Jul 16 2013 4:00pm
Heaven’s War (Excerpt)
Check out Heaven’s War, the second book in a science-fiction thriller series by David S Goyer and Michael Cassutt. Heaven’s War is available now from Tor (UK) and Ace (US). You can also read an excerpt from the first novel in the series, Heaven’s Shadow, here.
When an unidentified object is spotted hurtling towards Earth, two rival teams race to claim it. But the affectionately-named “Keanu” conceals dangerous secrets. Instead of barren rock, astronauts discover a giant ship with an extra-terrestrial crew. A ship with a mission and a message: help us. A brave new frontier beckons, but it comes at a price.
Without explanation, small groups of humans are transported from earth’s scientific communities to Keanu’s interior. Their first task is to stay alive. Their second, to explore their new home and locate their keepers. But above all, as the ship starts to break down around them, they must figure out why they were brought here and forge a path home.
No one’s going to read this, I guess. Not even me. But it has to be done.
Slate battery power is better than it used to be. If I’m careful, I might have two days with it. (It’ll last longer because I’m not using the Net, ever again.)
Anyway, here’s what I know: I’m Pav Radhakrishnan, and I’m 16. Last week two spacecraft, one from NASA commanded by Zack Stewart, and the other from the Coalition of India-Brazil-Russia commanded by my father, Taj, landed on the Near-Earth Object named Keanu… and everything went to shit. First, it turned out that there were aliens living on Keanu as well as human beings. And these human beings were people who were killed on Earth—including Stewart’s wife, Megan, and a girl named Camilla. Pretty fucking weird.
Then two of the NASA astronauts got killed and one of the Brahmans. No one’s quite sure how or why, but they’re gone.
Brahma got blown up.
Eventually four of the survivors, including my father, managed to get aboard the Destiny spacecraft and head back to Earth.
Two days ago me and about a hundred other people from Bangalore got abducted from Earth by a big white balloon thing, some kind of spaceship sent by the Near-Earth Object Keanu. Wrong place, wrong time, story of my young life. About eighty other people got collected from Houston, Texas, too.
We’re all here now, trying to figure out what the hell we do now—how do we eat, sleep, live? Oh, yeah: Who grabbed us and why?
And how do we get away from them?
It’s weird to think I’m never going to see my father again, and that we were really just passing each other in space.
I’m going to call this the Keanu-pedia. Correction: No one HUMAN is ever going to read this.
KEANU-PEDIA BY PAV, ENTRY #1
The days no longer had meaning. Even in the space beyond the barrier between the Prisoner and its former habitat, the cycle of light/lesser light/lesser dark/full dark/light had been irregular. The Keepers had almost certainly been manipulating it.
But now even that false rhythm was missing. Here one could rely only on the subtle gradations of the barrier’s temperatures. Touch warm: light. Touch cold: dark.
A poor method of keeping time, especially when keeping time was the only activity available.
There was food—barely enough to sustain life, nowhere near sufficient to give one energy for action. Waste simply drained away.
It was almost certainly another stratagem by the Keepers: to keep a being alive indefinitely, but useless, able only to measure the dimensions of the living space, to create fantastical scenarios of revenge, then to sleep and dream.
Then, somewhere in the next cycle, to repeat.
Even the revenge fantasies had long grown old and too familiar. Lately, in the past six cycles, they had given way to reconciliation dreams!
To consider reconciliation with the Keepers—that was a sure sign of madness, and a cause for terror… What came after that? Complete mental collapse?
Fortunately, there had been an interruption… sharp vibrations through the floor and walls that allowed the Prisoner to reconnect with the physical universe, no matter how limited.
Revenge scenarios were once again dominant. There was much touching of the walls, in search of temperature data and now more vibrations.
Something was happening beyond the chamber. Whether bad or good, it was welcome… if only because it meant change.
Where was it?
The question played in Zack Stewart’s mind like an annoying ad jingle. And those three words had been present all through the past seventyodd hours… hours that were very odd indeed, if, in fact, they even numbered seventy…
Formerly a typical middle-aged American male of less than average height and weight, often dressed in khakis and polo shirts, he had become a haggard-looking man in stained and soiled long johns. Designed to be worn under a NASA EVA suit, said long johns were actually a garment filled with small plastic tubes through which water circulated. The outfit was now the only tangible reminder of Zack’s former life as an astronaut. Or as an inhabitant of planet Earth.
