Authors: Piers Anthony
Tags: #sf, #sf_social, #Fiction, #Fantasy, #General, #Science Fiction, #Science fiction; American
Throughout history, man has been searching for better ways to gather information about his universe. But although they may have longed for it, not even the most brilliant minds could conceive of a device as infinitely powerful or as immeasurably precise as the macroscope, until the twenty-first century. By analyzing information carried on macrons, this unbelievable tool brought the whole universe of wonders to man’s doorstep. The macroscope was seen by many as the salvation of the human race. But in the hands of the wrong man, the macroscope could be immensely destructive — infinitely more dangerous than the nuclear bomb. By searching to know too much, man could destroy the very essence of his mind. This is the powerful story of man’s struggle with technology, and also the story of his human struggle with himself. This novel takes us across the breathtaking ranges of space as well as through the most touching places in the human heart. It is a story of coming of age, of sacrifice, and of love. It is the story of man’s desperate search for a compromise between his mind and his heart, between knowledge and humanity.
Nominated for Hugo Award for Best Novel in 1970.
The author wishes to express his appreciation for the kind assistance given in aspects of the research and drafting of this novel to Alfred Jacob, Joseph Green, Marion McIntosh and Glen Brock. Without their diligence the scope would have been less macro. And special thanks to Marc Edmund Jones for permission to quote from his texts on astrology, though the treatment of that subject in this novel should not be taken as in any way official or definitive.
Ivo did not realize at first that he was being followed. A little experimentation verified it, however: where Ivo went, so did this stranger.
He had seen the man, pale, fleshy and sweaty, in a snack shop, and thought nothing of it until repetition brought the matter to consciousness. Now it alarmed him.
Ivo was a slim young man of twenty-five with short black hair, brown eyes and bronzed skin. He could have merged without particular notice into the populace of almost any large city of the world. At the moment he was trying valiantly to do so — but the pursuer did not relent.
There was less of this type of thing today than there had been, but Ivo knew that people like himself still disappeared mysteriously in certain areas of the nation. So far he had personally experienced nothing worse than unexplained price increases at particular restaurants and sudden paucities of accommodations at motels. There had been disapproving frowns, of course, and loud remarks, but those hardly counted. He had learned to control his fury and even, after a time, to dismiss it.
But actually to be followed — that prompted more than mere annoyance. It brought an unpleasant sensation to his stomach. Ivo did not regard himself as a brave man, and even one experience of this nature made him long for the comparatively secure days of the project. That was a decade gone, though, and there could be no return.
His imagination pictured the stout Caucasian approaching, laying a clammy hand upon his arm, and saying: “
Archer? Please come with me,” and showing momentarily the illegal firearm that translated the feigned politeness into flat command. Then a helpless trip to a secluded spot — perhaps a rat-infested cellar — where…
Better to challenge the man immediately, here in the street where citizens congregated. To say to him: “Are you following me, sir?” with a significant emphasis on the “sir.” And when the man denied it, to walk away, temporarily free from molestation. Around the corner, a short hop in a rental car, somewhere, anywhere, so long as he lost himself quickly.
Ivo entered a drugstore and ducked behind the towering displays of trivia, temporizing while he covertly watched the man.
a direct challenge work — or would the bystanders merely stand by, afraid to get involved or just plain out of sympathy? Outside the glass he saw a harried white woman with two rambunctious little boys, and after her a Negro teenager in tattered tennis shoes, and after him the follower dawdling beside the entrance and mopping the sweat from his pallid complexion. A plainclothes policeman? Unlikely; there would have been none of this furtiveness.
The dark suspicion flowered into certainty as his mind dwelt upon it: once this man laid hands upon him, his life would never be the same. Life? Worse; within hours Ivo Archer would vanish from the face of the earth, never to be—
to face down this enemy.
He looked up, startled. A clerk had approached him, no doubt having observed his aimlessness and become alert for shoplifting. Her query was impatient.
Ivo glanced around guiltily and fixed on the handiest pretext He was beside a rack of sunglasses. “These.”
“Those are feminine glasses,” she pointed out.
“Oh. Well, the — you know.”
She guided him to the masculine rack and he picked out a pair he didn’t need and didn’t want. He paid a price he didn’t like and put them on. Now he had no excuse to remain in the store.
He stepped out — and knew as he did so that he lacked the valor to make his stand. Stubborn he was, in depth; courageous, no.
The surprisingly solid hand extended to touch his arm. Coarse black hairs sprouted from the center links of three fingers. “Mr. Archer?” the man inquired. His voice, too, was somewhat coarse, as though there were chronic phlegm coating the larynx.
