TECHNOLOGY'S GREATEST TRIUMPH. HUMANKIND'S LAST HOPE... Daniel Kitajima was a creature of mind and machine. His artificial limbs were endowed with super-human strength, his perceptual abilities enhanced with telescopic vision, radar and infrared. With proper care, he would live forever - except for one grim inevitable fact... The Solar System itself was about to be destroyed. The sun was heating up, scorching Earth's deserts and transforming its polar icefields into quagmires. The entire galaxy was in danger. And nothing human could halt the oncoming disaster. But Daniel Kitajima was not exactly human...
Release date: December 17, 2015
Print pages: 320
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Richard A. Lupoff
He tumbled through a flare of colors, the radiance of glaring Zimarzla flooding his perception. The sensors with which he had been fitted functioned at frequencies ranging from the infrared to the ultraviolet and far beyond, and this glaring, pulsating sub-sun jammed their entire spectrum.
His wings caught at the planetary atmosphere and he revolved through 360 degrees. As his feet pointed toward the surface he zeroed in on the flitter orbiting overhead, just above the thinning reaches of vapor and gas.
The little ship’s metallic hull caught the glare of Zimarzla and shattered it prismatically into a dazzle of yellows, greens and blues.
Daniel Kitajima’s eyes smarted and he thought he felt a tear roll down his cheek.
His eyes were photo-optical sensors feeding into an electrosubstrate microprocessor that delivered digitized coding to his half-organic, half-silicon-array brain. For Daniel there was no such thing as color, no red or yellow or blue. There were only coded bits.
And surely there were no tears. There were only lubricants carefully engineered to retain their viscosity under an unimaginable variety of conditions of heat and cold, pressure and vacuum, searing acid and leaching alkaline.
Still, somehow, he wept. In his heart, a nuclear-powered rotary pump of metal and plastic, he wept. In his throat, a complex channel that carried electrical circuits and an intricate network of tubing, something tightened.
His slow, deliberate tumbling carried the little ship beyond his field of vision. He saw the blackness, and earth’s sun glimmering like a point of distilled beauty and brilliance. The light of day at the end of the tunnel of night, the light of God at the end of the tunnel of Purgatory.
He was pointed downward again, and stabilized the angle of his deltoid skimmer. Twin planets with thick atmospheres of swirling, opaque gases stood in perfect alignment between himself and the glowing Zimarzla. They had been named for the Czech astronomer Anabel Smirkova, who so long ago had discovered Sol’s dim, remote companion. The discovery had been midway through Daniel Kitajima’s 80-year cold sleep, and Daniel had learned of it only after his awakening and return to the planet of his birth.
The planets were therefore Anabel and Smirkova.
The closer occluded the farther. Their primary, Zimarzla, shone from behind them, surrounding them with an ultramarine halo.
Daniel slid through the atmosphere of Smirkova. His deltoid wings took firm grasp of the thickening gases. The halo shrank to a quivering, dancing coma, flared briefly, then blinked out.
Daniel settled into a slow descent.
There was no need for repeated, glancing skids against the upper atmosphere to lose ballistic velocity. His wings grasped the medium with confidence and comfort. In his body-niche in the skimmer, in this artificial body that held the minimal organic remnants of his human past, he was no less at home tumbling through a searing atmosphere than swimming in a liquid-nitrogen sea or orbiting in near-absolute vacuum.
He moved lower.
He was above the nightside of Smirkova. The passage of air – of what served Smirkova as air – keened in his audiosensors. His computerized neurosystem could have changed the sound if he had willed it, to a thunderous boom or to a choir’s chant, or moved it out of the sonic range altogether. He could have sensed the sound as bitterness or sharpness. But he left it as it came to him.
He moved in a path nearly parallel to the surface of the planet, adding his own forward momentum to the globe’s west-to-east rotation.
He experienced his first full sunrise on this new planet, dropping cautiously through the atmosphere. Zimarzla’s blue-green corona flashed above the horizon and Daniel’s coasting trajectory carried him straight toward the glaring rim.
