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Greg Bear

Anvil of Stars

Prolog

At the end of The Forge of God, the Earth is dead, murdered by self- replicating spacefaring machines. A few thousand humans have been saved by other robots, machines sent by the Benefactors to defend primitive worlds and civilizations from the depredations of planet-killing probes. The Benefactor machines have succeeded in wiping out these probes within the solar system, but not before Earth’s total destruction.

Kept aboard a huge Central Ark while Mars is made ready for their habitation, the humans are informed of the Law, a galactic code that governs the behavior of civilizations. The Law demands that civilizations which make self-replicating killer machines be punishedwith extinction. Humans must carry out this punishment, with the help of the Benefactors. Younger occupants of the Central Ark volunteer, and their journey begins.

This is how the balance is kept.

PART ONE

Marty sits in the front seat of his father’s buick, riding along a freeway in Oregon at midsummer twilight. The highway is thick with cars and rain glazes the road. Gray-blue sky, tail-lights brilliant red, streamers of reflection in wet dark blue roadways, road reflectors gold, big trucks with running lights and turn signals flashing, windshield wipers streaking all into dazzles and sparks, raindrops reflecting microcosms.

He feels the smooth fur and warmth of his dog, Gauge, pressed between the front seats, paw and jaw resting on Marty’s curled knee. “Father,” he asks, “is space empty?”

Arthur does not reply. There are no more highways, no more Earth. His father is off the Ark and on Mars by now, far centuries away.

Martin Gordon stirred and tried to wake up. He floated in his net, opened his eyes and unclenched his fists. A single salty tear, sucked into his mouth from the still, cool air, caught in his throat and he coughed, thrashing to complete awareness. In the large, high-ceilinged cabin, beads and snakes of yellow and white light curled along the walls like lanes of cars.

He rolled over in the suddenly strange place. A woman floated in the net beside him, hair dark brown almost black, face pixy with fresh sleep, upturned eyes opening, wide lips always half- smiling. “Are you all right?” she asked.

“I think so,” he said. “Dreaming.” Martin had been dreaming a great deal lately, much more since joining with Theresa. He had been dreaming of Earth; dreams both pleasant and disturbing, four or five each sleep.

“Of what?”

“Earth. My father.”

Eight years after Earth’s death, the children had left the Central Ark, in orbit around the Sun, and begun their journey on the Ship of the Law.

Two years after the children’s departure, measuring by the Ark’s reference frame, the survivors of Earth who stayed behind had entered suspended animation, the long sleep.

Two years for the Central Ark had occupied only a year for the children as the Ship of the Law accelerated to relativistic speed. Now, cruising at more than ninety-nine percent of the speed of light, time advanced even more slowly, relative to the outside universe; six and a half days for every year. Years were an archaic measure anyway, counted against the revolution of a world that no longer existed.

If still alive, Martin’s mother and father and all the remaining survivors on the Ark had settled on Mars by now, after almost three centuries of long sleep.

For Martin and the children, only five years had passed.

Theresa drew closer to him in the single net, curled her arms around him, made a warm sound in the back of her throat. “Always the thread,” she murmured. She slept again, could fall asleep so easily.

Martin looked at her, still disoriented. Dissonance between that past inconceivably far away in all dimensions, and this woman with her chest moving in and out, eyes flickering in dreamstate.

The thread, umbilicus of all the children, cut only in death.

“Dark, please,” he said, and the ribbon lights dimmed. He turned away from Theresa, coughed again, seeing behind closed eyes bright red tail-lights and mystic blue highways.

If the drivers had known how beautiful that traffic jam was, how lovely that rain, and how few twilight evenings remained.

The Ship of the Law was made of Earth, smelted and assembled from the fragments of Earth’s corpse, a world in itself, cruising massively close to the speed of light, hundreds of years from the dust and rubble of home.

Christened Dawn Treader by the children at the outset of their voyage, the ship resembled a snake that had swallowed three eggs, five hundred meters from nose to tail. Each egg, called a homeball, was one hundred meters in diameter. Between the homeballs, hung around the connecting necks like fruit in baskets, storage tanks held the ship’s reserves of volatiles: hydrogen, lithium, helium, nitrogen, oxygen, carbon. Food and fuel.

The first two homeballs belonged to the children, vast spaces divided into a variety of chambers flexible in design and even in size.

Dawn Treader reminded Martin of a large plastic habitat his mother had pieced together in their house in Oregon; two hamsters in a maze of yellow plastic pipes, clear boxes lined with wood shavings, a feeding box and sleeping box and exercise wheel, even what his father had called a “remote excursion module,” a plastic ball in which a single hamster could roll outside the habitat, across the floors, carpet, into corners.

The eighty-two children had even more room in proportion to their numbers. There was sufficient space for every Wendy or Lost Boy to have dozens of quarters in the homeballs. Most chose one primary residence, and used two or three others as occasion suited.

The third egg, farthest aft, held training centers and weapons stores. The spaces between the homeballs, the necks, were filled with huge conduits and pipes. The second neck was cramped by protrusions that Martin had long since decided must be part of the ship’s engine. How the engine worked, or its location on the ship, had not been explained.

There were a lot of mysteries. Huge but light, most of the Dawn Treader’s bulk consisted of what the robot moms called fake matter. Fake matter had the properties of size and resistance to pressure, but no mass. Dawn Treader massed little more than twenty-five hundred tons unfueled.

The children trained with weapons whose inner workings they knew next to nothing about. What they did not specifically need to know, they were not told.

The necks—dubbed wormspaces because of the twisty pipes—were ideal for gymnastics and games, and thirty Lost Boys and Wendys, two cats, and three parrots even now skirmished, using wads of wet clothing as missiles. Sheets of water crawled along the outer wall beneath a transparent field. Shadows lay deep and black everywhere in the wormspaces, offering even more places to hide.

Martin watched his fellows. They might have been part of a street gang in a city robbed of up and down. He breathed in their beauty and harmony, focused on a select few: Hans Eagle of the Raptors, a year older than Martin—oldest on the ship—pug-nosed, broad-shouldered, short-legged, with powerful arms, blond hair cut close

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