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Manifold: Space

Manifold: Space by Stephen Baxter
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The year is 2020. Fueled by an insatiable curiosity, Reid Malenfant ventures to the far edge of the solar system, where he discovers a strange artifact left behind by an alien civilization: A gateway that functions as a kind of quantum transporter, allowing virtually instantaneous travel over the vast distances of interstellar space. What lies on the other side of the gateway? Malenfant decides to find out. Yet he will soon be faced with an impossible choice that will push him beyond terror, beyond sanity, beyond humanity itself. Meanwhile on Earth the Japanese scientist Nemoto fears her worst nightmares are coming true. Startling discoveries reveal that the Moon, Venus, even Mars once thrived with life–life that was snuffed out not just once but many times, in cycles of birth and destruction. And the next chilling cycle is set to begin again . . .

Random House Publishing Group; December 2003
ISBN 9780345475589
Read online, or download in secure EPUB
Title: Manifold: Space
Author: Stephen Baxter
 
Excerpt
TITLE: MANIFOLD: SPACE

Prologue

My name is Reid Malenfant.

You know me. And you know I'm an incorrigible space cadet.

You know I've campaigned for, among other things, private mining
expeditions to the asteroids. In fact, in the past I've tried to get you
to pay for such things. I've bored you with that often enough already,
right?

So tonight I want to be a little more personal. Tonight I want to talk
about why I gave over my life to a single, consuming project.

It started with a simple question:

Where is everybody?

As a kid I used to lie at night out on the lawn, soaking up dew and
looking at the stars, trying to feel the Earth turning under me. It felt
wonderful to be alive--hell, to be ten years old, anyhow.

But I knew that the Earth was just a ball of rock, on the fringe of a
nondescript galaxy.

As I lay there staring at the stars--the thousands I could pick out with my
naked eyes, the billions that make up the great wash of our Galaxy, the
uncounted trillions in the galaxies beyond--I just couldn't believe, even
then, that there was nobody out there looking back at me down here. Was it
really possible that this was the only place where life had taken
hold--that only here were there minds and eyes capable of looking out and
wondering?

But if not, where are they? Why isn't there evidence of extraterrestrial
civilization all around us?

Consider this. Life on Earth got started just about as soon as it could--as
soon as the rocks cooled and the oceans gathered. Of course it took a good
long time to evolve us. Nevertheless we have to believe that what applies
on Earth ought to apply on all the other worlds out there, like or unlike
Earth; life ought to be popping up everywhere. And, as there are hundreds
of billions of stars out there in the Galaxy, there are presumably
hundreds of billions of opportunities for life to come swarming up out of
the ponds--and even more opportunities in the other galaxies that crowd our
universe.

Furthermore, life spread over Earth as fast and as far as it could. And
already we're starting to spread to other worlds. Again, this can't be a
unique trait of Earth life.

So, if life sprouts everywhere, and spreads as fast and as far as it can,
how come nobody has come spreading all over us?

The universe is a big place. There are huge spaces between the stars. But
it's not that big. Even crawling along with dinky ships that only reach a
fraction of light speed--ships we could easily start building now--we could
colonize the Galaxy in a few tens of millions of years. One hundred
million, tops.

One hundred million years. It seems an immense time--after all, one hundred
million years ago the dinosaurs ruled Earth. But the Galaxy is one hundred
times older still. There has been time for Galactic colonization to have
happened many times since the birth of the stars.

Remember, all it takes is for one race somewhere to have evolved the will
and the means to colonize; and once the process has started it's hard to
see what could stop it.

But, as a kid on that lawn, I didn't see them. I seemed to be surrounded
by emptiness and silence.

Even we blare out on radio frequencies. Why, with our giant radio
telescopes we could detect a civilization no more advanced than ours
anywhere in the Galaxy. But we don't.

More advanced civilizations ought to be much more noticeable. We could
spot somebody building a shell around their star, or throwing in nuclear
waste. We could probably see evidence of such things even in other
galaxies. But we don't. Those other galaxies, other islands of stars, seem
to be as barren as this one.

