Imperial earth, p.1

Imperial Earth, page 1

 

Imperial Earth
 



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Imperial Earth


  Imperial Earth

  Clarke, Arthur C.

  Imperial Earth

  by

  A r t h u r C. C l a r k e

  Contents

  I Titan

  01 A Shriek In The Night p005

  02 Dynasty p008

  03 Invitation To A Centennial p011

  04 The Red Moon p014

  05 The Politics of Time And Space p016

  06 By The Bonny, Bonny Banks of Lock Hellbrew p019

  07 A Cross of Titanite p023

  08 Children of The Corridors p027

  09 The Fatal Gift p030

  10 World's End p034

  II Transit

  11 Sirius p037

  12 Last Words p041

  13 The Longest Voyage p043

  14 Songs of Empire p047

  15 At The Node p050

  16 Port Van Allen p054

  III Terra

  17 Washington, D.C. p057

  18 Embassy p060

  19 Mount Vernon p062

  20 The Taste of Honey p067

  21 History Lesson p070

  22 Budget p073

  23 Daughters of The Revolution p076

  24 Calindy p080

  25 Mystery Tour p085

  26 Primeval Forest p090

  27 The Ghost From The Grand Banks p096

  28 Akhenaton And Cleopatra p100

  29 Party Games p102

  30 The Rivals p108

  31 The Island of Dr. Mohammed p112

  32 Golden Reef p116

  33 Sleuth p120

  34 Star Day p123

  35 A Message From Titan p126

  36 The Eye of Allah p130

  37 Meeting At Cyclops p133

  38 The Listeners p138

  39 Business And Desire p143

  40 Argus Panoptes p149

  41 Independence Day p156

  42 The Mirror of The Sea p159

  IV Titan

  43 Homecoming p163

  "Remember them as they were; and write them off."

  —Ernest Hemingway

  "For every man has business and desire."

  — Hamlet, Act I, Scene 4

  Part One

  Titan

  1

  A Shriek In The Night

  Duncan McKenzie was ten years old when he found the magic number. It was pure chance; he had intended to call Grandma Ellen, but he had been careless and his fingers must have touched the wrong keys. He knew at once that he had made a mistake, because Grandma's viddy had a two-second delay, even on Auto/Record. This circuit was live immediately.

  Yet there was no ringing tone, and no picture. The screen was completely blank, with not even a speckling of interference. Duncan guessed that he had been switched into an audio-only channel, or had reached a station where the camera was disconnected. In any case, this certainly wasn't Grandma's number, and he reached out to break the circuit.

  Then he noticed the sound. At first, he thought that someone was breathing quietly into the microphone at the far end, but he quickly realized his mistake. There was a random, inhuman quality about this gentle susurration; it lacked any regular rhythm, and there were long intervals of complete silence.

  As he listened, Duncan felt a growing sense of awe. Here was something completely outside his normal, everyday experience, yet he recognized it almost at once. In his ten years of life, the impressions of many worlds had been imprinted on his mind, and no one who had heard this most evocative of sounds could ever forget it. He was listening to the voice of the wind, as it sighed and whispered across the lifeless landscape a hundred meters above his head.

  Duncan forgot all about Grandma, and turned the volume up to its highest level. He lay back on the couch, closed his eyes, and tried to project himself into the unknown, hostile world from which he was protected by all the safety devices that three hundred years of space technology could contrive. Someday, when he had passed his survival tests, he would go up into that world and see with his own eyes the lakes and chasms and low-lying orange clouds, lit by the thin, cold rays of the distant sun. He had looked forward to that day with calm anticipation rather than excitement — the Makenzies were noted for their lack of excitement — but now he suddenly realized what he was missing. So might a child of Earth, on some dusty desert far from the ocean, have pressed a shell against his ear and listened with sick longing to the music of the unattainable sea.

