Tuesday, March 20, 2012

Earthchild: Excerpt

Earthchild is a follow-up to Starchild. It also appeared first at Dreams Unlimited, then went to Samhain. (I think LTD went out of business before I managed to arrange a reprint there.) Anyway. This one makes my mom cry.

Taken in as an infant and raised by the primitive, non-human natives of the colony planet Denahault, Noisy Girl has always known she was different. Human settlers initiating peaceful contact confirm it—her true home is a planet called Earth, millions of miles away among the stars.

Her search for her heritage leads her to the home of Harrison Fairfax and Trieka Cavendish, and their guest Jeff Anderson, Trieka’s former second-in-command.

For Jeff, Trieka’s offer to captain the legendary ship Starchild is a lifelong dream fulfilled. Then he meets Noisy Girl, an entrancing young woman who speaks only in sign language. She captures his imagination like no other woman ever has, and his efforts to teach her English deepens a relationship he never thought was possible for him.

But the claustrophobic, technology-laden atmosphere of Earth traumatizes the gentle Noisy Girl, and suddenly Jeff’s choices aren’t quite so clear.

If he accepts permanent command of Starchild, all hope of happiness with this beguiling woman will be destroyed. Unless a compromise can be found…

From Chapter One:

The Loud-Talking People had cut down trees and made houses from them. To Noisy Girl, who’d lived her whole life in the shelter of a natural cave, this seemed both bizarre and fascinating.
But even more bizarre and fascinating were the Loud-Talking People themselves. The noise seemed incessant, as they opened their mouths and made peculiar rhythmic sounds. Noisy Girl thought they looked strange as well, until she remembered they looked just like her. They had smooth, almost hairless skin, ranging in color from pinkish, like her own, to a black-brown nearly as dark as the skin of the White Fur People. Over it they wore garments amazingly constructed of woven cloth finer than anything she had ever seen. They were strange and beautiful and very, very noisy. They were her people, and they frightened her.

With her mother, she watched the village from a nearby ridge. They were close enough to see details of the houses and the people, close enough to hear the odd sounds that came from the Loud-Talkers’ mouths, but hidden by the forest growth that dominated the overhanging ridge. It would have been a good site from which to attack the little settlement, had they been so inclined. Noisy Girl shook her head as the thought passed through her mind, negating it. It wasn’t the kind of thing that usually occurred to her.

“They sound like tree-climbers,” Noisy Girl signed to her mother, thinking of the furry creatures who hung by their tails from the tree branches, chattering incessantly to each other. 

“They have fine houses,” Walks Crooked replied. She pointed. “Look. Children.”

One of the women below squatted as a small boy ran to her. A horrible noise came from his small mouth, an unarticulated sound of distress. The woman gathered him into her arms and brushed her mouth against his head, crooning against his sun-colored hair.

Something too vague to be a memory stirred in Noisy Girl’s heart. She pressed her fingers against her lips as the boy’s howling faded. Within a few moments, he laughed and ran away.

“They can be kind,” she said.

Her mother smiled. “They can be unkind, as well. But I think they will not be so to you.”

Noisy Girl frowned. “Will you come with me?”

“I will.”

The woman who caught sight of them as they slid down the ridge knew only a few words of the White Fur People’s language, but she tried. She smiled, made a great deal of noise, touched Noisy Girl as if she couldn’t believe Noisy Girl was real.

“No talk well,” she’d said, obviously uncomfortable with the hand gestures. “She talk well. Find her. You wait.”

“She wants us to wait,” Walks Crooked said, then her mouth twitched into a smile. “At least, I think that’s what she said.”

Noisy Girl recognized the nervousness behind Walks Crooked’s smile. She herself swallowed to calm the jumpy nausea caused by her own nerves.

“I don’t want to go,” she said suddenly, a desperate sound straining at the back of her throat. The Loud-Talking woman turned and looked at her, concern on her face. What did that sound mean to these people who used sounds as a matter of course?

“These are your people,” Walks Crooked said.

“You are my people.”

Walks Crooked cupped Noisy Girl’s face in a white-furred hand. “Learn about them. You can always change your mind later, if things don’t go well.”

