Colony High

by David Brin

Book One of the High HOrizon Series

High school junior Mark Bamford is skeptical when rumors fly about the California town of Twenty-Nine Palms… rumors of a kidnapped alien!  Only soon he and Alexandra Behr and their friends discover things are pretty weird in town and getting weirder by the moment. Soon they are involved in plots that range from inter-scholastic to international to interstellar. Their lives… and every student’s at TNP High… will never be the same.

Colony High

by David Brin

Book One of the High Horizon Series

High school junior Mark Bamford is skeptical when rumors fly about the California town of Twenty-Nine Palms… rumors of a kidnapped alien!  Only soon he and Alexandra Behr and their friends discover things are pretty weird in town and getting weirder by the moment. Soon they are involved in plots that range from inter-scholastic to international to interstellar. Their lives… and every student’s at TNP High… will never be the same.

About The Book

“Some Math Club nerds have got a real live alien! They’re hiding it in a basement rec room!”

High School junior Mark Bamford doesn’t believe the silly rumor. For one thing, here in the town of Twenty-Nine Palms? California homes don’t have basements! Besides….

A stranded alien? Seriously? Can we say c-l-i-c-h-é? Movie rip-off? Can’t the math geeks think up a better hoax?

But then… Why are black vans from the super-secret Cirrocco Corp cruising all over town, searching for something?

Mark and his pal Alexandra decide to do some investigating of their own. Only, where can they turn for help? The skateboarding “X” crowd? The varsity climbing team? It’s not like their social circle is an elite spy force!

Perhaps though… with home grown ingenuity… a little sleight of hand—okay, call it double-dealing, whatever….

The truth isn’t just ‘out there.’ It may be right next door.

Now available in full length for the first time – winner of the Hal Clement Award for YA fiction – comes the first book in a series about young humans confronting an age-old theme—that of strangers from beyond—giving it new shape, guided by the deft hand of one of science fiction’s modern masters.

Chapter 1

Rumors can take on a life of their own. Sometimes, they spread like a virus.

The latest bit of hearsay?

Some of the Math Club geeks have got their hands on a real live alien!

They’re keeping it hidden in a basement rec room, no less.

Mark had listened to some wild tales while growing up, wherever Dad happened to be stationed at the time. Just as soon as he could pick up some local dialect, Mark would foray to the nearest village or town and tap the gossip mill, fascinated by the bottomless human appetite for preposterous lies. From conspiracy theories murmured in a Lebanese bazaar to scandals about local pop stars, circulating through Manila alleys — the things people believed!

Still, it wasn’t till Dad got transferred back to Southern California that Mark realized — there’s no place better to breed wild stories than an American high school.

Especially Twenty-Nine Palms High, where the football team mascot, Spookie, wore a huge trench-coat, a floppy hat and big black eye-mask. Beyond all the nasty stories that kids typically spread about each other, and hearsay concerning the dating habits of certain teachers, there were always colorful rumors about what went on at the nearby airbase. Or within the top-secret, opaque walls of Cirocco Labs.

But this one — about the Math Club guys having an extraterrestrial of their very own?

Well – it beat all.

Not that Mark believed a word of it.

California homes don’t have basements, for one thing.

Besides. A captive alien?

Such a cliché. A stupid movie rip-off. Couldn’t the nerds come up with a better hoax? Crap, some of their parents worked at Cirocco. What good are brains if you can’t be original?

When some of his classmates said they were going over to see for themselves, after school, Mark begged off. He had other things in mind. Especially an hour later, staring down at the varsity soccer team —

— girls varsity, in blue shorts and yellow tops. They charged across the athletic field in formations as intricate as Dad’s squadron during inspection week … but a whole lot more alluring. The star forward, her tawny legs pumping, somehow made sweat and cutthroat ferocity seem, well —

“Bam?” A voice called to him from above. “Bamford, what are you doing?”

The words made him twitch, almost losing his precarious perch upon a stub of concrete, jutting from the wall. Mark dug in with three fingertips of his left hand while probing desperately for a ledge to set his right foot. His heartbeat jolted and spots danced before his eyes like flashing balls.

