Read an Excerpt
Table of Contents
Book 1 - Knowledge of God
Part 1 - A MAN OF CONSTANT SORROW
Part 2 - WALKING STAR
Part 3 - TRUE RELIGION
Part 4 - THE ORDER OF THE EYE
Book 2 - Two Journeys
Part 5 - BEYOND THE MERIDIAN SEA
Part 6 - CARLOS’S PIZZA
Part 7 - THE NEW BRIGHTON STORY
Part 8 - APOTHEOSIS
TIMELINE: COYOTE HISTORY
Novels by Allen M. Steele
CLARKE COUNTY, SPACE
LABYRINTH OF NIGHT
A KING OF INFINITE SPACE
THE JERICHO ITERATION
THE TRANQUILLITY ALTERNATIVE
Collections by Allen M. Steele
ALL-AMERICAN ALIEN BOY
SEX AND VIOLENCE IN ZERO-G: THE COMPLETE “NEAR SPACE” STORIES
THE LAST SCIENCE FICTION WRITER
Nonfiction by Allen M. Steele
PRIMARY IGNITION: ESSAYS 1997-2001
THE BERKLEY PUBLISHING GROUP
Published by the Penguin Group
Penguin Group (USA) Inc.
375 Hudson Street, New York, New York 10014, USA
Penguin Group (Canada), 90 Eglinton Avenue East, Suite 700, Toronto, Ontario M4P 2Y3, Canada
(a division of Pearson Penguin Canada Inc.)
Penguin Books Ltd., 80 Strand, London WC2R 0RL, England
Penguin Group Ireland, 25 St. Stephen’s Green, Dublin 2, Ireland (a division of Penguin Books Ltd.)
Penguin Group (Australia), 250 Camberwell Road, Camberwell, Victoria 3124, Australia
(a division of Pearson Australia Group Pty. Ltd.)
Penguin Books India Pvt. Ltd., 11 Community Centre, Panchsheel Park, New Delhi—110 017, India
Penguin Group (NZ), 67 Apollo Drive, Rosedale, North Shore 0632, New Zealand
(a division of Pearson New Zealand Ltd.)
Penguin Books (South Africa) (Pty.) Ltd., 24 Sturdee Avenue, Rosebank, Johannesburg 2196,
Penguin Books Ltd., Registered Offices: 80 Strand, London WC2R 0RL, England
This is an original publication of The Berkley Publishing Group.
This is a work of fiction. Names, characters, places, and incidents either are the product of the author’s imagination or are used fictitiously, and any resemblance to actual persons, living or dead, business establishments, events, or locales is entirely coincidental. The publisher does not have any control over and does not assume any responsibility for author or third-party websites or their content.
Copyright © 2009 by Allen M. Steele.
“Part Two: Walking Star” was originally published, in slightly different form, in Forbidden Planets,
edited by Marvin Kaye, Science Fiction Book Club, May 2006.
Map illustrations by Ron Miller and Allen Steele.
Calendar illustration by Allen Steele.
All rights reserved. No part of this book may be reproduced, scanned, or distributed in any printed or electronic form without permission. Please do not participate in or encourage piracy of copyrighted materials in violation of the author’s rights. Purchase only authorized editions. ACE and the “A” design are trademarks of Penguin Group (USA) Inc.
Library of Congress Cataloging-in-Publication Data
Steele, Allen M.
eISBN : 978-1-101-01956-6
1. Space colonies—Fiction. 2. Life on other planets—Fiction. 3. Outer space—Exploration—
Fiction. 4. Interplanetary voyages—Fiction. I. Title.
When I began writing Coyote in early 2000, I believed that the tale I wanted to tell—the story of the first starship from Earth and the first interstellar colony—could be done in one volume. I’d been researching and developing this particular novel through most of the previous decade; after a couple of false starts, the time had finally come to put it down on paper.
As things turned out, though, the story was too big for one novel, so I decided to write a sequel, Coyote Rising, which would tie up the threads left hanging at the end of the first book. Yet that wasn’t enough, either; by the time I finished the second book, I’d come to realize that I still hadn’t answered a lot of questions I myself had put forward. As a result, a third book became necessary, and thus I wrote Coyote Frontier.
Once the Coyote trilogy was finished, I turned my attention to other matters, including a couple of independent novels—Spindrift and Galaxy Blues—set in the same universe. Then something happened that I didn’t expect.
