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Colliding Galaxies

Published by Philip Bosshardt at Smashwords

Copyright 2017 Philip Bosshardt

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Introduction


When galaxies collide in outer space, nothing much happens for a very long time. Surely, when the Milky Way and Andromeda galaxies merge in about four billion years, as astronomers insist they will, it will be one of the most epochal events in our cosmos. Yet you’d probably fall asleep watching it, if you could live long enough to witness the whole event.

That’s because galaxies are mostly empty space.

Yet when galaxies collide, and dust gets stirred up, strange and violent things do occur, given enough time. Dust clouds collapse. Gravity builds up. Matter gets compressed. Before you know it, the thing ignites. A star is born. And it burns hot and bright for billions of years.

Words are like that too…whether on a piece of paper or arrayed as bits on a disk. When put together the right way, words get compressed. They ignite. Light and heat follow. Readers exposed to all this find new ideas, like new elements, bubbling to the surface. Illumination follows, if the writer did his job and pushed the words together the right way.

My hope is that something like this will happen while you’re reading the stories gathered in this collection. Something sparks. Boom! A new idea…something you never thought of before pops into your head. I’m not content just to entertain or divert you from your troubles for a few hours, though there’s nothing wrong with that. I want to start a fire in your head. I want to slam atoms together, compress them and create something new…a whole new world.

I’m leery of themes in story collections. If there’s any theme in Colliding Galaxies, it’s that they were all written by the same writer. Here, you’ll find a strange bunch of people, ostensibly normal in their backgrounds: an architect, a detective, a kid with a life-threatening disease, a physicist and a group of nursing home residents—but all of them eventually get smashed into new realities like planets pulled into a black hole. Here, you’ll find angels, aquadapts, atomgrabbers and archeologists, each drawn to their own personal event horizons, some wide-eyed and eager, some fighting all the way.

What I’m trying to say is that free will ain’t what it used to be.

These stories, as originally written, span nearly thirty years of my literary life, from fresh out of college (Georgia Tech, class of ’75. Industrial Engineering, thank you very much) to as recently as a year ago. That’s a span that encompasses Richard Nixon and Watergate and the arrival of Donald Trump in the Oval Office. In this time frame, we’ve landed on the Moon, created Lady Gaga and sold a few billion I-phones around the world.

Many of these stories started out one way and changed dramatically in the writing. That happens to a lot of writers. Sometimes, the author is the most surprised one of all. Many of the characters in these stories, like Detective Lieutenant Stan Benecky of ‘The Cold, Hard Facts,’ are explorers and discoverers. Most of them discover things about themselves too. And what they discover is not always what they wanted to learn.

Recently, in my blog The Word Shed, I wrote about research into why we love stories so much…neurological research that’s taking advantage of new neuro-imaging techniques, along with some pretty cleverly designed experiments.

In October 2014, neurobiologist Paul Zak wrote these words in a journal devoted to brain research:

As social creatures, we depend on others for our survival and happiness. A decade ago, my lab discovered that a neurochemical called oxytocin is a key “it’s safe to approach others” signal in the brain. Oxytocin is produced when we are trusted or shown a kindness, and it motivates cooperation with others. It does this by enhancing the sense of empathy, our ability to experience others’ emotions. Empathy is important for social creatures because it allows us to understand how others are likely to react to a situation, including those with whom we work.”

The truth is that oxytocin is one key reason for why humans are hard-wired to love and respond to stories. Much of what Dr. Zak has found in his lab supports what writers and editors and readers have known for generations. Tell a rip-roaring story full of action, involving sympathetic and believable characters and you’ll hook your audience for the duration.

Dr. Zak goes to report on neurobiological evidence that supports what we’ve all know about telling good stories….

More recently my lab wondered if we could “hack” the oxytocin system to motivate people to engage in cooperative behaviors. To do this, we tested if narratives shot on video, rather than face-to-face interactions, would cause the brain to make oxytocin. By taking blood draws before and after the narrative, we found that character-driven stories do consistently cause oxytocin synthesis. Further, the amount of oxytocin released by the brain predicted how much people were willing to help others; for example, donating money to a charity associated with the narrative.

In subsequent studies we have been able to deepen our understanding of why stories motivate voluntary cooperation. (This research was given a boost when, with funding from the U.S. Department of Defense, we developed ways to measure oxytocin release noninvasively at up to one thousand times per second.) We discovered that, in order to motivate a desire to help others, a story must first sustain attention – a scarce resource in the brain – by developing tension during the narrative. If the story is able to create that tension then it is likely that attentive viewers/listeners will come to share the emotions of the characters in it, and after it ends, likely to continue mimicking the feelings and behaviors of those characters. This explains the feeling of dominance you have after James Bond saves the world, and your motivation to work out after watching the Spartans fight in (the movie) 300.”

Why does our brain love stories so much? In an article from the Greater Good Science Center (University of California, Berkeley) in December 2013, Zak says this: The first part of the answer is that as social creatures who regularly affiliate with strangers, stories are an effective way to transmit important information and values from one individual or community to the next. Stories that are personal and emotionally compelling engage more of the brain, and thus are better remembered, than simply stating a set of facts. Think of this as the “car accident effect.” You don’t really want to see injured people, but you just have to sneak a peek as you drive by. Brain mechanisms engage saying there might be something valuable for you to learn, since car accidents are rarely seen by most of us but involve an activity we do daily. That is why you feel compelled to rubberneck. To understand how this works in the brain, we have intensively studied brain response that watching (compelling video) produces. We have used this to build a predictive model that explains why after watching the video, about half of viewers donate to a charity. We want to know why some people respond to a story while others do not, and how to create highly engaging stories. We discovered that there are two key aspects to an effective story. First, it must capture and hold our attention. The second thing an effective story does is “transport” us into the characters’ world.”

Grabbing and maintaining attention and building empathy for your characters are thus two critically important jobs that any storyteller has to complete. There is now strong neural evidence to support this.


