One will sacrifice,
face an uncertain future,
more than others will.
Anais Nin lifted off the Sheepmeadow pad using her fans. The castles of Nueva York fell away, and she rose into the blue sky. At ten thousand meters, she went into a controlled dive, and Karil watched the machmeter rise. At twice the speed of sound, the scramjets took over and the ship leapt for the horizon, thrusting Karil back into his couch. The numbers flickered on the meter: Mach 6, Mach 8, Mach l2, Mach l4. The sky turned a deeper shade of blue and the horizon seemed to bend like a bow. At 40,000 meters altitude, the scramjets shut down, the ELF engines came to light, and Anais Nin reached out for orbit.
Long before they approached the powersat, they were hailed by Control. "You are approaching Solar Power Orbital Transmitter Number Four. Please identify yourself."
"That's Ben," said Karil. "A stickler for the rules."
"This is Shuttle Anais Nin. Captain Loris speaking."
"Acknowledged, Anais Nin. What is your business?"
"Ben? Is that you? It's Karil."
A face appeared on the screen. "Stilbon! You're not due back for a week."
"Well, I was hoping to show my friends the station. This is Loris, and this is Johanna. Did you know they have gambling in Nueva York? I won a pot of credits."
"You know the rules, Karil. No unauthorized visits."
"Aw, come on, Ben. We brought you a case of champagne. I was just telling my friends here how lonely we SPOT-jockeys get out here, stuck in Geo Sync for months at a time."
"Ben?" said Loris. "We just want to have a little party. You can take a break, can't you?" Johanna appeared beside her.
Ben hesitated, very distracted in his thinking by the unzipped ship suits on the screen before him.
"I have to pick up some stuff from my locker, left there from my last tour," Karil said. "And I thought I'd stop by on my way to Luna. The girls can stay in the ship, if you think that's best."
"Why don't you come aboard, Ben?" Johanna purred. "Join us for dinner. We've got champagne and caviar. That wouldn't be a violation of the rules, would it?"
"You can't dock without permission."
"But you have the authority to give permission, don't you?"
It was a good point. "Well, yes. Permission to dock granted to Anais Nin. Permission to disembark for retrieval of personal property granted to Karil Stilbon. Ben Sirrus logging off for dinner at l900 hours. Control relinquished to Chen Li. Chen, you want to take over?"
"Sure thing, Ben. Have a good time, will you? Save me some of that champagne and caviar." Ben kicked off and Chen strapped himself in place at the comm. He noticed a flashing light on the screen and punched up the reference. "Well, well," he chuckled to himself. "Karil was arrested in Virginia on suspicion of moral degeneracy. Looks like he's having a pretty good holiday."
The powersat grew to landscape size as Anais Nin approached for docking, the great black panel blotting out the stars and the earth below. The control centre and revolving crew quarters seemed dwarfed to insignificance beside it. The ship mated with a clang, the lock pressurized with a hiss, and the hatch opened. Smiling broadly, Ben swung through and was promptly rendered unconscious by Loris' stun gun. Karil steered his unconscious figure into a locker.
"Keep an eye on him, will you, Annie?"
"Of course, Karil," the ship purred.
Johanna remained on the bridge while Loris and Karil, stunners strapped to their wrists, swung through the lock and kicked off down the corridor, heading for Control.
"There won't be more than half a dozen people aboard," Karil said, "most of them in their quarters."
A man appeared around the curve of the corridor. "Karil, what are you..." He collapsed and drifted as Loris stunned him.
Karil punched in his code and the hatch to Control irised open. Chen looked up. "Jesus, Karil," he said. "There's a warrant out for..." Loris stunned him into silence and Karil unstrapped him from the seat. He slipped into his place, punched in his code, and laid his palm on the plate. Control accepted him.
Loris hung about, literally, and watched him work.
"First, to lock us in." The hatch irised shut and clicked; Karil coded the lock with the word BABYSNAKES, then turned to the staff of the station. Loris saw the habitat ring begin to slow its spin, and lights blazed all over the panel.
"I'm cutting their gravity and locking them in," Karil said. "That should keep them occupied for a while. Alarms are going off, but I've cut the external mayday. Anybody else? There's a guy in the head on level two. He's locked in too. All right. The Citadel. First, I'll put the SPOT-light on them. That won't cause any alarm, because it's standard procedure when a ship is coming in, and it happens all the time. By the time they wonder why they haven't received a landing-request, it'll be too late. In the glare, nobody outside the Citadel itself will be able to see that the lights have gone out down there."
Through the port, Loris could see the huge mirrors outside begin to move. Suddenly, a beam of reflected sunlight flashed down through the atmosphere and pinpointed a spot on the coast of North America.
"Fasten your seatbelts, Citadel," Karil said as his fingers flew over the keys. "It's going to be a bumpy night."
