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The Jesus Incident / Ящик Пандоры (by Frank Herbert and Bill Ransom, 2014) - аудиокнига на английском

The Jesus Incident / Ящик Пандоры (by Frank Herbert and Bill Ransom, 2014) - аудиокнига на английском

The Jesus Incident / Ящик Пандоры (by Frank Herbert and Bill Ransom, 2014) - аудиокнига на английском

Корабль, наделенный сверх разумом, выходит из под контроля экипажа, окрестив себя существом богоподобным. Он требует беспрекословного подчинения и следования всем указаниям в освоении Пандоры. Эта планета должна стать последним прибежищем для колонизаторов, а для успешного заселения корабль желает поклонения. Помощником в захвате власти он выбирает психиатра Раджу, и велит ему найти способ доказать людям, что в случае их неповиновения Пандора будет разрушена. Стать полноценным властителем не удается. На планете, практически полностью покрытой морем, живут разумные существа ламинарии. Освоить сушу трудно. На поверхности обитают страшные создания, потому людям приходится укрываться под землей. Начинается вторая волна колонизации. Перед Иисусом Льюисом, главным инженером, стоит задача вывести генетически устойчивых перед хищниками клонов, чтобы заполнить наземную часть Пандоры. Скоро начинается восстание. Клоны, понимая, что являются органическими инструментами в процессе колонизации, ведут борьбу за свои права с людьми, рожденными естественным путем.

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Название:
The Jesus Incident / Ящик Пандоры (by Frank Herbert and Bill Ransom, 2014) - аудиокнига на английском
Год выпуска аудиокниги:
2014
Автор:
Frank Herbert and Bill Ransom
Исполнитель:
Scott Brick
Язык:
английский
Жанр:
научная фантастика
Уровень сложности:
upper-intermediate
Длительность аудио:
16:43:05
Битрейт аудио:
64 kbps
Формат:
mp3, pdf, doc

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Frank Herbert and Bill Ransom The Jesus Incident There is a gateway to the imagination you must enter before you are conscious and the keys to the gate are symbols. You can carry ideas through the gate . . . but you must carry the ideas in symbols. -- Raja Flattery, Chaplain/Psychiatrist SOMETHING WENT "Tick." He heard it quite distinctly -- a metallic sound. There it went again: "Tick." He opened his eyes and was rewarded with darkness, an absolute lack of radiant energy . . . or of receptors to detect energy. Am I blind? "Tick." He could not place the source, but it was out there -- wherever out there was. The air felt cold in his throat and lungs. But his body was warm. He realized that he lay very lightly on a soft surface. He was breathing. Something tickled his nose, a faint odor of . . . pepper? "Tick." He cleared his throat. "Anybody there?" No answer. Speaking hurt his throat. What am I doing here? The soft surface beneath him curved up around his shoulders to support his neck and head. It encased hips and legs. This was familiar. It ignited distant associations. It was . . . what? He felt that he should know about such a surface. After all, I . . . "Tick." Panic seized him. Who am I? The answer came slowly, thawed from a block of ice which contained everything he should know. I am Raja Flattery. Ice melted in a cascade of memories. I'm Chaplain/Psychiatrist on the Voidship Earthling. We . . . we. . . Some of the memories remained frozen. He tried to sit up but was restrained by softly cupping bands over his chest and wrists. Now, he felt connectors withdraw from the veins at his wrists. I'm in a hyb tank! He had no memory of going into hybernation. Perhaps memory thawed more slowly than flesh. Interesting. But there were a few memories now, frigid in their flow, and deeply disturbing. I failed. Moonbase directed me to blow up our ship rather than let it roam space as a threat to humankind. I was to send the message capsule back to Moonbase . . . and blow up our ship. Something had prevented him from . . . something . . . But he remembered the project now. Project Consciousness. And he, Raja Flattery, had held a key role in that project. Chaplain/Psychiatrist. He had been one of the crew. Umbilicus crew. He did not dwell on the birth symbology in that label. Clones had more important tasks. They were clones on the crew, all with Lon for a middle name. Lon meant clone as Mac meant son of. All the crew -- clones. They were doppelgangers sent far into insulating space, there to solve the problem of creating an artificial consciousness. Dangerous work. Very dangerous. Artificial consciousness had a long history of turning against its creators. It went rogue with ferocious violence. Even many of the uncloned had perished in agony. Nobody could say why. But the project's directors at Moonbase were persistent. Again and again, they sent the same cloned crew into space. Features flashed into Flattery's mind as he thought the names: a Gerrill Timberlake, a John Bickel, a Prue Weygand. . . . Raja Flattery . . . Raja Lon Flattery. He glimpsed his own face in a long-gone mirror: fair hair, narrow features . . . disdainful . . . And the Voidships carried others, many others. They carried cloned Colonists, gene banks in hyb tanks. Cheap flesh to be sacrificed in distant explosions where the uncloned would not be harmed. Cheap flesh to gather data for the uncloned. Each new venture into the void went out with a bit more information for the wakeful umbilicus crew and those encased in hyb . . . -- As I am encased now. Colonists, livestock, plants -- each Voidship carried what it needed to create another Earth. That was the carrot luring them onward. And the ship -- certain death if they failed to create an artificial consciousness. Moonbase knew that ships and clones were cheap where materials and inexpensive energy were abundant . . . as they were on the moon. "Tick." Who is bringing me out of hybernation? And why? Flattery thought about that while he tried to extend his globe of awareness into the unresponsive darkness. Who? Why? He knew that he had failed to blow up his ship after it had exhibited consciousness . . . using Bickel as an imprint on the computer they had built . . . I did not blow up the ship. Something prevented me from . . . Ship! More memories flooded into his mind. They had achieved the artificial consciousness to direct their ship . . . and it had whisked them far across space to the Tau Ceti system. Where there were no inhabitable planets. Moonbase probes had made certain of that much earlier. No inhabitable planets. It was part of the frustration built into the project. No Voidship could be allowed to choose the long way to Tau Ceti sanctuary. Moonbase could not allow that. It would be too tempting for the cloned crew -- breed our own replacements, let our descendants find Tau Ceti. And to hell with Project Consciousness! If they voted that course, the Chaplain/Psychiatrist was charged to expose the empty goal and stand ready with the destruct button. Win, lose or draw -- we were supposed to die. And only the Chaplain/Psychiatrist had been allowed to suspect this. The serial Voidships and their cloned cargo had one mission: gather information and send it back to Moonbase. Ship. That was it, of course. They had created much more than consciousness in their computer and its companion system which Bickel had called "the Ox." They had made Ship. And Ship had whisked them across space in an impossible eyeblink. Destination Tau Ceti. That was, after all, the built-in command, the target programmed into their computer. But where there had been no inhabitable planet, Ship had created one: a paradise planet, an earth idealized out of every human dream. Ship had done this thing, but then had come Ship's terrible demand: "You must decide how you will WorShip Me!" Ship had assumed attributes of God or Satan. Flattery was never sure which. But he had sensed that awesome power even before the repeated demand. "How will you WorShip? You must decide!" Failure. They never could satisfy Ship's demand. But they could fear. They learned a full measure of fear. "Tick." He recognized that sound now: the dehyb timer/monitor counting off the restoration of life to his flesh. But who had set this process into motion? "Who's there?" Silence and the impenetrable darkness answered. Flattery felt alone and now there was a painful chill around his flesh, a signal that skin sensation was returning to normal. One of the crew had warned them before they had thrown the switch to ignite the artificial consciousness. Flattery could not recall who had voiced the warning but he remembered it. "There must be a threshold of consciousness beyond which a conscious being takes on attributes of God." Whoever said it had seen a truth. Who is bringing me out of hyb and why? "Somebody's there! Who is it?" Speaking still hurt his throat and his mind was not working properly -- that icy core of untouchable memories. "Come on! Who's there?" He knew somebody was there. He could feel the familiar presence of. . . Ship! "Okay, Ship. I'm awake." "So you assume." That chiding voice could never sound human. It was too impossibly controlled. Every slightest nuance, every inflection, every modulated resonance conveyed a perfection which put it beyond the reach of humans. But that voice told him he once more was a pawn of Ship. He was a small cog in the workings of this Infinite Power which he had helped to release upon an unsuspecting universe. This realization filled him with remembered terrors and an immediate awesome fear of the agonies which Ship might visit upon him for his failures. He was tormented by visions of Hell . . . I failed. . . I failed . . . I failed . . . St. Augustine asked the right question: "Does freedom come from chance or choice?" And you must remember that quantum mechanics guarantees chance. -- Raja Flattery, The Book of Ship USUALLY, MORGAN Oakes took out his nightside angers and frustrations in long strides down any corridor of the ship where his feet led him. Not this time! he told himself. He sat in shadows and sipped a glass of astringent wine. Bitter, but it washed the taste of the ship's foul joke from his tongue. The wine had come at his demand, a demonstration of his power in these times of food shortages. The first bottle from the first batch. How would they take it groundside when he ordered the wine improved? Oakes raised the glass in an ancient gesture: Confusion to You, Ship! The wine was too raw. He put it aside. Oakes knew the figure he cut, sitting here trembling in his cubby while he stared at the silent com-console beside his favorite couch. He increased the light slightly. Once more the ship had convinced him that its program was running down. The ship was getting senile. He was the Chaplain/Psychiatrist and the ship tried to poison him! Others were fed from shiptits -- not frequently and not much, but it happened. Even he had been favored once, before he became Ceepee, and he still remembered the taste -- richly satisfying. It was a little like the stuff called "burst" which Lewis had developed groundside. An attempt to duplicate elixir. Costly stuff, burst. Wasteful. And not elixir -- no, not elixir. He stared at the curved screen of the console beside him. It returned a dwarfed reflection of himself: an overweight, heavy-shouldered man in a one-piece suit of shipcloth which appeared vaguely gray in this light. His features were strong: a thick chin, wide mouth, beaked nose and bushy eyebrows over dark eyes, a bit of silver at the temples. He touched his temples. The reduced reflection exaggerated his feeling that he had been made small by Ship's treatment of him. His reflection showed him his own fear. I will not be tricked by a damned machine! The memory brought on another fit of trembling. Ship had refused him at the shiptits often enough that he understood this new message. He had stopped with Jesus Lewis at a bank of corridor shiptits. Lewis had been amused. "Don't waste time with these things. The ship won't feed us." This had angered Oakes. "It's my privilege to waste time! Don't you ever forget that!" He had rolled up his sleeve and thrust his bare arm into the receptacle. The sensor scratched as it adjusted to his arm. He felt the stainless-steel nose sniff out a suitable vein. There was the tingling prick of the test probe, then the release of the sensor. Some of the shiptits extruded plaz tubes to suck on, but this one was programmed to fill a container behind a locked panel -- elixir, measured and mixed to his exact needs. The panel opened! Oakes grinned at an astounded Lewis. "Well," Oakes remembered saying. "The ship finally realizes who's the boss here." With that, he drained the container. Horrible! His body was wracked with vomiting. His breath came in shallow gasps and sweat soaked his singlesuit. It was over as quickly as it began. Lewis stood beside him in dumb amazement, looking at the mess Oakes had made of the corridor and his boots. "You see," Oakes gasped. "You see how the ship tried to kill me?" "Relax, Morgan," Lewis said. "It's probably just a malfunction. I'll call a med-tech for you and a repair robox for this . . . this thing." "I'm a doctor, dammit! I don't need a med-tech poking around me." Oakes held the fabric of his suit away from his body. "Then let's get you back to your cubby. We should check you out and . . ." Lewis broke off, looking suddenly over Oakes' shoulder. "Morgan, did you summon a repair unit?" Oakes turned to see what had caught Lewis' attention, saw one of the ship's robox units, a one-meter oval of bronze turtle with wicked-looking tools clutched in its extensors. It was weaving drunkenly down the corridor toward them. "What do you suppose is wrong with that thing?" Lewis muttered. "I think it's here to attack us," Oakes said. He grabbed Lewis' arm. "Let's back out of here . . . slow, now." They retreated from the shiptit station, watching the scanner eye of the robox and the waving appendages full of tools. "It's not stopping." Oakes' voice was low but cold with fear as the robox passed the shiptit station. "We'd better run for it," Lewis said. He spun Oakes ahead of him into a main passageway to Medical. Neither man looked back until they were safely battened inside Oakes' cubby. Hah! Oakes thought, remembering. That had frightened even Lewis. He had gone back groundside fast enough -- to speed up construction of their Redoubt, the place which would insulate them groundside and make them independent of this damned machine. The ship's controlled our lives too long! Oakes still tasted bitterness at the back of his throat. Now, Lewis was incommunicado . . . sending notes by courier. Always something frustrating. Damn Lewis! Oakes glanced around his shadowed quarters. It was nightside on the orbiting ship and most of the crew drifted on the sea of sleep. An occasional click and buzz of servos modulating the environment were the only intrusions. How long before Ship's servos go mad? The ship, he reminded himself. Ship was a concept, a fabricated theology, a fairy tale imbedded in a manufactured history which only a fool could believe. It is a lie by which we control and are controlled. He tried to relax into the thick cushions and once more took up the note which one of Lewis' minions had thrust upon him. The message was simple, direct and threatening. "The ship informs us that it is sending groundside one (1) Chaplain/Psychiatrist competent in communications. Reason: the unidentified Ceepee will mount a project to communicate with the electrokelp. I can find no additional information about this Ceepee but he has to be someone new from hyb." Oakes crumpled the note in his fist. One Ceepee was all this society could tolerate. The ship was sending another message to him. "You can be replaced." He had never doubted that there were other Chaplain/Psychiatrists somewhere in the ship's hyb reserves. No telling where those reserves might be hidden. The damned ship was a convoluted mess with secret sections and random extrusions and concealed passages which led nowhere. Colony had measured the ship's size by the occlusion shadow when it had eclipsed one of the two suns on a low passage. The ship was almost fifty-eight kilometers long, room to hide almost anything. But now we have a planet under us: Pandora. Groundside! He looked at the crumpled note in his hand. Why a note? He and Lewis were supposed to have an infallible means of secret communication -- the only two Shipmen so gifted. It was why they trusted each other. Do I really trust Lewis? For the fifth time since receiving the note, Oakes triggered the alpha-blink which activated the tiny pellet imbedded in the flesh of his neck. No doubt the thing was working. He sensed the carrier wave which linked the capsule computer to his aural nerves, and there was that eerie feeling of a blank screen in his imagination, the knowledge that he was poised to experience a waking dream. Somewhere groundside the tight-band transmission should be alerting Lewis to this communication. But Lewis was not responding. Equipment failure ? Oakes knew that was not the problem. He personally had implanted the counterpart of this pellet in Lewis' neck, had made the nerve hookups himself. And I supervised Lewis while he made my implant. Was the damned ship interfering? Oakes peered around at the elaborate changes he