SFWRITER.COM > Novels > Golden Fleece > Opening Chapters
by Robert J. Sawyer
Copyright © 1990 by Robert J. Sawyer
All Rights Reserved.
Paperback: Warner/Questar, December 1990, ISBN 0-445-21078-8
Trade Paperback: Tor, November 1999, ISBN 0-312-86865-0
Science Fiction Book Club selection number 18845.
Japanese edition: Goruden Furisu from Hayakawa Publishing
Company, Tokyo, ISBN 4-150-10991-5 (translation by Masayuki
(Expanded to novel length from the cover story novelette
"Golden Fleece" by Robert J. Sawyer in the September 1988 issue of
This Is Your Chance To Go Into Space!
The United Nations Space Agency requires people from all walks of
Life for first extrasolar planetary survey
We require 10,000 people to form the crew of Argo, first
in UNSA's Starcology (space-traveling arcology) series of
Bussard-ramjet starships. Starcology Argo will conduct a
complete survey of Eta Cephei IV ("Colchis"), a verdant,
Earth-like world 47 light-years distant. True to the Starcology
community-in-space idea, we will consider workers in all realms
of human endeavor. Applicants must be under 30 years of age and
in good general health. [R]eply to this posting and an
application will be downloaded to your terminal.
I love that they trusted me blindly. So what if it was ship's
night? For centuries, astronomers had labored while others
slept, and even if there was no way to see outside during our
long voyage, Diana Chandler still hadn't broken the habit of not
starting work until after I had dimmed the lights in the
I'd suggested to Diana that she might be able to verify her
startling findings by using some of the equipment stowed in the
cargo holds. That no one had been down to the lower decks for
almost two weeks didn't seem to bother her. That she was alone
in the middle of my artificial night fazed her not in the least.
After all, even with 10,034 people on board, I'm sure she felt
safe as long as she was under my watchful eyes. Indeed, she
seemed perfectly calm as she headed into a service corridor, its
walls lined with blue-green algae behind acrylic sheets.
I'd already wiped the files that contained her calculations and
notes, so there was just one more loose end to tie up. I slid
the door shut behind her. She was used to that soft pneumatic
hiss, but her heart skipped a beat when it was followed by the
snick-snick of spring-loaded locking bolts sliding into
Up ahead, a rectangle of red light spilled onto the sod from
another open doorway. She walked toward it. Her paces were
measured, but signs of nervousness were creeping into her medical
telemetry. As soon as she passed through that door, I closed and
locked it, too.
"JASON?" she said at last, her normally sunny voice reduced to a
tremulous whisper. I made no reply, and eleven seconds later she
spoke again. "Come on, JASON. What gives?" She started walking
down the corridor. "Oh, be that way if you must. I don't want
to talk to you, either." She continued to march forward, but the
tappings of her heels concatenated into a rapid rhythm that
matched her racing heartbeat. "I realize you're upset with me,
but, well, you'll just have to trust my judgment on this." I
quietly winked off the lighting panels behind her. She looked
back, down the blackened corridor, then continued forward, her
voice quavering even more. "I have to tell Gorlov what
I've discovered." Wink. "The people on board have a right to
know." Wink. "Besides, you couldn't have kept something like
this secret forever." Wink. Wink. Wink. "Oh, shit, JASON!
"I'm sorry, Diana," I said through speakers mounted on the
crisscrossing pink metalwork of the ceiling. Those words were
enough to tell Di that the crazy fears running through her head
were not crazy, that she was very much in trouble.
Dilating the valve on the pipe made a pleasing reptilian sound.
Diana laughed nervously, found the strength for a final attempt
at humor. "Don't hiss at me, you rusty heap of " She gagged
as the chlorine hit her. Covering her mouth with her sleeve, she
ran, pounding on door after door. Not that one. No, not yet.
Just a few more. On your left, bitch. Ah swoosh! She
burst into the cargo hold and the door slid shut behind her. I
snapped on the wall-mounted spotlights. The floor was a simple
open grating: the pink metal of the artificial-gravity field
generators, bare of any covering. Through the small triangular
openings made by the metal intersections she could see level
after level of storage compartments, each filled with aluminum
She scrambled for one of the steel bars used to lever the lids
off these crates and "Damn you, JASON!" smashed the splayed
end into my wall-mounted camera unit. Shards of glass cascaded
to the floor, falling on and on through the open gratings.
