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Icehenge [NOOK Book]


On the North Pole of Pluto there stands an enigma: a huge circle of standing blocks of ice, built on the pattern of Earth's Stonehenge--but ten times the size, standing alone at the farthest reaches of the Solar System. What is it? Who came there to build it?

In Kim Stanley Robinson's Icehenge, the secret lies, perhaps, in the chaotic ...
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On the North Pole of Pluto there stands an enigma: a huge circle of standing blocks of ice, built on the pattern of Earth's Stonehenge--but ten times the size, standing alone at the farthest reaches of the Solar System. What is it? Who came there to build it?

In Kim Stanley Robinson's Icehenge, the secret lies, perhaps, in the chaotic decades of the Martian Revolution, in the lost memories of those who have lived for centuries.

At the publisher's request, this title is being sold without Digital Rights Management software (DRM) applied.

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Editorial Reviews

Baltimore Sun
From the Publisher

"Unforgettable." --The Baltimore Sun

"In a genre not often distinguished by strong characterization, Robinson is a welcome exception. Yet even the memorable community of his The Wild Shore did not prepare us for this brilliant triptych in which the monolithic artifact of the title and the events surrounding it are described and examined from widely different points of view. The distinct, personal voices of the narratives, as they construct and deconstruct their elegant theories, are a pleasure rare in SF." --Publishers Weekly

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Product Details

  • ISBN-13: 9781466862203
  • Publisher: Tom Doherty Associates
  • Publication date: 1/7/2014
  • Sold by: Macmillan
  • Format: eBook
  • Edition description: First Edition
  • Pages: 288
  • Sales rank: 134,905
  • File size: 403 KB

Meet the Author

Kim Stanley Robinson was born in 1952. A native Californian, he is the author of the Nebula Award-winning Red Mars and several other highly regarded SF novels, including his acclaimed Three Californias trilogy.

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Read an Excerpt


By Robinson, Kim Stanley

Orb Books

Copyright © 1998 Robinson, Kim Stanley
All right reserved.

