It’s Terra Tuesday! The brilliant Terra by Mitch Benn is out now, so we’re sharing chapters three and four with you, and if you want a taster you can catch up on our first and second chapter extracts still. We also have some audio clips over on Soundcloud, including the time when Mitch Benn serenaded Gollancz at our annual sales conference, and you can see what our Geeks have been saying here. Enjoy!
This is going to be complicated, thought Lbbp as he studied the small pink wriggly creature in his arms.
Rrth – and anyone who might have been able to offer him any practical Ymn childcare advice – had already faded from the little spaceship’s screens. The ship was equipped to transport live specimens; its internal scanners had immediately gone to work analysing the Ymn infant’s anatomy and nutritional systems, and its automated chemical lab was now busily synthesising a gloopy yellowish liquid which, it had determined, would best sustain the little newcomer.
Very complicated, thought Lbbp. Very complicated indeed. Then the Ymn infant smiled up at Lbbp with such a trusting, innocent expression that Lbbp suddenly felt that maybe everything would be simple and easy after all. Then a sudden look of furious concentration passed across the little face, and, as a noxious smell drifted through the ship’s hitherto sterile internal atmosphere, Lbbp realised that everything had just become extremely complicated. He put it – or since the ship’s scanners had already determined the child to be female, rather he put HER – into a small clear tank he’d found under the console (it had been used to carry plant specimens back on his last visit; he’d been relieved to see that he’d remembered to clean it) and began rummaging through his ship’s first aid box for wiping and wrapping materials. Having found some sterilising cloths and bandages, he steeled himself, and set about unfastening the Ymn infant’s clothing.
Oh dear, thought Lbbp. Oh dear dear me.
The Ymn child smiled up at him. Lbbp held his breath and got on with the task at hand. He caught a glimpse of a readout on the forward wall of the spaceship giving an estimated time for the journey back to Fnrr, back to his home, back to the Preceptorate.
I’m going to have a lot of explaining to do, thought Lbbp.
– You have a lot of explaining to do, Postulator Lbbp.
The voice was that of Preceptor Shm, head of Hrrng Preceptorate. It echoed around the shining quartz walls of the Preceptorate’s main conference chamber, to which Lbbp had been rather ominously summoned.
His return had, at first, gone unnoticed. Everyone at the Preceptorate knew about Lbbp’s fondness for Rrth and its various lifeforms, so the news that he was coming back with a new live specimen didn’t raise much interest. It was only when – as was required – he brought the specimen to the Life Science Hub to have it catalogued and registered that alarm bells began ringing. Literally.
They weren’t bells so much as highpitched pinging sounds, but they did start almost as soon as Lbbp entered the building carrying the strange pink creature in his long thin arms. The first of Lbbp’s colleagues to notice the bundle thought it was a Fnrrn baby, which caused a small ripple of intrigue, as everyone knew Lbbp lived alone and had no children. (Fnrrns, like humans, come in male and female varieties and they get together to have children much as humans do. It’s actually quite a common way of doing things in the universe.)
It was only when they came to get a closer look at the infant – and perhaps ask where it had come from – that they noticed the pink skin, the wisps of hair, the curious protrusion in the middle of the face and those odd little flaps on the side of the head. Lbbp never found out which of his ‘friends’ had been first to press the alarm button (it was more of a paddle than a button, but it did the trick) but soon the usually serenely peaceful building was resounding to the highpitched pinging noise and the whooshing and clanking of metallic doors and crystal windows sealing shut. The Life Science Hub had quarantined itself.
Uniformed security guards, who had they been humans back on Earth would probably have been wearing black but were instead dressed all in orange (Fnrrns find orange a very intimidating colour, whereas black, being the colour of night, strikes them as restful and calming), appeared from all corners of the building and surrounded Lbbp and his bundle.
–She’s harmless! shouted Lbbp.
–What is? said one guard.
The thing he’s holding is, or so he says, said another. He called it a ‘she’.
–Doesn’t look like a she to me, said a third. Definitely an ‘it’.
-She’s a Ymn infant! She’s under my care! insisted Lbbp.
–Well, whatever it is, hand it over, said the biggest of the guards.
There was a pause.
Who to? asked Lbbp. None of the guards had attempted to take the baby, or even come close enough to try.
–You. Grab it, said the big guard to one of the others.
–YOU grab it, I’m not touching it, came the reply.
–Or me, said another. It might be bitey or stingy or some- thing.
The baby gurgled contentedly in Lbbp’s arms.
–We are not trained to handle dangerous alien specimens! pointed out the littlest of the guards.
–Or paid enough, observed the one next to him. The biggest guard decided to take charge.
–RIGHT, he said. You (pointing at Lbbp) come with us and bring that whatever-it-is with you. And the rest of you, get behind me if you’re scared.
Lbbp did as he was told, and so did the other guards, much to the biggest guard’s disgust.
After a brief and, Lbbp thought, unnecessarily rough medical examination which established that neither he nor the baby were carrying any dangerous contaminating agents, they were locked in a small waiting room while, Lbbp imagined, various authorities were informed and consulted as to what to do next.
Lbbp reached into his bag for a bottle of the gloopy yel low liquid. He fixed a small flexible nozzle over the cap and began to feed the baby.
We’re in trouble now, he said. I only wonder how much . . . The baby sucked away happily.