Wild Cards III: Jokers Wild

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9780765326171: Wild Cards III: Jokers Wild

Now in development for TV: Rights to develop Wild Cards for TV have been acquired by Universal Cable Productions, the team that brought you The Magicians and Mr. Robot, with the co-editor ofWild Cards, Melinda Snodgrass as executive producer.

Let the secret history of the world be told―of the alien virus that struck Earth after World War II, and of the handful of survivors who found they now possessed superhuman powers. Some were called Aces, endowed with powerful mental and physical prowess. The others were Jokers, tormented by bizarre mind or body disfigurements. Some served humanity. Others wreaked terror. Now, forty years later, under the streets of Manhattan an evil genius unleashes the powers of darkness―and Aces and Jokers alike must fight for their lives.

Here, in the third volume of the Wild Cards series, seven of science fiction's most gifted writers take you on a journey of wonder and excitement.
Includes stories by:
Edward Bryant
Leanne C. Harper
George R. R. Martin
John J. Miller
Lewis Shiner
Walter Simons
Melinda M. Snodgrass

Le informazioni nella sezione "Riassunto" possono far riferimento a edizioni diverse di questo titolo.

About the Author:

GEORGE R. R. MARTIN's Song of Ice and Fire series, beginning with A Game of Thrones, is among the top-selling fantasy novels of this generation and is now an award-winning HBO series. Martin lives in New Mexico.

Excerpt. © Reprinted by permission. All rights reserved.:

