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Jack McDevitt is a Nebula winner (and seventeen-time Nebula nominee) as well as a multiple Hugo nominee. He is the author of twenty-three novels, five collections, and eighty short stories.

 TIDAL EFFECTS
by
Jack McDevitt

“I never walk on the beach anymore.” Ed Gambini stood near the window, looking out across the illuminated lawns of the Seaside Condo. Rain sparkled in the flood lamps. The Atlantic was hidden by a screen of poplars; but the two men could hear its sullen roar. “During that summer,” he continued, “while we waited for the launch, and expected so much, I went out every evening. I was too excited to work.”

Harmon rotated his wine between thumb and forefinger, but said nothing.

Headlights flickered across Gambini's rigid features. “I grew up in a small town in Ohio, and I was in high school before I ever saw an ocean. But I can still remember the first time. I've loved the Atlantic ever since.” He gazed thoughtfully through the rain-streaked window. “Even now.”

Harmon drained his glass and surveyed the room. It was oppressive: heavy, drab furniture; bulging bookcases; neutral, steely colors everywhere. A computer beside a recliner trailed several feet of printout. “I know you're surprised to see me,” Harmon said apologetically. “But I had to come.”

Gambini moved away from the drapes, back into the yellow light of an ugly seashell table lamp. A shapeless gray sweater hung from his thin shoulders. “I knew you would,” he said. “Eventually.”

Harmon held out his glass. Gambini filled it, and his own. They were drinking port, a vintage bottle that the physicist had been saving for a special occasion. “It must be a magnificent time for you,” Harmon said, “now that the data has begun to come in. There seems so little that you and your colleagues have not touched. Perhaps, in the end, only the Creation itself will prove elusive.”

“Ah.” Gambini brightened. “We have some ideas about that.”

“I'm not surprised you think so.” Harmon understood, if Gambini did not, that science has its limits.

“Sometimes,” continued Gambini as if he had not heard, “the price is high.”

“You mean the beach?” He watched the physicist circle the coffee table and settle stiffly into a wingback chair. “You did what you could,” he said. “I wanted to say thanks.”

A gust of wind blew the rain hissing against the windows. Outside, an automobile engine roared into life. The air smelled of salt and ozone. “How much do you know about Skynet?” Gambini asked.

Harmon shrugged. “Only what I read in the papers.”

The lines around Gambini's mouth tightened. “Odd. If it were not for Skynet, you would not be here; there would be no need for this meeting.” He laid a peculiar emphasis on the last word. “Skynet,” he continued, adopting a professorial tone, “is an array, twenty-two infrared receptors in Earth orbit. Capable of seeing damn near anything. They were putting it in place last summer. And I was waiting here, as Ryan was at Princeton, and Hakluyt at Greenbelt, and others....” He set his glass down. It was empty. “We knew that, after it became operational, the world would not be the same.”

“No doubt,” said Harmon. But he had no idea why this should be so.

Gambini inquired, tolerantly, whether his guest had ever heard of Fred Hoyle.

Harmon's perplexity was apparent. “I don't believe I have,” he said impatiently.

Gambini crossed the room and took a thick volume from an upper shelf. “Hoyle,” he said, “is a cosmologist who dedicated the later stages of his career defending outworn theories on the nature of the universe: what it is, where it came from, where it's going. Trivial matters, really, when contrasted with the question that really absorbed him, that absorbs all of us and knits us together.”

“And what,” asked Harmon, wondering where all this was leading, “might that be?”

“Simply stated,” said Gambini, “it is this: What is our relationship with the cosmos? Are we unique? Are we one of many?  Has the universe, in some manner, been designed for us? It is a question with the profoundest philosophical implications. It is the great enigma. Shapley never knew. Nor did Lowell. Nor Einstein. They grew old with no hope, and went to their graves with no semblance of an answer.”

Harmon shifted his weight. He was beginning to feel uncomfortable.

Gambini understood that he must seem disconnected. A garrulous old man with no grasp of his visitor's pain. He should stop, squeeze Harmon's arm, thank him for coming by, accept the man's gratitude. But he plowed on: “Then we got Skynet. They assembled it during late summer, and we knew, by Christmas, we would use it to see other solar systems. We would be able to see extrasolar worlds, out to a distance of more than a hundred light-years. We would be able to perform spectroscopic analyses of their atmospheres. My God, Harmon, we could look for oxygen, the infallible mark of life!”

Harmon nodded.

