Downfall Tide by Alexis Glynn Latner - Read Online
Downfall Tide
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Summary

This is a sequel to the novel Hurricane Moon. At the outset of that book, Earth was wracked by climate change and political upheaval. An ambitious private foundation launched a starship to find a new world.  The starship Aeon sought a planet with a large moon to ensure Earthlike tides and seasons.  Aeon finally found a new world with an apparently primitive ecosystem and a huge ocean moon covered with hurricanes. But the human genome had been insidiously damaged by the cryostasis— cold suspended animation—that went on too long. Astronaut-physician Catharin Gault and molecular biologist Joseph Devreze had to learn how to repair the genome for there to be any human future on Planet Green. Soon they and everyone else collided with their highest hopes and worst fears—and, in some cases, with the past they thought they’d left behind on Earth. 


Downfall Tide begins twenty-four years after the events in Hurricane Moon. Much has changed, thanks to unremitting hard work by the Catharin and Joe and the others in the first generation of explorers and colonists. They’ve founded a new civilization on Planet Green. They’ve begun to understand Green’s deceptively simple-looking ecosystem. To better understand the huge blue moon and the rest of the solar system, the starship Aeon is taking its last journey of exploration, to the outer planets. 
And then a brilliant, strange new star appears in the evening sky of Planet Green. 


It signals the beginning’s end.
 

Published: Avendis Press on
ISBN: 9781942686019
List price: $1.99
Availability for Downfall Tide: Aeon's Legacy, #2
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Downfall Tide - Alexis Glynn Latner

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Credits

PROLOGUE—REBECCA FISHER’S JOURNAL FROM YEAR FIVE AFTER STARFALL

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Planet Green is a geological puzzle wrapped in an ecological enigma, inside a planetological mystery. The geological puzzle is this: a planet that’s had vegetation for billions of years should be oozing with petroleum. But we can’t find it. Not in the places Earth-trained geologists know to look. The land west of Unity Base gets a lot of their attention right now, because the geologists are convinced that the underlying rock formations will yield oil, if we can just figure out the rules of the geological game here.

I’m not convinced that we need to play this game. Green has other sources of energy—sun, wind, and above all, tides. Yes, oil is wonderful stuff that yields fuel and petrochemicals, plastics and medicines, but none of that will solve the crisis facing us now. Our compulsion to seek oil strikes me as a superstitious reflex; it’s like resorting to black magic. It’s because in all of our hearts, there’s a cold core of fear that there may not be a human future on Planet Green.

My role in resource exploration is aerial survey. I fly a motorglider equipped with scanning and mapping instruments. The motorglider’s engines run on biofuel produced from plant matter, but most of the time—more and more, as I learn my way around this sky—the motor stays off. I take advantage of atmospheric thermals, which are abundant in the long days here, and I work ridge lift when there’s wind. So I usually don’t need the engines to keep us aloft. By us I mean myself and my observer. It’s dangerous to be out alone on Planet Green. The danger has less to do with the environment than with what’s between our ears—how we react to an environment we didn’t evolve in—but that doesn’t make the danger any less real. The buddy system is Standard Operating Procedure for everyone in the field.

Given the cross-training we’ve all had, my aerial observer could be anybody from a mechanic, to a medical technician, to a stray scientist. My favorite observer happens to be a theoretical molecular biologist. His name is Joe Toronto. After the long starflight from Earth, depending on how optimistic you felt about this new world—or how much trouble you were in on the old world—some of us changed our last name to honor our city of origin. Joe came from Toronto. I grew up on a farm near Brightwood, Tennessee. Maybe I’ll see fit to change my name some day. For now I’m still Rebecca Fisher, but I named the motorglider Tennessee Kite.

Joe works hard in Unity Base. With his wife, Catharin Gault, who is our doctor and my best friend, he’s repairing the human genome. The genome was damaged because our starflight took hundreds of years too long. The repair work is tedious and chancy. Every so often Joe likes to get away and ride with me in Kite. He is the most imaginative scientist I’ve ever met, which makes a surprising difference: he’s better than anyone else at seeing what none of us expect here.

