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Part Seven - EarthChapter 19: Radioactive?
85The Far Star took off quietly, rising slowlythrough the atmosphere, leaving the dark island below. The few faintdots of light beneath them dimmed and vanished, and as the atmospheregrew thinner with height, the ship's speed grew greater, and the dotsof light in the sky above them grew more numerous and brighter.
Eventually, they looked down upon the planet, Alpha, with only acrescent illuminated and that crescent largely wreathed in clouds.
Pelorat said, "I suppose they don't have an active spacetechnology. They can't follow us.""I'm not sure that that cheers me up much," said Trevize, his facedour, his voice disheartened. "I'm infected.""But with an inactive strain," said Bliss.
"Still, it can be made active. They had a method. What is themethod?"Bliss shrugged. "Hiroko said the virus, left inactive, would eventuallydie in a body unadapted to it as yours is.""Yes?" said Trevize angrily. "How does she know that? For that matter,how do I know that Hiroko's statement wasn't a self-consoling lie? Andisn't it possible that the method of activation, whatever it is, mightnot be duplicated naturally? A particular chemical, a type of radiation,a a who knows what? I may sicken suddenly, and then thethree of you would die, too. Or if it happens after we have reached apopulated world, there may be a vicious pandemic which fleeing refugeeswould carry to other worlds."He looked at Bliss. "Is there something you can do about it?"Slowly, Bliss shook her head. "Not easily. There are parasites makingup Gaia microorganisms, worms. They are a benign part of theecological balance. They live and contribute to the world consciousness,but never overgrow. They live without doing noticeable harm. The troubleis, Trevize, the virus that affects you is not part of Gaia.""You say `not easily,'" said Trevize, frowning. "Under thecircumstances, can you take the trouble to do it even though it mightbe difficult? Can you locate the virus in me and destroy it? Can you,failing that, at least strengthen my defenses?""Do you realize what you ask, Trevize? I am not acquainted with themicroscopic flora of your body. I might not easily tell a virus in thecells of your body from the normal genes inhabiting them. It would be evenmore difficult to distinguish between viruses your body is accustomed toand those with which Hiroko infected you. I will try to do it, Trevize,but it will take time and I may not succeed.""Take time," said Trevize. "Try.""Certainly," said Bliss.
Pelorat said, "If Hiroko told the truth, Bliss, you might be able tofind viruses that seem to be already diminishing in vitality, and youcould accelerate their decline.""I could do that," said Bliss. "It is a good thought.""You won't weaken?" said Trevize. "You will have to destroy preciousbits of life when you kill those viruses, you know.""You are being sardonic, Trevize," said Bliss coolly, "but, sardonicor not, you are pointing out a true difficulty. Still, I can scarcelyfail to put you ahead of the virus. I will kill them if I have thechance, never fear. After all, even if I fail to consider you" andher mouth twitched as though she were repressing a smile "thencertainly Pelorat and Fallom are also at risk, and you might feel moreconfidence in my feeling for them than in my feeling for you. You mighteven remember that I myself am at risk.""I have no faith in your self-love," muttered Trevize. "You'reperfectly ready to give up your life for some high motive. I'll acceptyour concern for Pelorat, however." Then, he said, "I don't hear Fallom'sflute. Is anything wrong with her?""No," said Bliss. "She's asleep. A perfectly natural sleep that Ihad nothing to do with. And I would suggest that, after you work out theJump to the star we think is Earth's sun, we all do likewise. I need itbadly and I suspect you do, too, Trevize.""Yes, if I can manage. You were right, you know, Bliss.""About what, Trevize?""About Isolates. New Earth was not a paradise, however much itmight have seemed like one. That hospitality all that outgoingfriendliness at first was to put us off our guard, so that oneof us might be easily infected. And all the hospitality afterward,the festivals of this and that, were designed to keep us there till thefishing fleet returned and the activation could be carried through. Andit would have worked but for Fallom and her music. It might be you wereright there, too.""About Fallom?""Yes. I didn't want to take her along, and I've never been happy withher being on the ship. It was your doing, Bliss, that we have her hereand it was she who, unwittingly, saved us. And yet ""And yet what?""Despite that, I'm still uneasy at Fallom's presence. Idon't know why.""If it will make you feel better, Trevize, I don't know that we canlay all the credit at Fallom's feet. Hiroko advanced Fallom's music asher excuse for committing what the other Alphans would surely considerto be an act of treason. She may even have believed this, but there wassomething in her mind in addition, something that I vaguely detectedbut could not surely identify, something that perhaps she was ashamed tolet emerge into her conscious mind. I am under the impression that shefelt a warmth for you, and would not willingly see you die, regardlessof Fallom and her music.""Do you really think so?" said Trevize, smiling slightly for thefirst time since they had left Alpha.
