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Authors: Piers Anthony

Tags: #Fantasy, #Science Fiction

Politician (4 page)

BOOK: Politician
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If they had mem-washed me to prevent me from testifying about some scandal of which I had had knowledge, this had been effective; certainly I could not remember it. Yet still it seemed simpler to kill me or to hold me incommunicado until the time for testimony was over. Evidently they wanted more from me than my silence.

Despite my isolation and physical discomfort, I experienced a burgeoning sense of well-being. Why was this? My suspicious mind wanted a reason.

That wasn't long in appearing. Obviously I had been drugged. That drink Scar had served me—not straight alcohol but something sinisterly potent.

Still, why? Why drug a helpless captive? That didn't make sense, unless...

Unless it was addictive. Hook a man on a drug, make him an addict, when you control the source of supply, and that man is yours. What had I fallen into?

I experienced rapid panic, then quelled it. The drug was making me emotionally unstable. Whatever was happening to me was happening, and I could not prevent it. They could dose me with the drug by force if I tried to resist; repeatedly, until the addiction was complete. I wasn't really worried, and though I knew this was probably false optimism sponsored by the drug and by my resignation to the situation, still I felt all right. For one thing I had a secret weapon: the coded message. Maybe that had the answer to my problem.

I concentrated on that. My mind seemed preternaturally sharp; my sensation of well-being seemed to extend into the brain tissues themselves. Was this a genuine enhancement of mental prowess or a hallucinogenic illusion? I tried multiplying numerical figures in my head and seemed to be facile at it. My more important challenge was to solve the riddle of the coded message. If the enhancement were real, this would be the best time to do it. If not—what did I have to lose?

—like a diminishing progression, one element of the figure deleted with each repetition.

Then added again—no, that wasn't it. My original childhood chart did seem to be the likely key. Three grids could cover the alphabet, but what about spacing and punctuation? I checked further along the message and found some figures with little Os in them. So there was a fourth grid, making thirty-six representations. The alphabet, plus ten spots for other marks.

Then I had another notion. There was my alphabet—not in any direct ratio but in my head! A through Z

and ten punctuation marks. There needed to be no symbol-letter connection; the symbols merely could be instructions on how to select the letters of the mental font. A simple displacement could do it, the symbols standing for numbers that showed how far to count for the proper letter: And so on. The first, second, and third letter of the alphabet. So the message would be 13 4 7 25 11

13, translating to the corresponding...

Um, no. That was still a direct translation. It was pointless to interpose numbers if they only stood for letters. That was too easy to crack and needed no input from my unique experience.

Still, I felt that numbers were part of the answer. Displacement—not from a set alphabet but from a random one— that would be tough indeed to crack.

And, in my drugged brilliance I fathomed the next stage of the answer. That random alphabet—it didn't have to be an alphabet at all, just a series of starting points. P, Q, X, Y, Z—anything would do. Then the coded numbers could count off from those points. 13 4 7 25 11 13—count off thirteen from the first starting point, four from the second, seven from the third. Thirteen from the P would be off the end of the alphabet, into the punctuation. Did that make sense? Perhaps not, but that only meant that P wasn't the proper starting point; it was just my random guess. Find the correct starting points and the rest would follow.

How could I discover a random series of starting points? The answer was that I couldn't. So, they probably only seemed random. They could be represented by a key phrase or sentence—one that only I would devise. There was the true virtue of such a system: its personification. No one else could crack the code because no one else could think of my key sentence.

All well and good, but what was the sentence? I had no idea. Maybe too much of my memory had been washed, and the sentence was gone. Yet shouldn't I have anticipated that problem? I was an intelligent person, wasn't I? Surely I had allowed for it!

I pondered longer, but here at last I seemed to be balked. I was in a kind of hell, and part of that hell was my ignorance. What, in the period of my memory, would I have devised for my period of amnesia to recover?

Then I remembered the message on the wall: ABANDON HOPE, ALL YE WHO ENTER HERE.

Could that be it? It would be just like me to plant the message of success under the noses of my captors, in the form of a message of defeat. Delicious irony!

I tried it. The first letter was A; count off thirteen, to N. Four from the second letter, B—it came to F.

And so on, seven from A for H, twenty five from N—oops! That ran way off the alphabet. Well, skip that for now and go on to the next: eleven from D for O, and thirteen from O for punctuation. N F H ? O

? This couldn't be right, yet it had seemed like such a promising lead.

