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Cradle of Saturn
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Sariena rose and moved toward one of the sliding glass panels that had been opened. Keene picked up a chair and followed her along the balcony to a corner, away from the others who were outside talking. Keene placed the chair by the wall and leaned an elbow on the rail while Sariena sat down. He began: "The person that I mentioned is on the inside here. And I've seen something myself today of what reactions are going to be." He shook his head. "Earth isn't going to buy this line about Venus being an earlier Athena. Yes, Athena happened and the standard theories were wrong. Nobody can deny that. But they’re going to fight any suggestion that the two have anything in common. As far as they’re concerned Venus is a planet and moves like a planet. Athena is a one-time anomaly that will be a spectacle for a year until it leaves the Solar System, and then it’ll be forgotten, except as something for astronomers to write papers about . . ." Keene paused, thinking for a second that Sariena wasn’t listening. She was sitting back against the window glass, staring up at the sky with an faraway, almost rapturous expression.

"I love stars," she said.

Keene looked away and turned his head upward. "Polli told me we don’t have any," he replied. It was a clear night, not bad by Washington standards. The angle of the walls faced roughly north, making just a wisp of Athena’s tail visible behind the building to their left. It only occurred to Keene then that until the last couple of days, Sariena’s only recollections of seeing a sky had probably been from inside some kind of enclosure or a helmet.

"Paltry," she agreed. "But you know that, Lan. You've been out there too. . . . But what you've never seen is Saturn from one of its moons. This sky has nothing to compare with it. Pictures don't come close—any more than they can show sunshine. It's like . . ." she turned her face up again, "all the rainbows you've ever seen stirred together into a glowing ball ten times as big as the Moon. And you're looking at it across the rings seen edge-on. It seems to be floating in a golden ocean that extends away into the sky. If you're on one of the moons that has a tilted orbit, the ocean seems to be rising and falling." Sariena looked back at him. "Did you know that there are all sorts of legends from the distant past—before the beginnings of our literate age, like those people that Catherine was talking about—that make Saturn the greatest god in the sky and describe it as rising out of an ocean? Isn't that strange? It's almost as if they’d seen it too." Keene frowned at the city lights, searching for a way of turning the subject back to more immediate matters. "Can you pick out Saturn in the sky?" Sariena asked him.

"Er, no. . . . I guess not. It isn't really one of my things."

"Not many people can—nor any of the other planets. And isn't that strange too? They're such insignificant pinpoints in the sky that most people can't even find them. And yet in just about every system of religion and myth from times gone by, they filled people with awe and terror and were associated with gods fighting titanic battles in the sky—mightier even than the Sun and Moon. Why would that be?" Sariena went on before Keene could respond, "Because the planets moved in different orbits then, that brought them much closer."

She hadn’t strayed off the subject, he realized. It was just a roundabout way of addressing the issue he had raised.

She went on, "They saw Venus being ejected by Jupiter. To the Greeks it was Pallas Athene springing from the brow of Zeus. The Hindus have Vishnu being born of Shiva. The Egyptians, Horus. All names for the same planets, associated with events in the sky that are described the same way everywhere, over and over. Now tell me that Athena isn’t the same thing happening again."

"You don’t have to convince me," Keene said. "I’m already on your side, remember? But the scientists who’ll determine what our governments decide aren’t interested in old myths and legends. They’re going to want to see facts and evidence and numbers before they’ll budge, and none of them wants to budge because they’re happy with the ideas they’ve got and making secure, comfortable livings with things the way they are."

Sariena looked at Keene dubiously. "Is that really all that matters here?" she asked. "Comfortable livings and safe jobs? Prestige and promotions? Don’t things like where we’re all heading in the longer term, and wanting to know the truth count?"

"Maybe they did once—I don’t know; you hear these things. But people have always thought things were better in the past. Today, the creed is ‘make what you can now and grab as much as you can get.’ There might not be a tomorrow."

"One day, could might turn out to be a gruesome self-fulfilling prophesy," Sariena observed. "I don’t understand how a system can function that seems to be based on nothing but antagonism."

Keene smiled humorlessly. "Most people here can’t understand how your system can, that isn’t."

"We couldn’t afford anything else out there," Sariena said. "Everyone’s survival is at stake. We have to work together. And look what it’s achieving." She paused, waiting, but Keene had nothing to add just then. After a short silence, she said, "Of course there’s more than just the ancient myths and records. They’re just the beginning. We do have as much fact and evidence as anyone could reasonably need. Otherwise we wouldn't be here."

"We know about the mass-extinctions and geological upheavals," Keene agreed. "But there are plenty of other theories going around as to what could have caused all that. How do you positively connect it all with Venus?"

"Venus is a young planet," Sariena answered. "It hasn’t been there for billions of years. The evidence has been piling up for decades. A lot of scientists on Earth that we know of are aware of it."

"I’ll be meeting one of them on my way back," Keene said. "But even if you’re right, that doesn’t mean it nearly sideswiped Earth. That’s the biggest single problem you’re going to have to deal with: how an orbit that could take it from Jupiter to an Earth-encounter could circularize to what we see today. All of conventional theory says it couldn’t happen. That’s why people here are saying that Athena is something different. No mechanism known to science could reduce its eccentricity to almost zero in under four thousand years. That’s what they’re going to tell you. How are you planning on answering it?"

Sariena studied him for a moment. "Do you know about the electromagnetic changes that have been occurring all over the Solar System since Athena was ejected?" she asked curiously.

Keene looked at her uncertainly. "Electromagnetic changes to what?"

"The space environment itself. It properties are being altered."

Keene was still frowning, but with a new interest. "No . . ." He told her. "I don’t think I do. Suppose you tell me."

"I don’t think it’s something that scientists in general here are informed about," Sariena answered. "Earth hasn’t been putting enough deep-space probes out to get the picture. We have. We must be getting a better perspective."

"What’s been happening?" Keene asked.

Sariena motioned upward with an arm to indicate the night sky. "This white-hot mass, hurtling in from Jupiter for the last ten months, pouring out a tail of highly ionized particles that extends for millions of miles, orders of magnitude denser than that of any comet ever known. . . . It’s turning space in the inner Solar System into an electrically active medium—at least, temporarily. Now move a in incandescent body in a plasma state through that medium at high velocity. . . ." She left the suggestion unfinished.

The expression on Keene’s face told her there was no need to say anymore. A charged body moving through an electrically active medium would be subject to forces that in those conditions could conceivably rival or even exceed gravity. Forces that conventional astronomic theory, based on the assumption of a pre-Athena, electrically quiescent Solar System, had never taken into account.

Sariena nodded, seeing that Keene had made the connection. "Our scientists in Kronia have been running some calculations. The preliminary results came in to the Osiris just before we came down to the surface. They’re being rechecked before we present anything here officially. But perhaps you could arrange for them to be duplicated independently here on Earth as well—the more confirmation we get, the better. We’ll give you the codes to access the files of original data from our probes. I think you’ll find the results interesting."

 
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