With fully realized characters, plenty of twists and turns, and a plot inspired by chaos theory, this exciting hard SF adventure will keep readers on the edge of their seats.
John Bandicut and several aliens and artificial intelligences have been thrown together by a force greater than themselves to prevent cataclysmic disasters on an interstellar scale. Now, before they can take a break after a world-saving mission, they are pulled into a waystation that is being threatened by highly destructive gravity waves.
The waves are part of a much larger problem. Something is causing stars to become unstable and go prematurely nova--they're being murdered. When the waystation is destroyed by the gravity waves, Bandicut and his crew barely escape on a jury-rigged ship. Their destination is a star nursery in the Orion Nebula, where sentient stars are being driven to destruction by an artificial intelligence bent on remaking the cosmos in its own image.
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JEFFREY A. CARVER's most recent novel, Eternity's End, was a finalist for the Nebula Award. He's written more than a dozen novels, including his critically acclaimed novelization of Battlestar Galactica. He lives in Arlington, Massachusetts.Excerpt. © Reprinted by permission. All rights reserved.:
The company sped across the light-years for what felt like an eternity, enclosed only by a faintly glimmering force-field bubble. Behind them they had left an ocean world; ahead was the unknown. Inside the star-spanner transport, John Bandicut felt a distinct sense of time and space passing by as a physical stream—stretching ahead of them, flowing around and behind them. He watched as the stars outside the bubble streaked past against the backdrop of space.
Ik, the Hraachee’an, was the first to notice the gradual appearance of a ghostly, rose-colored nebula ahead. Soon after Ik pointed that out to the others, Bandicut observed the star field crinkling, as though someone were rippling the fabric of space like clear cellophane. A moment later a shock wave rocked the star-spanner bubble. "What—" rasp rasp "—was that?" cried Li-Jared, several of the Karellian’s words dropping out in translation.
Whatever had hit them blazed golden around them, and for a moment they all seemed to turn transparent and luminous. Bandicut could scarcely breathe.
*Entering new flight regime. Approaching interstellar waystation.*
Bandicut blinked at the words of the translator-stones embedded in his wrists. Interstellar waystation?
"Something’s changing ahead," said Ik.
Bandicut pressed his face to the front of the bubble. "I think I see it—some kind of shadow ahead, between us and the nebula."
"Hrah. It looks like a channel of some kind."
Antares pressed close behind Bandicut, her breath warm on his cheek. "How could there be such a thing in space?"
No one had an answer, but what had looked to Bandicut like a patch of shadow grew larger quickly, then abruptly wrapped around the bubble like a tunnel. Suddenly they were flying like a high-speed train through a not-quite-solid tube, which began to glow with a pale blue light.
They felt a series of soft jolts, as though the star-spanner bubble were decelerating in discrete increments. With no further warning, it glided into a platform that reminded Bandicut of a subway station on Earth. The bubble softened and vanished with a twinkle. Bandicut and the others looked at each other. "I guess we’re invited to get out," Bandicut said. His two robots went first, clambering out onto the surface and pronouncing it solid and apparently safe. Together with his companions, Bandicut followed them onto the platform. It was a strange and wonderful sensation to feel something solid beneath his feet again. /What do you think, Charlie? I mean Charlene?/ he asked silently, speaking to the quarx—presently female—in his head.
/// I think we’re about to meet someone. ///
/Oh?/ He turned. A new robot was floating toward them. Or perhaps a holo-image of a robot. It was tall and vaguely humanoid. A silver band encircled its head where eyes might have been. Small clusters of sparkling jewels floated independently along the band—apparently the robot’s eyes, moving to focus on all the members of the company at once. "My name is Jeaves," it said in a deep voice that sounded both human and familiar. They had heard that voice during their passage in the star-spanner. "Welcome to the Cloudminder Interstellar Waystation. I have been asked to serve as your host, though I am a visitor here myself. The station is largely uninhabited at this time."
"Hrah," said Ik. "Where are—?"
"I’ll explain everything once we’re inside, and do my best to make you comfortable here," Jeaves continued. "Including servicing your robots, if you like."
"I have many questions for you, as I’m sure you do for me. But before we can enter the station proper, I must ask you all to stand by just a little longer. I believe you are familiar with the normalization procedure?"
"Of course," rumbled Ik. The others muttered agreement. On Shipworld, the vast structure outside the galaxy where the four had met, each had gone through normalization—a mysterious application of alien technology that adjusted their physiologies for local food, air, and so on. It had happened again when they’d gone to the ocean world.
/// John, I get the feeling
this isn’t going to be just a pit stop . . . ///
Bandicut missed the rest of the quarx’s words. He suddenly felt light-headed, and was enveloped in a cottony glow. He started to call out to his companions. But the glow blurred not just his vision but his thoughts and his balance. He felt himself falling, his thoughts leaking out into the light . . .
JEAVES PROCEDURAL DIARY: 3126.96.36.199
Preliminary debriefing of the newly arrived company is complete. I performed the procedure during a light trance-state induced during normalization, with the assistance of the translator-stones each member of the company carries.
The company includes representatives of four organic species, each from a different homeworld (John Bandicut, Human of Earth; Ik, Hraachee’an; Li-Jared, Karellian; and Antares, empathic Thespi Third-female). In addition, there are two robots of Earth manufacture—Napoleon and Copernicus—enhanced to the point of sentience (but not by their original makers). They seem to share a personal bond with John Bandicut. Finally, there is one noncorporeal symbiote—Charlie (or Charlene) the quarx—resident in John Bandicut’s mind.
The group came together on Shipworld, and by all accounts, distinguished themselves during the crisis brought on by the boojum incursion. (Report on boojum crisis available in Shipworld archives.) Due to urgent need, they were dispatched immediately afterward to assist with a situation on the ocean world known as Astar-Neri, in the Sagittarian arm—where they prevented a deep-sea entity known locally as the Maw of the Abyss from destroying an undersea civilization. Their discovery of the true nature of the Maw—a damaged, near-sentient stargate—is recorded separately in a detailed report.
The success of this just-completed mission owed largely to their exceptional teamwork and negotiating skills. The broad spectrum of their intelligences, empathy, courage, and problem-solving abilities make this company a formidable agent of change. Compared with other operatives who might be called into service in the Starmaker crisis, this company in my judgment offers by far the best hope for success. Plus, of course, they are here now, and available. With the instability in the Starmaker Nebula growing at an alarming rate, time appears to be critical.
All members of the group emoted a desire for extended rest and relaxation—hardly unreasonable, given their recent service. I can certainly allow them a day to rest and adjust to their new surroundings, which I have attempted to shape for their comfort. However, given the urgency of the situation, I have little choice: I must move quickly to persuade this group to join us in the Starmaker mission. The consequences of failure could redound far beyond the nebula . . .
Excerpted from Sunborn by Jeffrey A. Carver.
Copyright © 2008 by Jeffrey A. Carver.
Published in January 2010 by Tom Doherty Associates.
All rights reserved. This work is protected under copyright laws and reproduction is strictly prohibited. Permission to reproduce the material in any manner or medium must be secured from the Publisher.
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