Author : Bob Newbell

The spaceship’s aerodyne engines groaned as the vessel entered the upper atmosphere of Venus. Even after 90 years of terraforming, the air on Venus was still thick and hot. The ship banked to divert around an immense atmosphere processor. The machine was as big as a skyscraper and was held aloft by cables running up to gigantic vacuum balloons. The processor’s fusion reactor kept powerful ultraviolet lasers working around the clock to photodissociate the air’s carbon dioxide into oxygen and carbon. There were tens of thousands of such behemoths sailing through the skies of Venus.

“The air is 200°C and 30 bar,” said Fenrin as the Sleipnir descended roughly through the turbulent atmosphere. Fenrin kept his hands on the controls even though the ship’s computer was piloting the vessel. It made little sense. No human being could successfully manually navigate a ship to the surface of Venus. Not in one piece anyway.

“That’s why we have environment suits,” replied Tarrol. The aging but serviceable robot’s use of “we” was not a figure of speech. He, too, would need to don an environment suit.

“I’m still not sure about this,” said Fenrin. “The cost of refitting the Sleipnir to withstand Venus’ atmosphere, the cost of the environment suits, the cost in fuel coming out here.”

“Things will work out,” said Tarrol. “What’s down there is worth a lot of money.”

“Then why doesn’t the current owner of the item sell it to the Academic Consortium and cut us out of the deal?”

“Because the current owner is a roustabout machine. He doesn’t have an advanced metaprocessor. An excess of abstract thought would be a liability for someone working on Venus. The robot that found the item is a tunneler. All he does is dig into the crust so enormous cables can be run underground.”

“For what purpose?”

“Venus has virtually no magnetic field. Not enough convection in the liquid outer core of the planet to generate a field that can protect against cosmic radiation. So they’re having to construct huge underground coils to create a field. Giant thermocouples running deep into the planet will eventually power it. It was while digging that the robot got into the chamber that housed the object.”

“And he has no idea of its potential value?”

“No. All he understands is his job. I told him I could sell the item and get him more advanced disc cutters so he could tunnel faster.”

The Sleipnir landed and Fenrin and Tarrol disembarked and met their contact. The robot was the size of a house and it had no name, only a number: TR717. Tarrol and TR717 silently negotiated via radio for a few seconds. Then, the large tunneling machine turned the item over to the pair. They climbed back into their ship and lifted off.

After they were back in space, Fenrin examined the object with gloved hands.

“We probably shouldn’t handle it too much,” advised Tarrol. “It’s around two billion years old and likely fragile.”

Fenrin nodded and put the metallic ball back into a receptacle. He tried to mentally reconcile the sphere’s blue global ocean with the seas with which he was acquainted. He attempted to recognize a continent or a coastline from the strange land masses depicted in brown on the object’s surface. At last, he decided he could do neither.

“Proof of an ancient civilization on Venus and a picture of Earth’s surface around the advent of photosynthesis,” Fenrin said to Tarrol. “I say we ask the Consortium for an even trillion and negotiate from there.”

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