Monday, December 31, 2012

GUEST BLOG: Nancy Wood on "What's Next?"

Nancy Wood says: I live in Santa Cruz, California, where I've been lucky enough to make writing my career. For many years I made my living as a technical writer, working in software documentation. About six years ago, I was laid off from my job and decided to set up my own shop. Now, I'm a writing consultant for the high tech industry and get to spend every day grappling with words and sentences. I love it!

Due Date, published by Solstice Publishing, came out at the end of May. This is my first published book. I started it about six years ago, and am now working on the second book in the Shelby McDougall series, which I hope won't take quite so long!

What is the working title of your next book?
STALKING THE STORK (but I know that title needs work…!).

Where did the idea come from for the book?
The book is the second in the Shelby McDougall series and picks up the story a few years after the conclusion of DUE DATE. In this book, Shelby hunts the mastermind of the conspiracy she was involved in in Due Date.

What genre does your book fall under?

What actors would you choose to play the part of your characters in a movie rendition?
Great question! I’m on a Dr. Who kick these days and I love Karen Gillan, who plays Amy Pond, Dr. Who’s companion in the 2010 – 2012 series. She looks like Shelby, plus she’s curious, fearless, and a bit impulsive. Unfortunately, she’d have to drop her lovely Socttish brogue!

What is the one-sentence synopsis of your book?
When toddler Justin Boyd, one of the twins that Shelby McDougall put up for adoption two years ago, is abducted, Shelby drops everything—her job, graduate school, her life—to chase dead-end leads, only to find herself in quicksand: both the cops and the bad guys are after her.

Friday, December 28, 2012

Jaydium - Chapter 26


by Deborah J. Ross, writing as Deborah Wheeler

Chapter 26

Dawn came and the crystalline walls glowed with a faint iridescent sheen. Eril couldn=t remember falling asleep, just lying there, staring at the expanse of featureless luminescent gray. Wishing he could see the stars. Feeling the emptiness inside him. The not-caring that made his promises empty syllables and turned his life into one long bid for escape. He was human, he told himself, not hollow. He cared--about the Fed, about Raerquel and the future of its world. Yet something had gone out of him even before he jetted down to Port Ludlow in search of the brushie duopilot who was his only hope. Maybe in the bars and alleys of New Paris, one crazy scrape after another. Maybe as far back as Albion. 


Eril winced at the memory. Compared to Kithri, he=d lost nothing there.
He sat up, his hip and shoulder bones aching. When he reached his arms above his head and stretched, his spine popped. Next to him, close enough so she could easily have touched him in her sleep, Kithri lay on curled on one side. In the far corner, Brianna had tucked up in a fetal ball, her back to the others. Lennart sat and stared blankly ahead, his legs folded in a complicated and uncomfortable-looking arrangement. His hands open lay, palms up, on his knees.

Eril clambered to his feet and continued his stretching. Even making allowances for the unforgiving sleeping surface, he felt stiff. He didn=t like the thought of getting old. But at the rate they were going, they would none of them live that long.

None of us, he repeated to himself. Not just me, none of us.

A door opened in the wall and one of their unnamed captors sat outside, ready to escort them singly to a newly sculpted sanitary facility in an adjacent portion of the holding platform. When they=d all made the requisite trip and an attempt at morning greetings to one another, the door opened again and Raerquel slithered in.

"Come, my human friends," it said with its usual graceful gestures. "We must return to the laboratory to prepare my defense."

Wednesday, December 26, 2012

GUEST BLOG: Pati Nagle on "What's Next?"

Pati Nagle was born and raised in the mountains of northern New Mexico. An avid student of music, history, and humans in general, she has a special love of the outdoors, particularly New Mexico’s wilds, which inspire many of her stories. Her fiction has appeared in Asimov’s Science Fiction, The Magazine of Fantasy & Science Fiction, Cricket, Cicada, and in anthologies honoring New Mexico writers Jack Williamson and Roger Zelazny. Her fantasy short story ”Coyote Ugly“ was honored as a finalist for the Theodore Sturgeon Award. She has also written a series of historical novels as P.G. Nagle. She is a founding member of Book View Café.
Q: What is the working title of your book? 
A: CURSE OF THE FALLEN or CURSE OF THE ALBEN, not sure which.  What do you think?  Is CURSE OF THE ALBEN confusing?

