Beowulf's Children

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9780812524963: Beowulf's Children

A new generation is growing up on the island paradise of Camelot, ignorant of the Great Grendel Wars fought when their parents and grandparents first arrived on Earth. Setting out for the mainland, this group of young rebels feels ready to fight any grendels that get in their way. On Avalon, however, there are monsters which drawf the ones their parents fought, and as the group will soon learn, monsters also dwell in the human heart.

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About the Author:

Born in Los Angeles in 1952, Steven Barnes began writing at the age of five, and since that time has published over two million words. His first published collaboration, "The Locusts," was nominated for the 1980 Hugo award, and his Outer Limits episode "A Stitch In Time" was nominated for a Cable Ace Award and won an Emmy for Amanda Plummer. He also wrote a one-woman show based on the life of Bessie Coleman (the first Black Aviatrix), been the Kung-Fu columnist for Black Belt Magazine (he holds dan rankings in Judo and Karate), and served as the host of the world's longest-running science fiction radio show, Hour 25. Currently living in Washington State with his wife, Novelist Tananarive Due and his daughter Lauren Nicole, Steven is working on a series of novels set in prehistoric Africa, for which he recently spent two weeks on Tanzania's Serengeti plain.

Larry Niven is the multiple Hugo and Nebula Award-winning author of the Ringworld series, along with many other science fiction masterpieces. His Beowulf's Children, co-authored with Jeery Pournelle and Steven Barnes was a New York Times bestseller. He lives in Chatsworth, California.

Jerry Pournelle (1933-2017) was an essayist, journalist, and science fiction author. He had advanced degrees in psychology, statistics, engineering, and political science. As a science fiction author, he is best known for his many collaborations with Larry Niven, including Inferno, Beowulf's Children and The Mote in God's Eye.

Pournelle was the first ever winner of the John W. Campbell Award for Best new Writer in 1973.

Excerpt. Reprinted by permission. All rights reserved.:

1
 
 
THE RETURN
 
The optimist proclaims that we live in the best of all possible worlds; and the pessimist fears this is true.
--James Branch Cabell, The Silver Stallion
 
