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A hundred murdered ships swung around Saturn in endless ellipses. Slender freighters and sturdy tugs. Shuttles that had once woven continuous and ever-changing paths between the inhabited moons. Spidery surface-to-orbit gigs. The golden crescent of a clipper, built by a cooperative just two years ago to ply between Saturn and Jupiter, falling like a forlorn fairy-tale moon past the glorious arch of the ring system. Casualties of a war recently ended.
Most were superficially intact but hopelessly compromised, AIs driven insane by demons disseminated by Brazilian spies, fusion motors and control and life-support systems toasted by microwave bursts or EMP mines. In the frantic hours after their ships had been killed, surviving crews and passengers had attempted to make repairs or signal for help with lasers pried from dead comms packages, or had composed with varying degrees of resignation, despair, and anger last messages to their families and friends. In the freezing dark of her sleeping niche, aboard a freighter sliding past the butterscotch bands at Saturn's equator, the poet Lexis Parrander had written in blood on the blank screen of her slate We are the dead.
They were the dead. No one responded to the distress signals they aimed at the inhabited moons or the ships of the enemy. Some zipped themselves into sleeping niches and took overdoses, or opened veins at their wrists, or fastened plastic bags over their heads. Others, hoping to survive until rescue came, pulled on pressure suits and willed themselves into the deep, slow sleep of hibernation. In one ship people fought and killed each other because there were not enough pressure suits to go around. In another, they huddled around an impedance heater lashed up from cable and fuel cells, a futile last stand against the advance of the implacable cold.
Many of the ships, fleeing toward Uranus when they'd been killed, had planned to pick up speed by gravity-assist maneuvers around Saturn. Now they traced lonely paths that took them close around the gas giant and flung them out past the ring system and the orbits of the inner moons before reaching apogee and falling back. A few travelled even further outward, past the orbits of Titan, Hyperion, or even Iapetus.
And here was the black arrowhead of a Brazilian singleship approaching the farthest point of an orbit that was steeply inclined above the equatorial plane and had taken it more than twenty million kilometres from Saturn, into the lonely realm where scattered swarms of tiny moons traced long and eccentric paths. Inside its sleek hull, a trickle charge from a lithium-ion battery kept its coffin-sized lifesystem at 4? Celsius, and its mortally wounded pilot slept beyond the reach of any dream.
A spark of fusion flame flared in the starry black aft of the singleship. A ship was approaching: a robot tug that was mostly fuel tank and motor, drawing near and matching the eccentric axial spin of the crippled singleship with firecracker bursts from clusters of attitude jets until the two ships spun together like comically disproportionate but precisely synchronised iceskaters. The tug sidled closer and made hard contact, docking with latches along the midline of the singleship's flat belly. After running through a series of diagnostic checks, the tug killed its burden's spin and turned it through a hundred and eighty degrees and fired up its big fusion motor. The blue-white spear of the exhaust stretched kilometres beyond the coupled ships, altering their delta vee and their high, wide orbit, pushing them toward Dione and rendezvous with the flagship of the Greater Brazilian fleet.
Sri Hong-Owen was on Janus, climbing the outer slope of a big crater stamped into the moon's anti-saturnian hemisphere, when General Arvam Peixoto reached out to her. "Get back to the Glory of Gaia as soon as possible," he said. "I have a little job that requires your peculiar expertise."
"I have plenty of work here. Important work," Sri said, but she was speaking into dead air. The general had cut his end of the connection. She knew that if she tried to call back she wouldn't be able to get past his snarky aides, and she also knew that she couldn't risk the consequences of disobeying him: out here, in the aftermath of the Quiet War, Arvam Peixoto's word was law. So she switched to the common channel and told the three members of her crew that she'd been recalled.
"Drop whatever you're doing and pack up. We're leaving in an hour."
"We're already on it, boss," Vander Reece said. "We got word too."
"Of course you did," Sri said, and switched off her comms.
