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
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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
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.
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
"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."
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."
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
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,
"'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 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
I also didn't want to see Joey and Marie together any more than I could
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
"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."
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
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
"How you feel, Joey?" Marie asked.
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,
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
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 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?"
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
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
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
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
"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."