The Planet Savers by Marion Zimmer Bradley
Posted on Wednesday April 21, 2021
Excerpted from the book.
Get it on Project Gutenberg - http://www.gutenberg.org/ebooks/31619
* * * * *
Carthon lay nestled under the outlying foothills of the Hellers, ancient
and sprawling and squatty, and burned brown with the dust of five
thousand years. Children ran out to stare at the ‘copter as we landed
near the city; few planes ever flew low enough to be seen, this near the
Forth had sent his crew ahead and parked them in an abandoned huge place
at the edge of the city which might once have been a warehouse or a
ruined palace. Inside there were a couple of trucks, stripped down to
framework and flatbed like all machinery shipped through space from
Terra. There were pack animals, dark shapes in the gloom. Crates were
stacked up in an orderly untidiness, and at the far end a fire was
burning and five or six men in Darkovan clothing–loose sleeved shirts,
tight wrapped breeches, low boots–were squatting around it, talking.
They got up as Forth and Kendricks and I walked toward them, and Forth
greeted them clumsily, in bad accented Darkovan, then switched to Terran
Standard, letting one of the men translate for him.
Forth introduced me simply as “Jason,” after the Darkovan custom, and I
looked the men over, one by one. Back when I’d climbed for fun, I’d
liked to pick my own men; but whoever had picked this crew must have
known his business.
Three were mountain Darkovans, lean swart men enough alike to be
brothers; I learned after a while that they actually were brothers,
Hjalmar, Garin and Vardo. All three were well over six feet, and Hjalmar
stood head and shoulders over his brothers, whom I never learned to tell
apart. The fourth man, a redhead, was dressed rather better than the
others and introduced as Lerrys Ridenow–the double name indicating high
Darkovan aristocracy. He looked muscular and agile enough, but his hands
were suspiciously well-kept for a mountain man, and I wondered how much
experience he’d had.
The fifth man shook hands with me, speaking to Kendricks and Forth as if
they were old friends. “Don’t I know you from someplace, Jason?”
He looked Darkovan, and wore Darkovan clothes, but Forth had forewarned
me, and attack seemed the best defense. “Aren’t you Terran?”
“My father was,” he said, and I understood; a situation not exactly
uncommon, but ticklish on a planet like Darkover. I said carelessly, “I
may have seen you around the HQ. I can’t place you, though.”
“My name’s Rafe Scott. I thought I knew most of the professional guides
on Darkover, but I admit I don’t get into the Hellers much,” he
confessed. “Which route are we going to take?”
I found myself drawn into the middle of the group of men, accepting one
of the small sweetish Darkovan cigarettes, looking over the plan
somebody had scribbled down on the top of a packing case. I borrowed a
pencil from Rafe and bent over the case, sketching out a rough map of
the terrain I remembered so well from boyhood. I might be bewildered
about blood fractions, but when it came to climbing I knew what I was
doing. Rafe and Lerrys and the Darkovan brothers crowded behind me to
look over the sketch, and Lerrys put a long fingernail on the route I’d
“Your elevation’s pretty bad here,” he said diffidently, “and on the
‘Narr campaign the trailmen attacked us here, and it was bad fighting
along those ledges.”
I looked at him with new respect; dainty hands or not, he evidently knew
the country. Kendricks patted the blaster on his hip and said grimly,
“But this isn’t the ‘Narr campaign. I’d like to see any trailmen attack
us while I have this.”
“But you’re not going to have it,” said a voice behind us, a crisp
authoritative voice. “Take off that gun, man!”
Kendricks and I whirled together, to see the speaker; a tall young
Darkovan, still standing in the shadows. The newcomer spoke to me
“I’m told you are Terran, but that you understand the trailmen. Surely
you don’t intend to carry fission or fusion weapons against them?”
And I suddenly realized that we were in Darkovan territory now, and that
we must reckon with the Darkovan horror of guns or of any weapon which
reaches beyond the arm’s-length of the man who wields it. A simple
heat-gun, to the Darkovan ethical code, is as reprehensible as a
Kendricks protested, “We can’t travel unarmed through trailmen country!
We’re apt to meet hostile bands of the creatures–and they’re nasty with
those long knives they carry!”
The stranger said calmly, “I’ve no objection to you, or anyone else,
carrying a knife for self-defense.”
“A _knife_?” Kendricks drew breath to roar. “Listen, you bug-eyed
son-of-a–who do you think you are, anyway?”