Maybe we're just unlucky. Maybe we're living at the wrong time. The Galaxy
is an old place; maybe They have been, flourished, and gone already. But
consider this: Even if They are long gone, surely we should see Their
mighty ruins, all around us. But we don't even see that. The stars show no
signs of engineering. The Solar System appears to be primordial, in the
sense that it shows no signs of the great projects we can already
envisage, like terraforming the planets, or tinkering with the Sun, and so
on.

We can think of lots of rationalizations for this absence.

Maybe there is something that kills off every civilization like ours
before we get too far--for example, maybe we all destroy ourselves in
nuclear wars or eco collapse. Or maybe there is something more sinister:
plagues of killer robots sliding silently between the stars, killing off
fledgling cultures for their own antique purposes.

Or maybe the answer is more benevolent. Maybe we're in some kind of
quarantine--or a zoo.

But none of these filtering mechanisms convinces me. You see, you have to
believe that this magic suppression mechanism, whatever it is, works for
every race in this huge Galaxy of ours. All it would take would be for one
race to survive the wars, or evade the vacuum robots, or come sneaking
through the quarantine to sell trinkets to the natives--or even just to
start broadcasting some ET version of The Simpsons, anywhere in the
Galaxy--and we'd surely see or hear them.

But we don't.

This paradox was first stated clearly by a twentieth-century physicist
called Enrico Fermi. It strikes me as a genuine mystery. The
contradictions are basic: Life seems capable of emerging everywhere; just
one star-faring race could easily have covered the Galaxy by now; the
whole thing seems inevitable--but it hasn't happened.

Thinking about paradoxes is the way human understanding advances. I think
the Fermi paradox is telling us something very profound about the
universe, and our place in it. Or was.

Of course, everything is different now.

PART ONE

Foreigners

a.d. 2020-2042

. . . And he felt as if he were drowning, struggling up from some thick,
viscous fluid, up toward the light. He wanted to open his mouth, to
scream--but he had no mouth, and no words. What would he scream?

I.

I am.

I am Reid Malenfant.

z

He could see the sail.

It was a gauzy sheet draped across the crowded stars of this place.

Where, Malenfant? Why, the core of the Galaxy, he thought, wonder breaking
through his agony.

And within the sail, cupped, he could see the neutron star, an angry ball
of red laced with eerie synchrotron blue, like a huge toy.

A star with a sail attached to it. Beautiful. Scary.

Triumph surged. I won, he thought. I resolved the koan, the great
conundrum of the cosmos; Nemoto would be pleased. And now, together, we're
fixing an unsatisfactory universe. Hell of a thing.

But if you see all this, Malenfant, then what are you?

He looked down at himself.

Tried to.

A sense of body, briefly. Spread-eagled against the sail's gauzy netting.
Clinging by fingers and toes, monkey digits, here at the center of the
Galaxy. A metaphor, of course, an illusion to comfort his poor human mind.

Welcome to reality.

The pain! Oh, God, the pain.

Terror flooded over him. And anger.

And, through it, he remembered the Moon, where it began . . .

Chapter 1

Gaijin

A passenger in the Hope-3 tug, Reid Malenfant descended toward the Moon.

The Farside base, called Edo, was a cluster of concrete
components--habitation modules, power plants, stores, manufacturing
facilities--half buried in the cratered plain. Comms masts sprouted like
angular flowers. The tug pad was just a splash of scorched moondust
concrete, a couple of kilometers farther out. Around the station itself,
the regolith was scarred by tractor traffic.

Robots were everywhere, rolling, digging, lifting; Edo was growing like a
colony of bacilli in nutrient.

A hi-no-maru, a Japanese Sun flag, was fixed to a pole at the center of
Edo.

z

"You are welcome to my home," Nemoto said.

She met him in the pad's air lock: a large, roomy chamber blown into the
regolith. Her face was broad, pale, her eyes black; her hair was
elaborately shaved, showing the shape of her skull. She smiled, apparently
habitually. She could have been no more than half Malenfant's age, perhaps
thirty.

