Authors: Charles Sheffield
Tags: #Science Fiction, #General, #Fantasy Fiction, #Fiction
The Ganymede Club
This is a work of fiction. All the characters and events portrayed in this book are fictional, and any resemblance to real people or incidents is purely coincidental.
Copyright © 1995 by Charles Sheffield
All rights reserved, including the right to reproduce this book or portions thereof in any form.
Baen Publishing Enterprises
P.O. Box 1403
Riverdale, NY 10471
To Joe and Ed,
my longtime partners in crime
Solar System Development Prior to the Great War
2012 First manned trip to Mars.
2020 First Mars colony; smart probes leave on solar system Grand Tour.
2029 First Belt mines and colonies,
2030 Von Neumanns released on Ganymede.
2032 First human exploration of the Saturn system.
2038 Solar studies research station on Mercury.
2040 Second human exploration of Saturn system; smart probes leave for moons of Uranus.
2044 Ceres and Pallas colonies achieve self-sufficiency.
2046 Venus terraforming effort aborted; first Venus station.
2048 Third Saturn exploration team; Von Neumanns released on Titan.
2050 Rapid development of Jovian moons Ganymede and Callisto; research station on Europa.
2053 Belt declares independence; major frictions between Earth and former Belt colonies.
2054 Disappearance of fourth Saturn exploration team.
2055 Earth population tops ten billion; Mars population tops ten million.
2057 Research station proposed for Oberon.
2060 Armageddon Defense Line installed on Luna; Luna population reaches seven million.
2061 Fifth Saturn exploration team.
2062 Belt population tops one hundred million; colonies on Ceres, Pallas, Vesta, Juno, Hidalgo, and twenty-seven smaller planetoids.
2066 Sixth Saturn exploration team; Ganymede/Callisto population reaches eighty million.
2067 The Great War.
Saturn System: 2032 A.D.
After fourteen months in space and ten weeks of irritation, the culprit had at last been discovered: Jason Cayuga was scraping clean the underplate of the air scrubber, while Athene Rios stood ready to bolt the cover back in position when he was done.
"I signed up for hardship and I signed up for danger." Cayuga spoke between vigorous sweeps of the scraper. "But I didn't sign up for
." He lifted the tool to his prominent nose, wrinkled his face in disgust, and transferred another film of blue-white mold into a sealed container. "Phew! What a stink. We should get medals."
"Where do you think it came from? We've made a dozen stops in the past six months." Small, dark, and delicate-featured, Athene Rios looked like what she was, a Spanish princess. She swore that in her own twenty-three years and in the hundreds of years of her known ancestors, no one of the Rios line had ever been called on to deal with what was, in essence, a plumbing problem. But on board the
royal descent meant nothing. She and Jason Cayuga were the junior crew members, which meant they were automatically given the dull and unpleasant jobs.
"Came from? We brought it with us." Cayuga glanced across to the little port, where the Sun was visible as a tiny disk of yellow brilliance. Earth itself was too small and distant to be seen, but each member of the crew knew just where to look. "The big mystery is why it waited ten months to start growing in here. It's a home-planet mold, though; no doubt about it. Munzer keeps talking contamination, but she's off the wall. You've seen the places we've been. The chance that a life form could survive on any of them is a flat zero."
"That's not what you said before when we left Earth."
"Course it isn't. I wanted to come, didn't I, same as you? If we'd said we thought there wasn't a chance in a billion that there could be life anywhere in the Saturn system, you'd still be in Madrid and I'd be sitting on my butt in Calgary. But extraterrestrial life is like danger. You say you're ready and waiting for it when you sign up, but you sure as hell don't
He had finished his efforts with the scraper, and now he was carefully sealing the cylindrical container. The foul-smelling mold would be stored away in the ship's hold along with the samples collected in the Saturn system: rock shavings and regolith from Enceladus, dirty ice crystals from the inner rings, probe returns from Titan's atmosphere, and the mysterious obsidian needles that Costas had found on the surface of Tethys. They would remain sealed in the hold for another two years, until the
returned to Earth orbit.
"You can still hope for it, though," said Athene. "Alien life, I mean—not danger. Move your bulk, Jason." She was easing her way past Cayuga. The
's equipment room was scarcely big enough for two people, but it offered more privacy than the ship's cramped crew quarters. "What do you think?" She was leaning close and dropping her voice to an unnecessary whisper, at the same time as she swabbed the scrubber plate with a strong disinfectant.
"Jing-li said that you or I might get the next one. Think she'll stick to her word?"
"I don't see why not." Jason Cayuga's bark of laughter held more disgust than humor. "No one else is going to be fighting for it. Think of it this way: Costas will go down in history as the first person to set foot on Tethys. Jing-li was the first human on Mimas and Rhea; Dahlquist the first on Dione. Those are all major satellites, and one day they'll be as important for colonies as Mars or the Jovian moons. Von Neumanns will be working them all within twenty years, the way they are on Ganymede. But how many centuries before they work Helene? If ever. Who cares about the place?"
"I do. If you don't want Helene, I'll take it."
"Be my guest, dear." Cayuga watched as Rios slid the cover plate back into position. "Who's interested in colonizing something only thirty kilometers across? If Helene weren't at a libration point, it wouldn't even have a name." He turned, easing his broad shoulders through the hatch that led back to the main crew quarters. "You can have my whole share of Helene exploration," he said, without turning his head. "Me, I'll hold out for something decent sized. Maybe I'll get lucky and snag Hyperion or Iapetus."
* * *
It had sounded good at the time. Five days later, Jason Cayuga was regretting his generosity. The
was approaching Helene, the little satellite that occupied the L-4 point of the Saturn-Dione system. Athene had been at the high-magnitude scope every spare moment of the past two days, ever since Captain Betty Jing-li had agreed that she would make the first landing on Helene.
