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The Barsoom Project

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The Barsoom Project

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Author: Larry Niven
Steven Barnes
Publisher: Ace Books, 1989
Series: Dream Park: Book 2
Book Type: Novel
Genre: Science-Fiction
Sub-Genre Tags: Near-Future
Mythic Fiction (SF)
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(25 reads / 12 ratings)


Eviane's first visit to the-state-of-art amusement arena Dream Park ended in disaster: the special effects had seemed more real than life... until the holograms she was shooting with live ammunition turned out to be solid flesh and blood... and very, very dead.

Haunted by the past, rebounding from a lengthy spell in a mental hospital, she has returned to Dream Park to exorcise a nightmare that has become reality. But in Dream Park, nothing is what it seems. The Inuit mythology controlling the images is part of a "Fat Ripper Special" designed to implant new behavioral memes. The players are struggling against the game master, one another, and their own demons. And there is a killer who wants to ensure Eviane never regains her memory... no matter what it costs.



The Barsoom Project

"'In the beginning.' Three words spoken uncounted billions of times."

The narrator's voice echoed everywhere and originated nowhere. It filled the vast dark cavern of Gaming Area A with its rolling, resonant embrace. Alex Griffin peered into the blackness. Phantasmal carts danced about him in elaborate patterns, orange outlines in his infrared goggles. The carts glided through an endless, empty night, invisible to each other.

"Yet they have never lost their magic, never diminished in majesty. Ever have we looked back to the roots of our cultures, the origin of our species, the genesis of our planet.

"Come with us now, and peer into the past of our solar system, to the formation of our most distinctive neighbor--"

A darkened dome a few hundred meters across became a universe: the stars emerged.

Above and below, they flamed in primal glory. Never had the skies of Earth been so fully or brightly populated. Blobs and streams of dark matter moved across the stars, dimming them. Never had the stars made any noise at all, but now Griffin's bones rattled with the reverberations of the best sound system in the Western hemisphere.

One dim star abruptly flared brighter than all the rest. It was blinding ... it was already dimming, while shells of lesser fire expanded from the supernova at ferocious speed. There were flame- colors in the shock waves.

Griffin chuckled quietly.

The thirteen hundred dignitaries gathered here by Cowles Industries and IntelCorp were in for a hell of a show. His chief deputy Marty Bobbick had a grip on his elbow. Marty's round face was soft with wonder, and his eyes gleamed.

"Though details differ, current theories agree that the solar system originated as a cold cloud of interstellar gas. There were snowflakes and snowballs, protocomets, scattered through it. And so it remained until the shock wave from a nearby supernova disturbed its equilibrium."

The supernova had died to nothing... no, not quite gone. Griffin found it as a tiny blinking dot. Then the shock waves arrived with a rolling crash that owed less to physics than to Dream Park magic. The vast interstellar dust clouds bowed before it; flattened, then began to collapse and condense. There were hurricane shapes at the centers. The viewpoint zoomed in on one of the whorls as streamers began to separate, giving it the look of a carelessly spray- painted archery target. The great storm sparkled like a fireworks display. The center began to glow.

"Gravity and spin became the dominant factors. Stars began to form," the unseen narrator said, but Griffin found his mind blanking out the words. The illusion was so overpoweringly real that his chest ached for breath.

A new sun blazed forth, awesomely bright within its murky sheath of dust and comets. In that terrible light Griffin could see lumps condensing along the rings that surrounded the sun. The solar system was still murky; comets moved through the viewpoint like white bullets.

This was the big one, the project toward which Cowles had angled for over a decade, the beginning of the largest venture in mankind's history. And Griffin was part of it ... if only as the security man who would keep these multinational billionaires from murdering each other. The 1,333 men and women taking their slow trips into the heart of the primordial solar system would be much more a part of it, if they chose.

And if they didn't, there would be no Barsoom Project.

And if there were no Barsoom Project, then... very soon, by geological time, there might be no life on Earth.

The turgid protostellar whirl was clearing now. Sunlight boiled away the nearer comets, leaving residues that would become asteroids; boiled the atmospheres from even the closer planets. The planets flashed and flamed from time to time as smaller bodies smashed into them. The viewpoint moved toward one such body, a glowing, cratered, lumpy sphere that grew clearer as its atmosphere dissipated.

Griffin wrenched his mind out of the illusion and brushed the controls before him in the cart. Of the hundred and fifty computer-driven carts gliding through an embryonic cosmos, he and Marty had the only cart equipped with manual override. In case of emergency, he could reach another cart within moments. There was no reason to expect any such emergency, but...

He whispered to Marty, "Let's peek in on them." Marty nodded-- he still had a death-grip on Alex's elbow-- and Alex rattle- tapped instructions to the heat-sensitive vidplate before him.

