Moonstruck Part 2
Sequel to MOONSTRUCK
FORUM, OR AGAINST?
Now it was half past eight.
The summer glare – it’d been almost as hot as 2003 – still left its fingerprints on the world, as the sky glowed an unnatural shade of copper well into the night. It was probably just as well; half of the lampposts were still dimmed. As far as puzzled scientists and engineers could tell, any electronic equipment hit by the pulse – it hadn’t been an EMP, not really – conked out, yet worked again perfectly if you just turned them on and off again.
If this carries on much longer, braindead tech support people will be treated as gurus, Andrew thought wryly. Assuming that they get the phone lines back up again…
Janet and Luke were still deep in conversation with Rachel. They’d been at it for hours, yet the woman from the future – and now even Andrew’s sceptic’s brain was beginning to believe it – had been very reticent. And now they were coming to the reason for it…
"So this Piotr is your…" Janet hesitated. "Partner?"
Rachel blinked, as though the word was unfamiliar, then shrugged and said: "Husband, yes. He works-" and a look of heartrending pain came into her eyes, "-worked – will work? as a business consultant." She crossed her arms, then extended them further and hugged herself insecurely, slowly rocking back and forth. "He was here, in Cambridge – my Cambridge, I mean, 2350 Cambridge…" she let out a muffled sob.
"I see," Janet said gently. "You think he was left behind when…when you and the other Moon people-"
"Selenites," Luke said, with the lofty authority of a teenager correcting his parent.
"-Selenites," Janet agreed, "were…transported here?"
Rachel shook her head slowly, a lock of her dark hair slipping over one ear and only adding to her withdrawn look. She suffers that loss, crashes a shuttle, gets a concussion and lies unconscious on a bed for two hours, Janet thought, not without a pang of envy, and yet her hair seems to stay as though she’d just come out of Nicky Clarke’s.
"I don’t see how else it could be," Rachel said quietly, guiltily startling Janet out of her reverie. "And now we’ve changed history – this event has changed history. He might never be born!"
"Uh," Luke interrupted timidly, "what about the many worlds interpretation?"
Rachel stared at him. "What?"
"You know," he continued, "the idea that, for every decision made, there’s another world where it went the other way…if you go back in time and change history, you don’t erase the original timeline, you just create another one alongside it."
"Have you been back on that Internet forum we told you to stay off?" Janet asked suspiciously, but Andrew waved her objection off with an impatient ‘this can wait’ look.
Rachel nodded slowly. "Oh yes…the Stylianides Hypothesis. But it’s never been proved…" she paused to blow her nose on an oddly plasticky handkerchief she pulled from a pocket. "Anyway, I’m not sure if that’s not worse – Piotr there on my Earth, staring up at your empty Moon, presumably they were swapped – just the ache I feel squared…"
"How long have you been married?" Janet asked gently.
"Coming up on two years – Earth years, that is," Rachel replied, her eyes misting over with memory.
Janet glanced meaningfully at Andrew, and their eyes met. They both remembered their first few years of marriage, the passion that stemmed from the tension of not knowing each other so well as they might think. You couldn’t have that ardent love without the accompanying rows and misunderstandings, but it was the worst possible time to lose your partner. Only one thing could make it worse-
She stared at Rachel’s midriff, and really looked this time. "Er, Rachel," she began, uncertain how to continue, "are you…are you…" she made vague motions with one hand, apparently miming how to operate the rare Tibetan Shoulder-Height Mangle.
Rachel glanced down, then up, and her eyes teared. "Ye – yes," she whispered. "I’m carrying his child."
Andrew gave his wife a meaningful glance of his own. "At least you will have something to remember him by," he suggested.
Rachel stared at him. "But she’ll never know her father."
An awkward silence. Then: "She?" Luke asked tentatively. Upon learning of Rachel’s pregnancy, he had withdrawn to the other side of the sofa, as though he had just realised she was made of some incredibly fragile china.
She nodded. "It’s a girl: you have to try damn hard these days not to know."
"It’s not so easy even now," Andrew said dryly. "But listen: at least there’s one thing. This Garrows chap is sending ambassadors here – well, to New York, anyway. Maybe you can get a message to them and you can go back home to the Moon – don’t you have family there?"
She shook her head, her tear ducts managing to extract more water from somewhere and expel it. "They moved off years ago – Mars, Cancy…they’re gone too."
Janet shot her husband a ‘Way to cheer her up!’ look, then turned back to her. "Well, Rachel, until you decide to go back-"
She shook her head. "I wasn’t supposed to leave. There was an interdict – I could have caused an accident-"
"I’m sure Mr Garrows will understand," Janet said reassuringly.
"He wouldn’t want to provoke a diplomatic incident, I guess," Andrew added thoughtfully.
"Mum! Dad! Miz Zobodin!" Luke suddenly spoke up. He’d been flicking through the BBC News interactive headlines, while the TV itself was muted. "Look at this, on local news!"
They turned and stared at the headline, then at the story underneath as Luke cycled through it with the remote control.
It was just another local story for East Anglia, amongst all the others about all the accidents and the chaos. Something about a chemical spill north of Histon, and a warning that the police had cordoned off the area to prevent contamination. Apparently a tanker carrying dioxin had turned over thanks to the EMP or whatever it was…
Janet frowned. "Dioxin?!" she said. "They don’t transport dioxin in huge tankers like that! The EU would have a fit!"
"That’s what it says," Andrew said uncertainly. "That’s not far from here, is it?"
Janet reread the story. "No," she said with a sudden suspicion. "In fact…if I didn’t know better…"
She turned to the magazine rack and hunted through it, presently unearthing a road atlas. She found the right page, stared at it, then the story, then back at the atlas. "Hah!" she pronounced. "I knew it!"
"What?" Andrew asked.
"That location they give for the chemical spill – it’s where Rachel’s thingy, shuttle, crashed!" she said triumphantly. "Dioxin! It’s a cover story, and not a very good one." Then she paused, and looked troubled. "The government must have found it. The shuttle, I mean."
This got to Rachel, enough to rouse her from her Piotr-induced gloom. "A twentieth century government with a modern shuttle?!" she breathed in horror.
"Twenty-first," Luke corrected pedantically.
Andrew glanced at the story, then back at Rachel. "What’s on board that thing, anyway? Stuff the government would be interested in? Technology?"
"That, of course," Rachel mumbled, her eyes faraway as she thought. "I don’t know if it isn’t too advanced for you to reverse-engineer it – sorry," she added, as she realised that might be construed as condescending. "But there’s the computer database too. It’s just the usual basic thing, and it only dates from fifty years ago – err – 2300 ish – but even brief summary articles on world history…"
"Good God," Andrew breathed. "This isn’t like knowing next week’s pool numbers. This is bloody God moding! Imagine if you gave a modern copy of Britannica to the government in 1914! Berlin by bloody Christmas!"
"Andy," Janet said reproachfully; it took quite a lot to get him excitedly swearing, particularly in front of Luke. But, in truth, even she was swept up with it.
"Actually, I think someone suggested that exact scenario on the forum," Luke said cheerfully. "If I remember correctly, I think we concluded that the British would focus on building-"
"Luke! No more looking at that forum!" Janet admonished.
"The Internet’s down now anyway," Luke said morosely. "They say it’s down everywhere."
Andrew had been thinking, and his initial look of triumph was replaced by a troubled one. "The government would give its right arm for that kind of information," he said, "but how much more would it give for a real living breathing twenty-fourth century human?"
Rachel looked at him in horror. "What are you saying?"
"They’ll be looking for you," Janet said grimly. "We can’t go trying to contact this Garrows man if we can’t let our own government know she’s here."
Andrew looked awkward. "But there’s the other side to it," he murmured. "Is it so bad that the government has this? And the technology? Otherwise the Lun – er Selenites – would be the only people with it, and they could dominate the Earth if they wanted to. This could help even the playing field."
"You’re not suggesting we turn her over to the government!" Janet said, shocked. She placed a protective hand on the dazed Rachel’s shoulder, then recoiled in surprise at the odd feel of the fabric of her clothing.
Andrew sighed. "No," he said. "No, you’re right, I can’t countenance that. Not to a government with such a cavalier record on civil liberties…no, they’ll just have to be satisfied with the shuttle." His lip moved as though he was sucking on a lemon. "But it means we’ll have to keep her under wraps. We can’t let the government know she’s here."
Janet nodded and smiled. "I’m glad to see we agree," she said, with a trace of steel underneath so well hidden that probably only Andy noticed it. He smiled weakly.
Rachel stood up. "All right," she said quietly. "I’m stuck here. I’ve lost Piotr, I’ve lost my family, I’ve lost the shuttle…I’ve even lost Luna. So what have I got left to lose?" She turned to Andrew. "Mr Steesbie, if you’re offering me lodgings here, I gratefully accept, and I’ll do my best to repay that debt."
Andrew was touched by her oddly formal words, but the academic in him insisted on getting a jab in. "Thank you," he said, "but it’s ‘Stillsby’, not ‘Steesbie’."
She froze. "I must have misheard," she murmured. "My apologies." But her brow was furrowed as she tried to remember something. Then it caught. "That’s right! Gordon Stillsby! The first man on Ganymede!"
Andrew glanced at his wife puzzledly. "My middle name is Gordon," he said slowly. "It’s a traditional family name…"
"And I was planning to give it to my son," Luke said, his face paled.
