Authors: Larry Niven
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This is for Marilyn,
who won't read fantasy unless I write it.
Another major advance in our understanding of Mars has come from analysis of the MOLA topographic data. Although relative topographic variations have been known since 1972 from Mariner 9 data, the detailed topography needed to understand many of the features on Mars is only now being provided by MGS. Even with the present elliptical orbit, MOLA is providing vertical resolutions of about 30 cm with horizontal resolutions of 300 to 400 m. MOLA has been able to provide detailed topographic information about individual features such as impact craters, volcanoes, fractures, channels, and polar deposits. One discovery is that some of the channels, including Ares Valles in whose outwash area Mars Pathfinder landed, are deeper than previously thought, indicating more water has flowed through the channels than earlier suspected. In addition, MOLA has revealed that the northern plains of Mars are extremely flat, as smooth as the Earth's oceanic abyssal plains. The smoothness of the northern plains suports the theory that they are sediments deposited in a vast ocean which once covered this area.
“Revealing the Secrets of Mars” by Nadine G. Barlow
âthe magazine of the National Space Society
390 Atomic Era.
Svetz was nearly home, but the snake was waking up.
Gravity pulled outward from the center of the extension cage as it was pulled toward present time. The view through the wall was a jitter of color and motion. Svetz lay on his back and looked up at the snake. A filter helmet showed only as a faint golden glow around its head. It wouldn't strangle on post-Industrial air, and it couldn't bite him through the inflated bubble.
A ripple ran down the feathers along its spine, a gaudy flurry of color, nine meters from head to tip of tail. It seemed to take forever. Tiny rainbow-colored wings fluttered at its neck. Its eyes opened.
The natives of â550 Atomic Era would have carved his heart out without losing that same look of dispassionate arrogance.
Svetz raised the needle rifle.
A loop of it shimmied aside as he fired. The anesthetic crystal needle shattered on the wall. The shimmy ran down the tail, while Svetz fired again and missed again. Then the tailtip snapped down and flicked the needle gun out of his hands.
Svetz cringed back.
The rainbow-feathered head lifted to study him.
1108 Atomic Era.
Watery colors around the cage took on shapes. For an instant Svetz saw startled techs, and Ra Chen yelling. Then the snake fell over him in coils, knocking the breath out of him. Coils constricted around his torso. He wriggled an arm free and reached for the needle gun, but a loop of tail coiled around his wrist.
Immobile, he looked into the ophidian face.
The hatch opened. Techs played sonic handguns along the snake's length. It went limp. Hillary Weng-Fa and Wilt Miller pulled Svetz out of the X-cage and looked him over. Other techs coiled the torpid snake on a lifter platform for transport to the Secretary-General's Vivarium.
Wrona pushed past Chairman Ra Chen to lick Svetz's face. Svetz hugged her. The touch of fur was a comfort.
“Feathers,” Ra Chen said. “Futz. Are
“Fine. Sir, I think it
not to kill me. Treat it right.”
“The picture book didn't show feathers.”
“There must be more than one kind of snake,” Svetz said. “The locals worshipped this one. I'll bet the SecGen loves it.”
“They'll find something else to worship. Svetzâ” Ra Chen's words stuck in his throat.
“Waldemar the Tenth is dead.”
“Long live the Secretary-General.” Then his fatigue-blurred mind caught up. “Wait, now. The natives were ready to cut my
out for that snake, and now we don't need it?”
Ra Chen sighed. Svetz babbled, “Or do we? Who's the next Secretary-General? Does he like animals?”
“That's being settled, I don't doubt. Take Wrona home. Get some sleep. Everything goes to hell when power changes hands.”
“If only we had a time machine!”
Willy Gorky's coming was announced. The Institute for Temporal Research had two hours to prepare.
The atmosphere as Svetz arrived was low-intensity frantic. Hum of techspeak, hum of power, three techs swearing quietly over yellow lights on a display. Some looked up from the Guide Pit as he and Wrona passed. Nobody particularly wanted to talk to Hanville Svetz, but Wrona was still a curiosity.
The Director saw Svetz in a corner quietly eating a bowl of dole yeast. He said, “Get the dog out.”
Svetz nodded and stood. He rubbed Wrona between her ears. “Home,” he told her, and turned back toward the door. She laughed with her tongue lolling.
