Far Horizons All New Tales From the Greatest Worlds of Science Fiction 32

Suddenly Ces Ambre, who had a couch but no station or duties, stood, floated a meter above the deck in the one-tenth g, moaned, and slowly floated to the deck in a dead faint.

  Dr. Sam reached her a second before Dem Lia and Den Soa. “Everyone else stay at your stations,” said Dem Lia.

  Ces Ambre opened her startlingly blue eyes. “They are so different. Not human at all…oxygen breathers but not like the Seneschai empaths…modular…multiple minds…so fibrous…”

  Dem Lia held the older woman. “Can you communicate with them?” she said urgently. “Send them images?”

  Ces Ambre nodded weakly.

  “Send them the image of their harvesting machine and the Ousters,” said Dem Lia sternly. “Show them the damage their machine does to the Ouster city clusters. Show them that the Ousters are…human…sentient. Squatters, but not harming the forest ring.”

  Ces Ambre nodded again and closed her eyes. A moment later she began weeping. “They…are…so…sorry,” she whispered. “The machine brings back no…pictures…only the food and air and water. It is programmed…as you suggested, Dem Lia…to eliminate infestations. They are…so…so…sorry for the loss of Ouster life. They offer the suicide of…of their species…if it would atone for the destruction.”

  “No, no, no,” said Dem Lia, squeezing the crying woman’s hands. “Tell them that won’t be necessary.” She took the older woman by the shoulders. “This will be difficult, Ces Ambre, but you have to ask them if the harvester can be reprogrammed. Taught to stay away from the Ouster settlements.”

  Ces Ambre closed her eyes for several minutes. At one point it looked as if she had stopped breathing. Then those lovely eyes opened wide. “It can. They are sending the reprogramming data.”

  “We are receiving modulated graviton pulses,” said Saigyō. “Still no translation possible.”

  “We don’t need a translation,” said Dem Lia, breathing deeply. She lifted Ces Ambre and helped her back to her couch. “We just have to record it and repeat it to the Destroyer when we get back.” She squeezed Ces Ambre’s hand again. “Can you communicate our thanks and farewell?”

  The woman smiled. “I have done so. As best I can.”

  “Saigyō,” said Dem Lia. “Get us the hell out of here and accelerate full speed to the translation point.”

  The Helix survived the Hawking space jump back into the G8 system with no damage. The Destroyer had already altered its trajectory toward populated regions of the forest ring, but Den Soa broadcast the modulated graviton recordings while they were still decelerating, and the giant harvester responded with an indecipherable gravitonic rumble of its own and dutifully changed course toward a remote and unpopulated section of the ring. Far Rider used his tightbeam equipment to show them a holo of the rejoicing on the ring cities, platforms, pods, branches, and towers, then he shut down his broadcast equipment.

  They had gathered in the solarium. None of the AIs was present or listening, but the humans, Ousters, and Templar sat in a circle. All eyes were on Ces Ambre. That woman’s eyes were closed.

  Den Soa said very quietly, “The beings…on that world…they had to build the tree ring before their star expanded. They built the harvesting spacecraft. Why didn’t they just…leave?”

  “The planet was…is…home,” whispered Ces Ambre, her eyes still shut tight. “Like children…not wanting to leave home…because it’s dark out there. Very dark…empty. They love…home.” The older woman opened her eyes and smiled wanly.

  “Why didn’t you tell us that you were Aenean?” Dem Lia said softly.

  Ces Ambre’s jaw set in resolve. “I am not Aenean. My mother, Dem Loa, gave me the sacrament of Aenea’s blood—through her own, of course—after rescuing me from the hell of St. Theresa. But I decided not to use the Aenean abilities. I chose not to follow the others, but to remain with the Amoiete.”

  “But you communicated telepathically with…” began Patek Georg.

  Ces Ambre shook her head and interrupted quickly. “It is not telepathy. It is…being connected…to the Void Which Binds. It is hearing the language of the dead and of the living across time and space through pure empathy. Memories not one’s own.” The ninety-five-year-old woman who looked middle-aged put her hand on her brow. “It is so tiring. I fought for so many years not to pay attention to the voices…to join in the memories. That is why the cryogenic deep sleep is so…restful.”

