Authors: David A. Hardy
Tags: #science fiction adventure, #hard science fiction
Aurora groaned, turning her eyes heavenward.
“No, I'm serious. I know it's considered, well, a bit old-fashioned these days,” he said. “But why don't we, you know, make it all legal? That's if you'll have me.”
“If only it were that simple,” Aurora sighed. “Have you really thought it through? I've lived with my knowledge for a long time, and it's one reason why I've avoided...emotional entanglements up to now. By the time you're an old man I may look like your daughter. Could you live with that?”
“I could if you could. After all, it wouldn't be the first time a dirty old man had a beautiful young wife, would it?” He grinned, looking very young himself. “I do love you, and that's all that matters.”
“Well, then....” She paused for a long time, staring at the ceiling. “Well, I guess the answer's âYes'. But let's tie the knot right away. Why wait? At least it'll give the media something different to talk about!”
“I wish we'd told them about us before,” said Beaumont, stroking her hair.
Aurora said nothing. She was too busy nibbling his ear.
* * * *
Next morning the report from Earth was fairly brief. Mission Control asked them to find out as much about the propulsion system of the alien craft as possible. (“Hah! Did they think I wasn't going to anyway?” huffed Orlov.) Experts were working to analyze the “movie”, but it was too soon for them to have come up with any results. There was news from all around Earth of disc-shaped craft in the skies, some of them landing or crashing. A farmer in Berkshire, England, claimed to have unearthed a buried one while plowing. Also in England there was a resurgence of crop circles, which had been debunked as a hoax âway back in the 1990s. Needless to say, none of these claims had been substantiated, but the populace now seemed prepared to believe just about anything. As a corollary, every crank belief or theory was being disinterred and held up as having been true all along but suppressed by the authorities in a monstrous conspiracy.
White-gowned Druids were holding a ceremony at Stonehenge; they now claimed to be the true descendants of the star people. The stones could be made to prove it....
* * * *
In the Igloo a very different ceremony was being held. Orlov had obviously been tickled to be asked to perform a wedding ceremony, as “Captain” of their expedition. He appeared wearing an impressive cosmonaut's dress uniform that no one had ever seen beforeâhe must have brought it as part of his personal allowance.
Having got them all seated except Beaumont and Aurora, he performed the ceremony. He seemed like a strange blend of Russian Orthodox priest and American Justice of the Peace. His efforts were oddly moving.
To Aurora's surprise, Minako had come to her, rather shyly, on hearing the news of their intended marriage, and had offered her a golden ring. “It was my grandmother's,” was her only explanation. Now, Beaumont placed the ring on the third finger of Aurora's left hand. It was a remarkably good fit. For a moment she stared at it incredulously. Marriage had never been on her agenda.
“I now pronounce you husband and wife!” Orlov announced proudly. Bride and groom exchanged a long, lingering kiss, to the accompaniment of applause and whoops.
During the party which followed, Beaumont asked Orlov how he came to have a knowledge of the US civil wedding ceremony.
“Oh, was married once, to American girl,” replied the Russian, reverting to peasant mode. “Lasted three months. Three months too long. She tramp!”
Beaumont had brought his minisynth into the Refectory and, at Minako's request, tuned it to sound like something between a harmonium and an old church pipe organ. It was an unusual but evocative combination, and Minako displayed a hitherto undisclosed talent by playing a selection of Japanese folk tunes. There was much laughter at their attempts to dance in the confined space.
As the newlyweds left for a few brief hours together, Minako again entered into the spirit of the occasion, catching a bunch of paper flowers which Aurora had flung in her direction. Everyone clapped this, and there were more toasts in orange juice and cola.
“We should have had some good Russian vodka!” said Orlov.
“Hah! Saki is better,” claimed Minako cheerfully.
” said Lundquist, raising his orange juice.
Mission Control allowed the ceremony to be transmitted on TV and immediately thereafter released on Hi-Disc and wafer, and around the world the public lapped it up.
Then it was back to work.
* * * *
Out at the alien ship, all efforts were centered on clearing sand and rock from the rest of its perimeter and as much of the underside as possible. They set to with a will.
Verdet had half of his body underneath, clearing away soil from what looked like a piece of steering mechanism, when a shout came from Beaumont. “Claudeâwatch out!”
The heavy craft, no longer stable, suddenly shifted and tilted. It gave out a metallic groaning noise like a leviathan in pain, audible even through the thin air, and began to fall on him.
Orlov caught hold of his arm and yanked, and Verdet scrambled out with a fraction of a second to spare as the ship smacked down violently, causing a minor earthquake and showers of sand.
