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But one of the galaxy's richest and most brilliant lunatics has designs on the universe--and he's created something terrible to make his greedy dreams a reality. It's high noon on a desert backworld called Roget, and the Stellar Ranger is finally about to meet his match--only this time, it's not human. Cinch's slug took Brilly high on the right side of the chest, almost at the shoulder.
It didn't look like a fatal wound, no major organs there, but it put him down. The thug started yelling, cursing. Cinch moved forward to help the wounded man. The spring dog beat him there. Cinch emptied the rest of the magazine at the dog, but it was a waste of time and ammo. Apparently somebody had overriden its visual-attack-only program. There was nothing in the universe that could save Brilly.
The sound of human flesh and bones being torn and crunched filled the night. Brilly stopped cursing. Product Details About the Author. About the Author Prior to working full time as a freelance writer, Steve Perry worked as a swimming instructor, lifeguard, assembler of toys, clerk in a hotel gift shop and car rental agency, aluminum salesman, martial art instructor, private detective, and nurse.
His wife is Dianne Waller, a Port of Portland executive. They have two children and four grandsons. One of their children is science fiction author S. Perry has written over fifty novels and numerous short stories, which have appeared in various magazines and anthologies. Perry is perhaps best known for the Matador series. He has written books in the Star Wars, Alien and Conan universes. Other writing credits include articles, reviews, and essays, animated teleplays, and some unproduced movie scripts. Show More. I shrugged.
Making contact. Halfway through dinner the police hauler arrived like a hearse, killing my pleasure in Jim's company. I was happy where I was; I didn't want to be dragged back into the case. Now, halfway through an omelette and a can of Coke in Haliday's apartment, the hard thrill of the hunt didn't compare with the simple pleasure of eating dinner with another human being. I had a sudden wild urge to play dead, ignore the cop; drink my Coke and talk to Jim about the President's ban on gene splicing research, or the Pink Sin Ladies' latest album. Instead I left some omelette on my plate as an excuse to come back.
The armoured cop wagon, marked in cop colours, hushed the neighbourhood chatter. The courtyard lamps had long since been smashed and would never be repaired; tired light showed intermittently in tenement windows.
I was glad of the dark. Glad those hidden eyes wouldn't get too good a look at me. I don't like dealing with the regular force. The cop and I kept our hands in our pockets as we greeted one another. He was slim, bland and impassive, his only emotion a vague unease about risking his hauler in this neighbourhood. Rutger White was lying just as I had left him. He was so pale and motionless that for one wrenching instant I knew he was dead.
I opened up completely to search for any life in him. It was there, thank God, running below the surface like a stream beneath ice. I saw his chest rise and scowled, embarrassed by my fear. We carried White out to the hauler and strapped him in. It's only light plus Sleepy; he tried to knife me, so.
I was glad to see him go. I stood in Jericho Court until the sound of the hauler had dwindled into the night. Longer, while my face grew cold and my limbs stiffened, mechanical and insensitive. Knowing I ought to go in, I was held, filled up with silence.
L. W. Currey, Inc.
When I started walking, I didn't know where I was going. I do that often; start the line and let the shape build itself. This time it took me to the door of 7. Averting my eyes from the empty cot I stepped into the bathroom.
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My tanned face startled in the mirror, green eyes narrowing, crinkly pony tail swinging behind, making me wish for the thousandth time that my hair would just hang straight. There is a wrongness in the blind symmetry of mirrors. They scare me, sometimes. I slapped the light switch and hurried from the apartment, locking the door behind me. Back at 8 the omelette was cold.
I tried to sit with my back against one of the bookshelves, but the floor was cluttered and I couldn't get comfortable. Cautiously Jim came over. He fumbled with an upturned paperback, made a show of tidying up. We were both embarrassed. Damn it, I had no business being here. Jim settled himself next to me and looked over slantwise. He had been trying to throw a rope between us, but I had dropped my end.
He turned away, more embarrassed yet. I don't usually burn them. Oh, yeah, uh, probably. He had problems packing them in the antique washer, a cluttered field of discs and edges. Had he really meant to go to church, or did he think I was testing him, that he had to go to atone for smoking some templar? Self-disgust pricked me. It was clear we couldn't stay here. It had been a while since I had solicited company, and like any skill you really need, the social graces get rusty fast.
It wasn't as if he could say no. If an officer of the Law comes into your drug-scented apartment and says "Come to Church with me," you go. Jim smiled. My mom would be so thrilled. Jim shrugged. I didn't want the night to possess me as it had when the cop wagon came. I focused on Jim, not resisting the shaping influence of his pattern. It was good to feel myself adapting to something other than the thrill of the hunt, the taste of desperation. Jim was wearing an antiquated flare-cut trench coat that added a swagger to his gait, like one of those turn-of-thecentury hunters in a Tracker flick.
