The City of Basilica has fallen. Now Wetchik, Nafai, and all their family must brave the desert wastes, and cross the wide continents to where Harmony's hidden spaceport lies silent, abandoned, waiting for the command to make the great interstellar ships ready for flight again.
But of these sixteen people, only a few have chosen their exile. The others, Rasa's spiteful daughters and their husbands; Wetchik's oldest son, Elemak, have been forced against their will. Their anger and hatreds will make the difficult journey harder.
"synopsis" may belong to another edition of this title.
Born in Richland, Washington in 1951, Orson Scott Card grew up in California, Arizona, and Utah. He lived in Brazil for two years as an unpaid missionary for the Mormon Church and received degrees from Brigham Young University (1975) and the University of Utah (1981). The author of numerous books, Card was the first writer to receive both the Hugo and Nebula awards for best novel two years in a row, first for Ender's Game and then for the sequel Speaker for the Dead. He lives with his wife and children in North Carolina.
THE SHIPS OF EARTH (Chapter 1:THE LAW OF THE DESERT)
Shedemei was a scientist, not a desert traveler. She had no great need for city comforts--she was as content sleeping on a floor or table as on a bed--but she resented having been dragged away from her laboratory, from her work, from all that gave her life meaning. She had never agreed to join this half-mad expedition. Yet here she was, atop a camel in the dry heat of the desert wind, rocking back and forth as she watched the backside of the camel in front of her sway in another rhythm. It made her faintly sick, the heat and the motion. It gave her a headache.
Several times she almost turned back. She could find the way well enough; all she had to do was get close enough to Basilica and her computer would link up with the city and show her the rest of the way home. Alone, she'd make much better time--perhaps she could even be back before nightfall. And they would surely let her into the city--she wasn't kin by blood or marriage to anyone else in this group. The only reason she had been exiled with them was because she had arranged for the dryboxes full of seeds and embryos that would reestablish some semblance of the old flora and fauna on Earth. She had done a favor for her old teacher, that's all--they could hardly force her into exile for that.
Yet that cargo was the reason she did not turn back. Who else would understand how to revive the myriad species carried on these camels? Who else would know which ones needed to go first, to establish themselves before later species came that would have to feed on them?
It's not fair, thought Shedemei for the thousandth time. I'm the only one in this party who can begin to do this task--but for me, it's not a challenge at all. It's not science, it's agriculture. I'm here, not because the task the Oversoul has chosen me for is so demanding, but because all the others are so deeply ignorant of it.
"You look angry and miserable."
Shedemei turned to see that it was Rasa who had brought her camel up beside Shedemei's on the wide stony path. Rasa, her teacher--almost her mother. But not really her mother, not by blood, not by right.
"Yes," said Shedemei.
"At me?" asked Rasa.
"Partly you," said Shedemei. "You maneuvered us all into this. I have no connection with any of these people, except through you."
"We all have the same connection," said Rasa. "The Oversoul sent you a dream, didn't she?"
"I didn't ask for it."
"Which of us did?" said Rasa. "No, I do understand what you mean, Shedya. The others all made choices that got them into this. Nafai and Luet and Hushidh and I have come willingly ... more or less. And Elemak and Meb, not to mention my daughters, bless their nasty little hearts, are here because they made some stupid and vile decisions. The others are here because they have marriage contracts, though for some of them it's merely compounding the original mistake to come along. But you, Shedemei, all that brings you here is your dream. And your loyalty to me."
The Oversoul had sent her a dream of floating through the air, scattering seeds and watching them grow, turning a desert land into forest and meadow, filled with greenery, abounding with animals. Shedemei looked around at the bleak desert landscape, seeing the few thorny plants that clung to life here and there, knowing that a few lizards lived on the few insects that found water enough to survive. "This is not my dream," said Shedemei.
"But you came," said Rasa. "Partly for the dream, and partly out of love for me."
"There's no hope of succeeding, you know," said Shedemei. "These aren't colonizers here. Only Elemak has the skill to survive."
"He's the one who's most experienced in desert travel. Nyef and Meb are doing well enough, for their part. And the rest of us will learn."
Shedemei fell silent, not wanting to argue.
"I hate it when you back away from a quarrel like that," said Rasa.
"I don't like conflict," said Shedemei.
"But you always back off at exactly the moment when you're about to tell the other person exactly what she needs to hear."
"I don't know what other people need to hear."
"Say what you had on your mind a moment ago," said Rasa. "Tell me why you think our expedition is doomed to failure."
"Basilica," said Shedemei.
"We've left the city. It can't possibly harm us now."
