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Chapter Six

The main receiver dish at Giordano Bruno was like a gigantic Cyclopean eye—a four-hundred-foot-diameter paraboloid of steel latticework towering into the starry blackness above the lifeless desolation of lunar Farside. It was supported by twin lattice towers moving in diametric opposition around the circular track that formed the most salient surface feature of the observatory and base. As it stood motionless, listening to whispers from distant galaxies, the lines of its lengthening shadow lay draped as a distorted mesh across the domes and lesser constructions huddled around it, spilling over on one side to become indistinct and lost among the boulders and craters scattered beyond.

Karen Heller stood gazing up at it through the transparent wall of an observation tower protruding from the roof of the two-story Main Block. She had gone there to be alone and re-compose herself after yet another acrimonious meeting of the eleven-person UN Farside delegation, which had gotten nowhere. Their latest scare was that the signals might not be coming from Ganymeans at all, which was her own fault for ill-advisedly introducing the thought that Hunt had voiced when she was in Houston a week earlier. She wasn't sure even now why she had brought that possibility up at all, since with hindsight it provided an opportunity for procrastination that they were bound to latch on to. As she had commented to a surprised Norman Pacey afterward, it had been a badly calculated attempt at a shock tactic to spur any positive reaction, and had misfired. Perhaps in her frustration she hadn't been thinking too clearly at the time. Anyway it was done now, and the latest transmission sent out toward Gistar had discounted the possibility of any landing in the immediate future and instead talked reams of insignificant detail to do with rank and protocol. Ironically this in itself should have said clearly enough that the aliens, Ganymean or not, harbored no hostile intentions; if they did, they would surely have just arrived, if that was what they wanted to do, without waiting for a cordial invitation. It all made the UN policy more enigmatic and reinforced her suspicions, and the State Department's, that the Soviets were setting themselves up to go it alone and were manipulating the UN somehow. Nevertheless the U.S. would continue to follow the rules until Houston succeeded in establishing a channel via Jupiter—assuming Houston succeeded. If they did, and if none of the efforts to speed things up at Bruno had borne fruit by that time, the U.S. would feel justified in concluding that its hand had been forced.

As she gazed up at the lines of metal etched against the blackness by the rays of the setting sun, she marveled at the knowledge and ingenuity that had created an oasis of life in a sterile desert a quarter of a million miles from Earth and built instruments such as this, which even as she watched might be silently probing the very edges of the universe. One of the scientific advisors from NSF had told her once that all of the energy collected by all the world's radio telescopes since the beginnings of that branch of astronomy almost a century earlier was equivalent to no more than that represented by the ash from a cigarette falling through a distance of several feet. And somehow the whole fantastic picture painted by modern cosmology—of collapsed stars, black holes, X-ray-emitting binaries, and a universe consisting of a "gas" of galaxy "molecules"—had all been reconstructed from the information contained in it.

She had ambivalent views about scientists. On the one hand, their intellectual accomplishments were baffling and at times like this awesome; on the other, she often felt that at a deeper level their retreat into the realm of the inanimate represented an abdication—an escape from the burdens of the world of human affairs within which the expression of knowledge acquired meaning. Even biologists seemed to reduce life to terms of molecules and statistics. Science had created the tools to solve humanity's problems a century ago, but had stood by helplessly while others took the tools and forged them into means of attaining other ends. It was not until the 2010s, when the UN emerged as a truly coherent global influence to be reckoned with, that strategic disarmament had become fact and the resources of the superpowers were at last mobilized toward building a safer and better world.

It was all the more tragic and inexplicable that the UN—until so recently the epitome of the world's commitment to meaningful progress and the realization of the full potential of the human race—should be the obstacle in the road along which the arrow of that progress surely pointed. It seemed a law of history for successful movements and empires to resist further change after the needs that had motivated them into promoting change had been satisfied. Perhaps, she reflected, the UN was already, in keeping with the universally accelerating pace of the times, beginning to show the eventual senility symptoms of all empires—stagnation.

But the planets continued to move in their predicted orbits, and the patterns being revealed by the computers connected to the instruments at Giordano Bruno didn't change. So was her "reality" an illusion built on shifting sands, and had scientists shunned the illusion for some vaster, unchanging reality that was the only one of permanence that mattered? Somehow she couldn't picture the Englishman Hunt or the American she had met in Houston as fugitives who would idle their lives away tinkering in ivory towers.

