Excerpt: THUNDERBIRD by Jack McDevitt (Ace Books)

McDevittJ-ThunderbirdUSI’ve not read anything by Jack McDevitt before. His next novel, Thunderbirdlooks quite interesting, though:

On a Sioux reservation near Devils Lake in North Dakota, a working stargate dating back more than ten thousand years has been discovered. Going through the gate leads the traveler to three mysterious destinations: an empty garden world dubbed Eden, a strange maze of underground passageways, or a space station with a view of a galaxy that looks like the Milky Way.

The race to explore and claim the stargate quickly escalates and those involved divide into opposing camps who view the teleportation technology either as an unprecedented opportunity for scientific research of a disastrous threat to nation, not to mention planetary, security. One thing is for certain though — questions about what the stargate means for humanity’s role in the galaxy cannot be ignored.

Thunderbird is due to be published by Ace Books on December 1st, 2015. To celebrate the impending release, the publisher has sent me this excerpt to share…

*

THUNDERBIRD

Even though he’d seen the eerie green glow atop the mountain almost every night on TV, Brad Hollister was still surprised that evening as the hills got out of the way, and he saw it for the first time through his windshield. It was easy to understand why people had panicked a few weeks earlier, had thought it was radioactivity and fled the area. They were mostly back now, of course, assured by official sources that the radiation was not hazardous. The world had been shocked when a structure thousands of years old had been excavated on the Sioux reservation near Devils Lake in North Dakota. And shocked again when, a few days later, it began to emit that soft green light. And completely rattled when investigators discovered it was a star gate. That was the capability, of course, that stayed in the headlines. And kept the phones ringing at Grand Forks Live, Brad’s call-in show on KLYM.

Scientific teams had been transported to three locations, a garden world that the media immediately branded “Eden,” a second location that seemed to be nothing more than a series of passageways in a structure that had no windows, and a deserted space station that appeared to be located outside the Milky Way.

Missions were going out regularly, mostly to Eden and the station. A team of eight journalists, accompanied by two Sioux security escorts, were on Eden now, expected to return that evening. And a group of scientists were scheduled to head for the same destination within the hour. Brad’s callers wanted him to make the trip, and he’d been assuring them he would eventually. But before he climbed onto the circular stone, with its gridwork surface, and allowed them to send him off to another world, he wanted to watch the operation. Not that he was scared.

The emerald glow brightened as he drew near on Route 32. Eventually, he turned off onto a side road, cleared a police unit, and began the long climb to the summit. A bright moon hung over the sparse land, and a bitter wind rocked the car. Eventually, as he approached the summit, the Roundhouse became visible. A bubble dome, it stood on the edge of a cliff, overlooking the vast sweep of land that had once contained Lake Agassiz. Thousands of years ago, Agassiz had covered most of North Dakota and a large section of Canada.

The building lay below the level of the surrounding granite. Someone had gouged a space in the rock to make room for the Roundhouse. Brad’s callers were entranced by the theory that the construction had been orchestrated to place the star gate level with the ancient shoreline. Curved struts anchored it in the rock. The surface resembled a beveled emerald plastic.

It was surrounded by several temporary structures, which had been erected to support the science teams and the security effort. The area was sealed off by a wired fence. A gateway provided access to cars and trucks.

The gates were down. Brad lowered his window as he pulled alongside the security booth. A young man in a dark blue Sioux uniform looked out.

“My name’s Hollister,” Brad said, handing over his driver’s license. “They know I’m coming.”

The officer checked the ID, touched a computer screen, nodded, and gave it back. “Okay, Mr. Hollister,” he said. “Park wherever you like.”

A security guard opened the front door for him. He proceeded down a short passageway, past several doors, and entered the dome. This would have been the place that filled with water at high tide, allowing the occupants to take a boat out onto Lake Agassiz. That, of course, was very likely the boat found recently buried on Tom Lasker’s farm, which had led to the discovery.

