Authors: Michael P. Kube-McDowell
Tags: #Science Fiction
Book 2 of the Trigon Disunity
Michael P. Kube-McDowell
former roommates and abiding friends.And for Janie,
who gives me more than she knows.
The song “Give My Children Wings” by Kathy Mar
is copyright © 1983 by Off-Centaur Publications,
P.O. Box 424, El Cerrito, CA 94530, and is excerpted
by permission of the composer/artist.
Radiation mutates not only organisms but societies. The heat of fire both raised cities and razed them. The electromagnetic waves from Edison’s lamps reshaped the cultural shoreline on which they broke. And it was with a halo of radiation that the unmanned Journan museum starship
first made its presence known to Earth.
As is well known now, but was not widely known then,
’s pyrotechnic fall into solar orbit in the year A.R. 35 was not the Journans’ first contact with mankind. That honor went to the crude Pangaean starship
Pride of Earth
, which had intercepted
in deep space some eighteen years earlier. And it was
Pride of Earth
’s crew, of course, which first learned the stunning, inexplicable fact that Journans and humans were common genetic stock: twins somehow separated after birth.
It is difficult now to realize what a shock that discovery was. When humankind took its first tentative steps into the interstellar expanses, we were emotionally and philosophically ready for nearly anything, except our own children. But that, of course, was what we found.
Instead of carrying or even relaying that revelation back to its home world,
Pride of Earth
pursued the mystery to its source, ending its days in orbit around Journa. Inevitably, just as Leif Eiriksson’s achievements in reaching the New World have been forever subordinated to those of Cristoforo Colombo, it was
which impressed upon the masses the realization that the cold infinity of the Galaxy harbored life. That that life was human turned out, oddly, to be more comforting than discomfiting.
To be sure, many historians and scientists were badly injured by collapsing paradigms. But the average citizen replaced his mental image of a dead, hostile Universe with an equally false image of worlds teeming with humanity—and went blithely about his business. The First Colonization and the Forefathers who carried it out were given an affectionate, semireligious niche in the cultural mythology, and then largely dismissed from thought. Species chauvinism meant that a colony on Jouma demanded fewer mental adjustments than a truly alien civilization would have required.
None of this was self-evident in the wake of
’s spectacular arrival. It was a number of years before World Council analysts felt secure enough to advise their employers that the only lasting change
had wrought was the emergence of the Universal Creation Church, a relatively benign successor to Cooke’s activist Church of the Second Coming. Convinced that its grasp of (and grip on) the sociodynamics of the single global culture it was creating was complete, the Council breathed a sigh of relief and went about maintaining the prosperity that had purchased a lasting peace.
had another lasting impact, one not immediately obvious: It changed the course and objectives of the Unified Space Service.
The USS had been established in the original Articles of Union as an operationally independent but financially dependent arm of the World Council, and for a time had seemed content in that role. But after
, the USS set about parlaying its monopoly on space travel into economic self-sufficiency. By the end of its first century, the USS relied on Earth for only one resource: people. And as the Reunion Day sesquicentennial approached, the Service was fast becoming the tail that wagged Earth’s dog.
By then, the Transport branch was operating two dozen packets, a score of mining ships and bulk freighters, a fleet of heavy-lift shuttles, and an assortment of smaller craft. At any given instant, the space tracking centers were keeping an electronic eye on the movements of perhaps a hundred ships scattered between the orbits of Venus and the asteroids.
At the same time, the Resource division’s sunsats were providing a third of the electricity used on the planet. The USS comsats handled virtually all electronic communications traveling more than 100 kilometers. A tenth of the metal used in earthly consumer goods originated in asteroidal ores. Eighty-five families of industrial chemicals were manufactured pollution-free by the robot platforms associated with Unity, the Service’s largest space station. The bulk of those chemicals were purchased by the various manufacturing concerns which leased space on USS-Resource’s five production centers, each nearly as large as Unity herself.
All this benefited Earth, but none of it was undertaken for that reason alone. Because of the success of Transport and Resource, the Service could independently support a program of deep-space exploration far exceeding what the Council would have been willing to finance. Though the Survey branch operated only a handful of capital ships, each was larger than all save the newest freighters and faster than all save the newest propulsion research prototypes. They were the vessels to which belonged the glamour, the mystery, and, in time, the Galaxy.
