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The Two Moons
By James P. Hogan
Baen BooksCopyright © 2006 James P. Hogan
All right reserved.
Chapter OneAccompanied by a mild but powerful whine, a gigantic silver torpedo rose slowly upward to hang two thousand feet above the sugar-cube huddle of central London. Over three hundred yards long, it spread at the tail into a slim delta topped by two sharply swept fins. For a while the ship hovered, as if savoring the air of its newfound freedom, its nose swinging smoothly around to seek the north. At last, with the sound growing, imperceptibly at first but with steadily increasing speed, it began to slide forward and upward. At ten thousand feet its engines erupted into full power, hurling the suborbital skyliner eagerly toward the fringes of space.
Sitting in row thirty-one of C deck was Dr. Victor Hunt, head of Theoretical Studies at the Metadyne Nucleonic Instrument Company of Reading, Berkshire-itself a subsidiary of the mammoth Intercontinental Data and Control Corporation, headquartered at Portland, Oregon, USA. He absently surveyed the diminishing view of Hendon that crawled across the cabin wall-display screen and tried again to fit some kind of explanation to the events of the last few days.
His experiments with matter-antimatter particle extinctions had been progressing well. Forsyth-Scott had followed Hunt's reports with evident interest and therefore knew that the tests wereprogressing well. That made it all the more strange for him to call Hunt at his office one morning to ask him simply to drop everything and get over to IDCC Portland as quickly as could be arranged. From the managing director's tone and manner it had been obvious that the request was couched as such mainly for reasons of politeness; in reality this was one of the few occasions on which Hunt had no say in the matter.
To Hunt's questions, Forsyth-Scott had stated quite frankly that he didn't know what it was that made Hunt's immediate presence at IDCC so imperative. The previous evening he had received a videocall from Felix Borlan, the president of IDCC, who had told him that as a matter of priority he required the only working prototype of the scope prepared for immediate shipment to the USA and an installation team ready to go with it. Also, he had insisted that Hunt personally come over for an indefinite period to take charge of some project involving the scope, which could not wait. For Hunt's benefit, Forsyth-Scott had replayed Borlan's call on his desk display and allowed him to verify for himself that Forsyth-Scott in turn was acting under a thinly disguised directive. Even stranger, Borlan too had seemed unable to say precisely what it was that the instrument and its inventor were needed for.
The Trimagniscope, developed as a consequence of a two-year investigation by Hunt into certain aspects of neutrino physics, promised to be perhaps the most successful venture ever undertaken by the company. Hunt had established that a neutrino beam that passed through a solid object underwent certain interactions in the close vicinity of atomic nuclei, which produced measurable changes in the transmitted output. By raster scanning an object with a trio of synchronized, intersecting beams, he had devised a method of extracting enough information to generate a 3-D color hologram, visually indistinguishable from the original solid. Moreover, since the beams scanned right through, it was almost as easy to conjure up views of the inside as of the out. These capabilities, combined with that of high-power magnification that was also inherent in the method, yielded possibilities not even remotely approached by anything else on the market. From quantitative cell metabolism and bionics, through neurosurgery, metallurgy, crystallography, and molecular electronics, to engineering inspection and quality control, the applications were endless. Inquiries were pouring in and shares were soaring. Removing the prototype and its originator to the USA-totally disrupting carefully planned production and marketing schedules-bordered on the catastrophic. Borlan knew this as well as anybody. The more Hunt turned these things over in his mind, the less plausible the various possible explanations that had at first occurred to him seemed, and the more convinced he became that whatever the answer turned out to be, it would be found to lie far beyond even Felix Borlan and IDCC.
His thoughts were interrupted by a voice issuing from somewhere in the general direction of the cabin roof.
