All of C.J. Cherryh's award-winning short fiction, collected in one volume for the first time...
“It’s rare that I’m not working on a novel. Short stories often happen between novels. Consequently my output is fairly small. But I love the tale-telling concept, the notion that I can spin a yarn, rather than construct something architectural and precise.”
So writes triple Hugo Award-winning author C.J. Cherryh in the introduction to this book, the first comprehensive collection of her independent short fiction. For though Cherryh is primarily known for her novels, it’s clear both from the more than two dozen brilliant and varied stories collected here, as well as her commentaries about them, that she loves the short forms and truly enjoys her forays into them.
We welcome you to join the realms of C. J. Cherryh’s imagination, where you’ll visit: “Cassandra”—the Hugo Award-winning tale of a woman cursed with a unique, prophetic madness. “Threads of Time”—an unforgettable reminder that when you play tricks in time, Time itself may play the greatest trick on you. Sunfall—in which six mighty Earth cities laden with the grandeur of history confront their fates in the far future light of our own dying sun. And many other magical, alien, and future worlds, in a volume that incorporates all C. J. Cherryh’s previous, long-unavailable collections, individual short stories that have never been compiled before, and a never-before-published novella written specifically for this book.
Board this spaceship where your tour guide is one of the most gifted and brilliant science fiction and fantasy writers, and embark on a journey fueled by the imagination of the incomparable C. J. Cherryh.
Release date: October 7, 2008
Print pages: 736
* BingeBooks earns revenue from qualifying purchases as an Amazon Associate as well as from other retail partners.
The Collected Short Fiction of C.J. Cherryh
It was named the City of Lights. It had known other names in the long history of Earth, in the years before the sun turned wan and plague-ridden, before the moon hung vast and lurid in the sky, before the ships from the stars grew few and the reasons for ambition grew fewer still. It stretched as far as the eye could see . . . if one saw it from the outside, as the inhabitants never did. It was so vast that a river flowed through it, named the Sin, which in the unthinkable past had flowed through a forest of primeval beauty, and then through a countless succession of cities, through ancient ages of empires. The City grew about the Sin, and enveloped it, so that, stone-channeled, it flowed now through the halls of the City, thundering from the tenth to the fourteenth level in a free fall, and flowing meekly along the channel within the fourteenth, a grand canal which supplied the City and made it self-sufficient. The Sin came from the outside, but it was so changed and channeled that no one remembered that this was so. No one remembered the outside. No one cared. The City was sealed, and had been so for thousands of years.
There were windows, but they were on the uppermost levels, and they were tightly shuttered. The inhabitants feared the sun, for popular rumor held that the sun was a source of vile radiations, unhealthful, a source of plagues. There were windows, but no doors, for no one would choose to leave. No one ever had, from the day the outer walls were built. When the City must build in this age, it built downward, digging a twentieth and twenty-first level for the burial of the dead . . . for the dead of the City were transients, in stone coffins, which might always be shifted lower still when the living needed room.
Once, it had been a major pastime of the City, to tour the lower levels, to seek out the painted sarcophagi of ancestors, to seek the resemblances of living face to dead so common in this long self-contained city. But now those levels were full of dust, and few were interested in going there save for funerals.
Once, it had been a delight to the inhabitants of the City to search the vast libraries and halls of art for histories, for the City lived much in the past, and reveled in old glories . . . but now the libraries went unused save for the very lightest of fictions, and those were very abstract and full of drug-dream fancies.
More and more . . . the inhabitants remembered.
There were a few at first who were troubled with recollections and a thorough familiarity with the halls—when once it was not uncommon to spend one’s time touring the vast expanse of the City, seeing new sights. These visionaries sank into ennui . . . or into fear, when the recollections grew quite vivid.
There was no need to go to the lower levels seeking ancestors. They lived . . . incarnate in the sealed halls of the City, in the persons of their descendants, souls so long immured within the megalopolis that they began to wake to former pasts, for dying, they were reborn, and remembered, eventually. So keenly did they recall that now mere infants did not cry, but lay patiently dreaming in their cradles, or, waking, stared out from haunted eyes, gazing into mothers’ eyes with millennia of accumulated lives, aware, and waiting on adulthood, for body to overtake memory.
Children played . . . various games, wrought of former lives.
The people lived in a curious mixture of caution and recklessness: caution, for they surrounded themselves with the present, knowing the danger of entanglements; recklessness, for past ceased to fascinate them as an unknown and nothing had permanent meaning. There was only pleasure, and the future, which held the certainty of more lives, which would remember the ones they presently lived. For a very long time, death was absent from the halls of the City of Lights.
