SELENE: ASTRO CORPORATION HEADQUARTERS
Pancho Lane frowned at her sister. "His name isn't even Malcolm Eberly. He changed it."
Susan smiled knowingly. "Oh, what diff's that make?"
"He was born Max Erlenmeyer, in Omaha, Nebraska," Pancho said sternly. "He was arrested in Linz, Austria, for fraud in 'eighty-four, tried to flee the country and--"
"I don't care about that! It's ancient! He's changed. He's not the same man he was then."
"You're not going."
"Yes I am," Susan insisted, the beginnings of a frown of her own creasing her brow. "I'm going and you can't stop me!"
"I'm your legal guardian, Susie."
"Poosh! What's that got to do with spit? I'm almost fifty years old, f'real."
Susan Lane did not look much more than twenty. She had died when she'd been a teenager, killed by a lethal injection that Pancho herself had shot into her emaciated arm. Once clinically dead she had been frozen in liquid nitrogen to await the day when medical science could cure the carcinoma that was raging through her young body. Pancho had brought her cryonic sarcophagus to the Moon when she began working as an astronaut for Astro Manufacturing Corporation. Eventually Pancho became a member of Astro's board of directors, and finally its chairman. Still Susan waited, entombed in her bath of liquid nitrogen, waiting until Pancho was certain that she could be reborn to a new life.
It took more than twenty years. And once Susan was revived and cured of the cancer that had been killing her, her mind was almost a total blank. Pancho had expected that; cryonics reborns usually lost most of the neural connections in the cerebral cortex. Even Saito Yamagata, the powerful founder of Yamagata Corporation, had come out of his cryonic sleep with a mind as blank as a newborn baby's.
So Pancho fed and bathed and toilet trained her sister, an infant in a teenager's body. Taught her to walk, to speak again. And brought the best neurophysiologists to Selene to treat her sister's brain with injections of memory enzymes and RNA. She even considered nanotherapy but decided against it; nanotechnology was allowed in Selene, but only under stringent controls, and the experts admitted that they didn't think nanomachines could help Susan to recover her lost memories.
Those years were difficult, but gradually a young adult emerged, a woman who looked like the Susie that Pancho remembered, but whose personality, whose attitudes, whose mind were disturbingly different. Susan remembered nothing of her earlier life, but thanks to the neuroboosters she had received her memory now was almost eidetic: if she saw or heard something once, she never forgot it. She could recall details with a precision that made Pancho's head swim.
Now the sisters sat glaring at each other: Pancho on the plush burgundy pseudoleather couch in the corner of her sumptuous office, Susan sitting tensely on the edge of the low slingchair on the other side of the curving lunar glass coffee table, her elbows on her knees.
They looked enough alike to be immediately recognized as sisters. Both were tall and rangy, long lean legs and arms, slim athletic bodies. Pancho's skin was little darker than a well-tanned Caucasian's; Susan's a shade richer. Pancho kept her hair trimmed down to a skullcap of tightly-curled fuzz that was flecked with spots of fashionable gray. Susan had taken treatments to make her dark-brown hair long and luxurious; she wore it in the latest pageboy fashion, spilling down to her shoulders. Her clothing was latest mod, too: a floor-length faux silk gown with weights in its hem to keep the skirt hanging right in the low lunar gravity. Pancho was in a no-nonsense business suit of powder gray: a tailored cardigan jacket and flared slacks over her comfortable lunar softboots. She wore sensible accents of jewelry at her earlobes and wrists. Susan was unadorned, except for the decal across her forehead: a miniature of Saturn, the ringed planet.
Susan broke the lengthening silence. "Panch, you can't stop me. I'm going."
"But…all the way out to Saturn? With a flock of political exiles?"
"They're not exiles!"
"C'm on, Soose, half the governments back Earthside are cleaning out their detention camps."
Susan's back stiffened. "Those fundamentalist regimes you're always complaining about are encouraging their nonbelievers and dissidents to sign on for the Saturn expedition. Encouraging, not deporting."
"They're getting rid of their troublemakers," Pancho said.
"Not troublemakers! Free thinkers. Idealists. Men and women who're ticked with the way things are on Earth and willing to warp off, zip out, and start new lives."
