Six-time Hugo Award winner Ben Bova chronicles the saga of humankind's expansion beyond the solar system in Death Wave
In the precursor to the Star Quest Trilogy, New Earth, Jordan Kell led the first human mission beyond the solar system. They discovered the ruins of an ancient alien civilization. But one alien AI survived, and it revealed to Jordan Kell that an explosion in the black hole at the heart of the Milky Way galaxy has created a wave of deadly radiation, expanding out from the core toward Earth. Unless the human race acts to save itself, all life on Earth will be wiped out.
When Kell and his team return to Earth, many years after their departure, they find that their world has changed almost beyond recognition. Not only has a second wave of greenhouse flooding caused sea levels to rise, but society has been changed by the consequences of the climate shift. Few people want to face Jordan Kell's news. He must convince Earth's new rulers that the human race is in danger of extinction unless it acts to forestall the death wave coming from the galaxy's heart.
The Star Quest Trilogy
#1 Death Wave
#2 Apes and Angels
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By Ben Bova
Tom Doherty AssociatesCopyright © 2015 Ben Bova
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RIO GRANDE GORGE
It was a bright, hot morning, a typical New Mexico high desert summer day with a stiff breeze blowing in from the mountains. But there was trouble in the air.
Acting Sergeant Hamilton Cree, New Mexico Highway Patrol, sat in his air-conditioned cruiser and watched the traffic piling up on U.S. 67. As ordered by the World Council security team, he had swung his cruiser to block the lane that entered the bridge over the Rio Grande Gorge and turned on his BRIDGE TEMPORARILY CLOSED sign. The words hung in midair over the roof of his cruiser, big enough to see twenty car lengths down the road.
Another cruiser was blocking access on the other side of the bridge.
Cree was nearing the age of twenty-three, the year in which his required public service would be ended and he could leave the Highway Patrol with a reasonably healthy pension. The big question in his mind was whether he should be content to live off the pension or try to find a job that brought in more income. If he did get a job, he knew, his pension would be cut off; if he ever lost the job, he'd be up the creek.
It was illegal to get married while working off his public service obligation. But would the pension be enough to support a wife and start a family?
One of the truck drivers sitting in the growing line of traffic was leaning out the window of his rig and hollering, his face getting red. With an unhappy sigh, Cree opened the door of his cruiser and stepped out into the baking heat. He had never been able to accustom himself to this high desert and its bone-dry climate. Even the wind felt like it was coming out of an oven.
Cree had been born in Louisiana, where the air was as soft and moist as a wet towel. Even in Nashville, where the family had moved to escape the greenhouse floods, summers were milder, gentler. Coming to New Mexico wasn't his idea; he'd been assigned there.
He was exactly six feet tall, or 1.828 meters in the government's files, lean as a fishing rod, with a longish face and sad brown eyes. His hair, trimmed to an official Highway Patrol buzz, was a light, sandy color.
"What the hell you idiots holding up traffic for?" the truck driver was hollering to no one in particular: just venting his anger at being delayed.
Walking slowly toward the truck, Cree mentally counted the few days remaining until he could take off the Highway Patrol uniform for the final time.
"What's your problem?" he called to the irate driver.
"Problem? I got a delivery to make and a schedule to keep and you pissants are blocking traffic. I don't see no accident or construction or nothing. What the hell's the big idea?"
Frowning to show he didn't like what was going on any more than the trucker did, Cree said, "It's the star traveler. He wants to show off the gorge to the woman he brought back to Earth with him."
"Yeah. The guy who went to what's-its-name ... New Earth, they call it."
"And he came back here to block traffic? That shits!"
With a shrug Cree said, "Just hang in there, buddy. Nothing you or I can do about it. Orders from 'way high above."
"It still shits!"
"Cool down, buddy. You can tell your bosses that you were delayed by an official government order."
"I ain't got no bosses. I'm not a fuckin' public service time-server, like you. I own this truck."
His brow wrinkling, Cree asked, "Then what're you doin' driving the rig? Ain't it automatic?"
"Yeah, it runs by itself. But the friggin' law says a human has to be present in the cab at all times, in case there's an emergency. Don't they teach you guys the law of the land?"
As a matter of fact, Cree remembered something about the so-called safety redundancy law; he had just never paid much attention to it. He'd never had to.
