Brian in 1970
New York Times
Best Selling Author

Brian Daley, author

Writing graphic  
   This page contains selected excerpts from both published and some previously unpublished writing.  
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Excerpts from:

Globe button Previously unpublished: '87 Meadowsweet Logs excerpt
      (The Meadowsweet Logs -
to be published someday: You saw it here first !!)
Globe button GammaLAW Smoke on the Water
Globe button GammaLAW, The Broken Country
Globe button GammaLAW A Screaming Across the Sky
Globe button GammaLAW To Water's End
Globe button Free Radicals
(written as Jack McKinney) (New!)
Globe button Jinx on a Terran Inheritance (New!)

Excerpt from GammaLAW, The Broken Country

   Here, in the habitat, Lod was the freak or rather, the handicapped one, insensate to a rich medium of nonverbal, not conventionally visual interplay all around him.  An Alone, just like the rest of the human race.
   Normally timid around anyone who wasn't an Aggregate member, the other constituents looked untroubled by the presence of the engeneered soldier.  Scowl-Jowl was handling Piper tenderly - reverently, Lod might have said.  Its nose flaps mantled wide as it sniffed at her mouth and armpits; it raised her effortlessly to snuffle at the crotch of her everywear.
   Lod cleared his throat uncomfortably. "Here, here, now..."
   "Lod, hush," Piper ordered.
   She made another bottomed-out sump-pump noise that prompted Scowl-Jowl to lower her.  Even before her feet touched the deck, she was conveying instructions to her fellow constituents with Saytalk, kinesign, and more.  The conventional speech of the Aggregate, Saytalk was so condensed and accelerated by elisions, aphereses, and surd words that it was lost on Alones.
   Doogun, Wire, and the rest jumped to their tasks, some turning to their odd symstemry and others breaking out containers and vacpacks of Aggregate-style food concentrate.  They spoke incomprehensible bursts of cyberargot to chemical assemblers and programmed a sound synthesizer to make the habitat resound with nearly subsonic biorhythm pulses, to which Scowl-Jowl nodded in time.
   As Piper gently eased herself out of Scowl-Jowl's grip, Lod caught new, alien aromas being compiled and breathed into the workspace by Aggregate apparatus. Scowl-Jowl inhaled mightily, eyes closed in what approximated bliss.
   Miri and Kape had dumped liters of food concentrate into a mixing bowl - a glop that resembled pulpy porridge or high-fibre papier-maché.  Piper hand scooped the stuff into her mouth until her cheeks bulged, worked it around, then spit it back into the bowl.  Miri pitched in on the masticating and spitting while Kape worked on the expectorated food into the mass with a large ladle.  Other constituents bustled by to dab or squirt additives into the congealing mess.
   Bolus rations, Lod told himself, the dietary staple of the Special Troops.  He shuddered to think what a Manipulant mess hall might be like.
   When Piper flicked a brief bodybraille message on the back of Kape's neck with her fingertips, he filled a smaller bowl with the intermixed virgin and pre-chewed food concentrate.  Then Piper offered it to Scowl-Jowl like and attending vestal.
   Lod expected the creature to fall to like a ravenous ogre, but Scowl-Jowl accepted the bowl with stiff dignity.  He slurped down a mere taste and restrained himself from upending the bowl, although his huge body trembled with reaction and craving.  By what Lod took for an act of will, the Manip set the serving bowl aside.  Then he swept out his enormous chopper knife- a cross between a butcher's axe and a martial arts meat cleaver - and raised it high.
   Lod gulped, having once seen a battlesuited Ext cut most of the way in two by a single blow from one of the giant moplahs.  The constituents' Alltalk wasn't apprehensive, however, and so he did his best to staunch.  Piper was standing stock-still in expectation.
   Having shown the blade to all present, Scowl-Jowl dropped to one knee before Piper and placed the chopper on the deck with a clang like a fallen manhole cover, its haft toward her.  As he reached for her right foot, Piper leaned on his shoulder to allow him to press a ritual kiss on her instep.
   She received the obeisance as solemnly as a queen.  When Scowl-Jowl had set her foot back down, she drew the creature to his feet.  Both hands were needed to lift the moplah and return it to him.  At her urging he sat, and when she pressed the serving bowl into his claws, he dug in, gulping greedily.  Miri and Kape were already filling another bowl.
   Lod, let go of his pistol.  Well polish my wagstaff and call me Smiley, he told himself.  Scowl-Jowl had found himself a home aboard the GammaLAW.  Unexpected, too, was that fact that Lod could actually envy a monstrous, engeneered war 'ware.

