home | login | register | DMCA | contacts | help | donate |      


my bookshelf | genres | recommend | rating of books | rating of authors | reviews | new | | collections | | | add



We value Truth, not because we are principled, but because we are curious. We like to believe we will not tolerate manipulation of the facts. But strict knowledge of what has occurred often inflicts more damage than benefit. Mystery and mythology are safer avenues of pursuit precisely because they are open to manipulation. Truth, ladies and gentlemen, is overrated.

E. K. WHITLAW: Summary in the Impeachment Trial of Mason Singh, 2087 C.E.The Hunter Log. February 1719.573

Its the most beautiful thing Ive ever seen. It was Yoshis voice. But only Kane was visible, relaxed in his chair. He was looking off to his right, gazing out beyond the view of the imager. Kim, recalling the design of the Hunter, knew he was looking through large double windows. The overhead screen depicted the Alnitak region, the vast roiling clouds, the dark mass of the Horsehead, the brilliant nebulosity NGC2024, the giant star itself, and the sweeping rings of the Jovian world.

We thought youd not want to miss it. Emily this time. Theres nothing quite like it anywhere weve been.

She came into the picture now and sat down in the left-hand chair. I think, she said, we should have dinner tonight out on one of the terraces.

Precisely what we had in mind. That was Tripley. Kim judged from the body language of Emily and Kane that their colleagues were not physically present in the pilots room. In fact, weve made it a tradition to do that whenever weve been out here.

Something on the control board caught Kanes eye. He made adjustments, looked at his screens, and frowned. Well, thats interesting.

What is it, Markis? asked Tripleys voice.

I dont know. Were getting a return

What kind of return?

Metal. Moving almost perpendicular to the plane of the system.

Emily leaned forward to get a better look at the screen. Is that significant? I wouldnt think a chunk of irons that much out of the ordinary.

This one appears to have some definition. After a pause: But dont get excited. Im sure its nothing.

Nevertheless, Emilys face took on an aura of hope.

Markis. Tripley again.

Its on your monitor now, Kile. Were still too far away to make anything of it.

You think it might be an artificial object?

I think its a chunk of iron. He pressed a key on the control panel. So everybody knows, he said, the Foundation requires us in any unusual circumstance to record everything that happens throughout the ship until we resolve the situation. Save for private quarters, of course. We will go to full recording mode in one minute. So get your clothes on back there, kiddies.

Can we get a picture of the thing? asked Yoshi.

Its still too far away.

How far is that?

Seven hundred thousand kay. Its in orbit, about to drift behind the planet. Well lose it in a few minutes.

Not altogether, I hope, said Emily.

No chance, said Kane. They watched it drop down the sky, disappearing finally behind the rim of the big planet.

Kile, I assume we want to take a closer look?

Tripley laughed. Sure. Why not, as long as were here?

How long before we see it again? asked Yoshi.

Dont know. We didnt get enough to plot an orbit.

Just stay with it, said Tripley.

All right. Kane gave directions to the AI. If were going to pursue we should get rolling. Everybody belt down. Hunter rotated, realigned itself, and the mains fired.

Theyd been running for almost three quarters of an hour when the object reappeared. Kane tried unsuccessfully to acquire an image. Its still too far, he said.

Markis. It was the AI. The object is in a long irregular orbit. Itll decay quickly. Within about six weeks, in fact.

When will we catch up with it? asked Tripley.

Kane put the question to the AI.

Late tomorrow morning, came the answer.

Two lamps burned dimly in the pilots room.

Rings and moons dominated the windows. At 2:17 A.M., the AI woke Kane. We have definition, Markis.

The object was smooth, not the rugged piece of rock and iron one would have expected. It was shaped somewhat like a turtle-shell.

Kane studied it for almost ten minutes, enhanced it, tapped his fingers on the console, nodded to himself. Eventually he opened the intercom. Friends, he said quietly, we have an anomaly.

They padded one by one into the pilots room, in bare feet, all wearing robes. All cautiously excited. Emily looked at the overhead, the others turned to the windows, into which Kane had placed the image. Its an enhancement, he explained. But I think this is close to whats really out there.

They stared quietly. Yoshi stood near Tripley and they seemed to draw together. Emilys face shone.

Its not very big, Kane said.

How big is that?