******

The long days of Planet Green give thermals plenty of time to develop. And overdevelop. One day Joe and I found the sky getting crowded with clouds that had roiling gray roots and icy crowns. I diverted to one of my emergency runways, a stretch of rough limestone ridgetop marked by an orange emergency supply barrel anchoring a wind sock. With a rainstorm bearing down on us, we jumped out of the motorglider, tied down the wings and tail, and ran for more substantial cover. Where the ridge abutted a slightly higher hill there was enough of an undercut to provide a shelter from the storm.

We ducked into the undercut with a cursory look around for hazards like loose rocks that could turn an ankle. We knew we wouldn’t meet anything alive that was particularly dangerous. Animal life on Green is small, slow and soft. No dinosaurs, no birds, no herds of herbivores with carnivores stalking them. The most conspicuous life form on the ridge was a frilly blue lichen with chartreuse fruiting bodies. Planet Green is big on lichens.

At the back of the undercut I noticed a narrow gap with deep shadow behind it: a cave. I turned on my pocket flashlight to investigate the cave. At first I found nothing but stone, sand, and silence. Then I noticed a black substance coating the roof. I touched the black stuff with a gloved finger. It wasn’t mold. It also wasn’t sticky asphalt, but looked enough like some form of carbon to make my interest level spike very high.

Back up, Joe said. The sharp edge on his voice told me he was either excited or alarmed. I backpedaled until I bumped into him. Look down. He pointed past my shoulder at the floor of the cave, a fine-grained gray stone with sand drifted over it. The sand almost covered a long, shallow, curved depression. Look at the whole floor. What do you see?

The depression extended almost the fourteen-foot width of the cave floor, and it had an unmistakable shape. I yelped, Wings!

Rain lashed the ridgetop outside. The cave stayed dry and quiet. We brushed sand off the shape in the stone. Under my fingers there appeared a stony tracery of feathers at the edge of a wing. I was astounded.

Planet Green seems primitive, quasi-Devonian, yet life on Green is older than Earth itself. That’s the ecological enigma. After peaking in complexity eons ago, the ecosystem on Green devolved from more apparent complexity to less. Lichens and ferns are ubiquitous, while we haven’t found anything flower-like. What Joe and I had discovered in the cave was far more momentous than flowers. We were looking at the fossil of an extinct Green-bird. It had lain in fine-grained, water-saturated sediments, undisturbed, as its flesh dissolved and its form turned into slaty stone.

I saw Archaeopteryx fossils in museums on Earth. Even the most intact of them looked like a run-over, smashed chicken. The creature on the cave floor was very different. With its wings outstretched in a lifelike way, crested head turned to one side, tail fanned out, it looked at peace. Entranced, I was only half-aware of Joe prowling around the rim of the cave until I heard him take in a sharp, surprised breath. He said, Remember cuneiform—the first writing—marks pressed into clay with a stick to count sheep and jugs of olive oil?

Joe’s flights of mind could leave me way behind. What about it? I looked up. My eyes had adjusted to the dim light, and I saw markings on the cave wall. Rows of marks spiraled from the ceiling of the cave to the bottom of the wall, where the marks were obscured by drifted sand.

Joe stood there smiling at the marks. Anybody who can count can think.

As what he meant sank in, it made the hair on the nape of my neck rise. The black stuff on the ceiling, I said. It could be soot from ancient fires.

PART ONE: EVENING STAR

CHAPTER 1—STILL LAKE

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In early twilight, at the cusp of the three lights—the sun, the stars, and the big blue ocean moon—Rebecca Fisher flew the motorglider Kite southward along the Inland Scarp. She was alone, since this had only been a short flight to check on the late-summer bloom of phytoplankton in Rustytide Bay to the north. With a strong steady east wind coming from the sea she found the lift of rising air along the Scarp and shut down the engines to save precious fuel.

The Inland Scarp was an extensive fold in the landscape, like a long wrinkle in a blanket. Easily flying the lift beside the Scarp, she had time to reflect. It was now thirty Green-years after Starfall here, and it had been a long time since she had actually explored this new world. It had been even longer since she had written in her journal about exploration’s new discoveries—caves, fossil birds, or anything else heady with the wonder of a new world. She had been busy building this civilization. They all had been. Building a civilization, starting with the first City, was hard. More people being involved didn’t make it any less hard—especially not when the colonial government had had to wrap themselves around a situation drastically different from what they had expected. The colonial government had generally not taken it well.

