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.

Knowledge of Runes

Goddamn Shangri-La was what it was. No, I don’t know what it was really called, or even where it was. Didn’t give two shits when I got there, and when I left there were, uh, other things to think about. By the time I got my head back in the game I couldn’t remember , which they musta known’d be the case. I’m damn sure it was real; where’d you think I lost the eye?

Anyway. Easy pickings, I thought, like a jackass, just some flyspeck mountain town in the middle of the great American dogshit, but they saw me coming a mile away. Peeled me like the rube I was. Let me run all my little cons, my pennyante grifts, all smiles and vague accents and life’s savings, and I couldn’t see the noose at all, not until they had it good and tight around my neck.

Justice? They don’t waste their time with that nonsense. Didn’t matter to them what I’d done. Coulda burned the whole place to the ground, they woudn’t’ve cared. No, they just took my eye as a fucking teachable moment, filled my lungs half fulla water and turned me loose. Took me forever to get out of that damn hospital, and the whole time plagued by what the eye they took was seeing. REAL stuff, you know? Really real, not all this puppet show.

Still looking, though. Gonna get back there if it kills me. Figure I got the one eye behind the curtain, so to speak; what’ll they give me for the other one?


Polybius blinks owlishly against the sudden flood of light into his cell. “Yes? Who’s there?” His voice is cracked and reedy: a mistuned oboe.

“Shut him up, quick quick,” someone growls, and rough hands grab him, stuff a soapy rag into his mouth and an oniony bag over his head. He struggles, but he’s never been valued for the strength of his arms. They carry him out into the halls, and even through soap and onions he can smell blood and offal. He starts to heave and they slap him, pummel him until he subsides in agony.

He panics when they get outside. Where are his brothers? Where are their tender cruelties? His skin starts to burn at the unaccustomed glare of the moon and he weeps. “He’s an ugly damn worm, isn’t he?” one of his abductors says. There’s a sound he knows well: fist meeting flesh over bone. They travel again in silence.

Hours or minutes later they’re inside again and he’s forced into a chair. The bag is ripped from his head and his eyes weep uncontrollably with the light. The sisters surrounding him are slender, beardless, and short, but he recognizes the room, twin to his own. “Ours now,” says one sister, and hands him a pen. “Write!”


The work of generations, setting bones, curing warts, delivering babies. They don’t get much call for war-work, but every spring and summer the men drain off to the east and return lighter a limb, shorter an eye, aching in joints broken and reset in haste; these too need tending. Half of what Jillian knows is useless garbage, an indecipherable bit of success scrawled in the margins of the little Red Book; words have shifted, since then, or men, or climate, assuming it ever worked at all.

It’s a dark night with the rain coming down and she’s up late writing the day down in her logbook by the watery light of the coals when the knock comes and the door opens hard on its heels, spilling rain and a man all over her floor. “God save us all,” she growls, and levers herself over to see what the devil has brought her.

It’s a well-made shape he’s taken this time, barring the scarring and the blood all over his front. “Well, let’s see what you’ve got,” she tells him, and humps his leaking corpus over to the side bed redolent with rosemary and ivy. Underneath the wreck of his clothes he’s a marvel in ruin, a shipwrecked statue, his belly torn open down to the fork. Jillian looks up and his eyes are open, but milky. “You’re bound to die, son,” she tells him, but he either doesn’t hear her or doesn’t care.

She does what she can, but it won’t be enough.

Morning finds her asleep in her chair, arms black to the elbow with dried blood and pine tar. She pries gummy eyes apart to find him standing over her, numinous with health. It hurts to look at him, and when he speaks, it’s a tall tree in her ear. He passes, and the day is empty for his going. The side bed is pierced through with blue flowers of new-grown rosemary, black berries of ivy.


Fog, and weeks of fog. Mold and moss digs furry fingers into every nook and crevice, and the greasy face of the Sailor’s Quarter goes piebald with crusted salt summoned from the slate grey pucker of the bay. Markfeet is cold to the core of her, no matter what fires she builds or drinks she swallows; she swaddles herself in colorless, bulky sweaters, festoons herself with charms against the dusk. No matter — her fingers still ache, bloodless and so stiff she can hardly hold flame to her cigarette. Forensics has to do it for her, her face moony and foolish in the red light of the match.

“So? What did you learn?”

Forensics flinches. “Not much, alas. Vegetarian. A drinker, to judge by the liver, but not a smoker, going by the lungs. Brain raddled with worms, but–” she holds up a hand to forestall Markfeet’s next, obvious question– “years old. Probably got exposed during the last skirmish.”

“Sailor, then?”

“Hard to say. Could’ve been an islander, or maybe just unlucky. Worked with his hands, sure enough; see the calluses? That says sailor, right enough, only his feet are soft as lambskin.”

“Maybe they were new-grown?”

Forensics purses her lips. “Y-e-e-e-es,” she drawls. “that could have been it. Hard to tell in this weather, but they do seem pale, don’t they? We’ll get you a list of backalleys that could have put them together for him; maybe they’ll know something.”