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Pulling Big Publishers into the 20th Century

Published May 29, 2013 in Writing - 13 Comments

In the early 1990s when I was launching my career as a novelist, I began work on an Apple //e, then graduated to a Mac. For my first four novels, I had computer text files (ASCII) of my manuscripts…but I was distressed that my publishers could not accept them. They didn’t have the facility.  Instead, my first four novels were *rekeyed by hand* from the printed manuscripts (which introduced a whole host of new typos, no matter how clean MY manuscript was in the first place).

Later, in 1993, my assistant editor from Bantam came out to stay with us on a vacation; she looked at my home office which had a fax machine, a small photocopier, a laser printer, and my desktop computer—and she was amazed.  “You’ve got as much high-tech stuff here as we have on our whole floor at Bantam!”

Hmmm…

Last week I signed a new contract with a major publisher, and I won a victory for modern authors everywhere. For the first time, my agent was able to secure major concessions by striking the following clauses:

•  That I am required to submit a typewritten manuscript on bond paper (typed on one side of the paper only) and a carbon copy.

•  That I am required to deliver an electronic file on a computer floppy diskette.

I have signed contracts with this publisher before, under the previous terms, and always just rolled my eyes and thought it was silly.  This time, however, I decided to dig my heels in and grew more intractable.  Yes, it may sound amusing, but in actuality this is a legally binding contract and the terms required me to deliver the manuscript in that format. It was just nonsense.  So, I am pleased to have accomplished this.

The sad part?  It took my agent eight weeks of hard negotiations to wring this concession out of them. I want my publishers to be adept, forward-thinking, and facile with the rapidly changing world of publishing. I wish I could be more optimistic.

 

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ComicPalooza in Houston

Published May 28, 2013 in Writing - 0 Comments

Rebecca and I just came home from our weekend as author guests at the Comicpalooza show in Houston.  We had an excellent table and looked forward to meeting a lot of fans.

We arrived Thursday evening, then met up with local friend and fan Aryn Scheuermann who delivered the six boxes of books we had shipped to her house, which we would be selling during the show.  We met inside the George R Brown Convention Center, found our table location, then started unpacking (finding our printed tablecloths at the very bottom of the very last box, of course).  Working together, it didn’t take much time to set up the booth; we were joined by Kathryn Elizabeth Graham and her baby Charlie (a micro-fan) to finish all the details—then we went out to dinner at Theo’s, a Greek restaurant that was highly (and deservedly) recommended by Katie Graham.

The gang at setup: Rebecca Moesta, Kevin J. Anderson, Katie Graham (and Charlie), Aryn Scheuermann

Friday morning we met for breakfast with one of our Superstars students, John Payne, who wrote the novelization for an upcoming fantasy film, The Crown and the Dragon, which WordFire Press will be publishing.  Then it was off to start the day on the convention floor. Alan Dean Foster dropped by our table (and stayed for an hour talking shop), then we went to a panel about Star Wars novels, back to the show floor to meet more fans and sell more books until the end of the day. I had lunch in the green room with Peter Mayhew (Chewbacca) and Frazer Hines (Dr. Who’s companion Jamie McCrimmon), both of whom I have known for some time.

with Peter Mayhew and Frazer Hines

Frazer invited us to join him and the gang for dinner at Pappas, a well-loved local Houston barbecue joint. We met in the lobby and were joined by Dr. Who writer Gary Russell and—much to my delight—actor Ian McNiece, who had played Baron Harkonnen in the Sci-Fi Channel DUNE and CHILDREN OF DUNE miniseries (among countless other well-known roles). So, we had a great carnivorous feast with the Baron himself, ribs, brisket, chicken, sausages, and all the trimmings. Then later, nice relaxing at the con’s Hospitality Suite (with some good local-brew IPA).

with Ian McNiece, the Baron Harkonnen himself

Saturday was the big day for the con, and we got on the floor before opening. I had a spotlight panel at 10AM, but people were still getting their tickets and filing through the doors…and the panel rooms were far away and hard to find. I didn’t expect much of a crowd, but the ballroom was full after a few minutes.  I was interviewed about worldbuilding, writing in media universes, my Dan Shamble series, and especially about Clockwork Angels.

