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Authors: China Miéville

The Last Days of New Paris

BOOK: The Last Days of New Paris
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The Last Days of New Paris
is a work of fiction. All incidents and dialogue, and all characters with the exception of some well-known historical and public figures, are products of the author's imagination and are not to be construed as real. Where real-life historical or public figures appear, the situations, incidents, and dialogues concerning those persons are entirely fictional and are not intended to depict actual events or to change the entirely fictional nature of the work. In all other respects, any resemblance to persons living or dead is entirely coincidental.

Copyright © 2016 by China Miéville

All rights reserved.

Published in the United States by Del Rey, an imprint of Random House, a division of Penguin Random House LLC, New York.

D
EL
R
EY
and the H
OUSE
colophon are registered trademarks of Penguin Random House LLC.

All illustrations within text are by the author.

LIBRARY OF CONGRESS CATALOGING-IN-PUBLICATION DATA

Names: Miéville, China, author. Title: The last days of new Paris / China Miéville. Description: First Edition. | New York : Del Rey, [2016] Identifiers: LCCN 2016017029 (print) | LCCN 2016022033 (ebook) | ISBN 9780345543998 (hardback) | ISBN 9780345544001 (ebook) Subjects: | BISAC: FICTION / Fantasy / Epic. | FICTION / Science Fiction / General. | FICTION / Literary. | GSAFD: Science fiction. | Fantasy fiction. Classification: LCC PR6063.I265 L37 2016 (print) | LCC PR6063.I265 (ebook) | DDC 823/.914—dc23 LC record available at
lccn.​loc.​gov/​2016017029

Ebook ISBN 9780345544001

randomhousebooks.​com

Book design by Dana Leigh Blanchette, adapted for ebook

Cover design: David G. Stevenson

Cover photograph: © Claudia Carlsen/Shutterstock

Title-page image:
©
iStockphoto.​com

v4.1

a

“One overhears many reactions to surrealist art, but the most pathetic of all is from those who ask, ‘What am I supposed to see and feel from this?' In other words, ‘What does papa say I may think and feel about this?' ”

GRACE PAILTHORPE,

“On the Importance of Fantasy Life”

The Last Days
of
New Paris

Exquisite Corpse by
André Breton, Jacqueline Lamba, Yves Tanguy (1938).

Chapter One

1950

A street in lamplight. Beyond a wall of ripped-up city, the Nazis were shooting.

Past the barricade and a line of tailors' mannequins assembled in a crude and motionless cancan, Thibaut could see the khaki of scattering Wehrmacht men, gray dress uniforms, SS black, the blue of the Kriegsmarine, all lit up by the flares of weapons. Something sped along the rue de Paradis, weaving in a howl of rubber between bodies and ruins, coming straight at the Germans.

Two women on a tandem? They came very fast on big wheels.

The soldiers shot, reloaded, and ran because the rushing
vehicle did not turn or fall under their onslaught. There was a whir of chains.

Only one woman rode, Thibaut made out. The other was a torso, jutted from the bicycle itself, its moving prow, a figurehead where handlebars should be. She was extruded from the metal. She pushed her arms backward and they curled at the ends like coral. She stretched her neck and widened her eyes.

Thibaut swallowed and tried to speak, and tried again, and screamed, “
It's the
Vélo
!”

At once his comrades came. They pressed against the big window and stared down into the city gloom.

The Amateur of Velocipedes. Lurching through Paris on her thick-spoked wheels singing a song without words.
My God,
Thibaut thought, because a woman was
riding
her, and that absolutely should not happen. But there she was, gripping the Vélo's wrist with one hand, pulling with the other on leather strapped tight around the cycle-centaur's throat.

The Vélo moved faster than any car or horse, any devil Thibaut had yet seen, swaying between the façades, dodging bullets. She tore through the last of the men and the line of figurines they'd arranged. She raised her front wheel and hit the barricade, mounted the meters of plaster, stone, bone, wood, and mortar that blocked the street.

She rose. She hurled into the air above the soldiers, arced up, seeming to pause, falling at last through the invisible
boundary between the ninth and tenth arrondissements. She landed hard on the Surrealist side of the street.

The Vélo bounced and twisted on her tires, slid sideways. She came to a stop, looking up at the window of the Main à plume's hideout, straight into Thibaut's eyes.