The first indication I had of the mutiny came as we approached the inner limit of the first asteroid belt. Of course I didn't know what it meant at the time; it was no more than a locked door.
The first belt we call the dud belt, because the asteroids in it are basaltic achondrite, and no use to miners. But we would be among the carbonaceous chondrites soon enough, and one day I went down to the farm to get ready. I fed a bit more light to the algae, for in the following weeks when the boats went out to break up rocks there would be a significant oxygen depletion, and we would need more chlorella around to help balance the gas exchange. I activated a few more bulbs in the lamps and started fooling around with the suspension medium. Biologic life-support systems are my work and play (I am one of the best at it), and since I was making room for more chlorella, I once again became interested in the excess biomass problem. Thinking to cut down on surplus algae by suspending it less densely, I walked between long rows of spinach and cabbage to the door of one of the storage rooms at the back of the farm, to get a few more tanks. I turned the handle of the door. It was locked.
"Emma!" called a voice. I looked up. It was Al Nordhoff, one of my assistants.
"Do you know why this door is locked?" I asked.
He shook his head. "I was wondering myself yesterday. I guess there's classified cargo in there. I was toldto leave it alone."
"It's our storage room," I said, irritated.
Al shrugged. "Ask Captain Swann about it."
"I will."
Now Eric Swann and I were old friends, and I was upset that something was going on in my area that he had failed to tell me about. So when I found him on the bridge, I came straight to the point.
"Eric, how come I'm locked out of one of my own storage rooms? What have you got in there?"
Immediately he blushed as red as his hair, and hung his head. The two rocketry and guidance officers on the bridge looked down at their consoles.
"I can't tell you what's in there, Emma. It's classified. I can't tell anyone until later."
I stared at him. I know I can intimidate people if I look at them hard enough. His blush got deeper, his freckles disappeared in the general redness, his blue eyes gave me a watery stare. But he wasn't going to tell me. I curled my lip at him and left the bridge.
That was the first sign: a locked door, a secret reason for it. I thought to myself, We're taking something for the Committee out to Ceres, perhaps. Weapons, no doubt. It was typical of the Mars Development Committee to keep secrets. But I didn't jump to any conclusions; merely stayed alert.
The second sign was one I probably would have missed, had I not been alerted by the first. I was walking down the corridor to the dining commons, past the tapestry lounges between the commons and the bedrooms, when I heard voices from a lounge and stopped. Just the voices sounded funny, all whispery and rapid. I recognized John Dancer's voice:
"We can't do anything of the sort until after the rendezvous, and you know it."
"No one will notice," said a woman, perhaps Ilene Breton.
"You hope no one would notice," Dancer replied. "But you can't be sure that Duggins or Nordhoff wouldn't stumble across it. We have to wait on everything until after the rendezvous, you know that."
Then I heard steps across the velcro carpet behind me, and with a start I began to walk again, past the door of the lounge. I looked in; John and Ilene, sure enough, among several others. They all looked up as I appeared in the doorway, and their conversation abruptly died. I stared at them and they stared back, at a loss for speech. I walked on to the dining commons.
A rendezvous in the belt. A group of people, not the superior officers of the ship, in on this event and keeping it a secret from the others. A locked storage hold....Things were not falling together for me.
After that I began to see things everywhere. People stopped talking when I walked by. There were meetings late at night, in bedrooms. I walked by the radio room once, and someone was sending out a long message through the coding machine. Quite a few of the storage room doors were locked, back behind the farm; and some of the ore holds were locked as well.
After a few days of this I shook my head and wondered if I were making it all up. There were explanations for everything I had noticed. Shipboard life tends to become cliquish on the best of runs; even though there were only forty of us, divisions would spring up over the year of an expedition. And these were troubled times, back on Mars. The consolidation of the various sectors under the central coordination of the Committee was causing a lot of dissatisfaction. Sectionalism was rife, subversive groups were everywhere, supposedly. These facts were enough to explain all the little factions I now noticed on the Rust Eagle. And paranoia is one of the most common shipboard disorders...seeing patterns is easy in such a heavily patterned environment.
So I began to discount it all. Perhaps we were carrying something to Ceres for the Committee, but that was nothing.
Still, there was something about the atmosphere of the ship in those days. More people than usual were jumpy and strained. There were mysterious glances an atmosphere of mystery. But here hindsight may be influencing me. The facts are what I want here. This record will help me to remember these events many years, perhaps centuries, from now, and so I must set down the facts, the sharpest spur to the memory.
In any case, the third sign was unmistakable. By this time the sun was nearly between us and Mars, and I went to the radio room to get a last letter off to my fool of a father, in jail temporarily for his loud mouth. Afterwards, I went to the jump tube, and was about to fall down to the living quarters when I heard voices floating down the tube from the bridge. Had that been my name? I pulled myself up the rail to the steps that led to the bridge, and stayed there, eavesdropping again. A habit of mine. Once more, John Dancer was speaking.
"Emma Weil is pro-Committee all the way," he said as if arguing the point.
"Even so," said another man, and a couple of voices cut over so that I didn't hear what he said.
"No," Dancer said, interrupting the other voices quickly. "Weil is probably the most important person aboard this ship. We can't talk to her about any of this until Swann says so, and that won't be until after the rendezvous. So you can forget it."
That did it. When it was clear the conversation was over I hopped back to the jump tube and fell down it, aiding the faint acceleration-gravity with some pulls on the rail. I ticked off in my mind the places Swann would most likely be at that hour, intent on finding him and having a long talk. It is not healthy to believe yourself the focus of a ship-wide conspiracy.
* * *
I had known Eric Swann for a long time.
Before the turn of the century, every sector ran its own mining expeditions. Royal Dutch looked for carbonaceous chondrite; Mobil was after the basaltic chondrites in the dud belt; Texas mined the silicate types. Chevron had the project of pulling one of the Amors into a Martian orbit, to make another moon. (This became the moon Amor, which was turned into a detention center. My father lived there.) So each sector had its own asteroid crew, and I got to know the Royal Dutch miners pretty well. Swann was one of the rocketry and guidance officers, and a good friend of my husband Charlie, who was also in R and G. Over the course of many runs in the belt I talked with Swann often, and even after Charlie and I divorced we remained close.
But when the Committee took over the mining operations in 2213, all the teams, even the Soviets, were thrown into a common pool, and I saw all of my friends from Royal Dutch a lot less often. My infrequent assignments with Swann had been cause for celebration, and this present assignment, with him as captain, I had thought would be a real pleasure.
Now, pulling around the ship I was the most important person on, I was not so sure. But I thought, Swann will tell me what's going on. And if he doesn't know anything about all this, then he'd better be told that something funny is happening.
I found him in one of the little window rooms, seated before the thick plasteel separating him from the vacuum. His long legs were crossed in the yoga position, and he hummed softly: meditating, his mind a floating mirror of the changing square of stars.
"Hey Eric," I said, none too softly.
"Emma," he said dreamily, and stretched his arms like a cat. "Sit down." He showed me a chunk of rock he had had in his lap. "Look at this Chantonnay." That's a chondrite that has been shocked into harder rock. "Pretty, isn't it?"
I sat. "Yes," I said. "So what's happening on this trip?"
He blushed. Swann was faster at that than anyone I ever saw. "Not much. Beyond that I can't say."
"I know that's the official position. But you can tell me here."
He shook his head. "I'm going to tell you, but it has to wait a while longer." He looked at me directly. "Don't get angry, Emma."
"But other people know what's going on! A lot of them. And they're talking about me." I told him about the things I had noticed and overheard. "Now why should I be the most important person on this ship? That's absurd! And why should they know about whatever it is we're doing, and not me?"
Swann looked worried, annoyed. "They don't all know....You see, your help will be important, essential perhaps--" He stopped, as if he had already said too much. His freckled face twisted as his mouth moved about. Finally he shook his head violently. "You'll just have to wait a few more days, Emma. Trust me, all right? Just trust me and wait."
That was hardly satisfactory, but what could I do? He knew something, but he wasn't going to tell it to me. Tight-lipped, I nodded my good-bye and left.
* * *
The mutiny occurred, ironically enough, on my eightieth birthday, a few days after my talk with Swann. August 5, 2248.