There were about twenty people, plus three or four uniformed security guards, standing around talking, a few seated at a table. Most were casually dressed, as if preparing for a camping trip. There was also a TV team. A second entrance opened into the chamber from the far side, where everyone was gathered. During the Agassiz years, it would have provided the access for the incoming tide. It had also been, according to the experts, the preferred entrance for the original occupants, the front door, looking out onto a beach. April Cannon was near the transporter, talking with a reporter. The transporter consisted of a circular grid, large enough to have supported Lasker’s boat, and a control device, mounted several feet away on the wall.

April had been the source of his invitation to come in and watch. Brad had known her a long time. She held a doctorate in biochemistry and was a director for Colson Labs, the last time he’d looked. She’d been conscripted by Sioux Chairman James Walker to coordinate the off-world missions, and, as she put it, that had overwhelmed everything else in her life. April had been a guest on Grand Forks Live a couple of times. When she saw him come in, she excused herself and started in his direction.

April was an attractive young African-American, with her hair draped around her shoulders, animated features, scintillating eyes, and a persuasive manner. Brad had always suspected that, had she gone into sales instead of chemistry, she would have been wealthy by then. “Perfect timing, Brad,” she said. “We’ve got some people coming in any minute now.”

“Hi, April. Where are they now? Eden?”

“Yes. They’re all media types. After they get back, we’ll be sending out a team of scientists. Biologists and astronomers.”

“Have they figured out where the place is yet?”

“No. Maybe we’ll get lucky, and they’ll do it tonight.” She shook her head. “We know it’s pretty far.”

“I guess it would have to be.”

She laughed. And turned away. “It’s starting.” The front area, near the transport device, brightened though Brad could see no source for the light. “Anyway, glad to see you, Brad,” she said. “The show’s about to start.” She went back to the transporter and joined one of the Sioux, who seemed to be in charge of overseeing the recovery process. A wave of excitement swept through the crowd. A few people started moving closer to the stone grid. The security guards moved in to keep them at a distance.

A TV camera approached, and its lights went on. The illumination was directly over the grid. It expanded into a cloud, and Brad thought he could see something moving inside it. Everybody was leaning forward.

The light kept getting brighter. The cloud enveloped the grid. Then it stalled and simply floated there, so bright it was difficult to look at. And, finally, it began to fade.

It left someone standing on the grid. A young woman in a security uniform. “Welcome home, Andrea,” said April, as the cloud disappeared.

It was Andrea Hawk, who, like Brad, ran a call-in show when she wasn’t on duty at the Roundhouse. She got some applause, waved to the audience, and stepped quickly out of the way. Moments later, the light was back.

Another woman, this time in fatigues, wearing a knapsack and a hat that would have made Indiana Jones proud, emerged. “Aleen Rynsburger,” said a guy standing off to one side. Brad knew the name. She was a Washington Post columnist.

One by one they came back, seven reporters and one more security escort. All with wide-brimmed hats. He was relieved to see the process didn’t look like a big deal. The light comes on, and somebody steps out and waves to the audience. Nobody looked rattled. When it was over, sandwiches and soft drinks were brought out of a side room, they all shook hands, and there were cries of “my turn next.” Then the outgoing science group assembled. They also had a collection of wide-brimmed hats.

“They get a lot of sun over there,” April told him. “We’re only going to be a short time, unless something develops. It’s late afternoon now on Eden, so we’ll soon be able to see the night sky. They’ll take some pictures, and we’ll be back in a few hours. I’d invite you to join us, Brad, except that the chairman doesn’t like last-minute changes in the schedule.”

“It’s okay,” said Brad. “No problem.”

There would be a total of nine this time, including April and the two escorts. “We always send two,” she said.

“They’re going to Eden again, right?”

“Yes.”

“Is there anything dangerous over there, April?”

“Not that we’re aware of. But the Sioux are armed. And so are some of the scientists.” She put on her hat and pulled it down over her eyes.

“It looks good,” Brad said.

She added sunglasses. “See you later, champ.”

He settled back into one of several folding chairs. An escort, a young woman, stepped onto the grid. Somebody yelled, “Have a big time, Paula.”

