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Authors: Barry N. Malzberg,Catska Ench,Cory Ench

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Shiva and Other Stories

BOOK: Shiva and Other Stories
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Shiva and Other Stories

by Barry N. Malzberg

ElectricStory.com, Inc.
®

Shiva and Other Stories

by Barry N. Malzberg

Twenty-two tales by a mythologist for the new millennium, Shiva and Other Stories brings together some of Malzberg's finest work from the 80s and the 90s, including many stories featured in major Year's Best anthologies. From pragmatists like Huey "Kingfish" Long, who plays human nature like a pat-hand of cards to win the presidency and then deal with a punk named Adolf Hitler, to soulless bureaucrats, to a long parade of recalcitrant dreamers who tragically attempt to impose fantasy on unyielding reality, Malzberg shows that neither super-science nor djinni magic can prevail against human folly. At the same time, he's very funny. A time traveler must face the idea that he may have committed a serious crime against his alternate selves. A moralist puts his indignation ahead of his survival instinct, again, and again, and again; a detective investigates the murder of the 20th Century itself. This is a wry and brilliant collection by one of the greatest social critics in science fiction.

SHIVA AND OTHER STORIES

Copyright © 2001 Barry N. Malzberg. All rights reserved.

Ebook edition of
Shiva and Other Stories
copyright © 2001 by ElectricStory.com, Inc.

ePub ISBN: 978-1-59729-092-0

Kindle ISBN: 978-1-59729-008-1

ElectricStory.com and the ES design are registered trademarks of ElectricStory.com, Inc.

This novella is a work of fiction. All characters, events, organizations, and locales are either the product of the author’s imagination or used fictitiously to convey a sense of realism.

Cover art by and copyright © 2001 Cory and Catska Ench.

Original Ebook conversion by ElectricStory.com, Inc.

For the full ElectricStory catalog, visit
www.electricstory.com
.

v2.0

Baen Ebooks electronic version by Baen Books

www.baen.com

COPYRIGHT NOTICE

This ebook is protected by U.S. and International copyright laws, which provide severe civil and criminal penalties for the unauthorized duplication of copyrighted material. Please do not make illegal copies of this book. If you obtained this book without purchasing it from an authorized retailer, please go and purchase it from a legitimate source now and delete this copy. Know that if you obtained this book from a fileshare, it was copied illegally, and if you purchased it from an online auction site, you bought it from a crook who cheated you, the author, and the publisher.

ACKNOWLEDGMENTS

“Anderson”:
Amazing Science Fiction Stories
, June 1982.

“Reason Seven”:
Omni
, May 1985.

“Kingfish”:
Alternate Presidents
, ed. Mike Resnick, Tor, 1992.

“Playback”:
Universe 1
, ed. Robert Silverberg & Karen Haber, Doubleday Foundation, 1990.

“Coursing”:
Isaac Asimov’s Science Fiction Magazine
, April 1982.

“Folly for Three”:
A Whisper of Blood
, ed. Ellen Datlow, Morrow, 1991.

“Posar: With the Aliens”:
Science Fiction Age
, September 1997.

“Demystification of Circumstance”:
The Magazine of Fantasy & Science Fiction
, November 1979.

“I’m Going Through the Door”:
Galaxy Science Fiction
, May 1976.

“Reparations”:
The Magazine of Fantasy & Science Fiction
, August 1983.

“The Trials of Rollo”:
Amazing Science Fiction Stories
, March 1982.

“Tap-Dancing Down the Highways and Byways of Life, etc.”:
The Magazine of Fantasy & Science Fiction
, July 1986.

“What We Do on Io”:
The Magazine of Fantasy & Science Fiction
, February 1983.

“O Thou Last and Greatest!”:
The Magazine of Fantasy & Science Fiction
, October 1989.

“On the Heath”:
Aladdin: Master of the Lamp
, ed. Mike Resnick & Martin H. Greenberg, DAW, 1992.

“Grand Tour”:
Aladdin: Master of the Lamp
, ed. Mike Resnick & Martin H. Greenberg, DAW, 1992.

“Ready When You Are”:
Event Horizon
, July 1999.

“The Twentieth Century Murder Case”:
The Magazine of Fantasy & Science Fiction
, December 1980.

“Celebrating”:
The Magazine of Fantasy & Science Fiction
, August 1987.