"What?!" Janet said, breaking the tension as she turned to him. "Why on Earth are you planning that far ahead?!"
Luke shrugged. "Well – there was this thread on the forum –"
"Forget I asked."
Pierre Chenier had been awake for more than twenty hours. First the Darbjj crisis, and then the event, and the need to stay by Garrows’ side throughout the whole affair. The political animal in his knew all too well that, if he dared catch a few hours’ sleep, he could have been reshuffled out of existence by the next morning.
But he’d finally managed to beg a break, to go back to his housing and see his family. Garrows – who seemed to have tapped a source of energy that made collider flow look positively paltry – was still up and about, indeed on his way to see Admiral Nuttall. Rodriguez…Rodriguez was smiling for the cameras.
Chenier was the only one of the improntu triumvirate who had a family: Rodriguez’s wife had died young, in childbirth, which reportedly had been one reason he’d thrown himself so viciously into his business dealings and thus risen to prominence as an Advisor, and Garrows had never married – though there were rumours of a few flings. There were times when it could be a political liability, and there were other times when he was forced to use it as a political example: he hated those. But, overall, he wouldn’t be without them for the world. Or the Moon…
The Prime Minister’s residence – now the rather glorified Second Consul’s residence – was conveniently located not far outside the confines of Tranquillity City’s Political Quarter, where the Parliament and the other associated groups were positioned. It was an old-style dome house, rather large and extensively refitted inside to discourage assassins. Three Union PMs had been assassinated, and two Presidents, mostly by indigenous Human nutjob groups co-opted by external enemies.
The PM’s security was guaranteed by a team of bodyguards who seemed to have had some medical treatment to make them superior fighters, with the unfortunate side effect of destroying any sense of humour. Their backgrounds were carefully balanced so there was no chance of any group infiltrating enough of them to turn on the others. The one at the door, an Eastasian looking man with a diplomatically concealed ergblaster, nodded solemnly to him as he stepped over the threshold. "Good day, Prime Minister – or should I say Second Consul?"
Chenier smiled tiredly at him. It was also the guards’ job to stay well informed of all the shifting political changes, and this one was practically tectonic. "Indeed. Things may be changing soon, uh, Roh –" he belatedly remembered the man’s name, "-but if I have anything to do with it, you and the guys will be staying on. Though some of you might need to protect Garrows instead."
"Whatever you say, sir," said Roh, who didn’t look overjoyed at the prospect.
Chenier nodded again and stepped inside, through the corridor that the news holocameras always captured as the door opened and was thus carefully composed to look sternly patriarchal, then turned a corner and-
His wife, Marie, was waiting and flung herself into his arms as he stepped through. Though he’d half been expecting it, the force of the blow almost flung him back out into the corridor anyway. "Pierre!" she managed throatily after the kiss had finished; Chenier felt even more drained now, albeit in a different way. "I was so worried – what they were saying –"
"You’re Second Consul now, Papa?" asked his daughter Genevieve, who’d diplomatically looked away from the homecoming. They were all speaking French, their birth tongue, and Chenier revelled in it. English was all fine and good for political business, he reluctantly acknowledged, but it wasn’t right not to speak one’s own true language whenever one could. Otherwise you might start to THINK in English…he shivered.
"Yes, that’s right," he said. "It’s better than being PM of something that doesn’t exist anymore. I’m supposed to speak up for all of the people here who aren’t original Selenites."
"That includes us, then?" Genevieve pointed out. "And we’re the only Cheniers here, too," she said sadly, "everyone else will have been left behind in Bordeaux."
Chenier felt a pang as he thought of it. His father had died in an accident some years ago, but his mother was still there, and so were both of Marie’s parents. But this was something everyone on Luna was having to endure, and so he said no more. "You know M. Garrows has contacted the Humans down there – the Humans from 2006?"
Marie nodded. "He said he was sending a team there! Why does he want to speak to these barbarians?" she practically spat.
"I don’t think they’re quite that bad," Chenier said, though admittedly his knowledge of this time period was not great. That will have to change, he thought grimly. "And more to the point, we have no choice. M. Garrows was telling the truth: we’re not self-sufficient. We NEED the custom of the oldtimers – unless you want to try and take their food by force."
His wife and daughter acknowledged the horror of the latter scenario with a mutual shudder. "But who is he sending as ambassadors?" Marie asked.
"The Twelve," Chenier said, startling them. "They were here when the, euh, event happened – an emergency council – and now that their Earth has vanished, what else have they to do?" He shrugged, and now he was with his family and the cameras were gone, his shrug became more expressive, more Gallic. "M. Garrows has pulled a nice political stunt, because it gets them out of the way. But my heart tells me they are not suitable ambassadors, not alone. They know Earth, yes; but they know the Earth of their own era, not 2006. But who knows 2006? Our historians-"
Genevieve was practically hopping from foot to foot. "What is it, ma petit cherie?" Marie asked curiously.
"Papa – Mama – the Divergence Colloquy!" she pronounced. "You know, the group I occasionally talk with on the FedGrid – the amateur history group…"
Chenier smiled. "Yes, my child, I remember. But even among our professional historians, we have been unable to find anyone who specialises in this specific time period. Professor Perks is the best we’ve got, and he’s anything from 1800 to 2100. As for amateurs-"
"But that’s just it, Papa!" Genevieve said earnestly. "The Divergence people recently put forward a scenario which involved time travel to the turn of the twenty-first century! We all had to do extensive research on it! I think we know this time period better than anyone else on Luna, including your historians!"
Chenier glanced at his wife; they both raised their eyebrows. "That’s…awfully convenient," he said slowly.
"Not really," Genevieve admitted. "Last year it was the eighteenth century, and the year before that, the twenty-second. But this is an opportunity! Some of us, the best, could go down with your diplomatic team as advisors…"
Chenier was mildly shocked to find himself actually considering it. "I don’t know," he said slowly. "People like Alice Dooley and Ibrahim Zubayri – to say nothing of Professor Perks of course – taking advice from teenage amateurs, even if they are well informed…?"
"We’re not all teenagers," Genevieve protested. "Some of us are historians in our own right – there’s Wendy Streichman, and Sanjiv Kartarpuri – and we’ve got a lot of very good part-timers, too!"
Chenier shrugged. "Well, it’s worth considering," he admitted. "I shall have to speak to M. Garrows, of course, and the Twelve." But his scepticism was melting. He remembered in his own youth, how he had been a member of a Colloquy specialising in the Rómidi War of Stealth in the twenty-second century…and the detail to which he had learned the fleet movements, the commanders…he bet he could still quote the width of an intake manifold on a Buzzard class striker to three significant figures…"
"All right," he agreed. "You should contact these…Divergence people, of course. We may be able to pressgang people now, for the good of Luna," he said thoughtfully, "but I’d rather do it with their cooperation."
"Yes, Papa!" Genevieve said excitedly. She turned, heading out of the room. Chenier followed; behind him, he could FEEL his wife rolling her eyes at him. He didn’t blame her; he felt like rolling at least one of his own eyes at himself.
Genevieve stepped onto the interface platform, a fancy word for a holoviewer you stood in the middle of and activated mostly through bodily movements. The FedGrid came up – or at least the Lunar fragment of it that had survived – and she found the Divergence Colloquy easily. They’d lost about a third of their members with the event, but they’d always been a mainly Selenite thing. The Colloquy cardinal was himself a Selenite, though he lived in Copernicus where he worked at the university as a day job.
Chenier watched as Genevieve seemed almost to dance through the swirling patterns of light, her hands and even feet touching cubes of light representing options. He saw words scrolling around her in complex patterns, reacting to her eye movements, and faintly heard voices that were being pitched to her ears by the machine. "What sort of colloquy is it, anyway?" he asked curiously.
She heard him, even through the mass of sensory data. "Pretty civilised," she mumbled, one hand keying off the voice option so as not to confuse the computer. "At least when we don’t discuss religion or politics."
"Oh," Chenier. "So what do you discuss?"
Genevieve shrugged, then cursed faintly as the motion accidentally cancelled a dialogue cube. "Well…religion and politics, mostly."
Chenier stared at the swirling boxes of text. "Oh."
The man who was called Jack R. Gunn stared at the English words floating in front of him. There was a saying, he knew, about problems and opportunities. The truth of it, it seemed, was demonstrable.
No sooner had he found that all of Luna had been flung out of time, so that he was cut off, did this come up. He had been puzzling out a way to get down to the earlier Earth, had already dismissed a half-dozen plans as having no chance of success. And now this – invited in, by the Sahdavi! If he didn’t know Humans better, he’d be suspicious of an elaborate trap.
Gunn quickly signed up to the proposal put forward by the incarnation calling herself ‘Jeanne-de-Bordeaux’ – he had known, though he suspected no-one else on the colloquy had until now, that she was truly Pierre Chenier’s daughter. It had been the main reason why he himself had joined the colloquy, sensing a way in – though in other ways, ways he would never admit to the others, it was fascinating to watch HUMANS trying to puzzle out past Human behaviour, rather than the usual…
Gunn offered a quick prayer to the Sahdavi that his signature would be one of those accepted by the doubtless stingy Garrows. He admired the man, insomuch as he admired any Human: he’d shown laudable backstabbing ability in the bare few hours since Luna had changed – or rather, the rest of the universe had.