   When the medic showed up at the habitat, Piper made Scowl-Jowl lie still and endure treatment.  The Manipulant's wounds turned out not to be life-threatening, though he was nearing the end of his limited life span.  The medic had also brought Scowl-Jowl's bloopgun and bandoliers of ammunition, which Kape and Doogun unobtrusively piled in a metal equipment locker.
  Lod joined Piper to one side while the corpsman worked.  "I should be getting back to Commissioner Haven," he told her.
   Piper's enormous eyes searched his.  "It was... terrible at Wall Water?"
   "Worse.  It was needless, wasteful, and bestial.  Violence always is."  He refused to burden her with mention of the face-off with Zone in the passageway, even though she was bound to grasp it from his Othertalk that he was withholding something.
   Piper caressed his hand and watched his face, reading his untutored scentspeech, bodybraille, and kinesign.  "Lod, don't leave yet."

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Excerpt from GammaLAW A Screaming Across the Sky

   "Mason," Yatt sent more firmly, "we've fulfilled our part of the bargain.  We made certain that you were included in Haven's roster of mission personnel.  Now you must fulfill your part."
   Mason sniffed. "What proof do I have that you had anything to do with Haven's recruiting me?  I've been to Aquamarine.  Who else would she ask?"
   "We're willing to grant as much.  But rest assured, Mason, that LAW and the Preservationists have their reasons for keeping you here on Periapt as a means of weakening Haven.  After all, what if her hunches about the Oceanic are correct?  What if Aquamarine should provide a means to an accord between humanity and the alien race you've chosen to call the Roke?  LAW can scarcely afford such developments.  LAW would be left without a war, and the Preservationists would be forced to acknowledge that humanity enjoys no special place in the universe.
   "Believe what you will, Mason. but only through our efforts were you included in Haven's mission.  Operating under the guise of the Quantum College, we exerted pressure where necessary on key people who advise both LAW and Lightner."
Mason considered it.  "If you're so adept at exerting pressure, why is Haven stuck with a GammaLAW mission?  She doesn't even have her own LAW forces, let alone a starship.  She has to make do with the Exts, for God's sake, and a zero-point-energy drive without the means of constructing a ship."
Yatt took a long moment to respond.  "Your failure to see the whole picture disappoints us, Mason.  All along we have arranged the under-funding of the mission.  We took steps to ensure  that it wouldn't expand into an Alpha or a Beta, and on numerous fronts we've had to sabotage Haven's efforts to make that happen." 
Mason shook his head in bewilderment.  "Why would you deliberately sabotage the only person who can get you to Aquamarine?"
   "Simply this, Mason: because LAW's larger expeditions devote so much effort, technology, and resources to anti-virus and AI filtration measures.  A GammaLAW has neither the time nor the budget for much of that, and so we assure ourselves of being able to stow away in far greater safety."
Mason laughed through his tears.  "You're already stowing away in me, you dimwitted machine!  Unless I'm brought up on charges of headboarding and they brain-wipe me, you've got nothing to fear."
If a program was capable of sighing, Yatt did.  "Mason what we downloaded into you is a millionth of what we are.  But we mean to change that.  You must return to the place where we met - to the warehouse in the industrial heart of Abraxas.  There we will guide you to a memory module, which you will transfer into the Matsya's computer banks as soon as she's afloat on the lakes and rivers of Aquamarine.  The vast parts of us contained in the module will be brought to bear in our search for the origin of the Cyberplagues and their AI-authored cure, Endgame."
"And if I refuse?" Mason asked.
   "You need not fear any physical or psychic danger from us, Mason.  You will be cleansed of us, and you will simply go on as before- save for one repercussion.  You will be denied the joy of reuniting with the wife and child you abandoned on Aquamarine, for we will do whatever is necessary to exempt you from ever setting foot on that far-flung world."