When reviews of Coyote Frontier started coming in, quite a few critics expressed the opinion that, while it was obvious that I’d wrapped up the story line, there was more about Coyote that remained to be told. Then I began receiving fan mail from readers, with the majority asking me to write more. One reader used the maps Ron Miller and I had created to build a globe of Coyote; it now rests on my desk as a reference tool. Another took my description of the Coyote Federation flag to make one for me; it’s taped to my notebook. Yet another went so far as to create an entire fan website that included interactive maps and lists of all the major characters, events, starships, and locales mentioned in the books (you can visit it at www.coyoteseries.com). Not long after that, Coyote entered the curriculum of university science-fiction courses, with one student emailing me to ask questions for a dissertation she was writing about the trilogy.
Motivated by the attention, I decided to write some short fiction about Coyote. The first story, “Walking Star,” occurred after the events of Coyote Frontier; a slightly different version appears in this novel as Part Two. A second novella, “The River Horses,” filled in the gap between Coyote and Coyote Rising. And a short story, “The War of Dogs and Boids,” related an incident that didn’t make its way into Coyote. I thought these stories would satisfy everyone, but they only added fuel to the fire. Readers continued to insist that I write more about the world I had created, and after a while I came to realize that, although the original story arc was complete, I wasn’t finished with this place yet.
It should be pointed out that Coyote Horizon isn’t the “fourth book of the trilogy” but rather the first volume of a duology; the second volume, Coyote Destiny, will conclude the story arc. Although astute readers of this series may notice that the events of Coyote Horizon are roughly concurrent with those depicted in Galaxy Blues, it isn’t necessary to read the other book first in order to understand this novel.
This novel is dedicated to everyone who asked for more. Thank you for your support, and for demanding that I return to Coyote.
Carlos Montero—former president and diplomatic attaché, Coyote Federation
Wendy Gunther—former president, Coyote Federation
Susan Montero—naturalist, Colonial University
Jonathan Parson—captain, CFS Ted LeMare
Jorge Montero II—Susan and Jon’s son
Hawk Thompson—customs inspector
Sawyer Lee—wilderness guide
Joseph Walking Star Cassidy—equerry
Morgan Goldstein—CEO, Janus Ltd.
Mike Kennedy—Goldstein’s bodyguard
Grey Rice—Dominionist missionary
Alberto Consenza—Dominionist deacon
Joe Bains—parole officer
Barry Dreyfus—pilot and first mate, CFS Ted LeMare
David Laird—member, Living Earth
“Hurricane Dave” Peck—bartender
Charlie Banks—gyro pilot
Anastasia Tereshkova—commodore, Coyote Federation Navy
Russell Heflin—chief petty officer, CFSS Robert E. Lee
Tomas Conseco—aide to Wendy Gunther
Dieter Vogel—ambassador, European Alliance
Mahamatasja Jas Sa-Fhadda—hjadd Prime Emissary
Jasahajahd Taf Sa-Fhadda—hjadd Cultural Ambassador
BRIDGETON, NEW FLORIDA—ASMODEL 22, C.Y. 16
Traveler’s Rest, the home of two former presidents of the Coyote Federation, was located on top of the Eastern Divide, the granite wall that separated the savannas of New Florida from the broad expanse of the East Channel. Built of sturdy blackwood imported from Great Dakota, with a slate roof cantilevered at a forty-five-degree angle, the manor overlooked the channel and the port town of Bridgeton and, on the other side of the Divide, the grassy flatlands that lay southwest of Liberty. The residence had its own wind turbine, a slender pylon on which three blades slowly rotated in the early-spring breeze, as well as a satellite dish perched on a corner of the roof. Although visible for many miles, the house could only be reached by a narrow dirt road that wound its way up the ridge.
President Gunther’s personal aide had recommended that she come ahead of time, so Lynn Hu made sure that she arrived at Traveler’s Rest an hour before her scheduled appointment. It wasn’t until the cab she’d hired in Liberty came to a halt at the front gate at the bottom of the ridge, though, that she knew why. An iron-barred arch eight feet tall, the gate was the sole point of entry through the chain-link fence surrounding the estate. Although the bluff was steep enough to challenge even the most dedicated of climbers, the fence extended all up the side of the Divide, prohibiting anyone from climbing over. If that weren’t enough, solar-powered floodlights and surveillance cameras were positioned on posts within the fence.
To be sure, the couple who lived here had good reason to guard their privacy. Yet in the three weeks that she’d been on Coyote, Lynn hadn’t seen this measure of protection since going through customs at the New Brighton spaceport. Even Government House was remarkably accessible; all she’d had to do to arrange a meeting with the current president was present her credentials and have a brief chat with a couple of bureaucrats before she was escorted upstairs to his office.
