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After an initial period of adjustment and reorientation on Titan with other Terran survivors, Vicki and her son, Robin, fifteen at the time they came to Kronia, had settled at Kropotkin "city" on Dione, the original base site of the first settlers. Although somewhat glorified in name by the standards that would have designated a city back on Earth, Kropotkin did have the largest residential population in Kronia. After at first feeling as if she were regressing into some kind of human mole in its artificial, machine-supported environment, she had come to accept now that this would probably be home for the rest of her life. Not the home she had planned or imagined she would raise her son in after his father died in the Navy - but at least it was one where Robin would go on, as securely as could be asked for, to lead a full life. The visions of Earth with their midnight sweats and palpitations were fading now, although as with all who had come through it, the nightmare would never entirely be erased. To a large degree, her immersion in Kronian science was also a means of psychological escape.

She sat with Emil Farzhin and their two visitors in a subsurface room of the Planetary Sciences section of Kropotkin's Polysophic Academy. Vicki had a petite, wiry body that had preserved its leanness despite not working off energy constantly against Terran gravity, a freckled, angular face accentuated by a pointy nose and sharp chin, and light brown, almost orange hair that contracted into curls no matter how she tried to comb or wave it. She was never quite sure how to describe the Academy. It was a mixture of multi-discipline research institute and highschool. The classes that Robin had attended for the past three years were held in various parts of it.

As had been the case with Earth's Moon - now broken up and carried away by Athena - Dione orbited with the same side always facing its primary, and major impacts had so far been confined so far to the "prow" face. All the same, the surface portion of Kropotkin had suffered considerable damage from secondary ejecta, and the population had moved below ground as far as possible. The lines of the walls and ceiling were visibly off-square from distortion of the general structure by shock waves, and sounds of riveting and the intermittent shriek of a metal cutter came from beyond, where a work crew were restoring the corridor outside. Pressure-suit-and-helmet packs hung in a rack by the door, ready for immediate use; but everyone knew that a major strike even in the general vicinity would mean total obliteration.

Farzhin was a rotund, balding, one-time Iranian who headed a group that Vicki's interests had brought her into contact with at the Academy and eventually joined. His function embraced the roles that she thought of as private researcher and teacher. As Keene had found too, there was less formal structuring here than at the institutions she had been used to in her previous life. She hadn't applied or had to negotiate an obstacle course of bureaucracy, but just attached herself in a helping-out capacity to begin with, been judged acceptable, and ended up part of the team. The main work of Farzhin's group was reinvestigating the theory of Venus's early history based on new interpretations of the Indian Vedas, which constituted some of Earth's most ancient writings.

"We're not questioning that the Venus encounter happened," Vicki said. "But . . . I'm not sure how to put it. Whatever way we look at it, we can't avoid the conclusion that the timing in the standard account is wrong. We think there were two close passes with Earth, not one, and that they happened somewhere around two thousand years earlier than is generally believed."

Farzhin explained, "I'm sure that the hymn describing the birth of the mother goddess Aditi from Dyauspitar, which was Jupiter, refers to the ejection of Venus. This clearly parallels the Greek account of Pallas Athene springing from the brow of Zeus. But dating the event that the Greek version talks about has always involved a lot of guesswork. The Vedic records are more precise. The Rig Veda describes two devastating visits by the raging fire deity, Agni, in the years following. Although It doesn't specifically identify Agni as Aditi but calls him Aditya, which means son of Aditi, there are enough clues to link them as the same object. It has to be Venus in its white-hot, protoplanet phase. But the time of menace from Agni ended around 5100 years Before the Present."

The room had a scattering of chairs around a central table, a worktop along one side equipped with screens and a holo-viewer, and closets and drawers beneath. It was used for meetings and mini-conferences. Sariena sat across the table, still striking with her shoulder-length dark hair, dusky brown skin, and sultry, light gray eyes with their curious hint of opalescence, but looking tired. She was one of the Kronian planetary scientists that Vicki had gotten to know from a distance through working with Keene back on Earth, and then had come to Earth as part of the Kronian delegation sent to plead its case for a more vigorous and wider-ranging space effort.