Excerpt from GammaLAW Smoke on the Water

   Dextra had chosen the solarium to engage the Preservationists because of its atmosphere of openness and light.  They wielded tremendous influence and prerogative, like Dextra herself, which was why it had seemed a good idea to pry them away from the Lyceum.  There was a kind of natural law that made Hierarchs more reasonable as their distance from the Lyceum's pomp and grandeur increased.  Today that effect was not helping as much as she had hoped it would.
   Returning from the confrontation with her ex, she was received with chilly stares and frozen smiles.  Nevertheless, she gave them back warm for cold while rearranging her peplos and letting her varimorph executive chair recontour itself to suit her thin frame.  The conference table was there simply to provide everyone with psychological space.  Twirling auto-servers circled offering tea cakes, sushi, cold beer, and more, but nobody was indulging.
   The data mosaics were continuing to flash the Scepter survey team's findings regarding the planet Aquamarine.  Opticals of sundry Aquamarine throwback cultures ran on-screen with analysts' comments on the nature of the inscrutable Oceanic and cost projections for mounting a second LAW mission to the Eyewash star system.
   Most LAW bureaucrats felt otherwise, but Dextra had a growing certainty that Aquamarine could play a role in resolving the Roke conflict.  Somewhere on or in that water balloon of a world was the key to accord or even victory.  But Lyceum approval of an AlphaLAW mission to Aquamarine was going to require a host of Preservationists votes, and Dextra meant to have them.
   "I apologize for the delay," she began.  "But since we've covered just about all points of disagreement, I think we can start cutting a deal here that'll make everybody happy."
   She showed confidence and charisma by political second nature, but she had a feeling she'd lost any chance of swaying them in the short time it had taken to rescue Honeysuckle.
   How now, foul Tao? she asked herself.
   Old Albert P'ing, noble-looking and innovative as a treadmill, thumped the table with a hand more beautifully manicured than Dextra's own.  "Dextra, the Hierarchate will not squander a full-scale Alpha mission to a planet with little usable surface area, medieval cultures, and no unique resources.  Most assuredly, we've nothing to learn from people who live in terror of some soggy, overgrown cell mass!"
   "But the Roke seem to fear the Oceanic, too," she reminded him. "Or at least something about the place has made them keep their distanced; we know that much.  The Scepter survey team found debris consistent with Roke design elsewhere in the Eyewash system but no evidence of Roke presence on or near Aquamarine.  Am I the only one here who sees the possible significance of that?  If nothing else, Aquamarine could serve as a safe harbor for LAW forces.
   She did not mention peace because peace was not something the Human Preservationist Party had much interest in pursuing.
   Doll Van Houten, two years older than Dextra but as sleekly soignée as a fashion database icon, went "Phui!" dismissively.  "It's as simple as this: The Roke don't consider Aquamarine as any more strategic than we do.  Darling Dex, planet Hierophant is out there for the taking, a few light-years beyond Aquamarine but an industrial and technological powerhouse."
   Dextra frowned at her.  "You're not intrigued by the thought of uncovering the technological wonders left behind by the Optimants' civilization?"
   "Archaeology?"  Doll asked.  "Please, Dex.  Save your enthusiasm for two-hundred-year-old relics for the curators of the Museum of Interplanetary Studies." 
   Albert P'ing sniffed, "Technology Assessment Bureau has reason to suspect that Hierophant antivirus research might allow us to return to neural interface cybernetting - pre-Plague style - in due course."
   Dextra shot him an arch look.  "I'll believe that when I see it."

