In the parallel world first introduced in S. M. Stirling’s The Sky People, aliens terraformed Mars (and Venus) two hundred million years ago, seeding them with life-forms from Earth. Humans didn’t suspect this until the twentieth century, but when the first probes landed on our sister worlds, and found life—intelligent life, at that—things changed with a vengeance. By the year 2000, America, Russia, and the other great powers of Earth are all contending for influence and power amid the newly-discovered inhabitants of our sister planets.
Venus is a primitive world. But on Mars, early hominids evolved civilization earlier than their earthly cousins, driven by the needs of a harsh world growing still harsher as the initial terraforming runs down. Without coal, oil, or uranium, their technology was forced into different paths, and the genetic wizardry of the Crimson Dynasty united a world for more than twenty thousand years.
Now, in a new stand-alone adventure set in this world’s 2000 AD, Jeremy Wainman is an archaeologist who has achieved a lifelong dream; to travel to Mars and explore the dead cities of the Deep Beyond, searching for the secrets of the Kings Beneath the Mountain and the fallen empire they ruled.
Teyud Zha-Zhalt is the Martian mercenary the Terrans hire as guide and captain of the landship Intrepid Traveller. A secret links her to the deadly intrigues of Dvor il-Adazar, the City That Is A Mountain, where the last aging descendant of the Tollamune Emperors clings to the remnants of his power...and secrets that may trace their origin to the enigmatic Ancients, the Lords of Creation who reshaped the Solar System in the time of the dinosaurs.
When these three meet, the foundations of reality will be shaken—from the lost city of Rema-Dza to the courts of the Crimson Kings.
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S. M. Stirling is the author of many SF and fantasy novels, including Island in the Sea of Time, Dies the Fire, and Protector.Excerpt. © Reprinted by permission. All rights reserved.:
Encyclopedia Britannica, 20th editionUniversity of Chicago Press, 1998Mars—ParametersOrbit: 1.5237 AUOrbital period: 668.6 Martian solar daysRotation: 24 hrs. 34 min.Mass: 0.1075 x EarthAverage density: 3.93 g/ccSurface gravity: 0.377 x EarthDiameter: 4,217 miles (equatorial; 53.3% that of Earth)Surface: 75% land, 25% water (incl. pack ice)Atmospheric composition:Nitrogen 76.51%Oxygen 20.23%Carbon dioxide 0.11%Trace elements: Argon, neon, kryptonAtmospheric Pressure: 10.7 psi average at northern sea level
The third life-bearing world of the solar system, Mars is less Earthlike than Venus, although like Earth and unlike Venus its rotation is counterclockwise, and the length of the Martian day is nearly identical to that of Earth’s. The atmosphere is thinner than Earth’s, and is apparently growing thinner still; though it remains easily breathable for Terran humanity at the lower levels, uplands tolerable for Martians require oxygen masks of the type used by mountaineers on Earth. More significant is the fact that Mars has a thick, rigid crust that prevents the plate tectonics characteristic of the other two worlds.
Average temperatures on Mars are roughly 10 degrees Celsius lower than those on Earth, due to the lower solar energy input. This effect is moderated by the higher percentage of carbon dioxide in the Martian atmosphere, a phenomenon puzzling to scientists because the planet lacks the plate tectonics needed to recirculate carbon compounds and, presumably, has less vulcanism. The year, twice the Terrestrial, and the greater eccentricity of the Martian orbit render seasonal contrasts greater than the Terran norm even at the equator.
Temperatures on Earth may have been in a similar range, however, at some periods of geologic time (see “Snowball Earth”). It is believed that the gradual thinning of the Martian atmosphere and hence its reduced ability to hold heat has been offset to some degree by the gradual increase in the Sun’s energy output over time.
The proportions of land and water on Mars are almost a precise reversal of those on Earth. Mars has seas surrounded by land, rather than land surrounded by oceans, and so the total land area is not dissimilar to that of Earth. The bulk of the water area is concentrated in the Great Northern Sea in the northern polar zone, with a smaller equivalent in the Antarctic Sea. Smaller bodies of water are present in parts of the main equator-girdling land mass . . . Mars, City of Zar-tu-KanTau-il-Zhi (Tower of Truth)May 1, 2000 AD “How can you work for the vaz-Terranan? They’re rich and they have some curious and powerful tembst, but by the First Principle, they’re ugly!” Jelzhau said, considering the board.
He moved his Chief Coercive diagonally two squares and threatened her Despot.
The woman who called herself Teyud za-Zhalt sipped at her flask of essence through the glass straw, savoring the musky tartness of the liquid, and then moved her Flier Transport onto the same square.
The mild euphoric was doubly pleasurable since Jelzhau would be buying if she won the game, and he had never toppled her Despot in a bout of atanj yet, unless she lost deliberately.
I am glad to have found alternate employment, she thought, studying the board. He never grasped that I was occasionally throwing the game, either.
