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Svaha [Secure eReader]
eBook by Charles de Lint

eBook Category: Fantasy
eBook Description: Into the darkness, the desolation, the sprawl of urban blight...

An Indian flyer has been downed. A systems chip, encoded with vital technological secrets, is missing. And the Amerindians have chosen Gahzee to find it. He must leave the lush, wooded Enclaves, protected by vast force fields, and venture forth -- out there -- into the Outer Lands.

Walking the line between Dreamtime and Realtime, he is prepared to face the bitter, poisoned world of the white man... unaware that his heritage will bring to that world what the Amerindians call svaha -- the moment between seeing the lightning and hearing its thunder... a waiting for promises to be fulfilled... Nature's only hope for a new dawn.


"A brilliant imagination... de Lint takes you where you've never been before!"
   OTTAWA MAGAZINE

"A rare ability to awaken in the reader a sense of knowledge and wonder."
   RAVE REVIEWS

"Writers as good as he is don't come along that often!"
   FANTASY REVIEW


Cover art by Joe Burleson


eBook Publisher: Charles de Lint
Fictionwise Release Date: February 2001


2 Reader Ratings:
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One

Rattle and drum.

It was beautiful music. Deer hoof rattles and cedar-shelled water drums. The clatter of bird quills against the skins of the hoop band drums. Speaking to the animiki, the grandfather thunders. The voices of the People raised in song.

"Midewewigun, n 'gaganoodumaugonaun," they sang. The drums speak for us.

In the clear night skies, the animiki rumbled. Giwitaweidang, the scout thunder that goes all around the sky. Andjibnes, the renewer of power.

"Mino-dae aeshowishinaung," the People sang. "Tchi mino-inaudiziwinaungaen." Fill our spirits with good; upright then may be our lives.

The underpinning rhythm of the drums spoke to the feet of the dancers, to the shaking rattles in their hands, the stamping of their heels. A Parting Dance. Alone in the center, one man sat, his water drum speaking under the palms of his hands.

"N'midewewigunim, manitouwiyauwih," he sang. Upon my drum bestow the mystery.

"K'neekaunissinaun, ani-maudjauh," the People replied. Our brother, he is leaving.

Not to walk the Path of Souls, but to walk in the Outer Lands.

"K'neekaunissinaun, zunugut ae-nummook." Our brother, difficult is the road.

Alone he drummed by the post of a living green tree that had been cut and then erected in the center of the glade. A great fire burned beside it.

"K'neekaunissinaun, kego binuh-kummeekaen," the People sang. Our brother, do not stumble.

They sang to him, of the path he would take, as though he had died, as though he would never return during this turn of the world's wheel. In some ways, it was true, for to walk the Outer Lands meant one could not return, whether one lived or one died. To the tribe, it would be as though he had died. So they sang to him and let their drums speak to the thunders, asking the grandfathers to bestow their medicine on him to give him strength on his journey.

He acknowledged the gift. "Kikinowautchi-beedaudae," he sang. It shall be written.

Then he set his water drum aside and rose to dance. He offered his hand to the oldest of the women present. Maudji-Geezhigquae -- Moving Sky Woman. His uncle's mother. In conducting her to the dance, through the joining of the hands of young and old, he sought to gain endurance from her long life. It was also the hand of man espousing that of woman, the giver of life.

Other women then rose and danced. Old men joined, followed finally by the very young. The water drums continued to speak. The animiki replied. The bird quills on the hoop band drums and the rattles in the hands of the dancers added a high counterpoint rhythm.

Now they represented a madjimadzuin, a moving line, an earthly Milky Way connecting those who have gone before with those who follow. The old singers often told of the Milky Way stars that rode the skies at night, how they were a part of an enormous bucket-handle that held the earth in place. If ever it broke, the world would come to an end. So it was with the chain of madjimadzuin. When it broke, a clan ended.

The People danced that madjimadzuin now to assure their departing brother that the tribe would continue, that it would hold a place for him. They would meet again in the west, across the river that separates Epanggishimuk, the Land of Souls, from the world of the living. They would meet again in that spirit realm joined only to this world by meekunnaug, the Path of Souls.