Q: Where did the idea come from for the book?
A: Short answer: This is book 4 of my Blood of the Kindred series, inspired by my short story, "Kind Hunter" (which you can read at Book View Café - it's the free sample from the anthology DRAGON LORDS AND WARRIOR WOMEN).

Q: What genre does your book fall under?
A: Fantasy

Q: Which actors would you choose to play your characters in a movie rendition?
A: Well, Orlando Bloom is the quintessential elf in my eyes, so I'd cast him as Turisan.  For Eliani - yanno, Zooey Deschanel might work!  For Shalár, I think Kaley Cuoco would do a very good job.  And for Luruthin, perhaps Matthew Gray Gubler.

Tuesday, December 25, 2012

Goals, Wishes, Intentions

I'm not big on resolutions, New Year's or otherwise. More often than not, all they do is set me up to fail, or put me in competition with others, and who needs that? However, I do see a great deal of value in taking some time to clarify where I'm going in my life, if it's where I want to be going, and what I'd like to see different.

Years (as in, decades) ago, a friend suggested making a list of goals instead of resolutions, and to break them down into 1-year, 5-year, 10-year, and lifetime goals. I did that for quite a while, and I still have the notebook I kept them in. It's fascinating to look back at what I thought I wanted, 30 years ago -- what I have achieved, what I no longer want, and what is no longer possible.

Along the way, I realized that some of these things were within my power to achieve, but others were not. I might long for them, but I could not bring them about, or not entirely by my own efforts. For instance, finishing a novel or studying Hebrew are things I can choose to do, but my children being happy, however much I might want to see that come about, is not something I myself can create. These things are wishes, not goals. Of course, many things are both. On my list is to write a work of enduring value -- I can write the best stories that are in me, but how they are received and how they endure the test of time is another matter entirely. I have no say over that.

Monday, December 24, 2012

GUEST BLOG: Jeffrey Carver on "What's Next?"

Jeffrey Carver says about himself, "Most people know me as a science fiction writer or as a dad. My most recent novels are Sunborn and Battlestar Galactica: the Miniseries (novelization). My continuing project is The Chaos Chronicles, and Sunborn is the latest tale in that series. I also wear the hat of educational web content editor, technical writer, home handyman, wrestling dad, dog walker, and private pilot temporarily grounded by funding depletion. (Maybe I wear too many hats.) I have a wife, two daughters, a cat, and a dog. I really should get more sleep. Though I grew up in Huron, Ohio, I have lived for many years now in the Boston area. Check out downloads of my fiction at"

1) What is the title of your next work?
The Reefs of Time.
It's Volume Five of The Chaos Chronicles. Or, to put it another way, it's the long-awaited sequel to Sunborn. It's also still very much a work in progress, and I don't have a publication date for you, unfortunately. Some of you have been waiting a long time for this book, and I very much appreciate your patience.

2) Where did the idea come from?
It continues a story inspired by chaos theory, which began years ago with Neptune Crossing, the opening volume of The Chaos Chronicles. The series chronicles the adventures of one John Bandicut from Earth, a survey pilot out on Triton (moon of Neptune), whose journey starts with a search for relics of life from outside the solar system. He finds it, in the form of a quarx—a noncorporeal alien who takes up residence in his head—and the translator, a powerful machine or being of equally alien origin. A lot happens after that—four books' worth, in fact. Worlds in danger, starting with Earth. Reluctant heroes. New friendships and loves where least expected.

Friday, December 21, 2012

Jaydium - Chapter 25


by Deborah J. Ross, writing as Deborah Wheeler

Chapter 25

After their capture, the four humans were half-pushed, half-carried to a small satellite platform. This was no more than a cell surrounded by featureless translucent walls, unbroken by door or window. Above, far beyond their reach, a filigree canopy admitted splotches of brilliant sunlight. Here the restraining webs were removed, melting at a touch from their captors= tentacles, and they were left alone.

