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This Alien Shore

This Alien Shore

by C. S. Friedman

Paperback(Mass Market Paperback)

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This lauded work of science fiction and New York Times Notable Book of the Year explores a universe where genetic mutations have allowed certain individuals to traverse the stars. 

It is the second stage of human colonization—the first age, humanity's initial attempt to people the stars, ended in disaster when it was discovered that Earth's original superluminal drive did permanent genetic damage to all who used it—mutating Earth's far-flung colonists in mind and body.

Now, one of Earth's first colonies has given humanity back the stars, but at a high price—a monopoly over all human commerce. And when a satellite in Earth's outer orbit is viciously attacked by corporate raiders, an unusual young woman flees to a ship bound for the Up-and-Out.

But her narrow escape does not mean safety. For speeding across the galaxy pursued by ruthless, but unknown adversaries, this young woman will discover a secret which is buried deep inside her psyche—a revelation the universe may not be ready to face....

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Product Details

ISBN-13: 9780886777999
Publisher: DAW
Publication date: 07/01/1999
Series: The Outworlds series , #1
Pages: 576
Sales rank: 489,703
Product dimensions: 6.74(w) x 10.88(h) x 1.48(d)
Age Range: 18 Years

About the Author

An acknowledged master of dark fantasy and science fiction alike, C.S. Friedman is a John W. Campbell award finalist, and the author of the highly acclaimed Coldfire Trilogy, New York Times Notable Book of the Year This Alien Shore, In Conquest Born, The Madness Season, The Wilding, The Magister Trilogy and the Dreamwalker series. Friedman worked for twenty years as a professional costume designer, but retired from that career in 1996 to focus on her writing. She lives in Virginia, and can be contacted via her website,

Read an Excerpt




The voices woke her up.


For a moment Jamisia just lay in the darkness, neither dreaming nor fully awake yet, listening. Whispers of sound trickled through her brain, coalescing into words for an instant or two, then breaking up again. Frightening words.






And one was almost a scream: Run!


Shaken, she sat up in bed. Her room in the Shido Habitat was reassuringly familiar, filled with all the comfortable relics of her teenage years. Tickets from a concert over at Mitsui Habitat. Flowers-real flowers!-from her coming out at Microtech's Grand Pavilion. Homework chips piled up on one corner of the dresser, along with the headset that would feed their contents into her brain. All of it-her things, her life-familiar, comforting. It wasn't always that way. Sometimes she awoke to find things on her dresser that didn't (couldn't!) belong to her. Sometimes there were pieces of jewelry in her slideaway that she knew she had never bought, so alien to her taste that she could hardly imagine herself wearing them. Sometimes there were worse things, frightening things, and she threw those in the trash chute with shaking hands, wondering who had left them there in the middle of the night, in the room she locked so carefully before she went to bed. She kept waiting for the rightful owners to say something about their stuff, to yell at her for having chuted it without asking them . . . some kind of reaction, anything. But no one ever yelled. No one ever said a word, and her tentative queries to the habitat database yielded no explanation for the strange offerings, or any hint of their purpose.


It wasn't like that today; at least today everything in the room was really hers, and that should have been comforting. Only it wasn't. The voices were still clamoring inside her head, even though the act of waking up for good should have banished them. She couldn't make out most of what they were saying, but the few words she did understand-and the tone in which they were voiced-were terrifying.






Run, Jamisia!


Her heart began to pound, triggering her wellseeker program; bright words scrolled across the corner of her visual field, assessing her emotional state in purely biological terms. ADRENALINE SURGE, it informed her. PULSE RACING, B-PRESSURE ENTERING RED ZONE, PHASE ONE MUSCULAR CONTRACTIONS NOTED. ACTION?


Before she could answer it the door slid open, as quickly and silently as if she had never locked it. A man moved into the room, and she opened her mouth to scream-and then realized who it was and drew in a deep, shaky breath instead.


"Grab some clothes," her tutor commanded, in a tone as unlike his usual fatherly warmth as this night was unlike any other. "Take anything you value, and do it fast." He looked back toward the door as if to see if anyone was following him. By the nightlight's glow she could see there was blood on his face. "We don't have much time."


"What's going on?" She could hear her own voice shaking as she asked the question. But he only shook his head sharply, his expression grim.


"Later." He wiped a hand across his forehead, smearing the blood, then saw that she wasn't moving yet. "Do it!"


Trembling, she forced herself out of the bed and began to move to the slideaway. The message in her visual field defaulted for lack of response and blanked out, which was just as well; she couldn't think clearly enough right now to give it instructions.


