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«Orion Among the Stars», Ben Bova

  • Yes, makin’ mock o’ uniforms that guard you while you sleep
  • Is cheaper than them uniforms, an’ they’re starvation cheap…
  • For it’s Tommy this, an’ Tommy that, an “Chuck him out, the brute!”
  • But it’s “Saviour of ’is country,” when the guns begin to shoot…

Rudyard Kipling — Tommy

 

To Paul Spencer, Tommy Atkins, and all their cousins.

Prologue

This time death was like being in the center of a whirlpool, inside the heart of a roaring tornado. The universe spun madly, time and space whirling into a dizzying blur, planets and stars and atoms and electrons racing in wild orbits with me in the middle of it all, falling, falling endlessly into a cryogenically cold oblivion.

Gradually all sensation left me. It might have taken moments or millennia, I had no way to gauge time, but all feeling of motion and cold seeped away from me, as if I were being numbed, frozen, turned into an immobile, insensate block of ice.

Still my mind continued to function. I knew I was being translated across space-time, from one cusp of the continuum to another. Yet for all I could see or touch or hear, I was in total oblivion. For a measureless tune I almost felt glad to be free of the wheel of life at last, beyond pain, beyond desire, beyond the agonizing duty that the Creators forced upon me.

Beyond love.

That stirred me. Somewhere in the vast reaches of space-time Anya was struggling against forces that I could not even comprehend, in danger despite her godlike powers, facing enemies that frightened even the Golden One and the other Creators.

I reached out with my mind, seeking to penetrate the blank darkness that engulfed me. Nothing. It was as if there was no universe, no continuum, neither time nor space. But I knew that somewhere, sometime, she existed. She had loved me as I had loved her. Nothing in all the universes of existence would keep us apart.

A glimmer of light. So fault and distant that at first I thought it might be merely my imagination obeying my desire. But yes, it truly was there. A faintest, faintest glow. Light. Warmth.

Whether I moved to it or it moved to me mattered not at all to me. The glow grew and brightened until I seemed to be hurtling toward it like a chip thrown into a furnace, like a meteor drawn to a star. The light blazed like the sun now and I threw my arms across my eyes to ease the pain, delighted that I had eyes and arms and could feel again.

“Orion,” came a voice from that blinding, overpowering radiance. “You have returned.”

It was Aten, of course, the Golden One. He resolved his presence into human form, a powerful godlike figure with a thick golden mane, robed in shimmering gold, almost too bright for me to look upon.

He stood before me in an utterly barren landscape that stretched toward infinity in every direction. A featureless plain of billowing mist that played about our ankles, an empty bowl of sky above us the color of hammered copper.

“Where is Anya?” I asked.

“Far from here.”

“I must go to her. She is in great danger.”

“So are we all, Orion.”

“I don’t care about you or the others. It is Anya I care for.”

A faint hint of a smirk curled the corners of his lips. “What you care or don’t care about is inconsequential, Orion. I created you to do my bidding.”

“I want to be with Anya.”

“Impossible. There are other tasks for you to perform, creature.”

I stared into his golden eyes and knew that he had the power to send me where he chose. But I had powers, too, powers that were growing and strengthening.

“I will find her,” I said.

He laughed scornfully. But I knew that whatever he did, wherever he sent me, I would seek the woman I loved, the goddess who loved me. And I would not cease until I found her.

Chapter 1

I found myself confined in a featureless gray enclosure, the curving wall of a smooth plastic cocoon so close upon me that I could not lift my head without bumping it. I lay on my back, disoriented, blinking eyes that felt gummy with sleep. My arms were pressed close to my sides; there was scant room for me to move them. But I edged one hand along the curving wall of my chamber. It felt blood-warm. Yet I was chilled, as cold inside as a frozen corpse.


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