  “And the other Aenean abilities?” Dem Lia asked, her voice still very soft. “Have you freecast?”

  Ces Ambre shook her head, with her hand still shielding her eyes. “I did not want to learn the Aenean secrets,” she said. Her voice sounded very tired.

  “But you could if you wanted to,” said Den Soa, her voice awestruck. “You could take one step—freecast—and be back on Vitus-Gray-Balianus B or Hyperion or Tau Ceti Center or Old Earth in a second, couldn’t you?”

  Ces Ambre lowered her hand and looked fiercely at the young woman. “But I won’t.”

  “Are you continuing with us in deep sleep to our destination?” asked the other green-band, Res Sandre. “To our final Spectrum Helix colony?”

  “Yes,” said Ces Ambre. The single word was a declaration and a challenge.

  “How will we tell the others?” asked Jon Mikail Dem Alem. “Having an Aenean…a potential Aenean…in the colony will change…everything.”

  Dem Lia stood. “In my final moments as your consensus-elected commander, I could make this an order, Citizens. Instead, I ask for a vote. I feel that Ces Ambre and only Ces Ambre should make the decision as to whether or not to tell our fellow Spectrum Helix family about her…gift. At any time after we reach our destination.” She looked directly at Ces Ambre. “Or never, if you so choose.”

  Dem Lia turned to look at each of the other eight. “And we shall never reveal the secret. Only Ces Ambre has the right to tell the others. Those in favor of this, say aye.”

  It was unanimous.

  Dem Lia turned to the standing Ousters and Templar. “Saigyō assures me that none of this was broadcast on your tightbeam.”

  Far Rider nodded.

  “And your recording of Ces Ambres’s contact with the aliens through the Void Which Binds?”

  “Destroyed,” broadcast the four-meter Ouster.

  Ces Ambre stepped closer to the Ousters. “But you still want some of my blood…some of Aenea’s sacramental DNA. You still want the choice.”

  Chief Branchman Keel Redt’s long hands were shaking. “It would not be for us to decide to release the information or allow the sacrament to be distributed…the Seven Councils would have to meet in secret…the Church of Aenea would be consulted…or…” Obviously the Ouster was in pain at the thought of millions or billions of his fellow Ousters leaving the forest ring forever, free-casting away to human-Aenean space or elsewhere. Their universe would never be the same. “But the three of us do not have the right to reject it for everyone.”

  “But we hesitate to ask…” began the True Voice of the Tree Reta Kasteen.

  Ces Ambre shook her head and motioned to Dr. Samel. The medic handed the Templar a small quantity of blood in a shockproof vial. “We drew it just a while ago,” said the doctor.

  “You must decide,” said Ces Ambre. “That is always the way. That is always the curse.”

  Chief Branchman Keel Redt stared at the vial for a long moment before he took it in his still-shaking hands and carefully set it away in a secure pouch on his Ouster forcefield armor. “It will be interesting to see what happens,” said the Ouster.

  Dem Lia smiled. “That’s an ancient Old Earth curse, you know. Chinese. ‘May you live in interesting times.’”

  Saigyō morphed the airlock and the Ouster diplomats were gone, sailing back to the forest ring with the hundreds of thousands of other beings of light, tacking against the solar wind, following magnetic lines of force like vessels of light carried by swift currents.

  “If you all don’t mind,” said Ces Ambre, smiling, “I’m going to return t
o my deep-sleep creche and turn in. It’s been a long couple of days.”

  The originally awakened nine waited until the Helix had successfully translated into Hawking space before returning to deep sleep. When they were still in the G8 system, accelerating up and away from the ecliptic and the beautiful forest ring which now eclipsed the small, white sun, Oam Rai pointed to the stern window, and said, “Look at that.”

  The Ousters had turned out to say good-bye. Several billion wings of pure energy caught the sunlight.

  A day into Hawking space while conferring with the AIs was enough to establish that the ship was in perfect form, the spin arms and deep-sleep pods functioning as they should, that they had returned to course, and that all was well. One by one, they returned to their crèches—first Den Soa and her mates, then the others. Finally only Dem Lia remained awake, sitting up in her creche in the seconds before it was to be closed.

  “Saigyō,” she said, and it was obvious from her voice that it was a summons.

  The short, fat, Buddhist monk appeared.

