Read The Many Deaths of Joe Buckley Online

Authors: Assorted Baen authors,Barflies

The Many Deaths of Joe Buckley (2 page)

Eric Flint:

So far as I know, I’m one of the few authors who’ve bumped off Joe Buckley twice in the same series. The first time I did him in was in
1634: The Galileo Affair,
which I co-authored with Andrew Dennis. We portrayed Joe as a late twentieth-century investigative reporter charging around in the seventeenth century while, alas, not being clear on the concept of “seventeenth century.” As a result, he gets murdered by one of his sources.

He’s a bit of a dummy, but I like to think Andrew and I let Joe expire on a note of dignity. Allowing for broad values of “dignity.”

Sadly, the next time I killed Joe Buckley in the 1632 series, the poor man got no dignity at all. That was in my story for
Grantville Gazette IV
, “The Anatomy Lesson.” I should mention that my story was the basis for the cover illustration, which has gone down in history as “The Joe Buckley cover.” That’s because Joe is the figure lying on the slab, about to be dissected, while the doctors gathered around to observe are myself, David Weber, John Ringo, Jim Baen, David Drake and Paula Goodlett. All of whom have killed off Joe in one or another of their stories.

Well . . . I don’t think David Drake has. Yet.

Joe Buckley is already dead when my story begins. It’s really his corpse which figures in the story. Alas, poor Joe. Once a notorious highwayman whose exploits were the talk of London, in later life he let liquor get the best of him. His end was thus, well, ignominious.

Rupert got a sullen look on his face. “So what? He’s still
Joe Buckley
. You watch, sister. He’ll be remembered long after you’re forgotten by the world.”

I don’t know if Rupert’s prediction will come true. But I did my best to make it so.

I also included Joe Buckley in the
trilogy which I wrote with Ryk Spoor. But I’ll let Ryk tell that story.

The Anatomy Lesson

Grantville Gazette IV


All the way there, the next day, Rupert was practically bouncing off the walls of the coach.

“Oh, how marvelous! I can’t believe the luck! You’re to be cutting up
Joe Buckley

Elisabeth sniffed. “First of all,
shan’t be cutting up anyone. Madame Jeff—ah, Anne—will be doing the anatomy lesson, not me. I’ll just be one of the people observing. And, secondly, who in the world is Joe Buckley?”

Rupert clasped a hand to his forehead, in the overly histrionic way that a teenage lad will demonstrate shocked disbelief.

“I can’t believe you’ve never heard of
Joe Buckley.
The rascal’s exploits were
In his prime, the most notorious cutpurse in London.”

Elisabeth sniffed again. “I can’t imagine why I’d be acquainted with the names and doings of a foreign city’s criminal element. Or you would be, now that I think about it.”

Rupert gave her his
look. And a splendid one it was, too.

“Just accept it as good coin. The man’s a

“The man’s dead, now. And how would a London cutpurse wind up the subject of an anatomy lesson in Amsterdam?”

Her brother looked a bit discomfited. “Well. He had to flee London a few years back, since he’d gotten too well known. Then had to flee Paris, after he gained too much notoriety there also. Apparently, he turned up in Amsterdam just a few weeks ago.”

“Indeed. And they caught him and hung him, as he so richly deserved.” Elisabeth frowned. “Or perhaps they behead them, here in Holland. Although I can’t imagine that Anne would choose a corpse without a head for an anatomy lesson.

Rupert looked more discomfited still. “Well. Well. He wasn’t either hanged or chopped, it seems. The story is that he got drunk a night or two back and fell into the harbor in a stupor. Drowned, before anyone could fish him out.”

Elisabeth burst into laughter. “Some legend!”

Her brother got a sullen look on his face. “So what? He’s still
Joe Buckley.
You watch, sister. He’ll be remembered long after you’re forgotten by the world.”

She turned her head and gave him a serene sort of look. “And you are forgotten also, no doubt. Given your firm resolve to devote your life to the higher pursuits instead of seeking fame and glory on the fields of war.”


Before he could come up with a lame remark, Elisabeth peered out the window. “Oh, look! We’ve arrived.”

Rupert got another sly look on his face. He rummaged around in the sack he’d insisted on bringing with him, and came out holding a small bucket. “I brought this for you. To barf in, like you will.”

There being no suitable rejoinder that wouldn’t be undignified—worse still, might tempt her with blasphemy—Elisabeth just sniffed and prepared to disembark. As short as she was, that was always something of a chore, if modesty was to be preserved.

* * *

“—lobes to the liver, as you can see. This liver is abnormal, however, because of the man’s quite obvious alcoholism. If you look closer, you’ll be able to detect—”

Elisabeth peered more closely, as instructed. It was absolutely fascinating!

Her brother, known as Rupert of the Rhine in another universe, the royalist hero of the first English civil war, had left the chamber some time back. Looking very pale, and taking the bucket with him.

1634: The Galileo Affair


Ducos began stroking Buckley’s wet hair with his left hand, and in that moment Buckley realized he was going to die. He began to shudder, and felt warmth on his thighs as he lost bladder control.

