the gentle giants of ganymede #2

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  • The Gentle Giants of Ganymede James P. Hogan

  • To my wife, Lyn, who showed me that greener grass can always be made togrow on whatever side of the field one happens to be.

    Prologue

    Leyel Torres, commander of the scientific observation base near theequator on Iscaris III, closed the final page of the report that he had beenreading and stretched back in his chair with a grateful sigh. He sat for awhile, enjoying the feeling of relaxation as the seat adjusted itself toaccommodate his new posture, and then rose to pour himself a drink from one ofthe flasks on a tray on the small table behind his desk. The drink was cooland refreshing, and quickly dispelled the fatigue that had begun to build upinside him after more than two hours of unbroken concentration. Not much longer now, he thought. Two months more and they should be saying good-bye tothis barren ball of parched rock forever and returning to the clean, fresh, infinite star-speckled blackness that lay between here and home.

    He cast his eye around the inside of the study of his private quartersin the conglomeration of domes, observatory buildings and communicationsantennas that had been home for the last two years. He was tired of the same,endless month-in, month-out routine. The project was exciting and stimulatingit was true, but enough was enough; going home, as far as he was concerned, couldn't come a day too soon.

    He walked slowly over to the side of the room and stared for a second ortwo at the blank wall in front of him. Without turning his head he said aloud:"View panel. See-through mode."

    The wall immediately became one-way transparent, presenting him with aclear view out over the surface of Iscaris III. From the edge of the jumble ofconstructions and machinery that made up the base, the dry, uniform reddish-brown crags and boulders stretched all the way to the distinctly curvedskyline where they abruptly came to an end beneath a curtain of black velvetembroidered with stars. High above, the fiery orb of

  • Iscaris blazedmercilessly, its reflected rays filling the room with a warm glow of orangeand red. As he looked out across the wilderness, a sudden longing welled upinside him for the simple pleasure of walking under a blue sky and breathingin the forgotten exhilaration of a wind blowing free. Yes, indeed -- departurecouldn't come a day too soon.

    A voice that seemed to issue from nowhere in particular in the roominterrupted his musings.

    "Marvyl Chariso is requesting to be put through, Commander. He says it'sextremely urgent."

    "Accept," Torres replied. He turned about to face the large view screenthat occupied much of the opposite wall. The screen came alive at once toreveal the features of Chariso, a senior physicist, speaking from aninstrumentation laboratory in the observatory. His face registered alarm.

    "Leyel," Chariso began without preamble. "Can you get down here rightaway. We've got trouble -- real trouble." His tone of voice said the rest.Anything that could arouse Chariso to such a state had to be bad.

    "I'm on my way," he said, already moving toward the door.

    Five minutes later Torres arrived in the lab and was greeted by thephysicist, who by this time was looking more worried than ever. Chariso ledhim to a monitor before a bank of electronic equipment where Galdern Brenzor, another of the scientists, was staring grim-faced at the curves and dataanalyses on the computer output screens. Brenzor looked up as they approachedand nodded gravely.

    "Strong emission lines in the photosphere," he said. "Absorption linesare shifting rapidly toward the violet. There's no doubt about it; a majorinstability is breaking out in the core and it's running away."

    Torres looked over at Chariso.

    "Iscaris is going nova," Chariso explained. "Something's gone wrong withthe project and

  • the whole star's started to blow up. The photosphere isexploding out into space and preliminary calculations indicate we'll beengulfed here in less than twenty hours. We have to evacuate."

    Tones stared at him in stunned disbelief. "That's impossible."

    The scientist spread his arms wide. "Maybe so, but it's fact. Later wecan take as long as you like to figure out where we went wrong, but right nowwe've got to get out of here...fast!"

    Tones stared at the two grim faces while his mind instinctively tried toreject what it was being told. He gazed past them at another large wall screenthat was presenting a view being transmitted from ten million miles away inspace. He was looking at one of the three enormous G-beam projectors,cylinders two miles long and a third of a mile across, that had been built instellar orbit thirty million miles from Iscaris with their axes preciselyaligned on the center of the star. Behind the silhouette of the projectorIscaris's blazing globe was still normal in appearance, but even as he lookedhe imagined that he could see its disk swelling almost imperceptibly butmenacingly outward.

