Read Dragon's egg Online

Authors: Robert L. Forward

Dragon's egg

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Over the course of more than twenty years, Del Rey has built its reputation as a publisher of trailblazing science fiction and fantasy works that have withstood the test of time to become acknowledged classics of their genres.Fahrenheit 451, Ringworld, Dragonflight, Childhood’s End, Lord Foul’s Bane, The Sword of Shannara, The Mists of Avalon—all breakthrough works of their respective eras—continue to enthrall each new generation of readers that discovers them. And Del Rey remains dedicated to keeping these, and all the mainstays it has introduced over the years, prominent in the pantheon of speculative fiction.

But even the occasional masterpiece can slip through the cracks and become buried treasure, until, after years of unfair neglect, its immense value is rediscovered—by happy accident or through the efforts of a lone champion able to recognize a mislaid gem—and it is restored to its rightful glory. Now, for an extraordinary selection of books, Del Rey is that champion. And it is with great pride that I introduce Del Rey Impact: a new imprint for a gathering of vintage works long overdue for rediscovery—and eminently worthy of the honor.

From high-tech science to epic fantasy, the classic tides bearing the Del Rey Impact imprimatur will appeal to speculative fiction readers of every taste.The King of Elfland’s Daughter, The Man Who Fell to Earth, andThe Drawing of the Dark—to name just a few—are works that touched and transformed readers in their time and paved the way for many a bestseller that would follow in their trendsetting footsteps. All of us at Del Rey are thrilled to be returning these long unsung masterworks to the spotlight, in splendid new trade paperback editions. We hope that Del Rey Impact will reacquaint many readers with the old favorites they remember and introduce many more readers to new wonders they never dreamed existed.

—Shelly Shapiro

Editorial Director

Del Rey Books

More praise forDragon’s Egg

“Forward’s plot, both simple and grand, is the whole history of an alien civilization and the effect contact with us has on it. Those who crave real science along with their fiction will be mightily pleased with this mind-expanding and engrossing example of SF in its purest form.”

—Publishers Weekly

“How refreshing it is to read a hard-science SF book in which the science is done right. Bob describes the process of scientific discovery better than anyone else in the SF business. A gripping and logical account of the evolution of intelligence itself in an alien race.”

—CHARLESSHEFFIELDPresident of the American Astrological Society

“A splendid example of science-fact today opening up the new territories that science fiction will be exploring tomorrow.”

—JAMESP. HOGAN

“Exemplary hard SF … There is no more dazzling practitioner of the form.”

—Locus

“Never in the history of science fiction, I think, have so many of the most exciting contemporary scientific concepts played a role in a book. InDragon’s Eggwe meet a whole civilization of creatures who are almost beyond our dreams. We come to know and love them. And they could really be.”

—FRANKD. DRAKEDirectorNational Astronomy and Ionosphere Center

“I admire the unusual combination of a good yarn and a reasonable measure of scientific plausibility … An outstanding and exciting first novel.”

—JOHNBILLINGHAMChiefExtraterrestrial Research DivisionNASA

A Del Rey®BookPublished by The Ballantine Publishing Group

Copyright © 1980 by Dr. Robert L. Forward

All rights reserved under International and Pan-American Copyright Conventions. Published in the United States by The Ballantine Publishing Group, a division of Random House, Inc., New York, and simultaneously in Canada by Random House of Canada Limited, Toronto.

Del Rey is a registered trademark and Del Rey Impact and colophon are trademarks of Random House, Inc.

www.randomhouse.com/delrey/

Library of Congress Catalog Card Number: 99-90894

eISBN: 978-0-307-77930-4

v3.1

Thanks to:Frank Drake—he invented them.Mary Lois—she named them.Larry Niven—he gave them something to do.

—and David K. Lynch, Mark Zimmermann, Carlton Caves, Hans Moravec, David Swenson, Freeman Dyson, and Dan Alderson, who helped me in several technical areas. My special thanks to Lester del Rey, who took what was practically a pedantic scientific paper and helped me to turn it into something interesting to read, and to George Smith and the Hughes Aircraft Company for giving me the intellectual environment that made it feasible.

Contents

Cover

Title Page

Copyright

Acknowledgements

ProloguePulsarVolcanoGodTrekContactInteractionTechnical AppendixPrologueTIME: 500,000 B.C.

Buu lay in his leafy arbor nest and looked up at the stars in the dark sky. The hairy young humanoid should have been asleep, but his curiosity kept him awake. A half-million years in the future that twinkling of curiosity would have led his mind out into the universe to explore the mathematical mysteries of relativity. Now …

Buu continued to stare at the bright stars above him. One speck suddenly flared brighter. Frightened—but fascinated—Buu watched the growing point of intense light until it went behind a dense tree branch. He would be able to see it again if he went to the nearby clearing. He clambered down from his nest—into the striped coils of Kaa.

