Story Excerpts

In the Lost City of Leng

by Paul Di Filippo & Rudy Rucker

I was a kid full of dreams, looking for bigger ones. My job? Covering the crime beat for the Boston Globe. It was the afternoon of New Year’s Eve, 1933.

I had the newsroom to myself. My feckless coworkers had decamped en masse for early festivities, leaving me in charge. I had my dog Baxter for company. He was asleep on the floor by my desk.

My phone rang. Baxter stood up and stretched. Flapped his ears. Gave a conversational bark and wagged his feathery tail. A noble hound—half collie and half spaniel—with white legs and a brown map of some unknown island on his back. I patted him and picked up the receiver.

“Doug Patchen?” said the caller’s blunt voice. “Stan Gorski here.”

I remembered this guy. An ex-pilot with a big mouth. “You got a fresh story for me?” I asked. “A second act? Something in the aviation line to wow the rubes?”

“I appreciated how you wrote up my trial, Doug. Didn’t make me look too—you know.”

“Too criminal?”

“I was mixing with the hard guys. I was drunk all the time.”

“Who wouldn’t have been?” I said. “You were using a Coast Guard rescue plane to smuggle in cases of VSOP cognac.”

“And now all of a sudden booze is legal,” said Gorski. “But do I get my commission back? My chance to fly? Not on your life. Not in this burg. Never mind that I’m supporting a wife and three kids.”

“I remember them,” I said. “Human interest. Where are you working?”

“I’m a mechanic for Colonial Air out at Jeffrey Field. I can fix any plane ever made, Dougie. Better believe it. Not that I need the job anymore. I’m in the chips.”

“I’m sure you are,” I said, doubting him. “You’re—still drinking?”

“I went dry the day they repealed Prohibition,” said Gorski, cackling as if proud of his reverse. “So, no, I’m not phoning you whacked outta my skull. I’ve got a straight-up business proposition for you. The biggest story since the Starkweather-Moore fiasco.”

The Starkweather-Moore Antarctic expedition of 1931. Every member of the party had met a lurid and horrific end. The scouts who’d ventured into the lost city of Leng—consumed by a foul slug the size of a railway train. The men in the base camp—incinerated by the purposeful zaps of a malignant storm. The crews of the expedition’s ships—lost in the depths of an anomalous maelstrom.

A series of live radio broadcasts, relayed from one ground station to the next, had etched the ghastly chain of events deep into the public’s mind. First came the anguished screams of the scouts being smothered in slimy flesh. Then the desperate shrieks of the men in the base camp as the slyly purposeful lightning strokes picked them off. Then came the sailors’ cries amid the snapping of ship timbers and the maelstrom’s whistling roar. And then—silence.

The explorers had been warned in advance. A survivor of the Pabodie party of 1930 had published a passionate screed in the Arkham Advertiser, inveighing passionately against any further expeditions to Leng. But within a year, the thirst for glory had drawn Starkweather and Moore to their destruction.

Two years had elapsed since then. As yet, so far as I knew, nobody had been mad enough to propose a third expedition. But now . . .

I felt a sickly sweet hollowness in my stomach. “You’re going to Leng,” I said to Gorski, my voice flat. “You want me to come.” And, god help me, I knew I was going to say yes.

“Quick on the uptake,” said Gorski. “I like that. A secret mission. You quit your job at the Globe, you write up our trip, and we sell our story when we get back. Hunky dory.”

“We?” I said, stepping into the abyss. “Who’s we?”

“You and me and Leon Bagger and Vivi Nordström. Leon’s an assistant professor at Harvard. Looking to get a permanent job. Vivi’s a double-dome too. Plus we’ll have this, uh, friend of Vivi’s, name of Urxula. The trip is Vivi and Urxula’s idea. We’d like to get going tonight on account of it’s New Year’s Eve, and the guards will be blotto. We’ve been loading stuff onto the plane all week. We’ll fly to Leng in three big hops. Boston, Lima, Tierra del Fuego, Antarctica. You’ll be a copilot. Piece of cake, Dougie. And Vivi pilots too. The weather’s great in Antarctica this time of year. Sunny all night long. Be a nice vacation for all of us.”

I had picked up a pilot’s license while doing a feature on the Flying Falangas, a family of barnstormers. But I’d never flown more than a hundred miles at any one go. Not that the problems I might encounter up in the air could hold a candle to those we’d face in the lost wastes of the South Pole.

“What about the man-eating slugs? And the intelligent lightning? And those—those hibernating sea cucumber things?” I’d seen the Pabodie expedition photos of seven-foot-tall creatures with starfish heads and snaky arms.

“Leon teaches an introductory marine biology course at Harvard, Doug. He can handle those cukes. And Vivi’s a visiting intern. Lives with Leon. Not his wife. She knows science, too. Something about ultrasonics. Claims she has an angle on those giant slugs. Plus that, we’ve got our native guide. I’m talking about that Urxula. She’s—well, you’ll see.” Gorski broke off with a raspy chuckle. “Come on downstairs to the street. I’m parked right by the phone booth. Driving a red Duesenberg, my man. Twenty feet long. The ride of your life.”

“Can we stop by my apartment? I need to pack a bag. And my dog’s coming too.”

“Copacetic, Doug. The Gorski-Patchen expedition of 1934! What they should call it.”