"We have a proverb to describe situations like this," Brianna said, wringing her hands and moving restlessly back and forth. "We say, >From the cookpot down the gullet=. An inelegant expression, true, but at this moment I feel much like the food animals it refers to."

Kithri leaned against one wall, watching the other woman. Her body tingled with the after-effects of adrenalin, her arms and thighs smarted where the restraining webs had cut deep into her skin, and she wished Brianna would settle down and stop fussing. Sometimes Brianna made her itch all over.

"We=re not the issue here," Lennart said tightly. He sat with his back against the opposite wall, elbows resting on his bent knees. "The Council had it in for Raerquel, and not just because of its scientific interests. They=re out to get it discredited any way they can. We just gave them a convenient excuse."

"You=re right," said Eril, standing beside him. "They=ll take anything we say as proof of Raerquel=s guilt. They don=t give a comet=s fart what happens to us. Next time, they=ll just wipe us. Until now, I just...I didn=t see how easy that would be."

"That=s what I thought, too," Kithri said, "or I wouldn=t have tried that stupid stunt." She wondered what had happened to Raerquel, whether it was confined separately or still being interrogated by the Council...or already tried and executed?

Why should I care what happens to the damned slug? It was Raerquel=s peace schemes that got us in this fix!

Thursday, December 20, 2012

GUEST BLOG: Patricia Burroughs on "What's Next?"

Patricia Burroughs — Pooks of Book View Cafe — began her writing career in romance with five published novels. She received nominations and recognition from RT Reviews and was a Finalist for Romance Writers of America’s Rita.

Then she got lured over to the dark side — screenwriting. She received a Nicholl Fellowship from the Academy of Motion Picture Arts & Sciences for an adaptation of her first published novel, What Wild Ecstasy, under the title, “Redemption.” Uncredited but paying work followed, and she was happy with her Hollywood dreams… Until one day she woke up with a new story rooting itself into her heart, a story that couldn’t be told in a script but needed many more pages to spread out, flex its muscles and take wing. She returned to novels and is presently writing an epic fantasy trilogy.

1) What is the title of your book?

2) Where did the idea come from for the book?
My muse had madcap heroines from the 20s/30s on her mind, I’m afraid, even though I was writing about a world firmly set in the (then) contemporary 90s. Before I knew it, speakeasies and flappers and romances of Christmases past were occupying my mind and the life of Paisley Vandermeir.

3) What genre does your book fall under?
Romance. It was meant to be a romantic comedy, and it definitely has those elements, but it ended up having a bittersweet poignancy as well, as Paisley deals with the death, bequests and scandals of her great-aunt.

4) Which actors would you choose to play your characters in a movie rendition?
Louise Brooks is the obvious choice, but alas, she is dead. So I’d go for Jennifer Lawrence, whose spin in Silver Linings Playbook is spot on perfect and has the kind of tough vulnerability (compounded by being downright weird) that I see in Paisley, even though the characters are very different from one another.

Also, even though she’s much too young, I definitely can see Susan Sarandon as the fiercely independent Aunt Isadora [aka Auntie Mame on acid]. I wrote a screen adaptation of this book in which Aunt Izzy comes back as a ghost and haunts Paisley in an attempt to make her do things she wants done. That was more fun than a bag of monkeys.

As for Chris–I don’t know. He just needs to be able to look charmingly befuddled, as if he doesn’t know what just hit him, splendid in a tux, and also be willing to fight like hell for love when he finds it.

5) What is the one-sentence synopsis of your book?
“All she needed was a safe little scandal, and he seemed as safe as they come. Oops.”

Tuesday, December 18, 2012

GUEST BLOG: Katharine Eliska "Cat" Kimbriel on "What's Next"

Book View Cafe member Katharine Eliska Kimbriel reinvents herself every decade or so. It’s not on purpose, mind you – it seems her path involves overturning the apple cart, collecting new information & varieties of apple seed, and moving on. The one constant she has reached for in life is telling stories.

