Authors: Jeffrey A. Carver
Tags: #Science Fiction
Copyright 1976 by Jeffrey Carver
Published by E-Reads. All rights reserved.
Books by Jeffrey A. Carver
The Star Rigger Universe
(in chronological order in the future history)
Dragons in the Stars
Star Rigger's Way
Seas of Ernathe
The Chaos Chronicles
Neptune Crossing: Volume One
Strange Attractors: Volume Two
The Infinite Sea: Volume Three
Sunborn: Volume Four
Novels of the Starstream
From a Changeling Star
Down the Stream of Stars
The Infinity Link
The Rapture Effect
Roger Zelazny's Alien Speedway: Clypsis
Battlestar Galactica (miniseries novelization)
Seas of Ernathe
is the first-written of my novels of the Star Rigger Universe (and my first novel, period). But it falls
in the chronology of stories told in the Star Rigger future history, thus guaranteeing confusion in lists forever.
This E-reads edition is the first since the book's original print publication by Laser Books in 1976. In going through the text, I have made some corrections in spelling and punctuation, and tightened up the wording in a few places. Mostly, though, I have let it stand just as the younger me wrote it—complete with the fondness for apostrophes, madeupcompoundwords, and other youthful exuberances. It seemed good to me at the time. Why should I argue now?
Herewith the beginning (or is it the end?) of the Star Rigger saga. Enjoy!
—Jeffrey A. Carver, 2009
There are probably more good new writers in the science fiction field today than at any time in the history of the genre. I'm not completely sure why this should be, though obviously such factors as the burgeoning quality and popularity of science fiction have a lot to do with it: not only are there more people reading sf today (and hence becoming interested in writing it), but the stories they're reading must be providing higher standards at which to aim than did such stories of earlier eras as, say,
Captain Future and the Space Emperor
Whatever the reason, I find that I get a lot of manuscripts from new writers that would make the established professionals of science fiction's pulp era flush green with envy. And whenever I get a manuscript that shows so much talent, whether or not I feel I can buy it for one of my anthologies, I try to let the writer know I appreciate what he or she has done, and I ask for more stories.
Jeffrey Carver was one of these writers: a couple of years ago I received two stories from him that raised my eyebrows. Neither struck me as completely successful, but as I read them I became intensely aware that I was meeting a writer of real talent; and when I regretfully returned the manuscripts I said, "What I like in these stories are your descriptive powers, which are considerable; I can
these scenes." I asked where he'd sold stories so far, and was surprised to get a letter in return saying that he was just beginning and hadn't sold anything yet.
Since then Jeff Carver has sold articles and stories to such markets as
; and now he's written a full-length novel that fulfills all the promise of his early stories, and then some.
Seas of Ernathe
shows Carver's descriptive powers at their best: he brings the people and places of an alien world to life on the page and presents us with a well-thought-out alien society in conflict with visitors from Earth. He has an engrossing story to tell, too.
Science fiction is a strangely hybrid field of writing, as its very name suggests.
rationality, logic, the belief that all of reality can be understood in these terms.
imagination, wonder, the realization that strange things will happen in an infinite universe.
If we want to, we can polarize sf writers according to which end of the description their works usually fit. Heinlein, Asimov, Clement and Clarke are at home in the rationalists' camp; at the other end are people like Vance, Brackett, Zelazny and Norton. Talented writers all—and popular ones, too.
I think Jeffrey Carver's name will soon take its place among the latter group of writers: he imagines wonders, and allows us to share his vision.
Seas of Ernathe
is one such vision, and I think you'll enjoy it.
The starship labored in the uncertain currents of flux-space. Its course took it through unknown realms, bypassing the emptiness between the stars, until, in nearing the end of its journey,
had effectively dodged seventy-four light-years of normal-space distance from the Cluster Central Worlds. But the journey, if quick by the standards of interstellar distances, was perilously draining.
had strained to the limits of its endurance by the time, finally, that it wrenched free of the queer existence of flux-space and leaped, like a terrified fish bursting over a dam, into normal space.
A sculpted drop of quicksilver,
hurtled on through the dark of space toward the golden sun Lambern and its second planet, Ernathe, where a troubled colony awaited assistance. From the darkened control pit, communication channels grumbled forthrightly between starship and colony as the ship decelerated toward orbit. With due concern for identification, the colony demanded and received clearance codes; then
's master was advised that planetary defenses had been neutralized and that the ship was free, to approach.
slowed and orbited.
Ernathe turned slowly on the control pit viewscreens: a misty planet, a world of spiderweb land masses, glistening clouds and green and blue seas. Ernathe the sea-planet. Somewhere in the clouds and the maze, tracked by signal but lost to the eye, were the tiny twin settlements, Lambrose and Lernick. They were the only human claim to this world but an important claim, indeed, to warrant a planetary mission from the busy Central Worlds.
Silent in the gloom of the control pit, Pilot Second Seth Perland monitored his screens and made ready to assist the Pilot First as the latter began the approach and descent sequence. Noting a red spark crossing his mainscreen, the Pilot Second signaled the Captain to advise him of imminent danger—and then allowed himself a breath of astonishment.
had been fired upon. A pulse-packet attack burst, apparently from the colony, was streaking out of the atmosphere toward the starship.
The Captain's voice murmured in his earset; and the Pilot Second touched two parted fingers to two plates on the control panel.