Visiting along with Sariena was a former project manager from JPL in California called Charlie Hu. Of Oriental origins, in his fifties, with streaky graying hair and trimmed beard, he had come from Earth with the same group that had included Vicki and Keene. These days he was working with Sariena in one of the orbiting observatories on recomputing the changed Solar System dynamics - a risky undertaking these days in view of the exposure, but there was no other way for the work to get done. Charlie often said that he'd heard all there could be to make him revise beliefs that he had accepted as uncontroversial when he graduated in planetary astronomy long ago. Now, the look on his face was saying that the Kronians had sent his thinking into a whirl once again.

Sariena and Charlie had come to Kropotkin at Vicki's suggestion, to hear more about Farzhin's work. She hoped it would excite their interest sufficiently to bring it to the attention of the people they worked with, who represented the more mainstream view. Although the distances within the Saturnian moon system seemed vast compared to what Terrans had been accustomed to, the small gravity wells and high speeds of Kronian transorbital vessels put journey times about on par with jetting around Earth in former days.

Sariena regarded Farzhin at some length. Vicki could almost sense her checking over what he had said point by point. Finally, she said, "If Venus goes back that far . . . then it couldn't have been a newly created comet at the time of the Exodus."

Farzhin nodded. "I agree. But then I don't think that the Exodus event involved a newly created, planet-size comet. For one thing, it wasn't violent enough. Oh, the calamities that the accounts talk about were bad enough, yes - and the others things recorded around the world at that time. But they weren't on the kind of scale you'd expect with an object that hot, almost as big as Earth itself. Agni, on the other hand, was truly terrifying, searing the Earth, destroying whole regions totally. Humanity came close to being wiped out. In fact, I think that could have been what created the great desert belts - they still hadn't recovered, even after all that time. It's more what you'd expect."

Charlie Hu looked questioningly at Sariena. "You know, after seeing how violent the effects of Athena were compared to Exodus, I've wondered the same thing. This does sound more like proto-Venus." Sariena nodded but was still faraway in thought. Charlie looked back at Farzhin. "So are we talking about later encounters with Venus in a cooled-down phase? . . ." He frowned. "But no - you said there were only two."

"I tried fitting Venus with various later events that the Vedas describe, but it just didn't work," Farzhin said. "We chewed it over this way and that, trying to make sense of all the different things the ancient Sanskrit records talk about. And the upshot is, we think that the Exodus encounter was one of a different. series that happened later."

"Different?" Charlie repeated. "You mean with something else? Not Venus at all?"

"Exactly," Farzhin said.

"What, then?"

"We think it was Mars."

Sariena's expression barely changed, but her eyes interrogated him silently. Finally, she said, "That would change a lot of things that we thought we were sure about."

The current Kronian model had Venus approaching Earth periodically after the Exodus encounter to bring times of turmoil and unrest - but of reducing severity - until around the Roman era, when an interaction with Mars caused it to recede finally to the orbit found in modern times. However, Farzhin was saying that the interaction between Venus and Mars happened much earlier, and it was Mars, not Venus, that had continued to visit the Earth on a repeating basis thereafter. Vicki was impressed that Sariena was able so matter-of-factly to consider a proposition which, if true, would bring tumbling down a whole area of Kronian planetary science that she herself had spent years helping to put together. A comparable reaction from the halls of Terran academia would have been all but unthinkable.

"What led you to think of Mars?" Charlie Hu asked curiously.

"Various lines in the Sanskrit texts that fit too neatly to be a coincidence," Farzhin replied. He smiled faintly. "But one of the things that first pointed us in that direction was Robin."

Sariena looked puzzled. "You mean Vicki's son?"

"Robin?" Charlie repeated.

"He was in one of my classes," Farzhin said. "Some time after he and Vicki arrived in Kropotkin, he came to me with ancient depictions of the deity Shiva that we had been discussing, and pointed out how they could describe features on the surface of Mars. And he was right. The similarities were uncanny."

"It's the kind of thing he comes up with." Vicki sighed resignedly, at the same time shrugging in a way that was almost apologetic.

"We'll show you some examples later of what I mean," Farzhin said. "They fit with things in the Egyptian, Sumerian, and Greek accounts too."