"I think so. You must have a certain proficiency at dealing withwomen. You persuaded Minister Lizalor to allow us to take our shipand leave Comporellon, and you helped influence Hiroko to save ourlives. Credit where it's due."Trevize smiled more broadly. "Well, if you say so. On to Earth,then." He disappeared into the pilot-room with a step that was almostjaunty.
Pelorat, lingering behind, said, "You soothed him after all, didn'tyou, Bliss?""No, Pelorat, I never touched his mind.""You certainly did when you pampered his male vanity sooutrageously.""Entirely indirect," said Bliss, smiling.
"Even so, thank you, Bliss."86After the Jump, the star that might well be Earth'ssun was still a tenth of a parsec away. It was the brightest object inthe sky by far, but it was still no more than a star.
Trevize kept its light filtered for ease of viewing, and studiedit somberly.
He said, "There seems no doubt that it is the virtual twin of Alpha,the star that New Earth circles. Yet Alpha is in the computer map andthis star is not. We don't have a name for this star, we aren't givenits statistics, we lack any information concerning its planetary system,if it has one."Pelorat said, "Isn't that what we would expect if Earth circlesthis sun? Such a blackout of information would fit with the fact thatall information about Earth seems to have been eliminated.""Yes, but it could also mean that it's a Spacer world that justhappened not to be on the list on the wall of the Melpomenian building. Wecan't be altogether sure that that list was complete. Or this starcould be without planets and therefore perhaps not worth listing ona computer map which is primarily used for military and commercialpurposes. Janov, is there any legend that tells of Earth's sunbeing a mere parsec or so from a twin of itself."Pelorat shook his head. "I'm sorry, Golan, but no such legend occursto me. There may be one, though. My memory isn't perfect. I'll searchfor it.""It's not important. Is there any name given to Earth's sun?""Some different names are given. I imagine there must be a name ineach of the different languages.""I keep forgetting that Earth had many languages.""It must have had. It's the only way of making sense out of many ofthe legends."Trevize said peevishly, "Well, then, what do we do? We can't tellanything about the planetary system from this distance, and we have tomove closer. I would like to be cautious, but there's such a thing asexcessive and unreasoning caution, and I see no evidence of possibledanger. Presumably anything powerful enough to wipe the Galaxy clean ofinformation about Earth may be powerful enough to wipe us out even atthis distance if they seriously did not wish to be located, but nothing'shappened. It isn't rational to stay here forever on the mere possibilitythat something might happen if we move closer, is it?"Bliss said, "I take it the computer detects nothing that might beinterpreted as dangerous.""When I say I see no evidence of possible danger, it's the computerI'm relying on. I certainly can't see anything with the unaided eye. Iwouldn't expect to.""Then I take it you're just looking for support in making what youconsider a risky decision. All right, then. I'm with you. We haven'tcome this far in order to turn back for no reason, have we?""No," said Trevize. "What do you say, Pelorat?"Pelorat said, "I'm willing to move on, if only out of curiosity. Itwould be unbearable to go back without knowing if we have foundEarth.""Well, then," said Trevize, "we're all agreed.""Not all," said Pelorat. "There's Fallom."Trevize looked astonished. "Are you suggesting we consult the child? Ofwhat value would her opinion be even if she had one? Besides, all shewould want would be to get back to her own world.""Can you blame her for that?" asked Bliss warmly.
And because the matter of Fallom had arisen, Trevize became aware ofher flute, which was sounding in a rather stirring march rhythm.
