By Greg Bear
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After barely surviving his last tour on Mars, Master Sergeant Michael Venn finds himself back on earth in enforced isolation. Through a dangerous series of operations he returns to Mars to further his investigation into the Drifters — ancient artifacts suddenly reawakened on the red planet.
But another front in the war leads his team to make the difficult journey to Saturn’s moon, Titan. Here, in the cauldron of war, hides new truths about the Drifters, the origin of life in our solar system and the plans of the supposedly benevolent Gurus, who have been “sponsoring” and supporting humanity in their fight against outside invaders.
Killing Titan is the second book in the epic interstellar War Dogs trilogy from master of science fiction, Greg Bear.
Table of Contents
A Preview of Take Back the Sky
A Preview of Forsaken Skies
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ICE MOON TEA
The hardest part of war is waiting. The boredom can drive you nuts. You start doing things like playing football with ordnance—I've seen it, lived it. Lots of casualties happen right in camp when there's no real fighting. Days and weeks and even months filled with nothing, then more nothing—the mad ol' ape inside starts to leer and gibber and prance—some of the best of us show signs of going trigger—
Then, WHAM! We're called up. We cross the vac. We drop. It gets real. All the shit happens at once, in a bloody, grinding flash—and if you live through it, if you survive with enough soul left to even care, you spend the rest of your fucked-up life wondering whether you should have done it different, done it better, or not at all.
All for glory and the Corps.
The Battle of Mars is over. I hear we won. Maybe so. But when I left, seventeen months ago, we had just had our asses handed to us by the Antags.
Some new and unexpected elements had been added to the usual drop, scrap, and stain: a tall young dust widow named Teal, a fanatical clutch of settlers who called themselves Voors, and a crack Special Ops team whose orders included zeroing fellow Skyrines. And as backdrop to our finest mad scenes: a chunk of ancient moon called the Drifter, maybe the most important rock on the Red. Not our usual encounter.
When a lucky few of us made it back, we weren't celebrated. We were hunted down and locked away.
Since returning to Earth, I've spent most of my time in an isolation ward at Madigan Hospital, north of Skybase Lewis-McChord, sealed like a bug in a jar while the docs wait for me to sprout wings or grow horns or whatever the fine green powder that coated the insides of the Drifter wants me to do. DJ—Corporal Dan Johnson—called the powder Ice Moon Tea. Is he here at Madigan? I know he came back. So did Joe—Lieutenant Colonel (brevet) Joseph Sanchez. Joe told us all to lie low and stay away from the doctors and not cause a fuss. I suppose I screwed that up, too.
I sent out my first packet just two weeks after I arrived at Madigan. My first and so far only report—along with a coin that I found in the pocket of some old overalls I wore in the Drifter. I have no idea whether all that got back to Joe.
There's a lone fruit fly in the room with me. I've left it a piece of Washington State apple on the gray desk that serves as my writing table. He's my buddy. Maybe he dreams about being human.
I dream about being a bug.
Ninety-seven days. That's how long I've been here, with the docs filing past my window and telling me it won't be long before the Wait Staff comes to see me, and maybe I'll get to tell my story directly to the Gurus, really, and that will be a good thing; don't worry. Be happy. I've been debriefed and inquested and examined and cross-examined, from behind thick glass—squinted at from high and low by disembodied heads until they've blurred into one giant, whirly-eyed wizard.
One head rises above the whirl, however: high, smooth brow, impeccable English with a South Asian lilt, Pakistani or Indian, doctor or scientist, not sure which; soft, calm voice. Precise. Reassuring. Civilian clothes. Never reveals his name, position, or rank. He's talked to me, with me, five or six times, always with a gentle smile and sympathetic eyes.
My personal favorite. He's the first I'll strangle with my bare hands when I get the chance.
ONE FINE DAY IN THE BUGHOUSE
How are you today, Sergeant Venn?"
"I understand you've been brushing up on your Chinese. And your Hindi and Farsi."
"Urdu, too. Also."
"Very good. Your skill with languages is impressive. Better than it used to be."
"I envy that."
"No you don't."
Without skipping a beat, he continues, "I am indifferent at Farsi myself. If you will allow me, I'd like to ask how you are feeling, what sorts of dream you have had since returning to Earth?"
"Weird dreams. I've explained."
"Yes, mostly—I have my notes. But I'd like to hear it again, in case we've overlooked something important."
"Come in here with me, sir, and I'll give you the details up close."
"I note your frustration, Sergeant Venn. Perhaps soon."
"You still think I'm contaminated."