I woke up thinking, now you are an octogenarian. I got out of bed (deceleration-gee entirely gone, weightless now as we coasted), sponged my face, looked in the mirror. It is a strange experience to look inside your own retinas; down there inside is the one thinking, in that other seems as if, if you could get the light right, you could see yourself.
I grasped the handholds of my exerciser and worked out for a while, thinking about birthdays. All the birthdays in this new age. One of my earliest memories, now, was my tenth birthday. My mother took me to the medical station, where I had to drink foul-tasting stuff and submit to tests and some shots--just quick blasts of air on the skin, but they scared me. "You'll appreciate this later," my mom said, with a funny expression. "You won't get sick and weak when you're old. Your immune system will stay strong. You'll live for ever so long, Emma, don't cry."
Yes, yes. Apparently she was right, I thought, looking into the mirror again, where my image seemed to pulse with color under the artificial lights. Very long lives, young at eighty: the triumph of gerontology. As always, I wondered what I would do with all the extra years--the extra lives. Would I live to stand free on Martian soil, and breathe Martian air?
Thinking these thoughts I left my room, intent on breakfast. The lounges down the hall from the bedrooms were empty, an unusual thing. I walked into the last lounge before the corridor turned, to look out the small window in it, with its view over the bridge.
And there they were: two silver rectangles, like asteroids crushed into ingots of the metals they contained. Spaceships!
They were asteroid miners of the PR class, sister ships of our own. I stared at them motionlessly, my heart thudding like a drum, thinking rendezvous. The ships grew to the size of decks of cards, very slowly. They were the shape of a card deck as well, with the mining cranes and drills folded together at their fronts, bridge ceilings just barely bulging from their sides (tiny crescents of light), rocket exhausts large at their rear, like beads on their sides and front. Brilliant points of light shone from the windows, like the fluorescent spots on the deep-sea fish of Earth. They looked small beside an irregular blue-gray asteroid, against the dead black of space.
I left the lounge slowly. Turned and walked down the corridor--
In the dining commons it was bedlam.
I stopped and stared. Of the entire crew of forty-three, at least twenty-five must have been in the commons, shouting and laughing, six or seven singing the Ode to Joy, others setting up the drinks table (Ilene maneuvering the mass of the big coffee pot), John and Steven and Lanya in a mass hugging and laughing-sobbing, tears in their eyes. And on the video screen was a straight-on camera shot of the two ships, silver dots against a blue-gray asteroid, so that it looked like a die thrown through the vacuum.
They all had known. Every single one of them in the room. I found myself blinking rapidly, embarrassed and angry. Why hadn't I been told? I wiped my eyes and got out of the doorway before I was noticed by someone inside.
Andrew Duggins flew by, pulling himself along the hall rails. His big face was scowling. "Emma!" he said, "come on," and pulled away. I only looked at him, and he stopped. "This is a mutiny!" he said, jerking his head in the direction of the commons. "They're taking over the ship, and those others out there too. We've got to try and get a message off to Ceres--to defend ourselves!" With a hard yank he pulled himself away, in the direction of the radio room.
Mutiny. All of the mysterious events I had noticed fell together, into a pattern. A plan to take over the ship. Had Swann been too afraid of the possibility to discuss it?
But there was no time for a detailed analysis. I leaped off the floor, and with a strong pull on the rail was after Duggins.
Outside the radio room there was a full-fledged fight going on. I saw Al Nordhoff striking one of the ship police in the face, Amy Van Danke twisting furiously in the hold of two men, trying to bite one in the throat. Others struggled in the doorway. Shouts and Amy's shrieks filled the air. The fight had that awkward, dangerous quality that all brawls in weightlessness exhibit. A blow that connected (one of Al's vicious kicks to the head of a policeman, for instance) sent both parties spinning across the room....
"Mutiny!" Duggins bellowed, and diving forward crashed into the group in the doorway. His momentum bowled several people into the radio room, and an opening was cleared. I shoved off from the wall and grazed my head on the doorjamb going in.
After that things were blurry, but I was angry--angry that I had been deceived, that Swann and the general order of things were being challenged, that friends of mine were being hit--and I swung blindly. I caught one of the policemen on the nose with my fist, and his head smacked the wall with a loud thump. The room was crowded, arms and legs were swinging. The radio console itself was crawling with bodies. Duggins was bellowing still, and hauling figures away from the mass on the radio controls. Someone got me in a choke hold from behind. I put heel to groin and discovered it was a woman--put elbow in diaphragm and twisted under her arm, nearly strangled. Duggins had cleared the radio and was desperately manipulating the dials. I put a haymaker on the ear of a man trying to pull him away. Screams and spherical droplets of blood filled the air--
Reinforcements arrived. Eric Swann slipped through the doorways, his red hair flying wild, a tranquilizer gun in his hand. Others followed him. Darts whizzed through the air, sounding like arrows. "Mutiny!" I shrieked. "Eric! Mutiny! Mutiny!"
He saw me, pointed his gun at me and shot. I looked at the dart hanging from my forearm.
...The next thing I knew, I was being guided down the jump tube. Leaving it at my floor. I saw Swann's face swimming above me. "Mutiny," I said.
"That's true," Eric replied. "We're going to have to put you under arrest for a few hours." His freckle-face was stretched into a fool's grin.
"Asshole," I muttered. I wanted to run. I could outrun all of them. "I thought you were m'friend."
"I am your friend, Emma. It was just too dangerous to explain. Davydov will tell you all about it when you see him."
Davydov. Davydov? "But he was lost," I muttered, fighting sleep and very confused. "He's dead."
Then I was in my bed, strapped securely. "Get some sleep," Swann said. "I'll be back in a few hours." I gave him a look planned to turn him to stone, but he just grinned and I fell asleep in the middle of it, thinking, Mutiny....
* * *
When I woke up again, Swann was by my bed, tilted in the no-gee so that his head hung over me. "How are you feeling?" he asked.
"Bad." I waved him away and he pushed off into the air above the bed. I rubbed my eyes. "What happened, Swann?"
"A mutiny, you've been calling it." He smiled.
"And it's true?"
He nodded.
"But why? Who are you?"
"Did you ever hear of the Mars Starship Association?"
I thought. "A long time ago? One of those secret anti-Committee groups."
"We weren't anti-Committee," he said. "We were just a club. An advocacy group. We wanted the Committee to support research for an interstellar expedition."
"So the Committee didn't want to do it. And they took us to be part of the anti-Committee movement, so they outlawed us. Jailed the leaders, transferred the members to different sectors. They made us anti-Committee."
"Didn't all that happen a long time ago?" I asked, still disoriented. "What has that got to do with this?"
"We regrouped," he said. "Secretly. We've existed underground for all these years. This is our coming out, you might say."
"But why? What good does it do you to take over a few asteroid miners? You aren't planning to use them as starships, are you?" I laughed shortly at the idea.
He stared at me without answering, and suddenly I knew that I had guessed it.
I sat up carefully, feeling cold and a touch dizzy. "You must be joking."
"Not at all. We're going to join the Lermontov and the Hidalgo, and complete their life-support systems' closure."
"Impossible," I breathed, still stunned at the very idea.
"Not impossible," he said patiently. "That's what the MSA has been working on these last forty years--"
"One of those ships is Hidalgo?" I interrupted. My processing was still impaired by the drugs he had shot me with.
"That's right."
"So Davydov is alive...."
"He certainly is. You knew him, didn't you?"
"Yes." Davydov had been the captain of Hidalgo when it disappeared in the Achilles group three years before. I had thought him dead....
"There's no way I'll go," I said after a pause. "You can't kidnap me and drag me along on some insane interstellar attempt--"
"No! No. We're sending Rust Eagle back with all the non-MSA people from the three ships."
I let out a long sigh of relief. Yet sudden anguish filled me at the thought of the mess I was suddenly in, of the fanatics who now had control of my life, and I cried out, "Eric, you knew this was going to happen out here. Why didn't you arrange to keep me off this flight?"
He looked away from me, pushed himself down to the floor. Red-faced, he said, "I did the opposite, Emma."
"You what?"
"There are MSA people in the expedition scheduling office, and"--still staring at the floor--"I told them to arrange for you to be aboard Rust Eagle this time."
"But, Swann!" I said, struggling for words. "Why? Why did you do that to me?"
"Well--because, Emma, you're one of the best life-support systems designers there is on Mars, or anywhere. Everyone knows that, you know that. And even though our systems designers have got a lot of improvements for the starship, they still have to be installed in those two ships, and made to work. And we have to do it before the Committee police find us. Your help could make the difference, Emma."
"Oh, Swann."