“Rocket City”:
Isaac Asimov’s Science Fiction Magazine
, September 1982.

“The Shores of Suitability”:
Omni
, June 1982.

“Shiva”:
Science Fiction Age
, May 1999.

Anderson

H
E IS ELECTED PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES
by an overwhelming margin. A mandate. Fifty-eight percent of the popular vote, five hundred and twelve votes in the Electoral College. Inexplicably, his opponent wins Nebraska. On the day after the election, Bitters whooping in the huge suite says that the first action of the administration will be to settle with those hayseeds. Anderson looks at him quizzically. “I don’t want to punish anyone.”

“What the hell,” Bitters says, “don’t you have any sense of humor?”

* * *

“I have a gloomy premonition that we will soon look back on this troubled moment as a golden time of freedom and license to act and speculate. One feels the steely sinews of the tiger, an ascetic ‘moral’ and authoritarian reign of piety and iron.”

—Robert Lowell, 1967

* * *

Winding down. Everyone knows that it is on the line now; this is the time when men and boys get separated. It is a time for greatness. Fourth and one on the ten-yard line, thirty-six seconds left on the stadium clock, no time-outs, game hanging in the balance. Anderson perches over the center, his eyes filled with alertness, his chest heaving with the excitement of it all, the lacerating cold turning warm inside, each exhalation truly a burst of fire. He has never felt so alive as at this moment when truly he is dead, the ball coming into his hand, he scurries and sees the middle linebacker shooting through unblocked, coming upon him, eyes huge. Anderson gives an
eh!
of woe and cocks the ball for a desperation pass, try and get it into the end zone anyway but his foot slips and even before the linebacker hits him he feels himself falling to the hard Astroturf and then the man is upon him, grunting.

Even as the horn sounds, Anderson hears not only the game but all circumstance spilling from him. He knew that it was going to be very difficult but could not surmise that it was going to be like this. Not quite. Sounds are all around him as he spirals out. Down and out. Game to go on the two. In coma, he hears the sound of engines.

* * *

Anderson, awakening from an unrecollected dream of loss, plots his moves, considers his fortune, then opens his eyes to look at the lustrous plaster of the bedroom as his wife tumbles all over him. This is not characteristic of Sylvia. Petulant, demanding, she seizes him. Wearily, he commits himself. Foreign policy, ceremonial pens, the medal of freedom, state banquets, it is just another of the obligations of office.

Sylvia is inflamed by the idea of touching a President: she has never shown so much interest in the act as in this last year. Anderson does as he can, serves as he will, utters oaths of office, does as he must, holds to the center. He is a moderate. Sylvia capsizes upon him mumbling. Anderson charts his own release, thinking of ICBMs as convulsively, absently, he climaxes.

* * *

Anderson lights a cigarette calmly and blows out the match, tosses it, inhales, then in a single graceful motion pushes in the swinging doors of the Circle Bar and walks through. In the poisoned darkness the two Lump brothers stand glaring at him, hands on their holsters. Half-consumed whiskey bottles stand behind them over the deserted bar. The bartender has dived for cover, the customers, no fools they, have filched out a side door. “All right,” Anderson says, “this is it. One at a time or both of you, I don’t care.”

“Taste lead,” Tom, the older one, says. His gun is in his hand and poised to fire when Anderson shoots him in the wrist. Tom Lump shrieks and falls. His point thirty-eight clatters to the crude surface of the bar.

“Next,” Anderson says, the gun cocked, drawing down on Charles. The tall Lump stares at him; his eyes shift, his expression weakens. Slowly he raises his hands.

“I’ll take you on with fists,” Anderson offers, “right outside. Let’s go.”

On the floor Tom whimpers. “Listen,” Charles says carefully, “we don’t want any trouble here. You got us wrong.”

“Not wrong, just drawn down,” Anderson says. He holsters his gun. “Okay,” he says. “Any arguments?”

Charles Lump says, “I got nothing to do with this. Tom brought me along for the ride, I ain’t got nothing against this town and I’m the first to say so. Anything this town wants to do is okay with me, so there.”

“Oh shut up,” Tom says weakly, “you’re in this with me up to the hilt. I’m going to bleed to death here you don’t stop talking and get me a doctor.”

