They Were So Misanthropic that the Only Reason They Could Tolerate One Another was Because of Their Dedication to Their Cause

Excerpt from the novel Rising Storm icon-external-link-12x12 icon-search-12x12 by S.M. Stirling icon-external-link-12x12 icon-search-12x12

S.M. Stirling's "Rising Storm" book cover. [Formatted]


     Ron Labane entered Hartford feeling good. Not even the general atmosphere of industrial decay—the abandoned mills, some converted to glitzy malls, and the tract housing from the vanished heyday of the textile factories—could depress him. He’d turned the radio to a classic-rock station, and tapped out the rhythm of “Dreamboat Annie” as he drove.
     Things were moving along better and faster than he’d ever anticipated. There were now two Eco Party U.S. senators and eight congressmen in Washington and a lot more who were state representatives, five Eco Party governors: two on the West Coast, three on the East.
     Ten years ago they were nothing.
     It was a thrill to realize that the United States at last had a three-party system and that, in large part, it was due to his influence. The New Day show, the books, the clubs, the new magazine, all of these had changed the attitudes of millions of Americans. All because of his grand vision.
     Ron grinned. He felt better than good; he felt invincible. Just before heading out for his speaking engagement at U. Mass. he’d gotten a surprise visit from Eco Party chairman Sebastion MacMillan and his closest associates. He felt a surge of pure pleasure as he remembered the meeting.


     “Mr. Labane,” MacMillan said, “I realize that this is short notice, but I hope you can spare us a few moments of your time.”
     Ron looked at the professional gentleman at his door in surprise, and at his three associates. Then he smiled.
     “Come in,” he said, stepping aside and gesturing into his austere yet elegant apartment with its handcrafted third-world textiles and slight odor of organic sachet. “Can I take your coats?”
     “No, no, we won’t be staying that long.” The chairman took note of Ron’s small suitcase. “And you’re going somewhere, I see.”
     “Yes, Amherst, up in Massachusetts. I’m speaking at the university there.” He chuckled deprecatingly. “I don’t want to get the reputation of only speaking to the Ivy League.”
     The three men and one woman looked at him as though he’d said something profound. “Your egalitarianism is one of the reasons we want to speak to you,” MacMillan said.
     “Sit down, please,” Ron invited, and led them into the living room.
     He looked them over as they took their seats. The rumor was that the chairman had sent around copies of Dress for Success as soon as he’d taken over and had demanded that everyone in any position of authority make it their bible. Undoubtedly it had helped. These people had always looked intelligent; now they also looked professional therefore trustworthy. Ron looked over and met MacMillan’s eye.
     This is someone I could work with, he thought. He made a mental note to invite him onto the show.
     “I’ll get right to the point,” the chairman said. “In ten months one of New York’s senators will be leaving Washington for good. We’d like you to be our candidate for that office.”
     Ron was genuinely stunned. He’d assumed that they wanted him to do something for them. It seemed it was the other way around.
     MacMillan smiled warmly at him. “I’ve studied your career, Mr. Labane. It seems to me that the logical next step for you is public office. Your genuine dedication to ecological causes is both unselfish and unquestionable. To the general public you’re a hero; to those of us involved with the cause you’re a leader. We’d like to take that a step further and make you a leader with power.”
     The chairman pulled his briefcase onto his lap and extracted a slim file. “The party ran a straw poll to see how the idea of you as our candidate struck people.”
     He held out the file and Labane took it. Ron glanced at the other party members, who all nodded, smiling; then he opened the file. After a moment he looked up at the chairman, astounded.
     MacMillan smiled comfortably. “We’ve never had a result like that when we’ve floated a name.” He shook his head. “As you can see we didn’t restrict the poll to party members either. If you ran on our ticket today you’d be elected. In a landslide.”
     Ron smiled and shook his head, then he blew his breath out in a whistle. He laughed, he couldn’t help it. “This is ve-ry flattering.”
     “Don’t answer tonight.” The chairman held up his hand. “We know you’ll want to think about it. After all, this would be a big step.”
     He rose and the others followed suit. Taking a step forward, MacMillan held out his hand. Belatedly Ron rose to take it.
     “All we ask is that you consider it seriously. I honestly think that now is the time.”
     Ron shook the chairman’s hand. “I’ll certainly give it some thought,” he said. “I’m caught completely flat-footed here, I”—He shook his head helplessly—“honestly don’t know what to say.”
     “I’m hoping you’ll say yes,” Macmillan said, smiling. He started slowly for the door. “In a few years I think this country will be ready for a presidential candidate from our party.” He put his hand on Labane’s shoulder. “We need to do everything that we can to make that day a reality.”
     He stopped and smiled at Ron.
     “That would certainly be a wonderful day for this country,” Ron said, his head whirling. I’m already sounding like a politician, he thought.
     The chairman grinned as though he shared the thought. “Our contact information is in the file.” MacMillan held out his hand again and Ron shook it. “Good night.”
     The other three party members filed out behind the chairman, each offering his or her hand for a firm handshake, making eye contact and saying a polite good-bye that implied great pleasure in their brief acquaintance.
     After closing the door behind them, Ron simply sat down on the chair in the foyer and stared at nothing.
     No, not at nothing: into the future.


