the gentle giants of ganymede

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James P Hogan - Giants 2 - The Gentle Giants Of Ganymede (v1.2)/slide02.htmlprevious | Table of Contents | next


Leyel Torres, commander of the scientific observation base nearthe equator on Iscaris III, closed the final page of the reportthat he had been reading and stretched back in his chair with agrateful sigh. He sat for a while, enjoying the feeling ofrelaxation as the seat adjusted itself to accommodate his newposture, and then rose to pour himself a drink from one of theflasks on a tray on the small table behind his desk. The drink wascool and refreshing, and quickly dispelled the fatigue that hadbegun to build up inside him after more than two hours of unbrokenconcentration. Not much longer now, he thought. Two months more andthey should be saying good-bye to this barren ball of parched rockforever and returning to the clean, fresh, infinite star-speckledblackness that lay between here and home.

He cast his eye around the inside of the study of his privatequarters in the conglomeration of domes, observatory buildings andcommunications antennas that had been home for the last two years.He was tired of the same, endless month-in, month-out routine. Theproject was exciting and stimulating it was true, but enough wasenough; going home, as far as he was concerned, couldnt comea day too soon.

He walked slowly over to the side of the room and stared for asecond or two at the blank wall in front of him. Without turninghis head he said aloud: "View panel. See-through mode."

The wall immediately became one-way transparent, presenting himwith a clear view out over the surface of Iscaris III. From theedge of the jumble of constructions and machinery that made up thebase, the dry, uniform reddish-brown crags and boulders stretchedall the way to the distinctly curved skyline where they abruptlycame to an end beneath a curtain of black velvet embroidered withstars. High above, the fiery orb of Iscaris blazed mercilessly, itsreflected rays filling the room with a warm glow of orange and red.As he looked out across the wilderness, a sudden longing welled upinside him for the simple pleasure of walking under a blue sky andbreathing in the forgotten exhilaration of a wind blowing free.Yes, indeeddeparture couldnt come a day too soon.

A voice that seemed to issue from nowhere in particular in theroom interrupted his musings.

"Marvyl Chariso is requesting to be put through, Commander. Hesays its extremely urgent."

"Accept," Torres replied. He turned about to face the large viewscreen that occupied much of the opposite wall. The screen camealive at once to reveal the features of Chariso, a seniorphysicist, speaking from an instrumentation laboratory in theobservatory. His face registered alarm.

"Leyel," Chariso began without preamble. "Can you get down hereright away. Weve got troublereal trouble." His tone ofvoice said the rest. Anything that could arouse Chariso to such astate had to be bad.

"Im on my way," he said, already moving toward thedoor.

Five minutes later Torres arrived in the lab and was greeted bythe physicist, who by this time was looking more worried than ever.Chariso led him to a monitor before a bank of electronic equipmentwhere Galdern Brenzor, another of the scientists, was staringgrim-faced at the curves and data analyses on the computer outputscreens. Brenzor looked up as they approached and noddedgravely.

"Strong emission lines in the photosphere," he said. "Absorptionlines are shifting rapidly toward the violet. Theres no doubtabout it; a major instability is breaking out in the core andits running away."

Torres looked over at Chariso.

"Iscaris is going nova," Chariso explained. "Somethingsgone wrong with the project and the whole stars started toblow up. The photosphere is exploding out into space andpreliminary calculations indicate well be engulfed here inless than twenty hours. We have to evacuate."

Torres stared at him in stunned disbelief. "Thatsimpossible."

The scientist spread his arms wide. "Maybe so, but itsfact. Later we can take as long as you like to figure out where wewent wrong, but right now weve got to get out of here. . .fast!"

Torres stared at the two grim faces while his mind instinctivelytried to reject what it was being told. He gazed past them atanother large wall screen that was presenting a view beingtransmitted from ten million miles away in space. He was looking atone of the three enormous G-beam projectors, cylinders two mileslong and a third of a mile across, that had been built in stellarorbit thirty million miles from Iscaris with their axes preciselyaligned on the center of the star. Behind the silhouette of theprojector Iscariss blazing globe was still normal inappearance, but even as he looked he imagined that he could see itsdisk swelling almost imperceptibly but menacingly outward.