“Home, my ass,” Ra Chen bellowed. “I need you here!”
“Make a decision, Boss.”
Ra Chen took two seconds to think. Wilt and Hillary both got along with Wrona, but Svetz could see both techs on duty in the Pit.
couldn't take her. The Zoo dogs fought with her.
“The dog stays. Good idea anyway. We'll have something to show Gorky.”
“Yes, sir. Why are we showing off for Willy Gorky?”
Ra Chen looked toward the Guide Pit. It looked impressive, and busy. He said, “Waldemar the Tenth liked extinct animals. Waldemar the Eleventh likes planets and stars, they say, and he's not a mental deficient.”
Svetz flinched. Nobody would have dared to use that term when Waldemar the Tenth was Secretary-General!
A whisper of wind from outside: limousines setting down in the drive.
“The Institute for Temporal Research has been transferred from Bureau of History to Bureau of the Sky Domainsâthat's the new title for Space Bureau. Willy Gorky's the Director. He's our new boss. Are you ready for that?”
Svetz smiled sourly. “Time will tell.”
*Â Â Â *Â Â Â *
Four Space Bureau guards flitted through the Center examining everything. One of them appeared ready to shoot Wrona. As Svetz stepped in front of her he found Ra Chen and Zeera at his elbows.
The guard listened to Svetz's assurances, but he was looking at Wrona. Wrona looked back. On command she sat, then lay down, snout on paws.
“Tie her up,” the bodyguard said, and turned away.
“We will do no such thing,” Ra Chen said.
The guard froze, then kept moving. Discussion must have taken place outside.
Willy Gorky entered with three more of his entourage. He was Svetz's height, centimeters shorter than Ra Chen, but thick through the torso, arms and legs. He was half again Svetz's weight.
“Ra Chen, a pleasure to see you again! Lovely pond,” he said.
He meant the rectangular pool outside. Ra Chen said, “It's not an extravagance. When we're pulling an X-cage home we need somewhere to dump the heat. Otherwise expensive parts melt.”
Svetz's impression was that Gorky barely heard him. He bestowed a wonderful smile on one and all and shook their hands. Svetz felt bone-breaking strength held dormant.
Wrona offered her paw. Gorky didn't notice. He was looking into the Guide Pit.
The Guide Pit was inside a knee-high wooden wall, symbol rather than barrier. There was room for five to sit and work the instruments that guided extension cages into the past. From here the Institute could run both X-cages at once, though that was rare. Gorky must have heard descriptions. It was the heart of the Institute, and now it was his.
Two men with him wore tech uniforms, white coats lined with a score of bulging pockets, scanner sets on their heads. The woman wore something else, a loose one-piece, brilliantly patterned and covered with zipped pockets. She was an inch shorter than Svetz, and slender, topped with two centimeters of ash-blond fuzz.
She came straight to Svetz, or maybe to Wrona. None of Bureau of the Sky Domains seemed to know how to treat Wrona. They'd never seen a dog.
“I'm Miya Thorsven,” she said, smiling at them both.
“Hanville Svetz, pleased to meet you. You're an astronaut?”
“Yes. And yourÂ â¦ companion is a visitor from the past?”
“Somebody else's past. Wrona's people evolved from wolves. The X-cages sometimes veer sideways in time when they're coming home. It's a quantum mechanical thing,” Svetz said as if he understood it.
“Why does she look so much like Dog?”
“You've been in the Vivarium?”
“Not yet. There's a Web site that has holograms.” Miya looked wistful. “Your achievements are wonderful.”
Svetz had captured most of the Vivarium's animals. He preened.
She asked again. “Dog?”
“Dogs never went extinct. They're contemporary. If you think of a dog as a wolf that's been civilized, then intelligent beings civilize each other. Intelligent wolves must have done that too.”
Miya nodded happily, and Svetz thought how strange it was to be lecturing an astronaut on nonhuman intelligence. He asked, “Have you met aliens?”
“No,” she said.
“How far have you been?”
Space Bureau techs were examining the Center and talking to the Institute techs on duty. The ITR techs were reluctant to answer. They looked to Ra Chen. Ra Chen and Willy Gorky ignored them all.
They were both hand wavers. Svetz saw Ra Chen's arms sweep around him to include the entire Center. Gorky stopped talking then. So did Miya Thorsven. She looked to her boss, and her worry mirrored his.