     A very pleasant memory. Even sitting down driving, Ron felt ten feet tall. The numbers had indicated that he would be the near-unanimous choice of New York voters.
     “Unanimous!” he said aloud, and laughed. New Mexico probably hadn’t hurt . . .
     This was heady stuff. Should I expect to hear from the Democrats next? he wondered. Not that he would accept an offer from them. He didn’t think his support would be unanimous with the Democrats.
     His support! He was definitely thinking like a politico already. Must mean this was meant to be.
     As Ron pulled off the highway and into the parking lot of the cheap motel, he frowned. I’ll have to be more careful, he thought. A lot more careful. Maybe this should be the last one.
     The last of hundreds of clandestine meetings that he’d held over the last few years. Meetings designed to give the last little nudge to people who didn’t need very much in the way of a push in the first place.
     But his presence had helped. Had helped to keep even the most aggressive and angry extremists from becoming too violent. While at the same time offering direction and ideas, ideas that had been making headlines for a long time now. Some people called it a “terrorist network,” but that wasn’t how things worked. It was more in the nature of an umbrella.
     He sat in his car looking at the cabin where the meeting was being held. Maybe he should just not show up at all. The truth was, of all the crazies he’d had contact with over the years, these people were the only ones who truly scared him.
     At least they haven’t killed anybody. Yet.
     No one that he knew about anyway. But when he looked in their eyes he could see that in their hearts they’d murdered thousands.
     Hell, they were so misanthropic that the only reason they could tolerate one another was because of their dedication to their cause.
     A cause which Ron had gradually come to see was not quite the same as his own.
     His fingers tapped the steering wheel and he felt his reluctance grow the longer he sat. Ron frowned. He was cagey enough to know that he wasn’t worried about what effect being seen with these people might have on his potential political career. He could always say he was trying to rein them in, and he thought he’d be believed.
     The problem was that he didn’t trust them. They looked at him like they hated him; even as they hung on his words and did as he directed, he could feel their loathing, like an oily heat against his skin.
     He pictured them in his mind’s eye as he’d seen them last. They were all young, all white, seven of them, three women and four men. He didn’t know their real names; they certainly weren’t born with names like Sauron, Balewitch, Maleficent, Dog Soldier, Death, Hate, and Orc. They were pale, and underfed, with stringy hair and a slightly swampy smell about them, as though they lived underground.
     Ron smiled at the thought. They most certainly did.
     And they were angry. Their bodies were stiff with rage, even though their faces were usually blank, until you looked at their eyes. There was emotion enough in those eyes all right, none of it wholesome.
     They didn’t talk about their families or their pasts, so he had no idea what forces had molded them into the dangerous people they’d become. But they spoke freely of their education. Each of them was brilliant, each had received scholarships and had attended prestigious universities.
     And each one thinks he or she is the smartest one in the group and should be in control, Ron thought.
     They thought they were smarter than he was, too. It didn’t take a genius to guess that they were jealous of him and resented his influence—on them and on other people. Influence they wanted for themselves.
     He gave a shudder and pulled the keys from the ignition with a jangle of metal. This wasn’t going to get any better with waiting.
     He strode to the door of the cabin and gave the prescribed knock. Two knocks, pause, one knock, pause, five knocks, pause, one knock.
     “Who is it?” a surly male voice demanded.
     “English muffin,” Ron said wearily. There was a peephole in the door for crissake!
     The door swung open on a darkened room and Labane entered with an audible sigh. He closed the door behind him. “May we have some light?” he asked with exaggerated patience.
     Maleficent turned on the lamp beside her chair and glared at him with what appeared to be heartfelt contempt. “You’re late,” she said coldly.
     “Yes,” he agreed. “I was delayed starting out.”
     Ron went over and sat on the bed, almost landing on Sauron’s legs, since that worthy disdained to move them. “It’s been a while,” Ron said.
     “Meaning?” Balewitch snapped in her foghorn voice, ice-pale eyes blazing. She, more than the rest, was inclined to take every remark personally.
     “Just an observation,” Ron said, his voice carefully unapologetic.
     He decided to say nothing more. They’d asked for this meeting; therefore, let them talk. The old Buddhist stuff about the power of silence had something to it; if you made the other guy speak first, you had him off balance. He waited, and waited, feeling like a mailman surrounded by Dobermans on speed. After what felt like an hour of charged silence—in reality about five minutes—Ron got to his feet and moved toward the door.
     “Thanks for inviting me to your meditation session,” he said sarcastically. “But I’ve still got a couple of hours of driving to do and a great deal of meeting and greeting at the end of it. So if there’s nothing else you wanted—”
     “Sit down,” Hate said, his uninflected voice weighty with threat.
     “No, I don’t think I will,” Ron said, clasping his hands before him. “I will give you a few more minutes. What do you want?”
     “Now you’re meeting with political mavens you think you’re too good to spend time with us?” Sauron asked.
     Ron’s head snapped around to glare at him, hiding the curdling horror he felt inside. For the first time he realized that Orc was missing. How long have they been watching me? he wondered, feeling the back of his neck clench with a sudden chill.
     Sauron sneered at him. Sauron was the smooth one; he was able to hide his feelings most of the time. He wasn’t bothering now. “MacMillan and his school of sycophants,” he drawled. “But they didn’t linger.”
     “No,” Labane agreed. “They said what they came to say and they left.” He looked at each of them. “Their arrival was as much a surprise to me as it was to Orc.”
     “We weren’t surprised,” Balewitch said. Her graying bristle-cut clean for a change, she stared at him as if he was a spot on a white wall.
     “Is that why you asked me here? To discuss their proposal?” Ron asked, trying not to let them see how disturbed he was.
     “Have you sold your soul yet?” Death asked, looking at him sidelong through a dark curtain of her lank hair.
     Ron snorted. “They offered to sponsor me as a candidate for the Senate from New York,” he told them. Even though they probably already knew that.
     “And?” Dog Soldier asked, his voice disinterested.
     “And, I’m considering it.”
     Maleficent actually hissed. Ron looked at her, one brow raised. “That’s where the evil is,” she said.
     “That’s where the money is,” Dog Soldier corrected.
     Maleficent shot him a glare that should have singed his hair.
     “That’s where the power is,” Ron interrupted.
     “The power to change things?” Dog Soldier asked, a smirk playing on his lips. “The power to right all the wrongs, cross all the ts, dot all the is.”
     “Yes,” Ron said. “Why shouldn’t I want that kind of power? Think of the good I could do for the cause with that kind of influence.”
     There was the strangest feeling then, as though, without moving, they’d all drawn back from him in disgust.
     “That’s the sort of thing someone who’d already made up his mind might say to excuse being greedy,” Sauron observed. “You already have a lot of influence with your little television show.”
     “Influence with power behind it will go a lot further,” Labane insisted. “And there’s no telling how high this road could climb. This is a golden opportunity for our cause.”
     The six of them exchanged glances around him.
     “I suspect that we have different goals,” Death told him.
     “We all want to save the planet!” Labane said in exasperation.
     Once again their eyes met, excluding Ron.
     “Fine,” he snarled. “Just forget it. I’m outta here.”
     “Ron.” Sauron stopped Labane with his hand on the doorknob. “Just in case the thought has crossed your mind, I’d like to discourage you from any ideas you might have of turning us in.” He shook his head. “That would be a very bad idea.”
     “I do know something about loyalty,” Ron said.
     “If you’re going to be a politician that’ll be the first thing to go,” Dog Soldier told him, snickering.
     “You do us the dirty and you’d better watch your back, Labane,” Death warned, her dark eyes narrowed to slits.
     “You know what?” Ron said. “Don’t call me, I’ll call you.”
     “Thanks for dropping by, Ron,” Sauron called just before the door slammed.
     They were quiet for a while. Then Maleficent observed, “He’s gone over to the other side. He just doesn’t know it yet.”
     “And he never will,” Dog Soldier said. “That kind of insight takes time.”
     “Death to traitors,” Balewitch growled.
     They crossed glances again. This time they smiled.