In a while the sun had risen wholly above the horizon of Smirkova, and Daniel had coasted deep enough into the atmosphere to perceive the surface of the world through breaks in the swirling shards of cloud.
There were continents and oceans. Great sea islands dotted the surface of this world.
He coasted through a day and passed back into the night side of the planet, rotating himself to peer up through the atmosphere. He was not so deep that he couldn’t locate the spot where the flitter bearing his companions Osvaldo Mgouabe and Tovah Decertes and Lydia Haddad should have hung. But the ship was not to be seen.
Daniel scanned the blackness and the glitter-sprinkled emptiness stretching three billion kilometers back to Earth and Earth’s sun. He was able to sense the ship’s propulsive flare and its radiation moving at an angle that would carry the ship and its occupants forever from his universe.
Earth’s sun glittered: a distant, brilliant star.
Daniel turned away from it.
He passed from nighttime into daylight, and again into night. This time he looked to Smirkova itself for light that would spell the presence of life and of some level of civilization. He was not sure that he had caught such glimmers.
He passed again into daylight.
He spread a network of sensors to pick up radiation from the planet.
He glided into night.
This time there was a bright glare in one quadrant of the planet. He altered the path of his descent, swerving toward the source. It was a volcano larger than the greatest on Io. It could have swallowed that entire world. It glowed a dark red, spewing its hot gaseous plume a thousand kilometers into the sky.
Daniel circled the steaming vent. He basked in the flames of hell.
He set a course parallel to the cone’s slope, dipping away from the heat and flare. Where black basalt and gray ash gave way to primitive soil, crude vegetation struggled to survive.
Daniel adjusted his visual spectrum so he could see by the heat of organic chemical reactions.
Rough ferns and mosses turned to scrub and then to full jungle, leaf-forest and true woods in shapes unlike any Daniel had known on Earth.
Once more Daniel flashed over a coastline, crossing a narrow sea. Tiny lights dotted its surface. He met the next dawn over water, skimming so low that he felt the sting of chilling spray against the belly of his triangular ship.
He reached land before midmorning, crossed a coastal plain where he saw roads and cities, and moved inland, rising with the terrain toward a range of jagged mountains.
They were gray and black where rock rose above the upper limits of vegetation. Crowns of snow marked towering peaks and marched downward in slow glaciation.
Far to the north Daniel saw a plume of gas rise from the ground. An object the size of a small city climbed through the atmosphere, revolving slowly, moving uncountable projections across its surface, slowly opening and closing apertures that spilled tumbling pellets the size of mansions.
Daniel passed between two peaks and saw another range towering above the first. A third rose to dwarf the second.
At the highest point of the mountain range there stood a triangle of towering peaks, and balanced on them like a ball on the fingertips of a conjurer, a blue shimmer.
No, he did not blink: He closed protective shutters over photo-optical sensors.
He opened his eyes.
He could not tell whether an object glittered atop the trio of mountains. He could see through it, see the landscape and the sky beyond. Yet he could tell that something was there.
It was like the shimmering distortion of images caused by the atmospheric wavering above a campfire, visible yet without substance.
He dropped toward the ground.
His triangular craft skidded across an ice-floe.
He unlatched himself from the body-niche, disconnecting his sensors from those of the little craft, hearing a suggestion of a whisper as he did so, ignoring it. He stood and stretched, feeling the ghost sensations of long-destroyed muscles that would have been stiffened and cramped had he still been human.
He opened a small panel on the triangular skimmer, slapped switches and flipped the lid back in place. He trotted a few score meters from the little craft and watched it glow with heat. The ice supporting it melted and the craft sank from sight. Above it, water flowed into place and began rapidly to freeze.
Daniel stood naked, save for the protective coating that had protected him against the radiation of space. His body was a perfect simulacrum of a man’s, matching to the last pore his own crushed flesh – flesh that had been destroyed more than eighty years before, in a construction accident high in trojan orbit between Earth and moon.
