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Chapter Three

From the web of communications links interconnecting UNSA's manned and unmanned space vehicles with orbiting and surface bases all over the solar system, to the engineering and research establishments at places such as Houston, responsibility for the whole gamut of Navcomms activities ultimately resided in Caldwell's office at the top of the Headquarters Building. It was a spacious and opulently furnished room with one wall completely of glass, looking down over the lesser skyscrapers of the city and the ant colony of the pedestrian precincts far below. The wall opposite Caldwell's huge curved desk, which faced inward from a corner by the window, was composed almost totally of a battery of display screens that gave the place more the appearance of a control room than of an office. The remaining walls carried a display of color pictures showing some of the more spectacular UNSA projects of recent years, including a seven-mile-long photon-drive star probe being designed in California and an electromagnetic catapult being constructed across twenty miles of Tranquillitatis to hurl lunar-manufactured structural components into orbit for spacecraft assembly.

Caldwell was behind his desk and two other people were sitting with Lyn at the table set at a T to the desk's front edge when a secretary ushered Hunt in from the outer office. One of them was a woman in her mid- to late forties, wearing a high-necked navy dress that hinted of a firm and well-preserved figure, and over it a wide-collared jacket of white-and-navy check. Her hair was a carefully styled frozen sea of auburn that stopped short of her shoulders, and the lines of her face, which was not unattractive in a natural kind of way beneath her sparse makeup, were clear and assertive. She was sitting erect and seemed composed and fully in command of herself. Hunt had the feeling that he had seen her somewhere before.

Her companion, a man, was smartly attired in a charcoal three-piece suit with a white shirt and two-tone gray tie. He had a fresh, clean-shaven look about him and jet-black hair cut short and brushed flat in college-boy fashion, although Hunt put him at not far off his own age. His eyes, dark and constantly mobile, gave the impression of serving an alert and quick-thinking mind.

Lyn flashed Hunt a quick smile from the side of the table opposite the two visitors. She had changed into a crisp two-piece edged with pale orange and was wearing her hair high. She looked distinctly un-"groped."

"Vic," Caldwell announced in his gravelly bass-baritone voice, "I'd like you to meet Karen Heller from the State Department in Washington, and Norman Pacey, who's a presidential advisor on foreign relations." He made a resigned gesture in Hunt's direction. "This is Dr. Vic Hunt. We send him to Jupiter to look into a few relics of some extinct aliens, and he comes back with a shipful of live ones."

They exchanged formalities. Both visitors knew about Hunt's exploits, which had been well publicized. In fact Vic had met Karen Heller once very briefly at a reception given for some Ganymeans in Zurich about six months earlier. Of course! Hadn't she been the U.S. Ambassador to—France, wasn't it, at the time? Yes. She was representing the U.S. at the UN now, though. Norman Pacey had met some Ganymeans too, it turned out—in Washington—but Hunt hadn't been present on that occasion.

Hunt took the empty chair at the end of the table, facing along the length of it toward Caldwell's desk, and watched the head of wiry, gray, close-cropped hair while Caldwell frowned down at his hands for a few seconds and drummed the top of his desk with his fingers. Then he raised his craggy, heavily browed face to look directly at Hunt, who knew better than to expect much in the way of preliminaries. "Something's happened that I wanted to tell you about earlier but couldn't," Caldwell said. "Signals from the Giants' Star started coming in again about three weeks ago."

Even though he should have known about such a development if anyone did, Hunt was too taken aback for the moment to wonder about it. As months passed after the sole reply to the first message transmitted from Giordano Bruno at the time of the Shapieron's departure, he had grown increasingly suspicious that the whole thing had been a hoax—that somebody with access to the UNSA communications net had somehow arranged a message to be relayed back from some piece of UNSA hardware located out in space in the right direction. He was open-minded enough to admit that with an advanced alien civilization anything could be possible, but a hoax had seemed the most likely explanation for the fourteen-hour turn-around time. If Caldwell were right, it made so much nonsense of that conviction.

"You're certain they're genuine?" he asked dubiously when he had recovered from the initial shock. "It couldn't all be a sick joke by a freak somewhere?"

Caldwell shook his head. "We have enough data now to pinpoint the source interferometrically. It's way out past Pluto, and UNSA does not have anything anywhere near it. Besides, we've checked every bit of traffic through all our hardware, and it's clean. The signals are genuine."