"Misfits and malcontents," Pancho muttered. "Square pegs in round holes."
"The habitat will be populated by the best and brightest people of Earth," Susan retorted.
"Yeah, you wish."
"I know. And I'm going to be one of them."
"Cripes almighty, Soose, Saturn's ten times farther from the Sun than we are."
"What of it?" Susan said, with that irritating smile again. "You were the first to go as far as the Belt, weren't you?"
"You went out to the Jupiter station, di'n't you?"
Pancho could do nothing but nod.
"So I'm going out to Saturn. I won't be alone. There'll be ten thousand of us, f'real! That is, if Malcolm can weed out the real troublemakers and sign up good workers. I'm helping him do the interviews."
"Make sure that's all you're helping him with," Pancho groused.
Susan's smile turned slightly wicked. "He's been a perfect gentleman, dammit."
"Blister my butt on a goddam' Harley," Pancho grumbled. And she thought, Damned near thirty years I've been working my way up the corporation but ten minutes with Susie and she's got me talkin' West Texas again.
"It's a great thing, Panch," said Susan, earnest now. "It's a mission, really. We're going out on a five-year mission to study the Saturn system. Scientists, engineers, farmers, a whole self-sustaining community!"
Pancho saw that her sister was genuinely excited, like a kid on her way to a thrill park. Damn! she said to herself. Susie's got the body of an adult but the mind of a teenager. There'll be nothing but grief for her out there, without me to protect her.
"Say it clicks, Panch," Susan asked softly, through lowered lashes. "Tell me you're not ticked at me."
"I'm not sore," Pancho said truthfully. "I'm worried, though. You'll be all alone out there."
"With ten thousand others!"
"Without your big sister."
Susan said nothing for a heartbeat, then she reached across the coffee table and grasped Pancho's hand. "But Panch, don't you see? That's why I'm doing it! That's why I've got to do it! I've got to go out on my own. I can't live like some little kid with you doing everything for me! I've got to be free!"
Sagging back into the softly yielding sofa, Pancho murmured, "Yeah, I suppose you do. I guess I knew it all along. It's just that…I worry about you, Susie."
"I'll be fine, Panch. You'll see!"
"I sure hope so."
Elated, Susan hopped to her feet and headed for the door. "You'll see," she repeated. "It's gonna be great! Cosmic!"
Pancho sighed and got to her feet.
"Oh, by the way," Susan called over her shoulder as she opened the office door, "I'm changing my name. I'm not gonna be called Susan anymore. From now on, my name is Holly."
And she ducked through the door before Pancho could say a word more.
"Holly," Pancho muttered to the closed door. Where in the everlovin' blue-eyed world did she get that from? she wondered. Why's she want to change her name?
Shaking her head, Pancho told the phone to connect with her security chief. When his handsome, square-jawed face took shape in the air above her desk, she said:
"Wendell, I need somebody to ride that goddamned habitat out to Saturn and keep tabs on my sister, without her known' it."
"Right away," the security chief answered. He looked away for a moment, then said, "Um, about tonight, I--"
"Never mind about tonight," Pancho snapped. "You just get somebody onto that habitat. Somebody good! Get on it right now."
"Yes, ma'am!" said Pancho's security chief.
LUNAR ORBIT: HABITAT GODDARD
Malcolm Eberly tried to hide the panic that was still frothing like a storm-tossed sea inside him. Along with the fifteen other department leaders, he stood perfectly still at the main entrance to the habitat.
The ride up from Earth had been an agony for him. From the instant the Clippership had gone into Earth orbit and the feeling of gravity had dwindled to zero, Eberly had fought a death struggle against the terror of weightlessness. Strapped into his well-cushioned seat, he had exerted every effort of his willpower to fight back the horrible urge to vomit. I will not give in to this, he told himself through gritted teeth. Pale and soaked with cold sweat, he resolved that he would not make a fool of himself in front of the others.
Getting out of his seat once the Clippership had made rendezvous with the transfer rocket was sheer torture. Eberly kept his head rigidly unmoving, his fists clenched, his eyes squeezed down to slits. To the cheerful commands of the flight attendants, he followed the bobbing gray coveralls of the woman ahead of him and made his way along the aisle hand over hand from one seat back to the next until he glided through the hatch into the transfer vehicle, still in zero gravity, gagging as his insides floated up into his throat.