He thought of his own world, realised with a glimmer of excitement that it might still be within the era where there were a few Sahdavi left alive there! Invigorated by that thought, he reinforced his prayer by drawing a knife – a real knife of his people; if anyone asked he claimed he’d bought it from a war veteran – and gave his forearm a quick slice. Not as rough or as serrated as he would have liked, but he couldn’t afford to go around with too many fresh scars in a Human society.
The blood dripped onto the outstretched palm of his other hand. Red blood, he noted amusedly. Red blood on dark brown skin. At least the latter wasn’t too different to its true deep violet: hide in plain sight. Astroforce Intelligence always suspected infiltrators would try to look like something totally different; Humans were so…straightforward sometimes.
He rubbed the bloody palm against his forehead, and sighed. It wasn’t truly penetrating, not through the disguise, but it was the best he could do. He looked at the colloquy again – no replies – then stepped out of the interface and went to another, far more secure and delicate, line, a simple flatscreen.
A face appeared. Another…apparent…Human, female, dark skinned. She even had her head shaved! And the Humans didn’t suspect a thing. Fascinating.
"What is it now?" she spat in their own language.
Gunn flexed his shoulder blades, quickly cutting off the instinctive motion with a mental curse and wrinkling his brow in the Human manner instead. He couldn’t afford any slip ups like that in the field!
He rapidly explained the situation, in the same language. The other’s eyes widened, and then as he got to the end, she was rubbing her chin with the back of her hand too – in her excitement she too was forgetting the affected Human mannerisms. "Then you must go!" she said.
"I thought you’d say so," he said. "What about the…others here?"
She glanced away from her end of the line for a moment, then looked back. "I don’t know more than one or two, the rest of the cell," she muttered. "I should think there might be as many as a dozen of us, altogether. And we might want to work with the Cousins too," she added.
Gunn deliberately frowned. "One thing at a time, as they say."
"All right. Do you have any idea of what you’re going to do?"
"I dare say I’ll think of something on the way down." He smiled, but there was nothing in his eyes. "The Fourth World War, for all the work put into it, was a damp squib. This…will not be."
She nodded to him. "For the Sahdavi, Prime and First," she said softly.
"For the Diktat, First and Foremost," he completed the ritual, and signed off.
He went back to the interface.
His prayer had worked.
He was going down.
And the Sahdavi-blessed race, the Painwreakers, would be avenged for the arrogance of the upstart Humans. History would be…the way it should have been.
Dzakh Yarghun smiled.
"What do you reckon?" Stawes asked as he and Davidson surveyed the cockpit in its new position, in the middle of a steel hangar in an RAF facility somewhere in Lincolnshire. The same scientists and engineers as before – and more – surrounded it, talking excitedly. Men in camo gear guarded every entrance, staring suspiciously at even the most smartly presented security pass.
The only thing stopping it from being a cool Area 51 scene, Stawes thought wryly, is that fact that everyone’s drinking tea. And, when the conversation moves away from the ship, talking about the test match scores…
"The cockpit?" Davidson asked, startling Stawes from his reverie, "Or the broadcast by this Garrows chap?"
"The latter," Stawes told him. "It looks like we were right – this is from the future. One of his people must have crashed it."
"But does he know about it?" Davidson said with a frown. "He didn’t mention it. And if I were him, I’d be concerned about having my future tech – my bargaining chip – in someone else’s hands."
Stawes nodded. "He said their comms were out as well as ours," he said thoughtfully, "maybe they don’t know it’s crashed yet."
Davidson stared at the cockpit. "That Garrows looked like the sort of customer who wouldn’t take kindly if he found out about this," he muttered.
"What could we do if he did?" Stawes pointed out.
Davidson shrugged. "Permission to shit myself, sir?"
"Denied; senior officer’s prerogative," Stawes deadpanned. He stared up at the cockpit beside Davidson. "God knows if we’ll get anything really useful from this, but every jot and tittle could give us an advantage."
"An advantage against these Moon future people," Davidson pried, "or our own competitors?"
Stawes smiled. "Both of course." Then he scowled. "If the government does the right thing…"
The conference room was part of the huge complex that still went by the name Ten Downing Street, though by now it had taken over many adjacent houses. Snipers and police guards were ever vigilant, more so since the terrorist attacks of last year. It wasn’t much of a comfort to the PM, though, who knew his real enemies were already here in this room.
"Look – you know," he began. "Can we in all – you know – countenance keeping this to ourselves?"
"The technology might be of great benefit to the developing world," pointed out the international development secretary. "To say nothing of our European partners."
There was a sharp intake of breath from the figure seated in the chair to the right, which the PM had learned to dread. He’d been forced to take the man on as a compromise defence secretary earlier in the year, in response to backbencher pressure, but he didn’t have to like it – particularly when Pete Chambers seemed to spend more time undermining him than the Tories did.
"This is the greatest opportunity this country has ever had, and we are discussing throwing it away?" Chambers said in his usual half-sarcastic tones. The PM found his unapologetic Durham accent abrasive, even though his own constituency was located in the same region. "Let the others hang on the apron strings of this Garrows as he doles out technology or future knowledge piecemeal. We shall already know the game plan."
The international development secretary tutted, as strong as a swear word from her. "You would perpetuate the inequality with the developing world-" she began.
"This isn’t about perpetuating inequality," Chambers said, his voice hard. "Quite the opposite. For too long this country has had to bow to America or surrender rights to the EU in exchange for nothing more than survival, and cheapened survival at that. But this knowledge and tech will be worth a thousand British Empires when it comes to our world position. Once more, we can lead and not be content to follow."
"Your rhetoric is all very well," grumbled the Chancellor, "but what about translating it into reality? Can we truly reverse engineer this technology so easily?"
"If it’s really from 2350," the health secretary pointed out, "think about asking Samuel Pepys to copy a laptop…"
"We should do what we can," Chambers said, "and the knowledge is the real prize. According to General Stawes’ preliminary report-" which you shouldn’t have got hold of so fast, the PM thought, annoyed, "-his people are accessing the craft’s databases freely enough. We don’t need to reverse engineer over 350 years; the databases apparently contain plans for technologies from, say, 2050 that we can match now, if we know all the problems in advance…"
Unfortunately, that argument made sense. The PM sensed the Chancellor nodding half-reluctantly. "But – you know," he rallied, "look – what about when our foreign partners find we’ve been keeping this from them?"
"Why should they have to?" Chambers said with a thin smile. "And ask yourself if you think they wouldn’t do the same to us in an instant. The French, the Americans, the Russians – anyone really."
"We don’t know that they don’t have crash sites of their own – there could have been several shuttles," the home secretary pointed out.
"Surely this Garrows couldn’t miss too many of them," the health secretary objected.
"In any case," Chambers said, "we should wait until we hear what his ambassadors have to say at the UN. If there is an obvious ulterior motive to Mister Garrows, we should think long and hard about revealing this technology to others. Because be sure that, if we tell our so called foreign partners, it won’t be long before the Moon-people find out too – and then our heads could roll."
An uncomfortable silence. Finally the Chancellor asked, "have they found the pilot?"
"Are we even sure there was one?" the health secretary added.
"General Stawes thinks so – the database suggests it," said Chambers. "We guess that he or she was…rescued from the cockpit by – someone? before Barrowclough reported it to us."
"Look, I want it a priority made to find him or her," said the PM. "In a very real sense, they are the key to all this – with them we can make much more sense of this technology and knowledge – and without them, there’s the potential for a data leak to the Moon people." He shuddered. "I don’t like this, Peter, but you’re right – we’re already too far along to turn back."
"So good of you to agree with me," Chambers muttered, in his usual voice – and you were never quite certain enough of his sarcasm that you could call him on it…
Admiral Christopher Nuttall glanced from one datareader to another. Most of them dealt with reports that were in no way relevant now, since Luna had been cut off from all the planets in question. He signed them off anyway. Throwing himself viciously into paperwork had been one way of numbing the burning emotional pain that still tore his insides apart whenever he thought of that time…
He brushed it aside and picked up the next datareader.
He raised his eyebrows, which coming from him was equivalent to running down the street yelling ‘eureka!’. "Well, well, well," he muttered to himself. "From Garrows, no less…"
"That’s right," said a voice in front of him. Nuttall started and glanced up from his desk to find Aldrin Garrows himself standing before him, his arms folded and what little expression he showed being a compromise between earnest and amused. "And what do you have to say to it?"
Nuttall laughed. "Like the real soldiers in those ships would obey a paper admiral like me," he said, and the humour was almost sufficient to blank out the pain in his voice. "Go find someone else to fight your battles, someone who won’t snafu them."
Garrows pulled up a chair and sat, then leaned forward and put his elbows on Nuttall’s desk. "We both know," he said intimately, "that any snafu in the Struggle was more down to bean counters over the previous decade than anything you did. So damn well snap out of it!"
Nuttall blinked at this aggressive approach. "That’s all very well," he said, not admitting anything either way, "but what about the men? You and I-" especially you, he thought pointedly, "-both know that when it comes to popular perceptions, the truth has about as much relevance as the figures for annual paper hat sales in the eastern Olasano provinces."
"That’s…true," Garrows admitted. "But do you really think the troops will be ‘oh here comes old Nutty Nuttall, let’s all desert’?" That startled a laugh from the admiral. "Most of them won’t have heard of you, I’m afraid – the younger generation. A few will have a bad impression of you from the stories, true. I suggest you rectify that by leading by example. More to the point –" and Garrows hammered his down on the desk, making Nuttall’s model twenty-second century fluxship jump into the air and come down on its side, "-there is nowhere for any deserters to go. They can’t just push off to Rodina or Plezhur or wherever. It’s us or nothing."