“I’m interested in how people respond to unusual circumstances. Choice interests me.  What is the metaphor for power, for choice? In SF it tends to be technology (good, bad and balanced) while in Fantasy the metaphor is magic – who has it, who wants or does not want it, what is done with it, and who/what the person or culture is after the dust has settled. A second metaphor, both grace note and foundation, is the need for and art of healing." She adds, “A trope in fantasy is great power after passing through death. Well, at my crisis point, I didn’t die.  That means that I’m a wizard now.  Who knows what I may yet accomplish?”

What is the working title of your current book? Spirit Tracks

Where did the idea come from for the book? It's the third Alfreda novel, about how her family ships her off to fabled Cousin Esme's school for young wizards to get that pesky need for ritual magic under control.

What genre does your book fall under? It's dark fantasy for ages 8-108.

Which actors would you choose to play your characters in a movie rendition? Oh, that's hard. The actress who could have been Allie has grown up. Now? Who do you think? My friend Mike Moe could be Allie's father, and Claudia Christian could be her mother. Diane Lane could be Esme -- beautiful, professional, enigmatic, everything a wizard should be. Jodie Foster could play Marta, I think! And the Asian wizard in Spirit Tracks could have been George Takei in an earlier incarnation.

Monday, December 17, 2012

GUEST BLOG: Jennifer Stevenson on "What's next?"

Jennifer Stevenson, a member of Book View Cafe, describes herself as "the well-meaning wack job responsible for The Brass Bed, The Velvet Chair, The Bearskin Rug, and Trash Sex Magic."

She adds, "Lately I’ve discovered… wait for it… my own body. Now I bike, swim, ride horses, and skate with the Fleetwood Speed Skating team."

What is the working title of your book?
It’s called Dancing With Cupid.

Where did the idea come from for the book?
This is book three in the Slacker Demons series. I came up with the series title out of the blue, one of those lightning bolts authors love, three summers ago. This book came to me because, as I was assembling my posse of slacker sex demons, I wanted to throw in a Hindu god or sex demon of some sort and gave Kamadeva a cameo in book one. Then I researched him--and found out how wonderfully romantic his backstory is! What a perfect jumping-off point for a Fothergill Plot!

What is a Fothergill Plot? (I hear you ask.)

Friday, December 14, 2012

Jaydium - Chapter 24


by Deborah J. Ross, writing as Deborah Wheeler

Chapter 24

Eril stood quietly, hands at his sides, facing the semi-circle of giant silvery bodies. He took a deep breath, his shoulders rising and falling. Then he began to speak.

"We greet you in peace and friendship," he said. At his words, brightness shot through the platform wall panels, leaping with energy. "We represent two star-faring empires, the Fifth Federation and the--er, Dominion. We welcome you with open--er, with eagerness. In all our settled worlds, we have never encountered intelligent life like yours. You are unique, and we would like to have you as friends and...allies."

It could be worse, Kithri thought, even if he did sound like a pompous diplomatic ass. He was doing a whole lot better than she would have in his position. And it couldn=t be easy for him, knowing how much rode on his words. Sweat plastered his black hair to his neck and tension roughened his voice. Despite this, he held himself erect and graceful. The wall lattices danced with light in response to his words.

As Eril spoke, the giant molluscans of the Council began slowly shifting their positions. At first, they swayed from side to side as if they were restless or bored with his speech. Then Kithri realized that they were actually creeping across the platform, back and forth in a complicated weaving pattern. No matter how she tried to concentrate on Eril, her eyes were draw to them. As they moved, the rhythm of their rocking became more apparent and more disturbing. She caught a faint, hypnotic pulsation of light in their bodies.

I=m seeing things... That must be it.

Wednesday, December 12, 2012

What's Next - "Blog Hop" - THE CHILDREN OF KINGS

So a bunch of nefarious conspirators got together and cooked up this game called a Blog Hop. The idea is to get a bunch of friendly author-type folks to answer a series of questions about their work and all do the linkies to one another. In typical fashion, I have answered what I felt like because if it's not fun, it's not worth doing.

