Crossfire, p.1
Larger Font   Reset Font Size   Smaller Font       Night Mode Off   Night Mode

       CROSSFIRE, p.1

           Nancy Kress
Download  in MP3 audio
CROSSFIRE


  CROSSFIRE

  NANCY KRESS

  TOR

  A TOM DOHERTY ASSOCIATES BOOK NEW YORK

  CROSSFIRE

  Crossfire is the story of a human colony settling on a distant planet, a colony formed by Jake Holman— a man trying to escape a dark past. But as this diverse group of thousands comes to terms with their new lives on a new world, they make a startling discovery: primitive humanoid aliens. There are only a few isolated villages, and the evidence seems to indicate the aliens aren't native to the planet— even though they live in thatched huts and possess only primitive tools. When the humans finally learn the truth, they find themselves caught up in an interstellar war.

  In the end, a handful of human colonists will have to choose sides in the struggle. A lot is riding on their decision—not just the fate of their new home, but the fate of all humanity.

  This is a work of fiction. All the characters and events portrayed in this novel are either fictitious or are used fictitiously.

  CROSSFIRE Copyright © 2003 by Nancy Kress

  All rights reserved, including the right to reproduce this book or portions thereof, in any form.

  This book is printed on acid-free paper.

  Book design by Michael Collica Edited by James Minz A Tor Book Published by Tom Doherty Associates, LLC 175 Fifth Avenue New York, NY 10010 www.tor.com

  "Tor" is a registered trademark of Tom Doherty Associates, LLC. Library of Congress Cataloging-in-Publication Data Kress, Nancy.

  Crossfire / Nancy Kress.—1st ed. p. cm.

  "A Tor book"—T.p. verso, ISBN 0-765-30467-8

  1. Life on other planets—Fiction. 2. Space colonies—Fiction. 3. Space warfare—Fiction. I. Title.

  PS3561.R46C72003 813'.54—dc21

  2002036671

  First Edition: February 2003

  Printed in the United States of America 0987654321

  ACKNOWLEDGMENTS

  This book owes a large debt to my husband, Charles Sheffield, who graciously loaned me the McAndrew Drive, originally created by his character Arthur Morton McAndrew, with the proviso that when I was done with the drive, I return it cleaned and in good condition. Thank you, Charles and Arthur.

  I would also like to thank my editor, Jim Minz, for his many valuable suggestions for revision.

  In wartime, the truth is so precious that it must be protected by a bodyguard of lies.

  —Winston Churchill

  They change their clime, but not their minds ... who rush across the sea.

  —Horace CROSSFIRE

  PROLOGUE

  My God, thought Jake Holman, I did it. He looked up at the faces watching him from the natural amphitheater of the California hillside. Six thousand faces, white and black and brown and golden, large and small, bare and garishly painted, plain and ugly and genemod beautiful, rapt and wary, with and without headgear. Six thousand people ready to go to the stars. And every single one of them crazy.

  "No one thought we could possibly do this," Jake said into the microphone. "No one believed that a small, privately held corporation could actually mount this expedition to Greentrees. No one believed we could raise the money, could build the ship, could equip and staff her. No one believed any of it would happen."

  Because no one believed rich people would leave Earth forever to go God-knows-where. The enormous fare, the critics said, was the stumbler. Historically new worlds were explored and claimed by governments and then colonized by the poor and wretched of society: starving Irish potato farmers, persecuted Puritans and Jews, deported convicts. People with nothing to lose. Of course, half of those historical emigrants died aboard ship, and half of the survivors died in the first year from disease and hostile natives. Greentrees was already ahead of the curve—the ship was safe and Greentrees had no sentients, hostile or otherwise. Still, the unknown was always dangerous. So why, asked the critics, would anyone with enough money to buy passage on a starship use the money to leave Earth in favor of a nonexistent colony on an unclaimed, unexplored planet sixty-nine light-years away?

  It had turned out that there were as many reasons for the rich to emigrate from Earth as there were emigrants. The critics had meant logical reasons; the colonists had reasons of the heart.