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Excerpt from GammaLAW To Water's End

   Burning ripped four gold buttons from his tunic and tossed them at Manna's feet.  "For the car - and your harquebus."
   Without taking her eyes from him, Manna squatted and collected the buttons.  Then jabbing the docked and mangled end of the sling gun into the ground, she pulled down her lower eyelid and spit.  "Go to the salt water, then!"
   Souljourner seemed to draw amused composure from Manna's discomfiture.  "No , it'll be Alabaster for us," she retorted.  "If the maps at Pyx have it right, it must lie near to here."  She indicated the saddle between two rises due east.  "That way, I think."
   Manna was all but frothing at her.  "Yes, absquatulate your overupholstered fanny over yonder hills - to your doom!  Across the haunted heights and the Ghoul Grounds, where Anathemite runaways wail to play pain games with your tenderest parts, where cannibal vines hunger for flesh, the vampire slugs long to wade with you, and the leper fungus lies in wait to caress white skin!"
   "Better still than trusting your rapacious hospitality," Souljourner said pleasantly, "or making closer acquaintance with them."  She jerked her thumb at the two remaining praetorian cars, which were slowly and laboriously gathering speed on the uphill grade.  "Moreover, I should be the last one to tweak of rounded moons if I were you, whose bloated arse is surely of such magnitude as to influence the Amnion tides."
   Stumped for a comeback, Manna lost her dander in a snort of involuntary laughter.  "Again you give me to suspect we must be related, you sly little gland packer."
   Burning glanced at the pursuit cars and took hold of Souljourner's wrist.  "Time to lam ass."
   He had no idea if Manna's jabber about Anathemite hobgoblins was scare talk, but escape and evasion sounded better than making a stand in the open or surrendering himself to Manna's cronies in RakeOff Crimp.  As for Alabaster, he'd have to wait and see.  With a little luck they'd be able to work their way back to Gapshot, and somewhere along the way he would try for another meteor-burst transmission to GammaLAW's ARAA.
   Even so, staying a jump ahead of the grandean troops would take some doing.  Pressed for time, he abandoned all thought of recovering his iron-ferruled staff from wherever it had ended up aboard the precarious Racknuts.  Souljourner had her carbine-size sling-gun on her right shoulder; cross-slung to rest against her left side was their water bota.
   Burning directed a grin at Manna.  "Madame, I bid you long life and prosperity.  May your Analeptic Fix become the fuel of choice, and may Racknuts survive to see better days."
   Begrudgingly, she allowed a faint smile.  "And better days to you, Redtails - on Aquamarine or on whatever world from which you hail."
   Souljourner fell in to match Burning's dog-trot pace for the saddle.  They leaned into the uphill, climbing winding pathways between paddies and fields.  Spying figures out among the crops, Burning wondered if any would take up the hunt and cry once the praetorians arrived.
   The pressures of population on Scorpia were such that most of the arable land was tilled to the margins; nevertheless, when he and Souljourner crested the saddle, they confronted a virtual wilderness to which the diligently maintained farmland yielded at a frontier as sharply defined as the end of the GammaLAW's flight deck.
   Seeing it - overgrown and overhung, dense and dark - Souljourner stopped short.  "Blighted lands," she muttered.  "Anathemite-cursed."
   Burning considered it.  Given Aquam hysteria where Anthemites were concerned, the land was probably lousy with mutagens and sodden with pollutants and carcinogens, possibly even residual radiation, but he had a lot more immediate concerns than whether any entirely hypothetical fruit of his loins would require DNA redaction.
   "Then maybe it'll put them off." he said gazing back down the hill.

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Excerpt from Free Radicals written as Jack McKinney

