Read Wild Cards Page 1

  Wild Cards

  Electronic book published by

  24 W. 25th St.

  New York, NY 10010

  All rights reserved. Copyright © 2001 by Simon & Schuster, Inc.

  No part of this book may be reproduced or transmitted in any form or by any means, electronic or mechanical, including photocopying, recording, or by any information storage and retrieval system, without permission in writing from the publisher.

  eISBN 1-59019-931-6; Library of Congress Cataloging-in-Publication Data is available.

  For Ken Keller, who grew from the same four-color roots as me



  Editor GEORGE R.R. MARTIN was born September 20, 1948 in Bayonne, New Jersey. He began writing very young, selling monster stories to other neighborhood children for pennies, dramatic readings included. Later he became a comic book fan and collector in high school, and began to write fiction for comic fanzines (amateur fan magazines). Martin's first professional sale was made in 1970 at age 21: "The Hero," sold to Galaxy, published in the February, 1971 issue. Other sales followed.

  Four-time winner of the Hugo Award, two-time winner of the Nebula Award, and six-time Locus Award winner, Martin is the author and editor of over two dozen novels and anthologies, and the writer of numerous short stories. His New York Times bestselling novel A Storm of Swords–the third volume in his epic fantasy series "A Song of Ice and Fire"–was published in 2000. Martin lives in Santa Fe, New Mexico.

  "The strangest shared-world scenario ever conceived: What if an alien virus struck Manhattan in 1946, resulting in a variety of monstrous transformations (Jokers) and a scattering of wild psychic talents (Aces)? What if these new superheroes, with powers straight out of kids' comics, had to cope with McCarthyism, radical chic, and the fight for Jokers' rights?

  "Martin has assembled an impressive array of writers . . . Progressing through the decades, Wild Cards keeps its momentum to the end . . . I'm looking forward to the next episodes in this saga of mutant Americana."


  "Wild Cards' superheroes live in a [very] real world. There is not just super-heroism, but pain and frustration and prejudice . . . The effect is of a funhouse mirror held up to our world.

  "We have here the writers at play, but at serious play. They have gifted us with some very good yarns. You will enjoy your reading, and you will look forward to the next volume."



  Wild Cards is a work of fiction set in a completely imaginary world whose history parallels our own. Names, characters, places, and incidents depicted in Wild Cards are fictitious, or are used fictitiously. Any resemblance to actual events, locales or real persons, living or dead, is entirely coincidental. For example, the essays, articles and other writings contained in this anthology are completely fictional, and there is no intent to depict actual writers or to imply that any such persons have ever actually written, published or contributed the fictional essays, articles, or other writings contained in this anthology.


  From Wild Times: An Oral History

  of the Postwar Years,

  by Studs Terkel (Pantheon, 1979)

  Herbert L. Cranston

  Years later, when I saw Michael Rennie come out of that flying saucer in The Day the Earth Stood Still, I leaned over to the wife and said, “Now that's the way an alien emissary ought to look.” I've always suspected that it was Tachyon's arrival that gave them the idea for that picture, but you know how Hollywood changes things around. I was there, so I know how it really was. For starts, he came down in White Sands, not in Washington. He didn't have a robot, and we didn't shoot him. Considering what happened, maybe we should have, eh?

  His ship, well, it certainly wasn't a flying saucer, and it didn't look a damn thing like our captured V–2s or even the moon rockets on Werner's drawing boards. It violated every known law of aerodynamics and Einstein's special relativity too.

  He came down at night, his ship all covered with lights, the prettiest thing I ever saw. It set down plunk in the middle of the proving range, without rockets, propellers, rotors, or any visible means of propulsion whatsoever. The outer skin looked like it was coral or some kind of porous rock, covered with whorls and spurs, like something you'd find in a limestone cavern or spot while deep-sea diving.