Trying not to let myself think about what I was doing, I typed a resignation note—in which I told my boss editor what I thought of him—and stole the typewriter, a Hermes Featherweight that was eminently luggable. Stealing didn’t matter. I was leaving in a Duesenberg. And then—either I’d die, or I’d get rich. Everything would be fine.

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The Rescue of the Renegat

by Kristine Kathryn Rusch

The ship appeared out of foldspace, leaking atmosphere on both sides. Captain Kim Dauber caught the white edges of the ship before her bridge crew even noticed. She had been staring at the wall screen, trying to see the planet Vostrim as a whole, wondering if she needed to run a sector-wide diagnostic to make sure no part of the just-closed sector base was noticeable even when a ship was not in orbit.

Then the ship appeared, close and in trouble.

The wall screen had been set on two dimensions, and was scanning for anomalies in nearby space, which was why she even saw the white edges around the ship. Sometimes, through the right screen set-up, that transition between foldspace and regular space made a ship of any color look like it had been outlined in white.

The white faded around the edges, but the gray of the leak did not.

“We’ve got a ship in trouble,” she said, without turning around.

With those words, her bridge staff would refocus and take action.

“Got it,” said Nazira Almadi, Dauber’s first officer. Almadi was working on a secondary console, her long black hair wrapped in a bun on the top of her head, her gaze focused downward, probably on readings on the console.

Usually Dauber and Almadi weren’t on the bridge of the Aizsargs together, because Dauber trusted her first officer to handle the bridge as well or better than Dauber herself did.

But, fortunately for that damaged ship, Dauber had all of her best officers manning their posts today.

She was in charge of closing down this section of space for the Fleet, making sure that the people who remained on Vostrim, where Sector Base Z had been located, wanted to leave the Fleet and continue their lives in Z-City after the base closed.

She also needed to make sure that every Fleet ship had left the area, that no random ships had been assigned elsewhere and were returning, incorrectly, to the closed sector base.

“The ship’s one of ours,” said Brett Ullman. He stood stiffly near his console, his features half hidden by screens opaqued and floating around him. He usually worked navigation, but he was handling dataflow right at the moment.

“You sound surprised,” Dauber said, without turning around. She wasn’t as surprised. The ship had come out of foldspace, after all.

But the ship did look odd.

“Configuration’s old,” he said. “We have nothing in active use that looks like that ship.”

She nodded, taking in the information, but not willing to examine it until later.

“Whatever that ship is,” she said, “it doesn’t matter. It’s leaking atmosphere, and it needs help.”

“I’m reading about two hundred life signs on board,” Ullman said.

“Let’s get them off the vessel,” Dauber said. “We’ll tow the ship, but I don’t want it near us.”

She had learned that lesson years ago. Ships with foldspace capability could be touchy when they were in distress. Particularly after they had emerged from foldspace. Anacapa drives were delicate things that could malfunction. And sometimes ships brought back all kinds of other problems from that great beyond.

“The great beyond” was how she thought of foldspace, even though the description was incorrect. Foldspace wasn’t beyond anything. It was something else entirely. The way she had learned it, foldspace was created when an anacapa drive created a fold in space, making it easier for a ship to traverse impossible distances in a short period of time. But the science around foldspace was constantly changing. Some believed it was a different region of the Universe, a region that the Fleet had somehow tapped with its anacapa capabilities. That seemed as unlikely to her as a ship creating foldspace.

All she knew was that ships could use the anacapa to jump to foldspace and then return to the same spot in regular space hours later. She had used that technique in battle a dozen times.

She had also traveled through foldspace more times than she could count during her entire career. She didn’t think about foldspace or how it worked; she just used it.

“I’ve been trying to contact them,” said Josephine Ornitz. Ornitz was short and round. She was reaching upward on a new console, one she hadn’t even bothered to reconfigure for her height. She headed Dauber’s communications department and hadn’t worked on the bridge in months.

But Dauber had needed Ornitz for the sector base closure, so she was currently on the bridge. Which was lucky. Because, if Ornitz couldn’t contact the ship, then no one could.

“Anything from them at all?” Dauber asked. “Distress signal? Anything?”

“No,” Ornitz said.

“It looks like a number of major systems are down, sir,” said Massai Ribisi, the Aizsargs’ chief engineer. He wore a non-regulation hat over his bald head, and was still in black exercise clothes. She had taken him from his daily personal routine to help her find any evidence of the closed base. “I’m not sure they can contact us.”

Dauber frowned at the ship, no longer outlined in white. Any indication of foldspace had disappeared altogether, leaving the familiar pattern of stars—some of them faded and some of them glowing brightly against the darkness of space.

“Get a rescue vehicle, and tell them to be prepared for anything,” she said. “Send fighters to escort it.”

“You expect that ship to attack us?” Ullman asked.

“I expect nothing,” Dauber said. “I’m preparing for everything.”

Then she turned, faced the best bridge crew she had ever worked with. They were each handling a different aspect of this emergency, heads bent, fingers moving. Two security team members, who weren’t part of the bridge crew, stood near the door. They were a necessary but unusual addition because the Aizsargs had been dealing with the final closure of a sector base (and final closures sometimes made the locals crazy). The security team were the only ones looking directly at Dauber.

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