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Forge of heaven, p.1
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       Forge of Heaven, p.1

           C. J. Cherryh
Forge of Heaven

  C J Cherryh - Gene Wars 2 - Forge of Heaven




  Consider two bubbles in space, one the shape of ondat territory, the other the shape of what is human. Earth sits, not at the center of its bubble, but off center at the farthest side.

  This is the shape of things. The bubbles forever overlap, thanks to a human action. They forever overlap, since humans let the Gene Wars reach the ondat homeworld. since ruin overtook the heart of ondat culture, and the ondat went to war with humankind.

  Concord Station sits in that zone of overlap. At Concord, humans and ondat keep anxious truce and watch, a situation older than all extant governments, all extant culture, all extant languages but one, in both spheres of influence. Time moves incredibly slowly here. But since ondat are patient, humans are compelled to be.

  The Gene Wars ended here, ages ago, in a cold peace. The ondat maintain one observer at Concord Station-perhaps one. Humans, sharing the same station, have no way to be sure.

  Cross deep space, now, to the deep places of human territory.

  In the Inner Worlds, farthest bubble within the human bubble, Earth floats in a sea of biological change, still obsessed with keeping dry. Inner Worlds Authority, residing on Earth, restricts even the simple biotech that Outsider Space regards as a useful, even a trivial instrument. The Inner Worlds jealously protect what it calls the pure human genome, and frown on genetic modifications even of a medical, lifesaving nature. Every use of bioengineering technology in this region must pass slow and painstaking review.

  Go back to the beginning of this situation, however

  In the larger bubble, and long, long ago, within that region of human territory that Earth calls the Outside, an anti-Earth splinter called the Movement broke from local authority, and broke in a way that forever alienated them from Earth. The Movement bioengineered humans, livestock, and agriculture-specifically to fit colonists for three difficult planets it hoped to claim.

  Movement science had joined nanotech with biotech. It changed humans in ways that could be passed on. The Movement claimed worlds, and it meant to govern Outsider territory.

  Earth quickly slammed down a total quarantine against everything Outside.

  That meant that the far greater number of Outsiders who wanted Earth's help in this ongoing crisis were abruptly and without consultation, cut off from direct trade. The next decades were a struggle for moderate Outsider governments to keep their own settlements alive, to organize some sort of government without Earth-and simultaneously to fight the Movement, which was mobile and difficult to track down. Earth began to use Outsider assistance in its own hunt for Movement bases, and reasserted its unifying authority over Outsider governments, but still refused any direct personal contact with places it considered contaminated, and that by then included the entire Outside.

  It was not love of mother Earth that kept the beleaguered Outsiders fighting against the Movement. It was pure self-preservation, the knowledge that if biochange produced a disaster it would happen in their laps. They formed a union of their own, centered at a station named Apex, and laid down laws that would keep trade going, independent of Earth and the Inner Worlds.

  Driven farther out by a series of Outsider military successes, the outlaw Movement spread nanotech to another world, to secure a base there.

  But another species existed here, previously suspected, but never encountered. Ondat landed on the world during this period, contacted these aggressively adaptive Movement nanisms, and unknowingly let loose disaster on their own species, a calamitous runaway that spread from them to their homeworld.

  Ondat went to war; seeing no species or behavioral difference in Movement, Outsiders, or Earth.

  Earth and Outsider forces understood at least that Movement actions, specifically the Movement intrusion into ondat territory, had touched off this war-and they moved quickly to dissociate themselves from the Movement. They joined the ondat attack on the Movement in space, they hunted Movement bases down to the last, and gradually the ondat seemed to accept that not all humans were hostile.

  But in the economics of the war; badly hammered by the ondat attacks and Movement alike, the Outside had lost its newfound autonomy. In the process of protecting the Outside from infiltration by the Movement, Earth had maintained tight control of key Outsider sites, despite the new authority at Apex, and despite Outsider trade agreements. Earth ultimately asserted its old rights to install governors at every surviving Outsider colony, in the name of defense and negotiation with the ondat.

  The Movement gained a number of recruits as irate Outsiders reacted to what they considered a betrayal, but it was a last flourish. The Movement fought a couple of sharp actions against the ondat and the Earth Federation, but they lost heavily, and this led to the suicide of three of its leaders.

  The ondat, mollified by the fact human forces had helped defeat the Movement, drew back into their original borders, and conducted a shoot-on-sight but nonpursuit relationship with Earth Federation patrols.

  That shaky border situation defined human and ondat relations for over three hundred years.

