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Gar Pike, the son of the Warlock, and his sidekick Alea wander the galaxy in search of planets that require a little revolution to straighten themselves out, but their continuing quest could become complicated by Gar's and Alea's growing feeling for each other. 12,500 first printing.
"synopsis" may belong to another edition of this title.
In addition to his Rogue Wizard novels, Christopher Stasheff is the author of the popular Warlock series, beginning with the bestselling The Warlock in Spite of Himself. He lives in Champaign, Illinois, with his wife and four children.Excerpt. © Reprinted by permission. All rights reserved.:
Magnus, we have an emergency."
Magnus d'Armand looked up at the source of the calm voice. There was nothing there, of course--only a woodland scene in a gilded frame; the loudspeakers were hidden. "What sort of emergency, Herkimer?"
Across the expanse of thick, dark red carpet, Alea looked up from the scrolling print in front of her padded velvet armchair. She wore lounging pajamas of silk that only emphasized her height; there was no need to minimize it when her companion was nearly seven feet tall himself. She had a long, bony face framed in long, lustrous dark hair.
Magnus glanced at her, then glanced away to hide the admiration in his eyes--he was still unsure as to the nature of the heartbreak that had made her so wary of men and he was determined not to alarm her. She did seem to be past the worst of it, though there were still moments of hostility in her manner, and she still seemed too quick to argue minor points. But he was determined to prove himself a good friend and reliable companion--and safe. He mustn't let her see how much he was aware of the generous curves in that long figure or how exquisite he thought the bone structure of her face.
Besides, he had memories of his own, reasons to avoid intimacy.
Fortunately, the ship's computer distracted him with its answer. "There is a malfunction in my central processing unit, Magnus."
Magnus stiffened and saw the look of alarm on Alea's face. Amazing that a woman of a medieval society had learned so much of modern technology in two short years! "How serious is the malfunction, Herkimer?"
"There is no way to tell, Magnus. It had resisted my standard diagnostic programs. It will require extended analysis."
"We'd better plan for the worst," Alea said. "Any breakdown in the computer could threaten the life-support systems."
"Yes, and at any moment." Magnus frowned. "What functions are impaired, Herkimer?"
"Only memory so far, Magnus. I attempted to retrieve records of our last expedition but could not even bring up the name of the planet."
"It was Oldeira, and we limited the power of magician-despots by introducing Taoism," Alea told him.
"Datum entered," Herkimer acknowledged, then immediately said, "I could not even bring up the name of the planet."
Magnus's and Alea's gazes met with alarm. "The memory-sector is so corrupted that it can't even hold new data!" she exclaimed.
"And if Herkimer can't diagnose it, there's no way to tell whether or not it will spread to other functions," Magnus said. "If he forgets the rate at which he's supposed to be feeding us air or gets the nitrogen-oxygen proportions wrong, we could wind up having a very sound sleep indeed."
"We have to land!"
"Let's hope we can." Magnus raised his voice again. "Can you initiate a scan for livable planets, Herkimer?"
"Scanning," the computer responded. A few seconds later, it said, "There is a G-4 star less than a light-year distant."
"That's the same stellar type as Terra's sun," Alea said. "Does it have any planets, Herkimer?"
"Three," the computer answered, "with an asteroid belt between the second and the third, which is a gas giant."
"Tidal forces tore a fourth planet apart." Magnus nodded.
"Or prevented it from ever forming," Alea countered. "How about the other two, Herkimer? Is either of them hospitable to Terran-based life?"
"One is very compatible," the computer answered. "In fact, it is so close a match to Terra that I deduce it has been terraformed."
"Lost Colony!" Alea cried.
"There is no record of a Terran colony at this location," Herkimer acknowledged.
"Land on that planet," Magnus told him. "It will keep us alive if anything goes wrong."
"Shore leave!" Alea's eyes lit. "Four months aboard ship is too long."
Magnus caught his breath; she seemed to glow in her eagerness, more vibrant, more alive than any woman he had known. He wondered why he found her so much more beautiful now than when he had first met her hiding in the forests of Midgard. He decided that it must be the effects of good nutrition and decent living conditions. He wrenched his mind back to the problem at hand and said, "There may be people there, too. Time for me to become Gar Pike again."