  "We are a diverse and miraculous group," Jake continued, and from her seat in the front row his business partner frowned. Not too flowery, Gail mouthed at him. Jake ignored her. "And we have chosen this path for diverse and miraculous reasons."

  Now some of the New Quakers were frowning at him as well. Quakers, Jake had learned, didn't believe in miracles. Well, too bad for them. This was the last Jake would see of any of them, except William Shipley, for over six years. Only the Governing Board would be awake for the journey out, and only as many of them for as long as they could stand it.

  "But all of us will have one thing in common: our new home. Greentrees. Mira Corporation salutes your choice of that home and wishes you joy of it. To the ship that carries us there: Godspeed."

  Jake strode away from the microphone. Applause started, tentative at first, then stronger as the translators put his little speech into Arabic, Chinese, and Spanish. Gail smiled, no doubt relieved that Jake had been brief. A coordinator took the mike and began directing the first group aboard the Ariel.

  Jake watched the various groups, as separate here as most of them wished to be on Greentrees, rise from the sere grass and cling to each other before their long cold sleep. The Quakers, almost two thousand of them. The deposed Arabic royal family with its enormous retinue, the women veiled and sitting separately from the men. The Chinese, meekest of the contingents, obeying their leaders without question. Larry Smith's dubious tribe of "Cheyenne," a thousand strong and possibly the craziest of all. Gail's huge extended family, convinced that Earth had only one more century as a life-sustaining biosphere. Plus the scientists, adventurers, star-lottery winners, and miscellaneous millionaire eccentrics.

  And Jake Holman, uncaught criminal.

  My God, I did it.

  "Ready, Jake?" Gail said. Her brown eyes shone—unusual for the efficient and pragmatic Gail. Jake looked at her sun-scarred, middle-aged face (no genemods for beauty here), at the triumphant stance of her strong body. Feet apart, torso tilted forward, chin lifted. Like a boxer just before a match.

  He smiled at her. "More than ready, Gail. For a long, long time."

  1

  Gail Cutler loved the Ariel. That astonished her, because after Lahiri's death she had not expected to genuinely love anyone or anything again.

  As Gail walked the narrow passageway that led past the tiny sleeping chambers to the wardroom, she shot out one hand and stroked the gray metal bulkhead. It was a quick, tentative stroke; she didn't want anyone else to know how she felt about the ship. For one thing, it was damn silly, this affection for a huge hunk of metal. For another, the Ariel would be disassembled and converted once they reached Greentrees. Who could love, say, a sewage-purification vat?

  "You seem to be in a cheerful mood, Gail," Faisal bin Saud said as she entered the wardroom. The others were already seated at the lunch table, except for Captain Scherer and his officers. "Good news from Earth?"

  "No news," Gail said briefly. After two entire years, she still wasn't sure she liked Saud. He was too polished, too artificial. He seemed to embody too many contradictions: a Muslim who prayed several times a day facing Sol, a Martian-educated connoisseur of Terran Elizabethan folios. His women lived the segregated lives of the andarun, yet he dealt with Gail as a financial and political equal. Also, he was unfailingly tactful and accommodating, surprising in one who had been a prince.

  "There must be some news," Ingrid Johnson said belligerently. "They don't waste quee link on nothing, Gail."

  Gail gazed calmly at the geneticist. There was n
o ambiguity about her reaction to Ingrid: Gail detested her. It was a point of pride, however, to keep this contempt well hidden. In the dosed, confined environment of a long-duration space voyage, she and Jake had written in the guidelines for the Board of Governors, courtesy and tolerance will become as important as keeping productively occupied.

  "Yes, of course, you're right," Gail said to Ingrid, "there was some news. The United Atlantic Federation passed stiffer penalties for illegal genemods. The war in West Africa is worse. The rebellion in China has escalated. Another earthquake along the Pacific Rim. Coffee crop failure in Colombia. The Genetic Modification Institute has announced another drug to combat melanomas. You can get all the details printed on a flimsy right after lunch."

  "I will do that, also," Faisal said in his impeccable, sexily accented English. Gail, of course, was immune to the accent, but she suspected Ingrid wasn't.