Despite his colorful past—an uncle who’d been a hero of the Revolution, teenage years spent as a member of the Rigil Kent Brigade, being elected mayor of Clarksburg despite having a notorious brother who was murdered by his own son—Garth Thompson had given her a boring interview, with little worth quoting save as background material. Yet in the end, he’d come through with what Lynn really wanted: a satphone call to Traveler’s Rest, setting up an appointment for her to see the very person whom she’d traveled forty-six light-years to meet.
And so here she was. Lynn paid the driver C10, adding a couple of colonials as a tip. He pocketed the money without so much as a word, then reached up to shut the gullwing door; the coupe rose on its skirts and turned around to glide back down Swamp Road toward town. Stepping closer to the gate, Lynn noticed a small metal box on a post next to the gate. Raising its hinged cover, she found an intercom.
She pressed its button, bent closer. “Hello?”
“Yes?” The voice from the speaker was male, with the Hispanic accent of someone born in the Western Hemisphere Union back on Earth. “Who’s calling, please?”
“Lynn Hu . . . Pan News Service. I have an appointment with . . .”
“Of course, senorita. We’ve been expecting you.” A brief buzz, then the right half of the gate slowly swung open. “Please come up.”
“Thank you.” Lynn started to step through the gate, then stopped as something occurred to her. “Umm . . . come up, you said?”
She stared at the dirt road leading up the ridge and swallowed. No signs that any vehicles had recently come this way. Nothing that looked like a tram. She heard the chitter of small birds—grasshoarders, she’d learned they were called—within the high grass on either side of the road; a skeeter buzzed past her face, and she swatted it away.
“Walk, you mean,” she added.
No response from the intercom, yet as she strolled through the gate, it silently closed behind her, locking with a definitive click. Realizing that argument was pointless, she took a deep breath, then set out to climb the rest of the way to Traveler’s Rest.
The ascent was less difficult than it appeared. The house was only about three hundred yards from the bottom of the bluffs, with the road cut in a series of switchbacks that afforded an easy grade. Yet, although someone born and raised on Coyote probably would have considered it little more than morning exercise, Lynn had only recently become acclimated to the thin atmosphere; when she’d left the inn in Liberty, she hadn’t expected to go hiking. So her linen business suit was drenched with sweat and her sandals filled with sand by the time she arrived, out of breath and gasping, at the top of the ridge.
Traveler’s Rest was magnificent. Tall cathedral windows looked out upon carefully cultivated gardens, their beds planted with flowers both native to Coyote and imported from Earth, lending color to a place where it was least expected. Wooden stairs led her up a low retaining wall to a semicircular veranda upon which Adirondack chairs and potted shrubs had been set out; she noticed a small refractor telescope on a tripod, its capped lens pointed toward the sky. As she came closer, Lynn was startled to hear a horse whinny; looking around, she spotted a chestnut mare peering at her from the half door of a shed beneath the wind turbine. Horses were still scarce on this world, and most were working animals, yet this one was obviously a pet, something a rich person would ride every now and then.
She was about to walk over to the shed when a carved blackwood door opened on the veranda. A young man, not much older than herself and wearing a homespun tunic and trousers, stepped out. “Ms. Hu? I’m Tomas Conseco, the president’s personal aide. Would you follow me, please?”
The foyer was cool after the unseasonal warmth of the morning, the lighting subdued. “You may leave your shoes there,” Tomas said, motioning to a row of boots and moccasins carefully arranged on the tile floor beside the door. As Lynn gratefully slipped off her sandals, he offered her a hempcloth towel. “It’s a long walk here,” he added. “If you’d like to freshen up a bit, the guest bath is just over here.”
“No, thank you. This will be fine.” She ran the towel across her face and neck, mopping her sweat. Suddenly, her business suit felt too warm. “Is there any place where I may . . .? ” She plucked at her jacket lapel.
“Of course.” Tomas gallantly extended a hand, and Lynn shrugged out of the jacket and surrendered it to him.
“Just one thing, though,” she said, reaching for its inside pocket. “I need my pad . . .”
“Sorry. No pads.” Tomas shook his head as he draped her jacket across his arm. “Not until the president gives permission.”
“You don’t understand. I’m here to interview . . .”
“The president scheduled a time for you to meet with her.” Tomas turned to walk up a short flight of stairs. “Whether she consents to an interview is another matter entirely.”
Irritated, but with no choice but to comply, Lynn followed Tomas as he escorted her through the house. Much of the ground floor was taken up by a large living room, with overstuffed cat-skin furniture arranged around a fieldstone hearth whose chimney rose nearly twenty feet above the polished wooden floor. The sun shone brightly through the cathedral windows, illuminating a framed portrait of the two presidents that hung upon a wall above a handcrafted cabinet. A miniature globe of Coyote, positioned within a semicircular arc carried upon the shoulders of a pewter boid, stood upon a glass-topped center table; scattered here and there were books, delicate ceramic sculptures, finely woven blankets. A place of splendid isolation, inhabited by a couple who’d earned a dignified retirement after a lifetime of labor and sacrifice.
