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Authors: Piers Anthony

Kirlian Quest

BOOK: Kirlian Quest
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Kirlian Quest
The Cluster Series: Book Three

Piers Anthony

 

 

Prologue

 

 

He never looked through a telescope. He was perhaps the leading research astronomer of Galaxy Milky Way: experienced, capable, intelligent, and of high-Kirlian aura. He formed an ear-horn to listen to audios, and an eye-stalk to view the graphics, and he pooled comfortably in his basin while he worked. He was a creature of repute, but by no means a hero; there was little in his makeup to suggest that he had the capacity to become involved in Cluster adventure. In fact, his type went into shock at the mere threat of extreme danger.

He specialized in Fringe-Cluster phenomena. The major galaxies of Andromeda and Milky Way did not really interest him, and the lesser structures like Pinwheel and the irregular galactic satellites were hardly more intriguing. It was the far-out fragments, dwarf ellipses, and globular star-clusters that compelled his attention. He knew more about "wild" globs and nongalactic stars than any other creature of the Cluster.

Now his attention focused on the Amoeba—a tiny pseudonebula hardly a hundred light-years in diameter. It was a nonluminous, diffuse, vague shape hidden behind the dwarf elliptoid called Furnace—itself worth contemplation as the "missing link" between the tiny globular clusters and the small elliptical galaxies. Yet the fifteen-thousand-light-year diameter of Furnace loomed monstrously compared to the tiny haze of the Amoeba. In fact, the Amoeba had not even been discovered until the past century, as it was virtually invisible to all conventional observation techniques.

The astronomer formed a second eye and contemplated a holograph of the Amoeba. It appeared to have a number of projecting pseudopods, each curving slightly; this was what had given it its name. Overall it was amazingly regular; the pseudopods seemed individual and evenly spaced.

Its discovery had been largely serendipitous, a result of the Cluster survey program instituted after the Second War of Energy. After twice narrowly averting destruction of their galaxy, the coalition of species of the Milky Way intended to keep fully informed of all future developments in the Cluster. The most powerful Segments—Qaval, Etamin, Knyfh, Lodo, and Weew—had pooled their resources and manufactured the largest fleet of spaceships ever known: 125 billion strong. But they were very small ships, any one of which an average-sized sapient could have lifted in a single appendage without effort. Each contained perceptive apparatus, mainly optical, and a tiny molecule mattermitter. They were dispersed around the entire outer surface of the Cluster, accelerating to one-tenth the speed of light and then drifting outward until they were, theoretically at least, eventually recovered by the gravity of the Cluster. Every ten years each unit mattermitted back what was visible from its quota of space. Each ship was about ten light-years from its neighbors, and so was responsible for a surface area of a hundred light-years; its report was normally current within about seven years. Thus no major intrusion into the Cluster could escape detection; the Net would report it long before the light reached the nearest galaxy.

The Net had been in operation for almost a thousand years. As the fear of alien intrusion had abated, the main beneficiaries of this expensive program had been the astronomers and stellar cartographers. The entire Cluster had been mapped with phenomenal accuracy, retroactively. For the Net reported what it saw, and it saw what the Cluster had looked like up to a million years before, because of the time it had taken the plodding light of distant stars to travel.

The section of the Net launched from Furnace had penetrated a hundred light-years into space, and picked up the Amoeba. Only two specific reports on it existed, and neither was remarkably clear, for it remained at the fringe of the Net's awareness. Only specialized research astronomers such as this one were able to perceive anything of significance there. To the untrained eye, it was only a faint haze against the backdrop of deep space. Perhaps merely a smear on the image, or some distortion of the lens.

He substituted the second holograph, taken from the same units ten years later, or one light-year closer. The image was very similar and a bit sharper, but a trifling discrepancy caught his attention. He reactivated the first holograph, projecting it in modified color, and superimposed it on the second. He grew a third eye on a long stalk, so that he could study the superimposition from three directions at once.

The two images differed, even after adjustment for slightly differing ranges. There seemed to be a slow rotation of the subject. He compensated for this, aligning the curved arms of it precisely, magnifying the smaller image until its absolute perspective exactly matched the scale of the other.

There was no doubt
The Amoeba had expanded.
The projections extended some five light-years farther than before.

What constituted the substance of this obscure, minor formation? Not gas. The refraction indices of the wan light of distant background galaxies were wrong. Not dust; that would have blotted out such light entirely. The indications were so fuzzy; there simply was no way to properly analyze a dark obscuration without
going
there, and it would take the local units of the Net the better part of another century to pass through the physical Amoeba. Mattermission directly to the Amoeba could not be used until the first receiver was delivered, and Transfer required a living host already present. A number of attempts to Transfer there had been made, all without success. There appeared to be no sapient life in the Amoeba. And why should there be? Life normally required the services of a sun; it could hardly evolve in the great abyss that was intergalactic space.

The holographs did not resolve any bodies of planetary size. Indications suggested that the Amoeba consisted of perhaps a million fragments of rock, none larger than a planetoid. An assemblage of meteoroids, like a monstrous comet, way out in Fringe-Cluster space. An anomaly! Which was what made it so intriguing.