Throughout this period, the Council remained strangely blind to the importance of these developments. There was no doubt in their minds that they were that era’s history-makers, that universal education and the eradication of poverty were the 2nd Century A.R.’s headlines. But in fact, the cusp point for the human future had already moved from Earth to space…
USS Security Status: Protected
Clearance for WorldNet:
As Merritt Thackery waited in line to enter the
’s Panorama chamber he felt no special excitement.
In a few minutes, he would be able to look out from the bow of
at the face of the Jovian planet, with nothing between him and it save the thin synglas bubble holding in the liner’s atmosphere. Probably more than most of those present, Thackery knew what to expect, and that knowledge took the edge off any anticipation he might feel. He had seen the pictures, and so felt he had seen the planet.
In any event, Thackery regarded Saturn as the system’s premiere planet, and the only one which on his own he would have considered visiting (though only if the visit could be achieved in hours rather than weeks). But despite a favorable opposition,
would bring its passengers no closer than a half-billion miles to the tranquil-faced giant and its rings, and the telecamera view offered in the Promenade Theater would be little better than that offered by the lunar and Earth-orbital observatories. Had Saturn been waiting for him in the Panorama, that would have justified some mild excitement.
But it was only Jupiter.
I might as well be in line for the 3-D planetarium at the Smithsonian Science Center
, he thought.
Reflexively, Thackery began to study those who waited with him in the steadily moving queue. Even with a total passenger complement approaching five hundred, after two weeks aboard most of the faces were familiar. But then, Thackery had worked harder than most to learn them. He had nearly completed his microsociety study, needing only the time to finish analyzing the third-order sociograms.
“Looking for someone?”
The voice came from behind, from the male half of a couple Thackery had seen parading their fashionably pale, slim, and hirsute bodies in the microgravity mist-pool. Naturalists, both—but then, most of the younger passengers were. By forsaking skin ornamentation, body perfume, and depilatories, the naturalists rejected—and invited rejection from—the economic stratum into which they had been born. Thackery found their conscious avoidance of social affectations an affectation in itself.
“No,” Thackery replied. “I thought perhaps Ms. Goodwin might be here, but it seems not.”
“Is that the older woman you were playing backgammon with on the promenade yesterday?” asked the female.
The question was impertinent, but then so was the whole conversation. “Yes,” Thackery said, helpless to escape until they reached the Panorama.
“I saw her dancing in the ballroom last night, with that tall woman with the rose tattoo on her cheek.” She dropped her voice conspiratorially. “From the way they were dancing, I don’t think they’ll be getting up very early.”
“The best way to make sure you find them in the morning is to be with them all night,” the male said with a wink.
Thackery smiled politely and used the progress of the line as an excuse to turn away. But when he had taken up the slack, they were right behind him and still eager to talk.
“By the way, I’m Mollis and this is Bellus,” the female offered. “You’re one of the sweepstakes winners, aren’t you?”
“Yes,” he said curtly, wondering if she realized the full derivation of her name. Given names taken from new-Latin biological nomenclature were common among naturalists, but
could mean “weak and changeable” as well as “soft and voluptuous”—not the most flattering self-image. Thackery found the male’s name, though unambiguous, equally inappropriate.
Handsome you’re not—
“I thought so,” she went on blithely. “Bell thought you might be some sort of security officer for the Titan Line, or a Council observer, the way you watch everyone all the time. But you’re a student or something, aren’t you?”
“Government Service Academy, Georgetown.”
“See?” Bellus said triumphantly. “He’s a baby bureaucrat. It’s practically the same thing. And I told you he wasn’t as old as he looks.”
“He’s right about that,” Mollis said, appraising him with a critical eye. “What are you, third year? You can’t be more than twenty-five. But you carry yourself like you’re forty. You really need to let yourself relax a little.” She reached out and grasped his hand familiarly. “Come on down to the pool after we’re done here. I’ll introduce you to some people.”