 
"What in the hell is that?"
Jessica Weyland heard the words without recognizing the voice. It originated just outside the stone walls of the Hold's guest bathroom, where she was scrubbing her cheeks with ice-cold water piped from the Amazon Creek.
The bath was part of the Hold's guest suite, attached to a guest bedroom that had been hers before she built her own place at Surf's Up. Toshiro Tanaka, her previous evening's entertainment, still sprawled unconscious across the bed. Sleep-cycle incompatibility prevented them from having anything but an occasional fling. Too bad. Like many a musician, he had such good hands.…
"Frozen bat turds! Will you look at it?"
Jessica ran toward the living room before thinking about what she'd heard. Her long, deeply tanned and muscular legs ate the distance between bedrooms and living room in their nine long strides. Her mind flew faster than her feet. Kids paying us back for last night? Gotcha? No. They'd be pretending horror, not astonished curiosity. No, this is something else.
Jessica was tall and blue-eyed, as Nordic as a glacier, with shoulder-length blond hair, high cheekbones, and a large, cool mouth. She moved like the athletic animal she was. The muscles in her calves bounced with every long stride. She was unself-consciously naked: there had been no time to grab a towel.
Her father, Cadmann Weyland, Colonel Cadmann Weyland, had built the Hold as a fortress against monsters even before he understood the grendel threat. The others called him paranoid and worse, even accusing him of faking a threat as part of a power grab, even a military takeover of the colony. He left them then, and built his home on a high ledge, digging into the side of Mucking Great Mountain. Most of it was underground: cool in Avalon's winters, and warm in her summers. Light slanted in through the Hold's louvered ceiling. The living room was Paradise.
A green-tiled channel grooved the middle of the living room. The glacial Amazon ran through that, right through the living room, a foot deep and four feet wide. It had once been deeper and narrower there, but Jessica didn't remember that. It was another of those facts she had been told, and which she believed in the same way that she believed there was a solar system with a yellower star and a planet named Earth.
A gently sloped tile shelf ran along part of the stream. The rest was fenced off by a hedge that grew along the edge of the running water. The hedge was composed of plants from both Camelot Island and the far reaches of Avalon, so that the room was as much aboretum and botanical garden as living space.
Fully half those weirdly shaped plants had thorns and spines. They weren't really cactus, but resembled cactus more than they did any other kind of Terran plant. Avalon plant life needed protection. Any defenseless life-form was instant grendel chow. Some plants had other protection: the violet-petaled beauties with acid resin, tiny deep blue fruiting bulbs with astonishingly active poison, carnivorous lilies that could turn a frog-sized creature to a husk in forty-eight hours. The garden grew more lethal over the years as the children of Cadmann Weyland's Hold grew more able to cope with them. The plants came from everywhere--Camelot Island's highlands, offshore islands, even the mainland, all brought here to line the stream--and despite the garden's lethality it was beautiful.
From her earliest days Jessica thought the Hold was the most wonderful place in the world. At present Cadmann, Mary Ann, and Sylvia were in the southern thorn forests hunting specimens. The Hold and Cadmann's Bluff itself were Jessica's and Justin's for the next day and a half. A safe place despite the garden. A perfect place to begin the initiation of the Grendel Scouts. Later they would be taken to the mainland for their real coming-of-age. There were neither serpents nor scorpions in this paradise.
So who was doing all the yelling?
She was opening the front door when she saw it behind her. Something emerged from the downstream edge of the Amazon's emerald streambed. It wriggled under the lip of the living room's southern, downhill wall to come right into the Aboretum. Something alive. Something thick-bodied and powerful. Its head reminded her a little of a horse's, only stubbier. It pushed its way farther in. The head melded into a broad, powerful neck that grew longer, and longer.…
A voice behind her said: "Hot damn! It's an eel!" Toshiro knelt by the side of the Amazon to watch as the beast worked its rubbery length against the current. It splashed cold water on Jessica's bare feet as it moved past. It ignored them completely. Eventually the entire creature emerged into the living room, fully sixteen feet long, and as thick as a horse's upper leg.
The front door slammed open, and two panting children ran in. One of them was a small dark girl, Sharon McAn-drews. She brandished a sharpened stick. Her mouth and eyes were wide as she watched the eel wiggle sinously toward the living room's upstream opening. The other, a fourteen-year-old redheaded, freckled lad named Carey Lou Davidson, gawked at Jessica's chest before reluctantly returning his attention to the eel.
"Stay back," Jessica said quickly. She turned to Toshiro. "Hey, keep an eye on that thing, and watch the kids. I'm throwing on some clothes."
"But what is it?" Carey Lou asked.
Toshiro laughed. "I think that Mrs. Eel is just trying to get upstream."
"Spawning grounds?" Jessica asked.
He nodded. "Remember Chaka's biology lecture last month? The ecology is returning to Camelot now that the grendels are gone. This will be part of it. Hot damn!"
He was hopping on one leg, pulling his pants on, risking intimate injury in his enthusiasm. Jessica was already halfway to the guest bedroom.
She struck the room like a blonde whirlwind, sucking up shirt, pants, and thong sandals without a moment's pause. She was back in the living room before the eel disappeared uphill through the northern wall.
There was a change in the location of the general hooting outside. Jessica exited, pulling on her blouse, neglecting the buttons but knotting the corners together into a makeshift bra. She almost collided with Justin.
"What do you see?" Jessica was already running.
"It's heading right up the hill. Did Dad leave any of the holocam stuff?"
"Ice on my mind! I didn't check."
Justin took off up the hill. She swiftly overtook a mob of shrieking Grendel Biters. "Stay away from it!" she shouted.
"It won't hurt us," Sharon McAndrews said. "It can't, it's too slow."
"You never saw anything on speed," Jessica said.
"No legs," one of the children shouted.
"Yes, all right, but stay away from it anyway, we don't want to scare it." She'd seen the videos of samlon growing legs to become grendels, but that took hours, it couldn't happen in a minute. Still--"Stay away from it."
With an ear-numbing burr, Skeeter VI buzzed up over the edge of the bluff. Jessica turned and shaded her eyes to look into the windscreen. Evan Castaneda, clean-cut, classic Latin features, was at the helm of the silver-blue autogyro. Coleen McAndrews, fifteen but looking much older, sat in the passenger seat, holocam clipped to her right shoulder.
