Currie Culver is about fifty-five years old, in good health, living in a comfortable retirement in the Rockies with his wife. In the wake of the Meme Wars that swept the planet two generations before, Currie, his wife, and almost everyone on Earth have in their minds a copy of One True, software that grants its hosts limited telepathy and instills a kind of general cooperation.
In his younger days, Currie hunted "comboys"--people who had unplugged from the global net in order to evade One True, and who hid in wilderness areas, surviving by raiding the outposts of civilization. Now Currie is called back into service to capture the last comboy still at large, a man who calls himself Lobo. With his high tech equipment, thoroughly plugged into the global net, Currie sets out to bring Lobo in.
Instead, Lobo captures Currie, and manages to deprogram him. Thrown back on the resources of his own intelligence, courage, and wisdom for the first time in twenty-five years, Currie finds himself in a battle of minds with his captor . . . with results that will change the lives of everyone on Earth.
In the best tradition of John W. Campbell and Robert A. Heinlein, Candle is a novel about individualism and society that will leave readers breathless, arguing, and demanding more.
At the Publisher's request, this title is being sold without Digital Rights Management Software (DRM) applied.
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About the Author
John Barnes is the award-winning author of Orbital Romance, A Million Open Doors, Mother of Storms, Earth Made of Glass, The Merchants of Souls, Candle, and many other novels. With Apollo 11 astronaut Buzz Aldrin, he wrote the novels Encounter with Tiber and The Return. He lives in Colorado.
John Barnes is the award-winning author of many Science Fiction novels, including Orbital Resonance, A Million Open Doors, and The Sky So Big and Black. With Buzz Aldrin, he wrote Encounter with Tiber and The Return. He lives in Colorado.
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By John Barnes, Patrick Nielsen Hayden
Tom Doherty AssociatesCopyright © 2000 John Barnes
All rights reserved.
One thing you have to say for the Colorado Rockies, you sleep good, these days, now that there's nothing to worry about. I was dead solid asleep when I woke up to a voice saying, "Hey, Currie."
I didn't recognize the voice right away, but that wasn't so unusual; One True speaks in different voices. I sat up in bed, facing into the bright moonlight. Mary and me, we love to sleep with the curtains open so we can see the sky and wake up with the sunlight, and we can do it nowadays because nobody ever looks through a window anymore unless they're supposed to. Probably we could've done it in the old days anyway because Sursumcorda, Colorado, never had more than a thousand people anyway, and we live a ways outside and above it.
Our house up there is a nice old twentieth-century A-frame with lots of glass. With that southern exposure, on a full moon night, you wouldn't need electricity to read in there.
Nobody's called me that in a long time so I was wondering for just a second if I was having a waking dream, like I used to just after I retired. But Mary didn't even twitch, and since we always leave our link on while we're at home, when I have a bad dream, or she does, we both wake up. And my copy of Resuna seemed pretty calm tonight — nothing out there but the usual traffic of assurances and friendliness.
"You're wide awake, Currie, and we need to talk," the voice said. Now I knew it was One True. It had chosen to come to me through my auditory nerves, instead of as a voice entirely in my head. I reached to my copy of Resuna and it reached to Mary's; sure enough, One True had already put a block on her so that she'd sleep pleasantly through any noise and light we needed to make.
"Yes, it's One True," the voice agreed, responding to my thought. "Do whatever you need to get comfortable and I'll talk to you in eight minutes and thirty seconds."
"Eight and thirty," I said. In the back of my mind, my copy of Resuna started the countdown. I got out of bed.
I sleep ten hours or more every night in winter, especially late winter. Not that I don't enjoy skiing, snowshoeing, hunting, ice fishing, and all, but at forty-nine years old, a few hours of anything outside tires me pleasantly out, and then a decent dinner, with a small glass of wine, and a good book after, usually put me out by eight or nine at night, and I get up with the sun, not before it. So from the way the full moon hung in the southwest, I guessed it was about five in the morning.
Five eighteen a.m., Resuna said in my mind. Seven minutes forty-four seconds remaining.
I shook off the last drowsiness, climbed out of bed, and threw on a dressing robe and slippers, wincing at the way the cold hurts my bad toes these days — I had led a little too vigorous a life when I was younger, breaking most of my toes and getting a touch of frostbite a few times, so that between one thing and another, my toes are lim sensitive, and that cold floor just sets them off.