Guarding the life of someone you’d rather see dead was a means of earning your water too heavily spiced with irony for inner peace. Besides that, he was a cheapskate. Occasionally his atanj play was good enough to be entertaining, but usually . . .
Ah, yes. Once again, excessive conservatism in his employment of the Coercives and Clandestines. He relies too much on his Blockade and Boycott pieces, as might be expected of a spice merchant.
If you didn’t exercise your Coercives, you increased the odds of their defection.
“You deal with the vaz-Terranan, too,” she pointed out, as he threw the dice to determine whose piece would win the battle for the square. “Extensively.”
“That is a series of expeditious meetings. You have to associate with the hideous things. Ah, randomness falls out in your favor.”
The dice showed three threes; that gave the paratroops in her Flier Transport time to emerge and capture his Chief Coercive.
“Oh, not necessarily so very hideous,” she said, taking the dice. “Some are grotesque—like a squashed-down caricature of humanity—but some are just stocky and perhaps a bit irregular of feature and extremely muscular. The ones I’ve met are all rather clever, too, if naïve.”
Jelzhau shuddered. “And they ooze. They’re positively slick with water and mucus most of the time. You can feel it on their breath. An extra three on whether my Chief Coercive will defect?”
“Oozing would be unaesthetic,” Teyud admitted. “Three, agreed.”
She threw; three ones, a low-probability result. In the game, that meant her paratroopers had bribed or threatened his Chief Coercive to turn against his Despot. She moved the pieces, now both hers, into another square.
“Your Despot is now confronted,” she said formally. “He must restore Sh’u Maz, or abdicate.”
Jelzhau sighed and tipped over the tower-shaped piece. “He abdicates; your Despot proves superior fitness to perpetuate his lineage and establish Sustained Harmony. And as for the vaz-Terranan, they have a distinct and unpleasant odor, as well.”
Her nostrils flared in irony; Jelzhau was given to excessive use of odwa-scent, himself.
“I can’t detect any untoward odor most of the time. In essential respects, they resemble us. For example, they have their own internal disputes and differences.”
“They all seem much alike to me.”
Privately she thought the spice-factor was being a little bigoted, even if there was some truth to the physical description. The travelers from the Wet World couldn’t help their semblance, and the ones from Kennedy Base usually dressed in local garb, and tried to behave in seemly fashion. Which was more than you could say of some of her own race, such as that clutch of deep-chested highlander caravaneers who were singing—they probably thought it was song—over in one corner, and pawing at one of the De’ming servitors.
If you couldn’t integrate an essence without losing harmony, you shouldn’t partake in public.
Mind you, the Blue-tinted Time Considered As A Regressing Series was that sort of canal-side dive. It had seen better days, but those had probably been when the Crimson Dynasty still ruled. Someone was neglecting the glow-globes set in the fluid-stone of the ceiling fifteen feet overhead; badly fed, they gave off less light than they should, and it had an unpleasant greenish cast that made the figures of scholars and warriors on the wall look decayed.
And there was a grease mark on the smooth pearl granite behind her head; the taverner claimed that it had been made by the famous unbound hair of Zowej-ar-Lakrid in the Conqueror’s student days, fifteen hundred years ago, when he was conspiring to overthrow the city’s despot while playing atanj in this very spot, and that it would be sacrilege to remove it. Some deep layer of it might indeed be that old.
For the rest, the stopping-place looked depressingly like a thousand others she’d seen, from one end of the Real World to another: a circular room on the ground floor of a tower more than half abandoned. In the more-traveled places near the exits the hard green stones of the floor were worn into troughs that menaced the balance of the patrons. Deepest of all were the spots before the entrance to the spiral staircase in the center of the room.
The floor was set with circular tables of tkem wood that had been polished blackness once and were nicked and dark grey now.
Hers held a tiny fretted-copper brazier with a stick of cheap incense burning, and a bowl of tart dipping sauce for the small platter that had held raw rooz meat cut into strips. She took the last strip between a mannerly thumb and forefinger, touched it to the sauce and ate.
Too hot, she thought. Cheap narwak badly ground, or steeped too long.
The meat at least was decently fresh, pleasant, lightly marbled, deep red, richly salted, and slightly moist; the animal had not lost its flaps in vain.
Just then the clock over the entrance to the staircase opened its mouth, gave a sad, piercing cry and sang:
Hours like sandOn the shores of a bitter seaFlow on waves of time;Seven hours have passedSince last the SunRose in blind majesty;It shall yield heedless to nightIn ten more.One . . . two . . . three . . . four . . . five . . . six . . . seven. That meant the flier would be arriving soon. Teyud packed her board and set, folding them into a palm-sized rectangle and slipping it into its pouch at her belt as they rose; Jelzhau would have taken the lead if Teyud had not adopted a hipshot pose of astonished sorrow. He flushed darkly and made his bow excessive.
“True, you are no longer in my employ, Most Refined of Breeding,” he said.
“Indeed,” she replied tranquilly, neglecting to add an honorific.
