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Authors: Nancy Kress

Probability Space (29 page)

BOOK: Probability Space
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“In Admiral Pierce’s absence, he has appointed General Yang Lee as acting commander of the SADC. However, Admiral Pierce has assured the Solar Alliance that he will be in constant radio contact with the acting commander. Meanwhile, in the Belt—”

“My father is by Space Tunnel Number One,” Konstantin said casually.

Aunt Kristen looked at him. “I thought you said your father was in Greece.”

“Oh, yes. In Greece. And by Tunnel Number One. And by the Belt. And by Mars. My father to own many many ships, many flyers. My father are many places always.”

“I see,” Aunt Kristen said, and Amanda knew that Aunt Kristen thought Konstantin was bragging. Well, he wasn’t! Those were just facts! Amanda’s father always said to put facts first, and that’s what Konstantin was doing, and there wasn’t anything wrong with that.

Konstantin said, “Tomorrow is Sunday.”

“Yes?” Amanda said, when no one else spoke.

“You to come to church by me, Ah-man-dah? To hear Mass. Church must to be by Tharsis.”

He meant a Catholic church, Amanda realized. Konstantin thought she was religious. Well, he’d first seen her outside the spaceport holding Brother Meissel’s gold chalice, which stood now in the master bedroom.

An unexpected tide of emotion swept her. Brother Meissel, Ares Abbey. The deep voices chanting plainsong: Lauds, Prime, Terce, Sext, Vespers, Matins. “‘
When you have become God’s in the measure He wants, He Himself will bestow you on others.’ That’s St. Basil, Amanda, remember
…”

“Ah-man-dah?”

Her father always said religion was stupid superstition for people who didn’t want to think. But Brother Meissel thought, and he wasn’t stupid, even though nothing he said actually made any sense … It was very confusing. Why did everything have to be so confusing?

“Ah-man-dah?”

“Yes, Konstantin. I’ll go to Mass with you tomorrow. Uncle Martin, is there a Catholic church in Tharsis?”

“I don’t know.” Uncle Martin was looking at her in astonishment, Aunt Kristen with apprehension. Well, let them! Was it such a crime to go to church with a boy you liked? A guest in your home?

“Splendid,” Konstantin said. Amanda’s aunt and uncle were still looking at her, making Amanda feel very uncomfortable, when Demetria suddenly jumped up. “Coffee!” she said loudly, and Amanda was grateful to her even though she didn’t really know why.

On the way back to the dining room, Amanda was struck by another thought. Konstantin, from the peek she’d had at the spare room, was sleeping in there. Demetria’s little bag was stowed beside the sofa, so probably she’d slept there. Where would Amanda sleep? To her intense annoyance, she felt a hot blush sweep up her neck and face. Everybody would notice!

But, in fact, no one did. Konstantin was telling Demetria something in Greek. And Amanda heard Aunt Kristen, behind her, say to Uncle Martin in a very low voice, “Why do you think Pierce is going to the tunnel so fast?”

“I don’t know,” Uncle Martin responded, and Amanda breathed more easily. They hadn’t seen her blush after all. It was all right.

It was all going to be all right.

TWENTY-FOUR

CALIGULA SPACE

T
om Capelo and Marbet Grant stared at Kaufman as if he were a lunatic. In the cramped hiding space at the back of the life-support room, crowded by overhead ducts and whirring machinery and dusty crates, Kaufman silently agreed with them. Everything was in shadow. The machines threw a lot of heat. Kaufman felt the sweat form on his neck, under the unfamiliar seaman’s tunic.

“It can’t work,” Capelo said slowly, with no trace of his usual sarcasm. “Lyle …
think
. It can’t possibly work.”

Marbet said, “It depends on too many improbabilities. Magdaleha, the navy guard ships at five different tunnels …
five
. And then, at the end—”

“Aren’t I the one who’s supposed to be thinking in probabilities?” Capelo said acidly, and Kaufman saw that at least one person had returned to normal. Whatever “normal” could be in this situation. He let Capelo vent. It was the only way to handle him.

“If I were going to draw up sum-over-paths probability for this insane idea,” Capelo continued, “it would lead right into the toilet. Lyle, we can’t do it.”

“What else do you suggest?” Kaufman said mildly.

“Anything else!”

“All right, I’m waiting, Maybe you’ll have a better idea, Tom—I’m certainly not disputing that you’re much smarter than I am. But you need to have it soon, because Magdalena’s going to come for us and we won’t have another chance to talk alone.”

