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A Beautiful Friendship

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A Beautiful Friendship

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Author: David Weber
Publisher: Baen, 2011
Series: Star Kingdom: Book 1

1. A Beautiful Friendship
2. Fire Season
3. Treecat Wars
4. A New Clan

Book Type: Novel
Genre: Science-Fiction
Sub-Genre Tags: Colonization
First Contact
Avg Member Rating:
(17 reads / 6 ratings)


Stephanie Harrington absolutely hates being confined inside her family's compound on the pioneer planet of Sphinx, a frontier wilderness world populated by dangerous native animals that could easily tear a human to bits and pieces. Yet Stephanie is a young woman determined to make discoveries--and the biggest discovery of all awaits her: an intelligent alien species.

Treecats are creatures that resemble a cross between a bobcat and a lemur (but with six legs and much more deadly claws). Not only are they fully sentient, they are also telepathic, and able to bond with certain gifted humans such as the genetically-enhanced Stephanie. But Stephanie's find, and her first-of-its-kind bond with a treecat, brings on a new torrent of danger. An assortment of highly placed enemies with galactic-sized wealth at stake is determined to make sure that the planet of Sphinx remains entirely in human hands--even if this means the extermination of another thinking species.

At the publisher's request, this title is sold without DRM (Digital Rights Management).

A lifetime military history buff, David Weber has carried his interest in history into his fiction. In the New York Times best selling Honor Harrington series, the spirit of both C.S. Forester's Horatio Hornblower and history's Admiral Nelson are evident. With over five million copies of his books in print, David Weber is the fastest rising star in the Science Fiction universe. His Honor Harrington series boasts over 3 million copies in print, and Weber has had over thirteen of his titles on The New York Times Best Seller List. War of Honor, book 10 in the series appeared on over twelve Best Seller lists, including The Wall Street Journal, The New York Times, and USA TODAY.

While he is best known for his spirited, modern-minded space operas, he has also developed a fantasy series, of which two books have been published: Oath of Swords and The War God's Own. David's solo work also includes three novels of the "Dahak" series, and the stand alone novels: Path of the Fury and The Excalibur Alternative.

Weber's first published novels grew out of his work as a war game designer for the Task Force game Starfire. With collaborator Steve White, Weber has written four novels set in that universe: Insurrection, Crusade, In Death Ground, and The Shiva Option.

Recent bestsellers in planetary adventures also include the teamwork of John Ringo in the best selling Empire of Man series where the titles March Upcountry, March to the Sea, March to the Stars and We Few have made appearances on The New York Times List.

Weber's proliferation continues with author Eric Flint, where they joined forces in the Best Selling "Ring of Fire" alternate history series, for 1634: The Baltic War, coming in May.

A popular guest at science fiction conventions, Weber makes his home in South Carolina with his wife Sharon, three children and a passel of dogs.



"I mean it, Stephanie!" Richard Harrington said. "I don't want you wandering off into those woods again without me or your mom along. Is that clear?"

"Oh, Daaaddy--!" Stephanie began, only to close her mouth sharply when her father folded his arms. Then the toe of his right foot started tapping lightly, and her heart sank. This wasn't going well at all, and she resented that reflection on her... negotiating skills almost as much as she resented the restriction she was trying to avoid. She was almost twelve T-years old, smart, an only child, and a daughter. That gave her certain advantages, and she'd become an expert at wrapping her father around her finger almost as soon as she could talk. Unfortunately, her mother had always been a tougher customer... and even her father was unscrupulously willing to abandon his proper pliancy when he decided the situation justified it.

Like now.

"We're not going to discuss this further," he said with ominous calm. "Just because you haven't seen any hexapumas or peak bears doesn't mean they aren't out there."

"But I've been stuck inside with nothing to do all winter," she said, easily suppressing a twinge of conscience as she neglected to mention snowball fights, cross-country skiing, sleds, snow tunnels, and certain other diversions. "I want to go outside and see things!"

"I know you do, honey," her father said more gently, reaching out to tousle her curly brown hair. "But it's dangerous out there. This isn't Meyerdahl, you know." Stephanie closed her eyes and looked martyred, and his expression showed a flash of regret at having let the last sentence slip out. "If you really want something to do, why don't you run into Twin Forks with Mom this afternoon?"

"Because Twin Forks is a complete null, Daddy."

