Drums throbbed and pulsed out an open window on the second
floor of Julliard West. BOOM-buh-BAH-buh! BOOM-buh-BAH-buh! My
steps shortened to dance along before I could stop myself.
I’m a big guy, tall, blond, and solid, and when I dance, everyone stares — in
alarm. Other pedestrians were staring now. I added a hip bump and
enjoyed the scandalized scowl on the matron just passing.
Wait. Open window? Who opens windows in this city? I looked
up, dancing in place. It was her. My God, she was gorgeous.
Big, strong, curved everywhere, even her forearms that were dancing the jimbeh
were sculpted muscle rounded by pure womanless. She had skin of deep,
deep, deep brown with a glow like sunset on gold, eyes like pools of
midnight. I’d seen her twice before — once through the window of a
skim-limo that slowed as it passed me (no ID anywhere on that vehicle’s
surface), and once at the Millennium Fountain, a moment of meeting glances
before large ebony guards stepped closer around her, carrying not only beam
weapons but swords across their backs.
I have some skill at finding things out (it’s my job), but I had not been able
to find out who she was. BOOM. She stopped. I felt as if my
power cord had been cut. I stood stock still. She smiled at me and I
experienced power of quite another sort.
A hand grasped my arm, and I looked down to see pale fingers not coming close
to closing around my bicep and heard a low grumble: “It ain’t nice to
stare, Anthem. Come on down to the Carton for a drink before you
I knew his voice and didn’t need to turn and look into his face. I pulled
away. “No, thanks, Cumber.” I looked up again at the window, but
she was gone, and shiny plastiglass reflected the afternoon’s gray sky.
Cumber growled, or tried to, around a voice that broke like rotten ice.
“Ike wants to talk to you, Anthem.”
I kept it short. “Ike can fly a bike.” He took my arm again, and I
crooned, “I’ll start by breaking your thumb.” He let go.
I buttoned for a cab and one shushed to the curb in about three seconds — good
luck, that. “Tell Ike maybe he needs to look for a new venue,
I got in and blanked the dome as the cab whooshed away. I wanted some
privacy. I wanted to ponder her lovely arms, but thoughts of Cumber
actually having the nerve to touch me kept intruding. If Ike had told him
to get physical with me, then Ike was getting serious. My usual
investigations involved nothing more than embarrassments, but Ike was another class
of embarrassment altogether. I hated to let a gutter-feeder like him
deflect me in any way at all, but maybe I needed a dodge of some kind.
My dart had just thunked satisfyingly into my DNA dart board between Kynthian’s
rich guanine and her privileged adenine when the lady herself peeped my door
Her usual entrance line was “Projectiles! How Neanderthal you are,
Cav!” But the board on the back of my closed door, plus my habit of
throwing while thinking — and I was thinking both hard and fruitlessly about
Ike — kept her from minxing in any time she liked, and that was just how I
liked it. You can’t tell your boss to keep out, but you can make her want
Kynthian Legercitti fancied herself — fancied! I can just hear her saying “What
an anachronist you are, Cav!” She fancied herself a rebel, a gadfly, an
unpluckable thorn in the side of her elevated family circles. And the
Noses, as I anachronistically call them, since they go around with their snoots
so uptilted they’d drown in the rain (if they ever actually let such an
uncontrolled substance make contact with their protected persons) — the Noses
do need the “research agency” Kynthian invented and made a success. Gotta
give her that much. The Noses get wild hairs up theirs just like the rest
of humanity, and they need discreet…um…researchers.
When the Snoots deal with Kynthian, they can feel like indulgent aunties and
uncles cajoling a spoiled darling, making the spunky younger scion feel
important while she saves their bio-sculpted buttocks from painful contact with
their own consequences.
In contrast, when they deal with me, oh, their buttocks tighten right up, along
with every other moveable part, if they know what I am, and most do. So
that’s why she’s the boss — that and the undeniable fact that she found and
recruited me whilst I was shooting freshwater-adapted sharks from a Lake Erie
rock jetty and shooting up stimulants on no fixed schedule.
And all the Noses do know who and what I am. How could they not? My
noble father made sure they would: he named me Caveat. Warn everyone, he
announced. And his disarming honesty got him what he wanted: an
unheard-of third begetting.
I was born second, you see, in a power-shorted airship in a sandstorm. My
father and mother must have felt impervious to chance when they set out from
their pied-a-terre in Morocco
for their new investment, a Kilimanjaro resort. A power short somewhere
west of the Nile, of course, could happen only
to other mortals, and who ever heard of an early delivery? Mother
actually had to scream and writhe and gasp and bleed and let primal urges
squash me out into the world. There was no kit to process my cord, no
power for cryo, even if they’d had a kit.
