Authors: Janet Kagan
Tags: #Science Fiction, #General, #Fiction
This is a work of fiction. All the characters and events portrayed in this book are fictitious, and any resemblance to real people or events is purely coincidental.
Copyright © 1991 by Janet Kagan
All rights reserved, including the right to reproduce this book, or portions thereof, in any form.
A Tor Book
Published by Tom Doherty Associates, Inc.
West 24th Street
New York, N.Y.
Library of Congress Cataloging-in-Publication Data
Mirabile / Janet Kagan.
“A Tom Doherty Associates book.” ISBN 0-312-85220-7 I. Title.
PS3561.A363M57 1991 . 813‘. 54—dc
Printed in the United States of America First edition: October For MARY MEGSON, who read me sf before I was old enough to read, for FRED MEGSON, who let me tell every other chapter of the bedtime cliff-hanger, for SUSAN CASPER, who knows why this particular book got written, and for RICKY, of course and as always…
May they never stop scandalizing the kids!
The Loch Moose Monster
This year the Ribeiro’s daffodils seeded early and they seeded cockroaches. Now, ecologically speaking, even a cockroach has its place—but these suckers bit
. That didn’t sound Earth-authentic to me. Not that I care, mind you, all I ask is useful. I wasn’t betting on that either.
As usual, we were shorthanded—most of the team was up-country trying to stabilize a herd of
Guernseys—which left me and Mike to throw a containment tent around the Ribeiro place while we did the gene-reads on the roaches and the daffodils that spawned ’em. Dragon’s Teeth, sure enough, and worse than useless. I
grabbed my gear and went in to clean them out, daffodils and all.
By the time I crawled back out of the containment tent, exhausted, cranky, and thoroughly bitten, there wasn’t a daffodil left in town. Damn fools. If I’d told ’em the roaches were Earth-authentic they’d have cheered ’em, no matter how obnoxious they were.
I didn’t even have the good grace to say hi to Mike when I slammed into the lab.
The first thing out of my mouth was, “The red daffodils—in front of Sagdeev’s.”
“I got ’em,” he said. “Nick of time, but I got ’em. They’re in the greenhouse—”
We’d done a gene-read on that particular patch of daffodils the first year they’d flowered red: they promised to produce a good strain of praying mantises, probably Earth-authentic. We both knew how badly Mirabile needed insectivores. The other possibility was something harmless but pretty that ships’ records called “fireflies.”
Either would have been welcome, and those idiots had been ready to consign both to a fire.
“I used the same soil, Annie, so don’t give me that look.”
“Town’s full of fools,” I growled, to let him know that look wasn’t aimed at him.
“Same soil, fine, but can we match the rest of the environmental conditions those praying mantises need in the goddamn greenhouse?”
“It’s the best we’ve got,” he said. He shrugged and his right hand came up bandaged. I glared at it.
He dropped the bandaged hand behind the lab bench. “They were gonna burn
’em. I couldn’t—” He looked away, looked back. “Annie, it’s nothing to worry about—”
I’d have done the same myself, true, but that was no reason to let him get into the habit of taking fool risks.
I started across to check out his hand and give him pure hell from close up.
Halfway there the com blatted for attention. Yellow light on the console, meaning it was no emergency, but I snatched it up to deal with the interruption before I dealt with Mike. I snapped a “Yeah?” at the screen.
Nobody calls me that but Elly’s kids. I glowered at the face on screen: my age, third-generation Mirabilan, and not so privileged. “Annie Jason Masmajean,” I corrected, “Who wants to know?”
“Leonov Bellmaker Denness at this end,” he said. “I apologize for my improper use of your nickname.” Ship’s manners—he ignored my rudeness completely.
The name struck me as vaguely familiar but I was in no mood to search my memory; I’d lost my ship’s manners about three hours into the cockroach clean-out.
“State your business,” I said.
To his credit, he did: “Two of Elly’s lodgers claim there’s a monster in Loch Moose. By their description, it’s a humdinger.”
