Authors: Anne McCaffrey,Jody Lynn Nye
Tags: #Fiction, #General, #Adventure, #Space Opera, #Science Fiction, #Interplanetary voyages, #Space ships, #Life on other planets, #Interplanetary voyages - Fiction, #Fantasy fiction, #People with disabilities, #Women, #Space ships - Fiction, #Women - Fiction
a CHAPTER ONE
The ironbound door at the end of the narrow passageway creaked open. An ancient man peered out and
focused wrinkle-lapped eyes on Keff. Keff knew what the
old one saw: a mature man, not overly tall, whose wavy
brown hair, only just beginning to be shot with gray, was
arrayed above a mild yet bull-like brow and deep-set blue
eyes. A nose whose craggy shape suggested it may or may
not have been broken at some time in the past, and a
mouth framed by humor lines added to the impression of
one who was tough yet instinctively gentle. He was dressed
in a simple tunic but carried a sword at his side with the
easy air of someone who knew how to use it. The oldster
wore the shapeless garments of one who has ceased to care
for any attribute but warmth and convenience. They studied each other for a moment. Keff dipped his head slightly
"Is your master at home?"
"I have no master. Get ye gone to whence ye came," the
ancient spat, eyes blazing. Keff knew at once that this was
no serving man; he'd just insulted the High Wizard Zarelb
Anne McCaffrey 6-Joc^y Lynn Nye
himself! He straightened his shoulders, going on guard but
seeking to look friendly and non-threatening.
"Nay, sir," Keff said. "I must speak to you." Rats crept
out of the doorway only inches from his feet and skittered
away through the gutters along the walls. A disgusting
place, but Keff had his mission to think of.
"Get ye gone," the old man repeated. "I've nothing for
you." He tried to close the heavy, planked door. Keff
pushed his gaundeted forearm into the narrowing crack
and held it open. The old man backed away a pace, his
eyes showing fear.
"I know you have the Scroll ofAlmon," Keff said, keeping his voice gentle. "I need it, good sir, to save the people
of Harimm. Please give it to me, sir. I will harm you not."
'Very well, young man," the wizard said. "Since you
threaten me, I will cede the scroll."
Keff relaxed slightly, with an inward grin. Then he
caught a gleam in the old mans eye, which focused over
Keffs shoulder. Spinning on his heel, Keff whipped his
narrow sword out of its scabbard. Its lighted point picked
out glints in the eyes and off the sword-blades of the three
ruffians who had stepped into the street behind him. He
One of the ruffians showed blackened stumps of teeth
in a broad grin. "Going somewhere, sonny?" he asked.
"I go where duty takes me," Keff said.
'Take him, boys!"
His sword on high, the ruffian charged. Keff immediately blocked the mans chop, and riposted, flinging the
mans heavy sword away with a clever twist of his slender
blade that left the mans chest unguarded and vulnerable.
He lunged, seeking his enemy's heart with his blade. Stumbling away with more haste than grace, the man spat,
gathered himself, and charged again, this time followed by
the other two. Keff turned into a whirlwind, parrying,
THE SHIP WHO WON 3
thrusting, and striking, holding the three men at bay. A
near strike by one of his opponents streaked along the wall
by his cheek. He jumped away and parried just before an
enemy skewered him.
"Yoicks!" he cried, dancing in again. "Have at you!"
He lunged, and the hot point of his epee struck the
middle of the chief thugs chest. The body sank to the
ground, and vanished.
There!" Keff shouted, flicking the sword back and
forth, leaving a Z etched in white light on the air. "You are
not invincible. Surrender or die!"
Keffs renewed energy seemed to confuse the two
remaining ruffians, who fought disjointedly, sometimes
getting in each others way while Keffs blade found its
mark again and again, sinking its light into arms, shoulders,
chests. In a lightning-fast sequence, first one, then the
other foe left his guard open a moment too long. With
groans, the villains sank to the ground, whereupon they too
vanished. Putting the epee back into his belt, Keff turned
to confront the ancient wizard, who stood watching the
proceedings with a neutral eye.
"In the name of the people of Harimm, I claim the
Scroll," Keff said grandly, extending a hand. "Unless you
have other surprises for me?"
"Nay, nay." The old man fumbled in the battered leather
scrip at his side. From it he took a roll of parchment, yellowed and crackling with age. Keff stared at it with awe.
He bowed to the wizard, who gave him a grudging look of
The scroll lifted out of the wizards hand and floated
toward Keff. Hovering in the air, it unrolled slowly. Keff'
squinted at what was revealed within: spidery tracings in
fading brown ink, depicting mountains, roads, and rivers.
"A map!" he breathed.
"Hold it," the wizard said, his voice unaccountably
Anne McCaffrey ir Jody Lynn Nye
changing from a cracked baritone to a pleasant female alto.
"We're in range of the comsats." Door, rats, and aged figure vanished, leaving blank walls.
"Oh, spacedust," Keff said, unstrapping his belt and
laser epee and throwing himself into the crash seat at the
control console. "I was enjoying that. Whew! Good workout!" He pulled his sweaty tunic off over his head, and
mopped his face with the tails. The dark curls of hair on his
broad chest may have been shot through here and there
with white ones, but he was grinning like a boy.
"You nearly got yourself spitted back there," said the
disembodied voice ofCarialle, simultaneously sending and
acknowledging ID signals to the SSS-900. "Watch your
back better next time."
"What'd I get for that?" Keff asked.
