Wrinkled Planet (CAC Edition)

1 Conversation

1. Tlicopaloc

TLICOPALOC 2251Z 11082854



1. Survey Ship Tlicopaloc confirms A*ongi advisory of binary Terra-type planet group orbiting class M primary at 63.82113 parsecs along radiant 17S. Spectrometry indicates N2-O2-CO2-H2O atmosphere both members. Electromagnetic and subspace emanations negative.

2. Intend to perform close-range Survey per Art 3, TRSC Charter.

3. Request new Survey case and logistics as required. Tlicopaloc provisioned for 45 days.

4. Alcide Szveni, Planetology, sends.

* * *

HQ TRSC 0319Z 12082854



1. Per Art 3, Sec 2, Sub B, approval is granted.

2. TRSC case number 17S:23 established.

3. Coordinate logistical support with Bowman at TRSC Antares A-7.

4. Do it to it, Alcide!

5. diMara sends.

* * *

My very good friend Lucia diMara, thought Szveni, as he timestamped the message and relegated it to storage. That means she's our case manager for this Survey. It could be a lot worse, at least she doesn't demand the bureaucratic punctilio that Horak or Singh, for example, expected in everything. But don't ever try to slip an 'approximately' or 'inconclusive' into any report that crosses her screen. Why, the Ngamba was held over in the Crux sector an extra month, because she made them start over from scratch....

Szveni continued his musing as he left the comm terminal and took the corridor to the Captain's quarters. She's a precisionist, and that's why she was given her position at HQ. At least, he and Lucie had swapped their personal commcodes years ago, so if any glitch comes up, he could patch it off-record.

He pressed the Captain's visitor button and by reflex, checked the pocket-zips on his jumpsuit. No answer...he must be on the bridge.

Szveni rode the lift to the Operations deck, and as he stepped from the car, he heard a booming voice from the Astro/Nav chamber, ranting about damned engineers and their damned calibrations. Szveni grinned. Evidently Hargiss had asked the Captain for another planetary stop to recalibrate the Chandler drive. The Chandlers were tricky instruments, as they transposed a ship's physical location in space, and in time as well. Naturally, the T-axis vector was required to be as close to Zero as possible, and Hargiss had the best reputation in the Corps for near-true-time transpositions. But he wanted to come closer to Zero than fifteen milliseconds, which was his personal best, and well beyond the reach of any other engineer. Captain Piku Melenemeha was in the process of telling him No.

The rant stopped as Szveni entered the crystal-domed chamber. Hargiss was slumped in the navigator's chair, and Piku's ample body sat at the telescope console like a magnificent Tiki, his large eyes flicking and rolling in their sockets. 'What's the word, Sven?' he rumbled.

'We are good for the close Survey, Captain. Case 23. DiMara is our nanny for this outing, and Bowman at Antares will...what's that?'

Piku was whispering now, and Szveni vaguely heard 'Kaliki' more than once. Praying? Or cursing?

'DiMara. Why diMara? why me? Oooooooh...'

'Relax, Piku, I've known her since University, I can work with her.'

'Good then, Sven. She will be dealing with you. Exclusively. Not me. Not ever.' He stood away from the telescope console and massaged his eyesockets with his fingertips. 'Take a look at this.'

Szveni sat at the console and saw the two orbs on the screen. Distortion...He tapped up the magnification, adjusted gamma and contrast, and saw an extremely oblate blue-hazed planet with a corrugated surface. Irregular strips of dark land ran generally north-south like sinuous dunecrests, with irregular channels of water between them. He panned over to the moon, and saw a planet-sized egg, mottled with various colours, hazed by the same blue atmosphere, with the small end pointing directly at its bigger partner. There was a faint suggestion of an isthmus of blue atmosphere between the dancing couple.

'It looks like that giant moon is in a near-catastrophic synchronous-facing orbit, and tidal gravity is playing a huge role in the planetary structural dynamics,' Szveni heard himself mutter. 'Hargiss, I don't think I would want to land anywhere on these.'

Hargiss pulled himself erect in the navigator's chair and switched on his screen. 'You're right, Szveni, we need something that's at least almost spherical. Damn, this is weird.'

Piku stood with his eyes shut. 'So where can I expect to park us, Sven?'

'Ah, trojan or opposite the moon. Anything else will involve a continuing expenditure of impulse propellant. I don't think a geosynchronous orbit would be stable enough.'

'I like trojan better. We can observe both at the same time.' Captain Piku Melenemeha, his eyes still shut, walked directly to the hatchway and into the corridor toward the bridge.

* * *

Nobody knows for certain how or why the war with the A*ongi started. It began in April 2843 and lasted fourteen months. But those chlorine-breathers gave as well as they took, and military casualties were high on both sides.

Szveni's planetological studies of western North America were interrupted when he was drafted as a Wizzo, or Weapons Systems Operator, for the war. Training was brief: he was assigned to a frigate simulator for a fortnight, and learned how to track targets and press buttons. The rumour within the Wizzo quarter was that the war was started by some Junior with a twitchy finger.

Szveni then served on the frigate Yeager under Captain Piku Melenemeha, and survived the last battle. The Yeager was ambushed while on patrol, boxed in by seven A*ongi warships, each of them carefully directing their explosives toward the frigate in their midst. They were inhibited from using their high-energy weapons by the proximity of their fellows. Captain Piku ordered a tactical transposition of ten million kilometres distance, leaving a Sun-bomb in the Yeager's place. Apparently the A*ongi had Sun-bombs as well, because the ensuing multiple explosions grew to such a devastating brilliance that the Yeager's outer hull was scorched, and any eyes at any viewport were permanently scarred. Szveni was at his weapons console, so he escaped the searing glare...but Captain Piku was gazing directly at the point where the hellfire erupted.

