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Coming Home
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Coming Home

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Author: Jack McDevitt
Publisher: Ace Books, 2014
Series: Alex Benedict: Book 7
Book Type: Novel
Genre: Science-Fiction
Sub-Genre Tags: Hard SF
Colonization
Galactic Empire
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Synopsis

Thousands of years ago, artifacts of the early space age were lost to rising oceans and widespread turmoil. Garnett Baylee devoted his life to finding them, only to give up hope. Then, in the wake of his death, one was found in his home, raising tantalizing questions. Had he succeeded after all? Why had he kept it a secret? And where is the rest of the Apollo cache?

Antiquities dealer Alex Benedict and his pilot, Chase Kolpath, have gone to Earth to learn the truth. But the trail seems to have gone cold, so they head back home to be present when the Capella, the interstellar transport that vanished eleven years earlier in a time/space warp, is expected to reappear. With a window of only a few hours, rescuing it is of the utmost importance. Twenty-six hundred passengers—including Alex’s uncle, Gabriel Benedict, the man who raised him—are on board.

Alex now finds his attention divided between finding the artifacts and anticipating the rescue of the Capella. But time won’t allow him to do both. As the deadline for the Capella’s reappearance draws near, Alex fears that the puzzle of the artifacts will be lost yet again. But Alex Benedict never forgets and never gives up—and another day will soon come around…


Excerpt

It was a day that started slowly, like most days, then blew up. Twice. The first eruption came while I was tallying the monthly income for Rainbow Enterprises. A light snow was falling when our AI, Jacob, informed me we had a call. "It's from Dr. Earl."

Marissa Earl was an acquaintance of Alex's, a psychiatrist who belonged to his book club. I went back into my office and sat down. "Put her through, Jacob."

Marissa was fond of saying that psychiatry was the only scientific field that was still substantially unpredictable. I'd seen her only a couple of times, once at a fund-raising dinner, and again at a theater presentation. She was active in community arts and ran a few of the local events. When she blinked into my office, she was wearing a large smile while looking simultaneously troubled. But there was no missing the excitement. "It's good to see you again, Chase," she said. "Is Alex in the building?"

"He's out of town, Marissa."

"Okay. When do you expect him back?"

"In two days. Can I help you?"

She frowned. "Probably not. Could you get in touch with him for me?"

Sure, I thought. If I don't mind having to make explanations later. Alex doesn't like to have his time away from the office interrupted by anything short of an emergency. "Why don't you tell me what's going on, and we can take it from there?"

Marissa was relaxed on a couch. A box rested on the seat beside her. She glanced down at it, leaned back, and took a deep breath. "Does the name Garnett Baylee mean anything to you?"

"It rings a bell, but I don't recall--"

"He was my grandfather. An archeologist." Her eyes softened. "I never really saw much of him. He spent most of his time on Earth. Doing research. And, I guess, digging. He was especially interested in the Golden Age."

"That's a period Alex has always been intrigued by, too, Marissa." It must have been a wild time. Nuclear weapons that could have ended the species overnight. The development of data processing and mass communications. People getting off-world for the first time. And, of course, it was when the big scientific discoveries were being made. Those who were around during those years saw incredible changes. New technologies constantly showing up. Diseases that had been fatal when you were a child were wiped out by the time you had kids of your own. Not like today, when stability rules. Or, as some physicists would say, boredom.

"He had a huge collection of books, fiction, from those years. My dad said he was always watching shows set in that period. And he was infuriated that so much had been lost."

"I'm not sure I know what you're referring to," I said. "We still have pretty good visual records of the third millennium. We know its history. There are a few holes, but by and large--"

"I'm not talking about the history. What he cared about were the artifacts. Have you been to Earth, Chase?"

"Yes. I've been there. Once."

"There's not much left from the years when they were going to the Moon. It's all gone. Other than a few old buildings and some dams. My grandfather was always looking for stuff. Like maybe a pen that Marie Curie had used. Or a chair that belonged to Charles Darwin. Or maybe Winston Churchill's reading lamp." She shrugged. "According to my father, it was his life. He spent years on Earth trying to track things down."

