Twenty years after Earth is conquered by invaders from space, the exiled US government has a chance to reclaim their lost planet
2513 AD. For the past generation, since Earth was taken over by the Invaders, the US president and his cabinet have lived in exile on a planet in orbit around faraway Alpha Centauri. The Centaurian colony has become the center of the human race, reducing Earth to a backwater region in a sprawling foreign domain. But the banished American leaders still have a powerful yearning to return home. Now, President Ralph Wireman and his government finally have the financial aid and weaponry needed to retake their native planet. Wireman’s son, Michael, is parachuted to Earth as a Free Terrestrial, where the military-trained warrior is thrust into battle not between human and alien, but among factions of outlaw earthlings who demand nothing less than his total surrender.
A novel about war, politics, and assimilation, Falling Torch also presents an incisive portrait of one man’s aspirations of greatness and leadership.
|Publisher:||Open Road Media|
|Sold by:||Barnes & Noble|
|File size:||949 KB|
About the Author
Read an Excerpt
By Algis Budrys
OPEN ROAD INTEGRATED MEDIACopyright © 1990 Algis Budrys
All rights reserved.
Fifty-four years earlier, and four light-years from Earth, there was a wall telephone in the main kitchen of the Royal Cheiron Hotel. When it rang, one of the potboys answered it and Thomas Harmon, the supervising chef, paid it no attention. He was tasting a sauce one of the underchefs had prepared. He rolled his tongue to let the more important taste buds at the back of his mouth give him their judgement. Twenty years here, from potboy to his present position, and he hadn't been a young man when he began. But his taste had only improved as his other senses slackened and lost their distracting vigor. He was a good chef — not quite as good as his reputation, perhaps, but good.
The underchef was looking at him anxiously, out of the gold-flecked brown eyes that had already, in these few centuries since the colony's foundation, emerged to mark the difference between Earthmen and Centaurians.
Harmon nodded slowly. "Good," he said. "But I'd add a little more jonesgrass, I think." Jonesgrass wasn't quite thyme. But thyme didn't grow on Cheiron, which was Alpha Centaurus IV. Jonesgrass would have to do. "Just a touch, Steffi."
Steffi nodded respectfully, his face relieved. "Just a touch. Right, Mr. Harmon. Thank you." Harmon grunted pleasantly and moved on to the next underchef.
"Excuse me, please, Mr. Harmon." It was the potboy who'd answered the telephone. Harmon turned his head sharply:
"Yes, boy?" His tone was more snappish than he would have liked. But interruptions threw him off his stride. And now he recalled the ring of the telephone, and that annoyed him further. He was rather sure of who it would be, calling in the middle of his workday like this.
"I'm sorry, Mr. Harmon." The boy's expression was just properly intimidated. Harmon smiled softly to himself. It wouldn't do the boy any harm. Any good chef was a bugbear to his help, for at least one good reason. It gave apprentices an appreciation of the master's status, and firm self-confidence when they finally achieved his station for themselves. Also, it weeded out the flustery hearts before they had an opportunity to do something asinine in the middle of a busy hour.
"There's — there's a call for you, sir. They say it's important."
"No doubt," he growled. But since he suspected who it was, he went to the phone. And he'd been right. It was Hames, President Wireman's Chief of Protocol.
"Mr. Prime Minister?" Hames asked punctiliously.
"Yes. What is it, Hames?"
"President Wireman has asked me to inform all cabinet members he's calling an emergency meeting for seven o'clock. I realize that doesn't give anyone much time, sir, but the president asked me to stress that it is important, and to ask everyone to please be prompt."
"What is it this time, Hames? Another resolution to be read into the record of the Centaurian Congress?"
"I'm sure I don't know, sir. May I inform the president you'll be at his apartment on time?"
Harmon frowned at the telephone. "Yes — yes, I'll be there. I'm sworn to serve the interests of the Government in Exile, after all." He hung up. And the hotel wouldn't be discharging its famous Mr. Thomas for taking a few hours off, so that was all right. In the end, all Hames's call meant was that anyone ordering dinner at the Royal Cheiron tonight wouldn't quite get the best in the exotic Terrestrial cuisine for which its kitchen was famous.
So, no one on Cheiron being qualified to judge — except for the handful of refugee Earthmen — there was no apparent loss to anyone. Harmon found himself resenting it just the same. He called over his head assistant, informed him bluntly that the dinner hour was in his hands, and went to his suite to change.
The suite, as befitted his position on the hotel staff, was well-situated, and the bedroom was comfortable to the final degree. There was an adjoining sitting room, furnished with a stiff luxury that both complemented the grace of his bedroom and made it difficult to use. Harmon generally stayed out of it, preferring to keep the adjoining room as another badge of rank, rather than as anything intrinsically useful. He was ten years a widower, a man of habits as confined as they were educated, and he had no need for more space than his bedroom gave him — which was a good deal in itself. He knew the suite was his for as long as he cared to stay. That would be true even after his faculties had stiffened to a point where his most useful contribution would be his name at the foot of the dining room menu.
