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Chapter Five

Hunt lounged back in the pilot's seat and stared absently down at the toytown suburbs of Houston while the airmobile purred along contentedly, guided by intermittent streams of binary being directed up at it from somewhere below. It was interesting, he thought, how the patterns of movement of the groundcars, flowing, merging, slowing, and accelerating in unison on the roadways below seemed to reveal some grand, centrally orchestrated design—as if they were all parts of an unimaginably complex score composed by a cosmic Bach. But it was all an illusion. Each vehicle was programmed with only the details of its own destination plus a few relatively simple instructions for handling conditions along the way; the complexity emerged as a consequence of large numbers of them interacting freely in their synthetic environment. It was the same with life, he reflected. All the magical, mystical, and supernatural forces invoked through the ages to explain it were inventions that existed in the minds of misled observers, not in the universe they observed. He wondered how much untapped human talent had been wasted in futile pursuit of the creations of wishful thinking. The Ganymeans had entertained no such illusions, but had applied themselves diligently to understanding and mastering the universe as it was, instead of how it seemed to be or how they might have wanted it to be. Maybe that was why the Ganymeans had reached the stars.

In the seat next to him, Lyn looked up from the half-completed crossword in the Interplanetary Journal of a few days earlier. "Got any ideas for this—'It sounds like a lumberjack's musical number.' What do you make of that?"

"How many letters?" Hunt asked after a few moments of thought.


Hunt frowned at the flight-systems status summaries being routinely updated on the console display in front of him. "Logarithm," he said after another pause.

Lyn thought about it, then smiled faintly. "Oh, I see . . . sneaky. It sounds like 'logger rhythm.' "


"It fits okay." She wrote the word in on the paper resting on her lap. "I'm glad that Joe Shannon had fewer problems with it than this."

"You and me both."

Shannon's confirmation that the message was understood had arrived two days earlier. The idea had occurred to Hunt and Lyn one evening while they were at Lyn's apartment, solving a puzzle in one of Hunt's books of London Times crosswords. Don Maddson, the linguistics expert at Navcomms who had studied the Ganymean language, was one of the regular compilers of the Journal puzzles and also a close friend of Hunt's. So with Caldwell's blessing, Hunt had told Maddson as much as was necessary about the Gistar situation, and together they had constructed the message transmitted to Jupiter. Now there was nothing to do but wait and hope that it produced results.

"Let's hope Murphy takes a day off," Lyn said.

"Never hope that. Let's hope somebody remembers Hunt's extension to the Law."

"What's Hunt's extension?"

" 'Everything that can go wrong, will . . . unless somebody makes it his business to do something about it.' "

The stub wing outside the window dipped as the airmobile banked out of the traffic corridor and turned to commence a shallow descent. A cluster of large white buildings standing to attention on a river bank about a mile away moved slowly around until they were centered in the windshield and lying dead ahead.

"He must have been an insurance salesman," Hunt murmured after a short silence.


"Murphy. 'Everything's going to screw up—sign the application now.' Who else but an insurance salesman would have thought of saying something like that?"

The buildings ahead grew to take on the smooth, clean lines of the Westwood Biological Institute of UNSA's Life Sciences Division. The vehicle slowed to a halt and hovered fifty feet above the roof of the Biochemistry building, which with Neurosciences and Physiology formed a trio facing the elongated bulk of Administration and Central Facilities across a plaza of colorful mosaic paving broken up by lawns and a bevy of fountains playing in the sun. Hunt checked the landing area visually, then cleared the computer to complete the descent sequence. Minutes later he and Lyn were checking in at the reception desk in the building's top-floor lobby.

"Professor Danchekker isn't in his office," the receptionist informed them as she consulted her screen. "The route-through code entered against his number is for one of the basement labs. I'll try there." She keyed in another code, and after a short delay the characters on the screen vanished in a blur of colors which immediately assembled themselves into the features of a lean, balding man wearing a pair of anachronistic gold-rimmed spectacles perched at the top of a thin, somewhat aquiline nose. His skin gave the impression of having been stretched over his bones as an afterthought, with barely enough left over to cover his defiant, outthrust chin. He didn't seem too pleased at the interruption.


"Professor Danchekker, top lobby here. I have two visitors for you."

"I am extremely busy," he replied curtly. "Who are they and what do they want?"

Hunt sighed and pivoted the flatscreen display around to face him. "It's us, Chris—Vic and Lyn. You're expecting us."

Danchekker's expression softened, and his mouth compressed itself into a thin line that twitched briefly upward at the ends. "Oh, of course. I do apologize. Come on down. I'm in the dissecting lab on Level E."

"Are you working alone?" Hunt asked.

"Yes. We can talk here."

"We'll see you in a couple of minutes."

They walked on through to the elevator bank at the rear of the lobby. "Chris must be working with his animals again," Lyn remarked as they waited.

"I don't think he's come up for air since we got back from Ganymede," Hunt said. "I'm surprised he hasn't started looking like some of them."

Danchekker had been with Hunt on Ganymede when the Shapieron reappeared in the Solar System. In fact Danchekker had made the major contribution to piecing together what was probably the most astounding part of the whole story, the more sensitive details of which still had not been cleared for publication to an unsuspecting and psychologically unprepared world.

