The Cyborg from Earth

Overview

Jefferson Kopal, the privileged son of a wealthy family, knows he is a coward and a failure. He dreads appearing for and then barely passes the Space Navy test to qualify for service as an officer-something that has been an integral part of his family's tradition.

He is assigned to the remote Border Command by the Navy and eventually to a ship commanded by Captain Dufferin, who hates everything that the Kopal family stands for.

But when he is ...

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The Cyborg From Earth

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Overview

Jefferson Kopal, the privileged son of a wealthy family, knows he is a coward and a failure. He dreads appearing for and then barely passes the Space Navy test to qualify for service as an officer-something that has been an integral part of his family's tradition.

He is assigned to the remote Border Command by the Navy and eventually to a ship commanded by Captain Dufferin, who hates everything that the Kopal family stands for.

But when he is abandoned by his Captain and the rest of the crew, left for dead and possibly framed as a traitor, he must find his inner courage and resolve, not only to save himself, but to save his world as well.

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Editorial Reviews

Publishers Weekly - Publisher's Weekly
The Messina Dust Cloud is home to a flourishing human population seeking independence from Earth and rumored to be illegally experimenting with nanotechnology to create warrior cyborgs. The misfit heir to a transportation empire, Jefferson Kopal, is sent out to the Cloud in spite of nearly failing his qualification tests for the Space Navy. Once there, he undergoes a classic process of coming of age and of learning that things are not what they seemthings including his family, the Space Navy, the Cloud and, above all, the Cloud's technologies. Young Jeff is an appealing protagonist, embodying a plausible mixture of virtues and vices. Perhaps he's too appealing: Sheffield focuses so closely on him that other interesting and even essential aspects of the story such as the climactic space battle and the confrontation over control of the Kopal transportation empire are undeveloped, even somewhat jumbled by comparison. In any case, the novelthe most ambitious yet of the Jupiter series Putting Up Roots, etc.succeeds as the edifying entertainment it, and the series, is meant to be. Mar.
Library Journal
Despite his demonstrated unfitness for military duty, Jefferson Kopal, scion of one of Earth's ruling dynasties, finds himself assigned to the Space Navy's Border Command, where he becomes a pawn in a conspiracy that brings the solar system to the brink of civil war. Sheffield's fourth entry in his Jupiter novels e.g., The Billion-Dollar Boy, LJ 12/96 delivers a classic coming- of-age story that features a genuinely appealing hero caught in a conflict between duty and integrity. Following in the tradition of early Heinlein, this title should appeal to YA as well as adult fans of sf action-adventure. A good purchase for large libraries.
Vector
"Good writing by any standards."
Book World Washington Post
"Charles Scheffield has been called 'The new Arthur C. Clarke.'... If anyone can do a better job of it, I'd like to know about him."
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Product Details

  • ISBN-13: 9781612422060
  • Publisher: Arc Manor
  • Publication date: 9/19/2014
  • Pages: 248
  • Sales rank: 833,398
  • Product dimensions: 6.00 (w) x 9.00 (h) x 0.56 (d)

Meet the Author

Charles Sheffield is a mathematician and theoretical physicist by training. His doctoral work was on Einstein's Special Theory of Relativity. Currently Dr. Sheffield works as chief scientist for the Earth Satellite Corporation, a Washington, D.C.–based firm that specializes in the analysis of data gathered from space.

The author of thirty previous science fiction novels, including Cold as Ice and The Ganymede Club from Tor, Sheffield lives in Silver Spring, Maryland, with his wife, author Nancy Kress.

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Read an Excerpt

CHAPTER ONE

Jefferson Kopal is a coward. He knows it, and if he doesn't do something about it soon, so "will everyone else. Jeff wrote the words on the yellowing sheet of paper that he had found folded in the back of one of the old books. He read the note aloud, three times. Finally he crumpled the sheet into a ball and looked around for a good way to dispose of it.

Logically, the end of an exorcism ought to be by fire. He should burn the page. But how? The library fireplace was wide and deep, but it was too early in the year for anyone to think of lighting a fire there. No one would anyway, since Jeff seemed to be the only person who ever came to browse through the shelves of old books, with their leather and cloth covers and their look of having been here forever. Everyone else preferred the new library, with its instant and flexible services. It was centrally heated, and the regular array of terminals would never see a naked flame.

What about his rooms, or one of the never-used upper suites?

There were matches in his bedside table; but with fire monitors scattered everywhere through the vast old house, it was difficult to know where something might be burned without setting off alarms.

Outside, then.

Jeff walked over to the library window. The weather was clear and calm, with distant trees showing the first tinge of a fall change of color. He looked across the broad lawn toward die pasture and felt a twinge of nervousness, like a sudden cramp in die belly. It was ideal conditions. There was not the slightest chance that die competition would be postponed.