  “Did you know that Ces Ambre was Aenean, Saigyō?”

  “No, Dem Lia.”

  “How could you not? The ship has complete genetic and med profiles on every one of us. You must have known.”

  “No, Dem Lia, I assure you that Citizen Ces Ambre’s med profiles were within normal Spectrum Helix limits. There was no sign of post-humanity Aenean DNA. Nor clues in her psych profiles.”

  Dem Lia frowned at the hologram for a moment. Then she said, “Forged bio records then? Ces Ambre or her mother could have done that.”

  “Yes, Dem Lia.”

  Still propped on one elbow, Dem Lia said, “To your knowledge—to any of the AIs’ knowledge—are there other Aeneans aboard the Helix, Saigyō?”

  “To our knowledge, no,” said the plump monk, his face earnest.

  Dem Lia smiled. “Aenea taught that evolution had a direction and determination,” she said softly, more to herself than to the listening AI. “She spoke of a day when all the universe would be green with life. Diversity, she taught, is one of evolution’s best strategies.”

  Saigyō nodded and said nothing.

  Dem Lia lay back on her pillow. “We thought the Aeneans so generous in helping us preserve our culture—this ship—the distant colony. I bet the Aeneans have helped a thousand small cultures cast off from human space into the unknown. They want the diversity—the Ousters, the others. They want many of us to pass up their gift of godhood.”

  She looked at the AI, but the Buddhist monk’s face showed only his usual slight smile. “Good night, Saigyō. Take good care of the ship while we sleep.” She pulled the top of the creche shut and the unit began cycling her into deep cryogenic sleep.

  “Yes, Dem Lia,” said the monk to the now-sleeping woman.

  The Helix continued its great arc through Hawking space. The spin arms and life pods wove their complex double helix against the flood of false colors and four-dimensional pulsations which had replaced the stars.

  Inside the ship, the AIs had turned off the containment-field gravity and the atmosphere and the lights. The ship moved on in darkness.

  Then, one day, about three months after leaving the binary system, the ventilators hummed, the lights flickered on, and the containment-field gravity activated. All 684,300 of the colonists slept on.

  Suddenly three figures appeared in the main walkway halfway between the command-center bridge and the access portals to the first ring of life-pod arms. The central figure was more than three meters tall, spiked and armored, four-armed, and bound about with chrome razorwire. Its faceted eyes gleamed red. It remained motionless where it had suddenly appeared.

  The figure on the left was a man in early middle age, with curly, graying hair, dark eyes, and pleasant features. He was very tan and wore a soft blue cotton shirt, green shorts, and sandals. He nodded at the woman and began walking toward the command center.

  The woman was older, visibly old even despite Aenean medical techniques, and she wore a simple gown of flawless blue. She walked to the access portal, took the lift up the third spin arm, and followed the walkway down into the one-g environment of the life pod. Pausing by one of the creches, she brushed ice and condensation from the clear faceplate of the umbilically monitored sarcophagus.

  “Ces Ambre,” muttered Dem Loa, her fingers on the chilled plastic centimeters above her triune stepdaughter’s lined cheek. “Sleep well, my darling. Sleep well.”

  On the command deck, the tall man was standing among the virtual AIs.

  “Welcome, Petyr, son of Aenea and Endymion,” said Saigyō with a slight bow.

  “Thank you, Saigyō. How are you all?”

  They told him in terms beyond language or mathematics. Petyr nodded, frowned slightly, and touched Basho’s shoulder. “There are too many conflicts in you, Basho? You wished them reconciled?”

  The tall man in the coned hat and muddy clogs said, “Yes, please, Petyr.”

  The human squeezed the AI’s shoulder in a friendly embrace. Both closed their eyes for an instant.

  When Petyr released him, the saturnine Basho smiled broadly. “Thank you, Petyr.”

  The human sat on the edge of the table, and said, “Let’s see where we’re headed.”

  A holocube four meters by four meters appeared in front of them. The stars were recognizable. The Helix’s long voyage out from human-Aenean space was traced in red. Its projected trajectory proceeded ahead in blue dashes—blue dashes extending toward the center of the galaxy.

  Petyr stood, reached into the holo cube, and touched a small star just to the right of the projected path of the Helix. Instantly that section magnified.

