The Long War
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A generation after the events of The Long Earth, mankind has spread across the new worlds opened up by Stepping. Where Joshua and Lobsang once pioneered, now fleets of airships link the stepwise Americas with trade and culture. Mankind is shaping the Long Earth – but in turn the Long Earth is shaping mankind ... A new ‘America’, called Valhalla, is emerging more than a million steps from Datum Earth, with core American values restated in the plentiful environment of the Long Earth – and Valhalla is growing restless under the control of the Datum government...
Meanwhile the Long Earth is suffused by the song of the trolls, graceful hive-mind humanoids. But the trolls are beginning to react to humanity’s thoughtless exploitation ... Joshua, now a married man, is summoned by Lobsang to deal with a gathering multiple crisis that threatens to plunge the Long Earth into a war unlike any mankind has waged before.
IN AN ALTERNATE WORLD, two million steps from Earth:
The troll female was called Mary by her handlers, Monica Jansson read on the rolling caption on the video clip. No one knew what the troll called herself. Now two of those handlers, both men, one in a kind of spacesuit, faced Mary as she cowered in a corner of what looked like a high-tech laboratory – if a beast built like a brick wall covered in black fur could be said to cower at all – and she held her cub to her powerful chest. The cub, itself a slab of muscle, was similarly dressed up in its own silvery spacesuit, with wires dangling from sensors attached to its flat skull.
‘Give him back, Mary,’ one of the men could be heard to say.
‘Come on now. We’ve been planning this test for a long time. George here will haul him over into the Gap in his spacesuit, he’ll float around in vacuum for an hour or so, and then he’ll be right back here safe and sound. He’ll even have fun.’
The other man stayed ominously silent.
The first approached Mary, a step at a time. ‘No ice cream if you keep this up.’
Mary’s big, very human hands made gestures, signs, a blur. Rapid, hard to follow, but decisive.
As the incident had been replayed over and over there had been a lot of online speculation about why Mary hadn’t just stepped away at this point. Probably it was simply that she was being held underground: you couldn’t step into or out of a cellar, into the solid rock you’d find stepwise. Besides, Jansson, a retired lieutenant
formerly of Madison Police Department, knew there were plenty of ways to stop a troll stepping, if you could get your hands on the animal.
The theory of what these men were trying to do was much discussed too. They were in a world next door to the Gap – a step away from vacuum, from space, from a hole where an Earth ought to be. They were building a space programme out there, and wanted to see if troll labour, highly useful across the Long Earth, could be exploited in the Gap. Not surprisingly adult trolls were very reluctant to step over into that drifting emptiness, so the GapSpace researchers were trying to habituate the young. Like this cub.
‘We haven’t got time for this,’ said the second man. He produced a metal rod, a stunner. He walked forward, holding the rod out towards Mary’s chest. ‘Time for Mommy to say goodnight for a while—’
The adult troll grabbed the rod, snapped it in two, and jammed the sharp, broken end into the second man’s right eye.
Every time you saw it, it was shocking.
The man fell back screaming, blood spilling, very bright red. The first guy pulled him back, out of shot. ‘Oh my God! Oh my God!’ Mary, holding her cub, her fur splashed with human blood,
repeated the gestures she had made, over and over.
Things happened quickly after that. These space cadets had tried to put down this troll, this mother, immediately. They even pulled a gun on her. But they’d been stopped by an older guy, more dignified, who looked to Jansson like a retired astronaut.
And now retribution was on hold, because of the attention focused on the case.
Since this lab recording had been leaked it had become an outernet sensation in itself, and had led to a flood of similar reports. There was cruelty to beasts, and especially the trolls, it seemed, all over the Long Earth. Internet and outernet were alight with flame wars between those who believed in mankind’s right to
putting them down when it suited – some referring back to the Biblical dominion given to humans over fish, fowl, cattle, and creeping things – and others who wished that mankind didn’t have to take all its flaws out into the new worlds. This incident at the Gap, precisely because it had taken place at the heart of a nascent space programme, an expression of mankind’s highest aspirations
– and even though it betrayed a kind of insensitivity, Jansson thought, rather than downright cruelty – had become a poster case. A vociferous minority called for the federal government on Datum Earth to do something about it.
And others wondered what the trolls thought about it all. Because trolls had ways of communicating too.