* * *

Elder Whitthorn, the great Terran Diplomat-Linguist, spent over a year learning the basics of the A*ongi language. The * represents a sound which is reproduced with reasonable fidelity by a man blowing his nose. Some wag in the University of Languages decided that if it sounded like a splat, it should look like one. Whitthorn bravely endured this unseemliness, for the sake of correctness, and soon broadcast a subspace message to the effect of "Stop, let's talk." Whitthorn directed a Diplomatic courier ship to an airless planetoid orbiting Shaula, and met his A*ongi counterpart. The Elder's crystal space helmet, so crucial in face-to-face diplomatic encounters, was spattered with snot on the inside by the end of the meeting. The A*ongi diplomat derived great amusement from that development. Whitthorn decided that anyone who had a sense of humour couldn't be all bad, chlorine-breather or not.

It was revealed that the A*ongi were doing the same as the Terrans were, searching for habitat throughout the Sagittarius arm of the galaxy, and since the two races' requirements were mutually exclusive, there was no reason to fight. Instead, they developed a Survey liaison, and shared information on likely prospects with one another. During the ensuing decade, therefore, the Terrans would occasionally cross paths with the A*ongi, exchanging friendly greetings now instead of warheads. The expedition along 17S was a direct consequence of an A*ongi Survey.

* * *

Tlicopaloc settled into her trojan orbit, becoming an insignificant but steady partner in an orbital menage-a-trois. The cartography department began their tasks right away, and the remote-sampling crew awaited their preliminary maps.

The astronomy team extended their eyestalks and began to chart the skies. The planetary couple's host sun was a remarkable copy of the unremarkable Sol. The closest stellar object was a Deneb-class blue giant at a comfortable three parsecs. Still enough UV and IR to affect a planet's biosphere, though.

The lesser stars in the planets' sky were young, only beginning to drift away from the placental strings of proto-gravity that caused them to coalesce from dust and begin their fusion. These bright children were arrayed in chains, carelessly flung across the sky. One of these displays looked remarkably like lingerie. 'Lucie's Thong', the astros named it. Szveni grinned. Why not?

Piku might not like the reminder. Piku and Lucia had been enemies for years. When she was the Survey Commissioner's interne, there came upon her horizon a stalwart Commander of
Polynesian extraction, who was quite insistent upon introducing Lucia to Amour, Island-style. Round One to Lucia...Piku retreated with blisters on his timpani. 'Fat greasy bastard' was the kindest phrase she broadcast that night.

After the Sun-bomb incident, Piku was medically disqualified from his command and retired from the Navy. According to legend, his howl of outrage could be heard halfway to Andromeda. He applied forthwith to the Survey Corps. Space was his only home, since his island home on Earth succumbed to overpopulation. He needed a ship to be a complete man. 'A blind swine for a Captain?' Lucia sneered. Remarkably, Szveni and others were able to convince the Commission to take him in. Round Two to Piku...just barely. He still had eighteen percent of his retinas in working order.

As soon as the larger planet displayed its entire surface to the watching Tlicopaloc and the maps were developed, Szveni assigned the surveying crews their tasks.

Showtime, boys and girls....

* * *

TLICOPALOC 0338Z 22092854

TO: HQ TRSC / 17S:23 //


1. First full planetological report of the Wrinkle-Egg system is attached.

2. Raw planetological data obtained have been rendered therein as minimum/average/maximum as applicable.

3. Conclusion: not habitable.

4. Narrative report rendered separately.

5. Szveni sends.

* * *

Extracts from narrative, 17S:23

...The major partner is referred to herein as 'Wrinkle', and the minor, 'Egg', pending proper naming by the Planetary Commission.

(Geology)...The east-west cross section of the typical land mass on Wrinkle is triangular, sloping up from the eastern shoreline at an average of twelve degrees, and continuing to rise at the same slope for an average of fifteen kilometres of horizontal distance, to end at the precipitous western face. Due to the fragmented nature of the crustal materials, the western face regularly calves like a glacier, and the detritus provides the eventual substance of the next westward slope. The classic principles of tectonic activity do not apply to this situation. It is more appropriate to use the analogy of bread-dough being kneaded by the moon's gravity...The landmass is replenished from the east as a result of the local tidal cycle. A target formation of granite on one slope was found to migrate westward, and uphill, at a mean rate of 1183 metres per local month...Despite the obvious upheavals of the planet's crust, no evidence, either geologic or atmospheric, has been found of volcanic activity...The planet's water has very low levels of salt and other solubles...

(Astronomy)...The mass of Egg is 47.2 percent of Wrinkle's. Its orbital period is 198.2 (standard) hours, which gives Wrinkle a month of 11.4 local days, 17.38 hours per day. Wrinkle's rapid rotation contributes to its oblate appearance, deviating from spherical by 6.3 percent. The co-orbital radius, measured centre-to-centre, is 203,044 kilometres. The mass of Wrinkle is 103.6 percent of Terra...The rotational axis of Wrinkle is within two degrees of perpendicular to its ecliptic; Egg's orbit deviates by no more than three degrees from Wrinkle's equator...Wrinkle/Egg's solar year is 344.61 standard days.