“Are you all right? Bam?”

“Ye — yeah,” he grunted, short of breath.

“Well stop staring at Helene Shockley and focus!”

“Not … staring …” he grunted, both irritated and embarrassed. “Slack … Gimme a lot.”

Some tension left the rope, easing pressure from the climbing harness on his thighs and groin, freeing him to lean and traverse, seeking a higher footing. This part of the wall was tricky, designed for competitions in a brand-new league. He would have to master it in order to make the team.

“More slack!” The rope still wasn’t loose enough for this reach.

“But …”

“Come on, Alex … I’m fighting the clock here. Slack!”

There was time to make up — precious seconds stupidly wasted during that blank stare at the soccer players. Damn hormones.

“Well, fine.” She sounded dubious. “But concentrate!”

The rope loosened still more. He bore down, focusing on the task at hand.

Relax, you’re in a California desert suburb. No lives are at stake … this time.

Unlike that cliff in Morocco, when his father had to stay with a critically injured aid worker, sending Mark cross-country for help. One steep shortcut shaved an hour off the round trip … and Dad later blistered his ears over taking the risk.

The lip of Mark’s left shoe found a crevice. Hardly more than a ripple in the wall. He tested it …

“That one’s iffy,” commented the voice overhead.

Be quiet. But he didn’t have breath to say it. Shifting his weight to the narrow ledge and feeling a sudden burn in his calf, he launched himself upward, reaching ambitiously past a safe hand-hold, grabbing at the last one before the top. For an instant he glimpsed Alex, scowling with concern, her cropped brown hair framed by blue desert sky.

This’ll show her I know what I’m —

His hand brushed the knob — the same instant that his shoe slipped. Mark clutched frantically, two fingers bearing all his weight as both legs dangled, desperately seeking a purchase, anything at all. Specks of rough concrete crumbled under the pressure. Pain lanced down his wrist and arm.

“Mark!”

He saw Alex try to reach for him, and suddenly remembered. I asked for slack. I hope not too much —

The knob seemed to tear away with deliberate malice — and the ground swung up. Mark glimpsed shouting figures below, scattering out of the way.

Almost too late, the autotensioner kicked in, yanking the safety line hard enough to empty his lungs, stopping his plummet just short of impact. Splayed with arms and legs flung apart, facing the sky like a crushed flower. Like road kill.

For some unmeasurable time he hung there, tasting acid, blinking away pain-dazzles and struggling to catch his breath till Alex popped the release, easing him down the rest of the way.

Those scattered figures returned, crowding around as Mark’s vision cleared — youths who were bigger, stronger and sweatier than most. Well, everyone agreed that the Climbing Wall stood too close to the Free Weights area.

The tallest body-builder leaned over, expressing false concern. “You okay there, Bamford? Want a pillow?”

Jeez. All I need right now is Scott Tepper, Mark thought.

And yet — there was no choice but to clasp the blond senior’s offered hand. Better to stand quickly, ignore the pain and try not to groan, even if that meant swaying for several heartbeats.

“You’re lucky Coach wasn’t here,” Scott continued, still looking down at Mark from half a head taller. “He’s already ticked off that they put this stupid climbing wall here.”

“Yeah,” growled Colin Gornet, nearly as towering as Scott but much heavier, pushing close and poking with a finger. But that wasn’t what made Mark recoil. The big lineman packed aroma.

“You could’ve killed somebody, Bamford! When Coach finds out, your ‘ascent team’ will be history.”

Brushing Gornet’s jabbing finger aside, Mark glanced at the nearest weight station. It lay at least three meters from the base of the wall. Plenty of room! He was about to argue the point when Scott Tepper raised a palm.

“No need for Coach to find out.” He interposed, keeping Colin’s persistent arm from poking again. A good thing, since Mark had had enough.

“But Scott, next time this moron falls …”

“There won’t be a next time. Will there, Bamford?”