"Surely you don't think there will be anybody looking for Magnus d'Armand on a retrograde colony that's not even on the charts!"
"You can never tell where SCENT may have an agent," Magnus answered. "There are disadvantages to having a price on your head, especially when the organization who's offering that price counts you as a turncoat and rogue."
"Disadvantages?" Alea asked sourly. "What advantage could there be, to being a wanted man?"
"That depends on who is doing the wanting." Magnus met her gaze for an instant before he turned away. "Let's go check our packs."
* * *
Herkimer's landing orbit took him over the daylit side of the planet three times--more than enough for him to spy on the locals with his electron telescope, and to fabricate copies of what he saw there. So, by the time he hovered over the middle of the dark side and landed the great golden disk that was their spaceship, Gar and Alea were decked out in broad-brimmed hats, loose shirts and trousers, and Black Watch plaid jackets.
"I just hope none of the locals wear this pattern," Alea said as they went down the gangway.
"If they do, we'll see if we can buy some other ones." Gar felt the gold nuggets in his pocket, currency on virtually any world. He hiked his pack a little higher on his shoulders and looked down at the unwieldy form of the flintlock rifle cradled in his arm. "Herkimer, are you sure this is how these people carry their weapons? I should think they'd be in danger of blowing away their own feet!"
"It is customary not to cock the hammer until you intend to fire, Magnus," the computer's voice said from behind them.
"We'll have to put in some target practice as soon as there's light," Alea said nervously. "This has to be the most clumsy weapon I've ever handled!"
"It must be effective," Magnus sighed. He frowned around at the forest bordering their clearing. There was no moon, but the sky blazed with five times as many stars as Terra's, and by their light he was able to make out a trail straggling across the meadow and into the wood. "Let's go there." He pointed. "We don't want people to find us in a meadow where the grass has been crushed flat by a spaceship's downdraft."
"And keep our eyes open for renegade locals?" Alea asked.
"Someone on the run always makes a good guide," Gar agreed. "That is, provided he's not on the run for being a genuine criminal."
"Well, I do have to say that much for a planet where everybody is trying to kill everybody else," Alea said. "They're not likely to have slaves who are trying to escape."
"No, but there might be someone who's been cut off from his own side." Gar resettled his rifle, grimaced at its awkwardness, and said, "Let's go."
They started off into the night, Alea with a thrumming eagerness inside; she still had not tired of seeing strange places and new peoples.
"Magnus," Herkimer's voice said behind them.
They turned to look, surprised.
"What is it, Herkimer?" Gar asked.
"I have remembered all the information about the planet Oldeira," the computer answered. "The CPU malfunction seems to have repaired itself."
Magnus frowned. "I don't like the sound of that. Something that can appear that suddenly and disappear even more suddenly is very untrustworthy. Go up to orbit and make sure of the diagnosis. When you find out what caused the problem, let us know."
Alea breathed a sigh of relief. For a moment, she'd been afraid she'd have to go back to her gilded prison. The caress of the night wind on her cheek seemed even sweeter.
"I shall do as you say," Herkimer said, "as soon as you are out of range of my sensors."
"Good idea," Gar said. "Let me know how you're doing."
"I shall," the computer said. "Good hunting."
Its infrared sensors watched as its humans crossed the meadow and disappeared into the trees. It waited a moment longer.
Actually, it waited quite a few moments, enough to make up several minutes, enough for a huge-headed, stumpy-legged, catlike alien to waddle down the gangway and follow the humans into the forest. Herkimer wasn't aware of the delay, though, since Evanescent used her projective telepathy to make him forget everything from the moment the alien appeared in his field of vision until she vanished into the shadows beneath the trees. The time wasn't forgotten so much as edited out--and this time, the alien remembered to reset Herkimer's clock so that the spaceship wouldn't know it had lingered more than a few seconds longer than it had to.
Then it was up and gone, rising on pressor beams until it was safe to use atmospheric drive. Up it spun into the stars, a disk of darkness against the splendor of the heavens, until it rose out of the shadow of the planet into the light of the sun and seemed one more star itself.
Gar and Alea didn't see, of course. They were already under the canopy of leaves, searching for a smaller clearing where they could pitch camp and light a fire.
