STAR MAN’S SAGA

 by Ralph F. Couey

 

 Cover-art by O. Polishchuk from 1992 Russian omnibus titled Daybreak 2250 A.D.

 

INTRODUCTION;

 When I was ten years old, about a half-century ago, I ordered a book from Scholastic Book Services, a wonderful resource offered through my elementary school.  The title, Daybreak: 2250 A.D., grabbed my attention.  It was 1965, the space race was in full gallop, and I was obsessed with the amazing and heroic happenings as mankind made its first clumsy steps into space.  Even then, I peered hopefully into the future even though the ebb and flow of the Cold War threatened to end our present.  A couple of weeks went by and my stack of books arrived.  On the cover was a picture of a muscular young man with a strong face and silver hair.  He was poling a crude raft across a river accompanied by a cougar-sized Siamese cat.  Behind them I could see the ruins of skyscrapers, the tombstones of a dead city.  The picture fired my imagination and I couldn’t wait to get home and begin reading.

I began reading that evening and once I started, I couldn’t stop.  My father, in some exasperation, had to take the book away so I would finally go to sleep, an action made necessary by the massive effort required to get me up and going every morning.  I got the book back the next day and spent every moment I could immersed in the post-apocalyptic world of Fors.  When I finished, I went back to the beginning and read it again.  The story gripped me like no other had. 

I felt a curious kinship with Fors.  He was an outcast because he was mutant.  Being the fat kid with the pimply face, thick glasses, and few social skills, I too, felt like a mutant.  As Fors felt rejected and alone, I did as well.  The physical abuse heaped upon me by my classmates, while not as violent as the Beast Things, was, I felt, little different in character.

Being fascinated with geography, I spent no small amount of time trying to fix the locations alluded to in Fors’ travels.  “The mountains that smoke” was an easy guess as the chain of the Appalachians known as The Smoky Mountains of Tennessee and the Carolinas.  The large city on the big Lake could have been Chicago, or even Cleveland or Buffalo.  The travel time from the Smokies to any of those three was problematic, but attributable to artistic license.  Having driven across the endless prairies of Ohio, Indiana, and Illinois, it was easy to imagine this vast territory ridden and controlled by the Plainsmen.  Other places, like the volcanic lands of Arskane’s people remain a mystery, but one that bids me to return and solve.

The story changed me, in that I realized that the future would not automatically turn out as the high-tech wonderland for which I was hoping.  Rather, I realized that the outcome depended almost entirely on the actions of the suddenly very human leaders whose names populated the headlines and the television news.  I also learned that, like Fors, I would have to take the initiative within my life if I wanted to make things happen.  Fors taught me that in the face of abuse and rejection, there is no substitute for a firm and unshakable faith in one’s self.

As we grow, our outlook and therefore our tastes change.  Books I once read as a child remained there as I tackled ever more challenging works.  But Ms. Norton’s small novel continues to hold my fascination.  I report, without shame that I now am on the 9th copy, having literally worn out the previous eight.   But even as I reread the story, I couldn’t help but indulge my speculation as to what may have happened afterwards.  I thought about that a lot over the years, as various scenarios wafted through my brain when it should have been engaged in more pressing matters.  Then one day, in between my duties as an intelligence analyst, I decided to put those thoughts down on virtual paper.

The story grew in scope as I wrote, expanding into vast new territory, both in geography and Fors’ personal journey.  The result of my efforts now lie in the pages before you.  Having great regard for the original author and work, I have strived to keep my account respectfully faithful to the rousing spirit of the original.  The characters whom readers came to know are familiarly present in this sequel, as is the world in which they lived.  For those who read and enjoyed the original, I hope this is found to be a worthy successor.

A person’s life never proceeds along a predictable pre-set path.  Few are those who look back from the perspective of senescence and conclude that it all worked out exactly as planned. For me, I know I could never have predicted, as a lad of ten that my life would have turned out as it did.  In this story, the same is true for our intrepid Star Man. As he, and so many others have discovered, life is not really about what one wants to do, but rather when compelled by duty and circumstance, what one has to do.

And that is what lies at the heart of this Star Man’s Saga.

