Authors: Karl Kofoed
Tags: #Fiction, #Action & Adventure, #Science Fiction, #space
Alex Rose thought he was through with space exploration. He had explored the unknown depths of Jupiter's Great Red Spot and made the greatest discovery of his time, a reef of life full of strange inhabitants. Now he and his wife, the lovely Sensor clone Mary Seventeen, lived a quiet and happy life on Ganymede. But their contentment was shattered by a summons to participate in an even greater challenge: the first faster-than-light mission to another star.
Fleeing an Earth divided by war, the first starship Goddard, a gigantic self-contained biosystem with a crew of over a thousand, was to travel to the red dwarf Lalande on its maiden voyage. Alex and Mary, with their shuttle Diver, would call on their experiences in Jupiter's reef to explore an ancient gas giant orbiting the star. Since a reef of complex and possibly intelligent life had naturally evolved on Jupiter, what alien life - or even civilizations - might have developed on a much older planet? The answer they find proves to be a stranger and more perilous adventure than even Alex and Mary could have imagined.
© Karl Kofoed 2012
Cover © Karl Kofoed 2012
The right of Karl Kofoed to be identified as the author has been asserted in accordance with sections 77 and 78 of the Copyright, Designs and Patents Act 1988. All rights reserved.
Paperback : 978-1-927086-70-4
Electronic Version by Baen Books
This book is sold subject to the condition that it shall not, by way of trade or otherwise, be lent, resold, hired out or otherwise circulated without the publisher’s consent in any form other than this current form and without a similar condition being imposed upon a subsequent purchaser.
Any similarity between the characters and situations within its pages and places or persons, living or dead, is unintentional and co-incidental
For Janet: my wife, my friend & guru, my primary editor, and my inspiration.
Thanks to Matt Howarth, Hal Clement, Robert Walters, and all those whose support helped make this story possible.
Special thanks to Anthony Sciarra and Jack Baltadonis, wherever they may be.
Special thanks to BeWrite editor Hugh McCracken.
About the Author:
Karl Kofoed is a graphic artist with over 40 years of commercial advertising and promotional graphic design experience. He started his career after graduation in 1966 from the Philadelphia College of Art (majoring in illustration/minoring in photography) as a technical illustrator for the aerospace industry, then as an art director and scenic designer for two television stations WHYY TV12 & WKBSTV.
He has worked for NW Ayer Direct in New York designing DM material for AT&T, Citicorp, and other major clients. In Philadelphia he was a product designer for Studio One Posters, where he designed what was to become the best selling poster of all time, the treed kitten of “Hang in There Baby, Friday’s Coming.” He worked for North American Publishing as a promotional art director for 13 trade magazines and has done recruitment advertising for two Philadelphia agencies.
Today, as owner of Kofoed Design, he specializes in photo retouching and restoration.
Karl’s other career is that of a science fiction illustrator and writer. He is well known to the East Coast SF community and has done scores of book covers and interior illustrations for magazines like Analog and Asimov’s SF magazine.
Karl is perhaps best known for his lavishly illustrated Galactic Geographic feature which has appeared in Heavy Metal magazine in two incarnations. It began in 1978 and ran for two years, then resumed in
1998 and continued until 2008. His pieces feature diverse and imaginative views of living alien worlds and a distinctive documentary style, which have set Karl’s work apart from others in his field. Karl has always regarded the Galactic Geographic material as a single work of art, and using his computer he single-handedly designed, wrote, illustrated, and produced the Galactic Geographic Annual 3003, which he describes as a nature magazine from the future.
Published by Chrysalis/Paper Tiger Books in 2003, it is still available.
Three of his novels have been published by BeWrite Books in the UK: DEEP ICE, JOKO, and JUPITER’S REEF which is the first part of a trilogy. FARTHEST REEF is part two of that trilogy.
Karl and his wife Janet, a popular jewelry designer, live in Drexel Hill, Pennsylvania; a suburb of Philadelphia. They each have a daughter named Lisa, from previous marriages.
“Luck has nothing to do with it,” said Alex. “Look at the purse. Someone’s figured a way to profit from it. I knew it wasn’t over.”