He would be reborn from Epanggishimuk, into the tribe once more. The madjimadzuin would remain unbroken.

* * *

Later he stood in the Lodge of Medicine with a medé of his totem, Manitouwaub -- Sees Like a Spirit. The medés' computers hummed around them, but no other sound carried in the broad room. He glanced at the wall mural depicting Negik -- the otter totem, first patron of the Medewewin. The bright primary colours of the mural relaxed the tension in his shoulders. He let his gaze travel left from Negik to where his own totem gazed back at him from a corner of the mural, Makinak -- the turtle. He inclined his head slightly, then bore his knapsack from the Lodge, Manitouwaub walking at his side, neither of them speaking as they travelled to the borders of the Enclave. There they were met by their chief, Zhawano-Geezhig -- Blue Sky.

The borders of the Enclave rose misty before them, an opaque gaseous wall that stood as high as the eye could see, and higher. It had no true physical shape as might be measured by the eye, yet it was a more effective wall than any other barrier yet devised by men, in or out of the Enclaves. Manitouwaub took his spirit pipe from his bandolier and the three men shared its sacred smoke.

"Saemauh waussaeyaukaugae," Zhawano-Geezhig said to him. Tobacco will clear the cloud.

He nodded, understanding. Even in the Outer World, the manitou would be with him.

Manitouwaub gave him the pipe which he stowed away in his knapsack.

"Tci manaudjimikooyaun, n'd'aupinumoon," he said to the medé. I am honoured to receive your gift.

Manitouwaub spoke no word, merely embraced him. All words between them had been spoken before. The time for instruction had passed. Now was a time for ritual only, to evoke the sacred medicine of the manitou for his task.

He turned then. An engineer appeared at his elbow to show him the way through the barrier -- a door-shaped greyness that appeared in the opaque mists, controlled by a miniaturized instrument that the engineer held in his hand. Just as he was passing through, he heard Zhawano-Geezhig say softly, "Auzhigo n 'waubumauh gawissaet." Already I see him fall. Then he was through the barrier, stepping from the clean night air of the Enclave of the People into the poisoned world of the Outer Lands.

* * *

Later still, he stood on the roof of a deserted tenement building, looking not at the endless sprawl of the Toronto-Quebec Corridor that ran for a hundred klicks like a river of broken buildings and streets from the southwest to the northeast, nor at the smog-yellow skies that hid the stars and bright light of the moon above him, but back along the path he had taken, back to where the pale mist of the Enclave's borders rose ghostlike at the edge of the corridor where the northward march of the ruined structures ended.

I will remember, he thought. Though I never return, I will remember.

He was Gahzee Animiki-Waewidum of the Turtle totem whose home had once been the Anishnabeg/Huron Enclave of Kawarthas -- Place of Bright Waters and Happy Lands. No matter where he fared, or what the people of these Outer Lands did to him, that could never be taken away.

In the days to come, memory might comfort. But not now. What was lost was still too fresh. Loneliness cut too deeply. The reality of the Outer Lands was too intense, all around him.

Thunder sounded in the distance. Bodreudang, the approaching thunder. A storm was coming. Not the clean rain of the Enclave, but the acid rain of the Outer Lands. Still it was good to hear one of the grandfathers in this place, good to know that manitou still walked its hills and valleys where only the ruins of buildings and the buckling concrete of forgotten streets grew now.

Suddenly he smiled, then threw back his head and laughed. He was still Gahzee Animiki-Waewidum -- Swift Speaks With Thunder. No longer simply a medé of the People, but their animkwan now as well. A dog-scout for his tribe in the Outer Lands. He could go forth doleful, with his head hanging, like a wolf with its tail between its legs, or he could go as one of the People, cheerful in adversity, accepting the challenge for what it was.

"Inaendaugwut," he murmured. It is permitted, meaning that while events were caused by forces outside of a man, the exercise of personal talents and prerogatives were predicted by a man himself. This was not exile into which he fared. Rather the manitou had steered him into an opportunity to grow in spirit and in accordance with the world.