Possibly it was the remnant of a planetary explosion, and its expansion reflected the continuing impetus of that cataclysm. Even so, there were questions. The planet could not have been formed in deep space; it had to have coalesced or come from
somewhere
. This cloud of fragments had not been traveling, for the two holographs would have shown the change in position that marked that velocity; instead the Amoeba was virtually stationary with respect to Furnace.

It had not coalesced; prior holographs going back a thousand years showed no dust cloud there. A dust or gas cloud was easier to track than a planetary body, because it spread over a much greater volume of space and obscured far more background light, however faintly. Instruments could analyze this, though it might be too subtle for the naked sapient eye. Not that such an accretion from gas or dust could have occurred in so brief a period. No, the planet had to have been there before, invisibly small, and exploded approximately two hundred years ago, after remaining quiescent for at least a hundred years.

But there had been no explosion of that magnitude. The sensors of the Net would have picked up such radiation within a few decades, instead of having to wait to come into dark-body perception range. In fact, the telescopes of Sphere Furnace would have caught it within a century—and they had not. So there had been no explosion—at least, none of the force required to propel elements of the planet outward at a significant fraction of the speed of light.

Yet the Amoeba was there, and it was growing. It could not have resulted from an explosion anyway; it was not an expanding shell of debris, but a growing semi-material structure. The arms were elongating, or extending from the center, almost like a living thing. Yet it was only gravel—wasn't it?

A mystery indeed! There had to be some explanation, for the thing existed. The astronomer did not propose to wait decades for new evidence from the Net. He was the Galaxy's leading research astronomer, and he had all the information anyone had. This was the kind of challenge that gave his life meaning!

For days he labored over his references, checking and rechecking. He did supplementary research, seeking new insights. He meditated, and viewed the holographs with as many as six eyes simultaneously, and put them on sonic translation and listened with several ears. His well-trained, subservient maid brought him food and carried away his refuse; he never moved from his basin. He would crack the riddle of the Space Amoeba before he left here!

News circulated, for nothing the ranking experts did was entirely private. A tremendous breakthrough must be in the offing! Other astronomers studied the Amoeba, hoping to upstage the master, for this was a highly competitive field. But they could not solve the mystery; data were insufficient, and there was much more pressing business. It was not as though it were an important subject, this far-distant tentacular system of dead pebbles.

Suddenly, in the privacy of his office, the researcher stiffened. @The Space Amoeba is—@ he exclaimed in his native language. Then he sank into shock.

His loyal maid summoned the authorities, and they rushed him to the medical center for treatment. But the astronomer lay puddled in his basin, oblivious. They could not revive him.

They knew that the force of his insight about the Amoeba had done it. His species was subject to such shock when faced with overwhelming danger. It was a defensive mechanism that had often saved individuals before, rendering them insensate and pliable enough to survive severe abuse. Obviously in this case there had been no direct physical threat. They knew the matter had to be supremely important, for no minor revelation would have had this effect on such an expert. Therefore it was necessary to ascertain the specific nature of the intellectual shock, in case it affected others of the culture.

No doctor of the Segment could bring the astronomer out of it. They could not fathom how the distant Amoeba could threaten anyone here, but they dared not gamble on their ignorance. So they made an arrangement with the leading shock-technician of the Cluster: a super-Kirlian entity of Sphere Slash, Andromeda, named Herald the Healer.
 

 

 

 

PART I

 

KIRLIAN

 

 

 

Chapter 1:

Abatement of Honor

 

 

&
All units drift by for geographic review.
&

0
Action units 1 through 9 drifting by.
0

X
Research units A through Z drifting by.
X

&
Target Cluster now in range. Geographic unit report.
&

G
Two full-scale Galaxies, one small Galaxy, all spiral, six ellipses, seven irregulars, assorted lesser fragments. Overall, typical small Cluster. Nomenclature of local sapients: Milky Way, Andromeda, Pinwheel, Furnace, Sculp, Cloud 9, Cloud 6.
G

&
Dispense with detail listing; local species identifiers will shortly become passé.
&

 

* * *

 

His host-body was a peculiar amalgam of loops. He was not certain whether it was all in one jointless string or whether it branched and rejoined at twisted intervals. It had no disks, feet, or treads; on a flat surface it would have been a disaster.

*There are no plane surfaces here,* the host-mind informed him. *No flatnesses. Do not be concerned. I shall convey you safely wherever you wish.*

/Appreciation,/ Herald replied, employing his own mode of intonation, though of course he used the language of Sphere Ast. /I come to encounter Whorl of Precipice./

Immediately the body moved. It twisted up and through a lattice of stone, spun around an angled ceramic column, and tied into a metal basket-frame. This in turn moved, following a flexible line through an astonishing network of shapes. Commercial transport, of course, but a far beam from the forthright geometry of Herald's own sphere.

They came into a cavern laced with stalactites. The host halted abruptly and withdrew his personality, yielding full control to the transferee. Herald realized that he had arrived.

BOOK: Kirlian Quest
12.57Mb size Format: txt, pdf, ePub
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