After that they were more careful. Not having for a moment expected an operation of this type to be necessary, they had not come equipped with anything resembling struts or props. But some of them began collecting suitably sized rocks which could be used to shore up the ship where it was exposed. The low gravity helped them to move quite large, flat boulders between them. It was of course quite impossible to move the ship, but they could at least try to prevent it from shifting again.
At last the greater part of the exterior was visible and the ship stood almost level. Minako walked around it taking video while Orlov and Verdet began their examination. Beaumont and Aurora climbed inside, as she wanted to see if any of the other controls would produce results, or even if there might be a further “movie” or other message. But for them to be able to work there comfortably for any length of time would mean sealing the interior so that they could remove at least the top parts of their suits. This would make it difficult for the others to come and go from the engineering section.
Orlov came up with the answer to that. “You go inside, and seal the canopy. Then open the hatch that leads to the damaged area, dash back into the cockpit, and seal the central door behind you. After that you two can do whatever you like in there”âthere were some sniggers over the suit radios at that, but he ignored themâ“and we can enter from the outside through the damaged part, wearing suitsâthe hole is plenty big enough.”
The red band on the Beacon now glowed steadily, so Aurora was able to follow his instructions without difficulty. As she tried to close the cabin door, though, it jammed partly open, just as it had when she'd first opened it. A fifteen-centimeter gap was left, through which air was whistling out. Already light-headed, Aurora tried again, and a third time.
At last the door closed.
“We'll have to watch that,” said Beaumont as the pressure built again. “If it was an ordinary door we could oil it. But I haven't yet figured out how these doors work.”
“Yes. And I wonder where the air keeps coming from?”
This was something everyone dearly wanted to know. With Lundquist helping them, they examined all the mechanisms now exposed, using radiation counters, magnetometers, even an ultrasound scanner and Lundquist's portable X-ray machine.
Attempting to cut open any of the machinery was of course not to be countenanced. If it ever became necessary, or allowed, it would probably be done by a later expedition, bringing experts in fields not previously anticipated to be useful on Mars.
They hoped it would never be necessary.
WHERE IN THE UNIVERSEâ?
Vitali Orlov was making his report to Earth.
“...we found, by accident really, that when Aurora operated one of the controls a strong magnetic field was generated in a sort of dome or hump in what we call the engine room.
strongâI wouldn't want to stay around it for long, though it seems to be shielded almost completely from the cabin by the walls and bulkheads of the inner section. Nothing else appeared to happen, though.
“There's no radiation to speak of, though what there is varies from place to place. We managed to get images of the interiors of some apparatus, and I'll be transmitting those when I've finished talking. Some of them opened remarkably easilyâperhaps for ease of maintenance. That was a big help.
“Here's a summary of what we think we've foundâthough no doubt your experts will want to have their say.
“First, the ship seems to have an ion-drive for forward movement in space, vastly more advanced than anything we're working on. It doesn't seem to be the only method of propulsion, though. Some of the machinery is, frankly, inexplicable; we can't imagine
it does. But there is a big electromagnetic torus which extends right round the perimeter of the ship, except where it breaks at the ion-drive. Like an almost-closed horseshoe.
“There just isn't enough room for reaction mass for an interstellar mission, so this lends support to the theory that it must have come from some huge mother ship, or ark, which perhaps passed right through the Solar System and out again.
“If that's the case, though, surely you'd expect at least one scout shipâor whateverâto have reached Earth safely, so there should be more people like Aurora walking around. She managed to keep the fact quiet, so I suppose they could be doing the sameâbut perhaps now they could be persuaded to come out of hiding? Maybe you could broadcast an appeal, or something?
“Sorry. I'm supposed to be making a factual report, but we can't help ideas running through our heads, can we?
“There doesn't seem to be space inside for enough life-supportâfood, water, and so on for the woman and the babies for more than a matter of weeks. A lot longer if they were in suspended animation, of course, but we can't find any evidence that they were. There's no cryogenic apparatusânothing we can find that would place them in hibernation.
“There's always the possibility that they had invented some kind of drug, of course, of which only a tiny quantity would be needed. So Dr. Lundquist has run blood and tissue tests on the woman and one of the babies. There are one or two unusual characteristics, but no unknown drugsâat least that he could detect.
“Now, air. They brought
oxygen with them; but they have a machineâwhich we're going to find very useful ourselves on future missions, if we can duplicate it. I'm sure we can crack it.... Where was I? A machine, using some sort of catalytic process which converts carbon dioxide directly, continuously, and apparently easily into oxygen.