Jay, Shagrug, Terry, and the Professor waited in the dark depths, their lights switched off to save power. Suddenly the sea above was ablaze with light, as if night had turned to day above them. Shafts of shimmering light filtered down through the waters and illuminated the outlet pipe before them.
"We can't ignore an invitation like that," Shagrug said in his mask, and began to pry open the grating.
They slipped through and swam up the long pipes until they broke through the surface, then they climbed out, shucked off their diving equipment and placed it on the platform, along with the spare for Progeny. They climbed a ladder and turned left along a railed walkway, making their way toward the power operations room. Terry peeled off her diving-cap, tucked it into her belt, and shook out her hair as she ran.
The technician sitting at the comm glanced up as the door opened and Terry stepped into the room. He smiled at her apparent confusion as she glanced around the room, noting the three technicians at work, the panel on the wall showing the entire power-grid, and the window overlooking the fusion generator below. She began to sing:
"Happy birthday to you. Happy birthday to you." She began to unzip her suit, and the technicians left their stations to gather round. "Happy birthday, Dear Marcos, happy..." She stopped with her zipper just above her navel and put her hand to her mouth. "Don't tell me you're not Marcos," she giggled.
The technician closest to her smiled. "Sorry. There's no Marcos here. But don't let that stop you."
Terry laughed. "I'm sorry, too," she said, and decked him with a right cross. The door flew open, and the other technicians froze as Shagrug and Kelley burst into the room, guns drawn. In a few minutes, the techs were trussed up and lying on the floor, and Jay was sitting at the comm.
Karil's face appeared before him, and then the image was reduced to a corner of the screen as the rest was filled with the details of the Citadel's power system. Wordlessly, with the efficiency of a well-drilled team, they began to work, creating a false pilot-beam reading at the transmitter, shutting down the auxiliary fusion generator at the Citadel, and re-directing the microwave beam from the rectenna to the centre of the complex. Shagrug and Kelley readied their infra-red goggles and waited for the lights to go out. The technicians eyed each other in a panic over their gags.
"It was never just about the water, Progeny," Solla said. "Sooner or later, you would have wanted full independence and control over all the resources of Mars. Galilean factions are already providing you with both moral and material support. Only they could afford to hire Aaron Ben David’s mercenaries to break you out of prison, and Free Traders don’t come cheap either. Now your rebellion has spread to Earth."
"That’s largely your fault, isn’t it?"
"Perhaps. But it’s not the rebellion my employers fear, Progeny, it’s you--or rather what you stand for. That’s why I’m going to all this trouble, when I could have killed you the moment I had you in my custody. It’s your ideas we have to kill, not you."
"I should think you’d have realized by now that you can’t kill ideas."
"On the contrary. Ideas are killed all the time. In fact, the longer they survive, the more likely they are to be transformed into their opposite. Sooner or later, there will be Martian terrorists killing innocent civilians in the name of your revolution."
"No. You’re wrong."
"Later on, there will be a Martian imperial church, torturing anyone who denies your godhood."
"Don’t be ridiculous."
"And someday, there will be a counter-revolutionary movement that will curse your name as a blasphemer, an anarchist, and a seducer of innocents."
"That's wishful thinking on your part."
"As a student of History, you know it’s true. In the long run, your struggle is already lost. If you’re smart, you’ll do the compromising now. We’ll make a few concessions to maintain control, your people will have a little more freedom and prosperity, and as a reward you can have the benefit of our medical expertise. You can live a long life in pleasant low-grav quarters, surrounded by your favourite wives. Or you can die here in this tank, alone and insane, with the knowledge that you condemned your loved ones to suffering and death out of nothing more than pride and arrogance.
"I will turn this revolution of yours around, Progeny," Solla went on. "In fact, you gave me the tools to do it yourself. I read all your published writings a long time ago, but you left a treasure trove of unpublished material behind that only I have access to. I never had your old isolation cell re-painted, you know, and I've studied it thoroughly."
"Sorry. I don't remember much about the period."
"That’s too bad. You gave me a precise analysis of how revolutions fail. One: The Revolutionary Elite. Your rebellion pretends to be egalitarian, but there is a group of people close to you that I can shape into a cabal. Two: Old Wounds. There are plenty of old wounds on Mars--generations of rivalries between communes--and all I have to do is open them up again when I need to. Three: Pie in the Sky. The fantasy class, as you know, is very good at peddling fantasies.
"You seem to be my best student, Solla. Ironic, isn't it?"
"Four: The Founding Myth. There’s plenty of mythic fodder in your life, and some great apostolic material shaping up now in the lives of your followers. Five: Role Reversal. I love this one, in particular: the revolutionary elite, once it gains the right of self-determination, refuses to grant similar self-determination to others who demand it, and tries to explain why it’s just as morally and politically correct to refuse it now as it was to demand it then.