"Listen to her," he said. "Where has she ever heard anything inmarch rhythm?""Perhaps Jemby played marches on the flute for her."Trevize shook his head. "I doubt it. Dance rhythms, I should think,lullabies. Listen, Fallom makes me uneasy. She learns tooquickly.""I help her," said Bliss. "Remember that. Andshe's very intelligent and she has been extraordinarilystimulated in the time she's been with us. New sensations have floodedher mind. She's seen space, different worlds, many people, all for thefirst time."Fallom's march music grew wilder and more richly barbaric.
Trevize sighed and said, "Well, she's here, and she's producing musicthat seems to breathe optimism, and delight in adventure. I'll take thatas her vote in favor of moving in more closely. Let us do so cautiously,then, and check this sun's planetary system.""If any," said Bliss.
Trevize smiled thinly. "There's a planetary system. It's a bet. Chooseyour sum."87"You lose," said Trevize abstractedly. "How much moneydid you decide to bet?""None. I never accepted the wager," said Bliss.
"Just as well. I wouldn't like to accept the money, anyway."They were some 10 billion kilometers from the sun. It was stillstar-like, but it was nearly 1/4,000 as bright as the average sun wouldhave been when viewed from the surface of a habitable planet.
"We can see two planets under magnification, right now," saidTrevize. "From their measured diameters and from the spectrum of thereflected light, they are clearly gas giants."The ship was well outside the planetary plane, and Bliss and Pelorat,staring over Trevize's shoulder at the viewscreen, found themselveslooking at two tiny crescents of greenish light. The smaller was in thesomewhat thicker phase of the two.
Trevize said, "Janov! It is correct, isn't it, that Earth's sun issuppose to have four gas giants.""According to the legends. Yes," said Pelorat.
"The nearest of the four to the sun is the largest, and the secondnearest has rings. Right?""Large prominent rings, Golan. Yes. Just the same, old chap, you haveto allow for exaggeration in the telling and retelling of a legend. If weshould not find a planet with an extraordinary ring system, I don't thinkwe ought to let that count seriously against this being Earth's star.""Nevertheless, the two we see may be the farthest, and the twonearer ones may well be on the other side of the sun and too far to beeasily located against the background of stars. We'll have to move stillcloser and beyond the sun to the other side.""Can that be done in the presence of the star's nearby mass?""With reasonable caution, the computer can do it, I'm sure. If itjudges the danger to be too great, however, it will refuse to budge us,and we can then move in cautious, smaller steps."His mind directed the computer and the starfield on theviewscreen changed. The star brightened sharply and then moved off theviewscreen as the computer, following directions, scanned the sky foranother gas giant. It did so successfully.
All three onlookers stiffened and stared, while Trevize's mind,almost helpless with astonishment, fumbled at the computer to directfurther magnification.
"Incredible," gasped Bliss.
88A gas giant was in view, seen at an angle that allowedmost of it to be sunlit. About it, there curved a broad and brilliantring of material, tipped so as to catch the sunlight on the side beingviewed. It was brighter than the planet itself and along it, one thirdof the way in toward the planet, was a narrow, dividing line.
Trevize threw in a request for maximum enhancement and the ring becameringlets, narrow and concentric, glittering in the sunlight. Only aportion of the ring system was visible on the viewscreen and the planetitself had moved off. A further direction from Trevize and one cornerof the screen marked itself off and showed, within itself, a miniatureof the planet and rings under lesser magnification.
"Is that sort of thing common?" asked Bliss, awed.
"No," said Trevize. "Almost every gas giant has rings of debris, butthey tend to be faint and narrow. I once saw one in which the rings werenarrow, but quite bright. But I never saw anything like this; or heardof it, either."Pelorat said, "That's clearly the ringed giant the legends speakof. If this is really unique ""Really unique, as far as I know, or as far as the computer knows,"said Trevize.