Mary Seventeen Rose rolled her eyes. “Then call it Fate. Face it, Alex Rose, it’s your reef. That’s why they keep bothering you. You discovered it. You explored it. Now you have to live with the consequences. And so do I.”
“They said I won’t need to go to Earth.
will be orbiting Mars.”
“That’s right, you read all my mail, don’t you?” Alex finished shaving, closed the lav-unit with a tap of his elbow and went back to the bed where Mary lay, propped stiffly on a pillow, legs neatly covered by a pink thermy.
“They got you to shave,” she commented. “I was beginning to worry if another year with the Gannys would have you furry as a coke beggar.”
“What’s the matter?” asked Alex, pulling on a sweater. “You said you liked the beard.”
“At times,” said Mary. “Don’t listen to me. The stitches hurt … and, well, I’m jealous. I’d like to get off this berg for a while.”
“I wish you could come.”
“The meds said three more weeks. They sniveled about blood clots interfering with the new nans they stuck in me.” Mary stroked the huge black cat that purred and stared impassively at Alex as it pressed against her thigh. “Anyway, we’ll be together soon enough, I guess. Meanwhile I have Inky’s whiskers to tickle me at night.”
“And who’ll tickle me?” Alex finished dressing and sat on a foam chair facing his wife. “Does it still hurt, Mary?” he asked sympathetically. “They did a lot of work on you. I’m surprised you’re healing this fast. And I’m not convinced …”
Mary held up her hand. “I’ll be fit by the time you’re back. I’m feeling it less every day. Where they put the new waver … it still hurts. They’re on me to use it as soon as I can. But I have to get used to it.” She looked disdainfully at the little headset next to her datastrator. “I tried last night but it’s too painful.” She sighed and stroked the cat. “And drugs are out of the question.”
“Well … you still have your pet shop. I should say CAT shop.” Inky rolled over and eyed Alex. He began to purr loudly as he always did when Alex looked at him directly.
“You’re in good company, at least. They all love you, Mary. Especially that monster.”
“Inky will miss you, my love. And so will I,” she said bravely. “This is the first time we’ve been apart, you know.”
“You don’t count the days I work the ice shelf?”
“And going to meet Stubbs and Sciarra and some no-names for some clandestine confab isn’t?” Alex sighed. “It’s work, believe me.”
“Don’t forget you’re going to my home planet, Alex. It’s not much more than a dust bin, I know, but sometimes I miss it.” Mary shook her head. “There I go, thinking about me. You’re the one in the hot seat. All I have to do is heal.”
“You’re the most powerful Sensor in the system now, Mary. That’s something.” He stroked Mary’s perfect leg. “I wonder what you’ll pick up.”
“It’s just a question of range, my dear.” Her sensitive ears heard footsteps outside the apartment. “So soon?”
“What?” asked Alex.
A bell chimed twice, indicating two visitors at the door. “My ride,” said Alex, getting up.
When he opened the door, two helmeted MiliCab drivers faced him nervously. “Your ride is waiting, Commander Rose,” said one. “Do you have bags?”
“Just the one I’m carrying. You’re a half hour early, aren’t you?”
The shorter of the two drivers, the one that looked like a teener playing soldierman, shrugged his shoulders. The other, a lifer who sported the typical Ganny paunch, looked at his watch. “I … I guess so,” he said. “Sorry.”
Alex shook his head. “Dingers, you guys. Is it so far-fetched a concept to show up on time? Next you’ll say your Cab is idling and needs gassin’.”
“As a matter of fact, sir. Preflight checks,” said the man. “Doesn’t hurt to be early.”
“’t does whe’ya gone away from wifey for three’n weeks.”
“Jeeps, Alex. You need to get out of this place for a while.” Mary was standing behind Alex holding his travel bag. “You’re getting to sound more Ganny every day.”
Alex was surprised to see Mary standing there, especially the way she was dressed. “You should be lying down, luv,” he insisted. “Don’ go liftin’ bags.”
Apparently neither officer had seen a Sensor of Mary’s caliber before. Her pure beauty, thinly veiled in a sheer blue robe, overwhelmed them both. Mary noticed their leers and moved discreetly behind the door. “You better go,” she whispered. “I’ll be raped in a tick.”
