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Saturn



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About The Author

Ben BovaBen Bova

Ben Bova is the author of more than a hundred works of science fact and fiction, including Able One, Leviathans of Jupiter and the Grand Tour novels, including Titan, winner of John W. Campbell Memorial Award for best novel of the year. He received the Lifetime Achievement... More

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EXCERPT

SATURN (Chapter One)Selene: Astro Corporation Headquarters

Pancho Lane frowned at her sister. "His name isn't even Malcolm Eberly. He changed it."

Susan smiled knowingly. "Oh, what diff's that make?"

"He was born Max Erlenmeyer, in Omaha, Nebraska," Pancho said sternly. "He was arrested in Linz, Austria, for fraud in 'eighty-four, tried to flee the country and--"

"I don't care about that! It's ancient! He's changed. He's not the same man he was then."

"You're not going."

"Yes I am," Susan insisted, the beginnings of a frown of her own creasing her brow. "I'm going and you can't stop me!"

"I'm your legal guardian, Susie."

"Poosh! What's that got to do with spit? I'm almost fifty years old, f'real."

Susan Lane did not look much more than twenty. She had died when she'd been a teenager, killed by a lethal injection that Pancho herself had shot into her emaciated arm. Once clinically dead she had been frozen in liquid nitrogen to await the day when medical science could cure the carcinoma that was raging through her young body. Pancho had brought her cryonic sarcophagus to the Moon when she began working as an astronaut for Astro Manufacturing Corporation. Eventually Pancho became a member of Astro's board of directors, and finally its chairman. Still Susan waited, entombed in her bath of liquid nitrogen, waiting until Pancho was certain that she could be reborn to a new life.

It took more than twenty years. And once Susan was revived and cured of the cancer that had been killing her, her mind was almost a total blank. Pancho had expected that; cryonics reborns usually lost most of the neural connections in the cerebral cortex. Even Saito Yamagata, the powerful founder of Yamagata Corporation, had come out of his cryonic sleep with a mind as blank as a newborn baby's.

So Pancho fed and bathed and toilet trained her sister, an infant in a teenager's body. Taught her to walk, to speak again. And brought the best neurophysiologists to Selene to treat her sister's brain with injections of memory enzymes and RNA. She even considered nanotherapy but decided against it; nanotechnology was allowed in Selene, but only under stringent controls, and the experts admitted that they didn't think nanomachines could help Susan to recover her lost memories.

Those years were difficult, but gradually a young adult emerged, a woman who looked like the Susie that Pancho remembered, but whose personality, whose attitudes, whose mind were disturbingly different. Susan remembered nothing of her earlier life, but thanks to the neuroboosters she had received her memory now was almost eidetic: if she saw or heard something once, she never forgot it. She could recall details with a precision that made Pancho's head swim.

Now the sisters sat glaring at each other: Pancho on the plush burgundy pseudoleather couch in the corner of her sumptuous office, Susan sitting tensely on the edge of the low slingchair on the other side of the curving lunar glass coffee table, her elbows on her knees.

They looked enough alike to be immediately recognized as sisters. Both were tall and rangy, long lean legs and arms, slim athletic bodies. Pancho's skin was little darker than a well-tanned Caucasian's; Susan's a shade richer. Pancho kept her hair trimmed down to a skullcap of tightly-curled fuzz that was flecked with spots of fashionable gray. Susan had taken treatments to make her dark-brown hair long and luxurious; she wore it in the latest pageboy fashion, spilling down to her shoulders. Her clothing was latest mod, too: a floor-length faux silk gown with weights in its hem to keep the skirt hanging right in the low lunar gravity. Pancho was in a no-nonsense business suit of powder gray: a tailored cardigan jacket and flared slacks over her comfortable lunar softboots. She wore sensible accents of jewelry at her earlobes and wrists. Susan was unadorned, except for the decal across her forehead: a miniature of Saturn, the ringed planet.