Despite the encumbrance of her pressure suit she was poised like a dancer in the vestigial gravity of the little moon, tethered to the static line she'd been following up the bright slope. Below her, a stretch of flat terrain planted with vacuum organisms that somewhat resembled giant silvery sunflowers tilted toward the close horizon. Above, a scalloped ridge stood stark against the black sky where Janus's co-orbital partner, Epimetheus, hung like a crooked fingernail paring. The two moons chased each other around the same track beyond the outer edge of the A Ring, one always slightly lower and faster than the other. Roughly every four years, the faster moon caught up with its slower partner. As it approached to within ten thousand kilometres, gravitational interaction kicked the faster moon into a higher, slower orbit and dropped the slower moon into a lower, faster orbit and the race started over, no end to it. A celestial version of a futile metabolic cycle. A crude metaphor for Sri's life after the Quiet War.
This was her second solo outing on Janus's surface, a long trek to patchwork gardens of several dozen variant species of vacuum organism that covered the inner slopes and floor of the crater. They'd already been mapped by drones, but Sri had been looking forward to rambling through them, taking samples, searching for anything that might give her further insights into the mind of their creator, the great gene wizard Avernus. Well, too bad. Arvam Peixoto had twitched her leash, and like a good little pet she must come running to see what her master wanted. So Sri bit down on her resentment and regret, collapsed her long-handled pick and hooked it to the utility belt of her pressure suit, and swarmed back down the slope, following the line through the stands of sunflower vacuum organisms.
Their black stems towered all around her, topped by silvery dishes that focused the dim light of the sun-one-hundredth the brightness of sunlight incident on Earth-onto central nodes whose heat-exchange systems drew up liquid methane and warmed it and pumped it back down into a labyrinthine network of mycelial threads that ramified through the regolith, absorbing carbonaceous compounds and rare earths and metals that were deposited in scales elaborated around the bases of the stems, ready to be picked and refined. The sunflowers crowded close together, dishes set edge to edge in a tiled canopy that obscured most of the sky, stems rooted in a scurf of fallen scales and clumps of blocky ejecta. Despite the exiguous gravity, traversing the Stygian undercroft of this dwarf forest was hard work. Sri was sweating hard inside her pressure suit and feeling a quivering exhaustion in her shoulders and calves when at last she broke free and swarmed up the shallow slope of another crater rim, following a well-trodden path toward the tug that squatted on a landing platform a short distance from a pressure dome.
Inside the dome's transparent blister, lights brighter than the shrunken sun illuminated a green, jungly garden-another of Avernus's sly little miracles. A preliminary survey had shown that the bushes, creepers, grasses, and sprawling trees of the jungle shared the same genome: all were different phenotypic expressions of a single artificial species, creating an intimately interlinked self-regulating biome. Sri's old mentor, Oscar Finnegan Ramos, would have thought this phenotype jungle a vain and silly exercise, a waste of a great talent. And he would have been wrong, as he'd been wrong about so much else. Sri was learning all kinds of novel techniques and tricks from her investigations of Avernus's gardens, finding inspiration for her own work, beginning to get the measure of the contours and amazing range of the gene wizard's mind.
Principles and elements of ecosystem construction developed and elaborated by Avernus had enabled Outer colonists of the moons of Jupiter and Saturn to establish robust and stable biomes in their cities and garden habitats and oases on the moons of Jupiter and Saturn; the vacuum organisms she'd designed, congeries of cellular nanomachines able to grow and reproduce on the moons' cold and airless surfaces, provided dependable supplies of CHON food, metals, fullerene composites, and every kind of complex organic compound. Avernus had expected little or no reward for her work and had withdrawn from ordinary life, an aloof genius protected by a small circle of acolytes, absent-mindedly conjuring miracle after miracle. But despite her long self-imposed exile, she had realised that humanity was approaching a crucial crossroads. A hundred years ago, when Earth had attempted to extend its hegemony over them, the pioneering generation of Outers had fled from the Moon to Mars and Jupiter's second-largest moon, Callisto. Shortly afterward, the nascent colonies on Mars had been H-bombed by the Chinese Democratic Republic, but the Outers on Callisto had survived and prospered, spreading to other moons of Jupiter and to the Saturn System, building cities and settlements, experimenting with novel forms of scientific utopianism. Previous attempts to heal the rift between Earth and the Outers had failed, but these failures had not mattered much. Earth had been preoccupied with repairing the damage caused by catastrophic climate change; the Outers had become inward-looking, absorbed in the creation of works of art or in scientific research with little or no practical value. But this equilibrium had been threatened by the expansionist ambitions of the rising generation of Outers, and Avernus had allowed herself to become one of the figureheads of the movement for peace and reconciliation, ploughing vast amounts of personal kudos into collaborative projects meant to strengthen bonds between the two branches of humanity.