His life before Keanu.
Lacking a mirror and able to feel the ragged stubble on his face, he suspected that he now looked like a cartoon castaway, which, come to think of it, was exactly his state. Stranded on the interplanetary equivalent of a desert island—
Steady, he told himself. You’ve been running on fumes for a week. You’re stranded on a runaway planetoid. Your choices are… find the exit from this habitat while still breathing.
Or lie down and die.
Even that decision wasn’t simple: Death on Keanu, anywhere around Keanu, didn’t seem to be permanent, or not immediately permanent.
Maybe that whole life-death-what-have-you business was why he kept looking for the way out.
Because of Megan. The last he’d seen of his wife, she had been swallowed up by a rogue Sentry and carried off to certain death. An hour later, Zack had had to fight a Sentry… The same one? He’d thought so at the time.
Now… he wasn’t so sure.
Of course now, he was five days more exhausted, five days less fed. Five days more distracted.
Because two days after losing Megan, after killing that Sentry, 187 people had arrived on Keanu. According to them, they had been literally scooped from the surface of the Earth and carried across almost half a million kilometers in a pair of giant objects that resembled soap bubbles—
“Great number,” Harley Drake had said. “One eighty-seven is the section of the California Penal Code for murder.” Harley was Zack’s best friend, a fellow astronaut who had been crippled in the auto accident that killed Megan Stewart (for the first time, he had to remind himself, two years before the Destiny mission), only to somehow wind up on Keanu, too.
It was clear from the moment the 187 arrived that, beyond what they wore or carried, they had no clothing, few tools, no shelter, not even a common language. There was food on Keanu—the habitat had obviously been designed for creatures from Earth, but which era? There were edible plants, but few that Zack recognized. And how long would those supplies last? What nasty parasites or Keanu-specific bacteria were waiting to strike humans living on the Keanu diet of fruits and vegetables?
There was also a lack of organization and leadership. Plenty of candidates, but to what end? Questions like “Can we go home?” or “Are we stuck here forever?” couldn’t be answered.
Zack was the human race’s expert on Keanu—a title he would gladly have relinquished, given the shallowness of his expertise.
Not that it stopped everyone, including Harley, from bombarding him with questions, questions, questions.
Maybe that was another reason to go walkabout: for the sweet moment of silence.
There was also shame and nagging responsibility; the castaways’ presence here was largely due to Zack’s actions as commander of Destiny-7 . Zack had seen the anger in more than a few of their faces. How long before someone picked up a rock and clubbed him to death, just for the sheer catharsis?
So, yes, Zack had wanted to get away from them.
Even from his own daughter, one of the miraculously improbable new immigrants. Well, not so improbable: Harley Drake had been her guardian. If Harley got himself nabbed, Rachel couldn’t have been far away. And Zack had since learned that the reality was the opposite: it was actually Rachel’s fault that the pair had wound up in the not-somagic 187.
But, much as he cherished the contact with his daughter, Zack feared the road ahead. Rachel’s life—just like the lives of all humans on Keanu— might turn out to be nasty, brutish, and short.
Wouldn’t it have been better to leave his daughter to a full life on Earth? She’d have been an orphan… but she’d have learned to deal with it.
Another reason to beat himself up.
He needed to think. He needed to take stock.
He needed to explore.
During the horrible end game of the First Contact on Keanu, in which his crewmates had been forced to leave him, in which Megan had been killed a second time… Zack had seen what he could only call Keanu’s “Factory.” He had walked the broad “streets” of this second habitat, marveled at its mysterious but somehow functional structures.
He knew that answers to their situation, and tools to improve it, were likely to be found there.
If only he could reach it.
So, as one of the vaguely defined Keanu days ended (the light in the habitat did not change much), Zack had simply slipped away and headed back toward the tunnel to the Factory… a distance surely less than a couple of kilometers.
