Timescape Books, 1983
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|Sub-Genre Tags:||Hard SF|
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On the poisonous, icy surface of Ganymede, a man and a boy are on a hunt for the Aleph--an alien artifact that ruled Ganymede for countless millenia, Infinitely dangerous, the Aleph haunts men's dreams and destroys all efforts to terraform Ganymede into an habitable planet. Now an ancient struggle is joined, as a boy seeks manhood, a man seeks enlightenment, and a society seeks the power to rule the universe.
They went out from Sidon Settlement in a straggling band, clanking and crunching over the hard-packed, worn-down purple plain. The ice near Sidon had been melted and frozen and remelted again and again by orbit shuttle landings and by the heater exhausts of passing crawlers, so that now it was speckled and mottled with rainbow splashes and big blotches of contaminants. Out over this crusty trampled ice they went, carrying the boy Manuel. Inside their wheezing and buffing machines they sang and shoved each other and early got into the smeerlop and whiskey, as they always did.
The boy was thirteen. He watched it all with wide eyes. For five years now he had waited and listened to the talk of the ice ridges and ammonia rivers of the melting land, quick and treacherous under the feet. Hunkered down around a heater, evening after evening, he had listened, not knowing how much to believe but wanting to trust it all for fear of forgetting anything he might need later, for he knew even then that everything you learned came to use if you waited. What he knew most deeply was the bigness of the wilderness they now crawled into, bigger than any of the puny human Settlements, vast and powerful and with a reason and logic to itself. Ganymede--the biggest moon in the solar system, with nearly as much land and ice as old worn Earth, but fresh and unmarked by man until the last two centuries. Manuel heard the talk and thought of the big trackless wastes and knew the talk was empty, no matter whom it came from-from the new Earthers who'd swarmed in a few years back, eager to hack and chip away at the vast ice mountains in search of metals and scams of rare elements; from the biotechnicians who brought the metaformed animals, sure the beasts would find here a new place to yip and labor and take the burden from the humans; from the older settlers (like Petrovich), who had heaved up the big hydroponics domes and now hummed away inside them, growing the food and weaving the organics, and were fatuous enough to believe they had any more hold on the huge cold wilderness than the ones brand new off the shuttle; from the olders, men and women who'd sent out the first fusion-busters to put the land to rake and fire; from the survivors older still, of whom Manuel knew only Old Matt Bohles, with his gravel voice and slow, stooped walk, who talked little but whose eyes were liquid and rheumy with tales; from all the waves of humans who had washed over the face of Ganymede and then seeped away, most of them, leaving behind only those who had the strength to endure and the humility to learn the skills and to fight the awful and unforgiving cold.
In the first hours the wise-ass veneer rubbed away from him. He watched the smeerlop going down and even tried a drab, grinning, but it was not to his liking yet and he thought with some relief that that was about right anyway. In the thick, close air of the cabin the stench and sweat of the men seemed to tighten around him, and he contented himself with watching out the big ports, where the augmented and servo'd animals rumpused about on the pocked plain. A dime-sized sun struck colors from their carapaces, steels gleaming blue-green, the ceramics a clammy yellow. They frolicked at being out of Sidon Settlement again, beyond the domes where they bent their backs at agro work, their reward being the blunt pleasures of food and sex and cartoon stories and sensos in the off-hours. But none of that gave the zest of romping fire in the thin air outside, scampering around the lumbering crawler treads, whistling and chattering and sending their clipped cries to each other in the stinging cold. They had been in their multiplex servo'd pods so long that Manuel could hardly remember what their basic bodies were. Short Stuff was a chimp, maybe, and The Barron a kind of thoroughbred dog as near as he could make out. The others were pigs or dolphins or something else. Often the animals themselves did not know. With their truncated bodies and regrown cerebella and cerebra ballooned into a nearly human 40 IQ, they were confused, yet far smarter than before, eager to use their abilities. They had been Skinnered into mild, subservient behavior. They gladly did jobs a robot couldn't or a man wouldn't, and were taintless in their ardor for the work.
"Good to let them come," Manuel said to his father, Colonel Lopez.
"Ay. Watch they don't get seized up in the treads. Or trip one of the walkers."
Up the crumpled ridge they went, rising with a wrenching sway above the big plain so that, looking back, they could make out the sprawl and glimmer of Sidon Settlement like a jeweled handkerchief thrown down by a passing giant. The talk began again. It was, as usual, about policing the jackrabs and rockeaters and the ammonia-soaked scooters and the crawlies that processed methane, for that was the ostensible purpose of this annual expedition. But soon the talk drifted, as though drawn by the same current that ran through all of them, to the best game of all, the best subject for listening and the best for thinking as the bluewhite wastes tilted by outside. He had heard it before, the voices at first quiet and filled with weight and with a deliberate easing up on the subject as the Settlement fell behind, recollection floating up in them like bubbles breaking on the surface of a deep pond. Even though still a boy, he...
Copyright © 1983 by Gregory Benford
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