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By the fourth decade of the twenty-first century, the nations of Earth had finally resolved or learned to live with the differences that had made so much of their history a story of exploitation and conflict. A major expression of the new spirit of cooperation and optimism toward the future took the form of a joint program of Solar System exploration carried out under the direction of a Space Arm formed as part of the UN. With its redirection of the resources and industries that had once served a bloated defense sector, the program was seen as a triumph of the unifying power of technology and reason, and a prelude to reaching outward toward the stars. As permanent bases appeared on the Moon and Mars, and manned mission ships reached the outer planets, it was confidently assumed that the sciences responsible for such spectacular success were thereby shown to form a solidly based foundation for the continuing expansion of human knowledge. The basic belief structure was secure. While the universe undoubtedly had more revelations and surprises to deliver, the body of fact that had been established was impregnable to any major need in the way of revision.

Such moments of blissful self-assurance invariably come immediately before the biggest tumbles. In just a few short years, a series of stupefying discoveries not only added an entire new dimension to the history of the Solar System, but uncovered a strange, totally unanticipated story of the origins of the human race itself.

Twenty-five million years before the present time, a race of nonviolent, eight-foot-tall giants had flourished across the Solar System and surpassed everything that humankind had achieved. The "Ganymeans"—so-called when the first indication of their existence was discovered in the form of a wrecked spacecraft buried under the ice of Ganymede, largest of the Jovian moons—had originated on a planet christened Minerva, that had once occupied the position between Mars and Jupiter. By the time the Ganymean civilization reached an advanced stage, climatic conditions on Minerva were deteriorating. As would be expected, their voyages of discovery had brought them to Earth, from where they transported large numbers of plant and animal forms from the lateOligocene-early Miocene period back to their own world as part of a large-scale bioengineering research project to combat the problem. Terran life enjoyed a generally greater toxic resistance than that possessed by the Ganymeans, and their hope was to incorporate the appropriate genetic structures into their own makeup in order to render themselves tolerant to altering Minerva's atmosphere in a way that would enhance its natural greenhouse mechanism. These efforts failed, however, and the Ganymeans migrated to what would later come to be called the Giants' Star, located twenty light-years from Earth in the direction of the constellation of Taurus.

In the millions of years that followed, the imported terrestrial animals left on Minerva replaced most of the native Minervan forms, which owing to a peculiarity of early Minervan biology that precluded the emergence of land-dwelling carnivores, were unable to compete effectively. The terrestrial forms included a population of primates as advanced as anything existing on Earth at the time, which in addition had undergone genetic modification in the course of the Ganymean experimental program. Fifty thousand years before the present time, while the various hominid lines developing on Earth were still at stone-using stages of culture, a second advanced, spacegoing race had already appeared on Minerva as the first version of modern Man. They were given the name "Lunarians," after evidence of their existence came to light in the course of twenty-first century lunar exploration. (See Inherit the Stars.)

At the time of the emergence of the Lunarians, varying solar conditions were bringing the onset of the most recent ice age on Earth, while the even greater effect on Minerva threatened to render the planet uninhabitable. The Lunarians responded with a concerted effort to develop their space and industrial technologies to a level that would permit mass migration to the more hospitable climate of Earth. But as with the Ganymeans before them, the ambitious plan came to nothing. When the Lunarians were practically within reach of their goal, the cooperative spirit in which they had worked for generations broke down with the polarization of their civilization into two superpowers, Cerios and Lambia. Resources that could have been concentrated on saving the race were squandered instead on a ruinous military rivalry. The result was a cataclysmic planetwide war, in the course of which Minerva was destroyed.

The Ganymean culture, in the meantime, had entered a long period of stagnation brought about by the unanticipated effects of advancing biological science which was able to prolong life practically indefinitely. When the consequences became clear, they took a decision to revert to their natural condition and accept mortality as the price of experiencing a life enriched by motivation and change. By the time of the events on Minerva, they had established a thriving interstellar civilization centered on the planet Thurien of the Giants' Star system. The Thuriens were never comfortable with what they regarded as the abandonment by their ancestors of a genetically mutated sapient species left to take its chances in the survival arena of Minerva, and followed the subsequent emergence of the Lunarians with a mixture of guilt and increasing awe. But when it all ended in catastrophe, the Thuriens relaxed the policy of nonintervention that they had been observing and sent a rescue mission to save the survivors. Gravitational upheavals caused by the emergency methods used to transport the Thurien ships threw what remained of Minerva into an eccentric outer orbit to become Pluto, while the smaller debris dispersed under Jupiter's tidal effects as the Asteroids. Minerva's orphaned moon fell inward toward the Sun and was later captured by Earth, which until then had existed as a solitary body.

