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Authors: Nancy Kress

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BOOK: Probability Space
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Go to the Ares Abbey at Rho Street 8451. Ask for Brother Meissel. Give him this letter. Take a sled, ten percies anywhere under the main dome. ‘My Lord and my God, I have realized that whoever undertakes anything for the sake of earthly things or to earn the praise of others deceives himself … but You are unchangeable for all eternity
.’

Inside were a ten-percy coin and another letter.

Amanda folded it back up.
My Lord and my God
 … She still thought Father Emil was a lunatic. But he had gotten himself killed for her. And despite his note, he belonged to an organization that undertook “earthly things.” It was all very confusing. She was tired of being confused, and afraid, and hunted. She was tired.

Nonetheless, she made herself stand and trudge through the tunnel. Above the roof, the Martian sky shimmered with pink dust. On many walls were large holoposters of General Stefanak, and soldiers thronged the main streets. Flatbed trucks carrying goods from the industrial East Sector to the main dome passed her, but only very gradually. Everything in Lowell City moved slowly.

The city consisted of three domes, each anchored to a circling concrete wall one and a half meters high that anchored the struts shaping the domes. The main dome enclosed about twenty square miles; each of the other two were about half that. In Main Sector a slender tower soared along the high central strut. Called “the Summit,” it housed the Solar Alliance Defense Council. General Stefanak’s office occupied the top floor, commanding Mars.

Where the tunnel met the main dome, the trucks stopped. Robots transferred goods to the much smaller sleds, the only transport permitted in Main Sector except for military vehicles. The sleds came in two varieties: flat or with four open seats. Amanda called one of the latter by the number printed on its side, and it rolled up to her on the flat, computer-controlled tracks that” squiggled over the entire city.

“Rho Street Eight-four-five-one,” she told it, depositing her ten-percy in the slot. Most people used credit, of course, but the percies remained in circulation. They were untraceable.

“Rho Street Eight-four-five-one,” the sled repeated and rolled off. It had no sides or top, and Amanda sat with her newly short, hair falling forward to hide her face as much as possible. But no one paid her any attention.

The sled had a small audio terminal mounted on the front with a limited selection of channels. Amanda touched news.

“—latest unprovoked attack by subversive organizations trying to bring down the government. Killed was a Catholic priest identified as Emil Fulden and a Martian citizen identified as Maria Greta Silverstein. Government sources speculate that the killing was occasioned by General Stefanak’s planned rally at Kepler Park this evening, and that—” Amanda stopped listening.

They had it all wrong. Everybody had everything all wrong. All her life, she’d thought that adults knew what they were doing, knew how things really were. All her life.

She wouldn’t cry. Amanda Capelo did not cry.

It took all her remaining strength to get off the sled at Rho Street 8451. It was a windowless building made of foamcast, like most of Lowell City, with a red door. A metal plaque said in small letters:
ARES ABBEY OF THE BENEDICTINE BROTHERS.

Amanda spoke to the door. “I’m here to see Brother Meissel, please. Father Emil told me to come here.”

No house system answered.

She repeated her message, adding, “My name is Jane Verghese.” She’d found the fake passport in an inner pocket of her coverall. Father Emil must have put it there.

Father Emil, lying in his own blood in the Martian street …

“Let me in!” Amanda told the door. Still no response. People pushed by her. Lowell City, like all Martian domes, crowded everything and everybody close together.

Now she spied a second, smaller plaque to the right of the door. It read
PLEASE KNOCK
in several languages. This place, whatever it was, didn’t even have a
house system
. What had Father Emil sent her to?

Wearily Amanda banged her knuckles on the door. She had to do it twice before anyone opened.

“Brother Meissel, please, I—”

“Why do you wish to see Brother Meisel?” the man said. Amanda looked closer. It was a boy, not a man, just a few years older than she. He wore a weird, long robe of rough brown cloth. Silently Amanda handed him the letter. Then, not caring that it was rude, she pushed past him into a small stone-floored anteroom where she’d glimpsed a stone bench carved of red Martian rock. Gratefully Amanda sank down on it. The boy closed the heavy abbey door and disappeared.

After a while—she couldn’t tell how long, time seemed strangely distorted—a man appeared, holding the letter. He wore the same brown thing as the boy. His voice was deep and calm.

