Firstborn(Time Odyssey 3) - By Arthur C. Clarke

February 2069

It wasnt like waking. It was a sudden emergence, a clash of cymbals. Her eyes gaped wide open, and were filled with dazzling light. She dragged deep breaths into her lungs, and gasped with the shock of selfhood.

Shock, yes. She shouldnt be conscious. Something was wrong. A pale shape swam in the air. Doctor Heyer? No. No, Mum, its me.

That face came into focus a little more, and there was her daughter, that strong face, those clear blue eyes, those slightly heavy dark brows. There was something on her cheek, though, some kind of symbol. A tattoo?

Myra? She found her throat scratchy, her voice a husk. She had a dim sense, now, of lying on her back, of a room around her, of equipment and people just out of her field of view. What went wrong?

Wrong? Why wasnt I put into estivation? Myra hesitated. Mumwhat date do you think it is? 2050. June fifth.

No. Its 2069, Mum. February. Nineteen years later. The hibernation worked. Now Bisesa saw strands of gray in Myras dark hair, wrinkles gathering around those sharp eyes. Myra said, As you can see I took the long way round.

It must be true. Bisesa had taken another vast, unlikely step on her personal odyssey through time.

Oh, my.

Another face loomed over Bisesa.

Doctor Heyer?

No. Doctor Heyer has long retired. My name is Doctor Stanton. Were going to begin the full resanguination now. Im afraid its going to hurt.

Bisesa tried to lick her lips. Why am I awake? she asked, and she immediately answered her own question. Oh. The Firstborn. What could it be but them? A new threat.

Myras face crumpled with hurt. Youve been away for nineteen years. The first thing you ask about is the Firstborn. Ill come see you when youre fully revived.

Myra, wait

But Myra had gone.

The new doctor was right. It hurt. But Bisesa had once been a soldier in the British Army. She forced herself not to cry out.
June 2064

Mankinds first clear look at the new threat had come five years earlier. And the eyes that saw the anomaly were electronic, not human.

Deep Space Monitor X7-6102-016 swam through the shadow of Saturn, where moons hung like lanterns. Saturns rings were a ghost of what they had been before the sunstorm, but as the probe climbed the distant sun set behind the rings, turning them into a bridge of silver that spanned the sky.

The Deep Space Monitor was not capable of awe, not quite. But like any sufficiently advanced machine it was sentient to some degree, and its electronic soul tingled with wonder at the orderly marvels of gas and ice through which it sailed. But it made no effort to explore them.

Silently, the probe approached the next target on its orbital loop.

Titan, Saturns largest moon, was a featureless ball of ocher, dimly lit by the remote sun. But its deep layers of cloud and haze hid miracles. As it approached the moon, DSM X7-6102-016 cautiously listened to the electronic chatter of a swarm of robot explorers.

Under a murky orange sky, beetle-like rovers crawled over dunes of basalt-hard ice-crystal sand, skirted methane geysers, crept cautiously into valleys carved by rivers of ethane, and dug into a surface made slushy by a constant, global drizzle of methane. One brave balloon explorer, buoyed by the thick air, hovered over a cryovolcano spilling a lava of ammonium-laced water. Burrowing submersibles

studied pockets of liquid water just under the ice surface, frozen-over lakes preserved in impact craters. There were complex organic products everywhere, created by electrical storms in Titans atmosphere, and by the battering of the upper air by sunlight and Saturns magnetic field.

Everywhere the probes looked, they found life. Some of this was Earthlike, anaerobic methane-loving bugs sluggishly building pillows and mounds in the cold brine of the crater lakes. A more exotic sort of carbon-based life-form, using ammonia rather than water, could be found swimming in the stuff bubbling out of the cryovolcanoes. Most exotic of all was a community of slimelike organisms that used silicon compounds as their basic building blocks, not carbon; they lived in the piercing cold of the black, mirror-flat ethane lakes.

The crater-lake bugs were cousins of Earths great families of life. The ammonia fish seemed to be indigenous to Titan. The cold-loving ethane slime might have come from the moons of Neptune, or beyond. The solar system was full of lifelife that blew everywhere, in rocks and lumps of ice detached by impacts.