(Meteorology)...Wrinkle's overall weather system can be divided into three classes: polar, temperate, and equatorial...The poles are persistently clouded over, and radar indicates fragments of ice swirling in polar seas that serve as tidal sumps. The warmer waters flowing into these seas reacts with the cold air, causing perpetual cloud cover; the turbulence of these seas precludes large-scale formation of pack-ice...The temperate weather zones are comparable to other well-watered Terran planets, with the exception of lower mean temperatures than expected...The tropical weather pattern is unique. It is generally clear, except for violent storms at the umbral perimeter of the monthly solar eclipses. Thunderstorms and tornados are spawned where the moon's cooling shadow encroaches upon the warm land and water. Otherwise, the mean tropical temperature is 24 degrees C, ranging between 16 at night and 40 at noon. The lunar shadow causes a drop in ambient temperature between 5 and 12 degrees....

* * *



'What the Hell do you mean, "not habitable"? Don't you realize the pressure we're under?'

'Hello Lucia. To begin with, there is no area on Wrinkle suitable for a spaceport or a city. That should be evident from the maps. The endless succession of maps. The land just doesn't stay in one place from one day to the next. The crust is plastic, and is in a perpetual state of reconstruction due to the tidal --'

'Okay, okay. What about the Egg?'

'Gravity is less than half of Earth-normal, the atmosphere is breathable but pressure never exceeds 435 millibars, its day is just under two hundred hours, and it rumbles and shakes a lot. Not a place to raise a family...'

'What if we moved the Egg to a more reasonable distance?'

'Less crustal activity on Wrinkle, to be sure. Yeah, pass that on to the Terraforming Committee, Lucia. They may make a decision within the century.'

'Believe me Alcide, they are feeling the Big Hot Poker just as much as we are.'

'Well then, moving it out about a million klicks would make things more manageable. But Lucia...'


'I didn't submit this in the report, because we just discovered it yesterday...there are humans living on Wrinkle.'

'Are you sure?'

'We have a body on the table as we speak. Recently drowned, extracted from a tidal channel.'


'How what?'

'How could they live there, if it's "not habitable", eh? How did they even get there, eh? How is it that you never even found a dead one until yesterday, eh? Eh?'

'...They would be nomadic, primitive, no permanent settlements --'

'All right Alcide, I guess those poor devils must be wondrously clever to survive there. Give me a report on everything you find on that corpse. How human is it?'

'He looks like someone I know in BerlinPraha.'

'A full report. Okay?'


'Other than that, your people did a good job, for such a freaky planet. Get your butts home, I'll buy you dinner.'

'We haven't had a good long chat for a while. I'll bring the wine.'

'Good man! Give Bowman my compliments, and ask him to procure a case of that legendary Antares wine for us. You need to resupply anyway, right?'

'Well...yes, we ought to.'

'Make haste, Alcide. I'm already waiting....'

I'll be damned, thought Szveni, if I ever officially report that other encounter. Well, perhaps if I wanted to end my career with a psychiatric disqualification, I would. I'll filter it through Lucia instead....

2. Shores of Sunrise

Dek awoke well before the sun cleared the horizon. The clan were still quietly asleep. The several score bodies lay together in a close comfortable queue on the soft dark sand, under their dark swimmer-skin robes, every head resting upslope. Raek and Anu, the Nightkeepers since last Moondark, would soon greet the sleepers with their daybreak chant. The women would rise to perform their daily ablutions, and then disperse to harvest floatweed and knockfruit along the shore. But for three fingers yet, Dek reckoned, the People would remain one long warm mass, joined in peaceful slumber.

At nightfall, Olak his father spread his robe on the sand, in the sleeping strip that the Oko, the elders of the clan, designated on the smooth slope parallel to the shore; and all the families slept close together, sharing body heat under their shared robes. Dek slept comfortably bolstered against his mother's back, and his young sister Nuunu was in her customary place, snuggled against him.

There was once a fifth warm body in the family bed. Lak, two years Dek's senior, died in a Moonshadow storm within the last year. Olak recovered his body, cleaned it, prepared it, and the father shared his son's flesh with the clan that night at the Moondark ritual.

Nuunu claimed one of Lak's thigh bones as her large tool, and after teasing out the rich marrow for the pregnant Rinu, she packed the hollow space with floatweed fibres. Dek claimed the bones of his brother's right hand as divining pieces; Lak's other various bones would be fashioned by the carvers into tanglets, spoons, robe fasteners, and other implements. Clever-fingered Nuunu crafted three fine carrying nets with his hair.

Sections of Lak's cured skin were given to the older boys, to make their own girdles and codpieces in accordance with the tribal tradition. The youth would wear his codpiece after puberty; and his chosen love would make occasion to embroider it with her designs, using her own hair.

The restless Moon had travelled the sky's length this night, and had now set beyond the upslope land to the west. The wind and water had been active that night, as if chasing the Angry One out of the world, sweeping its baleful influence away from the sleepers. The weather was calm now, and Dek could hear the distant chirping of insects upslope, as well as an occasional waterbird's cry from offshore.

Dek needed to relieve himself...wishing not to wake his mother or sister, he gathered his waist-length hair, carefully eased out of his warm space, and gently moved little Nuunu closer to Mother. Leaving his robe in its place, he grabbed his pouch from its pillow position and walked upslope to the latrine.

