Linesman (A Linesman Novel)

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9780425279526: Linesman (A Linesman Novel)

First in a brand new thought-provoking science fiction series.

The lines. No ship can traverse the void without them. Only linesmen can work with them. But only Ean Lambert hears their song. And everyone thinks he’s crazy...

Most slum kids never go far, certainly not becoming a level-ten linesman like Ean. Even if he’s part of a small, and unethical, cartel, and the other linesmen disdain his self-taught methods, he’s certified and working.

Then a mysterious alien ship is discovered at the edges of the galaxy. Each of the major galactic powers is desperate to be the first to uncover the ship’s secrets, but all they’ve learned is that it has the familiar lines of energy—and a defense system that, once triggered, annihilates everything in a 200 kilometer radius.

The vessel threatens any linesman who dares to approach it, except Ean. His unique talents may be the key to understanding this alarming new force—and reconfiguring the relationship between humans and the ships that serve them, forever.

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About the Author:

S.K. Dunstall is the author of Linesman.

Excerpt. © Reprinted by permission. All rights reserved.:

ACKNOWLEDGMENTS

LINESMEN’S GUILD—LIST OF LINES AND THEIR PURPOSES

ONE

EAN LAMBERT

THE SHIP WAS in bad shape. It was a miracle it had come through the void at all, let alone come through in one piece. Ean patted the chassis that housed the lines. “You did good, girl,” he whispered. “I know that, even if no one else does.”

It seemed to him that the ship responded to his touch, or maybe to the feel of his brain syncing with hers.

The crewman who showed him the lines was nervous but polite. “We’ve waited two months for this work,” he said. “Glad they’ve finally brought someone back.” He hesitated, then asked the inevitable question in a rush. “So what’s it like? The confluence?”

Ean considered lying but decided on the truth. “Don’t know. I haven’t been out there.”

“Oh. But I thought—”

So did everyone else. “Someone has to service the higher lines,” Ean said.

“Oh. Of course.” But the crewman wasn’t as awed by him after that and left abruptly once he had shown him the lines.

Ean supposed he should be used to it by now. But everyone knew the “real” tens—and the nines—were out at the confluence, trying to work out what the immense circle of power was and how it worked. Not that anyone seemed to have come up with an answer yet—and they’d had six months to investigate it.

When the confluence had first been discovered, the media had been full of speculation about what it was. Some said it was a ball of matter that exuded energy on the same wavelength as that of the lines, while others said it was a piece of void space intruding into real space. Some even said it was the original source of the lines.

Six months later, with the Alliance and Gate Union/Redmond on the brink of war, media speculation had changed. It was a weapon designed by the Alliance to destroy all linesmen. It was a weapon designed by Gate Union, in conjunction with the linesmen, to destroy the Alliance. New speculation said it was an experiment of Redmond’s gone wrong. They were known to experiment with the lines.

Ean had no idea what it was, but he was sure he could find out—if only Rigel would send him out to the confluence to work, like the other nines and tens.

He was a ten, Ean reminded himself. Certified by the Grand Master himself. As good as any other ten. He sighed and turned to his job.

He worked forty hours straight, stopping only for the meals the crew brought him at four-hour intervals, immersed in the fields, straightening the tangled lines. Creating his own line of the same frequency, calling the fragments into his line, much like a weak magnet might draw iron filings. It was delicate work, and he had to concentrate. He was glad of that. He had no time to think about how he was the only ten left in the cartels available to do work like this because all the other cartel masters had sent their nines and tens out to the confluence.

He sang as he worked. The deep, sonorous songs of the void—line nine. The chatter of the mechanics—lines two and three. The fast, rhythmic on-off state of the gravity controller—line four. And the heavy strength of the Bose engines that powered it through the void—line six. He didn’t sing line one. That was the crew line, and this wasn’t a happy ship.

“I’ve never heard of a linesman who sang before,” said the crewman who brought him his third meal.