Wait—suppose the count started at the original letter, not next to it. That would change the displacement by one. I reviewed it in my mind, painstakingly recounting the letters. I had a good visual memory, but this was tricky to do. M E G ? N ? That was more like it. The final character could actually be a space, separating the word from the next; most words in the English language were short. The missing middle one...

Suddenly I had it. There were not thirty-six but thirty-seven characters in the original sentence, counting the space at the end. That might show how many there were in the alphabet/punctuation key. That brought the missing letter back around to A, and I knew that word.

MEGAN.

Bio of a Space Tyrant 3 - Politician
Chapter 2 — NYORK

As gawky as any tourist, I looked at the large screen in the dayroom of the passenger ship. Spirit, beside me, was similarly fascinated. All the others watching were children. Normal adults, jaded by experience, were reading, sleeping, watching entertainment holos or indulging in other pursuits or appetites in private chambers.

Of course, the approach to mighty Jupiter required several hours if I disregard the fact that the entire journey from Leda was an approach. No one could sit and watch the orange Colossus constantly without losing the edge of excitement. But my sister and I tried!

We had never before been closer than the orbit of Amalthea, and that had been a bitter occasion: the Jupiter authorities had towed our refugee bubble back out to space rather than accept us as immigrants.

That action had cost me my mother Charity, my fiancée Helse, and the rest of my companions. The mighty Colossus had not cared! I had been fifteen years old then, and Spirit had been twelve; now we were thirty and twenty-seven, our military careers abruptly behind us, and we were returning. How much better it would have been if we had made it the first time!

“Say, aren't you Captain Hubris, the Hero of the Belt?” a gangling Saxon boy abruptly inquired of me.

Startled by this recognition, I smiled. “I suppose I am.”

“Gee! That's great!” he exclaimed, and wandered away, his attention span and interest exhausted.

The phenomenal bands of Jupiter fuzzed as we came close. We had first seen the planet as a kind of giant face, with white eyeballs crossing from west to east in the north, and the Red Spot gaping like a mouth in the south. Now we were spiraling down above the great equatorial band that was occupied by the United States of Jupiter, the most powerful political entity in the Solar System. None of the giant city-bubbles was visible yet; they were on a plane at the five-bar level of atmospheric pressure; that is, five times the pressure of Earth's atmosphere at Earth's surface where the ambient temperature was a comfortable eighty degrees Fahrenheit, and clouds of water droplets precipitated from the gases there.

I should explain that there is no human development on the surface of Jupiter, or on any of the gas giant planets, for a number of reasons. First, there is no surface in the Earth sense, merely a series of somewhat arbitrary boundary levels, such as the translation from molecular to metallic hydrogen. We know hydrogen, which composes ninety percent of Jupiter's atmosphere, as a gas; but as the depth and pressure increase it becomes a kind of liquid and then a kind of solid, stripped of its electrons. The pressure of that metallic stage is about three million bars, and the temperature there is about ten thousand degrees Kelvin. These extremes would not be comfortable for human beings, to understate the matter significantly. Jupiter has been considered, historically, as a cold planet; in fact, it is a hot one. Had it been larger, the internal temperature might have triggered nuclear fusion, making a third star in our System. As it is, Jupiter has more mass than the combined mass of everything else in the Solar System, excluding Nemesis and the Sun itself. Not for nothing is Jupiter called the Colossus.

It is a colossus economically and politically, too. The Jupiter Navy, from which I had just been released, dominates space from the Belt almost to the orbit of Saturn, and the planet is the richest in resources of any in the System. The government of the United States of Jupiter hauls other governments about as arrogantly as the planet hauls other matter in the vicinity. The Jupiter standard of living is the highest in the System. This, of course, makes it the planet of choice for refugees throughout the System, refugees it repels with increasing determination that at times borders on savagery. Spirit and I were now being admitted—after a fifteen-year apprenticeship in the Jupiter Ecliptic region of space. We were now legal citizens of Jupiter, entitled to all prerogatives of citizenship, thanks to certain hardnosed negotiations and the intercession of a special agency, QYV.

But it was not primarily the dream of sanctuary, power, or wealth that brought me here. It was Megan.