  I was in the first jeep to reach it. By the time we got there, Tach was already outside. Michael Rennie, now, he looked right in that silvery-blue spacesuit of his, but Tachyon looked like a cross between one of the Three Musketeers and some kind of circus performer. I don't mind telling you, all of us were pretty scared driving out, the rocketry boys and eggheads just as much as the GIs. I remembered that Mercury Theater broadcast back in '39, when Orson Welles fooled everybody into thinking that the Martians were invading New Jersey, and I couldn't help thinking maybe this time it was happening for real. But once the spotlights hit him, standing there in front of his ship, we all relaxed. He just wasn't scary.

  He was short, maybe five three, five four, and to tell the truth, he looked more scared than us. He was wearing these green tights with the boots built right into them, and this orangy shirt with lace sissy ruffles at the wrists and collar, and some kind of silvery brocade vest, real tight. His coat was a lemon-yellow number, with a green cloak snapping around in the wind behind him and catching about his ankles. On top of his head he had this wide-brimmed hat, with a long red feather sticking out of it, except when I got closer, I saw it was really some weird spiky quill. His hair covered his shoulders; at first glance, I thought he was a girl. It was a peculiar sort of hair too, red and shiny, like thin copper wire.

  I didn't know what to make of him, but I remember one of our Germans saying that he looked like a Frenchman.

  No sooner had we arrived than he came slogging right over to the jeep, bold as you please, trudging through the sand with a big bag stuck up under one arm. He started telling us his name, and he was still telling it to us while four other jeeps pulled up. He spoke better English than most of our Germans, despite having this weird accent, but it was hard to be sure at first when he spent ten minutes telling us his name.

  I was the first human being to speak to him. That's God's truth, I don't care what anybody else tells you, it was me. I got out of the jeep and stuck out my hand and said, “Welcome to America.” I started to introduce myself, but he interrupted me before I could get the words out.

  “Herb Cranston of Cape May, New Jersey,” he said. “A rocket scientist. Excellent. I am a scientist myself.”

  He didn't look like any scientist I'd ever known, but I made allowances, since he came from outer space. I was more concerned about how he'd known my name. I asked him.

  He waved his ruffles in the air, impatient. “I read your mind. That's unimportant. Time is short, Cranston. Their ship broke up.” I thought he look more than a little sick when he said that; sad, you know, hurting, but scared too. And tired, very tired. Then he started talking about this globe. That was the globe with the wild card virus, of course, everyone knows that now, but back then I didn't know what the hell he was going on about. It was lost, he said, he needed to get it back, and he hoped for all our sakes it was still intact. He wanted to talk to our top leaders. He must have read their names in my mind, because he named Werner, and Einstein, and the President, except he called him “this President Harry S Truman of yours.” Then he climbed right into the back of the jeep and sat down. “Take me to them,” he said. “At once.”

  Professor Lyle Crawford Kent

  In a certain sense, it was I who coined his name. His real name, of course, his alien patronymic, was impossibly long. Several of us tried to shorten i
t, I recall, using this or that piece of it during our conferences, but evidently this was some sort of breach of etiquette on his home world, Takis. He continually corrected us, rather arrogantly I might say, like an elderly pedant lecturing a pack of schoolboys. Well, we needed to call him something. The title came first. We might have called him “Your Majesty” or some such, since he claimed to be a prince, but Americans are not comfortable with that sort of bowing and scraping. He also said he was a physician, although not in our sense of the word, and it must be admitted that he did seem to know a good deal of genetics and biochemistry, which seemed to be his area of expertise. Most of our team held advanced degrees, and we addressed each other accordingly, and so it was only natural that we fell to calling him “Doctor” as well.

  The rocket scientists were obsessed with our visitor's ship, particularly with the theory of his faster-than-light propulsion system. Unfortunately, our Takisian friend had burned out his ship's interstellar drive in his haste to arrive here before those relatives of his, and in any case he adamantly refused to let any of us, civilian or military, inspect the inside of his craft. Werner and his Germans were reduced to questioning the alien about the drive, rather compulsively I thought. As I understood it, theoretical physics and the technology of space travel were not disciplines in which our visitor was especially expert, so the answers he gave them were not very clear, but we did grasp that the drive made use of a hitherto-unknown particle that traveled faster than light.

