From the personal record of Mahala Liangharad:
One of my earliest memories is still vivid enough that I can call it up at will, even though it was a simulated experience and not one I actually lived through myself.
No unprotected human being could have survived it.
I am standing on a wrinkled plain of black basalt, feeling the intense heat that surrounds me and presses in around me and an atmospheric pressure that threatens to crush me. In the distance, against a dark red sky, sits a pyramid so vast that it dwarfs even the shield volcano I glimpse in the distance. There is so little light that I can see only in the infrared; I wait, knowing what will happen, excited by anticipation and fear.
And then the ground heaves under my feet, and the sound of thunder strikes my ears with such a blow that I cry out in pain. A web of bright light appears along the pyramid's black sides as lightning dances at its apex. The ground shudders again, more fiercely this time, hurling me up into the clouds, and as I fly up, the planet below me begins to turn more rapidly. I can see it moving beneath me as I hover; the pyramid below me sweeps past as the planet turns, and after that the bright glow of the erupting volcano, and the wind screams at me as my world tears at itself.
This was a depiction of an event that happened long ago, nearly a century before I was born, on the world that was to become my home.
I try to remember when that world was no longer the imperfectly comprehended and often mysterious background of my young life, when it first became clear in my mind. Occasionally, I have the feeling that my environment was always in the foreground, that there was always some understanding on my part of what my world was and how I came to be in it, but that has to be an illusion. The time when I was beginning to discover my environment, exploring my surroundings and seeking out the place I might occupy in them--much of that is clouded for me now, as if I were viewing it through a heavy veil. Much of it is lost.
Lost to my own unaided memory, I mean, and not as easily recalled as things that happened to me later. AH of the past is preserved in some form; I simply can't recollect it very easily by myself. I can no longer recall even whether my earliest apprehension of my world came from my actual experiences and the conclusions I drew from them or from the simulated events of a mind-tour, and maybe drawing such a distinction is irrelevant now. Those experiences have all become part of my past.
As a child, along with everyone else I knew, I often enjoyed the sensory entertainment of a mind-tour. By putting my band around my head, reaching out to our cyberminds, and asking for a particular tour--those that I was allowed to call up, anyway, those that had no barriers to block access--I could travel into the past, participate in an adventure, climb Mount McKinley or the Matterhorn or one of the other mountains of Earth, go diving in the sunken cities of Venice and Miami, ride a horse, shoot a bow, or else move like a ghost through other times and places, untouched by any of the visions that I observed.
The most common of these mind-tours, ones that had been shared by nearly everybody around me, were various depictions of how people had come to live on our world, depictions framed by dramatic and often apocryphal scenes. There were the obligatory scenes of the Earth after the end of the last of the Resource Wars, scenes showing the white-robed figures of the first Mukhtars, the inheritors and new rulers of humankind's ruined home planet, wandering through the rubble-strewn streets of Damascus and Tashkent and Samarkand and the other great cities of the New Islamic Nomarchy that was soon to become the center of Earth's culture. There were the moving scenes of Karim al-Anwar, one of those early Mukhtars, gazing out at a great sea with a visionary look in his intense dark eyes as he imagined creating such a body of water on inhospitable Venus, of making a new home for humanity.
At this point, some of the mind-tours would place the viewer amid a group of Mukhtars, all of them nodding their kaffiyeh-clad heads as Karim spoke eloquently of his dream of terraforming Venus; others would sweep the mind-tourist into a panoramic view of the dark tesserae of Venus, expanses of bizarrely wrinkled land veiled by thick clouds of carbon dioxide, and then to a view of Baltis Vallis, the longest of the many long, thin channels that meandered for thousands of kilometers over the Venusian surface, channels that had all of the appearance of ancient riverbeds and deltas. In the first such mind-tour I can recall experiencing, I felt extreme heat and a pressure that seemed great enough to crush me, while a low voice reminded me that an unprotected human body would be crushed by a barometric pressure ninety times that of Earth's atmosphere. In another, I flew over a blue-green ocean toward the burgeoning green jungles of the landmass of Aphrodite Terra--a vision of Venus as it would be.
Such mind-tours always inspired me with awe and pride, as they were intended to do, for I grew up as one of the Cytherians, as we called ourselves, one of the children of Venus. My childhood's Venus was no longer the hellish planet that Karim al-Anwar had dreamed of transforming, but it had also not yet become the green and fecund world he had hoped to bring into existence. We lived on the surface of our world, but only in domed settlements, gardens that were protected from the harsh and still lethal environment of Venus. We lived there in order to stake a human claim to that world, but a heretic might have said that we were prisoners, living out our lives in those enclosed places solely to habitable, whatever the obstacles that lay ahead.