Mark couldn’t think of anything to say. Though fuming inside, he knew it was a losing proposition to argue, or compete in any way with Scott Tepper, whose charm seemed to rise out of some infallible instinct. Coupled with good looks and serene confidence, it let Scott manipulate any teacher, win any school office, smooth-talk any girl.

So much confidence that he could offer generosity — at a price. You owe me, Bamford, said the look in Scott’s eyes.

Others were joining the crowd of onlookers, including members of the girls soccer team. Helene Shockley, tawny and gorgeous, slid up next to Tepper with a questioning smile.

Mark shook his head, eager to get out of there. “No, Scott. It won’t happen again.

 

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Cast of Characters

Mark Bamford, 17

Mark Bamford, 17

Mark is an average teenager, happiest when he’s challenging himself at extreme sports like rock climbing with his friends in the X-Crew. After living with his widower father at military bases around the world, Mark settled into Twenty Nine Palms High School in the California desert, moving easily among the jocks and nerds. When the high school suddenly finds itself on a new planet, Mark must choose: will he be the leader his friends think he is? Or will others grab power for themselves?
Scott Tepper, 17

Scott Tepper, 17

Student body president and varsity football team quarterback, Scott is the unofficial king of Twenty Nine Palms High School. When the entire school finds itself transported to another planet, his natural charm and endless ambition vault him to a position of real power. He quickly marshals his football teammates to establish his leadership and enforce his rules. His first target? Mark Bamford, whose popularity with the other students—and even Scott’s own girlfriend, Helene Shockley—is the biggest threat to his leadership.
Alexandra Behr, 15

Alexandra Behr, 15

Alexandra—or ‘Alex’—is equal parts athlete and nerd, at home in both the Junior Engineers and the extreme-sports X-Crew. One of Mark’s closest friends, she thinks the world of him… and also thinks he’s kinda cute. But Mark has his eyes on Helene Shockley, and that’s fine with Alex. She’s happy just climbing and doing science… until suddenly, those activities are no longer just about fun and good grades. On a hostile alien world, Alex soon learns, bold athleticism and a scientific mind can be the difference between survival and certain death.
Colin Gornett, 16

Colin Gornett, 16

The richest student at TNP High, Colin is Scott Tepper’s partner and pal. They were teammates on Earth, when Colin’s blocks kept Scott safe, then Scott appoints Colin head of the ‘Defense Patrol,’ consisting of the high school’s toughest boys selected to protect everyone else from the dangers of their new alien home. But that loyalty to Scott alone starts to fray when Colin starts getting an agenda all his own.

Helene Shockley, 17

Helene Shockley, 17

Scott’s unlikely girlfriend, Helene hails from an ultra-religious family. Her morals and values are challenged when faced with her boyfriend’s immoral and unethical behavior. She enters the new world on “Team Scott” – falling victim to peer pressure and gaslighting – but after she discovers she’s pregnant with Scott’s baby, her priorities shift to the safety and security of Colony High and her unborn child.

Barry Tang, 16

Barry Tang, 16

Barry is a tech whiz who is short-listed for a large STEM scholarship, but Barry isn’t your typical nerd. Barry makes nerd-dome look cool. His skills come in handy as he scavenges the school for useful tech to build machines that help them explore the new world, create power for survival and interpret the alien technology they discover. An unlikely hero, Barry discovers alien tech that could help them find their way home.

Dave McCarty, 17

Dave McCarty, 17

Forced to grow up before his time and accustomed to being responsible for himself back on Earth, Dave is thrilled to be trapped on another planet – free from the constraints of Earth and eager to explore the strange, new world. A loner who comes from a rough home life, Dave doesn’t seem to miss his former existence one bit.
Chuck Hewman, 38

Chuck Hewman, 38

Chuck was one of the military personnel at the school when the school was hurled across space. A rough and scary fellow, he turns out to be a compassionate man who advises the kids on survival techniques. After some episode twists, he becomes a father figure to Mark.

Principal Jeffers, 47

Principal Jeffers, 47

The de facto leader when the school is transported to the alien planet. Torn between protecting his former students and needing to let them grow up way before their time, the Principal does his best in the worst possible situation. At first everyone accepts his authority – he is a wise, charismatic educator who takes Mark’s advice on matters of survival.