Neither had Ean. But then, most linesmen would never have described the lines as song either. He’d tried to explain it once, to his trainers.

“It’s like the lines are out of tune but they don’t know how to fix themselves. Sometimes they don’t even realize they are out of tune. To fix them I sing the right note, and they try to match it, and we keep trying until we match.”

His trainers had looked at each other as if wondering what they had gotten themselves into. Or maybe wondering if Ean was sane.

“It’s because you taught yourself for so long,” one particularly antagonistic trainer had told him. “Lines are energy, pure and simple. You manipulate that energy with your mind. You need to get that music nonsense out of your head,” and he’d muttered to another trainer about how desperate the cartel master was to be bringing slum dogs into the system.

Ean had never mentioned the music again. Or the fact that lines had to be more than just energy. As for the thought that lines might have emotions, he’d never mentioned that idea at all. He’d known instinctively that idea wouldn’t go down well. The trainers would probably have refused to train him.

His throat was raw. He drank the tea provided in one grateful gulp. “Do you think I could get some more tea?”

“At the rate you drank that one, you’re going to need it.” The crewman went off.

Ean went back to his work.

By the time he was done, the lines were straight and glowing. Except line one, which was straight but not glowing, but you couldn’t change a bad crew.

He patted the ship’s control chassis one final time. “All better now.” His old trainers would have said he was crazy to imagine that the ship responded with a yes.

He didn’t realize how tired he was until he tried to stand up after he’d finished and fell flat on his face.

“Linesman’s down,” someone shouted, and five people came running. Even the ship hummed a note of concern. Or did he imagine that?

“I’m fine.” His voice was a thread. “Just tired. I need a drink.”

They took that literally and came back with some rim whiskey that burned as it went down.

It went straight to his head. His body, so long attuned to the ship, seemed to vibrate on each of the ten ship lines, which he could still feel. This time when he stood up, it was the alcohol that made him unsteady on his feet.

“I’m fine,” he said, waving away another drink. “Ship’s fine, too,” slurring his words. He gave the chassis one last pat, then weaved his way down the corridor to the shuttle bays.

Of the quick muttered discussion behind him, all he heard was, “Typical linesman.”

The music of the ship vibrated in him long after the shuttle had pulled away.

·   ·   ·

BACK on planet, they had to wait for a dock.

“Some VIP visiting,” the pilot said. “They’ve been hogging the landing bays all shift.”

The commercial centers on Ashery were on the southern continent. There was little here in the north to attract VIPs. Ean couldn’t imagine what one would even come here for. Maybe it was a VIP with a cause, come to demand the closure of the Big North—an open-cut mine that was at last report 3,000 kilometers long, 750 kilometers wide, and 3 kilometers deep. Every ten years or so, a protest group tried to close it down.

Ean didn’t mind. He sat in the comfortable seat behind the pilot and dozed, too tired to stay awake and enjoy the luxury of a shuttle he’d probably never see the likes of again. He’d bet Rigel hadn’t ordered this shuttle. He fell properly asleep to sound of the autobot offering him his choice of aged Grenache or distilled Yaolin whiskey. Or maybe a chilled Lancian wine?

He woke to the pilot yelling into the comms.

“You can’t send us to the secondary yards. I’ve a level-ten linesman on board, for goodness’ sake.”

Ean heard the reply as the song of line five—the comms line—rather than the voice that came out of the speakers.

That was another thing his trainers had said was impossible. He might as well have claimed the electricity that powered the ship was communicating with him. But humans were energy, too, when you got down to the atomic level. If humans could communicate, why couldn’t the lines?

“I don’t mind the secondary yards,” Ean said. It would cut two kilometers off his trip home.

The pilot didn’t listen.

“Level ten I said,” and five minutes later, they landed, taxiing up to the northernmost of the primary bays, which was also the farthest from where Ean needed to go,

Ean collected his kit, which he hadn’t used, thanked the pilot, and stepped out of the shuttle into more activity than he’d seen in the whole ten years he’d been on Ashery.