I wondered who Darwin and Curie were. "How'd he make out?"

"He found a few things. An old radio. A few lost books. Nothing that was connected specifically to any historical figure, though--"

"Books? Anything significant?"

"Yes. One was Tender Is the Night."

"Really? He was the guy who found that?"

"That's correct."

"I think he and Alex would have gotten along pretty well."

"He contributed most of what he found to the Brandenheim Museum. It's on display. You can take a look next time you're down there. They have a whole section dedicated to him."

"Sounds as if he had a decent career. You say you didn't see much of him?"

"When I was about fourteen, he came back here to live with us. I'd only seen him once or twice before that, but I was so young, I can barely remember it. I was surprised to discover that our house belonged to him." She was looking past me, into another time. "He apologized for not being around when I was younger. He was a nice guy. Did you know he found the only existing wristwatch? You know what that was?"

"I've seen them in the old clips."

"It didn't belong to anyone in particular, as far as we know. It was just a watch."

"Okay." The snow was coming down harder. "What actually can we do for you, Marissa?"

"His room was on the second floor. He was with us for about seven years. But then he had a stroke, and we lost him. That was almost eleven years ago. Dad eventually took over the room and used it as his office. And I guess nobody ever really cleaned it out. Recently, we came across something on a shelf in one of the upstairs closets." She removed the lid from the box. My angle wouldn't let me see inside it, but I had a pretty good idea where this was leading.

"Well, Marissa," I said, "whatever it is, I'm sure we'll be able to get you a decent price for it."

"Good. That's what I was hoping you'd say." She reached into the box and took out a black electronic device, wrapped in a cloth. She set it on the seat beside her.

"What is it?" I asked.

"I took it to the Brandenheim. I thought the guy I was talking to would go crazy. He tells me it's a--" She stopped and checked her link. "It's a Corbett transmitter. It's for sending messages through hyperspace. This one is apparently an early version. They thought I was going to donate it, which I had originally intended. I just wanted to get rid of it. But I got the impression it's worth a lot. So I backed off. They got annoyed." She smiled. "I guess I'm not much like my granddad."

"Okay," I said. "We'll take a look. When Alex gets back, he can check the record, and if he needs to see it, we'll have you bring it over."

"Fine. I'd like to get an estimate of the value. You don't have any idea, do you?"

"No, Marissa. I've never seen one of these things before."

"Oh," she said. "I thought you were a pilot."

"In my spare time, yes." I was running a quick check on my notebook. And got a jolt. "Holy cats," I said.

"What? What is it, Chase?"

"The Corbett is the breakthrough unit. It's the earliest model there was." The information I was getting indicated it dated from the twenty-sixth century. The early FTL flights had no reasonable way to talk to Earth. Until the Corbett came along. If the Brandenheim had it right, the thing was over eight thousand years old. There was only one known model in existence. So, yes, it was going to have some serious trade value. "Your grandfather never told you he had this?"

"No. He never mentioned it."

"He must have said something to your parents."

"My dad says no. He never knew it was there until he went into the closet to put some wrapping paper on the top shelf. There were already a couple of boxes on top of it, and a sweater. There wasn't enough room, so he took everything down." She looked at the transmitter. "This was in a case. It was the first time he'd seen it. In fact, he came close to tossing it out. Fortunately, he showed it to me on his way to the trash can."

"All right. We'll get back to you."

"The museum says if I contribute it, they'll put up a permanent plate with my name on it."

"Is that what you want to do?"

"Depends how much I can get for it."

"You say your grandfather gave them some artifacts?"

"Yes."

"But they didn't recognize this when you showed it to them? I mean, he hadn't shown it to them at some point himself?"

"Apparently not. Maybe it was just something he decided to keep. Maybe he forgot he had it. He was getting old."

I nodded. "Jacob, can you give me a three-sixty on this thing?"