I said before that I wasn’t a big fan of big themes but it is a fact that there is some subject commonality among these stories. Two of them deal with time travel (‘Star-Crossed in Voidtime’ and ‘The Time Garden’). Four of them deal with the ramifications of a technology that has long fascinated me…the advent of nanoscale robotic assemblers with the ability to mass and swarm into all sorts of interesting formations. The stories dealing with this technology are ‘Homo Roboticus’, ‘Atomgrabbers’, ‘The Cold, Hard Facts’, and ‘The Better Angels.’ The onset of this technology, which we may well see in our lifetimes, is something I would rank with human-level AI…something so fraught with consequences and so potentially horrific that I have found myself lying awake at night just trying to put the demons to bed when I consider all the uses this technology might be put to.

In any case, I hope you’ll find the stories herein both enjoyable and thought-provoking….more of the latter.

Read on, my friend. And do keep the lights burning tonight….


Philip Bosshardt

Atlanta, Georgia

February 2017






Designs


Introduction


I first wrote this story in 1979. I had long been fascinated by how the job of an architect might translate into space…instead of designing buildings, an architect of the future might design planets…or at least planetoids. Thinking that, I realized designing whole worlds or worldlets would likely bring its own challenges. What effects would new worlds have on gravity around the solar system? If architects built dozens or hundreds of new places in space—think back to the days of L5 and Gerard O’Neill’s colony structures—how might they be organized? By ethnic group? By location…that could be easily enough changed? By economic model? Culture? Fashion or fads? I began to believe that terrestas---the name I gave to these worldlets—would explode like mushrooms after a summer rain. And they’d be organized in as many different ways as the people who built them could imagine.

The main character in this story, Phillipe Dugay, is tired. Tired of success and adoration, tired of fighting bureaucracies, tired of running from a scandal, just tired of life. Yet he gets a second wind when he runs into a long-lost love named Kate Lind and takes on the challenge of building the one thing he’s never had in his life…an enduring relationship with a strong woman. Maybe it’s the challenge of the idea. Maybe it’s the way she taunts him, telling him how he’s washed up. Like the mythical phoenix, Dugay can’t stop trying to rise from the ashes of a once-illustrious but now stunted career. Professional athletes and entertainers face the same question: when is it time to quit? For some, it’s never. For others, like Dugay, it’s when you finally achieve a goal you never knew you had.

Read on and find out how this happens….


1.


He brought the palomino to a skidding halt on the stone of the Mansion’s courtyard and left it in the hands of a faceless CyberMate. The gallop across the plains of his estate had left him exhilarated and breathless. Philippe Dugay enjoyed the classes he taught at the Institute (my Institute, he told himself—they come from all over the System) and sometimes wondered how things would have turned out had he taken such training. Pointless fantasy; his glory days were behind him and he knew it.

Dugay wandered inside, through the rotunda of the house. He’d modeled it on a Florentine palazzo, with apologies to Brunelleschi. A marvelous copy, too, but he’d come to despise it. He despised a lot these days; ten years’ time had dulled him to the beauty of the place. If he had another chance—but what was the point? Architects were born to create and for the last decade, he had managed to create only misery for himself.

A female cyberMate popped out of nowhere and handed him his usual stiff of gin. He started to tipple, then stopped. The Mate hadn’t droned off on another chore, like she was programmed to. A raised eyebrow got him an answer.

“You have a visitor, Monsieur Dugay,” she said, in an overly lush, recorded Parisian lilt.

“Where, dear?”

“Your penthouse study. That’s where you always go after your bath and rubdown.”

Was that a smirk he detected? “I’ll pass on the lust and depravity for now. Who is it?”

The cyberMate replied coldly, “His name is Lorenzo Jenkins.”

Dugay was already half into the lift when the name stopped him. “Lorenzo Jenkins? The Jenkins? Hmmm.” He waved the Mate off and took the lift up to his study.

It was Lorenzo all right, never a doubt about that. Jenkins ran the asteroid metropolis of Big-Venice-in-the Belt, the most popular vegas in the entire System, with every diversion and sin an ore driver or scoop pilot could want. The bald orb had already made himself comfortable, so Dugay dispensed with formalities.

“Enjoying yourself?”

“Wickedly,” Jenkins replied. He cocked his head and squinted as Dugay found a seat behind his desk. “Quite a cottage you’ve got here. They don’t make terretas like this anymore.”

“Never did,” said Dugay. “It’s an original.”

“Along with a few thousand others. How’d you happen on the name terreta anyway?”

“’Small Earth.’ We light up the night with orbiting mirrors and they call those solettas or lunettas. So—terretas. A city in a bottle. Clever, no?”

“Clever, yes. Terretas made the Inner Ring possible. Civilization in space without them? Fah, who could imagine it? No room for luxuries in a makeshift fuel tank, which is what my great-grandfather called home out there. You opened space to the masses, Dugay. Every time they turn out another terreta, it’s got your name on it.”

“Along with Shepard and Kangyo’s. So how’s business?”

Jenkins smiled as Dugay polished off the drink and poured them both another. “Booming. You ought to pay a visit. I hear you never leave this place anymore?”

Dugay handed him a goblet. You had to be wary of Jenkins. The man was wired like a machine and spent hours plugged into Big Venice through implanted tabs. The tales had it that he was so sensitive to the subtle electrical fields of that city that he could pick up the micro-currents of another man’s nervous system and decipher his impulses before they ever reached his brain.

“I live in the past,” he admitted. “I’ve done enough for one man. Besides, there’s the Institute. The kids’ll take terraforming farther than ever.” He hoped that sounded sincere enough.

“They’ll have to go some to beat your act. Giving the moon an atmosphere was quite a stunt.”

“It was no stunt,” said Dugay. “Within a year after I’d crossed Tranquility in a sailboat, Selenopolis had doubled in population and the Amber Shores resort was almost finished. I turned the Moon into real estate.”

Jenkins tried to smother a smile at the success of his own tactic. “And Venus. Mars. Delambre too. All the terretas. Any one of them would make you a name to reckon with in this pantheon of greats, right up there with Wren, Sullivan, Wright, Le Corbusier.”

