Wildside - Cover

Steven Gould

Published in March of 1996 by Tor Books, ISBN 0-313-85473-0

Copyright (c) 1996 by Steven Gould.
Artwork Copyright (c) 1995 Nick Jainschigg

All rights reserved. No part of this text or artwork 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 written permission of the Publisher. Exceptions are made for downloading this file to a computer for personal use.



Sorry, I'm dead.
Less than two kilometers from gate. Compound fracture left tibia and fibula. Like extra knee. Damn old brittle bones. Bleeding stopped but smell attracting company.
Tried to straighten break--passed out. Woken by wild dog sniffing leg. Ran when I shouted. Don't want to pass out again.
Have .45 and extra clip. Killed one dog. Others on it before it finished dying.
Will save last bullet.

Built tiny fire with deadwood and grass in reach. Out of water. Will put note in canteen. Should protect.
Great pain. Pitiful fire but makes me feel better.

Dogs left when sabertooth came--back after I killed it. Small smilodon, immature, I guess. Canines less than four inches. Seen bigger stalking bison. Dogs like it. Dogs may get to like me if I keep killing things.

Time to put note in canteen.
Dogs left again.
Dire wolves.

Part One: Preparations

Chapter One: "They're extinct."

Clara drove a motorcycle. Rick's junker was down for the count and his mom wouldn't let him use her car. Marie, despite her pilot's license, didn't drive, and Joey, the idiot, had his license suspended for DWI. So I drove. I didn't even want to go, but there you have it, Charlie to the rescue, one more time.
That week Dad was flying the DFW-DC-Boston route so Mom said I could take the big Lincoln Town Car. I dressed like a chauffeur, in a black suit and billed hat.
Rick was sitting on the porch steps when I pulled up. He was wearing a tux, a plastic florist's box in his big hands. I jumped out of the car and held the rear door open. He laughed, but stopped almost immediately with a nervous look over his shoulder.
"Come off it," he said. "I'll ride in front."
He shrugged. "Okay. Let's get out of here, before my mom starts up again." He folded himself into the back seat. The Town Car was huge, but Rick, though thin, was over six feet four. With him in it, the seat looked only adequate instead of luxurious.
When we were moving I asked, "You want to talk about it?"
He met my eyes for a moment in the rear view mirror, then looked away. "No," he said. "I don't."
I dropped him at Clara's, so he could do the P.P.P.O., the pre-prom-parental-ordeal, and drove on.
I had to go up to the house to get Joey. His father let me in. "Nice outfit, Charlie."
"Thank-you, Mr. Maloney. Where's Joey?"
Someone said, "Ow!" from the back of the house. Mr. Maloney pointed over his shoulder with his thumb. "They're in the kitchen, but be warned, it's not a pretty sight."
Tiny Mrs. Maloney, standing on a step stool, was pinning a white rose boutonniere on Joey's tux jacket while Joey's older sister, Lisa, was putting on the silver and ebony cuff links. "Why didn't you do this before you put on the jacket, you idiot?"
Joey wiggled. "Well, excuuuuuuuuse me. I don't wear a tux every day, you know." He saw me. "Ah, thank God. Help me Charlie Ben Kenobi, you're my only hope."
"Hold still!" said his mother.
Mr. Maloney went to the refrigerator. "You want a beer, Charlie?" Mrs. Maloney started to say something, but clamped her mouth shut.
"No thanks, Mr. Maloney. I'm driving."
Mr. Maloney blinked. "Ah, good point." He looked at Joey. "Very good point."
Joey blushed.
Mr. Maloney took a beer for himself, then with the refrigerator still open, said, "Coke? Sugared, I'm afraid. Er, we don't have any diet coke." It was my turn to blush. "No thanks, Mr. Maloney. Gives me zits." Not to mention adding to my already hefty waistline.
Joey's torturers released him and we fled. Good-natured injunctions about "having a good time" floated after us. In the car, Joey said, "Sorry about Dad. He means well."
"It's okay."
Marie lived only two blocks from Joey. "I'll wait," I said. He nodded, swallowing nervously. Marie's father knew about Joey's DWI incident. I got out and leaned against the car, visible from the house, proof to Marie's father that Joey wasn't driving.
They didn't stay inside long, but Marie's father escorted them to the car and shook my hand. "Hello, Charles." He always called me Charles. He and Marie left Vietnam in '75 and his English, though quite good, never lost the accent.
"Hello, Mr. Nguyen. How are you?"
