Authors: James R Wells
Tags: #James R. Wells, #future space fiction, #Science Fiction
The Great Symmetry
A novel by
James R. Wells
Without Fear, Speak What is True
Without Fear, Live What is True
This book is a work of fiction. Names, characters, businesses, organizations, places, events, and incidents are either the product of the author’s imagination or are used fictitiously. Any resemblance to any actual persons, living or dead, is purely coincidental.
2015 Travertine Books Paperback Edition
Copyright © 2015 by James R. Wells
All rights reserved.
Printed in the United States of America
ISBN 978-0-996142-50-2 (paperback)
ISBN 978-0-996142-51-9 (ebook)
Library of Congress Control Number: 2015905157
First Edition, First Printing, April 2015
First Edition, Second Printing, June 2015
First Edition, Third Printing, September 2015
Editor: Mariko Thompson
Design: Kate Weisel
Cover Image: Jeff Brown: http://www.jeffbrowngraphics.com
Back Cover Image: Copyright Peter and Anne Bosted
Author Photo: David Bass
A naturally occurring hypersphere that allows near-instant travel between star systems. Every glome has a single point of emergence, usually light-years away, which cannot be determined except by entering the glome. Travel through a glome is not reversible – to return home, a ship must travel through one or more other glomes and create a circuit. As of the year 2304, humans have mapped glome travel routes between thirty star systems.
Part 1: One Small Step
Into The Void
Evan McElroy was heading straight down the throat of the glome.
A brilliant fountain took up most of his main display. Arcs of energy, rendered in vibrant false color from blue to violet, streamed out of the glome’s mouth, dissipating
a few kilometers away in every direction.
The ship was pouring on every available iota of acceleration.
“Ship,” Evan asked, “will we make it to the glome before the missile reaches us?”
“Yes,” the ship answered. “We will arrive at the Alpha entry thirty-five seconds before missile impact.”
A voice came, piped in.
“Runabout Delta, this is Tara. Now I’m really worried for you, Evan. Please change your course immediately, in any direction, and let me know that you have heard me.”
She had introduced herself as a visiting scientist, on her way to join Evan at the research station. Whoever she was, Tara seemed to know a lot about him.
Tara’s friendly voice continued.
“Evan, the incoming unmanned vehicle will not harm you. It’s simply an escort to guide you back to a rendezvous with our task force. I am so looking forward to meeting you and working together on the next phase of your
Incoming unmanned vehicle? It sure looked like a missile to him, accelerating at eight gravities.
Still, the missile could be redirected away from his ship. If he fled into the glome, he could be making the biggest, and possibly last, mistake of his life.
“Tara, what assurance can you provide that I’ll be safe?” he asked.
“Oh Evan.” Her tone was somewhere between talking and laughing. “Nothing has changed. You just surprised us when you left the station without telling anyone. All we need to do is rewind things a little, and get back to work. Your findings are so exciting!”
Evan was still trying to make sense of events. His unauthorized trip from the research station was stacking up to be pretty much the dumbest idea ever.
Unable to sleep in the middle of the station’s nominal night, he had decided it was time to prove his theory, so he had grabbed one of the runabouts. Why was it such a big deal?
He checked the display. Seven minutes and thirty seconds to the glome. There was less time than that to decide whether he should believe Tara, and steer away from the dangerous spatial envelope of the hypersphere.
“Ship,” he asked, “If we want to miss the glome, how soon do we need to start maneuvers?”
“Four minutes and forty seconds,” the ship told him. “A
countdown widget has been added to your secondary screen.”
This was madness. He needed to turn the runabout aside. Whatever trouble resulted from his impromptu excursion, he would face it.
“Ship,” he said, “Prepare a course that will avoid the glome, and wait for my instruction to do so. Plan for about two minutes from now.”
Just a few more moments, to think and to be absolutely sure.
“Evan, are you still with me?
” Tara’s voice, piped in by the ship.
“Hi Tara, I’m just – calculating the best course.”
“Evan, it’s really time−”
Another voice cut in. “Mister McElroy, you must change course immediately! Do it now or face the consequences!” There was no mistaking the deep, full voice of Arn Lobeck. Or the anger in every word.
