Authors: Judith Reeves-Stevens,Garfield Reeves-Stevens
Tags: #Fiction, #Science Fiction, #General, #Adventure, #Space Opera, #Performing Arts, #Interplanetary Voyages, #Kirk; James T. (Fictitious character), #Spock (Fictitious character), #Star trek (Television program), #Television
Then Thorsen had joined with the Optimum Movement in the Pursuit of Perfection. Perfection was whatever Colonel Green and those of his countless analytical committees said it was. And if something, or someone, or some group of people wasn’t perfect, then that thing, or that person or group, didn’t deserve to exist.
Cochrane understood what Brack had said about history repeating itself. The coldly efficient bureaucracies of Green’s Analytical Committees, the stark design of the interlinked OM triangles, all were just new skins for an old and hideous ideology that should have been consigned to its ashes more than a century ago.
“I’ve had nothing to do with the Optimum,” Cochrane said.
“Why does he want to see me?”
“Don’t flatter yourself. He wants to see your ship.” “Our ship.” ‘
The point is, he wants to make it his.” The answer seemed obvious to Cochrane. “But we won’t let him.” Brack sighed. “There have been a great many changes while.
ou’ve been away, Zefram. The Optimum Movement has been expanding its influence. Rapidly. There are some nations on Earth that don’t like the way things are going. They’re the ones clinging to the illusion of order the Optimum offer, and ignoring the price they’ll have to pay.” “Well,” Cochrane said, his mind working quickly, “if Thorsen leh two hours ago, then we’ve still got a few days before he gets here. We can work out something tomorrow.”
“Colonel Thorsen will arrive on Titan in nine hours.” Cochrane’s eyes widened. Whatever vehicle Thorsen was in, he was traveling at almost five percent the speed of light. Impulse drives could boost a space vehicle to that kind of velocity in less than an hour, but the rapid acceleration would crush any living thing on board into a thin organic paste against the aft bulkhead.
True, there were specially constructed impulse ships designed to operate at multi-g accelerations with humans aboard, for military or emergency rescue missions, but those required the pilots to be suspended in liquid-filled command capsules, “breathing” an oxygen-rich saline solution to prevent their lungs from being crushed. Crewed ships could reach light-speed velocities without harming their living cargo only through gradual acceleration. But even at a constant, military-standard three-g acceleration, it would take almost five days to achieve the speed with which Thorsen was coming to Titan.
“What’s he sending? An artificial-intelligence surrogate?” “He’s coming himself, Zefram.” “Not in nine hours, he’s not. This time of year, we’re thirty-seven light-minutes from Earth. No human could survive that kind of impulse acceleration.” A handful of people were walking across the bare soil to Cochrane and Brack. They only had a minute left to talk undisturbed.
“As I said,” Brack said emphatically, “there have been a great many changes since you left.” Cochrane’s eyes widened as he realized what Brack was implying. “Inertial damping?” Brack frowned. “l’ve spent a fortune trying to develop that over the past thirty years, too. And the breakthrough came out of the R-and-D section of a chain of simulator theaters, of all things.” He looked away to gauge the approach of the party guests. “But on the bright side, between your superimpellor and control of inertia, there’s not a place i’n the universe humans can’t travel.” cochrane felt as if he’d been kicked. Control of inertia put the full power of vectored-impulse space travel in the hands of human crews and passengers. The solar system could be crossed in hours.
An Earth-moon flight would be little longer than a maglev train trip between San Francisco and New Los Angeles, with more time spent getting out of Earth’s atmosphere than traveling the next 380,000 kilometers in vacuum. And Adrik Thorsen, the Optimum, was already using that technology.
A part of Cochrane wished he could see the specs of an inertial damper. The device, if it were real, might help him overcome some of the superimpellor’s engineering shortcomings. But it was human shortcomings that concerned him now. “After all you’ve just told me about human nature, do we really want the Optimum to spread into the universe?” Brack shook his head. “The Optimum aren’t interested in the universe. They’re interested in control. And how can they have control if the superimpellor can whisk their potential subjects light-years beyond their influence?” The reception guests were almost upon them. ‘Tm guessing Thorsen’s coming here to see if he can suppress your invention.” Cochrane clenched his fists at his sides. Alone in space, it was easy to convince himself that science was as pure as the numbers glowing on a scanner screen. But being back among the madding crowd, he was once again reminded of how impossible that ideal was. As long as people remained blind to the clarity with which the universe was laid out, there would always be those who would seek to obscure and twist its truths for ugly political and philosophical goals. Cochrane could see Brack read that growing sense of resentment and anger within him.
