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Earth II
by Stephen Baxter

“Earth II” is a far-future adventure story set in the same universe as the author’s two-book sequence, Flood and Ark, about escape from a drowning Earth. While Ark will be out in the United King-dom soon, Flood has just been published by Roc in the United States. In the meantime, Stephen is working on a new three-book series of alternate prehistory and the rise of civilization.


 

 

I

“Go home, Xaia Windru.”

Xaia sat up straighter in her chair, favoring her left arm with the crudely sewn gash in the forearm, and cradling her cup of looted Brythonic wine in her right hand. “Home, Teif ?” She forced a smile. “We’re having too much fun. We’ve barely started. Ask the crews.”

She sat with Teif and Manda, her admiral and her general, under the silvered awning over the prow of the Cora. On the polished table before them, maps of the Scatter and the world were held in place by the weight of wine flagons. The Cora stood to sea with her sister ships a kilometer or so from the island of Manhatun, whose low, craggy profile wavered in the heat haze. From here Xaia could see smoke rising from the burning houses in the port city, and warriors with carts drawn by huge, high-stepping horses working their way through the narrow streets, and the landing craft plying to and fro, laden with goods and hostages. Balloons blazoned with the crest of the house of Windru drifted over the helpless city. On the higher land clumps of Purple glistened, useless, ugly.

The heat was intense. It was April, the peak of the hotspring; though the sun still set each night, it sailed high to the zenith each day, pouring light and warmth into the world like wine into a cup. Even sitting inert under this reflective awning was exhausting, and to work like Xaia’s crews was almost impossible. But she heard the crackle of gunfire, and the throaty boom of an artillery piece; even in the day’s heat the mopping up was continuing.

“That’s just it,” Teif said. “I have asked the crews. They’re exhausted, Lady. They long for home.” He was a heavy-set man, about fifty, ferociously strong, supremely competent. He wore a thick grey beard that Xaia always thought must have been impossibly stuffy in the hot seasons.

Manda snorted. She stood, her wine cup in her hand, and stretched. She was taller than Xaia, well-muscled, her chest a big-lunged barrel. In her late twenties, a few years younger than Xaia, she wore her hair shaved to the scalp. In her glinting body armor she looked beautiful, but rather terrifying, Xaia thought. And even here, on Xaia’s flagship, surrounded by Teif’s best sailors, Manda’s heavy iron sword was within reach of an outstretched hand. Manda said, “Don’t listen to this worn-out old salt dog, Lady. My warriors loved you even before the coldspring raid that broke the siege.”

The siege of the island nation of Brython, Zeeland’s greatest rival in the Scatter, had lasted years, through the unending days of the coolsummers and the icebound dark of the coldwinters, when countless crew had died of cold and disease on their frozen-in ships. It was Xaia’s bold scheme that had broken the deadlock. The previous year she had modified a handful of her ships to give them broad, shallow-draft hulls, that did not get frozen in when the pack ice came but were lifted up above it. Even before this year’s spring equinox she had had the crews out hacking the ships free of the ice. Then teams of horses with thick gripping shoes nailed to their soles had dragged the ships across the frozen sea, and Zeelander warriors and gunfire fell on the ports of Brython, even before they emerged from their winter slumber.

Xaia knew that Manda was right about her hold on the crews. Xaia was co-Speaker of the Zeelander parliament with her spouse Thom Robell, the two of them scions of the greatest houses of Zeeland, with lineages reaching back to the Founders. Though they had their rivals in parliament, together she and Thom, united with their child Maxx, effectively ruled Zeeland, and everybody knew it. And after such a feat as the siege breaking, and not to mention the reward of Brythonic treasure on which the crews had gorged, the crews were hers for life.

“You are a warrior queen, and a winning one,” Manda said now. “Of course they will follow you. They followed you into Brython. They followed you here to Manhatun—”

“I didn’t plan the storm that blew us off course,” Xaia pointed out. “It was fortuitous that we ended up in Manhatun waters. And as an ally of Brython—”

“She revoked that allegiance when Zeeland declared war on Brython,” Teif said mildly.

“As a former ally, she’s fair game. And rich.”

