Charles Sheffield: Resurgence

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Charles Sheffield Resurgence
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Resurgence: краткое содержание, описание и аннотация

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A few years after the disappearance of the mysterious Builder Artifacts salted throughout the inhabited regions of the universe, a new phenomenon appears in the unexplored Sagittarian Arm of the galaxy, a force with the power to destroy planets. Capt. Hans Rebka and his team of galactic troubleshooters travel to the threatened Marglot system only to find themselves directly in the path of destruction.

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by Charles Sheffield

Before we begin a systematic exposition of Theories of the Nature of the Builders (of which theories there appear to be at least one hundred and seventy-seven) it seems appropriate to provide what may be termed the Facts of the Builders. This is far easier than any enumeration of theories, since the facts are few in number: Fact 1: No living being, and no dead being whose word carries any semblance of validity, has ever seen or met a Builder. Fact 2: Various inorganic constructs possessing some form of intelligence have been found on, in, or in conjunction with objects created and left by the Builders. These constructs all claim to be of great antiquity. They also claim a full understanding of the Builder purposes in creating them. There are reasons to doubt the validity of all such testimonies, not least the fact that no two testimonies agree. Fact 3: The Builders made and left behind in the Orion Arm of the galaxy, and possibly in other galactic arms, a variety of constructions which are generally referred to as Builder Artifacts. More than a thousand of these are scattered around the Orion Arm alone. The purpose of many or most of them remains obscure. They range in size from a few meters, to lightyears across. The technology that went into their creation is beyond that achieved by any other species, living or dead, inhabiting these regions of our galaxy. Fact 4: There is no evidence that any Builder Artifact was constructed to be specifically inimical to organic life forms. Large numbers of deaths have been reported associated with different Builder Artifacts; however, in every case these deaths resulted from the unwise curiosity of beings seeking to explore, understand, or exploit the Artifacts. Fact 5: With one notable exception, every Builder Artifact was completed and set in position at least three million years ago. Any changes in Artifacts more recent than three million years appear to have been planned as part of their original design. Fact 6: Four years ago, there was unmistakable evidence of new, rapid, and unprecedented change in many if not all of the Builder Artifacts. Fact 7: At the same time, a completely new Artifact, named as Labyrinth by its discoverer Quintus Bloom, appeared near the star known as Jerome’s World. Fact 8: Soon after the appearance of Labyrinth, every other Artifact in the Orion Arm quickly vanished. Labyrinth itself was the last to disappear. Fact 9: Since the disappearance of Labyrinth, no evidence of any kind of Builder Artifact or Builder activity has been found in the Orion Arm. These, and these alone, are the facts concerning the Builders and the Builder Artifacts. We now proceed to the Theories themselves, which are legion.

A SURFEIT OF NOTIONS: Theories of Builder origins, activities, nature, and artifacts.Author: Professor Darya Lang, Artifact Research Institute, Sentinel Gate.This is an advance publication copy, and may be subject to additions and amendments.


On Candela, in the Phemus Circle

As a last meal it left a lot to be desired.

Hans Rebka stared down at the mess on his plate, then up at the guard.

“Kolker, what’s this supposed to be?”

Rebka was naked. He was shackled at the ankles and his hands could move only far enough from the iron chair’s arms to allow him to eat. Even so, the guard took a step back at the prisoner’s scowl.

“Isn’t it what you asked for, Captain?”

“I requested as my last meal the best that the planet could provide. Take a look at that plate. I’ve seen more inviting pig shit. Smell it for yourself, and tell me what happened.”

“Wait a minute. I’ll try to find out.” Kolker did not take up the offer to smell the plate of food. That would have brought him within reach of Rebka’s hands. He took another step back, close to the room’s bare stone wall, and his lips moved. Through his implant he was in contact with more senior officials. After a few seconds he nodded.

“Captain, that meal was provided on instructions from Minister Schramm. Apparently it is the best that the planet can provide. But not this planet. It is the best that can be had on your home world, Teufel.” The guard hesitated. He knew that every word and gesture was being recorded. “The minister thought that you would appreciate a little joke.”

“Did he?” Hans Rebka picked up the spoon. It was, like the plate and little tray that it sat on, made of a thin and flexible plastic that no amount of treatment or hardening could turn into a weapon. “I must be losing my sense of humor. But the terrible thing, Kolker, is that he’s right. I’ve been away from Teufel so long, I’m spoiled. Do you know what they say about Teufel?”

“Yes. I have heard it many times.”

“Then I won’t bother to repeat it.” Rebka dipped the tip of the spoon tentatively into the black goo on his plate. He tasted it, grimaced, and laid down the spoon. “Once I’d have gobbled this up and gone back for seconds. The minister knows what’s what in the worlds of the Phemus Circle . This is as good as it gets on Teufel.”

“Are you going to eat it?” In the weeks that Rebka had been in captivity, a peculiar relationship had developed between guard and captive. Rebka had done his best to become friendly, and he was good at that. But Guardsman Kolker, who suspected—rightly—that given half a chance Hans Rebka would kill him and try to escape, had remained respectful but aloof.

“I told you,” Rebka went on. “I’ve become picky these past few years. I’d rather die hungry than eat that.” Hands chained together, he waved the plate away. “It’s all yours. Do what you like with it.”

The guard approached warily and snatched the tray out of Rebka’s reach. “I can’t bring you anything else, you know.”

“I understand. And you can’t share your food with me, either, right? Don’t feel bad. I’ve been hungry before. And people waiting to be executed are not expected to enjoy their final night.”

Kolker nodded and retreated to the metal door. He pushed the tray through a narrow horizontal opening at waist height, then stood motionless. He seemed to be listening. At last he nodded, turned to Hans Rebka, and said, “Minister Schramm asks if you have any last request.”

“Certainly. Tell the minister that I would like to be allowed to write my memoirs.”

The guard frowned. Finally he said, “You are joking, are you not? Excuse me, Captain Rebka, but I do not think it would be a good idea for me to transmit that message.”

“Very wise of you. It’s my impression that Minister Schramm only like little jokes that come from him.” Rebka glanced around the bare, dimly lit and windowless cell. “So. What now, Kolker my friend? Dinner is over and death is twelve hours away. We have the whole night ahead.”

“I am to remain here with you. If you would like to talk, or if—”

The rest of Kolker’s words were cut off by a metallic rattling at the door of the cell. The guard spun around, pulling his weapon from its holster. He stood poised to fire as the door swung open.

The four men who entered were equally wary. They wore guards’ uniforms, and all held drawn guns.

“Stay right where you are, all of you.” Kolker, part of his attention still on Hans Rebka, backed up against the stone wall. “I have absolute orders to admit no one. If you do not leave this room at once, I must shoot.”

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