pictures of New Providence began coming in four hours
Discovery's crew had been on full alert for all
that time, scanning their instruments and checking their
weapons. And, for all that time, the tension had been
building aboard the battle cruiser. Every second that
passed without someone detecting the presence of man on
the ancestral home of all Altans brought with it a
firmer realization that their worst fears might well be
confirmed. New Providence had been a world of three
billion souls; and now it was as silent as a tomb.
The first long
range tele-views came from Scout Boat Drunkard.
It showed a planetary limb, a blue ocean, and the
unfamiliar shoreline of a continent. As they watched,
the continent grew in size with surprising rapidity, an
indication of the speed with which the scout was closing
on the planet.
"What is Drunkard's target?" Drake
"Regensburg," Lieutenant Cristobal
answered. "The records indicate that it is the major
metropolis in the northern hemisphere. Scout Boat
Catherine will arrive five minutes later, and will
over-fly a city named Terra Nova."
"One of my great, great, great
grandfathers came from Terra Nova, I think," Bethany
Lindquist said from her position beside Cristobal.
"I thought your family was from Earth,
Miss Lindquist," Argos Cristobal said.
She swiveled to face the astrogator.
"Only some of my ancestors, Mr. Cristobal. You'll find
that I have quite a lot of Altan in me."
The view jumped once as Scout-Pilot
Marman ordered a switch to a higher magnification. The
scene was suddenly frozen on the screen as the computer
chose a single frame from Drunkard's orbital
mapping camera. The view was of the outskirts of the
city of Regensburg taken at a slant angle of 45 degrees.
Regensburg had been built on a series of
rolling, forested hills. The screen showed equal parts
of city and forest. The forest was dead. Bare trunks
jutted skyward, sprouting stick-like branches in
geometric symmetry. Many trees had been uprooted by
windstorms. Their corpses lay scattered randomly among
the upright bodies of their brethren. In some areas, the
tangle of deadwood approached jungle proportions, as if
the natural process of decay had been halted.
"No microorganisms," Drake muttered to no
one in particular. "The planet must be sterile."
He switched his gaze to the city. It,
too, was the color of dead plants; and like the forest,
showed signs of weather damage; yet with a degree of
preservation unexpected in a hundred-year-old ruin.
"Scout Marman reports his flyby complete.
He is headed out into space," Slater reported from the
"How many frames did he get?"
"Fifty thousand, Captain, all received
and ready for processing. Catherine reports
coming up on Terra Nova."
Drake turned his attention back to the
main viewscreen. Once again there was a view of the
planet's limb. Once again, the camera was switched over
to high magnification, and a single frame was frozen on
the control room viewscreen. This time the view was
centered on a large city. But where Regensburg had
looked as though its inhabitants had stepped away for a
moment, Terra Nova was a shambles. Everywhere, blackened
steel frameworks jutted skyward from piles of masonry,
toppled towers lay where they had smashed across parked
groundcars, and hollow shells stood guard over collapsed
interiors. The sight of the destruction sent a shiver
through Drake's soul.
"Some kind of out-of-control fire?" Argos
"It was an out-of-control fire, all
right," Bethany Lindquist responded, her voice filled
with horror. "Look at the way the outlying buildings all
seem to have toppled away from the central point. I've
seen that pattern before in history tapes. That city
didn't burn of its own accord. Someone exploded a
nuclear weapon on it!