"Good afternoon, ladies and gentlemen. This is Captain Mason speaking. I would like to welcome you aboard this Boeing 1017 on behalf of British Airways. We are now in level flight at our cruising altitude of fifty-two miles, speed 3,160 knots. Our course is thirty-five degrees west of true north, and the coast is now below with Liverpool five miles to starboard. Passengers are free to leave their seats. The bars are open and drinks and snacks are being served. We are due to arrive in San Francisco at ten thirty-eight hours local time; that's one hour and fifty minutes from now. I would like to remind you that it is necessary to be seated when we begin our descent in one hour and thirty-five minutes time. A warning will sound ten minutes before descent commences and again at five minutes. We trust you will enjoy your journey. Thank you."
The captain signed himself off with a click, which was drowned out as the regulars made their customary scramble for the vi-phone booths.
In the seat next to Hunt, Rob Gray, Metadyne's chief of Experimental Engineering, sat with an open briefcase resting on his knees. He studied the information being displayed on the screen built into its lid.
"A regular flight to Portland takes off fifteen minutes after we get in," he announced. "That's a bit tight. Next one's not for over four hours. What d'you reckon?" He punctuated the question with a sideways look and raised eyebrows.
Hunt pulled a face. "I'm not arsing about in Frisco for four hours. Book us an Avis jet-we'll fly ourselves up."
"That's what I thought."
Gray played the mini keyboard below the screen to summon an index, consulted it briefly, then touched another key to display a directory. Selecting a number from one of the columns, he mouthed it silently to himself as he tapped it in. A copy of the number appeared near the bottom of the screen with a request for him to confirm. He pressed the Y button. The screen went blank for a few seconds and then exploded into a whirlpool of color, which stabilized almost at once into the features of a platinum-blonde, who radiated the kind of smile normally reserved for toothpaste commercials.
"Good morning. Avis San Francisco, City Terminal. This is Sue Parker. Can I help you?"
Gray addressed the grille, located next to the tiny camera lens just above the screen.
"Hi, Sue. Name's Gray-R. J. Gray, airbound for SF, due to arrive about two hours from now. Could I reserve an aircar, please?"
"Sure thing. Range?"
"Oh-about five hundred ..." He glanced at Hunt.
"Better make it seven," Hunt advised.
"Make that seven hundred miles minimum."
"That'll be no problem, Mr. Gray. We have Skyrovers, Mercury Threes, Honeybees, or Yellow Birds. Any preference?"
"I'll make it a Mercury, then. Any idea how long?"
"Okay. Full computer nav and flight control? Automatic VTOL?"
"Preferably and, ah, yes."
"You have a full manual license?" The blonde operated unseen keys as she spoke.
"Could I have personal data and account-checking data, please?"
Gray had extracted the card from his wallet while the exchange was taking place. He inserted it into a slot set to one side of the screen, and touched a key.
The blonde consulted other invisible oracles. "Okay," she pronounced. "Any other pilots?"
"One. A Dr. V. Hunt."
"His personal data?"
Gray took Hunt's already proffered card and substituted it for his own. The ritual was repeated. The face then vanished to be replaced by a screen of formatted text with entries completed in the boxes provided.
"Would you verify and authorize, please?" said the disembodied voice from the grille. "Charges are shown on the right."
Gray cast his eye rapidly down the screen, grunted, and keyed in a memorized sequence of digits that was not echoed on the display. The word POSITIVE appeared in the box marked "Authorization." Then the clerk reappeared, still smiling.
"When would you want to collect, Mr. Gray?" she asked.
Gray turned toward Hunt.
"Do we want lunch at the airport first?"
Hunt grimaced. "Not after that party last night. Couldn't face anything." His face took on an expression of acute distaste as he moistened the inside of the equine rectum he had once called a mouth. "Let's eat tonight somewhere."
"Make it round about eleven thirty hours," Gray advised.
"It'll be ready."
"Thank you. Good-bye."
Gray flipped a switch, unplugged the briefcase from the socket built into the armrest of his seat, and coiled the connecting cord back into the space provided in the lid. He closed the case and stowed it behind his feet
"Done," he announced.