Her family name was Francisco. Brad had seen her picture. She’d been a prominent figure on a couple of the missions. Another of the security people assumed a position at the control unit. He touched something, and lights came on. Brad was thinking how incredible it was that a machine put in place ten thousand years ago still worked. Still generated power.

A group of icons were visible inside the wall behind the grid.

Brad knew the routine, had seen it numerous times on television. You stood on the grid and pressed the wall in front of one of the icons. Or someone did it for you. A luminous cloud formed, and you gradually faded from view. And you arrived somewhere else. It was the story of the age.

He watched. The cloud appeared and enveloped Paula. Then it faded, and she was gone.

Some of those waiting to follow looked at each other with foreboding expressions. They, too, had known what was coming, but maybe being present while it happened was different from watching it on television. Next in line was an elderly guy with white hair. He started forward, but the security officer raised a hand and waved him back. Brad’s first thought was that something had gone wrong, but while the security officer watched, the luminous cloud returned. This time, when it dissolved, Paula was back. She delivered a thumbs-up, pointed to the guy at the control, and was sent once again on her way. Okay. So they do a test run first. That seemed like a good idea. He wondered what they would have done if Paula hadn’t come back.

The scientists stepped singly onto the grid and disappeared in the swirl of light. The last two to leave were April and the second security guy.

Brad took a deep breath. Spectacular show. But it was over.

He got out of his chair and remembered he’d intended to take pictures but had forgotten. He’d also planned to ask April back onto Grand Forks Live, but he’d forgotten that as well. He walked over to the security desk and said hello to Andrea.

She looked up from a report. “Hi, Brad. How you doing?”

He was tempted to ask her to come on the show, too. “I’m good, Andrea. Glad to see you again. It’s been awhile. How was Eden?”

“Spectacular, Brad. You should go. I’m sure we can set it up for you.”

“Yes, I’m looking forward to doing it when I can.”

“These are pretty good times for call-in shows, aren’t they? Everybody wants to talk about the Roundhouse.”

“I know. That and the invisible thing that’s been floating around in Fort Moxie scaring everybody.”

“I know. You think it’s connected to us?”

“Probably.” If she came over and did his show, his callers would notice how she was doing missions to Eden while Brad sat in his office. “Gotta go, kid. I’m running a little late.”

He left the Roundhouse and was immediately hit by a blast of cold air. The temperature in the parking lot was about ten below, actually fairly warm for North Dakota at this time of year. What kind of technology was able to keep the place warm after thousands of years? Whoever built the Roundhouse obviously knew what they were doing. Except that they’d lost their boat. He wondered if any of them had been casualties when that happened?

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7 thoughts on “Excerpt: THUNDERBIRD by Jack McDevitt (Ace Books)

  1. I would like to make a suggestion: Drop everything and start reading Jack McDevitt. You are in for such a treat!

    You should note that Thunderbird is actually the sequel to one of his earlier books, “Ancient Shores.” Readers would be well advised to read that one first.

    Liked by 1 person

    • I’m a bit surprised that I’ve not properly stumbled across his work before. I guess it’s because, after I became more interested in SFF, I think I always leaned more towards fantasy than science fiction? Or something. I picked up Ancient Shores already, so I’ll be able to read these two together.

      Like

  2. […] It’s a Stargate novel! Okay, not actually Stargate Stargate—but it’s about humanity discovering a mysterious gateway that leads to an unspoiled garden world. And soon, everybody on Earth is competing for control over this portal, while also trying to figure out what this miracle means for the future of humanity. Read an excerpt here. […]

    Like

  3. […] It’s a Stargate novel! Okay, not actually Stargate Stargate—but it’s about humanity discovering a mysterious gateway that leads to an unspoiled garden world. And soon, everybody on Earth is competing for control over this portal, while also trying to figure out what this miracle means for the future of humanity. Read an excerpt here. […]

    Like

  4. […] It’s a Stargate novel! Okay, not actually Stargate Stargate—but it’s about humanity discovering a mysterious gateway that leads to an unspoiled garden world. And soon, everybody on Earth is competing for control over this portal, while also trying to figure out what this miracle means for the future of humanity. Read an excerpt here. […]

    Like

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