Arn Lobeck. Vice President – Senior Vice President, Evan corrected himself
− of his Affirmatix sponsor. What Lobeck said was the last word, on anything that took place in the Aurora system.
Lobeck was a person whom everyone obeyed. It just wasn’t questioned. Beyond his forceful manner, there was the family he represented. Affirmatix, one of the seven most powerful families in all of civilization.
When someone in the top ranks of the Seven Sisters
gave instructions, it was beyond customary to defer to them. There was no other option. What could one person do?
It was more than a wave of nausea, arriving all at once, everywhere. Evan knew better than to reach for the meds, as comforting as they might be. “Breathe,” he told himself. “Slowly.”
And if he fled to the Kelter
system, what then?
As far as Evan knew, he was the only person who knew this glome went to Kelter. To the Affirmatix ships he would appear to simply vanish, destination unknown. However, there were only thirty explored star systems
. If Affirmatix wanted to track him down, they could easily put out the word through all of civilization.
The kaleidoscope of bad outcomes resolved into a triangle of fear. If he stayed in the Aurora system, the missile would probably destroy his runabout and kill him
, regardless of the assurances Tara had provided. If he went into the glome and was wrong about its destination, then he would be stranded forever, somewhere. If he went into the glome and it went to Kelter as he believed, then he would be a fugitive.
Which would it be?
Maybe it was not too late. He could turn aside, in accordance with Lobeck’s order. Return to the research station
. Continue his work. It could all be fine.
Three minutes left, if he planned to avoid the glome. The acceleration pressed him down into his seat. The runabout was still piping in transmittals, as Evan had instructed, and Arn Lobeck was back. “You think you can steal everything
and run away, but you’re wrong. Evan McElroy, if you go through the glome, you’re a dead man. Turn aside if you don’t want to die.”
At that moment Evan knew why the Aurora system had suddenly turned into a war zone. “Spend years trying to get someone to pay attention to the Versari,” he told himself. “Finally succeed and get a missile up my butt. Figures.”
The ship provided an update. “Three additional missiles have been launched, coming in our direction.”
van assessed that his decision had been made for him. If one unmanned vehicle might be a sheepdog sent to retrieve an errant member of the flock, a pack of them could be nothing other than an attack. To his surprise, he suddenly felt better. Focus and get it done.
“Ship, turn external audio off,” Evan ordered.
helped Evan to think.
“I have an idea,” Evan said. “Is the nearest missile’s course aligned with the Alpha entry of the glome?”
“No, it isn’t,”
the ship replied.
To travel through a glome to its emergence, an object had to enter the glome from exactly the right direction, which was the Alpha entry. Anything that entered on an unaligned ve
ctor would be destroyed.
“What if we make a small change in our course? If we reduce our acceleration so we
go through the glome just a few seconds before the missile would impact us, will the missile be in the envelope where it would be destroyed?”
“Yes it will,” the ship told Evan.
“Do it then!”
“Adjusting course as instructed.” The ship’s voice was pleasant and evenly modulated, as it always was
no matter what the situation.
Time to missile intercept, 95 seconds. Time to glome, 90 seconds. Five seconds to spare.
Evan had transformed from an exo-archaeologist to a tactician.
Calculations ran through Evan’s head. Not his current course and speed, which the ship easily handled
. Rather, it was the logic that had caused him to believe this glome led to the Kelter System.
How sure was he?
He was sure. At the research station on Aurora, he had spent weeks on the puzzle. The
artifact left by the long departed Versari told the story of where the glome went.
There was no possible other answer. This glome went to Kelter. Specifically, it went to a spot that trailed Kelter Four by a few million kilometers, comfortably far away from any obstacles or hazards. He knew this to be true.
Travel from one star system to another was completely routine – millions of people did it every year, with essentially no risk. Any given glome always took your ship to exactly the same point of emergence, as measured from the closest gravitational source such as a nearby planet. Evan had done hundreds of such transits in his life. But those
had been mapped glomes, where the route was already known.
In all of history until this moment, every first trip in a new glome had been a complete mystery for the explorer. The emergence could be in the heart of a sun. Or the interior of a planet. Or very deep space.
Evan, alone of any person alive, had the hubris to believe he could know the unknowable, courtesy of a
n object that had survived for almost a million years in the heart of an asteroid.