You can read a bunch of other cool answers here:

Steve Harper Piziks
Jeffrey Carver
Katharine Eliska "Cat" Kimbriel
Patricia Burroughs
Pati Nagle 

Here goes for my "what's next" project...

What is the working title of your book?
Since I just started noodling around with notes for a new project, in between bouts of terror of the page proofs for one project and editorial revision requests for another that are going to descend on my any moment now, I'd rather talk about the book that's coming out in March. It's got a real, official title and you can pre-order it at Amazon. The Children of Kings, AKA The Next Darkover Novel.

Where did the idea come from for the book?
A couple of things. One is that Marion's original concept for Darkover centered on the clash of cultures, so I wanted to bring the Terran Federation back into the picture, but not in a nice sedately friendly way, in a OMG terrible crisis about to descend upon us way. I also wanted to run away to live with the chieri, and Kierestelli (Regis and Linnea's daughter, from Hastur Lord) kindly offered to take me.

For this tale set mostly in the Dry Towns, I used as background not only The Shattered Chain but a very early (1961) “proto-Darkover” novel, The Door Through Space. The Door Through Space contained many elements familiar to Darkover readers, from jaco and the Ghost Wind to the names of people and places (Shainsa, Rakhal, Dry-towns). Marion was exploring a world in which Terrans are the visitors, and adventure lurks in the shadows of ancient alien cities. She drew upon and further developed this material in The Shattered Chain (1976).

These books reflected the growth of Marion’s vision, but each of them was also part of the times in which it was written. 1960s science fiction novels were often tightly-plotted, fast-paced, and short by today’s standards. Most, although by no means all, protagonists were male, and female characters were  often viewed from that perspective, what today we call “the male gaze.” By the middle of the next decade, publishers were interested in longer, more complex works. Not only that, the women’s movement and the issues it raised influenced genre as well as mainstream fiction, opening the way for strong female characters who defined themselves in their own terms. If Marion had written The Shattered Chain a decade and a half earlier, I doubt it have found the receptive, enthusiastic audience it did. Her timing (as with The Mists of Avalon or The Heritage of Hastur) brilliantly reflected the emerging sensibilities of the times.

Now we live in a different world. This is not to say that the previous struggles have been resolved, but that much has changed in the social consciousness from 1976 to today. In writing The Children of Kings, I considered how Marion’s ideas about the Dry Towns (and any patriarchal desert culture) might have changed over the last three decades. The Shattered Chain, with its examination of the roles of women and the choice (or lack of choices) facing them, focused on only a few aspects of the Dry Towns culture. What if we went deeper, seeing it as complex, with admirable aspects as well as those we find abhorrent? With customs that we cannot truly comprehend but must respect, as well as those that resonate with our own? With men of compassion and women of power?

As the Dry Towns developed in my mind, I turned also to the theme that had characterized the early Darkover novels—the conflict between a space-faring technological race and the marvelously rich and romantic Domains, with their tradition of the Compact and the laran-Gifted Comyn. And now, adding to the mix, the ancient kihar-based Dry Towns.

What genre does your book fall under?
Like much of Darkover, it's technically sf, reads like fantasy. This one's a bit more like the earlier novels in that there are space ships and guys from outer space and such. And chieri, native non-humans. Definitely romantic.

What is the one-sentence synopsis of your book?When Terran smugglers arm the Dry Towns warlords with blasters, it's up to the grandson of Regis Hastur to save Darkover.

Will your book be self-published or represented by an agency?
I write Darkover novels under subcontract to the MZB Literary Works Trust, which owns the copyright. Their agent (who coincidentally happens to be my agent for my own work as well).

How long did it take you to write the first draft of your manuscript?
I typically take about a year to a year and half from beginning the outline to handing in the manuscript to my editor. It's hard to say "first draft, second draft..." as the amount of pre-writing and "oops-in-the-middle" varies so much. I also usually leap-frog rough drafting one project and revising another, interspersed with breaks for other deadlines (page proofs, short fiction for invitational anthologies). This one was no exception.