"But this is where we need your input," Vicki told Sariena and Charlie. "Why I wanted you to come here and talk about this. You're the orbital mechanics specialists. We've just been looking at ancient mythologies - and maybe reading too much into them. Tell us if something along the lines of what we think happened is possible."

Sariena and Charlie glanced at each other. Clearly, they were interested. "Try us," Sariena invited.

Vicki looked at Farzhin, but he nodded for her to carry on. She began, "Venus came out of Jupiter on a highly eccentric orbit - possibly sun-grazing, like Athena. After the two close flybys that scorched Earth, it commenced a series of interactions with Mars, which originally occupied an orbit inside Earth's."

"Inside Earths orbit?" Charlie repeated, raising his eyebrows. They nodded. Sariena stared intently but didn't interrupt. Vicki continued, "This is what we want your opinion on. Could the two bodies have exchanged angular momentum in such a way as to progressively lift Mars to more distant orbits, at the same time reducing and circularizing Venus's to an inferior one?"

She watched Charlie in particular as she said this. One of the reasons why Terran astronomers had opposed the young-Venus theory so strongly was the problem of how it could have circularized its orbit in a mere few thousand years. The Kronians had proposed two mechanisms for accomplishing this: the effect of electrical forces in the modified space environment induced by Venus's electrically active plasma tail; and the gravitational pumping of a hot, plastically deformable body to reduce tidal stresses. Charlie had never been convinced that these on their own would be sufficient, maintaining that something else was needed in addition. Well, Vicki was saying in effect, maybe here it is.

Charlie was staring back at her with the in incredulous half-smile of somebody who wasn't quite sure whether or not he wanted to believe it. He looked sideways at Sariena in an unspoken question. "It's an intriguing thought," she said. Evidently, she had no such problem.

Farzhin came back in at this point. "From what we can make of the Vedic records, it seems that some kind of recurring pattern established itself, in which the three bodies kept coming back into mutual proximity." He made an appealing gesture at the two planetary scientists. "Could something like that happen?"

Sariena pursed her lips. "A three-way resonance? Yes, it's possible in principle. But whether or not this particular configuration meets the necessary conditions would depend on the numbers. We'd need to set up a simulation with a credible range of limits and run the calculations."

"Would you do that for us?" Farzhin asked.

"Of course. . . . How long do you think this pattern lasted? Have you any idea?"

"Almost two thousand years . . . until the beginnings of the Roman Period, about 2700 B.P. So the visitation that brought the Exodus plagues and afflictions wasn't by Venus but by Mars, which if we're right, had by that time already been interacting with Earth for around sixteen hundred years. Although these approaches heralded times of trouble and destruction that the priests prophets of many religions learned to read, they didn't cause anything like the global devastation that Venus had earlier . . ."

"And Athena," Vicki put in.

"Yes, of course."

A few seconds of silence fell. Then Charlie waved vaguely with a hand. "It's fantastic . . . but we're all getting used to that by now. I'd like to see how it fits with the circularization criterion." He thought more and shook his head. "Fantastic," he said again.

"You haven't heard the rest yet, Charlie," Vicki said dryly.

"I must admit I have trouble accepting this part myself," Farzhin confessed. "But it fits so many facts. If the ancient narratives are telling us what I think they are, we're faced by a story so bizarre that nobody back on Earth ever managed to understand it, even after centuries of scholarly translations and debate." He paused. Sariena and Charlie just looked at him expectantly, saying nothing. Farzhin got up, moved over to the worktop running along the side of the room, and activated the holo-unit.

The image that appeared in the tank-like viewing zone was of two planetary bodies locked in mutual gyration like a close-coupled binary star system. One was recognizable as pre-Athena Earth, though visibly deformed by a bulge in the region immediately opposite the companion body. The bulge was located in the region of what would normally have been northern India and Tibet - except that it consisted not of mountainous plateau, but ocean. The other body was smaller and more deformed, almost assuming the proportions of a pear. Again, it possessed an aqueous bulge on the facing side. A tenuous bridge of white mist connected the two bodies. Farzhin gazed at it for a few seconds and then turned toward Sariena and Charlie. "The earlier close passes by Venus had raised tidal bulges in the crusts of both Earth and Mars. The massive Tibetan uplift was a remnant of it in modern times. But back in the period we're talking about, starting at about fifty-three hundred years ago . . ."