had introduced into his chubby. The ship was everywhere, of course. All of them shipside were in the ship. This cubby, though, had always been different . . . even before he had made his personal alterations. This was the cubby of a Chaplain/Psychiatrist. The rest of the crew lived simply. They slept suspended in hammocks which translated the gentle swayings of the ship into sleep. Many incorporated padded pallets or cushions for those occasions that arose between men and women. That was for love, for relaxation, for relief from the long corridors of plasteel which sometimes wound tightly around the psyche and squeezed out your breath. Breeding, though . . . that came under strictest Ship controls. Every Natural Natal had to be born shipside and under the supervision of a trained obstetrics crew -- the damned Natali with their air of superior abilities. Did the ship talk to them? Feed them? They never said. Oakes thought about the shipside breeding rooms. Although plush by usual cubby standards, they never seemed as stimulating as his own cubby. Even the perimeter treedomes were preferred by some -- under dark bushes . . . on open grass. Oakes smiled. His cubby, though -- this was opulent. Women had been known to gasp when first entering the vastness of it. From the core of the Ceepee's cubby, this one had been expanded into the space of five cubbies. And the damned ship never once interfered. This place was a symbol of power. It was an aphrodisiac which seldom failed. It also exposed the lie of Ship. Those of us who see the lie, control. Those who don't see it . . . don't. He felt a little giddy. Effect of the Pandoran wine, he thought. It snaked through his veins and wormed into his consciousness. But even the wine could not make him sleep. At first, its peculiar sweetness and the thick warmth had promised to dull the edge of doubts that kept him pacing the nightside passages. He had lived on three or four hours' sleep each period for . . . how long now? Annos . . . annos . . . Oakes shook his head to clear it and felt the ripple of his jowls against his neck. Fat. He had never been supple, never selected for breeding. Emond Kingston chose me to succeed him, though. First Ceepee in history not selected by the damned ship. Was he going to be replaced by this new Ceepee the ship had chosen to send groundside? Oakes sighed. Lately, he knew he had turned sallow and heavy. Too much demand on my head and not enough on my body. Never a lack of couch partners, though. He patted the cushions at his side, remembering. I'm fifty, fat and fermented, he thought. Where do I go from here? The all-pervading, characterless background of the universe -- this is the void. It is not object nor senses. It is the region of illusions. -- Kerro Panille, Buddha and Avata WILD VARIETY marked the naked band of people hobbling and trudging across the open plain between bulwarks of black crags. The red-orange light of a single sun beat down on them from the meridian, drawing purple shadows on the coarse sand and pebbles of the plain. Vagrant winds whisked at random dust pockets, and the band gave wary attention to these disturbances. Occasional stubby plants with glistening silver leaves aligned themselves with the sun in the path of the naked band. The band steered a course to avoid the plants. The people of the band showed only remote kinship with their human ancestry. Most of them turned to a tall companion as their leader, although this one did not walk at the point. He had ropey gray arms and a narrow head crowned by golden fuzz, the only suggestion of hair on his slender body. The head carried two golden eyes in bony extrusions at the temples, but there was no nose and only a tiny red circle of mouth. There were no visible ears, but brown skin marked the spots where ears might have been. The arms ended in supple hands, each with three six-jointed fingers and opposable thumb. The name Theriex was tattooed in green across his hairless chest. Beside the tall Theriex hobbled a pale and squat figure with no neck to support a hairless bulb of head. Tiny red eyes, set close to a moist hole which trembled with each breath, could stare only where the body pointed. The ears were gaping slits low at each side of the head. Fat and corded arms ended in two fingerless fleshy mittens. The legs were kneeless tubes without feet. Others in the band showed a similar diversity. There were heads with many eyes and some with none. There were great coned nostrils and horned ears, dancers' legs and some stumps. They numbered forty-one in all and they huddled close as they walked, presenting a tight wall of flesh to the Pandoran wilderness. Some clung to each other as they stumbled and lurched their way across the plain. Others maintained a small moat of open space. There was little conversation -- an occasional grunt or moan, sometimes a plaintive question directed at Theriex. "Where can we hide, Ther? Who will take us in?" "If we can get to the other sea," Theriex said. "The Avata . . ." "The Avata, yes, the Avata." They spoke it as a prayer. A deep rumbling voice in the band took it up then: "All-Human one, All-Avata one." Another spoke: "Ther, tell us the story of Avata." Theriex remained silent until they were all pleading: "Yes, Ther, tell us the story . . . the story, the story . . ." Theriex raised a ropey hand for silence, then: "When Avata speaks of beginning, Avata speaks of rock and the brotherhood of rock. Before rock there was sea, boiling sea, and the blisters of light that boiled it. With the boiling and the cooling came the ripping of the moons, the teeth of the sea gone mad. By day all things scattered in the boil, and by night they joined in the relief of sediment and they rested." Theriex had a thin whistling voice which carried over the shuffling sounds of the band's passage. He spoke to an odd rhythm which fitted itself to their march. "The suns slowed their great whirl and the seas cooled. Some few who joined remained joined. Avata knows this because it is so, but the first word of Avata is rock." "The rock, the rock," Theriex's companions responded. "There is no growth on the run," Theriex said. "Before rock Avata was tired and Avata was many and Avata had seen only the sea." "We must find the Avata sea . . ." "But to grip a rock," Theriex said, "to coil around it close and lie still, that is a new dream and a new life -- untossed by the ravages of moon, untired. It was vine to leaf then, and in the new confidence of rock came the coil of power and the gas, gift of the sea." Theriex tipped his head back to look up at the metallic blue of the sky and, for a few paces, remained silent, then: "Coil of power, touch of touches! Avata captured lightning that day, curled tight around its rock, waiting out the silent centuries in darkness and in fear. Then the first spark arced into the horrible night: 'Rock!'" Once more, the others responded, "Rock! Rock! Rock!" "Coil of power!" Theriex repeated. "Avata knew rock before knowing Self; and the second spark snapped: I! Then the third, greatest of all: I! Not rock!" "Not rock, not rock," the others responded. "The source is always with us," Theriex said, "as it is with that which we are not. It is in reference that we are. It is through the other that Self is known. And where there is only one, there is nothing else. From the nothing else comes no reflection of Self, nothing returns. But for Avata there was rock, and because there was rock there was something returned and that something was Self. Thus, the finite becomes infinite. One is not. But we are joined in the infinite, in the closeness out of which all matter comes. Let Avata's rock steady you in the sea!" For a time after Theriex fell silent, the band trudged and hobbled onward without complaint. There was a smell of acid burning on the whisking breezes, though, and one of the band with a sensitive nose detected this. "I smell Nerve Runners!" he said. A shudder ran through them and they quickened their pace while those at the edges scanned the plain around them with renewed caution. At the point of the band walked a darkly furred figure with a long torso and stumpy legs which ended in round flat pads. The arms were slim and moved with a snakelike writhing. They ended in two-fingered hands, the fingers muscular, long and twining, as though designed to reach into strange places for mysterious reasons. The ears were motile, large and leathery under their thin coat of fur, pointing now one direction and now another. The head sat on a slender neck, presenting a markedly human face, although flattened and covered with that fine gauze of dark fur. The eyes were blue, heavy-lidded and bulging. They were glassy and appeared to focus on nothing. The plain around them, out to the crags about ten kilometers distant, was devoid of motion now, marked only by scattered extrusions of black rock and the stiff-leaved plants making their slow phototropic adjustments to the passage of the red-orange sun. The ears of the furred figure at the point suddenly stretched out, cupped and aimed at the crags directly ahead of the band. Abruptly, a screeching cry echoed across the plain from that direction. The band stopped as a single organism, caught in fearful waiting. The cry had been terrifyingly loud to carry that far across the plain. A near-hysterical voice called from within the band: "We have no weapons!" "Rocks," Theriex said, waving an arm at the extruded black shapes all around. "They're too big to throw," someone complained. "The rocks of the Avata," Theriex said, and his voice carried the tone he had used while lulling his band with the story of Avata. "Stay away from the plants," someone warned. There was no real need for this warning. They all knew about the plants -- most poisonous, all capable of slashing soft flesh. Three of the band already had been lost to the plants. Again, that cry pierced the air. "The rocks," Theriex repeated. Slowly, the band separated, singly and in small groups, moving out to the rocks where they huddled up to the black surfaces, clinging there, most of them with faces pressed against the darkness. "I see them," Theriex said. "Hooded Dashers." All turned then to look where Theriex looked. "Rock, the dream of life," Theriex said. "To grip rock, to coil around it close and lie still." As he spoke, he continued to stare across the plain at the nine black shapes hurtling toward him. Hooded Dashers, yes, many-legged, and with enfolding hoods instead of mouths. The hoods retracted to reveal thrashing fangs. They moved with terrifying speed. "We should have taken our chances at the Redoubt with the others!" someone wailed. "Damn you, Jesus Lewis!" someone shouted. "Damn you!" They were the last fully coherent words from the band as the Hooded Dashers charged at blurring speed onto its scattered members. Teeth slashed, claws raked. The speed of the attack was merciless. Hoods retracted, the Dashers darted and whirled. No victim had a second chance. Some tried to run and were cut down on the open plain. Some tried to dodge around the rocks but were cornered by pairs of demons. It was over in blinks, and the nine Dashers set to feeding. Things groped from beneath the rocks to share the feast. Even nearby plants drank red liquid from the ground. While the Dashers fed, subtle movements changed the craggy skyline to the north. Great floating orange bags lifted above the rocky bulwarks there and drifted on the upper winds toward the Dashers. The floaters trailed long tendrils which occasionally touched the plain, stirring up dust. The Dashers saw this but showed no fear. High wavering crests rippled along the tops of the bags, adjusting to the wind. A piping song could be heard from them now, like wind through sails accompanied by a metallic rattling. When the orange bags were still several kilometers distant, one of the Dashers barked a warning. It stared away from the bags at a boil of stringy tendrils disturbing the plain about fifty meters off. A strong smell of burning acid wafted from the boil. As one, the nine Dashers whirled and fled. The one which had fed on Theriex uttered a high scream as it raced across the plain, and then, quite clearly, it called out: "Theriex!" A deliberately poor move chosen at random along the line of plan can completely change the theoretical structure of a game. -- Bickel quote, Shiprecords OAKES PACED his cubby, fretting. It had been several nightside hours since he had last tried to contact Lewis on their implanted communicators. Lewis definitely was out of touch. Could it be something wrong at the Redoubt? Oakes doubted this. The finest materials were going into that base out on Black Dragon. Lewis was sparing nothing in the construction. It would be impenetrable by any force known to Pandora or Shipmen . . . any force, except . . . Oakes stopped his pacing, scanned the plasteel walls of his cubby. Would the Redoubt down on Pandora really insulate them from the ship? The wine he had drunk earlier was beginning to relax him, clearing the bitter taste from his tongue. His room felt stuffy and isolated even from the ship. Let the damned ship send another Ceepee groundside. Whoever it was would be taken care of in due course. Oakes let his body sag onto a couch and tried to forget the latest attack on him by the ship. He closed his eyes and drifted in a half-dream back to his beginning. Not quite. Not quite the beginning. He did not like to admit the gap. There were things he did not remember. Doubts intruded and the carrier wave of the pellet in his neck distracted him. He sent the nerve signal to turn the thing off. Let Lewis try to contact me! Oakes heaved an even deeper sigh. Not the beginning -- no. There were things about his beginnings that the records did not show. This ship with all the powers of a god would not or could not provide a complete background on Morgan Oakes. And the Ceepee was supposed to have access to everything. Everything! Everything except that distant origin somewhere earthside. . . back on far-away Earth . . . long-gone Earth. He knew he had been six when his first memory images gelled and stayed with him. He even knew the year -- 6001 dating from the birth of the Divine Imhotep. Spring. Yes, it had been spring and he had been living in the power center, in Aegypt, in the beautiful city of Heliopolis. From the Britone March to the Underlands of Ind, all was Graeco-Roman peace fed by the Nile's bounty and enforced by the hired troopers of Aegypt. Only in the outlands of Chin and the continents of East Chin far across the Nesian Sea were there open conflicts of nations. Yes . . . spring . . . and he had been living with his parents in Heliopolis. Both of his parents were on assignment with the military. This he knew from the records. His parents were perhaps the finest geneticists in the Empire. They were training for a project that was to take over young Morgan's life completely. They were preparing a trip to the stars. This, too, he was told. But that had been many years later, and too late for him to object. What he remembered was a man, a black man. He liked to imagine him one of the dark priests of Aegypt that he watched every week on the viewer. The man walked past Morgan's quarters every afternoon. Where he went, and why he went only one way, Morgan never knew. The fence around his parents' quarters was much higher than the black man's head. It was a mesh of heavy steel curved outwards and down at the top. Every afternoon Morgan watched the man walk by, and tried to imagine how the man came to be black. Morgan did not ask his parents because he wanted to figure it out for himself. One morning at early his father said, "The sun's going nova." He never forgot those words, those powerful words, even though he did not know their meaning. "It's been kept quiet, but even the Roman Empire can't hide this heat. All the chants of all the priests of Ra won't make one damn whit of difference." "Heat?" his mother shot back. "Heat is something you can live in, you can deal with. But this . . ." she waved her hand at the large window, "this is only a step away from fire." So, he thought, it was the sun made that man black. He was ten before he realized that the man who walked past was black from birth, from conception. Still, Morgan persisted in telling the other children in his creche that it was the sun's doing. He enjoyed the secret game of persuasion and deception. Ah, the power of the game, even then! Oakes straightened the cushion at his back. Why did he think of that black man, now? There had been one curious event, a simple thing that caused a commotion and fixed it in his memory. He touched me. Oakes could not recall being touched by anyone except his parents until that moment. On that very hot day, he sat outside on a step, cooled by the shade of the roof and the ventilator trained on his back from the doorway. The man walked by, as usual, then stopped and turned back. The boy watched him, curious, through the mesh fence, and the man studied him carefully, as though noticing him for the first time. Oakes recalled the sudden jump of his heart, that feeling of a slingshot pulled back, back. The man looked around, then up at the top of the fence, and the next thing Oakes knew the man was over the top, walking