The Children of Kings is a March 2013 release from DAW. (You can pre-order it now.)

Friday, December 7, 2012

Jaydium - Chapter 23


by Deborah J. Ross, writing as Deborah Wheeler

Chapter 23

Progress to the periphery of the city was slow, but gave them time to get a good look at it. Kithri recognized one structure after another. She wondered what had happened to the vibrant colors of Brianna=s city, and then corrected her thinking. This was the original and the other only a ghost transformed by some unimaginable process. If they were now in the far past, Lennart=s past, this planet might well be the point of divergence, the origin of both her world and Brianna=s. A disturbing thought snaked through her mind. Had the gastropoids had blown themselves up and was her Stayman with its alkali pits and dust-filled Plain the result?

She shivered in the warm air and wondered what would happen to Raerquel=s peace movement if it accepted its own annihilation as its inevitable future.

Will Eril tell them what their war will do to this planet, in the hope of getting them to keep talking instead of bombing? She was grateful the decision wasn=t hers.

At the edge of the city lay parkland, very much like the green stretch where she=d first set 'Wacker down. In the distance, a few gastropoids, their silvery hides gleaming in the sunshine, herded a flock of long-bodied, rat-tailed creatures who lifted their heads curiously and then returned to grazing. Kithri thought they might be furred, but couldn=t be sure.

At the very edge of the pavement, a row of flat, sideless vehicles hovered only a few inches above the milky-quartz threshold. Several gastropoids were in the process of disembarking.

"Hai, Raerquel Hath=djan, so those are your alien mammals!" boomed one of them. "You have scientific proof they are truly sentient?"

"I am seeing you, Suppbril Ad=herim. Any news from NewHome station?"

The other alien rippled enigmatically. Kithri watched Raerquel in sympathy. How would I feel if I had a bunch of intelligent aliens in my custody on the eve of Albion being blown into bits? Would I care--would I show them the consideration Raerquel=s shown us?

The other gastropoids undulated away towards the city. Raerquel slithered on to the platform, occupying most of the front portion. The four humans followed and seated themselves in the center and rear.

Kithri smoothed her hands over the platform, wondering where the control mechanisms were. The surface felt slightly yielding, not brittle like true glass. "This can=t be the same stuff the city=s made out of, even if it looks like it."

"Looks?" Raerquel asked. "Ah, to your eyes all water is appearing the same.

Raerquel telescoped down the erect portion of its body until it reached the platform with its lower appendages. Then it stroked the clear surface like the Port Ludlow guitar player Kithri had once seen coaxing a harmony from his battered instrument. In response, a series of bulbous-tipped knobs rose above the surface. As Raerquel manipulated them, the vehicle lifted slowly to a height of several feet and then began to glide westward.

"You mean this material looks different to you than the city buildings?" Eril asked.

"Functional optical molecular qualities are quite distinctive," the alien replied, finishing its stroking. "Underwater, these differences are enhanced. Here, in this dry place, there is little true light."

"You were able to construct buildings--like those--underwater?" asked Brianna.

Raerquel gestured with a delicate upper tendril. "Once all this was part of the sea of life, before the land changed. The mountains pushed upwards and Ocean-of-Home shrank. Much was lost as we adapted to dry living. We built new cities here, on the banks of the old seas, cities like the one we are now leaving, cities of working, dreaming, waiting..."

"To return to the water?" Kithri asked.

"Even now, we must. For eggs to hatch and water-breathing trochophore younglings to grow. The Flesh-Before-Naming. For the dying oldsters, for the sick in spirit. We adults are able to utilize gaseous oxygen, and our integument is tolerant to the dryness of land with the aid of the healing gel. Terrestrial adaptation, although unpleasant, is possible."

"Just because a thing is possible, doesn=t mean it=s good," said Lennart. Again, some bleak undertone in his voice stung Kithri.

"Wise you are, my human friend. These cities here," Raerquel gestured from the way they had come, "cities of light, and cities of darkness in the mountains, they are not enough for us. Who can say if our present desolation is beginning then, with the loss of our water home, and not with our estranged offspring planets?"