Jacob magnified the transmitter and closed in on it. I got a close-up of the controls. Then he rotated the angle. It wasn't especially striking, and it looked like a thousand other pieces of communication gear. About the size of a breadbox. The exterior had a plastene appearance. There was a push pad, some dials, selectors, and a gauge. Imprints and markers were all in ancient English. And a plate on the back. "Jacob," I said, "translate, please."

"It says 'Made by Quantumware, 2711, in Canada.'"

One side appeared to have been scorched. I ran a search on Quantumware. It had been the manufacturer of the early FTL communication units. I was hoping to see Judy Cobble engraved on it somewhere, or the name of one of the other early starships.

"The people at the Brandenheim," said Marissa, "say it's just an identification plate." She looked momentarily unhappy. "They can't match it up to anything because it's so old."

Most people establish an online avatar, creating a more or less permanent electronic presence that can represent them if they're out of town. Or after they've passed away. Usually, the avatar looks exactly like the person for whom it substitutes. But like the original, it can be unreliable. People create them to make themselves look good, possibly to mislead others, and to lie like a bandit, if that's what it takes to make the desired impression. And it provides a kind of immortality. "Marissa," I said, "would you object to our contacting your grandfather's online presence?"

"He didn't have one."

"Really?"

"According to my father, there wasan avatar at one time. But he must have gotten rid of it."

"Okay. Did he come back on a transport?"

"Back from where?"

"Earth."

"I don't know. I can check with my father. Probably."

"Okay. Do that. See if he remembers. Did your grandfather ever say anything that might have led you to believe he'd made a major find?"

"Not to me. At least not that I recall. My folks said he was disappointed when he came home. That he was depressed. It didn't exactly sound like a guy who was returning after making a major discovery."

I looked helplessly at Marissa.

"Finished?" she asked.

"Who can we talk to about him? Any of his colleagues who might know something?"

"Lawrence Southwick, maybe." Head of the Southwick Foundation, known principally for underwriting archeological initiatives. "He was a friend of my grandfather's. He's retired now. I don't know that Grandpop was close to anybody else."

Garnett Baylee had been a much-admired charismatic figure. He'd been a popular speaker at fund-raisers, but had apparently never accepted any remuneration other than expenses. The money had been funneled primarily to the Southwick Foundation, but he'd also made contributions to other organizations that supported archeological work, especially with a concentration on the Golden Age.

I was surprised to discover that Baylee had never collected a degree. He'd claimed to be an archeologist but had never gotten around to meeting the formal qualifications. Everyone seemed to know that, but it hadn't mattered. His passion had replaced the formalities. He'd made a running joke of the pretense, using it to display his respect for a profession, frequently playing off comments that implied he wasn't smart enough to join. I watched a couple of his performances. He would have made a superb comedian had his passion for recovering lost history not been also on display. The archeological community loved him. And watching him, I regretted never having met him.

There were thousands of photos, covering his lifetime. There he was at about four years old, already digging holes in the lawn. And at about sixteen in a canoe with an attractive but unidentified redhead. They showed him in school and at parties. At weddings and ball games. Some pictures showed him with his dark-haired wife, whom he had apparently lost early. Playing games with his kids, and later with his grandchildren, including Marissa. And I saw him on safari, cruising deserts in a skimmer. He stood at dig sites, held up artifacts for the viewer, gave directions to his work crew, and gazed up at pyramids.

People who knew him said that he'd never pursued a degree because he was simply too knowledgeable, too brilliant, leaving him no patience for routine academic work. He simply bypassed it. And apparently lost nothing thereby.

Baylee was more than moderately handsome. Even in his later years, his features resisted the usual tendency toward gradual decline and ultimate collapse. He was tall, broad-shouldered, and there was something in his eyes that made it clear he was in charge. I could see a distinct resemblance to Marissa, who also showed no reluctance to take over.

It was impossible to imagine this guy's coming up with a major discovery and failing to mention it.

Copyright © 2014 by Jack McDevitt


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Coming Home

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  (5/25/2015)

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