Exasperation colored Stephanie's reply, even though she knew it was a tactical error. Even above-average parents like hers got stubborn if you disagreed with them too emphatically, but honestly! Twin Forks might be the closest "town" to the Harrington freehold, but it boasted a total of maybe fifty families, most of whose handful of kids were a total waste of time. None of them were interested in xeno-botany or biosystem hierarchies. In fact, they spent most of their free time trying to catch anything small enough to keep as pets, however much damage they might do to their intended "pets" in the process. Stephanie was pretty sure any effort to enlist those zorks in her explorations would have led to words--or a fist in the eye--in fairly short order. Not, she thought darkly, that she was to blame for the situation. If Dad and Mom hadn't insisted on dragging her away from Meyerdahl just when she'd been accepted for the junior forestry program, she'd have been on her first internship field trip by now. It wasn't her fault she wasn't, and the least they could do to make up for it was let her explore their own property!

"Twin Forks is not a 'complete null,'" her father said firmly.

"Oh yes it is," she replied with a curled lip, and Richard Harrington drew a deep breath.

"Look," he said after a moment, "I know you had to leave all your old friends behind on Meyerdahl. And I know how much you were looking forward to that forestry internship. But Meyerdahl's been settled for over a thousand T-years, Steph, and Sphinx hasn't."

"I know that, Dad," she replied, trying to make her voice as reasonable as his. That first "Daddy!" had been a mistake. She knew that, and she didn't plan on repeating it, but his sudden decree that she stay so close to the house had caught her by surprise. "But it's not like I didn't have my uni-link with me. I could've called for help anytime, and I know enough to climb a tree if something's trying to eat me! I promise--if anything like that had come along, I'd've been sitting on a limb fifteen meters up waiting for you or Mom to home in on my beacon."

"I know you would have... if you'd seen it in time," her father said in a considerably grimmer tone. "But Sphinx isn't 'wired' the way Meyerdahl was, and we still don't know nearly enough about what's out there. We won't know for decades yet, and all the unilinks in the world might not get an air car there fast enough if you did run into a hexapuma or a peak bear."

Stephanie started to reply, then stopped. He had a point, she admitted grudgingly. Not that she meant to give up without a fight! But one of the five-meter-long hexapumas would be enough to ruin anyone's day, and peak bears weren't a lot better. And he was right about how little humanity knew about what was really out there in the Sphinx brush. But that was the whole point, the whole reason she wanted to be out there in the first place!

"Listen, Steph," her father said finally. "I know Twin Forks isn't much compared to Hollister, but it's the best I can offer. And you know it's going to grow. They're even talking about putting in their own shuttle pad next spring!"

Stephanie managed--somehow--not to roll her eyes again. Calling Twin Forks "not much" compared to the city of Hollister was like saying it snowed "a little" on Sphinx. And given the long, dragging, endless year of this stupid planet, she'd almost be seventeen T-years old by the time "next spring" got here! She hadn't quite been ten and a half when they arrived...just in time for it to start snowing. And it hadn't stopped snowing for the next fifteen T-months!

"Sorry," her father said quietly, as if he'd read her thoughts. "I'm sorry Twin Forks isn't exciting, and I'm sorry you didn't want to leave Meyerdahl. And I'm sorry I can't let you wander around on your own. But that's the way it is, honey. And"--he gazed sternly into her brown eyes--"I want your word you'll do what your mom and I tell you on this one."

* * *

Stephanie squelched glumly across the mud to the steep-roofed gazebo. Everything on Sphinx had a steep roof, and she allowed herself a deep, heartfelt groan as she plunked herself down on the gazebo steps and contemplated the reason that was true.

It was the snow. Even here, close to Sphinx's equator, annual snowfall was measured in meters--lots of meters, she thought moodily--and houses needed steep roofs to shed all of that frozen water, especially on a planet whose gravity was over a third higher than Old Earth's. Not that Stephanie had ever seen Old Earth... or any world which wasn't classified as "heavy-grav" by the rest of humanity.

She sighed again, with an edge of wistful misery, and wished her great-great-great-great-whatever grandparents hadn't volunteered for the Meyerdahl First Wave. Her parents had sat her down to explain what that meant shortly after her eighth birthday. She'd already heard the word "genie," though she hadn't realized that, technically at least, it applied to her, but she'd only started her classroom studies four T-years before. Her history courses hadn't gotten to Old Earth's Final War yet, so she'd had no way to know why some people still reacted so violently to any notion of modifications to the human genotype... or why they considered "genie" one of the dirtiest words in Standard English.

Now she knew, though she still thought anyone who felt that way was silly. Of course the bio-weapons and "super soldiers" whipped up for the Final War had been horrible. But that had all happened over five hundred T-years ago, and it hadn't had a thing to do with people like the Meyerdahl or Quelhollow first waves. She supposed it was a good thing the original Manticoran settlers had left Sol before the Final War. Their old-fashioned cryo ships had taken long enough to make the trip for them to miss the entire thing... and the prejudices that went with it.