“Don’t worry,” Brack said. “There’s no chance he’ll be able to suppress anything. I’m giving away the patents, remember? As soon as you download a systems assessment I can include as an engineering supplement, I’m going systemwide to transmit your design theories, your blueprints, and your manufacturing log. By the time Thorsen arrives, the information will already be on its way back to the inner planets. By the time the editorialists start pontificating on the end of war, millions of people will have access to your work. The genie, so to speak, is out of the bottle and will never go back in.” Cochrane felt overwhelmed. After so much time alone, his emotions were too rarefied. Though he had never admitted it to anyone, indeed, had taken great pains to deny it, he had looked forward to a scientific triumph. He especially had wanted to hear the apologies from those who had scoffed at his work years ago. “I had hoped to publish in the normal way,” he said hesitantly.
“Peer review. A data conference upon publication. That sort of thing. I… I don’t know what to say, Micah.” “That’s why you’re with me, my friend. I do. And this is not the time for things to be done normally. I want humanity to explode out of this system as if a dam had burst.” Cochrane wanted that, too. More than ever. More than anything. “So what do we do about Thorsen?” Brack lowered his voice as the approaching partygoers came within earshot. “Leave Thorsen to me. In two hours, my yacht will be prepped for launch at Shuttlebay Four. She’ll take you back to the Bonaventure. I’ve got a tug up there now replenishing her.” Brack suddenly turned to the approaching guests and held up his hands. “Ladies, gentlemen: an indulgence, please. I’ll return him to you in just a moment.” Then he put his arm around Cochrane’s shoulder and guided him across the soil, away from the excited and slightly annoyed buzz of conversation that grew behind them.
Cochrane was annoyed, as well, as he pictured strangers’ hands on his ship. “Micah, please. The antimatter field containers are still too sensitive. And I’ve got to do something about the lithium converter. It only runs at twenty-two percent of–” But Brack cut him off.
“There’s no time for that, Zefram. Put it in your engineering download. The point is, when the Bonaventure’s fueled and stocked, I want you to leave.” Cochrane stopped dead. He could tell Brack didn’t just mean Titan or near-Saturn space. “As in, leave the system?” Brack nodded. His expression was grim as he heard the partygoers swarming toward them again. “That’s right. Far enough out that you can use the superimpellor again.” Cochrane grimaced. It would take him two weeks to get far enough away from the sun’s gravity well. Two more weeks of being alone in space.
“Not for long,” Brack added, obviously sensing Cochrane’s unspoken reaction. “Just enough that the military nets will lose track of you. Because when Thorsen arrives and finds you gone, they will be tracking you.” “And then what?” Cochrane asked.
Brack quickly laid out his flight plan, telling Cochrane to reenter the solar system opposite Saturn’s present position, then come in like an Oort freighter on a long-fall passage, to rendezvous with asteroid RG-1522. “I’ve got a manufacturing setup there,” Brack explained. “You can get started on the second generation of the superimpellor. Get the fields up to the volume of a freighter.” “And be safe from Thorsen?” ‘Tll be honest,” Brack said. “Thorsen’s just a puppet. I want you safe from the Optimum.” “When will that be?” “When they realize that anyone with a few hundred thousand Eurodollars can retrofit an existing space vehicle to make a faster-than-light vessel. And that anyone with a few hundred Eurodollars can book passage on one. When Colonel Green and his cohorts realize they can’t stop the spread of the superimpellor, they’ll lose interest before they’ll admit defeat.” There were footsteps immediately behind them. Chiding voices told Brack he had monopolized Cochrane long enough.
“Come with me, Micah,” Cochrane said impulsively, as if the two of them were still alone. “See what I’ve seen.” Brack smiled with no hidden meanings. “Soon, but not now.” He gestured to the bare soil around them. “I’ve still a lot of work to finish here before I move on”—he waved his hand at the dome and what lay above it—”out there.” “What kind of work?” For a moment, the weariness left Brack’s eyes. “I want to see the grass grow here, Zefram. A billion kilometers from where it evolved.” He patted his friend’s arm, almost in a gesture of farewell. “And then, I want to plant a fig tree.” Someone handed Cochrane a drink. He felt hands on his arms and back. Conversation, a dozen questions, flew around him. But he looked over at Brack and asked, “A fig tree?”