--Ralph F. Couey

April 5, 2017

Aurora, Colorado


 

A Word About The World

You Are About To Enter

They were called “The Old Ones” by the generations of those who constituted the survivors of the human race.  As often happens in war, the exact sequence of events that led to nuclear war had been lost to history.  What had survived was very basic.  At some point, the governments of the world had reached a point beyond compromise or surrender.  They lay down their pens and reached for their buttons.

Missiles were launched, bombers took to the air, and soldiers marched.  The war, really, lasted only one day.  In that 24-hour period, 10,000 years of civilization was undone.

Some three hundred years later, pockets of humanity exist in isolated places, The Plainsmen, The Southerners, and the Mountaineers among them. There is a tense truce that existes between the three which leads to isolated acts of violence.

Those who lived in the stronghold known as the Eyrie were the descendants of engineers, researchers and astronauts who had gone deep into the remote mountains to gain knowledge that would benefit the eventual establishment of human habitats on other planets.  The war changed what had been a research project into an actual exercise in survival.

For at least a century, they remained in their mountain stronghold.  Distant from the effects of the nuclear strikes, some radiation nevertheless still found its way to them. There were outbreaks of radiation sickness and a high incidence of birth defects.  Dedicated to keeping humanity pure, difficult heart-breaking decisions had to be made about infants who were allowed to survive, and those who were put to death.  Mutation of any kind, even if the defect resulted in enhancement, was outlawed.

After a century of isolation, it was decided that the time had come for the Mountaineers to begin exploring.  The motivations were many.  First, finding out what happened; what caused the war.  Secondly, the recovery and rediscovery of technology that would put humans back on the road to the future.  Thirdly, to make contact with other groups of humans who had survived and learn how they had survived. 

But in the cities, a dangerous mutation had already occurred.  A race of creatures was discovered, most say by the Mountaineers who dared go into those cities.  It appeared to be a human-rat hybrid, the origins of which defied understanding.  What was understood was that they were uniformly hostile to humans.  Beast Things, they came to be called.

The story which unfolded in Andre Norton’s novel “Star Man’s Son” (later renamed “Daybreak: 2250 A.D.) opens with a very angry young man who had for the last time been denied the opportunity to fulfill his dream and his father’s legacy as a Star Man.  Rather than give in to the dictates of his tribe, he left the stronghold for the lowlands.

Star Men were the elite of the Eyrie. They were selected for their intelligence as well as their strength and courage.  The Star Men were the ones who went into the lowlands alone to explore the cities, searching for knowledge. It was a dangerous profession, facing threats not only from the Beast Things, but encounters with wild predators, severe weather, illness, injury, and occasionally, conflict with other human tribes.  Fors’ father had been a Star Man, one of the Eyrie’s courageous explorers. While on one of those explorations, Langdon had met and fallen for a beautiful young woman of the Plains tribe. Returning to the Eyrie, he had defiantly announced his intention to wed. The Star Men and the Council Elders were adamant in their refusal, in the face of which Langdon declared his intention to leave the Eyrie and become a Plainsman. Finally, faced with the impending defection of one of their honored explorers, the Council grudgingly allowed Langdon to wed, on the grounds that the Plainswoman could never set foot within the Eyrie stronghold.

So, for several years, Langdon lived a double life. He would spend most of his time with the Plainsmen among the clan of his wife. He returned to the Eyrie for short periods, long enough to make his reports, then leave again. In the second year of that bond, Fors had been born. A year later, a wave of sickness swept through that band of Plainsmen. Langdon’s wife fell ill and died. In the storm of recriminations among the clans as to who or what had been responsible for the disease, Langdon was forced to take his infant son and flee back to the mountains. As a Star Man, he was readily accepted back among the tribe. However, his son would discover that the warm welcome accorded his father did not extend to him.

Langdon became aware that his young son possessed extraordinary hearing and night vision, the positive side of being a mutant. However, he cautioned the youngster to keep hidden these traits. But as he grew, the hair on Fors head continued to grow, not dark or even blond, but damning silver. It was a flag of mutation, the thing most feared by the people of the Eyrie. Other parents refused to allow their children to play with him, although their youngsters took every opportunity to heap abuse on him. Even the other members of the Puma Clan treated the young boy with barely concealed distaste.