  The alien had a term for the particle, as unpronounceable as his name. Well, I had a certain grounding in classical Greek, like all educated men, and a flair for nomenclature if I do say so myself. I was the one who devised the coinage “tachyon.” Some how the GIs got things confused, and began referring to our visitor as “that tachyon fellow.” The phrase caught on, and from there it was only a short step to Doctor Tachyon, the name by which he became generally known in the press.

  Colonel Edward Reid, U.S.

  Army Intelligence (Ret.)

  You want me to say it, right? Every damned reporter I've ever talked to wants me to say it. All right, here it is. We made a mistake. And we paid for it too. Do you know that afterwards they came within a hair of court-martialing all of us, the whole interrogation team? That's a fact.

  The hell of it is, I don't know how we could have been expected to do things any differently than we did. I was in charge of his interrogation. I ought to know.

  What did we really know about him? Nothing except what he told us himself. The eggheads were treating him like Baby Jesus, but military men have to be a little more cautious. If you want to understand, you have to put yourself in our shoes and remember how it was back then. His story was utterly preposterous, and he couldn't prove a single damned thing.

  Okay, he landed in this funny-looking rocket plane, except it didn't have rockets. That was impressive. Maybe that plane of his did come from outer space, like he said. But maybe it didn't. Maybe it was one of those secret projects the Nazis had been working on, left over from the war. They'd had jets at the end, you know, and those V–2s, and they were even working on the atomic bomb. Maybe it was Russian. I don't know. If Tachyon had only let us examine his ship, our boys would have been able to figure out where it came from, I'm sure. But he wouldn't let anyone inside the damned thing, which struck me as more than a little suspicious. What was he trying to hide?

  He said he came from the planet Takis. Well, I never heard of no goddamned planet Takis. Mars, Venus, Jupiter, sure. Even Mongo and Barsoom. But Takis? I called up a dozen top astronomers all around the country, even one guy over in England. Where's the planet Takis? I asked them. There is no planet Takis, they told me.

  He was supposed to be an alien, right? We examined him. A complete physical, X rays, a battery of psychological tests, the works. He tested human. Every which way we turned him, he came up human. No extra organs, no green blood, five fingers, five toes, two balls, and one cock. The fucker was no different from you and me. He spoke English, for crissakes. But get this—he also spoke German. And Russian and French and a few other languages I've forgotten. I made wire recordings of a couple of my sessions with him, and played them for a linguist, who said the accent was Central European.

  And the headshrinkers, whoa, you should have heard their reports. Classic paranoid, they said. Megalomania, they said. Schitzo, they said. All kinds of stuff. I mean, look, this guy claimed to be a prince from outer space with magic fucking powers who'd come here all alone to save our whole damned planet. Does that sound sane to you?

  And let me say something about those damned magic powers of his. I'll admit it, that was the thing that bothered me the most. I mean, not only could Tachyon tell you what you were thinking, he could look at you funny and make you jump up on your desk and drop your pants, whether you wanted to or not. I spent hours with him every day, and he convinced me. The thing was, my reports didn't convince the brass back east. Some kind of trick, they thought, he was hypnotizing us, he was reading our body posture, using psychology to make us think he read minds. They were going to send out a stage hypnotist to figure out how he did it, but the shit hit the fan before they got around to it.

  He didn't ask much. All he wanted was a meeting with the President so he could mobilize the entire American military to search for some crashed rocket ship. Tachyon would be in command, of course, no one else was qualified. Our top scientists could be his assistants. He wanted radar and jets and submarines and bloodhounds and weird machines nobody had ever heard of. You name it, he wanted it. And he did not want to have to consult with anybody, either. This guy dressed like a fag hair-dresser, if you want the truth, but the way he gave orders you would've thought he had three stars at least.

