Juggler of Worlds: 200 Years Before the Discovery of the Ringworld (Known Space)

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9780765357847: Juggler of Worlds: 200 Years Before the Discovery of the Ringworld (Known Space)
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For too long, the Puppeteers have controlled the fate of worlds. Now Sigmund is pulling the strings . . .
Covert agent Sigmund Ausfaller is Earth's secret weapon, humanity's best defense against all conspiracies, real and potential - and imaginary - of foes both human and alien. Who better than a brilliant paranoid to expose the devious plots of others?

He may finally have met his match in Nessus, representative of the secretive Puppeteers, the elder race who wield vastly superior technologies. Nessus schemes in the shadows with Earth's traitors and adversaries, even after the race he reperesents abruptly vanishes from Known Space.
As a paranoid, Sigmund had always known things would end horribly for him. Only the when, where, how, why, and by whom of it all had eluded him. That fog has begun to lift...

But even Sigmund has never imagined how far his investigations will take him - or that his destiny is entwined with the fates of worlds.

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About the Author:

Larry Niven is the award-winning author of the Ringworld series, along with many other science fiction masterpieces, and fantasy novels including the Magic Goes Away series. Beowulf's Children, co-authored with Jerry Pournelle and Steven Barnes, was a New York Times bestseller. He has received the Nebula Award, five Hugos, four Locus Awards, two Ditmars, the Prometheus, and the Robert A. Heinlein Award, among other honors. He lives in Chatsworth, California.

Edward M. Lerner has degrees in physics and computer science, a background that kept him mostly out of trouble until he began writing science fiction full-time. His books include Probe, Moonstruck, and the collection Creative Destruction. Fleet of Worlds was his first collaboration with Larry Niven. He lives in Virginia with his wife, Ruth.

Excerpt. Reprinted by permission. All rights reserved.:

Chapter one

Sigmund Ausfaller woke up shivering, prone on a cold floor. His head pounded. Tape bound his wrists and ankles to plasteel chains.

He had always known it would end horribly. Only the when, where, how, why, and by whom of it all had eluded him.

That fog was beginning to lift.

How had he gotten here, wherever

here

was? As though from a great distance, Sigmund watched himself quest for recent memories. Why was it such a struggle?

He remembered the pedestrian concourse of an open-air mall, shoppers streaming. They wore every color of the rainbow, clothing and hair and skin, in every conceivable combination and pattern. Overhead, fluffy clouds scudded across a clear blue sky. The sun was warm on his face. Work, for once, had been laid aside. He’d been content.

Happiness is the sworn enemy of vigilance. How could he have been so careless?

Sigmund forced open his eyes. He was in a nearly featureless room. Its walls, floor, and ceiling were resilient plastic. Light came from one wall. I could be anywhere, Sigmund thought-and then two details grabbed his attention.

The room wasn’t quite a box. The glowing wall had a bit of a curve to it.

There were recessed handholds in walls, floor, and ceiling.

Panic struck. He was on a

spaceship

! Was gravity a hair higher than usual? Lower? He couldn’t tell.

Plasteel chains clattered dully as Sigmund sat up. He had watched enough old movies to expect chains to clink. Even as the room spun around him and everything faded to black, he found the energy to feel cheated.

COLD PLASTIC PRESSED AGAINST Sigmund’s cheek. He opened his eyes a crack to see the same spartan room. Cell.

This time he noticed that one link of his chains had been fused to a handhold in the deck.

Had he passed out from a panic attack?

Where was he?

Sigmund forced himself to breathe slowly and deeply until the new episode receded. Fear could only muddy his thoughts. More deep breaths.

He had never before blacked out from panic. He could not believe that

his

blackout stemmed from panic. Yes, his faint had closely followed the thought he might be aboard a spaceship. It

also

had occurred just after he had sat up. Sigmund remembered his thoughts having been fuzzy. They seemed sharper now.

He’d been drugged! Doped up and barely awake, he’d sat up too fast.

That

was why he had passed out.

More cautiously this time, Sigmund got into a sitting position. His head throbbed. He considered the pain dispassionately. Less disabling than the last time, he decided. Perhaps the drugs were wearing off.

Some odd corner of his mind felt shamed by his panic attacks. Most Earthborn had flatland phobia worse than he, and so what? True, he’d been born on Earth, but his parents had been all over Known Space. Somehow they took pleasure in strange scents, unfamiliar night skies, and wrong gravity.

On principle, Sigmund had been to the moon twice. He had had to know: Could he leave Earth should the need ever arise? The second time, it was to make sure the success of that first trip wasn’t a fluke.

He listened carefully. The soft whir of a ventilation fan. Hints of conversation, unintelligible. His own heartbeat. None of the background powerplant hum that permeated the spaceships he’d been on. Gravity felt as normal as his senses could judge.

Recognizing facts, spotting patterns, drawing inferences... he managed, but slowly, as though his thoughts swam through syrup. Traces of drugs remained in his system. He forced himself to concentrate.

If this was a ship, it was still on Earth. Someone

meant

to panic him, Sigmund decided. Someone wanted something from him. Until they got it, he’d probably remain alive.

They

.