"It could! Look, I knew it was imposing on you, but I thought, if we got you out here ignorant of our plans, then you couldn't be held responsible. When you return to Mars you can tell them you didn't know anything about the MSA, that we made you help us. That was why I didn't tell you anything on the way out here, don't you see? And I know you aren't that strong a supporter of the Committee, are you? They're just a bunch of thugs. So that if your old friends asked you for help that only you can give, and you couldn't be held culpable, you might help? Even if it was illegal?" He looked up at me, his blue eyes grave.
"You're asking for the impossible," I told him. "Your MSA has lost touch with reality. You're talking about travel across light-years, for God's sake, and you've got five-year systems to do it with!"
"They can be modified," Swann insisted. "Davydov will explain the whole project when you see him. He wants to talk with you as soon as you'd like to."
"Davydov," I said darkly. "He's the one behind this madness."
"We're all behind it, Emma. And it isn't mad."
I waved an arm and held my head in my hands, as it was pulsing with all the bad news. "Just leave me alone for a while."
"Sure," he said. "I know it's a lot to take in. Just tell me when you want to see Davydov. He's over on Hidalgo."
"I'll tell you," I said, and looked at the wall until he left the room.
* * *
I had better tell about Oleg Davydov here, for we were lovers once, and for me the memory of him was marked with pain and anger, and a sense of loss--loss that no matter how long I lived could not be recouped or forgotten.
I was just out of the University of Mars, working at the Hellas Basin, in the new settlement near the western edge of the Basin where underground reservoirs and aquifers had been discovered. It was a good supply of water, but the situation was delicate, and the use of the water caused ecologic problems. I was set to work with others to solve these problems, and I quickly proved that I was the best among the systems people there. I had a grasp of the whole Hellas set-up that seemed perfectly natural to me, but was (I could see) impressive to others. And I was a good middle-distance runner--so that all in all, I was a confident youth, perhaps even a bit arrogant.
During my second year there I met Oleg Davydov. He was staying in Burroughs, the big government center to the north, doing some work for the Soviet mining cartel. We met in a restaurant, introduced by a mutual acquaintance.
He was tall and bulky, a handsome man. One of the Soviet blacks, they call them. I guess some of their ancestors came from one of the USSR's client countries in Africa. The color had been pretty well watered down over the generations, and Davydov had coffee-and-cream-colored skin. His hair was black and wooly; he had thick lips under a thin, aquiline nose; a heavy beard, shaved so that his lower face was rough; and his eyes were ice blue. They seemed to jump out of his face. So he was a pretty good racial mix. But on Mars, where ninety-nine percent of the population is fish-belly white, as they say, any touch of skin color is highly valued. It made one look so...healthy, and vital. This Davydov was really extremely good-looking, a color delight to the eye. I watched him then, as we sat on adjacent stools in that Burroughs restaurant, talking, drinking, flirting a little...watched so closely that I can recall the potted palm and white wall that were behind him, although I don't remember a word we said. It was one of those charmed nights, when both parties are aware of the mutual attraction.
We spent that night together, and the next several nights as well. We visited the first colony in the area, The Can, and marvelled at the exhibits in the museum there. We scrambled around the base of the Fluted Cliffs in Hellespontus Montes, and spent a night out in a survival tent. I beat him easily in a footrace, and then won a 1500-meter race for him at a Burroughs track. Every hour available to us we spent together, and I fell in love. Oleg was young, witty, proud of his many abilities; he was exotically bilingual (a Russian!), affectionate, sensual. We spent a lot of time in bed. I remember that in the dark I could see little more than his teeth when he grinned, and his eyes, which seemed light grey. I loved making love with him...I remember late dinners together, in Burroughs or out at the station. And innumerable train rides, together or alone, across the sere rust deserts between Burroughs and Hellas--sitting by the window looking out at the curved red horizon, feeling happy and excited...Well, those are the kind of times that you only live through once. I remember them well.
The arguments began quite soon after those first weeks. We were an arrogant pair and didn't know any better. For a long time I didn't even realize that our disagreements were particularly serious, for I couldn't imagine anyone arguing with me for very long. (Yes, I was that self-important.) But Oleg Davydov did. I can't remember much of what we argued about--that period of time, unlike the beginning, is a convenient blur in my memory. One time I do remember (of course the rest could be called up as well): I had come into Burroughs on the late train, and we were out eating in a Greek restaurant behind the train station. I was tired, and nervous about our relationship, and sick of Hellas. Hoping to compliment him, I made some comment about how much more fun it would be to be an asteroid miner like he was.
"We aren't doing anything out there," he said in response. "Just making money for the corporations--making a few people on Earth rich, while everything else down there falls apart."
"Well, at least you're out there exploring," I said.
He looked annoyed, an expression I was becoming familiar with. "But we aren't, that's what I'm saying. With our capabilities we could be exploring the whole solar system. We could have stations on the Jovian moons, around Saturn, all the way out to Pluto. We need a solar watch station on Pluto."
"I wasn't aware of that fact," I said sarcastically.
His pale blue eyes pierced me. "Of course you weren't. You think it's perfectly all right to continue making money from those stupid asteroids, and nothing more, here at the end of the twenty-second century."
"Well?" I said, annoyed myself by this time. "We're all going to live for a thousand years, so what's your rush? There's time for all of your great projects. Right now we need those asteroids."
"The corporations need them. And the Committee."
"The Committee's just organizing all of our efforts for our own good," I said.
"They just make the trains run on time, eh?" he said, taking a deep swallow from his drink.
"Yes," I said, not understanding what he meant. "Yes, they do."
He shook his head with disgust. "You're an all-American girl, all right. Everything is oh kay. Leave the politics to the others."
"And you are a true Soviet," I retorted, struggling away from him in our dining booth. "Blaming your problems on the government..."
And we went on from there, senselessly and for no reason but pride and hurt feelings. I remember him making a grim prediction: "They will make a happy American Kremlin up here, and you won't care, as long as your job is secure." But most of what we said was less logical than that.
And a long, miserable week later, a blur of bitter fights, one of those times when you have ruined a relationship though you don't know how, and wish desperately that time could be reversed and the unknown mistake undone, he left. The Soviet mining people wanted him in space again and he just left, without saying goodbye, though I called his dorm again and again in those last few days. And then I knew--I learned it, in the course of long black walks over the broad basin, standing alone on that rocky plain--that I could be spurned. It was a hard lesson.
In a few years I was out among the asteroids myself, working for Royal Dutch. I heard stories about Davydov getting in trouble with the Soviet mining command, but I didn't pay much attention. It was a matter of pride to ignore anything I heard about him. So I never got the full story of what had happened to him.
Then, many years later--just three years before this mutiny, in fact--the Hidalgo disappeared out in the Trojans, breaking radio contact with the famous last words, "Now wait just a minute." No wreckage was ever found, the matter was hushed up by the Committee censors, and no explanation was ever offered. Looking over the list of crew members I saw his name at the top--Oleg Davydov--and the pain flooded through me again, worse than ever before. It was one of the worst moments of my life. We had parted in anger, he had left me without even saying good-bye, and now, no matter how many years the gerontologists gave me, I would never be able to change those facts, for he was dead. It was very sad.
...Thus, when Eric Swann came to take me across to the Hi-dalgo, to see Davydov again, I did not know exactly what I felt. My heart beat rapidly, I had to strain to make casual, terse conversation with Eric. What would he look like? What would I say to him, or him to me? I didn't have the slightest idea.
Well, he looked very much like he had sixty years before. Perhaps a little heavier, bearlike with his dark hair, his broad shoulders and chest and rump. His ice-blue eyes surveyed me without any visible sign of recognition.
We were on the empty bridge of the Hidalgo. At a nod from Davydov, Eric had slipped away down the jump tube. In the breathy vented silence I walked around the bridge slowly, my velcro slippers making little rip rip rip noises. My pulse was fast. I discovered that I was still angry with him. And I felt that he had personally deceived me with the news of his death. Or perhaps it was the mutiny....
"You look much the same," he said. The sound of his voice triggered a hundred memories. I looked at him without replying. Finally he said, with a stiff, slight smile, "Has Eric apologized for our kidnapping of you?"
I shook my head.
"I am sorry we shocked you. I hear you fought hard against the takeover. Eric probably explained that we kept you ignorant for your own protection."
So smooth, he was. It just made me mad. He squinted at me, trying to gauge my mood. Hard without a voice.