“All right, so I like to be flattered.”

Jenkins turned serious for a moment. “I can do more than that, Philippe. I need you and I’m offering the biggest commission you’ve ever heard of.”

“A commission? Now?” Dugay forced a laugh that wasn’t as contemptuous as he intended. “I’ve been out of circulation for ten years. Techniques have changed. Styles are different.”

“You run an academy for the terraforming arts. And who says genius is ever obsolete? Your name and reputation are powerful magic anywhere in the System. Just listen for a minute.”

“I’m all ears.”

“I’m a Belt man, pure and simple. My business is ninety per cent scoopers and ore drivers and their families. With the Inner Ring and the Belt states competing against each other, it won’t be long before all the asteroids are picked clean. We’re running into limits but there’s still a lot of momentum behind our expansion. That kind of squeeze makes things expensive, so we have to look outward.”

“The gas giants.”

“Exactly. The biggest terraforming project there is. I’ve got the backing of a lot of investors from Canto del Aria to Rock City. We’re going after the big worlds. And we want you in charge.”

“What have you got in mind?”

Jenkins didn’t blink. “Dismantling Jupiter.”

“And?”

“And constructing another Ring of terretas, just beyond the Belt. An Outer Ring, financed by this consortium I’ve put together. With ready-made worlds of your design, the Belt would attract hordes of new settlers.”

Dugay took a deep breath. “You got any idea how long it would take to dismantle Jupiter?”

“Eight years, one hundred and ten days and a handful of hours, by my calculations. Wrap the planet in a spool of electric cable, pump current into it and speed up the rotation to once an hour. The King of Planets would unravel at the equator like a ball of thread.”

“It’s an intriguing plan,” said Dugay. “I’m highly impressed. I’m also old and tired, with too many responsibilities.” He flinched reaching for his gin. “I can’t even go a day without a massage. What about my students?”

“Bring ‘em with you. They couldn’t have a better education.”

“I don’t know—“

“Think of it this way: everywhere you go in the Inner Ring, Philippe, you see nothing but structures you’ve designed and built. Monuments with your name on them. Isn’t that discouraging? Out beyond the Belt is virgin space, unbuilt, just waiting for the distinctive imprint of a genius. You could be that genius. Unless you’re afraid of the challenge.”

Dugay stiffened at that. “I’m not in the habit of refusing commissions. What if I asked for enough material to construct a small planet of my own, purely for aesthetic purposes?”

“Done,” said Jenkins. “Whatever you want. I was able to attract so many investors because I offered them Philippe Dugay. Don’t make me swallow my promises. Do we have an agreement?”

There was a brief knock on the door and it burst open before Dugay could open his mouth. Jean Dugay walked in, heedless of his father’s privacy and, seeing Jenkins, introduced himself. He was a lanky fellow, like his mother Alix, poor dear, with a shock of dark brown hair and the haughty face of a Dugay. My prize pupil, Dugay thought. But no favorites in the classroom, not in the Dugay Institute for Terraforming Arts. A steady hand molds the talent.

“Jean, we were having a conversation.”

“I know, Father, but there’s news you should hear. Kate Lind is making another tour of the Inner Ring and she’s stopping here at Patagonia tomorrow. I thought you’d like to know.”

“Kate? Coming here?” Dugay glanced at Jenkins, who wore a frown. How many years had it been?

“It’s wonderful, isn’t it?” Jean asked. “She’s making a special trip.”

Jenkins snorted. “I’m thrilled to death. That woman’s got more tentacles than a jellyfish. And a sting to match.”

“She’s not coming to see you,” Jean said.

“Just as—“

“Never mind that,” Dugay interrupted. He lurched up out of his seat and draped an arm around Jean’s shoulder. “Go down to the commissary and tell Helga to think up something original. Kate likes seafood, as I recall; maybe a sole Venus.”

Jean left and Jenkins muttered, “The Linds aren’t worth flattering. Give her a fillet of barnacle.”

“The Dugays and the Linds go back two hundred years,” said Dugay. “We have this little sport of trying to outdo each other. Harmless displays of extravagance.”

“The arrogance of power. You know Katerine Lind well?”

Dugay nodded ruefully. “A little too well. I still remember the silly games we played at Balmoral. She always chased me at jet-tag. I guess nothing ever changes.”

“This commission is yours,” said Jenkins. “We won’t consider anyone else.”

Dugay stopped beside the desk and picked up a scale model of Patagonia. He turned the cylinder end for end, admiring the proportions. “Kate’s coming back,” he said, almost to himself. And one love is enough. He thought of the Institute and what it meant to him. Fifty years of work, reshaping the Solar System and now a brood of bright-eyed kids, absorbing every word like a biblical truth. Lord, don’t the memories cling? She still had the power to shatter a lifetime of atonement. How else do you bury the faces a terraformer’s mistake can conjure? “No,” he said, a little more forcefully than he wanted. “I’ll make a decision in a few days.”

Jenkins didn’t like it. He’d seen what Jean’s words had done. “Influence like that is a poison. You won’t reconsider and say yes now?”

Dugay shook his head. “I need time.”

Jenkins rose to leave. “Brother, you need more than that. Take a trip to the Belt, if you like. Ask around. Get away from that all-seeing eye of the Linds. You’re welcome to anything Big Venice has to offer.”

“Thanks.” They shook hands and Dugay escorted Jenkins down to the front terrace of the Mansion. “I may do that. If I can.”

“You can,” said Jenkins. “And my offer stands. You’re needed out there, Philippe. Your vision’s worth all the ore in the Belt any day. Don’t live in the past. You’ve still got some genius left in that old body and you’re the only custodian that matters. Save the goods for the right customer and give me a call when you’re ready, okay?”

“Promise,” said Dugay. He thanked Jenkins for a few kind lies and saw him away in the flyer. The machine sped for Patagonia’s port and was only a black dot when he went back inside.

Maybe it was time to make a little call. Dugay went to his office.


2.


The trouble was that everything had been done. For ten years, Dugay had lived in seclusion at Patagonia, content to believe his reputation was secure, hoping that History would judge his errors kindly. What the public didn’t know was that his own conscience wasn’t so sympathetic.