A little more than a half meter long, maybe two-thirds as wide.

Kim could almost feel the room deflate.

It looks like a toy, said Yoshi. Something somebody just tossed overboard.

It was tumbling, turning slowly end over end.

Tripley stood near a desk lamp. He turned it off so they could see better. Just for arguments sake, he said, is there any possibility of a local lifeform?

Emily shook her head. Alnitak puts out too much UV.

But we dont really know that it couldnt happen, Tripley said.

Almost any things possible, said Emily. But lets not get ahead of ourselves here.

Antennas and sensor pods were becoming visible. Kane tapped the window. It has a Klayson ring.

It might have taken a minute for the implication to set in. A Klayson ring indicated jump capability.

Aside from the size, said Emily, anybody ever seen this kind of design before?

Kane shook his head. Ive run a search. It doesnt match up with anything.

Its a probe, said Emily. Probably left by the survey unit when it was here.

Cant be, said Kane.

Why not?

The Klayson ring.

Some probes have Klayson rings, insisted Emily.

Not this size. Its too small. We wouldnt know how to pack a jump system into a package like this. Unless theres been a major advance in the last few months.

Are you suggesting, said Yoshi, its a celestial artifact? She barely breathed the conclusion.

Kane got up, went over to the window, and studied the object. I dont want to get everybody excited, but I dont think we, or anybody we know, left this here.

They looked at one another. Tentative smiles appeared. Emily pressed her hand to her lips. Tripley glanced around the room as if he feared someone would have a more straightforward explanation. Yoshi stood unmoving in front of the windows, beside Kane.

Dont be discouraged by its size, said Kane. It might still be possible to talk to it. There might be an AI of one sort or another on board.

Let me ask a question, said Tripley. Does intelligent life have to be big?

Emily nodded. Theoretically, yes. Got to have big brains.

Theoretically. But is that really true?

No one knew.

Kane looked up from his console. He seemed to be alone in the pilots room. Kile, he said to the commlink.

Tripley and the others showed up literally within seconds.

Were getting power leakage, he told them. Its not dead.

Magnificent! Tripley jabbed his right fist in the air and turned toward the women. Ladies, he said, I do believe weve done it!

They embraced all around. Emily kissed Kanes cheek while he pretended to be annoyed, and Yoshi threw her arms around him.

From this point, said Tripley, we will proceed on the assumption that theyre alive over there.

When they overtook the turtle-shell they were looking down on the rings from a point somewhere over the north pole. Kane closed to within forty meters of the object. Hed arranged the approach so that Alnitak was behind the Hunter, to prevent its blinding the imagers.

Everybody was in the mission control center, save Kane, who stayed in the pilots room. Tripley sat down at a comm console, looked at his colleagues, and signaled to Kane, whose virtual image occupied a chair. Kane nodded and Tripley put his index finger on the transmission key. Kane had pointed out that the AI could handle all the transmissions, but the moment was a bit too historic for that.

Okay, said Kane. When youre ready

Tripley pressed the key once. Then twice. He looked up at his colleagues and beamed. Maybe, he said, the first communication

He tapped it again, three times.

between humans and their starborn siblings


has just been sent.

They looked at one another expectantly. In the windows, the turtle-shell tumbled slowly across a moonscape.

Its dark over there, said Kane.

Emily shook her head. Its too small. Its a pity. But Ill settle for the artifact.

You give up too easily, said Yoshi. Try again, Kile.

Tripley resent. One, two, three, four.

The room glowed with the colors of the rings.

I think Emilys right, said Tripley. If anybody were there, theyd certainly want to respond.

They tapped out the signal a third time. Then Yoshi sat down at the key and continued patiently to send.

Something to consider, said Kane, studying the image. He pointed at an object mounted in the nose of the turtle-shell. It looked like a bracket or fork. It might have an attack capability.

Why would they attack? asked Emily.

Youre poking a strange animal. What Im saying is that it could happen. It might be a good idea to think about it.

Theyre not going to shoot at us, said Tripley. Why would they bother? They dont even know us.

Kanes voice was unemotional. Think about our relative sizes. Were what, several hundred times as big as they are. If theres really something alive over there, Id expect them to be nervous. If our situations were reversed, I sure as hell would be.

So what are you suggesting? asked Emily.