“We didn’t need more loot,” Teif said. “The holds are creaking as it is.”

Manda said, “You have to seize your chances, Teif, you old stay-at-home! Who was it urged us to pursue the Brythonic army after Lundin surrendered?”

Teif spoke pointedly to Xaia. “The crew will follow you to the ends of Earth II, Lady. That’s true. But they have hearts, and hearths, and families. Why, most of Manda’s warriors are mothers. And mostly they would like to follow you home. That’s what they say, when they think I can’t hear them.” He eyed her. “And you, too, have duties there, now that the war is won.”

Xaia, restless, stood beside Manda and stared out at the burning port. “Duties!”

“An empire to build across the Scatter, now that Brython is broken at last.”

“I don’t see myself as much of a builder, Teif. Besides it’s Thom who wears the Fourteen Orbs.”

“But when the war is won wife and husband rule as a team. That’s the way it’s always been done.”

In Zeeland it had become the custom for men to take senior political positions at home while women went off to wage war. There was a theory behind it, dating back to the Founders, that women, less prone to blood lust than men, would wage war only when necessary, for national advantage and not for glory. Xaia knew herself well enough to know what a crock that was.

“And besides,” Teif said, “there’s Maxx. You haven’t seen your son in years.”

Manda laughed. “He’ll be fourteen years old by now. What do you think, that he’ll have sprouted a grey beard like yours?”

“Go home, Lady,” Teif said patiently, ignoring Manda. “You have won Brython, the greatest nation in the world after Zeeland. What else is there worth conquering?”

On impulse Xaia sat down and pulled a sea chart toward her. She almost knocked over a wine flagon in doing so; Manda caught it with the reactions of a cat. “There’s a whole world! The Scatter is just a patch on the face of the planet. There are the continents, the Belt, the Frysby—”

Teif snorted. “The Frysby as you know is a plate of rusted sand, where even the Purple struggles to cling on at the coasts. And the Belt is a strip of land inhabited by relics and wild horses.”

Xaia studied the map. The Belt was a peculiar linear continent that stretched across the world’s latitudes, from north pole to south—much of it uninhabitable, of course, save for the equatorial regions, where it bounded the ocean which contained the Scatter. But Xaia’s sketchy map showed one prominent settlement, called Ararat. She stabbed her finger down. “Look at the distances. From here in Manhatun we are as close to Ararat as to Zeeland.”

Manda nodded. “We could sail there and back before the end of coolsummer.”

“And Ararat is the city established where the Founders landed. don’t they have the Shuttle itself ? Who knows what other Founder treasure we might find? And the rest of the Belt is pretty much unexplored. . . .”

Teif looked as if he was regretting starting the conversation. “What are you talking about? You can’t seriously be thinking of mounting some kind of expedition to the Belt! It’s world-spanning—and worthless.”

Manda snapped back, “But even the Brythonics have legends of the City of the Living Dead, to be found to the far north of the Belt. Alien treasure.”
Alien treasure. Xaia felt the hairs on her arms prickle, despite the smothering heat.

“Or the far south, as others say,” Teif said scornfully. “Anywhere out of reach, that’s where treasure always lies. Ask the scholars of the Four Universities, who have preserved much of the Founders’ lore. There’s precious little there about a City of the Living Dead. Nothing in the surveys the Founders made from orbit before they landed—”

“But the Founders didn’t explore the whole world,” Xaia said. “There’s no doubt the Dead existed, of course. We have the ruins on Little Jamaica to prove that, evidence in the Scatter itself. If we were to compare traditions among our own people with whatever we can extract from our Brythonic prisoners, and anything we could find out from Ararat—”

“What traditions?” Teif said, almost pleading. “Lady, there were no humans at all on this world four hundred years ago! Time enough to spin out lies, but—”

Xaia looked out over the length of her flagship, the iron plates set in a timber frame, much battered by war, much repaired. With the Brython war over, so was her freedom to act. Now, suddenly, out of nowhere, she had a new goal—a last chance to achieve greatness for herself, before she was subsumed into her loving, combative relationship with her husband. “We can do this. We have the ships, the crew, hardened by experience. We have holds full of Brythonic guns and gunpowder. There can’t be a force on Earth II to match us.”