up to him. The black man stopped, reached out a hesitant hand and touched the boy's cheek. Oakes also reached out, equally curious, and touched the black skin of the man's arm. "Haven't you ever seen a little boy before?" he asked. The black face widened into a smile, and he said, "Yes, but not a little boy like you." Then a sentry jumped on the man out of nowhere and took him away. Another sentry pulled the boy inside and called his father. He remembered that his father was angry. But best of all he remembered the look of wide-eyed wonder on the black man's face, the man who never walked by again. Oakes felt special then, powerful, an object of deference. He had always been someone to reckon with. Why do I remember that man? It seemed as though he spent all of his private hours asking himself questions lately. Questions led to more questions, led ultimately, daily, to the one question that he refused to admit into his consciousness. Until now. He voiced the question aloud to himself, tested it on his tongue like the long-awaited wine. "What if the damned ship is God?" Human hybernation is to animal hibernation as animal hibernation is to constant wakefulness. In its reduction of life processes, hybernation approached absolute stasis. It is nearer death than life. -- Dictionary of Science, 101st Edition RAJA FLATTERY lay quietly in the hybernation cocoon while he fought to overcome his terrors. Ship has me. Moody waves confused his memories but he knew several things. He could almost project these things onto the ebon blackness which surrounded him. I was Chaplain/Psychiatrist on the Voidship Earthling. We were supposed to produce an artificial consciousness. Very dangerous, that. And they had produced . . . something. That something was Ship, a being of seemingly infinite powers. God or Satan? Flattery did not know. But Ship had created a paradise planet for its cargo of clones and then had introduced a new concept: WorShip. It had demanded that the human clones decide how they would WorShip. We failed in that, too. Was it because they were clones, every one of them? They had certainly been expendable. They had known this from the first moments of their childhood awareness on Moonbase. Again, fear swept through him. I must be resolute, Flattery told himself. God or Satan, whatever this power may be, I'm helpless before it unless I remain resolute. "As long as you believe yourself helpless, you remain helpless even though resolute," Ship said. "So You read my mind, too." "Read? That is hardly the word." Ship's voice came from the darkness all around him. It conveyed a sense of remote concerns which Flattery could not fathom. Every time Ship spoke he felt himself reduced to a mote. He combed his way through a furry sense of subjugation, but every thought amplified this feeling of being caged and inadequate. What could a mere human do against a power such as Ship? There were questions in his mind, though, and he knew that Ship sometimes answered questions. "How long have I been in hyb?" "That length of time would be meaningless to you." "Try me." "I am trying you." "Tell me how long I've been in hyb." The words were barely out of his mouth before he felt panic at what he had done. You did not address God that way . . . or Satan. "Why not, Raj?" Ship's voice had taken on an air of camaraderie, but so precise was the modulation his flesh tingled with it. "Because . . . because. . ." "Because of what I could do to you?" "Yes." "Ahhhhh, Raj, when will you awaken?" "I am awake." "No matter. You have been in hybernation for a very long time as you reckon time." "How long?" He felt that the answer was deeply important; he had to know. "You must understand about replays, Raj. Earth has gone through its history for Me, replayed itself at My Command." "Replayed . . . the same way every time?" "Most of the times." Flattery felt the inescapable truth of it and a cry was torn from him: "Why?" "You would not understand." "All of that pain and . . ." "And the joy. Raj. Never forget the joy." "But . . . replay?" "The way you might replay a musical recording, Raj, or a holo-record of a classical drama. The way Moonbase replayed its Project Consciousness, getting a bit more out of it each time." "Why have You brought me out of hyb?" "You are like a favorite instrument, Raj." "But Bickel . . ." "Ohh, Bickel! Yes, he gave Me his genius. He was the black box out of which you achieved Me, but friendship requires more, Raj. You are My best friend." "I would've destroyed You, Ship." "How little you understand friendship." "So I'm . . . an instrument. Are You replaying me?" "No Raj. No." Such sadness in that terrible voice. "Instruments play." "Why should I permit You to play me?" "Good! Very good, Raj!" "Is that supposed to be an answer?" "That was approval. You are, indeed, My best friend, My favorite instrument." "I'll probably never understand that." "It's partly because you enjoy the play." Flattery could not suppress it; a chuckle escaped him. "Laughter suits you. Raj." Laughter? He remembered little laughter except the bitter amusement of self-accusation. But now he remembered going into hyb -- not once, but more times than he cared to count. There had been other awakenings . . . other games and . . . yes, other failures. He sensed, though, that Ship was amused and he knew he was supposed to respond. "What are we playing this time?" "My demand remains unfulfilled, Raj. Humans somehow cannot decide how to WorShip. That's why there are no more humans now." He felt frigid cold all through his body. "No more . . . What've You done?" "Earth has vanished into the cosmic whirl, Raj. All the Earths are gone. Long time, remember? Now, there are only Shipmen . . . and you."' "Me, human?" "You are original material." "A clone, a doppelganger, original material?" "Very much so." "What are Shipmen?" "They are survivors from the most recent replays -- slightly different replays from the Earth which you recall." "Not human?" "You could breed with them." "How are they different?" "They have similar ancestral experiences to yours, but they were picked up at different points in their social development." Flattery sensed confusion in this answer and made a decision not to probe it . . . not yet. He wanted to try another tack. "What do You mean they were picked up?" "They thought of it as rescue. In each instance, their sun was about to nova." "More of Your doing?" "They have been prepared most carefully for your arrival, Raj." "How have they been prepared?" "They have a Chaplain/Psychiatrist who teaches hate. They have Sy Murdoch who has learned the lesson well. They have a woman named Hamill whose extraordinary strength goes deeper than anyone suspects. They have an old man named Ferry who believes everything can be bought. They have Waela and she is worthy of careful attention. They have a young poet named Kerro Panille, and they have Hali Ekel, who thinks she wants the poet. They have people who have been cloned and engineered for strange occupations. They have hungers, fears, joys . . ." "You call that preparation?" "Yes, and I call it involvement." "Which is what You want from me!" "Involvement, yes." "Give me one compelling reason I should go down there." "I do not compel such things." Not a responsive answer, but Flattery knew he would have to accept it. "So I'm to arrive. Where and how?" "There is a planet beneath us. Most Shipmen are on that planet -- Colonists." "And they must decide how they are supposed to WorShip?" "You are still perceptive, Raj." "What'd they say when You put the question to them?" "I have not put this question to them. That, I hope, will be your task." Flattery shuddered. He knew that game. It was in him to shout a refusal, to rage and invite Ship's worst reprisal. But something in this dialogue held his tongue. "What happens if they fail?" "I break the . . . recording." Dig your stubborn heels Firm into dirt. And where is the dirt going? -- Kerro Panille, The Collected Poems KERRO PANILLE finished the last briefing on Pandoran geology and switched off his holo. It was well past the hour of midmeal, but he felt no hunger. Ship's air tasted stale in the tiny teaching cubby and this surprised him until he realized he had sealed off the secret hatch into this place, leaving only the floor vent. I've been sitting on the floor vent. This amused him. He stood and stretched, recalling the lessons of the holo. Dreams of real dirt, real seas, real air had played so long in his imagination that he feared now the real thing might disappoint him. He knew himself to be no novice at image-building in his mind . . . and no novice to the disappointments of reality. At such times he felt much older than his twenty annos. And he looked for reassurance in a shiny surface to reflect his own features. He found a small area of the hatch plate polished by the many passages of his own hand when entering this place. Yes -- his dark skin retained the smoothness of youth and the darker beard curled with its usual vigor around his mouth. He had to admit it was a generous mouth. And the nose was a pirate's nose. Not many Shipmen even knew there had ever been such people as pirates. His eyes appeared much older than twenty, though. No escaping that. Ship did that to me. No . . . He shook his head. Honesty could not be evaded. The special thing Ship and I have between us -- that made my eyes look old. There were realities within realities. This thing that made him a poet kept him digging beneath every surface like a child pawing through pages of glyphs. Even when reality disappointed, he had to seek it. The power of disappointment. He recognized that power as distinct from frustration. It contained the power to regroup, rethink, react. It forced him to listen to himself as he listened to others. Kerro knew what most people shipside thought about him. They were convinced he could hear every conversation in a crowded room, that no gesture or inflection escaped him. There were times when that was true, but he kept to himself his conclusions about such observations. Thus, few were offended by his attentions. No one could find a better audience than Kerro Panille. All he wanted was to listen, to learn, to make order out of it in his poems. It was order that mattered -- beautiful order created out of the deepest inspiration. Yet . . . he had to admit it, Ship presented an image of infinite disorder. He had asked Ship to show its shape to him once, a whimsical request which he had half expected to be refused. But Ship had responded by taking him on a visual tour, through the internal sensors, through the eyes of the robox repair units and even through the eyes of shuttles flitting between Ship and Pandora. Externally, Ship was most confusing. Great fanlike extrusions dangled in space like wings or fins. Lights glittered within them and there were occasional glimpses of people at work behind the open shutters of the ports. Hydroponics gardens, Ship had explained. Ship stretched almost fifty-eight kilometers in length. But it bulged and writhed throughout that length with fragile shapes which gave no clue to their purposes. Shuttles landed and were dispatched from long, slender tubes jutting randomly outward. The hydroponics fans were stacked one upon another, built outward from each other like mad growths springing from mutated spores. Panille knew that once Ship had been sleek and trim, a projectile shape with three slim wings at the midpoint. The wings had dipped backward to form a landing tripod. That sleek shape lay hidden now within the confusion of the eons. It was called "the core" and you caught occasional glimpses of it in the passages -- a thick wall with an airtight hatch, a stretch of metallic surface with ports which opened onto the blank barriers of new construction. Internally, Ship was equally confusing. Sensor eyes showed him the stacks of dormant life in the hybernation bays. At his request, Ship displayed the locator coordinates, but they were meaningless to him. Numbers and glyphs. He followed the swift movements of robox units down passages where there was no air and out onto Ship's external skin. There, in the shadows of the random extrusions, he watched the business of repairs and alterations, even the beginnings of new construction. Panille had watched his fellow Shipmen at their work, feeling fascinated and faintly guilty. A secret spy intruding on privacy. Two men had wrestled a large tubular container into a loading bay for shuttle transshipment down to Pandora. And Panille had felt that he had no right to watch this without the two men knowing it. When the tour was over, he had sat back disappointed. It occurred to him then that Ship intruded this way all the time. Nothing any Shipman did could be hidden from Ship. This realization had sparked a momentary resentment which was followed immediately by amusement. I am in Ship and of Ship and, in a deeper sense, I am Ship. "Kerro!" The sudden voice from the com-console beside his holo focus startled him. How had she found him here? "Yes, Hali?" "Where are you?" Ahhh, she had not found him. A search program had found him. "I'm studying," he said. "Can you walk with me for a while? I'm really wound up." "Where?" "How about the arboretum near the cedars?" "Give me a few minutes to finish up here and meet you." "I'm not bothering you, am I?" He noted the diffidence in her tone. "No, I need a break." "See you outside of Records." He heard the click of her signoff and stood a blink staring at the console. How did she know I was studying in the Records section? A search program keyed to his person would not report his location. Am I that predictable? He picked up his notecase and recorder and stepped through the concealed hatch. He sealed it and slipped down through the software storage area to the nearest passage. Hali Ekel stood in the passageway beside the hatch waiting for him. She waved a hand, all nonchalance. "Hi." Most of his mind was still back in the study. He blinked at her foolishly, mindful as usual of the sheer beauty of Hali Ekel. At times like this -- meeting suddenly, unexpectedly in some passage -- she often stunned him. The clinical sterility of the ever-present pribox at her hip never distanced them. She was a med-tech, full time, and he understood that life and survival were her business. The secret darkness of her eyes, her thick black hair, the lustrous brown warmth of her skin always made him lean toward her slightly or face her way in a crowded room. They were from the same bloodlines, the Nesian Nations, selected for strength, survival sense and their easy affinity with the highways of the stars. Many mistook them for brother and sister, a mistake amplified by the fact that true siblings had not existed shipside in living memory. Some siblings slept on in hyb, but none walked together. Notes toward a poem flashed behind his eyes, another of the many she brought to his mind, that he kept to himself. Oh dark and magnificent star What little light I have, take. Weave those supple fingers into mine. Feel the flow! Before he could think of putting this into his recorder, it occurred to him that she should not be here so fast. There were no nearby call stations. "Where were you when you called me?" "Medical." He glanced up the passage. Medical was at least ten minutes away. "But how did you . . ." "Keyed the whole conversation on a ten-minute delay." "But . . ." "See how standard you are on com? I can tape my whole side of a conversation, with you and get it right down the line." "But the . . ." He nodded at the hatch into software storage. "Oh, that's where you always are when nobody can find you -- somewhere in there." She pointed to the storage area. "Hmmm." He took her hand and they headed out toward the west shell. "Why so thoughtful?" she asked. "I thought you'd be amused, surprised . . . laugh, or something." "I'm sorry. Lately it's bothered me when I do that. Never take time for people, never seem to have the flair for . . . the right word at the right time." "A pretty strong self-indictment for a poet." "It's much easier to order characters on a page or a holo than it is to order one's life. 