Hunt raised his eyebrows and exhaled a long breath. Okay, so he'd been wrong on that one. He shifted his gaze from Caldwell to the notes and papers lying along the middle of the table in front of him, and frowned as another thought occurred to him. Like the original message from Farside, the reply from the Giants' Star had been composed in the ancient Ganymean language and communications codes from the time of the Shapieron. After the ship's departure, the reply had been translated by Don Maddson, head of the linguistics section lower down in the building, who had made a study of Ganymean during the aliens' stay. That had required considerable effort, short though the reply had been, and Hunt knew of no one else anywhere who could have handled the more recent signals that Caldwell was talking about. As a rule Hunt didn't have much time for protocol and formality, but if Maddson was in on this, he sure-as-hell should have known about it too. "So who did the translating?" he asked suspiciously. "Linguistics?"

"There wasn't any need," Lyn said simply. "The signals are coming through in standard datacomm codes. They're in English."

Hunt slumped back in his chair and just stared. Ironically that said definitely that it was no hoax; who in their right mind would forge message from aliens in English? And then it came to him. "Of course!" he exclaimed. "They must have intercepted the Shapieron somehow. Well, that's good to—" He broke off in surprise as he saw Caldwell shake his head.

"From the content of the dialogue over the last few weeks, we're pretty certain that's not the case," Caldwell said. He looked at Hunt gravely. "So if they haven't talked to the Ganymeans who were here, and they know our communication codes and our language, what does that say to you?"

Hunt looked around and saw that the others were watching him expectantly. So he thought about it. And after a few seconds his eyes widened slowly, and his mouth fell open in undisguised belief. "Je-sus!" he breathed softly.

"That's right," Norman Pacey said. "This whole planet must be under some kind of surveillance . . . and has been for a long time." For the moment Hunt was too flabbergasted to offer any reply. Little wonder the whole business had been hushed up.

"That supposition was backed up by the first of the new signals that came in at Bruno," Caldwell resumed. "It said in no uncertain terms that nothing whatsoever relating to the contact was to be communicated via lasers, comsats, datalinks, or any kind of electronic media. The scientists up at Bruno who received the message went along with that directive, and told me about it by sending a courier down from Luna. I passed the word up through Navcomms to UNSA Corporate in the same way and told the Bruno guys to carry on handling things locally until somebody got back to them."

"What it means is that at least part of the surveillance is in the form of tapping into our communications network," Pacey said. "And whoever is sending the signals, and whoever is running the surveillance, are not the same . . . 'people,' or whatever. And the ones who are talking to us don't want the other ones knowing about it." Hunt nodded, having figured that much out already.

"I'll let Karen take it from there," Caldwell said and nodded in her direction.

Karen Heller leaned forward to rest her arms lightly along the edge of the table. "The scientists at Bruno established fairly early on that they were indeed in contact with a Ganymean civilization descended from migrants from Minerva," she said, speaking in carefully modulated tones that rose and fell naturally and made listening easy. "They inhabit a planet called Thurien, in the planetary system of the Giants' Star, or 'Gistar,' to use the contraction that seems to have been adopted. While this was going on, UNSA in Washington referred the matter to the UN." She paused to look over at Hunt, but he had no questions at that point. She went on, "A special working party reporting to the Secretary General was formed to debate the issue, and the ruling finally came out that a contact of this nature was first and foremost a political and diplomatic affair. A decision was made that further exchanges would be handled secretly by a small delegation of selected representatives of the permanent-member nations of the Security Council. To preserve secrecy, no outsiders would be informed or involved for the time being."

"I had to hold things right there when that ruling came down the line," Caldwell interjected, looking at Hunt. "That was why I couldn't tell you about any of this before." Hunt nodded. Now that it had been explained, at least he felt a little better on that score.

He was still far from completely happy, however. It sounded as if there had been a typical bureaucratic overreaction to the whole thing. Playing safe was all very well up to a point, but surely this supersecrecy was taking things too far. The thought of the UN keeping everybody out of it apart from a handful of select individuals who had probably had few, if any, dealings with Ganymeans was infuriating.

"They didn't want anybody else included?" he asked dubiously. "Not even a scientist or two—somebody who knows Ganymeans?"

"Especially not scientists," Caldwell said, but volunteered nothing further. The whole thing was beginning to sound nonsensical.

"As a permanent member of the Council, the U.S.A. was informed from high up in the UN and applied sufficient pressure to be represented on the delegation," Heller continued. "Norman and myself were assigned that duty, and for most of the time since then we've been at Giordano Bruno, participating in the exchange of signals that has been continuing with the Thuriens."

"You mean everything is being handled locally from there?" Hunt asked.

"Yes. The ban on communicating anything to do with it electronically is being strictly adhered to. The people up there who know what's going on are all security-cleared and reliable."