I’m told we endured for two days on the water in the ambience system, an
afternoon’s worth of exquisite saffron pastilles, and that most primitive of
nutrient sources, my mother’s milk. She worried at first, because she had
biosculpted her breasts and thought there might be damaging chemi or bio in the
milk, never having intended that her mammaries would do anything so backward as
lactate. But then she realized there was to be no rescue within hours, no
power, no cord-blood fetal stem-cell storage and therefore no backup for me,
adult stem-cells having finally proved incorrigibly unstable for developing new
There would be no growing replacements should I rupture a spleen, shatter a
limb, grow a cancer, outlive a heart, or go gray in the hair. Instead, I
will die, probably around age two hundred, even with all the non-stem therapies
I could surely shame my family into paying for. No worries for Mom about
the milk, then. It hardly mattered.
So I am Caveat Anthem. And let the Anthem family, and the rest of homo
sapiens extensioris, beware. I smell of an earlier mortality than others
of my kind will have to face. Watch out. It might be contagious.
I left the dart in the DNA and told the door to admit the boss.
“Suit up and meet me at transport.” That’s all she said before popping
back out again, with no remarks about my primitive pastimes. No color in
her face, either.
I decided it was smart to make like an employee and just get moving. Her
mood and her complexion were alarming.
So I suited up. Chemoassay chips, system sniffers, text digesters, fund
finders, image fractors and more…all in extruder pockets. Cardweapons
(very discrete but very effective) were almost never needed, but after that one
time (another story) we always pack them. Recorders and transmitters and,
well, a whole arsenal of gear inserted into an expensive charcoal-gray
heat/cool bodysuit and boots, then graced over with the shade-darker sleeveless
coat that’s in fashion these days: they call it a skaff. Looks silly as
hell, but it’s convenient. Nobody can see what you’re carrying underneath, and
some of us know how to program the fabric to disguise our cargo as far as
scanners are concerned.
I, for example, make my weapons look like library readers and fund cards, my
other gear like the comm toys of an obsessive networker. Makes the Noses
more comfortable: if I’m walking mortality in their eyes, at least I appear to
be a rich corpse. No point in letting them know that my fund card could
make them into real corpses with a flick.
Of course, there’s not much murder done these days, not with bodies so
reparable, Nose lives so long, and family revenge a legal pursuit. Not that
everybody can afford to make use of the stemgenes, of which worldwide law
maintains one copy for every conveniently-born person — which means most
everyone but me.
Kynthian exited the magway at the Westlake
turnoff and then took the side duct for wealthy West Close. I was not
happy. My father and mother have a compound in West Close. I was
even less happy when we stopped at my very own parents’ aesthetically marvelous
bluebeam gate. I hadn’t been home in years. They were just as
pleased about that as I was.
I didn’t bother to protest. It was clear that Research Agent Kynthian
Legercitti was seriously worried and wanted no lip from me. I tightened
my own moveable parts and put the safety on my emotional triggers.
We were conducted to one of the vaults, an underground salon that blended
rock-and-carbonmetal security with the luxury of vat-grown furs, wooly Andean
tapestries in a hundred shades of red, and crystal decanters of exquisite
liquors. On a settee covered in vat-mink, sat my father, mother, and
brother. Father stood when we entered and opened one arm to Kynthian, who
was related to him distantly by marriages of cousins. Mother put her hand
to her head to show she was too burdened by the gravity of the situation to
rise. My brother started to stand, but then turned to Mother and took her
My brother Alex. My replacement. (Our sister, the eldest, was not
there. She has a small country in the Northern
Rockies to run, after all.) But my brother…how do I feel
about him? Sometimes one way, sometimes another.
He was gene-tweaked the same as I was, since they’d liked all their choices
when they conceived me. He’s only two years younger, and since I’m pretty
healthy all things considered, looking at him is almost like looking into a
mirror. But the fellow in my real mirror would never look at Mother with
that sincere concern, or at me with the pale-faced fear beneath the gold hair
and lapis-blue eyes that Alex has now turned upon me.
Father brought drinks, and I pretended to enjoy mine, though I didn’t really
swallow much. I wanted to stay clear-headed. This place had always been a
He took a deep breath. “No point in delaying. Kynthian, Alex has
been kidnapped. The demanded ransom is impossible.”
I was looking at Alex. “He looks completely present to me. Or is
this a projection? Or perhaps a clone?” There have been no successful
clones of a full human being, of course, so this was a rhetorical jab of little
“His stemgenes. Taken.”