Ahead the scarp angled west. She needed to turn east to Unity Mountain and home—Unity Base and its runway on top of the Mountain.

A large lake lay between here and there. At the end of a long summer day, the water would be warm, the air above the water more stable than sinking. She knew from experience that she could glide across the lake. On the other side of it she could climb the thermals on the sun-warmed west face of Unity Mountain. If necessary she could start the engine, but it was unlikely to be necessary. She had done this many times before. She pointed Kite’s nose east across the lake.

The blue ocean moon was high in the sky and more than half full. In the east the first star was already visible. It looked as bright as Venus. This planetary system didn’t have a Venus. The stars didn’t have names. This was too far away from Earth to see any of its familiar stars. The nameless evening star was so bright it reflected in the water.

That reflection danced on wavelets on the surface of the lake. Becca frowned. She had never seen the lake ruffled. It was in a bowl in the landscape; prevailing winds seldom touched it. In another fact at variance with what she knew to expect, the outside air venting into the cockpit was unusually cold. It chilled her exposed skin. Feeling cold suggested something frosty about the look of that reflected star.

The radio crackled to life. "Kite, Unity Base. It was the familiar, heart-of-my-heart voice of Dom Cady—Becca's longtime lover and for the last seven years her husband and the father of her child. Where are you?"

Still Lake, she radioed back.

There’s a star that shouldn’t be there.

I see it. Why—

It might be a supernova.

She could hardly believe her ears. But she instantly realized that it was a hypothesis that made sense. It was also terrible news. How close?

God only knows, and the Ship hasn’t told us anything. Come in!

Will do! She stopped talking to concentrate on flying.

She’d lost altitude, but she’d foreseen that happening in the stable air over the lake. Tall trees were widely scattered in the lake. They always made her think she was much too low. From prior experience on Earth, she never expected to see trees standing a couple of hundred feet high in a lake equally deep. But that was how these trees grew.

She looked at the altimeter in the instrument panel. The face of the altimeter looked blurred. She blinked, then frowned, and finally read the number. Then she was alarmed. She really was too low.

She stabbed at the engine start button. Her finger missed. Somehow she couldn’t coordinate her hands. She found herself in an altitude-eroding steep turn, cursed, and leveled out.

Coming out of the turn, she saw the blue moon reflected in the water like a half-lidded eye.

******

At the end of a long uneventful day, Unity Base rested in a comfortable twilight. Or rather, Catharin thought, over the thirty Green-years they’d been here, it had grown comfortable to have late sunlight, early starlight and blue moonlight mingled in the air. It hadn’t started out that way.

Summer school was over for the day. Half a dozen children played on the packed red dirt outside the patio. Catharin registered how the children were playing with balls and marbles and scratched hopscotch lines, but none of them were wandering into the forest, or straggling back from having done so. It was as though the children had not yet bonded to this world, even though they were the ones you'd expect to—the first generation born here. She had noticed that before. Unexpected, and perhaps unfortunate, but not necessarily ominous.

Wimm Tucker handed her a cool glass half-filled with grassy yellow liquid. Wimm’s Green-beer had a flavor that was impossible to categorize. He infused his beer with a native plant called swampcress, which was non-toxic and invariably baffling to human taste buds. Catharin's first sip registered a note of caramel. Behind Wimm, food sizzled on the patio the grill. It was mostly synthetic food, the same as always and never enough of it to permit gluttony. Her mouth watered nonetheless. Wimm—the longtime quartermaster and cook of Unity Base—knew how to turn borderline famine into feast.

Catharin took a plastic chair that faced away from the glare of the long slow sunset. To the east, on the coastal plain, the colony's hard-won city gleamed in the sun’s slanting rays. The city was made of glass. Those who still lived in Unity Base did so because it remained an excellent research facility—and because they didn’t care to go downhill to live in a glass house. Especially not a glass house with politics. The great starship Aeon, in which they had come so far, was away exploring the outer system on what might be its last journey. When the Ship returned, the question would arise yet again of whether to cannibalize it for a greater City framed by metal, not glass. That had been the original plan. The plan had changed drastically even before Starfall here. Those preselected before the mission to constitute the Colonial Government knew—intellectually—that everything had changed. Unfortunately many of them had not accepted it.

