Star of Danger by Marion Zimmer Bradley
IT DIDN’T look at all like an alien planet.
Larry Montray, standing on the long ramp that led downward from the giant spaceship, felt the cold touch of sharp disillusion and disappointment. Darkover. Hundreds of lightyears from Earth, a strange world under a strange sun—and it didn’t look different at all.
It was night. Below him lay the spaceport, lighted almost to a daytime dazzle by rows of blue-white arclights; an enormous flat expanse of concrete ramps and runways, the blurred outlines of the giant starships dim through the lights; levels and stairways and ramps leading upward to the lines of high streets and the dark shapes of skyscrapers beyond the port. But Larry had seen spaceships and spaceports on Earth. With a father in the service of the Terran Empire, you got used to seeing things like that.
He didn’t know what he’d expected of the new world—but he hadn’t expected it to look just like any spaceport on Earth!
He’d expected so much . . . .
Of course, Larry had always known that he’d go out into space someday. The Terran Empire had spread itself over a thousand worlds surrounding a thousand suns, and no son of Terra ever considered staying there all his life.
But he’d been resigned to waiting at least a few more years. In the old days, before star travel, a boy of sixteen could ship out as cabin boy on a windjammer, and see the world. And back in the early days of star travel, when the immense interstellar distances meant years and years in the gulfs between the stars, they’d shipped young kids to crew the starships—so they wouldn’t be old men when the voyages ended.
But those days were gone. Now, a trip of a hundred light-years could be made in about that many days, and men, not boys, manned the ships and the Trade Cities of the Terran Empire. At sixteen Larry had been resigned to waiting. Not happy about it. Just resigned.
And then the news had come. Wade Montray, his father, had put in for transfer to the Civil Service on the planet Darkover, far out in the edge of the Milky Way. And Larry—whose mother had died before he was old enough to remember her, and who had no other living relatives—was going with him.
He’d ransacked his school library, and all the local reading rooms, to find out something about Darkover. He didn’t learn much. It was the fourth planet of a medium-sized dark red star, invisible from Earth’s sky, and so dim that it had a name only in star-catalogues. It was a world smaller than Earth, it had four moons, it was a world at an arrested cultural level without very much technology or science. The major products exported from Darkover were medicinal earths and biological drugs, jewel stones, fine metals for precision tools, and a few luxury goods—silks, furs, wines.
A brief footnote in the catalogue had excited Larry almost beyond endurance: Although the natives of Darkover are human, there are several intelligent cultures of nonhumans present on this planet.
Nonhumans! You didn’t see them often on Earth. Rarely, near one of the spaceports, you’d see a Jovian trundling by in his portable breathing-tank of methane gas; Earth’s oxygen was just as poisonous to him as the gas to an Earthman. And now and again, you might catch a curious, exciting glimpse of some tall, winged man-thing from one of the outer worlds. But you never saw them up close. You couldn’t think of them as people, somehow.
He’d badgered his father with insistent questions until his father said, in exasperation, “How should I know? I’m not an information manual! I know that Darkover has a red sun, a cold climate, and a language supposed to be derived from the old Earth languages! I know it has four moons and that there are nonhumans there—and that’s all I know! So why don’t you wait and find out when you get there?” When Dad got that look in his eye, it was better not to ask questions. So Larry kept the rest of them to himself. But one evening, as Larry was sorting things in his room, deciding to throw away stacks of outgrown books, toys, odds and ends he’d somehow accumulated in the last few years, his father knocked at his door.