... it is reasonable to hope
that in the not too distant future
we shall be competent to understand
so simple a thing as a star.
— A. S. Eddington, 1926
"Makakai, are you ready?"
Jacob ignored the tiny whirrings of motors and valves in his metal cocoon. He lay still. The water lapped gently against the bulbous nose of his mechanical whale, as he waited for an answer.
One more time he checked the tiny indicators on his helmet display. Yes, the radio was working. The occupant of the other waldo whale, lying half submerged a few meters away, had heard every word.
The water was exceptionally clear today. Facing downward, he could see a small leopard shark swim lazily past, a bit out of place here in the deeper water offshore.
"Makakai... are you ready?"
He tried not to sound impatient, or betray the tension he felt building in the back of his neck as he waited. He closed his eyes and made the delinquent muscles relax, one by one. Still, he waited for his pupil to speak.
"Yesss... let'sss do it!" came the warbling, squeaky voice, at last. The words sounded breathless, as if spoken grudgingly, in lieu of inhalation.
A nice long speech for Makakai. He could see the young dolphin's training machine next to his, its image reflected in the mirrors that reflected his faceplate. Its gray metal flukes lifted and fell slightly with the swell. Feebly, without their power, her artificial fins moved, sluggishly under the transient, serrated surface of the water.
She's as ready as she'll ever be, he thought. If technology can wean a dolphin of the Whale-Dream, now's the time we'll find out.
He chinned the microphone switch again. "All right, Makakai. You know how the waldo works. I will amplify any action you make, but if you want the rockets to cut in, you'll have to give the command in English. Just to be fair, I have to whistle in trinary to make mine work."
"Yesss!" she hissed. Her waldo's gray flukes thrashed up once and down with a boom and a spray of saltwater.
With a half muttered prayer to the Dreamer, he touched a switch releasing the amplifiers on both Makakai's waldo and his own, then cautiously turned his arms to set the fins into motion. He flexed his legs, the massive flukes thrust back jerkily in response, and his machine immediately rolled over and sank.
Jacob tried to correct but overcompensated, making the waldo tumble even worse. The beating of his fins momentarily made the area around him a churning mass of bubbles, until patiently, by trial and error, he got himself righted.
He pushed off again, carefully, to get some headway, then arched his back and kicked out. The waldo responded with a great tail-slashing leap into the air.
The dolphin was almost a kilometer off. As he reached the top of his arc, Jacob saw her fall gracefully from a height of ten meters to slice smoothly into the swell below.
He pointed his helmet beak at the water and the sea came at him like a green wall. The impact made his helmet ring as he tore through tendrils of floating kelp, sending a golden Garibaldi darting away in panic as he drove downwards.
He was going in too steep. He swore and kicked twice to straighten out. The machine's massive metal flukes beat at the water to the rhythmic push of his feet, each beat sending a tremor up his spine, pressing him against the suit's heavy padding. When the time was right, he arched and kicked again. The machine ripped out of the water.
Sunlight flashed like a missile in his left window, its glare drowning the dim glow of his tiny instrument panel. The helmet computer chuckled softly as he twisted, beak down, to crash into the bright water once again.
As a school of tiny silver anchovies scattered before him, Jacob hooted out loud with exhilaration.
His hands slipped along the controls to the rocket verniers, and at the top of his next arc he whistled a code in trinary. Motors hummed, as the exoskeleton extended winglets along its sides. Then the boosters cut in with a savage burst, pressing the padded headpiece upward with the sudden acceleration, pinching the back of his skull as the waves swept past, just below his hurtling craft.
He came down near Makakai with a great splash. She whistled a shrill trinary welcome. Jacob let the rockets shut off automatically and resumed the purely mechanical leaping beside her.
For a time they moved in unison. With each leap Makakai grew more daring, performing twists and pirouettes during the long seconds before they struck the water. Once, in midair, she rattled off a dirty limerick in dolphin, a low piece of work, but Jacob hoped they'd recorded it back at the chase boat. He'd missed the punch line at the crashing end of the aerial cycle.
The rest of the training team followed behind them on the hovercraft. During each leap he caught sight of the large vessel, diminished, now, by distance, until his impact cut off everything but the sounds of splitting water, Makakai's sonar squeaking, and the rushing, phosphorescent blue-green past his windows.
Jacob's chronometer indicated that ten minutes had passed. He wouldn't be able to keep up with Makakai for more than a half hour, no matter how much amplification he used. A man's muscles and nervous system weren't designed for this leap-and-crash routine.
"Makakai, it's time to try the rockets. Let me know if you're ready and we'll use them on the following jump."
They both came down into the sea and he worked his flukes in the frothy water to prepare for the next leap. They jumped again.
"Makakai, I'm serious now. Are you ready?"
They sailed high together. He could see her tiny eye behind a plastic window as her waldo-machine twisted before slicing into the water. He followed an instant later.
"Okay, Makakai. If you don't answer me, we'll just have to stop right now."
Blue water swept past, along with a cloud of bubbles, as he pushed along beside his pupil.
Makakai twisted around and dove down instead of rising for another leap. She chattered something almost too fast to follow in trinary... about how he shouldn't be a spoilsport.
Jacob let his machine rise slowly to the surface. "Come dear, use the King's English. You'll need it if you ever want your children to go into space. And it's so expressive! Come on. Tell Jacob what you think of him."
There were a few seconds of silence. Then he saw something move very fast below him. It streaked upward and, just before it hit the surface, he heard Makakai's voice shrilly taunt:
"Ch-chase me, ch-chump! I fly-y-y!"
With the last word, her mechanical flukes snapped back and she leaped out of the water on a column of flame.
Laughing, he dove to give himself headway and then launched into the air after his pupil.
Gloria handed him the strip chart as soon as he finished his second cup of coffee. Jacob tried to make his eyes focus on the squiggly lines, but they swam back and forth like ocean swells. He handed the chart back.
"I'll look at the data later. Can you just give me a summary? And I'll take one of those sandwiches now, too, if you'll let me clean up."
She tossed him a tuna on rye and sat on the countertop, her hands on the edges to compensate for the swaying of the boat. As usual, she was wearing next to nothing. Pretty, well endowed, and with long black hair, the young biologist wore next to nothing very well.
