Clio Finn is a Dive pilot on a troubled Earth in 2019. Public paranoia about the AIDS virus and its successors has led to the imprisonment of the "subversives" of the society (namely, drug users and gays) in forced labor quarantine camps known as quarries. Meanwhile, Earth itself is dying from a progressive lack of greenery, as the UV irradiation from a successively depleted ozone layer is killing off all the plants, and therefore the planet's ability to sustain itself.
To counteract this problem, the powers of Earth have decided that new greenery must be found on alternate worlds, to supplement Earth's dying stock with heartier, alien strains. But since faster-than-light travel is still unavailable, a new method must be found to achieve this. Enter time travel, in which a quick jaunt down through time can bring ships into the position of planets which had rotated through Earth's present position in the distant past, due to the galaxy's extended period of rotation.
As most people are unable to remain awake during these temporal Dives, the guiding duty is left to an exclusive class of Dive pilots. Only dive pilots have a limited span before they burn out. Most can last thirty to forty Dives. Clio Finn has lasted fifty-five, and she is on the ragged end of burn-out, kept on track only by a handful of outlawed drugs.
But the potential rewards are great. A previous haul of greenery, once thought to be Earth's salvation, is dying off, and an illicit jaunt into the future taken by Clio and her colleagues has discovered the violent end of humanity itself. So her current destination, Niang, an Edenic tropical planet, seems the answer to mankind's prayers. Only, on Niang's surface, Clio discovers a desperate secret. The green which may save mankind also subsists on metals, and may therefore destroy all of mankind's existing technology. Clio's dilemma--whether to regreen Earth at the risk of driving man back into the dark ages--is only exacerbated when an accidental loop in time catches her in a paradox between two alternate futures, each of which is determined to eradicate the other completely and absolutely.
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May 05, 1997
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Excerpt from The Seeds of Time by Kay Kenyon
Clio Finn rested her face against the bulkhead of her cabin, listening to countdown over the intercom, trying not to pass out. She felt a vein in her forehead throbbing against the cool metal of the ship. Minus twelve minutes and counting, ship's voice said. Eleven. She had just popped the last of the pills, and already she was shaking bad, but the ship was primed to go, her metal skin humming, deck throbbing, air charged with static and the hot, sharp smell of engines stoked to burn.
Then the captain was calling her to the bridge, in tones that said, Now, Finn.
Clio yanked open the cabin door, jammed down the corridor, nearly colliding with Hillis, chief botanist. He grabbed her arm, stopping her a moment.
"What's up, Clio? You OK?"
"Sure." She flashed him a wide smile, then dropped it. "Maybe this Dive's got me spooked," she said. "Maybe I got a bad feeling about this one."
He pulled her in close to him, looking into her eyes, and whispered, "Jesus, Clio, how many of those things did you take?"
"Just two," she lied, searching his face for some comfort.
He shook his head, released her.
Clio raced for the bridge, taking the ladder to the flight deck two rungs at a time. She emerged onto Starhawk's bridge, now dim for pre-Dive countdown, readouts pulsing on every side. Captain Russo was busy with command central on visual. She nodded at Clio. Clio nodded back, slipped into her chair. Her copilot, Harper Teeg, seated next to her, raised an eyebrow at her.
Clio faced him. "Had to take a pee, OK?"
"I thought you girls had iron bladders."
"You haven't learned anything new about girls since seventh grade, Teeg."
"Just waiting for the right teacher, Miss Finn." His eyes lapped her up in the usual way. Didn't matter they were about to Dive back four hundred thousand years, didn't matter she was sick as hell and the only one on board that could steer this crate. Things like that didn't faze Harper Teeg.
Clio strapped herself in, clipped her headphones on, pushing them into her short, thick auburn hair. She scanned the instrumentation, everything looking good, panels surging to go. Listened to the countdown droning of command central, still coming in clear from Earth's largest space station, Vanda, though eleven thousand kilometers distant from the ship.
On another channel, Captain Russo found time to say, "Lieutenant Finn, you don't leave the bridge during countdown again, you copy?"
Clio turned her head around to her, acknowledging. "Yessir. Sorry, sir." Russo wasn't half bad, Clio thought. Just stiff as hell, a lifer with Biotime. No grey in that short black hair, though. If Russo felt the pressures of command, she buried it deep in her stocky body.
Countdown was looking good, going smooth. Until Ellison Brisher patched in from Vanda Station, his puffy face filling screen number two.
"You got a problem, Ellison?" Russo asked, her voice even, her face scowling at this last-second interference from the company.
"Not at all. You are on track, Captain. Little jumpy aren't we?" He popped a small candy in his mouth, moving his jaw sideways, as though chewing cud.
"Yeah, I'm always jumpy when I take a little trip like this."
Brisher smiled. "Just wondering how Clio's doing."
Russo shook her head. "She's on task, Ellison. You want to talk to her?"
Brisher looked surprised. "No. Not necessary, just backing you up, Captain. Anything you need, just ask."
"Thanks, Biotime, we are ready to fly. No problems." In a tone that said, And keep your goddamn nose off the bridge.
Clio listened to this exchange, her stomach clenching up, a trickle of sweat starting to cut a path down her hairline. Ellison Brisher was out to get her, she figured; whether he had anything on her or not was a question. Didn't want to think about what Biotime's chief operations officer could do to her if he chose.