'One's life'! Why do I talk that way?" She slipped an arm around his waist and hugged him as they walked. He smiled. Presently, they emerged into the Dome of Trees. It was dayside, the sunglow of Rega muted through the screening filters. All the greens came with soothing blue undertones. Kerro took a deep breath of the oxygenated air. He heard birds twittering behind a sonabarrier off in heavier bushes to the left. Other couples could be seen far down through the trees. This was a favorite trysting place. Hali slipped off her pribox strap and pulled him down beside her under a cover of cedar. The needle duff was warm and soft, the air thick with moisture and sun dazzled through the branches. They stretched out on their backs, shoulder to shoulder. "Mmmmmm." Hali stretched and arched her back. "It smells so nice here." "It? What's the smell of an it?" "Oh, stop that." She turned toward him. "You know what I mean -- the air, the moss, the food in your beard." She brushed at his whiskers, wove her fingers in and out of the coarse hairs. "You're the only Shipman with a beard." "So I'm told." "Do you like it?" "I don't know." He reached out and traced the curve of the small wire ring which pierced her left nostril. "Traditions are strange. Where did you get this ring?" "A robox dropped it." "Dropped it?" He was surprised. "I know -- they don't miss much. This one was repairing a sensor outside that little medical study next to Behavioral. I saw the wire drop and picked it up. "It was like finding a rare treasure. They leave so little around. Ship only knows what they do with all the scraps they carry off." She slipped her arm around his neck and kissed him. Presently, she pulled back. He pulled away from her and sat up. "Thanks, but . . ." "It's always, 'Thanks, but . . .'" She was angry, fighting the physical evidence of her own passion. "I'm not ready." He felt apologetic. "I don't know why and I'm not playing with you. I just have this compulsion toward timing, for the feeling of rightness in things." "What could be more right? We were selected as a breeding pair after knowing each other all this time. It's not like we were strangers." He could not bring himself to look at her. "I know . . . anyone shipside can partner with anyone else, but . . ." "But!" She whirled away and stared at the base of the sheltering tree. "We could be a breeding pair! One pair in . . . what? Two thousand? We could actually make a child." "It isn't that. It's . . ." "And you're always so damned historical, traditional, quoting social patterns this and language patterns that. Why can't you see what . . ." He reached across her, put his fingers over her mouth to silence her and gently kissed her cheek. "Dear Hali, because I can't. For me partnership will have to be a giving so deep that I lose myself in the giving." She rolled away and lifted her head to stare at him, her eyes glistening. "Where do you get such ideas?" "They come out of my living and from what I learn." "Ship teaches you these things?" "Ship does not deny me what I want to know." She stared morosely at the ground under her feet. "Ship won't even talk to me." Her voice was barely audible. "When you ask in the right way, Ship always answers," he said. Then, an afterthought as he sensed it between them: "And you have to listen." "You've said that before but you never tell me how." There was no evading the jealousy in her voice. He found that he could only answer in one way. "I will give you a poem," he said. He cleared his throat. "Blue itself teaches us blue." She scowled, concentrating on his words. Presently, she shook her head. "I'll never understand you any more than I understand Ship. I go to WorShip; I pray; I do what Ship directs . . ." She stared at him. "I never see you at WorShip." "Ship is my friend," he said. Curiosity overcame her resentments. "What does Ship teach you?" "Too many things to tell here." "Just give me one thing, just one!" He nodded. "Very well. There have been many planets and many people. Their languages and the chronicle of their years weave a magic tangle. Their words sing to me. You don't even have to understand the words to hear them sing." She felt an odd sense of wonder at this. "Ship gives you words and you don't understand?" "When I ask for the original." "But why do you want words that you don't understand?" "To make those people live, to make them mine. Not to own them, but to become them, at least for a blink or two." He turned and stared at her. "Haven't you ever wanted to dig in ancient dirt and find people nobody else even knew existed?" "Their bones?" "No! Their hearts, their lives." She shook her head slowly. "I just don't understand you, Kerro. But I love you." He nodded silently, thinking: Yes, love doesn't have to understand. She knows this but she won't let it into her life. He recalled the words of an old earthside poem: "Love is not a consolation, it is a light." The thought, the poem of life, that was consolation. He would talk to her of love sometime, he thought, but not this dayside. Why are you humans always so ready to carry the terrible burdens of your past? -- Kerro Panille, Questions from the Avata SY MURDOCH did not like coming out this close to Colony perimeter, even when sheltered behind the crysteel barrier of Lab One's private exit. Creatures of this planet had a way of penetrating the impenetrable, confounding the most careful defenses. But someone Lewis trusted had to man this observation post when the hylighters congregated on the plain as they were doing this morning. It was their most mysterious form of behavior and lately Lewis had been demanding answers -- no doubt jumping to commands from The Boss. He sighed. When he looked out on the unprotected surface of Pandora, there was no denying its immediate dangers. Absently, he scratched his left elbow. When he moved his head against the exterior light, he could see his own reflection in the Plaz: a blocky man with brown hair, blue eyes, a light complexion which he kept meticulously scrubbed. The vantage point was not the best available, not as good as the exterior posts which were always manned by the fastest and the best the Colony could risk. But Murdoch knew he could argue his importance to the leadership team. He was not expendable and this place did serve Lewis' purpose. The crysteel barrier, although it filtered out almost a fourth of the light, framed the area they needed to watch. What was it those damned floating gasbags did out there? Murdoch crouched behind a swivel-mounted scope-cum-vidicorder, and touched the controls with a short, stubby finger to focus on the 'lighters. More than a hundred of them floated above the plain about six kilometers out. There were some big orange monsters in this mob, and Murdoch singled out one of the biggest for special observation, reading what he saw into a small recorder at his throat. The big 'lighter looked to be at least fifty meters in diameter, a truncated sphere somewhat flattened along the top which formed the muscular base for the tall, rippling sail membrane. Corded tendrils trailed down to the plain where it grasped a large rock which bumped and dragged along the surface, kicking up dust, scattering gravel. The morning was cloudless, only one sun in the sky. It cast a harsh golden light on the plain, picking out every wrinkle and contraction of the 'lighter's bag. Murdoch could make out a cradle of smaller enfolding tentacles cupped beneath the 'lighter, confining something which squirmed there . . . twisting, flailing. He could not quite identify what the 'lighter carried, but it definitely was alive and trying to escape. The mob of accompanying 'lighters had lined out in a great curved spread which was sweeping now across the plain on a diagonal path away from Murdoch's observation post. The big one he had singled out anchored the near flank, still confining that flailing something in the tentacle shadows beneath it. What had that damned thing captured? Surely not a Colonist! Murdoch backed off his focus to include the entire mob and saw then that they were targeting on ground creatures, a mixed lot of them huddled on the plain. The arc of hylighters swept toward the crouching animals which waited mesmerized. He scanned them, identifying Hooded Dashers, Swift Grazers, Flatwings, Spinnerets, Tubetuckers, Clingeys . . . demons -- all of them deadly to Colonists. But apparently not dangerous to hylighters. All of the 'lighters carried ballast rocks, Murdoch saw, and now the central segment of the sweeping arc dropped their rocks. The bags bounced slightly and tendrils stretched out to snatch up the crouching demons. The captive creatures squirmed and flailed, but made no attempt to bite or otherwise attack the 'lighters. Now, all but a few of the ballasted 'lighters dropped their rocks and began to soar. The few still carrying rocks tacked out away from the capture team, appearing to search the ground for other specimens. The monster bag which Murdoch had studied earlier remained in this search group. Once more, Murdoch enlarged the image in the scope, focusing in on the cupped tendrils beneath the thing's bag. All was quiet there now and, as he watched, the tendrils opened to release their catch. Murdoch dictated his observations into the recorder at his throat: "The big one has just dropped its catch. Whatever it is it appears to be desiccated, a large flat area of black . . . My God! It was a Hooded Dasher! The big 'lighter had a Hooded Dasher tucked up under the bag!" The remains of the Dasher struck the ground in a geyser of dust. Now, the big 'lighter swerved left and its rock ballast scraped the side of another large rock on the plain. Sparks flew where the rocks met and Murdoch saw a line of fire spurt upward to the 'lighter which exploded in a flare of glowing yellow. Bits of the orange bag and a cloud of fine blue dust drifted and sailed all around. The explosion ignited a wild frenzy of action on the plain. The other bags dropped their captives and soared upward. The demons on the ground spread out, some dashing and leaping to catch the remnants of the exploded 'lighter. Slower creatures such as the Spinnerets crept toward fallen rags of the orange bag. And when it was over, the demons sped away or burrowed into the plain as was the particular habit of each. Murdoch methodically described this into his recorder. When it was done, he scanned the plain once more. All of the 'lighters had soared away. Not a demon remained. He shut down the observation post and signaled for a replacement to come up, then he headed back toward Lab One and the Garden. As he made his way along the more secure lighted passages, he thought about what he had seen and recorded. The visual record would go to Lewis and later to Oakes. Lewis would edit the verbal observations, adding his own comments. What was it I saw and recorded out there? Try as he might to understand the behavior of the Pandoran creatures, Murdoch could not do it. Lewis is right. We should just wipe them out. And as he thought of Lewis, Murdoch asked himself how long this most recent emergency at the Redoubt would keep the man out of touch. For all they really knew, Lewis might be dead. No one was completely immune to the threats of Pandora -- not even Lewis. If Lewis were gone . . . Murdoch tried to imagine himself elevated to a new position of power under Oakes. The images of such a change would not form. Gods have plans, too. -- Morgan Oakes, The Diaries FOR A long time, Panille lay quietly beside Hali in the treedome, watching the plaz-filtered light draw radial beams on the air above the cedar tree. He knew Hali had been hurt by his rejection and he wondered why he did not feel guilty. He sighed. There was no sense in running away; this was the way he had to be. Hali spoke first, her voice low, tentative. "Nothing's changed, is it?" "Talking about it doesn't change it," he said. "Why did you ask me out here -- to revive our sexual debate?" "Couldn't I just want to be with you for a while?" She was close to tears. He spoke softly to avoid hurting her even more. "I'm always with you, Hali." With his left hand he lifted her right hand, pressed the tips of his fingers against the tips of her fingers. "Here. We touch, right?" She nodded like a child being coaxed from a tantrum. "Which is we and which the material of our flesh?" "I don't . . ." He held their fingertips a few centimeters apart. "All the atoms between us oscillate at incredible speeds. They bump into each other and shove each other around." He tapped the air with a fingertip, careful to keep from touching her. "So I touch an atom; it bumps into the next one; that one nudges another, and so on until . . ." He closed the gap and brushed her fingertips. ". . . we touch and we were never separate." "Those are just words!" She pulled her hand away from him. "Much more than words, you know it, Med-tech Hali Ekel. We constantly exchange atoms with the universe, with the atmosphere, with food, with each other. There's no way we can be separated." "But I don't want just any atoms!" "You have more choice than you think, lovely Hali." She studied him out of the corners of her eyes. "Are you just making these things up to entertain me?" "I'm serious. Don't I always tell you when I make up something?" "Do you?" "Always, Hali. I will make up a poem to prove it." He tapped her wire ring lightly. "A poem about this." "Why're you telling me your poems? You usually just lock them up on tapes or store them away in those old-fashioned glyph books of yours." "I'm trying to please you in the only way I can." "Then tell me your poem." He brushed her cheek beside the ring, then: "With delicate rings of the gods in our noses we do not root in their garden." She stared at him, puzzled. "I don't understand." "An ancient Earthside practice. Farmers put rings in the noses of their pigs to keep the pigs from digging out of their pens. Pigs dig with their noses as well as their feet. People called that kind of digging 'rooting.'" "So you're comparing me to a pig." "Is that all you see in my poem?" She sighed, then smiled as much at herself as at Kerro. "We're a fine pair to be selected for breeding -- the poet and the pig!" He stared at her, met her gaze and, without knowing why, they were suddenly giggling, then laughing. Presently, he lay back on the duff. "Ahhh, Hali, you are good for me." "I thought you might need some distraction. What've you been studying that keeps you so shut away?" He scratched his head, recovered a brown twig of dead cedar. "I've been rooting into the 'lectrokelp." "That seaweed the Colony's been having all the trouble with? Why would that interest you?" "I'm always amazed at what interests me, but this may be right down my hatchway. The kelp, or some phase of it, appears to be sentient." "You mean it thinks?" "More than that . . . probably much more." "Why hasn't this been announced?" "I don't know for sure. I came across part of the information by accident and pieced together the rest. There's a record of other teams sent out to study the kelp." "How did you find this report?" "Well . . . I think it may be restricted for most people, but Ship seldom holds anything back from me." "You and Ship!" "Hali . . ." "Oh, all right. What's in this report?" "The kelp appears to have a language transmitted by light but we can't understand it yet. And there's something even more interesting. I can't find out if there's a current project to contact and study this kelp." "Doesn't Ship . . ." "Ship refers me to Colony HQ or to the Ceepee, but they don't acknowledge my inquiries." "That's nothing new. They don't acknowledge most inquiries." "You been having trouble with them, too?" "Just that Medical can't get an explanation for all the gene sampling." "Gene sampling? How very curious." "Oakes is a very curious and very private person." "How about someone on the staff?" "Lewis?" Her tone was derisive. Kerro scratched his cheek reflectively. "The 'lectrokelp and gene sampling. Hali, I don't know about the gene sampling . . . that has a peculiar stink to it. But the kelp . . ." She interrupted, excited: "This creature could have a soul . . . and it could WorShip." "A soul? Perhaps. But I thought when I saw that record: 'Yes! This is why Ship brought us to Pandora.'" "What if Oakes knows that the 'lectrokelp is the reason we're here?" Panille shook his head. She gripped his arm. "Think of all the times Oakes has called us prisoners of Ship. He tells us often enough that Ship won't let us leave. Why won't he tell us why Ship brought us here?" "Maybe he doesn't know." "Ohhh, he knows." "Well, what can we do about it?" She spoke without thinking: "We can't do anything without going groundside." He pulled his arm away from her and dug his fingers into the humus. "What do we know about living groundside?" "What do we know about living here?" "Would you go down to the Colony with me, Hali?" "You know I would but . . ." "Then let's apply for . . ." "They won't let me go. The groundside food shortage is critical; there are health problems. They've just increased our workload because they've sent some of our best people down." "We're probably imagining monsters that don't exist, but I'd still like to see the 'lectrokelp for myself." A high-pitched hum blurted from the ever-present pribox on the ground beside Hali. She pressed the response key. "Hali . . ." There was a clatter, a buzz. Presently, the voice returned. "Sorry I dropped you. This is Winslow Ferry. Is that Kerro Panille with you, Hali?" Hali stifled a laugh. The bumbling old fool could not even put in a call without stumbling over something. Kerro was caught by the direct reference to someone being with Hali. Had Ferry been listening? Many shipside suspected that sensors and portable communications equipment had been adapted for eavesdropping but this was his first direct clue. He took the pribox from her. "This is Kerro Panille." "Ahhh, Kerro. Please report to my office within the hour. We have an assignment for you." "An assignment?" There was no response. The connection had been broken. "What do you suppose that's all about?" Hali asked. For answer, Kerro drew a blank page from his notebook, scribbled on it with a fade-stylus, then pointed to the pribox. "He was listening to us." She stared at the note. Kerro said: "Isn't that strange? I've never had an assignment before . . . except study