In the beginning, Man created Heaven and Hell
And Hell was without form, fear in the dark,
And the eye of Man moved upon the plains of Africa
And Man said, Let there be God
And Man saw God, and thought it was good
And Man divided the God from the Man
And Man called God by all manner of names
And the Man he called I
And it was the morning and the evening of the first age
Songs for Earth
Three cool green landscapes
inside a glass cathedral,
Blue-white Earth below.
Every Martian year, as the sudden spring of the southern hemisphere gives way to its short, hot summer, the dust that litters the cratered austral plains absorbs radiation quickly and convection currents begin to circulate in the thin atmosphere. The great yellow dust-clouds rise in the Noachis region, west of Hellas, and sweep westward across the face of the planet to fill the entire southern hemisphere. Sometimes, as now, the storms expand northward across the Tharsis Plateau until only the great volcanic shields, with their kilometre-high scarps, are visible above the clouds. For three days, the hundred-kilometre winds had been sand-blasting the surface; only a fool or a man on a desperate quest would venture out of his warren on a day like this.
Martian Security Captain Armand Solla and his driver peered at the holographic radar-images that danced above the dash, ignoring the opacity of the storm outside, the chatter of sand-grains abrading the port, and the hair-raising moan of the winds. The dozen-wheeled sand-rover undulated across the dunes like a wheeled centipede, the second and third sections filled with waiting, grumbling Security officers. With a roar even louder than that of the winds, a Security cruiser swooped low overhead and hovered in the gloom before them. Another thundered by and searchlights blazed, their beams all but swallowed up by the clouds roiling in the cruisers' wake.
Their target appeared only on the sonar--a few shadowy domes and a faint, flickering network of tunnels radiating outward beneath the surface. The driver made his approach with expertise, and it was only the last few seconds before the kiss of hatch against hatch that the dome actually became visible in the gloom outside the port. Solla slid out of his seat and climbed down into the well, spun open the hatch and flung it wide, gasping a little as the cool agriculture-refreshed air of the warren wafted into the stale and hot cabin of the vehicle. Dozens of officers swung out of the hatch into the cavern, then spread out and dog-trotted down the corridors, weapons at the ready.
Solla swung out behind them, and his driver followed, thankful for the chance to stretch his legs. They were in a fair-sized hangar; a few flivvers and a beat-up rover were parked nearby, and a ramp led up to a cargo-vehicle airlock at the far end. A wide-eyed child peered around a corner at them, and the driver smiled and winked, but a woman snatched the tyke away with a momentary glance of pure hatred and a single spat word, then padded off down the corridor.
"What did she call us?" the driver laughed.
"Dolls," said Solla.
"Dolls? What's that?"
"Q.P. Dolls. The Quasi-Police. They know who pays our salaries, and despite the fact that Triple M literally owns this planet, they don't think we have authority to police it. Damn!"
"What is it?"
"He's not here. We've missed him."
The driver was puzzled. "How do you know?"
"Listen." The din echoed in the corridors--pounding feet, gun-butts on heavy doors, furniture being overturned, occasional voices raised in outraged protest. "My men are tearing up the place and there's hardly a complaint. There should already be a committee of outraged matriarchs wagging their bony fingers at me. But this shouting you hear is just for show; they're too relieved by Progeny's escape to care what we do to their furniture, and they're too busy laughing at us behind our backs to bother confronting us."
He strode across the hangar, stooped to examine the floor, and climbed the ramp to the main cargo-hatch, then peered through the tiny glass port into the lock for a moment and returned to his driver's side. "There's a rover missing, and the lock is ankle-deep in dust. They left in the storm, so it couldn't have been more than two hours ago."
"Can't we go after them? I'm the best rover-jockey you’ve got, you know."
