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Powers That Be

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Powers That Be

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Author: Anne McCaffrey
Elizabeth Ann Scarborough
Publisher: Bantam UK, 1993
Del Rey / Ballantine, 1993
Series: Petaybee: Book 1

1. Powers That Be
2. Power Lines
3. Power Play

Book Type: Novel
Genre: Science-Fiction
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(17 reads / 5 ratings)



Synopsis

It was a world of ice and snow - a planet that just supported life and that had been terraformed from frozen uninhabitable rock.The people of Petaybee were hardy, self-reliant, friendly - and also very secretive.

Major Yana Maddock, medically discharged from the service, was shipped to Petaybee in the hope that her burnt-out lungs might just recover in the icy air.And at the last moment, she was given a special commission.Unauthorized life-forms had been seen on the planet and, more seriously, geologic survey teams had vanished into nowhere, the odd survivor being discovered abandoned and insane.It was Yana's task to infiltrate Petaybee society and find out who - or what - was causing the eerie events on the planet.

She discovered a primitive ice-bound community of extraordinary people - people who possessed some mysterious quality of surviving - and people who Yana discovered she both liked and revered as she found herself becoming one of them.


Excerpt

1

Stifling in the crowded processing center of Petaybee's spaceport, Yanaba Maddock eyed the side door as a drowner would eye a drifting spar. Unobtrusively making her way to it, she hoped it wasn't locked. It was, but the lock was not proof against the skills she had acquired in her years as a company soldier, investigator, explorer, training officer, and, most recently, long-term resident of a medical facility. Automatically checking to see if her activity was being noticed, Yana slid the door open just wide enough to accommodate her thin body. She paused to pull on her gloves: she had been warned in the briefing--and she always took briefings seriously--of the danger of bare skin sticking to frozen surfaces.

For a moment she leaned back against the slide panel, to secure it in case she had been observed. Then the cold air hit her.

She knew from previous cold-weather training not to inhale the freezing blast that whipped around the corner of the building and slammed into her face.

"The temp-er-actch-chur of Planet, Terraformation B, commonly called Petaybee, at certain locations during certain points in time during the winter can range as low as minus two hundred degrees fare-in-height," the computer aboard the shuttle from ship to port had cautioned. "That's cold, troops. Do not touch metal objects with your unprotected epy-dur-mus. Do not run, or the air will freeze into small icicles in your lungs and lacerate them. Wear or carry your winter gear with you at all times. Do not count on a nice warm vehicle for warmth. For one thing, there is a shortage of nice warm vehicles on Petaybee, because machinery that doesn't freeze and crack in the extreme cold is expensive. For another thing, even the expensive equipment breaks down, and you may find yourself stranded. The tem-per-atch-chur at Kilcoole SpaceBase today is minus fifty degrees fare-in-height. Some of the locals have been known to regard this as relatively tropical by comparison with what they consider real winter. Bear in mind that summer to these same individuals consists of two months of fairly constant daylight as warm as fifty-five to sixty degrees above zero, still twelve to seventeen degrees colder than regulation shipboard settings of seventy-two degrees. So button up your outer gear, 'cause the wind blows free, and take good care of yourselves, remembering at all times that your ass belongs to the company. That is all."

Yana had smiled to hear the computer briefing given in the gruff voice and speech patterns of a senior NCO, but she was no more inclined to ignore the warning than she would have been had it been issued by a flesh-and-blood top sergeant. Minus two hundred, huh? Good thing she'd gotten here during a "heat wave." Icicles lacerating her already trashed lungs would do nothing for her convalescence.

Fumbling with outerwear that had been broiling her in the facility, she pulled her scarf across her mouth, flipped the hood to her head, pulled it down over her forehead, which was fast becoming wooden with cold, and tucked the scarf securely up to her eyes before she tied the hood under her chin.

Cold though the air was, and despite a taint of overheated oil and space fuel from the snow-rimmed plascrete landing pad, the freshness of it--warmed by her breath as she inhaled through the muffling fabric--was clean! One of the small joys of her life were those first moments of breathing fresh, unadulterated, unrecycled air: the real stuff.

She inhaled through her mask, tentatively at first, because her lungs were still not working as well as they should--one of the reasons she was the perfect candidate for Petaybee in the eyes of her employers. Gradually she began to take deeper breaths; she wanted to flush the dead air of a spaceship out of her poor abused lungs. They would have even more of a chance to heal here in Petaybee's unpolluted atmosphere than in the rarefied aisles of that medical complex back on Andromeda Station.