assignments from Ship." Hali took the stylus from him, wrote: "Look out. If they do not want it known that the kelp thinks, you could be in danger." Kerro stood, blanked the page and restored it to his case. "Guess I'd better wander down to Ferry's office and find out what's happening." They walked most of the way back in silence, intensely aware of every sensor they passed, of the pribox at Hali's hip. As they approached Medical, she stopped him. "Kerro, teach me how to speak to Ship." "Can't." "But . . ." "It's like your genotype or your color. Except for certain clones, you don't get much choice in the matter." "Ship has to decide?" "Isn't that always the way, even with you? Do you respond to everyone who wants to talk to you?" "Well, I know Ship must be very busy with . . ." "I don't think that has anything to do with it. Ship either speaks to you or doesn't." She digested this for a moment, nodded, then: "Kerro, do you really talk to Ship?" There was no mistaking the resentment in her voice. "You know I wouldn't lie to you, Hali. Why're you so interested in talking to Ship?" "It's the idea of Ship answering you. Not the commands we get over the 'coders, but . . ." "A kind of unlimited encyclopedia?" "That, yes, but more. Does Ship talk to you through the 'coders?" "Not very often." "What is it like when . . .?" "It's like a very distinctive voice in your head, just a bit clearer than your conscience." "That's it?" She sounded disappointed. "What did you expect? Trumpets and bells?" "I don't even know what my conscience sounds like!" "Keep listening." He brushed a finger against her ring, kissed her quickly, brotherly, then stepped through the hatch into the screening area for Ferry's office. The fearful are often holders of the most dangerous power. They become demoniac when they see the workings of all the life around them. Seeing the strengths as well as the weaknesses, they fasten only on the weaknesses. -- Shipquotes WINSLOW FERRY sat in his dimly lighted office unaware of the random chaos around him -- the piles of tapes and software, the dirty clothes, the empty bottles and boxes, the papers with scribbled notes to himself. It had been a long, tense dayside for him, and the place smelled of stale, spilled wine and old perspiration. His entire attention focused on the sensor screen at the corner of his comdesk. He bent his sweaty face close to the screen which showed Panille walking down a passageway with that lithe and succulent med-tech, Hali Ekel. A wisp of gray hair fell over his right eye and he brushed it aside with a deeply veined hand. His pale eyes glittered in the com light. He watched Hali on the holo, watched the smoothness of her young body glide from passageway to hatch to passageway. But the musk that surrounded him there in his office was Rachel. At times Rachel Demarest seemed all bone and elbow to him, a hard woman hardly used. He developed an amused distance from her whine. She had dreams that included him because she wanted him, even if he was a sack of graying wrinkles and sour breath. She wanted power and Ferry liked to snuggle up to power. They were good for each other and they tricked themselves into a personal distance by trading information for liquor, wine for position or a warm night together. This game of barter between them walled off the kind of hurt they'd both been dealt at the hands of whimsical lovers. Rachel was asleep now in his cubby, dreaming herself Senior Chair of a new Council that would wrest power from Oakes, make the Colony self-sufficient and self-governing. Ferry sat at his console, slightly drunk, dreaming of Hali Ekel. He waited to shift to the next spy sensor until he could no longer make out the details of Hali's small, firm hips tight against her jumpsuit. What luscious hips! As he switched sensors to the one ahead of them, he forgot to change focus. The two were a blur as they approached the sensor's forward field limit. Ferry fumbled with the controls and lost them. "Damn!" he whispered, and his old surgeon's hands were shaking like a wihi in a flare. He touched the screen to steady himself, touched Hali's image blurring past the sensor and into a treedome. "Enjoy, enjoy, my dears." He spoke aloud, his words absorbed by the piled confusion around him. Everyone knew why young couples went into the treedome. He checked to see that the holo was on record and that sound levels were satisfactory. Lewis and Oakes would want to see this, and Ferry anticipated making a special copy for himself. "Give it to her, young fellow! Give it to her!" He felt a pleasant swelling at his crotch and wondered if he could get away to visit Rachel Demarest. "Get something on that poet," Lewis had ordered, and he'd had five liters of the new Pandoran wine delivered to Ferry's office from groundside by Rachel -- a double gift. One of the empties lay across his mazed hookup to the Biocomputer. Another empty was still on the deck of the cubby temporarily occupied by Rachel. She was a clone (one of the better ones) and wine was the treasure to her that Ferry was not. Rachel was the treasure to him that Ekel was not. Ferry watched the small touches between Panille and Ekel, imagining every one of them to be his own. Perhaps with a little wine. . . he thought, and he leered at the faint, half-imagined nipples pressing her suit, shouting him out of her conversation with Panille. Are they going to couple? He was beginning to doubt it. Panille was not reacting correctly. I should've told them about Panille's groundside orders sooner. That was always a good lever for sex. "I'm going groundside soon, dear one. You know what the dangers are down there?" "Go ahead, do it, fellow!" Ferry wanted to watch Hali slip out of her singlesuit, wanted her to desire a horny old surgeon with that desire she had in her eyes for Panille. "So you want to know about the kelp," Ferry slurred to Panille's reclining image in the viewscreen. "Well, you'll know it all soon enough, fellow. And Hali . . ." His clammy fingers caressed the screen. ". . . perhaps Lewis can see to it that you are assigned to us here at Classification and Processing. Yesss." And the yes was a feverish hiss through his yellow teeth. Suddenly, the conversation on the screen jarred him out of his daydream. He was sure he had heard correctly. Panille had told Hali Ekel that the kelp was sentient. "Damn you!" Ferry screamed at the viewer, and this became his low-voiced chant as the eavesdropping continued. Yes, Panille was telling her everything. He was spoiling everything! Panille was going groundside, was going to be out of the way. And all because of the kelp! Ferry was sure of it. The groundside orders must have been cut by Lewis or Oakes. That had to be because they were cut as soon as that mass of study-circuits on the kelp started showing up on Panille's program orders. Panille was onto something, but could be stopped. He was quiet, and could be removed quietly. The only logical reason for the delay in sending the fellow groundside had to be that order from Lewis: "Get something on 'im." Well . . . orders said the delay ended if Panille started talking too much. "But damn him, he told her!" Ferry caught his breath and tried to calm himself. He opened his last bottle of wine, the fantasy bottle that he would have offered to Ekel, if only in his dreams. He had neither the key, the code, nor the technical expertise to alter the holorecording, to erase all evidence that Ekel, too, knew about the kelp. He took a long swallow of the wine and slammed the call key coded to her. "Hali . . ." He threw the bottle across his office in rage, then lost his balance and fell against the console, breaking the call-connection. He pushed himself back, calmed his voice and once more opened the channel. "Sorry I dropped you. This is Winslow Ferry. Is that Kerro Panille with you, Hali?" How he loved the sound of her name on his tongue, the touch of her even in word. She laughed at him! Ferry had no recollection of ending the call, ordering Panille to his office, but he knew he had done it. She laughed at him . . . and she knew about the kelp. When Lewis reviewed this holorecord (and he would certainly do that), then Lewis would know she had laughed at him and Lewis would laugh because he often laughed at Ferry. But it's always old Winslow who gets him what he needs! Yes . . . always. When no one else could manage it, Winslow knew someone who knew someone who knew something and had a price. Lewis would not care deeply that she laughed at old Winslow. Momentary amusement, that was all. But Lewis would care about the kelp. New orders would be cut for Ekel. Ferry knew that for certain. And wherever Ekel was assigned, it would not be to Classification and Processing. A good bureaucracy is the best tool of oppression ever invented. -- Jesus Lewis, The Oakes Diaries WHEN REGA had set behind the western hills, Waela TaoLini turned atop her craggy vantage to watch the red-orange ball of Alki cross the southern horizon in its first passage of the diurn. She had only been forced to kill three demons in the past hour and there seemed little more to do on this watch except mark the distant line of powdery red to the south where they had burned out a Nerve Runner boil just two diurns past. But it looked as though they had sterilized the area, although she could still detect an occasional whiff of burned acid from that direction. But Swift Grazers were already into the red, gorging on the dead Runners. The bulbous little multipeds would not venture anywhere near a live boil of Runners. As usual, she stood tall and alert on watch. She did not feel unusually exposed on the crag. There was a 'scape hatch and slide tunnel one step away on her left. A sensor atop the tunnel's marker pole kept constant watch on her. She carried a gushburner and lasgun, but even more important, she knew her own reflexes. Conditioned by the harsh requirements of Pandora, she could match anything except a massed attack by the planet's predators. And the Nerve Runner invasion had been turned back. Waela crouched then and stared down across the southern plain to the rim of hills. Without conscious volition, her gaze darted left, right; she stood and turned, repeated this procedure. It was all random, constant movement. "Try to look everywhere at once." That was the watchword. Her yellow flaresuit was damp with perspiration. She was tall and slim and she knew this gave her an advantage here. On patrol, she walked tall. Other times, she pulled in her shoulders and tried to appear shorter. Men did not like taller women, a continually bothersome fact which amplified her constant concern over her unavoidable peculiarity; her skin changed color through a broad spectrum from blue to orange in response to her moods, a system not under conscious control. Right now, her exposed skin betrayed the pale pink of repressed fear. Her hair was black and cropped at the neck. Her eyes were brown and shaded in epicanthic folds, but she felt that she had a slender and attractive nose which complemented her broad chin and full lips. "Waela, you're some kind of chameleon throwback," one of her friends had said. But he was dead now, drowned under the kelp. She sighed. "Rrrrrssss!" She turned to the sound and, by reflex, gunned out two Flatwings, thin and multilegged ground racers about ten centimeters long, Poisonous things! Alki was four diameters above the southern horizon now, sending long shadows northward and painting a red-purple glow across the distant sea to the west. Waela liked this particular watch station for its view of the sea. It was the highest vantage connected to Colony. They called it simply "Peak." A line of hylighters drifted through the sky along the distant shoreline. Judging by their apparent size from this distance, they were giants. As with others among the Shipmen/Colonists, she had studied the native life carefully, making the usual comparisons against Shiprecords. The hylighters were, indeed, like giant airborne Portuguese men-of-war, great orange creatures born in the sea. Steadied by its long black tendrils, a hylighter could adjust the great membrane atop its buoyant bag and tack into the wind. They moved with a strange precision, usually in groups of twenty or more, and Waela found herself on the side of those who argued for some intelligence in these gentle creatures. Hylighters were a nuisance, yes. They were buoyed by hydrogen and that, coupled with Pandora's frequent electrical storms, made the creatures into lethal firebombs. In common with the 'lectrokelp, they were useless as food. Even to touch them produced weird mental effects -- hysteria and even, sometimes, convulsions. Standing orders were to explode them at a distance when they approached Colony. Almost without thinking about it, she noted a Spinneret creeping up the Peak on her left. It was a big one. She guessed it would equal the five kilos of the largest ever taken. Because the high-density, molelike creature was Pandora's only slow mover, she took her time responding. Every opportunity to study Pandora's predators had to be used. It was as gray-black as the rocks and she guessed its length at about thirty centimeters, not counting the spinner tail. The first Colonists to encounter Spinnerets had been trapped in the sticky fog the things released through that tail appendage. Waela chewed her lower lip, watching the Spinneret's purposeful approach. It had seen her; no doubt of that. The sticky mesh of (he Spinneret's fog produced a peculiar paralysis. It rendered everything it touched immobile, but alive and alert. The nearsighted Spinneret, having trapped a victim, could suck the captive dry at a slow and agonizing pace. "Close enough," she whispered as the thing paused fewer than five meters below her and started turning to bring its lethal spinner into play. A quick red wash of the gushburner incinerated the Spinneret. She watched the remains tumble off the Peak. Alki was now eight diameters above the horizon and she knew her watch was almost over. She had been ordered to assess possible dangerous activity among the free-roaming predators. They all knew the reason for watching outside Colony's barriers. The visible human in a yellow flaresuit would attract predators. "We're bait out there," one of her friends had said. Waela resented the assignment, but in a place of common perils she knew she had to share every danger. That was Colony's social glue. Even though she would get extra food chits for this, she could not help resenting it. There were other dangers more important to her, and she saw this assignment as a symptom of perilous change in Colony priorities. Her place was out studying the kelp. As the sole survivor of the original study teams, she was the perfect choice for assembling a new team. Are they phasing out our research? There were rumors all through Colony. The materials and energy could not be spared for construction of strong-enough submersibles. The LTAs could not be spared. Lighter-Than-Air was still the most reliable groundside transport for the mining and drilling outposts, and, because they had been built to simulate hylighters, they attracted minimal attention from predators. Hylighters appeared to be immune to the predators. She could see the rationale of the arguments. Kelp interfered with the aquaculture project and food was short. The argument for extermination, though, she saw as one of dangerous ignorance. We need more information. Almost casually, she gunned out a Hooded Dasher, noting that it was the first one seen anywhere near the Peak in twenty diurns. The kelp must be studied. We must learn. What did they know about the kelp after all the lives spent and all the frustrating dives? Fireflies in the night of the sea, someone called them. The kelp extruded nodules from its giant stems and those nodules glowed with a million firecolors. She agreed with all the others who had seen it and lived to report: the pulsing and glowing nodules were a hypnotic symphony, and the lights might, just might, be a form of communication. There did seem to be purpose in the glowing play of light, discernible patterns. The kelp covered the planet's seas except for the random patch of open water called "lagoons." In a planet with only two major land masses, this represented a gigantic spread of life. Once again, she returned to that unavoidable argument: what did they really know about the kelp? It's conscious, it thinks. She was certain of it. The challenge of this problem engaged her imagination with a totality she had never dreamed possible. It had caught others as well. It was polarizing Colony. And the extermination arguments could not be thrown out. Can you eat the kelp? You could not eat it. The stuff was disorienting, probably hallucinogenic. The source of this effect had thus far defied Colony chemists to isolate it. It had this in common with the hylighters. The illusive substance had been dubbed "fraggo" because "it fragments the psyche." That alone said to Waela that the kelp should be preserved for study. Once more, she was forced to kill a Hooded Dasher. The long black shape went tumbling down the Peak, green blood gushing from it. That's too many of them, she thought. Warily, she examined her surroundings, probing for movement