Big Head Press

L. Neil Smith's
Number 569, May 9, 2010

"That damned birth certificate"

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Dancing in the Dark
An excerpt from the forthcoming novel Sweeter Than Wine
by L. Neil Smith, exclusive to The Libertarian Enterprise

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"When choosing between two evils, I always like to try
the one I've never tried before."
—Mae West

To begin with, it's a virus.

A symbiotic virus: I treat it right and it protects me from disease, aging, and injury. Physically, it makes me extremely strong. I can't fly, or turn into a bat, but after an unfortunate accident I had with a bandsaw back in the 50s, I discovered that I can grow a pinky back—and that severed body parts turn to fine, gray ash. My finger, lying there on the saw table, quickly came to resemble a burnt cigar.

The virus also has certain legendary weaknesses. It can't stand the direct sun because ultraviolet light destroys it, quite violently. (Don't ask me how I learned that; you don't want to know.) Garlic will kill it, too. I've watched that drama play out a hundred times through the microscope. Even related vegetables like onions and leeks make me queasy.

Likewise, direct contact with metallic silver has much the same nasty, cauterizing effect on my virus-permeated flesh that contact with silver nitrate has on ordinary, uninfected human beings. Think about table salt on a garden slug. Whenever I handle silver objects -- reasonably often in my particular line of work—I have to wear gloves.

On the other hand, I can see my own image perfectly well in a mirror. How many laws of physics would you have to repeal for it to be any other way? And as for a stake through the heart, Who wouldn't die?

Me, that's who.

Ironically, the vampire virus would seal the wound up—instantly fatal to any ordinary individual—until it healed. But even vampires appear to have had their superstitions. Research tells me it was only a piece of the True Cross that was supposed to have been lethal to them.

I wonder whether you could find something like that on eBay.

Sorry to deromanticize it, but there you are. It is, as they say, what it is. It's a very old, very primitive, very large virus that you can actually see for yourself if you have a fairly good optical microscope.

I got my dose a couple of weeks after D-Day. Having unexpectedly survived the terrors of Omaha Beach, I got separated from my unit (I was a Second Lieutenant and I guess nobody missed me) and wound up alone in a picturesque little French village about twenty minutes before it got overrun by the badguys, trying to arrange a resurgence against the invasion.

In a little postcard perfect but abandoned house, it didn't take long to discover a cleverly concealed wine cellar—the French had made a fine art of hiding their best stuff from the soldiers of all nations—behind a false wall in a basement. Outside, it was bright and sunny, houses surprisingly pristine in their whitewashed glory. I pulled the fake wall into place behind me and sat in the dank, stuffy, musty-smelling darkness for an hour, trying to figure out what to do next.

Before I really noticed it, I wasn't smelling mildew any more, but something else, something elusive, evocative, giving me a feeling that was all wrong, considering where I was and what was going on. Outside, I could hear the Huns in combat boots stomping up and down the little street. I could hear the occasional car, and even an armored personnel carrier. Once or twice, aircraft that didn't sound like our own flew overhead.

And still the sensation that was half aroma and half imaginary spiders crawling up and down my spine persisted. I squatted where I was, one hand on my sidearm in its flapped issue holster, thinking how good a drink of wine would be right now, if only I could make myself move.


I whirled, and reached behind me in the darkness, my outstretched hand landing on something I hadn't felt since Sally Danforth had given me a spectacular send-off in her father's hayloft the day after I'd graduated from the local aggie college and enlisted in the United States Army. That Hitler was going to get his, now that I was in the fight!

My hand, it seemed, had found a breast. A very warm, very soft, moderately large breast. A left breast, to be precise, under what felt to me like a uniform shirt. For some reason I didn't withdraw my hand immediately (normally, I'm somewhat bashful, and that would have been my reflexive response at any other time, on any other day, in any other war), but kept it where it was, instead, enjoying what it was feeling.

A soft voice said, "Do you like that one? I have another, very similar."

The voice, of course, was feminine, low and a little breathy, with just the faintest brush of tongue and teeth on the esses, not quite a lisp, which for some reason I'd always found very attractive. It was also accented: eastern European of some sort, but not Polish. I'd met quite a few of them, attached to my battalion: exiles helping us to free their country from the murderous fascist horror that had engulfed it.

But she wasn't Polish, she was something else. Right now, I didn't really care what. Still holding onto her in that odd manner, I was thinking that, whatever happened now—even if she just shot me—a little wine would go great with it. Then I realized what that aroma had been: girl-breath garnished with just a trace of alcoholic grape juice.

Sally and I had been getting into her father's winter-aged hard cider that night in rural Illinois. Nowadays I guess behavioral scientists would call that an imprinting experience. For some reason, still sitting there on the cellar floor, I let go of her breast (temporarily, I rushed to assure myself), reached around the back of her neck—I still remember the sensation of feeling the soft, silky short hair back there where the rest had been combed up into a French braid or something—pulled her invisible face to mine and kissed her.

It was just like somebody had pushed a dynamite plunger. Clothing exploded from our bodies in every direction and I was on her, riveting our bodies together with no thought for the implacable foe outside, the dirty cellar floor beneath us, or much of anything else. I'd never felt that way before and I haven't since, but it happened every single time we came together. She was long-legged and lithe and at the same time seemed to be composed entirely of curves. She was smooth, but very firm beneath that feminine softness, and she just plain smelled right.

Like the pie table at a county fair.

Then there was another explosion, and I saw the white light that the mystics blather about. As we lay there together afterward, both of us wishing we had cigarettes, she said, in her low, breathy, aromatic, and unidentifiably accented voice, "Now we will take our time, lovely man. We certainly have no lack of it. The Germans aren't going away soon."

Lovely man. Nobody had ever called me that. Nobody has since then. "My name is J. Gifford. The J doesn't stand for anything, see, because—" Actually, I had told her my real name which I haven't used in years.

She placed a finger on my lips. "I am Surica. Your Surica at the moment."

And she was.

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Four-time Prometheus Award-winner L. Neil Smith has been called one of the world's foremost authorities on the ethics of self-defense. He is the author of more than 25 books, including The American Zone, Forge of the Elders, Pallas, The Probability Broach, Hope (with Aaron Zelman), and his collected articles and speeches, Lever Action, all of which may be purchased through his website "The Webley Page" at

Ceres, an exciting sequel to Neil's 1993 Ngu family novel Pallas is currently running as a free weekly serial at

Neil is presently at work on Ares, the middle volume of the epic Ngu Family Cycle, and on Where We Stand: Libertarian Policy in a Time of Crisis with his daughter, Rylla.

See stunning full-color graphic-novelizations of The Probability Broach and Roswell, Texas which feature the art of Scott Bieser at Dead-tree versions may be had through the publisher, or at where you will also find Phoenix Pick editions of some of Neil's earlier novels. Links to Neil's books at are on his website


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