Even after all their experiences and the loss of their world, hostility between the Cerians and the Lambians persisted, making them incapable of uniting to rebuild their culture. The Lambians went back with the Thuriens and were installed on a planet called Jevlen, where they grew to become a fully human element of the Thurien civilization. The Cerians, at their own request, were returned to the world of their origins, Earth, only to be almost overwhelmed by the climatic and tidal devastation caused by the arrival of Minerva's moon. Their remnants fell back into barbarism, struggling for millennia on the verge of extinction. Apart from myths handed down from antiquity, the meanings of which were forgotten, all memory of their origins was lost. Only in modern times, when they at last mastered space again and ventured outward to find the traces of what had gone before, were they able to piece parts of the story together. The rest was added when a freak occurrence reestablished contact between the human inhabitants of modern Earth and the ancient Ganymean race that had created them in the form of their Lunarian ancestors. (See The Gentle Giants of Ganymede.)

The Jevlenese never ceased regarding themselves as Lambians, and the Terrans as ongoing rivals who would challenge them again if the opportunity arose. As part of a plan to eliminate the perceived threat, they inaugurated a campaign to retard the progress of Earth toward rediscovery of the sciences, while they themselves absorbed Thurien technology and gained autonomy over their own affairs. Fully human in form, they obstructed Earth's development by infiltrating agents throughout history to spread irrational beliefs and found cults of unreason, diverting energies from the path to reacquiring true knowledge.

As the confidence and arrogance of the Jevlenese leaders grew, so did their resentment of the restraint to their ambitions posed by the Thuriens. Exploiting the innate inability of the Ganymean psyche to suspect motives, they gained control of the surveillance operation that the Thuriens had set up to keep a watch over Earth after the catastrophe that had befallen Minerva. The Jevlenese fed falsified accounts to the Thuriens of a militarized Earth poised to burst out from the Solar System, and by playing on the implications, induced the Thuriens to devise countermeasures to isolate and contain the threat. But the Jevlenese intent was to seize control of the countermeasures themselves and contain the Thuriens, settle the score with their Cerian rivals of old, and then take control of the system of Thurien-administered worlds themselves. And the plan would have been fulfilled but for the reappearance of a lost starship from the time of ancient Ganymean Minerva.

The scientific mission ship Shapieron was sent to conduct experiments on altering the radiation dynamics of a distant star to assess the feasibility of changing the Sun's output as an alternative solution to Minerva's problem if the attempt based on atmospheric reengineering coupled with biological modification failed. But the star went unstable, forcing the Shapieron to make an emergency departure when partway through overhauling its drive system, which operated by creating a local distortion of spacetime. The result was that the ship experienced an artificially compounded time-dilation in which twenty-five million years passed by before it was able to reintegrate with the local solar reference frame, compared to only twenty years of ship's time. Hence, it returned to find the configuration of the Solar System changed, Minerva gone, and a new race of terrestrial humans spacefaring among the planets.

The "Giants" came to Earth, where they were cordially received, and remained for six months. But the most significant outcome of their presence was the opening of the first direct contact between Earth and the Thuriens, bypassing the Jevelenese intermediaries established by longstanding precedent. The story of how the Jevlenese had schemed to retard Earth's development and misrepresent its modern-day situation was finally exposed. In the ensuing confrontation the Jevelenese, who had been secretly making military preparations of their own, proclaimed their independence, staged a demonstration of strength, and demanded submission from the Thuriens. But their hand had been forced; the bid was premature and collapsed when the Terrans and Thuriens working together turned the Jevlenese's own stratagem of deception against them by inventing a fictitious Terran battle force manufactured entirely within the supercomputing entity VISAR, which supported the Thuriens' interstellar civilization. (See Giants' Star.)