At the back of the living room was another row of windows, shorter than the ones that faced west. Tomas opened a glass door, then stepped aside to let Lynn pass through. She found herself on an open balcony that ran the length of the house, with only a railing separating her from a sheer escarpment that plunged several hundred feet to the rocky shores of the West Channel. And it was here that she found the former president of the Coyote Federation.
Wendy Gunther didn’t appear much older than she did when she and her husband, Carlos Montero, traveled to Earth as Coyote’s emissaries to the United Nations. With pale blond hair turned silver with age and braided into a slender rope that hung down her back from beneath a straw sun hat, she remained slender and almost sensuously regal, with only crow’s-feet at the corners of her eyes and the wrinkled skin on the backs of her hands giving evidence of her age. There was a certain strength to her, though, that hinted at a sense of belonging to this place; Lynn would later reflect that it was as if she’d become part of Coyote, as native to this world as any of the creatures that had evolved here.
An easel had been set up on the balcony, a broad canvas perched upon the tripod. President Gunther stood before it, wearing a smock smeared with flecks of gumtree-oil paint. She didn’t look around as Tomas escorted Lynn onto the balcony but instead continued to gently daub at the canvas with a small shagshair brush, using brief, gentle strokes to add minute details to the landscape she was creating.
“Ms. Hu, yes?” she said softly, her voice almost too quiet to hear. “Welcome. I’ll just be a minute.” She nodded toward a nearby pair of wingback wicker chairs. “Have a seat, please. Tomas . . . I believe there’s some ice tea in the kitchen. Would you be so kind?”
“Of course, Madam President.” Tomas gestured Lynn toward a chair, then disappeared through the glass door. Yet Lynn didn’t sit down yet. Instead, she stepped closer to the easel to see what President Gunther was painting.
The Garcia Narrows Bridge, as seen from the top of the Eastern Divide. Not a realistic depiction, though, but rather an impressionist image, its two-mile span rendered in muted, slightly unfocused earth tones, the reddish brown colors of the wooden trusswork contrasted against the blue waters of the West Channel and the dark tan of the Midland Rise on the opposite side. Certainly not a masterpiece, yet nonetheless the work of a talented amateur.
“Please don’t tell me it’s good.” The president added a dash of magenta to the leaves of the faux-birch trees in the foreground, then sighed in frustration as she stepped back from the canvas. “An old lady’s hobby, nothing more. Something to while away the time.”
“Well . . . it is pleasant.” Lynn gazed over the balcony rail at the view below. The Garcia Narrows Bridge rose high above the channel, its long roadway joining New Florida with the subcontinent of Midland to the east. If she correctly remembered the history of Coyote colonies, the bridge had been erected during the Union occupation, shortly before the Revolution. Although sabotaged by its own architect, James Alonzo Garcia, the bridge was rebuilt after the war, and now served as the major conduit between the two landmasses.
From the distance, she could see traffic moving along its roadway, with sleek hovercoupes recently imported from Earth competing with riders on horseback and farm wagons hauled by massive shags. Beneath the bridge lay Bridgeton’s commercial port; dozens of vessels were tied up to the pier, while people and animals unloaded freight from barges that had recently sailed up the channel from the Great Equatorial River and carried it to warehouses along the nearby wharf.
“Flattery will get you nowhere . . . except here.” President Gunther dropped her brush in a jar of grain alcohol, then picked up a rag next to the palette and wiped her hands. “So . . . from what I’ve been told, you’re a journalist from the old world, come out here to write about what you’ve found in the new.”
“Yes, ma’am. I—”
“Don’t ‘ma’am’ me, young lady.” The president’s chin lifted slightly as she turned toward her. “I have a daughter about your age, and I wouldn’t take that from her.” Lynn couldn’t tell she was joking until she glanced toward the door. “Tomas insists on formality,” the president added, smiling as she lowered her voice in a conspiratorial manner. “He’s been with me a long time, so I let him do that . . . but between you and me, I wish he’d call me by my first name.”
“Umm . . . Wendy?”
“At your service.” She offered her hand. “Pleased to meet you, Ms. Hu . . . or may I call you Lynn?”
“Lynn is fine.” Surprised by the unexpected familiarity, Lynn accepted Wendy’s hand. Her grasp was almost mannishly firm, her callused palm like old suede. “Yes, I’m writing a story . . . a series of stories, really . . . about the colonies. Trying to find out what’s going on here, for my readers back on . . .”
