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Larry Niven - Bordered in Black

Larry Niven - Bordered in Black

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Published by: lordportico on Jul 24, 2012
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10/30/2013

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BorderedinBlackOnlyonefigurestoodintheairlock,thoughitwasacargolock,easilybigenoughtoholdbothmen.Leanandsandyhaired,thetinyfigurewasobviouslyCarverRappaport.Abushybeardnowcoveredhalfhisface.Hewaitedpatientlywhiletherampwasrunup,andthenhestarteddown.Turnbull,waitingatthebottom,suppressedgrowinguneasiness.Somethingwaswrong.He'dknownitthemomentheheardthattheOverceewaslanding.Theshipmusthavebeeninthesolarsystemforhours.Whyhadn'tshecalledin?AndwherewasWallKameon?Returningspacersusuallysprinteddowntheramp,eagertotouchhonestconcreteagain.Rappaportcamedownwithslow,methodicalspeed.Seenclose,hisbeardwasragged,unkempt.Hereachedbottom,andTurnbullsawthatthesquarefeaturesweresetlikecement.Rappaportbrushedpasthimandkeptwalking.Turnbullranafterhimandfellintostep,lookingandfeelingfoolish.Rappaportwasagoodheadtaller,andwherehewaswalking,Turnbullwasalmostrunning.Heshoutedabovethebackgroundnoiseofthespaceport,"Rappaport,where'sKameon?"LikeTurnbull,Rappaporthadtoraisehisvoice."Dead.""Dead?Wasittheship?Rappaport,didtheshipkillhim?""No.""Thenwhat?Ishisbodyaboard?""Turnbull,Idxon'twanttotalkaboutit.No,hisbodyisn'taboard.His--"Rappaportgroundtheheelsofhishandsintohiseyes,likeamanwithablindingheadache."Hisgrave,"hesaid,emphasizingtheword,"hasaniceblackborderaroundit.Let'sleaveitatthat."Buttheycouldn't,ofcourse.Twosecurityofficerscaughtupwiththemneartheedgeofthefield."Stophim,"saidTurnbull,andtheyeachtookanarm.Rappaportstoppedwalkingandturned."HaveyouforgottenthatI'mcarryingadestructcapsule?""Whataboutit?"ForthemomentTurnbullreallydidn'tunderstandwhathemeant."AnymoreinterferenceandI'lluseit.Understandthis,Turnbull.Idon'tcareanymore.ProjectOverceeisover.Idon'tknowwhereIgofromhere.Thebestthingwecandoisblowupthatshipandstayinourownsolarsystem.""Man,haveyougonecrazy?Whathappenedoutthere?You--meetaliens?""Nocomment.--No,I'llanswerthatone.Wedidn'tmeetaliens.Nowtellyourcomedianfriendstoletgo."Turnbulllethimselfrealizethatthemanwasn'tbluffing.Rappaportwaspreparedtocommitsuicide.Turnbull,theinstinctivepolitician,weighedchangesandgambled."Ifyouhaventdecidedtotalkintwenty-fourhourswe'llletyougo.Ipromisethat.We'llkeepyouhere'tilthen,byforceifnecessary.Justtogiveyouanopportunitytochangeyourmind."Rappaportthoughtitover.Thesecuritymenstillheldhisarms,butcautiously,now,standingasfarbackastheycould,incasehispersonalbombwentoff."Seemsfair,"hesaidatlast,"ifyou'rehonest.Sure,I'llwaittwenty-fourhours.""Good."Turnbullturnedtoleadthewaybacktohisoffice.Instead,hemerelystared.TheOverceewasredhotatthenose,glaringwhiteatthetail.Mechsandtechswererunninginalldirections.AsTurnbullwatched,thesolarsystem'sfirstfaster-than-lightspacecraftslumpedandraninaspreading,glowingpool.***Ithadstartedacenturyago,whenthefirstramrobotsleftthesolars
 