The landing staff didn’t notice him. Despite the fact he was wearing a cartel uniform. Despite the ten bars across the top of his pocket. They knew him as one of Rigel’s and looked past him and waited for a “real” linesman to come out behind him.

Ean sighed and placed his bag on the scanner. He was a ten. Certified by the Grand Master himself. He was as good as the other tens.

He’d been through customs so often in the past six months, he knew all the staff by first name. Today it was Kimi, who waved him through without even checking him.

God, but he was tired. He was going to sleep for a week. He thought about walking to the cartel house—which was what he normally did—but it was four kilometers from the primary landing site, and he wasn’t sure he would make it.

Unfortunately, it was still a kilometer to the nearest public cart. A pity the pilot hadn’t landed them in the secondary field, where the cart tracks ran right past the entrance.

The landing hall was full of well-dressed people with piles of luggage: all trying to get the attention of staff; all of them ignoring the polished monkwood floor, harder than the hardest stone; all of them ignoring the ten-story sculpture of the first settlers for which the spaceport was famous. At least the luxury shops along the concourse were doing booming business.

Ean accidentally staggered into one of the well-dressed people. Rigel would probably fine him for bumping into a VIP. The man turned, ready to blast him, saw the bars on his shirt, and apologized instead.

These weren’t VIPs at all, just their staff.

Ean waved away the man’s apology and continued weaving his way through the crowd. It seemed ages before the lush opulence of the primary landing halls gave way to the metal gray walls he was used to and another age before he was finally in the queue for the carts.

It was a relief to get into the cart.

Two young apprentices got on at the next stop. Rigel’s people, of course. Who else would catch the cart this way? Their uniforms were new and freshly starched. They looked with trepidation at his sweat-stained greens and silently counted the bars on his shirt, after which they pressed farther back into their seats.

He’d been in their place once.

Four gaudily dressed linesmen got on at the stop after that. They were all sevens. Excepting himself, they were the highest-ranking linesmen Rigel owned. For a moment, Ean resented that they could take time off when he never seemed to do anything but work.

But that was the whole point of Rigel’s keeping him here, wasn’t it. Rigel’s cartel may have had the lowest standing, and Rigel’s business ethics were sometimes dubious, but he was raking in big credits now. The other cartel masters had sent their nines and tens out to the confluence. Rigel, who only had one ten—Ean—had kept him back and could now ask any price he wanted of the shipmasters who needed the services of a top-grade linesman.

“Phwawh,” one of the new arrivals said. “You stink, Ean.”

“Working.” Ean’s voice was still just a thread.

“Rigel’s going to have words.”

“Let him.” He’d probably dock his pay, too, but Ean didn’t care.

“And you’ve been drinking.”

Ean just closed his eyes.

Cartel Master Rigel was big on appearances. His linesmen might have been ordinary, but they were always impeccably turned out, extremely well-spoken, and could comport themselves with heads of government and business. For a boy from the slums of Lancia, those standards were important.

The conversation washed over him. First, what they’d done on their night out; later it turned to the lines. Conversation always turned to the lines eventually when linesmen were talking.

“I went in to fix line five at Bickleigh Company,” one of them said now.

Everyone groaned.

Kaelea, one of the other sevens, said, “I don’t know why they don’t get their own five under contract. We’re in there so often, it would cost around the same.”

“They tried that. Twice. The second time they even got a five from Sandhurst.”

Sandhurst was the biggest line cartel. Over the past ten years, they had aggressively purchased the contracts of other high-level linesmen until now they had a third of all the nines and tens. Ean occasionally fantasized that one day the Sandhurst cartel master would see his work and offer Rigel a huge amount for his contract, too.

As if that was ever going to happen.

“I’ve been in there three times,” Kaelea said. “You push and you push, and just when you think you have it right, it pops out of true again.”

Sometimes Ean thought they were talking a different language to him. They used words like push and force when they spoke about moving the lines into place. He’d never pushed a line in his life. He wouldn’t know how to.