  There was no mystery about the sound, but how was it reaching him? It could be coming from any of the hundred million square kilometers lying above his head. Somewhere — perhaps in an abandoned construction project or experimental station — a live microphone had been left in circuit, exposed to the freezing, poisonous winds of the world above. It was not likely to remain undetected for long; sooner or later it would be discovered and disconnected. He had better capture this message from the outside while it was still there; even if he knew the number he had accidentally called, he doubted if he could ever establish the circuit again.

  The amount of audio-visual material that Duncan had stored under MISC was remarkable, even for an inquisitive ten-year-old. It was not that he lacked organizing ability — that was the most celebrated of all the Makenzie talents — but he was interested in more things than he knew how to index. He had now begun to discover, the hard way, that information not properly classified can be irretrievably lost.

  He thought intently for a minute, while the lonely wind sobbed and moaned and brought the chill of space into his warm little cubicle. Then he tapped out ALPHA INDEX* WIND SOUNDS* PERM STORE #.

  From the moment he touched the # or EXECUTE key, he had begun to capture that voice from the world above. If all went well, he could call it forth again at any time by using the index heading WIND SOUNDS. Even if he had made a mistake, and the console's search program failed to locate the recording, it would be somewhere in the machine's permanent, nonerasable memory. There was always the hope that he might one day find it again by chance, as was happening all the time with information he had filed under MISC.

  He decided to let the recording run for another few minutes before completing the interrupted call to Grandma. As luck would have it, the wind must have slackened at about the time he keyed EXECUTE, because there was a long, frustrating silence. Then, out of that silence, came something new.

  It was faint and distant, yet conveyed the impression of overwhelming power. First there was a thin scream that mounted second by second in intensity, but somehow never came any closer. The scream rose swiftly to a demonic shriek, with undertones of thunder — then dwindled away as quickly as it had appeared. From beginning to end it lasted less than half a minute. Then there was only the sighing of the wind, even lonelier than before.

  For a long, delicious moment, Duncan savored the unique pleasure of fear without danger; then he reacted as he always did when he encountered something new or exciting. He tapped out Karl Helmer's number, and said: "Listen to this."

  Three kilometers away, at the northern end of Oasis City, Karl waited until the thin scream died into silence. As always, his face gave no hint of his thoughts. Presently he said: "Let's hear it again."

  Duncan repeated the playback, confident that the mystery would soon be solved. For Karl was fifteen, and therefore knew everything.

  Those dazzling blue eyes, apparently so candid yet already so full of secrets, looked straight at Duncan. Karl's surprise and sincerity were totally convincing as he exclaimed: "You didn't recognize it?"

  Duncan hesitated. He had thought of several obvious possibilities — but if he guessed wrongly, Karl would make fun of him. Better to be on the safe side...

  "No," he answered. "Did you ?"

  "Of course," said Karl, in his most superior tone of voice. He paused for effect,
then leaned toward the camera so that his face loomed enormous on the screen.

  "It's a Hydrosaurus on the rampage."

  For a fraction of a second, Duncan took him seriously — which was exactly what Karl had intended. He quickly recovered, and laughed back at his friend.

  "You're crazy. So you don't know what it is?"

  For the methane-breathing monster Hydrosaurus rex was their private joke — the product of youthful imaginations, inflamed by pictures of ancient Earth and the wonders it had brought forth near the dawn of creation. Duncan knew perfectly well that nothing lived now, or had ever lived, on the world that he called home; only Man had walked upon its frozen surface. Yet if Hydrosaurus could have existed, that awesome sound might indeed have been its battle cry, as it leaped upon the gentle Carbotherium, wallowing in some ammonia lake...

  "Oh. I know what made that noise," said Karl smugly. "Didn't you guess? That was a ram-tanker making a scoop. If you call Traffic Control, they'll tell you where it was heading."

  Karl had had his fun, and the explanation was undoubtedly correct. Duncan had already thought of it, yet he had hoped for something more romantic. Though it was perhaps too much to expect methane monsters, and everyday spaceship was a disappointing anticlimax. He felt a sense of letdown, and was sorry that he had given Karl another chance to deflate his dreams. Karl was rather good at that.