Monica Jansson, watching the clip in her apartment in Madison West 5, tried to read Mary’s hand signs. She knew the language trolls were taught in experimental establishments like this one was based on a human language, American Sign Language. Jansson had had a little familiarization with signing in the course of her police career; she was no expert, but she could read what the troll was saying. And so, she imagined, could millions of others across the Long Earth, wherever this clip was being accessed:
I will not. I will not. I will not.
This was no dumb animal. This was a mother trying to protect a child.
Don’t get involved, Jansson told herself. You’re retired, and you’re sick. Your crusading days are over.
There was, of course, no choice. She turned off the monitor, popped another pill, and started making calls.
And on a world almost as far away as the Gap:
A creature that was not quite a human faced a creature that was not quite a dog.
inaccurately. ‘Kobold’ was an old German name for a mine-spirit. This particular kobold, peculiarly addicted to human music – in particular 1960s rock music – had never been near a mine.
And people called these dog-like creatures beagles, equally in- accurately. They were not beagles, and they were like nothing Darwin had seen from the most famous Beagle of all.
Neither kobold nor beagle cared about names humans gave them. But they cared about humans. Or rather, despised them. Even though, in the kobold’s case, he was also helplessly fascinated by humans and their culture.
‘Trollen unhap-ppy, everywhere,’ hissed the kobold.
‘Good,’ the beagle growled. She was a bitch. She wore a gold finger-ring set with sapphires on a thong around her neck. ‘Good. Smell of c-hrr-imes of stink-crotches stains world.’
The kobold’s speech was almost like a human’s. The beagle’s was a matter of growls, gestures, postures, pawing at the ground. Yet they understood each other, using a quasi-human language as a common patois.
And they had a common cause.
‘Drive stink-crotches back to their-hrr den.’ The beagle lifted her body and stood upright, raised her wolf-like head, and howled. Soon responses came from all across the humid landscape.
The kobold exulted at the chance of acquisition as a result of all this trouble, acquisition of the goods he treasured himself, and of others he could trade. But he strove to hide his fear of the beagle princess, his unlikely customer and ally.
And at a military base on Datum Hawaii, US Navy Commander Maggie Kauffman gazed up in wonder at the USS Benjamin Franklin, an airship the size of the Hindenburg, the brand new vessel that was hers to command . . .
And in a sleepy English village the Reverend Nelson Azikiwe
pondered his little parish church in the context of the Long Earth, a treasured scrap of antiquity amid unmapped immensity, and considered his own future . . .
And in a bustling city more than a million steps from the Datum, a one-time stepwise pioneer called Jack Green carefully phrased an appeal for liberty and dignity in the Long Earth . . .
And at Yellowstone Park, Datum Earth:
It was only Ranger Herb Lewis’s second day on the job. He sure as hell didn’t know how to deal with this angry in-your-face complaint from Mr and Mrs Virgil Davies of Los Angeles about how upset their nine-year-old, Virgilia, had become, and how Daddy had been made to look a liar, on her birthday. It wasn’t Herb’s fault if Old Faithful had failed to blow. It was no con- solation at all when, later that day, the family found their faces all over the news channels and websites as the geyser’s misbehaviour hit the headlines . . .
And in a Black Corporation medical facility on a Low Earth:
‘Sister Agnes? I have to wake you again for a little while, just for calibration . . .’
Agnes thought she heard music. ‘I am awake. I think.’
‘Back from where? Who are you? And what’s that chanting?’
‘Hundreds of Tibetan monks. For forty-nine days you have been—’
‘And that dreary music?’
‘Oh. You can blame John Lennon for that. The lyrics are quotes from the Book of the Dead.’
‘What a racket.’
‘Agnes, your physical orientation will take some time yet. But I think it should be possible for you to see yourself in the mirror. This won’t take long . . .’
She could not tell how long, but eventually there was light, very soft but growing steadily.
‘You will feel some pressure as you are lifted to a standing position. It should not be unpleasant. We cannot work on your ambulant abilities until you are stronger, but you will meld into your new body with minimal pain. Trust me, I have been through this myself many times before. You will be able to see yourself about . . . now.’
And Sister Agnes looked down at herself. At her body: pink, naked, raw, and very female. Without feeling her lips move – and indeed without actually feeling her lips at all – Agnes demanded,
‘Who ordered those ?’
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Crivens! It appears the audio excerpt from the book that we had to go here has been borrowed by a wee free man.