  “This might be an interesting system to check out,” said the man with a comfortable smile. “Nice G2 star. The fourth planet is about a seven-point-six on the old Solmev Scale. It would be higher, but it has evolved some very nasty viruses and some very fierce animals. Very fierce.”

  “Six hundred eighty-five light-years,” noted Saigyō. “Plus forty-three light-years course correction. Soon.”

  Petyr nodded.

  Lady Murasaki moved her fan in front of her painted face. Her smile was provocative. “And when we arrive, Petyr-san, will the nasty viruses somehow be gone?”

  The tall man shrugged. “Most of them, my Lady. Most of them.” He grinned. “But the fierce animals will still be there.” He shook hands with each of the AIs. “Stay safe, my friends. And keep our friends safe.”

  Petyr trotted back to the three-meter chrome-and-bladed nightmare in the main walkway just as Dem Loa’s soft gown swished across the carpeted deckplates to join him.

  “All set?” asked Petyr.

  Dem Loa nodded.

  The son of Aenea and Raul Endymion set his hand against the monster standing between them, laying his palm flat next to a fifteen-centimeter curved thorn. The three disappeared without a sound.

  The Helix shut off its containment-field gravity, stored its air, turned off its interior lights, and continued on in silence, making the tiniest of course corrections as it did so.


  Nancy Kress

  Beggars in Spain (1993)

  Beggars and Choosers (1994)

  Beggars Ride (1996)

  In the early twenty-first century, genetic engineering for such traits as appearance, intelligence, and health is well established. A Chicago biotech company has just developed a new “genemod” trait: sleeplessness. The nineteen beta-test babies don’t sleep at all, ever, thus gaining eight more hours in their waking days. In addition, the removal of sleep, with its concomitant need to dream, seems to result in dispositions that are more stable and adaptable than average.

  In Beggars in Spain, Roger Camden, billionaire, has his daughter Leisha engineered for sleeplessness. But when the embryo is implanted in Camden’s wife, a second naturally fertilized egg also takes root in the uterine wall. Leisha is born with a twin sister who has none of her genemod advantages.

  While the girls are maturing, a discovery changes both Leisha’s world and the country’s attitude toward sleeplessness. Sleepless tissue regenerates naturally. Leisha and her fellows, by now numbering in the thousands, may live indefinitely. It’s one advantage too many. A great many “norms” react with jealousy, fear, distaste, or anger that the evolutionary race has been rigged against them and their children. As the Sleepless grow up to be successful, rich, and powerful, the country polarizes, a situation made worse by the establishment by the Sleepless of Sanctuary, a defended enclave in New York State where they feel safe.

  The rest of the novel explores the implications of this split between the haves and the have-nots. The Sleepless, led by the widowed Jennifer Sharifi, move through more and more elaborate safety measures to ensure their own isolation, and practice genetic engineering of their own offspring. Sanctuary, now located on an orbital, decides to secede from the United States. Only Leisha and a few other holdouts, including her sister Alice, try to convince the world that there is still just one human species, not two.

  Beggars and Choosers opens a few years after Beggars in Spain. It follows three characters as they try to find ways to live in the tripartite society that the United States has become. Billy Washington is a poor and uneducated “norm,” nearing the end of a hard life, who has finally found a family to love. Diana Covington is a “have,” genemod for every attribute except sleeplessness, but aimless and disillusioned. Drew Arlen is an artist of unusual powers who is also the lover of the Sleepless Miranda Sharifi, granddaughter of Jennifer Sharifi. Miranda plans to give the “beggars” of the country freedom and independence by forcibly altering the very biology of the human body. She does so, while Diana and the rest of the Genetic Standards Enforcement Agency try to stop her. The results, however, are not what anybody—including Miranda—expected. Only Billy sees the real answer to the novel’s central question, “Who should control radical new technology: scientists, the government, or the people it will affect?”

  Beggars Ride, the conclusion of the trilogy, occurs a generation later. The United States is more balkanized than ever. Most people live in nomadic, self-sufficient tribes that need nothing from anyone else, not even food, thanks to the biological alterations made available by the Sleepless, who have all left Earth. The genemod rich stay in their defended enclaves, increasingly purposeless. The country itself is on the verge of ceasing to exist as a political, cultural, or economic entity.