Hard Landing

Hard Landing

by Algis Budrys

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A science fiction adventure told from the point of view of aliens who crash-land on Earth and must assimilate in secret amp;mdash; until their human cover is blown.

Budrys's final novel opens with the report of a man found electrocuted on suburban train tracks in Shoreview, Illinois. Neville Sealman appeared to be just another commuter, but after his tragic death, no one comes forward to claim his body. And a routine autopsy reveals some disturbing physiological anomalies. Then a spaceship is unearthed in a New Jersey swamp. It's the stuff of tabloids amp;mdash; except it's all true.

Years earlier, a starship crash-landed on Earth. Its passengers, human in appearance, were forced to go their separate ways in an alien world. No one knows that these otherworldly visitors have been living among the human race amp;mdash; but now their cover could be blown.

Told in the form of an investigation reconstructed through direct and indirect witness testimony, Hard Landing takes the listener into the minds of its four protagonists as they struggle with the far-reaching ramifications of discovery. This is a suspenseful and revelatory novel about the elusive, ever-changing nature of identity.

Product Details

ISBN-13: 9780446362351
Publisher: Grand Central Publishing
Publication date: 03/01/1993
Pages: 208

About the Author

Algis Budrys (1931-2008) was born in Konigsberg, East Prussia, where his father served in the Lithuanian diplomatic corps. The family came to the United States when Budrys was five years old. A Renaissance man, he wrote stories and novels, and was an editor, critic, and reviewer, a teacher of aspiring writers, and a publisher. His science fiction novels include Rogue Moon, Hard Landing, Falling Torch, and many others. His Cold War science fiction thriller Who? was adapted for the screen, and he received many award nominations for his work.

Kevin Kenerly, an AudioFile Earphones Award-winning narrator, earned a BA degree at Olivet College. A longtime member of the Oregon Shakespeare Festival, he has acted in fifteen seasons, playing dozens of roles.

Read an Excerpt

Hard Landing

By Algis Budrys


Copyright © 1993 Algis Budrys
All rights reserved.
ISBN: 978-1-4976-5300-9



Jack Mullica had almost stopped being annoyed with Selmon for riding the same train with him. It had now been three and a half years since he had first seen Selmon standing at the other end of the State Street northbound platform in the five-o'clock sunshine of late September.

It had been nothing like it was in the winter when the wind they called the Hawk hunted through the Loop. The people among whom the two men stood had their heads up, and did not jockey to take shelter behind each other on the elevated platform.

Their eyes met across an interval of some ten yards, and Selmon's mouth dropped open. Not until he saw the stranger's reaction did Mullica fully realize what had been naggingly familiar about him. Mullica watched a look of total defeat come over Selmon. He stood there, shorter and a little chubbier than Mullica remembered him, his head now down, his herringbone topcoat suddenly too big for him, a briefcase hanging from one hand, a Daily News from the other. He didn't even board the train. He stayed where he was, washed by low-angle sunlight and forlorn, thunderstruck, waiting at least for the next train, not looking in the window as Mullica rode by him.

But the next night he had boarded, and hadn't gotten off until just a few stops before Mullica's, staring rigidly ahead and keeping his shoulders stiff. It had become a regular thing. Selmon rode as many cars away from Mullica as he could. He was there almost every night Mullica was. Mullica traveled out of town fairly frequently. He assumed Selmon didn't, though at first he watched carefully behind him in airline terminals and out at motels. But Selmon never turned up anywhere else and he never made any attempt at an approach. After a while Mullica decided that was how it was going to be.

Gradually, thinking about it in the slow, schooled way he had taught himself, Mullica reached an accommodation with the situation. He assumed that Selmon had simply happened to take a job nearby, and that the rest of it was natural enough; it was all coincidence, Selmon's working near Mullica and living in the same town with Mullica and his wife, Margery.

