The Wind from a Burning Woman




НазваниеThe Wind from a Burning Woman
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Дата конвертации27.10.2012
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just as the republic's office workers decide to end their lunch break and

take a few minutes of sun. The air is still cold and a little snow fell earlier,

but now, at one, the sun is bright and the blind blue of earlier in the morning

is more intense and cheery.

Giffey walks between ranks of folks dressed in loggers--padded vests,

denim pants, plaid or checkered shirts. Nobody is more into the Sour Decades

than Green Idaho, and among the republic's workers, they're practically a

religion. After all, the eighties and nineties bred the root troubles that led to

the Weaverite Insurrection and the Green .Idaho Treaty. And Green Idaho

government workers are among the higtiSt paid and most protected in the

nation.

Giffey blows his nose and takes a turn on C<)nstitution Avenue to find the

Bullpen.

There, in the sunlit corner of a window booth, his butt planted firmly on

an antique pine bench, sitting before a real pine-veneer table, a beer calms

.him, but his face is still red and his thoughts a little jagged.

His father and mother were killed-by Weaverites in the Secession Standoff

of July 2020. Citizens' Repossession Army Brevet General Birchhardt ordered

the execution of thirty Forestry Service employees and the adult members of

their families at Clearwater, in retaliation for a shOot-out with National Guard

troops the week before.

Giffey remembers Birchhardt, square-faced and eagle-nosed, with dead eyes

and a nervous mouth. A regular John Brown and just as sentimental. The


52 GREG BEAR


compound before the massacre. Jack remembers the natural gas pickup trucks,

the single captured helicopter, and the motley soldiers of the general's army,

clad in three different kinds of camouflage--arctic, desert, and lowland jungle,

all handmade or stolen.


Birchhardt and his troops were handed over to the Federals in November

of that year by the newly elected governor of Green Idaho. Birchhardt was

tried and convicted and given forcible therapy. He later worked as a propaganda

chief for Datafree Northwest, which targeted the cut-off communities in the

Idaho panhandle for ten years thereafter, until Raphkind cut the funds and the

Federals gave up.


Later, Birchhardt and his new wife and infant son died in his home in

Montana, all victims of gunshot wounds to the backs of their heads. Some

thought they were murdered by disgruntled Weaverites, too stupid to understand

the implications of really forceful "therapy."


Giffey's father was a tough brave man but his mother had been fragile and

frightened as a deer when the big bearded men had moved into the compound

and separated them.


Giffey never forgives. Giffey hates them all. He hates the Federals for encouraging

the world to change so quickly in the late twentieth, for encouraging

the nano revolution throughout twenty-one, for being insensitive to the pressures

these changes put on the poor inflexible survivalists and orthodox Christians.

Those denominations and parties unable to accept so much change

simply went insane.


Many migrated to the central states, unable to tolerate the ribbons and

corridors and top spin financial hothouses of the coasts and big cities; they

chose Northern Idaho as their sanctuary, and dared Federals to come and get

them. And so the tiny brutal little war began.


Giffey understands them, but he still doesn't like them.


He orders a corned beef sandwich from a cute brunette and looks at the

antique neon beer signs in the window over his booth. Some of those beers he

remembers his father drinking.


Giffey's anger is ramping down now. He grinds his teeth one last time,

then opens his mouth wide and tries to persuade his jaw muscles to give it

up. A little wriggle of the mandible crosswise, a twist of the head, and he is

back where he had been this morning: cool and thoughtful and once again in

charge of himself.


For the first time he really notices the waitress as she comes to his table

with his sandwich. She is about twenty years younger, with wavy brown hair,

a sharply pretty face with a prominent nose, wide hazel eyes, strong hands

with chewed fingernails painted over in dark red polish. Green Idaho is a place

of waitresses, actresses, aviatrixes, authoresses, congressladies, perhaps even

doctresses, if any self-respecting male in the republic will let a woman examine

hN nrivate t>arts. Despite the fact that the republic's president is a woman,


/

SLANT 53


about the sex roles here, and no doubt in Giffey's mind that he can read this

woman's life like an open book.


