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Authors: Ben Bova

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BOOK: Venus
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t took two weeks for the assorted medics and biologists to agree that
and her crew posed no threat to the human population of Earth and Moon.
Once they finally cleared us, I sent Marguerite to my house on Majorca, telling her, “I’ve got to see Martin Humphries before I go home.”
“Can’t you do this by videophone?” Marguerite asked. “Or you can set up a virtual reality meeting.”
“No,” I said. “This has to be face-to-face, him and me. On his turf.”
So I went down to Selene City.
I was ushered into the sitting room of his residential suite in the Hotel Luna, and told, “Mr. Humphries will be with you shortly, sir.”
I walked across thick carpeting to the room’s actual window. Aboveground buildings were rare on the Moon; windows even rarer. I stared out at the rich glowing crescent of Earth hanging in the darkness outside. There was a stubby black telescope by the window, mounted on a slim tripod. I
squinted through the eyepiece, searching for Connecticut, where the family home had been.
The sprawling house was in jeopardy from the swelling Connecticut River; as sea levels rose the entire valley was slowly being drowned by the encroaching waters of Long Island Sound. I swung the ’scope toward Majorca, but it was off on the limb of the globe, barely discernable. The Majorca house was safe enough, up on its hilltop, but the seawall protecting Palma was already crumbling, threatening the city.
It had taken more than a century for global warming to begin causing such disasters. It would take more than a century to correct them, I knew. We had long decades of toil and struggle ahead of us, but I was certain that we had the knowledge and the tools to eventually succeed.
“So there you are, stargazing.”
I straightened up and turned at the sound of his sarcastic voice.
“Hello,” I said, “Mr. Humphries.”
He didn’t look a bit different from the last time I’d seen him in the flesh, at his hundredth-birthday bash. Tall, straight carriage, slim. Dark, form-hugging suit with slightly padded shoulders. And those hard, cold eyes.
“Mr. Humphries?” If he was taken aback by the formality of my address to him, he hid it well. He crossed the room and sat on the upholstered sofa beneath an electronic reproduction of some garish neoclassical painting, Delacroix, I think: horse-mounted bedouins in swirling robes racing across the desert with long rifles in their hands.
“You’re not my father,” I said flatly.
He didn’t blink. “Fuchs told you that?”
“DNA scans proved it.”
He let out a breath. “So now you know.”
“I know why you had my mother murdered,” I said.
That popped his eyes wide. “She died of a drug overdose! She did it herself. It was suicide, not murder.”
“Was it?”
“I loved her, for Christ’s sake! Why do you think I
hounded Fuchs until he gave her up? I loved her, she was the only woman I ever loved, damn her to hell and back!”
“Very loving words,” I sneered.
He jumped to his feet, face red, hands jittering agitatedly. “I wanted her to love me, but she never did. She wouldn’t let me touch her! And then she went and had a baby—his baby!”
“That’s why you’ve hated me all these years,” I said.
He gave a short, barking laugh. “Hated you? No, that’s too active a word. I loathed you, you miserable little Runt. Every time I saw you I saw the two of them laughing at me. Every day of your life was another reminder that she couldn’t stand my guts, that she loved that bastard Fuchs, not me.”
“So that’s why you set up this Venus mission, to get me to kill myself.”
He seemed startled by the thought. “Kill you? Hah! Who cared about you? Who the fuck would’ve thought that you, the weakling, the cowardly pitiful Runt, would take up my challenge? Nobody in his right mind would’ve expected that. You surprised the hell out of me, let me tell you.”
“Then why …?” All of a sudden I saw the truth.
Martin Humphries nodded, understanding the dawning light in my eyes. “It was to kill Fuchs, of course. He was way out in the Belt, where his fellow rock rats protected him. Besides, I promised your mother that I wouldn’t go after him, and despite what you think I kept my promises to her. Despite everything, I let the sonofabitch live.”
“Until you got the idea for the Venus prize. It was a trap, all along.”
“Once Alex was killed I couldn’t hold back anymore. I wanted that bastard Fuchs
! So I dangled ten billion dollars’ worth of bait and, sure enough, he came after it.”
“And so did I.”
Something of his old smirking expression crept back across his face. “That was a bonus. I never expected you, of
all people, would take the challenge. But I figured, what the hell, Venus will kill both of you. Father and son.”
“But I survived.”
He shrugged. “I got what I was after. Fuchs is dead. Damned good and dead.”
“Maybe not,” I said.
He stared at me.
“We froze his body. Marguerite Duchamp is bringing together the world’s top cryonics people to see if he can be revived.”
Martin Humphries staggered back a few steps, his face ashy white, and plopped down gracelessly on the sofa.
“You son of a bitch,” he whispered, pronouncing each word distinctly. “You fucking traitorous son of a bitch.”
I suppose I should have enjoyed the look of utter shock and confusion on him, but I felt no sense of victory, no joy of triumph. Only a kind of disgust that he could hate a man—two men, actually—so deeply.
“I’ve come here to ask you a question,” I said, feeling cold and implacable inside. “One question.”