“ ‘Trying to find out what’s going on here.’ Fascinating.” Wendy glided over to the wicker chairs. “Please sit . . . ah, and here’s Tomas with our drinks.”
Lynn looked around just as Tomas opened the balcony door and stepped out, carrying two tall glasses filled with dark brown tea. He silently handed one to each of the women, then walked over to the railing and settled against it, arms folded against his chest. “Forgive the sarcasm,” Wendy said as she sat down, “but I’ve been on Coyote for most of my life, and I’m still trying to find out ‘what’s going on here.’ What makes you think you’re going to do any better?”
Again, it was hard to tell if the former president of the colonies was serious or not. “I have a hard time believing that. I mean, one of the reasons why I want to interview you is because of your memoirs . . .”
“You’ve read my book?” Wendy’s face expressed mild astonishment. “All of it?”
“Yes.” Lynn couldn’t help but grin. “You don’t know that it’s been a bestseller back home? Takes several minutes to download . . . and forget about trying to buy a hard copy in a bookstore. The waiting list is . . .”
“I had no idea.” The president shrugged. “I should have a word with my editor. My royalty statements seem to be in arrears.” She gave Lynn a sidelong glance. “Not that I’ll see any money from the book. I’ve put it in my contract that all royalties are to be contributed to the Colonial University medical school. The Kuniko Okada Scholarship, named for . . .”
“Your adoptive mother, who taught you how to become a physician yourself.” Lynn caught the annoyed look on Wendy’s face and shook her head. “Sorry. Didn’t mean to interrupt.”
“Not at all. I’m afraid I’m the one who keeps interrupting.” Wendy took a sip from her tea, then placed her glass on a table between them. Taking off her sun hat, she stood up for a moment to untie her smock, revealing the light summer dress she wore beneath it. “But the question still stands,” she continued, sitting down again. “What makes you think you can do any better?”
Lynn had lost the train of conversation. “Umm . . . at what?”
Wendy gazed at her for a moment, then turned her eyes toward the unfinished painting. “I’ve written my memoirs, and lately I’ve taken up art, and still I find that I’m unable to express . . . or even understand . . . what this has all been about. And I’ve been here since I was little more than a child. This place . . .” She shook her head. “I’m sorry, but you’ve come to the wrong person. I’m afraid I can’t help you.”
“Perhaps if you just spoke.” Lynn glanced at Tomas. “If I could have my pad, we could do an interview. Get it all down, in your own words.” She hesitated. “Or perhaps I could speak with your husband, if you’d rather not.”
“Carlos is in Liberty, visiting our grandson and attending to some business. I’m afraid he won’t be back for a few days.”
“I see.” Lynn picked up her glass of tea, took a sip. “I understand he’s become the official liaison to the hjadd. Is that where he is now? Visiting their consulate, I mean.”
Wendy said nothing for a moment. Lynn wondered if she’d pried a little further than she should. “His dealings with the hjadd are matters of state,” Wendy said at last, “and not open for discussion. Was the walk up here difficult? I can’t help but notice that you’re sweating.”
“Not really. Just getting used to the thin air.” Lynn cast her gaze across the balcony. “This is a beautiful house. Interesting place to build . . .”
“But a little off the beaten path, right?” Again, the guarded smile. “After I finished my second term in office, my husband’s sister had it built for us. We considered remaining in Liberty, but . . . well, considering that both Carlos and I had served as president, it became difficult for us to extricate ourselves from politics. Too many people seem to believe that, because they once voted for one or both of us, they’re entitled to a few minutes of our time. So we moved out here and made it as hard as possible for anyone to reach us.”
“Uh-huh.” If Lynn’s recollection was correct, that would be Carlos Montero’s younger sister Marie, who had married into the family that owned the Thompson Wood Company, one of the largest private enterprises on this world. Indeed, it was the current president’s older brother, Lars Thompson, who’d been Marie’s husband before he was murdered; with the recent death of Molly Thompson, the family patriarch, it had fallen to Marie to run the family business. How interesting that the two families, the Monteros and the Thompsons, had come to command so much of the wealth and political power on Coyote. “Well, it is hard to get to.”
“Our original house still stands in Liberty, if you care to visit it. Built shortly after he and I married. My daughter and her family live there now, but there’s talk about having it turned into a historical monument. I’d sooner have it razed first, but”—an offhand shrug—“sometimes places are like people. They become legendary whether they want to or not.”
“That’s what I wanted to talk to you about.” Lynn leaned a little closer, resting her elbows on her knees. “You and President Montero . . .”
