillet raw, enjoying the brilliant flavor, sea and trembling pale flesh together, then cooked the fillets on her small stove, eating one with some rice she'd cooked the previous evening and saving the other for later.
By the time Michelle finished breakfast the island was alive. Geckoes scurried over the banyan's bark, and coconut crabs sidled beneath the leaves like touts offering illicit downloads to tourists. Out in the deep water, a flock of circling, diving black noddies marked where a school of skipjack tuna was feeding on swarms of bait fish.
It was time for Michelle to begin her day as well. With sure, steady feet she moved along a rope walkway to the ironwood tree that held her satellite uplink in its crown, and then straddled a limb, took her deck from the mesh bag she'd roped to the tree, and downloaded her messages.
There were several journalists requesting interviews—the legend of the lonely mermaid was spreading. This pleased her more often than not, but she didn't answer any of the queries. There was a message from Darton, which she decided to savor for a while before opening. And then she saw a note from Dr. Davout, and opened it at once.
Davout was, roughly, twelve times her age. He'd actually been carried for nine months in his mother's womb, not created from scratch in a nanobed like almost everyone else she knew. He had a sib who was a famous astronaut, and a McEldowney Prize for his Lavoisier and His Age, and a red-haired wife who was nearly as well-known as he was. Michelle, a couple years ago, had attended a series of his lectures at the College of Mystery, and been interested despite her specialty being, strictly speaking, biology.
He had shaved off the little goatee he'd worn when she'd last seen him, which Michelle considered a good thing. "I have a research project for you, if you're free," the recording said. "It shouldn't take too much effort."
Michelle contacted him at once. He was a rich old bastard with a thousand years of tenure and no notion of what it was to be young in these times, and he'd pay her whatever outrageous fee she asked.
Her material needs at the moment were few, but she wouldn't stay on this island forever.
Davout answered right away. Behind him, working at her own console, Michelle could see his red-haired wife Katrin.
"Michelle!" Davout said, loudly enough for Katrin to know who called without turning around. "Good!" He hesitated, and then his fingers formed the mudra for
"Yes," she said, her answer delayed by a second's satellite lag.
"And the young man—?"
Which was not exactly a lie, the point being what was remembered.
Davout's fingers were still fixed in
Her own fingers formed an equivocal answer. "I'm getting better." Which was probably true.
"I see you're not an ape anymore."
"I decided to go the mermaid route. New perspectives, all that." And welcome isolation.
"Is there any we can make things easier for you?"
She put on a hopeful expression. "You said something about a job?"
"Yes." He seemed relieved not to have to probe further—he'd had a realdeath in his own family, Michelle remembered, a chance-in-a-billion thing, and perhaps he didn't want to relive any part of that.
"I'm working on a biography of Terzian," Davout said.
" . . . And his Age?" Michelle finished.
"And his Legacy." Davout smiled. "There's a three-week period in his life where he—well, he drops right off the map. I'd like to find out where he went—and who he was with, if anyone."
Michelle was impressed. Even in comparatively unsophisticated times such as that inhabited by Jonathan Terzian, it was difficult for people to disappear.
"It's a critical time for him," Davout went on. "He'd lost his job at Tulane, his wife had just died—realdeath, remember—and if he decided he simply wanted to get lost, he would have all my sympathies." He raised a hand as if to tug at the chin-whiskers that were no longer there, made a vague pawing gesture, then dropped the hand. "But my problem is that when he resurfaces, everything's changed for him. In June he delivered an undistinguished paper at the Athenai conference in Paris, then vanishes. When he surfaced in Venice in mid-July, he didn't deliver the paper he was scheduled to read, instead he delivered the first version of his Cornucopia Theory."
Michelle's fingers formed the mudra
"Credit card records—they end on June 17, when he buys a lot of euros at American Express in Paris. After that he must have paid for everything with cash."
"He really did try to get lost, didn't he?" Michelle pulled up one bare leg and rested her chin on it. "Did you try passport records?"
"Not till after he arrived in Venice, just a couple days prior to the conference."
The mermaid thought about it for a moment, then smiled. "I guess you need me, all right."
Davout flashed solemnly. "How much would it cost me?"
Michelle pretended to consider the question for a moment, then named an outrageous sum.
Davout frowned. "Sounds all right," he said.
Inwardly Michelle rejoiced. Outwardly, she leaned toward the camera lens and looked businesslike. "I'll get busy, then."
