Hugo-winner David D. Levine’s first short story collection, Space Magic, features fifteen science fiction and fantasy stories including “Nucleon” (James White Award winner), “Rewind” (Writers of the Future contest winner), “The Tale of the Golden Eagle” (Hugo nominee, shortlisted for the Nebula), and “Tk’Tk’Tk” (Hugo winner). The collection as a whole won the Endeavour Award for the best SF or Fantasy book by a Pacific Northwest writer.
“Levine is a multitalented author whose fertile, wide-ranging imagination is—as his title implies—equally at home in the fields of fantasy and science fiction. The best of these stories combine the mythic power of fantasy with the sense of wonder only science fiction can provide.” —Realms of Fantasy
The short stories that make up Space Magic are also available as independent ebooks for just 99¢ each. Click a story title below to buy one or read a sample from it.
- Wind from a Dying Star
- I Hold My Father’s Paws
- Fear of Widths
- Circle of Compassion
- Charlie the Purple Giraffe Was Acting Strangely
- Falling Off the Unicorn
- The Ecology of Faerie
- At the Twenty-Fifth Annual Meeting of Uncle Teco’s Homebrew Gravitics Club
- Love in the Balance
- The Tale of the Golden Eagle
Wind from a Dying Star
David D. Levine
Gunai seethed with sorrow and rage as she helped to prepare Kula’s corpse for its final journey.
Kula had always delighted in her body, its warm and golden glow, the way it flowed into a thousand useful and expressive shapes. She had explored the universe with its senses and reached out with its fields. Now it was nothing but a senseless lump of flesh and brain and polymer, a cold mockery of what she had been. Kula the person was gone. Taken by a wolf.
The torn and ravaged corpse floated between Gunai and Old John, barely visible in the dim starlight. The other members of the tribe were gathered in a sphere around them, their glowing forms held in angular shapes of grief as Old John spoke the words of Kula’s eulogy.
More than Kula’s life had been lost in the attack. Kula had carried a child, conceived at their recent meeting with the tribe of Yeoshi. Gone now, along with whatever fraction of the father’s memories it had carried. Even Kula’s intuition, one of the best in the tribe, was gone. A compound tragedy.
“We mourn and remember Kula,” Old John concluded. “For as long as we remember her, in a very real way she still lives.”
“We mourn and remember Kula,” they all said, and paused for silent reflection.
Unwillingly, Gunai’s mind returned to the moment when Kula’s screams had been their first notice. She blamed herself. Kula should not have strayed so far from the tribe, she knew; Enaji and Huss should have kept a better lookout; Yaeri should have called a warning. But Gunai, as tribe leader, was ultimately responsible. She should have recognized the danger, should have prevented it somehow. That knowledge pained her, burned from the inside like the hunger that chewed at her belly.
Old John caught Gunai’s attention. His form did not show emotion like a normal person’s; it was fixed in an archaic five-lobed shape. But through long acquaintance Gunai had learned to read his attitudes and intentions. Without a word, Gunai and Old John grasped Kula’s body with their fields and accelerated it toward the nearest star.
The cold and lifeless thing quickly faded from view—just another bit of dark matter in a cooling universe. The tribe stared after it long after it had vanished, then gathered together in a group embrace of sorrow and reassurance. They held each other for a long time, but eventually, one by one, they drifted away to forage for food. Not even grief was stronger than hunger.
Gunai made sure all four lookouts were at their stations before she allowed herself to begin foraging.
After a time she found a small patch of zeren. She spread across it, taking a little solace from its sparkling sweetness. “Zero-point energy” was what Old John called it, but to Gunai and the rest of her tribe it was zeren, delicious and rare. Gunai recalled a time when zeren was something you could almost ignore—a constant crackling thrum beneath the surface of perception—but now there were just a few thin patches here and there. These days the tribe subsisted mostly on a thin diet of starlight, and even that was growing cold. Soon they would be forced to move on again. Yeoshi had told her the foraging was better in the direction of the galactic core, but it was so far…
A sudden motion caught Gunai’s nervous eye, but it was just her daughter Teda. She had bumped Old John with her fields, sending his blocky form tumbling for a moment. “Teda!” Gunai scolded privately.
“But Mother, he’s so slow!”
“He’s doing the best he can. You should apologize.”
Teda turned to Old John, forming herself into a flattened oval of contrition, and said, “I’m sorry I bumped you.” Gunai was pleased that it seemed sincere, but he replied only with a curt gesture of acknowledgment.