I was all ears now. Elly runs the lodge at Loch Moose for fun—her profession’s raising kids.
(Elly Raiser Roget, like her father before her. Our population is still so small we can’t afford to lose genes just because somebody’s not suited, one way or another, for parenting.) A chimera anywhere near Loch Moose was a potential disaster. Thing of it was, Denness didn’t sound right for that. “Then why aren’t they making this call?”
He gave a deep-throated chuckle. “They’re in the dining room gorging themselves on Chris’s shrimp. I doubt they’ll make you a formal call when they’re done. Their names are Emile Pilot Stirzaker and Francois Cobbler Pastides and, right now, they can’t spell either without dropping letters.”
So he thought they’d both been smoking dumbweed. Fair enough. I simmered down and reconsidered him. I’d’ve bet money he was the one who sidetracked Pastides and Stirzaker into the eating binge.
Recognition struck at last: this was the guy Elly’s kids called “Noisy.” The first thing he’d done on moving into the neighborhood was outshout every one of ’em in one helluva contest. He was equally legendary for his stories, his bells, and his ability to keep secrets. I hadn’t met him, but I’d sure as hell heard tell.
I must have said the nickname aloud, because Denness said, “Yes, ‘Noisy.’ Is that enough to get me a hearing?”
“It is.” It was my turn to apologize. “Sorry. What more do you want me to hear?”
“You should, I think, hear Stirzaker imitate his monster’s bellow of rage.”
It took me a long moment to get his drift, but get it I did. “I’m on my way,” I said. I snapped off and started repacking my gear.
Mike stared at me. “Annie? What did I miss?”
“You ever know anybody who got auditory hallucinations on dumbweed?”
“Shit,” he said. “No.” He scrambled for his own pack.
“Not you,” I said. “I need you here to coddle those daffodils, check the environmental conditions that produced ’em, and call me if Dragon’s Teeth pop up anywhere else.” I shouldered my pack and finished with a glare and a growl: “That should be enough to keep you out of bonfires while I’m gone, shouldn’t it?”
By the time I grounded in the clearing next to Elly’s lodge, I’d decided I was on a wild moose chase. Yeah, I know the Earth-authentic is wild goose
, but “wild moose”
was Granddaddy Jason’s phrase. He’d known Jason—the original first generation Jason—well before the Dragon’s Teeth had started popping up.
One look at the wilderness where Elly’s lodge is now and Jason knew she had the perfect EC for moose. She hauled the embryos out of ships’ storage and set them thawing. Built up a nice little herd of the things and turned ’em loose. Not a one of them survived—damn foolish creatures died of a taste for a Mirabilan plant they couldn’t metabolize.
Trying to establish a viable herd got to be an obsession with Jason. She must’ve spent years at it, off and on. She never succeeded but somebody with a warped sense of humor named the lake Loch Moose and it stuck, moose or no moose.
Loch Moose looked as serene as it always did this time of year. The water lilies were in full bloom—patches of velvety red and green against the sparkles of sunlight off the water. Here and there I saw a ripple of real trout, Earth-authentic.
On the bank to the far right, Susan’s troop of otters played tag, skidding down the incline and hitting the water with a splash. They whistled encouragement to each other like a pack of fans at a ballgame. Never saw a creature have more pure fun than an otter—unless it was a dozen otters, like now.
The pines were that dusty gold that meant I’d timed it just right to see Loch Moose smoke. There’s nothing quite so beautiful as that drift of pollen fog across the loch. It would gild rocks and trees alike until the next rainfall.
Monster, my ass—but where better for a wild moose chase?
I clambered down the steps to Elly’s lodge, still gawking at the scenery, so I was totally unprepared for the EC in the lobby. If that bright-eyed geneticist back on Earth put the double whammy on any of the human genes in the cold banks they sent along (swore they hadn’t, but after the kangaroo rex, damnify believe anything the old records tell me), the pandemonium I found would have been enough to kick off Dragon’s Teeth by the dozens.