     Ron felt better once he’d left Connecticut behind him. Being with that crowd was always a trial, but tonight! Tonight had been different. The idea that they had been watching him made his stomach clench like an angry fist. How dare those sick little bastards spy on him? How long has this been going on?
     And how far had it gone?
     The thought frightened him and the fear broke the fever of his outrage with a cold sweat. Had they been in his apartment?
     No, he assured himself, they couldn’t have; I’d have smelled them. The contempt felt good.
     Besides, he paid a premium to live in a building with first-class security. It was one thing to watch MacMillan enter his building and to guess where he was going. It was quite another to actually break in.
     His eyes flicked to the mirror to watch a car coming up behind. A little frisson of fear shivered through his belly. Was it them? Were they up to something?
     As the vehicle passed him he saw that it was one of those pickups with a complete backseat and what seemed to be an eighteen-foot bed—known in some circles as an “adultery wagon.” Ron relaxed, feeling himself loosen, almost deflating behind the wheel. Even in deep disguise, that crowd wouldn’t go near one of those things. Unless they planned to bomb it.
     He forced himself to be calm. They had no reason to be after him. He’d never betrayed them. And I don’t need to betray them now. Without him to keep them on an even keel, they’d be in police custody in a month. Most likely they’d betray one another.
     Geniuses! He gave his head a little shake. A lot of the time they had no practical sense at all. They wouldn’t last long enough to create problems for him.
     And if they did . . . well, he knew some other people, too.


     Labane entered the pleasant guest room—plenty of froufrou and color, to match the theme—and flung his jacket onto the tiny sofa; then he pulled off his tie and threw that down, too. Unbuttoning his cuffs, he entered the bathroom, unbuttoned his collar, and turned on the tap. He splashed cold water on his face, dried off with one of the inn’s luxurious towels, and stared at himself in the mirror.
     He looked almost as exhausted as he felt.
     Last night had run later than he’d planned, but the company had been good. Besides, he suspected that he’d been too keyed up for an early night. Then today there was the traditional campus tour, followed by the obligatory meeting with the campus’s ecology clubs, an interview with the local press, a formal dinner with the president of the college and all of the faculty and guests from the surrounding colleges—of which the area held a multitude—and then his address to the college. After which there was a mill-and-swill where some people introduced themselves and spoke with him, and more people stared at him from a distance as though he were an exhibit.
     God, it was good to be alone again. He went back into the room and sat in one of the comfortable club chairs; he wondered idly if they were Victorian. Didn’t seem likely. The chair didn’t try to make him sit ramrod straight and the cushions accepted the shape of his posterior without the apparent resentment of true Victorian furniture.
     He’d ordered coffee, and though he knew that the average guest would have been denied, his celebrity status got him what he wanted.
     Ron smiled; life was good. He was tired, but it was worth it. Seeing all those eager young faces, knowing they were hanging on his every word, shaping their lives to fit his philosophy. He closed his eyes, hands folded across his stomach, sighed contentedly. It just didn’t get any better than this.
     There was a discreet knock at the door.
     “Room service.”
     “C’mon in, it’s open,” Ron called out from his chair. “You can just put it there on the coffee table.”
     Then he realized that there was more than one person entering the room. He opened his eyes, annoyed, but smiling through it. Sometimes being a celebrity got you what you wanted, but sometimes the fans wanted something back in return; like the opportunity to show you off to their friends.
     Then he realized he was looking at Hate and Dog Soldier. The artiicial smile froze on his face, then slipped away. “What’s up, fellas?” he asked.
     Hate handed Dog Soldier a pillow from off the bed. Dog Soldier pulled out a huge gun and wrapped the pillow around it.
     “Wait a minute!” Ron said, holding up his hand.
     “Not even,” Dog Soldier said cheerfully, and shot him between the eyes.
     At least that was where he’d been aiming. With large-caliber ammunition it was sometimes hard to tell exactly where the bullet struck.
     Hate picked up the phone and dialed room service. “I’m so sorry,” he said in a nearly perfect imitation of Labane’s voice. “I have to cancel that request for coffee. I’m suddenly so tired I couldn’t even take a sip. I apologize for the inconvenience.”
     Dog Soldier watched him as he put the gun down on the coffee table.
     “Oh, thank you,” Hate said into the phone pleasantly.
     Dog raised a brow as he flung the pillow back onto the bed and took out a small box.
     “Well, that’s always nice to hear,” Hate said.
     Dog got to work on the gun, unscrewing the handgrip and carefully replacing the grip plates with those that had been handled by their mark.
     “Really,” Hate said, rolling his eyes and gritting his teeth even as he kept his voice friendly and cheerful. “All that way? Just for me?”
     Dog Soldier grinned and shook his head.
     “Well, thank you, but I really must go. Yes. Yes, everything is wonderful. Yes. Thank you. You’re very sweet. I must go. Yes. Good night.” Hate put down the receiver carefully. “I was ready to go down there and blow them all away,” he snarled. “Cattle!
     Dog chuckled. “I don’t blame you, man. People get to me the same way. Save the planet—kill all the people!”