The Shoreview Express was designed to handle North Shore traffic in and out of the Loop. Once it had made all the Loop stops, picking up shoppers on the east and south sides, and management types on the west and north, it paused at the Merchandise Mart and then didn't stop again until Loyola University. It rumbled directly over the worst parts of the North Side on girdered elevated tracks, and then imperceptibly began running on a solid earthen viaduct through blue-collar, and then lower-middle-class residential neighborhoods. The farther north it ran, the more respectable its environment became and the more out of place the shabby old string of riveted iron cars appeared, until it reached the end of Chicago at Howard Street, entered Shoreview as an all-stops local, and began to look quaint.

Its first Shoreview stop was Elm Shore Avenue, in an area only slightly distinguishable from the red-brick northernmost part of Chicago, and this was where Selmon got off. Mullica lived in a white and yellow high rise near the Borrow Street stop, which the train reached rattling over switch points, its collector shoes arcing, flashing, and sputtering over gaps in the third rail system; at night it rode through sheets of violet fire. The train's next and last destination was in Wilmette, which was yet another municipality and where one could begin to see the prewar money living in its rows of increasingly large and acreage- enshrouded mansions all the way up the lakefront for miles. From Wilmette and beyond, they usually drove into the city in cars suitable for after-nine arrivals, or took the North Western Rail Road and smoked and played bridge.

Mullica's hours in the Chicago public relations office of one of the major automobile manufacturers were nominally nine to five. He usually got in about nine fifteen, getting back some of the three A.M.S on the road. He never saw Selmon in the morning; probably he had to be at work by eight-thirty.

At night on the platform, Selmon would open his paper as soon as he was through the turnstile. He would read it at his end of the platform, holding it in front of his face. Mullica would stand just where he had stood every time since years before Selmon. Mullica opened his paper on the train, and when he was nearly finished, the sound of the wheels echoing back would tell him they were off the viaducts and beginning to run between the weed-grown cutbanks of the right-of-way in north Shoreview. He'd fold his paper, get up from the warped, timeworn cane seat, and go stand in the chipped brown vestibule waiting for the uncertain brakes to drag the train to a halt. He'd get off, walk the three blocks to the condominium, greet Margery if she was home, have a drink looking out over the lake with a closed expression, and do the crossword puzzle in ink before throwing the paper out. He wished Selmon would play by the rules and move away. But Selmon wouldn't. He continued to work somewhere in the Loop at something, and to live somewhere two miles south.



Mullica never saw Selmon in Shoreview on weekends. Margery liked to go shopping in the big malls at Old Orchard and Golf Mill; Mullica had a Millionaires' Club membership, and sometimes they'd sit there after shopping, sipping. Sometimes then Mullica would be able to just stare over Margery's shoulder and think about any number of things. At times, he thought of Selmon. He wondered if he hid in his home on weekends, and if he had found a wife, and, if so, how they got along. He wondered if Margery might run into her someday and if, by some coincidence, they might get friendly enough to talk about their husbands. But it seemed unlikely; Margery didn't get along with women.

And then it was early March, forty-two months since Selmon had turned up. Mullica stood on the platform, his hands deep in his pockets. It was a cold, raw day. He watched Selmon stubbornly unfolding his paper against the wind, and clutching it open as he began to read. Then, just as their train began to pull into the station, Selmon saw something in the paper that made him turn his face toward Mullica in the twilight in a white blur of dismay, his mouth a dark open oval, and Mullica thought for a minute Selmon had felt a vessel exploding in his brain.

The train pulled up and Mullica stepped aboard. He moved down the aisle and took a seat next to a window. He looked out at Selmon's spot as the train passed by it, thinking he might see Selmon lying there huddled in a crowd, but he wasn't there.

Mullica put his zipcase across his knees and opened his paper, sitting there reading from front to back as he always did, while the train crossed the river toward the Merchandise Mart. He stopped to look eastward along the river, as he always did, year round, enjoying the changing light of the seasons on the buildings and the water and horizon. The riverfront buildings were just turning into boxes of nested light, their upper story glass still reflecting the last streaks of dying pink from the sunset, and the stars were beginning to appear in the purplish black sky above the lake.