That we be prepared to back off on short notice. Which means if I say were leaving, Ill want everyone to belt down quickly, and to do it without argument. I doubt that the occasion will arise, but I wont want to get into a discussion if it does.

Okay, Emily said, without bothering to conceal her amusement. If they shoot, we run. I dont think anybodys going to argue with that.

So whats next? asked Yoshi. They dont seem to have their radio turned on. What else can we do?

Blink the running lights, said Emily.

Tripley nodded. Okay.

Kane turned them off and then on again. Waited a few seconds. Turned them off. Turned them on.

They kept it up for a while. After a few minutes Tripley asked whether anyone else had an idea.

Yes, said Yoshi. Why dont we back away so they dont think were pushy? Let them make a move, if theyre inclined. They have to be as curious as we are.

They agreed it was worth trying, and Kane withdrew to a range of five kilometers and assumed a parallel orbit.

They spent the next few hours in a long, generally pointless and often circular discussion. The turtle-shell seemed unlikely to be a warship under any circumstances because the Alnitak region was a no-mans-land, a place that could not conceivably be of strategic value. It was also probably not a trader or commercial vessel for the same reason. And that left only survey and research, the vessel was not completely automated, and if it was in fact a vessel, then it should be staffed by scientists. But if that were so, why hadnt they responded?

Tripley suggested they try the radio again. They changed the transmission to one-three-five-seven and put it on automatic. It ran for two hours before they gave up and shut it down.

We need to start talking, said Emily, about what we do when they dont answer.

Thats easy, said Kane.

Everyone looked at him, surprised. Kane customarily avoided making policy suggestions that concerned the mission, as opposed to technical matters or the operation of the ship. We take a lot of pictures and go home.

No, said Tripley. Its out of the question.

Even if there were no other considerations, Yoshi said, they seem to be adrift and in a decaying orbit. If theres anybody in there, and we leave them, theyll die.

If we go back with nothing more than pictures, said Tripley, the scientific community would excoriate us.

I can think of three possible reasons why they arent responding, said Kane. One, it is automated. Two, theyre all dead. Three, theyre playing possum. Floating out here in a decaying orbit suggests theyre damaged. They cant run and they probably cant put up a fight. Theyre looking at a vessel of monumental dimensions, probably by far the biggest theyve ever seen. So theyre hoping well go away. Or


That help will arrive.

You think theyve been sending out a distress call?

Sure. If they can.

Do we have any way of intercepting it?

We dont know enough about their equipment. If its hypercomm, which it probably would be, wed have to be astronomically lucky to pick it up.

Emily suggested they try the radio again.

Why would it be any more likely to work this time? asked Tripley.

Theyve had time to see we mean no harm. They may feel more willing to take a chance now.

Kane directed the AI to begin sending, counting to four.

I never considered the possibility, said Tripley, that anything like this could happen. We always assumed that, in the event of contact with celestials, theyd be just like us, curious, anxious to communicate, amicable.

A new tone sounded in the speaker.

A blip.

And then a pair of blips.

And then three.

Coming from the turtle, said Kane.



Tripley banged a big hand down on the console.

They continued counting through to eight.

Joy reigned. They pumped fists, embraced, shook hands. And there were a few tears.

My God, theyre really there, said Tripley.

Are we getting this? Emily asked Kane. For the log?

The captain looked directly at the imager. Yes, he said. Theyll be watching this in classrooms a thousand years from now.

Tripley broke out four glasses and a bottle of wine.

And they got another blip.

Then a pair.

Theyre counting again, said Tripley.

Three. Five.


They looked at one another, waiting.

Eight, said Tripley. What comes after eight? Theyre waiting for an answer.

Emily shrugged. Thirteen, she said.

How do you figure?

Each number is the total of the two preceding.

Thats good enough for me, said Tripley. He switched the transmitter to manual and tapped out the response.

The signals came again: One, two, three, five, seven.

Primes, said Emily.

Tripley grinned, enjoying the game immensely. Eleven, he said.

Emily stood near the window, looking out at the tiny craft. I think its time for a visual.

Tripley agreed. Good. But what do we show them?

What are they most curious about?

Us, saidYoshi.

Yes. Tripley was beaming. Lets have someone say hello. One of the women

Why one of the women? asked Emily. I think everybody should get on the circuit. Let them see what weve got.

