HIST 446 Week (16).txt - The Spheres of Heaven Table of Contents 1 RECRUITING ON MADWORLD 2 AN INVITATION FROM THE STELLAR GROUP 3 ABOARD THE MOOD

HIST 446 Week (16).txt - The Spheres of Heaven Table of...

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Unformatted text preview: The Spheres of Heaven Table of Contents 1: RECRUITING ON MADWORLD 2: AN INVITATION FROM THE STELLAR GROUP 3: ABOARD THE MOOD INDIGO 4: GENERAL KORIN 5: ABOARD THE MOOD INDIGO 6: RECRUITING ON MARS 7: THE OCEANS OF LIMBO 8: RECRUITING AT THE VULCAN NEXUS 9: EXPLORING LIMBO 10: RECRUITING ON EUROPA 11: THE ARRIVAL OF THE BUBBLE PEOPLE 12: RECRUITING TULLY O'TOOLE 13: LEARNING FROM THE BUBBLE PEOPLE 14: THE CREW OF THE HERO'S RETURN 15: A HELPING HAND FOR TINKERS AND PIPE-RILLAS 16: LINKING TO THE GEYSER SWIRL 17: SAY HELLO TO AN ANGEL 18: FRIDAY GOES IT ALONE 19: THE HERO'S RETURN ARRIVES ON LIMBO 20: MEET THE MALACOSTRACANS 21: REUNION 22: NEGOTIATIONS 23: EXPLANATIONS AND PROBLEMS 24: LIMBO PLANS 25: SHORE PLANS 26: THE BEST-LAID PLANS 27: ON BOARD THE HERO'S RETURN 28: DEB'S DILEMMA 29: ALIEN 30: IN THE DARK 31: THE NATURE OF THE MULTIVERSE 32: ESCAPE TO NOWHERE 33: ASHORE AGAIN 34: NEGOTIATION AND BETRAYAL 35: THE ONLY ANSWER 36: ESCAPE 37: UNFINISHED BUSINESS The Spheres of Heaven Charles Sheffield This is a work of fiction. All the characters and events portrayed in this book are fictional, and any resemblance to real people or incidents is purely coincidental. Copyright (c) 2001 by Charles Sheffield All rights reserved, including the right to reproduce this book or portions thereof in any form. A Baen Books Original Baen Publishing Enterprises P.O. Box 1403 Riverdale, NY 10471 ISBN: 0-671-31856-X Cover art by Bob Eggleton First printing, February 2001 Library of Congress Cataloging-in-Publication Data Sheffield, Charles. The spheres of heaven / by Charles Sheffield. p. cm. Sequel to: Mind pool. ISBN 0-671-31969-8 1. Space warfareFiction. I. Title. PS3569.H39523 S65 2001 813'.54dc21 00-049427 Distributed by Simon & Schuster 1230 Avenue of the Americas New York, NY 10020 Production by Windhaven Press, Auburn, NH Printed in the United States of America To Hank and Angie ALSO IN THIS SERIES The Mind Pool BAEN BOOKS by CHARLES SHEFFIELD My Brother's Keeper The Compleat McAndrew Convergent Series Transvergence Proteus in the Underworld Borderlands of Science The Web Between the Worlds 1: RECRUITING ON MADWORLD Dawn was breaking on Earth, and it could seldom have been more beautiful. The eastern sky wore a gorgeous stippling of salmon-pink and light gray clouds, the perfume of opening blossoms scented an easterly breeze, and soft bird-song filled the air. Dougal MacDougal stared around him and hated every bit of it. "Come on, come on," he said to the short, scruffy man standing at his side. "I thought you said you knew the way? Get me out of this stink." His nose, accustomed to the filtered air of the Ceres habitats, wrinkled in disgust. Every moment that they stood on the surface of Earth, spores and bacteria and unknown filth made their way into his delicate and unprotected lungs. His boots, which five minutes before as they stepped clear of the Link exit point had gleamed bone-white, already bore a thin layer of grime picked up from the groundthe ground, he reminded himself, composed entirely ofdirt to an unknown depth. "Yes, sir. Yes,sir ." Kubo Flammarion did not move. It was a flaming lie; he had never told Dougal MacDougal that he knew the way. All he had admitted, back on Ceres, was that he had been to Earth a few times himself. But that had been twenty and more years ago, and the place had seemed like Madworld even back then. Earth had scared the life out of him, long before the quarantine of Sol had led to the general going-to-hell of everything in the solar system. On the other hand, they couldn't stand here forever. Flammarion didn't mind dirt; as a man who had spent lonely years out on the Perimeter where personal hygiene was a matter of choice he kind of liked it. But the natives close to the Link exit point were watching them and a few of the shadier specimens were starting to shuffle in their direction. Flammarion knew the sales pitchhe'd once fallen for it himself; but Dougal MacDougal, lordly Ambassador to the Stellar Group, was unlikely to appreciate it. "This way, sir." Kubo Flammarion hustled MacDougal toward a long covered ramp that led below ground. Behind them, the pitch had started. "Nippers, oughta see nippers. Hottest line on Earth" . . . "Need a Fropper, gentlemen? Get you one easy, real cheap" . . . "Trade crystals, highest rates and no questions asked" . . . "Wanna see an execution? Beheading, first-class Artefact, never know it from the real thing" . . . "Needler lab visit, squire? Top of the line products, won't see 'em any place else." Flammarion tried to ignore them. With luck, Dougal MacDougal wouldn't be able to understand that confusing babble of poorly pronounced standard solar. "Right along this way, sir." Flammarion was used to being the shortest person, man or woman, in