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Authors: C. J. Cherryh

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Cuckoo's Egg

BOOK: Cuckoo's Egg
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Cuckoo's Egg

C.J. Cherryh

DAW Books, Inc.

Donald A. Wollheim, Founder

375 Hudson Street,

New York, NY 10014

Elizabeth R. Wollheim

Sheila E. Gilbert

Publishers

www.dawbooks.com

in cooperation with

SEATTLE BOOK COMPANY

www.seattlebook.com

Produced by

RosettaMachine

www.rosettamachine.com

Cuckoo's Egg

The Finest in

DAW Science Fiction

from C.J. CHERRYH:

THE ALLIANCE-UNION UNIVERSE

The Company Wars

DOWNBELOW STATION

The Era of Rapprochement

SERPENT'S REACH

FORTY THOUSAND IN GEHENNA

MERCHANTER'S LUCK

The Chanur Novels

THE PRIDE OF CHANUR

CHANUR'S VENTURE

THE KIF STRIKE BACK

CHANUR'S HOMECOMING

CHANUR'S LEGACY

The Mri Wars

THE FADED SUN: KESRITH

THE FADED SUN: SHON'JIR

THE FADED SUN: KUTATH

Merovingen Nights (Mri Wars period)

ANGEL WITH THE SWORD

The Age of Exploration

CUCKOO'S EGG

VOYAGER IN NIGHT

PORT ETERNITY

The Hanan Rebellion

BROTHERS OF EARTH

HUNTER OF WORLDS

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Cuckoo's Egg

THE MORGAINE CYCLE

GATE OF IVREL (#1)

WELL OF SHIUAN (#2)

FIRES OF AZEROTH (#3)

EXILE'S GATE (#4)

THE EALDWOOD FANTASY NOVELS

THE DREAMSTONE

THE TREE OF SWORDS AND JEWELS

OTHER CHERRYH NOVELS

HESTIA

WAVE WITHOUT A SHORE

THE FOREIGNER UNIVERSE

FOREIGNER

INVADER

INHERITOR

PRECURSOR

DEFENDER*

EXPLORER*

*Forthcoming

iii

Cuckoo's Egg

Copyright © 1985 by C.J. Cherryh.

All Rights Reserved.

DAW Book Collectors No. 646.

DAW Books are distributed by Penguin Putnam Inc.

Microsoft LIT edition ISBN: 0-7420-9098-1

Adobe PDF edition ISBN: 0-7420-9100-7

Palm PDB edition ISBN: 0-7420-9170-8

MobiPocket edition ISBN: 0-7420-9099-X

Ebook editions produced by
SEATTLE BOOK COMPANY

Ebook conversion and distribution powered by

www.RosettaMachine.com

All characters and events in this book are fictitious.

Any resemblance to persons living or dead is strictly coincidental.

iv

Cuckoo's Egg

Electronic format made

available by arrangement with

DAW Books, Inc.

www.dawbooks.com

Elizabeth R. Wollheim

Sheila E. Gilbert

Publishers

Palm Digital Media

www.palm.com/ebooks

v

Cuckoo's Egg

Table of Contents

I

II

III

IV

V

VI

VII

VIII

IX

X

XI

XII

XIII

XIV

XV

vi

Cuckoo's Egg

I

He sat in a room, the sand of which was synthetic and shining with opal tints, fine and light beneath his bare feet. The windows held no cityview, but a continuously rotating panorama of the Khogghut plain: a lie. Traffic noise came through.

His name was Duun. It was Dana Duun Shtoni no Lughn. But Duun was enough for day-to-day. They called him other things. Sey:general. Mingi: lord. Or something very like. Hatani: that was another thing. But Duun was enough now. There was only one. Shonunin the world over knew that, and knew him; and when the door chimed and they came to bring the alien to him, whose who carried it would not look him in the eyes, not alone for the scars that a shonun could see, the pale smooth marks traced through the fur of half his face like the limbs of a lightning-blasted tree, the marks that twisted his right ear and left his mouth quirked in permanent irony and one eye staring out of ruin.

He was Duun, of
Shanoen.
He reached out hands one of which was marred, like his face, and took the closed carrier that they gave him, marking how their ears slanted back and how they turned their heads from his for horror— not of what they saw: they were meds, and had seen deformity. It was the force in him: like a great wind, like a great heat in their faces.

But his hands were gentle when he took the carrier from them.

They went away, appalled and forgetting courtesies.

He waved the door shut and set the carrier on the table-rise, opened it and gathered the small bundled thing from it.

* * *

Shonunin were naked when they were born, but downed in silver that quickly went to dapples and last of all to gray body coat and black on limbs and ears and crest. Duun held the creature on its discarded wrapping, on his knees; and its downless skin was naked and pink as 1

Cuckoo's Egg

something lately skinned, except for a thatch of nondescript hair atop its skull. It waved soft limbs in helpless twitches. Its eyes were shut, in a face flat and not unlike a shonun; between its legs an outsized organ of curious form and various (they said) function. Its mouth worked restlessly, distorting the small face. And Duun touched it with the sensitive pads of his fingers, with the four fingers of his left hand and the two of his maimed right, exploring the hot, smooth feel of the bandage-patched belly, the chest, the limbs. With the merest tip of a claw he drew down its soft lip to inspect its mouth— nothing but toothless gums, for it was mammalian.