Okay. Lets do it this way, though. Emily, youve been looking for these people a long time. You go first.

Emily looked genuinely moved. Sure, she said. I can live with that. All right. She was already jotting down notes.

Kane was obviously vastly pleased. Their language skills might not be a good fit.

This is not for them. Its for those kids a thousand years from now.

Who are also listening to this setup, Yoshi reminded her.

Its all right. Theyll understand.

Emily sat down and signaled she was ready. Tripley adjusted her image and hit Transmit. Youre on, he told her. She looked directly into the imager and smiled her brightest smile. We know you cant understand any of this, she said, but we want to say hello to you anyhow. Greetings from Greenway. Can we assist you in any way?

The others followed. Tripley spoke with warmth of his hopes that this chance encounter would produce long-term benefits for both races. Yoshi wished a good fortune to our interstellar friends, and expressed her hope that this marked the beginning of a new era for everyone.

Finally it was Kanes turn. He didnt look as if he expected to be called on in this endeavor, but when Yoshi identified him as their captain and reported he had something to say, he rose to the occasion. Were happy to meet you. If we can be of assistance, please let us know.

With that, he switched off.

Well, said Tripley, howd we do?

I thought you guys were outstanding, said Kane.

Any sign of a response? asked Emily.

Not yet.

Kane sank back into his seat. Tripley asked whether it was likely the turtle-shell would have compatible equipment to receive a visual image. Kane assured him it would.

They waited. The minutes dragged by. And a white lamp blinked on. Incoming, said Kane.

It resembled a butterfly.

In her living room, Kim, expecting to see a misty thing, leaned forward surprised. Her pulse began to race.

The butterfly looked at them out of cool, golden eyes. They were not compound, but were rather quite mammalian. It had a thorax and mandibles and multiple sets of limbs, apparently six altogether, but it was difficult to be certain. Spotted red-gold wings moved slowly.

It wore a surprisingly mundane green blouse. The lower half of the body was not visible.

There was no physiognomy capable of supporting, in human terms, an expression. From somewhere, it was impossible to be certain where, a sound was emanating, a singsong rhythm, almost a chant, interrupted by rapid sets of clicks.

The image was being picked up on monitors in both mission control and the pilots room, and was also being displayed in the windows.

The creature was supported on a framework, presumably a chair-equivalent. A few gauges were visible on a bulkhead, and the pilots room, if thats what it was, appeared to be normal size. Curious illusion that: anyone receiving the transmission would make some egregiously false assumptions. The butterfly appeared to be of the same general dimensions as a human.

It raised its upper left limb in a gesture that must have been acknowledgment. It maintained that position for one minute, seventeen seconds. Then the screen went blank.

What happened? asked Tripley.

Kane shook its head. Apparently end of transmission, he said. I guess theyre not much for small talk.

Can we get a picture of the main hatch from outside? Emily asked Kane. Our main hatch?

Negative. We dont have anything that can acquire the angle. Why?

How about the cargo door?

We can do that.

What do you have in mind? asked Tripley.

I think we ought to send them an invitation. She explained her idea but Tripley, after hed heard her out, looked uncertain.

You think its wise?

Whats to lose? If Markis is right and the ships damaged, it might get us all off on exactly the right note.

All right, he said. Lets try it.

Kane pointed one of the port imagers at the cargo hatch, opened the air lock and turned its lights on. Emily straightened her blouse and checked her hair. When she was ready, he went to a split screen, putting her on one side and the open door on the other.

Hello again. Would you like to come on board?

The image of the miniature ship was back in the windows. It floated serenely against the star-clouds.

Emily waited. And tried again.

And a third time.

I think Im insulted, she said finally.

Whats the matter with them? Two hours had passed and Tripley could not begin to conceal his frustration. You think they saw the open door as a threat?

Dont know. Were looking at butterflies, for Gods sake. You think theyve had any experience with spiders?

So what do we do now? asked Emily.

The open door should be a universal, Tripley persisted. All it really implies is that theyre welcome. Why dont we try it again?

Let Yoshi wave at them, said Emily. Maybe shell have better luck.

Yoshi took her place in front of the imager, smiled sweetly, looked as unthreatening as she could presumably manage, and made friendly overtures.

There was still no response.