As he strode along, the ground becoming increasingly stony as he proceeded upslope, his surprised attention was drawn to a spark of light ahead of him in the sky. He contemplated it as he squatted astride the latrine. It was almost a span above the high western horizon, and it looked like the Bright Wanderer, but it was far too distant from the sun to be right. He would seek out Raek and Anu and ask what they saw.

They were easy to find, as they stood together robeless, a few score paces to the left of the pit and somewhat upslope. All Nightkeepers were to stand sentinel together in the calm darkness without any recourse to ease. As the troublesome Moon influenced the night, they stood closer to the clan's long nest, wrapped in their robes against the persistent wind, and keenly watched the ways of the water. But now, with the world peaceful, they stood upslope in the calm air, watching the surrounding land as well as the water.

The youth and his chosen love stood patiently, watching Dek as he approached. 'What do you make of that light in the sky, Raek?' Dek asked. He gathered his hair at the crown, attached the tanglet he one-handed from his pouch, and wound the free hair into a topknot.

Raek turned to check the spark's position in the sky. 'It's very mysterious. When the Moon was directly above, we saw it moving up from across the water, as if chasing the Moon. It stopped very suddenly, there,' Raek indicated a spot in the sky a span up from the eastern horizon, 'and it is now moving in the same way as the Moon, only later. We need to tell this to the Oko this morning.'

Anu spoke in a whisper. 'You have the sleight, Ka-Dek. Ask it its name.'

Dek nodded and felt in his pouch for the birds-leather purse containing his divining bones. He withdrew it, unfastened it, and gently tipped the bones into his cupped palm. He breathed on them and rolled them gently between his palms, silently asking the Great Spirit for Its grace; as he waited calmly for the bones to accept his hands' warmth, he whispered to the spark in the sky: 'Do you have a name? Please tell me your name. I would know your name.' A small pulse of heat came to his right hand from the bones, and squatting, he let them spill out to the ground in a gentle clatter. The word that echoed in his inner ear sounded like 'Kle-ko-pa-lok'. As he repeated this aloud, an image of broad white surfaces and smoothly curved edges floated before his inner eye.

Raek and Anu dutifully repeated the name-sound several times. Dek retrieved the bones, counted them carefully and dropped them one after another into their purse.

The first rays of the rising sun illuminated the three young people, and the two Nightkeepers looked at each other, nodded, drew breath, and sang the daybreak chant. This morning's chant included news of the light in the sky named Kle-ko-pa-lok.

* * *

Oko-Lon caught a banded watersnake, and extracted its venom and other juices for young Dek to ingest for his Ka journey. Dek had described the vision he had of a large white shell in the darkness, and every soul in the clan was curious as to its origin and purpose.

Oko-Lon contemplated the boy's fate and fortune as he mixed the potion in its knockfruit-shell vessel with a bone stirrer. Dek carried the Talent from Ka-Lunu his mother; they had both attested to his education in her womb. There was no question but that Dek was capable of hurling his Ka body to the stars. Ka-Lunu, and his cherished sister Nuunu as well, would propel him along his course with the power of their souls. A lone Ka had the unfortunate tendency to permanently remove himself from the real world; but these three Ka formed a larger stronger gestalt that would prevail over any such mischance. Until, of course, life or death separated them.

The clan was indeed fortunate, thought Oko-Lon, for this powerful Ka and her equally powerful children help the clan cope with the constant change that is life on the Shores of Sunrise. The Ka are the ones who find the homes of burrowing creatures in the dry crumbling land upslope, and the location of the large swimmers; they show us where to dig for flints; they warn us of danger; they keep the scattered clans united. They would send their Ka bodies to distant shores and meet with their widespread family.

Were it not for a strong taboo, every capable Ka would eagerly explore the Moon, that troublesome scourge of land and sea, that Fist-in-the-eye, that demon-thing that could drive poor fisher-folk to madness with its surreal beauty. Rumours have hinted of those few who dared to break the taboo, but the far-flung Ka family held these stories very close.

But this 'Kle-ko-pa-lok' light in the sky causes no taboo. It was decided amongst the Ka that Dek, being the first to divine its name, would investigate in person, and the lore of this thing would pass to the scattered clans.

Two Moondarks had passed since the light's first apparition, and the various Ka adepts around the planet had since performed their divinations. The fact was inescapable that Kle-ko-pa-lok carried sentience. The next stage of discovery awaits....

Olak prepared the Moondark fire for his son's journey. The clan sat quietly in a wide circle. The potion was ready, as was Dek, his lean body painted with Ka symbols, his hair carefully plaited, his eyes glazed by the effects of the potent knockfruit wine. Ka-Lunu and Nuunu, chanting their prayers, guided his unsteady steps toward the fire. Ka-Lunu supported Dek's body with her own in the ritual posture, as Nuunu accepted the cranium-bowl of potion from Oko-Lon.

Nuunu knelt before her brother, her stained fingers carefully holding the bowl to his stained lips. He drank, and almost immediately his glazed eyes rolled up in their sockets, his body shuddering in Ka-Lunu's firm embrace. Mother and sister then wove their separate songs about the boy shaman's head, exhorting his spirit to break free from his body and fly to his goal.

The clan, silent as stones, watched as Dek's Ka body separated and stood away from the slumped body in Ka-Lunu's arms. The boy's spirit-form saluted his family, raised his arms, and shot away in a pale streak toward the spark of light in the night sky.