WHAT IS COLONY HIGH?

Like any American high school, Colony High is populated with cliques – jocks, nerds, stoners, loners, geeks… But over time, these students transform: some into productive and reliable colonists, while others succumb to insanity or savagery. And a few grow…strange.

In addition to the teens, a variety of adults have been transported along with the school. Teachers, military personnel, small business owners, and surrounding neighbors all add to the complexity of this colony. With teens outnumbering adults by a significant margin, battles for control over the school ensue, even while the colonists struggle for water, food and survival.

The aliens who kidnapped and transported the school mysteriously disappear into the shadows, leaving the colonists to their own devices. Over the course of the series, however, we discover they have been observing the colonists – judging them. But for what purpose?

Luckily, Twentynine Palms High School is a state-of-the-art learning facility, equipped with small solar panels, a garden and science labs. The communications department has its own radio tower and broadcast booth. The engineering department has tools and tech to build drones and security devices. The colonists have the tools at their disposal to make a go of it, if they’re resourceful.

The planet is a vast foreign ecosystem, with a vibrant purple sky that illuminates a dense jungle with poisonous plants and carnivorous wildlife. Beyond the jungle lie rocky peaks and barren flatlands that play host to other colonies: circular communities, much like their own. Most are ghost towns: a chilling reminder of the odds against survival. Obviously these alien kidnappers have done it before! So what will the young humans do, if this planet has current owners who don’t appreciate new arrivals?

Back on earth, humanity has no reason to believe that the students and faculty of Twentynine Palms High School survived the blast that left a giant crater where the school once stood. A terrified Earth launches a global space defense effort to protect against future attacks, unaware this might be a trap.

Initially, the colonists’ goal is simply to survive: find food and water, protect themselves from dangers both known and unknown, and secure their community. Once their basic needs are met, their focus shifts to exploring the planet in an attempt to better understand why they were transported there – and that they aren’t alone. Eventually, the colonists discover technology that provides them hope to find their way home…and maybe become key to saving their homeworld.

THEMES

As the colonists adapt to their new environment, they challenge the values and beliefs from their former life: what will they continue to hold dear and what they are relieved to be free from? With the comforts and simplicity of childhood stripped away, each colonist confronts these issues differently in the face of extreme danger.

Over time, the community dwindles and splinters: some colonists band together, believing there is strength in numbers and embrace their individual contributions to society, while others simply can’t handle their new reality and perish. Competition over limited resources threatens to make foes of former friends, test loyalties, and pit students against adults.

This new planet is fraught with peril: carnivorous wildlife and poisonous plants lurk in the dense and dark jungle that surrounds the colony. Efforts to find potable water and edible food result in loss of life. But the alternatives – dehydration and starvation – constantly force them to embark on dangerous expeditions. The colonists must learn to adapt to survive – in ways they never could have imagined.

At one level, the series caters to the universal teen fantasy of liberation from parental and social control. Many kids fantasize they’d be leaders in a less constrained world. But above all, most teens have one deep, secret desire: to be taken seriously. To find out if they have what it takes.

About the author

David Brin is best-known for shining light — plausibly and entertainingly — on technology, society, and countless challenges confronting our rambunctious civilization. His best-selling novels include The Postman (filmed in 1997) plus explorations of our near-future in Earth and Existence. Other novels are translated into 25+ languages. His short stories explore vividly speculative ideas.

Brin’s nonfiction book The Transparent Society won the American Library Association’s Freedom of Speech Award for exploring 21st Century concerns about security, secrecy, accountability and privacy.

As a scientist, tech-consultant and world-known author, he speaks, advises, and writes widely on topics from national defense and homeland security to astronomy and space exploration, SETI and nanotechnology, future/prediction, creativity, and philanthropy. Urban Developer Magazine named him one of four World’s Best Futurists, and he was appraised as “#1 influencer” in Onalytica’s Top 100 report of Artificial Intelligence influencers, brands

And not far in the future will come…

NEW MOJAVE

High Horizon Book #2

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