I had one true love at age fifteen, the refugee girl Helse, then sixteen. We were to marry, but she died in her wedding dress, so that I could live. There could be no complete love for me thereafter, until I encountered the one other woman my heart could accept: Megan. I had never met her, indeed had only seen her picture as she was at age sixteen, bearing a haunting similarity to Helse. It had been a false similarity, for the picture had been five years out of date; Helse had been only eleven when it was made.

In addition, Megan was Saxon, while Helse was Hispanic. Those were, perhaps, the least of the differences between them, and this I have always known.

But man is not a rational creature, and the Latin temperament may be less stable than others, and I less stable and rational than most Latins. I say this with a certain bemused pride. Megan was the niece of a kindly old scientist who had helped Helse and me when we were desperate; my gratitude to him overflowed the boundaries of rationality and found a partial focus on his niece. When Helse died, that focus strengthened. I explain this objectively, but it has more power than that. Only through Megan could I recover any part of either Helse or the scientist—and I had to have that part. In Megan I might recreate my One True Love in her moment of greatest beauty and joy.

My eyesight blurred as I stared at the savage maelstrom that was the face of Jupiter. The turbulence between the bands was at once more vast and violent than any effort of man, and more measured and lovely in its slow motion. Huge and ruthless currents played across those fringes in their gargantuan rituals. Only the surface of that three-dimensional flux was visible, yet all of it would manifest in its own time and fashion. Nothing man could do would change this progression; we could only watch and wonder, trying to glimpse at least a fraction of our own ignorance of the phenomenon. Even so was my feeling for Megan, the woman I had never met. The submerged currents of my being had been progressing for fifteen years in their slow, but inevitable, pattern, and now they were bringing me to her at last. A spectator might protest that it was foolish of me to pursue such a dream so late, but the spectator could not see the deeper imperatives that drove me, like the massive coriolis forces of Jupiter. Megan!

As moth to candle, I was coming to her.

In the long interim my sister Spirit had sustained me; she was my strength in adversity, and my most intimate companion and friend. Without her I could not have gotten through. Spirit was the only one who truly understood. Oh, there had been other women along the way, good women, and I had interacted with them to the extent I was able. But I had been able to leave any and all of them, as indeed I was doing now. They had been wonderful, but they had become part of my past.

Down we moved, following the planet around to the east, matching its velocity of rotation. The giant bands alternated colors; there were shades of blue, brown, and orange, demarked by lines of black and yellow and spots both bright and dark. In general the white spots were high-pressure cells that had risen from the depths and were converting their heat to rotary motion, which motion was greedily sucked at by the zonal jets. The zonal jets drew their energy from the rising eddies they consumed, not vice versa; the newcomers were consumed by the hungry, established powers. There, too, perhaps, was a lesson for me.

The white spots spun counterclockwise in the southern hemisphere, and the cold low-pressure spots should have spun clockwise, but the Great Red Spot, politically known as the Nation of Redspot, was anticyclonic, spinning counterclockwise, too, and enduring eternally despite the hunger of the bands.

Perhaps that was the example I should follow: to maintain my own orientation, to endure regardless, even if others were destroyed by the environment.

We touched the thin fringe of atmosphere and glided down toward our destination. I am of course contracting this; in the hours of descent we paused to eat and eliminate and sleep. But always we returned to view the tapestry of the Colossus, mesmerized by it. The twenty-thousand-mile broad orange band fuzzed farther, for we were technically in it now, and the separate currents and spots of it fogged out with proximity. We phased in more precisely to the velocity of the band. Jupiter rotated a full turn in about ten hours, and the winds of this band moved faster than the planet by about two hundred miles per hour, and we exceeded that by about three hundred miles per hour so that we could use vanes to plane down through the thickening atmosphere.

We passed through the ammonia-ice clouds of the one-hundred-millibar level; now the ship shook as the atmosphere took hold. The screen showed only reddish haze; imagination had to fill in now. Then it cleared, the flight smoothed out, and vision cleared—until we encountered another layer, twenty miles below, this time of brownish clouds, and experienced more turbulence. Finally we came to the bluish layer, with gray and white clouds. We were at the water-precipitation level at last.

I looked down through a rift in that layer and suddenly saw a panorama of the whole of populated Jupiter—thousands of city-bubbles floating at the five-bar level, glowing like baubles in the band about the globe of Jupiter, a scintillating network of civilization ranged along the most extravagant geography extant. How paltry the land-bound cities of old Earth must have been, compared to this!