Undaunted, I swiveled an overhead camera pair to look down on
her. This angle foreshortened her appearance. From here she
didn't look like an entirely adequate astrophysicist, a shrewd
collector of antiques, a recently separated but passionate lover,
or by all accounts a great cook. No, from here she looked
like a little girl. A very frightened little girl.
Di's wrist medical implant told me that her heart was pounding
loudly enough to thunder in her ears. Still, she must have heard
the electric hum of my overhead camera swiveling to track her,
because she turned and hurled the metal bar at that unit. It
fell short, bouncing with a whoomp on the lid of a crate.
For a moment, she stared up into my camera eyes, horror and
betrayal plain on her face. Such an attractive woman: her
yellow hair separated so well from the shadows. Given the
lighting in the hold, she could probably see her own reflection,
a fun-house parody of her fear, spread wide over the curving
surface of my twin lenses.
She ran on, but stopped again to evaluate her alternatives when
she came to a four-way intersection between rows of crates. As
she stood, she fingered the tiny pewter cross she wore on a chain
around her neck. I knew it was her mannerism when she was
nervous. I knew, too, that she wore the cross not for its
religious significance her Catholicism was nothing but a field
in a database but because it was more than 300 years old.
She decided to run down the aisle to her left, which meant she
had to squeeze past a squat robot forklift. I set it after her,
the antigravity force from its pink metal base lifting it four
centimeters off the floor. As it hummed along after her, I let
loose a blast from its horn. I looked at her now from the
forklift's point of view, seeing her from behind. Her hair
bounced wildly as she ran.
Suddenly she pitched forward, tumbling onto her face. Her left
foot had caught in the open floor grating. I cut power to the
forklift's antigravs and it immediately dropped back to the floor
a few meters behind her. It wouldn't do to crush her here. She
got up, epinephrine surging, and took off down the corridor with
Ahead was the hatch I'd been shepherding her toward. Di made it
through into the vast hangar deck. She looked up, desperate.
Windows into the hangar control room, thick panes of glass, began
ten meters above the floor and covered three sides of the bay.
They were dark, of course: it would be six subjective years
before we would arrive at Colchis, where the ships stored here
would be used.
On either side of the hangar were 24 rows of silver
boomerang-shaped landing craft, the nose of one ship tucked
neatly into the angle of the next. Names mostly associated with
the Argonauts of myth were painted on their hulls.
Ahead was the plated wall that separated the hangar from vacuum.
Diana jumped at the sound of groaning metal. The wall jerked
loose in its grooves, and air started hissing out.
Di's hair whipped in the breeze, a straw-colored storm about her
head and shoulders. "No, JASON!" she shouted. "I won't say
anything I promise!" Foolish woman. Didn't she know I could
tell when she was lying?
A thin stripe of deadly black appeared at the bottom of the
hangar's outer wall. Di screamed something, but the rising roar
drowned her words. I swung a spotlight onto the lander
Orpheus, its outer air-lock door open. That's right,
Diana: there's air inside. The wind fought her as she climbed
the stepladder into the tiny lighted cubicle, the growing vacuum
sucking at her back. Her nose had begun to bleed from the sudden
drop in pressure. Grabbing the manual wheel in both hands, she
forced the lock to cycle. When she was safely within the body of
the lander, I slid the hangar wall all the way up.
The view of the starbow was magnificent. At our near-light
speed, stars ahead had blue-shifted beyond normal visibility.
Likewise, those behind had red-shifted into darkness. But
encircling us was a thin prismatic band of glowing points, a
glorious rainbow of stars violet, indigo, blue, green, yellow,
orange, and red.
I fired Orpheus's main engines, a silent roar in the
vacuum, clouds of greenish gold exhaust billowing from the twin
cones. The boomerang lifted from the deck and moved with
gathering speed across the expanse of hangar and through the open
My remote cameras inside Orpheus's cockpit focused on
Diana's face, a mask of horror. The telecommunications link
crackled with static radio-frequency interference from the
ramfield. As soon as the lander darted past the overhang of the
ramscoop funnel, Diana's body would begin to convulse: the hard
radiation pelting into it would scramble her own nervous system.
Almost instantly, she would undergo cardiac arrest and her brain,
its neurons firing spasmodically for a few seconds, would cease
The feed from my remote cameras flared brightly for an instant as
the lander roared out into the sleet of hydrogen ions and then
the picture died. The communications link had given out before
Diana's body had. A pity. It would have been an interesting
death to watch.
More Good Reading
An excerpt from Golden Fleece by Robert J. Sawyer.
Copyright © 1990 by Robert J. Sawyer. All rights reserved.
Another passage from Golden Fleece
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