She is handsome, young, her body is slender and probably very fertile,

her breasts are naturally generous and (he judges from years of experience)

slightly but not grossly pendulous, very womanly. Giffey is not fond of the

prevalence of the nineties cannonshells so many of the women in Green

Idaho affect. Surprising how much plastic surgery the women go for in this

God-fearing, independently governed but non-seceded state republic. Men

strong enough to be afraid of, women eager to keep them happy and calm.

Paradise on Earth.


The waitress gives him a quick look that Giffey instantly categorizes. He

has never been inordinately fond of the chase, regarding women as decent

creatures deserving of more stable and supportive partners than he can ever be.

But there's something in her look--a half-buried homesick yearning--that

Giffey knows and, in all kindness, will not let go without some further exploration.


"Hard week?" he asks.


The waitress smiles thinly.


Giffey lifts his sandwich and smiles back. "I am a connoisseur of fine beef,"

he says. "And very well served."


"Anything else?" she asks blandly.


He knows her now, to a seventy-percent certainty. She's not married but

lives with a fellow gone most of the time looking for work outside of town.

She's no more than twenty-five but looks thirty. Her face has already taken on

a patient dullness. The partner male is vigorous and quick in bed and will not

let her start a family "Until the republic's situation settles." It never will.

Green Idaho is an economic backwater and what flows through here is State

Bank paper money, much grumbled over, or treaty minted specie, not data.

But he is straying from his focus.


"Pretty slow, after lunch," he observes. "I'd love it if you sat down and

talked with me. Tell me about yourself."


The woman gives him a look as har-d as she can make it. But his face is

sympathetic, he is older and probably unlike any man she's known, he looks

solid and wise but a little on the untamed side with his smooth gray hair down

to his neck, and in truth maybe she's thinking of her father: her ideal father,

not the real one, who was likely a disappointment. But she loved him nonetheless...

She knows she is a good girl.


The hard look shifts and she glances around the restaurant. It is indeed

quiet, empty but for Giffey; the government workers have all gone back to

their buildings, and there isn't any other trade at this time of day in Moscow.


"What's to tell?" she asks, as she sits in the booth and folds her hands in

front of her. "And why do you care?"


"I like to talk to women," Giffey says. "I like the way you look. I like the


54

GREG BEAR


"It's hard for Al to get good corned beef," she says, pointing. Giffey will


take a bite soon, but needs his mouth uncluttered for a couple of minutes.


"Don't I know it," he says. "How many times have you thought about


heading south for Boise, or west?"


The woman sniffs. "Our roots are here. People fought and died so we could


live the way we want."


"Indeed," Giffey says. He nods west at the great Outside.


"Where are you from?" she asks.


"You first, then me."


"Billings. My dad brought me here fifteen years ago. He and his girlfriend


home-schooled me, and I got top honors in the Clearwater Scholastic Com

petition when I graduated· Now--you?"


"I've done all sorts of things, some of them a little shady," Jack says with


a grin. Not a bold grin, but a shy one, a little out of place in that beard.


"Let me guess," she says. "You worked out of country."


"Bingo," Giffey says. "My name's Jack·"


"I'm Yvonne," she says. Jack stretches his hand across the table and she


shakes it. Her grip is warm and dry and her fingers have a utility roughness


that he likes. "Where out of country?" she asks.


"Africa and Hispaniola, after I got out of the federal army·"


Yvonne's eyes widen. Federal army folks, if they come to Green Idaho at


all, usually don't admit their history·

:;


"I served five years with Colonel Sir John Yardley's boys in Liberia and


Hispaniola. Left when he started getting snake's eyes and took over the coun

try.''


"Oh," she says· She's interested, and not just in history.


"Married for five years, no kids, divorced." Something flickers in his mem

ory; the faces of two women. One of them is like a pin-up queen, the other


· . . ghostly· "Now you."


"I live with a forager. Not married yet, but soon. He's up north working

.


in a pulp mill. Making fine papers for art books, you know. Sometimes they


even pay on time."