"I think we have the brainwave information we need now, Jacob. I don't know how you did it, but Makakai's attention span in English was at least twice normal. Manfred thinks he's found enough associated synaptic clusters to give him a boost in his next set of experimental mutations. There are a couple of nodes that he wants to expand in the left cerebral lobe of Makakai's offspring.
"My group is happy enough with the present. Makakai's facility with the waldo-whale proves that the current generation can use machines."
Jacob sighed. "If you're hoping these results will persuade the Confederacy to cancel the next generation of mutations, don't count on it. They're running scared. They don't want to have to rely forever on poetry and music to prove that dolphins are intelligent. They want a race of analytical tool users, and giving codewords to activate a rocket waldo just won't qualify. Twenty to one Manfred gets to cut."
Gloria reddened. "Cutting! They're people, a people with a beautiful dream. We'll carve them into engineers and lose a race of poets!"
Jacob put down the crust of his sandwich. He brushed crumbs away from his chest. Already he regretted having said anything.
"I know, I know. I wish things could go a little slower, too. But look at it this way. Maybe the fins'll be able to put the Whale-Dream into words someday. We won't need trinary to discuss the weather, or Aborigine-pidgin to talk philosophy. They'll be able to join the chimps, thumbing their metaphorical noses at the Galactics while we put on an act of being dignified adults."
Jacob raised his hand to cut her off. "Can we discuss this later? I'd like to stretch out for a little while, and then go down and visit with our girl."
Gloria frowned for a moment, then smiled openly.
"I'm sorry, Jacob, you must really be tired. But at least today, finally, everything worked."
Jacob allowed himself to return her grin. On his broad face the toothy smile brought out lines around his mouth and eyes.
"Yes," he said, rising to his feet. "Today everything worked."
"Oh by the way, while you were down, there was a call for you. It was an Eatee! Johnny was so excited about it that he barely remembered to take a message. I think it's around here somewhere."
She pushed aside the lunch dishes and plucked up a slip of paper. She handed it to him.
Jacob's bushy eyebrows knotted together as he looked down at the message. His skin was taut and dark from a mixture of ancestry and exposure to sun and saltwater. The brown eyes tended to narrow to fine slits when he concentrated. He brought a callused hand to the side of his hooked, amerind nose and struggled with the radio operator's handwriting.
"I guess we all knew that you worked with Eatees," Gloria said. "But I sure didn't expect to get one on the horn out here! Especially one that looks like a giant broccoli sprout and talks like a Minister of Protocol!"
Jacob's head jerked up.
"A Kanten called? Here? Did he leave his name?"
"It should be down there. Is that what it was? A Kanten? I'm afraid I don't know my aliens that well. I'd recognize a Cynthian or a Tymbrimi, but this one was new to me."
"Um... I'm going to have to call somebody. I'll clean up the dishes later so don't you touch them! Tell Manfred and Johnny I'll be down in a little while to visit with Makakai. And thanks again." He smiled and touched her shoulder lightly, but as he turned his expression quickly relapsed to one of worried preoccupation.
He passed on through the forward hatch, clutching the message. Gloria looked after him for a moment. She picked up the data charts and wished she knew what it would take to hold the man's interest for more than an hour, or a night.
Jacob's cabin was barely a closet with a narrow fold-down bunk, but it offered enough privacy. He pulled his portable teli out of a cabinet near the door and set it on the bunk.
There was no reason to assume that Fagin had called for any other purpose than to be sociable. He had, after all, a deep interest in the work with dolphins.
There had been a few times, though, when the alien's messages had led to nothing but trouble. Jacob considered not returning the Kanten's call.
After a moment's hesitation, he punched out a code on the face of the teli and settled back to compose himself. When he came right down to it, he couldn't resist an opportunity to talk with an E.T., anywhere, anytime.
A line of binary flashed on the screen, giving the location of the portable unit he was calling. The Baja E.T. Reserve. Makes sense, Jacob thought. That's where the Library is. There was the standard warning against contact with aliens by Probationary Personalities. Jacob looked away with distaste. Bright points of static filled the space above the blankets and in front of the screen, and then Fagin stood, en-replica, a few inches away.
The E.T. did look somewhat like a giant sprout of broccoli. Rounded blue and green shoots formed symmetrical, spherical balls of growth around a gnarled, striated trunk. Here and there tiny crystalline flakes tipped a few of the branches, forming a cluster near the top around an invisible blowhole.
The foliage swayed and the crystals near the top tinkled from the passage of air the creature exhaled.
"Hello, Jacob," Fagin's voice came tinnily out of midair. "I greet you with gladness and gratitude and with the austere lack of formality upon which you so frequently and forcefully insist."
Jacob fought back a laugh. Fagin reminded him of an ancient Mandarin, as much for the fluting quality of his accent as for the convoluted protocol he used with even his closest human friends.
"I greet you, Friend-Fagin, and wish you well with all respect. And now that that's over, and before you say even a word, the answer is no."
The crystals tinkled softly. "Jacob! You are so young and yet so perspicacious! I admire your insight and ability to divine my purpose in calling you!"
Jacob shook his head.
"Neither flattery nor thickly veiled sarcasm, Fagin. I insist on speaking colloquial English with you because it's the only way I have a chance of avoiding getting screwed whenever I deal with you. And you know very well what I'm talking about!"
The alien shook, giving a parody of a shrug.
"Ah, Jacob, I must bow to your will and use the highly esteemed honesty of which your species should be so proud. It is true that there is a slight favor for which I had the temerity to ask. But now that you have given me your answer... based no doubt on certain past unpleasant occurrences, most of which nevertheless turned out for the best... I shall simply drop the subject.
"Would it be possible to inquire how your work with the proud Client species 'porpoise' proceeds?"
"Uh, yes, the work is going very well. We had a breakthrough today."
"That is excellent, I am certain that it could not have happened without your intervention. I heard that your work there was indispensable!"
Jacob shook his head to clear it. Somehow Fagin had taken the initiative again.
"Well, it's true I was able to help out early on with the Water-Sphinx problem, but since then my part hasn't been all that special. Hell, anyone could have done what I've been doing here lately."
"Oh, that is something that I find very hard to believe!"
Jacob frowned. Unfortunately, it was true. And from now on the work here at the Center for Uplift would be even more routine.
