|The Naked God|
|Peter F. Hamilton|
|excerpt courtesy of Time Warner Trade Publishing|
Ione had gone straight to De Beauvoir palace after Tranquillity emerged above Jupiter, co-ordinating the habitat's maintenance crews and making a public sensevise to reassure people and tell them what to do. The formal reception room was a more appropriate setting for such a broadcast than her private apartment. Now with the immediate crisis over, she was snuggled back in the big chair behind her desk and using Tranquillity's sensitive cells to observe the last of the voidhawks assigned to implement the aid response settle on its docking ledge pedestal. A procession of vehicles trundled over the polyp towards it, cargo flatbed lorries and heavy-lift trucks eager to unload the large fusion generator clamped awkwardly in the voidhawk's cargo cradles.
The generator had come from one of the industrial stations of the nearest Edenist habitat, Lycoris; hurriedly ferried over by Consensus as soon as Tranquillity's status was established. There were currently fifteen technical crews working on similar generators around the docking ledge, powering them up and wiring them in to the habitat's power grid.
When she sank her mentality deeper into the neural strata and the autonomic monitor routines which operated there, Ione could feel the electricity flowing back into the starscrapers through the organic conductors, their mechanical systems gradually coming back on line. The habitat's girdling city had been in emergency powerdown mode since the swallow manoeuvre, along with other non-essential functions. Grandfather Michael's precautions hadn't been perfect after all. She grinned to herself; pretty damn good, though. And even without the Jovian Consensus on hand to help with all its resources, they had the smaller fusion generators in the non-rotating spaceport.
We would have been okay.
Of course we would, Tranquillity said. It managed a mildly chastising tone, surprised at her doubt.
Obviously, nobody had fully thought through the implications of the swallow manoeuvre for Tranquillity. When it entered the wormhole, the hundreds of induction cables radiating out from the endcap rims had been sliced off, eliminating nearly all of the habitat's natural energy generation capability. It would take their extrusion glands several months to grow new ones out to full length.
By which time they might have to move again.
Let's not worry about that right now, Tranquillity said. We're in the safest orbit in the Confederation; even I was surprised by the amount of fire-power Consensus has amassed here to protect itself. Be content.
I wasn't complaining.
Nor are our inhabitants.
Ione felt her attention being focused inside the shell.
It was party time in Tranquillity. The whole population had come up out of the starscrapers to wait in the parkland around the lobbies until the electricity was restored. Elderly plutocrats sat on the grass next to students, waitresses shared the queue to the toilets with corporate presidents, Laymil project researchers mingled with society vacuumheads. Everybody had grabbed a bottle on the way out of their apartment, and the galaxy's biggest mass picnic had erupted spontaneously. Dawn was now five hours late, but the moonlight silver light-tube only enhanced the ambience. People drank, and ran stim programs, and laughed with their neighbour as they told and retold their personal tale of combat-wasp-swarms-I-have-seen-hurtling-towards-me. They thanked God but principally Ione Saldana for rescuing them, and declared their undying love for her, that goddamn beautiful, brilliant, canny, gorgeous girl in whose habitat they were blessed to live. And, hey, Capone; how does it feel, loser? Your almighty Confederation-challenging fleet screwed by a single non-military habitat; everything you could throw at us, and we beat you. Still happy you came back to the wonders of this century?
The residents from the two starscrapers closest to De Beauvoir palace walked over the vales and round the spinnies to pay their respects and voice their gratitude. A huge crowd was singing and chanting outside the gates, calling, pleading for their heroine to appear.
Ione slid the focus over them, smiling when she saw Dominique and Clement in the throng, as well as a wildly drunk Kempster Getchell. There were others she knew, too, directors and managers of multistellar companies and finance institutions, all swept along with tide of emotion. Red-faced, exhilarated, and calling her name with hoarse throats. She let the focus float back to Clement.
Invite him in, Tranquillity urged warmly.
Survival of dangerous events is a sexual trigger for humans. You should indulge your instincts. He will make you happy, and you deserve that more than anything.
Romance has nothing to do with this. Enjoy the release he will bring.
What about you? You performed the swallow manoeuvre.
When you are happy, I am happy.
She laughed out loud. "Oh what the hell, why not."
That is good. But I think you will have to make a public appearance first. This crowd is good-natured, but quite determined to thank you.
Yes. She sobered. But there is one last official duty.
Indeed. Tranquillity's tone matched her disposition.
Ione felt the mental conversation widen to incorporate the Jovian Consensus. Armira, the Kiint ambassador to Jupiter, was formally invited to converse with them.