For as long as Sigmund could remember, there had always been some

they

to worry about.

But even as Sigmund formed that thought, he knew “always” wasn’t quite correct....

IN THE BEGINNING,

they

were unambiguous enough: the Kzinti.

The Third Man-Kzin War broke out in 2490, the year Sigmund was born. He was five before he knew what a Kzin was-something like an upright orange cat, taller and much bulkier than a man, with a naked, rat-like tail. By then, the aliens had been defeated. The Kzinti Patriarchy ceded two colony worlds to the humans as reparations. In Sigmund’s lifetime, they had attacked human worlds three more times. They’d lost those wars, too.

Fafnir was one of the worlds that changed hands after the third war. His parents had wanderlust and not a trace of flatland phobia. They left him in the care of an aunt, and went to Fafnir in 2500 for an adventure.

And found one.

Conflict erupted that year between humans on Fafnir and the Kzinti settlers who had remained behind. His parents vanished, in hostilities that failed to rise to the level of a numeral in the official reckoning of Man- Kzin Wars. It was a mere “border incident.”

Everyone knew the Kzinti ate their prey.

So

they

, for a long time, were Kzinti. Sigmund hated the ratcats, and everyone understood. And he hated his parents for abandoning him. The grief counselors told his aunt that that was normal. And he hated his aunt, as much as she reminded him of Mom-or perhaps because she did-for allowing Mom and Dad to leave him with her.

The same year his parents disappeared, the Puppeteers emerged from beyond the rim of Human Space. A species more unlike the Kzinti could not be imagined. Puppeteers looked like two-headed, three-legged, wingless ostriches. The heads on their sinuous necks reminded him of sock puppets. The brain, Aunt Susan told him, hid under the thick mop of mane between the massive shoulders.

So

they

came to include these other aliens, these harmless-seeming newcomers, because Sigmund didn’t believe in coincidence. And then

they

came to include

all

aliens-because, really, how could anyone truly know otherwise?

That was when Aunt Susan took him to a psychotherapist. Sigmund remembered the stunned look on her face after his first session. After she spoke alone with the therapist. Sigmund remembered her sobbing all that night in her bedroom.

He had a sickness, or sicknesses, he couldn’t spell, much less understand: a paranoid personality disorder. Monothematic delusion with delusional misidentication syndrome. He didn’t know if he believed the supposed silver lining: that it was treatable.

What Sigmund did believe was the other consolation Dr. Swenson offered Aunt Susan-that paranoia is an affliction of the brightest.

In time, Sigmund understood. Trauma can cause stress can cause biochemical imbalances can cause mental illness. A day and a night asleep in an autodoc corrected the biochemical imbalance in his brain. But a single chemical tweak wasn’t enough: Knowing the world is out to get you is its own stress. Three months of therapy with Dr . Swenson addressed the paranoid behaviors Sigmund had already learned.

Dr. Swenson was right: Sigmund

was

very smart. Smart enough to figure out what the therapist wanted to hear. Smart enough to learn what thoughts to keep to himself.

TREMBLING, SIGMUND TRIED AGAIN to shake off the drugs. Reliving old horrors served no useful purpose-especially now. He needed to focus.

Start with

them

. They weren’t Kzinti: The room was too small. Kzinti would have gone crazy.

They

wanted something from him; how he responded might be the only control he had in this situation. Who might

they

be?

Others might see in him only a middle-aged, midlevel financial analyst. A United Nations bureaucrat. A misanthrope dressed always in black, in a world where everyone else wore vibrant colors.

Sigmund saw more. All those years ago, Dr. Swenson had been far more correct than he knew. Sigmund was more than bright. He was brilliant- in the mind, where it counted, not in gaudy display.

Who were

they

? Probably somebody Sigmund was investigating. That narrowed it down. The bribe-taking customs officials at Quito Spaceport? The sysadmin at the UN ID data center who moonlighted in identity laundering?

Sigmund’s gut said otherwise. It was his other ongoing investigation: the Trojan Mafia. The gang, known by its reputed base in the Trojan Asteroids, engaged in every kind of smuggling, from artworks to weapons to experimental medicines. They killed for hire-and, more often, just to keep the authorities at bay. They were into extortion, money laundering... everything. Every other analyst in Investigations refused to touch them.

Surely that was

who

.

How

was more speculative. A “chance” encounter in the pedestrian mall near his home, he guessed, by someone with a fast-acting hypo-sedative. He stumbles; his assailant, to all appearances a Good Samaritan, helps him to the nearest transfer booth.

Where? Other than somewhere on Earth, Sigmund wasn’t prepared to guess. On a world bristling with transfer booths, he could have been teleported instantaneously almost anywhere.

And when? Blinking to de-blur his vision, Sigmund raised his hands. His left wrist hurt-not much, but it hurt. The time display had frozen. Ironic that, since the subcutaneous control pips felt melted: tiny beads beneath his thumb. Clock, weather, compass, calculator, maps, all the utility functions he normally summoned by .fingernail pressure... all gone. He guessed his implant had been fried with a magnetic pulse. It .t the program of disorientation.

They weren’t as smart as they thought. The room had no sanitary facilit...

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