Nemoto helped Malenfant don the suit he'd been fitted with during the
flight from Earth. The suit was a brilliant orange. It clung to him
comfortably, the joints easy and loose, although the sewn-in plates of
tungsten armor were heavy.

"It's a hell of a development from the old EMUs I wore when I was flying
shuttle," he said, trying to make conversation.

Nemoto listened politely, after the manner of young people, to his
fragments of reminiscence from a vanished age. She told him the suit had
been manufactured on the Moon, and was made largely of spider silk. "I
will take you to the factory. A chamber in the lunar soil, full of immense
spinnerets. A nightmare vision! . . ."

Malenfant felt disoriented, restless.

He was here to deliver a lecture, on colonizing the Galaxy, to senior
executives of Nishizaki Heavy Industries. But here he was being met off
the tug by Nemoto, the junior researcher who'd invited him out to the
Moon, just a kid. He hoped he wasn't making some kind of fool of himself.

Reid Malenfant used to be an astronaut. He'd flown the last shuttle
mission--STS-194, on Discovery--when, ten years ago, the space
transportation system had reached the end of its design life, and the
International Space Station had finally been abandoned, incomplete. No
American had flown into space since--save as the guest of the Japanese, or
the Europeans, or the Chinese.

In this year 2020, Malenfant was sixty years old and feeling a lot
older--increasingly stranded, a refugee in this strange new century, his
dignity woefully fragile.

Well, he thought, whatever the dubious politics, whatever the threat to
his dignity, he was here. It had been the dream of his long life to walk
on another world. Even if it was as the guest of a Japanese.

And even if he was too damn old to enjoy it.

They stepped through a transit tunnel and directly into a small tractor, a
lozenge of tinted glass. The tractor rolled away from the tug pad. The
wheels were large and open, and absorbed the unevenness of the mare;
Malenfant felt as if he were riding across the Moon in a soap bubble.

Every surface in the cabin was coated with fine gray moondust. He could
smell the dust; the scent was, as he knew it would be, like wood ash, or
gunpowder.

Beyond the window, the Mare Ingenii--the Sea of Longing--stretched to the
curved horizon, pebble-strewn. It was late in the lunar afternoon, and the
sunlight was low, flat, the shadows of the surface rubble long and sharp.
The lighting was a rich tan when he looked away from the Sun, a more
subtle gray elsewhere. Earth was hidden beneath the horizon, of course,
but Malenfant could see a comsat crawl across the black sky.

He longed to step through the glass, to touch that ancient soil.

Nemoto locked in the autopilot and went to a little galley area. She
emerged with green tea, rice crackers and dried ika cuttlefish. Malenfant
wasn't hungry, but he accepted the food. Such items as the fish were
genuine luxuries here, he knew; Nemoto was trying to honor him.

The motion of the tea, as she poured it in the one-sixth gravity, was
complex, interesting.

"I am honored you have accepted my invitation to travel here, to Edo,"
Nemoto said. "You will of course tour the town, as you wish. There is even
a Makudonarudo here: a McDonald's. You may enjoy a bifubaaga! Soya, of
course."

He put down his plate and tried to meet her direct gaze. "Tell me why I've
been brought out here. I don't see how my work, on long-term space
utilization, can be of real interest to your employers."

She eyed him. "You do have a lecture to deliver, I am afraid. But . . .
no, your work is not of primary concern to Nishizaki."

"Then I don't understand."

"It is I who invited you, I who arranged the funding. You ask why. I
wished to meet you. I am a researcher, like you."

"Hardly a researcher," he said. "I call myself a consultant, nowadays. I
am not attached to a university."

"Nor I. Nishizaki Heavy Industries pays my wages; my research must be
focused on serving corporate objectives." She eyed him, and took some more
fish. "I am salariman. A good company worker, yes? But I am, at heart, a
scientist. And I have made some observations which I am unable to
reconcile with the accepted paradigm. I searched for recent scientific
publications concerning the subject area of my . . . hypothesis. I found
only yours.