“And we have time,” Manda pointed out. “Long months of the coolsummer before the hotfall comes—”

“And then the winter to freeze the marrow in our bones,” Teif said. “You’re talking yourself into this, Lady. I know you—impulsive! don’t listen to Manda. She always drives you on; she for one has nothing to go home to.”

Manda smiled dangerously.

“If you follow this whim you could waste many lives, and dissipate everything you have achieved so far. You’re just putting off your own return,” he said now, more boldly. “Putting off facing your proper responsibilities.”

“Only you could speak to me like that,” Xaia said calmly.

“It’s my job to tell you the truth.”

“I’ll send a ship back to tell Thom what I’m doing,” Xaia said. “It’s a delay of a season, no more—”

“The crews will be unhappy,” he warned. “I’m serious, Lady. Some of them are already uncomfortable at having spilled so much blood in Brython. We’re all the Founders’ children. All descended from the same Fifteen. They fled a drowning Earth. They didn’t come here to bring war. If they could see us now—”

Xaia snorted. “The Founders were heroes. But they have been dead four hundred years. Listen to yourself, man. In another four hundred years we’ll probably be worshipping them like gods. I’m going to take a look at the inventory. Prepare a study, both of you, on the feasibility of reaching the Belt. I want a report before the sun goes down.” She slammed her wine cup down on the map of the world, and, without looking back, walked out into the dense light of the overhead sun.

II

Come home, Xaia Windru.

The words floated unbidden into the head of Thom Robell as he walked with Proctor Chivian to the edge of the cliff by the sea. Thom’s aides walked discreetly beside them, bearing broad, light parasols. They were trailed by more Proctors and parliamentary officials. A little way away, Maxx, Thom’s fourteen-year-old son, walked with Jan Stanndish, the elderly yet spry scholar who seemed to have put the idea of the Library into the Proctors’ heads. Thom kept his eye on Maxx, who had a habit of straying out of the shade of the parasols and into the searing sunlight.

Proctor Chivian took a breath of the air off the sea. About forty, a few years older than Thom, he was a big man, handsome, imposing in his white formal robes. His nostrils flared wide. “The air is refreshing. Almost cool.”

“It blows in over the sea,” Thom said. He stepped closer to the cliff edge. Here the grass grew sparse, a green import from Earth, and the native Purple had a chance to flourish, clumps of it like fungi. When he kicked it with his toe the clumps broke up into smaller units that rolled or blew away. “About the breeze—can you see, it’s forced up by the cliff face and arrives at us relatively cool. This is the most pleasant walk in the Speaker’s estate and as cool a place as you’ll find anywhere in a hotspring or hotfall. Certainly better than Orklund, a kilometer inland, even in the most robust stone buildings. But I still wouldn’t be out without a parasol.” But if Xaia were here, she would no doubt be setting a disastrous example to Maxx by wandering boldly into the light.

Proctor Chivian was nothing if not an astute reader of people, and he seemed to sense that Thom was thinking of his wife. “I am sure the Lady Xaia’s expedition to the Belt will go as planned. And who knows what will be learned?”

Thom’s feelings had been a swirl of contradiction since a handful of Xaia’s ships had come home, bearing Brythonic hostages, booty, wounded, a few children born during the long campaign—and the news that Xaia was going on to the Belt. “Frankly, I wish she chose home, and me and her son, over more adventure.”
“We must cherish the Lady for her boldness,” Chivian said smoothly. “And if I may say so boldness is what is required now, of all of us.”

Thom sighed. Once again, and none too subtly, the Proctor was wrenching the conversation around to the subject of his Library. “Your timing is poor, Proctor, I have to say, regarding our personal situation.”

The Proctor raised cultivated eyebrows. “But not regarding the Library project as a whole.” He glanced up to the overhead sun, visible through the heavy fabric of the parasols. “Soon the hotspring will pass, and we will enter the long months of the coolsummer. Temperate warmth and twenty-four hours of daylight—ideal for making a start on the building work. Our schedules show that the vault may actually be ready before the hotfall to receive the Books, even if the aboveground building is barely started.”

