The first humans still hunt their children across the stars. Dave Hutchinson brings far future science fiction on a grand scale in Acadie.
The Colony left Earth to find their utopia--a home on a new planet where their leader could fully explore the colonists’ genetic potential, unfettered by their homeworld's restrictions. They settled a new paradise, and have been evolving and adapting for centuries.
Earth has other plans.
The original humans have been tracking their descendants across the stars, bent on their annihilation. They won't stop until the new humans have been destroyed, their experimentation wiped out of the human gene pool.
Can't anyone let go of a grudge anymore?
|Publisher:||Tom Doherty Associates|
|Product dimensions:||4.70(w) x 6.40(h) x 0.50(d)|
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IT WAS THE MORNING after the morning after my hundred and fiftieth birthday, and a terrible noise was trying to wake me up.
I stayed asleep while my subconscious did all the work and sorted through the menu of possible noises that might have been annoying enough to disturb me. Doorbell? Disconnected it. Kitchen? Been incapable of cooking anything since the day before yesterday. Decompression alarm? Not humanly possible to do anything when you hear a decompression alarm but grab an emergency suit or head for a panic room. Phone? Turned it off and only one person had the codes to turn it back on.
"What?" I muttered.
"Well, good morning, Mr. President," a voice purred just in front of my face. "And how are we today?"
"Not funny," I said. "Not funny at all."
"We've got a situation," she said.
"You've got a situation," I told her. "I'm still on leave."
"Sorry, this needs command authority."
"You've got command authority, for Christ's sake."
"Not for this. There's been an incursion."
I groaned. "It's a rock. It's always a rock."
"No such luck," she said. "Get over to the office, Duke. This is the real thing." And she added brightly, "And it happened on your watch. How great is that?"
I opened my eyes and my spirit recoiled. "Where?" The voice reeled off a thirty-digit string of numbers which, even after a hundred years, was still mostly meaningless to me. "That's pretty deep downsystem, isn't it?"
"Man gets a cigar," she said.
"How did the dewline miss it?"
"This is just one of the many questions we're asking ourselves at the moment. You see? An actual situation. Come on, Duke, get your game face on. Up and at 'em." And she hung up.
I stayed in my cocoon for a few more moments, looking around the bedroom. It was a nice bedroom, roomy and dark blue and almost completely spherical, its walls covered in recessed handles for cupboards and drawers. Some of my clothes were drifting gently across my field of view. It was a really nice bedroom, but I wasn't going to get to stay in it much longer today. I crossed my eyes and concentrated, and a complex of cells, grown on the surface of my liver without my knowledge or permission during some tweak or other, began to do a magic trick on my hangover. It was a big hangover, and the magic trick was going to take a little while. It was going to need fuelling or I was going to wind up hypoglycaemic, so I split open the seams of the cocoon and drifted across the bedroom until I hit the opposite wall, where I tugged at the door handle.
The moment the door opened the cats barrelled in, squeaking and spitting and twisting in the air, the black one chasing the white one. The black one hard-landed on the far wall on all four feet, bounced off, and caught the white one in midair, and they became a furious ball of black and white fur from which screeching noises erupted.
"Stop fighting," I told them as I made my way out into the main room of the apartment. They ignored me. "Okay," I muttered. "Fine. Carry on fighting." I'd inherited the cats, along with the apartment, from an upsystem miner who had suffered a fatal but ill-defined accident. He had been, by all accounts, a colossal son of a bitch who had abused his pets. I was entirely opposed to animal cruelty, but I drew the line at sharing my bedroom with a pair of freefall cats.
I drifted into the kitchen and switched on the coffee maker, then I went into the bathroom, strapped on the breathing mask, and hung in the centre of the room while jets of very hot water beat me up. When the cycle finished, I switched it on again. Then once more for luck. Then I let the pumps drain the room and the hot-air blowers dry me off and went back into the kitchen to root around for something to eat. There wasn't much, but the coffee maker provided a large bulb of a hot caffeine-containing fluid, which was important because the complex of magic cells on the surface of my liver metabolised caffeine in order to do their thing. If they didn't have caffeine, they metabolised blood sugar, but that wasn't recommended. It was not coffee as I remembered it, though, because the Writers had still not managed to get coffee to grow in zero-gee. You'd think that would be a simple thing for smart people, particularly smart people whose previous lives had pretty much been fuelled by coffee and complex carbohydrates, but no. I drank the large bulb and refilled it and dug out some clothes that didn't smell too much, then I put a wingsuit on over them, opened the front door, and stood on the porch.
The view from my porch was pretty special, even in an age of wonders. I looked out through a scene that was like a wraparound rain forest, the mutant kudzu that half-filled the hab and gave it its structural strength as well as taking care of certain aspects of life support. It was green and misty and cool and hundreds of little specks were unhurriedly winging through it, swooping gracefully around bracing roots almost a metre thick.