Noisy Girl nodded, blinking back tears. She couldn’t help the sounds in the back of her throat. Until this moment, she hadn’t been certain the White Fur People would want her back. She’d been loved and cared for among them, but she couldn’t help the doubt—the fear that they’d jumped on the chance to introduce her to her own people so her strangeness would no longer disturb their world. She’d lived with that fear all her life.

“Thank you,” Noisy Girl said.

Several hours later, with the sun now past its zenith, they still waited.

Noisy Girl couldn’t fault the Loud-Talkers’ hospitality, though. They’d provided comfortable places to sit, on wooden constructs unlike anything Noisy Girl had ever seen, in a small room of one of the remarkable wooden houses. The woman brought them warm sweet drinks and hot bread with fruit spread. She sat with them and they all tried very hard to converse. The visitors didn’t get much beyond asking for more drinks and indicating appreciation of the food, but it gave Noisy Girl hope. If she could feel some measure of acceptance already, maybe she could find a place among these people that she’d never quite been able to make among the White Fur People. But everything here was so different. The sounds they made fascinated her. Could she learn to do that?

All her life, she’d been defined by the sounds she could make. In this world, those sounds would become commonplace. That realization suddenly clarified the enormity of the changes she faced.
A shift in the voices in the next room told her something had changed. Their companion, the woman who’d met them on the ridge, quickly left the room, following the sounds.

Noisy Girl sat straighter. Next to her, Walks Crooked laid a hand on her knee. She laid her hand on top of her mother’s and clutched at it, grasping at any link to familiarity. Her other hand fingered the string of amber beads she always wore. The texture of the smoothly polished stones had always calmed her. They helped now, but at the same time felt alien and strange. What would these people think of her?

From the other room came two more people, a man and a woman, accompanied by the woman who’d kept them company over the past few hours. The man was tall and slim, the hair on his head a dark brown touched with red. The woman was small, her hair a shocking orange.

The woman smiled, and her hands danced.

“Hello. My name is Fire Hair, and this is my mate, called Long Nose by the People Who Live at the Edge of the Mountain. We were asked to come here to talk to you.”

Noisy Girl glanced at her mother, shocked by the small woman’s identity. The stories of Fire Hair and Long Nose, who’d made possible the present interaction between the Loud-Talking People and the White Fur People, had traveled even to Noisy Girl’s isolated village. Those stories, in fact, were why she had come here.

Walks Crooked lifted her hands. “I am Walks Crooked, from the People by the Shores of the West Sea. This is my daughter, Noisy Girl. She came to our tribe as a very small child. When we heard of you and the peace that had begun between your people and ours, we knew we should come here so Noisy Girl might learn of her true people.”

Fire Hair nodded. “From the West Sea to here is a journey of many miles and much danger. You have come alone?”

“The dangers are not great for those who know these forests. Our village is small, and now is the best time for fish, so no one else could be spared for this journey.” Walks Crooked didn’t mention the other reasons. There’d been great debate about whether the journey was worth the risk. The West Sea tribe was distant and isolated, and fear still reigned when it came to dealing with the strange Loud-Talkers.

“May I speak to your daughter and call her by her name?”

“You may.”

Fire Hair’s attention turned to Noisy Girl, and her apprehension grew again. It was tempered, though, by Fire Hair’s attitude—her respect for Walks Crooked and her obvious knowledge of the customs of the White Fur People.

“Noisy Girl, I greet you with happiness. You are welcome to come with us and visit the tribe of the Loud-Talking People. If you wish to learn more of us, we will gladly teach you.”

“I’ve never been away from my village,” said Noisy Girl, feeling strangely at ease with this new acquaintance. “All of this is so strange.”

Behind Fire Hair, the man—Long Nose—joined the conversation with equally flawless gestures. “Perhaps your mother would wish to come and stay for a time, until you decide if you wish to remain with us or return to your village.”

“Yes,” said Walks Crooked. “I would do that, if it would be accepted.”

“It is accepted,” said Fire Hair. “You both may come and be welcome among us.”

And so it began.