Old John’s silence troubled Gunai. Apart from necessities, he had barely said anything since their meeting with the tribe of Yeoshi. This was unlike him. Usually he loved to share stories from his many years—though some derided them as mere legends—and Gunai was surprised he hadn’t picked up anything new at the gathering. Until now she had left him alone, thinking he might spring back by himself, but after Teda moved away she asked him privately what was bothering him.
“You know there was another of my… cohort, in the other tribe. One nearly as old as I. Shala was her name.”
“Yes, I know. I saw you with her.” It had been strange to see another with Old John’s stiff and blocky shape. She had thought he was unique. “Did she have any new stories for you?”
“She had new information. But not stories I would like to tell.”
“She told me… she told me Earth’s sun is dying.” There was a sadness in his voice Gunai had never heard before. “Ballooning into a red giant. Much sooner than anyone had expected.”
“I’m sorry.” The words seemed so tiny.
“Given the velocities we use, I suppose I should have expected to outlive my birth planet. But still, the news hurt.”
“I thought Earth was gone already?”
“No. Dead, yes. Emptied, wasted, ruined, picked over. But still there. Massive with history. No other planet holds the stones where Shakespeare and Caesar walked. No other planet has that year, that gravity, that… that place in the sky.” His awkward form curled into a ball. “Soon even the headstone of Humanity will be gone.”
“It is a shame,” Gunai said, though many of his words meant nothing to her.
“My own bones are there,” the old man sobbed.
“What are bones?”
“Parts of me I threw away to become what I am today. Parts you never even had. They are buried with my parents.”
“I’m sorry, I don’t understand.”
“No,” he sighed, relaxing. “No, you wouldn’t. And you aren’t going to understand this either, but I want… no, I need to visit Earth again. To see it one more time before we both are gone.”
“You can’t be serious.” Gunai’s intuition told her where Earth was—over a thousand light-years away, in the very center of the deadest, most used-up area of the galaxy. “There’s nothing there.”
“I am serious. I will go by myself if I have to.”
Part of Gunai sneered that the tribe would be better off without the old man slowing them down. She beat that part down. “I’m afraid I can’t allow that. We need your wisdom.”
Old John’s body never showed emotion, but his voice now held a mixture of pleasure and regret. “Thank you. But… I feel I’ve taught you all I know already. Let an old man go to visit his dying homeworld. Please.”
“It would be different if you could have children to carry on your memories.” Old John looked away at that, and Gunai chided herself for raising the awkward issue. “I will consult with Enaji.”
Enaji was one of Gunai’s most trusted advisers. He was old—nearly half as old as Old John—but he had been born in space in the usual way, and upgraded his body and intuition regularly.
“Let him go,” he said. “Drain on the tribe.”
Gunai felt herself contracting in denial at his words. “How can you say that? Remember how he saved Rael and Kanna from the wolves? How he found a way out of the poison nebula? How his stories kept Jori alive?”
“Long time ago.” He furled his edges at her. “These are new times. Perilous. Universe is changing, and he is too old to change with it. Remember, I offered to share my intuition with him. He refused.”
“I can’t believe you could be so ungrateful.”
“Gunai… Don’t you see?” He stroked her with his fields, his tone softening. “His time is past. He knows it. Let him go. Let him keep his dignity.”
She turned away, presenting Enaji with a blind surface. “If I let him attempt that journey alone he would die. I could never live with myself.”
“Hard times call for hard decisions.”
The stars were tiny shards of light, scattered thinly on a dark background. Cold and heartless. They stared in at Gunai as she thought. How could she jeopardize her tribe for one old man’s insane whim? But how could she abandon the tribe’s eldest, wisest member—possibly the oldest human of all?
Gunai’s intuition told her there were trillions of humans, but space was so vast that even in her long life she’d encountered other tribes less than a hundred times. To leave a person alone, to cast them into the depths of time and space where they might never meet another human being again, was the greatest sin. Would a person who could convince herself to commit that sin be worthy of leadership? Would a tribe that could condone such a sin be worth leading?
No. She had lost Kula; she would not lose Old John.
“I will not abandon him,” she said to Enaji, “and I will not deny his request. We will all go to Earth.”
He pulled into a tight little ball. “We will regret this.”
“We may. But we would be less than human if we did not make the attempt.”
She sent out a call to the rest of the tribe. They gathered in a loose sphere with Gunai at the center.
