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CHAPTER ONE
Einstein's theory of gravitation, better know as General Relativity, revolutionized physics by interpreting gravity as an effect arising from geometry. Basically, the presence of mass induces a curvature into the structure of space and time that determines the paths that moving objects, light, and other forms of mass-energy follow. A common analogy to illustrate the idea imagines a cannonball resting on a stretched rubber sheet, creating a dish-shaped depression. A marble introduced to roll frictionlessly around at some equilibrium level does so not because the cannonball send out an invisible "force" to attract it, but because the geometry of the space that it is moving in constrains it to.

In the 1950s, a German physicist by the name of Burkhard Heim, who had been badly crippled by a laboratory accident in the course of his work during World War 2, investigated the problem of reconciling General Relativity with quantum theory, which while immensely successful in predicting experimental results, seemed incompatible in terms of many of its basic concepts and requirements. Heim's approach involved a geometrical interpretation of the electromagnetic force similar to the way in which General Relativity had treated gravity. It turned out as requiring two extra dimensions in addition to the earlier theory's four. In them, it became possible to interconvert gravitational and electromagnetic energy, one to another. Extensions of Heim's work carried out in the first decade of the twenty-first century introduced a further two dimensions, bringing the total to eight, and required two new types of force previously unknown to physics. An implication that Heim had not really pursued was that a suitably equipped vessel could exploit these new realms of existence to travel between points without physically traversing the dimensions of ordinary space in between--analogous in a superficial way to air travel enabling journeys from one point to another at speeds much higher than anything attainable on the ground. When detailed studies produced the startling revelation that the transit times implied worked out at somewhere in the order of a few hours from Earth to Mars, and perhaps a couple of months for distances measured in tens of light years, experimental work began in earnest, and practical demonstrations took place within a decade. The long-speculated interstellar "hyper-drive" had arrived.

Exploration of other star systems and discoveries of new worlds followed with astonishing rapidity. Those who for many years had thought and written about humanity one day expanding across the Solar System and beyond had envisioned it as beginning an epoch of unparalleled scientific advancement and adventure. However, such was the nature of the powers who controlled these enterprises that the prime motivation behind the missions sent to open up the new frontier was the insatiable demand of the predatory beast that the global economic system had become for more resources to exploit and new outlets to "develop" for the further generation of profit.

A major player in the race to acquire assets and create fresh markets--either in the form of suitably advanced and susceptible native populations, where such opportunities presented themselves, or by promoting Terran emigration and colonization--was Interworld Restructuring Consolidated, with headquarters functions distributed across offices in China, Japan, Europe, the Central Arabic Federation, and North America. Alien native cultures, however, were not always immediately appreciative of the benefits that would flow from such interference in their affairs, and one of the attractions for Terrans who chose to emigrate tended to be the prospect of being left alone and enjoying greater independence. It was therefore regrettable but unavoidable that to recoup a reasonable return on the expenditure and effort that had been put into a venture, the corporations that had been entrusted with protecting their investors' interests sometimes found it necessary to apply forcible measures when irrational opposition was encountered, or threats to order and security put the maintaining of sound policy at risk. Hence it followed that Interworld Restructuring was also a major contractor for the services of Milicorp.

* * *

Rath Borland was a small, sinewy man with a shock of black hair and gnarled features that gave the impression of having accumulated over greater than his actual number of years, which were somewhere in the late forties. A woman on the marketing executive staff had once confided to Callen that he put her in mind of a "simian walnut," which seemed to fit well. Like many small men, Borland overcompensated by being generally more contentious than circumstances required, and displaying an insistence on being assertive, even when it didn't matter. This was especially true when dealing with men like Callen, who were bigger physically and capable of projecting a certain social charisma when it suited their ends.

As far as Callen was concerned, this didn't affect their working relationship one way or another. Despite his four years of deputizing for Borland, the feelings between them had never acquired a measure that went beyond the purely professional. Earlier phases of Callen's career had involved work in intelligence and industrial espionage that had left him with few delusions about the world of corporate realities that lay behind the public imagery. As a professional, he acknowledged Borland's capacity for objective analysis and ability to exercise intellectual detachment in the pursuit of the efficiency that the stockholders expected. Both of them had passed on the order for the execution of the prisoners taken at Tiwa Jaku with the same impartiality. Should the corporation's objectives ever so require it, Callen could have arranged for Borland's assassination , with equal dispassion.