Giffey nods. "Must be tough·"


"It really is," Yvonne says, looking out the window. "He doesn't want to


get married until we have enough in the state bank to get a little repair business


going· But you know, even here, those little nano repair stations--everybody's


using them. I just don't know how we're going to do it. Al's his uncle. It's


nice how everybody helps everybody else here."


And nice how A1 doesn't have to pay much in the way of specie to his nephew's

.i


girlfriend.

;,:i


Giffey makes up his mind. Yvonne deserves better than she's getting, at

I


least for the short term. He strongly suspects she's never been in bed with a


man who knows anything besides the standard plumbing specs.


/ SLANT 55


"What?" She seems ready to take offense.

"You're smart, you could help A1 turn this place around if he'd just listen

to you..." All of this, Giffey knows, is both true and has seldom if ever been

said to her. "Besides, you're a true beauty."

Yvonne reacts as she must to that signal word, beauty. She's suspicious. She

starts to get up. The red on her cheeks is pale but genuine.

"Sorry," Giffey says. "I'm just too damned blunt. I speak my mind. If you

have to get back to work..."

Yvonne looks around. The Bullpen is truly, proudly empty. She sits again

and stares ar him, hard. "You're throwing me a line, aren't you?"

Giffey laughs. He has a good, solid laugh. Yvonne blushes again at her

unintentional double entendre.

"Was that well put, or what?" he asks.

"Damn you," she says, not unkindly.

"I'm not a youngster and nobody calls me handsome, and I still like the

attention of a beautiful woman," Giffey says. "I am an honorable man, in my

way. And the truth is, I'm lonely. I'd be proud to buy you a good dinner

someplace at six or seven this evening and listen some more."

Yvonne considers this with half-defensive bemusement, and then turns aside

to do her inner calculations, hide all the whirrings and turnings of her centers

of sexual judgment.

Then comes the downward glance at the table. All her current figures tot

up to a big dull zero. Jack's figures come in. marginally above that. Giffey's

been through it many times before. He has never been an instant heartthrob,

but he has rarely failed to impress a woman upon more extended acquaintance.

"All right," Yvonne says. "You'd better eat that good sandwich, Jack."

"I will," Jack says.

"Make it seven. I'll meet you on the corner of Constitution and Divinity. I

have a dress I want to finish."

"Seven." He takes his first bite of the sandwich, and Yvonne goes away

without a backward glance.

He gives her even odds of showing up. It's going to be cold in Moscow at

seven tonight.


Do you remember?


Fibes and satlinks, all the dataflow river, used to be called the Media and the

Internet. Slow and primitive, but the shape was clear from the beginning. You

can poke all the way back up the tributaries to the Internet Archives, and catch

holo snaps of the Sour Decades... Frozen in time, the murmurings and mutterings

of tens of millions of folks now mostly dead, all their little opinions, and so many of them

unknown to us, even today. Because they preferred to hide, to remain anonymous, to


56

GRFG BEAR


Not so different now, but as with everything else, anonymity is wrapped around and


around with provisions and safeguards, all paid for in higher fees. With the Internet


went the last Free Lunch of the rude, crude, highly energetic First Dataflow Culture.


rathe U.S. Government Digiman on Dataflow Economics,


56" Revision, 2052


7 Y / N ?


The afternoon air is crisp in the hills. A few clouds build to the south. Alice

thumbs her pad for the time. "Fourteen thirty-one," it murmurs in the pocket

of her long black coat. Wind is coming around in a whorl and will sweep rain

and perhaps snow over the southern sound by seven this evening. She does not

need to access the weather voice to know this; she has lived in the Corridor

for most of her life.


The shuttle drops her half a block from her house and she walks the rest of


the way, hands buried in pockets, collar pulled up around her neck.


Alice feels a deep ache unattached to anything specific, except perhaps

Twist's voice, or Minstrel's problems with his boyfriend. Her social group

has always been royal disorder in motion, and that's often meant something

positive. Alice has always claimed that a year in her life held the entertainment
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