"I am fine, Charles. I've let Joseph know that if you weren't driving, he would not be taking Marie to the prom. I depend on you to bring her home safely." He paused. "To bring all of them home safely."
"Daddy!" Marie exhaled sharply. She looked gorgeous. She was wearing something low-cut and tight in white, with a black silk shawl. In flat shoes she was my height, exactly, but tonight she was taller. "Show some tact."
Joey stared at the ground.
I held the back door open and winked at Marie. "Certainly, Mr. Nguyen. You can count on me."
On the way to Clara's Joey ragged me, his voice pitched in a nasal whine, "Certainly, Mr. Nguyen. You can count on me."
"Shut up, Joey," Marie said. "It's not Charlie's fault, now is it?"
I looked into Marie's eyes in the rear view mirror. She looked back, worried.
"'s okay." I said.
Joey shrugged and looked out the window for a moment, then said, "Sorry, Charlie. And thanks for driving us."
Marie kissed him and I felt knives in my gut. "You're welcome."
At Clara's house we had to go in for pictures. I held my hat to my chest and wore sunglasses and my black leather flying gloves.
Clara, tall and blonde, was wearing a strapless black gown with ruffles and her mother kept tugging it up even though it really didn't seem to be slipping. "Mom, enough all ready!" She usually wore unisex clothes, men's shirts, jeans.
"Leave her be, Margaret," said Mr. Prentice. "How can I take the picture if you're in the way?"
We stood still and faced the lightning in groups and pairs. Then I took a shot of the two couples with Mr. and Mrs. Prentice.
In the car Clara said, "What took you so long, Charlie? I thought I'd die!"
I was surprised and pleased when Joey said, "My fault. Trouble with the tux." He didn't mention Mr. Nguyen.
Next stop was the Texan, perhaps the best restaurant in town. I dropped them and went home to wait for their call. They'd offered to treat me, collectively, as payment, but I'd said I'd take payment another way.
I also didn't want to see Joey and Marie together any more than I could help it.
I'd eaten earlier though I wouldn't have minded something more. Mom and I were on a diet together and it seemed my stomach never stopped rumbling.
I spent the time reviewing the FAA Instrument Flight Regulations. Mom was watching another nature documentary on TV so I read in my room, as far from the refrigerator as possible. The phone call came after an hour and forty minutes.
"We just asked for the check," Marie said.
"What did you have?"
"Lobster. Heart-of-palm salad. Raspberry Mousse for desert."
"Aaaaaggghh. Okay, okay. I'll be there in ten minutes."
"You should've been here, Charlie. It wasn't as fun without you."
"Um. See you in a few."
In the living room, Mom was looking at the screen with the perpetually surprised and intent expression with which she watched all things. "I'm going now--I'll be back late so don't wait up."
She put down her notepad on a stack of wildlife journals and walked across to me. "Drive carefully. Mrs. Paige tells me that prom night is a time of increased consumption of alcoholic beverages by underage drivers." She reached out and adjusted my tie. "Don't let one of them crash into you."
"Okay, Mom." I kissed her on the cheek. "Don't fry your brains on too much TV."
She laughed, then sobered. "After this, it's a NOVA on extinctions."
"Oh, goody."
I picked the guys up two at a time, so I could walk around, open the door, and hand them out in front of the Hilton, where the prom was. Marie protested but I said, "Let's do it right." Most of the kids had driven themselves and were walking in from the parking lot so both couples had a decent audience when I did the act.
Joey made a big show of tipping me with a twenty, but I'd promised ahead of time to give it back later. Marie squeezed my hand as I helped her out. Nobody seemed to recognize me which was good, I guess.
This time I parked the car and waited in the lobby. The tuxedos and gowns drifted by, like some musical. There was a chair in the corner, screened by a potted palm. I settled there, my FAA IFR regs for company, but I didn't read. Instead I watched them flow by, like I watched them in the hallways at school. In-groups and out-groups, nervous singles, girls in stag groups, and popular jocks with beautiful girls. Most of them tried to act older, to fit the clothes. Some of them tried being pompous. A few of them were even natural, acting no differently than they did in jeans.
But, as usual, I watched from outside.
The music drifted from the ballroom, a slow number. I thought of Joey's arms around Marie and I got up, went into the hotel restaurant and had a second supper.