A moving point of light detached itself from the canopy of stars and enlarged gradually into the shape of the UNSA surface transporter ship due in from Tycho. It came to a halt above the far side of the base, and after pausing for a few seconds sank slowly out of sight between Optical Dome 3 and a clutter of storage tanks and laser transceivers. Aboard it would be the courier with the latest information from Houston via Washington. The experts had decreed that if Ganymean technology was behind the surveillance of Earth's communications anything was possible, and the ban on using even supposedly secure channels was still being rigidly enforced. Heller turned away and walked across the floor of the dome to call an elevator at the rear wall. A minute or two later she stepped out into a brightly lit, white-walled corridor three levels below the surface and began walking in the direction of the central hub of Bruno's underground labyrinth.

Mikolai Sobroskin, the Soviet representative on Farside, came out of one of the doors as she passed and turned to walk with her in the same direction. He was short but broad, completely bald, and pink-skinned, and he walked with a hurried, jerking gait, even in lunar gravity, that made her feel for a moment like Snow White. From a dossier that Norman Pacey had procured, however, she knew that the Russian had been a lieutenant-general in the Red Army, where he had specialized in electronic warfare and countermeasures, and a counterintelligence expert for many years after that. He came from a world about as far removed from Walt Disney's as it was possible to get.

"I spent three months in the Pacific conducting equipment trials aboard a nuclear carrier many years ago," Sobroskin remarked. "It seemed that it was impossible to get from anywhere to anywhere without interminable corridors. I never did find out what lay in between half those places. This base reminds me of it."

"I'd say the New York subway," Heller replied.

"Ah, but the difference is that these walls get washed more regularly. One of the problems with capitalism is that only the things that pay get done. So it wears a clean suit which conceals dirty undershorts."

Heller smiled faintly. At least it was good that the differences that erupted across the table in the conference room could be left there. Anything else would have made life intolerable in the cramped, communal atmosphere of the base. "The shuttle from Tycho just landed," she said. "I wonder what's new."

"Yes, I know. No doubt some mail from Moscow and Washington for us to argue about tomorrow." The original UN charter had ruled against representatives receiving instructions from their national governments, but nobody at Farside kept up any pretenses about that.

"I hope not too much," she sighed. "We should be thinking of the future of the whole planet. National politics shouldn't come into this." She glanced sideways as she spoke, searching his face for a hint of a reaction. Nobody in Washington had yet been able to decide for sure if the UN stance was being dictated from the Kremlin, or if the Soviets were simply playing along with something they found expedient to their own ends. But the Russian remained inscrutable.

They came out of the corridor and entered the "common room"—normally the UNSA Officers' Mess, but assigned temporarily for off-duty use by the visiting UN delegation. The air was warm and stuffy. A mixed group of about a dozen UN delegates and permanent residents of the base was present, some reading, two engrossed in a chess game, and the others talking in small groups around the room or at the small bar at the far end. Sobroskin continued walking and disappeared through the far door, which led to the rooms allocated for office space for the delegation. Heller had intended going the same way, but she was intercepted by Niels Sverenssen, the delegation's Swedish chairman, who detached himself from a small group standing near where they had entered.

"Oh, Karen," he said, catching her elbow lightly and steering her to one side. "I've been looking for you. There are a few points from today's meeting that we ought to resolve before finalizing tomorrow's agenda. I was hoping to discuss them before it's typed up." He was very tall and lean, and he carried his elegant crown of silver hair with a haughty uprightness that always made Heller think of him as the last of the true blue-blooded European aristocrats. His dress was always impeccable and formal, even at Bruno where practically everyone else had soon taken to more casual wear, and he gave the impression somehow of looking on the rest of the human race with something approaching disdain, as if condescending to mix with them only as an imposition of duty. Heller was never able to feel quite at ease in his presence, and she had spent too much time in Paris and on other European assignments to attribute it simply to cultural differences.

"Well, I was on my way to check the mail," she said. "If the discussion can wait for an hour or so, I could see you back here. We'll go through it over a drink maybe, or use one of the offices. Was it anything important?"

"A few questions of procedure and some definitions that need clarifying under one or two headings." Sverenssen's voice had fallen from its public-address mode of a moment earlier, and as he spoke he moved around as if to shield their conversation from the rest of the room. He was looking at her with a curious expression—an intrigued detachment that was strangely intimate and distant at the same time. It made her feel like a kitchen wench being looked over by a medieval lord-of-the-manor. "I was thinking of something perhaps a little more comfortable later," he said, his tone now ominously confidential. "Possibly over dinner, if I might have the honor."

