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The Memory of Earth

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The Memory of Earth

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Author: Orson Scott Card
Publisher: Tor, 1992
Series: Homecoming: Book 1

1. The Memory of Earth
2. The Call of Earth
3. The Ships of Earth
4. Earthfall
5. Earthborn

Book Type: Novel
Genre: Science-Fiction
Sub-Genre Tags: Science-Fantasy
Space Opera
Utopia
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Synopsis

High above the planet Harmony, the Oversoul watches. Its task, programmed so many millennia ago, is to guard the human settlement on this planet--to protect this fragile remnant of Earth from all threats. To protect them, most of all, from themselves.

The Oversoul has done its job well. There is no war on Harmony. There are no weapons of mass destruction. There is no technology that could lead to weapons of war. By control of the data banks, and subtle interference in the very thoughts of the people, the artificial intelligence has fulfilled its mission.

But now there is a problem. In orbit, the Oversoul realizes that it has lost access to some of its memory banks, and some of its power systems are failing. And on the planet, men are beginning to think about power, wealth, and conquest.


Excerpt

ONE

FATHER'S HOUSE

Nafai woke before dawn on his mat in his father's house. He wasn't allowed to sleep in his mother's house anymore, being fourteen years old. No self-respecting woman of Basilica would put her daughter in Rasa's household if a fourteen-year-old boy were in residence--especially since Nafai had started a growth spurt at the age of twelve that showed no signs of stopping even though he was already near two meters in height.

Only yesterday he had overheard his mother talking with her friend Dhelembuvex. "People are beginning to speculate on when you're going to find an auntie for him," said Dhel.

"He's still just a boy," said Mother.

Dhel hooted with laughter. "Rasa, my dear, are you so afraid of growing old that you can't admit your little baby is a man?"

"It's not fear of age," said Mother. "There's time enough for aunties and mates and all that business when he starts thinking about it himself."

"Oh, he's thinking about it already," said Dhel. "He's just not talking to you about it."

It was true enough; it had made Nafai blush when he heard her say it, and it made him blush again when he remembered it. How did Dhel know, just to look at him for a moment that day, that his thoughts were so often on "that business"? But no, Dhel didn't know it because of anything she had seen in Nafai. She knew it because she knew men. I'm just going through an age, thought Nafai. All boys start thinking these thoughts at about this age. Anyone can point at a male who's near two meters in height but still beardless and say, "That boy is thinking about sex right now," and most of the time they'll be right.

But I'm not like all the others, thought Nafai. I hear Mebbekew and his friends talking, and it makes me sick. I don't like thinking of women that crudely, sizing them up like mares to see what they're likely to be useful for. A pack animal or can I ride her? Is she a walker or can we gallop? Do I keep her in the stable or bring her out to show my friends?

That wasn't the way Nafai thought about women at all. Maybe because he was still in school, still talking to women every day about intellectual subjects. I'm not in love with Eiadh because she's the most beautiful young woman in Basilica and therefore quite probably in the entire world. I'm in love with her because we can talk together, because of the way she thinks, the sound of her voice, the way she cocks her head to listen to an idea she doesn't agree with, the way she rests her hand on mine when she's trying to persuade me.

Nafai suddenly realized that the sky was starting to grow light outside his window, and here he was lying in bed dreaming of Eiadh, when if he had any brains at all he'd get up and get into the city and see her in person.

No sooner thought of than done. He sat up, knelt beside his mat, slapped his bare thighs and chest and offered the pain to the Oversoul, then rolled up his bed and put it in his box in the corner. I don't really need a bed, thought Nafai. If I were a real man I could sleep on the floor and not mind it. That's how I'll become as hard and lean as Father. As Elemak. I won't use the bed tonight.

He walked out into the courtyard to the water tank. He dipped his hands into the small sink, moistened the soap, and rubbed it all over. The air was cool and the water was cooler, but he pretended not to notice until he was lathered up. He knew that this chill was nothing compared to what would happen in a moment. He stood under the shower and reached up for the cord--and then hesitated, bracing himself for the misery to come.

"Oh, just pull it," said Issib.

Nafai looked over toward Issib's room. He was floating in the air just in front of the doorway. "Easy for you to say," Nafai answered him.

Issib, being a cripple, couldn't use the shower; his floats weren't supposed to get wet. So one of the servants took his floats off and bathed him every night. "You're such a baby about cold water," said Issib.

"Remind me to put ice down your neck at supper."

"As long as you woke me up with all your shivering and chattering out here--"

"I didn't make a sound," said Nafai.

"I decided to go with you into the city today."

"Fine, fine. Fine as wine," said Nafai.

"Are you planning to let the soap dry? It gives your skin a charming sort of whiteness, but after a few hours it might begin to itch."

Nafai pulled the cord.