ystem.Theinterstellarramscooprobotscouldmakemostoftheirjourneyatnearlight-speed,usingaconicalelectromagneticfleldtwohundredmilesacrosstoscoophydrogenfuelfrominterstellarspace.Butnomanhadeverriddenaramrobot.Noneeverwould.Theramscoopmagneticfielddidhorriblethingstochordateorganisms.Eachramrobothadbeenprogrammedtoreportbackonlyifitfoundahabitableworldnearthestartowhichithadbeenassigned.Twenty-sixhadbeensentout.Threehadreportedback--sofar....Ithadstartedtwelveyearsago,whenawell-knownmathematicianworkedoutatheoreticalhyperspaceoverEinsteinianfourspace.Hediditinhissparetime.Heconsideredthehyperspaceatoy,anexampleofpuremathematics.Andwhenhaspuremathematicsbeenanythingbutgoodcleanfun?...Ithadstartedtenyearsago,whenErgstrom'sbrotherCarldemonstratedtheexperimentalrealityofErgstrom'stoyuniverse.WithinamonththeUNhadfinancedProjectOvercee,putWinstonTurnbullincharge,andsetupaschoolforfaster-than-lightastronauts.Thevastnumberofapplicantswaswinnowedtoten"hypernauts."TwowereBelters;allwereexperiencedspacers.Thetrainingbeganinearnest.Itlastedeightyears,whileProjectOverceebuilttheship....Ithadstartedayearandamonthago,whentwomenclimbedintothealmostluxuriouslifesystemoftheOvercee,rantheshipouttoNeptune'sorbitunderescort,andvanished.Onewasback.NowhisfacewasnostonierthanTurnbull's.Turnbullhadjustwatchedhisworkofthelasttenyearsmeltandrunlikequicksilver.Hewasmadcleanthrough;buthismindworkedfuriously.Partofhim,thesmallerpart,waswonderinghowhewouldexplainthelossoftenbilliondollarsworthofship.TherestwasreviewingeverythingitcouldrememberaboutCarverGeoffreyRappaportandWilliam(Wall)Kameon.Turnbullenteredhisofficeandwentstraighttothebookshelf,surethatRappaportwasfollowing.Hepulledoutaleather-boundvolume,didsomethingtothebindingandpouredtwopapercupsfullofamberfluid.Thefluidwasbourbon,anditwasmorethanicecold.Rappaporthadseenthisbookcasebefore,yetheworeafaintlypuzzledfrownashetookacup.Hesaid,"Ididn'tthinkI'deveranticipateanythingagain.""Thebourbon?"Rappaportdidn'tanswer.Hisfirstswallowwasagulp."Didyoudestroyyourship?""Yes.Isetthecontrolssoitwouldonlymelt.Ididn'twantanyonehurt.""Commendable.Andtheoverceemotor?Youleftitinorbit?""Ihard-landeditontheMoon.It'sgone.""That'sgreat.Justgreat.Carver,thatshipcosttenbilliondollarstobuild.Wecanduplicateitforfour,Ithink,becausewewon'tbemakinganyfalsestarts,butyou--""Hellyouwouldn't."Rappaportswirledthebourboninhiscup,lookingdownintotheminiaturewhirlpool.Hewastwentytothirtypoundslighterthanhehadbeenayearago."YoubuildanotherOverceeandyou'llbemakingoneenormousfalsestart.Wewerewrong,Turnbull.It'snotouruniverse.There'snothingoutthereforus.""Itisouruniverse."Turnbullletthequietcertaintyshowinhispolitician'svoice.Heneededtostartanargument--heneededtogetthismantotalking.Butthecertaintywasreal,andalwayshadbeen.Itwashumanity'suniverse,readyforthetaking.OvertherimofhiscupRappaportlookedathiminexasperatedpity."Turnbull,can'tyoutakemywordforit?It'snotouruniverse,andit'snotworthhavinganyway.What'soutthereis--"Heclampedhismouthshutandturnedawayinthevisitor'schair.Turnbullwaitedtensecondstopointupthesilence.Thenheasked,"DidyoukillKameon?"
 