"The truth of the matter is," he went on, "the success of all the MSA's years of effort depends on the creation of a fully closed life-support system in the starship. I believe our scientists will be able to do it, but Swann has always said your ability with BLS systems is extraordinary, and our scientists agree that you are the best. And they tell me we need your help."
Did he think I would still be vain? "You're not--" I cleared my throat. "You're not going to get it."
He stared at me, calm and bemused. "You still support the Committee? Even though they have jailed your father on Amor, isn't that true?"
"Yes," I said. "But the Committee doesn't have anything to do with this."
"That is the equivalent of saying you still support them. But enough of that. We need your help. Why won't you help us?"
After I didn't reply, he began to stride back and forth, rip rip rip. "You know," he said with a nervous glance, "what happened between us occurred a long time ago. We were both children then--"
"We were not children," I broke in. "We were free adults, on our own. We were just as responsible for our actions then as we are now."
"All right," he said, pushing a hand through his hair. "You're right. We were not children, admittedly." This was turning out to be more difficult than he had expected. "But it was a long time ago."
"This has nothing to do with that time, anyway."
He looked confused. "Then why won't you help?"
"Because what you are attempting is impossible," I cried. "This is all a monstrous fantasy of yours. You're ignoring the hard cold realities of deep space and leading people to a miserable death out there, all because of some boyish notion of adventure that you've been nursing all these years--for so long that you can't distinguish between fantasy and reality anymore!" I stopped, surprised by my vehemence. Davydov was wide-eyed.
"It's not my idea alone," he said weakly. "Every member of the MSA believes it is possible."
"There have been mass delusions larger than this," I said, "following a fanatic leader."
His eyes glittered angrily. (This effect is the result, I believe, of tensing the forehead muscles, thus shifting the layer of water over the eyes.) "I am no fanatic. We started as a group without a leader. I was made leader by the Committee when they tried to destroy us--they wanted to say it was a single person's doing. Like you do. When we reorganized, I was the one everyone knew about. But there are other leaders--"
"You started the reorganization, right?" Somehow I knew this was true. "Started up your little secret society, invented the handshake--"
"The fact that we had to work in secret," he said loudly, and then lowered his voice, "is incidental. A political reality, a fact of our time and place. A lot of work had to be done that the Committee didn't want done. They wouldn't support us, but that doesn't make the project bad! We're free of political motives, we are an act of cooperation between Soviets and Americans--we try to take humanity to permanent homes outside the solar system, while we still can."
He stopped for breath, staring at me with his swarthy jaws bunched. "Now you"--pointing at me--"completely ignorant of all this, call me a fanatic. Leading fools in a fantasy world." He looked away, out the wide bridge window. "I could have told Swann you would react like this."
My face burned. There we were, exactly as we had left off sixty years before. Furiously I said, "You kidnap me, put my future in great danger, and then call me a fool because I don't fall in with your fantastic schemes. Well you aren't going to get my help, Oleg Davydov, you and your secret club." I moved to the jump tube. "Just tell me when we can take Rust Eagle back to Mars. Until then I'll be in my room."
Crossing back over to our ship, Eric didn't dare say a word to me. Once on Rust Eagle I left him and went to my room, hit the desk and nearly cracked my skull on the ceiling. I hate no-gee. I went to the centrifuge and ran, ignoring my complaining knee. Then I went back to my little room to brood and imagine crushing rejoinders to Davydov. Why do all the best lines come to you when the argument is over? What I should have said was...I know, I know. Only serious brooding will hatch those real crushers.
But why had I fought with him at all, when he was asking for my help?
* * *
Later that day Andrew Duggins told me that the people who were not members of the MSA were getting together in the lounge down the hall. I went to see who they were. There were fourteen of us. Among them were Ethel Jurgenson, Amy Van Danke, Al Nordhoff, Sandra Starr, Yuri Kopanev, and Olga Dzindzhik. The others had faces I knew but couldn't put names to. We sat about exchanging our experiences during the rendezvous; everyone had been arrested, and most only released a few hours before. After these stories were exchanged we began to discuss possible courses of action, and the bickering began.
I told them what I knew, keeping to myself only the fact that I had been asked for help.
More discussion and arguing.
"We have to find out if there were any prisoners on Lermontov."
"Or Hidalgo." I thought about that--prisoners for three years.
"We have to act," Duggins said. "We could organize another attack on the radio room. Take it over and put out a call to Mars or Ceres."
"We could slip out of the ship," Al put in. "Patch a radio onto the high gain antenna...."
"They're probably listening to us right now," Yuri said, and Olga nodded. In the Soviet sector they're used to such practices--or perhaps I should say they are more aware of them.
Anyway, the conversation was killed for a while. We stared at each other. It was a strange situation: prisoners of our shipmates, on what had been our ship. The talk resumed, quieter than before, until disagreements about what to do brought the volume back up. "I don't care if they steal the Committee blind," Yuri said, "and I certainly wouldn't risk myself to stop them."
"What do you think we should do, Weil?" asked Andrew, refusing to look at Yuri. He seemed annoyed at my lack of involvement.
"I think we should sit tight, take Rust Eagle back to Mars when they let us, and then tell the authorities what we know. To try to stop them here just puts us in danger."
Andrew didn't like that either. "We should fight! Sitting here passively would be helping them, and the Committee will know it." He squinted at me suspiciously. "You're close friends with Swann, aren't you? Didn't he ever tell you what was going on?"
"No," I said, feeling myself blush. They all watched me.
"You're telling us he just let you walk into this situation without any kind of warning or anything?" Duggins said.
"That's right," I snapped. "You saw me in the radio room, Duggins. I was as surprised as anyone by the mutiny."
But Duggins was unconvinced, and the rest of them looked skeptical as well. They all knew Swann was a considerate person, and it didn't make sense to them that he would have deceived a good friend so. There was a long, uncomfortable silence. Duggins stood up. "I'll talk to some of you another time," he said, and left the lounge. Suddenly angry, I left too. Looking back at the confused, suspicious people in the lounge, grouped in a disconsolate circle with their colored drink bulbs floating around them, I thought, They look scared.
When I got back to my room, two people were moving into it. A Nadezhda Malkiv, and a Marie-Anne Kotovskaya--both BLSS engineers, both members of the Soviet branch of the MSA. The other two ships were being emptied so that they could be worked on freely, they told me. Nadezhda was 124 years old, a specialist in the gas exchange; Marie-Anne was 108, a biologist whose study was the algae and bacteria in the waste recycling system. They were both from Lermontov, which they said, had been in the asteroid belt nearly four months before the MSA took over, broke radio contact with Mars, and circled around to the rendezvous behind the sun.
Shocked into a stiff silence by this new development, I went back into the halls, and then to the small lounge around the corner from my room. There I met the leader of the non-MSA people from Lermontov, a dour man named Ivan Valenski. He had been the Committee police leader aboard, until the mutiny. I did not like him--he was a sort of dully furious Soviet bureaucrat, a petty man used to giving orders and being obeyed. He seemed as little impressed by me as I by him. Duggins, I thought, would be more to his taste. They were men scarred by so many years of authority that they actively worked for its continuance--to justify their lives up to this point, perhaps. But how was I different from them?
I returned to my room. My new roommates left me the top bunk; the bottom, which I had used as a convenient counter, was occupied by Nadezhda. Marie-Anne planned to sleep in the corner where the walls met the ceiling. Their belongings were strapped all over the floor. I talked with them for a while in English, with some fumbling attempts on my part at Russian. They were nice women, and after the earlier meetings of the day I appreciated the company of calm, undemanding people.
That night Swann came by my room, and asked me if I wanted to eat dinner with him. After a moment's thought I agreed.
"I'm glad you aren't still angry with me," he babbled, ingenuous as ever. Although I had to remind myself that he had been high in the councils of the MSA for as long as I'd known him. So how well had I known him?
"Shut up about that and let's go eat," I said. Somewhat subdued, he led the way to the dining commons through the dark halls.
Once there I looked around at the place, imagining it as the dining commons of the starship. People in neutral-toned one-piece suits walked up to the food counter; there they pushed the buttons for the meal they desired, most of them never looking up at the menu. The foods grown on ship--salads, vegetable drinks, fish or scallops or chicken or rabbit, goat cheese, milk, yoghurt--were supplemented by non-renewable supplies: coffee, tea, bread, beef....They would run out of those things pretty fast. Then it would be the ship-grown stuff, in enclosed plates, with drinks in bulbs. I watched all the precise forking going on around me. It had a Japanese tea ceremony atmosphere.