Before he needed to give an answer, Thackery reached the threshold with its blinking MICROGRAVITY ENVIRONMENT BEYOND THIS POINT sign. He allowed one of the
’s green-clad crew to pin the radiation badge to his vest. But he disdained the proffered arm of an usher, and coasted unassisted across the Panorama’s uncluttered hemispherical volume to an open handhold on the face of the opaque synglas.
He was relieved to see that Mollis and Bellus did not follow him there; they called out to and joined another couple near the periphery of the chamber. A few minutes later, the last places were filled and the hatchways sealed from the outside. Predictably, the Jupiter movement of Hoist’s “The Planets” sounded from concealed speakers. Then the narration began:
“Jupiter. Son of the Titans. King of both gods and men. Jupiter. Star that nearly was, never to be.”
It went on in that vein for nearly two minutes, a mixture of pop astronomy and simplified mythology, as the lights in the chamber slowly dimmed until they were hanging in the darkness. The synglas bubble beneath him, above him, before him, remained opaque, and Thackery began to grow impatient. Then the narration ceased, the music grew louder, and the clamshell shields began to roll back.
There was a communal gasp and cries of childlike delight as a band of color appeared across the width of the bubble, but Thackery barely noted the sound. Before him was spread a breath-taking living canvas, an animated palette festooned with whorls and spirals of orange and white and yellow and hues for which he had no name: the face of Jupiter.
And though even the first glimpse communicated the awesome scope of that canvas, moment by moment there was more. The shields moved quickly for their size but in stately pace, as though they were curtains swept back at the herald’s call to admit the royal presence.
Outbound, Thackery had wondered why the builders of
had gone to the trouble to include the Panorama when an ordinary observation deck might have done as well. Now he understood. He found himself forgetting the passengers at his elbows. No interior lights or reflections betrayed the presence of the synglas bubble. It was as if the ship itself had vanished.
In one dizzying moment of transformation, he floated suspended between the dazzling stars at zenith and nadir, alone in the void with the Herculean presence of the great gas giant. Vertigo impelled him forward, and he was certain that if he loosed his grip on the railing he would fall the endless fall into its alien depths.
It was as though, having spent his life contentedly viewing the world in two dimensions, a third had suddenly been revealed to him. It was as though he had grasped a high-voltage wire of emotion, and his body sang unfamiliar songs of ecstasy. The swirling storms of Jupiter were part of him, and he of them, a rapturous communion, a participatory consciousness—
And then, without warning, it was suddenly over, the spell broken, the moment lost. The experience itself gave way to simple sense memory of the experience, and he cried a silent, futile protest.
After a time he became aware how much time had passed, and that he was nearly alone in the chamber. Most of the others. Mollis and Bellus included, had drifted away to more diverting or less vertiginous pursuits. For them, it seemed, the family of Jove had been little more than an exotic backdrop to a month of hedonism.
But Thackery, frightened and at the same time angered by the loss of self, ashamed and at the same time possessed by the unprecedented sensuality, remained. He begged silently for the moment to return, anxious to analyze it rather than be ambushed by it. Thus obsessed, he stayed until his radiation badge glowed a warning yellow and began to chime softly.
Only then, and only at the insistence of the Panorama staff, did he excuse himself from the presence of the King.
By the time he reached his cabin, Merritt Thackery was angry. The first object of his anger was chance, a player whose power he previously had held in disdain. Someone had to win, and in that sense it was not a matter of chance at all. But that it had to be him—there was the unwanted touch of the Odds-maker.
Six months ago, a Titan Line messenger, accompanied by a minicam team, had walked into Dr. Royce’s Controlled Market Economies seminar and announced to all present that Thackery would receive a cost-free berth for the
’s first cruise to the realm of the giant planets—one of thirty-seven such gifts, one for each of Jupiter’s satellites.
No one was more stunned than Thackery, who had not only not entered the sweepstakes, but had been only vaguely aware that it was underway. Least surprised seemed to be Royce, who segued neatly into an explanation of how such things worked.