Strict ordinances forbade new buildings on Earth. With the advent of biological architecture, cultivating structures like plants, new buildings were not only unnecessary, they were a menace. There were no architects on Earth anymore, only gardeners.

The inner planets had long since been terraformed into habitable worlds for Man and already the settlements there had passed immigration laws, less than half a century after the first real estate agents had swooped in and made teeming suburbs out of his work.

Even the Moon was settled now and Dugay took great pride in that achievement. It was so simple an idea that people laughed when it was explained to them, even today. Bake out the oxygen in the soil for a few years with a couple dozen solar concentrators to get the atmosphere and then slam a few iceberg asteroids into it to provide some volatiles—carbon, nitrogen, water and the like. The design was easy. The execution wasn’t but then you never could get decent help. He had managed anyway and then sailed the lunar seas for promotion.

Even that had grown old after a while. Living space was soon at a premium so he had collaborated with several other designers—Kurt Klamath being the most notable-- to create a mass-producible artificial habitat, the most ubiquitous architectural form of the modern era. Terretas they were called—a stunning example of simple utility that rivaled the Pyramids, the cathedrals and the skyscrapers in the impact it had. For a while, that took the pressure off, as Man’s numbers swelled to fill the new worlds.

Expanding population, competition for the rich lodes of the Asteroid Belt, shipping monopolies, it all added up to one thing, one inevitable result where men were concerned. Dugay’s father had gained fame as a diplomat in the Ice Wars and maybe he should be thankful for that. Fame was a sort of power. Yet the resulting cleavage of the inhabited System into two grand bickering alliances, plus a few score stragglers, was not something to be proud of. Dugay knew his father had dreamed of uniting all solar space someday but it was only a dream. The Dugays were good at that.

Now there were two, the Inner Ring and the Belt. For his efforts, the elder Dugay had been awarded a high position in the government of the Ring and money sufficient to build the family estate, the terreta Patagonia. Here, he had raised Philippe and taught him the value of ambition. His mother, Janice Holberg, dead now almost sixty years from the time of the sabotage-disaster of the Olympian Empress, had taught him the value of beauty. Ever since, he had fought skirmishes with his own nature, split as it was between the ancient Gallic arrogance of his father and the pragmatism of his mother. All his life, Philippe had served three masters: France, America and himself.

After the lunar atmosphere and the terretas, came the grandest project at all, the chance every architect dreamed of.

The Inner Ring needed a capital city. They were in competition with the cities of the Belt, not only for resources but for prestige. At stake were the outer planets—Jupiter to Pluto—and the iceballs further out, and the infinity of wealth each of these giants represented. Hydrogen, helium, carbon, silicon and aluminum, enough to power civilization for centuries.

It was to be a grand city, worthy of the magnificent capitals of the past. Money was no object and time was plentiful. What was lacking was imagination, the inspiration to do something never done before. They called on Philippe Dugay.

It was finished in twenty-two years and was known as Delambre. It was almost beyond description, not because it was beautiful—some called it an abomination—but because of its scale. A small planetary core was fused from fragments scooped in the Belt. The worldlet supported a grid of smaller fused cores, connected by cylinders, sprouting globes, spinning wheels and cones, every imaginable geometric shape was employed at least once and the eye could not encompass it all, even at a considerable distance. It stretched five thousand kilometers in any direction and was home to thirty million people. At a quarter million kilometers away, it resembled an unearthly spider web.

The acclaim that followed hadn’t been seen in generations. Not since Wren had rebuilt London after the Great Fire of 1666 and Sullivan had transformed Chicago with the first skyscraper, had one man put his imprint so firmly on a single city.

The name Dugay came to rival that of Lind, the solar-power family who had dominated inner System commerce for two centuries. The two words were spoken with equal reverence in the Chamber of Deputies at Delambre. Philippe was granted privileges of council, even though he was not a member. And his private terreta, Patagonia, was redone into the kind of home from which legends were made.

But it was not enough. No one had granted him the ability to forget. All the acclaim in the System couldn’t erase the memory of his very first commission and Kate Lind knew that. It was a memory called Athalonia.

Arthur Lind had given him the idea and the money. It was the sort of plan men of great wealth thought up—bold, extravagant, symbolic, foolish and a hundred other things. Nothing like it had ever been done or even attempted before. But he’d accepted because you didn’t refuse a man like Lind. Not when you were fresh out of design school and eager for a place in the history of man usually reserved for saints, saviors and empire-builders.

Lind invited him to the family estate in the terreta Balmoral and showed him a map of Earth. He pointed to the Atlantic Ocean.

“See that gap there between Europe and the Americas?” he asked. “That’s where Plato put Atlantis. The trouble with Earth is that every continent’s already accounted for, politically affiliated. They need a new continent down there, a place where misfits and malcontents can roam without laws. A place like no other—tropical, prairie, mountains, everything a pioneer could want. I want to make a gift to the groundlanders, for letting me sell them the Sun.” He took Dugay by the shoulder. “Your father Raymonde’s a good man, so I know you can do it, Philippe. Build me a new continent, right there in the middle of the Atlantic Ocean.”

Why not?

How it came to be called Athalonia, Dugay could not recall. Every other continent save one began with an A. But no matter. He had a chance to make his mark and, with Lind backing, quite a mark it would be. A passport to history.

All you had to do was juice up the mid-Atlantic rift. The open seam that split the ocean basin was always bubbling up new matter from deep inside the Earth’s crust. Ready-made building materials. He studied tectonics, volcanology and geomorphology and went to work.

But the problem was that no one really understood how the rift worked. The floor of the ocean kept spreading apart but the mechanism wasn’t fully understood. This didn’t overly bother Dugay; it was enough that it worked at all.