That had taken place in – he tried to remember the year – 2009. Eighty years later they had brought his consciousness back up into the bionic entity that he now inhabited. All that remained of his organic self was part of his brain and a shred of spinal cord. The rest of his body was artificial. His rotary-pump heart circulated what little blood remained to him. A self-regenerating miniaturized breeder reactor powered the pump.
Electronic sensors gave him perfect substitutes for the inputs of sight, sound and touch. Only the senses of smell and taste were missing: their simulation, his doctors had told him, would require too bulky a mechanism.
He massed at 300 kilograms; his nuclear-powered endoskeleton and filamental muscles gave him the strength of an army.
He strode toward the mountain peaks.
The atmosphere at this altitude was thin, but Daniel inferred that it was breathable. He did not himself need to breathe; in fact, could not. He dealt in information now, not material need.
A voice whispered that Daniel’s inference was correct.
Beneath Daniel’s polished, metallic feet the ground was rocky. There were loose stones, gray and sharp-edged. In the cracks in the mountainous bedrock where wind had swept dirt and where spores had found their way, green things sprouted and fought for existence.
There were larger rocks and larger plants. Scraggly bushes, thorny and tough, clung desperately to boulders and thrust roots into the little available soil. Broad, tough leaves spread to capture the energy that radiated down from Zimarzla.
Flying things hummed and hovered over them, sped from bush to bush.
Daniel tested his reflexes. Standing motionless, he waited for one of the flying things to bolt from one shrub to another. Daniel’s hand flashed out and captured it in midflight. The thing had moved so rapidly that Daniel saw it only as a speeding speck.
As he held the flier to his chest he reran the visual record of its flight, using an internal microprocessor to magnify and slow the image.
But he felt a frantic struggling against his chest. Needle-sharp weapons thrust at Daniel’s metallic palms and sternum. Daniel could feel the venom that was deposited, his body analyzing its chemical makeup.
In his fleshly form he would have released the creature at the first touch of that piercing defense. The venom, he knew, would have immobilized any organic enemy of the creature.
Like a child examining a friendly ladybug, Daniel peered through the cracks of his fingers.
The creature he studied was superb. Its elegance would have put to shame any aeronautical engineer. It wasn’t an insect or a bird or a mammal. It was something of each and something different from them all. Its wings had the shimmering, membranous appearance of an insect’s, and its multifaceted eyes flashed with panic. The foremost pair of its legs had apparently evolved into organs that it used like hands, probing at Daniel’s fingers for a route of escape.
Having tested its weapons without success and searched vainly for an exit from the trap in which Daniel held it, the creature waited quietly for Daniel’s next move. He held his hands cupped, making a globular prison for it, and the creature stood almost motionless, slowly rotating its head, studying its new environment.
Through the cracks between Daniel’s fingers, the once-man and the never-man studied each other, like a researcher and a monkey peering at each other through a keyhole. Daniel saw a body that was streamlined, a head that bulged slightly, as if it contained a well-developed brain. And there was a subtle something to the way that head was held, the way those eyes looked at Daniel, that suggested a real if enigmatic awareness.
This creature in his hands – was it insect-like or mammal-like in intelligence? An insect could behave with remarkable intelligence, but it was the intelligence that was hard-wired into its brain by genetics. In contrast with an insect, a mammal started life helpless and ignorant – but it had the precious ability to learn, to comprehend and react to the new as well as the familiar, the surprising as well as the expected.
He opened his hands.
The creature shot into the air and leveled off a meter or so above Daniel’s waist. Daniel had shifted his computer-based sensors into higher speed, to capture a better image of the thing before it fled from sight, but there was no need for that.
Instead, it hovered at eye-level, a couple of meters from Daniel.
A voice whispered to Daniel. This was something interesting, something deserving of attention.
Another voice whispered to him.
The creature hovered, to all appearances studying Daniel even as he studied it.
Scientist studies monkey.
Monkey studies scientist.
Daniel used another of his computer-based abilities, the perspective-shifting function that Mimir Monroe had built into Daniel’s circuitry back at the medical station that orbited between Earth and moon.