  And why? Oh, yeah, his story, that sure was great. On this planet Takis, he said, a couple dozen big families ran the whole show, like royalty, except they all had magic powers, and they lorded it over everybody else who didn't have magic powers. These families spent most of their time feuding like the Hatfields and McCoys. His particular bunch had a secret weapon they'd been working on for a couple of centuries. A tailored artificial virus designed to interact with the genetic makeup of the host organism, he said. He'd been part of the research team.

  Well, I was humoring him. What did this germ do? I asked him. Now get this—it did everything.

  What it was supposed to do, according to Tachyon, was goose up these mind powers of theirs, maybe even give them some new powers, evolve 'em almost into gods, which would sure as hell give his kin the edge over the others. But it didn't always do that. Sometimes, yeah. Most often it killed the test subjects. He went on and on about how deadly this stuff was, and managed to give me the creeps. What were the symptoms? I asked. We knew about germ weapons back in '46; just in case he was telling the truth, I wanted us to know what to look for.

  He couldn't tell me the symptoms. There were all kinds of symptoms. Everybody had different symptoms, every single person. You ever hear of a germ worked like that? Not me.

  Then Tachyon said that sometimes it turned people into freaks instead of killing them. What kind of freaks? I asked. All kinds, he said. I admitted that it sounded pretty nasty, and asked him why his folks hadn't used this stuff on the other families. Because sometimes the virus worked, he said; it remade its victims, gave them powers. What kinds of powers? All kinds of powers, naturally.

  So they had this stuff. They didn't want to use it on their enemies, and maybe give them powers. They didn't want to use it on themselves, and kill off half the family. They weren't about to forget about it. They decided to test it on us. Why us? Because we were genetically identical to Takisians, he said, the only such race they knew of, and the bug was designed to work on the Takisian genotype. So why were we so lucky? Some of his people thought it was parallel evolution, others believed that Earth was a lost Takisian colony—he didn't know and didn't care.

  He did care about the experiment. Thought it was “ignoble.” He protested, he said, b
ut they ignored him. The ship left. And Tachyon decided to stop them all by himself. He came after them in a smaller ship, burned out his damned tachyon drive getting here ahead of them. When he intercepted them, they told him to fuck off, even though he was family, and they had some kind of space battle. His ship was damaged, theirs was crippled, and they crashed. Somewhere back east, he said. He lost them, on account of the damage to his ship. So he landed at White Sands, where he thought he could get help.

  I got down the whole story on my wire recorder. Afterwards, Army Intelligence contacted all sorts of experts: biochemists and doctors and germ-warfare guys, you name it. An alien virus, we told them, symptoms completely random and unpredictable. Impossible, they said. Utterly absurd. One of them gave me a whole lecture about how Earth germs could never affect Martians like in that H. G. Wells book, and Martian germs couldn't affect us, either. Everybody agreed that this random-symptom bit was a laugh. So what were we supposed to do? We all cracked jokes about the Martian flu and spaceman's fever. Somebody, I don't know who, called it the wild card virus in a report, and the rest of us picked up on the name, but nobody believed it for a second.

  It was a bad situation, and Tachyon just made it worse when he tried to escape. He almost pulled it off, but like my old man always told me, “almost” only counts in horseshoes and grenades. The Pentagon had sent out their own man to question him, a bird colonel named Wayne, and Tachyon finally got fed up, I guess. He took control of Colonel Wayne, and together they just marched out of the building. Whenever they were challenged, Wayne snapped off the orders to let them pass, and rank does have its privileges. The cover story was that Wayne had orders to escort Tachyon back to Washington. They commandeered a jeep and got all the way back to the spaceship, but by then one of the sentries had checked with me, and my men were waiting for them, with direct orders to ignore anything Colonel Wayne might say. We took him back into custody and kept him there, under heavy guard. For all his magic powers, there wasn't much he could do about it. He could make one person do what he wanted, maybe three or four if he tried real hard, but not all of us, and by then we were wise to his tricks.