"You'll have to keep accelerating," I said. "You can't stay weightless for long, it would kill you."
He smiled. "We've got forty-two cesium tanks." I stared at him. "That's right. This is the biggest theft in history, Emma. At least that's one way to think of it."
"It sure is."
"So, we plan to keep a constant acceleration-deceleration pattern, and create half-Mars gravity most of the time." We walked up to the food counter and punched out our orders. Our trays slid out of their slot.
We sat down against the wall away from the mirror wall; I don't like to eat next to the mirror image of myself. The other three walls of the commons were bright tones of yellow, red, orange, yellow-green. It was autumn on Rust Eagle.
"We'll keep up the seasonal colors on board the starship," Swann said as we ate. "Shorten the daylight hours in winter, make it colder, colors all silver and white and black....I like winter best. The solstice festival and all."
"But it'll just be a game."
He chewed thoughtfully. "I guess."
"Where will you go?"
"Not sure. No, seriously! There's a planetary system around Barnard's Star. That's nine light-years. We'll probably check that out, and at least resupply with water and deuterium, if nothing else."
We ate in silence for a time. At the next table a trio sat excavating their trays, arguing about the hydrogen-fixing capabilities of a certain Hydrogenomonas eutropha. Engineering the rebirth of breath. At the next table a young woman reached up to capture an escaping particle of chicken. The diminution of it all!
"How long?" I asked, eating steadily.
Swann's freckle-face took on a calculating look as he chewed. "We could go a hundred, maybe two hundred years...."
"For God's sake, Eric."
"It's only a quarter of our predicted lifetimes. It's not like generations will live and die on the ship. We'll have a past on Mars, and a future on some world that could be more like Earth than Mars is! You act like we're leaving such a natural way of life on Mars. Mars is just a big starship, Emma."
"It is not! It's a planet. You can go outside and stand on the ground. Run around."
Swann shoved his tray away, sucked on his drink bulb. "Your five-hundred-year project is the terraforming of Mars," he said. "Ours is the colonization of a planet in another system. What's the big difference?"
"About ten or twenty light-years."
We finished our drinks in silence. Swann took our trays to the counter and brought back bulbs of coffee.
"Was--is Charlie one of you?"
"Charlie?" He looked at me strangely. "No. He works for the Committee's secret police, didn't you know that? Internal security?"
I shook my head.
"That's why you don't see him on miners anymore."
"Ah." Who did I know, I thought unhappily.
He was looking beyond me. "I remember...about 2220 or 21...Charlie dropped by one of our labs with one of his police friends. This was in Argyre. We had completely infiltrated the Soviet space research labs, and had requisitioned this particular one for some tests--reactor-mass conservation, I think it was. I was visiting to help with a supply problem. They couldn't get all the cesium they wanted. And then there was Charlie and this woman, him saying hello how are you Eric, just dropped by to see how you're doing....And I could not tell whether the woman was his girlfriend and he really was just saying hello to me, or whether they were checking out the lab as part of their police work. I showed them all around the lab, told them that we were doing all the work for a Soviet-Arco-Mobil consortium, which of course the record would confirm. I remember walking around talking about old times with him, explaining some of the lab rooms, all the time wondering if both of us were acting, or just me. And I was scared, that somehow our security had broken, and this was the first sign of it...." He shook his head, laughed shortly. "But computer government came through again. They scarcely knew enough to be aware of their losses. Computer bureaucracy--no wonder Earth is falling apart. I have no doubt all of those governments are being stolen blind."
"There's probably a Terran Starship Association that you've never heard of," I said absently, thinking of the past.
He laughed. "I wouldn't doubt it." He put his drink bulb down. "Although we have kept pretty good track of the other underground organizations on Mars. In fact, we chose this particular time for the construction of the starship because we think that the Committee police will be too busy back on Mars to make much of a search for us."
"Why is that?"
"A group called the Washington-Lenin Alliance is planning to start a revolt sometime in mid-August, when Mars is farthest from Earth. Some other groups are going to join them. We don't know how big it will get, but there should be enough turmoil to keep the police occupied."
"Great." Oh, no, I thought. Not Mars, too. Please. Not Mars.
Swann moved his hands nervously. I sipped coffee.
"So you're not going to help us?" he said suddenly.
I shook my head, swallowed. "Nope."
The corners of his mouth tightened. He looked down at the table.
"Does that end your starship attempt?" I asked.
"No," he said. "They'll get very near full closure, I'm sure. It's just--well, on a voyage this long, the slightest difference in the ship's efficiency will mean a lot. Really a lot. You know that. And I know that if you were to help them the system would end up being more efficient."
"Listen, Eric," I said, and took a deep breath. "What I don't understand is this. You people have been working on this problem for years. You and I have been friends for years, and all during that time you've known that I'm good at life-support systems. So why didn't you ever tell me about it?"
He reddened, chewed his lower lip. "Oh--no reason--"
"Why, Eric? Why?"
"Well--at first it was Charlie, you know. Being your husband and all--"
"Come on, Eric. We were only married a few years. You and I have been friends a lot longer than that. Or was it like with Charlie in the lab that day--just acting?"
"No, no," he said emphatically. "Not at all. I wanted to tell you, believe me." He looked up from the table at me. "I just couldn't be sure about you, Emma. I couldn't be sure that you wouldn't tell the Committee about us. You always spoke in favor of the Committee and its policies, whenever the subject came up--"
"I did not!"
He stared at me. "You did. You'd complain about being given too much work and being shunted from place to place, but you'd always end up saying you were glad the sectors were being coordinated, pulled off each others' throats. And that you were pleased with the life the Committee arranged for you. That's what you said, Emma!" He pulled at his cheeks as I shook my head. "Then when they jailed your father I thought you would change--"
"My father broke the law," I said, thinking about things I had said through the years.
"So are we! See? What if I had told you about us back on Mars, and you had said, you're breaking the law. I couldn't take the chance. Davydov was against it, and I couldn't take the chance on my own, although believe me I wanted to--"
"Damn you," I said. "Damn Oleg Davydov--"
"How were we to know any better?" he asked, his blue eyes unflinching. "I'm sorry, but you asked me why. We thought you were Committee all the way. I was the only one who thought otherwise, and even with me it was just a hope. We couldn't take the chance. It was too important, we were trying to accomplish something great--"
"You were pursuing a crackpot scheme that is going to kill sixty people for no reason," I said harshly, standing up as I spoke. "A stupid plan that takes you off into space and leaves you there with no way to colonize a planet even if you found one--" I shoved my chair back and walked quickly away, my eyes filling with tears so that it was hard to balance. People were watching me; I had shouted.
I pulled myself furiously through the halls of the living quarters, cursing Swann and Davydov and the entire MSA. He should have known. How could they not have known? I crashed into my room, and happily it was empty. I banged from wall to wall for a time, crying and muttering angrily to myself. Why didn't he know? Why couldn't he tell, the idiot?
For a moment I caught sight of my reflection in my little washstand mirror, and I went over to look at it, floating in midair. I was so upset I had to squeeze my eyes shut as hard as I could, before I could look in the glass at myself: and when I did, I experienced a frightening thing. It seemed that the true three-dimensional world was on the other side of the glass, and that I was looking into it through a window. The person floating in there was looking out. She appeared distraught over something or other....
And in this curious state I had the realization, at the moment of seeing that stranger there, that I was a person like everybody else. That I was known by my actions and words, that my internal universe was unavailable for inspection by others.
They didn't know.
They didn't know, because I never told them. I didn't tell them that I hated the Mars Development Committee--yes, admit it, I did hate them!--I hated those petty tyrants as much as I hated anything. I hated the way they had treated my foolish father. I hated their lies--that they were taking over power to make a better life on an alien planet, etc., etc. Everyone knew that was a lie. They just wanted power for themselves. But we kept our mouths shut; talk too much and you might get relocated to Texas. Or on Amor. The members of the MSA had compensated with a stupid plan, to escape to the stars in secret--but they resisted, they stole, they subverted, they disbelieved, they resisted! And me? I didn't even have the guts to tell my friends how I felt. I had thought that cowardice was the norm, and that made it okay. I had thought that resistance necessarily would be like the rash and drunken words of my father, pointless and dangerous. I had been scared of the idea of resistance, and the worst of it was, I had thought that everyone was like me.
