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The Call of Earth

Orson Scott Card

  The Call of Earth

  Orson Scott Card

  Orson Scott Card

  The Call of Earth


  Dave Dollahite

  Teacher and dreamer

  Husband and father

  Friend and fellow citizen


  I owe thanks to many for easing my way through the writing of this book. Clark and Kathy Kidd provided me with a refuge during the last week of the writing of this novel; half of it came forth under their roof, and with their good company.

  A writer's life can so easily slip into undisciplined sloth; my body has long reflected the physical indolence of a mentally exhausting career. This book owes much to the fact that during the writing of it I woke my body up again: I owe thanks to Clark Kidd and Scott Alien for sweating with me as I tortured a new bicycle into submission on the roads and bikepaths of northern Virginia and on the streets and strands of North Myrtle Beach.

  Several readers helped me reconcile this book with its predecessor, reading scraps of manuscript as they emerged from my printer, most notably Kathy Kidd and Russell Card. My editor on this series is Beth Meacham; my publisher is Tom Doherty; it is no accident that I have done the best work of my life so far for them. And my agent, Barbara Bova, has been a constant help and wise counselor during a turbulent time.

  This novel was supposed to be easy, but it turned out not to be. Moozh complicated everything, and yet made it all worth doing. During the long struggle to make Moozh and the rest of the story fit together, I imagine that I was barely tolerable to live with, but still my wife", Kristine, and our children, Geoffrey, Emily, and Charlie Ben, were willing to keep me around; it is the joy of my life to find them always around me when I surface from immersion in my work. And, as always, Kristine has been my first and best editor and audience, reading my work with a sharp and trustworthy eye, then telling me what I have written so I can keep or alter it as need be.


  Most names have diminutive or familiar forms. For instance, Gaballufix's near kin, close friends, current mate, and former mates could call him Gabya. Other nicknames are listed here. (Again, because these names are so unfamiliar, names of female characters are set off in italics.):














  Rasa- (no diminutive)




  Shedemei - Shedya.

  Truzhnisha - Truzhya,



  Wetchik-(no diminutive; ‘s family title) Zdorab-Zodya


  For the purpose of reading this story silently to yourself, it hardly matters whether the reader pronounces the names of the characters correctly. But for those who might be interested, here is some information concerning the pronunciation of names.

  The rules of vowel formation in the language of Basilica require that in most nouns, including names, at least one vowel be pronounced with a leading y sound. With names, it can be almost any vowel, and it can legitimately be changed at the speaker's preference. Thus the name Gaballufix could be pronounced Gyah -BAH-loo-fix or Gah-BAH- lyoo -fix; it happens that Gaballufix himself preferred to pronounce it Gah-B YAH -loo-fix, and of course most people followed that usage.

  Dhelembuvex [thel-EM-byoo-vex]

  Dol [DYOHL]

  Drotik [DROHT-yik]

  Eiadh [AY-yahth]

  Elemak [EL-yeh-mahk]

  Hosni [HYOZ-nee]

  HushM [HYOO-sheeth]

  Issib [IS-yib]

  Kokor [RYOH-kor]

  Luet [LYOO-etJ

  Mebbekew [MEB-bek-kyoo]

  Nafai [NYAH-fie]

  Obring [OB-rying]

  Rasa. [RAHZ-yah]

  Rashgallivak [rahsh-GYAH-lih-vahk]

  Roptat [ROPE-tyaht]

  Sevet [SEV-yet]

  Shedemei [SHYED-di-may]

  Truzhnisha [troozh-NYEE-shah]

  Vas [VYAHS]

  Volemak [VOHL-yeh-mak]

  Wetchik [WET-chyick]

  Zdorab [ZDOR-yab]


  The master computer of the planet Harmony was not designed to interfere so directly in human affairs. It was deeply disturbed by the fact that it had just provoked young Nafai to murder Gaballufix. But how could the master computer return to Earth without the Index? And how could Nafai have got the Index without killing Gaballufix? There was no other way.

  Or was there? I am old, said the master computer to itself. Forty million years old, a machine designed to last for nowhere near this long. How can I be sure that my judgment is right? And yet I caused a man to die for my judgment, and young Nafai is suffering the pangs of guilt because of what I urged him to do. All of this in order to carry the Index back to Zvezdakroog, so I could return to Earth.

  If only I could speak to the Keeper of Earth. If only the Keeper could tell me what to do now. Then I could act with confidence. Then I would not have to doubt my every action, to wonder if everything I do might not be the product of my own decay.

  The master computer needed so badly to speak to the Keeper; yet it could not speak to the Keeper except by returning to Earth. It was so frustratingly circular. The master computer could not act wisely without the help of the Keeper; it had to act wisely in order to get to the Keeper.

  What now? What now? I needed wisdom, and yet who can guide me? I have vastly more knowledge than any human can hope to master, and yet I have no minds but human minds to counsel me.