"I'm not sure when I'll be having dinner tonight," she replied, telling herself that she was getting it all wrong. "It might be late."

"A more companionable hour, wouldn't you agree," Sverenssen murmured pointedly.

It was getting to her again. His words implied that the honor would be his, but his manner left no doubt that she should consider it hers. "I thought you said that you needed to talk before the agenda gets typed," she said.

"We could clear that matter up in an hour as you suggest. That would make dinner a far more relaxing and enjoyable occasion . . . later."

Heller had to swallow hard to maintain her composure. He was propositioning her. Such things happened and that was life, but the way this was happening wasn't real. "I think you must have misjudged something," she told him curtly. "If you have business to discuss, I'll talk to you in an hour. Now would you excuse me please?" If he left it at that, it would all soon be forgotten.

He didn't. Instead he moved a pace closer, causing her to back away a step instinctively. "You are an extremely intelligent and ambitious, as well as an attractive, woman, Karen," he said quietly, dropping his former pose. "The world has so many opportunities to offer these days—especially to those who succeed in making friends among its more influential circles. I could do a lot for you that you would find extremely helpful, you know."

His presumption was too much. "You're making a mistake," Heller breathed harshly, striving to keep her voice at a level that would not attract attention. "Please don't compound it any further."

Sverenssen was unperturbed, as if the routine were familiar and mildly boring. "Think it over," he urged, and with that turned casually and rejoined the group he had left. He'd paid his dollar and bought a ticket. It was no more than that. The fury that Heller had been suppressing boiled up inside as she walked out of the room, managing with some effort to keep her pace normal.

Norman Pacey was waiting for her when she reached the U.S. delegate's offices a few minutes later. He seemed to be having trouble in containing his excitement over something. "News!" he exclaimed without preamble as she entered. Then his expression changed abruptly. "Hey, you're looking pretty mad about something. Anything up?"

"It's nothing. What's happened."

"Malliusk was here a little while ago." Gregor Malliusk was the Russian Director of Astronomy at Bruno and one of the privileged few among the regular staff there who knew about the dialogue with Gistar. "A signal came in about an hour ago that isn't intended for us. It's in some kind of binary numeric code. He can't make anything out of it."

Heller looked at him numbly. It could only mean that somebody else, either somewhere on Earth or in its vicinity, had begun transmitting to Gistar and wanted the reply kept private. "The Soviets?" she asked hoarsely.

Pacey shrugged. "Who knows? Sverenssen will probably call a special session, and Sobroskin will deny it, but I'd stake a month's pay."

His voice didn't carry the defeat that it should have, and what he had said didn't account for the jubilant look that Heller had caught on his face as she entered. "Anything else?" she asked, praying inwardly that the reason was what she thought it might be.

Pacey's face split into a wide grin that he could contain no longer. He scooped up some papers from a wad lying in front of the opened courier's bag on a table beside him and waved them triumphantly in the air. "Hunt got through!" he exclaimed. "They've done it via Jupiter! The landing is already fixed for a week from now, and the Thuriens have confirmed it. It's all arranged for a disused airbase in Alaska. It's all fixed up!"

Heller took the papers from him and smiled with relief and elation as she scanned rapidly down the first sheet. "We'll do it, Norman," she whispered. "We'll beat those bastards yet!"

"You've got a recall to Earth from the Department so you can be there as planned. You'll be getting space-happy with all these lunar flights." Pacey sighed. "I'll be thinking about you while I'm holding the fort up here. I only wish I was coming too."

"You'll get your chance soon enough," Heller said. Everything looked bright again. She lifted her face suddenly from the papers in her hand. "I'll tell you what—tonight we'll both have a special dinner to celebrate . . . a kind of farewell party until whenever. Champagne, a good wine, and the best poultry the cook here's got in his refrigerator. How does that sound?"

"Sounds great," Pacey replied, then frowned and rubbed his chin dubiously. "Although . . . would it really be a good idea? I mean, with this unidentified signal coming in only an hour ago, people might wonder what the hell we're celebrating. Sverenssen might think it's us, not the Soviets, who are being underhanded."

"Well we are, aren't we?"

"Yeah, I guess so—but for a good reason. That's different."

"So let them. If the Soviets think the heat's on us, they might get a false sense of security and not move too fast." A look of grim satisfaction came into Heller's eyes as she thought of something else. "And let Sverenssen think anything he damn well likes," she said.



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