About the Author
Anne Inez McCaffrey (1926-2011) was an American-born Irish writer best known for the Dragonriders of Pern science fiction series. She was the first woman to win a Hugo Award for fiction (for the novella Weyr Search) and the first to win a Nebula Award (for the novella Dragonrider). Her novel The White Dragon became one of the first science fiction books to appear on The New York Times bestseller list. She is also the author of the Acorna Universe series, which is a set of ten novels.
Read an Excerpt
By Anne McCaffrey Mercedes Lackey
Baen BooksISBN: 0-7434-7166-0
Chapter OneThe ruby light on the com unit was blinking when Hypatia Cade emerged from beneath the tutor's hood, with quadratic equations dancing before her seven-year-old eyes. Not the steady blink that meant a recorded message, nor the triple-beat that meant Mum or Dad had left her a note, but the double blink with a pause between each pair that meant there was someone Upstairs, waiting for her to open the channel.
Someone Upstairs meant an unscheduled ship-Tia knew very well when all the scheduled visits were; they were on the family calendar and were the first things reported by the AI when they all had breakfast. That made it Important for her to answer, quickly, and not take the time to suit up and run to the dig for Mum or Dad. It must not have been an emergency, though, or the AI would have interrupted her lesson.
She rubbed her eyes to rid them of the dancing variables, and pushed her stool over to the com-console so she could reach all the touch-pads when she stood on it. She would never have been able to reach things sitting in a chair, of course. With brisk efficiency that someone three times her age might have envied, she cleared the board, warmed up the relay, and opened the line.
"Exploratory Team Cee-One-Two-One," she enunciated carefully, for the microphone was old, and often lost anything not spoken clearly. "Exploratory Team Cee-One-Two-One, receiving. Come in, please. Over."
She counted out the four-second lag to orbit and back, nervously. One-hypotenuse, Two-hypotenuse, Three-hypotenuse, Four-hypotenuse. Who could it be? They didn't get unscheduled ships very often, and it meant bad news as often as not. Planet pirates, plague, or slavers. Trouble with some of the colony-planets. Or worse-artifact thieves in the area. A tiny dig like this one was all too vulnerable to a hit-and-run raid. Of course, digs on the Salomon-Kildaire Entities rarely yielded anything a collector would lust after, but would thieves know that? Tia had her orders if raiders came and she was alone-to duck down the hidden escape tunnel that would blow the dome; to run to the dark little hidey away from the dig that was the first thing Mum and Dad put in once the dome was up....
"This is courier TM Three-Seventy. Tia, dearest, is that you? Don't worry, love, we have a non-urgent message run and you're on the way, so we brought you your packets early. Over." The rich, contralto voice was a bit flattened by the poor speaker, but still welcome and familiar. Tia jumped up and down a bit on her stool in excitement.
"Moira! Yes, yes, it's me! But-" She frowned a little. The last time Moira had been here, her designation had been CM, not TM. "Moira, what happened to Charlie?" Her seven-year-old voice took on the half-scolding tones of someone much older. "Moira, did you scare away another brawn? Shame on you! Remember what they told you when you kicked Ari out your airlock! Uh-over."
Four seconds; an eternity. "I didn't scare him away, darling," Moira replied, though Tia thought she sounded just a little guilty. "He decided to get married, raise a brood of his own, and settle down as a dirtsider. Don't worry, this will be the last one, I'm sure of it. Tomas and I get along famously. Over."
"That's what you said about Charlie," Tia reminded her darkly. "And about Ari, and Lilian, and Jules, and-"
She was still reciting names when Moira interrupted her. "Turn on the landing beacon, Tia, please. We can talk when I'm not burning fuel in orbital adjustments." Her voice turned a little bit sly. "Besides, I brought you a birthday present. That's why I couldn't miss stopping here. Over."
As if a birthday present was going to distract her from the litany of Moira's failed attempts to settle on a brawn!
Well-maybe just a little.
She turned on the beacon, then feeling a little smug, activated the rest of the landing sequence, bringing up the pad lights and guidance monitors, then hooking in the AI and letting it know it needed to talk to Moira's navigational system. She hadn't known how to do all that, the last time Moira was here. Moira'd had to set down with no help at all.
She leaned forward for the benefit of the mike. "All clear and ready to engage landing sequence, Moira. Uh-what did you bring me? Over."