“I neither ate nor slept during those final weeks. They'd already begun testing the system, and success appeared very likely. I gave up trying to read or work.”

Harmon examined the Hoyle volume. It was Galaxies, Nuclei, and Quasars. “And you,” he said, raising his eyes to Gambini's, “walked the beaches.”

“Yes. But only at sunset. When the air was cool.”

Harmon leaned forward.

“Each evening there was a group of swimmers. Boys. They were young, thirteen perhaps, no more than that. There were three of them usually, sometimes four, and they were always out beyond the breaker line. One in particular....”

“Yes,” said Harmon, “he was like that.” His voice sounded strange.

Gambini seemed not to have heard. “He was taller than the others. Awkward. With light sandy hair.” He got up, slowly, and pushed his fists into the pockets of the gray sweater. “The current can be treacherous, and every night they went farther into the sea. I warned them. They weren't local kids. Locals would have known better.”

“We were,” said Harmon, “from Alexandria.”

“I told them it was dangerous.” Gambini hesitated. “But that meant nothing to them, of course. They laughed and retreated farther beyond the breakers. The tall one, he was almost as tall as I: the night before he died, he stood as close to me as you are now, sunburned, preoccupied, with all his life before him. He was inspecting tidal pools, for stranded guppies, I suppose. He saw me, and smiled self-consciously as though he'd been caught doing something foolish.” Gambini's eyes clouded. He fell silent.

“Did he say anything to you?”

“No. We faced each other for a moment. Then he was gone, up the beach with his friends, snapping towels at each other.”

For a long time there was only the sound of the sea, and of water dripping into foliage. Harmon's chair creaked. When Gambini spoke again, he was barely audible. “It happened, as I knew it would. Hakluyt had called me that morning to discuss the latest test results, and I forgot about the boys. It was cold and damp, after an all-day rain.” He glanced accusingly at his visitor. “I was preoccupied. And they should never have been there. But they were.

“The first indication I had that something was wrong came when a fat middle-aged man ran past me. He hurried along the shoreline to join two of the boys, who were standing hip-deep, anxiously watching the sea; beyond them, desperately far out, a head floated over the top of a swell, and arms thrashed.

“One of the boys turned toward me and screamed (though I could not hear him over the roar of the ocean). I looked for help and saw only an elderly woman with two dogs.

“I broke into a run, and was already breathing hard before I even got into the water. The boy sank: he was down a long time while I struggled toward him. He came up, coughing and choking. I got through the breakers into calmer water and began to swim. The water was cold, and the drag toward the open sea was strong.

“I was moving quickly. I'm not a bad swimmer, and the current was pushing me toward him. But the distance between us didn't seem to lessen. He struggled, went down, found new strength.

“I realized quite suddenly that my own life was in danger. I knew I could reach him, and I also knew that we would probably not get back. It was odd; the possibility of my own drowning raised only a single emotion: the stiletto sensation that it would be too soon. By a few weeks, or a few months, it would be too soon!   

“And I hated the child!”

Harmon's mouth tightened, but he said nothing.

“He fought stubbornly for his life. Time after time, the sea rolled over him, but he would not stay down. The tide dragged me in all directions, and I lost headway in a swirl of currents. I got desperately tired. And I could see that his struggles were growing weaker. He saw me coming and tried to wave, but he could not lift his arm out of the water. Each time, after he had been pushed beneath the sea, he broke the surface looking for me.” Gambini's voice had been rising; but now he stopped to refill his glass. His hand trembled. “At last he must have seen my despair, because I read the sudden swift terror in his face as he realized, I think for the first time, what was going to happen....”

“So you turned back,” Harmon said uncertainly. “No one can blame you for that. No one could expect more.”

Gambini threw the full glass of port against a wall. “Who are you?” he demanded, “to make that judgment? I left him to drown!”

“No!” Harmon said desperately. “You tried! You did what you could—”

Gambini's eyes were cold. “I did not abandon him,” he said, “because I was afraid. I did it because I was curious. I sold his life for some tracings on a few hundred pieces of paper.”

(On the veranda below his apartment, people were talking. Someone laughed.)

“I should not have come,” said Harmon.

“Is that all you can say?” snapped Gambini. “You're his father.”

Harmon rose. His face was calm, but there was something of the drowning boy in his eyes. “What do you want me to tell you, Gambini?” he demanded. “That you too should have drowned? That nothing less would have been decent?”

Gambini slid his fingers under his bifocals and rubbed his eyes. “Why are you here? After all this time?”