“You tremble, Monsieur Buckley. You urinate from terror. Just so will France tremble and soil herself, as she is first-born into the Millennium. Just so. As Richelieu and Gaston squabble over the bleeding body of the Antichrist, the new world will come. Yes, the new world. Born of little pigs, climbing on each other’s backs.
Petits cochons.”

He kept stroking Joe’s hair. It felt like a vulture’s caress. “And both these little pigs blaming the American pigs. I care not who wins, for by then there will be the reign of Christ. And France, reborn. The new Jerusalem, and I shall be the one to lay the first stone of that heavenly city. Mortared with the blood of the Antichrist, Monsieur Buckley, and of the little pigs who pollute France with their heresy.”

Another soft little chuckle. “I meant to have an Inquisition guard come to murder you, Monsieur Buckley. What better sport than to set your Americans, and that Jew who is your spymaster, on the heels of the Inquisition? But I must now hurry, for you learned of Marcoli’s plan. Alas, the real plan, not the one I require. So I am afraid—my apologies—that I must do my best to question you in the style of the Inquisition.”

Buckley moaned, and began to shake again. The chair he was tied to had a short leg, and it drummed on the floorboards. “I’ll talk!” he said, suddenly and oddly embarrassed that his voice was squeaking. “I’ll talk!”

“Why? How? I don’t mean to ask you any questions.” Stroke, stroke. That hand on the top of his head, as Ducos murmured to him softly, almost intimately. Buckley cringed at every touch. Stroke. “I have read all your notes, Monsieur. I know all you know. And I shall send off your writing for you. In this way your death will not go unnoticed. Though for the moment, of course, it surely will. This building is empty, but for ourselves.”

Buckley swallowed. He was dead, as dead as if he’d already stopped breathing. What to do? He was still shuddering; his testicles seemed to be burrowing into his belly. The piss on his thighs was cooling, making him shudder all the more.

Hurt him,
said a still, quiet voice in his mind. He remembered a line of poetry he’d always liked a lot. From Bob Dylan—no, it was Dylan Thomas.

Do not go gentle into that good night,

Rage, rage against the dying of the light.

The hand holding the blade was next to his cheek. Joe snapped his head around like a snake or a snapping turtle and bit the hand. Hard.

Ducos roared with rage and pain. Buckley ignored everything except sinking his teeth into that hated hand. Ducos tried to pull the hand away but it was impossible. Then he grabbed Joe by the hair and lifted him, chair and all, and slammed his head against the edge of the table. The skinny madman’s strength was incredible.

Joe was dazed by the impact. Finally, his jaws loosened enough and Michel ripped his hand away. Buckley saw the knife fall to the floor.

Get the knife! Get the knife!

The chair was off-balance anyway. He managed to tip it over and fall next to the knife. There came then the greatest sensation of triumph Joe had ever felt in his life. He managed to clamp the hilt of the knife in his teeth.
Try cutting me now, you son of a bitch!

He never felt the slender cord sliding around his neck. Never felt it at all, even when the garrote tightened in the madman’s grip. The knife was everything.

Gorg Huff and Paula Goodlett:

The first line of this story is “Whoa, Porky.”

It’s centuries after man has reached interstellar space and Windows still doesn’t work right. When Joe Buckley dies in the alien attack on a colony world, the operating system doesn’t know what to do till it’s rescued by Porky, a riding pig, and a pig thief named Sam.

Of course, the authors didn’t know that when Gorg Huff sent Paula Goodlett a file with that first line in it, and nothing else. But the story developed, and they’re pretty happy with it. (That was back in the old days, before they discovered Google docs and Skype.)

When Gorg and Paula needed a victim, who else would they turn to besides Joe Buckley? If you hang around Baen’s Bar very much, that’s just the natural progression of things.

They do like to think that their death of Joe Buckley was pretty distinctive.

From the Badlands

Jim Baen’s Universe
, Volume 2, Number 3


This decreased the possibility that Mr. Buckley was still alive to the negligible category, which called up the will protocols. The standard will question, “What should I do in case of your death?” had been answered by Mr. Buckley thusly: “Do whatever the fuck you want. I won’t care.” The AI pondered that response in relation to the present situation.

No known relatives of Mr. Buckley had been on planet at the time that contact with the planetary grid was lost. If there was a government, Mr. Buckley’s property would return to it, but there was a high probability that the colony government no longer existed. Besides which, Joseph Buckley did not trust governments.

The AI considered. It was to do what it wanted. So what did it want? After due consideration it determined that it wanted to be owned. Without an owner it had no purpose.

Further examination of the law text provided a synopsis of squatters’ rights. Oddly enough, the intruder was, at that very moment, squatting behind a bush.

* * *

Sam frowned. “What’s with the food? There’s never any bread.”

“I am sorry, but all the flour went bad centuries ago. Mr. Buckley had a vegetable garden for relaxation. He also grew potatoes and several nut trees. However, the homestead was not designed to be truly self-supporting.”

