Authors: Juanita Coulson
Book one of the series
The Saunders’ matriarch could deny the stars,
but the stars were still there—and still they called . . .
CORRUPTION IN EDEN
Todd Saunder’s eyes traveled slowly down the long rows where the frozen bodies should have rested, waiting for their eventual revival into the world of the living. A sudden chill swept over him, despite the heavy insulating suit he wore here at the Enclave under the Antarctic ice.
This had been his father’s dream—a place for those political opponents, wild visionaries, and troublemakers who might endanger the delicate balance of a recovering world. There would be no executions, no taking of life, but only a place here where their bodies could remain until the world could safely revive them.
Now their bodies were gone, the places taken by holograms of those bodies to conceal the destruction of the great plan. There was no one left to revive.
Someone had canceled the plan. And Todd realized sickly who that someone had to be: Jael, his mother!
“NO ALIENS ALLOWED!”
On an Earth recovering from the chaos of the previous generation, the Saunder family was paramount. The incredible inventions of the dead genius Ward Saunder had lifted the world by its bootstraps, and the shrewdness of the widow Jael had piled up vast riches and apparently benevolent power. Now, using her charismatic older son Patrick as her puppet, she was seeking total dominance.
But JaeI’s younger son Todd and daughter Mariette wanted no part of that. Todd was seeking contact with other stars and Mariette was building a giant station in space. And when Todd discovered that an alien ship was approaching Earth, Jael reacted in paranoiac shock.
Preaching that Earth must be saved, she laid plans to blast anything from space—even Mariette’s space station.
Then Todd learned of the evil that lay behind, all Jael’s supposed benevolence. And all hell was let loose on Earth!
By Juanita Coulson
Published by Ballantine Books
Children of the Stars:
Book One: TOMORROW’S HERITAGE
Book Two: OUTWARD BOUND
Book Three: LEGACY OF EARTH
Book Four: THE PAST OF FOREVER*
THE DEATH GODS CITADEL
THE WEB OF WIZARDRY
A Del Rey Book
Published by Ballantine Books
Copyright © 1981 by Juanita Coulson
All rights reserved under International and Pan-American Copyright Conventions. Published in the United States by Ballantine Books, a division of Random House, Inc., New York, and simultaneously in Canada by Random House of Canada Limited, Toronto.
Library of Congress Catalog Card Number: 81-66671
Manufactured in the United States of America
First Edition: September 1981
Fourth Printing: April 1989
Cover Art by David Schleinkofer
With sincere gratitude for their help,
encouragement, and expertise to:
Terry Adamski, Gary Anderson,
Harry J.N. Andruschak, and Kay Anderson.
May the limits of the nations
Be no barrier to men,
When the reach beyond achieving
Must be tried and tried again;
May no hunger for stagnation
In the Councils of the High
End the yearning of our dreamers
For the goals beyond the sky.
— Apodosis, Canto VII
The message terminal paged Todd very politely, and a dulcet-voiced Kenyan apologized for intruding. “Mr. Saunder, we have a confirm on your reservations aboard the orbital shuttle. Three ComLink executive passenger accommodations. Departure time 1815 hours today. Will that be satisfactory, sir?”
“That’s fine. Thank you,” Todd said. In fact, it was not fine. It was cutting very close the connections for the other two people who were going to ride the shuttle with Todd. The Alamshah Corporation PR man on the terminal knew that very well. A bit of sly underhanded dealing between economic rivals. Nairobi was Alamshah’s territory, not ComLink’s. And they weren’t going to let ComLink’s president forget that. The courtesy was a pleasant smoke screen. In the same carefully correct tone the PR man had used, Todd asked, “Have Dr. Foix and Chief Tech Isaacs checked in yet?”
There was a pause. Then, with thinly veiled regret, the man replied. “They have just arrived, sir.” Todd suppressed a grin. So, despite the tricky scheduling, they would all make the shuttle flight without any trouble. The smooth voice continued. “They are debarking from the Central North American Union gate and should be up directly. Will there be anything else, Mr. Saunder?”
“No. All is in order. Please convey my appreciation to Haddad.”
“We are always happy to cooperate, sir,” the anonymous rival purred. “Have a pleasant journey.” Ritual completed, he cleared the circuit.