—

He was first out of the room and down the splintering steps, almost falling from the doorway out into the darkening street. His heart shook him.

The passenger was sprawled on the cobbles where her mount had bucked. The Vélo reared above her on her hind wheel like a fighting horse. She swayed.

She looked at Thibaut with pupil-less eyes the same color as her skin. The manif flexed her thick arms and reached up to snap the cord around her neck and let it fall. She rocked in the wind.

Thibaut's rifle dangled in his hands. At the edge of his vision he saw Élise lob a grenade over the barricade, in case the Germans were regrouping. The explosion made the ground and the barrier tremble, but Thibaut did not move.

The Vélo tipped forward, back onto both wheels. She accelerated toward him but he made himself stay still. She bore down and her wheels were a burr. Adrenaline took him with the certainty of impact, until on a final instant too quick to see she tilted and passed instead so close to
him that Thibaut's clothes were tugged in the rush of her air.

Tires singing, the cycle-presence wove between the shattered buildings of the Cité de Trévise, into ruins and shadows, out of sight.

—

Thibaut at last exhaled. When he could control his shaking, he turned to the passenger. He went to where she lay.

The woman was dying. She had been hammered by the German fire the Vélo had ignored. Some fleeting influence at that powerful intersection of streets meant all the holes in her flesh were dry and puckered, but blood spilled from her mouth as if insisting on one outlet. She coughed and tried to speak.

“Did you see?” Élise was shouting. Thibaut knelt and put his hand on the fallen woman's forehead. The partisans gathered. “She was
riding the Vélo
!” Élise said. “What does that
mean
? How in hell did she
control
it?”

“Not well,” said Virginie.

The passenger's dark dress was dirty and ripped. Her scarf spread out on the road and framed her face. She furrowed her brow as if thoughtful. As if considering a problem. She was not much older than Thibaut, he thought. She looked at him with urgent eyes.

“It's…it's…” she said.

“I think that's English,” he said quietly.

Cédric stepped forward and tried to murmur prayers and Virginie shoved him sharply away.

The dying woman took Thibaut's hand. “Here,” she whispered. “He came. Wolf. Gang.” She gasped out little bursts. Thibaut put his ear close to her mouth. “Gerhard,” she said. “The doctor. The priest.”

She was not looking at him any more, Thibaut realized, but past him, behind him. His skin itched in Paris's attention. He turned.

Behind the windows of the nearest building, overlooking them, a slowly shifting universe of fetal globs and scratches unfolded. A morass of dark colors, vivid on a blacker dark. The shapes rattled. They tapped the glass. A manif storm had come from within the house to witness this woman's death.

As everyone gathered watched the black virtue behind the windows, Thibaut felt the woman's fingers on his own. He gripped hers in turn. But she did not want a moment's last solicitude. She pried his hand open. She put something in it. Thibaut felt and knew instantly that it was a playing card.

When he turned back to her the woman was dead.

Thibaut was loyal Main à plume. He could not have said why he slipped the card into his pocket without letting his comrades see.

On the stones under the woman's other hand she had written letters on the road with her index finger as a nib. Her nail was wet with black ink from somewhere, provided
by the city in that final moment of her need. She had written two last words.

FALL ROT.

Now it's months later, and Thibaut huddles in a Paris doorway, his hand in his pocket to hold that card again. Over his own clothes he wears a woman's blue-and-gold pajamas.

The sky is screaming. Two Messerschmitts come in below the clouds, chased by Hurricanes. Slates explode under British fire and the planes tear out of their dives. One of the German aircraft coils suddenly back in a virtuoso maneuver with weapons blazing and in a burning gust an RAF plane unfolds in the air, opening like hands, like a blown kiss, fire descending, turning an unseen house below to dust.

The other Messerschmitt veers toward the Seine. The roofs shake again, this time from below.

Something comes up from inside Paris.

A pale tree-wide tendril, shaggy with bright foliage. It rises. Clutches of buds or fruit the size of human heads quiver. It blooms vastly above the skyline.

The German pilot flies straight at the vivid flowers, as if smitten, plant-drunk. He plunges for the vegetation. It spreads trembling leaves. The great vine whips up one last
house-height and takes the plane in its coils. It yanks it down below the roofs, into the streets, out of sight.

There is no explosion. The snagged aircraft is just gone, into the deeps of the city.

The other planes frantically disperse. Thibaut waits while they go. He lets his heart slow. When he sets his face and steps out at last it is under a clean sky.