"I see." Hunt sat back and braced his arms along the table in front of him. So far there was a mystery and some reason for being uncomfortable, but nothing that had been said so far explained what Heller and Pacey were doing in Houston. "So what's been going on?" he asked. "What have you been talking to Thurien about?"

Heller motioned with her head to indicate a lockable document folder lying by her elbow. "Complete transcripts of everything received and sent are in there," she told him. "Gregg has a full set of copies, and since you'll no doubt be involved from now on, you'll be able to read them for yourself shortly. To sum up, the first messages from Thurien asked for information about the Shapieron—its condition, the well-being of its occupants, their experiences on Earth, and that kind of thing. Whoever was sending the messages seemed concerned . . . as if they considered us a threat to it for some reason." Heller paused, seeing the look of noncomprehension that was spreading across Hunt's face.

"Are you saying they didn't know about the ship before we beamed that first signal out from Farside?" he asked.

"So it would appear," Heller replied.

Hunt thought for a moment. "So again, whoever is handling the surveillance isn't talking to whoever is sending these messages," he said.

"Exactly," Pacey agreed, nodding. "The ones handling the surveillance could hardly have not known about the Shapieron while it was here if they have any access to our communications network. There were enough headlines about it."

"And that's not the only strange thing," Heller went on. "The Thuriens that we have been in contact with seem to have formed a completely distorted picture of Earth's recent history. They think we're all set for World War III only this time interplanetary, with orbiting bombs everywhere, radiation and particle-beam weapons commanding the surface from the Moon . . . you name it."

Hunt had been growing even more bemused as he listened. He could see now why it looked as if the Shapieron couldn't have been intercepted—at least not by the Thuriens who were talking to Earth; the Ganymeans from the ship would have cleared up any misunderstandings like that straight away. But even if the Thuriens who were doing the talking hadn't intercepted the Shapieron, they had an impression of Earth nonetheless, which meant that they could only have obtained it from the Thuriens who were handling the surveillance. The impression they had obtained was wrong. Therefore, either the surveillance wasn't very effective, or the story being passed on was being distorted. But if the messages had been coming in composed in English, the surveillance methods had to be pretty effective, which therefore implied that the Thuriens passing on the story weren't passing it on straight.

But that didn't make a lot of sense, either. Ganymeans didn't play Machiavellian games of intrigue or deceive one another knowingly. Their minds didn't work that way; they were far too rational . . . unless the Ganymeans who now existed on Thurien had changed significantly in the course of the twenty-five million years that separated them from their ancestors aboard the Shapieron. That was a thought. A lot of changes could have taken place in that time. He couldn't arrive at any definite conclusions now, he decided, so the information was simply filed away for retrieval and analysis later.

"It sounds strange, all right," Hunt agreed after he had sorted that much out in his head. "They must be pretty confused by now."

"They were already," Caldwell said. "The reason they reopened the dialogue is that they want to come to Earth physically—I guess to straighten out the whole mess. That's what they've been trying to get the UN people to arrange."

"Secretly," Pacey explained in answer to Hunt's questioning look. "No public spectacles or anything like that. What it seems to add up to is that they're hoping to do some quiet checking up without the outfit that's running the surveillance knowing about it."

Hunt nodded. The plan made sense. But there was a note in Pacey's voice that hinted of things not having gone so smoothly. "So what's the problem?" he asked, shifting his eyes to glance at both Pacey and Heller.

"The problem is the policy that's been handed down from the top levels inside the UN," Heller replied. "To put it in a nutshell, they're scared of what it might mean if this planet simply opens up to a civilization that's millions of years ahead of us . . . our whole culture could be torn up by the roots; our civilization would come apart at the seams; we'd be avalanched with technology that we're not ready to absorb . . . that kind of thing."

"But that's ridiculous!" Hunt protested. "They haven't said they want to take this place over. They just want to come here and talk." He made an impatient throwing-away motion in the air. "Okay, I'll accept that we'd have to play it softly and exercise some caution and common sense, but what you're describing sounds more like a neurosis."

"It is," Heller said. "The UN's being irrational—there's no other word for it. And the Farside delegation is following that policy to the letter and operating in go-slow, stall-stall-stall mode." She waved toward the folder she had indicated earlier. "You'll see for yourself. Their responses are evasive and ambiguous, and do nothing to correct the wrong impressions that the Thuriens have got. Norman and I have tried to fight it, but we get outvoted."

Hunt caught Lyn's eye as he sent a despairing look around the room. She sent back a faint half-smile and a barely perceptible shrug that said she knew how he felt. A faction inside the UN had fought hard and for the same reasons to prevent the Farside transmissions being continued after the first, unexpected reply had come in, he remembered, but had been overruled after a deafening outcry from the world's scientific community. That same faction seemed to be active again.