But it was illusion, a mere passing vision of the sort I am subject to. The bubbles were there, of course, but I could not see them. They were ranged one hundred, two hundred thousand miles around the planet, masked by the cloud layer; there was no way for anyone to see the entire array at one glance. Only in imagination, as I had done. But what a sight for the mind's eye!

Below us now, the view was relatively clear, but the sheer mass of the thickening atmosphere caused my gaze to fog out. There simply wasn't anything to see there! For a moment I felt uneasy, exposed, fearing a fall to the awesome depths of the planet. But, of course, no fall was possible; we were using gravity shielding now, as the planetary gee was over twice Earth-normal at this level.

Gravity shielding does not eliminate the force of gravity, of course, any more than a magnifying glass eliminates light, since gravity is really a deformation of space by matter, which cannot be negated.

Shielding merely focuses or diffuses it, so that an object in that field is affected to a greater or lesser extent. The force of gravity is conveyed by gravitrons; when their normal pattern of flow is altered, so is their effect. Gravitrons influence everything, including others of their kind; that means that gravitrons can be used to deflect other gravitrons, at least temporarily. Then the gravitrons bend back, recovering their original configuration, like the resilient surface of a sponge, no permanent damage done. Gravity deflected for the moment, not negated: the breakthrough of the millennium.

The ship homed in on the metropolitan bubble of Nyork, one of the major cities of the Solar System. In the distance, as it floated beneath the cloud layer, it looked like a marble, then like a boulder, then like a planetoid. It floated beneath us, grandly rotating, a stream of tiny bubbles feeding into its nether hub, the local commuter traffic. We, as a shuttle ship from space, warranted the apex hub.

“It floats but it spins,” Spirit murmured appreciatively.

I knew what she meant. One might have supposed that a floating city would not need centrifugal gee, as it would feel the planetary gee that was over twice Earth-normal. After all, the occupants of a boat floating on water experience full gee, and those of an airplane in flight, and those riding a balloon do, too.

But the city-bubbles are, overall, more dense than water, while the Jupiter atmosphere at this level is about one-fifth the density of Earthly air. Such a bubble would plummet until it reached its level of density—down around the metallic-hydrogen translation zone. The overwhelming pressure would implode the bubbles long before they achieved that equilibrium. So they have to use gravity shielding to make them light enough to float in hydrogen gas, and therefore it is necessary to restore internal gee through rotation, exactly as in space. Only extremely diffuse bubbles could float naturally, and even those employ gee shielding to reduce their internal gee to Earth-norm or below. Gravity shielding is absolutely essential to man's existence in the wider Solar System. We might as well call this the age of the gee-shield, displacing the prior nuclear power age.

So the city floated and it spun. Nyork had a diameter of approximately eight thousand feet, or about one and a half miles. That was just about as big as any city got; larger bubbles were possible, but they lost cohesion and were unsafe. This one completed a full turn every six and a half minutes, which might seem slow, but that meant that its equator was traveling at about fifty miles an hour. That velocity was evident as we descended to it. Of course there was little velocity at the hub, which was why this was the point of access.

I had envisioned the cities glowing. That turned out to be false. Nyork had running lights and a beacon, but no portholes; it was basically an opaque shell, with the action all confined within. From a distance it would be no more than a dark hulk, hardly visible except in pulsar fashion, as the beacon swung brightly by. That really did not detract from its grandeur; what counts is usually what is inside, in cities as well as in men.

Tugships came out to latch on to us, and we landed, dropping vertically, the tugs employing maneuvering jets to effect contact. We descended into a circular hanger, and a panel slid over, sealing us in. The hanger was pressured in a moment, and we debarked, floating carefully out. It was all null-gee here in the hub.

We were guided along a tube-conduit to a transport chamber and elevator, where there was a routine bottleneck as the passengers had to wait their turns. I tried to look around, but there really wasn't much to see—just the machinery of baggage handling, refueling, supplies, and maintenance. I suppose it might have been much the same when a passenger ship docked at an oceanside city of old Earth; experienced travelers would not have craned their necks to glimpse the routine procedures of ship servicing. But Spirit and I had never been to Jupiter-planet before or to a city of this magnitude, and it was all wondrously new to us.

BOOK: Politician
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