"What about the Humans down there?" Nuttall said pointedly. "I bet knowledge of our technology – heck, even basic historical knowledge – would be paid good money down there. Any of our troops could become an instant squillionaire."
"That’s exactly why they need you in command, to instil a sense of discipline and loyalty," Garrows returned.
"Lovely circular reasoning," Nuttall sneered. Regardless, though, his cynicism seemed to be slowly melting. "You want me to take command of a Blair-class? They didn’t even exist when I last held command."
"It’s not about individual technologies or ship designs, as you damn well know," Garrows said harshly. "I don’t have time to play games, Admiral. I’ve got to go and have another cabinet meeting in ten minutes. Yes or no?"
Nuttall hesitated, looked down at his desk, then stared at his overturned model ship. His eyes hardened.
"Damn you," he whispered. "But I’ll do it."
Slowly, reluctantly, he ripped off a salute. "Admiral Chris Nuttall reporting for duty, sir."
Garrows smiled, but it wasn’t a smug smile. "Good. Report to the Voordijk and get the fleet shipshape, Admiral…" he stared off into the distance, "because pretty soon, you’ll be ferrying the Twelve to Earth for us."
"I get all the cushy numbers," Nuttall muttered.
Rachel stared at the clothes Janet had laid out on the bed. "They’re some of my old things," the older woman said apologetically, "but they’ll have to do until we can buy some for you."
"You know my clothes clean themselves?" Rachel said, gesturing to her blouse and skirt. "I don’t need clean ones except maybe once a month…"
"That’s not what I meant," Janet said. "Your clothes…stand out a little bit right now. Not much, but I don’t want to take any chances."
Rachel nodded. "I see what you mean, then. All right…"
Janet diplomatically left the room while Rachel tried the clothes on. Luke wandered past, possibly innocently, as his nose was deep in another book. Janet shook her head. The Internet must still be down, she concluded cynically.
"Er…" came Rachel’s voice from within, sounding embarrassed, "could you…help me on with this please? I don’t see how this fastens…?"
Janet sighed and re-entered. It wasn’t quite as bad as the dark recesses of her mind had gloomily predicted: it was fastening the bra at the back that was giving her trouble. "Let me," she said, expertly connecting the fasteners. "I suppose you don’t have those in the future?" she added dryly.
"Not like that," Rachel replied. She picked up the blouse Janet had left and was about to pull it over her head, when Janet noticed the odd-looking scar on her exposed shoulder. "What’s that?" she asked, pointing. "You didn’t suffer that in the crash, did you?"
Rachel tried to look over her shoulder at it, in the process covering the wound with a cascade of her dark hair. "Oh, that…that’s just where I had that transmitter implanted a month ago." She saw Janet’s expression, and clarified: "Don’t worry, it hasn’t been activated yet. It’s a legal requirement for when you emigrate to Cancy – that planet’s still so wild, there’s a real possibility you could get lost and the authorities would never find you without one…"
Janet shrugged. She knew of the frontier mentality, of course – it explained a lot of the current culture clash between Europe and America – but this seemed a bit extreme. "It doesn’t seem to have healed up like your other wound did," she said.
"Side effect of the procedure," said Rachel, finally pulling the blouse over her head. She was slightly confused by having put it on backwards, but managed to get it sorted out on the second try. "As for that skull fracture in the crash-"
"Your skull was fractured?!" Janet said in horror. She’d suspected so at first, but from Rachel’s rapid recovery had dismissed her earlier suspicion…
"Yes – but fortunately I’m a Selenite," she replied. Seeing Janet’s blank expression, she clarified: "We’re given extra symbiotic bacteria, genengineered, to supplement our natural bone growth – otherwise we wouldn’t be able to live under Earth gravity after being born on Luna. And as an incidental, they help us to regenerate bone damage very quickly."
"Indeed," Janet said dazedly. The biologist in her was trying to work it out. Theoretically possible, of course, but it wasn’t so much engineering a bacterium to supplement bone growth mechanisms – it was controlling that bacterium so that it didn’t go horribly wrong…
Rachel looked at herself critically in the full-length mirror. "It still feels a little odd," she said, crossing her arms and then hugging herself. "The feel of this material against my skin! What did you say it was again?"
"That’s wool and those are cotton and the jeans are denim," Janet explained.
Rachel looked faintly disgusted at the idea of wearing natural products, but tolerated them. "And you say I should go into the town centre here and buy some more clothes of my own?" she asked, "but I don’t have any money – well, none from this era…"
"We’ll cover it for now," Janet said firmly. "I’m sure our friendship will more than repay it in the long run." That wasn’t just platitude, either…
Rachel nodded. "All right. I’ll do my best not to stick out like a sore toe."
"Yes – that’s exactly the sort of thing I won’t do."
Janet fought the urge to look over at Rachel anxiously as they made their way into central Cambridge. It was half past ten, the day after the EMP-whatever-it-was, and the world – and Cambridge – was still in chaos.
Most of the Internet was still down or incoherent. Some of the GPS satellites were refusing to boot up, causing shipping accidents all over the world. The world economy seemed to be freefalling, with banks and stock exchanges hastily switching back to pre-Internet systems. The only consolation was that everyone was as bad off as everyone else. Ironically, in the most deprived parts of the Third World, the EMP-thing had been virtually unnoticed…
At least most of the car crashes had gone from the streets; the emergency services had worked throughout the night. Cambridge was never a particularly motorised city at the best of times, and the bike-filled streets looked little different from usual. However, the movement of people was different. Few – not even Andrew! – had gone into work. Shop windows went unattended by shoppers and shopkeepers alike. Though the market stalls in the square were bare, the square was nevertheless as full as it ever was on a market day – or more so.
And the crowds were staring at two things. No, three: the Moon still glaring down with the cross in circle shining out; the giant video screen someone had set up on the town hall, showing BBC News endlessly repeating Garrows’ broadcast; and each other, with wide eyes.
Janet glanced at Rachel. The woman from the future still didn’t look or feel quite natural in her surroundings: she still moved as though the clothes she wore were lined with razorblades, and in particular she seemed to find the shoes very uncomfortable. Her eyes were still a little dead – her husband was always at the back of her mind.
Then Janet looked at the crowds of blank-eyed people staring around, and muttered, "as I thought – you’ll fit right in."
They jostled their way through the crowd and stared at Garrows’ broadcast yet again. The First Consul’s bald head, penetrating, oriental eyes and affected moustache had become world famous overnight: the Sun, which had somehow managed to produce a morning edition, had dubbed him Ming the Merciless.
Garrows’ picture was front page news on every paper that had matched the Sun’s feat, even pushing EMP CHAOS onto page 2. The BBC, in between repeats of the broadcast, and via its scrolling news banner at the bottom of the screen, told of world reactions to the broadcast – ranging from those who seemed to have ignored everything Garrows had said and were screaming ‘OMG WTF ALIENS!!!11’ to those who had already neatly constructed a possible timeline for the future, based on the very few hints in the broadcast.
"Do you really think you’ll be arrested if you turn yourself in to him?" Janet mumbled to Rachel: she didn’t dare speak too loudly in the crowd.
Rachel shrugged. "Maybe. But I don’t see how I could alert the Lunar authorities without your government catching wind of it. I lost my comm in the shuttle crash – I suppose, it wasn’t on me when I woke up at your house…"
"What about that implanted transmitter thingy?"
"Can’t be activated by anyone other than a Cancy immigration man with a special piece of equipment, I’m afraid." Rachel sighed. "No; for the moment it’s downtime city for me. It’s not like there’s that much left for me up there anyway," she said, gesturing vaguely to the Moon.
Amongst the staring crowd were those taking advantage of the situation: the UFO nutters with their ‘Take me home ET’ signs, the street preachers loudly declaiming that the world would end by this weekend, and we really absolutely definitely mean it this time…and the Big Issue sellers. The three groups seemed to be getting along quite amicably: the universal brotherhood of the shouters, Janet hypothesised wryly.
"Hang on, there’s another break," Rachel said, pointing. Indeed, the BBC newscaster – a different one from before, but looking no less shattered – was back.
The newscaster, apparently not realising he was on yet, was staring at his own little screen as reports scrolled across it. Abruptly he looked up. "Good evening," he said incorrectly, obviously distracted. "We’re just getting reports now…ah…it seems since the Garrows Transmission last night, well, virtually everyone with a radio transmitter has been beaming messages towards the Moon, and some of them have even got replies…" the newscaster blinked. "But there has been another transmission from the Moon government, voice only this time, which has set the time for the Moon ambassadors’ trip to New York, which Garrows mentioned in his initial message…"
The newscaster paused again, then continued: "The time is 3:30 pm local time, which translates to 8:30pm GMT. There have been no more details forthcoming from the Moon government…some of the amateur radio transmissions from the surface have revealed information which governments’ foreign ministries throughout the world are struggling to understand, but it seems being amateur transmissions they are considered unreliable…"
Janet shrugged. "I bet half of the ones we’ve sent at them – you – have been pretty confusing too," she said. "Amateur radio people…"
"‘Omji wuttuf aliens’ indeed," Rachel agreed. "And as for us – anyone who’s still playing with a pre-Janvier radio set really IS an amateur."