The Jevelense leaders believed the deception and capitulated, after which the world of Jevlen was placed under Ganymean and Terran administration while a reformed system of government was being worked out. Because of the autonomy and privacy to run their own affairs that the Jevlenese had always insisted on, this was the first opportunity for outsiders to look closely into what had been going on there. What they found was even stranger than anything that had gone before.

Obsession for conquest and fixation on the irrational ideas that had been imported to Earth was not a general trait common to all Jevelenese. They stemmed from a small, disaffected but influential group within the race that had appeared suddenly. Something about their deeper psychology seemed to set them apart from the majority of Jevlenese. They were the source of the beliefs in magic and supernatural powers that defied all experience and had never arisen among the Ganymeans or Lunarians, yet sprang from inner convictions that were unshakable. It was as if their instincts about the nature of the world and the forces operating in it had been shaped by a different reality.

And it turned out that this was indeed exactly the case. For the "Ents"—from "Entoverse," or "Universe Within," as the unique realm where they originated came to be named—were not products of the familiar world of space, time, matter, and physics at all. In setting up their own planetary administration, the Jevlenese had created an independent computing complex, JEVEX, to serve a comparable purpose to that of the Thuriens' VISAR. In a peculiar concurrence of circumstances, information quanta took on a role analogous to that of material particles, interacting and combining to form structures in the dataspace continuum that corresponded to molecules and more complex configurations in physical space. A complete phenomenological "universe" resulted, eventually producing self-organizing entities that were sufficiently complex to become aware of their own existence and perceive themselves as inhabitants of a world. But the "forces" that guided the unfolding of events in that world derived not from the physics of the universe outside, but from the underlying internal rules imposed by the system programmers.

Following Thurien practice, the primary method for interfacing with JEVEX was by direct neural coupling to the mental processes of the user. Some of the Ents discovered that they could interact with the data streams flowing through their world, and from them they extracted perceptions of a "higher space" beyond the one that they existed in, where superior beings lived and impossible things happened. Adepts among the Ents learned to project their psyches into these "currents" and transfer themselves into this world "beyond," where they became occupiers of hosts who had literally been possessed. So the aberrant element among the Jevlenese were not deviants who had acquired their aggressions, insecurities, and strange notions of causality in the same world of experience that had molded the minds of Ganymeans, Lunarians, and Terrans; they were victims of a form of alien invasion more weird than science fiction had ever conceived. (See Entoverse.)

Such "possessed" Jevelenese—taken over by Ent personalities—seemed also have been at the root of the schism that subverted the Lunarian enterprise when it had almost succeeded—fifty thousand years before JEVEX even existed! How could this possibly be?

Following from the earlier Ganymean spacecraft propulsion technology, the Thurien interstellar transportation and communications web exploited artificial manipulations of spacetime to bypass the restrictions of ordinary space. The mathematics of the physics involved also admitted solutions that implied the possibility of transfer through time. Since the Thuriens had never been able to put a physical interpretation to this, they regarded it as no more than a theoretical curiosity. But then, in the final stage of the "Pseudowar" in which the Jevlenese believed themselves about to be assailed by VISAR's imaginary Terran invasion fleet, their leadership attempted an escape to a distant planet that they had secretly made into a fortress. When JEVEX initiated creation of a transfer port to transport their ships, VISAR intervened in a countermove to neutralize it. Nobody ever knew quite what happened as the two supercomputers grappled across light-years for control of the same knot of spacetime—except that the fleeing Jevlenese craft were swept into the convulsions. Afterward, all sign of them had vanished. Everywhere.

But the last images to be received from a surveillance probe that had clung in pursuit showed they had rematerialized somewhere. There was a background of stars. And there was a world. The world was Minerva, intact, as it had been. The starfield showed the time to have been the late period of the Lunarians. In fact, it was at just before the time when the Lambians adopted their militant and uncompromising policy toward Cerios. This was surely too much to have been a coincidence.

With Jevlen pacified and on probation while its population adjusted to life undisturbed by the influence of the Ents, the scientists of Thurien and Earth were free to turn their attention to the latest, and perhaps the most baffling mystery of all. (See also the "Giants Chronology" compiled by Dr. Attila Torkos, page 403.)



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