"We have yet to determine anything of the sort. Still, you have described coming into contact with nonterrestrial organisms, including Antagonists. All by itself, direct combat with our enemy mandates a period of quarantine—usually, a few weeks in Cosmoline tells the tale.
"But I am most curious about this powder you describe, which you touched, smeared on your skin, inhaled—inside the Drifter. You say it was produced by a crystal pillar that rose within a mined-out cavity that the Muskies, the human settlers, called the Void, or the Church. You tell our doctors that the powder gives you vivid dreams, dreams of living in another time, another place. Curious and interesting. Do you believe these dreams are historical, referring to real events—or delusional?"
Like that. I'm in the hands of experts.
THEY'VE GIVEN ME a paper tablet and a notebook and pen. No computer. No way to reach the outside world or do any research worth a damn, though they bring me books from the base library or a thrift store, old language textbooks and tattered paperbacks from the last century. I'm reading Elmore Leonard and Louis L'Amour and Jim Thompson, plus a few old novels. I've asked for Philip K. Dick. I've asked for Kafka. I've asked for T. E. Lawrence. No joy.
I'm writing again, but it's not like I own my life or this story. Maybe the docs will come back with answers I can use. Right. Until then, here's what I think I know, on my own terms: the brew I've slowly distilled from my last deployment on Mars—a sour liquor of intoxicating fact mixed with muddy water.
But here goes.
A LOCAL'S GUIDE TO THE RED
A generation before the Battle of Mars began, settlers from Earth, Muskies, discovered a huge, mostly buried chunk of ancient rock. They called it the Drifter. They did what Martian prospectors do: scoped it out, found it interesting, and started to dig.
The Drifter turned out to be a piece of ice-covered moon that fell on Mars billions of years ago. Along with deep aquifers washing around its plunging roots and abundant reserves of pure metal—nickel-iron, iridium, platinum, gold—the Muskies discovered something else, something that changed their game completely: a fractured, battered tower of crystal hundreds of meters tall, from that distant age when the old moon supported an ocean beneath its thick ice shell. A sloshing, inner sea filled with life. That pillar seems to have been part of the archives of an ancient civilization that came to an end when the moon—with all its ice, ocean, and metal-rich center—was tugged from its far orbit, fell downsun toward Mars, and broke apart in the red planet's tidal forces. I can see it, almost, that amazing disaster. The huge fragments shaped a dusty, ice-fogged plume, then impacted around the planet like a short, loose whip—drilling through crust, mantle, even pushing down close to the molten core. The collisions happened in mere minutes but released tremendous energies, dividing the northern and southern hemispheres, sending shockwaves echoing, stirring up immense volcanoes—and adding trillions of tons of water to a formerly dry world.
The fragments of old moon brought something else to Mars. Life. And here's a whizbang conclusion to really dream about in the dark watches of the night—
The blowback from those collisions could have fallen deeper into the solar system and seeded another world, brought another dead planet to life:
ANOTHER FINE DAY IN THE BUGHOUSE
Tell me once more, please, about the Drifter, Sergeant."
"I've told all I know."
"But I want to hear it again. Tell me about what the settlers found inside the Drifter, and what they did with it—and what you did with it when you got there."
"We didn't do much of anything with it. We were busy trying to stay alive."
"You didn't arrange to bring back samples?"
"Please. We're on Earth now. What about your fellow Skyrines? Did they bring back materials?"
"Not that I know about. I've said this over and over…"
"Please be patient. We're being patient with you."
All behind the glass.
BUNDLES OF TROUBLE
Through their chosen human interpreters, the Gurus made it clear to the people of Earth what would happen if we let our mutual enemy, the Antags, have their way with the solar system. The Gurus told us it had happened many times before, and that the ultimate result would be the conversion of every planet, every moon, every asteroid, into raw materials out of which Antag engineers would assemble a kind of gigantic clockwork for harnessing the sun's energy, and then would convert the sun itself—said energy to be shipped thousands of light years, through means not revealed, to power other star systems and to further promote the conquest of other planets around other suns.…
Boosting their geometrically accelerating plans for conquest of the galaxy.
Bottom line, if we do not hold them on Mars, they will drop toward the Earth and our system will quickly become a weird clockwork of rotating wire, armillary rings, vast complex mirrors redirecting the sun's light and heat into absorption dishes wider than Jupiter… which will then beam it someplace else through I don't know what method, maybe an opening in the fabric of space-time, maybe just shooting it at light speed to someplace special—
Could be the Gurus don't want to explain further for fear of scaring us silly. If you know you can't win, you don't fight, you give up, right? We have to be able to believe that victory is possible, with a little help now and then from the Gurus. Real super-science stuff, like spent matter drives and suppressors and disruptors—even the Cosmoline in which Skyrines are packed while flying transvac, so beloved by the Corps. Most Skyrines accept this hook, line, and radar dish because it's kind of exciting. Makes us part of a big picture, fighters in a just and necessary war.