She took in one deep breath too many and started to cough, gasp, and choke until her eyes teared with the spasms. Panting with short chest inhalations, she managed to get control again. The tears froze on her cheeks and she brushed them away. Grimly she thought that you could have too much of a good thing--even air. And she had better get back inside: for all she was wearing garb appropriate to the new climate, she could feel her fingers and toes numbing. She spared one look at the horizon, the great bowl of a blue sky without so much as a defense shield over the spaceport, and the ice-covered land and wondered if she really had made the right decision.

Slipping back inside, she pushed the hood off, pulled down the scarf, and scanned her nearest neighbors. Only one of them seemed to notice that she had left and come back. He blinked and frowned before turning his attention to the screen at the far end of the long hall where the names of those to be processed were blinking. y. maddock was one of them.

She moved forward, squeezing past people until she came to the more eager layers of folk, packed tightly as they waited for release.

"Maddock, Y," she said to the official, offering her plastics.

"ID," he said without looking up from his terminal. She extended her left wrist, and with rough fingers, he turned it so he could see it, bending her hand painfully.

"You're cold!" He looked up now, seeing her as a person, not a number.

She shrugged. "Leaning against that door."

"Humpf. Didn't you attend the briefing?" He frowned. "Don't touch metal..."

"Even inside?" she asked with the innocent inquiring look she had used to flummox brighter men than this one.

He frowned, and then the terminal required his attention, her plastic having jumped out of the processing slot. It skidded halfway across the worktop before he caught it. Yana kept her face straight: he looked the sort not likely to appreciate chasing anything, much less plastic.

A slip of film extruded from the slot by her hand.

"That has your work number, which you will memorize, work assignment, living quarters, ration status, travel and clothing allowance, and the name of your official guide as well as his office hours. Your travel pack has already been delivered to your quarters." Then he paused and startled her by smiling. "You can take one of the waiting vehicles outside the terminal, Major Maddock. Welcome to Petaybee."

Amazed by both the courtesy and the unexpected smile, Yana thanked him and moved smartly out of the way to make room for the next person in line.

A translucent roof shield protected the area outside the passenger terminal. It was filled with the sounds of confusion and impatience as the processed arrivees, most of them lugging their precious 23.5 kilo personal-allowance sacks, searched for each other or for transportation.

"Yellow slip, huh?" someone said in her ear, pulling her hand down to peer at it.

The someone was a young girl, so bundled in furs that only her face was visible, and that slightly obscured by long wisps of fur and, possibly, her own hair. She appeared to be in her early to mid-teens; her keen gray eyes were alive with intelligence and interest.

"I'm cleared for yellow, too," the girl added, and her mittened hand shoved a plastic square under Yana's eyes. The woman grabbed her hand for a longer look at the official-looking plastic. The girl didn't resist, though her eyes widened slightly at the strength of Yana's grasp.

The plastic-covered printed documentation licensed Buneka Rourke to convey passengers in an authorized snocle within the environs of the port but no farther. There was a large A in the right-hand corner and a renewal date sometime later on in Petaybee's year.

"How much?"

Buneka Rourke blinked and then grinned companionably. "From here to your place, it's on the PTBs."

"The PTBs?" Yana wasn't sure she had heard correctly.

Buneka's grin broadened, and her eyes twinkled with mischief. "Sure, PTB--the powers that be. Petaybee," she added. "You didn't know that's where this planet got its name?"

"The briefing said it was Planet, Terraformation B," Yana said.

"The girl waved her mitten dismissively. "They would manage to make it sound dull. But it's really named after them--the Powers That Be that move us from A to B or Z or wherever they gotta plug holes or clean up disasters or fight wars. C'mon. Let me get you out of this mess and give you a proper welcome to Petaybee." The girl tugged at Yana's sleeve, pointing to a battered-looking but clean orange/yellow snocle with fluorescent numerals, MTS-80-84, that matched those Yana had seen on the plastic ID. But as Yana stepped off the curb, a big figure intervened.

"Yellow ticket? I take yellow tickets." The man glared menacingly at the girl. "You doan wanna ride with this flitter-face. She turn you over into snow drift. No one find you. Yellow ticket deserves big, warm snocle." He gestured toward a large, sleek affair.

"I've already--" she began.

"Terce, she's legally mine."

"You ain't cleared for yellows," the man said, hunching belligerently over the girl. He was a tall enough man, but the furs made him even more bulky.

"Am, too." She waved her ID at him; snarling, he batted at her hand, dismissing her qualification. "I got a passenger all legal, Terce," she went on. "You weren't even here."

Yana deftly inserted herself between them and made eye contact with the intruder. "I've already accepted Rourke's assistance, but I thank you for your willingness to transport me."

Copyright © 1993 by Anne McCaffrey

Copyright © 1993 by Elizabeth Ann Scarborough


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