He Told the Interviewer that if He Must Die Young, He had at Least Created the Most Unique Sculpture in the World Before He Left

Excerpt from the novel Rising Storm icon-external-link-12x12 icon-search-12x12 by S.M. Stirling icon-external-link-12x12 icon-search-12x12

S.M. Stirling's "Rising Storm" book cover. [Formatted]


     Dieter entered the living room, where John half lay on the couch, reading a manual on source codes, a beam of bright sunlight spearing through one of the high clerestory windows to bring out the slight reddish hints in his dark hair. The Austrian dropped a package into the young man’s lap.
     John started as though he’d been asleep and looked from the package to von Rossbach. “What’s this?” he asked.
     “A package,” Dieter said, with the slight edge of sarcasm.
     John snorted. “Thanks!” he said, and rose. “I’ll be in my room if you want me.”
     Sarah came in just as he was leaving and he leaned over on his way out to kiss her cheek. Her eyes widened and she turned to watch him go, then turned back to von Rossbach, her eyebrows raised in inquiry.
     “Something came in the mail from that girl in Boston,” he explained, sitting down in one of the leather chairs, the rest of the mail in his lap.
     “Ahhhh,” Sarah said thoughtfully. She moved slowly into the room. “What girl?”
     This time Dieter’s brows rose. “He didn’t tell you about her?”
     Trying to keep the hurt out of her expression, Sarah sat next to the big Austrian. “Uh, no.” Her mouth twisted ruefully. “He is seventeen, and this is a girl and I am his mother…” She sighed. “I guess it’s only natural he’d want to keep her to himself.”
     Dieter looked at her sympathetically. “But you’re hurt anyway.” As far as he could tell, they were unusually close. It was probable that until now they’d shared everything.
     Sarah was quiet for a moment, then she wrinkled her nose at him. “A little. Maybe.” Then she sighed. “It annoys me that I am, though, because, really, I’m pleased that he has someone. It would be nice if she were nearby…” She leaned toward him. “Tell me about her.”
     He shrugged his massive shoulders. “There’s not much I can tell you,” he said. “She’s somebody he recruited on-line to keep an eye out for mysterious doings. Then, when we went to the U.S., he took her and her team the Terminator’s CPU. She’s a student at MIT,” he added. “And clearly, something clicked between them.”
     “Hmmph,” she said. “I guess I’ll have to go to the source.”

John closed the door to his room, tore open the box that Wendy had sent him, and pulled out her letter.
     Hi, Sweetie, she’d written.
     Well, that’s flattering, he thought. One kiss… On the other hand, we felt close right off. Evidently three months’ separation hadn’t altered her feelings—and that was extremely reassuring. He read on:

     Some of us went to New York this week to attend the New Day show. That’s the show that Ron Labane of the New Luddites hosts. It was wonderful! I can’t begin to tell you how inspiring I find him. I wish you could have been with us. About a hundred of us from MIT went down in buses.

     A hundred? John reread that, shocked. A hundred MIT students went to the New Luddite show? Those people must be more powerful than he’d thought.
     The idea shook him. He’d assumed the group would be just another flash in the pan, a this-year’s-cause sort of thing. Certainly not the kind of thing that would appeal to really intelligent people. Like Wendy, he thought, troubled. He straightened the folds of her letter and continued reading.

     I’m more convinced than ever that his brand of intelligent Luddism is the answer to so many of our problems: pollution, poverty, overpopulation. I have to confess to you right now that I took the pledge.

     John looked up from her letter, frowning. She took “the pledge”? What the hell did that mean? He didn’t think she drank.

     In case you’re wondering just what I’ve pledged, I feel a little awkward about telling you. I know I should have discussed it with you, though that might be presumptuous of me. And maybe you’ll say I was swept away by the enthusiasm of the crowd. But I did take it, and I mean to keep my word
     In case you haven’t heard of the pledge, it’s a promise to have no more than two children. If I divorce and remarry and my second husband hasn’t any children, then I’m allowed to have one with him. Though ideally I would have had my tubes tied after I had my second child.
     The hard truth is, the only way we’re going to reduce our population is by making sacrifices like that. And reducing population is step one; everything follows from that.

Wincing, John lowered the letter and rubbed his brow with his free hand. Oh, Wendy, if you only knew, he thought sadly. Overpopulation was not likely to be a problem in a few years.

     Anyway, I hope you won’t be angry with me for going ahead on my own. But I know you’re a sensible person and so I’m trusting you’ll understand.
     On a completely different subject, we also saw some of the sights while we were there and I got this for you at Lincoln Center. This is the most amazing sculpture; I’d love for you to see it for yourself. But the video is very good and has a “making of” section at the end that you’ll probably find interesting.
     Hope to hear from you soon. Love and kisses…

     John pulled the video out of the mailing box and looked at it. On the cover was a photo of a weird-looking modern sculpture. He wasn’t impressed, but then he wasn’t a big fan of modern art. The back of the box was filled with not very informative blurbs from other artists and bits culled from critical reviews.
     But, hey, if Wendy was impressed it must be really something.
     He was trying, and he knew that he was trying, to suppress thoughts of Judgment Day. If there was a Judgment Day. Well, if there was, it would make Wendy’s idealistic pledge seem rather foolish.
     And yet, that she had made it moved him; still more, that she’d written to him about it. He felt toward her a tenderness more profound and respectful than he had yet experienced. He wanted to protect her, to shelter her from all harm. At the same time he admired her faith in the future. He smiled and shook his head.
     Then he took the tape and inserted it into the VCR and sat back to watch.
     There was a little explanation at first on how Lincoln Center had decided to erect a statue, and had commissioned the late Vladimir Hill to create it. Then there was a segment of film, greatly speeded up, that showed the thing actually moving. Its name was Venus Dancing and John’s jaw dropped as we watched it doing just that.
     The glittering column seemed to swoop and bend, stretching high and then stooping, the holes in its surface growing and shrinking as it moved. The whole thing seemed alive and its motion was graceful and very beautiful. Although, despite the pleasure of watching the lovely thing, something niggled.
     Then the dancing segment ended and the “making of” section began. The sculptor, emaciated from his bout with cancer, described the process of creation. He told the interviewer that if he must die young, he had at least created the most unique sculpture in the world before he left.
     Then there were scenes from the unveiling, where an almost unrecognizably healthy Vladimir was shown with a beautiful young woman who was the creator of Hill’s new sculpting material, a substance she called Intellimetal.
     It took a moment as he watched the smiling, blushing brunette, nervously adjusting her glasses. But it was that movement that attracted his attention to her eyes. The shock of recognition took his breath away.
     “MO-OM!” he shouted, not moving from where he sat on the bed but only bellowing louder, “MOM! DIETER! COME HERE! NOW!”

