Sunday, February 21, 2010

In the Courts of the Crimson Kings - S. M. Stirling

"What if Mars and Venus really were inhabitable and inhabited, like in many SF stories from the early sixties and before? In this series Mars and Venus have been terraformed a long time ago and "seeded" with Earth life, including several different human species. On Earth everything is the same until the start of space exploration, but then the cold war turns into a real space race...
"The Sky People" is set on Venus, "In the Courts of the Crimson Kings" on Mars."

"ratingly absent. All were tall and slim despite the muffling cloth; Fred estimated the leader as most of the way to seven feet. The leader... might as well call him the Captain... drew his sword. Light shimmered off the metal; it was double-edged and looked disconcertingly sharp, but not exactly like steel.

"Cut-and-thrust blade," Sprague said. "More thrust than cut. A good deal like some seventeenth-century European types."

Everyone caught their breath as the captain turned and spoke to his... men? The voice sounded human, perhaps a little high-pitched, but the language was wholly unfamiliar. It sounded ripplingly musical with an occasional staccato burst...

"Tonal and monosyllabic, I think, like Chinese," Sprague went on, as two of the robed humanoids turned and trotted back towards the ship. "Maybe. Difficult to learn, if it is. I'll bet the grammar is analytic, too."

The captain turned back and prodded the lander, reaching up; they could all hear the tunk... tunk... as the point of the blade prodded the light-metal hull.

The television spoke. "We are attempting to communicate. The message shall be: We come in peace for all mankind."

"Some advertising man thought that up," Fred said, and there was a nervous chuckle; everyone knew how he felt about them.

Minutes passed, and the English words sounded, tinny and strange through the pickup in the thin Martian atmosphere. The Martians jumped back; the one with the bow turned and ran. A rifle came up and fired—there was no bang, no flash or smoke, just a slight hsssst sound, but the lander rang under an impact.

The Captain didn't run. Instead he shouted something in the musical language and waved the long blade at his followers. One hurried back up the ramp and returned with a folded tarpaulin; the Martians threw it over the lander, and then the screen went dark. Creaking noises followed.

Poul broke the long silence with a guffaw. "They're putting it on board, by God! They swung a yard over and tied it up in a sack and they're hoisting it on deck!"

Walter and Werner came back on, both looking sandbagged and starting to stammer explanations that couldn't possibly have anything behind them.

"I knew it!" Leigh shouted, punching her fist into the air. "I told you sons of... sons what it would be like years ago!"

A rebel yell cut loose, and suddenly the room was a babble of voices."

4.5 out of 5

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