Not that there was anything much to draw anyone's attention to the changes the geneticists had whipped up for Meyerdahl's colonists. Mass for mass, Stephanie's muscle tissue was about twenty-five percent more efficient than that of "pure strain" humans, and her metabolism ran about twenty percent faster to fuel those muscles. There were a few minor changes to her respiratory and circulatory systems (to let her handle a broader range of atmospheric pressures without the nanotech pure-strainers used), and some skeletal reinforcement to cope with the muscles, as well. And the modifications had been designed to be dominant, so that all her descendants would have them. But her kind of genie was perfectly inter-fertile with pure-strainers, and as far as she could see all the changes put together were no big deal. They just meant that because she and her parents needed less muscle mass for a given strength they were ideally suited to colonize high-gravity planets without turning all stumpy and bulgy-muscled. Still, when she'd gotten around to studying the Final War and some of the antigenie movements, she'd decided Dad and Mom might have had a point in warning her not to go around telling strangers about it. Aside from that, she seldom thought about it one way or the other... except to reflect somewhat bitterly that if they hadn't been genies the heavy gravities of the Manticore Binary System's habitable planets might have kept her parents from deciding they simply had to drag her off to the boonies like this.

She chewed her lower lip and leaned back, letting her eyes roam over the isolated clearing in which she'd been marooned by their decision. The tall green roof of the main house was a cheerful splash of color against the still-bare picketwood and crown oaks which surrounded it. But she wasn't in the mood to be cheerful, and it took very little effort to decide green was a stupid color for a roof. Something dark and drab--brown, maybe, or maybe even black--would've suited her much better. And while she was on the subject of inappropriate building materials, why couldn't they have used something more colorful than natural gray stone? She knew it had been the cheapest way to do it, but getting enough insulating capacity to face a Sphinx winter out of natural rock required walls over a meter thick. It was like living in a dungeon, she thought... then paused to savor the simile. It fitted her present mood perfectly, and she stored it away for future use.

She considered it a moment longer, then shook herself and gazed at the trees beyond the house and its attached greenhouses with a yearning that was almost a physical pain. Some kids knew they wanted to be spacers or scientists by the time they could pronounce the words, but Stephanie didn't want stars. She wanted... green. She wanted to go places no one had ever been yet--not through hyper-space, but on a warm, living, breathing planet. She wanted waterfalls and mountains, trees and animals who'd never heard of zoos. And she wanted to be the first to see them, to study them, understand them, protect them....

Maybe it was because of her parents, she mused, forgetting to resent her father's restrictions for the moment. Richard Harrington held degrees in both Terran and xeno-veterinary medicine. They made him far more valuable to a frontier world like Sphinx than he'd ever been back home, but he'd occasionally been called upon by Meyerdahl's Forestry Service. That had brought Stephanie into far closer contact with her birth world's animal kingdom than most people her age ever had the chance to come. And her mother's background as a plant geneticist--another of those specialties new worlds found so necessary--had helped her appreciate the beautiful intricacies of Meyerdahl's flora, as well.

Only then they'd brought her way out here and dumped her on Sphinx.

Stephanie grimaced in fresh disgust. Part of her had deeply resented the thought of leaving Meyerdahl, but another part had been delighted. However much she might have longed for a Wildlife Management Service career, the thought of starships and interstellar voyages had been exciting. And so had the thought of emigrating on a sort of rescue mission to help save a colony which had been almost wiped out by plague. (Although, she admitted, that part would have been much less exciting if the doctors hadn't found a cure for the plague in question.) Best of all, her parents' specialties meant the Star Kingdom had agreed to pay the cost of their transportation, which--coupled with their savings--had let them buy a huge piece of land all their own. The Harrington freehold was a rough rectangle thrown across the steep slopes of the Copperwall Mountains to overlook the Tannerman Ocean, and it measured twenty-five kilometers on a side. Not the twenty-five meters of their lot's frontage in Hollister, but twenty-five kilometers, which made it as big as the entire city had been back home! And it backed up against an area already designated as a major nature preserve, as well.

But there were a few things Stephanie hadn't considered in her delight. Like the fact that their freehold was almost a thousand kilometers from anything that could reasonably be called a city. Much as she loved wilderness, she wasn't used to being that far from civilization, and the distances between settlements meant her father had to spend an awful lot of time in the air just getting from patient to patient.