The peace effort had been sabotaged. There had been a short, swift war. The Outers had been comprehensively defeated. Expeditionary forces from Earth's three major power blocs had taken control of every city and settlement on the moons of Jupiter and Saturn. A few Outers had managed to escape into the outer dark; Avernus had disappeared into the vastness of Titan's icescapes.
Sri had been unable to persuade Arvam Peixoto to mount a full-scale search for the gene wizard. The men and women under his command had more important things to do-securing the cities and major settlements on Mimas, Enceladus, Tethys, and Dione, policing and caring for their populations, repairing damaged infrastructure, and installing new administrations. Sri had been given only the vague promise of some kind of help in the indefinite future, and use of a pod of autonomous drones. They were ferociously smart hunters that could synthesise fuel from the hydrocarbons in Titan's atmosphere but were pitifully inadequate for the task of locating a single person squatting in some spiderhole on a smog-shrouded moon with a surface area of more than eighty-three million square kilometres. Sri had set them loose with little hope or expectation, and turned to searching out and exploring the gardens that Avernus had scattered across inhabited and uninhabited moons, elegant fusions of whimsy and theory that would take years of hard work to catalogue, analyse, and understand.
But the secrets of the gardens of Janus would have to wait. Sri helped her crew pack equipment and samples and load them into the lockers of the little tug, and one by one they cycled through the airlock into the cramped cabin where they'd been living for the past week. Sri strapped herself into the crash couch next to Vander Reece and he lit the motor and Janus fell away behind them, quickly lost in the glory of the rings. Six hours later, the tug entered orbit around Dione and rendezvoused with General Arvam Peixoto's flagship, the Glory of Gaia. The tug matched delta vee with the big ship and crept close and fired a harpoon tether and reeled itself onto a docking spar, and the spar contracted like a chameleon's tongue and delivered it to a cargo bay.
Sri gave her crew precise instructions about handling and storage of their collection of specimens and went off to find her son. After ten days in the vestigial gravity of Janus, the 0.05 g imparted by the ship's spin felt like lead in her bones. The hot stale air stank of ozone and old sweat, like the locker room of a municipal swimming pool; the corridors and companionways were crowded with soldiers and civilians. A shipload of advisers and civil servants had arrived from Earth while Sri had been working on Janus; in Berry's cubicle two men she didn't recognise were sleeping in cocoons hung on the walls. She backed out, called the quartermaster, and learned that Berry was no longer on board: he'd been reassigned to a habitat formerly owned by the Jones-Truex-Bakaleinikoff clan, down on the surface of Dione.
Sri didn't need to ask who'd arranged this, or why she hadn't been informed. Arvam Peixoto had refused to allow Berry to leave the Glory of Gaia, keeping him hostage to ensure Sri's absolute and unconditional loyalty; now, without bothering to consult her, the general had dispatched Berry to some tented habitat on a moon not yet fully pacified. With a cold star of indignation and anxiety burning in her chest, Sri swarmed down the ship's spine and badged her way past a marine guarding the hatch to what had been the officers' wardroom before Arvam Peixoto's staff had appropriated it.