3. RomaNapoli

Szveni was sprawled comfortably in Lucia's dark sleeping-alcove, attentively watching her as she stood at the window of her studio, her skin glowing like alabaster in the citylight. They shared three bottles of that literally heavenly Antares wine, and she was still sipping from her goblet. God, how can she even stand? he thought. I can barely raise my head!

'Alcide, you have been dropping hints about some paranormal experience out there, ever since you got here. I'm curious now, tell me about it.'

Amazing woman, he thought. Not even a slurred voice.
'C'm'ere, 'n' I'll tell ya.'

She laughed. 'No, no, lover boy. We distract each other too much at close range. I want to hear your big secret. I am going to fix you an espresso' -- she padded over to the kitchen alcove -- 'and you are going to talk to me.' She worked efficiently in the dim light, and soon approached the bed with a small cup. 'Drink up.'

'Mamma Lucia's de-stupefying potion?' He drank.

'Potion. Yes.' She took the empty cup back to the kitchen. 'Get up, and get your brain functioning again.' Saucy wiggle.

Alcide sat with Lucia in the citylight, and told her of the ghostly boy that visited his quarters on the Tlipocaloc.

'I was reviewing the meteorological reports at my console, when I saw this boy suddenly appear beside me. I looked at him, he looked at me, and he just...entered me, and left some...dreams in my mind. I think he tapped my memories, as well. I must have sat there for hours afterward, dreaming this boy's dreams....'

'What did he look like?'

'Very slender, wiry in fact. Pre-pubescent, but not by much. Large eyes, long braided hair, and his skin was covered with designs that were like heiroglyphs or astrological symbols...'

'How long was he with you?'

'I don't know. Just a matter of minutes, I guess...long enough to exchange memories. I learned about his culture, his family, his life on that planet....'

'Any ideas why he visited?'

'Basically, to discover what we are.'

'We can assume then, that he knows of your life as well as you know of his. It looks as though this boy circumvented Article 2.B. of the Charter.'

'Do you blame me?'

'Of course not, Alcide. Do you think he was on his own, or was he helped?'

'He belongs to a...guild of shamans scattered around Wrinkle. He was helped by his family. He gave me the impression that his visit to Tlicopaloc was a rite of passage, and his success would earn him honour.'

'So the cat is out of the bag. They all know about us by now...we need to return to Wrinkle...I would like to meet these people.'

'Article 2.B.?...'

'...No longer applies. He made first contact. What's his name?'

'Dek, or Ka-Dek now, since he succeeded. You're going there?'

'You will need another trained anthropologist on your staff for your upcoming mission to Wrinkle, Doctor Szveni. And I volunteer.'


I'll never forget the time I first boarded a starship. I suppose I can give myself points for style that day, the way I showed up in Szveni's cabin on the Tlicopaloc. 'Kle-ko-pa-lok'...well, I almost got it right.

That was a life-changing experience for me...I had never taken that much of the venom potion before; it knocked me silly. I felt as if I was dissolving, and probably would have dissipated to nothing, if Mother and Nuunu hadn't anchored my attention.

That was an incredible feeling, though, zooming up through space and into the Tlico's hull. At the time I had no conceptual background to assimilate all the metal and crystal and plastic, the flat smooth surfaces, the enclosed cubical spaces...they were totally alien to me.

Taking all that in would be too much of a distraction for the limited skills I had, so I searched for a suitable soul with which I could meld. My perception was incredibly amplified by the potion, and I could sense the proximity of scores of people, humans like myself, more of them than the population of my clan!

They were all busy working on complicated things, or sleeping, or entertaing themselves...there was one soul, partially focussed, partially dreaming, he seemed open enough. I moved through the ship directly to that soul's location, and had my first face-to-face encounter with a Terran spaceman.

I had never met such a soul! There was Szveni, working planetary dynamics through his mind like a daydreaming god! I became all nervous and distracted then, and that's when he noticed me. It was probably impolite for me to meld with him without a greeting, but I had no idea how I should greet this person. The meld didn't take long at all...what I carried away with me, though, couldn't even be partially expressed in terms that the clan would understand. It was not until Szveni came back the second time, that I could finally begin to comprehend the things I had seen.

Szveni returned four moons after our first meeting. He brought with him Lucia diMara, an extremely focussed soul, so different in her spirit that we, Mother, Nuunu and I, thought she was a different form of sentience. She did have an emotional bond of sorts with Szveni, but it was beyond us all to connect with her as a person....

5. Encounters

The clan suffered loss. Vicious blinding howling storms accompanied Moonshadow, and even though they had already dispersed upslope as usual, three people perished. Oko-Lon was lost; poor Rinu's battered body was found where it was tossed by the storm, several thousand paces away; and Olak struggled back to the camp with broken bones, Lunu helping him through the agony. His family made him as comfortable as possible that night, and he spoke long with them in his last hours. He would never again guide his canoe amongst the flotilla of fishermen, crippled as he was. At sunrise, Olak gave his farewells, and fell silent.

The clan continued. Oluk accepted responsibility as its leader after Oko-Lon's demise. Being the eldest living clansman, and thus the wisest, he was recognised by all as Oko-Luk at the ensuing Moondark.

* * *

The Terrans journeyed planetward in a small atmospheric craft, transitioning from orbital speed to a high-altitude supersonic cruise, pulling a contrail as they followed the equator from east to west.