The Darkovans muttered. The man in the shadows said, “Regis Hastur.”
* * * * *
Kendricks stared pop-eyed. My own eyes could have popped, but I decided
it was time for me to take charge, if I were ever going to. I rapped,
“All right, this is my show. Buck, give me the gun.”
He looked wrathfully at me for a space of seconds, while I wondered what
I’d do if he didn’t. Then, slowly, he unbuckled the straps and handed it
to me, butt first.
I’d never realized quite how undressed a Spaceforce man looked without
his blaster. I balanced it on my palm for a minute while Regis Hastur
came out of the shadows. He was tall, and had the reddish hair and fair
skin of Darkovan aristocracy, and on his face was some indefinable
stamp–arrogance, perhaps, or the consciousness that the Hasturs had
ruled this world for centuries long before the Terrans brought ships and
trade and the universe to their doors. He was looking at me as if he
approved of me, and that was one step worse than the former situation.
So, using the respectful Darkovan idiom of speaking to a superior (which
he was) but keeping my voice hard, I said, “There’s just one leader on
any trek, Lord Hastur. On this one, I’m it. If you want to discuss
whether or not we carry guns, I suggest you discuss it with me in
private–and let me give the orders.”
One of the Darkovans gasped. I knew I could have been mobbed. But with a
mixed bag of men, I had to grab leadership quick or be relegated to
nowhere. I didn’t give Regis Hastur a chance to answer that, either; I
said, “Come back here. I want to talk to you anyway.”
He came, and I remembered to breathe. I led the way to a fairly deserted
corner of the immense place, faced him and demanded, “As for you–what
are you doing here? You’re not intending to cross the mountains with
He met my scowl levelly. “I certainly am.”
I groaned. “Why? You’re the Regent’s grandson. Important people don’t
take on this kind of dangerous work. If anything happens to you, it will
be my responsibility!” I was going to have enough trouble, I was
thinking, without shepherding along one of the most revered Personages
on the whole damned planet! I didn’t want anyone around who had to be
fawned on, or deferred to, or even listened to.
* * * * *
He frowned slightly, and I had the unpleasant impression that he knew
what I was thinking. “In the first place–it will mean something to the
trailmen, won’t it–to have a Hastur with you, suing for this favor?”
It certainly would. The trailmen paid little enough heed to the ordinary
humans, except for considering them fair game for plundering when they
came uninvited into trailman country. But they, with all Darkover,
revered the Hasturs, and it was a fine point of diplomacy–if the
Darkovans sent their most important leader, they might listen to him.
“In the second place,” Regis Hastur continued, “the Darkovans are my
people, and it’s my business to negotiate for them. In the third place,
I know the trailmen’s dialect–not well, but I can speak it a little.
And in the fourth, I’ve climbed mountains all my life. Purely as an
amateur, but I can assure you I won’t be in the way.”
There was little enough I could say to that. He seemed to have covered
every point–or every point but one, and he added, shrewdly, after a
minute, “Don’t worry; I’m perfectly willing to have you take charge. I
I had to be satisfied with that.
* * * * *
The Gifts of Asti by Andre Norton
Posted on Tuesday January 12, 2021
Original artwork from Project Gutenberg - public domain
The Project Gutenberg EBook of The Gifts of Asti, by Andre Alice Norton
* * * * *
THE GIFTS OF ASTI
She was the guardian of the worlds, but HER world was dead.
Even here, on the black terrace before the forgotten mountain retreat of
Asti, it was possible to smell the dank stench of burning Memphir, to
imagine that the dawn wind bore upward from the pillaged city the faint
tortured cries of those whom the barbarians of Klem hunted to their
prolonged death. Indeed it was time to leave–
Varta, last of the virgin Maidens of Asti, shivered. The scaled and
wattled creature who crouched beside her thigh turned his reptilian head
so that golden eyes met the aquamarine ones set slantingly at a faintly
provocative angle in her smooth ivory face.
She nodded in answer to that unvoiced question Lur had sent into her
brain, and turned toward the dark cavern which was the mouth of Asti’s
last dwelling place. Once, more than a thousand years before when the
walls of Memphir were young, Asti had lived among men below. But in the
richness and softness which was trading Memphir, empire of empires, Asti
found no place. So He and those who served Him had withdrawn to this
mountain outcrop. And she, Varta, was the last, the very last to bow
knee at Asti’s shrine and raise her voice in the dawn hymn–for Lur, as
were all his race, was mute.