At the table we were selling books like crazy, and I knew we were in trouble when we sold out of our entire inventory of Clockwork Angels by 11AM in Saturday.  Fortunately, I had a large group of “book babes” to help out at the table—and they all really helped out.  No wonder people kept stopping at our table.

An embarrassment of Book Babes: Mara’s Mom, Mara-Belle d’Lacur, Kevin J. Anderson (*not* a book babe), Rebecca Moesta, Keisha McDaniel, Aryn Scheuermann

Although Frazer Hines wore a kilt (and cowboy boots) that did not qualify him to become a Book Babe.

We had a couple of signings with Alan Dean Foster at Houston bookseller Murder by the Book, then back to our own table.  Dinner that night was with a large gang at Morton’s Steak House—Houston seems to have a great deal of good food in large quantities.  (Ian McNiece quipped, “I like Houston. Here, I don’t even seem particularly fat!”)

The gang at Morton’s Steak House for dinner.

Frazer Hines and Ian McNiece.

Sunday was another busy day at the table—and we were rapidly running out of books!  Sold out of Clockwork Angels, sold out of Death Warmed Over, sold out of Hair Raising, sold out of Captain Nemo, sold out of Martian War, sold out of all but two Dune titles, sold out of Veiled Alliances, sold out of some Seven Suns books.  (Not that I’m complaining.)  And Rebecca discovered that if she wore a nice, tight leather corset that it really helped her back pain. I heartily endorsed her efforts to feel better.

We had an amazing time, met a lot of fans, and went home with less than one box of books (out of the six we had shipped). This is an excellent con, and we hope to go back again.

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New, Previously Unpublished Frank Herbert Novel, ANGELS’ FALL

Published May 22, 2013 in Writing - 2 Comments

Frank Herbert published his first novel in 1956, the highly acclaimed futuristic thriller, The Dragon in the Sea.  Despite the success of Dragon, though, Frank Herbert spent the next several years writing novel after novel, unable to get them published. Then he wrote Dune, a novel that was also considered unpublishable…and eventually became the best-selling science fiction novel of all time.

We have several complete, finished novel manuscripts that Frank Herbert submitted to publishers but was unable to sell them. WordFire Press just released the second of these novels, ANGEL’S FALL, written in 1957—a gripping thriller set in the South American jungles. After a plane crash deep in the Amazon, freelance pilot Jeb Logan has to keep himself and his passengers alive in a gruelling trip downriver. Adrift in the wreckage of the plane with Jeb are a beautiful singer, her young son, and a ruthless murderer clinging to the last thread of sanity. With supplies running out and nature itself turning against them, this small desperate group struggles to survive against the jungle—and each other.

ANGELS’ FALL is available in trade paperback print format ($15.99)  or in all eBook formats ($8.99)

Kindle
Kobo
Nook

For a free taste, here is the first chapter:

ONE

In that stealthy moment just before awakening, a nightmare invaded Jeb Logan’s mind. It implanted an empty feeling that became—at the actual moment of awakening—a premonition.

And that set the pattern for the day.

It was a slow day starting. The first black clouds of the Ecuadorian wet season delayed the dawn. Daylight came somnolently out of darkness like a woman stirring beside her lover. Then the morning wind herded the clouds eastward toward the jungle.

But there was still no rain, and a dusty haze shrouded the dry highlands. It gave the sky the color of sifting ashes.

Sunlight flattened out in a few mica brilliants against the eastern edge of the Andean foothill town where Logan lived. The town was called Milagro after a local miracle, a legend recounted innumerable times: A young boy suffering from a jungle fever had awakened from a deep dream of his own and staggered into the dusty streets. Pointing to the sky, he shouted in Spanish, “See the angels! See the angels!”

