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Science Fiction, Fantasy & Horror Books


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Author: Charles Sheffield
Publisher: Gollancz, 1992
Del Rey / Ballantine, 1992
Series: Heritage Universe: Book 3

1. Summertide
2. Divergence
3. Transcendence
4. Convergence
5. Resurgence

Book Type: Novel
Genre: Science-Fiction
Sub-Genre Tags: Space Opera
Space Exploration
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The Zardalu were the greatest menace ever known to the worlds of the spiral arm, enslaving entire races and exterminating others, guided by an unswerving belief in their own supremacy. Then their slaves rose up against them, and for eleven thousand years the Zardalu had been extinct and the spiral arm had known a kind of peace.

But now the Zardalu were back...

The search for the Builders, the legendary alien race whose unfathomable constructs continued to perplex scholars and explorers alike, had led Builder expert Darya Lang, adventurer Hans Rebka, and treasure hunters Louis Nenda and Atvar H'sial to an unknown Builder artifact far outside the spiral arm. There they found the Zardalu - just a few who had been trapped in stasis all those millennia, held there for purposes known only to the Builders. And in the struggle that ensued the Zardalu had been set loose, transported by Builder technology to to galactic parts unknown - free to ravage any world and any race within their grasp.

The only chance to eliminate the Zardalu threat was to find them and wipe them out before they had time to breed back up to strength and once again threaten civilized beings everywhere. The problem was that no one believed the story. Only Darya Land and her companions had actually seen the aliens - and no evidence existed to support their claims. And so the course seemed clear: get a ship themselves and search out the Zardalu.

But the way would not be easy. Even once they managed to locate the Zardalu, they still had the Builders to deal with. For the closer they got to their quarry, the more clear it became that the Zardalu and their world were closely entwined with the fate - and the plans - of the Builders themselves.


Chapter One: Sentinel Gate

The Builder artifact known as Paradox lies deep in Fourth Alliance territory (Bose Access Node, G-232). The fact that Paradox contains a Lotus field has been known for almost three thousand years, since the Ruttledge expedition of E.1379 (Reference: Parzen, E.1383). Although such a field destroys both organic and inorganic memories, it does not invariably inhibit the passage of electrical signals along a neural cable conductor. At least one counter-example is known. (Reference:...


Darya Lang's hands hovered over the input coder, while she stared at the display in total frustration. What could she write next? It was a point of pride with her that the entries in the Lang Universal Artifact Catalog (Fifth Edition) be as accurate and up-to-date as possible. It was not her fault that some of her recent proposed entries were being criticized because of the ignorance of other editors. She knew, even if they did not, that in certain circumstances an electrical signal could travel along a neural cable from inside a Lotus field to a computer outside. Although she had not seen it herself, she had the word of the councilor who had observed it, and councilors did not lie.

Not to mention the word of the embodied computer, E. Crimson Tally, to whom it had actually happened.

She chewed at her bottom lip, and at last made the entry.

Reference: private communication, Councilor Julius Graves.

It was the best that she could do, a far cry from the usual form of academic references that Professor Merada would consider satisfactory. But in this case, the less said, the better. If Darya were to add that the cited incident with the Lotus field had taken place on an artificial planetoid known as Glister, just before Graves and Tally and Darya herself had been thrown thirty thousand light-years out of the spiral arm by a Builder transportation system, to a location where they had encountered... well, don't go any further. Merada would just lose his mind. Or more likely tell Darya that she was losing hers.

Maybe she was--but not for that reason.

It was late in the evening, and Darya had been working outside in the quiet of a little leafy bower. The calm air of Sentinel Gate was filled with the perfume of the planet's night-scented flowers and the faint cooing of nesting birds. Now she stood up from the terminal and moved to push the vines aside.

She knew exactly where to look: east, to where Sentinel itself was rising. Two hundred million kilometers away and almost a million across, that shining and striated sphere dominated the moonless night sky. Since childhood, it and the mystery of the Builder artifacts had also dominated Darya's thinking. She would be the first to admit that it had shaped her whole life.

And the artifacts shaped her life still--but in a quite different way. Darya stared at Sentinel, as she had stared at it a thousand times before, and marveled at how much she had changed in so short a time. One year ago she had been a dedicated research scientist who asked nothing more than her library and her work, cataloging and analyzing data on the thousand-plus Builder artifacts scattered around the spiral arm. The discovery of a statistical anomaly involving all the artifacts had persuaded her to leave her quiet study on Sentinel Gate, and travel from the civilized region of the Fourth Alliance to the rough outpost worlds of Quake and Opal.