“I won’t do it, Lyle. I want to see my daughters again in this lifetime.”

“All right. Go home, see your daughters. And when the fabric of spacetime is destroyed because two artifacts get set off at prime thirteen in the same system, calculate how much time you’ll have to ever see them again.”

“I have,” Capelo retorted. “The flop-transition wave travels at c, so it will be centuries before it reaches the Solar System. The Faller home world is over a thousand light-years away from Earth!”

“Are you sure it travels at c, Tom? Dieter said that when the first artifact was destroyed right here at this very tunnel by Syree Johnson, there was an instantaneous effect on World, a billion clicks away. Are you positive there isn’t some sort of macro-level entanglement between the space tunnels, themselves entangled, and the artifacts? Isn’t that what your current work is about?”

“How do you know what my current work is about?”

“I read what I could follow. On the Net,” Kaufman said. Those long hours aboard the
Sans Merci
, avoiding Marbet and trying to follow the physics papers he was not trained for.

Marbet said, “Tom … is Lyle right? Is there a chance that the wave at setting prime thirteen might have an
instantaneous
effect on spacetime?”

“No one knows,” Capelo said. “There are even some equations that hint at a lagged effect, like the lag of the destabilization wave itself, but the equations are inconclusive … Damn you, Lyle! All right. I’ll give your radiant idiocy a try. But I still think the most probable outcome is that the three of us die without accomplishing anything.”

Kaufman said, “We’ll die anyway,” and immediately regretted it. Truth shouldn’t sound so grandiose, so gaudy. He had always liked truth to come in sturdy, utilitarian shapes, small shapes that accreted only gradually into a stable, mundane picture.

Not this time.

“All right,” he said, meaninglessly. Then, “Tom, change clothes with me.”

Capelo laughed harshly. He was three inches shorter than Kaufman and about forty pounds lighter.

“Not the pants,” Kaufman said, trying to keep irritation out of his voice. “But give me that shirt, it’s gaping on you anyway. Take this seaman’s tunic.”

“Just what I never wanted … to be in the Solar Alliance Defense Navy. Anchors aweigh, my boys…”

Marbet said, “Please, Tom,” saving Kaufman the trouble.

In the cramped area between the bulkhead and a piece of huge, humming machinery, Kaufman awkwardly stripped off his tunic and put on Capelo’s shirt. It wouldn’t close; he left it unfastened over his bodystretch. The seaman’s tunic fell almost to Capelo’s knees and sloped off his narrow shoulders. Both of them must look ridiculous. Marbet smiled.

Toward the corridor, the door opened.

“Come on,” Kaufman said, “fast.” He led them on the crawl out of the life-support room.

It was Kendai, not Magdalena, who stood waiting for them. The young bodyguard glared at Kaufman. He wasn’t quite as disciplined as Rory; his emotions still showed. Kaufman filed away the information for any possible future use.

They slipped quickly through the deserted corridor to the equally deserted docking bay of the vast warship. How had Magdalena managed to have everybody be somewhere else? She had her methods. And, of course, all the fighter craft had gone streaking after the
Sans Merci
, to bring back the artifact that now would never reach World. The only vehicles in the bay were the landing shuttle and Magdalena’s flyer.

She waited inside the flyer along with Rory, fidgeting among the six close-packed seats. “What took you so long?”

It hadn’t been long. Kaufman didn’t argue, just strapped himself in. “Are we cleared for the tunnel?”

“Yes, of course. For three tunnels on, through Artemis System. Come on, Sensitive, move it. No time now to probe everybody’s inner brains.”

She was taut as elevator cable, Kaufman saw. Tension rose off her like heat. Magdalena took the pilot’s chair. The bay doors opened at her command to the bridge, and the flyer hurled out toward Space Tunnel #438, leading from World into Caligula System.

The tunnel hovered straight ahead, an unfathomable array of panels and cables forming a loose doughnut. The inside was murky, a thick gray … something. The flyer flew straight toward the gray. Kaufman looked sideways at Capelo; what did the physicist see? A mass of unfinished equations? The product of an unknowable alien physics? The means to (maybe) enable a wave that should have traveled at c to instead travel instantaneously, the better to reconfigure spacetime? Capelo’s thin dark face gave away nothing.

Kaufman twisted in his seat, to catch a last glimpse of World, but before he could locate it among the stars, the flyer was through the tunnel and he was looking at entirely different patterns in the sky.