She told them that Earth, ancestral home of humanity, was dying. She reminded them of Old John’s stories, which they all knew from their earliest days—fables of trees and mountains, castles and whales. She raised the spectre of isolation. She recalled the tragedy of Kula’s loss, and reminded them of regrets at things left undone until too late.
She called to their hearts.
There was debate. There was anger and acrimony. But in the end Gunai prevailed, for no one—not even Enaji—was cold-hearted enough to leave Old John to die of loneliness. Even if it meant risking their own lives.
The tribe scattered to forage. They would need all the energy they could muster for the journey.
Old John had been silent the whole time, sitting alone just outside the sphere of the meeting. Listening. After the last of the tribe had left, he came to Gunai.
“Thank you,” he said. The words were tiny, but they filled Gunai’s heart.
Some time later, the tribe gathered together to begin the journey. Rubbing and jostling, they pulled into a single mass—a teardrop shape with a hard, smooth outer surface. Intuition told them it was the best shape for this task. Then they channeled their energies together and pushed.
The motion was not immediately apparent, but they kept on, straining and huffing, pouring energy into acceleration. From time to time one or another member would relax for a moment, borne along by the others, then would resume the effort. But frail Old John never rested—he kept up a constant, steady thread of power.
As their velocity increased, they began to be peppered with particles of dust. Matter was thin here, but each particle stung, and they encountered more and more as they went faster. Soon they had to divert some of their energy to shielding the tribe from the impacts, and they all stared forward with eyes and intuition for larger masses that could do more than hurt.
The stars ahead appeared to brighten, their color changing from red to yellow and then to blue, and they seemed to smear out to the sides. As the eye swept to the side and back it could see a spectrum of colors, fading to red and finally to black behind them. The starbow.
“You told us about something called a ‘rainbow,’” Teda said to Old John. “Did it look like this?”
“Something like it,” he said, “but brighter, not so diffuse.” He paused, panting, for a moment, then said, “I think that the eyes I had then would not even be able to see the starbow. I wonder what a rainbow would look like to the eyes I have now?”
On and on they pushed, watching the universe flatten from a sphere into a ring of stars around them, fending off a rain of stinging impacts, feeling their motivators burn from unaccustomed effort and their bellies ache from hunger.
Finally they could push no more. They relaxed and coasted, though they still had to expend energy on shielding and course corrections. They coasted for a long time—fourteen years by their intuition, a thousand years or more by the stars. Most of them spent most of the time asleep, conserving energy. Gunai made sure there was always someone awake to maintain the shields and watch out for obstacles.
At last the time arrived to turn about. Guided by their intuition, they reformed themselves into a flaring saucer shape, catching the hail of dust they had been avoiding before. Even with shields, the dust burned their skins, but it helped them to slow. They began to push again, motivators aching. The universe expanded to a sphere, fading from a starbow back to a simple background of stars.
One star was much larger than the rest. They had come to a halt only a few hundred light-minutes away from it.
More than half the tribe had never been this close to a star before.
None but Old John had ever been so close to this particular star.
The mother star looked sick. Its disk was turgid, yellow mottled with red, and its magnetic field roiled like their starving bellies. The wind of charged particles flowing from it battered the tribe as they separated from a traveling mass into a tribe of individuals. They took a little nourishment from the solar wind, but it was barely worth the effort. Old John said it was “like trying to drink from a hailstorm,” whatever that meant.
Gunai took on a streamlined shape, to resist the wind as best she could. She sent Enaji, Huss, and the rest of the best foragers out to look for zeren, and guided the rest of the tribe to the shadow of a nearby comet. Molecules of water and methane, burned from the comet by Sol’s angry heat, chilled their skins, but the comet’s rocky body shielded them from the wind.
After a time Enaji returned. “There’s nothing here,” he said, visibly shaken. “No zeren. Not a trace.”
“That’s impossible,” said Gunai. “Zeren forms from the energy of space itself. There’s always something.”
“The theory says zero-point energy cannot be consumed,” said Old John, “but there’s no denying it’s getting scarce. Apparently, around here, humanity managed to find a way to use it all up.” He went quiet for a moment. “This might explain why Sol is dying young.”
Gunai fought the urge to contract in fear. She needed to present a confident facade. “Perhaps one of the other foragers will find something.”
But as they came back, each had the same story: Nothing. Nothing. Nothing.
What happens next?
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