below her in the rocks. Nothing. She was still scanning the area this way moments later when her relief stepped out of the hatch. She recognized him, Scott Burik, an LTA fitter on the nightside shift. He was a small man with prematurely aged features, but he was as quick as any other Colonist, already scanning the area around them. She told him about the two Dashers as she passed over the 'burner. "Good rest," he said. She slipped into the hatch, heard it slam behind her then slid down to debriefing where she turned in her kill count and made her assessment of COA -- Current Outside Activity. The debriefing room was windowless with pale yellow walls and a single comdesk. Ary Arenson, a blond, gray-eyed man who never seemed to change expression, sat behind it. Everyone said he worked for Jesus Lewis, a rumor which predisposed Waela to walk and talk softly with him. Odd things happened to people who displeased Lewis. She was tired now with a fatigue which watch always produced, a drained feeling, as though she were victim of a psychic Spinneret. The routine questions bored her. "Yes, the Nerve Runner area appears sterilized." At the end of it, Arenson handed her a small square of brown Colony paper with a message which restored her energy. She read it at a glance: "Report to Main Hangar for new kelp research team assignment." Arenson was glancing at his Comscreen as she read the note and now he changed expression, a wry smile. "Your replacement . . ." He pointed upward toward the Peak with his chin. ". . . just got it. A Dasher chewed his guts out. Stand by a blink. They're sending another replacement." Poetry, like consciousness, drops the insignificant digits. -- Raja Flattery, Shiprecords SHIP'S WARNING that this could be the end of humankind left Flattery with a sense of emptiness. He stared into the blackness which surrounded him, trying to find some relief. Would Ship really break the . . . recording? What did Ship mean by a recording? Last chance. His emotional responses told Flattery he had touched a deep core of affinity with his own kind. The thought that in some faraway future on a line through infinity there might be other humans to enjoy life as he had enjoyed it -- this thought filled him with warm affections for such descendants. "Do You really mean this is our last chance?" he asked. "Much as it pains Me." Ship's response did not surprise him. The words were torn from him: "Why don't You just tell us how to . . . ?" "Raj! How much of your free will would you give me!" "How much would You take?" "Believe Me. Raj, there are places where neither God nor Man dares intervene." "And You want me to go down to this planet, put Your question to them, and help them answer Your demand?" "Would you do that?" "Could I refuse?" "I seek choice, Raj, not compulsion or chance. Will you accept?" Flattery thought about this. He could refuse. Why not? What did he owe these . . . these . . . Shipmen, these replay survivors? But they were sufficiently human that he could interbreed with them. Human. And he still sensed that core of pain when he thought about a universe devoid of humans. One last chance for humankind? It might be interesting . . . play. Or it might be one of Ship's illusions. "Is all this just illusion, Ship?" "No. The flesh exists to feel the things that flesh feels. Doubt everything except that." "I either doubt everything or nothing." "So be it. Will you play despite your doubts?" "Will You tell me more about this play?" "If you ask a correct question." "What role am I playing?" "Ahhhh . . ." It was a sigh of beatific grace. "You play the living challenge." Flattery knew that role. Living challenge. You made people find the best within themselves, a best which they might not suspect they possessed. But some would be destroyed by such a demand. Remembering the pain of responsibility for such destruction, he wanted to help in his decision but knew he dared not ask directly. Perhaps if he learned more about Ship's plans . . . "Have You hidden in my memory things about the game that I should know?" "Raj!" There was no mistaking the outrage. It flowed through him as though his body were a sudden sieve thrust beneath a hot cascade. Then, more softly: "I do not steal your memories, Raj." "Then I'm to be something different, a new factor, in this game. What else is different?" "The place of the test possesses a difference so profound it may test you beyond your capacities, Raj." The many implications of this answer filled him with wonder. So there were things even an all-powerful being did not know, things even God or Satan might learn. Ship made him fearful then by commenting on his unspoken thought. "Given that marvelous and perilous condition which you call Time, power can be a weakness." "Then what's this profound difference which will test me?" "An element of the game which you must discover for yourself." Flattery saw the pattern of it then: The decision had to be his own. Not compulsion. It was the difference between choice and chance. It was the difference between the precision of a holorecord replay and a brand-new performance where free will dominated. And the prize was another chance for humankind. The Chaplain/Psychiatrists' Manual said: "God does not play dice with Man." Obviously, someone had been wrong. "Very well, Ship. I'll gamble with You." "Excellent! And, Raj -- when the dice roll there will be no outside interference to control how they fall." He found the phraseology of this promise interesting, but sensed the futility of exploring it. Instead, he asked: "Where will we play?" "On this planet which I call Pandora. A small frivolity." "I presume Pandora's box already is open." "Indeed. All the evils that can trouble Mankind have been released." "I've accepted Your request. What happens now?" For answer, Flattery felt the hyb locks release him, the soft restraints pulling away. Light glowed around him and he recognized a dehyb laboratory in one of the shipbays. The familiarity of the place dismayed him. He sat up and looked around. All of that time and this . . . this lab remained unchanged. But of course Ship was infinite and infinitely powerful. Nothing outside of Time was impossible for Ship. Except getting humankind to decide on their manner of WorShip. What if we fail this time? Would Ship really break the recording? He felt it in his guts: Ship would erase them. No more humankind . . . ever. Ship would go on to new distractions. If we fail, we'll mature without flowering, never to send our seed through Infinity. Human evolution will stop here. Have I changed in hyb? All that time . . . He slipped out of the tank enclosure and padded across to a full-length mirror set into one of the lab's curved walls. His naked flesh appeared unchanged from the last time he had seen it. His face retained its air of quizzical detachment, an expression others often thought calculating. The remote brown eyes and upraked black eyebrows had been both help and hindrance. Something in the human psyche said such features belonged only to superior creatures. But superiority could be an impossible burden. "Ahhh, you sense a truth," Ship whispered. Flattery tried to swallow in a dry throat. The mirror told him that his flesh had not aged. Time? He began to grasp what Ship meant by such a length of Time which was meaningless. Hyb held flesh in stasis no matter what the passage of Time. No maturity there. But what about his mind? What about that reflected construct for which his brain was the receiver? He felt that something had ripened in his awareness. "I'm ready. How do I get down to Pandora?" Ship spoke from a vocoder above the mirror. "There are several ways, transports which I have provided." "So You deliver me to Pandora. I just walk in on them. 'Hi. I'm Raja Flattery. I've come to give you a big pain in the head.'" "Flippancy does not suit you, Raj." "I feel Your displeasure." "Do you already regret your decision, Raj?" "Can You tell me anything more about the problems on Pandora?" "The most immediate problem is their encounter with an alien intelligence, the 'lectrokelp." "Dangerous?" "So they believe. The 'lectrokelp is close to infinite and humans fear . . ." "Humans fear open spaces, never-ending open spaces. Humans fear their own intelligence because it's close to infinite." "You delight Me, Raj!" A feeling of joy washed over Flattery. It was so rich and powerful that he felt he might dissolve in it. He knew that the sensation did not originate with him, and it left him feeling drained, transparent . . . bloodless. Flattery pressed the heels of his hands against his tightly closed eyes. What a terrible thing that joy was! Because when it was gone . . . when it was gone . . . He whispered: "Unless You intend to kill me, don't do that again." "As you choose." How cold and remote. "I want to be human! That's what I was intended to be!" "If that's the game you seek." Flattery sensed Ship's disappointment, but this made him defensive and he turned to questions. "Have Shipmen communicated with this alien intelligence, this 'lectrokelp?" "No. They have studied it, but do not understand it." Flattery took his hands away from his eyes. "Have Shipmen ever heard of Raja Flattery?" "That's a name in the history which I teach them." "Then I'd better take another name." He ruminated for a moment, then: "I'll call myself Raja Thomas." "Excellent. Thomas for your doubts and Raja for your origins." "Raja Thomas, communications expert -- Ship's best friend. Here I come, ready or not." "A game, yes. A game. And . . . Raj?" "What?" "For an infinite being, Time produces boredom. Limits exist to how much Time I can tolerate." "How much Time are You giving us to decide the way we'll WorShip?" "At the proper moment you will be told. And one more thing --" "Yes?" "Do not be dismayed if I refer to you occasionally as My Devil." He was a moment recovering his voice, then: "What can I do about it? You can call me whatever You like." "I merely asked that you not be dismayed." "Sure! And I'm King Canute telling the tides to stop!" There was no response from Ship and Flattery wondered if he was to be left on his own to find his way down to this planet called Pandora. But presently, Ship spoke once more: "Now we will dress you in appropriate costume, Raj. There is a new Chaplain/Psychiatrist who rules the Shipmen. They call him Ceepee and, when he offends them, they call him The Boss. You can expect that The Boss will order you to attend him soon." Perhaps the immobility of the things that surround us is forced upon them by our conviction that they are themselves and not anything else, and by the immobility of our conceptions of them. -- Marcel Proust, Shiprecords OAKES STUDIED his own image reflected in the com-console at his elbow. The curved screen, he knew, was what made the reflection diminutive. Reduced. He felt jumpy. No telling what the ship might do to him next. Oakes swallowed in a dry throat. He did not know how long he had sat there hypnotized by that reflection. It was still nightside. An unfinished glass of Pandoran wine sat on a low brown table in front of him. He glanced up and around. His opulent cubby remained a place of shadows and low illumination, but something had changed. He could feel the change. Something . . . someone watching . . . The ship might refuse to talk to him, deny him elixir, but he was getting messages -- many messages. Change. That unspoken question which hovered in his mind had changed something in the air. His skin tingled and there was a throbbing at his temples. What if the ship's program is running down? His reflection in the blank screen gave no answer. It showed only his own features and he began to feel pride in what he saw there. Not just fat, no. Here was a mature man in his middle years. The Boss. The silver at his temples spoke of dignity and importance. And although he was . . . plump, his skin remained soft and clear, testimony to the care he took preserving the appearance of youth. Women liked that. What if the ship is Ship . . . is truly God? The air felt dirty in his lungs and he realized he was breathing much too rapidly. Doubts. The damned ship was not going to respond to his doubts. Never had. Wouldn't talk to him; wouldn't feed him. He had to feed himself from the ship's limited hydroponics gardens. How long could he continue to trust them? Not enough food for everyone. The very thought increased his appetite. He stared at the unfinished glass of wine -- dark amber, oily on the inner surface of the glass. There was a wet puddle under the glass, a stain on the brown surface. I'm the Ceepee. The Ceepee was supposed to believe in Ship. In his own cynical way, old Kingston had insisted on this. I don't believe. Was that why a new Ceepee was being sent groundside? Oakes ground his teeth together. I'll kill the bastard! He spoke it aloud, intensely aware of how the words echoed in his cubby. "Hear that, Ship? I'll kill the bastard!" Oakes half expected a response to this blasphemy. He knew this because he caught himself holding his breath, listening hard to the shadows at the edges of his cubby. How did you test for godhood? How do you separate a powerful mechanical phenomenology, a trick of technological mirrors, from a . . . from a miracle? If God did not play dice, as the Ceepees were always told, what might God play? Perhaps dice was not challenge enough for a god. What was risk enough to tempt a god out of silence or reverie . . . out of a god's lair? It was a stupefying question -- to challenge God at God's own game? Oakes nodded to himself. In the game, perhaps, is the miracle. Miracle of Consciousness? It was no trick to make a machine self-programming, self-perpetuating. Complex, true, and unimaginably costly . . . Not unimaginably, he cautioned himself. He shook his head to drive out the half-dream. If people did it, then it's imaginable, tangible, somehow explainable. Gods move in other circles. The question was: which circles? And if you could define those circles, their limits, you could know the limits of the god within them. What limits, then? He thought about energy. Energy remained a function of mass and speed. Even a god might have to be somewhere within the denominator of -- what kind of mass, how much, how fast? Maybe godhood is simply another expansion of limits. Because our vision dims is no reason to conclude that infinity lies beyond. His training as a Chaplain had always been subservient to his training as a scientist and medical man. He knew that to test data truly he could not close the doors on experiment or assume that what he wished would necessarily be so. It was what you did with data, not the data, that was important. Every king, every emperor had to know that one. Even his theology master had agreed. "Sell 'em on God. It's for their own good. Pin the little everyday miracles on God and you've got 'em; you don't need to move mountains. If you're good enough, people will move the mountains for you in the name of God." Ahh, yes. That had been Edmond Kingston, a real Chaplain/Psychiatrist out of the ship's oldest traditions, but still a cynic. Oakes heaved a deep sigh. Those had been quiet days shipside, days of tolerance and security of purpose. The machinery of the monster around them ran smoothly. God had been remote and most Shipmen remained in hyb. But that had been before Pandora. Bad luck for old Kingston that the ship had put them in orbit around Pandora. Good old Edmond, dead on Pandora with the fourth settlement attempt. Not a trace recovered, not a cell. Gone now, into whatever passed for eternity. And Morgan Oakes was the second cynical Chaplain to take on the burden of Ship. The first Ceepee not chosen by the damned ship! Except . . . there was this new Ceepee, he reminded himself, this man without a name who was being sent groundside to talk to the damned vegetables . . . the 'lectrokelp. He will not be my successor! There were many ways that a man in power could delay things to his own advantage. Even as I am now delaying the ship's request that we send this poet . . . this whatsisname, Panille, groundside. Why did the ship want a poet groundside? Did that have anything to do with this new Ceepee? A drop of sweat trickled into his right eye. Oakes grew aware that his breathing had become labored. Heart attack? He pushed himself off the low divan. Have to get help. There was pain all through his chest. Damn! He had too many unfinished plans. He couldn't just go this way. Not now! He staggered to the hatch but the hatch dogs refused to turn under his fingers. The air was cooler here, though, and he grew aware of a faint hissing from the equalizer valve over the hatch. Pressure difference? He did not understand how that could be. The ship controlled the interior environment. Everyone knew that. "What're you doing, you damned mechanical monster?" he whispered. "Trying to kill me?" It was getting easier to breathe. He pressed his head against the cool metal of the hatch, drew in several deep breaths. The pain in his chest receded. When he tried the hatch dogs again they turned, but he did not open the hatch. He knew his symptoms could be explained by asphyxia . . . or anxiety. Asphyxia? He opened the hatch and peered out into an empty corridor, the dim blue-violet illumination