Door through Space, page 1
Door through Space
by Marion Zimmer Bradley, Elisabeth Waters
* * *
Marion Zimmer Bradley Literary Works Trust
Copyright ©2006 by Marion Zimmer Bradley and Elisabeth Waters
NOTICE: This work is copyrighted. It is licensed only for use by the original purchaser. Making copies of this work or distributing it to any unauthorized person by any means, including without limit email, floppy disk, file transfer, paper print out, or any other method constitutes a violation of International copyright law and subjects the violator to severe fines or imprisonment.
* * *
The Door through Space
Marion Zimmer Bradley
* * * *
* * *
In the beginning were the words. And the words became a short story (Bird of Prey), and the short story, as so many do, became a novel.
THE DOOR THROUGH SPACE, first published in 1961, is Marion Zimmer Bradley's first published novel. It holds up surprisingly well, even 45 years later, and it's still in print in Germany. We still don't have matter transporters (outside of science fiction shows such as Star Trek and Stargate), but the “shockers” worn by her Terran Spaceforce guards could be the Tasers used by police officers today. And her system of having the passenger's fingerprint incorporated into a travel pass when it is issued is something Homeland Security might want to consider.
Setting a novel on a low-tech planet helps keep the science from being dated, although vacuum tubes are unlikely to be trade items, now that neither computers nor radios use them. Lenses, small tools, and fine wire, however, still make sense as valuable trade items on a metal-poor planet without an industrial base. Television screens are still with us—although not in the same form they took in 1961—and the word “television” can be applied to any technology that enables one to see things at a distance.
As for computers, well, Marion and computers never really got along. It wasn't until the mid-1980s, when I was working for Digital Equipment Corporation and brought home a DECmate, that we were able to persuade her to use a computer, and that particular computer was a word-processor and nothing else. Even so, she managed to burn out the motherboard once a year—I've never known how, but it just kept happening, year after year. Fortunately we had a service contract for it, and our Field Service Engineer was very nice about it; she just came out every year and installed a new motherboard. Perhaps there was a conflict between Marion's electromagnetic field and the computer's. But, given the fact that what Marion knew about computers could be painlessly engraved on her eyeball, anything she wrote about them was necessarily going to be vague, which made it less susceptible to becoming dated than any technical jargon or predictions—statements such as “computers in the future may weigh as little as 1.5 tons” are laughable today, when a computer fits in your pocket and weighs less than a pound.
So, even decades later, her science holds up pretty well; there are few anachronisms to distract the reader from the story. For most of the weaponry in the book, she used the “write what you know” rule and stuck to knives. By the time this book was written Marion, who had a less-than-ideal childhood, had some familiarity with knives. Her father was an abusive drunk, but when he tried to corner her in the kitchen when she was a teenager, she picked up the nearest knife and told him that if he ever laid so much as the tip of one finger on her again, he'd be picking his fingers up off the floor. She must have been convincing, because he never touched her again.
She married soon after that and moved to Texas. It was there that she worked for a time in a carnival, as the target for the knife-thrower's act, where she picked up a scar she would carry for the rest of her life. In fairness to Dino, the knife-thrower, it wasn't his fault. Some idiot in the audience thought it would be a good idea to take a flash photo just as he released the knife. The knife hit Marion in the breast, right next to the nipple. As she told the story, she was afraid that if Dino stopped then, he'd never be able to throw another knife. So she stood there, with the blood running down her dress, and said “Finish the act, ragazzo.” He did, and he never hit anyone again. But this incident gave her first-hand experience of the pain of having a knife stuck into flesh, as well as an appreciation for how bad things can look and feel with no permanent damage. (Breast tissue is mostly fat, and it bleeds a lot, but she was still able to breast feed her next child.) This sort of knowledge can be useful for writing torture scenes, especially ones with the limits on permanent damage imposed by the rules of shegri. The incident also made it into her novel THE CATCH TRAP, published in 1979. As she frequently said about her life, “it's all grist for the mill.”
THE DOOR THROUGH SPACE is also notable as the first novel in the Darkover universe. Although it is set on a planet called Wolf, both Darkover and Vainwal are mentioned as planets. One could call this a proto-Darkover novel. The Terran empire and Spaceforce are already set up, along with HQ and the post of Legate. There are two spaceports/trade cities. There are catmen and Ya-men. The Terran buildings are lit as if they were on Terra, even though Wolf, like Darkover, has a red sun. It also has Dry-towns and the concept of kihar. It has the protagonist scarred and embittered by his previous mistakes (a proto-Lew Alton?).
