Steven Gould 7th Sigma

ISBN 13: 9780312877156

7th Sigma

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9780312877156: 7th Sigma

Welcome to the territory. Leave your metal behind, all of it. The bugs will eat it, and they'll go right through you to get it...Don't carry it, don't wear it, and for god's sake don't come here if you've got a pacemaker.

The bugs showed up about fifty years ago--self-replicating, solar-powered, metal-eating machines. No one knows where they came from. They don't like water, though, so they've stayed in the desert Southwest. The territory. People still live here, but they do it without metal. Log cabins, ceramics, what plastic they can get that will survive the sun and heat. Technology has adapted, and so have the people.

Kimble Monroe has chosen to live in the territory. He was born here, and he is extraordinarily well adapted to it. He's one in a million. Maybe one in a billion.

In 7th Sigma, Gould builds an extraordinary SF novel of survival and personal triumph against all the odds.

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About the Author:

STEVEN GOULD is the author of Jumper, Wildside, Helm, Blind Waves, Reflex, and Jumper: Griffin's Story, as well as many short stories. He is the recipient of the Hal Clement Young Adult Award for Science Fiction and has been nominated for both the Hugo and the Nebula Awards. Gould lives in New Mexico with his wife, writer Laura J. Mixon and their two daughters.

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

1
 

When the Student is Ready, a Teacher Will Come

High atop the Exodus Memorial in the plaza of Nuevo Santa Fe, Kimble paced back and forth, his hand raised to strike down the impudent. The Memorial had nothing to do with the early events of Judeo-Christian tradition, but there were several scriptural references on the ceramic tiles inset in the thick adobe wall, and young Orvel, whose father was the local LDS bishop, and young Martin, whose eldest brother was a deacon at the Church of Christ the Rock, argued from below that these affiliations entitled them to the place occupied by Kimble, an avowed apostate and frequent blasphemer. Alas, neither their spiritual superiority nor their physical efforts had dislodged the smaller boy from his perch.
“Let me up!” yelled Martin.
Kimble smiled kindly down at him. “Never while I breathe.”
Martin stepped back to the side where Orvel was trying to form an alliance with César, an altar boy at Nuestra Señora de Guadalupe. César was bigger than any of them and might have turned the tide against Kimble, but César was having none of it. There was historical animosity. If Orvel and Martin had not previously sided against César in the affair of Mr. Romero’s broken shop window (and borne false witness at that), César might have been more receptive to their appeal to Christian solidarity.
Rebuffed, Martin and Orvel steeled themselves for another attempt on the monument, a two-front assault from opposite ends of the wall. Unfortunately for them, Kimble was monkey quick, and a sudden flick of his hand toward Orvel’s face sent that worthy sprawling in time for Kimble to turn and meet young Martin, pudgy and less fit, before he achieved the summit. A mild blow on Martin’s grasping fingers sent him down into the dust of the plaza.
Their injuries were slight, but César’s mocking laughter was like salt in a cut.
The Territorial Administrative Complex and the Territorial Rangers headquarters bordered the great square on two sides. The Commercial Galleria, a series of businesses clumped together around the main heliograph office, occupied the third side, and the fourth side held the sprawled booths of the city market, open every day but Sunday. Now, shortly after the end of siesta, people strolled the plaza and shopped.
As Kimble watched, a woman wearing goatskin boots, wide-bottomed gaucho pants, and a cotton smock walked out of the market and into the square. She was pulling a travois, a modern one, glass composite poles with a small wheel where they came together. A strap running between the two handles crossed her shoulders and helped support the modest, tarp-covered load. Though her short dark hair was peppered with gray, her face seemed young, or at least unlined.
“Gentlemen,” she said, apparently addressing all four of them. “Would one of you be so kind as to tell me where the Land Registrar is?”
Orvel, still on his bottom in the dust of the square, didn’t know, and he was mortified, convinced the woman had seen his ignominious descent. Martin, following his church’s creed, was unwilling to talk to a woman not of his family. César didn’t know but he said politely, “I would be glad to ask inside, ma’am.”
“No need,” said Kimble. “I know.” He dropped lightly off the monument and rolled to absorb the impact, rising smoothly to his feet. He jerked his chin toward the fiberglass awnings of the Galleria. “If you’ll walk this way?”
She fell into step with him, the trailing wheel of her travois squeaking slightly as it turned. “I would’ve thought it would be over there,” she said, jerking her chin at the Administrative Complex.
Now that he was closer he could see that fine lines radiated from the corners of her eyes and her mouth. Not young, then, though not as old as the market manager, a veritable raisin of a man. “’Twas. Both the Land Office and the Census Department needed more records space. Census stayed and Land Office moved into an annex earlier this year.”
