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.It was five times as deep as he was tall, and its floor was a long gas-smoothed blister of greenish basalt.A long bloated ridge of molten rock had almost lifted free into space but then frozen, preserving every last ripple and warp.…It slid aside.The rock ridge shriveled, crumpling like silk, its warps and bumps revealed as shaded camouflage on a plastic film.A cavern yawned below.It was a tunnel, curving just below the surface.Lindsay picked his way cautiously down the slope and flung himself into the tunnel.He braced himself against its walls.Stretching overhead, he pushed against the tunnel’s ceiling to plant his feet.Sunlight dawned over the tiny horizon and fell into the tunnel.It was precisely circular and inhumanly smooth.Six tracks of thin metallic ribbon had been epoxied into place, running lengthwise along the corridor.In raw sunlight the tracks had the gleam of copper.The tunnel apparently girdled the asteroid.It curved rapidly, like the horizon.Before him, almost hidden by the tunnel’s curvature, he glimpsed the dim sheen of brown plastic.Jumping and shoving along the walls, he bounced toward it in free-fall.It was a plastic film with an inert fabric airlock.Lindsay pulled the zippered airlock tag and stepped in.He zipped it up behind him, undid a second zipper in the lock’s inner wall, and climbed through.He was in a cavernous black and ocher balloon.It had been blown up within the tunnel, filling it tightly.A figure in a plastic decontamination suit floated upside down below the ceiling, a bright green silhouette against hand-sprayed black arabesques on an ocher background.Lindsay’s suit had gone flat, indicating air pressure.He took his helmet off and inhaled cautiously.It was an oxy-nitrogen mix, standard air.Lindsay held his right arm across his chest with deliberate awkwardness.“I, uh, have a prepared statement to read.If you have no objection.”“Please proceed.” The woman’s voice was thin, half muffled.He glimpsed her face behind the plate: cold eyes, tawny skin, dark hair held in a green net.Lindsay read the words slowly, without inflection.“Greetings from the Fortuna Miners’ Democracy.We are an independent nation, operating under the rule of law, firmly predicated on a basis of individual civil rights.As emigrants into our national territory, new members of the body politic are subject to a brief naturalization process before assuming full citizenship.We regret any inconvenience caused by the imposition of a new political order.“It is our policy that ideological differences be settled by a process of negotiation.To that end, we have deputized our Secretary of State to establish preliminary terms, subject to ratification by the Senate.It is the wish of the Fortuna Miners’ Democracy, as expressed in House Joint Resolution Sixteen, Sixty-Seventh Session, that you begin negotiation without delay under the Secretary’s aegis, so that the interim period may be as brief and as secure as possible.“We extend to our future citizens the hand of friendship and warm congratulations.“Signed, President.”Lindsay looked up.“You’ll want a copy of this,” he said, extending it.The Shaper woman floated closer.Lindsay saw that she was beautiful.It meant very little.Beauty was cheap among Shapers.She took the document.Lindsay pulled more from a hip valise, with his left hand.“These are my credentials.” He handed them over: a wad of recycled printout gaudy with Fortuna foil seals.The woman said, “My name is Nora Mavrides.The rest of the Family has asked me to convey to you our impression of the situation.We feel that we can convince you that the actions you’ve taken are rash, and that you can profit by turning your attention elsewhere.We ask for nothing but the time to convince you.We have even shut down our main gun.”Lindsay nodded.“That’s nice.Very good.Should impress the government very much.I’d like to see this gun.”“We are inside it,” said Nora Mavrides.ABOARD THE RED CONSENSUS: 22-12-’16Lindsay said, “I played dumb.But I don’t think she bought it.” He was addressing a joint session of the House and Senate, with the Speaker of the House presiding.The President was in the audience.The Supreme Court Justices were manning the gun and control room, listening in on an intercom.The President shook his head.“She believed it.Shapers always think we’re stupid.Hell, to Shapers we are stupid.”Lindsay said, “We’re tethered just past the outlet of their launch ring.It’s a long circular tunnel, a ring around the rock’s center of gravity, cored just under the surface.It has magnetic strips for acceleration and some kind of magnetic launch bucket.”“I heard of those,” said Justice 3, over the intercom.He was their regular gunner, a former miner, close to a century old.“It starts with just a little boost, get that bucket up, magnetized [ Pobierz całość w formacie PDF ]