Until one was born to them.
Only rarely there were those born new, new souls which had not made previous journeys within the City, babes which cried, children who grew up conscious of their affliction, true children among the reborn.
Such was Alain.
He was born in one of the greatest of families—those families of associations dictated more by previous lives than by blood, for while it was true that reincarnation tended to follow lines of descendancy, this was not always the case; and sometimes there were those from outside the bloodline who drifted in as children, some even in their first unsteady steps, seeking old loves, old connections. But Alain was new. He was born to the Jade Palace Family, which occupied the tenth level nearest the stairs, although he was not of that family or indeed of any family, and therefore grew up less civilized.
He tried. He was horribly conscious of his lack of taste, his lack of discrimination which he could not excuse as originality: originality was for—older—minds and memories. His behavior was simply awkward, and he stayed much in the shadows in Jade Palace, enduring this life and thinking that his next would surely be better.
But Jade was neighbor to Onyx Palace, and it was inevitable that these two houses mix upon occasion of anniversaries. These times were Alain’s torment when he was a child, when his naïve and real childhood was exposed to outsiders; they became torment of a different kind in his fourteenth year, when suddenly his newly maturing discrimination settled upon a certain face, a certain pale loveliness in the Onyx House.
“Only to be expected,” his mother sighed. He had embarrassed her many times, and diffidently came to her now with this confession . . . that he had seen in this Onyx princess what others saw within their own houses; an acuteness of longing possessed him which others claimed only for old recognitions and old lovers of former lives. He was new, and it was for the first time. “Her name,” his mother asked.
“Ermine,” he whispered, his eyes downcast upon the patterns of the carpets, which his aunt had loomed herself in a long-past life. “Her name is Ermine.”
“Boy,” his mother said, “you are a droplet in the canal of her lives. Forget her.”
It was genuine pity he heard in his mother’s voice, and this was very rare. You entertain me, was the kindest thing she had yet said to him, high compliment, implying he might yet attain to novelty. Now her kind advice brought tears to his eyes, but he shook his head, looked up into her eyes, which he did seldom: they were very old and very wise and he sensed them forever comparing him to memories ages past.
“Does anyone,” he asked, “ever forget?”
“Boy, I give you good advice. Of course I can’t stop you. You’ll be born a thousand times and so will she, and you’ll never make up for your youth. But such longings come out again if they’re not checked, in this life or the next, and they make misery. Sleep with many; make good friends, who may be born in your next life; no knowing whether you’ll be man or woman or if they’ll be what they are. Make many friends, that’s my advice to you, so that whether some are born ahead of you and some behind, whether sexes are what they are . . . there’ll be some who’ll be glad to see you among them. That’s how one makes a place for one’s self. I did it ages ago before I began to remember my lives. But I’ve every confidence you’ll remember yours at once; that’s the way things are, now. And when you’ve a chance to choose intelligently as you do in these days, why, lad, be very glad for good advice. Don’t set your affections strongly in your very first life. Make no enemies either. Think of your uncle Legran and Pertito, who kill each other in every life they live, whatever they are. Never set strong patterns. Be wise. A pattern set so early could make all your lives tragedy.”
“I love her,” he said with all the hopeless fervor of his fourteen unprefaced years.
“Oh, my dear,” his mother said, and sadly shook her head. She was about to tell him one of her lives, he knew, and he looked again at the carpet, doomed to endure it.
He did not see Onyx Ermine again that year, not the next nor the two succeeding: his mother maneuvered the matter very delicately and he was thwarted. But in his eighteenth year the quarrel Pertito had with uncle Legran broke into feud, and his mother died, stabbed in the midst of the argument.
Complications, she had warned him. He stood looking at her coffin the day of the funeral and fretted bitterly for the loss of her who had been his best and friendliest adviser, fretted also for her sake, that she had been woven into a pattern she had warned him to avoid. Pertito and Legran were both there, looking hate at one another. “You’ve involved Claudette,” Pertito had shouted at Legran while she lay dying on the carpet between them; and the feud was more bitter between the two than it had ever been, for they had both loved Claudette, his mother. It would not be long, he thought with the limits of his experience in such matters, before Pertito and Legran would follow her. He was wise and did not hate them, wrenched himself away from the small gathering of family and wider collection of curious outside Jade Palace, for he had other things to do with his lives, and he thought that his mother would much applaud his good sense.
But while he was walking away from the gathering he saw Ermine standing there among her kin of Onyx.