Walls and ceiling padded with red leather; couches and side tables bolted to the floor; the general and half a dozen officers and civil servants over in one corner, studying spreadsheets scrolling through a big memo space. No one acknowledged Sri's entrance, and she knew better than to interrupt. Arvam Peixoto was a bully who loved to pick and pry at other people's weaknesses; if she confronted him head on, he'd use her anger against her. And besides, there was no point in picking a fight she couldn't win. No, she had to be calm and cool and strong. For the sake of Berry. For the sake of her work. So she snagged a bulb of coffee and sank into a sling chair and diverted herself by reviewing and collating the last of the data that her crew had gathered on Janus. The close attention required to parse the information soothed her; she had more or less regained her equilibrium when at last one of the aides floated across the room and told her the general had a few minutes to spare.
"Here you are at last. I was beginning to think you'd forgotten about me," Arvam Peixoto said.
He was a handsome, vigorous man in his sixties, dressed in his usual many-pocketed flight suit. He'd shorn his hair since they'd last met, cut off his ponytail and clipped what was left to a crisp snow white flattop. A pistol was holstered at his hip: the one he had used to murder a man right in front of Sri, once upon a time.
"Perhaps you've forgotten that I was working on Janus," Sri said.
"I don't believe I've been there yet. Have I been there yet?" Arvam said.
"No, sir," one of the aides said.
"Is it worth a visit?" Arvam said to Sri.
"I have plenty of work to do there. May I ask," Sri said, trying to keep her tone light and friendly, "why you sent Berry to Dione?"
"Oh, the ship's no place for the boy," Arvam said. "It's too crowded, and there's nothing for him to do except get into trouble. Where I sent him, it's being made over into my headquarters. It's been thoroughly checked out, and it's quite safe. A big garden with lawns and fields, trees and lakes. Just the kind of place for a healthy, active boy, yes?"
"I'd like to see it. Your people might have missed something."
"I'll tell you all about it after dinner tonight. The Pacific Community liaison secretary is paying a visit and for some reason he is eager to meet you. You can tell him about your gardens, and perhaps he'll let slip some useful information about the situation on Iapetus."
"This is why you interrupted my research? To make small talk with a PacCom official?"
"That's one reason. I also have a new project for you," Arvam said. "A very important project. Come with me."
Excerpted from GARDENS of the SUN by PAUL McAULEY Copyright © 2010 by Paul McAuley. Excerpted by permission.
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Posted February 25, 2010
The Three Powers Alliance of Greater Brazil, the European Union, and the Pacific Community won the Quiet War. To the victors go the spoils, but first the winners must deal with the conquered Outers and their cities on the moons of Jupiter and Saturn before plundering the scientific and technological advancements of the defeated leading to prison camps and forced cooperation. A century of enlightened pragmatic rationalism in the Milky Way has returned to the Dark Ages of repression.
Some Outers escape the deadly incarceration of the "Final Solution" fleeing to the Uranus moon of Miranda, but chased further away from the sun by the Greater Brazil armada to Neptune's moon Triton. An enigmatic leader directed allegedly by a future version of himself and followed by Outer "Ghost" cultists takes Outers further out in the solar system to Nephele. There the surviving Free Outers change colonization techniques from permanent to portable as they construct detachable "Gardens of the Sun" habitats. Meanwhile other Outers push diverse surviving techniques starting with the natural habitat genetic genius Avernus with her "gardens" and the human pragmatic cutting by Sri Hong-Owen. Thus beyond the inner planets where the sun is weak, humans still seek the light of knowledge while on earth people demand freedom having learned of the heroism of the Outers even in defeat. .
This is a fascinating science fiction sequel to the Quiet War, which makes two strong assertions. First even in the deadliest of dictatorships, there are tiny lights of enlightenment trying to find a means to get free, and second that war makes the victors pay exorbitant costs and consequences. The story line is action-packed as the Free Outers flee further away from the sun using diverse paths to freedom while the totalitarian axis of evil sends troops in pursuit to eradicate the survivors in spite of problems back home caused by the war. Paul McCauley provides a thought provoking yet exciting fast-paced futuristic thriller.
Posted June 18, 2012
No text was provided for this review.
Posted August 19, 2010
No text was provided for this review.