He put die ball of paper into his trouser pocket and left the old library that occupied part of the second floor's west wing. It was Jeff's favorite haunt and hideaway. His private suite of rooms was one floor higher. To reach them he had to head over to the house's central atrium, then ascend the wide, curving staircase.

He hurried that way, thankful that he didn't meet anyone. It was bad enough to have the framed portraits of the Kopal family staring at him accusingly from the walls. At the very top, the full-length painting of Rollo Kopal had been there to terrify Jeff for as long as he could remember. Rollo had died long before he was born, but Jeff's earliest memories included the frowning picture of his great-grandfather in full uniform, hand on sword pommel. The hard, pebble eyes of the Space Navy admiral and founder of Kopal Transportation stared right at you, no matter where you stood on the staircase.

When Jeff reached his rooms die attention light was flashing on the monitor inside the entrance. He called for messages and was surprised to hear Midgeley's voice. The senior servant of the Kopal household sent routine information over the house's public-address system. That meant this message must be personal—or Midgeley had some other reason why he would not send it to Jeff in public.

"I have important information, sir, regarding your mother." There was no picture, and the voice was totally impartial. No one listening to it—or seeing the man himself—would ever know what Midgeley's own opinions might be of anything that he conveyed to the members of the household:

It was the subject, not the tone, that brought Jeff to instant attention. He at once forgot his own worries. He waited, fearing the worst, until Midgeley went on, "It is good news."

Before Jeff could decide that the old man maybe had feelings after all, Midgeley was continuing: "Three days ago, Lady Florence was judged well enough to be shipped down to Earth for continued treatment. Given the uncertainty of her condition, she did not wish to arouse advance expectations that might not be fulfilled. Therefore, she instructed me to inform no one of her arrival at the manor until it actually took place. She is resting in her rooms and would welcome your visit. She would prefer that word of her appearance here not be generally known."

Jeff hardly heard die last sentence. Mother was here—after three whole months, in which her survival was doubtful and visitors to die low-orbit hospital facility were utterly prohibited! without a thought of matches or anything else he went running if down the hallway to the east wing.

Somehow, Midgeley's message had translated itself in Jeff's mind to the idea that his mother was close to being her old, vigorous self. It was only as he charged without knocking into her rooms, to find them dimly lit and quiet, that he realized how wrong he was. The slight figure lolling in the armchair by the window was unrecognizable.

He knew there had been bad burns in the accident, but after that he had heard optimistic talk of skin grafts and skin re-growth.

Enough to save his mother's life, perhaps—but not enough to restore her appearance. She had lost weight, and the skin of her gaunt cheeks and forehead was rough and scarred. A thin tube extended from a blue cylinder on the wheeled metal structure at her side and ran up to enter her nose.

"Not a pretty sight, eh?" The voice was hoarse and breathy, but it convinced Jeff that that was really his mother in the chair.

"I'm improving, Jeff," she went on. "I really am. You should have seen me a month ago."

She looked so frail, he didn't dare hug her. Instead he walked over and took one of her thin hands in his. He couldn't tell her the truth, that he was horrified by her appearance. And he couldn't possibly talk about his father. All he could think of to say was, "It's great to have you back"

"It's good to be here. Even if it's just for a few hours." And, before he could react to that, she continued: "Later today I'll be leaving. I'm scheduled for lung replacement surgery in the next few days. About time, too." She gestured to the cylinder at her side. "I've been on oxygen long enough. They told me to go straight to the hospital, but I wanted to see this place again. And I had to talk to you."

She paused, closed her mouth, and breathed hard through her nose as though so much speech had taken all her strength. But then she was talking again, compulsively, her hand patting and squeezing his.

"I'm sure you read all about the accident. Maybe you wondered. Well, it was an accident—I wasn't sure for a while, but now I am. A piece of bad luck. We ran into a small space boulder, right when we were set for node entry and the detectors were neutralized. The Nautilus was disintegrating when it entered the node, at the wrong speed and attitude. I was fortunate. I was in a section with a sealed bulkhead, and it stayed sealed through the fire."

"What—" Jeff wanted to ask, What about Father? but he couldn't say it.

The words had frozen in his throat, but somehow she knew his question.

"That's what I wanted to talk to you about Jeff, I've never told another soul, and I don't propose to." She gripped his hand, harder than he thought she could. "Your father is dead. I'm sorry, Jeff, but I'm absolutely sure of that. I saw Nelson's body on the screens. It was after we left the node, and before the fire started. He had been blown clear of the ship. He wasn't wearing a suit. By that time he was already dead."

"But the reports said—all the reports said that you said—and your messages—" The dreadful uncertain feeling he had felt right after the accident came flooding back.

"I know. I wasn't misquoted." Florence Kopal's voice dropped in volume, as though the hardest task was over and she could now relax. "I didn't want to lie to you. I wished I'd dared to tell you the truth about your father, but there was no way to get a message from die Belt or the hospital without danger it would be heard by others. This is the only place where I feel absolutely secure."