Todd glanced impatiently at the elevator. It would take Dian and Beth a while to cross the spaceport’s gigantic concourse and ride up to ComLink’s executive suite. Nothing to do but wait. They would have two hours to spare before liftoff, anyway. Time to enjoy the view, and the view offered by a towering structure in a mile-high city was spectacular. The designer had installed a 360-degree outlook, so that Todd could see both Mount Kenya, prodding the clouds 120 kilometers to the north, and the rugged green hills on the west, where the Rift slashed through the continent. Planet-building in progress. And Nairobi sat at an altitude that was, figuratively, already partway up to an orbit that could girdle that world. Down range, to the southeast, Todd thought he could make out the distant haze that might be Mombasa and the ocean. Probably an illusion. They wouldn’t be able to eyeball the port city until they took off.
When the elevator sighed open, Todd hurried to embrace Dian. Beth Isaacs grinned fondly at them and Dian finally broke free, pretending to gulp for breath. “You do make me feel missed.” She laughed. “Absence makes the heart grow passionate, huh?”
Unrepentent, Todd smirked at her. Every time he touched her velvety skin and saw the mischievous sparkle in those dark eyes, he felt renewed. The feelings hadn’t waned over the months. They had deepened, grown into something very much worth cherishing.
“How’s the family, boss?” Beth asked with sincere interest. Like a great many people, she shared the Saunders’ lives vicariously, fascinated by the famous clan.
Todd shrugged. “Great, at least the planetside bunch are. Pat’s election campaign is racking up astronomical successes. Carissa’s playing the part of the perfect candidate’s wife. And Mother figures her boy has the whole thing sewed up.” Dian peered up at him, feeling Todd’s edginess. Finally he told them what was nagging at him. “Jael badgered me to bring Mariette home for the annual reunion. Dad’s memorial ceremonies, the holidays, all that. Mari wouldn’t come last year,” he finished sorrowfully.
Jael Saunder’s little chickens, leaving the roost, scattering and going their separate ways. That was normal. What wasn’t normal were the widening philosophical differences among them, the fraying affections, old ties coming to pieces.
“Mari’s just miffed because Protectors of Earth cut the Colony’s funds again,” Beth sounded patronizing as she said that. There were times when the chief Tech’s loyalty bordered on chauvinism, embarrassing Todd. Beth’s steadfastness was classic. For all the publicity Pat and Mariette gathered in their special careers and interests, for Beth telecommunications made Earth and its satellites go around—and her boss was the top man in that field. Argument concluded.
“Miffed hardly describes Mari,” Todd said, smiling. “But . . . I guess I’ll make the trip, if Mari takes my hint and extends the invitation. Haven’t been up to Goddard for a while. Besides, I’d like baby sister to come home for Dad’s anniversary myself. The reunion could be an excuse to mend some fences between her and Pat and Mother. Jael’s right about that, at least.”
Dian and Beth exchanged a look. “There’s another reason for getting Mariette planetside at this particular time,” Dian said.
Todd didn’t dare believe. His gaze shifted from the lovely black woman in his arms to the tall tech and back again. “You’ve got an update?”
Dian nodded to Beth. His top translator and his top tech, friends and co-workers. Beth opened the case she was carrying and Todd watched closely, his heartbeat quickening. Beth set out a self-powered mini-viewer and inserted a data wafer. She was going to bypass the suite’s fancy built-in monitors. This show was going to be strictly private, for an audience of three. Beth’s bony face tightened with concentration as she cued the system. A series of printouts and images flashed on the small screen. Beth froze the image for Todd. The top part of the frame—the signal Dian and the others had sent out. The bottom part—response. The same binary pattern. But now it was rearranged in key areas to give the correct answer to a posed mathematical question. Todd wasn’t in the women’s league in decryption, but even he could see the startling proof in the results.
Stunned, he sank down, sitting on the edge of a desk, gawking at the screen. They had passed the test. More importantly, the other end of this communications linkage had passed
test. “It’s there,” he said shakily. “And it’s intelligent.”
Dian cradled her head on his shoulder, sharing his victory. Beth’s eyes glowed. She was a proud mother displaying her brainchild. Dian looked up at Todd. “You wanted us to keep at it until we were absolutely, positively sure. We’re sure. This last stuff we broke down . . . no doubts. We shook it every possible way. And we can prove everything.”
Beth cued the monitor again. Another frame appeared. Todd puzzled over the figures, and Beth took pity and explained. “Those are course corrections, boss. It’s fine-tuning and coming about to bring itself right into the dock.” Then she laughed at her own nautical phrasing. Beth had received her earliest language training working at Sea-Search Rescue, which used human and dolphin teams. “It’s funny; there’s a lot of similarity in the way this vehicle’s correcting itself to the way the dolphins home in on the human team members’ signals. Interesting.”