  Was it possible that human minds might be enough? No computer could ever be so brilliantly dysorganized as the human brain. Humans made the most astonishing decisions based on mere fragments of data, because their brain recombined them in strange and truthful ways. It was possible, surety, that some useful wisdom might be extracted from them.

  Then again, maybe not. But It was worth trying, wasn't it?

  The master computer reached out through its satellites and sent images into the minds of those humans most receptive to its transmissions. These images from the master computer began to move through their memories, forcing their minds to deal with them, to fit them together, to make sense of them. To make from them the strange and powerful stories they called dreams. Perhaps in the next few days, the next few weeks, their dreams would bring to the surface some connection or understanding that the master computer could use to help it decide how to bring the best of them out of the planet Harmony and take them home to Earth.

  All these years I have taught and guided, shaped and protected them. Now, in the end of my life, are they ready to teach and guide, shape and protect me? So unlikely. So unlikely. I will surely be forced to decide it all myself. And when I do, I will surely do it wrong. Perhaps I should not act at all. Perhaps I should not act at all. I should not act. Will not. Must.



  Again, wait....



  General Vozmuzhalnoy Vozmozhno awoke from his dream, sweating, moaning. He opened his eyes, reached out with his hand, clutching. A hand caught his own, held it.

  A man's hand. It was General Plodorodnuy. His most trusted lieutenant. His dearest friend. His inmost heart.

  "You were dreaming, Moozh." It was the nickname that only Plod dared to use to his face.

  "Yes, I was." Vozmuzhalnoy-Moozh-shuddered at th
e memory. "Such a dream."

  "Was it portentous?"

  "Horrifying, anyway."

  "Tell me. I have a way with dreams."

  "Yes, I know, like you have a way with women. When you're through with them, they say whatever you want them to say!"

  Plod laughed, but then he waited. Moozh did not know why he was reluctant to tell this dream to Plod. He had told him so many others. "All right, then, here is my dream. I saw a man standing in a clearing, and all around him, terrible flying creatures-not birds, they had fur, but much larger than bats-they kept circling, swooping down, touching him. He stood there and did nothing. And when at last they all had touched him, they flew away, except one, who perched on his shoulder.''

  "Ah," said Plod.

  "I'm not finished. Immediately there came giant rats, swarming out of burrows in the Earth. At least a meter long-half as tall as the man. And again, they kept coming until all of them had touched him-"

  "With what? Their teeth? Their paws?"

  "And their noses. Touched him, that's all I knew. Don't distract me."

  "Forgive me."

  "When they'd all touched him, they went away."

  "Except one."

  "Yes. It clung to his leg. You see the pattern."

  "What came next?"

  Moozh shuddered. It had been the most terrible thing of all, and yet now as the words came to his lips, he couldn't understand why. "People."

  "People? Coming to touch him?"

  "To ... to kiss him. His hands, his feet. To worship him. Thousands of them. Only they didn't kiss just the man. They kissed the-flying thing, too. And the giant rat clinging to his leg. Kissed them all."

  "Ah," said Plod. He looked worried.

  "So? What is it? What does it portend?"

  "Obviously the man you saw is the Imperator."

  Sometimes Plod's interpretations sounded like truth, but this time Moozh's heart rebelled at the idea of linking the Imperator with the man in the dream. "Why is that obvious? He looked nothing like the Imperator."

  "Because all of nature and humankind worshipped him, of course."

  Moozh shrugged. This was not one of Plod's most subtle interpretations. And he had never heard of animals loving the Imperator, who fancied himself a great hunter. Of course, he only hunted in one of his parks, where all the animals had been tamed to lose their fear of men, and all the predators trained to act ferocious but never strike. The Imperator got to act his part in a great show of the contest between man and beast, but he was never in danger as the animal innocently exposed itself to his quick dart, his straight javelin, his merciless blade. If this was worship, if this was nature, then yes, one could say that all of nature and humankind worshipped the Imperator... .

  Plod, of course, knew nothing of Moozh's thoughts in this vein; if one was so unfortunate as to have caustic thoughts about the Imperator, one took care not to burden one's friends with the knowledge of them.

  So Plod continued in his interpretation of Moozh's dream. "What does it portend, this worship of the Imperator? Nothing in itself. But the fact that it revolted you, the fact that you recoiled in horror-"

  "They were kissing a rat, Plod! They were kissing that disgusting flying creature..."

  But Plod said nothing as his voice trailed off. Said nothing, and watched him.

  "I am not horrified at the thought of people worshipping the Imperator. I have knelt at the Invisible Throne myself, and felt the awe of his presence. It wasn't horrible, it was... ennobling."

  "So you say," said Plod. "But dreams don't lie. Perhaps you need to purge yourself of some evil in your heart."

  "Look, you're the one who said my dream was about the Imperator. Why couldn't the man have been-I don't know-the ruler of Basilica."

  "Because the miserable city of Basilica is ruled by women."

  "Not Basilica, then. Still, I think the dream was about ..."

  "About what?"

