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Authors: Nancy Kress

Probability Sun

BOOK: Probability Sun
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Title Page

Copyright Notice



Gofkit Shamloe, World

Lowell City, Mars

Tharsis Province, Mars

Luna City, Luna

Aboard the
Alan B. Shepard

Aboard the
Alan B. Shepard

Faller Space, Unnamed Star System


The Neury Mountains

Aboard the
Alan B. Shepard

Gofkit Jemloe

The Neury Mountains

base Camp

In the Neury Mountains

Aboard the
Alan B. Shepard

In the Neury Mountains

Aboard the
Alan B. Shepard

In the Neury Mountains

Aboard the
Alan B. Shepard

Gofkit Jemloe

Aboard the
Alan B. Shepard

Gofkit Jemloe

Gofkit Jemloe

Aboard the
Alan B. Shepard

The Road to Gofkit Shamloe

Aboard the
Alan B. Shepard

Aboard the
Alan B. Shepard

Aboard the
Alan B. Shepard

Gofkit Shamloe

Aboard the
Alan B. Shepard

Aboard the
Alan B. Shepard

Luna City, July 2167

by Nancy Kress




For Charles Sheffield, founder, The Charitable Foundation for the Promotion of Scientific Literacy Among People Purporting to Be Science Fiction Writers


This novel owes a large debt to Brian Greene’s fascinating
Elegant Universe
. Greene’s explanations of superstring theory provided the bases, both factual and speculative, for the even more speculative and eccentric theories of my character Dr. Thomas Capelo.

I also owe gratitude to my husband, Charles Sheffield, who went over the manuscript carefully and made many valuable suggestions about both science and plot.



he farewell burning had reached its unfolding. Standing at the edge of the circle of mourners in her black robe, Enli held her breath. This was the moment she loved, the moment of joy.

The procession had left Gofkit Shamloe at sunrise. Four moons had still graced the sky: Lil, Cut, Ap, and Obri. The entire village, including ancient Ayu Pek Marrifin carried on a litter and the two tiny Palofrit twins, just past their Flower Ceremony, walked slowly behind the farm cart. It was pulled by Tiril Pek Bafor’s two oldest, grandsons. The old man, chief gardener to the village for as long as Enli could remember, had been laid, unwashed, in the cart the night before and buried under mounds of flowers: huge bright red jellitib, cluster-blossoms of pajalib, fragrant waxy sajib.

The priest stepped forward, the servant of the First Flower, and raised her hands. The subdued crowd turned toward her. Behind the priest the fire, started last night, leaped higher than the holy one’s head. Its crackling was the only sound.

“Now,” said the servant of the First Flower, a short dumpy middle-aged woman whose neckfur was prematurely sparse.

Tiril Pek Bafor’s grandsons pulled the cart through a narrow lane among mourners, to the very edge of the fire. They tipped the cart forward. The wood had been highly waxed; the body slid effortlessly into the flame, mostly hidden by flowers. And everyone in the entire crowd, the grieving and the old and the halt and the lame, simultaneously threw off their thin black robes and shouted loud enough to wake the dead.

It was a shout of pure joy. The dead man was returning to his ancestors.

The village chanted and sang. Under their black capes they all wore brilliantly-colored short tunics sewn, festooned, and entwined before dawn with fresh flowers. Each bloom represented some facet of the wearer’s relationship with the soul now so jubilantly released to the spirit world, where every flower bloomed forever.

Everyone began to dance. People sang; the fire jumped and shouted; the air filled with the rich fragrance of the oil the priests used to make Tiril Pek Bafor’s passage smell sweet. Amid the dancing and rejoicing, the sun rose, red and warm.

Enli danced with Calin Pek Lillifar, round and round … it wasn’t only the dance that made her head whirl. She had known Calin since childhood, but this felt like a new way of knowing, a different sharing …

Her sister Ano tapped her on the shoulder. “Enli … come with me.”

“Later,” Enli said. Calin was a good dancer, and Enli, helped by a generous swig of pel from the jug passed around by Pek Bafor’s daughters, even felt graceful herself. This was a rarity; Enli was a big, plain woman with no natural grace, and knew it. But Calin didn’t seem to mind. Round and round …

“Come now,” Ano said.

“What is it?” Enli said crossly, after following Ano away from the fire. “And why can’t it wait? I want to enjoy the farewell burning!” She glanced back at Calin, not yet dancing with anyone else.

Ano’s skull ridges creased in worry. “I know. But there’s a government messenger to see you. He’s waiting in the hut.”

“A government messenger? For me?”

Ano nodded. The sisters stared at each other. There was no reason for a government messenger to seek Enli. Her old trouble was past, atoned for, finished. And to interrupt her during a farewell burning!

“Thank you,” Enli said to Ano, in a tone that let Ano know not to follow. Enli walked among the revelers, increasingly drunk on pel, and back along the path, bright with morning flowers, to the deserted village.