"My subject is infrared astronomy. At our research station, away from Edo,
the company maintains radiometers, photometers, photo-polarimeters,
cameras. I work at a range of wavelengths, from twenty to a hundred
microns. Of course a space-borne platform is to be preferred: The
activities of humankind are thickening the Moon's atmosphere with each
passing day, blocking the invisible light I collect. But the lunar site is
cheap to maintain, and is adequate for the company's purposes. We are
considering the future exploitation of the asteroids, you see. Infrared
astronomy is a powerful tool in the study of those distant rocks. With it
we can deduce a great deal about surface textures, compositions, internal
heat, rotation characteristics--"

"Tell me about your paradigm-busting hypothesis."

"Yes." She sipped her green tea. "I believe I have observational evidence
of the activity of extraterrestrial intelligences in the Solar System,"
she said calmly.

z

The silence stretched between them, electric. Her words were shocking,
quite unexpected.

But now he saw why she'd brought him here.

Since his retirement from NASA, Malenfant had avoided following his
colleagues into the usual ex-astronaut gravy ponds: lucrative aerospace
executive posts and junior political positions. Instead, he'd thrown his
weight behind research into what he regarded as long-term thinking: SETI,
using gravitational lensing to hunt for planets and ET signals, advanced
propulsion systems, schemes for colonizing the planets, terraforming,
interstellar travel, exploration of the venerable Fermi paradox.

All the stuff that Emma had so disapproved of. You're wasting your time,
Malenfant. Where's the money to be made out of gravitational lensing?

But his wife was long gone, of course, struck down by cancer: the result
of a random cosmic accident, a heavy particle that had come whizzing out
of an ancient supernova and flown across the universe to damage her just
so . . . It could have been him; it could have been neither of them; it
could have happened a few years later, when cancer had been reduced to a
manageable disease. But it hadn't worked out like that, and Malenfant,
burned out, already grounded, had been left alone.

So he had thrown himself into his obsessions. What else was there to do?

Well, Emma had been right, and wrong. He was making a minor living on the
lecture circuit. But few serious people were listening, just as she had
predicted. He attracted more knee-jerk criticism than praise or thoughtful
response; in the last few years, he'd become regarded as not much more
than a reliable talk-show crank.

But now, this.

He tried to figure how to deal with this, what to say. Nemoto wasn't like
the Japanese he had known before, on Earth, with their detailed observance
of reigi--the proper manner.

She studied him, evidently amused. "You are surprised. Startled. You
think, perhaps, I am not quite sane to voice such speculations. You are
trapped on the Moon with a mad Japanese woman. The American nightmare!"

He shook his head. "It's not that."

"But you must see that my speculations are not so far removed from your
own published work. Like myself, you are cautious. Nobody listens. And
when you do find an audience, they do not take you seriously."

"I wouldn't be so blunt about it."

"Your nation has turned inward," Nemoto said. "Shrunk back."

"Maybe. We just have different priorities now." In the U.S., flights into
space had become a hobby of old men and women, dreams of an age of
sublimated warfare that had left behind only images of charmingly antique
rocket craft, endlessly copied around the data nets. Nothing to do with
now.

"Then why do you continue to argue, to talk, to expose yourself to
ridicule?" she said.

"Because . . ." Because if nobody thinks it, it definitely won't happen.

She was smiling at him; she seemed to understand. "The kokuminsei, the
spirit of your people, is asleep," she said. "But in you, and perhaps
others, curiosity burns strong. I think we two should defy the spirit of
our age."

"Why have you brought me here?"

"I am seeking to resolve a koan," she said. "A conundrum that defies
logical analysis." Her face lost its habitual smile, for the first time
since they'd met. "I need a fresh look--a perspective from a big thinker,
someone like you. And . . ."

"Yes?"

"I am afraid, I think," she said. "Afraid for the future of the species."