No one else seemed to be as ill as he. The rest of them--fifteen other men and women, all department leaders as he was--were chatting and laughing, even experimenting with allowing themselves to float up off the Velcro carpeting of the passenger compartment. The sight of it made Eberly's stomach turn inside out.
Still he held back the bile that was burning his throat. I will not give in to this, he told himself over and over. I will prevail. A man can accomplish anything he sets his mind to if he has the strength and the will.
Strapped down again in a seat inside the transfer rocket, he stared rigidly ahead as the ship lit off its engines to start its flight to lunar orbit. The thrust was gentle, but at least it provided some feeling of weight. Only for a few seconds, though. The rocket engines cut off and he felt again as if he were falling, endlessly falling. Everyone else was chattering away, several of them boasting about how many times they had been in space.
Of course! Eberly realized. They've all done this before. They've experienced this wretchedness before and now it doesn't bother them. They're all from wealthy families, rich, spoiled children who've never had a care in their lives. I'm the only one here who's never been off the Earth before, the only one who's had to fight and claw for a living, the only one who's known hunger and sickness and fear.
I've got to make good here. I've got to! Otherwise they'll send me back. I'll die in a filthy prison cell.
Through sheer mental exertion Eberly endured the hours of weightlessness. When the woman in the seat next to him tried to engage him in conversation he replied tersely to her inane remarks, desperately fighting to keep her from seeing how sick he was. He forced a smile, hoping that she would not notice the cold sweat beading his upper lip. He could feel it soaking the cheap, thin shirt he wore. After a while she stopped her chattering and turned her attention to the display screen built into the seat backs.
Eberly concentrated on the images, too. The screen showed the habitat, an ungainly cylinder hanging in the emptiness of space like a length of sewer pipe left behind by a vanished construction crew. As they approached it, though, the habitat grew bigger and bigger. Eberly could see that it was rotating slowly; he knew that the spin created a feeling of gravity inside the cylinder. Numbers ran through his mind: The habitat was twenty kilometers in length, four kilometers across. It rotated every forty-five seconds, which produced a centrifugal force equivalent to normal Earth gravity.
In his growing excitement he almost forgot the unease of his stomach. Now he could see the long windows running the length of the gigantic cylinder. And the Moon came into view, shining brightly. But seen this close, the Moon was ugly, scarred and pitted with countless craters. One of the biggest of them, Eberly knew, housed the city-state of Selene.
Swiftly the habitat grew to blot out everything else. For a moment Eberly feared they would crash into it, even though his rational mind told him that the ship's pilots had their flight under precise control. He could see the solar mirrors hugging the cylinder's curving sides. And bulbs and knobs dotting the habitat's skin, like bumps on a cucumber. Some of them were observation blisters, he knew. Others were docking ports, thruster pods, airlocks.
"This is your captain speaking," said a woman's voice from the speakers set above each display screen. "We have gone into a rendezvous orbit around the habitat. In three minutes we will be docking. You'll feel a bump or two: nothing to be alarmed about."
The thump jarred all the passengers. Eberly gripped his seat arms tightly and waited for more. But nothing else happened. Except--
His innards had settled down! He no longer felt sick. Gravity had returned and he felt normal again. No, better than normal. He turned to the woman sitting beside him and studied her face briefly. It was a round, almost chubby face with large dark almond eyes and curly black hair. Her skin was smooth, young, but swarthy. Eberly judged she was of Mediterranean descent, Greek or Spanish or perhaps Italian. He smiled broadly at her.
"Here we've been sitting next to each other for more than six hours and I haven't even told you my name. I'm Malcolm Eberly."
She smiled back. "Yes, I can see." Tapping the name badge pinned to her blouse, she said, "I'm Andrea Maronella. I'm with the agrotech team."
A farmer, Eberly thought. A stupid, grubbing farmer. But he smiled still wider and replied, "I'm in charge of the human resources department."
Before he could say more, the flight attendant asked them all to get up and head for the hatch. Eberly unstrapped and got to his feet, happy to feel solid weight again, eager to get his first glimpse of the habitat. The inner terror he had fought against dwindled almost to nothing. I won! he exulted to himself. I faced the terror and I beat it.
