Falling Starsby Michael Flynn, Malcolm Hillgartner
Michael Flynn's epic of the near future, begun in Firestar and advanced in Rogue Star and Lodestar, climaxes with Falling Stars. In the early years of the 21st century humanity has advanced into space, but has discovered that certain asteroids have changed their orbits and are headed for horrifying impact with Earth. But there is a world/i>/i>/i>/i>… See more details below
Michael Flynn's epic of the near future, begun in Firestar and advanced in Rogue Star and Lodestar, climaxes with Falling Stars. In the early years of the 21st century humanity has advanced into space, but has discovered that certain asteroids have changed their orbits and are headed for horrifying impact with Earth. But there is a world financial crash, and politics get in the way of progress, requiring the cast of characters introduced in the earlier books to pull together and save humanity from disaster. With great difficulty, serious preparations begin to reach the asteroids and destroy or divert them, and culminate in a long, exciting voyage out to the asteroid first visited in Rogue Star, where an alien control room was discovered. Filled with ideas, scientific and technological wonders, and compelling familiar charactersRoberta, Chase, Jimmy Poole, Jacinta, and the rest Falling Stars is a strong conclusion to this multi-volume epic of SF.
Author Biography: Michael Flynn lives in Edison, New Jersey.
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By Michael Flynn, David Hartwell
Tom Doherty AssociatesCopyright © 2001 Michael Flynn
All rights reserved.
As Lunar Transfer Vessel-02, Buzz Aldrin, passed above the dark expanse of the Sea of Fecundity, Command Pilot Chase Coughlin eyeballed his progress against the landscape below. He watched the Foaming Sea fall behind and the ship coast over the abrupt, bright highlands around Banachiewicz Crater. On the money, he decided. A moment later, Gar Rustov, his copilot, confirmed their orbit against the groundside navigation beacons.
Chase studied the twisted, colorless, alien surface, a country of lights and shadows: all blacks and whites and grays. As the ship crossed the ridge between the Marginal and Smythe Seas, the white and gray surrendered entirely and the terminator shrouded the Moon in an unrelenting night. A single gleam broke the darkness where Artemis Mines nestled on the edge of the Smythe Sea.
At apogee, Chase hit the kick motor and the Buzzer entered Low Lunar Orbit. Used to be, back in Apollo days, that the insertion took place out of contact with Mission Control and the world held its collective breath until the ship came out from behind the Moon. Miss an insertion burn and you'd keep on going and never, ever come back. Even back in '09, when he and Ned DuBois had "moonstormed" in the old Glenn Curtiss, they had been out of contact at the critical times. Now Space Traffic Control had relays all over Farside.
"We have entered LoLO," Gar confirmed.
"Acknowledged." Of course, what did "contact" mean? Only that now, if someone ever did miss a burn, the world would know about it sooner rather than later.
"Artemis reports bucket is down rails," said Rustov. Chase glanced at the clock. The catapult launch was late by a few seconds, but not enough to affect closing distance or relative velocity. Chase had snagged enough pods in his time to know when he had to tickle his orbit. Still, you never depended on gut instinct—especially in ziggy, where your guts sometimes twisted inside out. He queried the navcomp and the Artificial Stupid agreed that the rendezvous would indeed fall within the envelope.
Too bad. There were times when Chase wished for something a little more exciting than catching pop flies. Something that would pump the old adrenaline; something that would take him out to the edge and test his mojo.
"Docking collar D-as-in-dog-Three is prepped," announced the flight engineer. Rick Sung-yi sat at right angles and "above" the two pilots; but in ziggy, who cared? The teep helmet enclosing his head made him look like The Human Fly. Telepresent, he could prep docking collars using remote-control waldos. The Buzzer was an ungainly craft—fully loaded, it looked like a bunch of grapes held together with Tinkertoys—but it got the job done.
"How's the balance?" Chase asked, not because he thought Rick would neglect The Buzzer's center of mass, but because Chase always checked everything. Tedious, but it wasn't like he had something else he had to do; and three times in the past anal- retentiveness had saved his butt. Not very dramatic, but he was alive; so there were no complaints coming.