"I know. That's why I asked for you. But you're not as good as Progeny. He'll be in the Labyrinthus in a few minutes, and we won't have a hope in Hell of finding him in there." He turned and strode down the corridor and the driver trailed after him. They made their way through a chaos of shouts, overturned furniture, and barked military orders. In the Spartan chambers they passed, officers were ripping mattresses, pawing through closets, emptying drawers on the floor, as residents cowered against the walls, shielding children behind them.
Finally, several people confronted Solla in the corridor--an old woman, an old man, two middle-aged women, and a young girl. "Captain Solla," the old woman said, "we really must protest this outrage. We have no contraband here, and we have broken none of your rules."
"Save it, Madame," he replied. "You know what I'm looking for, and you can barely hide your glee that I haven't found it."
The old woman snorted. "If it's Progeny you're looking for, you won't find him. He hasn't been here in months--not since your last edict. And even if he was here, you wouldn't find him in a dresser drawer, would you? This whole exercise is nothing more than harassment."
Solla's Lieutenant approached and saluted. "No sign of him, Sir. And there's a certain Teresa, one of his wives, missing too. Shall we search again, and maybe conduct a few interrogations?" A smile touched his lips, and the driver could barely suppress a shudder.
"No, Lieutenant. There's no point. Nobody here knows where he's headed. He wouldn't tell them. Gather the men and we'll leave."
"What shall we do with these people, Sir?"
"Kill them," Solla said. The delegation gasped in shock and the driver glanced at Solla in consternation, not sure whether he was serious; the Lieutenant fingered his laser and smiled again. Then Solla waved his hand. "No. Never mind. We don't need any more martyrs. I'm in enough trouble. Gather your men and return to the rover." The Lieutenant saluted and trotted off.
Solla knitted his brows in fury as he turned his back on the delegation and returned to the sand-rover, the driver rushing to keep up with him. "I'll be transferred to Earth for this," he said. "And if I screw up again, it'll be Venus, for sure."
His men filed past him into the rover, the driver un-hatched and backed away, and then the vehicle trundled off into the storm, the cruisers rising about them and thundering overhead in the screaming gale.
Ali Karil rose as the first light of dawn striped his room. He went to the window and threw open the shutters to take in the cool morning air. For a moment he stood naked, his feet cold on the flagstone, his flesh puckering, and looked out across the lush savannah, where herds of wildebeest and zebra drifted like cloud-shadow on the sunlit long-grass; then he stepped out onto the balcony to watch the mirror open. If he covered the reflected image of the sun with his hand, he could see the stars blazing in the black of space and watch Earth and Moon pursuing each other across his field of vision as the island revolved. He glanced up and saw the valleys in the sky, upside-down and pale through thin drifting cloud, as the edge of daylight slowly crept across the landscapes above, one lushly forested and the other brown and sere.
He stepped into the shower and stood waking under the needle mist, threw on a djellaba, and stood a moment before the mirror, recognizing his father's aristocratic features and his mother's gentle eyes--though he had never seen the latter except in a holographic image taken just before her death. There was no sense even trying to do something with his mop of long black hair; as always, the wind would arrange it to suit itself. He descended to the kitchen to breakfast on cold pita and cheese and headed for the stables. In the courtyard, he found a young woman sitting on the low wall that surrounded the fountain, her thin shift rucked up to her thighs, her tiny naked feet splashing in the water. It was his father's newest concubine, fresh from Earth, whose name escaped him at the moment.
"You'll catch a cold," he said.
She looked up at him, her pretty blue eyes wide with surprise for a moment, and then smiled. She made no effort to cover her legs.
Karil sat beside her. He could see her small breasts through the thin material. This girl, he thought, is not much older than me. Nineteen or twenty perhaps.
"You're Ali Karil," she said. "Your mother was Stella, the Greek-Sudanese girl. I've seen her image." She peered at him. "You have her beauty."
"Thank you," Karil said. "She died before I was born."
“Before you were born?"
"Her body was kept alive until then. Shouldn't you be in the women's quarters?"
She tossed her head and the scent of her hair made Karil's loins stir. "I couldn't sleep. The chanting woke me up."
