If tomorrow comes, p.1
If Tomorrow Comes, p.1Nancy Kress
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Readily will I display the intestinal fortitude required to fight on to the Ranger objective and complete the mission, though I be the lone survivor.
—from the Ranger Creed
Evolution is an indispensable component of any satisfying explanation of our psychology.
Judith Ryan shoved her way to the front of the crowd, moving people with her elbows, her cane, and her age. It took her twenty minutes to get from the car to the cordon; the crowd was vast and Judith, eighty-five, was slow. When she reached the cordon, she was still five hundred yards from the spaceship, gleaming and silent on its little hill in the autumn Pennsylvania countryside.
“Step back, ma’am,” the soldier said. He wore riot gear and a gun. “You can’t go any far—I said to step back!”
“Please,” Judith quavered, “my grandson—”
The soldier glanced quickly around, looking for a child that might have slipped under the cordon. Nothing. “Step back, ma’am.”
“You don’t understand! He’s on the ship! I have to talk to someone and warn them!”
The soldier scowled. Nothing like this had been covered in his briefing. He fell back on clear orders and native skepticism. “Uh-huh. Makes no difference. You can’t—Ma’am!”
Judith ducked under the cordon, even though the motion made her left knee buckle. She jabbed her cane into the grass to right herself. The soldier grabbed her. People nearby raised cell phones and cameras.
“My grandson! I have to warn somebody!”
More phones were raised. An officer strode across the area inside the cordon. “What’s the problem here?”
Desperation wrinkled deeper the lines on Judith’s face. “I have to tell someone! He’s aboard the ship—I only just learned! I found something, a … but he isn’t—”
“Her grandson,” the first soldier said.
The officer glanced back over his shoulder and then at his watch. Then Judith knew. The ship was doing what the car radio said it might: lifting hours earlier than announced, perhaps to foil any last-minute attacks.
“Ahhhhhh,” went the crowd, while news cams and crews scrambled to catch up.
The silver egg, dazzling in the sunlight, rose silently and without fire into the blue sky. The alien technology that had built her, only beginning to be understood on Earth, was of no interest to Judith. No one had listened to her. And even if they had listened, all she could offer was her unsubstantiated word, her heart-deep knowledge, the emblem she had found buried in the garden while mulching her roses. Nobody would heed any of that.
The officer, his face kind, said, “Ma’am, everybody aboard the Friendship got the most thorough physical and mental checkups possible. Your grandson will be fine.”
Judith stared at him. He didn’t understand. It was not her grandson she feared for.
Too late. Way too late.
“I’m here,” Leo Brodie said, slinging his regulation duffel onto the bunk and following it with his rifle, ammo, and dope log. “Christ on a cracker, I’m really here!”
He didn’t expect an answer; the five-by-seven sleeping cubicle on the USS Friendship was empty. Flawless gray walls made of God-knows-what, human-designed wall screen, storage drawers underneath the two-foot-wide bunk—it all left Leo a strip of deck two feet wide to stand in. He’d been in more cramped spaces, but not for a while.
The knock on the door was expected. Leo flung it open. Owen Lamont stood in the narrow passageway. Leo flung his arms around him. “Owen! You’re the one who got me here!”
Owen detached himself; too late, Leo remembered Owen’s dislike of being touched. “Yeah, and now that you are here, we have rules you need to follow.”
“Always,” Leo said. “How did you—”
Owen shoved Leo aside, crowded into the room, and closed the door.
“—pull it off, Owen? My orders only came through yesterday; I was on transport all night. I’m not—”
“Not Seventy-Fifth, no. But you’re still the best damn marksman in the entire Army. Could come in handy on Kindred.”
“That’s what they call World now? Fuck, every planet is a world!”
“That’s why they call it Kindred. Don’t you ever access the news?”
“No,” Leo said. “Too depressing. Christ, it’s good to see you! But why do you need the best damn marksman in the entire Army? You expecting trouble on Kindred?”
“Nobody knows.” Owen’s thin, deeply sunburned face lost its grin. “It’s terra incognita, bro.”
“Tara Inca Nina—Mayan girl. I knew her in Peru.”
“The Incas weren’t Mayan and the Mayans weren’t in Peru.”
“Whatever. God, it’s good to see your overly educated ass again, Owen!”
“Lieutenant Lamont. Try to remember.”
Leo mocked a salute and hugged Owen again. This was his best friend in the world, and fuck all those people who said they made a weird pair: exuberant upcountry Leo and serious, prep-school Owen with the most deadly skills in the elite Seventy-Fifth Regiment of the US Army Rangers.
They’d met in the Ranger Assessment and Selection Program at Fort Bening. Leo had been sent on recommendation of his CO in Brazil, as a result of Leo’s hitting a target with the M107A1 sniper rifle at 2,100 meters. It had been a Holy Grail shot, straight-up luck, although it was true that he had the ability to nudge a little more out of his weapon than normal. Kentucky windage and Tennessee elevation. He had finished RASP and gone on to Ranger School, the most physically and mentally demanding leadership school in the Army. There he had washed out during the mountain phase of training—well, not washed out, exactly, but the details were too embarrassing to think about. Leo was good at not thinking about things.