"Basilica will harm us in a thousand ways. It will always be our memory of a gentle, easier life. We'll always be torn with longing to go back."
"It's not homesickness that worries you, though, surely," said Rasa.
"We carry half the city with us," said Shedemei. "All the diseases of the city, but none of its strengths. We have the custom of leisure, but none of the wealth and property that made it possible. We have become used to indulging too many of our appetites, which can never be indulged in a tiny colony like ours will be."
"People have left the city and gone colonizing before."
"Those who want to adapt will adapt, I know," said Shedemei. "But how many want to? How many have the will to set aside their own desires, to sacrifice for the good of us all? I don't even have that degree of commitment. I'm more furious with every kilometer we move farther away from my work."
"Well, then, we're fortunate," said Rasa. "Nobody else here had any work worth mentioning. And those who did have lost everything so they couldn't go back anyway."
"Meb's work is waiting for him there," said Shedemei.
Rasa looked baffled for a moment. "I'm not aware that Meb had any work, unless you mean his sad little career as an actor."
"I meant his lifelong project of coupling with every female in Basilica who wasn't actually blood kin of his, or unspeakably ugly, or dead."
"Oh," said Rasa, smiling wanly. "That work."
"And he's not the only one," said Shedemei.
"Oh, I know," said Rasa. "You're too kind to say it, but my own daughters are no doubt longing to take up where they left off on their own versions of that project."
"I don't mean to offend you," said Shedemei.
"I'm not offended. I know my daughters far too well. They have too much of their father in them for me not to know what to expect from them. But tell me, Shedya, which of these men do you honestly expect them to find attractive?"
"After a few weeks or a few days, all the men will start looking good to them."
Rasa laughed lightly. "I daresay you're right, my dear. But all the men in our little party are married--and you can bet that their wives will be looking out to make sure no one intrudes in their territory."
Shedemei shook her head. "Rasa, you're making a false assumption. Just because you have chosen to stay married to the same man, renewing him year after year since--well, since you gave birth to Nafai--that doesn't mean that any of the other women here are going to feel that possessive and protective of their husbands."
"You think not?" said Rasa. "My darling daughter Kokor almost killed her sister Sevet because she was sleeping with Kokor's husband Obring."
"So ... Obring won't try to sleep with Sevet again. That doesn't stop him from trying for Luet, for instance."
"Luet!" said Rasa. "She's a wonderful girl, Shedya, but she's not beautiful in the way that a man like Obring looks for, and she's also very young, and she's plainly in love with Nafai, and most important of all, she's the waterseer of Basilica and Obring would be scared to death to approach her."
Shedemei shook her head. Didn't Rasa see that all these arguments would fade to unimportance with the passage of time? Didn't she understand that people like Obring and Meb, Kokor and Sevet lived for the hunt, and cared very little who the quarry might be?
"And if you think Obring might try for Eiadh, I'd laugh out loud," said Rasa. "Oh, yes, he might wish, but Eiadh is a girl who loves and admires only strength in a man, and that is one virtue that Obring will never have. No, I think Obring will be quite faithful to Kokor."
"Rasa, my dear teacher and friend," said Shedemei, "before this month is out Obring will even have tried to seduce me."
Rasa looked at Shedemei with a startlement she could not conceal. "Oh, now," she said. "You're not his--"
"His type is whatever woman hasn't told him no recently," said Shedemei. "And I warn you--if there's one thing our group is too small to endure, it's sexual tension. If we were like baboons, and our females were only sexually attractive a few times between pregnancies, we could have the kind of improvised short-term matings that baboons have. We could endure the periodic conflicts between males because they would end very quickly and we'd have peace the rest of the year. But we're human, unfortunately, and we bond differently. Our children need stability and peace. And there are too few of us to take a few murders here and there in stride."
"Murders," said Rasa. "Shedemei, what's got into you?"
"Nafai has already killed one man," said Shedemei. "And he's probably the nicest of this group, except perhaps Vas."
"The Oversoul told him to."
"Yes, so Nafai's the one man in this group who obeys the Oversoul. The others are even more likely to obey their god."
"It dangles between their legs," said Shedemei.
"You biologists have such a cynical view of human beings," said Rasa. "You'd think we were the lowest of animals."
"Oh, not the lowest. Our males don't try to eat their young."
"And our females don't devour their mates," said Rasa.
"Though some have tried."
They both laughed. They had been talking fairly quietly, and their camels were well separated from the others, but their laughter bridged the distance, and others turned to look at them.
"Don't mind us!" called Rasa. "We weren't laughing at you!"
But Elemak did min...
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