The culture clash between the Empire and the natives is already beginning, though on Wolf the Dry-towners play the role which will be played by the comyn on Darkover. Perhaps the reason the Dry-towners are shifted to a lesser role when Marion moves the action to Darkover is their lack of laran. She barely touches on psychic abilities in this book; the only characters who have them are the alien Toymaker and the child Rindy. This book is clearly science fiction, whereas the Darkover novels, while still science fiction, lean more toward fantasy. In THE DOOR THROUGH SPACE there's no evidence that the Toad God exists as anything other than a front for the Toymaker's plots, while in several of the Darkover novels, Sharra is clearly a real goddess with actual power. THE SPELL SWORD and THE SWORD OF ALDONES/SHARRA'S EXILE feature actual enchanted swords—even though the magic is sometimes called “matrix technology.” As Clarke's law says, “any sufficiently advanced technology is indistinguishable from magic.” Of course I've also heard it said that any sufficiently advanced magic is indistinguishable from technology. I suppose it depends on your world-view.
So here begins the evolution of Marion Zimmer Bradley's worldview. Enjoy.
[Back to Table of Contents]
* * *
Beyond the spaceport gates, the men of the Kharsa were hunting down a thief. I heard the shrill cries, the pad-padding of feet in strides just a little too long and loping to be human, raising echoes all down the dark and dusty streets leading up to the main square.
But the square itself lay empty in the crimson noon of Wolf. Overhead the dim red ember of Phi Coronis, Wolf's old and dying sun, gave out a pale and heartless light. The pair of Spaceforce guards at the gates, wearing the black leathers of the Terran Empire, shockers holstered at their belts, w
“Hey, Cargill, you can talk their lingo. What's going on out there?”
I stepped out past the gateway to listen. There was still no one to be seen in the square. It lay white and windswept, a barricade of emptiness, to one side the spaceport and the white skyscraper of the Terran Headquarters, and at the other side, the clutter of low buildings, the street-shrine, the little spaceport cafe smelling of coffee and jaco, and the dark opening mouths of the streets that rambled down into the Kharsa—the old town, the native quarter. But I was alone in the square with the shrill cries—closer now, raising echoes from the enclosing walls—and the loping of many feet down one of the dirty streets.
Then I saw him running, dodging, a hail of stones flying round his head; someone or something small and cloaked and agile. Behind him the still-faceless mob howled and threw stones. I could not yet understand the cries, but they were out for blood, and I knew it.
I said briefly, “Trouble coming,” just before the mob spilled out into the square. The fleeing dwarf stared about wildly for an instant, his head jerking from side to side so rapidly that it was impossible to get even a fleeting impression of his face—human or nonhuman, familiar or bizarre. Then, like a pellet loosed from its sling, he made straight for the gateway and safety.
And behind him the loping mob yelled and howled and came pouring over half the square. Just half. Then by that sudden intuition which permeates even the most crazed mob with some semblance of reason, they came to a ragged halt, heads turning from side to side.
I stepped up on the lower side of the Headquarters building and looked them over.
Most of them were chaks, the furred man-tall nonhumans of the Kharsa, and not the better class. Their fur was unkempt, their tails naked with filth and disease. Their leather aprons hung in tatters. One or two in the crowd were humans, the dregs of the Kharsa. But the star-and-rocket emblem blazoned across the spaceport gates sobered even the wildest blood-lust somewhat; they milled and shifted uneasily in their half of the square.
For a moment I did not see where their quarry had gone. Then I saw him crouched, not four feet from me, in a patch of shadow. Simultaneously the mob saw him, huddled just beyond the gateway, and a howl of frustration and rage went ringing round the square. Someone threw a stone. It zipped over my head, narrowly missing me, and landed at the feet of the black-leathered guard. He jerked his head up and gestured with his shocker, which had suddenly come unholstered.
The gesture should have been enough. On Wolf, Terran law has been written in blood and fire and exploding atoms; and the line is drawn firm and clear. The men of Spaceforce do not interfere in the old town, or in any of the native cities. But when violence steps over the threshold, passing the blazon of the star and rocket, punishment is swift and terrible. The threat should have been enough.
Instead a howl of abuse went up from the crowd.
“Son of the Ape!”
The Spaceforce guards were shoulder to shoulder behind me now. The snub-nosed kid, looking slightly pale, called out. “Get inside the gates, Cargill! If I have to shoot—”
The older man motioned him to silence. “Wait. Cargill,” he called.
I nodded to show that I heard.
“You talk their lingo. Tell them to haul off! Damned if I want to shoot!”
I stepped down and walked into the open square, across the crumbled white stones, toward the ragged mob. Even with two armed Spaceforce men at my back, it made my skin crawl, but I flung up my empty hand in token of peace:
“Take your mob out of the square,” I shouted in the jargon of the Kharsa. “This territory is held in compact of peace! Settle your quarrels elsewhere!”
There was a little stirring in the crowd. The shock of being addressed in their own tongue, instead of the Terran Standard which the Empire has forced on Wolf, held them silent for a minute. I had learned that long ago: that speaking in any of the languages of Wolf would give me a minute's advantage.