I went into the bathroom and peed into the recycler, stretched a couple more times, and finally said aloud, "Bob, coffee now, please, and warm rolls for one in twenty minutes?"
"Sweet or plain?" Bob asked. This was out of the household software's experience — Bob had been installed after I retired — and it wouldn't necessarily trust the data files it had copied from its predecessor.
I took a moment to clarify — "Sweet. If I get a call that gets me up before sunrise, pritnear always, I'll want sweet rolls."
I splashed some water on my face. Since I was up, Bob would already be warming my clothes for today, so I didn't bother with instructions about that.
As I was buttoning my shirt, I could hear the gurgle and gush of coffee into the carafe, and by the time I got my shoes on — one minute forty-four seconds to go, Resuna assured me — I felt pretty decent. Resuna was grumbling, where I could just feel it, about having to adjust my serotonin levels when I was going to throw caffeine at my brain as well, but I knew perfectly well it could do that without any trouble. Your copy of Resuna picks up your traits to some extent, and I'm afraid I've always been a griper.
I went to the kitchen to get my coffee. I didn't know why I was so sure this would have something to do with my old job. It could be something else. One True calls everyone a few times a year — always on your birthday, and on your region's Resuna Day, and then there's all the routine business stuff that everyone has to do — but something about this call had made me think at once that it would turn out to be about the old job.
Three-Cur. He addressed me as Three-Cur. That was a nickname I hadn't heard since my days as a cowboy hunter. I got coffee from the kitchen, enjoyed the pleasant odor of sweet rolls under way in the foodmaker, and went downstairs to the big room. In the moonlight, there was no need to turn on a light. I sat down and took that first long slow sip of coffee that helps a lifetime caffeine addict see that the universe, on the average, is a pretty good place.
Aside from the moon and Orion, and a few scattered other stars, I could see no lights through the window. The dark rectangles and trapezoids of Sursumcorda lay far down the mountain from me, with no streetlights — no one was out, so they weren't turned on. Pritnear everyone in that little town sleeps like Mary and me in winter — we're a community of old-timers.
I leaned way over sideways on the couch for an angle through the window. Just as always, I saw the bright tiny oval of Supra New York hanging in the sky. In all my eleven years on the job, I had seen SNY in the sky from camps in the wilderness just before I went to bed, and from canyons and mountaintops while I waited on stakeout, hundreds of times, and always taken comfort in the sight. Seven million people lived up there, nowadays, almost directly above Quito, Ecuador, all running Resuna, all part of One True like me.
The wilderness just didn't seem as lonely, as long as I could see good old SNY. I saluted seven million fellow citizens with my coffee cup. They didn't wave back, but I still knew they were there. I took another sip, sat and waited.
Three-Cur. Nice that One True still remembered. I didn't really know what had possessed the woman who abandoned me at the Municipal Orphanage in Spokane Dome to name me Currie Curtis Curran, but at least it had furnished an endless source of amusement, first to my squad mates back during the War of the Memes, and later to my team of cowboy hunters.
"Bob, I'd like it a little warmer," I said, quietly, and felt the faint hum of the baseboard heaters an instant later. Was I more sensitive to temperature, or was it just unusually cold on the other side of the window? A moment later, Resuna told me that it was minus seventeen out there, quickly translating that to half a degree above zero, Fahrenheit, before I could ask. So it was cold for February, even up here. Year 26 was shaping up to be the coldest on record; supposedly that trend wouldn't begin to reverse till around Year 35.
The meters-deep snow in the moonlight was crisp, with hints of pale blue, and wind-sculpted into knife-edges, untouched by anything more solid than a shadow. It was nice to sit and look and wait for things to begin.
Just as Resuna counted off "zero," One True came back to me.
"Look at your wall," One True said.
I turned to look at the white wall. To download information to a copy of Resuna, and thus into the person running Resuna, One True must move so much information that polysensory ways are the only way of doing it in a reasonable time. It was like a vivid dream from which I would awaken knowing everything I needed to know, or like I would imagine a religious revelation would be, or like falling into some other life, or like being One True myself, for a few minutes. Once I woke up, I would have to talk, to One True and to my own copy of Resuna, to activate the knowledge. For the moment, though, it wasn't too different from being asleep, and for a cranky old guy like me, up too early on a February morning, that was pritnear perfect.