A hundred experts, some more qualified in porp-psych than he, were waiting to step in. The Center would probably keep him on, partly out of gratitude, but did be really want to stay? Much as be loved dolphins and the sea, he'd found himself more and more restless lately.
"Fagin, I'm sorry I was so rude at first. I'd like to hear what you called me about... provided you understand that the answer is still probably no."
Fagin's foliage rustled.
"I had the intention of inviting you to a small and amicable meeting with some worthy beings of diverse species, to discuss an important problem of a purely intellectual nature. The meeting will be held this Thursday, at the Visitors Center in Ensenada, at eleven o'clock. You will be committed to nothing if you attend."
Jacob chewed on the idea for a moment.
"E.T.'s, you say? Who are they? What's this meeting about?"
"Alas, Jacob, I am not at liberty to say, at least not by teli. The details will have to wait until you come, if you come, on Thursday."
Jacob immediately became suspicious. "Say, this 'problem' isn't political, is it? You're being awfully close."
The image of the alien was very still. Its verdant mass rippled slowly, as if in contemplation.
"I have never understood, Jacob," the fluting voice finally resumed, "why a man of your background takes so little interest in the interplay of emotions and needs which you call 'politics.' Were the metaphor appropriate, I would say that politics is 'in my blood.' It certainly is in yours."
"You leave my family out of this! I only want to know why it's necessary to wait until Thursday to find out what all of this is about!"
Again, the Kanten hesitated.
"There are... aspects of this matter which would best not be spoken over the ether. Several of the more thalamic of the contesting factions in your culture might misuse the knowledge if they... overheard. However, let me assure you that your part would be purely technical. It is your knowledge we wish to tap, and the skills you have been using at the Center."
Bull! Jacob thought. You want more than that.
He knew Fagin. If he attended this meeting the Kanten undoubtedly would try to use it as a wedge to get him involved in some ridiculously complicated and dangerous adventure. The alien had already done it to him on three occasions in the past.
The first two times Jacob hadn't minded. But he'd been a different sort of person then, the kind who loved that sort of thing.
Then came the Needle. The trauma in Ecuador had changed his life completely. He had no desire to go through anything like it again.
And yet, Jacob felt a powerful reluctance to disappoint the old Kanten. Fagin had never actually lied to him, and he was the only E.T. he'd met who was unabashedly an admirer of human culture and history. Physically the most alien creature he knew, Fagin was also the one extraterrestrial who tried hardest to understand Earthmen.
I should be safe if I simply tell Fagin the truth, Jacob thought. If he starts applying too much pressure I'll let him know about my mental state — the experiments with self-hypnosis and the weird results I've been getting. He won't push too hard if I appeal to his sense of fair play.
"All right." he sighed. "You win, Fagin. I'11 be there. Just don't expect me to be the star of the show."
Fagin's laughter whistled with a flavor of woodwinds. "Do not be concerned about that, Friend-Jacob! In this particular show no one will mistake you for the star!"
The Sun was still above the horizon as he walked along the upper deck toward Makakai's quarters. It loomed, dim and orange among the sparse clouds in the west — a benign, featureless orb. He stopped at the rail for a moment to appreciate the colors of the sunset and the smell of the sea.
He closed his eyes and allowed the sunlight to warm his face, the rays penetrating his skin with gentle, browning insistence. Finally, he swung both legs over the rail and dropped to the lower deck. A taut, energized feeling had almost replaced the day's exhaustion. He began to hum a fragment of a tune — out of key, of course.
A tired dolphin drifted to the edge of the pool when he arrived. Makakai greeted him with a trinary poem too quick to catch, but it sounded amiably nasty. Something about his sex life. Dolphins had been telling humans dirty jokes for thousands of years before men finally started breeding them for brains and for speech, and began to understand. Makakai might be a lot smarter than her ancestors, Jacob thought, but her sense of humor was strictly dolphin.
"Well," he said. "Guess who's had a busy day."
She splashed at him, more weakly than usual, and said something that sounded a lot like "Br-r-a-a-a-p you!"
But she moved in closer when he hunkered down to pat his hand into the water and say hello.
The old North American governments had razed the Border Strip years ago, to control movements to and from Mexico. A desert was made where two cities once touched.
Since the Overturn, and the destruction of the oppressive "Bureaucracy" of the old syndical governments, Confederacy authorities had maintained the area as parklands. The border zone between San Diego and Tijuana was now one of the largest forested areas south of Pendleton Park.
But that was changing. As he drove his rented car southward on the elevated highway, Jacob saw signs that the belt was returning to its old purpose. Crews worked on both sides of the road, cutting down trees and erecting slender, candy-striped poles at hundred-yard intervals to the west and east. The poles were shameful. He looked away.
A large green and white sign loomed where the line of poles crossed the highway.
New Boundary: Baja Extraterrestrial Reserve
Tijuana Residents Who Are Non-Citizens
Report to City Hall for Your Generous
Jacob shook his head and grunted. "Oderint Dum Metuant." Let them hate, so long as they fear. So what if a person has lived in a town his entire life. If he hasn't got the vote, he's got to move out of the way when progress comes along.
Tijuana, Honolulu, Oslo, and half a dozen other cities were to be included when the E.T. Reserves expanded again. Fifty or sixty thousand Probationers, both permanent and temporary, would have to move to make those cities "safe" for perhaps a thousand aliens. The actual hardship would be small, of course. Most of Earth was still barred to E.T.'s, and non-Citizens still had plenty of room. The government offered large reparations as well.
But once again there were refugees on Earth.
The city suddenly resumed at the southern edge of the Strip. Many of the structures followed a Spanish or Spanish-Revival style, but overall the city showed the architectural experimentation typical of a modern Mexican town. Here the buildings ran in whites and blues. Traffic on both sides of the highway filled the air with a faint electric whine.
All over the town, green and white metallic signs, like the one at the border, heralded the coming change. But one, near the highway, had been defaced with black spray paint. Before it passed out of sight, Jacob caught a glimpse of the raggedly written words "Occupation" and "Invasion."
A Permanent Probationer did that, he thought. A Citizen wasn't likely to do anything so kinky, with hundreds of legal ways to express his opinion. And a Temporary Probie, sentenced to probation for a crime, wouldn't want his sentence lengthened. A Temporary would recognize the certainty of being caught.
No doubt some poor Permanent, facing eviction, had vented his feelings, not caring about the consequences. Jacob sympathized. The P.P. was probably in custody by now.