"You’ve even given me the tools I need for the process: boosting, reality distortion, paradox denial, scape-goating, and reiteration. Like the fingers of the hand, you said, with scape-goating as the pointing finger, paradox denial the middle finger, and reiteration the opposable thumb that can be used with them all. You actually placed your palm-print on the wall, like a Neanderthal cave-painter."
The lights went out. Solla cocked his head and listened. He could hear alarm bells, vaguely, through the thick walls. He tapped his wrist. "Security, what's going on up there?"
There was no answer. The lights flickered in the room as the auxiliary power tried to come online, but then the room went dark again. Solla rose from his chair, felt his way along the wall to the door, and shouted through it. "Guard, what's happening out there?"
The guard's face appeared in the window, eerily half-lit in the glow of his hand-torch. "I'm not sure, Commander. It looks like a central power failure."
"All right. Open up."
"It's not locked. Power's off."
"I see." Solla slipped out the door and closed it behind him. He spoke loudly, for all to hear--not everyone in the cellblock was locked in a tank. "Guard, I want you to sit here at the end of the corridor. Set your stunner on infra-red. If you detect any warm bodies coming out of their cells, put them in a coma. Understand?"
"And I'm not that fussy about whether they ever gain consciousness again. Got that?"
Solla headed for the elevator, then threw up his hands in exasperation at the blinking warning-lights and pushed open the door to the stairwell instead. He could vaguely see the stairs spiralling upward, dimly lit by the occasional emergency light. With a shock, he realized that the command centre was near the top of the tallest tower in the complex. He would have to go out into the courtyard and get a ship to take him to the roof-pad, then go down three floors to the command centre. He pushed out through a door and his ears were assaulted by a cacophony of alarms. Why the hell hadn’t another SPOT come online? What were they doing up there?
From below, Shagrug and Kelley watched him pounding up the stairs. Shagrug looked at the Professor and made a motion, as if wiping the sweat from his brow. Kelley nodded in agreement. When the sound of Solla’s footsteps on the metal stairs had ceased to echo, they came up two steps at a time and burst through the door into the cellblock.
Solla burst out into the open. The sea-wind ruffled his hair as he looked up the long glass tower, ablaze externally in the light from space, but its windows black. He pelted off down the walkway, crossed a bridge over the Wall Street Canal, and opened the door to a waiting car.
"Take me up to the roof," he said.
"Yes, Sir. Roof-pad, this is... No communication, Sir."
"I know. Take me up. Now!"
The car lifted from the pad and vaulted skyward. The canal-side towers of Wall Street fell away, and the skyscraper wall dropped past them with dizzying speed. The car settled onto the roof and Solla vaulted out. He pelted for the door and pounded down the stairs to the command centre. The door would not open at his touch. He tapped in a code, but nothing happened. He placed his eye against the sensor, but there was no light to read his iris. He touched the plate, but nothing read his palm.
"Goddamit." He pounded on the door with his fists, but all he heard was the faint sound of shouting, drowned out by warning claxons. He pounded again, and was rewarded with a return thumping, as if some heavy weights were being thrown against the door. Of course: the security system would have engaged the dead bolts automatically when the power was cut. Damned High Company paranoia--keep the data locked up tight, even if you have to sacrifice lives in an emergency.
"They're locked in. I’m locked out." Solla took the stairs two at a time to the roof again and climbed into the car. "Take me down so I can look inside the command centre."
The car rose, dropped over the edge of the roof, and hovered in the air outside. Through the panoramic windows, Solla could see some of the command centre crew scurrying about, trying vainly to gain access to their systems, others standing about in perplexity, one man pounding on the door with a chair.
"Take me in through the window."
The ship moved forward, and its nose touched the glass. The people inside looked up in astonishment that changed to fear as a spider-web of cracks began to radiate across the window. They ran for cover, diving under tables and into closets, crawling into corners and rolling chairs into place before them. The window collapsed with a crash and the increased bellowing of claxons. Pellets of glass exploded across the room and cascaded to the canals and streets a hundred storeys below. The car leaped into the room, skidded across the floor, overturning tables and computers in its path, and crashed into the far wall. It was drenched in flame-retardant foam. Solla, soaking wet and fuming, climbed out and stomped over to the control bank.
"What the hell is going on here?" he demanded.
"Karil, what's that?" Loris pointed.
"There's a ship on its way. Looks like a Quasi cruiser." He searched the screens. "Dammit!"
"Looks like the system tagged my name with an arrest. Chen reported my presence to Orbital Authority. I'll see if I can stall them." He tapped a sensor. "You are approaching Solar Power Orbital Transmitter Number Four. Please identify."
A Quasi officer appeared on the screen. "High Security. What is your problem, please?"
"No problem, Officer. Functioning as normal."
"Why is the habitat not revolving?"