Kaa did not enjoy his kill for long. Things were difficult for him in a world with two suns. The new sun was tiny and white, while the old one was big and yellow. The new sun circled constantly overhead. It never set, and he could no longer catch things at night. Kaa died—along with other hunters who could not change their habits fast enough.

For a year the new light shone from above, searing the sky. Then it slowly grew dimmer and dimmer, andwithin a few years night returned to the northern hemisphere of Earth.

Fifty light-years away from the Solar System there was once a binary star system. One star was in its normal yellow-white phase, but the other had bloated up until it turned into a red giant, swallowing the planets around it. The nuclear fuel for the red giant ran out just fifty years before Buu’s curiosity got the better of him. With its fusion-bomb center turned off, the energy the star needed to hold itself up against its self-gravitation was no longer available, and the star collapsed. At the center, the in-falling matter became denser under the terrific gravitational pressure until it turned almost completely into neutrons. The neutrons pressed closer and closer until they were packed radius to radius.

Under these cramped conditions, the strong nuclear repulsion forces were finally able to resist the gravitational pressure. The inward rush of matter was quickly reversed, and the outward motion turned into an incandescent shock wave that traveled upward through the outer shell of the red giant. At the surface, the shock wave blew off the outer layers of the star in a supernova explosion that released more energy in one hour than the star had released in the previous million years.

Beneath the expanding cloud of blazing plasma, the core of the red giant had changed. What had once been a large, red, slowly rotating balloon 200 times bigger than the Sun was now a tiny, white-hot twenty-kilometer ball of ultra-dense neutrons, spinning at over 1000 revolutions a second.

The original magnetic field of the star had stayed trapped in the highly conductive collapsing cloud of star stuff. Like the sunspot pattern on the original star, the magnetic field was not aligned with the spin axis of the neutron star, but was sticking out at an odd angle. One magnetic pole was very concentrated and a littleabove the equator. The other (really a group of poles) was on the opposite side of the star. Part of its complex pattern was below the equator, but most of it was in the northern hemisphere.

The almost solid trillion-gauss magnetic fields reaching out from the two magnetic poles of the rapidly spinning star tore into the glowing debris remaining from the supernova explosion. Driven by the rapid rotation of the ultra-dense sphere, the magnetic fields threw the massive clouds of ions away from the star in scintillating gouts. Like a Fourth-of-July pinwheel on the loose, the neutron star accelerated off to the south, directly toward its nearby neighbor Sol, the magnetic propeller leaving a glowing wake streaming out behind. After a short while, the plasma density became thinner and the rocket action stopped, but by then the star had achieved a respectable proper motion of thirty kilometers per second or one light-year every 10,000 years, a tiny wanderer jaywalking across the star lanes of the Galaxy.

TIME: 495,000 B.C.

As the neutron star spun its way through space, the debris it attracted by its gravitational field fell inward. When the interstellar material approached to within a few thousand kilometers of the twenty-kilometer-diameter ball, it was heated and stripped of its electrons by the intense gravity and the whirling magnetic fields. The ionized plasma then fell in elongated blobs toward the star, its velocity reaching one-quarter of the speed of light as it struck the crust in the east and west magnetic polar regions. The bombarded crust responded with flares of charged particles that shot back out into space, gaining speed and radiating pulses of radio energy as the spinning magnetic field lines whipped them outward.

Inflated by the pulsating radiation and streams of hot plasma from the spinning star, the cloud of gas from the original supernova explosion continued to expand at a speed of one percent that of light. After 5000 years, the front of the shock wave passed through the Solar System. For a thousand years the shielding magnetic fields of the Sun and Earth were buffeted by the invisible hurricane-force interstellar winds. The wiggling magnetic field lines lost their ability to keep the dangerous high-energy cosmic ray particles away from the fragile Earth. The ozone layer in the upper atmosphere collapsed, and the life forms on Earth were subjected to a harrowing barrage of mutating radiation.

When the millennia-long storm finally waned, a new species of nearly hairless humanoids had emerged on earth. The original band was small, but the individuals were smart. They used their intelligence to control things around them, instead of letting nature and the strong-muscled have their way. It wasn’t too long before their ancestors were the only humanoids left on the planet.

TIME: 3000 B.C.

Traveling at its leisurely pace of one light-year every 10,000 years, the neutron star began to approach the Solar System. The intelligent beings who had been born in its baptism of invisible fire a half-million years ago had progressed to the point at which they began seriously to study the heavens. The neutron star glowed with a white-hot heat, but it was too tiny to be seen by mere human eyes.

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