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Authors: Peter David Michael Jan Friedman Robert Greenberger

Tags: #Speculative Fiction

After Earth: A Perfect Beast

BOOK: After Earth: A Perfect Beast
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After Earth: A Perfect Beast
is a work of fiction. Names, places, and incidents either are products of the author’s imagination or are used fictitiously.

A Del Rey eBook Edition

Copyright © 2013 by After Earth Enterprises, LLC. All Rights Reserved. Used Under Authorization.
After Earth: Ghost Stories: Peace
and
After Earth: Ghost Stories: Birthright
copyright © 2013 by After Earth Enterprises, LLC. All Rights Reserved. Used Under Authorization.
After Earth: Ghost Stories: Hunted
copyright © 2012 by After Earth Enterprises, LLC. All rights reserved. Used under authorization.

Published in the United States by Del Rey, an imprint of The Random House Publishing Group, a division of Random House, Inc., New York.

D
EL
R
EY
is a registered trademark and the Del Rey colophon is a trademark of Random House, Inc.

This book contains the following short stories, previously published individually in 2012 and 2013 by Del Rey, an imprint of The Random House Publishing Group, a division of Random House, Inc., as eBooks:
After Earth: Ghost Stories: Hunted
,
After Earth: Ghost Stories: Peace
, and
After Earth: Ghost Stories: Birthright
.

eISBN: 978-0-345-54055-3

www.delreybooks.com

Cover illustration: Raphael Lacoste

v3.1

Not unlike the bear which bringeth forth

In the end of thirty dayes a shapeless birth;

But after licking, it in shape she drawes
,

And by degrees she fashions out the pawes
,

The head, and neck, and finally doth bring

To a perfect beast that first deformed thing
.


GUILLAUME DE SALLUSTE DU BARTAS

Contents
PROLOGUE

“Zantenor! Zantenor, lost to us! Oh, mighty Zantenor, the Vermin have taken it, and we must have it back. Zantenor, lost to us …”

The High Minister of the Krezateen thinks he is going to lose his mind.

Outside his isolation pod, the Obsessives continue their chanting. There is no single caste in the entirety of the Krezateen society—which features as of last count 197 castes—that drives him more insane than the Obsessives.

He never knows through what process they decide which cause or issue will be the target of their attentions. Unlike many other castes, the Obsessives have no central authority, or so it seems to him. There is no council, there is no single leader, there is no meeting place. Or if there is, its location is a well-hidden secret, which would be fortunate for them. If the High Minister were aware of it, he would be eminently inclined to go there himself and burn it to the ground.

Yet somehow, even without a centralized organization, the Obsessives would no doubt find something to seize and fixate on. They would do so for however long they desired. Whether they actually bring about social change as a consequence of their fixations never seems to matter to them. They obsess because they feel like doing so, and they continue to do so until they stop.

But they have not stopped when it comes to Zantenor. They have been going on about it for years.

And years.

And
years
.

How long has it been since the Vermin took over the Holy World? Centuries, surely. During one pilgrimage long ago the Vermin had not yet arrived, and Zantenor was its normal pristine self. The Krezateen had shown up in their vast spacegoing vessels, and everything had been fine. They had orbited Zantenor; they had worshipped and prayed to the gods. And the gods had not answered, which was, as always, a good thing. Silence was good. Inactivity was good. The holy writings of the Krezateen were quite specific on that matter. If the gods accepted the offerings and felt one’s prayers to be worthy, the gods would take no action against the Krezateen. If, however, misfortune befell them, the gods were making their dislike and disapproval abundantly clear.

The pilgrims had returned from their voyage and reported that the gods had been pleased with them. There had been much rejoicing on Homeworld. As was customary, the debauched celebration had lasted for a solid year, and consequently a new generation of Krezateen had been spawned, further showing the approval of the gods.

But the next visit to the Holy World had been a very different story. The Vermin had appeared.

“Zantenor lost. Lost to the Vermin. Oh, blessed Zantenor, forgive us our failures …”

It was impossible to determine exactly when the Vermin had shown up on the Holy World, but they had come out of nowhere, it seemed. Some believed that the Krezateen’s ancient enemies, the Ventraya, had deposited them there and even cited similarities to Ventrayan technology in the design of the Vermin’s vessels. But there was no way to change speculation to a certainty. The Vermin were clearly some sort of scavenger race—four limbs, tiny heads, no weaponry whatsoever built into their bodies—and they could have found some Ventrayan technology on their own and somehow adapted it to their needs.