Being Right Doesn’t Help Much When You’re Right About Something this Weird

Excerpt from the novel Rising Storm icon-external-link-12x12 icon-search-12x12 by S.M. Stirling icon-external-link-12x12 icon-search-12x12

S.M. Stirling's "Rising Storm" book cover. [Formatted]


     John slipped into the auditorium/classroom quietly and sat down in the last row at the back. Very nearly every seat was filled for this class and he swept the rows with his gaze, looking for Wendy. He thought he saw her in the center of the middle row. Just a sense he had, since he’d never seen her in the flesh, let alone from the back. He settled in to listen. You never knew what knowledge might come in handy.
     Too soon the class was over, leaving John hungry for more. Some of it had been a bit esoteric, but what he had gotten was presented in such an interesting way that he envied the students. Good teachers definitely made a world of difference; it was just more fun than doing everything on your own or on the Net.
     The girl in the middle row was Wendy. She turned and began to slip out behind the other students, a thoughtful expression on her even features. The others all seemed to be chattering to one another in couples and groups, while she walked slowly and alone toward him.
     John felt a nervous electricity in his middle as he looked at her. Slender and graceful, she moved like a dreamer through the stream of students. He stood up as she drew near and fell in directly behind her, waiting until they were outside to speak.
     “Watcher,” he said.
     She spun on her heel, her eyes wide and her head at a stiff, almost challenging angel. “Who the hell are you?” she snapped, a slight frown marring her smooth brow.
     He smiled slowly. “You don’t recognize my voice?”
     She looked him over, dark eyes assessing. “You’re younger than you look, even with that beard.” Taking a step closer, she narrowed her eyes. “A fake beard?” She raised a hand and backed off a step. “I don’t know you.”
     “Sure you do,” he said, grinning. “You’ve just never met me.”
     “Yeah, right. Ciao, kid.” She started to walk away.
     Rolling his eyes, John fell into step beside her. “You know me as AM, we’ve spoken on the phone. You’ve done a little Web surfing for me.”
     Wendy stopped short and studied him again. “So what are you doing here?” she asked suspiciously.
     With a shrug he said, “I felt it was time I met you and your team in person. I have some information I’d like to share with you and an artifact to show you, and that couldn’t be done by phone or via the Net.” His lips quirked up at the corners. “So I’m here.”
     She looked at him for a long time. “Hmmm!” she said, and started off again. John watched her walk away, then jogged to catch up with her, walking silently by her side as she thought. Lifting her head suddenly, as though just waking up, she glanced around.
     “Um. that was my last class,” she said, giving him a sidelong glance. “Look, don’t take this the wrong way, but I’m not about to introduce you to my ‘team’ as you call them until I know a little bit more about you. So, why don’t we go have coffee at the student union?”
     “Sure. So how’s the coffee at the student union?”
     “Compared to what?” she growled.
     He looked at her wide-eyed. Wow, she’s a fierce little thing.
     “Uh, compared to the tea?”
     A slight smile touched her lips. “They’re both pretty bad, to be honest. Maybe we should stick to soda.”
     “Do you drink Jolt?” he asked.
     “No! I know all us geeks are supposed to thrive on the stuff, but I do not.” She pushed open a door and led him into a place teeming with students.
     “Uh”—he touched her arm, then removed his hand when she glared at it—“it’s a little crowded in here for the kind of conversation I had in mind.”
     Wendy raised a skeptical brow. “Nobody here knows you,” she pointed out. “I don’t know you. Which means there’s no reason to think anybody is going to eavesdrop.” She shrugged. “Sometimes the most private place you can find is in a crowd.”
     “Yo! Wen-dy!” a large, bearded student bellowed. She grinned and waved.
     “And sometimes not,” John said quietly.
     “Meeting tonight at eight in Snog’s room,” the beard said, leaning close. He grinned at John and moved on.
     Wendy gave John a look and went over to a machine, getting herself a diet drink. John pushed a dollar into the machine and got a Coke, then followed her to an empty table wondering if he should have bought hers. Probably not; buying her a drink might have some significance in the U.S. that a guy who went to an all-male school in South America was unaware of.
     Wendy shrugged off her knapsack and sat down, then took a sip of her drink. John divested himself of his own and sat across from her wondering how to begin. He’d rehearsed things to say, naturally, but felt that he’d somehow gotten off on the wrong foot here. Clearly their Internet acquaintance and one phone call didn’t mean that they knew each other as far as she was concerned.
     I should have let her know I was coming, he thought. Of course then she could have said don’t come and probably would have. And he would have come anyway, in which case she’d be even more hostile than she presently was. Still, showing up unexpectedly and in disguise… He winced inwardly. He’d actually forgotten about it. That’s the kind of thing stalkers do, I guess. The last thing he wanted to do was make her think he was crazy. Oh, c’mon, John, she’s gonna think you’re crazy anyway. Just a different kind of crazy.
     “Well!” she snapped. “You wanted to talk? Presumably during my lifetime?”
     He cupped his chin on his hand and said, “There’s no need to get snippy.”
     “Well, what do you expect when you show up like this? In a fake beard no less! I’ve gotta tell you”—she gave her head a little shake—“I’m really not feeling very good about this.” She flicked a hand at him. “Not good at all.”
     John allowed himself to show some temper. “Well, Wendy, I find it interesting that you’re perfectly comfortable invading the privacy of people you don’t know at the behest of someone else you don’t know for reasons that you don’t know. But when I attempt to meet you face-to-face to explain it all, you give me this rather obnoxious attitude that screams ‘hey, my space is being invaded.'”
     Her mouth dropped open and she straightened in her seat. Then she let out a little bark of a laugh and opened her mouth to speak.
     Before she could get out a word John said, “Has it ever occurred to you that, nevermind that it’s unethical, what you’re doing might be dangerous, or illegal?”
     “No,” she said instantly. “I’m not that clumsy and I’m not doing anything but looking. Information should be free.”