Our swallow manoeuvre has produced an unexpected event, Ione said. We are hopeful that you can clarify it for us.
Armira injected a sensation of stately amusement into the affinity band. I would suggest, Ione Saldana and Tranquillity, that your entire swallow manoeuvre was an unexpected event.
It certainly surprised the Kiint we were host to, she said. They all left, very suddenly.
I see. Armira's thoughts hardened, denying them any hint of his emotional content.
Tranquillity replayed the memory it had from the time of the attack, showing all the Kiint vanishing inside event horizons.
What you have seen demonstrated is an old ability, Armira responded dispassionately. We developed the emergency exodus facility during the era when we were engaged in interstellar travel. It is merely a sophisticated application of your distortion field systems. My colleagues helping with your Laymil research project would have used it instinctively when they believed they were threatened.
We're sure they would, Consensus said. And who can blame them? That's not the point. The fact that you have this ability is most enlightening to us. We have always regarded as somewhat fanciful your claim that your race's interest in star travel is now over. Although the fact that you had no starships added undeniable weight to the argument. Now we have seen your personal teleport ability, the original claim is exposed as a complete fallacy.
We do not have the same level of interest in travelling to different worlds that you do, Armira said.
Of course not. Our starships are principally concerned with commercial and colonization flights, and an unfortunate amount of military activity. Your technological level would preclude anything as simple as commercial activity. We also believe that you are peaceful, although you must have considerable knowledge of advanced weapons. That leaves colonization and exploration.
A correct analysis.
Are you still conducting these activities?
To some degree.
Why did you not tell us this, why have you hidden your true abilities behind a claim of mysticism and disinterest?
You know the answer to that, Armira said. Humans discovered the Jiciro race three hundred years ago; yet you have still not initiated contact and revealed yourselves to them. Their technology and culture is at a very primitive level, and you know what will happen if they are exposed to the Confederation. All that they have will be supplanted by what they will interpret as futuristic items of convenience, they will cease to develop anything for themselves. Who knows what achievements would be lost to the universe?
That argument does not pertain here, Consensus said. The Jiciro do not know what the stars are, nor that solid matter is composed of atoms. We do. We acknowledge that our technology is inferior to yours. But equally you know that one day we will achieve your current level. You are denying us knowledge we already know exists, and you have done so twice, in this field and in your understanding of the beyond. This is not an act of fellowship; we have opened ourselves to you in honesty and friendship, we have not hidden our flaws from you; yet you have clearly not reciprocated. Our conclusion is that you are simply studying us. We would now like to know why. As sentient entities we have that right.
Study is a pejorative term. We learn of you, as you do us. Admittedly that process is imbalanced, but given our respective natures, that is inevitable. As to bestowing our technology; that would be interference of the grandest order. If you want something, achieve it for yourselves.
Same argument you gave us concerning the beyond, Ione remarked testily.
Of course, Armira said. Tell me, Ione Saldana, what would your reaction have been if a xenoc race announced that you had an immortal soul, and proved it, and then gone on to demonstrate that the beyond awaited, though as Laton said, only for some? Would you have greeted such a revelation with thanks?
No, I don't suppose I would.
We know that our introduction to the concept of the beyond was accidental, Consensus said. Something happened on Lalonde which allowed the souls to come back and possess the living. Something extraneous. This calamity has been inflicted upon us. Surely such circumstances permit you to intervene?
There was a long pause. We will not intervene in this case, Armira said. For two reasons. Whatever happened on Lalonde happened because you went there. There is more to travelling between stars and exploring the universe than the physical act.
You are saying we must accept responsibly for our actions.
Very well, with reservations we accept that judgement. Though, please appreciate, we do not like it. What is the second reason?
Understand, there is a faction among my people who have argued that we should intervene in your favour. The possibility was rejected because what we have learned of you so far indicates that your race will come through this time successfully. Edenists especially have the social maturity to face that which follows.
I'm not an Edenist, Ione said. What about me, and all the other Adamists, the majority of our race? Are you going to stand back as we perish and fall into the beyond? Does the survival of an elite few, the sophisticates and the intellectuals, justify discarding the rest? Humans have never practised eugenics, we regard it as an abomination, and rightly so. If that's the price of racial improvement, we're not willing to pay it.
If I am any judge, you too will triumph, Ione Saldana.
Nice to know. But what about all the others?
Fate will determine what happens. I can say no more other than to restate our official response: the answer lies within yourselves.
That is not much of a comfort, Consensus remarked.