“During its flight it would have converted the CO
breathed out by the occupants. Dr. Lundquist thinks it is possible that the carbon left over was combined with other elements and transmuted into food. That would help solve the life-support problem, of courseâbut it's mainly theory at the moment. It wouldn't contribute much, in any case.
“It does explain how it keeps filling the ship with air. With carbon dioxide making up ninety-five per cent of the atmosphere of Mars, it just keeps extracting the oxygen. Easy!
“We ran a test with Aurora, and she thinks that mentalâpsionic, if you likeâpower may be used, at least partly, to control the ship, and even to regulate the motors. That would explain the lack of normal-looking electronic controls. But what she has done so far has scared her, and I agreed that we should take it no further. We certainly aren't ready to fly the ship! Though actually I'm pretty sure that would be impossible anywayâthe engine section is too badly damaged. Pity.
“There's a huge mass of some kind at the center of the ship, near the bottom. And I mean
; makes us wonder if there's a tiny amount of superdense matter in there, perhaps forming some part of the propulsion system. Personally, I'm wondering if they were controlling gravity in some way. Maybe they invented some form of antigravityâit's not impossible, is it?
“We still don't know what to make of that quite large empty area which was the most badly damaged in the crash. It's a bit of a mystery.
“That's about all for now. Orlov, over and out.”
* * * *
He had hardly finished when he started to receive an incoming message that had been winging its way through the ether as he talked. As now seemed inevitable, their earlier transmission, which had included the scenes of destruction on the alien planet, had raised more questions than it had answered.
...our linguistics people are having some success. They say there's no way it could be a truly alien language. The syntax, phonetics, morphemes are typically human in origin. More on that when some sort of translation's available, but the message definitely seems like a warning.
Meanwhile, the stellar astronomers have been analyzing the star-patterns that could be seen in the night-shot, and in the view from space at the end. As you must have noticed yourselves, they look very familiar, meaning that the star-system can't be too far from our own.
So our best computers were put to work plotting the constellations as they would appear from the closest likely stars. They change surprisingly little, actually, until you travel a long, long way, but the computers would be able to find very slight angular changes. You have to bear in mind that we've been looking for a binary or double star, which limits the field a bit.
We had a problem there. We couldn't find any star that fits within ten, even twenty light years. We extended the field, but no star would fit. We even got the computers to take into account the time a ship might have been travelling, compared with the time light takes us to reach us from various stars. No good. In the end we had to give up.
But one of our men, Shiro Takeda, pointed out what should have been obvious: if we were looking at constellations in the sky of a planet of another star, there should be an extra star somewhereâthe Sun. For instance, if we were looking from a planet of Alpha Centauri, the closest possibility, the Sun would be in the constellation of Cassiopeia. But it just isn't there.
Takeda decided to try another approach. I won't go into the technical details now, but he was sure that those constellations, as they appear, could only have been seen from a solar system that fits the facts: our own, though presumably a long time ago. He took the computer-simulated sky back, even to millions of years. But he couldn't get it to fit that way, either....
There must be some other explanationâperhaps distortion due to some other effect. It's even been suggested that the process of your videoing the screen and transmitting it to Earth could be responsible for some distortion. and the computer's working on that. But personally I think this is clutching at straws.
If it was Earth, then obviously we still can't explain the double star, or the nova explosion. Frankly, we're baffled. Perhaps what we've been watching is nothing but an in-flight movieâsomeone's imaginary idea of an alternate reality? We don't know. But you'd better believe we're working on it....
Mission Control, out.
“Phew! What in the name of blazes have we uncovered here?” said Vitali.
Despite the excitement of their discoveries, and the strange results of the analysis, there was a sense of anticlimax and frustration around the camp, where the team was taking a much-needed rest day and performing neglected housekeeping chores. There was in any case very little more that they could do at the alien craft with the instruments they had with them, which had never been designed for this sort of discovery.
It seemed that the scene of action had moved to Earth. Yet scientists there, in many fields, must be itching for the opportunity to get to Mars themselves and do hands-on research on the shipânot to mention its humanlike “crew”.
Aurora seemed particularly distracted. She would sit for hours, a puzzled, faraway expression on her face, and would sometimes not respond when spoken to until the second or third attempt.
Finally Beaumont sat beside her and put an arm around her waist. “What's the problem, love?” he asked gently.