"KillWall?You'reoutofyourmind!""Couldyouhavesavedhim?"Rappaportfrozeintheactofturningaround."No,"hesaid.Andagain,"No.Itriedtogethimmoving,buthewouldn't--stopit!Stopneedlingme.Icanwalkoutanytime,andyoucouldn'tstopme.""It'stoolate.You'vearousedmycuriosity.WhataboutKameon'sblack-borderedgrave?"Noanswer."Rappaport,youseemtothinkthattheUNwilljusttakeyourwordanddismantleProjectOvercee.There'snotaprayerofthat.Probabilityzero.Inthelastcenturywe'vespenttensofbillionsofdollarsontheramrobotsandtheOvercee,andnowwecanrebuildherforfour.TheonlywaytostopthatistotelltheUNexactlywhytheyshouldn't."Rappaportdidn'tanswer,andTurnbulldidn'tspeakagain.HewatchedRappaport'scigaretteburningunheededintheashtray,leavingastripofcharredwetpaper.ItwasuncharacteristicoftheformerCarverRappaporttoforgetburningcigarettes,ortowearanuntrimmedbeardandsloppilycuthair.Themanhadbeenalwayscleanshaven;thatmanhadlineduphisshoesatnight,everynight,evenwhenstaggeringdrunk.CouldhehavekilledKameonforbeingsloppy?--andthenturnedmessyhimselfashelosthisself-respect?StrangerthingshadhappenedinthedayswhenittookeightmonthstoreachMars.--No,Rappaporthadnotdonemurder.Turnbullwouldhavebethighonthat.AndKameonwouldhavewonanyfairfight.NewspapermenhadnicknamedhimTheWallwhenhewasplayingguardfortheBerlinNazis."You'reright.WheredoIstart?"Turnbullwasjerkedoutofhisabstraction."Startatthebeginning.Whenyouwentintohyperspace.""Wehadnotroublethere.Exceptwiththewindows.Youshouldn'thaveputwindowsontheOvercee.""Whynot?Whatdidyousee?""Nothing.""Well,then?""Youevertrytofindyourblindspot?Youputtwodotsonapieceofpaper,maybeaninchapart,andyoucloseoneeye,focusononedotandslowlybringthepaperuptoyourface.Atsomepointtheotherdotdisappears.Lookingatthewindowinoverceeislikeyourblindspotexpandingtoatwo-footsquarewithroundedcorners.""Iassumeyoucoveredthemup.""Sure.Wouldyoubelieveit,wehadtroublefindingthosewindows?Whenyouwantedthemtheywereinvisible.Wegotthemcoveredwithblankets.Theneverysooftenwe'dcatcheachotherlookingundertheblankets.ItbotheredWallworsethanme.Wecouldhavemadethetripinfivemonthsinsteadofsix,butwehadtokeepcomingoutforalookaround.""Justtobesuretheuniversewasstillthere.""Right.""ButyoudidreachSirius.""Yes.WereachedSirius..."***Ramrobot#6hadreportedfromSiriusB,halfacenturyago.TheSiriusstarsareanunlikelyplacetolookforhabitableworlds,sincebothstarsareblue-whitegiants.Still,theramrobotshadbeenprogrammedtotestforexcessiveultraviolet.SiriusBwasworthalook.TheshipcameoutwhereSiriuswastwobrightstars.Itturneditssharpnosetowardthedimmerstarandremainedmotionlessfortwentyminutes,asilvertorpedoshapeinagreat,ungainlycradlestuddedwithheavyelectromagneticmotors.Thenitwasgoneagain.NowSiriusBwasasearingballoflight.Theshipbegantoswingabout,likeahoundsniffingthebreeze,butslowly,ponderously."Wefoundfourplanets,"saidRappaport."Maybethereweremore,butwe

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