A Different Flesh : A related set of short stories spanning the 17th to 20th centuries set in a universe where the ancestors of the Native Americans never crossed into the New World , only Homo erectus , who become known as "sims" to the colonists of English descent. Noninterference : A human interstellar survey team violates a directive to avoid interference with alien civilizations, with disastrous long-term consequences. Re-published in the collection 3xT. A World of Difference : In this alternative history story, the fourth planet of our solar system is larger, and named Minerva instead of Mars. The Viking space probe of the s sends back one picture—that of an alien creature swinging a stick—before losing contact.
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The computer was old, too. In a way, that was an advantage: the navigation data programmed in were Terran Confederacy, the most far-reaching set even if it was six hundred years out of date. But after enough time, memory dumps or no.
Chang did not trust his machine very far. It was as cynically underhanded as he was. He paced up and down the cabin, a lean, trim man a bit below middle height whose wide, high-cheek-boned face was framed by a thin fringe of black beard.
Pace as he would, though, his eyes kept coming back to the hyperdrive detector. There was little enough else to see; with the drive on, none of the normal-space instruments worked. The four glowing points in the detector display were Zanat warships.
One he might have challenged. Taking on four was sure suicide, and he could not afford it. Loki and all the worlds in human space needed to know about the Zanat. Unfortunately, they would overtake him long before he could deliver the news—long before he gut out of the Orion Nebula, for that matter. He punched for a sandwich, ate it. When he looked at the FTL display again, the four warships had slid a little closer. As soon as the shavetail lieutenant had stepped into the London Pub. Chang knew his leave was doomed.
The youngster was in uniform, which meant he was on duty. Just my luck. Old floppies especially were more precious than gold. The scout pilot was still fuming when the lieutenant brought him back to Salvage Service Central.
That his habits were known did not surprise him; he would have been surprised had it been otherwise. He had grown the whiskers on Cienfuegos, to make himself less conspicuous there, and was proud of them. In spite of his name, he had enough caucasoid genes to let him raise a fair crop. Everyone else started with names like pirates, thieves, spies, and went downhill from there. He sat with the same feeling he had whenever he was in her office—that of being in the center of a spiderweb.
Being on the same side helped only a little. Operatives got their chance to roister between missions. She punched a button on her desk. The holo tank sprang to life with a view of that small chunk of the galaxy humans had touched.
Stars with planets that were thought from any source, however ancient, to have been settled by men were shown in blue; those about which Loki actually knew something flashed on and off. Red marked the suns of nonhuman species that used the hyperdrive, yellow those of planetbound races. Most others were omitted; the white points here and there were stars with absolute magnitudes bright enough to make them useful nav checks over many light years. She moved a veneer, touched another control.
One of the winking blue points flared brighter for a moment. A good run. The compliment was another danger signal. Anything she had to get around to by easy stages was bound to be dicey—not for her of course. For him. His suspicion was confirmed when four brilliant orange points sprang to life beyond the glowing mist of the Orion Nebula, which dimmed to show their location more clearly.
She said, "As well as I can judge. Starships in hyperdrive flew blind, of course; there was always the chance of returning to normal space coincident with solid matter.
It was a very long one, though. Aliens might have worked up a trick good enough to snare one ship. That left. This Frost person could have been looking a hundred years into his own future. A scratchy flat image replaced it: a crowded city scene, with swarms of humans in strange clothes, both civilian and military, milling about at a cautious distance from a starship of a make Chang did not recognize: a pretty crude one, he thought.
Moscow, Shanghai, or twenty others. Seeing that the archaic date meant nothing to Cluing, she added, "45 pre-Confederacy. No wonder the video was scratchy—it was over twelve hundred years old.
He wondered how many times it had been rerecorded. Naturally, they had gotten no reply. Out came the Roxolani. They moved with the precision of veteran troops, shaking themselves into a skirmish line. At a shouted command from an officer wearing scarlet ribbons on his arm and fancy plumes, they raised their weapons to their shoulders and fired into the Terrans. Chang heard the ancient screams.
Undoubtedly the man holding the video set ducked for his life, for the picture jerked and twisted, but the scout pilot saw the clouds of black-powder smoke float into the sky. The Terran soldiers around the starship returned fire automatically opening up with small arms, rocket and grenade launchers, and recoilless shells from the armored fighting vehicle that had somehow squeezed into position close by.
When the video straightened, the starship was holed and all but two of the aliens down. The survivors gaped at their fallen comrades. Neither had made the slightest move to reload his musket. It was a rude shock when they found that a couple of simple experiments could have given them the key to contragrav and the hyperdrive three, four, even five centuries earlier. And every species we know that reached what the old Terrans would have called a seventeenth-century technological level did what was needed—except us.
With attention focused on them, too, work on other things, like electricity and atomics, never gets started. And those have much broader applications—the others are only really good for moving things from here to there in a hurry. Chang said, "We must have seemed like angry gods when we finally got the hyperdrive and burst off Terra. Radar, radio, computers, fission and fusion—no wonder we spent the next two hundred years conquering. None of our neighbors could hurt us, but we did a fine job on ourselves.
Someone back then wrote that it was only sporting for humans to fight humans; no one else gave any competition. But those four missing ships frighten me.
She finished low and fierce. And come back. The takeoff was as smooth as takeoffs under contragrav always were, the shift into hyperdrive as brutal as the others Praise of Folly had been making lately. Chang staggered into the head and threw up. Then it trounced him six times running, adding insult to injury by moving the instant he took his finger off a piece.
After that it seemed satisfied, and went back to a level mere mortals could match. From time to time other ships showed on the detector.
Most of them never sensed Praise of Folly; Confederacy instrumentation handily outranged nonhuman or post-Collapse gear. Once, though, two vessels made a chase of it. He approached his planned emergence-point obliquely, not wanting any observers to track his course back to Loki. The jolt on leaving hyperdrive was not as bad as the one entering it—quite.
The viewscreen showed a totally unfamiliar configuration of stars. Even the Orion Nebula was not as Chang knew it, for he was seeing the side opposite the one it presented to human space. He shrugged. The first yellow-orange sun proved without habitable planets. So did the second and third.
A lean region, Chang thought. He was on his way to the fourth when the detector picked up the alien squadron. Excitement and alarm coursed through him. From the brilliance of the blips on the screen, those were sizable ships. They were making good speed, too, far better than most of the nonhuman craft he knew. He held his course and waited to be noticed. In short order he was; the strangers had sensitive detectors. Three vessels peeled off from the main group toward him.
He took no evasive action; he was looking for contact. Gulping, Chang wondered whether the aliens were subject to nausea. The two ships emerged on divergent vectors several thousand kilometers apart. That would have been enough to make it impossible for most of the aliens the scout pilot knew to find him in the vastness of space, but the stranger swiftly altered course and came after him. The other two ships must have slaved their engines to their detector screens, for they returned to normal space at the same instant as their comrade and Praise of Folly.
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