staff meetings on Ceres. Here he was half a head taller than most people, while Dougal MacDougal, striding along with his nose in the air and a pained expression on his face, towered high above everyone. The corridor widened steadily as they moved deeper underground. Flammarion scanned the people they passed, most of whom seemed to have nothing at all to do. They were dressed in bright purples, scarlets and pinks, in striking contrast to the pristine Ambassadorial white of Dougal MacDougal or the stark black of Flammarion's Solar Security uniform. They were not what Flammarion wanted. He sought one particular style of dress. He was beginning to wonder how much longer he could pretend that he knew what he was doing when he caught sight of a roly-poly little man with a round, smiling face and a patchwork jacket and trousers of green and gold, lounging against a steel support beam. Flammarion changed direction and pushed his way through. "You're a busker, right?" The chubby man grinned. "That I am, squire," he said, in very acceptable solar with only a touch of Earth dialect. "Earl Dexter, at your service. You'll be newcomers here, right?" "Yes, we are. We need" But Dexter, automatically, had moved into his pitch. "So it's a hearty welcome to the Big Marble, sirs. Whatever you want, I can get. Love juice, tipsy pudding, Paradox, worm-diving. You name it. Tiger-hots" He stopped abruptly. Dougal MacDougal had reached down and placed one enormous hand on Earl Dexter's collarbone, his fingers curved toward the busker's throat. "Thank you, Ambassador. That ought to help." Flammarion stepped close to the fat man. "Slither, Velocil, starbane, jujy rolls," Dexter said half-heartedly. "None of them. We need a person." "Ah, a person. Well, I can do that. Only" The busker hesitated. "Only, like, what are you wanting todo with the person? I got girls, seeand boyswho'll go along with most things, but if it's snakes or snuff you're talking about" "We need to find a particular man. And the Ambassador here wants to talk to him. And that's enough for you, you don't need to know any more." "Sure, sure.Talk to him, right?" Earl Dexter craned his neck to one side and eased himself clear of Dougal MacDougal's grip. "Do you know where this man is?" "We know he's on Earth. We know this is the closest Link exit point to where he lives. I know what he looks like, and we have an old address, down in the Gallimaufriesisn't that what you call the basement warrens? And we know his name." "Then you're home free. If he's in the Gallimaufries and you give me the name, I can find him." "And bring him here?" "Don't know about that. But I can takeyou tohim ." Dexter took another step away from Dougal MacDougal. "Of course, a service like this, it's a little bit out of the ordinary. Won't come cheap." He paused, at a growl from Dougal MacDougal, and added weakly, "Extra expenses . . ." "I'm sorry, sir. I know it's illegal on Ceres, but it's standard practice in these parts. Leave it to me, I'll take care of it." Flammarion had been addressing MacDougal. Now he turned away from the Ambassador and led Earl Dexter a few paces farther along the corridor. There was a muttered conversation and then the dull glow of a trade crystal changing hands, while Dougal MacDougal studiously looked the other way. "Thank you, squire." Dexter instantly recovered his chirpiness. "And the moniker of the party, if you please, that you want me to find, and his address." "His name is Chan Dalton," Flammarion began. "His address" He paused. Earl Dexter was staring at him, pop-eyed. "Chan Dalton? You don't need to tell mehis address. And you mean that you"he turned toward MacDougal"that youyour Lordshipyour Worshipyouwant to talk toChan Dalton ?" "You know Dalton?" MacDougal was reaching out again toward Dexter. "What about Dalton, why shouldn't I want to talk to him?" "No reason." Earl Dexter had skipped out of the way, and now he turned and wriggled around a group of noisy newcomers hurrying along the broad corridor. "No reason at all," he called over his shoulder. "Chan Dalton! Give me an hour to make sure he's there, then I'll be back to take you right to him." He laughed, a high giggling chortle of mirth as he scurried away through the crowd. "You can talk to him as long as you like, and good luck to you." * * * Kubo Flammarion didn't know what was going on; all he knew, with absolute gloom and certainty, was that so far as the Ambassador was concerned, whatever happened next was going to be Flammarion's fault. There was no justice in the world. He had done exactly what he had been asked to do. He had guided Dougal MacDougal all the way from Ceres to the correct location on Earth; he had located a busker who knew how to find Chan Dalton; they were even now on their way to meet with the man. And the reward? MacDougal was glaring at him, for the commission of his numerous sins. What sins? Flammarion had no idea, except that, over twenty years ago, he had met Chan Dalton. Earl Dexter, pressed for information upon his return from the Gallimaufries, might