Davout looked grateful. "You'll be able to get on it right away?"
"Certainly. What I need you to do is send me pictures of Terzian, from as many different angles as possible, especially from around that period of time."
"I have them ready."
An eyeblink later, the pictures were in Michelle's deck.
At university Michelle had discovered that she was very good at research, and it had become a profitable sideline for her. People—usually people connected with academe in one way or another—hired her to do the duller bits of their own jobs, finding documents or references, or, in this case, three missing weeks out of a person's life. It was almost always work they could do themselves, but Michelle was simply better at research than most people, and she was considered worth the extra expense. Michelle herself usually enjoyed the work—it provided interesting sidelights on fields about which she knew little, and provided a welcome break from routine.
Plus, this particular job required not so much a researcher as an artist, and Michelle was very good at this particular art.
Michelle looked through the pictures, most scanned from old photographs. Davout had selected well: Terzian's face or profile was clear in every picture. Most of the pictures showed him young, in his twenties, and the ones that showed him older were of high quality, or showed parts of the body that would be crucial to the biometric scan, like his hands or his ears.
The mermaid paused for a moment to look at one of the old photos: Terzian smiling with his arm around a tall, long-legged woman with a wide mouth and dark, bobbed hair, presumably the wife who had died. Behind them was a Louis Quinze table with a blaze of gladiolas in a cloisonné vase, and above the table a large portrait of a stately looking horse in a heavy gilded frame. Beneath the table were stowed—temporarily, Michelle assumed—a dozen or so trophies, which to judge from the little golden figures balanced atop them were awarded either for gymnastics or martial arts. The opulent setting seemed a little at odds with the young, informally dressed couple: she wore a flowery tropical shirt tucked into khakis, and Terzian dressed in a tank top and shorts. There was a sense that the photographer had caught them almost in motion, as if they'd paused for the picture en route from one place to another.
Nice shoulders, Michelle thought. Big hands, well-shaped muscular legs. She hadn't ever thought of Terzian as young, or large, or strong, but he had a genuine, powerful physical presence that came across even in the old, casual photographs. He looked more like a football player than a famous thinker.
Michelle called up her character-recognition software and fed in all the pictures, then checked the software's work, something she was reasonably certain her employer would never have done if he'd been doing this job himself. Most people using this kind of canned software didn't realize how the program could be fooled, particularly when used with old media, scanned film prints heavy with grain and primitive digital images scanned by machines that simply weren't very bright. In the end, Michelle and software between them managed an excellent job of mapping Terzian's body and calibrating its precise ratios: the distance between the eyes, the length of nose and curve of lip, the distinct shape of the ears, the length of limb and trunk. Other men might share some of these biometric ratios, but none would share them all.
The mermaid downloaded the data into her specialized research spiders, and sent them forth into the electronic world.
A staggering amount of the trivial past existed there, and nowhere else. People had uploaded pictures, diaries, commentary, and video; they'd digitized old home movies, complete with the garish, deteriorating colors of the old film stock; they'd scanned in family trees, post cards, wedding lists, drawings, political screeds, and images of handwritten letters. Long, dull hours of security video. Whatever had meant something to someone, at some time, had been turned into electrons and made available to the universe at large.
A surprising amount of this stuff had survived the Lightspeed War—none of it had seemed worth targeting, or if trashed had been reloaded from backups.
What all this meant was that Terzian was somewhere in there. Wherever Terzian had gone in his weeks of absence—Paris, Dalmatia, or Thule—there would have been someone with a camera. In stills of children eating ice cream in front of Notre Dame, or moving through the video of buskers playing saxophone on the Pont des Artistes, there would be a figure in the background, and that figure would be Terzian. Terzian might be found lying on a beach in Corfu, reflected in a bar mirror in Gdynia, or negotiating with a prostitute in Hamburg's St. Pauli district—Michelle had found targets in exactly those places during the course of her other searches.
Michelle sent her software forth to find Terzian, then lifted her arms above her head and stretched—stretched fiercely, thrusting out her bare feet and curling the toes, the muscles trembling with tension, her mouth yawned in a silent shriek.
Then she leaned over her deck, again, and called up the message from Darton, the message she'd saved till last.
"I don't understand," he said. "Why won't you talk to me? I love you!"
His brown eyes were a little wild.
"Don't you understand?" he cried. "I'm not dead! I'm not really dead!"