"Pod orbit is ... in groove," announced Rustov. He leaned back in his seat. "Close approach in twenty minutes." Chase set the countdown clock and the crew relaxed. Nothing to do now but wait.
"So." Rustov turned his seat to face inboard. "Are you having sold your Pegasus stock?"
Chase shook his head. "Nah. I figure to hold on until the smoke clears."
Rick Sung-yi flipped the goggles from his teep helmet. "Me, I'd sell."
"Nothing wrong with the Old Gray Mare." Chase patted the winged stallion logo on his scarlet coveralls. "Pitchlynn ran a tight ship. Too bad she was seduced by the Dark Side."
"That won't impress the turkey herd," Sung-yi answered. "They spook easy. How much has the stock dropped in the last week?"
"Don't matter none. It's still higher than when I bought it." Chase hadn't bought it, exactly: it had been part of his comp package. But, still ...
Below, dawn was a knife edge west of Riccioli. Off to the south, a gleaming line thrust two hundred meters from the ringwall into Grimaldi Flats. "Is new catapult," Rustov told them. On the telescope viewscreen robots and waldos slid a coil module onto the quenchgun's inner tube. "Superconducting coils," Rustov explained. "Coil ahead of payload attracts, and one behind repels. Bing, bing down tube—" His two fists moved in tandem left to right. "Is how they move maglev trains."
"I know the guy who made that possible," Chase said. "Leland Hobart—Hobie, we always called him. Back in school, we thought he was dumb as bricks, but he was only thinking deep, you know."
"Never heard of him," said Rick.
Rustov turned and looked at Chase. "You mean 'Hobie, the Master of Cool'? You were in school with him?"
Chase Coughlin, Hot Pilot, did not impress Gar—who was, after all, something of a hot pilot himself. But Chase Coughlin, Classmate of Leland Hobart, was another story. Chase grinned. He'd have to tell Hobie, next time they crossed orbits.
"Is almost no metal in catapult," Rustov told Sung-yi, "because barrel coils induce wery high circumferential currents. And 'slinky' springs between barrel and outer tube not only take recoil but also make long heat path for dissipation."
Chase caught the F/E's eye. "Hey, Rick, I thought you were the engineer here."
Sung-yi shrugged. "Everyone has a hobby."
"Yeah? Mine's women."
"Right. How many in your collection?"
"Well ... okay, one. So far. But—"
Sung-yi laughed. "But Karen's more than you can handle anyway."
Rustov turned from the viewport as the catapult site fell behind and The Buzzer soared out over the dark soil of the Ocean of Storms. "Someday," he said, "they move ships with quenchguns. Shooting iron pellets behind at great velocity, ship moves forward. Action, reaction."
"Until then, Gar," said Chase, "we'll set you in the afterlock with a peashooter." Sung-yi laughed.
"Lobbing those canisters up onto L-1 will make pickups easier," the flight engineer admitted. "We won't have to duck down here to LoLO to make the retrieval. Save two klicks delta-V, easy." It was well known that an F/E would sell his grandmother for half a klick.
"If the cans don't fall off the saddle," Chase pointed out. "L-1 is unstable."
"They will be using spin stabilization," Rustov said, "and apolune kick motors. Cans will be reusable, too."
"Reusable?" said Chase. "You mean we'll get to lug the empties back to the Moon? Man, this job is a thrill a minute."
"Be glad it isn't," said Rick soberly.
They raised the Earth coming around the western limb of the Moon just as the countdown clock kicked in and the Artificial Stupid announced the five-minute warning. Rick flipped his teep goggles back in place and Chase and his crew swung back to their workstations.
The Buzzer swung between the Earth and Moon and there, directly forward and framed between the two, was red Mars.
There was an asteroid coming. Roberta Carson said so on her big web-cast. Impact in six years? Jesus, no wonder the market had crashed. Chase had asked around and it seemed ol' Styxy had the straight skinny. A Planetary Defense Committee had been quietly meeting since April trying to put a plan in place before breaking the news to the public. The asteroid was somewhere out around Mars for now, but there would be a close approach in July of '21 and a new FarTrip expedition would go out to meet it.
Yeah, thought Chase. Something new. Something different. Something out on the edge.