His smile was self-parodic, frequent and infectious. Terrible stuff, but loud enough to annoy the Deacon on many a night, so it has a special place in my heart. Oblivious, Jim went on. He's barrio from way back, but fell out of touch with it, somehow. Ideals, abstract things, causes—they take you over, erase what used to be there. God got into White like acid, broke his pattern, smoothed him into one clean surface with one simple idea. They can overwhelm you. But they don't take people into account. Circumstance, character, history—none of it means much to the greater patterns.
Of course, my father was a historian; he stressed the long view. But how else could you explain a man like White? Deacon, pillar of the community, kindly in his way: but a mind eaten away by madness. How could I spend so much time with sickos and psychopaths and expect to escape? Trapped like old Daedalus, who built the Labyrinth and couldn't find his way free.
Sooner or later I would turn a corner in the maze, and find a mad minotaur waiting there. Jim was looking at me curiously. I shrugged and forced a laugh. Not really. I barely met the man. I still can't wait to see the headlines: 'Deacon Decked by Authorized Avenger! Isn't that what we elected the President to do? He had always wanted to go to university but never had the money; I had fled my father's academic world for things that seemed more real, more relevant.
We laughed a lot; I forget why. Some of Jim's laid-back attitudes were irritating; he didn't want to see the evil in the world, didn't want to think about it. He refused to take things seriously, and sometimes tricked me into doing the same. But if it was frivolous, it was also fun; it was a good way to come down from the hunt. I had gotten out of the habit of feeling happy.
The barrio did not make happiness easy. In front of us an old man shambled into the darkness, shoulders stooped and feet shuffling with Parkinson's disease. Another accidental victim of the Presidential Moratorium on neurological research: the good Lord giveth, and the good Lord taketh away. Things chain together; if you start looking, each pattern links to every other, a dance of systems as elaborate as the motion of the planets, and about as concerned with the fates of men. Jim's church stood just where the ghetto struggled to raise itself to honest poverty. Light pooled out from under its doors like hot water, cooling as it reached the street.
With a half-bow and a comic sweep of his arm Jim held the door open for me; I grinned and went in. The moment I locked my taser in my pocket and slid off my jacket I felt a great relief. I bathed myself in the comfortable chatter of neighbours as they met in the lobby or jockeyed for their pews, letting their simple goodwill surround and support me. Here and there a young couple dawdled in earnest conversation with their elders.
An aging woman with flaming pink hair tut-tutted a disbelieving acquaintance and showed off her new cut. Obviously her sense of fashion had been well-set before the Reds got in. A hush greeted the arrival of the minister, a pleasantfeatured woman in her early forties. She looked out over her flock as if she knew that each had taken an extra cookie, and was secretly rather pleased.
Jim leaned over. I don't know if I believe it, but she's a good minister. What shaper would make her nature so public, that a casual parishioner should know? I couldn't believe that Mrs. Ward had grown up some place where it was safe to be different. You don't go around telling people that you can read, even experience their emotions—not if you want to be treated like a human being.
Ward was genial and slightly plump. When she spoke her voice was surprisingly strong and assured. As we approach this worship together, friends, I want you to think about the story of Christ's temptation, from the book of Luke. Think about what it means to have faith in good measure, if you will, and join me in a prayer. Help us to understand the perils of unbelief, and of faith also, that we may better serve Thee. A good calling for a shaper: you could use your abilities for the common good and yet run little risk of discovery. Though Mrs. Ward, if she was a shaper, had hardly been discreet.
I felt a sudden stab of envy. How much smarter she had been, to choose such a calling! How wise to use her shaping to bring joy, instead of fear and pain and death. She stood up at the lectern, and now her greying head was bent in silent prayer. What was that? The perils of faith? A topic that would not have occurred to Deacon White. Give us this day our daily bread, And forgive us our failures As we forgive those who fail us.
For thine is the kingdom And the power and the glory For ever and ever Amen. How long had it been, how long since I had been caught in this swell of many voices, this surge of one belief? I rode it like a wave. When troubles come upon us and we are afflicted, we have doubted Your Providence, and doubted the sacrifice You made of Your only Son to save us. We have forgotten Christ's injunction not to tempt You, and, feeling weak and alone, we have asked in our hearts for strong proofs of Your guardianship.