Page two had the story:


PHILADELPHIA, MARCH 9 (AP) – Swamp-draining crews in New Jersey may have found a spaceship, declared scientist Allen Wolverton today.

Authorities on the spot immediately denied that old bog land being readied for a housing development held anything mysterious.

Local authorities agreed a domed, metal object, fifty feet across, was dragged from the soil being reclaimed from Atlantic coastal marshes. They quickly pointed out, however, that there is a long history of people living in the swamps, described as the last rural area remaining on the Eastern Seaboard between Boston and Virginia.

The area was populated and prosperous in Colonial times, the center of a thriving 'bog iron' mining industry. Local experts were quick to point to this as the likely source of the object, citing it as some sort of machinery or a storage bin.

'There was whole towns and stagecoach stops back in there once,' said Henry Stemmler, operator of a nearby crossroads grocery store. 'Big wagon freight yards and everything. There's all kinds of old stuff down in the bogs.'

Dissenting is Wolverton, a lecturer at Philadelphia's Franklin Planetarium. 'Our earth is only one of thousands of inhabitable planets,' he declared. 'Statistically, the galaxy must hold other intelligent races. It would be unreasonable to suppose at least one of them isn't visiting us and surreptitiously observing our progress toward either an enlightened civilization of peace and love or total self-destruction.'

There was a blurred two-column wire photo of two men standing in some underbrush, staring at a curved shape protruding from the ground. There were no clearly defined features, and the object's outline was broken by blending into the angular forms of a dredge in the background. It might have been anything – the lid of a large silo, part of an underground oil tank, or the work of a retoucher's brush. In fact, the paper's picture editor had obviously decided the wire photo would reproduce badly and had his artist do some outlining and filling. So the result was a considerable percentage away from reality.

Mullica read the other stories on the page, and on the next page, and turned it.

It was night when the train reached Borrow Street – full dark, with only a few working bulbs in chipped old white enamel lamps to light the winter-soaked, rotting old wooden platform.

It's all going to hell, Mullica thought. No one maintains anything that isn't absolutely vital, but the fare keeps going up and up.

No one manned the station except during morning rush hour on the southbound side. The cement steps from the northbound platform up to the frontage street were a forty-foot gravel slide with broken reinforcing bars protruding through it rustily to offer the best footholds.

Mullica began to move toward the exit gates in the middle of the platform, lining up with the others who'd gotten off. They were all head-down, huddling against the wind, concentrating their minds on getting through the revolving metal combs of the gate and picking their way up the incline. And then because he had not quite put it all out of his mind, and his skin was tight under the hairs of his body, he had the feeling to turn his head. When he did, he saw Selmon still standing where he had gotten off, his paper half-raised toward Mullica, his apparition coming and going in the passing window lights as the train went on. Mullica could see he was about to call out a name nobody knew.

Mullica stopped, and the small crowd flowed around him inattentively. He walked back to Selmon. 'They'll find us!' Selmon blurted. 'They'll trace us down!'

Mullica looked at him carefully. Then he said 'How will they do that?' picking and arranging the words with care, the language blocky on his tongue. He watched Selmon breathe spasmodically, his mouth quivering. He saw that Selmon was years younger than he – though they were the same age – and soft. And yet there was advanced deterioration in him. It was in the shoulders and the set of the head, and very much in the eyes, as well. Selmon clutched at his arm as they stood alone on the platform. Selmon's hand moved more rapidly than one would expect, but slowly for one of their kind of people, and uncertainly.

'Arvan, it's bound to happen,' Selmon insisted to him. 'They – they have evidence.' He pushed the paper forward. Mullica ignored it.

'No, Selmon,' he said as calmly as he could. 'They won't know what to do with it. There's nothing they can learn from it. The engines melted themselves, and we destroyed the instruments before we left it, remember?'