“Very,” Todd agreed.
More than interesting. Phenomenal! Like being present at the discovery of fire. Or, in his case, being the sponsor of the discoverers.
An alien messenger vehicle from the stars. Incoming. The implications were staggering. The vehicle was nearing Neptune’s orbit, moving steadily closer. And the traveler wasn’t silent. Even when they had first detected it, weeks earlier, the alien had been broadcasting on a frequency to which no one else was listening.
Dian and Beth and Project Search had listened, and they had captured fire and carried it home to Todd from the realm of the stars. At first they had been cautious, hoarding the data, not publishing. Not yet. Nobody wanted to jump to conclusions. There had been so many disappointments, not only for Project Search but for all its predecessors during the decades since telecommunications had given mankind a way to talk to space.
Another intelligent species—or its machine! And history would note that Todd Saunder, a scientific dabbler, a “mere” corporation president, was responsible for this first contact with a species from a distant world. He had had the dream, and he had paid the bills.
And what bills they had been! Robbing his own pockets to support the project. He hadn’t beggared himself, as Mari was doing to keep Goddard Colony viable. But he had had to do some fancy juggling. He hadn’t taken in outsiders. This was going to be his, all the way. There had been a lot of long, dry months. Funds going out of Todd Saunder’s personal fortune, none coming back. None might ever return a profit. That didn’t matter. What was on that little screen mattered.
His father’s dream, and his, come true. Ward Saunder hadn’t lived to see it fulfilled. But the continuity of family, of a family quest—that gave the triumph to father and son both. Todd shivered. His mouth had gone dry and he felt giddy, his heart beating like launch thrusters on full. The exhilaration was very much like being drunk. He almost laughed at the sensations.
“When are you going to release the data?” Dian asked. Todd woke from the dream, seeing reality. Delivering the news. The world wasn’t going to react to this wonder the way he had. Some would share his sense of awe and achievement. But a great many humans would panic. Inevitably, there would be cries of alien invasion.
Even Project Search had dealt with that possibility at the beginning. They all would have been fools not to recognize the atavistic fears that lurked in the human species. The very word brought on instinctual ripples of self-defense. Alien.
Hostile? Or friendly? The mood of Project Search’s members matched Todd’s. If any alien life form they contacted were hostile, there wasn’t much they could do about it. And, as it turned out, the vehicle they were communicating with had been broadcasting before Project Search ever turned its ears that way. The only chance element had been which humans first spotted the signals coming in from some four billion kilometers out from the Sun. Somebody, eventually, was bound to hear the message and talk back to the vehicle. But because Todd’s people had taken the risk and searched the right frequencies, the glory—and the terror, if they had guessed wrong—would be his.
He made up his mind. This had been thrashed out three years ago, at the start. He had mentally rehearsed the subsequent steps many times, not allowing himself to believe he would ever carry them out. Until now. “The year-end Global Science Council meeting. I’m a member. I’ll put in a request to be included on the agenda. They’ll think I’m going to read a paper on a new telecommunications breakthrough. They’re right.”
“We have to wait that long?” Beth squeaked in dismay. “That’s weeks.” She wanted to deliver their brainchild to the world right now.
Dian agreed with her. But she also saw Todd’s point. “The data are solid. Next comes selling it.”
He nodded. “I know how you both feel. I feel the same. But this isn’t going to go down easy. We knew that. We’ve got to prepare ourselves to cope with the public. Just maybe I can get us the best salesman on Earth to trumpet the cause.”
The women eyed him hopefully. Dian silently mouthed, “Patrick.” Todd grinned an acknowledgment. His brother would be able to charm the paranoiacs out of their holes—if he could be convinced. Not all the scientists would likely take the data without an argument, either. There was a storm of backlash waiting ahead. Beth complained that the time of the big announcement was too far off. Suddenly, to Todd, it seemed much too close.
Dian roiled her eyes. “We’ve bottled this up so long already. All the other techs up on the sat network wonder why Beth and I and Wu Mim and Anatole and the others spend so much time out on inspection shuttle runs.”
“Just a little bit longer,” Todd said with sympathy. “The hiding is almost over.”
Data leaks. Critics could destroy Project Search if they had let loose unconfirmed data or announced too soon. A year ago, they had gone to security status, intensified it tenfold when the alien messenger’s response started coming a few months later. No electronic relays from ComLink’s satellites. None. It meant Dian and Todd and the others did a lot of tedious eyeball checks, riding out on long swings to Project Search’s little orbiter to pick up the fresh data. And it meant frustrating delays between collection and decryption on safe terminals and comps. Lid on tight. No outsiders allowed. Not until the proofs were in. Checked. Double-checked. Redundancy and yet more redundancy.
