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If the conversation had been offline and spoken, neither of which was possible within the working systems contained in the adiamante hull of the Gibson, the words would have followed old patterns, patterns based on the spoken words that seldom echoed within the bulkheads and networks of the Vereal ship.
"Are you certain?"
"It's Old Earth, all right. The geography is within parameters," answered the cybnav, but since all the crew members--especially the line marines--were cybs, her tag on the net was nav, navigator, subcommander, or, less frequently, her given name.
"The DNA has the same base across all the samples," added the environmental officer. "And there was no hostile reaction to the samplers."
"They were scanned," interjected the weapons controller.
"I don't like those terms--base, within parameters. Does the DNA match or doesn't it? What about the geography? A planet doesn't change that much in ten thousand years, does it?" asked Commander Gibreal, knowing the answer, but seeking, as do all those of human DNA-type, confirmation of the obvious.
"There have been what look to be deliberate genetic manipulations, some subtle, some not so subtle," signaled the envoff to the Gibson's commander. "Certainly not enough to account for the reputation of the place as the planet of death."
"What about viruses, bacteria, that sort of thing?" Gibreal knew the answers, again, before he received them.
"The former colonies were pretty clear about that. So were their records. Whatever the effect was, it wasn't anything known to their medical science. People died in full clean-suits and armor, in extreme trauma, and without any form of radiation, or any other trackable internal or external cause."
"Of course, there aren't any real records or tissue samples left." Gibreal's words smoked across the net with the bitterness of aqua regia. "What some people won't believe. Healthy bodies just don't die."
"What about telepathic auto-suggestion?" asked the envoff.
"Another rumor lost in time. No one's ever been able--not even the demis--to master telepathy. Anyway," added the commander, "that was thousands of years ago, and the old colonies have sent traders and envoys without harm for generations. They don't stay long, but their technology doesn't approach ours--or that of the old Rebuilt Hegemony." The commander snorted soundlessly, and his disgust colored the net with brown and the unsmelled odor of animal defecations. "Technology? Structures?"
"There aren't a lot of visible structures, except for those hundred or so energy concentrations--and that mass of ruins east of the mountains in the middle of old NorAm--that's what the records call it." The nav projected laffodils across the web with her words.
The laffodils wilted under the image of a blazing sun. "No other ruins? Just the one set?"
"There's the Great Wall--but we knew about that--and the non-talking heads. There may be smaller sets, but nothing else that exceeds two hundred meters."
"Two monuments, one set of ruins, and one-hundred-plus energy concentrations--that's it?"
"Within the system parameters so far, ser."
The sense of exhaled breath flooded the net, and the nav winced at the gale that whistled through the circuits.
"What are the energy concentrations?"
"They look to be a combination of transport hubs, service maintenance and manufacturing centers--with some transient housing."
"Everyone's there?" Gibreal's words lashed like a laser along the net channels. "The whole population within some hundred enclaves?"
"Not a chance. There's almost an energy web across the planet. It's hard to tell, but there seem to be a lot of independent energy generation points."
"So they've really regressed, have they?"
"Decentralized, anyway," temporized the nav, rubbing her forehead and blinking back the water jolted from her eyes by the violence of Gibreal's slashes through the net.
"Do we go in openly?" Gibreal's lashed words honed back toward the weapons officer.
"Why not? If they're hostile we can flatten those centers, and that should leave them helpless." Weapons projected fire and flames, and the ice of the de-energizers. "It looks straightforward enough."
"It won't be," countered the nav. "They ruled this part of the galaxy once. You saw what their fleet did to Al-Moratoros."
The image of the satellite of Moratoros three flashed across the net--a shining polished sphere, lifeless after more than scores of centuries, a sphere bathing an uninhabited planet in brilliant silver moonlight.
"That was then; this is now. They're coasting on the glory of a technology and power that's long since faded. The asteroid cities are dead, and the atmosphere of Mars is leaking back into space. No society has ever maintained its power for that long."
"Not even us." No one owned to the thought that crossed the net.
"We've regained our heritage," the commander added, "and we've avoided them for too long, just because of something that happened millennia ago." The commander flicked his order at the comm officer. "Send the signal."
The same message went out in multiple forms--beginning with complex variwave, then comm laser, UHF, VHF--all using the old protocols from the days preceding The Flight.
It was a simple message.
"The Exploration Fleet of the Vereal Union greets you. We request the opportunity to meet with the appropriate authority to discuss resumption of contact between our peoples. Please respond."
Less than a stan passed before the variwave response came.
"This is Old Earth, Deseret station ... ."
As the transmission echoed along the net, the cybcomm and MYL-ERA ran the analysis.
"A high power, tight beam transmission," observed MYL-ERA, her net projections cool and sharp-edged, without emotional overtones.
"They know where we are."
"Not that difficult."
"In less than a standard hour--to receive, analyze, discover, find us, and frame a logical response?" asked the comm officer.
"A high degree of efficiency," agreed MYL-ERA.
"Too high," muttered the comm officer offline and under her breath. "Far too high."
"Still the same old demis, as arrogant in their knowledge as draffs are immobile in their ignorance," added Gibreal.
Neither MYL-ERA nor the comm officer responded.
Copyright © 1996 by L. E. Modesitt, Jr.