At least the planetary data net let her keep up with her schooling and enjoy some simple pleasures--in fact, she was first in her class (again), despite the move, and she stood sixteenth in the current planetary junior chess competition, as well. Of course, that didn't mean as much here as it would have on Meyerdahl, given how much smaller the population (and pool of competitors) was. Still, it had kept her from developing a truly terminal case of what her mother called "cabin fever," and she enjoyed her trips to town (when she wasn't using Twin Forks' dinkiness in negotiations with her parents). But none of the few kids her age in Twin Forks were in the accelerated curriculum, which meant they weren't in any of her classes, and she hadn't gotten to know them on-line the way she'd known all her friends back on Meyerdahl. They probably weren't all complete nulls, but she didn't know them. Besides, she admitted, her "peer group interpersonal skills" (as the counselors liked to put it) weren't her strong suit. She knew she got frustrated quickly--too quickly, often enough--with people who couldn't keep up with her in an argument or who insisted on doing stupid things, and she knew she had a hot temper. Her mom said that sometimes accompanied the Meyerdahl modifications, and Stephanie tried to sit on it when it got out of hand. She really did try, yet more than one "interpersonal interaction" with another member of her "peer group" had ended with bloody noses or blackened eyes.

So, no, she hadn't made any friends among Twin Forks' younger population. Not yet, anyway, and the settlement itself was totally lacking in all the amenities of a city of almost three million people, like Hollister.

Yet Stephanie could have lived with all of that if it hadn't been for two other things: snow and hexapumas.

She dug a booted toe into the squishy mud beyond the gazebo's bottom step and scowled. Daddy had warned her they'd be arriving just before winter, and she'd thought she knew what that meant. But "winter" had an entirely different meaning on Sphinx. Snow had been an exciting rarity on warm, mild Meyerdahl, but a Sphinxian winter lasted almost sixteen T-months. That was over a tenth of her entire life, and she'd become well and truly sick of snow. Dad could say whatever he liked about how other seasons would be just as long. Stephanie believed him. She even understood (intellectually) that she had the better part of four full T-years before the snow returned. But she hadn't experienced it yet, and all she had right now was mud. Lots and lots and lots of mud, and the bare beginning of buds on the deciduous trees. And boredom.

And, she reminded herself with a scowl, she also had the promise not to do anything about that boredom which her father had extracted from her. She supposed she should be glad he and Mom worried about her. But it was so... so underhanded of him to make her promise. It was like making Stephanie her own jailer, and he knew it!

She sighed again, rose, shoved her fists into her jacket pockets, and headed for her mother's office. Marjorie Harrington's services had become much sought after in the seventeen T-months she'd been on Sphinx, but unlike her husband, she seldom had to go to her clients. On the rare occasions when she required physical specimens rather than simple electronic data, they could be delivered to her small but efficient lab and supporting green houses here on the freehold as easily as to any other location. Stephanie doubted she could get her mom to help her change Dad's mind about grounding her, but she could try. And at least she might get a little understanding out of her.

* * *

Dr. Marjorie Harrington stood by the window and smiled sympathetically as she watched Stephanie trudge toward the house. Dr. Harrington knew where her daughter was headed... and what she meant to do when she got there. In a general way, she disapproved of Stephanie's attempts to enlist one parent against the other when edicts were laid down, but one thing about Stephanie: however much she might resent a restriction or maneuver to get it lifted, she always honored it once she'd given her word to do so.

Which didn't mean she'd enjoy it, and Marjorie's smile faded as she contemplated her daughter's disappointment. And the fact that she and Richard had no choice but to restrict Stephanie didn't make it fair, either.

I really need to take some time away from the terminal, she reflected. There's no way I could possibly spend as many hours in the woods as Stephanie wants to. There aren't that many hours in even a Sphinxian day! But I ought to be able to at least provide her with an adult escort often enough for her habit to get a minimum fix.

Her thoughts paused and then she smiled again as another thought occurred to her.

No, we can't let Steph rummage around in the woods by herself, but there might just be another way to distract her. After all, she's got that problem-solver streak--the kind of mind that prints out hard copies of the Yawata Crossing Times crossword so she can work them in ink instead of electronically. So with just a little prompting...

Marjorie let her chair slip upright and drew a sheaf of hard copy closer as she heard boots moving down the hall towards her office. She uncapped her stylus and bent over the neatly printed sheets with a studious expression just as Stephanie knocked on the frame of the open door.

"Mom?" Dr. Harrington allowed herself one more sympathetic smile at the put-upon pensiveness of Stephanie's tone, then banished the expression and looked up from her paperwork.

"Come in, Steph," she invited, and leaned back in her chair once more.

"Can I talk to you a minute?" Stephanie asked, and Marjorie nodded.

"Of course you can, honey," she said. "What's on your mind?"

Copyright © 2011 by David Weber


A Beautiful Friendship

- dustydigger


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