Even the loot of Memphir would not sate the shaggy headed warriors who
had stormed her gates this day. The stairway to Asti’s Temple was plain
enough to see and there would be those to essay the steep climb hoping
to find a treasure which did not exist. For Asti was an austere God,
delighting in plain walls and bare altars. His last priest had lain in
the grave niches these three years, there would be none to hold that
gate against intruders.
The Truth Is a Cave in the Black Mountains
Posted on Friday January 01, 2021
From his website
Read “The Truth Is a Cave in the Black Mountains” by Neil Gaiman online here.
The Wizard and the Djinn
Posted on Wednesday November 25, 2020
Image by OpenClipart-Vectors from Pixabay
The Wizard and the Djinn
by Larry Heyl - CC BY
The party wakes up in the morning next to a clear running creek. There is a slight chill in the air so they stir up the fire and make hot tea. They eat fruit and biscuits with their tea as they trade stories around the fire.
(DM hint: time permitting go around the table with the stories allowing the PCs to fill in their backstory and add items to their character sheet.)
They hear a noise in the woods and they all look to see what it is. When they look back there is a striking figure wearing a pointed hat and holding a staff standing next to the fire. The wizard addresses the party saying “I’m Randolph the Red and I need your help with a quest. There is a famous Djinn, Coriandor, who has disappeared. He had a spell book I need called The Pink Omnibus. He also had gold and jewels. I don’t need the treasure, you can keep that. But I need the spell book and if we find his lamp I want that too. Grab your packs and fill your water bags. You’ll need water where we’re going.”
If party members do not do as told Randolph the Red puts a compulsion on them. They do get a saving throw but he is a very powerful wizard. When they all have their water the wizard steps into the middle of the party and slams his staff on the ground. They begin spinning in a large circle like they were caught up by a tornado and then they fall from the sky to land in a desert surrounded by sand vipers, no wizard in sight.
Recover the Pink Omnibus and the lamp.
Make off with the loot.
Somehow return home (Probably with Randolph the Red’s help)
Get Even with Randolph the Red for his compulsion.
Map of the desert area where they are sent
Pregen character sheets for the party
Character sheet for Randolph the Red
Character sheet for Coriandor the Djinn
Character sheets for Coriandor’s friend and family
Stats for Sand Vipers and additional desert monsters
Map of the camp where the Coriandor’s friends and family wait for him including his tent
Map of his tent with the treasure, book, and lamp
24 Sci-Fi Novels You Can Read for Free
Posted on Tuesday November 24, 2020
A true classic from the Golden Age of science fiction, written by a science fiction great. The pulpy space opera tale has aliens who secretly shape humanity’s destiny, nuclear war, space travel, genetic engineering, stellar pirates, and more. This was just the first part of the Lensman series, an expansive set of books that spans billions of years.
John Wenz writing for Popular Mechanics presents a nice article about public domain science fiction including works by Samuel R. Delaney and Harry Harrison.
Hot Java Blues
Posted on Monday November 16, 2020
Hot Java Blues
by Larry Heyl
licensed CC BY
Joe could dig some hot java to loosen up his teeth. He’d been too long on this rig and even if he was a whole lot closer than he was just a little while ago he was still worried. If he could just get back to Europa with this rock in tow everything would be all right. More than all right. He’d be alive.
When he saw the rock he let himself get greedy. Sure it was at the upper edge of the possible but look at that ore! And just look at the size of it! He let himself talk himself into it. And that was just his first mistake.
He filled the basket and hit the side of the percolator with his wrench until it started bubbling. Joe was still worried. He couldn’t get over woulda this and coulda that with his 20 20 hindsight.
He felt better with a hot cup in his hands. Still worried but better. The coffee soothed him but it reminded him of his problem at the same time. Sure he got the rock. Sure he turned it around. He’d be at Europa in a week. Maybe eight days. But he was still worried.
He still had at least a week to go on this bucket and he only had a three day supply of coffee left.