"It’s probably just as well your Garrows is sending his ambassadors quickly," Janet said. "Give our nerds and your nerds a while and they could start an intergalactic war."
Rachel laughed. The BBC newscaster continued, wheeling on a Bearded Expert who spent eight full minutes repeating variations on ‘It’s much too early to say, but…’ whilst pausing to plug his new book on an irrelevant topic. The newscaster began speculating on why Garrows had chosen to send his ambassadors to the UN, to New York…the BBC helpfully put up a picture of New York City for the three people on Earth who didn’t know what New York City looked like…
Beside Janet, Rachel stiffened as she stared at the pictures. "That’s New York?" she asked.
"Yeah – I imagine it looks pretty different in your time," Janet replied.
"Not half – it was destroyed completely and rebuilt, Third World War," Rachel said in a slightly faraway voice still staring at the pictures. Janet stiffened and turned to her: this was an alarming revelation. But Rachel seemed consumed in the pictures, and her brow was furrowed. "But…I’ve seen pictures of New York before the war, and it didn’t look like this…something’s wrong…"
"When was the war?" Janet asked, feeling a chill running down her spine. "When WILL BE the war?"
Rachel thought. "I think it began in 20…20?" she muttered, thinking back. "But of course it might not happen now, history’s been changed-"
"Thank God," Janet said out loud. "Well, that explains it, fourteen years is plenty of time for them to put up some new buildings. C’mon, we’d better go and see if the supermarkets have got anything in."
Rachel nodded, but she still looked slightly disturbed…
The crew complement was…interesting.
Eleven presidents of supranations that now no longer existed, or certainly not in the same form. Three professional historians. Five members of a FedGrid discussion colloquy. And about sixteen crew and bodyguards, who were about the only people who knew what they were doing.
Pierre Chenier kissed his daughter on the cheek. "Good luck and may God be with you," he said formally. "Remember that the Ambassadors are in charge, and you must defer to Professor Perks…but all our hopes are riding on you here, all of you."
"Thanks for the reassurance, Papa," Genevieve said with a faint touch of sarcasm. She became serious: "We won’t let you down."
"I hope not," said Aldrin Garrows, who had managed to take a few minutes out of his schedule. He was practically hopping from foot to foot, wanting to get back to putting out little fires, but this project was the way to quench the enormous bushfire just visible as a glow on the horizon: starvation.
"For the Union, then," said Randall Perks, who seemed to have recovered something of his poise. Yet he now seemed less pompous: the experience of losing his family back in the other time had made him grimmer, more focused, arguably more likeable.
"For the Union, and Humanity," Chenier agreed. "Try not to scare the natives."
"We’ll be watching," Garrows said. "Farewell."
The two Consuls stepped back out of the airlock and into the main superstructure of Tranquillity City’s docking complex. The huge doors hissed shut, then gave off a crack of electricity as the structural reinforcement polymers grew into place around them. Genevieve turned away from the opaque airlock, reminding herself that now she – and the rest of the team – had one of the most important tasks in Human history ahead of them.
It was a daunting thought.
However, the ship’s captain, an EasySpace veteran, seemed fazed by nothing. He called out a few orders to his subordinates, almost boredly, then settled down in his chair at the front of the craft. It was an elderly passenger ship, a bit larger than a shuttle but far from a capital ship, of the type commonly used to transfer small groups of people between adjacent moons or planets, over distances too small to bother using Janvier-Graham drive. Garrows had guessed that it would be less intimidating to the downtime Humans on Earth than a more modern craft.
The craft’s fusion engines let off a burn in response to another lackadaisical order, and the ship – they had renamed it the Envoy – was hauling itself out of Luna’s gravity well. There were screens mimicking windows, rather than compromise structural integrity by piercing the hull: Genevieve looked out and saw the inner spheres of the satellite network racing by, along with Luna’s thin, dusty, manmade atmosphere. Some of the satellites, apparently no different to their innocent commercial brethren, her practiced eye identified as VANCOMYCIN platforms.
They raced past the horribly truncated Stairway, lacking its accompanying Slingshot, and burned on towards Earth. The captain slowed the engines to a crawl, letting inertia do most of the work. Genevieve reprogrammed her screen to a forward view and stared at the blue and white ball as it grew in her view. She, like most Selenites, had already been staring at it on the news for the past day, but this was different…more real.
Past Earth looked different, in many ways. There seemed to be more clouds, for one, and the polar ice caps were a bit larger – but paradoxically the sea levels were also higher: no Mindanao Plan yet. The pollution wasn’t really visible from here, but she imagined it was. North America was slap bang in the middle of the light side: it was visibly different. In 2350 the scars from the ravages of the Third World War were long faded, but they were there: this was an adolescent continent, strong, rambunctious – and with one hell of a swelling pimple just waiting for someone to pop it. It disturbed Genevieve that they were putting down even on the same continent as that: if this had been a bare new planet to explore rather than Earth, it would have worried her to stand on the surface anywhere.
Genevieve turned away from the Earth and looked throughout the Envoy. So far, things seemed to be going well: doubtless there might be cabin fever tensions cropping up eventually, but for now everyone was getting on okk. The Twelve – no, Eleven – all knew each other, of course, and the historians and Divergence Colloquy members at least had a common topic of conversation. Professor Perks was deep in conversation with one of the Colloquy members, John Gunn – something about the military capabilities of this Earth. Genevieve listened in without much interest: she was personally much more fascinated with past culture and literature.
"But they do have atomic weapons," Gunn persisted.
"Yes, but they haven’t been used for sixty years," Perks said. "And they won’t be – wouldn’t have been – until the Third World War, and then never used again."
Gunn shook his head. "Hard to believe."
"Hard to believe that common sense and a sense of self-preservation would last for even eighty years? Oh yes," Perks ironically agreed.
"Do you think they could pose a threat to us?" Genevieve queried.
Perks shrugged. "If they could get one of their atomics through all our defences – yes, of course. Whether they could is quite another question. They must have guessed that we could destroy them on the ground if we wished."
"We might want to lead the diplomatic introductions with something other than that," Roberto Canizzarro said dryly.
The Earth grew larger in the screen, and soon the ship was rotating, the engines firing to break, and they slipped into a parking orbit over the Atlantic. Genevieve stared down via her screen. Even the tourist-cameras’ zoom was good enough that she could pick out individual sea ships, the people on them. It was like one of those FedGrid games where you had to control an ancient civilisation and pit it against others…
"What’s happening?" Alice Dooley asked.
"We’ve requested a parking orbit, as Mr Garrows told us to," the captain deigned to inform them. "Using their oldstyle radio, of course…ah, there we go." The diplomats vaguely overheard a flustered-sounding voice giving them an unnecessary flight path. "With your permission, sirs?" the captain asked in a put-upon voice.
"Of course," said Canizzarro. No-one quite knew who the head ambassador was, but as president of the most powerful of the Eleven Supranations – though that meant nothing here – he seemed to have slipped into the role.
The ship’s engines sparked for a burst to tip its nose downwards, then applied a gentle thrust that sent them on a beautiful arc down towards the Atlantic coast of North America. As always when performing this sort of manoeuvre, Genevieve felt the strange mental disconnect as the world went from being a ball in the sky to the flat ground beneath her feet. The clouds whipped past the ship, the blue waters racing by far below.
"Uh-oh – ah, look who we’ve got. Company," the captain said, sounding interested for the first time. "Look." The holoviewers and screens showed a group of six craft, small, sleek and aerodynamic, arranged three on either side of the descending ship.
"They must be quite advanced for here, if they’re keeping up with us – even on a deceleration," Perks murmured.
"They’re Usans," Dooley said, pointing out the American flag – only fifty stars, and those arranged into a square – and the white star on blue roundel.
"Only Usans?" Cannizzarro frowned.
"They are the premier superpower at this point," Ivan Lopatin reminded him. "And the UN is on their soil."
The fighters kept up with the ship as it slowed further, descending. The Atlantic began to break with white waves as the coast of America showed up as a dark blur ahead. Soon New York was close enough for the skyline to be visible.
Dooley whistled. "It’s so different!" she said in wonder. "Even the coastline! I wouldn’t have thought it were the same city!"
"Well, it isn’t, is it?" Lopatin said pointedly.
Dooley ignored him. "I can see it all – look, there’s the original Statue of Liberty-"
"They shouldn’t have put her facing out to sea, she looks seasick," Canizzarro joked.
"And there’s the Empire State Building – I once saw the surviving stub of it, in the New Smithsonian-"
"I thought that was a rather good joke," Canizzarro said in hurt tones.
"You’re right, Alice," said Ho Tran. "I remember the old videe-tapes – there’s the Chrysler Building, the sparkly one."
"Yeah, and there’s…" Dooley paused, looking confused. "That’s strange…" she shrugged. "I must have misremembered…have to check the tapes again afterwards…"
"And there’s our destination," Perks interjected, pointing.
The UN building was rather disappointing, even though they had known what to expect. It looked like a Eucram bar made out of glass and steel, entirely anonymous but for the host of flags in front of it. Some of them caught the attention of one of the Divergence Colloquy members, an indigenous Selenite called Rick Unterheiss who specialised in vexillology: "Look at that! All those old tricolours and livery colours without badges on! How in the Union did they ever even tell them apart?"