“You have backups, of course.”
“They got them all. All five sets.”
Five! This sib had to be one of the most expensive humans on the planet.
I guess that birth in the desert scared Mother more than I thought.
“Five? Where were they?”
“Here, of course, in this very vault.” He pointed to a panel in the wall,
behind which was surely a container that could repel any entry and would survive
a nuclear blast. But of course the cryo maintenance would need tending,
and not by Father or Mother. That would be the first avenue of inquiry:
the cryo-tech. “And Boston, Buenos Aires, Jakarta, Alexandria.”
“All? They got them all?”
I let Kynthian say what next needed saying. Better from her than from
me. Her voice held just the right tincture of scorn and incredulity,
along with the politeness she put on like a mask. “What is it they want
that’s so impossible to pay? You’ve got plenty of everything, more than
you could use in ten unending lifetimes. This is about your son.”
“What they want IS our son.” These were Mother’s first words of the
Turned out, to make the tedious part of the tale shorter, that the newly
sovereign King and Queen of Nubia (having gotten the idea after the Kingdom of
Hawaii successfully re-established itself twenty years ago) wanted the Son of
Anthem as consort for their Daughter of the Nile.
Nubia’s entire wealth could have hidden in one of my family’s sub-accounts and
hardly made a difference, but with a hefty injection of start-up funds, they
could corner the world wind and solar market, what with vast tracts of desert,
not only those lining their Nether-Nile regions, but in the rest of the desert
they’d extended claim to a year ago. Nobody opposed them. Nobody
wanted sand with no more oil under it, and nobody wanted to build in the
intolerable heat of the Sahara that had expanded to the sea-bitten coast of the
Mediterranean and made abandoned wasteland of
half a dozen former nations. The new Nubian territory extended all the
way across the bulge of Africa to the Atlantic.
“Why indeed?” My father seemed a little more self-possessed. “They
have their concocted titles and vast land but no money. We have
money. And of course, once they have Alex, they’ll have a claim to
keeping his genes as well: they’ll be family. So they can keep on
demanding whatever they want.”
“Prince Alex. It has a nice sound to it, Father. Your development money
would bring a handsome return, eventually. There’s a lot of sun and wind
in the new Nubia.”
Mother spoke up. “My son will not spend the rest of his life in…in…some
desert pesthole of a palace! The Nubians — they are so primitive —
they…they expect…lifelong fidelity! And they…they behead
adulterers.” Mother never ordinarily stuttered. She was more
frightened than I’d ever seen her. “Alex is already engaged to Keirsey
Boston. The Bostons would….we have mergers planned that will…”
My Father laid a hand on her shoulder and she stopped talking. He took up
the tale. Or rather, he handed out the orders. “So Kynthian, my dear,
you’ll find our traitor, and Caveat,” he suppressed a shudder when he said my
name, “you will retrieve the genes, from the inside.”
“We will give you to the Nubians.” He let only seconds go by for me to
get my breath back before continuing. “We’ll keep your brother out of
sight for a time, marry you as him, and they won’t know the difference.
They can’t have decent science to sniff you out, even if they have Alex’s genes
in their hands, as your genes are almost identical.”
Of course I protested, almost as loudly as Kynthian. Nubia surely
wanted Alex, Son of Anthem, not me, and I was sure they were smart enough to
figure out the ruse eventually. If they beheaded adulterers, what would
they do to a fraudulent bridegroom? And my family could hardly go through with
the Anthem-Boston nuptials, which would be worldwide news, if Alex was supposed
to be married to The Daughter of the Nile.
When the substitution was discovered…
“What can they do?” My Father looked even more comfortable now.
“When you recover Alex’s stemgenes, then they will have no hold over us.
The Nubian Lion can roar all it wishes, but it will have no teeth.”
I considered it — calmly, to my own surprise. “It won’t matter to anyone
that the Nubian Lion will still have me between its claws, of course.”
Everyone was silent. Everyone knew that nobody could threaten my family
with anything having to do with me, as I was a dead man already.
“Of course.” I said it again, just to avoid having to hear them say it.
Kynthian was sputtering with rage. She really liked me, in a bossy sort of way.
Father handed me a softscreen. “Here she is.” An image formed and
It was her. It was her.
I stared at her glowing skin and longed to touch it, even on the screen.
Her generous mouth smiled in a way that shook my belly. The vid showed
her standing between a majestic man and woman wearing sarongs of
cloth-of-gold. She waved to a crowd that was out of the picture but could
be heard cheering and singing. The motion of her arm was sweeter than an
I had to force my eyes away to take in the well-armed guards behind her.