And now they had confirmed it.
“Get me more,” Todd insisted. “Everything you can. Pile it on. I don’t care if it duplicates. I want it so convincing it’ll cross the critics’ eyes at that conference. We can’t be solid enough.” In the back of his mind was a horror—standing on the podium, an amateur getting in on his father’s credentials, and world-famous scientists ripping his presentation to shreds. That possibility set his teeth on edge far more than the risk of the alien’s hostility could. He looked searchingly at Dian. “Come to the family reunion with me this year? Please? It’ll only be a day before the conference. I want you there. I . . . I’m going to tell them first. All of them together, the first ones to hear the news. It’s important to me. Please?” he repeated.
Dian countered with another question. “What about Mariette? When you go up to Goddard, are you going to tell her then? She’s a Spacer, too. She knows just what this means to all humanity.”
“No.” Todd didn’t hesitate. “It wouldn’t be fair. She has to learn when Pat and Mother do. Maybe, just maybe, this will pull us all together again. I hope to hell it does. Will you come with me?”
The brown eyes were veiled against him. For a moment Todd thought Dian would refuse. Then, to his great relief, she acquiesced. “Okay. We’ll do it your way.”
“Great! Thank you. Beth?”
“You’re the boss,” the chief tech said. “What’s the schedule?”
“We go up to orbit on our regular tour. You and Dian and the others make one last pickup from Search’s orbiter. Tie it tight. Every detail. I’ll go fetch Mariette—or try to,” he amended. Convincing his hot-tempered sister might be the toughest part of the whole plan. “With luck, I’ll bring her back with me and we’ll ride planetside together in a couple of weeks. Everyone, I want all of you up ‘there on the platform with me at that Science Council conference. We share. Just as we have for so long.”
Beth rubbed her eyes hard, looking acutely embarrassed. Dian covered for the older woman. “Teamwork. Big wrap-up. Okay. So we hoard it just a little bit longer. Personally, I think you ought to thumb your nose at the conference and tell the world yourself, now. ComLink’s able to reach the whole planet and Goddard and the Moon. Simultaneous broadcast.” She met Todd’s steady look and smiled. “No, huh? Well, I’m outvoted. You’re still paying, lover.”
They decided to celebrate, now that the decisions were made. Two hours till launch. Time enough to dip into the suite’s bar. The three of them toasted one another in a good vintage wine, left from the times before the Chaos, years when it seemed mankind might become extinct. They had survived that, made it through to better days. By the time they reached the dregs, they were mellow and sure the better times had just barely started. Project Search was on top of the world, and heading up and out. The sky was not the limit.
Neither was the Solar System.
The shuttle’s attendants gave them a disapproving glare when they boarded. Beth was giggly, and Dian’s sassy cracks were coming thick and fast. Todd greeted the crew jovially, then laughed at their expressions. He read the scorn there: “Foolish white man. Getting drunk before launch.”
Drunk in more ways than one, Todd admitted, settling into his couch. Dian’s dark fingers curled around his. Shared secrets. He was soaring, in free fall before the thrusters fired. He wanted to tell the attendants they were wrong. The old divisions among nationalities and colors and languages were vanishing. Soon they would be gone forever. They would be Homo sapiens. One genetic group, ready to meet a far different genetic product. It wouldn’t matter then that Todd Saunder’s paternal great-grandmother had traced her ancestry to the slave days. It would make no difference that his own genes were linked, distantly, to other Africans from the far side of this continent. The lines would dissolve.
He sobered, wishing no new lines to be drawn.
They couldn’t let that happen.
So much to do. Go through the forms of a normal work routine. The data were still under wraps, and, like Dian and Beth, he would have to pretend nothing out of the ordinary was happening. See if Mariette would balk at his inviting himself to the habitat. Convince her. Get the presentation organized. Take Mari and Dian to Saunderhome. The conference . . .
So very much.
The deep roar of dynamic stress was building, pressing him down while the ship thundered upward, piercing the clouds. Arcing, slowly, slowly, ever rising. Views coming up on the individual passenger screens. Mombasa, fading to a dot. The immensity of the Indian Ocean, a sparkling pool. Dwindling below them. And from this altitude, the perspective changed. He would eventually be able to see all of it.
And ahead, in the blackness above the atmosphere, the satellites of Homo sapiens waited.
Beyond it all, also waiting, there were stars.