The ship slowed to a halt, and Genevieve felt they were hovering. It was purely by a technology the Humans below could mostly understand, reaction-based: no-one had ever puzzled out the Vároto’s effortless magnetism-based antigrav technology. The captain slackened off some of the jets and the ship descended a little more, casting a shadow over the crowd of people assembled around the flags, staring at the descending ship.
"We’ve got requests from the oldtimers to park the shuttle over at an airport, John F Something, a few miles away," the captain said.
"Kennedy – yes, I remember it," Dooley said. "Drop us off and then comply."
To descend the twenty metres or so to the ground, they used nanotube cables from the underside of the ship in combination with reaction harnesses: Genevieve laughed when she saw the reactions of the people below to them slowly floating down. She was also struck by how…normal the people looked. Different clothes, different fashions, but people seemed the same wherever – and whenever – you went.
Once they had detached the cables, the ship retracted them and rose back into the sky, oriented itself towards the airport and swung away, almost leaving behind its archaic fighter escorts. Genevieve looked down again, to see that the crowd was already swarming forwards.
At the head of it was a stern-looking, dark-skinned woman flanked by a pair of men in dark suits and sunglasses. "Welcome to the United States – and Earth," she added belatedly. "The President looks forward to working with you."
Canizzarro replied for them: "That’s good, ma’am, but first we must address the United Nations." The diplomatic team set off for the strange, archaic glass doorways of the building.
But the woman followed. "I really insist –" she began, as the others made their way into the building. Alice Dooley happened to be at the back, along with Genevieve Chenier.
Dooley paused and turned. "What is it…excuse me, you would be…?"
"The Secretary of State," the woman said impatiently. Genevieve remembered that was the Usan equivalent of foreign minister.
Dooley opened her mouth, closed it, looked confused. "I…see. Well, what did you want?"
"The President was keen to speak with you before you address the UN-"
"He won’t get any special treatment," Dooley said. "We – you – may be the top superpower here and now, but it’s that kind of arrogance that meant we didn’t stay that way for long."
The woman looked shocked at this pronouncement, and was momentarily silenced. Dooley shook her head and turned to go – the others had already been ushered into the main chamber. Genevieve followed.
But the woman got in one last shot. "Please – I insist – at least you, ma’am…President Bush was most adamant…"
Dooley sighed and turned. "Look, Madam Secretary," she said testily, "I’ve told you once and I’ll tell you-"
She blinked. "President who?!"
Vaguely, Canizzarro was aware that Dooley and Chenier’s daughter had hung back at the rear of the party, seeing off that annoying woman. He inwardly scowled: this was Usa, after all, and they needed Dooley here. But it was already too late, for he and the other were walking to the podium someone had set up in the UN chamber.
Uncertain security guards waved primitive sensors at them, and Canizzarro suppressed a contemptuous snort: if he wanted to, he could bring an arsenal capable of taking down the whole city in here in his pocket, and the guards would be none the wiser.
As before, he took the lead, standing behind the podium and facing the hemispherical array of seats, while the others stood behind him. He scanned the faces, recognising one or two from old historical files with a shiver. Two hundred countries, he thought. There were more than that on Earth now – then – 2350 – but that division was often forgotten except for the more nationalistic states and for the Terran Olympics.
Here and now, there was a strange mixture of powerless paper states, dying old empires with an overblown idea of their own power, and Usa: presently a single, relatively centralised, powerful state, far from the highly devolved federation he was used to. There was no representation by Eu at all, he realised with a shock: at present it was still mostly just an economic community, with political cooperation in its infancy.
Canizzarro cleared his throat. "My name is Roberto Canizzarro," he said, wondering idly what his future Italian accent sounded like to the downtimers. "I am part of what you see here, the embassy First Consul Garrows has sent to Earth to open diplomatic relations between the Consulate of Luna and your nations."
As soon as he had opened his mouth, there were murmurs throughout the group of representatives and their aides. He saw that even some of the English speakers were having trouble keeping up with his English, though he was using Interplanetary and even in a deliberately archaic way. Some of the translators for the non-Anglophones – and the idea of there being people who had no English at all, not even Interplanetary, was strange – were struggling.
Canizzarro shrugged. There was nothing to be done but to continue. "As Mr Garrows made clear in his message, Luna – what you call the Moon – has somehow travelled back in time from our own time, 2350, to now. In 2350, Luna was the capital world of the Union of Humanity, a federation of some seventy-four billion human souls on more than a hundred planets."
The murmurs were louder, slowly building as the translators caught up, sounding almost like a surge in an ocean wave. Canizzarro glanced from side to side, catching the eye of Lopatin and Tran, but they gave him infinitesimal nods: they had no objection to what he was saying, and it was better to present a single spokesman to the past Humans.
"Being a political capital, Luna has a population larger than its own agriculture can support – imagine if your Washington DC was separated from the rest of Usa – the USA," he corrected. "Also, we obviously have a great deal of future technology at our disposal, and we hope to use that to improve the situation down here on Earth. Poverty and disease have been nearly eradicated, at least on Earth, in the future: hopefully we can bring those achievements forward."
The murmurs had a tone between interest and suspicion.
"In addition to this, we fortunately have access to several err…faster than light ships which came through the…event with us." Canizzarro searched the assembled poker faces of the representatives. "Our own scientists are already clamouring to go and have a look at the Solar system and the neighbouring ones, about which we have precious little data from this era – and we would like to extend an invitation to some of your scientists to accompany them."
Among some of the representatives, particularly those from rich countries, this caused the loudest murmurs yet.
"So, in the name of the Union of Humanity, which one day will hopefully be reborn, and the Consulate of Luna – we are glad to be here, and look forward to working with you." Canizzarro paused. "As it happens, eleven of our number are former presidents of Earth supranations-" he neglected to mention how recent the ‘former’ was, "-and we hope we can establish a meaningful dialogue."
Canizzarro pulled back, glanced at his compatriots again. They nodded. Dooley and Chenier’s daughter still hadn’t arrived. Canizzarro nodded back, then turned to the representatives again. "As a gesture of goodwill, before we begin our main diplomatic sessions, we thought it might be wise to hold a question and answer session." He searched the faces of the representatives again. "One question per representative, chosen at random…"
He heard a loud, contemptuous snort from one side, and spoted its originator: a grey-haired man with fiery eyes and an incongruously coloured, thick moustache. Frowning, Canizzarro checked his country: UNITED STATES. Should have known, he thought, but, he added puzzledly, I thought the US UN representative at this time was a woman…
Tran pulled a datareader from his pocket, fiddled with it. "First question is from…Tanzania," he said.
The Usan representative loudly groaned again. Ignoring him, Canizzarro turned to the Tanzanian representative, a bulky man with keen eyes. "Your question, sir?"
"Certainly," the representative said in clear but strangely accented English. "You claim to be from the future, of course, but what about proof?" There were some gasps from the other representatives. "Yes, there is the light show on the moon, and your spaceship, but both of those could be accomplished by a present day power if it had the will…and the money," he added, glaring at the moustachioed Usan. "I am afraid I, for one, require more than parlour tricks to be convinced."
Canizzarro nodded. They’d expected this question. "Pres – er, Ambassador Zubayri, if you would?"
Ibrahim Zubayri took a step forward and pulled out a slightly larger datareader, which he aimed upwards and depressed a button. A shower of photons burst from it, provoking more gasps, and resolved itself into the shape of the Earth floating in space, a perfect three dimensional hologram.
"Impressive," the Tanzanian managed, "but still-"
"I have not yet finished," Zubayri said. He hit another button and the camera view zoomed out, until the field area of the hologram encompassed the entire solar system.
"This is just from our local scanners," Canizzarro explained, "but it’s still enough to reveal some interesting items about this era – for example…" the view zoomed in on various objects as he described them.
"This – what appears to be a commercial GPS satellite but appears to contain illegal missile systems banned by the er…the START treaty," he said, checking his notes. Gasps and literal fingers pointed at the Usan, who defiantly folded his arms. "This – a communications satellite which our news intercepts tells us that a French company claimed the insurance on when it failed – seems to be empty; I suspect corruption. And here we see an example of a Russian intermediate range nuclear missile targeted on Western Europe, which I was under the impression were all supposed to be scrapped some years before now."
"This is an outrage-" said the Usan and Russian representatives in almost perfect synch.
"No," Canizzarro said, "it merely demonstrates that you should not try to hide things from us. And furthermore that our future credentials are, I think, established. Perhaps a few know of each of those secrets, but all three together?"
The grumbles reluctantly subsided.
"Next question," Tran said pleasantly. "The Republic of India…"
The questions came thick and fast. Some of them were entirely predictable: questions about technology, about future events (which Canizzarro deftly avoided), about the planned scientific voyage. Some Third World countries were most interested in any agricultural breakthroughs the Selenites could bring: Isador Sarboulier delivered a short lecture on how life had been transformed in Westafrica by new farming techniques.
The British representative asked a rather odd question, Canizzarro thought. He was unsurprised to find it was about technology, but… "Does the same mechanism provide your ships with shielding and their faster than light drive?" he asked.
Canizzarro frowned. He supposed they must have intercepted some of those damned amateur radio transmissions. "You’re correct," he said. "A single technology, which we group under the umbrella ‘Janvier-Graham’, provides those effects – as well as artificial gravity and some others. But J-G crystals cannot be made under gravity, so they were not discovered until the late twenty-first century…and even if you make one in zero gee and take it down, in a gravity well their effects are much reduced."
