Old Earth is gone. Humanity has been scattered to the stars. Some left their dying planet in spaceship arks, in search of new worlds to inhabit. Others, nanoengineered for near-immortality, explore the far reaches of interstellar space in gargantuan macrolife mobiles.
An earthlike human society endures on the einvironmentally volatile planet of Tau Ceti IV--a rigid community of the faithful that has declared evil the science that caused the homeworld's destruction. The Church is the absolute power here; obedience and belief the rule. But His Holiness Peter III, the New Vatican's most powerful figure, himself harbors doubts, engendered by his love for his unacknowledged and illegitimate rebel daughter Josepha. And suddenly there is another assault on his tottering faith--and on the sacred tradtitions he has devoted his life to uphold. For an emissary, Voss Rhazes, has arrived from one of old Earth's journeying mobiles--the first off-planet human visitor ever to Tau Ceti--bearing remarkable hated technology that could shred the fragile emotional fabric of a family...and bring devastating chaos to their world.
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George Zebrowski's thirty-five books have been published in more than half a dozen languages. His most recent novels are Brute Orbits, The Killing Star, written with scientist and author Charles Pellegrino, and Stranger Suns, chosen as a New York Times Notable Book. Upcoming is Skylife (coedited with scientist-author Gregory Benford), an anthology chronicling this century's fascination with space habitats in story and science. Zebrowski's classic novel of space habitats, Macrolife, was chosen by Library Journal as one of its one hundred "must read" works of science fiction.
All this began some twelve light-years from the Sun, in the year of 2331, on the fourth planet of Tau Ceti, in the third century after the death of Earth.
Warm wind threw salt spray into Ondro's face. Dark clouds stabbed the sea with lightning. Rain swept across the reef, raced the breakers and dotted the half-moon beach with a million drops. He held his face up to the wash, inhaling land odors from the shower, imagining the continent where all that would have been his went on without him.
He had taken to going out to the beach just before a storm, to be alone when reproaching Josepha. Are you alone now, my love? Do you suffer for what you did? Had she done anything?
He sat down as thunder rolled over the sea. A bolt burned the sand near him, but he felt only a feeble fear at its illusory show of purpose. Those who had arranged his end would not be so easily cheated. The lightning seemed to know enough to avoid that. It both amused and dismayed him that the other exiles preferred inevitable drowning later to a quick, merciful bolt sooner. Hope breathed beneath their daily resignation. They could not help it.
What was reason, after all, but a gray counsel. Tomorrow the ocean might dry up and they could all walk home-and be met halfway by white horses to ride the rest of the way.
He clenched his teeth and shook with the sudden tropical chill as low clouds pulled in over the island. He shivered into sorrow, then lay back and stared up into the hurrying gray masses, seeing Josepha and himself in their first moments together, regarding each other with interest, even wariness, as if each already knew what was to come-she looking tall and slim, long dark hair down her back, he stocky, light-haired, healthy-and felt love for their shy innocence, and despair for the wreck of himself now, for what she was now. Kill me today, he said to the approaching storm. Today.
Her disappearance a week before his arrest, her failure to search him out in prison, had convinced him that she had been a loyal cleric's daughter. Her dark-eyed looks of devotion and tender words had been false from the start, his love for her a leash placed around his neck by the secret police; and instead of the consummation of a marriage night, he had been given only the memories of longing for her pale body.
They had met in their first year at New Vatican University, among the sons and daughters of the professional class-merchants, artisans, engineers, lawyers, and physicians-who had come for their grudging chance at learning, even though their choice of professions was restricted to that of a student's parents.
He had trained in architecture and had planned to return as his father's apprentice. Josepha had studied theology and moral law, hoping to become a lawyer. She had told him that she was being sponsored by a papal official who wished to remain anonymous. Later, she had confided to him that this official was probably her father, but he had been skeptical; the illegitimate children of clerics had been known to make exaggerated claims about their anonymous fathers in the hope of advancement.
In their second year, Josepha had drawn him into a clandestine group that had access to the restricted papal library, where he had learned something of Earth's history, and had come to believe that the papacy had to be abolished, by force if necessary. The very existence of the concealed library, cut out of the rock beneath New Vatican, had convinced him of the urgent need for change. Knowledge that could change the world for the better had been hoarded for three centuries. There was no need for people to work so hard on farms and in the townships. A better and longer life was possible. The endlessly repeated idea of a difficult daily trial as preparation for a life beyond the world began to seem cruel to him, and his faith had been replaced by contempt for the Church. The life it had made for its people was the Way of the Cross, with no reward but death for the common man, while the elite enjoyed temporal power. The fact that the library could be penetrated had convinced him of the regime's fatal weakness.
At the center of the papal library sat a duplicate of the control room from the starship that had brought the original refugees from Earth. The ship itself had been left in high orbit around Ceti IV, but the duplicate control room had been built to transfer from orbit the ship's artificial intelligence and database. Yet millions of books had never been printed out and could be viewed only on aging equipment. The corridors around the central bank were filled with thousands of hastily bound volumes that had been retrieved as they were needed, or as a hedge against failing information storage, or because a cleric had become curious. Pornographic volumes lay tucked away here and there, and sometimes, when Ondro looked for them again, he found they had disappeared. His overwhelming first impression had been that almost no one knew what was in the library anymore and that this amnesia would one day become complete. No one knew if the artificial intelligence still spoke to anyone, but he doubted it; the heavy door to the central control area was locked, and it appeared not to have been opened in many decades.
The official doctrine of the Church was that slow changes were best. The catastrophic example of Earth's brief technological history was to be avoided by educating only a small technical class that would maintain a stable economic government under the Church's moral guidance. In practice, the official doctrine of change meant no change at all.
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