Photo public domain from Pixy. Click
Milyagon Treasure Hunt
Posted on Sunday September 27, 2020
Snowy Owl by Francois Nicolas Martinet & Georges Louis Leclerc Comte de Buffon dated between 1770-1786 , public domain
Milyagon Treasure Hunt
Ari, Caper, and Tude (Ari’s wildcat) got a message from Kendrick to go see the witch at Milyagon. The witch gave them their quest, to bring back an owl’s tail feather, some squamish mushrooms, and a branch from the ancestor tree in the Wilkin Woods. She also mentioned that no one knew more about Wilken Woods than the woodcutter.
The party went and talked to the woodcutter who drew them a map and gave them sage advice about the fairies.
They entered Wilkin Woods and traveled nearly all the way across it on Woods Way. About halfway across they ventured south and found the first marked owl’s eyrie. Returning to Woods Way by traveling due north they found a landmark, a tree with a burl on it that looked a little bit like a face with knotholes for eyes.
Continuing along Woods Way they realize they must have passed the second marked eyrie. Caper leads the party back, leaving the road to the west of the eyrie which they also find. It is now evening so they eat supper and prepare to camp hoping for more luck with these owls in the night.
The Woodcutters Map drawn by Larry Heyl CC-BY
Ari, Tude, and Caper were joined by Bones under the owl eyrie. The party erected a large tarp using rope and Bones’ tent hoping to catch a naturally falling owl’s feather. Caper climbed a tree trying to make friends with an owl but when it started to get dark he had to come down. They attracted two owls by putting out some meat in a cook pot on a tripod.
Then Ari threw Tude’s ball under some bushes. Tude ran over and flushed a bunch of rodents and bunnies. For a few minutes there was a flurry of owls feeding. The next time Tude ran under a bush Caper shot a little bunny rabbit. Holding the dead bunny Caper called to the owls with a series of hoots. An owl landed on Capers outstretched arm and started feeding. With his other arm he slowly petted the owl. And then he had a hold on the tail feather that had been bothering this owl. Bones said we should scare the owl. Tude tried to scare it and Caper added in some cat noises and the owl flew off leaving one tail feather behind. Caper handed the feather to Ari for safekeeping.
We went south looking for the fairy circle trying to get some help from the fairies finding the ancestor tree. Ari and Caper kept true south while Bones scouted east and west. Bones was about a quarter mile to the west when he found the fairy circle. He jumped right in it and started dancing but fortunately he made his saving throw and didn’t fall into Feyland.
Bones stayed near the fairy circle and after a while Ari and Caper noticed he was late. Ari asked Caper if he had anything with Bones scent on it so Tude could track Bones by scent. Caper held his rope out for Tude to smell and then they followed Tude west to Bones.
Caper found some rocks for chairs and sat down about 20 ft. from the fairy circle and played his flute. Sure enough some pretty fairies came to listen to the music and the party started up a conversation with them.
In which we recover all the loot, branches from the ancestor tree, squamish mushrooms, and a tailfeather from an owl, and complete our quest.
Last week we left off talking to the fairies near the fairy circle. Cautious not to ask a favor and indebt ourselves to them we finally found out that the fairies remembered when the woodcutter came through here and found the ancestor tree. When the fairies pointed out the trail that the woodcutter took, Caper couldn’t see it but Ari and Bones could and Caper soon discovered that it was a game trail and he could also help follow it with his tracking skills.
After hiking for about 4 hours we found ourselves at the foot of a large hill. The trail seemed to continue up the hill but it was not distinct. We decided to climb to the top before dark even though we were already tired.
It was dusk when we got to the top so we waited for dark to see if the big tree at the top of this hill was the ancestor tree. Ari detected magic on the tree and it was magical. She detected magic on branches on the ground and they were not. So this might not be the ancestor tree but at least we were in the right vicinity.
The moon was already up in the sky when the sun set. Soon it was dark and the moon lit the treetops but we didn’t see a fey glow. Bones helped Caper up to the first branch and Caper carefully climbed to the top where he could look out over the moonlit forest. After Caper got back to the ground he said, “I think we’ve come too far. The moonlit glow is brightest to the northwest and I think the ancestor tree is back a ways in the direction we came.”
In the morning Bones suggested that Caper climb the tree again for a daytime view but it was slick with dew and Caper couldn’t do it. (I rolled a 4) So we headed back down the hill the way we came and at the bottom with the sun peeking up over the eastern horizon we searched for a path up a hill to the northwest. Soon we were climbing the next hill and were at the top well before noon.