The messenger was young enough to still relish formality. “Enli Pek Brimmidin? May your garden bloom. I am come from the capital city, Rafkit Seloe. I bring a message.”

He carried no letter. Enli heard her voice come out too hoarse. “May your blossoms flourish. And your message is what?”

“That your presence is required at Rafkit Seloe, at the office of the Servants of the First Flower. The Sun Blossom himself wishes to talk to you.”

“About what?” Enli said, knowing that whatever it was, the messenger would of course know. Shared reality.

The boy couldn’t help himself. He was young, and excitement won out over dignity and formality. He shook his neckfur and said, “About the Terrans!”

Terrans. Some Terrans had come to World three years ago, from some place unimaginably far away, in a metal flying boat. They had disrupted everything. But then they had gone away again, leaving three graves, and World had returned to sweet peace. Enli got out, “The Terrans left.”

The boy shook his neckfur again and, in sheer exuberance, rose up on his tiptoes.

“Yes. But, Pek Brimmidin—they have come back!”

Enli’s headache began, the sharp boring pain between the eyes. No, no, not again … in the name of the First Flower, not again.

“Yes,” the messenger said, when Enli didn’t respond. “And this time we know they’re real! The priests made their decision last time, remember? We can trade with the Terrans again and … and everything. They came again from all that way out there beyond the stars. They have come back!

“Isn’t it wonderful?”



eneral Tolliver Gordon looked up from the holocube in his meaty hands. “Who else has seen this?”

Major Lyle Kaufman, standing at attention, permitted himself a wintry smile. “Practically everyone, sir. This civilian Dieter Gruber has spent two years trying to get someone from Alliance Command interested. Anyone.”


“No, sir.” It was not lost on Major Kaufman that a general had referred to the supreme commander of the Solar Alliance Defense Council without his title, and to a junior officer. For the first time, Kaufman felt a twinge of hope. He could never get in to see General Stefanak. Gordon could.

“General Ling?”

“Yes, sir.”

“Ling saw this, and dismissed it?”

“He said there’s no hard evidence, sir.”

“Hard evidence isn’t the only kind worth considering.” Gordon stood, a big man in a small room. He handled the gravity of Mars easily. Born here, decided Kaufman, who had not been. That would help, too. In theory all nation members, and all service branches, of the Solar Alliance Defense Council were equal. However, some were more equal than others, especially in wartime.

Gordon walked to a small shelf on one wall of his underground bunker/office. On the shelf stood a mesh cage about a meter square, filled with plastic “shavings.” He picked up a watering can, poked it through the mesh, and filled a water bowl just inside the cage. “All right, Major, I’ve viewed the cube and read the report. Now tell me in your own words what this scientific quest is about, why you think it’s important, and why I should think so.”

This was his chance. Everyone had told him that if he got this far, Gordon would really listen. Kaufman cleared his throat. “Two years ago, sir, on a routine recon, the one military officer on a scientific expedition to a new planet discovered that one of its moons was an artificial construct with the same kind of markings as the space tunnels. The war was going badly then—”

Kaufman broke off. A mistake: The war with the Fallers was still going badly, worse than ever, but he had never met an officer in High Command who appreciated being reminded of it. Gordon, however, merely picked up a bag of small seeds and began filling a clear plastic tube leading inside the cage.

“… And so we launched a secret expedition to see if the moon was, or could be, a weapon. That is, the expedition wasn’t secret, it looked like just another bunch of anthropologists, but it included a team of unacknowledged military scientists led by Colonel Syree Johnson, retired. The ship was the
, under Commander Rafael Peres. Johnson discovered that the moon would indeed make a formidable weapon. It released a spherical wave that destabilized all nuclei with an atomic number greater than seventy-five. While they were still testing the artifact, the Fallers showed up and wanted it, too. Johnson and Peres tried a race for the system’s only space tunnel, #438, towing the moon—”

“Towing it? How big was this moon?”

“Almost twenty times the size of the
, sir. Mass of nine hundred thousand tons. Just short of the tunnel, Peres engaged with the enemy. The next sequence of events isn’t clear, but either the
, the Fallers, or the moon itself blew up all three. Colonel Johnson’s previous reports suggest that it might have been the artifact that caused the blow-up. Its mass was too great to go through a tunnel, but she tried to send it through anyway, into our space, to keep it from enemy hands.”

“So everything blew up. And that was the end of it, from High Command’s point of view.”

“Yes, sir.” Kaufman felt more and more hopeful. Gordon’s tone conveyed dearly his point of view about High Command’s point of view. “But not the end of it to the surface team. That included a geologist with enough physics to follow what Johnson was doing. Dr. Dieter Gruber, Berlin University. The anthropologists had some sort of trouble with the natives on the planet—”

BOOK: Probability Sun
11.75Mb size Format: txt, pdf, ePub

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