   Confabulon had been picked to host the tourism expo for the same reasons it was suitable for many Trough-wide biz meets:  it offered a conducive level of comfort, novelty and diversion, but not too much; not so much as to distract from the central reason for being there, which was the pushing of products, trumpeting of investments, or hyping of other enterprises.  In short, business.  So coming to Confabulon was a little like attending a Terran business conference at an airport hotel far from town.  A calculated narrowing of distractions, even a restriction of sensory stimuli, was felt to be good for goal achievement.
   Confabulon was an unremarkable moonless planet with broad temperate zones, stable in orbit and lacking in axial tilt, located in a stellar system with nothing extraordinary to draw visitors off on explorations.  There were a few modest mountain ranges, some tepid seas, a number of moderately interesting underground cave systems - but nothing worth faxing home about.  Thus the attention of travel agents, group-tour organizers, junket pushers, and the rest would , it was hoped, focus on the expo and the attractions offered by hundreds of other worlds. ...
   A sultry voice-over beckoned, "Tired of your dull routine?  Longing for an escape from the population pressures, the legislated sameness, the banality of life on your overcrowded homeworld?"
   Lucky had already escaped his homeworld, not to mention the time he'd been kidnapped from it, when all this Trough madness had started.  But there was something mesmerizing about the pulsating scenes, the flow of illumination.  In fact, except for the hunting part it looked pretty nice.
   "Then come to Nu-Topia, the exciting new concept in leisure-world time-sharing!  Explore the awesome beauty of the trackless outlands!  Brave the luminous deeps of the Diamond Sea!  Find new companions in the Tactile Grotto!"
   Sounded pretty good to Lucky.  Especially a little groping in the Grotto with that steamy looking, purple-skinned wench wearing nothing but a flimsy cincture of many-colored blossoms who was now beckoning to him with the long forefinger of one webbed hand.  He walked along without looking where he was going, ignoring Undershort, who was nattering on about the need for cost containment, demographic precision, infrastructure max-utilization, and market penetration.
   "Make contact now for your free weekend trial vacation on glorious Nu-Topia," the merwoman in the cube bade him huskily.   "As a guest of Nu-Topia Shares Incorporated, your travel, lodging, and all incidental costs will be billed to us with no obligation to you!  Think of it!  Three days and threes nights on the Trough's newest and most glamorous getaway planet!  Plus a valuable free gift that will be yours just for coming."
   Which was what Lucky felt like he was about to do.  It seemed to him a little downtime would be just the thing.  Something in the back of his brain was yelling for attention, but an invisible force emanating from the cube, and the vistas it was showing him, made it easy to ignore distractions.  He liked the way she puckered her lips.
   And when, as he drew close, the Lorelei cube repeated, "Make contact . . . now-www!" in a loving whisper, it extruded the upper torso of the merwoman, back arched, head thrown back ecstatically, deep purple hair floating all around him and buoyant breasts presented for his caress.  Lucky, slack-jawed, reached out reverently, tenderly, hand conforming adoringly to the shape of it- dimly surprised to feel not fleshy contact, but rather a sizzling play of energies.
   "Stop! What are you doing!"  Lucky only faintly heard the screech of dismay from Undershort, but he got excellent reception on the jolt of lightning that shot up his leg for the second time that day.
   "WWW-owwch!"  The wash of bioelectrcity broke the cube's spell and sent Lucky leaping back, stuttering a Maori cussword he hadn't used in years. "What'd you do that for?"
   For a change Undershort sounded more alarmed than angry.  "Are you addled?  Loop-worn?  Making contact with a time-share Boob-Cube?" 
   "No-but she, I mean it-"
   Undershort  was making chivying gestures with two of his triple-digit hands.  "Go, quickly! It is imperative that we absent ourselves from this spot before -"
   He stopped as a sudden humming noise grew louder overhead and something swooshed through the air toward them.  A pewter egg the size of a delivery truck descended to hover an inch or two above the mossy carpet; then a thick hatch dropped open with a clang.  Lucky gulped, peering into the darkness within.
   Out skipped a flashily dressed little guy who struck Lucky as a cross between Jiminy Cricket and a game-show host.  He was wearing a nacreous dress suit of sorts, cut for his strangely articulated hind legs, with a high stiff collar and a big cravat.  Finishing off the outfit was a soft, blue top hat.  He was talking on the move.  "Hello there! Congratulations on your fine judgment and perception in reaching out and touching Nu-Topian Time-Shares, Mr. - ahh-"
   He looked to a darting remote that reminded Lucky of a Christmas star, which whirled down close to his tiny toadstool-like ear and appeared to speak to it.
  "- Waters!"  he finished.  Lucky knew an instant's relief that least his Wise-Guise was conning all the local ID systems.  
   The salesman rattled on.  "Yessir, I an Coordinator Tadwallader, here to conduct you to your free, all-expenses-paid trial vacation and your valuable free gift."  He gave Lucky a dazzling smile and batted improbably long lashes.  "Now kindly climb aboard at once; we're running on a rather tight schedule."
   "Um, there's been some mistake," Lucky mumbled.  "I just, um, wanted more information." Grotto gropes or no, he couldn't just duck out on the trade fair, since he was counting on it to give him some means of reaching Al-Reem... 