I just thought of something, she said. They probably dont realize how big we are. As individuals, I mean. Theyd expect there are thousands of us here.

Youre right, said Emily.


A physical meeting might not be a good idea. At least for now.

Transmission coming in, said Kane. Audio only. He put it on the speaker.

They were back to blips.


Two. Three.

And fourteen.

Fourteen? demanded Tripley.

Its not a series, said Yoshi.

Emily took a long deep breath. I agree. But what are they trying to tell us?

The sequence repeated. One. Two. Three.


And repeated again.

Theyre telling us to go away, said Emily. Fourteen doesnt fit the series. They want to break off.

So what do we do now? asked Tripley.

Go home, suggested Kane. Take the hint and leave. I dont think you can do anything here except cause damage.

We cant do that, Markis, said Tripley. Its crazy.

Emily looked tired. What do you suggest, Kile?

Markis, do you still think theyre adrift?

Yes. Theres no question about it.

Then we cant just leave. He was in an agony of indecision. We dont know how far they are from home. And we dont know whether theyve got help coming. He looked at Emily. Would you want to leave them here, have them get sucked into that he indicated the gas giant, and live with it for the rest of your life?

Why dont we wait to see whether anyone comes to rescue them? suggested Yoshi. If nobody shows up within a reasonable time, then we could try to take them on board.

Whats a reasonable time? asked Tripley. For all we know, theyre running out of life support while we debate. God knows how long theyve been here.

But theyre telling us, said Emily, to go away.

Yoshi frowned. Im not so sure. Maybe the message is a distress call. You break off the sequence, that means theres something wrong. Maybe they think we should recognize that. Just like we think they should recognize the open door.

Tripley was out of patience. Look, he said, whats the worst that could happen if we pick them up? We go back to Greenway

St. Johns is closer.

Greenway. Were going to need help. Well have a team waiting for us when we get there. Do whatever needs to be done for the poor bastards. Then we give them the keys to the city and send them on their way.

If it works, said Yoshi, itd be a great way to begin relations.

Then were agreed. Markis, you have any reservations?

Id keep hands off. But its your call, Kile. Ill go along with whatever you decide.

Lets do it.

How? asked Yoshi.

Tripley took a deep breath. What you said. The thing doesnt seem to have much maneuverability. Lets just take them on board.

Emily and Tripley suited up, went below, and depressurized the cargo bay.

When I tell you to, Kane instructed them, open the door. But not before. I dont want you getting a direct dose of local radiation. Well keep the star on the far side of the ship. But it still wont be safe so we want to handle this with dispatch. Once the doors open, you shouldnt have to do anything. Ill bring the turtle shell on board. But if theres a reaction and we have to maneuver, make sure you hold on to something. As soon as its inside, close up. Okay?

Okay, Markis, said Tripley.

Thrusters along the starboard hull fired and the Hunter moved sidewise toward the target.

Carrying their helmets, they went into the air lock and sat down on the bench. The screen embedded in the outer door performed all the functions of a window. Kims angle however did not reveal what they were able to see. So far theres no response, said Kane.

He took almost an hour to negotiate the distance. When he was satisfied, he signaled and Tripley opened the inner air-lock door. And then the outer.

Still nothing, said Kane. Its about two minutes away.

They moved out of the lock, giving Kane room to operate.

Were about to cut gravity. Stay clear of the object. If it does anything unexpected, let it go. Somebody dies, its a lot of paperwork, and in this situation it wouldnt take much.

You all right? Emily asked her partner.

Im fine, said Tripley.

Okay. Kanes voice was a monotone. Were about to shut gravity down. Dont make any sudden moves.

The celestial appeared outside the open air lock.

Stay clear, warned Kane. The turtle-shell will come through the door without help. When its safely inside, close up. And then give it lots of room.

The Hunters, outside lights swept across the turtle-shell. Kim noticed what she had not observed before: The geometry suggested the hyperbolic vehicle that had attached itself to the Hammersmith.

Dont worry, said Emily. Well be fine.

Im sure you will. But keep your distance until were sure its safe. When weve done that, well have to figure out how to secure for the trip home.

Maybe, said Yoshi, who was watching from the corridor, we should have talked this out a bit more.

The turtle-shell was just outside the air lock. Kane was apparently moving the Hunter gradually toward it. Tripley stood watching. He was too close. Maybe mesmerized, but his face was obscured by the helmet. Emily took him by the arm and pulled him gently out of the way.