  "How should I know? I will purge myself, just in case you're right. I'm not an interpreter of dreams." That would mean wasting several hours today at the tent of the intercessor. It was so tedious, but it was also politically necessary to spend a certain amount of time there every month, or reports of one's impiety soon made their way back to Gollod, where the Imperator decided from time to time who was worthy of command and who was worthy of debasement or death. Moozh was about due for a visit to the intercessor's tabernacle anyway, but he hated it the way a boy hates a bath. "Leave me alone, Plod. You've made me very unhappy."

  Plod knelt before him and held Moozh's right hand between his own. "Ah, forgive me."

  Moozh forgave him at once, of course, because they were friends. Later that morning he went out and killed the headmen of a dozen Khlami villages. All the villagers immediately swore their eternal love and devotion to the Imperator, and when General Vozmuzhalnoy Vozmozhno went that evening to purge himself in the holy tabernacle, the intercessor forgave him right readily, for he had much increased the honor and majesty of the Imperator that day.


  They came to hear Kokor sing, came from all over the city of Basilica, and she loved to see how their faces brightened when-finally-she came out onto the stage and the musicians began gently plucking their strings or letting breath pass through their instruments in the soft undercurrent of sound that was always her accompaniment. Kokor will sing to us at last, their faces said. She liked that expression on their faces better than any other she ever saw, better even than the look of a man being overwhelmed with lust in the last moments before satisfaction. For she well knew that a man cared little who gave him the pleasures of love, while the audience cared very much that it was Kokor who stood before them on the stage and opened her mouth in the high, soaring notes of her unbelievably sweet lyric voice that floated over the music like petals on a stream.

  Or at least that was how she wanted it to be. How she imagined it to be, until she actually walked onstage and saw them looking at her. The audience tonight was mostly men. Men with their eyes going up and down her body. I should refuse to sing in the comedies, she told herself again. I should insist on being taken as seriously as they take my beloved sister Sevet with her mannishly low, froggishly mannered voice. Oh, they look at her with faces of aesthetic ecstasy. Audiences of men and women together. They don't look her body up and down to see how it moves under the fabric. Of course, that could be partly because her body is so overfleshed that it isn't really a pleasure to watch, it moves so much like gravel under her costume, poor thing. Of course they dose their eyes and listen to her voice-it's so much better than watching her.

  What a lie. What a liar I am, even when I'm talking only to myself!

  I mustn't be so impatient. It's only a matter of time. Sevet is older-I'm still barely eighteen. She had to do the comedies, too, for a time, till she was known.

  Kokor remembered her sister talking in those early days-more than two years ago, when Sevet was almost seventeen-about constantly having to dampen the ardor of her admirers, who had a penchant for entering her dressing room quite primed for immediate love, until she had to hire a bodyguard to discourage the more passionate ones. "It's all about sex," said Sevet then. "The songs, the shows, they're all about sex, and that's all the audience dreams of. Just be careful you don't make them dream too well-or too specifically!"

  Good advice? Hardly. The more they dream of you, the greater the cash value of your name on the handbills advertising the play. Until finally, if you're lucky, if you're good enough, the handbill doesn't have to say the name of a show at all. Only your name, and the place, and the day, and the time... and when you show up they're all there, hundreds of them, and when the music starts they don't look at you like the last hope of a starving man, they look at you like the highest dream of an elevated soul.

  Kokor strode to her place on the stage-and there was applause when she entered. She turned to the audience and let out a thrilling high note.

  "What was that?" de
manded Gulya, the actor who played the old lecher. "Are you screaming already? I haven't even touched you yet."

  The audience laughed-but not enough. This play was in trouble. This play had had its weaknesses from the start, she well knew, but with a mere smattering of laughter like that, it was doomed. So in a few more days she'd have to start rehearsing all over again. Another show. Another set of stupid lyrics and stupid melodies to memorize.

  Sevet got to decide her own songs. Songwriters came to her and begged her to sing what they had composed.

  Sevet didn't have to misuse her voice just to make people laugh.

  "I wasn't screaming," Kokor sang.

  "You're screaming now," sang Gulya as he sidled close and started to fondle her. His gravelly bass was always good for a laugh when he used it like that, and the audience was with him. Maybe they could pull this show out of the mud after all.

  "But now you're touching me!" And her voice rose to its highest pitch and hung there in the air-

  Like a bird, like a bird soaring, if only they were listening for beauty.

  Gulya made a terrible face and withdrew his hand from her breast. Immediately she dropped her note two octaves. She got the laugh. The best laugh of the scene so far. But she knew that half the audience was laughing because Gulya did such a fine comic turn when he removed his hand from her bosom. He was a master, he really was. Sad that his sort of clowning had fallen a bit out of fashion lately. He was only getting better as he got older, and yet the audience was slipping away. Looking for the more bitter, nasty comedy of the young physical satirists. The brutal, violent comedy that always gave at least the illusion of hurting somebody.

  The scene went on. The laughs came. The scene ended. Applause. Kokor scurried off the stage in relief- and disappointment. No one in the audience was chanting her name; no one had even shouted it once like a catcall. How long would she have to wait?