Ivo stopped, nervously touching the right earpiece of the sunglasses. He was furious at himself but not, now, frightened. He did know the difference between reality and his fantasies. He looked at the man, still mildly repelled by the facial pallor and the faint odor of perspiration. Fortyish; clothing informal but of good cut, the footwear expensive and too new. This man was not a professional shadow — those stiff shoes must be chafing.
“Yes.” He tried to affect the tone of a busy person who was bothered by being accosted in such fashion, but knew he hadn’t brought it off. This was plainly no panhandler.
“Please come with me.”
It was not in Ivo to be discourteous, even in such a situation; it was a weakness of his. But he had no intention of accompanying this stranger anywhere. “Who are you?”
Now the man became nervous. “I can’t tell you that here.” But just as Ivo thought he had the advantage, those hairy fingers closed upon his forearm. They were cold but not at all flabby. “It’s important.”
Ivo’s nervousness increased. He touched the useless glasses again, looking away. The long street offered no pretext for distraction: merely twin rows of ordinary Georgia houses, indistinguishable from Carolina houses or Florida houses, fronted by deteriorating sidewalks and slanted parking spaces. The meters suggested monstrous matchsticks stood on end, heads up. Would they explode into fire if the unmitigated glare of the sun continued, or did it require the touch of metal, as of a coin? His fingers touched a warm disk in his pocket: a penny. Thou shalt not park in the noonday sun…?
“I’m sorry,” he said. “Good day.” He drew his arm free and took a step forward. He had done it! He had made the break.
“Swinehood hath no remedy,” the stranger whispered.
Ivo turned about and waited, eyes focused on nothing.
“My car — this way,” the man said, taking his arm again. This time Ivo accompanied him without protest.
The car was a rental electric floater, no downtown runabout. The hood was as long and wide as that of any combustion vehicle: room enough for a ponderous massing of cells. The pressure-curtains were sleekly angled. This thing, Ivo judged, could probably do a hundred and fifty miles per hour in the open. His host was definitely not local.
They settled into the front compartment and let the upholstery clamp over chests, abdomens and thighs. The cab bubble sealed itself and cold air drafted from the floor vents as the man started the compressor. The vehicle lifted on its cushion of air so smoothly that only the fringe turbulence visible outside testified to its elevation. It drifted out into traffic, stirring up the dry dust by its propulsion.
There were angry and envious stares from the pedestrians trapped in the wash. Inches above the pavement and impervious to cracks and pebbles, the car eased into the center lane reserved for wheelless traffic.
“Where are you taking me?” Ivo inquired as the car threaded through the occasional congestion, selecting its own route.
“Who are you?”
“Harold Groton. Engineer, Space Construction.”
Irritated, Ivo let it drop. The key phrase Groton had spoken told Ivo all he really needed to know for the present, and it was not his style to extract meaningful answers piecemeal.
The last leg of the journey was routine. The car moved down the interstate under self-control at almost a hundred miles an hour, and the flat expanse of marsh and scrub was monotonous.
Ivo studied his companion discreetly. Groton no longer seemed quite so fleshy or pallid. Somehow it made a difference that the man had been sent by Brad. Actually, there had been no reason for his initial aversion.
Well, yes, there
been — but not a valid reason. Once Ivo had been free of prejudice; he had allowed some to creep into his attitudes. That was not good. He, of all people, should know better.
“That’s what you might call coasting on ninety-five,” Ivo remarked, glancing at the speedometer after an hour’s silence.
Groton’s heavy head rotated slowly, brow furrowing. “Interstate 95, yes,” he said. “But we’re not exactly coasting.”
“What I meant was, we’re doing ninety-five miles per hour down the Florida coast,” Ivo explained, chiding himself for a puerile attempt at wit. Groton wasn’t stupid; it was the pun that was at fault. He had tried to make a friendly overture, perhaps in apology for his initial suspicion, and had bungled it.
Coasting on ninety-five
, he thought, and winced inwardly. About time he learned that that kind of complicated punning was not amusing to most people — people past twenty-five or so, anyway. Brad, of course, would have picked it up and shot it back redoubled — but Brad was scarcely typical, even in their age group. Ivo suddenly felt extremely young.
“Oh,” Groton was saying. “Yes, of course.”