"Oh, you bright little penny!" Moira exclaimed, her voice brimming with delight. "You've got the whole system up! You have been learning things since I was here last! Thank you, dear-and you'll find out what I brought when I get down there. Over and out."
Oh well, she had tried. She jumped down from her stool, letting the AI that ran the house and external systems take over the job of bringing the brainship in. Or rather, giving the brainship the information she needed to bring herself in; Moira never handed over her helm to anyone if she had a choice in the matter. That was part of the problem she'd had with keeping brawns. She didn't trust them at the helm, and let them know that. Ari, in particular, had been less than amused with her attitude and had actually tried to disable her helm controls to prove he could pilot as well as she.
Now, the next decision: should she suit up and fetch Mum and Dad? It was no use trying to get them on the com; they probably had their suit-speakers off. Even though they weren't supposed to do that. And this wasn't an emergency; they would be decidedly annoyed if she buzzed in on them, and they found out it was just an unscheduled social call from a courier ship, even if it was Moira. They might be more than annoyed if they were in the middle of something important, like documenting a find or running an age-assay, and she joggled their elbows.
Moira didn't say it was important. She wouldn't have talked about errant brawns and birthday presents if what she carried was really, really earth-shaking.
Tia glanced at the clock; it wasn't more than a half hour until lunch break. If there was one thing that Pota Andropolous-Cade (Doctor of Science in Bio-Forensics, Doctor of Xenology, Doctor of Archeology), and her husband Braddon Maartens-Cade (Doctor of Science in Geology, Doctor of Physics in Cosmology, Associate Degree in Archeology, and licensed Astrogator) had in common-besides daughter Hypatia and their enduring, if absent-minded love for each other-it was punctuality. At precisely oh-seven-hundred every "morning," no matter where they were, the Cades had breakfast together. At precisely twelve-hundred, they arrived at the dome for lunch together. The AI saw that Hypatia had a snack at sixteen-hundred. And at precisely nineteen-hundred, the Cades returned from the dig for dinner together.
So in thirty minutes, precisely, Pota and Braddon would be here. Moira couldn't possibly land in less than twenty minutes. The visitor-or visitors; there was no telling if there was someone on board besides the brawn, the yet-unmet Tomas-would not have long to wait.
She trotted around the living room of the dome; picking up her books and puzzles, straightening the pillows on the sofa, turning on lights and the holoscape of waving blue trees by a green lagoon on Mycon, where her parents had met. She told the kitchen to start coffee, overriding the lunch program to instruct it to make selection V-1, a setup program Braddon had logged for her for munchies for visitors. She decided on music on her own; the Arkenstone Suite, a lively synthesizer piece she thought matched the holo-mural.
There wasn't much else to do, so she sat down and waited-something she had learned how to do very early. She thought she did it very well, actually. There had certainly been enough of it in her life. The lot of an archeologists' child was full of waiting, usually alone, and required her to be mostly self-sufficient.
She had never had playmates or been around very many children of her own age. Usually Mum and Dad were alone on a dig, for they specialized in Class One Evaluation sites; when they weren't, it was usually on a Class Two dig, Exploratory. Never a Class Three Excavation dig, with hundreds of people and their families. It wasn't often that the other scientists her parents' age on a Class Two dig had children younger than their teens. And even those were usually away somewhere at school.
She knew that other people thought that the Cades were eccentric for bringing their daughter with them on every dig-especially so young a child. Most parents with a remote job to do left their offspring with relatives or sent them to boarding schools. Tia listened to the adults around her, who usually spoke as if she couldn't understand what they were talking about. She learned a great deal that way; probably more even than her Mum and Dad suspected.
One of the things she overheard-quite frequently, in fact-was that she seemed like something of an afterthought. Or perhaps an "accident"-she'd overheard that before, too.
She knew very well what was meant by the "afterthought or accident" comment. The last time someone had said that, she'd decided that she'd heard it often enough.
It had been at a reception, following the reading of several scientific papers. She'd marched straight up to the lady in question and had informed her solemnly that she, Tia, had been planned very carefully, thank you. That Braddon and Pota had determined that their careers would be secure just about when Pota's biological clock had the last few seconds on it, and that was when they would have one, singular, female child. Herself. Hypatia. Planned from the beginning. From the leave-time to give birth to the way she had been brought on each assignment; from the pressure-bubble glove-box that had served as her cradle until she could crawl, to the pressure-tent that became a crib, to the kind of AI that would best perform the dual functions of tutor and guardian.
