A frontier world on the back end of nowhere is the sorts of place people go to get lost. And some of those people have secrets worth hiding, secrets that can change the future-assuming there is one. . . .
Andre Deschenes is a hired assassin, but he wants to be so much more. If only he can find a teacher who will forgive his murderous past-and train him to manipulate odds and control probability. It's called the art of conjuring, and it's Andre's only route to freedom. For the world he lives on is run by the ruthless Charter Trade Company, and his floating city, Novo Haven, is little more than a company town where humans and aliens alike either work for one tyrannical family-or are destroyed by it. But beneath Novo Haven's murky waters, within its tangled bayous, reedy banks, and back alleys, revolution is stirring. And one more death may be all it takes to shift the balance. . . .
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July 30, 2007
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Excerpt from Undertow by Elizabeth Bear
THE MORNING AFTER HE KILLED EUGENE SHAPIRO, ANDRE Deschenes woke early. Before his headset warble ended, he rolled from the bed and landed palms-down on the deck of his bedroom. He slept in loose white trousers; nudity implied vulnerability. The raw breeze through the long windows above his bed roughened his shoulders, scalp, and nape. A clap punctuated each push-up, and he followed the set with five sun salutations to warm up and release his muscles.
He dressed and skinned and was out the door in minutes.
His footfalls chased him through the leaden morning. Roaches and rats scattered before him: humanity's companions all the way to the stars. The air was thick with the promise of rain; Andre's skin steamed before he'd run five hundred meters. The tide was in, the streets riding high on the pilings, and though he ran through a commercial zone, his filters held. Just one pop-ad penetrated, and he squelched it with an eyeflick.
In Andre's neighborhood, the streets were wood slat, floating piers independent of the houses and shops moored to them. They echoed under his running shoes, a hollow thump-thump-thump still unadulterated by other sounds.
He might have been the only one awake in all of Novo Haven. If he lived on Bayside, he would have seen the fishing boats and tenders sliding gulfward with the first light of morning. But from here, only thin channels of bay were visible between the floating streets and under the bridges, and the dinghies and scooters and small boats were still moored by the various steps that led up to street level. He passed more shops than houses; above them on the flat-decked, seaworthy cruisers were second-floor apartments with lifts or spiral walk-ups, but the lower levels had shuttered windows suitable for opening to catch sunlight and the attention of passersby. Ladders and gangplanks ran down to the water, where small craft waited and taxi drivers read the news and drank their coffee.
Andre ran by greengrocers and tackle shops, a geomancer's, an interface outlet, two brothels, a fixit shop for headsets and other implants, a skin-and-fashion store, a corner clinic, a beautician's parlor, and a Chinese restaurant. The bakery on Seagrove wasn't open yet, but good smells emanated from the back, and the clang of pans on counters rattled through the screen door.
He almost tripped crossing up onto the sidewalk beside the 400 "barge"--actually, a twenty-meter cruiser ringed with boardwalks and lashed to pilings. The barge was lower in the water than code permitted, and loosely moored. The sidewalk dipped alarmingly when his weight hit it, but he skipped a step and kept running. More cooking smells now, the distant sound of engines, lights flicking off over doorways as the landward sky paled gold. Someone ran on ahead, a woman with golden skin and black hair clubbed at the nape of her neck, her small breasts bouncing in a crimson sport top. He magnified her, recognized her, and decided she was a good enough reason to run faster. But she turned to port, down Amaryllis, between the white-and-pastel apartment blocks, and his road lay straight on. He didn't want to look too eager.
He wasn't jogging now but running, hard out, breath whistling between his teeth in misty streamers. His heels hit staccato, the street rocking under his stride. He counted breaths, pulling his elbows back each time his arms pumped, feeling the pivot and snap of each foot as it landed, as it left the slats again.
Running was good. Mornings were good. The wet air scraped his throat, chilled his lungs as he sucked it in, shoved it out again. Running hard, running cold, running over the water as the sun warmed the roof peaks and the streets began to hum.
His route was a circle. Or a ragged ungeometric circuit, which brought him panting back down Seagrove just as the bakery's armored shutters glided up, revealing the cheery blues and yellows of an interior bathed in full-spectrum light. Awnings, also automated, fanned out to shade the street. The light off the water would be brutal when the sun got past the rooflines. The fortune-teller next door wouldn't open until after lunchtime, but his awnings rolled out as well. A public service.
Andre let his pace drop to a trot, a jog, a stumbling amble. Sweat, and perhaps some condensation, slid down his chilled face, stung his eyes, and scattered off his nose. He slapped his biceps and thighs to get some heat into the skin, which felt like wax fruit. He set his status as unavailable when he ran--he liked the morning clean--but only an idiot would completely drop connex.