"It's a recording," Karil said. "You can have it turned off if you want. I don't suppose you have muezzin where you come from."
"Not in Scandinavia, no. Do you know where that is?"
"Of course I do. I went to school in Europe for a while. I've been to Africa and Luna, and even Mars once."
"I've never been anywhere," she said, "until now. This place is so beautiful. And there's so much room. And all these animals!"
"They're extinct on Earth, most of them," Karil said. "The Company built this place to preserve them in their natural habitat. It cost plenty."
"Well, it cost plenty to preserve me, too: enough to pay off my family's debts and feed them for decades. I hope your father's not too old to get his money's worth."
There was no tone of sarcasm or bitterness in her voice, but there was a touch of irony in her smile. Karil became confused and uncomfortable. "You'd better go back to bed." He stood, thankful for his loose robe.
"In a moment. Good-bye, Karil."
"My name is Inger."
"Inger," he repeated.
Karil made his way to the stables and saddled his horse. The courtyard was lit by the glow of the laser-gate, but it sensed his approach, recognized him, and faded to allow his passage.
He urged his mount to a canter and the savannah flashed by as the horse’s hooves stirred up the dust and insects. The wind in his hair smelled of grass and dung, the reflected sun was warm, the horse's flanks moved rhythmically between his thighs. The sound of morning's activities drifted down to him from the villages in the sky: doors slamming, children laughing and crying, voices speaking in several languages. He passed a Masai kraal, likewise rescued from Terran extinction, and some of the tall young herdsmen waved at him. In the sky, another of Karil's erstwhile playmates was harassing a flock of vultures in a hang-glider.
At the endcap, he left his mount in the stable with instructions for its care, pausing to stroke its muzzle and whisper a good-bye. It was probably the only creature here that he would miss. He changed from his loose robe and sandals to space attire--the tight-fitting coverall, decorated with tubes and gaskets, known as a p-suit--then took the elevator to the spin-axis, feeling his weight drop away as he clung to the rail and watched the levels click by. The port irised open and he drifted into the waiting room, where a glance at the clock over the un-staffed information desk told him the launch for Nearside Station would leave shortly. He drifted across the deserted chamber to a comm and punched in his security code--including the encryption-code authorized by his position in the hierarchy.
Jay Coldwell's face appeared on the screen. Behind him, Karil could see the archaeological dig--dozens of men working with laser, shovel, and trowel to expose layers of buried tenements. Beyond, the ruined towers of Nueva York marched out of the sea like the bones of a beached whale.
"Karil!" Jay said, his lean and angular face lit up by a rare smile. "Thank God you called, before it's too late." He sat down at a rickety table covered with crumpled paper documents--ancient maps and inventories, from the look of it--and tilted the monitor toward him. A tent-flap fluttered behind him and a mosquito whined. "I want you to promise me you’re not going to throw away your career on this adventure."
"Adventure!" Karil laughed. "You're the one having the time of his life in the wilds of Earth! Besides, what career are you talking about? I'm the son of a dead concubine; I'll be a minor bureaucrat forever. Who's that behind you?"
"That's Professor Kelley. Professor, this is my best friend, Karil Stilbon."
The aging, red-bearded giant smiled at the monitor. He was two meters tall and extremely muscular for his age. "Stilbon. That's Greek for the planet Mercury, isn’t it?"
"My mother was half Greek. It's a pleasure to meet you, Sir. I've followed your career at the Titan Institute."
"Jay speaks of you often. If you come to Earth, drop by the dig. You'll find us in the New York Public Library, with any luck." He bellowed in laughter and left, poring over his papers.
Jay frowned. "Listen, Karil. You've got some downtime coming, right?"
"Call the SPOT and take a vacation, okay? Will you do that?"
Karil sighed. "All right. But I don't know why I always let you talk me out of everything I want to do."