     It was John’s turn to stare. God! She’s so innocent! What must it be like to feel so invincible. He had at one time, but that was before the T-1000 and he couldn’t remember what it had been like.
     “Well, ideally we all should be free, and well fed and have a comfortable, safe place to sleep at night. But I don’t think that’s the way things are. Do you?”
     She gave a “hunh!” and glared at him.
     “Don’t let your pride get in the way of your considerable intelligence,” he said. “You know you never should have gotten involved in this without checking into it further, don’t you?”
     With a shrug she said, “I checked you out. As far as I could. Your Web address belongs to a guy named Dieter von Rossbach and he isn’t you. But why you’re using his computer, I couldn’t find out. I also couldn’t find any reference to an AM anywhere. Which indicates that it’s a new name. So, either you’ve never done anything like this yourself, or you’ve screwed it up so badly that you needed a new handle.”
     He considered her answer. Not bad for what was mostly guesswork. He scrubbed his face with his hands, being careful not to dislodge his facial hair, and looked at her.
     “Well?” she asked, one eyebrow raised.
     “It is a new name. Spur-of-the-moment thing,” he admitted. “I’ve done research on the Net before and I’ve lurked around a bit. But this sort of thing, getting other people involved…” He turned down the corners of his mouth and shook his head. “Yeah. This is new.”
     Wendy huffed a little and leaned back in her chair, studying him. He was young, probably younger than she was, but he felt older, and she instinctively knew she could trust him. Maybe she was being snippy.
     “So what’s this about?” she asked. “I guess you didn’t come all the way from South America because you thought I was cute or something.”
     “Sure I did,” he said, grinning. Then held up his hand to ward off her response. “Well, maybe it helped. I came up here because it would be irresponsible to let you keep doing this research without having some idea of why and what you’re doing. I am not lying when I tell you it could be dangerous. Now I’m not talking gun battles on the quad here.” At least I hope like hell I’m not. “Maybe a better word would be risk.
     “Risk?” she said. Wendy took a sip of her soda, watching him.
     “Yeah. You’re taking a risk on your future here. Which is why I believe you need more information.”
     Biting her lips, she nodded slowly, meeting his dark-eyed gaze. He had a point. The powers that be might, at the very least, think that what she’d been doing was unethical, if not uncommon. And that could impact her career path.
     “All right,” she said. “Enlighten me.”
     Okay, here goes. “What you’ve been working on is an attempt to locate a very dangerous military AI project.”
     After a moment’s pause she asked, “A U.S. government project?”
     “Ye-ah.” Who else? he wondered.
     “Because, you’re from Paraguay, aren’t you?”
     “I’m from the U.S., I live in Paraguay,” he said impatiently. “What’s your point?”
     “I dunno. I guess”—she shrugged—“I wondered why you’d be interested.”
     People are right, John thought, Americans are self-centered. If you’re not from here what do you care what we do? Naive and unconsciously arrogant, to say the least.
     “My interest is in stopping this project, at the very least slowing it down.”
     Suddenly mindful of where their acquaintance had begun, Wendy asked suspiciously, “Are you some kind of Luddite?”
     “Now you ask me?” John favored her with an exasperated look. “no, I’m not a Luddite. I’m willing to admit that they have a few good ideas, but by and large I don’t think their ideology is applicable to real life. And I don’t like terrorists; they’re all self-centered, mean-spirited nutcakes, if you ask me. Me, I just have this one lousy project that needs to be stopped. I have my reasons, which I’ll explain to you someplace less public. But I’m not here to hurt you, Wendy, far from it.”
     Wendy considered that. “Have you read Labane’s book?” she asked.
     John shook his head. “I haven’t had time.”
     “So you really can’t say whether their ideology is, in fact, applicable.” She crossed her arms and watched him for his reaction.
     John was a bit confused. Suddenly she wanted to play debating team? To him the question and its follow-up had come out of left field. Maybe it’s like a time-out, he thought. She’s trying to get some space to think about me being here so she’s distracting me with this nonsense.
     “You know what?” he said. “You’re right. I can’t speak to the Luddite ideology with any authority because I haven’t made a minute study of their position. I think they bear watching, but frankly”–he flattened his hand on his chest—“I’m not that interested. I have this one thing I have to do and it takes all my time and concentration. I’m hoping that once you’ve heard what I have to say, you and your friends will want to continue helping me. And if you don’t I’m trusting you to keep quiet about it. Everything else is irrelevant to me. Okay?”
     She kind of lifted her head and pursed her lips. “Sure, whatever.” Wendy took another sip of her drink, annoyed and slightly embarrassed. “So. Have you got a place to stay?”
     “Uh, actually I was kind of hoping you might have a suggestion about that.”
     She gave him a cool, level look that went on long enough to see that he understood he wasn’t staying with her.
     “A motel, a bed-and-breakfast maybe?” he quickly suggested.
     “Hotels in Boston and Cambridge, if you can find one with a room, tend to be expensive, and B-and-Bs are even more so. I’ll see if I can find someone to put you up in their room.” She took up her backpack. “You can eat here if you like.” She shrugged. “It’s not very good, but it is cheap. Or there are restaurants all around the campus that have reasonable prices and fairly good food.”
     John stood up to follow her, but she held up her hand.
     “I’m going to talk to my friends about you and I don’t think you should be there. Be back here by seven-thirty and I’ll bring you to the meeting.” She started off, then said “bye” over her shoulder with a vague sort of wave.
     John was left standing there, feeling a little foolish, and a lot uncertain about how this was going to work out. He wanted Wendy to like him and he’d really come on strong, which he could tell she didn’t like. Wait till she found out what he was talking about. He blew out his breath.
     No wonder Mom flipped out for a while, he thought. Being right doesn’t help much when you’re right about something this weird.
     He slipped on his backpack and looked around the busy room. He sure hoped Dieter was having a better time than he was.
     I’m beginning to look forward to meeting with those arms dealers. A sure sign that things weren’t going all that well here.