As she sipped her beer, Catharin was aware of herself monitoring the children, contemplating the politics in the glass house, and, as always, weighing genetic damage done to the human genome by the long starflight in the scales of ruin and remedy. In other words she was not really and truly relaxing, nor was that unusual. She ruefully smiled into her beer. It had been long hard work for more than two decades to mend the damage, and it wasn’t over, even though her body thought it should be. She was only fifty-seven in Earth-years. Moreover, Green’s gravity weighed her and everybody else down less than Earth’s. But she was beginning to feel old. She had cricks in her spine that didn’t used to be there. Sitting down felt better than it used to.

Her condition could have been far worse. Two dumpy figures were walking at the edge of the forest of furry pines. Samantha Houston had been on the upper end of the age range permitted to sign up for the long star flight in cryostasis. Early on, Sam had worried that her brain might have gotten freezer burn, as she put it. To this day she didn’t have a single real symptom of that. But her wife, Della, though several years younger than Sam, had shown signs of dementia from the day she was revived from stasis and it had slowly gotten worse. Now Della was exhibiting the classic symptom of Alzheimer’s sundowning—agitation at sunset. So Sam walked with Della by the furry pines.

One star shone low in the southeast, almost directly over the glass house of the city. In the same direction lay the agricultural terraces at the foot of the Mountain. Experimental crops in the ground had produced some food—wheat, tomatoes, corn, beans, and interestingly, rice, that thrived in its shallow paddies better than anything else. The crops were a great success, all things considered. The soil had needed Terrestrial microbes. Those microbes had been supplied together with some ingenious fertilizers. It had been a lot of work with no end in sight. Catharin certainly wasn’t the only person facing endless work. Like the trilight-twilight, that reality had become comfortable in its own way, and she felt a kind of contentment. She took another sip of beer with that hint of caramel—or maybe it was more like lemongrass. The color of the beer certainly suggested lemongrass. Either way, she liked it. She listened for the rough mechanical purr of Kite's engine. Becca would be coming in soon. Then everyone would be home and safe for the night.

That evening star had grown extraordinarily bright. It twinkled extravagantly in the thick, moist, coastal atmosphere.

Someone who was thinking faster than Catharin said, Could that be a supernova?

Dom Cady shot away toward the nearby hangar with its radio base. Everyone else grabbed the nearest child or so and ran indoors. They crowded into the basement storeroom. The base structure offered some protection against radiation. Kite had no such protection. Catharin bit her lip and stayed calm for the sake of the children clutching her hands—Evie Ireland and Little Dom. The boy’s eyes were wide after seeing his father run for the radio.

It may not be the scary thing it looks like, she told Little Dom. Even if it is, the atmosphere of this world is like a blanket. It will protect your mother and all of us from the radiation.

But the strange star was rising higher, shining through a thinner skin of air. And this was terrible luck. Aeon with its observing instruments and computer Intelligence was outsystem. Advice from Aeon would come at the speed of electromagnetic radiation and take an hour to arrive. But Unity Base was the science station and the City was relying on Unity for advice.

What do the radiation meters say? asked Wimm. He had his wits about him. He also had brought in the food that had been on the patio, in case it wasn't safe to go back outside.

Aaron is in the control room checking, someone answered.

Carlton Wing counted heads. He came up one child short.

A minute later Maya London ran in with the last child. The star is gone! she said breathlessly. There was a stunned silence. Someone finally asked, Do supernovas do that?

All of the Base inhabitants who had not been on the patio were trickling in. In their midst and taller than the rest of them was Aaron Manhattan, the Exploration Science Director. There's no elevation of background radiation, Aaron announced. Nothing unusual on any frequency of the electromagnetic spectrum—that is, nothing except that starlike light, and it's gone now—and no particle flux.