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Excerpt from Jinx on a Terran Inheritance

   Alacrity suspected that he and his companions were writing a new page in Croi history.  He ripped off the shreds of his shirt and, well aware of how many new ones he could buy with an amber Perfect and four azure Primes, cast the rags off one end of a switchback.
   Floyt, not to be outdone, shrugged off his blouse and tore off the legs of his pants and discarded them in like wise.  Amarok opened his groundsuit and, stepping forth unsteadily, flipped it into space.
   At the top of their form now, Croi were mourning with wild enthusiasm, worked into a frenzy by the dedicated antics of the humans, not understanding but ecstatically appreciative.  Floyt and Alacrity threw the last of their garments away, emulating Amarok.  With nothing on but their shoes- and Alacrity's empty chest-pack-- they marched on, howling and sporting and imbibing.
   "You are being most Croi!"  Caut'Karr proclaimed in a palsy of delight.  "You've made our sadness so giddy!"
   The entire strange caravan drew to a halt on the open flatland near the edge of the cliff.  Reddish water surged against the gray and green rocks far below, whipping up a pink froth.
   It was plainly a ceremonial place; all around were huge sculptured boulders that looked like they'd been carved by the wind, each covered with symbols and insignia.
   The three were tired, dirty, and sweaty, but altogether pleased with what they'd done and how happy they'd helped make the Croi.
   Caut'Karr signaled for silence and, when he had it, made a brief speech in his own language that seemed to meet with the unanimous approval of the Croi.
   He translated politely for the offworlders.
   "I have said that this is a day to go down into the anus of history!"
   "Annals?"  Floyt suggested delicately.
   "Affirmatively just-so! The High Meddler has received the most glorious funeral procession column ever held!  All of those of us who are here share in exalting honor!"
   "Now, as a last tribute to our beloved leader, we will all render the ritualistic sacrifice!"
   "So saying, Caut'Karr took the end of one reedy extremity in a manipulative tendril and, giving it a mighty yank, pulled it loose.  It seemed to cause him no pain or distress.
   Of course! Alacrity realized.  He'll just regenerate a new one.  It's all right then.
   Caut'Karr held the sacrifice aloft, waving it at the bold figure of the High Meddler.  He said something in Croi, then reiterated in Terranglish.
   "This tribute I send before thee, as proof of my reverence and devotion!"
   With that, he tossed the appendage far out off the cliff.  The other Croi set up a weird caterwauling and, as the three humans watched, dumbfounded, began plucking extremities of their own in an outlandish harvest of devotional tokens, showering them into the pink surf.
    The three humans expected to see the departed follow his offerings over the side, but instead an expectant quiet settled over the Croi.  All attention seemed to center on Amarok, Floyt, and Alacrity.
   "Well?" prompted Caut'Karr after a few moments' silence.
   "Well what?" Alacrity shot back.
   "We are tarryingly waiting.  The ceremony is nearly terminated to completion, and we're all famished for the post-obsequies ingestion competition races.  If you three would be so goodly compliant as to finish and have done with your tributes, we'll just give the noble dead cadaver, here, a jolly old tilt into the briny oceanic sea and be off on our path of route."
   "Tributes?" Floyt repeated, with an abrupt feeling of apprehension.
   "Well of course naturally tributes," Caut'Karr rapped with a trace of impatience.  He mimed the ripping off of another of his extremities.  "Tributes."
Alacrity proclaimed softly.  "Y-you mean to say you expect us to-"
   "Ah, look here now," Amarok interrupted smoothly. "That's just not the sort of thing our species does, don't you see, Caut'Karr.  We're different from you Croi."
   The rest of the Croi were pressing around, chittering and tweeting agitatedly at Caut'Karr and the humans.  Some few who understood a little Terranglish were trying to translate.
