The Rapture Effect
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by Jeffrey A. Carver
Category: Science Fiction
Description: In a galaxy-spanning novel of adventure and philosophical conflict, set in the year 2165, a fleet of colonizing starships from Earth approaches the planet Argus, 138 light-years from Earth. During their years-long voyage, Earth has developed a stargate and ended up in an interstellar war, waged by robot fighters far from Earth and commanded by the central artificial intelligence of the gnostic system owned by the McConwell Company. When the AI realizes the futility of the war it's engaged in, it sets out to chage its own program, engaging the conspiratorial help of a varied crew of humans and aliens and risking the ultimate destruction of all intelligent civilization.
eBook Publisher: E-Reads/E-Reads, 1987
eBookwise Release Date: May 2009
20 Reader Ratings:
Available eBook Formats: OEBFF Format (IMP) [584 KB]
Reading time: 334-468 min.
"An absorbing, suspenseful novel of first contact and interstellar war. It's a complex book, requiring concentration from the reader, and is well worth the effort. The book's ending is excellent: upbeat without being Pollyannaish. THE RAPTURE EFFECT is a strong novel, and I recommend it."--Janice Eisen, ABORIGINAL SF "Meaty and satisfying. I enjoyed this one greatly."--Thomas Easton, ANALOG "A very good story, with both aliens and future humans well worked out, believable as well as original."--Poul Anderson "A lively dance of ideas--first contact, interstellar war, artificial intelligence, alien culture--and it moves at a rapid pace, from Earth through cyberspace to the Horsehead Nebula, and various points between. It's well-worth the trip ticket."--Roger Zelazny
PART ONE There is a pleasure in the pathless woods, There is a rapture on the lonely shore.... --LORD BYRON * * * *
The only sounds in the heart of the planet were those of the planet itself--the shudder of crustal plates, the rumble of the mantle, the murmur of bubbling magma. They were the innermost sounds of the world, and they had been there since the beginning.
But closer to the surface, in caverns darker than night, in secret places hot with steam and dank with condensation, other sounds could be heard, tiny sounds: vapors whispering and water dripping and stone creaking as it settled, a melancholy choir amplified by the subterranean walls. Surrounded by the choir, and groaning with their own harshly guttural voices, were the creatures who had no name.
Clinging to the cavern walls like stalactites, the creatures drew upon seismic vents for warmth and dissolved minerals for sustenance; and when they changed position at all, it was by creeping movements, agonizingly slow. And yet, despite the darkness, they were not without the power of vision; and despite their confinement, they were not without the power to roam their world. They had other ways of seeing, other ways of moving, of knowing. Other ways of imposing their will.
For now, and for eons past, they had been quiescent. But their time for speaking was coming, and when it came, the world would tremble in fear of them. When others dared invade their dark privacy, the creatures would be seen and heard at last, and they would be felt. Oh yes, they would be felt.... * * * *
There was a blur of light reflected on the inside of his helmet, then nothing. The stars gleamed, pinpricks of light against the dark of space.
All signs of the battle had disappeared.
Harybdartt blinked groggily, and scanned. There was no movement around him, no indications on the flicker-readers at the edge of his helmet. No activity in nearby space. No sign of the mother(ship), or any of the scouts. No sign of the enemy.
There was nothing but stars. Stars, and emptiness, and the hiss of cosmic radiations; and at his back, a great shard of rock.
(Ship)brothers ... hurt ... explosion...
Disconnected thoughts. Motes of awareness that defined him, Harybdartt. How to corral the awarenesses: review the situation ... survival first ... sanity later.
Where was the mother(ship)? All readings on that flicker-band were silent; it had vanished. Escaped--back through lightspeed, through transient space?
Of course. Now he remembered: The mother(ship) had died--exploding, spewing Ell like seeds from a pod. If he had not been suited for emergency repairs near the outer shell of the (ship), he too would have perished. Instead, he was thrown clear to drift alone, semiconscious, while the battle sputtered on; while the (fleet), broken and brainless, dispersed.
He remembered falling--stunned by the impact, gravity vanishing, blood burning, tumbling away with the dying outcry of the (ship). Somehow he'd stabilized himself and found shelter against the same asteroid the mother(ship) had been using for concealment, until a passing Outsider had caught and destroyed it. Clinging to consciousness, he'd tried to follow the battle's conclusion; but his vision and awareness had fogged and slipped away...
...until his awakening to emptiness, and silence in the readers ... alone in an alien star system. Any Ell(ship)s that had survived would by now have fled. The enemy, apparently, had fled as well.
Harybdartt scanned his life-support readers. He could survive for a number of watches, provided he remained at rest. What he could accomplish in that time--or ten times that time--he didn't know. But as long as he remained alive, he would guard his position, and should the enemy appear, he would engage it in battle.
The stars passed slowly about his head as the asteroid tumbled. He watched, and he waited.
In time, a glimmer of light caught his attention, moving among the stars. He came to alertness and checked the flicker-reader. There was a body maneuvering in space, nearly at the limits of the short-range readers. It was a small thing, emitting energy in short, sharp, treacherous bursts. It was the enemy, sweeping slowly through space.
Searching for survivors?
Harybdartt left his own sensors on passive, and tracked the enemy as it crossed the sky until it was eclipsed from view by the asteroid. He waited patiently ... counting for its return to view as it passed around behind him.
What he saw next was not the enemy, but another point of light, flickering. He scoped it and strained to focus the image. An Ell fighter(ship), tumbling? He studied the readings. It was still alive. This could change the situation. But could he signal the Ell(ship) without alerting the enemy?
Perhaps if he acted quickly, while the asteroid shielded him ... a light-burst signal. There might not be another chance.
He removed a focusable flare from his belt. He pointed it at the Ell(ship) and blinked it once.
The enemy twinkled suddenly into sight, moving tangentially to the Ell(ship)'s course. Harybdartt quickly cut off his flare. He wondered if the fighter(ship) could still defend itself.
The answer came a moment later.
A sparkle of bluish light danced around the enemy like a halo. Harybdartt scoped it, sliding a protective filter into place. From the Ell(ship) there came a sputter of weapons-fire; but it was too feeble, too late. The halo around the enemy dimmed ... and the Ell(ship), or what was left of it, dissolved in a violet flower of radiation.
Harybdartt uttered a silent requiescat to more (fleet)mates passed from life. He would join them soon, no doubt. He slowed his breathing and returned his flare to his belt. He watched as the enemy craft glided on into the darkness, out of the range of his flicker-reader. Finally he was rewarded by a brief, distant glow of reddish light. The enemy had crossed lightspeed into transient--to return, presumably, to the star system of its origin.
Harybdartt relaxed deliberately. He blinked, watching the starfield shift slowly as he and the asteroid tumbled.
There was nothing else for him to do.
Nothing but to watch the stars and to guard his position, and when the time came, to die.