Heat Dome

Stagnant air, still as an oven. Sick and dizzy, Russ pauses in the fields, glares up into a sky cloudless and white with heat, pauses to take a long drink at her canteen, water as warm as blood. It has been months, will be months, summer like a lid on a pot, and they bake. Tip’s been after her to pack it in and take the wobbly out to Holofernes or someplace cooler but hell she broke this ground, built the house, she ain’t gonna leave it because it got hot.


The ground cracks and blows away, and no amount of skill will keep it when the wind blows through. They have done everything, loved the land like a sister, taken nothing from it that it didn’t gladly give, put nothing into it that wasn’t already there, took no more than they needed, honored it like any great-grandmother, but: sometimes things just die. She knows this, knows to accept it when it happens.

Still it stings.

She barely makes it home again, stumbles up the steps into the shade, into a house like an open throat, every door and window wide and panting after any trickle of a breeze. Tip is huddled against the icebox, washed out and miserable.

Russ sighs, deep down sighs. “Grab your things,” she tells Tip, wet-eyed, already mourning, already planning their return.

Boaz’s Field

In all truth Judith regrets coming to Boaz’s Field. The planet prides itself on its moral rectitude, or, well, not prides itself, exactly, more just exists in moral rectitude without even the drama of talking about it. Business is slow, dead slow; they don’t hound her, or hassle her, or do anything really other than ignore her. Sex, drugs, alcohol, vice: she tries them all, and there’s a tiny trickle of looky-loos and kids who come once for a laugh and then disappear again. She’s barely scraping by, and what’s worse: she’s bored.

One of the girls comes to her. “Ma’am I’m thinking about heading out,” Ruth says, which is unprecedented.

“Getting married?” Judith asks, which would at least be historically apt.

“No ma’am not me. Just time to try something else, I figure. This has been interesting and all, but I guess there doesn’t seem much in the way of advancement possibilities, if you follow me.”

“Sad to see you go,” she says. “Do you need anything? Ticket offworld, anything like that?”

“Thank you kindly, very generous of you I’m sure, but no, no, I think I’ve got everything I need.” Ruth barely stifles a yawn and smiles sheepishly on her way out the door.

It’s the yawn that does it: within a month Judith has sold everything, paid out her contracts, and bought a ticket somewhere, anywhere else. There are no crowds at the port when she leaves; no one mourns or celebrates her leaving, which is just damn frustrating.


What with one thing and another he’d been separated from his hunting party and brother knights and though they were no more than a morning’s ride from King Mark’s castle Sir Gawain (of Arthur’s knights the very paragon of gentility) found himself lost yet again. “Some strange adventure is this,” quotha, “and dark these woods.” He spun a tale and eke another to himself before coming to the other side, and marveled to see a vast plain spread out before him and a court thereon assembled. “I will assay it, and bear report to Mark the king of what passes in his domain,” and, so saying, descended unto the court.

A strange court indeed. A young man of the most unaffected simplicity, whose face was the very index of his mind, sat a high bench against a woman of twenty-six or twenty-seven, bound hand and foot like a criminal, with the most noble, the most agreeable, the most interesting visage, rendered yet a thousand times more piquant by that tender and touching air innocence contributes to the traits of beauty. Sir Gawain marveled at the abuses piled upon her by the young man, and vowed in his heedless heart to rescue her, an he could.

“Oh, Monsieur,” she sobbed, “unbend, I beseech you; be so generous as to relieve me without requiring what would be so costly I should rather offer you my life than submit to it!”

“Tell us,” commanded the young man, “why so strange an animal as man was made? and if the Emperor of the Ottomans concerns himself with the comfort of the mice on board his ships?”

“I pray you, tell me what this means,” said Sir Gawain of a good old man standing off to the side, “and why she cries so.”

“I do not know,” answered the worthy man, “I am entirely ignorant of the event you mention; I presume in general that they who meddle with the administration of public affairs die sometimes miserably, and that they deserve it; but I never trouble my head about what is transacting at Constantinople; I content myself with sending there for sale the fruits of the garden which I cultivate.”

And Sir Gawain was sore perplexed, and not a little outraged.

Even That Which They Have


She watches the sign slyly, her pigeons awhirl around her, rubs a running nose with one dirty fist. They drove the teeth out of her head years ago, before she took to the streets, and her gums ache something fierce. The birds settle upon her, shoulders and back white with their droppings, their feet half-rotted away or swollen and sweet. Crowd parts before her, in fear of her birds; she catches more than one hopeful tongue, hands twitching to wring one succulent neck. “Peck out your eyes,” she hisses, and they draw further back. “Rot your feet away.”

Cleanhands behind her bulletproof glass is stone-faced at her approach, braced against the smell of alleys and mummifying garbage. “Checking in? You’ll have to leave your birds outside.”

She sneers toothlessly at the woman. Takes one of the birds, old, weak, sick, and blind, wrings its neck and pulls it open with her fingers. The mob groans, sways back and forth, hunger hollowing out their cheeks; cleanhands is bloodless as a rat. “Here,” she says, and snaps the drive down on the counter. “A year and a day’s worth of secrets. I want to buy me some teeth, new and clean.”

The counterwoman could swallow her tongue, looks like, but the drive disappears fast enough, for all the pigeon viscera still clinging to it. The door into the clinic opens soundlessly and they go in together.

She leaves the carcass for the crowd.