Brack looked almost sheepish, being parted from Cochrane by the throng that gathered. “From which the Buddha drew enlightenment. It reminds me of home,” he explained. He touched his fist to his heart. “A man’s entitled to that.” Brack nodded once, then stepped aside with an expression of finality as the crowd bore Cochrane away in triumph, as if he had safely tossed Cochrane into the currents of history but must himself forever remain on the shore.
Through the long hours that passed that night, until he stood at the airlock doors of Shuttlebay 4, Cochrane thought of all that Brack had told him, and of Colonel Thorsen hurtling toward him with a technology that had not existed a year ago. But most of all, he thought of Brack’s final words.
What more could any person want than a home? And what was the purpose of Cochrane’s work if not to make the entire universe humanity’s home?
The thought of home brought back memories of the small house outside London where he had lived with his parents on their last posting. Sitting in the back garden, a few days after his eleventh birthday, playing with a simple plastic wand and tub of soap solution, he had cast shimmering bubbles into the air. The colors had transfixed him that day, along with the reflections caught within reflections when one bubble formed within another. And for some reason he still did not understand, his mind’s eye had suddenly conjured an image of a different sort of bubble twisting around another so that they both popped up in a somewhere-else his young mind could see but not describe.
It had taken Cochrane twenty years to work backward from that moment of intuition and create the technology that could do what he had seen so clearly. All because he had sat beneath a tree.
Cochrane thought of fig trees then, as Brack’s yacht was buffeted by Titan’s winds, lifting through them. As the clouds were left behind, Cochrane stared out a porthole to see a distant star, brighter than any other but a star nonetheless, not easily resolved into a disk. Somewhere near it, too faint to be seen, was the home of all soap bubbles, all fig trees. Cochrane’s home.
Planet Earth. It would be seventeen years before he returned to it, and he would never see Micah Brack again.
The ancient race humanity ran to escape its own worst attri-butcs continued, but on this day, unlike any other in human history. for the first time the race’s destination was in sight. And though he had not yet fully grasped his position in what would unfold, it was now up to Zefram Cochrane to lead the way.
U.S.S. aeNTERPRISE NCC-1701 IN TRANSIT TO BABEL Stardate 3849.8 Earth Standard: November 2267
Kirk knew the inevitable could be avoided no longer. There was no time left to consider the odds, to devise strategies, or even to change the rules. He had to take action and he had to take action Y/OW.
His opponents stared at him, their thoughts unreadable. All Kirk could hear was the faint hum of the environmental system’s fans, the slow sighs of his ship while she slept, late on the midnight shift. Kirk allowed no emotion to show on his face as he reached forward. All eyes were on his hand.
He dropped five tongue depressors onto the pile on the shimmering fabric of the medical diagnostic bed, and in his most authoritative voice, he said, ‘Tll see your five.” Without expression, Sarek of Vulcan, son of Skon and grandson of Solkar, turned over his cards.
Kirk lost control of his own expression as he stared at the ambassador’s poker hand. A pair of sixes.
Kirk sat back in the chair he had set up beside the ambassador’s bed in the Enterprise’s sickbay. “You were bluffing,” he said.
Sarek blinked. He looked over at Spock, who sat placidly in a second chair, wearing his blue medical jumpsuit and black tunic as if they were a formal uniform. “It is the nature of the game, is it not?” Sarek asked.
Spock nodded sagely. “Indeed.” Kirk didn’t like the sound of that. There was something wrong here. “Spock, I thought Vulcans couldn’t lie.” “Though we are capable of it,” Spock explained, “we choose not to. In most circumstances.” Kirk narrowed his eyes at Sarek. “But isn’t bluffing a form of lying?” Sarek’s expression remained bland, though Kirk was certain that something in it had changed. The more time he spent around Spook, the more he had convinced himself that Vulcans betrayed just as much emotional information in their faces as humans did, though in a much subtler fashion.
“In this case, Captain, bluffing is an expected strategy of the game. Indeed, it is encouraged. Therefore, by betting in a manner inconsistent with the actual value of my cards, I am, in fact, lollowing the true intent of the game, which therefore, by definition, cannot be false.” Spock nodded thoughtfully. “Well put, Father.” Sarek lay back against his pillows. “Thank you, my son.” Kirk wrinkled his brow. Not two days ago he had heard Sarek tell his wife Amanda that it was not necessary to thank logic. He didn’t know how, but something told Kirk his leg was being pulled. Perhaps being cooped up in sickbay with him for two days was beginning to take its toll on the Vulcans.