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Authors: Gregory Benford

The Sunborn

BOOK: The Sunborn
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Also by Gregory Benford

Fiction:

Beyond Infinity
The Martian Race
Eater
The Stars in Shroud
Jupiter Project
Shiva Descending (with William Rostler)
Heart of the Comet (with David Brin)
A Darker Geometry (with Mark O. Martin)
Beyond the Fall of Night (with Arthur C. Clarke)
If the Stars Are Gods (with Gordon Eklund)
Against Infinity
Cosm
Foundation’s Fear
Artifact
Timescape

The Galactic Center Series

In the Ocean of Night
Across the Seas of Suns
Great Sky River
Tides of Light
Furious Gulf
Sailing Bright Eternity

Nonfiction:

Deep Time: How Humanity Communicates Across Millennia

Copyright

This book is a work of fiction. Names, characters, places, and incidents are the product of the author’s imagination or are used fictitiously. Any resemblance to actual events, locales, or persons, living or dead, is coincidental.

Copyright © 2005 by Abbenford Associates
All rights reserved
.

Aspect
Warner Books

Time Warner Book Group
1271 Avenue of the Americas, New York, NY 10020
Visit our Web site at www.twbookmark.com.

The Aspect name and logo are registered trademarks of Warner Books.

Printed in the United States of America

First Printing: March 2005
10 9 8 7 6 5 4 3 2 1

ISBN: 0-466-53058-1
LCCN: 2004114834

Dedication

To
Robert Forward, Charles Sheffield, and Hal Clement

They showed a scrupulous respect for the culture, methods, and findings of science, no matter where these led.

CONTENTS

PART I – RAW MARS

1. FIRM, FRIENDLY, POSITIVE

2. BOOT HILL

3. THE MARS EFFECT

4. VENT R

5. THE STROMATOLITE EMPIRE

6. LAST TRAIN OUT OF DODGE

PART II – THE FAR DARK

1. THE ZAND

2. CALLING HOME

3. THE WAY OF THINGS

4. DISBELIEF

5. A DAY AT THE BEACH

6. OLD ONE

7. CRESCENDO

8. DOWN IN THE DARK

9. REBIRTHING

10. HOUSEGUEST

11. EVIDENCE OF THINGS NOT SEEN

12. A HYMN OF DAY’S DEPARTURE

13. POST FACTO

14. THIS IMMENSE VOYAGE

PART III – BEYOND PLUTO

1. LONG WAVELENGTHS

2. THE TOWERING ICE

3. INSTIGATOR

4. THE SOLAR RAMPARTS

5. STRANGE SYMPHONY

6. TINY THINGS

7. SPIDER NET

8. CASCADE

9. RAM PRESSURE

10. SORE DIMINISHED

11. DRAGONS IN THE NIGHT

12. HARD PLASMA

13. BURNT-YELLOW FINGERS

14. STICK-OUTS

15. THE VIOLENCE OF THE AMPERES

16. TUBE WORM

17. SUDDEN PRIDE

18. THE EATERS OF GODS

19. ICETEROID

20. TOROIDS

21. WANJINA

22. FREE RADICALS

23. PLASMA DRAGONS

24. CREATURES AS GAUZY AS LACE

25. SMOKE RINGS

PART IV – COSMIC UNREST

1. UNIVERSALS

2. MASS IS BRUTE

3. INCOMING

4. DYNAMICS

5. ZEUS

6. TIP

7. PROTO

8. TORQUES

9. A PATH INTO THE HOTNESS

10. THE SUNBORN MAGNETICS

11. THE DEEP

12. THE TINY ONES

13. EIGHT-FOLD HELIX

AFTERWORD

PART I
RAW MARS

The world will never starve for wonders; but only for want of wonder.

—Gilbert Keith Chesterton

The sun’s seethe broke upward, flaring into a fountain of fire. A colossal magnetic arch trembled, rubbery and snaking with scorching energies. At its very top the lacy magnetic fibers ruptured. Virulent plasma poured forth, fleeing the star in furious jets. The angry spout curled and spat, thundering into the vacuum, spreading, whipping into fresh filaments. White-hot, it splashed and spun. Yet from this violence came structure. Crackling traceries writhed and coiled together. Bright strands peeled from the outrushing flow. Howling ferocity fought, expanded, and then cooled as the billowing plume rose. Lacy arrays came and went as magnetic forces struggled against the blaring heat of plasma now unleashed. Here and there, fields weaved and knotted. Order arose in the sprawling, swelling teardrop. Internal wrath dimmed. The plasma gout sped outward from the parent star, rushing into the realm of planets, bringing stormy funnels, wriggling and fighting. A red world lay in its path, unshielded, its ancient rock cloaked only by a thin film of gas. Yet life clung there. Frothing with great, seething energies, the tempest roared toward it.

 

1.
FIRM, FRIENDLY, POSITIVE

J
ULIA TURNED HER BEST SIDE
toward the camera, a three-quarters shot, and spread her arms. Okay, maybe a bit theatrical, but she had the backdrop for it.

“Welcome to Earth on Mars!” She always opened firm, friendly, positive. She swept an arm around, taking in the stubby trees with their odd purple-green leaves, the raked mounds barely sprouting brownish green patches, and above it all, the shiny curve of the dome, a hundred meters high. Beyond the dome’s ultraviolet screening hung the dark bowl of space. The somber cap was always there, reminding them of how little atmosphere shielded them.

“We showed you the inflation of the big dome a month ago, the planting of trees right after—now we have grass.”