Jessica waved Evan down. The skeeter dipped and buzzed, as if intoxicated by flight.
She hopped onto the runner at the skeeter's side, twined the seat belt around her wrist, clipped a safety line to her belt, and gave a thumbs-up.
With gut-wrenching speed Skeeter VI rose two hundred feet above the house and hovered. From this perspective, Cadmann Weyland's ranch was a miracle of human effort. Rows of soybeans and corn and alfalfa checkered the bluff, and pens for pigs and goats and the small, furry Avalon native marsupials called "Joeys."
Beneath them, the Amazon sparkled in a silvered ribbon, just catching the morning sun. Alongside it raced a stream of children who laughed and urged one another to greater effort. Justin was well in the lead.
"Can you see it?" Evan yelled above the turbine whine.
The sunlight glinted off the stream. She thought she caught a slender shadow, but…
"Not yet."
"Try these." Coleen handed her a commlink optical set: binoculars with cameras linked to the colony's central computer system. "Cassandra. I'm turning the war specs over to Jessica."
"Ready, Jessica," the computer responded.
She slipped on the war specs--they looked and felt like heavy sunglasses--and was rewarded by an enhanced version of Cassandra's camera-eye perspective. She adjusted it so the right lens was transparent, and the left gave her the comm-link image.
She squinted her right eye.
Yesss…there be the dragon. Shimmering in the fluorescent reds and blues of the thermal enhancement, the eel struggled its way upstream. "Cassandra, display best size data."
Length: 647 cm.
Estimated weight: 27 kg.
Cassandra gave them a glowing wiggling eel track.
Jessica whispered "Enlarge." The eel stopped, then wiggled forward and back. It expanded to fill her field of vision.
"Who sounded the alarm?"
"Little Chaka or his old man," Coleen said. "One of the Mubutus picked up the river alert. Nothing this big, not ever."
Not for the twenty years we've been here, and not for--She thought about the implications. When humans arrived, the island of Camelot had an incredibly simple ecology, samlon and green slime in the rivers, Joeys and pterodons in the high mountains, and a few thorny or poisonous plants scattered about the plains. Grendels had eaten everything else. But how long had it been that way? "You know what this means? The grendels didn't own this island for thousands of years. They couldn't, the eels wouldn't keep coming back--"
"Sure about that?"
"No, but it's something to think about. Don't lose it!"
"I'll give you another," Coleen said. "What triggered the return after all these years?"
"Now, that is one interesting question."
The tumbled granite majesty of Mucking Great Mountain rose up to greet them. The peaks were constantly swathed in fog. A few irritated pterodons swooped out of their nests to investigate Skeeter VI. Humans didn't hunt pterodons. Over the two decades that humanity had infested Avalon, the great leathery creatures had lost all fear, and now considered the skeeters worthy only of derision. The autogyros were fast but clumsy, barely capable of beating a pterodon on the straightaway, and zero competition at aerobatics.
The eel continued to labor upstream. It humped painfully through the shallows, fighting as urgently as any Earth salmon, ever did.
Salmon.
Samlon.
Jessica repressed a shudder.
This thing was almost certainly a carnivore--but would confine its hunting to water. It might be as dangerous as a moray eel, fully capable of taking a baseball-sized lump out of an unwary buttock, but.it shouldn't be able to do anything else. It couldn't come out of the water.
Still…"If it had speed it would have used it by now," Jessica dictated. "Cassandra, database search, match that image."
"No exact match. One similar life-form, two hundred ninety centimeters in length, observed in a stream on Black Ship Island." A map flashed momentarily in her vision: Black Ship Island was a smaller uninhabited island off the mainland coast.
"Evidence of speed?" she asked.
"None," Cassandra replied. "No visible speed sacs, no structures evolved for cooling. Probability low to nil."
"Thank you."
"You're welcome."
Every skeeter carried a fully armed shock rifle, one of the tools developed in case the grendels ever came back. They never had, but everyone was trained to use the weapons anyway. Shock rifles could deliver numerous designer loads: chiefly a capacitor dart to stun, and an engineered biotoxin which triggered overload of its " speed" sacks. Speed was the superoxygenated hemoglobin that allowed the grendels to accelerate to over 110 km/hr in about three seconds. The toxin drove a grendel completely berserk, drunken on her own "adrenaline." A speed-drunken grendel produced enough heat to cook itself in about seventy seconds.
Evan tapped his ear. "Roger."
"What's the word?" Coleen shouted.
"Kill it. Standing Municipal Order One-four-two. On file. Kill it first, decide whether it's harmful later."
"It's got no legs," Jessica said. "It can barely function on the land. Cassandra says it doesn't use speed. Let's wait."
"Got my orders," Evan said ruefully.
"Is Skeeter Six still set up for dolphin transport?"
"Sure--we flew Quanda and Hipshot up yesterday."
"Great. Somebody was playing with a Ouija board."
The eel struggled up and up, blindly urgent, making surprisingly good time. Justin had kept up with it, although many of the children had dropped back by now. She patched herself through to Justin's comm link.
"Jessie here. What does it look like to you?"
" Ugly thing. Ignoring us, though. What's the word?"
"Kill it."
" What do you think?"
"Let's take it alive."
" I like the way you think. Zack's got ice on his mind."
There was a crackle of static and another voice came online. It was Zack Moskowitz, governor of Avalon. " I find that tasteless, young man. You listen to me, both of you--your father has standing orders--"
"Our father isn't here, Zack."
" I want you to kill that thing. We don't know--"
"That's right, we don't. I'll kill it when I'm ready."
" Dammit, Jessica!"
She thumped her headset. "Brzztfplt. Gee, Zack, you're breaking up! Over." And switched her comm link off as Evan was bringing the skeeter around for a landing next to a large pond.
The skeeter thumped down on rocks. Jessica snatched up the rifle, and hopped off.
The eel humped itself over a rock break, looked at her without seeing her, and wiggled into the center of the pond.
Coleen moved a little closer, her holocamera recording the entire event. Every time the eel moved, a staccato series of computer-enhanced afterimages flashed before Jessica's left eye. Cassandra's exobiology study program was having a field day.
"Get in closer, Coleen," she said.
The eel swished back and forth through the pond's crystal-clear water. Jessica clambered up a rock to get a better view.
Beside her, Coleen whispered, "Cassandra: M-D Coleen EELTALK," opening a personal file, and began to speak.
"Eel-like. Probably carnivore. Five meters long. Estimate top speed of twenty knots. This is no infant. Cross-hatching indicates healed ...

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