Catharin asked, Does that mean none in the first place, or we all got dosed before we knew it? Little Dom clutched her hand harder.

Not for the past hour. That's as far back as I've checked the readings so far.

People murmured, someone laughed, children asked questions, and adults answered along the lines of, We don’t know what it was, but it's probably nothing to worry about.

This is a different part of the Galaxy from where old Earth was, Maya said soothingly, and the stars are thicker and do more interesting things.

Dom Cady rushed back in. He grabbed Aaron’s arm with one hand and Catharin’s with the other. She went down in Still Lake.

For a fractured instant, Catharin thought that was inventive of Becca, knowing that water is a good radiation shield. Cold fear gripped her when she comprehended what Dom meant: that Becca’s Kite had crash-landed in the deep lake.

******

Adrenaline blew the dizzy fog out of Becca's brain. Come down under control, she told herself, with low speed and wings level and hopefully the aircraft can be retrieved later. The pilot can be retrieved too if she isn’t knocked out, exits the aircraft, and swims to safety. Becca unlatched Kite's canopy and steered toward one of the tall trees. She stuffed her electronic notebook inside her flight jacket. There was no need to make a grab for the life jacket she didn’t have aboard.

Kite hit the water with a rocking jolt a hundred feet from the tree. It floated long enough for her to clamber out. She swam for the tree. The water felt ice-cold and her arms and legs felt numb when she finally reached the tree. Fortunately for her, it had craggy, steppy bark. She’d climbed many a tree in her days on Earth. Even numb with cold, her muscles remembered how.

Crouched on the lowest branch, shivering violently, she watched as Kite sank without a ripple. Her clothing—overalls that repelled water, flight jacket likewise—shed the water as they were supposed to do. So she was wet around the edges but not stranded with body-heat-sapping wet clothing. She checked the jacket's pockets, finding two energy bars, a knife, and the waterproof locator beacon that was probably already talking to the geostationary satellite in the sky. All in all it was a good outcome to a crash.

But why had the crash happened? Had she gotten dangerously dehydrated, impairing her mental faculties? She was suddenly thirsty now. She climbed down the tree. Dipping up lake water with one hand, she slurped shakily. The water was very cold. Interesting. It hadn't just been the shock of being wet, then, that made it feel icy when she swam to the tree. The water was much colder than the air temperature.

An old chunk of knowledge surfaced in her mind. Weren't some deep lakes on Earth cold and anoxic on the bottom—warm and oxygenated above—and, in an earthquake, capable of turning over suddenly—the cold, anoxic water surging up? There had been lakes like that in Africa that turned over and released carbon dioxide and killed villagers living nearby.

She did feel breathless and light-headed. She carefully crawled back up the tree. Higher than she'd been the first time, she found a kind of natural bowl where a long thick branch left the bole of the tree. She curled up in the bowl and, feeling sudden adrenaline hunger, she ate an energy bar.

The lake reflected a pale peach aftermath of sunset, a deep blue zenith, and darkening eastern sky in which there was no sign of the bright star earlier, the one Unity Base had thought might be a supernova. There were a few ordinary stars. The water reflected them perfectly. It was still again. A lake as still as glass.

And Kite was God only knew how far under that still, cold water.

Oh, Kite, she thought. How could I do this to you?

She cried uncontrollably until she realized that she was clinging to the bark in the bowl of the tree like a little lost monkey clinging to a terry towel—and that it was furry, too, with a texture like the bark of the furry pines at the top of the Mountain; and that it felt warm. Incomprehensibly comforted, she took another good look around. The sky was clear, with countless nameless stars appearing overhead. The air below her bowl, though, was turning opaque—warm air over cold water turning into fog. The fog thickened as she watched. She thought about Dom and Little Dom, and Catharin and the other friends who by now must be worried sick about her.

She fingered the locator in her pocket.

******

The geostat satellite picked up her locator, Aaron told them. Catharin, along with Dom, Joe, Carl, and Sam Houston were having an emergency meeting with Aaron, in the control room of the base, now that the supernova scare was behind them. That had only been a half an hour ago. It felt longer than that. She’s sending a message in Morse code. She says she's safe in a tree in the lake.