  Federation law maintained a tight grip on Outsider colonies. Earth governors were there to stay. Ironically, however; the absolute isolation that pure Earthers maintained from Outsider worlds and stations (from which they took fuel and electronic information, but little else) allowed Outsiders under those Earth-run administrations the freedom to do pretty much as they wished in nanotech and genetics, synthesizing materials, creating life, creating whole servant ecosystems in limited environments-and simultaneously striving to fine-tune and limit these same systems. The Outsiders' stated intention was to rein in biological change on the several contaminated worlds, where, certainly, some Outsider descendants lived. They intended to prove that such worlds could be cleaned up,

  Remediation thus became a word of hot political debate between Earth and Outsiders.

  So did self-rule.

  Meanwhile the Second Movement appeared as a political organization on several Outsider stations. Clearly it was a name chosen for shock value: it shared neither personnel nor history with the old Movement, so far as anyone ever proved. But it argued against Earth rule, and it argued against the quarantine laws. The intellectuals of the Second Movement, none of them over twenty-two at the time of the organization's founding, not only proposed to remediate the afflicted territories by throwing off all restraint on research, they talked about making a civilized agreement with the ondat as a route to regain Outsider self-rule. But two Second Movement founders, after a particularly unfortunate biocontamination runaway affecting Arc, the single Movement-run station, entirely repudiated the organization and turned in five of their radical subordinates. So the Second Movement had splintered, part going underground, into a clandestine radical group, part following the former Second Movement founders, constituting the relatively benign Freethinkers,

  Freethinkers, with their music, their occasional prankish demonstrations against Earth government, and their flouting of station zoning laws, particularly-eventually provided a springboard and a backdrop for that other splinter; the radical chic, the Style, with its music, its fetish for nanotech creativity and personal embellishment. Both splinters thrived in illicit trade of various physical goods-smuggling, in other words, an activity that incidentally provided cover for the more dangerous radical underground, which began to call itself the Third Movement.

  Like its predecessor the Third Movement was well hidden in its outer shells of legitimate demands for freedom and self-rule. But it, too, died, in an attempted violent takeover of the remediation labs on Arc. Earth and Outsider forces fortunately prevented calamity there, and the last of the Third Movement leaders committed su
icide with their followers.

  The border tension between Earth and the ondat, meanwhile, continued, with occasional shots fired. Ondat did not communicate with humans, did not trade with, did not approach, did not tolerate humans. No one even knew what they looked like.

  Then the ondat made a radical shift in behavior


  Ondat never had communicated with Earth's ships, except to indicate, by firing at them, just where they thought their border was. Now the ondat began a program of nonviolent approach to Earth's warships inside human space, perhaps testing their peaceful resolve, or, some began to think, wishing them to follow their route.

  Taking the risk, Earth did follow an ondat ship-to a hitherto unguessed First Movement base. on a world on the ondat side of the border. By all evidence, it had been there for centuries, and the ondat hadn't destroyed it; but they signaled that they were about to do so, with the implication, Earth judged, that they thought this newly discovered base represented Earth's enemies as well, and they were invited to join in the attack.

  Or perhaps, someone said in a hastily called council, the ondat wanted to know what Earth would do about this find, so that they could judge Earth's behavior toward these human outlaws, and thus judge whether Earth had secretly supported this base in ondat space for all these years.

  The situation on the one hand could lead to renewed war; which Earth was by no means confident of winning. Or on the other; it might bring peace and a fundamental change in the relationship between humans and ondat, to the relief of all humankind. All Earth had to do to gain ondat approval, apparently, was wipe out an inhabited planet-because human beings were scattered across the heart of the contaminated major continent, innocents born in the centuries since the Gene Wars, a population, moreover; that showed no outward signs of divergence from the human genome and that had no way to leave the planet.

  The ondat waited. Earth hesitated. And desperately consulted.

  Earth's ethicists were aghast at the situation, on purely moral grounds-while certain Outsider experts who had long studied ondat behavior raised another objection: that meekly committing an act of murder the ondat directed could set a bad precedent for the ondat-human future. A second set of experts from the Earth Federation also raised the point that this was a First Movement base, and that it might contain biological bombs that even today's Outsider science couldn't stop: the place was possibly more dangerous to them than to the ondat if that population broke containment.

  This was the surface debate. But certain other Outsiders, siding with the ethicists and those in favor of rescue, saw their chance at getting their hands on First Movement technology not only intact, but advanced centuries beyond their last information-because there seemed to be a high-tech establishment on the planet that still functioned. The planet represented a potential informational windfall, possibly even the key to the long-sought provable remediation.

  Bitter accusations of Movement sympathies flew back and forth in the subtext of communications between the outermost Earth authority at Orb and the Outsider Council at Apex. But the strange coalition held, aided by a peculiar fact: Earth's military was powerful, but its bioscience had stagnated over centuries, under the quarantine laws. Earth functioned on faith that if the ondat ever mounted a bioneered threat in retaliation, Outsiders would be the ones to meet that threat, while Earth's powerful military pounded hell out of the ondat. And Earth joined the ones who favored study, which Earth saw as the moderate course.