I looked at the stranger in the other room through the glass. There was Emma Weil. You couldn't read her mind. She looked plain and grim, skinny, dedicated, unhumorous. What was she thinking? You would never know. She sounded pretty self-satisfied. People who sound self-satisfied usually are. But you would never know for sure. You could look in her eyes as hard as you wanted, for an hour and more: nothing there but empty, weightless black pools....
* * *
For a couple of days I sat in my room and did nothing. Then one morning when Nadezhda and Marie-Anne were leaving to work on the starship, I said, "Take me with you."
They looked at each other. "If you like," Nadezhda said.
The two ships had been placed side by side. We took our boat into the bay of Hidalgo. I followed my roommates back to the farm, ignoring the occasional stare we received from other workers in the halls.
They had already added a few rows of vegetable tanks to the standard farm set-up. The glare of white light from the many lamps made me blink. I trailed behind the two women, listening as they talked to other technicians. Then we were off by ourselves, among the big suspension bottles, spotted green and brown, of the algae room. The glare of the lamps forced us to put on dark blue sunglasses.
"Chlorella pyrenoidosa with nitrate as its nitrogen source takes ten times less iron out of that nutrient medium than when urea is the nitrogen source, see?" Nadezhda was talking.
"But we have to use that urea somewhere," Marie-Anne said.
"Sure. But I'm worried that the biomass created will eventually become too much to handle."
"Feed it to the goats?"
"But what happens when the nutrient medium is exhausted? No source of iron in the vacuum, you know...."
They had a problem there. There had to be a very close agreement between the photosynthetic coefficient for algae and the respiratory coefficient for the humans and animals; otherwise too much CO2 or too much oxygen would build up, depending. One way to deal with this is to provide different sources of nitrogen to different sections of algae, as this will alter the photosynthetic coefficient. But the algae use up their mineral supplies at different rates, depending on their type of nitrogen feed. And over long periods of time this could be significant; to keep up a balanced gas exchange might take more minerals than the rest of the biocenosis would be producing.
"Can't you use urea and ammonia exclusively," I asked them, "and shift amounts of pyrenoidosa and vulgaris to keep the exchange balanced? That way you'd be using more urea, and avoiding the problem of nitrates."
They looked at each other.
"Well, no," Nadezhda said. "See, look at this--the damn algae grow so fast with urea--too much biomass, we can't use it all."
"What about giving it less light?"
"But that makes for problems with the vulgaris," Marie-Anne explained. "Stupid stuff, it either dies or grows wild."
Clearly I was repeating the most obvious solutions. Problem-solving for a biologic life-support system is like a game. One of the very finest intellectual games ever devised, in fact. In many ways it is like chess. Now, Nadezhda and Marie-Anne were certainly grand masters at this game, and they had been working with this particular model for years. So they were a big step ahead of me at that moment, discussing modifications that I had never heard of. But I had never met anybody who had a flair for the game like I did--if it had been chess, I would have been Martian champion, I am sure. When I saw the patient look on Marie-Anne's face as she explained why my suggestion wouldn't work, something snapped in me, and my vague intentions for this visit crystallized.
"All right," I said in a mean tone of voice. "You'd better give me the whole story here, all the details of your model, your new improvements that Swann told me about, everything. If you want me to help."
The two women nodded politely, as if this request were the most ordinary thing in the world. And we got down to it.
So I helped them, yes, I did. And more than ever before, the I who thought and felt was distanced from the I who did the work on this particular example of the BLSS problem--more than ever the work seemed a game, a giant intricate puzzle that we would look at when we finished--we would stand back to look at it, and admire it, and then we would forget it and go home to dinner. In this frame of mind I was especially inventive, and I helped a lot.
It got to the point where I even began to return to the starship in the evenings after dinner, to wander the farm alone and type some figures into the model programs to check the results. Because they had a real problem on their hands--I'd never worked on a harder one. The two ships were Deimos PRs: about forty years old, shaped like decks of cards, just over a kilometer long; powered by cesium reactor-mass, deuterium-fueled, direct-explosion rockets. The crew of forty or forty-five lived in the forward or upper part of the ships, behind the bridges. Below them were the recreational facilities, the various chambers of the farms, and the recycling plants, and below those were the huge masses of the rocket systems, and the shield that protected the crews from them. The ships were biogeocenoses, that is, enclosed ecology systems, combining biologic and technologic methods to create closures. Total closure was not possible, of course; it approached eighty percent complete for a three-year period, tailing off rapidly after that. So they were good asteroid miners, they really were. But there were loss-points that had never been satisfactorily solved, and although these were the best closed biologic life-support systems ever built, they were no starships.
I walked in circles through the rooms of Hidalgo's farm, following the course of the various processes as I tried to think my way through the system. Most of the rooms were darkened, but the algae rooms still required sunglasses. Here the whole thing began. Heat and light generated by the nuclear reactions in the rocketry provided energy for the photoautotropic plants, mostly the algae chlorella pyrenoidosa and chlorella vulgaris. These were suspended in large bottles under the lights, and I thought that, despite the nutrient problems, they could be manipulated genetically or environmentally to make the gas exchange as needed.
I took off the sunglasses and stumbled around the darkened aqua room until my sight returned. Here the excess algae was brought to feed the bottom of the food chain. Plankton and crustacea ate algae, little fish ate the plankton, big fish ate the little fish. It was the same in the barns farther along; under night lights I could make out the cages and pens for the rabbits, chickens, pigs and goats--and my nose confirmed their presence. These animals ate the plant wastes that humans didn't use, and provided food themselves. Beyond the animals' barn was the series of rooms planted with rows of vegetables--the farm proper--and here some lights were still on, providing a pleasant, mild illumination. I sat down against one wall and looked at a long row of cabbages. Beside me on the wall was drawn a simple schematic, left wordless like a religious token--a diagram of the system's circular processes. Light fed algae. Algae fed plants and fish. Plants fed animals and humans, and created oxygen and water. Animals fed humans, and humans and animals created wastes which sustained microorganisms that mineralized the wastes (to an extent), making it possible to plow them back into the plants' soil.
The cabbages glowed in the dim light like rows of brains, working on the problem with me. The circle made by the diagram, supplemented by physiochemical operations to aid the gas exchange and the use of wastes, was nearly closed: a neat, reliable, artificial biogeocenosis. But there were two major loss points that had me stumped; and I wasn't going to see the solution walking around the farm. One was the incomplete use of wastes. Direct use of human waste products as nutrients for plant life is limited by the build-up of chlorine ions not used by plants. Sodium chloride, for instance, is a compound used by human beings as a palatable substance, but it isn't required in equivalent amounts by the other components of the system. So the use of algae to mineralize wastes on Hidalgo had to be supplemented by physiochemical mineralization--thermal combustion in this case, which resulted in a small but significant amount of useless furnace ash. It would be difficult to find ways to return those poorly soluble metal oxides into the system.
The other major problem was the very minute disappearance of water. Though water could be filtered out of the air, and recaptured in a number of ways, a certain percentage would coat the interior of the ship, bond with various surfaces, pool in cracks and hidden spots on the floor, and even escape the ship if they ever had EVA.
And the more I thought of it, the more little problems appeared to augment these larger ones, and all of the problems impinged on each other, making a large and interconnected web of cause and effect, mostly measurable, but sometimes not...the game. The hardest game. And this time, by these people, played for keeps.
I got up nervously and paced between the long soil strips. They could create water using a fuel cell and electrolysis. With the power plant they had along, that might be all they would need. It would depend on their water recovery, their fuel supply, the amount of time they spent between stars. I turned and headed for the farm computers, intent on trying some figures. And as for those wastes, Marie-Anne had spoken of new mutant bacteria to mineralize them, bacteria that could chew up the metals they would slowly be piling up outside the system....
The whoosh of the vents, the clicking of a counter, the soft snuffling of the animals in their sleep. Maybe they could do it, I thought. A very high degree of closure might be possible. But the question was, once accomplished, would they want to live inside it?
* * *
How long could humans live in a spaceship?