Screen two blanked out as station systems separated from the ship, leaving them in communications blackout as Starhawk gathered speed, reaching for Dive velocity, reaching for their destination, Crippen's Planet.
Clio gripped the chair arms, preparing for Dive. Except there wasn't any way to prepare for Dive. Other Dive pilots had their rituals, customs, superstitions. Clio just dove, letting the time stream take her, fighting the fear, the hallucinations, riding the sheer joy of it. Every other poor bastard on the ship in dreamland, unconscious, depending on her, a Dive pilot with a dozen too many missions, and now with the shakes to prove it.
Russo's voice: "Approaching Dive. Thirty seconds. Finn, you ready?"
Teeg flashed a grin at her. "Night all. Wake me with a kiss, this once, Finn."
"Kiss my ass, Teeg."
"Baby, I been dreaming on it."
Russo again: "Cut the chatter, we're heading into Dive. Helm to you, Finn."
"Yessir." Clio throttled the main engines up to 100 percent, felt the ship lurch and reach for transition speed, threw the pair of switches controlling the time coils. Sensed, then felt, the field envelope the ship, hit the flight deck, take her reeling into the hidden underbelly of the space-time continuum.
And she was Diving. Was Diving down, leaving the common universe, felt her consciousness floating just in front of her forehead, but her thought process, her coordination, they remained normal if she remembered to engage them. The ship lights pulsed way down, cranking up the stars to laser intensity as Clio watched through the viewport. Teeg's head slumped to the side, he was out, they were all out. Starhawk was changing dimensions, from space to time, sweeping her up in a slow, rolling wave that for some obscure reason left only a select few conscious and able to fly. And Clio Finn was one. Used to be, she thought. Now I gotta have a little help.
The dimension change triggered a nasty ripple in space-time. Clio almost thought she could see the ripple fan outward from the ship, but well clear of Earth, got to stay well clear. Ripple or no ripple, you want to avoid your own historical past--avoid changing it, changing yourself. No matter how much you'd like to redo it. No second chances. Just fly by the book, girl.
She leaned forward, cradling her stomach, felt that old warm brick forming there, saw the lights haloed around the control panel, and the air on the bridge turned thick as water at thirty fathoms. Gotta ride this pony. Going to be fine. Dive fifty-five, going to be fine.
Clio's eyes flicked over to the comm screen, all static now, picking up only the electromagnetic impulses of the galaxy. The static ebbed and surged, creating patterns if she watched long enough--sometimes faces, a fleeting Rorschach test. Clio yanked her attention back to the control board, trying hard to stay tuned, get the job done.
The right-side controls in front of her were for aerospace, the left for Dive. She jockeyed both sides. The Dive pilot rode the controls through Dive, and, coming up on real space, flew the ship like a normal pilot.
The contrails of the stars striped across the viewport, tracing the bright orbits of their endless paths, as the Milky Way rotated around its center. Starhawk was picking up time speed, the past rushing by. Time before she was born, before Mom and Elsie and Petya. Time before the good old U.S. of A. Time before time.
Clio focused her eyes on the chronometer, watched the numbers scroll up, six thousand years, going on seven thousand, now crawling to eight thousand. She scanned the readouts for chunks of matter the galaxy might throw at the ship, hurtling along faster than mere humans were meant to travel. Gotta stay awake, stay awake.
Teeg was radiating colors everywhere his skin was exposed. His face had become fuzzy, as though the surface of his skin wasn't always in exactly the same place. His handsome, squarish face had lost its perpetual leer, looking lost and serene. Trusting to wake up in the right time and right place, like a child committing himself to sleep, to the night.
If I should die before I wake ...
Clio snapped back in a hurry. You were getting a little mesmerized there, old girl. Was not. Were too.
Ran a systems check. What the hell time was it anyway? She laughed out loud at that; heard a voice, high and bell-like. God, was that her laugh? Damn well better be. Don't get spooked now, girl. You got a job to do.
The numbers slipped by the face of the chronometer, counting the years, the thousands, the hundreds of thousands, until time was meaningless, too enormous to matter, to count. There in the blackness of interstellar space, moving back in time meant less about time than it did about space. The solar system, the whole galaxy, was rushing head-long through the universe, while at the same time the galaxy was rotating around its own center. Going back in time, you found yourself surrounded by the stars that had preceded Sol on its swing through the galaxy. Travel to the stars achieved without faster-than-light speed, a simple back-door approach called time travel. Humanity's only bridge across the monstrous distances of space. A limited bridge, but better than nothing. Vandarthanan's mathematical vision of the mechanics of time had opened up space travel without the need for the speed--or near speed--of light.
A Dive ship was needed. Both a spacecraft and a time-travel device. Send it out far from Earth to avoid paradox risks. Send it back in time, not forward in time--at least not past the Future Ceiling, that current date you left on Vanda. But back in time, in search of an Earthlike planet, one that had once swung by on its immense sweep along the Orion arm of the galaxy. Sometimes Clio thought of it as a merry-go-round, where those rearing horses, nostrils flaring, plunged ahead of her, but only a moment before occupied the very point on the circle, the very point where she and her red-saddled mare now thundered by. Space was like that, a little. Galaxy, solar systems, planets, all thundering by in a headlong, circling rush to nowhere. And with Dive, humanity could hold on and ride ...