"What's happening?" she begged, as she gathered up handfuls of clothing. Hi-G, lo-G, no-G: he hadn't said where they were going, so she grabbed a few garments from each section of the slideaway and stuffed them into her traveling bag. "Where are we going?"


"It's a raid." His voice, usually calm, was shaking now, and there was a thin sheen of sweat on his face; it was a good bet his own wellseeker was blazing its protest across his field of vision even now. "They must have had an inside contact, the alarm systems were all shut down." She reached for the headset, but he stopped her. "No. Not that. Too easy to trace."


"Who is it?" she asked him.


He hesitated an instant, and she sensed that he was struggling with the question of how much to tell her. A thin line of red had trickled down into his eye; he blinked hard to clear his vision. "I don't know. It was all too fast. Whoever it is-it's trouble, at any rate." He grabbed the bag out of her hands and snapped it shut. "Come on!"


With the voices screaming their warnings in her ears, urging her to follow him to safety, there was nothing to do but obey. She followed him out of the room and into the network of corridors beyond. When they got to the nearest tube, she started to get into it, but he grabbed her by the arm and jerked her past it. It seemed to her that she could smell something sharp in the air, carried toward them by the habitat's ventilation system. Smoke, perhaps? Was that possible? Her tutor broke into a run, his strong arm pulling her alongside him. She struggled to keep up with his pace, but his legs were so much longer than hers, it was nearly impossible; twice she almost fell. What could be burning? Some few hundred yards beyond the tube he stopped to pull the cover off a maintenance crawlspace, and gestured for her to go inside. She hesitated, afraid-and then the whole floor shuddered, as if somewhere nearby something had exploded. Trembling, she clambered up to the lip of the opening and pulled herself inside. She wished that he'd let her take the headset so that she could access the habitat's monitoring programs and find out what the hell was going on . . . but then they'd know where I was, she thought. Chilled by the concept, without knowing why. Scared, as she had never been scared before.


When he was safely inside the crawlspace, he pulled its cover shut and urged her forward; she was all too happy to move, to focus on flight as a means of shutting out the claustrophobic closeness of the mechanical tube. For what seemed like a small eternity she pulled herself along, hand over hand, on rungs that were smeared with grease, past dials and switches edged in grit. No scrubs worked here, apparently. She twisted through a turn almost too tight to negotiate and was amazed that her tutor managed to follow. Then a turn again, and a long, slow curve, following his whispered directions as quickly as she could. Once or twice it seemed she could feel the whole tunnel shudder, and once she knew from his sharply indrawn breath that somewhere on the habitat real damage had been done, probably in the name of some corporate maneuver. As her tutor would say, Capitalism is a harsh mistress.


Would the maintenance tubes seal themselves off if the habitat's outer shell were breached, preserving enough air for them to breathe? She didn't know. She didn't want to know. It took all her courage just to keep moving, not to think about what was going on behind them.


"Here," he muttered at last, indicating a hatchway. Together they forced it open, and she slipped through. Beyond was a darkened corridor. Why weren't the lights on? As he emerged into the corridor himself, she stamped hard on the floor several times, trying to trigger the sensors, but still it stayed dark. "Why-" she began, but her tutor shushed her. "Listen," he said. She did. There was nothing. No distant explosions now, nor any human voice. Nor . . .


Something tightened in her chest, a new kind of fear. There was no soft purr of ventilation coming from the walls, no gentle breeze of recycled air wafting across her face. Those things were so taken for granted in her world that she could never have imagined what the habitat would be like without them. Now they were gone. Which meant . . .


"No life support?" she whispered.


"Bastards," he muttered, and he grabbed her again by the arm and pulled her forward. "Come on!"


They ran. Long steps, leaping steps, made possible by the lo-G of the docking ring. Ahead of them two air locks yawned wide; he motioned her past them. "Not those." It seemed to her that over the pounding of her heart and the slap of her feet on the metal mesh flooring she could now hear something else: footsteps behind them, coming closer. Voices. Corporate raiders?


Run! her own voices urged, terrifying in their unity.


She ran.


By the time they reached the place where the pods were docked she was out of breath, and her legs ached from the unnatural strain of the lo-G run. She watched as her tutor readied the nearest pod for flight, noting with cold misgiving that it was a singler. He was sending her off alone, then. To where? For what?


Not alone. She wouldn't do it. She wouldn't go.


Trust him, the voices urged.


"Get inside, Jamie."