Sam nodded. “Makes sense. The valley ain’t really big enough for a real farm. What are you feeding Porky?”

“Fish from the pond for protein and jams for energy, which is quite adequate. Pormel were designed to be flexible in their food sources.”

“Designed? Pigs were designed?”

“Yes. They are not actually pigs. The pormel is a genetically engineered animal primarily based on the domestic swine, but with horse and camel genes, as well as wholly artificial gene structures included in its makeup. They can eat almost anything, even derive some nourishment from dirt.”

Sam laughed and got out of bed. “That’s true enough. I’ve seen pigs do it. What’s a horse?” On the wall screen opposite Sam’s bed there appeared an image of a horse standing next to a picture of Porky. “Now that is a funny looking critter.”

Then Sam considered the implications. “Porky is tech?” Sam started laughing. “The firsters must not have known that. They’d have killed them all.”

“I don’t understand,” the AI said. “Why would the firsters object to pormels being engineered?”

“Well, Old Carter didn’t really know why. Just that in the early days it was believed that using tech, even knowing how to read, would call down demons on you and they would throw lightning at you or burn you up.”

The conversation was interrupted as Sam went through his morning routine and resumed when he arrived at the dining niche.

“So had I been discovered in the early days, the firsters would have objected.”

“They’d have burned you down then taken axes to what was left.” Sam grinned. “’Course, there was no one living out here then. Everyone lived near the coast.”

The AI projected a map on the table and Sam resisted the urge to tell it to stop doing things like that. He figured if he told it to stop it would and he figured he needed to get used to this sort of thing.

He looked at the map that the AI had put on the table. It was like looking down at the world from a great height. At the same time, the map was wrong. “That place there, where you show a city by the ocean. There’s no city there, never has been. That bay extends inland ten miles or so and there are cliffs all around it.” Sam pointed to the most obvious error in the map.

The map changed, zooming in on the place he was pointing. Then a circular bay appeared. “Like this?” the AI asked.

“Sort of.” He and the AI refined the image. Sam drew with his finger and the AI corrected the map as he indicated, until they had it pretty much the way Sam remembered from when he was a boy.

“Sam, what you have described here looks like the results of a kinetic strike.”

Sam sighed. “What’s a kinetic strike?”

“In this case, a rock about four hundred feet across was dropped out of the sky on Landing. It would have hit the city so hard there would have been nothing left but the hole you describe. It would have filled with water, making that round bay.”

Sam looked at the map again. “Uh. That ain’t the only hole like that near the coast. There must be over fifty of them. I grew up in that part of the world.”

The AI drew other dots along the coast. “There?”

It looked mostly right, but he pointed at one dot. “There wasn’t one there. He said that’s where they found the how-to books about two hundred years ago. Old Carter was crazy for those books.” Sam considered. “Sounds like the firsters might have had a point. It sure looks like the demons hit those places hard. So why didn’t they get you?”

“In all probability they didn’t hit the Buckley homestead for three reasons. First, the strike was only a few years after the colony was established and the Buckley homestead was located farther away from Landing than any other homestead. Second, the homestead systems were partially shut down while Mr. Buckley was on business in Landing. Finally, the homestead was built into the rock and effectively shielded from casual detection.”

“That explains why the demons didn’t hit you then. What about now?”

“It is likely that the Eeestrang are your Demons,” the AI said. “In that case, the chance that they are still in the system are remote. Humanity had been fighting a war with them and had mostly won it by the time the colony set out. The war was why this world was settled. This system didn’t have a world that was really suitable for the Eeestrang. They like slightly heavier worlds with much denser atmospheres.”

Sam sat back down and propped his feet on the table in front of him. “So, you’re saying the demons were real but they’re gone now? Just how sure of that last part are you? Getting a demon’s rock on my head ain’t something I’m looking forward to.”

“The probability approaches unity.” There was a short pause, then the AI rephrased its statement. “As close to absolutely sure as makes no difference. They couldn’t have stayed in this system without noticing that man had survived and if they had seen it they would have attacked. Their hatred of humanity is close to pathological.”

“One more question.” Sam paused. “Make that two. What do I call you?”

“Whatever you feel comfortable with. You can call me AI or give me any name that suits you. It’s a matter of personal taste; some people preferred to name their household AI. Mr. Buckley never felt the need.”

“All right if I call you Alen?”

“That would be fine.”

“Okay then, Alen. Why didn’t you do something when the demons attacked? Don’t get me wrong, I’m glad you’re here. But why did you just sit out here and do nothing when everyone was dying?”

There was silence for a few moments. Then Alen started talking again. “This may be difficult for you to understand, but I am not like a person. In most ways, I am not even a single entity. If all that is needed to perform a specific function is a gauge and a switch . . .”

Sam started losing track. He kept listening, his eyebrows drawing closer and closer together until his head started hurting. Finally, Alen said, “When Mr. Buckley left for Landing, there were no instructions to take any action save maintenance of the property and preventing unlawful entry.”

Sam looked at the map still on the table. “You slept through it?”

“In a way, yes.”

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