  Transmissions came twice a month from Earth by quee, Quantum Entanglement Energy link. By now the Ariel, moving at 1.25 gees, had reached some sizable percentage of c—Gail was no scientist. Quee was instantaneous, if costly. It was the Ariel's only tie to home; every week left farther behind not only in space but, thanks to the relativistic speeds the ship would attain before it began deceleration, in time as well. When the colonists disembarked on Greentrees, they would have spent six years and seven months aboard ship. On Earth, nearly seventy years would have passed. Earth would be an unimaginably different place, and most loved ones long since become dust. Which was, of course, why most colonists brought their loved ones with them, traveling in groups. Gail's entire extended family, 203 people, lay asleep belowdecks.

  "Well," Ingrid said peevishly, "I wish you'd paid for weekly news instead of just twice monthly. It couldn't have cost that much more—we're already paying for that second quee link, anyway. What's for lunch? Not fish again?"

  "I believe it has a different sauce today," William Shipley said. "Doesn't it smell good!"

  Shipley's cheerful tact irritated Gail almost as much as Ingrid's pettishness. Slow down, Gail told herself. Keep control. We expected this.

  Two years gone, four plus to go. Already everyone who had paid to stay awake was tired of the food, tired of the available entertainments, tired of the exercise room, tired of each other. Three of the twenty had already elected to be put into cold sleep for the rest of the voyage: Gail and Jake had a bet on how much longer the rest would last. Cold-sleep boxes awaited each of them. Only Captain Scherer and his crew of six were really necessary before the interstellar voyage ended, and the captain, unlike the civilians, had the military appreciation for keeping his sailors fully occupied as a defense against boredom, depression, and hostility.

  "Where's Jake?" Shipley asked, helping himself to fish and rice that until ten minutes ago had been frozen solid. "He wasn't at breakfast, either."

  "He's with the other meal shift," Gail said. The wardroom could seat only ten when the table was lowered from the wall; meals had been planned in two shifts. She and Jake ate with each shift, sometimes separately, sometimes together to compare notes. It was important to track everyone's mental stability. The only significant selection procedure for these colonists had been their money. "What did everyone do this morning?"

  Todd Johnson, Ingrid's mild and dominated husband, said pleasantly, "We analyzed once again the bacteria genomes from Greentrees' soil samples."

  "Not that we haven't been over them twenty times already," Ingrid said.

  "We'll have new data soon, honey, from Greentrees."

  "Oh, is another quee transmission due from the planetary probe?" William Shipley asked with interest. "May I see the data?"

  "Certainly," Todd said, while Ingrid pursed her lips in professional territoriality.

  Shipley, the New Quaker representative ("We have no leaders"), was interested in everything. Gail could not have defined her exact expectations of a New Quaker, but Shipley wasn't it. The New Quakers were supposed to be a return to austere First Principles, a rejection of the "worldliness" that had crept into the religion since its plain and humble beginnings in the seventeenth century. Shipley, like his 1902 sleeping fellows, dressed in unadorned gray coverall with no jewelry or implants. One look at him was enough to show he had no genemods: gray where he wasn't bald, wrinkled seventy-year-old skin, fifty pounds overweight. He liked to eat ... how was that austere? How austere was his keen interest in Earth events, in classical music, in genetics, in the ship's drive ... in everything. And he was a medical doctor, which was certainly material rather than spiritual.

  On the other hand, Shipley never cursed, never watched vids, never used VR, never took fizzies or drank what passed aboard ship for wine. Every Sunday he invited his awake shipmates to "meeting." Gail wasn't sure if anyone had ever gone; she hadn't.

  Captain Scherer strode into the wardroom and slid into his seat, followed by Lieutenant Gretchen Wortz.

  "Good afternoon, Commander," Faisal said in his impeccable English.

  "Hello, all. Ah, fish. Good." He helped himself liberally.

  The ship's crew, like everyone else, was never returning to Earth. They had all served in the tiny Swiss space fleet and had applied to Mira Corp together. Efficient, stable, interested in the biggest ship and longest voyage that would ever be available to them, they nonetheless remained enigmas to Gail and Jake. Military men served in military organizations; on Greentrees these seven people would be the only military that existed. For a while, anyway. Jake had contracted with them to form the police force of Mira City, the central city-state of the complex set of fiefdoms that Greentrees was slated to become.