Then disaster struck. Athalonia was an intruder, built up too quickly for the ocean to compensate. By the time the first scattered island peaks had emerged south of the Azores, floods and tidal waves had wrecked America’s East Coast, from Maine to Miami. For months, hundreds, then thousands died as a new archipelago appeared where once the Sargasso Sea had been. Havoc spread around the Atlantic basin. London and Lisbon, Rio and Lagos, every coastal city was hit and devastated. Governments fell and anger swelled. Commissions were formed to investigate and when it was learned that Arthur Lind was behind the idea, the fury couldn’t be contained. How, the people asked, could something like this be permitted, when no one knew just how the rift worked? They screamed for a scapegoat.

That’s when Philippe Dugay left Earth for good, disguised as a French immigrant to the Inner Ring.

Arthur Lind wasn’t a vindictive man, just puzzled. People were such ingrates; they never understood why men of wealth gave gifts. He was magnanimous too, sympathetic to Dugay’s plight.

“Not to worry, old chum. You’ll be safe from the mobs. I’ve seen to it that another man, a fellow named Preston Sawyer, takes the blame. No one will ever know you were associated with Athalonia.”

Dugay was both relieved and ashamed. “That isn’t really fair. I just want to explain some things—“

“Tut, tut. I’ll hear no more of it. We can’t have Dugays locked up like criminals, now can we? What would your father think of me? No, Arthur Lind is a generous man. We’ll save your reputation for something else. You’re young, plenty of time to make your own blunders.”

He met Katerine shortly thereafter.

It took years for the furor over Athalonia to die down. Dugay spent them hiding at Balmoral, brooding. Long walks through the estate’s re-created historical scenes could not take his mind off the disaster. Even a few days spent as Lord Wellington in the Waterloo memory drama didn’t help. He made occasional trips back to Patagonia, once for the sad duty of burying his father. But for the most part, he thought it wiser to conceal himself in the vast bosom of the Lind empire, at least until he was sure it was safe.

Katerine was a small woman, of alabaster skin, almost delicate, with remarkable bearing for her young age. She seemed frail and vulnerable at times, but Dugay soon found out differently. She was outwardly a woman and, though she would take it as a compliment, she was that in name only. As a child of the Lind name, she was purely a creature of power, naturally at ease in the center of the webs of intrigue her family had been spinning since the first sunsat beamed its microwaves at the Earth two centuries ago.

Kate wasn’t a spoiled child, not in the usual sense of too much love or attention. Dugay learned quickly enough the kind of upbringing she would have: exhausting years at the family college, Lindhall, at Balmoral; long years as the manager of a lonely solsat inside Mercury’s orbit, when the Inner Grid was being established. She had learned about men there. When she returned to Balmoral after Arthur Lind’s fatal airpolo accident, she wasn’t the same person Dugay had first known. She was hardened, toughened, cynical and ruthless. Very much in the Lind tradition. She had clawed her way to the Delambrian Plutarchy in no time.

She developed an intense fascination for Dugay. She admired ambition and because he was built of ambition and pride and a thirst for adventure, she indulged him. By the time of her own mother’s death, Kate had been effectively running Balmoral for years. The huge Lind combine was her toy and she used it to finance every dream Philippe could think of. She enjoyed his success and as the Dugay star climbed in the firmament, she basked in the light of his fame.


At first, Dugay was cautious in her company. She was the oldest of the surviving Linds and she alone knew the truth about Athalonia. He was careful to avoid the subject, though guilt wracked him relentlessly, and Kate seldom brought it up. She was by turns affectionate and cunning, sensitive and cold. He respected her at first, wary of the power she had over him, the weapon she wielded by her knowledge. But she did nothing, seemingly content to nourish his career with transfusions of Lind money.

Making up for Athalonia became the most important thing in his life. He accepted her designs on him because the commissions she offered made it possible. Each project was grander than the last, another brick in the wall he tried to build around his own memory. He founded an institute of terraforming arts, to give back what he’d learned and ensure that the professions would be free of charlatans; mistakes were too costly with whole worlds at stake. The institute became a passion as Dugay labored to perfect the field he had nearly destroyed.

He and Kate lived together at Balmoral until Delambre was finished. By normal standards, it wasn’t love that kept them together. It started as respect, then slowly graduated to fond courtesy, with occasional excursions into admiration and sympathy and once, fleetingly, a frightening descent into tenderness. But never love.

They sometimes shared a bed but it was more common for them to live apart, sometimes in different mansions, since Balmoral had seven. Kate insisted on it, saying that she liked to imagine she was seeing him for the first time, every morning, when they often strolled through the lush foliage of the terreta’s garden districts. When the demands of the Plutarchy became too great and required her to spend weeks on end away from Balmoral, he began to miss her and felt silly when he realized it.

Feeling neglected, he eventually returned to Patagonia.

Years passed before she paid a visit and even then, it was some official excursion through the Ring that brought her. They never kissed at these infrequent reunions. Just a smile, a cocked head, a few words. The intimacy of conspirators, Dugay imagined it. When she was away and silent, he drifted on a sea of anxiety, never knowing for sure what she was up to. When she was around Patagonia, it was different, the weapon was sheathed. He never knew whether he had liked her because he had to or because he wanted to.

But time has a way of wasting people and distance wore thin the feelings that once existed. Dugay knew that he had been used by the Linds. A simple rule had governed his career: work for the Linds, build whatever they ask and in return, get lifelong immunity from the jaws of Athalonia. A fair exchange, Kate had termed it. Your talent for our silence. Quid pro quo. In the comfortable and familiar luxuries of Patagonia, he had learned to hate himself.

The liaison with Kate had finally lapsed into dust and Dugay spent a decade in seclusion, steeped in all the honor and adulation an amazed solar system would bestow. The name was legend and eager students flocked to DITA to stare agog and soak up the wisdom of the man who had suburbanized space. He married, had a son, lost a wife, and almost managed to forget that out there beyond Patagonia’s well-tended fields of wheat and grass and poppies, lurked another name.

Almost.


3.


Patagonia’s sunward endcap was a miniature paradise. Dugay had redesigned it in the years he had spent tending the estate. Foaming cataracts drifted lazily in the low gravity, a scaled down replica of Victoria Falls. Clouds of spray swirled in precisely calculated patterns, encouraging the exuberant growth of tropical flora. Wiry pandanus swayed on thin stilt-like trunks; palm trees coiled in bizarre helicals and thick bush matted the floor of the forest preserve. Low-g did that to plants.

