The New Year's Party


Dancing on Sleipner's Bones

By David J. Schwartz

In Auckland I'm the last to arrive. Sven slaps a Zone Watch™ ("The Moto-Matter® Zone Watch™; Global Movement for When Swiss Isn't Enough") on my wrist, straightens my tie and hands me a glass of Daniel LeBrun. The countdown has already begun, and there's barely time to toss back the sparkling wine and look out at the forest of lighted sails on Waitemata Harbor before Moto-Matter® technology carries us on to New Caledonia.

Flash, rumble, burn.

Grégoire makes his Cosmopolitans with Belvedere, Cointreau, fresh cranberry, and a dash of Rose's Lime. I'm tired but the sweet-sour bite of the drink wakes me up.

"Evening," says Li Kuan. She's stunning in a sleeveless black dress that's cut high and low and hugs her like a bodysuit. Her accessories are diamond stud earrings, matching tennis bracelet, and a pearl-handled Colt .45.

"Who are you mourning?" I ask.

"Everyone." She touches my hand, and my heart speeds up. Then she says she's going to mingle, and sways off towards the hors d'oeuvres. The Colt bucks up against her waist, making her look even smaller than she is.

I spend the hour debating the relative merits of Britney Spears and Christina Aguilera with Carlos and Tasha. Carlos thinks Britney is the sexiest fifty-two-year-old around and the better dancer of the two. Tasha thinks Christina's voice is far superior and calls her the best interpreter of Cole Porter since Ella Fitzgerald. Carlos and I both have warm memories of the two singing "Baby, It's Cold Outside" on Madonna's most recent Christmas special. Tasha calls us perverts before admitting she found it pretty sexy as well.

Flash, rumble, burn.

The Sydney contingent provides a trough of Foster's on ice, which seems like kitschy fun until it mixes with the Cosmo and the sparkling wine in my stomach. I set my can down half-finished, but others are less concerned with pacing themselves. Yuri drinks two-fisted, his skin already flushed beneath his beard. The party kicks into full swing when Miriam opens a closet to fetch more napkins and discovers Sven and Tasha in flagrante delicto. Everyone applauds, and they bow as they rearrange their clothes and shoulder holsters. Then it's countdown time again, and everyone shotguns their beer, checks their hair, and says a prayer to Moto-Matter®.

Flash, rumble, burn.

If I didn't already know the world made no sense, the way time zones work would convince me. From Sydney the Zone Watches™ take us to Vladivostok for tall glasses of chilled vodka, back east to Tokyo for warm sake, and then on to Beijing, where according to the Chinese it's the same time as it is two thousand miles west in the Takla Makan Desert. Around midnight, Li Kuan sidles up next to me and takes my hand so we will arrive in Bangkok together. I finish my mao-tai and we're gone as the flash, rumble, burn hits.

Everyone thinks Li Kuan and I are sleeping together, but we're not. We spend as much time together as a married couple. We bicker and work and get drunk. But we've never so much as kissed.

In Bangkok the party is on a Moto-Matter®-powered barge where Duchanee serves a delicious chicken soup with a name I can't pronounce, a spicy Panang Curry, and a pumpkin custard smooth enough to get away with genocide. Li Kuan and I sit at a table on the deck and drink Mekong whiskey.

"It's all going so well," she says.

"Knock on wood," I say, and do so.

We watch the people on the banks of the Chao Phraya. The Thai New Year doesn't come for another three and a half months, but tonight everyone gets a new beginning. When the countdown begins I wonder if any of them know what's coming.

Flash, rumble, burn.

Mt. Everest is a disappointment. Seventy-mile-per-hour winds blow outside the new observation platform at the summit, dropping visibility to zero, and the high altitude makes the Cristal explode when uncorked, soaking Abebe's dress. But Lhakpa throws on a mix of hip-hop oldies, and pretty soon we're all dancing, though in some cases it might be better not to call it that. Midnight comes as Busta Rhymes sings "End of the World"—

—flash, rumble, burn—

—and it's on to Karachi. In the men's room I find Carlos and Retsudo trying to talk Tariq into doing some cocaine.

"You're going to wish you had by the time midnight strikes for the twentieth time," says Retsudo.

"No," says Tariq, who is drinking tea. "I want a clear head when I arrive in paradise."

"Paradise?" Carlos laughs. "I thought we were all nihilists here." He offers me a rolled-up hundred, and I snort a couple of lines. When I look up at the mirror I see Miriam slinking out of a stall behind me, followed shortly thereafter by Sven. No one else seems to notice.