The Briton seemed satisfied, so they went on through the other representatives…the Canadian wanted to know about the fate of the world’s ecosystem; they assured him that new technologies would help Humanity reverse the negative effects they had wrought upon it, and even bring a new era of Human control upon the world’s climate (Canizzarro wondered why the annoying Usan suddenly looked so smug?). The Venezuelan began a diatribe against Usan imperialism, which Canizzarro let Catalina Lopes torpedo.
Finally they came to the Usan himself. With a ‘finally’ look in his eyes and moustache, the man condescended to speak: "You seem determined to deal with the United Nations," he challenged. "Yet I cannot conceive of any possible future where the UN in its present incarnation is anything more than an abject failure."
That statement created several shouts of outrage and arguments from the others, but Canizzarro lifted a hand and responded. "It is true that the UN was responsible for a number of…regrettable mistakes in the first history," he diplomatically understated, "but nevertheless, we are here to speak to all of Earth, not just those bits with lots of money and bombs. This may not be a perfect forum, but for now it is all we have."
"Do you intend to try and force that imaginary equity upon the world?" the Usan replied. "Regardless of what new technologies and knowledge you bring into the world, those who are on top now will fight tooth and nail to stay there."
"It’s not our place to tamper with such things," Canizzarro frowned. "Things sorted themselves out in the first history and I am confident they will do the same here…though hopefully without another two World Wars," he added under his breath.
The Usan seemed unsatisfied, but Canizzarro quickly moved on to the next question. After a couple of hours, he and the others were feeling exhausted, but they had finally answered all the questions.
"If we may take our leave now," Canizzarro said formally. "We intend to lodge within our spacecraft: no offence, but we do not wish to favour any nation or company with our business…we shall return here at nine AM tomorrow, local time, to begin our negotiations."
The ambassadors left the room, glancing at the UN guards holding back the crowds of frothing reporters who screamed questions at them. "I’ve had quite enough questions for one day," Theodore Mbuto commented.
"You can say that again," Lopes agreed.
"Where’s Alice?" Lopatin asked, glancing around.
"She never came in – she was held up outside –" began Savitri Anand, but before she could complete her sentence, Dooley abruptly fell into line on one side, Genevieve Chenier with her. By the looks on both their faces, it was as though the event had just happened all over again…
"What’s up?" Canizzarro asked, as they left the building and walked over the plaza to where the ship was once again hovering, ready.
"Roberto…" Dooley began, sounding shellshocked. "This is wrong. Everything is wrong."
"This isn’t the past," Genevieve clarified.
Lopatin glanced around. "Well, it’s certainly not the future," he grunted.
"No," Dooley said, "we mean…this isn’t what the history books say for 2006! George Walker Bush is president of Usa, he shouldn’t be in office for almost twenty years! The Usan secretary of state, she told me that President Chirac of France is still alive, and so is Queen Elizabeth II!"
Canizzarro stopped and stared at her. "Assuming this isn’t some diplomatic trick," he said slowly, "what does this mean?"
Dooley looked to Genevieve. The younger woman gulped. "It’s an attle," she whispered. "That’s what we call them. There was a divergence BEFORE the event happened, long before. This isn’t our 2006, this is someone else’s."
Canizzarro worked that over as they waited for the nanotube harnesses to come down. His final verdict? "Well, that makes our lives more…interesting."
COME, LET ME GRASP THEE
General Stawes shook the hand of Pete Chambers with a firm grip, feeling it returned. Though his own politics were staunchly Tory, he had taken an instant liking to the Right Honourable Member for Durham North, who had created such a seismic shift through the MoD. And when you consider what the Tories are doing these days, he thought grimly, perhaps political convictions of any sort are better than slimily bending to whatever the headlines say the people want today.
"So how goes it?" Chambers barked. "I know perfectly well you’re not putting everything in the reports; hell, if it was me, you couldn’t tear me away from that thing long enough to put pen to paper."
Stawes nodded. "We’re making progress faster than we could possibly report it in any case. Come on, I’ll take you to Professor Bone – he can explain it better for you."
They left Stawes’ hastily assembled office. Nearby was the giant aircraft hangar, until recently used for storing rotting decommissioned missiles, where the future spacecraft was laid out. Chambers had expected it to be taken to parts, with a scientist poring over each individual component; instead, he found them positioning the detached cockpit over the top of the rear section with a crane, and trying to reattach it.
"We found that hardly anything seems to work without the connection," Stawes explained, sensing Chambers’ unvoiced question. "The controls are in the cockpit and most of the power generators in the rear section…hopefully once the connections are re-established, we can begin playing with the ship’s real capabilities."
"Good," Chambers allowed. "Now, what are the possibilities of us reverse-engineering some of this tech? I imagine a straight duplication is beyond our present capabilities…"
Stawes nodded again. "That’s right. The fact that the database survived is a real Godsend – without it we’d be flummoxed, but at least now we have an idea of what we’re doing." He frowned. "We still need this ‘Janvier-Graham’ thing clarified, though…"
Chambers scowled and slapped a sheet of hasty printout into Stawes’ hand. "You wouldn’t have heard down here yet, but this Garrows bloke has sent his ambassadors to New York and they’ve addressed the UN." His tone made clear Chambers’ opinion of the UN. "Our representative decided to try and get you the information you’ve been yammering for…" he pointed to a highlighted paragraph.
Stawes stared at it in delight. "Good old Sir Christopher!"
"Hmmf," Chambers said, unsatisfied. "Personally I think Morgan rather overplayed his hand – he was too specific. Still – he got the information," he admitted grudgingly. "So you reckon you can figure it out now?"
"Pretty much," said Stawes, but his tone was doubtful. "Trouble is, this indicates we could only try out the shields or any FTL capability by taking it out of Earth’s gravity – and I think the Moon guys might notice," he said dryly.
"Mm," Chambers muttered, his brow furrowed in thought. "There’s no way we could get it into orbit inside a contemporary spacecraft, is there…"
"Not without informing the Americans," Stawes said.
"Over my dead body," Chambers said flatly. "All right, we’ll just have to do what we can here." He shrugged. "Garrows’ man, Canizzarro, he claims they’ll be handing out future tech in exchange for food supplies – but I bet you your right arm that they won’t be quite so forthcoming as they claim."
"The data will be edited," Stawes agreed. "And the tech limited."
"This still gives us an advantage," Chambers said, staring at the shuttle. "And we’re not going to waste it."
A well-built man with a faintly Oriental look to him, wearing a white lab coat, hurried up to Stawes with no cause for military decorum. "General Stawes!" he pronounced excitedly. "I believe we’ve finally managed to link one of the control circuits!"
"Good work, Professor," Stawes agreed. "Mr Chambers, this is Professor Gregory Bone."
Chambers shook Bone’s hand, sizing him up. He’d already read the man’s file, of course, but he was trusting MI5 less and less as this government wore on. Originally from America – Hawaii, which explained his appearance – and still spoke with a slight American accent, but was considered loyal enough to be entrusted with this project. Now a naturalised British citizen, a professor of robotics at Warwick University and married to an Englishwoman…were it not for Chambers’ perpetually suspicious mind, he would have checked out fine.
"What other progress have you made?" he asked.
"We’ve been sorting through more database files, come across some more historical information about the near future, but it’s frustratingly vague," said Bone. "More Encarta Standard Edition than the full Britannica DVD set if you see what I mean. Something about two more world wars, the first of them starting in 2020. And they’ll be nuclear."
Chambers winced. "Well, at least the Moonies should want to prevent that," he said. "The database is enough for you to understand the tech, though?"
"Maybe," Bone said. "But if we could find that pilot – there must have been one – where they’ve got to-"
"Rest assured, we’ve got people on it," Chambers said grimly. So many, in fact that burning buildings were going unattended, car wrecks still lined the streets. It didn’t matter: in the long run this could be the most important thing, well, ever. "Anything else?"
"Odd bits of technology, but now we have power and control, we can really see what they do!" Bone said, almost literally dancing with excitement. "This shuttle doesn’t seem to have weapons – it was civilian –"
"Dammit," Chambers muttered. "What were you saying?"
"There are no weapons per se, but I’ve uncovered a reference to some sort of laser-based point defence system, against meteors…this design apparently has relatively weak shields and it’s a backup system…"
"Well, there’s no time like the present," said Chambers. "Activate it."
Stawes and Bone both stared at him as though he’d gone bonkers. "Right here? Right now?" Stawes said.
"Why not?" Chambers said. "Against meteors, you say? Then it should only respond to moving targets. Professor, you in the cockpit. Everyone else, to a safe distance. And someone get me some rocks."
The military men and scientists stared at him, at each other, at their own feet, back at him again. Then they hurried to obey.
A few moments later, Chambers stood poised behind a reassuringly thick metal barrier, along with everyone else, while Professor Bone’s head poked out of the cockpit, still detached from the rest by except for a thick, odd-looking cable. Bone did something to the amazing holographic display, then gave Chambers a thumbs-up.
Stawes had insisted Chambers let one of his assistants throw the rock, but Chambers had balked at it: "If I wanted to let the redshirts take the risks, General, I’d be the captain of the Starship bloody Enterprise!" Now he was poised like a cricket bowler, a half pound’s worth of fine Derbyshire limestone in his hand.
