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Authors: James P. Hogan

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Echoes of an Alien Sky

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ECHOES OF AN ALIEN SKY
James P. Hogan

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 2007 by James P. Hogan
 
A Baen Books Original
 
Baen Publishing Enterprises
P.O. Box 1403
Riverdale, NY 10471
www.baen.com
 
ISBN 10: 1-4165-2108-9
ISBN 13: 978-1-4165-2108-2
 
Cover art by Bob Eggleton
 
First printing, February 2006
 
Distributed by Simon & Schuster
1230 Avenue of the Americas
New York, NY 10020
 
Library of Congress Cataloging-in-Publication Data: t/k
 
Printed in the United States of America

By James P. Hogan

Inherit the Stars
The Genesis Machine
The Gentle Giants of Ganymede
The Two Faces of Tomorrow
Thrice Upon a Time
Giants' Star
Voyage from Yesteryear
Code of the Lifemaker
The Proteus Operation
Endgame Enigma
The Mirror Maze
The Infinity Gambit
Entoverse
The Multiplex Man
Realtime Interrupt
Minds, Machines & Evolution
The Immortality Option
Paths to Otherwhere
Bug Park
Star Child
Rockets, Redheads & Revolution
Cradle of Saturn
The Legend That Was Earth
Martian Knightlife
The Anguished Dawn
Kicking the Sacred Cow (nonfiction)
Mission to Minerva
The Two Moons
Echoes of an Alien Sky

CHAPTER ONE

The long-range supply ship
Melther Jorg
was named after a deceased Venusian statesman from the island state of Korbisan, who had been a pioneer figure in marshaling political support for space exploration. Twelve weeks after lifting out from orbit above Venus, it entered the terrestrial magnetosphere at a distance of 90,000 miles from Earth, where the interplanetary plasma of charged particles organizes itself spontaneously into the form of an enveloping sheath that isolates the charged body of the Earth from its electrical environment. As the vessel shed the artificially sustained charge that its engines had maintained to ride the electric field gradient extending from the Sun to the periphery of the Solar System, magnetic decelerators braked it into a descent path that would bring it into a matching orbit standing ten miles off from Earth Expedition Headquarters. The orbiting HQ was still referred to as
Explorer 6
, although structural extensions and additions had greatly increased its size and altered its appearance beyond recognition from the Scientific Operations Command ship that had been on station for half a year now.

Half an Earth year, that is, Kyal Reen reminded himself—an Earth year being equal to a little over one and a half Venusian years. The local system of reckoning was used here. It was one of the things he was going to have to get used to.

He sat with a mixed group of newcomers in the midships cabin on C-Deck, used by crew and passengers as a general dayroom and mess hall, staring in fascination at the slowly enlarging view of Earth being presented on the large screen dominating the end wall. The world of blue, broken by brown and green coastlines showing through curdled whorls of white, with its fantastic geography and astounding climates so different from the juddering lava plains and steaming swamps of Venus, was familiar to all of them, of course. They had read the volumes of exploration reports, followed popular news features, and seen pictures going all the way back to the views captured by the earliest unmanned probes. But the image they were looking at now instilled awe in a way that was different from any previous experience. Right now as they contemplated it, beyond the thin walls of the hull containing them and the bubble of air that had carried them across millions of miles of space, the world that it represented was really out there.

Yorim Zeestran, Kyal's junior colleague from the International Academy of Space Sciences, took in the view, sprawled untidily in an easy chair next to him. He had a lean but broad-shouldered, loose-limbed frame, and his chin had sprouted a fringe of yellow growth in the latter part of the voyage. "Imagine, a planet five-sixths water," he murmured. "Who'd ever have believed so much water? It amazes me that the Terrans weren't fish."

Yorim had a casual attitude toward protocol and custom that sometimes raised eyebrows with strangers, but he and Kyal had worked together long enough for informality to be natural between them. For all of those present except Kyal, this was their first time off-planet apart from the short training flights that had formed part of the mission preparation program. Kyal's work in electrical space propulsion research had sometimes involved him in protracted space trips, but never before over interplanetary distances. Hence, all of them were first-timers to Earth.

"Look, over to the left," Emur Frazin said, gesturing. "That thin, curving shape showing through. I think it's part of the double American continent that extends almost from pole to pole. The spine of mountains running all the way down has peaks miles high, and fissures that could swallow a city. What kind of violence did it take to do things like that?"
It was on a scale that our world has never known
, Kyal completed mentally. After a twelve-week voyage, they all knew each other's standard lines. But this time Frazin didn't voice it.

Short in stature, balding, and sporting a short beard, Frazin was probably the oldest among them. He was a psychobiologist, come to join a team at one of the surface bases who were investigating evidence for planetwide calamities early in the Terran's history, and the effects the experiences may have had on their enigmatic psychology. He was one of those fussy but meticulous workers whose refusal to commit to a conclusion until he had satisfied himself three times over could be irritating at times to some—especially those like Yorim, who had never managed to cultivate the art of patience as a principal virtue. But then again, people like Frazin could save a lot of time and money back home to somebody who was, say, contemplating buying a car or deciding where to look for a home. If Frazin had done the research, it was as good as a foregone conclusion that the option he had come up with couldn't be bettered, and one could proceed to follow it with confidence. From what Kyal had gathered, Frazin was also a family man and something of a creature of habit and fixed routine. Kyal marveled at the dedication to work, or maybe it was the fascination with new discovery, that could induce such a person to come on a mission like this, over such an immense distance, and probably of indeterminate duration. Yorim had offered the more pragmatic opinion that perhaps life could sometimes get to be too much a matter of families and routine.

