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In deep, glowing caves under the ice of Antarctica, the small people of the new city of Atlantis are worried by strange noises and harpoon heads coming from the dark of Outside, where only the terrible Giants can live.
Then Mungith, a boy on his test to become Adult, is trapped and hurt in the coal mines - with a Giant.
Mother raised her hands theatrically. “Well. What can a poor woman do, when her own children ignore her wishes, disregard her advice, destroy her hopes?”
Shaking her head, she turned to look at Chooker.
Chooker’s heart seemed to lurch inside her. It couldn’t be true!
“So now you, my youngest daughter. I turn to you. You will not forsake me, I know.”
Yes, it was true! Chooker gasped for breath. She was being chosen as First Daughter, Mother’s heir, in Prentastal’s place, to be next Point House Mother!
“You’re bright, and you work hard when you put your mind to it. You’re a slight Senser - a House doesn’t like a lot, but a little is a real asset for a Mother. You can keep secrets - yes, I know how often you covered for that rascal Mungith! You’ll do very well.”
Chooker finally managed to draw a breath. “But what about Motoral?”
Her Mother sniffed. “Don’t be a fool, or I’ll think I’ve chosen wrongly again! Your older sister is not fit to be a Family Mother. Not even of a Roof Family!”
Prentastal was nodding. “I know she’s a Hunter already, Chooker, but even if her temper was less explosive, she cares for absolutely nothing except her hunting cats.“
Mother sniffed. “Motor is thinking of asking Cat House to adopt her, anyway. No. We need a definite heir. Now.” She and Prentastal nodded grimly to each other. Again, Chooker got the drift of a thought; Especially just now...
“It’s you, my sweet little cockle. You’re the only one!” Prentastal suddenly picked Chooker up, hugging her fiercely. “And I wish you all the luck in the world!”
On a rack of carved sharkbone at the side of the room hung the gorgeous copper and jet ceremonial jewellery of Point Mother, the crown with its high peak at the back and the deep-fringed ear-chain, the foot-wide anklets, bracelets and necklace. Below hung the First Daughter’s pendant, which Prentastal had left there for safety when she joined the Hunters’ Halls.
With formality, Mother took it down. “My First Daughter Chooker, wear this with honour and good sense, and my crown after it.” She settled the chain on Chooker’s neck, so that the glittering copper and jet chevron hung on her chest.
“Congratulations, Chook,” Prentastal said, smiling.
“But - but -” Overwhelmed, Chooker couldn’t think, couldn’t move, couldn’t breathe.
“But nothing!” Mother said firmly. “Unless you’re going to argue, too! No? Then be quiet. There are serious matters that the First Daughter needs to know about.”
“Yes, Mother.” It was always safe to say that. Stunned, Chooker sank onto the stool that Mother pointed to - a padded stool, not a plain one, because of her new rank. She couldn’t help touching the pendant. It meant so much - it meant -
She jumped as Mother snapped, “Pay attention, Chooker!”
From a shelf, Mother took down a long, pointed metal object. “Look at that. What do you think of it?”
Chooker took it gingerly. “It’s a spear-head, isn’t it?"
Prentastal nodded. "That’s right. But it’s not ours. I brought it up to check with Distom and the Smiths. It was stuck in the side of a shark that we killed two sixtytides ago. The edge never seems to get nicked or blunted, better than our best bronze. We've found three others like it. For three cycles we’ve been finding stuff in sharks and whales and seals - harpoon heads and little balls, deep in the flesh. And lately, in their stomachs, there have been bits of net and rope you just can't break, and bottles and things we don’t understand, in stuff like hardset gel, but not quite the same.”
Chooker sensed what her sister meant. “You think it came from Outside? But nobody can live there! Nobody could survive Outside, in the cold and white and black, right under the eye of Rassiyyak!”
Prentastal shook her head. “Apparently somebody does. Or some thing.”