COSTIGAN'S WAGER by Mike Resnick
“Your move,” said Satan.
“Don’t rush me,” muttered Costigan irritably as he surveyed the board.
“It’s not as if we’re playing for something important, like political power,” said Satan. “The stakes are really quite trivial.”
“There’s nothing trivial about my soul.”
“Have you ever seen it?” scoffed Satan. “Do you ever use it?”
“Of course not.”
“If I win, you’ll never miss it.”
“And if I win, I’ll be up to my neck in money and beautiful women,” replied Costigan. “So shut up and let me concentrate.”
“Satan fell silent, and after another moment of thoughtful consideration, Costigan moved his unprotected queen to King’s Bishop Five. Satan pounced on the sacrifice, never noticed the two rooks lurking in the background, found himself immediately on the defensive, and resigned after the 29th move of the game.
“What’s going on?” demanded Costigan as he surveyed his infernal surroundings.
“Welcome to hell, Mr. Costigan,” said Satan with a truly Satanic grin.
“We had a bet! I won!”
“So you did, Mr. Costigan, so you did.”
“Then what am I doing here?”
“Didn’t anyone ever tell you,” said Satan, just before he threw his latest victim into the fiery pits, “that gambling is a sin? And we all know what happens to sinners, don’t we?”
His amused laughter filled what was left of Costigan’s universe.
© 1989 by Mike Resnick
ONCE MORE by Lee Hoffman
The last man on earth sat staring at the time machine, wondering what to do next. The temptation had begun before the machine was completed. By the time it was ready, so was he. Gun in hand, Charlie Hayes had stepped back four decades and put six rounds into his paternal grandfather.
He returned to find the world unchanged – except that the name on his mail box, on his driver’s license, on everything referring to him, was now Charlie Smith, and he even had dim childhood memories of Grandpa Smith. And there was no longer a Joe Smith working in the office.
Puzzled, he reloaded the gun, stepped back four decades and put six rounds into Grandpa Smith.
He returned to find the world unchanged – except that the name on his mail box, on his driver’s license, on everything referring to him, was now Charlie Madison, and he even had dim childhood memories of Grandpa Madison. And there was no longer a Sam Madison working in the office.
Puzzled, he reloaded the gun, stepped back four decades and put six rounds into Grandpa Madison.
He returned to find the world unchanged – except that the name on his mail box, on his driver’s license, on everything referring to him, was now Charlie Johnson, and he even had dim childhood memories of Grandpa Johnson. And there was no longer a George Johnson working in the office.
What began as a temptation grew into an obsession. It took trip after trip after trip but he persisted until finally the last man on earth staring at the time machine, wondering what to do next.
© 1989 by Lee Hoffman
THE ULTIMATE PREJUDICE by Joseph Green
The Cold & Dark slid inside the walls of the intergalactic ship, and into the cryochest preserving the life of First Mate Randolph. It riffled through his sleeping brain, absorbed, digested; then shifted to the computer and activated the revival sequence. By the time the lid opened it was back inside Randolph’s brain.
The jolt of drug stimulation brought Randolph awake. He sat up, looking around. His four teammates lay motionless in cryogenic slumber. He climbed slowly out, exercised, drank fluids, came gradually back to full life.
He had been awakened because there was something urgent to do . . . mandatory . . . no time for food, a shower . . . he felt confused, disoriented, but filled with purpose, determined . . . from boyhood on he had known he would be on the first ship to reach another galaxy. Iron will alone had made him a member of this crew. It would not fail him now.
Back in his familiar pilot’s chair, working quickly, Randolph manually overrode the computer, cleared its memory, finally disabled it. He turned the Argosy 135 degrees from its original course, then set the engines to fire until all propellant was gone.
After the four bodies had been ejected, and Randolph’s finger was on the “Open” button for the outside airlock door, Cold & Dark slid out of his mind and hovered by him. Randolph felt nothing but a great weariness.
“Why?” he asked Cold & Dark. “We meant you no harm. . . .”
“Oh, but you did! You would have brought life to a galaxy where now there is none. I am the enemy of life, its opposite, given form and function solely to stop you. We know the ultimate peace; you would have disturbed it. All your kind - the living - are not welcome here. Good-bye, Randolph.”
The outer airlock door opened, and Randolph threw himself forth into the lifeless void between the galaxies.
© 1989 by Joseph Green
FLORIDA by Tom Maddox
Water vapor rises off the sea. Drawn over the warm mass of land, it forms high towers of cloud, white and gray and black and orange. Lightning strokes climb the cloud towers; rains pour.
Old channels dug by man disappear under the rising stream as the river flows south, swollen with its new water. Lake Okeechobee takes in the river, then swarms over its boundaries, where dikes once restrained its flood.
Silver sheets sweep across the sea of grass. Herons flap their wings and poke with sharp bills at silvery shapes just under the water’s surface; the birds raise their heads and swallow down the fish with a brisk shiver. Alligators slide from mud banks with quick carnivorous intent.
Here fields once were tilled, planted, and soaked with chemical fertilizer that ran into the rivers and canals along with the pesticides and detergent scum. No more. Sawgrass and weed and dock and all steaming uncut profusion stir in the water and the heat. Life teems in the flood, none of it human.
At the ocean’s edge, gulls scream overhead. A turtle moves slowly, unmolested across hot sand. All along the silent coastal canals, egrets stand like placid sentinels against an enemy they know will not return.
© 1989 by Tom Maddox
THE DECOY EGG by David A. Kyle
“This,” said the anthropologist, putting his finger on the ovoid on the table, “is a nest egg. It’s not a genuine egg.”
“So who wants a fake egg?” I said.
“Egg farmers,” he said.
In those days I was young and flippant, so I said sarcastically, “For customers with strong teeth, I suppose.”