The villagers had stared, and the little boy collapsed, sweating, burning. Some of the watchers thought they might have seen angels, too, up in the sky. The fever had already taken many of the people, and yet this boy miraculously recovered. He claimed that as he slept, shivered, sweated, all the while he had been with the angels. Milagro. Miracle.

In Jeb’s own dream, a much darker dream, he had seen angels too. Great, soaring, heavenly creatures with pearlescent wings, surrounded by a halo-glow that was part humidity in the air and part the shine of a heavenly deity. In his dream they had been watching over him, soaring ahead as Jeb made his own way on a quest through the jungle, winding and curving on a course that made sense only with dream-logic. His path was twisted, unpredictable, and when he made the wrong choice and took an incorrect turn, the angels did not bless him for his independence. Rather, they reeled, struggled to attain heaven, and instead they tumbled, falling from the sky.

In the nightmare, Jeb had watched, felt the warning, the premonition. Yet he continued. This was his quest, not one determined by the angels of Milagro or anywhere else.

He had a journey to make.

He met a boat down at Puerto Bolivar. He had still been hypnotized by the mystery and the hothouse odor of the jungle above the coastal town. A luminous-eyed man all in white had squatted in the thick shade of the corrugated iron customs building, singing to the tune picked out on a pearl-inlaid guitar:

“Give me a while longer, death –

Stay your hand while my river flows on.

I do not yet want your dark sea.

For I have a love with grey smoke in her eyes,

And farewells are difficult for my tongue.”

Jeb remembered his piecemeal translation of the song, stumbling through his rusty high school Spanish. Well, two years had changed that: now he could even dream the song in Spanish.

But the other details of his dream evaded him, driven away by the morning sounds. The futile questing of his mind left him troubled, unwilling to open his eyes: the first conscious touch of premonition.

Jeb stretched his leg muscles, felt the ripples of the single sheet that covered him. He was a long, knobby figure beneath the sheet: a moulding of angular shadows in soft focus under an olive drab canopy of mosquito netting. The weathered brown face protruding from one end of the sheet was angular, long: an Egyptian pharaoh’s face with black hair peppered by grey at the temples.

“Well, what the hell,” he muttered. “Time to get up.”

He opened his eyes, blinked at a sudden memory: Hey! This the day that Bannon dame said she’d arrive! Well, by God! She’s coming for nothing!

It had been a particularly frustrating telephone conversation. The long distance connection between Milagro and Puerto Bolivar had been dim and scratchy, and the woman at the other end full of Yankee determination.

“This is Mrs. Roger Bannon,” she had said. “Are you the pilot?”

“Yes.”

“What?”

“I said yes, I’m the pilot.”

“We’ve never met, Mr. Logan. But you flew my husband and his partner to their rancho.”

Then Jeb placed the name, recalled the husband: a scrawny little man with feverish eyes who’d hired Jeb to fly two men (Bannon and a partner named Gettler) to a jungle plantation on the Amazon watershed seven months before.

“What do you want, Mrs. Bannon?”

“I want to charter your plane for a flight to my husband’s rancho.”

“Sorry. No can do. My amphibian’s dismantled for repairs.”

“But the consul here says you have two planes!”

“Yes. But one’s just a little single-engine float job.”

“What kind of a boat?”

“Float! Mrs. Bannon. It won’t do for that flight.”

“But Roger’s ranch is on a river!”

Here the connection had faded, and it had taken two full minutes to explain that he had too much liking for his skin to risk it by flying a single-engine floatplane over the Andes.

But she had persisted. “If it’s a matter of money, Mr. Logan, I’m perfectly willing to …”

“No, dammit! It’s not a matter of money! I’m just not …”

“We’ll catch tomorrow afternoon’s train, Mr. Logan. I’m sure we can work out something when …”

“Lady, you’re wasting your time! Why don’t you catch a mainline flight across to Belem and …?”

“I’ll see you the day after tomorrow, Mr. Logan.”

And by God! She’d hung up!

Jeb had jiggled the hook, gotten the operator with her impersonal, “Bueno?