"So you just sit there while the truck drives itself?"
"Weird. Whattaya do with all that time?"
"Play computer games. Take new orders. Watch vids. Whatever."
The trucker scowled at Cree. "Look, buster, I don't deliver on time, it comes outta my profits. Can'tcha let me through?"
"Nothing I can do about it," Cree said. "Sorry."
He turned and started walking back to his cruiser, leaving the trucker to boil in his own angry juices.
And he realized that there really was nothing he could do about it. Nothing he could do about almost anything. He'd been assigned to the public service program as soon as he'd finished high school. The psych people sitting behind their desks gave him a battery of tests, then sent him to a training center where he was taught how to be a police officer.
The public service program was for guys like him, Cree understood. Women too. Youngsters who had no prospects for a real job, not with robots doing most of the labor. You went into a clothing store or a food market or even a bar and there were robots politely and efficiently doing the work.
So they assigned you to public service, and you took what they gave you. Or else you went into the labor pool and sat around doing nothing, at minimum wage. Cree figured being a cop was better than being a bum.
But not for much longer.
He ducked back into the cool comfort of his cruiser and slammed its door shut. Out on the bridge he could see this guy and a gal walking slowly across the pavement. From this distance she looked like a regular woman, even though she was an alien from New Earth. Not a care in the world, either of them. The bridge had been cleared for them. Traffic stopped. Not even pedestrians allowed on the bridge. Nearly a dozen World Council security spooks standing around at both ends of the bridge, as if we can't handle the job by ourselves. Just so they can see the gorge without being bothered by traffic or other people.
Then a new thought struck him. Maybe the World Council people are afraid he's brought back some kind of virus from New Earth. Or his woman's carrying a bug and they don't want anybody to catch it.
Naw, he told himself. They would never have let them out of quarantine if they were worried about that. Would they?
From somewhere far back in the line of waiting traffic somebody honked his horn.
Yeah, Cree thought. That's gonna do you a lot of good.
A star traveler. He gets all kinds of special treatment, and what do we get? Five years of mandatory public service and then you're out on your own, sink or swim. Live on the pension they give you or find a job someplace that a robot hasn't already taken. Try to find a wife and have some kids.
Must be nice to be a star traveler.CHAPTER 2
Jordan Kell felt uneasy as the World Council security team quietly, politely, efficiently moved all the tourists and sightseers off the bridge. At either end of the span, New Mexico Highway Patrol cars were blocking access to the bridge. Cars, buses, and big, lumbering cargo trailers were piling up on the roadway in lengthening, simmering lines.
Above the Highway Patrol cruisers giant holographic signs warned:
BRIDGE TEMPORARILY CLOSED
Jordan could see one of the truckers leaning out of his cab, arguing unhappily with one of the troopers. More cars and other trucks were coming up the road and stopping beneath the bright New Mexico sun.
Squinting up at the cloudless turquoise sky, Jordan thought, Our Sun isn't as hot as Sirius, but it's still scorching enough to start tempers boiling.
He turned to Aditi, his wife, whom he had brought back from Sirius. With an unhappy sigh, he told her, "We'd better cut this visit short."
Jordan Kell was a lean welterweight of a man, handsome in a distinguished way with strong cheekbones, thick silver hair carefully groomed, his equally silver mustache trim and graceful, his steel-gray eyes still capable of sparkling humor, despite everything. He wore a short-sleeved white shirt with dark slacks and comfortable suede shoes.
Aditi was from New Earth, the solitary planet circling the star Sirius. Fully human, she was slightly taller than Jordan's shoulder, slim and youthful, with a pert nose, short-clipped hair as red as autumn leaves, and alert, intelligent brown eyes. She wore a simple sleeveless short-skirted dress of pale green.
She was a trifle more than thirty years old. He was nearing his two hundred and twentieth birthday. One hundred and sixty of those years he had spent in cryonic suspension, aboard the spacecraft that had carried him and eleven other men and women across eight light-years to the star Sirius and its one planet, and then back to Earth again. Physically, somatically, Jordan Kell was not yet sixty. He still had the strength and skill to play tennis, sail a racing yacht, compete in a fencing tournament — if he had the time or the inclination.