“Ah, the One Hundred and Eight Books of the Founders.” Information dumped from a failing memory store brought from Earth, Books containing everything the Founders and their first children believed was essential for their descendants to know about their world, and the history of the remote planet from which they had had to flee. Now the Books were patiently transcribed by generations of scholars at the Four Universities of Zeeland, under the control of the Proctors.
“The Library will ensure the Founders’ wisdom is preserved forever, regardless of human failings or other calamities. What greater tribute could we pay to the Founders’ memory? What greater tragedy could there be than if those Books, our last link to the home world, were lost?”

“Oh, spare me the sales pitch, Proctor,” Thom snapped. “You know as well as I do that there are more ways of preserving the Books than exhausting the treasury’s coffers building a vault. You could simply make multiple copies, for a start.”

“Ah, but who would verify the authenticity of those copies? Soon the true texts would be lost in a welter of error and fraud—”

“And your own power, as holders of the unique texts, would be lost. Yes, yes.” He began to grow angry, and wondered if the Proctor would dare make this kind of approach if Xaia were here, armor on her chest and pistol at her waist.

The Proctor backed off. “We are both realists. We both have personal motives to achieve. That is how the world works. But I am sincere. The Founders were heroes who crossed space from one world, dying, and came to another, this one, and their bravery gave us life—all of us, literally. They were greater than us—”

“Not literally.”

“Speaker?”

Like his wife, Thom was impatient with such blanket praise for the Founders, who had, after all, merely been human. “I mean, in physical size at least.” He nodded at the parasol bearers, tall men and women with chests like barrels. “I’m told that if we could be transported to Earth, we would tower over the people there. If there are any survivors.”

“The gravity on this world is less than Earth’s. We grow tall.” The Proctor shrugged. “As sunflowers grow tall in the right soil. Nothing more.”

“And we remember Earth in our bodies, our language. We share the names of their months—”

“Folk wisdom counts for little, sir,” the Proctor insisted with a scholarly sternness. “Not compared to what is recorded in the Books. Earth II lacks resources common on Earth, such as oil, coal, uranium, even metals to turn our poor iron swords into steel, like the Orbs around your neck. Where they crossed space, we sail in wooden ships and fire gunpowder weapons at each other. This is a more difficult world on which to build a high technological civilization. If we are ever to achieve what the Founders did, if we are ever to scale such heights again—if we are ever to overcome the impoverishment of this world—we must build on their wisdom. And we must never forget them. The Library is a way, our way, to do that.”

“But I come back to timing again, Proctor. Why now? Why the urgency? What terrible threat looms that makes you fear losing your precious texts just now?

And there’s also the issue of the timing for the nation. We’re exhausted. We’ve just come out of a war that’s dragged on for years.”

“But that’s what makes this moment so opportune,” Proctor Chivian said. “The Founders’ books tell of Isobel and Ferdinand, monarchs of Spain. In the year 1492 they concluded a war against the Muslim kingdoms of Spain, a war that had lasted centuries, and suddenly they were free to fund an even more bold adventure—to send Columbus across the ocean—”

“I’m not Ferdinand,” Thom snapped. “This isn’t Earth.” He waved an arm at the sea, where a few of the Scatter’s closer islands could be seen as smudges on the horizon. “This is our home, our world—our time. This is what we’re interested in—the sea, our ships, trade, the empire we might build across the Scatter. Ask any Zeelander his or her dream for his country and I’ll wager he won’t mention Columbus, or the Founders.”

“You’re thinking of the Lady Xaia’s ambitions,” the Proctor said carefully.

“Indeed. Which may be another reason you’re encouraging me to start digging up the turf before she gets back and exercises a veto on the whole thing.”

“Sir, I assure you—”

“I need to understand what’s so urgent about this vault, the Library. Have your man Jan Stanndish brief me. I want the whole truth, Proctor, and I don’t want any arrogant scholarly nonsense. If I don’t see why you need the Library it won’t get built. Oh, and include my son in the sessions. He seems to be getting on well with Stanndish, and it would be good experience for the lad, against the day when he might become Speaker in turn.”

The Proctor bowed. “I’ll arrange it as soon as I can.”

“I’m sure you will.”