'But they have the hull, Arvan! Real metal you can touch; hit with a hammer. A real piece of evidence. How can they ignore that?'

'Come on. Their investigators constantly lie to their own populace and file their secrets away. They systematically ridicule anyone who wants to look for us, and they defame them.' Mullica was trying to think of how to deal with this all. He wanted Selmon to cross over to the deserted southbound platform and go home to his wife. Mullica wanted to go home; even to have a drink with Margery, and then sit in his den reading the specification sheets on the new product. It was some twenty-five years since he'd been a navigator.

'Arvan, what are we going to do? How can you ignore this?' Selmon wouldn't let go of Mullica's forearm, and his grip was epileptically tight. He peered up into Mullica's face. 'You're old, Arvan,' he accused. 'You look like one of them. That haircut. Those clothes. All mod. A middle-aged macho. You're becoming like them!'

'I live among ... them.'

'I should have spoken to you years ago!'

'You shouldn't be speaking to me at all. Why are you here? There's the entire United States. There's the whole world, if you can find your way across a border. A whole world, just a handful of us, and you stay here!'

Selmon shook his head. 'I was in Oakland for a long time. Then I bumped into Hanig on a street in San Francisco. He told me to go away, too.'

'He spoke to you?' Mullica asked sharply.

'He had to. He – he wanted me out of there. He'd been in the area less time than I had, but he had a business, and a family, and I was alone.'

'A family.'

'He married a widow with children and a store – a fish store. So I agreed to leave. He gave me some money, and I came to Chicago.'

Well, if navigators could write public relations copy, copilots could sell fish. What did engineering officers do to make their way in this world? Mullica wondered, but Selmon gave him no opportunity to ask.

'Hanig had seen Captain Ravashan. In passing. He didn't think Ravashan saw him. In Denver. That was why he left there and came to San Francisco. And then I came to Chicago, and almost the first week, I saw you. I – I think we're too much alike when we react to this world. We wander toward the same places, and move in the same ways.'

'Does anyone know where the chaplain is?' Mullica asked quickly.

'Chaplain Joro?' Selmon asked. He and Mullica looked into each other's eyes. 'No, I don't think there's much doubt,' and for a moment there was a bond of complete understanding between the two of them. Mullica nodded. For over a quarter of a century, he saw, Selmon as well as he had reflected on the matter. It had seemed to him for a long time that there were only four of them now.

Selmon looked up at him in weariness. 'It's no use, Arvan. I —' He hung his head. 'I have a good job. It doesn't pay much but I don't need much, and it's secure. So I decided to stay. You never asked me to leave.' There were tears in his eyes. 'I'm very tired, Arvan,' he whispered, and Mullica saw the guilt in him, waiting to be punished.

But there was no telling whether any engineering officer could have solved the problem with the engines. Mullica had never thought much of Selmon, but Ditlo Ravashan never questioned his ability in front of the rest of them, and there hadn't been any backbiting after the crash.

'This isn't anything, Selmon. There'll be a flurry, but it'll blow over. Somebody'll write another one of those books – that planetarium lecturer, probably – and everyone with any common sense will laugh at it.'

'But they've never had evidence before!' He was almost beating at Mullica with his newspaper, waving his free arm. 'Now they do!'

'How do you know what they have or haven't had? They must have. They have enough films, and enough unexplained things in their history. They must have other pieces of crashed or jettisoned equipment, too. They just don't know how to deal with them. And they won't know how to deal with this, either.'

'Arvan! An intact hull, and instruments obviously destroyed after the landing! A ship buried in a swamp. Buried, Arvan – not driven into the ground. And five empty crew seats behind an open hatch!'

'A hull full of mud. If they ever shovel it all out, it'll be weeks ... and all those weeks, their bureaucracy will be working on everyone to forget it.'

'Arvan, I don't understand you! Don't you care?'

'Care? I was a navigator in the stars.'


Excerpted from Hard Landing by Algis Budrys. Copyright © 1993 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.

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