“Hello, Amanda. I’m Brother Meissel. You’re safe here with us, just as Emil said.”

“He’s dead,” Amanda said.

“He’s gone to join our Lord Christ,” Brother Meissel said quietly. “God rest his valiant soul. Now come with me, Amanda. You are safe, you know. No one will find you here.”

Amanda didn’t believe it. But she rose and staggered after Brother Meissel, because she didn’t know what else to do. Uncle Martin and Aunt Kristen were on Mars, but in Tharsis, half a planet away. Amanda had no way to get to Tharsis. Anyway, Father Emil had told her to stay at the abbey because she would be safe there. Maybe this time someone was telling her the truth.

EIGHT

WORLD

F
rom the sky, the planet looked just the same.

Hurtling down through the atmosphere, Kaufman watched the single, equator-spanning continent grow larger and larger. Now he saw its lush foliage, sparkling lakes and seas, occasional mountains. Closer, and the amazing kaleidoscope of colors appeared: World was alive with flowers, cultivated and wild, growing in huge fields and tiny plots, crimson and cobalt and rose and lemon and colors Kaufman couldn’t name but Worlders all could. Closer still and the pattern of scattered villages, neat fields, white-dust roads appeared. All unchanged. Then they were down, in the old landing place between the Neury Mountains and the village of Gofkit Jemloe.

Kaufman said into the silence, “I never thought I’d see this place again.”

“Nor I,” Marbet said.

“Shared reality,” Kaufman said, and the joke was so sad, so sour, that Marbet didn’t reply.

He added, “Do you think there’s anything left?”

“Of course there’s something left. Just not what there was before. Human beings are very resilient, Lyle.”

“These weren’t human beings.”

“Close enough,” Marbet said, but she didn’t really know. She’d met only a few Worlders, very briefly. Kaufman hadn’t met a lot of them, either, and he was not as intuitive as Marbet (no one was), but he had seen “shared reality” in action. He’d witnessed the blithe assumption that two Worlders’ conception of a situation was the same. The sharp head pain when it wasn’t, a head pain that Ann Sikorski had demonstrated was hard-wired into Worlders’ brains, the result of millennia of evolution in the presence of the buried alien artifact in the Neury Mountains.

That same artifact that Kaufman had removed, giving it to General Stefanak. With it had gone the culture of World: the shared assumptions physiologically enforced, the impossibility of any premeditated violence, the elaborate social structures for working and mating and sharing, all based on not being able to feel differently from everyone else around you. All gone, because of him.

He could have recited by rote Ann Sikorski’s last known message:

This is the final report of the World anthropological team. Not that I think my report makes any difference to you. The natives of World are surviving, although not without tremendous strain and uncounted casualties. The infrastructure of communication and trade and centralized governance is all gone. There is some looting and rioting, probably not as much as if they were human. They’re starting to defend themselves by turning the villages into small forts, with stockades and local justice. The planet-wide civilization is gone along with the biological basis that gave rise to it, thanks to you. What’s taking its place is frontier isolation, economically possible without starvation only because this is such a fertile planet. In that isolation most non-practical art will disappear. So will much of the manufacturing that depended on wide trade to sustain it, and the easy exchange of ideas. Religion is bound to fragment. Within a generation, World will be made up of very small pre-Renaissance enclaves, and their own version of the Dark Ages will begin. But don’t worry your conscience, Lyle—they’re surviving. End of report by the Planet World team, Ann Pek Sikorski, biologist, and Dieter Pek Gruber, geologist
.”

“Stop it, Lyle,” Marbet said. “It was not your fault. And I’m getting tired of saying that to you. See if you can raise Ann.”

He opened the link. All the human comsats still orbited World; they would orbit it for hundreds of years. The natives had been given nine comlinks, in trade. But only Ann Sikorski or Dieter Gruber would answer this frequency. Kaufman let the comlink shrill for a full minute. No one answered.

He recorded a message: “Ann, Dieter, if you can hear me, please answer. This is Lyle Kaufman. This is a real-time link; Marbet Grant and I are on World. Please answer.”

Marbet said gently, “Let’s start toward the village, Lyle. They may know where Ann and Dieter are.”

They hadn’t even armed themselves when Kaufman’s comlink shrilled. He answered it, “Hello? Ann?”

“It is Dieter!” a joyous voice called.

