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  Viper Wire by Richard Kadrey



The Tears of the Moon

Strands of tough river grass grow through the bottom of the flatboat and up through Friar Vicente's exposed ribs. Piranha and candiru swim through the priest's vacant eyes. He's seen the glories of Spain in her prime and the fall of an empire, but he's been blind for so long now.

He had almost made it back to San Mateo with the stolen gold when the boat sprang a leak and foundered. The local indians had taken the opportunity to pin him with a few arrows. The water closed over Friar Vicente like a long, cold night.

The friar had been there when Pizarro took Atahualpa, the Inca's heathen king, almost a god himself. The Spanish demanded the greatest ransom in human history: A room filled with gold, floor to ceiling. The Incas, rich beyond belief with the stuff, had obliged. For their obedience, Pizarro killed their king. Friar Vicente had pronounced sentence on Atahualpa, and stood by while Pizarro's lieutenant strangled the pagans' monarch. But Friar Vicente's mind was elsewhere. There was so much gold. Even God, who sees everything, wouldn't notice if a little of it went missing.

A crow (or some wretched local species that resembled a crow) called three times as Friar Vicente made his way to the boat. Like Pizarro, he was an ambitious man, a man of the world. Like Pizarro, he had presided over the killing of many heathen Indians. He'd looted their Gods and kings for the glory of his own, and then finally for himself, because each man is, in the end, his own lord and savior. Pizarro had said it himself: "I wish only to serve God and to grow rich, as any man." This is what Friar Vicente kept repeating as he loaded sacks of Atahualpa's ransom into the little flatboat and paddled away from the settlement.

Again, the Friar heard a crow call three times, but he dismissed all fear and his mother's superstitions from his mind. Until the river came up through the deck of the overloaded boat and the first arrow flew. As the Rio Santiago swallowed him, Friar Vicente thought of Jesus, Pizarro, and his mother, and he cursed them all. As much as he'd disappointed them, he'd disappointed himself even more.

Now, the silt shifts around him. One day Friar Vicente will make it back to Spain. It may take a hundred million years and a massive tectonic catastrophe, but the dead are certain in their grim tasks. When the current is just right, Friar Vicente's skeletal arms wave over the sunken gold, as if he is pronouncing a benediction.


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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.

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