Chapter One
 
 
6:00 A.M.
IT WAS AS DARK as it ever gets on Fifth Avenue, and as quiet.
Jennifer Maloy glanced at the streetlights and the steady stream of traffic, and pursed her lips in annoyance. She didn’t like all the light and activity, but there wasn’t much she could do about it. This was, after all, Fifth Avenue and 73rd Street in the city that never sleeps. It had been equally as busy the past few mornings she’d spent checking out the area and she had no reason to expect that conditions would ever get any better.
Hands thrust deep into the pockets of her trench coat, she strode past the five-story graystone apartment building and slipped into the alley behind it. Here was darkness and silence. She stepped into an area of the alley that was screened by a garbage Dumpster and smiled.
No matter how many times she’d done this, she thought, it was still exciting. Her pulse speeded up and she breathed faster in anticipation as she put on a hoodlike mask that obscured her finely sculpted features and hid the mass of blond hair tied in a knot at the back of her head. She took off her trench coat, folded it neatly, and set it down next to the Dumpster. Under the coat she wore only a brief black string bikini and running shoes. Her body was lean and gracefully muscular, with small breasts, slim hips, and long legs. She bent down, unlaced and removed her sneakers and put them next to the trench coat.
She ran a hand almost caressingly over the rear wall of the graystone apartment building, smiled, and then walked right through the wall.
It was the sound of a power saw biting into sodden hardwood. The whine of steel teeth made Jack’s own teeth ache as the all-too-familiar boy struggled to hide deeper within the cypress tangle.
“He in dere somewhere!” It was his uncle Jacques. The folks around Atelier Parish called him Snake Jake. Behind his back.
The boy bit his lip to keep from crying out. He bit deeper, tasting blood, to keep from changing. Sometimes that worked. Sometimes—
Again the steel saw shrieked into wet cypress. The boy ducked down low; brown, brackish water slopped against his mouth, into his nose. He choked as the bayou washed over his face.
“Tol’ you! Dat little gator-bait right dere. Get ’im.” Other voices joined in.
The power saw blade whined one more time.
Jack Robicheaux flailed out in the darkness, one arm trapped in the sweaty sheet, the other reaching for the phone. He slammed the Tiffany lamp back against the wall, cursed as he somehow caught its petals-and-stems base and steadied it on the bed table, then felt the cool smoothness of the telephone. He picked up the receiver in the middle of the fourth ring.
Jack started to curse again. Who the hell had this number? There was Bagabond, but she was in another room here in his home. Before he could get his lips to the mouthpiece, he knew.
“Jack?” said the voice on the other end of the line. Long-distance static washed out the sound for a second. “Jack, this is Elouette. I’m callin’ you from Louisiana.”
He smiled in the darkness. “Figured you were.” He snapped the lamp switch, but nothing happened. The filament must have broken when the lamp toppled.
“Never actually called this far before,” said Elouette. “Robert always dialed.” Robert was her husband.
“What time is it?” Jack said. He felt for his watch.
“’Bout five in the morning,” said his sister.
“What is it? Is it Ma?” He was waking up finally, pulling free from the fragments of the dream.
“No, Jack, Ma’s fine. Nothin’ll ever happen to her. She’ll outlive us both.”
“Then what?” He recognized the sharpness in his voice and tried to tone it down. It was just that Elouette’s words were so slow, her thoughts so drawn-out.
The silence, punctuated by bursts of static, dilated on the line. Finally Elouette said, “It’s my daughter.”
“Cordelia? What about her? What’s wrong?”
Another silence. “She’s run off.”
Jack felt an odd reaction. After all, he’d run away too, all those years before. Run away when he was a hell of a lot younger than Cordelia. What would she be now, fifteen? Sixteen? “Tell me what happened,” he said reassuringly.
Elouette did. Cordelia (she said) had given little warning. The girl had not come down for breakfast the morning before. Makeup, clothing, money, and an overnight bag were also gone. Her father had checked with Cordelia’s friends. There weren’t many. He called the parish sheriff. The patrols got the word. No one had seen her. The law’s best guess was that Cordelia had hitched a ride out on the blacktop.
The sheriff had shaken his head sadly. “Gal looks like that,” he’d said, “well, we got cause to worry.” He’d done what he could, but it had all taken precious time. It had finally been Cordelia’s father who’d come up with something. A girl with the same face (“Purtiest little thing I seen in a month,” the ticket clerk had said) and long, luxuriant, black hair (“Black as a new-moon bayou sky,” said a porter) had boarded a bus in Baton Rouge.
“It was Greyhound,” Elouette said. “One-way fare to New York City. By the time we found out, the police said it wasn’t none too practical to try and stop it in New Jersey.” Her voice shook slightly, as though she wanted to cry.
“It’ll be okay,” said Jack. “When’s she supposed to get here?”
“About seven,” Elouette said. “Seven your time.”
“Merde.” Jack swung his legs off the bed and sat up in the darkness.
“Can you get there, Jack? Can you find her?”
“Sure,” he said. “But I gotta leave now for Port Authority, or I won’t make it in time.”
“Thanks be,” Elouette said. “Call me after you’ve met her?”
“I will. Then we’ll figure out what to do next. Now I go, okay?”
“Okay. I’ll be right here. Maybe Robert will be back too.” Trust filled her voice. “Thanks, Jack.”
He put down the phone and stumbled across the room. He found the wall switch and finally was able to see in the windowless room. Yesterday’s work clothes were strewn over the rough slab bench to one side. Jack pulled on the well-worn jeans and green cotton shirt. He grimaced at the fragrant work socks, but they were all he had. Today being his day off, he’d planned to spend it at a laundromat. He laced the steel-toed leather boots quickly, catching every other pair of eyelets.
When he opened the door leading into the rest of his home, Bagabond, the two huge cats, a passel of kittens, and a goggle-faced raccoon were all there in the doorway, silently staring at him. In the dimness of the lamp-lit living room beyond, Jack made out the gleam of Bagabond’s dark brown hair and even darker eyes, her high, shadowed cheekbones, the lightness of her skin.
“Jesus, Mother Mary!” he said, stepping back. “Don’ scare me like that.” He took a deep breath and felt the tough, grainy hide on the back of his hands become soft again.
“Didn’t mean to,” said Bagabond. The black cat rubbed up against Jack’s leg. His back nestled along the man’s kneecap. His purr sounded like a contented coffee grinder. “Heard the phone. You okay?”
“I’ll tell you on the way to the door.” He gave Bagabond a précis as he stopped in the kitchen to decant the last of yesterday’s coffee sludge into a foam cup he could carry with him.
Bagabond touched his wrist. “Want us to come along? Day like this, a few more eyes might be valuable at the bus station.”
Jack shook his head. “Shouldn’t be any problem. She’s sixteen and never been in any big city before. Just watched a lot of TV, her mama says. I’ll be right there at the bus door to meet her.”
“She know that?” said Bagabond.
Jack stooped to give the black a quick rub behind the ears. The calico meowed and moved over to take her turn. “Nope. Probably she was going to phone me once she got here. This’ll just save time.”
“Offer’s still open.”