A couple of the specks flapped by, Kids with great angel wings. They waved as they passed and made a couple of incomprehensible jokes and I waved back and told them to go fuck themselves, and in this way the hab became aware that its President was up and about and pretty much as grumpy as usual and all was right with the world.
Which it wasn't.
I made sure the door behind me was locked, then I flung open my arms and jumped out into the yawning green cavern of my home.
I hated freefall. It had taken me at least ten years and some careful tweaking by the Writers to get over the constant nausea and terror of crashing to the ground, but I had never grown to like it. I also hated flying. The Kids made it look easy and graceful, but it was fucking hard work and I never had got the hang of it. One of my first actions as President had been to table Bills to build a monorail system in some of the larger habs and to make personal jet-packs legal in all of them, but the Council had vetoed them. I might have been President, but the Council paid no attention to me at all until something went wrong.
City Hall was near the centre of the hab, nestled in the heart of a huge clump of kudzu. I managed an untidy landing on the verandah, stripped off my wingsuit, and went inside.
Like pretty much every other building in the Colony, City Hall was a sphere of construction polyp, but it was the biggest and oldest structure here, a gnarled pearlescent ball the size of an ocean liner. It was big enough, in the event of a very, very large disaster, to act as a panic room for the whole population of the hab, but most of the time it was all but empty, occupied by skeleton staffs of administrators and engineers and techs.
It also housed my office, which was nothing much to boast about. I hadn't spent more than fifty minutes there since my term began eight months ago, and I couldn't in all honesty have directed anyone through City Hall's winding tunnels to find it.
Fortunately, I wasn't going to my office. I was going to The Office, which was easier to find because it was much bigger and located right at the heart of the structure. It was also, when I finally emerged from the tunnel, full of worried-looking people having hushed conversations over monitors and tapboards and in front of infosheets.
"Happy birthday," Connie said as I drifted over.
"Hm," I said. "So, what have we got?"
"We've got a bogey," she said, and she pointed to a big infosheet on the other side of the room. The infosheet showed a depthless field of black, and right in the middle of it floated a probe. It was about fifteen metres long and five wide, an off-white cylinder with the letters BoC stencilled on the side. At one end was a big fat conical meteorite shield of spun ice, and at the other was the skinny bell-shape of a high-yield fission engine exhaust. In between was a lumpy, cluttered landscape of hyperdrive motor radomes and sensor pods and squeeze-fusion microquads. It was a fairly simple design, cheap to manufacture; the Bureau of Colonisation built hundreds of them every year and sent them off on fast-flyby missions to unmapped solar systems. My heart sank.
"Not a rock, then," Connie said.
"Not a rock," I agreed. I swore. "Where's this picture coming from?" She told me, and I swore some more. A lot more.
The Colony didn't have a government, as such. Each hab elected an annual representative to a sort of loose advisory body that kind of kept things bumping along. On the principle that anyone seeking political power wasn't to be trusted with it, the only people who were allowed on the advisory body were those who absolutely did not want to be on it. This included pretty much everyone, so the two or three months leading up to elections saw a flurry of pantomime campaigning enthusiastic enough to disqualify each candidate from office. I'd done some good campaigning myself in the past and managed to dodge the bullet, but last time the elections came round I'd been outsystem, giving someone a lift to Nova California. This had been taken as a sign that I couldn't be bothered with politics, and when I got back I found that not only had I been elected but the sneaky bastards had decided my absence proved I truly didn't give a shit and had made me President.
The office of President actually had very little real power. What it did have was a lot of responsibility, of the kind when something is such a hot potato that everyone looks around for someone else to offload it onto. That was me, for the next three and a half years or so. President of the Colony, doer of things nobody else wanted or could be bothered to do, taker of decisions so shitty nobody else wanted to be responsible for them.
If you live all your life on a planet, one of the fundamental things you never really appreciate about space is that, mostly, it all looks the same.
Obviously, there are some caveats to this. Close in to stars or orbiting planets or skirting the edge of a nebula, the scenery can be pretty spectacular. But everywhere else is just stars and emptiness.
That's pretty much all you'll see, even inside a solar system. The movies will kid you that starships zip in and out of hyperspace and pop into systems and see all the planets and asteroids and stuff, but even a solar system with dozens of planets is mostly empty space; if you're unfortunate or even just mildly inattentive it's perfectly possible to fly entirely through one and not see anything but the tiny bright point of the system's sun. At a distance of forty-five AUs, which was where we were, it's not all that hard to miss noticing the sun at all, if it's crappy enough.
At this distance, there was almost as much illumination from the stars as there was from the sun, so we had to use searchlights and image amps to see the probe. The light reflected from the thing's hull washed out the stars. It had come a long way; the conical ice shield looked pitted and eroded.
"And you shot it down," I said.
"Well, not down, as such," said Karl.
I ignored him and raised an eyebrow at Ernie, who just sighed and puffed out her cheeks.
