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Authors: Kay Kenyon

Rift

LOOKING DEATH IN THE FACE

Reeve’s eyes caught a hump of motion a few yards down the shoreline and he wandered toward a small object draped in scum. It rolled forward and backward with the waves. He bent down and with both hands scooped up a heavy ball in his hands. Dripping with algae, the ball looked like a deeply pitted rock, perhaps a geode of some kind.

A slopping noise sounded behind him. He spun around. There, moving slowly toward him, was a whitish upright figure carrying a sack over its shoulder. An orthong, by the Lord above. Reeve froze, staring. It wore a long belted black coat that glistened in the sun like a chitinous shell. The coat parted in front to show a snowy white hide.

It had no face.

His heart knocked against his chest wall. The creature began loping toward him in great strides that brought it to Reeve quicker than he could have turned and taken even one step to flee. It stood a full head taller than he, and there seemed to be two eyes peering at him from the deep ridges of its face … and in the next instant, the creature extruded its one-inch claws and slashed down the front of Reeve’s jacket, slicing the material and skimming Reeve’s skin in a cut he hardly felt except for the rush of cold air. Reeve staggered backward and fell.…

Also by Kay Kenyon

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RIFT
A Bantam Spectra Book / September 1999

SPECTRA and the portrayal of a boxed “s” are trademarks of Bantam Books, a division of Random House, Inc.

All rights reserved.
Copyright © 1999 by Kay Kenyon.
Map by Jeff Ward.

No part of this book may be reproduced or transmitted in any form or by any means, electronic or mechanical, including photocopying, recording, or by any information storage and retrieval system, without permission in writing from the publisher.
For information address: Bantam Books.

eISBN: 978-0-307-78030-0

Published simultaneously in the United States and Canada

Bantam Books are published by Bantam Books, a division of Random House, Inc. Its trademark, consisting of the words “Bantam Books” and the portrayal of a rooster, is Registered in U.S. Patent and Trademark Office and in other countries. Marca Registrada. Bantam Books, 1540 Broadway, New York, New York 10036.

v3.1_r1

For
Matthew

ACKNOWLEDGMENTS

Acknowledgments and heartfelt thanks go to:

My husband, Thomas Overcast, for his unflagging support, encouragement, and good humor throughout the journey; to my editor, Anne Lesley Groell, for the fine-tuning and final shaping that made this a better book; to my agent, Donald Maass, for his confidence in me and his enthusiasm for this story; to Dr. J. Michael Brown, Chairman of the University of Washington Geophysics Department, for his review of my manuscript and his marvelous ability to explain geophysics to an English major—he carries no responsibility for the times (few, I hope) when I have taken liberties with strictly possible geology and chemistry; to my long-time friend and physician, Dr. Robert Bettis, for his guidance on physiological effects of high carbon dioxide environments; to Tom Weissmuller for sharing his considerable expertise on hand-to-hand fighting; and finally, to my son Matt Balser of the Redmond, Washington, fire department for advice on my characters’ traumatic injuries—which seem to be the price for high adventure.

Contents

1
 

Reeve Calder watched from two hundred miles overhead as the planetary winds smeared the ash cloud eastward. In its quiet violence, it was hard to imagine the deafening blast of volcanic debris and the hurtling pyroclastic flows that must have scoured the nearby tundra. From Reeve’s vantage point on Station, the eruption was a mere bulge of smoke, unfolding like a silver flower. The landscape it grew upon was a shifting tapestry of reds and greens, the central and contrary hues of Reeve’s home world, Lithia, a planet he had never set foot on.

He grabbed the handholds on Station’s hull and pulled himself toward the solar array, a favorite perch devoid of Station viewports. Moving slowly to avoid making clunking noises against the hull, he threaded his tether through the clamps as he went, floating free but holding fast. Bad enough if they caught him outside again, unauthorized. Worse yet if they cited him for a coldwalk without mag boots—a fine piece of safety equipment if you didn’t mind announcing to the entire crew where you were and what you were doing.

As Station came round to the sun’s glare, the flank
of the great wheel lit up, stimulating his visor to darken. In the shadow of the solar array, he settled himself in and turned to face the deeps of space. He recalled the times his father, Cyrus Calder, had taken him on coldwalks and talked of the stars, the known and unknown worlds, and the adventures of the great Voyage On. Someday, his father had always said, they would regain starflight, escaping their Station exile, and find the true home, the home Lithia never could be.

When Reeve was a child, he’d tried to imagine those icy pricks of light being stars like the sun, and tried to believe in the worlds warmed by them. But when the view came planetside and he looked down on Lithia, he thought there would be adventures enough right there. In truth, at twenty-four, he still thought so. Though Lithia had grown treacherous—though its volcanic vents spewed poisons into the atmosphere, though the colony had collapsed—it was at least a familiar peril, unlike the stars, with their abyssal terrors. So Lithia, familiar and yet utterly strange, lured him outside to watch its grand rotations. He would dream of what it might be like to run across a patch of solid ground; to look up at mountaintops and splash through channels of running water; to match wits with the intruder orthong, perhaps infiltrating their chaotic forests to trade; to fight the enclavers, if need be, blasting their assaults of spears with all the technology of Station; and to walk bareheaded under the sun.

But sometimes, when he came back through the air lock, Station security would be waiting for him, exasperated if they were friends, irate if they weren’t, but always piling on the demerits and hauling him off to face his father. Taking an unwelcome break from his lab work, Cyrus Calder would sometimes ask, “What were you doing out there, Reeve?” And Reeve would answer, “Watching the stars.” It was a desperate lie, told to a father who believed in the stars, whose research
was all bent to that end, while his son kept watch on a piece of dirt. Banished to his sleep station, Reeve would fling himself on his bed, miserable for the lie. Sometimes, at times like this, his father’s lab assistant, Marie Dussault, would come by to talk—Marie, who believed in letting youngsters find their own path, who gave Reeve planetary colorscapes to adorn his bunk walls and never let her boss berate his son for rising no higher than electrician, third class. It was Marie who spoke for him at disciplinary hearings, her gray hair giving her some authority with Captain Bonhert—though Marie was all for the stars, for the Voyage On, and Bonhert was for reclaiming Lithia. It divided the crew, those separate visions.

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