He took down the suit the hotel valet had placed in his closet this morning, and laid it out on the bed. Dressing slowly, reacting pleasurably to the touch of soft, expensive, perfectly tailored fabric, he reflected on the usefulness of what, on Earth, had been a slightly eccentric hobby.
He studied his reflection in the closet mirrors. Spare, with a little pot belly and a distinguished sweep of white hair, he could have passed easily for the man entitled to own the Royal Cheiron, rather than a member of its staff.
He picked up his room telephone and asked to have his car brought around to the side entrance. While he waited, he reminded himself there was a wedding banquet scheduled for next week. He spent the time roughly blocking out a menu for the affair, engrossed in the delicate business of balancing the flavor and texture of one dish against the next, reminding himself to consult with the wine steward before he made any final decisions.
He drove slowly to the part of Cheiron City where President Wireman lived. From time to time he looked up at the pale blue sky, with its yellower sun and faintly-seen smaller moon. He had never quite tired of the sight, for reasons that had changed through the years of his life on this planet. At first there'd been the attraction of unfamiliarity, and he'd gazed like a goggle-eyed reuben from the back country farms looking up at his first tall building. Then, after the strangeness had worn off, he'd been on the night staff at the hotel — an awkward, fortyish man who wasn't at all sure of himself, trying to do a young boy's work, often feeling like a dolt as he stumbled over the frequently impenetrable accent that had crept over the language here. In those days, he'd been grateful for the sight of dawn.
Now he drove through narrowing streets and thought of how far beyond Cheiron's sky Earth and the Solar System lay — of the really unimaginable distance that separated them.
Four hundred years ago, this had been Man's earliest foothold on the stars — earliest, and, as it developed, only. In four hundred years, the passage time had been worked down from ten years to five, to very nearly the Einsteinian limit on speed through three dimensions, but that was the best they could do. They were tinkering with an ultradrive just before the Invaders hit Earth. They had it now, but it was too late for the Solar System. Centaurus was the focus of the human race today, and Earth, like the Western Roman Empire, was only another backwater region in a sprawling foreign domain.
It wouldn't have mattered in the end, Harmon thought to himself. Once the colony had taken hold, every century was another step toward this day whether the Invaders had ever come or not. The Centaurian System Organization not only covered its own solar system but stretched out its own colonies, trafficked with races and systems far beyond Earth's touch, and loomed so large in its own right that the Invaders hadn't dared strike at the child over the parent's corpse.
His car hummed precisely to itself as he turned the corner of the street where Wireman's apartment house stood, in a neighborhood that had slipped badly. As he parked, behind a car he recognized as Secretary of the Treasury Stanley's limousine, he saw Secretary of Defense Genovese draw up in a taxi, pay the driver, and wave the change away. Harmon crossed the street and met Genovese in the threadbare lobby.
"How are you, John?" Harmon said.
"Hello, Tom. How're things?" They shook hands, a bit awkwardly out of rusty habit, and made small talk waiting for the elevator.
"How is your wife, John?"
"Fine, Tom — just fine."
"Couldn't be better. I started working on a big account today. If I land it, the commission from it'll just about put Johnnie through school all by itself."
"Well, that's very good news. I hope you get it. Where're you sending him? I understand the city university here is very good."
"That's what I hear. But he's holding out for KenLi — that's in Areban, the one with the good engineering school. It's an awfully long way away — he won't get home except for Christmas and summers. But, if he really wants to go, that's his business. He's big enough to know his own mind. Of course, there's a girl going to the liberal arts school at the same university — that may have something to do with it." Genovese chuckled.
They got into the creaky automatic elevator together, and rode up to President Wireman's floor. The hall was narrow, and badly lit. Harmon always felt uncomfortable, waiting out here, trapped in a tight enclosure walled by featureless, brown-painted doors, all alike; so many secret panels hiding activities that were best kept tightly locked away; plans and schemes that would wilt if ever taken out in the air. Genovese pushed the doorbell.
Hames answered the door, holding it open wide and flattening himself against the wall of the narrow corridor that led past the kitchenette. "Mr. Prime Minister. Mr. Secretary of Defense. The rest of the cabinet is already in the living room. President Wireman will be with you in a moment."
"Thank you, Hames," Genovese said, stepping aside to let Harmon go first, and Harmon reflected on the change that always took place in them when they came here; the sudden weight of dignity that formalized their manners and modulated their voices. He walked into the living room, with its carpet and furniture all wearing out, with the springs sagging in the couch and armchairs, and the nap gone off the upholstery.
We come in here, he thought clumsily after the manner of an infrequently witty man, and we assume the gravity of another world.
