Rumors can take on a life of their own. Sometimes, they spread like a virus.
The latest bit of hearsay?
Some of the Math Club geeks have got their hands on a real live alien!
They’re keeping it hidden in a basement rec room, no less.
Mark had listened to some wild tales while growing up, wherever Dad happened to be stationed at the time. Just as soon as he could pick up some local dialect, Mark would foray to the nearest village or town and tap the gossip mill, fascinated by the bottomless human appetite for preposterous lies. From conspiracy theories murmured in a Lebanese bazaar to scandals about local pop stars, circulating through Manila alleys — the things people believed!
Still, it wasn’t till Dad got transferred back to Southern California that Mark realized — there’s no place better to breed wild stories than an American high school.
Especially Twenty-Nine Palms High, where the football team mascot, Spookie, wore a huge trench-coat, a floppy hat and big black eye-mask. Beyond all the nasty stories that kids typically spread about each other, and hearsay concerning the dating habits of certain teachers, there were always colorful rumors about what went on at the nearby airbase. Or within the top-secret, opaque walls of Cirocco Labs.
But this one — about the Math Club guys having an extraterrestrial of their very own?
Well — it beat all.
Not that Mark believed a word of it.
California homes don’t have basements, for one thing.
Besides. A captive alien?
Such a cliché. A stupid movie rip-off. Couldn’t the nerds come up with a better hoax? Crap, some of their parents worked at Cirocco. What good are brains if you can’t be original?
When some of his classmates said they were going over to see for themselves, after school, Mark begged off. He had other things in mind. Especially an hour later, staring down at the varsity soccer team —
— girls varsity, in blue shorts and yellow tops. They charged across the athletic field in formations as intricate as Dad’s squadron during inspection week ... but a whole lot more alluring. The star forward, her tawny legs pumping, somehow made sweat and cutthroat ferocity seem, well —
“Bam?” A voice called to him from above. “Bamford, what are you doing?”
The words made him twitch, almost losing his precarious perch upon a stub of concrete, jutting from the wall. Mark dug in with three fingertips of his left hand while probing desperately for a ledge to set his right foot. His heartbeat jolted and spots danced before his eyes like flashing balls.
“Are you all right? Bam?”
“Ye — yeah,” he grunted, short of breath.
“Well stop staring at Helene Shockley and focus!”
“Not ... staring ...” he grunted, both irritated and embarrassed. “Slack ... Gimme a lot.”
Some tension left the rope, easing pressure from the climbing harness on his thighs and groin, freeing him to lean and traverse, seeking a higher footing. This part of the wall was tricky, designed for competitions in a brand-new league. He would have to master it in order to make the team.
“More slack!” The rope still wasn’t loose enough for this reach.
“Come on, Alex ... I’m fighting the clock here. Slack!”
There was time to make up — precious seconds stupidly wasted during that blank stare at the soccer players. Damn hormones.
“Well, fine.” She sounded dubious. “But concentrate!”
The rope loosened still more. He bore down, focusing on the task at hand.
Relax, you’re in a California desert suburb. No lives are at stake ... this time.
Unlike that cliff in Morocco, when his father had to stay with a critically injured aid worker, sending Mark cross-country for help. One steep shortcut shaved an hour off the round trip ... and Dad later blistered his ears over taking the risk.
The lip of Mark’s left shoe found a crevice. Hardly more than a ripple in the wall. He tested it ...
“That one’s iffy,” commented the voice overhead.
Be quiet. But he didn’t have breath to say it. Shifting his weight to the narrow ledge and feeling a sudden burn in his calf, he launched himself upward, reaching ambitiously past a safe hand-hold, grabbing at the last one before the top. For an instant he glimpsed Alex, scowling with concern, her cropped brown hair framed by blue desert sky.
This’ll show her I know what I’m —
His hand brushed the knob — the same instant that his shoe slipped. Mark clutched frantically, two fingers bearing all his weight as both legs dangled, desperately seeking a purchase, anything at all. Specks of rough concrete crumbled under the pressure. Pain lanced down his wrist and arm.
He saw Alex try to reach for him, and suddenly remembered. I asked for slack. I hope not too much —
The knob seemed to tear away with deliberate malice — and the ground swung up. Mark glimpsed shouting figures below, scattering out of the way.
Almost too late, the autotensioner kicked in, yanking the safety line hard enough to empty his lungs, stopping his plummet just short of impact. Splayed with arms and legs flung apart, facing the sky like a crushed flower. Like road kill.
For some unmeasurable time he hung there, tasting acid, blinking away pain-dazzles and struggling to catch his breath till Alex popped the release, easing him down the rest of the way.