Ivo turned away in the awkward silence and brooded upon the landscape again. They were well below Jacksonville, and the slender palmettos were increasingly evident, though still outmassed by the southern pine. A sign promoted ST. AUGUSTINE — OLDEST TOWN IN AMERICA — NEXT EXIT EAST. He wished it were possible to travel for any distance anywhere without constant commercial importunings, but he knew that industrial and other pressures had forced an increasingly liberal interpretation of permissible billboard advertising along the interstate system. Motels, gasoline, batteries, restaurants, points of public interest (as defined, mainly, by private enterprise) — these had seemed justified originally. But once the precedent had been set, erosion had been continuous until public interest was assumed to include even hard liquor, soft hallucinogens and intimate feminine hygiene.
Ahead he spied one of the old-fashioned series signs, clumps of words printed upon each square. He read it sleepily:
WHAT THE CLOUD DOETH
THE LORD KNOWETH
THE CLOUD KNOWETH NOT
Ivo smiled, wondering how this was going to relate to the public service of smoother shaving.
WHAT THE ARTIST DOETH
THE LORD KNOWETH
KNOWETH THE ARTIST NOT?
He snapped awake. Groton sat stolidly beside him, reading a newspaper. Nothing but brush and gravel and occasional plastic containers lined the highway here. That had been no series sign, even in his imagination; it was an excerpt from a poem he knew well, by a poet he had studied well.
Yes, man possessed free-will, unlike the cloud. The artist was responsible for his creation. Predestination did not apply to the sentient individual.
Yet Ivo Archer was traveling to a place he had never seen, obedient to the subtly relayed directive of another person. Free-will?
THIS TOO SHALL PASS, a sign said, a real one this time. He sighed, closed his eyes, and gave in to sleep.
He woke over water: Groton had assumed manual control and was driving across the bridge toward, presumably, the cape. Though Ivo was not enchanted by the mystery surrounding his summons to this place, he could not repress a feeling of excitement. If the end of this journey were not the cape, it had to be—
One of the orbiting space stations?
They were on State route 50. A sign at the far end of the bridge identified Merritt Island; then, shortly, the Kennedy Space Center Industrial Area. This was a neat layout of city blocks with parklike landscaping and elegant buildings, the whole reminding him somewhat of a modern university campus.
“Newest town in America — next exit up,” he murmured.
“Close enough,” Groton agreed, again mistaking the reference. “There’s a post office here, and a telephone exchange, bank, hospital, sewage conversion plant, power station, railroad yard, cafeterias, warehouses, office buildings—”
“Any room for the spacecraft?”
“No,” Groton said seriously. The man seemed impervious to irony. “Fifty thousand people work here daily. The vehicles are constructed and assembled elsewhere, and of course the launch pads are safely removed. We’re just stopping here for the normal red tape — security clearance, physical examination, briefing and so on. Necessary evils.”
“I’m healthy, and I can’t be much of a security risk because I was born in Philadelphia, raised hydroponically, and have no idea what I’m doing here.”
“Want to gamble that you’re in condition to withstand ten gravities acceleration? That your system can sustain intermittent free-fall without adverse reaction, such as violent nausea? That you’re not allergic to—”
“I never gamble,” Ivo said with sudden certainty.
“As for the security clearance: it isn’t what you know now that counts, but how you’ll react to what you learn. Good intentions and partial information can lead to the most extraordinary—”
“I get the point. When’s liftoff?”
“Just about six hours from now. The shuttle is already being assembled.”
“Assembled! What happened to the regular one?”
Groton ignored the question, this time evidently taking sincere uneasiness for humor.
Four hours and a multitude of tests later they were conducted to the Vehicle Assembly Building, a structure of appalling volume. “Largest single building in the world, at the time it was built,” Groton said, and Ivo could believe it. “We have two of them now. The Saturn launch vehicles are put together here—”
“Saturn? I thought the Saturn shot took off three years ago.”
Groton paused to look at him, then smiled. “You’re thinking of the
Saturn. You’re right; that was an instrumented economy mission set up in ’77. A one-shot bypass of all four gas giants. It’s adjacent to the planet Saturn right now, and will terminate at Neptune in six years. The same goes for the concurrent Soviet shot, of course.”
“So what’s with Saturn
“The Saturn VI is the name of our
. Its major components are assembled here in an upright position, then carried on its mobile launcher to the pad. That enables us to use our facilities efficiently.”
“I see,” Ivo said, not seeing, but hesitating to blare out his ignorance again. Why was Groton giving him this little lecture-tour, instead of taking him directly to the shuttle?
Away from the giant gray and black Assembly Building he saw a peculiar structure with caterpillar treads. It stood about twenty feet tall and was approximately the size and shape of half a football field. “What’s that?”