“You know a lot about it. Does your mom work there? Or your dad?”
He shrugged. It was not his place, he felt, to inform against himself. The less said the better. He found that people filled in the gaps all by themselves with details that felt right to them. It wasn’t his fault if they made assumptions. “I run errands. Sometimes it’s messages. Sometimes it’s guiding people to where they need to go.” He waited for her next question but it was nothing like he expected.
“Where did you learn to roll like that?”
He blinked and looked sideways at her from the corner of his eye. “Pardon?”
“When you jumped off the monument. The forward roll.”
Kimble opened his mouth to answer, but then shrugged again.
She sniffed. “As you like.”
They entered one of the arched passageways back into the Galleria, past Bolton & Cable, specialty printers (ceramic type, of course); past Duran, importer of ready-made clothing and the hard plastic needles that fetched high prices over in the market; past the law firm of McKensie, Duncan and Lattimore, specialists in Native American, territorial, and immigration law. “Up there,” said Kimble, pointing up a narrow stair to the second story and the sigil of the territorial government, the old Zia of New Mexico rising above the Star on the Horizon of the old Arizona Flag.
The woman eyed the two flights and the tight landing and looked at her travois.
“I can watch it,” Kimble offered.
She gave him a look, which made him add, “Really. No harm will come to it and it will be right here.”
Again she considered him. “What payment would you want?”
He raised both hands palm up. “You decide.” He smiled ingenuously. “No doubt you’ll want to take into consideration how long I have to wait.”
The woman snorted. “Your name?”
“Kimble.”
“Is that your first name or last?”
He bowed as a player, one hand on his heart, “Yes.”
She raised her eyebrows and then nodded. “I’m Ruth Monroe. See you in a bit, Kimble.”
Her business took long enough to close the office—the great ceramic bell atop the Territorial Admin Complex had rung eight different quarters of the hour when, watching from below, Kimble saw one of the clerks escort Ruth to the landing outside the office. The clerk shook her hand and then took down the OPEN sign before vanishing back into the interior. As Ruth came down the stairs, perusing a piece of paper, Kimble heard the doors being barred from within.
“Well, Mr. Kimble, I am hungry. Can you recommend a reasonable eatery? I’m going south, toward the Rio Puerco, but I’d like to eat before I leave town.”
Kimble’s stomach rumbled at the thought, audible, almost echoing in the passageway.
“A meal for both of us,” Ruth amended.
“There’s Griegos—it’s a taqueria by the south gate. The cabrito ... this is a good time to go. Early enough—they run out.”
They ate the goat tacos (whole-wheat tortillas, black beans, red onions, and pico de gallo) in the alley beside the taqueria, where Ruth could watch her travois. They were not alone. The alley had several diners as well as a few hopeful dogs. Ruth and Kimble were among the first, but as the alley filled, Ruth shifted the travois so that it leaned against the wall, handles down, wheel up, to clear more space. An older teen, not eating, took the opportunity to grab a spot by the wall on the other side of the travois from them.
A Jicarilla Apache couple sat against the opposite wall with their burritos. The woman was wearing a traditional deerskin dress with beaded trim. The man wore jeans converted for the territory—all metal removed. The rivets had been pulled and replaced with over-sewing and the zipper fly was now Velcro. His moccasins had thick rawhide soles and buckskin uppers.
The woman gestured at the travois. “I like your outfit,” she said. “The wheel is a good notion.”
“Thank you. It’s worked pretty well as long as I grease it regularly.”
“How far have you come with it?”
“I entered the territory at Needles.”
The man seemed impressed. “That’s almost five hundred miles. Walking the whole way?”
Ruth nodded. “Five weeks. Walk six days, rest one. I averaged fifteen miles a day.”
“Any trouble?”
“What do you mean?”
“Bugs. Grass fires. Weather. Ladrones.”
Ruth glanced sideways at Kimble and he translated, “Thieves, bandits.”
Ruth shrugged. “I’d been briefed on the bugs—I was careful. And it wasn’t too dry—saw one grass fire far to the south. Wind was bad for a few days but fortunately it was at my back. I did have some trouble with la-ladrones? West of Montezuma Well. Two men wanted to take my outfit and, from what they said, rape me.”
The woman’s eyes grew large. “What happened?”
Ruth pursed her lips. “They decided not to.” And then she surged to her feet and was standing over the teen who’d sat next to her travois. “They were clearly smarter than you.”
The teen looked up at her, eyes wide. “What?”
Ruth pointed at the lashing on her tarp. “You cut it. I saw the cord jerk when the tension released.”
The boy gathered his feet underneath him. “I never touched your stupid rope.”
Kimble watched with interest. If the boy had cut the cord what had he used? Was it still in his ha—
The boy slashed upward with a chunk of obsidian as he rose...

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