Kate splashed across the pool to the rock wall and hoisted herself up on her elbows, half out of the water.

“Are you going to tell me or do I have to torture it out of you? That was Lorenzo Jenkins’ ship I saw docked here, wasn’t it?”

“You’ve got awfully big eyes,” Dugay replied. He lay on his back on a marble bench, a few meters away, staring up at the mirrored blaze of the Sun.

“Ears too. I hear rumors.”

“Like what?”

“Like Philippe Dugay may be coming out of seclusion.”

Dugay sat up abruptly. “Who told you that?”

Kate smiled. “Come off it, Philippe. There’s not a treaty signed or a bribe taken that I don’t know about. My father once told me that Dugays are like old stars dying, going nova. Expanding, heating up everything around them, blowing off tremendous energy until they trigger themselves to flash.” She paused long enough to force his curiosity. “Then, they detonate, destroying everything nearby.”

Dugay forced a wan smile. “Arthur Lind never could speak metaphorically.”

“But it’s true, isn’t it? I can feel it. You’ve been quiet for ten years and something’s got you agitated now. You haven’t stared at the sky like that in ages.”

Dugay slipped into the pool and cupped some water over his face. “Lorenzo offered me a commission. A big one.” He let the admission lay there.

“Come on,” Kate chided, kicking him. “Tell me before you wet your pants.”

“Since you’re so interested, I will. He’s setting up a project to dismantle Jupiter and use the material to build an Outer Ring, beyond the Belt. I’m supposed to design the technique and supervise it. Not only that—he’s giving me full control of the results. I can create anything I want: terretas, small planetoids, whatever.”

Kate made an affecting moue of her face. “You sound convinced. What did you say?”

Dugay glided across the pool on his back. “I said I’d think on it. The whole project would take years, maybe decades. Who knows? I might not even live to see the end of it.”

“You’ll live, if it means that much to you. But what about me?”

He hadn’t heard her. Dugay stood up and let the falls sluice over his head, shaking himself like a dog as the water thundered down from a rock ledge. Kate watched him. He was a puzzle and she’d never found the pattern. Too much thinking gives Kate a big head. Did he even suspect how much she needed him now? Life as a Lind—now there was a puzzle. The family phobia, right? Don’t you dare die without doing something to credit your name. No wonder he’d finally left for Patagonia.

Kate sloshed through the water and joined him. She had to yell.

“I won’t let go of you that easily, mister!”

They left the pool and dried off under a tree that breathed warm, scented air over them. Jean appeared, leading a parade of cyberMates. The three of them dined on sole Venus and Soleil de Rothschilde ’21, under a shady bower.

She could see how much Jean meant to him. You lost your big chance, sweetie, when Alix came along. They were alike in so many ways—the same aquiline nose, the same slice of mouth. She figured she’d done a fine job hiding the jealousy. But seeing Jean, that was a slap in the face. Jean was a symptom of what had gone wrong between them and the perquisites of the Plutarchy could never quite compensate for the loss.

They chatted amicably enough, with Kate alert to every glance Jean stole from her. When they had finished, she lightly suggested they go mountain climbing, but Dugay nixed that. Instead, Jean whistled down a Mate and had her fetch a pair of horses, bred for low-g riding. The next hour was agony but she inwardly applauded her own graciousness. She said nothing as she glared at the two riders, cutting figure-8’s and spirals in the high grass of Patagonia’s plains.

Tired but laughing, Dugay rode back to the arbor and hoisted her up on the saddle behind him. “The grand tour,” he told her and the pinto neighed softly. “I’ve redone my Babylon again. Moved it across the river.”

“I’ll go too,” said Jean but his father had other ideas.

“You’ll go study, pal. You’ve got a dissertation coming up soon. I want to see all of you slaving away when I get back to the Mansion. Old Man Dugay runs a tight Institute, so get.”

Disappointed, Jean said good-bye and charged off into the grass, his horse leaping hills at full gallop. Dugay nudged his own mount into an easy trot across the field and they made the river in good time.

He led the pinto carefully along the rocky river bed as it splashed to the other side. An arc of slowly falling water spray followed them across.

“Why did you come back, Kate? After so long, I mean.”

She nestled her chin against his back and said, “I know this isn’t Balmoral. I know we’re not in our twenties anymore but I need you, Philippe. I had to come back.”

“Oh, come off it. I don’t con that easily anymore. Time paints things in different colors. Life was bright and sharp at Balmoral. Now it’s mostly grays. Tell me the truth.”

She choked him playfully but he shook her hands off. “I don’t want you to take that commission. It’s a mistake.”

“What’s it to you? You afraid I’m not your little play toy anymore?”

“It was never that way, Philippe.”

“Wasn’t it? I was your prisoner at Balmoral. Your father sheltered me from the Athalonia investigations. God, I was one scared guy back then. It was so horrible and I was so anxious, don’t you see? I owed him. So when his little girl developed an appetite for scared and foolish young architects, what could I do? Leave?”

“You could have left. Nobody chained you to Balmoral. Or me.”

“So I chained myself.” They vaulted up onto the opposite bank and shivered as the horse shook himself dry. “It’s—I really can’t explain it, Kate. The groundlanders had to have somebody to blame and I ran because it would have been me. I’m sorry if you think that was cowardice. Maybe it was. But I’ve had to live with that for nearly fifty years.”

“It was human,” said Kate. “And it’s over. You made up for it. No man’s done more to change the face of the solar system than you.”

Dugay shook his head bitterly. “I’m the one who needed you. To get my career out of the flames.”

Ahead of them, a full-scale replica of Babylon loomed. Dugay reined in the horse at the edge of the processional way. A huge arching gate beckoned them, glittering with glazed tiles of ceremonial bulls and dragons. Dugay had spent years reconstructing the city, right down to the Tower of Babel and the Hanging Gardens. Their steps echoed as they walked across the stone.