as well have taken a vow of silence. All he would say was that they would be with Chan Dalton soon enough, and they would then have answers to all their questions. As one small consolation, the Ambassador had become too preoccupied with their upcoming meeting with Dalton to continue his endless complaints about being down on Earth; which was just as well, because Earl Dexter was leading them through a setting which combined every conceivable element of noise, dirt, confusion, and strangeness. The first part of the journey was a long drop through the black depths of a vertical drop-shaft. Earl Dexter had particularly warned about it, not realizing that to Kubo Flammarion and Dougal MacDougal this would provide a few welcome seconds of comfortable free-fall. But that was the end of comfort. They had emerged into a series of vaulted chambers of rock where everything felt wrong. Instead of curves, following the natural stress lines of a habitat, every wall was flat as a plate and straight up-and-down. The roof, by contrast, was all random lumps and dimples, broken at intervals by ugly, powerful, and inconstant lights that threw broken reflections onto the jumble of cables, tents, guy ropes, and partitions that cluttered the floor. Above them, ramshackle multilevel platforms hung tipsily between steel pylons, with rope ladders stretching from one to another or hanging down to the ground beneath. And that floor! Not metal, or plastic, but black granular soil in which blossoming plants grew everywhere, sprouting along zigzag walkways while blood-red vines festooned every column. A flowery perfume filled the air, tainted with a hint of a less pleasant smell. The human population of the Gallimaufries was as tight-packed as the flowers. There were no wheeled vehicles, and everyone went on foot or was carried on swaying sedan chairs with a bearer at each corner. On these lower levels, gaudy yellow and vermilion was favored in clothing, trimmed with sequins and piped with gold, silver, and chartreuse. The people rivaled the flowers for color. They also, Flammarion realized, made a lot more noise and they smelled less pleasant. Blame the quarantine for that, packing them in ten to a boxexcept that Earth had been this way, crowded and dirty, long before the big Q. Dougal MacDougal was sniffing the air and glowering around him. "Inconceivable." He had to shout to be heard above the general racket. "Twenty-three years ago, Dalton returned a hero from the Stellar Group expedition to Travancore. He could pick anywhere in the solar system as his home. And he chooses to livehere ." "It's where he started," Flammarion replied loudly. "He was born and raised in the Gallimaufries." Then he wished that he had kept his mouth shut. Earl Dexter's behavior suggested that there was much more mystery to Chan Dalton than his choice of residence, and Flammarion didn't want to get into that delicate subject with the Ambassador. Instead he went on, "Are you sure we are looking for the right man?" Dougal MacDougal had been conspicuously reticent about revealing to Flammarion justwhy it was so important to find the particular person of Chan Dalton; and as a fishing expedition for information, this latest effort also proved a failure. The Ambassador turned to favor Flammarion with another silent glare, then trudged on behind Earl Dexter. Kubo wheezed his way after them with his head down. Earth's thick air and gravity were killers, no wonder all the people down here were crazy. Much more of this, and he would need one of those sedan chairs himself. Earl Dexter halted abruptly at a corridor that connected two chambers. "This is it, squire." "This iswhat ?" MacDougal, Flammarion was pleased to see, was wheezing even worse than he was. On Earth, being big and heavy had its drawbacks. "This is where I leave you," Dexter said. He pointed. "Dalton's right ahead, sitting at the far end. You don't need me any more." He looked at Flammarion and held out his hand. "I did my bit, like I said. So if you wouldn't mind . . ." "You get the rest when I'm sure it's Dalton, and not before." Flammarion squinted into the dimly lit chamber ahead. "Where is he? I can't see a bloody thing, and there's dozens of 'em." "You'll know him easy enough. Soon as you get used to the light." Dexter tried to eel away, but Dougal MacDougal caught and held him. "Look, I don't need to go in there. I told him you were coming, I got no business with the Boz." Kubo Flammarion took no notice. His eyes were adjusting, and he could see a long, darkened room. A score of men and women stood in a line that stretched to a tall, elevated dais at the far end. On the dais was one enormous and flower-bedecked seat, and on that throne sat one man in stiff robes of dark green. He was wearing a ridiculous yellow hat perched like a beehive on top of his head. Kubo peered, swore, and peered again. One man was walking forward to go down on one knee before the seated figure. After a few seconds of conversation, inaudible to anyone but the two of them, he rose to his feet, bowed, and