The tractor worked its way across the Moon, following a broad, churned-up
path. Nemoto offered him more food.


The tractor drew up at an air lock at the outskirts of Edo. A big NASDA
symbol was painted on the lock: NASDA for Japan's National Space
Development Agency. With a minimum of fuss, Nemoto led Malenfant through
the air lock and into Edo, into a colony on the Moon.

Here, at its periphery, Edo was functional. The walls were bare, of fused,
glassy regolith. Ducts and cables were stapled to the roof. People wore
plain, disposable paper coveralls. There was an air of bustle, of heavy
industry.

Nemoto led him through Edo, a gentle guided tour. "Of course the station
is a great achievement," she said. "No less than ninety-five flights of
our old H-2 rockets were required to ferry accommodation modules and power
plants here. We build beneath the regolith, for shelter from solar
radiation. We bake oxygen from the rocks, and mine water from the polar
permafrost . . ."

At the center of the complex, Edo was a genuine town. There were public
places: bars, restaurants where the people could buy rice, soup, fried
vegetables, sushi, sake. There was even a tiny park, with shrubs and
bamboo grass; a spindly lunar-born child played there with his parents.

Nemoto smiled at Malenfant's reaction. "At the heart of Edo, ten meters
beneath lunar regolith, there are cherry trees. Our children study beneath
their branches. You may stay long enough to see ichi-buzaki, the first
state of blossoming."

Malenfant saw no other Westerners. Most of the Japanese nodded politely.
Many must have known Nemoto--Edo supported only a few hundred
inhabitants--but none engaged her in conversation. His impression of Nemoto
as a loner, rather eccentric, was reinforced.

As they passed one group he heard a man whisper, "Wah! Gaijin-kusai."

Gaijin-kusai. The smell of foreigner. There was laughter.

Malenfant spent the night in what passed for a ryokan, an inn. His
apartment was tiny, a single room. But, despite the bleak austerity of the
fused-regolith walls, the room was decorated Japanese style. The floor was
tatami--rice-straw matting--polished and worn with use. A tokonoma, an
alcove carved into the rock, contained an elaborate data net interface
unit; but the owners had followed tradition and had hung a scroll painting
there--of a dragonfly on a blade of grass--and some flowers, in an ikebana
display. The flowers looked real.

There was a display of cherry blossom leaves fixed to the wall under clear
plastic. The contrast of the pale living pink with the gray Moon rock was
the most beautiful thing he had ever seen.

In this tiny room he was immersed in noise: the low, deep rumblings of the
artificial lungs of the colony, of machines plowing outward through the
regolith. It was like being in the belly of a huge vessel, a submarine.
Malenfant thought wistfully of his own study: bright Iowa sunlight, his
desk, his equipment.

Edo kept Tokyo time, so Malenfant, here on the Moon, suffered jet lag. He
slept badly.

z

Rows of faces.

"How are we to populate the Galaxy? It's actually all a question of
economics." Over Malenfant's head a virtual image projected in the air of
the little theater, its light glimmering from the folded wooden walls.

Malenfant stared around at the rows of Japanese faces, like coins shining
in this rich brown dark. They seemed remote, unreal. Many of these people
were NASDA administrators; as far as he could tell there was nobody from
Nishizaki senior management here, nominally his sponsors for the trip.

The virtual was a simple schematic of stars, randomly scattered. One star
blinked, representing the Sun.

"We will launch unmanned probes," Malenfant said. Ships, little dots of
light, spread out from the toy Sun. "We might use ion rockets, solar
sails, gravity assists--whatever. The first wave will be slow, no faster
than we can afford. It doesn't matter. Not in the long term.

"The probes will be self-replicating: von Neumann machines, essentially.
Universal constructors. Humans may follow, by such means as generation
starships. However it would be cheaper for the probes to manufacture
humans in situ, using cell synthesis and artificial-womb technology." He
glanced over the audience. "You wish to know if we can build such devices.
Not yet. Although your own Kashiwazaki Electric has a partial prototype."