Although he was not particularly interested in politics, Jacob came from a political family. Two of his grandparents had been heroes in the Overturn, when a small group of technocrats had succeeded in bringing the Bureaucracy tumbling down. The family policy toward the Probation Laws was one of vehement opposition.
Jacob had been of a habit, the last few years, of avoiding memories of the past. Now, though, an image came forcefully to mind.
Summer school in the Alvarez Clan compound in the hills above Caracas... in the very house where Joseph Alvarez and his friends had made their plans thirty years before... there was Uncle Jeremey lecturing while Jacob's cousins and adopted cousins listened, all respectful expressions on the outside and seething summer boredom within. And Jacob fidgeted in the back corner, wishing he could get back to his room and the "secret equipment" he and his stepsister Alice had put together.
Suave and confident, Jeremey was then still in early middle age, a rising voice in the Confederacy Assembly. Soon he would be leader of the Alvarez clan, edging aside his older brother James.
Uncle Jeremey was telling about how the old Bureaucracy had decreed that everyone alive would be tested for "violent tendencies" and that all who failed would from then on be under constant surveillance — Probation.
Jacob could remember the exact words his uncle had spoken that afternoon, when Alice had come sneaking into the library, excitement radiating from her twelve-year-old face like something about to go nova.
"... They went to great efforts to convince the populace," Jeremey said in a low rumbling voice, "that the laws would cut down on crime. And they did have that effect. Individuals with radio transmitters in their rumps often think twice about causing trouble to their neighbors.
"Then, as now, the Citizens loved the Probation Laws. They had no trouble forgetting the fact that they cut through every traditional Constitutional guarantee of due process. Most of them lived in countries that had never had such niceties anyway.
"And when a fluke in those laws allowed Joseph Alvarez and his friends to turn the Bureaucrats themselves out on their ears — well, the jubilant Citizens just loved Probation testing even more. It did the leaders of the Overturn no good to push the issue at the time. They were having enough trouble setting up the Confederacy...."
Jacob thought he would scream. Here was old Uncle Jeremey gabbing on and on about all that old nonsense, and Alice — lucky Alice whose turn it was to risk the oldsters' ire and listen in on the tap they'd placed on the house deepspace receiver — what was it she had heard!
It had to be a starship! It would be only the third of the great slow vessels ever to come back! That was the only possible explanation for the call up of the Space Reserves or for all the excitement in the east wing, where the adults kept their labs and offices.
Jeremey was still expounding on the public's continuing lack of compassion, but Jacob neither saw nor heard him. He kept his face rigid and still as Alice leaned over to whisper — no, gasp in her excitement — into his ear.
"... Aliens, Jacob! They're bringing extraterrestrials! In their own ships! Oh, Jake, the Vesarius is bringing home Eatees!"
It was the first time Jacob had ever heard that word. He had often wondered if Alice was the one to coin it. At ten years of age, he recalled, he had wondered if "eatee" implied that someone else was to be designated "eaten."
As he drove above the streets of Tijuana, it occurred to him that the question still hadn't been answered.
In several major intersections one corner edifice had been removed and a rainbow-colored "E.T. Comfort Station Kiosk" installed. Jacob saw several of the new low open-decked busses equipped to carry humans and aliens who slithered, or walked three meters tall.
As he passed City Hall, Jacob saw about a dozen "Skins" picketing. At least they looked like Skins: people wearing furs and waving toy plastic spears. Who else would dress that way in this sort of weather?
He turned up the volume on the car's radio and pressed the voice-select.
"Local news," he said. "Key words: Skins, City Hall, picketing."
After only a moment of delay a mechanical voice spoke from behind the dashboard with the slightly flawed inflection of a computer-generated news report. Jacob wondered if they'd ever get the voice tone right.
"Newsbrief summary." The artificial voice had an Oxford accent. "Precis: today, January 12, 2246, oh-nine forty one, good morning. Thirty seven persons are picketing the Tijuana City Hall in a legal manner. Their registered grievance is, summarized in abstract, the expansion of the Extraterrestrial Reserve. Please interrupt if you wish a fax or verbal presentation of their registered protest manifesto."
The machine paused. Jacob said nothing, already wondering if he wanted to hear the rest of the precis. He was already well acquainted with the Skins' protest against the implication of the Reserves: that some humans, at least, weren't fit to associate with aliens.
"Twenty-six of the thirty-seven members of the protest group carry probation transmitters," the report continued. "The rest are, of course, Citizens. This compares to a ratio of one probationer per hundred and twenty-four Citizens in Tijuana in general. By their demeanor and dress the protestors can be tentatively described as proponents of the so-called Neolithic Ethic, colloquially, 'Skins.' As none of the citizens has invoked privacy privilege, it can be said for certain that thirty of the thirty-seven are residents of Tijuana and the rest are visitors..."
Jacob stabbed the cutoff button and the voice died in mid-sentence. The scene at City Hall had long ago passed out of sight and it was an old story anyway.
The controversy over the expansion of the E.T. Reserve reminded him, though, that it had been almost two months since he last visited his Uncle James in Santa Barbara. The old bombast was probably up to his protruding ears, by now, in lawsuits on behalf of half of the probies in Tijuana. Still, he would notice if Jacob left on a long trip without saying good-bye, either to him or to the other uncles, aunts, and cousins of the rambling, rambunctious Alvarez clan.
Long trip? What long trip? Jacob thought suddenly. I'm not going anywhere!
But that corner of his mind he'd set aside for such things had caught scent of something in this meeting Fagin had called. He felt a sense of anticipation, and simultaneously a wish to suppress it. The feelings would have been intriguing, if they weren't already so familiar.
He rode on for a time in silence. Soon the city gave way to open countryside, and traffic reduced to a trickle. For the next twenty kilometers he drove with the sunshine warm on his arm and a pattern of doubts playing tag in his mind.
In spite of the restlessness he had felt recently, he was reluctant to admit that it was time to leave the Center for Uplift. The work with dolphins and chimps was fascinating, and far more equable (after the first tumultuous weeks during the Water-Sphinx affair) than his old profession as a scientific-crime investigator had been. The staff at the Center was dedicated and, unlike so many other scientific enterprises on Earth these days, they had high morale. They were doing work that had tremendous intrinsic value and would not be made instantly obsolete when the Branch Library in La Paz became completely operational.