Shouldering his pack, he made his way back down the treacherous steps of the building's inner stairwell and began his journey, heading northeast along the TOPQ Corridor. When the rains finally came, he ducked into the shelter of a nearby building, miles distant from where he had first heard the thunder. Legs crossed, he sat in its doorway and watched the acidic rains hiss and splatter on the stones outside the door.

2

Kaoru Okabe watched as her partner packed a small travelling kitbag and shook her head. That was Lisa, always taking everything to extremes.

"Lighten up," she said, leaning back on their lumpy futon which was folded up to make a couch. She played with the channel control on her com-link's vid as she spoke, switching bands, looking for something worth watching. "What's the worst he's gonna do? Dock you a few credits? For that you're hitting the street?"

Lisa Bone shot her a quick hard look, then resumed her packing. In the light of their lamp -- scavenged from a dump months ago, its solar batteries already fading three hours after nightfall -- her eyes gleamed like pale blue sapphires, lids painted with a rainbow design. Her black hair was cropped ragged and short, held away from a gamine's angular hollow-cheeked face with a length of grey and orange checkered cloth. Standing out starkly against her pale skin -- red as cut strawberries on brow, cheeks, and chin -- were the dark messenger stripe tattoos that saw her safely through the no-man's-land of the squats.

"Adder told me to get it back, or it'd be got back," she said as she carefully folded an antique T-shirt and placed it in her kit. It was a gift from her grandmother, made of genuine cotton and worth a small fortune. "Out of my skin," she added.

"Adder's just making you sweat. If the chinas nabbed the package, what can you do? It's not like he's got no insurance."

Lisa looked up again, the fear plain in her eyes. She started to speak, then shook her head.

Kaoru sat up with an abrupt motion. The silver bells braided in her black hair -- which marked her as a fiberdisc dealer as surely as Lisa's tattooed stripes told the world she was a messenger -- jingled sharply.

"Lisa," she said slowly. "What aren't you telling me?"

"You don't want to know," Lisa replied.

"Screw that. We're partners and-- "

"Our partnership's dissolved, Kay. If I were you, I'd start packing. I told you, someone's going to be here looking for me, real soon now. If I'm not here, they just might settle for you."

Kaoru crossed the floor and caught Lisa's arm. "What aren't you telling me?" she repeated.

"Goro-san," Lisa said, her voice toneless. "Turns out the package was his. Adder says Goro wants to know, if the chinas jumped me, then how come I'm still living? He thinks I sold it to one of the tongs, or stashed it to sell later."

Under its mulatto shade, Kaoru's face went white. "Goro-san," she repeated dully.

The name hung in the stale air around them. Shigehero Goro was the oyabun of the local yakuza's Goro Clan.

Their squat was on the third floor of a deserted warehouse, just within sight of the tall gleaming spires of Trenton Megaplex. In the Plex the citizens had as much light as they wanted; patrolled streets, real apartments with data infeeds, positions with one of the Kaisha, the corporations that ran the Plex. In the squats outside the Plex's towers, the chinas and rats scrabbled for a living, relying on bootlegged vid links or mainlining fiberdiscs for their entertainment. They were marginals, hoping to buy into citizenship; barred from the towers, but forced to squat on their doorsteps, looking for handouts and slagwork -- anything to turn a credit.

The Kaisha had their own security, but inside and outside the Plex the real powers were the warring tongs and triads, and the yakuza of Shigehero Goro. Close-knit organizations that no sane person would cross.

"You... you could sell yourself to him," Kaoru said when she finally found her voice. "Put in a little geisha time in one of his meat bars..."

Lisa shook her head. Sure it was a way to get into the Plex, but it was a dead end. All it cost you was your soul. "He's not having any part of me," she said.