"And that's the way it is now, after thousands of years of wear and erosion. Imagine what things must have looked like when it was all newly formed," Drekker added. Drekker was a climatologist, pursuing what had emerged as something of a new science, since the ever-turbulent squalls of Venus, driven by the hot equatorial belt with its permanent pall of smog and fumes, produced little in the way of a structured "climate" to be studied. He was young and independent, happy to let domestic considerations wait until he had satisfied his curiosity and appetite for adventure a little more, and was ready to go back to them.

"Ice," Quelaya said, staring at the view dreamily. "Natural ice. . . . Caps of it miles thick. A white fantasy world with floating islands. Have you seen pictures of the polar regions? And animals live there. They will be the first places on my list to visit, if I ever get enough time off." Born an Altian, trim and petite, with cropped red hair, dark eyes, and swarthy skin, she was the archeologist among them, and as such faced the prospect of more than enough work for a hundred lifetimes. She and Yorim had developed a friendliness that could hardly be disguised in the confined conditions of a long voyage, and somehow managed to disappear for periods that politeness and discretion precluded comment on. Kyal made it his business not to notice.

He let his gaze drift over the others as they sat spellbound and oblivious of his staring. Arissen, the zoologist, like Kyal himself, a Ulangean, and as with Quelaya, looking ahead to no end of work to be done. Ooster, an entomologist, drawn to the source of Terran insect specimens he had examined that had been brought back to Venus. Naseena, a geologist, her face mirroring Frazin's awe at the panorama of Earth's surface. Sartzow, the microbiologist. And besides scientists, already a flow of early colonists had begun from among the more adventuresome, drawn by the cleaner, clearer climate, by the opportunities presented by the industries and farms springing up to support the scientific influx, or simply by the excitement of starting anew, somewhere among the astounding variety of environments that Earth had to offer, each a world in itself.

It had dense equatorial forests, where the huge trees created a shadowy underworld beneath a green canopy that effectively became a false surface supporting animal forms that lived their entire spans without ever descending to the ground. The more temperate belts contained vast grasslands—arid seas of windblown waves that in turn gave way to dry deserts, hot and cold, and the towering ranges of snowy mountains. Most awesome of all were the oceans, contiguous over the whole planet and extending all the way north and south to Quelaya's fantasy realms of white fairylands and floating mountains.

Every region, even the deserts, teemed with its own fascinating, uncannily adapted mix of life. There was not one among the excited scientists arriving with the
Melther Jorg
who had not seen at some time or other some of the specimens transported back to Venus, or at least been captivated by the documentaries and studies that had been produced of just about every form of Terran life, recorded in their natural habitats.

Every form of Terran life, that was, except one.

Besides researchers of natural phenomena, the teams aboard the orbiting
Explorer 6
and down on the surface also included engineers, architects, historians, scholars of sociology and the humanities, and other specialists like Kyal and Yorim, whose interests lay in artifacts, structures, art forms, and languages. The new arrivals in those categories were eager to get down to the surface of Earth too, and play a part in reconstructing a picture of the world and history of the vanished humanlike race that had once lived there.

The image on the screen changed to show a telescopic preview of
Explorer 6
. As the
Melther Jorg
drew nearer, the lines of the original ship became vaguely discernible amid the clutter of communications antennas and instrument housings, bulbous projections housing astronomical and surface observatories, and surface lander and supply craft docking ports, that had transformed it into what would now be a permanently orbiting command center for Earth-centered activities. An announcement sounded from the room's address system. "Attention, please. We are about to commence our final approach and closing. Docking in thirty minutes."

CHAPTER TWO

The first manned mission to Earth had arrived fifteen years previously. Before that, the tantalizing neighbor world had long been an object of intermittent study from the few parts of Venus that enjoyed clear skies long enough to allow astronomy to emerge as a serious science, and eventually of exploratory visits by robot probes.
Explorer 6
was largest and latest in a series of manned craft built specially for Earth research following the initial explorations and establishment of surface bases. Of its predecessors,
Explorer 1
was now based above Venus as a training facility—in fact, it was the one that the arrivals aboard the
Melther Jorg
had been introduced to before their departure.
Explorer 2
had been cannibalized at the end of its final voyage to Earth to provide most of the extensions to
Explorer 6
.
Explorer 3
had been diverted from Earth operations and sent on a survey of Mercury and the closer solar vicinity to test theories of the electric field configuration and plasma discharge phenomena.
Explorer 4
was back home undergoing a refit, while
Explorer 5
had been subjected to major design changes to bring it up to the standard of
6
, which had actually put
6
ahead in construction, and as a consequence it had been able to depart first.

The Terrans, too, had ventured into space, establishing a presence on their enormous moon, and—if the plans contained in some fragmentary translations that had come to light had been carried through—sending at least one and probably two manned reconnaissance mission to Mars. However, although their civilization had spread to become planetwide, in contrast to the relatively patchy distribution of habitable areas on Venus, and their technology was for the most part at least as advanced—if not more so in areas of military applications—their ambitions for expanding more vigorously into space had been hampered by a curious deficiency in scientific knowledge that had persisted into the latter days of time for which their culture had existed.

BOOK: Echoes of an Alien Sky
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