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Author: Kay Kenyon
Publisher: Bantam Spectra, 1999

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Book Type: Novel
Genre: Science-Fiction
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There is a fine line between transformation and ruin....

Twenty-four-year-old Reeve Calder has spent his life on a high-tech space station, watching as terraforming gradually fails on his home planet of Lithia--a failure that has doomed the colonists stranded there to short, brutish lives. Reeve's dream has always been to rebuild Lithia. But when a mysterious explosion destroys the station, forcing Reeve to crash-land on Lithia's blood-hued soil, he soon learns that the reality of saving a dying planet is quite different from what he imagined. For Gabriel Bonhert, former captain of the space station, has set in motion a world cataclysm, using a fatal probe that will travel down the fiery pathway of a deep mantle plume.

Now, to save the homeland he has never known, Reeve is caught in a race against time to reach Bonhert's base in the Rift Valley, a remote volcanic gateway to the hidden heart of Lithia. His staunchest ally may be a feral girl who alone seems enthralled by what Lithia is becoming, and whose enigmatic past holds the key to startling possibilities. As the old Lithia struggles to be reborn in a tide of toxic red flora creeping across the oxygen-starved planet, Reeve forges onward, coming into conflict with savage enclaves of colonists, a doomsday genemorphing cult, and a mysterious alien race with its own intentions for the planet--intentions that may include humanity's slavery or their terrible transformation....


Reeve Calder watched from two hundred miles overhead as the planetary winds smeared the ash cloud eastward. In its quiet violence, it was hard to imagine the deafening blast of volcanic debris and the hurtling pyroclastic flows that must have scoured the nearby tundra. From Reeve's vantage point on Station, the eruption was a mere bulge of smoke, unfolding like a silver flower. The landscape it grew upon was a shifting tapestry of reds and greens, the central and contrary hues of Reeve's home world, Lithia, a planet he had never set foot on.

He grabbed the handholds on Station's hull and pulled himself toward the solar array, a favorite perch devoid of Station viewports. Moving slowly to avoid making clunking noises against the hull, he threaded his tether through the clamps as he went, floating free but holding fast. Bad enough if they caught him outside again, unauthorized. Worse yet if they cited him for a coldwalk without mag boots--a fine piece of safety equipment if you didn't mind announcing to the entire crew where you were and what you were doing.

As Station came round to the sun's glare, the flank of the great wheel lit up, stimulating his visor to darken. In the shadow of the solar array, he settled himself in and turned to face the deeps of space. He recalled the times his father, Cyrus Calder, had taken him on coldwalks and talked of the stars, the known and unknown worlds, and the adventures of the great Voyage On. Someday, his father had always said, they would regain starflight, escaping their Station exile, and find the true home, the home Lithia never couldbe.

When Reeve was a child, he'd tried to imagine those icy pricks of light being stars like the sun, and tried to believe in the worlds warmed by them. But when the view came planetside and he looked down on Lithia, he thought there would be adventures enough right there. In truth, at twenty-four, he still thought so. Though Lithia had grown treacherous--though its volcanic vents spewed poisons into the atmosphere, though the colony had collapsed--it was at least a familiar peril, unlike the stars, with their abyssal terrors. So Lithia, familiar and yet utterly strange, lured him outside to watch its grand rotations. He would dream of what it might be like to run across a patch of solid ground; to look up at mountaintops and splash through channels of running water; to match wits with the intruder orthong, perhaps infiltrating their chaotic forests to trade; to fight the enclavers, if need be, blasting their assaults of spears with all the technology of Station; and to walk bareheaded under the sun.

But sometimes, when he came back through the air lock, Station security would be waiting for him, exasperated if they were friends, irate if they weren't, but always piling on the demerits and hauling him off to face his father. Taking an unwelcome break from his lab work, Cyrus Calder would sometimes ask, "What were you doing out there, Reeve?" And Reeve would answer, "Watching the stars." It was a desperate lie, told to a father who believed in the stars, whose research was all bent to that end, while his son kept watch on a piece of dirt. Banished to his sleep station, Reeve would fling himself on his bed, miserable for the lie. Sometimes, at times like this, his father's lab assistant, Marie Dussault, would come by to talk--Marie, who believed in letting youngsters find their own path, who gave Reeve planetary colorscapes to adorn his bunk walls and never let her boss berate his son for rising no higher than electrician, third class. It was Marie who spoke for him at disciplinary hearings, her gray hair giving her some authority with Captain Bonhert--though Marie was all for the stars, for the Voyage On, and Bonhert was for reclaiming Lithia. It divided the crew, those separate visions.