The scope was the latest in a long line of technological triumphs in the Metadyne product range to be conceived and nurtured to maturity by the Hunt-Gray partnership. Hunt was the ideas man, leading something of a free-lance existence within the organization, left to pursue whatever line of study or experiment his personal whims or the demands of his researches dictated. His title was somewhat misleading; in fact he was Theoretical Studies. The position was one which he had contrived, quite deliberately, to fall into no obvious place in the managerial hierarchy of Metadyne. He acknowledged no superior, apart from the managing director, Sir Francis Forsyth-Scott, and boasted no subordinates. On the company's organization charts, the box captioned "Theoretical Studies" stood alone and disconnected near the inverted tree head R & D, as if added as an afterthought. Inside it there appeared the single entry Dr. Victor Hunt. This was the way he liked it-a symbiotic relationship in which Metadyne provided him with the equipment, facilities, services, and funds he needed for his work, while he provided Metadyne with first, the prestige of retaining on its payroll a world-acknowledged authority on nuclear infrastructure theory, and second-but by no means least-a steady supply of fallout.
Gray was the engineer. He was the sieve that the fallout fell on. He had a genius for spotting the gems of raw ideas that had application potential and transforming them into developed, tested, marketable products and product enhancements. Like Hunt, he had survived the mine field of the age of unreason and emerged safe and single into his midthirties. With Hunt, he shared a passion for work, a healthy partiality for most of the deadly sins to counterbalance it, and his address book. All things considered, they were a good team.
Gray bit his lower lip and rubbed his left earlobe. He always bit his lower lip and rubbed his left earlobe when he was about to talk shop.
"Figured it out yet?" he asked.
"This Borlan business?"
Hunt shook his head before lighting a cigarette. "Beats me."
"I was thinking ... Suppose Felix has dug up some hot sales prospect for scopes-maybe one of his big Yank customers. He could be setting up some super demo or something."
Hunt shook his head again. "No. Felix wouldn't go and screw up Metadyne's schedules for anything like that. Anyhow, it wouldn't make sense-the obvious thing to do would be to fly the people to where the scope is, not the other way round."
"Mmmm ... I suppose the same thing applies to the other thought that occurred to me-some kind of crash teach-in for IDCC people."
"Right-same thing goes."
"Mmmm ..." When Gray spoke again, they had covered another six miles. "How about a takeover? The whole scope thing is big-Felix wants it handled stateside."
Hunt reflected on the proposition. "Not for my money. He's got too much respect for Francis to pull a stunt like that. He knows Francis can handle it okay. Besides, that's not his way of doing things-too underhanded." Hunt paused to exhale a cloud of smoke. "Anyhow, I think there's a lot more to it than meets the eye. From what I saw, even Felix didn't seem too sure what it's all about."
"Mmmm ..." Gray thought for a while longer before abandoning further excursions into the realms of deductive logic. He contemplated the growing tide of humanity flowing in the general direction of C-deck bar. "My guts are a bit churned up, too," he confessed. "Feels like a crate of Guinness on top of a vindaloo curry. Come on-let's go get a coffee."
* * *
In the star-strewn black velvet one thousand miles farther up, the Sirius Fourteen communications-link satellite followed, with cold and omniscient electronic eyes, the progress of the skyliner streaking across the mottled sphere below. Among the ceaseless stream of binary data that flowed through its antennae, it identified a call from the Boeing's Gamma Nine master computer, requesting details of the latest weather forecast for northern California. Sirius Fourteen flashed the message to Sirius Twelve, hanging high over the Canadian Rockies, and Twelve in turn beamed it down to the tracking station at Edmonton. From here the message was relayed by optical cable to Vancouver Control and from there by microwave repeaters to the Weather Bureau station at Seattle. A few thousandths of a second later, the answers poured back up the chain in the opposite direction. Gamma Nine digested the information, made one or two minor alterations to its course and flight plan, and sent a record of the dialogue down to Ground Control, Prestwick.
Excerpted from The Two Moons by James P. Hogan Copyright ©2006 by James P. Hogan. Excerpted by permission.
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