Some believed that Karim al-Anwar had easily won the support of his fellow Mukhtars for the terraforming of Venus, while others thought that it had taken most of his life to inspire them with his dream. Over six hundred years had passed since his death, so there was much that the adults who taught me and the other children in my settlement did not know about him, many parts of his life that remained hidden. But Karim had lived to see Earth's Nomarchies finally at peace, and each of those regions ruled by a Mukhtar, with a peace guaranteed by the armed force known as the Guardians of the Nomarchies. He had also seen that Earth needed a new dream, one that would inspire Earth's people.
The mind-tours considered appropriate for children gave little indication of any motive for Karim's ambition other than a desire to dedicate himself and the people of Earth to the service of a great project, a desire fueled by his fear that Earth, with its rising oceans, steadily increasing average temperatures, and increase in levels of carbon dioxide, might eventually have great need of the knowledge terraforming would yield, in order to repair the damage to its own biosphere. Only later did it become evident to me that Karim and many other Earthfolk also saw his Venus Project as a way to challenge the Associated Habitats.
The Habbers: That was what the people of Earth called them, the descendants of those Earthfolk who had abandoned a planet that they saw as a worn-out husk, who had fled from the aftermath of the Resource Wars into space instead of staying to rebuild their damaged Earth. The Habbers: The term had begun as an insult and a curse, but over time it lost its sting and became only another name for the Habitat-dwellers.
The earliest Habbers had made their first homes inside the two satellites of Mars, Phobos and Deimos, before going on to construct larger Habitats using hollowed-out asteroids and all of the resources the solar system offered. They had been content to leave the wounded world of Earth to others, to build a new human civilization away from the surface of the home world. That was another reason for Karim's dream, the fear that without a great enterprise to inspire the people of Earth, humanity's future might belong entirely to the Habbers. And because the Habbers had in effect staked their own claim to Mars, preferring to keep that planet in its natural state as an object of study, Karitn could not hope to transform the Red Planet. Venus would have to become a second planetary home for humankind, and the focus of his hopes.
Anwara, the satellite that circled Venus in a high orbit, had begun as a place to house the Venus Project's earliest scientists and workers and eventually grew into a vast ringed space station. The giant shield of the Parasol, constructed by thousands of Earthfolk at the cost of many lives, became an umbrella of immense fans with a diameter as great as that of Venus; in the shade of this giant metallic flower, Venus had slowly grown cooler. Frozen hydrogen from Saturn was hurled toward Venus in tanks, so that the hydrogen would combine with Venus's free oxygen to form water. The Cytherian atmosphere was seeded with new bioengineered strains of algae that fed on the poisonous sulfuric acid and expelled it as iron and copper sulfides.
One mind-tour that I viewed in childhood conveyed the misleading impression that our surface settlements had been built not long after the construction of the Islands. In fact, the Islands had come into existence centuries before there were any settlers living inside domes on the high Maxwell Mountains of the Ishtar Terra landmass. The ten Islands where scientists and workers were to dwell, and an eleventh to be used as a port for both the dirigibles that carried people between the Islands and the shuttlecraft that traveled to Anwara, began as platforms built on rows of gigantic metallic cells filled with helium. Ten of the Islands were covered with soil and then enclosed in impermeable domes. These Islands floated in Venus's upper atmosphere slightly north of the equator; it was expected that in later centuries, as they slowly dropped through the altered atmosphere, they would come to rest on the planet's terraformed surface. In one mind-tour, I sat with the pilots of an airship as they left the
Island port we called the Platform, bound for Island Eight; I gazed at sensor readings that told me of the fierce winds that raged below the Islands. In another mind-tour, I flew on a shuttle toward the rings of the great space station of Anwara.
Nowhere in any of these mind-tours was there any hint that the Habbers had been responsible for some of the Venus Project's successes. These scenarios never touched on the fact that Habber technology had been responsible for bringing needed hydrogen to Venus from Saturn, that Habber engineers had helped to design the Islands, that the Habbers had given us the formula for the ceramic-metallic alloy of the domes that protected our settlements. Earth, even before embarking on the Venus Project, had accepted many gifts from the Habbers, among them asteroids brought into Earth orbit to be mined. One might wonder--if one cared to venture into such dangerous theoretical territory--whether the Venus Project itself, Earth's bid to lay claim to the future of our species, would even have been possible without Habber aid.