Confronted with a problem we found too confusing, or an issue that disturbed us, we have retreated into a shell of faith. We have chosen to blind ourselves with that faith, and ignored the faculty of reason with which You have blessed us. Or we have demanded Your Law and ignored Your Mercy for those with whom we disagree. This too is to tempt You, for we have tried to avoid our part in living and understanding this world You have so generously given to us. And now let each of us look into our hearts, and confess our sins to the Lord.
Fine words. Fine words, but I remembered White's confession too. Didn't these people know what went on? In the name of the God they were so complacently worshipping? Around me the people looked up, faces flushed with a fresh gratitude. All very well, for the gentle Presbyterians. The wave of good feeling receded, pushed back by her anguish, stilled by the terrible silence in 7, the stink of White's singed flesh.
Even Jim was pulling away from me, listening intently to the service. His God was a God of love. Well Angela Johnson had died for love. The Red name was a mockery—redemption was given only lip service in their theology. The Red principle was raw, naked fear.
Fear of God. Fear of Hell. Fear that had soaked in crimson stains through Angela's sheets. Mary Ward held my eye, standing at the church door after the service. And somehow I knew these words were not a formula she spoke to every member of her congregation: they were meant for me, and me alone. I could not force a social smile. Sometimes God is a God of wrath.
Vengeance is mine, saith the Lord. Beyond my window a pall of cloud hid the sky from me, robbing the world of all shape and colour. My cat, Queen E, was nowhere to be seen. I was alone. I lay in bed, studying the angles of my room. Everything resolves into barren geometry on the morning after a hunt.
The crime, the clues, the motives, the make: while the hunt is on all form an elusive pattern, cryptic and fragmentary, a shape I am driven to possess as fiercely as another woman might pursue a lover. But the pattern fully seen, like desire finally satisfied, loses its mystery, and is welded into the inevitable past from which nothing can escape. A day of thin freedom stretched before me. God, what a relief it was, reading in Tapper's book: to think I might not be crazy, to put the name "Shaper" to what I felt.
To know that I was not alone, that there were thousands of us, each of us terrified that we were crazy, wicked, unclean, damned. I hated the dry void in myself. As a kid I used to wonder if I was crazy, if there was something broken in me that had made my heart dry up, and I would never feel again. What a relief to read that sometimes being a shaper called forth that desolation. To pay for a time of agonizing intensity, where every frown or smile or blush of shame seemed to cut itself into my body, there might come an hour, a day of numbness far more terrifying.
Terrifying because I needed that emotion, no matter how much it hurt, like a junkie jabbing at his arm needs the Chill burning into his blood. Numbing is a hazard that goes with being a shaper, but lately it had been getting worse for me. Live thirty years imprisoned by other people's emotions—not just noticing, but really experiencing them—and it grinds you down. You spend so much time blocking people out, you start doing it unconsciously.
Then the world comes to you through a glass darkly. Worse than blind, because this is your goddam soul filming over, becoming opaque. How strange a paradox: that feeling so much could lead to feeling nothing at all. Driven by a flutter of panic I jumped out of bed. My fingers were trembling as I scrounged some cereal, trying not to think. I wouldn't, I wouldn't go that way. Please God, not that. I abandoned breakfast after finding mold furring my oatflakes.
Damn those preservatives anyway; carcinogenic and ungodly, I guess, but you sure missed them when they were gone. After careful inspection I settled on some stale crackers.
A shaper lives a lot in a little time. Hate, lust, rage, grief, despair. All coming in, coming through. Drowned in my father's vast, aching grief when my mother died. I had felt as much as any eighty-year-old, and now at thirty I was beginning to wonder if my heart was wearing out.
In the last year, a shroud of numbness had begun to wind around me. There were no new emotions any more. Nothing left to experience. Like the city beyond my windows, the world of feelings was vanishing little by little, its outlines becoming blurred, its memory fading, its precious shapes lost to me, hidden behind the clouds. The phone's ring cut a diagonal line through my apartment.
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I reached up to hit the Facesaver and pulled the receiver off the wall beside the fridge. Who is this? Dory Plett from Central here. According to the late news, the President's regional press secretary had taken a dive from his downtown office last night. Look, we need a hunter for an hour or so this morning. I perked up. At least I was going to get some work in to ease the comedown, and for that I was grateful. It looks like an accident, but we have to put on a good show. Primly she composed herself.
Mask was the most famous actor in America, the shining knight of the Red "Communication Crusade," although I hadn't seen him on TV recently condemning drugs or championing the church. Still, he was as big as they came. I feel my sense of civic responsibility stirring to life. Seven hundred, plus a bonus if there's a make, of course. At least," Dory added, "that's the opinion of officers who do this for a job, not just a hobby.
