Here's a spectacular treat: a never-before-published story from Nebula Finalist Arthur Byron Cover (and author of the newly re-released Autumn Angels): "His (Beloved) Revolutionary Sweetheart" up right now on Amazing Stories.
Here's a taste:
Here's a taste:
His (Beloved) Revolutionary Sweetheart
Arthur Byron Cover
The assassin strides through a residential neighborhood of mixed sentients. The condition of the houses varies – some are well maintained, while others appear to have rotted from the inside. They tend to be close together and tall, with railed porches and never less than six gables, front, back, or side.
The place isn’t exactly quiet; syrupy music emanates from a window – the music is sanctioned but the assassin could swear the resident inside is wearing headphones, and can easily be listening to something else entirely. Children laugh and a male can be easily heard from an open kitchen window – seems his toast is inappropriately puffed; there is much derision from the rest of the family.
The residents are mostly humanoid, their pigmentation usually dark brown or green. His goose yellow skin stands out slightly, but it’s still common enough in the neighborhood as to not be unusual.
Up ahead, kids play street hockey, while adolescents slack atop a retaining wall. A couple of winged inflator kids bounce across the street, oblivious to traffic. Their mother, with her greater lift, crosses in two efficient bounces and corrals them.
The assassin ignores the police vehicle passing by on patrol. The driver, a reptilian, holds the hot dog he’s eating in his tail.
He arrives at the target’s home, a multi-gabled abode with an unadorned yard and a transparent fence. Early in his career he’d attempted to climb a fence not unlike this one. His efforts attracted the notice of the neighborhood watch and he was nearly lynched.
He finds it ironic that a being whose recklessness had ignited so many fuses would reside in such a humble dwelling, in a typical neighborhood on an average world, smack in the middle of a less important grouping on the edge of the civilized worlds.
In times past, the target had purportedly lived underground, but in truth he’d lived publicly and large. Amours warranted top coverage in the ether. His personal intrigues were scrutinized. His out of control children had been scandals.
The assassin was of the opinion the target deserved to live in a monastery, where he’d pour gas on his conscience and light it up after every meal.
But he wasn’t here to judge. Merely to execute. He has no idea he has already been spotted – by his target no less, from the midway gable.
The target’s name is Edward Everett Laszlo, and for nearly a century he has been either a savior or a toxic influence, depending on who you talked to.
Ed has survived numerous assassin attempts, a dozen accidental overdoses, showers of firebombs, and more STDs than can be obtained during a thousand orgies. He has vacationed in warzones, slummed with degenerates, and, in the opinion of some, deliberately provoked the doubt and resistance that are at the heart of the wave of insurrections currently sweeping the empire.
Ed’s life has been long and fruitful, but right now he’s fracking tired. Exhausted. His mind is going, while his body feels like it’s already got up and went. He views the presence of this latest intrusion on his continued life with resignation. Maybe the time has come to get his ticket punched – let history have its say.
Even so, his favorite soaps start new episodes next week. They just might be enough to live for.
The assassin walks through the gate with the intention of starting with whoever answers. Suddenly the front door slams open with a thunderclap, and through the egress zooms a stooped, emasculated figure, so old he looks mummified. Laszlo. His arms are thrown open as if he was greeting an old friend, but unfortunately so is his bathrobe.
The assassin is not the only one to notice. A few yards down a little girl shrieks. She has blonde pigtails and blue skin. She holds her raggedly doll by the neck, shakes it in Edward’s general direction, and denounces him in terms so profane the assassin fears his ears will burn.
Edward is unperturbed. “Nita, how many times has your mother told you not to play in Timmy’s yard? Go home!”
Nita sticks out a forked tongue. She turns but just before leaving, wiggles her pinky at them.
Damn it!” Edward is horrified and contritely ties his robe. “Sorry, babe, it won’t happen again, I promise you!”
The kid laughs.
Edward takes the assassin by the elbow with inappropriate familiarity and whispers conspiratorially, “The girl has problems. I’ve recommended counseling, but her parents seem to think it’s not necessary. But trust me, that girl’s destined to have her face showcased in the crime section. Who knows? She might be a future customer.
Can I offer you a cup of coffee? I know what you’re here for – a determinedly set jaw doesn’t work with your features, by the way – and I can’t stop you. But why the rush? I got nothing but time and it’s nearing rush hour. I’ve learned from bitter personal experience the species don’t mix well on crowded streetcars. Besides, you’ve got an aura blacker than a cosmic radio source. The empaths are going to look on you like a bonfire in reverse.”
Ed guides the reluctant gentleman through the front door. “So you might as well sit back and relax a spell, till traffic’s not so crowded. Furthermore, you might want to consider how much more pleasant it is chatting with someone than sitting around alone.”
The foyer extends several yards through the center of the house. Sitting and entertainment rooms lay on either side. Plastic plants abound. So do 3Ds – montages of Edward at various stages of his life: Ed receiving an honorary knighthood from a rebel queen; Ed on stage at a massive intra-species festival concert (attendance: half a million); Ed smoking a joint in a war zone (dead bodies lying everywhere); Ed surrounded by a bevy of naked babes, at least three of whom have tails (in a hot tub filled with a suspicious looking liquid).
Let’s talk in the kitchen, which is where the coffee is anyway,” says Ed. “Don’t worry; I’m not going to try anything. I couldn’t whup you in a rigged fight and the last mollusk I saw still moved faster than me. Nor, alas, am I permitted weaponry, be it activated verbally or sonically. The Home Owner’s Association won’t permit it. They actually send people around to inspect the premises for unauthorized weaponry, like we lived in the middle of a civilized cluster, can you believe it?”
Once in the kitchen, Ed, ever the dutiful host, pulls out a chair for his guest. “If you sit here, you’ll always have a good view of what I’m doing. I apologize for the silent ambience. I used to listen to music all the time, but I must have hit a fuddy-duddy stage, because all the modern stuff strikes me as derivative, in a bad way, and all the old stuff has become like time markers. Doesn’t matter. I always have these tunes bubbling up in my head anyway – hot lava in the brain! Know what I mean? Didn’t think so.
Hmm. Come to think of it, that’s tragic. In my experience, it doesn’t matter if you’re a leader or a grunt, a zealot or a drone, you never really discover yourself until you’ve immersed yourself body and soul in a first-rate piece of music. Don’t get me wrong. I’ve discovered myself in plenty of the most pleasurable second-rate ways imaginable, but music is still the best. For one thing, it helps you keep in touch with your emotions without ever having to actually to use them, which right there is something I think would appeal to you.
So sit back. Relax. Take a load off and return with me to those thrilling days of yesteryear.”
The assassin gazes out the window. It’s becoming dark. He sighs and switches on the outdoor lights.