She went around to her various stashes in the squat, retrieving her small store of possessions. Hard credits, because Goro would have killed her Bankcard by now. A plastic Steeljack fléchette auto-pistol, still encoded to the dead security drone that she'd stolen it from, complete with three spare clips of its small fléchettes. Plastic-wrapped concentrated food bars. A two-month supply of vaccine tablets. Another pill container, this one filled with water-purifying tablets.

"Where will you go?" Kaoru asked.

"I dunno. Up the Corridor -- maybe to Kings."

"That's more than a hundred and fifty klicks. You're never going to make it on foot."

Lisa was all too aware of the dead lands that lay between the two Plexes. Klick upon endless klicks of abandoned city blocks -- the badlands of the Corridor that separated the Plexes. And when you thought of what inhabited those wastes...

"I don't have any choice."

She closed up her kitbag and swung it to her back. It was heavy. One week out beyond the squats she was going to wish it was twice as heavy because she was going to need every bit of what was in there and more. She looked around the squat. It wasn't much, but it was better than most had. A lamp and a heater, both outdated, but the solar batteries still sucked up enough juice to run them a few hours into the night. A few plastic-coated pictures on the wall. Her favorite was the one of Jammy Jim, heartthrob of the rats once, faded now from popularity, but still the one vidjammer she'd take into her bed. The futon she and Kaoru shared. Some pillows. Not much, but it was more than she was going to have in the days to come. And Kaoru...

"Come with me," she said. "When they show up here..."

Kaoru shook her head. "I can't. It's suicide. You ever hear of anybody surviving the hike? I've seen rats go out with twice your equipment and-- "

"The only reason we don't hear about them is because they made it and they didn't bother to send a transmission back."

"Lisa-- "

"I met a guy in the Market just last week who hiked up from the Osh Plex."

"I can't, Lisa."

"I can't stay."

"What's he going to do?" Kaoru tried again. "It's not like-- "

"I'm desperate," Lisa said and left it at that.

She picked up her personal com and hooked it to her belt. Like every messenger, she'd immediately torn out the chips that would let Adder use it to pinpoint her position in the squats, replacing them with bootlegged ones that let her catch OTA casts -- over the air broadcasts from the Plex's entertainment channels. Once she was out of the squats, it'd be useless as a com-link -- too far for Adder's range -- but she'd still be able to pick up the OTA casts for twenty klicks or better.

Shrugging into her jacket -- a synthetic leather number with a built-in hood specially designed to withstand the acidic rains -- she turned to Kaoru, looking for something to say. You didn't just throw away ten months of a partnership without saying something, but her mind was empty and all she could visualize was Goro's yaks--

The metal firedoor leading from their squat out into the third floor of the warehouse reverberated with a sudden pounding. They both stared at the grey metal. Kaoru took a step towards it.

"Kay, don't."

"It's too late," Kaoru said. "Don't you see that now, Lisa? We can't get away."

She went to the door and worked free the metal holding bar just as a new thunder of pounding shook it. When she stepped back, the door was flung open and she was facing three of Shigehero Goro's augmented yakuza. Some yakuza had exoskeletons to heighten their already finely tuned reflexes and musculature; most had been genetically tailored from birth or had internal implants.

These three were clean-shaven, dressed in long grey kevlar overcoats and grey bodysuits. She could almost feel the hot breath of the dragons tattooed on their backs. The black plastic of automatic Steeljacks filled their hands.

"Are you Lisa Bone?" the foremost asked. He spoke in the patois of the squats -- a mixture of French, English, and Asian languages -- but on his lips the patois held a clipped accent.

Kaoru shook her head numbly. "N-no..." she said and turned to where Lisa was standing, but the room was bare.

Lisa was gone. The ragged flap of tuiron cloth at the window was still moving. She'd left through the window. Down the fire escape. Was there another yak waiting for her down there? Kaoru wondered.

"Where can we find her?" she was asked as she turned back to the intruders.

"I... I don't know..."

The foremost yak regarded her steadily. His metallic eyes unnerved her -- although she knew they were just infrared contacts that allowed him to see in the dark. She wanted to blink, pull her gaze away, but couldn't move. When he finally looked away, releasing her gaze, she let out a breath she hadn't been aware of holding. Then the Steeljack in his hand spat and there was a hole in her stomach, the small fléchette exploding....