Two years fell away and Kaufman was back in the Neury Mountains, listening to Dieter Gruber and Tom Capelo argue about mental effects of the buried artifact. Dieter Gruber, cheerful, insensitive, a huge blond hulk engineered according to somebody’s ludicrously exaggerated idea of a Teutonic prince. Dieter, without whom the Protector Artifact would have stayed buried in the submontane cavern where it had lain for fifty thousand years.

“Ach, Lyle, is that really you? You are back? Ann, Ann, come quick, it is Lyle!”

So Ann Sikorski was still alive, too. Thanksgiving flooded Kaufman. One more death off his conscience.

“Lyle?” Ann’s voice, quieter than her husband’s, and infinitely more steely. Ann the idealist, who had stayed behind in the civilization humans had ruined.

“Yes, it’s me. And Marbet, too. We’re at the old landing site near Gofkit Jemloe. Are you in the village? Or at Hadjil Voratur’s?”

“No,” Ann said quickly. “Don’t go either place. We’re in a different village, half a day’s walk from you. But you can’t … Do you have a surface craft?”

“No. Only a misbegotten cross between a flyer and a shuttle. It won’t make surface hops.”

“Then don’t move. Dieter will come to you.”

“Come to me? But why—”

“I said
don’t move
.” The link went dead.

Marbet studied his face. She said, “They think it’s too dangerous for us to be out there by ourselves.”

He didn’t answer. Travel on World had always been open, easy, safe. In a monolithic culture in which any act of violence would hurt the perpetuator almost as much as the victim, violence had been rare. Before.

They went back inside the flyer/shuttle, Kaufman feeling something between ridiculous and scornful. He had been a soldier, with combat experience. Marbet and he had the latest personal weapons available to civilians. And Ann Sikorski wanted him to wait before facing a hypothetical mob of short aliens with no history of warfare and a technology level stuck at hand-forged bicycle wheels. His mood, usually calm, blackened. Marbet left him alone.

They left the door open, sat, and waited. Eventually a smear appeared on the horizon, moving very fast. It grew into Dieter Gruber on a motorized bicycle. He raced up to them and threw himself off the bike, enveloping each of them in a huge bearish hug. “
Lieber Gott
! You are really here!”

“Yes,” Kaufman said; disentangling himself from Gruber. Kaufman was not a hugger. “And more to the point, so are you. You are well? And Ann?”

“I am very well. Marbet, beautiful as ever! But why do you come? Is there another scientific expedition?”

“No,” Kaufman said, “no expedition.”

“We came to rescue you,” Marbet said mischievously. She had received Gruber’s hug with pleasure, and her glance at Kaufman said that the exuberant Gruber, bursting with health, obviously did not need rescuing. “But why wouldn’t you let us come to Gofkit Jemloe?”

Gruber instantly sobered. “We are not in Gofkit Jemloe. Hadjil Voratur … it is not good.”

“Tell me,” Kaufman said. Here it came: What he had done to this planet.

“Hadjil Voratur and his son Shosaf are dead. Killed by marauders, during the time after shared reality went away. They would not believe when we told them not to try … anyway. Gofkit Jemloe is an armed camp, under a cousin of Voratur’s, a very dangerous person. Febin Frillandif. He has recruited an army … Worlders were peaceful, you remember.”

As if Kaufman could forget.

“Peaceful, yes, but they are human. Well, no. But when everything changed, those scum who had been controlled by shared reality were controlled no longer. Frillandif is subduing all the villages around, one by one. He is building an ‘empire.’”

Like Stefanak. Kaufman said, “And you and Ann and Enli?”

“We are in Enli’s village, Gofkit Shamloe. They have tried to attack, but Ann and I brought with us some weapons they of course had never seen … and you have brought more.”

“Yes,” Kaufman said. Two years … Gruber’s weapons must have been either extensive or well hoarded. Or else the local warlord had only tried attacking once. “Couldn’t you just take him out?”

“Yes. But Ann will not let me.” After a moment Gruber added, “Although you, Lyle, could do it with the ship.”

Kaufman could. Fly over, hit Gofkit Jemloe with a proton beam … No, he could not. The village, if not the household, must be full of civilians, children. Ann was right. These people would have to work out their own means of dealing with the despots they had never had before. If there was one warlord, there would be others.

BOOK: Probability Space
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