Those scattered figures returned, crowding around as Mark’s vision cleared — youths who were bigger, stronger and sweatier than most. Well, everyone agreed that the Climbing Wall stood too close to the Free Weights area.
The tallest body-builder leaned over, expressing false concern. “You okay there, Bamford? Want a pillow?”
Jeez. All I need right now is Scott Tepper, Mark thought.
And yet — there was no choice but to clasp the blond senior’s offered hand. Better to stand quickly, ignore the pain and try not to groan, even if that meant swaying for several heartbeats.
“You’re lucky Coach wasn’t here,” Scott continued, still looking down at Mark from half a head taller. “He’s already ticked off that they put this stupid climbing wall here.”
“Yeah,” growled Colin Gornet, nearly as towering as Scott but much heavier, pushing close and poking with a finger. But that wasn’t what made Mark recoil. The big lineman packed aroma.
“You could’ve killed somebody, Bamford! When Coach finds out, your ‘ascent team’ will be history.”
Brushing Gornet’s jabbing finger aside, Mark glanced at the nearest weight station. It lay at least three meters from the base of the wall. Plenty of room! He was about to argue the point when Scott Tepper raised a palm.
“No need for Coach to find out.” He interposed, keeping Colin’s persistent arm from poking again. A good thing, since Mark had had enough.
“But Scott, next time this moron falls ...”
“There won’t be a next time. Will there, Bamford?”
Mark couldn’t think of anything to say. Though fuming inside, he knew it was a losing proposition to argue, or compete in any way with Scott Tepper, whose charm seemed to rise out of some infallible instinct. Coupled with good looks and serene confidence, it let Scott manipulate any teacher, win any school office, smooth-talk any girl.
So much confidence that he could offer generosity — at a price. You owe me, Bamford, said the look in Scott’s eyes.
Others were joining the crowd of onlookers, including members of the girls soccer team. Helene Shockley, tawny and gorgeous, slid up next to Tepper with a questioning smile.
Mark shook his head, eager to get out of there. “No, Scott. It won’t happen again."
THE END of chapter one
Now available in full length for the first time comes the first book in a series about young humans confronting an age-old theme — that of strangers from beyond — giving it new shape, guided by the deft hand of one of science fiction’s modern masters.
Copyright © 2021 by David Brin. All rights reserved.
Barnes and Noble US: paperback
Bookshop.org US: paperback
indiebound.org US: paperback
Powell's US: paperback
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Otherworld, by Jason Segel and Kirsten Miller
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The Paper Magician, by Charlie N. Holmberg
Warcross, by Marie Lu
Ship Breaker, by Paolo Bacigalupi
Slay, by Brittney Morris
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Invictus, by Ryan Graudin
David Brin's science fiction novels have been New York Times Bestsellers, winning multiple Hugo, Nebula and other awards. At least a dozen have been translated into more than twenty languages. They range from bold and prophetic explorations of our near-future to Brin's Uplift series, envisioning galactic issues of sapience and destiny (and star-faring dolphins!).
Short stories and novellas have different rhythms and artistic flavor, and Brin's short stories and novellas, several of which earned Hugo and other awards, exploit that difference to explore a wider range of real and vividly speculative ideas. Many have been selected for anthologies and reprints, and most have been published in anthology form.
Since 2004, David Brin has maintained a blog about science, technology, science fiction, books, and the future — themes his science fiction and nonfiction writings continue to explore.
Who could've predicted that social media — indeed, all of our online society — would play such an important role in the 21st Century — restoring the voices of advisors and influencers! Lively and intelligent comments spill over onto Brin's social media pages.
David Brin's Ph.D in Physics from the University of California at San Diego (the lab of nobelist Hannes Alfven) followed a masters in optics and an undergraduate degree in astrophysics from Caltech. Every science show that depicts a comet now portrays the model developed in Brin's PhD research.
Brin's non-fiction book, The Transparent Society: Will Technology Force Us to Choose Between Freedom and Privacy?, continues to receive acclaim for its accuracy in predicting 21st Century concerns about online security, secrecy, accountability and privacy.
Brin speaks plausibly and entertainingly about trends in technology and society to audiences willing to confront the challenges that our rambunctious civilization will face in the decades ahead. He also talks about the field of science fiction, especially in relation to his own novels and stories. To date he has presented at more than 200 meetings, conferences, corporate retreats and other gatherings.
Brin advises corporations and governmental and private defense- and security-related agencies about information-age issues, scientific trends, future social and political trends, and education. Urban Developer Magazine named him one of four World's Best Futurists, and he was appraised as "#1 influencer" in Onalytica's Top 100 report of Artificial Intelligence influencers, brands & publications. Past consultations include Google, Microsoft, Procter & Gamble, and many others.
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