The starship's weapons-fire streamed sparkling across the emptiness of space and rained lazily into the closing pulse-packet pinwheel.
, the Pilot Second thought,
that if they're going to attack at all they should launch only a single burst
. He watched the deadly play on his screen and remained ready to double his fire if necessary.
The pinwheel brightened, absorbing the defensive fire. It overloaded white . . . blue . . . pulsing indigo . . . then flared into a harmless nova and faded silently into space.
The danger had passed, with scarcely a word spoken aboard ship. While
hovered, though, the communication channels came alive. Pilot Second Perland keyed in and listened. "Ernathe, explain, explain!" The Captain himself came on the circuit: "You will tell us, Ernathe, what in
is going on!"—and the only answers were more confusion and consternation. The officers held the ship at battle readiness—prepared, if necessary, for pinpoint bombardment. Did an enemy hold the colony?
, please hold! We are trying to get you an explanation, we do not know why you were fired upon!"
The explanation, when it came, was no explanation at all. It had been an accident, a mortifying fluke—a
, the Ernathene operator stammered, on the part of a native life form.
"We do, repeat do have full control over systems again. All weaponry has, ah, been disconnected from power. You are cleared, repeat cleared to land!"
The Pilot Second shook his head in disbelief—anger was impossible, that would imply belief—and waited while the Captain presumably mulled the situation over. He merely shrugged to himself when the order was given to resume the landing approach, with all weapons at ready.
Its journey nearing an end, the starship flashed gleaming through the planet's atmosphere, over seas glowing in the sun, and down finally to an uneventful landing on the Lambrose-Lernick spacepad. If there was an enemy waiting to greet the ship, he remained hidden. Only welcoming and profusely apologetic Ernathenes came forward to greet the starship crew.
's planetary mission on Ernathe.
* * *
Seth Perland sat against the rocks of the seashore and stared wonderingly out to sea, his thoughts torn between delight at the view laid open before him and bewilderment over the words he had just heard. He grunted unbelievingly. "The sea-people simply strolled into the defense battery when no one was looking, set off an orbit-burst, and wandered back out? No one watching, when there's a bloody
landing?" He looked dubiously at the speaker, and turned his gaze back to the water. The sea was clear and empty and green, stretching from the ragged shore, and flat beneath the airborne tufts of sea-mist that glittered in the sun here and there across the expanse. A few kilometers out, another arm of the coast jutted across the water to break up the open view.
The sea-people. The "Nale'nid." According to the Ernathenes, they moved before one's eyes like shadows of fish beneath the water, like the tricky play of golden Lambern over the sea.
"Well, nevertheless it seems to be true," answered Seth's Ernathene guide of the last two days. "If we understood how and why the Nale'nid do what they do, we wouldn't have had to ask the Cluster Council for help. We were doing quite well without it, until recently."
Racart Bonhof was a small fellow—tan complexioned, with dark straight hair and intelligent green eyes that flashed brightly at Seth, then veered away with a far-off, dreamy intensity. He struck Seth as being a capable man among a capable people; and yet their difficulties here were so strange as to require help from the Central Worlds. Well, they deserved it. For Seth himself, it was purely coincidence that he had drawn a mission to a planet and colony whose activities were so close to his heart.
Seth rocked thoughtfully on the spray-smoothed stone, stretching. He was a young man, perhaps a year or two older than Racart, but he did not feel it at the moment; forty-some days in a starship had left him sadly in need of outdoor exercise, and the several kilometers they had hiked from the settlement had only begun to loosen his muscles. He rubbed his short brown hair, smoothed his hands on the cool stone surface, and stared into the sea. It was misty emerald. The rocky bank was visible beneath the surface for some distance, sloping steeply, startlingly into the depths. Nothing moved except a few bits of floating detritus and the translucent fuzz of the plankton.
"I'm going to have to see these Nale'nid soon," Seth declared. He was anxious to accomplish something; the
mission crew under Captain Gorges and Planetary Mission Officer Richel Mondreau was still up in arms about the attack on the ship. But even just seeing the Nale'nid might be a difficult problem; according to Racart, one saw the sea-people solely at their own pleasure. Even the Ernathenes could say little about them with certainty—except that until recently they had been a pleasant but harmless enigma of this world, rarely appearing at all, and never entering the human settlements. What had caused the change no one knew; but whatever the reason it was disastrous to the functioning of the colony.
Seth wanted, indeed, to see these curious marauders. It could be called duty—now that he was under the orders, strictly speaking, of the Planetary Mission rather than Captain Gorges—but it was really a matter of his natural instinct for a mystery.
Racart slapped his arm. "Let's hike farther up the coast, then. The chances will be better there." With that, he set off, Seth wincing and trying to favor both legs at once as he followed. Hiking up the coast was no simple matter. The terrain was torturous, a mazework of lagoons and promontories and pools, bridged and framed by rock and weatherworn
growth. Everywhere they walked, sea-mist floated just above the water or land, twinkling like fallen bits of cirrus cloud and making it impossible to see the overall landscape at a glance. The sea-mist, Racart had explained, was very common at these southern latitudes, disappearing and reappearing at a whim or a wrong word. Where there was no mist, Lambern glowed amber and red upon the rocky network and shone glassily upon the water. A handful of the brightest stars was visible in the sky.