They walked on, avoiding the clumps of Purple that grew by the cliff edge, relishing the comparative cool of the air despite the tension between them.

III

It was May by the time the Cora led Xaia’s fleet to the coast of the Belt.

Soon the temperate, light-drenched months of the coolsummer would be on the world, and the humans, animals and vegetation imported from Earth would flourish. Like other children of privileged families, and in preparation for a life at sea, Xaia had grown up with a clear understanding of the seasonal cycle on Earth II, as it sailed around its star—which the Founders, for their own mysterious reasons, had called 82 Eridani—with its axis of rotation neatly tipped over. Now, more than midway between the spring equinox and the summer solstice in June, the north pole was nodding as if respectfully toward the central star, and even now, from Xaia’s mid-latitude location, the sun descended beneath the horizon for only an hour or so each day. But though the day was lengthening, the temperatures were, on average, dropping. The sun did not climb so high in the sky as in the torrid months of April and May—and, so the Four Universities’ best scholars had taught Xaia, it was the sun’s height that determined its ability to heat the world.

Certainly Xaia, looking out from the deck of the Cora at the unprepossessing shoreline of the Belt, was glad of the coming cool. It was a coast of broad valleys incised into a rust-red plain, where little grew but the ubiquitous, and entirely useless, native Purple. It looked like a hot, dusty, arid land to trek over, and the cooler the air the better.

Alecksandria, the port that served Ararat further inland, was built on the delta of a broad river, sluggish and red with silt. There was quite a bustling harbor, with ships from communities along the Belt’s long coast, as well as craft from the island nations of the Scatter—including a small flotilla of ships from Brython, evidently refugees from the Zeeland conquest.

On landing, Xaia immediately sought out the local Zeelander envoy, a small, fussy, middle-aged man called Alain Jeffares, working alone out of a tiny, cluttered office. He was flustered when such a noble figure as Xaia walked in. But then Zeeland had only a nominal presence anywhere along the Belt coast; there wasn’t much trade, and only a few passengers, scholars and pilgrims who came to see Ararat, the almost sacred site of the Founders’ Landfall.

Still, she was faintly surprised that Jeffares had had no contact from the local government, not so much as a polite query about the fleet anchored offshore.

Jeffares said the Belt was governed by a quilt of independent city-states. But the cities were scattered widely across a nearly empty continent. Alliances among them came and went, and trade continued fitfully; disputes occasionally flared over tariffs or protectionist policies, but he wasn’t aware there had ever been a major war here. There was nothing like the empire-building that had gone on in the Scatter, either by native city-states or by the island nations of the Scatter, some of whom had sent over tentative expeditions. You could knock over one city-state, but the rest of the Belt was barely affected by it. The government of Alecksandria, evidently seeking a quiet life, simply ignored Xaia’s presence, and her warriors, hoping she’d pass on quickly.

“Nothing worth fighting over,” Teif sneered. “Told you.”

That was all going to change, Xaia assured Jeffares. She left behind a couple of officers to begin the process of sequestering the refugee Brythonic vessels. And she instructed the little envoy to assemble a caravan to take her and her companions inland to Ararat.

They stayed one night in a grand inn on the outskirts of the port. Named the Founders’ Rest, it had wooden carvings of all fifteen of the legendary star travelers in a long panel over its frontage. In her honor, Xaia was lodged in the Thomas Windrup suite. She was quickly getting an impression of the importance of the Founder mythos to this place.

She slept badly, nursing her healing arm.

By morning Jeffares had assembled a caravan big enough to carry Xaia, Manda, Teif, and fifty tough warriors. While Xaia’s carriage was drawn by grand, high-stepping warhorses, each of them taller at the shoulder than a man, the rest were pulled by squat, solid-looking bullocks.

The caravan left the port by a dusty road into the interior. For kilometers the city’s rats plagued the caravan, burly creatures the size of small dogs that nipped at the legs of the bullocks. Jeffares beat them off with the flat of a rusty sword. “A plague from Earth,” he said breathlessly. “I believe they’ve been kept off most of the Scatter islands.”

“Certainly from Zeeland,” Teif said. “I’ve never seen such beasts.”