Three decades earlier, Royce related, the World Council had cast its critical eye on sweepstakes and lotteries and decided that they pandered to the antirational outlook it was laboring to eradicate. In a move typical of the Council, it did not ban them: It simply set an impossible condition. All citizens of Council states had to automatically be made entrants. It was illegal to require potential winners to take any action whatsoever to qualify themselves.
As a consequence of the new rule, lotteries lost their source of prize money and sweepstakes their promotional value, and both faded away. But the Titan Line, looking to protect its two billion Council-dollar investment in
, won a court ruling allowing it to use the Council’s own citizen registration banks for a promotional sweepstakes.
So it was Thackery’s twelve-digit Citizen Identification number which had brought him his “good” fortune, and at very long odds; the pool of possible winners numbered nearly nine billion.
Thackery’s first impulse was to refuse the award. He had no interest in astronomy, and neither did Georgetown—the subject did not even appear in the Academy curriculum book. Nor did he have time for a sightseeing cruise. His attention was focused on holding his own in the challenging second-tier GS disciplines: Linguistics, Cultural Anthropology, Political Psychology, Economics of Production. Successful completion of all six tiers at GSA-Georgetown would qualify him for an internship somewhere in the Council’s world-wide bureaucracy.
Though only twenty-two, Thackery had worked hard to separate himself from what he saw as youthful affectations, and to take on the habits of thought more appropriate to a mid-level Council facilitator or field agent. He was not surprised that Mollis took him for older than he was—that happened frequently. Nor was he much surprised that she found him stilted, even dull. There was no room for chance or emotional impulse in his plan. He meant his life to be orderly, even tame. That was, after all, the function of the World Council—to see that lives were orderly, even tame. With nine billion lives to consider, orderly and tame was the only acceptable formula.
But Georgetown’s administration had intervened, which is why he was angry at them as well. Too many instructors had seen opportunities to use the trip as a practicum in their specialty: sociodynamics, economics, consumer motivation. His advisor had agreed with them, and Thackery was saddled with a half-dozen special projects to be completed before, during, or after the one-month voyage, with never a word to reducing or rescheduling his regular duties. And Director Stowell had approved the plan without troubling to find out what Thackery thought of it.
So he had not come aboard
looking for excitement, or companionship, or even relaxation. He had come because his coming pleased those on whom so much of his future depended. And he was angry at himself for having forgotten it. He had gone into the Panorama not to see Jupiter but to observe his fellow passengers’ reaction to it. Instead, he had allowed himself to lose control.
And now he was afraid to go back. Afraid that it would happen again, and afraid that it would not.
For two days Thackery stayed away, while
looped around Jupiter between the orbits of the innermost Galilean moons. In that time, he managed to insult Ms. Goodwin, to start an argument over the current Council that nearly became a fistfight, and, by being conversationally brusque and sexually inconsiderate, to turn a pity fuck offered by Mollis into a disaster.
“What is it with you?” she asked as she dressed afterward.
“Your drug program out of balance?”
“I’m not using,” he said, bristling defensively.
“Then maybe you ought to be. What has you so wired? I thought you were all right, just a little naive,” she said, not unkindly. “But you knew what you were doing—you just didn’t care about my half of it. You can’t treat people like this. It isn’t right.”
I’m fighting myself
. “I’m sorry. It wasn’t your fault.”
“I don’t need you to tell me that.”
Chastened, he watched as she finished dressing. “Come to the Panorama with me,” he said impulsively. “I don’t think so. Thanks all the same.”
“I told you, it wasn’t personal.”
“That’s part of the problem.” When she was gone he sat on the edge of the bed and buried his face in his hands.
It isn’t getting better—you’re as out of control today as you were in the Panorama
You’re still angry
, he told himself.
No one planned this. It’s not anybody’s fault.
I’m not angry at anyone in particular
, he realized.
I’m angry because I’m afraid and I don’t like it. Angry because I let myself be surprised. Angry because
—He balked at completing the thought.
Because that hour Jupiter had me was the best hour of my life… and because it’s too late to let that change the course I’m on
Thackery mulled over that revelation for several minutes, examining it from all sides, looking for flaws. There were none.
All right, then!
he chided himself.
Nothing’s changed. Nothing’s going to change. So why aren’t you at least enjoying it while you can?