Authors: Ben Bova
“You'll be rich, boss,” Pancho said. “The rest of us'll still be employees.”
Dan laughed. “You'll be rich, too. I'll see to that. You'll be rich.”
“Or dead,” Pancho countered.
“One minute,” Amanda said. “I really think we should pay attention to the countdown.”
“You're right,” said Pancho.
Dan watched it all on the displays of the control board. The fusion reactor lit up as programmed. Star-hot plasma began generating
energy. Through the MHD channel it roared, where a minor fraction of that heat energy was turned into electrical power. The
ship's internal batteries shut off and began recharging. Cryonically-cold liquid hydrogen and helium started pumping through
the rocket nozzles' cooling walls. The hot plasma streamed through the nozzles' throats.
“Ignition,” Amanda said, using the traditional word even though it was now without physical meaning.
“Thrust building up.” Pancho said. Dan watched the curves rising on the thrust displays, but he didn't need to; he could feel
weight returning, feel the deck gaining solidity beneath his feet.
“We're off and running,” Pancho announced. “Next stop, the Asteroid Belt!”
As on a Darkling Plain
The Astral Mirror
The Best of the Nebulas
Gremlins Go Home
(with Gordon R. Dickson)
The Kinsman Saga
The Multiple Man
Orion Among the Stars
Orion and the Conqueror
Orion in the Dying Time
Out of the Sun
Star Peace: Assured Survival
Test of Fire
To Fear the Light
(with A. J. Austin)
To Save the Sun
(with A. J. Austin)
The Trikon Deception
(with Bill Pogue)
Vengeance of Orion
Voyagers II: The Alien Within
Voyagers III: Star Brothers
The Winds of Altair
BOOK 1 OF THE ASTEROID WARS
A TOM DOHERTY ASSOCIATES BOOK
The author and publisher have provided this e-book to you without Digital Rights Management software (DRM) applied so that you can enjoy reading it on your personal devices. This e-book is for your personal use only. You may not print or post this e-book, or make this e-book publicly available in any way. You may not copy, reproduce or upload this e-book, other than to read it on one of your personal devices.
This is a work of fiction. All the characters and events portrayed in this book are either products of the author's imagination
or are used fictitiously.
THE PRECIPICE: BOOK 1 OF THE ASTEROID WARS
Copyright Â© 2001 by Ben Bova
All rights reserved, including the right to reproduce this book, or portions thereof, in any form.
Edited by Patrick Nielsen Hayden
A Tor Book
Published by Tom Doherty Associates, LLC
175 Fifth Avenue
New York, NY 10010
TorÂ® is a registered trademark of Tom Doherty Associates, LLC.
First edition: October 2001
First mass market edition: December 2002
Printed in the United States of America
0Â Â Â Â 9Â Â Â Â 8Â Â Â Â 7Â Â Â Â 6Â Â Â Â 5Â Â Â Â 4Â Â Â Â 3Â Â Â Â 2
To Irving Levitt, a rare jewel among men
To Barbara, who adorns my life with beauty
Special thanks to Jeff Mitchell, a real rocket scientist; to Chris Fountain, metallurgist and optimist; and to Lee Modesitt,
an economist with imagination; true friends all.
The modern tropics and their fringes support more than half the world's population, numbered in the billions. Many already
live at the fringe of survival, dependent on food aid transported from the grain belts of more temperate zones. Even a small
climatic shiftâ¦ would physically compress the geographical limits for cereal croppingâ I leave it to your imagination what
such a pace of climate change would entail for most people.
Stepping Stones: Evolving
the Earth and Its Life
â¦ some men have already embarked on a bold new adventure, the conquest of outer space. This is a healthy sign, a clear indication
that some of us are still feral men, unwilling to domesticate ourselves by any kind of bondage, even that of the spatial limitations
of our planet's surface.
âCarleton S. Coon
The Story of Man
esus,” the pilot kept murmuring. “Jesus, Jesus, Jesus.”
The helicopter was racing north, bucking, jolting between the shattered land below and the thick dark gray clouds scudding
just above, trying to follow Interstate 55 from the Memphis International Airport to what was left of the devastated city.
You could not see the highway; it was carpeted from horizon to horizon with refugees, bumper to bumper traffic inching along,
an unending stream of cars, trucks, vans, busses, people on foot swarming like ants, trudging painfully along the shoulders
of the road in the driving, soaking rain, women pushing baby carriages, men and boys hauling carts piled high with whatever
they could salvage from their homes. Flood water was lapping along the shoulder embankment, rising, still rising, reaching
for the poor miserable people as they fled their homes, their hopes, their world in a desperate attempt to escape the rising
Dan Randolph felt the straps of his safety harness cutting
into his shoulders as he stared grimly out the window from his seat behind the two pilots. His head throbbed painfully and
the filter plugs in his nostrils were hurting again. He barely noticed the copter's buffeting and jouncing in the choppy wind
as he watched the swollen tide of refugees crawling sluggishly along the highway. It's like a war zone, Dan thought. Except
that the enemy is Mother Nature. The flooding was bad enough, but the earthquake broke their backs.
Dan put the electronically-boosted binoculars to his eyes once again, searching, scanning the miserable, soaking wet throng
below for one face, one individual, the one woman he had come to save. It was impossible. There must be half a million people
down there, he thought. More. Finding her will take a miracle.
The chopper bounced and slewed wildly in a sudden gust of wind, banging the binoculars painfully against Dan's brow. He started
to yell something to the pilot, then realized that they had run into another blustery squall. Fat, pounding raindrops splattered
thickly against the copter's windows, cutting Dan's vision down almost to nothing.
The pilot slid back the transparent sanitary partition that isolated Dan's compartment. Dan suppressed an angry urge to slam
it back. What good are sterile barriers if you open them to the outside air?
“We've got to turn back, sir,” the pilot yelled over the thrumming thunder of the engines.
“No!” Dan shouted. “Not till we find her!”
Half turning in his seat to face Dan, the pilot jabbed a finger toward his spattered windscreen. “Mr. Randolph, you can fire
me when we land, but I ain't going to fly through
Looking past the flapping windscreen wipers, Dan saw four deadly slim dark funnels writhing across the other side of the swollen
Mississippi, dust and debris flying wherever they touched the ground. They looked like coiling, squirming
snakes thrashing across the ground, smashing everything they touched: buildings exploded, trees uprooted, autos tossed into
the air like dry leaves, homes shattered into splinters, RV parks, housing developments, shopping malls all destroyed at the
flick of the twisters' pitiless, mindless malevolence, blasted as completely and ruthlessly as if they had been struck by
an enemy missile attack.
The enemy is Mother Nature, Dan repeated silently, numbly, as he stared at the advancing tornadoes. There was nothing he could
do about them and he knew it. They couldn't be bought, bribed, flattered, seduced, or threatened into obedience. For the first
time since he'd been a child, Daniel Hamilton Randolph felt totally powerless.