“Carlos.” Wendy smiled. “If he were here, he’d insist.”
“Oh . . . yes, of course.” Lynn struggled to keep the conversation on track. “You and Carlos have been here since you were teenagers . . . children, really. You were among the first to step foot on Coyote. You witnessed the establishment of the Liberty colony. Fought in the Revolution. Explored the planet. Became leaders of the Federation, then led the first delegation to the United Nations. You participated in the first contact between humankind and the hjadd . . .”
“No.” Wendy briefly closed her eyes and wagged a finger. “Give credit where credit is due. That was the Galileo expedition . . . We only greeted the survivors after they returned from Rho Coronae Borealis.”
“My apologies . . . but, as president, you did welcome the first hjadd ambassador, and saw to it that land was set aside in Liberty for them to build an embassy.” She paused. “Just as Carlos later volunteered to become their Federation liaison.”
“What else should I have done? Tell them to mind their own business and go home?” A quiet smile as Wendy sipped her ice tea. “No doubt there are some on Earth who wished I’d done just that. The Dominionists, for one . . . not to mention the Living Earth fanatics.”
More than ever, Lynn wished that she had her pad, if only to catch such remarks on the record. But perhaps that was why Wendy had spoken so freely in the first place; she knew that this was a private chat and no more. “So what is it that you want from me?” Wendy went on, absently letting the ice rattle around her glass. “A few pithy remarks from a former president to spruce up your article? A few pictures?” She nodded toward the easel. “I can pose over there. Former President Gunther in retirement, beginning a new career as an artist. ‘I like to paint,’ she says. ‘It makes me feel good . . .’ ”
She was getting nowhere, and Lynn was tired of being patronized. “Thank you for sparing a few minutes of your time, Madam President,” she said, putting down her glass and standing up. “If you’d be gracious enough to have your assistant call me a cab, I’ll be on my—”
“Your objection has been noted, Ms. Hu. Now sit down.” When Lynn remained on her feet, Wendy lowered her voice. “No, really . . . sit with me, please. If you want that interview, you may have it. Only don’t ask me to reiterate everything you’ve already read in my memoirs, or talk about me and Carlos as if we’re relics who have nothing more to offer. Give us our dignity, and I’ll tell you anything you want.” She favored her with a sly wink. “And then some . . . provided you ask the right questions.”
Lynn hesitated, then resumed her seat. As she sat down again, she felt something prod her shoulder: her pad, silently offered to her by Tomas. She took it from him, flipped it open, and placed it on the table between her and Wendy. The former president crossed her legs and nodded, and Lynn posed the question she wanted most to have answered:
“Where do we go from here?”
Wendy blinked. “Pardon me?”
Lynn tried not to smile. “You wanted a hard question. Well, here it is. Where do we go from here?” While her words were still sinking in, she went on. “Nearly three-quarters of Coyote is still unsettled, let alone explored, and yet the Coyote Federation continues to restrict immigration from Earth. This despite the fact that Earth’s environment has collapsed and the solar system colonies are overpopulated.”
“Well, I can’t speak for . . .”
“In the meantime, the hjadd have established an embassy on Coyote while refusing to deal directly with Earth. And even then, there is very little that we know about them. Although they’ve recently opened trade negotiations with us, none of our ships has been allowed to travel to their world through the starbridge. Indeed, very few people have even seen what they look like inside the environment suits they wear when they go outside their compound . . . which is seldom, at best.”
“Well, I . . .”
“Just a moment, please.” Lynn glanced at the pad’s screen to check her notes. “And, as you mentioned earlier, there has also been resistance from various groups, notably the Dominionist Christians and Living Earth, whom you described earlier as fanatics—”
“That was off the record.”
“Of course.” Lynn placed a finger across her lips to hide her smile. “Where was I? Oh, yes . . . certain organizations have objected to humankind’s contact with alien races. Or, indeed, to the very idea of Coyote’s becoming a refuge for the human race, when they believe our efforts should be devoted to saving what’s left of Earth itself.” She lifted her eyes to gaze at Wendy. “So . . .”
She stopped. The former president of the Coyote Federation stared back at her. “So?”
“So . . . where do we go from here?” Lynn crossed her legs as she settled back in her chair. “Or would you rather let me take pictures of you at your easel? I’m sure my readers would be interested in your hobby, as a sidebar.”
The question hung in midair, an invisible wall between them. Wendy said nothing for a moment, then eased herself out of her chair. “I wish I could tell you,” she said, walking over to the railing to gaze out at the channel, “but one thing that I’ve learned is that life seldom takes the turns you expect it to take. The future is unknowable, and any attempt to divine the shapes of things to come from studying the present is doomed to failure. And I, for one, do not believe in predestination.”