"The worst part is what we suspect might be behind it," Heller continued. "Our brief from the State Department was to help move things smoothly toward broadening Earth's communications with Thurien as fast as developments allowed, at the same time protecting this country's interests where appropriate. The Department didn't really agree with the policy of excluding outsiders, but had to go along with it because of UN protocols. In other words, the U.S. has been trying to play it straight so far, but under protest."

"I can see the picture," Hunt said as she paused. "But that just says that you're becoming frustrated by the slow progress. You sounded as if there's more to it than that."

"There is," Heller confirmed. "The Soviets also have a representative on the delegation—a man called Sobroskin. Given the world situation—with us and the Soviets competing everywhere for things like the South Atlantic fusion deal, industrial-training franchises in Africa, scientific-aid programs, and so on—the advantage that either side could get from access to Ganymean know-how would be enormous. So you'd expect the Soviets to be just as impatient to kick some life into this damn delegation as we are. But they aren't. Sobroskin goes along with the official UN line and doesn't bitch about it. In fact he spends half his time throwing in complications that slow things down even further. Now when those facts are laid down side by side, what do they seem to say?"

Hunt thought over the question for a while, then tossed out his hands with a shrug. "I don't know," he said candidly. "I'm not a political animal. You tell me."

"It could mean that the Soviets are planning to set up their own private channel to fix a landing in Siberia or somewhere so that they get exclusive rights," Pacey answered. "If that's so, then the UN line would suit them fine. If the official channel stays clogged up, and the U.S. plays straight and sticks with the official channel, then guess who walks off with the bonanza. Think of the difference it would make to the power balance if a few heads of select governments around the world were quietly tipped off that the Soviets had access to lots of know-how that we didn't. You see—it all fits with the way Sobroskin is acting."

"And an even more sobering thought is the way in which the UN's policy fits in with that so conveniently," Heller added. "It could mean that the Soviets have ways that we don't even know about of pulling all kinds of strings and levers right inside the top levels of the UN itself. If that's true, the global implications for the U.S. are serious indeed."

The facts were certainly beginning to add up, Hunt admitted to himself. The Soviets could easily set up another long-range communications facility in Siberia, up in orbit, out near Luna maybe, and operate their own link to whatever was intercepting Farside's signals out beyond the edge of the solar system. Any reply coming back would probably be in the form of a fairly wide beam by the time it got to Earth, which meant that anybody could receive it and know that somebody somewhere other than the UN was cheating. But if the replies were in a prearranged code, nobody would be able to interpret them or know for whom they were intended. The Soviets might be accused, in which case they would deny the charge vehemently . . . and that would be about as much as anybody would be able to do about it.

He thought he could see now why he had been brought in on all this. Heller had given herself away earlier when she said that the U.S. had been trying to play it straight, "so far." As insurance the State Department had decided that it needed its own private line too, but nothing crude enough to be detected anywhere within a few hundred thousand miles of Earth. So who would they have sent Heller and Pacey to talk to? Who else but someone who knew a lot about Ganymeans and Ganymean technology, somebody who had also been among the first people to receive them on Ganymede?

And that was another point—Hunt had spent a lot of time on Ganymede, and he still had many close friends among the UNSA personnel there with the Jupiter Four and Jupiter Five missions. Jupiter was a long, long way from the vicinity of Earth, which meant that no receivers anywhere near Earth would ever know anything about a beam aimed toward Jupiter from the fringe of the solar system, whether the beam diverged appreciably or not. And, of course, the J4 and J5 command ships were linked permanently to Earth by laser channels . . . which Caldwell and Navcomms just happened to control. It couldn't possibly be all just a coincidence, he decided.

Hunt looked up at Caldwell, held his eye for a second, then turned his head to gaze at the two people from Washington. "You want to set up a private wire to Gistar via Jupiter to arrange a landing here, without any more messing around, before the Soviets get around to doing something," he told them. "And you want to know if I can come up with an idea for telling the people at Jupiter what we want them to do, without the risk of any Thuriens who might be bugging the laser link finding out about it. Is that right?" He turned his eyes back toward Caldwell and inclined his head. "What do I get, Gregg?"

Heller and Pacey exchanged glances that said they were impressed.

"Ten out of ten," Caldwell told him.

"Nine," Heller said. Hunt looked at her curiously. There was a hint of laughter in her expression. "If you can come up with something, we'll need all the help we can get handling whatever comes afterward," she explained. "The UN might have decided to try going it alone without their Ganymean experts, but the U.S. hasn't."

"In other words, welcome to the team," Norman Pacey completed.


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