But most important, he had made friends, and those friends had been supportive during the last year or so as he began the slow process of knitting together the schismed portions of his mind.
Gloria especially. I'm going to have to do something about her if I stay, Jacob thought. And more than the comradely heavy breathing we've done so far. The girl's feelings were becoming obvious.
Before the disaster in Ecuador, the loss that had brought him to the Center in the first place seeking work and peace, he would have known what to do and had the courage to do it. Now his feelings were a morass. He wondered if he would ever again consider more than a casual love relationship.
It had been a long two years since Tania's death. It had been lonely, at times, in spite of his work, his friends, and the ever fascinating games he played with his mind.
The ground became hilly and brown. Watching the cacti go by, Jacob sat back to enjoy the slow rhythm of the ride. Even now, his body swayed slightly with the motion as if he were still at sea.
The ocean glistened blue beyond the hills. The nearer the curving road took him to the meeting place, the more he wished he was aboard a boat out there: watching for the first hunched back and raised fluke of the year's Grey Migration, listening for the whale's Song of the Leader.
He rounded one hill to find the parking strips on both sides of the road lined solid with little electric runabouts like his own. On the crests of the hills up ahead were scores of people.
Jacob pulled his vehicle over into the automatic guideway on the right, where he could cruise slowly and take his eyes off the highway. What was going on here? Two adults and several children unloaded a car by the left side of the road, taking out picnic baskets and binoculars. They were clearly excited. They looked like a typical family on a weekday outing, except that all of them wore bright silver robes and golden amulets. Most of the people on the hill above them were similarly garbed. Many had small telescopes, aimed up the road at something that was obscured from Jacob's view by the hill on the right.
The crowd on that hill wore their caveman gear with panache. These Compleat Cro-Magnons compromised. They had their own telescopes, as well as wristwatches, radios, and megaphones, to back up their flint axes and spears.
It wasn't surprising that the two groups settled on opposite hilltops. The only thing that the Shirts and Skins ever agreed on was their hatred of the Extraterrestrial Quarantine.
A huge sign spanned the highway at the crest between the two hills.
BAJA CALIFORNIA EXTRATERRESTRIAL RESERVE
Probationaries Not Admitted Without Authorization
First Time Visitors Please Stop At The Information Center
No Fetishes Or Neolithic Garments Please
Check "Skins" in at Information Center.
Jacob smiled. The "papers" had had a field day with that last command. There were cartoons on every channel which depicted visitors to the Reserve being forced to peel off their dermis, while a pair of snakelike E.T.'s looked on approvingly.
The parked cars jammed together at the top. When Jacob's car reached that point, the Barrier came into view.
In a wide swatch of barren ground that stretched from east to west, another line of barber poles ran, this one complete. The colors had faded from many of the smooth posts. Dust coated the round lamps that capped the tops.
The ubiquitous P-trackers acted here as a visible sieve, allowing Citizens to pass freely in and out of the E.T. Reserve but warning probationers to stay out, and aliens to stay within. It was a crude reminder of a fact that most people carefully ignored: that a large part of humanity wore imbedded transmitters because the larger part didn't trust them. The majority didn't want contact between extraterrestrials and those deemed "prone to violence" by a psychological test.
Apparently, the Barrier did its job well. The crowds on both sides grew thicker up ahead, and the costumes wilder, but the mob stopped in a clump just north of the line of P-posts. Some of the Shirts and Skins were probably Citizens, but they kept on this side with their friends — out of politeness or perhaps as a protest.
The crowds were thickest just north of the Barrier. Here the Shirts and Skins shoved signs at quickly passing motorists.
Jacob kept in the guideway and looked about, shading his eyes from the glare and enjoying the show.
A young man on the left, wrapped in silver sateen from throat to toe, held up a placard that said, "Mankind Was Uplifted Too; Let Our E.T. Cousins Out!"
Just across the roadway from him a woman held a banner tacked to a spearshaft: "We did it Ourselves... Eatees off Earth!"
There was the controversy in a nutshell. The whole world waited to see if the believers in Darwin, or those who followed Von Daniken, were right. The Skins and Shirts were only the more fanatical fringes of a split that had divided humanity into two philosophical camps. The issue: how did Homo-Sapiens originate as a thinking being?
Or was that all the Shirts and Skins represented?
The former group took their love of aliens to almost a pseudo-religious frenzy. Hysterical Xenophilia?
The Neoliths, with their love of caveman garb and ancient lore; were their cries for "Independence from E.T. Influence" based on something more basic — fear of the unknown, the powerfully alien? Xenophobia?
Of one thing Jacob was sure. The Shirts and Skins shared resentment. Resentment of the Confederacy's cautious compromise policy towards E.T.'s. Resentment of the Probation Laws which kept so many of them in a form of Coventry. Resentment of a world in which no man any longer knew his roots for certain.
An old, unshaven man caught Jacob's eye. He squatted by the road, hopped up and down and pointed at the ground between his legs, shouting in the dust kicked up by the crowd. Jacob slowed down as he approached.
The man wore a fur jacket and hand-sewn leather breeches. His shouting and jumping grew more frenzied as Jacob neared.
"Doo-Doo!" He screamed, as if delivering a terrible insult. Froth appeared on his lips and he again pointed to the ground.
Puzzled, Jacob slowed the car almost to a stop.
Something flew past his face from the left and cracked against the window on the passenger side. There was a bang on the roof and within seconds a fusillade of small pebbles was striking the car, making a drumming that pounded in his ears.
He ran up the window on his left side, yanked the car out of automatic, and surged ahead. The flimsy metal and plastic of the runabout dimpled every time a missile struck it. Suddenly there were faces leering in Jacob's side windows; young tough faces with drooping mustaches. The youths ran along the side of the car as it sluggishly accelerated, hammering on it with fists and shouting.
With the Barrier only a few meters away, Jacob laughed and decided to find out what they wanted. He eased off a trifle on the accelerator and turned to mouth a question at the man who ran next to him, an adolescent dressed as a twentieth-century science fiction hero. The crowd by the side of the road was a blur of placards and costumes.
Before he could speak the car was shaken by a jolting bang. A hole had appeared in his windshield and a burning smell filled the little cab.