"Cop this," he said, and hurled it like a grenade.
It never even got a fifth of the way there.
At the time, all they saw was a flash. Later, on the stop motion tape, they would see the translucent beam lashing out at the speed of light and impacting the rock, instantly vaporising it.
Chambers pulled his hand back immediately, but no second beam targeted his moving hand. A grin spread across his face as tiny fragments of molten rock pinged down around the disbelieving scientists and military men. "No weapons? My arse!" he pronounced. "Now someone hand me an automatic weapon…"
Stawes snapped an order and one of the guards reluctantly turned over his SA80. Chambers stared at it distastefully, muttering about it not comparing favourably to the FN and Nagant something-or-others, before grasping it in a professional hold, cautiously poking it over the barrier, flicking it to full automatic and opening fire.
The light show was awe-inspiring, more so on the stop motion tape. The narrow beams, faint but still far brighter than any current laser, lashing out in perfect computer coordinated routines. Not one single bullet got through, though a lot of very small molten metal specks spattered the ground before the shuttle.
"All right," Chambers said, his grin widening. "Later, I want to try it with an RPG-" Stawes’ eyebrows rose so far they almost went all the way around his head and ended up as a moustache, "-but for now, Prof, you can turn it off."
"Done," Bone said cautiously.
"Good," Stawes said, about to stand up.
Chambers grabbed him and held him down. "If it’s all the same to you," he said, "now there’s no noble purpose involved, NOW we can entrust the dangerous jobs to the redshirts."
Stawes grinned, and nodded.
Rachel had only been here a day, but she already found herself adjusting to the early twenty-first century. In a way it was a kind of rebellion, a way of consuming herself so she didn’t have to think about Piotr. If she was consulting with Janet about contemporary fashions, or discussing current events with Andrew, or patiently fielding Luke’s excited questions about the future…then she didn’t have to think about how the father of her unborn child was lost to her forever.
"I have a hard time believing the United States could become the sort of loose federal alliance you describe," Andrew said, frowning. "Every trend today shows that the power of the central American government is growing ever stronger, hence their Libertarian movement…"
"I think that was a big part of the shift," Rachel said; it didn’t help that she was arguing out of her depth, from a vaguely remembered school education rather than professional knowledge. She still remembered when they’d had to bring in family heirlooms of the Third World War, and the boy who hadn’t had anything because he’d been one of the millions of war orphans, the names of whose parents were unknown to anyone save the Lord… she brushed the thought aside. "With the federal government completely knocked out in the early stage of the Third World War, and everywhere cut off by failing fuel supplies and all the radioactive dust clouds…local governments sprang up to combat the inevitable anarchy. I think there was even some attempt to set up a restored Confederacy in some of the southern states-"
"I knew it!" Luke said happily. "Some of the Yanks on the forum-"
"Enough about the forum, Luke!" Andrew said, but his wry smile said he was obviously more tolerant about it than Janet. "But these little governments were all abolished when the United States was restored?"
"There was a new government theoretically in power, in Chicago, only a couple of years later," Rachel said. "But for the first few years it literally had no power outside the eastern half of the Midwest, what with communications being awful, and even after that…" she shrugged. "It was like herding cats, from what I remember. It was like…what was that medieval state where Austria was in charge on paper but it was really a lot of little feuding states?"
"The Holy Roman Empire," Luke supplied.
"That’s right…I always got that mixed up with the Ottomans…but anyway," Rachel shrugged. "That’s how we got our Usa. Whether it will still happen now…" her eyes grew distant. "I think if Garrows thinks he can avoid half a billion deaths from happening again, he will."
"He’d better, or he wouldn’t be a human," Andrew said harshly. Then he whistled. "Half a billion! What sort of spread?"
"I’m not an expert," Rachel reminded him, "but at least half were in China, the others spread across the Middle East and Usa, er the United States. A few hundred thousand in Europe and Russia as well."
Andrew shook his head. "And today, thirty or so thousand die in Iraq and that counts as a bloodbath. It is, of course, but in comparison to that lot…"
Rachel frowned. "Iraq?"
"There was a war in 2003," Luke explained earnestly. "It was over oil and the American hegemony and-"
"Oh, don’t believe everything you hear on that forum," Andrew said amusedly. "There were lots of causes, but anyway, the Americans invaded in 2003 to depose Saddam Hussein, the local dictator. They’re still there, and without a dictatorial influence holding down all the different groups, there’s a virtual civil war."
Rachel felt the same feeling as she had looking at the pictures of New York. "I…I must be misremembering," she murmured. "But then, how much would the man in the street here and now know about…what would it be…1650? You two may be historians, but I’m not."
Luke blushed at being described so, and Andrew smiled. "It’s still fascinating," he said. "I wonder if Garrows’ lot will give out historical information freely…it could be awful, people demanding leaders step down because of things they would have done in the future, children being killed because they’ll grow up to be the Butcher of Somewhere in 2030…"
"Garrows isn’t stupid, he’ll keep quiet," Rachel said. "At least at first. Hu Jintao is already the leader of China, isn’t he? And Putin is still tsar-president of Russia…"
"I have a hard time believing even those two could do what you told me they did," Andrew said slowly. "But like you say, you’re working from just a school education…"
"There was more data in my shuttle," she said bitterly, "but that’s gone."
"I wonder what the government will do with it," Andrew said thoughtfully. "They can’t come out and say anything straight without admitting that they’ve got it…sheds an interesting light on what Sir Chris Morgan asked them at the UN though…"
Rachel nodded. With the others, she’d watched Roberto Canizzarro and a group of other famous faces (and some less famous ones) addressing the UN. It was strange to see his features, and those of the other ten presidents, displayed on such an archaic flatscreen rather than the holoviewer she was used to. Now that it came to it, Britain’s UN representative HAD asked a rather specific question…
"They’ll use it to whatever advantage they can, I guess," she said. She shuddered. "All the more reason for me to hide."
"Well, you’re making the effort," Andrew said. "Aside from the odd slip of the tongue, I don’t think you stand out – and everyone’s shellshocked right now anyway."
Rachel nodded. Still, it kept nagging her…she knew that her disguise hung on the edge of a knife, and the price for failure could be ultimate.
"Don’t say any more about it to the contemporaries," Garrows ordered. "It’ll only undermine our authority if they think we don’t know what they’re going to do." He paused. "It’s just as well we got all those satellite secrets straight off our scanners rather than going by historical data: we’d have looked a right bunch of Lunatics." As usual, you couldn’t tell if that implacable face concealed a joke or not.
"Yes…First Consul," said Canizzarro, still not quite willing to address Garrows as a superior. "It would probably confuse them anyway; I’m barely coping with it myself. But our Divergence Colloquy people seem to have a hypothesis…" he yielded the space in front of Garrows’ hologram image to Genevieve Chenier.
She cleared her throat. "While the Ambassadors were handling some of the press calls, we managed to get into one of the libraries. The contemporary internet is still down but they had offline content, news and current affairs…Jack was able to translate it, and then we could compare it to our own archives." Of course, the mission’s nature meant that the ship had been equipped with a concise database dealing with the period. "Bruno’s been studying it…"
Bruno Lombardi took the position, suppressing a nervous sound in his throat at addressing the formidable First Consul. His family had a colourful heritage, beginning in Italy and going via Canada before ending up on Albion, the planetary colony of Britain and the other Anglophone non-Usa states. He’d got a local government job there, then moved up to head office on Luna, got into the Divergence Colloquy while there, and…
"We think we’ve narrowed down the point of divergence," he said. "That’s what we call the point at which a history diverges from the original one-"
"I’m familiar with the terminology," Garrows said. "Counterfactualisms seem to have undergone a literal overnight revival both here and on Earth, and the media are yapping about it all the time. But continue."
"Yes, sir. Initially we wondered if the Usan presidential election of 2000 might be the pod – that’s the point of divergence – after President Dooley was told that the candidate Bush had won the election here instead of Gore as it was in our timeline. After all, the election was close in both timelines, and a very small thing going the other way could have changed it…"
"But?" Garrows prompted.
"But it must be before that," Lombardi concluded. "We’ve located a few earlier changes – the South African revolution seemed to go differently here, almost straight from a white tyranny to a black one – and the war in Afghanistan was a more decisive defeat for the Soviets." It obviously took Garrows a moment to recognise the latter word.
"Any idea for a single event that might have provoked all that?" the First Consul asked.
Lombardi shrugged. "Off the top of my head, it’s like skydiving into maple syrup," he said. "Or finding an office block on Conurbation…but anyway. We think it’s definitely not before 1975…the first big difference we spotted that there was no Great Quake of 1980 here, and that seems to have had a knock-on effect, especially in Middle Eastern politics."
Garrows sighed. "We’ll just have to adapt," he said. "Lombardi, Chenier, all of you, keep working at this: I want to know exactly what’s gone wrong with this world." His face hardened. "The we-should-try-to-preserve-the-original-timeline-by-committing-mass-suicide nuts have gone quiet now; Lord preserve us if they’re replaced by we-should-try-to-preserve-the-original-timeline-by-changing-this-one-back nuts."
"A most appropriate use of hyphens, sir," Lombardi said with a faint grin.
Canizzarro diplomatically stepped back on. "Very well, First Consul," he said. "We’ll stick with the original plan…and try not to get shown up."
"Well, it’s worked for me so far. Garrows out." The hologram vanished.