There was nothing Chase Coughlin loved so much as the punch of acceleration when a big bird lifted, unless it was the euphoria of utter freedom that followed as the Earth relaxed its obstinate grip and he floated free above the world. He was not given much to poetry—people sometimes said that he lacked depth—yet the mixture of power and skill and delicate balance involved in orbital flight moved him in a way he was utterly unable to describe. So perhaps it was only that he seldom spoke about such things that led others to hasty judgment.
Yet, Earth held charms of its own, if of a different sort, and Chase approached his mandatory groundside rotation with a surge of visceral anticipation. Karen and Little Chase met him at the pilot's lounge at Phoenix Sky Port, where Chase tossed his screeching son high in the air to simulate free fall. "Lift into orbit!" he cried.
"De-orbit burn!" the five-year-old hollered coming down to a soft landing.
The three of them walked out together laughing, but the chuckles died as they passed the gate area. Chase noted that Gates Five and Six seemed to be shut down entirely—at least there were no lift announcements posted. Two men sat in the waiting lounge at Gate Six with the air of having sat there a long time and, to judge by the belongings spread about, intent on staying for a good deal longer. Chase didn't think they were waiting for the next lift. He shook his head. He hadn't seen that sort of thing since he'd been a kid.
"Pegasus is cutting back again," Karen said as they left the secured area. "I scread it on my daily newsbot."
Chase answered the question she hadn't asked. "No change in my schedule." Not yet, at any rate. Seniority counted for something and Chase was glad of it, even though he felt bad for the poor sap who got left on the ground because he was low man on the pyramid. "I'm still down for an orbital cruise next month, after my R and R."
"A month is a long time," Karen said.
Chase looked at her eyes. "Worried, hon?"
"My firm lost two medium-big accounts ..."
"They dropped your firm?"
"No, the client closed up shop. Went on the block."
He put his arm across her shoulders and hugged her to him. "This Dip won't last long," he said. "That's what the experts are saying. There are all kinds of policies and stuff to deal with it."
"And stuff," she said, giving him a little shove. "Who's the accountant here?"
Chase did a double take as they passed a newsprinter at the base of the escalator to the magrail. "Aw, hell ..." He left her and walked to the stand, where he hit
Karen and Little Chase joined him. "Can't do what?" she asked.
"Says here they're closing down the Space Academy for the rest of the semester. It's funded by the lift taxes, and with traffic cut back so much ..." He swiped his key card through the reader to print the rest of the article. Scuttlebutt you could get for free on the web, but copyright you had to pay. The scuttlebutt was accurate more often than not, but this newsgroupie, Aleta Jackson, had a reputation for the inside skinny.
One more omen, he thought as he read the article on the maglev back to the Park 'n' Ride. He read it a second time, but the news hadn't changed at all.
Three weeks later, Pegasus called a staff meeting at their Phoenix Operations Center. Technically, Chase was on vacation, but the skinny said that to miss the meeting would be unwise, and Chase had never made an issue of watching the clock, anyway.
He zipped up the red coveralls with the flying stallion logo and checked the hang in the bedroom mirror with satisfaction. Still slim; still flat at thirty-four. He ran his hands down both sides of his head and felt the stubble growing out. Time for another trim. He wore his hair longish in the center, but shaved on either side. Rummaging in his jewelry box, he located a Jolly Roger ear stud, which he affixed in his right lobe; then he pulled the red baseball "gimme" cap over his head, tilted it at a cocky angle, and smiled at his reflection.
Someone had told him years ago that seeing a smile first thing in the morning helped you get through the day, so you might as well look happy when you checked your reflection because chances were you'd get damn-few smiles from anyone else.
That wasn't true for him, of course, as Karen proved when he came into the kitchen. Teeth flashed bright against a tan that a lifetime in Phoenix seemed to have made permanent, and a kiss too long to be the perfunctory, old-married kind almost convinced him to ditch the meeting and spend the day in bed. Karen, after all, telecommuted for an accounting firm and normally logged her time at home. How would the partners know what she was banging in between banging the keyboard?
"My assets will be wasting all day," he told her, releasing her at last.