The transport platform floated above the parkland and began to circle the city. As they came around, Kithri caught her first glimpse of the spaceport in its living state, not deserted as it was in Brianna=s time. Row after row of teardrop-shaped ships filled the field. Some were slim and tight like the needle-jets Eril flew late in the war. They seated one, maybe two--she couldn=t be sure about the gastropoids. Other ships were clearly meant to carry more, including one massive vessel that must surely be a freighter. The trading ships she=d known on Stayman were squat, space-scarred buckets, not smoothly rounded crystal. She had a sudden vision of the ships lying broken on the cream-colored field like bits of shattered glass.

Beside her, the two men sat silently staring. The naked hunger in Lennart=s eyes made Kithri flinch and look down. She felt something hot and wet on her face, and scrubbed it away before the others could notice.


They angled along the vee-shaped pass and cut through the last green-cloaked hills. Something flashed before them, blinding in the sunlight. Kithri sat straighter, straining for a better view. She blinked, expecting at first to see the vivid green forest of Brianna=s world. Instead, as they started down the final slope, a vast shallow sea stretched before them and into the blurred horizon.

Brianna murmured something unintelligible and Lennart made a comment about this place being different, but Kithri ignored them. How could you make jokes when there was so much water out there? So big, and glassy calm beyond the narrow line of surf. The reflected light filled the sky and caught in her throat.

The coast curved inward to a little bay, with a cluster of sparkling buildings and a broad, low pier spun of moonlight-frosted glass like something from a fairy tale. Gastropoids jammed the strip of beach, spilling into the shallow water. A few swam out past the surf line, dipping through the waves like elongated pearls. On the beach itself, the bodies thronged together.

Raerquel lowered the platform until waves splashed against the sides. It cantilevered its upper body over the water until its delicate upper appendages skimmed the surface. Then it extended its dripping tentacles, rigid and unmoving.

She had never seen Raerquel so still before. The scientist=s extremities were usually in constant motion. A faint light glimmered over its skin as it slowly recurled its tentacles.

Kithri looked away, out across the sea, and took a deep breath. The air here tasted different from anything she=d known. She felt the moisture on her skin and inside her nose and throat.

Above them, a slender-winged flier hovered and dove, emitting an abrasive whine. Kithri wondered what it was. The shape seemed wrong for a bird, judging by Stayman=s desert-adapted scavengers.

"What was that?" Lennart asked. "A giant dragonfly?"

"Dragonflies don=t make noises like that," Eril said.

"Pseudo-avian," Raerquel commented. Kithri thought that wasn=t what it actually said, but only the best interpretation of Brianna=s translator.

The platform sped on, leaving only a shadow for a wake. Below them, the water was clear enough to reveal a sandy bottom. The ocean floor slanted gradually deeper and deeper, darkening to blue.

Kithri squinted in the brightness of the reflected glare. There was a mist ahead, low and close to the water. Its sharp boundaries struck her as peculiar, but what did she know about water vapor? She was a stranger to Stayman=s single hypersaline sea and Albion had been a world of lakes and rivers, not oceans.

When they were about a mile offshore, the mist resolved into detailed structures. Kithri stared open-mouthed at the outskirts of a gigantic crystalline city that dominated the center of the ocean. Much of it lay underwater, visible only as masses of glittering peaks interspersed with darker areas of red-brown and muted green. Causeways and platforms jutted skyward, spires and towers spaced by avenues, broad enough for the free circulation of water. Gastropoids dove through the waves, sleek and round, their heads emerging here and there to dot the surface like a constellation of pearly beads.

"Tell me I=m not seeing this," Lennart murmured.

"It=s so big," said Brianna in a high, breathy voice. "How do they deal with tidal currents?"

Kithri=s heart seemed to have crawled into her throat. She could barely breathe, let alone speak. Her longing for Albion=s beauty seemed no more than a mistaken hunger, when before her lay a feast. It was not her world, not her city, or even one that her kind might build. Yet something stirred deep within her, a longing that had been buried all those years beneath Stayman=s dust. She=d wept at the vision of the crystalline ships smashed into dust. Now she could not bear to think what might happen to this city.