Evanescent, though, found the nearest thicket and bedded down. She had no need to shadow her humans; she could follow their thoughts and find them whenever she wanted. Not that she intended to let them get too far ahead, of course. She wanted to stay close enough to get in on the fun.
* * *
Magnus and Alea kindled a fire and settled down for the night. Gar claimed first watch, but Alea was too excited to sleep. After half an hour of trying, she gave up and came to join him by the fire.
"What do you make of their clothing?" she asked Gar.
"I'd guess it's homemade versions of what was everyday wear on Terra, from back when their ancestors left to colonize this planet," he answered. "Probably looser to give more freedom of movement--after all, most of the city people did their work at desks, and when they did want to work out, they wore special exercise suits."
"Even the broad-brimmed hats?"
"Magnus shrugged. "They're practical--keep the sun out of your eyes and the rain out of your face. Their coats, though, those are what interest me."
"Why?" Alea asked. "Their being hip length shows it doesn't get terribly cold, but that's about all--unless you mean the patterns."
"I do," Gar said. "It's as good as livery to show which side you're on."
"Yes, I suppose when you're fighting people your own size, you do need some way to tell friends from enemies." Alea came from a normal-sized people whose hereditary enemies were giants and dwarves. "Those sort of patterns look easy for weavers to make. I'm surprised there are so many variations, though."
"A people called Scots wove such plaids on old Earth," Gar mused. "They called them 'tartans.' When their history became fashionable, people pretended every clan had invented its own tartan."
"They didn't really, though?"
"It wasn't cast in iron," Magnus said, "nothing to prevent one clan from using cloth with a dozen different patterns--or none. Still, these people seem to have heard of the idea."
"They might," Alea said, "or they might have invented it on their own. It would be a natural thing for a weaver to hit upon, after all--bright, attractive, and not terribly difficult."
"That's true," Gar said thoughtfully. "I suppose these people don't have to be descended from Scots at all."
Alea frowned, looking closely at him. "There's another reason you think so, isn't there?"
Magnus sighed. "The Scots had a reputation for feuding, and that would explain all those skirmishes we saw on the screen as we orbited the planet."
"Feuding? What tribal society didn't?" Alea demanded. "I've been reading your history books. All your peoples had feuds before they settled down to farming. Some kept it going after that, too."
"Yes, and it's bad enough when people only have swords and axes," Magnus said. "These people, though, all have rifles."
"Appalling." Alea shuddered. "Absolutely appalling number of casualties. Thank Thor they take so long to reload!"
"Maybe we just came along when they happened to be at war," Gar said. "Maybe it doesn't really go on all the time."
"We can hope," Alea said darkly. "After all, if it does go on all the time, what can we do to stop it?"
"Oh, we'll think of something," Gar said softly.
Alea gave him a sharp look; his face had turned dreamy, and she could hear his thoughts clicking into place. If he couldn't start a revolution this time, he'd settle for bringing peace.
Somehow, she had a notion that this trip wouldn't be wasted.
* * *
Gar yielded the watch to her, slept four hours, then took up his vigil again--which was just as well, because the excitement had finally worn off, and Alea managed a few hours' sleep.
"A nap is better anyway," she told him over their breakfast of journeybread and coffee. "We'd only been awake ten hours when we landed."
"It will take a day or two to turn our inner rhythms around," Gar agreed. "Well, let's see what this planet holds, shall we?"
They drowned and buried the fire, then went off down lanes of fir trees with very little underbrush to impede them. The sun hadn't risen yet, and the forest was still filled with gloom--light enough to see where they were going, but dark enough to be dusk more than day.
"What's that glow in the air ahead?" Alea asked.
"Probably a rotten tree gone phosphorescent," Gar said, and changed course toward the luminous cloud. They'd only gone another dozen steps before he stopped dead, staring. "It can't be!"
Alea's eyes were wider than his. "It is!"
The cloud moved toward them with the angry hum of a dozen wings. The foot-high humanoids hovered before them, six-foot spans of gauzy wings forming a semicircular wall around the humans, some with arms folded, some with hands on hips, but all with fists, their faces glowing with anger.
Copyright © 2001 by Christopher Stasheff
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