He tried to shift, to pick up the perspective of the flying creature. He should have found himself hovering in the air two meters from himself, sensing what the creature sensed, seeing what it saw: a perfect simulacrum of a man glittering in his molecule-thin sheath of golden metal.
He couldn’t do it.
It was like a nightmare. He tried to gain entrance to a house, desperately needing to get inside, and unable to find the entrance.
As if he were its size, he circled the creature, trying to enter its head, to pick up the impulses of its nervous system. But it blocked his efforts.
He saw and heard it clearly: glittering, translucent, veined wings shimmering turquoise like those of a dragonfly. Facetted, insectile eyes, each plane clear and shimmering like a perfect gem, reflecting ruby, amethyst, sapphire.
He saw now that the creature possessed mandibles that were connected to multiple fluid sacs. It could secrete a whole pharmacopoeia of compounds and inject them through its mandibles. Perhaps even spray them at a target.
The creature sped away, but it did so with the deliberate speed of the busy worker en route to another task, with none of the desperate haste of something fleeing for its life.
He shook his head. He set off, climbing the rocky slope, avoiding icy patches where he could, stopping to examine the hardy shrubbery and teeming insectlike creatures that swarmed and scattered at his approach.
There were dozens of species, but the glitter-winged ones that Daniel had dealt with were the most fascinating. They rose and stared at him after his first encounter, as if that creature had communicated to the others that this intruder was more curiosity than threat.
In the distance, he could see the giant construct anchored to the triple peaks. He tried shifting his photo-optical sensors, caught a clear image of the object for an instant but then lost it again.
There was no need to play tag with an image. He knew where it was, he knew what processing and control circuits had been built into him by Royce and Kimura and the sometimes obnoxious but always brilliant Mimir Monroe.
He got a lock on the image and a readjustment feedback took over, keeping his sensors hooked to the changing frequency of the input. He wasn’t surprised when he did get a clear look at it: the object was a gigantic and infinitely complicated version of the sculptures he had encountered in the gas-bubble caves of Mercury and the deserted nitrogen-sea city on Titan.
That seemed so long ago, and yet it was only a short time, a matter of weeks, since he had seen those strange blue constructs. It seemed that he had lived a lifetime since his awakening in the orbiting medical facility. A new lifetime, a new life, alienated from his old existence as a proper man with a home and a job and a family.
On Mercury and on Titan, native races had created miniature representations of the object he had come so far to find. On Mercury the degenerate descendants of the builders survived, preserving in religious hope the record of their encounter with the god-like creatures who built the original blue construct. Staggering numbers of generations had lived and died in the pathetic anticipation of the return of their gods.
On Titan graceful seal-like beings had constructed a magnificent city on the nitrogen sea-bed, preserving there too their recollection of alien visitors. And had disappeared, leaving their city as monument to themselves and their history.
The color of the giant construct here on Smirkova shifted constantly. Daniel could cause himself to see it as any color he chose. He chose the brilliant glowing cobalt blue of the sculpture on Mercury.
Daniel set his legs striding forward.
The climb was relatively easy at first; as he proceeded it became more difficult. There were great strength and perfect sensitivity in his artificial limbs. There was a great and self-regenerating store of energy in his belly, so fatigue posed no problem.
But still he could lose his purchase on the stone or ice. He could tumble kilometers straight down if he slipped from a ledge and he could be smashed against the boulders below, or set off an avalanche and find himself buried forever beneath tons of snow and ice and rocks.
He had reached the level where the rock was covered with snow and ice. Zimarzla’s ultramarine glare tinted the snow a watery shade and cast weird shadows and reflections from Daniel’s glittering metal-coated skin.
The ice rose at an angle impossible for any normal man to climb unassisted. The only way to make it up would have been with pitons driven painstakingly one above another, providing a series of hand- and foot-holds like the spikes used by telephone linemen to climb real wooden poles in Daniel’s youth in San Francisco.
He drew back his hand, clawed his fingers and drove them tip-on into the ice. They penetrated the ice and he reached higher with his other hand, drove his fingers in, raised his foot and drove his toes into the ice.
