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Authors: Marion Zimmer Bradley

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BOOK: Rediscovery
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When the shuttle settled for a moment, Ysaye checked to make sure her straps

were still properly fastened. Everyone knew that the first landing was the most

dangerous moment on a new planet, with everything unknown and strange. Even when you got to the ground, the only thing you could ever take for granted was that you could take nothing for granted. You might, for instance, come down in a field, on an

unexplored world, of carnivores—giant saurians, perhaps—who would think you looked just right for a light lunch. On the other hand you might, according to a fallacious story current in the Empire, land on a nearly microscopic, or at any rate, Lilliputian race of beings, and wipe out a whole city’s worth of the little things. Ysaye was not precisely certain of the origin of
one, but she suspected some prank-minded student of early Atomic Age literature, who had been rooting around in the old annals of “pulp

scientifiction” stories. It was too much like a rumor that had circulated before that one, of a giant who had appeared on one of the colony worlds, continuously shrinking, who had claimed that he was the victim of an experiment gone wrong, and that our galaxy was nothing more than a molecule in
universe, with the stars being the nuclei of the atoms of that molecule. The giant supposedly shrank to human, then mouse, then

bacterial size, before vanishing altogether. That particular tale had actually shown up on the news nets before being traced to an inventive graduate student at New Duke


The shuttle bucked and dropped again, then yawed alarmingly before MacAran

was able to bring it back under control. His mouth was set in a thin, tight line, and Ysaye did not think he was likely to answer any more questions at the moment. She tried to tell herself that, all things considered, bad weather and other physical hazards of landing were the least of their worries, rather more to be expected than not. The first contact shuttle ships were always staffed with scientists, people carefully trained to anticipate emergencies and improvise solutions to any problems.

Her attempts at consoling herself did not help. Ysaye was the only one of the

seven on the shuttle who had no hands-on experience of new planets. She still didn’t quite understand why she had been assigned to this team. The rest were obvious:

MacAran for his piloting and command skills, Commander Britton to coordinate the scientific data gathering, Lieutenant Evans for xenobotany, Dr. Aurora Lakshman for xenobiology (and as a doctor to treat any of the survey team who might be injured or ill), and Elizabeth and David for both their technical skills and their linguistic and anthropological backgrounds. In spite of their precautions they might run into some of the local inhabitants, although that was not the purpose of this first mission.

All those specialists—so what was
doing here? She did not have a single skill that could replace or even augment any of theirs. All she knew were computers—and right now, she wished she were back among them…

Ysaye tried to tell herself not to worry; there was no rational reason to be nervous about the assignment, even if it was new to her. There must have been a reason for her inclusion; perhaps one of the others had some specialized computer-driven equipment that he or she simply didn’t fully understand yet— although, if that were the case, shouldn’t Ysaye have been told already, so that she could look it up and find out something about it first? Surely they didn’t expect her to get complicated equipment up and running by—by intuition!

She looked across the aisle at Elizabeth, who was rubbing at the frosted window, as if eager for a look at the new world. Well, MacAran had the shuttle under better control now; there hadn’t been any of those alarming drops for at least five minutes.

Even though the shuttle was still shuddering and sideslipping—

The world below would almost certainly be Elizabeth’s home for many years—

unless the natives were so primitive that Empire authority felt it best the world should be Closed, she and David would remain behind when the ship moved on, making linguistic and anthropological records for the Empire. If the new world was to be fully Opened for trade, even more people would be staying. Someone from the ship would be appointed temporary Coordinator; they would set up a Terran enclave, and Elizabeth and David would certainly be married there. After all, they had been waiting more than a year for a planet where they could settle down and raise a family.

Ysaye stared at the lavender sky and at the jagged line of mountain scenery just visible through the frost. She was thankful that she was not responsible for flying over them. She knew enough of flying to realize that this kind of terrain was extremely hazardous. Terrain. What a strange word to apply to the country below them, which was not terrestrial at all. Being around David, who had been schooled extensively in linguistics, had made her sensitive to such nuances.