of nightside. Presently, he closed the hatch and stared across his cubby. Another message from the ship? He would have to go groundside soon . . . as soon as Lewis made it safe for him down there. Lewis, get that Redoubt ready for us! Would the ship really kill him? No doubt it could. He would have to be very circumspect, very careful. And he would have to train a successor. Too many things unfinished to have them end with his own death. I can't leave the choice of my successor to the ship. Even if it killed him, the damned ship could not be allowed to beat him. It's been a long time. Maybe the ship's original program has run out. What if Pandora were the place for a long winding-down process? Kick the fledglings out of the nest a millimeter at a time. His gaze picked out details of the cubby: erotic wall hangings, servopanels, the soft opulence of divans . . . Who will move in here after me? He had thought he might choose Lewis, provided Lewis worked out well. Lewis was bright enough for some dazzling lab work, but dull politically. A dedicated man. Dedicated! He's a weasel and does what he's told. Oakes crossed to his favorite divan, fawn soft cushions. He sat down and fluffed the cushions under the small of his back. What did he care about Lewis? This flesh that called itself Oakes would be long gone when the next Chaplain took over. At the very least he would be in hyb, dependent on the systems of the ship. And it may not be a good idea to tempt Lewis with that much power, power that would be contingent upon Oakes' own death. After all, death was the specialty of Jesus Lewis. "No, no," Lewis had said to Oakes privately, "it's not death -- I give them life. I give them life. They're engineered clones, Doctor, E-clones. I remind you of that. If I give them life, for whatever purpose, it is mine to take away." "I don't want to hear it." He waved Lewis away with a brush of his hand. "Have it your way," Lewis said, "but that doesn't change the facts. I do what I have to do. And I do it for you . . ." Yes, Lewis was a brilliant man. He had learned many new and useful genetic manipulation techniques from the genetics of the 'lectrokelp, that most insidious indigent species on Pandora. And it had cost them dearly. A successor? What real choice would he make, if he truly believed in the process and the godhood of Ship? If he could exclude all the nastiness of politics? Legata Hamill. The name caught him off guard, it came so quickly. Almost as though he did not think it himself. Yes, it was true. He would choose Legata if he believed, if he truly believed in Ship. There was no reason why a woman could not be Chaplain/Psychiatrist. No doubt of her diplomatic abilities. Some wag had once said that Legata could tell you to go to hell and make you anticipate the trip with joy. Oakes pushed aside the cushions and levered himself to his feet. The hatch out into the dim passages of nightside beckoned him -- that maze of mazes which meant life to them all: the ship. Had the ship really tried to asphyxiate him? Or had that been an accident? I'll put myself through a medcheck first thing dayside. The hatch dogs felt cold under his fingers, much colder than just moments before. The oval closure swung soundlessly aside to reveal once more nightside's blue-violet lighting in the corridor. Damn the ship! He strode out and, around the first corner, encountered the first few people of the Behavioral watch. He ignored them. The Behavioral complex was so familiar that he did not see it as he passed through. Biocomputer Study, Vitro Lab, Genetics -- all were part of his daily routine and did not register on his nightside consciousness. Where tonight? He allowed his feet to find the way and realized belatedly that his wanderings were taking him farther and farther into the outlying regions, farther along the ship's confused twistings of passages and through mysterious hums and odd odors -- farther out than he had ever wandered before. Oakes sensed that he was walking into a peculiar personal danger, but he could not stop even as his tensions mounted. The ship was able to kill him at any moment, anywhere shipside, but he took a special private knowledge with him: he was Morgan Oakes, Ceepee. His detractors might call him "The Boss," but he was the only person here (with the possible exception of Lewis) who understood there were things the ship would not do. Two of us among many. How many? They had no real census shipside or groundside. The computers refused to function in this area, and attempts at manual counting varied so widely they were useless. The ship showing its devious hand again. Just as the ship's machinations could be sensed in this order for a poet groundside. He remembered the full name now: Kerro Panille. Why should a poet be ordered groundside to study the kelp? If we could only eat the kelp without it driving us psychotic. Too many people to feed. Too many. Oakes guessed ten thousand shipside and ten times that ground-side (not counting the special clones), but no matter the numbers, he was the only person who realized how little knowledge his people had about the workings and purposes of the ship or its parts. His people! Oakes liked it that way, recalling the cynical comment of his mentor, Edmond Kingston, who had been talking about the need to limit the awareness of the people: "Appearing to know the unknown is almost as useful as actually knowing." From his own historical studies, Oakes knew that this had been a political watchword for many civilizations. This one thing stood out even though the ship's records were not always clear and he did not completely trust the ship's versions of history. It often was difficult to distinguish between real history and contrived fictions. But from the odd literary references and the incompatible datings of such works -- from internal clues and his own inspired guess-work -- Oakes deduced that other worlds and other people existed . . . or had existed. The ship could have countless murders on its conscience. If it had a conscience. As I am your creation, you are Mine. You are My satellites and I am yours. Your personas are My impersonations. We melt into ONE at the touch of infinity. -- Raja Flattery, The Book of Ship FROM THE instant the Redoubt's first hatchway exploded, Jesus Lewis stayed within arm's length of his bodyguard, Illuyank. It was partly a conscious decision. Even in the worst of times, Illuyank inspired a certain confidence. He was a heavily muscled man, dark-skinned, with black wavy hair and a stone-cut face accented by three blue chevrons tattooed above his left eyebrow. Three chevrons -- Illuyank had run outside around the Colony Perimeter three times, naked, armed only with his wits and endurance, "running the P" for a bet or a date. Testing their luck, some called it. When the hatch blew, they all needed luck. Some of them were barely awake and had not yet eaten their first dayside meal. "The clones got a lasgun!" Illuyank shouted. His clear, dark eyes worked the area. "Dangerous. They don't know how to use it." The two men stood in a passage between the clones' quarters and a random huddle of survivors who waited behind them near a half-circle of hatches leading to the core of the Redoubt. Even in this moment of peril, Lewis knew how he must appear to the others. He was a short man, thin all the way -- thin straw-colored hair, thin mouth, thin chin made even more so by a deep cleft, a thin nose, and oddly dark eyes which never seemed to reflect light in the thin compression of his lids. Beside him, Illuyank was everything Lewis was not. Both stared toward the core of the Redoubt. There was a real question in their minds whether the core of the Redoubt remained secure. Knowing this, Lewis had deactivated the communications pellet buried in the flesh of his neck and refused to answer it even when insistent calls from Oakes tempted him. No telling who might be able to listen! There had been some disquieting indications lately that their private communications channel might not be as private as he had hoped. By now, Oakes would have received word about the new Ceepee. Discussion of that and the possible breach of their private communications system would have to wait. Oakes would have to be patient. At the first sign of trouble, Lewis had hit an emergency signal switch to alert Murdoch at Colony. There was no certainty, though, that the signal had gone through. He had not been allowed time for a retransmit-check. And the whole Redoubt had gone onto emergency power then. Lewis had no way of knowing which systems might be working and which not. The damned clones! A loud whirr sounded from the direction of the clones' quarters. Illuyank flattened himself on the floor and the others were showered with shards of passage wall. "I thought they didn't know how to use that lasgun!" Lewis shouted. He pointed at a gaping hole in the wall as Illuyank leaped up and spun him around toward the others at the hatch circle. "Downshaft!" Illuyank called. One of the waiting group whirled the downshaft hatchdogs and opened the way into a passage lighted only by the blue flickering of emergency illumination. Lewis sprinted blindly behind Illuyank, heard the others scrambling after them. Illuyank shouted back at him as he ran: "They don't know how to use it and that's what makes it dangerous!" Illuyank tucked and rolled across an open side passage as he spoke, firing a quick burst down the passage from his gusgun. "They could hit anything anywhere!" Lewis glanced down the open passage as he ran past, glimpsed a scattering of bodies blazing there. It soon became apparent where Illuyank was leading them and Lewis admired the wisdom of it. They took a left turn into a new passage, then a right turn and found themselves in the Redoubt's unfinished back corridors, skirting the native rock of the cliffside into the small Facilities Room on the beach side. One plasma-glass window overlooked the sea, the courtyard and the corner where the clones' quarters joined the Redoubt itself. The last of the followers dogged the hatch behind them. Lewis took quick stock of his personnel -- fifteen people, only six of them from his personally chosen crew. The others, rated reliable by Murdoch, had not yet been tested. Illuyank had moved to the maze of controls at the cliff wall and was poring over the Redoubt's schematics etched into a master plate there. It occurred to Lewis then that Illuyank was the only survivor from Kingston's mission to this chunk of dirt and rock named Black Dragon. "Is this how it was with Kingston?" Lewis asked. He forced his voice to an even calm while watching Illuyank trace a circuit with one stubby finger. "Kingston cried and hid behind rocks while his people died. Runners got him. I cooked them out." Cooked them out! Lewis shuddered at the euphemism. The grotesque image of Kingston's head crisped to char grinned across his mind. "Tell us what to do." Lewis was surprised at his control under this fear. "Good." Illuyank looked directly at him for the first time. "Good. Our weapons are these." He indicated the power switches and valve controls around them. "We can control every circuit, gas and liquid from here." Lewis touched Illuyank's arm and pointed to a one-meter square panel beside him. "Yes." Illuyank hesitated. "We're blind otherwise," Lewis said. For answer, Illuyank tapped out a code on the console beneath the square. The blank panel slid back to reveal four small view-screens. "Sensors," one of those behind them said. "Eyes and ears," Lewis said, still looking at Illuyank. The dark man's expression did not change, but he whispered to Lewis: "We also will have to see and hear what we do to them." Lewis swallowed and heard a faint snap-snapping at the hatch. "They're cutting in!" a voice quavered behind them. Lewis and Illuyank scanned the screens. One showed the rubble that had been the clones' quarters. I'M HUNGRY NOW!, the new rallying cry of the clones, was smeared in yellow grease across one wall. The adjoining screen scanned the courtyard. A crowd of mutated humans -- E-clones all -- scoured the grounds for rocks and bits of glass, anything for a weapon. "Keep an eye on them" Illuyank whispered. "They can't hurt us with that stuff, but all that blood out there will bring demons. There are holes all over our perimeter. If demons hit, they'll catch that bunch first." Lewis nodded. He could hear some of the others pressing close for a better view. Once more, there was that snap-snapping at the hatch. Lewis glanced at Illuyank. "They're just pounding at us with rocks," Illuyank said. "What we have to do is find that lasgun. Meanwhile, keep an eye on the courtyard. The blood . . ." The lower left-hand screen showed the clone mess hall, a shambles of security hatches broken open in the background, a turmoil of clones throughout the area. This screen suddenly went blank. "Sensor's gone in the mess hall," Lewis said. "Food will keep them busy there for a time," Illuyank said. He was busy searching through the Redoubt on the remaining screen. It showed a flash of the courtyard from a different angle, then a broken tangle of perimeter wall, cut to pieces by the lasgun and swarming with clones coming in from the outside where Lewis had ejected them, the action which had ignited this revolt. We have to cull them somehow, Lewis told himself. The food will go only so far. He turned his attention to the screen showing the courtyard. Yes . . . there was a lot of blood. It made him aware that he was badly cut himself. Celltape stopped his major bleeding, but small cuts began to ache as he thought of his condition. None of them was without injury. Even Illuyank bled slightly from a rock cut above his ear. "There," Illuyank said. His voice coincided with a new thump and crackling agitation at the hatch. But the COA screen Illuyank had been using now showed the passage outside their hatch. It was filled with a mass of clone flesh: furred bodies, strange limbs, oddly shaped heads. At the hatch two of the strongest clones were trying to maneuver a plasteel cutter, but their actions were impeded by the press of others behind them. "That'll get them in here for sure," someone said. "We're cooked." Illuyank turned and barked orders, pointing, waving a hand until all fifteen were busy in the Facilities Room -- a valve to control, a switch to throw; each had some particular responsibility. Lewis keyed for sound in the screen and a confused babble came over the speakers. Illuyank signaled to a man at the remote valve controls across the room. "Dump the brine tanks into level two! That'll flood the outer passage." The man worked his controls, muttering as he followed the schematics at his position. Illuyank touched Lewis on the elbow, pointed to the screen which showed the courtyard. The clones there were looking away from the sensor, all of them at full alert, their attention on a broken segment of wall which led to the perimeter. Abruptly, almost as one organism, they dropped their rocks and glass weapons and ran screaming off-screen. "Runners," Illuyank muttered. Lewis saw them then, a waving swarm of tiny pale worm shapes cresting the rubble. He could almost smell the burned acid and tasted acid in his throat. Automatically, he gave the orders. "Seal off." "We can't," a timid voice from the edge of the room began. "Some of our people are still out there. If we seal off . . . if we . . . they'll all . . ." "They'll all die," Lewis finished for him. "And our perimeter's full of holes. Runners are in the courtyard. If we don't seal off we die, too. Seal off!" He crossed to a valve-control panel, punched the proper sequence. Lights above the panel showed that the indicated valve was closing. He could hear others around him obeying. Illuyank's voice intruded with a quiet warning: "Check the surface shafts." This brought another bustle of activity. Lewis glanced at the courtyard screen. A clone stumbled back into the sensor's range, screaming and beating at his eyes with the blunt knobs which passed for his hands. As he moved into range, he fell and lay twisting on the ground. A blur of writhing shadows swept over him. The courtyard filled with fleeing clones and tiny, eel-like bodies. Behind Lewis, one of their group could be heard vomiting. "They're in the passage," Illuyank said. He gestured at the sensor where the view outside their hatch showed brine rising in the passage with a swarming mass of Nerve Runners riding in on the wave. Lewis shot a frantic glance at the hatch. What the sensor revealed was happening right out there! The brine stopped short of the passage ceiling, but not before it had shorted out the plasteel cutter. Clones were thrashing in the water, Nerve Runners covering them, but here and there dead Runners could be seen on the brine's surface. And where the plasteel cutter had shorted out, a milky gray gas clouded the thin space over the water. Wherever the gas touched, Runners died. Lewis felt his mind leaping from item to item. Item: brine. Item: electrical short. "Chlorine," he whispered. Then louder: "Chlorine!" "What?" Illuyank was clearly puzzled. Lewis pointed at the screen. "Chlorine kills Nerve Runners!" "What's chlorine?" "A gas created when you throw an electrical charge through sodium chloride