Not surprisingly, the Ganymeans had made visits to Earth during the period that their civilization had flourished on Minerva—twenty-five million years before. Their scientists had predicted an epoch of deteriorating environmental conditions on Minerva in the form of an increasing concentration of atmospheric carbon dioxide, for which they had only a low inherent tolerance, so one of the reasons for their interest in Earth had been to assess it as a possible candidate for migration. But they soon abandoned the idea. The Ganymeans had evolved from ancestors whose biochemistry had precluded the emergence of carnivores, thus inhibiting the development of aggressiveness and ruthlessness together with most of the related traits that had characterized the survival struggle on Earth. The savagery that abounded in the environment of late-Oligocene, early-Miocene Earth made it altogether too inhospitable for the placid Ganymean temperament, and made the notion of settling there unthinkable.

These visits to Earth did, however, have one practical outcome in addition to satisfying the Ganymeans' scientific curiosity. In the course of their studies of the forms of animal life they discovered, they identified a totally new, gene-based mechanism for absorbing CO2, which gave terrestrial fauna a far higher and more adaptable inherent tolerance. It suggested an alternative approach to solving the problem on Minerva. The Ganymeans imported large numbers of terrestrial animal species back to their own planet to conduct genetic experiments aimed at transplanting the functional terrestrial coding groups into their own species, thereafter to be inbred automatically into their descendants. Some well-preserved specimens of these early terrestrial animals had been recovered from the wrecked ship on Ganymede, and Danchekker had brought many of them back to Westwood for detailed studies.

The experiments were not successful, and soon afterward the Ganymeans disappeared. The terrestrial species left on Minerva rapidly wiped out the virtually defenseless native forms, adapted and radiated to flourish across the planet, and continued to evolve. . . .

Almost twenty-five million years later—around fifty thousand years before the current period on Earth—an intelligent, fully human form had established itself on Minerva. This race was named the "Lunarians" after the first traces of their existence came to light in the course of lunar explorations being conducted in 2028, which was when Hunt had first gotten involved and moved from England to join UNSA. The Lunarians were a violent and warlike race who developed advanced technology rapidly and eventually polarized into two superpowers, Cerios and Lambia, which clashed in a final, cataclysmic war fought across the entire surface of Minerva and beyond. In the violence of this conflict Minerva had been destroyed, Pluto and the Asteroids born, and Luna orphaned.

A few survivors were left stranded on the lunar surface at the end of these events. Somehow, when at last the Moon stabilized in orbit around Earth after being captured, some of these survivors succeeded in reaching the only haven left for them in the entire solar system—the surface of Earth itself. For millennia they clung precariously to the edge of extinction, reverting to barbarism for a period and in the process losing the thread that traced their origins. But in time they grew strong and spread far and wide. They supplanted the Neanderthals, who were descended from the primates that had continued to evolve undisturbed on Earth, and eventually came to dominate the entire planet in the form of Modern Man. Only much later, when at last they rediscovered the sciences and ventured back into space, did they find the evidence to reconstruct the story of their origins.

* * *

They found Danchekker attired in a stained white lab smock, measuring and examining parts taken from a large, brown, furry carcass lying on the dissection table. It was powerfully muscled, and its fearsome, well-developed carnivore's teeth were exposed where the lower jaw of the snout had been removed. Danchekker informed them that it was an intriguing example of a relative to Daphoenodon of the Lower Miocene. Despite its evidently distinct digitigrade mode of locomotion, moderately long legs, and heavy tail, its three upper molars distinguished it as an ancestor of Amphicyon and through it of all modern bears—unlike Cynodesmus, of which Danchekker also had a specimen, whose upper dentition of two molars put it between Cynodictis and contemporary Canidae. Hunt took his word for it.

Hunt had practically insisted to Caldwell that if they succeeded in arranging a landing for a ship from Thurien, Danchekker would have to be included in the reception patty; he probably knew more about Ganymean biology and psychology than anybody else in the world's scientific community. Caldwell had broached the subject confidentially with the Director of the Westwood Institute, who had agreed and advised Danchekker accordingly. Danchekker had not needed very much persuading. He was far from happy at the manner in which the eminent personages responsible for managing Earth's affairs had been handling things, however.

"The whole situation is preposterous," Danchekker declared irritably while he was loading the instruments he had been using into a sterilizer on one side of the room. "Politics, cloak-and-dagger theatrics—this is an unprecedented opportunity for the advancement of knowledge and probably for a quantum leap in the progress of the whole human race, yet here we are having to plot and scheme as if we were dealing in illicit narcotics or something. I mean, good God, we can't even talk about it over the phone! The situation's intolerable."

Lyn straightened up from the dissecting table, where she had been curiously studying the exposed innards of Daphoenodon. "I guess the UN feels it has an obligation to humanity to play safe," she said. "It's a contact with a whole new civilization, and they figure that up front it ought to be handled by the professionals."