Alex smiled. Men leering at Mary used to bother him a lot, but he had learned long ago that her genetics, not the men, were to blame. She was, after all, perfect. Still, he couldn’t resist giving the balding officer’s gut a slap as he said, “Let’s go,” and stepped out into the hall.
Gannytown would soon be celebrating its thirtieth year of independence from the Earth-based Corporations. The echoes of the meltdown of the Ra Patera colony on Io were still bouncing through the system. Since then the Corps had learned that autonomy meant profit. What had destroyed the thousand person base may have been a sudden eruption, but the blame was placed on a slow chain of command that hadn’t moved the superstructure to a new location when the first tremors were felt.
But that was history. Now the Gannys had the granddaddy of occasions to celebrate. Perhaps an outsider wouldn’t understand the reason these people were so pumped, but this was Ganymede, a ball of ice and rock bigger than Earth’s moon. All it had was vast quantities of ice, some of it astonishingly pure. But to its miners, anything was preferable to thinking about green ice, the seams of pure ‘crackins’ the Gannys extracted from the ice veins under Gannytown.
Alex wasn’t too excited about the bash, but the money was starting to roll into Gannytown and his investments were just starting to pay off. No time to leave. And he certainly didn’t want to go through another round of bio-science with Stubbs. Most of it was way over his head. To Alex, Jupiter’s Reef was history. Let them study it. He discovered it. They can have the rest.
But Stubbs had eM’d him privately. Promised a big show and tell.
Two weeks to Mars. “Thank God for geebrew,” Alex sighed as he slid into the back seat of the MDS.
The shuttle wasn’t Alex’s favorite mode of transport, and the Mass Driver launching system was long overdue for an overhaul. The way the Gannys worked, it would be fixed only after it failed. At the moment, it was the only cheap date for space available. The new tubes were still months away from completion.
I.D.F. down … Please secure seat restraints and relax completely … we apologize for the inconvenience – one minute to orbital insertion.
“Dingers,” said Alex, as he rushed to secure all the straps in the padded chair. He looked around the passenger module for someone to complain to, but he was alone. The IDF, the Inertial Damping Field, would have lessened the effects of the shotgun magnetic launch to space. Now he knew he’d have to endure some heavy gees. Launching from a heavy world like Earth without the IDF would kill a person – smash him like a bug – but this was a moon and the gravity wasn’t a problem. Still there was the acceleration to endure, and if Alex didn’t have a class 9 medical record they wouldn’t have let him aboard. The numbers said he’d be fine, but he didn’t trust numbers. He gritted his teeth and waited.
Ten seconds … please relax completely.
There were no more warnings. The shuttle began to move slowly at first, but in only a second or two the magnetic grapplers had engaged and Alex found himself pressed into the cushions of his seat. He followed the recorded instructions to the letter, knowing that if he fought the gees his muscles would hurt for days. After a long moment of barely being able to breathe, the gee forces diminished and the lightheaded sensation of weightlessness took over.
Orbital insertion nominal. You may move about the cabin. Geebrew is available for a reasonable fee at the rear of the cabin. State personal ID number when ordering service. Please note. One lavatory active. Status. Empty.We apologize for any inconvenience.
Suddenly an image replaced the moving floral pattern on the wall in front of him, the rendezvous ship
, a class three cruiser that he remembered from his days as a miner on Io. The old work horse had been used to carry tons of exotic minerals. Now it was refitted for passengers and enjoying semi-retirement as a Mars-Jupiter shuttle, chosen not only for its size but also for its speed.
, old tug. I remember you,” muttered Alex. “I’ve fed your bilge more’n twice.” His mind drifted back to Jupiter’s sulfur moon Io and he shuddered, remembering the stinking sulfurous smell that permeated everything on that volcanic moon, the intense aurora that made nights eerily beautiful but usually signaled dangerous radiation levels or an impending eruption. If it wasn’t for polyceramic shielding no one could have survived there. It was a deadly place; fraught with radiation, poisonous compounds, and the constant threat of quakes and eruptions. He was lucky he’d gotten through it.