—

Thibaut is twenty-four, hard and thin and strong. His eyes move constantly as he keeps watch in all directions: he has the fretful aggression and the gritted teeth of the new Parisian. He keeps his hair and his nails short. He squints with more than just suspicion: he does not have the spectacles he suspects he might need. Beneath his bright woman's nightclothes he wears a dirty darned white shirt, dark trousers and suspenders, worn black boots. It has been some days since Thibaut has shaved. He's scabbed and stinking.

Those pilots were foolhardy. Paris's air is full of reasons not to fly.

There are worse things than garden airplane traps like the one that took the Messerschmitt. The chimneys of Paris are buffeted by ecstatic avian storm clouds. Bones inflated like airships.
Flocks of bat-winged businessmen and ladies in outdated coats shout endless monologues of special offers and clog planes' propellers with their own questionable meat. Thibaut has watched
mono- and bi- and
triplane geometries, winged spheres and huge ghastly spindles, a long black-curtained window, all flying like animate dead over the tops of houses, pursuing an errant Heinkel Greif bomber, to negate it with an unliving touch.

Thibaut can mostly name the manifestations he sees, when they have names.

Before the war he had already committed to the movement which spawned them, which detractors had derided as passé, as powerless. “I don't care about fashion!” is what he had told his amused mother, waving the publications he bought, sight-unseen, from a sympathetic bookseller in rue Ruelle, who knew to put aside for him anything affiliated. “This is about liberation!” The dealer, Thibaut would come to realize, long after those days, would sometimes accept paltry payment from his enthusiastic and ignorant young customer, in exchange for rarities. The last package he sent reached Thibaut's home two days before he left it for the last time.

When later he had watched the Germans march into the city, the sight of their columns by the Arc de Triomphe had looked to Thibaut like a grim collage, an agitprop warning.

Now he walks wide deserted streets of the sixteenth, a long way from his own arenas, his rifle raised and the gold trim of his skirts flapping. The sun bleaches the ruins. A miraculously uneaten cat races out from under a burnt-out German tank to find another hole.

Weeds grow through old cars and the floors of newspaper
kiosks. They cosset the skeletons of the fallen.
Huge sunflowers root all over, and the grass underfoot is speckled with plants that did not exist until the blast: plants that make noise; plants that move. Lovers' flowers, their petals elliptical eyes and throbbing cartoon hearts bunched alternately in the mouths of
up-thrust snakes that are their stems, that sway and stare as Thibaut warily passes.

Rubble and greenery fall away and the sky opens as he reaches the river. Thibaut watches for monsters.

In the shallows and the mud of the Île aux Cygnes,
human hands crawl under spiral shells. A congregation of Seine sharks thrash up dirty froth below the Pont de Grenelle. Rolling and rising, they eye him as he approaches and bite at the bobbing corpse of a horse. In front of each dorsal fin,
each shark is hollow-backed, with a canoe seat.

Thibaut walks the bridge above them. Midway across he stops. He stands in plain sight. His soldier's nerves itch for cover but he makes himself stand and look. He surveys the altered city.

Jags of ruin, a fallen outline. Framed against the flat bright sky to the north-east, the Eiffel Tower looms. The tower's steepling top half dangles where it has always been, where the Pont d'Iéna meets the Quai Branly, above ordered gardens, but halfway to the earth the metal ends. There's nothing tethering it to the ground. It hangs, truncated. A flock of the brave remaining birds of Paris swoop below
the stumps of its struts, forty storeys up. The half-tower points with a long shadow.

Where are the cells of Main à plume now? How many have succumbed?

Months back, after the Vélo, Thibaut had been, you could perhaps say, called to action, insofar as anyone could be called to anything any more. An invitation reached him by the city's networks. Word from old comrades.

“They told me you run things here,” the young scout had said. Thibaut did not like that. “Will you come?”

Thibaut remembers how heavy the card had been then in his pocket. Did someone know he had it? Was that for what they were calling?

On the card is a stylized pale woman. She stares twice in rotational symmetry. Her yellow hair becomes two big cats that swaddle her. Below each of her faces is a blue, profile, closed-eyed other, unless they, too, are her. There is a black keyhole in the top right corner and the bottom left.

BOOK: The Last Days of New Paris
5.97Mb size Format: txt, pdf, ePub
ads

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