"The same reason I always let you talk me into things I don't want to do. It's the basis of our relationship. Look, tell them you're coming to visit me. Then I can cover for you if they call. Give yourself some time to decide if this spacer thing is really for you, or just a romantic notion. All right?"
"All right." Karil logged off, then keyed up the office headquarters at GEO-4, his most recent posting. His supervisor's face appeared. Through the port behind him, Karil could see the great featureless expanse of the Solar-Power Orbital Transmitter panel stretching away for kilometres, blotting out the stars. Karil had not been there much of late, doing his work through the system at home while he continued his studies.
"GEO-4, SPOT Control. Oh, hi, Karil. You're logging on early. Something wrong?"
"Actually, I'm thinking of taking my downtime. I've been studying pretty hard, and I could use a lunation dirtside."
"Good for you. Have a good time. We'll slot in somebody from Five and hold your codes. Where you off to?"
"A friend from school is working at an archaeological dig in Nueva York. He says it's a hell of a place."
"So I've heard. But I've never been down-beam, myself." He grinned. "If you need extra daylight, give me a beep. I'll SPOT-light you."
"No thanks. I hear the dark is better there."
His supervisor laughed and logged out. Karil did the same, realizing with a certain amount of shame what the man was probably saying to his colleagues at this moment: The Sultan's little bastard can screw off any time he feels like it, take a trip to Nueva York, for Christ sake. The morning shuttle arrived a few minutes later and Karil drifted aboard. He had the ship to himself, and after refusing a drink from the robot, he settled back in his harness and watched the space-scape drifting by.
High Africa tumbled astern, looking like some great gothic cathedral in space, with its sculpted lunacrete buttresses, the complex array of taut cables, and three vast mirrors revealing the landscapes within like illuminated stained-glass windows. What he had told Inger was correct: it was indeed an expensive project, possible only because of the virtually infinite energy supply of solar power, the practically unlimited resources of the Asteroid Belt and Lunar surface, and the nearly free transportation of solar sail. Karil could see one of the cargo clippers now, drifting toward L-1 like a great aluminium butterfly, having spiralled in from the Belt with agonizing slowness but almost no cost, as it rode the pressure of light from the sun.
Other space-islands spun by as the shuttle drifted through the L-1 energy well: High Europe, High Asia, the High Americas, each owned outright by companies like Orbital Dynamics, Beltways, Geolunar Industries, Martian Mining and Manufacturing. Triple-M was rumoured to be in financial trouble because rebellious Martian colonists had disrupted the processing of sub-surface water resources, and the LaGrange Group was debating--once again--about contracting with Belter companies for asteroidal water instead.
Earth slid into view across the port beside him. Karil could see the gleaming grids of the vast irrigation projects of Sahara, Siberia, and the Canadas, and the necklace of SPOTS in geo-synchronous orbit around the equator. Looking closer, he could see the shuttle transfer stations in Low Earth Orbit, where contract labour from Earth transferred to resonance orbits that would take them to the mines of Luna or to the Farside Factories of L-2. Earth would be hidden from their view by the bulk of the moon throughout their L-2 contract, and if they signed on for too many such contracts, they might lose their gee-legs and literally never see home again. There were a number of popular romances about that sort of thing, but the few such workers Karil had met seemed a decidedly un-romantic lot.
Luna drifted across the port, appearing very much larger by now. Except for a few spots of reflected light on its grey surface, there was little hint of the hive of activity taking place there, mostly below the surface and mostly on the far side from Earth: machines strip-mining the regolith, mass-drivers accelerating the material into orbit, mass-catchers at L-2 funnelling it into the solar-powered furnaces and factories that drifted slowly on a 2:1 resonance orbit from there to Earth orbit in a little less than two weeks. En route, the materials would be shaped into steel a hundred times stronger than it was possible to forge on Earth. Then the finished product would be shuttled to the surface, boosted to a Lagrange energy well, or slingshot using Earth's gravitational acceleration to Mars or the Galilean Moons of Jupiter. Or, indeed, used to build the solar-power stations that provided energy for the whole system. It was like some great, graceful industrial dance, using very little energy and wasting nothing.