Susan broke the lengthening silence. "Panch, you can't stop me. I'm going."

"But...all the way out to Saturn? With a flock of political exiles?"

"They're not exiles!"

"C'm on, Soose, half the governments back Earthside are cleaning out their detention camps."

Susan's back stiffened. "Those fundamentalist regimes you're always complaining about are encouraging their nonbelievers and dissidents to sign on for the Saturn expedition. Encouraging, not deporting."

"They're getting rid of their troublemakers," Pancho said.

"Not troublemakers! Free thinkers. Idealists. Men and women who're ticked with the way things are on Earth and willing to warp off, zip out, and start new lives."

"Misfits and malcontents," Pancho muttered. "Square pegs in round holes."

"The habitat will be populated by the best and brightest people of Earth," Susan retorted.

"Yeah, you wish."

"I know. And I'm going to be one of them."

"Cripes almighty, Soose, Saturn's ten times farther from the Sun than we are."

"What of it?" Susan said, with that irritating smile again. "You were the first to go as far as the Belt, weren't you?"

"Yeah, but--"

"You went out to the Jupiter station, di'n't you?"

Pancho could do nothing but nod.

"So I'm going out to Saturn. I won't be alone. There'll be ten thousand of us, f'real! That is, if Malcolm can weed out the real troublemakers and sign up good workers. I'm helping him do the interviews."

"Make sure that's all you're helping him with," Pancho groused.

Susan's smile turned slightly wicked. "He's been a perfect gentleman, dammit."

"Blister my butt on a goddam' Harley," Pancho grumbled. And she thought, Damned near thirty years I've been working my way up the corporation but ten minutes with Susie and she's got me talkin' West Texas again.

"It's a great thing, Panch," said Susan, earnest now. "It's a mission, really. We're going out on a five-year mission to study the Saturn system. Scientists, engineers, farmers, a whole self-sustaining community!"

Pancho saw that her sister was genuinely excited, like a kid on her way to a thrill park. Damn! she said to herself. Susie's got the body of an adult but the mind of a teenager. There'll be nothing but grief for her out there, without me to protect her.

"Say it clicks, Panch," Susan asked softly, through lowered lashes. "Tell me you're not ticked at me."

"I'm not sore," Pancho said truthfully. "I'm worried, though. You'll be all alone out there."

"With ten thousand others!"

"Without your big sister."

Susan said nothing for a heartbeat, then she reached across the coffee table and grasped Pancho's hand. "But Panch, don't you see? That's why I'm doing it! That's why I've got to do it! I've got to go out on my own. I can't live like some little kid with you doing everything for me! I've got to be free!"

Sagging back into the softly yielding sofa, Pancho murmured, "Yeah, I suppose you do. I guess I knew it all along. It's just that...I worry about you, Susie."

"I'll be fine, Panch. You'll see!"

"I sure hope so."

Elated, Susan hopped to her feet and headed for the door. "You'll see," she repeated. "It's gonna be great! Cosmic!"

Pancho sighed and got to her feet.

"Oh, by the way," Susan called over her shoulder as she opened the office door, "I'm changing my name. I'm not gonna be called Susan anymore. From now on, my name is Holly."

And she ducked through the door before Pancho could say a word more.

"Holly," Pancho muttered to the closed door. Where in the everlovin' blue-eyed world did she get that from? she wondered. Why's she want to change her name?

Shaking her head, Pancho told the phone to connect with her security chief. When his handsome, square-jawed face took shape in the air above her desk, she said:

"Wendell, I need somebody to ride that goddamned habitat out to Saturn and keep tabs on my sister, without her knowin' it."

"Right away," the security chief answered. He looked away for a moment, then said, "Um, about tonight, I--"

"Never mind about tonight," Pancho snapped. "You just get somebody onto that habitat. Somebody good! Get on it right now."

"Yes, ma'am!" said Pancho's security chief.

SATURN Copyright © 2003 by Ben Bova

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