David R. Palmer
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Candidia Maria Smith-Foster, an eleven-year-old girl, is unaware that she's a Homo post hominem, mankind's next evolutionary step. Hominems have higher IQs, they're stronger, faster, more resistant to illness and trauma, and have quicker reflexes. Their eyesight, hearing, and sense of smell are superior as well.
By the time the narrative opens, Candy has learned karate, having achieved her Fifth Degree Black Belt, from her neighbor, 73-year-old Soo Kim McDivot, who she is led to believe is merely a retired schoolteacher. McDivot, whom she calls "Teacher", is actually the discoverer of the H. post hominem species, and has identified and continues to mentor and lead a group of them, the AAs. As part of her karate training, she has learned to release her hysterical strength, which permits brief bursts of nearly superhuman activity.
With international relations rapidly deteriorating, Candy's father, publicly a small-town pathologist but actually a closet government biowarfare expert, is called to Washington. Candy remains at home.
The following day a worldwide attack, featuring a bionuclear plague, wipes out virtually all of H. sapiens. With Terry, her lifelong "retarded, adopted twin brother," a Hyacinthine macaw, who tends to "parrot" Candy's words even before she speaks, she rides out the attack in the shelter beneath their house. Emerging three months later, she learns of her genetic heritage and sets off to search for others of her kind.
First the hunt turns up "Adam," a cheeky, irrepressibly punning, multitalented 13-year-old boy, who immediately sets out to win Candy's heart; next, Rollo Jones, a middle-aged physician with a broad history of survival-in-the-wilds experience ranging from a stint in the Peace Corps to mountain climbing; and finally, Kim Mellon, an early-20s mom whose background is in computer engineering with Lisa, her six-year-old daughter. Rollo reveals himself as a sociopath, whom Candy is forced to kill defending Terry and herself. Adam, Kim, and Lisa join Candy's quest for the AA community. As part of the search, Adam reveals that he is an ultralight aircraft pilot. Later he teaches Candy to fly.
Thereafter, an ultralight engine failure separates Candy from the others. After getting it running again, she spots a contrail, which leads her to Vandenberg Space Shuttle Launch Complex, where Teacher and the AAs are laboring to preflight a shuttle, renamed the Nathan Hale. They've identified those who wiped out mankind, the Bratstvo, translated as the "Brotherhood," a cabal of H. sapiens, working from inside the Russian military to destroy all H. post hominems. As insurance, they've placed a doomsday device in geosynchronous orbit, a Strontium-90 bomb whose fallout will render Earth uninhabitable for 200 years.
At this point, however, the AAs' plans have come unstuck: They've modified the Hale to reach geosynch orbit, though it's a one-way, suicide voyage for the crew; but the miniature robot handler they've built to penetrate the bomb-carrying rocket and disarm the doomsday device isn't up to the task. Candy realizes, with her small size and hysterical strength training, she's the only one who can get inside the warhead chamber and disarm the bomb. Despite the fact that it's a suicide mission, she volunteers.
Meanwhile, as Adam, Kim, and Lisa search for Candy, Terry begins relaying her thoughts, though initially they don't realize that's what they're hearing.
Arriving in orbit, Kyril Svetlanov, thought to be a Bratstvo defector, kills Harris Gilbert, the mission commander. Kyril turns out to have been a double agent, whose job ultimately was to sabotage the mission, but he doesn't know about Candy's karate skills. She breaks his neck and assumes responsibility for completing the mission.
Navigating across to the bomb-carrying rocket in a spacesuit, she disables the warhead. Then she resets the navigational computer to land on the dry lake at Edwards Air Force Base and tries to secure herself against a bulkhead in preparation for the stresses of reentry.
As the missile begins to power-up for reentry, Adam finally realizes Terry is in fact relaying Candy's thoughts; that somehow she is in fact in space, about to attempt reentry in a non-human-rated vehicle, and that she'll soon be landing at Edwards. He, Kim, and Lisa arrive as the missile is touching down, just in time to extract her, resuscitate her, and treat her injuries.
The author has left a number of threads trailing at the conclusion, some of which are followed-up on 25 years later in a sequel Tracking, serialized in Analog Science and Fact magazine in the summer and fall of 2008.
details necessary to put Hale on hold for next three days; assumed belly-sunward attitude to keep heat off cargo bay fuel tank, opened bay doors . . . And finally had time to breathe. Shed EMUs with relief. Grouped around windows, admiring beauty of Earth Seen From Orbit, pointing out familiar landmarks. Chatted animatedly a while thereafter, rehashing launch, generally unwinding from intense concentration involved. Hard to say just when pendulum started back. But presently noticed three of us
own—balanced, efficient; painstakingly developed by generations of greatest Masters over centuries; weaknesses long since discovered, rooted out. Now learned penalty for tampering . . . . Conflicting responses held me immobile during fraction of second it took Kyril to glide out of reach, plunge weapon under Harris's left scapula. Commander went limp so quickly, doubt even felt it. Then managed scream: "Kyril—NO . . . !" Russian turned quickly, bloody knife still in hand; motion sent tiny
did best to adhere to sterile procedure.) Tore open first packet, containing prethreaded fine needle, suture (offered up silent thanks for modern medical technology as did so; would never make good stereotypical female—were own life at stake, couldn't thread needle in fewer than 20 tries). Picked up two hemostats. Stared down into wound. Took deep breath. Seized needle with finely-pointed jaw tips of right-hand hemostat. Commenced. Proved less difficult than feared. Following initial shock (as
"fluttering, fragile ingénue" of worst gothic romance would be embarrassed to take credit for my performance past couple hours. Ground teeth. Adam right. Again. Easily his most offensive habit. Except for zoos' immediate areas, chances of adversary encounter with escapee compares favorably with odds on lightning strike. Possible, yes. But for first few years—until get spread out, established, build up populations, risk factor simply doesn't justify going to lots of extra trouble. Yes, probably
using as pylon. Huge trunks separated by 12-15 feet. Barely. Slammed stick against left stop, then yanked back hard. Craft jerked upright on wingtip, warped violently into turn, structure trembling under gee loading. Skimmed inner tree so closely, wondered briefly why rudder tip didn't drag. Shot through slot like watermelon seed; then leveled, angling toward wider gap visible ahead. Considerably lower now, of course. Elementary aerodynamics: Only so much lift produced at given airspeed. Turn