But after a few days on the Red, and especially when our drop is fucked, questions can arise among even our densest warriors, given time to think things through. I'd like to meet an Antag someday away from a battle, on equal, unarmed terms, buy him a Romulan ale, and ask him or her, or it, friendly-like, what the fuck do they tell you to keep you climbing into your ships and shuttling down to Mars or Titan?
Because up until just recently, when we crawled into our space frames and made the long journey for this campaign, we were winning.
We were sure of that.
I'm out of the whole fucking mess. Locked in my room, going nuttier than I remember being before—and nutty on two worlds, because my other self, the self that returns when I'm asleep and keeps trying to remember that old ice moon, keeps trying to bring back a lifetime billions of years gone—that carapace-coated asshole is every bit as bored and crazy as me, with even more reason.
To add convincing detail, the bug in my dreams, he or it, comes in two parts—an ornately figured parasitic passenger riding a great big, ugly sonofabitch, hanging on just behind a triad of compound eyes. I don't know which one does the steering. Maybe they trade off.
At any rate, just when I think I understand those amazing memories and thoughts and opinions—just when I want to tell other people the truth about that other, ancient world—
It all lifts up, turns sideways, shoots away.
I ask for—and to my surprise receive—books on planetary science. No Internet. Just books, and while books are good—some are great—I've got big questions about what's really out there that the old books don't answer.
If what's in my head is real, then what kind of real is it? Dead and long past, or present and threatening? Am I communicating with actual intelligences, somehow still alive, still active, after billions of years? Not easy questions, and no easy answers.
My questions began about the time I returned from the Red to Skybase Lewis-McCord and hitched a ride with a colonel's secretary, and she told me there was fighting on Titan, way out around Saturn—that she had lost a son out there—
And I felt the truth of it.
For weeks now, I've been curious about old moons. Especially the big moon families that circle the outer gas giants. The Saturn system is the most spectacular, but to me, all the old moons seem important if I'm going to solve the puzzles that keep me awake all night. I don't know where I am. I mean, I know I'm back on Earth…
But I don't know who I am.
Who is back on Earth? Just me?
There must be enough value to somebody that the wizards behind the glass pass me old textbooks and feed this particular curiosity. But they don't seem willing to teach me more about physics. Still, it's good to get a change in my reading—away from literature and back to science. Whether I'm curious, or my inner Bug is curious, is a question to which I have no present answer. But I want to find out.
So I'm reading up on old moons. The books, being printed and bound and from the base library, are out of date. I can fill in some of the details by listening to Bug. Bug doesn't know anything about Titan, specifically, but it has a broader understanding of ice moons than the textbooks. I presume the inquisitors will eventually ask about my reading, what it means to me, what I'm learning, and what I'm adding all by myself. But they haven't. Not yet. My first clue that the forces behind my detention could be in deep disarray.
They still aren't asking the right questions.
Here's how I hope it will go when they decide to spring me. Some of the docs will realize I pose no danger. They will ask permission to enter the suite. I will say yes. What choice? Anything to get shit to happen. The suite is clean but every Skyrine knows how to make weapons out of common items and I've had lots of time to think. My plan will move to the next stage. Two of the docs will enter wearing puffy yellow MOPP suits. A Marine MP will accompany them, also in yellow, packing enough hurt to discourage bad attitude. They will suggest I stay back, tell me to sit in my best chair, then ask the same questions they've asked over and over. One will take pictures of the other—with me in the background. For this first intrusion into the bughouse, they will not stay long, but by God, they will put themselves closer to the war, to those far-off battles, to imminent peril—to me. That will accelerate their climb in the ranks.
I'll be so cool that frost will whiten my brow. I'll smile and nod and thank them for all they've done. Then I'll brain at least one of the bastards before they realize I've gone total trigger.
As if things haven't been weird enough:
Last night, Captain Daniella Coyle came to visit. She just popped up in my head. Coyle died on Mars, deep inside the Drifter—in the Church. Apparently she doesn't know that. She tried to speak to me. At least I think she did. What I picked up was like looking at an empty word balloon. She hasn't come back since. But I think she will. Captain Coyle was nothing if not determined.
I've exhausted most of the textbooks. Jim Thompson starts giving me the willies. So much thud-thud stupidity leading to so many dead-end alleys of despair. Reminds me too much of my own life before I enlisted and even for a while after. I switch paperbacks and read Robinson Crusoe, an old, safe book that arrived in my pass-through box as a split-spine Signet Classic.