Now, he squirmed on his bed, dreading the encounter with Mrs. Bannon. He suspected that it would be a class-one scene. Such scenes always left him with a desire to get drunk and stay drunk for a week.

Jeb frowned, stared up through the netting at the veined cracks of the yellow-brown ceiling. During the night a green spider had set out its web from a shard of the plaster. Gossamer filaments stretched down to the framework that supported the mosquito net. Now, the spider waited with one foot delicately touching a trigger strand of its web. Jeb’s attention shifted to a scorpion resting on the wall beside his bed from its night’s hunt.

The “Ark! Ark!” cry of toucanets came from the dead tree outside his south wall. American jazz blared from the radio in the aberote across the road. The quick pat pat-pat-pat-pat-pat of his cook-maid, Maria, making tortillas sounded from the kitchen below. And there drifted past his nose the thin vapor-trail bite of burning chiles, scorched to remove the skin.

It was all infinitely familiar, and somehow poignant.

For a moment, Jeb lay quietly savoring the morning. Then his thoughts scalpeled the edge of an old memory that easy living had allowed him to evade for a long time: stark, snow-blanched Korean hills, his hands fighting the controls of a crippled B-26 as it skimmed between cold peaks … and the bloody dead figure of Swede Parker, his co-pilot, in the other seat—a gale pouring through the bullet-shattered windshield. Jeb re-experienced the chill of that wind: another touch of the premonition.

Now, what the hell’s got me on this morbid kick? he wondered. That crazy Bannon dame insisting that I fly her inside! Well, I’ll …

The pig in the courtyard emitted a scream like a frightened woman. Immediately, Maria’s voice lifted in a string of curses that she did not know Jeb understood.

“Dump your droppings in my kitchen!” she screamed. “You son of a fat whore! You spawn of uncounted illegitimate ancestors! I’ll boil your testicles!”

There came the clatter of a thrown pan.

Jeb chuckled, folded back the mosquito net. His movement disturbed the green spider on the ceiling. She darted onto her web, stopped, retreated. The scorpion curved up its tail, scurried into a crack in the wall.

From the courtyard came another pig squeal, the quick scuffling of Maria’s footsteps. A water tin banged against the tiled edge of the reservoir outside the kitchen.

Jeb lifted his wristwatch from the chair beside the bed, slipped it on his wrist, glanced at the dial. Eight thirty! What’s happened to the morning?

He swung his feet to the floor, rocked forward, stood up and stretched to his full six feet two inches. His left hand hitched his red and white striped shorts higher about his waist. A yellow robe hung on the wall at the head of the bed. He caught the robe in his right hand, gave it a casual shake to dislodge insects, draped it over his shoulders like a cape, and walked out onto the balcony.

“Maria!” he called.

Her voice came from a recess beneath him: “Si, señor?” There was a slight quaver of age in the voice, but it sounded confident.

Jeb shifted his mental gears into Spanish: “Has there been a message from the airfield?”

Maria’s replay was thick with the musical drawl of the altiplano Indians: “Manuelo sent to say that the airplane of two engines cannot yet be repaired. The little pieces have not arrived. And there was a wireless from the copper mine. They wish to receive their machinery.”

“They’ll have to wait until the amphibian’s airworthy!” he snapped. “They know that!”

“Si, patron.” Maria emerged from a door beneath him, stepped out onto the blue tiles of the courtyard. She was a fat, tubular woman encased in a brown dress the color of damp clay. The dress bound her into ribbed lumps as though she had been moulded by a corrugated culvert pipe. Her face was smooth, round, hook-nosed—topped by coarse black hair parted in the middle and braided in two long strands that hung like tassels across the grey shawl covering her shoulders.

Certain Chimu pottery bore likenesses that could have used Maria as a model. The genes that controlled her facial structure had swallowed Inca and Spaniard alike. The victorious Indian features now graced a woman who enjoyed a considerable reputation as a witch. It bothered Jeb not at all that his cook-maid was the local bruja, dispensing herbs and amulets along with her household duties.