But Alex didn’t believe in luck. Unholy irony was more like it. It was ironic that he had spent years at the Ra Patera colony but had watched its destruction from the safety of orbit. Unholy because he’d been watching from a ship he’d stolen. What made his conscience twinge even more was that the colony’s destruction had covered up his crime. He’d become a hero while most of his friends there had died. What had saved Alex was his obsession with Jupiter, specifically its Great Red Spot. Only he had suspected that Jupiter’s most visible feature harbored life. Everyone, especially Stubbs, had argued that the Spot was just a hurricane three times bigger than the Earth. Surely a cyclone that size couldn’t support living things.
But life was there, and it had called to him.
Please fasten all seat restraints. Docking with the …
in two minutes ten seconds.
had occasionally been used for the rescue missions that were too often necessary, in Alex’s opinion. He still recalled its hold filled with the bodies of unlucky visitors courtesy of IoCorp; sightseers, corporate guests, blasted from the sky by a sudden plume of searing sulfur dioxide. Frozen, blackened, acid eaten bodies … some memories are never erased.
Alex looked out the port window. Off in space, tucked close to Jupiter’s peach colored crescent, was the little red dot he knew to be Io. Its constant volcanic resurfacing had erased any traces of those wrecks. The bodies they couldn’t recover had long ago sunk beneath the blue sulfur dioxide snow pack. Like all his friends at Ra Patera, they would never be found.
The docking with the
was uneventful. He felt the shuttle come to a stop as the cabin door slid open. A slender red-haired ‘Gannybird’ entered and motioned for him to join her. “Mr. Rose,” she said, grinning at him. “I’m s’ pleased to have y’ on board. Hope you wasn’t too jossed by the launch.” Tall, pale skinned, and red-haired, she was a typical Ganny. Her English was better than most Ganny colonists. Alex knew it was her professional voice he was hearing, not her real dialect. Mary would have been pleased to be able to understand her, but she was still adapting to life on Ganymede. Perhaps if she worked the Ice Lanes with him she’d have found life there a bit easier.
“Ya hear o’ me, befo’?” he asked as he floated from his seat. Weightlessness didn’t bother Alex. He was used to variable gravity.
“O’ya!” the stewardess cooed. “Yer a famer fer sure. Ev’bod’ knows th’ Rose,” she giggled as she shook his hand. He could tell from the way she touched him that he could have more if he wanted, but Mary was all the woman he ever wanted. “You discov’d the clicks … right?”
“Yeah. Thanks,” he said. “B’ they wasn’ nice ’s you.”
The girl giggled again and held on to his hand. “Where ya’ boun’ fer? If ye d’mind the ask?”
“Mars.” Alex pried his hand free of her vice-like grip. He was glad Mary wasn’t with him. The girl might have suffered some serious bruises.
Alex told the Gannybird that he knew the
, so she didn’t need to usher him about. She seemed genuinely disappointed. They floated down a corridor to the junction of a larger passageway where seven brightly colored cables ran down both sides of the corridor. She fitted a blue harness around him, clipped it to the blue cable, and saluted. “Nex’ stop … pass’ger mod,” she said. “Hav-r good trip, Rose.”
The cable moved slowly at first, then picked up speed. Soon Alex found himself at a blue door marked “1st Class,” which slid open when he unhooked himself from the cable. He knew enough about the cable system to leave his harness on. Though it fitted a bit too tightly and made him feel like an amateur, it would be needed to visit any other part of the ship.
When Alex saw the passenger module he realized it was the same hold that had once carried the bodies of crash victims. Though it had been redesigned and outfitted with the latest tourist amenities, he recognized the place instantly. “Never thought I’d see this place again,” he murmured to himself.
Two men waited near the door, gazing out a large polyglas portal at Jupiter. They both turned when the door slid open. “Alex Rose!” said one, a tall Ganny dressed in a corporate officer’s uniform. Next to him an older man dressed in a standard issue gee-suit nodded but said nothing. Alex took him to be a passenger.
“Welcome aboard. I’m Jules Kernes, 2nd Lieut on this tub,” said the officer, somewhat shyly. “I guess everyone knows who you are.” He glanced at the man next to him.
“I just saw a docuvid on that Reef,” said the other, holding out his hand. His droning voice betrayed an artificial larynx. “Fascinating stuff. Hope you don’t mind talking about it during the trip.”
Alex forced a smile and shook his hand. “If that vid was any good, I shouldn’t need to, right?”