  But like all healthy ten-year-olds, Duncan was resilient. The magic had not been destroyed. Though the first ship had lifted from Earth three centuries before he was born, the wonder of space had not yet been exhausted. There was romance enough in that shriek from the edge of the atmosphere, as the orbiting tanker collected hydrogen to power the commerce of the Solar System.

  In a few hours, that precious cargo would be falling sunward, past Saturn's other moons, past giant Jupiter, to make its rendezvous with one of the fueling stations that circled the inner planets. It would take months — even years — to get there, but there was no hurry. As long as cheap hydrogen flowed through the invisible pipeline across the Solar System, the fusion rockets could fly from world to world, as once the ocean liners had plied the seas of Earth.

  Duncan understood this better than most boys of his age; the hydrogen economy was also the story of his family, and would dominate his own future when he was old enough to play a part in the affairs of Titan. It was now almost a century since Grandfather Malcolm had realized that Titan was the key to all the planets, and had shrewdly used this knowledge for the benefit of mankind — and of himself.

  So Duncan continued to listen to the recording after Karl had switched off. Over and over again he played back that triumphant cry of power, trying to detect the precise moment when it was finally swallowed up in the gulfs of space. For years it would haunt his dreams; he would wake in the night, convinced that he had heard it again through the rock that protected Oasis from the hostile wilderness above.

  And when he at last fell back into sleep, he would always dream of Earth.

  2

  Dynasty

  Malcolm Makenzie had been the right man, at the right time. Others before him had looked covetously at Titan, but he was the first to work out all the engineering details and to conceive the total system or orbiting scoops, compressors, and cheap, extendable tanks that could hold their liquid hydrogen with minimum loss as they dropped leisurely sunward.

  Back in the 2180's, Malcolm had been a promising young aerospace designer at Port Lowell, trying to make aircraft that could carry useful payloads in the tenuous Martian atmosphere. In those days he had been Malcolm Mackenzie, for the computer mishap that had irrevocably changed the family name did not occur until he emigrated to Titan. After wasting five years in futile attempts at correction, Malcolm had finally co-operated with the inevitable. It was one of the few battles in which the Makenzies had ever admitted defeat, but now they were quite proud of their unique name.

  When he had finished his calculations and stolen enough drafting-computer time to prepare a beautiful set of drawings, young Malcolm had approached the Planning Office of the Martian Department of Transportation. He did not anticipate serious criticism, because he knew that his facts and his logic were impeccable.

  A large fusion-powered spaceliner could use ten thousand tons of hydrogen on a single flight, merely as inert working fluid. Ninety-nine percent of it took no part in the nuclear reaction, but was hurled from the jets unchanged, at scores of kilometers per second, imparting momentum to the ships it drove between the planets.

  There was plenty of hydrogen on Earth, easily available in the oceans; but the cost of lifting megatons a year into space was horrendous. And the other inhabited worlds — Mars, Mercury, Ganymede, and the Moon — could not help. The had no surplus hydrogen at all.

  Of course, Jupiter and the other Gas Giants possessed unlimited quantities of the vital element, but their gravitational fields guarded it more effectively than any unsleeping dragon, coiled round some mythical treasure of the Gods. In all the Solar System, Titan was the only place where Nature had contrived the paradox of low gravity and an atmosphere remarkably rich in hydrogen and its compounds.

  Malcolm was right in guessing that no one would challenge his figures, or deny the feasibility of the scheme, but a kindhearted senior administrator took it upon himself to lecture young Makenzie on the political and economic facts of life. He learned, with remarkable speed, about growth curves and forward discounting and interplanetary debts and rates of depreciation and technological obsolescence, and understood for the first time why the solar was backed, not by gold, but by kilowatt-hours.

  "It's an old problem," his mentor had explained patiently. "In fact, it goes back to the very beginnings of astronautics, in the twentieth century. We couldn't have commercial space flight until there were flourishing extraterrestrial colonies — and we couldn't have colonies until there was commercial space transportation. In this sort of bootstrap situation, you have a very slow growth rate until you reach the takeoff point. Then, quite suddenly, the curves start shooting upward, and you're in business.