Its speed was calculated to keep it just ahead of the dawn terminator, showing the aircraft to all observers below as a glorious plume across the sky, lit by the rising sun. This was done to announce their presence to the peoples below, and to attract the attention of Dek, the young shaman that had contacted Szveni during the first Survey.

With the craft on autopilot, Szveni sat in silence, his mind idling, conjuring up his memory of the boy, and at frequent intervals he visualised himself greeting him. He was resolved to follow this course as long as it took to make contact.

Lucia diMara busied herself with the packages of useful things that they would present to their new friends on the wrinkled planet. She tried to match her wares to the actual needs of the natives, knowing that they were unlikely to keep anything not worth carrying. But since they actually used the bones of their deceased for tools and implements, she opted for more practical items: knives, scissors, other metal tools. But the experiences of anthropologists throughout the years had taught her that sometimes the most mundane little trinket would be considered desirable, and therefore valuable, to a primitive. Sanctified party favours....

* * *

The clan were awakened earlier than usual that morning. The Nightkeepers shouted 'Kle-ko-pa-lok!' several times, at a loss for a more accurate name for that glowing streak in the sky. The people opened their eyes to a spectacle that had become commonplace in Terran skies many centuries before.

Ka-Dek instantly recognized Szveni's presence, and with his greeting provided the bearing to guide the machine toward the clan's shore. It was a moonless morning, calm and clear, and the clanspeople could see the machine growing slowly in the sky as it descended and approached.

Upon arrival it orbited the camp once, with a whispering humming sound, and came to rest a short distance upslope. The two Terrans emerged, wearing close-fitting grey clothing from throat to foot, but their hands were bare.

Szveni and diMara studied the naked people standing before them; he uttered fluent greetings and introductions in the tongue the boy had given him.

The clan's routines were thoroughly disrupted by the visitors from space, and they spent most of the day congregating on the shore, questioning, listening, sharing their supply of fish and fruit. The Terrans had no thought for barter, but opened their packs for all to share.

Oko-Luk was troubled in his mind, because here was a situation over which he had no control. He harboured no illusions about being able to challenge, or even understand, these strangers from the sky. Yet he did understand that the clan would thenceforth be divided into two contending groups: the first, resolved to continue living as before; the second, hoping and wishing for the magical capabilities that the space travellers enjoyed. The man, whom Ka-Dek had met on his first encounter, forthrightly expressed the Terrans' desire to join the clan for a number of moons. Oko-Luk stipulated that the clan's ways were to be respected.

So the Terrans adopted the lifestyle. They removed their clothing, and Szveni fashioned a codpiece with the skin that was given him. The clan named him Venik. During Ka-Dek's meld he had assimilated not only the language, but the clan's customs as well. The all-important sense of community came easily to him, and he participated fully, with facility and decorum.

Lucia diMara devoted her full educated attention to the clan's ways. She learned the routines quickly enough, and progressed slowly but steadily with the language. Ka-Lunu helped her make the bandeau that large-breasted women are accustomed to wear.

But she was possessed of a peculiar reserve, a reticence, a barrier which prevented her from joining in the communal spirit of the clan. Even the Ka adepts, responsible for understanding the deeper needs of every soul, were stymied. Opinion amongst the clanspeople, each carefully observing the observer, was split: some felt that she merely needed more time; others believed that only a crisis would shatter her barriers.

Lucia's crisis began in the form of a communication from Hq Terra reprimanding her for exceeding her authority, by making contact with the natives. She lost her survey coordinator's position, but was allowed to work under Szveni's authority as an anthropologist. She was furious at first, then remorseful; she gradually calmed enough to accept her reduced status. Lunu studied her with a discreet yet persistent concentration. The Ka woman offered a consoling Touch, to which the Terran woman was oblivious.

6. Moonshadow

Moonshadow was imminent. The baneful crescent was halfway to zenith as the Sun rose; the Sun would be engulfed most of the afternoon, as it inevitably overtook its bloated competitor in their race across the sky. The clan had taken time the previous day to cache quantities of victuals in various locations; this day saw the clanspeople scatter, moving upslope in random directions, their occasional calls to one another fading into silence. Each carried a proportionate burden of community property. Families would tend to stay close, and lovers loyally bound their bodies together as they waited for the storms to pass in their unpredictable paths.

The larger, stronger men were responsible for the canoes. They left first after daybreak, wearing their burdens as a beetle wears its carapace, indeed appearing very much like huge clumsy beetles crawling upslope in random directions.

It was decided that the expectant mothers would be flown to safety. Szveni insisted upon staying with the clan to observe the storms, so Lucia would pilot the craft. She departed as the remaining people dispersed in the troubled morning wind, taking three mothers with her in the flyer. The Terrans had shared a brief farewell embrace.

Lucia and the three mothers returned to the clan's shore well before nightfall, to find that only one had perished that day: Lemnu, Oraek's Chosen and Raek's mother, had been plucked from the slope by a howling whirlwind, and cast down again several hundred paces away. Oraek was preparing Lemnu's body for Moondark when the flyer returned.

Szveni was still absent from the congregation at sunset, as was Ka-Lunu. Perturbed, Lucia asked of her companion's whereabouts. Little Nuunu innocently informed her that they were both safe and very happy, having melded, quite thoroughly and at great length, as they huddled together in their shelter-pit.

Lucia solemnly took this in, and then retreated from the people to sit, quiet and alone, staring into the darkening East, fitfully sobbing as night slowly fell and shrouded her pale form with dim starlight.