I thought of her arms, and of Ike. If Ike had his way, I might not be long for
this world anyway. It was time for a get-away.
Beautiful bride or death, beautiful bride or death — what should I choose?
“Of course,” I said. “We must save Alex’s genes. Set it up.
When do I meet my bride?”
Kynthian stared at me. I wouldn’t tell her what I was thinking. If
it was money the Nubians wanted ultimately, I knew I could get some out of the
Anthems. I was not a bad specimen, gene-designed to be large and
imposing, and I kept my muscles in shape. By the time the Nubians learned of
the ruse, perhaps…
The family rose as one and left Kynthian and me to our jobs in the
cryo-keep. Kynthian’s face was still red with rage.
“How could they — how can you —”
“Prince Caveat. Has a nice sound to it, does it not, Kynthian, my dear?”
“You — you can’t —”
But I could. I thought Keirsey Boston deserved Alex, and Mother, and
Father. And I thought they all deserved whatever discomfort might accrue
between the two betrothals. And I thought the Daughter of the Nile deserved better than Alex.
Usually I wouldn’t bring much of a dowry with me, not the
real me, anyway. But this situation could be maneuvered so that wasn’t a
problem. I wondered whether they staked liars out on the sands of Nubia, or fed
their livers to vultures.
As Kynthian and I both expected, the mole was the cryo-tech. My family
could hardly fathom that anyone would turn away from the lavish pay and living
quarters they extended to so vital a retainer as the cryo-man. And nobody
married for such a passing fancy as love when they expected to live forever, so
love would never have occurred to them as a motive.
The cryo-tech, with his hand on the codes, found it simple enough to get the
other cryo-banks to forward the precious deposits to the home lab, and then to
carry it all away to the new love of his life, the personal maid of the Nubian
Princess currently inhabiting the top floor of the world-famous Lakeshore
Pinnacle, whose glass spire was within sight of our own family
town-tower. At least we knew that the genes were in capable — if culpable
I wondered whose hands had been on the wheel of this caper: the Daughter of the
Nile’s or her parents’. If it was the
Daughter, if she was that ruthless, then my marriage bed might well be my
coffin. But heck, I was a dead man anyway.
Without pre-nuptial fanfare, the bride’s parents put on a small, private, but
lavish ceremony at the Pinnacle with a surprising amount of gold in the gowns
and garnishes, apparent in the vid releases.
The Son of Anthem was joined to the Daughter of the Nile, every phrase repeated
three times and each of us blessed three times with the Nile’s
sacred water, our bodies wrapped together at the hips in a single
gold-embroidered marriage shawl. Oddly, I never had to lie and say “I,
Alex” at all: it was “the Son of Anthem” all the way through, even on the
contracts, as it was “the Daughter of the Nile.”
All of the bride’s party looked like mahogany giants: the scimitars they
carried may have had jeweled and gilded hilts, but they also had very serious
and very naked Damascus steel blades. And there were other men in black
body armor with force weapons.
And I still did not know her name when at last she lifted the gilded veil, when
we were alone in the gold-draped nuptial berth, with guards at the ends of the
hall to protect our privacy — and prevent escape. My bride’s eyes were
deep pools of desire, and her rich arms were as strong as mine.
And I found I could not lie with her and lie to her.
And I found myself talking in archaic pentameter, or whatever they spoke when
mortality made the wedding bed sacramental. Such solemnity can do strange
things to one’s vocabulary.
“My bride,” I breathed, “I must tell you the truth. If you will, call
your men at arms and let them slay me, but I must tell you my name.”
Desire — dare I say love even? Yes I dare, for I am such an anachronism, such a
She moved her strong hand up my bare spine and her fingers, powered by much
percussion on the drums of her homeland, wrapped softly around my throat, thumb
on the choke point below my larynx and fingertips upon my cervical vertebrae.
I lovingly copied her gesture, and the pulse of her throat thrilled my
palm. The flame of the sacred torch above the bed danced in her dark
eyes. She waited, the heat of her a great and powerful calling.
I temporized. I wasn’t ready to die just yet — she was too
beautiful. “I do not know your name. Is it a tradition with your
people that the bride’s name is not given until the wedding night?”
“I have no name but Daughter-of-the-Nile. I once had another name, but
when my father and mother came to the throne of our ancestors, I gave my name
away and became the Womb of the Nation’s Future. All call me Daughter,
save you. You may call me Wife.”
