Table of Contents
Books by Allen M. Steele
THE JERICHO ITERATION OCEANSPACE
THE TRANQUILLITY ALTERNATIVE CHRONOSPACE
CLARKE COUNTY, SPACE
LABYRINTH OF NIGHT A KING OF INFINITE SPACE
ALL-AMERICAN ALIEN BOY
SEX AND VIOLENCE IN ZERO-G: THE COMPLETE “NEAR SPACE” STORIES
THE LAST SCIENCE FICTION WRITER
PRIMARY IGNITION: ESSAYS 1997-2001
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This is a work of fiction. Names, characters, places, and incidents either are the product of the author’s imagination or are used fictitiously, and any resemblance to actual persons, living or dead, business establishments, events, or locales is entirely coincidental. The publisher does not have any control over and does not assume any responsibility for author or third-party websites or their content.
Copyright © 2010 by Allen M. Steele.
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Library of Congress Cataloging-in-Publication Data
Steele, Allen M.
eISBN : 978-1-101-18566-7
1. Space colonies—Fiction. 2. Interplanetary voyages—Fiction. 3. Terrorists—Fiction. I. Title.
For Horace “Ace” Marchant
Jorge Montero II, Lt.—officer, Coyote Federation Corps of Exploration
Susan Montero—naturalist, University of New Florida; Jorge’s mother
Jonathan Parson, Col.—chief of staff, Corps of Exploration; Jorge’s father
Wendy Gunther—former president, Coyote Federation; Jorge’s grandmother
Hawk Thompson (a.k.a. the
Melissa Sanchez—member, Order of the Eye; Hawk’s partner
Inez Sanchez, Corp. (a.k.a. Inez Torres)—member, Corps of Exploration; Hawk’s daughter
Sawyer Lee, Gen.—commanding officer, Corps of Exploration
Greg Dillon, Sgt.—member, Corps of Exploration
Hugh McAlister, Capt.—pilot, CFS
Charles Edgar—president, Coyote Federation
Chris Levin—former chief proctor, Liberty
Tomas Conseco—Wendy Gunther’s aide
Manuel Castro—Savant; Coyote Federation diplomatic liaison
Sergio Vargas—pilot, WHS
The Legend of Simon Bolivar
Jake Turner—stockyard employee
Kyle Olson—stockyard owner
Gary Smith—Olson’s crony
Roland Black—commander, First Massachusetts Regiment, Provisional
Army of the United Republic of America
Sam, Ted, Morse—Boston residents
Gerald Copperfield—mayor of Manuelito
Emma Stanley—chief proctor, Manuelito
Amy Atkins—lighthouse keeper
Erin Atkins—Amy’s daughter
Jasahajahd Taf Sa-Fhadda—
First Speaker of the Talus High Council
Great Teacher of
THE LEGEND OF SIMON BOLIVAR
JULY 14, 2352
From eighty kilometers, Starbridge Earth was a small silver ring floating at its Lagrange point near the Moon, its surface reflecting the light of the distant sun. A portal to the galaxy, it seemed as if it were impatiently waiting for the stars to wake up and take notice.
“Does anyone know what’s going on?” Seated on the left side of the
’s narrow cockpit, Captain Sergio Vargas listened to his headset as he studied the starbridge through the wraparound windows. Less than a minute ago, the ring had been filled by the coruscating flash of multispectral light, an indication that the wormhole had opened. Sergio was expecting to see a ship emerge from the ring. Instead, the wormhole had abruptly collapsed, without a vessel coming through.
Although the traffic controller aboard the nearby gatehouse remained calm, Vargas could make out other voices in the background; it wasn’t hard to tell that they were as confused as he was.
“Stand by, please. We’re still assessing the situation.”
“We copy, Trafco.
standing by.” Vargas tapped the mike wand to silence it, then looked over at his copilot. “Any ideas?”
“Haven’t a clue.” Dominic Treece was busy at his console, making sure that the freighter was keeping station.
