Child of Grass

Child of Grass

by David Gerrold

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Overview

A father and daughter face danger on an Earthlike world, in this follow-up to Child of Earth from the Hugo Award–winning author.
 
Young Kaer and her family have undergone rigorous training in order to immigrate to Linnea, a parallel world characterized by huge horses, dangerous giant wolves, and a primitive culture. But Linnea has been disrupted by the Hale-Stones, a band of religious zealots seeking to convert other Earthlings to their native planet’s Christianity.
 
Amid this uprising, Kaer and her father, Lorrin, venture away from the training dome as part of a secret mission to restore peace to Linnea and free hostage Earthlings from captivity. Defeating the Hale-Stones means using every available resource to preserve the Linnean way of life, from advanced technology, to natural disasters, and even the Hale-Stones’ own religious teachings. And through the struggle for peace, Kaer is forced to confront issues about morality, loyalty, the bond of family, and the nature of intelligent life.
 

Product Details

ISBN-13: 9781939529589
Publisher: BenBella Books, Inc.
Publication date: 01/28/2014
Series: The Sea of Grass Trilogy , #2
Sold by: Barnes & Noble
Format: NOOK Book
Pages: 407
Sales rank: 911,393
File size: 2 MB

About the Author

David Gerrold is the author of the Hugo and Nebula award–nominated The Man Who Folded Himself and When Harlie Was One, books that quickly established him in the hard science fiction genre during the 1970s. He also wrote “The Trouble with Tribbles,” voted the most popular Star Trek episode of all time, and is the author of the popular Star Wolf, Dingillian, and Chtorr series. He lives in Northridge, California.

Read an Excerpt

CHAPTER 1

Airborne

We were still inside. The corridors on this side of the Gate looked just like the corridors on the other side. I shook my head as I followed da-Lorrin through some more revolving-door airlocks. "What a disappointment. I always thought the Gate would look like a big window, that we would see the Linnean landscape on the other side, and just step through into it."

"I tried to tell you."

"Oh, yeah. You did. Boy, do I feel stupid." And then I thought of something. "But why didn't I feel the gravity change?" "Earth has four and a half percent higher gravity than this planet. You won't feel that small a difference. And the ramp has an arch to it. You'll feel more effect walking slightly up and slightly down."

I thought about what he said. We were still hurrying. We came out into a brightly lit hangar with humongous pressure doors sealing it. The whole place smelled of industrial cleanser.

The heavenly-chariot chopper was here too, still on the same truck bed. Several mechanics were just rolling it down toward the hangar doors. Smiller and the doctor and the other Scouts were gathered there, waiting in an impatient group. The pilot and copilot were conferring over a clipboard, probably their flight plan or checklist. For the first time, I had a moment to catch my breath.

And then something else occurred to me. Da had said this planet. He hadn't said Linnea. And Earth had nine percent higher gravity than Linnea!

"Da?"

"Yes?"

"This planet —?" I asked him. "It has a name?"

"I wondered how long it would take you to figure it out." He grinned. "I told them you would. Can you keep a secret?"

"Da ...?" I gave him the look. It was actually Mom-Wu's look, but I'd been practicing it.

"They didn't build the Gate to Linnea on Earth. They couldn't. The physics won't allow it. So they opened a Gate to an intermediate world, and from there, they opened a Gate to Linnea."

"So why didn't we just come out of one Gate and into the next?"

"Because of the physics, little pumpkin. We have to fly ten thousand kilometers south to get to it."

"Huh?"