“Something to do with the lower gravity here,” Jeffares said. “Animals can grow taller for a given bone mass, but the air is thinner, so smaller animals can’t function so well. Earth rats grew bigger on Earth II. So the Founders said.”

Even after one day on the Belt Xaia was growing tired of hearing about the Founders.

The road to Ararat was well laid if rutted; evidently this was a trail frequently followed. But the Belt countryside was unprepossessing. The road cut across a plain of crimson dust littered with broken rock, with only worn hills to alleviate the monotony of the horizon. Xaia had no interest in geology, but she gathered an impression that this was an old country, at least compared to some of the Scatter islands, like Zeeland with its steep volcanic mountains.

Between the sparse human communities little grew, a few scraps of green in grass banks and cactuses, although the Purple flourished everywhere, in banks and reefs. For sport, Manda had her driver run her carriage through the Purple banks, and laughed as the bullocks’ hooves smashed the heaped-up stuff down to its component spores.

The journey was blessedly short. The Belt was a north-south neck of land only a few hundred kilometers wide; no west-to-east journey was long. And Ararat, as it loomed over the horizon, was astonishing.

As large as any city on Zeeland, it was a town of stone as red as the plain on which it stood, though even from a distance Xaia could see a glimmer of green on rooftops and walls. It was watered by another wide, sluggish river, and drew power with huge, slowly turning wheels. What was extraordinary about the town was its plan. It was lenticular, narrow east to west and long north to south, and surrounded by stout walls in a teardrop shape.

“It’s like a ship,” Manda called from her own carriage. “A ship of stone, with its prow to the south and stern to the north. . . .”

“What is this, envoy?” Xaia asked Jeffares. “Some kind of artistry to draw in the pilgrims?”

“Hardly,” the envoy said. “The wall is entirely functional.” He glanced at the sky, the elevation of the sun. “You’ll probably see for yourself in a day or two.”

“Then we’ll wait.”

As they approached the city they passed through a hinterland of farms, where the remains of winter crops, cabbages and cauliflowers, stuck rotting out of the ploughed fields. There were no buildings here, just the fields. When Manda asked where the farmers were, and why a summer crop had not yet been sown, envoy Jeffares just shrugged. “Wait and see.”

The envoy negotiated their entry through a broad metal gate set flush in the shaped wall. The gate guards, armed with comically inadequate-looking pikes, spoke a variant of the Anglish that was spoken across the Scatter, but laced with rich dialect words. Xaia was irritated to find they had to pay an entry fee.

As the envoy negotiated she got out of her carriage and walked to the wall. Close up it was still more impressive, stretching three meters above Xaia’s head, and its smooth curve extended to right and left as far as she could see.

Teif ran a finger along the lines between blocks at his chest height. “These blocks haven’t been shaped by human hands. Look at these scratches, the wear. The stone is worn smooth.”

Looking more closely, they saw that the odd pattern of wear extended up for meters above their heads; above that height a rougher surface cast a speckle of shadows in the light of the sun. Manda murmured, “I wonder what storm did this shaping.”

Teif said, “What storm stops above head height?”

And as they spoke Xaia heard a rumble, like thunder, or the firing of distant guns. When she looked to the north she saw a faint band of cloud on the horizon, an orange-brown stripe. A dust storm, perhaps.

Jeffares, his negotiations concluded, led the way through the gate. Once inside the walls Xaia found herself in a city of cramped, cobbled streets and mean-looking stone housing that was broken by broad stretches of open ground where crops grew, wheat and maize. The people here were crammed in; the rutted, muddy track along which the envoy led them was flanked by dirty children who came out to stare, resentful-looking adults, and fat, wheezing pigs that rooted in the muck. Xaia wondered why the people lived squashed up in here—why not go colonize the farmland outside? This evidently wasn’t a continent plagued by war, and there seemed no reason to huddle within these walls.

At the heart of the city a much more impressive building loomed out of the huddle of housing. Long in plan, decorated with crenellations and statues, it was almost like the Christian cathedral in Zeeland, but oddly shaped. This was, of course, the Shrine of the Shuttle. Taller buildings, some topped with green, gathered around this focus. The envoy said this was the center of Ararat’s government; these towers housed ministries and agencies, and the clerks and cleaners and cooks who serviced them.