Of course there was a big tree at the top of this hill too. Bones boosted Caper up and he was easily able to scramble up to the top. When Caper climbed back down he said, “The next hill to the northwest is even taller than this one. I’m not sure the ancestor tree is there but I’m pretty sure this isn’t the ancestor tree.” So after we ate we continued on to the northwest again. Ascending the next hill we found a huge tree. It was time for supper. After we ate we thought we would look around for squamish mushrooms just in case this was the ancestor tree. Bones found a patch of them due west and then Ari found a big patch north of them.
After the sun set the big tree glowed brighter than the moon. We went to the big patch of mushrooms and followed the moonbeams penetrating the forest canopy and shining on the ground. With half the night gone Bones finally saw the moonbeams light some mushrooms and he was able to pick five of them which barely covered the bottom of the witch’s bag.
In the morning we ate and although we were tired we decided to search for a branch from the ancestor tree before we slept. We searched here and we searched there and then Ari found a big branch just north of the tree. She detected magic on the branch and sure enough it was a branch from the ancestor tree. Caper searched again to the northeast and Bones searched around close to the tree. Bones found one but Ari couldn’t tell if it was magic or not. Caper suggested that Ari carry her branch and that Bones should carry his back to the witch to find out if it is magic.
After their naps Ari searched for medicinal plants and Caper searched for mushrooms. Ari found a fever plant and harvested leaves. Caper found two large mushrooms he knew to be edible but when Ari detected magic on them she discovered that they were magical and Caper decided not to eat the magic mushrooms until he had talked to the witch about them.
It took two more nights to find enough mushrooms. The third night we spread out a little with Bones looking at the patch to the west while Ari and Caper looked at the big patch. We had good luck toward morning. With the moon near full it didn’t set until almost sunrise. We ended up with 30 mushrooms. 20 filled the witch’s bag half full and Ari put the other ten in another bag stowing them carefully in her pack.
Although we were tired we decided to hike on back to Milyagon. We found a game trail heading east and we left the Wilken Woods in the farmlands to the west of Milyagon. Soon we were across the bridge and at the Inn having a hot dinner, something Caper really missed while they were camping.
After we ate it was a short walk to the witch’s cottage to the northeast of town and she was vary glad to see us. She kept the branch Ari was carrying saying it would do fine. She looked at the branch Bones found and said it was also from the ancestor tree and was in fact a magic quarterstaff. She told Bones to keep it and thanked him for his help. When Ari showed her the two bags of mushrooms she was delighted and said that she would teach Ari how to make the squamish salve and she could keep the extra for her medicine kit. She grinned wide when she saw the tailfeather, stuck it in her bonnet where it looked right at home, rolled her eyes three times, touched her nose, and said, “Yes, this will do nicely. My thanks to all of you.” Then Caper showed the witch his magic mushrooms found beneath the ancestor tree and the witch said, “Now these are nice. These mushrooms are not dangerous but they should be consumed in moderation. One half of one of these large mushrooms will affect three people as if they had two large tankards of ale. And, of course, the mushrooms are much easier to carry then a keg of ale. Unlike ale the mushrooms don’t slow you down in fact they do the opposite and make you slightly more dextrous for about four hours.”
Caper and Bones found a bench under an oak tree and sat down to rest while Ari and the witch made the squamish salve.
They ground the squamish mushrooms into a paste with wild cherries and sage to make the salve which is good for treating carbuncles and other skin ailments and can also cure light wounds. About 2/3 of the salve filled a jar the witch had set aside so she went and got a smaller jar which she filled and gave to Ari.
With that task done Ari and the witch walked over to Caper and Bones and the witch said, “The items are for the Ogre up in the foothills Northwest of Milyagon. He has been under pressure from orcs and hobgoblins moving in. The branch makes a magic quarterstaff to fend them off and the mushrooms are the important ingredient in a salve for his carbunkles. And the feather? That’s for his hat. The Ogre has a magic hat and the owl’s feather, willingly given, is a component of the spell. He is smart for an ogre because of the hat so it is very important that the feather in his cap does not become bedraggled.”
Enlightened but still very tired the party made their way back to the inn where they ate a hearty supper and turned in early for the night glad to be sleeping on beds under a roof instead of on the ground under the stars.
This story unfolded over three nights of play on discord. Vivian played Ari and Tude, Carl played Bones, I was the DM playing Caper as an NPC. I also wrote the quest soon to be published as a minizine. The text is licensed CC-BY.