“You can get to a doctor out of town,” Anderson says. He throws down his cigarette, carefully stomps it out with a circular motion. No fires when the marshal is around. “Get up.”

Charles turns, shrugs elaborately. On the floor Tom begins to dry heave, then vomits brightly. “Pack him over a horse and get him out,” Anderson says, “there’s a doctor over in Bluff City twenty miles west, you ought to be able to get him there before he passes out if you get going now.”

There is no spirit left in either of the Lumps. Charles nods, bends, yanks Tom to his feet and lurches him past Anderson, out the swinging doors. Anderson watches them carefully, joins them then as they saddle up their horses, Tom clumsily in an attitude of prayer. Charles unhitches.

“There will be another time, Anderson,” Tom says weakly. “This isn’t the way it ends.”

“Shut up,” Charles says, helping him mount with a push. “Just get those reins and let’s get outta here.”

“I had hoped for more from you than that,” Anderson says carefully. “Maybe a little more fight next time, eh?”

“Maybe,” Tom says. “Nothing ever ends. It replicates. It goes on and on.”

“For Christ’s sake shut up,” Charles says. “Let’s just get the hell going.”

“Got nowhere to go,” Tom says. He seems to be edging into delirium. “Anywhere we go, got to come back and face it. Unless we die out of it, Charlie. I think maybe I’ll do that.”

“Ain’t so easy,” Charles says. He glares at Anderson. “Ain’t going to be so easy for you either; this is a tough country.” Anderson stares back flatly, showing the outlaw his inner strength and Charles Lump drops his eyes, coughs, shakes his head, mounts his horse and taking the tether of the other, moves slowly away. He does not look back.

Hands on hips, gun dangling from his index finger, Anderson watches them all the way out of Tombstone. Their figures and the horses diminish to small, concentrated blobs of darkness that blend at last with the landscape to leave him there eternally and as always, alone. Soon enough it will be time to turn and face the silent crowd who have massed behind him; he knows to pay them homage but for the moment Anderson does not need them, needs none of this at all, needs only the proud and terrible isolation which has been imposed on him in the role which he so humbly but gracefully has assumed:

The Avenger’s front man.

* * *

Some years ago Anderson had begun to feel it all slip away, not only his career which had been slowly drained from him for many years but his very sense of self. All of his life, through the great times and the years of sorrow, he had been sustained as had most of those he knew by the belief that destiny was benign, that life was a sentence with a structure and that nothing so terrible could happen that would not yield salvation in the nick of time.

But the decade shook that faith. It shook faith but good, shock, implosion, the feeling of circumstance turning upon itself and there had been a period, it must have gone on for years, when Anderson had found himself questioning the sense of it all, when paralysis had settled like a cloak upon him; for a long time he had been unable to perform all but the simplest actions. Sex, sleep, panels, conventions. Never an introspective man—but not nearly as stupid as a lot of them took him to be; that was his secret and his strength—he had found it hard to handle, like an undiagnosed, dreadful virus hanging on at the lip of reason.

It was the riots, the war, the circling anguish and the bewilderment, the terrible settling anger in this country that he loved and to which he had dedicated his life and purpose. Anderson could not get a handle on it. Surely it would have to be the times and not himself, because this should have been the best period of his life. Sylvia and he had the understanding, he had the travel and the conventions, physically he might not be all that he had once been, a little shaky in crowds maybe, not as certain in bed as he had once taken for granted but the sense of decay which cut from the center had to do with politics.

They were making shit of everything decent, of everything for which he stood, and it was too easy to say that they were communist dupes. That wasn’t it at all. Anderson knew the truth by now;
RED CHANNELS
had sucked him in but he had outgrown that: there might be fifty practicing communists left. Underground there were fifty thousand or a million of them hiding but they were not coming out and they were not practicing their deceit. No, it was the kids themselves and the war and the outside agitators from the Congo running around to the ghettos on expense accounts inciting to riot. God
damn
it; he was a man of reasonable sensitivity but there was such a thing as going too far.

He went to the back lot to discuss it with the Lump brothers one morning. The Lumps hadn’t been heard from in years and years: they had gone into the can along with Republic Studios but they were still there for pain and conversation, bored and lonely like most of the old characters, still hanging around the commissary and waiting for the big turnaround. Everyone was waiting for the big turnaround about then, Anderson too, but no one had looked up the Lumps for a long time and they were almost pathetic in their eagerness to talk. “Jesus
Christ
, Anderson,” Tom said, extending his damaged wrist, the one that had been shot and had never properly healed, “It’s good to see you. We never thought we’d see you again.” Charles grabbed Anderson’s free arm and rubbed it passionately. “Maybe you got some work?” he said.