Jeffares led them to the city’s best hotel, one of the stone spires, once again named for the Founders. As the envoy negotiated with more guards and handed over more Zeeland dollars, Xaia found herself growing impatient.

Teif, always sensitive to her moods, touched her arm. “Are you all right, Lady?”

“I feel locked in. Walls and riddles. Teif, why have I added months to my journey to come to this museum? What is there for me here?”

He raised eyebrows like thickets. “Do you need me to say ‘I told you so’?”

She pulled the envoy away from his negotiations. “Jeffares—oh, don’t quake so, man. Take me to the Shuttle. I’m far more interested in that than where Teif will be entertaining his whores tonight.”

“Of course. This way. Please . . .” But the envoy, even when flustered, was efficient; he hastily left one of Teif’s officers behind to finish the negotiations at the hotel, and sent another scurrying ahead to make sure the Shuttle keepers were ready to receive Zeeland royalty.

The Shuttle’s Shrine was only a short walk from the hotel. Within, beneath an impressive vaulted roof, the interior was brightly lit by electric bulbs of pinkish glass, perhaps blown from the rusty sand outside. They were met by a curator—“Keeper Chan Hil at your service”—a young, smooth-faced man who babbled about waiving the usual pilgrims’ tithes for the co-Speaker of far Zeeland. Flapping, intelligent-looking but evidently nervous, and dressed in a cloak embroidered with stars and planets, he nevertheless had the presence of mind to pocket the cash bribe Jeffares slipped him. “This way to the viewing gallery—the best site to see the historic relic . . .”

Xaia had never had much interest in the endless memorializing of the Founders that monopolized so much of society’s energy in Zeeland and elsewhere. Nevertheless she found her heart pounding as she followed the curator up a flight of steps cut into the inner stone wall; here she was in the presence of history.
At last they came to a gallery. Xaia noted that the wall before them was lined with collecting boxes.

And from an elevation of perhaps twenty meters they looked down on the Shuttle. It was like a bird, Xaia thought immediately, a fat and ungainly bird, white above, black below, sitting on open orange ground, with a rutted scraping in the dirt stretching off behind it. There were words painted on its side, in a blocky, graceless script: UNITED STATES. Xaia had no idea what that meant.

“Its windows are like eyes,” Manda said, evidently uneasy. “I can’t look away.”

“It’s an authentic Founder artifact,” Teif murmured. “The first I ever saw save for the Speaker’s Fourteen Orbs. Made by human hands on Earth. That’s what’s giving me the shakes.”

“You must imagine it,” Chan Hil said, evidently launching into a standard speech. “On the day of Landfall, nearly four centuries ago, this Shrine wasn’t here, nor the city of Ararat. The Shuttle detached from the Ark and fell onto an empty land—empty save for the dust and the Purple. As it rolled to a halt its wheels scratched ruts in the virgin dirt—and that track, recreated from the Founders’ photographs, extends off beyond this chamber, and is set under glass in the rooms beyond where you can view it. It is said that Cora Robles, your own husband’s ancestor, Speaker, was the first to touch the ground of Earth II—”

“By now she’s everybody’s ancestor,” Xaia murmured. “Why the collection boxes?”

Chan spread his hands apologetically. “It is not cheap to maintain this historic vehicle.”

Manda asked, “I’ll swear that tail plane faces the wrong way . . . It’s preserved just as it landed, is it?”

“Not exactly,” Chan said. “The Shuttle was ingeniously designed to be taken apart, to provide the Founders, the first colonists, with raw materials for their first shelters. This was Ararat, the first city on the planet, built from the material of the Shuttle itself. In later generations these components, scattered among a hundred homes, were painstakingly traced, gathered together and reassembled.”

“And you got it all back, did you?” Teif asked.

“Almost all of it.”

Xaia asked, “And you’re sure you recreated the ship exactly where it landed?”

Chan’s mouth opened and closed. “Almost sure. Would you like to go aboard? You can see the Founders’ couches, and try the lavatory . . .”

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"Earth II" by Stephen Baxter copyright © 2009, with permission of the author.

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