Flash, rumble, burn.

In Muscat we drink muscat and smoke opium from hookahs, in Moscow it's caviar and Stolichnaya, and in Athens there is ouzo and the lightest, flakiest baklava I've ever tasted.

Li Kuan slips her arm through mine as we look out at the Acropolis. "What will you miss most of all?"

"Food," I say. "Sourdough bread, blackened salmon, steamed broccoli, black beans and rice."

"What about me?"

Flash, rumble, burn.

Off the Norwegian coast near Stavanger stands the Sleipner oil platform, vacant since the oil plagues. Someone's set a dance floor over its frame, and Li Kuan and I swing while a big band called Weapons of Mass Destruction plays "All of Me." Some of Statoil's fields and platforms have names from Norse mythology—Frigg, Troll, Asgard. Sleipner was the eight-legged horse who aided Odin in his role as a psychopomp—someone who guides the souls of the dead to the afterworld, like a shaman.

We foxtrot and we lindy hop and when the music slows we waltz. There's aquavit, but I'm looking into Li Kuan's eyes and she's not looking away, so I hold on to her and we step and slide and sway, dancing on Sleipner's bones.

Flash, rumble, burn.

In Casablanca they find us. I don't know if they're Interpol, Moroccan police, or what. They break down the doors of the rented hall and are met with a hail of fire. Li Kuan's Colt and my own Tec-9 add to the thunder. Blood and shrapnel stain the walls. In moments none of them are left standing.

One survives. He lies riddled with holes, screaming in French.

"What's he saying?" I ask Grégoire.

"According to him we are murdering swine not worthy to sniff truffles from the devil's buttocks." Grégoire slides a fresh clip into his Walther. "I will attempt to explain that our actions are motivated by mercy." He shoots the man in the head. Blood sprays up to spatter on my cuff link.

"Merde," he says. "I am sorry."

"I'll send you the dry cleaning bill," I say, and we laugh until our stomachs hurt.

Flash, rumble, burn.

On Graciosa we feast on sea turtle, fresh pineapple, and port wine. The stars are bright despite the intermittent flares of light on the eastern horizon. They will be brighter still after we are all gone.

For some reason Retsudo blames himself for our discovery in Casablanca. He decides to perform seppuku on the beach, and asks Duchanee to assist. It's ostentatious and unnecessary, in my opinion. After Duchanee has done his part, Retsudo's head rolls to the foot of the table, mouth gaping, eyes wide. We drain our glasses in his honor.

Cachaça in Rio, Bodegas Weinert Cabernet in Buenos Aires, piña coladas in Barbados. In New York Li Kuan kisses my throat and is gone; in Chicago she presses herself against my back, loosens my tie, and disappears. In Salt Lake City she hands me a wad of black cloth which proves to be her panties. I take a shot of Everclear and start looking for her, but I cannot make myself heard above the air raid sirens.

"To all our hard work finally paying off," Yuri says in San Francisco, where the power is out but a Moto-Matter® generator keeps the Anchor Steam cold.

"To good friends," I say, and drink.

"Where's Li Kuan?" Carlos asks, but I don't know.

I don't see her in Fairbanks, where most of the population has retreated into the wilderness. "There is no point in running," says Tasha. "The mushroom clouds will spread like dandelions. We have invented a truly democratic form of warfare."

"You mean socialist."

"I don't know what I mean," she laughs. "What does it matter? Do you realize that what we have done will mean the death of ideas? Isn't it a relief?" I notice that she has taken off her Zone Watch™, but I don't comment on it. The party has shrunk through the midnights, as others have stayed behind to reap the fruits of our labors.

In Honolulu Li Kuan finds me by the cooking pit and leads me down the beach until the lights and the sounds have faded. She takes off her earrings, her bracelet, and her Colt .45 and throws them into the Pacific. She wriggles out of her dress and undoes the clasp of her Zone Watch™. She is naked.

"Aren't you going to join me?" she asks.

Sand scours our flesh, cleansing like the fire of radiation spreading over the earth. Perhaps the sea will survive. Perhaps the dolphins will do better than we have done. I find that I am not concerned.

"I'm coming," Li Kuan shouts, and I am already there.




David J. Schwartz

David J. Schwartz's fiction has appeared in Lady Churchill's Rosebud Wristlet, Grasslimb, Say . . . , On Spec, Fortean Bureau, Paradox, Flashquake, and Talebones. He does not recommend blowing up the world without supervision. For more on him and his work, see his journal or his reviews site. To contact him, send him email at His previous story for Strange Horizons can be found in our archive.