His eyes narrowed.
“Did you have Alex’s ship sabotaged? Are the rumors true?”
“No!” he snapped, fists clenching. “Alex was my son, my flesh and blood! Not like you. He was part of
How could I harm him?”
I believed him. I felt the steely hatred gripping my heart fade a little. I realized that I wanted to believe him, despite everything. I did not want to go through my life thinking that he had murdered Alex.
“All right, then,” I said quietly. “Then it’s over.”
“Is it?” Looking up at me, he said, “You think I’m going to let you get your hands on my ten billion now? After what you’ve done?”
“I already have my hands on it,” I said. “I contacted your lawyers as soon as we established lunar orbit. The money’s still in escrow. All that’s needed is my signature.”
“And mine!” he snapped.
“You’ll sign.”
“Like hell I will!”
“If you don’t, the news media get the whole story. You, Fuchs, my mother, me—the entire story. They’ll love it.”
“You … you …” He ran out of words.
Heading for the ornate desk in the far corner of the room, I said, “I’ll be going Earthside as soon as I leave here. I’ve got to start organizing the next expedition to Venus.”
“The next … ?”
“That’s right. We’ve learned how to survive even on the planet’s surface. Now we’re going back to begin the real exploration.”
Martin Humphries shook his head, whether in wonder or sorrow or disbelief I neither knew nor cared.
“You’ll be able to sign the escrow papers electronically,” I told him. “Your lawyers have already agreed to that. You won’t have to leave Selene.”
“Get out of my sight!” he snarled.
“Nothing could please me more,” I said. “But I want to leave you something, something you’ve bought and paid for.”
He glared at me as I slipped a data diskette into his desktop computer.
“Here’s Venus,” I said.
All the room’s walls, even the windows, were smart screens. Suddenly they all showed the glowering red-hot surface of Venus, the views that little
’s cameras had recorded. I punched out all the overhead lights; Martin Humphries sat, sagging and defeated, as the sullen red anger of Venus enveloped him. I could almost feel the heat as I stood by the desk.
Walking slowly to the door, I watched as the wall screens showed the wreckage of
scattered across those baking rocks, with those strange feeding arms stretched over it. Martin Humphries sat transfixed, actual perspiration breaking out on his forehead.
I grasped the door handle and waited. The ground opened up, a white-hot fury of lava swallowing the wreckage,
burning, destroying, melting everything it touched with its incandescent rage.
I left Martin Humphries sitting there, staring into the blinding fury of Venus.
I left him in hell.
As I headed toward the rocket port and the shuttle that would take me back to Majorca, back to Marguerite, I wondered if Alex had left samples of his sperm before he ventured off on his space missions. It would have been the prudent thing to do, if he’d intended to someday marry and have children. A protection against the radiation levels that could be encountered in space during a solar storm. Alex was a prudent man; I felt certain that he had sperm samples tucked away safely, perhaps in the Connecticut house.
I wondered how Marguerite would feel when I asked her to carry his cloned zygote. Would she do that for me? It was a lot to ask, I knew. We’d have children of our own, of course, but first I wanted to bring Alex back.
I wondered how it would feel to be his big brother.
As on a Darkling Plain
The Astral Mirror
Battle Station
The Best of the Nebulas
Escape Plus
Future Crime
Gremlins Go Home
(with Gordon R. Dickson)
The Kinsman Saga
The Multiple Man
Orion Among the Stars
Orion and the Conqueror
Orion in the Dying Time
Out of the Sun
The Rock Rats
Star Peace: Assured Survival
The Starcrossed
Test of Fire
To Fear the Light
(with A. J. Austin)
To Save the Sun
(with A. J. Austin)
The Trikon Deception
(with Bill Pogue)
Vengeance of Orion
Voyagers II: The Alien Within
Voyagers III: Star Brothers
The Winds of Altair
“With Isaac Asimov and Robert Heinlein gone, Bova, author of more than seventy books, is one of the last deans of traditional science fiction. And he hasn’t lost his touch.

Kansas City Star
“An epic adventure, full of twists and turns and genuine surprises.”

The Hartford Courant
“As a voyage to an unknown world, it excels.”

Publishers Weekly
“A top-notch adventure story … The author’s excellence at combining hard science with believable characters and an attention-grabbing plot makes him one of the genre’s most accessible and entertaining storytellers.”

Library Journal
“Bova manages to bring the planet alive as a force of nature indifferent to the struggles, hopes, or presence of the humans who are attempting to make the first successful landing on her surface.”

This is a work of fiction. All the characters and events portrayed in this book are either products of the author’s imagination or are used fictitiously.
Copyright © 2000 by Ben Bova
All rights reserved, including the right to reproduce this book, or portions thereof, in any form.
Edited by Patrick Nielsen Hayden
A Tor Book
Published by Tom Doherty Associates, LLC
175 Fifth Avenue
New York, NY 10010
is a registered trademark of Tom Doherty Associates, LLC.
eISBN 9781429969635
First eBook Edition : October 2011
Library of Congress Catalog Card Number: 99-462304
First edition: Aplril 2000
First mass market edition: May 2001
BOOK: Venus
4.6Mb size Format: txt, pdf, ePub

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