"Polynesians. Vikings. Mayans. All here," said Zenia. "Why?" She and Korda walked along the estuary overlook back towards _Sagan_. This ocean world was lovely in a greenish kind of way. They had found nothing that had been inhabited for at least two hundred years. The ghost-town feel of the place only added to its charm.

"Maybe they're not just here," said Korda. "Maybe they're everywhere. Gliese is only the first star system for us to visit. Humanity may have spread in all directions."

"Been spread, you mean," Zenia corrected. "These Starwhales of Gunnar's. They just gave a colony of explorers a lift – for no reason? What price did they exact? What did they expect in return?"

The comm crackled. "Korda!" Zhizhi shouted. "He's…" The line went dead.

Korda and Zenia exchanged glances. Then they ran for _Sagan_.

Korda pulled his shockrod out of his belt as they approached the ship. There was screaming coming from deep inside _Sagan_'s belly. The screaming ended abruptly, and what was left of Gold came flying down the ramp. The bloody mess lay still on the ground. Then, with a loud CLOMP CLOMP, Gunnar came stalking down from the hold.

He still had the free weights glued to his feet and one of his hands. The other hand still held the massive steel disc, but it wasn't glued on anymore. Korda realized why: the skin of that hand was still glued to the weight. The raw red hand that held it was seeping blood, but this seemed to only make Gunnar angry.

The Viking spotted Korda and pointed with his still glued hand. The computer wasn't handy to translate the challenge he uttered, but Korda didn't feel that was really necessary, given the mass of brains dripping from the weight's edge.

Read more... )
I think one more piece after this.

Neutralizing the 581c raiders was straightforward. It would have been more straightforward if Zhizhi hadn't insisted on capturing one of them alive. Of course, then she left the determining of how to go about this to Korda. Korda often felt like the team janitor.

Korda decided that capturing a Gliese 581c Space Viking was a hazardous proposition. With a 1.5G surface gravity and a superabundant oxygen mix, 581c probably spawned natives who would be extremely dangerous if allowed to get up in one's grille. Added to this was the virtual certainty that the raiders were hopped up on some kind of stimulant and battle-rage, and they had already decided this was a suicide mission, so they had no reason to hold back and nothing to lose. Lovely, Korda thought.

Fortunately, the Earth mission had superior technology on their side. Korda disabled the rocket-propelled battering ram with a kinetic weapon, firing a stream of solid iron 1/2" diameter bearings at the craft at 100 km/sec speeds. This chopped the enemy craft into bits and hamburgered a number of passengers in the bargain, but the lack of a concentrated explosion simply scattered the rest of the riders helplessly into space.

Korda chose to rescue one of them on the sole basis that he had lost his poleaxe. Korda didn't like the look of those weapon/tool combinations. He cornered Matsen while prepping the shuttle.

"I need a tranquilizer," he said, zooming the opticals on the target. The suited 581c raider was doing cartwheels through space.

"How much tranquilizer?" Matsen asked.

Korda zoomed in on the helmet of the tumbling alien. He was young, with long blond braids, and his lips looked very red against his pale skin. He was shouting something, cursing with all his might, and there were flecks of froth around his mouth.

"How much you got?" Korda asked.

Read more... )
_Sagan_ withdrew. Gliese 581f was a gas giant with beautiful violet whorled patterns and was well placed for refueling. Interrupting _Sagan_'s planned intercept of Gliese 581g had cost a lot of delta-V, more than could be passively gathered from the interplanetary void. The crew agreed that if they wanted to keep as many options open as possible, they would need to top off the tanks. Pulling back also meant they could monitor the Gliesian response and see what they would do. A few weeks of delay wouldn't hurt anything.

Korda deployed the scoop and skimmed the surface of Gliese 581f, drawing hydrogen up into the refinery unit in Module C. It worked perfectly. Back when he was a teenager, Korda had practiced the maneuver on Uranus before accelerating out of the solar system. It was good to see that the advanced planning of the mission designers was paying off.

Unfortunately, mused Korda sourly, the designers didn't predict the Gliese system being occupied by humans – humans who apparently weren't too happy to see their brothers and sisters arriving from out of town. Or perhaps they did. Korda and his crewmates were the answer to unexpected mission challenges – humans capable of synthesizing responses on the fly. Over the years Korda had wondered why this mission had required an actual human presence at all. He grudgingly admitted that perhaps that decision on the part of Earth Mission Control had been a good one.

Zenia buzzed Korda from the communications room. "I think we're going to have some company," she said. "Launches detected – a bunch of them, coming here. Significant chemical propellant signatures and very high accelerations – 5G sustained."

"Ridiculous," cut in Gold. "Over short durations, sure. Sustained 5G is unsafe."

"Unsafe for Terrestrials," Zhizhi reminded them all. "Gliese 581g has a higher mass than Earth."

"But also a larger surface radius," Korda objected. "Surface gravity will be higher that 1G, but not that much higher."

"You're assuming the launches came from Gliese 581g," said Zenia.

There was an awkward moment. "Didn't they?" Gold asked finally.

"No," said Zenia. "Gliese 581c, further in-system."

"Wait," said Korda. "You've been monitoring EM all over the system. Have you gotten any kind of signal from that planet at all?"

"Not a peep," Zenia replied.

"The plot thickens," Zhizhi said.

Read more... )
Another extended piece, although probably not many pieces. 2000 per segment, then look for an exit.

Gliese 581g was now a proper disk. At last, at long last, Korda and the eight other crewpersons of _Sagan_ could look upon their objective with the naked eye, and see something other than a point of light. They had been chosen forty years ago, subjective time, as precocious 15-year-old bisexuals – the best young people Earth could assemble. For the last forty years they had crewed a one-way exploratory vessel to the closest nearby planet to be a likely candidate to support life. They had spent their entire adult lives aboard _Sagan_, absorbing the skills and training necessary to be Earth's ambassadors to a nearby star. _Sagan_'s drive had accelerated the craft such that it averaged .5c over its journey, but even so, Korda and the others were now middle-aged.

Korda was troubled. Midway through their journey they had started to pick up snippets of radio waves that the computers gave a 95% probability of having been generated by intelligent life. Deshiva in particular had been very excited. "Imagine, Korda!" she had said one night as they shared a bed and made love. "We set out hoping to be lucky enough to find the equivalent of pond scum. But now we might find ourselves greeting our next door neighbors on behalf of our planet!"

Korda had been excited too, and had helped craft the first few greeting messages to be broadcast on a tight beam to Gliese 581g. But on the first date that a return message could be expected, the signal from Gliese 581g stopped. Before the computers could definitively confirm a diagnosis of sentience behind the radio messages, the planet went dark. There were a million possible explanations, but Korda was a pessimist, and he preferred the most paranoid possible interpretation.

Now they were closing in. _Sagan_'s ears were listening intently now, and there were faint low-powered radio whispers out there. It was like _Sagan_ was approaching a surprise party waiting in a darkened room, and the crowd was too large to fully suppress their noise.

_Sagan_ cut across an asteroid belt en route to a low-energy intercept orbit. The system primary was a red dwarf, and the target planet was only a fraction of an AU away when something happened. Deshiva and Belletto were in the forward observation deck when the innocuous-looking rock stopped spinning and drew a beam across _Sagan_. Module A1 decompressed, killing the two of them instantly, but the hatches closed as designed to save the rest of A.

"Dammit!" shouted Korda. "It's an ambush!"

Read more... )

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