Langdon did all he could to strengthen his son. Every evening, the two of them would close the door on the rest of the tribe and spend hours together, in which the Star Man imparted wisdom and training. Langdon was not only the boy’s father; he was his mentor, friend, and hero. Then came that dark day when Jarl came to tell the young Fors that his father was dead. Langdon had been overdue, and another Star Man had been sent out to retrace his trail. Langdon’s body had been discovered, sprawled in the ruins of a city, pin-cushioned by Beast Thing darts. He hadn’t gone quietly, as the other Star Man reported that no less than 12 of the rat-like creatures lay dead around his last battlefield.

Fors was devastated. Langdon had not only been his father but had also served as the buffer between his son and a hostile tribe. Without his presence, Fors was well and truly alone in his world. By tribal law, care of the young boy passed to the closest relative, Langdon’s sister. Fors’ new family fed, clothed, and sheltered him, but did little else. The focus of his life became to follow his father’s footsteps; to wear The Star.

By the time he was 15, Fors possessed the skills and knowledge required to be Star Novice. In his 16th year, the earliest allowed by tribal law, Fors had gone to the Great Council Fire fully prepared. When the Time of Choosing came and went, Fors found himself ignored. Disappointed, he nonetheless redoubled his efforts and prepared himself even harder. Four more years passed; four more council fires, from which Fors walked away with crushing disappointment. After the fifth year, facing a life of working in the hydroponic caves or the mines, he left the Eyrie. But not before violating the sanctity of the Star House and taking his father’s Star Pouch. He walked out of the mountains, abandoning the tribe that, he felt, had abandoned him.

Over the next few weeks, Fors experienced a lifetime’s worth of adventures. He had rescued and befriended Arskane, the big Southerner, from a Beast Thing trap. Making a pact of brotherhood, the two explored cities along the shore of the Great Lake, crossed the barren scar of the blow-up lands, and fought the Beast Things. In those battles, Fors discovered a mutation among the rat-like creatures that posed a serious threat to all humans. He had been captured and made part of the fortifications when the Southerners and Plainsmen attacked. That band of Beast Things was eventually destroyed, but in the aftermath, the two human tribes, giving rein to their worst fears and prejudices, very nearly went to war among themselves. Wounded, bleeding, and half-sick, Fors staggered into the space between the tribes and with the strength of a few well-chosen words, brought peace to that field; a peace that still survived.

Jarl, the Star Captain, breaking precedent, had personally come into the lowlands seeking the wayward tribesman. After the battle, the two traveled back to the Eyrie, sharing many deep conversations along the way. Upon their return to the Eyrie, Fors faced judgment for violating the Star House, as well as defying the will of the Tribe. At that Council Fire, Fors fully expected to be excommunicated from the Eyrie. In fact, he had looked forward to it. In Arskane’s clan he had found the love of family.  In the acceptance of the Plains Tribal Elders, he had found honor and respect. The Eyrie had, to that point, given him neither. But in an act of vision and leadership, Jarl broke with tradition and shared the secrets of the Star House. He brought to the assembled tribe the realities of their lives and how their prejudices had caused division within the Tribe. The Chief Healer reluctantly agreed with Jarl, indicating that with the natural course of evolution, they could all be considered mutations of the Old Ones.

In what would always be remembered as the watershed moment in Eyrie history, the tribe put the past behind them and looked to a bright future. And as a symbol of that future, Jarl inducted Fors into the Star House.

“Star Man’s Saga” takes up the story about 20 years after the end of the first novel.  Things have changed, people have grown.  Fors’ life is about to change in a major way, but despite all that has happened, he has never lost touch with the core of who and what he was. 


And for anyone’s journey, it is all that can be asked.

 


 "Star Man's Saga"
Copyright ~ Ralph F. Couey and the Estate of Andre Norton 2017
Online Rights - Andre-Norton-Books.com
Donated by – Ralph F. Couey

Revision: 2 ~ July, 2019

 Formatted by Jay Watts aka: “Lots-a-watts” ~ Nov. 2017 & Aug. 2019

Duplication (in whole or parts) of this story for profit of any kind NOT permitted.