The lady in question, red-faced, hadn't known what to say. Her escort had tried to laugh it away, telling her that the "child" was just parroting what she'd overheard and couldn't possibly understand any of it.
Whereupon Tia, well-versed in the ethnological habits-including courtship and mating-of four separate sapient species, including homo sap., had proceeded to prove that he was wrong.
Then, while the escort was still spluttering, she had turned back to the original offender and informed her, with earnest sincerity, that she had better think about having her children soon, too, since it was obvious that she couldn't have much more time before menopause.
Tia had, quite literally, silenced that section of the room. When reproached later for her behavior by the host of the party, Tia had been completely unrepentant. "She was being rude and nasty," Tia had said. When the host protested that the remark hadn't been meant for her, Tia had replied, "Then she shouldn't have said it so loudly that everyone else laughed. And besides," she had continued with inexorable logic, "being rude about someone is worse than being rude to them."
Braddon, summoned to deal with his erring daughter, had shrugged casually and said only, "I warned you. And you didn't believe me."
Though exactly what it was Dad had warned Doctor Julius about, Tia never discovered.
The remarks about being "unplanned" or an "accident" stopped, at least in her presence-but people still seemed concerned that she was "too precocious," and that she had no one of her own age to socialize with.
But the fact was that Tia simply didn't care that she had no other children to play with. She had the best lessons in the known universe, via the database; she had the AI to talk to. She had plenty of things to play with and lots of freedom to do what she wanted once lessons were done. And most of all, she had Mum and Dad, who spent hours more with her than most people spent with their children. She knew that, because both the statistics in the books she had read on child-care and the Socrates, the AI that traveled with them everywhere, told her so. They were never boring, and they always talked to her as if she was grown up. If she didn't understand something, all she had to do was tell them and they would backtrack and explain until she did. When they weren't doing something that meant they needed all their concentration, they encouraged her to come out to the digs with them when her lessons were over. She hadn't ever heard of too many children who got to be with their parents at work.
If anything, sometimes Mum and Dad explained a little too much. She distinctly remembered the time that she started asking "Why?" to everything. Socrates told her that "Why?" was a stage all children went through-mostly to get attention. But Pota and Braddon had taken her literally....
The AI told her not long ago that her "Why?" period might have been the shortest on record-because Mum and Dad answered every "Why?" in detail. And made sure she understood, so that she wouldn't ask that particular "Why?" again.
After a month, "Why?" wasn't fun anymore, and she went on to other things.
She really didn't miss other children at all. Most of the time when she'd encountered them, it had been with the wary feeling of an anthropologist approaching a new and potentially dangerous species. The feeling seemed to be mutual. And so far, other children had proven to be rather boring creatures. Their interests and their worlds were very narrow, their vocabulary a fraction of Tia's. Most of them hadn't the faintest idea of how to play chess, for instance.
Mum had a story she told at parties about how Tia, at the age of two, had stunned an overly effusive professorial spouse into absolute silence. There had been a chess set, a lovely antique, up on one of the tables just out of Tia's reach. She had stared longingly at it for nearly half an hour before the lady noticed what she was looking at.
Tia remembered that incident quite well, too. The lady had picked up an intricately carved knight and waggled it at her. "See the horsie?" she had gushed. "Isn't it a pretty horsie?"
Tia's sense of fitness had been outraged-and that wasn't all. Her intelligence had been insulted, and she was very well aware of it.
She had stood up, very straight, and looked the lady right in the eye. "Is not a horsie," she had announced, coldly and clearly. "Is a knight. It moves like the letter L. And Mum says it is piece most often sacri-sacer-sacra-"
Mum had come up by then, as she grew red-faced, trying to remember how to say the word she wanted. "Sacrificed?" Mum had asked, helpfully. "It means 'given up.'"
Beaming with gratitude, Tia had nodded. "Most often given up after the pawn." Then she glared at the lady.
Excerpted from Brain Ships by Anne McCaffrey Mercedes Lackey Excerpted by permission.
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Most Helpful Customer Reviews
Who said women were all looks and no brains haven't read anything by Anne McCaffrey. There is no shutting away physically handicapped people in her books. Here they run ships and cities. They interact individually with others as well as run multitudes of systems, and still deal with all the same issues as everyone else and a few others couldn't even begin to imagine.