And if she had been beautiful when they were both fourteen, she was more so now. He stood and stared at her, a vision of white silk and pearls from the Sin, of pale hair and pink flushed skin. It was Ermine who drew him back to his mother’s funeral . . . Claudette, he must think of his mother now, by her true name, for she had stopped being his mother, and might at this moment be born far across the City, to begin her journey back to them. This mourning was only ceremony, a farewell of sorts, excuse for a party. It grew, as they walked the stairs past the thundering waters of the Sin, as more and more curious attached themselves and asked who had died, and how, and the tale was told and retold at other levels. But it was the kin who really knew her who did the telling; in his own low estate he kept silent and soon grew disaffected from all the empty show . . . his eyes were only for Ermine.
He moved to her side as they walked constantly down the long stairs which wrapped the chute of the Sin. “Might we meet after?” he asked, not looking at her, for shyness was the rule of his life.
He felt her look at him; at least he perceived a movement, a certain silence, and the heat crept to his face. “I think we might,” she said, and his heart pounded in his breast.
Never set strong patterns, Claudette had warned him; and before her body was entombed her voice seemed far away, and her advice less wise than it had seemed. After all, she had passed that way, and he was about to live life on his own.
I shall be wise, he promised her ghost. Claudette would be a child of his generation, surely . . . perhaps . . . the thought stunned him, perhaps his own with Ermine’s. She would be very welcome if she were. He would tell her so many things that he would have learned by then. It would be one of those rare, forever marriages, himself with Ermine; Ermine would love him . . . such a drawing could not be one-sided. The feeling soaring in him was the whole world and it was unreasonable to him that Ermine could go unmoved.
He was four years wiser than he had been, and filled with all the history he had been able to consume by reading and listening.
Pertito and Legran argued loudly near him. He paid them no heed. They reached the level of the tombs, far below the course of the Sin, and with great solemnity—all of them loved pomp when there was excuse for it—conveyed Claudette to her tomb. The populace was delighted when Pertito accused Legran of the murder; was elated when the whole funeral degenerated into a brawl, and the Pertito/Legran quarrel embroiled others. It found grand climax when knives were drawn, and uncle Legran and Pertito vowed suicide to expiate the wrong done Claudette. This was a grand new turn to the centuries-old drama, and the crowd gasped and applauded, profoundly delighted by a variation in a vendetta more than thirty centuries old. The two walked ahead of the returning crowd, and from the tenth level, leaped into the chute of the Sin, to the thunderous applause of much of the City. Everyone was cheerful, anticipating a change in the drama in their next lives. Novelty—it was so rarely achieved, and so to be savored. The souls of Pertito and Legran would be welcomed wherever they incarnated, and there would be an orgy to commemorate the day’s grand events, in the fond hope of hastening the return of the three most delightsome participants in the cycles of the City.
And Jade Alain fairly skipped up the long, long stairs above the thundering flood of the Sin, to change his garments for festal clothes, his very best, and to attend on Onyx Ermine.
He decked himself in sable and the green and white stones of his name, and with a smile on his face and a lightness in his step he walked to the doors of Onyx Palace.
There were no locks, of course, nor guards. The criminals of the City were centuries adept and not so crude. He walked in quite freely as he had come in company to the great anniversaries of the houses, asked of an Onyx child where might be the princess Ermine. The wise-eyed child looked him up and down and solemnly led him through the maze of corridors, into a white and yellow hall, where Ermine sat in a cluster of young friends.
“Why, it’s the Jade youth,” she said delightedly.
“It’s Jade Alain,” another yawned. “He’s very new.”
“Go away,” Ermine bade them all. They departed in no great haste. The bored one paused to look Alain up and down, but Alain avoided the eyes . . . looked up only when he was alone with Ermine.
“Come here,” she said. He came and knelt and pressed her hand.
“I’ve come,” he said, “to pay you court, Onyx Ermine.”
“To sleep with me?”
“To pay you court,” he said. “To marry you.”
She gave a little laugh. “I’m not wont to marry. I have very seldom married.”
“I love you,” he said. “I’ve loved you for four years.”
“Only that?” Her laugh was sweet. He looked up into her eyes and wished that he had not, for the age that was there. “Four years,” she mocked him. “But how old are you, Jade Alain?”
“It’s,” he said in a faint voice, “my first life. And I’ve never loved anyone but you.”
“Charming,” she said, and leaned and kissed him on the lips, took both his hands and drew them to her heart. “And shall we be lovers this afternoon?”
We hope you are enjoying the book so far. To continue reading...