“That’s not much of an answer.”
“It’s the best I can give. But see here . . .”
Stepping over to the easel, Wendy laid a hand upon the canvas’s frame. “This is a work in progress. I’ve rendered a pencil sketch of what I wish to depict, then used my oils and brushes in an attempt to bring that vision to life. But my skills are limited, and my eyes aren’t what they used to be. Although I could avail myself of gene therapy to recover some of my youth, both my husband and I have decided that we’d rather let nature take its course and grow old gracefully. So I have to make do with what I have.”
She picked up a dry brush. “In art, as in life, every action carries consequences. If my hand falters, if I select the wrong pigment”—she made a careless slash across the canvas, not touching the painting—“then the work is ruined and I have to start again.” She dropped the brush on the table. “But life isn’t so simple, is it? There’s no fresh canvas, nor can it be discarded.”
Wendy turned away from the painting. “Coyote is a work in progress. At first, we were only a handful of people, trying to survive on a world where every day had the potential to kill us. But those who came here first aboard the Alabama are in the winter of their lives, and even the youngest . . . Carlos and his sister, me, a few of our friends . . . are seeing autumn closing in. Even those who arrived aboard the Union Astronautica ships are getting old.” She glanced at her aide. “Tomas was only a boy when he came here with his family . . . aboard the Spirit, wasn’t it, Tom?”
“Yes, ma’am.” Tomas nodded. “The Spirit of Social Collectivism Carried to the Stars . . . the last starship built by the Union.”
“And he’s already an adult.” Wendy smiled at him. “Carlos and I are trying to groom him for political life, but he doesn’t seem to have that ambition.” Tomas gave a noncommittal shrug, and she went on. “So the future of this world belongs to those who came after us, the ones who’ve taken advantage of the starbridge to make the journey here from Earth.”
“So you do believe that your generation’s time has come and gone?”
Wendy shrugged. “I’m painting that bridge because it was built by people who are already old. Those who’ve come after them take it for granted as something that existed before they set foot on this world. One day, someone may decide that it’s hopelessly antiquated and, therefore, see the necessity of tearing it down and replacing it with something more modern.”
“Or it could stand for another hundred years.” Lynn stood up, walked over to the railing. “I rather hope so.”
“So do I . . . but that won’t be my decision to make, nor will it be yours.” Wendy gazed at her painting. “Maybe that’s one of the reasons why I’m doing this . . . to preserve, in some small way, what it looked like, so that my grandson will have something to show his children.”
She looked at Lynn again. “I think you’ve answered your own question. Where do we go from here? We’ve made contact with an alien race, but they’re still reluctant to let us visit their world. We’ve settled a new world, yet most of it remains unexplored . . . although my good friend Morgan Goldstein has some ideas about that.” Wendy pointed toward the distant wharf. “Down there . . . see that ship being built?”
Lynn peered in the direction she indicated. She hadn’t noticed it earlier, but an enormous sailship was under construction within a dry dock. It was still little more than a skeleton; the keel had been laid, and carpenters were working on the outer hull. “The Ted LeMare,” Wendy said. “Once it’s finished next year, the Colonial University will use it to make the first circumnavigation of the Great Equatorial River.”
“I’ve heard something about this, yes. And Morgan is paying for it?”
“Yes, he is . . . although I should mention that, unlike Carlos and me, he doesn’t like to be called by his first name. Something to remember if you have a chance to interview him.”
“I’ll try to keep that in mind.” Lynn hadn’t planned to interview Goldstein, but now that Wendy had mentioned it, she realized that it might be a good idea. “That’s awfully generous of him.”
Wendy frowned. “Generosity has little to do with it. Earth looks to Coyote as its salvation. Sure, the Western Hemisphere Union still refuses to recognize our sovereignty, but despite that and our own efforts to control immigration, every ship that comes here brings more settlers. Sooner or later, the colonies are going to run out of room. Morgan knows this. He may pretend to be interested in exploration for its own sake, but the fact of the matter is that he wants to locate new real estate.”
Lynn looked at her askance. “Sounds like you disapprove.”
A wry smile. “At one time, my biggest worry in life was whether I’d be killed by a boid . . . but it’s been years since I last saw one.” The smile disappeared. “Now my greatest concern is whether someone will come up the road and ask me or my husband to do something we’d regret, because I know we’d have trouble turning them down. Like this damned expedition. Carlos . . .”
Wendy stopped herself, making Lynn wonder what she was about to say. “That’s enough,” the president murmured, lifting a weathered hand to her face. “I’m sorry, but I think that’s all I want to say for now.”