“Look,” said Kate, grabbing his arm. “No architect ever built anything worthwhile that didn’t have a powerful backer behind it. There’s no shame in that. I really came here to start over.”

“You came here to talk me out of this commission.”

She released him and walked a few steps away, stopping at the feet of a marble lion. “I had other reasons, Philippe, but yes. I want you to turn Lorenzo Jenkins down.”

“Nothing changes, does it? You always loved power more than anything, more than me. You still do. It’s an aphrodisiac to you. The trouble is that the System’s not just populated by Dugays. Other people don’t have to play pet the way I did.”

Kate turned on him. The soft glow of her face had hardened now, as if she were wearing a changeable mask. She was colder in this one.

“The gas giants are our future, Philippe. You know that. We can’t rely on the Belt for raw materials much longer. The supply’s giving out and the price is going up. Jupiter and the rest of the outer planets are the only source of hydrogen, carbon, water-ice and other volatiles left. If Jenkins or another Belt state gets to them first, the Inner Ring will be paying extortion prices in no time, if we can get the stuff at all. I’m not of a mind to let that happen.”

“So you thought you’d drop by and break my arm if I refused to quit.”

“I thought,” said Kate, “that I could count on your memory to help me. Everything you’ve done in your career was commissioned by my family. Ever hear of loyalty?”

“I spell it a different way, Kate. This one is too big to pass up.”

“I thought you were through playing Mr. Famous Architect but if it’s a challenging assignment you want, allow me to open up the family bank vaults. I’m sure I could bribe the Chamber into funding an expedition to Jupiter. Or would it gall you to work for me again?”

“You’re getting very warm.”

“Philippe, look,” she was trying on another mask, “I came here for two reasons. One, political and one, personal. Forget the politics for a moment.”

“I will if you will.”

“Please,” she glared at him, “just listen. I know what it’s been like for you. I’m not stupid. I can see.” She let her hands drop to her side, then sat on the front paws of the lion. “I’m not some ogre, you know, despite what you think. I’m a Lind and that means I have to do things, I’m expected to do big, important things. Each of us has to earn the name, every generation, over and over again, by doing something noteworthy, something that eclipses what past Linds have done. You can’t imagine what it’s like, the weight of all that tradition. I feel so vulnerable; it’s like all the stars of the galaxy were the eyes of my ancestors, staring at me, waiting for me to make my mark. I haven’t yet, Philippe. I haven’t done anything.”

Dugay smothered a smile. It was rare to glimpse any feeling in her. “What utter bullshit. You’ll have to do better than that.”

She stood up. “What I’m trying to say, Philippe, is that I need you because I don’t feel so…exposed, when you’re around. It’s that simple. I guess that’s the main reason I was so anxious to finance every project you could think of. Through you, I could live up to my name. You bet your scoops I used you. And I’m not through with you yet. If I let you do work for Lorenzo Jenkins, the bond between us broken. I want history to write our names together: Kate Lind made Philippe Dugay possible. Our fates are inseparable and that’s all there is to it. If you won’t do it for my sake, do it for yours. Refuse this commission.”

“I’ve done too much for your sake already, Kate,” said Dugay. He wandered along the wall, running his hands over a menagerie of mosaic beasts. A falcon in flight caught his eye. “I am doing this for my sake. This is probably my last project and I’ll never have a better chance to prove I don’t need you. Besides that, what would Jean and my students think of me if I turned down this chance? I’m a god to them, Kate: they idolize me. I owe it to them to show what terraforming can do—how far the field as advanced and what their responsibilities are. You could come to Jupiter with me, you know.”

“Impossible. The Plutarch can’t just leave her duties like that. And you do need me, whether you know it or not. We need each other. You’ve done enough for one man, haven’t you? You mentioned students. Step aside and give them a chance. Give your swollen ego a rest.”

Dugay shook his head. “I haven’t done this. How can I pass up an opportunity like this, Kate? The outer worlds are an open frontier, just crying to be developed. Someone’s going to benefit—why shouldn’t it be me?”

“I’m really surprised you could forget so quickly. Maybe I shouldn’t be, but Christ, Philippe, ten years is nothing.” She started to approach him but Dugay turned so abruptly that she stopped dead. “I believe I understand now. You’ve gone Belt—I can’t explain it any other way. All the commissions I gave you—hell, I made you what you are!—now this. I loved you, I financed you, I covered up for you—how can you be so selfish and ungrateful? What did Jenkins offer you—a home in heaven?”

“Kate, it isn’t the end of—“

“You don’t have to say anything else,” she blurted. Her eyes were moist but her face was steel. “I understand perfectly well.” She bit her lip and tried to hide it. You haven’t lost him yet, girl. Use what you have. Fight back like a Lind. “You’re too important to give up, Philippe.” Stop shaking. “You’re a valuable resource to the Inner Ring and I can’t let you take this commission. We won’t concede any one of the gas worlds to the Belt, not a one of them.” Not you either, chum. “I see this project as a direct threat and I mean to stop it.”

“What’s cooking in that little mind of yours? Some kind of devious plot, I’ll bet.”

“Smirk if you want to but it’s rather simple, actually. If you accept the Jupiter commission, the whole System will know who was really behind Athalonia inside of a day. I’ll see to it myself.”

The threat stung despite his forced show of calm. Dugay hovered on the edge of fear, until he willed himself to react. Take it easy and think, don’t panic. She wants panic.

“This is a pretty serious threat, Kate. Better think of the repercussions first. It was Arthur Lind who conceived Athalonia.”

“Doesn’t matter. The design and execution were yours and that can be documented. How will you explain yourself to the System then—all those deaths, the flooding and everything? Groundlanders ought to find it very interesting. So will your students at the Institute, when they find out their hero is a monster.”

He was appalled and couldn’t hide it. “Kate, you aren’t serious about this.”

“I am. Quite serious. If I can’t have you, no one will.”

“I must say blackmail’s quite becoming to you. And real love is alien. But I’m a big boy now and threats like this don’t bother me.”