  The ondat waited through this debate, observed by one lone human ship-and eventually shoved a few small rocks out of orbit, their machines beginning to attach themselves to more ominous pieces of free-floating rock in the solar system.

  Time was running out. Outsiders overcame their differences: the study proposal won out, and they went into urgent conference with Earth. If they could set up and work at a base down there, Outsiders said, they could find out whether there were still other Movement bases undiscovered, and maybe-as humans talking to other humans, in the face of the ondat, who were truly alien-humans could gain permanent control of this place and learn from it. Outsiders were willing to sacrifice two of their own experts to go down there to do it, with no possibility of return. The world was within the overlap of the human-ondat border An Outsider mission could take responsibility for it, if they could just negotiate a deal with the ondat and promise to watch it. They could learn the nature of the threat that had existed in the first place-much of First Movement information was lost to war and time-and they could measure the threat that still existed. They could learn to communicate with the ondat.

  Earth and the Outsiders attempted to present the proposal to the ondat, who sat, encased in their ship, still faceless, operating their robotics.

  The ondat balked, while a few more rocks dropped. The ondat, through symbol transmission, apparently wanted assurances that the Movement ship on the planet wouldn't take off again, that there wasn't a conceivable means for Movement technology to escape the gravity well.

  Negotiations dragged on. Outsiders took a new intellectual tack with Earth's representatives: most of all, they indicated, they needed to gain knowledge of the place and monitor its biology, along with any adaptive replication machines. They could help target the strikes.

  Nanoceles, complex biounits of the Movement's creation, were a sort of life. They responded to evolutionary pressure, and would fit themselves for any changed environment. If the planet was devastated, they would go off program and become, in effect, true new life, at a bottleneck of evolution-not inherently more dangerous, Outsider scientists argued, than life that evolved naturally. Certain capabilities would be trimmed off in a process of natural selection, and they would no longer be fitted to do what the Movement had designed them to do. In short, remediation might be possible for this and other worlds, including the ondat homeworld.

  To do anything scientifically useful, however; scientists on the Outsider team needed at least a century to work on the planet, to get their hands on that tech and understand the original design before it mutated wildly under the scouring the ondat proposed.

  And if they got that century, Outsiders swore they would share that knowledge with Earth and the ondat.

  Earth joined Outsiders in last-ditch negotiations with the ondat, who had already chosen their missiles to crack the planet.

  The Outsiders got forty years to work.


  An Outsider team went down, a dive to prison without escape and, ironically, the assumption of a godlike power over a whole planet's future. The two scientists promised to report as long as they could, implying they expected to die in the scouring of the planet.

  But the mission they intended was to get First Movement tech into their hands, build deep, and survive the destruction with part of the native population, and with their own laboratories intact. Their landing craft was capable of withstanding anything but a direct hit from one of the planetkillers or direct involvement in the consequent volcanics; and the Outsiders left not even that matter to chance, since Outsiders were helping target the strikes. The Outsider team onworld hastily burrowed a deep refuge, created surface modifications, took their samples, and set to work.

  Foremost concern, Outsiders suspected Movement was still active on the planet: their first priority was to get any such highly trained persons into their own hands along with their lab records.

  They were dismayed to discover that, indeed, not a successor, but an original member of the First Movement was still alive and still ruling after so many centuries. The Ila, as the locals called her, had intended to refurbish the Movement, build an ecology and an economy, rule a devoted population, and live quite well here. A new war? Possibly. A new culture? Slowly. Space-flight? She certainly had the plans. Her science gave her the longevity. She just needed the industry.

  But her plans hadn't gone utterly smoothly: the planet was short on metals and certain other
key elements, making the synthesis of essential materials more difficult. More, the inhabitants, as generations spread out and adapted to the new planet, not only adapted to the harsh conditions, but developed self-interest and rebelled against her. The inhospitable planet itself hammered her other creations, destroyed them if they were slow to mutate and mutated them into problems if they were rapid to respond.

  The Outsiders were right. Even with Movement active and in charge, it was becoming a new world.

  The Outsider team saw the Ila and her records as key to their problem: and both resided in her ship, the half-buried center of the establishment the locals called the Holy City. Clearly that ship and that city were the one place on the planet from which they absolutely couldn't divert the ondat strike. They had to get that information out of the target zone.

  The forty years was almost gone. Last-moment negotiations to stall the planetkillers fell apart. The Outsider team attempted to use the planet's own rebels to draw the Ila out or crack that citadel. That failed. As a last resort, they began to call in certain human residents of the world, in whom they had implanted communication nanisms, to save them and gather their knowledge,

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