*   *   *

Caligula Station orbited the tunnel, with patrolling flyers in between. It was actually a tunnel system; for unknown reasons Caligula, with no habitable planets, possessed three tunnels. The creators of the tunnel must have considered Caligula space more important than humans did. The other two tunnels weren’t close enough for visual perception, but they showed on Magdalena’s scanner.

Only military, not colonists, occupied the system. Caligula Station was essentially a traffic cop for perimeter tunnel travel. It had never seen a battle. Ambitious officers strove hard to be transferre out as soon as possible. Over fifteen years, the ones who stayed were the non-ambitious, the incompetent, and the venal.

“Flyer,” said a bored young voice, “identify self.”

“Flyer from the
Sans Merci
, civilian, travel permit number 1264A, issued July eleven,” Magdalena said crisply. “Four persons aboard.”

Kaufman counted the seconds: one, two … six, seven …

“Flyer from the
Sans Merci?”
said the young voice, no longer bored. “You were cleared for return passage of the original craft, not just a flyer.”

“Clearance has been changed. Check the priority dispatch you just received from the military flyer that went through an hour ago. You’re the action addressee.”

This time the pause was considerably longer than seven seconds. Kaufman knew what the OOD was thinking: What the hell were civilian travel clearances doing in an action-addressee dispatch, and why did a civilian know about it?

“Cleared for Caligula Station, four persons aboard,” the OOD finally said. “Proceed, flyer. Docking data follows.”

“Thank you,” Magdalena said, and cut the link. She vibrated with tension.

Marbet said to Kaufman, very low, “When you’re in the station, can you get her to make some arrangement for Essa?”

Essa. Kaufman had not given the alien girl a single thought. Essa had been sent home to World along with the artifact, on the
Sans Merci
. But now the
Sans Merci
was not going to reach World. She was going to be captured by Blauman’s fighters and returned to the
Murasaki
. Essa would be aboard a human warship with no one to take charge of her. What would Blauman do with her?

“You haven’t thought about Essa until this minute,” Marbet said. “And now you’re thinking of her with more annoyance than guilt.”

“Essa isn’t the main concern here.”

“I know. But she’s our responsibility.”

Kaufman didn’t see that, hadn’t ever seen that. Essa was Magdalena’s responsibility, at least in theory. Magdalena had brought the alien into space. He knew better than to say this aloud.

But, of course, it didn’t matter whether he said it aloud. Marbet knew.

Caligula Station, a huge misshapen complex pitted with countless small meteor hits, loomed on the view screen. Several fighters and one
Thor
-class warship were docked alongside. “All right, kiddies, into the toilet,” Magdalena said. “Be good in there, you two.”

At a warning glance from Kaufman, Capelo didn’t retort. Even Tom knew how much they needed Magdalena. Without her, they would not get through Space Tunnels #437 and #210 to Artemis System. And they needed her after that in order to … Kaufman put that action out of his mind. One battle at a time.

Capelo and Marbet unstrapped and both squeezed into the tiny head. Flyers were not meant for comfortable or long-term trips; the head was the only place on the flyer that was not visible when the door was opened. The supply cupboards were all too small for a human body, except for those hung with s-suits, which took up the entire space. Even in the head, two people could not both sit down at the same time. But there wasn’t any choice. The head door closed and Kaufman heard the lock click.

He said to Magdalena, “You’re sure they won’t search a civilian craft?”

“They’re supposed to, aren’t they? You would know that. But they won’t. Caligula Station is full of the laziest, fattest, stupidest, dirtiest sailors I ever saw.”

It was what Kaufman had been thinking, in politer terms. He hoped she was right.

Magdalena’s flyer, on computer, flew into an open bay. It closed behind them and pressurized. Instantly she was out the door. Kaufman and the two bodyguards followed.

“Passports,” said the surly gangway petty officer. His hair was uncombed and above his regulation gunbelt, his uniform was decorated with a decidedly non-regulation holo of a bloody knife. The deck was filthy. Where was the OOD? Kaufman itched to discipline the sailor himself, but instead stayed impassive. He was not supposed to look SADC.

The gangway officer inspected their passports and matched each with a retinal scan. Kaufman was once again using his original faked passport, which showed him as the “Eric James Peltier” he’d been aboard the
Cascade of Stars
.

BOOK: Probability Space
6.62Mb size Format: txt, pdf, ePub
ads

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