The next time Luna drifted into view, Karil sat up in his harness and paid attention, for the shuttle was coming into Ell-port, or Nearside Station. The habitat ring, connected to its observation hub by great elevator-spokes, spun slowly against the face of Luna like a falling flower, while shuttles and transfer vehicles of all sorts clung to the keel like aphids on a stalk, and manned units darted about like nectar-hungry bees. Karil wondered if there wasn't a poem in there somewhere, if he could find the time to write it.
The shuttle fell in at alarming speed, then slowed with a perfectly calculated puff of gas and mated the hatch without a bump. Karil un-strapped and drifted through the lock into a long tunnel. It was nearly deserted, though a few people, lost in their own thoughts, were hanging from the straps of a belt that pulled them up or down its length.
Shagrug said he would be in the one-sixth gee observation lounge. Karil found its location on the screen beside the hatch and kicked off in that direction. Suddenly becoming excited, he flew faster and faster, slapping at handholds as he passed to increase his speed. Older straphangers glared at his youthful form as it flew by. When the elevator to the rim finally hove into view, Karil had to claw at the handholds to slow himself sufficiently to grab the stanchion beside the elevator port and stop his free fall entirely. The port irised open and he swung inside; as the elevator dropped toward the rim, he felt his weight returning and his feet were pressed against the bulkhead clearly labelled FLOOR. The numbers beside the port were 1/6, 1/3, and 1/1; you could bar-hop your way down the spoke, Karil thought, and when you were too drunk to stand up in full gravity, you could work your way back again.
1/6 lit up and the port irised open. Karil stepped out a little wobbly after his long trip in micrograv, but he quickly became accustomed to the gravitational equivalent of most of the moons in the solar system. The tavern curved up and out of sight around the wheel; it was dimly lit and stank of alcohol, and Earth rolled slowly round the window.
Shagrug was at a table nearby; his long sandy mane and drooping moustache were tousled, as if he had just gotten out of bed, and the bulge in his shipsuit that betrayed the paunch of middle age was stained in several places. Karil felt a sudden urge to turn and flee but shuffled over the curved floor and sat down.
"I wasn't sure you'd turn up," Shagrug said. "Beer? I guess not."
"I'll have some. I'm not a believer."
"Good," said Shagrug as he poured Karil a glass. "I'm not a believer in much myself, Stillborn."
"The name is Stilbon. Though everybody calls me Karil." He was already beginning to find Shagrug irritating, and it was only his second time in the man's presence.
"Whatever you say, Stillborn." Shagrug sat back and peered at the young man's face; he seemed to be looking into him, and Karil thought Shagrug could be extremely penetrating, when he wasn't drunk. "So. Are you ready to join Rimbaud's Army?"
"Arthur Rimbaud? The Nineteenth Century poet?" Karil was impressed, until Shagrug spoke again.
"Is that what he was? Atty's been on this Rimbaud kick for a week. What kind of army did he have, this Rimbaud, anyway?"
"He didn't have an army--just a bunch of smugglers. He was a young French poet who ran away from home and ended up running guns for a living. Hung around Paris for a while with a fellow named Verlaine--thoroughly dissolute and disreputable."
"I see." Shagrug scowled for a second, then broke into a chuckle. "You and Atty should get along fine. You've got the same sense of humour. Must be why she hired you."
"Is that why I got the job? Because Atalanta likes my sense of humour?"
"That and your record."
"My school record? Or my work record?"
"No, your police record."
Karil laughed, and then realized that Shagrug wasn't joking.
"Actually, it was all of them," Shagrug went on. "Atty noticed the contradiction right away: top of your class in astrogation, perfect work record, and half a dozen citations for reckless flying. This kid's not reckless, she tells me, he's just testing himself." He glanced toward the door and grinned. "Well, well, look what the solar wind just blew in."
