Daniel Arenson: The Heirs of Earth (Children of Earthrise Book 1)

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Daniel Arenson The Heirs of Earth (Children of Earthrise Book 1)
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    The Heirs of Earth (Children of Earthrise Book 1)
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The Heirs of Earth (Children of Earthrise Book 1): краткое содержание, описание и аннотация

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"Then come on. To the living room!"

She crawled through the steel duct. Her dress rustled. She had sewn it herself from a discarded blanket down at the roach motel. The ductwork coiled for kilometers, branching off, paths twisting, rising, falling, rejoining at junctions. Some paths led to massive furnaces that rumbled like ancient monsters, belching out fumes and fire. Other paths led to air conditioners taller than Rowan, icy beasts like polar giants, sending forth cold winds.

Paradise Lost was a large space station—among the largest in the galaxy, they said. It hovered on the frontier of space, near a wormhole where only the roughest sort traveled. Few decent folk flew this way. Not so close to the border with the scorpion empire. Here was a hive for smugglers, gamblers, thieves, druggers, and countless other lowlifes. They came from a thousand planets.

But not from Earth. Never from Earth.

Rowan had never met another human, only aliens. Large, rough aliens of stone and metal. Boneless aliens that left trails of slime. Reptilian aliens. Furry aliens. Clammy aliens. Aliens as large as elephants and as small as beetles.

All aliens who saw her—a human—as a pest.

And so Rowan stayed inside the HVAC ducts. It was dark and lonely, yes. But it was safe.

As she crawled, she passed by vent after vent, glimpsing bits of Paradise Lost. Through one vent she saw a gambling pit, dark and grimy. A group of aliens—ranging from giant reptilians to dank, feathered beasts the size of chickens—rumbled and shrieked and chortled. They tossed dice, dealt cards, and played slot machines that spewed out crystal skulls instead of coins. Through another vent, Rowan smelled cooking meat, and she glimpsed a group of humanoid vultures leaning over a table, ripping into a roasted alien with many tentacles. Rowan's mouth watered, and she hurried by before the scent could drive her mad. A third vent revealed a robotic brothel. Aliens were mating with robots shaped like their desired species—not always the same species as the customer.

Rowan kept moving through the vents, stomach rumbling. It would be a few hours before artificial dawn, the quiet time when janitors emerged to clean the space station. Then perhaps Rowan could pilfer some food—maybe a leftover tentacle from a restaurant, maybe just some bones from the trash. She kept moving over vents, passing over opium dens where the druggies slept, over clinics where doctors installed cyborg implants or pulled mites off inflamed genitals, over tattoo parlors that specialized in painting any type of skin or scale, and a hundred other establishments, each greasier than the last.

Paradise Lost—a den of sin and sensuality. A space station hovering between war and wormhole. Rowan's home.

The labyrinth of ducts was complex enough for a Minotaur, but Rowan knew every path, every secret in the shadows. She had been living here for fourteen years.

She barely remembered anything from before Paradise Lost. Only vague images. A cavern full of crystals. The soothing warmth of her parents. Her sister. A sister named Jade. A sister stolen away by a terror Rowan could not recall by day, yet often dreamed of, waking up drenched in sweat. She remembered a spaceship, remembered gruff aliens with clammy skin, grabbing her with tentacles, shoving her into a cage.

"Give us twenty scryls for the girl," a voice had rumbled. "You can sell her at the pet shop."

A snort. "She's mucking human! Nothing but pests."

There the memories ended. Over the past few years, Rowan had tried to piece them together. Who had killed her parents? Who had captured her, had tried to sell her at a pet shop? Was it the very shop here in Paradise Lost, a dingy place that sold deformed creatures from across the galaxy?

And most importantly—what had happened to Jade?

Rowan didn't know. So many times, she had strained, desperate to remember more, yet could not. And now she crawled through the ducts, the only home she had known since being a toddler.

"Someday I'll see you again, Earth," she said softly. "Someday we'll be there together, Jade. If you're still alive, I will find you."

A voice rumbled below her. "Mucking pests in the mucking air ducts!"

Rowan winced. She had spoken too loudly. She craned her neck forward and peered through a vent. A stench invaded her nostrils, and she cringed. She was crawling over a public washroom. Aliens filled the stalls, doing their business. Directly below the vent, a giant snail-like alien sat on a toilet, his white shell mottled with brown patches. With slimy tentacles, he held a glossy magazine with the title Seductive Slugs on the cover. The centerfold was open, featuring a fellow alien snail, lying naked in a barn, her empty shell resting beside her.

"Humans in the vents!" the snail bellowed. He tossed down the magazine, drew a pistol, and fired at Rowan.

She yelped and crawled away. Gunshot holes burst open in the duct behind her.

"Don't forget to wash your tentacles!" she cried, rounded a bend, and left the toilets behind.

She kept crawling through the ducts, moving higher up the space station, fleeing the noise, smog, and smells of the lower levels. Soon she was crawling up steep shafts. Some were nearly vertical, forcing her to climb inch by inch while Fillister buzzed above her.

The sounds from below—the grumbles and shrieks of aliens, the slot machines expelling their crystal skulls, the music of lounge acts—all faded. Engines now hummed around Rowan, the great machinery that operated Paradise Lost, turbines and gears and pipes, a city of metal and steam all around her. Rowan liked this place, liked to feel the ducts vibrate, to hear the machinery clink and hum. She had always liked machines: little Fillister with his tiny gears, the rattling air conditioners and furnaces, and this machine she now crawled through, for Paradise Lost itself was a great machine.

Someday Rowan hoped to be inside another machine—inside a starship that could take her home.

Someday I'll see you, Earth. I swear it. Still you call me home.

Finally she reached the living room—or at least, the place she and Fillister called their living room.

"Home sweet home!" Fillister said, buzzing onto a shelf.

Rowan shook her head. "This is not our home. Earth is our home. But . . . this is some comfort."

The living room was a junction where four ducts met. It nestled a short distance over a furnace, just close enough to be warm but not sweltering. Machinery hummed below, a soothing lilt.

Rowan had placed a blanket on the floor, and she had nailed three steel slats into the ducts, forming shelves. The living room was small, of course. It was smaller than the toilet stall where the snail had yelled. The ceiling was too low to let Rowan stand—there was nowhere in the ductwork where Rowan could stand up, even with her humble height of five feet, which she had measured once with a string. But she could sit up here, and her head only brushed the ceiling. She could pull her knees to her chin. She could stretch if she wanted to. She could write poems on pilfered pieces of paper, or work at building her little machines with the gears, bolts, and wires she snagged from the space docks before dawn.

But mostly . . . mostly Rowan came here to use the Earthstone.

She pulled the amulet off her chain. It gleamed in her hand, a small crystal, barely larger than Fillister. Yet this was no regular crystal, no cheap bauble, not even a pricey stone like a diamond.

This was a memory stone.

A few years ago, she had found a magazine discarded in the washroom which contained an article about memory stones. They were rare devices, used to store binary data inside crystalline structures. They were, essentially, hard drives made into jewelry.

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