As usual, while I read, I eat dinner off the steel tray—and come upon this:
Let no man despise the secret hints and notices of danger which sometimes are given him when he may think there is no possibility of its being real. That such hints and notices are given us I believe few that have made any observation of things can deny; that they are certain discoveries of an invisible world, and a converse of spirits, we cannot doubt; and if the tendency of them seems to be to warn us of danger, why should we not suppose they are from some friendly agent (whether supreme, or inferior and subordinate, is not in the question) and that they are given for our good?
IT'S A LIFE
Half-asleep, wrapped in my bedsheets, I feel a not-so-gentle prod deep inside my head, as if someone or something is rummaging in my attic and opening old trunks. I'm too tired and discouraged to fight it. Memories come back in waves. Memories that sometimes explain nothing—like random bits of beach wrack washing up on my convoluted shores. Memories that ride high in emotions, too.
Let's look at you and Joe.
Joe Sanchez and I had a long, winding history on our way to becoming Skyrines. To me, it seems he was always there—has always been there. But of course, there have been gaps. Some long ones—like before our first drop on Mars. I didn't see him for over a year, during the last phase of training. I thought maybe he had been selected out for special training, but when he reappeared, all was fine; he said he'd been hanging out with a lady in Virginia, while taking some OCS courses at VMI. I have rarely if ever questioned Joe's word.
And of course that last drop on Mars. He had gone ahead; we had reunited at the Drifter. No explanation there, except that our units had been reassigned at the last minute.
But there were also clear, marked-out moments that seemed like beginnings. I think on one now, lying back in bed with my eyes closed; I can almost see the lowering sun, the line of clouds hugging the western horizon.
The time Joe and I nearly got ourselves killed.
I suppose every Skyrine, every fighter for a nation, a polity, a socially segregated club, starts off believing in the purity and magnificence of trial and adventure. As a child, I sought adventure wherever I could find it—sometimes getting myself into real scrapes with danger and with the law. I was harum-scarum, reckless, but I was also pretty smart and so I seldom got into a fix I could not, all on my own, get myself out of. But on three occasions, before I reached the age of sixteen, I came close to getting myself killed.
Once, I was following a train track in Southern California, not far from where Pendleton still trains and houses young Skyrines. I was with Joe. I was usually with Joe when we weren't off trying to pick up girls, which we did separately.
Back then Joe Sanchez was a brown-haired Huck Finn kind of guy, a year older than me, as smart as I thought I was, and even more resourceful. We had known each other for two years, we were happy, we were seeking adventure.
Young men who think they're smart tend not to make straight, linear plans, but to engage in ingeniously crooked schemes and maneuvers, just to try things out. Just to test the world. That's their job. Our job.
Our crooked plan was to walk along the tracks and jump out of the way as trains came howling around the far headlands, through a cut in the Del Mar hills—passing behind Torrey Pines State Beach. We paid attention and walked the tracks and jumped out of the way as the engines and bright cars streaked past, though a few engineers were provoked to let loose with that impressive horn and glare at us as they flashed by in their long steel monsters.
But then we came to a bridge over the tidal inlet, a creosote pile kind of thing that might have been fifty or even seventy years old, just tracks, no cars, no clear path for a pair of reckless kids bent on a crooked lark.
We were halfway across that bridge, looking down through the ties at shallow turquoise and gray water lapping against the piles, enjoying the ocean breeze as seagulls wheeled and screeched. Joe was grinning like a bandit, walking ahead of me, teeth on fire in the lowering sun, glancing back and raising his arms as if he were a tightrope walker—brown hair rippling, brown arms reaching—when about two miles back we heard a train blat out like an angry dinosaur.
The engineer had glimmed across the low tidal inlet flats and with his sharp eyes discerned two scrawny figures in the middle of the bridge, with about a hundred and fifty feet left to finish gingerly walking, tie by tie, balancing, trying not to step through the spaces between—and the engineer had no doubt, given the train's speed and our steady, careful pace, that we had to speed it up, had to run along the ties like circus performers or cartoon characters…
And then he knew what we knew.
We still wouldn't make it. The train would be upon us before we could finish the crossing, and the water was at least thirty feet below, with a two-foot shoal over sand and gravel and eelgrass to break our fall or our necks.
So we did what we had to do. We laughed like loons. The fear was amazing. We ran, no, we danced along the ties. We ran and stumbled and recovered and ran. We slipped—Joe dropped his leg between two ties—I came down off a rail, one foot in the air, and somehow, we both scrambled up, unhurt, to keep running, all the time crowing and shouting and screaming—Move, fucker! Speed it up! Speed speed speed!