Maria glanced up at Jeb, averted her eyes as she glimpsed the red and white shorts poorly covered by his robe.

“Is that all the news?” he asked.

She addressed the sidewall of the courtyard. “No, patron. The mayor wishes to enjoy your presence at a fiesta on the evening of Saturday. The boy brought an invitation. I opened it, of course, to see if it was something important that would require …”

Ándalé!”

Her gaze darted toward him, away. “Are you going to marry with the mayor’s daughter, patron?”

Jeb grinned. “Maria, you’re a nosey old hag!”

She smiled, displaying a glittering row of gold-capped teeth. “The Señorita Constancia is very beautiful, patron. She is a virgin of …”

“A pure mango,” agreed Jeb.

Maria pulled her shawl more tightly around her shoulders. “Patron?

Jeb recognized the tone: it normally preceded a request for a day off, for a contribution to improve the church bell tower, for medicine for a sick nephew (because the bruja knew the limitations of her own magic).

“What is it?” he asked.

She shrugged. “Patron, last night I saw the spirit of my grandfather. Always, when I have this vision, there is violence, and someone dies.” Again she shrugged. “Please be careful today, patron.”

The dark eyes took another darting look in his direction and away.

There was suddenly no amusement in Jeb at this manifestation of witchcraft. He felt himself genuinely touched by her concern. There were in this town, he knew, people who paid Maria to have omens interpreted. For one brief moment he even considered telling her about his dream, and then he rejected the idea, half amused at himself.

In the distance, the train from Puerto Bolivar sent its whistle hooting against the hills. Momentarily, all other sounds hung submerged in the echoes. Jeb lifted his attention from the courtyard. Across the red-tiled rooftops he could see the outline of the first cordilleras lifting to the distant Andes and the Anti-Suyo: the great “Eastern Jungle” of the Incas. In the middle distance the green hills were split by the notch that spilled the Rio Mavari into the gorge below Milagro. From his balcony, Jeb could just see the edge of the river’s upper pool where he kept the little floatplane.

A harpy eagle soared across the near hills, catching up Jeb’s mind in the close awareness of flight. The eagle drifted into a thermal, rode away upward like a glider. He watched the bird until it became lost in the misty, heat-wrinkled air.

Maria scuffed her feet on the tiles. “Forgive me, patron, for bothering you with my vision. Do you desire your bath now?”

Jeb snapped his fingers at her. “Yes. And I want you to scrub my back!”

The old woman ducked her head to conceal a grin, spoke in a shocked tone: “Señor!” She shuffled out of sight below. There came the sound of water splashing into the ten-gallon tin that served Jeb as a shower.

And faintly behind that sound Jeb heard the exhalation of steam—like a tired sigh—from the morning train.

That crazy Bannon dame will probably be on that train, he thought. Well, she can just go back on the train!

***

And don’t miss the other previously unpublished Frank Herbert novel released by WordFire Press, the SF dystopia HIGH-OPP

 

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New, Previously Unpublished Frank Herbert Novel, ANGELS' FALL

Published May 22, 2013 in Writing - 2 Comments

Frank Herbert published his first novel in 1956, the highly acclaimed futuristic thriller, The Dragon in the Sea.  Despite the success of Dragon, though, Frank Herbert spent the next several years writing novel after novel, unable to get them published. Then he wrote Dune, a novel that was also considered unpublishable…and eventually became the best-selling science fiction novel of all time.

We have several complete, finished novel manuscripts that Frank Herbert submitted to publishers but was unable to sell them. WordFire Press just released the second of these novels, ANGEL’S FALL, written in 1957—a gripping thriller set in the South American jungles. After a plane crash deep in the Amazon, freelance pilot Jeb Logan has to keep himself and his passengers alive in a gruelling trip downriver. Adrift in the wreckage of the plane with Jeb are a beautiful singer, her young son, and a ruthless murderer clinging to the last thread of sanity. With supplies running out and nature itself turning against them, this small desperate group struggles to survive against the jungle—and each other.