  "It could be the same with your Titan refueling scheme — but have you any idea of the initial investment required? Only the World Bank could possibly underwrite it..."

  "What about the Bank of Selene? Isn't it supposed to be more adventurous?"

  "Don't believe all you've read about the Gnomes of Aristarchus; they're as careful as anyone else. They have to be. Bankers on Earth can still go on breathing if they make a bad investment..."

  But it was the Bank of Selene, three years later, that put up the five megasols for the initial feasibility study Then Mercury became interested — and finally Mars. By this time, of course, Malcolm was no longer an aerospace engineer. He had become, not necessarily in this order, a financial expert, a public-relations adviser, a media manipulator, and a shrewd politician. In the incredibly short time of twenty years, the first hydrogen shipments were falling sunward from Titan.

  Malcolm's achievement had been an extraordinary one, now well documented in dozens of scholarly studies, all respectful, though some of them far from flattering. What made it so remarkable — even unique — was the way in which he had converted his hard-won expertise from technology to administration. The process had been so imperceptible that no one realized what was happening. Malcolm was not the first engineer to became a head of state; but he was the first, his critics pointed out, to establish a dynasty. And he had done so against odds that would have daunted lesser men.

  In 2195, at the age of forty-four, he had married Ellen Killner, recently emigrated from Earth. Their daughter, Anitra, was the first child to be born in the little frontier community of Oasis, then the only permanent base on Titan, and it was several years before the devoted parents realized the cruel jest that Nature had played upon them.

  Even as a baby, Anitra was beautiful, and it was confidently predicted that when she grew up she would be completely spoiled. Needless to say, there were as yet no child psychologists on Titan; so n
o one noticed that the little girl was too docile, too well behaved — and too silent. Not until she was almost four years old did Malcolm and Ellen finally accept the fact that Anitra would never be able to speak, and that there was really no one at home in the lovely shell their bodies had fashioned.

  The fault lay in Malcolm's genes, not Ellen's. Sometime during his shuttling back and forth between Earth and Mars, a stray photon that had been cruising through space since cosmic dawn had blasted his hopes for the future. The damage was irreparable, as Malcolm discovered when he consulted the best genetic surgeons of four worlds. It was a chilling thought that he had actually been lucky with Anitra; the results could have been far, far worse...

  To the mingled sorrow and relief of an entire world, Anitra had died before she was six years old, and the Makenzie marriage died with her in a flurry of grief and recrimination. Ellen threw herself into her work, and Malcolm departed on what was to be his last visit to Earth. He was gone for almost two years, and in that time he achieved much.

  He consolidated his political position and set the pattern of economic development on Titan for the next half-century. And he acquired the son he had now set his heart upon.

  Human cloning — the creation of exact replicas of another individual from any cell in the body except the sex cells — had been achieved early in the twenty-first century. Even when the technology had been perfected, it had never become widespread , partly because there were few circumstances that could ever justify it.

  Malcolm was not a rich man — there had been no large personal fortunes for a hundred years — but he was certainly not poor. He used a skillful combination of money, flattery, and more subtle pressures to attain his goal. When he returned to Titan, he brought with him the baby who was his identical twin — but a half a century younger.

  When Colin grew up, there was no way in which he could be distinguished from his clone father at the same age. Physically, he was an exact duplicate in every respect. But Malcolm was no Narcissus, interested in creating a mere carbon copy of himself; he wanted a partner as well as a successor. So Colin's educational program concentrated on the weak points of Malcolm's. Though he had a good grounding in science, he specialized in history, law, and economics. Whereas Malcolm was an engineer-administrator, Colin was an administrator-engineer. While still in his twenties, he was acting as his father's deputy wherever it was legally admissible, and sometimes where it was not. Together, the two Makenzies formed an unbeatable combination, and trying to draw subtle distinctions between their psychologies was a favorite Titanian pastime.

 
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