Puns, he thought, meanwhile bowing his head in acknowledgment as the other men in the crowded room left their seats to shake his hand and murmur greetings. Young Takawara was quite fond of them, I remember. If he could make them work out bilingually, so much the better. He was clearly the best of my assistants. I wonder what happened to him, on that last day when everything was so confused and we barely got off and fought our way through the Invaders' ships.
We were all so much younger, then. We were all so relieved that at least the president and his cabinet were able to get away. We would have waited for the others if we could, but we thought we had at least saved the most important people. We were wrong. We left the only ones who mattered when we left all our Takawaras behind.
Stanley had saved him a place on the couch. Harmon took it thankfully. "How are you, Mr. Secretary?"
Stanley was about his own age, dressed in a slightly more conservative suit than his own, but one of equal quality. They shared tailors, and Harmon's account was in the bank Stanley managed.
"Quite well, thank you, Mr. Minister." Whenever they happened to meet ordinarily, Stanley called him Tom. "And you?"
"Quite well." He looked around, reflecting the questions of health were becoming less polite and more literal every day. There was Yellin, paradoxically the Secretary of Health and Welfare, sitting stooped over his cane, his yellowed hands clasped over it and his rheumy eyes looking off at nothing, dressed in shabby clothes and cheap black shoes. Next to him was Duplessis, who might have been his brother — a little younger, a little more active, but only a little. He pictured them living in their furnished rooms, hermits in gloomy little caves, debating whether the day was warm enough for them to shuffle painfully downstairs and out to a park, day after day through all these years — perhaps regretting they'd ever come to Cheiron at all — old before the Invaders came, and lost here on this foreign world that held nothing for them.
Hames came out of the corridor leading from the bedroom. "Gentlemen, the President of the United Terrestrial and Solar System Government."
They all got to their feet — a roomful of old men.
Ralph Wireman, when he came in, looked no younger.
He was a thin, slump-shouldered man. Harmon noted the worn look of his clothes — the subtle discoloration that years of perspiration had made in the dye, and the limp hang of cloth that had stretched to his movements and rubbed thin until no cleaning or pressing could make it hold its shape.
He was a tired man. His black hair had receded, thinned, and turned white. Deep creases ran down his hollow cheeks and formed folds under his long jaw. His nose had sharpened, and the corners of his mouth had sunk into his cheeks. His lips were faintly blue. The lean vigor that had been his characteristic had disappeared completely, turning into stringiness and set, stubborn, determination. The last time Harmon had seen him, his eyes had still been feeding on a buried core of vitality. But tonight even that last spark was gone, as though the final watchfires of an encircled army had gone out at last.
"Gentlemen." His voice breathed up through his rattly throat.
"Good evening, Mr. President," Harmon said, wishing he hadn't come.
"Good evening, Tom."
The rest of the cabinet now said "Good Evening" in rough chorus, and once that was over they could all sit down, with Hames standing watchfully beside the president's chair.
I wonder what it is tonight? Harmon thought. When they had first come to Cheiron, these meetings had had some kind of life to them. There had still been purposefulness in those days: conferences with the local government of Cheiron, meetings with the officials of the Centaurian System Organization, finances to be arranged out of what Solar System funds had been available in credits here before the collapse — it had been a busy time. But it had been a waning life, and after all the organizational procedures became cut and dried; after the invitations to address the Centaurian Congress had dwindled down to resolutions never read but simply inserted into the Record, bit by bit stagnation had crept over them all.
In those early days, there'd been hope. They'd even thought the Centaurians might go to war with the Invaders and make Earth free again. But the Centaurians and the Invaders had been a bit too closely matched — so closely that no one could predict an outcome. And the Centaurians had been a long time away from Sol. The links had grown thin. Their language, four years away from home by radio, had drifted toward the foreign. Their interests, taken up by the enormous frontier of their own interstellar sphere of influence, had turned away. Their memories of Earth, four hundred years outdated, had legendized to watery sentiments of a dim and distant, archaic little world they looked back on, sometimes, but would not trade for the ravage and destruction that were the risk of losing to the Invaders.
The Government in Exile was twenty years older, now. And men who'd been middle-aged were something more than that today. Even Genovese, the youngest of them all; the bumptious, unsettling Boy Wonder, was one of them now.
Harmon looked at Wireman's eyes again, and wondered if it was finally all over tonight.
But Wireman didn't bring it out immediately. He clung to the old pattern of cabinet meetings, wanting to hear the usual preliminary reports that were still being given as they had been when Geneva stood and an army of clerks had been busy preparing digests and critiques of the week's events.
Harmon looked from Yellin to Duplessis to Asmandi to Dumbrovski — from Health to Postmaster General to Labor to Agriculture — and it was like peering at phantoms.
"Edward?" Wireman breathed.
Excerpted from Falling Torch by Algis Budrys. Copyright © 1990 Algis Budrys. Excerpted by permission of OPEN ROAD INTEGRATED MEDIA.
All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.
Excerpts are provided by Dial-A-Book Inc. solely for the personal use of visitors to this web site.