Aditi asked, "Cut our visit short?"
Forcing a smile, he said to her, "They're giving us a private viewing, keeping everybody else away from us."
Aditi smiled back. "You are an important person, Jordan."
He cocked his head slightly to one side. "It seems ... unfair, somehow."
"You are displeased?"
"They're treating us like royalty, keeping us separated from the crowd, the common people."
"We've seen plenty of people," Aditi countered. "The interviews, the news broadcasts ..."
"All carefully controlled by the World Council's managers. I wanted to show you our world, our people, but they're keeping us in a cocoon."
"It's a very pleasant cocoon," she said, a smile dimpling her cheeks. "Very comfortable."
"Yes, I suppose so." Still, he felt dissatisfied.
Aditi said, "You promised to show me the gorge."
"Yes, I did, didn't I?" He took Aditi by the hand and together they walked out onto the bridge.
It was just as Jordan Kell remembered it — almost.
Leaning against the bridge's anti-suicide fence, he looked down. Far below, the river still cut its way through the cliffs as it had for millions of years. The faithful sun still beamed its warmth across the desert scrubland that stretched to the horizon in every direction.
But where once sagebrush had perfumed the summer air, and at dusk elk would amble through, browsing, while prairie dogs would pop out of their snug burrows to forage among their antlered neighbors, now the land was covered with the white domes of prefabricated homes and bare concrete streets that formed a grid among them. A new city was growing on land that had once been held in trust by the Bureau of Land Management.
Suddenly a hawk plunged down from behind him and dove deep into the gorge before swooping up again and heading for the sky. Jordan felt his heart sing.
Turning to Aditi, Jordan said, "This is one of my favorite places on Earth."
The glare-blocking contact lenses she wore had turned dark, yet he saw the question in her eyes. Pointing down into the gorge, Aditi said, "There's certainly nothing like this on New Earth."
"Your Predecessors built New Earth," Jordan replied. "This old Earth has been shaped by natural forces, over billions of years."
She arched a brow at him. "It seems to me that you humans have done your share of changing your planet."
"True enough," Jordan admitted ruefully. "True enough."
He looked out at the growing city of gleaming white solar-powered homes. They were being built for the tide of refugees displaced by the global climate shift. To Jordan they looked like an invading alien army that had come to claim the once-inviolate emptiness.
Leaning over the bridge's rail again, he stared down into the gorge and at the river glittering far below. Nearly two hundred years had passed since he'd last been at this spot, Jordan told himself. So much had happened. So much was changing.
Jordan smiled down at the river. Sadly. Despite the climate shifts that had drowned seacoasts and flooded cities all over the world, despite the new towns built for the refugees, the Rio Grande still flowed its age-old course from the mountains to the distant Gulf of Mexico — which had grown into an inland sea that was threatening to split North America in two.
Age cannot wither her, Jordan quoted to himself, nor custom stale her infinite variety. Not so, he realized. Even the Rio Grande would soon be changed to suit the needs of the people driven from their homes, their lives, by the greenhouse floods. They're going to divert the river to provide aqueducts and drinking water for the newly built cities, so that the newcomers can water the lawns they were going to plant and flush their toilets.
With a shake of his head, Jordan straightened and turned to his wife.
"Seen enough?" he asked.
"I suppose so."
"Let's go, then." Eyeing the growing line of stopped traffic, he added, "Before things turn ugly."
As if in answer, a car horn bleated angrily from down the line.
With Aditi at his side he started walking back to his car — and his responsibilities. He had traveled to a planet circling another star to find her and rebuild his life. Now he had returned to Earth to tell the people of his birthworld that there were other intelligent creatures scattered among the stars. And that they all faced an implacable wave of death sweeping through the stars toward them.
Jordan turned to one of the security agents that walked a respectful few meters from him and Aditi. "Let's get to the airport; we've caused enough bad feelings here."
The young man — trim, athletic, wearing an off-white summer-weight jacket and tan chinos — glanced at the line of waiting vehicles. "You're an important person, Mr. Kell. They can wait until you're ready to go."
"I'm sure each one of them feels that he's important, too."
The security officer shrugged and said, "Yeah, maybe so." Then he sprinted ahead and opened the door of the unmarked sedan they were approaching.