Amid the chaos, Ilanith, Elly’s next-to-oldest-not-yet-grown, was handling the oversized gilt ledger with great dignity. She lit up when she saw me and waved. Then she bent down for whispered conversation. A second later Jen, the nine-year-old, exploded from behind the desk, bellowing, “Elleeeeee! Noiseeeeee! Come quick!
Mama Jason’s here!” The kid’s lung power cut right through the chaos and startled the room into a momentary hush. She charged through the door to the dining room, still trying to shout the house down.
I took advantage of the distraction to elbow my way to the desk and Ilanith.
She squinted a little at me, purely Elly in manner, and said, “Bet you got hopped on by a kangaroo rex this week. You’re real snarly.”
“Can’t do anything about my face,” I told her. “And it was biting cockroaches.” I pushed up a sleeve to show her the bites.
“Bleeeeeh,” she said, with an inch or two of tongue for emphasis. “I hope they weren’t keepers.”
“Just the six I saved to put in your bed. Wouldn’t want you to think I’d forgotten you.”
She wrinkled her nose at me and flung herself across the desk to plant a big sloppy kiss on my cheek. “Mama Jason, you are the world’s biggest tease. But I’m gonna give you your favorite room anyhow”—she wrinkled her nose in a very different fashion at the couple to my right—“since those two just checked out of it.”
One of the those two peered at me like a myopic crane. I saw recognition strike, then he said,
“We’ve changed our minds. We’ll keep the room.”
“Too late,” said Ilanith—and she was smug about it. “But, if you want to stay, I can give you one on the other side of the lodge. No view.” Score one for the good guys, I thought.
“See, Elly?” It was Jen, back at a trot beside Elly and dragging Noisy behind her.
“See?” Jen said again. “If Mama Jason’s here, I won’t have to go away, right?”
“Right,” I said.
“Oh, Jen!” Elly dropped to one knee to pull Jen into one of her full-body-check hugs. “Is that what’s been worrying you? Leo already explained to your mom.
There’s no monster. Nobody’s going to send you away from Loch Moose!”
Jen, who’d been looking relieved, suddenly looked suspicious. “If there’s no monster, why’s Mama Jason here?”
“Need a break,” I said, realizing I meant it. Seeing Elly and the kids was break enough all by itself. “Stomped enough Dragon’s Teeth this week. I’m not about to go running after monsters that vanish at the first breath of fresh air.”
Elly gave me a smile that would have thawed a glacier and my shoulders relaxed for the first time in what seemed like months.
I grinned back. “Have your two monster-sighters sobered up yet?”
“Sobered up,” reported Ilanith, “and checked out.” She giggled. “You should have seen how red-faced they were, Mama Jason.”
I glowered at no one in particular. “Just as well. After the day I had, they’d have been twice as red if I’d had to deal with ’em.”
Elly rose to her feet, bringing Jen with her. The two of them looked me over, Jen imitating Elly’s keen-eyed inspection. “We’d better get Mama Jason to her room.
She needs a shower and a nap worse than any kid in the household.”
Ilanith shook her head. “Let her eat first, Elly. By the time she’s done, we’ll have her room ready.”
“Sounds good to me,” I said, “if the kids waiting tables can take it.”
“We raise a sturdy bunch around here. Go eat, Annie.” Elly gave me a kiss on the cheek—I got a bonus kiss from Jen—and the two of them bustled off to get my room ready. I frowned after them: Jen still seemed worried and I wondered why.
Ilanith rounded the desk to grab my pack. Standing between me and Leo, she suddenly jammed her fists into her hips. “Oh, nuts. Ship’s manners. Honestly, Mama Jason—how did people ever get acquainted in the old days?” With an expression of tried patience, she formally introduced the two of us.
I looked him over, this time giving him a fair shake. The face was as good as the reputation, all laugh lines etched deep. In return, I got inspected just as hard.
When nobody said anything for a full half second, Ilanith said, “More? You need more? Didn’t I get it right?”