She reached out a hand towards the yaks, but they were no longer concerned with her. As she dropped to her knees, they stepped past her and began to tear apart the squat. The burning pain in her stomach spread. She held a hand to the wound, drew it away, and stared at her own blood with an uncomprehending expression.

I... I should have... run with you... Lisa... she thought as she fell face forward and the last of her life fled.

* * *

There were two yaks waiting in the alley behind the warehouse when Lisa crawled out the window onto the fire escape, but she hadn't been planning on going down anyway. The fire escape was too obvious. A born paranoid, she had yet another escape route prepared. She went up onto the roof, moving cat-quick, charged with adrenaline and fear.

When she reached the lip of the roof, she hauled herself up, then peered back down into the alley. No alarm. The yaks were still standing down there, one leaning up against the side of the other building behind the warehouse, eyeing its back door, his partner standing beside their black and chrome Usaijin three-wheelers, speaking into a com-link. The sound of the scooters rose up to the roof, a whisper-soft sound as their Stirling engines idled. Crawling back from the edge, Lisa rose lightly to her feet and ran across the roof.

If she'd been clever, she would have had her stolen Steeljack encoded to herself long ago. With the smart circuits in its handgrip adjusted to her palm, she wouldn't be facing Goro's men empty-handed. If she'd been really clever, she would have done that and been carrying the Steeljack when making her last delivery. The chinas would have thought twice about jumping her then.

The chinas.

She wasn't even that sure that they'd been genuine. Her messengers's stripes should have given her safe passage through their territory -- the chinas needed messengers too. No, someone had known what was in that package -- how much it meant to Goro, perhaps, or its actual value -- and thought the risk worth taking. That meant inside information. Something the chinas wouldn't have. But one of the tongs might.

Not the triads -- they were almost respectable now, still as racially pure as Goro's yakuza, and unlikely to start a new war. But the tongs... they had evolved into a mix of various Asiatic peoples whose one goal was to take down the triads and yakuza, replacing them with their own organizations. One of their groups could have hired the chinas. Easily.

She'd been through it all before, ever since she'd been set upon, the package stolen. Thinking about it just gave her a headache -- the center of pain emanating from the blue-black bruise on her temple where she'd been hit when she was knocked down and her satchel snatched. It was time to stop thinking about it. Even if she figured it all out, there was nothing she could do about it. A rat didn't go waltzing into the headquarters of one of the tongs, demanding recompense. Didn't go crying to anyone. Who'd listen?

As she neared the far side of the roof, she speeded up and launched herself across the ten-foot gap between the buildings. The old futon she'd salvaged and dragged up to the other roof broke the force of her fall, though it left her a little breathless. No time for weakness. Not with yaks on her ass. On her feet, she set off again, across another roof, another gap between buildings, another rotting futon breaking her fall.

This roof had a door leading down into its darkened interior. She took the steps in the stairwell two at a time, hand trailing along the rusted banister for balance. She was almost blind in the dark, but she'd run this escape route more than once. Just for practice. A born paranoid all right.

When she reached the ground floor, she eschewed the front and back doors, making her exit through a side window, runners greased, window sliding open silently. Out of the building, she stood absolutely still, listening, testing the air for sound, watching for movement, every sense alert.

Stars and moon were something one only saw on the vids; the smoggy skies were too thick with carbon particles to let their light cut through the night's shadows. But there was a dull glow coming off the towers of the Plex. Enough to see by. The streets appeared empty. Nothing in sight. Nothing stirring. No sixth sense prescient feel of being watched.

Too bad she didn't have her own wheels -- the salvaged twelve-speed she used on deliveries belonged to Adder and she only had the use of it. Rats didn't own much. If they did, they'd be living in the Plex.

She gave it a few more moments, then sped for the far side of the street where she vanished, swallowed by the shadows of the squats.

It was time to find the Ragman.

Copyright © 1989 by Charles de Lint


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