"Earth rotates. That means that an object at the equator will have more speed than an object at a higher latitude. So you can only open a Gate to a latitude where the speed is the same. Because the planets all have different sizes and different rotational speeds, you have to build the Gates to compensate. You open the Gate on the slower world close to the equator and the gate on the faster world as far north or south as you have to go to match rotational velocity. You can't match everything perfectly, of course, you always get some leakage, so you build a margin for leakage into the system. The extra energy is channeled back to power the Gate engines; so that makes the Gates self-sustaining. You only need to power up the Gate once — to open it. But if you can't find a match for the two worlds' rotational speeds, you can't open a Gate. If you tried, you'd get too much energy blasting back through the system, and the Gate would rip itself apart instantly. That happened once. And after that, they decided to build Gates across as many intermediate worlds as necessary, so that they would only have to work with controllable power surges. Even so, if a Gate blew up, it would make a hole the size of that big meteor crater in Arizona."

He stopped then, because it was time to go. Da gave me a gentle nudge and we followed the others up the ramp and into the chopper. We took the same seats as before. The engines began stropping almost immediately. This pilot was impatient to get going. Smiller sealed the doors and took her seat quickly.

Da reached into the pocket of his baggy jumpsuit and pulled out something in a cloth bag, a pair of dark plastic goggles. "Put yours on too, Kaer." I felt around in the pocket he indicated and found my own goggles. I had to adjust the strap to get them to fit. "Why do we need these?" I asked.

He nodded at the window. "You'll see, as soon as they open the hangar doors."

I looked out. The last of the mechanics was waving at the pilot, giving him a thumbs-up signal. Then he turned and ran to a pressure door in the wall behind the chopper, pulling it shut after him. I could see the wheel on this side turning as he sealed it. So they were sealing off the Gate?

I craned my head forward. The big doors at the front of the hangar were sliding open now. Despite their huge size, they moved apart quickly, revealing a widening bar of light so bright I couldn't look at it. Outside the doors, the world was blazing shards of blue and white — a color called actinic. It hurt my eyes to look at it. The wider the doors slid open, the more it hurt. Finally, I popped the goggles on. That helped some, but it was still hard to see. Crimson after-images floated in the air in front of me.

"This planet circles a blue-white star," said Lorrin. As if that explained everything.

"I thought they only opened Gates to Earth-like worlds." I wiped my watering eyes on my sleeve.

"The intermediate worlds don't have to be quite as Earth-like as the destinations," da said. "Sometimes, you have to take what you can get."

The chopper was already rolling forward into the brightness. Some of the other passengers pulled dark filters down over their windows to block the horrific wash of brightness coming through. Lorrin pulled down a shade over our window and that helped a lot. When all the windows were filtered, people began pulling off their goggles. So did I. The cabin was warmer than before. I didn't feel quite so shivery anymore.

"They've pressurized the plane," said da. "We can't breathe the air on this world; it doesn't have any life yet — maybe someday it will — but right now the atmosphere has the wrong mix of gases. Almost no free oxygen."

"Will they terraform it?"

"Yes, they say they want to. If they ever find enough kinds of plants that can survive a forty-hour day of acid-light, they probably will. But who would want to live here under that sun? Right now, except for the transit stations, we only have miners here — mostly mining the gases in the atmosphere. Every time that hangar door gets opened, they lose a roomful of air. So they have to import more air from Earth; but they pay for it by exporting different gases back."

The chopper bumped up into the air then and I looked out the window to see the transit station dropping away. It was surrounded by jagged black rock. Through the filter, it was hard to see all the details; but as we rose, I saw other buildings too. Soon, it became apparent that the transit station was the smallest installation here. Beyond it, there were shimmering industrial structures, gantries and towers and tanks, all standing naked and harsh in the cold blue light, and a lot of other stuff I didn't recognize. It surprised me that there was no snow on the ground, but after I thought about it, why should there be? It isn't winter everywhere at the same time.

Da said, "All the buildings, everything you see — the people who built it had to wear airtight construction suits. A little bit like SCUBA gear. They could only work two hours at a time."

As we lifted, I saw three huge tractors carving away at a nearby hillside. I pointed them out to da.

He nodded. "They've found so many different metals here — copper, iron, nickel, rare earths, gold, platinum, silver, all kinds of things we need for industry — that they have to build more facilities to process the ore. Eventually, they'll ship only pure ingots back to Earth."