    For a moment his mind was swamped by emotions -- the enormity of thetask that suddenly confronted them, the hopelessness of having to thinkrationally under impossible time pressures, the futility of two years ofwasted efforts. And then, as quickly as it had come, the feeling evaporatedand the commander in him reasserted itself.

    "ZORAC," he called in a slightly raised voice.

    "Commander?" The same voice that had spoken in his study answered.

    "Contact Garuth on the Shapieron at once. Inform him that a matter ofthe gravest urgency has arisen and that it is imperative for all commandingofficers of the expedition to confer immediately. I request that he put out anemergency call to summon them to link in fifteen minutes from now. Also, sounda general alert throughout the base and have all personnel stand by to awaitfurther instructions. I'll link in to the conference from the

  • multiconsole in Room 14 of the Main Observatory Dome. That's all."

    Just over a quarter of an hour later Tones and the two scientists werefacing an array of wall screens that showed the other participants in theconference. Garuth, commander-in-chief of the expedition, sat flanked by twoaides in the heart of the mother-ship Shapieron two thousand miles aboveIscaris III. He listened without interruption to the account of the situation.The chief scientist, speaking from elsewhere in the ship, confirmed that inthe past few minutes sensors aboard the Shapieron had yielded data similar tothat reported by instruments from the surface of Iscaris III, and that thecomputers had produced the same interpretation. The G-beam projectors hadcaused some unforeseen and catastrophic change in the internal equilibrium ofIscaris, and the star was in the process of turning into a nova. There was notime to think of anything but escape.

    "We have to get everybody off the surface," Garuth said. "Leyel, thefirst thing I need is a statement of what ships you've got down there at themoment, and how many personnel they can bring up. We'll send down extrashuttles to ferry out the rest as soon as we know what your shortage incarrying capacity is. Monchar..." He addressed his deputy on another of the screens. "Do we have any ships more than fifteen hours out from us at maximumspeed?"

    "No, sir. The farthest away is out near Projector Two. It could make itback in just over ten."

    "Good. Recall them all immediately, emergency priority. If the figureswe've just heard are right, the only way we'll stand a chance of getting clearis on the Shapieron's main drives. Prepare a schedule of expected arrivaltimes and make sure that preparations for reception have been made."

    "Yes, sir."

    "Leyel..." Garuth switched his gaze back to look straight out of thescreen in Room 14 of the Observatory Dome.

  • "Bring all your available ships upto flight-readiness and begin planning your evacuation at once. Report back onstatus one hour from now. One bag of personal belongings only per person."

    "May I remind you of a problem, sir." The chief engineer of theShapieron, Rogdar Jassilane, added from the drive section of the ship.

    "What is it, Rog?" Garuth's face turned away to look at another screen.

    "We still have a fault on the primary retardation system for the main-drive toroids. If we start up those drives, the only way they'll ever slowdown again is at their own natural rate. The whole braking system's beenstripped down. We could never put it together again in under twenty hours, letalone trace the fault and fix it."

    Garuth thought for a moment. "But we can start them up okay?"

    "We can," Jassilane confirmed. "But once those black holes startwhirling round inside the toroids, the angular momentum they'll build up willbe phenomenal. Without the retardation system to slow them down, they'll takeyears to coast down to a speed at which the drives can be deactivated. We'd beunder main drive all the time, with no way of shutting down." He made ahelpless gesture. "We could end up anywhere."

    "But we've no choice," Garuth pointed out. "It's fly or fry. We'll haveto set course for home and orbit the Solar System under drive until we'vedropped to a low enough return velocity. What other way is there?"

    "I can see what Rog's getting at," the chief scientist interjected."It's not quite as simple as that. You see, at the velocities that we wouldacquire under years of sustained main drive, we'd experience an enormousrelativistic time-dilation compared to reference frames moving with the speedof Iscaris or Sol. Since the Shapieron would be an accelerated system, muchmore time would pass back home than would pass on board the ship; we knowwhere we'd end up all right...but we won't be too sure of when."

    "And, in fact, it would be worse than just that," Jassilane added. "Themain drives work