He was her tutor, her friend, the closest thing to a father she'd ever had. She wanted to trust him. But to go out there alone, without a word of explanation . . . "Where are you sending me?" she begged. "What's happening?"


With a muttered oath of frustration he grabbed her by the shoulders and turned her to face him. This close, she could see that the wound on his face was some kind of burn. Blood dripped from the edge of it down the side of his face, soaking into his collar.


"Listen to that!" He nodded back the way they had come, toward the voices that were steadily approaching. "They're here because they want you, Jamie. Do you understand? They want your brain and what's in it, and they don't care what they have to do to get it. Which is why my job was-"


He stopped suddenly. A muscle in his jaw clenched tight.


"To help me?"


His eyes met hers, then looked away. "My job was to kill you," he said hoarsely. "And God help me when Shido finds out I didn't." Gently but firmly he pushed her toward the pod. "Now go, Jamie."


Shaking, she clambered into the tiny vehicle. As she settled herself uncomfortably into its curved foam mattress, she could hear the distant sounds growing closer. Any minute now the enemy would come around the curve of the docking ring and see them. Any minute.


"Why?" she begged him.


"No time for that now." He was setting the controls on the pod manually, his head still bare of any interface. "You're carrying a program that'll explain it all to you, all in the proper time. I made sure of that."


"Where are you sending me?"


The footsteps were closer now, and shouted words could be heard to echo down the corridor. That way! Check the locks, sir? Hurry!


"Up-and-out," he said, keying in the final instructions. "There's a metroliner on its way out of the Sol System now; you should be able to catch up to it in this." He added hurriedly, forestalling her objection, "It's the only place you'll be safe, Jamie. Trust me."


Trust him, the inner voices chorused.


"I do," she choked out.


"I altered the launch records; if they manage to track you at all they'll think you went to Earth. By the time they discover that lie for what it is you'll be well out of their reach. Here's the data you'll need." He reached into the pod and pressed a small case into her hand; his own flesh was sweating. "Read through it as soon as you can, so that it's familiar to you." He hesitated, and for a moment she thought he was going to lean forward to kiss her good-bye, or pat her on the shoulder, or . . . something. But instead he reached up to the door of the tiny vehicle and began to close it. "I'm sorry, Jamie. Forgive me." He hesitated, then whispered, "Forgive us all."


The pod door snapped shut, sealing her inside the small vehicle. The voices beyond the door were muffled, as were several loud noises which followed, that might or might not have been explosions. Then absolute silence enveloped her as the air surrounding the pod was pumped out, leaving it in vacuum. She forced herself to breathe steadily as the pod began to move, feeling the mattress that surrounded her conform to her shape as the launching programs kicked in. PHASE THREE STRESS, her wellseeker warned. ACTION?


There was a sudden jerk as the pod was launched, like being kicked in the chest with an iron shoe. The mattress cradled her, absorbing the impact. ADJUST, she told it, visualizing the key icon in her mind's eye. Deep within her brain the image triggered a flurry of electrical activity, biological and mechanical, and her brainware, which was a combination of both, took control. Her pulse slowed. Her blood pressure lowered. A thousand and one symptoms of stress released, dissolved, dissipated.


Outside the small window-a token hole no larger than her face, its purpose not to afford a useful view as much as to counteract the effect of close confinement-she could see Shido Habitat falling away behind her, its sunward surfaces gleaming with liquid brilliance. Beyond it was the blue-and-white crescent of Earth, home to nearly ten billion souls. It and its habitats were the only home she had ever known, and now she was leaving them forever. The pain of it was a cold knot in her heart, only partly ameliorated by the flood of healing chemicals her brainware had loosed into her bloodstream. She could have asked it to do more for her, but she didn't. What did a brainware network know about despair? How could it "adjust" for the nameless agony of losing everything and everyone you valued all at once, and not even knowing why?


"Oh, God," she whispered. Tears streamed down her face. TEAR DUCT OVERFLOW, the wellseeker informed her. ACTION? She wiped away the wetness with a shaking hand. There was a flash of light from the direction of Shido Habitat, but the satellite was behind her ship now, and so she couldn't make out its cause. What's going to happen to me? She hoped to God that her tutor was going to be okay. She knew, deep in her soul, that he wasn't.


My job was to kill you.


Undetected, unpursued, the tiny pod fled Earth's crowded skies, and headed toward the up-and-out.


There are those who would pay a fortune to discover how our outpilots navigate the ainniq, and many have devoted their lives to trying to guess the Guild's secrets. Among such investigators there are two conflicting schools of thought:

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