ANGELS’ FALL is available in trade paperback print format ($15.99)  or in all eBook formats ($8.99)

Kindle
Kobo
Nook

For a free taste, here is the first chapter:

ONE

In that stealthy moment just before awakening, a nightmare invaded Jeb Logan’s mind. It implanted an empty feeling that became—at the actual moment of awakening—a premonition.

And that set the pattern for the day.

It was a slow day starting. The first black clouds of the Ecuadorian wet season delayed the dawn. Daylight came somnolently out of darkness like a woman stirring beside her lover. Then the morning wind herded the clouds eastward toward the jungle.

But there was still no rain, and a dusty haze shrouded the dry highlands. It gave the sky the color of sifting ashes.

Sunlight flattened out in a few mica brilliants against the eastern edge of the Andean foothill town where Logan lived. The town was called Milagro after a local miracle, a legend recounted innumerable times: A young boy suffering from a jungle fever had awakened from a deep dream of his own and staggered into the dusty streets. Pointing to the sky, he shouted in Spanish, “See the angels! See the angels!”

The villagers had stared, and the little boy collapsed, sweating, burning. Some of the watchers thought they might have seen angels, too, up in the sky. The fever had already taken many of the people, and yet this boy miraculously recovered. He claimed that as he slept, shivered, sweated, all the while he had been with the angels. Milagro. Miracle.

In Jeb’s own dream, a much darker dream, he had seen angels too. Great, soaring, heavenly creatures with pearlescent wings, surrounded by a halo-glow that was part humidity in the air and part the shine of a heavenly deity. In his dream they had been watching over him, soaring ahead as Jeb made his own way on a quest through the jungle, winding and curving on a course that made sense only with dream-logic. His path was twisted, unpredictable, and when he made the wrong choice and took an incorrect turn, the angels did not bless him for his independence. Rather, they reeled, struggled to attain heaven, and instead they tumbled, falling from the sky.

In the nightmare, Jeb had watched, felt the warning, the premonition. Yet he continued. This was his quest, not one determined by the angels of Milagro or anywhere else.

He had a journey to make.

He met a boat down at Puerto Bolivar. He had still been hypnotized by the mystery and the hothouse odor of the jungle above the coastal town. A luminous-eyed man all in white had squatted in the thick shade of the corrugated iron customs building, singing to the tune picked out on a pearl-inlaid guitar:

“Give me a while longer, death –

Stay your hand while my river flows on.

I do not yet want your dark sea.

For I have a love with grey smoke in her eyes,

And farewells are difficult for my tongue.”

Jeb remembered his piecemeal translation of the song, stumbling through his rusty high school Spanish. Well, two years had changed that: now he could even dream the song in Spanish.

But the other details of his dream evaded him, driven away by the morning sounds. The futile questing of his mind left him troubled, unwilling to open his eyes: the first conscious touch of premonition.

Jeb stretched his leg muscles, felt the ripples of the single sheet that covered him. He was a long, knobby figure beneath the sheet: a moulding of angular shadows in soft focus under an olive drab canopy of mosquito netting. The weathered brown face protruding from one end of the sheet was angular, long: an Egyptian pharaoh’s face with black hair peppered by grey at the temples.

“Well, what the hell,” he muttered. “Time to get up.”

He opened his eyes, blinked at a sudden memory: Hey! This the day that Bannon dame said she’d arrive! Well, by God! She’s coming for nothing!

It had been a particularly frustrating telephone conversation. The long distance connection between Milagro and Puerto Bolivar had been dim and scratchy, and the woman at the other end full of Yankee determination.

“This is Mrs. Roger Bannon,” she had said. “Are you the pilot?”

“Yes.”

“What?”

“I said yes, I’m the pilot.”

“We’ve never met, Mr. Logan. But you flew my husband and his partner to their rancho.”

Then Jeb placed the name, recalled the husband: a scrawny little man with feverish eyes who’d hired Jeb to fly two men (Bannon and a partner named Gettler) to a jungle plantation on the Amazon watershed seven months before.

“What do you want, Mrs. Bannon?”