How long would they have to?
* * *
One morning after a night like that there was a knock at my door, and I opened it. It was Davydov.
"Yes?" I said.
He ducked his head. "I'm sorry about the way I behaved during our talk. It's been so long since I've gotten any criticism of the project, I'd forgotten how to react to it. I guess I lost my temper." Head raised, a shy little smile--Forgive me? Forgive me for kidnapping you and then yelling at you to boot?
"Umm," I said cautiously. "I see."
The smile disappeared, he pulled at his swarthy cheeks with one hand. "Could I perhaps, um, take you on a tour of the starship? Show you what we plan to do?"
I stood thoughtfully for as long as I could, knowing that I would accept the offer, curious to see what they had managed to steal from the Committee. "I suppose," I said.
I saw from the boat's dome, during our crossing, that they had finished connecting the two ships, with thin struts that held them side by side, and contained narrow passageways. It was one fat and ungainly-looking starship. Its windows gleamed like the luminous patches of ocean-floor fish. We were still in a tiny cluster of asteroids. The big one, I had learned, was Hilda, and around it were several daughter rocks.
It took Davydov several hours to show me what they had. They had: ore-holds full of minerals, medical supplies, food-stuffs, spices, clothing, equipment for planetfall, color panels and other material for the seasonal changes; a microfiche library of forty million volumes in three hundred languages; an equally vast collection of recorded music, with several each of almost every musical instrument; sports equipment; a lot of movies in English and Russian; a nursery full of toys and games; a room full of computers and computer parts; an observatory with several large telescopes.
During this ever more amazing tour we kept up a running debate, mostly joking. It was actually very enjoyable, although I think the sparring began to bother Davydov after a while. But I couldn't help it. Their efforts had been so thorough, but still, there was something adolescent about it all, something surreal: all the details logically worked out, from an initial proposition that was absurd.
We ended up in the farm, among the splotched algae bottles that made the light green, in the rich scent of manure from the barn next door. Davydov looked funny in sunglasses. Here I was the guide, and Davydov the tourist. I told him about Nadezhda's algae suspension tricks, Marie-Anne's mutant bacteria.
"I hear you have been helping them."
By now it could be said I was in charge of the project. "A little," I said sarcastically.
"I appreciate it."
"Oh, don't take it personally."
He laughed wryly. But I saw that I could wound him.
And then we came to the back wall of the farm, and it had all been seen. Behind the wall the shield silently vibrated, protecting us all from the nuclear reactions in the rear of the ship. There was another part of their project that must hold without fail, and the arcane studies that enabled the shield technicians to do it were nearly beyond explanation to those of us who had not committed our lives to the mysteries. To us it was simply a matter of faith.
"But this is what I want to know," I said at the wall. "Why do you have to do it this way? People will leave the solar system eventually, right? You don't need to do it this way."
He pulled at his face again. I remembered it was a gesture of Swann's, and I thought, this is where Swann got it. "I don't agree that it is inevitable that humans will leave the solar system," he said. "Nothing is inevitable, there is no such thing as historical determinism. It is people who act, not history, and people choose their acts. We could have built a really adequate starship at any time since the late twentieth century, for instance. But it hasn't been done. And it could be that those two hundred years are a sort of launch window, you know. A launch window that may close soon."
"What do you mean?"
"That the chance may pass. Our ability to do it might disappear. There's a revolution going on on Mars this very minute--Swann told you?"
"So who knows? We may be escaping the end of civilization! Life on Mars could end, and that would damage Earth--they depend on that Mars colony for minerals, you know. And those Terran governments are just bigger versions of the Committee, doing just as bad a job. They've taken Earth into another of its crisis periods."
"They've gotten through those before," I said, worrying about Mars.
"That doesn't mean much. They never had a population of six billion before. Even the trouble on Mars may be enough to push them over the brink! It's a very delicate, artificial ecology, Emma. Much like this little starship of ours. And if it falls apart, then the chance to go to the stars is gone for a long time. Maybe forever. So we're doing it ourselves, right here and now."
"You have a vision--"
"Not just me!"
"I meant all of you."
"Ah. Sorry. English should make that distinction."
"Does Russian?"
"Not really." We laughed.
The force of his ideas had impelled Davydov around the farm, and velcro rips had accompanied his words as he walked between the rows of vegetables. When he finished, I watched his dark face through the distorting glass of a spare algae bottle--his ice-blue eyes were the size of eggs, staring at me intently. I thought, He wants to convince me of these things. It matters to him what I think. This idea made me flush with pleasure, and it occurred to me that this was how he had become the leader of this visionary group. Not by any choice of the Mars Development Committee, looking for a scapegoat. He was the leader because he could make people feel this way.
The intercom system crackled. "Oleg?" It was John Dancer's voice, sounding scared. "Oleg, are you hearing me? Respond quickly please."
Davydov hurried to the wall with the intercom and flicked it on. "What is it, John?"
"Oleg! We need you on the bridge quick. Emergency."
"What is it?"
"We've spotted three ships approaching through two-belt central. Looks like police craft."
Davydov looked across at me. "I'll be there right away," he said. He ran between the vegetables to my side. "Looks like that trouble on Mars isn't occupying all of them." His voice was still light and joking, but his eyes were grim. "Come along."
* * *
So I went with him, across to the bridge of Rust Eagle. There were about a dozen people there, a few attending to the Eagle, the rest to Davydov and Ilene Breton.
"They're coming in an equilateral triangle pattern," Ilene said. "Simon spotted them by visual check--after he had seen the one, he ran through the police patterns and found the other two. If they don't make any adjustments, they'll come by with one on each side of us and one below."
"How long do we have?" Davydov asked.
"They're decelerating now. They'll pass this sub-group in about three hours."
I have never seen such a grim collection of people in my life. Only the clicks and breath of the ship's functions broke the silence that followed this announcement. I thought of it. Everything I had just seen, and the forty years of dangerous work it had taken to get it here, were now the prey of a diligent hunter. It could all end in four hours, in capture and imprisonment, return to Mars under guard, in the "starship." Or it could end in sudden death. Those Committee ships carry quite the arsenals.
"How fast are they moving?" Davydov asked.
Ilene said, "Two or three k's per second."
"They've got a lot of space to search," Swann said hopefully.
"They're bracketing us!" Ilene said. "They'll see us. By radar, heat scan, metal scan, visual, radio pick-up--somehow they'll see us."
"No more radio transmissions," Davydov said.
"We've already shut down," Ilene replied. Her white, pinched face looked impatient--she was waiting for everyone to catch up with her, and help.
They looked at each other.
"We could line up all of our lasers," said Olga Borg, captain of Lermontov. "Fire them up their exhaust vents"--she realized that would have no effect on the shields--"or hit them in the bridges, or the reactor shield generators."
"Those shields are too well protected," Swann said. But several others were nodding, their mouths pressed tight. They couldn't run--their backs were to the wall. They would fight and die. And, I thought, I would die too.
Ilene said, "If we give them any time they'll have a message off, and our position will be revealed. Other police ships would be here in a week."
"More than that--"
"Why don't you just hide?" I interjected.
They all stared at me. It reminded me of Nadezhda and MarieAnne.
"We're being bracketed," Swann explained.
"I know that. But you aren't at the exact center of the triangle, are you? So if you were to bring these ships right onto the surface of Hilda, or near it, and moved around the top as the bottom ship moved


Excerpted from Icehenge by Robinson, Kim Stanley Copyright © 1998 by Robinson, Kim Stanley. Excerpted by permission.
All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.
Excerpts are provided by Dial-A-Book Inc. solely for the personal use of visitors to this web site.
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  • Posted January 15, 2010

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    I just could not get into this book. It was a great idea when I read it on the back cover, but the author's writing is BORING! I only made it to page 50 before I gave up. I may come back to it later.

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  • Anonymous

    Posted October 27, 2000

    It just blew me away!

    I picked up this book because it had a nice cover. Boy did I learn my lesson. Expecting a neat read about some space voyage, I was completely blown out of the water by the detail, characterization, and grabbing plot of this book! It has slid all the way up to the top of my book list and will become the recommended reader for all my friends.

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    Posted June 26, 2010

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