And now here he was, as alone as any human being in history, and as vulnerable… painfully and slowly working his way along one wall of the habitat… its farthest reach almost misty in the distance, surely ten or more kilometers away, at the end of the chamber.
In best Boy Scout fashion, Zack had managed to find traces of his earlier passage, when carrying Camilla in that frantic escape. The ground surface was a nanotech-based regolith, but it acted like hard-packed dirt.
And, in places, not so hard-packed. Here were their tracks, un mistakable.
But as far as he could determine, the tunnel he had used to reach the Factory was simply gone! It was like a scene from some episode of the Arabian Nights—as if a giant stone door now blocked his escape.
Had there actually been a door, Zack might have been able to locate the spot where the passage used to be… some fine crack or edge.
One thing he had been able to do with his spare time was to create a three-dimensional image of Keanu in his head… the Near-Earth Object was a sphere more than a hundred kilometers in diameter. Zack’s crew and the competing Coalition Brahma team had landed near Vesuvius Vent, one of many craters on Keanu’s icy-rocky surface. Vesuvius had been located near Keanu’s equator; both teams had descended through the vent, then traversed subterranean tunnels that had given them access to this habitat.
Zack pictured a fat cylinder running from surface to core… but that could be wrong: The habitat might just as easily lie at angles to the core.
No matter. He and the others were inside it, until they figured some way out. They couldn’t go back the way they had come—Zack’s team had entered through a passage that was exposed to the vacuum of Keanu’s surface. And while the information from the 187 new arrivals was still jumbled, it appeared that they, too, had come to the habitat via a one-way system.
Well, Keanu’s environment had changed twice in the week Zack had been part of it. Plant growth, sky, temperatures, everything seemed variable, as if programmed by a machine somewhere (likely the case) or, a more horrible thought, entirely at random.
There was no reason to think Keanu’s environment would stay the same. A passage that had been open five days ago was now closed, as if the habitat were some kind of Rubik’s Cube. Bad news for Zack.
But who was to say it might not open again?
Besides, Zack was so unsure of his directional abilities and perceptions that he made a second, broader sweep of the area near the wall. With his back to it, he ranged a couple of hundred meters to his left, back toward the Temple and the other humans… and found no opening or, indeed, anything but more wall.
So he retraced his steps and marched forward, deeper into the habitat. It was as if his mood sank with every ten meters. It wasn’t distance from the other survivors that caused it… it was the realization that his moment of freedom, adventure, and exploration was about to end.
He was going to have to go back, to resume his unwanted post as titular “leader.”
And he felt completely unequipped for either role—
He stopped. The light inside the Keanu habitat was never as bright as noon on Earth; at its best, it was equivalent to a cloudy morning.
So Zack couldn’t be sure what he was seeing… some kind of object not far ahead, up against the wall, that was not a plant or tree, and not shaped like the rocks here, either.
He began to run, the tubes in his long johns making clicking and zipping sounds, like corduroy pants—
Then he stopped, because he suddenly knew what he was seeing less than five meters away.
It was the body of a human female so mangled it appeared to have almost been torn in two. It reminded Zack of some classic crime photo— California again, the Blue… or was it the Black Dahlia?
Only this wasn’t some stranger unlucky enough to be the victim of a crime.
This was Megan, his reborn wife… killed a second time by a Sentry. She had sacrificed herself so that Zack and Camilla could live.
He knelt, noting with some relief—the only relief he could summon— that her eyes were closed and her features seemed peaceful.
Zack had already gone through the horror of seeing Megan dead once before, after the auto accident in Florida. That time she—her body— had been intact. But her expression had been different; colder, deader somehow.
This face was more… resigned? Accepting? Knowing?
Stop it. He was projecting. He needed to be practical. He couldn’t leave her like this—
Not far from the wall he found a stand of trees with giant, fanlike leaves. There were similar trees near the Temple, and one of the survivors had already dubbed them “ginkgos.”
Zack stripped off several leaves and several lengths of vine.
He returned to Megan’s body and set about the heartbreaking task of rearranging the remains… then gently wrapping them for transport.
Zack might not have found the passage, but he’d found closure.
Heaven’s War © David Goyer and Michael Cassutt 2012