A naked man of glittering gold, hauling his Earth-equivalent 300 kilograms up a wall of ice.
When he emerged onto the next level he had reached a plateau. A battle was fought here between stubbornly hardy plants and the cold and ice that lay a meter deep over rough granite.
Yet even here something survived. Some seed swept to this place by wind or dropped by a high-flying creature had managed to sprout. It clung tenaciously to the rock, driving roots down into whatever narrow openings it could find, pushing shoots upward through the ice.
There must be periodic thaws. When they came, the plant would send creepers to float on the liquid surface, pulled there by hollow pods. There they would remain when the hard freeze returned.
As snow fell and hardened into ice, thawed and froze again, as the ice-cap on the plateau deepened, the plant would grow into a large and complex network of fibers.
Was it a nervous system?
No normal man would have paused in this frigid, exposed setting to wonder. But Daniel Kitajima, both more and less than human, had to cope neither with hunger nor cold nor fatigue.
Time for him was not meaningless, not by any means. But its meaning was not what it was for others, not what it had been for himself before his near death, his 80-year sleep, and his recovery as the most thoroughly and most perfectly cyborged being in history.
That had all been eighty years ago, and now he stood on an ice-floe atop a mountain peak on a planet circling a star he’d never heard of until a few weeks ago.
He made a sound that was his metallic body’s synthesized imitation of a laugh.
He raised his face to the glimmering ball of Zimarzla and realized that he had neglected to measure the period of rotation of this planet around its polar axis. He could clock it easily enough. For now he gauged the time as midmorning; that would do until he established a local clock.
He started to cross the ice-floe, toward the blue construct that spanned the tripod of granite peaks.
A swarm of the little flying creatures he’d encountered swept from a cluster of green surface-pods and hovered like a squadron of bumblebees. A voice in Daniel’s head whispered, but he shut it out and strode angrily ahead.
The bridge could have been plastic or glass or clear ice. It could have been some substance that Daniel Kitajima had never before encountered. He didn’t know if it had the strength to support his 300 kilograms of mass; his local weight, he was certain, was substantially greater than it had been on Earth.
But he had traveled billions of kilometers to this place, and he would not hesitate at the final hour of his journey.
He moved with confidence onto the causeway, gazing rapt at the construct that loomed overhead. It was titanic. Even at a distance that Daniel computed as three full kilometers, he had to crane his neck to peer up at its looming bulk.
It was the size of a small asteroid, at least. Its weight must reach uncounted billions of tons. Its surface resembled the glowing sculpture of the Mercurian caves, the three-dimensional image that Osvaldo Mgouabe had first shown Daniel in their space flitter. In shape it was a perfect globe – or would have been, save for the features that appeared on its surface, moved as if they had an independent life, then merged once more with the gigantic structure. The complexities of the surface exceeded those of both the image and the model, a million times over.
And the color, now that Daniel had almost reached the construct, was not the uniform cobalt blue of the sculpture, either. It was endlessly varied, with objects and protrusions on its surface ranging from olive to aqua to lemon, with spots here of brown and green as well.
And there was constant movement.
Daniel stopped halfway across the bridge and watched the features of the construct turning and sliding and shifting incomprehensibly, like the parts of a machine whose purpose was totally beyond his power even to guess, or the organs of a creature whose workings were alien to him.
Hundreds of meters overhead, a panel opened in the dark blue surface and a conical object pushed into the swirling atmosphere. A streak of light flashed from it, down the surface of the construct and into the chasm beneath.
With an impulse to gasp Daniel fell to his knees, gazing through the transparent material of the causeway, into the suddenly illuminated chasm. It fell away, seemingly forever. It was at least a hundred kilometers in depth, and its bottom, where the three mountains met, was obscured by darkness and heavily swirling mist.
More lightning crackled across the mottled blue surface that bulged overhead – sheets of it and jagged lines in sustained patterns. Daniel shoved himself erect and resumed his progress. The surfac. . .
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