For a moment, she felt a moment of—premonitory sadness. If t
was the world Elizabeth and David had been waiting for, they would stay here, and she, as ships’ crew, would move on. She would never see them again—

And even if this was not “their” world, there would be changes. It was inevitable.

The experiences they would have on the new world’s soil would change her friends, and perhaps even Ysaye herself, if she spent much time on the planet’s surface. No one completely escaped this kind of determinism.

And at the same time, their being here would change the planet and its people;

they would bring some of their humanity here, no matter how they tried not to affect what they found. Humans did that; it was a part of their heritage. Humans modified their surroundings, however they tried not to. There had been a recurrent fad in humanity that

“biology is not destiny.” Ysaye’s standard rebuttal to that was “show me a vegetarian lion.” Anyone who seriously believed that men and women were not, at the very least, an aggregation of biological impulses was just begging the question. There was certainly more to it; but that was the bottom line.

Ysaye had so successfully calmed herself with philosophical meanderings that

when MacAran hit the next wave of turbulence, it took her completely by surprise.

Wind shear—Ysaye thought that was what the pilot had said rocked them earlier

—slammed them again, and the little ship plunged like a stone, then tilted wildly. Ysaye caught Elizabeth’s eyes across the aisle and saw that her friend’s mouth was again set in a grimace, her face pale, as she grabbed convulsively at the arms of her seat. Ysaye told herself sternly not to panic. Surely this wouldn’t keep up all the way down. This was not Elizabeth’s first planet; she and David had been to four others before this, but they had been rockballs with little or no atmosphere, so Ysaye didn’t think Elizabeth was accustomed to this kind of landing either. It wouldn’t do to panic on the basis of Elizabeth’s reaction; she was just as much a tyro at this part of the journey as Ysaye.

“It’s going to get worse before it’s better,” warned MacAran grimly. “The wind

blows down off the ice cap, with nothing to break it. Then when it hits these mountains, we get all these back drafts, cross currents, and the wind shear.” He grunted as another buck and drop threw him against his restraints. “Maybe we should have tried to come in on the desert north of here; we have cameras good enough to avoid any civilization.”

“So why didn’t we?” Evans asked. Ysaye wanted to strangle him. Here they were,

fighting to stay aloft—and that idiot was trying to start an argument!

“The satellite report clearly indicated this location as a prime landing site,”

MacAran said. “The plateau we’re aiming for certainly looks better from space than it does from here!” This time it was a roll to the right that interrupted him, and he fought to get the shuttle back on its proper course. When he resumed talking, Ysaye got the feeling that he was babbling, saying whatever came into his head. To calm his

passengers and reassure them?

If so,
she thought,
I’m not reassured!

“I’m not surprised we see no trace of aviation; anyone who tried to build a

primitive aircraft here—” he broke off and struggled for a moment with the controls.

“No, if the climate is all like this, I wouldn’t expect aviation to be a science they’d develop very soon. Maybe on the plains to the south, but not here in the mountains.”

“But we can land here,” Commander Britton said. It sounded to Ysaye like a

question, although it was not phrased as such; she wondered, was the Commander about to order MacAran to break off and return to the ship?

“I’m doing my best,” MacAran said, “but this place has hit a new low for flying


That did
sound good to Ysaye.

“I’ll be glad when we get on the ground,” the Commander muttered.

If we get on the ground,
Ysaye thought. Suddenly she realized that her fears were
groundless, nor were they over-reaction; he was examining all possibilities to get them out of deadly peril. She swallowed, but the lump in her throat would not go away, and her mouth was paper dry. His manner made it pretty obvious that this was far more dangerous than it had sounded on board ship.

This was not what I bargained for, when I signed on with the Space Service.