“Of course not,” he said, a bit annoyed with my humor. “The artificial egg is placed in the nest to encourage momma to lay there and do the hatching.”
“To hatch a fake egg?” I asked innocently. I resisted a remark about egging him on.
“Do you really want to know, or are you just going to make more smart aleck remarks?”
I reassured him that I would listen quietly. I always thought China eggs or porcelain eggs or such were just for fun, especially the colored ones.
“The idea is to use a fake egg to indicate to the creature where the nest should be; thus it’ll be easy to find and convenient for gathering. Furthermore, some animals count their eggs and will stop laying if any are missing.”
“Count them?” I said, incredulously. “Lizards? Snakes? Chickens?”
“By the ounce or by the ton, big or little, animals do think. They’re not completely unaware of what goes on around them, you know.”
“So you’re telling me that this phony egg was used by someone to mark a nest to harvest eggs, is that right?” A pretty far-fetched idea under the circumstances, I thought. “What’s the egg made of? Baked clay? Marble?”
“That’s the funny part,” the anthropologist said. “It was found with some real petrified eggs. But this substance is unknown. Rock solid, with no shell, and nearly impenetrable by X-ray, incapable of being scratched or cut.”
“That’s not the really funny part,” I said. I lifted the gray-white thing, bigger than a football. It was very heavy and for being millions of years old, its surface was absolutely smooth. “The real funny part is that this decoy egg you’re talking about is supposed to be a dinosaur egg.”
“I know,” he said. “And if by funny you mean strange, then it’s funny.” He wasn’t smiling when he repeated, “Yeah, real funny.”
© 1989 by David A. Kyle
BLUE STORY by Jack C. Haldeman II
It’s not an easy life, but an undercover agent has to adjust. Oh sure, you probably just think of the exciting parts, but they are few and far between. I have to live with the boredom and bad food. I have to put up with being constantly mistaken for a blue suitcase. I’m the one who gets tossed into airplanes and generally treated very badly. That’s why we’re taking over. Real soon now.
I do admit to being rectangular, but so what? Some of my best friends are rectangular. I happen to think that my blue tint goes quite well with my gold hinges. My four little feet are excellently suited for rolling across hotel lobbies, and if I hide in a bunch of luggage and stick my nose out, a bellman is likely to grab it and give me a free ride.
The downside of all this is that I’m somewhat limited in my movements, but all of us advance agents have that problem. A suitcase rolling alone through the corridors of the Pentagon at midnight is likely to draw a certain amount of attention. Likewise, it’s hard to sneak up on a president and zap him with a mind-whammy, though I did get close enough to a vice-president once to give him a glancing blow. I don’t think anyone noticed the difference.
So mostly we hang out in hotels and airports where we blend into the background. Myself, I prefer hotels on account of the room service food they leave outside the doors in the hallway. And you’d be surprised how easy it is to slip into an elevator or a taxi behind an over-loaded family of four visiting Disney World. Suitcases are everywhere and nobody notices anything but mice in that part of Florida. That’s what I like about Orlando, and that’s why we’ve picked that town for our massive invasion in 1992. Goodbye Earth, say hello to the wonderful world of suitcases.
Author’s note: I have to admit I’m one handsome brute. Check out my picture on page 35 of Walt Willis’ Tropicon report. I’m the rectangular one with the big grin.
© 1989 Jack C. Haldeman II
From LIFE, VOLUME I, BY UNSPIEK, BARON BODISSEY
An Epigraph by Jack Vance
If religions are diseases of the human psyche, as the philosopher Grindtholde asserts, then religious wars must be reckoned the resulting sores and cankers infecting the aggregate corpus of the human race. Of all wars, these are most detestable, since they are waged for no tangible gain, but only to impose a set of arbitrary credos upon another’s mind.
Few such conflicts can match the First Vegan Wars for grotesque excess. The issue concerns, in its proximate phase, a block of sacred white alabaster the Aloysians intended for Temple St. Revelras, while the Ambrosians claimed the same block for their Temple St. Bellaw. The culminating battle on Rudyer Moor is an episode to tax the imagination. The locale: A misty upland of the Mournan Mountains; the time: late
MagiCon, P.O. Box 621992, Orlando, Florida 32862-1992
(This SF story by MagiCon Guest of Honor Jack Vance is continued on the reverse.)
afternoon, with Vega darting shafts of pallid light here and there, as roiling clouds allow. On the upper slopes stand a band of haggard Ambrosians in flapping brown robes, carrying crooked staves carved from Corrib yew. Below is gathered a more numerous group of the Aloysian Brotherhood; small shortlegged men, plump and portly, each with ritual goatee and scalp-tuft, carrying kitchen cutlery and garden tools.
Brother Whinias utters a cry in an unknown language. Down the slope bound the Ambrosians, venting hysterical screams, to fall upon the Aloysians like wild men. The battle goes indecisively for an hour, neither side gaining advantage. At sundown the Ambrosian Cornuter, by the creeds’ vigorous rule, sounds the twelve-tone call to vespers. The Ambrosians, in accordance with their invariable habit, place themselves in devotional attitudes. The Aloysians quickly set to work and destroy the entire Ambrosian band well before the hour of their own devotions, and so ends the Battle of Rudyer Moor.
Back into Old Town creep the few surviving Ambrosians, in secular garments, where eventually they become a canny group of merchants, brewers, ale-house keepers, antiquarians, moneylenders and perhaps pursuivants of other more furtive trades. As for the Aloysians, the order disintegrates within the century; their fervor becomes no more than a quaint tradition. Temple St. Revelras becomes the Domus, grandest of all the Vegan hostelries. Temple St. Bellaw is only a sad tumble of mossy stone.
© 1989 by Jack Vance