retreated. He walked right past Flammarion and his companions without even a glance. The next person in line, a woman in a long dress of pale yellow, stepped forward toward the dais. Kubo pulled a little image cube from his pocket and stared at it. "It's him!" he hissed. Half a dozen heads at the back of the line turned. Flammarion stared again, to make absolutely sure. The man in the chair was big, solid, and somehow menacing. "He's changed a hell of a lot, bigger and broader, and he looks funny with that hat on. But that man in the chair is Chan Dalton." "Excellent." MacDougal's growl turned more heads, of everyone except the woman at the front of the line. "We've found him. Now I can do my part." "I hope you can." Kubo flinched at the Ambassador's glare and went on, "It might not be so easy. See that hat? He's not just Chan Dalton any more. He's a top enforcer for the Duke of Bosnyboss-man of this whole shooting-match. Down here, he doesn't follow the rules. He makes them." * * * It was a miracle, at least from Flammarion's point of view: Dalton remembered him. They had to wait until the whole line of supplicants had been attended to before they could approach Chan Dalton. But when they did get near, even before Kubo or Ambassador MacDougal could speak, the man in the chair removed his hat, grinned, and said, "Why, Captain Flammarion. It's been a while." "It's been over twenty years!" Kubo recalled Chan Dalton as a young Adonis, lithe and slim and golden-haired. The man before him now was thick through the middle and had a scarred, weary face. Had Kubo himself changed as much? "Do you really remember me?" "Of course I do. You were sent to see me when I was stuck on Horus, out in the Egyptian Cluster. Typicalyou were the one they used to dump all the shit on, weren't you, when anything unpleasant had to be done? Things have changed, I hope." "Well. Maybe." Kubo coughed and glanced uncertainly at Dougal MacDougal. "This is the human Ambassador to the Stellar Group." "Oh yes?" Chan offered MacDougal a polite, distant stare. "He has come all the way from Ceres to talk to you." "That right?" Chan turned back to Flammarion. "He came with you?" "Yes. No. I mean, I came with him." "Why does it take two of you? You could have told me why you're here. I would have listened to one of you just as well, and I know you from the old days." "It's nice to hear that. Very nice. But as a matter of fact . . ." Kubo wasn't sure how to say this. "As a matter of fact, I don'tknow why we're here." Dougal MacDougal took over. "Captain Flammarion performed the invaluable service of locating you" "Not too difficult, I would have thought. I'm known through this whole sector." "and guided me here. Mr. Dalton, I cannot overemphasize the importance of this visit, and what I am about to say to you. When the other species of the Stellar Group imposed their quarantine on humans, restricting us to travel at most one lightyear from Sol, humanity began to stifle. Instead of being able to look outward to new frontiers, we have been forced to turn in on ourselves. We are beginning to choke and suffocate, to weaken our resolve, to lose our drive." "You don't have to tell me that. Earth has felt the effects more than anybody." "But Earth people are used to living in a static world, a sluggish backwater where opportunities are small and progress is minimal." Kubo Flammarion avoided looking at Dalton. If the Ambassador were seeking favors, he was going about it the hard way. MacDougal continued, "So when there is a chance, no matter how small a chance, of changing our status and removing the quarantine, nothing in the solar system can have a higher priority. Such a chance now exists! Next week, at their request, an Assembly of the Stellar Group is planned to take place in the Ceres Star Chamber. There will be representatives of the Tinkers of Mercantor, the Pipe-Rillas of Eta Cassiopeiae, and the Angels of Sellora. All the known intelligent species!" "Except for humans. Are we being invited?" "We are. The Stellar Group requires that our representative be present, otherwise the Assembly will not occur." "That's you, isn't it? You are the human Ambassador to the Stellar Group." "I am the Ambassador. That is quite true." Dougal MacDougal stood up straighter, but at the same time he seemed to Flammarion to have mysteriously shrunk a few inches. "However, this will be an exception to the usual rules for Assembly. Although I will be permitted to be presentas an observerthe Stellar Group insists that a different human be present as a participant. They inform us, very specifically, that Chan Daltonyouhave to be that human." "Do they indeed." Dalton sat up higher in his raised chair and became very much a top advisor to the Duke of Bosny: cold and thoughtful, with an unreadable look in his eye. "The Stellar Group wants me to leave the Gallimaufries and travel out to Ceres. Very interesting. But pardon me, Ambassador, if I say I find that hard to believe. On the other hand, I can very...
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