They had plunged into clouds, thick and seemingly bottomless, a few moments

ago; now, as the ship rolled and yawed like an amusement-park thrill ride, they came out below clouds, and Ysaye saw an endless vista of evergreen trees of some kind, lined with black scars from old forest-fires. As they continued downward, still bucking and yawing, she knew MacAran was searching desperately for ground level enough to set the shuttle down. She knew that atmospheric craft were usually landed facing into the wind, but they were not meant to fly into a gale like this. And as if the wind weren’t enough—a moment later, the vista below was obscured by a pall of snow as thick as the clouds had been.

She could only hope that MacAran’s instruments were working, and working


The search for the optimum landing space must be balanced against the shuttle’s

remaining power; if he delayed too long —there would be no power left for a landing.

And an unpowered landing, here, now—

Balance this against the dangers of the landing area—which had not looked

particularly good when Ysaye had glimpsed it.

The snow cleared for a moment; Ysaye craned her neck, ignoring the way the

shuttle was throwing her against her straps, and caught a glimpse of his enhanced IR/UV

imager; it, at least, had not been affected by the snow. And there was evidently enough ambient heat for the IR scan to work. “Beyond the trees,” MacAran said jerkily, “that clearing. We’ll set down there. Going to have to try anyhow. Not much choice.”

“Look!” Elizabeth said suddenly. She was still glued to her window, and

apparently she had seen something, the first evidence of the native IBs she had seen with her own eyes. “A

“Can’t be,” David said. “Not exactly. Remember how the French, landing among

the Iroquois, christened their fortress cities of wood
and ended up naming three or four cities ‘Castletown.’”

Ysaye stared at them aghast. Only David and Elizabeth, Ysaye thought, would

argue the fine points of linguistics in the face of an imminent crash landing.

“Elizabeth!” she squawked. “I hardly think—”

Elizabeth turned a face toward her that was so white it looked green, and her

expression was as strained as Ysaye’s. “I didn’t think praying would do much for morale,” she replied, her voice trembling.

She heard MacAran mutter from the controls, “Here goes nothing. This is about as good as we’re going to get.” He raised his voice. “All right, back there! Brace for landing! Crash positions!”

She bent over obediently, taking the approved tuck and covering the back of her

neck with her hands. She felt them strike hard, rebound, and come down again; the crash restraints deployed, nets holding them in their fetal curls. Cushions billowed up from beneath the seat under Ysaye, and she heard the
of a dozen different alarms.

They bounced, struck, and rebounded yet again. Ysaye was beyond fear now; she was paralyzed. Nothing in her training or her experience had prepared her for this.

I’m going to die,
she thought dumbly. Thought moved sluggishly through the thick sea of fear that flooded her. The hull cracked sickeningly on the next bounce and Ysaye thought she heard the rending of metal.

That was when she mercifully blacked out.

She came to with freezing cold air and snow blowing into her face. The hull had

split open in several places, and she could not believe for a moment that she was still alive. She was not certain how long she had been unconscious, but the cushions had shrunk to flat, fluttering ghosts, and the nets had retracted. They were down, if not quite in one piece. She found herself remembering the old saying that “any landing you walked away from was a good one.”

“Is anyone hurt?” MacAran called, and there was a chorus of ragged “no’s” and

“just bumps and bruises.” MacAran, his hands visibly trembling, tore loose his

restraining straps and stood up. “Sound off!” he ordered, “I want to hear everyone’s name!”

Ysaye took a ragged breath, and responded first—then Evans coughed and

replied, followed by all the rest, Commander Britton last. Satisfied that his charges were neither dead nor badly injured, MacAran turned and climbed toward the door, which he had to wrench open. The rest freed themselves, then crowded behind him, eager to get themselves out of what was no longer a safe or sheltering vehicle.

“Are you all sure you’re all right? Is anyone injured?” Dr. Lakshman asked, she

had automatically grabbed her medical kit and was clutching it to her chest as she peered through the falling snow. A chorus of shaky denials answered her.

BOOK: Rediscovery
6.89Mb size Format: txt, pdf, ePub

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