But only a minute. Then one of the mob yelled, “We'll go if you give'm to us! He's no right to Terran sanctuary!”
I walked over to the huddled dwarf, miserably trying to make himself smaller against the wall. I nudged him with my foot.
“Get up. Who are you?”
The hood fell away from his face as he twitched to his feet. He was trembling violently. In the shadow of the hood I saw a furred face, a quivering velvety muzzle, and great soft golden eyes which held intelligence and terror.
“What have you done? Can't you talk?”
He held out the tray which he had shielded under his cloak, an ordinary peddler's tray. “Toys. Sell toys. Children. You got'm?”
I shook my head and pushed the creature away, with only a glance at the array of delicately crafted manikins, tiny animals, prisms and crystal whirligigs. “You'd better get out of here. Scram. Down that street.” I pointed.
A voice from the crowd shouted again, and it had a very ugly sound. “He is a spy of Nebran!”
“Nebran—” The dwarfish nonhuman gabbled something then doubled behind me. I saw him dodge, feint in the direction of the gates, then, as the crowd surged that way, run for the street-shrine across the square, slipping from recess to recess of the wall. A hail of stones went flying in that direction. The little toy-seller dodged into the street-shrine.
Then there was a hoarse “Ah, aaah!” of terror, and the crowd edged away, surged backward. The next minute it had begun to melt away, its entity dissolving into separate creatures, slipping into the side alleys and the dark streets that disgorged into the square. Within three minutes the square lay empty again in the pale-crimson noon.
The kid in black leather let his breath go and swore, slipping his shocker into its holster. He stared and demanded profanely, “Where'd the little fellow go?”
“Who knows?” the other shrugged. “Probably sneaked into one of the alleys. Did you see where he went, Cargill?”
I came slowly back to the gateway. To me, it had seemed that he ducked into the street-shrine and vanished into thin air, but I've lived on Wolf long enough to know you can't trust your eyes here. I said so, and the kid swore again, gulping, more upset than he wanted to admit. “Does this kind of thing happen often?”
“All the time,” his companion assured him soberly, with a sidewise wink at me. I didn't return the wink.
The kid wouldn't let it drop. “Where did you learn their lingo, Mr. Cargill?”
“I've been on Wolf a long time,” I said, spun on my heel and walked toward Headquarters. I tried not to hear, but their voices followed me anyhow, discreetly lowered, but not lowered enough.
“Kid, don't you know who that is? That's Cargill of the Secret Service! Six years ago he was the best man in Intelligence, before—” The voice lowered another decibel, and then there was the kid's voice asking, shaken, “But what the hell happened to his face?”
I should have been used to it by now. I'd been hearing it, more or less behind my back, for six years. Well, if my luck held, I'd never hear it again. I strode up the white steps of the skyscraper, to finish the arrangements that would take me away from Wolf forever. To the other end of the Empire, to the other end of the galaxy—anywhere, so long as I need not wear my past like a medallion around my neck, or blazoned and branded on what was left of my ruined face.
[Back to Table of Contents]
* * *
The Terran Empire has set its blazon on four hundred planets circling more than three hundred suns. But no matter what the color of the sun, the number of moons overhead, or the geography of the planet, once you step inside a Headquarters building, you are on Earth. And Earth would be alien to many who called themselves Earthmen, judging by the strangeness I always fe
The Traffic Division was efficiency made insolent, in glass and chrome and polished steel, mirrors and windows and looming electronic clerical machines. Most of one wall was taken up by a TV monitor which gave a view of the spaceport; a vast open space lighted with blue-white mercury vapor lamps, and a chained-down skyscraper of a starship, littered over with swarming ants. The process crew was getting the big ship ready for skylift tomorrow morning. I gave it a second and then a third look. I'd be on it when it lifted.
Turning away from the monitored spaceport, I watched myself stride forward in the mirrored surfaces that were everywhere; a tall man, a lean man, bleached out by years under a red sun, and deeply scarred on both cheeks and around the mouth. Even after six years behind a desk, my neat business clothes—suitable for an Earthman with a desk job—didn't fit quite right, and I still rose unconsciously on the balls of my feet, approximating the lean stooping walk of a Dry-towner from the Coronis plains.
The clerk behind the sign marked TRANSPORTATION was a little rabbit of a man with a sunlamp tan, barricaded by a small-sized spaceport of desk, and looking as if he liked being shut up there. He looked up in civil inquiry.
“Can I do something for you?”
“My name's Cargill. Have you a pass for me?”
He stared. A free pass aboard a starship is rare except for professional spacemen, which I obviously wasn't. “Let me check my records,” he hedged, and punched scanning buttons on the glassy surface. Shadows came and went, and I saw myself half-reflected, a tipsy shadow in a flurry of racing colors. The pattern finally stabilized and the clerk read off names.