The Legend of Simon Bolivar
was scheduled to be the next ship to go through the starbridge. Two other vessels were also in a holding pattern, each 160 kilometers apart from the others; if the
slipped out of position, the gatehouse controller would move the other ships to the front of the line. The delay would only be a few hours, but Sergio was acutely aware of the thirty-four refugees crammed into a passenger module within the freighter’s hold. Most of them had never been in space before; his cargo master had already reported that many had become ill and that the module was reeking of vomit.
“It’s probably nothing.” Even as he said this, though, Vargas couldn’t shake the premonition that something had gone seriously wrong. This would be the third time he’d taken the
through the starbridge, and usually everything went like clockwork. Once
’s AI was slaved to its counterpart aboard the gatehouse, the matter was out of his hands; the quantum comps would do the rest, automatically maneuvering the freighter until it reached the starbridge, then waiting until the precise moment when the wormhole opened and the ship would be launched through the event horizon for the harrowing, five-second jaunt to 47 Ursae Majoris.
With something as delicate as this, nothing was left to chance. Which was why AIs performed the fiendishly complex calculations; humans simply couldn’t be trusted to complete a task that had such a low threshold for error. As a result, in the hundreds of times ships had gone through the starbridges since they’d been built, never once had there been an abort, let alone a major accident.
“Something’s wrong.” Treece glanced across the center console at his captain. “Maybe they don’t know either, or maybe they’re not telling us, but . . .”
, do you read?”
“Hold on.” Vargas held up a hand, admonishing Dom to be quiet, then cracked his mike again. “
here. What’s going on?”
“We have . . .”
A moment’s pause, just long enough for Vargas and Treece to share a glance.
“There’s been a major malfunction on the other side of the interface. We don’t yet know the exact cause, but there appears to have been an explosion aboard the inbound vessel.”
Vargas felt his heart skip a bit. “Please repeat, gatehouse. Did you say there was an explosion aboard the other ship?”
Another pause. When the traffic controller spoke again, there was a tremor in his voice that Sergio had never heard before.
. Last communication received from Starbridge Coyote stated that there was an explosion aboard the
just as it was crossing the event horizon.”
Before Vargas could respond, Treece tapped his own mike. “Gatehouse, please say again . . . do you mean the
Robert E. Lee
It was a minor breach of protocol for the copilot to address Trafco without his captain’s permission, but at the moment no one was about to make an issue of it.
“Affirmative. The inbound ship was the
The fact that controller referred to the
in the past tense wasn’t lost on either man. Vargas and Treece stared at each other, neither of them able to speak. The CFSS
Robert E. Lee
wasn’t just the flagship of the Coyote Federation’s fledgling navy; it was also one of the largest starships in existence, rivaled only by its sister vessel, the EASS
. Its commanding officer, Anastasia Tereshkova, was almost a legend among spacers. Not only that, but there was no telling how many crewmen and passengers were aboard. Dozens, perhaps as many as a hundred . . .
“Christ preserve them,” Treece murmured under his breath, his right hand forming a crucifix across his shoulders and chest.
Vargas wasn’t a practicing Catholic, but he was also tempted to cross himself. “Do we have confirmation of this, gatehouse?” he asked.
“Negative. We have received no further word from either Starbridge Coyote or the
. All communications have been cut off at the source.”
“Please remain online. The CO would like to speak with you.”
Treece turned to him as Vargas muted the comlink. “‘Cut off at the source’? What does that mean?”
“I’m afraid to know.” The pilot felt something clutch at the pit of his stomach. Although the wormhole was periodically expanded wide enough for ships to pass through, it never completely closed. Instead, a tiny gap into hyperspace, no more than a few millimeters in diameter, was constantly kept open, thereby allowing a steady stream of laser pulses to be sent back and forth between the small space stations that served as gatehouses for the starbridges. In this way, near-instant communications between Earth and Coyote was continually maintained.