With the claw he lifted the lid of a sleeping eye; he saw it white and milky, centered with blue, restless in natural shiftings. He touched the convolutions of the stiff, small ears; explored the visible organ and discovered reaction: so it was sensitive. That was of interest. He examined the fat, clawless feet, all one pad as far as the toes. Unfurled a five-fingered hand with the careful touch of a single clawed finger, and the tiny fist clenched again, stubbornly. It waved its limbs. Fluid shot from the organ and fouled Duun's clothes.

Any shonun would have flinched seeing that. But Duun gathered up the wrap about the infant and mopped at himself patiently, with infinite patience. So. Likewise shonun infants performed such obscenities, if more discreetly. It let out cries, soft and weak and meaningless as all infant cries. It struggled with less strength than his own infants had shown.

He knew what it would be, grown. He knew its face. He knew every aspect of its body. He gathered it against his breast in the stinking blanket and rose, went to the package they had brought him that morning and left on the riser by the bed. He held the softly crying creature in the crook of his left arm. for he was still more able with the right hand, two-fingered as it was. He managed to open the case and to warm the milk— not milk of shonunin; by synthesis the meds provided, of their own ingenuity.

There was data, which had come days ago; he had memorized it. The creature wailed; so shonunin wailed, exercising infant lungs. And it breathed the air shonunin breathed: and perhaps its gut would take the meat shonunin ate one day. The meds thought that this was the case. The teeth that would grow would, some of them, be pointed like the major teeth of a shonun. "Hush, hush," he told it, joggling it against his chest. He 2

Cuckoo's Egg

drew the warmed bottle from the case and thrust the nipple into the soft mouth that quested among the blankets. It suckled noisily and quieted, and he crossed the sand to the riser he had left, sat down cross-legged, rocking it, whispering to it.

"Be still, be still."

Its eyes closed in contentment; it slept again, fed and held. It could not, like a shonun, be taken for granted. He was delicate with it. He laid it finally in the bowl of his own bed and sat beside it, watching its small movements, the regular heaving of its tiny round belly; and when the view in the windows changed and became the nightbound sea, he still watched.

He would not soon tire of watching. He did not bathe. He was fastidious, but he inhaled the smell of it and the soiled blanket, the smells of its food and its person, and did not flinch, having schooled himself against disgust.

* * *

They were dismayed when they came, the meds— to deal with him, to examine the infant and to take it back to the facility down the hall to weigh it and monitor its condition. He stalked after them as they carried it in its closed case; he offended their nostrils with his stink.

And never once in all this dealing would they meet his eyes, preferring even the face of the alien to the chance of looking up into the stark cold stare he gave to them and all their business.

They weighed the infant, they listened to its breathing and its heart, they asked quietly (never glancing quite at him) whether there had been difficulty.

"Duun-hatani, you might rest," the chief of medicine said the second day that they came for the infant. "This is all routine. There's no need. You might take the chance to—"

"No," Duun said.

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Cuckoo's Egg

"There—"

"No."

There was uncomfortable silence. For days Duun had looked at them without answer; now the chief cast a searching, worried glance full into his eyes, and immediately afterward found something else to occupy herself.

Duun smiled for the first time in those days, and it was a smile to match the stare.

* * *

"You dismay them, Duun," the division chief said.

Duun walked away from the desk on which Ellud sat, gazed at the false windows, which showed snowfall. Ice formed on the branches of a tree above a hot spring. The sun danced in jeweled branches and the steam rose and curled. Duun looked back again, the thumb of his maimed hand hooked behind him to that of the whole one, and discovered another man who preferred to study something just a little behind his shoulder. The false sunlight, it might be. Anything would have served. "It's in very good health," Duun said.

"Duun, the staff—"

"The staff does its job." Never once had the eyes focused on him, quite.

Duun drew a deep breath. "I want Sheon."

"Duun—"

"Sheon belongs to Duun, doesn't it? I tell you that it does."

"Security at Sheon—"

"I stink. I smell. Notice it, Ellud?"

4

Cuckoo's Egg

Long pause. "The estate—"

"You offered me anything. Wasn't that what you said? Any cooperation?

Would any shonun in the world prevent me anything— if I want a woman; if I want a man; if I want money or your next of kin, Ellud— if I want the president turned out naked and the treasury to walk in—"

"You're hatani. You wouldn't."

Duun looked again at the false spring bubbling up in its wintry vapors.

"Gods! but you do trust me."

"You're hatani."

He looked back with the first clear-eyed stare he had used in years. But not even that could hold Ellud's gaze to his. "I'm begging you, Ellud. Do I have to beg? Give me Sheon."

BOOK: Cuckoo's Egg
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