Reterraforming, Bonhert's faction said, was all a matter of geoengineering. The geo project could slow the mantle's convection and deep mantle volcanism by dissipating mantle heat. Geo nanotech was the key. Most people clung to this view, decrying Cyrus Calder's crackpot starship idea.

But to Cyrus the majority viewpoint was patently foolish. Lithia had sent humanity packing and unraveled nine hundred years of terraforming in a geologic instant. With a tectonic shrug, she had forced their evacuation to the space station--for the few it could accommodate--and year by year became more inhospitable. And as for geoengineering schemes, Lithia would churn nanotech into slag as easily as it converted iron to sauce in its infernal depths. You could try to battle a planet's tectonic forces, Cyrus always said, but you would lose.

Reeve watched as the great continent of Galileo hove into view, its terran-green Forever Plains veined in blue rivers. And there, cleaving the continent in two, the Rift Valley, that colossal fracture zone of old and new volcanism. Across the land, overlaid in a lacy froth, were the reddish-brown outbreaks of the world's preferred flora. Like a snake preparing to shed its skin, the first cracks revealed the new coat beneath, with its unterran red, its unruly growths daring to thrive where Earth-based grafts had failed.

North of the Rift Valley, a smudge of lavender marked the domain of the orthong. The irregular, spreading patch of purples and blues defined a habitat that, over the sixty years since orthong arrival, had grown to be visible from Station with the naked eye. Station telescopes showed the alien habitat as ropy masses, hexagonal lattices, and walls of faceted protrusions, often in shades of lavender, punctuated by vivid yellow, blue, and white. Wherever they had come from, the orthong had brought their flora with them. And underneath this canopy they themselves remained hidden except in glimpses and what little might be learned from the sporadic radio transmissions of the human enclaves. But radio transmissions were more and more infrequent as the claves drifted into ignorance and savagery. What Station learned of the orthong from claver radio was less than scientific, along the lines of, If you meet an orthong, kill it before it kills you. Still, the clavers had seen the orthong, and even traded, guardedly, while Station remained utterly isolated.

He gazed along the slope of the hull to catch a last glimpse of the continent where orthong roamed . . . but a movement on the wheel itself caught his attention. A coldwalker, like himself. In fact, two of them. The helmet had restricted his peripheral vision and now the figures were close enough to notice him. He balled himself up behind the array as tightly as he could, given the suit's bulkiness, and cursed his luck in choosing this exact time to be out-Station. Switching on his receiver, he scanned all channels. For now, they weren't talking. They were twenty feet away, partially eclipsed by the space telescope's primary mirror, but he could still make out, in a flash of sun, Bonhert, G. on one man's sleeve. And neither of them wore mag boots, either; they were merely tethered, doing their job--whatever it was--quietly.

A rivulet of acid etched into his stomach. Dear Lord, please let them finish in a hurry and turn in the other direction for whatever they had to do. For a few minutes more Reeve had the fine advantage of being sunward of them, and therefore hard to spot with his white suit against white hull. But: Bonhert. Damn and damn, to get busted by the Captain himself would mean waste collection duty for weeks, or worse. . . .

Bonhert was working out a kink in the other walker's tether, or rather, cutting the tether. But that couldn't be right. No, there it was again, a flash of a small knife--and by the time Reeve's brain stumbled into gear, the tether was floating free and Bonhert was shoving the person off. Reeve's muscles spasmed into action, unfolding him from his crouch, a hopelessly slow movement as the figure glided toward him. There would just be time for him to kick out his line and meet the castaway. He staggered up, and then his face plate was two feet from Tina Valejo's surprised face. He reached out and she flailed to grasp his hand, but she was slipping beyond reach, cord trailing. Reeve kicked off, playing out his tether, but it was too late. She was moving away, with the radio still silent and she mouthing her shouts to him while he shouted back, "I'll get help!" Words that filled his helmet, going nowhere. They'd send the scooter out after her. He turned back to see Bonhert disappearing around the curve of Station.

Reeve was on the com, hailing station ops. "This is Reeve Calder, out-Station; send help, emergency. Over."

A long pause and then, "This had better not be Reeve Calder out-Station. What the hell?" It was Brit Nunally, third cousin, and no friend of his.

Copyright © 1999 by Kay Kenyon


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