"They must make a lot of money."

"Not yet, but they will. First they have to earn back the cost of opening the Gate. That will take thirty or forty years. At least."

Once we were up and away from the Gate, the ground was pretty bleak, all black and white with sharp blue edges. Not much in the way of scenery. Mostly rocks and more rocks — and a lot more rocks beyond them. The pilot swiveled the jets rearward and a sudden surge of heavy acceleration pressed me back into my seat. Da patted my hand and said we'd be traveling over fifteen hundred klicks per hour. We had a long way to go.

Another thought occurred to me then. "If this atmosphere has no oxygen, why do the jets work?"

"The atmosphere has methane. We carry liquid oxygen. We still get combustion. We'll switch the mixture back when we get to Linnea."

"Oh." I pressed my nose to the window again. Knife-edge escarpments cut upward from the ground. Jagged, uneroded hills looked like broken blocks of concrete. Where there were plains, the ground was barren and strewn with boulders the size of houses. Some places it was cut with gullies so bad, it looked like a wrinkled bedsheet. It all swept past beneath us, each dreadful landscape giving way quickly to the next in a sliding mural of black and blue desolation. At least it wasn't winter here. But it was still ugly, and I said so.

Da nodded. "It takes life to make a planet beautiful. At least, I think so. He patted my arm. I think you'll find Linnea beautiful. Wait until you see the dandelion trees. They tower into the sky in great forests, and from a distance, they turn the whole landscape silvery."

"How long will it take? How far do we have to go?"

"Five hours. We have to go all the way south to the equator. And up a mountain. It might get a little bumpy. As soon as we land, they'll put the chopper through the Gate to Linnea. We'll service and refuel on the other side. That shouldn't take too long. And then we have another long flight ahead of us to get to North Mountain One. We'll meet the rest of the team there and all head east together."

As if on cue, Smiller joined us then, bringing us mugs of hot tea. She sat down opposite me, putting her own mug in the holder in the arm of her seat. For a moment, she didn't say anything at all; she just studied me carefully, tilting her head and squinting. "Did Lorrin tell you anything yet?"

"I was waiting for you to explain," said da.

Smiller grunted an acknowledgment. "Probably the best thing. I can understand your reticence." Then she turned back to me, "Then you must have a lot of questions, Kaer?"

"Only one."

Smiller waited for me to ask it.

I said, "I've already figured out that you want me to play the part of an angel. But after everything you and everyone else has said about not wanting to contaminate the Linnean culture ... why do you want to do this?"

Lorrin laughed and said to Smiller, "I told you Kaer would ask."

CHAPTER 2

Reinventing the World

Smiller said, "Kaer, how many years have you?"

"I have twelve. Almost twelve and a half."

"Some people might think that too young. I don't. The Linneans do not distinguish childhood the way we do on Earth. You take on adult responsibilities when you can handle them, and that makes you an adult. I need you to take on an adult responsibility now. Can you do that?"

"Da thinks I can."

"Do you think you can? Don't answer too quickly." She stared into my eyes, studying my face, waiting for my reply.

I said, "Yes, I think I can — but even if I had doubts, it wouldn't matter, because you've already chosen me and you have no one else to do the job, do you? So I'll do it, whether I think I can or not."

Smiller blinked, surprised. And then she grinned. "You'll do fine, Kaer. I could not have asked for a better answer." She shook her head with rueful amusement. "I did ask for that, didn't I?" And then, her smile fading, she looked into my eyes again. "I have a lot to tell you. Much of it will upset you. But the sooner you can get past your upset —"

"You can't rescue the Scouts, can you?"

"It looks difficult," she admitted. "The situation has gotten much more complex in the past few days. The High Council won't travel to Callo. They fear the political risk — don't ask. When politics and religion mix, nothing makes sense. Let's just say that they don't want to leave the safety of their city on the hill and put themselves at physical risk on the lowlands.