Owen, in contrast, had finished Ranger School, winning the William O. Darby Award for Distinguished Honor Graduate, and had joined the Seventy-Fifth. The Ranger tab gleamed on the upper left shoulder of his uniform. Since then he’d served in the Mideast and in the Panama Canal Food Wars, earning a Silver Star for valor under fire. Leo had been sent on a second tour in Brazil, but for the last two months he’d basically sat on his butt at Joint Base Lewis–McChord in Seattle, watching deployment after deployment kank as various political situations changed.
Leo said, “So how many troops aboard?”
“Six? That’s all? And you’re expecting enough trouble for the Army to send a Ranger squad and request a sniper?”
“Nobody’s expecting anything,” Owen said with exaggerated patience. “That’s the point, Leo. We have no idea what will happen on Kindred. But Colonel Matthews
The ship’s size, Leo knew, had been the aliens’ choice, along with everything else about the Friendship. She had been built from plans left by the Denebs (who weren’t from Deneb—Leo remembered that much) in exchange for—well, Leo didn’t exactly understand what, but it had to do with biology and the spore cloud and the vaccines and other scientific shit. Apparently the Deneb ship, which had gone back to World—no, to Kindred—had been just as small, although he didn’t know why.
He returned to what was comprehensible and immediate. “This Colonel Matthews—a good guy?”
“Yes. Did RASP five times.”
“Impressive.” Officers of the Seventy-Fifth didn’t coast on old training; each time they were promoted, they had to do the assessment program all over again. The Seventy-Fifth had no overweight, out-of-shape leaders. “Who else do we have?”
“Three Rangers and you. Enlisted are Private First Class Mason Kandiss, Specialist Miguel Flores, and Specialist Zoe Berman.”
“A girl Ranger?”
“One of only three and the only one with combat experience. Bomb expert. Don’t look like that. She’s off-limits, Leo.”
Leo smiled. “Just fucking with you.”
Leo nodded; he’d expected this. Everything in Owen’s manner had just changed, from facial expression to body posture; the informal reunion was over. Owen was an officer and from now on that would be the relationship. Leo didn’t mind. He’d rather serve under Owen—and this unknown colonel, since Owen vouched for him—than anyone else in the entire United States Army. He nodded again, to show Owen he’d gotten the message, and said, “Sir, can I ask who else is aboard?”
“Five ship’s crew, all Navy under Captain Lewis, six scientists, and four diplomats led by the US ambassador to Kindred, Maria Gonzalez. Colonel Matthews has ordered fall-in at thirteen hours.”
Owen smiled, reluctantly. “Well, that’s a problem. Besides personal quarters, the ship’s got the bridge, the common area you came through when you boarded, a storage bay full of supplies, and behind that an area that is wardroom and gym now—we share it with the Navy—and will be a laboratory on Kindred. It’s crammed with lab benches and exercise equipment and a big foldable table. But it’s all we have. Be there at thirteen hours.”
Owen—from now on and at all times, Lieutenant Lamont—left. Leo stowed his gear.
He didn’t even feel it when the Friendship lifted, smooth as a dancer. If the wall screen hadn’t suddenly blossomed into a view of Earth rapidly falling away, Leo wouldn’t have known that liftoff had occurred. No strapping in, nothing—damn, that alien tech was something! And thanks to Owen, Leo was here. Really, really here.
Going to the stars.
* * *
What the hell was she doing here?
Marianne Jenner already knew the answer to that. All the answers, actually. She was, officially, Ambassador Gonzalez’s assistant, the only one aboard who had actually met any Worlders. (No, Kindreders? The name change was beyond stupid, even for a government PR move.) She was, officially, the geneticist who had helped create the vaccine against R. sporii (only she hadn’t, not really—other team members had done that). She was, officially, the person who had saved the Friendship (when it had been the privately built Venture) from destruction by the Russian ship bent on revenge, and so averted a war. She was, officially, the only one on ship with a family member on World. On Kindred. Whatever.
All that made her practically a national icon, at least for many people. Others hated her passionately. Marianne distrusted both groups.
Unofficially, much as she wanted to see Noah again (had it really been ten years since her son left Earth?), she was ambivalent about this expedition. The Kindred expedition to Terra had resulted in much good, yes, but also in the destruction of entire economies. Was Ambassador Gonzalez charged by the US government with anything other than establishing diplomatic and trade relations with Kindred? Over half the passengers were armed military personnel, both Army and Navy, with, she suspected, much more serious weapons in storage. Not to mention ways the spaceship itself might have been weaponized; the basic alien plans that Earth had been given covered only the hull and mysterious drives. Marianne distrusted the military. She especially distrusted military going to a peaceful planet that had not seen war in thousands of years. Why were Colonel Matthews and his men along?