Immediately ice-cold water cascaded out of the tank over his head. He gasped--it always hit with a shock--and then bent and turned and twisted and splashed water into every nook and crevice of his body to rinse the soap off. He had only thirty seconds to get clean before the shower stopped, and if he didn't finish in that time he either had to live with the unrinsed soap for the rest of the day--and it did itch, like a thousand fleabites--or wait a couple of minutes, freezing his butt off, for the little shower tank to refill from the big water tank. Neither consequence was any fun, so he had long since learned the routine so well that he was always clean before the water stopped.

"I love watching that little dance you do," said Issib.

"Dance?"

"Bend to the left, rinse the armpit, bend the other way, rinse the left armpit, bend over and spread your cheeks to rinse your butt, bend over backward--"

"All right, I get it," said Nafai.

"I'm serious, I think it's a wonderful little routine. You ought to show it to the manager of the Open Theatre. Or even the Orchestra. You could be a star."

"A fourteen-year-old dancing naked under a stream of water," said Nafai. "I think they'd show that in a different kind of theatre."

"But still in Dolltown! You'd still be a hit in Dolltown!"

By now Nafai had toweled himself dry--except his hair, which was still freezing cold. He wanted to run for his room the way he used to do when he was little, jabbering nonsense words--"ooga-booga looga-booga" had been a favorite--while he pulled on his clothes and rubbed himself to get warm. But he was a man now, and it was only autumn, not winter yet, so he forced himself to walk casually toward his room. Which is why he was still in the courtyard, stark naked and cold as ice, when Elemak strode through the gate.

"A hundred and twenty-eight days," he bellowed.

"Elemak!" cried Issib. "You're back!"

"No thanks to the hill robbers," said Elemak. He walked straight to the shower, pulling off his clothes as he went. "They hit us only two days ago, way too close to Basilica. I think we killed one this time."

"Don't you know whether you did or not?" asked Nafai.

"I used the pulse, of course."

Of course? thought Nafai. To use a hunting weapon against a person?

"I saw him drop, but I wasn't about to go back and check, so maybe he just tripped and fell down at the exact moment that I fired."

Elemak pulled the shower cord before he soaped. The moment the water hit him he yowled, and then did his own little splash dance, shaking his head and flipping water all over the courtyard while jabbering "ooga-booga looga-booga" just like a little kid.

It was all right for Elemak to act that way. He was twenty-four now, he had just got his caravan safely back from purchasing exotic plants in the jungle city of Tishchetno, the first time anyone from Basilica had gone there in years, and he might actually have killed a robber on the way. No one could think of Elemak as anything but a man. Nafai knew the rules: When a man acts like a child, he's boyish, and everyone's delighted; when a boy acts the same way, he's childish, and everyone tells him to be a man.

Elemak was soaping up now. Nafai--freezing still, even with his arms folded across his chest--was about to go into his room and snag his clothes, when Elemak started talking again.

"You've grown since I left, Nyef."

"I've been doing that lately."

"Looks good on you. Muscling up pretty well. You take after the old man in all the right ways. Got your mother's face, though."

Nafai liked the tone of approval in Elemak's voice, but it was also vaguely demeaning to stand there naked as a jaybird while his brother sized him up.

Issib, of course, only made it worse. "Got Father's most important feature, fortunately," he said.

"Well, we all got that," said Elemak. "All of the old man's babies have been boys--or at least all his babies that we know about." He laughed.

Nafai hated it when Elemak talked about Father that way. Everyone knew that Father was a chaste man who only had sex with his lawful mate. And for the past fifteen years that mate had been Rasa, Nafai's and Issib's mother, the contract renewed every year. He was so faithful that women had given up coming to visit and hint around about availability when his contract lapsed. Of course, Mother was just as faithful and there were still plenty of men plying her with gifts and innuendoes--but that's how some men were, they found faithfulness even more enticing than wantonness, as if Rasa were staying so faithful to Wetchik only to goad them on in their pursuit of her. Also, mating with Rasa meant sharing what some thought was the finest house and what all agreed was the finest view in Basilica. I'd never mate with a woman just for her house, thought Nafai.

"Are you crazy or what?" asked Elemak.

"What?" asked Nafai.

"It's cold as a witch's tit out here and you're standing there sopping wet and buck naked."

"Yeah," said Nafai. But he didn't run for his room--that would be admitting that the cold was bothering him. So he grinned at Elemak first. "Welcome home," he said.

"Don't be such a show-off, Nyef," said Elemak. "I know you're dying of the cold--your dangling parts are shriveling up."

Nafai sauntered to his room and pulled on his pants and shirt. It really bothered him that Elemak always seemed to know what was going on in Nafai's head. Elemak could never imagine that maybe Nafai was so hardened and manly that the cold simply didn't bother him. No, Elemak always assumed that if Nafai did something...

Copyright © 1992 by Orson Scott Card


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