At that there was a stir of interest, self-satisfied.

As his virtual light show continued to evolve, telling its own story, he
glanced up at the walls around him, at the glimmer of highlights from
wood. This was a remarkable place. It was the largest structure in Edo,
serving as community center and town hall and showpiece, the size of a
ten-story building.

But it was actually a tree, a variety of oak. The oaks were capable of
growing to two hundred meters under the Moon's gentle gravity, but this
one had been bred for width, and was full of intersecting hollowed-out
chambers. The walls of this room were of smooth-polished wood, broken only
subtly by technology--lights, air vents, virtual-display gear--and the
canned air here was fresh and moist and alive.

In contrast to the older parts of Edo--all those clunky tunnels--this was
the future of the Moon, the Japanese were implicitly saying. The living
Moon. What the hell was an American doing here on the Moon, lecturing
these patient Japanese about colonizing space? The Japanese were doing it,
patiently and incrementally working.

But yes, incrementally: that was the key word. Even these lunar colonists
couldn't see beyond their current projects, the next few years, their own
lifetimes. They couldn't see where this could all lead. To Malenfant, that
ultimate destination was everything.

And, perhaps, Nemoto and her strange science would provide the first route
map.

The little probe images had reached their destination stars.

"Here is the heart of the strategy," he said. "A target system, we assume,
is uninhabited. We can therefore program for massive and destructive
exploitation of the system's resources, without restraint, by the probe.
Such resources are useless for any other purpose, and are therefore
economically free to us. And so we colonize, and build."

More probes erupted from each of the first wave of target stars, at
greatly increased speeds. The probes reached new targets; and again, more
probes were spawned, and fired onward. The volume covered by the probes
grew rapidly; it was like watching the expansion of gas into a vacuum.

"Once started, the process is self-directing, self-financing," he said.
"It would take, we think, ten to a hundred million years for the
colonization of the Galaxy to be completed in this manner. But we must
invest merely in the cost of the initial generation of probes. Thus, the
cost of colonizing the Galaxy will be less, in real terms, than that of
our Apollo program of fifty years ago."

His probes were now spreading out along the Galaxy's spiral arms, along
lanes rich with stars. His Japanese audience watched politely.

But as he delivered his polished words, he thought of Nemoto and her
tantalizing hints of otherness--of a mystery that might render all his
scripted invective obsolete--and he faltered.

Trying to focus, feeling impatient, he closed with his cosmic-destiny
speech. "This may be a watershed in the history of the cosmos. Think about
it. We know how to do this. If we make the right decisions now, life may
spread beyond Earth and Moon, far beyond the Solar System, a wave of green
transforming the Galaxy. We must not fail . . ." And so on.

Well, they applauded him kindly enough. But there were few questions.

He got out, feeling foolish.

z

The next day Nemoto said she would take him to the surface, to see her
infrared spectroscopy results at first hand.

They walked through the base to a tractor air lock and suited up once
more. The infrared station was an hour's ride from Edo.

A kilometer out from Edo itself, the tractor passed one of the largest
structures Malenfant had yet seen. It was a cylinder perhaps 150 meters
long, 10 wide. It looked like a half-buried nuclear submarine. The lunar
surface here was scarred by huge gullies, evidently the result of
strip-mining. Around the central cylinder there was a cluster of what
looked like furnaces, enclosed by semitransparent domes.

"Our fusion plant," Nemoto said. "Edo is powered by the fusion of
deuterium, the hydrogen isotope, with helium-3."

Malenfant glared out with morbid interest. Here, as in most technological
arenas, the Japanese were way ahead of Americans. Twenty percent of U.S.
power now came from the fusion of two hydrogen isotopes, deuterium and
tritium. But hydrogen fusion processes, even with such relatively
low-yield fuel, had turned out to be unstable and expensive: high-energy
neutrons smashed through reactor walls, making them brittle and
radioactive. The Japanese helium-3 fusion process, by contrast, produced
charged protons, which could be kept away from reactor walls with magnetic
fields.