I managed to mostly balance on the left rail, stepping foot over foot, the toes of my shoes catching my pant cuffs, like my own legs would kill me if they could—
And my friend cried out, his voice breaking shrill, "It's right behind us! Fuck fuck fuck!"
I did not look back. I knew what I had to do—this was adventure, scary but chock-full of living, the height of everything I'd experienced until now—it was us versus the monster, and the engineer was leaning on his awful horn and the air filled with the most intense, gut-vibrating noise I had ever experienced.
I knew that I had to jump and break my legs.
Joe screamed again, looked back at me with the face of a maniac, and dove off the tracks. His legs splayed as he flew a yard out from the bridge and then straight down, arms wheeling. I lost sight of him when I jumped, but I didn't fall—I clung to the left rail with my fingers, feeling the polished, sunwarm steel sear my fingers, hot as a steam iron, while I nearly bit through my cheek—legs and feet dangling, maybe a second before the train's thousand tons of pressure pulped my hand and I fell anyway—
And my toes came down firm on a board. A crosstie. I could not see it but it was there—I could feel it. I let go of the steel rail and hugged a thick black piling, smelling the pungent tarry heat of creosote, just as the train roared over at forty or fifty miles per hour, wheels a few inches from my face, my feet trying to keep their purchase on the crosstie someone had so thoughtfully hammered between two pilings, but angled at a crazy slant, the soles of my running shoes hot and slippery from the steel ties, splinters driving into my palms—the entire bridge alive with weight and motor noise, rattling my guts and bones and suspended thoughts, rattling my skull and teeth while blood streamed from a corner of my lips.
The train took forever.
It was by me in less than a minute.
The horn stopped its insane howl.
The engineer probably thought we were both dead.
All my muscles had locked. I wanted to throw up but there was still stuff I had to do. I punched my arm and leg to release their lock, then edged forward along the crosspiece, which angled down to intersect another piling, and then along a lower piece, balancing briefly between pilings, shoes still slipping (I never bought that brand again) until I was within ten feet of the tidal flow, and I just gave up and fell back, closing my eyes—
Dropped and dropped.
Splashed down hard in the bath of the brackish stream, the shock spread evenly along my back and hips and legs. Water filled my nose. Eelgrass grabbed my hips and tried to hold me under, but I thrashed and broke free, found the mucky bottom, and shoved up with water streaming. The air brightened with diamond spray.
- "Stuffed with adrenaline-pumping action and mystifying ambiguity, Bear's series launch is a tempest of rousing SF adventure with a dash of Peckinpah."—Publishers Weekly on War Dogs
- "Military sci-fi, action and adventure, and a whole lot of thought-provoking complexity."—San Diego Union-Tribune on War Dogs
- "Packed with adventure and incident...and conveyed with gritty realism."—Kirkus on War Dogs
- "Greg Bear's voice is a resonant, clear chord of quality binding some of the best SF of the 20th Century to the short list of science-savvy, sophisticated, top-notch speculative fiction of the 21st. More than a grace note, Hull Zero Three is a compelling allegro in the growing symphony of Greg Bear's finest work."—Dan Simmons
- "Hull Zero Three is a grand adventure of scientific discovery in the tradition of "Orphans of the Sky" and "Rendezvous with Rama" -- by turns chilling and touching, it poses challenging questions about what it means to be human."—Charles Stross
- "Hull Zero Three is a lean, mean, supercharged sense-of-wonder engine."—Alastair Reynolds on Hull Zero Three
- "Not for those who prefer their space opera simple-minded, this beautifully written tale where nothing is as it seems will please readers with a well-developed sense of wonder."—Publisher's Weekly (starred review) on Hull Zero Three
- "Greg Bear is one contemporary master of the old ways, and in Hull Zero Three he gives the generation starship theme - crystallized beautifully by Robert Heinlein in 1941's "Universe" - a vigorous makeover...."—bn.com
- "The heart of the mystery is worthy of Bear in its bravura extrapolations into far-future science and moral ambiguity...a testament of faith both in human beings and in something beyond them, divine or indistinguishable from it, and it seems directed as much toward the world of today, with all its sinful affections and deceits, as it is toward the far future."—Locus on Hull Zero Three
- "I loved Hull Zero Three - this book reminds me of why I fell in love with science fiction in the first place. Searing questions of humanity, a good old fashioned riddle of a plot, and excellent conceptualization make Hull Zero Three more than worth the effort."—thebooksmugglers.com
- On Sale
- Jul 5, 2016
- Page Count
- 384 pages