   "You mean to intend to say," Caut'Karr said balefully, "that you three negatively refuse to render this basic respect?  A minor act like plucking off one lousy limb?  You so commit upon ourselfs this intolerable provocational insult?"
   The other Croi, hearing that in translation, set up a sound like untuned guitars being rubbed together.
   "It's not that exactly," Alacrity was quick to protest. "For you, it's nothing to do something like that.  But it's a lot more drastic for - "
   He broke off as several Croi in the crowd lost their tempers over the humans' pettiness in welching on fundamental good manners like self-mutilation.  Outraged, two of them charged at Alacrity, while Floyt yelled, "Wait! You don't understand!"
   Which was pretty much the phrase Alacrity had once submitted in a contest for the slogan of the Organization for Interspecies Understanding.  It did no more good than it had during the contest.
   The trio of humans was standing near one of the giant stones, at the very edge of the cliff, with Croi dozens deep to every side and the precipice at their backs.  Alacrity ducked one of the creatures, but the second began looping and angling various appendages about him. ...
   Alacrity and Amarok were being restrained by an angry mob. Caut'Karr, with threshing blows and enjoining cries managed to bring back a little order.  The two captives were spread-eagled on one of the smaller stones, bent backward, heads hanging over the booming surf.  Alacrity's skull ached and a knot was beginning to swell where he'd clipped his forehead against the boulder.
   Except for a few frustrated individuals still fumbling around the hole trying to catch Floyt, the Croi thronged around the two captives.
   "Despite of your rude truculence and intemperate discourtesies," Caut'Karr announced, " we will be lenient with you, foreign aliens.  You will make your tribute, then be allowed permission to depart."
   "Don't you understand?" Amarok bellowed.  "We have a different physiology from you!"
   "That is scarcely our fault, is it?" Caut'Karr riposted reasonably.
   A lost arm or leg could be regenerated or replaced by graft if necessary, but if the humans were to lose it up on the cliff, they'd have no hope of making it to Piloquiaq, much less advanced medical help.  Alacrity and Amarok struggled.
   "If you tear off our arms or legs we'll die!"  Amarok roared.
   "Umm, ha."  meditated  Caut'Karr.  "I suppose we could settle for a minor appendage."  He pointed to their midsections.  "Those rather modest protuberances down there would suffice."
   The Croi were somewhat surprised at how vehemently the two Homo sapiens began to fight and object.
   "STOP!" a human voice thundered.
   Floyt stood atop the great stone, panting and bleeding from the climb that had nearly cost him his life a dozen times in less than a minute.
   Before the Croi could recover from their surprise, the Earther placed one had over his heart and swept the other at the figure of the High Meddler.  In stentorian grandeur, he declaimed:

The Croi stood on the burning deck,
(uh,) his honor now I garnish,
drape laurel round his nonesuch neck,
and on his coat of varnish!

   Adrenaline had helped him condense a lot of thinking into the endless seconds of his climb; verse was the only thing he'd been able to come up with.
   The Croi watched and listened, motionless.  They could tell Floyt was doing something profoundly out of the ordinary, even for a human.  There were rapid-fire questions to and answers from the few Terranglish speakers among them, including Caut'Karr.  Poetry?  Poetry!

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Hugging his chest, he waited while the air snake danced around him in celebration of his fall.

The cyberinterface hood was deader than a year-old furlough chit.

The single-grain Lava-Land prangbang had clouded Zinsser's brain, but... 

All this general quarters lather was what Lod's sainted mother would've called a whole lot of shaking and no martini.

Essa gave Mason a meat-ripper grin that was 100 percent congeniality-free.

From GammaLAW A Screaming Across the Sky

©Lucia St. Clair Robson 2004-2017


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