There was a general meeting scheduled for the common area at 1:00 p.m. Meetings, in Marianne’s experience, usually ended up 90 percent chaff to 10 percent wheat. Still, 10 percent wasn’t nothing. She would go to the meeting. As soon as she had a nap. Liftoff wasn’t for another hour, and she had not slept well last night.
* * *
Dr. Salah Bourgiba, biologist and ship’s physician, watched the liftoff on the big screen in the common area, along with the other scientists and the diplomatic corps. Ambassador Maria Gonzalez sat beside him, her gaze intent on the screen, her face unreadable. Salah had no idea what was going on in her mind, although he knew everything there was to know about her body, medical history, and genome. He knew everything there was to know about all their bodies. Salah had long ago gotten used to the double vision demanded of doctors in social situations: “Oh, what did you think of that movie?” and I hope she’s had that mole on her neck checked out.
Unlike the twenty-one bodies aboard, the ship itself was a mystery to Salah—and to everyone else, even the engineers who had built her. They might all just as well be flying on a magic carpet. Physicists and materials experts were still fighting about why the dark-matter drive worked, and the fights were vicious and public. Salah knew this because he read and spoke five languages, which was one reason he and not another physician sat here now, watching the Earth dwindle to a blue-and-white marble in a black sky. He picked up languages as easily as a dark suit picked up lint, and after studying recordings of Kindese (awkward name) for months, he was pretty sure he could translate for the other scientists and those diplomats who did not speak the language. Tend their bodies, aid their jobs—he was a full-service provider.
Except maybe for himself.
Studying his fellow adventurers, Salah thought that the least understandable thing about the Friendship might be the way that all twenty-one aboard her had just accepted liftoff. No gees pressing anyone down, no rocket boosters, no course corrections, no weightlessness. After five short test flights, everyone just accepted this miracle, this living room with fake-leather easy chairs and giant-screen TV moving through space, this alien technology out of The Arabian Nights by way of Apollo’s chariot, as the new normal. The adaptability of humans dazzled Salah.
Ostensibly, the rest of the trip should be equally painless. The humans on Kindred had, after all, practically invited Terrans to visit, by giving them the spaceship plans. In fact, they probably expected Terrans earlier than ten years after the Kindred ship departed Earth. And by now the Kindred, having technology so much more advanced than anything on Terra, would have not only perfected the vaccine it took Earth years to create, but also vaccinated everyone against R. sporii. The planet had only one continent, one culture, a carefully controlled population, peace and plenty. Kindred would not suffer the devastation that had ravaged Earth when the spore cloud had hit, and they would be welcoming hosts to this small, unthreatening Terran delegation.
So why did Salah feel such unease?
Let this go well, insha’Allah.
* * *
Leo stood at attention until Colonel Matthews said, “Stand down.” Leo relaxed his stance, at least as much as possible in a “wardroom” so crowded with stuff that the six representatives of the United States Army barely had room to stand between the table and the wall.
“Sit,” Matthews said, and Leo blinked. Enlisted men didn’t usually sit with officers. But, as Owen had already told him, this mission was
Matthews was old, maybe in his forties, but he looked like the kind of CO you could trust. Gray hair cut very short, pale blue eyes. That the other five soldiers were Rangers put Leo at a disadvantage, but he didn’t detect any condescension from Matthews. Only—why was the CO wearing glasses? Eyesight had to be lens-free to qualify for the Seventy-Fifth.
Owen didn’t look at Leo, and Leo didn’t try to catch his eye. Lieutenant Lamont was second in command here. Leo didn’t look at Specialist Zoe Berman, either, having been told not to, but he’d had a glimpse anyway—wow. Flores and Kandiss, like everybody else, were expressionless.
Where were the Navy guys? At the other meeting, probably, which raised some questions. Who was in charge of this mission, Army or Navy?
Matthews said, “This is an informal briefing to supplement what you’ve already been told, so feel free to ask questions. Our mission here is to guard and defend this ship and everyone on it. Because this is a diplomatic mission, ultimate authority rests with Ambassador Gonzalez, whose orders you will obey without question.”
That answers that.
“The captain of this vessel, Captain Lewis, has final say over everything connected with the ship while we are in space. Once we are on the ground, command reverts to me unless and until we return to space. If Captain Lewis is incapacitated in space, his executive officer, Ms. Fielding, is in charge. If both are incapacitated, then command reverts to me, not to the other Navy personnel aboard. Is everyone clear on the chain of command?”
“Yes, sir!” from five throats.
“If I am incapacitated—”
Leo listened, but he wasn’t perturbed. Such talk was just the sort of thing the Army, especially Rangers, did: anticipate trouble. This was a trade mission to a friendly planet. Their main job was to guard the diplomats and scientists against any stray crazy, defuse any situation like that without killing anybody if they could help it, and look impressive in dress uniform.
If Tomorrow Comes by Nancy Kress / History & Fiction have rating 4 out of 5 / Based on32 votes