Dom laughed. Trust her to climb a tree out of trouble! His son echoed him with a tremulous giggle.

Still no radiation from the star, or whatever it was? Joe asked.

None.

So when do we go get her? Joe asked.

Aaron said, She says there's convection fog over the lake, that she's inside a cloud but safe and warm in the tree. Aaron blew breath from puffed cheeks. It will be safest for her rescuers to wait for first light.

It will just be a long night for her, Catharin murmured. Nights on Green were twice the length of those on Earth.

And for some of the rest of us, Sam Houston said practically. "We've got a rescue mission to plan. Not just picking Becca out of that tree. I have an idea for getting Kite back."

The sooner the better, Dom said emphatically.

Most of an hour later, word came from Aeon via the geostat satellite. It was the voice of Joel Atlanta, the Captain of Aeon, speaking from the outer reaches of Green's solar system. Even now, in the midst of an emergency, it gave Catharin pleasure to hear Joel’s voice. His tone was rough with seriousness. Of course, Catharin thought, but then corrected her thinking. Joel couldn't be saying anything about Kite's crash. Their report about that, traveling at the speed of electromagnetic radiation, could only have gotten to Aeon a short while ago. Whatever Joel said about it—and the subsequent report saying she's safe—would come almost an hour from now.

We just saw an extraordinary star, Joel said instead. It was right off the limb of Green and never eclipsed by the planet for the ten minutes we had it in sight. It faded for reasons of its own, apparently. But while it still shone, it moved. It was either an object at stellar distance moving incredibly rapidly, or something less than a star’s distance away, or maybe even at orbital distance from Green.

CHAPTER 2—FIRST IMPRESSION

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Sunrise was as slow as always, as it gradually illuminated the fog on Still Lake. Becca had been dozing, but the light woke her up. She assessed her condition. Stiff—with a few bruises from the impact on the water—but nowhere near hypothermia. The bark of this tree really was warm, at least in this bowl at the branch.

She didn't feel particularly dizzy. And she had definitely not died of carbon dioxide asphyxiation.

It was utterly silent—as still as the lake's name—until she heard the unmistakable, rhythmic sound of a paddle. Out of the mist, Carlton Wing appeared with his canoe, not heading quite toward the tree. She hailed him and he quickly paddled to her.

She crawled down the tree and eased into the canoe while Carl held it steady by gripping the rough bark. When Becca was securely aboard, Carl pushed off from the tree. Then he held out his hand to her. Thank God, you're alive and well!

She gripped his hand and privately thanked God for the sight of his kind face and his competence with a canoe. I think I'm fine, but what was that star, yesterday evening?

He paddled toward shore. "Not a supernova after all. There was no such radiation. Aeon doesn’t know what it was or how far away it was. In other words, maybe not a star’s distance away, maybe not a star at all. We don't know."

******

The mist cleared. The Unity Base helicopter thudded over the water with the river-raft Mallard dangling beneath it. Flying the copter with his signature flair, Domino set Mallard down on Still Lake with a splash. The raft's main mast was loaded with instruments, and it would sample the local atmosphere in more detail than Carl had managed with his CO2 sampler, before he set out across the lake. Carl had decided that it was probably safe enough to home in on Becca's locator. The crew of Mallard would be more particular.

Fifteen minutes later, though, Mallard sounded its whistle twice. That signal meant all clear: no problem with composition of the air. Then the question was where, exactly, Kite had come to rest.

By then Becca had eaten breakfast and Carl paddled her back to the tree. It was strangely beautiful with its immensely tall brown bole, long straight branches, and lance-shaped leaves shining, almost glowing, green, in the slanting golden light of an early summer day. Standing in the midst of the blue lake, it looked like something from a lucid dream.

She scrambled up to her night's nest and looked around to see if she could pinpoint where Kite lay. A branch pointed in the direction—a long, level branch that ran parallel to the water. She vaguely remembered seeing it out of the corner of her eye as the motorglider skimmed along and rocked to a watery stop. She found it, walked out on the branch, and looked straight down.

Suddenly she had a sense of height vertigo: the water was so clear that it looked like no water at all, nothing but air all the way to the roots of