Startled by the abrupt termination of the interview, Lynn stared at her and was surprised to see tears at the corners of her eyes. “Madam President, did I . . .? ”
“No, no. I’m just . . .” Wendy hastily turned away, but not before Lynn saw her wipe the tears from her face. “Thank you for coming by. My apologies for not being able to answer all your questions. Maybe we can continue this another time. Tomas . . .? ”
“Here, Madam President.” He walked over to the door, opened it for her. Without another word, Wendy strolled down the porch and disappeared into the house.
Lynn watched her go, then sighed as she walked over to the table and picked up her pad. The readout told her that her interview had lasted little more than ten minutes. Out of that, she’d probably get no more than two or three usable quotes. Hardly worth the effort.
Or was it? Wendy Gunther was right. Despite the fact that Coyote was home to nearly a hundred thousand people, it was still an alien world. Not only that, but the presence of the hjadd had added another catalyst whose effect was still unknown. And she’d seen Dominionist missionaries aboard the ship that had carried her here; what would they have to say about all this?
Once again, her gaze wandered to the unfinished painting. A work in progress, Wendy had called it. One errant brushstroke, and it would all be ruined.
Where do we go from here? A good question, indeed. Lynn had a feeling that it would be answered only in the fullness of time.
Knowledge of God
We are the end products of countless throws of genetic dice; never in the whole of time and space would that exact evolutionary sequence be repeated. From the engineering viewpoint, men and apes are virtually identical, yet we seldom confuse them. Even humanoid ETs would look far more—well, alien—than a gorilla. And most ETs may well be stranger in appearance than an octopus, a mantis, or a dinosaur.
This may be the reason that many people are opposed to SETI, because they realize that it is ticking like a time bomb at the foundations of our pride—and of many of our religions. They would applaud the old B-movie cliché “Such knowledge is not meant for man.”
—SIR ARTHUR C. CLARKE,
Greetings, Carbon-Based Bipeds!
A MAN OF CONSTANT SORROW
The customs inspector sat at his desk, waiting to die.
His life was not in peril. In fact, of all the jobs one could have on Coyote, his was among the safest. Nor was he terminally ill; in his midtwenties and reasonably healthy—at least in the physical sense—he would probably live sixty or seventy more years. No one had threatened him, and there was no reason for him to believe that tomorrow would be any different than today. His life was unremarkable, his existence dull and colorless.
Which was why he was waiting to die. He had nothing for which to live.
His desk was in a kiosk within the New Brighton spaceport, just past the entrance designated for arriving passengers. The desk measured four feet by two feet, and was clean except for a few items. A comp terminal, upon which abstract images swirled when it wasn’t displaying data. A biometric scanner, its lens pointed toward the partition in the transparent cube that made up the kiosk walls. Several stacks of forms, carefully arranged according to purpose and separated into trays marked IN and OUT. Three pens, one of which was missing its cap. An electronic passport stamp. A small box of tissue paper. A plastic bottle of water.
Every morning when he came to work, the first thing the inspector did was make sure that everything was in its proper place. There was seldom any change in the appearance of his desk from when he’d last seen it, unless another inspector had borrowed a pen (which was why one of them was missing its cap) or swiped some tissue paper; nonetheless, it was a way of starting the day. Reassured that all was right in his world, he would open the lower-right drawer and place inside a brown paper bag containing his lunch: a ham-and-cheese sandwich, an apple, perhaps a chocolate brownie that he’d picked up at the deli down the street from his apartment. He would then take a seat in the hard, straight-backed chair and, folding his hands together, lift his gaze to the partition, through which he could see the broad windows overlooking the landing field.
Other customs inspectors sat in identical cubes, doing the same job as he did, or stood behind adjacent tables, ready to open suitcases, trunks, and bags in search of contraband: illegal drugs, unregistered firearms, explosive materials, invasive species of flora or fauna, or anything else that might pose a risk to the health and safety of the inhabitants of the new world. He seldom spoke to any of them, though, and they’d come to accept the fact that their coworker preferred to be left alone. But they’d all noticed the thick silver band on his left wrist and recognized it for what it was: a control bracelet, the kind issued to former criminals released on parole.
He’d never told anyone the reason he had to wear it, and their supervisors refused to divulge that information. But the other inspectors were as resourceful as they were curious, and it didn’t take long for them to ferret out the background of their quiet colleague. During lunch-hour conversations in the break room—he almost always ate lunch by himself, so he was seldom among them—they sometimes discussed who he was and why he was here. And although they pitied him, or at least to the extent that anyone might express empathy for a young man with a troubled past, they also avoided him as someone who’d once committed an act of violence and who might well be provoked to do so again.