"Is that when you're saying the Venus encounters occurred?" Charlie queried.

"Yes. . . . It was much larger. Likewise on Mars. The Tharsis Bulge still exists as virtually a circular continent uplifted above the median terrain today. But back then, it was a huge deformation of the planet's shape - the smaller body would be far more affected by tidal forces than the larger."

"Wait a minute, Emil." Sariena checked him. Farzhin raised an eyebrow. "Are you saying the other object there is Mars?"

"Yes," Farzhin said. The problem Sariena had with it was plain enough: It bore no resemblance to Mars of modern times. "That's what we think it was like."

"That recently?"

Farzhin nodded. "When the repeating cycle brought Mars and Earth together, the two gravitational anomalies locked them into synchronism. I'm not sure what broke them up again. Maybe Venus returning periodically disrupted the configuration and started the process again. That's another thing you might be able to help us with."

"How long did each of these periods of mutual capture last?" Charlie asked.

"I estimate, around twelve years," Farzhin replied.

"And this went on for almost two thousand years?"

"Yes."

"You're saying they were synchronous. Mars just hung there for twelve years at a time, stationary in the sky?"

"Above northern India," Farzhin confirmed.

"At what kind of distance?"

"About forty thousand kilometers between centers."

Charlie caught Sariena's eye. Vicki noted the strained looks being exchanged between them - but with an unspoken agreement to see it through. Farzhin saw it too. He had been prepared for it. Charlie looked back at Farzhin. "Inside the orbit of the Moon," he commented.

"Well inside. Mars appeared ten times the Moon's size in the sky. The surface details were clearly visible. Faces and figures described in the Vedic hymns correlate with features identifiable on Mars today. Robin was the first to spot Shiva, as I mentioned earlier. That boy is amazing. . . . The Arsia and Ascraeus volcanoes, Valles Marineris, and the contours of the Tharsis bulge form the face. The myth tells of a third eye opening in Shiva's forehead, belching flames." Farzhin gestured at the holo image. "The position of the huge Olympus Mons volcano matches it perfectly."

Sariena sat back, smoothing her hair over the nape of her neck with a hand. Her attitude seemed receptive, weighing things up. "Incredible," she murmured distantly, though Vicki could see in her eyes that her mind was racing.

"The big problem with trying to make sense of the Sanskrit texts as records of celestial happenings was the number of deities named in them," Vicki said. "There seemed to be too many for them to have any connection with planetary objects. But what happened was that people at different times over thousands of years gave different names to the same object as its appearance changed. When you realize that, it all starts coming together. Aditi, Agni, and Varuna, for instance, were all Venus, but respectively as a flare of light ejected from Jupiter, the fire that seared Earth during the early encounters, and the less threatening object that it became later. Mars had other names too, depending on its appearance at varying distances from Earth. Indra was the new, growing Mars when it was being carried outward by its first encounters with Venus. Brahma was the god that dominated Mars transformed by Earth's gravitational influence during the captures. Shiva, the destroyer, brought the collapse of Brahma's rule when the captures ended."

Farzhin affirmed with rapid nods of his head. "And Vishnu, the sustainer, was the name of the permanent Mars deity that returned periodically in the various forms described by the Avataras," he completed.

Finally, Sariena came back to the point she had balked at earlier. "And you're telling us that Mars had oceans that recently?" she said, indicating the display. The aqueous bulge was clearly a buildup of the planet's hydrosphere drawn toward the Earth-facing side in an enormous tide. That Mars had once possessed large bodies of water - evidenced by clearly defined flood plains and flow channels - had been known a long time before Athena, but orthodox Terran science had put their existence at billions of years in the past. Charlie was looking very interested. Vicki knew that he had been skeptical of the official view, mainly because the rates of creep for rock under its own weight and of material infall from space meant that such features should have been obliterated long before. This had been pointed out repeatedly, but the Establishment had never budged.