After all, they had sensory organs on the front of their faces capable of accessing the hideous light portion of the electromagnetic spectrum, just as the Ventraya did. The Krezateen lacked such organs—eyes, the Ventraya called them—and it was good that they did. Their gods frowned on the light wavelengths. In fact, they frowned on so many things that it was difficult sometimes to keep track of them all.

But it was the Vermin that they frowned on most of all.

They were everywhere, it seemed. They had taken over entire sections of Zantenor and created nests to sustain them. The nutrient-rich ground was being used not for the gods to walk upon in their eternal contemplation but to grow food for the Vermin to consume. They were reproducing as well; during their monitoring the Krezateen identified smaller versions of the Vermin running around, filled with childish joy—as if they had any business being there.

“Blessed be Zantenor, we are not deserving of you, for we have failed to protect you …”

The High Minister cannot stand it anymore.
“Be quiet! Damn the lot of you; be quiet!”
he howls. His claws, a gleaming silver, open and close instinctively. Nothing would suit him better at that moment than to explode out of his pod, leap into the heart of the gathered Obsessives, and begin tearing away at them. He imagines himself in full combat fervor, clamping his teeth on the throats of the Obsessives and ripping them open, demolishing the lot of them. And as he does so, he imagines that they are the Vermin, the wretched Vermin. Would that not be glorious? To be able to tear into the Vermin in that fashion, like a mindless killing machine, like some sort of …

… some sort of …

“Animal,” he whispers.

He closes his perception organs, and his mind reaches out.

He needs his nest brother, the High Chancellor, to
come to him immediately. Less than a few seconds pass, and the High Minister obtains confirmation that his thoughts have been received and will be attended to immediately.

However, “immediately” when it comes to the High Chancellor is very much a subjective concept. He has many things to attend to, and thus his definition of that term is different from most others. The High Minister is accustomed to this and will wait.

He decides to occupy himself by pacing in his pod. Such pedestrian concerns as gravity have no meaning within it. He moves along the curved, smooth, featureless surface up, down, and then sideways, whichever direction his whim takes him.

The Obsessives continue their chanting, nonstop as usual, but it is bothering him less and less. He supposes that he should feel grateful to them. They have sent his thoughts off in a direction that may well prove useful. So he decides that he will, for now, allow them to live and march around and chant outside his pod for as long as they are inclined to do so. He can always annihilate them later if the mood seizes him.

When the High Chancellor finally arrives, his presence is projected immediately into the High Minister’s mind. The far wall of the pod peels itself aside for him, and the High Chancellor enters.

“I hope I did not keep you waiting too long.” As always, his grunts and clicks are precise, as is his telepathic syntax.

“Not at all. Three days is actually rather swift for you.”

“You are my nest brother in addition to all that you are for the Krezateen. Naturally I would expedite myself for you. So”—he inclines his head slightly—“how may I be of service to you?”

“I mean to discuss Zantenor.”

“Ah, Zantenor,” sighs the High Chancellor. He nods in the general direction of the unperceived chanting Obsessives going on endlessly outside the High Minister’s
pod. “Considering what you are listening to on a daily basis, I am not the least bit surprised. How do you endure it? Why do you not just eat them?”

“I’m strongly considering it, but that’s not the point at the moment. We need to dispose of the Vermin.”

“I readily agree. And the gods know that we have been trying. But the Vermin have proved horrifically resilient. Twice now, we have attacked them from the air. We have bombarded them with all the power at our disposal. And yet they have survived.”

“Which leaves land assault.”

The High Chancellor says nothing for a moment. Finally he speaks, his voice grave: “You cannot ask that of our people.”

“Chancellor—”

“You cannot.”
His voice is so loud, so forceful, that the sides of the pod actually seem to tremble. “You know that treading upon the sacred soil of Zantenor is forbidden, nest brother.
Forbidden
. Surely you understand what
forbidden
means?”

“Of course. I—”

“It means that once you have set claw on Zantenor, you can never again return to the Homeworld. Once you die, your essence will not be allowed to join the Miasma. You will go neither forward nor back. You will be forever unclean—condemned to either remain on Zantenor, where the gods will surely abominate your presence, or else wander the stars aimlessly.”

“I know all that …”

“So you claim. But here you are suggesting that Krezateen once again volunteer … or are they to be forced into it this time? Would you have them drafted into—?”

“Nest brother, enough!”
howls the High Minister, and he holds up his claws as if in a gesture of surrender. “I am suggesting nothing that you are claiming! I have no desire to perceive more of our people, voluntarily or otherwise, set foot on the sacred world.”

BOOK: After Earth: A Perfect Beast
7.3Mb size Format: txt, pdf, ePub
ads

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