"Instead, they've sent a panel of Magistrates to Callo to examine the prisoners. If the Magistrates find cause, and we expect they will, then they'll probably order the captured Scouts transported east to Mordren Enclave, where the High Council will hold a formal Inquiry." She paused. "What do you know of the Enclave?"

"Not much," I admitted. "Some kind of fortress, I think."

"Aye, some kind of fortress. When the Linneans first began colonizing this continent three centuries ago, they had a series of long bloody wars over who would control what. Eventually, the settlers seized control of their own cities — but then the cities started fighting among themselves. Peace came hard to these people and it continues only as the product of an uneasy balance of power. The cities need each other for trade more than they need to conquer each other. But they still distrust each other. Faith in Mother Linnea remains the only unifying authority among all the cities, so whenever a conflict arises, the Church has the only authority and the only machinery for any kind of a resolution. Do you follow this, so far?"

"We studied this at home. I mean, in the Dome."

"I know, but I need to make sure you understand. You see, when the Church decided to build a High Temple in the new land, they needed to choose a city-state so powerful that no other city-state could conquer it. A number of cities competed for that honor, because they all knew that whatever city the Church chose for its continental administration, that city would become the capital city of all the states. It would have enormous power over the others. The Church eventually chose to build its own city, on a site of its own choosing. Mordren Mesa. It towers nearly a kilometer over the land, and only three narrow winding trails lead up to the top. They have long since widened the trails of course, but the avenues give them total control over the access to the city. No one gets in or out without appropriate papers.

"On top of the mesa, they grow most of their own crops, they raise boffili and emmos, they have a vast reservoir in which they store water against the summer droughts. They live very well up there. The city has gleaming walls of shining pink marble, minarets and towers. Beautiful trees line broad avenues. And if you could walk through its streets, you would think it a marvelous place to live. But it serves as both a fortress and a prison. And if they take our Scouts there, we will likely never see them again." Smiller paused there, to give me a chance to understand.

"Will they torture them?"

"Very likely, yes."

"Then we have to rescue them, don't we?"

"Yes. Everybody feels that way." She smiled gently. "You know Jorge?"

"Yes," I nodded. "I call him Earring."

"That will make him laugh, when he hears. He went into Callo last week to prepare a plan. But almost immediately, he had to go into hiding. The Soldiers of the Church have sealed the entire town. The rescue operation that we wanted to do, won't work anymore. We can't get our people in close enough."

"But I thought —?" I stopped. It didn't matter what I thought.

"So did we. We all thought that our anesthetic darts and our tear gas and our night-vision goggles would work because they gave us such a significant advantage. We still think we might have a chance using them. But our people can't move. Almost all of them have had to go into hiding. We don't even know if our safe houses remain safe. The Soldiers have begun searching."

"Searching —? For us?"

Smiller looked grim. "Yes, they search for more Oerth people." She explained, "We have found out that a family we thought killed by hostiles did not die at all. The Hale-Stone family. James, Andrew, Jack, Brent, Stephen, Brad, Morgan, Alia, Patty, Donna, and Philip. I don't remember the rest of them, they had a very large marriage, all of them very grim about everything. Very serious and severe. All except for Phillip. He had some kind of brain defect, he babbled and raved and ranted like a lunatic — so of course, that made him seem like the most intelligent one in the bunch. And probably the most likable. How they got approved, remains a mystery. But the Linneans think that crazy people speak with the Mother's voice, so maybe the Administration considered crazy Philip an asset to the Hale-Stones once they crossed over.

"Jorge remembers them as the biggest problem he ever saw in training. But they had a lot of political backing to get them into the program and apparently the Dome Administration had to send them through the Gate to ensure the support of some of the members in the recalcitrant voting bloc in congress." She spat sideways, an eloquent opinion.

(Continues…)


Excerpted from "Child of Grass"
by .
Copyright © 2014 David Gerrold.
Excerpted by permission of BenBella Books, Inc..
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