“Wife.” My body was liking the sound of it. And she knew it.
“Wife, my Princess, I must tell you my name. Forgive me, for I am yours
in love forever, and I will bring you all the riches that you deserve, in
“Forgive you? Riches? I wish the riches of your loins.”
My loins thought that an excellent wish and were most anxious to grant it.
Her voice was like a summer night, like honey, like fire. “I want sons
and daughters with the might of my heart and the fire of your wrath. Oh,
yes. I have seen the wrath in you, my Warrior Consort. Riches — you
mean money? We shall have money, no question. But it is you I
I almost held my tongue. But I couldn’t. “I am not Alex.”
She looked puzzled. Then she licked my lips. That almost ended the
conversation right there. “Of course not. You are Caveat — a
warrior’s name, a warning, a threat. Caveat, Son of Anthem, Consort of
the Daughter of the Nile.”
“You — you know?”
“How should I not?”
“My family, they thought you wanted Alex for their money, since it was his
stemgenes you stole.”
“Well, my Husband, you had none to steal. We knew some pressure would be
necessary to make them give us the Son of Anthem, since their wealth is so vast
that they’d hardly consider us more than upstarts. They’re wrong, of
course: our Kings and Queens ruled millennia before your family’s wealth ever
rose up out of the oily dust of the so-called New World.
But of course, they don’t seem to know much history.”
What could I say to that? She was right. It had never occurred to
my Nose parents that “the Son of Anthem” might mean me. It had never
occurred to me, either.
“They assigned me to deceive you and steal back my brother’s stemgenes.”
I sat up to keep her wonderful hips from making further speech
impossible. Her hand stayed at my throat.
And then things I never knew I could say poured out of the lips she had
licked. “I agreed because I had seen you, and I knew I might die for it,
but then I will die anyway, as I have no stemstores. I would die
willingly to be yours, even for this one night.” I meant every word.
She smiled, and her hand left my throat and stroked down my chest. “I
never wanted Alex. I wanted you. From the window in this very
chamber, I saw you running through the crowd below, parting the scurriers like
a lion among goats.” (I remembered that chase about a year before, but
that’s another story.) “I saw you and I wanted you. But my father
would never allow me to marry any but a Nubian. I urged upon my father
the acquisition of the Belt of the Lion, the desert land that runs straight to
the Great Sea, so that I could have you.”
“Ummm…I don’t see…”
Her laugh was deep, like earth moving. She pulled me down beside
her. “You were born there, in the sands west of our AncientKingdom.
In our New Kingdom, that land is now Nubian,
and so are you. And you are mine.”
My family had planned to keep it all a deep secret. But the cryo-man bragged
on how he had foxed the powerful Anthems, and the case made the news and scared
all the Noses snotless.
Just as well it went public, because we had a public announcement of our own to
require of the family: as a condition for returning the genes, we insisted that
follow-up coverage of the wedding announce my name: Caveat. That solved
the dilemma of Alex’s betrothal under his own name, but somehow none of them
expressed any gratitude.
My Wife had no interest in the stemgenes after our wedding night. She
already had investors for the wind and solar arrays she dreamed of, and an
engineering degree to design them with. I project that we may pass my
family in fortune by the end of this century.
And she had no qualms about my mortality. She is mortal too, as are all
in her family. “A couple of centuries is enough for any monarch,” she
said softly, as she stroked her fine belly, where one day a new monarch would
grow. “After that, the heirs would become restless.”
We took the genes to Alex’s wedding as our gift.
It was a fine thing walking into the glittering assembly at the Cathedral of
the Century: the Daughter of the Nile in a
gold sarong, a real-leopard cape, and a millennia-old gold-and-ivory crown. I
was dressed the same except that my crown was a war helmet: imposing, imperial,
astonishing…I just don’t have the words for it, and neither did anyone else.
When we strolled up to chattering champagne-sippers at the
reception, they stood as still and silent as I had on that wonderful day when
my future bride’s drumbeat seized me utterly and stopped me in my tracks.
When we walked away, I could smell their fear.
It was better than bourbon.
I am now named not only Consort, but Warrior of the Nile.
We employ Kynthian to research potential enemies (among whom Ike does not even
make the bottom of the list), and I still have my dart board. My Royal
Wife, the Daughter of the Nile, likes it very
much, and she is very good with a dart.
The Kingdom of the Nile has a golden future, for the Daughter of the Nile has the cunning of the sphinx and the strength of
the crocodile’s jaws. She also has me. And, as Kynthian’s archives
could tell anyone about my -- shall we say -- Warrior Moments: Caveat Anthem!