Karil turned to see the two women gliding in through the door, and the sight nearly took his breath away. The tall, dark one was wearing her hair in Ganymede fashion, though somewhat more tastefully than usual, in streaks of caramel and coffee and the same dark chocolate colour as her skin. Her ship-suit, unsealed to the navel, was a shade of red that would have attracted attention on a body much less muscular and impressive, and her golden anklets, dog-collar, and waist-chain made her appearance even more exotic. The girl beside her, collecting drinks at the bar, was even more striking, though adorned only by her shoulder-length ash-blonde hair and the lush figure poured into her baby-blue free-fall suit.
Shagrug placed two fingers in his mouth and whistled. All conversation in the room had ceased as soon as the women appeared; now all eyes turned to Shagrug. The pair at the door turned suddenly, with a fluidity of movement and a piercing glance that made Karil draw back involuntarily. He got the distinct impression that these two were dangerous for more than their beauty. When they recognized Shagrug, their glares turned to smiles--a wry grin with sparkling eyes from the dark one and a lovely warm smile from the blonde that made Karil's heart skip a beat. In an instant, he had fallen hopelessly in love with both of them.
They approached with their drinks in a graceful motion that revealed their long familiarity with outer-world gravity and slid into their seats with equal grace. The dark one jingled when she moved like a Hindu goddess. Karil could see that the other woman's ship-suit matched her enormous baby-blue eyes.
"This is Loris," Shagrug said, "captain of the trader Anais Nin, and her astrogator Johanna. This fellow with his mouth open is named Karil. The next round is on me."
"On you, Shag?" Loris laughed. "I don't believe it." She took a sip of wine and leaned back in her chair, slinging a bejewelled arm over Johanna's shoulder. Johanna snuggled up to her and said nothing. Karil heard little of the conversation that followed: something about a new development in scramjet intake efficiency. Every time Loris leaned forward to make a point, he could see the curve of her breast through the opening in her suit, silky brown flesh swelling, once or twice a flash of wine-red nipple. He was aware of her fine, muscular hand caressing Johanna's shoulder, sometimes toying with a lock of her hair. Johanna glanced at him occasionally, shyly, but Loris never looked his way after the introduction.
Finally, something in the conversation drew him back from his reverie.
"We're headed dirtside too," Loris was saying. "We've got a contract to run supplies to some archaeological dig in Nueva York and bring up artifacts, if they find any, for shipment to Titan."
"Professor Kelley's dig?" Karil asked.
Loris turned suspicious dark eyes upon him. "Yes, he's our client. You know him?"
"A friend of mine is working there. One of his assistants. Jay Coldwell."
"Oh, yeah. Tall, skinny kid. Very smart, but kind of awkward. When Johanna goes by, he trips over things."
Shagrug guffawed. "Johanna does that to everybody."
She blushed fetchingly, but still had not said a word. Karil began to wonder if she could talk.
Shagrug's eyes flicked toward the door. "Uh oh," he said.
Loris sipped her drink slowly, glancing into its depths--glancing in fact, Karil suddenly realized, at the reflection of the men who had just entered the room. "Q.P.," she said, "badly disguised as mobsters. Looking for you, perhaps?"
"It's a long story. I don't suppose you'd mind..."
"My pleasure, Shag."
"Thanks, Lor. I owe you one."
"You mean, you owe me another one. Get out of here while you can still make your exit look casual."
Shagrug rose from the table and Karil followed suit. As they trotted off around the curve toward the other door, moving without undue haste, Karil could see a tableau taking place behind him in the mirrored wall of the bar. The men glanced at Shagrug's departing form and started to follow him. As they passed Loris, her foot shot out and seemed only to touch the ankle of the first pursuer. Somehow, in the slight gravity, he found himself sprawled in Johanna's lap. Just as Shag and Karil slipped out the door, Loris rose from her chair in a swift movement, and grasped the startled man by the collar. The sounds of shouting and overturned furniture echoed in the corridor as the escapees darted for the elevator.