“Yeah,” Tom said, “work, we’re ready. Got out equipment and everything. Ready to go.”

“No work,” Anderson said. He shrugged. “Just some questions.”

“Hell,” Tom said. “We were hoping for work. Soon as we seen you, we said this is it. We’re going into that town again. You can even shoot up the other hand if you want.”

“Afraid not,” Anderson said. “No town, no shooting.” He squatted on his haunches in the old easy posture, the Lumps leaned over him, their faces beckoning and doglike. “Where did it go wrong?” Anderson said. “We were at the height of our power, we controlled everything. Then we started to pull out piece by piece, and we lost our power, the President got shot, the kids went crazy on us, and the whole thing started to come apart.”

“Forget the President,” Charles Lump said, “that was a good one; it was a move in the right direction.”

“Maybe,” Anderson said. He thought about it. Images of the city in the sun, the fallen roses. “Maybe it was but it wasn’t civilized.”

“Country ain’t civilized unless things like that
do
happen,” Charles Lump said. He spat. “You think it’s easy taking lead on the back lots for thirty years? Got to be some point or purpose.”

“But it’s no answer.”

“Ain’t no answer,” Tom said. “Bunch of tethered horses and old film that ain’t been shown for years. Don’t even show it in
television
.”

“We were kind of hoping
you
might have an answer,” Tom said painfully, flexing his wrist. “Least we could ask, you being the marshal who shot us up and threw us out of town and all that. If you don’t have an answer, Anderson, who in hell does?”

“It’s out there,” Anderson said. “I know it is.” A palpable sense of mystery seems to invade him; maybe it was for this that he went to see the Lumps. “I guess I’ll go look for it.”

“Well, you carry the news back when you get it,” Charles said. “We’ll be waiting. Maybe there’ll be a little action in it for us, too.”

Anderson stood. He waited politely for the Lumps to straighten but they remain crouched. Arthritis has caught their joints, sucked their motion. “Well,” he said awkwardly, “guess I’ll be seeing you.”

“Sure thing,” Charles Lump said. He extended a hand. Anderson touched it, then patted old Tom on his shoulder.

“Sure was good times back then,” Tom said.

Anderson nodded. He strode from the back lot but when he was back in his rental car heading toward Pasadena he came to understand that he had no real destination. Open-mouthed he drove the freeway for hours. Fortunately circumstance took him one more time.

* * *

At the cabinet the Soviets’ latest ultimatum is discussed. Some suggest withdrawal while others counsel invasion or at least a fierce reply. Anderson shrugs, waves his hands. “Whatever you say, whatever you think.” It is all too much for him, poised as he is on the edge of a new idea.

* * *

Forbes, the White House doctor gives him an unscheduled and unexplained physical. Sylvia’s instigation? Rumors he is losing his grip? News reports that he seems to be tottering and losing the thread of his speeches? Anderson submits wearily. Bowels, digestion fine, he tells Forbes, mind focused and clear. In the sack? Forbes says shrewdly, his eyes glittering with interest. “No difference,” Anderson says. It is an answer to cover everything. Forbes squeezes the sphygmomanometer bulb furiously until the constriction forces metal and then releases: in the expiring hiss Anderson hears the sound of a crowd. State has fumbled. He will get a chalice with the ball again.

* * *

At three in the morning he gets the call from Bitters, acting for the Joint Chiefs, he says. Tracers in Alaska have found activity, radar had subsequently picked up a convoy of jets of undetermined origin streaking over the Pacific toward the Golden Gate Bridge.

“It doesn’t look good,” Bitters says.

“What the hell does that mean?” Anderson says. He has slept badly, moving from one convolute dream to the next, sound stages of memory inhabited by goblins and archetypes and for a moment he thinks that this is yet another dream but the speaker phone glints, Bitters’ whining, melodramatic voice is not the voice of recollection. “Are they aggressive forces or not?”

“Well we don’t know. They’re
moving
aggressively.”

BOOK: Shiva and Other Stories
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