In forty-five seconds, he was going to find out if he was right.
Was this definitely the Alpha entry, and not the
There was no turning back now.
The glome had grown on his display until only the throat was visible. The waving lines of energy were partly cut off by the four edges of the screen. With a view this close, the
lines were starting to resolve into finer threads, each endlessly rearranging a fluid braid.
Despite the emergency of the moment, an incongruous thought began to arrive. For years Evan had toiled, making discoveries about the Versari that he knew were significant, but somehow had never made an impression on the rest of the world. He was just a fanatic exoarcheologist, rambling on about long-past events that didn’t matter to anyone.
Now, it appeared, he had a discovery worth killing for. And that was strangely satisfying.
Suddenly Evan didn’t just want to survive. He was going to make sure that everyone, in all of known space, came to know a certain fact.
Time to missile impact: 10 seconds, 9 seconds, 8, 7, 6 and then …
Evan and his runabout vanished from the Aurora system.
Arn Lobeck watched in morbid fascination as the missile was destroyed against the spatial envelope of the glome. It was no ordinary explosion. All of the mass that had been in the missile was turned into plasma at over 3000 Kelvins and ejected at great velocity, back toward the ships of the Affirmatix task force. The piercing colored bands of light looked like something partway between a comet and a solar flare.
“Nobody was to leave the station!” Lobeck exclaimed. “Such simple orders! How hard could that be?”
“Focus, Arn” came the steady, measured
voice. Mithra Skylar, the only other person on their small ship. “We have decisions to make.”
“We leave for just sixteen hours, and this is what happens! We should have stayed insystem − this required our direct supervision.
And whose idea was that useless hostage negotiator program? Nobody would fall for that.”
“It’s done,” Skylar said. “What’s next? Should we send the surviving missiles into the glome?”
“Definitely,” Lobeck told her. “Program them to destroy the nearest target to the point of emergence.
That should take care of McElroy.”
“And do you have orders for any of the other ships?”
“As a matter of fact, I do. I’ll send orders while you direct the missiles.”
Lobeck hailed Captain Roe of M3120, on the ship nearest to the glome.
“Your ship will proceed to the glome where the
runabout has gone,” Lobeck ordered. “Then enter it.”
After the normal lag, the reply came back from Roe.
“But sir, the glome has not been mapped. We don’t know where it goes.”
“I have the mapping, and I am
certain,” Lobeck insisted. “It goes to Kelter. Your orders are to go through. Once you are in the Kelter system, assure that the runabout has been immobilized and cannot communicate, or it is destroyed. Gather the runabout, or any of its remains, into your hold.”
“Where will you be?” It was an insolent answer from a mere rental captain.
“I am following as quickly as possible. You must go now, because your ship can get to the glome a full forty minutes before mine can. Minutes may be crucial. In the Kelter system I will catch up to you and transfer my operations to your ship.”
Still, Roe was holding out.
“It’s an unknown glome. Going through it would be nuts! If it goes to Kelter, we can easily verify the route in about three days using a robot, and then we can use it.”
“We must be there now. In three days all may be lost. Proceed to the glome now.”
The lag was longer than normal. Finally Captain Roe’s reply arrived.
“Thank you, Mister Roe. We shall meet
you in the Kelter system. Out.”
Lobeck turned to Mithra Skylar, who had finished redirecting the missiles.
“So, about our fugitive scientist. Smart man. A little too smart, don’t you think? I wonder how long McElroy has been planning this.”
“You’re giving him too much credit,” Skylar told him. “He doesn’t think that way. Nose in his work, all the time.”
“But he was holding out on us. Until a week ago, he would talk about the Versari to anyone who wasn’t able to flee from him
. Then, silence. It’s just good planning on our part that we had the management system set up to monitor all of his calculations. This whole time he has been playing us – just waiting for the moment to make a break for it and keep everything for himself.”
“I really don’t think he saw it coming.”
“Simple information theory,” Skylar said. “If he had known what was there, he would have found it more quickly.”
Lobeck regarded Skylar.
She continued to grow thinner, and paler, with the passing of each year. There was so much he could do for her, if she would only let him. But in certain matters, not even he could command her.