"No points for unfinished tasks. Maps are always
unknowns. You'll have to follow it and see," Carialle said
coyly. The image of a gorgeous lady dressed in floating sky
blue chiffon and gauze and a pointed hennin appeared
briefly on a screen next to her titanium column. The lovely
rose-and-cream complected visage smiled down on Keff.
"Nice footwork, good sir knight," the Lady Fair said, and
vanished. "SSS-900, this is the CK-963 requesting permission to approach and dock-Hello, Simeon!"
"Carialle!" The voice of the station controller came
through the box. "Welcome back! Permission granted,
babe. And that's SSS-900-C, now, C for Channa. A lot's
happened in the year since you've been away. Keff, are you
Keff leaned in toward the pickup. "Right here, Simeon.
We're within half a billion klicks. Should be with you
"It'll be good to have you on board," Simeon said.
"We're a little disarrayed right now, to put it mildly, but you
didn't come to see me for my housekeeping."
THE SHIP WHO WON
"No, cookie, but you give such good decontam a girl can
hardly stay away," Carialle quipped with a naughty
"Dragons teeth, Simeon!" Keff suddenly exclaimed,
staring at his scopes. "What happened around here?"
"Well, if you really want to know..."
The scout ship threaded its way through an increasingly
cluttered maze of junk and debris as they neared the rotat-ing dumbbell shape of Station SSS-900. After viewing
Keffs cause for alarm, Carialle put her repulsors on full to
avoid the very real possibility of intersecting with one of
the floating chunks of metal debris that shared a Trojan
point with the station. Skiffs and tugs moved amidst the
shattered parts of ships and satellites, scavenging. A pair of
battered tugs with scoops on the front, looking ridiculously
like gigantic vacuum cleaners, described regular rows as
they seived up microfine spacedust that could hole hulls
and vanes of passing ships without ever being detected by
the crews inside. The cleanup tugs sent hails as Carialle
passed them in a smooth arc, synchronizing herself to the
spin of the space station. The north docking ring was being
repaired, so with a flick of her controls, Carialle increased
thrust and caught up with the south end. Lights began to
chase around the lip of one of the docldng bays on the ring,
and she made for it.
"... so that was the last we saw of the pirate Belazir and
his bully boys," Simeon finished, sounding weary. "For
good, I hope. My shell has been put in a more damage
resistant casing and resealed in its pillar. We've spent the
last six months healing and picking up the pieces. Still
waiting for replacement parts. The insurance company is
being sticky and querying every fardling item on the list,
but no ones surprised about that. Fleet ships are remaining
Anne McCaffrey 6-Jody Lynn Nye
in the area. We've put in for a permanent patrol, maybe a
"You have had a hell of a time," Carialle said,
"Now let's hear the good news," Simeon said, with a
sudden surge of energy in his voice. "Where ve you been
all this time?"
Carialle simulated a trumpet playing a fanfare.
"We're pleased to announce that star GZA-906-M has
two planets with oxygen-breathing life," Keffsaid.
"Congratulations, you two!" Simeon said, sending an
audio burst that sounded like thousands of people cheer-ing. He paused, very briefly. "I'm sending a simultaneous
message to Xeno and Explorations. They're standing by for
a full report with samples and graphs, but me first! I want
to hear it all."
Carialle accessed her library files and tight-beamed the
star chart and xeno file to Simeons personal receiving frequency. 'This is a precis of what we'll give to Xeno and the
benchmarkers," she said. "We'll spare you the boring
"If there's any bad news," Keff began, "it's that there's
no sentient life on planet four, and planet three s is too far
down the tech scale to join Central Worlds as a trading
partner. But they were glad to see us."
"He thinks," Carialle interrupted, with a snort. "I really
never knew what the Beasts Blatisant thought." Keff shot
an exasperated glance at her pillar, which she ignored. She
clicked through the directory on the file and brought up
the profile on the natives oflricon III.
"Why do you call them the Beasts Blatisant?" Simeon
asked, scanning the video of the skinny, hairy hexapedal
beings, whose faces resembled those of intelligent grass-hoppers.
"Listen to the audio," Carialle said, laughing. 'They use
THE SHIP WHO WON 7
a complex form of communication which we have a sociological aversion to understanding. Keff thought I was
blowing smoke, so to speak."
'That's not true, Can," Keff protested. "My initial conclusion," he stressed to Simeon, "was that they had no
need for a complex spoken language. They live right in the
swamps," Keff said, narrating the video that played off the
datahedron. "As you can see, they travel either on all sixes
or upright on four with two manipulative limbs. There are
numerous predators that eat Beasts, among other things,
and the simple spoken language is sufficient to relay information about them. Maintaining life is simple. You can see
that fruit and edible vegetables grow in abundance right
there in the swamp. The overlay shows which plants are
"Not too many," Simeon said, noting the international
symbols for poisonous and toxic compounds: a skull and
crossbones and a small round face with its tongue out.
"Of course the first berry tried by my knight errant, and
I especially stress the errant," Carialle said, "was those
raspberry red ones on the left, marked with Mr. Yucky
"Well, the natives were eating them, and their biology
isn't that unlike Terran reptiles." Keff grimaced as he
admitted, "but the berries gave me fierce stomach cramps.
I was rolling all over the place clutching my belly. The
Beasts thought it was funny." The video duly showed the
hexapods, hooting, standing over a prone and writhing
"It was, a little," Carialle added, "once I got over being
worried that he hadn't eaten something lethal. I told him