Santiago: A Myth of the Far Future

BOOK: Santiago: A Myth of the Far Future
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Santiago: A Myth of the
Far Future

Mike Resnick

Copyright © 1986 by Mike Resnick

 

www.mikeresnick.com

 

Prologue

They say his father was a comet
and his mother a cosmic wind, that he juggles planets as if they were feathers
and wrestles with black holes just to work up an appetite. They say he never
sleeps, and that his eyes burn brighter than a nova, and that his shout can
level mountains.

They call him Santiago.

 

Far out on the Galactic Rim, at
the very edge of the Outer Frontier, there is a world called Silverblue. It is
a water world, with just a handful of islands dotting the placid ocean that
covers its surface. If you stand on the very largest island and look into the
night sky, you can see almost all of the Milky Way, a huge twinkling river of
stars that seems to flow through half the universe.

And if you stand on the western
shore of the island during the daytime, with your back to the water, you will
see a grass-covered knoll. Atop the knoll are seventeen white crosses, each
bearing the name of a good man or woman who thought to colonize this gentle
world.

And beneath each name is the same
legend, repeated seventeen times:

Killed by
Santiago.

 

Toward the core of the galaxy,
where the stars press together so closely that night is as bright as day, there
is a world called Valkyrie. It is an outpost world, a place of ramshackle
Tradertowns filled with dingy bars and hotels and brothels, where the explorers
and miners and traders of the Inner Frontier congregate to eat and drink and
embellish a few tall tales.

The largest of Valkyrie’s
Tradertowns, which isn’t really very large, also has a postal station that
stores subspace messages the way the postal stations of old used to store
written mail. Sometimes the messages are held for as long as three or four
years, and frequently they are routed even closer to the galactic core, but
eventually most of them are picked up.

And in this postal station, there
is a wall that is covered by the names and holographs of criminals who are
currently thought to be on the Inner Frontier, which tends to make the station
very popular with bounty hunters. There are always twenty outlaws displayed,
never more, never less, and next to each name is a price. Some of these names
remain in place for a week, some for a month, a handful for a year.

Only three names have ever been
displayed for more than five years. Two of them are no longer there.

The third is Santiago, and there
is no holograph of him.

 

On the colony world of Saint Joan,
there is a native humanoid race known as the Swale. There are no longer any
colonists; they have all departed.

Near the equator of Saint Joan,
very close to where the colony once lived, there is a blackened swath of land
almost ten miles long and half a mile wide, on which nothing will ever grow
again. No colonist ever reported it, or if any of them did, the report has long
since been misplaced by one of the Democracy’s thirty billion bureaucrats—but
if you go to Saint Joan and ask the Swale what caused the blackened patch of
ground, they will cross themselves (for the colonists were a religious lot, and
very
evangelical) and tell you that it is the Mark
of Santiago.

 

Even on the agricultural world of
Ranchero, where there has never been a crime, not even a petty robbery, his
name is not unknown. He is thought to be eleven feet three inches tall, with
wild, unruly orange hair and immense black fangs that have dug into his lips
and now protrude through them. And when youngsters misbehave, their parents
have merely to hint at the number of naughty children Santiago has eaten for
breakfast, and order is immediately restored.

 

Wandering minstrels sing songs
about him on Minotaur and Theseus, the twin worlds that circle Sigma Draconis,
and always he is portrayed as being exactly 217 years old, taller than a
belltower, and broader than a barn, a hard-drinking, womanizing Prince of
Thieves, who differs from Robin Hood (another of their favorites) primarily in
that he takes from rich and poor alike and gives only to himself. His
adventures are legion, ranging from his epic hand-to-hand struggle with a
chlorine-breathing Gorgon to the morning he went down to hell and spat full in
Satan’s burning eye, and rarely is there a day that does not witness the
addition of a few new stanzas to the ever-evolving “Ballad of Santiago.”

And on Deluros VIII, the huge
capital world of the race of Man, the nerve center of the Democracy, there are
eleven governmental departments and 1,306 men and women charged with the task
of finding and terminating Santiago. They doubt that Santiago is his given
name, they suspect that some of the crimes attributed to him were committed by
others, they are almost certain that somewhere in their files they possess his
photograph or holograph but have not yet matched it with its proper
identity—and that is the sum total of their knowledge of him.

Five hundred reports come to them
daily, two thousand leads are followed up each year, munificent rewards have
been posted on half a million worlds, agents are sent out armed with money and
everything that money can buy, and still those eleven departments exist. They
have outlived the last three administrations; they will continue to survive
until their function has been fulfilled.

 

Silverblue, Valkyrie, Saint Joan, Ranchero,
Minotaur, Theseus, Deluros VIII: interesting and evocative worlds all.

But an even more interesting world
in the strange tapestry of Santiago’s life is the outpost world of Keepsake, at
the heart of the Inner Frontier; for Keepsake is the home, at least
temporarily, of Sebastian Nightingale Cain, who dislikes his middle name, his
profession, and his life—not necessarily in that order. He has fought what he
believes to have been the good fight many times over, and he has never won. Not
much excites his imagination anymore, and even less surprises him. He has no
friends and few associates, nor does he seek any.

Sebastian
Nightingale Cain is by almost every criterion a nondescript and unremarkable
man, and yet our story must begin with him, for he is destined to play a major
role in the saga of the man known only as Santiago....

 

Part 1

 

The Songbird’s Book

 

1.

 

Giles Sans
Pitié is a spinning wheel,

With the eye
of a hawk and a fist made of steel.

He’ll drink a
whole gallon while holding his breath,

And wherever he goes his companion is Death.