brine." "But . . ." "Chlorine kills Runners!" Lewis looked across the Facilities Room where the plaz-glass barrier showed a corner of clone area and the ocean beyond. "Are the sea pumps still working?" The man at the pump console checked his keyboard, then: "Most of them." "Sea water wherever we can put it," Lewis said. "We need a large container where we can dump it from here and throw an electrical charge through it." "Water purification," Illuyank said. "The purification plant. We can pump almost everywhere from there." "Wait a bit," Lewis said. "We want to attract as many Runners as we can; make them easier to wipe out." He watched the screens, dragging it out, then: "All right, let's hit them." Once more, Illuyank scanned his schematics, throwing orders over his shoulder while the survivors in the Facilities Room obeyed. Lewis fixed his attention on the sensor screens. The outer passage was quiet now -- a few dead E-clones floating on the surface of the brine, many dead Runners among them. He tuned the mess-room screen to another sensor eye, found the exercise bay outside the clone labs. It was filled with a thrashing crowd of E-clones in absolute panic and, here and there among them, some of his own people caught outside when he had given the order to seal off. There were not many recognizable faces, but the colors of the uniforms could be identified. One by one, they died, their mouths frothing pink and their last stares turned upward toward the sensor. Even as the last of them were dying, a milky cloud of gas had begun to sweep out of an open passage, drifting across the scene, blurring it. "Watch their eyes," Illuyank said. "If we don't get all the Runners, they'll go for the eyes first." All was quiet in the Facilities Room then as the survivors listened to their own precious breath, felt the comfort of their own live sweat and watched the eyes of the dead outside for some reflection of their own mortality. Lewis leaned against the lip of the console, feeling cold metal under his fingers. Other screens showed more of the milky gas billowing through the Redoubt. There were even sensor eyes still alive to show the area outside their perimeter, the gas drifting across the open ground there. Illuyank scanned from sensor to sensor. Someone behind Lewis heaved a shuddering sigh and Lewis echoed it. "Chlorine," Illuyank muttered. "We'll be able to sterilize the Runner boils right out of existence now," Lewis said. "If we'd only known . . ." "A nasty way to learn," someone behind them said. And someone else said: "It'll be a long wait." "Waiting's that way," Illuyank said. "Think how long you live if you're always waiting." It was an insightful comment, deeper than anything Lewis had ever expected from Illuyank. And it meant that Illuyank would have to be shifted to a tour of duty Colony side. He saw too much, deduced too much. That could not be permitted. First, though, they had to get out of here. But there was no way out except into the Runner-contaminated open areas of the Redoubt. The chlorine would make that possible . . . in time. "Can we get a message to Murdoch?" Lewis asked. "Emergency transmitter only," Illuyank said. "Send him the emergency shut-down signal. No one comes in here until we've cleaned up. It wouldn't do to have anyone see what's happened and . . ." Lewis directed a loaded look at Illuyank. Illuyank nodded, and provided Lewis with the perfect opening for what had to be done. "Someone should go Colonyside, though, and see that they understand." "That had better be you," Lewis said. "Make sure they don't try to explain anything to The Boss shipside. That's my job." "Right." "Don't tell them any more than you have to. And . . . while you're there, try to circulate in the Colony -- everything normal, routine. Accept the usual assignments . . ." "And try to find out if word of this . . ." Illuyank glanced at the sensor screens. ". . .has leaked out." "Good man." And Lewis thought: too good. Just as a technician learns to use his tools, you can be taught to use other people to create whatever you desire. This becomes more potent when you can create the special person for your special purpose. -- Morgan Oakes, The Diaries LEGATA HAMILL knew groundside was to be their permanent home eventually, but she did not like these courier jobs on which Oakes sent her. There was a sense of power in them, though; no denying it. Her pass (often just an identifying look at her by a guard) admitted her anywhere. She was an arm of Morgan Oakes. She knew what they saw when they looked at her: a small woman with pale skin and ebon hair, a figure almost lush in its femininity. They saw a woman The Boss wanted and who, because of that, was powerful and dangerous. Every inspection trip she took for Oakes created tension. This time she was to inspect Lab One at Colony. And all of it would be on holo to make a full record for Oakes to review. "Penetrate it," Oakes had said. The way he said "penetrate" had distinctly sexual overtones. She had never been into the Lab One depths before and that alone piqued her curiosity. Lewis had a trusted minion here, Sy Murdoch. She was to meet Murdoch. Usually, Lewis was to be found in the shiny plasteel environs of the lab which was entered via a triple-lock system at the end of a long tunnel. Not today. Lewis was out of communication. A strange way of putting it; and there was no doubt that Oakes was disturbed by this development. "Find out where the hell he is, what he's doing!" Both suns had been in the sky when the shuttle brought her down. Maximum flare security had been in force. She had been hustled out of the landing complex and into a servo which deposited her at the tunnel. The Colony personnel were quick and harried today -- rumors of perimeter difficulties with Pandora's many demons. Legata shuddered. Any thought of the predatory creatures which roamed the landscape beyond Colony's barriers filled her with apprehension. Murdoch himself met her in the brightly lighted and bustling area where the last lock sealed off the entrance within the lab. He was a blocky man, light complexion and blue eyes, with cropped brown hair. His fingers were short and stubby, the nails well trimmed. He always appeared recently scrubbed. "What is it this time?" he demanded. She liked the energy focus in his question. It said: We're busy here. What does Oakes want now? Very well, she could match that mood. "Where's Lewis?" Murdoch glanced around to see who might overhear them. Seeing no workers nearby, he said: "Redoubt." "Why doesn't he answer our calls?" "Don't know." "What was his last message?" "Emergency code. Hold all transports. No craft permitted to land at Redoubt. Wait for clearance signal." Legata absorbed this. Emergency. What was happening across the waters at the Redoubt? "Why wasn't Doctor Oakes informed?" "The code signal called for complete security." She understood this. No transmissions from Colony to Ship could carry a message involving that restriction. But that was two full Pandoran diurns ago. She sensed another restriction in the last message from the Redoubt, a private Lewis restriction to his own minions. It would be pointless to explore such a conjecture, but she felt its presence. "Have you sent an overflight?" "No." So that was restricted, too. Bad . . . very bad. Well, then, she had to get on to the rest of her assignment. "I'm here to inspect the lab." "I know." Murdoch had been studying this woman while they talked. The orders transmitted from The Boss were clear. She was to go into everything except the Scream Room. That would come later for her . . . as it came for everyone here. She was a pretty thing: a pocket Venus with a doll face and green eyes. She had a good brain, too, by all accounts. "If you know, let's get going," she said. "This way." He led her down a passage between banked vats of primary clonewombs into the Micro-micro Processing section. At first, Legata's interest was intellectual -- she knew this and it comforted her. Murdoch even took her hand at one point, leading her past rows of special-application clonewombs. He was so intent in his rhapsody on equipment and techniques that she did not mind his touch. It was, after all, clinical. Or unintentional. Whichever, Murdoch's touch was not born out of affection; this she knew. But he knew Lab One as few others could, even perhaps as well as Lewis, and she had never been told to go deep into it before. ". . . but I've accepted that as true," Murdoch was saying, and she had missed the point, being more intent on an incomplete fetus of odd proportions floating behind a screen of transparent plaz. She looked at Murdoch. "Accepted what? I'm sorry, I was . . . I mean, there's so much to see." "Plasteel by the kilometer, tanks and fluids, pseudo-bodies, pseudo-minds . . ." He waved his hand in frustration. She realized that Murdoch was in a particularly manic mood and this bothered her. She felt the need to suppress unspoken questions about that odd fetus floating behind the screen of plasma glass. "So you've accepted all this," she said. "So what?" "We birth here. We conceive people here, nurture them fetally, extract them, send some shipside for training . . . Doesn't it strike you as odd that we can't bring natural births groundside, too?" "What Ship decides is for good reason, for the good of . . ." ". . . of Shipmen everywhere. I know. I've heard it as often as you have. But Ship did not decide. Nowhere in the records can anyone -- even you, the best Search Technician we have, so I'm told -- find where Ship has demanded that all births take place shipside. Nowhere." Without knowing how she knew it, Legata realized he was repeating Lewis' words verbatim. This was not Murdoch's manner of speaking. Why was she supposed to hear this? Was it part of Oakes' scheme to do away with the shipside obstetrics force, the Natali? "But we are required to WorShip," she said. "And what greater WorShip can we have than to entrust Ship with our children? It makes sense, too . . ." "It makes sense, it has logic," he agreed. "But it is not a direct command. And it makes a good deal of our work here in Lab One unnecessarily limited. Why, we could . . ." "Own this world? Morgan says you can do it anyway." There, let him chew on that. Morgan, not The Boss, not Doctor Oakes. Murdoch dropped her hand and the flush of elation washed out of his cheeks. He knows we're on holo, she thought, and I've ruined his act. It occurred to her then that Murdoch had been playing to another audience, to Oakes. If the emergency at the Redoubt over on Black Dragon turned out fatal for Lewis . . . yes, they would need a replacement. She imagined Oakes' attention on them later from some metallic scanner shipside. But she wanted Murdoch to squirm a bit more. She took his hand and said, "I'd like to see The Garden." Her statement was only half-true. She had seen the catalogues which Oakes kept securely locked away, the wide selection of E-clones grown to special purposes here -- any purpose, it seemed. Fewer than a dozen people shipside were even aware that such a process existed. And here at Colony, Lab One was a complex of its own, secreted away from the rest of the buildings, its purpose shrouded in the mystique of its name. Lab One. When asked what went on at Lab One, people usually said, "Ship only knows." Or they began some childish ghost story of hunchbacked scientists peering into the heart of life itself. Legata knew that Oakes and Lewis even encouraged the mystery, often started their own rumors. The result was a fearsome aura about the place, and recently there had been mutterings about the disproportionate supply of food allotted to Lab One. TO be assigned here, in the minds of Shipmen and Colonists alike, was to disappear forever. All workers moved into quarters at the complex and, with few exceptions, did not return shipside or to Colony proper. These thoughts left her with a feeling of unsettled doubts, and she had to remind herself: I'm not being assigned here. No, that wouldn't happen, not as long as Oakes wanted to get her naked on his couch . . . to penetrate her. Legata took a deep breath of warm air. As in all Colony buildings, temperature and humidity were identical with Ship's. Here in the lab, though, her flesh shuddered off a special kind of chill, a gooseflesh that made her stomach ache and jabbed needles of pain into the knots that her nipples made against her singlesuit. She spoke quickly to mask her disquiet. "Your staff people, they look so old." "Many of them have been with us from the start." There was evasion in his voice and it did not go unnoticed, but Legata chose to watch, not push. "But they . . . look even older than that. What . . ." Murdoch interrupted her. "We have a higher fatality rate than Colony, did you know that?" She shook her head. It was a lie; had to be a lie. "It's being out here on the perimeter," Murdoch said. "We don't get the protection everyone else does. Nerve Runners are particularly heavy this close to the hills." An uncontrollable shudder swept over her arms. Nerve Runners! Those darting little worms were the most feared of all Pandoran creatures. They had an affinity for nerve cells and would eat their way slowly, agonizingly along human nerve channels until they gorged on the brain, encysted and reproduced. "Bad," Murdoch said, seeing her reaction. "And the workload we carry here, of course . . . but that's agreed on from the start. These are the most dedicated people groundside." She looked across a bank of plaz vats at a group of these dedicated workers -- blank, tight-lipped faces. Most of those she had seen here were wrinkled and drawn, pale. No one joked; not even a nervous giggle broke the monotony. All was the clink and click of instruments, the hum of tools, the aching distance between lives. Murdoch flashed her a sudden smile. "But you wanted to see The Garden." He turned, waved a hand for her to follow. "This way." He led her through another system of locks, only doubles this time, into what appeared to be a training area for young E-clones. There were several of them around the entrance, but they drew back at Murdoch's approach. Fearful, Legata thought. There was a circular barrier across the training area and she identified another lock entrance. "What's over there?" She nodded. "We won't be able to go in there today," Murdoch said. "We're sterilizing in there." "Oh? What's in there?" "Well . . . that's the core of The Garden. I call it the Flower Room." He turned toward a group of the young E-clones nearby. "Now, here we have some of the young products from the Flower Room. They . . ." "Does your Flower Room have another name?" she asked. She did not like his answers. Too evasive. He was lying. Murdoch turned to face her and she felt threatened by the pouncing glee in his eyes. Guilty knowledge lay there -- dirty, guilty knowledge. "Some call it the Scream Room," he said. Scream Room? "And we can't go in there?" "Not. . . today. Perhaps if you made an appointment for later?" She controlled a shudder. The way he watched her, the avaricious glint to his eyes. "I'll come back to see your . . . Flower Room later," she said. "Yes. You will." From you, Avata learns of a great poet-philosopher who said: "Until you meet an alien intelligence, you will not know what it is to be human." And Avata did not know what it was to be Avata. True, and poetic. But poetry is what's lost in translation. Thus, we now permit you to call this place Pandora and to call us Avata. The first among you, though, called us vegetable. In this, Avata saw the deeper meaning of your history and felt fear. You ingest vegetable to use the energy gathered by others. With you, the others end. With Avata, the others live. Avata uses minerals, uses rock, uses sea, uses the suns -- and from all this, Avata nurses life. With rock, Avata calms the sea and silences the turbulence inherited from the rip of suns and moons. Knowing human, Avata remembers all. It is best to remember so Avata remembers. We eat our history and it is not lost. We are one tongue and one mind; the storms of confusions cannot steal us from one another, cannot pry us from our grip to rock, to the firmament that cups the sea around us and washes us clean with the tides. This is so because we make it so. We fill the sea and calm it with our body. The creatures of water find sanctuary in Avata's shadow, feed in our light. They breathe the riches we exude. They fight among themselves for what we discard. They ignore us in their ravages and we watch them grow, watch them flare in the sea like suns and disappear into the far side of night. The sea feeds us; it washes in and out, and we return to the sea in kind. Rock is Avata's strength and as strength grows so grows the nest. Rock is Avata's communion, ballast and blood. With all this, Avata orders quiet in the sea and subdues the fitful rages of the tides. Without Avata, the sea screams its fury in rock and ice; it whips the winds of hot madness. Without Avata, the rage of the sea returns to smother this globe in blackness and a thin white horizon of death. This is so because we make it so -- Avata: barometer of life. Atom to atom to molecule; molecule to chain and chain winding around and around the magnificence of light; then c