"Maintenance. We've had to shut it down for a while." He shrugged. "Inconvenient as hell, but no problem."
"Please identify yourself."
"Stilbon, Ali Karil." He placed his hand on the plate.
"According to records, you're on holiday, Stilbon."
"I know. Can't keep away from this place. I came to pick up some gear and they talked me into taking the comm until they can get the habitat spinning again. Everybody's working on it full time."
The ship was getting closer. "You were arrested on Earth."
"You know how strait-laced they can be. I was on vacation, got a little carried away, spent a few nights in a cell. I hope my old man won't hear about this. I'll be in deep shit."
"Let me speak to your supervisor, please."
"He's in the habitat. Communication is down. I'd have to go over there myself and I can't leave the comm."
"Then we'll come aboard and talk to him ourselves. There are too many procedures not being followed here, Stilbon. Just doing our job."
They signed out.
"Fuck! said Karil."
"Can we get out of here?"
"Not yet. I've got to sabotage this thing so they can't get it back online again. They'll check with Citadel, and if there's no communication, they'll bring another SPOT online. I hope they've gotten Progeny out of there by now."
Shagrug and Kelley stood with their arms over their heads, while the guard held them at bay with his stunner.
"Command," the guard said. "Command. I have intruders in Cell Block One. Where the hell are you, Command?"
He heard the creak of a footstep behind him, whirled and fired. A prisoner went down, but another leaped over him and charged. Shagrug stepped forward, snatched the stunner from the guard's hands, and decked him.
"There's a special prisoner in here," he said to one of the escapees. "Where would he be?"
Shagrug and Kelley pushed past him into the cell, popped the lid of the chamber, and began to release Progeny from his restraints.
He blinked at them, the near darkness of the room like bright light to him. His voice was over-loud. "Shag! And is that Professor Kelley? I'll be god-damned."
"Long time, Proj. I see you're still getting yourself in shit with the authorities."
"And I see you're still running around, playing with guns, like a man half your age."
"No time for collegial chatter," Shagrug said. "Kelley, smash the lock on the weapons rack and arm these men. Here." He handed the stunner to a prisoner. "See if there's anyone else in these tanks. Wake them up and see if you can take them with you. We've got an escape route planned, but we don't have enough equipment for any more people. You're on your own. But the whole Citadel's in a panic now because we've cut the power and the communications, and your chances of getting out are good, if you can swim. Fair enough?"
"Fair enough," said one. He turned to see the Professor standing like a Norse god, carrying Progeny's limp figure in his arms. "Jesus Christ," the prisoner said.
"Sorry. Not him," Progeny mumbled.
The prisoner turned to his companions. "It's Progeny. He was locked in a tank, and he still managed to rescue us." The prisoners began to pass out weapons and head for the stairs as Shag and Kelley massaged Progeny's weak limbs. In a few moments, Proj was dressed and able to walk stumblingly, when supported. In a few more they had reached the location of the equipment cache and Terry was in Progeny’s arms.
"No time for that," Shagrug said. "Let's get the hell out of here."
Soon, Proj had been fitted with his own underwater gear and disappeared with his rescuers into the dark waters below the Citadel. He followed them through the maze of tunnels until he broke through the surface. A hand reached down and pulled him up onto an ancient subway platform. He saw Shagrug and the others, their faces grim, and their hands raised, surrounded by gunmen.
"So, this is the prize," said Aguilar, stepping forward. "Progeny himself. I wondered what was so valuable that you would break into the Citadel for it, but this... The High Companies will pay a fortune for him. And for those who helped him escape." He turned. "Except for you, Shag. You'll be dead." He raised his weapon and took aim between Shagrug's eyes.
A noose dropped from the darkness above and slipped about Aguilar's throat. He was yanked suddenly upward, snapping his neck like a twig. His gunmen turned in all directions, looking for the enemy, and began to disappear one by one as nooses dropped from the heights of the tunnel-levels above and yanked them up into darkness. There was a moment of shocked silence, and then Aguilar's corpse, its neck horribly twisted, crashed to the platform before them. A strange, dark figure slid down a rope from above and shuffled toward them--a twisted body, horribly scarred, dressed in rags.
"Professor Kelley, I must thank you for delivering a major blood-lord into our hands, though I don't think I can forgive the way you've looted our library." He spat on Aguilar's corpse and turned to Progeny. "You've caused quite a commotion up there, haven't you? I've read your works, and I have to agree with most of what you say. But you've forgotten one little thing, with your fantasy class and reality class. There's also the nightmare class. We've always been here too, in the subways, in the streets, in the garbage dumps and the refugee camps, and in the footnotes--so many thousand dead from famine, so many from cholera. A million here. A million there. Who's counting?" He spat at the astonished Progeny's feet. "Call your vehicle and go up that corridor; it's a shortcut to the surface. We've got meat to cut up here."