“I don't know.” Harmon exhaled. “I thought they were safe. Out here, away from Alexandria, I didn't think anything could happen. We were always grateful that you tried. I wrote you a letter.”

“It's in my desk.”

Harmon softened. “Under the circumstances, I guess it was painful.”

Gambini stared a long time at his visitor. “Were you supposed to be taking care of him?”

Harmon nodded.

“You are right to feel guilty,” he rasped. “Your son and I, we were both your victims.” Gambini's smile trembled on thin lips. “Do you know what we found when we looked beyond the solar system? No, don't turn away. This concerns your boy. We examined several thousand stars, Harmon. About a quarter have planets. Most are Jovian: nothing more, really, than enormous sacks of cold hydrogen. It was, of course, the terrestrial worlds in which we were especially interested: those Earthlike planets orbiting stable suns at temperate distances.” A nerve near Gambini's jugular had begun to throb. “I assume I need not tell you we found no oxygen. Oh, there were traces here and there. But everywhere we looked, among the terrestrial worlds, we saw carbon dioxide. In vast quantities. Do you understand what I'm saying?”

Harmon's eyes blazed, but he did not reply.

“No biological processes. Anywhere. We'd always assumed that something had gone wrong on Venus, leaving her sterile under a hothouse atmosphere. Some people have made a career of explaining why. But Venus, it turns out, is the norm: It's Earth that is the anomaly.

“It appears, Harmon, that we are quite alone.”

Harmon threw open the door, and whirled to face the physicist. “Despite everything you've said, I believe you tried. I hope the day will come when you will realize you could have done no more.”

“If you think that,” Gambini said, “I'll tell you something else. If it were to do again, I'd make the same decision. Do you understand that?”

Harmon's features twisted, and he wondered (at that moment, and for all his life after) what the physicist was trying to provoke.

But Gambini had already turned away. He stared through the window at the cloud cover. Harmon stood watching him, murmured something, a farewell, a curse, a cry of anguish, and retreated from the room.

Copyright © 1985 Jack McDevitt

 

LIMITS
Larry Niven

An extraordinary mix of fantasy and science fiction from one of the masters of science fiction, Larry Niven.

TABLE OF CONTENTS

HOME

The Editor's Word
The End of Worldcon
As We Know It

FICTION
The Colossal Death Ray
by Ron Collins

Multiples

by Robert Silverberg
Miss Darcy's First
Intergalactic Ballet Class

by Dantzel Cherry

Tidal Effects
by Jack McDevitt
Do Not Fear to Touch Flesh
by Leena Likitalo

Islands in the Sargasso
(Sargasso Containment)

by Alex Shvartsman

Form and Void
by Elizabeth Bear
Escape Mechanism

by Josh Vogt
Saul's Diary

by Lawrence Person

The Eagle Has Landed

by Robert J. Sawyer
A Mild Case of Death

by David Gerrold
(Worldcon GOH 2015)

INTERVIEW
David Gerrold
(Worldcon GOH 2015)

by Joy Ward

SERIALIZATION
Reboots (Part 1)
by Mercedes Lackey
and Cody Martin

COLUMNS
From the Heart's Basement
by Barry Malzberg
Science Column
by Greg Benford

Book Reviews
by Jody Lynn Nye & Bill Fawcett

 

Loosely based on Larry Niven's 1973 novella "Flash Crowd," Red Tide continues to examine the social consequences of the impact of having instantaneous teleportation, where humans can instantly travel long distances in milliseconds.

This is a theme that has fascinated the author throughout his career and even appears in his seminal work Ringworld, where the central character celebrates his birthday by instantly teleporting himself to different time zones, extending his birthday. The author also discussed the impact of such instantaneous transportation in his essay, "Exercise in Speculation: The Theory and Practice of Teleportation."

Larry Niven is joined by two younger writers, Brad R. Torgersen and Matthew J. Harrington, as they take on this challenging idea and further develop the theories and concepts that Niven originally presented in "Flash Crowd."

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His novel 1632 has launched an enterprise which has seen more than a 100 writers participating in some form or another and may be the most collaborative universe ever created.

To accommodate the huge demand (from readers as well as writers who wanted to write stories set in the universe), Eric created an online periodical called the Grantville Gazette which publishes stories set in the 1632 universe.


 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Copyright © Arc Manor LLC 2015. All Rights Reserved. Galaxy's Edge is an online magazine published every two months (January, March, May, July, September, November) by Phoenix Pick, the Science Fiction and Fantasy imprint of Arc Manor Publishers.