Her eyes blazed. “Was it ever love?”

Dugay shrugged and unhitched the horse from the gate. “I’d call it calculated charm. We loved using each other. But those days are gone, Kate. You can’t grow roses in a bed of ashes.”

She stiffened but her eyes betrayed a flare of hope. She wanted to say something but thought better of it. Pride, Dugay thought. She’s drowning in it. When she blinked again, it was gone. Extinguished by a tear.

“There’s nothing more to say, Philippe.” She flinched at the thought. “I’m sorry it had to come to this.”

“Me too.” There was a tactful pause. “Need a ride back?”

“I’ll walk.” And before another tear could fall, she clattered across the marble plaza and ran through the gate.

Dugay steadied the pinto and hauled himself up. It was a long ride back to the Mansion and he played with the idea of calling a flyer. No, better take the long way. Give her a chance to leave gracefully. What did she think I would do, after all these years—jump into her arms? He kicked the horse to a gallop.

And what if I had?


4.


For several days, the Brasilia drifted through the urban clutter of the Inner Ring. Dugay had arranged this little field trip for the benefit of his students: his private cruiser served admirably as a traveling classroom. There was no better way to display what terraforming could achieve than by showing them at close range what he had spent his life doing.

He assembled them on the ship’s observation deck and gave them some background. Jean was there, along with a cute blond waif he hadn’t noticed before. Probably new, he thought.

“We’ll start with the Moon. That was the first major terraforming project.”

The waif had a voice and used it. “Mr. Dugay, weren’t there experiments done on Earth before that?’ She seemed harmless enough but the question rattled him.

Dugay replied, “True but they were small-scale, proving out basic theories on tectonic control. Not really useful on inert worlds like the Moon.” She seemed satisfied but he wondered and kept an eye on her throughout the lecture.

The Brasilia assumed a low orbit about the Moon and the students watched silently as the hazy blue of the lunar atmosphere slid under them. The little devils are flabbergasted, Dugay told himself. But you needn’t gloat so—they’re all young and impressionable. Except for her.

Dugay pointed through a porthole to a figure-8 shaped ocean partly hidden under a bank of gray clouds.

“The far shore, to the right. See that island there?” He waited until the others acknowledged. “That’s Mitika Peak, nearly five thousand meters from the floor of the sea.”

“What’s that wake behind it?” someone asked. “Some kind of current?”

“It’s called the Swirl. That’s my name. When I sailed from Vitruvius to the Rocks of Apollo, I nearly sank in those waters. Perpetual whirlpool, caused by gas venting on the floor of the mare basin.”

They seemed properly impressed. All but the waif, that is. She was watching him, not the Moon.

“I liked it better when it was an airless desert. Now it’s not so bright, what with all that air and forest land. Pretty dull place, like most worlds made habitable by Man.”

And that was well before your time, dear. Who is this girl anyway?

They were crossing the barren hills of the Apennines, now an archipelago of dome-like islands, with scores of cottages and bungalows shining brightly in the dusklight.

“The weather was better back then, too,” someone cracked. Forced laughter filled the deck.

Dugay smiled and resumed the lecture, as the dark gray-blue of the Sea of Rains filled the view. They soon passed around the Moon and admired the rugged terrain of Farside, even spotting a few skiers from their faint trails in the powder and a hikers’ camp from its campfire. Dugay talked until the balmy shores of the Sea of Crises came up on them, then fell silent as the ship moved on to other sights.

The field trip took them by each of the inner planets, for a short course in planetary engineering. The rings of Mercury were in view when he listed the standard techniques terraforming had perfected over the years, in its search for the lever by which a world could be altered.

You could change a planet with biology, he told them. The right kind of fast-growing, specially-engineered organisms could affect a planet’s atmosphere and break down harmful components.

You could introduce needed lighter elements by diverting ice asteroids or water comets onto the surface. If the mass were great enough, you could change a planet’s length of day, as he had done with Venus, when he’d bought a few score asteroids from the Belt and crashed them onto the Venusian surface. That gave the planet a lower temperature and more water as well as an Earth-like day.

You could manipulate planetary climates, with oil slicks to control ocean evaporation or with huge mats of minute particles to control dust storms, as he’d tried with Mars. Dugay briefly described how he’d managed to darken the Martian ice caps with material mined from Phobos, thus trapping more sunlight and tilting the Red Planet into a warmer, rainier cycle. The process had been aided by triggering the volcanoes that covered much of the surface, releasing more water and volatile gases than the poles themselves contained.

Or you could take Mercury. They skirted the rings just close enough for everyone to see that they consisted of trillions of overlapping chunks of rock, a sort of parasol in the sky that had been necessary to shield the surface from the searing breath of the Sun. “Once we had the cycle broken,” Dugay explained, “it was a simple matter of adding the right elements from ice asteroids. The first hotels came a decade later. Notice that because the rings overlap, fully half of Mercury’s surface is always in shadow. Anyone for Sun sailing?”

He let them gape for a while and fielded a few questions. Occasionally, he challenged them to think of alternatives to his own methods. He was surprised by the answers; it was a bright group. But he couldn’t help beaming whenever Jean responded. No doubt about it—his own son was the class celebrity.

Patagonia was several days away, so Dugay took them on an extensive tour of the Inner Ring. Though he had seen and visited virtually every city around the Ring, and indeed, had designed and built many of them, Dugay couldn’t pass by without scrutinizing them as only an architect could. He’d been proud of his accomplishments here once, a long time ago. He smiled inwardly, thinking perhaps Lorenzo Jenkins was right after all. The Inner Ring was indelibly stamped with his own personality. Dugay was written everywhere—in the spider web grids of Delambre, in the flowery pod structures of Gloriana, in the severe but always expanding Bauhaus cubes of Hochstadt, one kilometer after another of terretas of every imaginable shape: cylinders, horns, spheres, wheels, shapes based on obscure mathematical equations; even the ubiquitous ball-and-beam construction of the Ring’s dismal factory belts. All of them signatures in steel and synthalloy of Philippe Dugay.


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