Zima Blue and Other Stories

Zima Blue and Other Stories by Alastair Reynolds

Book: Zima Blue and Other Stories by Alastair Reynolds Read Free Book Online
Authors: Alastair Reynolds
Tags: 02 Science-Fiction
leave the markets, money in a purse, and walk across the bobbing pontoons of New Bridge to the south where she would meet her uncle in the auto-repair shop and then catch the bus home. That was her favourite time of day, the setting sun lighting the barrage balloons tethered from the skyscrapers, turning them into gold Christmas baubles.

    Each year there were fewer balloons. Sometimes the tethers snapped, sometimes balloons came down overnight, draping across the canopies of the plane trees. In the past, when there had still been Enolas in the air, a constant effort was required just to maintain the barrages. But because no one had seen an Enola for years, the barrage balloons had been allowed to fall into quiet disrepair. Only the old worked on the balloons now, camped in the penthouses, furiously sewing, repairing the quilted mylar, criticising the youngsters for their all-night carousing.

    Once, her uncle said, the balloons had formed a curtain surrounding the city. She didn't like the sound of that, for surely the sun would have been blocked out most of the time. But the old days seemed unpleasant all round, if the stories that the Pastmasters told were halfway accurate.

    But as Uncle Kodaira always said: Who could honestly tell?

    They lived in one room of a red building called the Monk's Hostel, shrouded by cool trees, home to nomadic families during summer. Kodaira knew most of the other traders; they had met out in the Empty, pausing to swap engine parts or oil for their overlanders. The Empty was big enough, the city itself big enough, that no one encroached upon the potential wealth of anyone else. So much had been manufactured before the Hour that you only had to scrape away a few centimetres of dirt anywhere in the Empty before you found something bright, new and unfamiliar that some city-dweller would cough up plenty for.

    Nightly, in the atrium of the Monk's Hostel, families converged around trestles and dined, then invariably drank and sang together. There were stories to relate, reminiscences to rekindle. Lucky, when she was allowed to stay up late, gulped in the atmosphere, wide-eyed with joy.

    A woman trader passed the elder Kodaira a stein of beer, telling him that she'd seen a Maker out in the desert, still crawling along the flats, scavenging for metal and plastic. If there were Makers, someone said, in a tone of grim warning, then there might also be Enolas. But he was rebuffed; the Makers were made by people around the time of the Hour, while the Enolas had come from the sky, from the stars. The Enolas were all gone; none had been seen for ten or twenty years, and it was possible that for many decades there had only been one left, a straggler wily enough to avoid being shot down by the defences of the Makers. A roving Maker - that was interesting, no doubt about it - but no one should lose any sleep over it.

    Uncle Kodaira laughed. 'There's more crazy stuff out in the Empty than any one of us imagines,' he said. 'Things I've seen . . . distant shapes on the horizon . . .' He took a swig of the beer. 'Way I reckon is, if there are still machines out there, they want to leave us alone as much as we want to leave them alone. Because it's only the smart ones that survived. And smart ones don't want trouble.'

    'But Uncle, are there still Enolas?' asked Lucky.

    'No way,' said the trader tenderly. 'The Enolas were bad things, once upon a time, but they're all gone now. Just like the dinosaurs I showed you in the museum, remember?'

    And she did; she remembered the fallen bones, downy with dust, sprawled across shattered marble. But she didn't remember where the museum had been, what town it was.

    She nodded. 'But the old people say the Enolas will return, don't they? And they don't say the dinosaurs will return.'

    The trader knelt down, until he was face level with his niece. 'Darling,' he said. 'Why do you think they have to say that?'

    She shrugged. 'Don't know. Maybe so they don't think they're

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