Jacob gunned the car toward the Barrier. The row of barber poles whizzed by and suddenly he was alone. In his rearview mirror he saw his entourage gather together. The youths shouted as he drove off, raising fists from the sleeves of futuristic robes. He grinned and opened the window to wave back.
How am I going to explain this to the rental company? he thought. Shall I say that I was attacked by forces of the Imperial Ming or do you think they'll believe the truth?
There was no question of calling the police. The local constabulary would be unable to make a move without starting with a P-Search. And a few P-Transmitters among so many would be lost for sure. Besides, Fagin had asked him to be discreet in coming to this meeting.
He rolled down the windows to let a breeze carry away the smoke. He poked at the bullet hole in his windshield with the tip of his small finger and smiled bemusedly.
You actually enjoyed that, didn't you, he thought.
It was one thing to let the adrenaline flow, and quite another to laugh at danger. His sense of elation during the fracas at the Barrier worried a part of Jacob more than the mysterious violence of the crowd did... a symptom out of his past.
A minute or two passed, then a tone sounded from the dashboard.
He looked up. A hitchhiker? Out here? Down the road, less than half of a kilometer away, a man by the curb held his watch out into the path of the guidebeam. Two satchels rested on the ground beside him.
Jacob hesitated. But here inside the Reserve only Citizens were allowed. He pulled over to the curb, just a few meters past the man.
There was something familiar about the fellow. He was a florid little man in a dark grey business suit and his paunch jiggled as he heaved two heavy bags to the side of Jacob's car. His face was perspiring as he bent over the door on the passenger's side and peered in.
"Oh boy, what heat!" he moaned. He spoke standard English with a thick accent.
"No wonder no one uses the guideway!" he went on, mopping his brow with a handkerchief. "They drive so fast to catch a little tiny breeze, don't they? But you are familiar, we must have met somewhere before. I am Peter LaRoque... or Pierre, if you wish. I am with Les Mondes."
"Oh. Yes, LaRoque. We've met before. I'm Jacob Demwa. Hop in, I'm only going as far as the Information Center, but you can get a bus from there."
He hoped that his face didn't show his feelings. Why hadn't he recognized LaRoque when he was still moving? He might not have stopped.
It wasn't that he had anything in particular against the man... other than his incredible ego and his inexhaustible store of opinions, which he would thrust upon anyone at the smallest opportunity. In many ways he was probably a fascinating personality. He certainly had a following in the Danikenite press. Jacob had read a number of LaRoque's articles and enjoyed the style, if not the content.
But LaRoque had been a member of the press corps that had chased him for weeks after he'd solved the Water-Sphinx mystery, and one of the least tactful at that. The final story in Les Mondes had been favorable, and beautifully written as well. But it hadn't been worth the trouble.
Jacob was glad that the press hadn't been able to find him after the still earlier Ecuadorian fiasco, that mess at the Vanilla Needle. At that time LaRoque would have been too much to bear.
Right now he was having trouble believing LaRoque's obviously affected "Origin" accent. It was even thicker than the last time they'd met, if possible.
"Demwa, ah, of course!" the man said. He stuffed his bags behind the passenger seat and got in. "The maker and purveyor of aphorisms! The connoisseur of mysteries! You're here maybe to play puzzle games with our noble interplanetary guests? Or perhaps you are going to consult with the Great Library in La Paz?"
Jacob re-entered the guideway, wishing he knew who had started the "National Origins Accent" fad, so he could strangle the man.
"I'm here to do some consultant work and my employers include extraterrestrials, if that's what you mean. But I can't go into details."
"Ah yes, so very secret!" LaRoque wagged a finger playfully. "You should not tease a journalist so! Your business I might make my business! But you, you must surely wonder what brings the ace reporter of Les Mondes to this desolate place, no?"
"Actually," Jacob said, "I'm more interested in how you came to be hitchhiking in the middle of this desolate place."
"A desolate place, indeed! How sad it is that the noble aliens who visit us should be stuck here and in other wastelands such as your Alaska!"
"And Hawaii and Caracas and Sri Lanka, the Confederacy Capitols," Jacob said. "But as to how you came to be..."
"How I came to be assigned here? Yes, of course, Demwa! But maybe we can amuse ourselves with your renowned deductive talents. You perhaps can guess?"
Jacob suppressed a groan. He reached forward to pull the car out of the guideway and put more weight onto the accelerator pedal.
"I've got a better idea, LaRoque. Since you don't want to tell me why you were standing there in the middle of nowhere, perhaps you'd be willing to clear up a little mystery for me."
Jacob described the scene at the Barrier. He left out the violent ending, hoping that LaRoque hadn't noticed the hole in the windshield, but he carefully described the behavior of the squatting man.
"But of course!" LaRoque cried. "You make it easy for me!
"You know the initials of this phrase you used, 'Permanent Probationer,' that horrible classification which denies a man his rights, parenthood, the franchise..."
"Look, I agree already! Save the speech." Jacob thought for a moment. What were the initials?
"Oh... I think I see."
"Yes, the poor fellow was only striking back! You Citizens, you call him Pee-Pee... so is it not simple justice that he accuse you of being Docile and Domesticated? Ergo the doo-doo!"
Jacob laughed, despite himself. The road began to curve.
"I wonder why all those people were gathered at the Barrier? They seemed to be waiting for somebody."
"At the Barrier?" LaRoque said. "Ah yes. I hear that happens every Thursday. Eatees from the Center go up to look at non-Citizens and they in turn come down to look at an Eatee. Droll, no? One doesn't know which side throws the peanuts!"
The road turned around one hill and their destination was in sight.
The Information Center, a few kilometers north of Ensenada, was a sprawling compound of E.T. quarters, public museums and, hidden around back, barracks for the border patrol. In front of a broad parking lot stood the main structure where first-time visitors took lessons in Galactic Protocol.
The station was on a small plateau, between the highway and the ocean, commanding a broad view over both. Jacob parked the car near the main entrance.
LaRoque was chewing, red-faced, on some thought. He looked up suddenly.
"You know I was joking, just then, when I spoke about peanuts. I was only making a joke."
Jacob nodded, wondering what had got into the man. Strange.
Jacob helped LaRoque carry his bags to the bus station, then made his way around the main building to find a place outside to sit. Ten minutes remained before he was due at the meeting.