It lit. It became a quad splitscreen, and in each quadrant a cart appeared. Each cart seated ten visiting dignitaries. At upper-left were intense, serious visitors from the United Kingdom. Only one, a rotund woman in her fifties, was smiling broadly, clapping with childish glee.

Upper- right held officials from International Labor Union 207, the energy people. The international unions were more powerful than some nations. Certainly they were prime candidates for the offer that IntelCorp and Cowles wished to make.

Chitchat broke off, heads swiveled right, mouths gaped. A gargantuan gas-sheathed snowball roared directly at 207's cart. A smaller comet grazed it. A tenor scream split the air as the comet flared blindingly and passed on the right.

They laughed and slapped each other on the backs, none knowing who among them had screamed.

Lower-left was the Pan-African co alition... members who were not currently embroiled in war.

What a mess. Africa was a jungle, all right. A jungle of artificially drawn lines, so complex that things might not sort themselves out for another century. National boundaries, tribal boundaries, industrial boundaries, and union boundaries all writhed and fluxed and left bloody tracks behind, year after year for the past century. Project Barsoom might straighten them out... might give some of these political entities cause to fix them in place. A reason to forget the past, for the sake of the future.

Lower-right, ten young Tolkien elves, inhumanly tall and slender, yelled and laughed and ducked a passing comet. That was IntelCorp, the company formed by the partnership of General Electric and Falling Angel Enterprises.

Wiser heads within those companies, understanding that massive success and massive inertia are two sides of a coin, had split off some of the best young minds from the GE think tanks. These maniacs were backed with a hundred eighty million dollars and linked with the creative whirlwinds behind Falling Angels, the rogue technological "nation" orbiting Luna. The zero-gravity laboratories of Falling Angels were responsible for the Tokyo-Seoul expansion bridge, as well as a revolution in high-tensile engineering.

The result was one of the most effective think tanks in history. They already held eight percent of the most productive patents issued in the past decade, and the best was yet to come.

The sun had dimmed. The solar system was finally settling down. The cratered sphere in the foreground was drifting closer. Its rocks had breathed forth a new atmosphere, pink in hue and not thick enough to block the topography ... and as the orange- red sphere grew huge, clean white polar caps and a lacing of long gray- green lines were suddenly apparent. Two cratered moons rose over the planet's eastern curve.

There was laughter from the carts. "In 1877, Italian astronomer Giovanni Schiaparelli observed a network of single and double lines crisscrossing the surface of the planet. Canali means 'channels' or 'grooves' in Italian, but the word was mistranslated into 'canals,' which implies intelligent design..."

"Quite a show, eh?" Marty grinned in the dark: a new moon. "I want to sign up right now."

"Get out your Mark card if you've got the money. They'll be passing the hat pretty quick." Alex continued to look at Marty's black silhouette. "We haven't done any mat work for over a month. Have you been working the treadmill?"

"Sure. Well, not every day." He sighed guiltily. "Guess I'm gonna pay for that, huh?"

In about thirty- six hours Marty would be in his first Game. It was a Fat Ripper Special. The monsters chasing him would be slow, and that was as well. Alex's assistant had been muscular when Security hired him. Muscular, hell... he had come within one point of a Bronze in judo at Mexico's Pan- American Games in '36. By the time Griffin came over from Cowles Seattle in '49, Marty was soft, but still strong and skilled; he could wipe the floor with Griffin in a structured randori. Now Marty's weight was seventy pounds out of control.

They said these special Games would rip the fat right off you. And then they laughed. A week of waddling after orcs and dragons doesn't make anyone thin.

The IntelCorp cart (lower- right) held the reason that Marty would join the Fat Ripper. Charlene Dula stood seven feet zero, tall even for a Falling Angel. Her uncle Richard Arbenz was only an inch shorter, a double Ph.D. responsible for two of those lucrative patents.

Both were possible targets for terrorists.

The exact origins of the feud between Falling Angel and OPEC were lost in a welter of crisscrossed accusations. Falling Angel swore that it began in the infamous Anansi incident, when armed mercenaries had attacked a Falling Angel spacecraft. The United Moslem Activist Front were widely held responsible, although they had never been brought to task.

The UMAF had placed sole responsibility for the near disaster on a Brazilian industrial concern. No one believed them, and the organization had long since disbanded or been absorbed piecemeal into a dozen other pro- Arab organizations, especially the renegade Holy Fire group.

There had been other problems through the years--economic bo...

Copyright © 1989 by Larry Niven

Copyright © 1989 by Steven Barnes


The Barsoom Project

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The Barsoom Project

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