Someone shared their flask of whiskey with Joey during the prom and he was a little loud, a little clumsy. He wasn't obnoxious, though--he just smiled a lot. Marie, Rick, and I consulted and decided coffee was in order. Besides, none of them wanted to go home yet. What was the point in being home before midnight?
I had my own agenda.
"Come on," I said. "We'll get coffee from Jack-In-the-Box and go out to my place."
"Your place?" said Clara. "What about your Mom?"
I shook my head. "Not my parents'. My place."
Only Marie knew what I was talking about. We'd done touch and go practice landings on the grass strip there, but we'd never stopped. "He means the ranch--the ranch his uncle left him."
"Where is it?" asked Rick.
"West," I said. "Over by the Brazos. Twenty minutes."
Joey spoke. "We could go dancing, instead. Over to Parrot's."
All four of them were in the back. Clara, plastered to Rick's side, said, "My feet hurt enough. I'm not used to heels. What's out there?"
I tried to control my breathing, to keep my voice calm, to make it seem as if I didn't care. "A house. A barn. A hanger. An airstrip. A lot of trees."
"Anybody live there?"
"Me," I said. "After graduation."
"Whoa. Really? Your parents are okay about that?"
"Pretty much. My dad would like to hangar his plane there, that's why we put in the hangar. Better than Easterwood, cause it would save the hangar fees, but he's not willing unless somebody lives out there. Too much chance of vandalism."
"So, like he'll pay you instead? Since it's your land?"
"Ha. He'll continue to let me fly the plane. That's payment enough."
We reached Crack-in-the-Jack and I ordered four coffees and one hot tea to go. "Try not to spill it, guys. Or I'll hear about it."
I paused at the end of the driveway. "So, my place?"
"Sounds boring," said Joey.
Rick shrugged. Clara whispered something in Rick's ear and he crossed his legs, then said, "Let's do it."
Marie looked from me to Joey. "Sure. I've wanted to see what the place looks like from the ground."
Joey looked stubborn and I said, "Come on, Joey. I've got a surprise for you out there. I've got a surprise for all of you."
He relented. "Oh? Sure, why not. If there's a surprise."
"Let's just say it'll be worth your while."