Dying Otters Just Drove Humans Wild

Excerpt from the novel Rising Storm icon-external-link-12x12 icon-search-12x12 by S.M. Stirling icon-external-link-12x12 icon-search-12x12

S.M. Stirling's "Rising Storm" book cover. [Formatted]


     After only a scant seven months in maximum, Sarah had been transferred to the minimum-security wing at Pescadero. She’d been there an additional six months when Dr. Ray had gotten her transferred to the halfway house. It was rather pleasant here, comparatively speaking. No screaming in the night. Except for herself, of course. No sudden rushes of stink. The place was shabby, but in a comfortable way, sort of like a boardinghouse with a poor but honest clientele, rather than the antiseptics-and-despair atmosphere of a violent ward. And the patients were much safer to be around.
     With the possible exception of herself, naturally. Sarah was pleased to think that she was growing more dangerous by the minute. It was good to walk without pain again, though she still felt a peculiar internal pulling in her abdomen that might signal an adhesion. Particularly when she exercised hard, and she did, getting back into fighting trim.
     She’d been doing great physically even in maximum, until that crazy bitch Tanya had punctured an artery in an attack she’d been lucky to survive. The attack had set her back physically, but had gained her enough sympathy to get her transferred to minimum.
     Unfortunately, there she’d developed a nasty case of jaundice that still had her feeling weak. Hospitals were great places to catch bugs. Between her physical frailty and Ray’s silver tongue, she was pretty much where she wanted—but had never really expected—to be.
     After the shock of seeing Dr. Silberman again, Sarah had settled into the routine of the place. But she was still surprised at how deeply upset she had been by coming face-to-face with him unexpectedly. Understandable; her days under his care hadn’t been the brightest in her life.
     She was happy she’d been left to Dr. Ray and her own devices the last couple of weeks. Sarah knew that eventually she’d have to face up to the good doctor and deal with the complex stew of emotions he evoked, but not yet. Please, God, not yet.
     Still, after so many weeks in a hospital bed and in physical as well as mental therapy, she was more than a little bored. She missed John and thought of him constantly. But thanks to Dieter—whom she also missed to the point of being lonely—Sarah wasn’t afraid for him. One corner of her mouth lifted and she told herself that she should be grateful to be bored. It was something of a treat.
     She also found herself becoming slowly addicted to television. It couldn’t be account for by the content; Sarah was convinced it had some soporific effect on the brain. But anything that kept her soothed and even inadequately entertained until they let her go was a tool she’d gladly use.
     Sarah walked into the common area to find the nurse resetting the channel and threw herself down on one of the threadbare couches.
     “This is a very important program, people,” the woman said. “I’m sure you’ll all enjoy it.” Then she sat down.
     Raising an eyebrow at that, Sarah leaned back and crossed her legs. The nurses didn’t usually watch TV with the patients. Probably this one should be working or she’d be in the nurses’ lounge watching the little portable they had in there.
     Maybe this will be interesting. Sarah thought.


     Ron Labane watched from the wings as Tony warmed up the crowd for him. It didn’t take much; everyone was excited to be here at the opening show. The New Luddite movement’s new channel was doing fairly well, despite the fact that it showed mostly nature videos, news, and talk shows about environmental subjects. But his TV show was expected to draw an audience of at least three million or possibly more, two hundred of them right here in the studio. The air was hot with lights, and smelled of ozone and sweat and makeup.
     He’d seriously considered moving the whole works out to California, where they had the best facilities and trained personnel. But after a little reflection he’d changed his mind and chosen Oklahoma City. What he wanted was to make the statement that the New Luddites were just that—new. Not part of the establishment, not part of the old-money crowd, in no one’s pocket. These days placing your national show away from either coast was like a declaration of independence. That decision alone set them apart.
     Ron watched the cameras roam over the smiling, waving, applauding audience; the music was inspiring yet had a good beat, and as he watched, the audience began to clap in time, swaying in their seats until the whole place was in motion.
     Choose the moment, he thought, and ran onto the stage with his hands in the air and began clapping in time with them. The audience went wild. The New Day show was primarily a talk show with a little music thrown in for leavening. It just so happened that the singers and musicians they chose to present were those that Ron had handpicked.
     He’d been lucky. There were always dedicated youngsters out there with talent to burn, but that didn’t mean the public would embrace them. To find talented kids who agreed with Labane’s philosophy and made it palatable to millions with their music was a miracle. A miracle he’d been able to pull off four times now. He joked that he was beginning to suspect he was in the wrong business.
     Gradually, after a few more jokes, Ron began his speech, adopting the intimate, almost avuncular manner that the polls indicated his audience responded to best.
     “Y’know,” Ron began, “with all the brownouts in California, people are saying that we need to reasses our feelings about nuclear energy.” He led them through it step-by-step, pointed out that other resources could be exploited, other plans could be made. “The thing is, nobody is going to invest in those other alternatives if we’re all talked into building more nuclear plants. And, no matter what they say, nuclear power isn’t clean, it isn’t safe. Now the president wants to give them unlimited protection from liability. How safe does that make you feel?”
     Ron actually had a guest on the show tonight who held a dissenting view, and the guy had a good case. He also had a temper and a tendency to take things personally, which Ron fully intended to exploit. Waste not want not, was after all, one of the New Luddites’ mottos.
     He broke for a commercial, promising a great show when they came back. Then an announcer’s voice took over, describing an environmentally friendly array of cleaning products. Ron moved across the stage and took his place behind the desk, smiling out at his audience. He could feel that this was going to work out well.


     Clea turned out the commercial and thought about what she’d been watching. Ron Labane was one of Serena’s projects that Clea had taken over with some enthusiasm. She saw potential here to confuse and divide the humans that her predecessor hadn’t fully exploited. What better way to keep the humans as weak as possible, to make sure that as little as possible survived Judgment Day to be used against the sudden onslaught of the killer machines, than to encourage a fear of technology?
     Labane was making nuclear power the issue du jour on his inaugural program. It was an emotional issue for humans—especially Americans, for some reason. They were constantly fighting the opening of these highly efficient power plants. Which was surely in Skynet’s interests. Keeping the power-dependent humans from having all the juice they wanted would destabilize things nicely. It would create factions, even among the rich and powerful, and it would drive the proles nuts.
     As for their perfectly valid fear of nuclear waste, well, an accident had been arranged.
     With part of her mind still on the program, Clea contacted her T-101. Through its eyes she saw that the truck it had stolen was behind the convoy carrying some West Coast nuclear waste to its Southwestern dump site.
     She glanced at the television image in the upper corner of her screen. But first she’d wait until Ron’s program was over. It seemed the polite thing to do.