Danchekker closed the sterilizer lid with a bang and walked over to a sink to rinse his hands. "When the Shapieron arrived at Ganymede, the only representatives of Homo sapiens there to meet it were, as I recall, the scientific and engineering personnel of the UNSA Jupiter missions," he pointed out coolly. "They conducted themselves in exemplary fashion and had established a perfectly civilized relationship with the Ganymeans long before the ship came to Earth. That was without any 'professionals' being involved at all, apart from sending inane advice from Earth on how the situation should be managed, and which those on the spot simply laughed at and ignored."

Hunt looked across from a chair by a desk that stood in one corner of the lab, almost surrounded by computer terminal equipment and display screens. "Actually there is something to be said for the UN line," he said. "I don't think you've thought yet just how big a risk we might be taking."

Danchekker sniffed as he came back around the table. "What are you talking about?"

"If the State Department wasn't convinced that if we don't go it alone and fix a landing the Soviets will, we'd be a lot more cautious too," Hunt told him.

"I don't follow you," Danchekker said. "What is there to be cautious about? The Ganymean mind is incapable of conceiving anything that could constitute a threat to our, or anybody else's, well-being, as you well know. They simply have not been shaped by the factors that have conditioned Homo sapiens to be what he is." He waved a hand in front of his face before Hunt could reply. "And as for your fears that the Thuriens may have changed in some fundamental way, you may forget that. The fundamental traits that determine human behavior were established, not tens but hundreds of millions of years ago, and I have studied Minervan evolution sufficiently to be satisfied that the same may safely be said of Ganymeans also. On such timescales, twenty-five million years is scarcely significant, and quite incapable of giving rise to changes of the magnitude that your suggestion implies."

"I know that," Hunt said when he could get a word in. "But you're going off at a wrong tangent. That's not the problem. The problem is that we might not be talking to Ganymeans at all."

Danchekker seemed taken aback for a moment, then frowned as if Hunt should have known better. "That's absurd," he declared. "Who else could we be talking to? The original transmission from Farside was encoded in Ganymean communications format and understood, was it not? What reason is there to suppose its recipients were anything else?"

"They're talking in English now, but it's not coming from London," Hunt replied.

"But they are talking from Gistar," Danchekker retorted. "And isn't that where, from independently derived evidence, we deduced that the Ganymeans went?"

"We don't know that those signals are coming from Gistar," Hunt pointed out. "They say they are, but they've been saying all kinds of other strange things as well. Our beams are being aimed in the direction of Gistar, but we've no idea what's out there past the edge of the solar system picking them up. It could be some kind of Ganymean relay that transforms signals that our physics knows nothing about into electromagnetic waves, but then again it might not."

"Surely it's obvious," Danchekker said, sounding a trifle disdainful. "The Ganymeans left some kind of monitoring device behind when they migrated to Gistar, probably to detect and alert them to any signs of intelligent activity."

Hunt shook his head. "If that were the case, it would have been triggered by early radio over a hundred years ago. We'd have known about it long before now."

Danchekker thought about it for a moment, then showed his teeth. "Which proves my point. It responded only to Ganymean codes. We've never sent anything out encoded in Ganymean before, have we? Therefore it must be of Ganymean origin."

"And now it's talking English. Does that mean it was made by Boeing?"

"Obviously the language was acquired via their surveillance operation."

"And maybe they learned Ganymean the same way."

"You're being absurd."

Hunt threw out his arms in appeal. "For Christ's sake, Chris, all I'm saying is let's be open-minded for now and accept that we might be letting ourselves in for something we didn't expect. You're saying they have to be Ganymeans, and you're probably right; I'm saying there's a chance they might not be. That's all I'm saying."

"You said yourself that Ganymeans don't play cloak-and-dagger games and twist facts around, Professor," Lyn injected in a tone that she hoped would calm things a little. "But whoever it is seems to have some funny ideas about how to open up interplanetary relations. . . . And they've got some pretty weird ideas on how Earth is coming along these days, so somebody hasn't been talking straight to somebody somewhere. That hardly sounds like Ganymeans, does it?"

Danchekker snorted but seemed hard-pressed for a reply. The terminal on a side table by the desk saved him by emitting a call-tone. "Excuse me" he muttered, leaning past Hunt to accept. "Yes?" Danchekker inquired.

It was Ginny, calling from Navcomms HQ. "Hello, Professor Danchekker. I believe Dr. Hunt is with you. I have an urgent message for him. Gregg Caldwell said to find him and let him know right away."

Danchekker moved back a pace, and Hunt rolled his chair forward in front of the screen. "Hi, Ginny," he acknowledged. "What's new?"

"A message has come in for you from Jupiter Five." She looked down to read something below the edge of the screen. "It's from the Mission Director—Joseph B. Shannon. It reads, " 'The lab tests worked out just as you hoped. Complete file of results being assembled for transmission now. Good luck.' " Ginny looked up again. "Is that what you wanted to know?"

Hunt's face was radiating jubilation. "It sure is, Ginny!" he said "Thanks . . . a lot." Ginny nodded and tossed him a quick smile; the screen blanked out.

Hunt swiveled his chair around to find two awed faces confronting him. "I guess we can stop arguing about it," he told them. "It looks as if we'll know for sure before very much longer."



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