“I want to charter your plane for a flight to my husband’s rancho.”

“Sorry. No can do. My amphibian’s dismantled for repairs.”

“But the consul here says you have two planes!”

“Yes. But one’s just a little single-engine float job.”

“What kind of a boat?”

“Float! Mrs. Bannon. It won’t do for that flight.”

“But Roger’s ranch is on a river!”

Here the connection had faded, and it had taken two full minutes to explain that he had too much liking for his skin to risk it by flying a single-engine floatplane over the Andes.

But she had persisted. “If it’s a matter of money, Mr. Logan, I’m perfectly willing to …”

“No, dammit! It’s not a matter of money! I’m just not …”

“We’ll catch tomorrow afternoon’s train, Mr. Logan. I’m sure we can work out something when …”

“Lady, you’re wasting your time! Why don’t you catch a mainline flight across to Belem and …?”

“I’ll see you the day after tomorrow, Mr. Logan.”

And by God! She’d hung up!

Jeb had jiggled the hook, gotten the operator with her impersonal, “Bueno?

Now, he squirmed on his bed, dreading the encounter with Mrs. Bannon. He suspected that it would be a class-one scene. Such scenes always left him with a desire to get drunk and stay drunk for a week.

Jeb frowned, stared up through the netting at the veined cracks of the yellow-brown ceiling. During the night a green spider had set out its web from a shard of the plaster. Gossamer filaments stretched down to the framework that supported the mosquito net. Now, the spider waited with one foot delicately touching a trigger strand of its web. Jeb’s attention shifted to a scorpion resting on the wall beside his bed from its night’s hunt.

The “Ark! Ark!” cry of toucanets came from the dead tree outside his south wall. American jazz blared from the radio in the aberote across the road. The quick pat pat-pat-pat-pat-pat of his cook-maid, Maria, making tortillas sounded from the kitchen below. And there drifted past his nose the thin vapor-trail bite of burning chiles, scorched to remove the skin.

It was all infinitely familiar, and somehow poignant.

For a moment, Jeb lay quietly savoring the morning. Then his thoughts scalpeled the edge of an old memory that easy living had allowed him to evade for a long time: stark, snow-blanched Korean hills, his hands fighting the controls of a crippled B-26 as it skimmed between cold peaks … and the bloody dead figure of Swede Parker, his co-pilot, in the other seat—a gale pouring through the bullet-shattered windshield. Jeb re-experienced the chill of that wind: another touch of the premonition.

Now, what the hell’s got me on this morbid kick? he wondered. That crazy Bannon dame insisting that I fly her inside! Well, I’ll …

The pig in the courtyard emitted a scream like a frightened woman. Immediately, Maria’s voice lifted in a string of curses that she did not know Jeb understood.

“Dump your droppings in my kitchen!” she screamed. “You son of a fat whore! You spawn of uncounted illegitimate ancestors! I’ll boil your testicles!”

There came the clatter of a thrown pan.

Jeb chuckled, folded back the mosquito net. His movement disturbed the green spider on the ceiling. She darted onto her web, stopped, retreated. The scorpion curved up its tail, scurried into a crack in the wall.

From the courtyard came another pig squeal, the quick scuffling of Maria’s footsteps. A water tin banged against the tiled edge of the reservoir outside the kitchen.

Jeb lifted his wristwatch from the chair beside the bed, slipped it on his wrist, glanced at the dial. Eight thirty! What’s happened to the morning?

He swung his feet to the floor, rocked forward, stood up and stretched to his full six feet two inches. His left hand hitched his red and white striped shorts higher about his waist. A yellow robe hung on the wall at the head of the bed. He caught the robe in his right hand, gave it a casual shake to dislodge insects, draped it over his shoulders like a cape, and walked out onto the balcony.

“Maria!” he called.

Her voice came from a recess beneath him: “Si, señor?” There was a slight quaver of age in the voice, but it sounded confident.

Jeb shifted his mental gears into Spanish: “Has there been a message from the airfield?”