She blinked and looked at him, her eyes slowly focusing. “Yes. You're the only one who could really understand, aren't you? You know all about those...visions I used to get. That most of the audience saw at that rock concert.”
He nodded. “Go on.”
“I've been getting them here on Mars, too. They won't leave me alone. Especially since we saw that film, or whatever it was. Sometimes I see them superimposed on reality. They fill my dreams. I think I'm going madâit's like a sort of schizophrenia.
“The thing is, I'm sure they hold the answer to all this. To everything we've discovered here, perhaps. There
be some connectionâmustn't there?
“If only I could get a handle on them. They cluster at the edges of my mind, but I can't grab them. Am I making sense?”
Her face was anguished, and he wanted to hold her close, and soothe her. But he just nodded again. “Yes. I think so.”
She tapped her blonde head. When she had left Earth her hair had been cropped quite short, but she had allowed it to grow much longer than regulation length despite the occasional difficulty of tucking it inside her helmet, and she now looked much more as she had done back in the days of the Gas Giants. “It's all in here,” she said. “And there must be a reason. I feel I shall never be at peace until I get at it. But how?
“Have you ever thought of hypnosis?”
“Occasionally, yes. I don't believe it would work on me.”
“I think it might. It's much more widely accepted by the medical establishment than it was even twenty or thirty years ago. As long as it's done by an expert, of course. It seems to be a way of reaching the subconscious, which may be just what you need. Come onâlet's find out.”
Without waiting for her to agree, he called: “Doc! Can you spare us a minute please?”
Lundquist looked up from the instrument case he was checking and reloading. “What's the problem? Not birth control?”
Beaumont and Aurora looked at other blankly, then burst out laughing. Such matters had been so far from their thoughts. “Oh, noâI've had my shots!” said Aurora. “I'm due for a booster soon though, as I expect you know.”
Beaumont said: “Are you any good at hypnosis, Doc?”
“Hypnosis?” It was Lundquist's turn to look blank for a moment. They explained the situation.
“As a matter of fact, I did dabble with it a bit when I was a student. Enough to know it can work, anyway. OK, I'm willing to give it a go, if you are. How about tonight? If you're going to come up with a revelation, it's best if everyone is around to hear, isn't it?”
Aurora looked doubtful, but finally agreed.
* * * *
There was an air of expectancy as the team gathered in the Refectory that night. Out of deference to Aurora's wishes, Lundquist had started his attempt with only Aurora and her husband in the room. Beaumont had spent a little time briefing the doctor on what he knew of the key moments in her life, and had lent him his pendulum to use as a point of focus for Aurora's eyes.
It took only seconds of Lundquist's chanted litanyâ“You are feeling tired. Your eyes are tired and heavy. Tired and heavy. Heavy as lead....”âbefore Aurora was under.
Beaumont beckoned to Orlov, who was awaiting his cue, and the rest filed in quietly.
Lundquist seemed uncertain how to proceed. “What is your name?”
“I have no name. But I am known as Aurora.”
“Where were you born, Aurora?”
“On the Second Home.”
“What is the Second Home? Where is it?”
A pause. “Iâdon't know. It just is.”
Robert abandoned that line of questioning. “Aurora, you are ten years old. Where are you?”
In a little-girl voice, Aurora said: “I'm at school at Nairn. We're going to see Granny Petrie on Sunday.” Her face visibly paled. “Iâdon't want to think about thatâ”
Her eyelids flickered, and it seemed that she was about to wake up.
Hastily, Lundquist said: “That's all right, you don't have to. Aurora, it is June, 1972. You are on stage, playing in a concert with a group called the Gas Giants. What do you see?”
“Faces. A sea of faces. Swaying, like the waves. They are all looking at me. I am playing music, and they like it, they want to be part of it, part of me. We are all part of one. No, not all. Some are not able to be part of the whole; their minds are not open. That is sad.”
Her voice changed, became deeper. “But now everyone is happy. It is the Music Festival, and everyone is always happy at the MusicFest. I see the Two Mountains. The people walk among trees and ferns, along the waterways. Everyone joins in the Music. Not all play an instrument. But I do. I am a Musician.” She sounded proud.
Robert interrupted. “Aurora, where are you now?”
“Why, on the Second Home, of course. But my name is not Aurora. My name is...is....
Abruptly, her eyes opened wide, and a look of such incredible pain and loss suffused her face that the others had to look away, not wishing to intrude on her private grief. She hid her face in her hands and for some minutes her body was racked by sobs. Beaumont tried to put an arm about her and draw her to him, but she did not respond. The moment passed, but Aurora was now fully awake.