It entered the lock. Passed through and drifted into the hold. Into the lights.

Hey, said Kane, were getting a visual.

Tripley threw a startled glance at one of the monitors. The picture of the spacecraft blinked off and was replaced by the butterfly. Its antennae were weaving and the singsong cadence had gone up an octave.

I think its frightened, said Emily.

Maybe. Tripley looked from the screen to the microship. Theyll be grateful soon enough.

Tripley started toward the air lock, intending to close it. But the ship moved. It rotated a few degrees around its own axis, pointed its prow at the open sky beyond the air-lock door, and started forward. It was a kind of lurch, as though the directing force had less than total control.

Stay clear, warned Kane. It wants out.

Emily tried to pull Tripley back. Theyre terrified, she said. Theyve just discovered how big we are. Dont make any threatening moves. And then, incredibly, she walked in front of the ship and held up her hands. Its all right, she told them. We only want to help.

Several things happened at once. Tripley punched a button and the air lock started to close. Kane snouted a warning to Emily that they couldnt hear her and to get out of the way. The butterfly image vanished from the screen.

Foolishly, Emily held her ground, blocking the vessels route back through the door, which was closing fast. Please, she said. Give us a chance.

Twin beams of red light lanced from the fork on the ships prow. They struck her squarely in the abdomen and propelled her into the air lock and sent her tumbling out the door. Tripley screamed and made a grab for her but he succeeded only in changing her course and very nearly going out himself. He stared after her retreating form, turned, and charged the turtle-shell. Kane ordered Tripley to stop. But it was too late. The mission director seized the microship and his momentum carried both of them across the chamber. They crashed into a wall and Tripley bounced away in the zero gravity, still holding tight to the celestial.

The outer door closed.

Going to one gee, Kane said.

Tripley and the microship fell to the floor.

Emily, picked up by one of the screens, continued drifting away, trailing red bubbles.

Monitoring zero Kanes voice broke. He needed a moment to regain control and finish: Zero pulse.

Yoshi was adamant. I say we turn them loose. Turn them loose, get away from here, and forget it ever happened.

They killed Emily, said Tripley. How can we just let them go?

They were scared. They wanted out.

There was no need.

Kane broke in: Nobody has more reason than I do to want the little bastards dead. He stopped and his jaw worked. But this is a special case. Yoshis right. Point them toward the hydrogen he meant the gas giant, and let them go.

Tripley shook his head. That means shed have died for nothing. What do we tell people when we get home? We found some celestials, but they didnt want to talk a whole lot. Dont know how the ship works, we didnt get a chance to ask. Dont know where theyre from. Otherwise ask us anything. By the way, we lost Emily.

What do you want to do? asked Kane.

I say we take them with us. Were committed. For Gods sake, Markis, weve paid the price. We owe it to her.

If wed used our heads

Its late for recriminations. You want me to take the blame? Okay, its my fault.

That doesnt bring her back, Kile.

I know. It was stupid. We took a chance. But weve got to make it count for something. How could we possibly walk away from this now?

**Ai7e? Yoshis voice, strained. I dont think any bodyll thank us for this.

What do you mean? How can you say that? This is it! Its the Holy Grail.

People will be happy to have the discovery, but well be a laughingstock.

Tripley shook his head desperately. You wanted to bring them on board as much as I did.

Think about it, said Yoshi. We dont know what kind of hypercomm messages theyve been sending out. Look out for the giants with their open doors. Shoot on sight. What do you think people are going to say to the pictures of you charging the ship and banging it against a wall?

Markis, is that really on the log?

Yes, Im afraid so, Kile.

My God. But the bastards are killers.

Only because they were being hijacked, insisted Yoshi. Thats the way they saw it. And the way the media will play it. Look, Im not trying to blame anybody. But we need to think about this. Reputations, careers, everythings going to go. Well even show up in the history books as dummies of the first order. Theyll be laughing at us for centuries.

They were in mission control. Emilys body had been retrieved and placed in her bunk. The celestial was centered on their screens, lying pinned by gravity to the cargo deck. We cant just throw this away, Tripley pleaded.

No one answered.

ST. JOHNS MAINTENANCE. | Infinity Beach | c