"We'll calculate your ROA tonight," she promised.
Chase grinned. "My market share is rising already."
Playfully, she swatted his arm. "Don't get too jolly with it and invest it somewhere else."
"Direct deposit," he vowed, "I only do at home."
It was an old routine between them. Sometimes they used the language of space flight, more often that of accounting to talk of sex. So much so that Karen sometimes complained that she could no longer read a corporate report without becoming aroused. Whereupon Chase had acquired several annual reports and presented them to her in plain brown wrappers ...
Little Chase was still asleep, so Chase left the house after no more than a lingering look into his son's bedroom. Outside, the sun was rising into a cloudless sky. His red Ford Panther started with the roar of a predator. Long and sleek, it had more power than some Third World dictators, but Chase kept his speed moderate as he negotiated the curving streets of his subdivision. You didn't find power in brute strength or speed, but in subtlety and control; and his 'chine was always perfectly under his command—responsive, quick, precise. Besides, Little Chase played on these streets and neighbors ought to show a sense of community.
By the time he reached the flight ops center of Pegasus Spacelines, his good mood had evaporated somewhat. He recognized way-too-many of the cars slotted in the pilots' lot. Big schedule shuffle coming up, he guessed. They were only flying three out of five lifts from the original schedule as it was; how many more flights could they cut? He waved to Lakhmid Singh and Reeney Cue as he cruised for a parking place. Definitely too many pilots on the ground. He was ninety percent sure that Reeney had been booked for today's Prague-to-Europa lift.
There were no open spaces in the pilots' lot, so he had to park among the commoners. As he walked toward the building, jiggling his keys in his hand, he noticed cars with New Mexico plates in the spaces reserved for the big hats. Bosses over from Albuquerque. Not a good sign.
In the meeting room, he hung out in the back with Singh and Choochoo Honnycott, drinking bad coffee from a row of urns set up on a table there. Plates held the usual assortment of bagels and croissants, but few of the pilots touched them. "Desk jockey feed," they called it. Chase noticed that the chairs were set up auditorium-style. No tables, no notepads. Which meant whatever the big hats had to say, it would be short and simple. Chase scowled and drained his coffee.
He tried to remember who was booked to be up this week. What with cutbacks and cancellations, the lift schedule had been changed more often than a newborn's diaper, so it was hard to keep straight. Felicity Corazón, he thought. Maybe Gerhardt Brunnemacher. "Who has the lunar run this month?" he asked the others. He spotted Felicity's shaved head over near the windows, so either he had misremembered the schedule, or her lift had been canceled, too.
"I am thinking the schedule is to be revised again," Singh suggested with a fatalistic gust of breath.
Chase shook his head, but said nothing. Alexandra Feathershaft, Pegasus's chief pilot, had taken a seat in the front of the room and was bumping heads with a dark-haired man whom Chase failed to recognize. New CEO? he wondered. But you didn't need a general meeting to announce a new snout at the top trough; and Sandy was looking very unhappy. Chase handed his empty coffee cup to Choo-choo and walked up the center aisle of the room to where some of the office staff had already taken seats.
The three pilot coordinators were sitting together, as they usually did at these meetings. Heads close, chatting; but no smiles—which was unusual. If anyone knew who was up, it was this trio. Virginia saw him coming and nudged her companions and they fell silent at his approach. "Why, hello, Chase," sang Marie with broad enthusiasm. She was a certified Italian grandmother, gray of hair and short of frame. She seemed as frail as a bird, but was as tough and resilient as spring steel. Not only did she know who was flying which birds, but also which hotel or orbital station they were flopping at and—more important—who had birthdays and anniversaries coming up. Somehow she made sure that you were never on the far side of the Moon when you were supposed to be celebrating with your significant other. The pilots all called her "Mom."
"Big meeting," Chase said, letting his head indicate the crowded auditorium.
Marie's smile wavered just a bit. "The biggest ever, I guess." And was there just a touch of wistfulness in her voice?
"Is there anyone who's not here?"
Excerpted from Falling stars by Michael Flynn, David Hartwell. Copyright © 2001 Michael Flynn. Excerpted by permission of Tom Doherty Associates.
All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.
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