I was Standing on Fossil Ridge, right along the Great Divide, looking east toward the Arkansas Valley. I had no body, but my point of view was its usual height off the ground. Something behind me was not right — frightening, but nothing I wasn't willing to turn around and face. I knew the difference between the fear that comes with ordinary caution and the fear of annihilation or worse. This was something — no, someone — physically dangerous, not anything that might destroy who I was, just someone I might have to fight.
I turned and looked down toward where I could see the falls of the Taylor River, splashing over the old dam in Taylor Park, where there had once been a reservoir. It was many kilometers away and hundreds of meters below me; I couldn't see much more than the sparkle and splash of the falls, and the thin snaking blue curves of the river winding through the park and then plunging into the dense forest below.
Then, in the intense illusion, I could see that far. My eyes were like telescopes or like an eagle's. A man was running as swiftly as he could, but with precision and care, on the old dam, as if he feared some accident. My view swung overhead. I was hanging on a surveillance satellite like a nosy angel. I dove at the man on the dam, and his image expanded.
He was fit and healthy, but looked like he had missed plenty of meals over the years; his belt was fastened a third of the way around his back. Through my satellite eyes and One True's databases I perceived him as six foot two, 145 pounds. I descended to the crumbling top of the dam, directly in his path.
He kept coming my way. His clothes were handmade, doubtless from cloth he'd looted from some abandoned store. He wore a simple blue pullover shirt with several pockets; black trousers, slightly dirty with much wear at the knees, fastened by a drawstring with a two-button fly; an ancient belt with a dozen hand-cut notches; deerskin moccasins with old-radial-tire soles; and of course the hat, the thing they could never resist. He'd camopainted it pretty well, but it was a Stetson.
Here in the Rockies, we called people who lived outside One True "cowboys" because for some damned reason they all wore those stupid creepy-looking hats. One True had decided that no one else on the Earth would have a taste for those — just as no one wanted to wear the burnoose that marked the bedouin in Arabia, or bush hats in New Guinea — in part to make the cowboys stick out more. Just the sight of it in this recorded vision was making my flesh crawl, back in my comfortable living room.
His face was bearded but he kept the beard close-cropped and it looked like he shaved out his corners. The last few cowboys I had caught had been extraordinarily neat in their personal grooming, come to think of it. One True explained that personal neatness went with being meticulous, and more meticulous cowboys lasted longer.
I looked closely at his face. I wanted my tranquilizer gun at hand, even though I knew this was all recorded and hallucinatory.
His face had not aged in eleven years. He was even wearing clothes almost identical to the ones he had worn on the day I thought I killed him. Well, perhaps he had thought he'd killed me. Maybe that made us even.
The man I was looking at called himself "Lobo." Or had called himself Lobo, eleven years ago when he was last hunted. I had been one of the leaders of the hunt for him, and the gang he led, and we had thought that he had died after taking a hard, long fall in the Black Canyon. I didn't remember ever hearing that they found his body, but cowboy hunters deal only with the living, so it hadn't seemed so odd then. Now, I was thinking I should have taken more time for paperwork.
As I stood and watched him, in the vivid vision that One True was sending, Lobo slowly turned around, removed his hat to reveal thick, short, badly trimmed, still-dark hair, and bent, stretched, and showed himself off so that I could learn what he looked like from every angle. He walked and ran around me so that I got a sense of how he moved.
Even without One True's sending me the pictures, I would have recognized Lobo any place, any time, for the rest of my life. The hunt for Lobo had been the longest and hardest I'd ever had. Lobo'd killed three of my hunters, and badly hurt five more so that it took years for them to recover, and just before his departure over the cliff and into the canyon, had left my face a gory wreck that required months of hospital time to put right. If he was still out there, we still had a score to settle.