Jordan stopped at the parked car and looked up into the bright, cloudless sky. He knew that death was racing toward planet Earth at the speed of light.
How did it come to this? he asked himself. How can I save them all?CHAPTER 3
Anita Halleck watched Jordan Kell's impulsive visit to the Rio Grande Gorge from her office in the palatial headquarters of the world government.
Alone in the imposing office, she leaned back in her sculpted desk chair and stared intently at the three-dimensional viewer built into the opposite wall.
The satellite cameras showed the man and his alien woman clearly enough, and the smoothly competent team of security men and women escorting them.
Why did Kell want to see this particular place? she asked herself. Not merely view it holographically, but actually, physically go there. With the woman. What's he up to?
Halleck had taken pains to ensure that Jordan Kell and his alien wife were insulated from the world's news media. Everything about the returning interstellar explorers was carefully controlled. They were guarded night and day, protected from the prying eyes and excitable voices of the news media. And the ignorant public. Already there were fanatics babbling their fears of an alien invasion.
And there was Kell, strolling like a stupid tourist through the rough semi-desert country baking under the cloudless sunshine of New Mexico. He seemed to be searching for something as he peered down from the bridge into the river, which glinted in the sun as it surged between the rock walls of the gorge it had carved.
What's he after? Halleck asked herself again. He's scheduled to report to the Council here tomorrow, and he's off daydreaming in some miserable scrubland. He certainly doesn't appear to be troubled by this message of death he claims to be bringing back from Sirius.
And the woman, this alien from Sirius. She definitely looks human. He claims she's as human as any one of us. But how can that be true? She's from another world, circling a different star. He's fallen in love with her, and love can make the most intelligent man behave like a fool.
Like Jordan Kell, Anita Halleck had been born more than two centuries earlier. Unlike Kell, she had spent all her years awake and active — except for the few months she had been dead.
Killed in the crash of a rocket hopper craft on the Moon, Halleck had been saved and restored to life by the medical miracle of nanotherapy. Her body was filled with virus-sized nanomachines that repaired her mangled organs, knitted her broken bones, and guarded her against infections like an almost-intelligent immune system.
Nanotechnology was totally banned on Earth. While lunar communities such as Selene depended on nanotechnology for their very survival on the airless Moon, the people of Earth — some twenty billion of them — feared the possibility of nanomachines gone wild, devouring everything in their path like an unstoppable wave of mindless destruction.
Truth to tell, there were plenty of criminals and fanatics and out-and-out lunatics among those twenty billion who would unleash a nanomachine plague for profit or passion or merely the insane notoriety of slaughtering millions. When Anita Halleck recovered from her temporary death, she learned that the nanotech ban meant she could never return to the world of her birth.
It was Douglas Stavenger, the founder and mastermind of the lunar nation Selene, who convinced Halleck to use her brains and drive in politics. Earth had been hit by a second wave of greenhouse warming, the Greenland and Antarctic ice caps were melting down, coastal cities all across the globe were being flooded, millions of refugees sought shelter, food, hope.
Excerpted from Death Wave by Ben Bova. Copyright © 2015 Ben Bova. Excerpted by permission of Tom Doherty Associates.
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Table of Contents
Rio Grande Gorge,
Taos, New Mexico,
World Council Headquarters,
The Death Wave,
First Things First,
Tarragona Air Force Base,
New York City,
Tarragona Air Force Base,
World Council Headquarters,
World Council Headquarters,
Barcelona, El Prat Airport,
Walter James Edgerton,
Nordquist and Stavenger,
Griffin and Otero,
Otero Studio Six,
Otero Studio Six,
Plans of Attack,
Stone Walls Do Not a Prison Make ...,
... Nor Iron Bars a Cage,
Love Your Enemies,
Seeds of Doubt (1),
Seeds of Doubt (2),
Rise and Strike,
Epilogue: Six Years Later,
About the Author,
Tor Books by Ben Bova,
Most Helpful Customer Reviews
Excellent read. Bova never fails to please.
I picked this book up with low expectations, however I should have had higher ones. Ben Bova's Death Wave has astounded me. The cut-throat politics in this book were what kept me hooked, and there was a twist at every turn. I will gladly recommend this book to anyone who loves either science-fiction and politics.