His trainers had talked in terms of pushing and pulling, too.

“Push with your mind,” the particularly antagonistic one had told him. “You do have a mind, don’t you?” and he’d muttered to the other trainer that it was doubtful.

The first six months of his apprenticeship, Ean had wondered if he’d ever become a linesman. Until he’d learned that when they told him to push, they actually meant they wanted the line straight. He could sing the lines straight.

“It’s probably a manifestation of your being self-taught,” the not-so-antagonistic trainer had told him. “You push as you sing, and that bad habit is so entrenched now, you can’t do it without singing.”

Ean had never been able to break the habit.

He could feel the two apprentices in the corner listening as the linesmen talked. One of them was strong on line five, the other on line eight. Rigel didn’t normally get anyone above a seven. Ean opened his eyes, but he couldn’t see which one it was.

The trainers had told him you couldn’t tell what line a linesman would be without testing, but sometimes Ean could hear the lines in them. The trainers had told him it was because he’d learned bad habits by not being trained in childhood, and that of course he could tell what someone was because he’d already seen the number of bars they wore. Ean didn’t care. He would bet that Rigel had just got himself an eight. How long he would keep him—or her—was another question altogether. A higher cartel would poach him.

The conversation turned to the confluence. One of the sevens—Kaelea—had been out there to service the Bose engines, “Because the nines and tens couldn’t do it, of course. They’re too busy,” and Ean hadn’t needed his eyes open to see the roll of eyes that accompanied that. “It’s . . . I don’t know. It’s huge, and it’s . . . you can feel the lines, but you don’t know what they are, and—”

He could hear the awe in her voice. But he couldn’t tell what the lines were. Sometimes he could pick the level from the linesman’s voice when they talked about the line. He hadn’t mentioned that particular talent to the trainers either. They wouldn’t have believed him, or they would have said it was another bad-training defect.

Kaelea had said “lines” rather than “line,” which meant there was m...

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S K Dunstall
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Descrizione libro Penguin Putnam Inc, United States, 2015. Paperback. Condizione libro: New. Language: English . Brand New Book. First in a brand new thought-provoking science fiction series. The lines. No ship can traverse the void without them. Only linesmen can work with them. But only Ean Lambert hears their song. And everyone thinks he s crazy. Most slum kids never go far, certainly not becoming a level-ten linesman like Ean. Even if he s part of a small, and unethical, cartel, and the other linesmen disdain his self-taught methods, he s certified and working. Then a mysterious alien ship is discovered at the edges of the galaxy. Each of the major galactic powers is desperate to be the first to uncover the ship s secrets, but all they ve learned is that it has the familiar lines of energy--and a defense system that, once triggered, annihilates everything in a 200 kilometer radius. The vessel threatens any linesman who dares to approach it, except Ean. His unique talents may be the key to understanding this alarming new force--and reconfiguring the relationship between humans and the ships that serve them, forever. Codice libro della libreria ABZ9780425279526

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Descrizione libro Penguin Putnam Inc, United States, 2015. Paperback. Condizione libro: New. Language: English . Brand New Book. First in a brand new thought-provoking science fiction series. The lines. No ship can traverse the void without them. Only linesmen can work with them. But only Ean Lambert hears their song. And everyone thinks he s crazy. Most slum kids never go far, certainly not becoming a level-ten linesman like Ean. Even if he s part of a small, and unethical, cartel, and the other linesmen disdain his self-taught methods, he s certified and working. Then a mysterious alien ship is discovered at the edges of the galaxy. Each of the major galactic powers is desperate to be the first to uncover the ship s secrets, but all they ve learned is that it has the familiar lines of energy--and a defense system that, once triggered, annihilates everything in a 200 kilometer radius. The vessel threatens any linesman who dares to approach it, except Ean. His unique talents may be the key to understanding this alarming new force--and reconfiguring the relationship between humans and the ships that serve them, forever. Codice libro della libreria ABZ9780425279526

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