Setting down his drink, Cormac Thomas Garfield runs his fingers over a deep
scar on his chest. It's the site of his first harvesting, the reason he came
to Austin all those years ago. No one speaks to Cormac as he sips straight
Jack Daniels at a sunny corner table in the cafe'. Young men of Cormac's
profession tend to carry peculiar odors, and an old man such as Cormac
He began his career as a Dog Boy (officially, a
hinterland Canaille), growing botulism toxins in polymer
sacs installed in his gut. Later, he graduated to necrotizing venoms and
exotic ion-channel neurotoxins. There were worse things, too. Tiny beasts,
like crabs, but with teeth. He, along with a hundred other boys, had to vomit
them out into stainless steel tubs while men in hazmat suits stood by with
guns ready to shoot them in case it went badly and the animals began to eat
their way out of their stomachs. There were always a few casualties
during these harvests.
Boys didn't last long in Cormac's profession,
which saved the royal family from having to pay for their many infirmities
when they grew old. Cormac has stubbornly, rudely, refused to die, costing
the Treasury a tidy sum. He is despised by both ordinary men and
the government, but he is a hero of the State, with a medal to prove
it. His assassination, even a convenient accident, is out of the
question. His blood is so toxic that if he were wounded in a public place,
he could contaminate a whole city sector.
Cormac has a mechanical eye
a retirement present from Prince Samuel Patrick Houston but it hasn't
worked in years, except to intermittently show him flickering gray
silhouettes lost in blizzards of static. Cormac has come to believe that
these figures are the ghosts of the millions murdered in the Mexican Wars
with the poisons manufactured in his body. The ghosts are trying to tell him
something, but he can't understand what. He speaks to the ghosts, and the
other patrons at the cafe, already disgusted by his blackened teeth and
stinking flesh, move away from his yammering.
Cormac orders more Jack
Daniels shots. He is a hero. The cafe owner has no choice but to serve him.
When Cormac starts to leave, the owner refuses the old man's money. He leaves
cash on the table anyway, but the owner sweeps it and his glass into a
plastic container and burns them down by a canal in back of his cafe.
A few weeks later, when Cormac dies, the city secretly
rejoices. Cormac's body is incinerated in a special biohazard facility deep
in the mountains beyond El Paso. Despite this, the winds change and
an acid rain falls like metallic-smelling tar on the capital. The
monsoon curdles roads. It ruins delicate building facades and dish antennae.
It erases the faces from every public statue in the city. The
runoff contaminates the ground water, and thousands die horribly, coughing
up blood and flesh-eating spider-like things. The royal family flees
the city as a strange plague moves through the streets, killing rich
and poor alike. A new crop of Dog Boys is bought in from the provinces.
The plague intrigues the kingdom's scientists. It is a new flower
to cultivate in the red gardens of the Dog Boys' blood.
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Richard Kadrey is a member of a small group of innovative writers, including William Gibson, Bruce Sterling, John Shirley, Pat Cadigan, Tom Maddox, and others, who changed the face of science fiction in the 1980s. He also creates art. He lives in San Francisco.