They met in Borland's office suite on the penthouse level of the Milicorp headquarters skyscraper dominating the eastern fringes of the sprawl extending from San Jose. Borland stood by the picture window that formed one wall of the office area, looking out over sparsely built hillsides toward the Alum Rock launch complex a few miles away--although Heim drives were not generally used for surface-to-orbit shuttling, more efficient, sustained-thrust nuclear engines and ground-based power lasers had made obsolete the blast zones and remote siting associated with the earlier chemically propelled behemoths. Callen listened from a chair turned away from the conference table on the far side of the room from Borland's desk, his elbows spread easily, one foot crossed over the opposite knee. The decor was angularly geometric, with the furnishings all of black leather and chrome. Visitors sometimes commented that the atmosphere it imparted seemed cold and harsh. Borland said it symbolized Milicorp's commitment to detachment and efficiency.

"When probes sent back the first surveys and profile reports, the people at Interworld thought they had an ideal situation."

Borland was referring to a recently discovered planet that had been named Cyrene, orbiting a Sunlike star called Ra Alpha, which with a smaller, redder companion known as Ra Beta constituted a binary system in the constellation of Canis Minor. Its abundant life included a humanoid race--surprising to some but, as it turned out, not uncommon--that in what appeared to be the most progressive region had produced a culture roughly comparable to that of Europe in the 18th century. This made it ripe for an introduction to the benefits of more advanced methods, along with innovative ways of extracting from the populace the wherewithal to pay for them.

Borland went on, "So they organized a follow-up mission that included an ambassador and a diplomatic staff in addition to all the usual scientists, mapmakers, et cetera. That was about eight months ago now. The trip out took close to two months. As far as anyone can tell, they seem to have arrived in good shape. But before they'd been there for another two, the whole operation was coming apart."
Callen's brow creased. "Coming apart?" he repeated. "How do you mean?"

Borland turned from the window and made a throwing-away gesture. "Disintegrating. The reports back started getting fewer and fewer, and what did come through wasn't making any sense. People started saying that the mission objectives were all wrong or didn't matter, and talking about needing time to 'rethink values'--whatever that's supposed to be about. I'm talking about experienced Interworld task-group directors and project managers, not a few academics with some cuckoo-land theory of sociology who went along for the ride. Then they started disappearing--first the scientists; pretty soon it was everybody. Before long it didn't seem there were enough left in the base to run the communications properly. As I said, it was all coming apart."

Callen frowned while Borland waited for a reaction. There had been a few cases of disaffected groups taking off to fend for themselves in uninhabited wilderness worlds, and one instance that he knew of where a religious sect who helped set up a colony among a population of primitive tribes had decided to go native and departed from the Terran settlement to spread their word. So long as the numbers were small and not sufficient to affect the main enterprise to any significant degree, the normal policy was to let them go. With scant resources at their disposal, the Terran authorities took the attitude that if there was discontent wanting to express itself and potentially disruptive energy that needed dissipating, everyone would be better off if they did so elsewhere. In any case, anything that helped spread Terrans and their ways farther abroad could only be good for business in the long run. But he had never heard of anything on this kind of scale, affecting virtually the entire mission.

"What kind of values were these people talking about?" Callen asked at length.

"You tell me." Borland made an exaggerated display of showing both hands.

"What did we get from the SFC?" Callen asked. Since Interworld was a client, the mission would have carried an armed Milicorp contingent for security and defense. The Milicorp Security Force Commander would be able to communicate directly with headquarters at San Jose, independently of Interworld's regular channels.

"He was a general officer, second star," Borland said. "Name of Paurus."

Callen shook his head. "Can't say I know him."

"It doesn't matter much. He vanished somewhere across Cyrene, along with just about all of his unit. It's lucky for the rest of the mission that the natives don't seem to have much inclination toward hostilities. The coop's wide open, and the guard dog has gone AWOL."

"The whole unit?" Callen looked disbelieving. "You mean it even got to our people too? Along with their officers?" This was serious. That the subject was not general knowledge within Milicorp, and even Callen had not been brought into it before now despite his executive status, was no great cause for surprise. Extra-terrestrial development demanded high stakes with a prospect of high returns, at high risk. Information that could deter or unnerve investors was treated as highly sensitive and dispensed strictly on need-to-know basis.

"It gets worse." Borland moved from the window to his desk, and turned to support himself in a half-sitting position against the edge, arms folded. "A second follow-up mission was thrown together at short notice and arrived at Cyrene on a ship called the Boise a little over a month ago. The Milicorp SFC was Carl Janorski."