Posted on Monday July 27, 2020
Photo by Paul L Dineen, CC-BY https://www.flickr.com/photos/pauldineen/46318283
#SixWordStories is a thing.
Xan is an expert.
Here’s my first shot at #SixWordStories.
And then the sun went nova.
- by Larry Heyl CC-BY
There’s a website.
Six Word Stories
And a Flickr group.
Prefaced by “Just as a reminder here is the story that started it all. For sale: baby shoes, never worn. “.
The Variable Man by Philip K. Dick
Posted on Friday November 15, 2019
From Project gutenberg - https://www.gutenberg.org/files/32154/32154-h/32154-h.htm
THE VARIABLE MAN
BY PHILIP K. DICK
ILLUSTRATED BY EBEL
He fixed things—clocks, refrigerators, vidsenders and destinies. But he had no business in the future, where the calculators could not handle him. He was Earth’s only hope—and its sure failure!
Security Commissioner Reinhart rapidly climbed the front steps and entered the Council building. Council guards stepped quickly aside and he entered the familiar place of great whirring machines. His thin face rapt, eyes alight with emotion, Reinhart gazed intently up at the central SRB computer, studying its reading.
“Straight gain for the last quarter,” observed Kaplan, the lab organizer. He grinned proudly, as if personally responsible. “Not bad, Commissioner.”
“We’re catching up to them,” Reinhart retorted. “But too damn slowly. We must finally go over—and soon.”
Kaplan was in a talkative mood. “We design new offensive weapons, they counter with improved defenses. And nothing is actually made! Continual improvement, but neither we nor Centaurus can stop designing long enough to stabilize for production.”
“It will end,” Reinhart stated coldly, “as soon as Terra turns out a weapon for which Centaurus can build no defense.”
“Every weapon has a defense. Design and discord. Immediate obsolescence. Nothing lasts long enough to—”
“What we count on is the lag,” Reinhart broke in, annoyed. His hard gray eyes bored into the lab organizer and Kaplan slunk back. “The time lag between our offensive design and their counter development. The lag varies.” He waved impatiently toward the massed banks of SRB machines. “As you well know.”
At this moment, 9:30 AM, May 7, 2136, the statistical ratio on the SRB machines stood at 21-17 on the Centauran side of the ledger. All facts considered, the odds favored a successful repulsion by Proxima Centaurus of a Terran military attack. The ratio was based on the total information known to the SRB machines, on a gestalt of the vast flow of data that poured in endlessly from all sectors of the Sol and Centaurus systems.
21-17 on the Centauran side. But a month ago it had been 24-18 in the enemy’s favor. Things were improving, slowly but steadily. Centaurus, older and less virile than Terra, was unable to match Terra’s rate of technocratic advance. Terra was pulling ahead.
“If we went to war now,” Reinhart said thoughtfully, “we would lose. We’re not far enough along to risk an overt attack.” A harsh, ruthless glow twisted across his handsome features, distorting them into a stern mask. “But the odds are moving in our favor. Our offensive designs
are gradually gaining on their defenses.”
“Let’s hope the war comes soon,” Kaplan agreed. “We’re all on edge. This damn waiting….”
The war would come soon. Reinhart knew it intuitively. The air was full of tension, the elan. He left the SRB rooms and hurried down the corridor to his own elaborately guarded office in the Security wing. It wouldn’t be long. He could practically feel the hot breath of destiny on his neck—for him a pleasant feeling. His thin lips set in a humorless smile, showing an even line of white teeth against his tanned skin. It made him feel good, all right. He’d been working at it a long time.
First contact, a hundred years earlier, had ignited instant conflict between Proxima Centauran outposts and exploring Terran raiders. Flash fights, sudden eruptions of fire and energy beams.
And then the long, dreary years of inaction between enemies where contact required years of travel, even at nearly the speed of light. The two systems were evenly matched. Screen against screen. Warship against power station. The Centauran Empire surrounded Terra, an iron ring that couldn’t be broken, rusty and corroded as it was. Radical new weapons had to be conceived, if Terra was to break out.
Through the windows of his office, Reinhart could see endless buildings and streets, Terrans hurrying back and forth. Bright specks that were commute ships, little eggs that carried businessmen and white-collar workers around. The huge transport tubes that shot masses of workmen to factories and labor camps from their housing units. All these people, waiting to break out. Waiting for the day.