I understand your frustration. My one piece of advice is that you should not share what you have learned about my race with the Adamists. Believing we have a solution, and that piety alone will extract it from us, would weaken their incentive to find that answer.
We will consider your suggestion, Consensus said. But Edenism will not voluntarily face the rest of eternity without our cousins. Ultimately, we are one race, however diverse.
I acknowledge your integrity.
I have a final question, Ione said. Where is Jay Hilton? She was taken from Tranquillity at the same time as your researchers. Why?
Armira's thoughts softened, shading as close to embarrassment as Ione had ever known a Kiint to come. That was an error, the ambassador said. And I apologise unreservedly for it. However, you should know the error was made in good faith. A young Kiint included Jay Hilton in the emergency exodus against parental guidance. She was simply trying to save her friend.
Haile! Ione laughed delightedly. You wicked girl.
I believe she has been severely reprimanded for the incident.
I hope not, Ione said indignantly. She's only a baby.
Well, you can bring Jay back now; Tranquillity isn't as vulnerable as you thought.
I apologise again, but Jay Hilton cannot be returned to you at this time.
In effect, she has seen too much. I assure you that she is perfectly safe, and we will of course return her to you immediately your current situation is resolved.
The walls of the prison cell were made from some kind of dull-grey composite, not quite cool enough to be metal, but just as hard. Louise had touched them once before sinking down onto the single cot and hugging her legs, knees tucked up under her chin. The gravity was about half that of Norfolk, better than Phobos, at least; though the air was cooler than it had been on the Jamrana. She spent some time wondering about Endron, the old systems specialist from the Far Realm, thinking he might have betrayed them and alerted High York's authorities, then decided it really didn't matter. Her one worry now was that she'd been separated from Gen; her sister would be very frightened by what was happening.
And I got her into this mess. Mother will kill me.
Except mother was in no position to do anything. Louise hugged herself tighter, fighting the way her lips kept trembling.
The door slid open, and two female police officers stepped in. Louise assumed they were police, they wore pale blue uniforms with Govcentral's bronze emblem on their shoulders, depicting a world where continents shaped as hands gripped together.
"Okay, Kavanagh," said the one with sergeant stripes. "Let's go."
Louise straightened her legs, looking cautiously from one to the other. "Where?"
"I'd just shove you out the bloody airlock, it's up to me," said the other. "Trying to sneak one of those bastards in here. Bitch."
"Leave it," the sergeant ordered.
"I wasn't . . ." Louise started. She pursed her lips helplessly. It was so complicated, and heaven only knew how many laws she'd broken on the way to High York.
They marched her down a short corridor and into another room. It made her think of hospitals. White walls, everything clean, a table in the middle that was more like a laboratory bench, cheap waiting room chairs, various processor blocks in a tall rack in one corner, more lying on the table. Brent Roi was sitting behind the table; he'd taken off the customs uniform he'd worn to greet the Jamrana, now he was in the same blue suit as the officers escorting her. He waved her into the chair facing him.
Louise sat, hunching her shoulders exactly the way she was always scolding Gen for doing. She waited for a minute with downcast eyes, then glanced up. Brent Roi was giving her a level stare.
"You're not a possessed," he said. "The tests prove that."
Louise pulled nervously at the black one-piece overall she'd been given, the memory of those tests vivid in her mind. Seven armed guards had been pointing their machine guns at her as the technicians ordered her to strip. They'd put her inside sensor loops, pressed hand held scanners against her, taken samples. It was a million times worse than any medical examination. Afterwards, the only thing she'd been allowed to keep was the medical nanonic package round her wrist.
"That's good," she said in a tiny voice.
"So how did he blackmail you?"
"The possessed guy calling himself Fletcher Christian."
"Um. He didn't blackmail me, he was looking after us."
"So you rolled over and let him fuck you in return for protection against the other possessed?"
Brent Roi shrugged. "He preferred your little sister?"
"No! Fletcher is a decent man. You shouldn't say such things."
"Then what the hell are you doing here, Louise? Why did you try and infiltrate a possessed into the O'Neill Halo?"
"I wasn't. It's not like that. We came here to warn you."
"Earth. Govcentral. There's somebody coming here. Somebody terrible."
"Yeah?" Brent Roi raised a sceptical eyebrow. "Who's that then?"
"He's called Quinn Dexter. I've met him, he's worse than any normal possessed. Much worse."
"In what way?"
"More powerful. And he's full of hate. Fletcher says there's something wrong about him, he's different somehow."
"Ah, the expert on possession. Well, if anyone is going to know, it'll be him."