"That thing's radioactive as a bastard," Karl noted. "Are we safe this close to it?"
"Cheap fucking fission drive," Ernie muttered. "Dropping it into my system." She was heavily modded — four arms, hands where her feet should have been, face rewritten into a gargoyle's leer that had no practical purpose, as far as I could see, aside from being off-putting.
"And you shot it down," I said again in an attempt to regain control of the situation.
"Aw, come on, Duke," she complained, gesturing with all four hands at once. "What was I supposed to do?"
"You know what you were supposed to do," I told her. "You were supposed to run silent and watch the damn thing go away."
"Dewline didn't pick it up," she said.
"And much brighter people than you or me are thinking about that right now," I said. "Your job was to call in the sighting and let the thing go, not fire on it."
The three of us were crammed into the control bubble of Ernie's ship, which wasn't a whole lot bigger than the probe. She spent months on her own out here in the system's halo, towing a couple of small hab modules fitted out with centrifuge equipment and smelters and chondrite refineries, mining dead comets for rare-earth metals. When she spotted the probe, she'd dropped the habs and set off in pursuit, and when she was within range she'd cooked it with a mining maser, fired a tether at it, spent almost a fortnight braking it down below solar escape velocity, and towed it back upsystem. Then she'd called us. Not a single one of these actions was in the standard operating procedure.
"You think it got a message out?" Karl said.
I looked at the screen in front of me, the probe floating innocently at the end of its tether.
"Let's hope not," I said. "Otherwise we're all going to be looking for somewhere else to live."
"No offence," said Shaker, "but for a bunch of supposedly bright people, you guys do some stupid things sometimes."
"Leaving aside the fact that I don't belong to the subset 'you guys,' I agree," I said morosely.
"What are you going to do?"
"I'm going to have another drink," I said, waving to attract the bartender's attention. "How about you?"
We were in The Penultimate Bar in Radetzky's Hab, and through the skin of the bubble, I could see the mellow salmon-banded curve of Big Bird. Little Bird, its gigantic moon, was rising above the edge of the planet, all cratered and battered and rocky. It was quite a sight, but I wasn't in the mood.
"But that's not what I meant," Shaker continued.
"No," I said. "I know."
I'd left Ernie to keep an eye on the probe, and Karl to keep an eye on Ernie, and I'd come back downsystem to try to formulate a plan of action, but all possible scenarios kept dropping away. The more I thought about it, the more it became obvious that there really was only one option left.
"Any word on the dewline?" I asked.
"We're running diagnostics as fast as we can. But you're talking about more than a billion satellites, at last count. It's going to take a while."
"No downtime? Blackouts? Cometary perturbations?" I'd learned that last phrase a few years ago. I still had no clear idea what it meant, but it seemed to make the dewline techs think I knew what I was talking about.
"We're working back eighteen months in the records." Shaker sat back and rubbed his eyes. "So far, nothing."
"Go back further."
"Duke, mate," he said seriously, "if that thing's been insystem for a year and a half, we're toast anyway."
"We need to know how it got through," I told him. "We need to know if there were more of them. Ernie really fucked up when she fired on it; if it had some kind of newfangled stealth coating or something, it'll have boiled away."
"Oh dear," he said.
I collected two bulbs of whiskey sour from the bartender. "'Oh dear' about covers it, yes."
"No," he said. "The boss is here."
I looked over at the doorway. "I'm your boss," I told him.
"Not while she's here, you're not."
We both watched Connie somersault languidly through the doorway, looking around the bar. She saw us, kicked off a support column, and landed neatly in the seat next to us. It was beautiful to watch; I'd have injured half a dozen people and crashed into most of the decor if I'd tried that.
"I was just in your office," she said, snapping her fingers at the bartender. "Lovely office. Really great furniture and fittings. Lacking something, though. I wonder what it could be? Hm ..." She made a show of thinking. "Oh yes," she said finally. "That's what it's lacking. You."
"I've been rousted from bed and I've been dragged upsystem and back again and I'm not in the mood, Connie," I told her.
She looked at Shaker. "Now I know you have work to do."
Shaker nodded. "Yup." He undid his seat restraints, pushed off gently, and rose unsteadily into the air. Shaker hadn't been in the Colony very long, and one of the reasons I liked him was that he was no more adept at freefall than I was. He bumped into a couple of people and drifted off towards the exit.
"We were having a meeting," I said when he had gone.
"You were having a drink," she said, taking her own bulb from the bartender. "And I don't like you hanging around with him."
"So am I."
She snorted. "No you're not."
"Yes I am," I said. "And I don't like being told who I can drink with, actually."
Normally, the tone of my voice just bounced right off Connie, but this time she looked at me and shrugged. "You shouldn't drink with subordinates," she mused.
Excerpted from "Acadie"
Copyright © 2017 Dave Hutchinson.
Excerpted by permission of Tom Doherty Associates.
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