Joey threw up halfway there, but gave us enough warning that Marie got the electric window open. He got it all outside, thank God.
"I don't feel so good," he said.
Marie was frosty. "Imagine my surprise."
I handed him my tea, untasted. "Here--rinse your mouth out with this."
There was a combination padlock on the gate. I closed it behind us--there weren't any cattle on the place, but I didn't want anybody to wander in. We drove on a gravel road through the live oaks, down a hill, then came to the cluster of house, barn, and hangar. I stopped the car before the barn in the light from a mercury vapor light mounted on the barn that lit the grass and dirt patch between the buildings. I killed the car and we piled out.
"How you feel, Joey?" Marie asked.
"Okay. Thirsty."
I unlocked the house and turned on the living room light. Then went into the kitchen and bathroom, before returning to the living room with a big plastic glass.
"It'll taste a little funny. It's well water. Here's some aspirin, too."
He took three aspirins and drained most of the glass.
Clara and Rick were on the couch. They stopped necking when I spoke to Joey. "Nice place," said Clara. "Was this your Uncle's stuff?"
It was old furniture, not quite old enough to be antique, but old enough to be "vintage". Some of the chairs were patched. It was neat and uncluttered, like Uncle Max left it. I tried to keep it that way. "Yeah. I like it."
"Did I see a second floor?" She asked.
"Yeah. There's three bedroom's up there, but it gets really hot. Uncle Max's room is on this floor, at the back."
I couldn't stand to wait anymore. The tension was building, had been building, for over a week. The evening had made it worse. "What are you doing this summer, Clara?" I asked. My voice was ragged and anxious. All four looked at me, surprised.
Clara tilted her head to one side and looked at me with narrowed eyes. "Uh, I was going to work part-time at the stables, to pay for the feed and board on Impossible, and I was going to get at least one other job. We don't all have scholarships." She glanced sideways at Marie as she said this.
Marie shrugged. "Scholarship isn't going to help that much. I've got a job interview with Dillard's the week after graduation."
"Rick?" Some of the tension was still there and I took a deep breath. Then, more calmly, I continued, "What about you. This summer, I mean."
The corners of his mouth tightened. "Dad wants me to spend it in Dallas working for his company. I don't want to, but if I don't find a job here that pays well enough, I'll have to." More reluctantly he said, "Child support payments stopped last February, when I turned eighteen. Even with your coaching in calculus, Charlie, I didn't qualify for any of the scholarships I applied for."
I turned to Joey. Before I asked the question he said, "I'm going to join the army."
"What?" Marie was as surprised as any of us. "What do you mean?"
"You know. Go down to the recruiting office at Northgate, walk in, sign up. That's what. Do you think I'm going to get to college any other way with my grades? I've got four sisters and a little brother, Dad was laid off six months ago so all we've got is the money from Mom's secretarial work. Lisa is talking about dropping out of A&M so she can get another job. No way I'm going to make it on my own." He sipped from the last of his water, his eyes on the floor. "To be honest, I'm not sure I want to go to college. Sure didn't do Dad any good."
Marie shrugged helplessly and put her arm around Joey's waist. He kept his eyes down, but leaned into her.
The silence was like a still pond and I dropped my pebble with great care. "Payback time," I said.
Joey looked up. "Huh?"
"You guys owe me for tonight, right? For driving you around."
Marie said, "Sure." Joey nodded, his eyes narrowing, wondering what the cost would be. Rick just said, "For other things, too." Clara's reaction was more like Joey's.
"Here's the deal. I've got a secret. It's not illegal. It's not immoral. Some might say it's not even possible. But it's a secret and I want it kept that way. You promise not to tell anyone what I'm about to show you. Not your friends, your brothers, your sisters, your parents, your priest." I looked at Joey when I said priest. "That's the payment I want. To give me your word and keep it."
"I haven't been to confession in four years, Charlie. And if it's not immoral, why should it matter?"
"Just promise."
Marie said, "Okay, Charlie." She looked a little hurt. She was my best friend and she didn't know what I was talking about. Well, I didn't tell her everything since she started going out with Joey.
Joey looked relieved. The cost, it seemed, was acceptable to him. "Sure, Charlie. It's a deal."
Rick said, "I promise."
Clara licked her lips. "Well, if what you said about it not being illegal or immoral is true, then I promise as well. If it turns out that you're lying about that, then all deals are off."
I gritted my teeth together. "Of course."
There was a set of barrister bookshelves next to the door. I lifted the glass door on one shelf and pulled a book from it. The place was marked with a reddish brown feather. "Look at this." I put the book down on the coffee table, open, facing the couch. Marie and Joey came over and looked down. Clara and Rick leaned forward.
Joey said, "Morning doves, aren't they?" Joey and his father hunted.
Clara read from the caption. "Ectopistes migratorius, Male and Female Passenger Pigeon, see Pigeons--Columbidae, order Columbiformes."
Marie said, "Passenger Pigeons? They're extinct. Wiped out by hunting in the late 1800's, right?"
"That's right," I said. "Though technically, the last one died in captivity in 1914. Her name was Martha. Bring the book. Follow me."
I led them back outside, to the barn. It was set partially back into the hill. The first story was mortared fieldstone with wood siding on the hayloft above. I unlocked the padlock and swung open one side of the large double door, found the light switch, and pulled the door shut, behind us.
The barn was square, about thirty feet by thirty feet, with a hard dirt floor. There were five stalls on the right hand side and an ancient gasoline tractor parked on the left along with various attachments: a plow, a disker, a small utility trailer, and an old rotary hay mower. At the back left-hand corner, a work table stood with all of Uncle Max's tools hung in neat rows on the wall above. A table saw beside the bench stood under a canvas tarp.
I glanced at the back of the barn, where several hay bales were stacked nearly to the ceiling and felt a sharp stab of grief. I looked away quickly and led the guys to the back corner stall. The pigeons started cooing when I opened the door.
There were sixteen cages, handmade of chicken wire with wood framing. They were stacked four by four, one bird per cage.
Marie and Rick looked at the book, then back at the cages. Then back at the book again. Clara grabbed the book from them and flipped to the textual description. She read, "Grayish blue above, reddish fawn below, resembling Old World turtledoves, but larger, thirty-two to forty-three centimeters in length, with a longer pointed tail and a greater wingspread. Males have a pinkish body and a blue-gray head."
Halfway through the description, Joey backed out of the stall and began looking around. He climbed up the ladder to the loft but all he found was hay. By the time he lifted the tarp on the table saw and looked beneath it, the other three had emerged from the pigeon stall.
"What are you looking for?" asked Marie.
Joey was frowning, his lips pursed. "A time machine," he said.
All four of them looked at me. They seemed a little afraid.
"Wait a minute," said Rick. "These don't have to be passenger pigeons. Didn't the description say they were similar to turtledoves in coloration?"
"These are much bigger," said Marie.
"Back breeding. Selecting for size. Breeding for larger and larger turtledoves. Is that what was done, Charlie?"
Marie took a stab at it. "Then what about cloning? Didn't you say that the last passenger pigeon died in 1914? They had refrigeration, then. Did they freeze some tissue and did somebody clone these, using doves or pigeons as host mothers?"
I shook my head.
Finally Joey just asked. "What are they, Charlie? What are those birds in the corner?"
"They're passenger pigeons."
He digested that. They all did. Finally he said, "So, where's the time machine?"
"There isn't one."
Clara almost shouted. "Then how did you get them?"
I folded my arms. "I'm not going to tell you. Not yet, anyway."
Rick smiled, then, and the others looked at him, puzzled. "So, what are you going to tell us, Charlie?" I could see some of the possibilities were occurring to him.
"How'd you like enough money for college, without working for your dad in Dallas this summer? All of you. How'd you like enough money for college at any school in the country? Full board and tuition without any jobs on the side?" I paused, a bubble of hysterical laughter breaking out. "Hell. If it works out, enough money for the rest of your lives."