 

There never was a history written
about the Inner Frontier, so Black Orpheus took it upon himself to set one to
music. His name wasn’t really Orpheus (though he
was
black). In fact, rumor had it that he had been an aquaculturist back in the
Deluros system before he fell in love. The girl’s name was Eurydice, and he
followed her out to the stars, and since he had left all his property behind,
he had nothing to give her but his music, so he took the name of Black Orpheus
and spent most of his days composing love songs and sonnets to her. Then she
died, and he decided to stay on the Inner Frontier, and he began writing an
epic ballad about the traders and hunters and outlaws and misfits that he came
across. In fact, you didn’t officially stop being a tenderfoot or a tourist
until the day he added a stanza or two about you to the song.

Anyway, Giles Sans Pitié made
quite an impression on him, because he appears in nine different verses, which
is an awful lot when you’re being the Homer for five hundred worlds. Probably
it was the steel hand that did it. No one knew how he’d lost his real one, but
he showed up on the Frontier one day with a polished steel fist at the end of
his left arm, announced that he was the best bounty hunter ever born, foaled,
whelped, or hatched, and proceeded to prove that he wasn’t too far from wrong.
Like most bounty hunters, he only touched down on outpost worlds when he wasn’t
working, and like most bounty hunters, he had a pretty regular route that he
followed. Which was how he came to be on Keepsake, in the Tradertown of
Moritat, in Gentry’s Emporium, pounding on the long wooden bar with his steel
fist and demanding service.

Old Geronimo Gentry, who had spent
thirty years prospecting the worlds of the Inner Frontier before he chucked it
all and opened a tavern and whorehouse on Moritat, where he carefully sampled
every product before offering it to the public, walked over with a fresh bottle
of Altairian rum, then held it back as Giles Sans Pitié reached for it.

“Tab’s gettin’ pretty high,” he
commented meaningfully.

The bounty hunter slapped a wad of
bills down on the bar.

“Maria Theresa dollars,” noted
Gentry, examining them approvingly and relinquishing the bottle. “Wherever’d
you pick ‘em up?”

“The Corvus system.”

“Took care of a little business
there, did you?” said Gentry, amused.

Giles Sans Pitié smiled
humorlessly. “A little.”

He reached inside his shirt and
withdrew three Wanted posters of the Suliman brothers, which until that morning
had been on the post office wall. Each poster had a large red X scratched
across it.

“All three of ‘em?”

The bounty hunter nodded.

“You shoot ‘em, or did you use
that
?” asked Gentry, pointing toward Giles Sans Pitié’s
steel fist.

“Yes.”

“Yes
what
?”

Giles Sans Pitié held up his metal
hand. “Yes, I shot them or I used this.”

Gentry shrugged. “Goin’ out again
soon?”

“In the next few days.”

“Where to this time?”

“That’s nobody’s business but
mine,” said the bounty hunter.

“Just thought I might offer some
friendly advice,” said Gentry.

“Such as?”

“If you’re thinking of going to
Praeteep Four, forget it. The Songbird just got back from there.”

“You mean Cain?”

Gentry nodded. “Had a lot of
money, so I’d have to guess that he found what he went looking for.”

The bounty hunter frowned. “I’m
going to have to have a little talk with him,” he said. “The Praeteep system’s
got a Keep Out sign posted on it.”

“Oh?” said Gentry. “Since when?”

“Since I put it up,” said Giles
Sans Pitié firmly. “And I won’t have some rival headhunter doing his poaching
there and picking it clean.” He paused. “Where can I find him?”

“Right here.”

Giles Sans Pitié looked around the
room. A silver-haired gambler on a winning streak, decked out in bright new
clothes made from some glittering metallic fabric, stood at the far end of the
bar; a young woman with melancholy eyes sat alone at a table in the corner; and
scattered around the large, dimly lit tavern were some two dozen other men and
women, in pairs and groups, some conversing in low tones, others sitting in
silence.

“I don’t see him,” announced the
bounty hunter.

“It’s early yet,” replied Gentry.
“He’ll be along.”

“What makes you think so?”

“I’ve got the only booze and the
only sportin’ ladies in Moritat. Where do
you
think
he’s gonna go?”

“There are a lot of worlds out
there.”

“True,” admitted Gentry. “But
people get tired of worlds after a while. Ask
me—
I
know.”

“Then what are you doing on the
Frontier?”

“People get tired of people, too.
There’s a lot less of ‘em out here—and I got me my fancy ladies to cheer me up
if ever I get to feelin’ lonely.” He paused. “‘Course, if you want to hear the
story of my life, you’re gonna have to buy a couple of bottles of my best
drinkin’ stuff. Then you and me, we’ll mosey on out to one of the back rooms
and I’ll start with chapter one.”

The bounty hunter reached out for
the bottle. “I think I can live without it,” he said.

“You’ll be missing out on one
helluva good story,” said Gentry. “I done a lot of interesting things. Seen
sights even a killer like you ain’t likely ever to see.”

“Some other time.”

“Your loss,” said Gentry with a
shrug. “You gonna want a glass with that?”

“Not necessary,” said Giles Sans
Pitié, lifting the bottle and taking a long swallow. When he was through, he
wiped his mouth with the back of his hand. “How long before he gets here?”

“You got time for a quick one, if
that’s what you mean,” said Gentry. “Just give me a minute to check and see
which of my frail flowers ain’t working this minute.” Suddenly he turned to the
doorway. “Whoops! Here he is now. Guess you’ll have to go loveless a little
longer.” He waved his hand. “How’re you doin’, Songbird?”

BOOK: Santiago: A Myth of the Far Future
6.71Mb size Format: txt, pdf, ePub
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