Read The Precipice Online

Authors: Ben Bova

The Precipice

“When we come back, we'll be rich.”

“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!”

T
OR
B
OOKS BY
B
EN
B
OVA

As on a Darkling Plain

The Astral Mirror

Battle Station

The Best of the Nebulas
(ed.)

Challenges

Colony

Cyberbooks

Escape Plus

Gremlins Go Home
(with Gordon R. Dickson)

Jupiter

The Kinsman Saga

The Multiple Man

Orion

Orion Among the Stars

Orion and the Conqueror

Orion in the Dying Time

Out of the Sun

Peacekeepers

Privateers

Prometheans

Saturn

Star Peace: Assured Survival

The Starcrossed

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)

Triumph

Vengeance of Orion

Venus

Voyagers

Voyagers II: The Alien Within

Voyagers III: Star Brothers

The Winds of Altair

THE
PRECIPICE

BOOK 1 OF THE ASTEROID WARS

 

BEN BOVA

 

 

A TOM DOHERTY ASSOCIATES BOOK
NEW YORK

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.

Copyright infringement is against the law. If you believe the copy of this e-book you are reading infringes on the author's copyright, please notify the publisher at:
us.macmillanusa.com/piracy
.

 

 

 

 

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 © 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

www.tor.com

Tor® is a registered trademark of Tom Doherty Associates, LLC.

ISBN 0-812-57989-5
EAN 978-0812-57989-5

First edition: October 2001
First mass market edition: December 2002

Printed in the United States of America

0    9    8    7    6    5    4    3    2

 

 

To Irving Levitt, a rare jewel among men
To Barbara, who adorns my life with beauty

ACKNOWLEDGMENTS

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.

CONTENTS

MEMPHIS

LA GUAIRA

SPACE STATION GALILEO

LA GUAIRA

SPACE STATION GALILEO

CHENGDU, SICHUAN PROVINCE

SELENE CITY

CUENCA

SELENE CITY

LA GUAIRA

NEW KYOTO

LA GUAIRA

SELENE

LONDON

SELENE

MASTERSON AEROSPACE CORP.

THE CATACOMBS

SELENE GOVERNING COUNCIL

ALPHONSUS

SPACE STATION NUEVA VENEZUELA

SELENE

SELENE NANOTECHNOLOGY LABORATORY

PELICAN BAR

HUMPHRIES TRUST RESEARCH CENTER

LIVING QUARTERS

FACTORY #4

GRAND PLAZA

ASTRO CORPORATION OFFICES

STARPOWER, LTD.

SPACEPORT ARMSTRONG

BOARD MEETING

SELENE

LUNAR ORBIT

PELICAN BAR

MISSION CONTROL CENTER

HUMPHRIES TRUST RESEARCH CENTER

STARPOWER 1

SPACEPORT ARMSTRONG

THE INTERVIEW

OUTWARD BOUND

EARTHVIEW RESTAURANT

SOLAR STORM

NANOTECHNOLOGY LABORATORY

STAVENGER THEATER

TURNAROUND

EVA

STARPOWER 1

MARE NUBIUM

HUMPHRIES TRUST RESEARCH CENTER

STARPOWER 1

BREAKOUT

BONANZA

TEMPO 9

MESSAGES

STORM SHELTER

SELENE

HAVEN

NANOTECHNOLOGY LABORATORY

HAVEN

DEATH

LIFE

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 shift… would physically compress the geographical limits for cereal cropping— I leave it to your imagination what
such a pace of climate change would entail for most people.

—Stephen Drury

Stepping Stones: Evolving
the Earth and Its Life

… 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.

—Carleton S. Coon
The Story of Man
(Third Edition)

MEMPHIS


J
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
waters.

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
that:
9

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.

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