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«Nemesis», Isaac Asimov

To Mark Hurst, my valued copy editor, who, I think, works over my manuscripts harder than I do

 

Author's Note

This book is not part of the Foundation Series, the Robot Series, or the Empire Series. It stands independently. I just thought I'd warn you of that to avoid misapprehension. Of course, I might someday write another novel tying this one to the others, but, then again, I might not. After all, for how long can I keep flogging my mind to make it work out these complexities of future history?

Another point. I made up my mind long ago to follow one cardinal rule in all my writing - to be clear. I have given up all thought of writing poetically or symbolically or experimentally, or in any of the other modes that might (if I were good enough) get me a Pulitzer prize. I would write merely clearly and in this way establish a warm relationship between myself and my readers, and the professional critics- Well, they can do whatever they wish.

However, my stories write themselves, I'm afraid, and in this one, I was rather appalled to find out that I was writing it in two strands. One set of events was taking place in the story's present, and another set was taking place in the story's past, but steadily approaching the present. I am sure you will have no trouble following the pattern, but since we are all friends, I thought I would let you know.

Prologue

He sat there alone, enclosed.

Outside were the stars, and one particular star with its small system of worlds. He could see it in his mind's eye, more clearly than he would see it in reality if he merely de-opacified the window.

A small star, pinkish-red, the color of blood and destruction, and named appropriately.

Nemesis!

Nemesis, the Goddess of Divine Retribution.

He thought again of the story he had once heard when he was young - a legend, a myth, a tale of a worldwide Deluge that wiped out a sinful degenerate humanity, leaving one family with which to start anew.

No flood, this time. Just Nemesis.

The degeneration of humanity had returned and the Nemesis that would be visited upon it was an appropriate judgement. It would not be a Deluge. Nothing as simple as a Deluge.

Even for the remnant who might escape- Where would they go?

Why was it he felt no sorrow? Humanity could not continue as it was. It was dying slowly through its own misdeeds. If it exchanged a slow excruciating death for a much faster one, was that a cause for sorrow?

Here, actually circling Nemesis, a planet. Circling the planet, a satellite. Circling the satellite, Rotor.

That ancient Deluge carried a few to safety in an Ark. He had only the vaguest idea of what the Ark was, but Rotor was its equivalent. It carried a sampling of humanity who would remain safe and from which a new and far better world would be built.

But for the old world - there would be only Nemesis!

He thought of it again. A red dwarf star, moving on its inexorable path. Itself and its worlds were safe. Not so Earth.

Nemesis was on its way, Earth!

Wreaking its Divine Retribution!

 

1. Marlene

1. Marlene

 

 

1

 

Marlene had last seen the Solar System when she was a little over one year old. She didn't remember it, of course.

She had read a great deal about it, but none of the reading had ever made her feel that it could ever have been part of her, nor she a part of it.

In all her fifteen years of life, she remembered only Rotor. She had always thought of it as a large world. It was eight kilometers across, after all. Every once in a while since she was ten - once a month when she could manage it - she had walked around it for the exercise, and sometimes had taken the low-gravity paths so she could skim a little. That was always fun. Skim or walk, Rotor went on and on, with its buildings, its parks, its farms, and mostly its people.

It took her a whole day to do it, but her mother didn't mind. She said Rotor was perfectly safe. ‘Not like Earth,’ she would say, but she wouldn't say why Earth was not safe. ‘Never mind,’ she would say.

It was the people Marlene liked least. The new census, they said, would show sixty thousand of them on Rotor. Too many. Far too many. Every one of them showing a false face. Marlene hated seeing those false faces and knowing there was something different inside. Nor could she say anything about it. She had tried sometimes when she had been younger, but her mother had grown angry and told her she must never say things like that.

As she got older, she could see the falseness more clearly, but it bothered her less. She had learned to take it for granted and spend as much time as possible with herself and her own thoughts.


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