It was bad enough, she thought, losing her berth at Hq. She could just imagine those officious bureaucrats sneering at her indiscretion. One of those self-serving glory-grabbers will take over her duties -- and claim full credit for all the meticulous work she had done. She couldn't bear to even think of returning to plead her case. She would only be ridiculed. They cast her out, but, in their laissez-faire pragmatism, allowed her to play anthropologist, since she was planetside anyway. It was good that Alcide was with her, as they understood each other and she could easily accept his authority.

She spent weeks carefully observing these people and their ways, and patiently learning their speech. She had watched Alcide behaving as if he was born here, and she wondered, who was the anthropologist here anyway! She was supposed to be able to connect with any group and fall into their lifestyle, and here she felt the total novice.

Alcide had told her that they didn't 'understand' her enough to perform that magical meld with her. She had asked, and pleaded, but they couldn't do it. Or wouldn't. So she couldn't go forward with this clan...and she couldn't go back. At least she had Alcide with her.

Until tonight. That shamaness Lunu had put her hooks deeply in him. He was so much closer to them now, and Lucia was nowhere. Nowhere at all. He probably wishes me gone now, she thought. They all do. God, I have never felt so worthless and alone....

The Moondark fires were lit; Oraek placed Lemnu's butchered flesh on the cooking stones.

The regular cooks prepared the fish, fowl, herbs and water-tubers for the feast, and cracked open the fermented knockfruit for the clan's Moondark festivites.

Nuunu nestled comfortably in Ka-Dek's body by the council fire. She had taken a small portion of the venom potion to fuel her Ka for the night's experience.

Lucia stood from her fateful reverie, removed and dropped her bandeau, and walked downslope. She walked until the water buoyed her body, and commenced to swim to the east, her heart empty and hopeless, without regard for any potential danger lurking beneath the calm starlit surface.

Nuunu's irrepressible Ka danced around the fires, as her whim took her, touching the people, each in their turn. She perceived her mother returning with Venik, sharing a languid pace as they approached the fires from upslope. They gave their greetings at the council-fire, and apologised for their tardy return. Venik scanned the faces in the firelight, searching for Lucia, to whom he felt he owed an explanation. Where was she? he wondered, suddenly feeling uneasy.

She had been swimming for a long while, yet her body was feeling fresh and comfortable in the cool water. She felt a brief sting in her foot, but continued swimming. A warm sleepy feeling began to wash over her. She rolled over to float on her back and watched the stars overhead, arrayed in wisps and strings like pearls. This was heavenly.

Her body was numb now, completely comfortable and at ease in the water's embrace. She breathed slowly, letting all tension drain from her muscles. If she wanted to, she could raise her head and look down the line of her body at the clan's fires, now a few kilometres distant. She decided not to make the effort. The fires didn't matter any more, they were part of the past. The stars were so much more beautiful to watch.

Silly girl, she told herself, having felt so much anguish earlier, when she heard of Alcide's tryst with Lunu...she was so glad she took this swim. It was all she needed to feel better. She felt so much larger now, and warm, and peaceful. Her body was just a pale little object floating, floating...she was indeed larger, and she could see the little people by their little fires now, preparing to act out their little Moondark drama of death, and love, and renewal...She grew yet a bit larger, thus closer to them, and she felt the spirit of that naïve little girl, joyfully dancing amongst the earthbound bodies.

Suddenly, Lucia felt the other woman forcefully gathering Lucia's awareness into a tight knot...she was too much at peace now to resist, and she allowed Lunu's Ka to envelop her own. They met, they touched, and they shared in a sharing that transcended all others...Lucia understood now. She was dead from the watersnake's bite, and the Ka that was now rising from the limp floating body, was the new phase of Lucia's existence. Lunu bade Lucia to stay with her, and together they would re-infuse that cooling body to cause it to live again, to swim back to shore, to be held by loving arms...You see, Lucia, your Ka, strong as mine, has been waiting in its bondage most of your life. You are dead and unbound now, free now, free to be reborn as my sister Cinu. Come with me now, Cinu, come....

The body stirred in the water, breathing once again, languidly righting itself and beginning to propel itself toward the firelight. The woman swam, remembering nothing, knowing only that Life was awaiting her on the shore. She felt cold, hungry, and weary. She swam, remembering her sister now, coming to her with a promise.

Through shimmering liquid starlight she swam, faint brief images of another life flickering before her inner eye. Images of towers and bright lights, images of people beyond count, images of events beyond the comprehension of one who was newly born, this very night.

She swam, for her sister and her clan were calling to her.

She swam into the arms of Lunu, waiting for her in the shallow water. She emerged from the water new-born, chilled and dripping, shuffling her feet unsteadily on the rough sand, held and guided by her sister's steady hands. She felt Lunu's strong Ka surrounding her and filling her. She stood straighter then, steadier by the moment. The clanspeople had gathered to greet her, and she was passed from one warming welcoming embrace to another. 'Cinu,' she heard, from many lips. Yes, she was Cinu.

She smelled the good aroma of roasting flesh, and guided her steps to the cook fire. She presented herself to Oraek, recognizing him as a friend, strong, skilled, and gentle...bereft now of his Lemnu, the poor man.

Oraek offered the first and choicest piece of his dead Lemnu's body, steaming and fragrant: the heart. Cinu ate. Oraek offered knockfruit wine. Cinu drank, and its nurturing warmth flowed through her body.