Louise frowned, unsure why the official was being so difficult. "We came here to warn you," she insisted. "Dexter said he was coming to Earth. He wants revenge on someone called Banneth. You have to guard all the spaceports, and make sure he doesn't get down to the surface. It would be a disaster. He'll start the possession down there."
"And why do you care?"
"I told you. I've met him. I know what he's like."
"Worse than ordinary possessed; yet you seemed to have survived. How did you manage that, Louise?"
"We were helped."
"No . . . I don't know who it was."
"All right, so you escaped this fate worse than death, and you came here to warn us."
"How did you get off Norfolk, Louise?"
"I bought tickets on a starship."
"I see. And you took Fletcher Christian with you. Were you worried there were possessed among the starship crew?"
"No. That was one place I was sure there wouldn't be any possessed."
"So although you knew there were no possessed on board, you still took Christian with you as protection. Was that your idea, or his?"
"I . . . It . . . He was with us. He'd been with us since we left home."
"Where is home, Louise?"
"Cricklade manor. But Dexter came and possessed everyone. That's when we fled to Norwich."
"Ah yes, Norfolk's capital. So you brought Christian with you to Norwich. Then when that started to fall to the possessed, you thought you'd better get off-planet, right?"
"Did you know Christian was a possessed when you bought the tickets?"
"Yes, of course."
"And when you bought them, did you also know Dexter wanted to come to Earth?"
"No, that was after."
"So was it dear old samaritan Fletcher Christian who suggested coming here to warn us?"
"And you agreed to help him?"
"So where were you going to go originally, before Fletcher Christian made you change your mind and come here?"
Brent Roi nodded in apparent fascination. "That's a rather strange place for a young lady from Norfolk's landowner class to go. What made you chose that habitat?"
"My fiancé lives there. If anyone can protect us, he can."
"And who is your fiancé, Louise?"
She smiled sheepishly. "Joshua Calvert."
"Joshua Cal . . . You mean Lagrange Calvert?"
"The captain of the Lady Macbeth?"
"Yes. Do you know him?"
"Let's say, the name rings a bell." He sat back and folded his arms, regarding Louise with a strangely mystified expression.
"Can I see Genevieve now?" she asked timidly. No one had actually said she was under arrest yet. She felt a lot more confident now the policeman had actually listened to her story.
"In a little while, possibly. We just have to review the information you've provided us with."
"You do believe me about Quinn Dexter, don't you? You must make sure he doesn't get down to Earth."
"Oh, I assure you, we will do everything we can to make sure he doesn't get through our security procedures."
"Thank you." She glanced awkwardly at the two female officers standing on either side of her chair. "What's going to happen to Fletcher?"
"I don't know, Louise, that's not my department. But I imagine they'll attempt to flush him out of the body he's stolen."
"Oh." She stared at the floor.
"Do you think they're wrong to try that, Louise?"
"No. I suppose not." The words were troubling to speak; the truth, but not what was right. None of what had happened was right.
"Good." Brent Roi signalled her escort. "We'll talk again in a little while." When the door closed behind her, he couldn't help a grimace of pure disbelief.
"What do you think?" his supervisor datavised.
"I have never heard someone sprout quite so much bullshit in a single interview before," Brent Roi replied. "Either she's a retard, or we're up against a new type of possessed infiltration."
"She's not a retard."
"Then what the hell is she? Nobody is that dumb, it's not possible."
"I don't believe she's dumb, either. Our problem is, we're so used to dealing with horrendous complexities of subterfuge, we never recognise the simple truth when we see it."
"Oh come on, you don't actually believe that story?"
"She is, as you said, from the Norfolk landowner class; that doesn't exactly prepare her for the role of galactic master criminal. And she is travelling with her sister."
"That's just cover."
"Brent, you are depressingly cynical."
"Yes, sir." He held on to his exasperation, it never made the slightest impression on his supervisor. The anonymous entity who had guided the last twenty years of his life lacked many ordinary human responses. There were times when Brent Roi wondered if he was actually dealing with a xenoc. Not that there was much he could do about that now; whatever branch of whatever agency the supervisor belonged to, it was undoubtedly a considerable power within Govcentral. His own smooth, accelerated promotion through the Halo police force was proof of that.
"There are factors of Miss Kavanagh's story which my colleagues and I find uniquely interesting."
"Which factors?" Brent asked.
"You know better than that."
"All right. What do you want me to do with her?"
"Endron has confirmed the Phobos events to the Martian police, however we must establish exactly what happened to Kavanagh on Norfolk. Initiate a direct memory retrieval procedure."
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