"Colonel Bone, we've done the prelims on Sector 1168, and there are fifty-six
class-one civilizations along with two hundred seventy rationals in stage one
or two development."
"Fifty-six. Two hundred seventy. Ah. Me."
"Colonel, sir, we can evac over half of them within thirty-six hours local."
"And have to defend them in the transcendent. Chaos neutral. Guaranteed
forty-percent casualties for us."
"Yes, sir. But what about the civs at least? We can save a few."
They wrote down my brain
on a hard knot of space.
You cannot turn me.
* * *
All dead. All those millions of dead people. But it was the end of time, and
they had to die, so that theyso that we all, all in timecould live. But they
didn't know, those civilizations. Those people. It was the end of time, but you
loved life all the same, and you died the same hard way as always. For nothing.
It would be for nothing. Outside, the wind had kicked up. The sky was red with
Ferro's dust, and a storm was brewing for the evening. I coated my sclera with
a hard and glassy membrane, and, unblinking, I stalked home with my supplies
through a fierce and growing wind.
That night, on the curtains of dust and thin rain, on the heave of the storm,
Bex came to my house. Her clothes were torn and her face was bruised. She said
nothing as I closed the door behind her, led her into the kitchen, and began to
treat her wounds. She said nothing as her worried father sat at my kitchen
table and watched, and wrung his hands, and watched because there wasn't
anything he could do.
"Did that man . . . ," her father said. The old man's voice
broke. "Did he?"
"I tried to take the thing, the trunch, from him. He'd left it lying on the
table by the door." Bex spoke in a hollow voice. "I thought that nobody was
going to do anything, not even Henry, so I had to. I had to." Her facial
bruises were superficial. But she held her legs stiffly together and clasped
her hands to her stomach. There was vomit on her dress. "The trunch had some
kind of alarm set on it," Bex said. "So he caught me."
"Bex, are you hurting?" I said to her. She looked down, then carefully spread
her legs. "He caught me and then he used the trunch on me. Not full strength.
Said he didn't want to do permanent damage. Said he wanted to save me for
later." Her voice sounded far away. She covered her face with her hands. "He
put it in me," she said.
Then she breathed deeply, raggedly, and made herself look at me. "Well," she
I put her into my bed, and he sat in the chair beside it, standing watch for who
knew what? He could not defend his daughter, but he must try, as surely as the
suns rose, now growing father apart, over the hard pack of my homeworld desert.
Everything was changed.
"Bex," I said to her, and touched her forehead. Touched her fine brown skin.
"Bex, in the future, we won. I won, my command won it. Really, really big.
That's why we're here. That's why we're all here."
Bex's eyes were closed. I could not tell if she'd already fallen asleep. I hoped
"I have to take care of some business, and then I'll do it again," I said in a
whisper. "I'll just have to go back up-time and do it again."
Between the first and second rising, I'd reached Heidel, and as Hemingway burned
red through the storm's dusty leavings, I stood in the shadows of the entrance
foyer of the Bexter Hotel. There I waited.
The halandana was the first uplike me, they never really sleptand it came down
from its room looking, no doubt, to go out and get another rubber of its drug.
Instead, it found me. I didn't waste time with the creature. With a quick twist
in n-space, I pulled it down to the present, down to a local concentration of
hate and lust and stupidity that I could kill with a thrust into its throat.
But I let it live; I showed it myself, all of me spread out and huge, and I let
"Go and get Marek Lambrois," I told it. "Tell him Colonel Bone wants to see him.
Colonel Henry Bone of the Eighth Sky and Light."
"Bone," said the halandana. "I thought"
I reached out and grabbed the creature's long neck. This was the halandana weak
point, and this halandana had a ceramic implant as protection. I clicked up the
power in my forearm a level and crushed the collar as I might a teacup. The
halandana's neck carapace shattered to platelets and shards, outlined in fine
cracks under its skin.
"Don't think," I said. "Tell Marek Lambrois to come into the street, and I will
let him live."
This was untrue, of course, but hope never dies, I'd discovered, even in the
hardest of soldiers. But perhaps I'd underestimated Marek. Sometimes I still
He stumbled out, still partly asleep, onto the street. Last night had evidently
been a hard and long one. His eyes were a red no detox nano could fully clean
up. His skin was the color of paste.
"You have something on me," I said. "I cannot abide that."
"Colonel Bone," he began. "If I'd knowed it was you"
"Too late for that."