Where the compound overlooked a small harbor he found a patio with shade trees and picnic tables. He chose one table to sit on and rested his feet on the bench. The touch of the cool ceramic tile and the breeze off the ocean penetrated his clothing and drew away the redness from his skin and the perspiration from his clothes.
For a few minutes he sat quietly, letting the hard muscles of his shoulders and lower back relax one by one, sloughing off the tension of the drive. He focused on a small sailboat, a daycraft with jib and main colored greener than the ocean. Then he let a trance come down over his eyes.
Floating. One at a time he examined the things his lenses revealed to him and then he canceled them. He concentrated on his muscles one by one, to cut off sensation and tension. Slowly his limbs grew numb and distant.
An itch in his thigh persisted, but his hands remained in his lap until it left of its own accord. The salt smell of the sea was pleasant but equally distracting. He made it go away. He shut off the sound of his heartbeat by listening to it with undivided attentoon until it became too familiar to notice.
As he had for two years, Jacob guided the trance through a cathartic phase, in which images came and went startlingly fast in healing pain, as two pieces, split apart, tried again to fuse whole. It was a process that he never enjoyed.
He was alone, almost. All that remained was a background of voices, murmuring subvocal snatches of phrases at the edge of meaning. For a moment he thought he could hear Gloria and Johnny arguing about Makakai, then Makakai herself chattering something irreverent in pidgin-trinary.
He guided each sound away gently, waiting for one that came, as usual, with predictable suddenness: Tania's voice calling something he couldn't quite understand as she fell past him, arms outstretched. He still heard her as she fell the rest of the twenty miles to the ground, becoming a tiny speck and then disappearing... still calling.
That little voice too faded, but this time it left him more uneasy than usual.
A violent, exaggerated version of the incident at the Zone Boundary flashed through his mind. Suddenly he was back, this time standing among the Probationers. A bearded man dressed as a Pictish Shaman held out a pair of binoculars and nodded insistently.
Jacob picked them up and looked where the man pointed. Its image warped by heat waves rising from the highway, a bus rolled to a stop just on the other side of a line of candy-striped poles that stretched to each horizon. Each pole seemed to reach all the way up to the sun.
Then the image was gone. With practiced indifference, Jacob let go of the temptation to think about it and allowed his mind to go completely blank.
Silence and Darkness.
He rested in a deep trance, relying on his own internal clock to signal when the time to emerge was near. He moved slowly among patterns that had no symbols and long familiar meanings that eluded description or remembrance, patiently looking for the key he knew was there and that he'd someday find.
Time was now a thing like any other, lost in a deeper passage.
The calm dark was pierced, suddenly, by a sharp pain driving past all of his mind's isolation. It took a moment, an eternity that must have been a hundredth of a second, to localize it. The pain was a bright blue light that seemed to stab at his hypnosis sensatized eyes through closed lids. In another instant, before he could react, it was gone.
Jacob struggled for a moment with his confusion. He tried to concentrate solely on rising to consciousness while a stream of panicky questions popped like flashbulbs in his mind.
What subconscious artifact had that blue light been? A corner of neurosis that defends itself so fiercely has to mean trouble! What hidden fear did I probe?
As he emerged, hearing returned.
There were footsteps ahead. He picked them out from the sounds of the wind and sea, but in his trance they seemed like the soft padding ostrich feet might make if clothed in mocassins.
The deep trance finally broke, several seconds after the subjective burst of light. He opened his eyes. A tall alien stood in front of him, a few meters away. His immediate impression was of tallness, whiteness, and huge red eyes.
For a moment the world seemed to tilt.
Jacob's hands flew to the sides of the table and his head sank as he steadied himself. He closed his eyes.
Some trance! he thought. My head feels as if it's about to crash through the Earth and come out the other side!
He rubbed his eyes with one hand, then carefully looked up once again.
The alien was still there. So it was real. It was humanoid, standing at least two meters tall. Most of its slender body was covered by a long silvery robe. The hands, folded in front in the attitude of Respectful Waiting, were long, white and glossy.
A very large round head bowed forward on a slender neck. The lidless, red, columnar eyes and the lips of the alien's mouth were huge. They dominated the face, on which a few other small organs served purposes unknown to him. This species was new to Jacob.
The eyes glowed with intelligence.
Jacob cleared his throat. He still had to fight off waves of dizziness.
"Excuse me.... Since we haven't been introduced, I... don't know how I'm to address you, but I assume you're here to see me?"
The big, white head nodded deeply in assent.
"Are you with the group tbe Kanten Fagin asked me to meet?"
Again, the alien nodded.
I suppose that means yes, Jacob thought. I wonder if he can speak, what with any imaginable kind of mechanism lurking behind tbose huge lips.
But why was the creature just standing there? Was there something in its attitude...?
"Am I to assume that, that yours is a client species and you are waiting for permission to speak?"
The "lips" separated slightly and Jacob caught a glimpse of something bright and white. The alien nodded again.
"Well then speak up, please! We humans are notoriously short on protocol. What's your name?"
The voice was surprisingly deep. It hissed out of barely widened mouth with a pronounced lisp.
"I am Culla, Shir. Thank you. I have been shent to make sure that you were not losht. If you will come with me, the othersh are waiting. Or, if you prefer you can continue to meditate until the appointed time."
"No, no let's go, by all means," Jacob rose to his feet unsteadily. He closed his eyes for a moment to clear his mind of tbe last shreds of the trance. Sooner or later he would have to sort out what had happened, while he'd been under, but that would have to wait.
Culla turned and walked with a slow, fluid gait toward one of the side doorways to the Center.
Culla was apparently a member of a "client" species — one whose period of indenture to its "patron" species was still active. Such a race rated low on the galactic pecking order. Jacob, mystified as he still was by the intricacies of galactic affairs, was glad that a lucky accident had won for humanity a better, if insecure, place on the hierarchy.
Culla led him upstairs to a large oaken door. He opened it without announcement and preceded Jacob into the meeting room.
Jacob saw two human beings and, besides Culla, two aliens: one short and furry, the other smaller still, and lizardlike. They were seated on cushions between some large indoor shrubs and a picture window overlooking the bay.
He tried to sort his impressions of the aliens before they noticed him, but had only a moment before someone spoke his name.
"Jacob, my friend! How kind it is for you to come and share with us your time!" It was Fagin's fluting voice. Jacob looked quickly about the room. "Fagin, where...?"