"Then this must be the planetary system containingEarth. Surely, no one could invent such a planet. It would have had tohave been seen to be described."Trevize said, "I'm prepared to believe just about anything your legendssay now. This is the sixth planet and Earth would be the third?""Right, Golan.""Then I would say we were less than 1.5 billion kilometers from Earth,and we haven't been stopped. Gaia stopped us when we approached."Bliss said, "You were closer to Gaia when you were stopped.""Ah," said Trevize, "but it's my opinion Earth is more powerful thanGaia, and I take this to be a good sign. If we are not stopped, it maybe that Earth does not object to our approach.""Or that there is no Earth," said Bliss.
"Do you care to bet this time?" asked Trevize grimly.
"What I think Bliss means," put in Pelorat, "is that Earth may beradioactive as everyone seems to think, and that no one stops us becausethere is no life on the Earth.""No," said Trevize violently. "I'll believe everything that's saidabout Earth, but that. We'll just close in on Earth andsee for ourselves. And I have the feeling we won't be stopped."89The gas giants were well behind. An asteroid beltlay just inside the gas giant nearest the sun. (That gas giant was thelargest and most massive, just as the legends said.)Inside the asteroid belt were four planets.
Trevize studied them carefully. "The third is the largest. The sizeis appropriate and the distance from the sun is appropriate. It couldbe habitable."Pelorat caught what seemed to be a note of uncertainty in Trevize'swords.
He said, "Does it have an atmosphere?""Oh yes," said Trevize. "The second, third, and fourth planets allhave atmospheres. And, as in the old children's tale, the second's istoo dense, the fourth's is not dense enough, but the third's is justright.""Do you think it might be Earth, then?""Think?" said Trevize almost explosively. "I don't have to think. Itis Earth. It has the giant satellite you told me of.""It has?" And Pelorat's face broke into a wider smile than any thatTrevize had ever seen upon it.
"Absolutely! Here, look at it under maximum magnification."Pelorat saw two crescents, one distinctly larger and brighter thanthe other.
"Is that smaller one the satellite?" he asked.
"Yes. It's rather farther from the planet than one might expect butit's definitely revolving about it. It's only the size of a small planet;in fact, it's smaller than any of the four inner planets circling thesun. Still, it's large for a satellite. It's at least two thousandkilometers in diameter, which makes it in the size range of the largesatellites that revolve about gas giants.""No larger?" Pelorat seemed disappointed. "Then it's not a giantsatellite?""Yes, it is. A satellite with a diameter of two to three thousandkilometers that is circling an enormous gas giant is one thing. That samesatellite circling a small, rocky habitable planet is quite another. Thatsatellite has a diameter over a quarter that of Earth. Where have youheard of such near-parity involving a habitable planet?"Pelorat said timidly, "I know very little of such things."Trevize said, "Then take my word for it, Janov. It's unique. We'relooking at something that is practically a double planet, and there arefew habitable planets that have anything more than pebbles orbitingthem. Janov, if you consider that gas giant with its enormous ringsystem in sixth place, and this planet with its enormous satellite inthird both of which your legends told you about, against allcredibility, before you ever saw them then that world you'relooking at must be Earth. It cannot conceivably be anythingelse. We've found it, Janov; we've found it."90THey were on the second day of their coasting progresstoward Earth, and Bliss yawned over the dinner meal. She said, "It seemsto me we've spent more time coasting toward and away from planets thananything else. We've spent weeks at it, literally.""Partly," said Trevize, "that's because Jumps are dangeroustoo close to a star. And in this case, we'removing very slowly because I do not wish to advance into possible dangertoo quickly.""I thought you said you had the feeling we would not be stopped.""So I do, but I don't want to stake everything on a feeling." Trevizelooked at the contents of the spoon before putting it into his mouthand said, "You know, I miss the fish we had on Alpha. We only had threemeals there.""A pity," agreed Pelorat.
"Well," said Bliss, "we visited five worlds and had to leave eachone of them so hurriedly that we never had time to add to our foodsupplies and introduce variety. Even when the world had food to offer,as did Comporellon and Alpha, and, presumably "She did not complete the sentence, for Fallom, looking up quickly,finished it for her. "Solaria? Could you get no food there? There isplenty of food there. As much as on Alpha. And better, too.""I know that, Fallom," said Bliss. "There was just no time."Fallom stared at her solemnly. "Will I ever see Jemby a............
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