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Author: Ben Bova
Publisher: Tor, 2019
Series: The Grand Tour: Book 23
Book Type: Novel
Genre: Science-Fiction
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A wave of lethal gamma radiation is expanding from the core of the Milky Way galaxy at the speed of light, killing everything in its path. The countdown to when the death wave will reach Earth and the rest of the solar system is at two thousand years.

Humans were helped by the Predecessors, who provided shielding generators that can protect the solar system. In return, the Predecessors asked humankind's help to save other intelligent species that are in danger of being annihilated.

But what of Earth? With the Death Wave no longer a threat to humanity, humans have spread out and colonized all the worlds of the solar system. The technology of the Predecessors has made Earth a paradise, at least on the surface. But a policy of exiling discontented young people to the outer planets and asteroid mines has led to a deep divide between the new worlds and the homeworld, and those tensions are about to explode into open war.



Para watched the young man intently as the two of them stood at the edge of the huge alcove in the cliffside, and gazed at the ancient buildings.

Outwardly, Trayvon Williamson looked like a typical young postdoc student, handsome in an earnest, eager sort of way. Actually, he was well past one thousand years old, in conventional age, but much of that time had been spent in cryonic suspension as he rode the starship Saviour to the Raman star system.

Para's sensors registered Trayvon at a shade over 1.8 meters tall. He was slim and lithe as a young sapling, his handsome face tanned by the sun. But there was something in his dark blue eyes that betrayed... what? Not fear, exactly. Not depression, nor anger.

The android's optronic brain circuits ran through the possibilities at nearly the speed of light.

Trayvon Williamson's eyes smoldered with the knowledge of death. Those eyes had seen his two thousand shipmates torn apart and burned to death in a heartbeat's span, and the memory haunted him. It was guilt that blazed in his eyes.

Why me? he was asking himself. Why did I survive while all the others were killed? Why did Felicia have to die and not me?

It took Para's delicate sensors mere nanoseconds to confirm its analysis. Trayvon's heartbeat, his breathing rate, his eyeblink tempo and even the way his fingers jittered all spoke volumes. The young man was haunted by what had happened out in space on the ill-fated mission of the starship Saviour.

Trayvon and Para had climbed up the steep steps carved into the cliff face thousands of years ago, and now stood in the shade of the overhanging rock. Standing side by side at the lip of the huge niche, they turned to look down at the green fields that stretched below them out to the horizon.

"How old did you say this city is?" Trayvon asked, in his clear tenor voice.

Para accessed the history records. "At least five thousand years," it replied. "This complex was already a thousand years old when the first Europeans reached this area."

"And it was abandoned."

"Yes. It had been deserted for at least several hundred years when the first Spanish explorers reached this far."

Tray nodded, then turned back and looked into the gigantic niche in the cliff's stone face. A city of two-and three-story adobe structures spread across the alcove in the rock wall for hundreds of meters: silent, empty except for the two of them--and the ghosts of the past.

"The builders created all this and then they just walked away from it," Tray said, as much to himself as to Para.

"They were driven away," his android guardian replied, "by climate shift. The natives moved down into the basin below, to better-watered lands where they could grow their crops."

"Despite their greater vulnerability to attack by hostile tribes down in the basin?"

"Apparently so," answered the android.

Para was a hair's breadth shorter than Trayvon. Completely human in appearance, the android wore a rough-looking hiking jacket of light tan and durable trousers of a slightly darker shade, much the same as Tray himself. Their boots were nearly identical, parceled out to them at the lodge at the base of the trail, far below.

Para's face was bland, its skin a shade lighter than Tray's, smooth and unwrinkled. Its hair was trimmed down to a reddish-brown fuzz, its smile mild and inoffensive. Tray was fascinated with the android's eyes: gray-green optronic visual sensors that could see far into the ultraviolet and infrared ends of the optical spectrum. They could spot a coiled rattler several hundred meters away.

"Have you seen enough?" Para asked.

Tray shook his head. "Can we go into some of the buildings?"

"There's nothing to see inside them. They were all emptied centuries ago."

"Still ... I'd like to see what they're like inside."

Para gestured with one hand. "This way, then."

It led Tray between two of the structures and through a doorway in the side of one of them. They both had to duck slightly to get through.

"They must have been pretty short," Tray said.

"Average height among them was slightly less than one hundred and fifty centimeters."

They stepped into a roughly square room, completely empty, its floor swept clean of dust and detritus.

"Not much here," Tray admitted.

"I am curious," Para said. "Why did you want to see this complex?"

The beginnings of a smile crept across Tray's face. "I didn't think curiosity was built into you."

"It's not," Para answered easily enough. "I merely used the phrase as an introduction to my question."

Tray spread his arms as he said, "This is one of the oldest human structures in North America. Why shouldn't I want to see it?"

"You are curious."

"I guess I am."


Tray almost laughed. "They say that curiosity killed the cat, but in my case it saved my life."

"And you feel grateful for that?"

"I feel guilty," Trayvon admitted.

Para made a very human nod. But it said, "We've spent just about as much time here as we can. We should be getting back to Denver for your meeting tomorrow with the psychotechnical staff."

Copyright © 2019 by Ben Bova


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