Athene was becoming more and more excited. Jason could see why, even without benefit of the hi-mag scope. As the
drifted steadily closer, it was clear that Helene was different from the other fragments of broken rock that the unmanned scout probes had reported a thousand times in the Jupiter and Saturn systems.
This planetoid was grainy and speckled, like a chalky egg covered with grains of black powder. It was also smoothly round, rather than jagged. There was no way that Helene's gravitational field could be strong enough to enforce such symmetry. The body must have been formed by the steady accumulation of small particles and dust that over the millennia had sintered themselves into an approximate sphere. But then Helene should appear more uniform in color. It ought not to possess that grainy texture.
Athene was puzzled more by the appearance than the shape. "I don't see ow you could make a surface look like this," she said. She was squinting into the scope's main viewer. "Meteorite impact won't do it, and accretion won't do it, either. It's not cratered, and it's not smooth and even. It's
I can see little holes all over it. It looks crumbly and porous. Like it's been nibbled by worms."
"What do you mean,
? Mind if I take a peek?" Simone Munzer had silently entered the forward observatory without Athene's being aware of it. Now, although she asked the question as a formality, Munzer did not hesitate to push Athene away from the scope. As the expedition's anomalist she had the right to take over whenever any crew member hinted at something inexplicable.
Athene glared at Simone's angular profile, while Jason tried to appear sympathetic but was not too successful. He was sure that Athene had exaggerated what she was seeing, just so that he would think he was about to miss something special. On the other hand, if by some miracle Helene did contain something unique, Jason would have given away to Athene Rios much more than he had ever intended.
"I see what you mean." Simone Munzer was making delicate adjustments to the scope's focus. "They
look like holes, and the whole surface is peppered with them. Ten to twenty meters across. But the sun angle's wrong to see down inside." She glanced up briefly at Athene and Jason. "One of you bring Captain Jing-li up from the cabin, would you? She has to take a peek at this for herself."
They both went. Athene was seething. "You know what's going to happen, don't you?" she said. She was half a step in front of Jason in the narrow corridor, barreling along, with her black eyes glaring at nothing. "That bitch, she's going to say that Helene appears
therefore it might be dangerous. Then she'll tell Jing-li that because it might be dangerous, Munzer has to go there herself. She's been drooling for a first landing ever since Tethys."
"I'm sure you're right." Jason knew that he would be just as angry as Athene if it had happened to him, but he hoped he would hide it better. She was still young. It had taken him all his twenty-eight years to learn that it never paid to show your emotions, least of all when you were angry.
"I wouldn't panic yet, though," he went on. "Simone wanted to replace Luke Costas as soon as he found the obsidian needles on Tethys, because she said we had no explanation for them. But Jing-li didn't go for that. She probably won't go for this, either. Cool off, Athene—or you'll blow your own chances."
He said the last words in an undertone that only she could hear. She was sliding the door to the main cabin, and as it opened, Jason could see that four other crew members were sitting in there. The two engineers, Roald Dahlquist and Luke Costas, were playing chess and talking. Hamilton Polk, primary physician and assistant anomalist, was, as usual, leaning back with his eyes closed, apparently sleeping but probably listening—no one was ever sure. Captain Betty Jing-li, who was at the far end of the table doodling on a computer pad, looked up inquiringly at the new arrivals.
"I wondered if it's too soon to suit up for Helene." Athene slowed her pace as she came into the cabin.
"That's up to you." Jing-li nodded at the clock on the cabin wall. "It's still a couple of hours before we'll be in matching orbit and at transfer distance."
"I know. But I'd like to be ready well ahead of time."
"Sure." Jing-li stared at Jason. "Not you, Cayuga. Just Rios. You passed up the chance of going to Helene in favor of another target."
"If you want to suit up, though, you can serve as Rios's emergency standby."
"Thank you. I will."
Jason sounded suitably ungrateful. Betty Jing-li was not doing him any favors, because standby was one job that everyone on board had learned to hate. In each of the twenty-nine target encounters in the Saturn system, one of the crew had been forced to sit in a suit for periods ranging from five hours to sixty hours, waiting for an emergency signal from the landing party that never came.
Athene and Jason headed on through the cabin, skirting the long table. Opposite Jing-li, Athene paused. "Simone is up front using the scopes to take a look at Helene. She asked if you would join her there."
"She's seen something?" Betty Jing-li was rising to her feet.
"Nothing special. I saw it first, and I think Simone's overreacting. The surface may be porous and a little softer than usual; that's all. But with Helene's low surface gravity I expect no problem landing there." Athene spoke casually and carried on without waiting for Jing-li's reaction, passing into the corridor that led aft to the sleeping quarters and the exit locks.
"What do you think?" she asked, as soon as there was no chance of being heard in the main cabin. "Did you see her face?"
"Yes." Jason had deliberately remained a few steps behind. "She didn't look worried, and now she's expecting a pitch from Simone. Pretty good damage control. Don't worry, you'll go to Helene. And I'll sit in my damned suit for a day or two, playing with myself and waiting for you to come back. I should have sided with Simone. Then
have been acting as emergency standby to her. You owe me, Rios."
"Not necessarily." Athene was lifting down her suit and Jason's, and beginning the standard thirty-six-point check: air, filters (dual), heat, insulation, temperature, communication, nutrition, elimination (dual), medication, attitude control (triple), position jets (dual), joints (thirteen), seals (four), and suit condition displays (three).
"You may luck out," she said, when at last the check was satisfactorily completed. "You just have to hope that I'll run into trouble." She smirked at him. "Then you'll be the one who gets to play the hero and come to my rescue."