I wonder what the Wet Worlders truly think of us she wondered idly, as they began to trot upward.
It was still hard to have a conversation with them beyond the obvious, and they were less than frank about some things. That was probably wise of them—everyone loved flattery, and criticism was rarely popular—but a pity nonetheless. They were the first new things to come into the Real World for a very long time.
Even as her father’s lineage reckoned such things. And they had ruled this world for twice ten thousand years.
But they do so no longer; now they hide in ruins and brood, she reminded herself. Do not waste life span in reverie on things past, as your father did . . . does. For each being, the time from birth to death is as that of the universe itself. You are not in the Tollamune Emperor’s court at Dvor Il-Adazar now . . . and if you were within sight of the Tower of Harmonic Unity, you would die slowly.
“This trip is the first time I’ve seen this many Martian faces uncovered,” Jeremy Wainman said as the Zhoming Dael slowed on its approach to the tall slimness of the tower. “Here on Zho’da, that is, not in videos back Earthside.”
Martians called their planet Zho’da; that meant “The Real World,” or possibly “The Only Significant Place.” It was all a matter of perspective, he supposed.
“It makes sense to muffle up outside on this planet,” said Captain Sally Yamashita of the United States Aerospace Force Astronaut Corps. “Dry, cold, windy, lots of acrid dust. Plus—”
The Martian airship had made several stops on its way from Kennedy Base, but those had been at caravanserais and isolated trading posts. He and his superior were the only Earthlings—vaz-Terranan in demotic Martian—in the curved forward lounge with its transparent outward-sloping wall. The dozen or so locals mostly remained seated in their nests of cushions and traveling silks and furs, many with a board between them and the eternal Martian atanj game under way; it was routine for them. Jeremy leaned eagerly over the railing, looking as the long bright line of the canal opened out into the glittering shapes of the half-ruined city ahead.
“Plus, it’s the custom,” he said, grinning and quoting the most common phrase in the orientation lectures that had started back on Earth right after the summons he’d dreamed of but not seriously expected, and had continued at short intervals while the Brackett made its long passage out and then at Kennedy Base too.
“I am an anthropologist, you know,” Jeremy added. “With a secondary degree in archaeology, to boot, and one in Martian history.”
Sally nodded. She was tall by Terran standards—everyone assigned to Mars was, though like her, most were below the Martian average. But even at five-eleven, she gave an impression of close-coupled energy, and her slanted hazel eyes were very keen. Her father had been California-Japanese, richer than God and a marine biologist with a hobby in martial arts; her mother was from a long line of Napa Valley winemakers but had broken the mold by going into modern dance. Sally’s own specialty was the study of Martian technology; she had degrees in molecular biology and paleontology. But she was also a general fixer and contact person, helping Kennedy Base interface with the Martians. And, at thirty, she was several years older than Jeremy, with the weathered skin of an Old Mars Hand.
And . . . I think she’s a spook. Not all the time, we’re all multitasking here, but I think that’s what she is if you dig down through all the layers. Why are they sending a spook on an archaeological scouting mission? Granted, this can be a very hairy planet, and she looks like she can clip hair with the best of them, but . . .
“You’re an anthropologist . . . a very inexperienced anthropologist,” she said.
It was his first trip outside Kennedy Base. He’d seen pictures of the these towers with their time-faded colors and the lacy crystalline bridges that joined them, the transparent domes below full of an astonishing flowering lushness, the narrow serpentine streets between blank-faced buildings of rose-red stone . . . but now he could see them for himself. They reminded him a little of Indian Mughal architecture done by someone on opium and freed from the limits of stone and the constraints of gravity, but there was a soft-edged quality to them unlike anything his world had ever bred, as if they had grown here.
In the distance loomed jagged heights that had been the edge of a continent when the site of this city was below the waves of a vanished sea . . .
Sally snorted; he had a sudden uncomfortable feeling she knew just what sort of greenhorn romantic twaddle he was thinking. Her words confirmed it.
“Even the experienced are just scratching the surface here. Venus may be full of hunter-gatherers or Bronze Age types like the Kartahownians, but this isn’t Venus—the Martians were doing calligraphy and building cities forty thousand years ago. The Crimson Dynasty ruled before the Cro-Magnons painted mammoths on those caves in France, and it fell about the time we invented writing.”
“We came to them, not vice versa,” Jeremy pointed out. And I’m teasing you. Do you have to be so solemn about everything?
Apparently she did. Even her nod was grave as she went on.
“We have a technological edge. Sort of, or so we like to think. But Earth’s a long way away and there aren’t many of us here. We can’t push these people around and we don’t impress them much, either. I repeat: This isn’t Venus. We can’t play Gods-from-the-sky here. We’re on sufferance. And never forget we don’t know dick about this place, really.”
“Yes, teacher,” he said good-humoredly. “I’ll try to make us a little less abysmally ignorant, hmm? We do need to start learning more about Martian histor...
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