"I am here."
He looked back at the group by the window. The humans and the furry E.T. were rising to their feet. The lizard-alien remained on its cushion.
Jacob adjusted his perspective and suddenly one of the "indoor shrubs" was Fagin. The old Kanten's silver-tipped foliage tinkled softly as if there were a breeze.
Jacob smiled. Fagin presented a problem whenever they met. With humanoids, one looked for a face, or something that served the same purpose. Usually it took only a little time to find a place in an alien's strange features on which to focus.
There was almost always a part of the anatomy that one learned to address as the seat of another awareness. Among humans and very often among E.T.'s, this focus was in the eyes.
A Kanten has no eyes. Jacob guessed that the bright silver objects that made the sound of tiny sleigh bells were Fagin's light receptors. If so, it still didn't help. One had to look at the whole of Fagin, not at some cusp of the ego. It made Jacob wonder which was the larger improbability: that he liked the alien despite this handicap, or that he still felt uneasy with him despite years of friendship.
Fagin's dark leafy body approached from the window in a series of twists that brought successive root-knots to the fore. Jacob gave him one medium-formal bow and waited.
"Jacob Alvarez Demwa, a-Human, ul-Dolphin-ul-Chimp, we welcome you. It pleases this poor being to sense you today, once again." Fagin spoke clearly, but with an uncontrolled singsong quality which made his accent sound like mixed Swedish and Cantonese. The Kanten did much better speaking dolphin or trinary.
"Fagin, a-Kanten, ab-Linten-ab-Siqul-ul-Nish, Mihorki Keephu. It pleases me to see you once again." Jacob bowed.
"These venerable beings have come to exchange their wisdom with yours, Friend-Jacob," Fagin said. "I hope you are prepared for formal introductions."
Jacob set his mind to concentrate on the convoluted species names of each alien, at least as much as on their appearance. Patronymics and multiple client names would tell a great deal about the status of each. He nodded for Fagin to proceed.
"I will now formally introduce you to Bubbacub, a-Pil, ab-Kisa-ab-Soro-ab-Hul-ab-Puber-ul-Gello-ul-Pring, of the Library Institute."
One of the E.T.'s stepped forward. Jacob's initial gestalt was of a four-foot, gray teddy bear. But a wide snout and fringe of cilia around the eyes belied that impression.
This was Bubbacub, director of the Branch Library! The Branch Library at La Paz consumed almost all of the meager trade balance which Earth had accumulated since contact. Even so, much of the prodigous effort of adapting a tiny "suburban" Branch to human referents was donated by the huge galactic Institute of the Library, as a charity, to help the "backward" human race catch up with the rest of the galaxy. As head of the Branch, Bubbacub was one of the most important aliens on Earth! His species name also implied high status, higher even than Fagin's!
The "ab" something-to-the-fourth meant that Bubbacub's species had been nurtured into sentience by another which had in turn been nurtured by another, and so forth back to the mythical beginning at the time of the Progenitors... and that four of these generations of "Parentals" were stlll alive somewhere in the galaxy. To be derived from such a chain meant status in a diffuse galactic culture whose every spacefaring species (with the possible lone exception of humanity) was brought up out of semi-intelligent savagery by some previous, space-traveling race.
The "ul" something squared said that the Pil race had in turn fostered two new cultures on their own. This too was status.
The one thing that had prevented the complete snubbing of the "orphan" human race by the Galactics was the fortunate fact that man had himself fostered new intelligent races twice before the Vesarius had brought Contact with the E.T. civilization home to Earth.
This series is set in a future universe in which no species can reach sentience without being "uplifted" (genetically brought to sapience) by a patron race, which then "owns" the uplifted species for 100,000 years. But the greatest mystery of all remains unsolved: who uplifted humankind? Earth has no known link to the Progenitors — and that terrifies client and patron species alike. Should its inhabitants be allowed to exist?
The uplift saga began with Sundiver, and continued with Startide Rising and The Uplift War. A second series — the Uplift Trilogy — began with Brightness Reef, continued in Infinity's Shore, and concluded with Heaven's Reach.
SUNDIVER is set in a future in which no species has ever reached for the stars without the guidance of a patron - except perhaps Earth's. Did some mysterious race begin the uplift of humanity aeons ago? And if so, why did they abandon us?
Copyright © 1980 by David Brin. All rights reserved.
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David Brin's science fiction novels have been New York Times Bestsellers, winning multiple Hugo, Nebula and other awards. At least a dozen have been translated into more than twenty languages. They range from bold and prophetic explorations of our near-future to Brin's Uplift series, envisioning galactic issues of sapience and destiny (and star-faring dolphins!).
Short stories and novellas have different rhythms and artistic flavor, and Brin's short stories and novellas, several of which earned Hugo and other awards, exploit that difference to explore a wider range of real and vividly speculative ideas. Many have been selected for anthologies and reprints, and most have been published in anthology form.
Since 2004, David Brin has maintained a blog about science, technology, science fiction, books, and the future — themes his science fiction and nonfiction writings continue to explore.
Who could've predicted that social media — indeed, all of our online society — would play such an important role in the 21st Century — restoring the voices of advisors and influencers! Lively and intelligent comments spill over onto Brin's social media pages.
David Brin's Ph.D in Physics from the University of California at San Diego (the lab of nobelist Hannes Alfven) followed a masters in optics and an undergraduate degree in astrophysics from Caltech. Every science show that depicts a comet now portrays the model developed in Brin's PhD research.
Brin's non-fiction book, The Transparent Society: Will Technology Force Us to Choose Between Freedom and Privacy?, continues to receive acclaim for its accuracy in predicting 21st Century concerns about online security, secrecy, accountability and privacy.
Brin speaks plausibly and entertainingly about trends in technology and society to audiences willing to confront the challenges that our rambunctious civilization will face in the decades ahead. He also talks about the field of science fiction, especially in relation to his own novels and stories. To date he has presented at more than 200 meetings, conferences, corporate retreats and other gatherings.
Brin advises corporations and governmental and private defense- and security-related agencies about information-age issues, scientific trends, future social and political trends, and education. Urban Developer Magazine named him one of four World's Best Futurists, and he was cited as one of the top 10 writers the AI elite follow. Past consultations include Google, Microsoft, Procter & Gamble, and many others.
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