     The Terminator kept a precise distance between himself and the truck in front of him: exactly one hundred and fifty meters. The unmarked eighteen-wheeler carrying the specially designed cargo container was accompanied by two vans, also unmarked. It was all very discreet. Had they not known exactly what they were looking for, they would never have been able to find this particular truck.
     The T-101 glanced at the body beside it. It had entered the propane truck’s cab at a truck stop and waited for the driver to return. When he did, it had broken his neck before the human had even been aware of its presence. Soon the I-950 would signal the T-101 to go ahead and the body would be needed to stand in fro it when investigators sifted through the wreckage.
     *Now,* the Infiltrator sent.
     The Terminator pressed its booted foot down and sped toward the truck in front of it. The waste truck’s companion van tried to move in front of the propane truck, but the Terminator calculated angles as it maneuvered and struck the van at precisely the right point to send it spinning off the road and into the first of the few buildings that had begun to appear by the side of the road. It disappeared into the flimsy structure, sending glass flying.
     With nothing in its way, the Terminator pulled up beside the waste truck, swerved into the far lane so that it could aim the propane truck at the carrier’s exact center, and rammed it at eighty miles an hour, knocking the carrier onto its side with a screech of metal against pavement. The propane truck climbed on top of the rig and then collapsed slowly onto its side, but didn’t rupture.
     The Terminator was out of the cab and onto the street in seconds, a grenade launcher in its hands. While the van up ahead was backing up, fast, it took aim and fired. The propane truck burst into magenta flame, the blast picked the van up like a dry leaf and flung it nearly a thousand meters, it ripped and burned every inch of flesh from the front of the Terminator’s skeleton, leaving only smoking patches on its back. Briefly the T-101 went off-line.
     When it came back to itself, burning debris was still falling and the buildings along the highway had been blown flat all around the explosion. Its internal monitors reported radioactive contamination at a very high level.
     *Mission accomplished,* it sent.
     *Status?* the I-950 queried.
     *External sheath severely compromised, no secondary damage, some nuclear contamination.*
     Well, Clea thought, back to the vat for you. Any contamination it had picked up would mostly be rubbed away by its travels. *Return to base. Discreetly.*
     *Acknowledged.* It looked around itself. Off in the distance it saw a house, undamaged by the blast. Humans had come outside to gawk at the fire. Where there were humans there would be transportation. It headed for them.


     Ron offered the last few energy-saving tips and said good night when Tony came tearing onstage. For a split second he thought he’d made an error in his timing and had left them with a ridiculous amount of dead air. The audience began to rustle and murmur.
     Then Tony slipped him a news report and said, “It’s an accident. Maybe. Some asshole in a propane truck rammed into a nuclear-waste carrier right in the middle of a small town in New Mexico. There’s a news blackout. Apparently the whole state is out.”
     Ron turned to the audience and clapped his hands. When they’d quieted down he said, “Ladies and gentlemen, I have some terrible news.”
     He read them the report in his hand, just the bare, unadorned facts. “I’m told there’s a new blackout on this incident, which means that this is all we may know for some time. I’d like you all to bow your heads with me and pray for the people of New Mexico.” After a moment’s silence he lifted his head and looked at them solemnly.
     “Now let’s all just remain calm,” he said. “We’ll know more by and by. But when you get home I’d like you to write your congressman or -woman and tell them we don’t want any more accidents like this one.”
     People applauded enthusiastically, rising to their feet and clapping with an energy that spoke of their anger and their horror. Then, as if someone had flipped a switch, they stopped and began filing out, murmuring to one another. Ron watched them go, a little seed of anger burning in his breast. This could have happened at the beginning of the show, and ruined everything.
     On the other hand, since they had finished the show, this little incident beautifully underscored what he’d been talking about. He’d have to get his publicist on this. He’d work up a statement emphasizing that his show had been talking about the dangers of nuclear power just before the news broke.
     Ron smirked; there was nothing quite like being able to say “I told you so!”


     The show ended, and it hadn’t been all that bad for blatant propaganda. As the credits began to roll someone came running in from offstage. Sarah got up, not really thinking anything about it except that the New Luddites didn’t have top-quality people running their programs. The nurse switched to another channel, where a news anchor was announcing that a fuel truck had crashed into an eighteen-wheeler carrying nuclear waste.
     My God! She thought.
     The anchor went on to say that background radiation as far away as Albuquerque had jumped by over 700 percent…
     I don’t think that’s even supposed to be possible! Sarah thought. Those containers are supposed to be specially designed to withstand just about anything up to a direct hit with a bomb. Which an exploding propane tank would very closely resemble. Maybe it’s just my nasty mind talking, but this sounds deliberate.
     The news anchor was saying that possible terrorist activity was being looked into.
     Nice to know it isn’t just me for a change, Sarah thought. Paranoids had real enemies, too.


     Clea smiled. Her timing had been exquisite. She’d found a weakness, exploited it and voilá. Panic in the streets. Or there would be after her message on the Net was discovered.
     They’d be blathering about it for weeks, maybe months, and spending untold amounts of money studying and correcting the problem. Little knowing that despite their best and most earnest efforts, she’d just do it again.
     Actually, next time she thought she’d cause an oil spill. Clea had been exploring the possibilities of hacking into a ship’s closed system by satellite. If it proved feasible she was going to try to time the incident so that some enormously popular place was soiled in the most appallingly photogenic manner possible. Preferably somewhere with otters. Dying otters just drove humans wild.
     For a while she’d toyed with the idea of having a Terminator do the job for her, but it would be better to do it by remote if possible. It would be much, much more difficult for the oil companies to explain if they didn’t have a convenient scapegoat, such as a mysteriously missing crewman.
     Heads will roll, she thought. What a charming image. She began to see why Serena had found such joy in her work.