There she had found her anomaly--and more. She had found danger, excitement, despair, terror, pain, exhilaration, and companionship. Half-a-dozen times she had been close to death. And returning at last to Sentinel Gate, the place she had longed for so hard and so long, she had found something else. She had found herself to be--to be--

Darya stared at Sentinel, and struggled to admit the truth.

To be bored.

Incredible, but that was the only word for it. The life of a successful archeo-scientist, once so rich and satisfying, was no longer enough.

It was easy to see why. The disappearance of the Builders from the spiral arm five million years ago had provided for Darya the most fascinating mystery imaginable. She could think of nothing more interesting than exploring the artifacts left behind by the long-vanished race, seeking to understand them and perhaps to learn where the Builders had gone, and why.

Nothing more interesting, that is, so long as the Builders remained vanished. But once one had met constructs who explained that they were the Builders' own representatives, who still served the Builders' interests... why, then the past became irrelevant. What mattered was the present and the future, with the possibility of encountering and studying the Builders themselves. Even the most interesting parts of her old life, including her cherished catalog of artifacts, could not compete.

Darya's communication terminal was sending a soft piping sound in her direction. She walked back to it in no particular hurry. It was going to be Professor Merada--these days it was always Professor Merada, at any hour of the day or night.

His serious, heavy-browed face had already appeared on the screen, overwriting her catalog inputs.

"Professor Lang." He began to speak as soon as she came into his field of view. "Concerning the proposed entry on the Phages."

"Yes?" Darya had an idea what was coming.

"It states here--I quote--'although Phages are generally considered to be slow-moving free-space forms, shunning all forms of gravity field, there are exceptions. In certain circumstances Phages may be induced to move into a gravity field, and move with considerable speed.' Professor Lang, I assume that you wrote those words."

"Correct. I wrote them."

"Then what is your authority for the statement? You quote none."

Darya swore at herself. Even when she had made that addition to the Phage entry, she had known it would cause trouble. It was the old problem: Should she parrot conventional wisdom on the Phages and the Builder artifacts? Or should she tell what she knew to be the truth, even though it could not be supported by anything but her own word and that of a few other people in her party? She had seen Phages, moving far faster than any Phage was supposed to be able to move, dive-bombing the ship she herself rode in. Others had seen those same Phages--supposedly indestructible--smashed into fragments on the surface of a high-field planetoid.

She felt angry with Merada, and knew she had no right to. He was doing exactly what a conscientious and first-rate scientist should do--what Darya herself would have done one year ago: ruling out hearsay and shoddy research, by insisting on complete documentation.

"I will send you a reference, as soon as I have approval to release it."

"Make it soon, Professor Lang. The official closing date for changes to the catalog is already past. Are you sure that you will be able to obtain approval?"

"I'll do my best." Darya nodded to indicate that the conversation was over and moved away from the terminal. Merada assumed that the approval she referred to was no more than the consent of another researcher to make known a preliminary finding, perhaps in advance of official publication. The truth was insanely more complex. Approval for this information would have to come from the whole interclade Council.

She had moved no more than half-a-dozen steps when the communications terminal issued another soft whistle. Darya sighed and turned back. Persistence was a prime virtue in any research worker; but sometimes Merada took it to extremes.

"Yes, Professor?" She spoke without looking at the screen.

"Darya?" a faint voice queried. "Is that you?"

Darya gasped and stared at the terminal, but all it offered was the white-noise display of a sound-only link.

"Hans? Hans Rebka? Where are you? Are you on Miranda?"

"Not any more." The tone was faint and distorted, but even so the bitterness could be heard in it. "There was no point in staying. The Council wouldn't even listen. I'm at the final Bose Network node before Sentinel Gate. I can't talk now. Expect me on Sentinel Gate in half a day."

The space-thinned voice faded and the connection was abruptly broken. Darya walked forward to the easy chair in front of the terminal and collapsed into it. She sat staring at nothing.

The Council did not believe them. Incredible. That meant that it had rejected the sworn statements of one of its own Council members; and of the embodied computer, E.C. Tally, who did not know how to lie; and of Hans Rebka, recognized as one of the most experienced and canny troubleshooters in the whole spiral arm.

Darya roused herself. She ought to call Professor Merada and tell him that many of the references that she wanted to cite had been dismissed by the highest authority in the spiral arm. What the Council did not accept, no one else would consider reliable. But she did not move. The Council rejection was certainly bad news, since it meant that nothing that she, or anyone else in their party, said about the events of the past year would have credibility.

But what the rejection implied was far worse, the worst news of all: Zardalu were at large in the spiral arm--and no one in authority believed it.

Copyright © 1992 by Charles Sheffield


Disappointing Third Entry

- devilinlaw


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