I was thinking of getting a pedicure and a facial. Maybe then you'd turn on your vid," Dory replied cattily. Mask blew himself up in his costume. Captain French is down there—he'll brief you. Soundstage I'll be there in an hour. I took an enormous freight elevator styled with the latest Red affectation: you had to operate the doors yourself, pulling on a thick strap and watching them clank open like a shiny new portcullis.
Roily French loved this kind of thing; it appealed to his Red sensibilities. Roily was a plump, genial man who didn't like hunters because they were unofficial, and didn't like women on the payroll, because that was what the Red Presidency had been elected to discourage. Roily was a good cop, thorough but with flashes of insight, and he was willing to work with anything that made him better at his job.
For all his Red inclinations, he used Central's data-net better than most of his peers. In his younger days he had even bucked the massive backlash against bio-tech that followed the fetal transplant riots and the AIDS disclosures. The elevator came up in a lobby next to a darkened room; I flashed my ID to the duty officer and stepped in while he reported my arrival.
Soundstage took up the whole floor: lines of pews stretched down to the stage. Obviously they shot a lot of their religious programming here—come to think of it, the place looked familiar from the panning shots on Bible Hour. Sure it's boring, but it's good for you. Anyway, what else is there to watch on Sunday mornings?
The ceiling was a good ten yards from the floor—more room for crane shots. On my left was the control booth, empty now, its windows dark. The lights were low, as if in respect for the dead. And then, as my eyes became accustomed to the darkness, I saw that the TV cameras were here too, crowding the stage, peering, spying: clustered glass eyes, unblinking and remorseless as the gaze of the Omniscient.
The stage was dressed as a study. Books lined every wall: large books and small, leather-bound black and crimson, with gilt edges and gleaming Latinate titles. The feather of a single quill pen, fabulously long and orange and arrogant, streamed from a skull-shaped inkpot. With the guywires and light-fixtures hidden in shadow, you could almost believe you had entered the inner sanctum of some medieval mystic or scholar, who had stepped out to buy a sheet of vellum or a flask of precious mercury for his alchemical researches.
A short, pudgy figure trotted briskly out from the stage left wings.
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You look like the accountant for a hard-luck Bible College in the northwest. He frowned at the open notebook in his pudgy hand. The wolves are out in force today, Fletcher. Every network and most of the papers. Thanks for the hand. I shouldn't even be here. I'm supposed to be running the investigation on Secretary Dobin's suicide, but they needed someone in a hurry so they stuck me with it.
Why do you get all the celebrities? Central must think you look good on camera. The rot's setting in, Roily. Mask is such a major figure the media wants to see an investigation anyway. The first few of these were storage closets for cameras and other technical equipment. The sound of voices was getting louder. A harried young man in an NT blazer slipped past us and scampered off towards the elevators. More NT blazers and a thicket of microphones, studded here and there with familiar faces from the other networks.
As Roily and I came into view an army of lenses tracked us, like 'scopes hiding the eyes of two dozen hitmen. Mask's death was accidental. However, in order to ensure that no possible angle has been overlooked, we have also engaged the services of one of the state's most successful hunters, Ms. Diane Fletcher. They weren't permitted to put me on film anyway, so my smile was hardly required.
Fletcher mean that new leads have come up that demand special expertise? Mask's death was unusual enough, although apparently accidental, that we thought it worthwhile to try every possible avenue. Fletcher has an excellent record with our Department. For one thing, when she hasn't got a lead she doesn't stretch out an investigation. Hurrah for the free enterprise system. Gering held out his pencil microphone, thin and vicious as a wasp's sting. Mask hasn't been used as a Presidency spokesman recently.
There were rumours that his private life was hotter than the President cared for. Fletcher, have you formed any ideas about the case? I needed to get away. I was still too sensitive from the last hunt to enjoy working in crowds. Calming down, I said, "Afraid not, Ms. Like Sherlock Holmes I find it a capital error to theorize in advance of the facts. Godspeed to you all, and may we all go home bored. Remember, keep Ms. Fletcher strictly off the cameras, please. A series of tables lined one mirrored wall. Behind them rack after rack of old costumes hung like discarded lives.
The front row featured choristers' uniforms for Bible Hour no doubt and medieval robes; a miter and cap hung next to the chair Roily pulled out for me. Next to that nestled a Greek chiton my father hated anyone calling them togas and a burlap tunic. Beside it another chest bristled with a jumble of shoes, plastic dishware, fake weapons, cheap hats, masks, and even one old-fashioned prosthetic leg I vaguely remembered as a murder weapon from some high-rated soap.