He politely allowed Maronella to slide out into the aisle ahead of him and then followed her to the hatch. The sixteen men and women filed through the hatch, into an austere metal-walled chamber. An older man stood by the inner hatch, tall and heavyset; his thick head of hair was iron gray and he had a bushy gray moustache. His face looked rugged, weather-beaten, the corners of his eyes creased by long years of squinting in the open sun. He wore a comfortable suede pullover and rumpled tan jeans. Two younger men stood slightly behind him, clad in coveralls; obviously underlings of some sort.
"Welcome to habitat Goddard," he said, with a warm smile. "I'm Professor James Wilmot. Most of you have already met me, and for those of you who haven't, I look forward to meeting you and discussing our future. But for now, let's take a look at the world we'll be inhabiting for at least the next five years."
With that, one of the young men behind him tapped the keyboard on the wall beside the hatch, and the massive steel door swung slowly inward. Eberly felt a puff of warm air touch his face, like the light touch of his mother's faintly remembered caress.
The group of sixteen department leaders started through the hatch. This is it, Eberly thought, feeling a new dread rising inside his guts. There's no turning back now. This is the new world they want me to live in. This huge cylinder, this machine. I'm being exiled. All the way out to Saturn, that's where they're sending me. As far away as they can. I'll never see Earth again.
He was almost the last one in line; he heard the others oohing and aahing by the time he got to the open hatch and stepped through. Then he saw why.
Stretching out in all directions around him was a green landscape, shining in warm sunlight. Gently rolling grassy hills, clumps of trees, little meandering streams spread out into the hazy distance. The group was standing on an elevated knoll, with a clear view of the habitat's broad interior. Bushes thick with vivid red hibiscus and pale lavender oleanders lined both sides of a curving path that led down to a group of low buildings, white and gleaming in the sunlight that streamed in through the long windows. A Mediterranean village, Eberly thought, set on the gentle slope of a grassy hill, overlooking a shimmering blue lake.
This is some travel brochure vision of what a perfect Mediterranean countryside would look like. Far in the distance he made out what looked like farmlands, square little fields that appeared to be recently plowed, and more clusters of whitewashed buildings. There was no horizon. Instead, the land simply curved up and up, hills and grass and trees and more little villages with their paved roads and sparkling streams, up and up on both sides until he was craning his neck looking straight overhead at still more of the carefully, lovingly landscaped greenery.
"It's breathtaking," Maronella whispered.
"Awesome," said one of the others.
Eberly thought, A virgin world, untouched by war or famine or hatred. Untouched by human emotions of any kind. Waiting to be shaped, controlled. Maybe it won't be so bad here after all.
"This must have cost a bloody fortune," a young man said in a strong, matter-of-fact voice. "How could the consortium afford it?"
Professor Wilmot smiled and touched his moustache with a fingertip. "We got it in a bankruptcy sale, actually. The previous owners went broke trying to turn this into a retirement center."
"Who retires nowadays?"
"That's why they went bankrupt," Wilmot replied.
"The International Consortium of Universities is not without resources," said Wilmot. "And we have many alumni who can be very generous when properly approached."
"You mean when you twist their arms hard enough," a woman joked. The others laughed; even Wilmot smiled good-naturedly.
"Well," the professor said. "This is it. This will be your home for the next five years, and even longer, for many of you."
"When do the others start coming up?"
"As the personnel board approves applicants and they pass their final physical and psychological tests they will come aboard. We have about two-thirds of the available positions already filled, and more people are signing up at quite a brisk pace."
The others asked more questions and Wilmot patiently answered them. Eberly filtered their nattering out of his conscious attention. He peered intently at the vast expanse of the habitat, savoring this moment of discovery, his arrival into a new world. Ten thousand people, that's all they're going to permit to join us. But this habitat could hold a hundred thousand easily. A million, even!
He thought of the squalor of his childhood days: eight, ten, twelve people to a room. And then the merciless discipline of the monastery schools. And prison.
Ten thousand people, he mused. They will live in luxury here. They will live like kings!
He smiled. No, he told himself. There will be only one king here. One master. This will be my kingdom, and everyone in it will bend to my will.
Copyright © 2003 by Ben Bova