"It's never too late, that's what you taught us all when you turned that
offensive around out on the Husk and gave the Chaos the what-for. I'll just be
going. I'll take the gang with me. It's to no purpose, our staying now."
"You knew enough yesterdayenough to leave." I felt the rage, the old rage that
was to be, once again. "Why did you do that to her?" I asked. "Why did you"
And then I looked into his eyes and saw it there. The quiet desirebeaten down
by synthesized emotions, but now triumphant, sadly triumphant. The desire to
finally, finally die. Marek was not the unthinking brute I'd taken him for
after all. Too bad for him.
I took a step toward Marek. His instincts made him reach down, go for the
trunch. But it was a useless weapon on me. I don't have myelin sheaths on my
nerves. I don't have nerves anymore; I have wiring. Marek realized this was so
almost instantly. He dropped the trunch, then turned and ran. I caught him. He
tried to fight, but there was never any question of him beating me. That would
be absurd. I'm Colonel Bone of the Skyfalling Eighth. I kill so that there
might be life. Nobody beats me. It is my fate, and yours, too.
I caught him by the shoulder, and I looped my other arm around his neck and
reined him to menot enough to snap anything. Just enough to calm him down. He
was strong, but had no finesse.
Like I said, glims are hard to kill. They're the same as snails in shells, and
the trick is to draw them outway out. Which is what I did with Marek. As I
held him physically, I caught hold of him, all of him, over there, in
the place I can't tell you about, can't describe. The way you do this is by
holding a glim still and causing him great suffering so that they can't
withdraw into the deep places. That's what vampire stakes and Roman crosses are
And like I told Bex, glims are bad ones, all right. Bad, but not the worse. I
am the worse.
from the eye of a star
I've come to kill you.
I sharpened my nails. Then I plunged them into Marek's stomach, through the
skin, into the twist of his guts. I reached around there and caught hold of
something, a piece of intestine. I pulled it out. This I tied to the porch of
the Bexter Hotel.
Marek tried to untie himself and pull away. He was staring at his insides,
rolled out, raw and exposed, and thinkingI don't know what. I haven't died. I
don't know what it's like to die. He moaned sickly. His hands fumbled uselessly
in the grease and phlegm that coated his very own self. There was no undoing
the knots I'd tied, no pushing himself back in.
I picked him up, and, as he whimpered, I walked down the street with him. His
guts trailed out behind us, like a pink ribbon. After I'd gotten about twenty
feet, I figured this was all he had in him. I dropped him into the street.
Hemingway was in the northeast and Fitzgerald directly east. They both shone at
different angles on Marek's crumple, and cast crazy, mazy shadows down the
length of the street.
"Colonel Bone," he said. I was tired of his talking. "Colonel"
I reached into his mouth, past his gnashing teeth, and pulled out his tongue. He
reached for it as I extracted it, so I handed it to him. Blood and drool flowed
from his mouth and colored the red ground even redder about him. Then, one by
one, I broke his arms and legs, then I broke each of the vertebrae in his
backbone, moving up his spinal column with quick pinches. It didn't take long.
This is what I did in the world that people can see. In the twists of other
times and spaces, I did similar things, horrible, irrevocable things, to the
man. I killed him. I killed him in such a way that he would never come to life
again, not in any possible place, not in any possible time. I wiped Marek
Lambrois from existence. Thoroughly. And with his death, the other glims
died, like lights going out, lights ceasing to existbulb, filament, and all.
Or like the quick loss of all sensation after a brain is snuffed out.
Irrevocably gone from this time line, and that was what mattered. Keeping this
possible future uncertain, balanced on the fulcrum of chaos and necessity.
Keeping it free, so that I could go back and do my work.
I left Marek lying there, in the main street of Heidel. Others could do the
mopping up; that wasn't my job. As I left town, on the way back to my house and
my life there, I saw that I wasn't alone in the dawn-lit streets. Some had
business out at this hour, and they had watched. Others had heard the commotion
and come to windows and porches to see what it was. Now they knew. They knew
what I was, what I was to be. I walked alone down the road, and found Bex and
her father both sound asleep in my room.
I stroked her fine hair. She groaned, turned in her sleep. I pulled my covers up
to her chin. Forty years old, and as beautiful as a child. Safe in my bed. Bex.
Bex, I will miss you. Always, always, Bex.
I went to the living room, to the shroud-covered furniture. I sat down in what
had been my father's chair. I sipped a cup of my father's best barley malt
whiskey. I sat, and as the suns of Ferro rose in the hard iron sky, I faded
into the distant, dying future.