For a moment his mind was swamped by emotionsthe enormityof the task that suddenly confronted them, the hopelessness ofhaving to think rationally under impossible time pressures, thefutility of two years of wasted efforts. And then, as quickly as ithad come, the feeling evaporated and the commander in himreasserted itself.

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

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

"Contact Garuth on the Shapieron at once. Inform himthat a matter of the gravest urgency has arisen and that it isimperative for all commanding officers of the expedition to conferimmediately. I request that he put out an emergency call to summonthem to link in fifteen minutes from now. Also, sound a generalalert throughout the base and have all personnel stand by to awaitfurther instructions. Ill link in to the conference from themulticonsole in Room 14 of the Main Observatory Dome. Thatsall."

Just over a quarter of an hour later Torres and the twoscientists were facing an array of wall screens that showed theother participants in the conference. Garuth, commander-in-chief ofthe expedition, sat flanked by two aides in the heart of themother-ship Shapieron two thousand miles above IscarisIII. He listened without interruption to the account of thesituation. The chief scientist, speaking from elsewhere in theship, confirmed that in the past few minutes sensors aboard theShapieron had yielded data similar to that reported byinstruments from the surface of Iscaris III, and that the computershad produced the same interpretation. The G-beam projectors hadcaused some unforeseen and catastrophic change in the internalequilibrium of Iscaris, and the star was in the process of turninginto a nova. There was no time to think of anything but escape.

"We have to get everybody off the surface," Garuth said. "Leyel,the first thing I need is a statement of what ships youve gotdown there at the moment, and how many personnel they can bring up.Well send down extra shuttles to ferry out the rest as soonas we know what your shortage in carrying capacity is. Monchar . .." He addressed his deputy on another of the screens. "Do we haveany ships more than fifteen hours out from us at maximumspeed?"

"No, sir. The farthest away is out near Projector Two. It couldmake it back in just over ten."

"Good. Recall them all immediately, emergency priority. If thefigures weve just heard are right, the only way wellstand a chance of getting clear is on the Shapieronsmain drives. Prepare a schedule of expected arrival times and makesure that preparations for reception have been made."

"Yes, sir."

"Leyel. . ." Garuth switched his gaze back to look straight outof the screen in Room 14 of the Observatory Dome. "Bring all youravailable ships up to flight-readiness and begin planning yourevacuation at once. Report back on status one hour from now. Onebag 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 sectionof the ship.

"What is it, Rog?" Garuths face turned away to look atanother screen.

"We still have a fault on the primary retardation system for themain-drive toroids. If we start up those drives, the only waytheyll ever slow down again is at their own natural rate. Thewhole braking systems been stripped down. We could never putit together again in under twenty hours, let alone trace the faultand fix it."

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

"We can," Jassilane confirmed. "But once those black holes startwhirling round inside the toroids, the angular momentumtheyll build up will be phenomenal. Without the retardationsystem to slow them down, theyll take years to coast down toa speed at which the drives can be deactivated. Wed be undermain drive all the time, with no way of shutting down." He made ahelpless gesture. "We could end up anywhere."

"But weve no choice," Garuth pointed out. "Its flyor fry. Well have to set course for home and orbit the SolarSystem under drive until weve dropped to a low enough returnvelocity. What other way is there?"

"I can see what Rogs getting at," the chief scientistinterjected. "Its not quite as simple as that. You see, atthe velocities that we would acquire under years of sustained maindrive, wed experience an enormous relativistic time-dilationcompared to reference frames moving with the speed of Iscaris orSol. Since the Shapieron would be an accelerated system,much more time would pass back home than would pass on board theship; we know where wed end up all right . . . butwe wont be too sure of when."

"And, in fact, it would be worse than just that," Jassilaneadded. "The main drives work by generating a localized space-timedistortion that the ship continuously falls into. Thisalso produces its own time-dilation effect. Hence youd havethe compound e