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Charles Sheffield

Starfire

Charles Sheffield Starfire
 
 




Country of final manufacture:

US

Excerpt from book:

From the private diary of Oliver Guest. Entry date: June 25, 2053

When you have died once, you become most reluctant to do so again.

I had been watching the man since early afternoon, ever since my Alert system detected his presence five and a half miles to the south. He came on foot, much closer to the sea edge than I would ever go. On his back he wore a light knapsack, and in his right hand he held what looked like a solid walking stick. Ten steps to his left the three-hundred-foot cliff dropped sheer to the crawling waters of the Atlantic.

He was in no hurry, pausing from time to time to turn and stare seaward. He might be a solitary and contemplative hiker, wandering the wild west coast of Ireland from Donegal Bay to Tory Sound, admiring the scenery and enjoying his own company. He might; but that hope vanished when at the point of closest approach to the castle he made a sharp right turn and headed straight for it.

I studied him under maximum magnification as he came nearer. He was of middle height and medium build. A strong west wind blew his long hair over his forehead, and that, together with the dark beard and moustache, hid most of his features. There was, surely, nothing about him to make me nervous. Wasn't it reasonable that a walker might ask for a drink of water, or even inquire about accommodation for the night?

It was long years of caution and a determination never again to be captured that speeded my pulse and tingled along my spine.

Above all, do no harm.

Therefore, assume that the man is an innocent stranger, and he will come and go peacefully.

He ignored the scullery entrance, closest to his direction of approach. Instead he walked around the building to the leeward side and found the solid oak door of the main entrance. I am sensitive to loud noises, and I had covered the massive iron door knocker with felt. The triple knock was soft and muffled, as though he knew he was observed and had no need of a loud announcement of his presence.

I opened the door and confirmed my first impressions. Outside the threshold stood a stranger, a man of uncertain age and nondescript clothing, long-haired and full-bearded, four or five inches shorter than me. He was not smiling, but there was an expectant look in his brown eyes.

"Good afternoon," I said. "Can I help you?"

"I don't know about that." He raised dark eyebrows and took a step closer. "But I sure as hell hope so, Doc. Because if you can't, I'm beat to say who can."

The voice and West Virginia accent provided the link, far more strongly than the casual "Doc." It had been twenty-seven years, but I knew who he was--and I knew that he knew me. My instincts shouted, "Kill him!" but instincts are highly unreliable. Moreover, I lack a talent for unpremeditated murder.

Instead I said, "Seth Parsigian. Would you like to come in?"

I did not offer my hand. He nodded, grinned--I would have recognized that smile, after much longer than twenty-seven years--and stepped through into the hallway of gray slate. He stared around him.

"I wondered if you'd recognize me," he said. "Where are the kids?"

"They are away in Sligo, and they will be gone for two days. Furthermore, I cannot believe that you are unaware of that fact."

He winked. "Could be. Not very smart of me, eh? Coming here alone, nobody else around. Might be dangerous. But I don't think it will be. You an' me, we got too much to offer each other."

That short exchange told me several things. He knew about my darlings, and I must assume that he had possessed the information for some time. And he could not be the only one with knowledge of my whereabouts. Seth Parsigian merited several unpleasant adjectives, but"Charles Sheffield is one of the very best hard science fiction writers in the world."
--Kim Stanley Robinson

"Sheffield clothes the most advanced speculations of modern science in alluring forms of beauty and danger."
--The Washington Post Book World

"Stunning extrapolations and tense maneuvers: an engrossing high-tech apocalypse."
--Kirkus Reviews


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