"It fits with the picture of planetary geology happening much faster than used to be believed," he said, looking at Sariena.

Sariena nodded, still keeping her eyes on the image. "So it must still have had an atmosphere then too." The presence of liquid water would have required it.

"If our interpretation is correct, it had a surface pretty much like Earth's," Farzhin confirmed. "The earlier translators could never identify the seas and continents that the Vedas talked about, and so wrote them off as fairytales. But they were looking for them on the wrong world."

"They seem to describe a living world too," Vicki said. By now, Sariena and Charlie were beyond looking incredulous.

Farzhin elaborated, "The color bands and changes that the texts describe could only be vegetation. The only way to be sure will be to send expeditions to search for the traces. Not by scratching around on the surface the way they did from the couple of bases that Earth set up there. We'll need to go deeper. What's left of Mars today is the remains of a battlefield. First it was torn apart and devastated by Venus, then mangled repeatedly by every tussle with Earth. The entire surface we see today is a blanket of planet-wide flood deposits, lava extrusions, and debris from colossal volcanic events. Whatever's left of the original surface is buried way down."

Sariena studied the image for a while in silence, and then got up and came around the table and to peer closely at the vaporous bridge connecting Mars with Earth. She looked at Farzhin, still standing by the unit, with a sudden light of understanding in her eyes. "A condition of micro-gravity in the space between them. Low vapor pressure combined with tidal heating of the crust. . . ."

Farzhin nodded vigorously. "Yes, exactly what we think. Evaporated and drawn off. Scientists back on Earth kept asking for years where Mars's atmosphere and oceans went. But they were bogged down in their insistence that whatever happened had to have been billions of years ago. And all the time, the answer was all around them. Most of it was transferred to Earth!"

At that, Charlie got up too and came around too to join them. Here was another point that wouldn't be lost on him. Evidence had long been known that sea-levels on Earth had risen massively in recent millennia from the edges of what in modern times were submerged continental shelves. But there had never been any reason to connect the increase in Earth's inventory of water with the loss from Mars. That was where the influx that had over-filled the oceans came from.

"So you're claiming that this whole area around northern India was subject to immense flooding," Charlie said. "And it happened periodically, every time Mars returned. Is this what the Tethys really was?" That was the name given to the primordial ocean believed, according to the old plate tectonics, to have existed between India and Eurasia millions of years previously. Farzhin said nothing, letting him fill the details in for himself. "You'd have huge inflows and outflows across the surrounding areas every time the bulge built up and dissipated," Charlie went on. That could account for the immense sediment deposits all over that region, couldn't it? And what cut the huge gorges of the Himalayan rivers."

He was as good as sold already, Vicki could see. "Yes. And now think about the geology and archeology of the Middle East and China," she said. "So much of the architecture in those areas just doesn't fit with the idea of the military constructions that the traditional view always made it out to be. But when you think of them as flood defenses, maybe, or sanctuaries for the population to retreat to when the next approach happened, it all makes sense."

Sariena was stooping to examine the far side of Earth's globe, the face away from Mars. "Antipodal tides in the opposite hemisphere," she murmured. "Maybe a lesser crustal uplift from the Venus encounters, too. . . . The Bolivian plateau. Those massive constructions in the Andes. Remnants of sea ports and cultivation up near what was the snow line when you knew it, Charlie."

Farzhin waited, watching the two visitors curiously - and just a shade anxiously. Enough had been said. Charlie and Sariena looked at each other. It was already clear that Farzhin needn't have worried. "I'd like to get those simulations set up as soon as possible," Charlie said, looking back at him. "Would it be possible to go through the data you have sometime while we're here?"

"We can do it right now in my office," Farzhin said, moving to shut down the viewer. "The door up there won't close because of the structural warping, but I'm told it isn't about to fall down anytime soon."

"Can we let you get started without us and catch you later?" Sariena said. "There's somebody else in Kropotkin that I need to see, and Vicki said she'd show me the way. It's all changed since I was last here. If I let myself get involved in this now, I've a feeling I might not get away."

"Go ahead. We'll see you when you get back," Charlie told her.

 
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