Reinhart snapped on his vidscreen, the confidential channel. “Give me Military Designs,” he ordered sharply.
He sat tense, his wiry body taut, as the vidscreen warmed into life. Abruptly he was facing the hulking image of Peter Sherikov, director of the vast network of labs under the Ural Mountains.
Sherikov’s great bearded features hardened as he recognized Reinhart. His bushy black eyebrows pulled up in a sullen line. “What do you want? You know I’m busy. We have too much work to do, as it is. Without being bothered by—politicians.”
“I’m dropping over your way,” Reinhart answered lazily. He adjusted the cuff of his immaculate gray cloak. “I want a full description of your work
and whatever progress you’ve made.”
“You’ll find a regular departmental report plate filed in the usual way, around your office someplace. If you’ll refer to that you’ll know exactly what we—”
“I’m not interested in that. I want to see what you’re doing. And I expect you to be prepared to describe your work fully. I’ll be there shortly. Half an hour.”
Reinhart cut the circuit. Sherikov’s heavy features dwindled and faded. Reinhart relaxed, letting his breath out. Too bad he had to work with Sherikov. He had never liked the man. The big Polish scientist was an individualist, refusing to integrate himself with society. Independent, atomistic in outlook. He held concepts of the individual as an end, diametrically contrary to the accepted organic state Weltansicht.
But Sherikov was the leading research scientist, in charge of the Military Designs Department. And on Designs the whole future of Terra depended. Victory over Centaurus—or more waiting, bottled up in the Sol System, surrounded by a rotting, hostile Empire, now sinking into ruin and decay, yet still strong.
Reinhart got quickly to his feet and left the office. He hurried down the hall and out of the Council building.
A few minutes later he was heading across the mid-morning sky in his highspeed cruiser, toward the Asiatic land-mass, the vast Ural mountain range. Toward the Military Designs labs.
Posted on Thursday August 22, 2019
Peter Watts receiving the 2010 Hugo
by Peter Watts
Creative Commons BY-NC-SA
Read more Peter Watts here
“Despotism may be the only organisational alternative
to the political structure that we observe.”
—James Buchanan, 1975
This is the moment Malika Rydman first realizes that something is seriously out of whack: when the airport cop doesn’t threaten her.
It wasn’t that flickering sense of discontinuity over the Pacific. It wasn’t the odd absence of flight attendants during descent, or the unprecedented fact that she could watch the whole pulse-pounding climax of My Dinner With Andre without some canned voice breaking in to remind her about seat tables and chairs in upright positions. It wasn’t even the strangeness glimpsed through the window on final approach: that conga-line of headlights down on the ground, the way those tiny cars formed little trains that braided and intertwined without ever colliding. That skyscraper off to the east, facades seething in dark glittery motion as though being devoured by a carpet of beetles. The very street lights, tiny bright interstices of the SanFran wireframe: somehow both whiter and brighter than a week ago. Different approach angle, Malika thought vaguely. Trick of the light. Street art installation.
Even when ANA008 bumped onto the ground and dragged itself to a halt and just sat there at the end of the runway, Malika shrugged it off. Probably some other plane hogging the gate. You’d think there’d be an announcement.
It’s not until the man in the strange uniform appears at her side and leans just so, letting the flap of his jacket fall away to reveal the gun on his hip; not until he says “Dr. Malika Rydman? Would you come with me, please?”—that she is truly taken aback.
There’s no implied threat in his voice. He doesn’t seem to be itching for an excuse to escalate (not that Malika would ever be stupid enough to give him one— then again, sometimes they just make shit up after the fact). The words don’t even carry the tone of a command exactly, more like a— a request.
“It’s very important,” he adds.
He seems nervous. Maybe even a little frightened.
“What’s this about? Am I in some kind of trouble?”
“It’s nothing like that.” The airport cop— whatever he is— shakes his head. “There’s a, a patient in need of assistance.”
Ah. Someone must have noticed the MD next to her name, jumped to conclusions. “I don’t practice. I’m a computational psychiatrist, I’ve been pure research since 2012.” Curiosity gets the better of her anyway. “What sort of patient?”
“I honestly don’t know any more than that, Dr. Rydman. Please.”
She looks around the cabin— all eyes studiously downcast, all voices stilled— and unbuckles her seat belt. “You’re being awfully deferential for a white boy with a gun,” she grumbles. “Did the Resistance finally pay off?”
He swallows. “Which one?”