An industrious lieutenant was tending a kettle one table down while making notes on his pocket computer. On Roily's signal he brought us over a couple of cups of tea—assam, by the smell of it. The raw, husky scent and the anticipation of work were invigorating. The day was looking up. Roily sighed as I slid into a non-regulation slouch. No chance of honest work? They were only in to do publicity shots today, and maybe retake one last scene. Doctor Faustus.
Know it? He puts his power to various questionable ends—like raising the ghost of Helen of Troy for, urn, immoral uses. Eventually the devils come and drag him off to hell. Mask was cast as Mephistophilis—the demon.
Summary Bibliography: Steve Perry
That's a twist. Roily shrugged. I liked the way he always said "Mr. It showed some nicety of feeling. He took his spoon from the teacup and absent-mindedly bent it at right angles. He dipped it into his tea, watching the mnemometal spring back into its original shape. A bad habit to get into; eventually the metal would fatigue and snap off, and that would be another spoon for the Department to replace. Oh well. Roily French was probably worth the price of some crumpled flatware. He retrieved the spoon and began working it between pudgy fingers.
He wanted the demon to have a lot of flare and dazzle value, hi-tech. So the Mephistophilis costume was rigged up with a lot of electronic whiz-bang stuff: shooting flames, flashing lights, you get the idea. Supposed to look great on film. Great idea—except a circuit gave, and this wonderful costume fried Mr.
Due to his celebrity billing, Mr. Mask demanded, and got, certain privileges. He refused to see anyone for fifteen minutes before any performance. Said he needed the time to 'construct the character. The actors thought it was something the techs were doing, and the techs didn't hear anything. The ones who placed the noise as coming from Mask's dressing room assumed he was fooling around with one of the gadgets on the costume.
When he didn't answer the boy looked inside. He called the actors from the green room down the hall: one of them got the director. He sent someone to call us. Still, it had to be done, and the image of the demon costume in its shattered glory had a sinister allure. A little bit of skin on a chrome flange. Not much else. As we stood up he caught my eye. I want it quiet, and I want it fast, credit? I'd hate to screw up your time-table. The room inside was small but comfortable. It had a half-size refrigerator, and next to it a sofa, long enough for a big man to stretch out his full length.
The chequerboard tile had been left bare. Against the far wall a large, brightly lit mirror hung over a make-up table littered with sticks of greasepaint, pads for base and jars of powder, eyebrow pencils and lipstick, rouge and tissues and a dazzle of smaller hand-mirrors. Jonathan Mask lay on the floor like Lucifer hurled from heaven, a broken devil's body in a blasphemous cross.
The air smelled of ozone and burnt plastic. The tangled wreckage of glass wires and skin and blackened plastic, peeking through at Mask's hands, feet, and side, had the horror of exposed bone. His head was bare, emerging from the crimson costume with the terrible expression of a man looking into Hell. A pack of reporters had followed us in to stoop like vultures over Mask's corpse, shielded from all feeling by the glass walls of their camera lenses.
One of them grinned at me and winked. The room smelled of nervous sweat and stale cigarette smoke. I perched on a stool next to the door, making notes. Watching them. A curious tension filled the room. A group of people working together quickly establishes a certain shape and logic as friendships and antipathies are formed. But the comforting smoothness of familiarity was absent here: though they had been together more than six weeks, the cast and crew members of Faustus were still as jagged, as volatile as a group of strangers.
He was tense, flashy, entertaining and in bad taste: no "communicator," that's for sure: he meant to show he was an actor, in every sense of the word. My conceit was that I would make Mephistophilis an electronic evil—if his effects and demonic powers were delivered by obvious electronic wizardry, then the applicability of Marlowe's message would be more apparent to my contemporary audience.
And then with a blink he returned to the concrete world. He fluttered a hand diffidently. But television is not a subtle medium: we do what we can to get the point across in a way that is accessible, interesting, and artistically satisfying. Clearly Delaney commanded the respect of his people. In addition, modern gun safety rules did not exist in this period, let alone mechanical safeties for firearms, so men either carried their revolvers around with one chamber empty or occasionally ended up shooting themselves in the foot. In Real Life , this is an excellent case of Don't Try This At Home or anywhere, for that matter -- triggers are designed to fire weapons, and twirling a gun around by the trigger means you have no control over where the barrel is going to be pointing when the gun goes off, meaning that you run the risk of accidentally shooting yourself or someone else.
A frequent comedy version is for a gunslinger to do this, and then have some hapless sap try it, only for something to go wrong. Well, finally Irving got three slugs in the belly It was right outside the Frontier Deli He was sitting there twirling his gun around And butterfingers Irving gunned himself down!