“I’ll have her back here for breakfast before you know it.” Jack paused. “Maybe not. She’ll want to talk, so maybe I’ll take her to the Automat. She won’t have seen anything like that back in Atelier.” He straightened up and the cats yowled disappointedly. “Besides, you’ve got an appointment with Rosemary, right?”
Bagabond nodded dubiously. “Nine.”
“Just don’t worry. Maybe we can all have lunch. Depends on how much of a zoo downtown turns into. Maybe we can pick up take-out at a Korean deli and have a picnic on the Staten Island Ferry.” He leaned toward the woman and gave her a quick kiss on the forehead. Before she could even halfway raise her hands to grasp his arms and reciprocate, he was gone. Out the door. Out of her perception.
“Damn it,” she said. The cats looked up at her, confused but sympathetic. The raccoon hugged her ankle.
Jennifer Maloy slipped through the lower two floors of the apartment building like a ghost, disturbing nothing and no one, neither seen nor heard. She knew that the building had gone condo some time ago and what she wanted was on the uppermost of the three floors that were owned by a rich businessman with the unfortunate name of Kien Phuc. He was Vietnamese. He owned a string of restaurants and dry-cleaning establishments. At least that’s what they’d said on the segment of New York Style she’d seen on PBS two weeks ago. Jennifer really enjoyed that show, which took its viewers on tours of the artsy and stylish homes of the city’s upper class. It presented her with endless possibilities and tons of useful information.
She floated through the third floor, where Kien’s servants lived. She had no idea what was on the fourth floor, since it had been ignored by the television cameras, so she bypassed it and headed for Kien’s living quarters on the top floor. He lived there alone in eight rooms of unrelieved luxury and opulence—decadence, almost. Jennifer had never realized there was that much money in laundromats and Chinese restaurants.
It was dark on the fifth floor, and quiet. She avoided the bedroom with the circular, mirror-ceilinged bed (a little tacky, she’d thought when she’d seen it on TV), and the fabulous hand-painted silk screens. She bypassed the Western-style sitting room with its two-thousand-year-old bronze Buddha gazing benignly from a place of honor next to a fabulous electronic entertainment center complete with a wide-screen television, VCR, and compact disc player with accompanying racks of video and audio tapes and discs. She wanted the study.
It was as dark there as it was on the rest of the floor, and she started when she saw a vague, shadowy figure looming beside the huge teakwood desk that dominated the room’s back wall. Although impervious to physical attack while ghosting, she wasn’t immune to surprise, and this figure hadn’t been filmed by the New York Style cameras.
She quickly faded into a nearby wall, but the figure didn’t move or even show any sign that it had noticed her. She cautiously slipped into the study again, and was relieved and astonished to see that the thing was a large, nearly-six-foot-tall terra-cotta figure of an Oriental warrior. The workmanship of the piece was breathtaking. Facial features, clothing, weaponry, all were molded with exquisite delicacy of detail. It was as if a living man had been turned to clay, baked to a flawless finish in a kiln, and preserved down through the millennia, ending up in Kien’s study. Her respect for Kien’s wealth—and influence—went up another notch. The figure was undoubtedly authentic—Kien had made it clear during the television interview that he had no truck with imitations—and from what she knew, the 2200-year-old terra-cotta grave figures of the emperor Ying Zheng, first emperor of the Qin dynasty and unifier of China, were absolutely positively unavailable to private art collectors. Kien must have gone through considerable feats of legerdemain and bribery to obtain it.
It was a fantastically valuable piece, but, Jennifer knew, too large for her to remove and probably too unique for her to fence.
She felt a sudden wave of dizziness ripple through her insubstantial form, and quickly willed herself to solidity. She didn’t like that feeling. It happened whenever she overextended herself, as a warning that she had stayed insubstantial for too long. She didn’t know what would happen if she remained a wraith for too long. She never wanted to find out.
Now substantial, she looked around the room. It was lined with display cases containing Kien’s collection of jades, the most beautiful, extensive, and valuable collection in the Western world. Kien had been profiled on New York Style because of them and they were what she had come for. Some of them, at least. She realized that she couldn’t get them all even if she made a dozen trips back to the alley, because her ability to turn extraneous mass insubstantial was limited. She could only ghost a few jades at a time. But a few, really, were all she needed.
First, though, before starting on the jades, there was something else she had to do. The thick pile of the luxurious carpet feeling quite sensuous on the soles of her bare feet, she glided around the teakwood desk almost as quietly as if she were insubstantial, and stood before the Hokusai print hanging on the wall behind it.
Behind the print, so Kien had said, was a wall safe. He had mentioned it because, he had said, it was absolutely, one hundred percent, totally, and irrevocably, burglarproof. No thief knew enough about microcircuitry to circumvent its electronic lock and it was strong enough to withstand a physical assault short of a bomb big enough to bring down the whole building. No one, no how, at no time, could possibly break into it. Kien, who had looked very smug as he’d said all this, evidently was a man who liked to brag.
A mischievous smile on her face as she wondered what riches Kien had hidden in his high-tech safe, Jennifer ghosted her right arm and put her hand through the print and the steel door behind it.
He juggled her in his arms while he fished for his key, and finally unlocked the door.
“You idiot, put me down. Then you can open the door.”
“Nope, going to carry you over.”
“We haven’t gotten married.”
“Yet,” he said, and grinned down into her face.
Her angle, from where she reclined in his arms, intensified the deformity of his neck, and made his head look like a baseball perched on a pedestal. Aside from that neck—a legacy of the wild card virus—he was a rather handsome man. Short-cropped brown hair, beginning to gray at the temples, merry brown eyes, strong chin—a nice face.
He negotiated the door, and set her on her feet. “My castle. Hope you like it.”
It proclaimed the blue-collar origins of this man. Serviceable couch, recliner placed before the television, a stack of Reader’s Digests on the coffee table, a large and poorly executed oil painting of a sailing ship clawing through improbably high seas. The sort of painting one found at starving-artist sales in Hilton hotels.
But it was scrupulously clean, and in a touch that seemed out of character in so large and powerful a man, a row of multicolored African violets lined the windowsills.
“Roulette, I haven’t stayed out all night since my high school prom.”
“I’ll just bet you stayed out all night.”
He blushed. “Hey, I was good Catholic boy.”
“My momma always warned me about good Catholic boys.”
He moved in, wrapped brawny arms about her waist. “I’m not quite so ‘good’ anymore.”
“I hope that refers to your morals, and not to your performance, Stan.”
“Roulette!”
“Prude,” she teased.
He nuzzled her neck, and nibbled on her earlobe, and Roulette pondered yet again the random nature of wild card t...

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