Oraek then offered Cinu his body, moving to embrace her in the firelight. She recalled then the ritual she was ready to perform tonight with Oraek at the council fire: she would unknot his girdle, draw the long strips about her, and bind their bodies together. Cinu would accept Oraek's Choosing, yes.... She gently touched his soul with a Ka's native sureness.

7. Tlicopaloc

Ka-Dek sat at the co-pilot's position and quietly observed as Szveni piloted the sky craft up to rendezvous with Tlicopaloc. The man was in turn agitated and despondent by events of the evening.

Beneath a businesslike exterior, Szveni was churning with indecision, frustration and guilt over Lucia's disappearance. Why wouldn't they tell me where to find her? Why did Lunu suddenly push away from me, and run into the darkness? Why did Dek insist that we leave immediately, he and I? Where is she? Is she alive? What am I doing? I should be down there, not up here flying away!

'Ease up on the guilt, Doc.'

This jolted Szveni out of his confused state. Delivered in standard English, and with casual vernacular...he threw the boy a surprised glare, which was met by a brief smile.

'Sorry, but we needed you to be far away right now, Venik. The situation is better than it seems. Mother discovered that Lucia is Ka, as we are. And right about now, she is...experiencing a catharsis.'

Lunu's voice then entered Szveni's mind:

'We had a reason to deal with the Lucia diMara dilemma, Venik. Professionally, I saw that woman as a challenge, and I wouldn't rest until her soul had been opened to us. I could sense little more than the conflict that smouldered within Lucia's soul, but I resolved to push her to the edge...you were a tool in my scheme, of course: I admit I had a hand in the whole chain of events today, and used you specifically as an emotional lever. I think very highly of you, and apologize quite fervently for using you in that way...but Lucia was on the cusp, and I saw no other option but to push her in that particular way. I didn't know what Lucia would decide to do, and she actually, somehow, evaded my surveillance with her unexpected swim.

'And we were all incredibly lucky. Lucia could have been devoured in two bites, or simply swallowed whole, by one of the larger predators. If Lucia had met a bloody death, I would be driven by guilt to my own demise. But she was merely stung by the watersnake which, significantly, happens to be the Ka family's totem. Its venom has the singular effect of separating the living soul from the living body, quite comfortably and easily, but much to the untenanted body's peril.

'To you, Alcide Szveni, and everyone else in Lucia's former life, she is no more. You must understand: she is Ka now, inspired, fostered and protected by me; now she is a member of our clan, and our wider Ka family, as if born among us. There is no return for her.

'I would offer myself in trade, but I ask you to accept Dek in my stead. You lost an old friend, but I offer my friendship, even beyond the stars. Be well, Venik.'

* * *

A portion of Tlicopaloc's sickbay was converted into a quarantine suite for Szveni and the boy. Dek cut a comical figure in the baggy q-suit that Lucia would have worn, but he gamely shuffled into the sickbay with the planetologist, and resigned himself to incarceration in this alien enclosure.

Almost immediately, Captain Piku Melenemeha made his appearance beyond the transparent partition. Dek was astonished by his presence -- his extraordinary bulk and his booming voice -- but felt an immediate affinity with the spirit within. The starship captain from a Pacific island, and the boy from an unsteady tropical shoreline on a wrinkled planet, had much in common.

The two men discussed the situation at some length and decided that Tlicopaloc would disengage from its current survey. The death of diMara would be communicated to TRSC, and the boy would be presented as an emissary.

Dek was becoming more pleased with his new circumstances. His mother had pressed the decision upon him: before the revenant woman emerged from the water, the good Venik and his sky craft must be gone. The three Ka would compel him to depart. And if Dek wanted to join him, as Lunu was fully assured, the clan's loss would be negated by the serendipitous arrival of Cinu, the newborn Ka. The loss to mother and sister would be assuaged by the links they would continue to share with him, across the parsecs.

Piku's scarred eyes methodically scanned the boy behind the partition. Here stood a young adventurer, canny beyond his modest count of years, ready to assume a new life as -- what? A Survey Corps cadet, perhaps...he possessed an important capability that could be put to good use in the Corps. All in due course, of course. Ka-Dek would need to encompass a new world and new people first. 'You'll need to be patient with us, Dek,' he rumbled. 'We'll only treat you as a specimen for a short while. On the other hand...you have enough novelty here to keep yourself occupied, I expect.'

The first medical tests were performed on the boy. He settled in at the terminal that was provided for his use. Within minutes, he was engrossed by the images and sounds that issued forth.

Szveni noticed the ease with which Dek began his new phase of existence. Smiling, he congratulated himself for providing the young Ka with a background which was apparently more detailed than he had first assumed.

He slowly returned his attention to the report he was preparing for Hq: "...Lucia diMara died planetside from snakebite; the antivenin was unavailable. Her remains were rendered in accordance with local custom. I ask the Commission to consider naming this planet in her memory."

The intercom announced the impending first 'hop' toward Terra.

The 'official' version, Szveni mused, leaning back in his chair. This was ironic. Lucia, cashiered from the Corps due to a perceived violation of Article 2.B., is now protected from the ghosts of her past by Lunu's version of the same law.

Ahh, my old friend Lucia diMara, be well. Farewell...Please, be happy. Otherwise--

From across the suite: 'Quit the guilt bit, Doc. She's okay now.'

Tlicopaloc vanished from the wrinkled planet's sky.

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