"But why?"

"Why did I say I thought your father had survived the accident, when I knew he hadn't? It's very simple. While Nelson is believed to be alive—or at least, not legally pronounced dead—he still has the controlling interest in Kopal Transportation. Your uncle Giles and the others can't do much damage. They daren't do too much damage. They're afraid of your father, every one of them."

Not only them. Jeff loved his father, but he had always felt overwhelmed by him. Nelson Kopal was infinitely brave, infinitely competent, infinitely confident. While Jeff—the thought of the afternoon's competition passed through his mind—was none of those.

"You can't keep this up forever, Mother." Jeff couldn't say it, but along with shock and sorrow at die certain knowledge of Nelson Kopal's death came a strange relief. Now his father would never be forced to stand by and watch as his only son foiled at everything that the Kopal family felt important "Even without a body, won't there be a time when Father has to be declared dead?"

Florence nodded slowly. "There will. It will happen two years from the time of his disappearance. If I keep insisting that I believe Nelson was thrown somewhere through the node and is still alive, we'll have time. You'll have Space Navy training, and you will be of age. You can take over your father's position on the board of Kopal Transportation. But if your father were declared dead now, before you've served and come of age, there would be a royal battle over control. And I think you would lose."

Florence Kopal wasn't telling the whole story. The laws of Kopal behavior had been laid down by the iron hand of Great-grandfather Rollo Kopal. First, you proved yourself by service in the Space Navy. Success in military matters would be followed, as a matter of course, by success in business affairs. A Kopal was expected to perform outstandingly in both areas.

And if you didn't? Since no Kopal admitted such a word as failure, anyone who proved inadequate for space service would be disowned and disinherited, or at die very least play no part in company affairs.

Florence Kopal didn't need to explain that to Jeff, any more than he could possibly explain how he felt to her. Military ideas and attitudes did not come naturally to him. Business matters bored him. He wasn't sure which he disliked more.

He nodded. "I understand. I'll do my—my best"

"I'm sure you will." The machine at his mother's side suddenly clicked and whirred. A pale green tentacle crept forward from it and touched her below the left ear. She stared at it disapprovingly.

"You know what that means? It means I've used up my breath allowance. I have to shut up, or it will shut me up. Three minutes more, you stupid machine. Then you can take me away." She turned to Jeff. "It won't take any notice, you know. No wonder we hate machines. It's going to get me ready for travel. Talk to me, Jeff, tell me how things are going for you. I'll keep quiet. And open the curtains, so I can really see you."

Jeff didn't hate machines, not at all. He found them fascinating. As for how things were going—he pulled the curtains aside, and the room was flooded with fall sunlight—the bulge created by the crumpled ball of paper in his trouser pocket said exactly how things were going. It felt enormous. If his dead father were to read the words written by Jeff less than an hour ago, Nelson Kopal would turn in his deep-space grave under the silent stars.

"Things are fine, Mother. I have a competition coming up this afternoon, so I have to leave here soon and get into uniform. Myron will be in the competition, too. Looks like we'll have perfect weather."

He was babbling. Better if she didn't know that this was the final piece of navy entrance requirements, and that only a few hours ago he had been praying for heavy rain. Fortunately, his mother didn't seem to notice his nervousness. She was leaning back with her eyes closed to slits. In the brighter light he could see the lines on her mouth, nose, cheeks, and forehead where the skin grafts had been made.

He tried to keep talking. He wanted to say he was sorry if he was not what she and his father had hoped. He couldn't do that. Instead he found himself describing the old aircar that he had found in one of the barns, over on the edge of the Kopal estate. There were no manuals, but he had studied the machine and felt sure that he was close to making it work. In another week or two he would have it flying again.

He thought she wasn't listening, until suddenly her eyes opened and focused on him.

"Jeff, Jeff," she said. Her voice was so feint that he had to lean over to hear her. "My Jeff. Aircars, motors, engines, spacecraft. I always thought it, and now I'm sure. I hear Uncle Drake's voice in yours, You've got his genes."

Her mouth closed, and a moment later her eyelids. He leaned nearer in alarm, until he realized that she was breathing faintly but evenly. The machine at her side buzzed its reassurance.

Jeff tiptoed away, though he doubted that silence was necessary. His thoughts were accusing—self-accusing. He had been worrying about the stupid riding competition, while his mother calmly faced an operation to replace both of her lungs. She was only a Kopal by marriage, yet she was more of a Kopal than he would ever be.

He hurried back to his rooms. He could blame himself as much as he liked, do anything he liked to try to summon courage. It wouldn't help. As he changed into his uniform and struggled with the ornamental straps and buckles, he felt nervousness like an electric current making his muscles twitch and his fingers tremble.

He tried to cheer himself with one inarguable fact: No matter what happened, no matter how badly he performed, in three hours the competition would be over.

Copyright &169; by Charles Sheffield

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