Resuna usually doesn't approve of revenge as a motivation, and will shut down those feelings if it detects them, but my copy of Resuna was being strangely silent as I felt the rage rising in me against Lobo. In this case, One True told me silently, we have someone who seems to be cunning — and therefore dangerous — beyond any of the old cowboys that you hunters hunted to extinction. Therefore any extra motivation that One True could find for me — revenge for Abbot, Johnson, and Kibberly, desire for a good hunt, whatever feeling it could find — would be amplified by my copy of Resuna until the mission was accomplished.
In an old-fashioned reading library with heavy thick carpets, a big polished table, and walls lined with reference texts, a librarian who was One True leaned over my shoulder and set a pile of documents down in front of me. I pulled them toward me and began to read.
It looked as if Lobo had managed to dropline all of civilization, all at once, as soon as he got away from the Black Canyon, because for years there hadn't been the slightest evidence that he was still alive. He hadn't raided, he hadn't tried to contact anyone, he hadn't stolen a watt of power or a slice of bread from the civilized world for nine and a half years after his purported death. Furthermore, he had been able to unplug more completely, and vanish more thoroughly, than any other cowboy ever had, just as soon as he had given us good reason to believe him dead, which argued that he'd planned a difficult, complex procedure in considerable depth for some time before he had elected to use it. Presumably he was now eleven years more experienced and paranoid.
He'd been the toughest opponent I had ever faced. Now he was back from the dead. It gave me a shudder, especially since, perhaps due to the final exhaustion of his stored supplies, he was now raiding again, and he seemed to take a peculiar sadistic pleasure in some of what he did, almost as if he were trying, impossibly, to bait or frighten One True.
I opened a file folder. A hole in it grew out to the size of the table; I fell through into someone's memory. It took me half a second or so to realize that my name was Kelly and I was a twelve-year-old girl, living with my mom in a big cabin, high up on a mountain.
One True had decided that Mom's nerves would be better if she were living in a quiet cabin in the woods, and that I needed a calm mother. Resuna patiently reminded me, now and then, that we had to live way out here because in past generations Mom might have been abusive, alcoholic, or both; she'd led a hard life before she turned, and I had a few ugly memories myself — we'd been living as wild squatters in Vegas Ruin until I was three, when the team found us and turned us, and the world suddenly got all better.
I was sitting on the floor, in our house up in the mountains, playing Parcheesi with Mom. We both thought that game was a pleasant way to kill time while you watch snow fall among the aspens early in an October evening. We were discussing whether we wanted popcorn, hot chocolate, or both, tonight, when we were startled by a terrible crash.
A man in an outside suit, the kind that rescue workers wear out here in the mountains, came running up the stairs from where he had smashed down the door. He was holding something in his hand — I didn't recognize it, but Mom did and I got a vague sense that it could hurt us badly. The impression through our linked copies of Resuna was only in my mind for an instant before Mom screamed "My god, don't hurt us" and her strong surge of emotions shut the link down.
The man in the suit came a step forward, and said, "Shut up." Then he said something horrible to us — something that I can't remember now, mercifully, because Resuna and One True have erased it from me, but once he said it, I couldn't receive Mom's thoughts or feelings, and Resuna was not there, and I had no way to call One True to help us, no comforting voice in my head to tell me I could get through this. I had no way of knowing what Mom needed from me, or of telling her what I needed.
The man in the suit slapped Mom, hard, twice. She fell away from him, barely catching her balance, staring dumbly at the hand that was raised to strike her again. Blood flowed out of her mouth.
It was like a nightmare, except that Resuna wasn't there to wake me up and tell me it was all right. I was frozen, not moving, unable to think, just endlessly screaming for Resuna in my mind.
The man slapped me too; I didn't know why. I hadn't been hit at least since Mom had turned, and the sensations — flesh crushed against skull on one side of the head, teeth stinging in suddenly swelling gums, one eye running with uncontrollable tears — were a thousand times worse because nothing explained them to me, and I had only my own body's natural shock response.
The man pulled back his hood and said, "Medicine synthesizer. I need your medicine synthesizer. I need you to put your hand in there and have it diagnose and prescribe for me."
"Will it do that?" Mom asked. Her voice was timid, shy, highpitched, like a little girl's.
Excerpted from Candle by John Barnes, Patrick Nielsen Hayden. Copyright © 2000 John Barnes. Excerpted by permission of Tom Doherty Associates.
All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.
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