Not any breed of grass you’ve ever seen before, though; it’s a genetically modified plant more like a dwarf bamboo, and technically bamboo is a grass, just a really stiff one, so…

“It’ll be a while before we can play football on it, true. We’re pretty sure nothing like grass ever grew on the surface of ancient Mars, even back in the warm and wet period. So this prickly little fuzz”—she stooped to stroke it—“is a first. It’ll help along the big job that the microbes are doing down in the ground already—breaking up the regolith, making it into real soil.”

Was she sounding strained already? It was getting harder to strike the right level of enthusiasm in her weekly broadcast to Earthside. She could barely remember the days, decades before, when she had broadcast several times a day, sometimes from this same spot. But then, they had been breaking new ground nearly every day. And betting pools on Earth gave new odds every time they went out in the rover, for whether they’d come back alive. Usually about fifty-fifty. The good ol’ days.

She smiled, strolling to her right as Viktor panned the camera. She had to remember her marks and turns, and to keep out of camera view the crowd of camp staff watching nearby.

Viktor called, “Cut, got sun reflecting in the lens.”

“Whew! Good. Let me memorize a few lines…”

She was glad for the break. It was getting harder to sound perky. The Consortium people had been grousing about that lately. But then, they had done so periodically, over the two decades she and Viktor had been doing their little shows. Media mavens had some respect for The Mars Couple (the title of the Broadway musical about them), but the long shadow of the Consortium, which had backed the 2018 First Landing (the movie title), wanted to keep them on the air for the worldwide subscriber base—and always pumping the numbers higher, of course. Axelrod, still the head of the Consortium, The Man Who Sold Mars (the miniseries title), and now probably the wealthiest man in the solar system, played diplomat between them and the execs Earthside. Exploration? Discovery? Yes, they still got to do some. But a safari that turned up nothing new—like the Olympus Mons fiasco
{Climb the Solar System’s Highest Mountain!)
—could drive down Consortium shares, send heads rolling at high corporate levels, and make headlines. So she and Viktor tried not to think too much about the eternal media issues. It never really helped.

Viktor was fiddling, changing camera angle, and here came Andy Lang, trotting over with his studied grin. “Julia, got an idea for a last shot.”

“What is it?” She looked beyond him and saw the two arm wings Andy had brought from Earth the year before, bright blue monolayer on a carbon strut. “Oh—well, look, we’ve done your flying stunt three times already.”

“I’m thinking just a closing shot.” He gestured up to the top of the dome, over a hundred meters above. “I come off the top platform, swing around the eucalyptus clump, into Viktor’s field of view—after you do your last line.”

“Ummm.” She had to admit they had no good finishing image, and Earthside was always carping about that. “You can do it?”

“Been practicing. I’ve got the timing down.” He was a big, muscular guy, an engineering wizard who had improved their geothermal system enormously. And a looker. Axelrod made sure to send them lookers. After all, thousands volunteered to work here every year. Why take the ugly ones when the worldwide audience liked eye candy?

Julia looked up at the ledge platform near the dome peak. Andy’s earlier flights had gone around the dome’s outer curve, pleasantly graceful. The eucalyptus stand at the dome’s center was her pet project. She insisted on some blue gum trees from her Australian home, the forests north of Adelaide. Earthside dutifully responded with a funded contest among plant biologists to find a eucalyptus that could withstand the sleeting ultraviolet here. Of course, the dome helped a lot; chemists had developed a miracle polymer that could billow into a broad dome, holding in nearly a full Earth atmosphere, and yet also subtract a lot of the UV from sunlight—all without editing away the middle spectrum needed for plant growth.

The blue gums were a darker hue, but they grew rapidly in the Martian regolith. Of course she had to prepare the soil, in joyful days spent spading in the humus they had processed from their own wastes. The French called it
eau de fumier,
spirit of manure, and chronicled every centimeter of blue gum growth. She’d sprouted the seeds and nurtured the tiny seedlings fiercely. Once planted, their white flanks had grown astonishingly fast. Their leaves hung down, minimizing their exposure to the residual hard ultraviolet that got through the dome’s filtering skin. But their trunks were spindly, with odd limbs sticking out like awkward elbows—yet more evidence that bringing life to Mars was not going to be easy.

She considered. Andy was a media hit with the ladies Earthside, if perhaps a bit of a camera hog. She had been giving him all the airtime he wanted lately, glad to off-load the work. “Okay, get on up there.”

She checked the timing with Viktor while Andy shimmied up the climbing rope to the peak of the dome and its platform, the big arm wings strapped to his back making him look like a gigantic moth. They moved location so that Andy would be shielded from Viktor’s view until he came around the clump of whitebark eucalyptus trunks as Viktor panned upward from her concluding shot.

In a few minutes more they were ready to go. Julia wondered if she could ease out of this job altogether, letting Andy the Hunk take most of it. She made a mental note to tactfully broach the subject with Axelrod.

“Positions!” Viktor called. Andy nodded from the platform, wings in place. “On,” Viktor said.

Without thinking about it Julia hit the same marker where she had left off. “You can’t imagine how thrilling it is to walk on Martian grass, without a space suit, breathing air that smells…well, I won’t lie, still pretty dusty. But better, yes. To think that we used to test the rocks here for signs of water deposition! Once the raw frontier, now a park. Progress.”

Of course, the hard part was turning regolith rocks and sand into topsoil, but that’s booooring, yes.
Earthside had developed some fierce strains of bacteria that could break down all comers—old running shoes, hardbound books, insulation, packing buffers—into rich black loam almost as you watched.

BOOK: The Sunborn
12.37Mb size Format: txt, pdf, ePub
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