They arrived at an elaborate complex built above the water, a pavilion of soaring buttresses and wide horizontal panels of transparent lace. Here Raerquel brought their transport to a halt. They climbed the ramp to the wide central stage, where a small group of gastropoids waited. Others moved into position around the perimeter of the platform, encircling them, while below the water teemed with silver bodies.

Sunlight filtered through the crisscrossed filigree of the high arched dome and dappled the glassy floor beneath Kithri=s feet. A breeze whispered through the open walls, bringing her the tang of seawater. 

Five massive gastropoids sat in a semi-circle. Kithri recognized one from the laboratory examining committee, the one on the far left with the iron-gray sheen to its head discs and the neck slits in an inverted chevron pattern.

After cautioning the humans to remain together and to speak only when requested, Raerquel pointed to each gastropoid and named it. "There is Fillo-'hip, leader-elect of the Council...Shuwash from the mountain cities, Nadilith...Ru-elliven of the scientific committee...and Eatonne."

As Raerquel spoke, ripples of brightness flowed over the latticework of the platform=s walls. Kithri craned her neck to watch the patterns of light flare up and then dim as Raerquel finished. The panels should be visible for miles on a day as fair as this one.

Its introductions finished, Raerquel undulated forward."Esteemed Council-of-Ocean and others," it gestured with one constantly moving tentacle towards the gastropoids floating in the waters outside. "I present to you a scientific marvel--intelligent mammalians."

"Whether these creatures are a marvel is remaining to be demonstrated," said the gastropoid Raerquel had named as Fillo-'hip, overriding the murmured reaction from the crowd below. It was a massive creature, easily the largest Kithri had yet seen. She found herself distrusting it intensely. The arrangement of its neck slits resembled sand-hen scratchings, and the motion of its lower appendages, so different from the flowing gestures of Raerquel, made her think of writhing worms. 

"We have studied your reports and the evaluation of the scientific review committee," Fillo-'hip continued. "In these, we find more questions than answers. We are here to find those answers, not to stare like witless hatchlings at your prize exhibits. What secrets have you been withholding from us, Raerquel? There must be an extraterrestrial origin for these creatures, yet your findings indicate the craft in which they were found is inadequate to the depths of space. Where is the explanation for this matter?"

"The discovery of another habitable world, one adaptable to our colonization, would be greatly altering the balance of interplanetary power," added another gastropoid.

"Perhaps Scientist Raerquel has failed in rigorous pursuing of this information for reasons having to do with the political consequences."

Kithri wasn=t sure which gastropoid had uttered this last statement. Some quality of the open space played havoc with her sense of sound direction. She scanned the neck sections of the Council before her, searching for any hint of motion. 

"No conclusive proof of the origins of these humans is yet available," Raerquel answered temperately. "The artifacts accompanying their sudden appearance are currently undergoing analysis. Ghembaya and others have speculated that, had invertebrates not dominated the evolution of life here on Planet-of-Home, some other group--perhaps vertebrate--perhaps mammalian--might have developed intelligence. This is what makes these creatures so miraculous! Listen to them and judge for yourselves if such an evolutionary development has not already occurred, on a world that is separated from ours not by space but by probability. A world in which the unfolding of life has taken this fascinating divergence!"

Raerquel pointed one graceful tentacle at Eril, who stepped forward. The Council came to a sudden halt, upper tentacles extended like frozen feathers. Kithri, standing behind Eril, saw him square his shoulders. A few of the Council members rumbled ominously. For a moment, she feared he wouldn=t be allowed to speak. Then they quieted, a semi-circle of fleshly gray monoliths, their expressions utterly unreadable.

One of them said, "This is irrelevant to the central point under discussion--the true motivations behind Scientist Raerquel=s treasonous opinions."

"Let us at least hear this argument," replied another. "We would not have it said we gave Raerquel no opportunity to present its...evidence."


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