However, the Earth had no natural supply of helium-3.

Nemoto waved a hand. "The Moon contains vast stores of helium-3, locked
away in deposits of titanium minerals, in the top three meters of the
regolith. The helium came from the Sun, borne on the solar wind; the
titanium acted like a sponge, soaking up the helium particles. We plan to
begin exporting the helium to Earth."

"I know." The export would make Edo self-sufficient.

She smiled brightly, young and confident in the future.

Out of sight of Edo, the tractor passed a cairn of piled-up maria rubble.
On the top there was a sake bottle, a saucer bearing rice cakes, a
porcelain figure. There were small paper flags around the figure, but the
raw sunlight had faded them.

"It is a shrine," Nemoto explained. "To Inari-samma, the Fox God." She
grinned at him. "If you close your eyes and clap your hands, perhaps the
kami will come to you. The divinities."

"Shrines? At a lunar industrial complex?"

"We are an old people," she said. "We have changed much, but we remain the
same. Yamato damashi--our spirit--persists."

At length the tractor drew up to a cluster of buildings set on the plain.
This was the Nishizaki Heavy Industries infrared research station.

Nemoto checked Malenfant's suit, then popped the hatch.

Malenfant climbed stiffly down a short ladder. As he moved, clumsily, he
heard the hiss of air, the soft whirr of exoskeletal multipliers. These
robot muscles helped him overcome the suit's pressurization and the weight
of his tungsten antiradiation armor.

His helmet was a big gold-tinted bubble. His backpack, like Nemoto's, was
a semitransparent thing of tubes and sloshing water, six liters full of
blue algae that fed off sunlight and his own waste products, producing
enough oxygen to keep him going indefinitely--in theory.

Actually Malenfant missed his old suit: his space shuttle EMU,
extravehicular mobility unit, with its clunks and whirrs of fans and
pumps. Maybe it was limited compared to this new technology. But he hated
to wear a backpack that sloshed, for God's sake, its mass pulling him this
way and that in the low gravity. And his robot muscles--amplifying every
impulse, dragging his limbs and tilting his back for him--made him feel
like a puppet.

He dropped down the last meter; his small impact sent up a little spray of
dust, which fell back immediately.

And here he was, walking on the Moon.

He walked away from the tractor, suit whirring and lurching. He had to go
perhaps a hundred meters to get away from tractor tracks and footsteps.

He reached unmarked soil. His boots left prints as crisp as if he had
stepped out of Apollo 11.

There were craters upon craters, a fractal clustering, right down to
little pits he could barely have put his fingertip into, and smaller yet.
But they didn't look like craters--more like the stippling of raindrops, as
if he stood in a recently plowed and harrowed field, a place where rain
had pummeled the loose ground. But there had been no rain here, of course,
not for four billion years.

The Sun cast brilliant, dazzling light. Otherwise the sky was empty, jet
black. But he was a little surprised that he had no sense of openness, of
immensity all around him, unlike a desert night sky at home. He felt as if
he were on a darkened stage, under a brilliant spotlight, with the walls
of the universe just a little way away, just out of view.

He looked back at the tractor, with the big red Sun of Japan painted on
its side. He thought of a terraformed Moon, of twin blue worlds. He felt
tears, hot and unwelcome, prickle his eyes. Damn it. We were here first.
We had all this. And we let it go.

Nemoto waited for him, a small figure on the Moon's folded plain, her face
hidden behind her gold-tinted bubble of glass.

z

She led him into the cluster of buildings. There was a small fission power
plant, tanks of gases and liquids. A living shelter was half buried in the
regolith.

The center of the site was a crude cylindrical hut, open to the sky,
containing a battery of infrared sensors and computer equipment. The
infrared detectors themselves were immersed in huge vessels of liquid
helium. Robots crawled between the detectors, monitoring constantly, their
complex arms stained by moondust.

Nemoto walked up to a processor control desk. A virtual image appeared,
hovering over the compacted
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