This time Callen nodded. "I know him. He was in charge of the air strikes we ran in the Zaire coup a couple of years ago." Callen had been there to handle Milicorp's ground liaison. On that occasion the rebels had been supported by funding from South American drug sources and been able to outbid the government, which had resulted in a regime change.

Borland nodded. "That's the one. This time we kept careful tabs, and again everything indicated that they arrived in good shape. . . . And now the same thing is happening again."

"Even with someone like Carl there? I don't believe it!"

"He's still at Revo base, sure enough. But the person they sent as Director--a guy called Emner, who was supposed to find the previous ambassador--is saying he can't follow the policy directives because whoever dreamed it up at Interworld doesn't understand the situation. Meanwhile, the scientists have started taking off. It's the same story."

"And no-one knows why?"

"No-one knows why--and Interworld are in panic mode. And since we provided the security on both missions, we're not only involved contractually but our professional image is at stake." Borland paused. A big part of Callen's job was being called in as the Mr. Fixit when regular measures failed. He had already recognized the pattern. There was no need for him to say anything. He nodded resignedly and waited for Borland to spell it out. "A ship called the Tacoma is being made ready for a relief mission to Cyrene to see what can be salvaged. We're putting together a team to investigate what the hell's been going on there, and I want you to head it up, Myles. Take a day's break to unwind after this Tiwa Jaku business. Then we want you back here to start briefing on what's being put together. Liftout from Earth orbit is scheduled six days from now. What kind of situation you're likely to find when you get there, I've no idea."

Callen made a face. "If it's a two-month trip, then if things can deteriorate as fast as you've indicated, nobody could have." He made a so-so shrug and curled his lip cynically. "Okay, apart from the unknowns it sounds pretty straightforward."

Borland let things hang just long enough to give the impression that it might be that simple. Then, "There's one other thing," he said.

There always was. "Of course," Callen replied.

"Interworld has a considerable investment in the work of a research scientist called Evan Wade, who was one of the scientists who went missing from the first mission."

"What kind of work does he do?" Callen asked.

"Some kind of physics. He did private work on contract before enrolling for Cyrene, but in years gone by he was with the State University at Berkeley. He got himself a reputation there as something of a subversive with left-leaning ideas. Ran off-campus student meetings, organized demonstrations; that kind of thing. Interworld are concerned that he could be working some kind of deal with the Cyreneans to give away know-how for free that would enable them to develop the resources there themselves, which could undermine investment opportunities here. We need to keep relations with Interworld sweet. I want you to find this guy Wade and bring him back--by persuasion if possible, but forcibly if necessary."

"It doesn't sound as if he's likely to be very persuasively inclined," Callen commented. "What kind of leverage do I have to use? Anything?"

"Interworld claims that he still has unfulfilled contractual obligations with them," Borland replied. "The terms don't say anything about being nullified by jumping ship. You might be able to make something out of that. If not, as I said, do whatever you have to."

Callen got the impression that Borland held little stock for the first option and had mentioned it merely for form. Giving a direct order for abduction by force was not the approved management style. There was just one small but very pertinent point that hadn't been touched on. "That's fine," Callen said. "But do you have any suggestions on how to go about persuading him, one way or the other, if he's vanished?"

Borland had evidently been expecting it. "As a matter of fact, I do," he answered. Callen inclined his head in mild but genuine surprise. "Shortly after the Boise mission arrived--just before Wade disappeared--he filed a request for an assistant to be sent out to work with him at Cyrene. Details of the job spec found their way around the usual circuit, and one of the names that has applied is somebody called Marc Shearer, who as it so happens was Wade's colleague when Wade worked Berkeley. In fact, Shearer took over his work there after he left."

"Did they stay in touch?"

"Almost certainly. As a former faculty member, Wade worked deal that still gave him access to their lab facilities when he needed them."

Callen nodded slowly. "It sounds as if Wade and Shearer could have had it set up."

"Possibly. But that's beside the point. The point is that he's familiar with Wade's work, and they obviously get along. So it makes Shearer a natural to work with Wade on Cyrene. The disappearances on Cyrene haven't been widely reported, and so there's no reason for anyone to see anything amiss. A few words from the right people at Interworld will make sure that Shearer's application is approved, and that he's on his way a lot sooner that he expected."

"You mean with the Tacoma? In six days?"

"Sure. The wheels are already moving." Borland unfolded one arm to make a casual gesture in the air that said it was all that simple. "And when you get to Cyrene, Shearer will lead you to Wade," he completed.

 
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