  Rudolf Scherer had agreed readily. He and his crew, he told Jake with calm assurance, would make an excellent law enforcement team. This was probably true; Jake had them subjected to background checks that would have turned up a failing mark in grade-school spelling. All seven Swiss were as clean as snow had once been. They were also polite, efficient, and genemod attractive, all seven of them.

  So why did they make Gail slightly uneasy?

  "Where is Lieutenant Halberg?" Gail asked Scherer. Three crew were scheduled for this meal shift, four for the other.

  "He finds a routine machine error." Scherer's English comprehension was excellent, and Gail suspected that he could speak in more than present tense if he wished to.

  "Rad error?" Todd asked. Cosmic bombardment regularly created bugs in the ship's computerized equipment.

  "I am sure." Scherer began to eat with good appetite. The sailors all kept to stringent exercise schedules, as well as structured work, leisure, sleep, and meal times. For all Gail knew, Scherer may have devised bathroom routines for his crew. Maybe all that structure was what had kept them noticeably more cheerful than the civilians.

  Depression, tension, anxiety, and hostility can result from long-term close confinement, Jake had written. It is important that all awake colonists realize how trivial difficulties on ship may loom unreasonably large.

  "If the equipment had been better shielded," Ingrid said acidly, "there might not be so much computer error."

  Scherer said between bites of breakfast, "The shields are standard."

  Ingrid's face grew red. "What do you mean, 'standard,' Captain? How can there be tested standards when we're only the fifth interstellar colony ship and the other four—all military!—had much shorter trips to much nearer planets?"

  "Ingrid," her husband said gently.

  "The shields are standard, Dr. Johnson," Scherer said mildly. He drained his hot coffee with no wasted motion.

  "Don't just brush my question aside!" Ingrid said.

  "Honey, he's not doing that," Todd said carefully. Gail had often wondered why such a quiet, bland man had married a harridan like Ingrid. But, then, why did anybody marry anyone? And Ingrid was beautiful, with delicate blond genemod looks and eyes like sapphires. Gail suspected that one reason Ingrid was so brash was that her astonishing beauty had been a professional liability in being taken seriously. Parents could be s
uch fools. Not to mention men in lust.

  Ingrid said to Todd, "Don't tell me what the captain said! I can hear as well as you!"

  "But not as quietly," Gail said, mustering her authority. This had gone far enough. "Ingrid, may I see you in the office, please?"

  It was not a request, and Ingrid knew it. Her face grew even redder, mottling the pale rose skin. But she stood and followed Gail.

  The Mira Corp office was a small room set aside for backup documentation on nonelectronic media in case of catastrophic computer failure on Greentrees. Colonist records and contracts were stored here, along with written procedures for doing everything from ocean navigation by the stars to sawing down a tree. Gail and Jake used the room for private conversation in an environment where privacy was scarce. She motioned Ingrid to Jake's chair. The two seated women occupied most of the tiny space.

  "Ingrid, I don't need to tell you what stress we're all under at this point in the voyage, or all the reasons why."

  "That's still no reason for that sanctimonious—"

  "I don't need to tell you what stress we're all under at this point in the voyage, or all the reasons why," Gail repeated. Ingrid got the point. Gail was going to go on saying the same thing until Ingrid responded. It was a technique Gail had learned from Jake, not easily.

  "All right," Ingrid said sulkily.

  "And I know you've been making a major effort to control your emotions for all our sakes." God, the lies a leader had to tell. Why wasn't Jake doing this? "But I'm afraid I'm going to have to ask you to increase that effort."

  "But Scherer—"

  "I'm afraid I'm going to have to ask you to increase that effort."

  "Gail, please don't talk to me as if I were a child!"

  "You're not that. But, Ingrid, I have a clear obligation to this expedition, and I can't let you endanger it. I won't."

 

Turn Navi Off
Turn Navi On
Scroll Up
Scroll
Add comment

Add comment