Why did the Habbers wish to help Earth? Why had some among them willingly come to Venus to aid the Project, asking for nothing in return? They wanted only to learn, to test new technologies, to remain close to those whom they still considered their sisters and brothers; that was as much as the Habbers would claim. Perhaps they sought gratitude from those they helped. Instead, they garnered resentment, and Venus became the arena for the contest between Earth and the Associated Habitats, where one or the other would gain control over humankind's destiny.
Even as a child, I was aware of the role that my own family and line had played in this contest. My great-grandmother, Iris Angharads, and her bondmate, Liang Chen, had been the first of my family to come to Venus and labor for the Project. Iris had become a martyr for the Project, and a few scenes from her life, many of them sentimental inventions, were occasionally included in mind-tours of our history. During her time, the most powerful of the Island Administrators had confronted Earth and the Council of Mukhtars with his demands, in an effort to win control over the Project for himself and a closer alliance with the Habbers. His actions had precipitated a blockade of the Islands and a desperate attempt by a few people to threaten death to the hostages they had taken and the destruction of a dome on the surface where their captives were being held. Iris Ang-harads and her colleague Amir Azad lost their lives in saving the hostages, managing to get them to freedom aboard an airship before the dome was destroyed with the small nuclear charges the rebels had set around its perimeter, but their courageous example inspired the Mukhtars to come to an agreement that had both preserved the endangered Project and granted a measure of freedom to all Cytherian settlers.
So most of the official histories claimed, although I came to believe that much was left unsaid, that matters had been far more complicated than that.
But the martyred and honored Iris Angharads was only one member of my line. There were other members of my family who had left me with a more ambiguous heritage. One was Benzi Liangharad, the son of Iris and Liang Chen, who had abandoned the Venus Project to join the Habbers. Another was Malik Haddad, who had fled from Venus during the time of the Revolt, when many Cytherians had become misguided followers of the movement and cult known as Ishtar. I was genetically linked to both of them, as well as to the parents I never knew, who were dead before I was born and who had left me their own dubious legacy.
They all had been caught up in the battle for control of the Venus Project, in the struggle between Earthfolk and Habbers for the human future, in the fight of Cytherians for control of their own society. And all of them had largely been tools in the hands of others more powerful than they, who had probably seen them only as pawns whenever they were aware of them at all.
But I was only dimly aware of all of this as a child, when my world was still largely a mystery and I was just coming to glimpse my place in it.
The memory I can so easily call up now, that cataclysmic vision of a planet beginning to turn beneath me, depicts the event that marks the true beginning of the human-made history of Venus, or so it has always seemed to me. Before then, even with the creation of sterile oceans on the surface, the seeding of algae, the steady cooling of the planet under the Parasol's shade, the tanks of Saturnian hydrogen that flared like candles against the Cytherian darkness as they fell toward the thickly veiled planet, humankind still had only a tenuous hold on Venus. Increasing Venus's rotation, pushing against that planet's inertia with the gravitational forces of powerful man-made devices, had been the true start of a new era.
The vision comes to me once more: I stand on the black plain and gaze at the pyramid in the distance. That structure, one of three massive pyramids along the equator, has been built by Island engineers guiding their equipment by remote control. Each of the pyramids houses a gravitational pulse engine; rods anchoring those engines have pierced the basaltic mantle of Venus to penetrate to the planet's nickel and iron core. The ground heaves under my feet and thunder slaps my ears as the pyramid, veins of light bulging from its metallic walls, releases its pulse of energy. Venus, assaulted by the release of the powerful antigravitational pulse of the three engines, begins to turn more rapidly.
Other sights appear: Lightning bolts dance in the thick black clouds as the wind rises. A tidal wave rushes toward a shore as slabs of basalt are sheared from the sides of mountains. I fly up through the clouds to glimpse the colorful bands of aurorae flare over the northern pole, a sign of the magnetic field being generated. Venus turns more rapidly, and the increased rotation promises to provide my world with Earthlike weather patterns in later centuries, when people would at last walk the surface unprotected and look up through whatever remained of the Parasol at the sun.
That was the promise I saw in that vision, in those scenes of the past captured by sensors and preserved in our records, a pledge that out of the forces that had torn at my world, from the terrifying energies that my people had loosed upon it, that out of that destructive power something new would emerge, a world that would shake off the darkness of the past and emerge into the light.