The Family Trade

The Family Trade by Charles Stross

Book: The Family Trade by Charles Stross Read Free Book Online
Authors: Charles Stross
Tags: sf_fantasy, SF
following me? she wondered, feeling ill with uncertainty. What’s wrong? After a moment she remembered her camera: She’d lost the lens cap in her mad rush. “Damn, I could have broken my ankle,” she muttered. “They’d have caught me for—” she stopped.
    “That look in his eye.” Very carefully, she unslung the camera and slid it into a big outer hip pocket. She glanced around the clearing sharply, then spent a moment untangling the revolver from her other pocket. Now that she had all the time in the world, it was easy. “He was scared, ” she told herself, wondering. “He was terrified of me! What was that he was shouting? Was he warning the others off?”
    She began to walk again, wrapped in a thoughtful silence. There were no sounds of pursuit. Behind her the village hid in the gloom, like a terrified rabbit whose path had just crossed a fox on the prowl. “Who are you hiding from?” she asked her memory of the boy with the stick. “And who did you mistake me for?”
    * * *
    It was raining again, and the first thing she noticed once she crossed over—through the blinding headache—was that Paulette was bouncing up and down like an angry squirrel, chattering with indignation behind the camcorder’s view-finder. “Idiot! What the hell do you think you were doing?” she demanded as Miriam opened the passenger door and dumped her pack on the backseat. “I almost had a heart attack! That’s the second time you’ve nearly given me one this week!”
    “I said it would be a surprise, right?” Miriam collapsed into the passenger seat. “God, I reek. Get me home and once I’ve had a shower I’ll explain everything. I promise.”
    Paulette drove in tight-lipped silence. Finally, during a moment when they were stationary at a traffic light, she said: “Why me?”
    Miriam considered for a moment. “You don’t know my mother.”
    “That’s—oh. I see, I think. Anything else?”
    “Yeah. I trusted you to keep your mouth shut and not to panic.”
    “Uh-huh. So what have you gotten yourself into this time?”
    “I’m not sure. Could be the story of the century—the second one this week. Or it could be a very good reason indeed for burying something and walking away fast. I’ve got some ideas—more, since I spent a whole day and a half over there—but I’m still not sure.”
    “Where’s over there? I mean, where did you go?” The car moved forward.
    “Good question. The straight answer is: I’m not sure—the geography is the same, the constellations are the same, but the landscape’s different in places and there’s an honest-to-god medieval village in a forest. And they don’t speak English. Listen, after I’ve had my shower, how about I buy supper? I figure I owe you for dropping this on your lap.”
    “You sure do,” Paulette said vehemently. “After you vanished, I went home and watched the tape six times before I believed what I’d seen with my own two eyes.” Her hands were white on the steering wheel. “Only you could fall into something this weird!”
    “Remember Hunter S. Thompson’s First Law of Gonzo Journalism: ‘When the going gets tough, the tough get weird’?” Miriam chuckled, but there was an edge to it. Everywhere she looked there were buildings and neon lights and traffic. “God, I feel like I spent the weekend in the Third World. Kabul.” The car smelled of plastic and deodorant, and it was heavenly—the stink of civilization. “Listen, I haven’t had anything decent to eat for days. When we get home I’m ordering take out. How does Chinese sound?”
    “I can cope with that.” Paulette made a lazy right turn and slid into the slow-moving stream of traffic. “Don’t feel like cooking?”
    “I’ve got to have a shower,” said Miriam. “Then I’ve got a weekend of stuff to put in the washing machine, several hundred pictures to download and index, memos to load into the computer, and an explanation. If you figure I can do all that and a pot

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