Maria’s replay was thick with the musical drawl of the altiplano Indians: “Manuelo sent to say that the airplane of two engines cannot yet be repaired. The little pieces have not arrived. And there was a wireless from the copper mine. They wish to receive their machinery.”

“They’ll have to wait until the amphibian’s airworthy!” he snapped. “They know that!”

“Si, patron.” Maria emerged from a door beneath him, stepped out onto the blue tiles of the courtyard. She was a fat, tubular woman encased in a brown dress the color of damp clay. The dress bound her into ribbed lumps as though she had been moulded by a corrugated culvert pipe. Her face was smooth, round, hook-nosed—topped by coarse black hair parted in the middle and braided in two long strands that hung like tassels across the grey shawl covering her shoulders.

Certain Chimu pottery bore likenesses that could have used Maria as a model. The genes that controlled her facial structure had swallowed Inca and Spaniard alike. The victorious Indian features now graced a woman who enjoyed a considerable reputation as a witch. It bothered Jeb not at all that his cook-maid was the local bruja, dispensing herbs and amulets along with her household duties.

Maria glanced up at Jeb, averted her eyes as she glimpsed the red and white shorts poorly covered by his robe.

“Is that all the news?” he asked.

She addressed the sidewall of the courtyard. “No, patron. The mayor wishes to enjoy your presence at a fiesta on the evening of Saturday. The boy brought an invitation. I opened it, of course, to see if it was something important that would require …”

Ándalé!”

Her gaze darted toward him, away. “Are you going to marry with the mayor’s daughter, patron?”

Jeb grinned. “Maria, you’re a nosey old hag!”

She smiled, displaying a glittering row of gold-capped teeth. “The Señorita Constancia is very beautiful, patron. She is a virgin of …”

“A pure mango,” agreed Jeb.

Maria pulled her shawl more tightly around her shoulders. “Patron?

Jeb recognized the tone: it normally preceded a request for a day off, for a contribution to improve the church bell tower, for medicine for a sick nephew (because the bruja knew the limitations of her own magic).

“What is it?” he asked.

She shrugged. “Patron, last night I saw the spirit of my grandfather. Always, when I have this vision, there is violence, and someone dies.” Again she shrugged. “Please be careful today, patron.”

The dark eyes took another darting look in his direction and away.

There was suddenly no amusement in Jeb at this manifestation of witchcraft. He felt himself genuinely touched by her concern. There were in this town, he knew, people who paid Maria to have omens interpreted. For one brief moment he even considered telling her about his dream, and then he rejected the idea, half amused at himself.

In the distance, the train from Puerto Bolivar sent its whistle hooting against the hills. Momentarily, all other sounds hung submerged in the echoes. Jeb lifted his attention from the courtyard. Across the red-tiled rooftops he could see the outline of the first cordilleras lifting to the distant Andes and the Anti-Suyo: the great “Eastern Jungle” of the Incas. In the middle distance the green hills were split by the notch that spilled the Rio Mavari into the gorge below Milagro. From his balcony, Jeb could just see the edge of the river’s upper pool where he kept the little floatplane.

A harpy eagle soared across the near hills, catching up Jeb’s mind in the close awareness of flight. The eagle drifted into a thermal, rode away upward like a glider. He watched the bird until it became lost in the misty, heat-wrinkled air.

Maria scuffed her feet on the tiles. “Forgive me, patron, for bothering you with my vision. Do you desire your bath now?”

Jeb snapped his fingers at her. “Yes. And I want you to scrub my back!”

The old woman ducked her head to conceal a grin, spoke in a shocked tone: “Señor!” She shuffled out of sight below. There came the sound of water splashing into the ten-gallon tin that served Jeb as a shower.

And faintly behind that sound Jeb heard the exhalation of steam—like a tired sigh—from the morning train.

That crazy Bannon dame will probably be on that train, he thought. Well, she can just go back on the train!

***

And don’t miss the other previously unpublished Frank Herbert novel released by WordFire Press, the SF dystopia HIGH-OPP

 

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